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Thursday, March 10, 2011

EDITORIAL 10.03.11

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month march 10, edition 000775, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





































































As Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's military tanks ploughed through the beleaguered city of Zawiyah in western Libya and his mercenaries pounded the eastern oil port of Ras Lanuf, policy-makers around the world, worried that the oil-rich country is hurtling towards civil war, stepped up their plans for intervention, particularly the implementation of a No-Fly Zone. It is unlikely though, that an NFZ would make a difference. Already, the United Nations Security Council has placed sanctions on Col Gaddafi and his family, referred the case of the regime's attack on its civilians to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and imposed an arms embargo to ensure that that the Libyan leader does not bring in more weapons into the country. But none of these measures have been able to impede Col Gaddafi's violent crackdown — he remains remorseless and determined to stay put in power. The NFZ is the current favourite solution to the Libyan problem but there is little to suggest that it will either help protect civilians on the ground or accelerate the process of regime change — the two stated objectives for military intervention in Libya. In fact, a senior official in the United States military as well as an international rights group have acknowledged that aerial attacks have been used essentially against the armed rebels and not unarmed civilians — this not only makes justifying the NFZ more complicated but also gives Col Gaddafi extra ammunition to bolster his theory of a foreign hand. But more importantly, the imposition of NFZ would be ineffective largely because the real threat to civilian safety stems from Col Gaddafi's forces that are operating on the ground and not from aerial attacks.

Let us not forget that the US had led a similar NFZ over parts of northern and southern Iraq from 1992 till 2003 but it was equally ineffective against Saddam Hussein's ground forces. For several years after the failed 1991 Shia uprising in Iraq, Saddam Hussein carried out a repressive counter-insurgency operation against the rebels in the south and US-led aerial forces could do little to prevent him. Similarly, during the 1996 Kurdish revolt, Saddam Hussein promptly unleashed a deadly force of 40,000 troops, 300 tanks, and 300 artillery pieces, comprising two units of the Republican Guard and three Army divisions that crushed the uprising in less than a week. And it all happened literally under the nose of American and British soldiers as they patrolled the skies. The lesson to be learnt here is that when a dictator decides to turn on his own people, and with such viciousness, a limited military intervention has little merit. Despite the fact that the idea of the NFZ has found favour not just with the Nato but also within the Arab league and has indeed been called for even by opposition forces within Libya, the question still remains what will these fighter pilots do when Col Gaddafi's men resort to butchery and bloodshed. There is no doubt that if the international community does decide to go ahead with the imposition of an NFZ, the Colonel will hit back with a vengeance. And finally, there is the nagging doubt: Given the mess that is Afghanistan, should the US and its allies take on the responsibility of pulling apart and putting back together a dysfunctional oil-rich state that has no experience of democracy?







By legalising 'passive' euthanasia but allowing Ms Aruna Shanbaug to live, the Supreme Court has shown both compassion and a commitment to progressive measures to tackle the sensitive issue. Ms Shanbaug, a victim of brutal sexual assault who has remained in a permanent vegetative state for 37 years now, could have qualified for mercy killing by the apex court's definition had her 'next friend' pleaded for that. But with the court holding that the 'next friend' was not so much the petitioner — a journalist who sought euthanasia for her and has written movingly about her plight — but the staff and doctors at KEM Hospital in Mumbai who have cared for her all these decades and opposed the petition, she will now live. The Supreme Court is right in laying down that 'passive' euthanasia could be accepted in exceptional circumstances provided certain guidelines are followed, including seeking the opinion of the kith and kin or the 'next friend' of a patient who is in no position to take a decision on his or her own. The verdict has opened the possibility of mercy killing through the discontinuation of life-support systems. This is a pragmatic position to take because people living in a vegetative state or who are brain-dead deserve to die in dignity.

The Supreme Court's verdict goes beyond the Aruna Shanbaug case because it brings into its ambit even those instances where the patient is in a position to state his or her view. But even here, while primacy will be accorded to that opinion, the guidelines the court has structured will play an important role in deciding the issue. For instance, any such appeal for 'passive' euthanasia will have to be scrutinised and cleared by the High Court of the respective State. The High Court, in turn, will depend on the expert medical opinion of a team of doctors for its decision, besides taking into account factors such as the patient's agony. Naturally there are legitimate concerns that the option to seek 'passive' euthanasia could be misused by unscrupulous individuals, but if sufficient care is taken by the judiciary and doctors are not willing to be co-opted in a criminal act, the scope for misuse and abuse can be minimised if not entirely eliminated. At the same time, perhaps a wider public debate is called for following the judgement. There are moral and ethical aspects which cannot be — indeed, must not be — ignored while rushing to embrace 'passive' euthanasia. As readers of this newspaper have pointed out, a humane society based on ethical values cannot declare any living person, no matter in what state he or she may be, as having ceased to enjoy the right to stay alive. This argument is not without merit. After all, human beings are not disposable commodities to be discarded once they lose their utility or become a liability.







The debate over who will succeed the Dalai Lama as the spiritual leader of Tibetans has intensified. Beijing is backing the Panchen Lama, but Tibetans prefer the Karmapa Lama.

Zhou Enlai's famous reply "It's too early to say" when Mr Henry Kissinger asked him about the impact of the French Revolution showed how far ahead the Chinese do their strategic planning. That far-sightedness also explains one aspect of the controversy over the 17th Karmapa Lama, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who is at the moment giving his Spring Teachings on 'How to Become a Good Person through the Wish to Benefit Others' at the Vajra Vidya Institute in Sarnath. Realising to its dismay that the boy it nurtured as a Living God may be destined to lead the crusade against Chinese hegemony, China is feverishly working on alternative plans.

While petty officials in Himachal Pradesh fret and fume about the Karmapa's imagined intentions and activities, ignoring the Union Government's clear indications to the contrary, Beijing is focussed on the future leadership of Tibetans, at home and abroad. Hence the consternation at the possibility of not being able to foist a complaisant Chinese-nominated puppet on the Tibetans to succeed Tenzin Gyatso, the 76-year-old 14th Dalai Lama. It's the only reason for the hysterical statement by a Chinese puppet, Padma Choling, a former soldier in the People's Liberation Army, whom Beijing has made Governor of Tibet, that the Dalai Lama has "no right to abolish the reincarnation institution". Clearly, China is calculating on manipulating the reincarnation process to appoint its man as the 15th Dalai Lama.

It has tried that tactic already, though without conspicuous success, with the 11th Panchen Lama. Another China-backed pretender might be expected to fare better if he is visibly ensconced in the Potala with its rich symbolism. But he may not be the only contender for the position of spiritual and temporal leader. Apart from the two Panchen Lamas, of whom more later, there is Yabshi Pan Rinzinwangmo, known as 'Renji', daughter of the 10th Panchen Lama, Choekyi Gyaltsen, who married a Han Chinese woman in 1979 and had a daughter four years later. (This is not unique. Several high-ranking Gelug lamas both in China and in exile have chosen a layman's lifestyle. The 6th Dalai Lama also renounced his monk's vows and led a layman's life but continued to be highly revered by Tibetans.)

Finally, there is the 26-year-old Karmapa who fled Tibet in January 2000 and enjoys the unique position of being recognised as such by the People's Republic of China, the Dalai Lama and three of the four highest monks of the Karma Kagyu sect which he leads. New Delhi's recent statements suggest that despite the perversity of some Himachal Pradesh functionaries, India, too, accepts Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa.

Being second to only the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama occupies a special place in Tibetan Buddhism. According to tradition, the Dalai and Panchen Lamas mutually recognise each other. But much depends on the person. The 10th Panchen Lama, who became Tibet's most important political and religious figure following the Dalai Lama's escape to India, tried to curry favour by supporting Beijing's suppression of the 1959 Tibetan rebellion. Even so, the Chinese imprisoned him in 1964. His situation worsened during the Cultural Revolution when, according to the Chinese dissident, Wei Jingsheng, he was held in appalling conditions in China's Qincheng Prison.

The Panchen Lama was released In October 1977 but kept under house arrest in Beijing until 1982. He died suddenly in Shigatse in 1989, aged 51, shortly after making a speech criticising Chinese neglect of Tibet's religion and culture.

What followed was even more traumatic. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima (born April 25, 1989) whom the Dalai Lama selected as the 11th Panchen Lama, was on China's short list but disappeared from view the moment he was selected. He has not been seen since May 17, 1995. Beijing's stock reply to inquiries is that he is "safe and comfortable and wishes to maintain his privacy". Chadrel Rinpoche, head of the Panchen Lama search committee who had shortlisted the boy with Beijing's initial approval, was arrested and charged with treason.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Government appointed Gyaincain Norbu (born February 13, 1990), the son of two loyal Communist Party members, as Panchen Lama. But attempts to project him as "the public face of Tibetan Buddhism" have had limited success, possibly explaining why he has not been made vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference like the 10th Panchen Lama, even though, at 20, he became its youngest member. His speech in Tibetan at the inaugural of the 2006 World Buddhist Forum about Buddhism and national unity received a cold reception from delegates, and Singapore's Foreign Minister, Mr George Yeo, himself a devout Roman Catholic, is the only foreign dignitary to have met him. Not many others outside the Chinese establishment take him seriously.

But it's not for want of trying. In 2008 Gyaincain Norbu denounced anti-Han riots in Lhasa, saying "We resolutely oppose all activities to split the country and undermine ethnic unity." Last year when he was elected vice-president of the Buddhist Association of China, Hao Peng, Vice-Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, praised the appointment and congratulated Gyaincain Norbu for "demonstrating the role of the Lliving Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism and encouraging more believers to participate in state affairs".

Gyaincain Norbu never misses an opportunity to pray publicly for Tibet and donate money for Tibetan relief after natural disasters, but, curiously, he does not live at the Tashilhunpo Monastery, traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, although he visits. The Asia Times describes him as "a slight man who wears thick glasses and traditional crimson robes". Most Tibetans regard him as a state-backed pretender. The exiled authorities are especially concerned that since the Dalai Lama's appointment traditionally requires the Panchen Lama's approval, China will exploit their creature's position to nominate a 15th pontiff who will do its bidding.

This is where the Karmapa Lama comes in. Tibetans see him as independent. They know that his 900-year-old lineage is the oldest in Buddhism. They are aware that he enjoys the Dalai Lama's blessings. And they are impressed by his youthful candour, religious devotion and practical sense. Many see him as the future leader.

Meanwhile, there are fears about the fate of the real Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom human rights organisations described as the "youngest political prisoner in the world". He is now 22 years old.








The debate over who will succeed the Dalai Lama as the spiritual leader of Tibetans has intensified. Beijing is backing the Panchen Lama, but Tibetans prefer the Karmapa Lama.

Zhou Enlai's famous reply "It's too early to say" when Mr Henry Kissinger asked him about the impact of the French Revolution showed how far ahead the Chinese do their strategic planning. That far-sightedness also explains one aspect of the controversy over the 17th Karmapa Lama, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who is at the moment giving his Spring Teachings on 'How to Become a Good Person through the Wish to Benefit Others' at the Vajra Vidya Institute in Sarnath. Realising to its dismay that the boy it nurtured as a Living God may be destined to lead the crusade against Chinese hegemony, China is feverishly working on alternative plans.

While petty officials in Himachal Pradesh fret and fume about the Karmapa's imagined intentions and activities, ignoring the Union Government's clear indications to the contrary, Beijing is focussed on the future leadership of Tibetans, at home and abroad. Hence the consternation at the possibility of not being able to foist a complaisant Chinese-nominated puppet on the Tibetans to succeed Tenzin Gyatso, the 76-year-old 14th Dalai Lama. It's the only reason for the hysterical statement by a Chinese puppet, Padma Choling, a former soldier in the People's Liberation Army, whom Beijing has made Governor of Tibet, that the Dalai Lama has "no right to abolish the reincarnation institution". Clearly, China is calculating on manipulating the reincarnation process to appoint its man as the 15th Dalai Lama.

It has tried that tactic already, though without conspicuous success, with the 11th Panchen Lama. Another China-backed pretender might be expected to fare better if he is visibly ensconced in the Potala with its rich symbolism. But he may not be the only contender for the position of spiritual and temporal leader. Apart from the two Panchen Lamas, of whom more later, there is Yabshi Pan Rinzinwangmo, known as 'Renji', daughter of the 10th Panchen Lama, Choekyi Gyaltsen, who married a Han Chinese woman in 1979 and had a daughter four years later. (This is not unique. Several high-ranking Gelug lamas both in China and in exile have chosen a layman's lifestyle. The 6th Dalai Lama also renounced his monk's vows and led a layman's life but continued to be highly revered by Tibetans.)

Finally, there is the 26-year-old Karmapa who fled Tibet in January 2000 and enjoys the unique position of being recognised as such by the People's Republic of China, the Dalai Lama and three of the four highest monks of the Karma Kagyu sect which he leads. New Delhi's recent statements suggest that despite the perversity of some Himachal Pradesh functionaries, India, too, accepts Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa.

Being second to only the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama occupies a special place in Tibetan Buddhism. According to tradition, the Dalai and Panchen Lamas mutually recognise each other. But much depends on the person. The 10th Panchen Lama, who became Tibet's most important political and religious figure following the Dalai Lama's escape to India, tried to curry favour by supporting Beijing's suppression of the 1959 Tibetan rebellion. Even so, the Chinese imprisoned him in 1964. His situation worsened during the Cultural Revolution when, according to the Chinese dissident, Wei Jingsheng, he was held in appalling conditions in China's Qincheng Prison.


The Panchen Lama was released In October 1977 but kept under house arrest in Beijing until 1982. He died suddenly in Shigatse in 1989, aged 51, shortly after making a speech criticising Chinese neglect of Tibet's religion and culture.

What followed was even more traumatic. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima (born April 25, 1989) whom the Dalai Lama selected as the 11th Panchen Lama, was on China's short list but disappeared from view the moment he was selected. He has not been seen since May 17, 1995. Beijing's stock reply to inquiries is that he is "safe and comfortable and wishes to maintain his privacy". Chadrel Rinpoche, head of the Panchen Lama search committee who had shortlisted the boy with Beijing's initial approval, was arrested and charged with treason.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Government appointed Gyaincain Norbu (born February 13, 1990), the son of two loyal Communist Party members, as Panchen Lama. But attempts to project him as "the public face of Tibetan Buddhism" have had limited success, possibly explaining why he has not been made vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference like the 10th Panchen Lama, even though, at 20, he became its youngest member. His speech in Tibetan at the inaugural of the 2006 World Buddhist Forum about Buddhism and national unity received a cold reception from delegates, and Singapore's Foreign Minister, Mr George Yeo, himself a devout Roman Catholic, is the only foreign dignitary to have met him. Not many others outside the Chinese establishment take him seriously.

But it's not for want of trying. In 2008 Gyaincain Norbu denounced anti-Han riots in Lhasa, saying "We resolutely oppose all activities to split the country and undermine ethnic unity." Last year when he was elected vice-president of the Buddhist Association of China, Hao Peng, Vice-Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, praised the appointment and congratulated Gyaincain Norbu for "demonstrating the role of the Lliving Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism and encouraging more believers to participate in state affairs".

Gyaincain Norbu never misses an opportunity to pray publicly for Tibet and donate money for Tibetan relief after natural disasters, but, curiously, he does not live at the Tashilhunpo Monastery, traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, although he visits. The Asia Times describes him as "a slight man who wears thick glasses and traditional crimson robes". Most Tibetans regard him as a state-backed pretender. The exiled authorities are especially concerned that since the Dalai Lama's appointment traditionally requires the Panchen Lama's approval, China will exploit their creature's position to nominate a 15th pontiff who will do its bidding.

This is where the Karmapa Lama comes in. Tibetans see him as independent. They know that his 900-year-old lineage is the oldest in Buddhism. They are aware that he enjoys the Dalai Lama's blessings. And they are impressed by his youthful candour, religious devotion and practical sense. Many see him as the future leader.

Meanwhile, there are fears about the fate of the real Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom human rights organisations described as the "youngest political prisoner in the world". He is now 22 years old.








As Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's military tanks ploughed through the beleaguered city of Zawiyah in western Libya and his mercenaries pounded the eastern oil port of Ras Lanuf, policy-makers around the world, worried that the oil-rich country is hurtling towards civil war, stepped up their plans for intervention, particularly the implementation of a No-Fly Zone. It is unlikely though, that an NFZ would make a difference. Already, the United Nations Security Council has placed sanctions on Col Gaddafi and his family, referred the case of the regime's attack on its civilians to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and imposed an arms embargo to ensure that that the Libyan leader does not bring in more weapons into the country. But none of these measures have been able to impede Col Gaddafi's violent crackdown — he remains remorseless and determined to stay put in power. The NFZ is the current favourite solution to the Libyan problem but there is little to suggest that it will either help protect civilians on the ground or accelerate the process of regime change — the two stated objectives for military intervention in Libya. In fact, a senior official in the United States military as well as an international rights group have acknowledged that aerial attacks have been used essentially against the armed rebels and not unarmed civilians — this not only makes justifying the NFZ more complicated but also gives Col Gaddafi extra ammunition to bolster his theory of a foreign hand. But more importantly, the imposition of NFZ would be ineffective largely because the real threat to civilian safety stems from Col Gaddafi's forces that are operating on the ground and not from aerial attacks.

Let us not forget that the US had led a similar NFZ over parts of northern and southern Iraq from 1992 till 2003 but it was equally ineffective against Saddam Hussein's ground forces. For several years after the failed 1991 Shia uprising in Iraq, Saddam Hussein carried out a repressive counter-insurgency operation against the rebels in the south and US-led aerial forces could do little to prevent him. Similarly, during the 1996 Kurdish revolt, Saddam Hussein promptly unleashed a deadly force of 40,000 troops, 300 tanks, and 300 artillery pieces, comprising two units of the Republican Guard and three Army divisions that crushed the uprising in less than a week. And it all happened literally under the nose of American and British soldiers as they patrolled the skies. The lesson to be learnt here is that when a dictator decides to turn on his own people, and with such viciousness, a limited military intervention has little merit. Despite the fact that the idea of the NFZ has found favour not just with the Nato but also within the Arab league and has indeed been called for even by opposition forces within Libya, the question still remains what will these fighter pilots do when Col Gaddafi's men resort to butchery and bloodshed. There is no doubt that if the international community does decide to go ahead with the imposition of an NFZ, the Colonel will hit back with a vengeance. And finally, there is the nagging doubt: Given the mess that is Afghanistan, should the US and its allies take on the responsibility of pulling apart and putting back together a dysfunctional oil-rich state that has no experience of democracy?







By legalising 'passive' euthanasia but allowing Ms Aruna Shanbaug to live, the Supreme Court has shown both compassion and a commitment to progressive measures to tackle the sensitive issue. Ms Shanbaug, a victim of brutal sexual assault who has remained in a permanent vegetative state for 37 years now, could have qualified for mercy killing by the apex court's definition had her 'next friend' pleaded for that. But with the court holding that the 'next friend' was not so much the petitioner — a journalist who sought euthanasia for her and has written movingly about her plight — but the staff and doctors at KEM Hospital in Mumbai who have cared for her all these decades and opposed the petition, she will now live. The Supreme Court is right in laying down that 'passive' euthanasia could be accepted in exceptional circumstances provided certain guidelines are followed, including seeking the opinion of the kith and kin or the 'next friend' of a patient who is in no position to take a decision on his or her own. The verdict has opened the possibility of mercy killing through the discontinuation of life-support systems. This is a pragmatic position to take because people living in a vegetative state or who are brain-dead deserve to die in dignity.

The Supreme Court's verdict goes beyond the Aruna Shanbaug case because it brings into its ambit even those instances where the patient is in a position to state his or her view. But even here, while primacy will be accorded to that opinion, the guidelines the court has structured will play an important role in deciding the issue. For instance, any such appeal for 'passive' euthanasia will have to be scrutinised and cleared by the High Court of the respective State. The High Court, in turn, will depend on the expert medical opinion of a team of doctors for its decision, besides taking into account factors such as the patient's agony. Naturally there are legitimate concerns that the option to seek 'passive' euthanasia could be misused by unscrupulous individuals, but if sufficient care is taken by the judiciary and doctors are not willing to be co-opted in a criminal act, the scope for misuse and abuse can be minimised if not entirely eliminated. At the same time, perhaps a wider public debate is called for following the judgement. There are moral and ethical aspects which cannot be — indeed, must not be — ignored while rushing to embrace 'passive' euthanasia. As readers of this newspaper have pointed out, a humane society based on ethical values cannot declare any living person, no matter in what state he or she may be, as having ceased to enjoy the right to stay alive. This argument is not without merit. After all, human beings are not disposable commodities to be discarded once they lose their utility or become a liability.










After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh piloted the historic India-US nuclear deal by facing down the Left - which had threatened to bring down the UPA government on the issue - it was Congress president Sonia Gandhi's turn to stand firm after the DMK threatened to withdraw its ministers from the government to get its way on seat-sharing. That Congress didn't succumb to strong-arm tactics from the DMK is welcome. It's been assumed, for far too long, that smaller coalition partners should be allowed a disproportionate role as back-seat driver in any coalition arrangement, and the larger party must play along in the interest of keeping the coalition going. While it's incumbent on smaller parties to show greater flexibility, in practice it's the other way round.

An outcome is feckless governance and the abdication of responsibility, as is all too evident in the second outing of the UPA. For example, despite Sharad Pawar presiding over spiralling food inflation as agriculture minister, the government finds it difficult to drop him from the cabinet simply because he is the NCP's nominee. It encountered similar problems with DMK nominee A Raja, who could be dropped only after the political furore grew unmanageable following the 2G spectrum scam. In the end Sonia Gandhi's tough talk called the DMK's bluff, forcing the latter to climb down. The DMK knows that it faces a tough election ahead and the alliance with the Congress is crucial.

Another reason the Congress couldn't succumb to DMK's demands is because the experience could well be repeated in West Bengal, also headed to the polls. Here the Congress is in alliance with the Trinamool Congress (TMC), but a seat-sharing arrangement hasn't been firmed up. Mamata Banerjee has also played the role of a fickle coalition partner. Her opposition to the Land Acquisition Bill that seeks to protect small landholders is a case in point. The Trinamool chief's resistance means that the UPA government - of which the TMC is a key ally - has no other option but to withhold the important legislation.

Coalition dharma ought to work both ways. For smaller parties to resort to strong-arm tactics and threaten the stability of coalitions goes against this fundamental principle. They shouldn't expect to enjoy the loaves and fishes of office without any accountability. The stability of coalition governments is as much their responsibility as it is that of the principal coalition partner. Sonia Gandhi has done well to drive home this point with the DMK. While allies should be consulted, it's expected that the principal coalition partner play a leading role in determining government policy.







Nuclear deal to retail reform, the BJP and the Left have been on the same obstructionist page on several key issues. So it's no surprise they have also matched decibels bashing the idea of letting foreign educational institutions establish campuses in India, as proposed in the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill 2010 that's now being discussed. Expectedly, objections have also come from the SP, BSP and RJD, parties that rarely shy away from competitive populism. Disappointingly, JNU's newly appointed vice-chancellor has reportedly joined this chorus. The anti-Bill lobby argues that education will suffer if deep-pocketed overseas players come in. It's contended the latter will upset prevailing systems of curricula and fees, while stealing away the best teachers from domestic institutes by offering better pay and facilities.

The fact, however, is that quality
higher education suffers a demand-supply mismatch. Opening up will bring it within reach of greater numbers of Indians, at home and more affordably. With scholars accessing greater choice and better infrastructure and research facilities, brain drain can be reduced as also billions of dollars in funds outflow. Indian institutions will have to improve standards and services and so are likely to demand and wrest greater autonomy. We'll also improve our poor student-teacher ratio. Courted on the job market, academia will get more professionalised. That means teaching will draw more talent and recruits. Finally, instead of belabouring higher education's supposed 'elitist' bias, why not give more scholarships and loans to needy students? Recall the loud opposition in the past to exposing India's economy to foreign competition. Yet India Inc didn't do as well when politically coddled as after it took on the challenge. With increased efficiency, productivity and competitiveness, our industry today compares with the world's best. Liberalise it, and higher education will soar as well.








As the leader of the global sports movement, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has a moral and ethical obligation to protect the integrity of sport by combating cheating in all its forms. For many years, we have waged a battle against the use of performance-enhancing drugs. We have come a long way in this fight.

As our campaign against doping continues, we are also stepping up efforts to contain another scourge that is increasingly threatening to undermine the credibility of sport: illegal and irregular betting. As our latest step, we set up on March 1 the first ever meeting between the sports movement, governments, public international organisations and sports betting operators to discuss ways to battle irregular and illegal sports betting. We are encouraged by the massive response and support received from the invitees, which include members of Interpol, the UN and governments as far away as China and Australia.

As the Indian public and authorities are discovering with recent cases of illegal betting and match-fixing in cricket, the potential for corruption is at an all-time high due in part to the advent of betting on the internet and the anonymity, liquidity and sheer volume it encompasses. It can be argued that there are more temptations and pressure on athletes, coaches, officials and others to cheat for betting gains than at any other time in the past. Worse, this cancer continues to go largely unregulated in many parts of the world.

Illegal or irregular betting - which should not be confused with legal and regular betting offered by national lotteries and private entities, which is a major source of financing for sport - is potentially crippling. Each instance that comes to light undermines confidence in sport, which can lead to spectator apathy and drops in attendance, TV viewership and sponsorship. At its worst, it can deter people from participating in sport in the first place.

While illegal betting has yet to be detected at an Olympic Games, we are not naive. We know the day will eventually come. We must be vigilant and ensure measures are in place to limit its effect and discourage any recurrence.

The IOC started tackling the problem in earnest in 2005. In many respects, our work is similar to that we initiated 20 years ago with doping. Our first task was to lead by example and adapt our own rules in the face of this new threat, and to raise awareness through measures such as educational programmes, seminars, and the drafting and adoption of a list of recommendations aimed at unifying the approach of the entire sports movement. We have been proactive in our message and continue to push for dialogue with all parties wherever and whenever possible.

We are encouraging all our partners in the Olympic Movement to adopt rules that forbid betting on each sport. We initially called on the sports that had dealt with cases of match-fixing to join us in taking a unified approach to the problem. Cricket, tennis and football have all done an admirable job in this department, but there remain many international federations (IFs) and national Olympic committees (NOCs) that have no legislation in place to combat irregular and illegal betting. Without it, there are no grounds on which to punish the cheats.

The support of governments is also paramount. They are the ones with the authority to create a legal framework in which legal and regular betting can take place. They, and not the sports world, can also conduct investigative searches and initiate criminal proceedings. As it becomes increasingly obvious that large criminal networks are benefiting from illegal betting, we encourage governments, wherever possible, to put in place specific criminal legislation dealing with match-fixing and cheating in sport.

We have also begun monitoring betting activities on the Olympic Games. We have established a company called International Sports Monitoring (ISM), tasked with monitoring the Olympic Games for suspicious betting activity, in conjunction with over 300 legal betting companies. When ISM detects abnormal betting activity, it contacts the IOC, and we work with the respective NOCs and IFs to determine if it is genuine or suspect. If it is suspect, we launch an inquiry and betting companies transfer all the necessary information regarding the bet and the bettor to the IOC. Thankfully, we did not have to activate this system at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 or in Vancouver last year.

But a serious, concerted effort by all parties is needed to combat the problem, which is becoming increasingly difficult to detect as the cheaters are trending away from manipulating major sporting events or even the outcomes of matches. It is too risky. Instead, they focus on matches with less media attention and public scrutiny. You can have all sorts of issues in sport that happen regularly in the field of play without any suspicion and that is the great danger.

We still have a long way to go, but i am confident we are headed in the right direction. I envision that, in the next few years, we may even have a global watchdog in place, similar in structure to the World Anti-Doping Agency, and that fighting illegal betting and match-fixing will be obligatory for IFs if they wish to remain part of the Olympic Movement.

Our fight has just begun. It is now up to all of us to join together to stop the cheats from cashing in on the popularity of sport.

The writer is president of the International Olympic Committee.








The law ought not to facilitate the socially reprehensible. But that would be the effect of the addition of the clause on 'irretrievable breakdown of marriage' to the Hindu, and Special Marriage, Acts - unless of course, one believes that divorce ought to be encouraged. Such a misconceived addition offers yet another way out of a union that's meant to last.

The damage isn't limited to the basic unit of our society, the family. The amendment is a poorly conceptualised attempt to solve the problem of a petitioner for divorce being thwarted by the other party not agreeing. 'Mutual consent' requires both parties to agree. But in managing this problem, a plethora of new ones are created because widespread social and economic norms haven't been considered. For instance, dowry deaths remain an all too prevalent blot on our society. In this environment where women are often abused for economic reasons, the amendment encourages these practices by allowing men to simply marry, seize control of the wife's assets, and then divorce. An amendment designed to limit the misuse of the law lends itself to abuse! This would be devastating to any woman, especially if left with a family. The effect is worsened by gender inequality in India in terms of pay and economic assets being the worst internationally.

To protect both women and society, the law shouldn't allow divorce to be initiated on a whim. Easing divorce further could impoverish women and leave them without assets. Since the custody of children mostly falls to them, children's maintenance would be affected. Even if that's not the case, children with divorced parents have a tougher time growing up. In western societies,where divorce laws have been liberalised, there's been a backlash against divorce because of its effects on children. We need to stop aping western ways.







If the government has its way, the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill 2010 to come up in Parliament soon will take a major step towards updating legislation to keep pace with the changing social context. As things stand now, securing a divorce is a long, convoluted process with spouses forced to make accusations of cruelty or adultery against each other, whether true or not. After the original plea for divorce, both partners have to jointly move a motion seeking divorce after the mandatory cooling off period of six months but before 18 months have passed. With the introduction of irretrievable breakdown of marriage as valid grounds for a divorce, however, the legislation will move towards understanding that a simple lack of compatibility is adequate grounds for divorce - and only one partner will need to be present in court.

This plugs a gaping hole in current divorce laws. Despite economic progress, Indian society remains largely male-dominated with women relegated to a subordinate role even amongst urban populations. The insistence on the presence of both partners in court perpetuates this paradigm, leaving a woman in a failed marriage unable to extricate herself from it if her husband refuses to cooperate. And women in abusive marriages are rendered more helpless, bearing the burden of either definitely proving such abuse, not always an easy task, or persuading the abusive party to agree to a divorce - even more difficult.

There have been enough safeguards proposed - such as giving a woman seeking divorce on the grounds of irretrievable differences a stake in her husband's property acquired after marriage - that the economic well-being of such women would be protected. With economic growth and social development, women are slowly gaining control of their own lives now in a way they couldn't before. To maintain legislation that would have them trapped in a marriage against their will would be retrograde in the extreme.







The verdict on Aruna Shanbaug saddened, frustrated and angered me. But what unhinged me were the repeated TV clips of KEM Hospital nurses shouting 'Pinki Virani Murdabad'. On Monday, mercy crossed over to the other side, and in the face of the nurses' impassioned possessiveness, Virani's began to look like a heartless interloper. The Supreme Court dismissed the petitioner as much as the petition. It may have commended her public spiritedness in bringing the controversial subject of mercy killing into focus, but it summarily rejected her right to be the incapacitated victim's 'next friend'. 

The judgment bluntly stated that Virani 'cannot claim to have the extent of attachment or bonding with Aruna that the KEM hospital staff which has been looking after her for years claims to have'. This may be legally impeccable, but it was surely 'the most unkindest cut of all' for the dogged journalist who, for years, was the sole voice of the forgotten Aruna. It must wound her more critically than the failure of her groundbreaking plea. 

It's noble - and irritatingly smug - to say that life triumphed over death in Monday's verdict. The nurses wanted Aruna to live because they have looked after her for 37 years, 'she belongs to us' and has 'become our bond'; Pinki Virani wanted her to be freed from her undignified vegetative state. But it's disturbing how the near-inanimate Aruna became the centre of a ghoulish custody battle, a 'KEM vs Virani' tug of war. Pinki has always acknowledged the devotion with which successive batches of nurses have served their one-time colleague, going as far as to say that they were the otherwise neglected woman's only friends in the hospital. 

Having closely followed her single-handed campaign for a dignified life and death for Aruna, i'm pained by the judges' dismissive phraseology: 'No doubt Pinki Virani has written a book about Aruna Shanbaug and has visited her a few times...' Yes, Your Honours, she may not have fed, bathed, and ensured the much-touted bedsore-less existence for Aruna, but she isn't just some detached busybody. 

Virani has lived and breathed Aruna Shanbaug at least since 1997 when she came to us at the Sunday Review with this cruel tale. Her book, 'Aruna's Story', gave warm human contours to the now-vacant creature on a hospital bed: a bubbly 25-year-old nurse expectantly changing into her pink saree to meet her doctor fiance when she was destroyed forever by a vengeful hospital sweeper. By the way, Virani is herself a victim of incest, and her second book, Bitter Chocolate, won a National Award for its bold tackling of child abuse. 
This column is not about what wasn't done for Aruna, or about who has done more. Who am i to question that she is not qualified to be her legal 'next friend'? All i want to affirm is that Virani has been Aruna's friend. 

If i accuse the nurses of turning their patient into a touch-me-not trophy of their dedication, Virani could be held equally guilty of 'fetishising' her. After her book, i had asked her if she would ever be able to walk away from Aruna. Will we all now have to do so? 

Yes, Monday's verdict continues the bitter irony of being Aruna Shanbaug. Incarcerated in limbo for 37 years while her molester walked free after just seven. Living testimony to 'exemplary and unprecedented dedication' in nursing care, but whose medical management was pathetic. And now scores of hopeless cases will have the right to appeal for passive euthanasia, but the very patient who prompted this landmark judgment has been denied its humane largesse. Aruna will remain in her twilight zone, neither living nor dead. But look, Milord, no bedsores. 

Alec Smart said: "The PM, DMK, Hasan Ali, is everyone guilty of a 'terror of judgment'?" 








It was a drama worthy of the scriptwriter that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M Karunanidhi once was. Except that the party had to move from lead role to second lead after the Congress got the better of it in the contentious seat-sharing arrangement.

The DMK had to concede the 63 seats that the Congress was adamant on after some strong words from the Congress president on what was thought to be discourteous behaviour on the part of the DMK. Though this is a triumph in strategic thinking for the Congress, the drawback is that it is going to the polls with the DMK, which is scam-tainted and disunited within.

The various children and wives of the DMK supremo have no love lost for each other and this could prove the undoing of the party. This will impact negatively on the alliance which faces a stiff challenge from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) of J Jayalalithaa.

The DMK's negotiators seem to have erred gravely in pushing the envelope as far as they did. From the start, it was on a sticky wicket, thanks to its efforts to shield people like former telecom minister A Raja.

The very fact that the UPA government axed the minister, though belatedly, and is continuing the probe into the 2G spectrum scam should have sent signals to the DMK that it was dealing with an ally which held several aces up its sleeve. Even now, the UPA government has not put the brakes on the CBI's plans to interrogate Mr Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi and her mother for their role in the kickbacks from the scam.

The DMK will also be hobbled by the anti-incumbency factor and from the fact that the electorate appears disillusioned with a party which increasingly looks like a family firm. The only saving grace for the DMK is that Jayalalithaa too has the dubious distinction of being perceived as corrupt by many and has also earned a reputation as a notoriously fickle ally.

The Congress could also be sending a signal to other allies like the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in Kerala that it will not be held hostage to coalition compulsions.

The IUML is embroiled in an unseemly scandal which could impact on the alliance in Kerala. But, the United Democratic Front will benefit from the internal rifts within the ruling Left Democratic Front.

The Congress's newfound assertiveness could well be the harbinger of its plans to go it alone in the future. And to the discomfiture of its allies, it seems to have slowly taken on the role of both scriptwriter and acting though it remains to be seen whether it can ensure the finale that it wants.





Come March, and every office worth its valuable and voluble employees are enveloped in a constant low-intensity buzz. No prizes for guessing the content of this excited chatter and lively exchanges. It often starts with a coffee in hand and between puffs (for some) with a loaded question: any news? Well, by that the information-seeker does not want on the government's budget promises, the stock market's mood swings or the increasing levels of corruption. In March, 'the news' is a code for information on two other comforting words — salary hike.

According to global human resources firm Aon Hewitt's Salary Increase Survey (isn't there a nice ring to it?), in 2011 India Inc employees across all levels will get an average hike between 12%-15% and chances are that, employers and the economy willing, the goodies will continue to flow like this for the next five years. Around 531 organisations were surveyed for the report. In 2009, the increase forecast was a terribly sad 6.3% thanks to a beast called inflation and 2010, it was happier at 11.7%. While most would be moderately elated with the survey findings and rush to fine-tune the checklist of things to buy in the coming quarter, here's some advice: don't count your chickens before they hatch.

Even at the risk of sounding like the world's biggest group of pessimists, we editorial writers would advice utmost caution when you open that envelope carrying the 'Letter'. Don't rush through it, read the lines carefully and if possible, between the lines too, before you race to the next page and start counting the zeros. There's another reason not to have that satisfied smile on your face: have you ever seen any survey that matches the projections with the actual hikes? We will sign off now with another piece of advice: seeing is believing — and only in cash.






'Don't allow your wounds to transform you into something you're not.' 

When Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho ruminated thus on his Twitter feed on March 7, it found immediate resonance on the other side of the world. Coelho's quote was noticed and retweeted by many young Kashmiris.

I have no empirical evidence, but frequent conversations with young Kashmiris since the curfewed days and nights of 2010 reveal that many want reconciliation, peace and a return to what they once were — accommodative children of a syncretic culture — Kashmir's famed, if overhyped, Kashmiriyat. Such voices are becoming louder at a time when intolerance is growing in Kashmir, and its ancient assertion of a unique cultural identity is twisted to serve sectarian ends, both Muslim and Hindu.

The resonance that Coelho's latest wisdom may carry with young Kashmiris can't be overstated. It's a feeling that must be built on by New Delhi, as its three interlocutors prepare to submit their report to home minister P Chidambaram next month (though releasing the report in Delhi instead of Srinagar makes no sense). Aggressively sweeping up stone-pelters and preparing anti-riot forces in 'non-lethal' control of anticipated summer unrest, as the state government is now doing, may keep some peace in Kashmir, but it will not heal deep, festering wounds.

Wearied by years of state and terrorist excesses, cowed by a street that is increasingly turning fundamentalist, on both sides, and living with humiliation, violence and death would be enough to warp any mind; yet some young Kashmiris do great credit to themselves in continuing to hope and believe in change. Reconciliation and integration must begin with these harbingers of change.

On the day that Coelho talked of wounded people becoming something they are not, I heard of a young bank officer becoming the female lead in the first television soap opera foray of big ticket Bollywood banner Yashraj Films. Khalida Khan, a young economics graduate from the south Kashmir town of Shopian, abandoned her bank career to sign on for Kismat (Fate). Khalida's entry into Mumbai's entertainment world is unremarkable in a cut-throat industry where her origins don't matter at all; her striking looks and acting potential mean everything.  Her first public reaction was, as it is for most first-timers, banal. "I hope this will change my kismat too," she said.

Ambition and banality are luxuries not allowed to most young women from Shopian, a town seared into the collective memory of Kashmir. It is the apple-growing town where in 2009 two young women, the 22-year-old Neelofar Jan and the 17-year-old Asiya Jan, were found dead in a stream, triggering a wave of protest and alienation.

That alienation, for some time now, has substantially changed Kashmiriyat, from a philosophy of pluralism and accommodation to one of exclusion. In 2007, a Kashmiri Pandit, who represents the anger of Hindu exiles, called it "brokered bliss, paid for by the silence and subjugation of the minority". As I write this, some Muslims  who represent the other great anger, are calling Khalida's big break the "destruction" of Kashmiriyat — their extreme interpretation of it. This alienation doesn't allow the recognition of achievement, as we found last year when hardliners struggled to accept that Shah Faesal, a Kashmiri doctor (his father killed by terrorists in 2003), topped the prestigious all-India civil services exam.

Faith in the old Kashmiriyat has not been abandoned by those in the middle, the strong voices that speak up against the hate-mongers, by those who want to live the change. Last month, when two young women were found dead, allegedly shot by terrorists, these voices forced a condemnation from reluctant separatists. Yesterday, the Greater Kashmir newspaper reported how some young Hindu refugees, returning under a state rehabilitation scheme, were giving up official housing and living as paying guests with local Muslim families in Budgam.

I refer you to a blog post last month by one of these voices. Srinagar boy Junaid Azim Mattu, a political analyst, has this to say: "Our radical-by-convenience leaders tell us that an amicable, acceptable and pragmatic resolution means a 'sell-out'. Nothing short of a plebiscite 'come what may' are the charming proclamations that resound from safe houses and pulpits of righteousness. They speak of morals and integrity as they unabashedly bask in an accountability-free atmosphere of sensationalism and polemics, feeling little or no need to answer questions — where are we headed and how?"

Many Kashmiris, the thousands who have lost parents, children, relatives and friends in two decades of violence, hate and intolerance, obviously have no interest in such voices; too many have transformed into something they are not. It would take an extraordinary individual to disregard state persecution and personal tragedy and see the big picture.

Yet, in great measure, this is what happened in South Africa, the best example of a wounded society offering itself a chance at restorative justice. In 1995, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission offered those who suffered atrocities and those who perpetrated them — no side was exempt from appearing — over a period of 34 years a chance to publicly testify, confess, seek amnesty and reconcile. The commission was not a universal success, but it played a major role in unifying South Africa's fractured society.

At least 18 countries have used some kind of reconciliation mechanisms to heal wounds, the latest being Sri Lanka, whose partial, secretive effort is widely seen as dubious. Even if India launches a serious peace process in Kashmir, the wounds are too deep to heal without healthy doses of truth and reconciliation. Without it, more will be doomed to become what they are not.





In the wake of the Supreme Court's judgement in the Aruna Shanbaug case, the arguments have moved from the 'potential to be misused' argument to that of 'I have the right to choose when and how I wish to die'. So it's no surprise that euthanasia is being viewed as a pre-emptive strike that will prevent the 'loss of control' or becoming a 'burden' on care-givers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) maintains that "governments should not consider the legalisation of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia until they have demonstrated the full availability and practice of palliative care for all citizens" (WHO Recommendations, Cancer Pain Relief and Palliative Care, 1990).

This is a position that has been reiterated by practitioners of palliative medicine worldwide. They have argued that countries that have legalised (or have sought to legalise) euthanasia and/or physician-assisted suicide have inferior palliative care services. The inference is that because of inadequate care, the suffering of the terminally ill is not relieved and, hence, the demand for assisted dying.

Published data also seems to support this position. A US study of physician-assisted suicides in Oregon suggests that 46% of patients who received substantive palliative care changed their minds as compared to the 15% who weren't offered palliative care (New England Journal of Medicine 2000). This was also supported by evidence presented by other palliative care physicians from Britain, the Netherlands and Australia.

On the other side, economic factors — namely the cost of treatment and subtle coercion from carers — were recognised as parameters that can tip the balance in favour of opting for an assisted death.

But there are basic questions that beg to be answered:

Would offering euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide as a therapeutic option further add to the burden on patients as well as signify a deleterious shift in clinical practice currently focused on saving lives?

Who has the right to decide if and when a life-prolonging treatment be started or stopped or when suffering has become unbearable? The patient, the family, the physician, the lawmaker, or society at large?

Is it justified, in a situation where there is limited access to palliative care, to deny a person the right to end his suffering by euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide?

With people living longer and with diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's and  dementia on the rise, and with reduced family and community support, is it realistic to expect people to continue to live with dignity when no outside support is available?

Is it not better to legalise euthanasia, and thus bring it under closer control and scrutiny rather than allow it to operate clandestinely?

Do laws regulating living wills or advance directives that exist in only a few countries now have any place in this debate?

Does moral responsibility and personal beliefs count in a discussion on euthanasia and palliative care?

The debate shouldn't be seen in an either/or paradigm but as a step-by-step approach with euthanasia offered only in the rarest of cases where it can be proved beyond any doubt that there is unrelieved suffering.

Harmala Gupta is founder-president, CanSupport

The views expressed by the author are personal



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

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

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

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






After a serious battle of wills, the DMK and the Congress have reconciled, and the Congress has been allotted 63 seats to fight in Tamil Nadu. Meanwhile, wrenching negotiations with Mamata Banerjee are in progress for the West Bengal polls, and party general secretary Digvijaya Singh has hinted that the party would eschew alliances and fight for itself in Assam. This push and pull is inevitable in any alliance, but it's particularly difficult for the Congress, whose relationship with coalition partners has never been a comfortably symbiotic one.

There's an inevitable tension between the party and its regional partners. The longer the Congress relies on them to coast through the polls, the more it perceives itself draining the life out of its own organisation in those places. In Bihar, its decision to soldier on alone backfired, giving it a mere four seats, revealing its feebleness in the state. Even in Uttar Pradesh, though the party's 2009 Lok Sabha victory has been much trumpeted, its performance has been sub-par in assembly elections. However, the party is open about its desire to rebuild itself across the country. The allies, for their part, are therefore often suspicious of the Congress's commitment to a durable relationship.

But even more than the fact that the Congress and its partners have competing larger goals, the problem is psychological. The Congress has only lately begun to play well with others. It was only in 2001 after its 81st plenary that the Congress announced its readiness to initiate coalitions with like-minded parties or those who could complement it in states where it had withered away. In 2004, Sonia Gandhi made active efforts to patch together a set of partnerships. However, the party seems almost hardwired to resist teamwork, after decades of easy dominance. Unlike the BJP, which energetically pursued other parties to expand its influence, and created its presence in several states by partnering with and eventually swallowing up other parties (like the Janata Dal in Gujarat), the Congress has been reluctant to engage. (Even so, the BJP found it difficult to hold on to all its allies once it lost power.) The Congress's hauteur is evident in its political interactions — for instance, UPA 2 doesn't have a coordination committee or a common minimum programme, refusing to institutionally fuse its energies with allies and work as a single force in government. However, for now at least, it has no choice but to balance its larger plans with its provisional ones, and try to get along with its allies.






As entrepreneurship sprouts up around India, some of what we'll see grow will be, frankly, weeds. Many of the small non-banking financial companies that serve those without access to India's more formal financial sector are fly-by-night operators. And chit funds can often be extremely useful; in Kerala, for example, they have helped as means of micro-savings and insurance. But, given that there are more than enough horrific stories of extortion and swindling — particularly directed towards the most vulnerable sections of society, those with the least recourse — it is unsurprising that governments have felt the need to regulate their activity.

One such attempt was made by the Tamil Nadu government in 1997, called the Tamil Nadu Protection of Interests of Depositors (in Finance Establishments) Act. It allowed for, among other things, the recovery from the companies' assets of the dues they owed their subscribers. Meanwhile, however, the Bombay high court was called upon to examine a similar law in Maharashtra, and declared it unconstitutional, saying that only Parliament could make such a law. As the Madras high court upheld the constitutionality of the TN version of the law, the matter landed eventually with the Supreme Court, which ruled on Tuesday in favour of the Madras high court. The SC was moved by both the numbers — till July 2002, the judgment said, almost Rs 2,000 crore had been swindled from TN's poor — and also the methods, in which "these depositors were often given a small passbook as a token of acknowledgement of their deposit... which was an unsecured promise executed on a waste paper", and by the profile of those swindled, "senior citizens above 80 years, senior citizens between 60 and 80 years, widows, handicapped, those driven out by wards, retired government servants and pensioners, and persons living below the poverty line."

While states can now regulate their NBFCs without fear of crossing constitutional boundaries, it remains the fact that this is a gaping hole in India's regulatory structure. The SC pointed out that neither the RBI Act nor the Banking Regulation Act covers them. The Centre should move to fill this gap.






Physical obstacles abound in our public spaces, severely hampering the participation of the disabled. When it comes to our historical monuments, with their steep stairways, narrow corridors and the exclusivist and often imperialist concerns of another century, it's far worse. The Taj Mahal's splendid symmetry and numinous romance, for instance, may have got it hundreds of thousands of tourists a year, but until now it didn't lend itself to be experienced by the physically challenged. It's a pointer to a gross disregard for the concerns of the disabled while making policies, planning infrastructure and carving tourist destinations that we forgot to put ramps to grant them easy access. We neglected to make our maps and signages tactile for the visually challenged. Now, finally, the government is making amends and attempting to make some of the monuments, including a few World Heritage Sites (WHS), accessible to the disabled.

The Centre has decided to grant Rs 5 crore to the Archaeological Survey of India to create the necessary infrastructure — wide pathways, ramps, accessible toilets, detailed descriptions and notice boards in Braille, audio devices and modified ticket counters — to make the monuments disabled-friendly. The buildings zeroed in are the WHSs of Fatehpur Sikri, the Agra Fort, the Taj, the Sun Temple at Konark, and 25 other ticketed monuments. It is, though delayed, a move in the best traditions of inclusive and accessible tourism.

A nation's cultural symbols and architectural heritage are eloquent expressions not just of a glorious past but also of its present preoccupations. And we need to re-adapt our buildings, remove their old barriers, to reflect them. These are indeed welcome signs.








Ever since the Arab world erupted, in India too there have been murmurs about an Egypt-like movement — "ask for your own Tahrir Square" — by several who feel that things are so rotten here that we need a dose of revolution. But for all those anxiously looking for parallels, it may be quite conversely the time to celebrate some of the things that make India so different from Mubarak's Misr, Bouteflika's

Algeria or Ben Ali's Tunisia. The parallel, however lightheartedly made, is unfair.

A faster pace of life has indeed resulted in an increased annoyance with things that don't work, the "rotten politician" and the "system" in general are derided even more, and now several levels of injustice are sought to be "wiped out" in one Tahrir-like event. But the anxiety to seek correctives for things that are wrong with Indian democracy should not prompt us to argue about going down the revolutionary road. If anything, the protests in Tahrir Square should alert us to things that we take for granted — the right to vote, to change regimes, to seek redress for grievances in a system that at least recognises the equality of its citizens and grants space for their protests.

The one thing that people in dictator-led countries are screaming out for is a system which has institutions that go beyond a particular person or a family. Those famed "checks and balances" of institutions expand the definition of democracy beyond the majority-rules principle and make it a space where one cannot get away with things that are patently wrong.

Consider the Supreme Court judgment on P.J. Thomas's status as Central Vigilance Commissioner. In a trenchant order, the court quashed the appointment of the chief of the highest anti-corruption body in the country, not allowing the government to get away with whatever excuse there may be — arrogance, ignorance or the stealth of it all. The beauty is that while the case took time — long enough to allow the Centre to make its case and for the gentleman appointed to defend himself — in the end it made a clear distinction between taking a call on the bureaucrat's culpability in the palmolein case and the propriety of appointing a person with a chargesheet against him as the head of the anti-corruption watchdog.

It has become unfashionable to be patient about letting systems work themselves out. While there is a case to speed up processes, on the whole, few agencies are allowed to run amok and undermine democracy. From laying down the "basic structure" of the Constitution, the courts have provided stability for the Indian state despite the temptation of successive political heads who may not have thought twice about making reckless appointments of yes-men, changing rules or riding rough-shod over minority interests. The courts took up cases concerning elected leaders — Indira Gandhi in the 1970s, Jayalalithaa in the 1990s, Narendra Modi in the 2000s, as and when they were seen as violating aspects of the Constitution — and enforced larger principles that ultimately make India. The legislature and the executive have hit back, of course, the latest being the example of Parliament opposing the anti-reservation line taken by the SC in 2005 and going on to amend the Constitution to ensure that reservations for OBCs were possible. But by and large, by being vigilant, the courts have deepened democracy beyond popular mandates, and lent the system the all-important balance. We saw this just recently in the order and scrutiny the courts have brought to the 2G investigation — so much so that the CBI had to take A. Raja in custody, never mind his political clout.

The screws are tightening on the elected to get their house in order. Therefore, it seems this is the right time to ensure that attention is also turned to other elements to fully restore the "balance" between various organs of the system.

Last week, charges were framed against a high court judge the day she demitted office in a cash-at-door scam in Chandigarh. In the PF scam in Ghaziabad, six retired judges are expected to appear in the SC on March 14, failing which warrants could be issued against them. A chief justice of a high court has been castigated for land-grab and sent off to another high court, for punishment or protection, depending on your point of view. Another judge faces impeachment proceedings for money paid in bribes and the conduct of a former chief justice is a matter of intense debate.

The only way available to check corruption among those who judge others is impeachment. Ironically, that has not worked even once. In 1993, the Congress's vote made the impeachment of the only judge to be tried by Parliament, Justice V. Ramaswami, impossible. There have been no real attempts to rein in corruption other than the recent chargesheets against judges. The debate on the appointment and removal of judges is an ongoing one. A 1993 SC judgment pretty much laid down the guidelines for appointing judges. Any attempt to alter them has met with the Lordships' resistance and unease. A lot of it is healthy scepticism about the executive trying to seize control of the judiciary. But a lot of it also comes from the desire to retain control.

The judiciary has done an admirable job in bringing the elected to book. But till the same zeal and light is turned inwards and it is subjected to the same high standards of accountability and probity, the balance in the system will be less than optimum.

A whiff of fresh air, if not Jasmine, may well be in order to just restore the balance between the several poles that constitute the Indian experiment.







Nilambar Acharya, chairman of the constitution committee, has been openly expressing his doubt about the constituent assembly's (CA) ability to deliver the new constitution by the May 28 deadline. A recent supreme court judgment that the CA has an obligation to draft the constitution without compromising on its mandate, and that extending tenure is just constitutional, may have come as a relief for the House, but the judgment has been criticised by many, including the constitutional experts, as an endorsement of the apathy and failure of the CA.

Nor is the judgment guarantee that the remaining three months of the CA would be trouble-free.

Major parties in the CA are yet to come anywhere near on crucial, contentious issues, including the model of governance, political system and federalism. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) recently said it would accept a bi-cameral parliament, but has so far refused to commit itself to the Westminster model of democracy, nor has it given up its demand for a caste- or ethnicity-based federalism. The consolidation of radical left forces, with the formation of a left government with the UCPN-M as dominant partner, has only enhanced fear that democratic forces would be further marginalised.

The fear was more palpable at the people's level, as well as in Delhi that brokered a truce between the Maoists and pro-democracy parties some five years ago, about the promise that Maoists would henceforth adopt the democratic system and give up violence.

Thousands of people attended the funeral of K.P. Bhattarai on March 6, despite major political parties, including the Nepali Congress he had founded, having discarded him as "regressive" since he dissociated from the party, opposing the shift to "federal and republican" Nepal. The cabinet, after initial reservations, felt compelled to give him full state honours.

Bhattarai, a Gandhian, twice prime minister and an active participant in India's freedom and Nepal's democratic struggle, had led the interim government that successfully delivered a highly admired democratic constitution and conducted the general election within the stipulated period in 1991.

The Maoist insurgency that began in 1996 resulted in the scrapping of that constitution in 2006. While his longtime colleagues, including G.P. Koirala, the Nepali Congress and all the other parties joined hands with Maoists, Bhattarai refused to budge from the party's long-stated position that "Nepal's independence, stability and prosperity will be possible only if the constitutional monarchy and pro-democracy forces worked together." Through a statement issued a few months ago, he said that the revival of the 1991 constitution was the only way out. President Rambaran Yadav broke protocol and defied his secretariat's advice not to go personally to Dasrath Rangashala where Bhattarai's body was in state for public homage. Not only was never a finger raised at him for corruption during a long public life, but Bhattarai was perhaps the only PM in South Asia who died homeless, living his last three years at an ashram run by a trust named after him. He was the longest-serving prisoner of conscience — altogether 14 years — during the king's regime; but he always asked the kings, one after another, to be democratic, nationalistic and not greedy. His belief in people's right and ability to reform was amazing, and he was known to forgive his adversaries easily.

The fact that the Indian political spectrum chose not to send any representative to his funeral — in contrast to their participation in Koirala's exactly a year ago — and that not Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna sent the government's condolence message to the Nepali Congress is not free from debate in Nepal's political circles and hardly appreciated. It seems Bhattarai almost became a persona non grata for Delhi after he refused to conform to the radical changes. Surya Bahadur Thapa, a four-time PM and friend of India, flew to Delhi for a high-level meeting with India's officialdom on the day of Bhattarai's funeral. The message was clear: there was no looking back on the course Nepal has adopted, and that it should be institutionalised by delivering the constitution.

Frequent high-level seminars with representatives from South Block and retired authors of the 2005 change concur there is no reason to panic, but appear worried about China's increased presence in the north, which they think is likely to prove detrimental to India's security interests. But how will the delivery of the constitution and continued leftwards polarisation take care of the situation? There seems to be no clear answer. Yet, Delhi seems to be toying with the idea of encouraging the Nepali actors to go for a hurriedly thrust and even incomplete constitution, and not let the achievements of the 2006 movement go in vain.

But that hardly takes into account the public mood in Nepal. They are clearly not willing to forgive the CA and its leaders, nor are they likely to compromise on liberal democratic values. The CA may not have outlived its utility, but has proved it is not capable of delivering.







On November 27, 1973, Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug, a young nurse, 24 years old, at KEM hospital in Mumbai was brutally strangulated with a dog-chain and sexually assaulted by a sweeper at the hospital. As a result of this assault, Aruna suffered irreversible brain damage and came to be in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) for 37 years, with no mental faculties or sense of awareness. Since September 2010, she has been kept alive only by being fed through a nasogastric tube. Abandoned by her family and friends, she has been looked after for over 37 years by the hospital's nursing staff, which has considered her one of their family.

Aruna's case would have been forgotten but for the accident of a social activist and journalist Pinki Virani who, claiming to be her "next friend," and with the best intentions and out of humanitarian considerations, asked the Supreme Court to save Aruna from further misery by withdrawing the life-support given her. On March 7, 2011, the Supreme Court, in a landmark decision bearing Aruna's name, made amends for the cruelty with which life and society had treated her, by refusing this prayer to discontinue her life-support, and allowing her to remain for the rest of her life in the tender care and support of the hospital's nursing staff.

In coming to this decision, Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra gave a pioneering judgment on the subject of terminating the life of terminally sick persons. This is at all times a controversial subject, on which there is no legislative guidance or any authoritative pronouncement of any court in India, till date. The only legislation is the antiquated Indian Penal Code of 1860, which cruelly punishes a person who attempts suicide and those who abet the suicide. In 1996, the Supreme Court held that these provisions of the penal code were legal and that there was no fundamental right to die — a decision generally considered retrograde and out of tune with the realities of life.

For the first time in India, the Supreme Court's judgment, written by Justice Markandey Katju, has authoritatively stated that it is lawful to withdraw life-support of a patient in a persistent vegetative state and allow death to take place. This is described as "passive euthanasia". On this, the court agreed with this writer's opinion as amicus curiae, and disagreed with the opinion of the attorney-general of India, that such a step should never be permitted in law. The court has also opined that it is high time that the offence of suicide in the Indian Penal Code was repealed. On the other hand, the court has forbidden the positive action of putting an end to human life, say by administering a lethal drug. This is described as "positive euthanasia". Such an action on the part of the doctors, attendants or the family of a terminally ill person would be a crime.

The law has recognised the principle of self-determination of a person. This permits a person to choose the continuation of a medical treatment or not. What happens when a terminally ill patient is not in a condition to make his own decision? This is the most difficult situation. In such cases, the termination of treatment is to be made considering "the best interests of the patient". This decision should be made by the medical attendants who are in charge of the patient, and usually with the endorsement of patient's family. In such cases the discontinuance of life-support is not considered to be a termination of life, like cutting a mountaineer's rope or severing the air pipe of a deep sea diver. Rather, the question is whether medical treatment should be continued if it only prolongs the patient's life, with no purpose.

The unusual feature of Aruna's case was that there was no medical opinion holding that her condition was such that the feeding tube should be withdrawn. On the other hand, three eminent doctors appointed by the Supreme Court stated in their report that although she was in a persistent vegetative state, the decision to terminate

life support or not, in Aruna's best interests, could be made only by the doctors and nurses of the hospital who had looked after her for 37 years.

In an affidavit, the dean of KEM hospital stated: "Not once, in this long sojourn of 33 years, has anybody thought of putting an end to Aruna's so-called vegetative existence. Withdrawal should not be allowed as she had crossed 60 years of life and would one day meet her natural end," and that "the doctors and nurses and staff of the hospital were determined to take care of her till her last breath by natural process." After this moving statement by the dean of the hospital, the court rightly considered his opinion as most decisive in the matter of the withdrawal of life-support to Aruna. In fact, the court considered the hospital staff to be Aruna's real guardians.

For future cases of life-support to be refused or withdrawn, the court has mandated that until Parliament makes the necessary law, the high court's consent should be obtained for each case, assisted by a committee of three reputed doctors appointed by the high court. The court made this provision for fear that the liberty given to doctors and relatives of the patient may be misused. However well-intentioned, this may inhibit and delay necessary and immediate action in genuine cases, and many people across India may not be able to apply to the high court. But overall, the Supreme Court has made an outstanding contribution to humanistic jurisprudence in our country.

The writer, a former solicitor-general of India, was amicus curiae to the Supreme Court in 'Aruna Shanbaug vs Union of India'







Guess who went in for an Extreme Makeover? Why, the channel that gives us a show by that name, who else? BBC Entertainment. We're not complaining, no, not exactly, not yet, but they've begun to look like a jigsaw of Discovery, National Geographic, TLC and Star World with a line-up that tries to fit facts with fiction, alongside lifestyle.

That means more seriousness with factual series like Natural World, Tropic of Capricorn, Wonders of the Solar System at prime time; that means less light entertainment after 8 pm with the likes of Hotel Babylon and Absolutely Fabulous at an early evening slot, although Dancing with the Stars retains a late evening position; and that means, "seriously entertaining" programmes like the hugely imaginative motor show Top Gear, the home-changing Extreme Makeover, the drama series Inspector George Gently starring the absolutely fabulous Martin Shaw, or old faithfuls Spooks and Silent Witness.

That leaves shows that defy categories or need newly invented ones: there's the seriously-I-don't-know-what-to-call-it reality show Don't tell the Bride, in which the groom plans every last candle on his wedding cake without the knowledge, sorry, interference of the bride. In India, this band, baaja baraat wedding show would have been called Bahu Bina Shaadi. Or else, there's The Restaurant, Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets, Trish's Mediterranean Kitchen that presumably feed into our insatiable hunger for more food shows, although why we would want to watch food preparations we would never eat or cook ourselves, is extremely puzzling: raw, sorry, rare meat dishes and pork entrails in wine sauce, anyone?

If it's BBC, it can't be anything but well-produced. Nevertheless, there's a sense of loss and longing. Loss because we are genuinely at a loss: how to choose between BBC Entertainment, Discovery, TLC or NG for similar shows on nature, history, the universe or food — all equally well-executed and seriously entertaining? Clearly, there's a branding problem here.

And longing because which of us doesn't yearn to see some of those wonderful old BBC drama series? Pride and Prejudice for one, with Colin Firth. It's old hat but with his stammering performance in The King's Speech, Firth is very much the man we want to watch. Sad that we still do not see the best drama or comedy series the BBC has in its archives.

Which brings us to watching perhaps the best (or worst) you'll ever see of that self-possessed lady called Sarah Palin. Last seen on TV, she was out fishing. For fish, specifically salmon (Sarah Palin's Alaska, TLC). This new nine-week series is about how outdoor gal Palin loves her family and her state with a love so sweet, it beats treacle, it beats the chocolate cake she prepares oh-so-lovingly for her daughter Willow's sixteenth birthday.

In the first episode, we visited Palin at home and in a boat which is her second home because husband Todd "is the best fisherman" (in Alaska, America, the world?); wherever she goes, she finds sermons in salmon and homilies in household chores, about family and traditions — the twin pillars of her political beliefs as a Republican. There's something so self-satisfied about her. On Todd: "he loves kids (they have five?)... that was one of the things that attracted me to him... I was lucky to have the perfect person for me." On young son Trig, who suffers from Down's syndrome: "He is such a joy." About taking 16-year-old Willow out to clean fish: "I would rather she be out here, picking fish" than out texting, phoning, partying. On her children: "we don't spoil them materialistically but with love." Visiting Todd's cousin Ina, whom she hasn't seen in two years: "reminds me how important family is, traditions are... how blessed we are." If Palin is to be believed, everything in Alaska, in her family, is "perfect", "blessed", "loved" and more wholesome than fresh fruit.

There's just one problem: though she looks warm in her red jacket, there's something steely behind those spectacles she wears; and despite her loving protestations, she sounds like a moral science school teacher. She's something of a cold fish. Blame it on Alaska and all that time she spent out on a boat.







In a path-breaking ruling delivered earlier this week, the Supreme Court conceded that the right to live with dignity includes, within its scope, the right to die with dignity. In the process of examining the right of Aruna Shanbaug, a staff nurse of KEM hospital who has been in a coma since 1973, the two-judge bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra declared that suicide is not a crime, and advised the government to consider the deletion of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which penalises a person who has survived an unsuccessful suicide attempt. In clear terms, the court has conceded that no one can be forced to live against one's wishes.

While rejecting the petition for mercy killing filed on Aruna's behalf by writer Pinki Virani, as her "next friend", the court made an important distinction between "passive" and "active" euthanasia and held that passive euthanasia is permissible while active euthanasia is prohibited.

Explaining this concept further, the court commented that if the person is allowed to die by not administering life-saving drugs or some other type of mechanical or technical support, it can be deemed to be passive euthanasia. But administering lethal drugs that would induce death would be active euthanasia. Upholding a person's right to refuse treatment, the court validated the principle of self-determination or informed consent to passive euthanasia. The court clarified further that informed consent can be given in advance, through the concept of a "living will" made at an earlier point of time while the person is in full control of all faculties, an idea which is more common in countries like Canada.

The court explained that in passive euthanasia, the question is not whether it is in the best interest of the patient that s/he should die. Rather, the question is whether it is in the best interest of the patient that her life should be prolonged by the continuance of life-support treatment. This opinion must be formed by a responsible and competent body of medical persons in charge of the patient. However, fearing misuse, the Supreme Court has restrained the right of family members, doctors and "next friend" to make the choice of passive euthanasia on behalf of a terminally ill patient, and has directed that the permission must be sought from the high court in its capacity as parens patriae (guardian of an incompetent person) on a case-to-case basis, examining the facts and circumstances of each case.

The fear of misuse by greedy relatives who might resort to this remedy and withdraw life-saving support, or the anxiety that this provision might aid husbands to cut short the medical treatment of their wives suffering from curable ailments, is real. Hence the case-to-case approach is necessary and appropriate to separate the grain from the chaff.

While being sensitive to the needs of the terminally ill, why did the court reject Virani's petition filed on behalf of Aruna on a note of compassion, to bring to an end her suffering? Aruna has been in a vegetative state since the day she was brutally sodomised and strangled 38 years ago, causing irreparable brain damage.

The court held that though the efforts of Virani, who had written a book on Aruna's suffering, needed to be applauded, she could not be deemed the "next friend" and hence did not have locus standi to plead on her behalf for her death. This power to petition for her death, the court declared, vests squarely with the medical and nursing staff of KEM hospital, who have been caring for Aruna through these years with utmost dedication; at the appropriate time, it is they who will have the right to plead for mercy killing on her behalf. Through this, the court elevated the status of the primary caregiver as "next friend", vested with powers of decision-making on behalf of their ward of life-and-death magnitude. This is in recognition of the selfless service the hospital provided Aruna, even while her own biological family abandoned her.

Though the writ petition could have been dismissed at the preliminary stage, as no ground of violation of a fundamental right was made out, the Supreme Court opted to examine the issue at length due to the growing societal concern over euthanasia and set certain guidelines for future cases. The judgment will have far-reaching implications and will bring some respite to families who do care for their loved ones but lack the crucial financial resources to meet the prohibitive costs of privatised medical care, and save the terminally ill from a tortuous and lingering death. Unless the state provides free medical aid to the poor and marginalised, mere moral pontification about the divinity enshrined in the right to life is of little solace to the families of terminally ill people.

The writer is a women's rights lawyer







Rooting for ramdev

The RSS has come out in strong support of yoga guru Swami Ramdev and has strongly criticised the Congress for attacking him. It says Ramdev's call to fight corruption could not have come at a more appropriate time as it coincided with the Supreme Court quashing the appointment of P.J. Thomas as CVC. The Organiser gladly notes that Ramdev had at a recent rally in Delhi called the Congress the fountainhead of corruption in India and accused it of not taking any corrective measures to identify, catch and punish the guilty.

"The Congress was rattled. Understandably. It issued a statement within hours saying that religion should be kept out of politics. Instead of extending support to the fight against corruption, the Congress sounded upset and angry," the lead editorial says. "That the Congress should speak of keeping religion out of politics is an irony... It has always pitched one community against another, one caste against another and one religion against another to gain votes. Right now, it is pandering to the minority votebank in a way never seen before. It has unleashed its office bearers to launch vituperative campaigns against Hindus."

India, it argues, has a rich history of "religious leaders stepping in when social and political life goes awry or when the rulers forget their duty." It notes that Buddhist monks took to the streets to safeguard the interest of the people of Myanmar. For some time, monks were involved in politics in Sri Lanka as well, while the church spearheaded the freedom movement in South Africa. "But under the Congress, religious leaders interfere at the party level. In Kerala the party candidates are decided in consultation with the church, which in turn instructs the followers which candidate to vote for... In Assam, the dirty game it is playing for decades, at the cost of the nation, with the illegal Bangladesh immigrants issue is there for all to see," it says.

WHy Jamia?

An article in the Organiser calls the recent decision to grant minority status to Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia unfortunate. The decision satisfies only the "fissiparous and secessionist elements" of India, it curiously notes. Granting minority status will mean "just converting this Central university into another pocket of Islamic politics, at the cost of the Hindu majority, like the Aligarh Muslim University. Already, the Jamia Millia Islamia is wholly funded by the Government of India." It notes that the order argues that Jamia was established by the Muslims in 1920 for the benefit of the Muslims and it has only been given its due as a minority institution. "If this is true, why should the Central government of India finance it?"

It further argues that if a minority educational institution receives state aid, then it comes under the purview of Article 29(2) of the Constitution which mandates no discrimination in admission on the basis of religion, race, caste or language. Besides, Article 28 (1) states that no religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds. "In all probability, it is under this article that the Central and state government do not allow religious instruction in aided educational institutions under Hindu management. Strangely enough, but aided or even wholly financed minority institutions, especially the madrasas, seem to be exempt from it," it argues.

Congress arrogance

In the context of the Supreme Court's quashing of the appointment of P.J. Thomas as CVC, an editorial in Panchjanya says that his appointment was an example of how a government drunk on the arrogance of power tried to "play with democracy." This judgement, it argues, is not just an attack on the arrogance of the Manmohan Singh government but also exposes how morality in politics has been torn to shreds.

Having overruled the objections raised by the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, the editorial says the government told one lie after another in justification, even going to the extent of saying that impeccable integrity was not a condition for the appointment of the head of the country's anti-corruption watchdog. When there is a scam in the appointment of the top anti-corruption officer, it asks, how can corruption be reined in?

It argues that this shows that the intentions of the government were wrong, and it wanted as CVC a person who would dance to its tune, and turn a blind eye to the menace of corruption. Another article in the edition argues that the quashed appointment is the only the latest example of how the Congress has, for 63 years, sown the seeds of corruption everywhere and misused constitutional offices. 







Hero Honda's shareholders have reason to be worried about what's happening in their company, but more than that, Wednesday's decision of purchase of Honda's shares by some Munjal investment firms throws up interesting issues for both taxmen and regulators. The immediate question in shareholders' minds, of course, is why Honda has sold its 26% shareholding in Hero Honda at R740 per share, or less than half the current market price. Are shareholders to assume that it means the two former partners know something about the company that they don't; does it mean the royalty being paid to Honda is in some way higher than it would have been otherwise; is this the price the canny Munjals, who own 26% of Hero Honda, have managed to extract from Honda for allowing it to go its own way without any non-compete clause being exercised? There are many more questions and, sadly for a group that prides itself on its corporate governance ethic, there is little clarity on this.

The other question is of what happens to the sales various

Munjal investment firms had lined up with private equity players. The Munjals had applied to the FIPB to sell 45% of their stake in investment firm Hero Investment Pvt Ltd—since HIPL owns 17.33% of Hero Honda, effectively 7.8% of Hero Honda's shares are to be sold to PE players (another 8.67% of Hero Honda is owned by group investment firm Bahadur Chand Investments Pvt Ltd, taking the total Munjal holding to 26%). The Munjal FIPB application says it hopes to raise up to R4,250 crore for this transaction. R4,250 crore for 7.8% versus R3,842 crore the Munjals are paying for 26% of the company! It would be interesting to see if the PE firms will now demand a reduction in prices.

It would also be interesting to see how the taxman approaches the sale. The taxman can levy capital gains tax based on the sale value of R3,842 crore, or he can refuse to accept this valuation and say the market price of Hero Honda shares will determine the capital gains. There are few precedents to go by, so how the taxman treats the case will have an important bearing on future transactions.

In other words, interesting times ahead for the Munjals and the company they will get to own 52% of.





Given how a recent study by the World Bank and the Asian Institute of Transport Development, along 995 km of the National Highway 2, confirms highway building is the best anti-poverty measure there is, it's obvious the government would want to move up the pace of road-building several notches. Yet, after a spurt in contracts awarded by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), there's been a huge slump. From 1,200 km awarded in 2007-08, it fell to 611 km in 2008-09, jumped to 3,358 km in 2009-10 and rose to 4,100 km in the first 11 months of 2010-11—except, while about 2,700 km of projects got awarded in the first two months of the year, around half that got awarded in the next nine months. Roads completed have fallen from 2,693 km in 2009-10 to 859 km in the April to October 2010 period. One reason, of course, is the sharp fall in the NHAI's processing of contracts following the arrest of two senior officials (another was transferred out) in the middle of last year, once charges of graft gained ground—things got so bad, India's biggest construction firm L&T actually went to court challenging an arbitrary disqualification.

The other reason is that NHAI doesn't have a full-time chairman even though the search committee under the Cabinet Secretary got all applications as long ago as June last year. The then chairman was also considered for an extension but he failed to get clearance from the vigilance department. Why it should take so long to find a suitable candidate is anybody's guess. Interestingly, the criteria for applications were also fixed in such a way that the number of applications were quite limited, to make it certain only a senior bureaucrat could be selected for the job. This is unfortunate, more so given how, in the case of the CVC, the Supreme Court has just pointed out that the government would do well to consider more candidates than serving bureaucrats for important jobs. Given the huge responsibility the NHAI has to bear, and the nature of the complaints made against it—of the organisation hurtling towards bankruptcy, of projects being over-engineered, of large sums stuck in disputes, among others—the organisational challenge is a serious one.





The commerce ministry has produced a strategy paper for doubling exports in the next three years (2011-12 to 2013-14). This involves a doubling of exports from $225 billion in 2010-11 to $450 billion in 2013-14, implying a compound annual average rate of growth of 26%. Stating a target is somewhat different from enunciating and implementing a strategy. While points about diversification and value addition are obvious and accepted, the commerce ministry's arsenal to push these is limited. The revival of global demand is exogenous. WTO negotiations are stuck. In any event, most protectionist measures are WTO-compliant. Exports of goods are still price sensitive, certainly in low-value segments. While the commerce ministry can seek to resist rupee appreciation, exchange rates are also influenced by capital inflows and RBI intervention to prevent appreciation is not costless. The expression 'transaction cost' includes both infrastructure costs and procedural costs. There is little the commerce ministry can do to improve infrastructure. The procedures have already been simplified. To the extent hurdles remain, those are not for exports per se, but for claiming export incentives. While 2011-12 has introduced self-certification as a welcome step, revamping export incentives (and distinguishing them from export subsidies) requires a full-fledged GST. Beyond asking for fiscal incentives, legitimate questions can therefore be asked about utility of such a strategic exercise.

Having said this, there are interesting points made in the strategy paper about the numbers. For instance, projecting on basis of trends between 2002-03 and 2009-10, export/GDP ratio in 2013-14 is projected at 17.5%, extrapolating on the basis of IMF's GDP forecasts. Similarly, import/GDP ratio in 2013-14 is projected at 30.3%, thus leading to an alarming balance of trade deficit of 12.8% of GDP in 2013-14. The strategy paper then asks legitimate questions about the financing of this trade deficit. In 2009-10, the trade deficit was 7.6% of GDP. While the question is legitimate, the numbers should be treated with some scepticism. First, both export and import numbers were distorted from 2008-09. Consequently, should trends have been based on 2002-03 to 2009-10? However, this is partly a pedantic point, since both imports and exports dipped from 2008-09 and the matching point remains. Second, and more importantly, something is clearly wrong with the commerce ministry's GDP numbers. They involve nominal GDP growth rates of between 10% and 11%. IMF's World Economic Outlook, on which GDP numbers are purportedly based, provides projections of real GDP growth and these have historically tended to be a shade lower than the actual.

The commerce ministry's paper doesn't explain how real GDP growth has been converted into nominal GDP growth. Clearly, some GDP deflator has been used. Whatever is the GDP deflator, nominal GDP growth has generally been around 14%, not between 10% and 11%. Correcting for this anomaly reduces trade deficit in 2013-14 to a slightly more respectable 11.5%. To complicate matters, these numbers are not just about merchandise trade, but also about merchandise trade that goes through customs and DGCI&S. Not every transaction goes through this process; defence imports being a case in point. In passing, India's trade now is no longer what it used to be in the 1970s and 1980s, since India also exports refined petroleum products. Thus, an increase in crude oil prices no longer impacts balance of trade the way it did then. But to return to the point, is there enough cushion in the invisibles account to cushion trade deficits that are 11.5%, if not 13% of GDP? So far, remittances haven't suffered that much, even after the global financial crisis. Question-marks are more about net invisibles through services. In net terms, service exports have been sluggish, both because inflows have been adversely affected by the global financial crisis and because outflows have increased. Thus, for specific quarters, though never for a full year, current account deficit/GDP ratio has crossed 4%.

There can be no unanimity about tenable levels of current account deficits, since that is a function of the nature of capital inflows. Assuming a figure of 3.5% and balance of trade deficit of 11.5% in 2013-14, net invisible inflows will have to increase to 8% of GDP. If one projects on current trends, that is unlikely. But they did amount to 7.4% in 2008-09 and, had pre-financial crisis trends continued, 8% is not impossible. In addition, one needs to focus on the nature of capital flows. While differences between portfolio capital and FDI can be blurred, there is concern that inbound FDI has declined in 2009-10 compared to 2008-09 and the earlier trend of continuous increase has been reversed. Simultaneously, outward FDI shows no sharp signs of reversal. Paraphrased, there are concerns about business climate in India and outward FDI can be a manifestation of this. Therefore, while the commerce ministry's projections are unduly alarming, managing BoP over the next three years will be a matter of some concern, particularly if oil prices continue to escalate. There is a cushion, but there are pins in it.

The author is a noted economist







It's good news for India's infrastructure build-up plans that the government is serious about launching infrastructure debt funds. Foreign capital in the infrastructure space is needed mainly to create liquidity; local banks have been shouldering more than their fair share of funding responsibilities and a couple of them are becoming vulnerable to asset-liability mismatches. The regulations need to be such that a workable structure is put in place; the idea should be to park some of the risk outside the banking system in a way that borrowers have no recourse to banks' balance sheets. To begin with, a liberal approach, by which the field is thrown open to banks, mutual funds, private equity players or even infrastructure lenders like an IDFC, would help the cause. Will money pour in? Right now, both country and currency risks shouldn't be too much of an issue. Moreover, there is a fair amount of liquidity globally. So, there could be interest because the returns can be mouth-watering compared to what investors can get in markets like Japan.

Since the market for corporate paper is pretty much illiquid, it would help the fund manager to have a lock-in period for investors. For their part, if the returns are attractive enough and the risks are reined in, investors should not mind locking in their money for a few years; a sop in the form of a lower withholding tax on interest should sweeten the deal. However, India will continue to compete with other countries for investments and so the quality of credit risk would be a key concern. It would help if the paper is backed by security like a first charge on fixed assets or if there are credit enhancements.

Nevertheless, greenfield projects are perceived to be more risky and so, like elsewhere in the world, early stage risk would be taken on by those who have the analytical skills, like banks. Once construction is complete and cash flows are generated, the credit character of the debt would improve, at which point it can be taken over by infrastructure funds. While some amount of refinancing is no doubt happening already—several road projects have been securitised—much of it appears to be taking place within the banking system.

Unfortunately, local insurers, who are ideally placed to hold long-term assets since their liabilities are long term, haven't been able to get their hands on too much paper. The main reason for this is that they are not allowed to buy into paper rated below AA and, moreover, at least 65% of their assets need to originate in public sector companies. As such, many of them hold less than 10% of their corpus in private sector bonds. That's a pity since most infrastructure projects are coming up in the private sector. Worldwide, insurers play a huge role in the corporate bond market—US insurance funds hold roughly 45% of their assets in corporate bonds while in Korea the number is 40%.

The launch of Credit Default Swaps (CDS)—guidelines have been issued by RBI—could address the problem but the question that arises is who's going to write the CDS. RBI frowns on banks writing CDS because the risk doesn't really come off their balance sheets, although they may be able to free up funds that could be lent elsewhere. Clearly, the system needs sellers of protection—international financial institutions and players like IIFCL or even IDFC could play a role here. However, the regulators would need to ensure that writing CDS does not become an uneconomical proposition, in that they are asked to set aside too much capital. Apparently, one reason why securitisation hasn't taken off as expected is because it hasn't really made the reward worth the risk. Also, the issuers of paper or the concessionaires could be persuaded to issue long-term paper at fixed rates as a means to stabilise long-term returns for investors.

The biggest problem however is liquidity, although the market is growing: in 2010, primary issuances nudged $30 billion while secondary market transactions also picked up. One reason why foreign investors haven't been too keen on infrastructure bonds, even though the credit is of good quality, is that they haven't wanted to commit money for a minimum of five years. Of course, there are different kinds of investors and some do have shorter-term approach. But it's a fact that the Indian corporate bond market is a small one and what's typically on demand is government paper; in the corporate bond segment, investors look for paper with maturities of one year and below. That's why, although the government has upped the limit for foreign investment in corporate bonds to $40 billion from $20 billion currently, it can't help too much. Even before this, in September last year, it had thrown open an additional quota of $5 billion, meant exclusively for infrastructure bonds with a residual maturity of five years. However, much of that $5 billion has remained unutilised, partly because the market in five-year corporate bonds is virtually non-existent and also because investors were understandably cautious about buying into a market in which interest rates were headed up. Some were not happy with the way the bonds were auctioned because it was more favourable to larger players. Moreover, the guidelines relating to the time given to invest were thought to be restrictive. If some of these issues are addressed, there's no reason why foreign fund managers would not want a share of the spoils.






That obesity is a causal factor for many lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, which in turn increases the risk of death, has been well established in the developed world. Similarly, being underweight increases the risk of death. A study published online in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) ("Association between body-mass index and risk of death in more than 1 million Asians" by Wei Zheng et al.,) finds a strong correlation between underweight and increased risk of death in all Asians. The study is an analysis of published data involving 1.1 million people living in Asian countries, including 287,000 Indians and Bangladeshis. The risk of death in the case of East Asians was high for those with a high body mass index (BMI), but not in the case of Indians and Bangladeshis. Indians and Bangladeshis were more prone to death when they were underweight. It is a fact that severely underweight people are malnourished, and hence very unhealthy. Low immunity levels seen in such people make them highly prone to several infections. Large-scale studies done in India, which has a huge malnourished population, are more likely to show a large percentage of deaths associated with lower BMI than higher BMI. Several small studies done in India have shown the risk of mortality increasing with higher BMIs.

The study reported in NEJM has several limitations. Being underweight increases the risk of infections but a person can become underweight as a result of an underlying infection. The researchers were not able to exclude, at the time of enrolment, underweight people already suffering from some infection, and hence at a higher risk. That many people were reported to be dying soon after enrolment suggests they may have had some underlying infection or disease at the time of enrolment. Waist-to-hip ratio or waist circumference is a better marker than BMI to know fat distribution in the body. Indians, even those who are thin, tend to accumulate fat in their waist. Abdominal adiposity is a causal factor for hypertension and diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Those with a BMI between 22.6 and 25 with less central adiposity have the greatest chances of living free of any infections and lifestyle-related diseases. With more urban children becoming obese, public health messages should address the increasing chances of health complications when the BMI is lower or higher than the normal range. They should also stress the need to reduce abdominal adiposity even when the BMI is within the normal range.





The discovery of six exoplanets or extra-solar planets (planets outside the Solar System) orbiting a single sun-like star, dubbed Kepler-11, at a distance of about 2,000 light-years from Earth makes it the largest collection to be ever found. Those found earlier using ground-based detection methods were single exoplanets orbiting a star. The discovery by the Kepler spacecraft launched in March 2009 and reported recently online in Nature ("A closely packed system of low-mass, low-density planets transiting Kepler-11" by Jack J. Lissauer et al.,) became possible as the Kepler telescope continuously looks out for exoplanets transiting the more than 150,000 stars in a specific region of the sky in the Cygnus and Lyra constellations. A transiting planet causes a dip in the brightness of the star. Three to four transits causing the same dip in brightness, taking the same time to transit the star, and taking the same amount of time between successive transits are necessary for confirmation that the object is a planet. Though several thousand planets may be present in the region studied, the actual number that may eventually be found will be smaller as the orbital plane of the transits must be perfectly aligned with Kepler's line of sight. All the six exoplanets have orbits smaller than Venus's, with the orbits of the first five being smaller than Mercury's. The innermost planet must have a dense and rocky core as it has 4.6 times Earth's mass despite being only 1.4 times the size of the Earth. Most of the other planets have significant amounts of light gas.

The main objective of the Kepler mission is to find Earth-sized planets orbiting Sun-like stars and capable of supporting life. All the six exoplanets are bigger than Earth, with the largest ones comparable with Uranus and Neptune. Like Mercury and Venus, they are too close to the star to support life. According to the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), finding an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone that is neither too close nor too far from the star may take at least three years; one transit would take nearly a year and three such transits are needed for planet confirmation. With Kepler only halfway into its mission, we cannot possibly expect discovery of an Earth-like planet before 2013. The Kepler finds add to our understanding of the universe. For instance, with ground-based instruments, generally only the radius and not the mass of the planets can be measured, and hence the density and composition would remain unknown; the size and mass of only three exoplanets smaller than Neptune used to be known. Kepler has added five more to that list.






The discovery of six exoplanets or extra-solar planets (planets outside the Solar System) orbiting a single sun-like star, dubbed Kepler-11, at a distance of about 2,000 light-years from Earth makes it the largest collection to be ever found. Those found earlier using ground-based detection methods were single exoplanets orbiting a star. The discovery by the Kepler spacecraft launched in March 2009 and reported recently online in Nature ("A closely packed system of low-mass, low-density planets transiting Kepler-11" by Jack J. Lissauer et al.,) became possible as the Kepler telescope continuously looks out for exoplanets transiting the more than 150,000 stars in a specific region of the sky in the Cygnus and Lyra constellations. A transiting planet causes a dip in the brightness of the star. Three to four transits causing the same dip in brightness, taking the same time to transit the star, and taking the same amount of time between successive transits are necessary for confirmation that the object is a planet. Though several thousand planets may be present in the region studied, the actual number that may eventually be found will be smaller as the orbital plane of the transits must be perfectly aligned with Kepler's line of sight. All the six exoplanets have orbits smaller than Venus's, with the orbits of the first five being smaller than Mercury's. The innermost planet must have a dense and rocky core as it has 4.6 times Earth's mass despite being only 1.4 times the size of the Earth. Most of the other planets have significant amounts of light gas.

The main objective of the Kepler mission is to find Earth-sized planets orbiting Sun-like stars and capable of supporting life. All the six exoplanets are bigger than Earth, with the largest ones comparable with Uranus and Neptune. Like Mercury and Venus, they are too close to the star to support life. According to the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), finding an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone that is neither too close nor too far from the star may take at least three years; one transit would take nearly a year and three such transits are needed for planet confirmation. With Kepler only halfway into its mission, we cannot possibly expect discovery of an Earth-like planet before 2013. The Kepler finds add to our understanding of the universe. For instance, with ground-based instruments, generally only the radius and not the mass of the planets can be measured, and hence the density and composition would remain unknown; the size and mass of only three exoplanets smaller than Neptune used to be known. Kepler has added five more to that list.








In less than three weeks, an inchoate opposition in Libya, one of the world's most isolated countries, has cobbled together the semblance of a transitional government, fielded a ragtag rebel army and portrayed itself to the West and Libyans as an alternative to Col. Muammar el-Qadhafi's four decades of freakish rule.

But events this week have tested the viability of an opposition that has yet to coalesce, even as it solicits help from abroad to topple Colonel Qadhafi.

Rebels were dealt military setbacks in Zawiyah and Ras Lanuf on March 8, part of a strengthening government counteroffensive.

Meanwhile, the opposition council's leaders contradicted one another publicly. The opposition's calls for foreign aid have amplified divisions over intervention. And provisional leaders warn that a humanitarian crisis may loom as people's needs overwhelm fledgling local governments.

'I am Libya'

"I am Libya," Colonel Qaddafi boasted after the uprising erupted. It was standard fare for one of the world's most outrageous leaders — megalomania so pronounced that it sounded like parody. It underlined, though, the greatest and perhaps fatal obstacle facing the rebels here — forging a substitute to Colonel Qadhafi in a state that he embodied.

"We've found ourselves in a vacuum," Mustafa Gheriani, an acting spokesman for the provisional leadership, said on March 8 in Benghazi, the rebel capital. "Instead of worrying about establishing a transitional government, all we worry about are the needs — security, what people require, where the uprising is going. Things are moving too fast."

"This is all that's left," he said, lifting his cell phone, "and we can only receive calls."

The question of the opposition's capabilities is likely to prove decisive to the fate of the rebellion, which appears outmatched by government forces and troubled by tribal divisions that the government, reverting to form, has sought to exploit. Rebel forces are fired more by enthusiasm than experience. The political leadership has virtually begged the international community to recognise it, but it has yet to marshal opposition forces abroad or impose its authority in regions it nominally controls.

Organisers acknowledge the chaos but contend that there is no one else to talk to.

'We require help'

"We require support, whether it's military or otherwise, we require help," Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, the deputy leader of the provisional leadership, told a news conference in Benghazi. "The international community has to assume its duty at this point."

While the mood remains ebullient in parts of eastern Libya, largely because few believe that Colonel Qadhafi can reconquer a region that long seethed under his rule, it is more sullen in Benghazi, a Mediterranean port and Libya's second largest city.

At the courthouse that has served as a government headquarters, bedlam reigned on March 8, as gusts of wind slammed doors shut and shattered a window. Nationalist music blared over hurried conversations that unfolded beneath cartoons lampooning Colonel Qadhafi.

Security has begun to deteriorate, with gunfire echoing in the distance, some robberies and assailants' throwing a grenade at a hotel housing foreign journalists.

At the front, three and a half hours away, rebels sought to recover from a government offensive that forced them from Bin Jawwad and sent them reeling toward Ras Lanuf, a strategic refinery town. The government also appeared to deal setbacks to the rebels in Zawiyah, a rebel-held town near Tripoli, and Misratah, a strategic coastal city.

With momentum seeming to shift, the rebels face the prospect of being outgunned and outnumbered in what increasingly looks like a mismatched civil war.

"They don't understand," said Sami Tujan, an officer trying, unsuccessfully, to command rebels near a checkpoint. "They're a big target."

Aging but effective weapons

The rebels won their initial battles with an assortment of aging but effective weapons, and a seemingly plentiful supply of ammunition, including some from North Korea and Russia. On the beds of Toyota pickup trucks, many of the soldiers mounted an old Soviet heavy machine gun, which they referred to by the 14.5-millimeter rounds it fires. The guns are bundled together and used as antiaircraft weapons, and may have been responsible for downing a government warplane earlier this week near Ras Lanuf. Men holding rocket-propelled grenade launchers complete the patchwork rebel air-defence system.

At the front lines at Ras Lanuf, the opposition forces relied on more rudimentary tracking methods to spot planes: a lanky man standing on top of a large dump truck with a pair of binoculars, along with hundreds of sets of ears of eager volunteers.

Even then, the government's Soviet-made planes mostly operated with impunity. Government forces have also marshalled artillery, better tanks and helicopters that the rebels cannot match.

On March 8, as government forces gathered near Ras Lanuf, rebels strategised and argued among themselves, complaining that they did not have enough rocket-propelled grenades and that a spy was among them.

Logistics, namely resupplying the front, has proved to be a challenge for the rebels. So has leadership. Small units of men who said they belonged to specialised branches of Libya's army joined the fight, including members of special forces units and paratroopers. Some senior officers are also seen at the front, but many of the rebels are bankers, policemen and the unemployed, who have formed enthusiastic but somewhat hapless brigades.

"Apart from a few mechanised units in Benghazi and Tobruk, and a few armoured battalions near Bayda, rebel-controlled areas lack any substantial hardware with which to take on the pro-Qaddafi stronghold of Tripoli," said a report on March 3 by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The pro-Qaddafi regions are also well garrisoned with artillery, antiaircraft and mechanised formations," it added. After government authority collapsed in much of eastern Libya, residents set up what they call local councils of varying numbers of representatives — three in Darnah, six in Bayda. Theoretically, each is supposed to send a representative to Benghazi, where the opposition has set up a group called the Provisional Transitional National Council of Libya, a kind of state in waiting. Composed of 30 representatives, it is led by Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, a former Justice Minister and perhaps the sole figure who enjoys national support.

Its authority remains tentative, a point acknowledged by those involved. "We didn't have any authority, of course; we just gave ourselves authority," said Iman Bugaighis, a spokeswoman for the council. "Nobody has any political experience."

The council has barely begun to address the major choices the rebels need to make: whether to support foreign intervention and whether to negotiate in any way with the government.

The council has pleaded for a no-flight zone, still being debated by the West, but rebel leaders in Darnah warned that they would oppose any foreign interference with arms.

In his news conference, Mr. Ghoga ruled out any talks with the government, though Mr. Abdel-Jalil, theoretically his superior, told an Arabic satellite channel that if Colonel Qadhafi left in 72 hours, no one would pursue him.

"How do we talk about something that hasn't been proposed?" Mr. Ghoga asked.


Opposition leaders also differ on whether to formally declare a transitional government, underlining fears that it may lay the groundwork for Libya's partition. Two of its representatives met European officials on March 8, but the council has yet to unite with disparate, divided opposition groups abroad, activists say.

"There is no communication between opposition groups and no leadership for the opposition," said Adem Arqiq, an exiled Muslim Brotherhood member in Dublin. "There are opposition groups in Europe, in the United States and in some Arab countries, but each works for himself. There were efforts to unify them, but they failed."

For days, convoys of aid, many from Islamic relief organisations, have barrelled across the Egyptian border, helping stanch shortages, in a remarkable show of organisation and solidarity. Mr. Gheriani estimated that Benghazi had six months of supplies, and the United Nations was sending more aid to the port. But in the hinterland, where local councils are still struggling to reconstitute bureaucracies that collapsed last month, some worry a crisis is approaching.

"No one knows how long supplies will last — a week, two weeks," said Ahmed Boughrara, an engineer and organiser in Bayda. "Then it's going to be a huge crisis."

Some have expressed a more lurking concern: that in a protracted fight, it may grow difficult to maintain the unity that the opposition has sought to bridge religious and tribal divides.

"The longer this conflict lasts, the more people are going to be radicalised," said Ibrahim el-Gadi, a hydrogeologist in Darnah, whose son was wounded in a fight with government forces. "We are not now, but it will be so if this conflict doesn't finish." ( David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting from Tripoli, Libya, and Nada Bakri from Beirut, Lebanon.) — © New York Times News Service






The world faces an oil supply crunch, according to oil services companies who have most to gain from surging prices and the unrest in north Africa and the Middle East.

Ayman Asfari, the chief executive of FTSE 100-listed company Petrofac, said if production were entirely shut off from Libya, only a "very thin" margin of spare capacity to pump more oil would be left.

Saudi Arabia, which holds the majority of the world's global reserve capacity, is already thought to be producing an extra 1m barrels per day (mbpd) to make up for the shortfalls from Libya. On March 8, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was said to be considering whether to hold an emergency meeting to increase the cartel's production. The price of Brent crude fell $2 in the morning to $113 a barrel on the news.

Keith Cochrane, chief executive of oil, mining and power services group Weir, said if OPEC were forced to eat into its reserve capacity by pumping more for a sustained period, members would have to boost capital spending on oil and gas production to restore their capacity margin.

Before the unrest swept North Africa and the Middle East, oil producers — primarily Saudi Arabia — could pump just less than five extra barrels for every 100 they were already producing. Of this 4mbpd reserve capacity, about 1mbpd has been taken out by the fighting in Libya. If Libya's 1.6mbpd production were cut off, it would leave a reserve margin of less than three per cent, which Asfari said was very thin.

Oil services companies are reporting record results and order books. On March 8, FTSE 100-listed Weir Group announced group earnings were up 57 per cent last year, with its oil and gas business more than doubling profits. Orders for its upstream business last year increased by a record 215 per cent. The chief executive of Amec, Samir Brikho, said the recent spike in profits was not a factor. "All IOCs [international oil companies] and national oil companies have announced bigger spending plans in 2011 so far than 2010. It's not a case of companies saying, 'Libya is burning, so now we increase spending'. When you are spending $20-25bn each year, they have a long term strategy, they have a yearly budget." IOCs like BP and Shell are selling mature fields to invest in new exploration and production projects, such as liquefied natural gas, coal-bed methane or deepwater drilling as they search for new sources of hydrocarbons. National oil companies are also flush with cash because of high prices, and increased spending by fast growing economies like India and China, who are anxious to secure their own supplies as demand picks up after the global financial crisis.

Analysts from Barclays Capital predicted in December that all oil companies would spend an extra 11 per cent on exploration and production this year compared with 2010. Keith Morris, an analyst from stockbroker Evolution Securities, said oil services companies were better placed to benefit from higher oil prices than international oil companies. "Many IOCs struggle to get access to oil owned by state controlled firms. But oil services companies can work in both camps." Last year, shares in the oil services sector outperformed the oil majors, who suffered in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Morris added that countries with large oil and gas resources also are now more adept at renegotiating production sharing agreements which are over generous to international companies when the oil price rises, so the benefits of soaring prices are increasingly capped for many of the majors.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






Faced with the prospect of a prolonged conflict, the opposition forces in Libya are seeking international facilitation to unseat Muammar Qadhafi. They are high on morale but low on resources. In the Benghazi court house, plastered with anti-Qadhafi graffiti and posters that have been imaginatively conceived by open citizens' workshops, activists debate a road-map to victory — even if it would take them long to achieve their goal.

Two major points emerge from their deliberations. First, the world has to quickly recognise the Libyan National Council (LNC). Second, the imposition of a no-fly zone cannot wait any longer. In the court house, a cosmopolitan opposition hub, discussions over paper cups of black coffee are animated by the regular flow of information from the front lines. The situation in places such as the oil hubs of Ras Lanuf and Brega, flagged here on maps in the red, green and black colours of the opposition forces, is a constant topic of discussion.

Youthful volunteers led by officers of Mr. Qadhafi's army who have defected from his side defend these positions, which the pro-Qadhafi forces are desperate to take them. Starved of oil resources for too long a period now, the regime knows its capacity to power the war against the opposition would be impaired without those resources.

On its side, the opposition knows it cannot lose Libya's oil heartland to pro-Qadhafi forces. "So long as we hold the oil, we'll remain relevant in negotiations for formal recognition with the West and other powerful countries," says Isa Ahmed, an opposition activist.

For the opposition, formal international recognition is vital on other counts also. "Without formal recognition we cannot gain access to oil export revenues, which are necessary not only for us to run this war successfully but also for the future development of our country," says Mohammad Ashur, another opposition campaigner.

Export revenues continue

Despite his losing physical control over a substantial portion of the oil assets, export revenues continue to flow into Mr. Qadhafi's coffers. This is because Libya's oil industry is run by the state-owned National Oil Company (NOC), which is responsible for exploration and production-sharing agreements with international oil giants. The Benghazi-based Arabian Gulf Oil Company, a unit of the NOC, has broken from its parent company for as long as Mr. Qadhafi stays in power. However, those company officials who have revolted, say those oil revenues continue to flow into NOC accounts, enriching the regime.

However, the opposition believes this would change once it is awarded formal international recognition. "For its own legitimacy the transitional government here would like to be recognised by the United Nations first. Once that is done, individual countries would have the legal basis to declare their recognition as well," said Mr. Ashur.

Opposition activists say they have to quickly get hold of oil revenues. Otherwise they would soon run out of money to pay oil workers and other government employees. The resulting economic strife, they say, can also divide opposition supporters and threaten the unity of the anti-Qadhafi movement. "Queues are already building outside banks and this will worsen once we are short of cash. This is not a good sign," says Mr. Ahmed.

Aware of the importance of being globally recognised, opposition leader Mahmoud Jebril addressed European Union parliamentary groups meeting in Strasbourg.

Anti-regime supporters say how soon international recognition comes would also depend on the pace of the opposition's advance. But in order to ensure a quicker advance, which will inspire greater international confidence in the opposition, the imposition of a no-fly zone has become a necessity. Opposition activists say denial of air power would undermine the regime's capacity to damage from the air opposition supply lines, including roads that are used to transport fighters to the front lines. Besides, it will be a psychological blow to the regime, and might encourage defections from the Qadhafi camp.

In seeking a no-fly zone, a move that has been backed by the Arab countries, the opposition knows of the dangers of foreign forces hijacking what has so far essentially been an indigenous anti-regime revolt.

Opposition leaders such as Abdel Hafiz Ghoga have been saying they are opposed to the introduction of foreign troops. But seeking a no-fly zone under a U.N. flag will not compromise the integrity of the movement.

The opposition is united in seeking a no-fly zone, but there are some people who are unsure whether even without the threat of Mr. Qadhafi's Air Force the opposition forces would rapidly advance. The problem, they say, is not shortage of weapons but the quality of the opposition's foot-soldiers.

An opposition supporter said: "We have a mix of raw volunteers led by army professionals who have left Mr. Qadhafi. But these forces are yet to gel. I saw it first hand in Ras Lanuf when orders were issued to advance towards Sirte [Mr. Qadhafi's hometown] but many volunteers tailed way behind." Nevertheless, most people agree that a no-fly zone may help the opposition forces to emerge as a recognised anti-Qadhafi force, and as a shadow regime awaiting Mr. Qadhafi's formal political exit from Libya.




Australia will soon begin negotiating to sell uranium to the United Arab Emirates on condition that it is only used for peaceful power generation, the Australian government said on March 8. Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd announced the negotiations on a bilateral uranium trade agreement while visiting the Middle Eastern country's capital Abu Dhabi, according to a government statement released in Australia's capital, Canberra.

Australia, which holds 40 per cent of the world's known uranium reserves, does not sell uranium on the open market and bans nuclear power generation at home.

But it sells uranium solely for power generation under strict conditions that ban any military applications in bilateral trade agreements with the United States, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and several European countries. Australia refuses to consider uranium sales to India until New Delhi signs the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The UAE has already ratified that treaty and is negotiating or has concluded nuclear safeguards agreements with countries including the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Japan, Mr. Rudd said.

"Australia welcomes the UAE's efforts to establish a responsible approach to nuclear power generation and hopes that it will serve as a model for other countries in the Middle East."

The trade conditions will ban nuclear material from being transferred to any third country and from being used in weapons or to power warships.

The seven-state Emirates federation is building its first nuclear reactors on a sparsely populated desert along the Persian Gulf near the border with Saudi Arabia. Blackouts occasionally occur in pockets of the country. — AP








Turnarounds are not uncommon in politics. But the renewed, and what so far appears to be successful, effort on the part of the DMK and the Congress to restore mutual ties (that were in imminent danger of breaking down, ostensibly over seat-sharing differences) would have taken many by surprise. The recent DMK political resolution attacking the Congress on the issue of seat allocation, and the announcement on withdrawal of its six ministers from the Manmohan Singh government, had been unduly sharp. What has followed since is something of an anti-climax.

Of course, whether there is a happy ending for the two parties will be known only when the two have successfully identified the Assembly constituencies they will be contesting. Nevertheless, the salvage game could not have begun without both sides agreeing to exploit what little wriggle room existed after hostilities appeared to commence. On the DMK's part, the realisation would have been acute — after the SP, BSP and RJD strongly signalled their support to the UPA-2 coalition — that the Congress-led government at the Centre was is no danger of collapsing due to the southern party's hint at effective withdrawal of support. This would have sufficed for the Dravidian party to pull back from the brink. An alienated Congress government at the Centre and the likelihood of arch-rival Jayalalithaa's AIADMK coming up trumps in the state was a prospect too fearsome to contemplate for a party whose senior figures are in the thick of corruption-related inquiries being monitored by the Supreme Court.

It hasn't passed anyone's notice that the Congress did not run for cover when the DMK bellowed. Indeed, the way things have gone, the DMK is unlikely to forget in a hurry Congress president Sonia Gandhi's acerbic observations when its senior representatives called on her in New Delhi when the threat to pull out the DMK ministers had not yet been withdrawn. She spoke of coalition ethics, implying that going public over petty differences over the sharing of seats was hardly a sign of political sagacity in an alliance. Mrs Gandhi is learnt to have also reminded the DMK that the Congress had from the beginning accommodated its political demands (presumably over Cabinet berths and portfolios) in the spirit of nurturing their coalition. The withering lecture had the desired effect, and the DMK ended up accommodating its national ally cent per cent on the matter of the number of seats the latter would contest in Tamil Nadu. The Dravidian party found a way out through the aegis of smaller entities within the DMK-led alliance in the state. In the standoff the DMK came off second best. What effect this will have on the election outcome, if any, is not clear, but the entire episode can have the effect of scaling up the Congress Party's image in a state in which it has been the junior partner of one or another Dravidian party for almost four decades. Other UPA allies of the Congress would have taken their own message home from the way the Congress dealt with the DMK when a crisis loomed.

Halfway through its term in office it is not certain if the Congress was signalling its readiness to sacrifice its government at the Centre in order to make an ally come around, but the national party has given the impression that it would hold its ground if it believes it has a case. A notable aspect of this episode is that the Congress would not of its own accord ditch a state ally, belying occasional speculation (especially when on visits to Chennai Rahul Gandhi did not meet M. Karunanidhi) that it was preparing to go it alone.






International crises have a knack of breaking out in places that are thought to be of marginal concern. The ongoing crisis in Libya is no exception. In the past few years, Libya was seen as shedding its pariah status and entering the mainstream of international politics. Both George W. Bush and Tony Blair cited Libya as a success story: a "rogue" state that had come in from the cold. A careful balance of threats and inducements had apparently convinced Col. Muammar Gaddafi to forsake both terrorism and the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

When India took its place in the United Nations Security Council earlier this year, Libya was not high on the list of potential hot-spots. So far, the Indian government has managed to improvise a response. It has gone along with the imposition of sanctions, agreed to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court (ICC), while ensuring that its own opposition to the ICC remains unimpaired. But the ongoing crisis could yet force New Delhi to clarify its stance on forceful intervention against the Gaddafi regime.

For a start, we need to move beyond thinking on the basis of first principals. India's position on external intervention has been far from consistent. To be sure, we have repeatedly avowed non-intervention in internal affairs of states. But in practice we have supported interventions, both rhetorically and practically. Think of our stance on apartheid in South Africa from the late 1940s onwards, the civil war in Congo in the early 1960s, East Pakistan in 1971, Cambodia and Uganda in 1978, and of course in Sri Lanka. Consistency may not be a virtue in international relations, but clarity is. And we need to start thinking about functional criteria that will govern our stance on interventions. Unless we do so, we may not be able to effectively intervene in international debates.

In thinking through these issues, it may be useful to review some earlier attempts to evolve criteria for the use of force in grey-area conflicts. In 1984, the then American defence secretary, Caspar Weinberger, offered a set of tests for intervention. Weinberger's tests were designed for an America that was not only scarred by the experience of Vietnam but also by the botched intervention in Lebanon in 1983, which resulted in the death of 241 marines in a terrorist attack. Nevertheless, the criteria he suggested were interesting. Forces should be committed to combat only if vital interests were at stake; troops should be used wholeheartedly and with the intent of winning; there should be clearly defined political and military objectives; the relationship between these objectives and the forces committed must constantly be assessed; the intervention must be backed by domestic public opinion; and the use of force must be the last resort. Weinberger's six criteria were clearly intended to restrict American military involvement in the internal affairs of other countries. Weinberger's tests were actually evolved by his military secretary, Colin Powell. As Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mr Powell would use these arguments to dissuade the Clinton administration from intervening in the Balkans in the 1990s.
The United States' reluctance to intervene in the Balkans led to another attempt at defining criteria for interventions. The context, of course, was the need to prevent ethnic cleansing and other humanitarian crises. At the height of the Kosovo crisis of 1999, a set of five tests was advanced by Mr Blair in a speech in Chicago. Interestingly, Mr Blair's criteria were explicitly modelled on those of Weinberger. Was the case for humanitarian intervention clear-cut? Were all diplomatic options exhausted? Were there military options that could be sensibly and prudently undertaken? Are we prepared for the long haul? Were national interests involved? Mr Blair's own practice defied many of these principles; but it remains an interesting attempt at balancing the strategic, prudential and normative factors surrounding armed interventions.
Neither of these sets of criteria can entirely guide India's policy. But they do underline some key issues that should be addressed. In particular, New Delhi must come to grips with the core strategic requirement: the availability of practicable military options and their links to desired political outcomes. Applied to the current crisis in Libya, this throws up two major questions. First, does the international community have a clear view of the nature of the crisis and desired outcomes? That Col. Gaddafi's regime has lost its legitimacy is clear. But that does not exhaust the range of issues that need to be addressed. For instance, much is made of the tribal politics of Libya. But we do not yet fully understand either the circuits of power and patronage in the country, or the quality of the forces opposing the regime.

Second, are practicable military options available? It is evident that there is little appetite for dispatching ground forces. In a speech at West Point two weeks ago, the US secretary of defence, Robert Gates, pointedly observed: "Any future defence secretary who advises the President to again send a big American land Army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined', as General MacArthur so delicately put it". Mr Gates' remarkable candour underlines both the limits of American power and the extent of institutional resistance within the US military to undertaking ground interventions.

It is not surprising, therefore, that there is so much talk of using air power or special forces. But India should not be taken in by glib assertions. As a leading strategic analyst once put it, Western powers see modern air power as akin to modern courtship: it promises gratification without commitment. The experience of the past two decades should warn against facile assumptions about no-fly zones or safe havens. They have neither been very effective nor particularly easy to enforce. New Delhi must carefully examine international proposals for their military viability as much as their political soundness. Only then can we shape the nature of international consensus on such thorny questions.

Srinath Raghavan, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi






Even by the usual standard of excuses advanced by politicians when they make a gaffe — "I was misquoted by the media" — Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj blaming Twitter for her remarks being misunderstood rings hollow. After commenting on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement in Parliament taking full responsibility for the decision to appoint P.J. Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner, Ms Swaraj tweeted: "I appreciate the statement of the Prime Minister owning responsibility for the appointment of CVC which has been quashed by Supreme Court".

She then immediately followed it up with another tweet: "I think this is enough. Let matters rest at this and we move forward".

This was clearly at odds with the line taken by Ms Swaraj's party colleague Arun Jaitley who was going hammer and tongs at the Prime Minister for his lapse of judgment in the Thomas matter. When Ms Swaraj was asked why her party was speaking in forked tongue and whether there was a difference of opinion with Mr Jaitley, she denied it. She said everyone in the BJP was on the same page about the issue and the reason why she hadn't demanded a statement from Dr Singh was because he had already said he would be making one. Besides, she said, there was "space constraint" on Twitter — the implication being that in 140 characters one couldn't make a comprehensive statement; some details and nuances got left out.

Madame Swaraj protests too much. Everyone knows that on Twitter a point has to be made in 140 characters or less; that is one reason why people have taken to it. On Twitter, there is no room for long-winded pontification; you get your view across sharply and, moreover, in an instant. You may regret that impetuousness later (as Shashi Tharoor discovered), but if you want to say something quickly and in as few words as possible, there is nothing like tweeting.

Besides, and Ms Swaraj surely knows that, while there may be a limit to the number of characters, there is no limit to the number of times you can tweet. You can go on sending out tweets, each one making one point. She herself tweeted twice about the Prime Minister's statement; there was nothing to stop her from sending out many more.

Clearly, her subsequent reaction was an afterthought once it became clear that senior BJP leaders were unhappy with her moderate stance on the subject. The party may have sensed an opportunity to embarrass Dr Singh and thus the government and the Congress; to have one of the very important leaders from within taking a contrasting tone could reduce the impact of that criticism. Now the focus has shifted to differences within the BJP, with the inevitable conclusion being drawn that Mr Jaitley and Ms Swaraj are at loggerheads and will do everything to trip the other.

The tussle between the GenNext BJP leaders — Mr Jaitley, Ms Swaraj, Narendra Modi and others — for supremacy is hardly breaking news. All of them are jostling for pole position so that when the next general elections roll out, they have a good chance of pressing their claim to lead the party and perhaps be projected as the natural prime ministerial candidate should the party do well. Ms Swaraj is the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and has a slight edge over Mr Jaitley who heads the party in the Upper House. For one thing, she has proved she can win elections, which he has not.

Lately she has also adopted a very measured approach to issues and to the government, perhaps calculating that shrillness will not pay. Gone are the earlier dramatic gestures and hectoring, such as threatening to shave her head if Congress president Sonia Gandhi became the Prime Minister. Now, it is about reconciliation and civil relations with all, which distinguishes her from her party colleagues. Naturally, the hardliners in the BJP cannot tolerate it.

Going on Twitter was part of the makeover plan. It shows her to be a modern, forward-looking politician connected with the younger generation. And frankly the more politicians who go on to the social media the better it will be; it helps them be in direct touch with their constituents and is good for the populace who can get to know what their leaders are thinking. Ms Swaraj was definitely on the right track.

But old habits die hard. Instead of standing by what she said — and it is there for all to see — she chose to blame the medium, just like her compatriots have blamed print and television journalists for generations. That is a mistake. Social media users are a bit more difficult to con, because they understand what the technology is all about and how it can be used. Ms Swaraj wanted to have it both ways and it has rebounded on her. It shows that she had not fully grasped that Twitter can be a double-edged sword which encourages more transparency. So don't be surprised if she soon goes off Twitter; if she continues, it will be only to tweet boring, noncommittal comments. Indian politicians are not yet fully ready to move with the times.

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








In true traditional mode, the 83rd Academy Awards showcased the best gems from the Hollywood stable — from the concept and technology-driven Inception to the sublime The Fighter and the subtle The King's Speech. Speaking of sublimity, David O Russell's The Fighter appealed to me as it explored vistas not unknown, but those we tend to ignore so conveniently.


The film is a family drama with a pugilistic background. Based on the true story of Lowell, Massachusetts-born bruiser "Irish" Micky Ward, The Fighter is, at heart, the story of one guy's turbulent relationship with his eccentric extended family. What makes the film interesting is that it exposes those festering qualities that prevent us from bonding with one another. We have the protagonist, a professional boxer, torn between his possessive mother who doubles up as his manager, his brother and trainer who is given to his errant ways and his girlfriend who exhorts him to follow the individualistic streak for his own good. As egos of those close to him clash, the protagonist suffers psychological pangs and is almost on the verge of forsaking his dream. It is then that the brother steps in to mend fences, asks everyone to bury their hatchet in support of the man they all claim to love. It's this "oneness" that helps the fighter to emerge a victor in the end.


The love of a family is life's very cornerstone and the lack of it can prove ruinous. While agreeing with English essayist, Joseph Addison in principle, we often forget to follow what we ourselves acknowledge. Our actions, our perception and our intention are sometimes at loggerheads when it comes to dealing with people whom we claim to love. Russell's The Fighter, while being a metaphor for the fighting spirit in all of us, underlines the fact that every achiever needs his family and friends to stand by him to make his day. Achievement is not an individual effort, but a collective endeavour of many which spotlights the talent of one. For the sake of love for whom we hold dear, shouldn't we sink our petty differences and become one?








Militants struck at the railway track with IED at Wanabal in the Nowgam sector, near Srinagar city. This damaged the rail track and the rail traffic was suspended temporarily. Authorities will deploy manpower to set the damage right and by the time this appears in black and white, rail traffic to Srinagar might have been restored fully. This is the second time they have struck, previously in 2008. This is an incident on which all mainstream parties are expected to react with resentment and condemnation. But so far the most vocal opposition party has not uttered a word. What does this indicate? Obviously, the authorities will beef up security and try to minimize if not eliminate permanently the recurrence of attacks on rail lines. Silence of opposition parties on incidents like these is a clear indication that they will close their eyes to all such activities that are aimed at disrupting normal life in the Valley. How come that they make a hue and cry on all public platforms and in the Assembly that the Government has failed in its function and in administration while they keep mum on acts of sabotage. This is blowing hot and cold in the same breath. Nothing is more irresponsible than allowing the destructionists and militants to cause inconvenience to the toiling people who have to earn their two square meals.

We believe that people never approve these subversive activities of the militants and anti-social elements because it is causing them much inconvenience. It is expected of them to put up joint resistance to these damaging activities. The village headman and seniors should accept the responsibility of tracking down the miscreants or at least inform the local police and railway authorities about suspicious movements of these militants. If their cooperation is forthcoming, it should not be difficult to arrest the aberration and do some damage controlling exercise. It is not possible for the railway security personnel to keep vigil on every inch of the tract. True it will mount round the clock vigil but that too is not a foolproof preventive measure. The civilian administration must be galvanized into action and responsibility of the rail track should be formally entrusted to the local villagers through the village headman or concerned revenue official.

This is the first phase of railway in the Valley. The overall plan is to extend the railway to other parts of the Valley, Rajouri, Poonch, Lolab and Tithwal. There could be many arteries in due course of time. Therefore the railways in consultation with the State Government must devise a fool proof security plan for the railway tracks in J&K. It is important to have a deterrent plan so that culprits are punished under law. Miscreants have to be identified and brought to book. With the passage of time, railways will develop complexes and with these its assets in the Valley grow substantially. It will take some time for the commuters to develop the culture of rail that will be a dependable connectivity one day. The hassles of road blockade owing to mud slips and erosions will be a story of olden days. In this background the importance of rail connectivity of the Valley with the rest of the country has to be taken into account. The impact of railway connection on trade and commerce in Kashmir is immense. Our fruit industry will receive considerable boost because our apples will reach markets in Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and the rest of the country in shortest possible time and thus save the fruit from getting spoilt owing to long time for its transportation. Therefore this vital component of our economy has to be dealt with all seriousness.







The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the Medical Council of India to go ahead with its decision to hold a single entrance test each for all MBBS and Post-Graduate seats in private and government medical colleges from 2011-12. This much needed decision of the Supreme Court is welcome to all aspirant students who had hitherto got to go through a very complex and painful process of appearing in anything between 15-20 tests. Apart from that, there have been recurring complaints brought to the notice of the Supreme Court or the Governments of States and other agencies against irregularities in holding entrance tests. Now with a single entrance test formula, hopefully justice will be done to the deserving candidates. In its decision the Supreme Court has also laid down the mechanism of holding the single entrance test meaning the nature of testing authority.

Day in and day out there are reports of mishandling of patients and serious medical cases by doctors and their staff. In some instances it is pointed out that in many private medical colleges, under qualified and under experienced doctors have been handling patients with carelessness causing public resentment and violence. It is believed that sometimes underhand means are employed to help an undeserving candidate go through the test and then claim a degree and project himself as a doctor. This is a social evil and had to deal with on its merits. However the Medical Council of India has clarified that State quota would remain intact as an entrance test would draw up a national merit list as well as State-wise ranking list for general category SC/ST and OBC and physically challenged persons. The country and the State both need large number of para-medical personnel to meet the growing requirement of vast population. At the same time medical services have to be of high standard and updated to keep pace with rapidly expanding medical cover for most of the segments of population. Rules and regulations have to be adapted to suit the growing demand without lowering the quality of service rendered. The State in particular is short of doctors and it will benefit from the move. Medical seat is the most sought after and prestigious seat everybody with good percentage of marks aspires for. As such a single entrance test will throw up the studious students who are worthy of selection for training and service.








They say it is always good to know the truth .What is the truth ? Well, the truth is what the truth ought to be .But most of the time it is not so . We make it to pass through the prism to split the truth into the various colors, to be spotted by each one of us according to our own ' jaundiced ' view . Mercifully, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah proposes to show us what the truth is in the reality. More power to his intentions. He has called for setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission "to go into the roots of militancy ,gun culture that unfolded in the last two decades including killings , assassination of political workers , migration of Kashmiri Pandits , disappearance of persons and human rights violations ." He said that we can't wait till last gun is silenced or last stone pelter shuns the confrontation . It was time when wounds are healed, and truth and lies are settled . Is the state government in for the bad times or it is sincere to do justice to the beleaguered people of the state , only time will tell. At this moment we are reminded of Tocqueville who said long before, " Most dangerous time for the bad government is when it seeks to mend its ways ."
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission by definition is expected to discover and reveal past wrongdoing by the government and, depending on the circumstances, by the non state actors also , in the hope of resolving conflict left over from the past . Dozens of such commissions have been set up so far in the countries ranging from Argentina and Canada to South Africa .Nelson Mandela epitomized the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa which was aimed at a constitutional compromise to arrest the continued bloodshed and heal the wounds inflicted on the black Africans by the practitioners of the apartheid. It must be pointed out here that vide consultations among various sections of the South African society - the lawyers , human rights groups , religious communities and the members of the civil society - preceded the setting up of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC ) under a legislation, the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act 34 of 1995. We do not know how and when it will come into the existence in our state . The CM has indicated that it may be the job of the Union Government in as much he proposed to move a resolution in the State legislature to request the Union Government to proceed further in this matter . If the exercise has to be a purposeful then the TRC must have Statutory base with powers on the lines of the South African Act. It should comprise of the persons of impeccable integrity, who must enjoy the confidence of every section of the J&K populace . The TRC should have trappings of a court , with sufficient powers to summon witnesses and the record which ever is required to arrive at the truth . It should have widest possible terms of reference to serve the purpose . Its report must be of a binding nature. The Commission should ensure full public participation. Above all we must undergo the similar exercise before establishing the Commission which was undertaken by the South African Government before legislating on the matter. TRC can be effective in many ways . Apart from revealing the truth it may prove useful in bringing in reconciliation among the varied sections of the J&K society.
For the Kashmiri Pandit community, as and when the Commission comes into the existence it would mean fulfillment of its major demand projected time to time before different fora . The Commission , hopefully , may clear the community of the false charge that it left the Valley on its own , in connivance with the then Governor of the State, so that the field is left open for the security forces to bombard the Valley .Others say militants were responsible for the ethnic cleansing and that they killed the innocent Kashmiri Pandits. Another view is that Pakistan instigated the Kashmiri Muslims to wage a war against India and the Pandits were the first causality. The Kashmiri Muslims make a point that India occupied the State of J&K forcibly in 1947 and that they acceded to India unwillingly and latter were made to accept it as a fait acompli. Their kith and kin have disappeared and they allege worst kind of violations of Human rights.
Time has come when some painful truths must be dug out of the decades old debris of mistrust , death and destruction littered through out the length and breadth of the State. Lid should be taken off everything and truth must be put before the world, India, Pakistan, Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits. We look forward to the TRC to come out with an explanation for "Cause - Response" theory ; because in our State everything has got mired in confusion on account of this theory. Every one explains his actions as response forgetting about the merits of the cause. While as others stick to the cause in utter disregard to the response their actions may evoke.
Having said so, lot of ground work needs to be done before embarking upon the exercise . The situation in the Valley and the actors working in the Kashmir theatre may come in-between The Government on its part will have to be forthright and withhold the untenable reasons for some of its actions . Truth may come out latter, but the facts should be considered sacrosanct and acknowledged. Some say that the move is premature. Others frown upon the idea of reconciliation with the Azadi seekers . If we have to give healing touch to the needy and stop further blood shed the CM has an argument. We need to pursue the Reconstruction keeping in mind the words of Abraham Lincoln, "with malice towards none, with charity for all".
We hope that move is not aborted fearing international implications. There are some offences against Humanity that cannot be concealed no matter how severe reactions their disclosure may invite. We are conscious that the job is indeed difficult to accomplish. Odds are heavy But then the truth is too precious a commodity to be left is a great healer . there can be no pleasant situation than to see the embittered sections of the society reconciled . choice is ours . should we go for " Nuremberg method" of prosecution or South African way of reconciliation .








The plan for strategic sale of PSUs basically differs from disinvestments in droplets of the Government equity in PSUs to raise revenue for the exchequer. Disinvestment by itself too is a narrow concept, which has been blown up into big-ticket privatisation of industrial development in India as an ideological platform. This stands at the top in policy priorities of the UPA- II seeking political, if not national consensus on issues such as even security, Indo-US and Indo-Pak relations.

The political-ideological mandate for the PSU's disinvestments is to select big Indian companies and/or multinational corporations for taking over of their management to begin with, subsequently to be followed by transfer of full ownership as part of a privately negotiated deal or by ostensibly a public offer for the sale of the whole of the government equity via the stock market.

The step by step sale of Maruti-Suzuki, car-manufacturing company to the Japanese partners, initiated as a joint venture with minority holdings for the Japanese partners was so arranged. This was advertised as a great success. This marked indeed a big step towards crony capitalism in India.

The disinvestments of government equity in PSUs for raising financial resources for meeting demand for expenditure on priority areas such as education, health, public roads and so since this been shelved. The privatisation of PSUs is no longer saddled with any social obligation. The private business conglomerates are now able to maximise profits from the properties acquired by them through minimal investment which enhance their competitive strength and monopoly positions in the market. Much of the investment on their development and expansion is collected from the public and public financial institutions. This scheme of disinvestments of PSUs is inspired fully and frankly by ideological preferences and not for considerations of either economic efficiency or social equity.

It is not surprising therefore, that antagonism of the working people and trade union movements to the privatisation of PSUs by the UPA-II government has become stronger and more emphatic than in the case of the policy of partial disinvestments to raise current revenue for the government. This is so just not on economic grounds but for ideological and political considerations as well. Sections within the UPA coalition and the main opposition party, which initiated the disinvestment process, have also raised reservations and objections to the privatisation of large profit-making PSUs. Distinction between the loss-making and profit-yielding PSUs is, however, misconceived.

The case in favour of public investment in general and development of large industrial, commercial and financial infrastructure in the public sector in particular is, in fact, sound and was indeed compelling when India embarked on the programme of industrialisation after gaining political independence. The return from public investment in some industrial and commercial undertakings may not be adequate. But this is no alibi for absolving the Indian State to divest itself of the responsibility to mobilise necessary resources, material, human and financial, for development and modernisation of the Indian economy. Even sensible Indian private business interests often clamour for a step up of public investment in heavy and intermediate industry for providing a reliable infrastructure to enable them to grow in the domestic market and spread to the global market.
In order to provide essential goods and services to the mass of the people, PSUs too have to be called upon occasionally to suffer loses which private business is unable and unwilling to accept. The PSUs have actually provided essential inputs on a large-scale at below their cost of production to private industry in the initial stage of its development in India. It is indeed necessary that large corporate as well as small-scale industries have to be assisted by public investment in a developing country like India.
The privatisation of PSUs can result and has resulted in the decades after winning political independence in a serious setback to machine-making and manufacturing industry as well as research and development in industry, agriculture and service sector.

The boastful claim of the privatisation lobby in and outside the government since early nineties is that after the withdrawal of public investment in industry, industrial growth can be left for private enterprise to undertake production of goods and services in response to market demand. It is also argued that the resource constraint on government for investment in social sectors and infrastructure for the supply of public goods, especially roads and power generation, transmission and the energy sector too can disappear. These claims are totally baseless and false. The revenue collected by the government from disinvestments has actually been recycled back wantonly to selected private business corporations through public financial institutions. The privatisation of PSUs has resulted in loss of revenue for the exchequer in net terms too. The government has so far received more revenue as dividend from the PSUs than from the sale of their equity. Side by side, the government directly and by public financial institutions have committed thousands of crores of rupees to bail out sick private industries. The loss due to tax concessions and incentives for private corporate industry and incomes and wealth of the rich individuals has been very heavy. The upshot is that fiscal deficit of the government has gone beyond manageable limits. It is not in a position to meet expenditure even for security and law and order. The social sector deterioration is appalling in the shift of state capitalism is crony capitalism.
The argument that benefits from disinvestments for the mass of the people will eventually find that privatisation and market-driven growth of Indian industry can not be acceptable and popular. It is now being facile and fanciful. The disinvestment and privatisation drive has only wantonly diverted public funds to selected private business corporations and laid the foundations not for the development of healthy, socially broad-based, competitive capitalism but is working for promotion of crony capitalism.
The privatisation, side-by-side, of trade in public goods, among them electricity and drinking water as well as commercialisation of education, health services, transport and communication has helped private corporations to exploit the vulnerable consumer. Essential goods and services under this dispensation are reserved only for those who can afford to pay for them. This has barred the access to goods and services produced by industry to the mass of the people who are without adequate incomes and purchasing power.
It is not at all surprising or fortuitous that rural electrification, rural telephony and even drinking water schemes have lost priority in investment planning. But generous concessions and special fiscal steps have been taken for the satisfaction of the consumerist urges of the upper and middle classes among them such as entertainment, leisure, travel and fashion. The tendency to ape the standards of living in the developed countries has been wantonly encouraged in upper classes and is indeed glorified by example by the increasingly ostentatious living style of ruling elite. The ministers in the government set the style of such living as a due in their exalted offices. Corruption has become rampant in the administration too. (IPA Service)








Much progress has been made in recent years in the field of agricultural research and education. However, full benefits of these developments could not be realized by the farming community because of slow pace of transfer of technology. So, the transfer of fast emerging agricultural technologies to the farmers especially in remote and hilly areas after assessment and refinement is one of the challenging tasks that India is facing today. A number of programmes have been launched to educate the farmers about the latest technical know-how and its appropriate use. Indian Council of Agricultural Research has identified the speedy transfer of emerging technologies to the farmers (which are end user of these technologies) its priority task. To achieve this goal, a number of programme and operational research projects were launched. Krishi Vigyan Kendra also known as farm Science Centre is such an innovative science based institutions which was given shape by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) after recommendation of Mehta Committee (1973) with prime mandate to impart vocational training to the farmers and field level extension workers. Accordingly, in the proposal it was recommended to have one Krishi Vigyan Kendra in every district of Indian Union for effective transfer of technology developed in the laboratory for the field application at farmers' level. The KVK aim is to reduce the time lag between generation of technologies at the research institute and its transfer to the farmers for increasing productivity and income from the agriculture and allied sectors on a sustained basis.

In Jammu and Kashmir, six KVKs in Jammu province and eight KVKs in Kashmir province are being established and presently working under the administrative control of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Jammu and SKUAST-Kashmir respectively. Krishi Vigyan Kendras are playing an important role in bringing the research scientists face to face with farmers. The scientists helped transferring the technologies directly to the farmers' fields and also obtained necessary feed-back for further refinement of the technology which greatly contributes towards an enhancement in the agriculture productivity in the operational areas. KVKs are working to achieve these objectives through - On-farm testing of latest technologies for identifying location specific adaptation.

- Front line demonstrations on various crops directly in the farmers' field with their active participation.
- Short and long term vocational training courses in agriculture and allied vocations for the farmers and rural youths with emphasis on "learning by doing" and
- Training to extension personnel with emerging advances in agricultural research on regular basis.

Any new technology when transferred to different areas from the place of innovation needs to be tested for better adoption by the farmers. It is a common phenomenon in agriculture that the yield from new technology at a place, where it is invented is always higher comparison to the places where it is demonstrated afterwards. This gap between the demonstrated yield and potential yield of a technology is known as technology gap. Krishi Vigyan Kendras are reducing this technology gap through On-farm testing of new technologies at village level and by generating location specific recommendations which enhance the productivity of introduced technology.
Farmers in our state are still producing crops based on the knowledge transmitted to them by their forefathers and also using the age old seed in the cultivation of important crops. KVKs have introduced new varieties of cereals, oilseed and pulses through Front Line Demonstrations in their respective districts procured from the reputed national level research institutions of the country. Invariably, the demonstrated plots give higher yield comparison to the plots where farmers are using traditional practices. This gap in yield is known as extension gap which is prevailing because of unawareness of farmers about the scientific practices required to be adopted for better yield. The Krishi Vigyan Kendras are, thus bridging the extension gap by introducing the new varieties at village level and, also by providing trainings to the farmers for effective use of new technologies. Vocational training programmes are also designed to impart the latest knowledge to the farmers through work experience by applying the principles of "Teaching by doing" and "Learning by doing". While designing the courses, the concept of farming system as well as farming situation are taken into account to ensure that the enterprises in which they are trained are commercially and ecologically viable, sustainable and profitable. Such vocational trainings help them to sustain themselves through self employment and to make them self reliant economically. KVKs provide training not only in agriculture and allied vocations but also other income-generating activities that may supplement the income of farm families.

KVKs are also organizing training programmes for the extension personals of agriculture and allied departments to update them about the new innovations in the field of agriculture so that the same would be passed on by then to the farmers of their respective circles. KVKs are acting as a hinge between different developmental agencies/financial institutions/NGOs/Cooperatives and farmers/farmers group in implementing different developmental activities. KVKs are also behaving as a knowledge centre in the rural areas for addressing/disseminating knowledge on natural resource conservation, climate or ecological changes, agriculture and environment, human diet- health-disease prevention, zoonosis, impact analysis of developed technologies, ICT in agriculture, intelligent purchasing etc.

Agriculture is always considered as a system, which encompasses several allied disciplines. KVKs stand unique in respect to other institutions being working on system approach with its core team or multidisciplinary scientists and also enjoy strong technology support from host institutes and other research stations.










THE crisis between the ruling DMK and the Congress in Tamil Nadu has blown over with both the parties realising that any rupture in ties between them would work to the advantage of the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK at a time when assembly elections are round the corner. Though Congress president Sonia Gandhi did some plain-speaking with the DMK leadership, taking exception to that party's brinkmanship, the party relented fearing that it would stand marginalised if it fought the election on its own. For a while after the DMK threatened to pull out of the alliance, the Congress explored the option of making good the lost numbers for the Central coalition by considering a tie-up with Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party or even holding out an olive branch to Jayalalithaa, but while the first was opposed strongly by leaders of the U.P. Congress, the second was steeped in uncertainty. It was then that senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee spoke to Chief Minister Karunanidhi and exhorted him to defer his decision to pull out his ministers.


While it was Karunanidhi's elder son M.K. Azhagiri who was a stumbling block for the DMK coming to terms, in the Congress it was Home Minister P. Chidambaram who wanted more seats for the party in south Tamil Nadu in the hope of boosting the electoral prospects of his son Kartikeyan who is a Youth Congress leader. But with Mrs Gandhi wanting the alliance to continue, there was little they could do. The DMK was apparently keen to ensure that in the ongoing investigations into the 2G scam, the Karunanidhi clan was duly protected but on this the Congress pleaded helplessness since the Supreme Court is monitoring the probe.


The continuance of the DMK-Congress alliance will retrieve for both parties some of the ground that they would have lost had they parted ways. But with the DMK having to live with the taint on account of A. Raja's involvement in the 2G scam, the anti-incumbency factor in play and Jayalalithaa campaigning feverishly while the DMK-Congress alliance tottered on the brink, it would be a Herculean task for the DMK-led alliance to return to power. 









THE Election Commission's decision to make mandatory disclosure of income-tax (IT) returns and inherited property by candidates contesting elections is welcome. It is expected to make the affidavit more transparent and broadbased and help disseminate better and effective information to the electors. According to the new rules, every candidate will have to file the six-page affidavit along with his or her nomination papers before the Returning Officer. The IT returns and details of properties of the candidate's spouse and all the "dependents" will also have to be furnished in the affidavit. The Election Commission was compelled to introduce the new affidavit, in consultation with the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), to curb the use of black money and illegal wealth in the electoral process. There is no denying the fact that the most candidates do not disclose the entire truth about their wealth to the Election Commission. The filing of IT returns in the new affidavit is expected to fill up this gap. This will also have the force of law and infuse fairness and transparency in the exercise.


More important, with five states going for Assembly elections next month — Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry — the new measure will contribute to greater awareness among the people about the background of their candidates. Essentially, these affidavits function as summaries of candidates' criminal records as well as disclosures of their assets and are mainly intended to give voters information they need before they enter the polling booths to exercise their franchise.


While the Election Commission's latest move is commendable, it should take measures to ensure that all affidavits are posted online for wider dissemination of information among the electorate. The Chief Electoral Officers of all states should scrupulously implement its directive to scan and upload candidates' affidavits on their websites "not later than 24 hours" after they have been received. As political parties continue to nominate candidates with criminal backgrounds, the information contained in the affidavits becomes vital to the democratic process. Undoubtedly, while disclosures in the new format would work as an antidote to corruption and poor governance only when such information is available to all citizens, what matters more is not the size of a candidate's assets and liabilities but how they were earned. 








TWO elderly people went out for a walk in Elk Grove, California, US. They were shot. One of them died while the other is in a critical state. Why were they killed? While it is too early to say definitively, the FBI and the local police suspected Tuesday's incident to be a hate crime that snuffed out the life of Surinder Singh and left Gurmej Singh Atwal critically injured. Both sported beards and turbans, and thus became likely targets for bigots.


The police, the local American community and the Indian expatriate population have responded with concern and alacrity to the attack, and rewards have been announced by both the authorities as well as the Sikh community in California for information about the perpetrators of the attack. Surinder Singh and Gurmej Singh Atwal both had their roots in Punjab, like thousands of Sikhs who have made California their home. Concern about the safety of this visibly different community has come to the fore since this latest attack on its members, which is far from being the only one of its kind. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, the Sikhs, because of their turbans and beards, have faced harassment, and even been the targets of discrimination and crime. Other minorities, like the Jews and the Muslims, too, have faced hate crimes.


Another crime, the 2010 attack on taxi driver Harbhajan Sikh, also came in the news just before the killing, when the two accused admitted their guilt as part of a plea-bargaining arrangement in a California court. While swift apprehension of suspects and prompt judicial redressal go a long way to reassure the victims, it is clear that the US authorities must make efforts to apprehend the perpetrators of the latest crime and take measures to assure the community of its safety. 











GOVERNANCE is not a matter of wishful thinking. Nor is it some political trickery. For this, a clean, transparent administration is something minimum. Providing more funds for different fields, as the budget has done, does not automatically ensure improvement, particularly when the aam admi has been consciously left out. If the past experience is any guide, the bigger the expenditure, the greater is the scope for siphoning off money. A few scams, which have come to light, show how large allocations have given an opportunity to ministers, bureaucrats and their men to fritter away public money.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's admission that there have been "aberrations" does not wash. All that he says is that they will be "more cautious" in the future. The crisis is that of confidence. How do we stand in our mind and spirit? How far do we adhere to the basic principles that give strength to people? The deterioration in public life in the Congress as well as in other parties and groups is matched by growing disruptive tendencies, rooted in province, religion, caste and language.


People intrinsically decent are forgetting major issues and getting excited over minor matters and thereby harming the country's unity, strength and progress. There is need for new thinking, in terms of not slogans and dogmas but a pragmatic idealism related to both modern conditions and human values. It is not necessary for all Indians to think alike. Indeed, it would be unfortunate if they did. But they should try to share some broad objectives and methods, within a framework, to persuade each other if they differ on specific issues.


Punishing one former Telecommunication Minister A. Raja or one Commonwealth Games-in-charge Suresh Kalmadi does not mean that the government has cleansed its stables. And what the two did is by no standard an "aberration". They acted fraudulently and went on doing so over a long period. The Prime Minister may not have known the nitty-gritty of the corrupt deals. But he was aware that there was some hanky-panky. He could hear the noise the media and others were making. The entire system is reeking with the arrogance of power and little fear of punishment. The rot has gone down all the way, making those at positions confident of going scot-free even if a few from among them are caught with their fingers in the jam jar.


I concede that this situation has not come about in one day. Yet I have never seen in my life so much corruption on the scale it is found today. Take any field. It seems that everyone is devising ways to make money and evade the law.


Practically all members of Dr Manmohan Singh's Cabinet, if assessed by an independent body (not the government-controlled CBI), would be found wanting in integrity in one way or the other. And this holds good for the states, ruled either by the Congress or the BJP. In fact, both parties have brought down public life to such a low level that people do not know whether India had ever maintained high standards.


The Prime Minister has advised the people to improve the tone of public life. How do they do? The common man does not count. He is so burdened with ever-increasing food prices that he is all the time busy trying to keep himself afloat. Civil society is itself a participant in the loot. And the top is so mixed up with the ruling party at the Centre and in the states that it has developed a vested interest in what is going on in the name of governance.


When morality goes out of politics and power becomes the end by itself, the parties do not mind what methods they adopt to reap benefits. What the different governments have done is that they have wiped out the line dividing right and wrong, moral and immoral. People do not have any compunction in adulterating medicines, fudging degrees or even leaking question papers. There is nothing called wrong per se.


In the process, violence has come to be accepted a normal way in a country which has forgotten how it won Independence through non-violence. Since most political parties have become mafias themselves, they have in their cadre criminals, black marketeers and sheer killers. But then they are the ones who are able to "manage" elections, now that Assam, Pudhucherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal go to polls in April.


Another ill that has crept in is the assertion of identity. All communities want an identity of their own. This is fair as long as the Indian identity is above the rest. The media, a strong pillar of the democratic structure, has itself become part and parcel of the corrupt system. Newspapers and TV channels sell space for consideration. The phrase "Paid News" is not an affront any more. An unpublished report of the Press Council of India has proved beyond doubt that most leading papers, the English Press is not an exception, have accepted money to publish a candidate's propaganda as news and has kept out the opponents from the paper.


When no field remains unpolluted, the blame lies on the shoulders of the intelligentsia. It has ceased to be sensitive. It has no realisation of what is wrong. Yet the nation has to preserve the fundamental values of a democratic society. The ethical considerations inherent in public servants have to be refurbished. They run the system. I agree that cleansing has to begin at the top. The Lokpal Bill has to be enacted soon. The CBI should be put under the charge of the Lokpal. Maybe, the institution should have more than one person, approved by the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader in the Lok Sabha.


But the top-most priority has to be given to the functioning of Parliament. What the Congress has experienced – stalling of the winter session-the party has done the same thing when the BJP was in power. I was then in the House and found some members equally exasperated over the daily disturbance. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is quite right when he says that some mechanism should be found to ensure the functioning of Parliament. But this depends on the political parties, especially the Congress and the BJP.


I recall how on the 50th anniversary of Parliament all members swore never to disturb the House. The Congress, then in the opposition, was the first to violate the consensus. Timely action could have been taken to stop the slide. To say that the government will be "cautious" in the future is neither here nor there. People want to see quick results. And they are losing patience.








For Kashmiris scattered all over the globe, it carries the nip of a lost homeland. But for others like me who come across the real taste of it occasionally, this fragrant tea is a seed of solace.


Kahwa, also called "mogil chay", a vino-coloured tea topped with almond parings, has helped Kashmiris beat the winter chill. Though I had it several times at my residence in the city, far from my homeland, it lacked that typical aroma that might be left in the lanes of long-lost Kashmir when made in a not-so-typical way.


My family, which is from Kashmir, first introduced me to its typical taste in the last vacations in Jammu. I relished it at the residence of my mum's aunt. It was there that I wrapped my shawl around the piping glass, holding it traditionally as is done by the good-old ladies of Kashmir, and took a careful sip. It was there that I conned the prowess of making and serving this honeyed and zesty blend.


In gladder times, there was no home in Kashmir that did not have a samavar, a vessel made of copper or brass in which kahwa was brewed. Around the fire-container there is a space for water to boil and the tea leaves and other ingredients are mixed with water for a perfect blend. It is said a good kahwa cannot be made without samavar and can only be enjoyed in a khos (cup).


The tea is made in samavar by boiling green tea leaves with saffron strands, cinnamon bark, cardamom pods and occasionally Kashmiri roses to add a great aroma. Generally, it is served with sugar or honey, and crushed nuts, usually almonds or walnuts, but no milk is added.


Any time is considered kahwa time for a Kashmiri. Some Kashmiris have started drinking Lipton tea, though there was a time when only "mogil chay" was brewed. But given that the constricted flats of cities hardly allow for heavy and rotund accessories like samavars, kehwah is now brewed in ordinary tea pan.


My initial efforts were honed with the help of a few tips from my mom's aunt and I am now an adept brewer in my own right. Back to my city, undeterred, I checked out with different restaurants and hotels here, but to no avail, as I could not find my favourite tea's name on their menu cards. So, one fine day, I asked a close friend of mine, who brings spices and other condiments from Jammu to sell in the city, to bring some tea bags for me. She responded that she would include it in her list if I invite her for a hearty Kashmiri meal, including her favourite dum aloo and rogan josh. "Anything for the actual taste of kahwa," I said.


I have fulfilled my promise and I now have bags of leaves and related spices. By the time you go through this, the samavar at my home would probably have been pulled out of its long hiding and my friends from the city will be on the verge of a new ecstasy.









THE laudable objective of inclusive growth set for the Eleventh Five Year Plan being currently implemented can be possibly achieved if the major obstacle in the distributive process is well identified and eradicated. It is a well recognised fact that the GDP growth rate in the post-globalised era has significantly enhanced due to the market transformation in terms of size and structure. But the growth dividends are concentrating in fewer hands and are not trickling down to the masses whose acute pains in terms of hunger and starvation can be better felt than quantified.


According to the recent observations of the UN, over 40 per cent Indians live on less than $1.25 (around Rs 60) per day and India now stands third in terms of proportions of extremely poor people in South Asia. The existence of one-third of the world's hungry population in the second fastest growing nation seems to be highly paradoxical and makes our economic attainments suspect.


Evidently, growth in real terms is confined to a small proportion of the population and instead of flowing down, it is moving to foreign banks, where trillions of dollars are stacked with almost no hope of being brought back. It is a pointer to a poor and weak governing mechanism expressible in terms of inefficiency and ethical failures.


In 2005 former Chief Vigilance Commissioner N. Vittal pointed out that the root cause of poor governance lies in corruption. In fact, there is a reciprocal relationship between the two. In 2009 R. H. Tahilani, Chairman of Transparency International India, rightly observed that tremendous economic growth being witnessed in the country was not reaching the poor due to the single big reason of corruption. These views have been corroborated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on different occasions while expressing his concern at corruption in government machinery being the main deterrent in transferring benefits of growth to the masses.


Corruption not only dilutes administrative efficiency but also results in the depletion of scarce national resources. The total loss to the public exchequer due to unethical practices in the form of corruption, scams and fraudulent allotments in 2010 was estimated to be Rs 4 lakh crore. Moreover, corruption in governance with its vertical and horizontal flows is multiplying and vitiating the total atmosphere within the country and destroying its external image. Transparency International's 2010 survey ranked India at 87 among 178 nations and its Corruption Perception Index score has come down to 3.3 from 3.4 in 2009 and 3.5 in 2007.


Until and unless governance mechanism is freed from this malaise, the realisation of inclusive growth or poverty eradication would not seem to be feasible. UN General Secretary Kofi Annan observed in 2002 that good governance was the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development. Good policy has a meaning if it is effectively administered. With a weak administration the gains of even excellent policy are lost.


Good governance has two essential ingredients: efficiency and ethics. Efficiency without ethics may yield higher but exclusive growth. For making it participative governance needs to be fair and free from corruption. Unfortunately, a steep decline in our ethical standards with their origin in our governing mechanism is perceptible.


We have forgotten our rich heritage, which is certainly a source of honour and pride. In 1835 Lord Macaulay, while addressing the British Parliament, said: "I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage".


The downfall of our value system started during the British regime itself. This fact is evident from Winston Churchill's statement that he made on the eve of Independence, "power will go in to the hands of … freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw who will fight among themselves for power and will be lost in political squabbles".


In 1947 after the attainment of Independence, the Prevention of Corruption Act was passed with a view to smoothening the task of rehabilitation and economic reconstruction. But despite powerful influence of the philosophical ideas of our great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabh Bhai Patel in the minds of the people, the country started coming speedily into the fold of corruption. According to the report of the Santham Committee submitted in 1964, the failure of integrity was not uncommon among the ministers and some of them had enriched themselves illegally. The country is viciously entrapped in the incessant ethical degradation and unfortunately is being considered one of the most corrupt countries of the world.


It is rightly observed by Vice President Hamid Ansari that the general thinking environment has become much polluted and honesty is considered incompatible with survival. In the Approach Paper of the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12) it is clearly mentioned that "corruption is seen to be endemic in all spheres and this problem needs to be addressed immediately".


There is no denying the fact that ethics in governance is an index of general ethical standards and practices prevailing in the country. There is a common saying that subjects follow the king (government) and if the king is sinful, then subjects will have no hesitation in committing sins. Here unethical practices in the private and public sectors as well as our daily dealings have become a routine. Everyday new scams and scandals, siphoning of funds from sanctioned projects and fictitious billing are destabilizing the economic system of the country. These do not allow growth benefits to be shared by the poor and marginalised sections of society whose status is no better than perishable goods purchased by the crafty leaders through their political managers at the time of elections.


The ambitious targets of high growth in quantitative terms are much needed and appreciable. But if the process of growth continues to be directed only towards top 300 millions and the others have to be simply consoled with catchy and innovative slogans that they have been listening since Independence, then the fault certainly lies with the mechanism of development.


It is abundantly clear that growth cannot be shared by all unless our top leadership sincerely and strictly observes certain ethical codes. High standards of honesty and service to the nation are to be set, followed and exhibited and not only to be vociferously pronounced with a view to misleading the hapless masses of the country who probably seem to have reconciled to the state of perpetual sufferings. In order to liberate our leaders from personal greed and long-term interest of their progeny towards whom they are solely committed, there is need for soul searching. This feeling must be rooted in the mind that others too have their share in the national wealth and they do have the right to live with grace and honour.


An autonomous body such as a Central Ethics Commission assisted by committees at the state level needs to be established to deal with the issue of unethical practices in governance so that the loss to the nation in terms of waste of resources and social discontent emerging from economic exclusion may be reduced as far as possible. It should be constantly involved in the ethical scrutiny of the policies at the stage of formulation and implementation. Simultaneously Institutes of Ethics at the central and state levels should be set up to impart training to those joining politics and administration. Central Ethics Commission, Institutes of Ethics and government organisations concerned must work in coordination.


If we genuinely want to lift those who are at the bottom of the pyramid then merely enhanced allocations of funds and motivated publicity are not enough. There is need to ensure that funds are not taken away by unscrupulous policy executors working at different levels. Towards this end, the setting up of a task force under the chairmanship of Nandan Nilkani of Unique Identification Authority of India for evaluating a method for direct transfer of subsidies to the targeted beneficiaries is highly commendable. It will certainly reduce the transaction cost in the distributive system. Bihar is committed to issuing UID numbers to the beneficiaries of various welfare schemes within three years. This is an appreciable step and must be followed by other states. The scale of corruption in governance can be significantly brought down if the product and service delivery mechanism is subjected to decentralisation.


During the execution of various development schemes and construction of infrastructure, potential beneficiaries should be involved for the sake of transparency and excellence. Even fund allocations among different regions in the Union Budget should be based on their respective integrity indices. There is need for a judicious review of the performance not only in terms of productivity but also ethical standards maintained in the utilisation of the funds sanctioned earlier. Some extra grant incentives can be linked with the time-bound and fair delivery of services to the public. For the realisation of the objective of sustainable inclusive growth, the sustainability of ethical values in governance is must.


The writer is a Professor of Economics at the IBS, Chandigarh








Dadasaheb Phalke famously said that women who acted in films should be from "good, cultured families alone… so that our studios will no longer be compared with whore houses." Another reformist, Balkrishna Bhatt, condemned Parsi theatre for its inclusion of women, and in the kind of foolish statement we make about ourselves from time to time "blamed the Parsi theatre for depriving India of its Hindu identity and inculcating Hindus with erotic desires instead". Even some women felt this way. In an article published in 1931, Kumari Satyavati says that, if theatre is to prove a genuine instrument for reform, then only women "like the wives of sages in ancient times" should be allowed to perform.


None of this is surprising. As is by now well-known, the fight for political freedom led to the suppression of women in India. They were expected to stay at home, guard tradition, and be ideal housewives. Only this way could India manifest its spiritual moorings.


Nandi Bhatia's Performing Women/Performing Womanhood subtitled Theatre Politics and Dissent in North India (OUP 2010) explores attitudes to actresses, but also explores plays written by women in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi. A range of documents including interviews, reviews, articles, short stories, autobiographies, biographies, films and official reports are used to recover the work done by women in various movements. "Collectively," Bhatia says, "these documents constitute a valuable archive that enables a recovery of the challenges they posed to reformist, colonial, and nationalist views that perpetuated restrictive notions of womanhood by insisting on their role as a fundamental part of family life."


We tend to consign one-act plays to school events, so it is interesting to note the extent to which progressives made use of the form. It allowed them to "communicate the point in a short span of time". Such plays required few characters, small budgets which made it easy to move performances from towns to villages. Sometimes, European and English one-act plays were translated and adapted. Many plays written by women who were part of progressive theatre groups raised taboo subjects. Rasheed Jahan and Ismat Chugtai, to name the best-known. Familiar headlines greeted their work in theatre and other forms: 'Shias Gravely Upset'. Cartoons showed the women in Hell, all sporting western clothes. The writers remained undeterred.


Many of the issues, names and organisations Nandi Bhatia discusses are familiar. But, as with much writing on feminist issues, she does "recover" or remind us of texts we may have forgotten, for instance the work of Kusum Kumar. "Considering her extraordinary productivity as a playwright and her unusual perceptiveness about the female dalit subject-position, it seems an incredible oversight that Kumar's work should have been overlooked in existing scholarship on theatre." Kumar gave up her post as a lecturer in Delhi to devote herself to creative writing. Her most famous play, published in 1978, is Suno Shefali (Listen, Shefali), about a Harijan girl who refuses to marry an upper-caste man when she discovers she is merely part of the father's political agenda — to show how liberal he is. Kumar uses the word 'Harijan' instead of 'dalit' deliberately, to critique Gandhi's ideas about the integration rather than the abolition of castes.


In a survey of Dalit literature, Bhatia reminds us that the Bahujan Samaj Party helped to resurrect Dalit heroes and heroines who participated in the 1857 wars of liberation. Among them was Jalkaribai, a maid of the Rani of Jhansi who is said to have looked a lot like her, and fought to save the Rani's kingdom. Yet it is mainly the Rani who is remembered.


And, in a survey of plays about courtesans, another group that contributed to the nationalist struggle, Bhatia talks about Tripurari Sharma, who, in the 1990s, wrote plays about characters relegated to the fringes of society: lepers, working-class women, courtesans, Anglo-Indians.



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These are dog days for microfinance in South Asia. The Bangladesh government could not have done itself a greater injustice by successfully ousting, for the time being at least, Muhammad Yunus from the top position of the internationally renowned Grameen Bank. An appeal against the high court ruling is being made, and it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will overturn the verdict. A developing country like Bangladesh, still in need of global goodwill and assistance, can ill afford to squander the equity that Professor Yunus created for it, first by successfully pioneering the idea and practice of microfinance, and then winning the Nobel Prize for it. A Nobel laureate is a national asset in any country and a government in its senses would co-opt the winner to reap all the soft advantages that such an association would bring. Instead Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has unleashed an undisguised vendetta against a distinguished son of her nation.

The technical issue, whether Professor Yunus had broken the law of the land by remaining managing director beyond the retirement age, can only be decided by the courts. But Professor Yunus has held the position since 1983 and it is actually the government, and the courts, which are on trial and have to explain why they have woken up to the alleged illegality of staying beyond the age of 60 a good ten years late. But the matter has ceased to be a legal issue long ago.


 The political and ethical issue that has moved uppermost is how far can executive high-handedness go. This has been a most unfortunate turn of events for Bangladesh, which has more recently successfully tried to put its sorry past behind it, and catch up with the region in seeking to establish its democratic credentials. Bangladesh must show that its public life can be conducted with a sense of fair play. Professor Yunus is seen to have fallen foul of Ms Hasina by daring to consider forming a political party after winning the Nobel honour and his ouster is clearly the handiwork of some estranged former associates who are close to the current dispensation. The Grameen group has a large presence in several walks of life and trying to pack its leadership with people beholden to the government can only be short-sighted.

It is, however, a pity that Professor Yunus had not on his own initiated a process to find a successor who is capable, knows the organisation well and can take it forward imaginatively. Planned succession should have already figured on his agenda. Like so many patriarchs in so many walks of life who have built up enormous entities, Professor Yunus also finds it difficult to see his own creation running without him. One particular comment that stands out is that he is a man with a good but small heart. Even if this is true, what Ms Hasina has done is inexcusable. The right way to go about the task would be to initiate a consultative process within the Grameen family for it to select its own future leader.






The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has always been a quasi -economic and quasi-political institution. For all the hard bargaining and tough talking that IMF teams do with debtor nations, how the chips finally fall is almost always a function of political grand bargains between debtor nations and the Fund's principal shareholders. Which is why it is not surprising that an IMF team that has been stationed in Islamabad for over a week has decided to extend its stay by another three days rather than pack its bags and fly back because talks between the Fund and the Pakistan finance ministry were going nowhere.

The IMF team, led by its assistant director for West Asia and Central Asia, Adnan Mazarei, has delayed its departure after Pakistan's finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh informed the Fund that the government was ready to cut back on power subsidies and come out with a time table for tax reform. At stake for Pakistan is a US$11.3 billion standby arrangement programme that was suspended after Pakistan failed to meet the policy commitments it had made. Given the geo-political stakes, both the US, the Fund's principal shareholder, and China, the rising power in the Fund, have been more than accommodative of Pakistan's needs. India, too, has adopted a supportive stance on the grounds that a stable Pakistan with a stable economy is good for regional peace and security. However, Pakistan has more often than not used its geo-political cards to bargain for better terms than most debtor nations. It has been able to get away so far with doing just about what is politically acceptable at home, avoiding the tougher job of reducing power and other subsidies.


 The IMF team's decision to postpone its departure from Islamabad, and avert the embarrassment of failed negotiations, was contingent upon a sharp increase in power tariffs and a hike in excise duties. The Fund had made it clear that it would issue its Letter of Comfort (LoC), enabling Pakistan to borrow more from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, only after some initial reform and revenue mobilising steps were taken. With these done, the focus will shift to medium-term fiscal strategy and economic reform programme. The unfortunate fact for Pakistan is that its economy has faltered ever since the Musharraf rule ended and a so-called democratic government had come to power. President Pervez Musharraf's seven-year term in office (2001-08) was associated with an improvement in Pakistan's economic and fiscal performance. However, in the last two years, Pakistan's economic growth rate came down from the 6 per cent range to which President Musharraf had taken it to a lowly 2 per cent in 2009 and a little over that in 2010. Floods and domestic law and order problems have made matters only worse for a beleaguered nation. But the bottomline in Pakistan is that no major creditor wants it to fail, either as a nation or as an economy. Hence, it is possible that Pakistan does not feel the economic heat enough to put its house in order and take the tough economic decisions it must to restore momentum to its economy.








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






Earlier this week, clothing/clothing dominant retailers went on a day-long strike to protest against the imposition of a 10 per cent excise duty on branded apparel. If the government had taken this step a year ago, perhaps the textile sector's response would not have been one of such a vehement opposition. However, this particular impost has come at a time when the entire textile sector is still in the process of coming to terms with what may be a very fundamental structural shift underway. Incidentally, such fundamental shifts are also taking place in a few other sectors including food and agriculture, transportation, and energy and these have started making an impact both on the global, as well as on the Indian textile sector.

The textile industry primary uses two major fibres as its basic raw material: cotton and polyester. Cotton prices have moved up by more than 50 per cent in just the last 12 months, and by almost 150 per cent in the last 2 years. With crude oil touching a 30 month high, the prices of polyester and many other man-made fibres are likely to rise sharply in tandem in the coming months. Unlike in the past, however, such sharp increases in raw material prices may be there to stay since these are not caused by any major disruption in cotton or man-made fibre production. The oil prices, even immediately before the current political crises in West Asia and North Africa (WANA), had been rising steadily as the global economy had started to look up and further stimulated by steadily increasing demand in fast-growing economies including China and India. Cotton production has also been growing steadily, and in particular, India has seen a dramatic near-doubling of cotton output in the last decade post introduction of BT cotton. The factors, which are going to contribute to sustained high prices for input raw material are many. The primary factor is a rapid increase in demand for textile products in two of the most populous countries of the world: China and India. As consumer incomes increase, there is a huge upsurge in spending on clothing (and food) as more purchasing power comes in the hands of hundreds of millions of till-recently low-income people. China's domestic textile market has grown from about US$ 70 billion in 2005 to about US$ 160 billion in 2010 and poised to touch US$ 260 billion by 2015. In the same period, India's domestic textile market has expanded from about US$ 30 billion to about US$ 52 billion in 2010, and is likely to grow further to US$ 90 billion by 2015. While some of this increase is accounted for by higher value-added products, there is a significant increase in quantum of raw fibre consumed by these two countries.

At the same time, with rising food inflation across the globe, it is very likely that governments will encourage diversion of more arable land for direct food production, and away from non-food agricultural crops such as cotton. It would be of interest to note that in 1961, the estimated world-wide area under cotton cultivation was about 32 million hectares. Fifty years later, even as the world population has increased from about 3 billion to 7 billion, the area for cotton cultivation has just inched up to about 33 million hectares. Were it not for introduction of genetically-modified seeds and advancements in pest control and irrigation, the world cotton prices would have moved up northward much earlier. Unfortunately, such dramatic breakthroughs in improving farm yields of cotton are not likely in the future.

Unfortunately for India, the Indian policy makers — like in most other sectors — do not have a holistic view of this very vital sector for the Indian economy and its direct and indirect impact on livelihood of tens of millions of Indians, and the necessity to provide affordable clothing to hundreds of millions of poor and low income citizens. Indeed, while there is an apex ministry for the textile sector, most of the critical policy decisions are actually taken by other ministries including finance, commerce, and industry. Some of these, when taken in isolation, as is the case in the recent budget could play havoc with the viability of the entire sector besides further fuelling inflation since clothing remains as basic a need as food is. The relatively well-off could do with one less shirt or sari but the poor anyway buy clothing when absolutely unavoidable.

Hence, it is critical for the textile industry to come to grips with this fundamental shift in demand and other factors-induced cost increase, while the government has to give a more considered, holistic look to all the policies impacting this important sector.  







Chinese all over the world are used to receiving red Lai See envelopes from their elders every lunar New Year, containing gifts of money. But not the kind of Lai See that mainland China's billionaire philanthropist Chen Guangbiao started handing out on the streets of Taipei on a visit last January.

Chen, obviously, was in his best philanthropic mood. When the Taiwanese authorities intervened to stop his roadside charity spree – it's said he gave out the equivalent of some $250,000 – he offered to spend his entire fortune on building an undersea tunnel and high-speed railway across the Taiwan Strait.


 It was, perhaps, just another flash of Chen's flamboyance for which he is well known. But it certainly shows a thawing of old hostilities between the two sides and an effort to reach out. Very soon, Chinese mainlanders will be able to travel to Taiwan as individuals, not necessarily as package tourists. A top Beijing negotiator, Chen Yunlin, led a business delegation to Taiwan last month, and Taiwan's north-eastern city of Keelung has established a tourism office in the mainland city of Xiamen.

History has indeed passed a long way since the Kuomintang (KMT), under Chiang Kai-shek, fled the mainland in 1949 and dug their heels on the island, claiming it as the only China on earth. That set off a long period of confrontation, with the US siding with the KMT and the Chinese regularly shelling Kinmen (Quemoy) and Matsu, two Taiwanese islands close to the mainland, giving the impression that Beijing was ready to risk war to reclaim Taiwan.

But in January 1979, things took a surprising turn. The shelling suddenly stopped and Beijing officially called on "compatriots" on the island to end their hostile confrontation and ease tensions across the strait. That, significantly, was the year China embarked on its momentous journey of economic reforms and began to look at the world in a less jingoistic way. Though hot words and gestures have been exchanged from time to time, and US naval ships have been drawn occasionally into the area, fears about Beijing's motives have abated. Turn a friendly face, do business together, let people from both sides mix and mingle, and integration will be ultimately achieved — that seems to be Beijing's changed thinking on how to solve the Taiwan question.

Beijing's hope is bolstered by another calculation. Taiwan no longer enjoys the same priority with the US as before and its diplomatic ties are down to only 23 nations. In the new global situation where China's economic rise is a major factor, Taiwan's independence has hardly any takers. Public opinion in Taiwan is increasingly aware of this, too, which is obviously why they voted Beijing-friendly Ma into office in 2008, after eight years of Chen Shui-biang's futile pro-independence rule.

Ma is keen to get re-elected in 2012 and China is equally keen that he does. The two sides have signed a Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, which came into effect this January and aims to reduce to zero tariffs on bilateral trade. The mainland is now Taiwan's largest trading partner and export market ($116 billion in 2010).

There are Taiwanese banks in the mainland and mainland banks in Taiwan. Many Taiwanese have bought apartments in the mainland city of Xiamen. Mainland students study in Taiwanese colleges and universities. Kinmen is no longer a frontline fortress, but a popular tourist attraction. A Macau company has been retained by Taiwan Tourism Bureau to scout for operators to run an integrated casino resort on either Kinmen or Matsu, with mainland gamers in mind.

Last year, Taiwanese investment commitments in the mainland amounted to $13.3 billion, up 120 per cent from a year ago, including a $3 billion proposal by AU Optronics for an LCD plant. Since then, Taiwan's Formosa Plastics has announced a $300 million investment to set up a synthetic rubber factory at Ningbo, in China's Zhejiang province. At the same time, Taipei has decided to allow mainland firms to invest in Taiwan's semiconductor and LCD panel manufacturers.

For the mainlanders, procurement is a growing area. A delegation from Nanjing, where over 2,700 Taiwanese enterprises have invested some $6 billion so far, visited the island recently with a $1 billion shopping list, mainly for computer-related items. China Telecom wants to procure 60 million units of telecom equipment from Taiwan this year, 33 per cent more than last year. The Guolian Group, a big mainland power conglomerate, has ordered gearboxes for wind turbines from Formosa Plastics.

In all this, both sides stand to gain. As Taiwan's mainland connection grows, its isolation in the international community will wane; and as business renders the political issue between the two irrelevant, China will have another economic star in orbit around it (like Hong Kong and Macau) and the world should have new opportunities to take advantage of.









There is unprecedented investor interest in India's petroleum exploration and production (E&P) sector, with UK-listed Vedanta and global major BP, for instance, keen on big-ticket investments. This is welcome. We do need to attract long-term investment and global expertise into our E&P sector, which, though promising, is both risky and capital-intensive. But in tandem, we need a world-class licensing regime, sound regulation, oversight and investor comfort. Mature licensing regimes abroad rely on up-to-date legislation, detailed codes of practice and extensive guidance notes. Out here, we have thus far preferred to follow the case-by-case approach. Instead, the directorate general of hydrocarbons (DGH), the upstream regulator, needs to frame clear-cut operational rules for E&P. The Oil Fields Act, 1948, which was legislated when E&P in the deeper offshore was unknown, appears quite dated as well.

A key instrument of extant regulation in oil and gas production is the so-called management committee (MC), which can consist of a minimum of two government nominees and similar representation from the licensee or contractor. The MC is also mandated to form, say, financial and technical sub-committees, with 'such representatives as may be agreed by the MC'. So, it is possible, say, for a two-member panel to okay expenditure both routine and one-off. Such an arrangement is far too ad-hoc, especially when the costs up for approval can run into billions of dollars. Higher approved costs would lower profit petroleum and the government take. The Comptroller and Auditor General is reportedly auditing costs in the Krishna-Godavari basin. But we surely need to develop more specialised expertise, within institutional settings and without. The leading licensing regimes overseas have done away with the MC concept and, instead, publish fact sheets, manuals and guidelines, and have in place stand-alone oversight to keep tabs on E&P operations. Given that up to 10 billion tonnes of crude oil may be in situ in Indian sedimentary basins, enough to meet present requirements for three decades, our regulatory systems need to be as per international standards.








Arguably the most significant aspect of the upcoming assembly polls in a few states will be whether the CPI-M-led Left Front will be able to hold off the challenge of the Trinamool-Congress combine in West Bengal. And it is the recognition of the very real, and historic, possibility of losing its bastion after over three decades of rule that has led to a proto-self-critique within the CPM. West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's recent statement on his party's failures being the main reason for the rise of the Trinamool is a manifestation of that. But accepting that statement wholly would be disingenuous. For, it is by now a moot point whether even a coherent self-critique can dissipate the sinking feeling within the Left camp. Applying such a critique to actual political praxis, for instance, seems an impossibility. The failure of the Left is deeper than issues of organisational shortcomings. Rather, it is to do with the fact that, through a process of institutionalisation, the Left's politics has become the reverse of what it was meant to be — a bottom-up socio-political mobilisation — and now resembles a power structure that operates by using coercion and patronage networks. Skewed development, which left out those at the bottom of the pyramid, is another aspect. A marked reliance on political violence is yet another. Which, in fact, is a tactic the Trinamool has learnt to mimic as part of its own political riposte.

To that end, it is also debatable whether the Trinamool embodies the hope, and need, for a constructive, progressive political formation in West Bengal, given that it has, so far, been driven almost wholly by reactive politics. And in the event of a landmark win at the hustings, Trinamool will need to emerge as a party that can balance industrial development with participatory land consolidation, and which begins to end the opposition between agriculture and industry through which the question of development has been viewed in the state. The CPM's primary failure, in fact, was not changing that paradigm. And the party might now be too old and rundown to reverse such historic blunders.







Astudy by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released last week that reveals more Britons cook everyday than Indians or the French do, should cause no surprises as quantity is hardly a determinant of quality. Indians and the French would surely have a quibble or two about what actually constitutes food or a meal in Britain too. But the report's contention that Indians on average spend nearly three hours preparing a meal — though a mere 44% of the billionplus population cooks daily — does grave injustice to talents of the countless kitchen goddesses across the nation who manage to pack school tiffinboxes and office d a b b a swith freshly-made food even before breakfast, and then go on to whip up hot dinners as well. Their speed and skill is even more commendable given the inherent complexities of Indian cuisine with its range of spices and cooking methods. This gives rise to the suspicion that India's long kitchen hours are a result of the data not distinguishing between single and multiple cooking spells during a day — a major point of cultural divergence between the sandwich-munching West and the hot meal-addicted East.

Nor does the report distinguish between cooking for one and cooking for a family, a factor that would have a bearing on time spent and the percentage of the population engaged in culinary activities. After all, the fact that 75% of Britons and Scandinavians cook — and yet spend less than an hour on the task — implies that they mostly cook for themselves. That Americans spend the lowest time cooking and have the highest obesity rates should clinch any debate on the need for quality kitchen time — in the absence of India's efficient home-catering networks and plethora of cheap and frugal restaurants, of course.






Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are coming to India this July to request our billionaires to give away a large part of their wealth in their lifetime. India now has the third largest number of billionaires. Forbes says that India has 69 billionaires worth collectively $280 billion. The fourth-richest man in the world is in India, with his wealth in India. Americans have founded a society based on compassionate capitalism, which encourages individual initiatives and the creation of wealth. But with great wealth come great responsibilities, and most American billionaires give away a large part of their wealth to society during their lifetime. This was started in the era after the Robber Baron era, at the start of the 20th century, when Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford and others set up their foundations and built universities, libraries, museums and generally enriched the quality of life and gave back to society what they earned from them. This has ensured that the harshness of a capitalistic society is blunted and becomes acceptable to ordinary citizens. Europe, on the other hand, still has a feudal attitude to wealth, and inheritance needed legal measures to prevent wealth accumulation through the generations.
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are great examples of this culture. Both have promised to give away collectively $100 billion during their lifetime, leaving a small amount (relatively) for their children. They are now on a drive to get other billionaires give away a large part of their wealth to ensure that society does not look at high achievers with hatred and envy and accepts that an open capitalistic society is essential for economic growth and societal well being. In India, we have the example of the Tatas who lived their dreams, accumulated great wealth and gave it away, leaving their descendants ordinary mortals.

What has been the response of our home-grown billionaires who have seen great wealth, unimaginable in the socialistic era, come to them because of the policies of liberalisation and globalisation? A very substantial part of this wealth is because of the market value of their shareholding in their companies. This wealth is a direct result of an open economy that allows the rapid creation of wealth and a dynamic stock market that rewards enterprise.

Besides this, tax policies have played a major role. In 1992, wealth tax of 2% on market value of shares was abolished. Income tax was 50% at the maximum marginal rate in 1991, 40% in 1994 and is 30% today. Dividend is tax-exempt in the hands of the recipient if dividend distribution tax is paid by the company. All told, tax policies have had a large role to play in the accumulation and size of this wealth. So, a large part of this wealth is a direct result of tax policies that fostered a dynamic stock market and, of course, the enterprise and courage our billionaires showed in their business. They do deserve full credit for this and none should envy them their success.

What responsibility do our billionaires owe to society and the rest of their brethren? India is a poor country with ordinary people dying because of lack of elementary healthcare, 45% of our children in the age group below 5 years being malnourished, a child mortality of 45 per 1,000, and only 13.5% of our young people in the age group of 18-24 being in college, a country beset by problems of governance and poverty looking for succour after 60 years of freedom, almost a failed state for the vast majority of our people. Our billionaires have given back to society, schools, colleges, a university or two, hospitals, but nothing substantial in relation to their wealth save Azim Premji who has recently given away . 8,500 crore.


Being beneficiaries of a poor country, they have a moral responsibility to give back the vast majority of their wealth to society. We are a society where we hold this to be true that wealth is given to a few to be held in trust and to be used for the betterment of society and not for oneself or one's children alone, where the power of wealth is reckoned to be the power to do good and not for personal enjoyment alone, where the maxim Sarve Jano Sukhino Bhuvantu is a guiding principle. If we take this aspect, we can conclude that our billionaires have not done enough to justify their wealth in terms of giving back to society directly or indirectly like the American billionaires have. Should we wait till they are advanced in age or ask for this now when we have so much of poverty and so much of inequality? It would be a pity, in the land of Mahatma Gandhi, if Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have to come and persuade our billionaires to do their duty. India expects them to discharge the responsibility cast on them as leaders and do their bit. Even if they give away 2% of their wealth each year — 2% being the saving in wealth tax alone — it would amount to $5.6 billion, or . 25,200 crore. What could this get us every year? Medical insurance of . 2 lakh per family for 12 crore families (60 crore people), 100 universities at . 250 crore each, with 10,000 students each, a midday meal programme for 20 crore children, job training for 2 crore youth at . 10,000 each, the solution to the country's challenges! Do we have a right to make a claim? I would say, yes. And it is a small part of their wealth only, and that too because of beneficial tax policies.

Is it morally right for a few to enjoy such a disproportionate share of our national wealth? Yes, it is, provided they display the statesmanship to demonstrate their leadership in society and discharge their duty. They can wipe the tears from the eyes of the poorest of the poor.










Translators live in the shadow of the authors they recreate in their chosen language. So, it's not a surprise that the death of 'Moscow' Gopalakrishnan in Thiruvananthapuram about a fortnight ago went almost unnoticed. In homage, the Kerala secretary of the CPI summed up the life of a dear comrade who was a fine communist intellectual. But for a generation that grew up reading the translations of Gopalakrishnan and his wife, Omana, he was much more than a partisan. For children who started reading in the 1970s and thereafter, this husband-wife team of translators opened a window to an unfamiliar world. They translated not just the masters of Russian fiction, but also folk tales and fiction for young people. The cheap but beautifully illustrated and printed books that came from the stables of Progress and Raduga publishers were the finest specimen of children's literature we could get in Malayalam. The adventures of Ivan and others read well in Malayalam. The folk tales from the various nationalities that comprised the Soviet Union never sounded as if they belonged to a different culture or landscape. The magic of these translations — done directly from Russian into Malayalam — was such that young readers were effortlessly lifted to a new landscape and made to feel that the human drama unfolding in an unfamiliar geography happened in their own backyard.

In the hot south Indian summer, young readers felt the intense cold of the Siberian taiga and tundra. Birch and poplar became as familiar as coconut and mango trees. They identified with the adventure that Chukk and Gekk undertake across the immense Russian steppe in peak winter to spend Christmas and New Year with their father. The many folk tales that came from the Soviet land became a part of their collective memory. The USSR became a familiar place: a happy place where only the lucky ones went, as a Malayalam balladeer once sang. Gopalakrishnan, of course, didn't reveal if it was indeed a blessed place to be in. But thanks to his work, many young people developed special warmth for a distant land that promised to be the New World.

That, perhaps, was the aim the USSR had when it launched the Soviet Information Service and, in 1966, decided to publish translations of Russian writings in Malayalam. Kerala had, by then, voted the communist party to office and Malayalis had a yearning to read what the Russians did. For 25 years, Gopalakrishnan lived in Moscow and did just that; he translated vast amounts of Russian writing, from Dostoevsky and Chekhov to young fiction, communist classics and propaganda. These translations enriched the soft power of the Soviet Union. They were a bulwark against the critical works that sought to demystify the USSR myth. The influence of American popular culture in undermining the Soviet empire is much talked about. Russian translations played a similar role in enhancing the charm of Soviet communism in Kerala. The terror of Gulag was known to Malayalis, but was too unreal, perhaps, for a people who had been initiated into Russian affairs through folk tales and children's fiction.

It helped that the communist experience in Kerala was vastly different from that of Stalinist Russia. Most communist leaders here were schooled in the national movement and influenced by the Gandhian ethic of simple living and selfless public service. Even the mass struggles waged by the communist party took its cue from the national movement. It was a fertile soil for the Russian soft power to gain roots, and the skillful translators were up to the task with carefully-chosen stories. Histories of communism in India seldom acknowledge the role played by the likes of Gopalakrishnan in the spread of ideology. Public action and political literature, of course, led the way, but the soft power instruments are not to be underestimated.
The Soviet myth had been exposed by the 1960s, yet for the generation that grew up thereafter, the translations presented a different picture. The USSR could not have been anything but a benign and caring state for those who had the Soviet publications as primary reading material. Many of the boys had grown up by the time the Soviet empire collapsed and had developed a critical view of authoritarian regimes, but, surely, most of them felt a pang of sadness about the decline of a distant land that was an intrinsic part of their growing-up years.
Gopalakrishnan never wrote about his Russian years, never did he talk about the souring of a dream. He, perhaps, was living the dream in the literature he read and translated, oblivious to the winter that had set in.







Crude prices are rising and are likely to remain high for quite some time, even after the democratic upsurge in the Arab countries subsides — victorious, we hope, rather than vanquished. India needs to respond proactively to the rising prices, through shortand medium-term steps. Most of them entail fresh investment, and will boost growth in a relatively climate-benign fashion.

As this newspaper's editorial argued earlier this week, one short-term measure that can be explored is swapping food for oil. India has foodgrain stocks in excess of the buffer-stocking norm while most oil-exporting countries import grain, also rising in price. India's excess stocks tend to rot on account of poor storage. Instead, India should think of trading this grain for oil. The stability this brings to a portion, at least, of the country's oil imports would tend to reduce price volatility for the rest of the demand as well.

We must commence blending ethanol into petrol. It has already begun in a small way, but the point is to reduce the consumption of petrol by 10%, not create yet more grist for semiotic analysis. This will mean setting up new sugar mills and ethanol plants, and growing more cane, preferably in water-rich Bihar rather than as expansion in arid Maharashtra, where the crop grows sucking up subsidy by the acre-foot.

India must build up oil stocks. Is this the right time to begin building stocks, when prices are high? Certainly, it would be stupid to buy when prices spike, but depending on our ability to negotiate prices close to the trend, we should buy oil to build stocks, rather than wait for prices to fall. These stocks would dampen future volatility. The developed countries have built up stocks, while in India, we have only talked about it, for years.

This is the easy bit. The tough part is raising retail oil prices, or more specifically, decontrolling them. There is no better way to conserve energy than to price in its full cost. Subsidising fuel encourages profligate consumption, while the entire drive of policy should be to minimise consumption by boosting efficiency, reducing usage and resort to substitution wherever possible. And raising diesel prices is the big-ticket reform, because diesel accounts for the bulk of petrofuel consumption.

But it is not enough to allow diesel prices to rise. A lot of diesel use is unresponsive to price. If goods have to be hauled by road, they will be hauled by trucks, regardless of the cost of diesel. Of course, higher diesel prices would encourage people to opt for vehicles with greater fuel-efficiency, but this saving is not enough.
Coastal shipping, inland waterways, rail and modern blimps — why not? — offer far greater scope for energy saving. But these call for massive investment.

It is criminal for the government to hold investment in rail hostage to coalition compulsions. We need massive investment in new lines, doubling and renewal of existing tracks, computerised signalling, new rolling stock and electrification.

Diversion of traffic from road to rail would save energy and also switch fuel from diesel to coal and gas. Coal mining and value addition must cease to be a state monopoly and opened up to private enterprise and competition. Natural gas prices have effectively got delinked from crude prices, thanks to the doubling of global gas reserves that took place between 2008 and 2009, from 400 trillion cu ft to 800 trillion cu ft, essentially due to new capability to tap into shale gas. India is yet to take advantage of this delinking, having entered into long-term contracts to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) at prices linked to crude prices. The country now needs to invest in new LNG terminals and pipeline networks to take advantage of low-cost natural gas available.
Gas availability can quickly yield new power-generation capacity with superior thermal efficiency and short gestation periods. This presupposes political will to render power commercially viable through the simple expedient of ending political patronage of power theft. But the biggest reform of all would be new town planning. In city after city, people waste up to three hours in snarled traffic everyday, commuting to and from work. In the process, they guzzle fuel, spew out pollution and build up plaque in their coronary arteries. Let us have compact, vertical towns, residential blocks abutting office buildings, public transport running on electric motors or natural gas, green parks and playgrounds that produce future Olympics medal winners.
India will need more than 20,000 sq km of new urban land to accommodate the workforce that will drive industry and services to deliver sustained 9%-plus growth for the economy. Let us invest to make them less vulnerable to crude price volatility than our present slum infestations are.






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



Turnarounds are not uncommon in politics. But the renewed, and what so far appears to be successful, effort on the part of the DMK and the Congress to restore mutual ties would have taken many by surprise. The recent DMK political resolution attacking the Congress on the issue of seat allocation, and the announcement on withdrawal of its six ministers from the Manmohan Singh government, had been unduly sharp. What has followed since is something of an anti-climax. Of course, whether there is a happy ending for the two parties will be known only when the two have successfully identified the Assembly constituencies they will be contesting. Nevertheless, the salvage game could not have begun without both sides agreeing to exploit what little wriggle room existed after hostilities appeared to commence. On the DMK's part, the realisation would have been acute — after the SP, BSP and RJD strongly signalled their support to the UPA-2 coalition — that the Congress-led government at the Centre was is no danger of collapsing due to the southern party's hint at effective withdrawal of support. This would have sufficed for the Dravidian party to pull back from the brink. An alienated Congress government at the Centre and the likelihood of arch-rival Ms Jayalalithaa's AIADMK coming up trumps in the state was a prospect too fearsome to contemplate for a party whose senior figures are in the thick of corruption-related inquiries. It hasn't passed anyone's notice that the Congress did not run for cover when the DMK bellowed. Indeed, the way things have gone, the DMK is unlikely to forget in a hurry the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi's acerbic observations when its senior representatives called on her in New Delhi when the threat to pull out the DMK ministers had not yet been withdrawn. She spoke of coalition ethics, implying that going public over petty differences over the sharing of seats was hardly a sign of political sagacity in an alliance. Mrs Gandhi is learnt to have also reminded the DMK that the Congress had from the beginning accommodated its political demands in the spirit of nurturing their coalition. The withering lecture had the desired effect, and the DMK ended up accommodating its national ally cent per cent on the matter of the number of seats the latter would contest in Tamil Nadu. In the standoff the DMK came off second best. What effect this will have on the election outcome, if any, is not clear, but the entire episode can have the effect of scaling up the Congress Party's image in a state in which it has been the junior partner of one or another Dravidian party for almost four decades. Other UPA allies of the Congress would have taken their own message home from the way the Congress dealt with the DMK when a crisis loomed. A notable aspect of this episode is that the Congress would not of its own accord ditch a state ally, belying occasional speculation (especially when on visits to Chennai Mr Rahul Gandhi did not meet Mr M. Karunanidhi) that it was preparing to go it alone.






International crises have a knack of breaking out in places that are thought to be of marginal concern. The ongoing crisis in Libya is no exception. In the past few years, Libya was seen as shedding its pariah status and entering the mainstream of international politics. Both Mr George W. Bush and Mr Tony Blair cited Libya as a success story: a "rogue" state that had come in from the cold.

A careful balance of threats and inducements had apparently convinced Col. Muammar Gaddafi to forsake both terrorism and the pursuit of nuclear weapons. When India took its place in the United Nations Security Council earlier this year, Libya was not high on the list of potential hot-spots.

So far, the Indian government has managed to improvise a response. It has gone along with the imposition of sanctions, agreed to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court (ICC), while ensuring that its own opposition to the ICC remains unimpaired. But the ongoing crisis could yet force New Delhi to clarify its stance on forceful intervention against the Gaddafi regime.

For a start, we need to move beyond thinking on the basis of first principals. India's position on external intervention has been far from consistent. To be sure, we have repeatedly avowed non-intervention in internal affairs of states. But in practice we have supported interventions, both rhetorically and practically.

Think of our stance on apartheid in South Africa from the late 1940s onwards, the civil war in Congo in the early 1960s, East Pakistan in 1971, Cambodia and Uganda in 1978, and of course in Sri Lanka. Consistency may not be a virtue in international relations, but clarity is. And we need to start thinking about functional criteria that will govern our stance on interventions. Unless we do so, we may not be able to effectively intervene in international debates.

In thinking through these issues, it may be useful to review some earlier attempts to evolve criteria for the use of force in grey-area conflicts. In 1984, the then American defence secretary, Caspar Weinberger, offered a set of tests for intervention. Weinberger's tests were designed for an America that was not only scarred by the experience of Vietnam but also by the botched intervention in Lebanon in 1983, which resulted in the death of 241 marines in a terrorist attack. Nevertheless, the criteria he suggested were interesting.

Forces should be committed to combat only if vital interests were at stake; troops should be used wholeheartedly and with the intent of winning; there should be clearly defined political and military objectives; the relationship between these objectives and the forces committed must constantly be assessed; the intervention must be backed by domestic public opinion; and the use of force must be the last resort.

Weinberger's six criteria were clearly intended to restrict American military involvement in the internal affairs of other countries. Weinberger's tests were actually evolved by his military secretary, Mr Colin Powell. As chairman, joint chiefs of staff, Mr Powell would use these arguments to dissuade the Clinton administration from intervening in the Balkans in the 1990s.

The United States' reluctance to intervene in the Balkans led to another attempt at defining criteria for interventions.

The context, of course, was the need to prevent ethnic cleansing and other humanitarian crises.

At the height of the Kosovo crisis of 1999, a set of five tests was advanced by Mr Blair in a speech in Chicago. Interestingly, Mr Blair's criteria were explicitly modelled on those of Weinberger. Was the case for humanitarian intervention clear-cut? Were all diplomatic options exhausted? Were there military options that could be sensibly and prudently undertaken? Are we prepared for the long haul? Were national interests involved?

Mr Blair's own practice defied many of these principles; but it remains an interesting attempt at balancing the strategic, prudential and normative factors surrounding armed interventions.

Neither of these sets of criteria can entirely guide India's policy. But they do underline some key issues that should be addressed.

In particular, New Delhi must come to grips with the core strategic requirement: the availability of practicable military options and their links to desired political outcomes.

Applied to the current crisis in Libya, this throws up two major questions. First, does the international community have a clear view of the nature of the crisis and desired outcomes? That Col. Gaddafi's regime has lost its legitimacy is clear. But that does not exhaust the range of issues that need to be addressed. For instance, much is made of the tribal politics of Libya. But we do not yet fully understand either the circuits of power and patronage in the country, or the quality of the forces opposing the regime.

Second, are practicable military options available? It is evident that there is little appetite for dispatching ground forces. In a speech at West Point two weeks ago, the US secretary of defence, Mr Robert Gates, pointedly observed: "Any future defence secretary who advises the President to again send a big American land Army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined', as General MacArthur so delicately put it". Mr Gates' remarkable candour underlines both the limits of American power and the extent of institutional resistance within the US military to undertaking ground interventions.

It is not surprising, therefore, that there is so much talk of using air power or special forces. But India should not be taken in by glib assertions.

As a leading strategic analyst once put it, Western powers see modern air power as akin to modern courtship: it promises gratification without commitment.

The experience of the past two decades should warn against facile assumptions about no-fly zones or safe havens. They have neither been very effective nor particularly easy to enforce. New Delhi must carefully examine international proposals for their military viability as much as their political soundness. Only then can we shape the nature of international consensus on such thorny questions.

* Srinath Raghavan, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi






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 number 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 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, tweets, digital cameras and unlimited-gigabyte email archives, participation in the online culture now means creating a trail of always present, 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 three-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".

"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 through a familiar place, like your childhood home. Ed tells Josh, picture a tub of cottage cheese at the front door and visualise Claudia Schiffer swimming in it.

Ed coaches him in a system of memorising 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.

"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.'"








The Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) completely misjudged the political situation. A huge crisis of confidence has been brought about in its cadres, thanks to its inept handling of the alliance with the Congress and seat negotiations. Negotiations were dragged out too long and too close to the Assembly election.

So accustomed was the DMK to having its way with the national party because of its strength in the state (as one of the two Dravidian majors) that it may have convinced itself that things can only work in its favour. We saw this trend in the bargaining for portfolios at the Centre after the Lok Sabha election. However, now was hardly the time for the same sort of brinkmanship. The 2G spectrum scam has totally altered the scene.

Before the 2009 parliamentary election, the Congress was at the mercy of the DMK. Much has changed since then. It can be said that the DMK is likely to meet its Waterloo in the prevailing political situation. The national party is probably doomed in the 63 seats it will contest if the DMK cadres are not keen on working for their ally.

The spectrum scam will also have a huge bearing on the outcome of the poll. This means that the chances of the DMK itself have been harmed. I do not see much of a future for the alliance in the forthcoming election. Indeed, I see a return to the 1980 election scenario when the Congress-DMK alliance was squarely beaten by the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).

With rising prices, the public perception is already against the ruling dispensation. Add to this the fact that the educated class believes the DMK looted public money in the allotment of spectrum to telecommunication companies. These factors indicate that large sections of the electorate are already against the ruling party in Tamil Nadu. Both agriculture and industry are suffering. Freebies are unlikely to work with a major section of the voters. There is a perception among the informed classes that the DMK is banking on winning votes with the help of tainted money.

Against this background, it was important for the DMK and its ally Congress not to be seen bickering in public over seat-sharing and other minor alliance-related matters. It is fairly obvious that because of its posturing on alliance issues, the DMK has further lost its image. In a fair poll, the alliance is bound to fail and the DMK's misjudgment of the public mood may have made things worse for the partners. By holding hands with the scam-smeared DMK, the Congress too is at risk of drowning.

* Tamilaruvi Manian, political commentator

* * *

Congress always played hardball
By Solai

That the seven-year-old marriage of convenience of the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Congress reached a stage of near divorce ahead of the crucial April 13 Assembly polls is no surprise, and should not warrant the belief that the DMK misjudged the political mood in dealing with its national ally. Indeed, dealing with the Congress has always begun on a hostile note each time a Dravidian party has tried to reach a poll pact in Tamil Nadu in the last four decades.

The DMK may have taken a chance with a bit of brinkmanship, as it usually does when dealing with its main national ally. But this won't lead to discord with the Congress. Also, the DMK has always been confident about reaching out to the people through such schemes as the farm loan waiver, the one-rupee rice scheme, free colour TVs, 108 free ambulance services and the Kalaignar housing scheme. In the party's reading, dust is already settling on the spectrum issue and most people won't be swayed by something they cannot understand about big business. The poor, the peasants, the minorities, women and the marginalised are happy with the DMK regime that has rained welfare measures in the last five years.

There is really no clear reason why the common man — who actually turns up to vote — would reject Mr M. Karunanidhi. In this scenario, the DMK was right to press its case in order to contain increasing demands from its ally. Now that a seat deal has been clinched, both parties realise the importance of coordination in order to win.

The Congress has a history of going with different elements within the alliance it forms in Tamil Nadu. Take the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), for instance. The dalit-backed party and its leader, Thol Tirumavalavan, fought tooth and nail against the Congress, especially the Gandhis, in the last months of the civil war in Sri Lanka, shortly before the May 2009 Lok Sabha polls. After a marathon war of words demanding criminal proceedings, the Congress eventually accommodated them not just in the alliance but also reserved a space for Mr Tirumavalavan in its parliamentary group.

Because of VCK's solid backing and hard work, Congress candidates won in Cuddalore and Kancheepuram. There is hence no ground to believe that what has happened is extraordinary. Congress and DMK cadres have already buried the hatchet and are publicly exchanging pleasantries, much as their top leaders did shortly after it seemed they would squabble.

* Solai, Tamil writer and political commentator






Even by the usual standard of excuses advanced by politicians when they make a gaffe — "I was misquoted by the media" — Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Ms Sushma Swaraj, blaming Twitter for her remarks being misunderstood rings hollow. After commenting on Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's statement in Parliament taking full responsibility for the decision to appoint P.J. Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner, Ms Swaraj tweeted: "I appreciate the statement of the Prime Minister owning responsibility for the appointment of CVC which has been quashed by Supreme Court". She then immediately followed it up with another tweet: "I think this is enough. Let matters rest at this and we move forward".

This was clearly at odds with the line taken by Ms Swaraj's party colleague Mr Arun Jaitley who was going hammer and tongs at the Prime Minister for his lapse of judgment in the Thomas matter. When Ms Swaraj was asked why her party was speaking in forked tongue and whether there was a difference of opinion with Mr Jaitley, she denied it. She said everyone in the BJP was on the same page about the issue and the reason why she hadn't demanded a statement from Dr Singh was because he had already said he would be making one. Besides, she said, there was "space constraint" on Twitter — the implication being that in 140 characters one couldn't make a comprehensive statement; some details and nuances got left out.

Madame Swaraj protests too much. Everyone knows that on Twitter a point has to be made in 140 characters or less; that is one reason why people have taken to it. On Twitter, there is no room for long-winded pontification; you get your view across sharply and, moreover, in an instant. You may regret that impetuousness later (as Mr Shashi Tharoor discovered), but if you want to say something quickly and in as few words as possible, there is nothing like tweeting.

Besides, and Ms Swaraj surely knows that, while there may be a limit to the number of characters, there is no limit to the number of times you can tweet. You can go on sending out tweets, each one making one point. She herself tweeted twice about the Prime Minister's statement; there was nothing to stop her from sending out many more.

Clearly, her subsequent reaction was an afterthought once it became clear that senior BJP leaders were unhappy with her moderate stance on the subject.

The party may have sensed an opportunity to embarrass Dr Singh and thus the government and the Congress; to have one of the very important leaders from within taking a contrasting tone could reduce the impact of that criticism. Now the focus has shifted to differences within the BJP, with the inevitable conclusion being drawn that Mr Jaitley and Ms Swaraj are at loggerheads and will do everything to trip the other.

The tussle between the GenNext BJP leaders — Mr Jaitley, Ms Swaraj, Mr Narendra Modi and others — for supremacy is hardly breaking news. All of them are jostling for pole position so that when the next general elections roll out, they have a good chance of pressing their claim to lead the party and perhaps be projected as the natural prime ministerial candidate should the party do well.

Ms Swaraj is the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and has a slight edge over Mr Jaitley who heads the party in the Upper House. For one thing, she has proved she can win elections, which he has not.

Lately she has also adopted a very measured approach to issues and to the government, perhaps calculating that shrillness will not pay. Gone are the earlier dramatic gestures and hectoring, such as threatening to shave her head if Congress president Ms Sonia Gandhi became the Prime Minister. Now, it is about reconciliation and civil relations with all, which distinguishes her from her party colleagues. Naturally, the hardliners in the BJP cannot tolerate it.

Going on Twitter was part of the makeover plan. It shows her to be a modern, forward-looking politician connected with the younger generation. And frankly the more politicians who go on to the social media the better it will be; it helps them be in direct touch with their constituents and is good for the populace who can get to know what their leaders are thinking. Ms Swaraj was definitely on the right track.

But old habits die hard. Instead of standing by what she said — and it is there for all to see — she chose to blame the medium, just like her compatriots have blamed print and television journalists for generations. That is a mistake.

Social media users are a bit more difficult to con, because they understand what the technology is all about and how it can be used. Ms Swaraj wanted to have it both ways and it has rebounded on her. It shows that she had not fully grasped that Twitter can be a double-edged sword which encourages more transparency. So don't be surprised if she soon goes off Twitter; if she continues, it will be only to tweet boring, noncommittal comments. Indian politicians are not yet fully ready to move with the times.

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






Recently I spent two days at the Nagaur Sufi Music Festival, held amidst the magnificent Nagaur Fort. Hosted by the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, the three-day festival celebrated devotional expressions. Over 300 people from various parts of the globe participated in the festival. It included local Rajasthani folk singers and musicians from Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Turkey.

Nagaur is a two-hour drive from Jodhpur. From emperor Akbar's time up to the end of Mughal rule in India, Nagaur changed hands, from the Rathores of Jodhpur, Bikaner, to the Mughals. Veiled in obscurity for years, the fort has recently been restored.

Hearing the Sufi music and watching the whirling dervishes of Egypt and Syria amidst the candle lit spaces of the fort was a spiritually nourishing experience. The festival brought to life the inclusive Sufi traditions of Nagaur, the final resting place of Sufi Hamiduddin Nagauri.

Born in 1192 AD at Lahore, Sufi Hamiduddin's family migrated to Delhi where he studied under the famous religious scholars Maulana Shamsuddin Halwai and Muhammad Juwayini. He became fluent in Arabic, Persian and the Hindawi dialect spoken in Rajasthan.

At a young age, Sufi Hamiduddin became a disciple of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, ranking second to Khwaja Qutub as his spiritual successor. He led a simple, withdrawn and ascetic life. He accompanied his master on his first trip to Delhi, amazing audiences with his knowledge of mysticism. On one occasion, Khwaja asked his companions to request anything of God, assuring them that it would be granted. Sufi Hamiduddin replied that having surrendered to God's will, he desired nothing. Pleased with the disciple's annihilation of desire, Khwaja bestowed on him the title "Sultan Tariqin", Master of the Sufi Way.

Sufi Hamiduddin lived in Suwali, a village near Nagaur, where he had bought a small piece of land. Refusing offerings of money from the Sultan and the governor of Nagaur, he lived off the earnings made from tilling his field. His wife would spin yarn for their meager clothing needs.

Respecting the sentiments of the majority Hindu community, the Chishti Sufi advocated vegetarianism and ate no meat. He requested his followers that even after his death, no meat should be cooked and distributed for the peace of his soul. His sentiments continue to be respected at the dargah in Nagaur.

In contrast to the Chishtis, the Sufis of the Suharwardi order accepted state patronage. Disturbed by the worldly possessions of Bahauddin Zakariya of Multan, the head of the Suharwardi Order, Sufi Hamiduddin, wrote the mystic a number of letters but remained dissatisfied with the replies.

Later, the two met in Delhi where they engaged in a discussion on wealth. Sufi Hamiduddin compared money to a dangerous serpent, asserting that storing it was akin to rearing a snake. He reminded the Suharwardi Sufi of Prophet Muhammad who repeatedly said, "Poverty is my pride".

Equipped with a vast knowledge of Islamic philosophy and sciences, Sufi Hamiduddin taught that Shariah, the outer way, and Tareeqah, the inner way, were similar to body and soul. He said a life without a sacred path is a wasted life, and taught that one must turn away from worldly desires in the pursuit of God. He said, "The seekers of God are left with no will of their own". He believed ignorance to be the biggest curse and said, "Human beings without knowledge are no better than fossils".

Sufi Hamiduddin died on 29 Rabi ath thani 673 Hijri/1274 AD and lies buried in Nagaur, the place where he spent most of his life. In 1330 AD, Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq constructed a beautiful gateway to the entrance of the dargah. Sufi Hamiduddin turned Nagaur into an important mystic centre, spreading the message of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz who said, "Develop rover like generosity, sun like abundance and earth like hospitality".

— Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at [1]










NOT for the first time has the Rajya Sabha's convention of clarifications being sought on a government statement proved a minister's downfall. If Dr Manmohan Singh had got by with his bland offering in the Lok Sabha on the CVC misadventure, he ended up cutting a weak, sorry figure when the Elders subjected him to much scrutiny. The Prime Minister might strive to retain the impression that he is not a "professional" politician, conversely his long experience in various governmental assignments ought to have alerted him to look a little farther than the files placed before him ~ surely his accomplishments surpass those of a desk-bound babu. Even if it is accepted that he was unaware of the case against the now-ejected PJ Thomas, was he not duty-bound to make some inquiries of his own after Sushma Swaraj alerted him? The claim that he assumed due diligence had been performed does not project him as a capable administrator. The resultant blame game ~ from Prithviraj Chavan on to the Kerala government ~ further erodes his credibility. Accepting moral responsibility and accountability is no way out. Maybe, to avoid another "error of judgment", he could accept the recommendation of LK Advani that in future the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner/ Election Commissioners also fall in line with the system now specified by the Supreme Court after the CVC fiasco? Why not extend that to the CAG, Director of the CBI and other posts which would be strengthened by such consensus-selection. That would, perhaps for much time to come, minimise the risk of "systemic failure". Merely speaking in apologetic tones will not satisfy a people desperate for efficient governance.
With Dr Manmohan Singh having taken the flak upon himself, there has been limited questioning of the part P Chidambaram played in the appointment. He revels in the super-efficient image he has created for himself; did his antenna not pick up the signals flashed by the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha? Did he not receive some feedback from the intelligence agencies that report to him? The Congress might try to deflect attention by claiming a Sushma-Jaitley divide: it will hardly "stick". The nation is still being denied a valid explanation for why the government persisted with the Thomas appointment, it raises doubts that extend beyond the "Kerala clique"




Perhaps the first exercise in inner-party democracy within the Youth Congress ~ reportedly in deference to the wishes of Rahul Gandhi ~ has floundered on the rock of  bitter infighting. Monday's vandalism that marked the election to the post of YC president in Bengal stems from the bickering at the level of two Members of Parliament ~ Mausam Benazir Noor and Deepa Das Munshi. That one faction had to seek the help of the police underscores the gravity of the dissension. The incident in Kolkata's Nazrul Manch has occurred at a critical juncture ~ a month before the Assembly election. It is a major loss of face for the party that is ambitious enough to stake claim to one-third of the Assembly constituencies. Its stock has plummeted considerably; its predicament will further allow Trinamul to call the shots while working out the seat-sharing formula. The first-ever election to the state unit of the Youth Congress was a travesty of the democratic engagement. The vandals represent two leaders of North Bengal, the sector where the Congress appears to have an edge over the rest. Prima facie, the vandalism was sparked by the outcome ~ the election of Mausam and the defeat of Deepa's nominee. The trend is ominous for the Congress, like the CPI-M and the Trinamul, appears not to have even a semblance of control over lawless footsoldiers. Small wonder that the Election Commission is concerned over the state's failure to execute the 70,000 non-bailable arrest warrants.

If the conduct of the electoral process degenerated from a purported exercise in democracy to street violence, the result is paradoxically significant for both Trinamul and Congress. Mausam's election to the post of YC president might just help the Congress to woo the minorities who had drifted towards Trinamul in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. The switch of preference, it bears recall, was marked in Congress strongholds though it had also affected the prospects of the CPI-M in seemingly "safe" constituencies.  The setback for Deepa, whose equation with Mamata Banerjee is less than cordial ~ to use the language of understatement ~ will ironically improve the terms of engagement between the Congress and Trinamul in North Bengal.  The deep division within the Congress in its bastion might help Trinamul to gain a foothold in that part of Bengal where it scarcely has a foundation. The Congress, a virtual non-entity as it is, has shot itself in the foot even before the seat-sharing talks have begun.





Nepal's new Prime Minister, Jhala Nath Khanal, is yet to form a full-fledged cabinet. All he managed to do last week was expand his set-up for the second time by inducting four Maoists, against the 11 ministerial berths offered to the party. The expectation was that since Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal had helped Khanal to the highest post by withdrawing from the prime ministerial contest in the 17th round, he would throw his weight behind the Prime Minister, more so because he has a "secret" deal with Khanal's Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) to share power. The report, that at one point of time Dahal had dangled a list of 100 contenders for ministerial posts, suggests he is having a tough time finalising his options. Even the CPN(UML) is not without internal stress over the selection. The second largest party, the Nepali Congress, is yet to decide whether or not to join. But one thing is clear ~ the new constitution has to be finalised by all the three major parties. Unless they cobble together a viable combination, they are sure to miss the revised 28 May deadline, the day the constituent assembly has to promulgate a new Constitution. Besides, there is the bigger issue of integrating and rehabilitating thousands of Maoist combatants. The landmark November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Treaty ended more than 11 years of Maoist rebellion that accounted for nearly 15,000 lives. Its primary aim is to shape the country's future, but it continues to encounter road blocks at every stage of its implementation. The constituent assembly poll was delayed. After Dahal quit as Prime Minister, his successor, Madhav Kumar Nepal, could do precious little and stepped down under Maoist pressure. The country was without a mandated Prime Minister for more than seven months. The peace treaty became a reality only after signatories showed exemplary spirit in narrowing down differences. Perhaps political parties need to display the same spirit once again for the sake of peace and progress.








IN its judgment on the appointment of PJ Thomas as Chief Vigilance Commissioner, the Supreme Court used the concept of "institutional integrity". The committee headed by the Prime Minister, it held, had failed to consider the institutional integrity of the office of CVC, and therefore its recommendation to the President is non-existent in law. It is as if Mr Thomas was never appointed to the post. Unfortunately, the debate around this judgment has got bogged down on many issues because it has become an intensely political matter. The key factor of institutional integrity has been lost in the din.

The point of the SC judgment is that such an office requires more than individual integrity. The court did not make an observation on the integrity of Mr Thomas, so let us not dwell on that. The Prime Minister has accepted responsibility for this 'error of judgment'. Was it an individual error of judgment on the part of Dr Manmohan Singh? Or was it an error of judgment of the Government of India which he heads as Prime Minister? The latter must follow due process. This admission by the PM clearly is not enough. Why did this happen? And what can be done to ensure this does not happen again?

The Leader of the Opposition has said she was given 24 hours' notice of the meeting on a certain Friday. When she asked that the details of the case against Mr Thomas be verified and the meeting held after that, the Home minister said that Mr Thomas had been acquitted. The PM refused, saying there was no time as the recommendation had to reach the President in time for the CVC to be sworn in on Tuesday. When she suggested any of the other candidates be selected, the PM refused. She had no option but to dissent. This is unseemly hurry. Is this how appointments to statutory posts are made? The heavens would not have fallen if there was a day's delay.

The Supreme Court has again made certain points about procedure.  Such a committee cannot function in the casual manner that it has. It met without all the relevant papers being circulated, as the Attorney-General submitted to the court. Proceedings must be recorded and reasons given. Yes, the Leader of the Opposition did dissent, but it would have been preferable if she had set out her reasons in detail. The proceedings need to be formal and serious.

What is the institutional integrity of the Prime Minister's Office? The personal integrity of the PM being beyond question, the failure must have been of the institutional kind. How did this happen? Clearly, Mr Thomas being a serving Secretary to the Government, the Prime Minister knew him personally; how well we do not know. He could assume that anyone who became a Secretary to the GOI was a person of integrity, but we now know that the process is no longer foolproof. Mr Thomas's predecessor as Telecom Secretary has been arrested after preliminary investigations. Apparently, many of the candidates in the zone of consideration had cases pending against them. This is not an indicator of guilt. If all these candidates had been 'cleared' by the office of CVC, was there already a lack of institutional integrity there? But one could ask why those with no such cases against them were not in the list. Whose job would this be?

Was the PM briefed on the various candidates who were being considered for the post? The PMO is headed by a Principal Secretary. If the PM was not adequately briefed, is this not a case of failure of institutional integrity in the PMO? How is this being corrected? Or is that a secret and confidential matter for the people of India?
How are Secretaries selected? Most come from the IAS, but clearly, being a member of the IAS cannot be seen as a certificate of integrity. The Supreme Court has pointed out that others should be considered as well; this post is not a sinecure for the IAS. What is the institutional process of verifying the credentials of candidates? Can anyone apply, or is it by pre-selection within the Government? Who is in charge of such a process? One would expect that matters like this are the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary, the most senior civil servant in the country and Secretary to all major cabinet committees. One would suspect that this was an area of weakness in the current case. The fact that the papers were not circulated to the committee or that the bio-data was insufficient are evidence of a failure of institutional integrity before the Selection Committee met to select a CVC. This must be the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary. What corrective steps is the PM taking to restore institutional integrity in the PMO and Cabinet Secretariat ? Is it not essential that no time is lost in doing so?
The Home Minister, a man of outstanding intelligence, was a member of this committee, and he has admitted that the issues raised by the Leader of the Opposition were discussed. Did they catch him by surprise in the meeting? Was he briefed by the Home Secretary and other senior officials before the committee met? If he was, did he inform the PM? Was he satisfied that the points made by the Leader of the Opposition were not serious enough to not make this appointment? Or did he just follow the PM in recommending Mr Thomas for appointment? The Principle of Collective Responsibility also requires that one speak one's mind before a decision is made. Did he do so, within or outside the meeting? Is this a failure of institutional integrity of the Home Ministry? If yes, is it being corrected? How?

What is the institutional integrity of Parliament, the ultimate core of our democracy? It is the forum where issues are debated and laws voted upon. We had an entire session in which no work was done. The Opposition was united in demanding a JPC, the Government adamant in not having one. Given that the Government has now conceded this demand, was the complete waste of an entire session not a failure of institutional integrity of this institution? The Government for its arrogance perhaps, in believing its majority would see it though. The Opposition for not using the forum of Parliament to debate this rationally and responsibly and shaming the Government by its moral example. How will we restore and enhance the institutional integrity of our Parliament? Who will do it? Should not these MPs apologise at the very least? MPs must remember they are servants of the people, even if they are masters of the Government. Arrogance goes against institutional integrity.

An interesting case of excellent institutional integrity came to notice at the same time. This was the case of nurse, Aruna Shanbaug, who has been in a sort of coma for 37 years in KEM hospital, Mumbai. She suffered this after a brutal rape in the hospital, and never recovered. But the hospital ~ and especially the nurses ~ have looked after her all these years so well that she does not even have bed sores. They clearly are attached to Aruna, and believe she can understand them and communicate in a limited way. They celebrated the refusal of the court to permit her euthanasia. In a country where attitudes to work leave a lot to be desired, we have here a case of devotion over a very long period of time. So many generations of nurses must have cared for Aruna over these 37 years. If this is not institutional integrity of the highest order, then nothing is.

We should demand this standard from Parliament and the Prime Minister. Nothing less should do.
The writer is a former Reserve Bank of India Chair Professor at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore







Under orders of the Supreme Court (SC) the government is compelled to display action against Hassan Ali. That is why he was arrested and interrogated one day before it had to report progress on the probe to SC. It is laughable that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) should conduct searches of Ali's residences after three years of publicity on the case that provided the suspect all the time required to bury incriminating evidence. But the government's reluctance to pursue the investigation sincerely is exposed by a more sinister aspect.
In January 2007, raids by the income-tax department revealed Ali had US$ 8 billion deposited in just one account in the UBS AG bank, Zurich. When the Swiss authorities demanded relevant documents to furnish further information the government provided forged documents. The Swiss authorities did not assert that the account did not exist. It demanded authentic documents. These were not provided. Under the fiction that Hassan Ali was a mere tax evader and not indulging in any criminal activity the government failed to pursue the case with Swiss authorities.

Quite recently, finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee suddenly disclosed that the US$8 billion in deposits had been withdrawn from the Swiss account and the government had no knowledge where the money was stashed. Now the latest information being leaked to sections of the media by ED suggests that the documents pertaining to the US$8 billion in deposits were not authentic in the first place and therefore the account never existed! Yesterday in court Hassan Ali challenged the ED to produce the documents. The court criticised ED for being unprepared. What masterful simplicity! Three years have elapsed, the money has been withdrawn from the Swiss account, and the original documents of the account most probably destroyed. So, where is the account? Did it ever exist?  Now theories from ED will most likely emerge to explain why Ali should have manufactured forged documents that incriminated him and kept these in his possession.

Meanwhile the SC is coming down heavily on the government seeking a probe into Ali's possible links with terror, gun running and crime. The government which ignored similar demands from the media all this while will now of course comply readily with the court's directive. As long as the 8 billion deposits are buried so deep as to be non-existent the involvement of political bigwigs with Ali's operations may never surface. How much more convenient it is to link Ali with only Adnan Kashogi!                 

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







I was then fourteen, teeming with energy ~ physical and intellectual ~ and always feeling elated whenever elders in the family, especially, my uncles, included me in their affairs. Philharmonic and sport-lovers that they were, it was nice to be around them on the weekends when academic pressure on me was allowed to ease. On a Sunday morning, my four uncles were chatting while lounging on garden benches arranged around the courtyard of our ancestral house in north Calcutta (now Kolkata) with myself at their side. Satyabrata, my eldest uncle, announced with great pride that a top tabla Ustad would be our guest that evening. Satyabrata was an exponent of Hindustani classical songs, mainly, Khayyals and at that time, was being trained by Ustad Taan Mohun, whose acquaintance he had made during the Sadarang Sangeet Sammelan the year before ~ in 1958. Ustad Taan Mohun was part of the legendary vocalist Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan's entourage and had not only agreed to train Satyabrata but also to live with us for some time as a guest. It was a trend those days, with many music-loving north Calcuttans playing host to top performers.

Ahead of the Ustad's visit, our sitting room was dusted and sprayed with rose-water ~ the customary room freshener till the middle of the twentieth century. A thick red carpet was spread on the floor and velvet-covered bolsters lined it. Silverware and decanters were arranged on a couple of marble-topped side tables and cut-glasses glittered. Around 7 p.m, Satyabrata announced that the guests were on their way. Garbed in fine cotton kurtas and dhotis especially hand-creased, we trooped to the front of the house to receive the Ustad. Soon arrived a conventional big cab and assisted by Taan Mohun, alighted a thickset middle-aged man in pajamas and embroidered silken kurta, with big wise eyes and dark back-brushed hair. He stood about five feet eight inches tall and had a majestic bearing. We were in no doubt that we were in the presence of a tabla maestro. Another tall gentleman accompanied them. He was Mr Halder ~ as I heard my uncles refer to him ~ from the family of the traditional priests of the Kali temple at Kalighat. The elite guests were ushered in.

The adda commenced around 7:30 p.m. with the Ustad sharing anectodes with my awed uncles and Taan Mohun. I was helping the retainers hand refreshments around but got some attention and an affectionate pat from the maestro when introduced as a keen enthusiast of Hindustani classical music. As glasses tinkled and steaming kebabs gave off an irresistible aroma, the

Ustad became more eloquent. But he suddenly stopped in the middle of sharing his experience of accompanying Ustad Ali Akbar Khan at the All India Music Conference in Delhi in the winter before. He turned his head to the side of the room from where emanated a ticking sound and the Ustad bagan marking rhythm with his index finger. The worn-out metronome that my grandfather used to switch on while practicing sitar in the 20s had come alive. The latch that kept the pendulum on hold had somehow given way, revealing its hiding place. "Do you have a tabla with you?" the Ustad asked of Satyabrata. And, in no time, the instrument was placed in front him. He tuned it with the silver hammer tucked into the side straps of the tabla and pushed away the glass from which he was sipping occasionally. We watched in awe as the Ustad began stroking the brim of the tabla with his seasoned index finger. As we drowned in the resonance, his left hand made the bayya explode. For more than half an hour he mesmerised us with Dheema Tetala before coaxing the most exquisite Tritaal out of the instrument. The rapid staccato was like the burst of a machine gun. The room reverberated with it for at least an hour before we were thrown into an out-of-the-world climax.

I still break out in goosebumps whenever I remember that encounter with Ustad Allarakha Khan Sahab. And, the family metronome has never ticked on its own again.







The Western leaders now condemning Colonel Gaddafi as a madman must be perplexed as to what's gone wrong with him, because up until a month ago they obviously thought he was perfectly sane and well-balanced ~ otherwise they wouldn't have sold him all those tanks. They must wonder if the stress of being a dictator has got to him, and if he'd had a fortnight off and started yoga all this trouble could have been avoided.
So maybe the best way to intervene is to send him a good shrink. Then they could make a report for the UN that went: "His desire to refer to his fellow Libyans as 'Cockroaches' who must be killed suggests the patient is experiencing the trauma of feeling he's a woman trapped in a Colonel's body. And the need to make speeches while under an umbrella is a classic symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, so maybe we shouldn't send him any tanks for at least three weeks, until he's better."

They should have been prepared for this, because they all said he was mad for 30 years, then suddenly decided he was rational about 10 years ago, by coincidence around the time he announced he'd back the West in the war on terror. To be fair, some of those who embraced him at this time are impressively unrepentant. For example, Labour politician and former European Commissioner Mr Peter Mandelson insists when Gaddafi renounced his desire for weapons of mass destruction we had to "bring him into the fold" with deals for oil and arms.
Because when a dictator tells you he no longer wants destructive weapons, what else can you do but welcome his change of heart, by selling him a desertful of destructive weapons? It's like wandering up to someone at Alcoholics Anonymous and saying: "Congratulations on finally renouncing drink. Now to celebrate let's go and get pissed." Mr Tony Blair told us in 2007 "the commercial relationship between Britain and Libya is going from strength to strength". So everything was ideal, we could let a dictator sell us oil and buy our arms because he'd backed our war against a dictator, who used to sell us oil and buy our arms. If Saddam had said in 2001 he was willing to back our war against Gaddafi we'd have got so confused we'd have declared war on ourselves.
The people who defend the befriending of Gaddafi, such as Mr Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, insist he promised he wouldn't use weapons such as tear gas "against his own people", which seems a liberal attitude towards someone you've derided as a madman for 30 years. Presumably Mr Blair said to him: "Now I'm trusting you here, so if you DO open fire on thousands of protesters demanding a minimum wage, you'll not just be letting me down, you'll be letting yourself down." In any case, who did we imagine Gaddafi might use this tear gas against? Perhaps he said: "Ah Mister Blair, I fear at any moment we might be invaded by a nation of badgers." So, now we expect the rebels to be grateful if we offer them our services, because when Britain wants to help by sending an army into an Arab country, what could possibly go wrong? It's like the builder who burned your house down ringing to say: "I hear you need your house rebuilt. We can offer very reasonable rates." So the rebels seem to be aware that while the West can offer expert advice on the weaponry they're up against, seeing as it was the West that made it, on the other hand being supported by the British and American army won't help their aim of winning mass popularity amongst the Libyan people.
Because British and American leaders spent weekends with Gaddafi and arranged trade deals and hugged him for the press, and yet at no time did anyone spot he was in any way the sort of character you shouldn't send weapons to. And, in fact, even if he'd announced he had a split personality and then started talking in a high pitched voice insisting he was Sandra from Wolverhampton, Mr Blair would have thought: "This is excellent news. We can sell tanks to both of them."

the independent






Not all is well that ends well. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam may have managed to save its alliance with the Congress for the forthcoming assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, but it has emerged from the scuffle with a much stunted frame. It has been browbeaten to concede to an ally's demand for seats, forced to forsake its own chances of retaining a monopolistic control over power in the state, and taught a bit of coalition dharma with its back against the wall. For the DMK, the loss of prestige will perhaps weigh more heavily than that in numbers, especially when voters have the opportunity to recall the ease with which the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam sealed its alliance with the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam. Also, despite the forced bonhomie, neither the DMK nor the Congress will be able to convince voters that the alliance they may choose to vote to power will work in perfect harmony. The fissures — between, and within, the two parties — have been made all too evident by the wrangling over the seat share. The other allies in the combination, too, do not see eye to eye. That the smaller parties in the DMK-led coalition have volunteered to give up a seat each in order to pacify the Congress speaks more of their desperation than benevolence. It is undeniable that political expediency is what is keeping the bickering parties together. None of them would want the Congress to walk away with 10 per cent of the vote share and concede a victory to the rival coalition, and the Congress would not have wanted a repeat of the Bihar experience.

In Tamil Nadu, the patch up ensures that the Congress and the DMK stand to win or lose together, but at the Centre, it ensures an unsullied advantage to the former party. The DMK, given its dominant position in the state, has always acted as a regional bully at the Centre, arm-twisting its ally into giving major concessions or driving the government into compromises. Much of the government's action, or inaction, in the 2G spectrum issue has been tied to this unhealthy dynamics of coalition politics. The Congress, by showing its muscle, has tried to undo some of the damage. But unless matters of governance are strictly separated from the whims of politics, the momentum gained will be lost, and the government will continue to allow itself to be led by its ears, the next time, perhaps by a northern ally.






If factionalism is part of party politics everywhere, it seems to be the essence of the so-called Congress culture in West Bengal. Whether in power or out of it, the party can be trusted to present ugly shows of group rivalries at regular intervals. The violence that marked the election of the Youth Congress president for Bengal was thus nothing extraordinary. It only showed how little the party culture has changed over the years. Given the party's tradition of factional fights, it was unrealistic to expect the loser to gracefully accept defeat and hail the winner. But what the supporters of the losing candidate did had more to do with street violence than politics. The presence of the leaders appointed by the party's high command to monitor the polls was no deterrence to the acts of vandalism. Perhaps the violent party activists were confident that nothing would happen to them just as nothing happened to generations of such rowdies masquerading as party activists. If the party is usually helpless in punishing such errant members, it is because they enjoy the protection of factional leaders. And most leaders hope to consolidate their positions in the party by using such elements.

Yet the Youth Congress elections in the states are supposed to be an important step in tackling the organizational weaknesses of the Congress. On assuming charge as one of the general secretaries of the All India Congress Committee, Rahul Gandhi began this electoral exercise for the Youth Congress. He had two laudable aims. He reasoned that elected Youth Congress presidents would have closer contacts with young activists than those nominated by the high command. Second, a democratic electoral process, he hoped, would attract sections of the idealistic youth to the party. The election of Mausam Benazir Noor as the Youth Congress president could go a long way in achieving these goals. It could prove to be a significant move at a time when the Congress and the Trinamul Congress together are hoping to unseat the Left from power. Ms Noor's equations with Mamata Banerjee and her acceptance among Muslims could also add to the electoral prospects of the Congress-TMC alliance. But the violence that marred the Youth Congress election points to a bigger malady that afflicts all parties in Bengal. It shows how naked violence and intolerance have come to be accepted as legitimate politics.






THE global power structure has been evolving continuously over the past two decades. In 1989, the demolition of the Berlin Wall brought the Cold War to a symbolic end. For the first two years after the Cold War, the global order continued to be bipolar. However, these were the twilight years of the Soviet superpower and this brief interlude came to an end when the Soviet Union fell apart in December 1991. With the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the bipolar system gave way to a unipolar order dominated by the United States of America.

After December 1991, the US enjoyed a degree of primacy unparalleled in modern history. No other power could claim to be its equal, or even a near-equal. There was no rival that could play the role of a countervailing power. For the first time in modern history, the balance of power mechanism ceased to operate.

This period is now drawing to an end because of the rapid rise of China as a global commercial, financial and military power, followed by the ascent of two other megastates, India and Brazil. Russia, too, has staged a successful recovery from the economic and administrative collapse that marked the immediate post-Soviet years. The US is likely to retain its pre- eminent position for at least another 50 years but China's rising global influence will, in all likelihood, enable it to play the role of a rival, near-equal power before the end of the current decade.

According to projections of the US National Intelligence Council, by 2025, the US, China and India will be the world's three largest economies, followed by Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Russia. Brazil will not lag far behind these powers. India (and China) will of course remain much poorer than North America, Europe or Japan in terms of per capita income but the aggregate size of their economies will give these megastates a disproportionate degree of influence in international relations. It seems reasonable to conclude that in another 15 or 20 years, a number of major power centres will figure on the international scene. These will include the US, China, the European Union (and its leading members), India, Japan, Russia and, possibly, Brazil. These will not, of course, be equals but power and influence will be much more widely diffused than they are today.

Are we then moving towards a multipolar global order, as is often asserted? In my opinion, the emerging international order is better described as polycentric. The metaphors of 'bipolarity' and 'multipolarity' suggest a high degree of mutual repulsion between the 'poles', as well as a tendency for other states to be drawn into alliances with one or the other of the 'poles'. These will not be the principal features of the new global order.

In the first place, in sharp contrast to the Cold War period, the inevitable rivalry between the major powers will be tempered by a high degree of mutual economic interdependence. The Cold War era was characterized by two parallel international economic systems — the market-based system of the Western powers and the State-directed Council for Mutual Economic Assistance or the Comecon system of the Soviet bloc. With the collapse of Comecon, we now have a single, unified global economic system. This has resulted in a much greater degree of mutual interdependence between the major powers.

During the Cold War, Soviet leaders looked forward with anticipation to the prospect of the collapse of the capitalist West. American leaders, in their turn, planned to bring the Soviet economy to its knees by obliging Moscow to raise its defence expenditure to unsustainable levels.

A radical change has taken place since then. Economic interdependence is a central feature of relations between the major powers. An economic catastrophe, or even setback, in any one of the biggest economies — the US, China, the EU or Japan — would have a serious impact on the other major economies because of a contraction of markets and investment flows. Thus the current travails of the Western economies are a cause of major concern for China. Economic recovery in the US, Europe or Japan receives a boost from China's rapid development. Twenty years ago, the sudden collapse of the Soviet economy hardly caused a ripple in the Western economies. If a similar catastrophe were to occur in China today, it would cause incalculable damage to the prospects of economic recovery in the US, EU and Japan.

Though economic interdependence does not, by itself, resolve political conflicts, it does tend to moderate tensions and encourage cooperation. This is a striking feature of relations between the major powers in the post-Cold War period. Rivalry and cooperation exist side by side and the latter is a much more pronounced feature than it was in the bipolar period. Nothing illustrates this better than the complex relations between the US and China.

Secondly, in sharp contrast to the Cold War period, the major powers are not seeking to form new military alliances or recruit new allies. The characteristic feature of the bipolar world was its division into two hostile military blocs locked in confrontation. Today, states are more likely to form temporary and shifting coalitions to address specific problems. "Coalitions of the willing" are the new and preferred form of political partnership.

The word 'multipolar' carries the connotation that relations between the major states are characterized primarily by mutual repulsion or tension between the major powers and also the formation of alliances ranged against one another. 'Polycentric' is free from such connotations and better describes the emerging global order.

Where is India situated in this changing international landscape? Our economic reforms and relatively high growth rates in recent years have given us a significantly higher global profile. India has yet to enter the ranks of the major trading nations. Foreign trade and investment have not yet reached levels that ensure critical interdependence with other major powers. Nevertheless, these flows have now attained levels that attract serious global attention. Thus, when the leaders of the US, China, Russia, the UK and France visited India last year, they were all accompanied by large business delegations and the commercial results were highlighted in every case.

The outpouring of books and articles on India's prospects as an "emerging superpower" has attained the dimensions of a regular cottage industry. Current trends provide a reasonable basis for expecting India to emerge, by 2025 or 2030, as one of the major powers in a polycentric world. This is a satisfying thought for an Indian audience but it does not provide justification for complacency. As we noted earlier, because of India's size, our impact, or footprint, in global affairs is disproportionately large in comparison to our living standards. Even though we may occupy a high rank in the global power hierarchy within the next 15 or 20 years, we will lag behind the advanced, industrialized countries in terms of living standards.

With an annual per capita gross national income (purchasing power parity) of only $3,250 in 2009, India currently ranks 154 in the World Bank's list of 213 economies. A vast majority of countries is better off than we are. Even in the South Asian region, we trail behind Bhutan ($5,290), Maldives ($5,250) and Sri Lanka ($4,720). Assuming that our economy continues to grow at 8 per cent annually, it will take us almost a decade to reach the current level of a country like Egypt ($5,680). We need to remind ourselves of this stark reality whenever we contemplate the heady prospects of India's emergence as a great power.

The author is a retired ambassador







What is wrong if caste is relevant to Bihar's, or to any state's, politics? A Bihari should not be apologetic on this count as caste plays an important role in politics almost all over India. There are many states, more developed than Bihar, where the relevance of caste is much stronger. West Bengal, where caste is not so relevant in politics, may be an exception. In one or two elections, people may vote cutting across caste and community lines — for example, in the post-Emergency polls of 1977 — but that cannot lead to the conclusion that caste is irrelevant to the politics of Bihar now.

The Telegraph's Bihar debate, "Caste is no longer relevant in Bihar politics" (March 3), witnessed an interesting scenario where even an admirer of the Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, who obviously spoke in favour of the motion of the House, took an entirely different stand. The argument was simple: Kumar's government has won the election because it has done some work, not because it has wiped out the relevance of caste in Bihar.

Winning an election is one thing and claiming that there is no relevance of caste in politics quite another. It is only in the recent years that portals such as, and mallickbayasociety have come up. Mallick is a Muslim caste of central Bihar. Its relevance in politics can be measured from the fact that the Nitish Kumar government, a couple of years back, declared it a backward caste, though it is arguably the most developed of all the Muslim castes of Bihar. Such a step was taken because the Mallicks form a sizeable percentage of the Muslim population in the chief minister's home district of Nalanda as well as in Jehanabad, Patna, Nawada, Munger and Gaya. The Muslims are influential in the politics of these districts. When the Sheikhs made a similar demand, their plea was not accepted for obvious reasons. The relevance of caste among Muslims is a relatively new phenomenon.

Cosmetic measures

But why talk of just Bihar? Leaf through any issue of India Abroad, a weekly published from the United States of America and Toronto by resident Indian-origin people, and one can find instances of parents seeking grooms and brides belonging to their own caste in matrimonial advertisements. In the community news section, one comes across organizations such as the Patel Samaj and the Brahmin Samaj.

If there are caste organizations among 'progressive' Indians living in 21st-century US and Canada for years, and parents still root for caste while marrying off their children, are we not being too harsh on Bihar? The state is backward not just because of the caste factor. After all, Bihar has no khap panchayat of the type that exists in developed states such as Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. Some politicians who took a vague stand on khap panchayats hold foreign degrees and boast of being enlightened individuals.

It is the feeling of collective guilt that sometimes compels Biharis to get rid of the relevance of caste. Had this been always true, there would not have been any Mahadalit Commission and the Extremely Backward Castes would not have been granted 20 per cent reservation in the urban and local bodies. Recently, Nitish Kumar announced the constitution of an Upper Caste Commission to look into the grievances of the economically weak among the upper castes. If caste is not so relevant in Bihar politics, no commission should be set up in its name.

Two decades ago, the former Bihar chief minister, Jagannath Mishra, made a cosmetic effort to fight caste in politics. He dropped his surname on the plea that it revealed his caste. Months later, it became a part of his name again. Perhaps he copied the idea from the activists of the JP movement of 1974. But such exercises did not bear any long-lasting positive result.






After more than six decades of independence, we are still engaged in changing colonial names and designations — sometimes with good reason, at other times not. The relevance and suitability of colonial laws, such as those relating to homosexuality, sedition or land acquisition, are also matters of continuing debate. But we are not always aware of the deep-rooted and often pernicious colonial assumptions that lie behind many of our current laws and regulations. For instance, last year's Union budget was followed by the passing of the Gratuity Act Amendment, 2010, raising the upper limit of gratuity payments from Rs 3.5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh. This has surely benefited millions of employees in both private and public sectors. However, it is strange that no one has asked the question why this statutory obligation of employers is still called a "gratuity".

The Oxford English Dictionary defines "gratuity" as graciousness, favour or kindness. It is in this sense that students are sometimes given "grace marks" by our schools and universities. "Gratuity" also means "a gift (usually of money) of an amount decided by the giver". The dictionary adds that in this sense the word means "tip" and is the most common way in which "gratuity" is now used. Alluding to an antiquated practice, the dictionary also tells us that "gratuity" used to mean "a bounty given to service personnel on discharge".

All of these meanings were germane to its use during British rule when the term entered our bureaucratic vocabulary. "Gratuity" at that time did in fact mean a gratuitous payment made by an employer to a servant, whether on special occasions or at the end of service, as an appreciation for services rendered. In British society of the time, this would have been a practice characteristic of relations between employers belonging to the upper classes and their lower-class employees. But since there were few Europeans employed in menial occupations in India, gratuity became for the most part an extra payment made by European employers to their Indian servants. Put simply, the British just took over the familiar Indian practice of the bakshish. It is hardly surprising that Hobson-Jobson, that invaluable glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words, translates "bucksheesh" as follows: "tip is accurate, but is slang; gratuity is official or dictionary English".

The British colonial army in the 19th century, which of course did employ lower-class Europeans as well as Indians, had, like many European armies of the time, a practice of gratuity as a bounty at the end of the period of active service. So did British companies in India, whether in shipping, manufacturing, railways or plantations. But the practice retained its character of a gratuitous payment by the employer; it was not an entitlement and, needless to say, there was no law that regulated its amount.

In the 20th century, the term "gratuity" did not appear any more in bureaucratic terminology in India in relation to the higher services in which Europeans were employed. The India Office List that historians often have to consult to find out the postings of civil and military officers in any given year or the service rules in a particular branch of government shows that at least from 1910 onwards there was no gratuity payment in any of the European services in India (the only exception was the nursing service, which is telling in itself). In the Indian services (such as the provincial civil services), however, certain categories of employees did get gratuities (as a one-time payment) and annuities (once every year), especially for termination of services on medical grounds. The racial distinction was clear: "gratuity" was not an appropriate payment for the colonial government to make to its male European employees, although it still continued in the case of female European nurses and Indians.

After Independence, the payment of gratuity on retirement or superannuation of a government servant was so much of a regular feature that it became, for all intents and purposes, an entitlement that was rarely, if ever, denied. This seems to have been the result of the evolution of a practice prevailing in the colonial provincial services. In the private sector, however, the situation varied greatly. For the most part, gratuity was a payment that largely depended on the whims of the employer or the organized strength of the trade union.

In 1972, as part of the spate of legislation proclaiming its progressive and pro-worker character, the government of Indira Gandhi enacted the Payment of Gratuity Act which made it mandatory for all employers in both public and private sectors to pay, on termination of employment, to all employees who had completed at least five years of service a gratuity amounting to 15 days' pay for every completed year of employment. The law applied to all factories, mines, plantations, shops, offices, educational institutions and so on employing more than 10 persons and to all forms of termination of service such as dismissal, resignation, retirement or superannuation (the only exception was dismissal for gross indiscipline for which special rules and procedures were laid down). In short, the payment of gratuity became a mandatory obligation on the part of employers and a statutory entitlement of employees.

The question is: why is an entitlement that, by the intent of the law, has nothing gratuitous about it called a "gratuity"? The only explanation one can think of is the lazy forgetfulness that so often clouds our engagement with the continuing flow of everyday routine. "Gratuity" has merely become the official name of a one-time payment to which employees are entitled on resignation or retirement. As far as I am aware, there are no equivalent words that are commonly used in any Indian language. The English word is in universal circulation in India in blatant oblivion of the fact that in every country where English is spoken the word today means a tip and that in the not-too-distant past in this country it meant nothing more than a bakshish. As far as I know, only in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is a severance pay of this kind still officially called a gratuity.

It is strange indeed that even our radical trade unionists have not noticed the bizarre anomaly of a democratic entitlement of workers enshrined in law by a democratic State being called a "gratuity". While we continue to hear impassioned demands for the change of colonial names and practices, sometimes with dubious justification, why have we not heard a single voice calling for a change of this undemocratic and class-inflected terminology? After all, all it needs is a change of nomenclature for which the case is so patently obvious that it should not require much of a debate in Parliament. Or is it the case that our employers, whether public or private, still like to pretend that even when obligated by law, all they do when their employees leave service is make a gratuitous payment out of the goodness of their hearts?

The author is honorary professor, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta




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The brinkmanship resorted to by the DMK in the last few days over its support to the UPA government has fizzled out with the party exposing its weakness more than strength in its relationship with the Congress. Its bluff has actually been called and this is perhaps good for a party which might have overestimated its place in the coalition. Not even pessimists would have expected the DMK to pull out of the coalition and implement the threat of resignation of its ministers at the Centre. In the event the party had to save its face with the appearance of negotiating its demands with the Congress but finally had to concede the demands of the Congress, without anything in return.

It is possible that the Congress deliberately increased its demand for the number of seats it wanted to contest in the state assembly elections to make a point and test the DMK's nerves. The DMK has often ignored the fact that it was as much dependent on the Congress in the state as the Congress is on it at the Centre.

While the Congress has other options like the Samajwadi Party, the DMK has none. An alliance with the Congress is needed for the party in the elections in which Jayalalitha's AIADMK, with its allied parties, may pose a much more serious challenge than in the last elections. The party's image has taken a beating with the taint of the spectrum scandal and the arrest of A Raja. It is possible that the investigations may involve the party's top leadership too. In the circumstances a soft and accommodating attitude to the DMK would not have politically suited the Congress.

The DMK has been a stable ally, not given to the tantrums of other parties like the AIADMK and some parties. It has only once in the past tried to pose a threat over the issue of disinvestment in the Neyveli Lignite. If the Congress accepted the DMK's demand then, it was now the DMK's turn to surrender. It is doubtful if the DMK, which is not known to make emotional responses in politics, had thought through its threat this time. It has only lost by creating a false crisis which it could not sustain and the Congress has gained by sticking to its guns. If the DMK gained anything in secret at the cost of public interest, it is not known yet.







The supreme court's green signal to the Medical Council of India to go ahead with its decision to hold a single entrance test each for all MBBS and post-graduate seats in private and government medical colleges is welcome. The court has told the MCI that the new admission system can be implemented from the 2011-12 academic year itself. This means it has rejected the government's contention that the MCI's notification of December 21, 2010, which mandated the new admission system, was not valid as it lacked prior approval from the health ministry. The court accepted the MCI's submission that the  proposal had been approved as early as August last year.

The MCI did well not to accept the government's demand to withdraw the notification. The proposed admission system will greatly benefit the students who have to appear for different admission tests in different parts of the country. There are 28 such entrance tests being held across the country. Students will be able to save much money and time and will be spared a lot of stress and tension if they can appear for only one common test. That will ensure uniformity of standards and help to eliminate corruption and malpractices which flourish in medical admissions.

Apprehensions about  the chances of discrimination against students from rural and backward areas are unfounded. States will be entitled to their seats and all reservation quotas will be implemented. Only the vested interests of private college managements will be adversely affected. It is unfortunate that the government puts their interests above those of the students.

The MCI has said that it is taking steps to implement the common test proposal from this academic year itself. It has very little time at its disposal because the different entrance tests of governments and various institutions are scheduled to start from next month. Some institutions which have already received applications from students may have to refund money to them. Apart from these practical difficulties, legal problems may still continue as the court has said that any aggrieved party can approach it again. But all major contentious issues have been settled and it is for the court to ensure that there is no further legal obstruction to CET, and for the MCI to implement the decision. The government too should not create any more hurdles.







When stakes are high with the templates of geopolitics shifting in West Asia, India has commenced a rethink by touching base with Tehran.

There is surely more than one way to describe the West Asia turmoil. Some call it 'revolt', others 'revolution' and still others it's but another 'uprising' — and we are delightfully free to choose depending on our point of view. But what is absolutely certain is that the turmoil indeed prompted a thorough rethink within our establishment on Indian regional policies and options in the phenomenally changed scenario. All indications are that the highest level of leadership is conscious of the imperative need of rethink.

No surprises here, actually. India's stakes are high when the templates of geopolitics shift in West Asia. What pleases the eye most, though, is that the Indian establishment is commencing this rethink by first touching base with Tehran.

When prime minister Manmohan Singh deputed the most consummate diplomat in India's armoury today to wing his way to Tehran and deliver a personal letter from him to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, it did signify a major initiative in diplomacy. Although national security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon is a self-effacing diplomat by temperament who prefers to accomplish his work quietly without the entanglements of media publicity, much can be gleaned about the range and purpose of his political consultations with the Iranian leadership in Tehran on Monday and Tuesday.

First and foremost, Delhi factors in that the time is overdue to correct the aberrations that somehow crept into the bilateral ties with Iran. Ironically, it needed a robust bout of US pressure on India seeking to curb the latter's ties with Iran to prompt Delhi to introspect and draw some conclusions about the facts of life.

Towards October-November last year, in the run-up to president Barack Obama's visit, Washington sought out that India fell in line with the sanctions regime against Iran unilaterally imposed by the US and its European allies — over and above the regime imposed by the United Nations Security Council (which Delhi scrupulously complies with).

The bone of contention was the payment mechanism within the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) that India and Iran traditionally used to clear their bilateral trade transactions. Uncle Sam said, "ACU payments allow Iran to divert Indian monies for unlawful purposes and India would attract American and European reprisal". Delhi seemingly buckled under pressure although it was patently obvious that the US was crudely attempting to throttle India-Iran trade and economic relationship as a whole. But in life, shock sometimes prompts awakening.

Without ACU mechanism, India's $12 billion oil trade with Iran (our second biggest supplier) is not sustainable. And India can't do without Iran's 'sweet crude', either, especially when oil price is galloping, long-term oil agreements are not easily replaceable and spot market is infested by sharks.

Energy security

A recent Chatham House report titled 'More for Asia: Rebalancing world oil and gas' underlined that "The oil and gas industry is set to undergo a decisive transition over the next 10 years as global balances of demand and investment shift towards Asia… and such a transition will have major geopolitical implications…. Chinese, Indian and Asian demand must be met from global supplies in order to balance the region's net deficits." Common sense suggests that in energy security, Indian and western interests are virtually competing.

India's energy ties with Iran, unsurprisingly, assume an altogether new meaning. Thanks to the US pressure tactic on ACU, Delhi, overcoming its bureaucratic lethargy towards innovative ideas, was compelled to negotiate a new energy relationship with Tehran. But Iran is one of those strange countries with which business can be developed only within the matrix of an overall political relationship.

Put simply, it's an ancient habit of the 'bazaar'. Menon knows it. What probably encouraged him is that despite the breakdown of the ACU mechanism, Iran continued to sell oil to India on deferred-payment basis. Now, somewhere hidden in it was a profound Persian message, which Menon understood.

A curious thing about diplomacy is that it is a seamless process. What began as an urgent search for an alternative to ACU crept towards a survey of the panorama of India-Iran energy relationship and may now be poised to tiptoe towards a long-term partnership in natural gas.

Another curious thing about diplomacy is, as the British heavy metal band Black Sabbath would say, 'Never Say Die!' If ever India feels a compelling urge to revert to bilateralism in the normalisation of relations with Pakistan — and Raymond Davis' solitary confinement in Lahore's notorious Kot Lakhpat prison is a timely reminder — and if ever we realise that the brittleness of our ties with Pakistan is largely due to our failure to make our western neighbour a stakeholder in friendship, then, we don't have to go far beyond dusting up the Iran pipeline project.

However, the backdrop against which Menon undertook the strategic mission to Tehran had other brushstrokes, too. Question marks loom large about what lies in the womb of time in Persian Gulf, but Iran's rise as a regional power has become unstoppable.

Menon told Ahmedinejad: "New Delhi seeks the establishment of a comprehensive relationship with Iran… Many of the predictions you (Ahmedinejad) had about the political and economic developments in the world have come to reality today and the world order is passing through fundamental changes, which necessitates ever-increasing relations between Iran and India." Nothing further needed to be said.

(The writer is a former diplomat)








The expectations of the public from the army are high, but why are crimes by others condoned?
When Lt Gen Sahni, a three star general, is dismissed and awarded a prison sentence, one can conclude that the army does not baulk in punishing its defaulting personnel, irrespective of their seniority. It also calls for introspection by the society on larger issues.

Why is it that it is only in the Indian Army that justice is prompt; that there is no shielding of a person on account of his rank or stature; that meticulous care is taken in selecting the presiding officer and members of a court martial; that there is a higher authority that scrutinises the proceedings in great detail before the verdict of the court martial is finally confirmed; and why every chance is given to the accused to defend himself fully, including nominating an officer of the accused's choice as a defending officer?

Why does this not happen elsewhere in the country? I well remember the Tehelka exposé of 2001, when I was the vice army chief. Here was a case where professionally capable and highly regarded personnel of the army, some of flag rank, were inveigled into accepting baits, in what can only be described as entrapment, so that the media could make a point. Yet, instead of quibbling over the illegalities of this entrapment, the army moved swiftly to punish the concerned individuals.


What did the government do about political persons and bureaucrats similarly entrapped? The then defence minister was forced to resign, but continued to head the coalition; no action was taken against his party leader caught red-handed on camera or against any of the bureaucrats. The latter were instead promoted, with one additional secretary becoming a secretary and later a governor, perhaps to give him immunity from any future prosecution!

The military has the reputation of punishing any and all crimes that are found out or reported. It may be a lowly misdemeanour like filching something or a grave crime like murder, assault, espionage and the like, but punishment follows swiftly and inevitably.

The reason is simple. The military would become ineffective and instead of being a disciplined force, it will turn into a rabble. Why does this not happen in our civil society? Why do the political leaders and the civil officials dither and look for escape routes, delays and ultimately forget to prosecute?

It is unfortunate that in the last six decades of independence, the system of governance has so evolved that there is no accountability and consequently no punishment. Bureaucrats and police personnel are routinely suspended and then reinstated. Is this punishment or a farce? For political leaders, a similar action is known as resignation, which actually implies a sabbatical, for very soon they are not just reinstated but even promoted! In the case of a minuscule few, a nominal punishment is awarded after decades, thereby losing its entire impact.

The end result is more crimes, criminals not getting salutary punishment and the fear of the law disappearing. It is the main reason for the extremely bad governance the common man rues everyday. In the long term it affects the vitality and security of the nation.

In terms of crime and punishment, our country can be divided into three categories. The first category consists of the well connected who are neither accountable nor punished for any crimes, either because of the position they occupy or because they are so filthy rich that money power white washes everything. The second category comprises the common citizen, who becomes a cog in the wheel in our overloaded judicial system and who can only hope to get his case finalised if he oils every Amar, Akbar and Anthony of our governance system.

The third category is the army, where no crime goes unpunished and where promptness and justice prevails.

A related point is that the media come down hammer and tongs whenever a few misguided army personnel commit offences, but always play down and seek justifications for powerful politicians, bureaucrats, police, judiciary, media barons and corporate honchos.

There is no doubt that expectations from the army are extremely high, but is that the whole story? Many in the army have often speculated that behind such banner headlines, there is a concerted effort to show the army in a poor light by those vested interests who are practitioners of the well known Indian crab syndrome — pull down the best to their own gutter level!

The expectations of the public from the army are high, but why are crimes by others condoned? It is nobody's case that the few army personnel who commit crimes should not be punished, but the law, procedures and accountability must be the same for everyone.

(The writer is a former vice-chief of the army)






Without the sabhas, there would be no classical programmes.

In a recent article, there was an interesting debate about the role of music critics. A front-ranking musician opined that there weren't many qualified to take on the role as their knowledge of classical music was limited. I am not an expert on what constitutes a review, though I do know that the critic plays an invaluable role in the field of classical music and dance.

Let us explore the roles played by four key players in this genre — the artiste, the audience, the critic and the organiser and draw parallels with the pieces of a chess game. On the chess board, even though his power is de jure, the king has a limited role. The goal of the players on both sides is to checkmate the enemy king thereby signalling the end of the game. When the lead artiste exhibits his talent, he is the undisputed king on the stage aided by supporting artistes whose main job is to strengthen his position for a successful programme. The supporting artistes can be likened to the bishops and rooks of the chess board.

Whether its upping the ante or pointing out areas for improvement so that the artiste can grow, the critic moves like the knight on a chess board. A knight can challenge the king, queen or any of the other players without being reciprocally attacked. In the classical arts, the critic can challenge the musician's acumen, push the envelop with sound critique and overall raise the performance level.

Who is the real power behind the throne? The queen is the most powerful player on the chess board and makes bold moves based on strategic planning and intelligent decisions. I would compare the queen's role to that of the programme organiser.

Without sabhas or cultural organisations, there would be no classical programmes, certainly not in an organised manner. The organisers are the ones who bring method to the madness and facilitate an enjoyment of the fine arts. Their task is unenviable as they work with people whether its the sponsors or artistes and deal with numbers when handling the finances and logistics.


"Ultimately we need to get the cash registers ringing" reveals a sabha organiser in Chennai during the famed December music season. "Sponsors need to back us at all times and they like to see a good turnout" he continues. Which brings me to that crucial player, the pawn who votes with his feet, has strength in numbers, and can make a difference to the game. Who else but the discerning audience?








For too many years these outposts have defined Israel's status in the world as an occupier that ignores international law, but the government's policy of deception cannot go on. The outposts must be removed immediately. Israel's future depends on it.


The state's pledge to the High Court of Justice to remove all outposts on private Palestinian land should raise at least two questions: Why did the state have to wait for a High Court order to acknowledge the illegality of the outposts, and why must it wait until the end of 2011 to remove them?


For years, the state has possessed documents attesting to the illegality of those outposts. Moreover, the government itself pledged to the High Court and the U.S. government a number of times in the past decade that it would act to remove them. In only a few cases did the government show a willingness to keep its promises. But for each structure demolished, it permitted the construction of hundreds and perhaps thousands of new ones as it took administrative steps to legitimize the legality of many other outposts and even announced its intention to do so in the future.


The government usually explained its lack of action by saying that "in any case" a final-status agreement would soon be signed with the Palestinians, so unnecessary clashes with the settlers had no point. If the government had proved its sincere intent to move negotiations ahead with the Palestinians, if the government had agreed to a continued building freeze in the settlements as the United States had demanded, and if the government had changed its policy of closing its eyes to the settlers, this claim could be treated seriously. But even now, when by its pledge the government ostensibly wants to show that it seriously intends to obey the law, the time it is taking raises the suspicion that it plans to evade the pledge.


For too many years, Israel's governments have made a mockery of the High Court when it comes to obeying the law in the territories. They have put the rule of law at risk not only in the territories, but in Israel as well. For too many years these outposts have defined Israel's status in the world as an occupier that ignores international law.


No Israeli law that seeks to frighten those who call for a boycott of Israel can correct this. The leniency and understanding that the High Court, the Civil Administration and the State Prosecutor's Office have shown the government's policy of deception cannot go on. The outposts must be removed immediately. Israel's future depends on it.








The city of Eilat is colored red, part of the "protecting our home" campaign spearheaded by its mayor, Meir Yitzhak Halevi, assisted by public relations professional Motti Morel. Some 1,500 red flags are flying around the town.

Halevi explained that "red symbolizes a warning against the future conquest of Eilat by infiltrators." And he added, "I want anyone who rents his house to infiltrators to feel uncomfortable when he looks at his neighbors and sees the red flags, which express collective solidarity with this struggle."

The city has allocated public funds to support the campaign. Stickers declaring "I, too, protect our home" have been distributed, billboards have been posted around the town, and flyers have been put in residents' mailboxes. "A community of refugees has started to form here," the mayor warned at a press conference.

But what is really known about the community of refugees that is taking shape within the Israeli reality? What is known about their identity? About their culture?

In response to the wave of fear, hatred and racism that has recently been directed against the refugee population, Hamoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual has launched an "open houses" campaign. Its goal is to resist the unbridled incitement. Refugees invite Israelis to their homes to hear the refugees' stories and get a sense of their culture.

The campaign also offers tours of various sites that reveal aspects of the refugees' cultures: a trip to the Levinsky Park library for Israel's foreign communities, which facilitates encounters and exchanges of books; a stroll around Levinsky Park, which serves as an asylum for refugees in Israel; attendance at a mass in a church located in Tel Aviv's old central bus station; meetings with groups of young people like those in the "Darfur Star Band," who are determined to preserve the Darfuri musical culture; and hospitality at houses where members of the refugee community live.

The highlights of these tours are members of the refugee community themselves, whose personal stories provide a unique glimpse of the daily experiences and difficulties they face, as well as stories of successful integration. There is, for instance, Nadek Michael, 28, who operates a prosperous hairdressing salon with her husband, and also Ahmed Babkur, a refugee from Darfur, whose studies were cut short by the unrest and violence in his home country, yet who is now struggling to resume his education while working at a hotel in Tel Aviv.

This campaign will enable the refugees to make their voices heard directly by the Israeli public, instead of only through a media, political and public discourse that in the worst case relates to them in a racist, stereotypical manner and in the best case in a patronizing one, as passive victims rather than as people with their own dreams, desires and aspirations.

People who take part in these tours will gain an understanding of the refugees' strength of spirit, as well as of the trauma of war in their home countries. Participants will also see the historical connection that, as refugees, they feel with Israel and the Jewish people, as well as their knowledge of our culture and language.

The "open houses" campaign will paint a complex picture of identity and fate. This is a laudable project which enables Israelis to see the human face of a community that wide swathes of the public, egged on by politicians, currently view as "infiltrators."

Much of the public views the refugees as strangers and is happy for them to remain as such: people with no name, status, identity or culture. "Open houses" enables these two populations to open up to one another, create a personal dialogue and break down barriers - a moment before the blue and white flag turns red.







The bank staff wished me a "happy International Women's Day," but I told them I would rather receive cash. During the day, I was asked twice to take part in radio programs devoted to the question of whether the time has come to end the feminist struggle, and why women continue to bore men.

The magazine "Blazer," like a report published last week in a local Tel Aviv newspaper, referred to feminism as "hatred of men." In fact, feminism is first and foremost a human rights struggle. Even the vilest people dare not completely deny the necessity of human rights - if not for all human beings as such, than at least for people like themselves. Even Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who does not acknowledge the rights of non-Jewish children, fights tooth and nail for the rights of people from his own community.

Yishai, who is so conscientious about the rights of Jews in general, and those of skullcap wearers in particular, draws a distinction between human rights and women's rights. "The honor of the king's daughter is within" (or in other words, women should stay home and not meddle in important matters ) - that's the answer every interviewer gets to the question of when a woman from Shas will serve in the Knesset. Just last week, perhaps with International Women's Day in view, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef explained about the irreconcilable differences between men and women.

Women, in case you didn't know, cry when they see a cat that's been run over. Even though it's only a cat. It's too bad we can't simply ignore the rabbi completely. But it's clear that lurking under his robe is a misogynist who leads a growing movement to repress women in Israel.

The feminist struggle will never end - especially not in a country like our own, where there is no separation between religion and state - until there is such a separation. So long as religion rules our lives, our status as women will be regarded as inferior, and not just on issues of personal status.

Moshe Katsav, the rapist former president, was supposed to have been sentenced on International Women's Day. And there could indeed have been an encouraging symbolism in granting legal force to a relatively new idea - that the droit de seigneur is now out of fashion for every type of feudal lord - precisely on International Women's Day.

The time has come for all feudal lords to internalize the fact that the bastards really have changed the rules, and it won't matter how clever, prestigious and well-connected their lawyers are - even though a recently published research study shows that in sexual harassment cases, courts are far too influenced by the status of the lawyers who represent the sides. Thus whoever lacks the resources to hire a leading attorney like Avidgor Feldman is at a disadvantage.

I only wish the feminist struggle were the most important battle we had to fight here in order to confer a tinge of justice and equality on an increasingly debased society. "My son killed your boy," the aunt of one of the youths who murdered their classmate, Siam Abu Qais of Rahat, out of jealousy said on television this week. "So take one of my children and murder him. But why burn down the whole village?"

Six times I replayed this broadcast in order to hear a mother of children utter this sentence - a woman who is apparently prepared to let her child be killed in order not to harm neighborly relations between the men who rule Rahat's clans.

Apparently when you spend your life as a fourth-class citizen of your own family (below all the men ), it is easier to give up the life of someone who is not considered to be yours, but rather your husband's. The inequality faced by Arab women is far more dire than what we deal with.

Many long years will pass before the feminist struggle can be considered to be irrelevant. That will happen mainly once the people working to bring about improvement are women. Who will receive inferior wages, of course.







The socio-economic debate came late to the party, but was no less intense for it. After 20 years in which privatization has prevailed, question about the limits of the trend are being raised. After 20 years of recklessly transferring assets and services from the public sector to the private one, the need for a quality public sector is being discovered.

Suddenly, people are realizing that the market will not solve all the problems and without a strong public sector there is no strong economy. The state is missing. Israeli social-democracy has not returned yet, but the yearning for it is here already.

The problem is, it's too late. We have already transferred control over the banks to five families. We have transferred the control over telecommunications to three tycoons. We've given away the Dead Sea, distributed the gas, privatized most of the services. Systematically and consistently we dismantled the state of the many and turned it into the state of the few. Systematically and consistently we replaced social-justice systems with instant-profit systems.

What the Transportation Ministry did between Ben-Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv we have done in everything else - we built an express lane for the top one-percent, leaving the rest of the country stuck in the traffic jam.

Health care is an instructive example. The Israeli health system is basically splendid. It was built on three principles - solidarity, excellence and budgetary restraint. As a result it provided a high-standard of medical care to the whole population. Israel's egalitarian, universal health system outdid the United States and was more professional than ones in many European states. Plus it cost the national economy less than half of the sick and sickening American health system's cost.

However, the Finance Ministry did not appreciate the rare Israeli achievement. Its officials wanted America. So they reduced expenses, lowered costs and encouraged privatization. They subjected the health system to the market forces.

The treasury's privatizers ignored the fact that the basic conditions that enable and justify a market economy do not exist in the health system.

The result was devastating. In the past decade not enough beds were added to public-health hospitals. The number of acute care beds per 1,000 people dropped from 2.3 in 1990 to 1.9 in 2010 and is expected to drop to 1.7 in 2020 (the OECD median was 3.3 in 2006 ). The number of doctors per 1,000 people has already dwindled from 3.7 in 1995 to 3.4 in 2010 and will go down to 2.8 in 2020 (the OECD median was 3.4 in 2006 ). The number of nurses per 1,000 people has already plunged from 6.1 in 1995 to 5.5 in 2010 and will descend to 4.9 in 2020 (the OECD median was 8.7 ).

While in most Western states public health expenditures have increased, in Israel it has decreased. Quietly and covertly the treasury has eroded one of the most important state systems. It has brought Israel's public health to the brink of an abyss.

There was a method to the madness, the same method behind the express lane - privatize, privatize, privatize. Reduce the public-funding rate of the health system from 70 percent to 58 percent. Make Israel's health system's private-funding rate one of the highest in the West (42 percent ). Send the young patients and best doctors to the private Assuta hospital. Leave the elderly patients and exhausted doctors in the corridor. Create a sick and sickening health system like in America. Chip away at the solidarity, professionalism and effectiveness of the social-democratic health system.

Unlike banking, telecommunication and infrastructure - it's not too late yet for health care. The system's collapse can still be prevented. But to do so a sharp change in perception is required. To do so a radical new insight is needed.

The struggle isn't only the fight over the doctors' wages and the nurses' work conditions. The struggle is over rehabilitating an egalitarian, high quality health system, which will provide proper health care for every Israeli.







A walk through Hebron sends you into deep despair. Near the Cave of the Patriarchs, at the end of the plaza surrounded by a low fence, you see destruction and ruin, and especially the inconceivable segregation of the populations.

Four children, maybe eight or nine years old, curse you in Arabic as if by conditioned reflex. You smile at them, try to remove the wall between you, and all of a sudden they change their stance. Now they come closer to the fence and ask you for money. A shekel, sir, a shekel.

Further on, your depression deepens. The main street looks like something out of the closing scene of an apocalyptic film. Stores are closed, the windows of houses are shuttered with screens and bars, and on the walls, nationalist Jewish graffiti fights for space with nationalist Muslim graffiti. A Star of David is erased and replaced by a swastika, which is supplanted in turn by a "Kahane lives" slogan. To make this anomaly possible, there is an armored Israel Defense Forces guard post every few meters, manned by a soldier with his gun cocked and his gaze moving along an axis from bored to on edge.

Hebron is a living example, or perhaps it is better to say a dying example, of how a place in despair looks, and of how despair can easily be translated into death. For the visitor, it mainly hurts the eyes: a series of scenes, each of which brings up associations that you have to fight against, not always successfully.

Now, it turns out that the IDF also feels suffocated by the aesthetic experience of the city. So it has decided to change the city's "look." Over the next six months, several military positions will be stripped of their military character, including the metal camouflage screens. They will be renovated to fit in with the aesthetic of the local buildings.

"The intent is to renovate the positions so that they will look more natural in the city," a military official said. "For example, instead of metal, they will be faced with stone that integrates into the local scenery. People don't have to feel like they are living inside an army base. This move will bring normalization and reduce the military imprint."

The IDF's decision is quintessentially Israeli. It conceals several classic assumptions and conclusions about time and space. The first assumption: Reality cannot be essentially changed. The second assumption: Reality is damaging to public relations. The third assumption: The damage has to do with the aesthetics of the place. Conclusion: The way people see reality has to be changed. In short, renovations must be done.

Now that the military-public relations calculus has been done, all the energy and resources can be channeled into plastic surgery, although the patient is suffering from cancer. When the operation is over, people will be able to walk around the city without getting their eyes burned too much. When Israeli schoolchildren come for a heritage tour of the city of the Patriarchs, they will see the small, strange positions along the main street, but the stone facing will give them a local look, and the kids will continue along their way without pausing too long over the injustice.

This is good way to teach the concept of "defense" in that holy trinity of words, "Israel Defense Forces." Defense, according to the Israeli lexicon, is mainly a matter of concealing reality. The ruling power pushes the problem into a place where it cannot be seen. And to enable it to be pushed aside in this way, the ruling power paints itself in the local colors and disappears under cover of darkness.

The reality remains as it was: crazy and threatening to shatter. But a passing stranger will be able to go on looking at himself in the mirror after he gets home.


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



In comparison to New York's $88 billion budget or New Jersey's of $29 billion, Gov. Dannel Malloy's budget in Connecticut is a mere $19.7 billion. Yet Governor Malloy has managed to create a better, fairer budget than both of his colleagues. And he is doing it without bombast, without YouTube, without making hard enemies or playing favorites.

All three governors face big deficits — Connecticut's is $3.2 billion in the next fiscal year and $3 billion the year after. Governor Malloy's budget proposal spreads the pain more evenly. Like Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Mr. Malloy wants to cut government spending: $1 billion from state employees and $758 million in state services. Unlike his neighbors, he recognizes that budgets cannot be balanced fairly in the short term, or at all in the long term, without having new money coming in. Instead of taking $800 million out of the education budget, Mr. Malloy proposes an array of tax increases, including some on those making more than $50,000 a year.

REVENUES Mr. Malloy, a Democrat, was the rare candidate last year who did not promise to cut taxes. He is proposing an increase in the personal income tax to 5.5 percent from 5 percent for residents making more than $50,000 a year and to 6.7 percent from 6.5 percent for individuals making more than $500,000 a year. Governor Christie, a Republican, predicted a stampede of rich people fleeing Connecticut for New Jersey. It could be a long wait. The tax rate for residents making more than $500,000 is 8.97 percent in New Jersey and New York.

The $1.5 billion package in Connecticut has other taxes aimed at those with plenty of money — on cosmetic surgery, yoga studios and pet grooming; airplane repairs; cars costing more than $50,000; jewelry more than $5,000 and boats more than $100,000.

Unfortunately, it also raises general sales taxes from 6 percent to 6.35 percent — even for clothing and shoes under $50. This tilts the burden to the less fortunate. Still, Mr. Malloy would give 0.10 percent of sales revenues back to local communities, and he is proposing an earned income tax credit reform that he says would help about 190,000 lower-income residents in his state.

STATE WORKER GIVEBACKS Mr. Malloy is negotiating on a proposal to cut $1 billion a year for two years from state workers' salaries and benefits. Like his fellow governors, he has threatened layoffs if employee costs are not controlled. He wants to move workers to benefits like the federal health care package, saving $100 million in two years. He wants a wage freeze and a larger co-pay for pensions. But he is not thundering around the country threatening to end bargaining or kill off unions.

Beyond his balance of cuts and taxes, and unlike New York and many other states, Mr. Malloy has proposed adopting generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP. This is a particularly daring thing for a governor to do. GAAP does not allow the usual budget antics — like pushing expenses forward to next year and pulling revenues back into this year to make the budget appear to be balanced. Mr. Malloy has acknowledged that this kind of open accounting would add $73 million to the deficit in the upcoming budget and $48 million the year after. It is too bad that his colleagues in most other states aren't brave enough to do that.





The Senate on Wednesday voted down the House budget bill, with its string of $61 billion in mostly political cuts through Sept. 30. That formally puts an end to the House's grandstand play. But the Senate also rejected its Democratic leaders' own plan to cut $6.5 billion. The government's financing is due to run out in eight days. To prevent a shutdown, the two chambers will probably have to agree to yet another short-term financing bill.

That would be politically and fiscally irresponsible. But the House Republicans will be happy to agree, as long as Democrats agree to a vigorish of $2 billion a week in cuts to vital government programs.

Unless the White House and Democratic lawmakers start pushing back a lot harder — and do a better job of explaining the disastrous effects on the economy and everyday life — the Republicans will win the argument. If it keeps going on this way, they will get the $61 billion they demanded.

The White House again threatened on Wednesday to veto the House bill, and said it supported the Democratic bill that did not even draw a simple majority. It has been hosting what appear to be unproductive talks among legislative leaders; Vice President Joseph Biden Jr., who is nominally in charge of the talks, is now visiting Eastern Europe and tried to mediate by telephone.

President Obama has yet to take a firm public stand and make clear his bargaining limits and priorities. Understandably, he does not want the government to shut down and is hoping that quiet negotiations will produce better results than loud declarations of principle. But there is no sign that the House freshmen have an interest in compromise, or that Representative John Boehner, the House speaker, has any control of his caucus.

A brief shutdown, painful as it would be, would be far less damaging than a sudden withdrawal of tens of billions in government spending from the economy, which would lead to widespread layoffs.

Mr. Obama could well follow the example of Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, who on Wednesday called for a "re-set" of the negotiating process. The only way to have a meaningful discussion of the budget, he said in a speech, is to consider all of its parts at once over the long term, not for a few weeks or months at a time. That includes all the issues the Republicans wouldn't deal with in their bill: cuts to the entitlement programs and to the Pentagon budget and ways to raise revenues at the same time.

The Republicans, as Mr. Schumer noted, aren't really interested in lowering the deficit. If they were, they would never have insisted on $800 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy without paying for them, or on repealing the health care law, which saves $230 billion over a decade.

They are only interested in slashing government, no matter the cost to the country. It is time for the president — and responsible Congressional leaders of both parties — to reject their tactics and their goal.






Gov. Patrick Quinn of Illinois has done the right thing in signing legislation that abolishes the death penalty in his state. Since 1977, Illinois's criminal justice system has wrongly condemned at least 20 people to death. Governor Quinn courageously put aside his own longtime support for the death penalty to ensure that the state does not commit any more such horrors.

Illinois joins 15 other states, the District of Columbia and most modern nations in rejecting the barbarism and capriciousness of the death penalty.

Governor Quinn not only declared that his state's system for applying the death penalty was "inherently flawed." After two months of consultation and debate with prosecutors, judges, crime victims, religious leaders and state citizens, he concluded that "it is impossible to devise a system that is consistent, that is free of discrimination on the basis of race, geography or economic circumstance, and that always gets it right."

At the same time, the governor commuted the sentences of 15 men on death row to life imprisonment without parole, cleaning the slate after an 11-year moratorium on executions prompted by evidence of repeated law enforcement and judicial abuses in capital cases.

Former Gov. George Ryan first declared the moratorium in 2000, as the evidence of improper trials mounted. Mr. Ryan found the problem so endemic that he commuted 167 death-row felons to life terms in 2003 and urged widespread reform.

Governor Quinn rejected the favorite law-and-order argument, saying he "found no credible evidence that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on the crime of murder." Rather, he said he discovered "numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment."

Eloquently making a case that other states should heed in the name of humanity, Governor Quinn pointed to the 20 exonerations forced on the state. These he pronounced a matter of "profound regret and shame we, as a society, must bear for these failures of justice."





A federal district judge in Florida backed down, as he should have, from his effort to bully the Obama administration into halting implementation of the new health care reforms even before the issue of the law's constitutionality is resolved by higher courts.

Judge Roger Vinson is one of two federal judges who found an element of the reform law — the requirement that most individuals purchase health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty — unconstitutional. Three other federal judges have ruled that Congress, through its power to regulate interstate commerce, can require people to buy insurance.

We agree with their reasoning that a decision not to buy insurance drives up costs for other participants in the health care markets and can properly be regulated by Congress. But the issue will likely have to be resolved by the Supreme Court.

Judge Vinson, who is handling a lawsuit brought by 26 states, two private citizens and a federation of small businesses, was the only judge to rule that the entire reform law was void and then strongly implied that the administration should immediately stop implementing it. Judge Vinson declined the litigants' motion for an injunction, but he said he expected the administration to treat his ruling as the "functional equivalent of an injunction." That freed the judge from satisfying traditional tests for the necessity of an injunction.

The Justice Department then rightly asked Judge Vinson to "clarify" what he intended. He stayed his own ruling on condition that the administration seek an expedited appellate review of his decision, a step the Justice Department began with court filings on Tuesday.

Judge Vinson belatedly acknowledges that it would be "extremely disruptive" to halt implementation in the 26 states while the case is pending appeal. And he concludes that this disruption would outweigh the costs incurred by states, businesses and individuals if he allowed implementation to proceed. His order last week shows how far he overreached when he tried to stop implementation in its tracks.






It's been nearly nine weeks since that tragic shooting in Tucson, and you may be wondering whether there's been any gun legislation proposed in the aftermath.

Well, in Florida, a state representative has introduced a bill that would impose fines of up to $5 million on any doctor who asks a patient whether he or she owns a gun. This is certainly a new and interesting concept, but I don't think we can classify it as a response to Tucson. Jason Brodeur, the Republican who thought it up, says it's a response to the health care reform act.

A sizable chunk of this country seems to feel as though there is nothing so secure that it can't be endangered by Obamacare. It's only a matter of time before somebody discovers that giving everyone access to health insurance poses a terrible threat to the armed forces, or the soybean crop, or poodles.

Brodeur's is one of many, many gun bills floating around state legislatures these days. Virtually all of them seem to be based on the proposition that one of the really big problems we have in this country is a lack of weaponry. His nightmare scenario is that thanks to the "overreaching federal government," insurance companies would learn who has guns from the doctors and use the information to raise the owners' rates.

However, it turns out that the health care law has a provision that specifically prohibits insurers from reducing any coverage or benefits because of gun ownership. A St. Petersburg Times reporter, Aaron Sharockman, looked this up. I had no idea, did you? Apparently Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid himself stuck this in to make the gun-lobby folks happy.

Which they really aren't. The gun lobby will never be happy, unless the health care law specifically requires every American to have a pistol on his or her person at all times.

Great idea! thought State Representative Hal Wick of South Dakota, who tossed in a bill this year requiring every adult citizen to purchase a gun. Actually, even Wick admitted this one wasn't going anywhere. It was mainly a symbolic protest against the you-know-what law.

Actual responses to the Tucson shooting — that is, something that might actually stop similar tragedies in the future or reduce the carnage — seem to be limited to a proposal in Congress to ban the sale of the kind of ammunition clip that allowed the gunman to fire 31 shots in 15 seconds. That bill is stalled at the gate. Perhaps Congress has been too busy repeatedly voting on bills to repeal the health care law to think about anything else. But, so far, the gun-clip ban has zero Republican supporters, which is a problem given the matter of the Republicans being in the House majority.

Meanwhile in the states, legislation to get more guns in more places (public libraries, college campuses) is getting a more enthusiastic reception.

The nation's state legislators seem to be troubled by a shortage of things they can do to make the National Rifle Association happy. Once you've voted to allow people to carry guns into bars (Georgia), eliminated the need for getting a permit to carry a concealed weapon (Arizona) and designated your own official state gun (Utah — awaiting the governor's signature), it gets hard to come up with new ideas.

This may be why so many states are now considering laws that would prohibit colleges and universities from barring guns on campus.

"It's about people having the right to personal protection," said Daniel Crocker, the southwest regional director for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.

Concealed Carry on Campus is a national organization of students dedicated to opening up schools to more weaponry. Every spring it holds a national Empty Holster Protest "symbolizing that disarming all law-abiding citizens creates defense-free zones, which are attractive targets for criminals."

And you thought the youth of America had lost its idealism. Hang your head.

The core of the great national gun divide comes down to this: On one side, people's sense of public safety goes up as the number of guns goes down; the other side responds to every gun tragedy by reflecting that this might have been averted if only more legally armed citizens had been on the scene.

I am on the first side simply because I believe that in a time of crisis, there is no such thing as a good shot.

"Police, on average, for every 10 rounds fired, I think, actually strike something once or twice, and they are highly trained," said Bill Bratton, the former New York City police commissioner.

Concealed Carry on Campus envisions a female student being saved from an armed assailant by a freshman with a concealed weapon permit. I see a well-intentioned kid with a pistol trying to intervene in a scary situation and accidentally shooting the victim.

And, somehow, it'll all turn out to be the health care reform law's fault.






"This is a pretty easy problem, for crying out loud."

For all the hand-wringing in Washington about a no-fly zone over Libya, that's the verdict of Gen. Merrill McPeak, a former Air Force chief of staff. He flew more than 6,000 hours, half in fighter aircraft, and helped oversee no-fly zones in Iraq and the Adriatic, and he's currently mystified by what he calls the "wailing and gnashing of teeth" about imposing such a zone on Libya.

I called General McPeak to get his take on a no-fly zone, and he was deliciously blunt:

"I can't imagine an easier military problem," he said. "If we can't impose a no-fly zone over a not even third-rate military power like Libya, then we ought to take a hell of a lot of our military budget and spend it on something usable."

He continued: "Just flying a few jets across the top of the friendlies would probably be enough to ground the Libyan Air Force, which is the objective."

General McPeak added that there would be no need to maintain 24/7 coverage over Libya. As long as the Libyan Air Force knew that there was some risk of interception, its pilots would be much less motivated to drop bombs and more inclined to defect.

"If we can't do this, what can we do?" he asked, adding: "I think it would have a real impact. It might change their calculation of who might come out on top. Just the mere announcement of this might have an impact."

Along with a no-fly zone, another important step would be to use American military aircraft to jam Libyan state television and radio propaganda and Libyan military communications. General McPeak said such jamming would be "dead easy."

As he acknowledged, any intervention also has unforeseeable risks, and, frankly, it's a good thing when a president counts to 10 before taking military action. But I hope that President Obama isn't counting to a googolplex.

The secretary of defense, Robert Gates, has said that a no-fly zone would be "a big operation in a big country" and would begin with an attack on Libyan air defense systems. But General McPeak said that the no-fly zone would be imposed over those parts of the country that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi doesn't control. That may remove the need to take out air defense systems pre-emptively, he said. And, in any case, he noted that the United States operated a no-fly zone over Iraq for more than a decade without systematically eradicating all Iraqi air defense systems in that time.

If the Obama administration has exaggerated the risks of a no-fly zone, it seems to have downplayed the risks of continued passivity. There is some risk that this ends up like the abortive uprisings in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, or in southern Iraq in 1991.

The tide in Libya seems to have shifted, with the Qaddafi forces reimposing control over Tripoli and much of western Libya. Now Colonel Qaddafi is systematically using his air power to gain ground even in the east. As the International Institute for Strategic Studies, an arms analysis group in London, noted this week, "The major advantage of the pro-regime forces at the moment is their ability to deploy air power."

I'm chilled by a conversation I just had by phone with a Libyan friend with military connections who has been candid in the past. In our latest conversation, he sounded as if our conversation was being closely monitored, and he praised Colonel Qaddafi to the skies. I can't tell whether he believed that or had a gun pointed to his head. Either way, his new tone is an indication that the government has the upper hand now in Tripoli.

Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told me that he tends to favor a no-fly zone — along with the jamming of communications — as soon as is practical. "The last thing you want is a 20-year debate on who lost this moment for the Libyan people," Mr. Kerry noted.

I was a strong opponent of the Iraq war, but this feels different. We would not have to send any ground troops to Libya, and a no-fly zone would be executed at the request of Libyan rebel forces and at the "demand" of six Arab countries in the gulf. The Arab League may endorse the no-fly zone as well, and, ideally, Egypt and Tunisia would contribute bases and planes or perhaps provide search-and-rescue capabilities.

"I don't think its particularly constructive for our long-term strategic interests, as well as for our values, to say Qaddafi has to go," Senator Kerry told me, "and then allow a delusional, megalomaniacal, out-of-touch leader to use mercenaries to kill his people."

So let's remember the risks of inaction — and not psych ourselves out. For crying out loud.







WATCHING events unfold in Tunisia and Egypt last month, the Libyan dictatorship became nervous. Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's regime promised no-interest loans and free housing, and released several political prisoners, including my two uncles and two cousins, who had been held for 21 years.

They had been arrested in March 1990, in the same week that my father, the political dissident Jaballa Matar, was kidnapped from his home in Cairo and taken to Libya. Like him, they were tortured and wrongfully imprisoned without trial. In 1996, my father was moved; news of him stopped. To this day, he is among the "disappeared" who have vanished into Colonel Qaddafi's prison system.

I spoke to Uncle Mahmoud, my father's youngest brother, minutes after his release. He was being driven home to Ajdabiya, my paternal family's hometown. He was keen to demonstrate that, regardless of what the regime had done to him, he was still very present.

"So what's this I hear about you being short-listed for the Booker Prize?" was one of the first things he said. We laughed. "And do you remember an interview you gave once, four or five years ago, to a woman at the BBC Arabic World Service? Well, I heard that. I was beside a radio and listened to every word."

Then he began to tease me. "When are we going to see another novel? Come on, stop being lazy." For a few minutes, every sentence he spoke started with, "Do you remember?"

Shortly after we hung up I began to miss his voice all over again. I waited half an hour and called him back.

Fourteen days later Libya erupted. People did what was never before possible: they gathered on the streets and spoke their minds. The mobile phone networks were disrupted and I was unable to contact my uncle. I knew that Ajdabiya was among the first, if not the first, to liberate itself from government forces. The flag that was displayed in my father's old study — the red, black and green of the pre-Qaddafi Libya — was flying high in Ajdabiya.

It was reported that Colonel Qaddafi's forces had, on more than one occasion, tried to recapture the town. Intense battles were fought, and every time the rebels seemed to prevail. But I was still unable to reach my relatives there.

A couple of days ago I finally got through to one of my cousins.

"We are all O.K.," he said. Then he told me what I feared but expected: "I am fighting with the rebels. All the young of the family are fighting. Mum is worried sick and doesn't want us to go outside. But how are we to win our freedom if we stay at home?"

Relatives, some as young as 16, who only days ago ran businesses or held jobs, attended high school or college, are now facing a well-equipped army made up mainly of foreign mercenaries. The Qaddafi forces have tanks and airplanes. All that my cousins have are old hunting rifles and captured artillery. Some rebels are using slingshots, knives and sticks.

After the people of Ajdabiya secured the city, they sent men to help nearby towns. My cousin was involved in the heavy fighting that has taken place in Ras Lanuf, a few hours west.

"Treachery, cousin, treachery," he said when I asked what he had seen. "Qaddafi's army forced the women and children out into the streets and placed snipers on the rooftops. Whenever we tried to approach, they shot at the civilians."

He went on to describe the horror of seeing a child shot in the head with a 14.5-millimeter round: "The skull exploded like a pomegranate."

Then bombs fell from the sky.

Amazingly, the rebels have held on to some parts of Ras Lanuf, although fighting there remains fierce. And the courage and humanity of Libyans has been extraordinary: I've been told of foreign mercenaries captured in Benghazi who were fed and given access to doctors, then taken to the courthouse, with their passports in their hands, asked to choose a lawyer and told they were going to be put on trial.

I am convinced the rebels will win. But there are practical things the international community can and must do to help.

I have been talking to doctors, fighters, men and women all over the country: in Zawiya, Zintan and Misrata in the west, and Benghazi, Bayda and Ajdabiya in the east. They have all told me of severe shortages of medical supplies and essential foods like flour and baby formula. We must get these materials to rebel-held territories.

The rebels also hope that the international community will soon set up a no-flight zone to prevent Colonel Qaddafi from bombing his own people and importing mercenaries from abroad.

Nonetheless, fighters are adamant they can win this themselves. They don't need or want foreign troops on the ground. They do, however, need better weapons. And Philippe Sands, a law professor at University College London, told me that the recently adopted United Nations Security Council resolution that imposes an arms embargo on Libya needs to be amended so that the rebels can get the equipment they need to "level the playing field" and "properly protect themselves."

Throughout the uprisings, protesters have been carrying the pictures of those Libyans who, over nearly half a century of Colonel Qaddafi's rule, have disappeared or died calling for justice. The men in these photos, like my father, were carving with their bare hands the early steps to this revolution, while countries like Britain, Italy and the United States were treating Colonel Qaddafi with the respect due an international statesman.

Libyans will have their own revolution. But the international community, which helped fortify Colonel Qaddafi's dictatorship and now has a great moral responsibility to our new nation, must act to assist the uprising and limit the soaring loss of innocent life.

Hisham Matar is the author of the novel "In the Country of Men."






Middletown, Conn.

THE rebellion in Libya stands out among the recent unrest in the Middle East for its widespread violence: unlike the protesters in Tunisia or Egypt, those in Libya quickly gave up pursuing nonviolent change and became an armed rebellion.

And while the fighting in Libya is far from over, it's not too early to ask a critical question: which is more effective as a force for change, violent or nonviolent resistance? Unfortunately for the Libyan rebels, research shows that nonviolent resistance is much more likely to produce results, while violent resistance runs a greater risk of backfiring.

Consider the Philippines. Although insurgencies attempted to overthrow Ferdinand Marcos during the 1970s and 1980s, they failed to attract broad support. When the regime did fall in 1986, it was at the hands of the People Power movement, a nonviolent pro-democracy campaign that boasted more than two million followers, including laborers, youth activists and Catholic clergy.

Indeed, a study I recently conducted with Maria J. Stephan, now a strategic planner at the State Department, compared the outcomes of hundreds of violent insurgencies with those of major nonviolent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006; we found that over 50 percent of the nonviolent movements succeeded, compared with about 25 percent of the violent insurgencies.

Why? For one thing, people don't have to give up their jobs, leave their families or agree to kill anyone to participate in a nonviolent campaign. That means such movements tend to draw a wider range of participants, which gives them more access to members of the regime, including security forces and economic elites, who often sympathize with or are even relatives of protesters.

What's more, oppressive regimes need the loyalty of their personnel to carry out their orders. Violent resistance tends to reinforce that loyalty, while civil resistance undermines it. When security forces refuse orders to, say, fire on peaceful protesters, regimes must accommodate the opposition or give up power — precisely what happened in Egypt.

This is why the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, took such great pains to use armed thugs to try to provoke the Egyptian demonstrators into using violence, after which he could have rallied the military behind him.

But where Mr. Mubarak failed, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi succeeded: what began as peaceful movement became, after a few days of brutal crackdown by his corps of foreign militiamen, an armed but disorganized rebel fighting force. A widely supported popular revolution has been reduced to a smaller group of armed rebels attempting to overthrow a brutal dictator. These rebels are at a major disadvantage, and are unlikely to succeed without direct foreign intervention.

If the other uprisings across the Middle East remain nonviolent, however, we should be optimistic about the prospects for democracy there. That's because, with a few exceptions — most notably Iran — nonviolent revolutions tend to lead to democracy.

Although the change is not immediate, our data show that from 1900 to 2006, 35 percent to 40 percent of authoritarian regimes that faced major nonviolent uprisings had become democracies five years after the campaign ended, even if the campaigns failed to cause immediate regime change. For the nonviolent campaigns that succeeded, the figure increases to well over 50 percent.

The good guys don't always win, but their chances increase greatly when they play their cards well. Nonviolent resistance is about finding and exploiting points of leverage in one's own society. Every dictatorship has vulnerabilities, and every society can find them.

Erica Chenoweth, an assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University, is the co-author of the forthcoming "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict."







When our federal government spending is headed toward $1.6 trillion per year more than our too-high taxes bring in, wouldn't you reasonably conclude that the president and a majority of the members of Congress should insist that we quit spending irresponsibly for many things we don't really need?

Some federal spending obviously is essential. We must have the strongest, best-equipped military in the world, and there are other government functions and agencies that also must be funded adequately.

But there is much unnecessary spending as well, including an appalling amount of duplication of programs. And there are some activities, programs and spending that we should not fund at all.

The Government Accountability Office recently reported some things that should give us all great concern. And these are just a few of many examples:

·         There are 47 federal job-training programs — yet the GAO says "little is known about the effectiveness" of most of them!

·         There are 82 federal programs on teacher quality! We certainly need good teachers, but do we really need 82 programs — especially when the Constitution of the United States clearly leaves education to the states or the people, not the federal government?

·         There are 80 federal programs to help the poor and disabled just with transportation! Does that sound even remotely reasonable?

·         While defense is constitutionally a proper federal responsibility, and we assuredly want our troops guarded against mines, do we really need Army "mine rollers" at a cost of $77,000 to $225,000 each — and a different version for our Marines at a cost of $85,000 per unit?

·         What about computers? The GAO says we might consolidate the government's computer data centers — which have expanded from 432 to more than 2,100 in about a decade. One study says consolidation could save up to $200 billion over 10 years!

How many other such examples are there? Does anyone know?

Obviously, in all parts of our government, we want what we really need, but not costly duplication.

Wouldn't eliminating such duplication reduce the cost of our federal government — and ease our tax burden?

These few examples barely scratch the surface. Shouldn't we do more to save billions of dollars by getting rid of expensive, wasteful and unconstitutional services and programs?






World oil and gasoline prices have soared recently, in part because Moammar Gadhafi, the despotic ruler of the big North African oil-producing country of Libya, is locked in battle with Libyan rebels.

Most of Libya's oil goes to Europe, not the United States. But with Libyan oil disrupted, price reverberations have spread throughout the world.

Oil disruption — and supply anxiety — anywhere dips into the pockets of us all.

While most of our oil is produced domestically or comes from countries other than Libya, we have nonetheless seen Chattanooga gasoline prices rise in some cases above the $3.50-per-gallon mark. On Tuesday, the average price for a gallon of regular gas in the city was $3.41.

We Americans depend upon our cars — and the gasoline it takes to operate them. High prices at the pump remind us that our high-powered engines don't provide as many miles per gallon as we would like.

Many Americans don't have (or want or like) little cars that can provide more miles per gallon than luxurious, larger cars do.

And most of us, for years to come, will remain victims of oil-supply disruptions in parts of the world that many of us might have difficulty finding on a map.

At a minimum, we will continue to be victims until we decide to do something about that dependence by no longer putting a great deal of our domestic oil off limits to exploration and production.





Again and again, courts at the federal and state levels have found voter ID laws in Georgia and other states to be constitutional, reasonable attempts to prevent voter fraud. The courts have dismissed the almost hysterical claims by critics that the laws are meant to disenfranchise the elderly and minorities.

Now, once again, a court has rejected a challenge to Georgia's law, which sensibly requires voters to show photo ID when they cast ballots. In its 6-1 ruling, the Georgia Supreme Court found no proof that voters had been disenfranchised since the law took effect in 2006.

Isn't that remarkable? For years, opponents of the law condemned it as a cynical effort to suppress the vote. Yet multiple courts have found "A key element in all of these cases: ... None of the plaintiffs could produce any voters who were actually unable to vote because of the ID requirements," noted Hans A. von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation and a former civil rights staff member at the U.S. Justice Department.

Despite evidence that the law in Georgia and voter ID laws in other states protect the integrity of the ballot box without harming the right to vote, critics are now attacking a similar legislative proposal here in Tennessee. Again, they claim that requiring voter ID isn't about preventing voter fraud but about preventing legitimate voters from casting ballots.

Those alarmist claims lack merit. Like Georgia, the Tennessee measure provides protections for people who cannot afford a state-issued photo ID, to ensure their right to vote.

Tennessee's lawmakers should pass the voter ID bill, and Gov. Bill Haslam should sign it into law.





We in the Chattanooga area may not often see a bald eagle majestically soaring over the Tennessee River, looking for fish for a meal. But some lucky bird watchers do.

Unfortunately, so do some irresponsible people. There have been two recent reports in our general area of eagles that were killed illegally.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have announced rewards of $8,500 per eagle for information leading to convictions in connection with the shootings.

The bald eagle, our national bird, is not plentiful in this area, but a few do live in the region. They build nests in isolated areas to hatch their eggs and raise their eaglets.

We should treasure their presence — and cooperate in efforts to protect them as a highly valued part of our natural heritage.






The news we reported yesterday that the nation's main wiretapping and eavesdropping infrastructure is soon to pass from military to civilian hands is appropriate, overdue and welcome. An army-run, electronic intelligence command for domestic surveillance was never defensible in our view but at best it could be said to be a relic of the Cold War. That's over. Now so will be this echo of that era which is being transferred to the civilianized intelligence agency known by the acronym MİT. 

But we'll hold our applause for this transfer. For a companion story we ran also on yesterday's front page illustrated the mood in Turkey. In Southeastern Batman, a new but non-functioning flood warning system was deemed by most of the populace to be a gigantic surveillance network. Explanations by the regional governor appear to have stemmed the panic. But this is how far out of control any sense of personal security has spun in the wake of almost daily wiretap revelations, almost always on the margins of the law. 

The principle in Turkey, and in any democracy, is relatively simple. Telephone and other electronic communications are sacrosanct. If police or investigators can convince a judge that reasonable suspicion of a crime exists, and if they can also convince that judge that less invasive means of evidence gathering are impossible, then the judge can issue a wiretap order. The order is typically of short duration and theoretically in Turkey it is valid for just three months. But evidence of even mere awareness of these principles is scant.

Turkey is not alone. The United States has its share of ongoing privacy debates amid charges of abuse under the color of new anti-terrorism laws. In the United Kingdom, the topic has been subject to a House of Lords investigation, not just over wiretaps but the ubiquity of closed circuit video surveillance. In Germany, debate ensues over a law that allows illegally obtained electronic evidence to be used in court. And all of this gets more difficult as technological development continues apace. The advent of "3G" telephone networks has made tapping of mobile telephony easier; fixed-line communications over the Internet, so called "voice over Internet protocol" also open the doors wider to both official and unofficial spying. 

In Turkey we have seen judges tapped and politicians too. Virtually every journalist simply now assumes each phone call is a group affair, regularly turning devices off and even removing batteries when a conversation takes a confidential tone. As has been revealed in the latest round of Ergenekon arrests, journalist Nedim Şener's phone was tapped for two years, an original (and questionable) court order was renewed repeatedly with the ease one renews an online magazine subscription.

 "An honest man need not fear," is the basic message we get from our leaders. Joseph Stalin said the same thing.

The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.






In his speech this week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed that he doesn't understand why foreigners are all talking about the lack of freedom of speech in Turkey.  

Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Vice President Hüseyin Çelik said Turkey was years ahead in its legislation and many times more free in terms of press freedom than the United States. All this happens in a time when journalists are being arrested and jailed for various reasons but mainly after being accused of being a member of Ergenekon, an illegal organization allegedly working to organize a military coup against the AKP. I am sure that you have read the detailed news about these journalist arrests and what they were asked about by authorities when they were taken into custody. 

The indescribable nature of Ergenekon lets prosecutors blame everyone. If you know someone who is already arrested, there is a good chance that they will come for you, too, one morning. According to the six degrees theory, anyone can be linked to the Ergenoken case in the world, even the pope himself. This is exactly why many journalists began protesting the morning arrests.

However, I understand that this vagueness will go on and will spread to the government's Internet regulations. After Aug. 22 we will have a totally different system. The government is so kind and father-like that it wants us to be fully protected from any kind of harm that the Internet can bring about. This is why they have decided to provide Internet services to us filtered from the source. It is too much hassle to ban websites one by one, therefore they will have bundles and lists. According to the current plans there will be four types of bundles available.

These will be called Standart Profile (Standart Profil), Children's Profile (Çocuk Profili), Family Profile (Aile Profili) and Domestic Internet Profile (Yurtiçi İnternet Profili). All of these profiles will be censored to various degrees so that we will be protected just as our profile needs to be, because our government knows best.

Each profile will have two lists assigned; A black one and a white one. In the black list there will be websites that will be banned and in the white one there will be websites that are allowed to be surfed.

The government says that they ban websites at the source so that our children will be fully protected. There will be no room for the human error of parents. Banning websites will be fully automatic. However, the people who will be in charge of these practices and the standardization of establishing these lists are very vague. The government will be able to censor any website at will. You won't even notice it.

I would also kindly like to warn any foreigners against deigning to think that the new system to be introduced on Aug. 22 violates freedoms. And please don't voice your concerns. Our prime minister can get angry at you. In fact, don't even try to understand it because our government is way ahead of you.






Nedim Şener, the author and investigative reporter at daily Milliyet, was among the eight journalists who were declared "World Press Freedom Heroes" by the International Press Institute, or IPI, on Sept. 13, 2010. The ceremony was organized at the ballroom of the historic Municipality Building in Vienna.

In his book titled "Hrant Dink Cinayeti ve İstihbarat Yalanları" (The Hrant Dink Murder and Intelligence Lies), Şener wrote both that the murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was known in advance, but couldn't be prevented due to the negligence of several security and intelligence officers and showed with documents what had been done to eliminate traces of such serious negligence. Şener also faced a threat of a total of 32.5 years in prison in three separate cases filed against him because he had brought undeniable facts to the light of day.

For all these reasons, namely for doing his best in journalism and taking the risk of being imprisoned, Şener was declared "World Press Freedom Hero."

The name of his country, Turkey, was mentioned together with seven others, the countries of seven journalists sharing the same honor with Şener on that evening: Sri Lanka, Gambia, Mexico, Cuba, Iran, South Africa and Lebanon.

As Şener and another investigative journalist like him, Ahmet Şık, were arrested together with other journalists on charges of links to the terrorist Ergenekon crime gang and for "inciting hatred and animosity among the public," we see once again that it was not a coincidence that Turkey's name was mentioned among those seven deficient countries.

Neither are the other two names from Turkey on the IPI's "World Press Freedom Heroes" list: Abdi İpekçi and Hrant Dink. Both were murdered, both were journalists. The murderer of the former was kidnapped from a military prison. And the murderer of the latter is being treated like a "hero" or a "child" by some officials of the system which is supposed to bring murderers to justice and demand their trial.

We have realized through what has happened to Şener and Şık that it was not for nothing to see Turkey ranked 138th in the 178-country list for the press freedom list for 2010 prepared by the Reporters Without Borders.

As many colleagues of mine do, I do want to write:

I vouch for Şener and Şık, who have nothing but motivation to be excellent journalists and have done nothing to discredit their profession.

I have known them for years.

My two fellow journalists who deciphered the structure and activities of the "deep state" are accused of having links to the Ergenekon gang. This is unbelievable and could be a reason for us to feel ashamed of this country.

On the evening of Sept. 13, 2010, in Vienna, I was in that ballroom, too. After I came back, I wrote an article on Sept. 16, titled "No heroes come out of genuine democracies," and finished it with the following lines:

"Freedom of the press in Turkey will be a benchmark of democracy in the new term.

"Are journalists forced to remain silent? How free is the media or how independent is it from the government? From now on, watch incidents and have your own opinions on the regime by having your own answering to these questions.

"Decent journalism in Turkey should not be a heroic act from now on."

Now, have your conscience and find your answers to the questions above.

If journalists in a country are taken into custody and arrested with no justification or solid evidence, if columnists are forced not to speak up, no one can talk about freedom of the press in this country.

No matter how many elections you hold in a place in the absence of press freedom, those elections are neither free nor democratic.

In fact, our problem in the elections is "a matter of choice:" Is it democracy or an authoritarian regime?

Difference between the old and new Turkeys

The arrest of Şener and Şık is a historic turning point for Turkey.

After columnists were already tracked by the government and editors were turned into self-censoring machines due to pressure, we are lowered to such a level with the arrest of Şener and Şık to ask ourselves, "Is it possible to pursue real journalism in this country?"

You can read the date, March 6, the day of the arrest of the two journalists, as a date on which Turkey made a dramatic jump down from the "old Turkey" to the "new Turkey."

Dwelling upon the line separating the "old Turkey" from the "new;" the line drawn on the axis of freedom, democracy, rights and law; and seeing the differences between the two Turkeys causes us to feel deeply concerned about the "new Turkey" and prevents us from having the inner peace to say "the old Turkey is a history now."

Because in the "old Turkey," every way was permissible for those who were not elected, but now in the "new Turkey" everyway is permissible for the elected…

In the old Turkey, there was a "deep state," but in the new Turkey we have two deep states; one is running away and the other is chasing after it.

The taboos in the old Turkey were the Kurdish and Armenian questions. In the new Turkey they have been shattered into pieces. There is freedom of expression now to address radical views on both. However, taboos of the new Turkey are the religious Fethullah Gülen movement, the corruption of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP; the powerful and their close relatives… If anyone makes a news story on them s/he is dead meat.

In the old Turkey books were banned, collected and burned, but in the new Turkey authors are being arrested during the writing process of books.

In the old Turkey newspapers were closed down, but in the new Turkey owners of the newspapers are subjected to pressures and threats for the transfer of ownership.

In the old Turkey, people were the victims of murders by unknown perpetrators. In the new Turkey they are not killed perhaps but "put away" through the discrediting, extrajudicial execution of character and prestige.

In the old Turkey, there was physical torture. In the new Turkey, mental cruelty is mostly the case.

In the old Turkey, evidence was obtained through depositions of suspects after torture. In the new Turkey, evidence is being fabricated and suspects are being created.

In the old Turkey, those in power were saying "The judiciary is independent," when they were asked about the indefensible acts of security and judicial officials.

In the new Turkey, in the face of indefensible acts of the police and judicial officials, those in power are saying "This has nothing to do with us" for they don't have the gall to say "The judiciary is independent" in the wake of the Sept. 12 referendum.

In the old Turkey, we knew it could be the police if someone knocked on the door at 5 a.m. But in the new Turkey we are sure that he is not the milkman, yet we don't know in fact who he really is.

Some of the aggrieved of the old Turkey are oppressors of the new Turkey…

I never ever miss the old Turkey; neither have I given credit to those who miss it. However, I don't feel grateful to anyone for we are not tortured, not tried in military courts and not killed as a result of extrajudicial executions in the new Turkey.

Because I believe this country deserves much better although it's been said "every country is ruled by what it deserves."

Today is one of the days on which the AKP's new Turkey is quickly getting old.

* Kadri Gürsel is a columnist of daily Milliyet, in which this piece, including two merged articles, originally appeared. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.






Look at the map, beneath the countries where revolutions have been riveting our attention, at the great cone of land stretching south for more than 3,000 miles. Look at the sprawling mosaic of nations there, 48 of them, some small, some as big as Western Europe. That's the real Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, as different in demography and land forms from Egypt, Libya, and the North African countries as Australia is from Canada.

The differences, however, aren't only in the way people look in that real Africa, which has a population nearing a billion, or in the lay of the horizon where they live. There's also a deep political difference – one that the revolutions in North Africa are laying bare. It seems to be a difference in collective will – a seeming inability to unite and rise up – a readiness to live with a wretched status quo, and accept the excuse that immutable other factors, foreigners, history, are at fault.

But one doesn't need to see the chaos and squalor today in Ivory Coast, Congo, Zimbabwe, and already in the new South Sudan, to ask whether the real Africa south of the Sahara hasn't run out of excuses for its backwardness, bloodshed, and dictatorship. The leaders of its 48 countries can no longer explain being at the bottom of all global ranking tables by pointing their fingers at the wrongs of history, or factors beyond their control. The truth weighs against them.

The most common excuse, the classic excuse, is colonialism – that the blame lies with Africa's colonial masters. But colonialism ended half a century ago. More than two generations have passed. In that time the rest of the world has transformed itself. Dozens of countries in other continents were colonized, and the colonizers in those countries set up equally divisive native authority systems. The trauma of being occupied, exploited, and culturally uprooted by foreigners hasn't permanently paralyzed others that suffered it. South Korea's GNP ranked lower than Ghana's in 1960. It had been sat on and ravaged by Japan for more than a generation. South Korea has managed to pull itself together. Today its economy is greater than those of the sub-Saharan countries combined.

All of the North African countries were colonized. Algeria was a department of France for 140 years.

The leaders of Africa south of the Sahara cite the curse of the borders they have been left with – boundaries randomly set by the colonial powers, splitting tribes and ethnic groups. Yet this kind of destructive randomness has afflicted almost every part of the world. How many European, Middle Eastern and Asian countries have seen their boundaries painfully redrawn by war and occupation – some almost as recently as Africa's exit from colonization? The ethnicities of those countries have also been uncomfortably mixed. People look across their borders at others who speak their language and share their folkways, but are under a different flag. Few in those regions have thought to make it an excuse for underdevelopment.

Tropical Africa's climate and soils are said to have held it back. But it is not alone in the world's tropical zones, and in some African countries there is deep, fertile topsoil – one of the attractions that brought the colonizers. Having the disadvantages of the tropics has not crippled Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The crime of slavery still hangs over any discussion of Africa. Without a doubt it was a heavy brake on the continent's emergence, as tribes were decimated and as many as 12 million of its best and most fit were shipped across the seas. The truth of this puts an indelible guilt on the whites who ran the slave trade. The truth also traces back to Africans themselves, who captured the slaves, and handed then, for payment, over to Arab-slave traders, who in turn sold them to white ship captains.

Race prejudice? Did the vile and ignorant belief that black people were somehow subhuman keep Africa outside the pale? Yes. It used to, and too much of it lingers today. But color bias is not a respecter of races or skin shades. The Japanese and the Chinese have lived down Western "yellow peril" and Charlie Chan slurs, and done reasonably well for themselves in the world. And there is color bias in Africa, nowhere more evident than when Ugandans, Nigerians, and others in the continent look for a spouse.

If the patent backwardness of almost all African states could be put down to extraordinary natural sub-Saharan disasters or recent invasions from outside the continent, it might be partly explained. But Africa has had no more than its share of these since independence. The famines, volcanic eruptions, and deadly water surges have been mainly in Asia. In the few cases of foreign forces coming into Africa since the 1960s, most have done so at the invitation or acquiescence of African governments.

The ravages of AIDS have frequently been blamed on dark outside forces that imported the virus to keep Africa down. However, to discover another reason why the disease had shortened average lifespans to under 45 years in several countries, Africans might consider the traditions of virility and male entitlement that characterize so many of their society's multi-partner sexual practices. They might ask at the same time why South Africa, whose government until a year and a half ago denied the existence of AIDS, has the highest per-capita percentage of AIDS sufferers in the world.

From a number of viewpoints, then, it seems evident that sub-Saharan Africa is not at the bottom now only because of history or because outsiders continue to push it there, but overwhelmingly because it has kept itself there. Its problems lie in itself, in the customs, attitudes, and norms that one sees woven into each of the countries of the sub-Saharan part of the continent in one form or another – in "a home-grown enemy" as the Nigerian novelist and scholar Chinua Achebe puts it. These traditional norms defy representative institution-building and accountability, and they will consign Africa permanently to the bottom if they aren't shaken.

The worst of these, overarching the rest, is the Big Man tradition. In the annals of that tradition are the monstrous likes of Idi Amin, Joseph-Desiree Mobutu, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, and Haile Mariam Mengistu. Other names, those of current presidents, could be added to that list of killers and world-class embezzlers. The Big Man tradition says that the only way to take power is by force, and that once you have the power you hold on to it as long as you can – for life, if possible. The Big Man secures his power and a measure of public acceptance by sharing state revenues with the military and as wide as possible a clique of supporters, who distribute it downward through their families and tribal leaders. In this tradition, accountability is a joke. The Big Man is accountable to himself.

A host of other ingrained ways hinder sub-Saharan Africa: fatalism; a toleration of incompetence; a gender imbalance that sees women do all the hard agricultural work; the power of superstition; the social indifference of the educated classes. These all spell the death of any real meritocracy or innovation.

There's a harsh adage that people get the leaders they deserve – and the kind of life that fits their natures. If Africans south of the Sahara want to refute this, they need to take stock of why they remain stuck where they are. Looking for someone or something to blame won't help in speeding the climb up from the bottom. In North Africa, common people have changed everything by refusing to live any longer with a hope-destroying status quo. Big Men are falling. The spark of revolt there has jumped continents, and put regimes as far away as China on high alert. Yet from the streets and squares of the real Africa there's been scarcely a murmur of response. One can only wait and hope. And wonder.






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.

Every new International Woman's Day brings a fresh spurt of men who believe in feminism and women who don't want to be tied down to it. One may attribute it at the superficial level to product placement where men may use creams and women leather, which in turn is about men's freedom from tough work and women's to enter the stable, so to speak.

This is at best simulation and at worst a cunning caricaturization. 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."

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. 

What such groups are saying is that they are helpless before this awful virus that has deposited itself in their system, which is debasing women. Such projects can be detrimental. Inviting former abusers to share their experiences could very well amount to vicarious satisfaction for the audience by this form of catharsis. The male order is so designed that it thrives on exhibitionism and rationalization, and a weird sort of male bonding where an honest tormenter is not recognized as an oppressor but someone to be admired, however grudgingly.

The causes of domestic violence are pretty clear: Patriarchal stereotypes, male insecurity, male ego, male frustration, male fear over female sexuality. Marilyn French in a very perceptive study concluded that while all females are women not all males are men; the underlying note is always about how to learn to be a man.

As the male perspective refuses to accept these subliminal realities, it needs to find someone to blame and who better than women – whether it is jokes on the female anatomy, the patronage of prostitutes or the role of the wife as chattel or social hanger-on. Blaming women often reaches absurd heights. It was said during Richard Nixon's presidency that a member of his Cabinet attributed the energy crisis to women because of their use of household appliances. Ronald Reagan blamed the high unemployment rate on working wives.

Violence against women is often explained in the same "inspirational" tone. There will, therefore, be a tendency to expect women to tame the brutes just as they have been taming the shrews.

These organizations seem to have a clear directive. As one of them believes, "Domestic violence not only tortures women but emotionally scars children as well and, at a larger level, affects society as a whole." This is a typical benign tyrannical response where women's welfare is secondary – you spare the rod against the female to save the child and heir.

Equality is a non sequitur. It is only if men are willing to understand feminine values that will they be able to deal with the issue of domestic violence as a disease. How can a group of men sitting in a room discuss the oppressive behavior against their spouses and solve the problem of disparity in status? Are they comfortable with women's economic and political rights and their realization?

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 centers, they could have swapped colors and colonized 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. This piece originally appeared on the Khaleej Times website.






The latest internal developments have made us forget about incredible events in the Middle East and North Africa that used to occupy our daily lives.

Instead of repeating the same things in a different way, today I'd like to take you two weeks back in time to shortly answer the question, "Where did we leave off?" For, things are not going well. They are becoming more complicated by the day.

And Libya is one of those places.

But please don't be misled; there is no battle of liberation going on in Libya.

There is a conflict of interest going on in the true sense of the word.

Gadhafi is in charge of $260 billion in cash; besides there are 50 billion barrels of oil reserves, mostly in Brega and Ras Lanuf, which are still in the hands of the rebels.

People intend to drive Gadhafi out of the country in order to share these reserves.

A ransack attempt.

Who are these people?

European and U.S. groups using tribes in the region… special groups in neighbor countries to Libya… Egyptians and those connected to Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda… segments benefiting from increase in oil prices.

Everybody is furious.

Gadhafi does not intend to give up. He knows that the weapons of the rebellious are not strong enough, even though their number has started to increase, and they don't pose a great danger. But since this attitude is progressively spreading his concerns grow.

In short, Libya may turn into a blood bath soon. Don't listen to propaganda by the West, for Gadhafi does not intend to give up. He will buy off part of the rebels and shoot those who rebel against him. Thus it will be impossible for rebels to resist.

Egypt is waiting

Of course Egypt is in no way like Libya.

There is true liberalization in process.

But real equilibrium has not been established yet. Mubarak's portraits being taken down indicate that traits of the former period are being wiped out but the rest is complicated.

What's obvious is the intention of the army that still holds on to its power, steps to be taken and more importantly uncertainties in the process of uniting Muslim Brothers in a party.

And that's not the only uncertainty.

There is increase in the number of those within the military who desire a changeover to democracy after some basic changes occur. Especially the U.S. and British press fans the flames – in order to protect Israel.

In short, Egypt has a long way to go. 

When looked from the outside it seems Tunisia is able to heal its wounds faster. But, on the contrary, unrest in Saudi Arabia increases.

Despite all efforts by the king to distribute money, some unrest is visible.

Actually a revolt in Saudi Arabia is not as easy as in other places and the royal family would have no mercy. But still the 15 percent Shiite minority does not give peace. Promises that have not been kept are backfiring now.

The family's greatest advantage is Washington. The Americans spend efforts not to disturb any balance but you never know. Just one event or bullet is enough to ruin everything. The royal family walks a fine line.

US very cautious, EU very inactive

Previously people would make up conspiracy theories and write about how, foremost the United States, Western forces manipulate events.

Again they are involved.

Again they are coming up with conspiracies.

But unlike the old days they don't have a say. They are unable to obtain what they want. Nobody any longer doubts that there are games played within the game. But still they are unable to establish their own order. Maybe for the first time they are unable to command great masses as they please.

Of course it's not easy; we are talking about trillions of dollars of income from oil.

Within this chain the weakest link is the European Union.

The EU does not take any action other than producing words and meetings.

All of these evaluations reflect today's situation. Tomorrow other conditions may prevail and everything may change. For, let's not forget social events are not easy to predict.






From the beginning of next month, it will be illegal for a Muslim woman in France to wear a full-face veil (niqab) in any public place. An opinion poll last week suggested that Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the far-right National Front, could win the first round of next year's presidential elections in France. These two facts are not unconnected.

President Nicolas Sarkozy is in a panic as the National Front gains in the polls, for his own core vote is also on the right. He has responded by ordering a nationwide debate on Islam's place in secular France, and he has made it quite clear which side he is on: he wants no minarets in France, he tells journalists, and no halal food in school canteens. But the new anti-niqab law is the center-piece of his strategy.

It is a solution to a problem that does not exist. There are around 5 million Muslims in France, about 8 percent of the population, but only a couple of hundred Muslim Frenchwomen wear the niqab in public. They probably shouldn't drive, since all that paraphernalia severely restricts their field of vision, but in what sense is their occasional presence in public spaces a threat to society?

In fact, there are probably more British women wearing niqab in my small patch of London than there are Frenchwomen wearing niqab in the entire country. In Camden Town, I see them in the supermarket, on the bus, in the street – and when I overhear them talking to their husbands or their kids, I notice that most of them have London accents.

That's because most of the niqab-wearers are not immigrants. They are the British-born daughters of immigrants, and the fact that they now appear in public wearing this extreme garb – which was not normally worn by women back in Pakistan, or Algeria, or wherever their parents came from – is part of the crisis that always affects second-generation immigrants everywhere.

The men of the conservative older generation are horrified as their daughters absorb the values of the larger society around them, and try desperately to isolate them from those influences. It was a losing battle for Italian and Jewish fathers in New York a hundred years ago, and it's a losing battle for Algerian and Indian fathers in London and Paris now.

But these things take time to work out, and in the meantime a tiny minority of British Muslim women wear niqabs, and an even tinier minority of Muslim Frenchwomen. So why would a French government ban women wearing niqab from taking a bus, entering a shop, or even just walking down the street, on pain of a 150-euro fine?

In addition to a fine, the wicked transgressors will be obliged to attend a citizenship class that stresses the egalitarian values of the French Republic, including gender equality. This is a very large sledgehammer being used to crack a very small nut. But it will have served its purpose if it gets Sarkozy re-elected.

The right is in the ascendant in French politics, and this has unleashed a wave of panic-mongering over "multiculturalism." Assimilation of second- and third-generation immigrants is actually proceeding at the normal pace, but in the midst of the process it is possible to believe that the cultural turmoil is leading to a permanently divided society. Most people on the right do believe that.

Whoever can more convincingly claim to have the solution for this imaginary problem wins the right-wing vote, and the National Front is drawing ahead of Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP. Under the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front came second in the 2002 presidential election; under the leadership of his daughter Marine Le Pen it could do even better.

The recent opinion poll commissioned by Le Parisien newspaper gave her 23 percent of the vote, while Sarkozy's party and the Socialists got 21 percent each. She has ditched the National Front's neo-fascist and racist rhetoric in favor of a low-key, "common-sense" style that is having a real political impact.

But all she can do is force a run-off second round in which, like her father in 2002, she would be overwhelmingly defeated. French political parties are divided on many things, but they would all unite to keep the National Front from power.

The tide of Islamophobia is running strongly on the European right at the moment. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been trumpeting the failure of multiculturalism for the past six months, and British Prime Minister David Cameron recently added his voice to the chorus. It is only a cynical political stratagem, but it could have real consequences.

Left to their own devices, the various immigrant groups in these countries, including the Muslim groups, will assimilate into the general society in a couple of generations, as immigrants generally do. You can accelerate the process a little with the right government policies, but not much.

However, you could stall it entirely by attacking the minority groups and driving them into cultural ghettoes. That's the game that Sarkozy is playing now.






It indeed was perhaps the worst snow Ankara saw in recent times. On the plastic table out on the terrace of my house there was some 50 centimeters of snow Wednesday morning. One car apparently passed through our street sometime early in the morning. Apart from the trail it left through the white blanket covering the entire neighborhood, there were only footsteps of some stray dogs. If people wishing to watch snowfall did not open curtains of their windows and some school kids were celebrating the snow-holiday declared by the municipality in the empty lot partially visible from my window, I would think our quarter of the city might have been evacuated for some reason.

When I left Cyprus in the early hours of Tuesday after a weeklong stay in my home country, the island had long started into spring. Indeed, half of Saturday and half of Sunday I cycled through the fields, talked with farmers and on Monday together with some Turkish Cypriot locals enjoyed some time with some Greek Cypriot former residents of Turkmenköy or Gondea village celebrating the Green Monday at the Peace Park on the outskirts of the city on the Pyla road. Thus, it was a physical shock as well to go to bed Monday midnight in a country in springtime and then wake up a few hours later and hop on an hour-long flight that lands in a cold, snowy city.

Early morning flights are terrible though there is a general misconception that it helps save the day. How can that happen? If the flight is at 6 a.m. and if passengers are required to be at the airport at least an hour before the scheduled departure and if it takes around 40 minutes to drive to the airport, then that means a passenger on that plane would have to get up as early as 3 a.m. or 3:30 at the latest. Right, arriving early in the business day in the destination city might mean the passenger did not "kill the day" with the flight and has saved it for business by flying in the small hours. Can anyone be productive after a sleepless or almost sleepless night? Thus, the "saved day" is most often spent in bed or worse at a desk with closed eyes. Flights in small or early morning hours, thus, serve only an airline company's drive to utilize the day's dead hours. That's all…

Of course the shock was not limited to early hour flight, an almost sleepless night and a resulting dizzy day, sharp difference in temperatures and such. Despite all the problems the Mediterranean island has been living through, in both south and north there is an atmosphere of freedom totally incomparable to the autocratic atmosphere in Turkey, thanks to the "advanced democracy" understanding of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his political clan, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Can there be a democratic or "advanced democratic" country anywhere in the universe where, at the request of a prosecutor, journalists can be ordered by a court with evidence that, put aside the Turkish public, cannot be disclosed to the arrested journalists or their legal advocates? Can there be such a justice mentality? Someone will be arrested, but why he was arrested and on what grounds the court has decided on his arrest will be kept secret. How that arrested person will be able to appeal against his arrest? What he will say against the alleged evidence that is kept secret from him? What kind of a defense will his lawyers be able to make since they have no idea what evidence there is against their client?

And, the prime minister can still appear devoid of shame in front of the public and claim that no journalists are in prison for doing their profession and that all those press people placed behind bars were accused of crimes ranging from sexual offense to forgery. How does the premier know this if the evidence that merited the detention of those journalists was kept secret by the court? Who is the prime minister? Is he the presiding judge or the prosecutor of the court?

The difference between spring and winter or democracy and advanced democracy is rather sharp. Let's hope that not only the judges and the politicians who can order the arrest of journalists with evidence kept secret from the arrested journalists and their lawyers but also the penslingers in the media who shamelessly claim that such exceptional developments can happen in advanced democracies and the country should wait and see the outcome of those trials to understand why the arrest orders were issued will never ever be subjected to a similar primitive justice understanding.

Saying the worst examples happened in the past can be no excuse as during those times put aside advanced democracy, the country did not have ordinary democracy either. Those were the times of military coups and were truly exceptional times when democracy was suspended. How can the brutalities of anti-democratic coup periods be considered as examples at a time when the country is claimed to have advanced democracy?

As sharp as the difference between white and black, spring and dark winter…








Under strong pressure from the visiting IMF team to cut down on subsidies, the government has reportedly agreed to raise power tariffs by six percent within 48 hours. The impact of this on households, particularly over the summer, is not hard to imagine. The increasing rates of utilities have already placed an enormous burden on people; for many it is an impossible one to meet. Combined with the prospect of a whopping raise in power rates, we have a situation in which loadshedding has already begun in Punjab and is threatening to increase over the coming weeks. People naturally resent paying for something they do not even receive, and this resentment has grown with hours of power cuts and larger totals at the end of bills. In addition, we are to see a 15 percent tax surcharge and 2.5 percent excise duty as part of an effort to bring in more desperately needed revenue. Sales tax exemptions are to be done away with, and these measures are to be imposed through a presidential ordinance rather than going through parliament where they are bound to run into strong opposition. This makes a mockery of our democracy and people's right to have a say in decision-making. In bypassing parliament, this right is effectively being denied to them. The notion of parliamentary sovereignty exists only on paper and in the speeches of politicians.

While the consequences of the 2008 accord with the IMF are now becoming clear to us, the fact of the matter is, we do require more revenue. How can this be generated without placing such an immense load on the sagging shoulders of ordinary people? In their appearance before a sub-committee of the Public Accounts Committee, top FBR officials had said there was a plan to add 700,000 tax payers to the 2.3 million people who currently pay taxes. If this can be effectively done, it would help bring in the revenue we so desperately need. Other flaws in a taxation system which leaves some of the country's wealthiest individuals entirely out of the net and allows others to pay only small sums, quite at odds with their assets, need also to be remedied. While more revenue is needed, only a callous and incompetent government would try to bring this in by placing a further squeeze on the poor and sparing those who possess large sums of money that they are unwilling to pay tax on. It seems odd this was not emphasised to the IMF during talks that have ended in decisions that will further jeopardise the welfare of our people.







A Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan was quick to claim responsibility for the murder of at least 37 and the wounding of at least 50 more when he spoke to the Reuters news agency yesterday afternoon. A bomber had detonated himself among the mourners gathered for prayer at the funeral of the wife of Kala Khan, the leader of a peace jirga in Adezai about 30 miles from Peshawar. The Taliban accused the tribal lashkars of creating chaos rather than peace and said they would continue to target anybody from the government side who stood against the Taliban. There were also quick claims that there was no security at the funeral and that the government had done little or nothing to support the lashkars with either money or equipment since they were formed in the last year.

It must be extremely difficult for those men who join the lashkar to see where the peace dividend lies for them in their support for the government. A private TV channel said that this was the fifth time that 'peace jirgas' in the area had been targeted. The Adezai jirga has already lost about 50 men while fighting the Taliban in the last year according to some reports, and will have lost many more yesterday. The 'peace jirgas' were seen as a way in which the government could fight the Taliban toe-to-toe using local irregular forces. Yet it appears, if reports are to be believed, not to have provided the support that was however vaguely promised to these men. Some are saying that they have to buy their own ammunition. It is unreasonable to expect these men from tribal communities to hold the line against a well-armed enemy. And for their part, the lashkars need to pay closer attention to their perimeter security and not offer soft targets to a pitiless enemy.







After another round of desperate begging and pleading from the president during talks with a four-member MQM delegation led by Dr Farooq Sattar and a phone call to London, a temporary truce has been called. The MQM will not jump off the coalition boat for another week, but at the same time it has not abandoned its demand that the controversial Sindh Home Minister, Dr Zulfiqar Mirza be removed. Dr Mirza's party has meanwhile forbidden him from making any public statement. He himself has indicated he is quite willing to step down in the party's interest.

The question is how long this farce can continue. The PPP is aware of the consequences f losing MQM support and the jeopardy this would place its government under. But the kind of instability we see is not doing anyone any good and is only adding to economic and political turmoil in the country. Successful coalition governments run on trust. It is clear in the present case that this has all but vanished between the MQM and the PPP. The growing legacy of bad blood makes it hard for them to work together, and even now we do not know what the final outcome of the current dispute will be. There is a real need to sort out matters on a more permanent basis. The sudden threats that we see and the feuds that break out are damaging to the system. They detract from the good governance we need and spoil the sense of harmony that is vital to the functioning of any country.








It appears that the debate surrounding a bill that presumably "kills Urdu" in fact kills good sense, and any hope of a progressive education system ever existing in this country.

It is unclear what inspires the bill for eight national languages more – a desire to appease ethnic groups in the country who are increasingly disenchanted with the federal government, or an attempt to celebrate our rich cultural heritage in the hope of distracting ourselves from more pressing problems.

To begin with, a great deal of ambiguity surrounds this bill and the discussion has gone off on all sorts of tangents. A majority of this discussion assumes rendering these languages 'national' will give them some kind of legal status. This is to say, these languages will play a role in government policies, particularly in the areas of education and official documentation.

But a national language is not the same as an official language. For instance, declaring Sindhi a 'national language' is simply acknowledging national ties to it. It is to associate Sindhi with our national identity. This does not necessarily mean everyone in Sindh will wake up tomorrow to find Sindhi has suddenly become the medium of instruction in schools, and all official paperwork will hereon be carried out in Sindhi.

What the bill itself appears to suggest is fairly harmless and uncontroversial; there's nothing wrong with honouring our languages, preserving them, and giving them the status of national languages.

But discussion surrounding this bill has adopted a nationalist tone, pitting proponents of one regional language against the other, each nursing the grudge that the bill was concocted to dethrone their particular language.

Most frightening of all, anti-English interpretations attached by some, if acted upon, threaten to deal an already ailing education system, a final fatal blow – it has been suggested that we must not study English, at least not until after graduating (from university) because it is a foreign language, a tool of subjugation, and will stunt our creativity.

True, English has played a largely divisive role in Pakistan's social dynamics. It is the invisible line that separates the elite from ordinary citizens, prevents communication between the two, and is the one standard used to instantly determine social class, education, and an individual's chances of success. To many, English also represents the lingering presence of our colonisers whose tongue continues to be viewed as the colonising force in our society today.

But do we have to set out to destroy everything that pertains to them, the colonisers, without considering the repercussions of our actions for our own people? The idea that slighting the West is tantamount to asserting our national sovereignty is alarmingly reactionary, counter-productive and, unfortunately, widespread in our society. But let's not allow sentimentality and misplaced patriotism to translate into ill-advised policies that will only bungle our education system and create a generation of young people who are even more confused – if that's possible.

Presuming the above mentioned policies were to be adopted, would the elite cut off their ties with English? Private schools and those with any means would find some way or the other to continue learning in English. Denying others the chance to study English in school would only widen the Urdu-English divide, not bridge it. It would, in effect, consolidate the elite's monopoly over the English language.

Of course, there are countries in the world that have stuck to their native languages, without necessarily compromising intellectual growth. Turkey, Japan, and Iran are among them. Unfortunately, we are not equipped to follow in their footsteps because doing so would require an intense revival of Urdu and turning around various aspects of our education system. Not only do language and education rank at the very bottom of our national priorities, the view that Urdu should be the dominant language is still contested by many. Perhaps, this is why we have failed to develop Urdu, or any of our regional languages fully.

This is also not surprising, considering that a measly two percent (approximately) of our national budget is allocated towards education – a country's single best hope of prospering in the long run, also its best guarantee against producing and nurturing savages. Our languages have also been marginalised because of a greater demand for English in almost all walks of life.

All of us undeniably stand to benefit from an improved command over our languages and a better appreciation of the works of our literary geniuses. But Urdu has occupied a dominant position, and replacing it with another language now is not a practical suggestion, even though the sentiments of those advocating the cause of other languages deserve respect and understanding.

Even with regard to Urdu, we have failed to cultivate love for the language and interest in it, and have largely succeeded in evoking dread and boredom at the sound of it. Ideally, our education system should promote proficiency in both English and Urdu – perfect bilingualism, if you will. But how are we to deal with the resentment this will incur from proponents of regional languages? The claim that regional languages deserve greater importance cannot be refuted. They too will have to be accommodated.

However, we must not allow debates about our languages to sideline the importance of English. To say that English is only required for the purpose of communicating with foreigners is to deny the very nature of the world we live in. The truth is that English is the closest thing there is to a world language. It is the language in which the greatest numbers of non-native speakers communicate. Our world is an increasingly globalised one – as dreadfully clichéd as this word sounds – where physical borders are becoming increasingly irrelevant to communication and interaction.

It doesn't matter if only one percent of Pakistanis travel overseas (assuming this is the case). What matters is that even the 99 percent who don't are interacting with the rest of the world remotely. A majority of websites are in English. And can we actually legitimately claim that there exist textbooks in Urdu that are at par with the latest books on law and medicine published in English?

We would be lying through our teeth if we answered yes. For one thing, English is the single-most published language in the world. If we really want to teach our students solely in Urdu, we must either settle on teaching them archaic books or spend vast amounts of money – which by the way, we don't have – to undertake translation on a massive scale.

But let's be honest. In the midst of escalating terrorism, religious zeal, political chaos and, with all roads leading to economic collapse, who has time to even think, much less do, anything about education?

Intellectually, it helps to consider how others have approached the problem of multilingualism. The European Union's policies aim at citizens speaking at least two other languages, in addition to their mother tongue. Why can't we endeavour to do the same? The obvious answer is we are not the European Union and don't care half as much about improving communication.

It still doesn't hurt to debate the kind of education we should be imparting. We should be aiming at Urdu and English proficiency as far as is practically achievable. With regard to teaching regional languages, beyond a certain point, perhaps beyond primary education, learning them should be optional. However, those who are interested should most definitely be provided with resources for further learning.

Most importantly, let's not impose hard rules in the name of progress and linguistic diversity – language-based policies should not simply be imposed. They must be arrived at through consensus, after consideration of different perspectives, and after all available options have been weighed. We must not allow any of our languages to die out on account of negligence and marginalisation.

This debate also inevitably leads us back to one simple question: where do we want to go? Do we want to reject all that is foreign and boast about our cultural heritage – a heritage so rich it cannot withstand competition from external influences?

Or do we want to open ourselves to external influences and benefit from groundbreaking research being done and advancements being made in other parts of the world, even if they are articulated in a foreign language? Rest assured: our boycotting English will not lead to a countrywide creativity spurt.

Our answer to this fundamental question will determine some of the most important decisions we make as a country.

The writer is a staff-member.










 "Soft power" is the ability to make others do what you want, what they would otherwise not have done. Based on intangibles: i.e., less on what you own, and more on what you represent; others do what you want because of how they see you. What one wants can be done not just by states, but by all actors in international politics, such as NGOs or international institutions, through co-option and attraction. The currencies are values, culture, policies and institutions and to what extent these are able to attract others. Soft power has become increasingly important after 9/11. The US cannot fight terrorism on its own. Global stability can only be created with the cooperation of other states and international institutions.

Soft power is generated in international affairs partly by what the government does through its policies and public diplomacy. This affects both the general public and governing elites in other countries by a host of non-state actors within and outside the country, both in positive (and negative) ways. This creates an enabling or disabling environment for government policies. Soft power can enhance the probability of other elites adopting policies that allow one to achieve preferred outcomes, alternatively where being seen as friendly to another country is seen as a local political kiss of death, its decline or absence will prevent a government from obtaining particular goals. The interactions of civil societies and non-state actors may help to further goals such as democracy, liberty, and development.

The actor's reputation and credibility within the international community as well as the flow of information between actors is the touchstone of success for soft power. Often associated with the rise of globalisation and neo-liberal international relations theory, popular culture, media and the spread of a national language are regularly identified as the sources. A nation with a large amount of soft power resources, and the goodwill that engenders it, inspires others to adopt the culture, avoiding the need for expensive hard-power outlays.

Exchange programmes, broadcasting, or teaching a country's language and promoting the study of a country's culture and society do not produce Soft Power directly but are seen as its tools to promote understanding. They nurture positive images and propagate myths in favour of the source country. They provide a first but important step in the translation of "benignity," "beauty," and "brilliance" into soft power. The major elements include (1) its culture, when it is pleasing to others and inspires admiration and respect – e.g., McDonald's and Hollywood movies promotes US culture worldwide; (2) its values, when attractive and consistently practiced; (3) its policies, when seen as inclusive and legitimate. The US and China today lead the world in exercising soft power with great success. India has also been partly successful in perfecting and projecting it, led by the private sector this success is accentuated by the fact that its hard power initiatives in South Asia have failed badly.

Indian movies are now screened in places as diverse as Afghanistan, Egypt, Russia and Leicester Square in London. Indian curry houses stretch across the UK and are extremely popular. Indian food in Britain or the practice of yoga in the US have developed largely by default and by the initiatives of the private sector rather than by any concerted diplomatic effort. Even then, India lags far behind China in the projection of its soft power. In contrast, China's Confucius Institute is a fascinating modern soft-power initiative that has made a significant impression around the world. Combining a certain practicality with culture and the arts, China's formula of soft-peddling this initiative allowed it to expand the reach of the institutes quickly, beyond expectations. There are 322 Confucius Institutes of China and 369 Confucius Classrooms in 96 countries, with almost 400,000 students. These are a real topic of interest in a wide range of circles, academic as well as political. Beijing aims to have 1,000 such institutes up and running by 2020.

Governments use the media, especially the electronic media, as well as other arms of the mass media to conduct diplomacy and wage information warfare. Prominent political leaders, including heads of state and government, have been appearing on CNN and BBC to convey their positions and policies for world opinion. Smart executives in the business world know that leadership is not just a matter of issuing commands, it involves leading by example and attracting others to do what you want. Non-state actors, too, need to also exploit the global media to stage events – and sometimes to pull off publicity stunts – to attract attention to their causes. Similarly, contemporary practices of community-based policing, where practiced, rely on making the police sufficiently friendly and attractive for a community to want to help them achieve shared objectives.

The media was the privileged forum of global diplomacy and opinion shaping. Now a shift is very much evident from old media towards new media as effective platforms of global diplomacy, communication and opinion shaping – or a shift from "CNN effect" to the "YouTube effect." The old media faces a formidable challenge with the rapid emergence of Web-based forms of journalism, information and propaganda. The explosion of online networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has challenged the traditional function of established media by diffusing media power towards individuals. These networked Web platforms are powerfully effective tools for "digital activism" by non-state actors, including individuals; but are also being deployed by states to exert influence in the theatre of global diplomacy. This shift does not mean that old media, such as television news networks, are irrelevant, but that media power has shifted towards the Web. The successful revolution in Egypt is a classic example of how much the new media has contributed to the movement that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

While economic power is bracketed more with the concept of hard power in the form of sanctions, embargoes, etc., the economy of a country can be utilised to project soft power – i.e., through the provision of economic benefit to foreign countries in many ways like the opening up of trade routes, allowing imports without any restrictions, removing quotas, giving humanitarian assistance diplomatic support. The attractions of hard currency commerce played a dominant role in bringing down the Iron Curtain and shaping the post Cold War world. Where centuries of military conquest failed in Europe, soft power in the form of the European Common Market succeeded in pacifying and unifying the continent into the European Union (EU).

Since soft power stems from values, cultures, and institutions, and we are at a cultural cascade connecting South Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, Central Asia, and East Asia, Pakistan is at a distinct disadvantage in projecting soft power. The currents are there but Pakistan will have to make conscious efforts to rediscover and reuse its soft power. Pakistan would do well to learn from China's example of how to effectively promote its soft power in the region and in the world.

(Acknowledgment is made with thanks to "soft power" Guru Joseph Nye, former dean of the Kennedy School of Government, for the extensive quotations from his two books on the subject.)

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:








As the train left Marrakech, rolling green hills appeared on both sides of the track and somewhere in the middle of the journey to Casablanca, I had a quick glimpse of the proverbial old man with his staff in the right hand, tending to his flock of sheep, utterly disconnected from the 21st century, living in the centuries-old time filled with tranquility and peace we have all lost. But it was a fleeting moment; the train rushed past the country-side, dotted with little farms. Then, close to Casablanca, signs of small industries appeared and finally, the train stopped at Dar al-Bayda – the white house – as Casablanca is called in Arabic.

I stepped out of the train station into the usual crowd of taxi drivers, one of whom approached me with a big friendly smile and customary Aslamu alaykum. "Meter," I said, as he moved out of the taxi stand. "No, just seventy dirhams," he said. I insisted that he should turn on his meter, he haggled for money, reduced it to fifty, but would not turn on the meter. Finally, I left. Just outside the parking area, another taxi stopped and he turned on the meter without asking. The ride to the hotel was eight dirhams. These small red Suzuki taxis are Moroccan version of our Yellow Cabs, but they all operate with working meters, that is, all but those standing by the train station.

Casablanca on that early Saturday afternoon was almost asleep; a town on the coast famous for nothing but its grand mosque, which, the locals say, was built with the blood of the neighboring farmers who had to pay taxes for its construction. In other times, it had seen its glory. On that Saturday afternoon, the streets were not exactly empty but the usual rush of the big cities was nowhere to be seen. After some rest, I strolled through the neighbourhood market close to the hotel, encountered an endless number of female beggars, most of them in their 30s, some carrying little babies in their laps.

This was a strange experience: in the midst of the market, with its street stalls with cheap, made-in-China goods, a woman would dash forward from amidst the crowd and ask for a dirham or two. Perplexed, one would just wonder what happened to her. Where did she come from? Did she have a husband, father, brothers? How did she end up on the street? But neither the middle-aged shopkeepers nor the young street hawkers would pay any attention to these women as if they did not exist.

I had no memory of such encounters in Casablanca from my previous two visits to Morocco and wondered if something had drastically changed in the intervening four years. Or perhaps I had missed them because I did not stroll on the streets like this during those visits.

Later that evening, the part of the town where I was staying seemed more like a city in the Europe as bars opened up and young men and women in western attires started to stroll through the streets. If one was not conscious of the fact that it was a Muslim country with a relatively stable government, one would be misled to believe that it was a European city where such public display of bodies was a norm.

The next day, I took a train to Meknes with the intention of going to Maulay Idris, the small hill-side town where the Prophet's grandson is supposed to have been buried. The Moroccan trains are remarkable left-over pieces of the World War II vintage but unlike the Pakistani trains, they have been well-maintained – they are clean, and they run on time. The entire staff of the railway department – from the men and women at the ticket counters to the conductors – display professionalism which is absent in Pakistan.

From Meknes, it is a twenty-minute, twenty-dirham shared-taxi ride to Maulay Idris. These Mercedes diesel engine taxis leave from the French Cultural Center in the new city with six passengers, wind their way up the hill and drop passengers in the only bazar of the small city which seems to exist in another time. As the taxi climbs up, one can see the white-washed houses clustered in a narrow area, near the top of the hill and hundreds of satellite dishes on rooftops.

Two days in this idyllic town, with its slow pace, fresh fruit market, narrow streets were an amazing experience. Here, donkeys are still the main mode of transportation of goods. The local population lives in another time and although the town is wired to the Internet, it seems to exist in medieval times. The archeologically important ruins of the Roman city of Walili (Vaulibus) are merely a few minutes from Maulay Idris. They lie in a large valley, between small hills, reminding visitors of a world power that continues to define many aspects of modernity.

Two days later, a three-hour train ride from Meknes brought me Fez – the heart of West Africa's most "stable" Muslim country, as some analysts think of Morocco. And they may as well be right. Unlike its neighbours, Morocco does seem to have a degree of stability which is lacking in Tunis, Algeria and Libya, the last-named being in the middle of an uprising which threatens to turn into a civil war as I write these words in Fez after a day of wandering in its meandering streets.

The fact that a wind of change is blowing through the Arab world is not unknown here in Fez, but no one is glued to their TV sets. The life of the bazar is just as it has been for decades, although at this time of the year, the flow of tourists is just beginning. But when I asked a shopkeeper about his business, he expressed satisfaction. "It is not roaring business, but al-hamdu Lillah, it is going well for this time of the year."

Morocco is, however, an exception and the winds of change may never reach here. Nevertheless, beyond the meandering streets of Fez, there are new demographic, economic, and political realities which are bound to produce some kind of change in the Arab world, even though no one can guess what would be the shape of the Arab world once the dust settles.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:








The surging tide of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa has hit world headlines. Recently, four American who had been taken hostage aboard the yacht Quest off the coast of Oman. This incident marks the first time American citizens have been killed in pirate attacks. It is a matter of great concern that piracy is on the rise despite large-scale naval deployments in the Gulf of Aden. Last year there were more than 450 acts of piracy off the Horn of Africa and pirates extracted a whopping $238 million in ransoms.

Piracy has always been a threat to seafarers. In 75 BC Julius Caesar was kidnapped by Cilician pirates. The Barbary pirates operated from North Africa preying on shipping in the western Mediterranean beginning in the 16th century. In the modern age, this threat has increased because of the oil trade via marine routes. The Today's pirates are steadily widening their areas of operation, s further from their traditional hunting ground. They are also extending their reach deeper into the Indian Ocean through the use of captured commercial vessels.

Over 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil supply passes through the Gulf of Aden, which is at risk from Somali pirates. So this problem demands urgent attention. The root causes of Somali piracy are poverty and growing despondency among the inhabitants, which has resulted in chaos and incessant civil war since 1991. Somalia has split into four autonomous mini-states, administered by different groups.

The US bears the main responsibility for the current anarchy in the country.

Somalia achieved a semblance of stability in 2005 when a moderate movement, the Islamic Courts Union, came into power. But this was unacceptable to the United States. Ethiopia's interest also was to keep its neighbour divided. Thus, with US military support, Ethiopia engineered an invasion of Somalia and overthrew the government. Later on, Ethiopia withdrew its troops from Somalia, which left the country in complete disarray, and there is no one to put an effective check on these buccaneers.

Following the disintegration of the last regular government of Somalia in 1991, international commercial companies had started dumping toxic wastes into the country's territorial waters and foreign fishing vessels began poaching on its exclusive economic zone. In order to safeguard their rights local fishermen organised themselves in small groups and attacked foreign vessels. Gradually this degenerated into piracy.

The 1982, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea introduced the concept of "hot pursuit" for the curbing of piracy. Article 100 of the convention states: "All states shall cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any state." The courts of the state seizing the ship have been invested with the authority to decide the "penalties to be imposed" and action to be taken in regard to the vessel. But all these laws have proved a dead letter.

There is need to formulate a concerted plan to strike at the root of the problem of piracy. The chaos in Somalia, coupled with the increasing unemployment there, encourages jobless youth to join the pirates. The major powers must join hands to establish a United Naval Force assigned with the task of patrolling more piracy-prone areas of the oceans. As far as Somalia is concerned, the UN must gear up its efforts to promote stability in the country by making efforts for the installation of a stable government there which not only enjoys the support of the local population but takes steps to ease the Somali people's sufferings.









The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

Why do we see so furious a reaction from the Punjab chief minister each time the term 'Punjabi Taliban' is used? The use of this term to describe militants responsible for some of the latest attacks has led to an angry exchange between Mr Shahbaz Sharif and Mr Rehman Malik. Mr Malik – not known for displays of either wisdom or competence – has hardly acted with sagacity in suggesting that because a number of terrorist attacks have occurred in Punjab, the administration of that province is responsible for their occurrence.

The fact is that bomb blasts and other acts of violence take place at regular intervals everywhere in the country. They have decimated the peace in Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta and other parts of the country. Engaging in blame games at this point in time serves no purpose at all. It can only strengthen the militants who will gain courage from the divide we see in civil society.

The issue of terrorist groups in Punjab is one that should not be ignored either. It is curious that the Punjab government has not been more proactive on this. While a joint, nationwide strategy against terrorism is badly needed – it is futile to look past the apparent links of militants in Punjab with the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti or other acts of violence including the blasts that killed over 90 Ahmadi worshippers in Lahore last May. There have been many reports of groups that operate from the south of Punjab and their links with larger outfits based in the tribal areas. Action is needed against all of them – rather than lobbing allegations back and forth or attempting to attach an ethnic element to militancy.

The crisis is so acute we need all the major political parties to sit together and devise a strategy. If the internal squabbling continues, we can consider ourselves doomed. The PML-N and the PPP have both made vague suggestions that this happen at various times. So have other parties. It is time we saw action, rather than just words. The scale of the problem we face is so immense it cannot be dealt with by military action alone. While dismantling the physical infrastructure of the militant outfits is essential, the mindsets that leave so many suggesting the murders of Taseer or Bhatti are not wrong at all must also be tackled. This is a task that may take decades – but a start needs to be made.

At a national conference to discuss the situation, we should also be trying to ascertain what has happened in the tribal belt and areas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The spate of blasts in the province – in Mardan, Nowshera and elsewhere – indicate the Taliban remain as powerful as ever. Even in Swat, there is concern that the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Mohammadi – the group founded by Sufi Muhammad Khan which first brought fanaticism to Swat in the 1990s – may be beginning to stage a comeback. The military action, it seems, has scattered the militants, who in many areas are said to have vanished into the hills as troops pass through, but not left them incapable of staging a revival or reconvening in other locations.

Wider strategy is also under scrutiny. In some areas, the 'lashkars' set up to combat the Taliban have expressed a reluctance to continue to do so, given the deaths they have suffered. The attacks on the 'lashkars', their use of child-soldiers to take on armed, trained and highly committed militants and atrocities committed by these groups also raise moral questions, many of which stem from using civilians against a private army of zealots.

While political forces need to unite and demonstrate that they possess the will to take on the militants, other sections need also to take up the battle. The voice against the Taliban has so far been too weak to make any real difference. A number of political parties chose not to say anything at all following Bhatti's murder.

Other elements in society, which play an increasingly influential role in shaping the way people think must also consider what they are doing and where it is leading us. The media stand on top of this pyramid. The number of TV channels which now dance and flutter across our screens represent a welcome change from the era of PTV monopoly. But they have also added an element of mayhem.

Most of the channels have failed to play any role in countering extremism. In fact, they have often done just the opposite. It can be argued it is not strictly the role of the media to put forward a particular line. But given the circumstances we live in, there needs also to be some demonstration of responsibility and good citizenship. The deviation from this role has been damaging given that television is a medium that reaches in to tens of thousands of living rooms across the country. Perhaps, like political leaders, the heads of media organisations need to sit together and consider what there are doing. After all, under the Taliban, there may be no television at all.

We also need to bring at least some religious elements on board. Some have indeed condemned terrorist violence and the killings motivated by opposition to the blasphemy laws. The Minhaj-ul-Quran organisation of Tahir-ul-Qadri is one example. There are other clerical leaders of standing who have spoken out against all that is happening. But they are far too few in number while the absurd comments citing CIA or RAW conspiracies that have come from the larger religious parties only add to the sense of confusion prevalent among ordinary people.

Essentially, we need as a nation to accept that we are in an extremely significant amount of trouble. The question now is if we can find a way out at all and face up to the full truth about ourselves. Sadly, even now, the realisation that this is essential is too limited – with the top political leadership trapped in a state of paralysis from which it seems quite unable to escape.










March 8 is a contradictory day in the calendar of events. International Women's Day comes with its usual, painstakingly rehearsed formulae: cheery, optimistic advocates keen to show advances made in women's welfare; solemn reminders that there is much more to be done, and the occasional complement of horror stories that need to be addressed. Of course, there are the medals (no revolution can ever lack metal) – first lady Michelle Obama will be handing out International Women of Courage Awards in Washington. The Women's Information Network (WIN) trumpets an unprecedented gathering and celebration across 10 cities in the United States.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was at the forefront this year, launching the 100th anniversary of the day. On this occasion, Clinton was launching the '100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through international Exchanges'. The usual vague, flattering pronouncements follow on any such occasion. With the most serious of events and dilemmas come the most banal responses in solving them. There are surely few less meaningful terms than the word 'empower', whatever the social work jargon on the subject might dictate.

The real interest came after the sugary, salutary speeches were concluded. Questions asked of Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale, Assistant Secretary of Education Ann Stock and Clinton's own chief of staff Cheryl Mills caught them off guard. One woman questioned whether the US was even ready for a female president. Mills answered that the country was 'more than willing to support women in a leadership role and more than willing to actually see a woman as their leader' though she had to admit that 'that final hurdle' had to be crossed.

The hurdles are many, and the obstacles formidable. Women are still, on average, paid less than their male counterparts across the board. Then there is enduring matter of the 'multitasking' femme extraordinaire of the work place and home, able to manage home and workplace with formidable ease. But is all that merely a myth, a creature of false social engineering?

Catherine Hakim of the department of sociology at the London School of Economics found last year that the career woman will only ever end up running a 'nominal family', a sort of scarecrow arrangement that is unfulfilling to all parties concerned. Hakim, when interviewed by the Daily Mail, provided a rather gloomy assessment.

The confusion, according to Hakim, lies in conflating equal outcomes with equal opportunities. Ditch then, the manic social engineering feminists and legislators insist on inflicting on society. She is particularly strong against that obsession with eliminating occupational segregation. By insisting on equality of numbers in all occupations, 'no allowance' is made 'for variations in tastes, talents, interests, personal choices and cultural diversity'.

The figures still prove, whatever the social scientists or any other group might say, that gender difference is queen of the throne, and those differences, mediated by choices between the sexes, are ineradicable. Women, even European ones, want to 'marry up', with many wanting to be 'house wives'. Hakim's claim is that the numbers now are higher than the 1940s.

Hakim is saying nothing novel. What is frightening is that she has uttered what many have been detecting in the data for some time: that 'family-friendly' policies, far from reducing discrimination, increase it. We can let her inflict the final blow below the belt this International Women's Day. 'Presenting shared parental leave as the cure-all magic medicine for gender equality displays dogmatism and myth-making at its worse.'

A version of this article appeared on the website









VERIFICATION of Electoral Rolls 2007 by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) has confirmed serious anomalies in the voters' lists, as out of 81.2 million registered voters, 37.18 million entries were bogus in one way or the other. According to Election Commission of Pakistan, 2.1 million entries were based on invalid Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs), 4.49 million duplicate CNIC entries, 6.46 million multiple entries of manual NICs and 11.05 million entries based on manual NICs do not exist in NADRA database.

The reduction of the total registered voters to almost half is indication of the magnitude of fraud and bogus voting in polls and the urgency to take measures to rectify the situation to make the electoral process fully transparent and genuine. Though NADRA has taken measures to streamline its system and eliminate the possibility of issuance of fake or duplicate identity cards, there are still reports of manipulation and corruption as a result of which many ineligible people including foreign nationals get CNICs. Similarly, NADRA's own database is not hundred per cent updated, as citizens seldom care to report deaths to the Authority and, therefore, a large number of entries still exist of those who have already expired. All this means that even the figure of 44.02 million voters, verified by NADRA, is not hundred per cent correct. Therefore the most important task ahead is to get rid of these bogus entries and ensure transparency in future. In fact, political parties and governments themselves have to be blamed for these irregularities, as they resisted repeated attempts by the Election Commission to make production of CNIC a compulsory requirement for casting of votes. It is since long that the process of computerisation of CNICs was introduced in Pakistan but regrettably despite repeated campaigns NADRA and its predecessor have failed to issue cards to all eligible people. Now that the technology has developed to almost perfection, there is no justification in delay in issuance of CNICs to all eligible people and for Election Commission to allow discrepancies in electoral rolls to undermine the entire voting process. We hope that the door-to-door verification of rolls from June/July this year would prove to be a comprehensive exercise and lead towards finalisation of error free and genuine electoral rolls.








IN yet another explosion carried out by the enemies of the country on Tuesday, 24 innocent people lost their lives while more than 150 were injured. Though the frequency of suicide attacks or car bombings has gone down over the past few months, yet the Faisalabad blast and similar incidents at other places in the past indicate that the terrorists still have strong bases and supporters and they want to assert their position after defeats in Swat, South Waziristan and other tribal agencies.

According to reports, the target was apparently the office of an intelligence agency but due to strict security, terrorists parked the vehicle at a distance and left. The terrorists are bent upon attacking the personnel and installations of the intelligence agencies, as they fear most danger from them. Earlier there had been militant attacks at ISI offices in Lahore and Multan and in November 2010 there was an attack on the Sindh police's main investigation agency building in Karachi. After analysing, one comes to the conclusion that there are several other factors behind the bombings and most of the analysts are also of the opinion that prevailing political and adverse security environment is in fact the plot against nuclear Pakistan. The arrest of Raymond Davis shows that he was roaming in Lahore not for pleasure drive but to meet his agents and perhaps he fired at the two Pakistani citizens, whom he thought were members of some intelligence agency. It is now an open secret that CIA has hired US private security agencies for acts of terrorism and spying in Pakistan and RAW was also active in Balochistan and FATA. They are out to weaken Pakistan through economy, damaging political system, supporting separatists in Balochistan, and spreading sectarianism while also carrying out target killing of various religious leaders, blasting sacred places, religious processions and sensitive installations. Thus current wave of sectarianism and suicide blasts are very much part of hidden agenda of the foreign intelligence agencies. There is no doubt that Pakistani intelligence agencies are capable of handling such situations but the need is that those arrested for their involvement in anti-Pakistani activities must be exposed before the media so that the people at home and the international community could see those who are behind acts of terrorism in Pakistan.







ELSEWHERE in the world, countries have been quick in adapting to modern and environmental friendly techniques for disposal of solid and other waste but here in Pakistan even the traditional and old systems have been allowed to decay merely because of neglect and apathy towards environmental and health hazards. Rawalpindi is known for heaps of filth lying here and there on streets and roads and nullahs full of garbage but situation in Islamabad, which is supposed to be modern and planned city, is no different.

In Rawalpindi, the entire city has been turned into garbage dumping ground playing havoc with the health of citizens but the civic bodies responsible for sanitation are not bothered. Nullah Leh, which was once a fresh water stream, has become a shame of the city as it now virtually serves as a dumping ground of Islamabad's untreated industrial and household wastes, making it one of Pakistan's most polluted water bodies and the ground water near Nullah Leh is also highly polluted. District governments have armies of sanitation staff and dozens of vehicles but garbage remains un-disposed in every nook and corner of the city. Sometime back, sanity prevailed and a project was visualised for installation of a plant for producing energy from garbage but now there are reports that it has hit snags over collection and transportation of the garbage to the main dumping site. This is a classical example of how bureaucracy creates obstacles in changing the status quo that suits their vested interests. In fact, Rawalpindi and Islamabad need not one but several plants that could not only help in proper disposal of solid waste but also meet some of the energy requirements of the city that are increasing with the passage of time. We hope that both the Federal and the Provincial Governments would devise plans and allocate necessary funds for proper disposal of waste and improvement of environmental conditions in the twin cities.







Poverty, specially rural poverty prevents parents from sending their children to school. Education, which is a powerful tool of preventing population explosion apart from its other benefits is seen as irrelevant and non-productive. Access to girl schools prevent girls from receiving any education. Even where access is not a problem, various obscurantist dogmas act as a deterrent and parents are unwilling to become social outcasts if their girls are exposed to education. Providing free of cost education which is the responsibility of the State becomes meaningless in such situations.

The dogmatic Gen. Zia did not subscribe to any form of population welfare measures. He prevented the development of a modern curriculum. The old curriculum was made regressive as the General was convinced that all subjects covered by the curriculum should have an ideological base and a jihadi flavor. The commando President Gen. Musharraf exhibited little interest in population welfare measures. In the years that he remained in power, he did not convene and chair even one meeting dealing with the subject of population welfare and the problems that the country would have to cope with if the rate of growth was allowed to go unchecked. Like the tyrant Gen. Zia, he too was building a political constituency and did not wish to cause offence to his potential allies. Under American pressure he agreed that a revision in the curriculum was necessary.

To keep the Americans off his back he proclaimed on numerous occasions that in order to progress, Pakistan needed a modern curriculum without the jihadi component.. He was never sincere to the task. He was aware that Pakistan will not be able to make any progress if population kept growing at 2.8% annually. The country would not have the resources to educate, train and provide employment to the teeming population of young men and women who would seriously strain the already delicate food security situation.

There would also be no option for them but to become slum dwellers where crimes and other anti-social activities would flourish. According to data compiled by the International Labor Organization, from 1995 to 2005 Pakistan's youth labor force expanded by 54.3%. Although a large pool of young people is not inherently destabilizing, there is a strong correlation between large youth cohorts crimes and violence. When young people—particularly young men—are uprooted, jobless, intolerant, alienated, and have few opportunities for positive engagement, they represent a ready pool of recruits for groups seeking to mobilize violence. Among other established measures of population control, education based on a modern syllabus was an evident, indispensable and urgent requirement.

Zubeda Jalal, Gen. Musharraf's Education Minister was tasked to revise the Zia curriculum. The Americans were interested in her assignment and invited her to pay an official visit to Washington where they were eager to hear her thoughts on the subject and to share with her their concerns about the increasing enrolment of students in religious seminaries some of whom were suspected to be fanning radical beliefs. The task was beyond her capacities and capabilities. Committees of bureaucrats known for their lethargic approach to work were established. Some of them have completed their task after hard labour of more than four years. Others are still reported to be in the process of giving finishing touches to their task. As a result, educational institutions continue to produce students who are unemployable. There is a complete disconnect between what is being taught and what the market requires.

The employers feel frustrated at being unable to recruit young blood with fresh ideas. The traditional market in the Gulf and the Middle East no longer prizes a Pakistani worker as an asset. The Asian Development Bank has recently reported its observation about the unemployment rate in Pakistan stating that instead of dropping down, the rate has only elevated and is much higher in the past two years as compared to the previous eight years. The situation in Balochistan is particularly depressing. Young men who have gone through the Balochistan University and the Bolan Medical College find themselves unemployed for the reasons that there are no jobs available. They are therefore, frustrated and angry.

Due to educational limitations they are unable to succeed in open competitions. In their mental state of frustration they are liable to fall an easy prey to insidious propaganda that the Federal Government has usurped their rights and Balochistan is being exploited for the benefit of other Provinces, mostly Punjab. Unemployment rate in Balochistan is reported to be high. Exact figures of the educated unemployed youth are not available. The number however, is believed to be unacceptably large. Finding no avenues for their employment, some of these young men out of desperation are indulging in acts of sabotage, target killings and other destructive acts amounting to insurgency. The Federal Government has launched a massive socio economic program in the Province. Thousands of jobs are being offered. Recruitment is taking place. It will however, take time before the battle for the minds and hearts of the affected people is won.

In 2008, unemployment in Pakistan stood at 7.4%, with more than one in five men aged 15 to 24 unable to read or write, and only one in 20 in tertiary education. Technical and vocational education, and adult literacy, are especially important and have been neglected the most in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Tribal Areas. Illiteracy and lack of skills provide fertile ground for those who wish to recruit young men and women to their cause, especially when significant monetary payments are attached. In addition, Pakistan's major cities and urban centres are home to an estimated 1.2 million street children. This includes beggars and scavengers who are often very young.

The law and order problem worsens their condition as boys and girls are fair game for others who would force them into stealing, scavenging and smuggling to survive. A large proportion consumes readily available solvents to prevent hunger, loneliness and fear. Such children are vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS, as well as other diseases. The fear is that many of them can potentially be recruited, trained, provided financial security and used as suicide bombers.

Not many NGOs are known to be active in rehabilitating these street children. The Social Welfare Departments of the Provincial Governments must urgently initiate practicable programs for their rehabilitation now that the Federal Government has transferred substantial additional resources to them under the NFC award.

—The writer is Senior Civil Servant.








The US economy is portrayed to be emerging from recession – the longest and deepest since the one in 1930ies. This claim has been highlighted at the World Economic Forum which had been held recently in Swiss Davos but it has met with quite some skepticism also. While some economic indicators show a recovery social indicators in the US don't. The unemployment rate which is currently at 9% or more has fallen only slightly, which the democrats will not be able to justify in next elections. It is an irony of fate that the American and World media cannot see a similarity of reason between the occupiers of Tahrir square in Cairo and Wisconsin state capitol in Madison square, where thousands of people are sleeping on the roads for last 2 weeks, who have suffered decade long attacks on their just right to live a better life as others do, in support of their cause all workers who are facing devastating lay-offs, plant closings, loss of wages, health care benefits, pensions and what not, which can not strike a balance through "Budget repair Bill" the bad policies of waging war in Afghanistan, Iraq and now direct intervention in Middle East also for oil will strengthen the demand of Republican Contestants for 2012 presidential election to remove such rulers in US also who have created a large scale bankruptcy regardless of how much Obama's budget brings economy into a balance of payment not seen since 2001, without changing drastically the empire building policy US may continue to face deficit in next decade also.

As such the jobs which are claimed to have been created recently have been much less than expected. That is why the decrease in the unemployment rate is caused rather by people giving up to look for employment than by the creation of new jobs. A cursory look at the list of 10 top International creditors provides an interesting scenario 3 top spots are held by China having $ 891.6 billion debt with 20.4% share in total US foreign debt liability, Japan is next with 20.2% share in US debt liability which has risen to $ 883.6 billion. United Kingdom is third in line with a debt amount of $ 541.3 billion with a share of 12.4% then there are these Oil exporting countries who have a much bigger share in American debt holdings, imagine if they just put their claim how many of American states will be privatized in their favour against these liabilities. Logically poverty has also arisen in the US for another year. In 2009 there were 43.6 million poor in the US which is the largest figure for fifty years. It comprises 14.3% of the US population. The forecasts for 2010 and the current year are again no reason for optimism. While the rich have good chances to become even richer the number of poor is on the rise and their chances of coming out of poverty are deteriorating because of Money Mafias mis-adventures. This provides for a growing polarization of wealth and a polarized society with an oil tycons coterie of rulers masterminding such a devastating plots to launch 21st century crusade against Muslims, which happened to be the root cause of prevailing turmoil in dollar linked world resulting in more miseries for the Americans as well as the under privileged world who are forced to pay much higher gasoline prices Only a year ago the gasoline price was $ 2.75 per gallon now it is $ 3. 44 per gallon to benefit the vested interest group.

This US trend is matching with the worldwide development. While the rise of poverty and the gap between the rich and the poor may be less drastic in Western European countries like France and Germany which is still present, but it is increasing in Eastern European countries and many countries of the developing world such as Pakistan for instance. If we look at the world-wide balance the north-south discrepancy is still visible especially in the power distribution in the WTO the G20, the WB and IMF. But changes are visible with China and India coming up. But even they are not able to tackle their internal poverty problem. Poverty is an important issue both in China and India and the trickle-down effect from their newly gained richness has not worked elsewhere and would not work there either. After the collapse of communism as a political but also as an economic system China and Eastern Europe have taken to capitalism and end up in the same shoes as everybody else, but not feeling the pinch of exploitation under dollar regime multiplied by un-ending corruption.

The consequence of this seems to be that the capitalist economic system as such is unable to provide for a more even handed distribution of wealth in the society. Wealth under capitalistic system when produced has a tendency to accumulate in the hands of some while others go empty-handed. That depends on the personal situation of the concerned, his or her education, financial background, ability to handle business, honesty and good or bad luck. Social indicators may be important; people could be marginalized on the basis of race or ethnicity or social background: poverty tends to reproduce itself. Therefore, there is a need to redistribute the wealth from the rich towards the weaker sections of society in a bid to strengthen them and help them join the mainstream. If we look for an answer to these problems Islamic Social justice programme provides a ready answer, but the Money Mafia is the biggest hurdle who have embarked upon religious warfare against Muslim countries. As such this logical conclusion is unacceptable to Western capitalist ideology. Capitalism invests only into those areas where it expects most profits and its beneficiary's are never the poor section of society. That is why banks and financial corporations got saved by tax money while social uplift systems are reduced and deliberately neglected.

In a technically advanced society the number of jobs is decreasing and the number of jobs for uneducated workforce is going towards nil. That is why there would be a dire need of educating and upgrading poor workforce locally, but it seems less expensive and much quicker to even import foreign workers ready-made with the acceptance of aid and award of contracts to them. In a globalized world this is an advantage for countries with affordable and good educational systems like Eastern European countries, China and India . Lower ranks of education in the US for instance but also in Britain , France and Germany are deteriorating which is mainly a result of the cheap availability of labour in the international market. As a matter of fact, capitalism with its individualized market-based knock-out system dominated by dollar regime is unable to solve the poverty problem as its entire benefit is transferred to the Federal Reserve Board sponsors. That is why at the end of the day it will have to be replaced due to currency war, which has already initiated by China and entire world is now feeling the burnt of it in the form of cyber and media propagated jasmine agitation for change. This is where alternative socio-economic systems are required. After the collapse of communism this seems to be not so easy and that is the point at which there is an opening for an Islamic system of economy. Of course this is easier to say than to put in practice in an anti Islamic world established since the so-called incidence of 9 / 11. In any case where it suits them the kind of 'Islamic banking' launched by Western banks particularly in Muslim countries, which is current these days is not an alternative socio-economic system. But as long as there is no acceptance for Islamic Social justice system to replace the present exploitative system, capitalism will continue to produce richness for some and poverty for many.

Now time has come for rethinking in American empire building policy and the Save America thinking, they did not learnt any lesson from Korea and Vietnam wars, so their mis-adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq is another eye opener to keep their hands off from the recently triggered uproar in Middle East, which the thinking intelligentsia feels to have been American sponsored to take control over the oil which is standing like a monster before an ailing US economy. It is a misnomer that democracy is the only panacea of all the ills and curses that afflict any society, frankly speaking people in Libya after the resolution of Lockerby issue were living in peace and getting every thing they need much cheaper and easily, employment opportunity for expatriates was opening in thousands and law & order was excellent till the Western media triggered to push its ruler out of office by mounting world pressure, which is going to be a serious mistake this time. Beware American and the West from such offensives and let the people live in peace and harmony without dictating and thrusting your likes and dislikes on them or discriminating societies on the basis of religion and culture, which is equally dear to every one.








Within one year of its occupation of Afghanistan, the US instead of stabilizing the occupied country started nudging Pakistan to do more against foreign militants and those sheltering them in South Waziristan (SW). It then started accusing Pakistan of providing safe sanctuaries to anti-US militants and allowing cross border terrorism. To divide the premier institutions, the US charged that some elements within the Army and ISI were linked with Taliban. The US and Karzai regime ignored other next door neighbors of Afghanistan with whom the US had not formed an alliance to fight war on terror. It forgot that Russia having suffered humiliation in Afghanistan because of US support wanted Afghanistan to become a graveyard for USA. Unlike Pakistan which is a coalition partner, Iran is hostile towards USA and desires its crushing defeat at the hands of Taliban. Pro-Taliban Islamic movement is raging in Uzbekistan and large numbers of Uzbeks are part of Taliban Army.

The main reason for overlooking all other players and singling out Pakistan is the secret plans hatched by USA in collaboration with India, Israel and Britain. Pakistan has been meekly enduring the snubs and illegal demands of Washington because of subservience of weak and corrupt rulers. Pakistan is stuck up in huge foreign debts, its economy is in ruins and oxygen is provided by US controlled IMF and World Bank to keep the country afloat. Pakistan's economy has been deliberately enfeebled to force its weak-willed leaders to tamely hand over the keys of its nuclear arsenal to Washington. Obama's purpose of first troop surge in mid 2009 was to stabilize Afghanistan, gain effective control over all major urban centres as well as agricultural and poppy growing areas, dominate main supply routes, minimize civilian casualties, weed out corruption, improve governance, win over moderate elements within militants and convince them to surrender arms in return for jobs and financial assistance, expand and upgrade proficiency levels of ANA and police to be able to operate independently, build capacity of Pak Army to enhance its capability of tackling militants in FATA.

When the stated objectives couldn't be achieved, Obama sanctioned second troop surge in December 2009. Purpose was to break the momentum of Taliban resurgence by recapturing critical spaces in southern and eastern Afghanistan, and to militarily weaken it to the extent that it is forced to come to the negotiating table on US terms. When no worthwhile objectives could be achieved after upgrading total strength of ISAF to 152000, the US started blaming Pakistan for its failures and made excuses that the chief reason for not being able to defeat the militants was the continued cross border terrorism from North Waziristan (NW) which in its view was the hub centre of terrorism, where main sanctuaries of militants were located and where Al-Qaeda leadership was based.

Pakistan is under intense pressure since the dawn of 2010 to launch a military operation in NW. All visitors coming from Washington have been pressing our leaders not to delay the operation since in their view it will have a direct bearing on the outcome of overall security situation in Afghanistan. While ignoring dozens of small and large scale military operations in seven tribal agencies of FATA and several parts of Khyber Pakhunkhwa in last nine years, the US is now stuck with NW and is trying to give an impression that Pak Army is reluctant to undertake action against militant's sanctuaries or is incapable of fighting them in their stronghold. They forget that within NW, over 30,000 regular troops are stationed since 2005 and have conducted several operations. It was owing to successes achieved that Gul Bahadur was forced to sign an agreement in 2008. A full-fledged operation on the scale of Swat and SW cannot be undertaken at present since troops are outstretched and extra deployment is at the cost of weakening critical eastern front. Very little rehabilitation work has been done in Mehsud belt of SW since majority of displaced persons living in camps of Jandola, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan have still not returned. Severe weather which will persist till end March was another constraining factor; so is lack of resources particularly helicopters and close support fund from USA.

To say that issue of terrorism will get settled after a successful operation in NW and that it will have a salutary impact on dwindling fortunes of US-NATO in Afghanistan will be naïve and far-fetched. It must be understood very clearly that small numbered Haqqani network and other militant groups in NW are not making any material difference on the outcome of war raging between Afghan Taliban and occupation forces in conjunction with unpopular Afghan National Army (ANA). Forays if any are too few and insignificant. These can be easily blocked if ISAF establishes border check posts at known crossing sites and mine/fence them. Bulk of resistance forces of Mullah Omar and Gulbadin Hikmatyar are residing in provinces of southern and eastern Afghanistan and are operating all over the country from there. With 80% of territory under their sway they hardly need any sanctuaries across the border. Israel and India have been convincing USA that roots of terrorism in Afghanistan lay in FATA and inciting it to push forward its special forces into FATA to destroy the roots. Idea of safe havens in Waziristan has been transplanted into the minds of US officials so firmly that they have got transfixed with the idea and are convinced that until and unless the sanctuaries are not destroyed either by Pak Army or NATO, no worthwhile results will ever be achieved by them in Afghanistan and will suffer a defeat.Had Pakistan been peaceful as it was before 2002, and there had been puny fatalities taking place as a result of terrorism, the accusers could have some grounds to get suspicious and hurl unsubstantiated accusations that there appeared to be some kind of linkage between Pakistan's security forces and militants? On ground, Pak Army and ISI have suffered heavy casualties at the hands of militants of different hues who have joined up against them. Series of terror attacks have taken place on ISI installations in Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Multan. GHQ was also struck by the terrorists. It is therefore highly unjust and immoral on part of USA to insinuate that Pakistan is backing the militants. The accusation is travesty of truth and speaks of mala fide intentions of USA.

Pakistan Army has suffered heavily since it has been fighting the foreign aided militants tenaciously without a break. Nearly 145000 troops are at war since 2002 and have been fighting under tremendous resource constraints. The US which had pushed it into the furnace of war has been releasing funds and counter insurgency equipment miserly. It has been withholding the critical support on account of Indian unfounded apprehension that the supplied equipment would be used against it. While the US is sympathetic towards Indian speculative security concerns, it is least bothered about genuine security concerns of Pakistan.

It is not Pakistan playing a double game and harming US interests as alleged but it is USA in league with its partners which is playing this dirty game against Pakistan. This fact has been amply proved after the arrest of Raymond Davis. Yet the US has the brashness to point fingers at Pakistan. It is still blowing hot and cold over Davis issue and threatening to sever ties if not released. Such callousness will neither bridge trust deficit nor help in building lasting friendly relations. The US has lost Afghanistan and is losing its protégés in the Arab world. It should bear in mind that Pakistan's loss will be the severest of all.

The writer is a defence and security analyst.








Encroaching of land has not only caused a loss of beauty of every city but leading to untoward incidents of terrorism, accidents and jamming roads. Encroachment which is also an illegal activity has been a major reason behind accidents and encroachers should be held accountable in this regard. For example, if we take Lahore city, it will be shocking and surprising to many that mafia has encroached 27,877 kanals land. Out of total, 5036 kanals land of provincial government has been encroached, 18773 kanals land of federal government, 735 kanals of Auqaf department, 3105 kanals land of other departments.

In Lahore district, encroachers have encroached total land of 42858 kanals and out of which 8944 kanals land is property of by provincial government, 28765 kanals land federal government, 1592 kanals land Auqaf department and 3297 kanals land of other public sector departments. If we look at Tehsil level, mafia has encroached total land of 14311 kanals and out of it, provincial government owns 3721 kanals land, federal government 677 kanals, Auqaf department 705 kanals and 1915 kanals land is ownership of different departments. According to a survey, out of total 381,912 kanals land, 9 percent (42858 kanals) has been grabbed by encroachers.

The question arises who will stop mafia from encroaching government land and why lives of innocent people were at mercy of encroachers. According to latest survey, there are 445 encroachments in areas under the LDA control. Some 185 of these encroachments exist along the main boulevards and roads, five on secondary roads and 255 around various posh markets. The main boulevard Gulberg Market tops the list with 106 illegal possessions of state lands, while Barkat Market Garden Town occupies the second position with 61 encroachments. The details of land encroachments around other market places are Firdous Market Gulberg 21, Ghalib Market Gulberg 31 and Liberty Market 36. The encroachments along roads under the LDA control include Gurumangat Road 33, MM Alam Road Gulberg 35, Noor Jehan Road Gulberg 23, Main Boulevard Gulberg 9, Mini Market Gulberg 16, Johar Town 8, Model Town Link Road 39, Barkat Market Garden Town 14 and Gujarpura 8.

These deplorable evidences show that encroachers will destroy the whole city of Lahore in the long run and encroachment could take other cities in grip if action is not taken against them. Land encroachers are occupying government land in every city. Look at Karachi city which is believed to be hub of economic activities, is also under constant threat of land mafia that is reportedly involved in terrorist activities and target killing. But Sindh government seems even helpless before this land mafia. And, land encroachers are also active in Haiderabad, Peshawar, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi an Islamabad cities. But this powerful mafia is supposed to be above law and even they do not care of courts.

Encroachments not only mar urban landscape, these also cause severe constraints for commuters and pedestrians, especially women, in market places. Furthermore, encroachments hinder rescue and fire-fighting operations during emergencies, making it difficult for ambulances and fire brigades to reach the affected areas and places on time. Sometimes, these delays prove very fatal and cause tremendous losses, both in men and material. The recent fire in Shah Alam Market Lahore is a case in point.

However, it appears that the state functionaries at the local level follow some unwritten law according to which they have to look the other way if the violation and encroachment happens to be by a VIP; however, if the encroacher/violator happens to be an ordinary citizen, he/she should not to be spared at any cost. This situation becomes very alarming due to poor governance. However, good news is that district government Lahore is going to launch an anti drive against encroachers. According to strategy, at preliminary stage, encroachers would be warned to remove encroachment voluntarily. And, a grant anti encroachment drive will be launched in the end if encroachers resist. All government machinery will be utilized to this effect putting aside all political and other pressure if any. All elements involved in encroachment will be held accountable without any discrimination. Now the hope is there that Lahore city will become encroachment free if operation is completed without any pressure.

We can also hope that no encroachment will create hurdles for Fire brigade and rescue operations in case of any untoward happenings. Removal of encroachment is need of hour and no doubt, comprehensive policy has been announced in this regard. The anti encroachment campaign may turn into a failed attempt if any political or other pressure is acknowledged. I hope that Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif will go ahead with determination till removal of encroachment to restore the beauty of Lahore city in national interest and provide relief to the people on other side.

People hope that district government will not care of any political pressure during operation against encroachers. I also request Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif to go ahead if he dreams of turning Lahore city into Paris. Lahore should be made free of encroachment first and administration should be given free hand to deal handedly with encroachers. This is the best opportunity to take action against encroachers and whole Lahore city will be under grip of encroachment if Chief Minister missed this opportunity.







It was an intelligence miscalculation-they don't have WMDs but……..- we had to be sure - These were something like confessions by Mr. Collin Powell after invading Iraq on the pretext of WMDs, which were never found. Statements by Foreign Secretary of Washington Empire, clearly speaks of overwhelming effects of Machiavelli-ism on US politics. Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian philosopher, humanist, and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. He is well known in modern politics as a writer of his book The Prince. As per Machiavelli, to retain power Prince can act immoral in order to cement the political structure of his state. It is indeed a strange phenomenon that champions of Democracy in today's world follow Niccolo Machiavelli, who interestingly had a soft corner for Tyranny.

Leo Strauss, the American political philosopher, declared himself more inclined toward the traditional view that Machiavelli was self-consciously a "teacher of evil," (even if he was not himself evil) since he counsels the princes to avoid the values of justice, mercy, temperance, wisdom, and love of their people in preference to the use of cruelty, violence, fear, and deception. Still Strauss invented the hypothesis of strong nationalism for the survival of America which later on turned into the theory of neoconservatives (The real follower of Machiavelli-ism). One of his followers Ron Suskind, senior advisor of President George W. Bush wrote in an article "Without a Doubt," which appeared in the New York Times on October 17, 2004. According to Suskind, "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I [Suskind] nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He said. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Creating so called fabricated reality (sheer lie) started since the inception of this world but Global politics saw it more frequently by United States soon after the First World War. I would like to use word ghost in place of reality from now on. Down fall of Nazis and creation of Soviet Union instigated a powerful neo-conservative of that time Donald Rumsfeld in the era of President Renold Reagan, to pursue creation of first Russian ghost, who is eager to use her nuclear arsenal against Americans. It was a classical example of changing the mindset of own people through the world of Fantasies (Hollywood). Series of movies were made in that era on the subject for instance; the most remembered and still continuing James Bond. It was genuinely the most heated era of the Cold War.

Later on, it was came in lime light that Russians had no such designs ever, but the ghost created by Washington and London Empire did their job professionally and cunningly courtesy CIA and MI- 6. The Russian economy went into Doldrums in order to appropriately respond the westerner's onslaught to match up and to open new venues for the improving their deplorable economy they did a blunder- invaded Afghanistan.

The Afghan War fought financially by CIA for bigger aims, using innocent Afghans, Arabs and Pakisani Pushtuns as fuel, and the created Ghost was evaporated. Again the Machiavelli's principle of cruelty and deception was applied, and executed with mind and force. After 9/11 a new Ghost appeared, The Al Qaida, again Mr. Donald Rumsfeld was made available in Bush Administration, keeping in view his master stroke of creating the Russian Nuclear Ghost and we all know what happened since then. The region is burning; Pakistan the ally of US in this War on Terror is fighting an intense insurgency since 2003. Pakistan Army has lost more than 3000 soldiers and officers and all that has happened after the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Machiavellian minds in US administration had started creating another Nuclear Ghost, this time on the pretext of insecure and theft able nuclear assets of Pakistan going into the hands of Terrorists. Nuclear weapons are accessible to Terrorists-Pakistan must improve the security of her Nuclear Arsenals-Pakistan nuclear facilities are not updated as per the international standards for security. Now this is the theme for Neo conservatives in Obama administration. Resultantly, uncountable Raymonds are loitering in the streets of Pakistan with their neo conservative agenda working hand and glove with CIA. Now let's analyze the overall nuclear safety environment around the world including Chernobyl disaster:

It was a worst nuclear reactor accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union).It resulted in a severe release of radioactivity following a massive power excursion that destroyed the reactor. Most deaths from the accident were caused by radiation poisoning. 56 direct deaths occurred whereas 800,000 suffered radiation exposure leading to cancer related deaths. The radioactive release of the Chernobyl event is claimed to be 300 or 400 times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The radioactivity released at Chernobyl tended to be more long lived than that released by a bomb detonation. So even without using atomic bomb this technology can eliminate thousands of people through radiation exposure. Critical observation of nuclear accidents history clearly indicates that US, Russia, France and some other European countries do not possess a good track record, rather United States and Russia tops the list in countries where nuclear accidents had occurred. US biased attitude towards Pakistan can also be proved by scanning through the Indian record of nuclear accidents (including theft of Fissile material). This must also be seen in the context of US-India civil nuclear deal.

Based on data available from IAEA, some of the incidents are as follows: India has reported at least 25 cases of missing radioactive materials. Nearly 20,000 radioactive sources are used throughout India of which about 900 are particularly worrisome. These missed or stolen radioactive materials can be used by terrorists for making "Radiological Dispersion Devices", which can create havoc such as Chernobyl. On 26 January 2003 CNN repoted that Indian company, NEC Engineers Private Ltd. shipped 10 consignments to Iraq, containing highly sensitive equipments entailing titanium vessels and centrifugal pumps. Indian investigators acknowledged that the company falsified customs documents to get its shipments out of India.

In February 2004 India's Ambassador to Libya, Dinkar Srivastava revealed that New Delhi was investigating that retired Indian scientists could possibly be engaged in "high technology programs" for financial gains during employment in the Libyan government. In 2005 Indian scientists, Dr. Surendar and Y. S. R Prasad had been blacklisted by Washington due to their involvement in nuclear theft. World cannot forget the Bhopal nuclear disaster (3 Dec 1984) in which toxic gas, methyl isocyanate, seeped from Union Carbide insecticide plant, killing more than 2,000 and injuring about 150,000.

On the contrary, in Pakistan not a single such incident has been reported because of highly professional work carried out by PNRA (Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority). Case of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan in this safe and professional nuclear environment seems to be a case of Phantom zing by US, in order to create pressure on Pakistan with regards to its nuclear assets. It is easy to see now the fundamental level of power politics — the workings of the lie, hypocrisy, and half-truth with continuity. The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself. Jane Addams- Indeed ignorable easily in the light of Machiavelli's Principles.









As Libyans rise up against the tyranny of Muammar Gaddafi and are met with violence, liberal voices around the world demand American military intervention. Understandable as the call may be, it betrays the rank hypocrisy of the liberal Left that so vehemently opposed, then and now, the US intervention in Iraq. Make no mistake, The Australian is heartily encouraged by the overthrow of dictators and the emergence of democratic movements in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain and elsewhere in the region. There will be setbacks ahead but no matter how troubled, the historic push towards self-determination is preferable to continued totalitarian subservience. Australia, to the extent that it can, should support the nascent democracies and push for requisite international action. But we should also be clear-eyed about the roots of what is occurring, and pay tribute to those with the foresight to sow the seeds.

To find a US president pilloried as much as George W. Bush has been, you must go back to Ronald Reagan. Like Mr Bush, he was ridiculed by the Left as a supposed fool, but the great wash of history sees him now widely respected as the man deserving most credit for ending the Cold War and triggering the democratic disintegration of the oppressive, communist Soviet Union. In 1982, addressing the British parliament, Reagan outlined his much-ridiculed dream to foment the spread of democracy. Noting that even the Soviet Union might not be immune, he said: "Any system is inherently unstable that has no peaceful means to legitimise its leaders." Reagan was right, and tens of millions of people enjoy new freedom thanks to his wisdom and courage.

On this same continuum, resisting the traditional American conservative tendency to isolationism, "Dubya" dared to speak and act in favour of democracy in the Middle East. Mr Bush's Coalition of the Willing, including Australia and Britain, overthrew Saddam Hussein, the brutal dictator of Iraq, basing the intervention on the then universally accepted threat of weapons of mass destruction, as well as the human rights imperative of liberating Iraqis and fostering democracy in the region. Mr Bush and his supporters, including former Australian prime minister John Howard, recognised a short-term threat and responded with a long-term vision. In a landmark speech to the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington in November 2003, Mr Bush drew on the legacy of Reagan and outlined a bold agenda that we see bearing fruit today. Noting the prevalence of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, he asked: "Are the people of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty?" He noted that "over time, free nations grow stronger and dictatorships grow weaker". While he was mocked for his high ideals, it is timely to revisit his words. "The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way towards peace in the Middle East, and now should show the way towards democracy in the Middle East." Mr Bush was not dewy-eyed, pointing out there would be difficulties but also highlighting the positive role the Islamic faith could play. He rightly predicted: "The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution."

Mr Bush and his supporters were condemned for the Iraq project -- "blood for oil" was the shrill lie of the Left, yet there is no doubt now that citizens of the Arab street, who knew no Arab democracy, have seen the troubled, difficult, but nonetheless free democracy struggling to its feet in Iraq, and decided they, too, prefer that over tyranny.

Where President Barack Obama previously has been apologetic for the US's interventions, he must now contemplate action. For all the pitfalls and weighty considerations to be made, he won't find guidance in the councils of the UN or the counsel of the liberal commentariat, but rather in the principles that the US has long inspired.






Just so there is no misunderstanding: this newspaper does not have a vendetta against the ACT, nor against its highly educated, professional and better-paid citizens. We welcome the data that show the 350,000 people who call Canberra home have a higher rate of post-school qualifications, a higher average income and lower unemployment than the rest of us. They are the sort of statistics we would like to see across the country. But that doesn't excuse the wave of self-righteous fury emanating from the national capital in the wake of Bob Brown's calculated exercise in constitutional manipulation.

His demand for legislation to remove the executive veto over territory legislation demonstrates the Greens leader's political skill. Senator Brown outfoxed the Gillard government, then when the row erupted, agreed to send his plan off to a committee. He has achieved his first aim -- to prove to his supporters that he is serious about gay marriage. He argues the legislation is about "equal rights" for the territories but you would have to be naive to think that it is about anything other than helping the ACT government, led by Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, to move ahead with one of its pet projects, the recognition of same-sex unions.

Once again, so there is no misunderstanding, we make no judgment about issues of personal choice, but we are not sure that gay marriage is a first-order issue. Equally, we are cautious about governments moving too far ahead of mainstream opinion on social issues.

Which brings us back to the ACT and those statistics that suggest Canberrans may not be representative of national opinion on this issue. And anyway, why are advocates happy to see such profound social policy being taken out of the control of the federal parliament where it rightly belongs? How can Senator Brown seriously argue for a reduction in the powers of the federal government when he pushed for Canberra to save the Franklin in his own state almost 30 years ago. Back then, Senator Brown led the successful campaign against the Gordon-below-Franklin dam project, which was ultimately blocked by use of the external affairs powers of the Australian Constitution. More recently, in 2001, as we note today, Senator Brown unsuccessfully tried to use Senate powers to block the construction of an expressway in the ACT on environmental grounds. It's a bit rich for the Greens to blithely argue now that a legislature of just 17 people should be allowed to adjudicate on a contentious social issue that demands a broad consensus. The federal parliament could overturn any territory legislation even if the executive veto were dropped. It seems Senator Brown is relying on his party's control of the Senate after July to cut a swath through policy.

The Australian's commitment to the veto has nothing to do with whether or not the ACT can be trusted or about treating territorians as "second-class citizens", as Mr Stanhope claimed last week. It is about maintaining the integrity of the Constitution and of our system of government.

As editor-at-large Paul Kelly wrote yesterday: "The ACT is not a state. It is the creation of the national government and parliament and its reason for existence is to provide the seat of national administration . . . The ACT has no claim to statehood. It never will be a state. Its constitutionally inferior status is enshrined for good reason." Kelly pointed out that while ACT citizens were entitled to the same political rights as any other citizens, the territories were restricted in their legislative powers. In short, the ACT must answer to the government and parliament that set it up.

None of this can be lost on Senator Brown or the Greens, who have worked so closely with ACT Labor in recent years to advance same-sex recognition. In 2006, the ACT passed a law giving same-sex civil unions the same legal recognition as marriage. It was vetoed by the Howard government, but since then the Greens have been digging away at the issue one way or the other. As it stands now, the Gillard government appears highly likely to go along with Senator Brown and repeal the executive veto.

Last week, the ACT's local paper, The Canberra Times, editorialised against this newspaper's stand. It claimed we saw Canberrans as "imbeciles; too prone to dangerous ideas to be allowed to govern (their) own affairs." We accord the Times the right to hold its own, albeit fanciful, views, but we're not accepting its flippant disregard for accuracy. Far from suggesting its citizens be "muzzled", we belled the cat -- stating that the veto debate was a stalking horse for gay marriage and arguing Canberra should not cede power to the territories. Unlike Senator Brown, we believe this is the only constitutionally consistent position it is possible to take.






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.






IS IT any wonder the first policy proposal of real merit from NSW Labor in this election campaign comes from a minister breaking ranks with the official party line? David Borger, the minister for roads and Western Sydney, argues that Sydney's 41 local councils be merged into six, a topic Barry O'Farrell squibs by declaring a Coalition government would only consider council amalgamations with local community consent.

Local councils have important powers over the bread and butter business of urban planning, including sewerage, garbage disposal and development approvals. But with NSW broken into more than 150 local council areas, with an average 45,000 residents each, their small size tends to put them at risk of capture by vested interests. Requiring only a small number of votes from a small pool of voters, local councillors are naturally beholden to local interests and susceptible to a ''not in my backyard'' approach to urban planning issues.

As Sydney's housing shortage grows worse, this approach has obviously failed. Bigger councils, composed of a larger number of councillors each, would find it easier to override such NIMBY objections to development. Mayors elected from such a group could claim a wider mandate for change. Strong mayoral models have led to better transport and urban planning outcomes in many world cities, such as London, Chicago and Seoul.

As Australian federal governments have amassed ever more control over traditional state issues like health, education and workplace relations, state governments have increasingly moved into the space of local governments. The local government sector is left raising just 2.5 per cent of national taxes and spending just 5.5 per cent of revenue, very low by international standards.

As well as thinking on a bigger scale, amalgamation could offer some economies in back-office process and wiser management of finances. But fewer and bigger councils are not necessarily better in every way. The accountability to a local community that can be a council's biggest weakness can also be its biggest strength. In regional areas, far removed from state administrators sitting in the CBDs of state capitals, local councils provide an important voice for local communities. Even in urban areas, when corrupt state governments make bad planning decisions, local councils provide an important outlet for community pushback. Reform of the local government system must take into account not only the number of councils, but the speed, efficiency and flexibility of their decision-making. Amalgamation must ensure the new standards reflect the best practice of councils. Sometimes it can mean lost efficiency and salaries levelled up.





SHE'S back. Pauline Hanson is fishing again at the murky bottom end of the political spectrum, stirring up the mud about multiculturalism. We should not be too surprised that someone is doing this, and this is what Hanson does. What goes around, comes around.

Across Europe leaders have been declaring past policies of multiculturalism to have failed, in varying degrees. The times have brought a generally conservative tide of leaders struggling to reconcile restive immigrant communities and resentful majorities. The more extreme outbreaks from visible ethnic minorities - riots in French cities, ''home-grown'' terrorism in Britain - and a perceived stubborn clinging to language and culture feed less tolerant political sentiment, which mainstream parties try to placate.

Hence we recently had Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, urging a ''more active, muscular liberalism'' where equal rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and democracy were more actively promoted to create a stronger national identity, instead of previous policies under which, he claimed, ''we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream''.

Hanson played havoc temporarily with the Liberal Party vote when she entered politics in the 1990s, and left her mark on the federal policy consensus that ''border control'' was a compelling issue with voters. That was even before September 11, 2001, turned the focus of fear about being ''swamped'' by alien immigration from Asians in general to Muslims in particular, a flank that the Liberals especially still feel they have to watch.

The NSW Legislative Council is the house of mavericks, where special interest groups from Greens to Shooters can lever their way into political office. Hanson tried to get into our upper house once before, moving to Sylvania Waters and standing in the 2003 elections - to be narrowly outgunned by the Shooters' John Tingle.

This time she has only 2½ weeks to get her messages out, but starts as an identifiable public figure with a clear branding. She also has plenty of like minds in the popular media, including her old Rasputin in the One Nation party, David Oldfield, now the Mornings compere on Fairfax Radio's 2UE. Yesterday he swung into action, backing her claims that she'd never uttered a racist word. But her first task will be convincing even like-minded voters she's not an opportunist, out for a comfy eight-year berth or, as a fallback once past a certain vote threshold, public funding for what she spends, even if it has been donated by somebody else.






AS POLICY promises go, this one was as clear and as significant as they come. ''Victorian teachers will become the highest paid in Australia,'' Ted Baillieu stated long before he was premier. The promise was first made in 2008, so The Age made a point of checking the policy just before last year's election. Coalition education spokesman Martin Dixon, now Education Minister, confirmed the commitment. The day after his first cabinet meeting, however, Mr Baillieu said talk of such a pay rise reflected ''a commentary that we made in the past''. His government has now signalled it is likely to break the long-standing promise.

The Age has repeatedly despaired at the failure to recognise the link between raising teaching standards and making up the decades-long decline in teachers' status and pay. You get what you pay for. The state's 45,000 teachers are among the lowest paid in Australia, 8 per cent worse off than the best paid, who work in Western Australia. Mr Baillieu's spokesman says teachers will be subject to the 2.5 per cent limit that has been set for public sector wage rises. Anything more must be offset by productivity gains.

Yesterday, Mr Baillieu said: ''I am very keen to get the best possible outcome for teachers through an EBA [enterprise bargaining agreement] process.'' We hope he is true to his word. Nonetheless, it is hard to see how productivity could make up the rest of the increase teachers were promised, especially as it was also Coalition policy that teacher numbers and class sizes would be maintained.

Setting aside a union ambit claim of a 30 per cent pay rise over three years, the Coalition has no excuse for breaking its word - apart, perhaps, from having thought it would not win office and have to implement the policy. The government did not inherit a budget deficit or hidden ''black holes''. It did inherit a lean education system, with the state spending $1100 less per student than the national average.

Victoria will ultimately pay a high price for failing to improve the pay and status of teachers. We undervalue the work that teachers do. Lifting teaching standards and pay go together and is very much in the public interest. Reversing a long decline will take time, but it must be done. If the government were to set out a plan to work towards this goal, a plea for patience might be excusable. Simply breaking a promise so early in its term is unacceptable. The Baillieu government should not walk away from a policy that is so central to Victoria's future prosperity.





THE carbon tax debate shapes as a turning point in Australian politics. If the Gillard government were to give in to the populism and sloganeering of the Tony Abbott-led Coalition and walk away from introducing a price on carbon, that would be a bad result for the environment, a blow to Australia's claim to a prominent place at the table of international affairs, and it would cast doubt on the ability of our modern democratic system to sustain difficult policy reforms in the national interest.

It would be a win for the shrill voices that have become increasingly prevalent in the age of 24/7 ''news''. The sort of debates fomented by some talkback radio hosts and internet bloggers militate against reasoned and civil discussion of difficult and complex issues. Such an unwarranted victory against meaningful action on carbon pollution would be a worrying portent for the future of our democracy.

The early indications are discouraging. Mr Abbott is ''winning'' the debate, at least according to that other omnipresent measure of public sentiment, the opinion poll. A Newspoll published this week suggests Julia Gillard's carbon tax is political poison. It reported that Labor's primary vote has collapsed to a record low of 30 per cent; that the Prime Minister's satisfaction rating has fallen by 11 percentage points in just two weeks; and that the Coalition, in spite of its stuttering start to the new year, has leapt to a two-party preferred lead of landslide proportions.

This level of support is unsustainable for the Labor Party, but it should not be assumed that it amounts to the final word on the politics of climate change. An Age/Nielsen poll last month - taken, it should be said, before Ms Gillard's announcement on a carbon tax - found 46 per cent of voters supported a carbon price, with 44 per cent against. Support for emissions trading has previously been as high as 60 per cent.

Nervous members of Ms Gillard's caucus would do well, too, to remember that the disintegration of public support for Kevin Rudd's prime ministership can be traced to his decision to give up the fight for an emissions trading scheme. One of the lessons is that, even in this age of heightened cynicism about politics and politicians, there remains a premium on leadership of conviction.

Of course, Ms Gillard has brought much of the opprobrium of recent weeks upon herself. She may have had every intention of keeping her pre-election promise not to introduce a carbon tax - and certainly Sydney talkback identity Alan Jones is showing excessive disrespect in his labelling of the Prime Minister as ''Ju-liar'' - but Ms Gillard should expect to pay a price for subsequently breaking her promise. Nor has she done enough to explain the abrupt change of heart. She is right, nonetheless, to say that circumstances have demonstrably and dramatically changed since she made that now infamous pledge: Australia now has a minority government that relies for its survival on the support of a clutch of independents and minor parties. It is disingenuous for Ms Gillard's critics to ignore that fact when they excoriate the Prime Minister for her ''lie''.

In this defining debate of her prime ministership, Ms Gillard should be fortified by the knowledge that the greatest test of political leadership is to implement unpopular policy reform in the public interest. Australia's political class has an enviable record in this regard in recent decades: deregulation of the financial system and the floating of the dollar were motifs of the Bob Hawke/Paul Keating era; one of John Howard's proudest and most difficult achievements was the introduction of the goods and services tax. In urging Ms Gillard to stand firm against the onslaught over a carbon price, The Age asks: what great policy reform is Mr Abbott offering?








The cigarette billboards of the 80s were neatly captured in Viz. "Tabs Are Great" was splashed across a poster, above tiny letters reading "tabs will kill you, probably". Six decades have passed since Richard Doll's work linked smoking and cancer and nearly five since TV ads were banned, and yet on fag packets eye-catching logos still compete for space with images of blackened lungs. Mixed messages about nicotine are as familiar as they are bizarre, but it could just be that the fug will soon finally clear.

The health secretary Andrew Lansley yesterday published a paper announcing he would go ahead with Labour's ban on shops displaying tobacco, and would also consult on forcing the product into plain, unbranded packs. As ever, where the door is left ajar to lobbying, it would be unwise to bet on it being closed. Wiggle room has been preserved by insisting on the need for evidence, but this will be hard to come by, since plain packaging has not yet been enforced anywhere, though it soon will be in Australia. The millions the industry spends on branding ought to be evidence enough. Recall Tony Blair's seemingly cast-iron pledge to "ban tobacco advertising" – and then his screeching U-turn following Bernie Ecclestone's visit to his Downing Street den – and you might conclude that Marlboro reds and the trademark purple of Silk Cut will outlive their average consumer.

But Mr Lansley deserves real credit, for seeing off Whitehall's kneejerk deregulators on shop displays, and for keeping alive hopes of more radical action. Plain packs, after all, would complete a transformation from ordinary consumer product into a regulated evil, bringing to mind the way that drug law reformers talk about medicalising heroin. The very possibility is an extraordinary one for a Conservative-led and market-minded government. It is also an extraordinary one for Mr Lansley, given his Que sera, sera willingness to entrust other aspects of public health to voluntary agreements with alcohol and junk-food producers.

Tobacco, it is true, still causes the most preventable deaths, and it is unique in that even modest indulgence can prove a mortal sin. The industry's documented double dealing has landed it with a restrictive international treaty, although it is increasingly apparent that alcohol and food producers engage in similar lobbying. What really makes tobacco different is that this is an epidemic on the wane, which lingers disproportionately on the margins of society, whereas as junk food is ubiquitous and alcohol, the favoured vice of the well-to-do, is becoming more so. The political will to get tough on lifestyle sins has a great deal to do with how far the swing voter has already given them up






The front page of the New York Times website demonstrated at one point yesterday the irony of deploying the most mobile and powerful army in the world. And it has nothing to do with theories about the utility of force. In one report, US troops are struggling to persuade Afghan troops and police to fight the Taliban in Ghazni province in Afghanistan. Next to it is a report from Benghazi, Libya, where the local determination to fight Gaddafi is etched in deep lines on every face, but where the means to do so are wholly absent. In the former, US officers talk sceptically about the strategy. They call it the deep disconnect between the tactical (and possibly temporary) victories of US units against the Taliban, and the strategic aim of leaving a functioning Afghan state in place when they leave. In Libya, the only disconnect is between the will to fight and the means to do so effectively. The opposition is overwhelmed by the logistical problems of resupplying the front, maintaining political unity and simply answering the phone. Is this an argument for US soldiers doing in Libya what they are failing to do in Afghanistan?

The pressure in Britain, France and the US for a no-fly zone is building, fed not least by hourly reports of heavy fighting in Zawiyah (almost obliterated, but where fighters are still repelling attacks), around Ras Lanuf and in Bin Jawad. Gaddafi's response yesterday to the possibility of western intervention provides a foretaste of the nationalist power he would gain if bombs started targeting his air defences, the precursor to establishing such a zone: "They want to take your petrol. This is what America, this is what the Frenchman, those colonialists want. The Libyan people will take up arms against them." The moment Britain, France or the US became militarily involved, it would be Gaddafi versus the colonial powers, past and present, of the Middle East. It would cease to be Gaddafi, the family firm, versus his own people.

Members of Nato meeting today in Brussels should be clear about avoiding a disconnect between reality and policy in Libya. This is already inherent in some of the claims that have been made about a no-fly zone. Let us be clear what it would not do, even if it had the authority of a UN security council resolution. It would not be immediate. A no-fly zone could take until mid-April to put in place, by which time the situation on the ground could be very different. It would have less effect against helicopters, which are more lethal weapons in this form of combat, than it would have against jets, and as Ivo Daalder, the US ambassador to Nato acknowledged, overall air activity is not the deciding factor in the firefights between the rebels and regime loyalists and mercenaries. It would not deter columns of trucks and artillery pounding rebel positions. It would, however provide lots of soundbites to politicians wanting to appear as if they are doing something.

No decisions are easy ones and we now have to prepare for the bleakest and bloodiest scenario – a protracted civil war between two militarily unmatched sides. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, the regime has decided to stand and fight, and has even fewer qualms about mowing down its own people than Ben Ali and Mubarak. The rebels have both to wage a conventional war against superior forces and weaponry, and forge some form of political unity. They could use military intelligence, signal jamming and expertise in forging their fighters into a cohesive force.

Their biggest weapon remains their cause and who they are. Not agents of al-Qaida or the proxies of western colonialism, but Libyans who have risen up after decades of brutal repression. Tripoli is unlikely to fall militarily, but the regime is still capable of imploding if and when the military tide turns. We should not forget the lessons of Egypt and Tunisia in Libya. The more brutality Gaddafi employs, the quicker he hastens his own end.






They stood 55 metres and 38 metres high, the colossal Buddhas of Bamiyan, and blowing up the bigger statue took 25 explosions and all the dynamite local commanders had. Afghanistan's Taliban demolished these two "shrines of the infidels" 10 years ago this month on the grounds that they were idolatrous. But the world's largest Buddhas, carved into the sandstone cliffs of Bamiyan in the sixth century AD, were also a reminder of a different and more beguiling version of Afghanistan than Mullah Mohammed Omar pressed upon his people. Bamiyan was a staging post on the Silk Road that carried goods and ideas all the way from China to Rome, and Buddhism came to Afghanistan as an export from the Indian subcontinent. Religious monuments have been regular victims of intolerance throughout history – but there was something peculiarly bloody minded about the destruction of these statues. It was done amid Afghanistan's worst drought in 30 years, while three million people faced starvation. Taliban commanders gave their orders as a show of defiance against the imposition of more UN sanctions, despite the pleadings of Kofi Annan and countless other world leaders. Almost as soon as the statues were reduced to rubble, repeated promises have been made to restore them. German scientists are now talking about putting the smaller Buddha back together again. But they also note "practical and political" obstacles to doing so – a phrase that seems to have the due combination of sadness and sobriety.








LONDON — There ought to be many more red faces among the world leaders who used to kowtow and suck up to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, an insane megalomaniac bully. But only a minority will ever admit that they were wrong.

Sir Howard Davies, the director of the prestigious London School of Economics, had to take responsibility for some egregious errors of judgment and has resigned. LSE, one of Britain's top universities, which had accepted large sums from Libya, given the colonel's son a doctorate that was apparently ghost- written and full of plagiarism, and undertaken to train Libyan leaders, looks naive at best and, at worst, blindly greedy.

The problems of the LSE are, however, minor in comparison with the embarrassment of many political leaders of developed countries who were happy to be photographed embracing Gadhafi and to allow him to set up his tent in the most prestigious gardens in their capitals.

Then British Prime Minister Tony Blair set the pace by kissing Gadhafi on both cheeks. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was happy to entertain the colonel, though Gadhafi may not have attended Berlusconi's "bunga-bunga" sex parties. French President Nicolas Sarkozy feted him in Paris.

Gadhafi has gone from hero to pariah in less than a month.

Now the big question is what can be done to rid Libya of this madman. Clearly he has lost control of the eastern areas of this vast desert country and only maintains himself in Tripoli and other areas by means of loyalists and a posse of African mercenaries. Loyalists and Gadhafi himself are prepared to use the most repressive tactics available and have no hesitation in killing and torturing his opponents.

The opposition are divided, ill- disciplined and largely untrained, but many young educated Libyans have come out strongly against Gadhafi's repressive regime. The opposition control the east of the country and there is resistance elsewhere in the country. It is too early to say when or indeed whether the opposition can prevail. Libya may still have to undergo a bitter civil war with much human suffering.

The refugees who have streamed out of Libya into Tunisia have drained the country of much of its large population of migrant workers and the maintenance of oil production is now problematic. Many of these refugees came from Egypt and Bangladesh, but also included Chinese and many other nationalities. It seemed as though there would be a humanitarian disaster on the Libyan frontier as refugees slept in the open and the cold. There was much suffering but complete disaster was avoided as countries rushed to get the refugees to safety.

The United Nations Security Council in an almost unprecedented show of unity agreed to financial sanctions against Gadhafi's regime and called on the International Court of Justice (ironically not recognized by governments such as China and the United States, which supported the resolution) to investigate the shooting of civilians in Libya. These murders seemed prima facie crimes against humanity by the regime. The hope has been that this action will deter Gadhafi's supporters from further military action, but his African mercenaries are probably unaware of any threat of trial and punishment.

Inevitably there has been a feeling, particularly among politicians, in Europe that "something must be done" to help the opposition in Libya and prevent a massacre. There is an understandable reluctance after Iraq and Afghanistan to contemplate the use of Western forces in Libya at least without a U.N. Security council resolution which would almost certainly be unobtainable at least without some new cataclysm. It is also argued by most observers that armed intervention could well be counterproductive uniting all Libyans against the foreign invader.

One possibility contemplated by some is to supply arms to the rebels, but they have not apparently so far asked for such supplies and there does not seem to be a shortage of small arms. Sophisticated weaponry can only be useful in the hands of trained personnel.

Another option would be to impose a no-fly zone on Libya and European leaders have undoubtedly asked their military staffs to consider how this might be implemented. But, as U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has cautioned, this is no simple matter. Libya is a huge country, many times larger than Britain, and before a no-fly zone could be established it would be necessary to destroy the Libyan Air Force and its bases. This could well involve casualties on both sides and almost certainly some civilian deaths.

Because of the size of the area to be covered, a significant number of allied aircraft would be required and a proper command structure established. NATO strengths are depleted by other commitments, not least in Afghanistan. The only available aircraft carriers are U.S. Navy vessels and if only for political reasons the U.S. government is particularly reluctant to be sucked into a fight in Libya.

In any case, while the Gadhafi regime would no doubt be prepared to use air power against the opposition, the rebels do not pose an easy target for modern fighter jets. Moreover so far the aircraft used by Gadhafi loyalists do not seem to have had much effect. Perhaps, as some have suggested, Libyan Air Force pilots worried about their future have deliberately avoided accurate targeting. The situation could, of course, change and if Gadhafi forces used gunship helicopters against the opposition and in support of ground forces, casualties could rise quickly and pressure for intervention could grow.

For the moment the West must await developments in Libya and should concentrate on humanitarian assistance for refuges as well as the supply of medical equipment and other essentials to ports controlled by the opposition in eastern Libya, which remain open to Western vessels. A "no fly zone" should only be imposed if it becomes imperative to prevent a massacre. The West should refrain from actions that would provoke Arab nationalism and cause tensions with countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, where the democratic revolutions are still very fragile.

Hugh Cortazzi, a former British career diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.







LONDON — 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 criticized 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 March 2. 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 favor 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 3 million Christians, but he had hardly any influence outside that community. Nevertheless, he refused to stop criticizing the blasphemy laws even after 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 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 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 Gen. Zia ul-Haq, the dictator who ruled Pakistan from 1977 to 1988, made it a criminal offense 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 victimize the Ahmadi and Christian religious minorities.

Ahmadis and Christians account for at most 5 percent 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, recognizing 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 mobilized against the blasphemy laws — 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 a population fully supports the blasphemy laws, 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 laws 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.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist and historian whose columns appear in 45 countries.







PRINCETON, N.J. — The Arab world has entered the most dramatic period in its modern history. Oppressive regimes are being swept away, as Arab people finally take their fate into their own hands.

The excitement of the moment, however, does not tell us what the future holds. At best, democracy is still off in the distance: The military still dominates in Egypt and Tunisia, tribal forces are on the rise in Libya and Yemen, and sectarian divides between Sunni and Shiites are likely to dominate politics in Bahrain, as they have in Iraq since 2003.

There is no single narrative that makes sense of this all. Regimes throughout the Middle East, the United States and European governments, as well as al-Qaida and other Islamist groups, are all struggling to understand what comes next.

Scholars of the region, like myself, are also recognizing that our understanding of Arab politics did not anticipate this wave of successful protest. Until the uprising in Tunisia, we thought that political change would be led either by Islamist forces or by a coup by a group of military officers — not by disorganized, youth-led masses.

The Middle East's demographic youth bulge is well known, but no one predicted that its members would mobilize social media and cell phones to topple long-established dictators. The technologies of the Internet were thought to fragment societal forces rather than unite them in a common cause. And the regimes were considered to be too brutal, as we see tragically in Libya, to go down without a fight.

By its own admission, al-Qaida has been caught off guard, no doubt because the group's central argument has been that the fall of oppressive Arab governments could come only through violence. In response to recent events, Ayman al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida's second in command, released a tedious PowerPoint-like analysis of Egyptian constitutional law and political history.

Like Egypt's now-deposed President Hosni Mubarak, al-Zarqawi's tone was patronizing and condescending. If anything, the lecture underscored how out of touch al-Qaida's senior leaders are with the spirit of the time.

A younger al-Qaida ideologue is more convincing, however. In a message dated Feb. 16, titled "The People's Revolution and the Fall of the Corrupt Arab System: A New Beginning and the Shattering of the Idol of 'Stability,' " a Libyan who goes by the name Atiyat Allah writes, "It is true that this revolution is not the ideal that we had desired. . . . [W]e hope that this is the first step to better times yet."

Allah goes on to argue that these revolutions did more than just topple regimes like Mubarak's. More important, they have destroyed the doctrine of "stability" that allowed the regimes and the West to exploit the region and provide security for Israel.

Admitting surprise at the speed of events, Allah advises al-Qaida groups to engage gently with the rising forces in these countries. Tactically, he argues, this is the only way for al-Qaida to achieve its ultimate goal of taking power.

Other al-Qaida thinkers have expressed admiration for the ability of young men like Wael Ghonim to mobilize thousands of his fellow Egyptians by conveying his sincere desire for change and love of country. There is certainly a degree of envy for what others have accomplished and a sense of desperation about how al-Qaida can capitalize on this change.

Unlike the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the current fighting in Libya presents al-Qaida with an opportunity to confirm its classic narrative about the importance of change through violence. More troubling still is that Libya's violence reveals certain features of the Middle East that had been forgotten after the heady success in Tunis and Cairo.

Most clearly, political change will not occur in the same fashion across the diverse countries of the Arab world. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, which are largely homogeneous societies, Libya has important tribal cleavages, whereas Bahrain, Yemen and Syria are riven by sectarianism. In the absence of strong national institutions, change in these countries risks significant bloodshed.

In addition, the excessive violence in Libya might send the message to other peoples in the region that the cost of change is too high to pay, and that the relatively peaceful transitions seen in Egypt and Tunisia might not be replicable.

Finally, the chaos in Libya has shown how dependent the rest of the world is on the political fate of Middle Eastern societies. Should chaos of the kind witnessed in Libya occur in the Persian Gulf countries, for example, the world could literally come to a standstill, given the quantity of oil that they supply.

While unlikely anytime soon, this possibility should give everyone pause and spur us to find policies that will help Arabs find the political dignity and good governance they deserve through an ordered, peaceful process. The alternative is a world in which we remain hostage to the region's pathologies, which provide ample opportunity for al-Qaida to reassert its narrative and influence.

Bernard Haykel is a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University. © 2011 Project Syndicate






Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara's resignation over receipt of political donations from a Korean resident underscores a problematic Political Funds Control Law and politicians' obsession with fault-finding to pull others down.

Mr. Maehara resigned Sunday after acknowledging that his funds management body received ¥50,000 annually from 2005 to 2008 and in 2010 from the Korean resident, a 72-year old female owner of a Korean barbecue restaurant in Kyoto, who has been an acquaintance of him since his middle school days. The law prohibits politicians from receiving donations from foreign nationals, foreign corporate bodies and other foreign organizations. The woman did not know about the ban and made the donations in her Japanese name.

Mr. Shoji Nishida, a Liberal Democratic Party Upper House member who took up Mr. Maehara's funds problem in the Diet, had received a tipoff that the restaurant hangs a photo showing Mr. Maehara and the woman together. It appears that this led him to consider targeting Mr. Maehara for possible misconduct. He found that the cooking license in the restaurant carried the woman's Korean name and later examined reports filed by Mr. Maehara's funds management body.

It is true that Mr. Maehara violated the law. But if foreign nationals use Japanese names in making donations, it will be very difficult for any politician to check their identity. Mr. Maehara's resignation could set a precedent for one Cabinet or Diet member after another being forced to resign after receiving small sums of donations from foreign nationals. This could cause great confusion in Japanese politics.

Article 22, Section 5 of the Political Funds Control Law, while banning political donations from foreigners or foreign entities, lets Japanese-registered firms controlled by foreign capital make political donations if they are listed on stock exchanges for at least five years. It allows room for foreign interests influencing Japanese politics. The Diet must seriously discuss whether this provision is appropriate from the viewpoint of protecting national interests and needs any change to hedge against undesirable situations.





The assemblies of Okinawa Prefecture and two cities in the prefecture — Naha and Urasoe — on Tuesday unanimously adopted resolutions protesting comments by a U.S. official that allegedly disparaged the Okinawans. Other Okinawan assemblies will follow suit.

In an off-the-record lecture in Washington in December before 14 students who were about to visit Tokyo and Okinawa, Mr. Kevin Maher, head of the office of Japan affairs at the U.S. State Department, allegedly said "Okinawans are masters of 'manipulation' and 'extortion' " when they deal with the Tokyo government and that "although Okinawans grow goya (bitter gourd), other prefectures grow more than Okinawa. Okinawans are too lazy to grow goya."

He reportedly says that an account of his lecture made available to Kyodo News is "neither accurate nor complete." Even so, the alleged comment by a person who served as the consul general in Okinawa from 2006 to 2009, will likely deepen distrust of the U.S. government among the Okinawan people.

Mr. Maher has been directly involved in negotiations with Japan over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. He allegedly said in connection with the Futenma issue that the Tokyo government "needs to tell the Okinawan governor, 'If you want money, sign it (Futenma deal).' " His alleged comment will enrage Okinawan people and stiffen their opposition to the Japan-U.S. agreement to move the Futenma base inside Okinawa Island. It will make them demand more strongly for the relocation of Futenma base outside Okinawa Prefecture.

It is astounding that it did not occur to a diplomat specializing in the Japan-U.S. security setup that the remarks as he allegedly made would deepen resentment among Okinawan people and that a mutual security arrangement surrounded by resentment would not properly function. Referring to Japanese culture of wa (harmony), Mr. Maher allegedly said, "While the Japanese would call this 'consensus,' they mean 'extortion' and use this culture of consensus as a means of 'extortion.' " If someone takes this reported remark as arrogant and insulting, one cannot blame that person.








The management of non-oil and gas mining resources has, since 1967, applied the model of working contracts pursuant to the law on mining operation. By this model, the management of these resources is fully in the hands of contractors. By the system of production sharing contracts in the oil and gas sector, however, contractors' management is under the control of the Upstream Oil and Gas Regulating Agency (BPMigas).

In addition, under working contracts the government received a relatively small royalty, around 1 percent, which equaled the rate according to the concession system in colonial times, based on the Dutch East Indies Mining Law (Indische Mijnwet, 1890).

On account of the insignificant contribution of working contracts to the state, the next generation of this system was improved to increase its profitability. One of its advancements was the obligation for foreign contractors to divest the shares to up to 51 percent in favor of Indonesian companies or the government.

This provision also applies to the working contract with PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara (PT NNT) for mining operations in Batu Hijau, West Sumbawa regency in West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) province, and mining expansion in Elang Dodo, also in Sumbawa regency.

It should be appreciated that, so far, PT NNT has consistently observed the working contract provision as evidenced in the divestment of 24 percent of its shares in the government's favor, in this case the regional administration, though due to the policy the foreign shareholders of PT NNT were sued by PT Pukuafu Indah.

The right awarded to the regional administration to buy divested shares is in conformity with the intent of Article 33 of the 1945 Constitution, stipulating that mining resources reserved beneath the earth shall be controlled by the state and utilized for the maximum welfare of the society. The government and people in a mining production area should thus gain concrete benefit from the presence of mining activities there.

With the rules so far enforced, regional revenue from local mining operation is very small. This happens because a region's natural resources profit sharing fund is only derived from a very small royalty and dead rent (around 1 percent), which constitutes non-tax state revenue.

Meanwhile, about 40 percent corporate tax paid by PT NNT entirely goes to the central government's coffer.

As an illustration of revenue disparity between the regional administration and the central government, in 2007, for instance, the central government received about US$800 million from PT NNT in tax revenue, while the regional administration (NTB province, West Sumbawa and Sumbawa regencies) got only Rp 200 billion ($22 million) in royalties.

It is indeed unfair. Actually, the regional administration and local communities have to bear the risk and suffer the negative impact of the mining operation, such as environmental degradation.

As required by the working contract, PT NNT realized 3 percent share divestment in 2006, and 7 percent in 2007, 2008 and 2009, respectively. With the central government's approval, the divestment was in favor of the regional administration. Undoubtedly, the policy has immediately given a boost to the region's income in dividends from the operation of PT NNT.

The remaining 7 percent, which was due in 2010, has not yet been divested because the central government unexpectedly is reportedly interested in buying the shares, while PT Aneka Tambang, a publicly-listed state-owned mining company, indicates no intention.

In order to strengthen the regional position in the management and board of PT NNT, especially with PT NNT's plan to launch its initial public offering (IPO) at the Indonesian Stock Exchange, it's only proper to divest the 7 percent in the region's advantage as well.

Besides, this move will increase regional income so that the regional administration can better afford to build its economic infrastructure to jack up the socio-economic standards of the people living in NTB. At present, the rate of poverty in NTB remains relatively very high, far above the average national poverty level. Among the country's 33 provinces, NTB ranks 28th in poverty, meaning it's one of the seven poorest regions along with other natural resources-rich provinces of Aceh, Papua, West Papua, Maluku, Gorontalo and East Nusa Tenggara.

Central Statistics Agency data show the national poverty rate is around 13.3 percent while in NTB the rate stands at about 22 percent, which means one of every five people is poor.

The mining operation of PT NNT is one of the main sources of the region's revenue. It will be regrettable if the central government deprives the region of this 7 percent divestment opportunity.

The cooperation between the three regions (NTB province, West Sumbawa and Sumbawa regencies) and PT Multicapital constitutes a long-calculated decision and has been approved by the regional legislative council and regional administration. But there's still the likelihood of the regional administration launching a kind of contest to find partners for the 7 percent divestment, as well as seeking independent funding.

As this final-stage divestment also faces a time constraint, the central government should promptly name or delegate its right to the three regions as was already done with the 24 percent divestment, instead of one of them (such as West Sumbawa regency) because the expansion area of Elang Dodo is just not located in West Sumbawa regency.

The purchase by the three regions (through region-owned enterprises) is the wisest way of inducing the thorough relief of poverty in NTB, which in fact is among the richest copper and gold producers. The regional administration and local people deserve a larger share through increased ownership and bigger dividends.

The writer is a postgraduate lecturer, School of Economics, University of Indonesia, and a member of PT NNT board of commissioners. The views expressed are his own.





The link between uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa and oil prices shows how dangerous the combustible mix between geopolitics and geology is.

It happened in 1973 when Arab oil-producing countries imposed an oil embargo on Western countries in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli war.

It happened again during the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 and again in 1990 when Saddam Hussein's troops invaded Kuwait.

The armed uprising in Libya has halved oil production in that country, a mere 1 percent reduction of the global oil output. Compare this with the 7.5 percent reduction during the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Although the supply shock was modest by historical standards, the psychological impact was significant enough to create widespread panic in the market.

The price of Brent crude, after being stable at US$80-90 during much of last year, shot up and reached $120 per barrel on Feb. 24. The price has since come down to $105. Even the highest price reached last month was still below $148, the historical peak reached in 2008.

Higher oil prices mean there is more of a transfer of wealth from oil-consuming countries to oil-producing countries.

The problem is that the latter have the propensity to save so that reduced spending in oil-consuming countries is not replaced by more spending elsewhere. That is how changes in oil prices affect the world's economy.

If there are no further supply shocks and prices remain at these levels, the effect on world recovery should be modest.

The IMF calculates that for every $10 increase in the price of oil, the world economy loses 0.1 percent of its growth.

Because of rapid technological developments, the world economy is becoming less susceptible to oil prices. Machinery is becoming more energy efficient than in the past. The world is becoming more serious about saving energy and the use of substitutes for oil is expanding, albeit slowly.

But, the world needs to be aware of the unfolding drama being played out in North Africa and the Middle East.

Markets are gripped with fear and uncertainty as to the question of "Who is next?" One could mention one or two countries, but the world certainly hopes and prays that the rage of the people on the scale of what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya will not spread to Saudi Arabia.

The world might still be able to cope with oil shocks originating from small oil-producing countries. But, if oil supply shocks emanate from political shocks in Saudi Arabia, the effect would be devastating to the oil market and the world economy.

It is hard to imagine what would happen to oil prices if Saudi Arabia is wracked with a similar uprising. Saudi Arabia is the biggest oil producer in the world and has been acting as the central banker in the world's oil market.

Because of its spare oil capacity, the country has made up for pro-duction shortages every time there have been supply shocks in other areas.

To buy peace and to ward off any potential troubles, the Saudi government has provided a $36 billion largess to its people, especially to its restless and unemployed youth and has even promised some reforms. But, nobody knows if this will be enough to fend off an impending crisis in the country.

The indecisiveness of the Yudhoyono administration regarding how to respond to the rise in oil prices is an indication that the Indonesian government, despite having spent considerable time creating policy, is confused and does not have a clear idea how to deal with higher oil prices.

This is because the government is unsure what their main objective should be. Is it to reduce oil subsidies? Or is it to curb fuel consumption?

But, how can you reduce fuel subsidies without raising prices and causing inflation?

And how can you curb fuel consumption in the midst of strong economic growth fueled by consumption and investment? How can you curb consumption without resorting to an administratively cumbersome quota system?

An academic team appointed by the government to look into the matter has come up with three unpleasant options. The government may have to choose one of them, although hesitantly.

But as long as the government remains unclear what their objective is in dealing with oil prices there is the possibility that in the end the government will choose an alternate option for the wrong reasons.

It has been frequently suggested that the long-term objective of any sensible energy policy is to bring prices in line with market prices. Distortions in prices that do not reflect supply and demand not only defer the painful reality until later but also perpetuate an unfair burden on different economic groups.

The value of fuel as a commodity should be recognized. The existence of price differentials between subsidized and market prices only delights the oil mafia whose expertise is smuggling fuel and reaping huge profits.

It is also important to recognize that oil companies operating in this country need a favorable environment in order to increase production.

Inconsistent government policies in the past regarding import taxes and cost recovery have disturbed the planning and budgeting of companies.

The new ruling on cabotage, in which only Indonesian-owned vessels are allowed to operate, will become effective in May. This would put various special vessels owned by foreign oil companies for offshore oil drilling into disuse at a time when Indonesian shippers do not possess the required special vessels. If this happens, losses in oil production will be inevitable.

No less important is how BI, the central bank, will respond to the effect of higher oil prices on the Indonesian economy.

If the government decides to raise fuel prices, would BI launch a preemptive strike by raising interest rates to clamp down inflation expectations?

Unlike central banks in other countries that immediately tightened monetary policy when food prices shot up, BI maintained a cool head.

Only when inflation reached its peak in January 2011 after showing an upward trend since October 2010 did BI decide to raise its benchmark rate by 25 basis points in February. If the government increases fuel prices, it would be good for fiscal sustainability but it would create the risk of spreading inflation expectations into many sectors of the economy.

This is a critical situation and is not the same as the situation BI faced after spikes in food prices earlier this year.

Fortunately, there is no reason for BI to get nervous. Indonesian economic growth is still strong, giving BI ample room to maneuver, and there should be no pressure to impose monetary tightening prematurely.

 The writer in an economist






The last two years have seen significant financial market upheaval, and the worst global recession since the World War II. The economic recovery that we are now witnessing is a remarkably weak recovery.

Growth is at or slightly above trend, but nowhere near the normal level of activity that follows a recession (when growth can often run at double trend).

Industrial commodity prices are elevated. With poor harvests, agricultural commodity prices are high. What does all of this mean?

What this means is that politicians are likely to try and run economies. Most economists are wary of this (only economists are qualified to run economies, of course). The return of political economics is also something that investors have reason to fear.

Financial markets are bad at pricing in political risk — because political risk is so inherently unpredictable (depending, as it does, on human nature).

The popular protests of North Africa in recent weeks are a clear demonstration of this.

Markets were not prepared for the chain of events, and were unsure as to what the appropriate reaction should be.

Why is political risk for financial markets on the rise? Essentially there are three causes that have come together to increase the likelihood of political involvement in economies.

First, there is the nature of the recovery. The fact is that this sort of a recovery is unlikely to reverse the legacy of the recession particularly quickly. Unemployment, which started off as a normal cyclical problem, has become unusually long term. Unemployment among younger workers is high, for this stage of the cycle.

Of course, unemployment among younger workers is normally higher than for other age groups in a recession — but the weak nature of the recovery means that firms are more likely to work their existing workers harder than they are to employ new workers.

Second, there is fact that the boom years disguised a growing problem in a number of economies — developed and emerging. Income inequality has grown significantly in many countries over the past 20 years.

The real disposable income of lower income groups — even middle income groups — grew far more slowly than real disposable income for the higher income groups (generally speaking the top 30 percent of income distribution).

However, this income inequality was not necessarily apparent because credit allowed consumers to ignore its presence. Credit is, of course, all about consuming tomorrow's income today.

Therefore, in the past 20 years consumers could "top up" their income with credit, and live a lifestyle (in consumer terms) than denied the reality of their relatively inequality.

The problem with the current economic climate is, of course, that credit is less prevalent than it was. Denied the ability to use tomorrow's income to assist with today's consumption, citizens are now forced face to face with the reality of income inequality, and generally speaking they are unhappy about it.

That displeasure finds direct political voice — with mass protests in Egypt, or middle class support for the US 'Tea Party' movement, or with hostility to large pay settlements in Europe.

Third, the financial credit crunch meant that governments had to intervene in economies. For almost two decades the accepted norm has been declining political involvement in economies.

Laissez faire economics, giving free rein to the market, was deemed to be appropriate. The financial credit crunch broke that trend by making political involvement in economies not only acceptable, but essential.

What this adds up to is a potent force for political involvement, either in response to popular disquiet or in anticipation of popular pressure.

The fact that food prices played a role in the recent protests in Egypt, for example, is unlikely to have been lost on other governments around the world, and may provoke a policy response.

So how should investors react? This is where the problems start. Some investors believe that markets will beat politics. However, the idea that markets always win is wrong. Markets can win (on occasion) when politicians play by the existing rules.

However, the rules under which markets operate are set by politicians, and they can (and will) change those rules if they believe it is in the public interest (or their own interest, which is not always the same thing).

Hedging political risk therefore becomes difficult, if not impossible. A carefully constructed strategy for avoiding political risk may fall apart if the rules change. Derivative instruments could be declared invalid. Investment strategies (like "selling short") could simply be declared illegal.

Investments in another country could suddenly become bound up in capital controls, denying the investor the ability to profit from their investments — however right their strategy was in principle.

Common sense seems the best safeguard, though it is not infallible. Investors need to avoid those sectors of the economy that are particularly politically sensitive, and steer clear of those sorts of derivative instrument that are likely to excite regulator attention. But in the current climate, ultimately any investment strategy can become vulnerable to political risk.

The writer is deputy head, Global Economics, UBS Investment Bank.








The United Nations had an interesting perspective on the role of the women in Sri Lanka's labour force. In a Women's Day message released on Tuesday the organization places the country 20th on the gap between the sexes in the labour force. The UN claims that 'the positive gender indicators in health and education had not always translated into equal opportunities for women.'

It quotes the recent progress report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Sri Lanka highlighting a 'range of inequities between men and women; one of the most apparent being the labour force participation rate where Sri Lanka records the twentieth largest gap in labour force participation between the sexes.'

Certainly the working conditions of a considerable number of public and private sector entities could be rated as providing less conducive an environment for women to have a fair share in. The inequalities in salaries; even in the corporate sector could be argued to be less than at desirable levels. The tendency for a less qualified male to be employed due to popular gender biases is also not rare. Incidents of sexual harassment at the work place must also necessarily work as a detriment. All indicators show that our situation is far from perfect.

However, women's participation in the labour force would not seem a fair determinant without appreciating her role in the house or the field in the remotest corners of the country. How many hundreds of thousands of women's work in the household and active participation in the field really get into the impressive statistics of global organizations like the UN? While one could argue that the very fact that there is less participation of women in hard labour that do get in to the statistics, is a positive sign, it is unclear if these statistics are indeed to be considered fair without her role in the other informal sectors coming under consideration.

More often than not, the tools applied to satisfy western concepts and values can seem unrealistic to countries like Sri Lanka. The fact remains that there is no real module one can apply to determine the share of a mother who has opted to till the field in the scorching hot sun, cook, clean and take care of three children within the confines of the home. Whatever technical term the global agencies opt to refer to such work, or not, this is a share that helps keep an impressive balance in our communities within its own unique value system. One; that is appreciated and work that most certainly counts. 





Considering the recent sensationalism in the Sri Lankan press on the relevance and applicability of the popular upsurges in the North African Arab societies it was obvious to note how some Sri Lankan political personalities and commentators 'read off' from the Arab revolt, the political future of our island in the most absurdly linear and mechanistic fashion.  It is assumed that there is a universal trend which is sweeping the world.

This mistake which was made by those of us who assumed that Tet (and Paris) '68, the victories in Vietnam '75 and Nicaragua '79 heralded the triumph of world socialism-- taking the North Vietnamese tank punching through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon for (Hegel's) Napoleon on a white charger after the battle of Jena-- was replicated by those who thought that the events of 1989 heralded the worldwide victory of liberal democracy. Be it the vulgarised 'End of History' school or its Huntingtonian opponent, the Clash of Civilizations corps; be it the applauders and denouncers of the New World Order and the Uni-polar moment (of neocons gurus like Charles Krauthammer), all these grand theorists have been proven wrong or only episodically and ephemerally right.

All of these meta-theorists forgot the phenomenon that Mao, a far greater philosopher, pointed to: 'absolutely everything develops unevenly'.  This is why the Russian revolution was not successfully replicated or followed in Europe, Vietnam's liberation was not accompanied anywhere even in its neighbourhood and the Cuban revolution had to wait twenty years for the Nicaraguan counterpart to succeed.

 Althusser's best pupil Regis Debray realised this while in jail, and ruefully observed in 'A Critique of Arms' that historical time is not the same everywhere; the clock of history keeps different times in different places, even on the same continent.  This he attributed to the autonomy of the political instance, most especially the specificity of 'the national' (the Achilles heel of Marxism, he said in a 1977 essay). He has re-developed the thesis in recent months here in Paris, in an intervention termed 'In Praise of Borders'.  

 Those who seek to mechanistically apply the Maghreb model to Sri Lanka can only fuel an adventurism which will result in needless sacrifice and retard the very transformations they claim to seek.

 Those who assumed that with the collapse of the USSR, an entire historical period of US uni-polar hegemony had arrived confused the conjunctural and episodic for the structural and systemic. Uni-polar hegemony proved but a 'moment'. Similarly, Sri Lankan political history of the post-independence decades has seen many 'uni-polar moments' which were mistaken for and lustily cheered or luridly denounced as dictatorship, fascism etc, but which proved reversible and transitory.

If the hotly debated 18th amendment removing Presidential term limits is the equivalent of Hitler's Enabling Law of 1933, then the latest candidate for Hitlerhood is Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and the future Nazi Germany is Nicaragua! The contentious abolition of term limits in no way abolishes the fundamental feature which makes Sri Lanka a democracy, namely the need to win elections held at regular intervals in what is a multiparty representative system where political parties are neither confections nor caricatures, but resilient organic entities. 

Ebb and flow must not be mistaken for structural watersheds, just as the role of Bismarck (national state unification through 'blood and iron') must not be confused with that of Hitler! Nazi Fascism was defined as 'open terroristic dictatorship' by Georgi Dmitrov, foregrounding the crucial characteristic of the violent (often lethal) mass suppression of all forms of opposition. It would be lunatic to describe Sri Lanka thus.

 Fortunately for the West, smart political minds are trained to distinguish and differentiate. In conversation in Normandy with centrist/centre-right Senator Nathalie Meriem Goulet, member of the Foreign and the Armed Forces Committee and of the NATO Parliamentary assembly, we concurred that the recent phenomena in the Maghreb were distinguishable from manifestations in Iran: "one is Arab; the other Persian, and there are major differences between the matrices", she said with lightning lucidity.

On almost every count Iran is far closer to Egypt than is Sri Lanka. Similarly, the theorem of a global tsunami sweeping away the political superstructures of the planet would evoke polite smiles among the highly educated strategic and policy elites of East Asia. This is not an argument by me for 'Asian values' but a reminder that the universal –the Zeitgeist, even– operates unevenly in terms of time, place, form and outcome. The universal operates through the (regionally and nationally) particular.      

The most important single feature of Sri Lanka today is not that a six-year-old elected administration is in the same category as Arab regimes of decades' duration – Aristotle, who emphasised the importance of a typology of regimes, would shudder – but the fact that it is barely post-war, living in the shadow of a thirty years war which ended a mere one and a half years ago; struggling to emerge from it, in the throes of a complex convalescence and open ended transition.

 The country and its people are in no further need of 'storm and stress'. Sri Lanka's multiparty democracy has proved resilient under extreme pressure over decades, surviving civil wars in the  North and South and authoritarian and totalitarian projects from above and below. The Lankan citizenry has no need of tutelage in the preservation and advancement of democracy from anyone, anywhere. Our literate, politically conscious citizenry has proved unerringly adroit at securing and safeguarding its principal interests (variously national, social, and democratic) at the given time, through the determined exercise of the franchise. The agency and medium of democratic change in Sri Lanka must not and cannot be rocks and rifles but the ballot box. Whatever the diversions and detours on the streets, any endgame in Sri Lanka must, will and can only be resolutely electoral and democratic.

(The writer is Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies/National University of Singapore).





A lethal terror attack in Pakistan's industrial haven Faisalabad in the Punjab province has come as a major shock. While terror attacks assumed regularity since some years the issue here is that this is the first major attack of its kind in the city that is a commercial textile and industrial hub.

The attack that has left at least 32 dead and injured about a 100 was allegedly targeting intelligence offices in the vicinity.  There are differences of opinion on whether it was a suicide car attack or one involving a bomb planted beforehand. Regardless, what is significant is that it was a successful attempt and one that must have involved credible planning and expertise.

While intelligence and security infrastructure remains a choice target for terrorists as proven,  the security provisions to safeguard key targets from such attacks remain questionable. For example, continuing to run offices within commercial areas in the heart of the city knowing the threat it poses to civilians is astounding.  Even if security is beefed around these sensitive installations and/or offices, it cannot justify ignoring the security of the surroundings.  This is why it is best to move offices to more secure areas or keep their whereabouts secret in order to avoid attacks from terrorists.

By hitting the nerve centre of Pakistan's largest export industry — textiles —  the terrorists have gained considerable advantage. For one the natural outcome is that of terror and awe among the civilians and panic among the political and security (administration, Two, the impact on business and trade may not be long drawn but it is bound to affect the commercial enterprises to some extent. Three, by staging the attack in an erstwhile peaceful city, the terrorists have proven their lethal intent and capability once again by successfully widening the ambit of their operations.

This does not portend well for either the security of Punjab or the country. A tussle between the provincial government and the central government has already upset the political cart with confrontational statements from both sides worsening the situation. Even in the past the two have blamed each other for failure in security in several key cases. The truth is that Pakistan has not been able to rid itself of the threat from multiple actors. In such a case it may be better for all political factions to unite and jointly fight the groups whose main aim is the destabilisation of the country, irrespective of who comes to power. This is not a time to point fingers and indulge in a free-for-all blame game. This time requires all sides to arrive at a cooperative strategy whereby concrete measures are implemented to combat the continued threat to security.

Khaleej Tmes








Eighteenth Century British parliamentarian Edmund Burke, while addressing a House of Commons session on March 22, 1775, said : "All governments, indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter."

According to the Macmillan Family Encyclopaedia, The Honourable Mr Burke was perhaps the most brilliant and original thinker ever to sit in London's parliament.

He espoused an inescapable truth - that the art of governing is based on give and take, especially in a democracy where compromise means the settlement of a dispute, but by mutual concession.


Democracy is evolution and not rebellion, war without bloodshed, victory without defeat, because its essence is reform - one where demagoguery must be shunned, for a nation's affairs cannot be administered by a mob.


In his interview with Bahrain Television last Sunday, the Crown Prince summarised his vision by saying : "There are many differing schools of thought in our country, but we should not see them as abnormal. This is a fact in any open-minded society - even in the West."


He continued : "But what we require is optimism fostered with courage, determination and patience. The road to recovery we have chosen is dialogue. It is the hardest and longest, and can only be achieved through accord, time, understanding and maturity."


This was an outstanding presentation of logical thought, highlighting the fact that anger cannot be confronted with wrath, but requires wisdom to understand wisdom. He who wants a rose must also accept thorns.


In this world one fool makes many fools, but one sage can create even more followers. Rights are right, but we must not be obsessed with demands that ignore our reality. Do we understand reality? There exists only the one contained within us. This is why so many people live such unreal lives.


By escaping from reality we are running away from life - and life has never been soft in any century. It is not a ready bridge that you can walk on. True life is building that bridge.


We mustn't let the agitators win over the voice of pragmatism and reason, because the challenge faced by Bahrain is huge. Hopefully though the Crown Prince's honesty and practicality will offer real hope, if only the young can place faith in his leadership.


At the end of the day we are all humans and want to unite as equal partners in the fair society that we envisage and dream of. That is a society not ruled by greed, nepotism and materialism, but by determination, hard work and merit where all can compete on an even footing for jobs, welfare, homes, etc.


Indeed, The Crown Prince is in need of everyone's support, in need of our national commitment, in need of our mental serenity, in need of us banishing our differences. If we are true nationalists we should rally around His Royal Highness.


As responsible Bahrainis, let's bear in mind that it is a popular mistake to imagine that those who complain the loudest are the most anxious about public welfare. Politics are even too serious a matter to be left solely to the politicians.


Only statesmanship can navigate Bahrain's ship to the island of tranquillity.




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