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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

EDITORIAL 06.04.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month april 06, edition 000799, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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












































































The stunning revelation that the Congress-led Union Government has hoodwinked the judiciary by producing a significantly inflated figure for the amount of money the CBI is said to have spent on investigating the Bofors corruption scandal is perhaps not entirely unexpected but is nevertheless particularly shameful, even by the party's own low ethical standards. Last month a Delhi court allowed the closure of the case against Ottavio Quattrocchi, the Italian wheeler-dealer who played middleman in the field gun deal, on the basis of the CBI's claim that it had spent a whopping Rs 250 crore on the investigation and yet come up with nothing to prove his guilt. Arguing that the investigation had cost far more than the total value of the deal, leave alone the kickbacks that had been paid by AB Bofors, the CBI had said it was no longer value-for-money to persist with an inquiry that could prove nothing against anybody. Earlier, the CBI had used the same argument to seek closure of the case against the Hinduja brothers and AB Bofors, successfully selling the Delhi High Court its cockamamie story of massive expenditure. A petition filed by an advocate under the Right to Information Act has now brought out the fact that the total expenditure incurred on investigating the Bofors scandal was around Rs 5.5, which is a negligible fraction of the claimed amount. If this is indeed true, then the CBI, indeed the Government of India under the Congress's tutelage, has wilfully misled the courts and committed a crime called perjury. Hence, it would be only correct and entirely in order if the Supreme Court were to review the decision of the lower courts to allow the CBI to close the case against those accused of stealing money that belongs to India in the guise of brokering a defence deal. The CBI should be asked to explain why it apparently chose to inflate the expenditure on investigating the Bofors bribery scandal; the Government should be held accountable for this deceitful attempt to mislead the courts. After all, the CBI reports to the Department of Personnel and Training which, in turn, reports to the Prime Minister. Let Mr Manmohan Singh explain to the nation why such recourse was taken to kill the Bofors investigation and prosecution.

Nothing was done to bring the guilty men of the tainted Bofors deal to book so long as the Congress was in power. It was only after the BJP-led NDA came to power that an FIR was filed and investigations began in right ernest, along with prosecution of the accused. That the London bank accounts of Quattrocchi, where the bribe money had been parked, were frozen by the NDA Government speaks volumes about its commitment to punish the bribe-takers. Similarly, it speaks volumes about the intentions of the Congress-led UPA Government that it should have slyly allowed the de-freezing of those accounts, thus letting Quattrocchi to grab the money and run. It is equally telling that this Government should have made every effort to damage the case against Quattrocchi and direct the CBI to move in such a manner that the courts would have no other option but to throw up their hands in despair. That Quattrocchi enjoys a certain proximity with the first family of the Congress is no secret. Nor is it a secret that the Prime Minister would do anything to keep his political boss in good humour.







While we are yet to find out which political party will benefit from the impressive voter turnout — an estimated 75 per cent — in the first phase of Assembly election in Assam, one can be confident that it is an endorsement of the democratic process which alone can resolve issues, however contentious they may be. As the hotbed of United Liberation Front of Asom unrest, the State has gone to the polls before fearing disruption by the ULFA, which has always been opposed to elections, and continues to boycott the process. But this time, the people could not care less and they came out in huge numbers to cast their votes. Perhaps this was because they believed the ongoing peace process between the Union Government and a faction of ULFA, led by Arabinda Rajakhowa, had largely blunted the offensive of the section led by Paresh Barua and reduced its ability to create nuisance. Of course, it is too early to predict that the rest of the process leading right up to the second phase of polling on April 11 will be just as smooth, since the Baruah faction, smarting at the snub, may still create trouble. But that will only further dent the obstinate separatist's image. Additionally, the fact that sections of the population that had not voted before have now joined the election process is commendable. For instance, it is for the first time in 15 years that the cadre of the ethnic Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front participated in the election. Also, hats off to the two polling stations that recorded a 100 per cent turnout!

Of course, some voters like those affiliated to the Indigenous People's Forum still boycotted the process, but in time to come they will surely see reason, especially given the huge amount of enthusiasm demonstrated by the people of Assam. After all, the Forum cannot ignore their aspirations if it hopes to remain relevant in Assamese politics. In fact, they should take a cue from the State's 250-member strong community of Chinese-origin people which has religiously participated in nearly every election because of its strong faith in the democratic system. Its members have gone through harrowing times, especially during and after the India-China war of 1962, when several of them were detained under the Defence of India Act. In the process, many lost their possessions and their homes. Yet they emerged from the trauma without losing faith in the system and this is a lesson for those outfits who believe that violence is the only way to replace defective democratic governance. The voters of Assam have shown the way to peace for the other States in the North-East, many of which are still in the grip of unrest. This is an important lesson for the region as it realises that even a flawed democracy is better than armed struggle.








As India prepares to sign the mother of all combat aircraft deals, the jawan remains ignored and uncared for. Our policy-planning is truly skewed.

In the last few months there have been a couple of statements that suggest India is on the verge of announcing its decision on the mother of all combat aircraft deals. This is, of course, the order to purchase 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft. Quite possibly the world's last single largest import order — that's how big it is. And it isn't simply a question of India buying the 126 aircraft, but just as much about which one it will buy, as also what happens to those that it declines to purchase.

There are enough murmurs in the industry that hint at the possible closure of certain design and assembly lines if India doesn't buy the aircraft from a particular country. So it isn't only about India, but the survival, as we know it, of some of the aircraft design bureaus. Hence, when someone in India suggests the country is on the verge of announcing its decision, the combat aircraft industry awaits with bated breath. More so since the person making that suggestion does not hold executive office.

The chief of the Indian Air Force made two statements, suggesting that India is likely to announce its choice of medium multi-role combat aircraft. This can only mean one of two things. Either the Government of India was using him to test the waters and see how those in the race for the contract react. Also, how the people of India react to what is supposedly their security future. The other less charitable reason is that he was jumping the gun and trying to force the Government's hand on this mega deal. Either way it is bad policy, poor judgement and pathetic political planning.

y the order of business, the chief of the Air Force is not in a position to pronounce on decisions that are solely the prerogative of the executive. If the Government of India was using him to float trial balloons, it reflects poorly on its self-confidence, its ability to take decisions and handle their fallout. The Government of India and its Ministry of Defence only harm their own image by resorting to such practices. If they have not encouraged the chief of Air Force to make the pronouncement, then it devolves upon the Ministry of Defence to put the matter to rest. At this level of things, and in this game, silence is not golden.

When it comes to India and its combat aircraft, the story is a shabby account of skewed, haphazard and inconsistent decision-making. It begins with the thesis that India cannot make its own aircraft, what with the scandalous manner in which it invested crores of rupees in the 1960s and 1970s in the HF-24 Marut programme. There was a problem with the mating of the airframe and the engine, and instead of rectifying the glitch through further research and upgrades of models, India closed the programme. In essence, it threw the baby out with the bathwater. Research lines were closed; scientists and engineers were assigned different tasks.

What that bizarre decision resulted in was a colossal waste of talent, time and fundamental research. India once again became dependent on imports to meet its security needs. Since there was no political stake in India making its own combat aircraft, it was easy to pull the plug on what was an excellent research and development platform. The domestic industry could have used that platform to further develop its skills.

As a result of which there are murmurs today of time and cost overruns on the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft programme. It is only logical there would be, since the decision-makers closed the previous programme without even retaining the drawings to carry domestic research and development forward. Consequently, what India has in its combat squadron strength is the strangest mix of aircraft types and nationalities, putting additional burden on logistics, the silent but ultimately decisive vehicle to victory in combat.

All of this has happened because the political direction to military planning has been absent, or it has been in cohorts with the dodgy decisions taken. The medium multi-role combat aircraft deal, order, contract, is following the same slippery footsteps of its various predecessors.

The indigenous Tejas LCA programme is in its last lap. India has the additional fifth generation fighter aircraft programme underway with the Russian Federation. Over and above all of these platforms is the Su-30 India series of heavy combat aircraft. What all of this points to is a very hazy light at the end of tunnel.

In terms of technologies available in the medium multi-role combat aircraft purchase, already available with the ongoing induction of the SU-30, and are likely to be available with the fifth generation fighter aircraft, where does India stand? It's an important question, for what India is aiming to do is to simply sustain the assembly lines of contemporary aircraft with little inputs into the country's future research and development capabilities. As the very knowledgeable, and practical, Ajay Shukla repeatedly says, the amount of money India is willing to spend on contemporary imports is more than enough to fund its entry onto the international stage as an independent developer of combat aircraft. It is only a question of political will. Going by the recent pronouncements, there is something clearly lacking in that direction.

The nature of combat has evolved the world over and India is no exception. In fact, India is the most active practitioner of this recent form of combat. Since the late-1950s India has been active in counter-insurgency operations in one form or the other and in one terrain or the other. Other countries have only now begun to rewrite their doctrines on low-intensity operations, whereas India is an encyclopaedia in this form of combat.

It, of course, took the Indian Peace-Keeping Force experience in Sri Lanka to change military mindsets in New Delhi. But that has yet not resulted in India making its foot soldier, its unheralded infantryman, the focal point of its military planning. For it is this soldier who determines victory and defeat in modern combat as India fights its way to security.

In the four decades since 1971 India has spent a scandalous amount of money on big-ticket military items and has spent an outrageously paltry sum for its ubiquitous jawan. Food, clothing, protective gear, weapons and communication systems are the basic requirements for modernisation. And yet they remain un-organised, irrational and slapdash in their implementation.

The simplest, yet cruelest, example is that of those CRPF jawans who have died in horrendously large numbers combing the jungles for Maoists. Well, most would have lived had they been carrying a simple tourniquet to prevent bleeding to death. Realising this simple fact and taking suitable corrective action doesn't require rocket science or knowledge of avionics.






With the US Defence Secretary announcing that America will step back from the UN Security Council-sanctioned mission that saw Nato intervening militarily in Libya to force a regime change in Tripoli, it is possible that peace shall return to this North African country. But it remains to be seen who leads the peace offensive in a country in social, political and economic turmoil

No matter how long a war may last, it is always followed by peace. And the strange war in Libya is no exception to this rule. In fact, it appears that many of the world's major powers have been preparing to broker a peace deal from the start.

On Monday and Tuesday, the head of the African Union, Jean Ping, will be holding talks with Nato and EU leaders. He has proposed a detailed plan for a cease-fire and a peace settlement in Libya. It will be interesting to see whether the discussion there will revolve around general issues or focus on specific measures to bring about peace in Libya.

The African Union is a major player, at least when it comes to Libya. But one gets the sense that the organisation is also jockeying for position in the hopes of taking the lead in the peace effort.

There are several other peace initiatives. A group of Left-wing Latin American countries, led by Cuba and Venezuela, has submitted its own plan for a cease-fire to the UN Security Council.

This group would have looked like a minor player had it not been joined by Asian countries like Indonesia and Vietnam. Moreover, there are three much more influential countries that have not signed onto the plan, but only because they currently have a seat on the UN Security Council — India, Brazil and South Africa.

The plan was formally submitted to China's representative in the Security Council, as China is the current chair. It's worth examining China's role in the international community's response to the crisis in Libya. Like Russia, China abstained from the vote on resolution 1973 that authorised a military operation against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

On April 1, the Chinese and German Foreign Ministers held a meeting in Beijing. They reminded the world that both had abstained from the vote because they could see that the resolution, which is intended to protect civilians, would ultimately have the opposite effect. Both countries are calling for a cease-fire.

This begs the question: Do any countries share the position of Britain, France, Belgium and a few other states that are involved in intervention in Libya — all the more so now that the United States announced its decision to step back from the operation?

On Monday European Nato members were begging the United States to continue playing an active role in the airstrikes against Col Gaddafi's regime. The Americans have agreed to stay on... for now.

But US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who visited Moscow on March 21-22, has said that the United States will soon step back from the mission. There were many other promises and signs that the Obama Administration — or at least one faction within the Administration — does not want this war. However, the majority of Russians cannot be persuaded that the United States does not need Libyan oil, or that it will withdraw from Afghanistan as promised.

There is no doubt that the United States will leave Libya and shift this military disgrace not simply onto Nato (where the US is the main force) but onto the Europeans.

On Monday US President Barack Obama announced his intention to run for a second term. There is no doubt that the US withdrawal from Libya was timed to coincide with the start of the 2012 election campaign.


We are witnessing a rare event in which a small group of European states (you can't even call them 'the West') find themselves isolated as they prosecute what amounts to a very stupid war, which cannot guarantee Col Gaddafi's departure. Indeed, his defeat appears unlikely.

Let's see which major world powers were smart enough to avoid getting involved. Recently, an excellent columnist by the name of Li Hongmei wrote a detailed analysis of why China abstained from the vote on resolution 1973. She said what some Chinese diplomats will never admit — that China has been gradually offering its partners in West Asia an alternative to the America's highly unpopular policy in the region. As distinct from the consensus with Washington, the consensus with Beijing is not a myth but a policy that has led China's trade with Saudi Arabia alone to grow to over $40 billion a year.

If it had not been for the fact that Arab nations pushed for the resolution because of their dislike of Col Gaddafi, China might have vetoed it. But already on the second day of the war, the Arab League said that the aggressive bombing campaign is not what it had in mind. Now the organisation is advocating peace.

China is now one of the leading voices for peace in the Libyan conflict, as is Russia. It was difficult for Russia to make the right choice but, ultimately, it did. Russia staked out the best possible position on the issue and can now take part in the peace process on a par with all the other countries involved.

-- The writer is a Moscow-based political affairs columnist.







Gunmen kidnapped a grandniece of Anwar Sadat and demanded a ransom. In one southern city, robbers didn't bother to wait until dark to target pedestrians. In another, a brawl between two school children led to a gunbattle that killed five.

A police state barely three months ago, Egypt has seen crime soar 200 per cent since Mr Hosni Mubarak's ouster from the presidency. Murder, violent theft and kidnapping are leading the surge, security officials said.

In many ways, this country of more than 80 million has become a free-for-all for criminals taking advantage of a weakened police force and political uncertainty. The spike in crime has made some nostalgic for Mr Mubarak days, when the mostly corrupt and now discredited police force used torture, intimidation and blackmail to keep crime in check.

The uptick in crime is part of a broader climate of anxiety and uncertainty gripping Egypt in the post-Mubarak era.

The youth groups behind the uprising fear that the Generals who took charge from Mr Mubarak are reluctant to dismantle the former President's legacy. They are frustrated over their lack of action five months ahead of a parliamentary election.

The economy has been hard hit by the uprising. Strikes, demonstrations and sit-ins for better pay and work conditions are hurting productivity and, together with the precarious security, are scaring foreign tourists away. The removal of Mr Mubarak has also allowed militant Islamist groups to operate openly, feeding tensions with the country's Christian minority and moderate Muslims.

The persistent security vacuum in Egypt is the product of a chain of events associated with the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak's regime on February 11. Three days into the revolt, the police withdrew from the streets in still-unexplained circumstances following deadly clashes with protesters in Cairo and across much of the nation.

On the same day, January 28, the gates of several prisons were mysteriously flung open and thousands of criminals made a dash for freedom. Simultaneously, dozens of police stations around the country were stormed and set ablaze, with hundreds of detained suspects freed and firearms looted.

Last month, the new Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy dissolved the country's hated State Security agency, a key demand of the youth groups behind the uprising. It was blamed for the worst human rights abuses during Mr Mubarak's 29-year rule. But the time it will take to replace the agency gives criminals a window of opportunity.

Egyptian police were hated by the public for their use of excessive force and they were driven from the streets during the January 25 to February 11 revolt. Now they are back, but in lesser numbers. And they are much more timid in enforcing the law, especially traffic offences, and shy away from confrontations.

With the police laxity, double and triple parking has become common on Cairo's already congested streets. Motorists recklessly drive the wrong way on one-way streets. Traffic police vanish after nightfall in most parts of the city, a sprawling metropolis of some 18 million, leaving inexperienced volunteers to direct cars.

"The police's morale is very low," Major-General Mohsen Murad, director of public security at the Interior Ministry, acknowledged at a news conference on Monday. "The psychological state of many officers is bad, their firearms have been looted and their stations have been torched."

The police and state security are under the authority of the Interior Ministry.

The ineffectiveness of the police force was on display on Saturday when thousands of football fans invaded the pitch before the end of an African Champions' game between local club Zamalek and Tunisia's Club Africain. The hundreds of policemen on duty at Cairo International Stadium could not stop the violent invasion.

With police hardly visible in Cairo, masked gunmen in two cars kidnapped a grandniece of Sadat — Egypt's President until he was assassinated in 1981 — while she was driven to school on Sunday morning at the upscale suburb of Heliopolis. Zeina Effat Sadat's family car was intercepted by one of the gunmen who forced his way into the girl's vehicle. The kidnappers later beat the driver and forced the girl into one of their cars.

The 12-year-old was released on Monday after her father paid ransom. Police later arrested six men for their alleged role in the kidnapping and found a briefcase in their possession with two million pounds (about $340,000), according to security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

They said the kidnappers, who included university graduates, had demanded five million pounds (about $840,000) in ransom.

Many Cairo parents periodically keep their sons and daughters away from school because of a rise in the kidnappings of children. Armed robberies in the capital have also been increasing in Cairo's poor neighbourhoods, outlaying areas and on highways.

Some of the malls that have been looted and torched have reopened but attract only a fraction of the shoppers that thronged them before the uprising. Some have taken off their shelves luxury items, fearing a repeat of the looting during the uprising.

Murad, the director of public security, called on Egyptians on Monday to regain their trust in the police and send their children to school. He acknowledged, however, that crime has increased several fold in February and March over the same period last year. He did not have precise figures.

In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, children are escorted to school by armed neighbourhood watch volunteers to fend off kidnappers.

In Sohag, an impoverished Nile-side city south of Cairo, gunmen have recently taken to robbing pedestrians at the downtown area in broad daylight, according to residents and security officials.

Officials said a total of 2,000 cases of illegal construction were recorded in the past two months in Sohag province, with farmland owners taking advantage of the security vacuum to hurriedly build apartment blocs they sell at significantly more profit than growing crops.

On Monday, several thousand protesters angered by the police's perceived indifference to a gunbattle between two feuding Sohag families blocked the main railway track to Cairo for nearly two hours, causing delays to trains linking the capital to southern Egypt.

Further north in Assiut, a brawl between two schoolboys last week has turned into a deadly feud when gunmen from al-Quseir, the village of one of the boys, randomly opened fire on residents of Fazarah, the village of the other boy.

Fazarah gunmen later laid siege to the school, trapping 25 al-Quseir boys inside. Armoured Army vehicles went into the school to escort the boys out past the armed men and back to their home villages.

Al-Quseir villagers frustrated with the police's inability to maintain order have laid siege to their local police station since Wednesday to force all security personnel to leave the village.








Real population density differs from country to country. But the rise of one degree Celsius in average global temperature has a uniform impact on food production. This, in turn, is contributing to the food shortage in the international market

Why is India's future brighter than China's, especially in a warming world? Because India has more good agricultural land per person. That will get more and more important as the temperature goes up.

I first encountered the concept of Real Population Density (note the 'Real') when I was interviewing people in the Netherlands last year about how the country would fare as the temperature rose. My initial focus was on sea level rise, because 20 per cent of the country is already below sea level. But the Dutch are confident that they have the sea level problem under control, at least for the rest of this century.

They are already committed to spending large amounts of money to prevent flooding, not by raising the dikes even further, but by "beach replenishment". When dikes fail, it is generally because they are battered by huge waves — but if you extend the beaches far out to sea (by dredging up sand from even farther out), then the waves do not reach the dikes.

The Dutch sea-level experts were also confident that the Netherlands would not face any problems with food when the temperature rises. The country is, after all, the second or third biggest agricultural exporter in the world. But it still feels like a very crowded country, so I looked up a few agricultural experts, and they explained the concept of Real Population Density to me.

"It would take a country three or four times the size of the Netherlands to support our present diet," said Mr Huib Silvis of the Agricultural Economics Research Institute at Wageningen University. "We import huge amounts of soybean and other animal feed, which we could not produce ourselves. If we had to be self-sufficient, we would not be eating meat."

The Real Population Density of the Netherlands — how many people there are per square km of farmland — is 2,205. That's higher than Bangladesh (1,946 people per sq km), and it means that the Netherlands, to be self-sufficient in food, would have to feed 22 people from each hectare of land.

So how can the country be the second- or third-biggest agricultural exporter in the world? Because that's the cash value of its exports, which are mostly high value-added products. You get a lot more for a tonne of cut flowers than you do for a tonne of potatoes — but you can't eat cut flowers, and the Dutch could barely feed themselves from their own resources even now.

Global warming makes matters much worse, because it hits food production very hard. The rule of thumb is that the world loses about 10 per cent of its food production for every rise of one degree Celsius in average global temperature.

So the amount of food that is for sale on the international market drops drastically, because some of the big food-exporting countries aren't producing enough food to export it any more. As the food gets scarce, the price goes up.

Countries that can't feed themselves either pay huge amounts to buy the limited amount of food that is still available on the international market (if they have the money), or else they go hungry. Which brings us back to India and China.

Almost half the total land area of India is good arable land, whereas only 15 per cent of China is. So although China looks bigger on the map, India has a significantly lower Real Population Density: 753 people per square km of farmland compared to 943 for China. Add in the fact that China is currently losing about one per cent of its arable land per year to buildings, roads and parking lots, and the numbers for China start to look seriously bad.

They look even worse for the East Asian countries that are already fully industrialised: Around 2,900 people per sq km for Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. That's off the scale: Nowhere else is that bad apart from some tiny island states like Kiribati, the Maldives and Singapore.

At the other end of the spectrum, look at the big industrialised states in Europe. Italy and Germany are in the 700s, but Spain, France, Sweden and Poland are all in the 300s. So are Brazil, South Africa and Turkey, the most promising of the rapidly developing countries. The lucky ones still have room to grow; the others don't.

And the uncontested winners in this new lottery? The United States has only 179 people per sq km of good agricultural land. Argentina has 144, and Russia has 117. Canada is 78, and Australia is 43. Australia, in other words, has more than half a hectare of good land per person.

This is deeply unfair, given which countries are actually responsible for the global warming. To them that hath, shall it be given. But then, you already knew that the universe isn't fair.

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








Just when you thought the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) could stun you no more, there comes the revelation that the DGCA, responsible for regulating the nation's aviation sector, has no pilots on its rolls. The pilots who do work with the overseeing organisation are in fact employed by airlines and aviation groups, functioning only part-time with the DGCA to provide it technical expertise. The situation reflects a dangerous conflict of interest. It also endangers those flying.

The facts of the ongoing 'fake pilots' imbroglio - those who have trained in irregular flying schools or fudged their papers to show the required number of flight hours or forged their pilot licence exam marksheets - have caused enough of a furore for thousands of pilot licences to be re-checked. But who is doing the checking? If the DGCA has no pilots of its own, instead borrowing such expertise from the airlines it is supposedly investigating, how can a clear and correct investigation take place? How can there be certainty that greed and pressure will not influence the process?

How can ordinary flyers rest assured that those overseeing flight safety will not depend on a murky mix of corruption, collusion and remarkable obtuseness?

The problem goes beyond just pilots. Given the financial volatility of the aviation sector, airlines as a whole are affected. This is a factor the DGCA itself has recognised in the past. Due to the dire financial straits airlines found themselves in when the global recession hit, it carried out a financial audit to ascertain the impact of lowered revenue on safety procedures. And the findings were troubling enough - two airlines including Air India severely strained and a number of them cutting corners on safety infrastructure - to make the DGCA formulate a draft for regular audits in the future. But how are such audits to be considered trustworthy when the auditing body may well contain personnel on loan from airlines, which the DGCA is supposed to regulate?

The problem is essentially one of a low priority accorded to safety by the aviation ministry. In the wake of the ongoing fake marksheets imbroglio, the Director General of the DGCA
Bharat Bhushan has admitted that the major problem facing the organisation in carrying out its designated role is a lack of manpower. For now, a possible solution is outsourcing safety and financial audits to third parties. But that is a temporary solution at best. Aviation minister Vayalar Ravi must move towards initiating a long-term solution - allotting funds for DGCA to bring in the required personnel. In any sector, aviation or financial, the overlap of actors and regulators is asking for trouble.







With Assam holding the first phase of the state assembly elections on Monday, the crucial election month has formally kicked off in the country. People may now be looking at the West Bengal elections, where the Left Front is facing its toughest challenge in three decades, but Assam's election could also mark a turning point. Barring the anti-talks faction of the Ulfa, led by its estranged commander Paresh Barua, all the major militant outfits operating in the state are engaged in peace talks. That the first leg of voting recorded as much as 70% turnout and went off largely peacefully, indicates the popular yearning for peace. Not only that, the waning of the insurgency threat has allowed issues such as development and corruption to take centre stage. This augurs well for the troubled northeastern state where successive polls since 1991 have been marked by insurgency and violence disrupting the process.

To seize this opportunity and capitalise on the turnaround in the state's social climate, whichever government comes to power will need to push forward the peace process. The state government, in coordination with the Centre, must pursue dialogue and seek reconciliation with all insurgent groups that are willing to function within a constitutional framework. The peace process ought to initiate action in terms of development of tribal areas, while keeping up pressure on extremists. It must ensure that the current phase of peace is not just a pause but a full stop to the violence that has taken a massive human toll, besides retarding the state's economic growth.









As the end of a long road in reaching a free trade agreement (FTA) between the 27-nation European Union and India seems in sight, it's time to reflect on certain important issues. Much has been written about the pitfalls of opening up India's growing industries to global competition. From an analysis of other countries, it's clear the cornerstone of a developed economy - and a key to sustained competitiveness - is long-term commitment to research and development. Since 2000, nine of the top 10 global R&D spenders hail from the so-called "rich nations' club", the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But an R&D-based economy needs a favourable environment. The government needs to implement a range of policies that encourage public and private sector R&D investment of direct benefit to the people of India. R&D is inherently expensive and risky - with prolonged timelines and uncertain outcomes. The government needs to provide specific protections that create an environment where trained scientific personnel enjoy space and freedom to design new products benefiting society. Else, no Indian company, big or small, will garner the wherewithal to deploy the massive investments required.

According to the Centre for the Study of Drug Development, Tufts University, the pharmaceuticals industry invests $1,318 million and 10-15 years on average to introduce a drug in the market. Of this, 60% is spent on data collection, reveals the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations. With such deep investments and protracted research periods, the innovative pharma industry has every right to expect a return on investment. The lack of returns in the absence of robust IPR protection will discourage further R&D and foreign investments. In fact, prior to adoption of patent protection in 2005, homegrown pharma companies had only negligible amounts in R&D. Now they have begun to invest significant amounts, but still have miles to go before they can introduce their first new medicine.

Some protectionists voice concerns that intellectual property impedes availability of cheap medicines in India and elsewhere. Yet evidence indicates that, contrary to concerns at the time, the introduction of the India Patent (Amendment) Act 2005 has had no negative impact on India's pharma industry. Indeed, the latter is going from strength to strength. Moreover, prices of medicines in India are among the world's lowest. Truth be told, the real barrier to access is lack of a proper health care financing system.

A contentious issue in the India-EU negotiations is regulatory data protection (RDP). Some claim RDP will hurt the Indian generics industry. This charge is unsubstantiated, as the industry is healthier than ever before. As per IMS Health, for the 12 months ending September 2009, global prescription sales growth of generic drugs rose by 7.7% (up from 3.6% in 2008) against 5.7% for global pharma drugs. Furthermore, generics accounted for 72% of the total US pharma market volume in 2009 - an all-time high in the world's biggest pharma market.

RDP provides an important complementary IP right to patents, which are already accepted in India. But patents are not always available to protect new medicines where much has been invested to generate the regulatory data necessary for authorisation and marketing. RDP is essential to protect this investment for a limited period only, regardless of patentability. Absence of RDP is the most glaring gap in India's R&D environment.

RDP is imperative to attract FDI in the pharma sector. Introducing it will end the unfairness of a situation where investment in knowledge of the originator can be appropriated by another company without protection or compensation. DE or RDP should not to be confused with patents. Both offer distinct and separate intellectual property protection. RDP accepts exclusivity and patentability of data submitted to regulatory authorities as part of product registration meant exclusively for this purpose, thereby protecting and incentivising substantial financial investment in drug discovery and development. RDP is especially significant when strong patent protection for a specific product is not available, where the patent period has been eroded by a long development phase, or where patent enforcement systems are inadequate.

With life-threatening ailments, it may be argued that to facilitate timely market access and prevent expensive, repetitive animal and human clinical trials, competitors should be permitted access to the original proprietary data filed with regulatory authorities. Although this seems fair, it should be permitted only after the expiry of a reasonable protection period. Without this period of protection, data would never be generated and new medicines would never reach the public.

As the conclusion of an FTA approaches, it's imperative IPR provisions fostering innovation in the EU and India are adopted to benefit both. These will encourage emergence of a robust R&D-based industry alongside generics, each strengthening the other. Without new medicines produced by the innovative pharma industry, the generics industry would soon have an empty pipeline of products to manufacture and sell.

The rising role of India's generics industry in meeting the needs of various regions should be acknowledged. While its biggest export markets continue to be the US and EU, its role as a provider of cheap life-saving drugs to developing countries should continue not just for now but well into the future. This view is supported by none other than EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht.

India is well poised to make the transition from a generics pharma powerhouse to an innovation giant. But to transform this dream into reality, it needs to put in place proper patent protection policies that enforce IPR laws in letter and spirit.

( The writer is president, Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India, Mumbai.)






Subhranshu Banerjee is professor of Spanish at the Instituto Cervantes, New Delhi. He has translated Spanish poets and authors Antonio Rodriguez Almodovar, Maria Fernanda Santiago Bolanos, Antonio Machado and Federico Garcia Lorca into Bengali. He also edits two Bengali poetry magazines. His Spanish translation of Rabindranath Tagore's play Dakghar has recently been adapted into a Spanish 3D animation film. He spoke to Kim Arora about the challenges of translations and Indian language books in Spain:

Which Indian authors writing in Indian languages are popular in Spain?

Saratchandra Chatterjee is a bestseller there. His books have gone into third editions. Tagore, of course, is very well known. Amitav Ghosh has been translated. Westerners always look for something exotic if it's coming from India. All kinds of Indian spiritual books are available in Spanish. You can find Indian self-help books, Buddhist writings, speeches of the Dalai Lama etc. I even found Ramakrishna's Kathamrita translated from the French. Besides that, poets like Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Ayyappa Panicker, Ashok Vajpeyi and Kedarnath Singh have also been translated. There is an interest in Hindi, Bengali and Urdu writings.

Urdu? That's interesting.

Nowadays there is a certain Islamophobia in the western world, and western intellectuals are trying to fight this. Now they're discovering Urdu and Urdu literature as a medium of resistance against that Islamophobia. We have teachers from Spain in Delhi who are also learning Urdu.

Is there a market for Spanish literature translated into Bengali?

Every Indian language has an NRI market. The book market in India is developing, so there is scope. In Bengal, the trend is such that we still read in Bengali. There is a ready market, if you get a good translation. There are many translating Marquez from English to Bengali and the readers didn't really accept that. But if there is someone doing a direct translation from Spanish to Bengali, there is acceptance for that, and i have found that acceptance.

Do you feel translators are shortchanged?

In the US, they get due credit. In the translation world, Nathaniel Tarn is 'the' translator for Pablo Neruda, Eliot Weinberger 'the' translator for Octavio Paz. In the US, they do get credit, but in India, no. The translator is not respected here. If i can earn my bread through my writing, i would stick to that.

What drives you to translate works by other poets and writers?

It's partly a sense of responsibility. When i was in Soria on my scholarship, i realised that there is hardly anyone who knew anything about Indian literature beyond Tagore. I felt the urge to bring more from my language to the Spanish-speaking world. Same goes for when i translate the other way round. With Machado, i felt an acute need to translate.

What's the latest you're working on?

I just finished translating an anthology of Machado to Bengali. I found a lot of similarities between Tagore and Machado, like the concept of pothik - a walker. There's the same concept in Spanish, the "caminante", the concept of someone who keeps on walking. It's very inspiring. I started translating some of his poems and then i lost myself into that poetry. Now i'm translating his poems - it's going to be a big book of some 300 pages. There are about 215 poems in that. I don't know if there is an anthology of Machado in Hindi or any other Indian language but this is the first anthology of Machado in Bengali. Besides that, there is a group of seven writers, including me, who've started a movement called the circumcontentive poetry movement. It's like diaspora writing by those who've been living outside Bengal for a long time.








Joseph Lelyveld should send a case of non-alcoholic champagne to Narendra Modi for proposing to ban his controversial book on M K Gandhi. By proposing a ban on the book - a move also mooted by Union law minister Veerappa Moily but subsequently dropped - the Gujarat CM has added the allure of forbidden fruit to Lelyveld's work and created a media hype which might well turn what appears to be a scholarly work into a sensational bestseller.

Though the book is not yet available in India, previews published in this country suggest that it is a complex study of an extremely complex personality. Despite the misguided attempts by Gandhi groupies to turn him into a cute and cuddly national mascot, the Mahatma remains a profoundly challenging moral being for all those who try to make a serious scrutiny of his principles and actions.


The furore seems to be based on misleading reports in the British tabloid press which suggest that Lelyveld's book claimed that Gandhi was 'bisexual' and had a lover's relationship with a German weightlifter, Hermann Kallenbach. The sensation-mongering British claim is specious; there is no hint in Lelyveld's book that the relationship between the two men was anything other than platonic, though the expressions of affection used were often couched in passionate language. Though Gandhian scholars, including Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the Mahatma's grandson, cleared the book of mischievous intent, India's ever-ready moral Keystone Kops, led by the redoubtable NaMo, raised an outcry for a ban.

Since then the debate generated by the issue has gone beyond Lelyveld's book and the complexities in the public and private personae of M K Gandhi, and entered a broader realm of what is often referred to as the liberal space and its current status in India. Most Indians like to think of themselves as belonging to an ancient tradition of tolerance based on Anekantvada, the ability to see and accept the other person's point of view, even though it might be totally opposed to one's own.

But how true is this of India in the second decade of the 21st century? From M F Husain's self-imposed exile following attacks for his allegedly sacrilegious paintings of Hindu deities to goons beating up couples for celebrating Valentine's Day, intolerance rather than tolerance seems increasingly to have become the order of the day in India.

Those who believe that freedom of expression, within the boundaries of the law, is the indispensable cornerstone of an open society decry this growing intolerance as perhaps the single most serious threat to our democracy. They fear that with each ban or threatened ban, with each extra-legal use of force to stifle self-expression in any form, the Indian liberal is becoming an increasingly endangered species.

While this is a very real fear, it is perhaps equally true that each new challenge to tolerance, to the spirit of liberalism, presents an opportunity for a public debate on debate itself and our freedom to engage in it. How free are we as a society? Where does one person's freedom of expression become another person's trespass of

This is the paradox of all bans and censorship. The more you try to muzzle something or someone, the more attention you draw to the subject and the more public discourse you create around it. Silence is the victory of the ban; argument and discourse are the victories of democracy.

Maybe it's not just Lelyveld who should send some booze-free bubbly to the Gujarat CM and all others who would jump on his banned wagon. Maybe all those who believe that tolerance is only reinforced by its opposition to intolerance should also do the same. Cheers, Narendrabhai.








Delhi is now a much better place to live in. With migration being contained at the ring of industrial townships around the capital, a halving of the city's population growth rate will show up starkly in development indices like poverty, literacy and health. As it is, Delhi has a per capita income twice the national average. This gap will open up if its population is stabilising. These gains, however, will not be in perpetuity as living standards improve in the peripheral towns like Gurgaon and Noida where economic activity is migrating. Delhi's core is cooling after decades of efforts to keep government as the biggest business in town. No other Indian city possesses this luxury and it remains to be seen whether Delhi can afford to remain a town of petty traders in 2021, by when three in four rupees in India will be generated in India's cities, up from two in three today.

It could, if the periphery were to grow fast enough. There is evidence to back this up. The national capital region (NCR) has overtaken Maharashtra in the number of registered companies. Read that alongside another statistic that the Delhi airport is handling more passengers than Mumbai and a trend is discernible. Although Mumbai's financial heft is unchallenged still, the economic centre of gravity is shifting. Companies based in Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida brought in one in four rupees earned by the country's 500 biggest firms. And they made every third rupee of profits. Four of the five biggest private companies in the NCR did not exist before 1980. Delhi's economy is in large measure a fallout of economic reforms while much of Indian industry belongs to an earlier generation when brick-and-mortar companies commanded the landscape. When start-ups in the NCR outnumber those in Maharashtra four to one, the story is about the spread of entrepreneurship. Delhi offers a healthy climate for new investment in the services sector, and to an extent, in manufacturing. And government largesse ensures its physical and social infrastructure outclasses any other Indian city.

The rate at which infrastructure fans out through the NCR is vital to keep this enterprise going. A shared airport and Metro Rail network gloss over the abysmally poor state of municipal and government services in some of Delhi's satellite towns. Jurisdictional issues come in the way of the NCR's seamless growth. Just as the surrounding states gain from their proximity to the capital, Delhi must realise it is becoming a middle class haven at the cost of chaos in its neighbourhood.





On a dry day like this when absolutely nothing excites us, and only the tyranny of the biometric attendance machine keeps us back in the office, only grand revelations can spice up our dreary existence. According to a paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, clocking up extra hours in office raises the risk of heart attack. The study, conducted by University College of London, has found that those who spend more than 11 hours at work (criminal!), compared with seven or eight hours a day (still criminal!), increase their chances of having a heart attack by two thirds.

For their study, the researchers tracked 7,095 civil servants, between the vulnerable ages of 39 and 62, over a period of 11 years and established how many hours they worked on average a day. Over the period, 192 had suffered a heart attack. Since by now you must have done a quick calculation about how much time you spend in office and the health risks that you are facing, do pass on the study results to those gentle and caring souls of your company, your human resources team. On second thoughts, may be you shouldn't. At least not now, as during this cruellest month, they are probably busy burning the midday oil to do your yearly appraisals.

To be fair, this study is not foolproof. How can staying back in office always mean hard work? As a new AC advertisement very succinctly shows, many prefer staying back because of the wonderful climate control machine. There could be other reasons too: the yellow coffee machine or wonderful activities such as Facebooking or chatting. Now such people can stay over 11 hours in office glued to the computer and yet walk out fit and fine. The moral of the story: it's not the hours, but the pressure that can get you. For the real sloggers, of course, we have nothing to say but best of luck. Or keep in mind what the American funny guy and ventriloquist

Edgar Bergen said: Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?






Flashback to circa 2000. Amid the brouhaha over the Y2K bug that had turned out to be quite a bummer, an innocuous snippet in the newspaper caught my eye. It said India might have its first ever fashion week later that year. Though I was editing a tech magazine at the time, the lifestyle journalist in me instantly saw New York, Milan and Paris runways flash simultaneously before my eyes. It was just the coolest thing to think that even if microscopic, India would finally have a legitimate presence on the global fashion map.

In the next few months, the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) announced that the first ever Fashion Week in the country would take place in Delhi during August 17-23. The days preceding the event saw some heavy duty jugaad by those in the city's social circles to get passes — no one connected to fashion in any way wanted to miss being there, even if it was just to compare the 'local' event with what one had seen on FTV during visits abroad.

A senior bureaucrat friend in the textile ministry who owed me one for teaching him the nuances of website development (not a kid's job 11 years ago) obliged with invites and I, along with a friend, entered the convention centre of Delhi's Taj Palace Hotel that afternoon, clutching our passes like kids and excited to be a part of the history-making moment.

Designer Ranna Gill opened what was then called the Lakmé India Fashion Week where over seven days, 36 models catwalked for 33 designers, wearing a total 1,536 outfits. No one quite followed the international convention of seasons. So one saw on display a mix of autumn-winter and spring-summer dresses that varied from understated to utterly outlandish. There weren't too many firang buyers in sight but there surely were angrez models on the ramp who got a tad louder applause than our desis.

And while developments like designers Ravi Bajaj and Suneet Varma pulling out at the last minute, or some Mumbai designers led by Pallavi Jaikishan boycotting the event kept the gossip mills rolling, the overall atmosphere was abuzz with bonhomie. Sitting in the third row and pretending to take serious notes, my friend and I had a blast, nodding knowingly at some creations and suppressing giggles at some others. I couldn't help but brag about my 'Fashion Week experience' for days afterwards to anyone who asked… and even to those who didn't. Up until the day my husband of four months snapped back saying "Great. But how many people can afford those kind of designer clothes?"

Fast forward circa 2011. Life seems to have come a long way since that sultry August afternoon. India now has more fashion weeks than Paris, Milan and New York put together, with almost every city from Bareilly to Bilaspur claiming to have one. And the grand daddy of them all — FDCI's Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week kicks off in the capital today.

The 12,000 sq ft convention centre of the  Taj has given way to the gigantic multi-acre Pragati Maidan where, over the next five days, 77 designers will showcase 2,460 creations on the ramp. And 64 more will put up stalls in the exhibition area at the event that's now Asia's biggest in fashion. The week may have shrunk from seven days to five, but the expected footfall of 50,000 has more than trebled from the humble 15,000 in 2000. The number of leggy beauties who'll tip-toe across the ramp has increased to 48.

The Mumbai designers' grudge got them their own fashion week years ago, though gossip mills continue to roll about the Mumbai vs Delhi fashion wars. And I still clutch my show invites as excitedly and pretend to take notes, although from the front row. But as I stick the autumn-winter 2011 show schedule on my desk, a colleague passes by and says, "Fashion week time again? But how many can afford those kind of clothes?" Some things just don't change.





Narendra Modi may never have banned Joseph Lelyveld's Great Soul had the books editor of the Wall Street Journal been as discerning as his counterpart in the New York Times. The Manhattan dailies carried reviews on the same weekend, but these could not have been more different in style or substance. The Times reviewer, who has himself written fine books on India, judiciously assessed the strengths and weaknesses of Lelyveld's approach, situated Gandhi historically, and — in the wake of the controversy that followed, this may be the crucial point — did not mention Hermann Kallenbach at all.

The Journal, on the other hand, gave the book to a British reviewer whose powers of judgement are such that he once spoke of Tony Blair as a latter-day Winston Churchill. An apologist for imperialisms past and present, who has defended water-boarding by the CIA and expressed solidarity with Boer racists, he used the platform to mount a character assassination of a great opponent of the British Empire. Quoting words and phrases out of context, he characterised Gandhi as a 'sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist…'. Two paragraphs of his review were about Gandhi's friendship with Kallenbach, described by the reviewer as 'the love of his life… for whom Gandhi left his wife in 1908'.

This review appeared on March 26; two days later, the British tabloid Daily Mail ran a story with the headline: 'Gandhi "left his wife to live with a male lover" new book claims.' Clearly inspired by the Journal story, it called Gandhi 'bisexual' and said 'after four children together [with Kasturba] they split up so he could be with Kallenbach…'.

The foolish decision to ban Great Soul in parts of India was provoked not by the book itself, but by tendentious misrepresentations by Britons still not reconciled to the loss of their Empire. However, I write this from the United States, with a copy of Great Soul at my side. The two questions one must ask, in order of importance, are: How much of the book is devoted to Gandhi's friendship with Kallenbach? And what does the book say about the subject?

By my count, Kallenbach appears on 33 of Great Soul's 349 pages. I think Lelyveld exaggerates the significance of Kallenbach in Gandhi's life in South Africa. In his book, Henry Polak appears only fleetingly, whereas Pranjivan Mehta is not mentioned at all — although these two men were easily as important to Gandhi at this time. This is compounded by the sin of anachronism, the tendency to assess male friendships of a 100 years ago through the lens of a progressive New Yorker of today. Lelyveld privileges things said now to the written evidence of the past. Someone in Ahmedabad tells him Kallenbach and Gandhi were a 'couple'; someone in Australia claims the relationship was 'homoerotic'. These remarks (likewise informed by a contemporary sensibility) should have been disregarded; what he should have perhaps laid far more stress on is a remark made by Kallenbach himself, where, writing to his brother in June 1908, he notes that ever since he met Gandhi, 'I have given up my sex life'.

Lelyveld is stretching the evidence in claiming that Gandhi's friendship (he uses the term 'relationship') with Kallenbach was 'the most intimate' of his life. The further claim that 'Gandhi, leaving his wife behind, had gone to live with a man' is even more tenuous. The fact was that Gandhi had to be in Transvaal to organise the Indians in that province. Kasturba and the boys stayed at the ashram in Natal, being visited by Gandhi as often as his work permitted.

The friendship between these two men was not sexual, not even 'homoerotic'; it was, as Gandhi himself described it, that between brothers. While they lived in the same house, Gandhi's commitment to brahmacharya was matched by Kallenbach's own. Much later (although Lelyveld does not mention or perhaps know this) Kallenbach broke their common vow of celibacy by having a sexual relationship — with a woman.

Lelyveld's arguments may be anachronistic, but his prose is dignified and restrained. Moreover, Kallenbach goes unmentioned on 90% of the book's pages, where matters of social and political import are given their due. Indians, aware only of the misrepresentations in the tabloid press, need to ponder these words from the book's last paragraph: "In India today, the term 'Gandhism' is ultimately synonymous with social conscience; his example — of courage, persistence, identification with the poorest, striving for selflessness — still has a power to inspire…"

One might thus reasonably view Joseph Lelyveld as the hapless victim of, on the one hand, reactionary British journalists, and, on the other, opportunistic Indian politicians, who seek to camouflage their own betrayal of the Mahatma's ideals by proclamations of reverence to his memory.

Two of Gandhi's grandsons — themselves writers of distinction — have urged the government to allow the book to be published and circulated in this country. What is at stake here is both the maturity of Indian nationalism and the credibility of Indian democracy. Are our heroes so weak that we need bullies masquerading as patriots to protect them? Is our democracy so fragile that we can't allow free debate on individuals and processes? The Lelyveld case has put our national politicians (Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Prakash Karat — all of them) on test. The censorship of ideas, while congenial to Islamic theocracies, military dictatorships, and one-party communist regimes, sits strangely and uncomfortably with our democratic claims. The answer to a book is another book — not a ban.

( Ramachandra Guha is the author of India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy )  

*The views expressed by the author are personal.





Cricket and economics may seem to have little in common. But India's World Cup victory is actually reflective of the myriad changes that are taking place in the economics of the country.

The ascendancy of Asia in the economic sphere has been reinforced with India prevailing over all the main cricketing powers. In cricketing terms, India over Australia is the equivalent of India challenging the United States in economic growth. The fact that we had staged the World Cup in the subcontinent was also a pointer to this growing presence on the centrestage. The subcontinent's ascendancy is not very different from the G20 becoming more powerful today than the G8. The Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) now dominates the International Cricket Council  (ICC) and the reason is simple: the money is here. The logic is the same when applied to the G20 and global economic growth.

The finals in Mumbai on Saturday had around a seventh of the tickets available  for the general public with the rest reserved for VIPs. This, in a way, is also reflective of the story of economic reforms where the aam janta receive only a fraction of the goodies from the high growth story of India. The 85:15 ratio that holds in the distribution of economic prosperity was mirrored in the Wankhede Stadium last weekend.

The Indian reaction to the victory is as schizophrenic as our response to the 'India Shining' story that reverberates in conference halls. Just as reforms have been concentrated on industry, finance and foreign trade and investment to the neglect of the farm sector, the government's response to this sporting victory draws an analogy. The government and other related agencies have been extremely generous in rewarding our already wealthy cricketers. Economic policies are generally geared to make the rich better off in the hope that the fabled 'trickle-down' theory works in course of time. This is also noticeable in the differential treatment of cricket victories and those in other sports such as tennis, wrestling or badminton. A caste system in sports is very much in place. 

The quality of commentary during the World Cup matches left a lot to be desired. This again is similar to the level of economic and business discourse in which experts keep trying to explain various economic developments and data, only to contradict themselves when the revised numbers come in. So we have our Gavaskars and Sidhus on the economic front too.

The Indian team has been very charitable in acknowledging the contribution of their South African coach Gary Kirsten for this victory. We have had foreign coaches for quite a while now, John Wright and Greg Chappell having preceded Kirsten. Look at our economic policies and we get a similar feeling — since 1991-92, we have had the Washington Consensus driving our policies that have cantered towards liberalisation and more liberalisation.

Finally, a drive along Mumbai's roads on Saturday night was revealing. There were various sets of slum and hutment dwellers dancing away. Would they be getting anything from the World Cup win?  Would their standard of living improve? Theirs was the true Indian reaction where we learn to live in our suffering and revel in the great strides made by India Inc. No wonder India lives on, happily ever after.

( Madan Sabnavis is chief economist, Credit Analysis & Research (CARE) Ratings Ltd. )

*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






At the Congress plenary in January, when the government was being lashed by scandal and impropriety on several fronts, ranging from the 2G spectrum scam to the Adarsh apartments issue and jiggery-pokery in the Commonwealth Games, Sonia Gandhi had exhorted ministers to surrender all discretionary power. Focusing strongly on land allocation, she said there was ample evidence that discretion allowed corruption to fester, and urged ministers to "review and relinquish" such power. Immediately, a group of ministers was set up to thrash out this abstract issue, and it has now, quite sensibly, concluded that complete elimination of discretion was not possible or desirable.

What sounds good in a scalding political speech does not always translate into a sound policy blueprint. Discretionary power is the authority conferred upon an administrator to make decisions, over and above what's laid down in the rule-book — and everything depends on the manner it is exercised. It is value-neutral, and any complex government depends on a combination of rules and discretion. After all, an administrator is vested with a degree of implicit trust, you assume that they act in good faith. And as the GoM pointed out, many of these discretionary powers are used "in performance of their bona fide duties". For instance, when the Planning Commission was not immediately forthcoming with funds for the home ministry to provide solar panels to Naxal-affected villages, the ministry simply used its reserve of discretionary funds. Others, like the tribal affairs minister's right to grant aid, education and medical assistance to the needy, are perfectly unobjectionable. However, there is no denying that there is a dark side to discretionary decision-making, and that self-willed ministers can ride roughshod over the rules. Letting land-use be converted by the whim or caprice of a chief minister has resulted in blatant scams, in several instances.

However, to take away all discretionary power is to put heavy brakes on progress — to take away all latitude — because it is impossible to have rules governing every aspect of administration and every human exigency. The goal, rather, should be to constantly review the kinds of discretion needed for effective governance, and to protect it from misuse, by making government processes more transparent. Context is everything — and the government needs to find the optimal balance of rule and discretion for different sectors and sets of circumstances, instead of thinking it can erase corruption with a single self-effacing swipe.






After an entire session of Parliament had to be abandoned over the importance and otherwise of constituting a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the 2G spectrum allocation, now much energy is being unnecessarily expended on the need for an inquiry by the public accounts committee (PAC) into the same issue. The standout element is this: in the earlier JPC vs PAC debate, the Congress had extolled the virtues of a PAC inquiry and was convinced that it was the appropriate body to look into the issue, so much so that even the prime minister went out of his way to offer to appear before it. In the current JPC versus PAC debate, the Congress's P.C. Chacko, who heads the newly constituted JPC, says the PAC has a limited domain and should therefore withdraw suo motu from the spectrum investigation, leaving it to what he says is the more powerful JPC.

While the PAC's M.M. Joshi is going ahead with its investigation with unconcealed zeal and summoning people, it does the JPC no good if Chacko keeps harping on the parallel probe by the PAC instead of getting on with his own job at hand. There are, more importantly, two elements to this debate that Chacko seems to be taking rather lightly. One, the PAC is evidence of the executive's administrative accountability to the legislature, one of the fundamentals of parliamentary democracy. Can it really be wished away or simply asked to withdraw from a subject, as Chacko is demanding? Two, while the petty political one-upmanship is part of the territory, with the Congress's Chacko trying to trounce the BJP's Joshi, this turf war is pointless.

What would be beneficial, however, is a proper debate on the role and uses of a JPC, and here the BJP too needs to show more seriousness. There is a sense that the JPC on telecom policies from 1998 to 2009 is the result of political brinkmanship, with the opposition privileging their demand even if it meant sacrificing the winter session's legislative business. Now that it has been constituted, MPs should show the requisite good faith by deliberating on its functioning.







Let's face it. Over the past few years, India has moved to the margins of the Afghanistan discourse. The best argument on offer is that perhaps a lower profile was needed for two principal reasons — a proactive India was the surest way to ensure Pakistan's non-cooperation to the US-led military campaign; and with no significant armed feet on the ground, a growing profile would make its assets and personnel vulnerable and somewhat indefensible to terror attacks. The repeated targeting of the Indian embassy and projects supported by India underscored this reasoning.

The official argument aside, the fact is that the ambitious outreach of about a decade ago to help Afghanistan rebuild its infrastructure by physically sending people there to do the job has given way to a less risky approach constructed around capacity building and vocational training. Insiders agree that there may have been differences on shifting to a lower gear after all the hard work, but equally persuasive was the logic that many of the projects India had undertaken were taking more than the estimated time to finish for reasons not in New Delhi's control. So, it would be prudent to just focus on completing the projects in hand before taking up any fresh responsibility.

Over a period of time, India created many arguments for itself depending on the audience at hand. For those who questioned commitment, there was solid contribution to show; for those who wanted more feet on the ground, there were ongoing long-gestation projects to show; for those who wanted India to understand Pakistan's sensitivities on Afghanistan, there was enough to prove a perceived "slowing down". All of this made for good, smart diplomacy, but fell short of a coherent policy. Matters, as they stood, did not bother anyone, particularly a political leadership which already had a lot on its plate. The government at the highest levels was clear that Indian assistance should largely focus on civilian reconstruction efforts.

The government also took comfort in the fact that US President Barack Obama's plans to effect a significant reduction of troops by July 2011 followed by complete withdrawal in 2014 had undergone some review. But a couple of weeks back, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai announced seven areas that will transition into full control of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Going by last month's congressional testimony of General David Petraeus, who heads the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the reduction of troops will be more of a "thinning" exercise than a drastic reduction as was projected earlier. However, Petraeus also said that in the fierce fighting west of Kandahar, 60 per cent troops were from the ANSF, his assessment being that the Afghan forces are gradually taking more responsibility.

One can disagree on the form and manner of transition, but what is clear is that rebuilding, training, equipping and expanding the ANSF is the most important project in Afghanistan today. The way it shapes up, how it's officered and led, and its democratic underpinnings are critical issues on which hinges the immediate future of Afghanistan. Another important facet would be the regional linkages of this force which will largely determine its outlook. Here is where India needs to rethink. If the ANSF is going to be the focal point in Afghanistan, then is it advisable for New Delhi to still keep a hands-off approach from active security cooperation? The US and its allies may be content with this because an India with growing interests in Afghanistan's security apparatus will predictably raise temperatures in Islamabad.

This is the challenge for India. It needs to rethink its role in Afghanistan, possibly redefine it in the changing context. The strategic reasoning aside, there is a large section of moderate Afghans who look up to India. They make up the constituency of goodwill that Indian officials so proudly talk about and would be keen for India to take up a bigger role, fearing that a transition could create a vacuum or benefit the wrong players. In fact, amid these feelers, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent the national security adviser to Afghanistan recently, possibly to obtain an assessment of the changing situation.

The Karzai government itself would be quite amenable to India stepping in to assist Afghanistan make this transition successful. It may, however, have different demands and priorities when it comes to the nature of security assistance. India has stonewalled many of these feelers in the past, but looking at three to four years from now, a reassessment is due.

The question would be the risk factor and, of course, the extent to which Washington will promote the Indian effort. A good positive beginning could be the police. Amid all the focus on the ANSF, the importance of the Afghan police cannot be forgotten. An effective police force could mean an easier, more permanent, transition process. But India must be clear that it cannot just be a case of raising a couple of women police battalions. New Delhi has to look beyond and take its risks now than to let an adverse situation develop.

Further, India cannot just overlook the growing influence of other regional players in Kabul. Today there are more flights between Kabul and Dubai and other Middle East destinations than between Delhi and Kabul. About a decade back, just after the fall of the Taliban, the Delhi-Kabul flight was Afghanistan's lifeline. Any foreign diplomat or official going to Kabul had to travel via Delhi. This has changed.

Similarly, the initial group of Af-Pak envoys was a small but well-knit group of representatives from a handful of key countries, including India. Today, it's called the International Contact Group (ICG) with some 50 members, including the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), for the purpose of showing more inclusiveness. So much so that the last meeting was at the OIC headquarters in Jeddah.

To sum it up, the international discourse on Afghanistan has undergone a qualitative change, acquiring a more complex character due to competing interests of hitherto fringe players. Unlike the new entrants in the Af-Pak space, India has vital and legitimate security interests at stake. It is important not to forget that the Af-Pak war is very much India's too. If there is going to be a transition in Afghanistan, an Indian imprint has to be present and most Afghans are likely to see that as a positive. The prime minister made a bold move on Pakistan by inviting his counterpart to Mohali, giving added political impetus to the engagement process. Equally tough, if not tougher, decisions await him on the Afghan front and they need to be taken soon.








Affection and respect from a dressing room filled with several sprightly north Indians can shrink your name beyond recognition. And that's how Zaheer Khan got his popular alias Zak Pa, the shortened brotherly moniker for Paaji suffixed to the westernised pet name. Now, with a terrifying tag like that and a swagger to match, Zaheer isn't expected to shed tears in public. So when cameras zoomed on the moist eyes of Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh on that magical night at Wankhede, a smiling Zaheer propagated calm. He lent his shoulder to three of his closest mates in the Indian team, who seemed overwhelmed by the occasion and made no attempt to control their emotion.

Going back a long way, the group of four with several shared highs and lows behind them, were now perched on the dizzy peak of their roller-coaster ride. For about a decade, they have addressed their individual problems collectively and forgotten personal failures while celebrating their mates' success. They form a group with no hierarchical ambiguity — one leader, three followers, but each in awe of the skill the other has so painstakingly mastered. It is a core group that the skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is blessed to have and the youngsters in the team aspire to break into.

The hallmark of the Dhoni era has been the cohesiveness of a tightly knit team, a dressing room devoid of factions. But while on the road for months together, the cricketers, as is human nature, find their comfort zones to form like-minded subgroups. Old timers say the best way to understand the equations within a team is to observe the various dinner groups that descend into a hotel lobby. The group that eats together stays together, they say.

Dhoni generally has for company a couple of 20-somethings — Suresh Raina, R.P. Singh or Rohit Sharma. The Delhi boys, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Ishant Sharma and Virat Kohli, hang out together. But the men who invariably break bread after a tough day on field happen to be Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Harbhajan and Zaheer.

Once during my stay at that quaint one-street city Napier, a fellow cricket writer and I shared a cook with the Indian team. To make it sound less impressive, we regularly ordered home delivery from the only curry place in Napier that also catered to Dhoni & Co. The delivery boy, a man of lot many words, would give us a lowdown of his visit to the hotel rooms of the star cricketers. He reserved the most detailed descriptions for Tendulkar's room and the merry men who seemed part of the furniture. These stories had the proudly rustic Harbhajan who at times sat on the floor to eat, the super-mimic Yuvraj's wisecracks, a relaxed Tendulkar in splits and the ever-smiling Zaheer's one-liners. It was clear that the group of men, who were constantly under pressure to perform miracles on field, were banking on each other to unwind.

At training sessions too, the four would invariably seek each other out. Tendulkar, with a bat in hand, would have long chats with Harbhajan and Yuvraj. Zaheer at the end of the follow through would inform Tendulkar about the position of his bat and smile in case he could get the ball past him. But when sitting next to their kitbags after the pack-up, the laugh riot would kick off. The monk-like focus on Tendulkar's face would be replaced with a naughty smile.

Similar background and circumstances have strengthened the bond of this quartet. Bandra boy Tendulkar and Shrirampur-born Zaheer share a mother tongue, middle-class background and formative years at Mumbai maidans. The Punjabi boys Yuvraj and Harbhajan took their first steps into serious cricket in Chandigarh. Slapgate or Monkeygate, Tendulkar has always been around to bail out Harbhajan. Zaheer and Yuvraj enjoyed their first high against Australia during the 2000 ICC tournament at Nairobi. It was to become a trend in the years to come as not just Zaheer and Yuvraj but Harbhajan and Tendulkar too would save their best for the Aussies.

But along with triumphs, there have been lows concerning form and fitness. These are times when Tendulkar would play the family elder. He was the one who gave Zaheer the career-changing advice to spend a season in English county and convinced Yuvraj to concentrate on domestic cricket to rediscover his touch.

So it didn't come as a surprise that Yuvraj, Harbhajan and Zaheer, like several others in the team, spoke fondly about winning the Cup for Tendulkar and helping the master complete his grand jigsaw. Considering the fickle nature of the game, heavy workload and their dodgy fitness, time was also running out for the three ageing Tendulkar followers. It all fell in place for that symbiotic group of four at Wankhede. And when Tendulkar had tears in his eyes, Zak Pa was there to lend a shoulder.







One by one the leading lights of Indian journalism during the second half of the last century are going out. Since the passing of Prem Bhatia, Nikhil Chakaravartty and Sham Lal — that is the sequence in which they went to meet their Maker — no death of a colleague has shaken me so much as that of Ajit Bhattacharjea, a former Delhi editor of The Indian Express. Here is a brief word about his excellence in his craft and his rare personal qualities of warm friendliness combined with a marked disinclination to say a harsh word about anybody under any circumstances.

If what follows has an undercurrent of emotion, I must be forgiven because my friendship with Ajit went back a little over six decades. I was lucky enough to make his acquaintance immediately after I joined our trade that is both thrilling and troubled at the same time. I was then an unpaid apprentice in the United Press of India (on whose ashes was built the United News of India) while he had already served in the Hindustan Times for more than three years. He gently taught me a great deal about reporting and most subtly helped me cope with my impecunious circumstances. Over the years I realised that this was his nature. A couple of years later he went to England and returned with a brand new, left-hand drive Fiat car. Whenever we were covering the same event, he would drive up to my office and insist on giving me a lift. In 1956, I joined The Statesman where had already been ensconced for five years. We were to be colleagues again in The Times of India that both of us joined on the same day in early 1971. However, it mattered little whether we were in the same stable or not. Nor did any disagreement over men and matters make the slightest difference to our friendship and cooperation.

Ajit was a man of strong views, as became evident in early 1975 when he left a very comfortable job in a major newspaper, to edit the weekly of Jayaprakash Narayan, better known as JP. At that time the JP movement was in full blast, and the hammer-blow of the Emergency only a few months away. As is well known, Ajit boldly opposed the Emergency, along with many others, and later wrote a biography of JP. However, the pertinent point is that whatever his views, in his writings he stuck to the highest journalistic standards. Professional probity was always his doctrine, and he virtually shed tears over the advent of the "paid news" era. Ajit was a biographer also of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, his deep interest in Kashmir dating back to the autumn of 1947 when he covered the first Kashmir war (1947-48). Till the end he agonised over the plight of the "wounded valley", to quote the title of one of the books he wrote.

This was symptomatic of his deep attachment to every cause in defence of freedom and equality and against poverty and exploitation. As director of the Press Institute of India, he started Grassroots, a superb magazine to focus on the lives and miseries of the people at the bottom of the social heap — something for which mainstream media has little space.

Sadly the paper did not last long. But he was undeterred and continued to spread his message through the journal of the Centre for Media Studies. Only half jokingly, a friend once remarked that Ajit was always ready "in defence of lost causes". That, however, was not always the case. Aruna Roy, one of the most respected and resolute activists, has said more than once that the credit for the enactment of the Right to Information Act (RTI) should go not to her but to Ajit Bhattarcharjea and Prabhash Joshi, a former editor of Jansatta, who died some time ago.

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator







War of words

The war of words between Tehran and Riyadh over the situation in Bahrain escalated this week when the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, demanded that Saudi Arabia withdraw its troops from Bahrain. As Saudi Arabia assists the Sunni monarchy to put down the protests for political reform from the majority Shia community, its conflict with Iran has only sharpened.

The Saudi-Iran rivalry has been constructed in many different forms — Saudi monarchy versus the Islamic Republic of Iran, conservatism versus radicalism, Arab versus Persian and Sunni versus Shia. As the political situation in Bahrain acquired a sectarian dimension, it was inevitable that Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran would be ranged on opposite sides.

Addressing a press conference in Tehran on Monday, Ahmadinejad said, "The Saudis did an ugly thing to deploy troops ... the Bahraini government also did an ugly work to kill its own people".

A day before it was the turn of Saudi Arabia and its friends in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to warn Iran to keep its hands off Bahrain. In an emergency meeting on Sunday in Riyadh, GCC leaders expressed their deep concern "over the continuing Iranian intervention in the internal matters of GCC countries by conspiring against their national security."

The six-nation GCC was set up in the wake of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. The collective defence mechanism includes the sheikhdoms of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar.

Iran does not accept the description of the Bahrain situation as a sectarian conflict; it insists that the movement in Bahrain is for political rights.

Meanwhile, mainstream opposition groups in Bahrain have sought to distance themselves from Iran. They fear that the Iran bogey provides an excuse for Saudi intervention and American backing for status quo in Bahrain.

Washington has struggled to balance its interest in the stability of Bahrain — which hosts the headquarters of the US navy's Fifth Fleet — and its rhetoric on promoting democracy in the Middle East. The US has pressed its allies in Bahrain to meet some of the protest movement's demands for reforms, but has no interest in rocking the boat too hard.

India's silence

Washington is not the only one struggling to sustain a consistent line in the Middle East. India is under as much pressure to balance competing interests in the region.

Recall the demand from the BJP, CPM and Samajwadi party last month for a parliamentary resolution condemning Western intervention in Libya. There is no word from these parties against the Saudi intervention in Bahrain.

The UPA government too has chosen silence. Hoping to keep it that way, if not win Delhi's support, were two important visitors to the capital last week — the foreign minister of Bahrain and the national security adviser of Saudi Arabia.

The minister from Bahrain did not mince words in his public criticism of Iran. The Saudi envoy must have been stronger in his expression, behind closed doors, of Riyadh's concerns on Tehran's growing regional clout.

In the Foreign Office's statements on the consultations with these leaders, there was no word about external intervention, but only broad references to the peaceful resolution of differences on all issues in the region.

Cameron amends

After sharply criticising Pakistan for supporting terrorism during his visit to India last July, British PM David Cameron is making amends this week by travelling to Pakistan.

Cameron delighted his Indian hosts by saying: "we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country (Pakistan) is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world."

To his credit, Cameron did not back off from these remarks despite the fact that British diplomats were appalled at the new PM's decision to junk the carefully crafted balance in London's approach to Delhi and Islamabad.

Nevertheless, Cameron has good reasons to apply the corrective, given the large British interests in Pakistan. His current trip is being billed as a "fresh start" in the ties between the two countries. In his major public speech during the visit, Cameron is expected to describe the British bonds with Pakistan as "unbreakable".

"Whether it's relations with India, our security or questions of governance, if we work closely with one another, if we're clear that we need each other to succeed, we can grasp these difficult issues and move beyond them to a better future," Cameron will declare according to his speech previewed in the British media.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi







Sell-side logic

Discussing the Antrix-Devas deal and the 2G spectrum licence allocation, an article in CPM weekly People's Democracy concludes there is an emerging trend of policy-making to permit a grand "theft" of the nation's resources for the benefit of the corporate class.

The article says that the issue is not just of corruption or whether laws have been obeyed or procedures followed. Once the loot of public resources for private gain is accepted as policy, every department becomes entrepreneurial, as the armed services look at how to "sell" defence land, railways talk of building malls and space departments "sell" spectrum, it claims.

"This is the brand of capitalism that Manmohan Singh is promoting — behind his claim of personal integrity," it says. The article doesn't absolve the BJP either, saying that "they had also unleashed similar "animal spirits" during the Vajpayee regime and continue to do so in the states they rule."

Still leaning leftwards

With merely a week left for the Kerala polls, the CPI argues that the Left Front stands a chance of retaining power if the CPM puts its house in order. Referring to the V.S. Achuthanandan-Pinarayi Vijayan tussle, an editorial in CPI journal New Age said: "If they succeed in closing their ranks well in time, Kerala is definitely going to repeat the history of the mid-'70s, when it had voted back a Left-led alliance to power." The editorial argues that the host of scams that has buffeted the UPA would bear on the assembly results in both Kerala and West Bengal. Besides, the allocation of seats within the Congress has disillusioned many party workers, it says.

In West Bengal, the euphoria after Nandigram, Singur and Lalgarh has evaporated, and instead of assessing the incumbency factor for the Left Front, even pro-change propagandists have started acknowledging that the mercurial behaviour of the TMC leader is going to affect this much-publicised wind of change, it argues. "Her contradictory postures too have contributed in affecting her image. While promising land reforms and other pro-poor measures, her party is projecting a former FICCI chief as possible finance minister of the state. The Left Front has definitely improved its position and in all probability is going to bounce back to power that it has wielded during the past 34 years, a record in itself," the article says.

Imperialism, updated

People's Democracy carries excerpts of CPM leader Sitaram Yechury's inaugural lecture at a symposium titled 'What does imperialism mean in an age of global finance?', organised by Columbia University, New York. Yechury hits out at the US for attacking Libya, and says that US imperialism's double standards become clear with the US-inspired Saudi intervention in Bahrain to prop up the Khalifa. "Both interventions are ironically in the name of protecting the people. The reason for such a double standard is not far to seek. Bahrain is home to the US navy's fifth fleet and has been its steadfast ally. Libya on the other hand, is not such a firm ally. Further, Libyan oil reserves and importantly the ocean of fossil water reserves on which its deserts lie today have the potential of more lucrative profits than oil. A regime change here could well be to imperialism's advantage, while in Bahrain it is not," he says.

This economic onslaught of imperialism, he notes, is accompanied by an intense ideological onslaught that essentially argues that it is only economics that determines politics and not politics that determines economics. "They argue, for this reason, 'do not politicise economic reforms', 'let there be unanimity', in what essentially is the implementation of a neo-liberal economic order," he says.






Back in 1937, when Eric Partridge's groundbreaking Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English was first published, The New York Times Book Review ran a glowing notice. "The lost words of the language have finally come to roost," it began. "The unmentionables are mentioned and carefully placed in proper alphabetical form."

Now, nearly 75 years later, can a slang dictionary possibly hope to uncover any "lost words"? Are there any unmentionables left to mention? After all, mainstream English dictionaries now make ample space for slang, much to the chagrin of traditionalists alarmed by Merriam-Webster's Collegiate including "ginormous" (gasp!) or the Oxford English Dictionary including "bootylicious" (double gasp!). And for the more ephemeral slang that the print dictionaries fail to cover, well, don't we have Urban Dictionary and other online user-generated repositories for that?

Thankfully, the heirs to Partridge's legacy continue to uphold the value of rigorous slang-ology. Jonathan Lighter's exhaustive Historical Dictionary of American Slang got the ball rolling in the 1990s, but after the publication of two volumes it has not moved past the letter "O." Since then, Partridge's own dictionary received a thorough makeover in a 2005 revision by Tom Dalzell and Terry Victor, and the British scholar Jonathon Green has put out a series of single-volume efforts. Now the man hailed by Martin Amis as "Mister Slang" has raised the bar with his three-volume behemoth, Green's Dictionary of Slang.

Despite these prodigious achievements, slang remains a notoriously slippery object of study. In a 1978 essay in the journal American Speech, Lighter, writing with Bethany K. Dumas, said of slang, "We are all sure it exists, most of us are sure we know what it is, and many of us are sure that everyone else agrees with us." Green, for his part, makes a case for slang as a special "counter-language" in the introduction of his new dictionary. For Green, slang fulfills "the desire of human beings, when faced by a standard version, of whatever that might be, to come up with something different, perhaps parallel, perhaps oppositional." Of course, it's hard for oppositional uses of language to stay oppositional or the exclusive preserve of a select few for long, especially today when "the speed of modern information transfer makes that level of secrecy almost impossible." Once a term is "revealed," there is an "immediate need . . . for re-coinage."

This endless process of reinvention might suggest that slang is necessarily ephemeral. Yet the historical evidence suggests that some slang is remarkably sturdy. The word "booze" meaning liquor, for instance, has existed in one form or another since at least the mid-1500s, and yet it somehow maintains its slangy appeal nearly five centuries later.

Since the latter-day Partridges arrange their dictionaries according to historical principles, supported by OED-style citations, we can readily track slang's more remarkable survivals. Consider "crib," which Shakespeare used to mean a modest house. By the 19th century, this meaning lingered only in thieves' cant, but after World War II, it came alive again in African-American slang, eventually begetting the not-so-modest domestic displays of the television show MTV Cribs.

And speaking of recent MTV programmes, how did Ashton Kutcher come to call his now-defunct prank show Punk'd? Consult Green's dictionary, and that simple question will take you on a three-page odyssey through the grungy nuances of punk as a noun, adjective and verb. The noun referred to a young female prostitute in the 16th century, but by the turn of the 20th century it could refer to a prison inmate's "boyfriend" or a tramp's catamite companion. It broadened by the '20s and '30s to signify a young criminal, an adolescent boy or a coward. Meanwhile, the adjective evolved to mean "inferior, worthless" or "weak, effeminate." Finally, in 2003, coinciding with the first season of Kutcher's show, punk shows up more innocuously on American campus slang lists as "to trick, to tease."

Reading through Green's entry for punk brings home what a truly colossal undertaking slang lexicography can be. Green spent 17 years compiling his opus, and the historical material he has amassed, in some 415,000 citations, is astounding. Whenever possible, he includes a citation from every decade of a term's existence. Thus, if you look up the expression "on the QT" (meaning "surreptitiously," from the first and last letters of quiet), you find it from 1870 in a British broadside ballad, then attested from such writers as Joseph Conrad, Ezra Pound and Tom Wolfe, with stops along the way for the country singer Merle Travis and the pimp-turned-novelist Iceberg Slim.

Of course, even in a dictionary as gargantuan as GDoS, there are occasional oversights, like the aforementioned "ginormous," which Partridge identified as deriving from the slang of Britain's Royal Air Force in World War II. If "humongous" and "hugeaceous" both find a home in the dictionary's pages, why not ginormous as well? Conversely, a few too many entries take their evidence from a single source and could safely be omitted. Then again, slender documentation is often outweighed by the charming colourfulness of such finds as "dyspepsia in a snowstorm" (late-19-century hash-house lingo for an order of pie topped with powdered sugar) and "go to Europe with Ralph and Earl in a Buick" (ornate American student slang for vomiting).

A single page of a slang dictionary can yield unexpected delights. Take Green's Volume III, Page 976, deep in the heart of "S." There's "skeeve," meaning "a disgusting person" or "to disgust," along with the adjective "skeevy," possibly derived from an Italian word for disgusting, schifoso. There's "skeeza," black slang for a promiscuous woman dating back to a 1987 rap song, followed by "skeeze," which meant "to ogle" in James Joyce's Ulysses. And then there's "skeezicks," a fine old Americanism for a troublemaker, attested from 1850.

Whereas Partridge spent most of his days at a desk in the British Library, contemporary slang scholars combine library research with investigations into the latest digitised databases and other online resources. The expansion of these databases in recent years, however, means that the earliest dates given by slang dictionaries can sometimes be trumped by a quick trip to Google. For instance, Green dates "magic mushroom" (the hallucinogenic kind) to 1968, but Life Magazine ran a feature article on "Seeking the Magic Mushroom" in 1957.

It's a never-ending challenge to keep up with the latest developments in the world of slang, but that is the lexicographer's lot. Green plans to put his dictionary online for continuous revision, which is indeed the direction that many major reference works (including the OED) are now taking. In the meantime, his monument to the inventiveness of speakers from Auckland to Oakland takes its place as the pièce de résistance of English slang studies. To put it plain, it's copacetic.






The corporate affairs ministry's move, reported in FE yesterday, to prevent companies from disguising their investments in other companies hasn't come a day too soon. The move has been triggered by the CAG report that pointed out Reliance-ADAG had pumped in R992 crore into Swan Telecom by way of preference capital. But since such capital is not considered to be equity capital, this allowed both firms to say ADAG was not Swan's owner. Nor is this the only such example. In the case of Loop Telecom, similarly, while the Ruias of Essar claim they own under 10% of the company (under the law, a telecom firm cannot own more than 10% of another in the same telecom circle), the fact that close relatives own the rest has always raised suspicions that the Ruias were in control of the firm—the Enforcement Directorate asked for a probe into the matter. Similarly, the CBI chargesheet points to how a company called Genex Exim bought 1.3 crore shares of Swan for R380 crore, and that Genex got this money from a company called ETA Star, which, in turn, got the money from a firm called Al Waha—all transactions took place on the same day, December 17, 2008, and there is no clarity on who owns these companies, though the belief is Genex is a front for some politicians.

In the case of corporate takeovers, it has been found that many firms have breached the FDI limits by getting Indian partners to hold a certain stake for them—except, in several cases, the Indian partners have raised the money to fund the equity purchases on the basis of bank guarantees or comfort letters issued by the foreign firms! In several other cases, listed companies lend money to firms that are partially owned by their promoters in their personal capacity; some lend money or give bank guarantees to subsidiaries/JVs that have other partners as well. There is clearly no point in declaring certain structures, such as preference capital or bank guarantees, to be illegal. This will just create more problems. But a worthwhile solution to consider is mandating that no company can issue preference capital, give loans, bank guarantees etc to subsidiaries/JVs in a proportion greater than its stake in the subsidiary/JV. This will ensure owners/others don't get a free ride from listed firms; it will also help the authorities know a little more about the true holding structure of any corporate entity.





The provisional population total marks an inflection point in India's history. The population total has been close to projections, with the provisional total being just 1.48% higher than the projections made by the National Commission on Population in 2006. But what is perhaps more interesting is the sharp deviation from the earlier projections, especially in the states, which points to the larger changes taking place in the economy and society. Among major states, the most surprising highlight was the slower-than-expected growth of population in the NCT of Delhi and Kerala, where the provisional populations were 9.2% and 3.4% below the projections and the sharper-than-expected growth of population in Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Jammu & Kashmir, where the provisional population numbers were 6-7% higher than the projections. But what is striking is that the population in smaller union territories, or city-states, grew much slower than the projections, including in Chandigarh (26.6%), Goa (17.5%), Pondicherry (15.8%) and Daman & Diu (10%).

One thing that is common to the states and UTs where the population growth was much slower than anticipated is that they are urban-led economies, with hardly any agriculture, and depend on the industrial and services sectors for growth. So, the larger-than-expected fall in growth of population in these states can only mean that the attractiveness of these states and UTs as a beacon for emigrants from the rural areas of the less-developed neighbouring states has dwindled sharply, probably due to the impact of alternate work opportunities, including from the MGNREGA. The deceleration in population growth in Delhi and Chandigarh, to around 20%, is especially striking, as the growth of population has hovered around 50% for the past five decades in Delhi and in the 40-400% range in Chandigarh. The sharper-than-expected fall in Kerala can be explained by an increase in migration, both within the country and outside.

But then how would one explain the higher-than-expected growth of the population in Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Jammu & Kashmir? Chhattisgarh has been the fastest-growing state among the newly-formed ones—and among its neighbours—with GDP growth almost trebling to 9.3% in the Tenth Plan (2002-07) and then picking up even faster in the initial part of the Eleventh Plan, and this has probably pushed up migration to the state. The story in Tamil Nadu is similar, with growth almost doubling to 8.5% in the Tenth Plan, with industry growing at double digits, pushing up migration to the state. The only exception is Jammu & Kashmir, where the unrest seems to have boosted population growth.





Much of the confusion over the Cairn-ONGC dispute, to be decided by the Cabinet today, results from the two seemingly parallel strands to the issue. The first begins in the mid-90s, when the government invited oil firms like Cairn, gave them a 60-70% stake in JVs with PSU oil firms ONGC/OIL, who were to pay the royalty on oil produced. When ONGC protested, a Group of Ministers (GoM) was formed and, in 1997, it said the government must make good on the losses ONGC/OIL suffered—a year later, a Committee of Secretaries said much the same thing, but no decision has been taken so far!

Two, there's a commercial dispute between ONGC and Cairn, for a year now, on whether the royalties paid by ONGC can be treated as expenses or not. Both cite the same production sharing contract between them to say the exact opposite!

Let's assume Cairn-ONGC produce R100 worth of oil and incurs R30 of expenses while doing so; that they give 30% of profits to the government, and 30% of what's left goes to ONGC, the rest to Cairn. That's Part A of the graphic. So, of the R100 of sales, R70 is the profit; R49 stays with Cairn-ONGC and R21 goes to the government. Since Cairn-ONGC share the profits 70:30, R34.3 goes to Cairn and R14.7 goes to ONGC—this is called profit-oil.

Now, both firms must get what they spent on exploration (only Cairn did this), on production (Cairn spent 70% and ONGC 30%) and on the cess paid to the central government (again, in a 70:30 ratio, though Cairn is in arbitration on this, saying it should pay nothing)—this is called cost-oil.

Now let's bring in the royalty that's paid to the Rajasthan government on the oil produced, at a rate of 16.6% of the value of the oil. Move to Part B of the graphic, and assume, to keep it simple, the royalty is R20 (it's actually R16.6). In the example, the expenses will rise to R50 and profits will fall to R50. Cairn-ONGC will then get to keep R35 of the profit and the government will get R15. Cairn, in turn, gets R24.5 of this and ONGC R10.5 in terms of profit-oil.

Now add in cost-oil. As in the past, Cairn will get what it spent on exploration, both will get paid for what they spent on production and cesses, and ONGC will get paid the R20 it spent on royalties. So, in addition to exploration/production/cess payments, Cairn gets R24.5. And in addition to the production/cess payments, ONGC gets R30.5.

In the case where royalties are added in, the government gets R6 less (R21 minus R15); Cairn gets R9.8 less (R34.3 minus R24.5); and ONGC gets R15.8 more (R30.5 minus R14.7). ONGC's still making less than it was in Part A since it is spending R20 more on royalties but earning R15.8 more (this difference is what the GoM said the government would make good).

According to ONGC, it will have to make royalty payments (it paid R828 crore on behalf of Cairn in the first nine months of 2010-11) that could add up to around R15,000 crore over the life of the Rajasthan field (on a net present value basis), depending on what oil prices are and the production from the Rajasthan field. Normally, such a dispute should have been in the arbitration courts by now, but it isn't. The government plans to resolve this for the sake of keeping foreign investors happy. One proposal is that ONGC be told to allow the deal to go through since it would have to incur this cost anyway even if Cairn didn't sell out to Vedanta—to the extent ONGC will go in for arbitration with Cairn, it can do this with Vedanta.

ONGC opposes this as it feels it won't have the same leverage over Vedanta that it has over Cairn. The point then is whether the Cabinet should decide on something that is the preserve of the arbitration court. Two, if ONGC loses in the arbitration court, will the government make good its loss? Or will it argue that the GoM was not an 'empowered' one and so its decision wasn't binding on the government? Either way, ONGC's shareholders are a worried lot.





Finance chiefs of G-20 countries gathered in China on March 31 to discuss the international monetary system. The meeting included US Treasury secretary Timothy F Geithner, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan and European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet, among others. A day before the meeting, China criticised the Federal Reserve for flooding the world economy with dollars.

Chinese economist Xu Hongcai alleges that the US has a unique 'wealth-generating mechanism' since it has the exclusive privilege to increase money supply of dollars, the world's reserve currency. He contends that an expansionary monetary policy by the Fed, subsidises the US to the detriment of other countries, particularly China. It's a widely known fact that China has now become the production base for US manufacturing. A lesser known fact is that China has also become the de facto banker to the US. The US uses dollars to purchase cheap goods from China and, in turn, China exchanges these dollars with US Treasury bills. This process forms a bilateral circulation of commodities and currency.

The circulation of goods and dollars between China and the US is operated through the financial markets since a significant percentage of China's savings is transferred to the US through its investment in Treasury bills. Currently, China holds $1,150 billion of Treasury bonds and notes. If Taiwan and Hong Kong are included, that figure rises to $1,440 billion. To get a sense of how big that number is, India, in comparison, holds $40 billion of US Treasury instruments, which is about R2 lakh crore. In other words, China has lent about 25 times more money than India. The US has used this money, in part, to successively purchase goods from China and suppress domestic inflation. In the last decade, the US has increased its external borrowing since it has an unsustainably large fiscal and current account deficit. Last year, the US government spent $1,550 billion more than it earned and it imported $634 billion worth of goods more than it exported. To pay for both of them, it has resorted to external debt since the US saves little as a country.

To finance its fiscal and current account deficit, the US has a 'free meal' at the expense of other countries. This unique wealth transfer mechanism happens through dollar depreciation. To understand how dollar depreciation benefits the US on its external debt, consider the following example. Let's say I borrow $100,000 today for two years, which at the current exchange rate of $/R 44.00 would be worth R44 lakh. Suppose, in 2013, when the dollar debt has to be returned, the $/R exchange rate depreciates to 39.00, I have to pay back only R39 lakh. It is the same 'free-lunch' that companies like Reliance are hoping to have by issuing long-dated dollar bonds. For example, Reliance raised $1.5 billion (around R6,600 crore) in October 2010 from its bond issuance denominated in US dollars, of which $1 billion matures in 10 years and the remaining $0.5 billion in 30 years. If the $/R exchange rate depreciates big-time in the next decade, which seems pretty likely, the company will gain substantially from the reduced value of debt. A similar windfall, but on a much more massive scale, is accruing to the US government. To fund its external borrowing, it follows an expansionary monetary policy by increasing money supply and buying back its own debt. This has resulted in a large supply of dollars in the world economy, which should, in the long-run, cause significant dollar depreciation.

So, what can be done by China to offset the free meal that the US seems to be serving itself, by taking advantage of the reserve currency status enjoyed by the US dollar. First, China should let go of the artificially low exchange rate of the renminbi (RMB). China could accelerate the internationalisation of the RMB by allowing it to appreciate, even though it might hurt its exports in the short run.

Second, China needs to gradually get rid of its dependence on the US economy by shifting its economic strategy from export-driven to domestic demand-driven. Third, China needs to stop being a banker to the US and diversify its foreign currency assets. It should ease capital controls for its residents and businesses so that the private sector can play a stabilising role. Most importantly, China needs to gulp its ego and seek India's assistance in reforming the international monetary system. India stands to lose if the US continues with its policy of flooding the market with dollars, even though considerably less than China. Therefore, it may be a 'win-win' proposition for India to cooperate with China. If they were to come together, they would have sufficient clout to make the US act more responsibly and block the US from monetising its debt. The future leaders of the global economy need to get their act together to call the bluff of the incumbent. Else, the US will continue to take advantage of this unique wealth transfer mechanism to have its free meal.

The author, formerly with JPMorgan Chase, is CEO, Quantum Phinance







Speaking to students at Cambridge University earlier this month, Julian Assange, Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, offered an important insight: "while the Internet has in some ways an ability to let us know to an unprecedented level what government is doing … it is also the greatest spying machine the world has ever seen." Now, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has cautioned against the Net coming under a regime of espionage and censorship in various countries, negating its potential for good. These warnings underscore the rising importance of the world's biggest public network and the need for the people to ensure that it remains truly free and open, unimpeded by official controls, technological discrimination, and cost barriers. The digital natives who inhabit the world look upon unrestricted, good quality access to the Internet as a fundamental right. Indeed, some progressive countries have initiated action to legislate such an entitlement. Finland became a model state last year by making broadband connectivity a legal right. There is a message here for India, which brings up the rear among fast-growing countries when it comes to high-speed Internet connectivity. After setting ambitious targets, it has taken weak, jagged steps to improve broadband coverage, particularly in rural areas. The target is to provide high bandwidth connections to 160 million households by 2014, but this involves a steep climb — the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India says only about 10 million were connected at the end of 2010.

Physical access to the Internet is crucial, but as Mr. Assange and Mr. Berners-Lee emphasise, the more complex issue is one of official controls. India put in place the Information Technology Act, 2000 and amended it subsequently in a bid to address public and industry concerns. But the law is still founded on the principle of executive control of online publication, rather than judicial due process. The amended Act has drawn criticism from advocates of free speech and data protection for its over-broad sweep and poor legislative clarity. This law must be rewritten in plain language and the fundamental right of free speech protected without dodges and equivocation. The more odious provisions enabling pre-censorship must go, and generic descriptions that serve as definitions of infringements need to be replaced with specific ones. India also needs a data protection law that restricts access to personal data collected and held by government. The Internet era is all about sharing and enabling people to express themselves freely. The imperative is to specify just what governments are allowed to do — and prevent them from exercising Orwellian control.





Richard Goldstone, the internationally renowned jurist, has attracted attention by retracting key conclusions in the report he prepared for the United Nations Human Rights Council on Israel's 2008-09 Gaza Strip Operation Cast Lead. Writing in the Washington Post on April 1, he drew upon an independent investigation, chaired by the United States judge Mary McGowan Davis, to state that "civilians were not deliberately targeted" as a matter of Israeli policy — although both the Israeli government and Ms McGowan Davis have confirmed the validity of cases against certain Israeli soldiers. Mr. Goldstone also noted that Israel had investigated more than 400 cases of "operational misconduct" by members of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in Gaza; but that the Palestinian ruling party Hamas, for which Gaza is a stronghold, has investigated none of the allegations the Goldstone report made against both sides.

As can be expected, official reactions in Israel have been intemperate. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wants the original report to be "thrown into the dustbin of history." Other leading Israelis have launched vitriolic attacks on Mr. Goldstone, and there has been talk of attempts to persuade the U.N. to withdraw the report altogether. But the retractions do not alter the core fact that during Operation Cast Lead, more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed — and that half the number of Palestinians and three of the Israelis were civilians. Secondly, Judge McGowan Davis was herself critical of Israel; several investigations remain open, and there is "no indication" that those who planned and oversaw Cast Lead will be questioned. Thirdly, Mr. Goldstone states that he reached his original conclusions after Israel blocked all cooperation with his inquiry. He was given no information about Israeli forces' behaviour during Cast Lead, and his team was barred from the country. Fourthly, as Israeli journalist Aluf Benn points out in The Guardian, the IDF has investigated its own conduct in the Gaza war precisely because of the U.N.'s criticisms; it has also devised new procedures to protect civilians in urban warfare and to limit the use of white phosphorus in civilian areas. While a just solution to the Palestine question is nowhere in sight, the U.N. can claim two significant achievements. Its strictures dealt a great shock to the Israeli polity; and it has shown the Zionist state that not cooperating with legitimate international investigations could lead to indictments in the International Criminal Court.








From initially seeking to protect civilians to now aiming for a swift, total victory in Libya, the mission creep that has characterised the western powers' military attack raises troubling questions about their Libyan strategy and the risk that it could end up creating a jihadist citadel at Europe's southern doorstep. After having tacitly encouraged and endorsed the Saudi military intervention in Bahrain to crush peaceful protests against a totalitarian monarchy, the military intervention in a tribally divided Libya indeed has helped highlight a selective approach to the promotion of freedom and the protection of civilians — an approach reinforced by these powers' continuing support to other western-backed Arab regimes that have employed disproportionate force to quell popular uprisings or unrest.

Ivory Coast — where rampant abuses and widespread killings have led about one million residents to flee Abidjan city alone — was clearly a more pressing case for international intervention than Libya, given strongman Laurent Gbagbo's months-old defiance of the United Nations writ. But because Ivory Coast lacks strategic importance or oil, the exodus of Ivorians into Liberia and the influx of Liberian mercenaries continued unchecked, triggering civilian massacres.

The political upheaval in the Arab world is tectonic in nature, with the potential to transform the Middle East and North Africa in the same way as the 1989 Berlin Wall's fall fundamentally changed Europe. Indeed, 1989 was a watershed, producing the most profound global geopolitical changes in the most compressed timeframe in history. But the Arab world, with the same regimes and practices firmly entrenched for decades, had escaped change. Now, the tumult represents a belated reaction — a yearning for change that signals a grassroots democratic awakening.

But will this awakening lead to the democratic empowerment of the masses? After all, there is a wide gulf between democratic awakening and democratic empowerment. The air of expectancy in the Arab world today parallels the new hope that emerged in the East bloc in 1989. Yet history rarely moves in a linear or predictable fashion. While it is now clear that much of the Arab world is in transition, the end point is not yet clear.

In 1989, an American scholar, Francis Fukuyama, smugly claimed in a famous essay that the Cold War's end marked the end of ideological evolution, "the end of history," with the "universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." Yet two decades after the Cold War's end, the global spread of democracy is still encountering strong headwinds.

Latest developments indeed are a reminder that democratic empowerment hinges on complex factors in any society — both endogenous and exogenous. Internally, two factors usually hold the key: the role of security forces, and the technological sophistication of an autocracy's repressive capacity.

In recent weeks, security forces have helped shape developments in different ways in three Arab states. While the popular uprising in Yemen has splintered the security establishment there, with different military factions now in charge of different neighbourhoods in the capital Sanaa and the United States seeking to replace the Yemeni President with his No. 2, the Bahraini monarchy has employed foreign Sunni mercenaries that dominate its police force to fire on the predominantly Shiite demonstrators.

In Egypt, it was the military's refusal to side with Hosni Mubarak that helped end that ex-air force commander's three-decade-long dictatorial rule. The military, long part of the political power structure, had become increasingly wary of Mr. Mubarak's efforts to groom his son as his successor. Today, the heady talk of freedom cannot obscure the reality that the people's revolution in Egypt thus far has spawned only a direct military takeover, with the 30-year emergency law still in force and the country's political direction uncertain. Although the ruling military council has scheduled parliamentary elections in September, the fact is that in no country has the military voluntarily ceded power without mass protests or other pressures.

As for the second key internal factor, an autocracy's ability to police cellphone calls, electronic communications and Internet access has become as important as jackboots and truncheons. The use of social networking sites and instant messaging to organise mass protests has made a nation's capability to enforce stringent, real-time censorship of electronic communications critical.

External factors are especially important in small or internally weak countries. The House of Saud sent forces into Bahrain under the Gulf Cooperation Council banner to crush peaceful protests, yet it is civil war-torn Libya that became the target of a western military attack. The blunt fact is that no nation has contributed more to the spread of global jihad than Saudi Arabia. Indeed, this terror-bankrolling state's military intervention to prop up the Bahraini regime parallels the 1979 Soviet intervention to bolster a besieged Afghan regime in Kabul — an invasion that led to the multibillion-dollar, CIA-sponsored arming of Afghan rebels and the consequent rise of transnational Islamic terrorists, including the al-Qaeda.

Yet today, with the CIA conducting covert operations inside Libya and aiding rebels, Washington is in danger of coming full circle, having failed to learn from past mistakes in Afghanistan and Iraq, where quick initial military victories proved deceptive.

The broadening of the Libya intervention from a limited, humanitarian mission to an all-out assault on the Libyan military suggests that this war is really about ensuring that the Arab world does not slip out of western control. The intervention has seemingly been driven by a cold geopolitical calculation: to bottle up or eliminate Muammar Qaddafi so that his regime doesn't exploit the political vacuum in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia. Yet few have examined the costs that democracies are being made to pay — in the form of rising Islamic extremism and terrorism — for the overpowering U.S. intent to have only puppet Arab regimes, an objective that has fostered an alliance with inimical Wahhabi forces.

At a time when America needs comprehensive domestic renewal, it has slid — under a President who won the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office — into a third war when the other two wars already carry an aggregate $150-billion annual price tag. A quick military victory in Libya is what Barack Obama badly needs to reverse his declining popularity at home and win re-election.

But even if the Qaddafi regime collapses quickly under the mounting military attacks, recreating a unified, stable Libya free of Islamist groups may prove difficult. Saddam Hussein's ouster by the invading U.S. forces did not secure the desired political objectives; rather a once-stable, secular Iraq has been destabilised, radicalised and effectively partitioned. With Libya set to become Mr. Obama's Iraq, a plausible scenario there is a protracted stalemate, coupled with a tribally partitioned country.

The paradox is that while aiding Libyan contras even at the risk of creating another Afghanistan, the U.S. is desperately seeking a deal with medieval forces — the Taliban — to stave off certain defeat in the decade-long Afghan war. U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates recently rebuked allies for effectively abandoning the Afghan war. Why blame allies when the U.S. itself has abandoned the goal of victory and now seeks only a face-saving exit? And even as the U.S. fires hundreds of missiles at Libyan targets, its policy on Pakistan — the main sanctuary for transnational terrorists — is crumbling, with Washington clueless on how to stem the rising tide of anti-Americanism in a country that is now its largest aid recipient.

Still, with popular revolts sweeping much of the Arab world, the White House has concluded that Arab monarchs are likely to survive, whereas Arab Presidents are more likely to fall, and that it is acceptable for the U.S. to continue to coddle tyrannical kings. The effort to draw specious distinctions between "good" or valuable despots and "bad" or discardable despots is redolent of the manner in which the arming of "good" contras has exacted heavy international costs.

If tyrants are to be stopped from unleashing untrammelled repression, any international intervention — whether military in nature or in the form of economic and diplomatic sanctions — must meet the test of impartiality.

The resort to different standards and practices in the name of promoting human freedom, unfortunately, sends the message that any society's democratic empowerment is possible only if it jibes with the great powers' geopolitical interest. The fundamental issue is whether there should be a rules-based international order or an order pivoted on military might and driven by narrow, politically expedient interests of the most powerful.

(Brahma Chellaney is the author of Asian Juggernaut (Harper Paperbacks) and Water: Asia's New Battlefield (Georgetown University Press, forthcoming)).









Food prices become intolerable for the poor. Protests against corruption paralyse Parliament. Then a series of American diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks exposes a brazenly mendacious and venal ruling class; the head of government adored by foreign business people and journalists loses his moral authority, turning into a lame duck.

This sounds like Tunisia or Egypt, countries long deprived of representative politics and pillaged by the local agents of neoliberal capitalism. But it is India, where in recent days WikiLeaks has highlighted how democratic institutions are no defence against the rapacity and selfishness of globalised elites.

Most of the cables — being published by The Hindu, the country's most respected newspaper in English — offer nothing new to those who haven't drunk the "Rising India" Kool-Aid vended by business people, politicians and their journalist groupies. The evidence of economic liberalisation providing cover for a wholesale plunder of the country's resources has been mounting over recent months. The loss in particular of a staggering $39 billion in the government's sale of the telecom spectrum has alerted many Indians to the corrupt nexuses between corporate and political power.

Even the western financial press, unwaveringly gung-ho about the money to be made in India, is getting restless. Early this year, the Economist asked: "Is Indian capitalism becoming oligarchic?" — a question to which the only correct response is "Hell-ooo". In the Financial Times, Indian business dynasties have been described as "robber barons".

The intimate details about politicians revealed by the WikiLeaks still leave you speechless. What can one say about the former Cabinet Minister, a fervent spokesman for low-caste Hindus, who demanded a large bribe from Dow Chemical Company, which is being helped by senior American officials to overcome its association with the gas leak at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal that in 1984 killed and maimed tens of thousands of Indians? Indeed, the cables reveal U.S. business and officials to be as embedded in India's politics as they are in Pakistan's. In 2008, the aide to an old courtier of the Nehru-Gandhi family showed a U.S. diplomat two chests containing $25 million in cash — money to bribe members of Parliament into voting for an India-US nuclear deal, itself a prelude to massive U.S. arms sales to India. Publicly opposed to the nuclear deal, the leaders of the Hindu nationalist BJP are at pains to reassure American diplomats of their pro-U.S. credentials, even dissing their murderous Hindu nationalism as opportunistic, a mere "talking point".

The cables offer many such instances of the ideological deceptions practised by the purveyors of "Rising India". Virtually all economic growth of recent years, a senior politician admits, is concentrated in the four southern states, two western states (Gujarat and Maharashtra) and "within 100km of Delhi". But why worry? Another, from the BJP, has nieces and sisters living in the U.S., and "five homes to visit between DC and New York". As for the entry of retailers like Walmart into India, oh, that "should not seriously hurt the mom and pop stores that form a BJP constituency".

Not surprisingly, the Americans have developed contempt for such representatives of the world's largest democracy, who seem to validate Gandhi's denunciations of Parliament as a "prostitute". Hillary Clinton gets right to the point in a cabled inquiry about Pranab Mukherjee, the Finance Minister widely tipped as India's next Prime Minister: "To which industrial or business groups is Mukherjee beholden? Whom will he seek to help through his policies? Why was Mukherjee chosen for the finance portfolio over Montek Singh Ahluwalia?" — the last named is a reliably pro-U.S. technocrat.

But no one stands more diminished by the leaks than the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, one of the former employees of the World Bank and IMF who have helped make India safe for oligarchism. It has long been common knowledge in political circles that Mr. Singh removed his Petroleum Minister in 2006 for the latter's allegedly anti-American advocacy of a gas pipeline to Iran. We now know from the cables that the then U.S. Ambassador congratulated himself for this "undeniable pro-American tilt" of the Indian government. Visiting the White House in 2008, Mr. Singh induced a nationwide cringe when he blurted out to the most disliked American President ever: "The people of India deeply love you." (Even George Bush looked startled.) This love unblushingly speaks its name in the cables; even the racketeers of Pakistani military and intelligence appear dignified when compared with the Indians stampeding to plant kisses on U.S. behinds. Mr. Singh has presided over an ignominious surrender of national sovereignty and dignity.

There are many more revelations in store; these are tense days for many politicians, business people and journalists. They probably hope the bad news is buried by the cricket World Cup celebrations. They will also try to prove their fealty to the father of the Indian nation — last week politicians vied to threaten a sensitive study of Gandhi by the American writer Joseph Lelyveld with proscription. But there is nothing more un-Gandhian than this supra-national elite's wild cravings for power and wealth, and its indifference to suffering — a pathology of economic globalisation that Egyptians and Tunisians will soon learn elected governments don't cure, and even help conceal.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

(Pankaj Mishra is the author of Temptations of the West )







The horror stories have been emerging for weeks. Atrocities against children, bodies on the streets, charred corpses in the morgues. There is disturbing video footage of women mown down by machine guns as they peacefully demonstrate. And now there are revelations of large-scale massacres amid the mayhem engulfing Ivory Coast.

Thousands of people have been killed and one million have fled their homes in the five months since incumbent Laurent Gbagbo lost a presidential election but refused to stand down. His abhorrent behaviour in a country only recently scarred by civil war sparked a conflict that threatens the stability of the region, offers a stark warning to the rest of Africa, and throws down a challenge to the international community.

Last year's vote, delayed at least six times by Mr. Gbagbo, was designed to reinvigorate a country considered a beacon of prosperity in its postcolonial heyday. Despite being carried out under U.N. supervision, judged as exemplary and clearly won by the former Prime Minister, Alassane Ouattara, the election has ended up increasing the turmoil that has plagued Ivory Coast for two decades.

Almost all the blame for the chaos can be laid at Mr. Gbagbo's feet. The former academic rejected efforts to resolve the tensions while he and his supporters stoked up ethnic and religious divisions with inflammatory language against Mr. Ouattara — a northern Muslim — and his supporters and unleashed a campaign of terror. Mr. Gbagbo deserves to answer for this in the international criminal court.

But Mr. Ouattara has questions to answer. He has done little to reassure southerners that he would govern in their interests — and the discovery that perhaps 1,000 people were slaughtered last week in a district of Duekoue under the control of his supporters will only increase fears.

It will be hard to rebuild trust given recent events, especially just eight years after the civil war. But there are clear lessons to learn. Although the international community displayed rare unanimity against Mr. Gbagbo, demanding he respect the election result, diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis were hesitant. The African Union prevaricated, while the rest of the world fleetingly focused on the curiosity of the besieged winner holed up in a plush hotel, then turned away as the Arab spring erupted. It took until last week for the U.N. Security Council to finally adopt a tough stance against Mr. Gbagbo and his cronies.

What a contrast with Libya, where the U.N. Security Council rapidly passed one of its strongest resolutions in years, invoking its "responsibility to protect" to authorise military action. Sadly, despite the presence of thousands of U.N. peacekeepers, there seems to have been no shared sense of responsibility to protect the people of Ivory Coast.

The events have also served to highlight one of the biggest issues facing Africa: the reluctance of Big Men such as Mr. Gbagbo to leave office.

We have just seen this in Uganda, where Yoweri Museveni used state patronage to cling on to power after 25 years despite once admitting Africa's problems were caused by "leaders who overstay".

There are 19 elections due in Africa over the next 18 months, including a critical poll this week in Nigeria. There needs to be a far tougher line against despots who refuse to be dislodged.

The African Union must show leadership while the West should stop showering them in aid and selling them weapons. Just as in the countries north of the Sahara, new generations need leaders who represent them, not repress them.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

(Ian Birrell is a former speech writer for David Cameron)






Enough was enough. The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast (Unoci) had been taking a hammering in recent days. Its base was attacked with heavy weapons, the office of its mission chief hit by sniper fire, and 11 of its peacekeepers shot. It was only under such provocation that the mission finally decided to strike back.

For months Unoci has been pinned down in its base, forced to watch as Ivory Coast slid into civil war, with seemingly little will — or ability — to intervene. The International Crisis Group criticised Unoci for being "unable to implement its mandate to protect civilians subjected to violence or the threat of violence".

As in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere, the 9,000 peacekeepers have simply lacked the manpower to prevent widespread atrocities over a vast area. They can only return fire when they are shot at.

On a visit last month, I met Unoci peacekeepers from Bangladesh, Jordan and Togo and pilots from Ukraine. Press conferences are held in a prefab building on the hillside U.N. base; we emerged from one to hear the distant report of gunfire.

One of Unoci's most important roles has been the protection of the Golf hotel, where Alassane Ouattara and his government-in-waiting have been holed up for four months. In the hotel grounds I saw peacekeepers sprawling in hot and humid tents, and several white armoured U.N. vehicles, one of which had a hotel branded umbrella perched above it. The mood was passive, not active.

The scene was altogether less serene for Unoci patrols in central Abidjan, which have been under frequent attack from Laurent Gbagbo's forces.

The rebel offensive against Abidjan in recent days broke the impasse. Mr. Gbagbo turned his guns on the Unoci base and 170 civilian staff were evacuated. Eleven peacekeepers have been seriously wounded by gunfire. It was no wonder the mission chief, Choi Yong-jin, warned that they were at "breaking point".

So on Monday the organisation adopted an unusually robust posture. Unoci and French helicopters fired on Mr. Gbagbo's presidential palace and military barracks. Unoci claimed it launched the campaign to "neutralise" the heavy weapons that Mr. Gbagbo's special forces had been using against the civilian population, destroying them in four locations.

Mr. Choi has claimed: "Unoci's military impartiality is one of the cornerstones of its existence in Cote d'Ivoire." But there is no doubt that Monday night's offensive may have handed a swift victory to the U.N.-backed President Ouattara. So far this appears to have been far less controversial than the intervention in Libya, presumably because the African Union has endorsed Mr. Ouattara too.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






There is one thing we can all agree on, surely. The U.S. system of higher education is the best in the world. Harvard, MIT, Princeton and the rest dominate the league tables. Of course Oxford and Cambridge poke their Hogarthian noses in too, but all surveys suggest that around 75 per cent of the world's best universities are in the U.S.

But what do these universities do so well? Publishing attention-grabbing research, and raising money from alumni, obviously. What they don't seem so good at is supplying the needs of the U.S. high-skill labour market. The U.S. relies on soaking up talent educated elsewhere, as a book entitled Give Us Your Best and Brightest by Devesh Kapur and John McHale amply demonstrates. For example, of Indian-born residents of the U.S., about 40 per cent have a graduate degree — many in science and technology — compared with about 10 per cent of the "native-born" group.

And the picture is even clearer when it comes to medical education. A recent report in The Lancet shows that the U.S. simply does not train enough doctors to meet its voracious appetite for medical attention. Each year many more doctors retire than graduate from its medical schools and so the U.S. is compelled to raid the world to make up the difference.

For decades about 25 per cent of doctors practising in the U.S. received their training elsewhere. This now amounts to close to 200,000 doctors educated abroad.

Around 5,000 were trained in sub-Saharan Africa; predominantly Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa, but also elsewhere. In 2002, there were 47 Liberian-trained doctors working in the U.S., and just 72 working in Liberia. And even when a doctor is recruited from Canada, Canada then looks to South Africa, and South Africa to wherever it can. The poorest will always lose out.

In most countries, especially in the developing world, doctors are trained at public expense. If a doctor from Ghana is recruited to the U.S., not only does Ghana lose its doctor, it loses the money paid for the training. It may be that the doctor is likely to send a portion of earnings back home (known in the development business as "remittances"). But this is scant compensation. In sum, the U.S. is receiving a massive subsidy from the developing world in training its medical staff.

But why am I picking on the U.S.? Nigel Crisp, former head of the U.K.'s health service (NHS), points out that, historically, the U.K. was worse, but the picture has largely changed now. Recently, it woke up to the damage it was doing and agreed a code of practice with other Commonwealth countries, and opened more medical schools.

Why the U.S. doesn't supply its own needs may seem a bit of a mystery. After all, doctors in the U.S. are not exactly badly paid. But training is long, arduous, and, of course, expensive. Apparently, a newly trained doctor graduates with about $200,000 of debt. This is a serious business, and, unlike lawyers and bankers, of which there are no American shortages, doctors lack the opportunities to earn immense salaries immediately and pay it all back.

Furthermore, unlike in the U.K., there is no central planning of higher education. How could a decision to open up new medical schools be implemented? No doubt there are ways, but the political process would be tortuous.

In the U.K., it was decreed and it was done. Well, the medical profession, bless them, having first identified the problem, moaned a bit about the new proposals, but subsequently fell into line.

So while we look with envy at the wealth and achievements of the top American universities, we should bear in mind that not all is as well as it seems. In fact, it may be that the weakness of the U.S. higher education system is contributing to the health and development crisis in some of the world's poorest regions.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

(Jonathan Wolff is professor of philosophy at University College London.)   






Britain will lift its ban on members of the Libyan regime entering the U.K. if they renounce their loyalty to Muammar Qadhafi, Foreign Secretary, William Hague told MPs on Monday as western governments continued to try to engineer a political solution to the deadlocked two-month-old conflict.

The decision came as David Cameron announced an increase in Tornado strike aircraft to be deployed to hit Mr. Qadhafi's forces while on a visit to the airbase in southern Italy, where British pilots are stationed as they police the no-fly zone in Libya. Four extra jets will join the mission, making a total of 12.

In Tripoli, the Libyan government was "optimistic" that a political outcome to the crisis could be found, spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said, adding that the regime was "the most positive party in the whole conflict". Its envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, arrived in the Turkish capital, Ankara, as part of a three-country tour, reportedly with a message that Libya was willing to negotiate a way out of the military impasse.

Mr. Obeidi's visits, combined with unconfirmed reports that two of Mr. Qadhafi's sons are proposing a transition to a constitutional democracy, suggest that significant elements of the regime may be ready to broker a deal on Libya's future.

However, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini dismissed Mr. Obeidi's proposals, demanding Mr. Qadhafi must relinquish power. The Libyan opposition and most of the international community say there can be no political deal without the departure of Mr. Qadhafi and his sons.

Shamsuddin Abdulmelah, spokesman for the opposition in Benghazi, said: "Qadhafi and his sons have to leave before any diplomatic negotiations can take place." Italy — significant as the former colonial power and because of its strong ties with the Qadhafi regime — joined France and Qatar in recognising the rebel government in the east of the country. It said that the interim transitional national council, which represents the rebels in the east, was the international community's only legitimate interlocutor. Kuwait said it would also recognise the opposition de facto government within days. In the Commons, Mr. Hague said Libya had no future while Mr. Qadhafi remained in power and that the international community must keep up the pressure.

"The world is united in believing that the Qadhafi regime has lost all legitimacy and that he must go, allowing the Libyan people to determine their own future," he said.

The defection last week of Libya's Foreign Minister and Qadhafi confidant, Moussa Koussa, "exposes its utter lack of legitimacy even in the eyes of those most closely associated with it in the past".

Mr. Hague said coalition military action, humanitarian aid and diplomatic contacts with the rebel government would continue.

Libyan ministers and officials who are prepared to abandon the regime would be "treated with respect and in accordance with our laws", he added. "In the case of anyone currently sanctioned by the EU and U.N. who breaks definitively with the regime, we will discuss with our partners the merits of removing the restrictions that currently apply to them while being clear that this does not constitute any form of immunity whatsoever ... Sanctions are designed to change behaviour and it is therefore right that they are adjusted when new circumstances arise." Mr. Koussa — whose flight to the U.K. was termed a "departure" by Mr. Hague, rather than a defection — was refused formal leave to enter the U.K. because of sanctions, but was granted temporary admission and met by officials. The Foreign Secretary said he would be encouraged to co-operate with Scottish law enforcement officials who wished to question him about the Lockerbie bombing.

Mr. Hague confirmed that the U.K. had sent a diplomatic mission to Benghazi for talks with the interim council. The European Union also said it was sending envoys to the rebel capital today as a "listening exercise".

Britain was not engaged in arming the rebels, Mr. Hague stressed, but would supply non-lethal equipment, including telecommunications which could not be intercepted, to "help with the protection of civilian lives and the delivery of humanitarian aid".

In Tripoli, Moussa Ibrahim told a small group of foreign reporters the government was "optimistic that a general political solution can be found for the Libyan crisis". It was, he added, "especially very positive about any peace deals. We have been the most positive party in the whole conflict." He claimed that many countries were "beginning to realise that they had based their opinion on misinformation in the media about the actions of Libyan forces.

"Many actually feel embarrassed about the position they took based on media reports."

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011








The hungerstrike by eminent social activist Anna Hazare on the question of the Lokpal Bill, and the findings of a Group of Ministers that the discretionary powers enjoyed by ministers need not be dispensed with, have once again raised concerns about how far we are prepared to go — institutionally and conceptually — to deal with the issue of corruption. Since a series of scandals relating to public funds, or the twisting of rules to benefit high officials, broke in the country late last year, a number of cases have gone to court (such as on the 2G spectrum

allocation issue), top individuals — including a chief minister — have been removed and proceeded against, and numerous inquiries are on at different levels. These are a good sign. But these are also an indicator of how widespread corrupt practices are, in the states and at the Centre. There is a feeling in the country which cannot be easily brushed aside — that the range of government actions undertaken to fight corruption was the direct consequence of sustained pressure applied through media exposures, and the exertions of Opposition parties and the judiciary. We saw this happen at the Centre certainly and in Maharashtra. But Karnataka has turned out to be a case of the ruling party and the chief minister playing surprising political games to get around the institution of Lokayukta, although the Lokayukta in that state is on a firmer footing than elsewhere, and is empowered to conduct its own investigations.

If the political executive might show little inclination to move, as appears to be the case in Karnataka, or is slow to respond until extensive public pressure is mounted, as we saw with the Centre and Maharashtra, then inbuilt institutional safeguards to deal with the malaise of corruption seem advisable. This is why questions relating to discretionary powers enjoyed by ministers and senior officials, and the creation of a Lokpal, or ombudsman, at the Centre become relevant.

When the UPA-2 government came under sustained scrutiny last year on corruption-related matters, Mrs Sonia Gandhi seized the occasion of the AICC session in December to make the telling comment that even as the country's economic power had grown, its moral universe had shrunk. That observation echoed with many. But the system appears to have cleverly got around Mrs Gandhi's proposal of doing away with discretionary powers. A Group of Ministers led by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is learnt to be of the view that discretionary powers serve a purpose, and that these are exercised within a framework of rules. That is a self-serving argument. Discretionary powers can certainly be used to help the deserving, but sadly that is often not the case. The Congress leadership needs to review the matter and bring the subject for wider consultation in society, rather than leave it to a mere GoM, which in any case is an interested party. As for the Lokpal Bill, several governments have resisted the move. Many want the Prime Minister kept out of the purview of the Lokpal. This cannot be acceptable in a democratic system, although the PM does need to be shielded from vexatious and motivated quarters. Some aspects of the civil society proposals on the Lokpal, advanced by Anna Hazare, might appear presumptuous or excessive, especially those pertaining to the legislature. But there is something to be said for their broad direction. The government can avoid a discussion on these issues at the risk of its credibility. Mrs Gandhi's National Advisory Council has started a dialogue with the Hazare group. That's a good sign. Now it's time for the Congress to bring pressure on its government to adopt a more helpful attitude in laying a sturdy template for combating corruption.








After understandable national joy and jubilation over the World Cup, it is time to turn our attention to the harsh realities on the ground of which steadily mounting corruption — both in its shocking spread and staggering scale — is obviously the worst. Corruption is indeed eating into the country's vitals by corroding the entire Indian system from top to bottom. The reprehensible process, in the words of experts on the subject, is both "systemic and systematic".

There are those — especially in the ruling establishment who are main beneficiaries of cancerous corruption — who argue that there is no need to return to the painful subject after the mother of all scams, the 2G spectrum allocation, is being pursued in law courts, the Shunglu Committee's report on the mega scandal of the Commonwealth Games is being "processed", and Hasan Ali Khan, the Pune horse-breeder officially described as the "biggest tax-evader" and "hoarder of black money in foreign banks", is in jail. To them I would offer three major reasons for pressing ahead with the struggle against corruption, graft, malfeasance and perversion of the rule of law.
First, if the law is now taking its course in the horrendous 2G case and its principal perpetrator, former telecommunications minister A. Raja, is in judicial custody, no credit is due to the leaders of the United Progressive Alliance government. In full knowledge of his misdeeds in 2007, they reappointed him to his old job two years later and then protected him until it became impossible to do so. Their reasoning was that coalition politics has its "compulsions".
Moreover, this case would never have proceeded so speedily as it has were it not for the Supreme Court's supervision of all activities in this connection of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Even so, some competent observers have pointed out that there are "serious omissions" in the comprehensive chargesheet that the CBI filed on April 2: some persons obviously complicit in the 2G loot or direct beneficiaries of "huge kickbacks" have not been included in the list of accused. However, the apex court can be depended upon to take care of such matters.
Mr Hasan Ali Khan was left completely free for well over three years; he could do what he liked. Nobody bothered when he went to Singapore for months, allegedly on a fake passport, and opened several bank accounts there. Only after the Supreme Court made some sharp observations in February did the Enforcement Directorate (ED) take the Pune stud farm owner into custody. But since the ED is not under the direct supervision of the apex court, on March 29, after reading the transcript of the ED's "custodial interrogation" of Mr Khan, their Lordships were constrained to express their "displeasure" with the directorate's failure to put to Mr Khan questions about the sources of black money — questions that should have been asked but weren't. The point is whether the directorate had been dragging its feet on its own accord or under instructions "from above".
The second reason why attention should not be diverted from burgeoning corruption is that only eternal vigilance can help India rid itself of this scourge. Gone is the era when scams were infrequent; now there is a scam a day. Over just a few days there have been nearly a dozen, of which let me mention only a few. The most chilling of these is the growing number of airline pilots who are being arrested for securing their jobs by using forged documents, sometimes issued by fraudulent institutions such as a training academy in Baramati, Maharashtra. It is no mere coincidence that many of these "fake fliers", endangering the lives of passengers, are relatives of senior executives of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
A Chandigarh-based businessman who is also a Trinamul Congress member of Parliament flew to poll-bound Assam in his private jet from Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport with `57 lakhs in cash and nobody batted an eyelid. Only the Chief Election Commissioner has asked for the transfer of the airport staff that allowed him to take off. The Punjab and Haryana high court has quashed a whole series of appointments, ranging from relatively senior posts to those of drivers, by the Haryana government. In neighbouring Punjab, the Vigilance Bureau has "booked" an Indian Administrative Service officer, now retired, and three others for allegedly "embezzling crores of rupees" from the funds — hold your breath — allocated for celebrating the birth anniversary of Shaeed-e-Azam (Great Martyr) Bhagat Singh.
Against this backdrop the third reason for remaining focused on corruption assumes great importance. A two-day seminar on transparency and accountability in governance at the Vivekananda International Foundation in Delhi over the weekend, attended by eminent Indians and some foreigners, warned the powers that be that the dynamism imparted to the campaign against corruption by the public in general and activists in particular, as well as the media and the judiciary, would grow, not subside. Indeed, the conference formed an Anti-Corruption Front under the "patronage" of Baba Ramdev who is already trying to mobilise the masses over this issue.
M.N. Venkatachaliah, a former Chief Justice of India (CJI) who inaugurated the conference, regretted that the government was showing no political will to fight corruption and black money stashed abroad, two problems with a symbiotic relationship. He suggested that Parliament should immediately pass a law to declare illegal all bank deposits maintained abroad by Indians. Thereafter, only the accounts of proven legitimacy should be released and others confiscated. Most countries of the world, he believed, would cooperate in this. The gathering endorsed the idea. Some scholars pointed out that black money in India was four per cent of the gross domestic product in the 1950s when Nicholas Kaldor estimated it, and it was now close to half of the economy!
Another former CJI, J.S. Verma, concentrating on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's role, argued that it was no good for the latter to claim that he was honest, that and nobody brought to his notice what was going on. As the man in charge, said Mr Verma, the Prime Minister was accountable for whatever his colleagues and subordinates in the government did.








On April 7, 2011, Cambodia and Thailand are scheduled to meet in Bogor, Indonesia, to try and resolve the long-standing dispute over the Preah Vihear temple complex. This will be the first time that the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will mediate in resolving a border dispute between two of its member states. For more than two weeks in February, there was renewed fighting along the Thai-Cambodian border that left 11 dead and several thousand villagers displaced in the worst exchange of fire since tensions began in July 2008.

While several observers believe that the conflict is to do with unresolved border issues, it is also a result of historical antagonism between the two neighbouring countries over issues of sovereignty and claims of nationalism dictated by the compulsions of each country's political posturing.
Last week, there were renewed allegations from Cambodia that Thailand has been unwilling to indicate where the observers from Indonesia would be stationed. Moreover, there is some ambiguity on whether the two will have a comprehensive General Border Committee (GBC) meeting or if it will remain at the level of the Joint Boundary Committee (JBC). The minutes of JBC meetings need parliamentary approval. Given the current political impasse in Thailand, there has been little headway in resolving this.
While a temporary ceasefire is in place following meetings of foreign ministers at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), finding a more permanent solution is imperative. This was evident when the Asean appointed an observer team to study the protracted tensions and seek a bilateral resolution. The Asean's approach at the initiative of Indonesia, which is Asean's current chair, was endorsed by the UNSC.
The dispute (the battle is over a small piece of land, about 4.6 square kilometres, which surrounds the Preah Vihear temple complex) can be traced back to the period of Cambodian history when the Angkor dynasty extended to areas of modern-day Thailand and Vietnam. For nearly six centuries — from the 9th to the 15th century — the glory of the Angkor dynasty (Khmer) in Cambodian history remained unparalleled. But as the Angkor dynasty weakened, there were inroads into its territorial limits by its two neighbours — Siam ( is modern-day Thailand) and Vietnam. Added to this historical dynamic is the fact that the colonial legacy of French in Cambodia has contributed to the current conflict as several border issues remain unresolved since then.
The Cambodian provinces of Battambang and Siem Reap, which is the area of the present conflict, is home to the architectural monuments of Angkor Wat and other temple complexes, of which Preah Vihear is one. (In 2008, the Preah Vihear region was declared a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). These two provinces have changed hands between Thailand and Cambodia following wars between the Angkor and Siamese kingdoms, leading to both countries claiming the territory.
When the French established their colonial hold over the Indo-China region, the modern states of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were established. During the colonial period, the British territories extended to the western borders of Siam (Thailand) and the French administrative authority extended to the eastern borders of Siam. Thailand remained a buffer zone between these two colonial giants. In this context, Thailand's claims become debatable because it traded off territorial spaces to both Britain and France in exchange for freedom from colonialism.
By the early 20th century, the modern-day maps of the region were clearly established. At the time of the border settlement, which took place in 1907, the territories of Battambang and Siem Reap fell under the French protectorate in Cambodia.
In fact, as recently as the 1940s, these territories, once again, changed hands between the Thai and French rulers. In 1941, after the onset of the Second World War, Thai rulers used the Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia, which gave an impetus to the nationalist movements, as an opportunity to strike at the vulnerability of the French. This led to the Franco-Siamese War of 1941 in which the French ceded the territories of Battambang and Siem Reap to Thailand. The territories were returned to the French after the war, following the Japanese defeat.

The Thai government took the border dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ruled that sovereignty over the area belonged to Cambodia. But the Thais have contested this decision on the grounds that it is based on a study of historical practice and customs rather than looking at the demarcation on the basis of the existing watershed. Thailand's claim was that on the basis of the existing watershed the area would be part of the Thai territory.
If one is to take recourse to international law, then the concept of uti possidetis can be applied to this case. According to uti possidetis, the territoriality of newly sovereign states is to be based on previous administrative boundaries. Given this interpretation, and taking into account the boundary at the time of independence from the French, the disputed territory belongs to Cambodia.
The reality of the colonial legacy is that the administrative zones established by the colonial powers often cut across three parallels — ethnic, tribal and historical territorial boundaries.
These boundaries shifted during the ancient and medieval periods of history when kingdoms and dynasties established their hold over one another and fought for space and power. As a result, the ambiguities of territorial limits cannot be contested using ancient and medieval histories and power structures. That's why, to avoid this, recognition is given on the basis of administrative zones carved out by the colonial powers.
This, in fact, is one of the critical factors that shape, and resolve, modern-day conflicts in both Asia and Africa where state boundaries often don't match nationalistic fervour and people resort to using ancient and medieval history as a tool for demanding realignment of regions.
The Asean has always tried to find a solution to issues that challenge the region through consultation and consensus. Addressing bilateral tensions between its members was highlighted in its 2007 charter.
While the realities of political compulsion may not always be absent, the Asean's approach has been to evolve a framework based on consensus.
In the context of Asean as an observer for the current stand-off between Thailand and Cambodia, it needs to recognise that the resolution of the conflict cannot go against the norms established by international law and the ruling of the ICJ. It would be erroneous to ignore the realities of the colonial legacy and recalibrate territories of modern states on the basis of unbridled nationalistic demands.

Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU








It is termed flashbulb memory — those moments of towering historical importance, or great emotional significance, when one move becomes a game changer and years later when recalled, most people always remember where they were or what they happened to be doing when that moment happened. Like the assassination of a world leader or a natural calamity — or, as in happier cases — a World Cup win. Apart from the victory itself and the exultation that followed, what will be remembered about India lifting the Cricket World Cup after 28 years on Saturday night is how very emotional it all became.


"We were all very emotional and tears also came as I have been chasing this dream for 22 years," L'il Master Sachin Tendulkar told scribes, as he described as 'the greatest moment' of his career.


"Too many tears, too many emotions," southpaw Yuvraj Singh echoed Tendulkar's words in the saturation coverage that followed. And the TV grabs and pictures said it all anyway. Even coach Kirsten and the unflappable king of cool, Do-No-Wrong Dhoni, had their eyes glistening.


So why am I writing about grown men crying in a Maximum Mumbai write-up? It's not like we don't have enough things to cry about. The recent provisional census report outlining the alarmingly dipping girl child sex ratio is enough to drive anyone to tears and if that isn't moving enough, there are other social/civic issues. Water conservation as summer approaches, the sorry state of our green cover, the way our animals are treated - each and every one of these and more could do with some highlighting.


And yet, here I am, going on about those very public tears on Saturday night. There have been other victories, other achievements on global platforms. Rahman winning at the Oscars is also a victory perceived to be on the world stage, so too our CWG achievements in the women's 4X400 relay etc, or our shooting achievement in the 2008 Olympics. Right after the World Cup win we had Bhupathi-Paes win the ATP Masters in Miami.


And I should know something about seeing grown men cry, I've watched my own husband (normally stoic to the point of being superhuman), captaining the Indian rugby team, break down along with the rest of his teammates after a particularly heartbreaking loss to another nation.


But this is not rugby or shooting or any other sport. And its not about loss, it's about jubilation. Something about a win on a stage like cricket makes it about more than just the game. It's personal. It happened right here in the city. A nation was watching closely at every step, waiting to exhale. When the moment finally arrived, it was bigger than us all. It blew us away, this rare moment of upliftment in a milieuof internal political deceit (scams), global social despair (the Middle East, the Japan crisis), general unrest.


To mark this unusual reprieve, we partied until dawn, some all weekend. When the tears came, tears of stunned, blessed joy, a country cried along. Laughter and tears, gravitas and levity, how did Eric Clapton put it - Tears in Heaven? What could be more Maximum Mumbai than that?









Regime change in Libya is not mandated by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1973, it only authorises the member states "to take all necessary measures to protect civilians". And it is under the guise of 'protecting the civilians' that Western powers seem to have stretched the resolution 1973 — since the military action of Gaddafi against the rebels is causing civilian deaths, protection of civilians cannot be insured without the removal of Gaddafi.


This new resolve comes despite the fact that the UNSC resolution firmly negates the possibility of foreign ground forces, "excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory."


According to media reports, CIA operatives and British Special Forces are already supporting the rebels inside Libya. "President Obama has insisted that no American military ground troops participate in the Libyan campaign, [but] small groups of CIA operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of westerners," reports The New York Times.


Western powers are clearly overstepping a line; the bombing may have some justification but the presence of ground forces is in complete contravention of the UNSC mandate. The UN resolution emphatically excludes the possibility of "foreign occupation force of any form"; the emphasis on "any form" effectively closes even the option of foreign intelligence operatives or Special Forces. The UNSC resolution evidently is only a fig leaf for a broader agenda of regime change in Libya.


So far this plan has seemed hard to implement with badly fragmented rag-tag bands of rebels finding it difficult to dislodge Gaddafi's regime. With Gaddafi now digging in his heels, the Western powers may perhaps not hesitate to dismember Libya to carry out their larger intent. Nobody favours the continuation of a murderous despotic regime like that of Gaddafi's; the debate is only about the legality of actions and how easily western powers can subvert UN resolutions to suit their goals.


The pro-democracy charade of the West has fully exposed their double standards. While Libya is pounded recklessly, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa in Bahrain and Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh have been allowed to murder civilians at will.


Though continued unrest in Yemen may have forced America to rethink its support for Ali Saleh — till recently "considered a critical ally in fighting the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda" — change in Bahrain, headquarter of United States Navy's Fifth Fleet, seems more difficult to come. And it's not only the presence of US military which is prolonging the rule of Khalifa. Bahrain has become a hotspot for a larger battle of regional dominance between two regional powers: Sunni dominated Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran.


The revolt in Bahrain is led by the Shi'ite majority, who form 70 per cent of the population; while the ruling family belongs to the 30 per cent Sunni minority. An arrival of democracy and a change of regime in Bahrain, as happened in the case of Iraq, will empower the Shi'ite majority, ultimately leading to the rise of Iranian influence in the region. Saudi Arabia is also apprehensive of a revolt by the Shi'ite population in its oil rich eastern part of the country.


Meanwhile, guns of Pakistan are on hire to protect the despotic rulers. In the last week of February, the Fauji Foundation subsidiary of Pakistan's army "organised the recruitment of over 1,000 ex-army personnel for service in Bahrain's National Guard". In retaliation, on March 15, Bahraini protestors attacked Pakistani residences and killed "four Pakistanis, including two policemen of Pakistani descent".Saudi Prince and secretary general of the National Security Council Prince Bandar Bin Sultan recently visited Pakistan; on his request, the Pakistani army has decided "to keep two army divisions on standby for deployment to Saudi Arabia in the event of trouble there".


It seems America is paying a price for its misadventures. America considers Iran an adversary and is eager to constrict Iranian influence in the region. But American military intervention in Iraq only proved beneficial for Iran. Ouster of Saddam Hussein not only removed Iran's sworn enemy, it also empowered the long suppressed Shiite majority, eventually enhancing Iran's influence in Iraq. Iran's staunch support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine helps Iran build its image as a pro-resistance anti-Israel state on the Arab Street. America, the self-avowed champion of democracy, not only sides with the despots to protect its geopolitical interests, but also protects hard regimes like those of Saudi Arabia. Ironically 'theocratic' Iran appears to be standing with the pro-democracy movement of the Arab world.








Mayank, the watchman, hobbled around in shoes that gave him shoe bite; my neighbour ate with his left hand for three days. The dhobi ensured that her daughter wore pink ribbons every evening.


Abhishek Bachchan apparently sat in an uncomfortable position in an uncomfortable chair, Aamir Khan wore the same tee-shirt, pair of shoes and socks as he did a few days before (phew!); Vivek Oberoi, it is said, eschewing the VIP stand, sat in the humble pleb enclosure; the radio jockey announced he sat in his boxer shorts (move over whatshername Pandya).


My sister had a party that comprised the same number of people as when we watched the India-Pak match at her house - and when an aunt said she wouldn't be able to come, as many as two nephews were dispatched to escort her to the party, lest the numerological imbalance create negative energy.


The maid's ensemble created panic, she should have worn a blue sari, but wore a red one instead. But she had a trump card up her sleeve - three coconuts pledged to Siddhivinayak. The marble grill at the dargah bled red with the innumerable threads tied to the filigree.


So if you think it was Zaheer Kahns' bowling, or Gambhir's steady batting, Yuvraj's innings or Dhoni's flamboyance that won the World Cup for India - you're probably in the minority. As all of India will agree, there were greater powers at work that night. Novenas and candles, mantras and mannats - that night, every god and goddess worth his or her salt stood alert in the skies above Wankhede.


Their failure to deliver on promises could see mass defection to another denomination - this was the World Cup final we were talking about after all! So the ones who really won the match for us were the shoe-bitten watchman and the beribboned child, the uncomfortable celebrity and the well-balanced party and thousands more whose sacrifices called forth a divine intervention of no mean power. As for me, do I really believe that? Nah! I knew we would win the championship on the basis of sound reason and logic - Rajini, you see, was in the stadium that night!








Indians as a rule like to deify individuals to the extent that their images become larger than life. Next, we seek perfection in these images, which means that nothing that they do can be wrong and consequently these creations are superimposed on the individual.


Now, they become icons of perfection to be revered. Third, once these icons are created, we are not allowed to criticise the same and getting even faintly critical of these creations is blasphemy.


And last, while all other perverse acts such as communal animosity or corruption are tolerated in our society, these heresies are punished with violence, and the freedom of expression is choked.


This is a systemic observation in our evolution and it is not surprising that Joseph Lelyveld has gotten on the incorrect side by making observations about Mahatma Gandhi, though they are supposed to be based on letters from the official archives. We have seen such instances in the past too, where any such pointers against any of our predefined icons have led to wide scale damage of property and the consequent banning of books.


There are three aspects there. The first is that we are rarely able to separate the issue from the individual. Gandhi played a very important role in India's independence, and our discussions should surround this issue only. The personal habits or proclivities, even if true, and apparently deviant in the conventional sense are irrelevant. It is here that we err as once we convert the human form into a symbol of virtue (very broadly defined in very orthodox terms) we get intolerant to further discussion.


We need to change our way of thinking. If we like Keith Richards or Lady Gaga, it should not matter what they do to their personal lives, as it is only their music which counts. The same happens with our cricketers where Tendulkar is deified and nothing that he could do can be incorrect. Recall when ex-Austrailan cricketer Adam Gilchrist had in his autobiography said something about the sporting spirit of the genius, it created a stir because we cannot accept that our God-like cricketer can behave humanly at times!


The second is who is it that makes a noise about such things? It is invariably the lumpen elements of society, which includes politicians hoping to gather electoral support, who like to raise a storm. The man on the street does not really bother about such things. These elements use the occasion to get closer to their constituency and the best way is to point out to the masses that their gods are being challenged and they are protecting India's honour by indulging in violence. It is assumed that this works, and maybe politically fulfilling. The effective way of showing dissent is to beat up the distributors or publishers and fight for a ban. This high disruptive nuisance value always wins as the loss on account of damage to property is a high cost to incur for preserving the sanctity of a book.


The third is why do people invite such controversy? While Lelyveld's intentions are not clear, very often controversy is good publicity as it invites interest of people who would otherwise have been indifferent. Both Advani and Jaswant Singh saw their books do well at the counters by making controversial remarks even though they invited wrath from the BJP.Gilchrist too released his book when a match was being played in India, which meant that lots of Indians would have bought the book to know what was written. Salman Rushdie too knew that he could not get away that easily as did James Laine.


The first question is whether anyone cares? The present generation's knowledge of the Freedom Struggle is limited to the history textbook and treats Gandhi just like say the earlier generation looked at the World Wars or our parent's generation, the Mughal dynasty. Values have changed and the modern gods are Microsoft and Facebook. What Gandhi or anyone else did, if at all it is true, is of no consequence. The illiterate would however find value in such actions while the unemployed now have some work to do in indulging in arson like activity.


The second is whether a ban would work? The answer is straight forward no. In this day and age, banning any form of literature transfers eyeballs to the internet, which would otherwise not have shown much interest. A mature approach would be to simply ignore what is written and let historians argue the same at their conferences. Gandhi will remain a global icon for his contribution to India's independence. Nothing else matters really.









From time to time state governments have been trying one after another mechanism to stamp out corruption from the administration. With each experiment, new facets of corruption and innovative means and methods of saboteurs came to light. This necessitated revision of laws or enactment of new laws to meet the exigency of situation. In the process, it was felt that structural changes were also needed in a fight against corruption. That was the rationale behind the State government forming Anti-Corruption Commission (1962-1983) under the State Government Servants' Prevention of Corruption Act. Experience had taught the government that the anti-corruption Act, though in force, was not strong enough to serve the purpose for which it had been formed. But since the issue of good governance has been gaining momentum and various new laws enacted in recent times enjoin upon the government to pay full attention to good governance, it has again felt that existing mechanism was not strong and comprehensive enough to bring corrupt officials to book. Therefore the State Vigilance Commission has been constituted under an Act of the Legislative Assembly. The question under discussion is that a cross section of civil society comprising political commentators, legal luminaries, media persons and social workers have expressed their doubts about the efficacy of the Act and the organization namely SVC in meeting the purpose for which it has been created. Their main argument is that the Commission is actually toothless because it is not fully empowered to deal with cases of corruption. Essentially the question is that the government wants to stamp out corruption that has crept into the administrative organ of the state. This purpose can be solved only when the government is not a party to the enquiry and investigation of cases of corruption. That being the most important part of the mandate of the Commission, there is serious doubt if a government controlled agency can function impartially. Experience and logic say that impartial investigation into corruption cases against government officials should not be expected to happen, particularly if the indicted official is of a higher rank with considerable influence and clout in political and ruling circles. It has to be reminded that many senior and retired officers including Directors of the CBI, the most important and powerful investigative agency of the Union government, have publicly said that they could not function independently and faced interference by the government in many sensitive cases.

It is this apprehension that has motivated sections of civil society and RTI activists in Jammu to come together, discuss the issue of SVC and pass a unanimous resolution demanding that the organization be given wide powers if it is to serve the purpose of preventing corruption. Recent scams of incredible magnitude and of intricate networking in the country have forced civil society to stand up and raise its voice against a vice that is eating into the vital of the polity. Unless the investigating agency is liberated from the control of the government, no justice will be done to the civil society. The case of 2G Spectrum and the CWG are eye openers. The State government is fully aware that one of the major disappointments expressed by the local civil society is the inability of the government to control and eradicate corruption in the administrative organ. While the government is trumpeting some of the measures it has taken or intends to take to remove alienation of the people and bridge the gap caused by recent upsurge and turmoil in the valley, it underrates the urgency of stamping out corruption in administrative structure. The real and effective parts of the entire business converge on accountability factor, which is dismally ineffective. Lack of accountability and action against the indicted officials, lengthy and complicated judicial procedure of bringing them to book and dilly-dallying of investigating teams, all lead to the procrastination of enquiry. As time fleets, people begin to forget about the scam, something which the government inadvertently feels comfortable with, and in the process people lose trust in the investigating agency as well as the government. This is precisely what the RTI activists have hinted at in their discussion on the subject and the resolution they have submitted to the government. Amusingly, the appointment of Lokayukt, an agency which would have effectively helped in preventing corruption among officials of the state, has been deferred and is almost made redundant. In these circumstances it is difficult to repudiate the charge that somehow and somewhere there are powers unwilling to have a foolproof anti-corruption mechanism in place.







A sport is a major engagement of the youth anywhere in the world. But for exhibition of sports as an essential instinct of the youth, there is the need for elaborate infrastructure, which, however, is lacking in the state. First of all, we need to have what is called sports culture. Instead of our youth always looking at mega sports events in the television and regaling at the wonders which sportsmen and women make, is it not much more healthy and appropriate to let them be in action on the playground. The Army Commander has made an exciting idea of his establishment floating Kashmir Premier League along the lines of IPL for cricket fans in the valley. There is no doubt that we have the talent and the talent has the proper urge not only to play but to win and lead. Unfortunately, they are handicapped by lack of necessary infrastructure and logistics that are essentials for promotion of sports as we see happening in other parts of the world. In the towns and rural sides of the state, playing grounds do not figure anywhere. There is criminal apathy towards allocation of land for playing grounds. Secondly, there is hardly any incentive worth the name at the state level for sports clubs usually run by local sports enthusiasts. Thirdly, there is no real exposure of our talent. It lies dormant owing to the absence of logistics. Army's plan of KPL tournaments this summer is a pioneering idea and hopefully if the state authorities are willing to cooperate, it could be the beginning of bringing in sports culture in our state. The Sports Authority of India should extend its reach to the state and bring various sports clubs under its wings for support and encouragement. The state has not received full attention of this agency. Constituting a State Sports Authority with sufficient and broad-based expert consultative input and financial capability could revolutionize the sports culture in the State.








With the situation in Afghanistan no better than it was two years ago and differences between President karzai and Washington over conduct of war now in the open, it is doubtful if the United States can keep to its schedule of troop withdrawal to begin form July this year. The Taliban, operating from their sanctuaries in Pakistan, are showing no sing of being defeated. Despite the surge of 30,000 US troops to boost international Security Assistance Force, a coordinated strategy on the conduct of war, which should have ended by now, has yet to take shape. The morale of the foreign soldiers, who are taking casualties on a daily basis, is running low following the US decision to get disengaged as early as possible. The Taliban, who refuse to negotiate a deal on reconciliation, have intensified their attacks, causing both civilian and military casualties.

Widespread anti-US demonstrations have taken place, including in the capital city Kabul in protest against mounting civilian casualties, obviously backed by the Taliban and other anti-Karzai forces. Mr. Hamid Karzai. Whose popularity has plummeted due to non-governance, corruption and patronage of clan members, has been forced to join the call for foreign forces' withdrawal at the earliest. He says, to achieve success foreign forces now stationed in his country should concentrate on fighting the Taliban across the border in Pakistan, without which the problem of trans-border insurgency would never get solved. But, beyond mounting regular drone attacks on suspected Taliban hideouts, the US is unable to do much. Allurements in the form of increased military and economic aid, including latest weaponry, have not made Pakistan to sincerely join the operations against Taliban because it patronises than.

As the spring thaw sets in and snows melt on the mountain passes, fighting is expected to flare up, which will inevitably lead to higher military casualties, which the ISAF is reluctant to take, and possible loss of control over loosely-helt territory. Mr. Karzai is unhappy also because the US has made several attempts to replace him, but did not succeed because it could not find a suitable successor. Mr. Karzai alleged rigging of the last parliamentary elections, which has a fair representation of members critical of him and set up his own commission to investigate the matter aside from the inquiry conducted by the Election Commission. He was finally persuaded to accept the results and to convene the new House in the brand new Parliament House gifted by India.

Mr. Karzai's assertiveness, born out of helplessness, is not going well with the United States, which is seeing him more as a nationalist, unwilling to compromise his country's interests. Washington may find it difficult to negotiate several agreements with him, including the one which will ensure continued presense of US troops in the country post formal withdrawal.

He has been forced to negotiate with Pakistan's Army Chief Gen Kayani over the issue of Taliban reconciliation and integration, because the United States is disinclined to pressure Pakistan beyond a point over the issue of getting more seriously engaged in the anti-Taliban war. A situation is developing where Mr. karzai is getting suspicious of the West which may, at some stage, ask him to make place for someone else. The anti-US sentiment is being utilized by the Taliban to mount opposition to Karzai, as well as, foreign forces which they want out of the country immediately, to be able to take advantage of the resulting chaos. Too much concentration on military methods at the cost of political measures to win over the people of Afghanistan and weaken the Taliban may ultimately spoil the war, add to the chaos and compound the problems facing all concerned.

Commander of US forces Gen Petraeus, who wants to bring the war to a decisive end and weaken the Taliban beyond resurrection, is pursuing a campaign in scattered villages and bits of territory that few people beyond their immediate environs have heard of. In Ghazni province, for instance, the forces have pushed their counter-insurgency doctrine and rules of waging war into freshly contested areas of rural Afghanistan. It remains to be seen whether the policy shift will turn out to be an operational achievement or ground for disappointment. The Taliban have fanned themselves out in the rural areas and mingled with the population, particularly in the southern and eastern provinces bordering Pakistan. With so much affected territory involved, the strength of forces remains inadequate, despite the 30,000-US-troop surge. The prospect in dim of the war dragging on and the US forces gaining the upper hand, because there is an unceasing supply of Taliban fighters from across the border in Pakistan.

All this has generated a sense of insecurity among the people, which believed that the US would seriously engage in neutralising Taliban by whatever means and give them peace and security. The ground situation has not changed much despite claims that it is better than last year. For instance, in Kandahar province, which is the birthplace of the Taliban, the NATO forces are in command of most of the towns during the day, when the Taliban engage themselves in pursuits, such as, farming and doing other chores. During the night, the Taliban take out their arms and fire at the NATO forces from vantage positions, causing casualties. The people are too terrified to isolate them so that the NATO forces could round them up. House to house searches have become unpopular with the people who regard them as a serious invasion of their privacy.
Mr. Karzai wants to ensure his survival, physical, as well as, political. He has apparently concluded that the US and its reluctant coalition partners cannot win and might not stay engaged for long. It would, therefore, make good sense to come to some sort of understanding with the Taliban, with whom he worked at one time (during the Soviet occupation) and encourage them to join the political mainstream. He is well placed in contacts with the insurgents and many elements within his coalition maintaint communication channels with them. But Pakistan insists that ISI should be the main channel for contacting the Taliban so that it can dictate the terms of a political settlement. It arrested Mullah Baradar and other who were in contact with Karzai's office and prevented the Quetta Shura from directly negotiating with Kabul.

Unfortunately, the western powers involved have different views on karzai's peace plan. Senior US military officers maintain that the Taliban need to be defeated militarily before reconciliation can start, while others are reportedly more open to Karzai's thought process that the search for reconciliation need not wait. In the process, Pakistan has secured elbow room in manipulating the peace process and Karzai is forced to talk to Pakistan Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez kayani on this and related issues. What is unfolding is rather a grim struggle for the control of the Afghan peace process itself, if it at all takes off. Mr. Karzai insists on his prerogative as the elected head of state to lead the peace process, but Pakistan's military wants to cast Karzai as merely one of the Afghan protagonists. It obviously wishes to work exclusively with the United States to reconcile the Taliban, but, in reality, it wants to seize control of the peace process, or to dominate it, while extracting more concessions from Washington in the form of enhanced military and economic aid. The Pakistan military banks on exploiting President Barrack Obama's haste to affect a drawdown of US combat troops from July this year. [NPA]








Over the last few months scams, scandals, corruption, immoral activities and their magnitude have alarmed the public and embarrassed the govt forcing opposition led debate in the Parliament. Embarrassed Prime Minister accepted responsibility in CVC selection and 2 G Spectrum and apologized for his inaction to check corruption. There are reasons why the Prime Minster talked tough against corruption because corruption / scams have toppled govts in the past and that is his worry. Inquiries and actions against high ups who have abused their offices and positions to make money illegally has renewed public interest in the enormity of the menace and led to a new flurry of debate on the causes and effects of the corruption.
In our country the public perception is that all wings of Govt, all discernable sectors of economy and all walks of social life are smeared with corruption. This is just not exaggerated because as a general rule no file moves unless chased in govt offices with the help of speed money. Give money and get your job done is written over every face in every office. Our entire system from democracy to devotion smacks of corruption. Adverse public perception about corruption is more damaging than actual corruption because people have lost faith in the system and feel ashamed to be Indians giving strength to divisive forces.
Causes of Corruption.
Successive govt at the centre and states have used corruption as instrument of state policy to win no confidence motions and elections. Corrupt and immoral practices by the political parties as seen in the display of bundles and bags of currency notes in the Parliament during the 'Trust Vote' make others immune to this malpractice and its detrimental long term effects.
Some of the reasons, which are very often put forward for the prevalence of corruption in India, are inequitable distribution of national wealth, gap between the socio economic needs and the actual earnings in the country. Many consider our political system as the root cause while others think it is faster economic development. Lower salaries of govt servants is by far the main cause of corruption in our society. When salaries are not enough to meet basic needs, the employees can succumb to temptations. When opportunities of making money easily exist, it is difficult to resist the temptation. In many cases the bribe giver is the actual beneficiary and the govt official is a minor partner who succumbs to the designs of the manipulator. During the colonial rule, British paid their own employees much more than local employees. This disparity sowed the seeds of corruption. After the independence, large number of British and Muslim officers left India in whose places people of unproved merit and integrity were promoted and recruited. Hence ability and integrity which were strong pillars of our society gave way to corruption.
Govt procedures and documentation, even for a small thing such as making a Ration Card, are complicated allowing scope for bribes. Moreover govt employees have been given excessive powers and protection. Disciplinary procedures make it almost impossible to take action against corrupt employees. If any action is initiated, they dare the authorities and become more corrupt.
Political instability, institutional inefficiency, lack of accountability, weak judicial and legislative systems and bureaucratic red tapism promote corruption in the system. Politicians spend vast amount of money, acquired through unethical means, to get elected. Some of these individuals of dubious character become Ministers and Heads of the State. Such people misuse their position to amass wealth by illegal and unethical means.
Consequences of Corruption.
The consequences of corruption can be very serious. It effects all institutions; social, political and religious. Indian society, especially in the recent decades, has undergone drastic changes in moral, religious and political arenas. Some of these changes are new such as corruption over the dead bodies of the martyrs of the nation (Adarsh Housing Scam) and the strong pillars of nation have suffered image loss. Widespread corruption discourages people to work hard, lay down their lives happily for the nation or make sacrifices for the development of the society.
When the work is done for pecuniary benefits, decision making is effected, the merit and quality are overlooked as a result the standards are lowered and quality of performance and ensuing results suffer. Such practices can lead to purchase of poor quality atomic reactors causing national calamities of unimaginable magnitudes and sub standard weapons for Armed Forces affecting their ability to defend the nation.
Combating Corruption.
Once corruption is ingrained in the society, it is very difficult to root it out. As a result it tends to persist. So far as the problem of corruption in our country is concerned, it is essential to understand the menace sensibly and then review it from various angles after which launch a protracted war against every species of corruption in the society. Routine transfers and posting of govt servants should be assigned to Central/State Administrative Tribunals. Too much importance and discretion should not be given to govt officials. The rules and procedures should be simplified. Transparency should be followed in the functioning of administration. Laws should be changed as per the changing conditions. Prompt departmental disciplinary actions should be initiated on receipt of complaints.
Artificial shortages and scarcities which promote illegal gratifications should be checked. Effective and efficient vigilance systems should be instituted to detect and deter corruption. General awareness among the public is necessary to collectively fight the menace of corruption. Youth and students must be energized to fight corruption. A collective effort by youth of the country can drive the monster away.
State funding of elections and change over from Parliamentary to Presidential form of govt will check frequent instabilities and consequent corruption. Lok Pals and Lok Ayukts should be appointed with independent investing agencies. Effective implementation of RTI Act and full judicial and administrative powers to CVC can curb the malpractices significantly. The ultimate solution lies in strengthening democracy, awakening the people, empowering the citizenry, imparting value based education, enforcing right to information and services and setting up of strong grievance redressal machinery.
We know of corruption from Mauryan era from Kautilya's writings in Arthashastra that it was difficult to resist the temptation of utilizing state funds for personal use as it is difficult to resist the temptation of tasting honey kept on one's tongue. He has written that it was the duty of the King to protect public from high officials, kinsmen and of his own greed. Same holds good today and hence the Prime Minister has moral and constitutional duty to check corruption which is proliferating under his nose after which youth and laymen can take up the cudgels.







The global community and the world bodies like the United Nations time and again underline the need to focus on urgent national and international steps to be taken for ensuring education for the girl child. Hundreds of millions of young children, mostly girls, throughout the world are often deprived of education along with other essential needs like adequate food, clothing and health care. Going by these yardsticks, the development of a Nation is truly measured by many indicators and among them literacy levels especially of women and girl children are vital.

The literacy drive among the girl child would work as a catalyst for social uplift and thereby ensure National progress. Keeping this as the desired endeavour , eradication of illiteracy and bringing the girl child into the realm of education has been a major National concern for last so many decades.

Here, it would be only relevant to point to a publication by the Directorate of Adult Education, a few years back wherein a compendium 'Literacy in India' carried a cover page showing a young village girl holding the slate inscribed on it the words, "ab mein likh sakti hoon (Now I can write)". The picture-story only rightly emphasizes on the importance of education for girl child and how gender inequity in literacy drive continues to remain a serious challenge.

In 1988, the Government of India undertook the National Literacy Mission. With a new sense of urgency, it gave upon itself and the Nation the seriousness and emphasis. In adult education with a fixed goal, clear time frame and well-defined target group. Today over 98 per cent of the districts in India have been covered under literacy campaigns and life long learning opportunities were being made available in more than 200 districts.
The National Literacy Mission had endeavoured to ensure functional literacy for all adult non-literates in the country. By the turn of 2001 there was an indication that overall literacy rate had shot up substantially.
The census of 2001 brought out certain facts those ought to be analyzed in totality and objectively. Although female literacy in India now stands at 54 per cent and is much higher than female literacy in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh, it trails male literacy in India (76 per cent) by over 20 percentage points. It is in this context that there is great expectations from the Right to Education Act passed by the Government last year. Thanks to the new Act, all children aged 6-14 now have the constitutional right to receive a good quality education. The Plan rightly also includes proposals to upgrade existing schools and open new ones; train thousands of new teachers for a mandated 1:30 teacher-pupil ratio, and institute a 25 per cent reservation in private schools for minority students. But having said so there are several hurdles. Just to point out the oft-repeated statement, one needs to say that a mere legislation cannot ensure achieving the desired result.
Urbanisation in recent times has flooded a large number of cities, district towns and the metropolis with huge army of migrant workers. The education of the children of this workforce, especially the lower middle class and the poorer sections, often get neglected for practical reasons. The drop out rate is high among the female children throwing in added challenges. In general sense also, the studies have shown that among the poorer section, the poverty levels create a situation by which economic concerns remain at the centre of every activity for such families resulting in undermining the process of learning for the girl child.

But amid new challenges, one should not miss the sight of certain commendable achievements. Among the performing states, Kerala showed a female literacy rate of 88 per cent as against male (94 per cent), Mizoram 86 per cent as against the male literacy rate of 91 per cent and Lakshadweep 82 per cent (female literacy) and 93 per cent of male literacy.

Moreover, the campaigns like Education for street children has yielded positive results in cities like Mumbai. In the much-talked Total Literacy Campaign, in Mumbai around 76,000 volunteers set out at work. Moreover, apart from high influx and multi-linguality of the mega city, the pre-occupation of the learners posed other difficulties. The learners often had to travel a long distance and thus often showed the hurriedness to give up, yet the initiatives have yielded dividends. In some states, the literacy campaign linking to thrift activity and credit groups through the 'Didi Bank Scheme' also played a significant role.

Female education and the literacy drive have given the girl child the much-needed respect she has been striving. The real success story has been that it has mobilized people to think and to express themselves. The demand for a closer involvement between literacy and skill development training has also emerged.

But with everything said, it can be only emphasized that in days and months to come, the partnerships of literacy with professional and technical bodies as well as industry would have to be strengthened. All said and done, it ought to be admitted that nation building is a Herculean task and undertaking education and literacy drive among girls is a vital step. Future, they say belongs to dreamers, and there is a lot of merit in encouraging the women folk especially the girl child to dream about earning respect in the family and the society. Education for the girl child would therefore be a strong catalyst in ensuring what the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh emphasizes achieving the inclusive growth and development.










Gandhian and social activist Anna Hazare's 'fast-unto-death' in New Delhi from Tuesday demanding the setting up of a Lokpal to tackle increasing corruption in the country has undoubtedly put the Centre in a tight spot. The 73-year-old leader's decision to go ahead with his protest plan despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's appeal to him to reconsider his decision is an index of his exasperation. Mr Hazare's concern over rampant corruption and the need to cleanse the system of this menace is understandable. In his appeal, the Prime Minister has told Mr Hazare that nobody should try to dictate the nature of the legislation regarding the Lokpal. While the UPA government is believed to be keen on enacting the Lokpal legislation and including the Prime Minister in its ambit, it wants to do so on the basis of its own draft which the civil society group finds inadequate.


Mr Hazare, who is a member of India Against Corruption, an NGO that includes eminent persons such as Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, maintains that the Lokpal Bill, 2010, which awaits a select parliamentary committee's nod, lacks teeth and would defeat the very purpose of an ombudsman. In its current form, the Lokpal will have no powers to inquire into matters suo motu and would need the Speaker's recommendation. Moreover, while it will not be able to act against MPs it finds guilty of corruption, its findings can also be rejected. The current disagreement between Mr Hazare and the Centre is over the formation of a joint committee to examine the provisions of the Lokpal Bill. While the Centre maintains that there is no precedent for a joint committee, activists refer to several examples in Maharashtra.


Mr Hazare has drafted a separate Jan Lokpal Bill, incorporating the views and suggestions from civil society. Significantly, the National Advisory Council headed by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi has evinced keen interest in the Bill. Even though the Centre is not bound to accept it, what prevents it from examining it and holding talks with Mr Hazare? In a democracy, the Centre ought to strive for consensus building by taking into confidence all sections of society on an issue like corruption. The fact that the Lokpal Bill has been hanging fire for over four decades reflects poorly on the politicians' sincerity to fight corruption. In view of increasing scams involving ministers, judges and bureaucrats, a comprehensive legislation for an effective ombudsman brooks no delay.









US President Barrack Obama has announced his re-election plan and there are bright chances of his getting an opportunity to serve for a second term. What goes in his favour more than anything else is that his opponents in the Republican camp are a thoroughly confused lot. No one knows who among the Republicans will be in a better position to give a tough fight to Mr Obama. Mr Asmitt Roomney, an economic expert, who claims to have strong credentials to challenge Mr Obama by concentrating on his weak points, including domestic issues, is no match for the incumbent President.


It is true that the Obama administration has not done well on the economic front, with the rate of unemployment remaining as high as 8.9 per cent. But it has many achievements in various areas which can help Mr Obama trounce his opponents. The latest opinion poll has put his approval ratings at a little less than 50 per cent and the issues mentioned to judge his popularity are foreign affairs, Libya, health care, economy and the federal budget deficit. However, if only foreign policy-related issues are taken into consideration, there are chances of President Obama's ratings going up considerably. The Americans by and large appreciate his handling of Iraq and Afghanistan.


The Obama administration has openly sided with the pro-democracy protesters in West Asia. In Egypt, a pro-US Mubarak regime had to become history with Washington DC doing little to save its protégé. Even in Bahrain and Yemen, the autocratic rulers, who have always relied on US help in times of crisis, are being told to give up in favour of the pro-democracy agitators. The case of Libya, of course, is different. The US along with its allies like France could have militarily forced Col Gaddafi to leave Libya to the Libyan public, but that would have led to a massive loss of human lives and a misunderstanding among the Arabs that the Western powers were intervening in the Arab land to protect their own interests. Hence the use of other tactics to bring about regime change in Libya. In any case, President Obama today appears to be better placed to take on his opponents than what he was in 2008, when he created history by winning the US Presidential election.











Assam seems headed for a hung assembly once again as in 2006 and the real speculation is on which party would be the single largest and which combine would ultimately end up in the driver's seat. For the Congress which has been in the saddle since 2001, this is a golden opportunity to thwart anti-incumbency since the Opposition is woefully lacking in cohesion. The Asom Gana Parishad and the BJP had struck an alliance for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections but fell apart thereafter. In this election there is no alliance between them but a post-poll understanding could be a possibility. That could pose a challenge to the Congress which is relying on a post-poll arrangement with the Bodoland People's Front which it had partnered since the 2006 elections.


Clearly, the parties in Assam are waiting to see how the post-poll scenario unfolds. Between the AGP and the BJP, ostensibly there is little love lost but both see expediency and merit in forging links to thwart a third term for Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. Both see co-existence as a lesser evil than giving room to the Congress to dominate the body politic. The Congress and the BPF are virtually in the same boat, attracting each other with the objective of sharing power.


The Congress has had a virtual sway over minority Muslim voters until the All India United Democratic Front, which is an amalgam of a dozen minority political groups, came on the electoral scene in 2005. Since the AIUDF has good relations with AGP's Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, it would not be averse to tying up with the AGP after the elections. But whether it would accept an arrangement in which the BJP is a partner is a moot question. In an election which is expected to be tight, independents and smaller parties could also have a role to play. All in all, there are interesting possibilities ahead and there would be the inevitable marriages of convenience.









The widespread movement of peaceful protests throughout the Arab region is much more than a revolt or rebellion to grab power from this or that monarch or dictator, though it will topple autocratic rulers who try to resist the tide. The movement marks the beginning of a pan-Arab phenomenon of the awakening of a civilization from centuries of slumber.


Not all Arab countries are alike, but there are common features to the protests: protesters all over are young men and women — children of the age of knowledge fired by the driving ideas of our time, of people-power and people's rights, freedom and liberty, democracy and enfranchisement. They are adept at exploiting the power of the Internet and Facebook as tools of mass organisation. Their energy, idealism and determination are infectious and they have gained the sympathy and support of the general populace and, in some countries, even the respect and understanding of the armed forces. There is little evidence of coordination or cooperation among protesters in different countries, but they are all motivated by a new-found sense of power to shape their own destiny. Memories of the past glory and achievements of Arabia animate their drive for the renewal and modernisation of their societies.


A thousand years ago, the Arab region was known for its high achievements in astronomy, philosophy, algebra and mathematics, for its cities of cultural renown and its centres of trade and commerce, for rulers of great wisdom and for the imaginative arts of story-telling. The best scientists of the time came from this region, which conversed on equal footing with Indian and Greeco-Roman civilizations on its eastern and western flanks. That creative spirit withered after the 14th century; and Western dominance after the first World War and the settlement, so called, of 1922 destroyed it altogether. The current political upheaval in these ancient lands is the harbinger of an Arab Renaissance.


The Arab world is not a monolith, but once democracy is established in all these countries, their coming together into a Union of Arab States would be a natural development. From Morocco to Yemen, these countries have much more in common than the constituent states of the European Union. The Union, I believe, will be a group of moderate states friendly both to the East and the West. Islam is a vital part of an Arab's life, and he does not see a threat to his religion from any quarter. His struggle is for liberty, democracy, modernity, progress and dignity. On the long road to the goal there are hurdles in the shape of vested interests of tribal chieftains, obdurate autocrats and unyielding kings. There is no tolerance among the people for dictators seeking to perpetuate dynastic rule and they will be the first to go. For reasons of tradition, tribal loyalty, real or supposed sanctity of holy descent and belated public munificence, some of the royal houses of Arabia may gain some time, but the demand for reform of monarchical regimes is also gathering force and only those will survive that acquire popular sanction as constitutional monarchs.


The Arab region lies at the geographic centre of the three continents of Asia, Europe and Africa. Its inherent strategic importance is enhanced by its abundant resources of oil and gas. Therefore, whether one likes it or not, the fact remains that strategic, political and economic interest of major powers are engaged, and that reality cannot be wished away. Developments in North Africa, across the narrow Mediterranean Ocean, are bound to be of special interest and concern to France and Italy. The US has security relationships with virtually all Arab countries, and despite Washington's closeness to the rulers, the first non-white US President has, with prescient wisdom, called the region's dictators to quit, and nudged its kings and sheikhs to reform and liberalise their regimes. In Libya's case, President Sarkozy has gone a step further and accorded recognition to the Revolutionary Council.


Contrary to the late Professor Huntington's view, Arabs are not inhospitable to liberal ideals, and they do share the universal hunger for liberty, human rights and democracy. President Obama recognised this and chose to stand by the Arab people, braving criticism at home and risking the odium and disaffection of Arab allies and friends. This is the sort of thing leaders are for.


Too much is being made of the so-called Shia-Sunni divide in the Arab world and a consequent rise in Iran's role and influence in the region. In my own experience of the region's people, an Arab is an Arab, be he Sunni or Shia. In Bahrain and Syria, Sunni and Shia Muslims are seen together in the protests demanding regime reform and people's enfranchisement. Iran's dispatch of warships to Arabia's Mediterranean shores, supposedly in support of Syria's Asad and Lebanon's Hizbullah, is likely to prove a counter-productive provocation. Egypt's influence and example will reshape this region — not Iran's or, for that matter, Turkey's.


In this environment of a regionwide liberating upsurge, where does Gaddafi, the most antiquated of recent history's despots, fit in? He has threatened to chase and slaughter Libyan dissenters, to the last man or woman, house-by-house and room-by-room. His army of mercenaries is doing just that and it has to be stopped. With him around, there will be no peace in the Arab region, and Africa will also be badly affected. That is why Gaddafi's Foreign and Interior Ministers and several Libyan Ambassadors have deserted him; that is why the Arab League and the African Union had asked the UN Security Council to ensure safety of the Libyan people. That is why Lebanon, under a Hizbullah Prime Minister, chose to move Resolution 1973 in the Council, and that is why at least two Arab countries have joined, and more may join the US, Britain and France in the air assaults on Gaddafi's marauders.


No one was asking India to send its air force or ground troops to Libya: so, what high moral dictate or compelling necessity led to India's neutral stance in the vote on Security Council Resolution 1973? President Medvedev of Russia has publicly nullified his own government's criticism of the resolution. China's abstention, in effect, means support for action against Gaddafi to proceed. India's abstention implies indifference to the continuation of a genocide openly launched by a brutal dictator. What is the point in a country being on the Security Council if it is to sit on the fence on issues of this gravity?


The abstention vote was bad; the explanation of vote and its elaborations that followed made it worse. Information was not wanting; TV screens in Delhi and New York had all that was needed for a decision. Or, did someone here really believe that Gaddafi would heed our advice to abjure violence? Brazil and Germany might have had valid domestic reasons for their abstaining in the vote: India's links with its Arab neighbours are of a different dimension altogether. In its moral space, at least, India should be seen standing by the people.


The writer, a former Foreign Secretary of India, is President, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.









It was 1980. I was required to join as Chief Engineer of a ship, sailing from Amsterdam, at Port Said. Accordingly, I arrived at Cairo in advance and was booked at Hotel Everest Cairo, not far from Tahrir Square. My shipping office was located in the same wide and spacious square. Port Said and Cairo are connected with a beautiful wide road.


Soon after I was booked in my hotel a message came that my ship from Amsterdam had got delayed by about 12 days. That excited me as now I could visit the famous Cairo Museum, the pyramids as well the Aswan dam. I had also a young electrical engineer joining the same ship, staying in the same hotel. He made himself as one belonging to a princely Indian state among about 50 Arab female members of the hotel staff by sporting a Rajasthani-style turban with the chooridar pyjama and sherwani during breakfast.


During one of my early visits to my shipping office at Tahrir Square I had a long chat with the shpping office boss, a retired Egyptian army officer, Ashraf Sadiq, who had personally seen the departure of King Faud of Egypt by a ship laden with his entire royal household items, departing from the port of Alexandria before Gamal Nasser took over power in Egypt.


Nasser was a popular leader and a politician of international fame, close to our late Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Nasser's successor Anwar Sadat was killed openly by rebels and this was witnessed by Ashraf Sadiq.


During my about two-week stay in Cairo I found general public quite appreciative of India and Indian people. They were hospitable but quite sensitive on subjects like Palestine state. On such topics their reaction was abruptly mercurial and no alternative or moderating talk could be acceptable to them.


One day while proceeding to Cairo Museum from my hotel I came across two Egyptian Arabs selling replicas of the famous pyramids on the roadside. My ship's young electrical engineer was also accompanying me. He picked up one of the mini pyramids in his hand, looked at it, resented its high cost and returned it to the seller. The vendor did not like this and was furious. I intervened and being aware of the sensitivity of Egyptian public for their heritage items advised the engineer to pick up the item, hold it in his hand, kiss it gently and return the same respectfully. He did the same and all was well.








Unemployment in Punjab, especially among the educated youth, is very high. On March 24 the problem of unemployment was debated in the Vidhan Sabha. In response to a question, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal stated that there are 9.58 lakh persons unemployed in the state.  Gurdaspur district tops the list by having 1.57 lakh unemployed youth followed by Sangrur (1.17 lakh). High unemployment is also reported in Ferozepur (92,247), Jalandhar (58,886), Hoshiarpur (54,111), Patiala (49,566), Ludhiana (46,651) and Mansa (42,648).


Earlier, a survey conducted by the Labour Bureau, Chandigarh, Ministry of Labour, revealed a high incidence of unemployment in Punjab. The survey suggested 10.5 per cent of the total workforce as unemployed in the state against the national average of 9.4 per cent.


The high incidence of unemployment is accompanied by widespread drug addiction among Punjabi youth. This deadly combination is rapidly pushing Punjabi youth to the threshold of a "lost generation". At this critical juncture, the state should assign top priority to mitigate the problem of unemployment and in the process improve the growth profile of the state and also save youth from being an easy prey to drugs.


Employment generation has hardly been the focus of a development strategy in Punjab. Boosting agricultural production has been the primary focus of the much celebrated growth model. The implicit principle of the model is that benefits of high growth in agriculture percolate down and automatically reduce income inequality, unemployment and poverty.


This "trickle-down hypothesis" did work partially in Punjab with regard to income inequality and poverty. The model, however, was a total failure in case of employment generation. The nature of agricultural activities does not match with the skills and preferences of educated youth and hence the benefits of all job avenues of expanding agricultural activities have largely been reaped by migrant labour.


Another handicap of the growth model is its weak sectoral linkages within the state. The sectoral input-output flows suggest that only a marginal share of increased agricultural production has found its way to industry for processing within the state. A lion's share of Punjab agricultural production has been exported to food-deficit states of India.


Thus, benefits of the agriculture sector of Punjab have been realised in the form of ago-based industries in food-deficit states. The "stunning" growth trajectory of the agriculture sector has not only resulted in "jobless growth" but also in "job-shrinking growth". Negative employment elasticity of the agriculture sector in Punjab confirms the "job-shrinking growth" phenomenon. 


It is not just that the structure of the Punjab economy in which agriculture predominates is unfavorable to employment of the educated; the mediocre quality of education is equally responsible for unemployment. Punjab has a good network of educational institutions. Barring a few, these institutions produce substandard students having huge employability deficits.


The quality of pass-outs is no way near the skill requirements of industry. The professional and applied courses have mainly adopted the teaching pedagogy of liberal arts disciplines having emphasis on classroom teaching only. The lip-service to summer training and internship and non-involvement of potential employers in course development exercises have reduced many professional colleges to degree-printing institutions.


A survey conducted by the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) indicates that employability of professional courses is around 25 per cent, which also includes top-ranking institutions like IITs having 100 per cent placements. If the top-ranking institutions are excluded the employability will come down to be abysmally low. In case of Punjab this phenomenon is more pronounced, given the large number of seats remaining vacant in professional private colleges.


The employability deficit of Punjabi youth is also evident from a recently held recruitment drive by the Punjab Police for the posts of constable. Though the eligibility for the post was +2 pass, many of the candidates having graduate and postgraduate degrees, including M.B.A., M.C.A., M.Sc., B.E./B.Tech, and L.L.B, were among the aspirants.


A paradigm shift is taking place in the philosophy of development. According to the emerging paradigm, human resources are the new drivers of growth. The predominance of young human resources in the profile of population has been described as a "demographic dividend". In India youth comprise about 65 per cent of the population against the world average of 18 per cent. The human resource-centric model of growth is most suitable to Punjab as its production-oriented sectors — agriculture and industry — cannot be relied upon for future growth.


The Finance Minister of Punjab has made a large 52 per cent hike in the budgetary allocation for education, acknowledging the pivotal role human capital plays in growth. For reaping the benefits of human capital, the state needs to evolve an aggressive strategy for gainfully employing its educated youth. A good employment strategy will not only give a fillip to growth but also liberate youth from the clutches of deadly drugs. 


The Green Revolution is being extended to food-deficit states, which no longer depend entirely on Punjab. A huge quantity of food grains procured in Punjab gets spoiled due to FCI mismanagement. In the light of this Punjab should start processing its food grains and export only processed products. This policy shift will encourage the setting up of agro-based industries, which, being labour-intensive, will offer sizeable jobs to matriculate onward pass-outs.


For preparing 10th standard and +2 pass-outs for agro-based industries, the existing Industrial Training Institutes and Polytechnics should be upgraded to community colleges. The "community college model" has worked very successfully in Canada and has also been adopted in some south Indian states. Community colleges are run mainly by the local community, especially by local employers. The curriculum is designed as per job skills required by the local market. This model can align education with the job market.


For improving the employability of college and university students, Punjab should start a "quality drive" to cleanse its educational institutions. For weeding out substandard educational institutions, the state in consultation with the affiliating universities and boards should conduct a rigorous academic quality and employability audit of all the institutions.


The institutions which fail to qualify the audit test should be given five years to improve, failing which these should automatically cease to exist. State funding should be linked with the result of quality audit. No doubt, there are national-level accreditation agencies, the educational institutions in the state have not opted for accreditation on a larger scale in the absence of rewards and penalties associated with accreditation.


Along with undertaking a quality drive, the government should make it obligatory for universities, boards and autonomous bodies to involve all stake-holders, particularly potential employers, in curriculum development and teaching. This practice will bridge the gap between skill formation in institutions and skill requirements in industry.


The lecture-based teaching pedagogy should give way to field-based, problem-solving, case-method and hands-on methods of learning. A complete dependence on an external examination should be replaced by a proper mix of external examination and continuous evaluation. Giving adequate weightage to continuous evaluation will make the learning process a regular, stress-free phenomenon and, in the long run, help in improving employability of the pass-outs. 


Youth prefer government and corporate jobs. However, the organised sector accounts for 10 per cent employment only. For enabling youth to find gainful employment in the unorganised sector, particularly for starting self-employment ventures, two policy recommendations are suggested. First, the state should encourage educated unemployed youth to form co-operatives for self-employment. Subsidies and soft loans can motivate youth to form co-operatives.


Secondly, unemployed youth are generally averse to self-employment due to bureaucratic procedures and corrupt practices associated with government schemes, including those Centrally funded. For overcoming these malpractices, fund sanctioning job fairs on the pattern of placement fairs should be organised in technical institutes. Teams of governmental agencies and bank officials should sanction subsidies and loans on the spot by following user-friendly and transparent procedures. 


The writer is the Dean, Faculty of Arts, Panjab University, Chandigarh









Ifirst saw her at the Arts Centre. The University's cricket-loving population was sprawled under a giant screen, a distinctly visible demarcation between hundreds in blue and an equal number in green. Actually, I had seen her before — even held the door open for her, thanked refreshingly by a shukriya instead of the ubiquitous 'cheers' — but with her beaming and bouncing and cheering, looking drop-dead delicious in her Pakistan tee-shirt waving some rudeyet-clever slogan at us, 1st March 2003 was the first time I had actually stopped to look.

Wasim Akram began with two dot balls. I, with shaggy hair much bluer than my team tee, kneeled next to a friend and watched Sachin Tendulkar cream the next ball to the ropes. Obviously, I stayed on that left knee for more than half the match, while Sachin layeth the smacketh down, but, every time He wasn't on strike, I pivoted back. To auburn curls, light eyes, an electrifying smile and lots of flag-waving sass. Eye-contact was made over Shoaib getting spanked, and there was much playful slogan-warring; she even thumbed her nose once and irresistibly stuck out a sharp tongue. I decided that I would keep the post-match gloating to a minimum, and instead offer to take her out for a consolatory slice of pie or something.


Boundary. Six. Pivot. Boundary. Dot ball. Pivot. Pivot. Halfway down the 28th over, Tendulkar was out. On 98. We sighed and fretted, but we knew he'd already given us an innings more special than many of his tons, and that the match by now was won. We patted each other on the shoulder as if we'd been running those ones and twos, smiled and applauded. Pivot. She stood atop a table celebrating the master's dismissal, her eyes gloriously, gorgeously aflame as she mouthed and gestured 'get out of here.' To Sachin. If my left knee wasn't already ground into the carpet, it might have buckled. The friend amused by my Pakistani preoccupation clapped his arm around my shoulder. I'm not sure, but I think he might have offered me pie. Or something.

You get it, right? I'm all for a pretty girl vociferously egging her team on and willing ours to lose. That's passion, and that's sport. But doesn't Sachin move beyond merely geographic boundaries? Doesn't everyone just want to watch Him bat?


From opposing bowlers to infamously partisan Australian crowds, they all applaud and marvel and wistfully, briefly picture Him wearing their own colours. In the IPL, I used to support Kolkata Knight Riders, but when we faced Sachin all I wanted to see was that legendary drive straight past the bowler. Or an audacious square cut. Or just a bullying six. We all want to watch Sachin bat — like Warne turn or Murali deceive or Wasim york or McGrath castle — because that is as good as cricket gets.


Many years ago, at an Eden Gardens game, my mother cheered Viv Richards on to hit a six. This was admittedly because she wanted to see the handsome Nawab of Pataudi, then fielding near the outfield, to get closer to her stands while retrieving the ball. Still, dubious motive aside, her aghast fellow-spectators had to concede that they all wanted to see the same piece of savagely sculpted poetry. Because magic is for everyone.

Idon't know where that girl from eight years ago is, or even her name. I just wish, by now, that she's learnt to appreciate Tendulkar. Because just watching cricket is a darned sight less lyrical without Him. And Sachin belongs to us all.





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Social activist Anna Hazare wants an equal number of self-proclaimed civil society activists to be part of an official committee drafting a new Lok Pal Bill. "There should be as many representatives of government as there are of the people" is his submission. Hello? What is a government in a democracy if not an extension of the will of the people? Can self-appointed do-gooders, however well meaning, usurp the role of "representatives of the people" without due process of election? Mr Hazare is a good man. Unfortunately, he is "fasting unto death" for a wrong cause. The idea of a Lok Pal, an anti-corruption ombudsman, based on a Scandinavian model, was a bad one when it was first mooted in the mid-1960s and remains a bad one 40-odd years later. The creation of the institution of a Lok Ayukta at the state level has not helped reduce corruption in state governments, so a new Lok Pal at the national level is unlikely to do a better job at the central government level. The recent experience with the nomination of the Central Vigilance Commissioner shows that it is individuals rather than institutions that matter and there is no guarantee that a Lok Pal will necessarily inspire confidence and be effective. No one will deny that the problem of corruption in high places needs to be dealt with. There is no better way of doing this than strengthening existing institutions of democracy, including the legislature, the judiciary, the executive and even the media. Greater transparency in the functioning of these institutions will reduce corruption in public life. No Lok Pal can do what members of the four estates of the nation cannot and will not do.

It is a pity that despite the obvious shortcomings of this idea, it has been floated repeatedly. Bills have been repeatedly tabled in Parliament and successive governments, comprising almost all political parties in India today, have repeatedly spoken in favour of it, without doing anything about it. Somebody must call a spade a spade. The Lok Pal Bill should be buried, not kept alive by a threat of a fast unto death, even by a well-intentioned person like Mr Hazare.


 It is tragic that an assortment of non-accountable activists, publicity-seeking busybodies and an assortment of do-gooders have all managed to push the gentle Mr Hazare into going on a fast unto death. No government in a democracy can approve of such blackmail. Merely because Mahatma Gandhi used a fast unto death as a means of exerting pressure on an alien, colonial government does not mean that in a democracy such tactics can be tolerated, much less eulogised. The situation in which the government finds itself is partly of the ruling party's own making. By elevating the status of non-government organisations (NGOs) that are not accountable to anyone, and by not activating its own cadres on development and other issues of public concern, the Congress party has given a larger-than-life role to NGO leaders. Nothing should be done, even in the name of fighting corruption, that can weaken the Indian state and the office of the head of government, who is the embodiment of national sovereignty and answerable only to Parliament. If necessary, Mr Hazare should be force-fed and hospitalised, but not allowed to browbeat an elected government of the people.







India's policy makers react best when gripped by tension! Faced with the news of a 25 per cent fall in foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows in 2010-11, at a time when Indian firms are happily investing overseas, the government acted finally to scrap Press Note 1 of 2005. This is a positive signal to foreign investors. There were several quirky points about Press Note 1. For one, it was a guideline — not a law or even an ordinance. It speaks volumes for the policy-making milieu in India that a guideline that did not have parliamentary approval governed FDI policy! It was essentially a backdoor means of protecting Indian joint venture promoters by denying the automatic approval route for foreign investors, who have or had previous joint ventures or technical and trademark agreements in the same field, from setting up wholly-owned subsidiaries. This actually represented a small variation on an earlier Press Note (18 of 1999) that stipulated government approval if the foreign subsidiary was being set up in the same or allied field. Press Note 5, thus, did away with the "allied field" requirement of Press Note 18, a micro-relaxation that Kamal Nath, then commerce minister, played up as a major concession that most analysts quickly saw through. In practice, neither Press Note had a significant impact because the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) has been liberal in interpreting these guidelines. Still, the scope for rent-seeking and obstruction by Indian joint venture partners was huge and several did, in fact, move to block their foreign partners. For example, V K Modi of Gujarat Guardian moved to block a project by its US-based partner Guardian Group in 2006 and engineering giant Larsen & Toubro did the same to investment proposals by its former German partner Ralf Schneider in 2008. Again, the FIPB overruled both Indian companies but the Press Note presented the perpetual threat of an irritant for a foreign investor.

Although the guideline did not demand it, setting up a standalone venture in the same field essentially required the foreign firm to obtain a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Indian partner. This was not a problem when relations were cordial. But there were huge risks when the Indian partner leveraged the NOC to extract significant premiums on the exit valuations. At the very least, it raised the scope for tensions — as it did between Britannia and Danone when the latter wanted to set up a dairy venture. But even if the argument for protecting Indian joint venture promoters was to be accepted, it would be fair to say Press Note 1 has long outlived its utility. For one, as the Hero-Honda and TVS-Suzuki separations showed, Indian businessmen are fully capable of negotiating beneficial deals. For another, Indian industry has reached a point at which it can compete without requiring government protection. So, if nothing else, the withdrawal of the press note should give potential foreign investors some comfort.







Why is the government losing the battle against inflation? The stock answer, at least from the inflation hawks, is that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has fallen seriously "behind the curve" in raising rates. I don't entirely buy this argument — it appears a little too pat and simplistic. I doubt if a half percentage point increase instead of a quarter in the last couple of monetary policies would have made that big a dent in either the headline number or inflation expectations. The answer, perhaps, is far more complex.

Why? A number of things appear to have changed in the economy over the last couple of years which has altered the relationship between prices and other macroeconomic variables. I guess one could describe these changes as "structural". I am not sure whether either our analysis of inflation or the strategy of managing it has paid adequate attention to these issues. The government's response has been to see the price problem essentially as a supply-side problem of the agricultural sector that could be tackled through short-term measures. The RBI's approach, on the other hand, has been to treat the episode as a cyclic phenomenon that it hopes will respond to the textbook cure of higher rates and tighter liquidity. Neither seems to have worked. The RBI has had to face the embarrassment of revising its March 2011 inflation forecast thrice all the way up from 5.5 per cent to now 8 per cent. It is possible that with a diesel price rise, inflation will be close to 9 per cent by August.


 Let me get to the point. The biggest "structural" transformation that some of us in the profession have been noticing is in the unorganised labour market. Over the last two or three years, wages of relatively unskilled workers seem to have grown exponentially and there appears to be a major supply deficit of labour in sectors like construction. The evidence is mostly anecdotal so I have no hard numbers to share. However, I can bet that a brief conversation with a building contractor in the country will corroborate what I am saying. My colleagues from our bank's rural branches in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh tell me that bigger farmers who use seasonal contract labour have faced similar shortages.

A large proportion of unskilled workers constitutes migrant workers in north India drawn from the poorer agricultural states like Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and now West Bengal. Thus, this supply shortage, prima facie, suggests that the migration rate has declined. That, in turn, suggests that rural income levels have improved and so have employment opportunities. It would again be a little too simplistic to attribute everything to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or to the sharp increases in food procurement prices. However, it is reasonable to assume that both factors have played a role in keeping workers back in the rural economy. The bottom line is that the elasticity of labour supply has dwindled quite sharply. The economy seems to have moved quite rapidly from a Lewis-model world of an infinitely elastic supply of labour available at low wages to one in which critical sectors of the economy are facing serious labour shortages.

One could argue that labour shortage is hardly a new problem. High end-services such as IT and banking ran against a binding constraint when they heated up in 2006 and 2007. The global financial crisis cooled things down a bit. Otherwise, inflation pressures would have built up much earlier. Now the problem has cropped up in the market for low-skilled labour and that is beginning to impinge on sectors like infrastructure and house construction. The corollary of this labour shortage is rapid wage escalation, which, in turn, feeds inflation. Of course, there are nuances. Wage escalation has gone hand in hand with a shift in dietary preferences. The result has been that price pressures have been felt most sharply for items like meat, milk and vegetables in which supply bottlenecks have been the most acute.

What are the implications? For one, it is important to simply recognise that in the face of such a rapid transformation, conventional tools of monetary policy could be somewhat limited in their effectiveness. One way to interpret the RBI's reticence in responding more aggressively to over-target inflation is to see this as a tacit recognition of this (perhaps it hasn't gone as much by the textbook after all). If we read RBI Governor Subbarao's lips carefully, he might just be trying to tell us that we may need to reconcile to a phase of elevated inflation. The degree of price elevation will depend on the kind of demand pressures that exist in the system. Demand pressures depend on growth and unless growth comes down palpably, wage pressures will continue to feed inflation. Thus, instead of endlessly fretting over the fact that growth is slowing, we need to accept slower growth as being necessary to cool prices off.

In the current situation, I would rely more on the massive fiscal compression that the Budget 2011 seems to aim for to slow down growth than on monetary policy. I assume, of course, that the finance minister doesn't go way over his targets. Apart from hitting growth directly, it could simultaneously slow down the pace of cash flow to the rural sector and bring about some correction in the labour market.

Viewing inflation in the context of imbalances in the labour market might not throw up a quick fix, but it should help in identifying the right issues in the long haul of the war against inflation. From a policy perspective, we need to focus on the massive disequilibrium in the labour market, which is starkly visible only if we care to look. We need to find the right balance between short-term payoffs from public works programmes in the rural sector and the necessity of creating sustainable manufacturing-driven jobs. Otherwise, we might find ourselves snared in a trap of persistently high inflation, low productivity and a permanent drag on growth.

The author is chief economist, HDFC Bank







Among the many paradoxes that trouble the Indian economy, the one pertaining to the infrastructure sector is unlikely to have a parallel anywhere else in the world. The paradox is evident at two levels. One, when a newly built infrastructure facility fails to anticipate the potential demand for its usage. And two, when the operators of a new facility wait for demand to pick up before expanding the services. In a country where capital is both scarce and costly, failure even in one of these areas can have many adverse consequences.

Take a close look at any newly built overbridge in an Indian town. In most cases, three things will strike you instantly. One, the time between the planning of the overbridge and its construction would not be less than four or five years. Two, the authorities would have allowed the use of a section of the overbridge even before the project is complete. Three, the overbridge should have been much wider and longer since the existing traffic using it would have already strained its capacity. There are exceptions, but those only underline how poorly planned most other overbridges in the country are.


Infrastructure projects must provide for the future. They must anticipate future demand, which the new facilities should be able to meet without any capacity constraint. Look at China. That country goes to another extreme. It is building infrastructure projects on a huge scale, keeping in view the demand that will materialise, perhaps a century later. Even the British, who built New Delhi in the 1920s, had planned the city in such a manner that its roads could withstand the demands that today's traffic exerts on them. New Delhi's main roads and their arterial lanes, built more than 80 years ago, are wider than most roads and lanes built after India's Independence.

The real problem, of course, lies in the slow speed of executing infrastructure projects. There are long delays in their completion. The delay also means that the demand from users of such a facility rises to a level at which the civic authorities are forced to throw open a section of that project for use even before it is completed. That decision, ironically, removes the urgency of completing the project, since a part of the facility is already in use. Construction problems also surface in such a situation. Finally, when the project is completed, the demand for using the facility shoots up, creating congestion, overcrowding and all sorts of other inefficiencies. This is the unfortunate story of urban India and its infrastructure.

The second type of paradox is worse. Here, an infrastructure facility may be in place, but the project authorities limit the scope of its operations until such time as demand picks up. Delhi Metro is one example. Initially, after its launch in 2002, it used to terminate daily services by 10 p m. Subsequently, it extended the services schedule. But even today, it does not go beyond midnight. In the morning, no service starts before 6 a m.

For a successful and useful mass transportation system in a city, the services cannot start only at 6 a m and end by midnight. The physical infrastructure is in place. All the Delhi Metro needs to do is hire some more people and perhaps a few more coaches and locomotives to start the service a little before 6 a m and run it a little beyond midnight. Not doing this, or waiting until it sees demand for such a service, reflects a myopic vision on the part of the Delhi Metro management. From an infrastructure project point of view, this is a case of gross underutilisation of capacity already created at a huge cost.

The same problem in approach has become a bottleneck for the newly launched Delhi airport metro train service. Built at a cost of over Rs 5,800 crore, it has the capability of carrying passengers in air-conditioned coaches from New Delhi to Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in about 18 minutes at a fare that is less than half of what you would pay to a private non-air conditioned taxi operator. Yet, it carries about 8,000 passengers daily, only a fifth of the total 40,000 passengers who transit through that airport.

Who is responsible for this gross underutilisation of a passenger facility created for those entering or exiting the city by air? Ignore the fact that there was a delay of at least five months in the opening of the Delhi airport metro project. However, once it became operational, there was no logic in running it only for 16 hours a day and that too between 6 a m and 10 p m. The timing of its operation was such that thousands of air travellers taking the early morning flights and returning to the city by the late evening flights could not use the Delhi airport metro service.

The explanation that the operators would extend the running time of the service once passenger demand picks up does not hold water. Infrastructure services cannot wait for demand to pick up before expanding their network. The important lesson that the operators of these infrastructure services should learn from all such facilities across the world is that they are the trigger for a pick-up in demand. And that can happen only when they extend the services to utilise the full capacity created for the infrastructure facility. Not doing that would be ironic in a country where capital is scarce and infrastructure needs a big push.







In their traditional role, judges are mere interpreters of law. They do not make law. However, the judiciary has become so powerful these days that they do not mind occasional incursions outside their conventional territory. The judiciary abhors vacuum, as it were, and it makes law where there is none.

Most judges wear the conformist or activist hat depending on the occasion. In one recent judgment, a bench of the Supreme Court emphasised that "judicial legislation is an oxymoron." But the same bench that made this remark delivered another judgment in which it said "we are laying down the law in this connection which will continue to be the law until Parliament makes a law on the subject." (emphasis supplied). There is a glaring contradiction in this attitude of the Supreme Court.


In a judgment delivered last fortnight (B Premanand vs Mohan Koikal) the court was vehement that "there should be judicial restraint and the temptation to do judicial legislation should be eschewed by the courts. The court cannot legislate under the garb of interpretation." A full-bench decision of the Kerala High Court was set aside for this reason.

However, a week earlier to the Kerala case, the court did exactly what it prohibited the judiciary from doing. In the Aruna Shanbaug case, it discussed euthanasia in great detail and then came up with a law, which will be in place till Parliament passed a regular legislation. It invoked an earlier Supreme Court judgment in the Vishaka case (1997) in which three judges laid down the rules to protect women in the workplace. It is ironical that what three judges drew up in that case without public discussion prevails as the law of the realm as 500-odd law-makers have not even considered the issue for nearly 15 years. By all accounts, the euthanasia law also will be left alone by the parliamentarians who are more concerned with existential issues.

In view of the lethargy of the parliamentarians who do not make laws to cover new social issues and the judiciary raring to don the lawmakers cap, one bench asked the chief justice a year ago to make the Supreme Court's stand clear. In the case, University of Kerala vs Council of Principals, the bench was of the opinion that judges could neither make law nor take over executive functions, nor act as an "interim Parliament". The case dealt with student violence and one bench had set up a commission to study the problem afflicting most campuses. Though the larger issue was referred to the chief justice, for some reason, it has not been given priority.

However, absence of light on this issue does not deter judges from legislating. In a recent judgment, the court tackled the mounting problem of bouncing cheques (Damodar Prabhu vs Sayed Babalal). According to official estimates, there were more than 3.8 million cheque-bouncing cases pending as of October 2008. So it passed a set of guidelines to solve the crisis.

The judges explained why they were doing so. "We are conscious of the view that the judicial endorsement of the guidelines could be seen as an act of judicial lawmaking and, therefore, an intrusion into the legislative domain. It must be kept in mind that the Negotiable Instruments Act does not carry any guidance on how to proceed with the compounding of offences under the Act." Justifying their foray into codification, they wrote: "Even in the past, this court has used its power to frame guidelines where there was a legislative vacuum." Another issue on which the country depends entirely on judge-made law is inter-country adoption. The guidelines were laid down in the 1980s in the L K Pandey cases.

All these judgments making laws invoke two provisions of the Constitution, which make the Supreme Court of India one of the most powerful courts in the democratic world. The first is Article 32, which confers writ powers on the court. The Vishaka judgment invoked it in the name of fundamental human rights of women in the workplace. The second is Article 142, which grants the Supreme Court discretion to pass any order to do "complete justice". This power is rarely used. However, in exceptional instances the court has not stood idle bowing to the doctrine of "separation of powers".

Renowned jurists and judges who developed English common law are on the side of judicial law-making. John Austin said: "I cannot understand how any person who had considered the subject can suppose that society could possibly have gone on if judges had not legislated, or that there is any danger whatever in allowing them that power which they have in fact exercised, to make up for the negligence or the incapacity of the avowed legislator."




Competition law requires expertise, but to be effective the Competition Commission of India needs real autonomy

Amitabh Kumar 
Senior Advisor, Regulatory, Competition & Tax, J Sagar Associates


It is unwise to scrap an expert body and let the responsibility of implementation lie with authorities that are not trained in the science of economics

A simple justification for not scrapping the competition law is that a large number of countries, around 106, have it.  One may argue that what is good for other countries may not be good for India, more so because we are a developing nation. However, this argument is weak because the competition law has been enacted by high- and middle-income countries as well as low-income countries.  This is proof of faith in a free market.   

Competition provides low prices, promotes innovation, ensures optimal allocation of scarce resources and facilitates consumer welfare. Since none of the acknowledged outcomes of competition are undesirable, there can hardly be a debate on whether to have a competition law or not.  It is possible to reap some of these benefits with a robust competition policy. But even that is unlikely to sustain in the absence of an effective competition law regime. 

Worried by the slow growth rate of its economy compared to other OECD countries, the Australian Government appointed a committee in 1992 to make the Trade Practices Act, enacted in 1974, more effective. The Hilmar Committee Report suggested changes in the competition law and in its implementation, which have reportedly yielded rich dividends.  Effective implementation of the competition law has similarly helped other countries improve their GDP growth rate. Thus having a competition law can bring tangible benefits to citizens. However, it is important to establish a body to implement the law.

The enactment of the Sherman Act in 1890 in the US is widely regarded as the birth of competition law.  It is interesting to note that it was a bi-partisan legislation for curbing the monopoly power of trusts, as American corporations had organised themselves.  The underlying thought was to usher in economic democracy to ensure political democracy.  Big corporations had acquired enough clout to influence political outcomes and, therefore, the need for having a law capable of curbing anti-competition behaviour of enterprises was felt.

The jurisprudence on competition law has developed around economic theory.  Competition assessment has evolved over the years and is based on economic analysis of the behaviour of business organisations.  As the theory of industrial organisations developed in economics, competition assessment developed in tandem and incorporated complex tools from the disciplines of economics and econometrics. Consequently, competition assessment has become complex and requires specialised knowledge.  Therefore, courts of law are not suitable for implementing a modern competition law because they do not have the required expertise. 

The Competition Commission of India  was established on the recommendations of a high-powered committee, which noted that the Indian judiciary is not trained in handling matters pertaining to competition law .  There is no reason to have a contrary view regarding the knowledge of the judiciary in this matter.  Even if the judiciary gains the required expertise over time, the decision-making process in courts is painfully slow in India.  Competition law is an economic law with a far reaching impact on the conduct of businesses. Time is essence in business decisions, as noted by the Supreme Court in the case of Competition Commission of India vs Steel Authority of India Ltd. It is, therefore, imperative to make quick decisions, which probably can only be expected outside the normal court process.  It will be unwise to scrap an expert body and let the responsibility of implementation lie with authorities that are not trained in the science of economics.  The intention of the legislature is clear in this regard.  The competition authority has been permitted to make regulations to carry out the purposes of the Competition Act and is not bound by the Civil Procedure Code.  

One may argue that decision making by the competition authority is slow at present. This can be attributed to (i) learning process, (ii) frivolous "Informations" filed and (iii) lack of adequate staff. 

Capacity can not be built overnight and every competition authority has taken its time to mature.  Let us not be impatient.

Pradeep S Mehta

Secretary General, Consumer Unity & Trust Society International

The competition law needs to be amended to enable the Commission to work in an autonomous manner, without explicit and implicit government control

Yes and no. The current avatar of the Competition Commission should be overhauled keeping in mind some critical aspects and the Competition Act should be buttressed to ensure that it is effective and its utility is not questioned.

First, the procedure for selecting the chairman and members of the Commission needs to be re-examined. It should be ensured that it does not create parking lots for retirees from the government but attracts people who have the capability, competence and commitment to discharge the role that is envisaged for the Commission — which is to promote a healthy culture of competition in the country. Experiences from around the world tell us that one needs "champions" to take forward such regulatory bodies. Alas, this is not the case currently.

However, the opportunity to select a person with the required expertise and vigour to chair the Commission is now coming up. The search for a new chairman is on since the incumbent is demitting office in June. Can the selection committee not look for a person who is a trained economist or a lawyer or even a young civil servant with an understanding and experience of dealing with economic laws? Candidates should be in their early fifties and not in their sixties. This is not to say that retired civil servants cannot make champions. T N Seshan's seminal contribution in cleaning up the election scenario as the chief election commissioner is an example. However, that was an exceptional case.

Second, the competition law needs to be amended to ensure its independence. This will be vital in attracting competent people who are willing to leave their comfortable jobs to join the body. For example, successful lawyers do join the bench at a considerable loss of income because the judiciary is empowered to work without fear or favour. The other incentive is the prestige that comes with judgeship.

Third, the law needs to be amended to enable the Commission to work in an autonomous manner. At present, the law allows explicit and implicit government control in terms of several functions, including staff appointments. The Indian Institute for Management, Bangalore, had done a study for the Competition Commission of India (CCI) suggesting good remuneration packages for engaging professionals. Unfortunately, the current recruitment drive is witnessing secondments from civil services, which do not necessarily provide the best people to deal with a new economic law.

It is not only CCI but all our economic regulators that suffer from these maladies. Most of them are beholden to the government, which controls them through various means, including foreign travel. In all such cases, foreign travel is an imperative to advance their knowledge – which is currently very low – and build contacts to deal with cases. Recently, many regulators have been pulled up by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) for holding on to their surplus moneys, when the government had asked them to transfer it to the Consolidated Fund of India. Overall, the government oversight is so overwhelming that a former regulator once remarked at a Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) conference that they are but Joint Secretary (Regulation).

Fourth, overlap issues between the CCI and sector regulators need to be resolved permanently so that the integrity of our economic governance system is not suborned. For instance, why should the Reserve Bank of India alone deal with banking mergers, when it is a prudential regulator? Or for that matter why should the electricity regulator or the petroleum regulator deal with anti-competitive practices in their regulated sectors. They can certainly deal with ex-ante structural issues and technical issues but ex-post anti-competitive practices should be dealt with by CCI. However, they can certainly consult each other on a mandatory basis, and thus avoid jurisdictional gridlock. The relevant laws need to be amended.

There are other issues as well that need to be dealt with to make CCI a livewire agency with a good public buy in. Let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater.







The continuing crisis and high radiation levels at the earthquake and tsunami damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan points at the pressing need for independent regulation of nuclear power. And Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's promise that the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) would be made "truly autonomous and independent," comes not a day too soon. The AERB is mandated to ensure safety of nuclear power, but its lack of independence from the department of atomic energy has led to criticism and questions about its effectiveness as a regulatory authority. Note that Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry has two distinct functions that can work at cross-purposes: regulating the nuclear power industry, and promoting nuclear technology both domestically and overseas. Japan's nuclear regulator is seen as having had a rather cosy relationship with the atomic power industry. The expert opinion is that had the regulators in Japan been more independent, they might have imposed stricter regulations on plant safety and design that could have prevented the crisis, or substantially eased its severity.

The military legacies of atomic power have meant topdown nuclear strategy implemented in a climate of secrecy, around the world. But the main nuclear power producers have been thoroughly overhauling regulation of late. The UK announced in February (before Fukushima happened) that it is setting up a new independent regulator for nuclear power, France has had a similar regulatory structure since 2006 and the US circa 1992. The International Atomic Energy Agency does, in fact, vouch for independence of the domestic regulator from any organisation promoting nuclear power, including government departments. Besides, nuclear power is complex, requiring an especially skilled workforce and its planning is highly cross-disciplinary. Hence the vital need for AERB to follow international best practices in oversight and safety standards. In tandem, we need up-to-date legislation and create a coherent set of laws that cover myriad aspects of nuclear safety and fault prevention. Topped by transparent dissemination of information.








The TV news-channels keep replaying images of Dhoni quipping at the presentation ceremony that he had no choice but to play a match-winning knock to pre-empt questions like why he had promoted himself up the batting order instead of the in-form Yuvraj or why Sreesanth was played instead of Ashwin. Even Dhoni may not have anticipated that in the wake of India winning the ODI World Cup after 28 years, the mood would swing to the other extreme where he would be asked at the post-match press-conference to run the country since he had the Midas touch! It's not just some fans but journalists — there are times you can't separate the two — who forget that cricketers are cricketers, nothing more, nothing less.

With almost the entire population of the country following the World Cup, there are lessons to be learnt from Team India's success, including the most important one that it's not just the cricketers but the fans who have to behave responsibly. Even while the World Cup tournament was on, train-traffic through India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh was stalled by people agitating for job quotas for one community or the other. Many of those who took part in this train-r o k oagitation would have also celebrated Team India's achievement in winning the World Cup. Those stopping trains could ask themselves the question whether India could have won the World Cup if members of the national team had been selected on the basis of quotas. Those participating in such agitations could learn from the achievement of Munaf Patel who was India's third-most successful bowler in the World Cup and who was born in rural Gujarat of parents who bought a TV-set only after he started playing for the country. The best things in life are not free but achieved!







In Portuguese bullfight, the forcados try to subdue the animal by lining up in front of its charge and leaping on to it. Horrible injuries aside, they are usually successful. In the equity markets right now, the bull is winning — in spite of Japan's biggest disaster since the Second World War and the unexpected US decision to support bombing of Libya.

The financial effects of the nuclear and humanitarian calamities in Japan have been dismissed by global markets. Japanese equities are still suffering, after briefly crashing 20%. Shares in the world outside Japan are down just over 1% from the day before the earthquake, less of an interruption in the bull run than November's worries over Ireland's finances.

With so much bad news around, it's the sliver of good news (improving jobs and other data emanating out of the US that could boost exports from emerging markets) that has caught global stock markets' frenzy.
MSCI EM equity index is 3.53% up on the year, with China 5.67% higher, India 3.9% down and Brazil 0.2% lower. Is the rally sustainable? The sense that EMs were oversold in the face of the turmoil in the Middle East has clearly largely now been factored into. EM inflation fears, which spooked investors well before crisis in the Middle East triggered the oil price spike, continue to haunt.

There is growing nervousness in the copper market as investors apprehend the strength of Chinese demand. The price of the metal, a crucial element in the global economy that is found in almost every building and electrical circuit, has slipped 8% since it hit a record high of $10,190 a tonne in February. Conclusion of the impasse in Libya is nowhere in sight. With Brent crude leaping through $120 a barrel, concerns about oil supplies remain. History suggests that the general pattern for all Middle Eastern political shocks, which led to recessions in the West, is for relatively slow initial capital market response. The biggest one-off economic shock in modern history was the outbreak of Yom Kippur war in October 1973, when a coalition of Arab nations invaded Israel. That led to oil embargo and a decade of stagflation in the western world. By the summer of 1974, the S&P 500 had slid 43.5% from its close on the eve of Yom Kippur. But there was almost no reaction on the day, with the S&P 500 falling 0.2%, and gold price unchanged.

The Islamic revolution in Iran in early 1979, which would also have dire economic consequences for the West and drive up the price of oil, had almost no impact on stock markets — although gold was shooting up even as it entered the closing stages of its greatest-ever bull market. Reaction to the last true oil supply shock, when Iraq under Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, looked more realistic. The S&P dropped 6% within two days, and bottomed out down 17% later in the year.

Stock markets are rallying on the assumption of continuing relaxed monetary policies. The US Treasury is due to lose the biggest buyer of its debt within a few months. Improving data in the US, such as latest payrolls numbers, have increased the likelihood of Fed "taking away the punch bowl just as the party gets going". Signals are more important than ultimate rate rises themselves, as markets try to discount moves in advance. For several decades, the cycle has been clear: when markets' views about central banks' intentions change towards a belief in tightening, stock markets run into trouble. For example, the last pre-crisis correction came in spring 2006, when Ben Bernanke, new head of the Federal Reserve, appeared intent on pushing rates above 5.25%. Emerging markets dropped more than 10%. Stocks enjoyed their last great rally that summer, after Bernanke hinted to the US Congress that he would stop at 5.25%.


The European Central Bank is likely to raise rates this week (Jean-Claude Trichet recently said the ECB was in "strong vigilance"), making it the first major developed world central bank to start raising rates after the crisis.
Central bankers' shifting calculus is consequential, although noise from this year's dramatic global events has obscured it. The euro has risen, in spite of the intensifying sovereign debt crisis, thanks to the ECB. Sterling has rallied and fallen back several times on developments at the Bank of England. And emerging markets have underperformed, because their central banks are tightening.

Ultimately, punch bowl is the key and sets the ceiling on how far equities can rise (see the chart). Commodity prices are so far above production costs that producers are left in the dark about how much to invest. Acreage or mines that can be exploited profitably at current prices could easily turn loss-making if the financial world becomes less accommodating, even if demand remains strong.

Quantitative easing (QE) has buoyed stocks. Either the economy keeps improving, in which case the punch bowl will go and stocks will slow down; or the economy slows down again and the punch bowl has to stay in place — but stocks will slow down. The rally may have a bit further to go. But the punch bowl has to go some time.

QE2's initial success at home (US unemployment has ticked down to 8.8% from 9.6% before QE2, while on a six-month rolling average payrolls are expanding at their fastest since the summer of 2007) leaves as great as ever the danger that different central banks embark on different, and self-defeating, exit strategies. Investors should remember that bullfights usually end with the bull sold to the highest bidder. I expect global stocks to correct strongly towards the middle of April 2011.










Running a business involves management of risk by both borrowers and lenders. There is no risk-free business and the spirit of enterprise should encourage risk-taking to facilitate the creation of wealth, employment and overall wellbeing of society.
According to the RBI, addition to gross non-performing assets (NPAs) of the banking system during 2009-10 was .65,674 crore. Fresh amount set aside by banks as provision to meet losses on account of NPAs was .32,007 crore, representing 0.092% of the total loans. The amount of NPA write-offs was .10,253 crore. These amounts reduce the profits of banks and curtail their ability to pay higher returns to their depositors and shareholders and to offer lower interest rates to borrowers regular in meeting their obligations.
Banks may opt for one-time settlement (OTS), considering the value of securities and future cash flows. There may be no case for recouping the concessions, given where the chapter is closed by way of OTS and ownership of business has changed as the new investor may have taken over the business on the basis of the reduced debt.
Corporate debt restructuring (CDR) may allow the borrower to continue operations with concessions like scaleddown debt, reduction in interest rate, conversion of part of the debt into equity, funding of past interest and longer period of repayment. There are instances of large borrowers availing themselves of very substantial concessions in the past but presently doing extremely well. If recompense clauses had been incorporated in the revised contracts, banks will be able to recoup the concessions. When the same promoters or their associates are allowed to continue to avail facilities after concessions are extended, it may be made mandatory to incorporate a recompense clause in the revised agreements in future. Concessions may be necessary to revive a company and protect employment. Those who defaulted and availed large concessions should be required to repay these amounts when they generate sustainable profits. In this context, the guidelines on CDR may be revisited by the regulator who has the well-deserved reputation of steering the banking system out of the perils of the global financial crisis.


A Recompense Clause is Needed

There are two contracts here. One at the time of the grant of the loan and the second at the time of the concession when both sides agree to reduce the interest or principal payment. Therefore, the issue needs to be split into two questions, one 'could'-oriented and the other 'should'-oriented, one legal and the other a moral question. The former question which goes into the legality of the issue can be answered first, followed by the issues of moral persuasion arising out of the 'should' question.
Indian law on waiver, composition, release, remit or acceptance of a lesser sum extinguishes the debtor's liability. Such a waiver is an abandonment of a right. Of course, the waiver must be by an action with knowledge and intention of the creditor. A receipt of Rs 800 in full and final settlement of a Rs 1,000 loan would extinguish the loan in full if the creditor explicitly and clearly waives its right with knowledge and intention. At the end of this concession or waiver, the debtor does not legally owe anything to the creditor. This is a departure from the UK law on the subject which would treat the waiver contract as a promise without consideration and, therefore, void, though subject to exceptions. Conversely, once such a company or a person comes out of financial problems starts doing well again, since there is no debt pending, it cannot be required to pay the debt back. In fact, legally such payment would be without consideration and, therefore, not be a contract at all. In other words, the 'moral debtor' cannot pay the 'moral creditor' even if it wants to. Where debt restructurings occur by way of court proceedings, the reduced debt is ordered by way of a formal court order. Thus, requiring repayment of the waived amount would be even less legally valid.
The above is subject to the additional twist which can be provided in the variation contract to make the waiver subject to a future payment if the debtor company does well. Though there is no law on this subject, such a clause would probably be valid, in which event the moral debtor would be a legal debtor as well.








Since the release of five Maoists in exchange of an IAS officer and a junior engineer, a debate has surfaced whether the judgment of the Orissa government was an appropriate response to a difficult situation. The home minister was asked by media whether the central government agreed with the state governments handling of the situation. Reports quoted the minister's reply that it is "not important whether we (Centre) agree or disagree, the matter was sensitive and was handled by the state government to the best of its ability". Hardly surprising, given that law and order is a state subject.

At this time, it is not relevant whether the swap deal has set a dangerous precedent. We have a few of them in the past. Instead, going forward, the focus needs to be on what is the administration's firm position of dealing with such situations in future, given the rise of Naxal insurgency and other terrorist activities. Does the government have any guidelines and instructions that the states must adhere to when dealing with hostage negotiations? If so, what are they? If not, it is time for the government to formulate a comprehensive policy on hostage negotiations. Among other things, such policy should detail whether or not to conduct talks in hostage situations and, if so, the parameters within which they should be conducted and the exigencies under which deviations can be made. Additionally, roles and responsibilities of the central and local government need to be established and it will be helpful to have a list of trained negotiators who can be called to intervene in such situations.
But a policy is never the solution. It's merely a roadmap, giving directions. Almost similar to CPR instructions always carried by paramedics, but perhaps never referred to when dealing with an emergency. The policy needs to be followed by institutional and legal arrangements that can see through the agenda which the policy details. The government has been successful in the past and a case in point is the government's approach to disaster management. Starting with a wellthought-out policy, the government followed it up with a remarkable legislation that created the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Even though the NDMA was constituted for different purposes, given its structural infrastructure, one wonders why hostage situations were not included in the definition of a "disaster" under its statute which includes grave occurrences in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes.

Hostage situations need to be tackled by stern action. Internationally, the official position of many countries is that under no circumstances will negotiations take place in any hostage situation. The no-negotiation-with-abductors policy followed by Israel is regarded as being exemplary. But what also needs to be noted is that the official policy is different from the ground realities. Despite its hardline approach, even Israel is believed to engage in negotiations. The difference is that such negotiations are conducted outside public view, so that its official position isn't diluted.

What needs to be recognised is that the goal of any abductor is to try to instil fear in the minds of ordinary folks. The abductors, especially when kidnappings take place in undeveloped backward areas, attempt to win over the local populace by trying to demonstrate the administration's indifference for these inhabitants. Every time the state gives in to their demands, they score a moral victory against the state. There is research to support that a majority of hostage situations are driven by emotions or a desire for respect and attention. It is for this reason that experienced negotiators dealing with hostage situations first try to address the emotions at stake before addressing the substantive issues involved. Thus, is policy the panacea to deal with hostage situations? Will knowing where the government stands on hostage situations deter potential kidnappings? Perhaps not. But, it's a necessary starting point. In crisis situations, the biggest challenge can be the lack of coordination between various agencies and the absence of clarity on the role of various stakeholders. If the response is planned and the stakeholders trained, better results can be achieved. Also, knowledge of the state's level of preparedness can even act as a deterrent for abductors.

Given the changing world order, it is important to dispel all notions of India being a 'soft target' and giving in every time a gun is put to the head of an 'important' person. Economically, such perceptions will hamper investment. From a strategic perspective, they don't bode well for India's external and internal security image. Let us not wait till the next 'important' individual is abducted before we act.
(The author is an advocate & corporate counsel)







A lone wolf 's lot isn't all that it's cracked up to be. You can play solitaire. But not cricket. For that you need twelve mates and a rival team, not to forget umpires and spectators. And expert commentators — you have over a billion of 'em in a cricket-crazy nation such as India! Now that the World Cup's come home after a gap of 28 years, we can safely speculate about what made it possible. So, what if God failed to bat and his deputy had to eat duck soup? Those who followed delivered. Their individual performances seemed steeped in the old-fashioned virtues of teamwork, mutual respect and acceptance of personal responsibility and leadership by example. After the victory, the manner in which everyone of the champion side dedicated the World Cup to Sachin Tendulkar was most revealing, says an admiring Pakistani analyst: the Indian side may have had the largest number of 'stars' or 'heavyweights'. But what was vital that if an iconoclast failed to perform, another was ready to step in and deliver a sterling performance. To be sure, the Indian side's campaign hasn't been errorfree. Nor were they anywhere near the top in the preliminaries. But what has mattered most was their spirited refusal to give up as they continued to play the game, one ball at a time, till the glorious end. This hasn't been an underdog's victory, opines another pundit. It's as much about self-belief and assurance, about true innovation and the ability to take risks and enjoy things regardless of the outcome. That is the skilful yoga of action (Yoga karmasu koushalam).







Thin-slicing is not an exotic gift. It is a central part of what it means to be human. We thin-slice whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation. We thin-slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of hidden fists out there, lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot. It is striking, for instance, how many different professions and disciplines have a word to describe the particular gift of reading deeply into the narrowest slivers of experience. In basketball, the player who can take in and comprehend all that is happening around him or her is said to have "court sense." In the military, brilliant generals are said to possess coup d'oeil — which, translated from the French, means "power of the glance": the ability to immediately see and make sense of the battlefield. Napoleon had coup d'oeil.
So did Patton. The ornithologist David Sibley says that in Cape May, New Jersey, he once spotted a bird in flight from two hundred yards away and knew, instantly, that it was a ruff, a rare sandpiper. He had never seen a ruff in flight before; nor was the moment long enough for him to make a careful identification. But he was able to capture what bird-watchers call the bird's "giss" — its essence — and that was enough.






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The hungerstrike by eminent social activist Anna Hazare on the question of the Lokpal Bill, and the findings of a Group of Ministers that the discretionary powers enjoyed by ministers need not be dispensed with, have once again raised concerns about how far we are prepared to go — institutionally and conceptually — to deal with the issue of corruption. Since a series of scandals relating to public funds, or the twisting of rules to benefit high officials, broke in the country late last year, a number of cases have gone to court (such as on the 2G spectrum allocation issue), top individuals — including a chief minister — have been removed and proceeded against, and numerous inquiries are on at different levels. These are a good sign. But these are also an indicator of how widespread corrupt practices are, in the states and at the Centre. There is a feeling in the country which cannot be easily brushed aside — that the range of government actions undertaken to fight corruption was the direct consequence of sustained pressure applied through media exposures, and the exertions of Opposition parties and the judiciary. We saw this happen at the Centre certainly and in Maharashtra. But Karnataka has turned out to be a case of the ruling party and the chief minister playing surprising political games to get around the institution of Lokayukta, although the Lokayukta in that state is on a firmer footing than elsewhere, and is empowered to conduct its own investigations. If the political executive might show little inclination to move, as appears to be the case in Karnataka, or is slow to respond until extensive public pressure is mounted, as we saw with the Centre and Maharashtra, then inbuilt institutional safeguards to deal with the malaise of corruption seem advisable. This is why questions relating to discretionary powers enjoyed by ministers and senior officials, and the creation of a Lokpal, or ombudsman, at the Centre become relevant. When the UPA-2 government came under sustained scrutiny last year on corruption-related matters, Mrs Sonia Gandhi seized the occasion of the AICC session in December to make the telling comment that even as the country's economic power had grown, its moral universe had shrunk. That observation echoed with many. But the system appears to have cleverly got around Mrs Gandhi's proposal of doing away with discretionary powers. A Group of Ministers led by the finance minister, Mrs Pranab Mukherjee, is learnt to be of the view that discretionary powers serve a purpose, and that these are exercised within a framework of rules. That is a self-serving argument. Discretionary powers can certainly be used to help the deserving, but sadly that is often not the case. The Congress leadership needs to review the matter and bring the subject for wider consultation in society, rather than leave it to a mere GoM, which in any case is an interested party. As for the Lokpal Bill, several governments have resisted the move. Many want the Prime Minister kept out of the purview of the Lokpal. This cannot be acceptable in a democratic system, although the PM does need to be shielded from vexatious and motivated quarters. Some aspects of the civil society proposals on the Lokpal, advanced by Anna Hazare, might appear presumptuous or excessive, especially those pertaining to the legislature. But there is something to be said for their broad direction. The government can avoid a discussion on these issues at the risk of its credibility.







After understandable national joy and jubilation over the World Cup, it is time to turn our attention to the harsh realities on the ground of which steadily mounting corruption — both in its shocking spread and staggering scale — is obviously the worst. Corruption is indeed eating into the country's vitals by corroding the entire Indian system from top to bottom. The reprehensible process, in the words of experts on the subject, is both "systemic and systematic". There are those — especially in the ruling establishment who are main beneficiaries of cancerous corruption — who argue that there is no need to return to the painful subject after the mother of all scams, the 2G spectrum allocation, is being pursued in law courts, the Shunglu Committee's report on the mega scandal of the Commonwealth Games is being "processed", and Hasan Ali Khan, the Pune horse-breeder officially described as the "biggest tax-evader" and "hoarder of black money in foreign banks", is in jail. To them I would offer three major reasons for pressing ahead with the struggle against corruption, graft, malfeasance and perversion of the rule of law. First, if the law is now taking its course in the horrendous 2G case and its principal perpetrator, former telecommunications minister A. Raja, is in judicial custody, no credit is due to the leaders of the United Progressive Alliance government. In full knowledge of his misdeeds in 2007, they reappointed him to his old job two years later and then protected him until it became impossible to do so. Their reasoning was that coalition politics has its "compulsions". Moreover, this case would never have proceeded so speedily as it has were it not for the Supreme Court's supervision of all activities in this connection of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Even so, some competent observers have pointed out that there are "serious omissions" in the comprehensive chargesheet that the CBI filed on April 2: some persons obviously complicit in the 2G loot or direct beneficiaries of "huge kickbacks" have not been included in the list of accused. However, the apex court can be depended upon to take care of such matters. Mr Hasan Ali Khan was left completely free for well over three years; he could do what he liked. Nobody bothered when he went to Singapore for months, allegedly on a fake passport, and opened several bank accounts there. Only after the Supreme Court made some sharp observations in February did the Enforcement Directorate (ED) take the Pune stud farm owner into custody. But since the ED is not under the direct supervision of the apex court, on March 29, after reading the transcript of the ED's "custodial interrogation" of Mr Khan, their Lordships were constrained to express their "displeasure" with the directorate's failure to put to Mr Khan questions about the sources of black money — questions that should have been asked but weren't. The point is whether the directorate had been dragging its feet on its own accord or under instructions "from above". The second reason why attention should not be diverted from burgeoning corruption is that only eternal vigilance can help India rid itself of this scourge. Gone is the era when scams were infrequent; now there is a scam a day. Over just a few days there have been nearly a dozen, of which let me mention only a few. The most chilling of these is the growing number of airline pilots who are being arrested for securing their jobs by using forged documents, sometimes issued by fraudulent institutions such as a training academy in Baramati, Maharashtra. It is no mere coincidence that many of these "fake fliers", endangering the lives of passengers, are relatives of senior executives of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). A Chandigarh-based businessman who is also a Trinamul Congress member of Parliament flew to poll-bound Assam in his private jet from Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport with Rs 57 lakhs in cash and nobody batted an eyelid. Only the Chief Election Commissioner has asked for the transfer of the airport staff that allowed him to take off. The Punjab and Haryana high court has quashed a whole series of appointments, ranging from relatively senior posts to those of drivers, by the Haryana government. In neighbouring Punjab, the Vigilance Bureau has "booked" an Indian Administrative Service officer, now retired, and three others for allegedly "embezzling crores of rupees" from the funds — hold your breath — allocated for celebrating the birth anniversary of Shaeed-e-Azam (Great Martyr) Bhagat Singh. Against this backdrop the third reason for remaining focused on corruption assumes great importance. A two-day seminar on transparency and accountability in governance at the Vivekananda International Foundation in Delhi over the weekend, attended by eminent Indians and some foreigners, warned the powers that be that the dynamism imparted to the campaign against corruption by the public in general and activists in particular, as well as the media and the judiciary, would grow, not subside. Indeed, the conference formed an Anti-Corruption Front under the "patronage" of Baba Ramdev who is already trying to mobilise the masses over this issue. M.N. Venkatachaliah, a former Chief Justice of India (CJI) who inaugurated the conference, regretted that the government was showing no political will to fight corruption and black money stashed abroad, two problems with a symbiotic relationship. He suggested that Parliament should immediately pass a law to declare illegal all bank deposits maintained abroad by Indians. Thereafter, only the accounts of proven legitimacy should be released and others confiscated. Most countries of the world, he believed, would cooperate in this. The gathering endorsed the idea. Some scholars pointed out that black money in India was four per cent of the gross domestic product in the 1950s when Nicholas Kaldor estimated it, and it was now close to half of the economy! Another former CJI, J.S. Verma, concentrating on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's role, argued that it was no good for the latter to claim that he was honest, that and nobody brought to his notice what was going on. As the man in charge, said Mr Verma, the Prime Minister was accountable for whatever his colleagues and subordinates in the government did.







So Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who organised a Quran burning on March 20, wanted "to stir the pot". Mission accomplished. Perhaps he'd care to explain himself to the family of Joakim Dungel, a 33-year-old Swede slaughtered at the UN mission in Mazar-i-Sharif by Afghans whipped into frenzy through Jones' folly. On reflection, no, there's nothing Jones can explain to Dungel's family, or the other UN staffers murdered. Jones is not in the explanation business. He's a zealot. How else to describe a Christian who interprets his faith not as grounded in love and compassion but as a mission to incite hatred towards Islam? There's no discussion with a bigot like this: You can't be argued out of something you haven't been argued into in the first place. Jones is not alone in this Islamophobic campaign in the US, which is what is most disturbing. But before I get to that, let's talk about the murderous Afghan mob and its enablers. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was one such enabler. He was a fool to allude to Jones' stunt, performed before a few dozen acolytes. Why elevate this vile little deed and so foster mayhem? Karzai is a man who will stop at nothing to disguise his weakness. His benefactors and underwriters — the West — are those he must scorn to survive. The foolishness did not stop with Karzai: The imams of Mazar chose to use Friday prayers to stir up the crowd. As for the killing itself — whether by infiltrated Taliban insurgents or not — it was a heinous crime against innocent people and should be denounced throughout the Islamic world, in mosques and beyond. I'm still waiting. Staffan de Mistura, the top UN envoy in Afghanistan, did not honour the dead by failing to denounce the perpetrators of the crime in a statement. He was right to call Jones' Quran burning "insane and totally despicable"; he should have used the same words about the slaughter of his men. Not to do so was craven, a glaring omission. All this madness began at the Dove World Outreach Centre in Florida, home to Jones' mini-church. As my colleague Lizette Alvarez chronicled, an unrepentant Jones believes Islam and the Quran only serve "violence, death and terrorism". That's as dumb as equating Christianity with Psalm 137 that says the "little ones" of the enemy should be dashed against stones. But such incendiary views about a world religion now find wide expression in the US where "stealth jihad" has become a recurrent Republican theme. Several Republicans, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Representative Peter King, have found it politically opportune to target "creeping Shariah in the US" at a time when the middle name of the US President is Hussein. (A Newsweek poll last year found that 52 per cent of Republicans agreed with the statement that "Barack Obama sympathises with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world".) I spent time last year with Paul Blair, a pastor in small-town Oklahoma, a state where Islamophobia is rampant. He told me Muslims were "not here to coexist but to take over". He told me there are only two possibilities in Islam — "the house of Islam or the house of war". That sort of message is going out in a lot of US churches. It's dangerous. Already, Muslims are victims in 14 per cent of religious discrimination cases when they make up one per cent of the population. In Europe, too, Rightist politicians peddle divisive anti-Muslim bigotry, with some success. Muslims have work to do. They should have the courage to denounce unequivocally the Mazar murder. Jihadists have too often deformed a great religion with insufficient rebuke. From Egypt to Pakistan, it must be understood that Islam cannot at once be a political force and above criticism. Once you enter the democratic political arena on a religious platform, your beliefs are no longer a private matter but up for legitimate attack. Pakistan's violence-inducing blasphemy laws are an affront to this principle. Jones, by contrast, lives in a nation where the law defends even his folly. I'm a free-speech absolutist and so I support that. But he must examine his conscience: How is it consistent with religious faith to stir hatred and killing? And how can the Islamophobes, spreading poison, justify their grotesque caricature of Islam in the thinly veiled pursuit of political gain? This column is full of anger, I know. It has no heroes. I'm full of disgust, writing after a weekend when religious violence returned to Northern Ireland with the murder of a 25-year-old Catholic policeman, Ronan Kerr, by dissident Republican terrorists. Religion has much to answer for, in Gainesville and Mazar and Omagh. I see why lots of people turn to religion — fear of death, ordering principle in a mysterious universe, refuge from pain, even revelation. But surely it's meaningless without mercy and forgiveness, and surely its very antithesis must be hatred and murder. At least that's how it appears to a nonbeliever.








On April 7, 2011, Cambodia and Thailand are scheduled to meet in Bogor, Indonesia, to try and resolve the long-standing dispute over the Preah Vihear temple complex. This will be the first time that the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will mediate in resolving a border dispute between two of its member states. For more than two weeks in February, there was renewed fighting along the Thai-Cambodian border that left 11 dead and several thousand villagers displaced in the worst exchange of fire since tensions began in July 2008. While several observers believe that the conflict is to do with unresolved border issues, it is also a result of historical antagonism between the two neighbouring countries over issues of sovereignty and claims of nationalism dictated by the compulsions of each country's political posturing. Last week, there were renewed allegations from Cambodia that Thailand has been unwilling to indicate where the observers from Indonesia would be stationed. Moreover, there is some ambiguity on whether the two will have a comprehensive General Border Committee (GBC) meeting or if it will remain at the level of the Joint Boundary Committee (JBC). The minutes of JBC meetings need parliamentary approval. Given the current political impasse in Thailand, there has been little headway in resolving this. While a temporary ceasefire is in place following meetings of foreign ministers at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), finding a more permanent solution is imperative. This was evident when the Asean appointed an observer team to study the protracted tensions and seek a bilateral resolution. The Asean's approach at the initiative of Indonesia, which is Asean's current chair, was endorsed by the UNSC. The dispute (the battle is over a small piece of land, about 4.6 square kilometres, which surrounds the Preah Vihear temple complex) can be traced back to the period of Cambodian history when the Angkor dynasty extended to areas of modern-day Thailand and Vietnam. For nearly six centuries — from the 9th to the 15th century — the glory of the Angkor dynasty (Khmer) in Cambodian history remained unparalleled. But as the Angkor dynasty weakened, there were inroads into its territorial limits by its two neighbours — Siam ( is modern-day Thailand) and Vietnam. Added to this historical dynamic is the fact that the colonial legacy of French in Cambodia has contributed to the current conflict as several border issues remain unresolved since then. The Cambodian provinces of Battambang and Siem Reap, which is the area of the present conflict, is home to the architectural monuments of Angkor Wat and other temple complexes, of which Preah Vihear is one. (In 2008, the Preah Vihear region was declared a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). These two provinces have changed hands between Thailand and Cambodia following wars between the Angkor and Siamese kingdoms, leading to both countries claiming the territory. When the French established their colonial hold over the Indo-China region, the modern states of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were established. During the colonial period, the British territories extended to the western borders of Siam (Thailand) and the French administrative authority extended to the eastern borders of Siam. Thailand remained a buffer zone between these two colonial giants. In this context, Thailand's claims become debatable because it traded off territorial spaces to both Britain and France in exchange for freedom from colonialism. By the early 20th century, the modern-day maps of the region were clearly established. At the time of the border settlement, which took place in 1907, the territories of Battambang and Siem Reap fell under the French protectorate in Cambodia. In fact, as recently as the 1940s, these territories, once again, changed hands between the Thai and French rulers. In 1941, after the onset of the Second World War, Thai rulers used the Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia, which gave an impetus to the nationalist movements, as an opportunity to strike at the vulnerability of the French. This led to the Franco-Siamese War of 1941 in which the French ceded the territories of Battambang and Siem Reap to Thailand. The territories were returned to the French after the war, following the Japanese defeat. The Thai government took the border dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ruled that sovereignty over the area belonged to Cambodia. But the Thais have contested this decision on the grounds that it is based on a study of historical practice and customs rather than looking at the demarcation on the basis of the existing watershed. Thailand's claim was that on the basis of the existing watershed the area would be part of the Thai territory. If one is to take recourse to international law, then the concept of uti possidetis can be applied to this case. According to uti possidetis, the territoriality of newly sovereign states is to be based on previous administrative boundaries. Given this interpretation, and taking into account the boundary at the time of independence from the French, the disputed territory belongs to Cambodia. The reality of the colonial legacy is that the administrative zones established by the colonial powers often cut across three parallels — ethnic, tribal and historical territorial boundaries. These boundaries shifted during the ancient and medieval periods of history when kingdoms and dynasties established their hold over one another and fought for space and power. As a result, the ambiguities of territorial limits cannot be contested using ancient and medieval histories and power structures. That's why, to avoid this, recognition is given on the basis of administrative zones carved out by the colonial powers. This, in fact, is one of the critical factors that shape, and resolve, modern-day conflicts in both Asia and Africa where state boundaries often don't match nationalistic fervour and people resort to using ancient and medieval history as a tool for demanding realignment of regions. The Asean has always tried to find a solution to issues that challenge the region through consultation and consensus. Addressing bilateral tensions between its members was highlighted in its 2007 charter. While the realities of political compulsion may not always be absent, the Asean's approach has been to evolve a framework based on consensus. In the context of Asean as an observer for the current stand-off between Thailand and Cambodia, it needs to recognise that the resolution of the conflict cannot go against the norms established by international law and the ruling of the ICJ. It would be erroneous to ignore the realities of the colonial legacy and recalibrate territories of modern states on the basis of unbridled nationalistic demands. * Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU







In my last column, which appeared on March 21 (Prayers to help Japan), a few days after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the north-eastern coast of Japan taking with it more than 10,000 lives, I had suggested that we all can help the affected people of Japan through our prayers. While highlighting the importance of prayer in such situations, I had promised that in my next column I would deal with how else we can help people in distress in addition to praying. I am sure many of us are continuing to pray for the people of Japan. In fact, there has been a tremendous response from the international community to the disaster-hit Japan in terms of monetary donations as well as material help. Soon after the catastrophe, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh telephoned his counterpart there and assured that India stood in full solidarity with the people of Japan, and that our resources were at the disposal of Japan for any assistance they might require. Immediately after that a consignment of much-needed blankets were sent to Japan by the Government of India. Though by international standards as well as Japan's enormous needs, a few thousand blankets do not add up to much, it is here that the contribution of ordinary folk like us comes into play. There are many ways and indeed very many opportunities to give generously. One is certainly moved on such tragic occasions, but if we keep our eyes and ears open we will find that different types of people stand in need of our generosity. Giving, therefore, should not be restricted only to the victims of natural calamities. We should also look at the poor, the sick, the orphans, the widows, the elderly, the street children... the list can go on and on. The victims of natural disasters, who become homeless and penniless overnight, may not like to be treated on par with the poor who by and large depend on almsgiving. But the problem is not with who is giving and in what quantity, it is more about the quality and the spirit of giving. The larger issue, of course, is about how ready we are to share what we have with those who are in need and are less fortunate than us. One of the things expected of Christians in this season of Lent, as also from people of other religions on other occasions, along with prayer and fasting, is to give generously. To demonstrate the quality of giving, Jesus came up with an interesting example of a poor woman (Gospel of Luke). "As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins." "Truly I tell you", he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on". Another Biblical teaching on giving would be to remain, as far as possible, anonymous — to the extent that one's left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, "Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you". The Japanese have received accolades from all over the world for their resilience in this hour of great tragedy. The people have remained calm in the face of shortage of food and water. There is no hoarding. In fact, people are sensible and sensitive enough to take from stores only what they need and leave the rest for others. This is the real spirit of sharing and giving. While the events in Japan may spur us to give generously, it is good to remember the saying: "Do all the good you can; by all the means you can; in all the ways you can, in all the places you can; at all the times you can; to all the people you can; as long as ever you can." — Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India. He can be contacted at







FAR too convoluted, contrived and conflicting have been initial responses from the ICC and BCCI over the "authenticity" of the trophy presented at the Wankhede. True nothing can diminish the glory earned by Dhoni's men, but much symbolism accrues to a trophy. From competitions in schools to international events like the Davis Cup ~ to cite just one example ~ it is recognised that there is a huge honour/sentimental difference between a "rolling trophy" (what the ICC describes as a "perpetual" trophy) and the replica the winner retains. The ICC has been disingenuous in trying to explain away the controversy as irrelevant. It is not. Even if, as some reports suggest, since 2007 the pride of place has been given to the event-specific trophy, rather than the one maintained by the ICC and upon which are inscribed the names of successive champions. That may be "factual", it turns sporting tradition on its head, for it is always rolling trophies that are presented in public. Tournaments, as distinct from bilateral series may be comparatively new to international cricket but at a domestic level ~ the Sheffield Shield, Currie Cup, Ranji Trophy ~ trophies are part of the games' lore. Even at a bilateral level we have the Ashes, Frank Worrell trophy, Gavaskar-Border trophy: so the ICC's chief-executive is being "clever" in taking the line that the trophy presented was the one the winner would retain. Actually it is an insult that the trophy instituted when Jagmohan Dalmiya headed the ICC is now used for commercial promotional purposes. Actually commercialism is at the core of the mess: the trophy for the initial World Cups was named after the sponsors ~ Prudential, Reliance.. ~ now the lust for lucre has cornered the controlling body. An authentic statement is the only means of damage containment, along with a solemn assurance that notwithstanding 2007 and last week, the perpetual trophy will be restored to the paramount position. In short, that some "cricket" will be re-introduced to the ICC's affairs.

That is not all that is difficult to digest: that the toss had to be re-done suggests something fishy. If the call had not been heard the Sri Lankan skipper could have asked what he had said ~ time was when a player's word was taken on a clean catch or whether the ball had crossed the boundary. Was the captain suspected of gamesmanship? And closer home, the winners donned formal blazer-and-tie for the photo-shoot at the Gateway of India but sported T-shirt and jeans for the President's reception. That criticism might be slammed as "dated",

who can argue against it being dignified.



THE veil has been ripped off. The CBI's chargesheet in the Netai killings could not have come at a more difficult time for the CPI-M ~ barely ten days before the first round of the Assembly elections. From scams to killings, the executive ~ at the Centre and the states ~ is loath to reveal the truth without the judiciary's intervention. And the truth about Netai would still have been under the hat if Calcutta High Court hadn't transferred the investigation from the state's CID to the CBI. Not that the latter has been famously effective with its probes; this time, however, it hasn't dragged its feet to confirm that no fewer than 20 CPI-M activists were "directly involved in the conspiracy" to kill. The disaster has been embarrassing not least for the Chief Minister, with the Home portfolio under his belt. His first reaction that it "ought not to have happened" was breathtaking in its understatement. The fineprint of the chargesheet makes it pretty obvious that for all the fulminations of Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee over corruption, haughtiness and arrogance, the leadership has lost control over its cadres.  Even the claim that the Maoists ~ the universal punching bag ~ were responsible for the carnage has suitably been trashed.

As at Nandigram, Netai showcases a wholly party-sponsored operation that the authorities in Kokata may or may not have been aware of. To the extent that the West Midnapore police was rendered ineffective on 7 January. In Nandigram, the mayhem was over a Special Economic Zone that wasn't. Even after three months, the provocation in Netai remains fogbound. Was it a struggle for the mastery of turfs? Suffice it to register that having been empowered by the party and/or government for the Nandigram offensive four years ago, the footsoldiers have almost arrogated to themselves the right to kill. The ambience in West Midnapore district is sinister if the houses of local CPI-M leaders double up as armed camps, as the chargesheet mentions. Wholly justified is the Election Commission's decision to conduct the polls in two phases in a single district; the state of Assam makes do with two. Well and truly has the CPI-M shot itself in the foot; the cadres, notably the leaders of the Lalgarh zonal committee, will have contributed not a little to the possible denouement.




THE uncertainty has deepened in the theatre of international conflict. In relative terms, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's son may seem to be a "moderniser". Yet as the war of attrition rages in Libya with US-Anglo-French pounding from the skies,  Saif al-Islam Gaddafi has thrown his hat into the ring with the promise of sweeping reforms, a caretaker government and democratic elections. On the face of it, this might be a recipe for normality. Indubitable nonetheless is that the son is trying to test the murky waters with his overtures to the rebels. Thus far his attempt to project himself as a man intent on bringing about peace in Libya has been a non-starter. The rebel leadership has trashed his package as "unacceptable"; the rejection is couched with the assertion that a political arrangement, that does not envisage the exit of Colonel Gaddafi, means nothing. Above all, the genuineness of Saif's agenda is open to question. He has not been able to strike a deal with the rebel leadership to end the conflict.

Libya today showcases a unique scenario in the Arab world; all parties to the conflict are desperately seeking a way out of the killing fields.  The tottering regime does want a way out, and Col Gaddafi would rather that Greece plays the role of an honest broker for peace.  The message to Athens makes it clear that he wants the hostilities to end. At another remove, the rebels have realised they can't have an easy military victory though they may well feel encouraged with Italy's recognition of the rebel leadership as the legitimate authority of Libya. It is possible that the government is keen on negotiations to end the conflict though not on the terms of Saif. His proposal envisages that his father will stand down and that he will lead the transition to democracy. It remains an open question though whether the old man will agree, let alone the opposition. Saif's proposal can at best offer an option to the Western powers to move out of the conflict; at worst it might further alienate the hardliners among the rebels seeking the eclipse of the old order. Libya may not yield place to the new just yet. The scenario gets ever more complex.








ANALYZING the impact on the Af-Pak region of the movement led by the non-Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan to carve a new Khorasan State, one concluded yesterday's article with the words: "History will compel a choice between Confederation and Balkanization." Thus far this scribe has consistently advocated a South Asian Confederation as the best and most peaceful option to stabilize the region. That is the politically correct approach. It is the humane approach. Federating Afghanistan through the creation of a Khorasan province could start the process of creating national federations within a South Asian confederation.

However, it must be confessed that the prospects of this happening remain dim. For a South Asian Confederation to emerge it requires two hands to clap. But Pakistan's hand alternately opens and clenches into a fist. The latest example of this is provided by Pakistan's cricket captain Shahid Afridi. His gracious conduct while in India won many admirers. But on returning to Pakistan his tune not only changed. Uncharacteristically he ventured into politics. He said: "It is a very difficult thing for us to live with them (Indians) or to have long-term relationship with them. Nothing will come out of talks. See how many times in the past 60 years we have had friendship and then how many times things have gone bad."

The reasons adduced for Afridi's change of mind by Indian commentators may be conveniently discarded. It is obvious that his new script was dictated by the hardliners in the Pakistani establishment. That compels one to assess the hard option. The soft option was earlier described by this scribe as the attempt to tame Pakistan's hardliners through nudging its establishment towards a confederation. The hard option was described as waiting for Pakistan to implode and get Balkanized. Since the liberal elements in Pakistan's civil society seem incapable of confronting the hardliners, let us consider Khorasan in the context of the hard option.

India will have to do little to hasten the disintegration of Pakistan. New Delhi will merely have to distance itself from Islamabad, drastically minimize all diplomatic and cultural contacts with Pakistan, and offer moral support to the separatist movements of Baluchistan, Pashtunistan and Khorasan. The rest will follow. The Jasmine movement in the Middle East most likely will hit Pakistan in fatal fashion. The plans to disintegrate Pakistan have been on the Pentagon's drawing board for some time. Unfolding events in the Middle East suggest that implementing those plans may have already started.

It is worth recalling that West Asia was always described as the Greater Middle East. But for the first time US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used the term "New Middle East" to the world in June 2006. She was speaking in, of all places, Tel Aviv. The timing of introducing the new term was highly significant. The June 2006 issue of the US Armed Forces, a journal closely reflective of the Pentagon's views although not officially connected to it, carried an article by a retired US Army officer and military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters. The article was entitled "Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look".

The article was explosive. It expressed what had been pointed out repeatedly in these columns. Namely, that the legacy of colonialism had left unnatural international borders by violating all accepted norms of nationhood.


The author going by ethnic, religious and linguistic criteria drew the map of a New Middle East just before Condoleezza Rice borrowed that term for use in Israel. Let us ignore for the moment what Peters envisaged for West Asia and consider his views about Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He wrote: "What Afghanistan would lose to Persia in the west, it would gain in the east, as Pakistan's North-west Frontier tribes would be reunited with their Afghan brethren (the point of this exercise is not to draw maps as we would like them but as local populations would prefer them). Pakistan, another unnatural state, would also lose its Baluch territory to Free Baluchistan. The remaining "natural" Pakistan would lie entirely east of the Indus, except for a westward spur near Karachi ."

The restructuring of the Af-Pak region is along the lines that were anticipated in these columns much earlier.


Independent Pashtunistan, independent Baluchistan, while Punjab and Sind remain in truncated Pakistan. The possibility of this happening will increase manifold if the new movement for Khorasan gathers force. After the article appeared in the Armed Forces Journal there were letters questioning how the Pentagon could ever implement these ideas. Well, five years later the Jasmine revolutions erupted in the Middle East. Is that mere coincidence? Robert Blackwill's suggestion of redeploying NATO troops in Afghanistan clearly intended encouraging Pashtun consolidation across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to lay the foundation for a Khorasan movement that is now emerging.

It is in this overall situation that one advocated the creation of a South Asian Union as a means for present day Pakistan to survive without altering its borders. There are signs that the Pakistan establishment is unwilling or unable to deliver results to that end.

That leaves the hard option and possible Balkanization if Pakistan's army and its hardliners do not change quickly enough. Balkanization will be messy. The future of South Asia will become uncertain. But South Asia will survive the crisis. Pakistan will cease to exist.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







The branded hosiery sector recently decided to go on a strike after the government imposed a 10 per cent excise duty on the retail sales price (RSP) of branded hosiery products and garments. Considering how important this sector is to the national economy in terms of output, employment, exports and economic decentralisation, there has been widespread criticism of the provision of the impost in Union Budget 2011-12. Experts feel that the fresh levy will badly hit the fragile and mostly unorganised apparel sector of the country and business chambers and trade unions appealed to finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee to repeal it. But Mr Mukherjee made only a minor concession by imposing the duty on 45 per cent of the RSP instead of 60 per cent as announced earlier. This negligible abatement in tax burden has angered people associated with production, sale and exports in the sector. In West Bengal, the Left parties are readying to project the hosiery sector's predicament as a poll issue to counter the Trinamul-Congress combine.

While the finance minister expects to garner Rs 4,000 crore from the tax measure, the Federation of Hosiery Manufacturers Association (Fohma) puts the cost of any strike in this sector at Rs 300-400 crore every day. The manufacturers say that as the price of finished products have already risen by 60 per cent in the past year owing to escalating yarn prices, the fresh tax will push it up by another 13-14 per cent. Fohma feels that RSP varies from place to place and pegging an optimum figure will be difficult. More importantly, as this sector employs the maximum number of people after agriculture, an indefinite strike will directly endanger the livelihood of 35 million people and 25 million indirectly, most of them farmers. Also, manufacturers feel that though Fohma's contribution to the GDP is 4 per cent, to the total manufacturing output 14 per cent and to exports in value terms 8.1 per cent, its competitiveness is shrinking despite India having been a world leader in the sector in 1950s. Powerloom, handloom and hosiery comprise the decentralised segment of the Indian textile industry which is mostly unorganised and face more problems than the organised mill sector.

Mill owners say that before imposing fresh taxes, the government should implement the proposals contained in one policy after another so that this important non-food industry can survive. The Textile Policy of 1985 was formulated to enhance production to cater to the needs of the vast domestic population at reasonable a price and to help boost exports; a Textile Modernisation Fund of Rs 750 crore was set up to enhance technological prowess of mills, the Textile (Development and Regulation) Order was promulgated in 1993 to renew the mandatory provision of prior approval of the government before setting up new mills; Technology Upgradation Fund Scheme of 1999 envisaged textile units undertaking modernisation at subsidised interest rates on borrowings; the National Textile Policy 2000 was formulated to push up the value of exports to $50 billion by 2010 and in 2005, the Scheme for Integrated Textile Parks was put together  to facilitate the launch of 40 such world-class parks across the country.

But a slew of government schemes notwithstanding, hosiery entrepreneurs are not happy. They say that textile business has not been able to expand beyond family holdings because growing non-profitability is discouraging new entrepreneurs. Capital is extremely scarce. Banks lend money at high interest rates of 16 to 18 per cent as recurring non-repayment has become a norm. Besides, the government has taken no initiative to train workers. Whatever training mill workers are getting is at the discretion of mill owners who, more often than not, are hamstrung by lack of space and therefore can't afford to modernise. This compels them to handle production using outdated plants and machineries. In some cases, modernisation has not been made possible because of protests from labourers and trade unions whose fear of loss of jobs reign supreme.

Globalisation has also had a huge impact on the Indian textile industry. The impact has basically been two-pronged. Indian producers, with salaries and wages being 30 to 60 per cent higher in this country, face a competitive disadvantage over their counterparts in China, Pakistan and Taiwan. Power cost is also 100 to 150 per cent higher in India, making it account for 12 per cent of the total production cost as against only 5 per cent in case of its competitors. Secondly, as the Multi-fibre Arrangement (MFA) and the system of quotas that has governed the global trade in textiles and apparel started getting phased out since 2000, the sector began facing both opportunities and threats. While the organised segment was poised for a boom owing to its relatively better economies of scale, the vast unorganised sector began to suffer because of its lack of competitiveness and technical expertise leading to insufficient scales of operation which restricted its efficiency. Further, with the government no longer seeing the garment sector as part of small scale industries (SSIs) since 2001, it threw the unorganised segment open to stiff competition from big players. While it would be a good idea to merge small firms with bigger ones, there is a risk that this could encourage monopoly. The manufacturers are troubled even more with nodal agencies to promote SSIs such as Small Industries Development Bank of India and National Cooperative Development Corporation favouring medium scale units more than SSIs.

It has been seen that the share of textile and apparel exports in the total exports of India has fallen over time, despite the phasing out of MFA quotas and the subsequent rise in absolute value of textile exports. This has possibly happened because of bottlenecks on the supply side as there are no major external demand constraints. While such phasing out has given the sector ample scope to start exporting to the USA and to EU nations, the gradual opening up of the sector through trade liberalisation has also paved the way for cheap imports, particularly from Bangladesh.

Inadequate infrastructure is largely responsible for the unorganised state of the Indian hosiery and garment sector. In fact, when China was modernising and upgrading this sector by pumping in huge money in 1980s with a definite plan to capture the global market, India remained complacent. Now, the manufacturers' fear of India, with it cost disadvantage and poor infrastructure, losing out to China has almost come true. In such a situation, a new impost will practically cripple the segment. Hosiery manufacturers had been subjected to a similar 10 per cent ad valorem excise duty in 2003 but Mr Chidambaram withdrew it in 2004 after taking over as the finance minister, saying this fragmented and decentralised sector would be unable to handle complicated tax structures.

As per studies conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), our per capita textile purchases has been declining in real terms for the past few years. Experts identify excise and customs duties on man-made fibres reflected in rising product prices as the reason for such a decline. As the value of cotton yarn doubles in a year, a hike in excise duty will not serve the hosiery sector well. If the middle classes, already reeling under runaway food inflation, opt to curtail impulsive consumption, this may push the cotton textile industry, and the hosiery and garment sector by extension, to a path of permanent decline.

The writer is Associate Professor of Economics, Durgapur Government College





When she was just four years old, little Anna Pesenko, trying to be a good girl, sitting up straight and eating her food nicely, would sometimes just pass out and fall flat onto the table. Annya, as she was called, could not explain very well what was wrong with her. No wonder her mother Valentina got very worried and took her to the doctor, who discovered a tumour in the girl's head. The cancer was removed, but Annya never regained her health and has seen so many doctors that she gets terrified whenever she sees a white coat.
Even so, a committee of doctors decided she should have a "Chernobyl certificate" because Annya's father, Vacheslav, was from a village highly contaminated as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion. They visited Zakopytye often before the village was destroyed and buried. Annya carries certificate no. 000358. It reads: "This person has the right to the privileges that are given by the government of the Republic of Belarus for the victims of the Chernobyl catastrophe as specified under article 18/ issued by the Gomel Municipality." The much sought-after piece of paper gives the holder access to certain health institutions, a selection of free medicines, a 50 per cent discount on utilities bills, and free public transport.

I first heard of Annya through Greenpeace which is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace. The last I heard of Annya was when the renowned photographer, Robert Knoth, sent me over email a photograph of her with her parents from the summer of 2008. Robert, along with Antoinette de Jong, is the author of a book titled Certificate no. 000358 / Nuclear devastation in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus, the Urals and Siberia.  I don't know if Annya is well or even alive but she features regularly in my prayers.

Now with the Fukushima crisis which is the world's worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, I cannot help but think of Annya even more. Greenpeace executive director Mr Kumi Naidoo in a recent opinion piece for the New York Times wrote: "…Yet in addition to the grief and empathy I feel for the Japanese people, I am beginning to develop another emotion, and that is anger. As we anxiously await every bit of news about the developments at Fukushima, hoping that radiation leaks and discharges will be brought to an end, that the risk of further catastrophe will be averted, and that the Japanese people will have one less nightmare to cope with, governments across the world continue to promote further investment in nuclear power. Just last week, for example, the government of my home country of South Africa announced that it was adding 9,600 megawatts of nuclear energy to its new energy plan…..Nuclear technology will always be vulnerable to human error, natural disaster, design failure or terrorist attack."

In India, the proposed Jaitapur project in the Konkan region has attracted considerable criticism. Praful Bidwai, a well-known columnist and activist of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace, visited the region as part of a team of citizens in early January 2011 and subsequently wrote a hard-hitting article in the Economic & Political Weekly titled "People vs Nuclear Power in Jaitapur, Maharashtra". Jaitapur-Madban in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district, about 400 km from Mumbai, in Bidwai's words is a "great treasure trove of nature, exceptionally rich in plant diversity, including cereals, grasses, roots, legumes, herbs and flowering trees, including those bearing fruit (especially prime varieties of the world's best-known mango, the Alphonso). This region receives 3,000 to 3,500 mm of rain every year. There is hardly a square foot of land here which is not green."  In his article, Bidwai points out that the project is planned to be the world's largest nuclear power station. It will affect the livelihoods of some 40,000 people, including farmers, horticulturists, fisherfolk, agricultural workers, loaders, transporters, traders, street-vendors, and providers of many other services. Jaitapur is located in a seismically sensitive region. It comes under Zone IV in the earthquake hazard zoning map of India, ranging from I to V in growing seismic intensity. This zone is known as the High Damage Risk Zone. It is far from clear if the project authorities have evolved the necessary construction parameters such as special reinforcements needed for "earthquake-proofing" the structure to a reasonable degree.
Chernobyl caused an estimated 32,400 to 1,10,000 deaths, mainly from cancer. Following the recent disaster in Japan, high levels of radioactive iodine were detected in Tokyo's tap water prompting the Japanese government to declare it unsafe for infants. Amid mounting concerns over food safety owing to radiation leaks from the Fukushima nuclear plant, Premier Mr Naoto Kan warned people against consuming leafy vegetables harvested in Fukushima. If the Indian nuclear establishment and policy-makers are not careful, green Jaitapur could grow into a monster that devours old and young alike.

The writer is the author of a book

of spiritual poetry titled Annya







An interesting pamphlet has been issued with a view to supporting the claim of the Barendra Sahas to be recognised as Vaishyas. It is explained that the term "Saha" is generic and is a popular form of the Sanskrit word "Sadhu", which means a trader or merchant. The Barendra Sahas have, however, kept aloof from the other Saha classes in social and religious matters. Their manners are described as highly polished and refined, and it is said that they never engage in occupations from which the three higher castes are debarred by the Shastras. As a matter of fact they are usually traders and moneylenders. There is a mass of testimony to the effect that their customs differ entirely from those of the Sundis, the wine-sellers, who form the other leading branch of Sahas. On these grounds it is held that there is a fair presumption that they are really of the Vaishya class. The main objection to their recognition as belonging to the higher castes is that they do not wear the sacred thread and that their period of impurity is that of the Sudras. But it is urged that both these peculiarities may be due to their having lived for a long period among Sudras. The explanation scarcely strikes one as plausible, but it is so obviously desirable that the progressive communicates should be promoted to the higher castes that one is disposed to wish the Barendra Sahas all success in their effort.

Very useful work is being done by Messrs Natesan & Co of Madras in producing handy compilations of notable addresses, which would otherwise be available only in the files of the newspapers. Their latest issue is a volume of Presidential addresses delivered at the Congress and the many Conventions and Conferences held at Allahabad and Nagpur towards the close of 1910. Sir William Wedderburn, Mr R.N. Mukerjee, Mrs Besant, the Maharaja of Darbhanga, and Sir John Hewett are among those whose deliverances have been thus given a permanent form, and at the modest price of twelve annas the book ought to receive a wide circulation.s









It is up to the people to protect their right to vote. The State and its institutions can only lay down laws and mechanisms for elections. If the first phase of polling in Assam passed off peacefully, it was primarily due to the people's rejection of extremist violence as a political tool. The threat by the United Liberation Front of Asom to disrupt the polls through violence necessitated the deployment of a large number of paramilitary forces and policemen. But it was the popular mood in favour of democratic politics that ultimately foiled the Ulfa's designs. By exercising their franchise freely and without fear, the Assamese people have snubbed the Ulfa leaders opposed to peace talks in no uncertain way. The elections in Assam this time are not only about the people choosing their next government but also about their verdict on the peace process initiated by New Delhi with the Ulfa's majority faction. Their choice of the next government will be known only on May 13, when the election results are announced. But Monday's peaceful polling and the large turnout of voters leave no doubt about their overwhelming support for peace. The people's defiance of the Ulfa proves that they are prepared to pay any price to promote peace and democracy.


All this should not be taken to mean that the people of Assam do not have grievances against their government. They want the quality of their lives to improve. Like the common people anywhere, they want social and economic justice. They want the political system and the administration to be more transparent. In fact, corruption has been one of the major issues during the poll campaign this time. It is not so much the lack of funds as their misuse that has been a major problem for Assam's economic development. But the Ulfa's violent and futile battle against the Indian State has long derailed Assam's economic progress. Several generations of young Assamese had their dreams — and lives — shattered by the cycle of violence triggered by the Ulfa's insurgency. The people's spontaneous participation in the polling is yet another proof that the anti-talks section of the Ulfa now stands even more isolated from the people. It is also a signal to both Dispur and New Delhi to ignore this faction and go ahead with the peace process. The vote has turned out to be a referendum for peace and stability in Assam.








It is up to the people to protect their right to vote. The State and its institutions can only lay down laws and mechanisms for elections. If the first phase of polling in Assam passed off peacefully, it was primarily due to the people's rejection of extremist violence as a political tool. The threat by the United Liberation Front of Asom to disrupt the polls through violence necessitated the deployment of a large number of paramilitary forces and policemen. But it was the popular mood in favour of democratic politics that ultimately foiled the Ulfa's designs. By exercising their franchise freely and without fear, the Assamese people have snubbed the Ulfa leaders opposed to peace talks in no uncertain way. The elections in Assam this time are not only about the people choosing their next government but also about their verdict on the peace process initiated by New Delhi with the Ulfa's majority faction. Their choice of the next government will be known only on May 13, when the election results are announced. But Monday's peaceful polling and the large turnout of voters leave no doubt about their overwhelming support for peace. The people's defiance of the Ulfa proves that they are prepared to pay any price to promote peace and democracy.


All this should not be taken to mean that the people of Assam do not have grievances against their government. They want the quality of their lives to improve. Like the common people anywhere, they want social and economic justice. They want the political system and the administration to be more transparent. In fact, corruption has been one of the major issues during the poll campaign this time. It is not so much the lack of funds as their misuse that has been a major problem for Assam's economic development. But the Ulfa's violent and futile battle against the Indian State has long derailed Assam's economic progress. Several generations of young Assamese had their dreams — and lives — shattered by the cycle of violence triggered by the Ulfa's insurgency. The people's spontaneous participation in the polling is yet another proof that the anti-talks section of the Ulfa now stands even more isolated from the people. It is also a signal to both Dispur and New Delhi to ignore this faction and go ahead with the peace process. The vote has turned out to be a referendum for peace and stability in Assam.




Terry Jones, pastor of a church in Florida, United States of America, had a point to prove — that Islam had a "radical element" in it. The act of burning the Quran, a plan he was dissuaded from carrying out last September, could not have logically been sufficient to prove it, unless the expected reaction — presumably a violent one — to the act was also built into the idea. Mr Jones's little rite in the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, carried out despite his pledge to not perform it, has led to the death of 22 people in Afghanistan, both civilians and foreigners, and days of unceasing anti-US protests that are likely to undo years of hard work in Afghanistan by his own government. The pastor, of course, cannot be held directly responsible for the deaths, for no provocation can be held reason enough to take the life of another. But given the cold-blooded calculations that preceded his act and his acute awareness of the possible fallout of the burning of the book, it would be unfair not to hold him morally culpable for the violence. Having said that, it would be equally necessary to point out that the killing of the United Nations workers in Mazar-e-Sharif is no less reprehensible an act than Mr Jones's. Both the pastor and the killers in Afghanistan, in fact, have allowed themselves to fall into the stereotypes painted of the Christian West and the Muslim Middle East that continue to complicate even the most basic of human relationships the world over.

The furore over the burning of the Quran in Florida comes at an inopportune time for the Nato allies, who have been working to build up the trust of the people of Afghanistan in order to isolate the Taliban. The most unwelcome factor has been the fact that the episode has outraged even those sections of the population that had so far been immune to the pressures of the Taliban. The anti-West movement is bound to jeopardize the transition to greater democracy although it may hurry the pull-out in Afghanistan. But the renewed attention to Afghanistan should also be supplemented with greater attention to the unhealthy political and social trends within the allied countries, many of which are allowing a ferment of radicalism by paying lip-service to multiculturalism. It has to be remembered that Mr Jones has not set a trend. His outrage is the symptom of more subliminal changes.





Since March 11, Japan has been reeling from a 9-point earthquake and the resulting 25-foot tsunami that struck 250 kilometres northeast of Tokyo, leaving 11,000 dead, 17,000 missing, and 250,000 evacuated from a 25-km radius because of a possible catastrophic meltdown of over-heated fuel rods at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, from which radiation leaks have been detected up to 19,000 times higher than normal. The two banks of nuclear reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Company's plant add up to some 6 per cent of Japan's electricity generation capacity and their shutdown affects the greater Tokyo region that houses 35 million people. Because of different electrical current frequencies in regional grids, Tokyo can only draw limited power from other parts of Japan through available transformers. Twenty thousand acres of agricultural land have been inundated by saline sea water, 30 per cent of Japan's fisheries were located in the region, some industrial units including hi-tech companies have been destroyed, five million households were without electricity and two million without water. A quarter of a million people are in shelters. The Japanese government estimates the cost of the disaster at $300 billion.

The whole world has looked on with horror and sympathy, but also with great wonder at the stoicism, self-sacrifice, discipline and civic consciousness of Japanese society. There has been no panic, no breakdown of public manners, no riots or disturbances despite unimaginable privation. Notwithstanding one false alarm originating from Tepco, official statements and warnings are taken at face value and willingly acted upon. All evidence points to the opinion that Japan will recover its equilibrium faster than any other country could in similar circumstances.

But this tragedy has struck the country at the worst of times. Japan rose after World War II, under a democratic constitution and without regular armed forces, to become the second biggest economic power after the United States of America, with its security assured by a nuclear umbrella and an alliance with the US. It increased its real gross domestic product by eight times between 1955 and 1985, had 15 per cent of the world product, became the largest provider of credit and aid, and the yen appreciated by 300 per cent against the US dollar. Japan had effectively achieved the 'Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere' that it had identified as an objective, but had not been able to organize in World War II. It aspires, like India, to being a permanent member of the United Nations security council, and shares with India the implacable opposition of China.

When Japan should have been enjoying the fruits of the post-Cold War period, it fell into economic stagnation. With a population of 128 million and a GDP of $4.3 trillion, now the third after the US and China, it is trying to adjust its systems of government guidance, regulation, education, management and social stability to the urgent demands of globalization and the 'new economy'. Japan's readjustment to the globalized epoch has been difficult because it has the vulnerability of a trading nation that is resource-poor, and its ethnocentric culture militates against the generation of soft power. The Japanese sense of national identity is based, with good reason, on the conviction of its country's uniqueness. The reluctance to use the Roman alphabet, for example, is resolute, although objective experts agree that it would suit the language well. While the rhetoric of East Asian fraternity and cooperation is often expressed, Japanese uniqueness is still regarded as precious and exemplary, and the absorption of Western technology has left traditional Japanese values comparatively uncompromised.

A conservative élite is the source of Japan's distinctive style and strategy in dealing with the rest of the world. This élite was pragmatic and opportunistic, and ensured that the nation would organize itself internally to succeed externally. Each major change in strategy has been in response to a new configuration of world power. The rise of China, threats from North Korea, terrorism and piracy in sea-lanes are now inspiring another reassessment of strategies, and have already led to a tighter alliance with the US. Japan has responded by taking a more active stance in East Asia and expanding its naval forces. It wants eventually to amend Article 9 of its constitution to enhance the quality and reach of its armed forces. Chinese incursions into Japanese waters are the latest threat, especially to the Senkaku (Diaoyutai to the Chinese) islands. In addition, Russia and Japan have a dispute over four islands, the Northern Territories (Japan)/ Kuriles (Russia), and Takeshima/ Tokudo is also disputed between Japan and South Korea.

Nearly 20 per cent of Japan's exports go to China while China is the biggest exporter to Japan. Japan employs nine million Chinese in various enterprises in China. But the relationship between the two countries is always fraught and volatile. China continues to see Japan through the optic of Japan's violent past, while Japan perceives China in the context of its own constitutional pacifism, and worries deeply about what kind of neighbour the rising China will turn out to be. The result is an uneasy balancing act, with Japan courting better relations with Beijing, but seeking security assurances from Washington as well. With the end of the Cold War, many of the self-binding restrictions adopted by Tokyo to preclude entanglements in foreign commitments have been unravelling. The famous eight 'Nos' — no dispatch of the Japanese self-defence forces abroad; no collective defence agreements; no power projection; no more than 1 per cent of the GDP for the defence budget; no nuclear arms; no sharing of military technology; no arms exports; no military use of space — may all have to be revisited, and only the ban on nuclear weapons will remain sacrosanct. Because these restrictions are self-imposed, Japan can change them at its own speed and volition.

Japan has revived its ministry of defence after 60 years. No US strategy in the Pacific rim will be possible without Japan's cooperation, and the Japan-US agreement of 2005 for mutual cooperation and security seemed to anticipate a revision of Japan's constitution. On the Taiwan issue, Japan is faithful to the American position and whether the ambiguous "surrounding areas" in the US-Japan security treaty of 1997 includes Taiwan or not, Japan and the US share acute anxieties about China and North Korea's missile capabilities. In a theatre missile defence arrangement, Japan plays host to a US radar system to intercept missiles and the US will deploy Patriot and Standard missiles. With 119 warships, Japan is a formidable asset to the US at sea. In the defence budget, Japan sets aside a sum of about $50 billion for an active force strength of 250,000 and a reserve of 50,000. Nevertheless, its military and security arrangements with the US prevent it from exercising wholly independent strategic choices abroad.

Japan is a world leader in many fields — science and technology, robotics, digital electronics, alternative energy, computer games, and nanoscience. But there is a widespread dissatisfaction with old-style politics, its average life span is 82, the yen is weak, and energy prices are high. Its service sector has lagged, and it suffers from a lack of domestic competition. It is inefficient in many domestic sectors, and its professional services are considered backward by pace-setting standards. It has been highly efficient at exports, running an approximately $90 billion surplus in trade account each year with the US, but now there are many more competitors in the export trade. The compelling need for energy security has lately obliged Japan, like China, to enlarge its scope of economic interest to Central Asia. Japan has to rebuild its domestic economy to eliminate a culture of rules and rigid ideas, women who do not work, resistance to change, opposition to immigration, non-acceptance of outsiders, preference for large organizations, and collective decision-making that is slow. Japan is fortunate in that it has no large peasant class and no smokestack sector side by side with knowledge-based industry, but in the first decade of this century, manufacturing output was less than it was in the previous decade, and its share in both world output and exports was shrinking.

An aversion to generation of power through nuclear energy has now manifested itself globally, with immediate political outcomes like the Green Party causing an electoral upset in Germany. Whatever governments and societies decide on the future of nuclear energy after prioritizing questions of energy security and climate change, it can only be on the basis of relative risks, because nothing in this field comes with certainties. Back in Japan, the radioactive contamination from Fukushima will take months to be controlled. The Japanese public has voluntarily embraced an austere lifestyle thanks to admirable self-restraint and community spirit, and the previously weak government of the prime minister, Naoto Kan, has been strengthened because people feel he has performed creditably and transparently in adversity. When the Japanese have overcome the setback of a cruel act of nature, they will revert to the even greater challenge of reasserting their nation on the world stage.

The author is former foreign secretary of India






The euro-nations are getting into a soup one by one for the same reason — because financial markets are losing their faith in the debt-servicing ability of these economies. This began with Greece, which ran huge budget deficits and had lied twice about them. Then came Ireland, which was doing fine, unlike Greece or Portugal, before it joined the euro. Now it seems that Spain, the fifth largest economy in Europe —which during the boom years ran budget surpluses unlike Greece, and tried hard to regulate its banks unlike Ireland — is next in line. Traders are already demanding higher rates for its bonds. All through this, one country has been prospering — Germany. In fact, from the very beginning of the euro in 1999, Germany had an edge over others, with its strong capital base, superior technology and skilled workers available at competitive wage rates, thanks to its unification.

The euro zone is a single currency union within a free trade area. So its members can neither put up trade barriers against a stronger competitor, nor can they devalue to make their imports dearer and exports cheaper. Therefore, the stronger entities — be it countries like Germany, France or Sweden or companies within industries — prosper at the cost of the weaker entities.

Thus a few countries like Germany, France or Sweden went on accumulating trade surplus while Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland went on accumulating trade deficits. These 'surpluses' were kept in the major European banks and had to be deployed somewhere. The weaker economies provided the easiest parking places for these surplus funds. Since construction was the only sector where the surplus could go because the manufacturing industries in these countries could not withstand German competition, a boom in construction had developed with easy credit at low rates. Soon, this boom had spread to the entire economy through linkage effects before it had burst in September 2008, thanks to the credit crunch that followed. This, in turn, ushered in the recession, with the gross domestic product falling along with the demand.

Great opportunity

The structural weakness of the euro got exposed then. Because the euro zone is a monetary union of economies with wide differences in capital base, infrastructure facilities and, therefore, in productivity levels, there is no arrangement for automatic transfer of resources from the 'surplus nations' to the 'deficit nations'. The other problem afflicting the weaker economies is that of the austerity measures as dictated by the European Union. These unfortunate countries have to reduce their budget deficits to 3 per cent by 2013.

Such austerity measures are already proving to be disastrous. Greece's economy has contracted by 6.6 per cent from a year earlier. Ireland faced 14 per cent unemployment last year, up from 12 per cent in 2009. The European Common Bank is mandated to keep the consumer-price inflation at just below 2 per cent. In January, the euro area inflation was already 2.4 per cent. In Germany, inflation is predicted to rise to 4 per cent by the end of 2012. With rising oil prices, both the rates will be higher. At some point, the ECB will have to raise its benchmark rate. This will result in a full-blown depression in Greece and Ireland to start with, and it will then spread to Portugal.

The euro will not collapse in the foreseeable future because the dollar has a big stake in it. This includes the two economic superpowers, America and China. The latter has already bought a large number of Spanish bonds and has concluded trade agreements tilted in its favour with Spain. This is a great opportunity for China since it has the unique distinction of possessing a colossal reserve of around $2.45 trillion and is running a trade surplus for decades. So, this process will continue.







A new biography of Gandhi written by an American journalist, Joseph Lelyveld, has again invited the worst possible reaction to a book — a ban on its circulation. Gujarat, whose chief minister Narendra Modi's regard for and understanding of Gandhi can be seriously disputed, has already banned it. Maharashtra, which has always been liberal with the ban instinct, may follow suit. The Central government has serious objections to the book. Law minister Veerappa Moily has said that he wants "to protect the nation from being taken for a ride" by an author. All this is before anybody has read the book which is yet to be launched in India. Only some reviews have appeared and the charge is that the book has portrayed Gandhi as a bisexual and a racist.

The author has said that these imputations are a distortion and misinterpretation of what he described in the book. He has dwelt on Gandhi's close relationship with a German friend, Kallen Kallenbach, when he was in South Africa. Gandhi's life was an open book and he was brutally honest about his personal relationships. His stature was not diminished but only enhanced by his truthful experiments with human passions and political ideas. There is a view, attributed to a scholar in the book, which held that Gandhi was a homo-erotic, not a homosexual. Hundreds of books have been written on him and he has emerged greater from them. The book portrays the evolution of Gandhi's politics from his experiences in South Africa and the finding of racism in Lelyveld's study would be most inappropriate.

Banning a book is the most undemocratic way of dealing with ideas. India, which has a tradition of tolerance and intellectual dissent cannot be any better with the tendency of politicians to drive away books for their narrow political ends. In the last many years a number of books from Salman Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses' to Rohinton Mistry's 'Such a Long Journey' have been banned by various authorities on opportunistic considerations. They have tainted the country's image as a liberal, plural and tolerant society. The Central government is reported to be even considering amending the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act to extend it the Father of the Nation. This too is wrong and unnecessary. There is no need to protect Gandhi's image with any law as he can take care of himself.







With the dissolution of the military junta and a 'civilian government' being sworn in, a nominal political transition has been effected in Myanmar.  The new government is an elected one. However, to what extent it can be regarded democratic or truly civilian is open to question. Serious doubts over the freeness and fairness of the election and the rules of the game under which it was conducted have undermined the government's credibility.

Election laws were written to ensure that the reins would remain in the hands of the military. A look at the new civilian government indicates that many of those who are in it are in fact retired or serving military officers. Not only did the military's proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party win 80 per cent of the vote but also, a quarter of the seats in the national legislature are reserved for the military. While junta leader Than Shwe's absence at the helm is heartening, it will not make a substantial difference as the new president, Thein Sein, who was prime minister in the previous dispensation, was a general too and close to Than Shwe. Thus the 'new, civilian government' appears to be old wine in a new bottle.

But the proof of a democracy is in its working. Whether the dissolution of the junta marks a real political transition will depend on how the new government functions. Will the democratic opposition in the legislature — whatever little exists — be allowed to function freely? Stringent rules of legislature will keep the opposition on a leash. More importantly, will the government permit civil society activism? And will Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters be allowed to air their views?

And yet, it would be foolish to dismiss the transition in Myanmar as 'immaterial', as has the US. The transfer of authority to a civilian government represents an opening. It holds out an opportunity for the government, Myanmar's civil society and the international community to usher in change. The West would do well to engage with the government and nudge it to reform. For decades, the junta was obsessed with regime security. That has left Myanmar among the poorest countries in the world. The new government must now focus on the welfare of the masses.








Literacy has markedly improved and we should be able to attain universalis-ation of primary education by or before 2021.
The major outcome of the preliminary results of the 2011 Census of India is not that we are now 1,210 million, or more than the US, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan combined, but that the decadal growth rate is down by 3.9 per cent despite overall umbers rising by a huge 181 million. Most laggard northern states have shown a welcome decline in fertility and an improvement in female literacy. These are heartening trends but the female child sex ratio has gone down, signifying the continuing tragedy of the unwanted girl child earlier reported even in some of the more progressive northwestern states.

Literacy, including female literacy, has markedly improved and we should be able to attain universalisation of primary education by or before 2021, over 60 years after the constitutional promise. The goals must now be to universalise secondary education by the same time as emerging India will not emerge if a large swathe of society remains semi-illiterate and unable to imbibe the vocational and professional skills required to move requisite numbers off the land to industry and services with higher farm productivity to boot.

The country must add 10 million jobs net annually gainfully to absorb the net incremental growth in the labour force. Steady 9 per cent growth per annum through the decade should enable us to eliminate stark poverty and significantly improve HDI and guarantee the basic services listed under the Millennium Development Goals. But this will require a vast expansion in trained manpower. The demographic gain we foresee from a younger age profile will remain a burden unless quantity translates into quality.

Uttar Pradesh has a population just short of 200 million while Maharashtra ranks next with 112 million. Other big states sport numbers in the 75-100 million range. This clearly underlines the case for smaller and more compact states and underlines the need for another states reorganisation commission to recommend the contours of new units on economic and administrative grounds.

The census figures for urban growth are not yet available but urbanisation has clearly seen a marked rise and the country should have a majority living in towns and cities by 2031, This calls for major reforms in urban governance which is today untidily fragmented — with Delhi being a particularly bad case — and some interlocking arrangements to bring metro/ nagar palikas and panchayat raj bodies together for a number of common purposes such as water and sanitation, connectivity and market access, and superior educational and health services. Cities must organically function as hubs and dynamos for the surrounding countryside which they serve even as they are serviced by it.

Not a war

When it came to the World Cup, the pundits got it totally wrong. The Indo-Pakistan semi-final was no 'war' but an enjoyable sporting contest. Neither side played up to its potential but in the result India registered a fairly comfortable win though there were moments when the match seemed to be going away. The atmosphere was charged with excitement, with a number of Pakistani fans in the stands. But there was an air of bonhomie and the 'aam admi' on both sides thought that it was a good idea for Manmohan Singh to have invited his counterpart, Gilani to join him in witnessing the event.

The usual critics went overboard, characterising the initiative as a diplomatic blunder that let Pakistan 'off the hook,' comparing it to the Shram-el Sheikh 'fiasco.' The communiqué then issued did not altogether delink talks from terror. Nor did it allow Pakistan to score a point by permitting reference to Balochistan. Indeed, the addition of Balochistan to the agenda has embarrassed Pakistan as it has been unable to lead any credible evidence about India's alleged intervention there while giving Indians an opening to question the continuing suppression of the democratic rights of the Balochi people.

The Manmohan-Gilani meeting was largely symbolic but it generated the right atmospherics, reinforcing the happy outcome of the home secretaries' meeting which suggests the possibility of some forward movement in the 26/11 case if an Indian commission can meet the other Pakistani accused now on trial in Rawalpindi. Nothing has been lost and something has been gained.

As for the match itself, Shahid Afridi had no reason to 'apologise' to the people of Pakistan for his team's defeat. An expression of disappointment was certainly in order but an apology sounds as though the match was indeed a 'war' that had been lost, bringing dishonour and disgrace not just to the team but to the country. This was an unintended note that jarred and could have been avoided as it is reminiscent of an earlier Pakistani captain  apologising to all Muslims for Pakistan's defeat, presumably at the hands of 'Hindu India.' It is time to bury and hollow and vicious two-nation theory that has brought grief to the sub-continent and robbed Pakistan of its soul.

Finally, one must question the vesting of leadership of the war in Libya to Nato, a western military alliance outside and beyond the rubric of the United Nations. The world body is being insidiously dragged in as in Afghanistan without accountability to it. This is a worrying trend, More so when Obama is reported saying that US agents are being tasked to undermine Gadhafi. Regime change is not part of the UN mandate.







Democracy is not the dawn of a new era in Myanmar — it is just business as usual.

One could be forgiven for thinking that democracy is busting out all over Myanmar (Burma). After all, the military junta that runs the country is making a big show of handing over power to parliament, and declaring a victory for Gen Than Shwe's much-touted 'roadmap to democracy'.

The trouble is, as we all well know, real democracy is hard work and requires a lot more than a 'roadmap.' It involves bothersome things like free and fair elections, respect for human rights and equality before the law. That's why most people in Myanmar — including women and ethnic minorities — are not fooled by this superficial display of democracy in the country.

Over 2,000 political prisoners languish in Myanmar's prisons in abhorrent conditions. Ethnic communities live in fear as they roam the jungle night after night trying to avoid forced labour and execution. Girls and women are left to the mercy of military gangs as they are raped, mutilated and tortured. Children are snatched from their parents and forced to porter for soldiers or used as de-facto mine sweepers. Surely, this is not what democracy entails.


Myanmar's fearless moral leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has repeatedly called for national reconciliation, a process in which the National League for Democracy, ethnic nationalities and the regime could engage in genuine dialogue. There are no indications that such dialogue is on the radar screen. Instead, an inclusive political process remains elusive and human rights abuses continue unabated­especially in ethnic areas.

The elections in November 2010 were neither free nor fair, so it has come as little surprise that the 'new' parliament looks like the old military government. Its leadership includes ex-general Thein Sein, the head of the main pro-military party and a dependable ally of general Than Shwe. Recently the Economic Intelligence Unit put it succinctly: "The country remains a military dictatorship in all but name".

Oddly, though, many countries are willing to overlook the lack of real change. Some democratic countries, like India and Germany, took Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest last November as a sign that it was time to relax the international community's efforts to bring about change in Myanmar.

The sad truth is that Aung San Suu Kyi is not free. Only three months after her release, a commentary in the state run 'New Light of Myanmar' newspaper threatened  that "if Daw Suu Kyi and her party keep going the wrong way … they will meet their tragic ends". And after months of silence, Burmese officials have still not granted the six Nobel laureates who have continuously supported Aung San Suu Kyi visas to visit their sister laureate in Yangoon. This is not an oversight. It is a clear signal that the government perceives Aung San Suu Kyi's work with international activists a threat to the status quo.

Meanwhile, Myanmar is violating international laws standards on a daily basis, and there is little indication that this is going to change anytime soon. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, certainly recognises this reality. At the most recent Human Rights Council session this month he reiterated his recommendation to establish a UN Commission of Inquiry in Myanmar. Such an action has strong support from women of Myanmar.

Representing thousands of other women, last year 12 courageous women of Myanmar travelled to New York City to testify in front of an international tribunal, and describe the atrocities they have suffered under the Burmese military. They believed that their testimonies, which according to their own words are "normal stories inside Myanmar," would provide the basis for the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry.

It is sad to see that a year later, the international community has not matched these women's courage. This is not the dawn of a new era in Myanmar — it is just business as usual. With the military steadfast in their power, women and ethnic communities will continue to suffer the same atrocities at the hands of the new 'civilian' regime.

It is time for the international community to demonstrate that we are as committed to the people of Myanmar as we are to pro-democracy movements in Libya. It is time for concrete actions. The establishment of a Commission of Inquiry can no longer be delayed as it has more potential for a roadmap to democracy than any military blueprint could ever have.

(Jody Williams is a 1997 Nobel peace prize winner and Tin Tin Nyo is general secretary of the Women's League of Burma)








On opening the carton, I found that they were made in India from Salem steel!

When I was at college a Raj Kapoor film, 'Around the world in 8 dollars' reflected the reality that an Indian traveller faced. Foreign exchange was scarce and a lot of explanation had to be given even for such a small amount to be sanctioned. Any shopping abroad was dependent on the host's benevolence. Today the peripatetic Indian travels all over the globe. Honeymoon in Bali, gambling in Las Vegas; or even a cruise in Alaska. Foreign currency is no longer an issue with a liberal government doling out almost as much as one needs.

On my first foreign trip to Singapore in 1979 we were allowed a grand sum of $250. It was like being let loose in paradise. That is when I got hooked on to some wasteful shopping. At one store I saw these small two-pronged plastic forks meant for Hors d'oeuvre. As I was paying for them I imagined my wife serving hot tikvahs and kababs with the guests being duly impressed by these forks. Thirty two years on the two packets lie unopened in our crockery cupboard.

Those days an average Indian used to go gaga over anything with a foreign tag. There was always the reluctance to use the product as one was not sure when one would get fresh supply. A friend once brought me a bottle of spicy salsa from Spain. When I finally opened the bottle after two years the contents started frothing and oozing out like something from a Hollywood horror film.

A management guru once said that 5 per cent of all expenditure incurred on shopping goes towards products that an individual does not need. My percentage is much higher, particularly after my frequent overseas sojourns. Our home is strewn with such unused items like baseball mitts, all-weather clogs in case of snowfall in Bangalore, Harley-Davidson motorcycle goggles, and something called a salad-shooter. I bought a pair of expensive stainless steel cocktail shakers from a store in the US called 'Bed, Bath and Beyond'. On opening the carton I found that they were made in India from Salem steel! I still have a pair of padded knee protectors, bought in Houston after seeing Akshay Kumar wearing them in one of his 'Khiladi' films.

My ultimate purchase was a large battery-operated parrot. It automatically repeated twice everything that was told to it. My sons did not want anything to do with the bird and it was lying in the loft for several years. I recently discovered it and displayed the toy at a party. What followed was a raucous session with my friends challenging the parrot with the choicest cuss words in Kannada, Tamil and Punjabi. It was a show-stopper hearing those words repeated in a twangy American accent. Nowadays it is no longer exciting shopping abroad as most items are available here, maybe even cheaper. But, one always lives on hope.







The House Republicans on Tuesday made it clear to anyone who had missed it that they are not interested in a deal on the current federal budget. In a meeting at the White House, they rejected a deal to get through the next six months. President Obama, silent for too long on this fight, emerged from the meeting to say that he would tolerate no more ideological gamesmanship. But the Republicans, if anything, only increased their demands, and a government shutdown seemed likely to begin on Friday.

That the Republicans are not interested simply in reducing the deficit was made clear when the House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, released his budget plan for 2012 on the same day as the talks to finish the 2011 budget were falling apart. It was less a budget-balancing effort than a press release for the 2012 elections. Similarly, the party's refusal to accept Mr. Obama's overly generous budget offer for this year makes clear that its leaders prefer a shutdown to abandoning their ideological crusade to abolish their least favorite government programs.

If their goal was to reduce spending, they would have accepted the Democrats' offer to cut $33 billion out of the budget for the next six months — the same amount as Republican leaders had originally requested before Tea Party members forced them to double it earlier this year. As the president noted, that offer constitutes the largest cut to domestic discretionary spending in history.

But Speaker John Boehner and his negotiating team have continually moved the end zone. They spurned the specific cuts proposed by the Democrats because they did not end the programs reviled by the Republicans, including education improvements, health care reform and infrastructure rebuilding. They now want a total of $40 billion, a target that just emerged on Tuesday.

After meeting with the Republicans, Mr. Obama suggested with some bitterness that they were still trying to score political points, demanding victories on abortion or gutting environmental regulation to keep the government open. He made it clear that that was not acceptable, and neither are demands to cut 60,000 Head Start teaching positions, or medical research, or other items that are vital to many Americans and the fragile economic recovery.

There will still be a few more meetings before the shutdown deadline, but leaders on both sides say they are more pessimistic about reaching agreement. The public may need to rely on the pain of an actual shutdown to bring radical House lawmakers back to reality.






If the House Republican budget blueprint released on Tuesday is the "path to prosperity" that its title claims, it is hard to imagine what ruin would look like.

The plan would condemn millions to the ranks of the uninsured, raise health costs for seniors and renege on the obligation to keep poor children fed. It envisions lower taxes for the wealthy than even George W. Bush imagined: a permanent extension for his tax cuts, plus large permanent estate-tax cuts, a new business tax cut and a lower top income tax rate for the richest taxpayers.

Compared to current projections, spending on government programs would be cut by $4.3 trillion over 10 years, while tax revenues would go down by $4.2 trillion. So spending would be eviscerated, mainly to make room for continued tax cuts.

The deficit would be smaller, but at an unacceptable cost. Health care would be hardest hit, followed by nonsecurity discretionary spending — the sliver of the budget that encompasses annually appropriated programs. Those include education, scientific research, environmental preservation, investor protection, disease control, food safety, federal law enforcement and other areas that bear directly on the quality of Americans' daily lives. The proposed cuts in such programs are $923 billion deeper than President Obama called for in his 2012 budget, which pushed the edge of what is politically possible.

Another big cut — $715 billion over 10 years — comes from mandatory spending other than Social Security and the big health care programs, a category that includes food stamps and federal retirement.

The blueprint does not call for any specific changes to Social Security, but, without explanation, it assumes a reduction of $1 trillion over 10 years in the program's surplus. That would weaken the program by hastening the insolvency of Social Security.

When he unveiled this plan, Paul Ryan, a Republican of Wisconsin and the chairman of the House Budget Committee, declared, "This isn't a budget. This is a cause."

There is much truth in that. The blueprint is not a serious deficit reduction exercise for many reasons, the most important of which is that serious deficit reduction requires everything to be on the table, including tax increases. The plan released at the end of last year by the Obama deficit commission was one-third tax increases and two-thirds spending cuts. President Obama's budget calls for a mix of tax cuts and tax increases, among the latter, letting high-end Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2012. The Republican plan calls only for tax simplification. It would get rid of loopholes and reduce rates in a way that would not raise overall revenues but would invariably cut the tax bill of wealthy taxpayers for whom lower rates are more valuable than assorted loopholes.

The deficit is a serious problem, but the Ryan plan is not a serious answer. With its tax cuts above all, and spending cuts no matter the consequences, it is a recipe for more loud talk about the deficit but no real action.






Representative Paul Ryan's proposals to reform Medicare and Medicaid are mostly an effort to shift the burden to beneficiaries and the states. They have very little reform in them.

They certainly won't solve the two most pressing problems in the nation's health care system: the relentlessly rising cost of care and the shamefully high number of uninsured Americans — now hovering around 50 million. Mr. Ryan is also determined to repeal the new health care reform law. Never mind that the law would make real progress on both fronts, covering more than 30 million of the uninsured and pushing to make health care delivery more efficient and effective and less costly.

One of Mr. Ryan's most damaging ideas is to change Medicare and Medicaid from entitlement programs — covering everyone who is eligible for a defined set of services. Instead, Washington would contribute set amounts that would almost certainly grow more slowly than medical costs. You will hear a lot about how squeezing outlays will mean more efficiency. The real result is that the most vulnerable — the elderly, the poor, the disabled — will have to pay more for care or forgo treatment.

The government currently pays half or more of the costs of Medicaid, which insures the poor. Under Mr. Ryan's proposal, the federal government would give each state a lump sum that probably would not keep pace with rising costs or accommodate surges in demand. Right now when a recession hits, the federal and state contributions rise to meet the higher rolls. The states would be given great flexibility, but many would use that to reduce benefits or drop people from coverage.

Mr. Ryan would largely privatize Medicare starting in 2022. New enrollees would be given "premium supports" to help them buy private insurance. The rich would get lower subsidies, the sickest and poorest would get additional assistance. Once again, the federal payments would likely grow more slowly than costs forcing individuals to buy skimpier coverage or pay more.

Republicans hope that competition among the private plans would lead them to use the most efficient doctors and hospitals. The reform law also seeks savings from such competition but goes far beyond that, starting pilot projects and establishing new organizations to spread the most promising reforms throughout the system.

For decades the Republicans have made clear their antipathy toward Medicare and Medicaid. Now they are trying to use the public's legitimate concerns about the deficit to seriously cripple both programs. This isn't real reform. If it moves forward, Americans will pay a high price.








You know those moments when You Just Want To Die?

I had one at a big New York Times party a decade ago. As the publisher, editors, writers and celebrities mingled at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York, a famous fashion designer suddenly glared at me from across the room.

"You!" he yelled, pointing at me in a sartorial "J'accuse" moment, "are wearing the wrong stockings with that dress!"

The earth, unfortunately, didn't swallow me. I had to stay at the party in my offensive black outfit and burning red face. But as I was hanging my head at the bar, something wonderful happened. The legendary Times fashion photographer and Gotham sprite Bill Cunningham was wandering through the crowd, snapping pictures. We'd never met, but he paused briefly, looked approvingly at my lace sheath and took a picture.

"Early Suzy Parker," he murmured about the dress, before melting back into the crowd.

I still have not formally met Bill Cunningham, now 82 and still going strong. I wave at him when I see him around Manhattan, a slight, gray-haired man in a tweed cap turned backward, standing sentry outside Barney's, pedaling on his red Schwinn through Times Square or darting around taking pictures at the opera.

As on that first night, he always looks happy and busy and kind, a Boston Irish priest of street fashion, an aesthetic meritocrat who moves through New York's seductive trellis of money, power and status and stays pure somehow.

He admires anybody who looks good, the obscure as well as the famous, the old stylish gals as well as the young, women elegantly draping garbage bags against the storm as well as women in couture. The streets interest him more than the salons. Fashion photography without snobbery: a small miracle.

This is a disturbing moment in American culture when financing for public art is under siege and when audiences are ponying up money to boo Charlie Sheen as he talks about throwing away a $2-million-a-week TV job, taking crack and cavorting with porn stars.

A new documentary about Cunningham offers a tonic of simplicity and a paean to women after Sheen's excesses and contempt for women.

Richard Press, the documentary's director, wrote in New York magazine that he worked on the project for 10 years — eight spent begging "the reluctant fashion deity" to cooperate.

He calls Cunningham "a celebration of self-invention" — a contrast with Sheen's carnival of self-destruction.

In a world where conflicts of interest are quaint, Cunningham has a profound sense of ethics. He will not even accept a glass of water at the galas he covers.

"I just try to play a straight game, and in New York that's almost impossible to be honest and straight," he says in the film. "That's like Don Quixote fighting windmills." The ascetic anthropologist of New York's streets calls fashion "the armor to survive the reality of everyday life." But he doesn't give a fig about his own clothes; he wears a simple uniform, a blue Paris street-sweeper's shirt with pockets for his gear. He kept it on even as he was presented with the highest award of French culture. He also has a plastic poncho for rainy days that he patches up with duct tape.

Cunningham started as a milliner with a shop in Carnegie Hall. "Ginger Rogers used to come and Joan Crawford," he recalls. "Marilyn Monroe was one. And I had no interest because they weren't stylish."

He only cares about "birds of paradise" with daring styles as opposed to "cookie-cutter sameness."

Before he was evicted by the coldhearted brass at Carnegie Hall, who wanted more office space, he had a tiny apartment filled with file cabinets and a cot, with a bathroom in the hallway.

He goes to church every Sunday to "repent," but he seems oblivious to celebrity, money, sex, food and cars. He's on his 29th bicycle, cheerfully noting, "I've had 28 stolen." He's never owned a TV. He says he could not be one of the paparazzi who "torture" people.

Talking about the time he refused to take money for his work at Details after Si Newhouse bought the magazine, Cunningham says: "You see, if you don't take money, they can't tell you what to do, kid. ... Money's the cheapest thing. Liberty, freedom is the most expensive."

He left Women's Wear Daily when they wrote mocking captions for his pictures of women on the street.

There's a poignant moment in the film when Cunningham is asked if he has ever had a romantic relationship in his life.

"Now do you want to know if I'm gay?" he says, smiling uneasily. "Isn't that a riot? Well, that's probably why the family wanted to keep me out of the fashion world." Then he answers simply, "I haven't," adding, "I suppose you can't be in love with your work, but I enjoyed it so much."

Talking about his Catholic faith as "a good guidance in your life," he gets choked up for a few seconds before grinning and confiding: "As a kid, I went to church and all I did was look at women's hats."

Thomas L. Friedman is off today.






Abidjan, Ivory Coast

FOR several days we have lived with fire from automatic weapons and AK-47's. Despite our prayers, fighting over last fall's disputed presidential election has come to Abidjan, Ivory Coast's main city and the stronghold of the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo.

Last Thursday, we started hearing that troops loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the election, were coming. This city waited in an agonized calm. And then, at twilight, they passed under our windows. My son and I crept to a window and peeked through the curtains to watch them.

Armed men walked by silently, their strides determined, followed by vehicles with their headlights off. It was like something from a movie. They were headed to Cocody, the wealthy suburb where the state television has its headquarters. Later, we heard shots. The assault on Gbagbo partisans was beginning.

In my apartment building, my neighbors are on both sides of the political debate, yet harmony reigns. We know that we shouldn't talk politics — we can be wise if we have to be.

On Sunday, as president of the building's board, I organized an emergency meeting. Everyone was there. My neighbors' faces were somber, but there was no animosity. We were all the same under fire. It was a question of survival, which superseded all political division.

Some days earlier, looters had invaded our parking lot. We watched them from our windows, hidden behind our curtains, powerless. They were intent on stealing our cars: all the windows were broken, the interiors pillaged. "Give us the keys!" one shouted up to us. "If we have to go in there, you'll be sorry!" They tried several times to drive off with my car, but as stubborn as its owner, it refused to start and they had to give up. Three other cars were taken, but thank heavens, the bandits didn't try to force open the door to our building.

By the end of our meeting, we had decided that in case of an attack on our building, we would give the alarm by beating on our pots and pans. We also set hours for taking out the trash and going out to look for food when it was possible.

The days are long because, obviously, we are confined to our homes by the gunfire. When the shooting is heavy, I yell at everyone to lie flat in the hallway. My little granddaughter is terrified. Some of my neighbors have bullets in their walls.

I am on my computer all day and well into the night talking to friends around the world by Skype and trying to find out scraps of information about what's going on in my country. We depend on news from Paris, New York, Stockholm, because state television tells us only propaganda and lies. Fortunately, a new, pro-Ouattara station has sprung up to tell us what the president-elect is doing.

My son bursts into my bedroom. One of his friends needs the telephone number of a doctor; a woman is giving birth, but nobody can get out to help her. I send messages to friends to get me the number of the Red Cross. My friend Kim in Paris finds it (thank you, Internet).

On Monday we are told that the final all-out assault by Mr. Ouattara's side is near. The curfew starts at noon, and the atmosphere is heavy and leaden. I type frantically on my computer to get news. My back aches because I've been sitting so long; my eyes hurt, but I can't tear myself away from the screen, even when it tells me lies. So many rumors!

Then it finally happens. The troops enter Abidjan to liberate the presidential palace. United Nations and French forces bombard Mr. Gbagbo's bases. The walls tremble; I am online with people in France — Kim in Paris, my daughter in Lille, Claire in Metz, Georges in Lyon — and simultaneously with Maty in Senegal and Badala in the city of Bouaké, in the center of the country. I am constantly interrupted by calls from relatives and friends around the world. Hunkered down in the hallway with my family, my computer on the floor, I hold up my phone so they can hear the gunfire.

In that hallway, we are afraid; there are suddenly too many windows and we try to get as far away from them as possible. Still, we manage to laugh at how we contort our bodies to protect ourselves. My son says that he would never have imagined that one day he would have to slither on the floor like a snake. We laugh — have we become insane?

Tuesday morning, the uneasy calm is interrupted by sporadic gunfire. They say that the presidential palace is under siege; they say that soldiers are looking for Mr. Gbagbo; they say that he's ready to surrender ... they say ... they say. My computer continues to feed me lies and contradictions. I am waiting for the end. I am waiting for deliverance.

Fatou Keïta is a novelist. This essay was translated by The Times from the French.







Tripoli, Libya

IN 2004 I traveled to Libya as the head of a bipartisan Congressional delegation to express support for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's decision to give up his country's nuclear weapons program. We met with Colonel Qaddafi, high-level officials and ordinary people, and I even addressed the annual meeting of Libyan legislators.

Neither the White House nor I wanted to lend support to Colonel Qaddafi himself; our goal was to open a new era of engagement between the United States government and American business with the Libyan people themselves.

Seven years later I am back in Libya, this time on a much different mission, as the leader of a small private delegation, at the invitation of Colonel Qaddafi's chief of staff and with the knowledge of the Obama administration and members of Congress from both parties. Our purpose is to meet with Colonel Qaddafi today and persuade him to step aside.

There is no question that America should play a critical role in helping the Libyans build a new government. Sadly, in the years since my first trip, Washington has squandered many opportunities to achieve that goal without bloodshed. And unless we begin to engage with the country's leaders — even those close to Colonel Qaddafi — we may again lose our chance to help build a new Libya.

Despite our stated goal in 2004, and that of two subsequent delegations I also led, America has concentrated on Colonel Qaddafi himself. All contacts went through him or his family, who were given too much say over American-led initiatives. But as we've learned through similar efforts in Azerbaijan and Armenia, the key to promoting reform in a foreign country is to identify and engage with emerging leaders.

Indeed, that's what we intended to do in Libya. But plans for a coordinated effort between Congress and Libyan legislators to nurture a new generation of Libyan leaders never developed. A plan to bring international nongovernmental organizations into Libya to develop its civil institutions never materialized.

Because both the Bush and Obama administrations failed to follow up on those initial efforts, today we have few contacts in the country's leadership beyond Colonel Qaddafi himself, and we have no strategic plan for Libya after he leaves.

A second element to our plan was to promote engagement between American and Libyan business interests, and thus foster the country's free market. But while American companies have made billions of dollars in Libya since 2004, they have failed to engage with anyone but the Qaddafi regime itself.

On a trip to Libya last summer I met with Ahmed Gadi, an engineer at Al Fateh University. I asked how a recent $500 million contract awarded by the Libyan government to an American engineering company had benefited his students. Not at all, he said; there had been no contact at all. The government and the company preferred to keep the deal, and the money, between themselves.

There's nothing wrong with American companies profiting from business with Libya. But did they also consider their larger responsibility to American interests? And where were the White House and Congress in all this?

Fortunately, despite the bombs still dropping on Libya, it's not too late to act.

First, we must engage face-to-face with Colonel Qaddafi and persuade him to leave, as my delegation hopes to do. I've met him enough times to know that it will be very hard to simply bomb him into submission.

Simultaneously, we must obtain an immediate United Nations-monitored cease-fire, with the Libyan Army withdrawing from contested cities and rebel forces ending attempts to advance.

Then we must identify and engage with those leaders who, if not perfect, are pragmatic and reform-minded and thus best positioned to lead the country.

For example, Baghdadi Mahmudi, the prime minister, and Mustapha Abdul Jalil, the head of the rebel National Council, should meet with the United Nations envoy to the country, Abdel Ilah al-Khatib, and work out a schedule for fair elections for a new president and legislature. They should also create a committee to develop a new governing framework.

Colonel Qaddafi's son Saif, a powerful businessman and politician, could play a constructive role as a member of the committee to devise a new government structure or Constitution.

The younger Mr. Qaddafi, who has made belligerent comments about the rebels, has his detractors. But he also pushed his government to accept responsibility for the bombings of a Pan Am flight over Scotland and a disco in Germany, and to provide compensation for victims' families. He also led the effort to free a group of Bulgarian nurses in Libya who had twice been sentenced to death.

The world agrees that Colonel Qaddafi must go, even though no one has a plan, a foundation for civil society has not been constructed and we are not even sure whom we should trust. But in the meantime, the people of Libya deserve more than bombs.

Curt Weldon was a Republican representative from Pennsylvania from 1987 to 2007.







Former Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter was a big man physically. He also had a big heart, and he did a big and successful job leading Tennessee as governor from 1987 to 1995.

Before that, he was an outstanding, admirable and powerful leader in the Tennessee General Assembly for two decades.

It is saddening, therefore, that McWherter's long and constructive life now has come to an end at the age of 80, after a battle with cancer.

McWherter was 6 feet 4 inches tall, with a physique to match his height. But more importantly, he was a big and inspiring example of the American ideal of "coming up the hard way" to become a success in both politics and business.

McWherter was from Dresden, in northwestern Tennessee. He was a young man during really "hard times" in the country.

He began working in a shoe factory at a young age. Then he borrowed money to start his own enterprise, making children's shoes. But that was just his business beginning. He started a truck line, operated a beer distributorship, bought and sold an oil distributorship, had an interest in a nursing home and was a stockholder in several banks in West Tennessee.

He entered politics by running for and winning a seat in the state House of Representatives. An ardent Democrat, he was chosen by the then-Democrat majority in the Tennessee House to be speaker.

Naturally unpretentious, he was open, frank and fair, always approachable by his fellow officials and members of the general public. Tennesseans always knew where he stood. He was plain and without guile.

Tennessee voters twice elected him governor, and he did a good and responsible job.

Always energetic and enthusiastic, he memorably and repeatedly said while campaigning for governor in 1986, "Just give me a cup of coffee and four vanilla wafers, and I'll be ready to go to work."

McWherter is remembered for promoting educational improvements and a statewide highway construction program. At one time, he said, "I am convinced that providing our children with a 21st Century Classroom is the most important challenge I will ever have."

In one of his ceremonial duties, the governor particularly enjoyed leading a delegation of Tennesseans to Groton, Conn., on a freezing day, to dedicate and launch one of the Navy's huge nuclear submarines, the USS Tennessee.

As a traditional, old-style Democrat, he vigorously supported Democrats in national politics. Former President Bill Clinton credited McWherter with Clinton's carrying Tennessee in his campaigns. No Democrat presidential hopeful has won Tennessee since.

McWherter, a man of good heart and good spirit, recently said: "I enjoyed my public service in Nashville, and the people have all been good and kind to me. I'm enjoying my retirement. I guess I'm a content, happy man."

Tennesseans had many reasons to be content and happy with McWherter's service as well.






Area residents continue to grieve the death of Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin, who was shot as he responded Saturday to a call about a robbery in Brainerd.

But the heartbreaking events took on added tragedy when it was learned that the suspect, 25-year-old Jesse Mathews, was previously convicted of aggravated robbery in Colorado — and was freed before his sentence was up. Mathews was released from prison and sent to a "halfway house" after serving only a few years of his 20-year sentence. On Feb. 12, he failed to show up at the halfway house, and police say he robbed a pharmacy before leaving town. Soon he was in the Chattanooga area.

Assuming Mathews recovers from wounds he sustained in the shootout on Saturday, a court will determine whether he is guilty of killing the heroic police officer, who was a husband and the father of two children.

But if Mathews is found guilty, just think of the emotional agony that Chapin's family, friends and fellow officers might have been spared if Mathews had been required to serve his full prison sentence.

Unfortunately, too many lawmakers in too many states assume that even hard-core criminals can safely be released back into free society if they undergo the right "therapy," and if we can treat the "root causes" of violent crime.

Because officials in Colorado took that dangerous roll of the dice, everyone — the Chapin family, our community and even the suspect — is far worse off than if Mathews had had to serve his entire sentence for his earlier crime.

This is a case in which "truth in sentencing" might have averted a tragedy.





Nobody likes to see the price of any necessity go up.

So it is not a welcome thing to learn that the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, which has jurisdiction over seeking to set fair rates for some public services, has approved a 14.76 percent increase in the rate that Tennessee American Water customers will pay.

Chattanooga water customers are fortunate to have plenty of pure, good-tasting water delivered to our homes and businesses. The water company must charge enough to its customers to cover operational costs and a reasonable return to stockholders, whose investments make the service possible.

But customers of a public utility generally are in no position to know exactly what a fair price is for a given service. And no customer wants to pay an unreasonable price. That's why TRA directors examine operational and other costs and set rates to cover them, along with a fair return on investment.

As a result of that process, Tennessee American has been allowed to raise local water rates roughly 15 percent, effective yesterday.

What will that mean in actual dollars paid by customers? The amounts will vary according to the volume of water used. But it is expected that the average home water bill will rise about $2.45 a month, to $19.07.

We certainly want to have good water service at our homes and businesses. So we have to pay for it, just as we have to pay for all sorts of goods and services.

The TRA evidently believes, after examining the available financial facts, that the approved increase by the local water company is reasonable and justified.





The Chattanooga area is most fortunate to have a wide variety of good hospitals and other medical facilities and services available. Unfortunately, those services involve big costs for patients, government and taxpayers, and those realities must be faced.

It is sad, for example, that Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe is losing so much money that it has had to tell 75 of its 900 employees their jobs have been eliminated.

That's obviously painful to the employees and potentially inconvenient to patients. But hospital authorities had to take steps to reduce costs. They are also considering a possible partnership with Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga.

The job losses are regrettable. These days, unfortunately, nothing related to medical care is simple or cheap.









State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, who sows fear into the hearts of public officials, is himself subject to the terror that can be imposed on him by two sources - the law and the legislator. The comptroller's jurisdiction is codified by law, and his decisions can be petitioned to the High Court of Justice. The Knesset chooses the comptroller and monitors his activities via the State Control Committee, which is chaired by an opposition MK.

This is a necessary, welcome arrangement, because the comptroller can't be subordinate to himself. In recent years, his prestige has only grown, and he is entitled to view his post as something of an emerging fourth branch of government. After all, the ombudsman's office doesn't conduct inquisitions. The problem is that behind such lofty terms as "lawmakers" stand national politicians who seek to protect themselves and their parties' leaders.

Against this backdrop emerges the issue of outside funding for trips by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara. The facts on this matter - which do not seem to be in dispute since they were culled from Netanyahu's own documents - arouse suspicions of serial violations of laws imposed on ministers that prohibit conflicts of interest.

The comptroller was asked to conduct an initial inquiry to determine whether the matter is within his jurisdiction, and to decide with the attorney general (the top legal official responsible for overseeing criminal investigations ) if the case falls within their purview. They also must determine whether they need to request additional powers to subpoena witnesses and gather evidence from individuals and agencies that are normally not required to cooperate with the state ombudsman.

At this point, the political meddling in the comptroller's work has reached its peak. In an effort to ward off the blow of a probe, Netanyahu is working to expand the inquiry to include officials who have not been the subject of a complaint, and MKs who are normally subject to oversight by the Knesset Ethics Committee. This is an illegitimate move, which justifiably was condemned by Lindenstrauss' predecessor, Eliezer Goldberg.

The comptroller is eager to show that he is not operating according to a double standard, and that Netanyahu is not the victim of discrimination. But the comptroller's capitulation to pressure and the expansion of his probe, which now includes the travel habits of dozens of ministers and deputy ministers, is no less dangerous than reducing the inquiry's scope. The expansion of the probe has no basis in the evidence. Instead, it was borne of political considerations.








Those who knew Juliano Mer-Khamis, the Nazareth-born actor and director who was shot in Jenin on Monday, will have to be the ones to write about him; all that the rest of us can do is write about the milestones in his life.

Juliano was lucky. He was born Palestinian and Jewish, Jewish and Palestinian. This angry man was beset by conflicting yet complementary identities. He was the long shadow of an imagined binational community from the 1950s. Like a Peter Pan who refuses to grow up, Juliano embodied the potential of a shared life (ta'ayush in Arabic ) while striving for equality. The son of a Jewish mother and a Palestinian father, he was born to two cultures, and chose to live in both. He saw no need to explain.

My guess is that Juliano wasn't entertaining illusions; sustaining blows from all sides, the potential of ta'ayush shrank. Ta'ayush is the sane vision, but the chance that it will be realized is increasingly slim. The clear-headed vision is one of ta'ayush, but the chance that such a vision will be realized is increasingly slim. There are some who fantasize about the days of the Messiah to avoid thinking about the days before the next disaster strikes. Juliano's was the offspring of a fantasy of ta'ayush. His birth was the outcome of a fantasy of ta'ayush, and his death is a disaster.

Juliano was angry. His rage was the kind that only a Jew like him, who was born on the left and craved equality until the end, can allow himself to express as a way of life. Palestinians must conquer the anger, mellow it; they must tame it, repress it, sublimate it. That's the only way to stay both alive and sane (without getting arrested, wounded or killed ) under the conditions of physical and non-physical violence dictated by Israel.

Oy, this coarse violence, which reeks of rationalism and supremacy and pretends to be enlightened. It is found in every detail of life, moment by moment, from cradle to grave. It is found from a expropriation order and an accompanying map to the firing hole of a watchtower; from the Interior Ministry expelling Palestinian Jerusalemites from their home town to the blocking of return to the Galilee village of Bir'im; from the racist responses of Jewish youth in opinion polls to the drone that homed in on children playing on the roof in Gaza. The violence is always there, from the Jerusalem municipal taxes despite the ruined roads and uncollected garbage to the security cameras in the Jewish neighborhood/Crusader shtetl in Silwan; from the lush green of a settlement to the Palestinian cistern destroyed by an Israeli bulldozer; from the permits granted to individual ranches in the Negev to the incrimination of Bedouin as "infiltrators." In short, from the Jewish to the democratic.

This violence has so many different angles that it can drive you mad. Juliano was lucky to be an artist, and madness was one of his paintbrushes. Through the theater he founded in Jenin, Juliano allowed himself to criticize repressive aspects of Palestinian society. One would guess he did so as a left-winger, as an actor committed to the artist's oath of truthfulness, and as a Palestinian. Let's hope that the killer will be found, and then we'll know if a Palestinian artist was killed because of his courage to live in a way that disrupts the order, or if a Jewish artist was killed because he gave himself permission to overtly criticize a society that is not his, according to some, or if a left-winger was killed because he was disrupting the norm. Or perhaps all three together. Even if he was killed for some other reason, Juliano was still an artist and a Palestinian, a left-winger and a Jew.

Now that the prospect of the sane vision of ta'ayush is small, what is left? The path. This is the option of a binational resistance movement, which wants to topple the Gadhafi-like, Mubarak-like, Assad-like rule of one people over another.

There are some who insist on fantasizing about a binational movement as a historic necessity, as a logical antithesis to the ideology of the demographic separation that has become the bible of the Oslo process. The truth must be said: In the meantime, most of those who harbor such a fantasy are Jewish. Thus do we soften the contradiction between love for the people and the place on the one hand and the abhorrence of the enlightened violence on the other.

Through his life and his body, Juliano Mer-Khamis embodied the possibility of a binational resistance movement. The killer, whatever his motive, was aiming for the body. In his death, Juliano has bequeathed us the possible.








Those who knew Juliano Mer-Khamis, the Nazareth-born actor and director who was shot in Jenin on Monday, will have to be the ones to write about him; all that the rest of us can do is write about the milestones in his life.

Juliano was lucky. He was born Palestinian and Jewish, Jewish and Palestinian. This angry man was beset by conflicting yet complementary identities. He was the long shadow of an imagined binational community from the 1950s. Like a Peter Pan who refuses to grow up, Juliano embodied the potential of a shared life (ta'ayush in Arabic ) while striving for equality. The son of a Jewish mother and a Palestinian father, he was born to two cultures, and chose to live in both. He saw no need to explain.

My guess is that Juliano wasn't entertaining illusions; sustaining blows from all sides, the potential of ta'ayush shrank. Ta'ayush is the sane vision, but the chance that it will be realized is increasingly slim. The clear-headed vision is one of ta'ayush, but the chance that such a vision will be realized is increasingly slim. There are some who fantasize about the days of the Messiah to avoid thinking about the days before the next disaster strikes. Juliano's was the offspring of a fantasy of ta'ayush. His birth was the outcome of a fantasy of ta'ayush, and his death is a disaster.

Juliano was angry. His rage was the kind that only a Jew like him, who was born on the left and craved equality until the end, can allow himself to express as a way of life. Palestinians must conquer the anger, mellow it; they must tame it, repress it, sublimate it. That's the only way to stay both alive and sane (without getting arrested, wounded or killed ) under the conditions of physical and non-physical violence dictated by Israel.

Oy, this coarse violence, which reeks of rationalism and supremacy and pretends to be enlightened. It is found in every detail of life, moment by moment, from cradle to grave. It is found from a expropriation order and an accompanying map to the firing hole of a watchtower; from the Interior Ministry expelling Palestinian Jerusalemites from their home town to the blocking of return to the Galilee village of Bir'im; from the racist responses of Jewish youth in opinion polls to the drone that homed in on children playing on the roof in Gaza. The violence is always there, from the Jerusalem municipal taxes despite the ruined roads and uncollected garbage to the security cameras in the Jewish neighborhood/Crusader shtetl in Silwan; from the lush green of a settlement to the Palestinian cistern destroyed by an Israeli bulldozer; from the permits granted to individual ranches in the Negev to the incrimination of Bedouin as "infiltrators." In short, from the Jewish to the democratic.

This violence has so many different angles that it can drive you mad. Juliano was lucky to be an artist, and madness was one of his paintbrushes. Through the theater he founded in Jenin, Juliano allowed himself to criticize repressive aspects of Palestinian society. One would guess he did so as a left-winger, as an actor committed to the artist's oath of truthfulness, and as a Palestinian. Let's hope that the killer will be found, and then we'll know if a Palestinian artist was killed because of his courage to live in a way that disrupts the order, or if a Jewish artist was killed because he gave himself permission to overtly criticize a society that is not his, according to some, or if a left-winger was killed because he was disrupting the norm. Or perhaps all three together. Even if he was killed for some other reason, Juliano was still an artist and a Palestinian, a left-winger and a Jew.

Now that the prospect of the sane vision of ta'ayush is small, what is left? The path. This is the option of a binational resistance movement, which wants to topple the Gadhafi-like, Mubarak-like, Assad-like rule of one people over another.

There are some who insist on fantasizing about a binational movement as a historic necessity, as a logical antithesis to the ideology of the demographic separation that has become the bible of the Oslo process. The truth must be said: In the meantime, most of those who harbor such a fantasy are Jewish. Thus do we soften the contradiction between love for the people and the place on the one hand and the abhorrence of the enlightened violence on the other.

Through his life and his body, Juliano Mer-Khamis embodied the possibility of a binational resistance movement. The killer, whatever his motive, was aiming for the body. In his death, Juliano has bequeathed us the possible.







Even after Richard Goldstone retracted his statement that Israel deliberately targeted civilians in Gaza, the diplomatic and moral damage to Israel caused by the Goldstone report will not disappear, just as the Supreme Court's acquittal of Israel Kastner back in the 1950s didn't erase the terrible things said by Judge Benjamin Halevy in the district court ruling. ("He sold his soul to the devil." ) That's the power of metaphors as opposed to dry facts. As far as Israel is concerned, the lesson is simple: It shouldn't boycott international forums, even if they are clearly biased against it.

The decision not to appear before the Goldstone Commission was made after a recommendation by the Foreign Ministry. One can understand the motives, but the decision was basically mistaken. The commission's mandate was obviously biased, and the UN Human Rights Council had already proved its hostility to Israel. But the ministry's legal experts ignored the fact that contacts with the United Nations are not a legal matter in which one is allowed to expect an objective judge. Rather, they are political and public. By recommending a boycott of the commission, the ministry's lawyers caused Israel tremendous damage.

Israel should have appeared before the commission and kept it busy for weeks by calling witnesses from communities in the south of the country, who would have explained the meaning of living for years in the shadow of Qassam rockets. It should have shown films and photographs of every home that was hit, and displayed the remains of the shells and missiles that were fired into the heart of a civilian population.

Above all - and this is an aspect the diligent legal experts and experienced PR experts missed entirely - those witnesses and testimonies should have been presented not only before the commission, but before the international media that flocked to Geneva. Even before the Goldstone Commission issued its decision, for days television viewers the world over would have seen the Israelis - all of them civilians, including the Shalit family - who were the deliberate targets of Hamas terrorism.

That should have been accompanied by the appearance of a senior Israeli official who was not only familiar with the facts but also spoke fluent English and knew how to speak to the nations of the world. Because the court in Geneva was not the commission but the international television audience, into whose consciousness we should have etched the information about Hamas terror. In the absence of all that, the world saw only the photographs provided by the Palestinians and their supporters.

There is no way of knowing if that approach would have changed the Goldstone Commission's decisions, but the media and public awareness would have been filled with testimonies and pictures presenting Israel's case.

Israel made that mistake earlier when it didn't appear before the International Court of Justice in The Hague regarding the security fence. Here too it left the arena to the Arab side. Former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak should have been sent to The Hague to present the Israeli Supreme Court's balanced and responsible view, which recognized Israel's right to proportionate self-defense. In light of these two failures we can only long for the days when Israel's representative at the United Nations, Chaim Herzog, tore to shreds in the General Assembly the decision equating Zionism with racism. These are things that are etched in the international collective memory. There have been boycotts in the past against UN institutions, but by the Arabs. The Palestinians boycotted the UN Special Committee on Palestine that recommended to the General Assembly the partition of British Mandatory Palestine. Usually the side that boycotts is also the side that loses. We can hope that this lesson will be learned: The United Nations and its institutions are political rather than legal bodies, and we must not give up the political struggle.








In May 1948, at the height of combat during the War of Independence, author S. Yizhar wrote the short story "The Prisoner." A year later, he wrote "The Story of Hirbet Hizah." These two classic works depicted the problematic behavior of Israeli soldiers during the War of Independence. When both of these stories were published in September 1949, dozens of critical reviews came in their wake, "a large majority of them complimentary, but a few that were negative," according to historian Anita Shapira. These two works were taught in the Israeli school system for years. In 1959, S. Yizhar received the Israel Prize.

In November 1948, as the battles were in full swing, author Nathan Alterman penned a newspaper column titled "Al zot," ("About this" ), one of the most poignant pieces he wrote, which denounced the killing of an elderly Arab couple during the war. On the day the column appeared, David Ben-Gurion wrote to Alterman: "I hereby ask for your permission to reprint this 'column'... and to distribute it to every military man in Israel."

In 1978, "The Story of Hirbet Hizah" was made into a television film, directed by Ram Levi, and was set to be screened by state-run Channel 1. The education minister at the time, Zevulun Hammer, was opposed. After public outcry, the movie was eventually aired, but not as a stand-alone feature. The film was introduced in conjunction with a talk show entitled Hasha'ah hashlishit ("The Third Hour" ).

A group of Israeli and Palestinian teachers co-wrote a textbook entitled, "Learning the Historical Narrative of the Other." It chronicles the story of the Land of Israel during the period from the Balfour Declaration until the 1990s. On the right-hand side of the pages, one finds the Israeli narrative. On the far left appears the Palestinian interpretation. The book has been taught to 12th-grade Jewish students in a trial run. In a subsequent study, there was no reported drop in the students' belief in the justness of the Zionist cause.

Last week, the Knesset approved a bill known as "the Nakba law." The legislation, which was sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu, allows the state to withhold funds to any organization that moves to "recognize Independence Day or the day of the state's establishment as a day of mourning." The law also allows the state to cut funding to any group that "denies Israel existence as a Jewish and democratic state," engages in "incitement to racism, violence and terrorism" and expresses "support for armed struggle or terrorist acts against the state of Israel."

The law takes an aberrant approach when viewed within the prism of the Jewish majority's treatment of the Arab minority. It is also an unwise law given the one-dimensional nature with which it wishes to present the conflict. The law is yet another milestone in the campaign of assault on anyone who wishes to give expression to the Palestinian position, which states, for example, that the founding of the state entailed the destruction of Arab society in this country. That assault has gained momentum in recent years. Yet it was when S. Yizhar wrote "The Prisoner" and "The Story of Hirbet Hizah," and when Ben-Gurion wished to disseminate "Al zot" to "every military man in Israel" that the younger generation in this country was most ready to sacrifice for the state. It was during the years in which S. Yizhar was taught in schools that Israeli youngsters led this country to unprecedented feats on the battlefield, including the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War.

Presenting a sterile version of reality is not only misleading, but also counterproductive. Every reader knows that a shallow, superficial book is forgotten in minutes, but a complex book concentrates the mind and impacts the reader for years.

One can tell the story of Zionism in a manner that pays heed to its complexity and includes the Palestinian tragedy, though do so in a way that does not undermine its justice. It is the complicated, multi-dimensional story that is capable of evoking a more profound, viable belief in the cause.


The writer teaches at Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Law.






In many ways the debate on the nature of the "social state" has been delayed in Turkey. Now we expect that debate to bloom. For as Sweden scaled back, Denmark moved forward, Italy expanded, Britain reshuffled and U.S.'s welfare infrastructure faded in recent decades, Turkey embraced a policy of ad hocism. 

Not since the 1970s, during the reign of Bülent Ecevit, when the Republican Peoples' Party, or CHP, was amid its first attempt to be a European-style social democratic party has Turkey broadly debated the obligation of the state to the welfare of its citizens. There were attempts of course, even an Islamist party named "Welfare" that assumed the Prime Ministry for a while. Rhetoric has often turned on themes of the "welfare society," "welfare state" or "social state," but what has been constructed is piecemeal, a collection of populist advances on the basic, 1930s infrastructure of guarantees mainly to employees of the government. The social safety net for the self-employed, for example, known as "Bağkur," was not created until 1971.

What we have as a result is what one sage called the "alms state," an odd collection of 14 separate state institutions to help those in need. There is little that reflects coherent policy-making, rather it a set of grease machines that oil the wheels squeaking most loudly. It is about patronage, not policy. 

Which is why we have been intrigued, if a bit skeptical, of the CHP's new plan of "family insurance" that would provide between 600 and 1,200 Turkish Liras per month to the poorest families in Turkey. Our skepticism comes from the fact we would have preferred that CHP chief Kemal Kılçdaroğlu unveil this plan with a bit more "how to" detail. Promises at election time have an air of insincerity about them. But our intrigue is rooted in the fact that as Turkey has sat out the last three decades' debate in developed societies about income policy, the consensus from experts is that it can work. While Turkey has passed out coal or provided periodic rations of pasta, Europe has dramatically reduced poverty with transparent income transfers. Competitiveness, meanwhile, has not been eroded and the American fear of "welfare dependency" has proved a myth. 

Support for some version of the CHP proposal came this week from an unlikely source: The Social Security Institution, or SGK, released statistics that show roughly a fifth of Turkey is on the dole. The numbers in that report add up to about 7 billion liras a year. This is just half the 14 billion liras that Finance Minister Ali Babacan has claimed the government spends to help the poor. That's not a huge sum of money, a little more than 1 percent of GDP. But it's a good down payment. 

Atop this, the CHP plan is just budget-busting populism. But a plan that reforms and augments the currently crumbling system could take Turkey forward dramatically. We hope the CHP goes back to the blackboard.

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






I cannot recall how many times I've gone to Brussels. There have been times I've been at least four times a year, covering an EU or NATO summit, or visits of Turkish leaders. Last week I was in Brussels. I've seen that when it comes to Turkey-EU relations, there are things that never change. Still, the only thing that does not change is change itself: Here is my list of things that have changed and things that never change:

-In the past if you would have a round of discussion with EU officials as well as experts monitoring Turkey's membership bid, you would hear nothing but complaints about the country's bad human rights record. There would be an outcry about jailed journalists and intellectuals (and especially for the Kurdish ones). We would be reporting about different delegations being established to go for a fact-finding mission to Turkey. Half of my career, I spent writing about initiatives from different EU institutions to exert pressure on Turkish governments to improve its bad democratic record and Turkey's efforts to rebuff them.

I went to Brussels just few days after the notorious police raid to Radikal daily for an unpublished book. The recent incidents seemed to have ringed the alarm bells, but nothing compared to the past, when similar developments would have created uproar.

-In the past, saying that Turkey can be an asset to the EU due to its geostrategic position and the role it can play in international problems fell on deaf ears. Now, everyone is talking about Turkey's importance as a key player.

-In the past you would come across Kurdish activists in the corridors of the European Parliament or European Commission. They would be complaining about the flaws in the Turkish democracy. Then you would encounter the Turkish diplomats who would chase Euro officials for "damage control."

Now the Kurdish activists prefer to demonstrate in the streets for the improvement of jail conditions of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party or the PKK. The Kurdish activists are replaced by quasi-nongovernmental organizations. In contrast to the Kurdish activists, they lobby in favor of the government. My understanding is that Turkish diplomats (who by the way, according to a legal amendment executed under the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, are now representing the government – instead of the state) seem to keep quiet about controversial issues like the Ergenekon. The Foreign Ministry seems to have opted not to instruct its diplomats abroad on a diplomatic campaign on explaining the developments concerning the case, (which I believe is a wise step from Foreign Minister Davutoğlu.) But the government can feel confident that friends of AKP are working well in Brussels.

-In the past, European right wing parties and left wing parties would not miss any occasion to criticize Turkey. Right wing parties used democratic flaws as a reason to justify why Turkey should not enter the EU, while left wing parties were genuinely seeking reform, thinking exerting pressure on Turkey would bring about change. Scared by the tremendous pace of the reform process undertaken during the first term of the AKP government, right wings parties preferred to keep quiet. "The slower the pace of reform, the better it is, since it will also slow down the accession process," they say. Left wing parties are happy to see the end to the rule of the "judicial-military" elite in Turkey that has been in their eyes the main stumbling block in reforming Turkey.

Some Turkish NGOs with active ties in Brussels used to lobby on behalf of Turkey, telling why Turkey's bid for membership should not be obstructed. But they were equally critical towards the government, calling for reform. Now they seem muted, despite what they see as negative developments in Turkey, lacking the courage to criticize the government.

When it comes to things that never change; here they are:

-The U.K.'s accession process continues to be given as an example to Turkey. "You need to be patient. The U.K. was vetoed twice," Turks are still told. (No. no. no! Please stop using this argument. It really has no impact.)

-The tendency to hide behind some member countries as an alibi for the problems in relations continues, with a slight difference in that the phrase, "We are regretting so much having accepted Greece as a member," replaced with, "We are regretting so much having accepted Cyprus as a member."

-The conditionality and the tendency of a give-take in relations remain intact, with the Cypriot problem taking the relations hostage.

-The dilemma of criticizing Turkey continues. Those who want Turkey to enter the EU want to criticize democratic flaws in the country, yet they know that doing so might also be counterproductive as it gives ammunition to their opponents, those who are against Turkish membership bid.

-The European Commission in general continues to be an ally to Turkey, trying to move the process forward. But their hands are tied up, due to political pressure from member states.

Let me finish by a pleasant surprise: four consecutive sunny days; I believe it is a rarity in Brussels especially in late March. Unfortunately, I can't say it reflects the mood on Turkish-EU relations.







I felt particularly frightened just the other day when Chief EU Negotiator Egemen Bağış's PR newsletter quoted him as saying that "our government is the guardian of freedom of expression." State Minister Bağış's government certainly behaves like a guardian, but what it is guarding is probably not what Mr. Bağış claims it is guarding.

But our presumably unbiased colleagues in this profession can sometimes be more amusing than biased politicians. Poor "Lackeys Without Borders" have been tasked with an enormously difficult mission: Convince a Western audience that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is a liberal, pro-freedom political grouping. In other words, the lackeys have had to convince zoologists that the elephant they painted with stripes is a zebra. It's not their fault that the elephant with stripes is the joke of every zoo to Turkey's West despite years of hard work.

The pro-AKP "liberals" said they wanted campus freedoms as in America. They said they wanted girls with headscarves on campuses, like in America, and not because the headscarf symbolized the Islamist cause. We on this side of the fence wholeheartedly agreed with their struggle to end the silly ban on the Islamic garment.

But we disagreed with their motives. Lackeys have simply been the "useful idiots" in the Islamists' shrewd gameplan to Islamize Turkey's posture: You don't want campus freedoms "like in America," I wrote several times in this column, you want selective freedoms, i.e., freedoms for the Islamist cause only. 

But I would never have imagined that a theoretical example I used in my argument several years ago would one day actually happen. It is too easy to understand the real motives behind the AKP's fight to end the headscarf ban, I wrote, and asked: "Would you, dear 'libertarians,' also defend students' choice of other attire, like bikinis, the kipah, the cross, a Buddhist gown, a Goth outfit, or defend their right to wear T-shirts with atheist slogans, or depict the president as a pig?" All I could hear from the other side of the fence was shy sighs.

Last year, a bunch of cartoons depicting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a pig were found at the campus of the Karadeniz Technical University in Trabzon. The cartoons carried unknown email addresses. The "libertarian" prosecutors acted immediately, launched an investigation, and requested assistance from the Justice Ministry to find the "wicked criminals who had insulted our prime minister." And the ministry wrote to the U.S. Justice Department and requested technical assistance to identify the "criminals" by means of these email addresses.

In response, the Justice Department wrote to Ankara that the request was not part of the Turkish-U.S. treaty on bilateral judicial assistance since the act in question had to be viewed as part of freedom of expression as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. In other words, the Justice Department told the Justice Ministry what "American campus freedoms were really about."

In another incident, a professor of theology, Orhan Çeker, hit the headlines a few weeks ago when he said that rape should also be blamed on the victims if they had dressed "provocatively." The man is the head of the Islamic law department at a university, and an investigation was launched into his words.

Last week, the Higher Education Board, or YÖK, which oversees universities, concluded that the professor's statement should be viewed as part of academic freedom of expression. Therefore, YÖK said, there was no legal ground for any disciplinary proceedings against Professor Çeker. I fully agree with YÖK. We may smile, laugh or get angry with Professor Çeker's argument, but we should defend his right to express his opinion, no matter how hard to agree. YÖK, in this case, did the right thing.

I was wondering, though, if YÖK's disciplinary board would stick to its libertarian thinking as in the case of Professor Çeker if, for instance, another academic declared that girls with headscarves deserved to be kicked out of campus. What does YÖK think, for example, about the students who drew the cartoons depicting Mr. Erdoğan as a pig? Criminals who should be chased at all costs? Or just students who expressed their opinions? We can safely guess.

And last week, anti-terror squads raided the university office of a professor of philosophy as part of the Ergenekon investigation. Professor Şahin Filiz admitted that he had in the past written articles "critical of the government," but said this should not justify confiscation of all his academic papers, including his students' exam papers, his children's games, music CDs and academic manuscripts and books. His attorney said the police "searched for opinions in the drawers."

The former U.S. ambassador to Ankara, Ross Wilson, apparently was a man capable of making a distinction between a striped elephant and a zebra. According to WikiLeaks, Ambassador Wilson wrote in a 2005 cable that leaders in Turkey were willing to protect the rights of only those who shared their opinions. Although there is freedom of speech in Turkey, he wrote, "It will take much work to convince the Turks that freedom should cover the right to criticize and open guarantees to protect that right."

Mr. Wilson recalled that Mr. Erdoğan himself served time for reading a poem but this experience led him to support people who think like him, like supporters of students who wear headscarves at universities, but he showed little tolerance to critics of his government or people who spoke on sensitive issues not related to Islam.

While all that was happening, YÖK's president, Professor Yusuf Ziya Özcan, the academia darling of the AKP, pledged last week to further tackle libertarian reforms for freer universities. For that, he said, YÖK's name will be changed. Perfect start! And may I suggest the name Higher Board of Elephant Painters?

Or will you, gentlemen, now take your elephant away from our china shop please? Thank you.







About a month ago, a group of veiled Turkish women initiated a bold campaign: "No veiled deputy; no vote!" They were calling on political parties, including the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to take a revolutionary step in the upcoming elections by offering some candidates who wore the Islamic headscarf. "The gap between Parliament and the society should be filled," their declaration read, "and this discrimination against veiled women must end."

In my view, this group, which called itself the "Gathering Women Platform," was absolutely right. The Turkish Republic has indeed carried out a secularist apartheid against practicing Muslims. Women who wear the headscarf have been the foremost victims, for their very practice is very visible. Hence they have been banned from all schools, universities, official jobs and political posts, and turned into second-class citizens.

How dare they?

That's why I recently wrote a column (in Turkish) supporting the "No veiled deputy; no vote!" campaign. Various liberals have also supported the cause. But, interestingly, the same support did not come so powerfully from conservative pundits. One of them, the consistently anti-modern Ali Bulaç, even criticized the "gathering women" quite harshly.

According to Bulaç, having veiled deputies at Parliament would have been a dangerous provocation against the secularist establishment, which could respond with yet another "closure case" against the AKP. For me, this could have been taken as a reasonable (yet exaggerated) fear, but Bulaç had more to say. He accused the veiled women in question to be "influenced by feminism," to be "snobbish" and to "dare to reinterpret the basic references of Islam."

Moreover, according to Bulaç, some of these "gathering women" were naïve, whereas others were the "fifth column" of the powers that be — the secularist authoritarians who were looking for opportunities to crack down on the AKP. These women were, in other terms, either stupid or evil.

After this frontal attack, two of the veiled women in question, Hilal Kaplan and Nihal Bengisu, columnists for Yeni Şafak and Habertürk respectively, wrote back. Kaplan, who is known for her liberal views on issues ranging from the Kurdish question to the Armenian tragedy, denounced Bulaç's misogynist attitude. What really lies behind the latter, she argued, was the conservative belief that women should "know their limits" in society. "Is it possible," Kaplan asked, "that what Bulaç cannot stand is the veiled [women] who work and make money, rather than just staying at home and looking after children? Or is it that these women can step up in society with intellectual and civil initiatives, creating public spaces for themselves, without looking at what the male intellectuals say?"

"Apparently," Kaplan added, "some 'conservative' men will appreciate us only when we say, 'We don't know; our teachers or husbands do,' and not interfere in their job."

The other writer among "gathering women," the witty columnist Bengisu, raised a similar protest to Bulaç and the likeminded conservative men in her column. "The veiled women, whom you think should only wash your socks," she wrote, "are now engaging in civil society and discussing public issues." That could have been the reason, according to Bengisu, why old-fashioned conservatives such as Bulaç were nervous about the defiance of the Muslim women of the new age.

Emancipation matters

Now, here is my take on all this. I don't know whether the AKP or any other party will show candidates with veils. But the debate is likely to continue, and the self-confidence of the Islamic feminists in question is only likely to grow. And, for me, as a believer in gender equality, that is all very good news.

It is not just good, but also quite telling. For it shows us how the much-discussed emancipation of women in the Muslim world will come about. Since the 19th century, both many Europeans and Europeanized Easterners believed that the problem was Islam, and the liberation of women could come only via enforced secularization. Accordingly, secularist authoritarians in the Muslim world — such as Atatürk of Turkey, Reza Shah of Iran, or the recently-deposed Ben Ali of Tunis — took tyrannical measures such as banning the veil and, instead, imposing "the modern dress code."

Yet the matter was not Islam, but the patriarchal culture of traditional society. No wonder some of the secularized women remained equally patriarchal — as seen among some Turkish upper-class women, whose miniskirts are matched only with their minimal sense of individualism. On the other hand, there emerged Islamic feminists such as Kaplan or Bengisu, who remain loyal to their faith but who have the individual guts to stand up against "male domination."

 God bless them — and their efforts. They are the ones who seek a way different from those of the bigoted secularists and the bigoted Islamists. Their third way, one could say, is also the right way.






Everyone is aware of the fact that there is a problem with the freedom of the press in this country. Although the government fiercely stands against reminders, they finally have brought to Parliament a bill on amendments in the Penal Code.

Unfortunately, objections raised by professional associations were ignored and the bill quickly passed in the parliamentary commission.

If the amendments are approved, will the press have freedom in Turkey? No. Although an expansion of freedoms is claimed, the bill introduces new restrictions. Besides, it is insufficient in its approach to freedom of the press. Many journalists in Turkey today are facing criminal charges for releasing secret documents and private phone conversations released during the Ergenekon case process.

As the bill becomes a law, some of these cases will be dropped. This will be fine because journalists are unable to make news stories anymore.

Since the bill is written on the basis of overcoming political and legal issues faced during the Ergenekon case and not of the press freedom, it lays ground for new cases and increases punishments. For instance, amendments on attempts to influence members of the judiciary are expanded and imprisonment periods are increased. Even questioning an inquiry or an arrest or comments like, "This is wrong. This has nothing to do with Ergenekon," similar to reactions voiced against the detention of journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, means taking a risk of two to four years' imprisonment.

But the bill does not touch the counter-terrorism law at all. However, many journalists are serving time in prison because of this law today.

A total of 68 journalists are in prison as of March 7, 2011. Most are sentenced within the scope of the counter-terrorism law.

The government believes these journalists are "terrorists."

But it is not so in reality. The journalists are arrested for their articles. Even writing "Kandil" with a "Q" is considered part of propaganda. Publishing the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, leader Abdullah Öcalan's photograph is enough for the withdrawal of publications from the market in the Southeast, as is not using the epithet "terrorist leader" while talking about Öcalan.

Şener and Şık, who were both detained for possible links to Ergenekon, are called "armed members of a terrorist organization." Although the indictments against them have not been released yet, they are evaluated within the context of the fight with counter-terrorism. Lastly, a case again in the scope of the counter-terrorism law has been filed against the daily Radikal's Ertuğrul Mavioğlu for an interview on the Kandil Mountains published in the newspaper.

Should it be not necessary to do thorough research and let people have their own opinion, right or wrong, on the Kurdish question, Turkey's number one problem?

But the counter-terrorism law doesn't allow this and the new bill totally ignores this particular issue.

The bill does not mention offenses of libel either. Neither does it have regulations on disproportional fines to keep the press silent and astronomical fines to cause bankruptcies of media groups and journalists.

As for the right of privacy and presumption of innocence, jurists agree that the bill has serious flaws.

If the amendments are approved, the government might say, "We have paid attention to criticisms over the press freedom," to save face outside, but that does not bring freedom to the press.

For that, reevaluation of laws and the Constitution in particular based on a certain approach is needed.

Besides, the formula for such an approach is not complex at all. Adoption of the approach on the Universal Convention on Human Rights and on judicial precedents of the European Court of Human Rights is enough.

Freedom of the press is essential and punishment should be an exception.

*Ferai Tınç is a columnist of daily Hürriyet, in which this piece first appeared. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.






Everyone is aware of the fact that there is a problem with the freedom of the press in this country. Although the government fiercely stands against reminders, they finally have brought to Parliament a bill on amendments in the Penal Code.

Unfortunately, objections raised by professional associations were ignored and the bill quickly passed in the parliamentary commission.

If the amendments are approved, will the press have freedom in Turkey? No. Although an expansion of freedoms is claimed, the bill introduces new restrictions. Besides, it is insufficient in its approach to freedom of the press. Many journalists in Turkey today are facing criminal charges for releasing secret documents and private phone conversations released during the Ergenekon case process.

As the bill becomes a law, some of these cases will be dropped. This will be fine because journalists are unable to make news stories anymore.

Since the bill is written on the basis of overcoming political and legal issues faced during the Ergenekon case and not of the press freedom, it lays ground for new cases and increases punishments. For instance, amendments on attempts to influence members of the judiciary are expanded and imprisonment periods are increased. Even questioning an inquiry or an arrest or comments like, "This is wrong. This has nothing to do with Ergenekon," similar to reactions voiced against the detention of journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, means taking a risk of two to four years' imprisonment.

But the bill does not touch the counter-terrorism law at all. However, many journalists are serving time in prison because of this law today.

A total of 68 journalists are in prison as of March 7, 2011. Most are sentenced within the scope of the counter-terrorism law.

The government believes these journalists are "terrorists."

But it is not so in reality. The journalists are arrested for their articles. Even writing "Kandil" with a "Q" is considered part of propaganda. Publishing the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, leader Abdullah Öcalan's photograph is enough for the withdrawal of publications from the market in the Southeast, as is not using the epithet "terrorist leader" while talking about Öcalan.

Şener and Şık, who were both detained for possible links to Ergenekon, are called "armed members of a terrorist organization." Although the indictments against them have not been released yet, they are evaluated within the context of the fight with counter-terrorism. Lastly, a case again in the scope of the counter-terrorism law has been filed against the daily Radikal's Ertuğrul Mavioğlu for an interview on the Kandil Mountains published in the newspaper.

Should it be not necessary to do thorough research and let people have their own opinion, right or wrong, on the Kurdish question, Turkey's number one problem?

But the counter-terrorism law doesn't allow this and the new bill totally ignores this particular issue.

The bill does not mention offenses of libel either. Neither does it have regulations on disproportional fines to keep the press silent and astronomical fines to cause bankruptcies of media groups and journalists.

As for the right of privacy and presumption of innocence, jurists agree that the bill has serious flaws.

If the amendments are approved, the government might say, "We have paid attention to criticisms over the press freedom," to save face outside, but that does not bring freedom to the press.

For that, reevaluation of laws and the Constitution in particular based on a certain approach is needed.

Besides, the formula for such an approach is not complex at all. Adoption of the approach on the Universal Convention on Human Rights and on judicial precedents of the European Court of Human Rights is enough.

Freedom of the press is essential and punishment should be an exception.

*Ferai Tınç is a columnist of daily Hürriyet, in which this piece first appeared. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.






Russia's Ministry of Finance is calling for 1.9 trillion rubles ($61 billion, 3 percent of GDP) of additional taxes in 2012-14 to meet the commitment to ramp up spending on various items, from reforming the Interior Ministry to providing housing for veterans.

As the government faces increasingly stringent budget constraints after five years of a progressively lax spending stance and 2012 is the presidential election year, the Ministry of Finance's bargaining position on tax hikes is stronger than ever.

Key sources are consumers, natural gas and monopolies. The main components of the tax proposal, as published by Vedomosti last Thursday, are radical hikes in the natural gas mineral extraction tax, as well as the alcohol and tobacco excises, the abolition of the property tax break on pipelines, electric grids and railways, and the elimination of accelerated depreciation.

Even though the exact distribution of incremental taxes between these groups will be determined through protracted horse-trading (and will only unfold over the coming months), it is unlikely that any of them will be spared from having to shoulder a fair proportion of the extra tax burden.

From the top down perspective, the sheer magnitude of the tax "call" to be tabled by the Finance Ministry is an indication of the mounting spending commitments in the face of the hard budget constraint of the structural fiscal deficit (the exact size of that deficit is open to a debate, as it depends on one's view of mid-cycle oil prices).

We estimate that the incremental permanent spending commitment/social tax cuts for small and medium-sized enterprises will be at 855 billion rubles over 2011-12 ($29 billion, 2 percent of GDP). This obviously leaves the ministry no option but to search for additional sources of revenue. Thus, it is safe to assume that the aforementioned headline number for additional tax revenue is unlikely to be reduced significantly.

The draft proposal gives a good idea about the dominant vectors along which the Finance Ministry wants to search for those additional revenues. Of the key initiatives, the most prominent are consumers (alcohol and tobacco excises), natural gas producers (a radical increase in the natural gas mineral extraction tax) and, to a lesser extent, natural monopolies (the staged abolition of the property tax breaks for pipelines, electric grids and railways; this, however, in some cases might eventually be passed into the regulated tariffs, but not in 2012).

Neither oil producers nor metals & mining companies are among the direct targets of this year's tax proposals. This strongly supports the view that the government thinks the tax take from oil and oil products is already excessive, while implementing an economically sensible scheme of progressive natural resource rent taxation for steels is fraught with difficulties.

From the practical perspective, we see Novatek and Gazprom as the stocks that are most directly exposed to downside risks from this year's tax initiatives, and to the greatest extent. Were these to be implemented in full, we would be looking at 12 percent and 7 percent downgrades to our current 2012-14 EBITDA projections for these companies. Otherwise, the scale of the proposed alcohol excise hikes (almost quadrupling over three years) creates a new dimension of uncertainty about the structure of the Russian spirits market (namely, the split between legitimate and counterfeit producers).

That said, the ultimate impact on Synergy and CEDC might well be rather muted, as the higher tax take boosts the incentive for the government to strengthen the enforcement of anti-counterfeit measures. As for FSK and Transneft, it is entirely possible that the removal of the property tax breaks will eventually be passed through into the regulated tariffs. That said, the tax uncertainty does not strengthen their investment cases in the meantime.

The policy debate on these tax proposals is likely to unfold in April-June and might well last through August (when the government is due to submit the 2012 budget to the Duma). Even though there could be bright spots on the newswires during these debates, we expect that the ultimate result will be downgrades to consensus 2012-14 earnings expectations relative to the current baseline. Stay tuned, but do not hope for a miracle, as Russia's fiscal balance does not allow for the latter.

* Alexandra Evtifyeva is an economist at VTB Capital. This column originally was published by Business New Europe. For more, see






Excluding some far-fetched "That small man at Elysee Palace will do whatever possible for re-election" comments, the French "humanitarian bombardment" on the Ivory Coast did not attract much attention in Turkey, but the Libya operation which is to implement the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for humanitarian assistance to the people of the North African country continues to worry the Turkish people.

There has to be a connection between the feeling on the Turkish street toward Libya, Palestine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Damascus or Cairo and the imperial past of the country. Religion, of course, does play a role. Muslim Turkish people might be very much interested in the sufferings or happiness of other Muslim societies. There would perhaps not be a Khalifa Movement in the Subcontinent if the Muslim people of those far lands did not have sympathy for the Muslims of Asia Minor suffering under occupation. Perhaps, if Subcontinent Muslims had not donated their wedding rings and all valuables to the Khalifa Movement to assist their Turkish Muslim brethren thousands of kilometers away in their war of liberation – that money came after the war but was used as the first capital for İşbank – Turks would not have had such strong bonds not only with Muslim states Pakistan and Bangladesh but with India as well, a country that has a Muslim population that is bigger than the entire Turkish population.

Religion does matter, but…

Yet, why Turks are so interested in what's happening in Libya but couldn't care less about the situation in the Ivory Coast has nothing to do with religion. Even though the Ivory Coast is predominantly non-Muslim, 38.6 percent of the population is Muslim. Does distance matter? Probably, as Libya is far closer to Turkey. But Turks are far more interested in Afghanistan or Pakistan or an incident in India than the tragedy continuing in the Ivory Coast because of the greed of politicians.

Distance does not matter, but proximity is definitely important. There might be thousands of kilometers between a country and Turkey, but if there is a cultural proximity or if there is an economic or political proximity between Turks and the people of that land, Turks are definitely interested in what's happening in those distant but indeed emotionally or, wallet-wise, close lands.

Even if Turks did not have billions of dollars of contracts, and intense interaction and thousands of expats there (at least until the recent evacuation), Turkey would still be interested in Libya. Why? Perhaps because of cultural proximity or religion… All those factors would of course play a role.

But, the real reason was the historical proximity or the sense of togetherness developed all through the past centuries which could not be erased totally despite all the rhetoric that the Arabs stabbed Turks in the back and thus contributed greatly to the implementation of the imperial designs of the West on the Ottoman Empire.

Libyan people are caught in between a government headed by a mad man and rebels portrayed by some news channels and Western "democracy merchants" as "democratic forces" – they sure must have a clearer idea than most Turks who those rebels indeed are. In the streets of Turkey there is no support either for the crazy man of Tripoli, nor the cacophonic coalition of rebels in Benghazi. Turkish people are concerned for the plight of the Libyan people irrespective of their political, religious or whatever allegiances.

Perhaps I should concede here that the neo-Ottomanist tunes given to Turkish foreign policy by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu corresponds greatly to the feelings of the Turkish street, which somehow has not been woken up yet from its imperial dreams of yesteryear. For a considerable long period of time – dating to pre-republican times – Turkish society has been passing through a massive political, economic, social and cultural transformation aimed at parting from Orientalism.

If ideals and principles were important, why does Turkey feel compelled to play a role in the Libyan operation of the international community, thus NATO, but has not only failed to send aid to Ivorians, but has been silent as France takes the lead in bombarding elements belonging to the former president, who has refused to concede electoral defeat and step down?







Extortionists, kidnappers and bandits seem to thrive in Karachi where most legal businesses remain on the edge because of the recent surge in crimes. The effective shutterdown by small shopkeepers and traders on Tuesday reflects the growing frustration of the business community over the government's inaction against crime mafias in the city. The bigger trade and business groups, however, deferred their shutterdown to give the government more time for a crackdown on criminals. The cracks in the protest strategy are understandable as closing businesses is never a first choice, but the last resort - especially in Karachi where countless workdays are lost because armed militants belonging to various political parties often force trade centres and markets to close. But the biggest problem for Karachi's business community remains widespread extortion and kidnappings for ransom cases. The old parts of Karachi, the hub of most retail and wholesale businesses, are the worst affected. The stories of 'receipts,' or 'parchis' demanding a few hundred to millions of rupees as protection money or 'bhatta' from victims is now an everyday occurrence for those who do business in the city. The refusal to pay often leads to armed assaults or even killings.

Although most political groups have been involved in this activity to some extent, the recent rise in crime has been blamed largely on the shadowy Peoples' Aman Committee (PAC) of Lyari, the stronghold of the Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP) in the city. Although the PAC, once called a sister organisation of the ruling party, enjoyed the blessings of some key PPP Sindh stalwarts, Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced the banning of the group on March 17 to meet a key demand of the estranged coalition partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. But little action has so far been taken on the ground. The government's inability to curb extortion and kidnappings, led to protests by traders and shopkeepers last month, prompting President Zardari to again issue directives to the interior minister to fight the menace in coordination with the provincial government. But political considerations seem to prevent the authorities from going after the gangs in Karachi. The truth is that criminals operate under the cover of all the major political parties in Karachi, which have criminalised politics and politicised crime. What Karachi needs is even-handed, impartial action. For this the city needs not just an independent police force but a speedy justice system. Major political parties, especially the ones in the ruling coalition, also need to walk their talk and clear their stables of criminals. The first prerequisites for a flourishing economy remain rule of law and security. Karachi in 2011 is certainly more dangerous than it was in 2008 when the PPP came to power. The government needs to do some soul-searching to find out what went wrong and start corrective measures.








Many events in our turbulent history have been shaped by the application of the law of necessity - to protect the acts of dictators. The Supreme Court has indicated that it is time to change this and reset the mould in which the judiciary fits as an institution, converting it into a body fully willing to act independently and do all it can to uphold rule of law. Failures in this regard in the past weakened the judiciary and made it subservient to the executive. A special six-member bench, hearing an intra-court appeal against an SC ruling framing contempt of court charges against judges who had taken oath under the PCO of General Musharraf, has noted that if the judges were ignored this would be akin to reviving the law of necessity. The government's response to a question as to the status of these PCO judges when parliament has not validated the Nov 2007 emergency has been deemed by the court to not answer the points raised, and the verdict in the case has been reserved. The chief justice, who heads the bench, has also clarified confusion stating that, while he too was among judges who had taken oath under a PCO, that order had been validated by parliament.

Breaking away from the past is, in many ways, key to the future of the country. If we are to escape the pitfalls we have repeatedly stumbled into, the doctrine of necessity must be laid to rest once and for all. It is also vital that the courts reassert themselves as an institution able to command respect and act with dignity and honour. The conduct of individual judges is vital to ensuring this. It is also necessary for all institutions to play the role entrusted to them under the Constitution, and by doing so restore the system of checks and balances which appears to have collapsed in our state, largely as a result of actions taken by autocratic rulers who have been able to coerce the weak to do their bidding. As a result, we have a dysfunctional state, badly in need of being directed to the right path.







Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK came fully equipped with his own security personnel and vehicles, clearly taking no chances. This was a visit with serious intent and agenda. We will not dwell on the diplomatic faux-pas made by Cameron whilst visiting India last year wherein he accused Pakistan of looking both ways on the terrorism issue, and let us put it down to inexperience and a steep learning curve - though it did real damage and it is that damage that Cameron now sought to repair.

The relationship between the old colonial power and our tottering democracy is crucial. It may be uncomfortable, but a lot of the terrorism directed at the west has a link if not a root in Pakistan. Not for nothing did the head of the British intelligence service MI6 and of the British armed forces accompany Cameron. Moreover, there are a million people of Pakistani origin in the UK and a significant population holding dual citizenship. Some of their children will be in schools that benefit directly from British aid, and Cameron committed to getting another four million children into school by 2015. There is to be a new UK-Pakistan security dialogue and a goal of doubling bilateral trade to 2.5 billion pounds also by 2015. The meetings between Cameron and President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani were described as 'warm' and yesterday's news conference would have won a prize for blandness were one to be offered. No rabbits were pulled from hats, no surprises. We should consider the fence duly mended and move on. This was not, as Cameron would have it, a 'fresh start'. It was more a step-change in a relationship that will outlive all of the politicians in play today.







Although tensions between government and the judiciary have a long history in Pakistan, the recent slide in this relationship in its varying manifestations is a serious cause for concern. Back on Nov 28, 1997, during Nawaz Sharif's second term as prime minister, charged political workers of his PML-N stormed the Supreme Court on Constitution Avenue in Islamabad. The judges inside had to scramble for safety to their chambers.

The PPP continues this undesirable practice of intimidation of the higher judiciary. It began with the appearance of Law Minister Babar Awan in the Supreme Court in July 2010, accompanied by a large posse of cabinet ministers and party politicians. One of the judges on the occasion remarked that the law minister had not been summoned but invited.

The worrisome difference between the ugly incident of 1997 and the show of force in 2011 is that the mob which attacked the Supreme Court consisted of supporters hailing from Punjab, determined to cause physical harm to then-chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah, who is from Sindh; and now it was politicians and workers of a party with a Sindhi leader trying to impress a judge who has Chaudhry as his last name. Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry is an ethnic Punjabi. It is Sindh and Punjab which have ruled or misruled Pakistan whenever the military establishment hasn't been visibly at the forefront, with politicians from the smaller provinces readily available as permanent coalition members for petty gains.

Musharraf, who had taken an oath to protect the Constitution and on numerous commissioning parades administered the same oath to a generation of officers, surpassed them all by sacking the entire higher judiciary with total disregard of the Constitution. In retrospect, Nawaz Sharif's long march for restoration of the judiciary was more a political ploy than an expression of support for an independent judiciary. He did so to enable his party to take a backseat in parliament, leaving the Supreme Court to turn on the heat on the ruling party every now and then.

World over, it is an effective opposition, and not the country's courts, which checks unbridled corruption and keeps the government of the day on the straight and narrow. There is little doubt now that the opposition's conduct in the last three years has been far from assertive and fallen well short of public expectations. History is unlikely to be kind to the PML-N, even if the electorate favours him in the next elections because of the unpopularity of the incumbent rulers.

The government's latest spat with the judiciary, like some others in the past, has stemmed from the president's support for his cronies rather than regard for merit and justice, qualities which are a requirement of his constitutional office. The strike in Sindh against the Supreme Court's decision on the appointment of the NAB chairman was unique as it was probably for the first time that a province-wide shutter-down call was given by a party in power. It is open defiance of the Supreme Court and a Machiavellian political move, not just a simple matter of contempt.

The two officials who were issued notices of contempt of court were accompanied to the Supreme Court by nearly one hundred second-tier politicians and workers from Sindh, who were prominently displaying their ethnic symbols. In a style usually associated with trade unions, Sindh home minister Zulfiqar Mirza warned that the entire the Sindh Assembly would voluntarily court arrests if any harm came to the two whose conduct was taken a note of by the court.

There was an interesting incident of a famous Agosta scam prisoner in Karachi jail who was suspected of having the intention of singing in the accountability court on his next appearance. Then, in the middle of the night, an intruder paid a brief visit to him and politely conveyed the compliments of, you know who, causing the prisoner to forget the song altogether. It could not be for nothing that the French court is investigating a possible linkage of the 2002 attack on French technicians in Karachi to the inner sanctums of our prisons.

These intimidating tactics in our legal regime are uncalled-for, because they could only set dangerous precedents. Already a Karachi-based political party has marginalised the Sindh High Court's efforts to proceed in the case of the carnage of May 12, 2007, in the city. Would the government be able to stop a village feudal from trucking a couple of thousand people outside a district and session court in a small town where a murder case is being heard against him? Or, worse yet, what if this becomes the norm across the length and breadth of the country?

The Sindh home minister's frequent outbursts are utterly misplaced. They are a distraction from the fact that, while the PPP won majority vote in the February 2008 general elections on a sympathy wave, it has failed to rise to public expectations and has therefore lost the moral right to rule. It has an amazingly weak team as ministers, whom a wit referred to as "old bottles with no wine." Consider Interior Minister Rehman Malik's recent statement heaping praise on Abdul Qadir Gilani, the son of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, for his appearance before an ordinary FIA inspector. He didn't get the basics right: the inspector is the face of the state and the prime minister's son is an ordinary citizen. The PPP's struggle to remain in power by using this or that party as a political crutch is neither in the interest of neither democracy nor the country.

It is the politicians' right to rule the country, but with that comes an obligation to shoulder greater responsibility and have a vision for the future. The Sindh home minister would do well to put his weight behind targeted killings in Karachi whose numbers are now fast catching up with the number of causalities caused by US drone in our north-west. Corruption has spread like cancer in the body structure of the state. The reconciliation strategy has been overstretched to the point where it has become a means for the extension of the PPP's rule.

The downside of idolising an independent judiciary is the ease with which people seek a judicial review when they see that something is not right. Islamabad these days has become the most litigious city in Pakistan mainly because government actions and decisions invariably fail to measure up to constitutional propriety. If the opposition or any individual exercises his or her right to go to the court, why should the ruling party feel upset or call for strikes which turn violent and cause loss of life?

Some political parties in the coalition are leaving the treasury benches with an eye to the next election. Likewise, the PPP would not be too unhappy if its remaining term is interrupted and the party can present the interruption as "martyrdom," which would gain it sufficient political mileage before the elections. Dirty politics will continue to be played in this country, but let it not be said that the judiciary failed to rise to the occasion. And, yes, there is a lot of substance to the argument that the individual reasoning and autonomy of each judge is central to a truly independent judiciary.

Tail Piece: Justice Muhammad Rustam Kiyani, or "MRK," as he was fondly known, was chief justice of West Pakistan from 1958 to 1962 and was allotted some agricultural land in Sindh on retirement. He soon ran into serious trouble with the patwari for possession. MRK wouldn't entertain the slightest thought of impropriety and the patwari had never done a day's honest work.

There was no love lost between MRK and President Ayub, but Ayub's gentlemanliness was to last to the end. Ayub decided to intervene in favour of the good judge by summoning the entire hierarchy of the department concerned to circuit house in Sukkur on his next hunting trip. Last to be ushered in was the patwari who came in with his basta (bag). As Ayub pored over his drawings, lo and behold, the khasra numbers of the chief justice's land had simply vanished, not a trace of it to be found anywhere.

MRK won on his principles but lost out on matters of land to a patwari. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry is dealing with a hugely difficult situation. Let us wish him luck.

The writer is a retired vice admiral. Email:








A pair of hands sweep down, and in one motion he picks up the giggling two-year-old, placing her on his shoulders. The mother is walking beside them, smiling. This family of three could be in a mall in America, in the midst of a tribe in Africa, in the Middle East, Pakistan or Malaysia. But if we watch the scene through ethnic, religious or racial prisms, we add a few more bricks to the wall beyond which "the other" is supposed to live.

Some of us lay greater claim to humanity than others, and "the other" either worships a false god or isn't loved by ours. When will we realise that this ugliness spares no one? Where does arrogance end and dialogue begin?

"We" constantly wish for ourselves what we are not willing to grant "the others": dignity, self-respect, justice, the right to be masters of our own destiny and, yes, the right to choose "our way of life". The phrase brings to mind the arrogance of the Bush era. Most people in the US do not realise how damaging his policies have been and how they have left the world in an endless spiral of hate and violence.

If you are a Pakistani living, working or studying in the US, there is the constant realisation of the senselessness of the media blitz portraying one in every four human beings on the planet as a "terrorist," or a "security risk." This is matched by the equally alienating chants of "down with America" in street demonstrations in the Middle East, Pakistan, and other parts of the Third World. Just as the former is guilty of generalising that the actions of some speak for 1.5 billion, the latter group is lumping more than 300 million Americans in the same category.

Each day we see the gulf between humanity widening, and being a Muslim Pakistani in the US can be painful. Opinion-makers, more so the global media dominated by the West, are the ultimate determinants of truth with the average American. Whether he or she chooses to tune in to CNN or to Fox, and most of the channels in-between, the impression is strengthened that "the other" is the epitome of evil. The dehumanisation of "the other," along with a sense of entitlement for "us," is what has unleashed this endless violence in the world.

Forever etched in our minds are images of that fateful day of Sept 11, 2001, when planes slammed into the Twin Towers. I watched with horror in Pakistan as some people jumped from the unimaginable heights, choosing death on the street below to the inferno they were in. Around 3,000 human lives were lost to senseless hate that day.

I remember the tears rolling down my mother's cheeks on 9/11. Her tears would flow again when Iraq was invaded in March 2003. The same dictator who had been propped for years by the US had by then become a danger to humanity. The way the war was being sold by Western media was instructive; it told of the widening gulf between the West and Islam.

Perhaps Republican Congressman Peter King, advocating the persecution of a religious minority, the Muslims, because he doesn't like their "radicalisation," should start by pondering over what is increasingly dividing humanity into "us" and "them." He stands for monitoring "radicalisation" among Muslims in the US – almost as if there exists a device that can accurately measure such tendencies.

Yet, there is more to the events that have unfolded in the last decade. The Western media have established a makeshift moral basis that is applicable to the global "other," but only rarely to the United States' foreign policy, and its excesses.

A case in point is the Raymond Davis saga. On Jan 27, the CIA contractor gunned down two young motorcyclists in broad daylight on the streets of Lahore. The crime was intensified by occupants of a backup vehicle of the US consulate general who came to his rescue. The speeding Land Cruiser entered incoming traffic and crushed to death a third Pakistani motorcyclist. The widow of one of the victims poisoned herself and on her deathbed told the country's news channels that she wanted "justice" for her husband's murderer. Her disillusionment with the country's corrupt leadership forced her to kill herself. She knew she would not get justice in Pakistan.

The Davis case offers many opportunities for people to understand each other better. This murderer was declared a "diplomat." His belongings included a GPS and firearms as well as photographs of sensitive military installations. The US embassy used both carrots and sticks over the ensuing week. So involved in Pakistani politics is the US embassy, that it is virtually the new East India Company.

The resentment that an ordinary Pakistani feels against the US has nothing to do with religion but is conveniently labelled as such by the Western media. Reverse this with the hypothetical situation of a Pakistani spy committing the same crimes in the US and then claiming diplomatic immunity, although it is proved beyond doubt that he is not a diplomat.

Additionally, the Pakistani government was scolded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for obstructing the release of this "diplomat." The level of outrage this evoked in Pakistan is barely imaginable. There is widespread shock at how this man was whisked away by dubious tactics including invocation of the Sharia. All of Pakistan feels robbed of its dignity.

No rational person would ascribe the reason for this indignation as being rooted in religious hatred. Yet, this is exactly how the story is told to Americans, with the demonstrations in Pakistan labelled as "protests by Islamic hardliners."

The four deaths in Lahore are mere statistics now, as far as American media are concerned. There is no doubt that America is blessed with wonderful people who have achieved great things and have often opened their hearts to people in need around the world.

The more time I spend in the US, the more I realise that the genuine kindness and warmth of its people are constantly undone by their government's tyrannical foreign policy. One cannot help but wonder why the same people who empty their pockets to help flood and earthquake victims around the world, also hate "the other".

I hope that educated Muslims will speak for themselves before there are no longer any means of getting our voices heard across this wall being built by a handful of hate-mongers.

Those who treat war as a profitable business, could conceivably support even the KKK, if that meant being voted into office.

I will let the image of the family of three play out in my mind walking through a church, finding them sitting in a synagogue the next moment, kneeling in a temple and, yes, praying in a mosque five times a day.

Ahmed Javed is a resident physician training in the US








All the stresses and strains of development planning and contradictions between rapid growth and external viability are depicted in foreign trade, more than in any other national endeavour. This is particularly so in the case of Pakistan, where foreign trade acquires greater importance than economic development. Pakistan's foreign trade has some significant peculiarities of its own, but most of its basic problems are similar to those of other developing countries.

The present economic situation for developing countries is far from satisfactory. Over two-thirds of world trade is between the developed countries themselves. The United Nation's development initiative for the developing countries' trade outlook has already turned into disappointment. The increase in world exports was proportionately much higher in the developed countries vis-a-vis developing ones.

The developing countries' lag is due to the following factors: a prolonged and steady drop in the prices of exportable raw materials, tariff and quota barriers, and easy access of exports of the developed countries into developing ones, particularly of machinery and manufactured goods.

Such imports put a burden on developing countries in the shape of non-equivalent exchange advantage for the developed world. Besides the harsh trading policies of the advanced countries, the developing countries also have to contend with the stiffer terms of loans and credits.

Growing difficulties in the procurement of foreign aid are restraining their capacity to import goods essential for development. The progressive deterioration of trading conditions for the developing countries as a result of discrimination by the developed countries is bringing them less foreign exchange, despite considerable expansion of their production of raw materials and manufactures for export.

The role played by the world market in depriving the less developed countries of the fruits of their labour is borne out, for instance, by their diminishing share in the volume of world trade. According to UN statistics, exports from the developing countries accounted for less than the total value of exports into the developed world. This diminution in the percentage share of world trade for developing countries occurred despite the fact that a considerable proportion of exports by the developed countries are financed by government loans or private credits.

The factors hindering the development of mutually advantageous trade between the developed and the developing countries is due to the systematic excess of the developed countries' exports to the developing countries. This is rationalised through the developed world's slogan of Liberation, Deregulation and Privatisation. Ironically, the slogan is imposed upon the developing countries and barely followed in the developed world itself. The developing countries thus have a permanent trade deficit.

Yet, it is obvious that the increased income of the developing countries from their own exports is an important source from which they could pay for their imports, including machinery equipment and the much-needed technical services.

Moreover, the world market prices for the traditional export commodities of the developing countries have shown a downward trend, while the prices of manufactured goods, in particular, those of machinery and equipment, remain stable or move upward. These price scissors operate in the interests of the cartels and the monopolies of the developed countries. The losses of the developing countries and the corresponding gains of the developed countries due to price changes are enormous.

In addition, the net annual loss of the developing countries due to the deterioration in their trade terms is enormous. This worsening of the general trade imbalance is caused, first and foremost, by the developed countries' policies of foreign economic expansion. The seizure of the developing world's foreign trade enables the developed world to fix export and import prices, ensuring maximum profit for themselves.

In the trade expansion of developed countries in developing world markets, unequal exchange rates play an important role. Theoretically, this boils down to equal quantities of produce exchanged on the world market for unequal values.

Unequal exchange occurs due to unequal productivity of labour in different countries. The causes of the unequal exchange thus lie not in the sphere of circulation but in the sphere of production. Owing to the unequal exchange, foreign trade is an important means of enrichment for the developed countries. The unequal exchange is emphasised still further by the emergence of monopolies and cartels in the developed countries, which exert a decisive influence on the trend and the prevailing level of prices.

The annual losses incurred by the developing countries through unequal exchange vis-a-vis the developed countries is huge. This sum is twice as large as the net aid rendered by the developed countries. Therefore, in totality the developed countries appropriate a high amount of the national incomes of the developing countries. The unequal exchange deprives the developing countries of a sum exceeding their annual capital investments.

This injustice can be eliminated only by the developing countries enhancing their national economies and productive forces. This would necessitate a sufficient amount of investment, production and export. This would result in equitable employment, consumption and acceleration of GDP growth. The fruits of this endeavour will lie in the shape of poverty-alleviation and self-reliance.

There is nothing for man but what he has striven for. -- Surah An-Najm Verse 39

The writer is the founder/chairman of the Atlas group of companies.








While reading a book on 'Developing Management Skills', I got hold of an interesting and thought-provoking write-up on the paradoxical nature of the modern world written by Dr Bob Moorehead. I reproduce it for readers to reflect on it for the sake of resolving the tacit conflict which goes on between human nature and material progress.

"The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways but narrower viewpoints. We spend more but have less; we buy more but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences but less time. We have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgment; more experts but more problems; more medicine but less wellness. We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry too quickly, stay up too late, get too tired, read too seldom, watch TV too much and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We have learned how to make a living but not a life; we have added years to life but not life to years. We have been all the way to the moon and back but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. We have conquered outer space but not inner space. We have done larger things but not better things. We have cleaned up the air but polluted the soul. We have split the atom but not our prejudice. We write more but learn less. We plan more but accomplish less. We have learned to rush but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever but have less communication. These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men and short character; steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the times of world peace and domestic warfare; more leisure but less fun; more kinds of food but less nutrition. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, of fancier houses but broken homes. These are the days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throw-away morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer to quiet to kill. It is time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stockroom."

The above lines show that something important is missing from the equation of human life and that to me is maintaining a 'balance' between material progress and human relationships. The suffering of humanity today is due to 'alienation' from the self and from others. Building sustainable relationships require reviving values such as freedom, dignity, trust, love, and honesty through a cultural transformation.

The writer is Assistant Professor at FAST-NU, Peshawar. Email:







Four top politicians of the country belonging to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province are lucky to have survived suicide bombings in recent years. The way they reacted to the attacks throws some light on their politics and character.

The JUI-F head Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the latest to have survived, not one, but two suicide bombings, refused to cancel his public engagement at the Darul Uloom Islamia seminary in Charsadda on March 31 despite security warnings after the previous day's attack in which his party workers became the target in Swabi district. He also visited the injured JUI-F members and policemen at a hospital in Peshawar and gave brave statements to the effect that such attacks won't deter his resolve to speak his mind and reach out to the people by holding public meetings.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman didn't run away after the Swabi attack and managed to reach the venue to address the waiting JUI-F workers and supporters. The next day he insisted on speaking at the public gathering in Charsadda and was attacked again. Better sense prevailed and his further public appearances were cancelled. If he had gone ahead with his scheduled public meetings, it would have been suicidal because these events had been publicised and were known to those seeking to eliminate him.

One could ask that wasn't Maulana Fazlur Rehman's bravado misplaced as it exposed his own party workers and the cops to unnecessary risks and put extra burden on the district administration and the police in Charsadda already reeling under pressure due to the militants' threat emanating from the adjoining Mohmand Agency. In fact, Charsadda also has its own share of militants and has suffered a number of terrorist attacks.

Though Maulana Fazlur Rehman and other top party leaders including former federal minister Azam Swati and ex-chief minister Akram Durrani survived the Charsadda suicide bombing, a fresh controversy surrounding the incident was triggered due to allegations by elders and residents of the Nowshera Road locality where the attack took place that the private JUI-F security guards were responsible for some of the deaths as they panicked and fired indiscriminately after the blast. The ANP-PPP coalition government is now investigating the incident and Provincial Law Minister Arshad Abdullah has said Maulana Fazlur Rehman would be charged if the involvement of his guards in the killings was established.

However, there is another aspect of this incident. Those aspiring to be leaders have to face risks and lead from the front. Politicians are role models and their sacrifices inspire followers and strengthen parties and movements. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's supreme sacrifice of life and that of Benazir Bhutto would continue to provide vitality to the PPP even if this party has been unable to perform to the satisfaction of the people while in power, not once, but many times. Maulana Fazlur Rehman chose to stay close to his supporters despite the danger to his life as he didn't want to face criticism for abandoning them. It is possible he had Asfandyar Wali Khan, another leading politician from his province, in mind while making his decision.

The Awami National Party (ANP) President Asfandyar Wali's reaction was unbelievable after the failed attempt on his life about two and a half years ago. It is true that he has been a prime target for the militants and his life is in danger, but the way he took a helicopter flight to Islamabad on October 3, 2008 when the suicide bomber tried to kill him in his hujra, or male guesthouse, in Wali Bagh, Charsadda on the occasion of Eidul Azha was baffling. He neither visited the hospital to tend to the wounded party workers not attended the funeral of his bodyguard Yar Zameen who had reportedly grabbed the suicide bomber and probably saved Asfandyar Wali's life. His political opponents and critics would keep mentioning this incident to embarrass him and his party because politics is a cut-throat competition where matters of life and death are also politicised.

Asfandyar Wali's visits to his native province have become rare since that suicide bombing. Even if he happens to visit Peshawar, he is to be found at the heavily-guarded residence of Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti. During the floods last summer, Asfandyar Wali's absence was noticed as the people in his National Assembly constituency in Charsadda were among those who suffered the most. His helicopter flight to the flood-affected area may have caused more anger instead of winning him any favour with the affectees. When criticised for staying away from his province and home district some months ago, he apologised and promised to come more often. However, he hasn't been able to keep his promise.

Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, the leader of his own faction of the Pakistan People's Party named PPP-S after him, has also survived two suicide bombings. Both the attacks took place in his native Charsadda in 2007. The first was at a public meeting near Charsadda city on April 28, 2007 in which 28 people were killed. The second was more devastating as the suicide bomber managed to enter the mosque in Sherpao village where the Eidul Fitr prayers were being offered on December 21. The death toll was 57 and more than 100 people were injured.

Aftab Sherpao miraculously emerged unharmed in both suicide bombings. His son Mustafa sustained injuries and was brought back to health after treatment. The Sherpao family had lost Hayat Sherpao in a bomb explosion at the University of Peshawar in 1975 and younger brother Aftab Sherpao had to be extra-cautious to avoid a similar fate. But politicians need to stay in touch with the electorate and attend public events. More so in case of courageous politicians like Aftab Sherpao, who attended funerals, enquired after the health of the injured and looked after the needs of the bereaved families after the two suicide bombings targeting him. He stayed put and continued to interact with the people while quietly upgrading his security.

The fourth politician to survive a suicide attack is former federal minister Amir Muqam, whose house in the Hayatabad locality in Peshawar was attacked by a suicide bomber in November 2007. Five people including three policemen and former lawmaker and provincial minister Pir Mohammad Khan, a relative and political ally of Amir Muqam, were killed in the bombing.

To his credit, Amir Muqam took a stand against the militants and continued to attend political gatherings not only in Peshawar and elsewhere in the province but also in his native Shangla district and neighbouring Swat. He campaigned during the 2008 general election, won his National Assembly seat from Shangla and continued to spend time in his village home and in Swat. Amir Muqam attracted flak for abandoning his party, Jamaat-i-Islami, and the MMA after the 2002 general election and joining Musharraf who made this newcomer the provincial president of the PML-Q, but his courage in the face of militants' threats won him many admirers.

The threat from the militants to Amir Muqam and Aftab Sherpao became less after the 2008 general election when their parties lost and they were no longer in power. However, they are still at risk and have to be careful while moving around.

Asfandyar Wali's party is in power and he continues to face threats to his life from the militants. In fact, the ANP has lost more members than any other political party in the violence perpetrated by the militants.

Those who felt Maulana Fazlur Rehman wasn't at risk due to his party's sympathy for the Taliban were mistaken. There are many kinds of militants and some don't like him and would not hesitate to kill him. Besides, he and his colleagues believe the US and CIA were behind the recent suicide bombings targeting him.

Almost 90 people lost their lives in attacks primarily aimed at eliminating Aftab Sherpao, who was interior minister during General Pervez Musharraf's rule and, therefore, one of the main targets of the militants. More than 20 innocent people were killed in the two suicide bombings against Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Six were killed in the attack against Asfandyar Wali and five in the one targeting Amir Muqam. They all survived and reacted differently to the bombings and in the process earned praise or criticism.








In the early years of the post-independence era, one thought of the English language, constitutionalism, and the rule of law, as the defining features of the British legacy in South Asia. The just concluded World Cup, however, reminded us that the legacy is now dominated by the English language and cricket, and that South Asian cultures have imprinted their own signatures on them.

The region has added to the accents and styles in which English is spoken or written at the popular level. The ruling elite conduct business with one another and the rest of the world in a more or less standardised version of the language with such devotion to it that negotiations often become a matter of scoring points and a competition in its use. When it comes to cricket, a mass spectator sport in India, Pakistan Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, a match between any two sides is an occasion to celebrate nationhood and work out historical tensions.

Several pundits in Pakistan have said that the Mohali semi-final with India bonded the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual Pakistanis together as nothing else had done in recent times. The fabulous festivity in India after it won the championship showed that it was a celebration of India's exalted place in the world. As to the British-ordained rule of law, the speculators demonstrated that it was now a low priority issue.

The Mohali match brought a vivid interface of cricket and diplomacy. It was as if Manmohan Singh had successfully loosened the knots that New Delhi's powerful establishment uses to circumscribe his "vision" of better relations with Pakistan. The ensuing 'Spirit of Mohali' is now expected to flow into the deliberations of officials engaged in the resumed dialogue.

One doesn't know what exactly transpired between the two prime ministers but the least one would expect would be that they have instructed the officials not to score points but move towards a resolution of differences. I accompanied General Ziaul Haq when he virtually invited himself to an Indo-Pakistan cricket match in India. The circumstances were even less propitious. There was much bitterness caused by huge mobilisation of troops during India's Exercise brass-tacks.

The meeting with Rajiv Gandhi took place after considerable effort, but once it happened, the atmosphere improved perceptibly though, it also deteriorated rapidly when the Kashmiris launched a militant movement in late 1989. By the spring of 1990, the two countries were again on the brink of war.

One of the lessons from the past is that India and Pakistan should move faster at least when it concerns that which looks "doable". The meeting between the Interior secretaries has gone well. The Siachin issue and Sir Creek now loom large as the outcome of the talks about them would indicate how far the Mohali spirit informs the negotiating postures. Progress in them may bring Manmohan Singh to Pakistan to open a new chapter. This in turn, may mark a fresh approach to issues of trade and investment.

It is also time to decide if the back channel on Kashmir would become operational again. The assumption that we can wait for a solution of the Kashmir dispute was challenged by the Kashmiri youth last summer. We may see greater impatience with India and Pakistan and a greater assertion of Kashmiri will in future.

The 1989 uprising was partly fuelled by what happened in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The present wave sweeping across the Arab world may galvanise the Kashmiris into stronger action in the coming summer. Mohali should inject a new urgency and momentum in India-Pakistan talks.

The writer is a former foreign secretary










AS the death toll in the suicide blasts outside the shrine of Syed Ahmad Sakhi Sarwar rose to 49 on Monday, nine people died and 24 others injured in yet another deadly blast, sixth within the short span of one week, in Lower Dir District. In a related development, four more people lost their lives in firing incidents in different parts of Karachi, where target killing and sniper firing has become an order of the day. And in Lahore, law enforcing agencies foiled, what they claimed, a massive terrorism plot arresting three suspects while several patients breath their last daily due to strike by young doctors in Punjab.

This is gist of scanning of just one day's newspapers and gives an idea what happens in weeks and months in our country. Blasts, deaths, blood, destruction and tears – this is what one gets an overall picture of the country by going through newspapers and watching different television channels. Is it our fate? Was this Pakistan envisioned by its founding father Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah? Definitely not, but why we are witnessing such a chaotic situation that is having demoralizing effects on the society and especially our younger generations? The worst aspect of the entire situation is that no one is bothered – neither those at the helm of affairs, who have priorities other than addressing the real and core issues confronting the country, nor the opposition that seems to be incapable of providing an alternative leadership. The situation has reached a stage where definite action on the part of all stakeholders is inevitable to save the country but this can only happen when all of them put their acts together and work in unison. There is no doubt that most of the problems are products of the on-going war on terror that has been thrust upon us by the United States, which has its own goals, objectives and designs in this part of the world. To this extent, we can do little to get things right but there are reasons to believe that despite all this we can do a lot to contain the damage and put a full stop to on-going carnage. A lot of evidence is available to suggest that both our friends and foes are playing dirty games to destabilize Pakistan but it seems that our agencies are not concentrating on their activities with a view to minimizing the threat. The case of Raymond Davis is a clear example of our negligence and calls for thorough review of the working and performance of our intelligence and law enforcing agencies. Similarly, we have been emphasizing in these columns for the last three years that military operation wherever necessary should be short and swift but here again our friends have forced us to carry on such operations for years with serious consequences. We have a sizeable police force both in Islamabad and in four provinces but there is general impression that instead of checking crime, many police personnel are instead hands in glove with criminal elements. There is also clear evidence of Indian involvement in Balochistan, FATA and Karachi but we are surprisingly not taking up the issue in all seriousness with New Delhi. We hope that the authorities concerned would give serious thought to the situation and take remedial measures as the gory picture is having negative impact on the psyche of the people especially children besides its consequences for the economy. The deteriorating security environment and extortions have forced Karachi traders to come on streets and the Government should address their concerns and create right kind of environment for the business and industry to flourish, which also means resolution of problems like shortage of electricity and gas, increase in power rates and POL products and alarmingly high interest rate.







PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari has moved a reference to the Supreme Court asking the apex court to revisit Z.A. Bhutto case and the Government is claiming that the reference has been filed to undo a 'historical wrong' but there are all indications that it is poised to commit another historical wrong with catastrophic effects for the future and progress of the country.

No doubt, the decision to break up into pieces the towering institution of Higher Education Commission (HEC) is in line with the devolution plan contained in the 18th constitutional amendment. But they say to err is human and if a wrong was committed by the parliamentary party during drafting of the said amendment and the blunder now stands exposed then the right course would be to acknowledge the howler and take steps to rectify it. It is not a prudent approach to persist with the wrong, making it an issue of ego, as is being done by otherwise highly sensible person like Mian Raza Rabbani, who would be held accountable by the history for his stubborn attitude in this regard. We believe that it is not at all a difficult task to find a reasonable solution to the problem given the fact that the 18th amendment was drafted by a committee consisting of all parties represented in the parliament. As all of them bear the onus of responsibility in this respect, we are sure that they would be more than willing to extend a helping hand in rectifying the situation even if it means another small amendment in the constitution. We say this because the national debate that has followed the decision to almost disband the HEC, revealed that the country would be pushed back by decades if this great institution was abolished or its authority and responsibility entrusted to several other ministries and to the provinces. It is also strange that on the one hand we are talking about devolution but on the other hand we are retaining the functions of the HEC with the Federal Government and just transferring them from HEC to other ministries and institutions. If this is the case then why to deprive the HEC of its functions which is discharging them most diligently and in line with the dictates of the times. There is urgent need to take steps to promote higher education as progress and development is directly linked to it but regrettably some lobbies in this country are working for the last many years against the HEC and have their eyes on billions of rupees that go as budget to higher education. History would not forgive all those who are contriving to deprive the nation of an institution that has served as a motivation to other countries to follow the suit to promote higher education and its standards.








Within a few days, the "Silmiya" (peaceful) popular uprising against the 42-year old rule of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya had turned into an "armed struggle" and in no time the U.S. administration was in full gear backing the Libyan armed violent revolt, which has turned into a full scale civil war, despite being the same world power who officially label the legitimate (according to the charter of the United Nations) armed defense of the Palestinian people against the 34- year old foreign military occupation of Israel as "terrorism." Backing the armed struggle of the Libyan people came less than a month since President Barak Obama on February 11 hailed the Egyptians' "shouting 'Silmiya, Silmiya'" — thus adding the Arabic word to the international language lexicon – because the "Egyptians have inspired us, and they've done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice is best gained by violence .. It was the moral force of nonviolence, .. that bent the arc of history toward justice," he said.

When Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2009, he viewed the decision less as a recognition of his own accomplishments and more as "a call to action." Within less than two years, he "surged" the U.S. – led war in Afghanistan, expanding it into Pakistan, stuck almost literary to his predecessor's war agenda in Iraq, and now has opened a third war theater for the United States in Libya, where his administration ruled out any peaceful settlement of the conflict, insisting on its internationalization, ignored all efforts at mediation, especially by the African Union, and lent a deaf ear to calls for an immediate ceasefire as a prelude for dialogue in search for a way out of the bloody civil war, which were voiced recently in particular by the presidents of China, the world's most populous country, and Indonesia, the largest Islamic country. Libya is a "unique situation," Obama says, where the U.S.-led military intervention and the backing of an armed revolt is the exception and not the rule in U.S. foreign policy. This exceptional and unique situation, it seems, justified his resort to an exceptional and unique process of decision-making that nonetheless doesn't justify bypassing a consultation with the Congress and explaining his decision to the American public, where his hasty military intervention overseas could not in any way be justified by any immediate or direct threat to U.S. national security.

In his 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope," Obama wrote: "Instead of guiding principles, we have what appears to be a series of ad hoc decisions, with dubious results. Why invade Iraq and not North Korea or Burma? Why intervene in Bosnia and not Darfur?" Now, Obama seems to have no objection to an "ad hoc decision" on Libya. His backtracking on his previous pledges to Arabs, Palestinians in particular, would not make any Arab or Palestinian expect him to pose any questions like: Why a U.S. military intervention in an internal conflict in Libya to protect civilians who resorted to arms to defend themselves and not one to protect defenseless Palestinian civilians who have been under military, economic and political siege for the sole purpose of depriving them of any means of defense against the external Israeli military occupation? The Libyan precedent, of course, according to Obama's reasoning, could not be applied to Israel because Libya is a "unique situation" where the circumstances are unlikely to recur, but nonetheless dictate arming the "rebels," a process which the coalition of the intervening western powers are now considering and which the U.S, British, French and other intelligence teams are already on the ground to identify who among the rebels deserve arming and to facilitate the process in support of the Libyan people's "armed struggle," at the same time when the occupying Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are publicly threatening a new all-out assault on the besieged Gaza Strip with the declared purpose of uprooting the Palestinian armed struggle in self defense against a foreign power.

A thinly – veiled Arab cover and the UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which was not supported by major powers, could hardly give legitimacy to the U.S.-led military intervention in Libya; neither does distancing itself by transferring the leadership to NATO because, as former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, told Fox News recently, "Obama may be the only man in the whole world who does not know that we, the United States, run NATO."

—The writer is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank.








The purpose of elections, both at provincial and national levels, is aimed to bring to fore, duly elected representatives of the masses. However, these representatives must subscribe to certain standards. Unfortunately, Article 62 and 63, that deal with the qualifications and disqualifications of a person aspiring to become a Member National Assembly and Member Provincial Assembly of Pakistan are so subjective and defective in interpretation and application- it can only be translated, that the writer of these laws must have been as ignorant of law as those who approved it.

If we read Article 62,the qualifications required, therein, are purely subjective in nature, ie having "adequate" knowledge of Islamic practices, self-righteous, never having violated any Islamic Injunction., abstains from major sins…….the list is long.

The Article is purely subjective. Who will judge whether or not the knowledge of an aspirant to the seat(s), has or has not adequate knowledge of Islamic practices. This requirement leaves the door wide open for all kinds of interpretations. The other question it raises is, can anyone claim, ever, to have adequate knowledge of Islamic practices in light of the different interpretations by different sects within Islam?

In English Dictionary, the word adequate is described as "sufficient to satisfy a requirement or meet a need". Who will, determine what is sufficient to meet the need? What is the barometer to judge this level? The second contradictory word is knowledge. Oxford English Dictionary defines it as,"expertise and skills acquired by a person through experience or education, the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject". The question here is, a degree, in a subject may be considered a proof of a "theoretical knowledge", how will one judge the "knowledge gained through experience"? Definition of knowledge equally respects that acquired by theory(education) and that acquired by experience. The term "self righteous" is defined as," exhibiting pious self assurance". Excuse me? Article 62 is full of similar like subjective words that fail a legal mind in terms of interpretation to translate into application.

But this is not all. The Constitution is silent on the question, that should an aspirant, get elected, falsely projecting to fulfill the requirements laid down in the Article, what are to be the consequences, if exposed? Should the Election Commission forthwith declare his election null and void? Should he, in addition be subject to a fine? A sentence? Or both?

The Constitution is also silent, that should the elected person, fall below the required standard (the standard itself being subjective), after elections, should the elected representative face the same fate of one who may have falsely projected himself to get elected?

The Constitution leaves everyone to make their own deductions. Article 63 that lays out rules for a person standing disqualified from running elections is no less confusing. The person stands disqualified on assorted grounds, including, if he has been convicted on grounds of corrupt practices, moral turpitude or misuse of power among other issues.

Misuse of power is defined as," to use incorrectly". This definition is broad based & applies to any elected person giving a "chit" of recommendation to embezzlement, and all shades of misuse in between and beyond.

Definition of moral turpitude states," Moral turpitude refers generally to conduct that shocks the public conscience. Offenses such as murder, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, robbery, and aggravated assaults involve moral turpitude." However, the examples stated here, are examples only. The bottom line is anything shocking public conscience. In case the readers are wondering, why the definitions, and why these details, permit me to state that this is to highlight the impossibility of the law and equal impossibility of it's application.

Article 63, like it's sister article 62 is silent as to how to deal with an elected representative should he have hidden the grounds that disqualify him from holding the position in the first place or he acts in this manner, after being elected, to stand disqualified from holding the position.

The salient features or pre-requisites that should have been a part of Article 62 and Article 63 are conspicuously missing. Missing is the requirement for the aspirant to be a single nationality holder i.e a Pakistani.

Though the law clearly states the aspirant must hold a Pakistani nationality, no where is it stated that the aspirant can be debarred from contesting should he have more than one nationality.

The rule of law should begin with those who make the law to rule. Dual nationality has inherent dangers. It can and does lead to conflict of interests. South Central St Catherine Member of Parliament, Sharon Hay-Webster, served with court papers for having dual citizenship by the Court.

The Court had ousted four Jamaica Labor Party Members of Parliament because there were found to hold dual nationality at the time of their nomination in 2007. According to a national English daily dated 23rd Feb. 2011, the Election Commission of Pakistan had decided to suspend membership of those parliamentarians who had dual citizenship.

However to another report says that the government remained silent on the fate of parliamentarians having dual nationality.

Missing also is the prerequisite that aspirants must not have business and assets in terms of properties outside of Pakistan. Does this lead to conflict of interests?

Missing also is an important requirement that an aspirant must declare his assets and with it, complete updated taxation history. According to a news report dated 13th March 2011, there are several politicians who may have even more money but have not declared their assets. (

There is nothing in Article 62 and Article 63 that may disqualify them on this ground from holding their seat. Abraham Lincoln once said," Do not interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained for it is the only safeguard of our liberties". I am sure, he could not have stated the same for our Constitution.

—The writer teaches in a Lahore based University.







With every passing day, the social scenario is changing as Pakistan is becoming weaker and people are getting frustrated due to the unexpected happenings taking place to grip over happiness, calm and prosperity with in the country.

This is just because of what we called frustration in Pakistani youth to which they spoil. A lot of people, particularly media personnel and political analysts, are talking about a revolution in Pakistan. They are saying that the conditions here are pretty similar to those of Egypt and Libya, i.e. rising inflation, unemployment and a weak security situation. Even though there are similarities, a very big difference is the great divide that exists in our society. This divide, based on ethnicity or sects, is deep rooted and is very hard to tackle.

Everybody seems to be fight just to achieve his own goals and objectives and also to fulfill his desires to have a prosper life. Not away enough to contemporary state of affairs, it was a time when a particular segment of society (Lawyers) was fighting for justice. They were of the view that justice will bring privileged comforts in the society soon but what happened after that, one can easily understand by examining current situation of political and social settings.

Once again the similar situation is prevailing simultaneously as slogans, demands, demonstrations, suicidings and agitation spreading everywhere but nobody is ready for how to tackle them. Provincial capital is also under the grip of such agitation where a defiant protest by the doctors has been started nearly a month ago is becoming worse yet their grievances triggered the patients into the helm of death. According to the reports, doctors from each school in Lahore and Rawalpindi blocked major roads and call for unending protest till the government meet up their demands.

Teachers, being an applicable part of the democratic society are on the roads to regularize themselves also. They are demanding constantly regardless of their take in for questioning holding placards inscribed with slogans in favour of their demands.

The role of police in this regard is not satisfactory because in a democratic setup, the police are supposed to assist a public protest and not disturb it; its role is not to stop the people from protesting and not to deprive them of their basic freedoms. The protesters are also supposed to remain peaceful and not to harm other persons and properties. In established democracies, even when crowds get violent and start damaging property, the police act against them with restraint. It has evolved several methods of effectively controlling the unruly crowds through less lethal ways, with less serious injury or loss of life.

Unfortunately, our police and other law enforcement agencies like Rangers, which are also employed to maintain public safety in big cities, have not been able to show this moderation and self-control while dealing with the rioting crowds.

The people are not content with the status quo that is one of the major reasons behind such culture of protests. Therefore, the demonstrators believe that they may get some relief either by appealing to public opinion or drawing the attention of the authorities; they hope to achieve their objectives through a peaceful struggle.

In recent times, the protesters have resorted to the tactic of blocking roads and highways to force administration so that the government come up with negotiations to satisfy them. It seems to have become quite an effective tool to make the incumbent leadership to listen to the people's voices and work in accordance with their wishes.

There are several instances when the protest campaigns aired on the media have forced the government to change its policies. For example, the federal government surrendered to the demands of the PIA employees and removed the Managing Director; and the Punjab government introduced a Healthcare Bill to strictly regulate the private doctors' practices following the protests held after the death of a minor girl due to the negligence of a doctor of a private hospital, in Lahore, in 2010.

Another cause of such anarchy is, indifferent attitudes of the Government officials towards public's grievances. The people have little access to the senior functionaries to proceed their complaints. There is no mores to listen public hearings and government is not much successful to build up an institutional mechanism to interact with civil society and the general public as well. If the government has the desire to monitor public attitude and the mood of the masses, it should reorganize its policies by keeping in view how to provide some relief to the general public.








Cricket World Cup history was made at Wankhede Stadium in Bombay when India won the Cup in a fiery and fiercely contested match with Sri Lanka. Brave knocks by Indian batsmen Gambhir (97) and Captain Mahender Singh Dhoni (91) not out. This enabled India to face the challenging target of 275 runs made by Sri Lanka particularly when two Indian stalwarts Sachin Tendulkar and Virendra Sehwag got out in the first few overs. The commitment and bravery of Indian batsmen who faced the flaming fast deliveries of Sri Lankan bowler Malinga whose run up to the wicket and speed of his frightening yorkers were faced by the Indian batsmen with great confidence and aplomb. One historic landmark of the match was possible retirement of cricket icon Tendulkar, who has turned 38, much before the next World Cup in 2015. Earlier, Sri Lankan innings was dominated by Mahela Jiawardhane who slammed 103 with thirteen boundaries.

With all the hype created by the media, particularly TV channels, people started believing that Pakistan Cricket team was invincible. The team itself came under intense pressure to win at all cost or face lynching by the people on their return to Pakistan, particularly if they lose against our eternal enemy-India. This was great injustice to the Pakistan team as well as to our TV viewers. Probably this was the reason that when Pakistan was playing against India in the semi finals, it lost its nerve and committed stupid mistakes both in batting as well as bowling. Earlier, Pakistan had won seven matches against formidable teams, losing only one match against New Zealand. This by any standard was Pakistan's best performance.

Unfortunately, however they came under great pressure when their time came to play against India's meager score of 261. India, no doubt was a formidable team, but Virender Sehwag who opened the innings with Sachin Tendulkar was out cheaply at 38 while Sachin was the highest scorer at 85, thanks to Pakistan's awful fielding when our fielders dropped his 4 catches - can anybody believe it? The rest of the Indian batsmen were out amazingly cheaply in this order - Gambhir 27, Kohli 9, Yuvraj O, Dhoni 25, Raina 36, Harbhajan Singh 12, Zaheer Khan 9, Nehra 1 run and 18 extras, thanks to Pakistan's awful fielding. The total score of 260 was easily achievable by Pakistan, but look what they did? Kamran Akmal 19, Muhammad Hafiz 43, Asad Shafiq 30, the great Yunus Khan 13, Misbah ul Haq 56. Umar Akmal 29, the great Abdul Razzaque 3, Captain Shahid Afridi of "boom boom" fame 19, Wahab Riaz 8, Umar Gul 2 , Saeed Ajmal 1, not out and 8 extra runs. Total score was 231. India won by only 31 runs.

The cricket historians will probably call it the poorest performance of a top class team which had already won 7 matches prior to this debacle. They could have won by making another 31 runs which it could not due to poor batting and poorer fielding and most of all lack of will to win.

A very senior player Misbah Ul Haq played a very slow innings standing on the crease till the end. One fails to understand his planning. Did he wish to keep standing till all other players went back to the pavilion showing his stamina to the crowd with slow hitting all the time?

There is need for a high level enquiry into the fiasco which deprived Pakistan of a comfortable win against India, and a possibility of winning the World Cup for Pakistan after beating Sri Lanka. Leaving cricket aside, one positive outcome of the meeting between Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Pakistani PM Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani in Mohali's pleasant and relaxed atmosphere is most welcome. They have agreed to take up all issues through dialogue and give their nations peace and prosperity. Both leaders expressed their desire to solve all problems through dialogue. They said they need to focus on dealing with their common enemy – inflation, poverty, hunger, unemployment and disease. Dr Manmohan Singh said a permanent reconciliation is required with Pakistan. Referring to the cricket match Mr. Gilani said it was instrumental in bringing the leaders of the two nations to meet and exchange views. He said winning or losing the game did not matter much, what matters is its quality and team spirit. The occasion also gave an opportunity to Prime Minister Gilani to meet the head of the ruling Congress party Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. Funnily, however she got her seat at the dinner table next to Mr. Rehman Malik. On their return from Mohali, Mr. Afridi once again apologized to a small group of fans gathered to receive him. The rest of the team landed at Lahore where they were received by Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif. A photograph has been published in newspapers showing some players sitting in a group with red rose garlands around their necks. It is pathetic. They look like orphans.

As regards Mr. Afridi's apology it cannot be accepted because as captain of the team it was his duty to play the Captain's innings and make up for the loss incurred to the nation's pride and prestige by his senior players. After all, Indian skipper Dhoni played the captain's innings with (91) not out.







Pakistan is a country which is depicting a picture of chaos and carnage. The terrorist attacks on Chehlum processions at Karachi and Lahore, killing at least 17 people, is a sad reminder of the ruthlessness with which the terror outfits strike at innocent people. The suicide bomber at the blast in Lahore is reported to be only 13 year old. The bravery of the security officials present at both the scenes should be regarded, as they put their lives at risk to stop the bombers from reaching their targets. It is quite unnerving how the terrorists have found the use of these child soldiers to be a productive strategy. It is also quite unsettling to exactly visualize, what might have been going through the boy's mind while he carried out the divine duty assigned to him. Are these suicide bombers even left with a proper functioning mind, after their indoctrination? What motivated and compelled this bomber to take his life and the lives of all those innocents? Did he not think for once of the families, he will be destroying or the children he will be orphaning? Or was he only driven by a blind rage that had been nurtured inside him?

Our society itself is now being driven towards a suicidal path, by the elements claiming to be the flag bearers of Islam. The path leads to a place where violence and terror are the only known laws of the land. Being fostered by state and non-state actors the menace of extremism has now crept up into the roots of our society. These suicide bombers are no more seen as humans but are mentioned, as if being items of a conflict, by all sides. Our nation has been divided into sects, camps and communities where the concept of dialogue and debate among these groups are considered as a weakness. These tendencies of using religion, as an excuse for committing mass murders have been part and parcel of Pakistan's history. The religious and communal riots in the 1950's and 1970's have been long before the era of proper radicalization started. In the 80's the only difference was that the religious zeal was invigorated at an official level.

Wherever in the world, there has been a conflict; there has been a deterioration of the social structure. This has been true for all the conflicts that have been plaguing this world in the modern era. From Asia, Africa to South America, every nation faces the same turmoil. It is the resolve of these nations in the face of the enemies, which will decide their fate. The war against extremism and terror has changed the entire social structure in Pakistan. Degradation of moral and ethical values has been cotemporary with this war. The ensuing campaign of deception and lies by the extremists has confused the nation. The terrorists want to use these lies as a tool to break the determination of our nation. The extremists have used religion as a politically potent force. This political utilization of religion has increased antagonism and militancy. Added to this, the use of religion to champion national causes has aggravated the situation further.

Over the years, presence of illiteracy, the downfall of economy and non-availability of basic rights to the average citizen of Pakistan, has engaged the sentiments of extremism to soar. The history of fascism can be compared with extremism, where societies lost their ethical values and failed to provide basic rights to a citizen. The situation was exploited by certain elements to gain power and the resultant was an even a greater horrific tragedy. Over the years, Pakistani society has lost its ability to hold a lucid dialogue among itself. Differences amongst various quarters are decided through the barrel of a gun. Whether the grievances are ethnic, political or religious, they have remained unresolved due to the extremism in our society. As days pass on our people seem to become more stringent in their views. The concept of the world, becoming a global village does not have any implications on our nation. Someone once said, "Extremism is so easy. You've got your position, and that's it."

The value of the human life within our society has fallen to an all time low. The public, media, state machinery and terrorists refer to the casualties in this war as a statistics. The daily news of tens of people being killed throughout, do not even mostly make the headlines. What people have stopped realizing is that, when someone is killed it is not a single life but a lot of other lives which are being affected.

The future of all those associated people is disturbed. The actual casualty is not only that single person, but also the other four, five, ten or twenty people associated with them. Islam is a religion of peace and it preaches us first and foremost the value of life, where someone taking their life or someone else's in vain is assigned the deepest pit in hell. Surprisingly, our society has grown immune to these senseless killings and considers this conflict nothing more than a bad image. The image of our society, our country and our religion has been tarnished by such events, along with the sanctity of life that has been disfigured.

Although extremists in Pakistan have never enjoyed any public support, but it is the fear they instill, that holds the majority hostage. The silent majority of the country is in part responsible for the events that are taking place today. From time to time this majority has shown its activism, in the time of crisis, but has become dormant after a short period. The introduction of religion into politics was due to the political vacuum left behind by the disruption of democratic process. This amalgamation has produced an ideology, which has emerged as a threat in the form of extremism. Democracy cannot be measured as a treatment for all ills facing our society, but the democratic process keeps everyone under check, that prevents someone from overstretching the line. Our youth plagued by various social and economical ills have embraced these extremist ideologies, in their misplaced perception to achieve spiritual tranquility. Instead their frame of mind is manipulated and their sentiments are inflamed. Their grievances are channelized by the terrorists for their own vested interests.

During the last ten years at least 33000 casualties have been reported in the war on terror. The threat of terrorism is there and quite real. This is not someone else's war but our own. The children of our country are the foremost victims of this menace.

We will have to take measures to stop this threat, for the sake of our children. The people of Pakistan will have to fulfill their duties as an individual and also synergies their efforts as a community to stop it from destabilizing our social structure. It is should be our resolve not to permit violence in the name of religion and discourage such elements, who do so. The proliferation of hate ideology in the nation, by various groups will have to be curtailed, if extremism is to be controlled. There is a need to cultivate a mindset of tolerance and optimism, among the people.







Border protection policy has too often been dominated by emotional posturing rather than hard-headed analysis of the facts. So it's encouraging to see that some who opposed John Howard's hardline policies now are prepared to make the link between Labor's softer approach and the sharp rise in arrivals. On the ABC this week, prominent refugee campaigner Robert Manne told former prime minister Kevin Rudd: "I think the Left is wrong to say, and you're wrong to say, that your policy didn't get the boats to return." Professor Manne claims it was a mistake to believe that "humanising" the policy would not attract more boats and that the Left generally "has been dishonest about that question."

For a decade, Professor Manne has been as compassionate and welcoming to asylum-seekers as he has been outspoken in his denunciation of former prime minister John Howard and his policies. In Professor Manne's view, those policies were ruthless and cynical. "Howard's greatest strength," he once wrote, "has been his capacity to translate his prejudices into political assets." Yet confronted by the facts of what has transpired since the dismantling of the Pacific Solution, Professor Manne has recognised that those policies worked. Developing his argument over the past year, he has conceded that after an initial influx of asylum-seekers suffered in offshore detention, countless others most likely were spared detention because the boats stopped -- the people-smugglers were put out of business. He now contends that rather than opposing any form of offshore processing, refugee advocates should focus on lobbying for an increase in the annual humanitarian immigration intake.

While we might disagree with his rhetoric, we applaud his common sense. The Left does not have to accept all of Mr Howard's politics to recognise the best of his policies.

The Australian believes a strong border regime with offshore processing is a compassionate option because it stops an evil trade that endangers lives. We favour doubling the humanitarian intake to show the issue is the trade, not the refugees. The government should listen to Professor Manne and stop denying the obvious. Instead of opening mainland detention centres and pursuing the folly of East Timor, it should look to Nauru or PNG to reinstitute offshore processing.






As public apologies go, it doesn't get much more dramatic than Kevin Rudd's performance on national television on Monday night. The former prime minister would argue that he broke no Cabinet rules because Labor's divisions over an emissions trading scheme were already in the public arena. Whether that's right is perhaps irrelevant: the manner in which Mr Rudd opened up on ABC TV's Q&A program is the real story.

His candour about the decision to delay the ETS last year has caused maximum problems for his successor, and there's even a chance it could improve his perceived legacy as prime minister. Clearly, Mr Rudd feels that admitting he got it wrong could neuter his backflip on climate. But, while taking responsibility for his actions and stating he would not "dance around this on eggshells" is disarming, it is unlikely to work in the same way Bob Hawke's public admissions of drinking did. Clearing the decks is a necessary precursor to any hope Mr Rudd might hold for a return to the party's leadership. The Foreign Minister seems to believe that support from the electorate can help rebuild his political standing. But pitching to the nation via television, as he did on Monday, is likely to only increase resistance to him inside the party room. On Q&A, his claim that some in Cabinet wanted to abandon the ETS last year was riveting, if not strictly new, and Mr Rudd played it to the hilt.

The problem for Ms Gillard is twofold. She needs Mr Rudd inside the tent because she cannot afford a resignation and a by-election. Nor can she afford to look weak as she responds to the Foreign Minister's actions. Secondly, while the Australian public still can't quite figure her out, Mr Rudd has a clear identity, which voters can either embrace or dismiss. He is attempting to stare down his colleagues, seemingly positioning himself as smarter and better equipped to run the country than are they.

His mea culpa could not have come at a worse time, with this week's Newspoll showing Labor on a two-party preferred rating of 45 per cent against the Coalition's 55 per cent. Yet Ms Gillard cannot escape responsibility for Labor's difficulties. Her failure to lay out a clear policy agenda since she took Mr Rudd's job leaves her vulnerable to destabilisation. The electorate appears to be taking its time when it comes to trusting her, yet some clear policy initiatives to address voters' economic concerns could improve the relationship no end. We will never know whether Mr Rudd's plan, which he outlined early last year, to put productivity growth at the top of his agenda would have saved Labor from its near defeat in the August federal election. But there is no doubt that Ms Gillard's policy gap -- and her focus on a potentially costly carbon tax -- is playing badly with voters.

Yesterday she declined to rebuke Mr Rudd and tried to relegate the whole affair to the annals of history, while also refusing to reveal whether she had wanted to kill the ETS. All very messy, and suggesting it will not be easy for her to manage the Rudd factor, given her lack of traction with the electorate. The Prime Minister has no option but to focus on building a clear policy platform and good governance. Trying to silence her Foreign Minister would seem to be unlikely to work.








Shared values are vital in every society but in a functioning democracy such as ours, where there is broad agreement on key beliefs, politicians are best employed pursuing policy, not pontificating on lifestyles and life choices. The argument over values that is beginning to eat up too much political oxygen is one that would not be under way if the Gillard government had managed to show voters what it stands for and what it wants to do. It is Julia Gillard's failure to convince voters by her deeds that has forced her to try to win them with words. Rather than attacking the Greens on family values, the Prime Minister should be attacking policy bottlenecks that threaten prosperity.

Instead, she is mired in a product-differentiation exercise created by her decision to form an alliance with Bob Brown and his colleagues. It was the price of minority government but it has clouded the Labor brand. More than seven months after the election, Ms Gillard is still something of a mystery to the electorate, with her party's unpopularity reflected in today's Newspoll. Labor's national profile is fuzzy, a perception problem made worse by the paucity of real policy and causing increasing difficulties for the government.

This has become evident in recent days as Senator Brown has responded to the Prime Minister's comment in her Whitlam oration in Sydney last Thursday that while the Greens have some "worthy ideas", they "fail to understand the centrepiece of our big picture: the people Labor strives to represent need work." She went on: "The Greens will never embrace Labor's delight at sharing the values of everyday Australians, in our cities, suburbs, towns and bush, who day after day do the right thing, leading purposeful and dignified lives, driven by love of family and nation."

Whether or not this was intended as a dogwhistle on the Greens' push to legalise same-sex marriage, it is now being used to accuse Ms Gillard of homophobia. At the least, her comment opened the door -- not just to the Coalition and Senator Brown but to her erstwhile colleague Mark Latham. Yesterday, the former Labor leader was busy testing the boundaries with his comments to ABC Radio National's Fran Kelly about the lack of empathy of Australian women -- and, one assumes, men -- who choose not to have children. His gratuitous insult to Kelly in the middle of an interview did not deter her: she pursued Mr Latham tenaciously as he outlined the Prime Minister's alleged emotional deficit. These sentiments have no place in our politics, yet Ms Gillard is to blame for a policy vacuum all too easily filled by her critics.

Doubtless Labor thinks it will do better with mainstream voters by dishing it up to the Greens. But any advantage is likely to prove fragile unless Labor gets back to the real job of government -- burning up the road with policy action and outrunning its rivals, as Paul Keating so neatly put it just last week. That former prime minister was not a natural fit with many voters. Like Ms Gillard, Mr Keating could polarise public opinion in a way that Bob Hawke never did. Yet Mr Keating's policy credibility was so strong that he was able to withstand voter resistance for much of his career. Ms Gillard is attempting to adopt the reform image of Mr Hawke and Mr Keating, yet she is a long way from demonstrating capacity to formulate, sell to the electorate and implement the policies needed to ensure Australia captures the full benefit of the boom.

Indeed, as editor-at-large Paul Kelly wrote in The Weekend Australian, Labor is going backwards, with an industrial relations system that works against an economy where flexibility and productivity are more important than ever. How can Ms Gillard suggest she is standing in the shoes of these former Labor leaders when she is an unabashed proponent of the 1907 Harvester judgment that argued against market forces and in favour of wages based on employee need, not on an employer's ability to pay? As Kelly wrote, that "unresolved contradiction" lies at the heart of Ms Gillard's prime ministership.

It is a contradiction not lost on voters, who remain unconvinced by her occasional "vision" speeches about policy. To date, Ms Gillard's efforts have centred on three taxes -- the flood levy; the mining tax; and the carbon tax -- all seen by voters as imposts rather than improvements. The most contentious at the moment is the carbon tax, which this newspaper, while supporting action on emissions, finds hard to envisage as a positive economic measure.

In a modern, tolerant country such as Australia, voters ultimately will not judge Ms Gillard on her personal choices around marriage and family but on whether she can deliver policies that improve the opportunities offered to their families. Cost-of-living issues, not the living arrangements of our politicians, should decide elections. The Prime Minister needs to move on from a values debate that is proving a distraction from the real job of addressing the challenges facing the nation.








GENETIC engineering is inherently controversial as it confronts us with a world of unknowns. How much more controversial, then, is research that ventures into the making of mother's milk, the epitome of natural wholesomeness? The Age letter writer who wondered what ''our Frankenstein scientists'' will do next is not alone. The subject does not lend itself to coolly rational discussion, but genetic modification is no bizarre gimmick. Gut reactions are a poor way to settle issues of global consequence.

Australians should be mindful that they are lucky enough to be spared the hunger and disease that GM products can help solve. When crops fail in the developing world, famine results. A GM sweet potato is resistant to a virus that could destroy most of Africa's harvest of this staple food. Rice with GM-boosted vitamins and iron could overcome chronic malnutrition in Asia. Research promises to create bananas that offer immunity against diseases such as hepatitis B and cattle that are resistant to mad cow disease. Potential crop yield increases are greatest in the developing world, where food shortages and record prices have triggered widespread unrest. GM crops can be grown with less water, energy and soil loss because of reduced tillage. These benefits cannot simply be dismissed when the alternative to a GM ban is disease and suffering.

Chinese scientists' development of cows that produce human-like milk brings the debate closer to home. Introducing selected human genes into dairy cows enabled them to produce the natural proteins and other compounds that characterise human milk. GM cow milk is like human breast milk for a simple reason: it is made using the same genetic coding. Breast milk protects babies from infection and optimises their growth and development. Do we insist that Australians who rely heavily on inferior formula milk continue to do so, instead of taking advantage of the new alternative? The harmful effects of the reliance on formula milk are even greater in developing countries.

The fear of the new and unknown is extraordinarily powerful. Yet for generations people have selectively bred animals and plants, relying on uncontrolled genetic mutation, instead of knowingly choosing specific genes. We ingest ''foreign'' DNA every time we eat and have safely done so for millenniums. GM milk is not foreign to us, because the code for making it is in our DNA. Our bodies are already a lucky dip of once-foreign DNA, starting with mitochondria, genetically distinct bodies of bacterial origin that are the powerhouses of all our cells.

For decades, a real-world experiment in eating GM food has taken place in America, which grows about half the world's transgenic crops. These include soybeans, corn and canola. GM organisms also give us fibres (cotton), medicines (most of the world's insulin, human growth hormone, blood products and unique drugs) and vaccines (measles, rabies and hepatitis B). When oil runs out, we may be grateful for GM plants that produce plastics to replace petroleum products. Many GM products are unobtainable any other way.

GM critics do have valid concerns. GM animals suffer high rates of mortality and illness (highly selective breeding has similar effects). Plants that readily cross-pollinate can spread new DNA. The goals of food security and poverty reduction are inconsistent with control of GM rights by a few corporations. For some people, the violation of the natural order is reason to reject all biotechnology. Certainly, GM products should be identifiable to people who wish to avoid them. That is their right.

However, if we are to remain a society guided by rational argument, we should weigh the pros and cons for every GM product based on testable scientific evidence. The alternative to an informed debate is fearful ignorance, which has rarely served humanity well. That is likely to be true even of something of such primal value as mother's milk.






 KEVIN RUDD'S admission on Monday that he was wrong as prime minister to have shelved plans for tackling climate change has opened a new, intriguing front in Australian politics. Looking relaxed on ABC TV's Q&A, the Foreign Affairs Minister made a rare confession for a political leader: ''On balance it was a wrong call, for which I uniquely am responsible.'' Coincidentally, Malcolm Turnbull, a former Liberal leader, has been speaking out on another issue that has troubled some voters with liberal instincts: the dismissal by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, of Julian Assange, the Australian who founded WikiLeaks, as a law-breaker.

Their remarks come as the centre ground of federal politics is up for grabs. Both Gillard and the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, are struggling to capture voters' imaginations. This partly explains a drift of federal votes to the Greens, on whose parliamentary support Gillard's minority government depends. As the first anniversary of his unseating by Gillard approaches, Rudd seems to be seizing a chance to trail his coat as a figure who is prepared to speak out more boldly than his successor, whose grasp on power remains tenuous.

Much as it will anger some of his colleagues, Rudd's frank, if overdue, explanation of the climate change decision that brought about his downfall may at least help put this political curse behind him. Some of Gillard's utterances, by contrast, seem strained. She is labouring to sell the climate policy's latest incarnation to voters, and she has oddly provoked a fight with her Green allies with slights against them in her Gough Whitlam Oration last week.

By speaking out for Assange's right to free speech, Turnbull was wedging Gillard from another angle: as the leader who failed to respond to calls by some prominent figures overseas for an Australian citizen to be assassinated. In drawing parallels with Margaret Thatcher, against whose Conservative British government Turnbull successfully won a free speech case 25 years ago, Turnbull possibly had Abbott obliquely in his sights as well. Having taken the Liberal Party further to the right, Abbott has shown scant propensity to debate such liberal issues. While Turnbull speaks about a past legal and political triumph, Abbott's material image sits more comfortably with a six-day bike ride from the Gold Coast to Sydney he joined this week.

Neither Rudd nor Turnbull could expect the party leaderships they once held to come easily to them again. Nonetheless, with their latest remarks both seem to be strategically cultivating the all-important centre ground.






IN THEIR opposing remarks about the possibility of a second airport for Sydney, the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, and the federal Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, have encapsulated all the reasons why the project is needed yet has never been completed.

Albanese knows why it is needed. As MP for an inner Sydney seat crossed by Mascot's flight paths, he knows the tribulations of hundreds of thousands of residents. As Infrastructure Minister, he knows Sydney Airport is approaching full capacity and knows its management wants the curfew relaxed. Albanese rightly opposes this, and rightly wants to start work on a second airport to relieve the pressure - which will soon be bad enough to create airport delays elsewhere around the country.

O'Farrell believes the airport will never be built in the Sydney basin because - although he puts it another way - no politician who nominates a site there will survive. Unfortunately O'Farrell, too, is right - as the long, discreditable history of this will-o'-the-wisp project shows. Badgerys Creek is the awful warning here: the groundswell of protest at the Hawke government's decision in 1986 to site a second airport there cost Labor western Sydney seats in 1996. Having won the west, the new Howard government cancelled Badgerys Creek, declaring Sydney might never need a second airport. That always sounded short-sighted, and so it has proved. Badgerys Creek is only the last depressing episode in a long saga that has demonstrated a failure of vision, planning and political willpower at all levels for almost three-quarters of a century.

Albanese, minister in a government on a knife-edge, is clearly wary of re-entering the same dry gully. A federal-state taskforce is assessing sites such as Richmond and Camden, alongside others further afield: the central coast, Newcastle, Canberra. The Sydney basin, in other words, is no longer the only option.

O'Farrell says he has ''always believed in'' a very fast train linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. Cost considerations aside, that might indeed reduce the number of interstate flights to and from Sydney, and postpone the need for a second airport for a while. It might also link to a second airport beyond the Sydney basin when one does become necessary. But for airports and railways the lead times are long. Work should start soon. If O'Farrell is serious about this alternative, as he should be, he must answer some important questions. Where is the route to run? What are the plans? Who will operate it? And where is the money?







It is easier to identify practices that block social mobility than policies that produce it. The sort of thing that does not help is the recent Conservative fundraising auction at which rich parents purchased internships for their children at top City firms. Less shaming but more typical are the three-month unpaid internships flagged on the Liberal Democrat website. As with voluntary experience on offer in barristers' chambers and other top workplaces, any graduate can apply, but graduates whose parents have large London homes and the means to support them will be more likely to do so.

Nick Clegg yesterday published a plan making the welcome if modest suggestion that Whitehall internships will be advertised properly, not dished out via family connections of the sort that he was immediately and churlishly taunted for having relied on in his youth. Beyond SW1, it is hoped that businesses will volunteer to untangle themselves from the old boy net. A few have made that promise, but there is no obligation on others to follow suit.

Internships can only be one tiny part of a response to the social sclerosis that politicians of all stripes routinely lament. Mr Clegg's document was similar in tone to several that Gordon Brown published. While the evidence on whether mobility is worsening is mixed, it is plainly too low, and that needs to be said. But what matters is how words translate to deeds. The cabinet's offer to go into schools and give pep talks to teens was deemed to merit a special box in the strategy paper, suggesting that real policies were in short supply. The Lib Dem funding premium for poor pupils has a valuable role, although in this climate it is more about alleviating the cuts than anything positive.

Steps up the class ladder take place over entire generations, so five-year governments know they cannot be judged by results. The Telegraph enthusiastically reported that the issue was as much middle-class kids as the deprived, and it seems mobility talk can mean all things to all men. The BBC's gently teasing brainbox Evan Davis asked minister David Willetts whether the plan amounted to the hope that all government policies would work well.

To see where the real priorities lie, follow the money. A decent settlement was this week offered on pensions, even though the elderly are as unlikely to climb the class ladder as they are likely to vote. Meanwhile, from today, working families will see tax credits snatched away faster as they earn, child benefit frozen and a huge cut in childcare support. The message of yesterday's separate strategy on child poverty was that there is more to life than cash. That's as may be, but for poor parents hoping their children might do rather better, every little helps.






Net evangelists are most persuasive when they talk of tearing down barriers to knowledge – of a world where a farmhand can pick up a cheap laptop and freely pick from the freshest fruits of the human mind. A Library of Alexandria in which all humanity held a card would indeed be an institution worthy of Plato's Republic; but try to access contemporary scholarship with the actual web and you get tangled up. While the stated aim of academic journals is disseminating ideas, they throw barbed wire around themselves and keep the interested public out. If charges were needed to keep scholarly bodies and souls together this might be necessary, but contributors, referees and even editors are frequently unpaid. Experts publish in big-name journals to advance their careers, but they are reliably happy to email a PDF to anyone who asks for one, recognising this as the only way to get their papers read. Perhaps the ivory-tower publishing racket will one day come crashing down. In the meantime academics serious about public erudition must consider their options. Wikipedia offers them the same opportunity, and poses the same frustrations, as it does for everyone else. Many heroes do chip in for anonymous glory, as is evident from the briefest glance at the best of the entries. But too few scientists and particularly literary scholars are willing, so Wikipedia is undertaking a survey to get to the bottom of their reticence. Fresh means must be found to lure big brains into the world's biggest seminar.





Indiscriminate warfare, as opposed to deliberate killing, was undoubtedly Israel's state policy

It is difficult, in this digital world of instant claim and rebuttal, to say that you were wrong. But Richard Goldstone's retraction of one of the claims of the report that he chaired – that Israel targeted civilians in the war on Gaza as a matter of policy – is one such instance. Mr Goldstone deserves credit for honesty. It is another matter altogether to decide whether all the other claims of a 575-page report are now invalidated. The Goldstone report was a fact-finding mission, not a judicial inquiry. It was not a document of verdict, but put forward evidence for further investigation. So which facts caused Mr Goldstone to retract? Three, principally: that the shelling of a home in which 22 members of one family died was the consequence of an Israeli commander's erroneous interpretation of a drone image; that the officer was still under investigation; and that Israel has since investigated over 400 allegations of operational misconduct. Had he known then what he knows now, he concludes, the report would have been very different.

Two of the three other members of the mission disagree with their former chairman's change of heart. Hina Jilani, who served on a similar fact-finding mission on Darfur, said that nothing changed the substance of the original report, and Desmond Travers, an expert on international criminal investigations, still feels the tenor of the report stands "in its entirety". Mr Goldstone has parted company with the other members of his mission. It is therefore worth returning to the original report. The retracted allegation refers to the attack which killed 22 members of the Samouni family, who, following instructions from Israeli soldiers, were sheltering in a house in Zeitoun. But there are 35 other incidents that Goldstone's team investigated. It found seven cases where civilians were shot leaving their homes waving white flags; a direct and intentional attack on a hospital which may amount to a war crime; numerous incidents where ambulances were prevented from attending to the severely injured; nine attacks on civilian infrastructure with no military significance, such as flour mills, chickens farms, sewage works and water wells – all part of a campaign to deprive civilians of basic necessities. The key paragraph of the report states: "The Mission finds that the conduct of the Israeli armed forces constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of wilful killings and wilfully causing great suffering to protected persons and as such give rise to individual criminal responsibility." On the Samouni killings it states that even if it amounted to an operational error and the mission concludes that a mistake was made, "state responsibility of Israel for an internationally wrongful act" would remain. All of this still stands, as does the charge that Hamas's rockets deliberately targeted Israeli civilians.

Clear to one side the superheated flak of the debate today. It arises from Israel's current international isolation, of which the Gaza operation formed only a part. It is now said that the Goldstone report became the cornerstone of a campaign to delegitimise Israel. None of this is relevant to what happened in Gaza between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, events which led to the deaths of 1,396 Palestinians, 763 of whom, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, were not taking part in hostilities when they were killed. The report did not in fact claim that Israel set out deliberately to murder civilians. It said that Operation Cast Lead was "deliberately disproportionate" and intended to "punish, humiliate and terrorise". That charge stands unanswered. Indiscriminate warfare, as opposed to deliberate killing, was undoubtedly state policy. Shooting the messenger is always easier than dealing with the message itself. This time, the messenger had the grace to shoot himself. It does not change what happened in Gaza, nor what will happen the next time war breaks out.








SINGAPORE — If China and other Asian nations shy away from atomic power following Japan's nuclear crisis, would it intensify the impact of climate change on the region?

The question is no longer hypothetical. Many governments have already announced reviews or delays of programs to use nuclear reactors to generate electricity. Whether warranted or not, each new report of radiation leakage from the stricken Fukushima plant in Japan is increasing public and political opposition to expansion of nuclear power.

One of the attractions of this technology is its ability to produce large amounts of electricity over long periods of time without emitting the huge quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels, especially coal for power and heavy industry, and oil for transport. CO2 is the main man-made global-warming gas.

Asia is at the epicenter of both nuclear power expansion and vulnerability to climate change. This is a key reason is why governments in the region, especially China, made commitments to invest in nuclear power.

The World Bank group and the Australian government's Overseas Aid Program (AusAid) warned in a joint report last year that "sustaining economic growth without compromising the environment is the greatest energy challenge facing East Asia over the next two decades." Its survey covered China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Echoing an earlier study by the Asian Development Bank, it described the Asia-Pacific zone as among the world's most vulnerable regions to climate change threats, including sea level rise.

Huge numbers of people live on low-lying coastal land and islands. They would be threatened by seawater inundation and displacement. There are 130 million in China alone and another 40 million in Vietnam, about half the total population.

Another major vulnerability listed by the World Bank and AusAid is food crop yields, which are projected to decline in Asian countries due to rising temperatures and more extreme weather.

East Asia's turbo-charged economic growth has lifted millions out of poverty. It is the best hope of reviving growth in the United States and Europe. However, Asia's dynamism has come at a heavy cost in terms of damage to the environment and quality of life. Choked by toxic emissions from coal and oil burning, East Asia has many of the world's most polluted cities.

The region's GDP, after adjustment for inflation, is up by nearly 400 percent since 1990. But in the same period, energy use has risen by 150 percent and harmful sulfur dioxide emissions by 150 percent.

East Asia's CO2 emissions have more than tripled in the last 20 years — led by China, which relies heavily on coal for energy. China accounts for 80 percent of the region's energy consumption and 85 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions.

If East Asia continues business as usual, its air pollution and CO2 emissions will double in next two decades.

"East Asia will contribute hugely to climate change and hurt its own citizens," Andrew Steer, the World Bank's special envoy for climate change wrote in a recent blog. "In the process, the region would severely compromise its energy security as almost all its major countries become highly dependent on imported energy."

Yet the World Bank-AusAid report said that it was technically and economically feasible for East Asia to take a greener path, with local air pollution half that of the business as usual scenario by 2015 and CO2 emissions 40 percent less.

Under such a program, the CO2 emissions of China and the five Southeast Asian economies could peak in 2025 and decline slightly thereafter. Half the gain would come from improved energy efficiency. But power generation would also need to shift dramatically from coal to renewable energy (chiefly hydro, geothermal, wind, biomass and later solar power), nuclear energy and natural gas. The latter is the least carbon-intensive of the fossil fuels.

If East Asian governments put the right policies and incentives in place, the share of low-carbon technologies in meeting East Asia's power demand would triple to around 50 percent, from just 17 percent now.

However to achieve this target, the World Bank-AusAid report said that nuclear power would need to contribute about 15 percent of the region's power generation by 2030. Almost all of this nuclear energy expansion would come from China, "because of the government's aggressive plans to boost nuclear power."

Before the massive earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima plant, nuclear power was set to play a big role in China's program to increase the share of nonfossil fuels to 15 percent of its overall energy mix, up from some 8 percent today. That is why the future energy choices of the world's biggest coal burner and largest CO2 emitter are so important.

Beijing faces several critical decisions. After a safety review, it can continue its planned nuclear expansion, while accelerating plans to use more advanced and safer reactors and spent fuel storage systems. Or it can scale back nuclear power. The vital questions would then be: how much of China's substitute electricity generation would come from carbon-intensive coal or less carbon- intensive gas, and how much from low- or zero-carbon renewable energy?

Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore.







WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The Japanese people have demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to respond to both natural and human-made disasters with remarkable resilience. Our sympathies and thoughts are with them as they face the aftermath of this disaster.

It is far too early to know the full costs of the current nuclear crisis for Japan and the rest of the world. Even so, we can begin to consider lessons for the future. Recent events underscore several concerns that nuclear skeptics have raised for decades. Many of these problems are the product of human and mechanical frailty.

Simply put, humans make mistakes. We will never design a perfectly safe nuclear power plant. We will always have incomplete information about the nature and level of threats to these power plants. Assuming otherwise demonstrates hubris, and increases the risk of being unprepared for catastrophic events.

A related issue is that events do not always conform to forecasts. The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant had multiple levels of provision for backup power. But the emergency plan assumed that the infrastructure in the surrounding community would be undamaged, which was not the case.

This disaster also demonstrates that short- and long-term nuclear waste disposal is a critical issue. One particularly vulnerable part of the Fukushima No. 1 power plant appears to have been the spent fuel ponds. We do not yet know whether the storage tanks remain intact. We do know that the backup systems were inadequate here as well.

In addition, climate change research suggests that the world is likely to experience more — and more severe — weather-related events in the future. This means that existing estimates of nuclear power plant vulnerability to such events are likely to be understated.

This tragedy serves as a warning to other countries that have been pursuing the so-called "Nuclear Renaissance." China's government has already shown its sensitivity to this issue by halting construction of new nuclear power plants.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has taken a contrary approach. It just authorized a 20-year extension of the operating license for the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which has already been in operation for nearly 40 years. The NRC did so even though the Vermont Yankee design is similar to that of the Fukushima reactors.

Instead of proceeding with business as usual, governments should impose a moratorium on nuclear power plant licenses and license extensions. This moratorium should remain in place until independent, impartial analysis demonstrates that each plant can survive far more complex and serious threats than those against which the plants were originally designed.

The bottom line is that we have to consider the full costs of decisions about future energy sources, rather than only counting the short-term costs. Taking long-term costs and risks into account dramatically increases the attractiveness of both conservation measures and more aggressive work on alternative energy sources.

Natalie J. Goldring is a senior fellow with the Center for Peace and Security Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington.







CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Should more countries create independent fiscal advisory councils to infuse greater objectivity into national budget debates?

Jailed swindler Bernie Madoff recently summed up a lot of people's feelings about fiscal policy, declaring that "the whole government is a Ponzi scheme."

Perhaps this was just wishful thinking from a man who will die in prison after his own record-breaking $50 billion pyramid scheme collapsed in 2008. Personally, I suspect Madoff's unenviable place in the record books will be secure for quite a while. Still, with many of the world's largest governments facing a lethal combination of unsustainable conventional debt, unprecedented old-age pension obligations and a downshift in growth, one has to wonder what the fiscal plan is.

In a new paper, "A Decade of Debt," Carmen M. Reinhart and I show that general government debt in the United States, including federal, state and local debt, has now surpassed the record 120 percent of GDP reached at the end of World War II.

Japan, of course, is in even worse shape, with government debt totaling more than 200 percent of GDP. Though this is partially offset by foreign-exchange reserves, Japan now faces massive disaster-relief costs — and this on top of its depressing demographic trends. Many other rich countries' debt levels are also uncomfortably close to 150-year highs, despite relative peace in much of the world.

There is a no easy way out. For now, low world interest rates are restraining debt-service costs, but debt levels can be reduced only very gradually over long periods, whereas real (inflation-adjusted) interest rates can rise far more quickly, even for rich countries. Debt crises tend to come out of the blue, hitting countries whose debt trajectories simply have no room for error or unplanned adversity.

The single most immediate and direct impact of having an independent fiscal policy would be to reign in spending by producing a counterpoint to Panglossian government growth and revenue forecasts. In principle, an independent and respected advisory council could also force governments to acknowledge the hidden costs of government guarantees and off-balance sheet debts.

It is high time to consider novel approaches. Of course, no one simple change will eliminate the huge bias toward deficit spending in most modern political systems. And no one simple change will preclude the risk of future debt and inflation crises.

Many countries require sweeping reforms to make their tax systems more efficient and their entitlement programs — including their pension schemes — more realistic.

The recent advent of fiscal advisory councils is a promising institutional start. A number of countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, the U.S., and Belgium, have long-standing fiscal watchdog agencies, such as the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO). But, while these older institutions have proven enormously useful, they are typically quite constrained. The CBO, for example, is free to issue long-term fiscal projections based on its own best estimates of growth, but is largely forced to accept politically implausible future "fixes" at face value, somewhat neutralizing the potential effectiveness of any critique of deficit policies.

To enhance credibility, a number of governments are gingerly moving toward creating fiscal councils with greater independence, often with central banks as a role model. The new vanguard includes councils in Sweden, the United Kingdom, Slovenia and Canada.

The remit of Sweden's fiscal council is particularly broad, giving it a mandate not only to forecast, but also to look more deeply at the motivations and consequences of government policy. In principle, an independent fiscal council could have provided invaluable help during the financial crisis. In the U.S., such an agency could have weighed in on the costs and benefits of bailout plans, perhaps helping to end congressional paralysis and steeling nerves to give taxpayers more upside risk.

It is too much to expect that these new fiscal institutions will become as important or powerful as central banks, at least anytime soon. There is far more consensus over monetary policy than over fiscal policy. And fiscal policy is far more complex and multidimensional. Still, the general principle seems like an important step toward fiscal sanity.

Of course, fiscal councils by themselves are not enough, no matter how well designed they are. It will remain very tempting for each generation to say, "My grandchildren will be two or three times richer than I, so who cares if they have to pay some debt?"

Moreover, the political cycle creates a very strong deficit bias, as leaders seek to embellish feelings of economic health and prosperity by raising visible expenditures at the cost of hidden debts and lower long-term investment.

To resist these powerful pressures, fiscal councils will need to have their work audited periodically by international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund, both to protect their independence and to promote accountability.

To be sure, Madoff may yet be proved right, and his will not turn out to be the biggest Ponzi scheme ever. But greater transparency and a more systematic independent evaluation of government policies could be a very helpful step toward solving the perpetual conundrum of outsized deficits. It is certainly one of the more innovative and promising ideas to emerge from a rather barren policy landscape.

Kenneth Rogoff is professor of economics and public policy at Harvard University, and was formerly chief economist at the IMF. © 2011 Project Syndicate






In most elections, the person who collects the most votes is declared winner and takes the office that was contested. Not in the Ivory Coast. There, incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to leave office after losing to former Prime Minister Alessane Ouattara.

The result has been a protracted civil war that has claimed hundreds of lives and forced as many as 1 million people from their homes. An end may be in sight as Mr. Ouattara's forces have broken the stalemate and taken control of much of the country. But Ivory Coast remains polarized and the new president will have to heal its deep and enduring divisions.

Mr. Gbagbo has been president of Ivory Coast since 2000. A respected opposition politician at the time, he took office after a contested election that the then president, Mr. Robert Guei, claimed to have won. Mr. Guei was run off by opposition protests who claimed he stole the election. Mr. Gbagbo was installed as president a week after the ballot.

A coup against Mr. Gbagbo was launched two years later. It ultimately failed, but it triggered a civil war that raged for two years and concluded in a messy ceasefire. The president's term expired in 2005, but elections scheduled for that year were postponed as a result of the ongoing war; Mr. Gbagbo kept putting them off until the ballot was held late last year. There were two rounds of voting, but the long slate of candidates kept anyone from claiming a majority. Mr. Gbagbo prevailed in the first round, forcing a runoff between him and Mr. Outtara.

That vote, held a month later (late November), produced contested results — each candidate announced he had won. The entire certification process descended into farce: At one briefing by the national election commission, a pro-Gbagbo supporter seized and then tore up results before they could be revealed. After the commission, an ostensibly independent organization, announced that Mr. Outtara had won — an outcome that was certified by the United Nations — the president of the constitutional council ruled those results were invalid and the next day declared Mr. Gbagbo the winner.

Since the election, Mr. Outtara has been a virtual prisoner in a hotel in Abidjan, the commercial center of Ivory Coast: He has been surrounded by troops loyal to Mr. Gbagbo and protected by U.N. peacekeepers. He set up a radio station in the hotel and has been making regular broadcasts to the public. Forces loyal to him have seized control of large swaths of the country, including the capital Yamoussoukro, but Abidjan is still contested. That situation may not last as the president's troops begin to defect. The army chief of staff deserted last week, as has the head of the military police, signs that the loyalty of the security forces may soon shift. Mr. Gbagbo still has deep pockets of support in the city, however, with several youth militias providing considerable firepower. There are reports that unidentified gunmen released inmates from the country's largest prison, a desperate move to sow confusion and destabilize the country.

Mr. Outtara enjoys broad international support. His election victory was recognized by the U.N., the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, along with other international monitoring groups. The U.N. has backed its call for Mr. Gbagbo to step down with a freeze on his foreign assets and a travel ban on him, his wife and his top aides.

On Monday, U.N. peacekeepers and French forces started attacking Mr. Gbagbo's strongholds in Abidjan. Sadly, the most important determinant of Mr. Gbagbo's future is likely to be the crumbling support of his institutional base within Ivory Coast rather than the legitimacy he enjoys domestically and abroad.

In short, brute force continues to legitimize authority, not the other way around. That is a sad commentary on affairs in Ivory Coast and within Africa (and wherever such a situation exists). The crudest measure of its significance is the 500 lives that have been lost as a result of violence in recent months and the estimated 1 million people who have been forced to flee their homes.

That is a story that has been told several times over in Africa. It is the narrative that has prevailed in Zimbabwe where President Robert Mugabe remains in power courtesy of single-minded efforts to exterminate any and all opposition to his rule. Events in Libya and Yemen follow the same logic — there, the leadership has not even attempted to hold free and fair elections for fear of the results.

Ivory Coast is best known for being the world's leading producer of cocoa. It could, however, become known as the place where African nations drew a line in the sand and refused to tolerate the crude exercise of power politics on their continent. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan explained last month the importance of developments in Ivory Coast: If Mr. Gbagbo wins, then "elections as an instrument of peaceful political change in Africa will suffer a serious setback."

The legitimacy of that process will be further enhanced if Mr. Outtara can unite his nation after years of civil war and end the grievances that have corrupted the hopes of many Ivorians. It is a difficult task in the best of times and one that has become even harder in the aftermath of this vote. International help cannot end when Mr. Gbagbo leaves office. Mr. Outarra will continue to need support and assistance.








The House of Representatives leaders' insistence on going ahead with building a Rp 1.16 trillion (US$118 million) super luxury 36-story office t ower despite taxpayers' fierce objections is extremely fishy.

House Speaker Marzuki Alie showed off a semblance of arrogance when he rejected his Democratic Party's initiative to conduct a survey of public opinion about the project. He maintained there was no need to consult the public in this controversial affair.

Last year, following a public outcry regarding the project, the House decided to suspend the mega-project, but recently announced they would in fact go ahead with the construction project in June. Their compromise was reducing the estimated cost from an initial Rp 1.8 trillion.

Critics have questioned the need to spend Rp 800 million of taxpayers' money for each of the 120-square-meter room in the ultra cozy building, when the existing offices can still comfortably accommodate the 560 House members and their supporting staff.

The House leadership says the old office tower, Nusantara I Building, is terrifying because it is slanting, but this has become a public joke because a recent Public Works Ministry survey found the structure was perfectly OK.

Then legislators have clung to the flimsy argument that they badly need bigger and better spaces to improve their performance.

As they did in the past, some politicians — unconvincingly claiming to represent their political factions — are trying to appease public resentment by pretending they too are not very happy with the project. This sit-com style acting is obvious from the deafening silence of the House's political factions on the issue.

As we know, these factions are the mouthpiece of the political parties in the House, and are the actual decision-makers. Those clumsy voices of individual legislators do not count.

The politicians' stubbornness has come amid public scathing criticism of lawmakers' performance, which — interestingly — they have blamed on the old, less modern and ill-equipped office building.

The legislators' poor performance in lawmaking, which is their main job aside from the state budgeting and supervision of the executive branch of bureaucracy, is legendary. Over the past decade of the reformasi era, they have never achieved the targets they set. Last year, for example, they managed to accomplish only 14 of the 70 bills they had committed to endorsing into law.

Public criticism has not discouraged lawmakers from making costly unaccountable overseas trips for the dubious purpose of "comparative studies" on lawmaking. Corruption continues to mire the legislative body with dozens of lawmakers having been jailed or standing trial for graft.

The plan should be canceled and the money be reallocated for urgent projects now with the public increasingly feeling the pinch of economic difficulties.

Just imagine, the Rp 1.16 trillion would be enough to build some 11,000 elementary school buildings, or to pay the health insurance of 22 million poor citizens who are powerless to the skyrocketing medicine prices.

The legislators should show the public their moral integrity and achievements to make us all proud before they come out with an idea for an impresive new workplace. How come legislators can ignore the objections and the plight of the people they represent?

Instead of living in an Ivory Tower, the lawmakers, as representatives of the people, should instead reach out to and do their best for their constituents.






Just like many other people, I was overwhelmed when the massive earthquake struck Japan on March 11, 2011. While reading news about how resilient Japan had been in facing the disaster, a friend of mine sent me a news link. It was about how the quake had displaced Japan by more than 2 meters.

"What was its impact on borders between countries?" my friend asked. The question was apparently about borders at sea (maritime boundaries), since Japan does not share land territory with other countries. He might have imagined the case of international borders like a fence sitting between two houses. When one house shifts relative to another, should the fence also be moved?

My friend's question really made me think. Whether maritime boundaries can change due to the change of a coastline as a consequence of a natural disaster is a valid question. From a broader perspective, when coastlines change, for whatever reason, will the limits of a state's maritime entitlement also change? Let us take a closer look.

The first key issue to address is: What is the basis for claims to offshore areas? In fact it has been well established as a principle of international law that "the land dominates the sea". That is, claims to maritime jurisdiction over areas of the ocean arise on the basis of sovereignty over land territory. Thus, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a coastal state like Japan or Indonesia is entitled to maritime areas or zones of maritime jurisdiction, the breadth of which are measured from its baselines. In most cases, baselines are, in fact, coastlines during low tide.

Measured from these baselines, a coastal state can have territorial sea out to 12 nautical miles (nm), a contiguous zone out to 24 nm, exclusive economic zones (EEZ) out to 200 nm and a continental shelf out to up to 350 nm or more from baselines. Analogous to a home, the maritime entitlement is like a house having front, back, and side yard around it.

Imagine there is a state in the middle of the ocean with no neighbors nearby. The state is allowed to define the limits of its maritime area pursuant to the Law of the Sea Convention without a need to deal with other countries. This is called a unilateral process. However, in reality, every state around the world has at least one neighbor. That is, every coastal state's maritime claims overlap with another neighboring state or states giving rise to many maritime boundaries to be settled, worldwide.

Like at home, front fences can be built unilaterally but side fences must be settled with neighbors. For the case of a state, a unilateral border is usually called the "maritime limits" and a bilateral one with a neighboring state is known as a "maritime boundary".

Baselines play an important role in defining maritime limits because baselines are the reference from which maritime limits are measured. Similarly, baselines are also vital in constructing maritime boundaries between states. When baselines shift, will maritime limits or maritime boundaries also move? Yes, maritime limits can shift if baselines move.

The shift of a coastline due to, for example, land displacement as a consequence of an earthquake, sea level rise, or erosion requires coastal states to redefine their baselines. This involves surveys and mapping, particularly hydrographic surveys. In many cases, coastlines shift landward so that baselines also move landward and consequently land territory shrinks.

Since maritime limits are measured from baselines, they too will move landward. In this case, the total area of land territory and maritime area decreases. They shrink.

How about if the whole area of an island is displaced, like what happened to Japan's Honshu Island? In this case, the shape and size of the island might not change but its coastlines/baselines have certainly shifted. Consequently, maritime limits will also move relative to the "new" location of its baselines. This requires a technical investigation, which includes accurate surveys and mapping to identify the spatial extent of the shift.

While maritime limits can shift due to changes to coastline/baselines, this is not the case for maritime boundaries. Once agreed by two or more states, maritime boundaries stay where they are. Maritime boundaries do not change unless the parties in question agree that the boundary in question should change.

Indeed, boundaries and boundary treaties have a privileged place in international law. The 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (Article 62 (2) (a)) states that boundary treaties are excluded from the rule that a party to a treaty may invoke "a fundamental change in circumstances" as grounds for terminating a treaty.

In addition, the 1978 Vienna Convention on Succession of states in Respect of Treaties (Article 11 (a)) also provides that a change of states does not affect a boundary established by a treaty. In other words, agreed maritime boundaries are fixed in terms of location even if baselines from which they are constructed have shifted.

To answer my friend's question, the displacement of land territory and the change of coastline will not alter agreed maritime boundaries established bilaterally between neighboring states. However, it can change a coastal state's unilaterally-defined maritime limits. If we think of a home, once again, the front fence that is defined unilaterally may shift due to the shift of the house but not the side fence that has previously been agreed to with neighbors.

Will the size of Japan's maritime area change due to potential shift of its maritime limits? It all remains to be seen. Thinking of maritime limits and boundaries does not seem to be the first priority for Japan at the moment.

Nonetheless, it is good to be aware that the time to deal with it will certainly come not in the very far future. This is not only applicable to Japan but also to other coastal states in the face of their coastal instability due to natural disasters, sea level rise, or land subsidence.

The writer is a lecturer at the School of Geodetic Engineering, Gadjah Mada University. His research interest is in the technical/geodetic and legal aspects of maritime boundary delimitation. This is his personal opinion.





We had the book bombs last month, but now Jakarta has received another "bomb": The shocking news of the possible closure of the HB Jassin Literary Documentation Center. My heart sank: It's the largest archive of Indonesian literature in the world, a key repository of our cultural heritage. How could it be scrapped?

Officially, the center opened in 1976, but its origins go back to 1932, when Hans Bague Jassin, a young bookworm and writer, started a private literary collection. Born in 1917, he gradually amassed not just books but also newspaper clippings from before World War II, as well as documents from the newly independent republic and the early years of Soeharto's New Order.

Now his collection includes 18,000 books of fiction, 12,000 non-fiction works, 507 reference books, 812 plays, 16,774 clippings, 875 biographies, 571 papers, 630 dissertations, 732 audio recordings, and 15 video cassettes — and new material keeps pouring in.

At first, Jassin kept this massive collection in his private home, located in a narrow street in Central Jakarta, until it began to take over. It then moved to the National Language Center on Jl. Diponegoro, Central Jakarta, before getting a real home at Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) Jakarta Cultural Center in 1976, courtesy of the enlightened then governor of Jakarta, Ali Sadikin.

It was on Jl. Diponegoro that I first met Jassin. I made my debut as a writer in 1972 by winning two
literary competitions with essays on Iwan Simatupang, an avant-garde Indonesian novelist. I was keen to research him but he had died in 1970.

Jassin had known Iwan personally, so much of my research was digging out what he knew. Like many Indonesian writers back then, Iwan did not document his work. In addition to novels he wrote plays, political letters, poems, essays and short stories, and these were all scattered across a range of cultural and literary magazines. But Jassin had painstakingly collected them all — even Iwan's handwritten letters. Thanks to his foresight, I had access to a treasure trove!

So the news that Jassin's wonderful Center might close hit me hard also because of the personal connection I had with its founder: Pak Jassin had become a father figure to me. This was not surprising, given both our common love of literature and the fact that he was such an affable, unassuming and generous man. I found excuses to go to see him just to chat with him, sitting for hours in front of his huge wooden desk, always strewn with books, papers and documents.

Several years later, I found another reason to meet my literary father figure. In 1978 I was carrying out research on Lekra, the cultural organization of the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) for my bachelor's degree in London, and Pak Jassin helped me out once again. While this was the last time I spent with him, as soon afterward I moved from literary studies toward sociology and activism, I have always felt I owed him a huge debt of gratitude. In fact, Indonesia itself is forever indebted to him for preserving our priceless literary heritage.

Sadly, our nation's priceless literary heritage doesn't seem to matter that much to the Jakarta provincial government. Nope, it seems to prefer life in the fast lane, believing that supporting fast cars is more important than Jassin's center. In February, it gave Rp 2 billion to the management team of Indonesia's first Formula 3 race car drivers, but only Rp 50 million to the HB Jassin Literary Documentation Center (see Go figure.

OK, so Governor Fauzi Bowo later realized his mistake and gave instructions to help the HB Jassin Center, but it's still shocking that the mistake was made in the first place. Funding is not the only problem. Space, personnel and the legal status of the center are also pressing problems. Do Fauzi and friends really care enough to save it?

Ever since I was young, I've wondered why the teaching of Indonesian language and literature was so boring. My Bahasa Indonesia classes involved a lot of rote memorization, and there was nothing to stimulate love of language, let alone literature. That was 40 years ago, and little seems to have changed since then.

For the last 12 months I've been working on translating my English language writing into Indonesian. Obviously I couldn't do it all myself, so I had to find translators. Eventually I managed to find some good ones, but it was like looking for needles in a haystack.

My publisher, JJ Rizal, just happens (ahem!) to be the secretary of the HB Jassin Foundation. His publishing house, Komunitas Bambu, does lots of translations, and he says he has the same problem.

"There are many people who understand and speak English well, but very few who can transform it into good Indonesian," he said. "That's because of the way Indonesian language is taught at schools."

We have a saying "bahasa menunjukkan bangsa," which means roughly, the ability to speak and express oneself well in one's own language shows that the speakers of that language are civilized.

So, judging by our command of our "native" language and our literary heritage and how little we care about it, how civilized are we?

Our nation's priceless literary heritage doesn't seem to matter that much to the Jakarta government.

The writer ( is the author of Jihad Julia.





Oil subsidies have become a serious topic for the government. Both the coordinating minister for the economy and finance minister do not hesitate to speak openly about a possible reduction of oil subsidies.

This is understandable because Indonesia's status as a net oil importer since 2003 has stirred a panic every time world oil prices spike. The state of panic will be more severe if price volatility far exceeds the estimate used to draft the state budget.

While the government will not subsidize high-octane Pertamax and promises to improve the distribution of subsidized gasoline, Premium, the fear of turmoil in world oil prices continues.

This shows that the government is fully aware and more realistic about increasing oil consumption, while realizing that oil production is declining.

Based on the latest British Petroleum data released in 2010, Indonesia's oil production fell by 3.5 percent while consumption increased by 3.2 percent annually over the last 10 years. Without fundamental changes, in the next 20 years fuel consumption will almost double, and more than 80 percent of this will be met through imports. Whoever governs this beloved republic will surrender to oil price shocks, except if Indonesia emerges as a wealthy nation.

Actually, there is nothing wrong with subsidies, as long as they are allocated to important things and reach the right parties. But in practice, Indonesia's fuel subsidy is neither effective nor educative and is enjoyed mostly by the rich. According to Pertamina president director Karen Agustiawan, private cars consumed 46 percent of subsidized fuels, followed by motorbikes with 39 percent and public transports with 15 percent. From a geographical point of view, 59 percent of the subsidized fuels were distributed in Java and Bali.

There are at least three points we need to consider related to fuel subsidies. First, the subsidy is intended to secure economic stability rather than boost the grassroots economy. Second, due to the poor quality of public transport services, the ownership of private vehicles is on the rise. Third, the high dependence on fossil fuels indicates a low energy diversification.

There are energy efficiency (EE), energy diversification (DE) and renewable energy (RE) measures in place, but these have apparently been unsuccessful. Why?

First, in general, these programs are not running well due to lack of seriousness and focus. As a result, nothing is done. Everyone is busy only when the topic is hot. One of the victims is the Jatropha biodiesel program. Second, there is no adequate coordination and commitment between parties related to energy. This causes no sense of responsibility and belonging. Third, a lack of funds and mastery of technology stand between Indonesia and these programs.

EE, DE and RE programs require that the government formulate and implement appropriate solutions. To promote EE, public awareness of energy conservation should start now, using all public information and education tools, such as the media, schools, etc.

Then, the master plan for Mass Rapid Transportation (MRT) should be immediately executed, especially in big cities. Bureaucratic barriers to this plan must be cleared. In addition, the government should strictly restrict the use of older vehicles, which are more inefficient in terms of fuel consumption.

If necessary, the government should think of unusual ways to streamline economic activities without compromising growth, for example, by optimizing economic activities during weekdays. Germany's experience in implementing business activities for 5.5 days a week should be considered. It needs a comprehensive study, particularly on its negative impacts on low-income people who work in the informal sector.

The government has to make full use of advancements in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to reduce mobility. Business-based e-marketing and other types of work that can be done from home must be supported. This will significantly reduce fuel consumption.

For DE, the promotion of gas for vehicles should be supported, although it is not a long-term solution. The most important thing is to guarantee the availability of its distribution. Indonesia's gas reserves can last for 44 years (BP, 2010), but they will quickly run out if explorations increases.

For RE, the development of biodiesel from Jatropha planted on degraded land is a step in the right direction. Of course, this will improve the people's economy and reduce the burden on the city from the energy side. Furthermore, small and medium industrial vehicles that run on electricity need to be developed.

If Indonesia wants to avoid an energy crisis in the future, the long-term solution has to begin right now. Please do not hesitate to cut oil subsidies, but please invest more in the development of EE, DE, and RE.

The writer is a researcher at the Solar Energy Research Group, Vehicle Systems Engineering Department, School of Creative Engineering, Kanagawa Institute of Technology, Japan.








While millions of Sri Lankans were talking, thinking and waiting amid hope and tension for Saturday's Cricket World Cup final between Sri Lanka and India, the government quietly slipped in the shattering news that the prices of petrol, diesel and LP gas were being increased from midnight Friday. Earlier reports indicated the government would wait till the National New Year to raise fuel prices as world prices keep on soaring because of the continuing turmoil in the oil-rich Middle East.Soon after the local council elections on March 17, Petroleum Resources Minister Susil Premajayantha said the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation was incurring unbearable losses and discussions were being held with the Treasury on the extent of the price increase. Apparently the cabinet at its meeting last Wednesday decided to increase fuel prices and also to delay the announcement till Friday night in the hope that world cup enthusiasm and expectations would soften the impact.

Whatever the motives or strategy, the game is over, the World Cup lost and millions of suffering people who are struggling to find even two proper meals a day will now have to pay more for transport and hundreds of items, mainly because of the huge Rs.238 increase in the price of a 12.5 kg cylinder of LP gas. Government leaders are boasting of mega development plans to make Sri Lanka the model of Asia but for millions of people those are mere words which they cannot eat just as they can't eat the world cup. They are helpless, powerless and voiceless. The main opposition United National Party (UNP) is still embroiled and divided by leadership battles, thus being unable to provide a credible alternative or effective leadership to the people who are weary and heavy laden.

Immediate relief must be provided to the people. Though world oil prices are beyond the control of the government, hundreds of millions of rupees could be saved if immediate steps are taken to curb rampant corruption especially among political leaders and other VIPs. Several more hundreds of millions of rupees could be saved to provide relief to the people if political leaders set the example in stopping wasteful luxury spending and their indulgence in vulgar extravagance.

Ironically the vital first step toward prosperity is austerity – a simple humble life style or 'alpechchathavaya' which has been a hallowed tradition in our culture and civilization for more than 2,500 years. If a modern example is needed, Mahatma Gandhi provides it in full and overflowing measure. He lived a simple life, sought no power or prestige, personal gain or glory. Yet his influence was so astounding that he became the key player in the movement that eventually toppled what Winston Churchill thought was the most powerful empire on which the sun would never set.

If our political leaders continue to indulge in an extravagant lifestyle, spending lakhs or millions of rupees on non essential events or ventures while ignoring millions of people who are struggling to survive, because of the high cost of living, then it might be a case of providing the fuel for a blazing crisis similar to what we are seeing in the Middle East where in Egypt for instance some 40 per cent of the people live below the poverty line while the ousted Mubarak Regime was a den of corruption and robbers with a family fortune estimated at a staggering US$80 billion.






 The Kantale dam breached twenty five years ago, in April 1986.  It cost 176 lives, LKR 65 million in relief only, LKR 186 million to repair the dam, uncounted amounts to repair damage to infrastructure, livelihoods and private property and still haunts the survivors.

 But do we remember?  Have we done what needs to be done to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of our people living in the shadow of the dams?  We have 12,000 small dams and 350 medium and large dams dotting our country.  Of these, more than 200 small dams breached in the successive floods of 2011 and greater tragedies were avoided by emergency action on larger dams.  Countless livelihoods were damaged. 

But has there been any impact on perceptions in Colombo among decision makers and the media, with the honorable and significant exceptions of the Minister of Irrigation and officials of the World Bank funded Dam Safety and Water Resource Planning Project?

We are trying to change that with the 2nd LIRNEasia Annual Disaster Risk Reduction Lecture and Response Session at the BCIS Auditorium (BMICH premises), at 1600 hrs on the Wednesday, the 27th of April.  An expert on dam safety policies in the Netherlands, Dr Aad Correlje, will lead off.

 The people of the 'wev bendi rajje' affected by poor dam safety policies will be represented by a community leader and a documentary about Kantale.  There will also be responses from government and the dam professionals.

 In Sri Lanka, authority over dams is highly diffuse with multiple ministries and entities having responsibility for dams in the same river system.

 In the Netherlands, the Directorate for Public Works and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat) or the water boards that raises revenue from all the landholders who receive protection have responsibility. 

To have separate governance systems for water appears consistent with our history and the Velvidane system.  LIRNEasia proposed that maintenance be funded from user charges (Velvidane Panguva); are there alternatives?  Sustainability of the repairs done under the Dam Safety Project is a critical issue.

In his writing Dr Correlje talks about a shift of emphasis to anchoring policy on the probability of flooding.  Is it possible to make the information such as inundation maps publicly available so that probability of flooding can be calculated in Sri Lanka, and then insurance used as a mechanism for managing that risk?

It appears that climate change is being factored into Dutch policy thinking on water management.  Two repeated periods of heavy rainfall caused major damage in Sri Lanka in the early part of 2011.  One may argue that this is what climate change looks like and that we must rethink the design of reservoirs to accommodate these kinds of events that will occur more frequently if climate change takes hold.  What can economists and policy scientists say about this?





The Sri Lanka Chamber of Pharmaceutical Industry notes with much concern, the reported shortages of drugs in state hospitals. This is indeed a serious matter, which needs an immediate and permanent solution.

Similar shortages of drugs were last reported sometime back when the Minister Mr. Minister Maithripala Sirisena took over the Health Ministry, and the monstrous problem was already causing serious issues for Government Hospitals and medical institutions.

It was during these troubled times that the SLCPI was consulted for the first time by the Ministry, to assist with this matter concerning pharmaceutical supplies to the Government. Hitherto, discussions on medicinal drug supplies to the Government were discussed exclusively at the Health Ministry and State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) who is the sole procurement agency for the Ministry.

Involving the SLCPI was a correct step taken by the Hon. Minister at the time, considering that any drug, whether it is supplied to the Government or the Private sector, has to be registered with the Drug Authority by the manufacturing Company's local Agent in the case of a foreign products or in other cases by the local manufacturer direct. Sri Lanka is about 90 per cent import dependent on pharmaceuticals. Therefore the world's leading pharmaceutical suppliers are represented amongst the Members of the SLCPI. SLCPI consists of over 90 per cent of the pharmaceutical importers (Local Agents) who represent such overseas Manufacturers. There are only a few Companies or Persons who are not on our Member list, probably because they deal only in bulk imports or they are only interested in participating in Government Tenders.

The Ministry's first consultation with the SLCPI took place with the participation of the Chamber's full member ship. "This was on our part, a show of hands to co-operate with the Minister who was actively seeking a solution to a National problem. However, it came to nothing because at the same time, a futile attempt was made by the SPC to procure drugs in the most unorthodox manner by a sending contingent of their officials to India at high cost. At the meeting the Hon. Minister warned the SPC that this should be treated as the last occasion, he would tolerate drug shortages and urged all parties to have a continued and ongoing dialogue to resolve problems related with pharmaceutical supplies."

Be that as it may, today we are once again faced with the same problem of shortages and quality issues, which has the Minister in the forefront threatening drastic action against defaulting suppliers. Although this type of deterrent action might be a necessity given the current scenario, it will also have a far-reaching effect on our future supply of essential drugs to this country.

While we understand the need for such punishment of wrongdoers, we also note that interested anti-pharma ideologists have over played the issue of this national problem, proposing antiquated methods to the Government that would result in worst situations. "This is where the SLCPI can step in to offer our fullest cooperation to the Health Minister and SPC by identifying issues and finding intelligent solutions."

In briefly running through the issues, the procurement process of pharmaceuticals need to be understood not only by those concerned but also by the Auditor General's office. This is important as the final decision of tender awards should not be based on a 'one size fits all' criteria, since the procurement of building materials or dry rations is not the same as purchasing pharmaceuticals. Tenders for pharmaceutical supplies should take the following parameters into consideration:

n    Past records of reliability and timely supply
n    Past records of established quality failures
n    Confirmed records of supplies to other markets
n    Duration of business activities
n    Good knowledge about international price levels of active ingredients.

n    Standards of manufacture (GMP, TGA ,FDA etc)

n    Production capacity
n    Any other references in respect of the supplier.

This type of database should be available and tabled for proper decisions on the tender awards. Today we find tender awards are made strictly on guidelines of pricing where unscrupulous suppliers who manage to outsmart the Regulatory Authorities in getting through the initial registration procedures and then participate at international tenders offering ridiculously low prices for the finished product which is far below the international price levels of the basic active ingredients it is supposed to contain.

However, all of this makes it clear that at the root of all the shortages and quality issues is a procurement problem. Therefore it is vital to make tender procedures more transparent. There should be time frames for every step of the tender procedure i.e. predetermined times for tender boards, awards, indents, L/Cs etc. and participants must be informed within the specific time period. This will earn greater acceptance and recognition of the SPC amongst suppliers. The safeguards against irregular suppliers such as Bid Bonds and Performance bonds must be executed well on time subject to proper evaluation of any reasonable excuses for delays, which should again be limited to a fixed time frame.

The SLCPI once again reiterates that it is fully dedicated to, and assure the Government of the President and the  Minister of Health its fullest cooperation to ensure the supply of reliable, safe and efficacious pharmaceuticals to Sri Lanka's health sector. And as much as this has been done to a great success in the non-governmental sector, the Chamber fervently hopes that this matter will be resolved in the state medical sector, in order to reach a similar level of efficiency.

Ananda Samarasinghe
Sri Lanka Chamber of

Pharmaceutical Industry









Q: Your contender for the post of Party Leader, maintains he's comfortable taking a 'step backwards' in the leadership battle: once you vowed you wouldn't stop till he became victor. Are you disheartened?

Yes, I would say I am. This fight was not personal. It was nothing to do with camps. I was purely working for the betterment of the Party because I as a people's representative can feel their vibes regarding the Party. The cadres wanted a paradigm shift- they feel that unless there is such a change we can't beat this system. They felt that we need a new leadership and mandate. And if I couldn't feel this then I'm not fit to hold office. I was speaking on their behalf. And the change they wanted was readily available in Sajith. We changed the Constitution to change the perception that we were an undemocratic party.

Ultimately however the Working Committee decided this was not the right time for complete change and for that I believe he took a step back- to have unity in the Party. Maybe he felt he had enough time. In a way I feel this combination is fine. My personal view anyway was that Mr. Wickremesinghe should remain as Opposition and senior leader and Sajith to take on Party Leadership. But the collective view of most of the people was that Sajith should take on Party leadership without much concern for the Opposition leadership. But everyone was of the view that Mr. Wickremesinghe should remain as the senior leader, because his experience, knowledge was of immense value to the Party. That was never disregarded. It was a matter of working out a formula that was acceptable to the people. Anyway I'm happy with what happened at the last WC, and that Sajith was willing to take second place. I'm only hoping that Sajith will be given more responsibility and a free hand to do what he has to do.

Q: Was there sufficient discussion within your group before the decision was made?

 The decision was even by the previous night was for him to have more powers as Deputy. There were some demands that were laid down- he was basically fighting for those demands, but unfortunately part of it was given, part of it was not. There was a compromise between him and the seniors, which he was willing to accept. The decision was that if he got his demands he'd remain as Deputy Leader otherwise to go for the Leadership. That was the decision of the group. He was quite happy with the compromise- eventually it is his choice.

Q: Are you happy with the powers he is left with?

It's not about the power; I think he has been given enough to reorganize the grassroots. The Sajith I know will not take no for an answer. If he's not given a free hand I don't think he'll stand for that. He would fight for his and others' rights. I believe that things will work out and they will work together- an amicable working condition. I believe he's strong enough to do the right thing- not just him Karu, Tissa and Jayawickrama Perera.

Q: So you don't see this as a defeat of what your group wanted?

I don't see it as a defeat. We were trying to bring the Party back as a forceful opposition. There were those who felt Mr. Wickremesinghe was not marketable enough- it is all about that today. So there were these groups and talks about who should be taking the leadership. But I personally and the group knew his value. I'm sad that the public didn't. He was defeated so many times unfortunately because the people couldn't see that value in Mr. Wickremesinghe. His vision to move this country forward was not seen. The Party sees it- there isn't a single moment when we thought we need to oust him completely. It is a matter of striking a balance.

Q: Is this the balance you looked for?

No, this is not the balance we looked for- or the people. My personal view was that he be senior leader and Sajith Party leader. The people wanted him to take on a role on par with Mr. Wickremesinghe. I wouldn't look at it as a defeat- but a positive sign now that everybody is united. We're very hopeful. I hope we can work to bring the Party together and shun our differences and focus on national issues. For that this would be a good balance.

Q: Are you concerned that the support base that Sajith had, would feel let down?

He still does. I think he has addressed their concerns over the weekend and explained why he took a step back. It's a good sign of a leader to take a step back- the Party cadres would accept that. That Sajith hasn't left the Party hierarchy is something that the supporters would appreciate- and that he's working with Mr. Wickremesinghe to get the Party together. People haven't given up- they still want to see him up there. He also has much to learn from Mr. Wickremesinghe- we all do- he has to groom the next Leader.

Q: What will you do differently to bring in to effect, the reforms you sought?

The reforms will take place. The UNP has to be restructured. The new WC has to be appointed before the 12th of this month. For that the sub Committees have to be in place which will happen during these 2 weeks. The Party hierarchy has to put those bodies in order and run them effectively- the Constitution was changed to allow for greater democracy, structure strengthened and powers devolved. The key issue was to appoint the Office Bearers- which took place. In those appointments the people were looking for a change in leadership- the change that we saw was Sajith becoming Deputy Leader. The Committee of 6 including leader, two deputies, General Secretary, National Organizer and Chairman have to sit together and decide on the other bodies. The National Organizer has to be appointed now.

Q:But the post of national organizer is again raising similar controversy- your group's candidate, Ranjith Maddumabandara's nomination was shot down by Mr. Wickremesinghe?

In all fairness Mr. Wickremesinghe said allow others to come in as well and then get consensus on that. As far as I'm concerned Ranjith Maddumabandara is the only nominee who has come to Sirikotha- if there are others they should forward their names. There has to be an elimination process or go for an election. So the WC can decide what to do.

Q: But Mr. Wickremesinghe is not keen to allow any internal elections to choose office bearers for the Party as he announced last Wednesday?

That's his opinion. No one can go beyond the Constitution. We have to work according to the Constitution.

All these show an element of disharmony still remaining in the Party.

I believe that the only thing not settled is the appointment of the National Organizer. Once that is done either through consensus or vote, the six of them can decide who the others are. To the public it may not seem a conducive environment, but I'm hoping we can settle this issue and we can work towards the betterment of the Party and the country without concentrating on internal issues.

Q: Once these are settled you'll have to decide on your strategy for bigger political battles. Who is the likely Presidential candidate; Ranil, Karu or Sajith?

I don't think there's any fight inside- just some compromises reached. I believe the candidate would be Sajith. He will groom himself- he has plenty of time to get the Party strengthened. If he has the freedom to do what he has to, he will be a formidable candidate to oust the President.






AXTripoli is tapping for peace. The embattled Libyan leader's desire to discuss an end to fighting is instantly meaningful.

But how NATO responds to this gesture in the middle of a war, won't be difficult to guess. The very fact that Col Muammar Gaddafi's power base is eroding at home and many of his notable aides, including his foreign minister, have abandoned him will come to reflect his inherent weakness in negotiating a deal. Moreover, the rage in fighting between the pro-and-anti-government troops, which now doesn't heed to a proper command structure and is wayward in substance, hints at long drawn disturbances. This is why Gaddafi will need to do a lot of homework before knocking at the doors of the European capitals for a cessation of hostilities. He can make a viable beginning by extending his desire to step down and handover the reigns of power to a broad-based coalition. Anything short of that gesture is unlikely to work.

The visit of Libyas deputy foreign minister, Abdelati Obeidi, to Athens in which he reportedly carried an SOS from Gaddafi doesn't seem to have been appreciated. One of the prime reasons for this setback could be the fact that Gaddafi failed to substantiate it with a blueprint for ceasing fire. Similarly, it doesn't offer a political solution, which seems to be now almost impossible under his authority. France and Britain, who spearhead the air strikes, and are gearing up for a subsequent resolution from the United Nations to roll in their tanks inside the ill-fated country,  may hardly bother with such half-hearted initiatives. The onus of making the gesture click lies squarely on Libya, and the least it needs to do is to respect the UN resolution and cease hostilities unilaterally on its own people. The cat-and-mouse chase that is going on from Sirte to Benghazi is only compounding the situation on ground, resulting in severe (human casualties.

While exploring a meaningful outcome, it has to be kept in mind that it shouldn't come at the expense of Libyas territorial integrity. The quick-fix solutions that are being offered like partition of the country leading to control of revenues from the oil ports, including Brega and Ras Lanuf, are condemnable.

The African Union and the Arab League, who had floated a host of proposals to mediate for crisis resolution, should step in at the earliest.

Brokering a political dialogue between the regime and rebels is a must, and should come to follow an immediate ceasefire. There is hardly any time to keep fingers crossed.





There were reports in the media that the Sri Lanka (SL) Govt. was very concerned about the meeting that took place with the participation of the US State Dept. Assist. Secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian affairs ,Robert Blake, the Global Tamil Forum and the British Tamil forum. The principal reason for this concern was, this meeting was being convened in the interim while the report of the UN Panel appointed by UN Secretary Gen. Ban Ki Moon to investigate the SL war crime charges is about to be released.

It is reported that the Heads of the Global Tamil Forum prior to meeting Robert Blake had met Sonia Gandhi in London. At the discussions with Sonia, the Global Tamil forum has emphatically made a singular request: that is not to impede or obstruct the international investigation into the SL war crime charges. India is of course equipped with a number of devices to obstruct the investigation if it so desires. One of them is the closed door Diplomacy, exerting pressure on the Western countries including America not to launch the war crime investigations. The other is , India by its own intervention can defeat the resolution to decide upon whether war crime charges against SL shall be tried or not, when it is taken up at the UN security Council or at the UN human rights Council. The Global Tamil Forum specifically requested Sonia Gandhi not to stand in the way of such an investigation. If it is the policy decision of India not to support the war crime charges which are being levelled against SL, the Global Tamil Forum urged Sonia to remain silent. What was Sonia's response to this request is unknown.

However, the view of the representatives of the Global Tamil Forum was, their meeting with Sonia
was a success. At the meeting, Sonia had expressed that she is very concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. When replying to evidence of breach of international law and crime against humanity , Sonia Gandhi had said, ' I have myself seen that video and we are very concerned'.

Whether the SL Govt. focused its attention on the meeting between Sonia Gandhi and the representatives of the Global Tamil Forum is obscure. Whether the SL President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he toured India to witness the world cup cricket match planned to meet Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister and hold discussions regarding the UN panel report and the war crime charges is also unclear. But , according to informed sources , there had been no Mahinda- Manmohan Singh meeting . The war crime report going to be released at about the time the Tamil Nadu State elections is close at hand has aggravated further SL's concern and apprehensions. The UN panel report is also about to emerge out at the time of the Indian State elections when the Indian Opposition party is earnestly waiting to grab the opportunity to mount charges against Sonia Gandhi and her Govt. that they extended support to the SL Govt. to go ahead with the war . In case the report recommends an international investigation into the SL war crimes ,what policy decision India will take in that event will have a direct impact on the Tamil Nadu State elections. Presumably , Sonia stood by the SL Tamil people when she met the Global Tamil forum in London bearing in mind that the Tamil Nadu elections is round the corner.

When the Heads of the Global Tamil Forum and the British Tamil Forum met with Blake subsequent to their meeting with Sonia Gandhi , 'The Hindu' newspaper made a disclosure based on the Wikileaks cables which story none other had been able to reveal; that is , America with India's support was engaged in an operation to dismantle and destroy the Int. chain which supplied arms to the Tamil Tigers. 'The Hindu' reported that via the Wikileaks cables it became known that this operation was commenced by America when the SL war broke out in 2006, and India had approved this operation.

'The Hindu' carried the following report in this regard :

'Two International contact groups to check LTTE fund raising and arms purchases were initiated by the US concerted International action to curb fund raising and weapons procurement by the LTTE started in the first half of 2006 , around the time Sri Lanka 's fragile ceasefire broke down and all out war started . It was the United States that unveiled and initiated the plan to create two international contact groups , one each to move against fund raising and weapons procurement by the LTTE…..'

It is discernible from this that the prime reason for 'The Hindu' to publish this Wikileaks cable message at this point of time is probably to remind the SL Govt. that America and India contributed immensely to eradicate the Tamil Tiger terrorism. Through this cable message it is also evinced that but for America and India's assistance, the SL Govt. could not have ever wiped out the Tamil Tiger terrorism. Likewise, that disclosure also reminds the SL Govt. that America and India supported SL because the latter promised to formulate a political solution to the Tamil people.

Hence, does this carry the implication that because SL Govt. has still not furnished a political solution as promised, it is creating room to deem the international war crime investigation clamored for by the Tamil Tiger Diaspora as fair and justifiable?

At any rate, Robert Blake is due to visit SL. The strong message, if any America is going to deliver to SL can be known after Blake's visit.








Opera, I have always thought, is the most all-embracing of the art forms, but I do sometimes have the feeling that if the characters did not spend so much time singing and instead gave a little more thought to what they were doing, then the plots might not be so tragic and far-fetched.

Take Verdi's masterpiece Aida, for example. The action takes place in Ancient Egypt when the country is at war with Ethiopia.

Frankly, I think all the unpleasantness could have been avoided by prompt international action and the UN declaring a no-spear zone but, as so often, they left it too late and the story starts with Radames, leader of the Egyptian army, in love with Aida, an Ethiopian who has been captured and enslaved by the Egyptians, who do not realise that she is a princess.

The romance is made more complex by the fact that the Egyptian princess Amneris is also in love with Radames, who does not care for her at all. It all comes to a head when Radames goes off to battle and returns with Aida's dad among the prisoners being led to a bit of ritual disembowelling.

The Egyptian King, who is Amneris's dad, tells Radames that he's done well and can name his own reward.

Radames, on seeing that one of his prisoners is the father of his beloved, asks for freedom for all the prisoners, and the king, after his daughter has had a word in his ear, says, "OK, but as an additional prize, you'll marry my daughter."

Now that's when things begin to get a bit implausible, because Radames then wrings his hands in despair and launches a risky plan to escape with Aida. Surely there was room for a bit of negotiation here? If he'd said to the King, "How about just freedom for Aida and her dad, disembowel the rest of them, and I don't have to marry your daughter?" I am sure the King would have found that to be a reasonable compromise and agreed.

Later, when the escape plan goes all wrong and Radames is sentenced to death, Amneris offers him a choice, "Marry me and become King of Egypt, or be buried alive". Surprisingly, he goes for the latter option, which cannot have done much for Amneris's self-esteem. Instead he could surely have married her, obtained a quick divorce on the grounds of intimidation, and then installed Aida in his palace.

Finally, when Radames is sealed into his tomb at the end and finds Aida waiting for him there so they may die together, I find it inconceivable that she did not have some explosives, or at least a good quality pick with her in order that they might break their way out and live happily ever after. She was apparently able to sneak into the tomb easily enough without being spotted. Surely bringing a few grave-busting tools with her would not have been all that difficult. After all, Uma Thurman did it in Kill Bill 2 using only her hands. With a power drill, an axe and a chainsaw, it would be a doddle.

The music and singing, though, are utterly convincing. Do see it if you can.


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