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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

EDITORIAL 27.04.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month april 27, edition 000817, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




  2. SO, WHAT'S NEW?


































































The Congress in Kerala has proved that parochial politics is more important for it than the lives of those who face the hazards of the killer pesticide Endosulfan by choosing not to observe the Anti-Endosulfan Day on Monday. Despite its conviction that a joint fight has to be undertaken against the pesticide, which has killed nearly 1,000 people in Kerala's Kasaragod district alone, the Congress stayed away from the protest programme, instead accusing Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan who has lead the anti-Endosulphan campaign of playing petty politics. Ofcourse that did not prevent tens of thousands of people from joining the protest and declaring solidarity with Mr Achuthanandan. Indeed, people from all over Kerala including members from Opposition parties, spiritual leaders and cultural personalities participated. The 87-year-old leader observed a day-long fast in Thiruvananthapuram and demanded the Union Government adopt a pro-ban stand at the Geneva session of the Stockholm Convention of the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee that began on Monday. Even if Mr Achuthanandan was playing politics, it is clear that that all these other people found the cause bigger than the "politics" behind it, which was the Congress's primary concern. It is certain that the Congress in Kerala could not have taken the decision to stay from the protests in isolation. The reason for the State Congress's irresponsible attitude was indeed pressure from its national leadership. Along with the Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar, these politicians are seemingly determined to protect the interests of the pesticide manufacturers. Little wonder then that Mr Achuthanandan's criticism of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the latter's refusal to ban Endosulfan immediately served to enrage the Congress .

What the Congress — like the Department of Agriculture — is failing to understand is that Endosulfan is no longer an issue limited to Kerala's Kasaragod district where women are afraid to get pregnant because they fear delivering deformed babies. Even Congress spokesman Manish Tewari has admitted that the pesticide is causing health hazards in his own constituency. More importantly, 81 countries including the US — which is the role model for Mr Manmohan Singh and the UPA in all matters — have also banned or are set to ban Endosulfan. Yet, the Union Government insists that health hazards must be reported from all over India before the pesticide is banned. It is in this context the agitations demanding a national ban on Endosulfan are gaining popularity irrespective of the political parties leading the campaign. However, by placing politics above cause, the Congress in Kerala is losing the right to speak for the victims of the killer pesticide.







For several years, it has been the world's worst kept secret. Now, it is officially out in the open: The ISI is a terrorist organisation. According to a new set of US documents revealed by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, any association with the notorious Pakistani intelligence agency is deemed as an indication of terrorist or insurgent activity. On Monday, The Guardian published reports based on some 750 leaked military files that contained details of terror suspects who had been captured during the war in Afghanistan and later in Iraq and held in the American detention facility located in Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. Collectively known as the Guantánamo Files, these documents provide detailed accounts of how intelligence officials assessed the level of future threat posed by a detainee, often based on a 'Threat Indicator Matrix'. The matrix included a list of 36 groups such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs, the Iranian intelligence services and the Muslim Brotherhood along with the ISI and it was assumed that "through associations with these… a detainee may have provided support to the Al Qaida or the Taliban." The documents effectively all but label the ISI as a terrorist organisation. Of course, this is not exactly breaking news but now that it has been officially documented, there is a sense of legitimacy. Incidentally, the revelations come only days after the highest ranking American military official Admiral Mike Mullen blatantly charged the ISI with ties to the Haqqani network during his visit to Islamabad. These were preceded by damning admissions by Pakistani terror suspects David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana — they have been charged with providing logistical support for the 26/11 terrorist attacks — that they were working on the orders of the ISI. The Guantanamo Files detail several such instances of ISI complicity in terror activities: High level meetings with the Taliban leadership, weapons delivery, arms training, financial donations; all of which have further worsened the frayed and fragile relationship between the US and Pakistan.

One time allies in the US-led war on terror, diplomatic ties between the two countries have been going downhill for years now. Matters hit an all-time low when a CIA official killed two Pakistanis in Lahore this January which led to a very public fall out between the two intelligence agencies. Efforts to improve the situation have met with little success and more obstacles, including a report from the Obama Administration that was critical of the ISI and the Pakistani military for not doing enough to obliterate terror networks within their country. Yet despite all this evidence against the ISI, it is beyond comprehension why the Americans continue to believe that Pakistan is an ally, when really it is nothing less than the enemy. Many of the documents that have been made public now date as far back as 2002 yet it was not until 2007 that the earlier Bush Administration took serious note of the situation. Even now, the official line is that only a few rogue elements within the ISI are in cahoots with the terrorists — even the outspoken Admiral Mullen tempered his aforementioned comments with the same observation — all though the Guantanamo Files make no such pretensions. It is now high time that the US reconsider its ties with Pakistan.









As the Maoists reset their agenda in accordance with their new role as lawmakers in Nepal, India too must realign its policy towards the former insurgents.

With just a month left for the expiry of the extended deadline — May 28 — for drafting the Constitution and completing the peace process, Maoists appear to have resolved a key internal contradiction which could be a game changer. At a central committee meeting last week in Kathmandu, held hours before he met Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna, Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal announced dropping the revolutionary path as an option to the party's goal of capturing power. Mr Krishna's visit was taken routinely and not as any ice-breaker which it ought to have been. He met Mr Dahal for an hour at the idyllic Dwarka retreat where both sides exchanged complaints against each other — principally about Maoist-instigated anti-Indianism and Indian interference in Nepal.

Nearly two years after losing power by carelessness and default, the Maoists are back as the senior coalition partners. Even out of Government, they have called the shots.

The only achievement of the last one year is the formation of a new Government after 16 unsuccessful attempts to elect a Prime Minister. In the end, the Maoists inveigled their way back to power through a secret deal with a pliable Left leader, UML's Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal. Nepal's five-year-long faltering peace process has been subsumed by a scramble for power and lust for the office of Prime Minister and ministerial berths. Tasting power for the first time, former guerrillas turned lawmakers are most intensely afflicted by the malady, rather the aphrodisiac which is more potent than the 'dui paani ko kodo' (local brew) they are more familiar with. The power game has wrecked political parties with feuds within them having turned nastier than between them.

Having been out in the cold for two years, after one year in supreme power, Maoist faultlines have deepened. Mr Dahal has to periodically seek intellectual solace in a luxury resort on the outskirts of Kathmandu accompanied by family members and his favourite Red Label to think out-of-the-box to keep his flock together. The three factions are represented by Vice-chairman Baburam Bhattarai ploughing the moderate line of advancing the peace process, senior Vice-chairman Kiran Baidya, vigorously advocating the revolutionary path and Mr Dahal himself straddling the two yet favouring the Kiran path.

Back from the latest retreat prior to a central Committee meeting last Wednesday, Mr Dahal sprang a surprise. To the dismay of the Kiran faction he proposed focussing on peace and Constitution-writing, deferring the option of revolt. He said: "An armed revolt is necessary but it is impossible to undertake under current circumstances". This is no out-of-the-box as the capture of power through use of force was ruled out at the 2005 plenum following the military disaster at Khara which led to the Maoists signing with the political formations the comprehensive peace agreement at New Delhi later that year. Then, as now, the Bhattarai line prevailed.

Subversion from within became their favoured strategy once Maoists assumed power in 2008. The unconstitutional dismissal of Army Chief Gen Rukmangad Katowal triggered by strategic haste to consolidate power and Gen Katowal's subsequent reinstatement by President Ram Baran Yadav cost them the Government. The Maoists held India squarely responsible for this act of sabotage — loss of civilian supremacy over the military. It was during their time in political wilderness that the option of revolt was born. The idea of urban insurrection took root after the PLA, not strictly confined to barracks and the Young Communist League had spread their wings in key urban areas backed by their already unchallenged domination of the rural hinterland. The revolt plan was doomed to fail especially after civil society and ordinary Nepalese launched a counter revolt in urban areas to their street protest campaigns in early 2010.

Mr Dahal would remember that at a Hindustan Times summit in 2006, in response to a question by the author whether the Maoists had put down the gun for good, he publicly declared that they had renounced violence for good and would not go back to the jungles. It was an admission of lack of capability-shaping intention. Maoists' abandoning revolt has attracted cautious optimism. In the past, whether at the Kharipati conclave last year or the Palungtar plenum this year, the revolt contingency was kept intact. The hardline Baidya faction will have to be pacified with the customary façade of nursing revolt to maintain a united front.

This is also "show of responsible behaviour" as evidence of transformation from an underground rebel force into a political entity. This will also serve for creating the ambience for an orderly extension of the Constituent Assembly whose longevity beyond May 28 is vital for Maoists' grand design of leading the Government. But Maoists are not taking anything for granted given the cynicism of civil society and people's frustration about the abysmal conduct of the political class. In a sense the failure of the peace process is rooted in the fragmentation of the political parties including the Maoists.

With revolt set aside, the chances of forming a national consensus Government are better than anytime before. Nepali Congress can be brought around to joining the Government if integration on the lines of the Nepal Army proposal for a mixed, separate force is started and not necessarily completed before the more difficult work of Constitution-writing is taken up. No way can integration and constitution be completed before May 28.

Nepali Congress has two other concerns: The secret deal between Mr Dahal and Mr Khanal to swap leadership; and their claim to leadership of the national Government. Reconciliation between Nepali Congress and Maoists is vital for the success of the peace process.

Mr Krishna's soliloquy on completing the peace process on time missed out the Maoists and the evolving political context. His tough talking with Mr Dahal centered around their anti-India campaign which has reached an all-time high since the collapse of the Maoist Government. Maoists see India as following a one-pillar policy of keeping them out of Government and power. In Kathmandu which is not Kashmir, there was thundering silence when India beat Pakistan and later Sri Lanka during World Cup cricket.

To reset relations with Nepal, India has to reengage the Maoists, but not on the misplaced notion of special relations, rather in sync with the new ground realities. The ball is in India's court.







While Syria is on the boil, there is little chance of the revolution being successful. Unlike the moderate regimes of Tunisia and Egypt, the radical regime of President Bashar al-Assad, indifferent to international reaction, will respond ruthlessly. If he falters and demonstrations grow stronger, the Army could possibly step in. An Islamist takeover however is a remote possibility as the Muslim Brotherhood here is a lot less organized

There's a bit of a mystery regarding Syria. First, who is the Opposition? Second, what will happen? Having been the first to warn about the threat and power of Islamists in Egypt, I think that's earned me some credibility to say that Syria may well be a different case. There is a possibility of an Islamist takeover and of an ethnic conflict in Syria, make no mistake, but a number of factors suggest that those things might not happen.

First, ironically, in Syria as in Tunisia the tough repression against radical Islamists by the regime has weakened those forces. It is easy to forget that Mubarak's Egypt was a relatively tolerant country. The Muslim Brotherhood was allowed to operate, spread its propaganda, build a large membership, and control institutions. In Syria, there was a bloody suppression of the Brotherhood in the 1980s. Islamists are a lot less organised.

Second, while this might seem a paradox, while Islamists opposed the Egyptian regime they largely have supported the Syrian one. While the dictatorship in Syria is nominally secular — and was strongly so in earlier decades — President Bashar al-Assad courted Islamists with his foreign policy. After all, his Government has been strongly anti-American (though a lot of American officials, journalists, and analysts did not seem to notice), anti-Israel, allied with Iran, supported Hamas and Hizbullah, and backed the terrorist insurgents in Iraq.

What's there for an Islamist not to like? Indeed, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood declared a few years ago that it was not permissible to oppose the Assad regime because of these policies.

At home, the regime promoted an Islamism that it hoped would support the status quo. While some of these post-Brotherhood preachers might be itching to go for an Islamist revolution, they seem to be hesitating both because they are suspicious of the anti-regime opposition, like many current policies, and think Mr Assad might well win.

No doubt, there are people in the protests who want to fight Israel and battle America. But if that's your view, why not just support the continuation of the Assad regime? In fact, why not denounce the protestors as CIA and Mossad agents trying to subvert the revolutionary Islamists' best friend in the Arabic-speaking world? The Government does this and the Islamists can join in.

Third, Syria is a very diverse country. While Egypt is about 90 per cent Sunni Muslim Arab, the figure for Syria is about 60 per cent. There are Alawites, Christians, Druze, and Kurds, too, of which only the Kurds are Sunnis and they have a lot of nationalist feeling against the regime.

Fourth, the Sunni Muslim Arabs, the constituency for revolutionary Islamism, also provide a large part of the middle class, secular-oriented, pro-democracy movement, thus providing a strong alternative leadership. Consider that Islamism has never made big inroads within the Sunni Muslim community of Lebanon. The parallel is far from exact but gives a sense of that situation.

Fifth, my sense is that in Syria there is a stronger pro-democratic middle class and a relatively more urbanised population. Having lived under a dictatorship that used Islamism to stay in power-like Iran but the opposite of Egypt-people are more sceptical about that doctrine.

I don't mean to suggest that Islamists are unimportant and might not emerge as leading forces, but roughly speaking I would bet that while the level of support for Islamism in Egypt is at around 30 per cent — and has a tremendous capacity for growth — the equivalent number for Syria is about 15 per cent and is naturally limited by the size of the community.

Again, there are a lot of Islamists and potential Islamists in Syria. They are among the demonstrators. Some fire and brimstone speeches have been made and the slogan of 'We only want to live under Islam' has been raised. The content may seem ambiguous but everyone in Syria knows what that means. It would be a disaster for the Christians and the Alawites who collective form more than one-quarter of the population.

As to what will happen, there will come a moment of truth and I believe this period has now begun. One sign of that was the eruption of serious demonstrations in Damascus. Another would be if inter-communal strife began or if there was any real sign of a split in the Army.

Remember that all the Arab regimes have a three-level priority of response.

Level 1: Hope that the protests will go away and can be waited out.

Level 2: Respond with a mixture of repression and promises.

Level 3: Go to heavy repression and killing people in order to destroy the protests and intimidate people from participation.

The shah's Iran in 1978, as well as Egypt and Tunisia in 2011, did not go from Level 2 to Level 3 because large elements in the elite did not want to do so. In contrast, in Iran, everyone knew that the regime would not hesitate to go to Level 3.

The moment of truth on this point — the transition from Level 2 to Level 3 has apparently begun in Syria. When it is in full motion the regime will either respond ruthlessly, indifferent to international reaction, or will lose its nerve. All of the nonsense about Bashar as a reformer or about the existence of an alleged 'old guard' will disintegrate fast.

(You notice that people babbling about Bashar being a liberal restrained by the 'old guard' never give specific names. That's because such people don't exist. Bashar is the old guard.)

Does Bashar have the killer instinct like dear old dad, or is he just a wimpy eye doctor? Assad means lion in Arabic, and Bashar will either have to bite and scratch or be quickly perceived as a cowardly lion. And that would be fatal.

There's no third alternative. If he falters, the demonstrations will grow much bigger very fast. Would the Army, and especially the elite Alawite-dominated units, step in for him and take over? Possibly.

For the moment, though, the case for cheering on and helping the Syrian revolution is stronger than that of Libya by far. But by the same token, its prospects are poorer than in Egypt or Tunisia precisely because those states were more moderate than the ruthless, radical Syrian regime.

 The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.







India may have received some satisfaction from the recent spat between the ISI and the CIA but it would be foolish to believe that such temporary tiffs can seriously damage the US-Pakistan relationship. The US takes care not to use the stick too hard

There has been an unwarranted satisfaction and even glee among sections of our analysts over recent indications of difficulties in the relations between the US and Pakistani Armed Forces and between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Inter-Services Intelligence.

The articulation of US dissatisfaction and concern over Pakistan's half-hearted action against terrorists operating from North Waziristan, over its continued support to the Jallaudin Haqqani faction of the Afghan Taliban, which was previously operating from North Waziristan, but now operates from Kurram, over the collusion of Pakistani military and intelligence officers with the Afghan Taliban and over the difficulties created by it in allowing Raymond Davis, a member of the technical and administrative staff of the US Consulate-General in Lahore, allegedly involved in the murder of two Pakistanis, to go back to the US have created perceptions of serious difficulties in the US relations with Pakistan.

Speculative stories and negative public comments about Pakistan emanating from US officials and sources during the recent visits of Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Director-General of the ISI, and Salman Bashir, the Pakistani Foreign Secretary, to the US and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Pakistan have strengthened these perceptions.

Periodic emergence of difficulties in the relations between the two countries has been there ever since the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988. One saw such spells of difficulties after then President George Bush Sr invoked the Pressler Amendment against Pakistan post-1988 and imposed economic sanctions because of Pakistan's clandestine acquisition of a military nuclear capability, when then President Bill Clinton placed Pakistan on a list of suspected State-sponsors of international terrorism for six months in 1993 and forced then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to sack Lt-Gen Javed Nasir, the then DG of the ISI, and some of his senior colleagues for allegedly not co-operating in the re-purchase of the unused Stinger missiles from the Afghan Mujahideen, when Clinton imposed additional economic sanctions after Gen Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999 and publicly snubbed him during a visit to Pakistan next year, and when then President George Bush forced Musharraf to remove Lt Gen Mahmood Ahmed, then DG of the ISI, from his post and transfer Lt Gen Mohammad Aziz, the then Chief of the General Staff, from the GHQ to Lahore because of their suspected links with the Afghan Taliban before the US started its military operations against the Taliban in October, 2001, and when Bush repeatedly turned down a Pakistani request for signing a civil nuclear co-operation agreement with it similar to the agreement signed with India.

The US did not allow such difficulties to affect a certain strategic permanence in its relations with Pakistan arising from its strategic location, the long years of military-military and intelligence-intelligence relations between the countries which have served to some extent the national interests of the two countries and the important role which Pakistan could play in maintaining stability in Afghanistan. This permanence has been further strengthened by the US realisation that co-operation from Pakistan is essential for maintaining homeland security.

The enhanced Drone (pilotless plane) strikes against terrorist hide-outs in the two Waziristans since Mr Barack Obama came to office in January 2009, have highlighted two ground realities. First, the US has the capability to achieve significant success in its counter-terrorism operations on its own even without the co-operation of the Pakistani Army and the ISI. Second, despite this, it cannot achieve complete success without the effective co-operation of Pakistan.

The US has always followed a policy of carrot and stick for making Pakistan co-operate. While it does not hesitate to use the stick when it considers it necessary in its interests, it takes care to ensure that the use of the stick does not seriously damage the strategic permanence in its relations with Pakistan. The US will maintain this strategic permanence whatever be the temporary tactical difficulties in the relationship.

-- The writer, a former senior officer of R&AW, is a strategic affairs commentator.







When Deepwater Horizon, an oil drilling rig part, operated by BP, sank in the Gulf of Mexico following a powerful explosion and fire last year, spilling around 7,00,000 tons of oil and polluting the shores of Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, it was almost immediately dubbed an 'oil Chernobyl'. The accident immediately sparked debate on the future of global energy. Governments started reaching for previously shelved nuclear power generation programmes. Less than one year on, an earthquake hit Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, putting the global energy sector at a crossroads yet again.

It is hard to tell for certain whether the threat posed by oil or that inherent in nuclear energy is greater and more dangerous. However, it is obvious that people find potential nuclear contamination much more frightening. True, the Deepwater Horizon accident caused panic and provoked wild speculation: Even the anti-cyclone that brought the extraordinary heat wave to Russia and Europe was sometimes attributed to changing ocean tides triggered by the oil spill.

Yet, whereas the Chernobyl accident prompted a number of Governments to wind up their nuclear energy programmes, Deepwater Horizon had barely any discernable impact on oil producers. BP did not emerge unscathed: It was recognised as one of the responsible parties and had to spend nearly $40 billion to clear up the aftermath; its market value plummeted 40 per cent in the first few months after the disaster.

However, neither the scandal itself nor the reputational damage it inflicted has prevented BP from finding common ground with the Russian Government: BP reached an agreement with Russia's Rosneft in early 2011 on joint offshore development in the Kara Sea.

The United States was forced to somewhat rework its new energy policy in the light of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. President Barack Obama's Administration suspended the issue of deepwater drilling licences until the end of February 2011, leaving US companies' offshore production with a decline of about 13 per cent this year.

On the other hand, the BP accident lent a forward momentum to onshore oil development and catalysed energy projects such as shale gas that was always put off while there were cheaper and more accessible alternatives, and production of biofuel that requires innovative technological solutions.

The nuclear energy lobby gained a modicum of confidence, but not for long: The deadly earthquake that hit Japan and led to an accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has jeopardised the reemerging nuclear plans.

In March, Germany slapped a two month delay on the decision whether or not to extend the service life of 17 nuclear reactors for another 10 to 12 years. This decision did not gather a great deal of support in Europe, which is only natural because nuclear energy plays an important role there: Accounting for 78 per cent of total electricity output in France, 40 per cent in Switzerland and 34 per cent in the Czech Republic.

On the other hand, the US oil lobby is very strong because 85 per cent of the country's power generation comes from fossil fuel. But despite this, nuclear programmes can not just be 'wound up' says Igor Krayevsky from the Otkrytiye financial corporation. First, it would be very difficult to compensate for the resulting energy shortfall. Second, canceling nuclear power programmes would shrink the countries' GDP. Finally, advocates of nuclear energy logically point out that Japanese reactors have withstood a magnitude 8.9 quake. Jere Jenkins from the School of Nuclear Engineering at Purdue University said none of the 11 nuclear power plants in northern Japan were affected. He believes that Japan's mistake was building them so close to the shoreline, thus allowing the reactors to fall victim to the tsunami.

Still, whatever the arguments in favour of nuclear power, Japan's unfolding tragedy has played into the hands of the oil lobby. It has even gone some way to helping crude producers regain their pre-Gulf of Mexico positions.

The post-crisis surge in oil prices, which was triggered more by US financial policy than the violence in West Asia and North Africa, has made developing difficult deposits, including those offshore, attractive once again. Moreover, as the global oil price closes in on $150 per barrel, even shale gas and biofuel projects seem quite lucrative.

-- The writer is a Moscow-based economic columnist.








The recent Supreme Court judgment on khap panchayats comes as an extremely timely intervention. Terming honour killings, or the brutal execution of community members defying caste or gotra rules when choosing partners, as 'barbaric and shameful', the court decreed khap panchayats ordering such acts illegal. Alongside, Justice Markandey Katju commented that such behaviour must be 'ruthlessly stamped out'. The apex court's summary has fallen on ears long accustomed to hearing only their own writ resound.

Khap panchayats have shot back that they've existed since time immemorial, framing laws for the community's 'benefit and protection'. At a meeting in Jind, Haryana, 84 khaps decided to file a review petition against the Supreme Court's order. In their efforts to continue their medieval barbarisms, the khaps are supported by politicians eyeing vote banks. Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is opposing a law against honour killings. While the khaps are backed by the usual suspects like Om Prakash Chautala, they also find admirers in unlikely figures like the seemingly modern Congress MP Navin Jindal, who supports khaps 'banning' same-gotra marriages.

Those who cross any boundaries laid down by khaps are in fact awarded the harshest punishments, ranging from social ostracisation to beatings, even murder. The right to strip life of all dignity and, ultimately, take life itself is the power khaps and their political backers are fighting for. Interestingly, while maintaining that 'custom' entitles them to decide life and death, the same khaps encourage their communities to petition the state for reservations in government employment. On the one hand then, invoking tradition, khaps wish to be laws unto themselves; on the other, they wish national laws to favour them. This is a classic case of wanting to have your laddu and eat it too. The irony would be terrific, were the laddu not so bitter.

However, by laying down its directive in no uncertain terms, the Supreme Court has underlined the fact that in any civilised society, there can only be one source of authority deciding crime and punishment - the state. No other body, customary, feudal or traditional, can take unto itself this role. The court makes it clear that administrative officials must be chargesheeted if they do not prevent honour killings ordained by khaps. In addition, local governments must gather insights on khaps through informers while educating communities on the state's laws. It's time politicians too lived up to their responsibilities by refusing to curry favour with khap panchayats in a delusional hunt for a few more votes. Or else, they should declare that they have lost faith in the Indian Constitution.






Relations with Bangladesh took a step in the right direction during commerce minister Anand Sharma's visit to Dhaka. Permitting the private sector a larger role would, however, speed up the process of fostering ties. Indicative is the private company Marico agreeing to set up a Rs 37 crore plant in Bangladesh. Such investments should signal a trend, especially as Indian investment is set to rise to $3.5 billion. But the flow of investments could be speeded up by governments pushing them, which is why the Exim Bank should move quickly on its agreement with Bangladesh Central Bank for a $1 billion loan to finance power and railway infrastructure.

The improvement in ties between
New Delhi and Dhaka is due, in part, to Bangladesh no longer being hamstrung by a powerful and viscerally anti-Indian lobby. While the Pakistani military and ISI - the latter recently revealed as having been branded a terrorist organisation by the US - retain the upper hand in determining Islamabad's India policy, there are no such impediments to Dhaka's relations with New Delhi. All the more reason to court Dhaka. There are some trade grouses, though. Dhaka is not too happy with the Indian offer of a tariff-free quota of 10 million pieces of apparel exports, enhanced 25% over previous years - it wants more. The solution is lifting trade and investment barriers on both sides, while India should help build infrastructure on the Bangladeshi side. More Indian companies setting up in Bangladesh would mean jobs in Bangladesh and exports to India and other countries, while the toll fees Bangladesh would earn by permitting trans-shipment of Indian goods to the northeast could go a long way towards wiping out its trade deficit with India.






The 21st century is witnessing Asia's return to what might be considered its historical proportions of the world's population and economy. In 1800, Asia represented more than half of global population and output. By 1900, it represented only 20% of world output - not because something bad happened in Asia, but rather because the Industrial Revolution had transformed Europe and North America into the world's workshop.

Asia's recovery began with Japan, then moved to South Korea and on to Southeast Asia, beginning with Singapore and Malaysia. Now the recovery is focussed on China, and increasingly involves India, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the process.

This change, however, is also creating anxieties about shifting power relations among states. In 2010, China passed Japan to become the world's second largest economy. Indeed, the investment bank Goldman Sachs expects the Chinese economy's total size to surpass that of the United States by 2027.

But, even if overall Chinese GDP reaches parity with that of the US in the 2020s, the two economies will not be equal in composition. China would still have a vast underdeveloped countryside. Assuming 6% Chinese GDP growth and only 2% US growth after 2030, China would not equal the US in terms of per capita income - a better measure of an economy's sophistication - until sometime near the second half of the century.

Moreover, linear projections of economic growth trends can be misleading. Emerging countries tend to benefit from imported technologies in the early stages of economic take-off, but their growth rates generally slow as they reach higher levels of development. And the Chinese economy faces serious obstacles to sustainable rapid growth, owing to inefficient state-owned enterprises, growing inequality, massive internal migration, an inadequate social safety net, corruption and inadequate institutions, all of which could foster political instability.

China's north and east have outpaced its south and west. Almost alone among developing countries, China is ageing extraordinarily fast. By 2030, China will have more elderly dependents than children. Some Chinese demographers worry that the country will get old before getting rich.

During the past decade, China moved from being the world's ninth largest exporter to its leader, displacing Germany at the top. But China's export-led development model will need to be adjusted as global trade and financial balances become more contentious. Indeed, China's 12th five-year plan is aimed at reducing dependence on exports and boosting domestic demand. Will it work?

China's authoritarian political system has thus far shown an impressive capacity to achieve specific targets; for example, staging a successful Olympic Games, building high-speed rail projects, or even stimulating the economy to recover from the global financial crisis. Whether China can maintain this capability over the longer term is a mystery to outsiders and Chinese leaders themselves.

Unlike India, which was born with a democratic Constitution, China has not yet found a way to channel the demands for political participation (if not democracy) that tend to accompany rising per capita income. Communist ideology is long gone, so the legitimacy of the ruling party depends on economic growth and ethnic Han nationalism. Whether China can develop a formula to manage an expanding urban middle class, regional inequality, and resentment among ethnic minorities remains to be seen.

Some analysts argue that China aims to challenge America's position as the world's dominant power. Even if this were an accurate assessment of China's intentions (and even Chinese cannot know the views of future generations), it is doubtful that China will have the military capability to make this possible. To be sure, Chinese military expenditures, up more than 12% this year, have been growing even more rapidly than its economy. But China's leaders will have to contend with other countries' reactions, as well as with the constraints implied by the need for external markets and resources in order to meet their economic-growth objectives.

A Chinese military posture that is too aggressive could produce a countervailing coalition among its neighbours, thereby weakening China's hard and soft power. In 2010, for example, as China became more assertive in its foreign policy towards its neighbours, its relations with India, Japan and South Korea suffered. As a result, China will find it more difficult to exclude the US from Asia's security arrangements.

Even if China suffers no major domestic political setback, many current projections based on GDP growth alone are too one-dimensional: they ignore US military and soft-power advantages, as well as China's geopolitical disadvantages in the internal Asian balance of power. My own estimate is that among the range of possible futures, the more likely scenarios are those in which China gives the US a run for its money, but does not surpass it in overall power in the first half of this century.

Most importantly, the US and China should avoid developing exaggerated fears of each other's capacities and intentions. The expectation of conflict can itself become a cause of conflict. In reality, China and the US do not have deeply rooted conflicting interests. Both countries, along with others, have much more to gain from cooperation.

The writer is a professor at Harvard and an author.







The World Health Organisation (WHO) has made antimicrobial resistance the theme of this year's World Health Day. The WHO representative to India, Nata Menabde , spoke to Rema Nagarajan on why the issue of growing resistance to antibiotics is a threat to the global fight against infectious diseases and what the Indian government needs to do to address this issue:

How serious is the problem of the irrational use of antibiotics?

It's a very serious problem globally because it endangers human lives when antibiotics don't work. In 80 years, 150 antibiotics have been developed. No new antibiotics are expected for at least 10 years. Hence, the arsenal to fight the microbes is very weak now. Antibiotic resistance in any part of the world is a threat to global health security as the resistant microbes travel and spread fast with global travel and trade.

Why is the problem said to be more serious in India?

It is an even bigger problem in this region because infectious diseases account for 40% of all diseases in Asia. Diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV can only be treated with antibiotics. We don't even know how big the problem is in India because there is no surveillance system. In malaria we know that chloroquine is not working. So far more expensive artemisinin derivatives are being used. Similarly, many people are infected with TB bacteria resistant to first-line drugs. So you're forced to move those patients to more expensive second-line drugs. India carries 20% of the world's TB burden. Of all TB cases being reported, 28% are cases of multi-drug resistant TB. In HIV treatment, the second-line therapy is six times costlier. So, fighting these diseases is

What is the biggest barrier to implementing a rational antibiotics policy in India?

Antibiotics are available over the counter in India and most people don't complete the full course of antibiotic therapy. Plus, spurious drugs often do not contain the full or correct dosage. Incomplete therapy or dosage gives microbes time to develop resistance. Often people pressurise their doctors to prescribe antibiotics and doctors out of fear of losing business prescribe it even when not needed. There is no monitoring of antibiotics prescription by doctors.

Can India fight growing antibiotic resistance?

Advances in IT and mobile technology means that the solutions are available here. The government has to strengthen the regulatory mechanism, monitor the professional quality of doctors and medical associations need to enforce them. Over-the-counter sale of antibiotics should be stopped. The health ministry is considering labelling antibiotics a different colour and selling them only in hospitals so that they cannot be dispensed without prescription. It is not easy to enforce all this immediately. It is a process. But it has to start and hopefully, things will improve.

What is the role of WHO in promoting rational use of antibiotics?

WHO collaborates with governments and gives a supporting shoulder. We help generate enough evidence to back the policy measures that need to be put in place and also help the government develop appropriate curricula for medical personnel. Antibiotic resistance is under-researched in Asia and WHO has started collecting data to help understand the problem better. It also helps governments put in place proper labs and research facilities and with multi-sectoral coordination that is required to tackle this problem.








I was never a Sai Baba follower. But 12 years ago i saw him for the first, and last, time. And, as an atheist, experienced a minor miracle. This is how it happened:

I had an appointment with the Almighty - or at least with one whom 30 million people worldwide consider to be His PA on earth... and i wasn't sure if i was ready for the event. Suppose i proved allergic to vibhuti and sneezed? Would my personal file be forever buried in an eternal In-tray? I was going to see the revered sage of Puttaparthi, who was in Delhi for the first time in 19 years.

Hundreds crowded the leafy lane lined with purple banners quoting Baba: Service to humanity is service to divinity. White-garbed volunteers with blue scarves kept the queues in line and manned a counter dispensing first aid against the growing afternoon heat. With the others, i passed through three metal detectors and was comprehensively and repeatedly frisked by volunteers sibilating 'Sai Ram'.

The throng was cosmopolitan: Greek, American, Kannada, Telugu punctuated local Punglish. "There's Amjad Ali Khan!" someone exclaimed. "And Justice Bhagwati, no?" added another. Inside, the commons squatted on a wide lawn covered with green carpets, protocol provided white plastic chairs for the privilegentsia. On the verandah of the white bungalow stood a purple-draped jhoola with a wrought iron Om. Amplified bhajans and tangible awe stilled the birdsong.

The verandah door opened and a diminutive figure, crowned with the unmistakable aureole of jet black hair, emerged in a saffron robe. A thousand breaths exhaled in hushed reverence. Baba appeared to glide rather than walk as he moved among his flock, a gentle smile on his lips.

The fingers of his upturned right palm seemed to ask a question of the faces turned up to him in adoration: What is that you seek from me, my child, that is not already there within yourself? The faces were rapt with Baba's presence, beyond question or answer. Several bore a look of concentrated piety, not unfamiliar in the capital's anterooms of ministerial power and patronage. The look seemed to say: Will my submission - for a daughter's marriage, a government contract, relief from physical or mental pain - be accorded tatkal status in the cosmic Scheme of Things?

Now and then, Baba paused to touch a devotee lightly on the head or shoulder in benediction. Those around the favoured ones touched them in turn, in hope of relayed grace. Several got up and in a worshipful half crouch edged forward to proffer envelopes containing petitions for boons to Baba. Shuffling back in reverse gear, eyes fixed on Baba, a substantial devotee stumbled and almost landed on the lap of another, who deferentially eased him to a safe landing.

"There, there! Did you see? Baba produced vibhuti, put it in the handkerchief that young man gave him!", someone murmured ecstatically. I tried to see but the dazzle of sun and palpable faith proved too blinding. "Three times i came from America to see him, but never got a darshan. Today, i touched his feet, my prayers have been answered," whispered a devotee, face radiant with joyous tears.

Then, as quietly as he had made his entrance, Baba was gone. Aarti was performed before the empty swing, the tremulous flame an after-image of a saffron robe. The bhajans were switched off. Silence swirled in the heat. A tentative bird chirped. The darshan was over.

"I've been a follower for over 25 years. First because my husband believed in him, now because i believe myself," confided a devotee on the way out. The volunteers didn't frisk us this time but said 'Sai Ram' just the same. Despite the heat i felt a lightness of step: You don't have to be a believer yourself to have faith in the faith of others.

That was the miracle.







It's far easier to punish the corrupt than to wipe out corruption. The former provides a strong, unwavering disincentive to be dishonest, while the latter is a noble wish and little else. But that hardly means that Lok Sabha MP Suresh Kalmadi's arrest and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi being charged for corruption on Monday were standard operation procedures. With the public mood and energy unabatedly focused on the two most visible financial scandals to have taken wing under its rule, the UPA government would have found it well nigh impossible to treat the alleged corruption in the run-up to the Delhi Commonwealth Games as well as in the 2G spectrum allocation as things that 'should be looked into', the standard euphemism for letting matters slide and reach a natural state of amnesia. Mr Kalmadi, as the former chairman of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, and Ms Kanimozhi, as the 'operational head' of the Karunanidhi family-owned Kalaignar TV accused of being involved in the transfer of 2G scam-tainted money, have both been brought to the dock. This is a salient moment not only in how we tackle those in high places suspected of corruption but also how India may now have to conduct its politics: with accountability.

Both Mr Kalmadi and Ms Kanimozhi are 'big fry'. The standard - and legitimate - critique of the people really accountable for scams and scandals being let off the hook while minions are rapped on the knuckles doesn't apply to these two cases. Being from within the fold of the ruling party, the action taken against the Congress MP from Pune seems to be less tricky than that taken against the allegedly errant MP from the DMK, an alliance partner on which the ruling coalition depends on for some healthy numbers in the Lok Sabha. But even cynics will admit that letting the CBI do its job against Mr Kalmadi shows a new, welcome intolerance from a government that can now show that it means business when it says that it will come down on the corrupt regardless of what stripes the person wears.

Fumigating one's own house also allows the Congress-led government to have the political legitimacy to set the UPA in order when it comes to resetting its moral compass. The relative ceasefire by the BJP and its affiliates have made the UPA's tasks easier - and 'coalition compulsions' seemingly less overpowering. Instead of a 'tu tu-mein mein' about corruption breaking out, the UPA has been nudged hard into action by a more unbiased party: the Indian public. This allows the government not only more political leeway to clean up its rank and file but also the opportunity to send out a potent signal - being 'one of the boys (or girls)' doesn't make one immune from punitive action when one is bending the rules for pelf.





Not even a leaf can move in any part of the world without US intelligence agencies being able to detect it. Or so we thought. So you can imagine our shock when we learnt that Taliban militants had carved out a 1,000-foot tunnel through which they whisked out 480 inmates of a Kandahar jail. We can imagine the scene. Halt, who goes there? the American soldier would say on spotting Ahmed with a large sack on his back. "It is just poor Ahmed, oh liberator of our land, taking a few medicines for my sick mother." "But this looks like sand, have you been digging up something?" Ahmed would reply, "These are ground herbs, you should try them sometime, very soothing for the nerves." And the US soldier sends Ahmed off even as the tunnel gets longer.

Did no one, but no one, cotton on to the fact that such a humongous tunnel was in progress? Can we then rely on the Americans to be our global policemen? We are even more alarmed when we learn that Uncle Sam has just discovered that the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is a terrorist organisation. We could have told that for free years ago. And to make matters worse, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attack, now claims that he and his buddies have hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe. If the US cannot be trusted to keep a lookout for ticking and glowing parcels, we need a change of guard.

At this rate, the Taliban, helped by the ISI, could tunnel all the way to Manhattan and take a tour of the Empire State building. Or scarily for us, they could pop up in Connaught Place and take a swing around on the metro. Or perhaps you think we are being too alarmist. But we assure you that at the rate things are going, we are not the only ones with tunnel vision.






Not so long ago, there was a practice among boys living in a hostel to have a tie that would be exclusively worn to get entry into a wedding in the vicinity (remember 3 Idiots?). The hosts would usually be confused, regarding the gatecrashers to be legitimate guests; the gatecrashers, meanwhile, would have enough of the sumptuous spread to sustain themselves till the next wedding.

Well, here is another opportunity. Royalty no less than the Queen of England is out, inviting guests to attend the wedding of her grandson Prince William. If you don't get the invite, then try these tips. Dress up like the mascot Maharaja of Air India, with a turban of red and blue stripes. Red and white looks more American. Also maintain that seemingly welcoming but submissive style, after the fashion of Indian kings of the British era. Look down (looking straight in the eyes is taken as audacious) while walking into the pearly gates of the Celebrations Gardens. They will let you in without questioning and frisking for being one of the old true blues.

If you are a sports lover, carry a polo stick in your left hand. While kissing the hand of the royal receiver, keep the left leg bent near the knee, like one to be knighted. Also don a golf cap or a felt hat to be doffed and to go behind it, lest you are recognised. They will welcome you thinking you were their chum, who learnt all gentlemanly-sportsmanship from them only and none else.

If this doesn't work, adopt the guise of a snake-charmer but take care not to swagger like the Scottish Pipers, for the royals don't like them. The English are well aware of the Biblical snake-in-the-grass, and before a wedding, they would surely like to catch it while you are playing the been. With such services rendered, they might let you in, after consulting the royal priest from Canterbury.

There are some 'don'ts' to be followed as well. Don't try being near the wedding site without a shirt, for they will invariably take you to be a wandering vagrant or even a 'naked fakir'. A cigarette on your lips might remind them of Lady Mountbatten's 'lighting up' at the hands of Nehru and given their recent aversion to smoking, they might not let you in. They are British, please.

For more such tips, you may consult the ones who have been staying in that country without valid visas. But no matter what you do, do not end up looking like a visa seeker.

(Rajbir Deswal is an IPS officer. The views expressed by the author are personal.)





'It isn't that I have taken a Viagra for courage. If I think of the consequences, I will not be able to act. If nothing happens, it's fine. I've done my best." This is what Indian Police Service officer Sanjiv Rajendra Bhatt told me when I pointed out the inglorious consequences visited on the few officers who have previously tried to implicate Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and his administration in the riots of 2002.

Earlier this month, Bhatt, 47, filed an affidavit to the Supreme Court of India (SC) saying its Special Investigation Team (SIT) was ignoring evidence - including floppy disks, cellphone records and documents - that he had submitted establishing official complicity in one of independent India's bloodiest riots. A Gujarati and a graduate in geotechnics engineering from the elite Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Bhatt in his affidavit says he told the SIT of a late-night meeting on February 27, 2002 - where Modi allegedly said the police must allow Hindus to vent their anger - and provided "verifiable details" about a larger cover-up aimed at undermining the judicial process. Instead, says Bhatt, he faced "unconcealed hostility" from the SIT.

"I have time and again tried to bring these facts to the notice of the SIT but they seem disinclined to follow up these important leads," says Bhatt's affidavit, which he drafted himself earlier this month, unsure of whom to trust. He also accuses the SIT of having "chosen to intimidate certain witnesses" who testified to his presence at the meeting with Modi.

Some background: When it seemed clear that Gujarat would not duly investigate the riots, the SC created the SIT in March 2008 to probe the nine worst massacres of 2002. Trials in these cases are now underway. Bhatt's affidavit relates to the SIT's latest task: investigating the death by burning of 69 people at the Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, including former Member of Parliament, Ehsan Jafri. The court ordered the probe after a special petition from his widow, Zakia.

Why did Bhatt wait nine years to speak up? His contention: as an intelligence officer, he was bound by confidentiality. When the SIT first summoned him in November 2009, Bhatt told its officers he would reveal what he knew only if a criminal case was registered. With his career at stake, he wanted his testimony to count, not be part of a vague inquiry.

"Given the conditions that have existed in Gujarat for almost the last decade, it would be very unrealistic to expect any government servant to depose freely and fearlessly before any forum, including the SIT, unless he or she is provided adequate protection and complete immunity from persecution from a highly vindictive administrative setup," says Bhatt's affidavit.

The Gujarat government indeed persecuted the few officers who chose to control mobs instead of letting them run riot in 2002 or, later on, tried to follow the judicial process. What has since emerged is a pattern of lost records and official amnesia, of investigations soft-pedalled in a manner to undermine eventual prosecution.

For instance, of the seven officers whose presence was confirmed in the February 27 meeting, two told the SIT that they had a loss of memory. Another did not deny Bhatt's presence but said he could not remember if he was there. Of the other four, only K Chakravarthi, police chief in 2002, said Bhatt was not there.

In May 2010, the SIT submitted to the apex court a progress report - scooped in February 2011 by the newsmagazine Tehelka - that confirmed the non-cooperation of officials, Modi's inflammatory speeches, his administration's partisan behaviour, the appointment of Hindu extremists as public prosecutors, and persecution of neutral officers.

Even so, there are escape hatches in the SIT's approach. When SIT inquiry officer AK Malhotra last year asked Modi who came to the February 27 meeting, the chief minister, according to the report, named seven officers and then said - without being asked - "Sanjeev Bhatt, then DC (Int.) did not attend, as this was a high-level meeting".

SIT chairman RK Raghavan, a former Central Bureau of Investigation director who handpicked the investigating team, in his comments said, "Bhatt is considered an unreliable witness, especially because no official, who is known to have definitely attended the meeting has spoken of his presence there." Yet, his inquiry officer, Malhotra, termed the testimonies of the seven officers unreliable because they were either rewarded by Modi or continue in service.

The SIT has constantly needed pushing from the SC. Here are two instances of what happened after a dissatisfied court last month ordered the SIT to probe Modi's complicity. One, after years of claiming that police records from 2002 were destroyed, then commissioner PC Pande is now learned to have submitted scanned copies of more than 2,000 pages of those records. Two, investigators again approached Bhatt, who believes they still aren't doing enough. He clearly hopes the SC will now call him to testify directly.

Bhatt will not reveal his evidence. Instead, he quotes to me this verse from the Hindi poet Dushyant Singh:

Sirf hangama, khada karna, mera maksad nahi
saari koshish, hai ki ye, soorat badalni chahiye
mere seene mein nahi, to tere seene mein sahi
ho kahi bhi aag lekin, aag jalni chahiye

(It is not my intention to only create sensation
All my efforts are to create change
If not in my heart, then in yours
wherever the fire, it must burn)






The activism of civil society against corruption has caught the imagination of many Indians. Arguments put forward by representatives of the civil society organisations (CSOs) can be summarised as follows: 'All - at least most - politicians, ministers, bureaucrats are corrupt. Voters are incapable of deciding what is good for them. The police, Central Bureau of Investigation and the Central Forensic Science Laboratory, and all other agencies of the State can never be trusted. Judiciary too is corrupt. Therefore, a new institution called Lokpal must be formed with the powers to charge, try and punish'.

Several commentators have observed how this discourse undermines democracy. What then is the role of civil society? Civil society is that realm that falls between the State and market, two most powerful structures in a liberal democracy. Their role has historically been contextual. For instance, in western democracies some CSOs worked to boost popular enthusiasm in elections. In authoritarian regimes, CSOs became a counterweight to the State.

In democracies, CSOs take up issues of the minorities that politicians, who have to work towards majorities, would not. For instance, it is not easy for politicians in Haryana to move against khap panchayats, but CSOs have taken up the issue. Only political parties that had no stake in the Gujarat elections stood up for Muslims but CSOs took the issue to the National Human Rights Commission and the apex court, when the executive failed. There are innovations to meet newer challenges. Now they analyse corporate contributions to political parties, indicating how market and State relate. Social audit is a recent and effective tool that brings more accountability to State spending.

But two kinds of drift are apparent in the functioning of CSOs. One, many of them move too close to political parties, State and business. Second, some CSOs imagine themselves as replacing the political process and the State! The anger against politicians and bureaucrats gives them this false sense of purpose.

These drifts have been related to the political economy of liberalising India. The years preceding 2004 were marked by a trend of politicians boasting about growth and ignoring how it affects the poor. The genocide in Gujarat in 2002 demonstrated the shameful failure of the State. CSOs mobilising public opinion on these issues and the Congress, which was then in Opposition, developed a common ground. It was good thus far. CSOs were playing their role, namely, of mediating between arms of the State and society.

The formation of the National Advisory Council (NAC) broke down the line between the political process and the CSOs. Instead of being a lighthouse for political decision-making, activists yearned to control it, by gaining backdoor access to Sonia Gandhi, who holds the political authority. Too soon, the authority that the Congress won from people was subject to the satisfaction of a select group. Gandhi had sensed the danger in this and was reluctant for a second NAC when the UPA returned to power in 2009.

The NAC was also in the process of drafting the Lokpal bill when another set of activists declared themselves as the voice of the people. The Jantar Mantar activists were those who failed to find space in the official scheme of the Congress. Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal had lobbied for Kiran Bedi as the Central Information Commissioner and failed.

The people's will cannot and must not be gauged from bursts of anger at Jantar Mantar and on Facebook - in Egypt or Tunisia those may be the only indicators. In India, people express their opinion through ballots, a process that holier-than-thou activists and extremists organisations such as the Lashkar and the Maoists loathe. Elections are not true reflections of the popular will, they argue.

Those who argue that ballots cannot force change must take note of how popular will, reflected though voting, changed the entire course of economic liberalisation. The defeat of N Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh and the BJP-led NDA at the Centre in 2004 was an expression of what people wanted. The 1991-2004 phase of liberalisation worked on the social Darwinism that Naidu articulated the loudest. Post 2004, governments have realised that growth is unsustainable if it is not inclusive. Inclusive growth became the new paradigm of liberalisation in India. The people of India wanted it that way and the political process has no option but to be responsive to that.

The interests of democracy and transparency will not be served by discrediting institutions but by strengthening them, which would act as checks and balances on each other. CSOs must play their role with a sense of humility and accepting that they do not hold proprietary rights over people's will. And certainly not by questioning democratic processes.





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






Why, under the United Progressive Alliance, does even the most basic economic transaction seem to need government action? Why must a statist song-and-dance accompany normal market activity, and everything be presented as requiring a "clearance" or "concession" of some sort? For evidence of the lacklustre commitment to market principles — and to simple, firm decision-making — of UPA 2, consider one example, the Cairn-Vedanta deal. One company wants to buy another. No market-twisting monopoly will be formed, and no shareholders are likely to be unfairly victimised. In a modern economy with a sensible political dispensation, this would not be something that the government would need to concern itself with. But not, it appears, under UPA 2. Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy has waited for months for government approval — not yet forthcoming — for the simple sale of its majority stake in its Indian subsidiary to London-based Vedanta Resources.

And look at the pathetic excuses trotted out for this statist high-handedness. For example, that Vedanta has no experience in petroleum. Big deal. The operating company for Cairn India's various operation remains: Cairn India. Its UK-based ownership might change — and anyway, why should the government have to take a call on that? This government's commitment to actual economic independence for the private sector looks half-hearted, and this case is the worst advertisement for India's economic reform. Nothing is more calculated to create uncertainty in the minds of investors, foreign or otherwise, than the sight of a government that revels in placing obstacles in the way of the market, even as it claims a commitment to liberalisation and reform.

A cocktail of "old India" interests is responsible for this mess. The petroleum ministry has been lackadaisical as a regulator, and over-interventionist otherwise. ONGC, which partners with Cairn India in some of its oilfields, has turned to big brother in the bhavans to try and squeeze a little extra out of the private sector, a reminder that an independent PSU is a contradiction in terms, whatever fancy names from Akbar's court you may give them. This is a very good indication of the lack of conviction and coherence that has got UPA 2 into a mess, so that normal decision-making appears to be a concession. Why must they drag themselves through every straightforward decision kicking and screaming?






The high-profile Congress leader and organiser of the Commonwealth Games, Suresh Kalmadi, has been arrested for twisting procedure for personal benefit. At the same time, DMK MP and party head M. Karunanidhi's daughter, Kanimozhi, has been chargesheeted for her involvement in the Kalaignar TV scam, and of having actively pursued the appointment of A. Raja as telecom minister. And a few months back, Raja himself was arrested, along with two senior officials who were accessory to the spectrum swindle. A sitting minister, IAS officers, the party boss's daughter — these are stories of dramatic falls from grace, a transfixing spectacle of the formerly powerful brought down by the law.

Though it took a shamefully long time to start, the 2G investigations have been conducted with seeming sincerity and dedication — spurred by the Supreme Court's clear directions to the CBI and the popular mood, shocked and offended by the kind of allegations thickening the air. That public recoil has been ably harnessed by the opposition, and by civil society spokespersons. The government, however, has made no attempt to clear the air, or present its version. Despite the action taken against its own ministers and leaders, the government has not tried to dispel this festering sense of despair in the political system, the belief that things have never been so bad. Despite all the measurable progress on these cases of corruption, the UPA appears scattered and inept — even the way it capitulated before the Lokpal bill's champions was revealing of its lack of self-belief.

For instance, the UPA doesn't even have a designated spokesperson or perception manager — there are those who speak for the Congress, but no one to present the ruling coalition's political ideas, to try and shape discourse, to answer questions, to stay on-message. Defending oneself against aggressive television anchors is not the same thing as actively conveying a coalition's agenda, and knowing how to take credit for achievements or make itself accountable for mis-steps, as the case may be. In effect, the coalition appears rudderless, incoherent and inspires no confidence. Choosing not to engage with the public is the UPA's prerogative, but it is dangerous — and past a certain tipping point, it will be impossible to undo the image of this government as malign/ incompetent, no matter what its track record.






Legislatures have been in ferment in two of the most mature democracies. In Britain, they await the result of an early May referendum on reforming the first-past-the-post system of electing representatives and on mandating a fixed term for the House of Commons. In the US Senate, the uses of the filibuster, the longstanding technique of holding off the majority in the House, have been contested. The point appears to be to nudge old-fashioned legislatures into a better connect with representative democracy. But, here in India, where recent images of Parliament being serially adjourned due to disruptions have conveyed an impression of stasis, we often forget how the institution, less than 60 years after the first Lok Sabha was elected, is constantly evolving by responding to new situations. The constant effort at change is worth highlighting at this point, when it is felt that proceedings are somehow not able to accommodate the issues and debates of the day.

As our columnist, the Congress's Jayanthi Natarajan, points out today, the standing committees of Parliament are a relatively recent innovation, dating back to 1993. They have deepened Parliament's mandated oversight over the government and made it more consultative — discussions take place away from the public glare, de-incentivising grandstanding and also allowing MPs to respond to a subject without the constraints of the party line. But given the nature of issues that arise, she recommends that there be easier access to experts to guide members if need be. Similarly, our columnist on Monday, the BJP's Arun Jaitley listed more reforms that could be adopted to strengthen Parliament. The duration of sessions, he noted, is too short, at an estimated 70 days to admit all the issues agitating MPs. The level of engagement could be further raised by adopting the Westminster tradition of prime minister's questions. And to liberate MPs to speak their mind, perhaps the anti-defection law can be relaxed by excluding debates — as opposed to voting — from its stringent purview.

The Congress and the BJP, as the largest parties, must share most of the blame for the manner in which debate has been allowed to flee the House. But equally, they have the power to reverse that by reconfiguring Parliament's procedures to keep it more engaged. For that, they must talk to each other, importing the spirit of consultation from the committees to the floor of the House. We hope an actionable debate has only just begun.








Inflation continues to persist and pose a problem even though food inflation has declined. For nearly two years, the Reserve Bank's stance on inflation was that food inflation is caused by supply side constraints, and the RBI could not, and should not, do anything about it. The result of that policy has been high inflationary expectations and persistent inflation. Today, when world crude oil prices are rising, what should the RBI's policy be? Should it again take the stance that there is nothing the RBI can do about world commodity prices and hence monetary policy need not respond?

One of the obvious difficulties India has is the lack of demand adjustment for petroleum products. When petrol and fertiliser prices are not raised commensurate with increases in the world crude oil prices, demand for petrol and fertilisers does not fall. In general, in most countries, while demand for petroleum products is inelastic in the short run, in the long run this demand is more elastic and the consumption of oil falls. This results in a lower demand for oil and keeps the current account deficit in check. In India, because we do not raise petrol and fertiliser prices, the demand for petrol and fertilisers does not decline and we end up with a large import bill. All other things remaining equal, this would result in a depreciation of the rupee. A weaker rupee then implies higher prices of all tradable goods. More expensive raw materials and machines then push up the cost of production of all goods in the market.

By not increasing the price of petrol and fertilisers, the burden of higher prices shifts from the users of petrol and fertilisers to the general population. This consequence is contrary to what the government says it is trying to do — that is, control inflation by not raising petrol and fertiliser prices. The political economy is fairly straightforward. Petrol consumers are middle-class, vocal and loud. The somewhat administered nature of the price of petrol, even after the deregulation, makes a rise in petrol prices a political issue. Fertiliser lobbies, using farmers, organise votes and rallies. In effect, the burden of adjusting consumption downwards shifts from the vocal urban middle class or rich farmers to the rest of the population.

How should monetary policy respond? The above analysis suggests that the lack of adjustment of petroleum product prices is likely to lead to an increase in prices of all tradables. Alternatively, if petroleum product prices are raised after the state elections are over, they would contribute to a rise in the overall prices level. Petroleum product prices matter directly since they go into the Consumer Price Index (CPI). CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) household survey data for 2009-10 shows that 7.31 per cent of household consumption is expended on petrol, diesel and cooking fuel.

The RBI could respond to the expected increase in inflation by doing nothing as petrol prices are driven by world demand and supply conditions, an argument similar to the one the RBI makes on food inflation where it expects protein prices to continue rising due to higher per capita GDP growth. Alternatively, the RBI can tighten monetary policy in line with the increase in inflationary expectations. This would push the burden of adjustment to investment and consumption and the economy as a whole. However, when faced with high inflation and rising world crude oil prices the RBI has little choice but to tighten monetary policy.

Tighter monetary policy has two difficulties at present. One, private corporate investment has not really picked up after the crisis. While projects under implementation continued to be taken to completion, the pipeline of new projects announced has fallen sharply. As a consequence, in the coming two to three years, investment activity may be expected to slow down considerably. Second, the government has a large borrowing programme. Higher interest rates will push up the cost of government borrowing. This will increase government interest payment expenses further.

The current pricing policy of petroleum products and fertilisers will not only reduce the real incomes of consumers in general, it will also create serious problems for the fiscal deficit. The price rise has been larger than what appears to have been assumed in the budget for 2011-12, with no signs at present of any downward movement. If the entire increase is absorbed as subsidy then some estimates suggest that the subsidy bill may rise by 2 per cent of GDP. This would make the fiscal deficit much worse than what the budget projections indicated.

While monetary policy has a role in curbing inflation and inflationary expectations, the distortions introduced by administered prices of petroleum products and fertilisers make the job of the RBI governor much harder. Not only will rate hikes need to be sharper and more frequent, their effectiveness may be limited as well. In its communication strategy, the RBI should discuss these difficulties openly and prepare market participants about the actions it may need to take. Considering the strong political economy reasons why petroleum product and fertiliser prices decontrol may not happen very soon (even if there is some adjustment in the prices after the elections), the RBI needs to re-assess its strategy on how monetary policy in India responds to these situations. That would be a more tenable position compared to the present one.

Further, instead of junking the strategy of focusing on inflation, the RBI needs to look at recent research that shows that contrary to popular belief, a hard look at the data suggests that inflation-targeting countries did better in the great recession on counts of both output and employment compared to those that did not target inflation. Persistent and moderately high inflation in India should be enough of a trigger for the RBI to review its monetary policy framework.

The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi,







No one should read the incendiary rhetoric of a seven-term CPM MP, Anil Basu — drawing parallels between "prostitutes" and "big clients" on one hand and Mamata Banerjee and her "big client" America on the other — as anything but a farewell speech from Bengal's communist regime. The outrage the comments evoked instantly, right from Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to the party's grassroots comrades, appears to be demonstrative in nature and well-orchestrated.

For one, the CPM MP's crass comments were ill-timed, causing immense electoral embarrassment barely two days before Kolkata and its surrounding districts go for the polls. The CPM leadership has been quick to gauge the damage potential this has as it threatens to estrange a large number of voters, particularly women. In a series of meetings, the CM himself went about apologising for his partyman's abuses that surpassed all limits of political decency. Put in proper perspective, however, this will appear nothing but crocodile tears.

For Anil Basu was merely exhibiting the exact, crude political vocabulary and culture the communists inculcated over decades in Bengal. This is not the first time that Basu has done this. Earlier, after the Singur agitation, he was equally derogatory at a public forum, describing how Banerjee should have been pulled by her hair and dumped in her Kalighat home, instead of being allowed to continue with the sit-in. Bhattacharjee himself has time and again said in public that he hates to take the name of "that woman" and, therefore, always referred to Banerjee as "that woman". It is also in the public domain as to how one of the seniormost CPM leaders, Benoy Konar — chief on the agricultural front and a central committee member — exhorted CPM party workers during the Nandigram-Singur agitation, saying that if Banerjee and Medha Patkar continued to make forays into rural Bengal, the womenfolk would soon begin showing their "backside" to them.

An array of celebrated communist leaders in Bengal has thus inspired little respect with such utterings and ideas about women. Not just the opposition, but even within the CPM, male domination has been more than pronounced. There is a lot of literature, composed by Bengal's venerated women communist leaders like Chabi Basu, Sabitri Roy, describing how women comrades had been subjects of "exploitation" and how they had been "used" by senior leaders. Roy's novel Swarolipi (The Notations, 1952) had to be banned by the then leadership for depicting the plight of women in the undivided Communist Party of India. Even after the CPI's split in 1964, there was little to cheer about women comrades in the CPM hierarchy. Insiders admit how it took 42 years — from 1964 to 2006 (the 18th CPM party congress) — to induct one single woman as a CPM politburo member (Brinda Karat). In Bengal too, barring one or two, women leaders at the party's highest policy-making fora are practically absent. In governance too, the portfolios distributed to women have been grossly mismatched to those of their male counterparts in terms of number and importance. Had it not been for the fear of losing votes, there is a grave doubt if Anil Basu would ever have faced the censure.

It is worth taking a look at the other aspect of "big client" America who the CPM felt was funding the Trinamool's poll expenses. Yet again, this is one complaint floated by the topmost leadership, including Bhattacharjee, Biman Bose and the emerging star Gautam Deb — the Left Front's housing minister — without any substantial evidence. And yet again, the invocation of the American bogey appears a set-piece from the communists for rabble-rousing in order to rationalise a debacle. The inherent contradictions are well-pronounced. Jyoti Basu's annual visits to the US and London to rope in foreign investment are part of history. His successor has pursued the same, and more vigorously.

Many American leaders and officials did respond to Bhattacharjee's fervent appeal for investment and explored the state's potential, showing interest in helping. It had been a brief interlude for Bhattacharjee when his desperation for investment forced him to seek "capital" from whatever source possible, and not see the "colour of the capital", as long as it came to Bengal. But after Nandigram, Singur and the 2009 debacle and now being on the verge of an almost inevitable defeat, Bhattacharjee and his comrades can no more afford that line. They have once again reverted to distinguishing the colours of the money. The "black money" from America, to be precise.







We are so used to turning our eyes away when we see somebody defecating in the open that we fail to reflect on this widespread practice, prevalent much more in India than in other countries. It is not only visually disturbing but has hazardous implications for public health in our cities.

Some people may engage in open defecation out of habit or laziness, but for the large part of the population of urban India that lives in slums, more often than not, it is not a matter of choice. They have no private toilets and no access to community toilets that actually function. Damaged septic tanks and broken drainage pipes make community latrines unusable. Children go to the nearby drain or wherever they find open spaces. Women wait for nightfall to answer nature's call, and then too only in groups for fear of assault. It is difficult to maintain hygiene for children as they typically do not have access to water to wash their bottoms and soap to wash their hands.

Tiruchirapally (Trichy to most people), the famous temple town of the South, is the fourth-largest city in Tamil Nadu, and is located on the banks of the Cauvery with a population of just over a million — of which 25 per cent live in slums. Trichy has 211 "approved" slums and as many as 75 "unapproved" slums which are located on railway land, Government of India land, and land belonging to the Waqf Board and other private owners. Until the end of the 1990s the slums of Trichy, with their sanitation and toilet facilities in an appalling state, were no different from the rest of the country. But things began to change about 10 years ago, and Trichy has not looked back since. The city was ranked 6th in India in the sanitation ranking of Indian cities by the ministry of urban development in 2009-10.

It all started with a major initiative launched by the NGO Gramalaya in 2000, mobilising women in the slums in self-help groups (SHGs) and launching an awareness campaign on sanitation through training. They were able to get the support of Water-Aid, a UK-based NGO, to fund the building/renovation of 25 community toilets and child-friendly toilets in the slums, which would be managed by the women of the community on a pay-and-use basis. Sanitation health education teams were set up by the SHGs to propagate the message of sanitation, monitor the behaviour of residents, and supervise the maintenance of the toilets.

A community toilet complex typically has 10-12 seats for women and 10-12 for men. Child-friendly toilets are separately provided in an adjacent area, for children up to the age of eight. Each toilet has a tap which supplies 24x7 water. Some have graduated to "sanitary complexes" with room for bathing and washing. Each facility receives its water supply from the Trichy City Corporation (TCC), and a bore well is also provided by the corporation. Each has a provision of underground storage of water and an overhead tank to which water is pumped. TCC has ensured that water is made available also in summer months through tankers. The corporation waives the electricity charge for the pumping of water for the first few years of operating the toilets. Afterwards, the tariff for community toilets is levied at the lower domestic rate and not commercial rate.

The cost of a typical community toilet was around Rs 3 lakh in the initial years that Water-Aid built such complexes. Today, the cost is around Rs 12 lakh. The success of the women in managing and maintaining the community toilets encouraged the TCC to build more of them, so that all the 211 approved slums now have community toilets. Out of a total of 347 such toilets (some slums have more than one), 284 are connected to the sewerage system and 63 function through a septic tank. About 100 toilets are being managed on a pay and use basis by SHGs with Gramalaya, and another 40 by other NGOs. For the rest, the TCC and/or ward councillors take the responsibility for managing the toilets.

I visited the community toilet at the Kamala Nehru Nagar slum where the toilet was inside the slum area. In West Devathanam, I visited another complex where the toilet is located between the slum and a public road and caters to the needs of the slum as well as the floating population surrounding the slum. Shanmugavalli, a 30-year-old woman in charge at the Kamala Nehru Nagar community toilet was brimming with confidence. With her increased SHG responsibilities, she finds a 10th class qualification embarrassing, and has enrolled for a BA correspondence course. Her 17-year-old daughter has enrolled for engineering.

At the community toilets run by SHGs, sanitary health education team members take turns to sit at a table placed outside the toilet complex with tokens to sell as people come to use the toilet. They engage cleaners who clean the complex two to three times a day. I found that the toilets were cleaner than what we may typically find in cinema halls in Delhi.

It is clear from the systems they have put in place to manage and maintain these toilets that these women understand the economics of it all. The collection from user charges is used to pay their electricity bills, the cleaner, the guard who keeps the watch, and expenses of minor repairs. The typical user charge varies from 50 paise to Re 1 per use, while children, the elderly and the physically challenged have free access. The accounts are meticulously-kept and are audited by the TCC.

All teams make a small subscription to come together under Women's Action for Village Empowerment (WAVE) which is a registered society. Monthly meetings of WAVE allow them to discuss their problems and learn from each other in finding solutions. A member of the TCC is also invited to these meetings. They are now extending their sphere to cover solid waste management and better delivery of other public services.

After initial resistance to their cause, men wanted to have a part of the action when the women seemed to be succeeding in making their slums clean. The women obliged by creating AWASH (Association for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) so that men could also contribute to improving the water and sanitation scenario of their joint habitat. Men also find a role through WATSAN (water and sanitation) committees in monitoring the progress of the overall sanitation status of the slums in the city. The municipal commissioner, T. T. Balsamy, was very appreciative of the role played by the NGOs and the communities in bringing about the much overdue transformation. As Geetha Jegan, executive director of Gramalaya put it: "Together, the city corporation, the NGOs and the communities from the slums of Trichy have transformed the sanitation scenario in Trichy."

Trichy has shown the way. Other cities in India must follow to completely get rid of open defecation and work for better sanitary conditions.

The writer is the chairperson of ICRIER and chaired the high-powered expert committee on urban infrastructure. Views are personal







The BRICs counter

The CPM views the formalisation of BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — as a welcome sign, believing it has the potential to emerge as a countervailing global force to US imperialism. It believes BRICS can lead the world towards a genuine multi-polarity. But for that, it must strengthen relations with other formations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean (ALBA).

The editorial in CPM mouthpiece People's Democracy notes that the resistance to democratise the UN — mainly from the US — has demonstrated that the global body does not reflect 21st century realities. "BRICS could be an effective forum that can also catalyse a democratic re-structuring of the United Nations," it says.

Further, BRICS can play an important role in resisting US-driven attempts to hijack global negotiations on important issues like climate change and the Doha round of negotiations under the WTO. Although Brazil, Russia, India and China as current members of the UN Security Council have abstained from the vote imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, it feels the BRICS should however have gone a step forward in opposing it. "Such coordinated political positioning can emerge in the future as a check to imperialist hegemonic designs," it hopes.

Trinamool tilt

In the midst of a do-or-die electoral battle in West Bengal, the CPM has accused a "section" of the media of playing the role of "political opposition" to the Left. "Though the paranoid anti-Left position of these sections of media is well known, this time their main thrust of propaganda is creating an atmosphere as if the TMC-Congress alliance has already won and a so-called "change" was inevitable," a report in People's Democracy says.

It says corporate media, both print and audio-visual, is working overtime to refurbish the image of Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee as a "good administrator". "And for this purpose, the dominant media in West Bengal is keeping under wraps the wanton violence by Trinamool in districts... Even when an Election Commission officer was severely beaten up by the TMC candidate in Bijpur, Subhrangshu Roy (son of Union minister Mukul Roy), the incident was virtually buried," it says.

It says another method of this anti-Left campaign is the spate of opinion polls, devoid of scientific methodology and full of subjective assertion. "In fact, a specific allegation has been reported that the surveyors tried to force villagers in Jamalpur in Burdwan district to speak out in favour of 'change', resulting in commotion," it says.

A common refrain by the Left leaders is that the Trinamool is pumping big money into Bengal. The report questions Banerjee's use of a helicopter and alleges that the TMC has bought enormous space for advertisement in the electronic media. "Naturally the question arises about the source of money," it says. "The railway minister did a ridiculous attempt to cover up by arranging an exhibition of her artwork in Kolkata. It was reported that all her works were sold and it fetched more than Rs 2 crore. Without any comment on the quality of the paintings, her claim that it was how she gathered money for election campaign has become another example of hoodwinking people," the article says.

Question the bhushans

A front-page article in CPI mouthpiece New Age looks at the recent allegations that have surfaced against Shanti and Prashant Bhushan, who are civil society members in the Lokpal drafting panel, and the war of words between them and Amar Singh.

Although the CPI feels the whole exercise on corruption appears to be a well-planned move, and an attempt to side-track more serious issues like price rise, unemployment and growing economic disparities, it nevertheless raises some questions. It says the interesting point about the media coverage was that while the fabrication of the CD was a big issue, no one has taken any interest in investigating allegations regarding former law minister Shanti Bhushan's purchase of a bungalow in Allahabad for merely Rs 5 lakh. "It is alleged that the sale deed was completed under duress. The UP stamp and registration department has sent a notice to Shanti Bhushan alleging that he evaded stamp duty to the tune of Rs 1.33 crore payable on a property he owns in Allahabad. No investigative journalist has dared to unearth truth about these two substantial allegations," it notes.

Compiled by Manoj C.G.







The uses of aid

Beijing's first ever white paper on its foreign aid programme, issued last week, comes amidst the growing Western concerns about the emergence of China as one of the world's top donors.

Both Western governments as well as non-governmental organisations have argued that Beijing's aid programme is not transparent, focused on gaining privileged access to natural resources, and driven by political motivations.

Stung by the criticism that its aid programme is "neo-colonial", China has chosen to explain its foreign assistance policy and aid programme and celebrate its impact on the developing world.

Beijing's white paper may not satisfy its critics, but is a good opening gambit. For the first time we have official figures for Chinese aid programme, details on which had come only in dribs and drabs over the years.

The newly founded People's Republic of China gave aid to Korea and Vietnam in 1950. By 2009 it was providing assistance to 161 countries and various regional and international organisations. Over the last six decades, according to the white paper, China provided 256.29 billion yuan ($38.54 billion) in aid to foreign countries, including 106.2 billion yuan in grants, 76.54 billion yuan in interest-free loans and 73.55 billion yuan in concessional loans.

Beijing's aid disbursal reached impressive levels in the last decade, as the full consequences of its rapid economic growth began to unfold. Since 2004, China's budgeted foreign aid has grown at a pace of nearly 30 per cent.

Annual aid flows from China remain small in comparison to the traditional Western donors. In 2009, the US official development assistance was around $28.8 billion. There is no doubt that the size, sophistication and impact of China's foreign aid will grow in the coming years. For all the effort to differentiate between Western and Chinese aid, there is no escaping the fact that all major powers use most of their bilateral and multilateral aid as an instrument of foreign and national security policies.

As it has become richer, China is merely emulating other great powers, in developing the instruments of foreign aid. The trend-lines of India's own foreign aid are similar to those of China, although the volumes are certainly lower.

It is about time that Delhi came out with a coherent policy statement, if not a white paper, on the historic flows, current aims and future objectives of India's foreign assistance.

To intervene or not

While the dominant line in the Chinese media is critical of the Western intervention in Libya, the debate has other interesting strands, especially on the relevance of the principle of non-intervention.

Writing in The New York Times a few weeks ago, well-known international relations scholar Yan Xuetong argued that China needs a bolder foreign policy that is in tune with its expanding global interests. "If China wants to regain its historical status as a great world power, it must act like a great world power." Yan insists.

"A few years ago, almost no Chinese scholar challenged the principle of nonintervention, of infringing on the sovereignty of other nations. Recently there are more and more debates on this issue", Yan argued. China, he says, is shifting from being "a self-absorbed power obsessed with sovereignty to an influential international actor."

Some Chinese military analysts point to the new challenge of protecting China's expanding global interests. "At the end of 2010, our foreign investing and cooperating firms numbered nearly 16,000, with 1.4 million personnel, and total overseas assets amounted to almost $1.2 trillion".

On Libya, too, there are calls for a more active policy. Writing in the Global Times earlier this week, columnist Gu Di says, "China can't delay in building bridges to the Libyan opposition." "Rather than staying passive", Gu Di adds, "China needs to seize the diplomatic initiative on solving the Libyan problem. By mediation and participation, China can build connections and make its contribution to regional peace."

Gu Di suggests that Beijing should explain to the Libyan people that it does not support dictators, establish contact with the "national transition council" set up by the opposition, and ask the Chinese companies to return to Benghazi.

Lahore ride

Shahbaz Sharif, the leader of Pakistan Muslim League and the chief minister of West Punjab, has returned from a five-day visit to China with promises from Beijing to help accelerate the development of Punjab.

China will help construct a rapid mass transit system for Lahore. The first phase will involve the construction of a 27-km corridor at the cost of $1.7 billion. The other agreements approved include one to build a 120 MW hydel power plant and a 50 MW solar project as well as ring road systems for Lahore and Rawalpindi.

China's outreach to Sharif is part of a continuous effort by Beijing to engage all major political forces in Pakistan.

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






In a few weeks, member states of the World Health Organisation will consider the destruction of the last known samples of smallpox virus, currently held in secure labs by the United States and Russia. Some have sought to publicly frame this issue as a contentious disagreement between our two countries and the rest of the world over whether the virus should be destroyed. This is misleading.

We fully agree that these samples should — and eventually will — be destroyed. However, we also recognise that the timing of this destruction will determine whether we continue to live with the risk of the disease re-emerging through deliberate misuse of the virus by others.

Those who advocate immediate destruction would have us believe that another smallpox outbreak is unthinkable. They want us to believe that there is no need to ensure the world is adequately prepared to deal with an outbreak and that the only risk comes from maintaining the highly secured samples and thus the World Health Assembly should set an immediate date for destruction. It should not. Although keeping the samples may carry a miniscule risk, both the US and Russia believe the dangers of destroying them now are far greater.

Smallpox was one of the most devastating diseases humanity has ever faced, killing more than 300 million people in the last century alone. Those it didn't kill were left scarred and blind. But thanks to the most successful vaccination campaign in history, it was completely eradicated by 1980.

At that time, the WHO called on all nations to destroy their collections of smallpox virus or transfer them to the WHO-sanctioned collections at one of two labs in Russia or the US. The global public health community assumes that all nations acted in good faith; however, no one has ever attempted to verify or validate that.

It is quite possible that undisclosed or forgotten stocks exist. Also, 30 years after the disease was eradicated, the virus' genomic information is available online and the technology now exists for someone with the right tools and the wrong intentions to create a new smallpox virus in a laboratory. In other words, we've beaten smallpox once, but we must be ready and prepared to beat it again, if necessary.

Today, most of the world's population has no immunity to the disease. Once it was eradicated, we stopped routine civilian vaccination for smallpox. In fact, people under the age of 30 have little or no immunity to smallpox.

Fortunately, in the three decades since eradication, science has come a long way. The vaccine used until the 1970s was little different from the crude vaccine developed by Edward Jenner more than 200 years ago. Today, technologies exist that could allow us to produce a vaccine without the rare but dangerous side effects of the original. Globally, work is under way to develop and test these vaccines. We should not stop now.

Even with an improved vaccine, vaccination alone will not save those who have already been infected once an outbreak has begun. That is why we are also working on developing, testing and licensing effective new drugs to treat smallpox for those patients with the disease. Scientists in laboratories in a number of countries are making progress on these new antiviral drugs and alternative therapeutic agents that, in the event of a new smallpox outbreak, could control the disease's progression and greatly reduce the risk of death.

We have more work to do before these safe and highly effective vaccines and antiviral treatments are fully developed and approved for use. Once they are ready, we intend to share the fruits of this research with the world. Destroying the virus now is merely a symbolic act that would slow our progress and could even stop it completely, leaving the world vulnerable.

Destruction of the last securely stored viruses is an irrevocable action that should occur only when the global community has eliminated the threat of smallpox once and for all. To do any less keeps future generations at risk from the re-emergence of one of the deadliest diseases humanity has ever known. Until this research is complete, we cannot afford to take that risk.

The writer is health secretary of the US. The New York Times








The good news, going by Bain & Company's Indian Private Equity Report 2011 is that, with the economy back on a growth path, private equity and venture capital is also back and will grow at a scorching pace. With $9.5 billion put in 380 deals in 2010, this is more than double that invested by PE/VC investors in Indian companies in 2009—it is, though, smaller than the $17 billion put in the peak year of 2007. In a short span of under a decade, PE/VC firms can be proud of the fact that a third of the top 500 companies in India were backed and/or discovered by them—given that small firms and start-ups find it difficult to tap traditional sources of capital, that's an impressive track record to have. Since PE/VC firms were able to get around $5.3 billion from getting out of some investments, in 2010, the investments are pretty lucrative and are a good signal for future PE/VC investors. A marquee and highly profitable exit was that of Actis and Sequoia Capital from Paras Pharma which was sold to Reckitt Benckiser, netting these PE biggies over 450% return in just under four years!

There are some worrying signs though. The report says that the bulk of new capital that PE/VC players will raise, around 80%, will continue to come from offshore funds, highlighting the relative absence of local money here. Even though a growing number of domestic investors have started funding PE/VC corpus, unequal, ambiguous and often complex tax and legal burdens prevent them from participating to their capacity in this growing asset class. Another reason for low share of domestic investors in PE/VC funds is the conservative nature of domestic institutional investors, who tend to either shy away completely from any form of 'risk investing', or tend to put all their investment eggs into PE/VC funds run by quasi-government players, thus leaving privately-run PE/VC funds little choice but to raise money from foreign investors. A growing, and alarming, trend in domestic fund raising is soliciting of high net worth individuals in this relatively illiquid asset class because of a longer lock-in period which is suited best for institutional investors like pension funds, endowments, insurance companies, and individuals only if they happen to be dollar multi-millionaires who can afford to invest their money for over a decade or so. Domestic regulation needs to clear the air on PE/VC asset class to address both institutional investor unwillingness and protecting retail investors' overzealousness in investing in what has come to symbolise as 'patient capital'.





In 2001, then Kerala CM AK Antony signed an order suspending the use of endosulfan as a pesticide in the state's cashew plantations. This Monday, current CM VS Achuthanandan undertook a "satyagraha" demanding the nationwide ban of the pesticide. The immanent cause for this call is the ongoing Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants, wherein the EU is really pushing for a worldwide endosulfan ban, citing its human and environmental costs. It is the consideration of such costs that drives the Kerala position as well. Standing on the other side of both Kerala and the EU is our central government, with the PM, the environment minister and the agriculture minister stressing that it would be premature and ill-considered to consider a sweeping ban until some kind of scientific consensus over the matter has been reached. Or at least till ICMR turns in its report on endosulfan's impact across various states. And this is startling, that more than a decade after the problem had first raised its head, a period that has seen not only Kerala but Karnataka also ban the pesticide, we are still awaiting such a study.

Banning cheap pesticides like endosulfan is complicated because their replacements are costlier and, therefore, equivalent to costlier food. In the Indian case, the situation is further complicated because our country is the world's largest endosulfan consumer and also supplies 70% of the world's endosulfan needs. While this should not mean that human and environmental costs get a backseat, an informed decision has to be premised on evidence. Instead, what we have right now are opinions, radically conflicting ones at that. Scientific consensus is a pie in the sky. For example, against those who contend that endosulfan has an environmental lifetime of 100 years and use the fact that it is being discovered in remote ecosystems like the Arctic and the Himalayas to pursue a case for banning it, there are those who argue that the pesticide decays much faster in tropical conditions, reducing to negligible quantities in a few months. Against Kerala, we have the Gujarat health ministry reporting that there are no safety issues arising out of exposure to endosulfan. Those that ask why India will not do what the EU is doing are reminded that it is the EU that had been selling endosulfan to developing countries for half a century. The bottom line is that we need convincing, credible, comprehensive and indigenous science to settle the matter. And it is a pity that such science is running late by a decade.






Apple crushes forecasts" said one headline. "Intel blows past estimates" read another. Indeed, corporate earnings this season in the US have sprung more than a surprise, with IBM, Intel, Qualcomm, Apple, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and General Electric all putting out numbers that have prompted quick upgrades. Analysts now estimate blended quarterly earnings growth for the March quarter could come in at 15.5%; The Street reports this percentage is up from an expectation of 13% growth on April 1, reflecting how well the numbers have come, insofar as 75% of the companies reporting have topped the average analysts' view to date. It goes on to add that "the bullishness is also raising the bar for the second quarter as Wall Street now sees growth of 14.7% for the June ending period vs 13.3% as of April 1." True, not all firms have lived up to expectations—Kimberly-Clark disappointed, as did AMD and a bunch of other not-up-to-the-mark performances, together with concerns on rising costs, may have cut short the earnings rally. But then, that's typical of earnings rallies that often tend to peter out by the second half of the month, once the good news starts to get priced in. Nevertheless, the S&P 500 is still up there at 1,335 after a remarkable rally that began sometime in July last year, dishing out a mouthwatering 30% since then and still up 6% year-to-date.

But with Brent spiking to $125 a barrel, oil supplies from OPEC not coming in as anticipated, sovereign debt problems in the Eurozone, the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan and turmoil in the Middle East, the headwinds are many. JP Morgan observes that world growth is not impressive and is too mediocre to fix many of the balance sheet problems of the household and public sector in developed markets anytime soon. However, as it points out, "... it is strong enough to allow corporates and emerging economies to flourish." That is reassuring because investors are a tad anxious about the GDP growth estimates that will come in on April 28; consensus estimates peg growth for the January-March quarter at a tad under 2% annualised. There has been some weakness in the US economy in the March quarter, thanks to higher oil prices, but the second quarter could be better. Global growth estimates for the second quarter have been pared largely because of disruptions in Japan, the impact of which is yet to be fully felt in global manufacturing. Again, the rebuilding of Japan later in the year could well push up growth. Therefore, with a soft landing in China now much more of a probability after a series of rate tightening measures, and the prospects for growth in emerging economies clearly more promising than in the developed markets, it's not surprising that fund managers globally are upping weightages in favour of the emerging economies. While some of the Asian economies have been hurt by the events in Japan, its rebuilding should be a stimulus.

The US markets are also somewhat tentative ahead of the Fed's two-day meeting that kicked off on Tuesday. Of course, the big question is what happens when QE2 ends; after all, it's a fact that markets everywhere have been driven up by liquidity even if the rally, this time around, was not led by the BRIC nations as it was in the case of QE1 (except for China). In fact, markets such as India underperformed after QE2, in part because the growth outlook for economies such as the US were improving and valuations were far more attractive; in October, the Indian market was trading at forward multiples of nearly 17 times. If there is no QE3, markets like India's will go back to looking at corporate earnings and inflation and, should interest rates move up for some more time, money could flow out of equities before valuations become compelling again. The good news could come from a drop in the prices of commodities, especially crude oil, which would make markets such as India tremendously attractive, given that corporate bottom lines seem to be holding up pretty well even under severe input cost pressures.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch believes that, much like it happened after QE1, markets could correct for about three months, with both developed markets and emerging markets giving up some of their gains. Should there be no QE3, the dollar could well strengthen and that may not go down well with the markets; indeed, the correlation between Asian equities and a rising dollar has, more often than not, tended to be negative. Markets typically don't do much in the initial stages of an interest rate tightening cycle but gradually take it in their stride and get it over with before the year is out. Right now, there seems to be ample liquidity in Asia—the growth rate of money supply minus the growth rate of industrial production, Citigroup estimates, continues to improve. Also, ever since fund managers reversed their stance on the emerging markets, money has moved into these markets; the week to April 20, for instance, saw the fourth consecutive of inflows into emerging markets and, going by past trends, one could expect flows to continue for a few more weeks as fund managers continue to add to their emerging market exposure. An end to the stimulus by the Fed would indicate that the US is confident of a recovery; that would be good for the world economy and for India. There may be less money sloshing around but there would be more growth to drive up the market.







Stein's law states that "If something can't go on forever, it won't". Last Monday, rating agency Standard & Poor's (S&P) downgraded the outlook on the US sovereign credit rating from stable to negative. Statistically, the odds are one-in-two that the US will lose its AAA credit rating in the next two years. It is the first time in the last 70 years that the US has been given a negative outlook. The statement that came from S&P following the revised outlook reads like a paraphrasing of Stein's law. It states that the US has a "very large budget deficit and rising government indebtedness", which don't seem sustainable.

This announcement by S&P led to a 20.9% widening in the US credit default swap, a product that insures against a debt default. Dow Jones Industrial Average too fell by more than 140 points. S&P's primary credit analyst Nikola G Swann attributed the main reason for the negative outlook to the escalating federal budget deficit, and a staggering US debt ($14,300 billion and growing). He also pointed at the lack of will to come with a credible plan to address the fiscal mess, given the partisan politics and the ensuing gridlock that recently almost forced a government shutdown. He said, "More than two years after the beginning of the

crisis, US policymakers have still not agreed on how to reverse recent fiscal deterioration or address longer-term fiscal pressures."

The US can always avoid default if it wants. But the options for avoiding default will become increasingly painful, in terms of fiscal cutbacks and inflation. It is difficult to imagine what it would be like if the largest sovereign borrower were to default. Even a downgrade to AA from the current AAA, which has a likelihood of more than 30%, would be a huge shock to the financial system. This is because of the way sovereign ceilings work. For instance, a State Bank of India cannot possibly have a higher rating than the Government of India. Similarly, a US Government downgrade would mean that just about everything else in the US that is rated AAA will get downgraded. This would include government sponsored agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, almost all AAA-rated American corporations, and thousands of municipal bonds. Most of these debt instruments are currently 'triple-triple' assets, that is, they are rated AAA by the three principal ratings agencies—S&P, Moody's and Fitch. In fact, if the government goes one notch lower, US entities across the ratings spectrum would go down a grade as well. A large number of concurrent downgrades could cause a huge shock to the financial system.

US Treasury secretary Tim Geithner has criticised S&P for the outlook change, stating that it wasn't warranted. Powers-that-be in the government need to have the perspective that Swann is just a messenger, and shooting the messenger down is not going to solve the problem. Somebody else, if not Swann, would have pointed out that the emperor is wearing flimsy clothes. The government has been feeding on leverage for long and reducing the debt diet would mean withdrawal pains. Swann's statement indicates that the government doesn't seem to have the will to brave the discomfort. The government spent $1,293 billion more than it earned in 2010 and that number is expected to be $1,645 billion this year. The government's projected fiscal deficit for 2012 is also expected to be north of a trillion dollars. These estimates factor in obvious costs like increased healthcare expenditure but do not account for possible losses like that from government guaranteed debt made during the financial crisis. Therefore, given the planned budgetary allocations, the US government will be taking on even more debt for at least the next two years. More debt to cure problem of too much debt is not homeopathy—it is denial. The financial market may not be patient for that long, which means that at some point it may snowball into a sovereign crisis. The possibility is not as far-fetched as it seems.

Ironically, Swann has highlighted the risk of a tail-event like a large simultaneous rating downgrade that Nassim Taleb talks about in his book The Black Swan. The theory of black swan events postulates that extreme events do happen more frequently than we anticipate. In this case, a swan is used as metaphor as they are always thought to be white. Logicians, for centuries, had used a 'black swan' as a symbol of non-existence and falsification. And then suddenly, out of the blue, zoologist found a species of black coloured swans in Western Australia. In the same way, we don't expect a downgrade in US sovereign rating. Nor can we envisage a substantial number of downgrades of triple-triple assets. Yet we need to be better prepared for such shocks. Who would have imagined in 2006 that a crisis would emanate in America as they were always thought to be an 'emerging economies' disorder. Swann has unwittingly underscored the odds of a black swan event.

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







The supplementary charge sheet in the 2G spectrum allocation case is a small but significant step for the Central Bureau of Investigation in what is clearly a difficult journey in pursuit of truth and justice. The first charge sheet kept out some sensitive names for reasons of political expediency. The second deals mostly with one money trail, involving about Rs.200 crore, from Swan Telecom to Kalaignar TV, which is but a small part of the Rs.22,000 crore that the CBI estimates to be the loss to the government in the spectrum scam. However, in the context of the criminal investigation of the case, this money trail plays a crucial role by laying bare an intricate web of financial transactions which, decoded, could establish a quid pro quo between politicians in power and businessmen who benefited from the manipulation of the 'first-come, first-served' policy in spectrum allocation. True, Kalaignar TV paid back the amount with interest, but this was only between December 2010 and February 2011 after the CBI registered the case, which seemed more like a cover-up attempt. Moreover, during the period of the transaction between December 2008 and August 2009, the paid-up equity of Kalaignar TV was merely Rs.10.01 crore, and its entire income for the year ending March 31, 2009 Rs.47.54 crore. Not surprisingly, the judge of the Special Court, taking cognisance of the charge sheet, said he was satisfied that there was "enough incriminating material on record to proceed against the accused persons."

While questions have been raised about the non-inclusion of Dayalu Ammal, wife of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, who owns 60 per cent of the shares in Kalaignar TV, the CBI's reasoning is that the octogenarian had informed the board of directors as far back as July 27, 2007 of her inability to "give any attention to the company's affairs." Because of her "age and non-understanding of any language other than Tamil," she had told the board of directors, she would attend its meetings "only to suffice the legal requirement to have quorum." In the case of Ms Kanimozhi, although she was not a director, the charge sheet names her as a co-conspirator alleging a strong association with A. Raja in "official/political matters." It was important for the CBI to demonstrate to the Supreme Court of India, which is monitoring this investigation, and the public that there would be no let-up in the investigation under political pressure. But given the nature and size of the scam and the time lost, the agency will need to discover and pursue other money trails to carry the investigation through to its logical end. The question on everyone's lips, 'where did the rest of the money go?', needs some quick and decisive answers.





The border row between Thailand and Cambodia troublingly shows no sign of ending. The two countries have once again traded gunfire, this time near two 12th century temples in an area that is claimed by both sides. It is unclear who fired the first shot, but in three days of fighting 11 soldiers — five on the Thai side, and six on the Cambodian — were killed, and more than 40 wounded. Thousands of civilians have been displaced. This is the second flare-up on the border this year. In February, there was fighting near Preah Vihear, another temple 200 km from the site of the latest confrontation. ASEAN managed to douse the tension the last time, with Indonesia, currently in the chair, playing the mediator. An informal ceasefire came into place, but a peace agreement to post unarmed Indonesian military observers along the border remained on paper because of Thailand's resistance to outside intervention in what it considers a bilateral matter. On the other hand, Cambodia clearly wants to internationalise the issue beyond ASEAN: during the February clashes, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen complained to the United Nations Security Council that Thai forces had invaded his country. In the circumstances, the door appears closed to ASEAN's mediatory initiatives. The cancellation of the Indonesian Foreign Minister's April 25 visit to Bangkok as well as Phnom Penh was the clearest indication of this.

While sizable portions of the Thai-Cambodian border are undemarcated, the main dispute is centred on their rival claims to the Preah Vihear temple. A 1962 International Court of Justice ruling that the 900-year-old Siva temple belonged to Cambodia failed to resolve the problem as it did not address the rival claims to the territory around the temple. In 2008, the temple's listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site further angered Thais, and led to the first military face-off on this issue. In both countries, the issue is handy for politicians to whip up nationalist sentiments and make allegations that sovereignty has been ceded to the other side. While rhetoric is one thing, a military confrontation can hardly provide a solution. The two countries must also keep in mind the risks to the temples. Preah Vihear is held to be one of the finest examples of Khmer architecture outside Angkor; any damage to it would be tragic and self-defeating. As responsible members of the international community, Thailand and Cambodia must both muster the political will to resolve this long-standing row peacefully, soon.







In his 22nd visit also, Admiral "Mike" Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the United States armed forces, failed to achieve what he couldn't at the previous 21 calls he made to Pakistan since assuming his assignment in the Pentagon in October 2007. Yet, of all top U.S. officials, Mr. Mullen is projected by Washington as a dogged believer in America's cooperation with the Pakistani army leadership. As he proceeded to Islamabad last Wednesday, he spoke with extraordinary candour on the troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship. "We have had a very turbulent time," he told Reuters, but despite tensions, both the U.S. and Pakistan acknowledged that the relationship was vital. "I think that all of us believe that we cannot afford to let this relationship come apart. It's just too dangerous. It's too dangerous, in each country, for each country. It's too dangerous for the region." The relationship was difficult, but "we walk away from it at our peril, quite frankly." The U.S.-Pakistan relationship couldn't have been framed more aptly. But then, Mr. Mullen went on to make the stunning allegation that what caused tension most is the "relationship" between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and the so-called Haqqani network of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

Mr. Mullen couldn't have arrived at this realisation on the ISI-Haqqani nexus, which has been one of the worst-kept secrets of the Afghan bazaar, belatedly. The latest bunch of WikiLeaks cables pertaining to Guantanamo Bay actually reveals that the U.S. military, which Mr. Mullen heads, has all along listed the ISI as a "terrorist" organisation alongside the al-Qaeda, the Hezbollah, the Hamas and the Iranian intelligence! Surely, the issue is the timing of Mr. Mullen's statement. He deliberately upped the ante, holding the ISI directly and primarily responsible for the stalemate in the war; in effect, he challenged the Pakistani military leadership that it would be held accountable for the Taliban's summer offensive.

Mr. Mullen betrayed the deep frustration within the Barack Obama administration that the stalemate in the Afghan war cannot be broken militarily. A ferocious Taliban counter-offensive is expected and American officials are nervously anticipating a sharp escalation in war casualties, which may happen at an awkward time as the U.S. presidential election campaign begins to get livelier by the day. The war has become unpopular in the American public opinion and the political class doesn't have the stomach to continue with it. The U.S. coalition partners too (including Britain) are in a tearing hurry to exit.

Over and above, there is an acute "resource crunch." David Ignatius of The Washington Post wrote recently that the current budget crisis "should force some hard decisions about America's foreign policy priorities ... Today, the U.S. is allocating about $110 billion annually for the Afghan war, about $3.2 billion for military and economic aid to Pakistan, and about $150 million in special assistance to help Egypt's democratic revolution. In terms of U.S. national interests, those spending levels don't make sense. The pyramid is upside down … we should spend less [on AfPak], going forward, as we move along the exit ramp. This will mean a smaller military footprint, more use of paramilitary forces and more emphasis on diplomacy."

Prima facie, the Washington-Islamabad acrimony is due to the U.S. displeasure that the Pakistani military continues to baulk at launching operations in the North Waziristan region, where the Haqqani group is entrenched, while Islamabad opposes the manner in which the U.S. is conducting drone attacks and intelligence activities within Pakistan. However, the acrimony is quintessentially an attempt to set the bottom line of the Afghan peace talks. The Pakistani suspicion is that the U.S. is deliberately withholding its long-term Afghanistan strategy, which leaves Islamabad groping in the dark about American intentions.

Bypassing the ally

The fact of the matter is that the U.S. has been holding direct talks with the Taliban. It has been able to do this largely because of the extensive intelligence network it has created in Pakistan — which became possible because Islamabad allowed it to happen. That, ironically, enables Washington to dispense with the good offices of the Pakistani military and the ISI, and opt for direct interaction with the insurgent groups. The U.S. intelligence network within Pakistan has penetrated the range of insurgent groups — the Afghan Taliban, the "Pakistan Taliban," and non-Taliban (Afghan and Pakistani) militant groups. Evidently, if the drone attacks are becoming more "result-oriented," it is due to real-time intelligence inputs. During the six weeks of gruelling interrogation of U.S. intelligence operative Raymond Davis, the Pakistani military caught on to a host of home truths. By now, the Pakistani military would have a fair idea of the extent of the American intelligence network and its potential to play merry havoc by splintering insurgent groups, pitting one group against another, manipulating factionalism within groups, monitoring the terror network and, conceivably, even turning some of the insurgent groups into instruments of U.S. regional policies. (Tehran insists that the U.S. is indulging in covert operations in Pakistan and Iran.)

Suffice it to say the Pakistani military leadership wishes to draw a redline for the U.S.' covert operations so that Washington will be compelled to deal with militant Afghan groups through the single window of the ISI — within the parameters set by what old-timers call the "[Ronald] Reagan rules" during the Afghan jihad of the 1980s. There is hardly any leeway for Pakistan to compromise on this demand, which aims at revising the ground rules of the U.S.-Pakistan strategic partnership in the conduct of the Afghan war (based hitherto on unspoken, unwritten, ever-deniable and flexible templates of collaboration).

To be sure, Pakistan is insisting on the need to reset the ground rules as the endgame advances, in order to avoid the horrible prospect of its so-called "strategic assets" in Afghanistan — which it created at enormous cost and sacrifice and at great risk over the past three decades — getting systematically cannibalised by the American intelligence operatives scavenging the Pakistani territories, on one side of the Durand Line, and by the Special Forces under General David Petraeus relentlessly scouring the Hindu Kush, on the other — the famous "hammer and anvil approach."

Therefore, Pakistan has done the logical thing by reaching out to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in an attempt to form a condominium to kick-start formal reconciliation with the Taliban in a swift sequential process, which would present Washington with a fait accompli. Mr. Karzai is willing to cooperate in this sideshow since he has his own problems with the Obama administration. The Washington establishment is annoyed with Mr. Karzai due to his inability (or unwillingness) to deliver a status of forces agreement that would effectively legitimise long-term American military presence on Afghan soil. On his part, Mr. Karzai expects a pivotal role in any peace process so that he doesn't become politically expendable by 2014, whereas Washington quietly incites the non-Pashtun elements to challenge his zeal for reconciliation with the Taliban. So, it is this congruence of interests between Kabul and Islamabad that manifests as their joint demand that any Afghan peace process should be Afghan-led and not "dictated from outside".

The core of the U.S.' strategic dilemma is that the Pentagon desperately wants to perpetuate American military presence in Afghanistan, but knows that the majority of Afghans and the regional powers disfavour it. Therefore, the U.S. is opting for a strategy of selective reconciliation with "friendly" insurgent groups, which allows the drawdown of U.S. troops and gradually turns the war into a matter of Special Forces operations or pinpointed air strikes. The strategy aims at creating a political environment within which American forces can relocate themselves to the tranquil northern regions of Afghanistan (without having to fight and get killed or maimed), while vast areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan and the tribal tracts in the border regions lapse into "cold peace."

Of course, Pakistan is justified in wondering what is there for it in this scenario. This wasn't how the war was supposed to end. Obviously, Washington's priorities will change once the intensity of the fighting declines. For one thing, the U.S. aid flow will decline. Once the U.S. strengthens its direct line to the insurgents, its dependence on the Pakistani military can only decline. But Pakistan's objective of gaining "strategic depth" in Afghanistan remains elusive. Equally, Pakistan will be left grappling with an assortment of militant groups along its long, disputed border with Afghanistan that have been highly radicalised by the U.S.-led war. These include some groups which have been alienated one way or the other by Pakistan's role as the U.S.' "key non-NATO ally."

Pakistan faces an existential crisis in its Pashtun tribal tract that has borne the brunt of the U.S.-led war. As last Saturday's London Times report shows, there will be all sorts of attempts to muddy the waters. It suits the U.S. strategy to give the Afghan endgame the exaggerated overtones of an India-Pakistan turf war. The Indian establishment acted wisely to open dialogue with Pakistan in Mohali.

(The writer is a former diplomat.)









Osama bin Laden escaped American and British special forces closing in on his refuge in December 2001 with the help of a minor local warlord who provided fighters to guide him to safety in the north-east of Afghanistan, according to a secret intelligence report compiled by officials at Guantánamo Bay.

The al-Qaeda leader's successful flight from Tora Bora has long been seen as one of the key early lapses of the international military effort in Afghanistan. Though various theories have been floated, no firm account of how Bin Laden evaded the coalition forces and their Afghan auxiliaries has yet emerged.

New details

However, the documents reveal new details about the escape of the world's most wanted man.

One document — an assessment compiled in August 2007 of a detainee at the Guantánamo detention centre called Harun Shirzad al-Afghani — claims Bin Laden escaped the dragnet around his mountain stronghold with the help of a local Pakistani militant commander and cleric called Maulawi Nur Muhammad.

A precise identification from the documents is difficult but it is likely that the man referred to is a minor militant leader who was shot dead by unknown gunmen during 2010 in the extremist centre of Miram Shah in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal agency. "Maulawi," or more usually "Maulvi," is an honorific title denoting a senior religious scholar in the local Deobandi school of Islam.

The document says Maulawi Nur Muhammad provided 40 or 50 fighters to escort Bin Laden and his close associate Ayman al-Zawahiri to safety following a meeting with a senior al-Qaeda military field commander known as Abu Turab in mid-December 2001.

American operation; 9/11

American forces launched their operation to capture or kill the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks at the beginning of December 2001, around three weeks after capturing Kabul, the Afghan capital. More than 100 western special forces soldiers backed by thousands of Afghans had closed in on their target after around 10 days of fighting.

Previously it had been thought that Bin Laden escaped south from Tora Bora into Pakistan, evading a blocking force of Pakistani troops and paramilitaries sent to secure the frontier. However, at least two accounts from detainees and other intelligence collated by U.S. officials appear to indicate that in fact the al-Qaeda leader and al-Zawahiri headed north, slipping through the lines of the coalition forces and their Afghan auxiliaries to the house of an Afghan sympathiser called Awal Malim Gul in or near the city of Jalalabad. They "rested" there before travelling further on horseback into the remote province of Kunar, where they were to remain for 10 months.

If true, the account is one of the most detailed to emerge so far of the movements of the al-Qaeda leadership in the aftermath of the 2001 campaign in Afghanistan.

The documents are full of other details about the episode. An insight into the reduced state of Bin Laden as the terrorist infrastructure he had painstakingly built up over previous years crumbled under the allied onslaught is a reference to a debt of $7,000 he apparently incurred during the chaotic last days at Tora Bora. According to the testimony of Harun Shirzad, a meeting took place in late 2002 at which a trusted lieutenant of Bin Laden called Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi handed the commander who had apparently helped Bin Laden escape "$7,000 US to repay ... money that UBL [Bin Laden] had taken from him during the Battle of Tora Bora".

Less than three months earlier, the documents reveal, Bin Laden had sufficient funds to hand out nearly $11,000 for development projects in a village near the southern city of Kandahar.

The documents allow the movements of the al-Qaeda leadership during the fighting of 2001 to be established. One file reports that Bin Laden was near the eastern Afghan city of Khost on the day of the September 11 attacks, a detail that is corroborated by reliable evidence from other sources. Another refers to his stay in a guesthouse in Kabul in October. On November 13, with the fall of the Afghan capital imminent, Bin Laden held a meeting with senior associates at which the "logistical details" of the retreat eastwards of Arab militants who had been stationed north of the city was discussed.

By November 30, Bin Laden had apparently reached Jalalabad, where he gave $100,000 to distribute to local tribal commanders to ensure their loyalty.

He then moved up to the rocky mountains above Tora Bora, a site he knew well from the war against the Soviets in the 1980s. He had also lived nearby after arriving in Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996.

Detainees' accounts

Some have doubted whether the al-Qaeda leader was ever at Tora Bora. Several detainees, however, mention seeing or meeting him before or during the battle. One, a Yemeni doctor, Ayman Saeed Batarfi, describes two interviews with Bin Laden in which he asked the terrorist leader for medicine to treat the wounded.

Another detainee reports Bin Laden visiting his position at night to tell fighters "not to be afraid [as] the [American] bombing was far away".

Several detainees told their jailers about senior militants organising guides and groups of militants for the mountain crossing into Pakistani territory on or around December 16 after negotiations with local Afghan commanders fighting alongside units of American special forces had failed. Several of these groups were hit by air strikes as they fled the battle zone and many militants killed, according to the detainees. A significant number of extremists were captured by Pakistani forces, although at least one detainee claimed that the Pakistani intelligence services helped "al-Qaida" fighters to escape.

Leaving Tora Bora

Bin Laden appears to have left Tora Bora before this exodus in some haste. "UBL left his bodyguards in Tora Bora," one report states drily. Another says: "UBL suddenly departed Tora Bora with a few individuals UBL selected." The al-Qaeda leader's family, based in Kandahar throughout the fighting in 2001, also escaped. According to one file, detainee Salem Ahmed Salem Hamdan, Bin Laden's personal driver, and another man, a militant married to one of Bin Laden's daughters, "facilitated the escape of three of UBL's wives from Afghanistan".

"The group left Kandahar and made their way ... to the Pakistan border. At the border, detainee and Muataz turned the group over to other facilitators who would accompany the group to Quetta [the south-west Pakistani city]. Detainee and Muataz then planned to return to Kandahar but were attacked by Coalition forces, resulting in Muataz's death and detainee's capture," the memo says.

The escape of others was financed by wealthy benefactors. One report describes how a key al-Qaeda operative charged with making travel arrangements for "fleeing mujahideen and their families ... frequently wrote to two wealthy Saudis ... appealing for funds [and they] provided large sums of money on about 20 occasions between November 2001 and January 2002, totalling more than $1,000,000." There are few clues as to the location of Bin Laden or Zawahiri more recently. One intriguing reference appears to indicate that Zawahiri initially sought shelter in Pakistan's, cities as did many other senior leaders. In March 2003 however, following the detention of key 9/11 plotter Khaled Sheikh Mohammed by Pakistani authorities in the northern city of Rawalpindi, Zawahiri is reported to "have fled the house in which he was located and moved to Shkai, South Waziristan."

Shkai is a remote valley in the rugged South Waziristan tribal agency on the Afghan frontier. According to a further file, senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Farraj al-Libby, eventually captured in Pakistan in 2005, travelled to Shkai to meet members of al-Qaeda's senior leadership between August 2003 and February 2004. These included Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, the senior al-Qaeda operative who played a key role in the 7/7 bombings in the U.K. and was captured in 2007.

"Between August 2003 and February 2004 detainee travelled to Shkai on three occasions. While at Shkai detainee met with al-Qaeda's Sharia Council, delivered funds to fighters ... and visited [Abdul Hadi al—Iraqi]," his file says.

Attack on U.S.

The documents paint a picture of an active but chaotic world of groups, factions and senior leaders in the west of Pakistan planning, organising and executing attacks in Afghanistan and in a range of other locations including Europe and the U.S. while western policymakers and strategists were largely distracted by Iraq. As well as revealing turf wars between senior al-Qaeda operatives, the memos include repeated references to attempts by al-Qaeda to obtain weapons of mass destruction. The memo on Abu Farraj al-Libby goes further, citing intelligence stating that by 2004 the militants already had a device that was located in Europe but that there were no operatives to use it. It was to be detonated in the U.S. in the event of Bin Laden's capture or death, a senior al-Qaeda figure had said.

As with all the claims in the documents, independent corroboration is extremely difficult. Many appear highly speculative or based on hearsay.

    — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011








The Fukushima crisis could not have come at a worse time for the global energy industry. With China looking to add several atomic reactors to augment its generation capacity and India planning to switch to light water reactors after the agreement with the United States, nuclear power was poised to make a big comeback.

That possibility may have melted along with the fuel rods at Fukushima. Globally, there is bound to be a slow-down in the nuclear power industry, at least for a couple of decades, if we go by the earlier experience of two accidents. No doubt, the situation today is a bit different — Asia is poised on an energy-intensive growth trajectory and is competing with the developed economies for access to adequate fuel. Conventional fuels are scarce, are depleting or are controversial. It is indeed tempting to believe that we no longer have the luxury of rejecting nuclear power.

But, even if we discount the ethical, safety aspects and other arguments against nuclear power, unlike any other source of energy, the nuclear option is also about public perception. There is the fear of the unknown which is difficult to dispel with assurances, explanations and ostensibly rational arguments. Post-Fukushima, the chorus against nuclear power has risen to a crescendo. In India, safety concerns have been compounded and exacerbated by fears of disenfranchisement and dislocation of the local population in the siting of new reactors. Self-seeking political parties have jumped into the fray to fan such fears. It would be difficult for any government to push through its nuclear power programme, undeterred by the groundswell of domestic public opinion.


What then are the alternatives to nuclear power? How do we ramp up our power generation capacity? Natural gas, the lesser evil among fossil fuels, offers itself readily. With less than half the carbon content of coal and very little of the other greenhouse gases that bedevil other fossil fuels, natural gas is a viable option for a carbon-constrained world. Abundant and less whimsically distributed than crude oil or coal, its fungibility improved by liquefaction technology, and less demanding of water than coal or nuclear power, natural gas could be a viable alternative.


The technology to explore, produce, liquefy and transport natural gas is well established. A versatile fuel that finds use in a wide range of applications such as fuel for power generation, industrial processes and in automobiles and as feedstock in fertilizers and petrochemicals, natural gas is also an ideal cooking fuel whether piped to houses or bottled as LPG in cylinders. In power generation, the efficiency factor (the ratio of electricity generated to the heat content of the fuel) could be as high as 60 per cent in a combined cycle as opposed to around 30 per cent in the most efficient coal-based power plant. This alone should make natural gas the fuel of choice for electricity generation. Its efficiency could be even higher in combined heat and power applications when waste heat from the turbines is utilised in other industrial processes. Indeed, the advantages of natural gas make it the ideal bridge fuel for the next 50 years until solar photovoltaic and nuclear fusion become affordable.

Natural gas already accounts for almost a quarter of the energy basket of developed countries. Yet, in India, the share of natural gas in its commercial energy basket has stagnated at less than 10 per cent despite major new domestic discoveries in recent years. First discovered in Assam in the late 19th century, natural gas became the mainstream fuel in India in the 1960s after major reserves were discovered in the Cambay Basin on the west coast. Acknowledging its value, as a national resource, the government prioritised its application in power and fertilizer plants along the western and northern belts and built an arterial pipeline network to service them. Today, the pipeline network of 10,000 km, and with more to be added, includes a limited national grid and regional grids in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and in the North-East.

Growth trajectory

More gas came on stream in the early 1990s, when some of the "discovered fields" of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) and Oil India Limited (OIL) were developed in joint ventures with the private sector. From 1997, India opened its acreages to international investors in exploration and production through a structured licensing process termed NELP (New Exploration Licensing Policy) of which nine rounds have been completed. Of the 239 blocks awarded to investors so far, 68 fields, of both oil and gas, are claimed to have been discovered. In fact, the discovery of the Krishna-Godavari (KG) Basin gas fields by Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), ONGC and the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation came from the acreages awarded in the first NELP round. Yet, only one of these fields — KG D6 — has commenced commercial production. India also has two operating LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) terminals which regassify LNG and supply it to consumers. Two more terminals are likely to be commissioned shortly.

Gas floating above coal seams, called coal bed methane (CBM), is another rich source of high calorific value fuel. India may have about one trillion cubic metres of this gas mostly in the Gondwana basin. CBM projects qualify for carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Recent years have witnessed four licensing rounds of CBM as well. There are 30 CBM blocks awarded for exploration. Production, which is modest, has also commenced and is expected to be ramped up significantly in the next few years. India is also examining the prospects of domestic shale gas.


The table ( above) gives the average daily production from all sources.

Domestic gas demand is estimated to be at least double that of daily availability, although demand is price-elastic and linked to the price of alternative fuels. Gas markets, unlike liquid fuel markets, are still segmented, regional and continental, rather than global. Natural gas prices can vary from one-tenth of crude oil price to one-fifth, depending on the source, the type and crucially, on consumers' ability to absorb the price. Gas piped through transnational pipelines tends to be cheaper than LNG; domestically produced gas is cheaper than gas imported through transnational pipelines as well as LNG. Long-term contracts are cheaper than spot cargoes which are usually top-up options.

With global crude prices spiralling and coal becoming increasingly unacceptable, gas may suddenly find itself attractive, viable and competitive. It could greatly contribute to enhancing India's quest for energy security provided we get our act together in time and play our cards right to drive hard bargains. On the domestic front, it is essential to accelerate the pace of drilling for gas, CBM and shale and monitor effective compliance with drilling and production schedules specified in the licence and production sharing contracts. Multiple sources of supply will ensure a competitive price outcome. As for gas imports, since pipelines make much better economic sense, transnational pipeline projects should be pursued vigorously and built expeditiously. It is essential to clinch competitively-priced long-term contracts for both pipeline imports as well as LNG supplies.

Even if one or two transnational pipelines with a total capacity of 60 MMSCMD materialise, and assuming the entire supply is used for electricity generation, India can add 15 gigawatts of generation capacity in just three years, pari passu with the construction of the pipeline. Similar results can be reached with two LNG terminals with a total capacity of 15 million tonnes per annum. Not only will it take nuclear energy several decades to reach this target, but even at currently prevailing long-term LNG prices, gas-based power will be cheaper than nuclear power.

( The writer is Member, Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board. The views expressed are personal.)





Congolese children's rights activist Murhabazi Namegabe has won the $100,000 World Children's Prize. The Stockholm-based award foundation, on April 26, cited Murhabazi's "dangerous struggle to free children forced to be child soldiers or sex slaves" in Congo. The foundation says that since 1989, Murhabazi and his organisation BVES have freed 4,000 child soldiers and more than 4,500 girls who had been assaulted by armed groups.

It says the winner was decided in a vote among 3.2 million children worldwide.

Since 1999, the Swedish Children's World Association has awarded the annual World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child for outstanding contributions in defending the rights of children and youth.







The seed, the source of life, the embodiment of our biological and cultural diversity, the link between the past and the future of evolution, the common property of past, present and future generations of farming communities who have been seed breeders, is today being stolen from the farmers and being sold back to us as "propriety seed"

owned by corporations like the US-headquartered Monsanto.
Under pressure from the Prime Minister's Office, various state governments are signing MoUs (memorandums of understanding) with seed corporations to privatise our rich and diverse genetic heritage. For example, the government of Rajasthan has signed seven MoUs with Monsanto, Advanta, DCM-Shriram, Kanchan Jyoti Agro Industries, PHI Seeds Pvt. Ltd, Krishidhan Seeds and J.K. Agri Genetics.
The Rajasthan government's MoU with Monsanto, for example, focuses on maize, cotton, and vegetables (hot pepper, tomato, cabbage, cucumber, cauliflower and water melon). Monsanto controls the cottonseed market in India and globally. Monsanto also controls 97 per cent of the worldwide maize market and 63.5 per cent of the genetically-modified (GM) cotton market. DuPont, in fact, had to initiate anti-trust investigations in the US because of Monsanto's growing seed monopoly.
Sixty Indian seed companies have licensing arrangements with Monsanto, which has the intellectual property on Bt. cotton.
In addition, Monsanto has cross-licensing arrangements with BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Sygenta and Dow to share patented, genetically-engineered seed traits with each other. The giant seed corporations are not competing with each other. They are competing with peasants and farmers over the control of the seed supply. And, in effect, monopolies over seed are being established through mergers and cross-licensing arrangements.
Monsanto, which controls 95 per cent of the cottonseed market, has pushed the price of seed from `7 per kg to `3,600 per kg, with nearly half being royalty payments. It was extracting `1,000 crores per annum as royalty from Indian farmers before Andhra Pradesh sued it in the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission.
The commodified seed is ecologically incomplete and ruptured at two levels: First, it does not reproduce itself, while, by definition, seed is a regenerative resource. Genetic resources are thus, through technology, transformed from a renewable into a non-renewable resource. Second, it does not produce by itself; it needs the help of purchased inputs. And, as the seed and chemical companies merge, the dependence on inputs will increase.
The failure of hybrid sunflower in Karnataka and hybrid maize in Bihar has cost poor farmers hundreds of crores of rupees. There are no liability clauses in the MoUs to ensure farmers' rights and protection from seed failure.
The seeds that will be used for essentially derived varieties by corporations like Monsanto are originally farmers' varieties. The Farmers' Rights and Plant Genetic Resources Act is a law to protect farmers' rights, but nothing in the MoUs acknowledges, protects or guarantees farmers' rights. It is, therefore, violative of the Farmers' Rights Act.
The MoUs are one-sided and biased in favour of corporate intellectual property rights. The Monsanto MoU states: "Monsanto's proprietary tools, techniques, technology, know-how and intellectual property rights with respect to the crops shall remain the property of Monsanto although utilised in any of the activities outlined as part of the MoU". So the issue here is not technology, but seed monopoly.
What is being termed a public-private partnership (PPP) and is being conducted under the supervision of the state is, in fact, the great seed robbery.
Rajasthan is an ecologically fragile area. Its farmers are already vulnerable. It is a crime to increase their vulnerability by allowing corporations to steal their genetic wealth and then sell them patented, genetically engineered, ill-adapted seeds. We must defend seeds as our commons. We must protect the seeds of life from the seeds of suicide.
Farmers breed for resilience and nutrition. Industrial breeding responds to intensive chemical and water inputs so that seed companies can increase profits. The future of the seed, the future of the food, the future of farmers lies in conservation of the biodiversity of our seed. Navdanya's research also shows that biodiversity-based ecological agriculture produces more food than monocultures.
Hybrids and Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) produce less nutrition per acre and are vulnerable to climate change, pests and disease. Replacing agro-biodiversity with hybrid and GM crops is a recipe for food insecurity. The MoUs will, in effect, facilitate bio-piracy of Rajasthan's rich biodiversity of drought-resilient crops, which become more valuable in times of climate change. By failing to have any clauses that respect the Biodiversity Act and the Farmers' Rights Act, the MoUs promote biopiracy and legalise the great seed robbery.
According to the MoUs, private companies' seed distribution will be based on "seed supply and distribution arrangements involving leverage of extensive government-owned network". In other words, selling hybrids and then GMOs will be subsidised by allowing the use of public land for "technology demonstration farms to showcase products, technology and agronomic practices on land made available by the government of Rajasthan".
Besides the handing over of seed and land, "Monsanto will be helped in the establishment of infrastructure towards the fulfilment of the collaboration objectives specified above through access to relevant capital subsidy and other schemes of the government of Rajasthan".
While public resources will be freely given away to Monsanto as a subsidy, Monsanto's Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) monopolies will be protected. This is an MoU for "Monsanto takes all, the public system gives all".
It is clearly an MoU for privatisation of our seed and genetic wealth, our knowledge, and a violation of farmers' rights.
Seed sovereignty is the foundation of food sovereignty. Seed freedom is the foundation of food freedom. The great seed robbery threatens both. It must be stopped.

Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust







The publication of Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India by Joseph Lelyveld has become the occasion for some controversies about Mahatma Gandhi's sex life and his alleged tendency to be a racist while dealing with the problems of black South Africans.

I, as India's high commissioner to the United Kingdom (1985-88), had the opportunity of acquiring over 260 letters addressed by Gandhi to his friend and disciple Hermann Kallenbach, a rich Jewish German architect, resident in South Africa, at a public auction at Sotheby's, London, on December 18, 1986. Lelyveld has relied mainly on these letters, which are now with National Archives, to understand the friendship between Gandhi and Kallenbach. The entire South Africa part of Gandhi's biography takes up only 100 of the 400 pages of the book and of this the portion relating to Kallenbach is rather small. Yet, some reviewers of Lelyveld's book have devoted disproportionately long space to write about the friendship between Gandhi and Kallenbach. The reviewer in the Wall Street Journal, Andrew Roberts, has suggested quite wrongly that the author himself had entertained doubts whether Gandhi had not displayed bi-sexual tendencies in his relations with Kallenbach. But given the fact that the author has not made any such observation himself directly, the clamour for banning the book seems to have risen out of gross misunderstanding about the thrust and contents of the book. Lelyveld's The Great Soul is a brilliant biography of the great soul, and if this book had been banned by a few more state governments, India would have been the real loser, not Lelyveld.
Now, the letters acquired by me in 1987. I got to know that a rich university in the US had sent its agent to bid in the auction of the Kallenbach letters and would offer any price to get hold of them. When I discussed participation in the bid with a senior officer who was then responsible for the subject of education at the Indian mission, I found that he was somewhat nervous about this task. He told me that he would be criticised in Delhi government circles if the price was high, and equally badly if he failed to get these letters. I assured him that I would personally be present at the auction and that he should go on bidding as long as he saw my right thumb held high. This scheme worked and we were able to clinch the deal in our favour, though the price we had to pay was more than double of what was advertised. The advertised price was £70,000 to £80,000, but the Sotheby's started the auction with £90,000. My right thumb remained raised and firm till the agent of the university gave up bidding. The papers were acquired for the Government of India for £140,000, and in addition to that we had to pay as fees and value-added tax (VAT), £14,000 and £2,100 respectively.
While preparing the evaluation of Gandhiji's letters to Kallenbach, no questions whatsoever about Gandhi's so-called bi-sexualism ever entered my mind; on the other hand I was astounded to find that Gandhi, even at a young age, had become the most uncompromising votary of truth and neither family ties nor any other considerations weighed on him in standing up for what he considered was the truth.
It was clear to me from the letters that Gandhi's life as the "Mahatma" had advanced very far while he was still in South Africa. In two letters of May 1913, Gandhi expressed intense mental agony on account of a simple aberration in the conduct of his young son Devadas — eating "stolen lemons". In his letter of May 1, 1913, to Kallenbach, Gandhi writes, "Devadas made me weep today as I have not wept for years". Gandhi says that when Devadas was confronted with the fact that eating "stolen lemons" was unbecoming of a Satyagrahi, Devadas replied that "he did not immediately confess his guilt as he was afraid of being hit by me, as if I am in the habit of hitting boys. And so I felt that by way of a lesson to him I would deposit a few slaps on my cheeks which I did and then felt the grief so much that I wept bitterly".
In a letter to Kallenbach dated April 12, 1914, Gandhi narrates the unpleasant exchange of angry words between him and Kasturba and proceeds to give his assessment of her personality at that time. "She has a character and she has none", wrote Gandhi. "She is the most venomous woman I have ever met. She never forgets, never forgives." And then the tenderness in their relationship emerges and Gandhi takes a good deal of the blame on himself. He continues: "I have nursed her as a son would nurse his mother but my love has not been sufficiently intense and selfless to make her change her nature".
Some of Gandhi's letters written immediately after his return to India reveal the tension in the family caused by his taking into the ashram a person belonging to the then untouchable caste. In his letter of September 17, 1915, he writes, "I have taken to the Ashram a 'pariah' from these parts. This is an extreme step. It caused a break-up between Mrs Gandhi and myself. I lost my temper. She tried it too much". In another letter of the same month Gandhi writes, "The steps I have taken mean a great deal so that it may alter my life. I may have to completely take up 'pariah' work".
I can only plead with those in authority for education at the state levels that instead of wasting time on the views of some reviewers, they should ensure that some of these letters, suitably edited with background notes for the easy understanding of the younger generation, are prescribed as text books so that Gandhiji's words do not remain confined to the National Archives. The publication of some of these incidents in textbooks will help young students to understand better the personality and beliefs of one whom we all call the Father of the Nation and on whom Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had conferred the title of Mahatma on behalf of the people of India after his return to his motherland. It will also make us proud to recognise the historical fact that such a person in flesh and blood really walked on our part of the earth not so long ago.

P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra






In the post-Colonial era, renaming of cities became fairly common all over the world. In many cases it was correcting the spelling in conformity with the correct pronunciation of the name, like Calcutta to Kolkata, Bombay to Mumbai or Peking to Beijing. In quite a few cases the name was changed completely, like Madras to Chennai or Batavia to Jakarta.

In the mid-Eighties we started a movement the like of which had not taken place for any other city for Patna to be given back its old name of Pataliputra. The local people's attachment to the city's ancient name can be seen in this name being used in the city as a prefix for various institutions, buildings, shops, hotels, schools, stores and so on. Visitors to this city often address meetings, starting their talk with references to ancient Pataliputra. In the mid-Eighties, Bihar was the most backward state in the country on the basis of all indices. We felt that by restoring the city's ancient name we would arouse a sense of self-pride among the people and motivate them. Pataliputra had been the capital of India for nearly a thousand years and was a leading city of the world. Megasthenes, Seleucus Nicator's Greek ambassador to the Mauryan court in the time of Chandragupta Maurya, wrote that no city of the world could compare with Pataliputra. Seven hundred years later Fa-Hien, the Chinese pilgrim, marvelled at the city's beautyand said it could not have been built by human hands. The first Indian empire unifying the whole subcontinent was established from Pataliputra. This empire was bigger in size than the erstwhile British Empire in India. The city was also a great centre of learning in the humanities and sciences. Civilisation spread to different parts of the world from this city, which used to be a flourishing river port. Along with renaming the city we proposed a river-front road in Patna like Mumbai's Marine Drive, floating restaurants, parks in the city and a massive civilisation gate to depict how civilisation travelled from Pataliputra to different parts of the world. Signatures, 100,000 of them, were obtained on the memorandum in support of the proposal. This was submitted to the then chief minister. The Bihar Cabinet unanimously approved our proposal and sent it to the government of India. Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, appeared responsive. At this stage some people raised the bogey of Hindu fundamentalism. The name Pataliputra has no Hindu connection as such. It was derived from the Patali trees that were found in abundance there. In its heyday, Pataliputra was a Buddhist city. The name Patna, derived from Patan Devi, has a Hindu connection. Yet decision-makers in
Delhi and Patna, guided by vote-bank considerations, shelved the issue.
Winds of change are now blowing in Bihar. Under Nitish Kumar's leadership the state has achieved over 11 per cent economic growth, the second highest in India. Development has been given a high priority and the results are visible in terms of improved roads and better infrastructure. The 2011 Assembly elections established that the people of Bihar have pulled themselves out of the quagmire of communal and caste politics. The rest of the country, instead of looking down on Bihar, has come to look up to the state. Mr Kumar has also been taking steps to revive Bihari self-pride. Large and beautiful parks have come up in Patna and more are on the anvil. A river-front road is being constructed along the banks of the Ganga. Floating restaurants have been provided. Harking back to the city's glorious history, several acres of prime land near the main railway station was not allowed to be used for a mall; instead, a massive Buddhist stupa has been constructed there. Buddha's relics from different Buddhist countries in the world have been brought and consecrated in this stupa, which is the largest in India. It was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama and named Pataliputra Karuna Stupa. In view of these developments, we revived our proposal for a Civilisation Gate. or Sabhyata Dwar, north of Gandhi Maidan, near the Ganga. The proposal is that it should be 100 feet high, on the lines of Mumbai's Gateway of India, India Gate in New Delhi or the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. These gates commemorate a single event of history. Patna's proposed gate should convey a message of universal brotherhood and religious tolerance, covering the panorama of a thousand years of history. There should also be suitable landscaping at the site. In content and beauty this gate should surpass the gates of Mumbai, Delhi and Paris. It is a matter of great satisfaction that Mr Kumar has approved this proposal. Hopefully, work on it should commence soon. All the major religions of the world have sacred sites located in Patna. The Hindu temple of Patan Devi, from which the city's name is derived, dates back to the prehistoric period. The Jain shrine of Kamaldeh, built by the great Jain saint Sthulbhadra, was constructed in the 5th century BC. Lord Buddha had seen Pataliputra being constructed in 487 BC and had predicted that it would grow into a leading city of the world. Today, the new Buddhist stupa underscores the Enlightened One's association with the city. The Rasul-e-Qadam mosque is unique. It has the footprints in stone of the Holy Prophet, brought from Mecca. Guru Govind Singh was born at Har Mandir Sahib and spent his early childhood there. Capuchin friars came here from Rome and established a staging post and a hospice for their mission to find the missing tribe. It has now become Padri Ki Haveli where Mother Teresa did her nursing training for a few years. Apart from religious co-existence, two rulers of India from Bihar gave a unique message of universal brotherhood and religious tolerance. Ashoka the Great in his Rock Edict No. 13 declared that all his subjects, irrespective of religion, were his children and would be treated as such. Sher Shah Suri moved the state capital from Bihar Sharief to Patna and allowed the city to use a name derived from a Hindu deity. He was the first ruler medieval India to introduce secularism in governance. Akbar the Great followed in his footsteps. The Civilisation Gate will not only convey the message of universal brotherhood and religious tolerance but will also have inscribed in golden letters the names of people from Bihar who influenced the course of history during the ancient, medieval and modern periods.
To respect minority sentiments, Patna City railway station was named Patna Sahib and Gulzarbag railway station Azimabad. Similarly, Patna Junction, barely 100 yards from the massive Pataliputra Karuna Stupa, should be renamed Pataliputra. That
will give a fillip to Buddhist tourism.

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.









Director General of Police J&K must be the happiest man to have extended the largesse of Police Parivar Fund to the deserving wards of such martyrs among our police force as laid down their precious lives in the service of the state. These children must naturally be feeling proud of their valiant fathers for the unique sacrifices they have made in the service of the country. For last two decades, the State Police Force has been discharging duty under severe constraints rooted in the upsurge of militancy in the State. The police are the frontline force in meeting this challenge and obviously it has suffered the highest casualties. Therefore it is a moment of introspection for the civil society to know what it owes to this force. The maximum contributors to police parivar fund should have been the civilians at large meaning the conscientious citizenry. The families of martyred policemen cannot rest content only with the small scholarships sanctioned by police authorities for their children. Their needs are beyond just the stipends. These embrace all aspects of life, a reasonable standard of living, confirmed opportunities of training and employment to their children, proper rehabilitation through adequate bank loans and public assistance and many other perks. In fact the big business houses and companies could think of adopting some of the more affected and destitute among the wards of martyred police personnel. The unique services rendered by the police department and its intelligence agencies in various parts of the country but especially in militancy and violence affected regions in J&K and the North Eastern States is a golden chapter in the police history of the country. It has to be borne in mind that the police personnel were the first targets of the armed insurgents in 1989, after which militancy exacerbated and more and more police personnel became the target of attacks by armed insurgents. Policemen deployed on beats and other places to perform their normal duty, would be suddenly attacked and gunned down by the militants. The worst is that so-called human rights activists would fill scores of sheets invoking the human rights of the gun wielding militants and plead their cause on national and international platforms. Ironically they did not say a word about the rights of the security forces and the police personnel in particular whose cadres have been created under proper constitutional provisions with the essential purpose of providing security and safety to the civilian population. It was done with the tacit purpose of discouraging the police personnel from rendering their duty efficiently. Our police cadres deserve three chairs for their dedication and steadfastness to the duty assigned to them by the state. In situations of server intimidation with open threat to their life and their families, these brave men stood undaunted at their post thereby frustrating the attempts of the miscreants. It has to be remembered that foremost appreciation and credit for containing armed insurgency in the state goes to the State Police. Its efficient intelligence wing has rendered great service in nabbing the hardcore terrorists, in engaging them and in smashing their hideouts up in the mountainous Himalayan range.


The time has come for instituting a Police Reform Commission to give a completely new shape and direction to the entire police department. It needs to be modernized along the latest and most modernized lines in all respects, like recruitment, selection, training, discipline, intelligence gathering, medical assistance, social life and family welfare etc. We shall need to equip our police force with latest defence and assault gadgets, weapons and equipment. It is a shame to see a policemen carrying out their critical duty but armed with an obsolete and outdated weapon. Our police force needs to be educated extensively on new methodologies of mob control system or dealing with recurrent defaulters. Another aspect towards which police reformation commission shall have to pay attention would be the gathering of intelligence from dependable sources and a mechanism that anticipates and reacts to situations in the offing. Salaries, grades, disability succour and pension benefits to police personnel also need to be brought under thorough revision. Facilities to the families and wards of policeman provided under existing laws need to be revised and implemented in letter and spirit. Our police personnel have enormous potential of rendering patriotic service to the nation, and this potential needs to be given adequate exposure and avenue to flourish.







According to the Corps Commander of 15 Corps, Lt. Gen. Hassnain, concentration of armed infiltrators along the LoC in J&K continues unabated. Training camps for terrorists inside PoK are fully functional and retired or in-service Pakistan Army generals are supervising the recruitment, training and other logistics in the vast terrorist industry in that State. These infiltrators try to sneak into our side of the LoC, join their local moles and then spread out in the valley in order to carry out their acts of subversion. The Army and border security personnel are keeping strict vigil and would not give them the slightest chance of infiltrating. But as the borderline is long running into hundreds of miles and mostly porous, it is difficult to plug all possible routes. The terrorists usually adopt less frequented routes leading to the valley. The question is that while the regime in Islamabad is trumpeting bilateral talks and its curbs on militant organizations and their activists, there seems no change in stance in regard to pushing them into the Indian side of J&K State. Pakistan has double policy in regard to war on terrorism. It has one prescription for the insurgents in NWFP and Baluchistan, for example, and another prescription for terrorists in Kashmir. On its part, Indian security forces are maintaining strict vigil not to give any chance to the miscreants to sabotage peace in Kashmir. For last two summers, Kashmir has been going through a spate of unrest. State does not want this summer to be the same as last year. Therefore in this background we find that the so called peace talk between the two warring countries is just eyewash and may not result in any concrete decision. New Delhi will go anther mile with the civilian regime in Islamabad to normalize relations but the fact of the matter is that whether the civilian government is really in power in that country? Restoration of normal relations is possible between only normal countries, and as Pakistan is not a normal country, restoration of peace tantrum seems something only for public consumption.







Our universe has been a very sophisticated one. Human inquisition of mind of exploring its sites and resources has not stopped at any particular stage. From the times immemorial, there had been a race to invade or explore various regions on the planet earth. This has resulted into interaction between various races and ethnical groups along with the discovery of various unknown travel routes or new landscapes. Every new discovery or a conquest on earth was full of thrills and credit. Some of the examples can be cited as discovery of travel routes in sea by Vascode Gama from Purtugal to West coast of India or Columbus discovering the American soil. These discoveries were considered to be very creditable for later travelers from Europe to India and also for the settlement on the American soil. Similarly African and other such soils were discovered gradually. When whole of the planet earth was brought under the human ambit, the next attention was towards the outer celestial bodies. The nearest celestial body to the earth is its own satellite, the moon, which is about 4 lakhs kilometers away from earth's orbit.

USSR was the first to launch a football sized earth orbiting satellite Sputnik-I on Oct. 04, 1957 followed by Sputnik-II which carried a dog named as Laika. USSR did this by using R-7 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. This caused a worry to USA because R-7 was, that way, able to drop nuclear bomb at any part of the earth. American President that time John F. Kennedy wanted American superiority over USSR in the field of space explorations and missile defence or in short to 'space race.' The Sputnik launch by USSR led directly to the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Research (NASA) by USA in July 1958.

In fact, NASA had taken the clue from the idea of again a Russian mechanic called Yuri Kondratyuk who had described how a small landing craft could leave a mothership in lunar orbit to ferry its crew to the surface of moon and back, a technique referred to as Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR). NASA scientists were convinced with LOR and they designed three components of Apollo Programme such as, the Conical Command Module where the crew could eat and sleep on its way to moon and back home; the Service Module supplying electricity, water maneuvering power and thrust to get home from the lunar orbit; Lunar module or LM a two part totally self contained space craft that used its own rockets to land on and take off from the surface of moon, and even served as its own launch pad. They started the programme from projects Mercury and Gemini followed by Apollo 1-11 and then to Apollo - 17. First manned mission of Apollo-1 consisted of three austronauts but it met with a fire accident on the launch pad in Command Module on July 27, 1967 and claimed the lives of three austronauts. There were no crafts namely Apollo-2 & 3. Then the fourth mission, Apollo - 4 was without any crew and was launched on 9th Nov. 1967 and was splashed down on the same day. Apollo 5 & 6 were also without any crew and was to verify ascent and descent stages. Apollo - 7 , 8 and 9 were with crew members to verify space worthiness of equipment to be used in the final lunar landing. Apollo - 10 reached upto 15.6 kilometers of the lunar service during practice maneuvers. Apollo-11 was launched on July 11, 1969 with three austronauts on board namely Niel Armstrong, Michael Collins and Adwin Eugene 'Ruzz' Aldrin. On July 20, 1969 Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to land on the lunar surface and Collins Orbited above.

Following the success of Apollo - 11, Apollo 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 went on to land on the surface of moon, while Apollo-13 met with an accident but the austronauts were brought back on the earth safely. With these six Apollo missions, 400 kg of lunar rock samples was brought to earth. With these samples experiments were conducted to study moon soil mechanics, meteoroids, heat flow, magnetic fields and solar wind experiments etc. The successes of Apollo missions provided a valuable scientific achievement.

Encouraged by the successes of Apollo missions US started looking for other planets. In May 2008, a small US space craft 'Phoenix' landed in the north polar region of Mars to begin a three month research for water and building blocks of life, and sent back the pictures of the frozen land of mars. Phoenix covered a distance of 423 million miles in over 10 months. Mars can be a suitable habitat for human beings as its gravity is similar to that of earth and it has an atmosphere.

Apollo mission had ended in 1972. The interest was rekindled for the first time in Sep. 2003 when the European Space Agency launched its lunar mission SMART-1. This was followed by Japan and China launching their moon missions Kaguya and Change in Sept. and Oct. 2008. India has not been left behind. India created the history by sending its moon mission Chanderyan-1 in the lunar orbit in the first attempt. This stabilized its operations in Oct. 2008 and Indian made Moon Impact Probe on the board hit the lunar surface on Oct. 15, 2008 when the Indian tricolor was also planted. This probe is to study the possible sites for future missions. In 2012 India is to launch another lunar mission Chanderyan-2 and gradually India is planning for human landing also. In Feb. 2011 Chanderyan-1 has sent the pictures of 1 km long tunnel on the lunar surface. This tunnel can be of immense use for further explorations or sending some human probes on the moon surface. Lunar surface has extreme variations of temperature because of solar radiations directly hitting the lunar surface which is without atmosphere. The day time temperature shoots upto 130 degree C while at night the temperature comes as low as -20 to -30 degree C. A big tunnel on moon surface can be used as a shield for saving from extreme variations of temperature. Scientists say once a lunar base is built it will be suitable for further launchs towards Mars because lunar resources could be used for refueling the Mars Missions and there would be lot of savings of earth resources.

By the successes of Chanderyan Projects, India had joined the five nations of Space Club namely USSR, USA, Japan, China and European Space Agency. This has been a matter of pride for India having traversed successfully a long distance of scientific achievements in shortest possible time.

(The author is Retd Principal)






Anna Hazare's campaign against corruption has evoked nationwide acclaim because corruption is a nation-wide problem. His vituperation against politicians - 'they are thieves… should be fed to vultures' - finds an equally wide echo. Calling him 'Gandhi of our day' carries the endorsement of the whole nation. His booing out politicians from his podium have been taken as a confirmation of his honesty and sincerity, all over. People, throughout the nation, are actually looking up to his campaign to put an end to the cancer of corruption that has already seeped to all walks, all nooks, all niches of the nation. He has called polities the root of the evil. And there is the rub.

For, what Anna did is itself politics. But it is the politics of morality. That was the strength of the original Gandhi. He too had critics. People, respectable sincere people like C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru differed with him. Subash Bose did not quite see an eye to eye with him on many issues including the mode of struggle to be adopted. And, he was all politics. From his opposing Bose in the Congress Working Committee to being the first to applaud his fight for freedom was politics alright, but again it was the politics of morality. That morality lay with him in his doctrine of means and end.

Gandhi was not opposed to Bose per se. He saw that the path was not right and was against it. But Bose fighting for the country was his toast and he accordingly went out of his way to applaud him and faced criticism from Maulana Azad on the count. That is the way of a conscientious politician. He lives by morals and needs not adhere to the letters of the rule.His assessments may have been wrong but they were honest and sincere… they were political but not corrupt. This sincerity of thought and honesty of action made him Gandhi, the power. Sincerity and honesty are propelling Anna to that hoary status, even as he wields the weapon of moral politics.

Politics is not fisti-fighting. It is not the British ploy of pitting one sect against the other, one caste against the other, one religion against the other or above all others, to achieve your object. It is also not asinine rule-mongering. Politics is mobilization of opinion on issues. Politics is solvating problems through innovation and pragmatism. It is the way to overcome fascist, dictatorial irrationalities whether in functioning or application. It is the way to overcome brute force of an empire as well as the mode to deal with cunning constrains of a puerile rule-mongering. Sharpened technicalities of rule-mongering, may have turned polity into an anathema, but it is moral corruption which is the cause of corruption, not politics per se. Politics is not the root of evil: it is immorality - personal, political even ideational - that is the root of evil. The politics of honesty and sincerity alone can lead the way out of this morass. That is the weapon Anna is wielding.

There, the critics of Anna, who do hail his cause, are correct. RJD's Raghuvansh Prasad, for example, is correct in holding that legislative should rest with the elected representatives, which means politicians. Again, none can disagree with, say Mohan Singh of SP, that imposition of a person's will over the legislature is fascist. So are the other criticisms from those of the standing-congress critic Digvijay Sing to the newly discovered critical genius Amar singh. They raise valid points. The system needs be reformed but it is a deviation to try to subvert the system in the name of reform. Nobody can suffer a deviation, how so well intentioned, to replace the system, least of all a democracy. At the same time while the criticism has to be acknowledged, the moral standing of the critics themselves cannot be ignored. The means are as important as the end: only the sinless can store a sinner, only the honest can criticize. Yes, let no sinner lift a stone much less stone the apostle.

One aspect of Anna's call is to make the people like Amar Singh, Digvijay Singh, Raghuvansh Prasad , Mohan Singh, … et. el. realize that though what they say is technically correct, they are all wrong in practice. They are in parties that are anything but honest. They know neither question, nor doubt there. That is hardly allowed. And that, is the major reason for corruption. again, The parties that promote sectarian interests cannot be sincere. Exploiting sectarian sentiments is itself a deviation. While they are correct on fascism and its reprehensive character, they have not spoken of these vices within their own parties for decades. None of course has dared speak of the corrupt thought and act in which they are founded. None has insisted upon , or even spoken of any of these sterling values there. This in fact applies to all the parties. Hence the criticism, the talk of the sound principles is actually a double standards. It is the root evil giving the politics a name bad enough for the crusaders against corruption to call for hanging them all. It is dishonesty, the father of corruption.

For, in the end, it is morality that alone counts. The letters of law, how so meticulously framed are bare letters. It is the spirit-truth honesty and morality that alone can give them life. With the spirit lacking they end up as dead letters, to be played and prevaricated by whoso ever may wish. Morality alone cuts out these deviant wishes and wants. The roots of corruption lie in politics being bereft of moral values, not in politics. Absence of honesty and sincerity turns the anti-corruption laws into tools of corruption itself. And that is how; democracy becomes mobocracy which has been seen to be as fascist as they come.







The Right to Information Act came in to force all over India on Oct 12, 2005. This Act allows the public to seek information from any governmental department there by increasing accountability and the transparency of the establishment and allowing it to share power with the humblest and poorest of the society. Now India has joined the sixty odd countries around the world which have this provision in the constitution. There are around forty other countries waiting to join the group of enlightened democracies. Transparency is an important discipline in governance. Right to information is the backbone of democracy. This right has been derived from the fundamental right to freedom of speech subject to reasonable restrictions guaranteed by the constitution of India. Right to information seeks to set limitations to the iron curtain of classified information to the public.

The Act has an interesting history. Redtapism, Bureaueracy and Babudom often used the official secrets act to keep information away from the public. To do away with this sort of secrecy press justice P.B. Sawant, the chairman of the Press Council of India and the Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad prepared their respective drafts of the Right to Information Bill in 1966 and 1977 respectively. This initiated a debate for effective and responsive Govt. which forced the Govt. of India to appoint a working group on Jan 2, 1997 to dwell upon the necessity and possibility of enacting a right to information bill. The freedom of information bill, 2000 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 25th July 2000. The bill was enacnted as the freedom of information act in 2002. but the act retained a number of restrictive provisions to deny information to the public. It was partially enacted. The new Right to Information Bill introduced in May 2005 has a wider scope. At the same time, they are subject to reasonable restrictions. Information in this regard means any material in any form relating to the administration, operations or decisions of a public authority.

Right to information includes the right to inspect works, documents or records, take notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records, take certified samples of material, obtain information in form of printouts diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts, but does not include file notings. There are, however some notable exceptions, on the part of the Govt. as well as the public, to this act. The Act extends to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir. But the Govt. of J&K has its own chief information commissioner. The Govt. has made provisions for third party information in RTI Act. But there are certain provisions for that like: if applicant seeks information about a third party, the Govt. will send a notice to the person concerned in five days, the third party will have ten days to present his or her case before the commission whether the information should be divulged, if third party refuses permission, then the public information officer will have to decide if divulging the information is in public interest and however, the third party can appeal to the central or state information commission, if the officer decides to divulge information. The advantages of this act are many fold. Firstly, the act will help the country become more powerful in an increasingly information and knowledge driven society. The largest democracy in the world become mature in its application and implementation of the cause of democracy by removing the curtain of secrecy and increasing the accountability of official machinery, it will strike at the root of corruption. It will add teeth to the powers of the judiciary, and allow it to take proper and quick decisions against the corrupt on the basis of proper documents. The immediate beneficiaries of the act will be journalists. These watch dogs of democracy will have to report more stories of corruption. Investigative journalism will improve in standards, as the arguably unethical practice of sting operations, will be replaced by direct questioning of the concerned officials who are now bound to answer. The flip side may be the complacency on part of the journalists, as the challenge of investigative journalism will godown.

However, it is upon the discretion of the concerned public authority to allow access to information belonging to the list of exemptions, if public interest in disclosure out weighs the anxieties of security and integrity.

Right to information act shall help in eradicating corruption from the society. The important thing is right information at the right time. There is need of strengthening the information commission by appointing other members with full powers and there should be no political interference in their appointment.









THE arrest of Suresh Kalmadi, even if belated, may satisfy the vast majority of Indians who had never expected the law to touch the mighty of the land. However, the more proactive and informed sections would dismiss it as "too little, too late" and press for the prosecution of all those indicted by the V.K. Shunglu Committee report. They include Delhi's Chief Minister and Lt-Governor, and some top bureaucrats who have been accused of causing cost overruns, resulting in a loss of Rs 900 crore, favours to select contractors, exaggerated estimates and a large-scale waste of public money in holding the 2010 Commonwealth Games.


They are all powerful people. The UPA government's action on the Shunglu report will test its sincerity in taking on those who had let down the nation at a critical time. The organisers of the scandal-tainted CWG had exposed the country to global shame and tarred the country's image as an emerging economic power brimming with talent and confidence. Indeed, the shoddy work in the run-up to the CWG disappointed all. Only sportspersons saved the country from utter ignominy. The UPA government itself was found wanting. Instead of sacking Kalmadi a year before the CWG — as the Shunglu committee had suggested – the government dithered, handpicked a group of officers for last-minute damage control and allowed the Kalmadi coterie to run the show.


Post-CWG, clean-up work has been slow. Whether the government has acted on its own or under pressure is open to debate. But it has taken the CBI six months to arrest the chief suspect. The arrests of Kalmadi and his aides may temporarily cool growing public anger over corruption. But ultimately, it is conviction which will retrieve public faith in the system. The CBI will have to ensure that the culprits do not get away lightly. Given Kalmadi's political clout, even the Congress has been slow in getting rid of him. The need is now to save sports from politicians and break their hold on sports' bodies. 









THERE is no mistaking the fact that by charging Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi's daughter and MP Kanimozhi with criminal conspiracy and of accepting a bribe of Rs 200 crore along with former Telecom Minister A. Raja, the CBI has finally caught the DMK's first family in the 2G web. With the Supreme Court breathing down its neck, the CBI had little room for letting Kanimozhi off the hook in the face of increasing evidence that there was more to the grant of 2G licence to Swan Telecom than met the eye. The money trail traced by the CBI reveals that DB Realty, a wing of Swan, took a loan of Rs 242 crore from a financial service company on December 23, 2008. Of this, Rs 200 crore was routed on the same day to Cineyug and Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables, who in turn transferred the money on the same date to Kalignar TV. The CBI believes this money was the bribe for Raja and Kanimozhi, even as Kalignar, in which Kanimozhi has a 20 per cent stake, claims this was an unsecured loan.


That the chargesheeting of Kanimozhi has not led to an uproar in the DMK and a clamour to break ties with the Congress is a measure of how helpless the DMK finds itself today. It is significant that the CBI has not chargesheeted Mr Karunanidhi's second wife Dayalu Ammal who is a 60 per cent stake holder in Kalignar TV. The grounds given for sparing her would have to stand judicial scrutiny but many see the hand of the Congress in this. The DMK is also conscious of the fact that it would be well nigh impossible for it to form a government in Tamil Nadu without the help of the Congress when the results for the State Assembly elections come out on May 13. In the event of the alliance losing out to the AIADMK-led grouping, the DMK would require Congress backing in its efforts to minimize the damage to it from 2G scam disclosures.


With the apex court monitoring the investigations closely, the DMK could indeed be up against hard times. What effect all this would have on DMK's first family is anybody's guess.











THERE is no mistaking the fact that by charging Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi's daughter and MP Kanimozhi with criminal conspiracy and of accepting a bribe of Rs 200 crore along with former Telecom Minister A. Raja, the CBI has finally caught the DMK's first family in the 2G web. With the Supreme Court breathing down its neck, the CBI had little room for letting Kanimozhi off the hook in the face of increasing evidence that there was more to the grant of 2G licence to Swan Telecom than met the eye. The money trail traced by the CBI reveals that DB Realty, a wing of Swan, took a loan of Rs 242 crore from a financial service company on December 23, 2008. Of this, Rs 200 crore was routed on the same day to Cineyug and Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables, who in turn transferred the money on the same date to Kalignar TV. The CBI believes this money was the bribe for Raja and Kanimozhi, even as Kalignar, in which Kanimozhi has a 20 per cent stake, claims this was an unsecured loan.


That the chargesheeting of Kanimozhi has not led to an uproar in the DMK and a clamour to break ties with the Congress is a measure of how helpless the DMK finds itself today. It is significant that the CBI has not chargesheeted Mr Karunanidhi's second wife Dayalu Ammal who is a 60 per cent stake holder in Kalignar TV. The grounds given for sparing her would have to stand judicial scrutiny but many see the hand of the Congress in this. The DMK is also conscious of the fact that it would be well nigh impossible for it to form a government in Tamil Nadu without the help of the Congress when the results for the State Assembly elections come out on May 13. In the event of the alliance losing out to the AIADMK-led grouping, the DMK would require Congress backing in its efforts to minimize the damage to it from 2G scam disclosures.


With the apex court monitoring the investigations closely, the DMK could indeed be up against hard times. What effect all this would have on DMK's first family is anybody's guess.








A pesticide which is linked to deformities among children, even death, should not be used. Yet, India is the world's largest user of endosulfan, consuming an estimated 4,500 tonnes every year, and exporting as much. The Centre is resisting a ban on the cheap pesticide, in spite of it being linked to deformities and deaths among the villagers of Kerala who were exposed to it because of aerial spraying of the cashew crop. The fact that the chemical is banned in 87 countries, including the US and the European Union, too, does not seem to have much impact on the government.


Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan's fast for the ban on using endosulfan is timed with an important meeting of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which is being held in Geneva. The initiative seeks means to protect human health, and global environment from dangerous chemicals.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was expected to take a leadership role in sorting out this matter, but the Prime Minister's Office has just reiterated that endosulfan use has been banned in Kerala, and maintained that imposing a nationwide prohibition would require national consensus, backed by scientific study. It is on the basis of such studies that endosulfan has been banned in most of the developed world. It is considered toxic to humans, and aquatic life, including fish. It can lead to death, disease and birth defects, among human beings and animals, just as it did in the Kasaragod district of Kerala in the 1980. How many more such cases will it take for the government to come to the conclusion that is similar to those on the basis of which other countries have barred endosulfan use? Instead of waiting for the Indian Council of Medical Research to give its report on the subject, the Centre should be proactive in banning a pesticide as the rest of the world has done.










NEVER before had a new global grouping emerged from the research of an American Investment Banking and Securities Company. But this is what happened when a 2001 Goldman Sachs paper entitled "Building Better Global Economic BRICs" signalled the forthcoming shift of global power away from the G7 led developed world to the emerging, fast-growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China, with the acronym BRIC.  


On June 16, 2009, the leaders of the BRIC countries held their first Summit in Yekaterinburg, and issued a declaration calling for the establishment of an equitable, democratic and multipolar world order. As it would have been imprudent to exclude the entire African continent from what is a global grouping, BRIC became BRICS with the participation of South Africa at the April 14 Sanya Summit.


China's decision to hold the BRICS Summit at Sanya, located on the southern tip of the Hainan Island, was obviously not accidental. Beijing's mandarins are meticulous in their planning and decision-making for such international events. The visiting delegates were no doubt thrilled by the sumptuous Chinese cuisine, the gracious hospitality of their Chinese hosts and the picturesque tourist attractions like the 108-metre high Guanyin Statue and the Buddhist Nanshan Temple.


But what precisely is the strategic symbolism of Sanya and the Hainan Island? Sanya is located close to the disputed Xisha (Paracel) and Nansha (Spratly) Islands in the South China Sea, which China has recently declared as an area of "core interest" like Tibet and Taiwan. The Hainan submarine base, where five nuclear submarines, each armed 12 nuclear tipped with ICBMs, are deployed in underground caves and will also be the home to China's first aircraft carrier, is located adjacent to Sanya. Chinese naval power concentrated in Sanya has evoked serious concern in both ASEAN and India. Hosting the BRICS Summit in Sanya was evidently a not-too-subtle message to the world about China's growing military muscle.


Our worthy leaders and mandarins have few equals in giving a spin to whatever emerges from Summits with China or Pakistan. Our scribes, therefore, breathlessly reported after Dr. Manmohan Singh met President Hu Jintao, that there had been a "breakthrough" with China supporting our candidature for permanent membership of the Security Council.


But alas, all that happened was that the Chinese merely said that they "understand" the "aspiration" of Brazil, India and South Africa to "play a greater role in the UN". Much has been made of China's decision to avoid "stapled visas" for journalists from Jammu and Kashmir accompanying the Prime Minister to Sanya. The Chinese "gesture" on stapled visas has been reciprocated by a resumption of military exchanges.


But one would caution against too much optimism on continuing peace and tranquility along the border, merely because we have a new "working mechanism" for this. The much touted "Joint Terror Mechanism" with Pakistan only resulted in terrorist attacks on our Embassy in Kabul and the 26/11 terrorist strike on Mumbai. One should realistically place greater emphasis in maintaining peace on our borders with China, not on a "working mechanism" with the Chinese, but on better communications, enhanced and well-equipped military deployments and adequate air power.


New Delhi has, however, been more realistic recently in responding to Chinese diplomatic provocations by the commencement of ministerial-level visits, together with moves for concluding a Free Trade Agreement with Taiwan and a more proactive approach to ties with Japan, South Korea and Vietnam.


Just before the Sanya Summit, Zhu Xiaochuan, the Governor of China's Central Bank, called for a "super sovereign currency" to replace the dollar. Moreover, the Chinese had earlier played a key role in the so-called "Chiang Mai initiative" as an alternative to the IMF. The initiative was intended to bail out East Asian economies facing economic downturns. China has consistently sought alternatives to the western dominated Bretton Woods financial institutions.


With reserves of three trillion dollars and its foreign aid of $100 billion exceeding the fund transfers of the World Bank, China obviously intends to flex its economic muscle globally. India, which has legitimate concerns about the lack of market-oriented transparency in the valuation of the Chinese yuan has, however, reiterated its faith in the dollar as the global reserve currency and would prefer strengthening the IMF by expansion of "Special Drawing Rights". But there was an agreement in principle in Sanya to establish credit lines in local currencies, which will insulate recipients from exchange rate risks. It remains to be seen if BRICS can establish such credit lines for infrastructure and other joint projects. At the same time, BRICS believes that the current domination of the IMF and the World Bank by G7 members should end.


The Sanya Summit did, however, signal that despite differences, there was much the partners shared in common on issues ranging from climate change and the continuing relevance of safe nuclear energy to the transfer of financial resources and technology to developing countries. Moreover, despite Russia and Brazil being resource-rich countries, there was a shared concern about prevalent volatility in the prices of energy and food.  


The Summit also sent out a clear message that emerging powers intended to strengthen contacts on security-related issues and would coordinate their positions in forums like the Security Council. National Security Advisers of BRICS are to discuss security issues of common concern in China later this year and their Foreign Ministers are scheduled to meet annually in New York. Further, as all BRICS members are presently members of the Security Council, they have agreed to expand contacts on western intervention in Libya. While a criticism of NATO actions has been avoided, BRICS will support the African high-level initiative, which has been rejected by the Libyan opposition in Benghazi.


While there has been much talk of building a multi-polar world order, it is evident that Russia, Brazil, South Africa and India recognise that in an ultimate analysis, China really seeks a bipolar world order, which it jointly dominates together with the Americans. Moreover, there is no dearth of Americans who feel likewise. The Chinese have after all told the American military that while the US Pacific Fleet should wield power in the Eastern Pacific, it should recognise the western Pacific and Indian Ocean regions as China's spheres of influence.   While one wonders if this is realistically possible, India is realising the importance of multiple-level engagement with all major powers. But, given Chinese global ambitions, one has to proceed with due care on engagement with the "Middle Kingdom". BRICS has to be built patiently, brick by brick.








A recently retired colleague from the Delhi Development Authority where I had worked on deputation, made a desperate call to me to help him secure his granddaughter's admission in a reputed school in South Delhi; a task more difficult than securing an appointment with President Obama! Having made similar calls, before he chose to call me up, disappointment and bitterness rang through his voice. I understood immediately. The relationship forged during the course of service crumbles the moment you step out of the office; a fact that officers who retire have to come to terms with. Reassuring him my help, I quipped, sugar coating the bitter pill, that we all fall in the category of "chale huey kartoos" (spent bullets).


I remember that as my retirement from service approached, I had started preparing myself mentally for the grand paradigm shift. I had seen a lot of people wither at the loss of power, position and the sense of purpose that being in service brings. After nearly four decades, the job unfortunately defines you and becomes the fulcrum of your existence. Post retirement, you have to reinvent yourself without the vigour of youth and with limited options. But no amount of preparation can make the first year of retirement easy.


I felt a huge social and official disconnect from bureaucratic networking. Some colleagues refused to recognise me, some were too busy to take or return my calls and a subordinate who used to lunge for my feet on sight did not even have the courtesy to say goodbye or keep in touch. The knowledge that this happens to everyone does not make it any less brutal. But what the process does is sift the grain from the chaff. You discover the colleagues and friends who genuinely care and respond.


This process and the invaluable time on my hands which seemed like a bit of a burden in the beginning, made me realise that life is beyond the 9 to 5 that I had believed defined me. There is actually too much to do and too little time. This is the time I have earned to pursue my passions without any pressures of everyday life. It is the time for self discovery, of introspection and of embracing the joy that comes doing what you love doing most.


To all my fellow retirees, I urge you to follow a basic code of conduct to avoid disappointments and hurt. Do not make unnecessary recommendations and ask for favours from your colleagues, friends and subordinates and as much as possible do not visit them in their offices unless extremely necessary or by invitation. And grab life in all its challenges and mysteries.


Before the call from my friend, I had never really felt that I had retired as I had immersed myself in literary and other professional pursuits. As I sat back and thought for sometime post this call, I realised that retirement is not the end but another milestone, another change — a brand new beginning in this ever changing, ever altering cycle of life, the auteur of which is only you. Death is and remains the only finality in life, as the Latin proverb goes 'mors omnibus communis' – which is common to all!









THE Obama administration was working furiously to prevent the re-ignition of international criticism and Arab fury over the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba where hundreds of terror suspects have been kept in extra-judicial limbo, after leaked documents revealed the flimsy intelligence on which many of the detentions have been based.


The US insisted that the documents, originally handed to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and then obtained by the New York Times, painted an incomplete and outdated picture of life at the camp, which scarred President George Bush's relations with the rest of the world and which President Barack Obama has failed to close as he promised.


In a statement that completed the 180-degree turn in President Obama's approach to Guantanamo, the Pentagon weighed in to support President Bush's approach to dealing with the people picked up and brought to the camp on suspicion of being what he called "enemy combatants".


Condemning the leaks, it said: "Both the previous and the current administrations have made every effort to act with the utmost care and diligence in transferring detainees from Guantanamo. The previous administration transferred 537 detainees; to date, the current administration has transferred 67. Both administrations have made the protection of American citizens the top priority, and we are concerned that the disclosure of these documents could be damaging to those efforts."


President Obama signed an executive order for the closure of the camp by January 2010, but it remains open with 172 prisoners, out of 779 men who have been held there since it was established in 2002.


The leaked documents include files on more than 700 of the prisoners, many of which had been known only from a list of names until now. Many of the files include pictures and details of detainees' backgrounds, a trove of data that paints a picture of intelligence-gathering inside the camp and beyond and which provides ammunition for both sides in the bitter political battle over the camp.


The documents describe in stark terms the consequences for individuals of a process that lacked the protections for the innocent that would be common in the US criminal justice system. Elderly men suffering senile dementia and innocent farmers picked up near the site of roadside bombings were among people brought to Guantanamo on the flimsiest of evidence — sometimes even with no reason at all recorded in their files — with months or even years passing before their release.


Some of the individuals have been highlighted before by human rights campaigners, though the cache of documents provides new detail on their cases. An Al Jazeera cameraman was held for six years in part because authorities believed he would provide useful information about the TV channel's training programme and newsgathering operation.


The British resident Binyam Mohamed, released by the Obama administration after five years, had been implicated in a dirty bomb plot only on the basis of claims from a fellow prisoner who had been subjected to waterboarding by interrogators.


The files were also seized upon yesterday by supporters of the extra-judicial process for dealing with terrorist suspects, who pointed to cases of Guantanamo detainees that were freed and who subsequently turned or returned to violence.


Assessors at Guantanamo originally divided detainees into three categories, depending on their view of the risks their release would pose to US security, depending on what they believed to the suspects' links to al-Qa'ida, the Taliban or other extremist groups, and based on whether they had cooperated with authorities or expressed violent feelings towards the US.


The Pentagon yesterday pointed out that that system had been abandoned in favour of a more nuanced approach that is not shown in the leaked documents, which were written between 2002 and 2008. Last month, after a two-year freeze on military tribunals at Guantanamo, the administration said they would be restarted and laid down the rules for holding some of the detainees inside the camp indefinitely.


Among the other issues thrown up by the leak and threatening to cause difficulties for the Obama administration, the documents show that Pakistan's main intelligence agency, the ISI, was classified at Guantanamo as a terrorist organisation, like more than 60 militant networks, so that detainees linked to them might be considered to have "provided support to al-Qaida and the Taliban, or engaged in hostilities against U.S. and coalition forces". —The Independent








The British and Canadian secret services were victims of a double agent who, at the same time as working as an MI6 informant, was serving as a kidnapper and assassin for al-Qa'ida, according to the CIA.


The old were taken, too


Mohammed Sadiq, below, a frail Afghan man of 89 with senile dementia, was flown half-way around the world and detained for two months at Camp Delta — the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — before officials there decided he was neither a Taliban grandee nor a member of al-Qa'ida. Mr Sadiq had been arrested at his home He was not the only elderly Afghan taken to the camp. Haji Faiz Mohammed, 70, right, who also had senile dementia, was seized in a raid on a mosque. "There is no reason on the record" for his detention, his file says, but he was still held for nine months.


Some were freed to fight again


One of the men now training Libyan rebels in Benghazi is a former Libyan army tank driver who fought in Afghanistan and Sudan before spending four years at Guantanamo. The case of Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda bin Qumu, 51, was being pored over in the US yesterday — not just for what it says about the kinds of people detained at Guantanamo, but also for what it says about those involved in the Nato-backed resistance to the Gadaffi regime. Mr Qumu, who was diagnosed with a "non-specific personality disorder", escaped from a Libyan jail in 1993 and fought with groups linked to al-Qa'ida until he was captured in a tribal area of Pakistan after the US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan. He was handed over to the Libyan government in 2007 and released from prison there the following year in an amnesty for militants.


Cases of mistaken identity


Of all the miscarriages of justice revealed in the leaked documents, that of Mohammed Nasim, right, stands out. He spent two years at Guantanamo because he shared the name of a prominent Taliban leader. His file says: "The detainee was apprehended after a name similar to his was heard on a radio intercept thought to be originating from a group of individuals acting as sentries, reporting US troop movements to the Taliban. It is assessed that the detainee is a poor farmer and his arrest was due to mistaken identity." However, the failure of assessors at Guantanamo to verify their captives' real names can cut both ways. Said Mohammed Alam Shah, a 24-year-old Afghan with a prosthetic leg, was judged to have been working to flee the Taliban. On returning to Afghanistan in 2004, he revealed himself to be Abdullah Mehsud, a Pakistani militant leader who carried out bombings, kidnappings.


Osama bin Laden's whereabouts


Evidence collected from detainees at Guantanamo helped to build up a picture of the movements of Osama bin Laden, below, after the US attacks of 11 September, 2001, although the intelligence dried up quickly and the al-Qa'ida leader remains at large. With many of the group's senior leaders among those kept at Camp Delta, leaked documents from their files can be used to track apparent al-Qa'ida activities before and after the World Trade Centre was destroyed. They show that Osama bin Laden made public speeches in Kandahar province to rally support, telling Taliban fighters there "to defend Afghanistan against the infidel invaders" and to "fight in the name of Allah". He also travelled around the country to issue orders and meet supporters. Bin Laden is last recorded escaping from his hideout in the Tora Bora mountains. —The Independent









 With his ascent to the hereafter, Sathya Sai Baba leaves behind more than three million devotees spread across the world. He has also bequeathed a Rs 40,000 crore-worth trust that administers various institutions and charities he established. As a modern-day faith healer and guru who helped transform lives through institutional means, his influence is unparalleled.


As a predominantly sacred figure, his spiritual legacy, however, is open to debate. In a long-established practice in India, a sacred person often takes the name of a deity or a former sage. It's the spiritual equivalent of a totem. At the age of 14, Sathya Sai Baba named himself after a fakir from Shirdi in Maharashtra who died eight years before he was born. The original Sai Baba was a roving mendicant who lived with lepers, shared his supper with stray dogs and, at a time when it was dangerous to do so, actively worked towards erasing prejudices and misperceptions Hindus and Muslims had about each other. He was peripatetic in more than just the physical sense of the word. His teaching never recognised boundaries and he didn't have a scripture or an ideology. Above all, he didn't lend himself to institution-building (it's a matter of profound irony of course that he has been subject to a thriving posthumous cult).


Puttaparthi's Sai Baba, living in a more modern world, perhaps had no option in this regard. Or did he? Matha Anandamayi (not to be confused with her famous present-day namesake) sheds some light in this regard. She became a highly revered sacred figure in north India in the middle of the twentieth century because of her total child-like absence of ego, her total disregard for social niceties or hierarchies. Later, after her following became big time, she was asked why she tolerated pollution phobias in her ashram or the phalanx of high-caste women ushers who surrounded her all the time. To which she replied: "I am the drum. You play the tune."


It not only reflected her helplessness at being manipulated by her followers – albeit, glossed over with an endearing metaphor – but, more crucially, points to how sacral figures outlive their original usefulness once they submit themselves to institution building. In India's sacred traditions, this too has a long history - of how holy figures with oracular powers become tamed once they get Sanskritised. In Sathya Sai Baba's case he was not only duly Sanskritised – he advocated sanatana dharma, a loaded term in the best of times, and its corollary a 'golden' Vedic age - but was duly commercialised too.


This needn't have been so. Like Shirdi Baba and Anandamayi, Sathya Sai Baba too in his early days (not entirely absent later on too, it must be said) displayed a subversive otherworldliness, manifested in sudden states of samadi or uncontrollable fits of laughter. They were his lila or play, a child-like regression that, paradoxically, had a touch of parental solicitude and concern too about it. At these moments his utterances and actions were not willful, let alone rehearsed. But they were purging in their rawness. He became oracular at such times, uttering words that seemed irrational but were later found to be prescient. Even more powerful was his sense of touch at such times – they were properly healing, they were real thaumaturgy, absorbing the ills of people, and occasionally, the body politic, into his own.


It is sad that later on, once he got defanged, so to speak, the Baba had to make to do with mere performative acts like producing ash or raisins from thin air. In an ideal hagiography, the baba would have walked away from Puttaparthi one day, his message delivered, his deed done. By choosing to consort with his devotees till his last day, it makes him humane but, also, very mortal - a stencil of the sacred figure he could have been.



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In the past couple of years, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has enjoyed goodwill among a wide range of stakeholders and policy makers at home and abroad for two important reasons. First, for the maturity and quiet confidence it showed, under the able leadership of Governor Duvvuri Subbarao, in responding to the post-Lehman situation in global financial markets. And second, for its refusal to fall prey to the fashion of the day in policy matters, especially in the lead-up to the crisis, and for insulating India from some of the sharp business practices of trans-Atlantic banking and financial institutions. Riding on this mix of popularity and credibility, the RBI has been able to slowly roll back the policy stimulus provided in response to the economic slowdown.

However, after the March monetary policy statement, it would appear as if the central bank's inflation-fighting strategy seems to be going wrong. Despite three upward revisions over the course of the year, its forecasts for 2010-11 year-end inflation have proved to be much lower than the actual data print. The March inflation rate turned out to be 9 per cent compared to the RBI's prediction of 8 per cent. To be fair, most analysts shared the RBI's rather sanguine view of inflation in the run-up to the March statement. Even this newspaper editorially called for a breather from rate increases. It appears now that if one extrapolates the revisions in the data that have been announced in the past months (these are available till January), the March inflation number could well be in double digits. There is a twist to this tale. "Core" inflation, roughly measured as the price increase in a basket of goods excluding food and fuel, has begun to perk up since December. This suggests that inflation cannot entirely be explained away by local and global supply deficiencies that have pushed food and fuel prices up. High core inflation suggests that domestic demand pressures are also building up for a broader range of goods and inflation is stubbornly embedding itself in the economy.


Fighting inflation is a basic dharma of a central bank, and many now believe that the RBI has "fallen behind the curve" in the cycle of rate increases and should act more aggressively going forward. There could be some truth in this. The RBI should explore the option of deviating from its path of calibrated rate hikes and raise policy rates by half a percentage point instead of a quarter in the annual monetary policy due on May 3. Besides, empirical evidence points to the fact that core inflation is much more responsive to monetary action than supply-driven inflation. This should buttress the case for a sharper rate increase. However, while an aggressive hike could assuage some of the anxiety that policy response to the price spiral has been inadequate, it is unlikely to be the silver bullet that pulls down inflation sharply.

The current price situation stems from a concatenation of diverse factors. There is a structural dimension to it driven by the long-term neglect of agriculture and the consequent absence of a supply chain for things like vegetables, poultry and meat. Incidentally, these are items that have seen a secular rise in prices over the last two years. Coupled with this are major structural changes in the rural and informal labour markets that have ramped up wages. High global commodity prices spurred on by lashings of liquidity created by Western central banks are not helping matters either. Moreover, India has delayed adjusting domestic fuel prices to international crude prices which are now in triple digits. The much-delayed adjustment will further drive inflation up. Thus, it is possible to argue that unless some of these issues get resolved, we might just be stuck in what is being described as a "new normal". Inflation rates could, at least for a while, remain higher than the RBI's historical tolerance limit of 5 per cent. The RBI perhaps needs to prepare the markets and industry for this.

Industry voices are already opposing any rate increase this summer on the plea that industrial growth has been tardy and company bottomlines are under pressure. There is a fear that the RBI will "capitulate" to the dark forces of inflation and spook the markets and business. These fears might be a trifle unfounded. A clear acknowledgment of the hard reality of the current macro situation and its ramifications for inflation will tend to do a lot more in restoring the RBI's credibility than another set of optimistic forecasts that are likely to go wrong. The idea of the "new normal", which includes lower expectations about growth, would also guard against the risk of an overzealous drive against inflation that could potentially hurt investments and compromise the supply side of the economy by pushing borrowing costs to stratospheric levels. Reckless monetary policy could damage capacity creation in the economy and could breed new supply shortages that would abet rather than smother inflation. The central bank should be careful not to create new problems for itself in its bid to tackle its current problems.

The importance of the RBI taking difficult and unpopular decisions, and reinforcing its credibility as an institution of macroeconomic policy making, has increased with economic policy making in Delhi becoming directionless. In the very first quarter of the new fiscal, the budgetary arithmetic of the Union finance ministry has become suspect and few take the ministry's reassurances seriously. A series of decisions, moves, statements and action/inaction on various fronts on the part of the Union finance ministry is raising new questions about the ministry's ability to deal with extant macroeconomic and policy reform challenges and about its priorities and prejudices. Given its pre-occupations with the here and now, New Delhi is not paying enough attention to the hereafter.

It is now increasingly clear, as the discussions at last week's meetings of the Planning Commission revealed, that this year's growth estimate may have to be brought down from 9 per cent to 8 per cent, and the medium-term projection is likely to be a 9 per cent rate of growth, with a downward bias. Rather than the 9:5 combination (9 per cent growth with 5 per cent inflation) that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee posited for the current fiscal, an 8:6 combination seems more likely. The RBI must act to prevent a 8:7 or even 8:8 balance.

In any case, the RBI need not worry about the spurious "growth vs inflation" trade-off being posited by the finance ministry. Indeed, low inflation is a pre-condition for sustainable growth in a democracy, and higher inflation would hurt growth. Moreover, the policy action required to deal with any "growth vs inflation" trade-off is to bring the government's fiscal deficit down and improve the productivity of public expenditure. Both are challenges for the ministry of finance, not the central bank.

Given the context, it is incumbent upon the central bank, and Governor Subbarao, to act with foresight, without fear or favour, with grit and determination, resisting any urge to be popular and populist and seeking to bolster the RBI's credibility.






When the scientific advisor to the Government of India, Suri Bhagavantam, chose to devote his life in the service of an as yet upcoming "Godman" and "magician", as rationalists dubbed him, many eyebrows were raised in India's scientific community. This was more than four decades ago. From being a locally known self-proclaimed reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, the healer and Godman who had – and continues to have – a following cutting across religious boundaries, Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh became a global guru with a worldwide following that includes heads of government and celebrities who would fly down in their private jets for Baba's darshan. For a man who inspired and gave solace to millions around the world, Sathya Sai Baba remained an enigma to most. Was he a spiritual guru or a miracle worker? Was he a Godman or a psycho-analyst-cum-healer? While many went to him because they saw him as one or the other or all put together, his true legacy for posterity will be the institutions and the management style he leaves behind. Baba's followers should protect, preserve and strengthen these institutions — the university, schools, hospitals, the medical education institution and many other institutions that were directly run by the Sathya Sai Organisation or by Baba's devotees. These institutions are all marked by selfless service of a faithful and high-quality management, efficient functioning and a commitment to excellence. It is by this institutional legacy, apart from all the tales that will be told of his miracles and teachings, that Sathya Sai Baba will be remembered.

India is a land of gurus and Godmen, and there are the good, the bad and the ugly. There are many fraudsters and those who exploit the devout and the distressed. However, the good ones play many useful roles — as psycho-therapists, offering solace and hope to people in distress, and not charging the fee that psycho-analysts do; as moral guides, providing a moral framework for people living in a society in a state of flux; and as institution builders, creating public spaces for reading, reflection, healing and meditation. However, their emphasis on personal salvation often overrides any focus on the public good. Therefore, many gurus help people in distress without doing enough to eliminate the causes of individual alienation and distress in a rapidly changing society. The pace of change in the country, especially urban and semi-urban India, has been so fast that many are left at a loss. Inter-generational tensions, professional pressures and the sheer inability to deal with rapid changes encourage people to find solace and comfort in spiritual practice. Sathya Sai Baba was one such healer. There are others and there will be more. The immediate challenge before Sai Baba's followers, especially those charged with the responsibility for managing his legacy, is to ensure that the Trust and the institutions that he has left behind function transparently and remain true to their ideals and goals. Despite so many political leaders being devotees of Sathya Sai Baba, the state government should resist any temptation to interfere in the affairs of the non-governmental trust.






The Lok Pal Bill and the jailing of the suspects in the 2G scam mean that controlling corruption is back on the radar screen. Two questions merit particular attention today. Is controlling corruption important in India's current economic circumstances? And what can this prime minister, of unimpeachable personal credentials yet uncomfortably confronted with the recent scandals, do about it?

The relationship between corruption and development is murkier than economists would admit. Yes, in the very long run, institutions that provide good economic governance, which includes controlling corruption, deliver better economic development.

But the operative term is "very long run". Over less lengthy horizons, the relationship is less clear. A lot depends on what form corruption takes. If corruption is just a low and fixed cost of doing business, it might be less harmful than, say, variable corruption that creates uncertainty for business decisions. Indonesia flourished for a long time under Suharto. Bangladesh has grown quite rapidly for a long period of time (as Shanta Devarajan of the World Bank pointed out) despite scoring very low on measures of governance. And Tamil Nadu has grown rapidly under Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, wizards of equal stature in the dark art of malfeasance.

But for a very different reason Indian development might be particularly prone to being dragged down by corruption. More controversially, one could posit that the Indian development model could be derailed because of corruption. How?

India's rapid economic growth since the 1980s has been based on defying rather than exploiting its comparative advantage. India has used more intensively its relatively scarce factor of production, skilled labour, and underused its abundant factor, unskilled labour. The reasons include conscious policy choices made early on (emphasising higher education over basic education, taxing domestic manufacturing through licensing, and taxing the hiring of unskilled workers through labour and other laws) and accidents, especially the arrival of IT technologies that Anglophone India, with its networked diaspora, found itself well-positioned to exploit.

Large-scale corruption in India occurs in transactions involving factors in fixed supply such as allocating spectrum, exploiting natural resources (coal) and, above all, acquiring land. Corruption related to land has two consequences: it raises its price and creates considerable uncertainty about dealing in it. Both could dampen investment, not only in manufacturing but also in a large number of services sectors that require land as a significant input: construction, retail, educational institutions and hospitals.

Go back to the Indian development model, and add land as a factor of production. The pool of skilled labour is increasingly being depleted because of the poor state of higher education; the tax on unskilled labour has not been significantly relieved. Now, if land is also going to be a costly factor of production, the Indian growth machine could start sputtering well before the absorption of India's labour is complete. So tackling corruption should be a high priority because of its disproportionately large and adverse effect on land.

But economics has little to offer by way of prescription for this problem. Deregulation can help, but only up to a point. After all, the state has some functions that it needs to perform — and land use regulation is one of them. If land is to be converted from agricultural to industrial use, those who are currently using it need to be compensated, and environmental norms must be respected. So, a framework for this conversion must be established — and that is a responsibility of the state.

So, what can be done? Controlling corruption is related to the quality of public institutions, including democratic accountability, the bureaucracy, the police and the judiciary. And this quality is determined by history and politics, is generally difficult to change, and is glacially slow when it does. Show me an economist who offers a cure for corruption, and I can show you a quack or a snake-oil salesman.

The Lok Pal Bill under discussion will have limited impact, if any. Convicting and jailing the culprits in the 2G spectrum scam would certainly have some benefits, but, judging by the Indian record on convictions, the prospects for this are not bright. And broader reforms of the police and judiciary are, sad to say, pure fantasy.

So, what can the prime minister do? Not a whole lot. But two possibilities are worth considering, one very narrow and focused, and the other utterly symbolic.

Given the diagnosis that corruption matters at this stage of India's development because of transactions involving land, this government could revive the effort (which lapsed in 2009 when the previous Lok Sabha was dissolved) at making the legislative framework for land acquisition simple, clear and certain. In addition, a bipartisan political structure modelled on the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers that has been successful in mid-wifing the Goods and Services Tax (fingers crossed) could be created for deciding on important land cases.

The other course of action would rely on the prime minister himself. Any lay person following his career can see that he cares viscerally about two issues: rapprochement with Pakistan along with a settlement of the Kashmir issue and solidifying India's current economic trajectory, having presided over its early ascent 20 years ago when Narasimha Rao (who could have counted Machiavelli and Chanakya amongst his disciples) was at the helm.

The prime minister has to show that he is willing to stake his personal reputation – draw his Lakshman rekha – on the issues that are dear to him, including the prevention of any major looting of the public exchequer on his watch. It is striking that in the one instance that the prime minister staked his personal reputation – on the India-US civilian nuclear agreement – he not only emerged successful in winning a legislative passage for it, but also considerably enhanced his political standing in the process.

It has been sad to see the prime minister reduced to denying or defending his complicity in the 2G scandal. This government probably needs the legitimising cover of his personal reputation more than he needs to hang on to power.

So, rather than using his unimpeachable personal integrity as a defensive shield, the prime minister should wield it as a potent weapon. He will then not only reign but also rule.

The author is Senior fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics and Centre for Global Development






Mark a few banks down a notch in your mind. Normally, you would wait for a signal to do that from the rating agencies, but you know how they are. They will warn you of an oncoming tsunami after it has hit the shore and wrought devastation. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has just allowed banks to go a bit easy on provisioning norms for non-performing assets (NPA) in response to their urgent supplications.

Recall that when the global financial crisis hit and multiplying NPAs needed restructuring, the provisioning rules had to be eased. And when the crisis eased and the Indian economy was back on the rails of good growth, the RBI tightened the norms once again, arguing that it was time for provisioning for a rainy day.

According to the latest fiat, if a bank has played by the rules till September 30, 2010 – made 70 per cent provision for NPAs – then that's it. The RBI will study international practices and advise later on what to do with incremental NPAs. And if these go down then the excess provisioning can be transferred to a rainy-day fund, for use when systemic trouble affects the entire industry.

The bottomlines of several banks would have looked fairly poor if they had to stick to the 70 per cent norm. Leading the pack of supplicants for relief, like students demonstrating for grace marks, was the biggest of them all, State Bank of India (SBI), followed by the likes of United Commercial Bank and Bank of Maharashtra (what company for mighty SBI to keep!). SBI flouted the earlier norm with impunity and then, with a change of guard and the new chairman saying how long you can keep fighting the teacher, the latter has relented and made life easier.

What seems lost in the present discourse is that if banks' bottomlines look unlovely as a result of higher provisioning then they do not automatically become weaker. In fact, the opposite. A poorer bottomline – and poorer payout – means more cash retained and greater intrinsic health. Shareholders of banks depending on dividend income (like the government) may be hit, but valuations may not change since higher provisioning will be seen for what it is — greater intrinsic strength. A poorer bottomline may not be good for a public issue but the scope for that, in the case of public sector banks, to bring in fresh capital is limited for several reasons. So, it is best for banks to make adequate provisions. If the resultant poor profitability is socially embarrassing for bank chiefs or harmful for their bonuses then so be it.

In any case, as the economy slows, the need for additional capital will slacken and bank lending growth will be affected. Forecasts for the current year's growth are being marked down and the next plan's target of 9 per cent-plus growth looks distinctly unrealistic. Though none feels happy about reining in growth, it is sensible to do that. High global commodity prices, India's inability to grow enough food and the inability to store it lead to high inflation.  

Consumer sentiment at the middle- class level is not excessively buoyant. The green light is not on for the wealth effect, and property and stocks are not booming. The demand right at the bottom and at the top of the pyramid is booming. Enabling banks to meet the burgeoning credit demand is not the consideration of the hour; ensuring that banks' asset books are healthy is.

There is an additional reason for being strict about provisioning for bad loans. The stricter the provisioning norms, the lower is the incentive for bank managers to let NPAs grow. The easier it is to restructure NPAs (there is much scope for corruption in this), the greater will be the incentive to let NPAs pile up. The flavour of the moment is to take a radical new look at eliminating corruption.

Interestingly, not all banks are in a tight corner. HDFC Bank and Axis Bank have announced encouraging results and are among the leaders in provisioning. They and perhaps a handful of better-run public sector banks form one category and SBI, ICICI Bank and the less efficient public sector banks form the other category. It should be clear that the performing and the underperforming banks stretch across ownership categories, with Axis Bank straddling the two worlds by being a private-sector bank with some public-sector development categories.

To take Indian banking a step forward, it is necessary to have banks run along private-sector lines with some public-sector development goals. For this, an incentive and regulatory structure can be created. For example, a tidy reward for maintaining operational no-frills accounts, that is, rewards for an energetic effort to spread banking at the grass roots level, should make it viable for a bank to go all out to do that. Also, making loan write-offs and rescheduling scientific – dependent on the monitoring of drought or flood via satellite data – should make inclusive banking sustainable and profitable.

Which is why it is a pity that the powers that be are moving very slowly towards making progress in issuing new banking licences. The idea was floated in the name of furthering inclusive banking. With microfinance in trouble, quick action for bringing in fresh blood into banking at the bottom of the pyramid is all the more necessary. In fact, banking licences for a couple of better-run microfinance institutions should serve many goals in one go. Travelling down this road can go a long way in marking a watershed in Indian banking, the way the bank nationalisation did.







Though we raise our eyebrows at the mind-boggling figures involved in scams that unfold almost every day, we look askance at laws and judgments that prescribe unconscionably low amounts while awarding compensation or punishment.

If a drunken person makes scenes at a public place or trespasses in your house to cause annoyance, the Indian Penal Code prescribes a maximum fine of Rs 10 according to Section 510.


The Supreme Court gave its imprimatur to the settlement for the world's worst industrial disaster in the Bhopal case at $470 million. Even the government has now turned penitent and approached the court for a revision, after two decades. Now, a five-judge Constitution bench headed by the Chief Justice of India is hearing this "curative petition", even as a brother judge wryly remarked that it would take the courts another 26 years to close the case.

Meanwhile, the rate of compensation awarded by Indian courts remains unpredictable and abominably low. A few judgements of the Supreme Court passed in recent weeks in motor vehicle accidents are a pointer to this. Four separate cases, fought by indigent labourers up to the top court, show how tight the purse is held for average citizens, while everyone wants to mulct negligent foreign companies.

In the case, Rudra vs National Insurance Company, a coolie aged 25 was injured in a road accident and lost 58 per cent of his physical ability on his left lower limb and 29 per cent of the whole body. He moved the motor accident claims tribunal (MACT) seeking Rs 4 lakh as compensation. What he got was Rs 40,000. On appeal, the Karnataka High Court felt that the disability was exaggerated and reduced it to 15 per cent. However, it added compensation for pain, conveyance, special food and attendance charges in hospital, and thus raised the total compensation to Rs 1.48 lakh. The youth came up to the Supreme Court. It criticised the high court for going against the medical evidence and reducing the disability. The doctor had said the nature of disability was such that he would not be able to do any manual work for the rest of his life. So it raised the compensation to Rs 3 lakh.

Another such person who lost his ability to work in an accident was awarded Rs 1.70 lakh by the MACT. Though the disability was medically assessed at 23 per cent, the tribunal said he could still do manual labour with one hand and, therefore, reduced the disability to 20 per cent, against medical evidence. The labourer moved the high court, which made another calculation and arrived at Rs 2.22 lakh. His appeal to the Supreme Court (Sri Nagarajappa vs Oriental Insurance Company) was successful as it raised the amount to Rs 4.77 lakh. It said a manual labourer needed both hands and one useless hand would affect his employability and overall ability to work throughout his life. Such sensitivity came to the judges only at the top court and not where the claim originated.

Another victim of road accident also got higher compensation as he went up the judicial ladder (Sant Singh vs Sukhdev Singh). He had suffered permanent disability of 60 per cent. The MACT awarded Rs 1.47 lakh to this 48-year-old "work munshi" who earned Rs 4,000 a month. He appealed to the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which enhanced the amount by a princely sum of Rs 15,000. Still dissatisfied with the award, he moved the Supreme Court. It thought that Rs 4.43 lakh would be the "just and fair" amount.

In another such case, C Mohanraju vs United India Assurance, the courts again took its own view on the degree of disability suffered by a silk weaver. Even as the medical evidence was that he lost 25 per cent of the ability in his hands, the MACT arbitrarily decided that it was only 10 per cent and awarded the 35-year-old man Rs 1 lakh. The Karnataka High Court went by the doctor's opinion and raised the amount to Rs 2.78 lakh. He valiantly went up to the Supreme Court. It raised the disability to 30 per cent as he would no longer be able to do his traditional job. The apex court fixed the sum at Rs 3.20 lakh.

The Motor Vehicles Act is itself a stumbling block in awarding adequate compensation. It has fixed arbitrary sums in an old schedule, ignoring the rise in income and devaluation of the rupee. Though this schedule has been dubbed as unworkable and faulty by earlier judgments, it has now become the bench mark for tribunals and courts by sheer usage. Very soon, the measly sums and bad arithmetic in the schedule would be as laughable as the Rs 10 fine for the drunken rogue.




The move will generate goodwill with foreign investors but unfairly creates a special category of exemption

Siddharth Shah

Head — Funds Practice, Nishith Desai Associates


It demonstrates the sovereign's willingness to fulfil its contractual obligations under a treaty

The proposal by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) to create a specific exemption for sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) from the open offer provisions in terms of their aggregate stake going up to 20 per cent stems from the government's obligation under the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) signed with Singapore in 2005. Under the CECA, India had undertaken to treat the investment arms of the Singapore government (GIC and Temasek) as independent and separate for all regulatory purposes. Since then, Sebi has been confronted with the question of whether these two very active investment vehicles owned by the Singapore government should be treated as separate entities under Foreign Institutional Investor (FII) and takeover regulations. Though the immediate beneficiary of this proposal would be these two sovereign investors from Singapore by giving them more headroom to play in the Indian market, Sebi's move is welcome even otherwise.

First, it demonstrates the sovereign's willingness to fulfil its contractual obligations under a treaty, even if it calls for regulatory changes. This would definitely lend more credibility and negotiating strength to current and future negotiations for other CECAs. Second, it recognises the fact that many of these SWFs have different investment strategies and completely independent managements, even though the source of capital is common. So, in a sense, aggregation of their holdings for the purpose of FII regulations as well as the takeover code goes against their independent status. The takeover code's definition of "persons acting in concert" (PAC) states that there has to be a "commonality of objective" between PACs, and even for "deemed PACs", the presumption is a rebuttable presumption if the contrary can be established. Thus, this move to offer a specific exemption from an open offer in the absence of a "change in control" is not really giving away anything more than what exists except that it creates more certainty for these funds.

Third, considering that this exemption will be limited to those countries with which India negotiates a CECA, concerns over security issues and the stigma of "undesirable foreign influence" associated with SWFs would have been addressed while negotiating these agreements. Also, now that India is considering setting up its own SWF, it should also be in a position to negotiate such reciprocity in the CECA.

Fourth, SWFs, by virtue of their more permanent source of capital, can take a much longer term strategic view of a market unlike limited life funds or institutions. This could offer more stability and depth to the Indian market that has always shown a higher degree of volatility in FII flows. And finally, as the Sebi minutes have noted, this move may turn out to be non-consequential if and when the trigger for the open offer is raised to 25 per cent as recommended by TRAC. Thus, without giving away anything more, this move will establish more goodwill for India globally.

The proposal also recommends corresponding changes in the FII regulations to allow non-aggregation of limits based on source for SWFs. This again goes back to the same principle that so long as each of these sovereign entities are independently managed, giving them an individual limit would offer them more flexibility in investment. This is akin to the "managed accounts" where a similar principle should apply with emphasis on independence of management rather than source of capital. Globally, from an investor perspective, managed accounts are a preferred option for large endowments, pension funds and also SWFs rather than funds that come in as part of multiple pooled accounts.

To conclude, it is a good tactical and strategic move by the government that should yield more quantitative and qualitative results in the long run. In the short run, it will help augment foreign capital inflows, which have been declining for the past 12 months or so. When the world is fighting for limited capital, this move will send out strong signals to world markets that India is willing to go the extra mile to remove blocks to the flow of such capital into the country.

Sandeep Parekh
Founder, Finsec Law Advisors

If an exemption is given to SWFs that are considered passive, it must also be given to all passive investors

There should be consistency in drafting laws and a law must have a philosophy behind it. Where a legal idea is fleshed out in the form of a formal law, it is drafted in cold legal language but retains a living core and philosophy. The Indian takeover regulations provide for the making of a public tender offer once a person acquires a substantial number of shares or control of an Indian listed company. It also provides for a series of exemptions for certain types of acquisitions, for instance, on acquiring a sick company or transfer between existing promoters. Broadening the exemption for a new class of persons should have a nexus to the object sought to be achieved from that classification.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) and the government are seeking to give special status to sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) when they seek to acquire shares of a listed company. Specifically, the proposal is to exempt SWFs from the ambit of takeover regulations for up to 20 per cent as opposed to 15 per cent for other acquirers. There is also a proposal to allow twice the limit available to other acquirers from a limit of 10 per cent holding per Foreign Institutional Investor (FII), that is to say, an SWF can acquire 20 per cent instead of 10 per cent.

The background to the issue is that the government signed a trade treaty with another government in which it has agreed to these higher numbers. However, the treaty was executive in nature — it was signed by the government as opposed to agreed upon or ratified by Parliament. Given that Sebi regulations (both FII and takeover) are tabled in Parliament, in case of a conflict between a government treaty, which really is a contract signed by the government versus a delegated legislation, it would clearly be the Sebi regulation that would trump a contract, even if it is by the state itself. Sebi has recently put on its website a proposal to be taken up by its board, whether to amend the regulations in line with the treaty and cites the opinion of the attorney general that Sebi is entitled to exempt SWFs, but must do so on a case-by-case basis.

The question of why create a special category of exemption for SWFs begs the question, what are SWFs? There are two answers depending on whom you ask. The first answer is that these funds are arms of the government and deploy surplus sovereign money as investment in various gilts, debt and equity securities of countries across the globe to deliver both returns and strategic benefits. The second answer is that these are surplus funds with no strategic value, and are pooled so that they can be invested in asset classes that deliver higher returns compared to investing in US treasury securities with its low returns. Being sovereign in nature there is little data available about these funds and their objectives. It is, therefore, impossible to answer the question accurately for most countries whether a fund is strategic in nature or is merely a passive investment.

If the answer is the first, then there are dangers attached to foreign governments taking larger stakes in Indian companies and delivering sovereign outcomes. Conspiracy theorists would point to foreign governments trying to reduce outputs of industries that compete with their own industries. Thus, tweaking the rules just for SWFs does not seem appropriate.

If the answer is closer to the second, that they are passive investors, assuming that they provide a high level of transparency and accountability to the world at large about their objectives and source of funds, the issue is less problematic. There are lots of passive international investors who don't have the benefit of this special class. For instance, a pension fund based out of, say, a state in the US, by its charter will clearly not have any control motives. To treat these obvious passive investments on a lower pedestal compared to SWFs is unfair. If an exemption is given to SWFs that are considered passive, it must also be given to all passive investors including pension funds, social security funds, university fund, mutual funds, charitable trusts and insurance/reinsurance companies. While the law creates un-equals out of equals, there may be strategic merit in signing executive treaties that give special fair treatment to certain countries.







With the arrest of Suresh Kalmadi and naming of the DMK chieftain's daughter in the 2G scam, many people hope that action, at long last, has begun on cleaning up the system. This elation is misplaced. Stray arrests of minor politicians on weak charges for minor scams does not amount to, nor even indicate the beginnings of, systemic reform. And what India needs is systemic reform, starting with the process of political funding. Political funding in India is non-institutional and non-transparent, for the most part. Voluntary contributions form but a small part of the huge amounts of money required to run political parties even in nonelection times. The needed funds are mobilised through corruption — loot of the exchequer, sale of patronage and plain extortion — with the collusion of civil servants, corrupting and subverting the entire administrative system. Transparent, institutional funding of political parties is the key to cleaner politics. For that, we need proper laws to regulate political parties with an agency entrusted with the task of enforcing the regulation. The only law that seeks to mould the conduct of political parties is the Representation of the People Act, calling upon parties to take contributions in excess of . 20,000 only by cheque and to audit their accounts. This is not enough. When we have laws to regulate companies, trusts, trade unions, voluntary organisations, etc., political parties get away with no specific law to regulate them. An arm of the Election Commission itself can probably take on the role of the agency that enforces regulation. Apart from auditing expenditure and income, and making all claims in this regard contestable by rival parties and the public at large, the law can also mandate internal democracy, extending to the holding of primaries for parties to select candidates, in order to end the practice of individuals buying tickets to contest.

Reform of political funding is necessary, but not sufficient to check corruption. Without it, other measures, including creation of a Lokpal, are likely to prove futile. The time is ripe for India to adopt rigorous reform of the political process.









There's a glut of foodgrains in India, driving local prices below not just global rates but also the minimum support price promised by the Centre. This is the right time to export some of our mounting wheat and rice stocks. The food ministry disagrees, arguing that any exports of surplus foodgrains, would fuel food price inflation. Here is why the ministry is wrong. First, India's stockpile of foodgrains is now around 45 million tonnes, double the buffer stock that is mandated for food security. A bumper harvest is forecast, after which the government will add another 25 million tonnes to this pile. Second, the government and its main procuring and stocking arm, the Food Corporation of India (FCI), have proved that they cannot handle such large food stocks. In many places, grains are piled high under plastic sheets, exposed to the weather and rodents. Even after distributing rice for as low as . 1 or . 2 per kilogramme in states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, stocks stubbornly refuse to run down. It is likely that by the time the government decides to do something about this food mountain, worth around . 40,000 crore, much of it would have become dinner for rats. Three, food inflation is not being driven by foodgrains, but by the spiralling prices of vegetables, edible oil, pulses and milk. Exports of foodgrains will not add to food price inflation at home; indeed, it might help to increase farmers' incomes.

Finally, the most compelling argument is about prices. The glut has pushed market prices of wheat to below the minimum support price (MSP) of . 1,170 per quintal. Indeed, in states like Uttar Pradesh, wheat is being sold for . 1,050 per quintal, a substantial discount to the MSP. In global markets, wheat is being traded at around . 1,530 per quintal. So, if India lifts its export curbs on foodgrains, imposed after the food price scare last year, exporters can make a nifty profit, storage costs would come down and farmers' incomes would go up, yielding some incentive to invest in technologies to boost productivity. This golden opportunity should not be lost in dither, as bureaucrats play safe and refuse to take a decision.






 Mahendra Singh Dhoni has gone on record that a 51-day Indian Premier League tournament in the wake of a 43-day World Cup could tire out the cricketers just ahead of India's tour of the West Indies in the first week of June. However, two of the most successful foreign cricketers playing in the IPL have given the impression that they see the ongoing tournament as R&R — Rest and Recreation! After being rested against his will for the ongoing one-day series in the Caribbeans between the West Indies and Pakistan, former Windies skipper Chris Gayle promptly signed up to play for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. And Gayle lived up to his name in his very first game against the Kolkata Knight Riders on Good Friday by smashing 102 off just 55 balls.
The Gayle IPL performance was not the kind of rest the West Indies selectors had envisaged for their former skipper. One of Sri Lanka's most successful fast bowlers has now opted to play IPL instead of Test cricket for his country. Lasith Malinga had initially informed the Lankan selectors that he was not fit to open the bowling for his national team on next month's tour of England. The Lankan selection committee chairman Duleep Mendis asked Malinga how he could play IPL and be a match-winner for the Mumbai Indians when he was not fit and ordered him back for a rehabilitation programme. And Malinga promptly retired from Test cricket, stating that he was conserving his energies for the 2012 T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka. With the IPL being rated as the world's number two sporting league in terms of average pay by the Global Sports Salaries Survey 2011, cricketers are no longer dependent on the whims and fancies of national selection boards for a living!





The whole country is indulged in self-flagellation on inflation. Politicians too never miss an opportunity to fish for votes — normally dovish but now prodding the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to tighten further. As a hawk who had advocated hikes in late 2009, in the face of 3.25% rates which stayed till March 2010, I feel the national mourning might be unproductive.

First, accelerating inflation is a global phenomenon. It is no surprise that it coincides with quantitative easing policies of several big economies. A tripling of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet has provided the liquidity for flows into "real assets" (oil, metals, agriculture and real estate). And it is this rally in commodities that manifests itself in India's wholesale price index (WPI) sub-indices — food, fuel, textiles, rubber & plastics, chemicals, and metals & alloys. Their weight in WPI is 62% and the last four make up 60% of 'non-food manufactured products.'

Second, the WPI. The whole country lives and dies by this release every month, but it is clearly the first cousin of commodity prices. How seriously should we be tying the fate of a billion-plus people to an index which has swung from 11% and -1% within a year, and then from -1% to 11% in nine months? Should we be subjugating a trillionplus economy to volatility in effective rates of 9%, then lowering to 3.25% and now 6.75%? It is these extreme variations and bureaucratic clearances that affect decisions on investments. Inflation per se need not deter a project depending on micro factors. It is the fear of the lack of funding that deters investment.
Three, capacity. Demand, freed from decades of deprivation, wants to make up for lost time by consuming now, and in size. (Many countries go through this same phase in their development. The US had bouts of high inflation in the 1820s and 1850s. Closer to home and time, Japan had CPI in high teens in the 1970s, even outside the first oil shock and Korea experienced 10% CPI in 1991. All gradually came off as capacity was rapidly added). We should encourage capacity addition in those sectors to satiate demand. That means reducing uncertainty in bureaucratic approvals, increasing competition and running a thoughtful liquidity policy. Excesses should be wrung out by sectoral-specific regulatory restraints. In infrastructure, which needs a lot of investment leading to higher productivity and lower costs, financing dried up in the 2008 tightening process before the credit crisis. Recently, banks' rates reached double-digits, somewhat antithetical of what such an inflationary remediation requires.

Four, services and productivity. The consumer price index (CPI) has only 26% weight in services (the 'miscellaneous' label gives away the lack of importance). Housing is updated only twice a year, resulting in massive step function jumps. Unbelievably. it showed a 16% jump in mid-2009 when many real-estate companies were in danger of defaulting and landlords were negotiating discounts in rent. Also talk of wage increases ignores productivity increases. A 10% wage increase with productivity gain of 5% results in unit labour cost of 5%, and that is the relevant statistic. Subtracting labour force growth from real GDP growth productivity now can be estimated at 4%, up from 2% in pre-2004. That makes wage increases a lot more palatable. After all, wasn't that the point of rising living standards — that nominal wages could grow justified by productivity?

    Finally, some indicators hint that rates might soon get too restrictive. The yield curve is very flat. It has a better track record than forecasters of signalling inflection points. Foreign institutional investors (FIIs), who find yields irresistible despite published inflation statistics, are paying a sizeable fee just for the privilege of investing in Indian bonds. So, one arm of the government is raising rates (21% of Budget expenditure goes to interest payments), and another is clamping down on FMP investments by FIIs. Third, index for the industrial production (IIP) has stayed stubbornly low. And then there is the minor detail of corporates asking for help on financing and liquidity constraints.

The consensus view is that we cannot sit idly by and must do something. That is an understandable instinct, and would have been heartening at 3.25% in fall 2009. At 350 basis points of tightening, a flat yield curve, liquidity squeeze for corporates, and an inflation backdrop that will be helped by more capacity addition rather than choking it, it is perhaps prudent to be patient after the next two tightening, and then assess the situation.
Let's also allow the currency to appreciate. Effectively, emerging markets are doing the heavy lifting of tightening to counter the very loose policy being run in G7. Should we? Should we, by our constant panic-driven talk, bake in the very inflationary expectations for all people, which we are trying to "demand manage" against? If a patient complains of a severe headache and we place him in a coma, we have taken care of the headache, but is that useful? A worker laid off from a project will demand fewer textiles and metals (core!), but would that be helpful?










The put-and-call structure negotiated in the Cairn Vedanta transaction is designed to achieve specific commercial objectives. Vedanta wants to take control and own 51-60% of Cairn India. Cairn UK wants to sell at the minimum 40% before ceding control and sell as high a shareholding as it can. Given the Sebi takeover code & the Cairn India shareholding structure, it is obvious that the only way to achieve the commercial objectives described above would be to enter into put and call arrangements. However,the problem in this deal is the fact that the put & call options are at the same price, making it the equivalent of a forward contract. If Sebi wants to take the view that this particular arrangement falls foul of SCRA, it may have a valid argument! However, I can't figure how Sebi is taking the view that preemptions are prohibited by SCRA. The key problem in achieving the commercial objectives described above is the current takeover regulations. The open offer for Cairn India is a live illustration for why we need to reform the takeover code. Public shareholders are being offered a lower price compared to the Promoter. The open offer is going to be yet another waste of time transaction that nobody wants, as the offer price net of taxes is not attractive compared to current market price. The only person who wants to sell in the open offer would be the Promoters who are prohibited from participating. The transaction cries out for introducing whitewash exemptions in the takeover code, which would have enabled all parties, including public shareholders, achieve their commercial objectives! The issue is not the legality of option contracts but the issue has to be why is Sebi adjudicating legality of contracts. Effectively, to get its approval, Sebi is asking parties to rewrite their contracts to conform to its views on what is legal and/or enforceable! Sebi's mandate for such a role, if it exists, can only be to serve public shareholder interests. Sebi needs to explain how rewriting these contracts protect public shareholders if it wants to achieve its goals. Clarity would help parties write enforceable shareholder agreements, which is the lifeblood of commerce!


Sebi's position on put-and-call options, and pre-emptive rights conventionally contained in shareholders' agreements, is patently wrong. The provisions, purportedly quoted by Sebi to direct the Vedanta Group to delete these provisions in its agreement to acquire Cairn India, have been entirely misapplied. Two shareholders who own property in the form of shares in a company are fully entitled to deal with their property upon the terms they contract. A shareholder has every right to contract an obligation to buy or sell shares upon the occurrence of a contingency. Such a term would not constitute a speculative trade in "options". The settled rule of interpretation that regulatory provisions should be purposively construed binds regulators, too.
A private put or call option, which can only result in an actual transfer of shares and not be settled by payment of differences, is not a derivative contract for Sebi to any jurisdiction. If Sebi were right, every share purchase agreement with conditions precedent to completion (including compliance with takeover regulations) would be an unlisted option agreement and, therefore, illegal.


Worse, it is Sebi that legislated amendments to the takeover regulations in August 2001, explicitly recognising putand-call options designed by the Union government in its disinvestment plan. Sebi had resisted the government's desire to get all disinvestments exempted from open offer obligations. However, Sebi conceded that when shares change hands at a future date upon exercise of the embedded put or call options, another open offer would not be triggered. A regulator ignoring the very legislation authored by it is poor public policy — it calls for a change in approach, not for a change in law.

Sebi's stance is perhaps motivated by a desire to express solidarity with the government's commercial cause in breaching obligations owed to the Vedanta Group under a call option over shares of Balco Ltd. Vedanta is the acquirer in the Cairn India open offer. If so, Sebi is being more loyal than the king. The courts are yet to rule on that dispute. An independent regulator sensitive about its autonomy should not play its hand thus.








Is it safe to visit Kashmir these days?", asked a friend who is mulling a family trip to the Valley to escape the Delhi summer. The apprehension is understandable since post-militancy Kashmir has been witnessing summer-time unrest for some years as trouble-makers choose to strike in this season. Apart from many other factors, trouble in the Valley during summer helps achieve two strategic goals: it cripples the tourism season, the mainstay of the state economy, and ensures headlines across the country and outside. Even when the last winter's stone-throwing movement has fizzled out as dramatically as it had peaked, there have been hints of trouble returning this summer to prove a point. But the emerging signals are promising a very interesting 'political summer in Kashmir', turning the by-now clichéd stereotype narratives on their heads.
J&K is witnessing its firstever panchayat polls in 10 years, after the successful holding of two Lok Sabha and state assembly polls. Since these elections are being held within months of the stonethrowing episode, there is much at stake in it for those who support the ballot and those oppose it. Unmindful of the earlier rebuff from the people of J&K, the militants and Hurriyat hardliner Ali Shah Geelani have once again called upon the people to "boycott the elections".

So far, the people's response has been overwhelming rejection of the boycott call and the threat of guns. This, despite a strong warning coming in the form of the killing, a week before the beginning of polls, of the influential Moulvi Showkat Ahmed Shah of the puritan Jamiat-e-ahle Hadith, who had openly opposed the stone-throwing protests. Yet, the first phase of the scheduled 16-phase polls (to last till June) marked 80% voting. Within days, a woman candidate was killed. Yet, the second phase marked 83% polling followed by two more phases, too, touching 80% turnout. It is worth watching the remaining phases.

Among the thousands of candidates are educated young men and women. The panchayat poll, like in many other states, are being held in a non-partisan manner with the mainstream parties, too, letting their workers contest as independents (the slain woman candidate was a PDP activist). It is clear the Kashmiris, like the rest of India, have realised the importance of their participation/leadership in local development projects under civic bodies.

When people rejected their earlier threats, the boycott callers tried to save face by arguing people voted "only for bread and butter issue" not against azadi. Well, in the rest of India, too, people vote on bread and butter issues and it has been up to the credibility of political parties/leaders to set their poll agenda, be it the aam aadmi, corruption, development, nationalism, etc. Geelani & Co, as usual, lack confidence to test their standing/agenda in the people's court. Violent crowds, threats and propaganda can force successful shutdowns but it requires credibility/acceptability to win the people's mandate. And it is never achieved through sheer threats, anywhere.

Along with the panchayat polls come interesting twists within the Hurriyat, exposing the simmering unrest within and its leaders' sense of confusion. The initial bid of the Hurriyat leaders, as usual, was to reject the state police finding that the killing of Moulvi Showkat Shah was the handiwork of some militants/hardliners. But the state police is holding on to its finding, having learnt a hard lesson from senior moderate Hurriyat leader Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat's recent soul-searching call — he said the separatists should 'face the truth" by publicly admitting the killings of veteran separatists Moulvi Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone were done by their own people and not by the Army and 'agents of Delhi', as was propagated for years by the separatists (including Lone's own sons). Prof Bhatt's call and people's impatience with the separatists' ways seem to be having a sobering effect, as the Hurriyat's probe panel itself has now hinted the Maulvi's killing "appears to be an insider's job". It is a welcome step towards 'truth telling'. Equally significant is the move of senior Hurriyat leader Moulvi Abbas Ansari to break from the ranks and meet the Centre's interlocutors. When Ansari was promptly expelled by the angry Hurriyat, he hailed it as his azadi. What an irony! Then came Geelani subtly changing the usual narrative about "Pandits leaving the Valley on Jagmohan's advice" by telling a group of Hindu minorities that he was only confronting them just as "Arjun fought his own cousins" in Mahabharata for 'the sake of his principles"! These are interesting pointers emerging from the Valley when the ordinary people are showing their collective courage to reject the discredited players/over-used theories that thrive by keeping the state in a state of flux. It is now up to the Centre and the state government to back them up with more constructive and imaginative CBMs.









Lavish weddings apart, the British monarchy does no harm to anyone.

In my end is my beginning, wrote poet T. S. Eliot in East Coker. Most people, when they get married, seem to share this view of ends and beginnings. But when the British royalty, which has begun to look rather common, does so, the media forces the rest of the world to take note of the event. Everyone forgets Bernard Shaw's insightful admonition that marriage, be it so royal is, in the final analysis the utterly "ghastly public confession of a strictly private intention". On the royal wedding, at least 45 per cent of the British say they are bored by the whole thing. About half think it is all fine really because we love our Queen — even if we reserve our judgment on monarchy itself. A few more are undecided. Some think it is wrong to blow away around 20 million or so pounds on a wedding. A minuscule percentage wants to end monarchy but has no substitute to offer. This is the problem because, weddings apart, the British monarchy does no harm to anyone. The British have had kings and queens for ever and ever, some of them good but most of them complete washouts. But in typically bumbling way, they have managed to give the world some important things, such as the Cabinet form of government.

King George I, freshly imported from the House of Hanover in Germany, could not speak English and had to rely on his first minister, Robert Walpole, to run the country. He became primus inter pares or first among equals or prime minister. Thus was the Cabinet system born. Had George I learnt English, things might have turned out differently. Few also know that the British, in a fit of Republican frenzy, cut off the head of one of their kings, Charles I in 1649 — only to restore his son Charles II as King and monarch a scant eleven years later. Since then their monarchy has batted on and on and on. British monarchs have gotten married in great splendour, except once when one of them ran off in 1936 to marry a mere Mrs Simpson who was, oh dear, an American.

The present Queen is a direct beneficiary of that act of supreme devotion. Her father became the King when his brother abdicated. She has been the monarch for 59 years and looks like going on for a bit more, and may well overtake Queen Victoria's record of 63 years. This has made her eldest son, Prince Charles who is well over 60; wonder what lies in store for him. Another family wedding, mate?







Amulya Champatiray

Shardul Oza

Most migrants use informal channels such as hawala, as opposed to the banking and post-office networks, to remit money. Banks can use technology to reach out to the unbanked and provide them efficient remittance services.

Gopal G., a native of West Bengal, moved to Delhi 14 years ago to find a job to support his 11-member family. In Delhi, he works with a goldsmith, earning Rs 3,600 a month, much of which he sends back home. Like most low-income migrants, Gopal lacks the necessary documents to open a bank account and relies on informal methods, which are very risky, to send money home. The other option is to carry cash when he travels home. So far, Gopal has had nearly Rs. 60,000 stolen while travelling home by train.

After being robbed several times, Gopal decided he would make more frequent trips, carrying smaller amounts of cash each time. Each trip involves missing days of work, which results in loss of income.

In India, approximately, 100 million people who migrate outside their native towns and villages for work face the challenge of sending money home. To remit funds, migrants require access to financial-service-points.

Formal service-points include banks, post offices and mobile-banking-points, while informal channels are friends carrying cash or hawala/tappawala couriers (based on informal agreement between a hawala courier at the sending end, who collects deposit from the sender, and a courier at the receiving location, who disburses the cash, minus a fee, to the recipient).

A 2010 study "Putting Money in Motion: How Much Do Migrants Pay for Domestic Transfers," by the Centre for Micro Finance (CMF) at IFMR Research, found that 57 per cent of migrants use informal channels.


The study also found that while over 50 per cent of migrants in the study sample expressed a desire to remit through banks, only 31 per cent actually did so. Despite the existence of formal options such as India Post, which has 150,000 branches across India, why do a majority of migrants use informal channels?

The answer lies largely in the ease of access to informal sources compared to formal ones. Opening a bank account for migrants and their families requires address and identity proof, which are, invariably, difficult to obtain. Further, the transfers are generally slow, especially in remote locations.

The working hours of formal channels overlap with those of the migrants, most of whom are daily wage labourers. Time per transaction is higher in formal channels — clients spent 48 minutes per hawala transaction compared to an average 150 minutes at a bank. Barriers to accessing bank accounts also include softer issues, such as the attitude of bank staff, compared with the hawala couriers, who are easier to deal with. However, while informal channels are easier to access, the biggest disadvantage is the risk they pose.


Technology, such as mobile phones, smart cards and biometric authentication, could play a significant role in reducing costs, apart from making transactions faster and safer.

One successful initiative is the SBI Tatkaal, initiated in partnership with EKO, where customers are provided access to formal banking services by opening no-frills accounts with minimum KYC documentation, along with remittance facility.

Banks could do much more to make their services more accessible to the migrant population. New bank branches could be strategically placed along large migrant corridors at both source and destination to make transferring money easier for migrants. Further, banks could appoint business correspondents, a system in which licensed individuals and institutions offer services on behalf of banks.

This can help bring remittance and savings services closer to families who live in rural and hard-to-reach areas. Technology, such as mobile banking, can help in making the services of business correspondents more efficient and accessible.

The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), has unveiled an Inter-bank Mobile Payment Service (IMPS), under which fund transfer is enabled even if both sender and receiver do not have accounts with the same bank.

The facility can be used with any mobile-phone, including low-end ones that use SMS for fund transfer. However, a constraint in this system is that both remitter and beneficiary need to have bank accounts, albeit not with the same bank.

The present IMPS structure allows cash-in/cash-out through bank branches or ATMs only, and therefore the remitter and receiver have to visit their respective bank branch (or ATM) to transact. SBI Tatkaal, is more customer-friendly, wherein the remitter and beneficiary's banks have linked their networks to their respective BC channels, allowing customers to perform cash-in/cash-out with the local BC.


Though the India Post has a large network in rural areas, it cannot assure sound and fast service given its current systems and is, in fact, losing clients.

According to the CMF study, post office remains the most expensive remittance option costing nearly 6 per cent of the total amount remitted in fees.

Further, nearly 70 per cent of remittances transferred through post offices are low value — below Rs 500 — increasing cost per transaction. India Post must modernise its electronic transfer system to make its money transfers faster, cheaper and more secure.

The Central Government's Adhaar programme (Unique Identification Authority of India) should expand swiftly to areas that send out a substantial number of migrants. Having unique identifiers would help migrants prove their identity to banks, lowering a key barrier to formal financial access.

If policymakers want to achieve universal financial inclusion in India, they must address the special needs of domestic migrants, who are both socially marginalised and largely unbanked.

Making remittances easier, cheaper and safer is an important step towards including this critical population into the formal financial sector.

(The authors are with the Centre for Micro Finance, IFMR Research, Chennai.)






In all the surveys on innovations and outcomes, India ranks low in the pecking order, below even countries such as Brazil, not to speak of China.

Addressing captains of industry from south India in Chennai recently, Union Home Minister,Mr P. Chidambaram, mentioned three important deficits that India Inc needs to pay attention to — regulatory, governance and ethical deficits — in order to ensure8-10 per cent annual growth in the coming years.

Apart from not defining the Government's role in erasing these deficits, the Minister failed to mention yet another important deficit — namely, the innovation deficit that Indian industries face despite the economic liberalisation that began in 1991.

And yet, this deficit has perhaps the maximum strategic implications for the industrial productivity and global competitiveness essential for economic growth.

That the economic status of a country has a direct bearing on the level of innovation prevailing in it is obvious from the fact that the US, which for several years (until 2007) occupied the No. 1 position, slipped to No. 11 following the economic downturn from 2007 to 2010, according to a report from the international business school INSEAD in Fontainbleu, Paris.

The same is true of Germany and many others affected by the recent collapse in global economy. Innovation deficit has become a buzz word in recent times. Many countries including the US, western European nations, Australia and even emerging economies, notably China and India, have identified innovation capabilities as essential for accelerated economic growth.

The US President, Mr Barack Obama, in his 2011 State Of The Union message specially mentioned the US imperative to once again out-innovate other countries if it is to fully recover from the present crisis.

Innovation is the process of converting (translating) an original concept, discovery or invention into an economically beneficial product.

The capability to continuously innovate can ensure a steady flow of profitable processes and products. While they need to be novel, they can be disruptive, incremental or breakthroughs. They should be easy to replicate and should satisfy a specific human need. While the rate of innovation and its precise impact on the economy cannot be easily quantified, the innovation capabilities and deficits of countries can be assessed through various parameters.

Several exercises have been carried out by the Boston Consultancy Group, INSEAD Paris/ CII India, The Economist, Global Innovation Source Board, The World Bank and others. According to the Economist's Global Innovation ranking, Japan has retained the first place, with Switzerland, Finland, the US, Sweden and Germany following in that order. The Economist, however, relies heavily on the acquisition of patents from the US, European and Japanese patent offices for its innovation ranking.

Other studies have used, besides patents per million population, yardsticks such as scientific publications, R&D spending in the public and private sectors, nature and numbers of skilled human resources, and so on.

Where does India Stand?

In all the surveys on innovations and outcomes, India ranks low in the pecking order, below even countries such as Brazil, not to speak of China.

In the Standard & Poor and Business Week study of 132 countries, India ranks 82. No Indian company figures among the top 100 innovators, with Apple, Google and Toyota rated the topmost in the 2008 Business Week survey. These rankings are also reflected in the global competitiveness index. It is clear that unless India's innovation deficit is erased, it will be difficult to ensure sustained economic growth in the coming years.

Moving from a protected economy to a relatively free market economy brings additional pressures to remain competitive in the marketplace. In sectors such as pharmaceutical industry, innovation is the lifeline for survival and growth. Today, Indian pharmaceutical industry is globally ranked No 3 in production and 13 in value terms.

India is a major hub for outsourcing and the largest producer of generic drugs outside the US. Despite these achievements, discovery and development of new drugs — the next logical step to ensure sustained growth and market presence — is still in its infancy. The global market does not have a single drug discovered and developed in India. While in the mid-1960s to 1980s, MNCs such as Ciba-Geigy, Hoechst , Smith Kline & French (SKF) and Boots ventured into drug discovery R&D, all of them closed down not for lack of innovation, but due to commercial reasons dictated by their global operations.

With the advent of the Indian Patents Act 2005, new drugs will be available to the Indian market only from their innovators (patent holders), which means domestic companies will have to innovate if they want to maintain and increase their market share.

Over a dozen private sector companies have entered this space in recent years and will hopefully develop, over time, not only an innovation culture but also skills required to translate discoveries into beneficial products.

India spends one per cent of her GDP on R&D and most of it through national laboratories (although there has been a shift to the private sector), which are hardly the cradles of innovation-led enterprises.

The need of the hour is to promote an innovation culture backed by large investments in knowledge-based enterprises through agencies such as the Knowledge Commission, National Innovation Foundation and various Science and Technology departments, as well as the implementation of a National Innovation Legislation. The Global Innovation Index (GII) measures the strengths of countries in the innovation space. It is clear that only through utilisation of human resources, science and technology base, and business and marketing skills can India erase the current innovation deficits and attain global competitiveness and sustained growth even at the current growth rate.

(The author is a Chennai-based trade and IPR consultant.)






Legalising harassment bribes is unlikely to work out the way expected.

The Chief Economic Adviser to the Union Ministry of Finance, Mr Kaushik Basu's recent working paper "Why, for a class of bribes, the act of giving a bribe should be treated as legal" has raised certain issues about the act of giving and receiving a bribe which, at the very least, throws light on the fundamental nature of this composite activity and, importantly, suggests that the legal path to remedying the social scourge – in Indian conditions – may not be as efficacious as is being expected.

The central point in Mr Basu's thesis is that if bribe-givers (in an area described as "harassment bribes", or bribes relating to things which people are legally entitled to, say, gas connections, ration cards or passports) are conferred "full immunity from any punitive action by the State", it is likely that this class of people will turn the tables as it were on bribe-takers after the "transaction" has been completed.

This would make the latter category of offenders more cautious in going about their illegal business, the inference being that the very act of extracting a bribe would thereby receive a dampener, to the benefit of society.

In Mr Basu's words, "in the post-bribe situation it is in the interest of the bribe-giver to have the bribe-taker caught. Since the bribe-giver will cooperate with the law, the chances are much higher of the bribe-taker getting caught. In fact, it will be in the interest of the bribe-giver to have the taker get caught, since that way the bribe-giver can get back the money she gave as bribe. Since the bribe-taker knows this, he will be much less inclined to take the bribe in the first place. This establishes that there will be a drop in the incidence of bribery".

Indeed, the professor writes with confidence that "this paper predicts that the end result will be a sharp decline in the incidence of bribery", which is certainly a happy thought provided the medicine works.

But, will it? The argument on paper is unexceptionable, of course.

To quote Mr Basu once again, "What is being argued here is that the legal amendments being suggested in this paper will not remove all incentives to bribery. But to the extent that it does create mistrust between the bribe-giver and the taker in the post-bribery situation, it means that the comfort zone within which bribery occurs in today's world will cease to exist and the upshot will be a decline in the incidence of bribery".

There is little doubt that the "comfort zone" which the Chief Economic Adviser speaks of will be affected adversely for the bribe-taker because he knows that, in terms of the new law, the person giving the bribe will, briefly, not be in the same tainted boat as he himself.

But then the real world is much more complex and, as Mr Basu himself admits, the entire expected sequence of events, leading to a drop in bribe-taking, will work out in the way expected only if the bribe-giver is careful enough to marshal adequate evidence of the act, which may not always be the case.

Further, one of the implications of Mr Basu's suggestion is that every act of bribe-giving becomes a "sting operation", which is impractical.

Another important criticism of Mr Basu's suggestion is that those who pay a bribe are equal violators of the law of the land and, therefore, should on no account be provided with legal immunity.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The arrest of Suresh Kalmadi by the Central Bureau of Investigation on Monday does not close the file on corruption of surprising magnitude that is said to have surrounded preparations for last year's Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi. The case has only just begun. It is not unthinkable that, in due course, some in the Union sports ministry, the Delhi Development Authority, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, as well as other Delhi government authorities — in short, individuals from departments that prosecute civil works and infrastructure projects in the nation's capital, and those who were remiss insofar as application of mind is concerned — come under sharper scrutiny. The Shunglu Committee appointed by the Prime Minister to examine CWG preparations in depth has, after all, not restricted itself to analysing the Games-related expenditures of Mr Kalmadi's fief. It cast its net wider, and has gone to the extent of asking a question or two of the Delhi Chief Minister, Ms Sheila Dikshit, and the lieutenant-governor, Mr Tejendra Khanna. Nevertheless, the seizing and holding by the law of the president of the Indian Olympic Association who was chairman of the CWG organising committee does mark a moment of catharsis. The throwing of a pair of slippers at Mr Kalmadi by an onlooker — that he may have been of unsound mind only rubs the point in — as the former was being taken to the courts the day after his arrest offers a confirmation of sorts that the wider public is relieved to see that the czar of sports administration, who exploited his political career to reach this spot and to make money, as is alleged, is at last behind bars. It may be recalled that even relatively junior officials gave Mr Kalmadi the cold shoulder when he sought to preen himself at the national games in Ranchi not long ago. After the CWG ended, this was the first indication of how low the Games boss had fallen in the barometer of public opinion. He was wont to give clever television bytes, protest his innocence in seemingly unassailable terms, and even hold out oblique threats that if he went down he would drag many others with him. The last was no doubt an attempt at buying insurance. Fortunately, from the point of view of not incentivising irregular practices, none of this worked, and the law stays on course. The nature of the CWG-related cases may depend on the nature of offences cited against Mr Kalmadi in the legal realm, for he is the linchpin in a sense. Even so, it is reassuring to know at this stage that every effort will be made by the government, the law enforcers and the courts to hold Mr Kalmadi's feet to the fire. The man who so flagrantly courted controversy even at the risk of being deemed corrupt is a Congress Lok Sabha MP. He was also secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party, from which post he got ejected when details of his alleged corruption first became public. Now Mr Kalmadi has been suspended from the Congress' primary membership. These steps were necessary, but it is plain to see they have been taken ex post-facto. The Congress and the government leadership must devise measures that would reassure the people that they are capable of checkmating corruption at the first hint of it, and will not watch helplessly until the judicial machinery begins to operate. Of course, the Congress and its governments are not alone in this. All ruling parties at the Centre and in the states have shown signs of suffering from this malady.






The seed, the source of life, the embodiment of our biological and cultural diversity, the link between the past and the future of evolution, the common property of past, present and future generations of farming communities who have been seed breeders, is today being stolen from the farmers and being sold back to us as "propriety seed" owned by corporations like the US-headquartered Monsanto. Under pressure from the Prime Minister's Office, various state governments are signing MoUs (memorandums of understanding) with seed corporations to privatise our rich and diverse genetic heritage. For example, the government of Rajasthan has signed seven MoUs with Monsanto, Advanta, DCM-Shriram, Kanchan Jyoti Agro Industries, PHI Seeds Pvt. Ltd, Krishidhan Seeds and J.K. Agri Genetics. The Rajasthan government's MoU with Monsanto, for example, focuses on maize, cotton, and vegetables (hot pepper, tomato, cabbage, cucumber, cauliflower and water melon). Monsanto controls the cottonseed market in India and globally. Monsanto also controls 97 per cent of the worldwide maize market and 63.5 per cent of the genetically-modified (GM) cotton market. DuPont, in fact, had to initiate anti-trust investigations in the US because of Monsanto's growing seed monopoly. Sixty Indian seed companies have licensing arrangements with Monsanto, which has the intellectual property on Bt. cotton. In addition, Monsanto has cross-licensing arrangements with BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Sygenta and Dow to share patented, genetically-engineered seed traits with each other. The giant seed corporations are not competing with each other. They are competing with peasants and farmers over the control of the seed supply. And, in effect, monopolies over seed are being established through mergers and cross-licensing arrangements. Monsanto, which controls 95 per cent of the cottonseed market, has pushed the price of seed from `7 per kg to `3,600 per kg, with nearly half being royalty payments. It was extracting `1,000 crores per annum as royalty from Indian farmers before Andhra Pradesh sued it in the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission. The commodified seed is ecologically incomplete and ruptured at two levels: First, it does not reproduce itself, while, by definition, seed is a regenerative resource. Genetic resources are thus, through technology, transformed from a renewable into a non-renewable resource. Second, it does not produce by itself; it needs the help of purchased inputs. And, as the seed and chemical companies merge, the dependence on inputs will increase. The failure of hybrid sunflower in Karnataka and hybrid maize in Bihar has cost poor farmers hundreds of crores of rupees. There are no liability clauses in the MoUs to ensure farmers' rights and protection from seed failure. The seeds that will be used for essentially derived varieties by corporations like Monsanto are originally farmers' varieties. The Farmers' Rights and Plant Genetic Resources Act is a law to protect farmers' rights, but nothing in the MoUs acknowledges, protects or guarantees farmers' rights. It is, therefore, violative of the Farmers' Rights Act. The MoUs are one-sided and biased in favour of corporate intellectual property rights. The Monsanto MoU states: "Monsanto's proprietary tools, techniques, technology, know-how and intellectual property rights with respect to the crops shall remain the property of Monsanto although utilised in any of the activities outlined as part of the MoU". So the issue here is not technology, but seed monopoly. What is being termed a public-private partnership (PPP) and is being conducted under the supervision of the state is, in fact, the great seed robbery. Rajasthan is an ecologically fragile area. Its farmers are already vulnerable. It is a crime to increase their vulnerability by allowing corporations to steal their genetic wealth and then sell them patented, genetically engineered, ill-adapted seeds. We must defend seeds as our commons. We must protect the seeds of life from the seeds of suicide. Farmers breed for resilience and nutrition. Industrial breeding responds to intensive chemical and water inputs so that seed companies can increase profits. The future of the seed, the future of the food, the future of farmers lies in conservation of the biodiversity of our seed. Navdanya's research also shows that biodiversity-based ecological agriculture produces more food than monocultures. Hybrids and Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) produce less nutrition per acre and are vulnerable to climate change, pests and disease. Replacing agro-biodiversity with hybrid and GM crops is a recipe for food insecurity. The MoUs will, in effect, facilitate bio-piracy of Rajasthan's rich biodiversity of drought-resilient crops, which become more valuable in times of climate change. By failing to have any clauses that respect the Biodiversity Act and the Farmers' Rights Act, the MoUs promote biopiracy and legalise the great seed robbery. According to the MoUs, private companies' seed distribution will be based on "seed supply and distribution arrangements involving leverage of extensive government-owned network". In other words, selling hybrids and then GMOs will be subsidised by allowing the use of public land for "technology demonstration farms to showcase products, technology and agronomic practices on land made available by the government of Rajasthan". Besides the handing over of seed and land, "Monsanto will be helped in the establishment of infrastructure towards the fulfilment of the collaboration objectives specified above through access to relevant capital subsidy and other schemes of the government of Rajasthan". While public resources will be freely given away to Monsanto as a subsidy, Monsanto's Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) monopolies will be protected. This is an MoU for "Monsanto takes all, the public system gives all". It is clearly an MoU for privatisation of our seed and genetic wealth, our knowledge, and a violation of farmers' rights. Seed sovereignty is the foundation of food sovereignty. Seed freedom is the foundation of food freedom. The great seed robbery threatens both. It must be stopped. * Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust







Twenty-five years ago, the explosion at Chernobyl cast a radioactive cloud over Europe and a shadow around the world. Today, the tragedy at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to unfold, raising popular fears and difficult questions. Visiting Chernobyl a few days ago, I saw the reactor, still deadly but encased in concrete. The adjoining town of Pripyat was dead and silent — houses empty and falling into ruin, mute evidence of lives left behind, an entire world abandoned and lost to those who loved it. More than 300,000 people were displaced in the Chernobyl disaster; roughly six million were affected. A swathe of geography half the size of Italy or my own country, the Republic of Korea, was contaminated. It is one thing to read about Chernobyl from afar. It is another to see for it. For me, the experience was profoundly moving, and the images will stay with me for many years. I was reminded of a Ukrainian proverb: "There is no such thing as someone else's sorrow". The same is true of nuclear disasters. There is no such thing as some other country's catastrophe. As we are painfully learning once again, nuclear accidents respect no borders. They pose a direct threat to human health and the environment. They cause economic disruptions affecting everything from agricultural production to trade and global services. This is a moment for deep reflection, a time for a real global debate. To many, nuclear energy looks to be a clean and logical choice in an era of increasing resource scarcity. Yet the record requires us to ask: have we correctly calculated its risks and costs? Are we doing all we can to keep the world's people safe? Because the consequences are catastrophic, safety must be paramount. Because the impact is transnational, these issues must be debated globally. That is why, visiting Ukraine for the 25th anniversary of the disaster, I put forward a five-point strategy to improve nuclear safety for our future: * First, it is time for a top to bottom review of current safety standards, both at the national and international levels. * Second, we need to strengthen the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency on nuclear safety. * Third, we must put a sharper focus on the new nexus between natural disasters and nuclear safety. Climate change means more incidents of freak and increasingly severe weather. With the number of nuclear facilities set to increase substantially over the coming decades, our vulnerability will grow. * Fourth, we must undertake a new cost-benefit analysis of nuclear energy, factoring in the costs of disaster preparedness and prevention as well as cleanup when things go wrong. * Fifth and finally, we need to build a stronger connection between nuclear safety and nuclear security. At a time when terrorists seek nuclear materials, we can say with confidence that a nuclear plant that is safer for its community is also more secure for the world. My visit to Chernobyl was not the first time I have travelled to a nuclear site. A year ago, I went to Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, ground zero for nuclear testing in the former Soviet Union. Last summer in Japan, I met with the Hibakusha, survivors of the atomic blasts at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I went to these places to highlight the importance of disarmament. For decades, negotiators have sought agreement on limiting (and perhaps ultimately eliminating) nuclear weapons. And this past year, we have seen very encouraging progress. With the memory of Chernobyl and, now, the disaster in Fukushima, we must widen our lens. Henceforth, we must treat the issue of nuclear safety as seriously as we do nuclear weapons. The world has witnessed an unnerving history of near-accidents. It is time to face facts squarely. We owe it to our citizens to practice the highest standards of emergency preparedness and response, from the design of new facilities through construction and operation to their eventual decommissioning. Issues of nuclear power and safety are no longer purely matters of national policy, alone. They are a matter of global public interest. We need international standards for construction, agreed guarantees of public safety, full transparency and information-sharing among nations. Let us make that the enduring legacy of Chernobyl. Amid the silence there, I saw signs of life returning. A new protective shield is being erected over the damaged reactor. People are beginning to return. Let us resolve to dispel the last cloud of Chernobyl and offer a better future for people who have lived for too long under its shadow.






Nowadays, business groups cleverly promote Akshaya Tritiya as a day on which one should buy gold. But this is not the sole significance of the day. Akshaya tritiya, which falls on the "thritheeya" day of the bright lunar fortnight of the month of Vaishakha (celebrated this year on May 6) is an auspicious day on many counts. Akshaya means something that never gets destroyed and it is believed that Kritha Yuga started on this day. The homa, japa (chanting), prayer, theerthasnaana (taking bath in the holy river), donations and rites observed on this day yield never-ending grace. In Bhavishyothara Purana, it has been pointed out that fasting on this day and offering rice to Lord Vishnu will cure one of all the sins one has committed till that day. Puranas say that pujas performed on the day of Akshaya tritiya purged Baanasura, a mythical character, of all his sins and empowered him to resist the attacks of Devas. In Bhavishyothara Purana, we find the following sloka that hails the significance of this day. "Snanam daanam thapo homa: Swadhyaya: pithru tharppanam Yadasyam kriyathe Kinchit sarvam syaththadihaksyam Aadow krithayugasyeyam yugadisthena kathyate Asyam thithow kshaya mupaithi hritham na daththam thenakshya cha muhibhi: Kaithaksha athritheeya" (The grace of performing homas, chanting of mantras, observance of penance, bathing in holy river, charity, rice for pleasing ancestors yield results that never get lost, especially on Akshaya Tritiya, which is the beginning of Kritha Yuga.) The day of Akshaya Tritiya is connected with Lord Parasurama's story also. It is said to be his birthday. Hence, Parasurama puja is performed on this day. The day is the favourite of the Devas as well. A devotee is supposed to perform homa with barley and submit it to Lord Vishnu. Brahmanandapuranam recommends worshipping Lord Shiva, his abode Kailasa, Goddess Ganga, Bhageeratha and taking a holy bath in the river Ganga on this day. Akshaya Tritiya is considered to be the day when Goddess Madhura Meenakshi and Lord Sundaresa got married. Hence, couples who get married on this day are blessed with gracefulness and bright prospects. The effects of holy acts committed on this day are believed to last throughout the year. Draupadi got the Akshayapathra (the ever full vessel) on this day. Sage Sankaracharya brought down a shower of gold gooseberries on this day. Thus, the day of Akshaya Tritiya is observed all over India on several grounds, but at the core of it is the belief that truth is never destroyed. — Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the author of Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals. He has also written books on the Vedas and Upanishads. The author can be reached at drvenganoor@









LIKE the proverbial skeletons that tumbled from the CWG closet, the arrest of Suresh Kalmadi has caused clichés to flow in torrents: "too little too late", "shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted", "tip of the iceberg" or if one is slightly sympathetic towards the establishment "better late than never". Eventually, we may have to settle for "something is better than nothing". For even if the law does "takes its course" and the high-profile Kalmadi is nailed in a series of other cases ~ as indeed several other leading personalities indicted by the Shunglu panel should be ~ the fact remains that the CWG shenanigans battered India's standing in the international sphere. The high tally of medals bagged by Indians had redeeming effect only domestically: the lingering global images will not be of the Tricolour over the victory stand but of the filth in the Games village, and the raging scandals that have now been "officially" endorsed by the Shunglu committee. Yet is it also not a fact that whatever action has been taken ~ and this is true also of the 2G Spectrum allocation, removal of the CVC, and now committee to recover untaxed money stashed away in foreign banks ~ has been taken under pressure? Pressure from the judiciary, media, public opinion and opposition parties: though often the last is a case of "pot calling the kettle black". The Manmohan-Sonia combine had to be pushed to the brink, hence few attach credence to what Congress apologists Manish Tewari and AM Singhvi are spewing.
Yet in the context of the CWG the disgraceful dereliction of duty is not to be assessed only in terms of criminality ~ which may or may not end in convictions. The arrogant mismanagement, blatant siphoning-off of funds, and loot-inspired delays took place while UPA-II chose to look the other way. There is no valid explanation why Kalmadi was permitted to hijack the Organising Committee, why the ministries for sport, urban development, finance-controlling officials, and even a group of ministers failed to contain a disturbingly, demonstrably, deteriorating situation. Nor are explanations forthcoming why he was not removed from the OC day the Shunglu panel was appointed, if not earlier. How will the huge government loans to that OC be recovered? Kalmadi & Co. in the klink will not absolve UPA-II of its sins. Sorry Dr Singh, even if your party does win the next round of state or parliamentary elections, the ballot is no political detergent.




THE Taliban have engineered an almost incredibly intrepid escape, perhaps unparalleled in the subcontinent. The 1000-ft crawl to freedom through a tunnel by no fewer than 488 fundamentalist prisoners of Kandahar jail has exposed the dangerous fragility of Afghanistan's security network. And the chink in the armour has been exposed barely three months prior to Nato's scheduled outward march and the theoretical handover of authority to the Karzai administration. The government is quite totally bamboozled over this forbidding expression of Taliban ingenuity. The immediate reaction to the escape as a "disaster that should not have happened" is a piece of  understatement. The Karzai government is clearly at a loss over how to firm up its response. The rebel has made a mockery of national security, under the supervision of the Western powers since October 2001. Osama bin Laden remains an elusive quantity; meanwhile, the Taliban have added to their ranks with the escape of close to 500 escapees. By all accounts it has been a meticulously crafted operation, one that confirms the failure of Intelligence, home-grown as much as Western. The tunnel was excavated by the Taliban over five months, and the cells broken on Sunday night with car-jacks. Ironically enough, the excavators had masqueraded as diggers of an irrigation canal, funded by America. The ploy has doubtless added insult to injury. Preliminary reports suggest that the plan was put in place to the last detail... with a fleet of waiting cars to convey the prisoners and a cordon sanitaire of suicide bombers to provide security cover.

Conclusion on whether or not it was "an inside job" must await the investigation. Suffice it to register that the great escape has exposed the vulnerability of Kandahar, one of the more volatile areas in a fractious country and also, of course, the almost incredible ignorance of the prison guards at Sarpoza jail. Kandahar has witnesssed a surge in American troops over the past few months primarily to retain the gains. Equally, Kandahar was a Taliban stronghold for more than a decade after 1994. There is little doubt that the militants have sapped the morale of Afghanistan's internal security ahead of the handover.  The Western-backed electorally fraudulent regime has been caught with its pants down. Its credibility must now be at stake.




FROM all appearances, Nepal continues to slide deeper into a political quagmire. With little more than a month left for the Constituent Assembly to promulgate a new Constitution, no one is sure whether it will be able to meet the 28 May deadline. Last year, finding themselves in a conflict of their own making, political parties agreed to extend the assembly's term by a year. Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal, who took over in February, seems to feel that since there is no legal bar the assembly's term can be extended further. He and Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal reportedly feel that even if a full-fledged Constitution is not possible, a draft should be ready; but this will not include relevant and crucial issues like a "federal set-up, forms of governance and future electoral system", all of which is neither here nor there. Some kind of a working arrangement will have to be arrived at, but the second largest party, the Nepali Congress, is still adamant on joining the government. Dahal seems to support the Nepal army's suggestion (for integration of former Maoist combatants) on the formation of a directorate comprising the People's Liberation Army and representatives from other forces, but Maoist vice-chairman Mohan Baidya ~ now at odds with Dahal ~ has queered the pitch by demanding that this be headed by Maoist combatants.

Importantly, Indian external affairs minister SM Krishna, during his recent visit to Kathmandu, did some plain-speaking on security concerns over the disrespect shown to the Indian ambassador and the targeting of Indian establishments. This seemed to have had some effect, with Khanal assuring that Nepal would not be allowed to be used against its neighbours. Krishna also met Dahal, who makes no bones about being anti-India, and presumably reminded the Maoist leader that Nepal's traditional friendly ties with its southern neighbour are decreed by historical and geographical considerations.








India's internal security challenges are inextricably linked with border management. This is because of the proclivity of our neighbours to exploit the country's nation-building difficulties. Indian insurgent groups have for long been provided shelter across the nation's borders. The challenge of coping with the long-standing territorial and boundary disputes with China and Pakistan, combined with porous borders along some of the most difficult terrain in the world, has made effective and efficient border management a national priority.
However, due to the lack of understanding of such military issues among the decision-making elite, India's borders continue to be manned by a large number of military, para-military and police forces, each of which has its own ethos. Each of the entities report to a different central ministry in New Delhi, with almost no real coordination in managing the borders.

External threat to India's territorial integrity is not the only complex border management issue that the national security decision- makers need to deal with. The country's rate of growth has far outpaced that of most of its neighbours and this has generated peculiar problems like mass migration into India. The demographic map of Lower Assam has been completely re-drawn by illegal migration from Bangladesh over several decades. Other threats and challenges have also emerged. The border security scenario is marked by increased cross-border terrorism; infiltration and ex-filtration of armed militants; emergence of non-state actors; nexus between narcotics traffickers and arms smugglers; left-wing extremism; separatist movements aided and abetted by external powers; and the establishment of madrasas, some of which are potential security hazards.
Ideally, border management should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Home Affairs during peacetime. However, the active nature of the Line of Control (LoC) and the need to maintain troops close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in a state of readiness for operations in high altitude areas, have compelled the army to permanently deploy large forces for this task. While the BSF should be responsible for all settled borders, the responsibility for unsettled and disputed borders, such as the LoC in J&K and the LAC on the Indo-Tibetan border, should be that of the Indian Army. The principle of 'single point control' must be followed if the borders are to be effectively managed. Divided responsibilities never result in effective control. Despite sharing the responsibility with several para-military and police forces, the army's commitment for border management amounts to six divisions along the LAC, the LoC and the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) in J&K and five divisions along the LAC and the Myanmar border in the eastern sector.

This is a massive commitment that is costly in terms of manpower as well as funds, as the deployment areas are mostly in high altitude terrain, and needs to be reduced gradually. The real payoff of a rapprochement with the Chinese would be the possibility of reducing the army's deployment on the LAC. To some extent, the advances in surveillance technology, particularly satellite and aerial imagery, can help to maintain a constant vigil along the LAC and make it possible to reduce physical deployment as and when modern surveillance assets can be provided on a regular basis to the formations deployed forward. Similarly, the availability of a larger number of helicopter units will enhance the quality of aerial surveillance and the ability to move troops to quickly occupy defensive positions when it becomes necessary.

However, these are both costly ventures and need to be viewed in the overall context of the availability of funds for modernisation. Also, rapid deployment forces will need to be kept ready for unforeseen eventualities.
The deployment patterns of CPOs are marked by ad hoc decisions and knee jerk reactions to emerging threats and challenges, rather than a cohesive long-term approach that maximises the strength of each organisation. According to Dr. G. P Bhatnagar, a practitioner and a perceptive observer of the border management scene, the major lacunae that exist in the process include the deployment of multiple forces in the same area of operations and the lack of well-articulated doctrinal concepts. He has also written that border management is designed for a 'fire-fighting' approach rather than a 'fire prevention' or pro-active approach; it is based on a strategy of 'reaction and retaliation' rather than on a holistic response to the prevailing environment, resulting in stress and decision making problems at the functional level. This  leads to wastage of energy and efforts. The  lack of coordination and synergy between the security management organisations is harmful to the national interest.
A task force on border management was constituted by the Group of Ministers (GoM) formed to review the major issues pertaining to the management of national security after the Kargil conflict. It was led by Madhav Godbole, a former Home Secretary, and had made several far-reaching recommendations. It had suggested that the CRPF should be designated as the primary national level counter-insurgency force. This would enable the other CPMFs like BSF and ITBP to return to their primary role of better border management. It had also recommended that all para-military forces managing unsettled borders should operate directly under the control of the army and that there should be lateral induction from the army to the para-military forces so as to enhance their operational effectiveness. Besides these recommendations, it had suggested several perceptive measures for better inter-agency and inter-ministerial intelligence coordination.

The task force had studied the steps needed to improve border management and had suggested measures for appropriate force structures and procedures to deal with the entry of narcotics, illegal migrants, terrorists and small arms. It had also examined measures to establish closer linkages with the border population to protect them from subversive propaganda to prevent unauthorised settlements and to initiate special developmental programmes. The recommendations of the task force were accepted by the GoM and are being implemented in phases. While some action has been taken,  much more needs to be done to make border management more effective. It is time the Godbole task force report on border management is de-classified and put in the public domain.

The writer is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi







The diktat of publish or perish presents the academic community with a Hobson's choice. It puts tre-mendous pressure on college and university teachers to write scholarly papers and get them published at regular intervals in highly-regarded journals in order to be eligible for promotion and higher emoluments, regardless of their merits as classroom teachers. Uni-versities hire faculty on the basis of papers published and their teaching abilities are seldom taken into account. The mad rush to publish has lowered the standard of teaching. The unseemly scramble to write and publish leads only to writer's cramp and does not produce meaningful or original research work. Re-search demands application, concentration and commitment. It cannot and should not be done in a hurry.

In addition to publishing research papers, teachers are required to obtain a doctorate within a reasonable period of time to sustain a career in academics. PhD is a consummation to be wished for devoutly by all scholars ~ for them, it marks the acme of academic excellence. There is a craze for doctorates even among those who are not in academics. And, thesis writing has never been so easy! If one doesn't have the time or energy, one can engage a ghost writer. Ghost-written or outsourced PhDs are quite common and acceptable as long as they are not plagiarised. Outsourcing is a modern concept which has caught the imagination of PhD aspirants. Ghost writers are common in the literary world but now they have started haunting the hallowed precincts of judiciary as well, not to mention academics. Mr Ajit Kumar, a subordinate judge in Gar-hwa, Jharkhand, was recently shown the door for outsourcing his judgments. He had been doing it since 2003.

Fake and non-existent universities are in the business of doling out designer doctorates. You name it, they award it. Several years ago, there was pandemonium in the Lok Sabha when a member flaunted a doctorate from a foreign institution which did not exist. The desperate desire to obtain a doctorate by means fair or foul has made endemic the practice of appropriating, purloining another author's language, thoughts, ideas, diagrams and presenting them as one's original work. It has been said that if one copies from a single source, it's plagiarism, but if one copies from multiple sources, it's research. Levity apart, why should then plagiarists restrict themselves to a single source when multiple options are available? Plagiarism is not a criminal offence, it is an unethical practice which is denounced on moral grounds. When caught copying, plagiarists say that the act was coincidental and unintentional and defend themselves on the specious plea that since all great men think alike, researchers are no exception.

Plagiarism is now a worldwide phenomenon. The internationally renowned London School of Economics (LSE) is under a cloud because a PhD degree awarded in 2008 to Saif al Islam Gaddafi, the second son of the embattled Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, was found to be plagiarised or ghost-written. Saif studied at the school from 2003 to 2008, gaining both a master's degree and a doctorate. There are serious allegations that the junior Gaddafi used a ghost writer and copied several sections of his thesis The Role of Civil Society in the Democratisation of Global Governance Institutions from other works. His supervisors were Professor Mary Kaldor, co-director of the LSE's Centre for the Study of Global Governance, a department which the Indian-born academic, Lord Meghnad Desai, had founded and Professor David Held of the same department. Lord Desai himself was the internal examiner. He is on record as saying that the fuss about the PhD would not have come up "if blood wasn't flowing in Libya". In the history of the prestigious British university institution, this is the first case of its kind. Meanwhile, the Oxford University Press has abandoned its plan to publish Saif al Islam's tainted thesis. LSE students have staged demonstrations demanding revocation of his degrees.
The plagiarised PhD was awarded in 2008 and in 2009, the director of the LSE, Sir Howard Davies, approved the decision to accept a research grant of £1.5 million from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation run by Saif. But only £300,000 has been received so far. The school also signed a £2.2 million pounds deal to train 400 of Libya's future leaders. Lord Desai is on record as saying: "The truth is that money has no smell."

LSE's financial dealings with Libya are deeper than they appear. Sir Howard, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England once served as former Prime Minister Mr Tony Blair's economic envoy to Libya. He was paid £35,000 for his services. Prof Held, Saif's tutor and supervisor was appointed adviser to the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation in May 2009 and in June 2009, the LSE announced the acceptance of the £1.5 million donation. As such, there is more to it than meets the eye. Sir Howard, Professor Held and above all, LSE itself have been beneficiaries of Libya's munificence. It is true that money has no smell but Saif's PhD degree has the pungent smell of Libyan oil.
Sir Howard, the LSE director, has resigned. The LSE, founded in 1895 by the social reformers, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, and the playwright George Bernard Shaw, has suffered a "reputational damage" which at the moment appears irrepairable.

Let us turn from a tyrant's son to another high-profile plagiarist, Mr Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent and currently Prime Minister of Russia. Mr Putin obtained a PhD in economics in 1997 from the St Petersburg Mining Institute. It was alleged that large chunks of his thesis had been lifted straight out of a management study by two University of Pittsburg academics ~ Mr William King and Mr David Cleland ~ and translated into Russian in the early 1990s. At least 16 pages of Mr Putin's 218-page dissertation have been taken either verbatim or with minute alterations from the work of the US researchers. Six diagrams and tables were also copied without attribution or acknowledgement. A pair of researchers at the Brookings Institute, Washington DC, labelled Mr Putin a plagiarist and made the embarrassing revelation that his thesis was for a lesser degree and would not have entitled him to a full doctorate.

The most sensational and perhaps the saddest case in the history of plagiarism is that of the Indian-American "teen prodigy" Kaavya Viswanathan. The Chennai-born 19-year-old Harvard University sophomore's debut novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life caused a major splash in the US publishing industry. The novel, published in 2006, was 32nd on The New York Times' hardcover fiction bestseller list. Viswanathan became an instant celebrity and publishers were falling over themselves to sign deals with her. She was the youngest writer to be signed for a two-book deal by her publisher Little, Brown & Co, including a whopping $500,000 bonanza for Opal. Her novel's movie rights were sold to Dreamworks for an undisclosed sum. But her dream soon turned into a nightmare. She was found to be a sloppy writer who was caught on the first slip for copying extensively ~ and precisely ~ from a novel, Sloppy Firsts, by Megan McCafferty published in 2001. Several passages in Viswanathan's first novel bear uncanny resemblance to those in Megan's book. The novelist who wrote her first novel with the longest title had the shortest stint as a writer. Her fall from the pinnacle of popularity shocked her admirers in India and the USA.

India is not without its celebrity plagiarists. The first and foremost name that comes to mind is that of Prof BS Rajput, former Vice-Chancellor of Kumaon University, who specialised in theoretical physics. Author of more than 300 papers, his research methodology largely consisted of cutting and pasting. He claimed authorship of work compiled by other researchers. His collaborator in this venture was Mr Suresh Chandra Joshi who, Mr Rajput claimed, was his student. A paper on black holes by Mr Joshi and Mr Rajput published in the journal Europhysics Letters (vol 57, No 5) was entirely copied from a six-year-old paper by Ms Renata Kallosh of Stanford University. Most of his published papers bear the stigma of plagiarism. Pressure from fellow physicists to desist from research misconduct did not yield any result. He is a plagiarist par excellence who has outshone all his rivals in business. Things came to such a pathetic pass that as many as 40 physicists, including Nobel Laureates R Laughlin and D Osheroff, started a website Physics Plagiarism Alert in 2002 to highlight Prof Rajpur's plagiaristic proclivities. They complained to the then President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam, who directed the then Uttaranchal Governor and Chancellor, Mr SS Barnala, to order an inquiry. A committee led by Mr Justice SR Singh, a retired judge of Allahabad High Court, submitted a 150-page report in February 2003 upholding the plagiarism charges. Prof Rajput, who served as Vice-Chancellor of Kumaon University in Nainital for eight years, resigned immediately after the inquiry report was published. Thus the career of a veteran and inveterate plagiarist came to an abrupt end much to the relief of the scientific community in general and the physics fraternity in particular.

A classic case of purloined PhD thesis on Bengali literature was reported from Kolkata in 2005. Mr Surajit Kumar Basu, a lecturer at Charu Chandra Evening College, earned his PhD in 2003 on the basis of his thesis Banglae Sahitya Andolan O Koekti Patra Patrika: Banga Darshan (1872) ~ Parichay (1931). When it was published in 2005, Mr Ashoke Kumar Sarkar, a retired reader of Siliguri College, discovered that it had been copied from his own thesis on a similar subject that was awarded a PhD by Rabindra Bharati University in 1984. Mr Sarkar complained to the Calcutta University Vice-Chancellor and when there was an inordinate delay in taking action, he wrote to President APJ Abdul Kalam and Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi. An inquiry was held and Mr Basu was found guilty of plagiarising his thesis from Mr Sarkar's. The CU Syndicate decided to give exemplary punishment to the plagiarist lecturer in accordance with the provisions under Section IV and sub-section XX of the CU Act that deals with plagiarism and prescribes punishment for it. The university took the historic decision to cancel Mr Basu's PhD degree. It was also resolved by the Syndicate that letters to this effect be sent to the Vice-Chancellors of all universities in the country with copies to all major national and local newspapers. This was the first time in the long history of Calcutta University that a PhD was snatched from a scholar. Nothing can be more humiliating than this.

Many like to think that what Kolkata thinks today, India thinks tomorrow. Kolkata has shown the way. If the universities in India are really serious about curbing misconduct in research, they will surely find Kolkata's example worth emulating.

Several attempts ~ most of them half-hearted ~ have been made to curb fraudulent practices, particularly in the field of science and technology. There is no regulatory authority to oversee research and punish erring scientists. There does exist a body known as the Society for Scientific Values (SSV). This is an independent body of scientists which aims to uphold ethics in the Indian scientific community. Prof KL Chopra, a former director of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, is the president of the Society while Prof N Raghuram of GGS Indraprastha University is its secretary. Though it is not a statutory body, it has been acting as a watchdog. It has brought to light several cases of plagiarism. The University Grants Commission (UGC) regulations on minimum standards and procedure for awards of M Phil/PhD, 2009 make no mention of plagiarism. It only says that within 30 days of the announcement of the award of PhD, the university concerned shall submit to the UGC a soft copy of the thesis which will be posted on the Inflibnet (website of the UGC's Information and Library Network Centre) which can be accessed by all universities. Presumably, this stipulation is aimed at detecting and curbing academic dishonesty.

Charges of plagiarism are normally dealt with by internal disciplinary committees and the punishment ranges from suspension to termination. Another form of punishment is that plagiarist professors are debarred from guiding research students. It is not always possible to take disciplinary action especially when the offenders are senior faculty members and even Vice-Chancellors. Teaching is a highly respected profession and teachers should try to live up to their reputation as nation builders and role models. A purloined PhD degree is worse than a fraudulently procured flying licence.

The writer is a freelance contributor






The Prime Minister's Office's (PMO) repudiation of the London Times report of back channel parleys initiated by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh with Pakistan army chief General Kayani may be literally correct. However, in substance, without the PM initiating any such dialogue, it is likely that some mechanism for eliciting the views of the Pakistan army would have been deployed. Contrary to fears that this disclosure would irritate Pakistan's civilian government, very likely any contact made by New Delhi with General Kayani would have been with the knowledge and blessing of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani. There are clear signs that some genuine effort to reach accommodation is underway between New Delhi and Islamabad. And implicit in this effort is recognition that peace in the subcontinent is indivisible. Pakistan's acceptance of Indian presence in the forthcoming talks in Turkey to discuss Afghanistan indicates this.

The biggest hurdle in softening Pakistan army's attitude towards India would be its unflinching commitment to China. While the USA has showered billions of dollars on Pakistan to help it buy arms, it is China which has helped create Pakistan's formidable nuclear and missile power. Rawal-pindi's loyalty and gratitude to Beijing should not be underestimated. To surmount this obstacle, New Delhi would have to formulate a peace package that satisfies its core interests without upsetting either China or the Pakistan army. What might that be?
For a start, New Delhi would have to indicate its own minimum core demands without which peace in the subcontinent is unachievable. Clearly terrorism must end. For that, coordinated action by India and Pakistan would be imperative. And a stable arrangement that guarantees peace and security for all of South Asia would be best ensured by the creation of a South Asian Treaty Organisation (Sato) modelled on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). The Pakistan army would strongly resist any arrangement that alters its present relationship with China's Peoples' Liberation Army. That is where Indian interlocutors would have to show ingenuity and tact. To envisage Sato would be unthinkable without first settling the Kashmir dispute. And it is the peace package that addresses this issue which would have to be sold to the Pakistan army. The only peace package that suggests itself is of course a security and trade arrangement which might defuse tensions in both Kabul and Kashmir without altering international borders. In other words, it would have to be the creation of some sort of South Asian community.

Beijing would oppose this if it were perceived as an arrangement to contain China. In fact were such an arrangement established it would not in any way impede China's present relationship with Islamabad but instead

extend that cordiality to entire South Asia. China's effort to muscle into South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) is ill conceived. One should take a leaf from the experience of the faltering European Union to realise that giving precedence to trade by ignoring cultural nationalism just does not work. However friendly, China is not part of South Asian culture. Today, China needs stability to continue its spectacular economic growth. That would be assured if China could defuse tensions within its own sphere by addressing problems in Tibet, Xingjian and Taiwan. The signs for achieving that are bright if the leaders in Beijing would shed paranoid sense of insecurity.

The Dalai Lama is the best bet to strike a stable agreement with Beijing. He wants autonomy to preserve Tibetan culture and identity within the People's Republic of China, nothing more. What prevents Beijing to respond? The younger Tibetans who might succeed the Dalai Lama could prolong a festering crisis.  There is no legal impediment to China's granting any quantum of autonomy to either Tibet or Xingjian. Article 31 of the constitution of the People's Republic of China says: "The state may establish special administrative regions where necessary. The systems to be instituted in special administrative regions shall be prescribed by law enacted by the National People's Congress in the light of the specific conditions."  All that is required is for both the Pakistan army and Beijing to recognise the changing mood of the world. The time has come to divert astronomical resources used for building military strength to meeting the economic aspirations of a generation that wants peace. Both Asia and the world deserve nothing less.







Widowed Mother A Christian Convert
Before Mr Richardson, District Judge of Alipore, a case was heard in regard to the guardianship of a Hindu child. Mr Nirmull Chander Haldar was appointed guardian, under Act VIII of 1890, of the minor child of his deceased brother, Babu Asak Chander Haldar. Having been appointed guardian of the said minor, he allowed his ward to reside at his maternal grandfather's house at Fyzabad, Upper Provinces, with his mother, Mrs Sukumari Haldar. During the minor's stay there, his mother was converted to Christianity. Mr Nirmul Haldar took proceedings for the restoration of the minor to his legal custody. The mother, on the other hand, asked the District Judge for the removal of the said guardian and for the appointment of herself as guardian of her minor and only living child. The judge decided that, in view of the tender age and delicate health of the minor, he should remain with the mother for one year for the present. The mother has been asked to live in Calcutta with the boy. The guardian and the paternal relations might visit the boy and the ward should be under a Hindu teacher and the child might have the sacred thread. It was further ordered that the boy should be sent to a boarding school afterwards. No order for costs was made.

Referring to Reuter's telegram regarding opium, it is understood that a Government of India communique will be issued today stating that no agreement has been concluded, and that the Government are unable to express any opinion regarding the accuracy of the news from China. Any early cessation of the opium trade would of course have a most serious effect upon Indian finance, and it is believed that the Government of India have throughout protested against any sudden change in the existing arrangements.





Time was when India languished under a planned economy at the Hindu rate of growth. But in 1954, India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, apotheosized the new dams being built as the temples of a new age. The message was clear: India would march forward harnessing the forces of science and technology and using them for the welfare of the people. India, Nehru liked to believe, was embracing the scientific and secular temper. He perhaps underestimated the currents of continuity in Indian life, especially the spiritual and religious ones. The power of religion and spiritualism is manifest in the reaction to the death of Sai Baba who, for the lack of any other word, is best described as a religious leader or, more derisively, as a godman. The list of mourners who have rushed to Puttaparthi includes many eminent and distinguished people from many walks of life, from sports to politics. A leading business and financial daily has written a leading article on Sai Baba's many achievements, especially those in the realm of institution building. Two distinguished inheritors of Nehru's legacy — the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi — chose to make the pilgrimage to Puttaparthi. It is doubtful if Nehru would have made a similar journey of piety.

The contrast is too obvious to ignore. The man who by initiating economic reforms broke the shackles of the Hindu rate of growth so that the Indian economy could touch a double-digit rate of growth, decides to pay his homage to a religious leader. But his predecessor, India's first prime minister, who struggled in vain to make India economically self-sufficient, urged Indians to uphold secularism and rationality. The reputation of Sai Baba is somewhat tainted by the tar of magic: his ability to produce sweets and jewels out of nowhere, his power to perform miracles, and so on. There were other less savoury allegations against him. It is evident that Sai Baba's magic is not seen to be in contradiction with the magical figure of 10 per cent economic rate of growth even though the latter has nothing to do with conjuring. India marches forward but she does so in her own unique manner in which science and magic, secularism and spirituality, Nehru and his successors all exist in an incredible mosaic.






In election time, a statement declaring the obvious acquires an importance. During his whistle-stop campaign tour of West Bengal, the prime minister described how the state had declined in the last three decades under the rule of the Left Front. This is a self-evident truth. People like the incumbent chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, and his cup-bearer and finance minister, Asim Dasgupta, may want to debate this by juggling statistics or by pointing out that West Bengal is still better off than some states, but this is no more than Messrs Bhattacharjee and Dasgupta believing in their own propaganda. That West Bengal is no longer an economic powerhouse goes without saying: the parlous state of its public finances and the complete lack of industrial investment are two critical indicators of West Bengal's economic decline. In other spheres too, the same story can be repeated. The condition of government hospitals tells a tragic tale and the state of most schools and colleges echoes that. The prime minister made a special mention of Presidency College — an institution which was once the pride of India — that was systematically destroyed by the Left Front government in the name of removing elitism in education. The prime minister's description of West Bengal's decline, however unpalatable it might be to the chief minister, has too much of the ring of truth about it and it must have struck a chord among his listeners.

Close on the heels of the prime minister came the union home minister, P. Chidambaram, to West Bengal. He was as scathing as the prime minister about the performance of the Left Front government. There may have been a hint — but only a hint — of exaggeration in Mr Chidambaram's description of West Bengal as the "worst-governed'' state in the country, but not an eyebrow would have been raised if he had qualified his statement with 'one of the worst-governed'. Neither Mr Bhattacharjee nor his illustrious predecessor, Jyoti Basu, scores very high on the governance scale. The principal reason for this is the fact that both chief ministers allowed the interests of the party to prevail over the interests of the state. To this end, they removed the distinction between the party and the government. The result spelt disaster for West Bengal. Mr Bhattacharjee can whine now regarding the bad report card he is getting. But he and his party have consistently treated the people of West Bengal badly and unfairly.





Canada may be about to break with its recent political history, but not without some help from its citizens of Indian origin. When Stephen Harper, Canada's prime minister, was spotted 10 days ago wearing a symbolic imitation of the traditional Sikh turban at Vancouver's annual Baisakhi Parade, it was the culmination of his determined effort to win over the Sikh vote bank in Canada for his Conservative Party in the national elections on May 2.

That Harper mastered what is a tongue-twister for a white Canadian and greeted about 10,000 Sikhs at the parade with "Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki fateh" is proof that his Conservative Party leadership did more homework on cultivating Canadian Sikh support than the White House did towards fostering Sikh goodwill in America and in India during the botched trip of Barack Obama to Amritsar last year. A visit to the Golden Temple was to have been part of Obama's itinerary during the US president's November 2010 trip to India.

But the reference to a break with Canada's recent political history in the opening paragraph is not about the prime minister wooing Canadian Sikhs or even wooing Indo-Canadians. Canada is at one of those forks along the road of history. At the time of writing, Harper is widely expected to end his five-year handicap as head of a minority government and return in the May 2 elections as the leader of Conservative MPs, commanding an absolute majority in the new House of Commons.

Harper, in any case, has already created a place for himself in Canada's political history. A comparison with the late N.T. Rama Rao may tax credulity at first, but really, Harper is like NTR. The reference is not to the prime minister's love for Indian cinema, typified by his obsession with Akshay Kumar whom Harper got to perform at his official dinner for Manmohan Singh in Toronto last June.

Like NTR and his Telugu Desam Party, Harper was a leading light in the formation of a new political party, the Conservative Party, albeit through the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. A year later, he was formally elected leader of the new party and in 2006, his Conservatives formed the government against big odds in a national election.

In India, where anti-incumbency is the norm, what would be of interest is that Harper is likely to be returned to office for the third time next week in this new round of sweepstakes that polls usually are with added numbers which are expected to pull him out of a minority status in the House of Commons that bedevilled him during the first two terms.

But Canada is at a fork of history for other reasons. Its oldest political party, the Liberal Party, is likely to be pushed to the third place in the new parliament when it convenes in May. Like India's Congress, the Liberals considered themselves as the 'party of government' because they held power for 70 years in the 20th century and for six years of the new millennium. That is until Harper replaced Paul Martin, the last Liberal prime minister.

Canadians refer to the party as the "Grits" because one section of the Liberals was made up of the Clear Grits in Upper Canada — reformers who struggled for self-government and merged their party to form a united Liberal Party in the 19th century. 'Grit' denoted the indomitable spirit of the party's leaders and their determination to achieve reforms, a far cry from the state of that party today.

The May 2 elections may prove to be historic for other reasons as well. On the heels of a steady shift to the Left in a number of countries in the western hemisphere, Canada's relatively radical party, the New Democratic Party, has surprised everyone by emerging in the final days of the current campaign as an odd favourite for second place in the new House of Commons.

Punters are taking bets that in the event of Harper not getting an absolute majority, the combined Opposition could back Jack Layton, leader of the NDP, for prime minister if the party's showing is convincingly ahead of the Liberals. That would be one of the biggest poll upsets in Canadian history.

The NDP has been in existence for only 50 years, a relatively short span by the standards of longevity of political parties in developed democracies. There is hope that if the NDP comes to power, Layton will make a sincere effort to resurrect the Canada that had made the country an endearing ideal for this columnist's generation.

That was a Canada which was altruistic and philanthropic, if states could fit such descriptions, and contributed more than most countries in every way to United Nations peacekeeping operations and represented the very antithesis of a United States of America — albeit just across its borders — that was being torn asunder by racial disharmony, gun violence and the deep scars left by the Vietnam war.

But while Layton may seek to revive those Canadian ideals in the surprise likelihood that he becomes prime minister, an NDP victory will be potentially bad for Indo-Canadian relations. For that matter, even the idea of Layton as the leader of the Opposition could cast a shadow on relations between New Delhi and Ottawa.

There is every chance that Layton, as prime minister, and his followers will bring back the ghosts which have bedevilled Indo-Canadian relations since the halcyon years of friendship between Pierre Trudeau and Indira Gandhi — ghosts of nuclear proliferation, human rights, child labour and other similar hobby horses of those Canadian lobbies which like to flaunt political correctness. Of course, there exists the chance of that remarkable excuse of pragmatism which mellows political leaders the world over when they assume office, Atal Bihari Vajpayee being the finest example.

The other bit of history in the making is in Quebec, where the nationalist Bloc Québécois is facing severe setbacks to its 'sovereigntist' vote bank. There was a time when the party controlled nearly 50 per cent of the popular vote in this French-speaking province. Then, Canada's two major parties alternately made inroads into the Bloc's strongholds. Yet, in the last three national elections, the Bloc put up 75 candidates in Quebec, of whom between 49 and 54 were victorious.

Support for a sovereign Quebec independent of Canada continues to be high in the province. Yet, the Bloc Québécois is dreading the prospect that on May 2, voters may reduce the party to second place in returns from the province. Bloc Québécois puts up candidates only for parliamentary seats that fall within Quebec.

For the Indian high commissioner in Ottawa, all this means getting used to a new neighbour for the third time since he arrived in Ottawa. The official residence of Canada's leader of the Opposition is next door to that of the high commissioner and faces the residence of the South Korean ambassador. There is often a healthy competition between the high commissioner and the leader of the Opposition on who could host a better party, especially in summer when guests prefer the sprawling backyard lawns of their respective residences to the drawing rooms or the cocktail lounges inside. But these parties are also valuable opportunities to gauge Canada's political temperature on the one hand and spot embodiments of an emerging India on the other.

When S.M. Gavai arrived as high commissioner in November 2008, his neighbour was Liberal leader Stéphane Dion. Soon enough, Michael Ignatieff became leader of the Opposition and moved into the house next door. It is often said in diplomacy with reference to countries that "you can choose your friends and allies, but not your neighbours." But Canada's current elections are proof that this adage equally applies to diplomatic residences and their occupants.






Every so often, a flood of mushy sentiment engulfs the British. It happened in 1997 with the death of "Lady Di", ex-wife of Prince Charles, heir to the throne. It' s happened again, with the coming marriage of their son, Prince William, next in line after Charles, to his unroyal girlfriend. A tsunami of frothy prose, gossip and limitless trivia has washed over and around "Wills"and "Kate". I'd gladly take a slow life-raft to the Andamans to escape.

Yet it has led me to think both about kingship and its verbiage. I feel the whole idea is outdated tosh. Yet what a hold it has. In Europe, not just Britain but also Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, advanced democracies all, still have monarchs. Spain got its monarchy back after Franco died in 1975 — and it arguably owes the survival of its reborn democracy to the new king' s defiance of an army coup in 1981. Bulgaria' s infant king of the mid-1940s was the ex-communist nation's prime minister 60 years later. After Japan surrendered in 1945, the Americans —of all people — kept its emperor in place. In Thailand, prison can await those who decry or even discuss the monarchy.

Nor is it only monarchies that like the idea. What giant Asian republic has seen the emergence of teams called Royals, Royal Challengers, Kings XI and Super Kings? Forget the Gandhi dynasty, those names are evidence enough of one way to catch the Indian imagination; the businessmen who own the franchises at issue aren't fools.

Our word royal comes from the Latin regalis — hence also regal — adjective of rex, a king, genitive case, regis; as in raja. Spanish and Portuguese have mixed up rex with Latin' s res, a thing. So in both languages their word real can mean either royal or real; today's Brazilian currency, the real, was once "the king' s" money.

English, seemingly, has one similar confusion: 'real tennis' — an ancient racket-and-ball game played in a huge, oddly-shaped room (the British built a mini-version at Shimla, now used for badminton by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study) — is sometimes called royal tennis. Alas, the confusion is a fake: there are one or two such rooms in Britain still known as 'royal tennis courts' because kings used them, but the phrase real tennis was invented after lawn tennis was born in the late 19th century, to distinguish the old game from the new.

Today's Britons use the royals for their own royal family or others. The older word royalty today survives mainly in its commercial sense. But that too has royal origins. It originally meant an estate or right of some sort granted by the king, then a payment to him for enjoying that right, or his claim on a percentage of gold or silver mined or minted, and so to oil royalties paid to the State, and author's royalties, where king or State plays no part.

Many British institutions are named the Royal this or that, some still with true royal connections (the Royal Navy), some without (the Royal Academy). The Dutch used koninklijke, their word for kingly, this way; hence the full name of KLM. The two traditions unite in the company, Royal Dutch Shell.

Its basic meanings apart, royal carries all the resonances of kingship. It can mean worthy of a king (a royal welcome), majestic or simply special —royal blue, a vivid blue, or royal flush, the best 'flush' a poker player can have. Or merely huge, as in battle royal, a vast battle, or he' s a royal pain in the neck. Likewise, our royals range from the King of Heaven, one Christian notion of God, via the king of beasts, the lion, to the merely large king penguin, royal cobra and royal crab.

I' d better keep off princes (umpteen to the dozen in Saudi Arabia), whether the prince of darkness or of Wales. And princesses (ditto in pre-Soviet Russia). The Economist once front-covered monarchy as "an idea whose time has gone". A royal error. Alas.









The collapse of the Freedom Park wall, which claimed the life of one man and damaged around eight cars in Bangalore on Saturday night, has thrown the spotlight on the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike's shoddy construction work. The Freedom Park wall was not a centuries-old construction. It was just a few years old. Yet rains on two consecutive days were enough to bring the wall crumbling down. Clearly funds were not lacking to ensure a sturdy construction. The government had sanctioned BBMP an amount of Rs 10.27 crore for the construction of the Freedom Park. In fact, it has emerged that BBMP overshot spending on the Park by a whopping Rs 8 crore. Not only did the BBMP brazenly violate the orders issued by the government with regard to spending on the Park but also, it compromised on the quality of the construction. The crumbling of the wall after the downpour stands testimony to the poor quality construction and the gross wastage of public funds. Those in the BBMP who authorised the spending and the contractor who executed the construction of the wall should be brought to book.

Instead of taking responsibility for the substandard construction that resulted in the death of a man, officials are busy blaming him for the tragedy. They are pointing out that a part of the wall had collapsed the previous day and had he not parked near a wall that was obviously weak, the mishap could have been averted. Blaming the victim for the tragedy is unconscionable. In June last year, the life of a 17-year-old girl was cut short when another BBMP wall on Bellary road crashed down on her. Then as now, officials sought to absolve the administration of responsibility. Bystanders did not help the girl, they alleged. But why did the wall collapse in the first place? A probe followed and the government announced amidst much fanfare that the two contractors — one of whom is a corporator as well — would be blacklisted. Is that punishment enough?

Blaming the collapse of roofs and walls on 'nature's fury' will not do. Death and damage caused by poor building construction must not be dismissed as accidents. These are the result of a shocking disregard for human life. Lives are being lost on this account and the courts must award exemplary punishment in these cases.






The union government's move to introduce a minimum support price for non-timber agricultural produce is commendable for economic, political and environmental reasons. The proposal will cover all minor forest produce like bamboo, mahua, tendu leaves and tamarind which are the source of livelihood for millions of forest-dwellers. These are at the same time natural resources and agricultural produce and any policy on them needs to be based on the principles of sustainable forestry and agricultural economics. The private unorganised sector which now controls their collection and marketing mostly works against the interests of forest-dwellers. Middlemen control prices and the tribals are shortchanged in the process. This is one major reason for the appeal of Maoists who have earned lot of goodwill by fighting for the tribals' rights. A fair system of remuneration for the tribals for the produce they collect will weaken the Maoists' hold in these areas.

The current move is to set up a central pricing body like the Agricultural Costs and Prices Commission to fix prices and create a network of corporations and co-operatives at the state level to procure the produce and market them. A central body is also proposed to be created, a la the Food Corporation of India, to store the produce. If implemented successfully it will help to make the forest economy part of the mainstream and eliminate a lot of exploitation and oppression.  But the proposals might need some fine-tuning. It may not be a wise move to propose uniform minimum support prices for the produce in all parts of the country as supply and market conditions vary from region to region. It is also necessary to create adequate storage facilities. A flexible system in which the states will set up bodies to fix prices and create marketing facilities may be considered. But it is important to implement the system efficiently without giving scope for corruption and mismanagement.

The Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act gives the tribals rights over minor forest produce. But it is not enforced effectively and most forest dwellers are not aware of their legal rights. Gram sabhas which are meant to protect resources are not functioning well. There is a contractor-businessmen-politician nexus that denies forest-dwellers fair price for forest produce. The new move should help to break it.







Industry is operating in the profit cocoon that brooks no digression into anxieties such as socio-economic upheavals, displacement, etc.

It is not just politicians or activists who jump on bandwagons. Even professionals are prone to this failing. Perhaps this is why the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) had chosen 'inclusive growth' as the focus for its national conference 2011, instead of the more mundane theme of how to substantially raise the share of industry in our GDP.

Ah yes, 'inclusive growth'  has a silken seductiveness as a topic of discussion in a country like ours, where 50 per cent of the population scrounges for the bare necessities. It soothes the defensive guilt of the well-heeled elite who have benefited disproportionately from the past two decades of strong economic growth. It provides a cutting edge to the perorations of the argumentative intellectual who sneers at the growth numbers, quite ignoring the fact that without such growth, perhaps three-fourths of our population would have been below that infamous Poverty Line. And, of course, for the  bureaucrat and politico, it provides the notes with which to weave another siren song of subsidy which ultimately lines their own pockets.

The cynic may be forgiven for ascribing Indian industry's newfound anxiety for inclusiveness in growth to the dictates of simmering resentment and even revolt in a countryside which till now was meek in its response to exploitation. The fact that the entry of industry is being vehemently opposed by the inhabitants of backward areas, despite the promise of such investment being a panacea for endemic regional poverty, must be agitating the minds of industry bigwigs. It has certainly thrown a spanner in the grand plans for industrial growth in the country. Hence, perhaps, the navel-gazing by associations like the CII about winning over the hearts and minds of the bottom half by promoting inclusive growth.

About time too, since the record shows that, barring honourable exceptions, most of Indian industry has tended to operate in the return-on-investment cocoon that brooks no digression into such offline anxieties as socio-economic upheavals, habitation displacement, environmental fallout and the like. In fact, so high has been the level of indifference of Indian industry to reaching out to the surrounding community that if one were to draw contours of development around any industrialised area, one would notice a precipitous fall beyond a few tens of kilometres from the centre.

One can come across countless examples of this in and around industrial pockets all over the country, such as the deep backwardness of the countryside surrounding the metallurgical industrial towns of Orissa, the conversion of the Jamuna near Delhi from a river into a sewer due to discharge of effluents from nearby industries, the blatant disregard to safety and the Child Labour Act in the fireworks units of Sivakasi, etc. This writer is not an opponent of small-scale industries but it is also, unfortunately, true that perhaps because of being totally preoccupied in trying to stay afloat, small industries are the least concerned about inclusive growth.

Govt's role

Industrialists will, of course, argue that their primary responsibility is to run their industries efficiently and it is the government's job to ensure that the corporate taxes industry pays are utilised for inclusive growth. It is not the onus of industries to develop and care for social infrastructure, provide for the deprived in society, create physical assets needed by the community in general and the like.

To an extent, this is true. By insisting on industry undertaking corporate social responsibility, the government is only passing on the burden of what it should be doing on the shoulders of industry. It has to be also acknowledged, that the skills that industry possesses   to undertake its manufacturing goals, are not necessarily the same that suit civil society's goals. For example, it is one thing to run a machine shop and quite another to run a primary school. Therefore, to expect industry to take up what the government or civil society  is geared to do, is unfair on industry and places a tremendous burden on it.

On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that industry draws its assets from society and doing its bit to strengthen society benefits it in the end. Industry has a vested interest in inclusive growth since that expands its market base. The rapid expansion of India's  manufacturing sector during the last two decades is precisely because of a growing middle class which came about due to the benefits of growth gradually encompassing a larger percentage of the population. Just imagine how strong and prosperous our industry could become if the size of the middle class doubled from the present 200 million in the next two decades.

The question then arises: how best can industry do its bit for promoting inclusive growth? The best way to start, perhaps, is by undertaking projects which lie in their knowledge domain. For example, they can undertake education programmes in their hinterland which will enhance the skills of the rural population to meet the demands of new types of employment opportunities that follow industrial investment — such as masonry, carpentry, driving, welding and a host of others.

Another thing that could be undertaken is enhancing primary infrastructure, such as road connectivity to the interior, over and above what the state does. Industries could also exploit their marketing clout to channel products made by self-help groups in villages to urban markets. There is no dearth of possibilities. The will has to be there. There are several large and medium scale manufacturing companies which have successfully launched such outreach programmes. The CII should use its internal network to pass on their experience to other companies who want to undertake such activities and thus create a national movement.







The Nato-led allies have prevented a massacre and humanitarian disaster.

The incremental involvement of foreign forces in Libya, 'mission creep', is taking place at a steady pace. On Monday, Nato aircraft bombed buildings in Col Muammar Gadhafi's compound in Tripoli and last week unmanned 'predator' drones were deployed to conduct surgical strikes on regime targets.

'Mission creep' is a term used to describe how the US was gradually sucked into the Vietnam war (1955-75) after deploying military advisers to aid the South Vietnamese government in the war against the Communist north. For the US, which lost that war, 'mission creep' is a nightmare scenario.

Nevertheless, 'mission creep' was, at US insistence, written into UN Security Council resolution 1973. On one hand, it authorised a no-fly zone to prevent Gadhafi's air force from attacking rebel held towns and cities. This was interpreted as extending protection to rebel fighters defending their areas from his ground forces. This aspect of the effort has evolved to the point that foreign war planes are providing air cover for rebel fighters conducting operations against regime forces.

On the other hand, the resolution called for the use of 'all necessary measures' short of occupation to protect civilians. This means foreign troops are allowed if they do not stay on as an occupying army. Britain, France and Italy have each decided to dispatch a dozen military advisers to offer advice on organisation and logistics to rebel scratch units of poorly armed civilians.

Non-lethal assistance

Materiel is also being sent.  Britain has provided flack-jackets and other equipment and the US has pledged $25 million in non-lethal assistance. Qatar, which has supplied fighter jets to monitor the no-fly zone, has delivered modern weapons to the rebels who have been fighting with obsolete arms from captured dumps.


'Mission creep' was inescapable once it became clear that inexperienced rebel fighters without command structures could not stand against units of Gadhafi's regular armed forces and mercenaries that outnumber and outgun the rebels.

The first task of the protection effort was to prevent the rebels from being defeated in Benghazi at a time Gadhafi's forces were mounting a successful offensive in the east. By  bombing his armour, vehicles and troops, the Nato-led allies prevented a massacre and humanitarian disaster as well as the collapse of the uprising.

The western forces are now faced with the same prospect in Misrata, the sole significant rebel-held city on the western side of the country. Misrata, partly occupied by Gadhafi's troops and partly by the rebels, has become a major strategic, psychological and political objective for him. Its fall after weeks of siege, would be an important propaganda victory for  the regime as well as the first step in crushing resistance to Gadhafi's rule in the west of the country before launching another offensive in the east.

Combat troops have not yet been offered but European Union foreign affairs spokeswoman Catherine Ashton has suggested the deployment of 1,000 European troops to protect the delivery of aid supplies, particularly to Misrata.

Libya's Transitional National Council (TNC), which speaks for the rebels, has not taken a unified stand on this proposal.  It was rejected by Guma al-Gamaty, the Britain-based coordinator for the TNC, but accepted by a TNC spokesman in Benghazi. People in Misrata are calling for the allies to honour the terms of resolution 1973 by providing troops and weapons as well as using their air power to strike Gadhafi's artillery has been relentlessly shelling the city.

The spectre of 'mission creep' is preventing France, Italy, Britain and, particularly, the US from responding decisively to Misrata. They are afraid of being accused by opponents of the mission of launching a fresh neo-colonial adventure comparable to George W Bush's disastrous wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. The fact that the western allies have made it clear that the only solution for Libya is 'regime change' makes the intervention all the more difficult for opponents to accept.

They include India, Brazil, and many African countries which are hypersensitive to western intervention in the Third World. Russia and China, two permanent UNSC members, are also opposed. They face serious unrest among minorities that could call on the UNSC to use the Libyan precedent to offer them protection.

There is no going back for the allies. If Gadhafi sees that his campaign against the rebels is set to prosper, he will persist with his attacks on Misrata and Benghazi. But if the comes to understand that he is certain to be defeated, he might be persuaded to accept a ceasefire and exile for himself and his family rather than carry on, risking defeat and ending up in prison awaiting trial for war crimes.







Even the meanest relative came through as an adorable person.

"Reverse 95 and you get 59!" he said with a chuckle. I didn't quite get it. The number 95 connected easily because he had mentioned a few minutes earlier that he was 95 years old. But why reverse it to get 59? Was he saying he wanted to reverse things and go back to being younger? But that didn't seem like him at all. My face must have betrayed the puzzlement. For he went on to explain the riddle himself. "I am 95 and you are 59!" he said. His two fingers held out as a V, making quarter turns in the opposite directions. Ninety-five; Fifty-nine." "Oh!" I said lighting up and together we laughed heartily over the clever observation.

That was one of the many times that I had laughed that day. Uncle would recall and recount an incident related to a family member and add a witty comment to it. Though I had heard most of the stories, many times earlier, they were far more interesting when he narrated it. For he painted all with a good-at-heart brush and so even the meanest and the most eccentric relative, came through as an adorable person. "How old was your father when he died?" he asked. "Ninety-five," I said.

"I turned 95 this year!" he said laughing at the coincidence. I felt a little awkward. Would the fact that his revered elder brother had died at exactly this age psychologically affect uncle? But I soon realised that my fears were totally unfounded. Shastry uncle's interest in age was only as a number. The charm of talking to this dear relative was that he remained for ever in the realm of the objective and never turned the focus on himself.
But it was hard for me to keep my thoughts from reverting to myself. Since there was a good chance of my living for as long as most of my blood relatives, perhaps I should pick up some health secrets from this nonagenarian. I made a mental check list. Uncle's hearing and eyesight were fairly good. He walked erect and took no pills. His memory was fine too.

Or was it? For, in all his narrations, I noticed, the grand old man had missed out many significant facts. He missed mentioning the many nasty things (I had first hand knowledge of some) that were said or done by certain people. How could one have a clear memory of the sumptuous lunch served at a cousin's wedding and not recall the huge fuss created by the boy's mother?

Uncle had, over the years, braved more than his share of sorrows and disappointments in life. Yet none of them seemed to have left even a trace of bitterness in him. Not only had he chosen to forget these painful happenings, even the phrases of self pity like I-am-so-weary-of-life had got deleted from his vocabulary list. Could this selective dementia be his secret?







Starting today, Israelis should enjoy a quieter environment after new regulations approved by the Knesset go into effect. The law limits the hours during which construction and renovation work can be done.

Leaf blowers, which cause dust as well as noise, have been outlawed, and restrictions have been imposed on the use of firecrackers and toy gun caps. It will also no longer be possible to install car alarms, bringing to an end one of the biggest urban noise nuisances.

The new regulations are mainly the initiative of the Environmental Protection Ministry, which realized the need to improve the quality of daily life for Israelis, most of whom live in cities. The regulations enjoyed wide public support, and rightfully so.

But the real test will be in the enforcement of the new regulations. For the past few years, Israel has overflowed with progressive environmental legislation, including regulations and laws to prevent air and water pollution and refuse dumping. But experience shows that local authorities have been unsuccessful at efficiently enforcing these laws.

Odors, air pollution and pirate refuse dumps continue to bring down the quality of life in many places. In terms of the new regulations, there is real concern that the local authorities themselves will be an obstacle to enforcement. They have already announced their intention to take legal action to fight the prohibition against leaf blowers.

The local authorities must work to enforce the new laws and find an alternative to the leaf blowers out of an understanding that the quality of people's lives is more important than using equipment that is a nuisance to so many.

The local authorities must use the powers they have been given to enforce environmental laws, and help give teeth to the new regulations by quickly responding to residents' complaints.

It is also incumbent on the Environmental Protection Ministry to become involved in an efficient and consistent way of checking that the new regulations are followed. It must also work toward dealing with more major noise nuisances coming from aircraft and vehicles. Israelis live in a small, crowded country, and they deserve to have as little noise as possible.






The third intifada is inevitable. It will erupt if the United Nations recognizes a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders because the decision will not be implemented automatically, and the Palestinians will go to war to demand their sovereign rights and to expel the Israel Defense Forces and the settlers from their territory. It will also erupt if the United Nation is deterred from declaring independence for Palestine or hedges its decision in an attempt to placate Israel. In that case, the Palestinians will start an uprising because of their frustration at the loss of international support.

The timing of the third intifada and the immediate excuse for its outbreak are as yet unknown. Neither is it certain that the Palestinians will wait until the U.N. General Assembly in September. Human action is guided by expectations of what will happen rather than by what actually does happen. If we are waiting for a crisis in September, it is likely to erupt earlier. The calm of the past two years has been undermined, and the territories are already abuzz with activity: rockets from Gaza to Ashdod, terrorist attacks and shooting incidents in the West Bank. From here, the path to a conflagration is short.

The prime minister is trapped. Nothing he does will prevent the approaching intifada. He won't surrender now to Palestinian demands and freeze the settlements and agree to withdraw to the Green Line, in a desperate attempt to stop the train on its way to the wall.Not only would such proposals lead to his political demise, they also contradict the strategic logic that guides Netanyahu. In his view, the revolutions in the Arab world will lead to the elimination the West's protectorate regimes and their replacement by Iranian satellites. Handing over the West Bank and Jerusalem to the Palestinians, according to his thinking, will turn them into "a base for Iranian terror" and make life in Israel intolerable.

In his distress, Netanyahu has focused on preventing initiatives for an enforced agreement. Like all his predecessors since 1967, the current prime minister also fears the day when the president of the United States will order him to leave the territories - as presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower did to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion at the conclusion of the Israeli War of Independence and the Sinai Campaign, when they forced him to withdraw from Sinai. Israeli foreign policy has, for the past 44 years, strived to prevent another repetition of this scenario through a combination of intransigence and a surrender of territories considered less vital (Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank cities, South Lebanon ), in order to keep the major prizes (East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights ).

Netanyahu is now visiting Western capitals, pleading with world leaders not to turn their backs on Israel in order to buy the affection of the Arab revolutionaries. He has warned his interlocutors that if they expel Israel from the West Bank and Jerusalem, they will only broadcast weakness and facilitate the rise of Iran. He has offered them ransom in the guise of vague promises about a future withdrawal. Meanwhile, he has no buyers for this merchandise, and even if he garners a few Western votes against the declaration of Palestinian independence at the United Nations, the decision will pass by a large majority, and the intifada will erupt the following day.

Netanyahu is correct in his assessment that America and Israel are in a state of strategic withdrawal, following the overthrow of their ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. It is clear that a flight from the territories under threats of an imposed agreement, or in a third intifada, will be interpreted as weakness. But like every tragic hero, Netanyahu has trapped himself. Had he continued with the Annapolis process after coming to power, instead of throwing the policy review into the trash can, his situation today would have been better. At the time, Mubarak was securely in power, America had proposed a new leaf to the Arabs, and Israel could have jumped on the bandwagon and said "Yes." Had Netanyahu accepted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's map at the time, as a basis for negotiations, the world would have cheered him, and he could have asked for the adjustments that are important to him, such as recognition of a Jewish state and an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley.

But Netanyahu refused to discuss the core issues, beyond vague declarations ("Bar Ilan 1" ) and fell into the diplomatic trap set for him by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. President Barack Obama. Now it's too late. The world sees Netanyahu as recalcitrant and stubborn and hopes for his downfall. He will not be able to prevent the third intifada, and like its two predecessors, it will cost Israel unnecessary victims and ultimately lead to the withdrawal Netanyahu tried to prevent.






As soon as Passover ends, a heavy cloud of memory settles over the Israeli public. First there's Holocaust Remembrance Day and then, a week later, comes Memorial Day. These two weeks are capped by Independence Day, a national celebration of living by the sword, despite the troubles of the past and the difficulties of the present.

This sad order of events used to hold a certain beauty, in its repetition of the suffering throughout Jewish-Israeli history and the revolution that Zionism represented. But in the last few years, the order has been distorted beyond recognition. The country's schools, backed by right-wing and Zionist-Haredi propaganda, use the proximity of the two remembrance days as a manipulative tool saturated in nationalist kitsch.

The result is a raging lamentation that represents the Holocaust and the religious return to Zion as the sole basis for the establishment of the State of Israel, that minimizes Herzl's secular political Zionism and that renders the activities of the socialist movements insignificant. A Diaspora rhetoric that transcends time and place has taken over the discourse concerning the revival of the Jewish nation in its land. This rhetoric combines victimhood with belligerence and existential fear with a vengefulness that justifies all wrongs.

Within such an atmosphere, it's hard to imagine how an altogether different sort of memorial day during the same period will be able to play a role in the Israeli repertoire. Nakba Day, which takes place on May 15 and has in recent years turned into a kind of red flag waved in front of a right-wing bull, has ironically garnered more attention this year because of the recently passed and foolish law banning state-funded institutions from marking the day.

The issue of Nakba Day, a clear example of paranoia, shows the extent to which Israel has lost its head when it comes to ethics and values - and moreover, rationalism. The idea of describing the events of 1948 as a nakba, the Arab word for catastrophe, was born in Beirut and was accepted only half-heartedly by Arabs in Israel. But even without that concept, the genuine bereavement of this population is impossible to erase.

May 15 is a difficult day for every Palestinian, especially for the elderly who remember the declaration of Israeli independence, who remember being uprooted and torn away, who remember fleeing and leaving, who remember being expelled and becoming refugees - all the painful elements of the loss of the dream of Palestinian statehood and the turnabout that came with the establishment of the state of the Jews. The pain of the Arabs still in Israel is particularly complex.

Over the last few years, the Arab population has begun holding a brave and fascinating debate over the reasons for the tragic failure of 1948. Historians who document life before 1948, the villages that were decimated, the orchards that disappeared and the urban development that was truncated pose tough questions and are not afraid to discuss the responsibility of the Palestinian and Arab leadership for the failure.

Prominent among this historical research is Mustafa Kabha's pioneering book "The Palestinians - A Nation and Its Diaspora"; Mustafa Abbasi's scholarly article "Nazareth in the War for Palestine: The Arab City that Survived the 1948 Nakba"; and eyewitness testimony like that found in the autobiography of Nimer Murkus, the former head of the Kafr Yasif council, which starts in the 1930s and ends in recent times. Such resources provide critical historical documentation and create an opening for a profound discussion.

How foolish, then, is the Israeli paranoia that is now attempting to stifle such discussion. In what way would our strength have been undermined if we were able to admit, like these researchers and documenters of history, that justice is not entirely on our side? What part of our dignity would be lost if we were to bow our heads alongside the Arab citizens of the country on May 15, to show them that the joy of our independence is mixed with sadness over their catastrophe and to promise them - on this day that could become a pan-Israeli day of commemoration - that their equal civil status will heal, though not eradicate, their pain?

A mature, wise and righteous nation should be able to understand that there are other people here, who cannot take part in celebrating an independence that pours salt on the open wound in their hearts. A nation that seeks a future of prosperity and inclusion for itself and the minority living within needs to carve out a spot for this pain and seek a path toward reconciliation. A wise nation should know that it doesn't have a monopoly on suffering and pain.

Apparently such mourning can be undertaken only by a nation that is sure of itself - not people who feel persecuted and frightened, who are full of anger and guilt. And certainly not its dismal leaders, who are taking the nation out of freedom and into the wilderness.







Veteran actress Hanna Meron also signed the new initiative supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. She participated in the reading of the Israeli Declaration of Independence at the launching event for the initiative on Thursday in Tel Aviv, and was condemned by right-wing demonstrators who disrupted the ceremony. Afterwards the Israel Prize-winning actress was interviewed on the subject in Haaretz (Head to head, April 22 , Hebrew edition). Meron has been around for 87 years, which enables her to say things without having to fear that the whip in the hands of the masses - on the right and on the left - will harm her livelihood or her good name.

That being the case, Meron wants to do everything in her power to "help bring about peace." Why? So that the two nations can "live together in one small, shitty place." Meron wants "only to enjoy myself, my family, my business, my piece of chocolate and that's it." To put it concisely, "simply to live in peace and quiet, everyone minding his own business."

The way Meron understands peace is interesting. What is especially blatant is the strong desire to separate from society and to seclude herself in the smallest possible compartment. The expressions "to enjoy myself," "my family," "everyone minding his own business" - and, in particular, the metaphor "to enjoy my piece of chocolate" - allude to that. I raise the possibility that Meron's "peace" is designed as a tunnel through which one can flee to what is private and personal.

But something is preventing this withdrawal from society. In the simple sense these are the right-wing demonstrators, who come to the event and cause a disturbance. In a broader sense, it is "all the racist laws that discriminate against Arabs and separate them," "our terrible religion" and "the power of the religious."

Now I would like to propose that in the eyes of those "right-wing demonstrators," in the eyes of those "legislators of religious laws," in the eyes of those "religious people" who believe in "our terrible religion," the return of Meron, and as a consequence of "leftists" like Meron, to their homes, to their private lives, is a worrisome possibility. Why does one person desire to live his life while another person does everything in his power to prevent him from doing so?

I would like to raise the possibility that Hanna Meron wants to return to her "piece of chocolate" because she is happy in the place where the chocolate is. She is happy in her home, with her family; she is happy with her life in the streets of her city. And at the same time, I would like suggest that those who are preventing her from returning to her home are afraid that they will have to return to their homes too. I want to raise the possibility that in the eyes of both sides - those who are happy and those who are disturbing those who are happy - implementing peace is like a declaration of a basic status quo when it comes to the individual situation, in other words, the internal Israeli situation.

In Meron's story the Arabs play an almost esoteric role. "We're more civilized, we're smarter, we have to stretch out a hand to them," she says. When she says "we," what does she mean? She means the Israelis. But not all the Israelis. Because there are those "right-wing demonstrators," "legislators of racist laws," "religious people" who believe "in our terrible religion." In other words, "we" is anyone who is not a Palestinian, not a rightist, does not "legislate racist laws" (Yisrael Beitenu, or in other words, Russians ) and is not religious. In other words, "we" is in effect a democratic, secular, left-wing Jewish Israeli.

In Meron's story, "we" are those who have a "piece of chocolate" waiting for them at home, whereas those who are "not us" are those who do not have a "piece of chocolate" waiting for them at home. In Meron's story "peace" is not a matter of justice and equality, but of perpetuating gaps. Hannah Meron is 87 years old: It's worth listening to her.







After the Meretz party crashed in the polls and Labor imploded in two phases - first in the polls, then with the Barak-engineered split - what is left of the Israeli parliamentary left? What's left of the left is Kadima. And what does Israel's parliamentary left do when push comes to shove? It shoves for war.

It is astonishing to see the pathologically consistent role played by the main opposition party in the public debate periodically launched concerning escalation versus calm on the Gaza front. All of Kadima's public faces - starting with chairwoman Tzipi Livni, continuing with chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Shaul Mofaz, and ending with brand-new party recruit and IDF chief of staff during the Second Lebanon War, Dan Halutz - are urging the government to up its retaliation efforts. Slogans about restoring Israeli deterrence, assassinating Hamas leaders and even collapsing the entire Hamas organization are pulled from the back of dusty drawers at every opportune moment. It's hard to believe this is really the reaction of the opposition to the left of Likud. Who needs a coalition if this is what the opposition looks like?

Naturally, one can find support for Cast Lead II in the Likud, but at this point those who oppose it seem to have the upper hand. The Kadima choir, by contrast, preaches in militant unison without any dissonance, in a manner that makes one long for the Labor party's smorgasbord of ideas. Moreover, Cast Lead II may even be too moderate a scenario for Kadima altogether, as both Livni and Ehud Olmert reportedly supported a different ending to the original operation - including the reoccupation of the Gaza Strip and a regime change - and it was the chief of staff and the defense minister who actually blocked the move.

An opposition party can overtake the coalition from the right, but it can't pride itself on being a center-left party while doing so. The truth is Kadima has always been a rightist party and Likud may well be to the left of it - not only on the Gaza question, but also in its war against the gas and cellular tycoons.

In recent years, Israel has tragically become a wrestling arena for two enormous right-wing parties. The fact that one of them disguises itself as center-left only amplifies the tragedy: Many left-leaning citizens gave their vote to Kadima, while the international community gave it diplomatic credit - which, luckily, it never gave Likud. Kadima spent every bit of that credit on two bloody wars. If the Israeli left wants to live, it must denounce Kadima, which has ruined it, and fearlessly expose its true nature. It is certainly the last chance for the Labor party to do so, as it desperately tries to renew itself.

The contradiction between how Kadima brands itself and where it truly stands is no accident. This is the key behind the power and charm of a party that cracked the equally contradictory Israeli genetic code. The average bourgeois Israeli has rightist opinions but prefers to wear the enlightened brand of the center-left. The secret of Kadima's success is that it fulfills its voters' contradictory wishes simultaneously.

The coming months will be fateful for Israel. In the south, in the north, in the rapidly changing Middle East, and first and foremost on the devastatingly frozen diplomatic front. At this moment, Israel deserves a combative, not war-mongering, opposition. We need a real alternative, not right disguised as left and marching us in the wrong direction: Left, right, left



                                    THE NEWYORK TIMES




Less than a year before the 2012 presidential voting begins, Republican legislatures and governors across the country are rewriting voting laws to make it much harder for the young, the poor and African-Americans — groups that typically vote Democratic — to cast a ballot.


Spreading fear of a nonexistent flood of voter fraud, they are demanding that citizens be required to show a government-issued identification before they are allowed to vote. Republicans have been pushing these changes for years, but now more than two-thirds of the states have adopted or are considering such laws. The Advancement Project, an advocacy group of civil rights lawyers, correctly describes the push as "the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century."


Anyone who has stood on the long lines at a motor vehicle office knows that it isn't easy to get such documents. For working people, it could mean giving up a day's wages.


survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that 11 percent of citizens, 21 million people, do not have a current photo ID. That fraction increases to 15 percent of low-income voting-age citizens, 18 percent of young eligible voters and 25 percent of black eligible voters. Those demographic groups tend to vote Democratic, and Republicans are imposing requirements that they know many will be unable to meet.


Kansas' new law was drafted by its secretary of state, Kris Kobach, who also wrote Arizona's anti-immigrant law. Voters will be required to show a photo ID at the polls. Before they can register, Kansans will have to produce a proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.


Tough luck if you don't happen to have one in your pocket when you're at the county fair and you pass the voter registration booth. Or when the League of Women Voters brings its High School Registration Project to your school cafeteria. Or when you show up at your dorm at the University of Kansas without your birth certificate. Sorry, you won't be voting in Lawrence, and probably not at all.


That's fine with Gov. Sam Brownback, who said he signed the bill because it's necessary to "ensure the sanctity of the vote." Actually, Kansas has had only one prosecution for voter fraud in the last six years. But because of that vast threat to Kansas democracy, an estimated 620,000 Kansas residents who lack a government ID now stand to lose their right to vote.


Eight states already had photo ID laws. Now more than 30 other states are joining the bandwagon of disenfranchisement, as Republicans outdo each other to propose bills with new voting barriers. The Wisconsin bill refuses to recognize college photo ID cards, even if they are issued by a state university, thus cutting off many students at the University of Wisconsin and other campuses. The Texas bill, so vital that Gov. Rick Perry declared it emergency legislation, would also reject student IDs, but would allow anyone with a handgun license to vote.


A Florida bill would curtail early voting periods, which have proved popular and brought in new voters, and would limit address changes at the polls. "I'm going to call this bill for what it is, good-old-fashioned voter suppression," Ben Wilcox of the League of Women Voters told The Florida Times-Union.


Many of these bills were inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business-backed conservative group, which has circulated voter ID proposals in scores of state legislatures. The Supreme Court, unfortunately, has already upheld Indiana's voter ID requirement, in a 2008 decision that helped unleash the stampede of new bills. Most of the bills have yet to pass, and many may not meet the various balancing tests required by the Supreme Court. There is still time for voters who care about democracy in their states to speak out against lawmakers who do not.







If there was any lingering doubt, the latest data confirm that housing is still in a deep and broad recession. In the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price report for 20 large cities, house prices in February fell to a level last seen in April 2009 — their lowest point in the bust. In a Census Bureau report, new home sales in March remained near their lowest levels since records were first kept in 1963.


It would be comforting to believe that housing-market distress represents a normal, if painful, correction after a period of excess. But all housing trends — in prices, sales, construction and foreclosures — indicate a market that is likely to decline even more, and far more than is needed to erase the artificial gains of the bubble.


High postbubble unemployment coupled with falling home equity will lead to more defaults and foreclosures. The resulting downward pull on prices will probably not be offset by adequate demand because potential buyers will be afraid they are still buying high in a declining market. Rather than a virtuous self-correcting cycle, the housing market is caught in a negative self-reinforcing one.


The best response would be for government to adopt policies to attack joblessness and foreclosures, including public investment in infrastructure and high-technology manufacturing and a renewed emphasis on negotiating new loan terms for homeowners whose homes have declined in value. Unfortunately, Washington is moving in the opposite direction on the mistaken belief that cutting budget deficits and leaving wounded markets to their own devices will somehow spur the economy.


For a while it looked as if struggling homeowners might get some relief soon: Fines on banks responsible for foreclosure abuses could be used to modify troubled mortgages. But that is looking less likely, as state and federal officials differ over whether the banks can afford to pay up. They can.


Without a healthy housing market, there cannot be a healthy economic recovery. The family home is still most Americans' biggest asset, so declining values destroy wealth and curtail spending. Homes are also the source of local-government property tax revenues and the collateral for many small business loans. They hold families and neighborhoods and communities together.


The numbers are getting worse, and that is bad for everyone. The question is how much worse they will need to get before regulators, lawmakers and the Obama administration make an all-out effort to fix the problem.







A supermarket shopper buying hamburger, eggs or milk has every reason, and every right, to wonder how they were produced. The answer, in industrial agriculture, is "behind closed doors," and that's how the industry wants to keep it. In at least three states — Iowa, Florida, and Minnesota — legislation is moving ahead that would make undercover investigations in factory farms, especially filming and photography, a crime. The legislation has only one purpose: to hide factory-farming conditions from a public that is beginning to think seriously about animal rights and the way food is produced.


These bills share common features. Their definition of agriculture is overly broad; they include puppy mills, for instance. They treat undercover investigators and whistle-blowers as if they were "agro-terrorists," determined to harm livestock or damage facilities. They would criminalize reporting on crop production as well. And they are supported by the big guns of industrial agriculture: Monsanto, the Farm Bureau, the associations that represent pork producers, dairy farmers and cattlemen, as well as poultry, soybean, and corn growers.


Exposing the workings of the livestock industry has been an undercover activity since Upton Sinclair's day. Nearly every major improvement in the welfare of agricultural animals, as well as some notable improvements in food safety, has come about because someone exposed the conditions in which they live and die. Factory farming confines animals in highly crowded, unnatural and often unsanitary conditions. We need to know more about what goes on behind those closed doors, not less.







The number of women who participate in college sports has more than quintupled — from fewer than 30,000 to 186,000 — since 1972, when Congress banned sex discrimination in federally financed education programs. But as Katie Thomas reported in The Times on Tuesday, as women have become a majority on many campuses, some schools are trying to evade Title IX and undermine the goal of gender equality by cooking the books when they report statistics to Washington.


Administrators and coaches have used a variety of dodges to inflate the number of women on athletic teams so that positions can be added to men's sports team. Double-counting and phantom athletes are shockingly common. Some schools exploit a loophole that allows them to identify men who practice with women's teams as women.


One of the most striking cases was uncovered at the University of South Florida, which created a football team in 1997, adding more than 100 male athletes. In an effort to comply with Title IX, the school reported in 2008 that the number of women on its cross-country running team had increased from 21 to 75 — more than four times the size of the average Division I college cross country team.


In 2009, when the school reported 71 members, records showed that only 28 women had ever competed. One woman told The Times that she was kept on the roster through her junior year even though she had quit the team and returned her scholarship as a sophomore.


These practices are cynical and might be illegal. Congress clearly needs to tighten the reporting standards, so that schools are required tell the whole truth about their athletic teams and their efforts to ensure gender equality. Boards of trustees and alumni need to take immediate responsibility, pressing their schools to comply, not just with the letter of the law, but with the spirit.









April is the cruelest month for Chrissy Lee Polis.


The 22-year-old stopped by the Rosedale, Md., McDonald's, just east of Baltimore, last week.


Two patrons, an 18-year-old woman named Teonna Monae Brown and a 14-year-old girl, seemed to come out of nowhere and began ferally assaulting Polis.


The savage pair may have been disturbed at the prospect that Polis was transgender. "They said, 'That's a dude. That's a dude. And she's in the female bathroom,' " Polis told The Baltimore Sun.


The attackers spit on her, threw her on the floor, kicked her in the face and back, punched her in the nose, ripped her earrings out of her earlobes, dragged her by her hair across the restaurant and only stopped when she began to have an epileptic seizure and an older woman in a white track suit intervened.


A McDonald's employee, who captured it all on his cellphone, was fired after his video went viral on YouTube.


"They all sat there and watched," Polis told The Sun in a poignant video interview. "I think it's a shame that people of my preference, I don't care if you dress like a guy or a girl or anything, I feel like people should not have to be afraid to go out of their house."


With long brown hair, a slender frame, a feminine manner and a Baltimore accent, Polis said her family had told her that she did not need to explain herself, that she should "be who you are and go as you are."


But people at parties sometimes want to fight her. "I have been raped before, too, because of who I am," she said, adding: "It's bringing me down, slowly but surely down."


The suspects have been charged with assault and the Baltimore County state's attorney office is determining whether it classifies as a hate crime.


A week before the attack, Maryland's Senate shelved a measure extending anti-discrimination protections to people who openly change their gender identity even though, as The Sun editorialized, "It would have sent a powerful signal that transgender people are not fair game for bigots."


A rally against transgender violence at the Rosedale McDonald's on Monday night featured Polis's mother, grandmother and a crowd of 300, singing "We Shall Overcome." Chrissy, no doubt afraid, stayed home. Her mother, Renee Carr, told The Washington Blade, a gay newspaper, that she supported her daughter "100 percent" and added: "I even carried her pocketbook on the way to the bus stop as a kid."


Renée Richards's father never talked to her about her sex change, but he did once chase after her in his car to bring her a purse she'd forgotten.


An early icon for the transgender community, Richards is the subject of Eric Drath's ESPN documentary playing at the Tribeca Film Festival.


"Renée" recounts the painful transformation of Dr. Richard Raskind, a Yale-educated ophthalmologist who married a beautiful model and had a son, to Renée Richards, a competitor on the women's professional tennis circuit.


In the mid-1970s, when I covered tennis, Renée Richards was a supremely strange phenomenon as the pro tennis and legal worlds hotly debated the fairness of a "he/she" competing against the likes of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. (Richards later coached Navratilova, helping with a couple of her Wimbledon championships.)


As John McEnroe notes in the film: "I was weirded out just watching her from a distance."


David Israel, a sports columnist on The Washington Star with me, wrote mordantly at the time: "Renée Richards proves that in sports the legs don't always go first."


The tall and muscular yet girly Richards — she once wrote that she swaggered and jiggled — won her fight to compete. But because she was in her 40s and softened with estrogen, she did not mow down all the younger competition.


Now 76, still practicing at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital and living in Carmel in upstate New York, Richards has traded tennis for golf because it's easier on her creaky knees.


The wraithlike doctor now surprisingly contends that it's not fair for transsexuals to play professional sports "because it's not a level playing field."


"Maybe in the last analysis," she said, "maybe not even I should have been allowed to play on the women's tour."


(She also told The Times's Joyce Wadler in 2007 that marriage should be between a man and a woman, noting: "It's like a female plug and an electrical outlet.")


In the documentary, her scarred son, Nick, describes Richards, who found great loves with women as a man but not men as a woman, as being "at a place in between torment and happiness."


 As Richards herself describes her melancholy odyssey through limbo: "I wanted to be a man or I wanted to be a woman. I didn't want to be a trans in the middle of something, a third sex or something that's crazy and freakish and not real."


Thomas L. Friedman is off today.








Ann Arbor, Mich.

THOUGH Libyan government forces have killed and wounded hundreds of civilians in their siege of the western city of Misurata, one of the most telling examples of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's wrath has been the bombing and destruction of a dairy plant there.


In just a few years the Naseem dairy plant, owned by a local family, had achieved what Colonel Qaddafi's regime could never do: provide Libyans with a decent glass of milk.


I was 5 when Colonel Qaddafi came to power, in 1969. One of my earliest pre-Qaddafi memories is of a small Peugeot maneuvering through a crowd of children playing on our street in Benghazi. A tall man would step out, quickly open the trunk and dash up to each house before getting back in the car. If I blinked, I could imagine that the sweating jug of fresh cold milk on our doorstep had appeared there all by itself.


Soon after Colonel Qaddafi's coup, though, milk ceased to come magically to our door. The dairy farm apparently belonged to "an enemy of the revolution," and was nationalized. I remember driving around with my father, looking for a place to buy milk. We found one at last, but its door was closed, and empty five-liter plastic jugs were lined up outside, placed there by milk-starved residents. This was in the early 1970s, when Libya was producing about two million barrels of oil per day, one for every Libyan.


In 1977 I went on a school field trip to visit the Qaddafi regime's solution to the milk problem. The new government-run Amal dairy plant had huge gleaming steel tanks placed in a large hall, and a sour smell in the air.


We soon learned that the milk was of terrible quality, watery and slightly bitter. Libyans made do with evaporated and condensed milk until the markets opened in the late 1990s, and high-quality shelf-stable milk could be imported from Saudi Arabia and Egypt.


I left Libya in 1979 to go to school in the United States, and returned for the first time in 2000. Grocery shopping after my long exile and wishing to support a local product, I reached for a six-pack of yogurt from Amal. The containers all had bananas on them. Holding the pack, I asked the storeowner if he had Amal plain yogurt instead of banana.


"What banana?" he said.


"This says it's got banana flavor. I want plain."


"No banana flavor!"


"But it says so right here on the pack."


"How many times do I have to tell you? No bananas. It's plain. Plain."


I did not believe him and left without any yogurt. At home I told my family about the incident. At first they too were confused. Then they burst out laughing.


Amal had never produced anything as fancy as flavored yogurt, they told me. The fruit on the label was such a bad old joke, they'd ceased to even notice it. They didn't laugh for long; I'd reminded them, without meaning to, of how awful things had become.


In the early 2000s, the Naseem plant in Misurata tried to change that. At the time, Colonel Qaddafi had begun to move Libya toward a market economy, but most businesses were handed over to his sons and acolytes, who weren't under much pressure to succeed. As a family business, Naseem was different, and its milk was good. In Benghazi and all across Libya we started to buy Naseem milk, then plain and flavored yogurt, eventually even ice cream.


No one in Libya was surprised that such commercial success took place in Misurata. It is a hard-working town; people there rise with the dawn. More recently, to block Colonel Qaddafi's tanks, Misurata's fighters have filled shipping containers with sand and parked them across the city's main boulevard. It is also no surprise that Colonel Qaddafi went after that city, and its factory, as a symbol of resistance, and a sign of how he has failed as a leader.


Benghazi is Libya's heart, the seat of its initiative and spirit. Tripoli, more pragmatic, is its brain. But Misurata, which happens to be my family's ancestral town, is the country's hands.


A torturer par excellence, Colonel Qaddafi has brought many a good soul to submission by breaking their fingers. But this time, he didn't succeed. We Libyans have no doubt that the Naseem plant, burned to cinders, will soon be rebuilt. And when this war is over, the people of Misurata will be busy doing what nation building is all about — with a glass of milk in the morning to get the citizenry on its way.


Khaled Mattawa, an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Michigan, is the author, most recently, of the poetry collection "Tocqueville."









San Francisco


THE 1950s and '60s brought many new things to American offices, including the Xerox machine, word processing and — perhaps less famously — the first National Secretaries Day, in 1952. Secretaries of that era envisioned a rosy future, and many saw their jobs as a ticket to a better life.


In 1961, the trade magazine Today's Secretary predicted that, 50 years hence, the "secretary of the future" would start her workday at noon and take monthlong vacations thanks to the "electronic computer." According to another optimistic assessment, secretaries (transported through office hallways "via trackless plastic bubble") would be in ever-higher demand because of what was vaguely referred to as "business expansion."


But nearly 60 years later, on the date now promoted as Administrative Professionals Day, we're living through the end of a recession in which around two million administrative and clerical workers lost their jobs after bosses discovered they could handle their calendars and travel arrangements online and rendered their assistants expendable. Clearly, while the secretary hasn't joined the office boy and the iceman in the elephant's graveyard of outmoded occupations, technological advancements haven't panned out quite the way those midcentury futurists imagined. There are satisfactions to the job, to be sure, but for many secretaries, it remains often taxing, sometimes humiliating and increasingly precarious.


New technologies did make the lives of 20th-century secretaries easier. By the 1920s the typewriter had cemented women's place in the outer office, and later versions made for faster, less strenuous typing ("Alive After Five!" was the way a 1957 ad put it). The introduction of the Xerox 914 photocopier in 1959 did away with the laborious routine of carbon copies.


But even from the start, the relationship between secretaries and technology was fraught. One turn-of-the-last-century secretarial guidebook offered the cautionary tale of a secretary who refused to learn how to use an early transcribing recorder called a "business phonograph," and was promptly replaced by a younger stenographer, at $3 more a week.


As early as 1966, with the introduction of the first computerized word-processing system (I.B.M.'s Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter), secretaries were worrying that machines could replace them. They no longer had to retype a page because of a dropped letter — but would they be relegated to a "space-age typing pool" that offered little opportunity for advancement?


Indeed, that has come to pass, in good ways and bad, as some secretaries have moved from physical offices to virtual ones. Commenting on this newspaper's Web site in 2008, one virtual assistant named Barbara Saunders claimed that the cyberoffice, where "symbols of social rank" like corner offices have no meaning, might upend the hierarchy of boss and staff once and for all. "For those of us who have always found the rank-based social system distasteful, the loss of 'the office' is liberating," she wrote.


It's interesting, then, to note that reinforcing these "symbols of social rank" has often been one way secretaries tried to keep their jobs from becoming obsolete. Back in 1961, a past president of the National Secretaries Association told The Los Angeles Times that secretaries should cheerfully perform menial tasks like emptying ashtrays because that was their "security against being replaced by a computer." That same year, Life magazine joked that the voice-activated typewriter "wasn't likely to automate any secretaries out of their jobs very soon," as — here it mimicked the machine's inability to translate spoken language into properly spelled English — the "klumsi masheen kan nivver make kawfi."


Coffee has long been a flashpoint for strong emotions about the differences between service and servility in offices; in the 1970s, when the second wave of feminism began to undo the traditional dyad of male boss and female secretary, more than one secretary was fired for refusing to make, fetch or serve coffee. In Los Angeles in 1973, one Leonor Pendleton was fired for "incompetence, insubordination and failure to comply with job instructions" after refusing to make coffee. Two years later, a Manhattan secretary was fired 20 minutes after she refused to get "four regulars" from a nearby coffee shop for a man who stopped her in the hallway — and turned out to be a vice president of the company.


This sort of thing still happens today. In 20-some years as an office worker, I've made coffee when the pot has run dry, asked clients if they'd like a cup, and picked up an extra for my boss when getting myself one. But others have it harder. "I don't have a problem getting coffee and/or water for our guests," wrote Tamara Klopfenstein, a clerk and receptionist, in an e-mail to her two male bosses in 2007. But she wasn't willing to "serve and wait on you by making and serving you coffee." She would be "happy to sit down and talk" about the matter, but she never got the chance. Nine minutes after hitting send, she was fired.


Secretaries of today and 60 years ago would probably agree on something: the one technological advancement they wish existed never will. After all these years, a human being still needs to plug in Mr. Coffee and deliver his output. But that won't save an administrative assistant's job from the maw of computerization. Secretaries can only hope that bosses won't take the human in question for granted, a sign that not everyone will be celebrating this Administrative Professionals Day.


Lynn Peril, a secretary, is the author of "Swimming in the Steno Pool: A Retro Guide to Making It in the Office."









Cordially speaking, President Abdullah Gül thinks the missing element of the Arab spring is a sustainable Arab-Israeli "peace." But he in fact means that the revolution's missing element is "a piece of Israel."

President Gül was right when he wrote, "Whether the uprisings (in the Middle East and north Africa) lead to democracy and peace, or to tyranny and conflict will depend on forging a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and a broader Israeli-Arab peace," in an article that appeared in the New York Times on April 21.

One could even praise President Gül for offering Turkey's capacity to facilitate constructive negotiations: "Turkey, conscious of its own responsibility, stands ready to help," he wrote in the same article. But Mr. Gül's chicly worded opus was a polite threat rather than a genuine, impartial peacemaking effort. I never thought Gül would rush to confirm what this column argued only nine days before the president's New York Times editorial.

"The difference between the rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is that the Iranian talks about 'no Israel' in plain language while the milder Turk talks about a 'smaller Israel' in subtle language. To achieve the goal of 'no Israel, the radical Mr. Ahmadinejad resorts to bombs he says he is not building. For his 'smaller Israel,' the moderate Mr. Davutoğlu resorts to politics," I said in my article published in the Daily News on April 12.

President Gül proposes "serious consideration" of the Arab League's 2002 peace initiative, which proposed a return to Israel's pre-1967 borders and fully normalized diplomatic relations with Arab states. I am not sure if re-proposing the Arab League's proposal makes Turkey a fair broker in the Arab-Israeli conflict. But, perhaps, given his ideological genetics, the Israelis should be grateful to President Gül for not proposing a return to Israel's pre-1948 borders, which probably will be the next Arab League proposal if Israel agrees to the first. Probably to be followed by a proposal to return to Israel's pre-1897 borders…

President Gül wrote: "Sticking to the unsustainable status quo will only place Israel in great danger. History has taught us that demographics are the most decisive factor in determining the fate of nations. In the coming 50 years, Arabs will constitute the overwhelming majority of people between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea." Now, this is problematic…

What kind of danger does Mr. Gül think Israel will face if it sticks to the status quo? More suicide bombers? More rockets? More sophisticated warheads over Israeli soil? An Iranian nuke? Will the Arabs collectively attack Israel when they believe their population has grown sufficiently? Are the Arabs not already an overwhelming majority in the lands where they are in conflict with Israel?

In such bold context, Mr. Gül further "warned Israel," that it "cannot afford to be perceived as an apartheid island surrounded by an Arab sea of anger and hostility." Mr. Gül should have checked his facts. Sorry to remind you, Mr. President, but Israel was surrounded by an Arab sea of anger and hostility even before 1967 (and even in 1948).

It's about the holy books, Mr. Gül, not where borders are drawn. And, Your Excellency, you should know this better than anyone else, as evinced by the Israel-hatred among your Islamist comrades back in the 1960s when secular Turks were not part of "that Arab sea of anger and hostility."

The president also prophesized, "It will be almost impossible for Israel to deal with the emerging democratic and demographic currents in the absence of a peace agreement with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world." Peel away the layers of diplomatic courtesy in that line, and you will get what the president actually wanted to say: Agree to "our" (Arabs') terms or you'll regret and pay for that in the future when the Arab population is big enough to drown you in a sea of hatred and hostility.

How many more lives must be taken so that Mr. Davutoğlu and his comrades can pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque "in the Palestinian capital (Jerusalem)?"






I have been a supporter of the "zero problems with neighbors" strategy of Turkey's visionary Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu. I still am. This new approach saved Turkey from its decades-old paranoia toward the outside world, which was considered as a collection of enemies. It replaced the militarism of the past century with a soft power idea, based on diplomacy, trade and people-to-people dialogue. It replaced barbed wires and landmines with open borders and visa-free travel. It helped both our neighbors and us. 

Yet there was one little catch in this "zero problems" strategy: some of our neighbors, and other countries in the region that we wanted to get closer to, are dictatorships. So, we ran into the risk of making friends with regimes that crack down on their own people.

The complicated spring

This problem first surfaced in the summer of 2009, when the authoritarian regime in Tehran wiped out the Green Movement, the opposition, in brutal ways. At that time, Western powers denounced this brutality, yet there was every reason to distrust their sincerity, for they had never denounced the regimes in Riyadh and Cairo, which were less democratic then Tehran but much more helpful to Western interests. So, Ankara's non-Western, independent line was a bit understandable. But it also was a warning sign indicating that Ankara, too, was entering a field called realpolitik, which could blind it to moral principles for the sake of "national interests."

Then came the real litmus test, The "Arab Spring" of this year. The first two episodes of this historic saga were easy. The secularist dictatorship in Tunis fell quickly, without the need for any outside power, including Turkey, to do something. After that came the uprising in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which challenged the decades-old dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. This was a regime that really did not like Turkey's growing role in the Middle East, and had a tense relation with the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government in Ankara. So, we soon saw Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan at his best: He openly called on Mubarak to "listen to the will of his people" and accept the yearning for democracy. It was the right thing to say, and the right side of history to stand on.

But then things started to get complicated, as the Arab Spring got complicated. In Libya, Gadhafi proved to be more resilient, mad and brutal then his bygone colleagues in Tunis and Egypt. Turkey was initially, and understandably, interested in the security of the 25,000 Turks who work in Libya and the successful operation to bring them home. After that, though, Ankara got restrained by Turkey's business interests in Libya, which demanded a wait-and-see approach to the conflict between Gadhafi and the rebels, and a lenient attitude toward the former. The answer to what is the best way to take Libya out of its current civil war is still unclear. But it is also unclear whether Turkey really has stood up for the humanitarian principles that it cherishes so much in its foreign policy rhetoric.

Syria matters

Besides Libya, another test for Turkey is unfolding in the very case-study of its "zero problems with neighbors" policy: Syria. The Assad regime there is cracking down on opposition movements these days, as security forces are opening fire on the crowds and killing unarmed civilians. Bashar al-Assad might be a nicer person than his father, but the character of the regime seems not to have changed much, and the methods it uses against its own people are simply cruel.

So, with friends like these, what will Turkey do?

This is not a question Ankara seems to have pondered a lot. Until recently, after all, we ourselves were a county questioned by human rights violations, such as torture, and we loved the refuge of all dictatorships, "we don't let anybody interfere in our internal affairs." But if we really claim to be an "advanced democracy," as the prime minister says, we can no longer use that argument neither for ourselves nor for other countries in the region.

This does not mean Ankara has to mirror the traditional American way of dealing with undesired dictators, isolate them, or, more preferably, bomb them. Davutoğlu has been arguing that a better way to advance democracy in the Middle East is to engage with the authoritarian regimes in question, and help them gradually open up. That is a good argument indeed, and we can say that such a "soft power" approach has been successfully applied by Turkey in previous years.

But there will be times when soft power will not work, and you might need to stand up more vocally against a dictatorial regime shedding innocent blood. How Turkey will be able to take that moral stance without harming its national interests is the next big question that policy makers in Ankara need to think about. Otherwise, we will be yet another mundane actor with very mundane motives.






Sectarianism in the Middle East is grievous, pernicious and enveloped in denial. Two officials – Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Conference, and Ambassador Shaikh Abdul-Aziz Al Khalifa, international media advisor of the Information Affairs Authority of Bahrain – offered me their perspectives on the issue.

They told me their thoughts about why sectarianism has begun to dominate the situation. One blamed the U.S. policies in the Middle East. The other accused the Iranian regime. Yet I couldn't help but wish that they would admit that the mindset of the ruling elites and some segments of the Muslim population include horrifying sectarian discrimination. The Arab awakening will be incomplete if the Arab world does not confront its own demons in the form of sectarian segregation.

When I sat down with İhsanoğlu, I wondered about the OIC's position on the Bahraini government's crackdown on its Shiite-led opposition. I expected to hear some self-criticism of the Islamic world and some expression of concern over sectarian-based politics. I hoped to hear an admission of trouble in the Muslim world that needs to be addressed. But it did not happen. I was disappointed and wondered if that was even a reasonable expectation when speaking to someone whose organization is not only based in Riyadh but also represents Iran.

When asked about the Bahraini government's approach to the protesters, which moved from a "severe crackdown" to "vindictive," İhsanoğlu blamed the U.S. invasion and American policies in Iraq for creating sectarian conflict. "Prior to that, Saddam Hussein treated everyone badly," he said. "Yet Shiites and Kurds and all others worked in his government. They were all equally mistreated." When I reminded him that the Iraqis came to Washington separated as Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Shiites to lobby for a regime change, İhsanoğlu said, "Up until the (2003) intervention, Iraqis thought of themselves first as Iraqis and then as Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds or Turkmens. But it was never their primary identity. Their sectarian and ethnic differences came as their second and even third identity. Yet the ones who lobbied here used those differences, and when the U.S. put a new system in place they built it on those differences. What the French did in Lebanon 90 years ago, the U.S. did in Iraq eight years ago."

İhsanoğlu did not claim that the U.S. invented the sectarian conflict, but he did argue that the Bush administration consciously pushed for it. And he explained the OIC's efforts to reconcile Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. "In 2006, we succeeded in bringing together Sunni and Shiite leaders while sectarian violence was at its peak," he said. "We made them sign on a 10-point agreement. We brought an end to claims such as, 'I'm a Shiite, therefore I'm right,' or 'I'm a Sunni, therefore I'm right.' That conflict came to an end religiously … Yet the Iraqis are now politically divided just like in Lebanon."

Although there may be different viewpoints over whether that religious conflict has ended, İhsanoğlu claimed that this is the legitimate truth; an objective analysis of the past decade and that U.S. policies caused the sectarian conflict to emerge. "[But] we're against turning these issues into sectarian ideologies or make it part of a political confrontation," he said. "What we say concerning Bahrain or elsewhere, the political issues need to be resolved in political frameworks. There should be a clear distance between politics and religion, and one should not intervene in the other, because it could take us to very dangerous places. We lived it in Iraq, and we don't want to relive it again. If you bring religion into politics, things become bloody. We don't want to see blood being spilled over again."

But how do we prevent it from happening? Hammering American policies in Iraq is merely a distraction from the long-term oppression of Shiites in Sunni-ruled dictatorships. The majority of the countries that İhsanoğlu represents actually mix religion and politics. The bottom line is that as long as Sunnis dominate the power centers of these regimes, they don't care about the others. Shiites outside Iran have been put down for far too long, and have been pushed to accept their place. They do have legitimate grievances that cannot be denied. Bahrain has a Shiite majority population, but the Sunnis rule it.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa introduced reforms a decade ago, including a parliamentary system. But the districts have been gerrymandered to produce an automatic Sunni majority every election, and now the Shiites want to be politically active. The Arab awakening does not discriminate against the Shiites – and each time they attempt to do something, they're blamed to be Iranian agents. The U.S.-Saudi relationship is being tested in Bahrain, as Saudis have enjoyed U.S. support for so long that they want to make sure that they're being favored at every turn, at any cost. If the U.S. sides with the people and makes its values a priority, it's impossible to deny the legitimate grievances of Shiites and other minorities in the Muslim world.

The Bahraini government announced last Thursday that it would close al-Wifaq, the Shiite opposition party, but it didn't follow through – possibly due to outside pressure. With all the measures being taken against the opposition, or the threats of punitive measures against the party, the kingdom's reforms have been rendered meaningless. In the last election, al Wifaq ran for 18 seats and won all of them. When the protests began two months ago, they submitted their resignations; but Parliament accepted only 11. According to the Bahraini constitution, an election must take place in 60 days from the date those resignations became effective. But under these circumstances, who would take Bahraini elections seriously?

I interviewed Ambassador Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Khalifa, the former Bahrain ambassador to the U.K. and the international media advisor at the Information Affairs Authority of Bahrain, before the Bahraini government attempted to close Al-Wifaq. Al Khalifa went back and forth as to whether to accept that there could be a legitimate Shiite grievance in Bahrain. At the end, he chose to blame outside intervention in their domestic affairs. "When you have the Iranian television channels, Alalam, Al-Manar, Ahlulbayt, Press TV, the Hezbollah channels, that are stirring poison and encouraging the protestors to keep their stand and giving support to the Shiite movement in Bahrain, that's not helpful," he said. "We believe this is a direct interference in Bahrain's internal politics."

Al Khalifa was also critical of the Iraqi government. "I think the Iraqi parliament went on a 10-day vacation in Baghdad in solidarity with the Shiites in Bahrain. The [Iraqi] prime minister is making other inflammatory remarks supporting Shiites. What's this?" asked the Bahraini international media advisor. "If there is anything that he can offer, he must [admit] that, 'We went through a civil war. We had to come up with conciliatory program. Can we do something for you?'" The fact is that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, also a Shiite, suspended the parliament's work briefly and expressed concern "that the events in Bahrain could unleash a regional sectarian war like the one that menaced Iraq just a few years ago."

The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, recently detailed a chilling account of how the Saudi soldiers wage a campaign of sectarian violence. Mahmoud, a Bahraini Shiite, shares his eyewitness account. "They managed to catch two people, aged no more than 30, and were beating them up badly, swearing at them all the time and cursing the Shiite clerics, saying: "Where is al-Khomeini now? Where is al-Sistani, you Shiite dogs?" he tells. "They say that we are spies for Iran, but nobody here wants to be ruled from Iran. We are Shiite, but we are also Arabs, not Persians. We do not want help from Iran. We want democracy in our own country."

Indeed, I was curious about why there were early reports that the Bahraini government was considering talks with the opposition, but any mention of the "talks about talks" is no longer.

Ambassador Al Khalifa claimed that the crown prince met the opposition's demands to begin talks. "We were asking for dialogue for one month, and there was no reciprocation from the opposition. They increased their demands and added the precondition. Now we have the upper hand and have another problem: the Sunni camp is so angry, we were put through hell, our lives were totally disrupted and now we don't want to hear anything about dialogue, we believe in reforms, but we don't need the style of protesters and for the protesters to be rewarded," he said. "So we have a problem now that the Sunnis are reluctant to have this dialogue. I think the official line from the government is this: Once law and order is restored fully then we can think about having a national dialogue that will include both Sunnis and Shiites for a better Bahrain."

It's stunning that the international community takes a selective approach toward human rights and democracy in the Middle East, and does nothing about Bahrain. The situation brings the Saudi and Iranian political circumstances to the forefront and shows how they use religion and victimize people in their power game. The Shiites have legitimate grievances and they need to be given comfort, not military suppression. The Bahraini ambassador admitted that the military presence is not sustainable, but what is the solution? "On the ground, the purge against Shiite workers in government and parastatal jobs continues," a friend in Bahrain tells me. "And new regulations making it easier to hire foreigners send a clear signal that they are trying to squeeze the Shiites out."

Why is it so difficult for Muslim leaders to accept responsibility for their own mistakes and find ways to deal with the issue? When will it be the time to stand up for human dignity without worrying about power and political benefit?

* Tülin Daloğlu is a free-lance writer and a foreign policy analyst based in Washington D.C.






I was very sad.

The seen of desolation as the Monument to Humanity in Turkey's eastern province of Kars waited for its head to be cut off made me very sad.

I compared it to an inmate being sent to death knowing that first his head will be cut off and then his body torn to pieces.

And what's more is that this inmate had no guilt at all.

You may or may not like this monument in Kars.

You may, just like Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, call it a "freak."

But I am curious about the attitude of the municipality based on the prime minister's reaction. I had trouble understanding how the demolition of this monument that has progressively become a symbol and in the eye of the public has been executed in front of cameras. It was perceived as the death sentence for a piece of art and a small group of people compared it to murder.

The monument may be ugly.

But why wasn't that considered earlier? The municipality was still the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, municipality back then. It should not have accepted it then. Even if you wanted to destroy it, later turning it into a show is nothing but incompetence.

Kars municipality hurts AKP much

The municipality is not aware that it has hurt its own party badly. There was no need for a show making the AKP look like an enemy of art right before the elections.

With respect to the monument issue, the majority felt resentment at the images on TV screens and some just stood up to the AKP.

It was obvious that they could not speak up because they shied away from the prime minister. But they could have discussed it with Erdoğan to find another solution. There was no need to be obstinate with each other.

Unnecessarily, the AKP scored an own goal.

The taste left behind in public was not worth the political benefit to come.

If the prime minister wasn't convinced, why did he support it?

The prime minister previously had an interesting approach.

The members of the council of ministers would be scared while waiting for the prime minister's reaction. One of the most colorful examples is the attitude of Health Minister Recep Akdağ during the vaccine campaign.

But now the same prime minister backs up some practices that damage the image of his own party and which he is not supposed to like.

Let's start with the latter.

Take a look at the situation with the Student Selection and Placement Center, or ÖSYM.

The prime minister for sure has noticed that he was obviously misled. Still after some time he reluctantly said "I was satisfied." But at least his body language proved the opposite. In the eyes of the public and especially the majority of students, the ÖSYM president failed the class. He maybe tried to do something beneficial but in the end he created chaos. We are confronted with a weird president who is neither able to make a reasonable statement nor be consistent with his words.

Despite that, Erdoğan is still supporting him. Why?

He could have replaced the president, win the heart of the public and gain benefits in politics. He would have become a leader who "punishes those who make mistakes even if it is his own men." The prime minister is confused in this issue but nevertheless he stood behind the man he chose.

Maybe after the elections he will replace ÖSYM President Professor Dr. Ali Demir but it seems he does not want another wave by creating an image of having chosen the wrong person.

Reason for supporting Ergenekon

One other example is the time span and, more importantly, the ramification of the Ergenekon investigation.

Those close to the prime minister know that the prime minister is against the long-time span of detention. He may say, "This is not our job, it is the job of the judiciary" as much as he wants, but he still accepts that this is irrational.

Despite his statement that "they helped in the making of the bomb," which points at the detention of journalists Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık in respect to confiscating their books, deep in his conscience he certainly believes that this is not a simple matter.

His general approach toward Ergenekon is the same.

It is known that he is concerned because as this case prolongs, the real criminals will benefit.

So why does he insist on supporting it?

I asked people close to the prime minister and they said: "He is very sensitive about the Ergenekon issue. If he is to criticize this case he believes that he will discourage future prosecutors. And that is why he keeps up the support."

No matter what, we have to say that the prime minister's former approach changed for whatever reason it may be.







The leakers have been busy again, this time releasing files relating to Guantanamo detainees – as well as having some interesting things to reveal about how the US looks at our intelligence services. There have been many books, articles and reports appearing over the past few years which act to expose a rather frightening degree of American naiveté while dealing with problems around the world, and especially the war against militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This consistent foolishness, lack of clarity and reluctance to hear other views is one of the reasons why we find ourselves floundering in murky waters today. However, even knowing all this, the revelation, published in the Guardian that in a September 2007 document the US lists the ISI among 36 'terrorist' organisations alongside al-Qaeda, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Lebanese Hamas and Hezbollah outfits, the Iranian intelligence networks and groups based in Chechnya or elsewhere is a bit too much. It does not take an expert to work out that as an entity the ISI has nothing in common with outfits such as Islamic Jihad or Hamas. It is set up along very different lines, follows military discipline and since 2009 in particular, has played a key role in battling militancy. The UK paper also suggests that even now, with the Bush era over, the ISI remains on the US 'threat matrix' and is believed by Washington to be supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Very little of what is revealed is 'new news'. The alleged presence by one or more representatives of our intelligence agencies at a meeting chaired by Mullah Omar and said to have been held in Quetta was reported over a year ago, and denied.

What does seem to have substance, though even here we should not allow the frequency of reporting to assume the status of a full-fledged fact, is the assertion that there are 'rogue elements' within our agencies that can and do pursue their own agendas. All of the allegations relating to this are historical, many of them dating back almost 10 years and there is little by way of corroboration. Many premises on which the reports are based seem badly flawed – stemming from over-active imaginations rather than facts. What appears to have happened is that the Americans developed a 'mindset' in respect of our agencies, and then applied that as a blanket value-judgement to our entire intelligence network – a considerable generalisation not conducive to a harmonious or trusting working relationship. The revelations will place a new obstacle in the way of restoring the broken ties between the US and the ISI which have yet to be restored after the unpleasant Raymond Davis affair. This degree of distrust for a key ally in the war on terror can hardly help defeat the militants. To do so, Islamabad and Washington need to work together. The hostile tone adopted in the files revealed and the continuation of the same attitudes under Obama, as appears to be the case, are hardly likely to help matters along.







We have seen similar acts of terrorism before. We see them again. In what was obviously a well-planned attack on military personnel, two buses carrying Pakistan Navy officers to work were hit by bombs planted along their routes Tuesday morning in Karachi. The attacks took place in two separate parts of the town, one in Defence Phase II and one in Baldia Town – an indication of a well-thought out act of evil aimed at inflicting massive damage. The militants succeeded in this. Four persons, including a female doctor died. Over 50 have been injured, many of whom remain hospitalised.

We know the motive behind the blasts – the Navy personnel were targeted as representatives of the state, even though they had no role in devising the policies the militants oppose. Others who wear the uniforms of police, the army or security outfits have been targeted in similar fashion before by killers who know nothing of mercy or humanity. Even the early morning pattern of the strike is familiar – perhaps because there is less security and less traffic on the roads at this time, making it easier to pin-point a specific vehicle. The Karachi attacks make it quite clear that the militants remain an organised and determined force. They still have the capacity to plan, to execute and to kill. Perhaps, it is time for the security apparatus and the political leadership to pull up chairs around a large table and draw up a plan to stop them. Otherwise, we will only see more deaths and with these a further breakdown in order within a state that already faces anarchy.







World Malaria Day was observed this week, on April 25. Malaria is a major cause of ill-health and death here in Pakistan and globally it is a mass-killer. In 2009, about 3.3 billion people or half of the world's entire population were at risk of catching the disease. Every year there are about 250 million new malaria cases worldwide and almost 800,000 deaths, most of them children. It is no surprise to learn that it is the poorest countries that suffer the most. Yet all of this death and misery is preventable, and it is possible to look forward to a world that is free of malaria. This is the aim of an ambitious United Nations (UN) programme that has a goal of zero deaths by 2015. Considering the scale of the problem and the diversity of countries and cultures that the disease affects, that may seem over-optimistic; and in a country like ours where polio is resurgent after almost being wiped out five years ago, a daunting task indeed.

The picture of malarial spread and control in Pakistan is discouraging. Malaria affects almost 16 percent of our population and is the second most prevalent illness after acute respiratory infection (which itself affects 51 percent of us). The incidence of malaria is highest in Balochistan – which accounts for 46 percent of all cases annually – and Sindh, and in coastal areas is present year-round. In 2009, it was estimated that we have 1.5 million new cases of malaria a year. Prevention, diagnosis and treatment are tales of failure along the line. We lack the trained staff that could use the microscopes – if we had the microscopes in the first place – which would be used to identify what strain of malaria was infecting an individual. People are poorly informed, we have few health education programmes about anything, not just malaria, and the population has a tendency to self-diagnose and medicate which does nothing to reduce levels of disease generally. Globally, the march against malaria looks like it is steadily advancing. We can and should join that march and drive out this preventable and deadly disease.








For readouts on a foreign leader's reaction to US actions and proposals most US administrations have an informally designated point-man whom they can readily turn to. Ambassador Peter Galbraith, a college friend of Benazir Bhutto, was often tasked to elicit her informal reactions. The late Richard Holbrooke was meant to handle our current civilian lot, especially Mr Zardari, and Admiral Mullen is tagged exclusively to General Kayani. Many a time, resident US ambassadors also play that role. One US ambassador got so chummy with a former Pakistani president that his daughter married the president's son.

The task of these 'handlers' is to strike up good working and personal relationships with their assignee, and in the process become familiar with their foibles as well as strengths. It is not necessarily a sinister role and can serve a useful and benign purpose. However, theirs is not merely a listening brief; they have to be able to dish it out too. And, by the looks of it, that is what Admiral Mullen came here to do earlier this week.

The trouble with having friends who are far richer and stronger like America is that you end up either being taken for granted or bullied into doing the 'friend's' bidding. Musharraf discovered this to his eventual ruin and Mr Zardari is following in his predecessor's footsteps even though he thinks he is being very smart.

Their examples are a lesson for Kayani, who hopefully will not buckle in to Mullen and not just because it will earn him unpopularity if he does so. America not only has a habit of letting its friends down but ends up deceiving them, which is worse. The alacrity with which Hosni Mubarak, America's most vaunted Arab ally, was jettisoned by Washington is one example. Nevertheless, when it comes to America 'ditching' friends in trouble, the Shah of Iran remains the most outstanding example.

Rather than vague promises, opaque responses and mincing words, all meant to bolster the 'feel good' factor to which we 'orientals' are so prone, we would do ourselves and the Americans a good turn if we are honest, even to a fault.

'How could the great Pakistani people, support an ignorant one-eyed mullah like Mullah Omar?' asked King Zaheer Shah. 'Because, Your Majesty, we felt it in our interest to do so; for that matter and for the same reason we would have even supported a blind mullah,' I replied, adding – lest his son in law, General Wali, who was doing the translating missed the emphasis – 'and anyone who avers to the contrary is a liar.'

Hence, why hide the fact that we tolerate the presence of the Afghan Taliban in North Waziristan and also maintain contacts with them. 'Even if a hair binds me to my enemy', said Yezid to his son Muawiyah, 'I cherish it because with it I can pull him or push him. Without it I have nothing.' It appears that Karzai wants to do the same and, what is more, seeks our assistance in doing so.

Moreover, as his intelligence chief revealed in Karzai's presence on December 27, 2007, he personally used to negotiate the price of individual suicide bombers with their Taliban handlers in order to buy them off from plying their deadly trade in Afghanistan. He must have known them well because he always knew which numbers to call.

But what is relevant is not that we have dealings with the Afghan Taliban of the Haqqani group but rather, why this is so. Is it because we identify with the Afghan Taliban and are at one with them and their cause? Or, because at present we believe that by taking them on we will be offering up our defenseless people and cities as targets for the mayhem we know they can cause?

If it is the former, Washington would be more than justified to cease all its dealings with Pakistan and treat us as an undeclared enemy. Indeed, if the Americans could assure us that the Afghan Taliban would only target our soldiers, but not our civilians, (much as American civilians are safe thanks to being seven seas away) we would indeed deserve no better.

But, if it is the latter, then the Americans should cease their exasperating rants and veiled threats which frankly do nothing but enrage the population without really scaring their interlocutors. No doubt, this war is best fought jointly but it can only be fought thus on mutually agreed terms and not by American bullying.

In any case, differences among allies are not peculiar to the US-Pak relationship. Even during World War II, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin had a hard time keeping the boat on an even keel, with suspicions on all sides about the priorities of the other. But tactical compromises especially between Roosevelt and Churchill, on the one hand, and Stalin on the other hand, kept the alliance going, while getting rid of Hitler kept them together.

In our case, the situation is more complicated. While the US wants to get rid of the Afghan Taliban, we see them as a counterweight to the Northern Alliance backed by India. We also do not want to rub them the wrong way while we are waist deep in our own insurgency. The one thing that could greatly reduce this friction is if the two sides, the US more in this case, can gravitate towards a post-war vision of Afghanistan in which the Taliban can be convinced that they have a future and that continued insurgency will not greatly improve their situation.

It would be sensible to do that because internally Afghanistan is so disorganised/dysfunctional that it will not be able to see stability if it is imposed by one side or the other, while defeating the Afghan Taliban militarily in any meaningful sense is not possible for the US (unless it can get Pakistan to abandon its own internal and external interests and concerns).

So, the best use of military force would be to get the Taliban to seriously consider going to the negotiating table as a better alternative.

In any case, time is running out on the US as its public gets increasingly disenchanted and the administration lacks the finances and manpower to further escalate their presence in Afghanistan. Nato was already seeking to bow out and the US risks becoming virtually alone in Afghanistan.

The fact is, as some of us have gone hoarse saying so, that a victory is out of the question for America; a stalemate lies ahead. And, as the US draws down its combat role under its 2014 target, victory will become even more distant.

The upshot is that the US should modify its approach and subordinate the war effort to a serious and refurbished peace effort. Alienating Pakistan will get the US nowhere; it would make matters worse for all sides except the Afghan Taliban.

The time has come, therefore, for Obama to reassert the power that he, and not the American military, was elected to exercise. The latter has shot its bolt in Afghanistan; and is now blaming Pakistan for its failures and lack of foresight.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:







What should be the course of action for Pervez Musharraf now? To start with, he should not take another impulsive decision and, driven by his unquestioned patriotism, land up in Pakistan one fine morning. The threats to his personal safety are too many.

He should move away from London and set up his camp office closer to home in Abu Dhabi or Dubai. While the basic infrastructure of his political party, the APML, is in place, it now needs to be joined by people who must be seen working more proactively and talking to the people on their leader's behalf in a much more forceful manner. While Mr Altaf Hussain makes frequent statements on national matters, there is a lot that people in the MQM Rabita Committee also say and do to exploit the opportunity and further propagate their leader's utterances.

It is also time for all those well-known names who are known to have a leaning towards Pervez Musharraf but who have been so often described by him as "fence-sitters," to come off their comfortable perches and stand up to be counted as Musharraf's supporters. If they are still waiting to find out which way the wind will blow, then they may soon find themselves blown off their feet.

As for the way forward, for once, it is judicious on the part of Pervez Musharraf to realise that he cannot traverse the political path alone. The people of Pakistan have been fed enough hollow promises under the current dispensation. Now they want results and for any political party to be able to deliver, it has to be an open and accommodative approach based on a concrete programme and a collaborative strategy with other likeminded political parties.

The APML's interest in and sincerity about Pakistan's current social and economic problems as well as future plans would be more efficiently reflected if it formed a proper central committee or shadow cabinet backed by a fully equipped research cell that should keep its finger on the people's pulse, acquire information on a real-time basis and advise their leader on national policy formulation and other issues. They should keep him fully updated so that he can speak out more convincingly and with more facts on various issues concerning the country.

If Pervez Musharraf perceives himself to be playing a role in Pakistan's affairs in the near future, he needs to change his approach and take politics much more seriously. He may talk to TV anchors about things that bring him out as a well-rounded person who lives life with all its verve and vitality but it does nothing to convince the starving masses that he shares their pain and sufferings – and is eager and willing to address their problems wherever in the world he may be.

If Benazir Bhutto could take a leaf from Altaf Hussain's book and address party workers on telephone during her self-exile days, why can't Pervez Musharraf do the same? His success will largely depend on his charisma, his political acumen and his party's ability to counter the negative propaganda that has been unleashed by his opponents. To do this, he needs to develop a strong capability to address the people's psychographics, playing on all the positives of his tenure and the tremendous gap that has now come about as those who followed him into office have comprehensively failed to deliver on all counts.

There is no doubt that Pervez Musharraf has many positives that could make a difference to Pakistan's political future. He is respected in top circles worldwide, has a middle class background and is still acceptable to the army. He has in-depth understanding of the current geopolitical scenario and the players that matter, including the more balanced Taliban and the Kashmiris and he knows what role India, Afghanistan and the US are playing in the regional context. Being a moderate, he enjoys the confidence of the international community led by the US and EU.


It may be recalled that during his term in office, Musharraf advised the US to "engage" the Taliban. They did not pay attention then but now they are adopting the same strategy directly in Afghanistan and indirectly through Turkey. Had the US paid heed to Pervez Musharraf's advice, Mike Mullen would not have said in his most recent visit to Islamabad that he worries about the syndication that has developed in the region involving organisations like the Haqqani network and Al- Qaeda over the course of the last three years.

The record of Pakistan's economic performance in Musharraf's tenure is also noteworthy. A recent substantiation of this has come in the Programme Note on Pakistan that the IMF issued on April 7, 2011. The opening statement of the note says: "...until the economic crisis of 2008, Pakistan enjoyed a relatively robust economic performance since 2001."

Now Musharraf also knows how the government functions in this country and would not look like a novice should he gain access to the corridors of power again. He is an upfront and candid sort of person which is a great thing but what, in one's considered opinion, he needs to add to his personality profile is the art of "political diplomacy – something that is absolutely necessary for success in the South Asian political scenario.

At present, Musharraf's party, the APML, is like a stationery train at a platform with empty bogies and all the passengers loitering about because the engine is missing. Let's hope that once the engine is attached (Pervez Musharraf's changed political approach) and the whistle blows, they (the fence-sitters) would all jump in and the APML would gather steam towards its political journey.

When Pervez Musharraf launched the APML, he said he wanted to give another option to the people of Pakistan. Now that the people have had a taste of two options – the People's Party and the Muslim League can he become the third option?


The writer is chairman of "Moderates," a private-sector think tank. Email: chairman@








A few months before his death on April 27, 1962, "Sher-e-Bangla" A K Fazlul Haq said this about himself: "In my stormy and chequered life, chance has played more than her fair part. The fault has been my own. Never at any time have I tried to be the complete master of my fate. The strongest impulse of the moment has governed all my actions. When chance raised me to dazzling heights I have received her gifts without stretched hands. When she has cast me down from my high pinnacle, I have accepted her buffet without complaint."

Through the fluctuations of his varied career Abul Kashem Fazlul Haq looked upon life as a perpetual struggle that man wages on behalf of himself, against himself. He had his strengths and his failings but, like the other founding fathers of Pakistan, he never swerved from his commitment to the Muslims of the subcontinent. After the March 1939 communal riots in Chandur Biswa, a village in the Central Provinces, he sent an open letter to Mahatma Gandhi, accusing him of remaining a passive bystander during the subsequent trial in which witnesses, many of them from the Indian National Congress, "vie with each other in a gruesome festival of lies, their only aim being to swear away the lives of as many as they can just because they are Muslims... But Mahatamaji, not a word has dropped from your lips and not a word has flowed from your pen to indicate that you condemn this conduct...How are we to interpret your silence?"

Some of Fazlul Haq's pronouncements reflect the spontaneity of an artless soul. The Bible says that "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh" and for Fazlul Haq articulation was never a device to conceal truth but to express it openly, even if this meant that his own reputation would be sullied. For instance in 1937, after he became the first chief minister of Bengal since the battle of Plassey, the post of Chief Inspector, Registration fell vacant and he recommended his sister's son, Yusuf Ali, a mere matriculate, for the job. Unlike the senior civil servants of contemporary Pakistan, the inspector general of registration refused to succumb to political pressure and appointed a qualified person to the post. However, Fazlul Haq had the decision overturned in favour of his nephew through the intercession of the governor, Sir John Anderson. There was furore in the Legislative Assembly. Fazlul Haq boldly stood up before the House and said that Yusuf Ali's qualification was that he was the nephew of the chief minister of Bengal.

The same stubborn streak, regardless of the consequences, was evident in his sharp differences in 1943 with the next governor of Bengal, Sir John Herbert. Fazlul Haq announced an enquiry, despite the governor's instructions to the contrary, into the disturbances in Midnapore during which outrages had been perpetrated against several women. Sir John demanded an explanation. Fazlul Haq responded immediately through his letter of Feb 16, which began: "I owe you no explanation whatever in respect of my conduct in failing to consult you before announcing what, according to you, is the decision of the government; but I certainly owe you a duty to administer a mild warning that indecorous language such as has been used in your letter should, in future, be avoided in any correspondence between the Governor and the Chief Minister."

The altercation led to Fazlul Haq's resignation, after which Khawaja Nazimuddin was inducted into office as chief minister through political manoeuvring by the governor. During the Nazimuddin ministry, one of the worst famines in the history of Bengal broke out, largely due to the government's food policy which was prompted by the imminent danger of British India being overrun by the advancing forces of Japan during that phase of World War II. Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Malaya, Singapore and Burma had already fallen to the Japanese onslaught. People fled Calcutta in panic and all food items were procured by the government in order to deny rations to the advancing Japanese troops.

Crop failures compounded the problem and more than three million people died from starvation and malnutrition, making the total number of fatalities higher than that of the two World Wars, the entire Indian independence movement and the carnage at the time of Partition. Added to this was corruption and hoarding of food. As leader of the opposition in the Legislative Assembly, Fazlul Haq demanded: "The Bengal administration must be completely purged of the disgraceful corruption which prevails from top to bottom...Stocks are requisitioned under Rule 75 (a) of the Defence of India Act, and handed over to chosen personages by processes which enable various grades of officers to pocket handsome commissions."

Shortly afterwards, the Nazimuddin government, which lost its majority in the Legislative Assembly, collapsed. Many members of the ruling party defected and joined the opposition under Fazlul Haq. Though he now commanded a solid majority, Sir C R Casey, who had become governor, refused to commission Fazlul Haq to form the government. Cables were sent to the Viceroy and to Prime Minister Winston Churchill by Fazlul Haq's supporters, requesting them to intercede and compel the governor to act constitutionally. However, the appeals fell on deaf ears, as a result of which no cabinet was formed in Bengal till after the general election of 1946.

Soon after Fazlul Haq moved the Lahore Resolution at the historic session of the All-India Muslim League on March 23, 1940, tensions emerged between him and the Quaid-e-Azam and several months later he was expelled from the Muslim League. During 1945-46 Fazlul Haq distanced himself from the Muslim League and many began to question whether he really supported the movement for Pakistan. He gave the answer himself in reply to a letter on Oct 13, 1945, from a student of Aligarh University.

He explained that he had been expelled from the Muslim League because of the machinations of Khawaja Nazimuddin and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. They had sent an ex parte report about him to Jinnah which had resulted, without proper investigation, in his expulsion and lifelong ban on rejoining the party. He recalled that the crowning achievement of his career had been the Lahore Resolution which he had drafted and to which he would always remain committed. He concluded his letter with the words: "Instead of addressing your appeals to me, you should write to Mr Jinnah to remove the that I may rejoin the Muslim League and serve the Muslim community to the best of my power and ability."

Fazlul Haq never claimed infallibility and admitted that he had his "hours of penance and regret." Despite this he never faltered in his commitment for the creation of Pakistan.

It is a pity that on the 49th death anniversary of the man who moved the resolution that eventually resulted in the creation of Pakistan, there is barely a mention of him in the media. One of the main roads in Islamabad is named after him. Some years ago the name of the road was miss-spelt as Fazle Haq Road, and it has been changed to A K M Fazlul Haq. What the letter "M" stands for remains a mystery.

The writer is publisher of Criterion quarterly. Email:








Dr Asim Husain has been reappointed advisor on petroleum. He had resigned from the same position in August 2009 saying he wanted to go back to his medical business, a hospital, which needed his attention.

There must be something about the way the good doctor manages his businesses, because these begin to wilt no sooner than he departs. His hospital apparently began to wither when he left it to tend to the country's petroleum affairs for his friend, the president. He dropped petroleum and politics, and rushed to revive the hospital, and the petroleum affairs went into doldrums. He's back now to salvage the petroleum affairs of the country, and the hospital probably is already beginning to tilt.

Why Dr Asim Husain resigned the first time is in doubt. He says his hospital needed him. But his performance was under severe criticism by the opposition at that point, and his departure greatly lifted the pressure on the government over its handling of the petroleum crisis. There was an audible sigh of relief from all quarters, including government quarters. Even those working in the Presidency let out muted sighs. Probably the doctor himself could not stand the heat any longer, and, "if you cannot stand the heat stay out of the kitchen," as they say, chose to leave the "kitchen." Now he is back in the kitchen, with a wow to change all the chefs, and replace them with new ones from abroad. He feels new ones will better deliver whatever it is his friend, the president, wants delivered.

In arranging the en masse sacking of the present lot of chief executives in the oil sector, Dr Asim Husain may have done the right thing, if all those sacked are appointees of the present government. This government is known for appointing chiefs of public-sector companies – including PIA, Steel Mill, even the hapless Pakistan Cricket Board – for all reasons but merit and competence.

However, his saying that there is "no expertise" in the country in the oil the sector is like a poor craftsman quarrelling with his tools. There is a large pool of Pakistani managers who understand the oil trade and business as well as any manager anywhere else. These professional assets of the country can be valuable tools in the hands of a capable craftsman. Instead of seeking them out, assigning them responsibilities to match their expertise and facilitating them in their work so that they produce results, the doctor has opted to quarrel with the tools.

A valuable asset under ineffectual leadership, and whose objectives are more personal than business, will seldom produce results that are beyond the leadership's own ability and narrow objectives. In the country's oil sector there are managers who are world-class. Unfortunately for them, and even more for the country, they are used less for the advancement and growth of the oil sector in the country and more for personal advancement and growth of their political handlers' interests and fortunes. Oil exploration, refining, distribution and marketing companies became playthings in the hands of politicians. These continue to be managed less by managers and manipulated more by politicians towards achieving their objectives.

Some chief executives and managers with courage who resist the onslaught of politicians become early casualties, and more pliable but less competent ones appointed to replace them. This has remained the most common pattern of what passes for management in companies in the public-sector under all political and military governments. The vast number of public-sector companies, hitched to the country's economic engine remain one of the biggest drags, and the reason why Pakistan is floundering economically in the region and in the world.

This monster of a public-sector is a gift to the nation of the industrial policy of the first PPP government, when almost everything that moved was nationalised. The country continues to pay the cruel price of the folly.

It is for Dr Asim Husain to ponder how the oil-sector "experts" he will be bringing from abroad will perform any better, and in the environment in which they will have to work. The "experts" will undoubtedly be more "manageable" than the Pakistani manager who is brave enough to resist unethical pressures, preferring to be transferred or sacked, even killed. Shaukat Mirza was one manager of this kind, who was effectively turning PSO around. Rather than look away from gross and corrupt practices in PSO, he continued to resist pressure, paying with his life in the end. Shaukat Mirza may not be with us, but there are many like him who the good doctor could find, if he only cared to look for them.

Dr Asim Husain's claim that there is "no expertise" in the oil sector in the country is shallow, and untenable. "Physician, heal thyself."

The writer is a former corporate executive. Email:







Speaking at Peshawar's Hayatabad town on April 24 at the conclusion of his party's two-day protest 'sit-in' against continuing US drone attacks in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan argued that the politicians should shun hypocrisy and declare their support for or opposition to the missile strikes carried out by CIA-operated unmanned drones.

He is right in posing this question. Only a few political parties have taken a clear stand on this critical issue. Others prefer an ambiguous policy, just like the PPP-led coalition government that is publically critical of the drone attacks, but is known to privately condone the strikes. In his Peshawar speech, Khan also rightly asked the government to abandon its dual policy with regard to the US drone strikes. He pointed out that Pakistani rulers live in fear of the US and are, therefore, unable to articulate the aspirations of their people.

The ambiguity on the issue is not confined to politicians. Khan didn't mention it but it is no secret that Pakistan's powerful military too has an ambiguous policy on the Predators and the more advanced Reapers that rain death from the skies and carry out targeted killings in North Waziristan, South Waziristan and other tribal areas. It is another matter if the missiles mostly kill Pakistani militants fighting the state instead of the US-led coalition forces deployed across the border in Afghanistan. The known al-Qaeda figures killed by the drones in Pakistan during the past seven years are less than 20 and the number of Afghan Taliban from the Haqqani Network, being the prime target in North Waziristan, slain in such attacks could be counted on fingers.

How else could one explain the media briefing arranged by the army in North Waziristan on March 8 in which Maj Gen Ghayur Mehmud, the general officer commanding of the Pakistan Army's Kohat-based 7th Division, justified the US drone strikes by claiming that a majority of those killed were hardcore Taliban and al-Qaeda members, especially foreigners, and that civilian casualties were few. Though he qualified his statement about the accuracy of the drone strikes by arguing that these also create social and political blowbacks for the law-enforcement agencies by scaring away the local population and causing displacement, it didn't change the main thrust of his argument that US drone strikes were mostly eliminating militants in the region and only occasionally resulting in 'collateral damage.'

Except one statement by the army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas in which he said that Maj Gen Ghayur Mehmud was quoted out of context, no effort was made by the military to clarify or disown the contents of his briefing. Seen together with the views privately expressed by certain civil and army officials on the issue of drone strikes, one gets the feeling that the media briefing and remarks made by Maj Gen Ghayur Mehmud by and large represented the opinion of Pakistan's political and military top brass.

In fact, unnamed Pakistani security officials are the first ones to tell the media soon after every US drone strike in the tribal areas that so many militants including foreigners have been killed in the attack. They make such claims despite the fact that the security forces and the political administration have no access to the place of occurrence and their intelligence is largely limited to the intercepts of the militants communicating with each other.

This is clearly an effort to justify the drone attacks because in their view mostly militants, or 'terrorists' as some officials and sections of the media refer to them, get killed in the missile strikes. There is no known case since June 2004, when the US first started using the drones to attack militants' targets in the Pakistani tribal areas, in which the government or its armed forces managed to access or control the place hit by the Hellfire missiles, secure possession of the bodies of those killed, conduct DNA tests or at least find their graves.

It is possible that the military would have pursued the same ambiguous policy had the March 17 drone attack in Dattakhel in North Waziristan not taken place a day after the controversial release of the CIA operative and killer of two young Pakistanis, Raymond Davis, in a blood-money deal facilitated by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). By killing 45 innocent tribesmen including children at a jirga convened in the open in keeping with tradition to discuss local issues, the US not only overstepped the mandate apparently given to it by Pakistan's fearful ruling elite but also did something that exposed the myth that the drones are always on target. There was no way this incident could be kept hidden from the public view or justified and soon both political and military officials were condemning the attack in the strongest possible words.

Still, the government attempted damage-control – it didn't take the extreme step of blocking the Nato supplies destined for Afghanistan as it did last year for 10 days when two Pakistani soldiers were killed in an attack by US gunship helicopters on a border post in Kurram Agency. If the Pakistani government had been firm in its opposition to the drone strikes, the US would have thought about the consequences and restrained itself from launching two more attacks in April 2011 in South and North Waziristan killing 35 persons including women and children.

With both the civil and military ruling elite unable to formulate a clear policy on the drone strikes and persuade the US to respect Pakistan's sovereignty, it required courage on the part of Khan to take practical steps for condemning the drone strikes and blocking the trucks and oil-tankers transporting supplies for the Nato forces in Afghanistan, for two days. It was no doubt a token blockade and was organised in Peshawar instead of Karachi from where most Nato supplies are sent to Afghanistan via the Peshawar-Torkham and Quetta-Chaman routes. But the purpose was served and for the first time an important Pakistani politician came out openly to highlight the issue and give a month's notice to the Pakistani government to stop US drone strikes or be prepared for a march on Islamabad by his party workers.

It is true that the PTI isn't a big enough party to organise a march that would paralyse life in Islamabad and force the government to accept its demand. However, the cricketer-turned-politician has brought the drones issue into the public domain and prompted the Jamaat-e-Islami, JUI-F, JUI-S and PPP-Sherpao to support the PTI dharna against the US drone attacks. He also convinced three known politicians, PML-N's Javed Hashmi, PML-Q's Marvi Memon and ANP's dissident lawmaker Khwaja Mohammad Khan Hoti, to break ranks with their parties and join him at the protest 'sit-in' camp in Peshawar. The PML-N, PML-Q and ANP, like most other political parties, oppose the drone attacks but the defiant participation of their own elected MNAs in the PTI protest would bring their leadership under pressure to take an unambiguous stand on the issue. As Javed Hashmi pointed out, the PML-N needed to take practical steps like the PTI to demonstrate its opposition to drone attacks.

The ambiguity on US drone strikes is understandable because top Pakistani Taliban commanders Baitullah Mahsud, Nek Mohammad, Haji Omar and possibly Qari Hussain along with certain al-Qaeda members fighting Pakistan's security forces were killed by missiles fired by the CIA spy planes. The military couldn't eliminate them despite carrying out operations in their mountainous strongholds. Also, the Pakistani government isn't really opposed to the use of drones, though it would like the US to provide the technology for use by the Pakistani military to reduce the intensity of the public reaction to drone strikes.

The time has come for the Pakistan government to come clean on the issue of the US drone attacks. Due to its low credibility, not many Pakistanis believe the government when it voices opposition to the drone strikes. Imran Khan's aggressive campaign might force the government and also the military to adopt a clearer and believable policy on this emotive issue.








A proud nation of 170 million people with a large professional army is baffled by the fog of war that shrouds the events in what an Italian analyst Vanni Capelli calls 'the alienated frontier', his phrase for the land of Afghan tribes in our north west. No less baffling for the nation is the fog of diplomacy in our dealings with the United States. Admiral Mullen arrives and does some tough talking before meeting the government leaders. The message in the ensuing consultations, according to the media, is that drone attacks would continue till General Kayani launches the Pakistani army in North Waziristan. The leaders of the Pakistani military reportedly, repeat Pakistan's disquiet over these lethal incursions. In distant Washington Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir stands in the coveted place next to Secretary Hilary Clinton and we are reassured that strategic relations are intact and will continue.

Meanwhile, Dandi Kachi village in Mir Ali subdivision comes under attack by a predator in which 25 people including women and children and presumably some militants get killed. Recent attacks have revived the old debate whether the laws of war, in this case an undeclared one, permit the certain slaughter of innocent civilians on the basis of questionable target information. In the end, we are left with the same old grisly tale. CIA's predators come and unleash their breathtaking weaponry against a tribal settlement leaving behind crumpled mud walls and burnt out bodies of hapless villagers. They also leave behind a wave of seething anger against the Pakistani government that would eventually hurt our federation. A growing number of unanswered questions congeal into a dark mass of despair and disillusionment.

I once described our relations with the United States as a liaison of compulsion in which our options have been progressively curtailed since 2001. The basic challenge today is what Imran Khan has formulated (The News, April 23) as that of recovering Pakistan's lost space. In our zero sum game with the United States, what the foreign secretary seeks to achieve in Washington has already been negated by Admiral Mullen in Islamabad. How does, then, Pakistan leverage itself into a position where this vital relationship becomes more equitable and sensitive to the national interest of both the 'partners'?

I have supported party-based politics all my life but I wonder now if Imran Khan's message to "all hues of the Pakistani nationalist leadership" to put aside differences and come together to reclaim "Pakistan's sovereignty and national dignity" would be anything more than a cry in wilderness. We live in an age of coalition politics wherever democratic institutions exist. But the utter lack of principles in building coalitions in Pakistan belies the hope that the political class can ever close ranks to save Pakistan.

During the life of our parliaments, the only pressure that the elected representatives truly face from their constituencies is that of job opportunities which are often provided at the expense of merit. If we want them to address real national issues upfront, Pakistan's political parties would have to be subjected to much greater moral pressure than is exerted at the moment. For this the media, the engaged sections of the middle class, the youth and the civil society will have to cut across party lines and agitate issues of national importance with the new innovative tools that energised Arab masses recently. Pakistan needs a concerted effort by the political class to save it from disaster but that may not happen without an irresistible impulse for change from what is now metaphorically called the Facebook generation.

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: katanvir@










IT is almost a daily occurrence that Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML (N) stalwart Ch Nisar Ali Khan launches tirade and makes scathing remarks against Armed Forces of Pakistan particular the premier intelligence agency ISI in one way or the other. But ironically on Tuesday media reports put Ch Nisar and the United States on the same page as far as ISI-bashing was concerned with former criticising its chief for his US visit and the latter reported to have listed ISI among 36 terrorist organizations.

Ch Nisar Ali is otherwise considered to be a talented politician but his out-of-proportions criticism of the visit of the DG, ISI to Washington and Kabul is not only ridiculous but smacks of mental bankruptcy. Spy chiefs visit other countries and have interaction with their counterparts on professional matters and therefore, we should not unnecessarily attribute motives to the visit. Similarly, it would be unbelievable that the agency was meddling into political matters when it is wholeheartedly devoted to the sacred mission of safeguarding the motherland against all sorts of conspiracies. The agency is hundred percent focused on foiling designs of our enemies who want to weaken Pakistan through different means. As for categorisation of the ISI as a terrorist organisation by the United States, we believe it is indeed a tribute to the agency for its loyalty and commitment to Pakistan and this is a sort of certificate inscribed in gold letters. It is understood that there are hundreds of Raymond Davis operating in the country with mission to destabilise Pakistan and it is ISI that is foiling their designs and working as a China Wall against their nefarious objectives. One can understand American animosity towards ISI, which is highlighted with regular intervals by different statements emanating from Washington. Everyone knows at whose behest attempts were made to put ISI under the charge of the Interior Ministry and what Admiral Mike Mullen said about the role of the agency in one of his interviews during his recent visit to Pakistan. Washington's ISI phobia is, therefore, understandable but one is shocked to hear venomous statements from a person who has been bestowed with highly responsible position in the democratic set up of the country.






PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari while talking to the Commander of Royal Saudi Naval Forces has said that Pakistan values its cordial and friendly relations with the brotherly country. He emphasised for augmenting socio-economic, trade and defence ties between the two countries for their mutual benefit.

In this perspective the Minister of state for Foreign Affairs Ms Hina Rabbani Khar paid a two day visit and held very productive discussions with Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal and other top functionaries of the Kingdom on important issues of interest between the two countries. In our view the visit has helped in further promoting relations and the need is for more frequent high level exchanges for close consultations in view of the evolving situation in the region. Though Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy brotherly relations but frequent high level exchanges and consultation on the evolving situation in the Afro-Middle East region is of vital importance to the two countries. It was satisfying that the two sides agreed for holding a meeting of the joint ministerial council and for frequent high level exchanges. The Saudi Foreign Minister on the occasion expressed full support to Pakistan's deeper engagement with the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as for an early conclusion of the Pakistan-GCC free trade agreement. This Saudi support is vital and Pakistan would gain a lot when the agreement is reached to increase its exports. In fact it is time that as Muslim nations we should show further unity and display our solidarity in facing challenges and that would send a positive signal to the outside world. In this context we think the planned and announced visit of Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan early last week should not have been postponed under any pretext. The interaction of the Information Minister, who enjoys certain clout and is perceived in Saudi Arabia as a leader with influence, would certainly have helped in furthering the brotherly ties and opened doors for bilateral cooperation in several new areas. It is not an acceptable excuse that due to domestic engagements she has postponed the visit and we would stress that as part of the policy of greater engagement, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan should pay the visit to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia without loosing any time.







PUNJAB Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif has, for understandable reasons, retracted his statement about creation of Karachi province but debate is continuing on the need for more provinces out of the existing ones to resolve political, social, and economic problems and meet longstanding demands of people from different regions.

There seems to be near consensus on creation of Hazara and Saraiki provinces as more and more parties seem to be receptive to the idea either because of their own political agendas or for other reasons. But unfortunately Balochistan remained neglected in this regard as there was no powerful voice speaking for restructuring of the province — a proposition that offers solution to its existing tricky problems. In an analytical report, Quetta Editor of Pakistan Observer has highlighted the issue and put forth view point of those including Pashtunkhawa NAP that are demanding creation of several provinces out of Balochistan as part of the efforts to calm down the situation there. There are legitimate suggestions that former states like Kalat, Lesbela, Mekran and Kharan and Pashto-speaking areas should be given status of separate provinces as this would help mitigate sufferings of the province which is largest in area-wise but whose population is sparsely located making it extremely difficult for people to approach provincial machinery in Quetta from far-flung areas of the provinces. The present Government is making endeavour to address the causes of alienation among people of Balochistan including launching of Aghaz Haqoob-e-Balochistan Package and seeking of apology by President Asif Ali Zardari for past wrongs. It would be, therefore, in the fitness of things if the issue of creation of more provinces is also made part of the proposed dialogue process in the province so that instead of regionalism, the cause of democratic culture and national integration is promoted on long term basis









There was a time when every Tom, Dick and Harry would be discussing CBMs. This is no longer the case. Has the reader ever wondered why? The answer lies in the fact the the CBMs were never intended to be anything more than an ephemeral phenomenon. It may be of interest to fathom what happened to some much-vaunted CBMs. Take for instance the one that envisaged the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad bus link? It appears that after some months of hullabaloo, the only way to describe it would be 'the CBM that never was'. Not that this is the only example. By hindsight now it is becoming clearer by the day that most CBMs one heard so much crowing about not so very long ago appear to be fast withering on the vine. That should surprise no one. After all, a CBM is at best the means to an end; never an end in itself. And then public memory is notoriously short. No wonder, one rarely hears mention of the wretched things any more.

But it was the Kashmir bus CBM that one had intended to talk about. A little introspection would not be out of place. The reader may since have forgotten the valiant attempt of Shaikh Rashid Ahmad, then Information Minister of Pakistan, to book a seat on the bus in question. As spokesman for the Pakistan government, the Shaikh had been bending over backwards to smooth the way for the many inane Confidence Building Measures that the Indians had been fobbing off on an unsuspecting public as peace initiatives. It was he who took the flack for the many gaffs that were inevitable in the puerile path we had opted for in talking peace with our neighbour. His smiling candid face when fencing against the harsh lunges of the national press had almost become symbolic of a born-again pacifist who had taken to defending a somewhat shilly-shally cause with sincerity and candour. And yet, where did it all lead him to? When it came to the crunch, the Indians let him down without even the benefit of a parachute.

One recalls having been left wondering at the time about quite a few ifs and buts – and whys. Shouldn't those who had negotiated the much-vaunted "Kashmir bus service" agreement have known beforehand whether or not the Sheikh would qualify as a passenger on one of these buses? If he did not, what was the point in encouraging a senior minister of the government to take such a high profile initiative knowing that it would invite a snub from the Indian side? If, on the other hand, the minister did qualify for a permit - after all, he is a Kashmiri and a member of a divided family - then why did the government not take a firm stand on the issue, instead of taking the snub lying down? If the people in the know believed that they had snatched some diplomatic or political mileage out of the whole sorry episode, then the public had a right to be informed about it. After all, the gentleman in question happened to be the Minister of Information and a very vocal one at that! Sadly, no proclamation ever materialized from our side. In so far as the Indians were concerned, one was, once again, left at a loss as to their true motives. If they had something against the Sheikh then why didn't they come out with it? Why did they, instead, prefer to play a game of hide and seek? If they considered that his support and succour for the struggling Kashmiris was enough to disqualify him from the peace process, they would have had to exclude an overwhelming majority of the Azad Kashmiri and Pakistani populations from the charade that was in progress.

There is yet another aspect to the issue. Wasn't the whole "peace process" basically intended for the two sides to turn a new leaf in their relationship and, more importantly, to let bygones be bygones? Then, why should the Indians raise dust over one individual and a Senior Minister of Pakistan to boot? These and similar questions came to trouble one's mind. All this, coupled with the fact that the so-called (on-again, off-again) composite dialogue process has precious little to show for the time and effort expended on it so far, leads the man in the street to – justifiably - look askance at the whole rigmarole. As was to be expected, our liberal pen pushers used up gallons of ink in penning down apologia to explain, if not to justify, the various Indian actions. Leads one to the inevitable conclusion that most of our woes are less due to darts of the enemy and more thanks to the ill-advised efforts of our own lot. By the time our chaps were through advancing plausible justifications for the Indian action, the matter had already gone off the headlines. And what about the great Sheikh himself? He took it with his customary aplomb, though he was reported to have remarked once that the Indian refusal to allow his visit was regrettable but "the peace process is more important than my visit". He could not, however, resist the temptation to add a rather limp comment, "I am a genuine Kashmiri and Kashmiris in IHK were awaiting my visit". As limp reactions go, this was as good a one as any. But, then, it does not add up to much.

And what about the tortuous and excruciatingly slow peace process that is claimed to have been brought back from the cold? What with the "cricket diplomacy' and the projected resumption of the dialogue we appear to be trying to ignite some of the enthusiasm of yore. The only noteworthy element that emerged from the latest effort of Interior Secretaries is that they held discussions 'in a cordial atmosphere' and decided to meet again. How is that for award of the cake for an ever-recurring mantra of the much-vaunted peace process? Here it may be recalled that our leadership has been quoted as stating that Pakistan wants peaceful co-existence with India and is sincerely pursuing the dialogue in a bid to resolve disputes obstructing normalization of the bilateral ties between the two countries. Noises coming from across the frontier talk of similar sentiments. This is all to the good. For far too long have our armchair liberals got away with loaded words like "friendship", "partnership" and the like to qualify the ongoing dialogue process.

Now one hears that the 'working groups' on Siachin and Sir Creek issues are scheduled to meet shortly. Hope they bring a rabbit out of the bilateral hat. It does not have to be a fat, well-fed and bouncy one. Even an emaciated specimen would do!







When the time for formulation of budget proposals for 2011-12 was coming close and domestic resources were not matching with those demands, a big team of financial managers left for their Washington Yatra to convince the IMF to release the next tranche which had been withheld since last year, and to meet their near and dear ones living abroad. The President in a surprising move promulgated three ordinances in mid March 2011 to impose 17% Sales tax on agricultural tractors, pesticides, plants, machinery & equipments as well as on import of their spare parts. Secondly, he imposed a 15% surcharge on Income tax for the year 2011, which means that this surcharge will be imposed on all tax deductions from the salaried class, at import stage, profits received from banks investments and dividends, all utility bills including mobile phones including goods falling in the category of advance tax, while zero-ratings were restricted to five sectors of exports including, textile, leather, carpets, surgical and sports goods with reduction in GST rate from 17% to 10% only for these five sectors, and third was to raise Special Excise duty from 1% to 2.5% for the remaining period of the current fiscal year meaning that zero-rated sector of exports will be entitled to a refund of 19.5% at the end.

Already there is huge amount stuck-up in refunds due to very cumbersome procedure leading to corruption. Whereby through such a major development just 75 days before launching of the next budget, the federal government has introduced a Rs120 billion 'mini-budget' through presidential ordinances by-passing the parliament, envisaging Rs53 billion of additional taxes on income, imports, agriculture and domestic sales of export-oriented items, after having failed to introduce Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST) through parliament. This action is in violation of the fundamental law of Pakistan as provided in the Pakistani constitution, which is another example of the bad governance of this sitting government and its administration.

As a matter of fact the budget 2010-11 which had been prepared by the same financial managers of the government was not even worth the paper on which it is written. It was either a lie or it has been thrown into the rubbish bin by the rulers who have exceeded their funds by their extravagant lifestyle leading to an increase in trust deficit between the rulers and the nation, by their negligence of tax collection from agricultural sector, by imposing capital gain tax and their by their corruption. Ministers and bureaucrats who do not feel committed to any law of the land even not the traffic signals or speed limits on Pakistani roads why would they accept and respect the budget which is just another law of the land?

Another visible source of money wastage is of course our defense budget that is anyway swallowing most of the money and is always in need of another aircraft or what not in addition to the huge amounts they are consuming on agricultural and urban land allotment at throw-away prices. In order to contain the budget deficit which is out of control none of the perks of defense services or civil bureaucracy and politicians in the corridors of power were taken away; it is much easier to milk the public and especially the salaried people and small businessmen with something called flood tax.

This very same government had assured the people to impose tax on agricultural income but instead of doing that it has imposed tax on agricultural inputs like fertilizers and others, which will surely result into another raise in the production cost. It again makes land improvement for better yields more expensive and impossible for many small farmers and it leaves out taxation of the absentee landlords who live from the produce of the land tax free but never care about land improvement. State Bank Governor Shahid Kardar has expressed his concern about structural shift of incomes towards the untaxed sectors, this shift of income from tax paying sectors will hover to lower levels structurally destined tax-to-GDP ration, which is lowest in the world at just 10%.

The slap on the face of our financial & economic managers received on Thursday in Washington from IMF is not at all shocking for those who know that our these managers are more loyal to these donor agencies from where they have been borrowed to bring down our system to suit the donor agenda. One may recall that in January 2011 the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Islamic Development Bank had withheld budgetary support to Pakistan and requested the government to provide them a letter of comfort from IMF before they disburse the remaining funds. IMF works according to the mood of US-Pak relationship, when Pakistan was in the center of focus due to removal of a democratically elected government in 1999 by General Musharraf strongest support was extended by US to Pakistan and the IMF showed great generosity by easy facilitation in release of funds to Pakistan. We fail to understand what has gone wrong with PPP that they had presented a very balanced budget in 1974, a performance which they could not achieve again since then.

IMF was first allowed to expand its tentacles in sixties during Ayub Khan era, when Mohammad Shoaib was the Finance Minister & M. M. Ahmed the head of the Planning Commission, both had links with Washington. Now in 2011 our foreign liability again stands at $ 54 Billion. Pakistan had last agreed with IMF in 2008 to raise its GDP to 13% by 2013 and 15% by 2015, which is standing at 2.8% in 2011 due to negative approach in our planning; in fact the PPP government has not been able to formulate an industrial policy during last three years and our engine of growth- the industrial productivity has come to a stand still due to artificial shortage of gas, electricity, water and the deteriorating law & order situation. The second thing agreed with IMF was that Government will stop borrowing from State Bank of Pakistan, which against this commitment has continued at a pace of around Rs. 2 Billion a day, third and last condition agreed with IMF was to impose Value Added Tax (RGST). Our Finance Minister leading the team of top economic and financial managers on the sidelines of the spring meetings of the Breton Woods Institution, and with the IMF & World Bank made a sweeping statement on reaching Washington on Sunday the 17th March that government had strived to bring the budgetary deficit down to 4.5% and to impose further tax reforms but was hindered by a reluctant parliament; the reason for this blame game he must be knowing well as the outcome of this meeting is zero. His earlier statement published in newspapers on 18th April after failing to convince IMF has been denied by our Finance Minister.

We have expressed our views in the past also that Pakistan going into the IMF & World Bank fold was a suicidal attempt but unfortunately our successive Finance MinisterS in a democratically elected setup from 2008, including Ishaq Dar, Naveed Qamar, Shokat Tareen, and Hafeez Sheikh have miserably failed to understand the ground reality of our economic situation such as the availability and better utilization of national resources which are more then sufficient if we declare the IMF & World Bank as persona non-grata, it is a known fact that for almost three decades tax collection or recovery issue has not improved due to poor implementation and too much political interference. What sort of results the IMF and other donors want Pakistan to deliver when out of an allocation at the federal level of every Rs. 100 46 % is spent on interest payment to IMF & World Bank and 33% is consumed as expanse on administration or extravaganza of the government remaining 21% can not produce magical result giving satisfaction of Rs. 100 level, so the economic law of diminishing return has started applying fast, why can't our leaders realize this hard fact to remedy the situation. Another hard fact, which suits the donors and our imported financial & economic managers is to create fear in the Pakistani nation in order to justify borrowing from foreign donors like IMF and other agencies; it is by design to bring Pakistan into their trap and demoralize the nation as to their possibility of survival.

Those clamouring that Pakistan is a failed state due to financial imbalance are the products of Western thinking and approach who believe that without West, we can not move an inch and declare our country as an over-burdened and a deficit economy. Just look at these figures, which are based on true facts and information gathered after reading the newspapers: Our Export income is around $ 22 billion, plus our official remittance from abroad is $ 12 billion, which makes it $ 34 Billion apart from un-official sources of remittance. Our annual imports, which can be reduced if our leaders are sincere in nation building program stands at $ 30 billion leaving a positive balance of $ 4 Billion. How can we go bankrupt or in default? Somebody has to ponder on these facts in their studies. This is not digestible for a student of Economics, who has the following figures on his table then why can't we close our doors and formulate our own home grown policies and work out our plans by using our own manpower, which has done wonderful in Middle East and USA. What we need is honest and sincere leaders following real austerity so that people from top to bottom start living a simple life style and curtails all unnecessary expenditure and pomp and show, this is the way to progress which our friends in China and India have adhered to achieve success, why can't we do the same?








No doubt our struggle in regard to our demand of birth right i.e. complete freedom of Kashmir from colonial rule and oppression has cost us heavily and consumed hugely both our men and material besides honor, dignity and chastity of our women folk. The long standing struggle against this festering forced occupation of our native land has seen many ups and downs so far. Some times it gains such a momentum that makes us to believe that the dawn of freedom from colonial rule is very near and now it is the matter of days not weeks and months but at times we feel pessimistic and our hopes and expectations vanish in the blue. All this is the confusion of our thinking. First of all we need to comprehend what we are demanding is not so easy that it will come easily on the platter. It is a hard task and needs continuous persistence, resistance and patience as well. Our understanding of the grave problem we are confronting shouldn't be limited to our speculative emotional outbursts. The demand though genuine historically and realistically based is very much ticklish, tedious, time consuming and at the same time asking for perpetual struggle on all fronts and sacrifices.

We are mistaken when we remind the revolution of 2008 and 2010 as failure. The fact is both these revolutionary missions changed the nature of the occupation. Now that international community realized the genuineness of the struggle of Kashmiris in respect of their demand of freedom. Diplomats and political leaders from all parts of the world thronged the valley, interacted with the players of the mission freedom and also suggested the honorable breakthrough as per the wishes and aspirations of the majority community of the state. International media including print and electronic including that of India camped here for on the spot assessment, analysis and reporting. Their viewpoints at the end of the day were carrying positive signals for the mission freedom. They even raised hue and cry against the innocent killings in Kashmir. The impact of these revolutions was so immense that forced the civil society of India to concede. Many among Indian politicians, intellectuals, social and human rights activists and media men openly came in to the support of Kashmir revolution and suggested their

establishment to free Kashmir from occupation. The establishment of India was forced to take Kashmir problem seriously. Many delegations under Indian Home Minister and parliamentary delegation of India was entrusted the job of fact finding. What they reported and stated afterwards was forced positive courtesy mass revolutions, though the forward movement in this regard is yet to be taken.

The nomination of interlocutors by Indian establishment added the feather. The astonishing part of it is the role of local pro-Indian parties in this regard. In the past they were stating that Kashmir is the inseparable part of India by virtue of the instrument of accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh with India and its solution lies in its complete amalgamation with India. Now the situation has altogether changed. The present Chief Minister of the State and the President of one of the leading local pro-India parties National Conference Mr. Omar Abdullah has declared it in categorical terms that Jammu Kashmir is an unresolved issue and has also contested the India's claims of complete integration of the State with India. He is of view that Kashmir should be resolved keeping in view the aspirations of its people honorably. The peoples Democratic Party led by Mufti Mohd Syed and Mehbooba Mufti has started using the same tone. Same is true about the other pro-Indian politicians who were so far reluctant in accepting Kashmir disputed. This new change in their thinking and mindset is not their desired making but the compulsion of the situation. These puppets were forced to change their stand vis-à-vis Kashmir. They miserably failed in taking forward the Indian agenda. Actually it was the mass revolution that braved the change and impacted thinking and mind of all.

The credit of India Pakistan coming closer and committing for resolution of all the disputes including the core dispute of Kashmir goes to this mass revolution. Seemingly India now wants to resume the stalled dialogue with Pakistan and Kashmiri representatives on a triangular pattern and also gives the indication of restoring the political sovereignty but devoid of territorial one. That means akin to National Conference demand of greater autonomy. Will it be acceptable? Is a big question. As far as the mission of pro freedom parties is concerned it is politico territorial sovereignty of Kashmir. They should sincerely and seriously remain committed to this mission and should in no way show any flexibility in this regard. Kashmir cannot forget that it has lost more than one lakh persons regardless of age and gender at the hands of Indian forces.

The chastity and dignity of women folk and elders respectively has been violated. More than ten thousand Kashmiri youth have disappeared after their arrest by Indian forces. Thousands are yet in jails some facing life and capital punishment. Disabled, widows and orphans are in thousands. Kashmiris cannot forget all this. So there is no option other than perpetual struggle but in a peaceful way which Kashmiri demonstrated during the past mass revolutions. Indians conspired much to give it a violent color but the resolve of the Kashmiri people failed them. They laid down their lives and showed to the world that their transition to non-violence is based on sincerity and will be adhered to strictly in future also. Striking and killing peaceful protestors obviously invited embarrassment to New Delhi. People from all over the world including India Civil Society rebuked and condemned the inhuman actions of Indian establishment and its local puppet administration with the result Indian establishment was forced to apologize for these killings.

Kashmiri people do need to strategize for such type of non-violent mass revolution. They have gains in it, not in violence. At all Kashmiris are not the marshal race so cannot with stand with such type of activities. We need to realize that violence invites death and destruction; not the solution. Coming to the point Kashmiris need to feel free and satisfied while reminding the gains of the past mass revolutions. These are to bear the fruits favorable for the mission freedom. The optimism about this must not die down. Those pin pointing these revolutions failure are not doing justice with Kashmiri people, planners of the revolutions, sufferers, killed, maimed, disabled and detained ones. One can realize the economic problems faced by Kashmiris but on that count these can not be deemed failure. India knows how challenging and detrimental these revolutions proved to the Indians interests. These eroded the basis of Indian occupation in Kashmir. That is why in the heart of hearts India still feels frightened and apprehensive of loosing the grip. So Indian establishment and its puppet regime in Kashmir is taking harsh steps for avoiding or disrupting the future prospects of such revolution. Because India knows it well how damaging it will be to its interest of occupation. But we need to keep the pot boiling in order to serve the purpose of Freedom.







Imperialism is a strange thing, by default it is taken as the dejure phenomenon for the smart and the beautiful. The west even coined the euphemistic terms like the Islamic Imperialism and the Oriental Militarism, whereas nothing of this sort exists in the Muslim world. The Madina state, the Abbasids, the Omayyad, the Moguls and even the Ottomans were not imperialist in their intent. They were not even expansionist.

At the maximum these were self satisfying monarchies with aggrandizing politics of the durbars. Is imperialism a western theory of subjugation? Modern history is full of western hegemony and drive for oriental and backyard colonialism. It is said that history repeats itself. Now it is believed that history comes in concentric circles; the Romans invaded the surrounding countries three millenniums ago on the plea that the Roman law applies the world over and authorized them to take action anywhere to secure the mainland from even future threats. What a historical analogy with the present day USA state establishment! The Uncle Sam has come to this region to probably teach a lesson or two in intellectual history. The AfPak is a strategy of American and its allies to create or achieve symmetry in the sphere of regional power politics. Amongst the states it is almost achievable, thanks to the strings attached with a tag of globalization, but things little more primitive than the states in this part of world are really difficult to control and tame. Here then come the drones, the Roman way or the traditional Ku Klux Klan with a bang. The Peloponnesian war is the most important historic simile of the present day problems in Afghanistan and the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Three things played important part in the conduct of this war: one, the repeated campaigning season of summer; second, the motivating and incisive speeches of both the Spartan and Athenian Generals at every stage of war; and thirdly, the absence of religion and theocratic inferences.

The AfPak policy if designed on these lines, then the chances of success are increased, so Uncle Sam gets a leaf from history and makes General Peterson read the Peloponnesian war. It is said that already the Thucydides is the favorite author of many American Generals engaged in this war and the Peloponnesian war is on their coffee tables. The situation on ground is getting more complexed, the political cam is not even creating a torque by a single degree.

Drones are proving to be an anathema to the complete matrix of this war, the protagonist who uses it as a force multiplier is actually loosing whatever little power left in the military system which is waging this war. Any war which has murkier tones of engagement is going to be an unending affair. The players, USA, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Taliban and the bold and beautiful CIA along ISI are protagonists. The March 17 drone attack emerges as another Gordian knot after the Raymond Davis case. It targeted the jirga of Madda Khel tribe which was called to solve an inter tribe sale of chromite mine at Datta Khel. Drones are being used as the unilateral weapon of choice; these are more of a political destabilizer than a force multiplier.

The Pakistan government has now reached a point where it cannot take more of these attacks. The military is also getting jittery on the subject. Over 700 drone attacks are enough to disturb the barometric readings of any nation or people. To counter the negative atmospherics of tribal region, especially the North Waziristan, General Kayani announced the construction of an 80 kilometer road from Bannu to Ghulam Khan, the border town at Pak Afghan border and the most important crossing place for trade and tribal movements since centuries. Another irritant in the regional distemper between Pakistan and USA is the presence of intelligence operatives in Pakistan.

Once the ISI chief protested on the issue at Washington, he was told that the number is difficult to reduce rather it is a matter which cannot be taken in Pakistan's perspective. On the other hand Pakistan has showed its willingness to allow Taliban to open an office in Turkey, magnanimity at its best. For USA it will be difficult to leave Afghanistan in the hands of Afghan national forces, which are still in its seminal stage. Afghanistan and the tribal region of Pakistan are at the historical equinox, the night prevails or the dawn emerges is a million dollar question which can only be answered by getting the priorities right at the grass root levels of engagement.








India's 2011 census report has many heartening things to say. More educated men and women indicate a surge in literacy. People are living longer than ever before. Stability can be seen in the size of family; couples are having fewer children. One exception to this hunky-dory picture is the steep fall in the number of girls. There are only 914 girls, 6 years old and under, for every 1,000 boys­ — not shocking if one considers that as many as 60,000 girls go missing every year. To use the word missing is a misnomer: The girls are killed often as soon as they are born in a society obsessed with boys. Many are aborted in the womb.

According to statistics, the sex ratio in India may be less slanted than it is in China. But while China's ratio has stabilized, India's is showing a disturbing trend. The gap between the number of boys and girls is widening alarmingly. Social activist Sabu George, who has been working on gender issues for a quarter century, says that the murder of girls is nothing but "gendercide." More than 8 million girls have been killed in the last decade alone, pulling the sex ratio from 927 in 2001 to 914 in 2011. "We will soon have the dubious distinction of being the nation eliminating the largest number of girls every year — along with being a place that has the largest number of starving children and the highest maternal mortality," George said. "In the coming decade, over 10 million girls will be killed if something is not done immediately to stop this massacre."

Although the government is well aware of the problem, it has done precious little to curb gendercide. And what is scary is that the economically well-off states like Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat have been in the forefront of murdering the girl child. Equally frightening is a widely prevalent misconception that sex selection will check population explosion. However, the truth is something else. Of the 5 million fetuses aborted in the last decade, 3 million were girls and 2 million were boys. So, it was a clear case of going in for a sex determination test merely to have a boy. Limiting the size of the family appears to have been the second priority. Unlike in China, where the one-child policy has been ruthlessly enforced by the dictatorial regime, India's democracy — except during the Emergency in the 1970s — has never involved coercing its population to go in for smaller families.

Of late, though, educated, elite Indians have been voluntarily having fewer children. They also have the money to get expensive scans done. If a couple already has a girl, they tend to get rid of the second child if the fetus happens to be a female. Sometimes, several female fetuses are aborted in this way. In the impoverished regions of India and among the poor, the birth of a girl is not welcome. It is looked upon with not just trepidation but a sense of doom. To start with, girls cannot be married without huge dowries or bride prices, and they are of little use to their own parents once they leave home. Girls once married are hardly expected to take care of their parents. Boys do, and their brides could bring home dowries — an attractive proposition in a nation of 1.3 billion people where 75 percent live in abject or semi-abject poverty.

In the final analysis, such a warped sex ratio can have serious repercussions. Rape, for instance, tends to increase in a community that has an unusually large number of single men. Other social maladies also rise. The 2003 Indian film "Motherland: A Nation Without Women" examined the impact of female feticide and female infanticide on the gender balance, and consequently on the stability and attitudes of society. Its plot bore some resemblance to real-life instances of gender imbalance and economics resulting in fraternal polyandry and bride-buying in some parts of India. The picture was grim and disturbing. Yet, there is hope.

With rising female literacy and employment, girls are not considered as burdensome as they once were. There is some societal reflection on the issue. The government needs to encourage more girls to attend school and provide financial incentives to those willing to bear and nurture girl babies. State subsidies for their education may be an added motivation to cherish girls. — Courtesy: The Japan Times









THERE needs to be a wider crackdown on corruption.

Given the extent to which corruption and graft pervade India from womb to tomb, as it is frequently said, it is going to take more than the arrest of Delhi Commonwealth Games chief Suresh Kalmadi to convince sceptics that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is finally showing some spine on the issue. Though regarded as incorruptible himself -- a rarity in India, where a third of parliamentarians face corruption charges -- Dr Singh's record in dealing with graft brings him little credit.

Recently, he backed away from appointing a new head of the Central Vigilance Commission only after the Supreme Court intervened to block his nominee because of long-standing corruption charges. He showed reluctance in dealing with his former telecommunications minister, arrested over the sale of 3G telecom licences estimated to have cost a staggering $40 billion in lost revenue. He was unmoved by recent disclosures of MPs handed millions of dollars in bribes before a major confidence vote on which his government's survival depended. To his credit, he has now agreed to push through a delayed plan for a Lokpal, a powerful new anti-corruption watchdog. But this came only after massive displays of public support emerged, especially among younger Indians sickened by their country's reputation, for a hunger strike by the Gandhian anti-graft campaigner Anna Hazare.

Kalmadi is an easy target. The Commonwealth Games, though they turned out fairly well in the end, were a national embarrassment. Even now, many service providers, including Australian companies, are waiting to be paid. Millions of dollars are owed and Australian and European diplomats in Delhi, in a joint letter, warned recently of the serious damage this is doing to the country's reputation. The consultancy firm KPMG has reported that corruption in India is now costing the economy billions of dollars and threatening growth prospects. Foreign investors fed up with the constantly outstretched hands and incessant demands for bribes are being driven away.

Dr Singh knows what that means. Dealing with the Commonwealth Games organisers is a start. But there needs to be a far wider crackdown to change age-old national habits before India can be accorded the place it believes it deserves in the global community.






Crisis has enveloped Australia's border security regime and as we watch the government lurch from denial to panic it is difficult to avoid the conclusion it is simply refusing to take control of the situation. People smugglers are deciding which asylum-seekers make the perilous journey to Australia; the number of arrivals dictates the need to construct detention centres in every state; and some of the detainees themselves have destroyed these facilities, escaped from others and challenged the government's processes and authority.

While Julia Gillard and her ministers mock Tony Abbott's pledge to "stop the boats", the Prime Minister herself said "my aim is to stop the boats before they leave foreign shores". On the face of it, stopping the boats is a bipartisan policy and election pledge voters expect to be honoured. The policy paralysis that sees the Gillard government seemingly doing nothing to bring about that end is inexplicable. The only policy it has proffered to deter the influx of boats is the farcical East Timor processing centre. The government's other actions are all designed simply to try to cope with the relentless arrivals. It is only now -- with buildings burnt, protests dragging out and panic setting in -- that Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is trying to change some rules. And, again, this is not designed to deter people seeking a place on a boat but rather to help manage the disaffected people already in detention.

The Australian shares the frustration of the public. Despite all the warnings and demands for action, the government continues to dither and we continue to see scores of people, including asylum-seekers, detention centre workers and emergency services personnel, placed in distress and sometimes in peril. We welcome the belated action from Mr Bowen to ensure those responsible for riots, violence and vandalism have their quest for permanent residency rejected, so they can either be deported or, if they are refugees, offered only temporary protection. Our concern, however, is that this initiative smacks of a stop-gap solution to deal with the consequences of a system at breaking point.

For all the toughness of the previous government, and all the criticism it endured, it put an end to the people-smuggling trade. Then, as leading refugee advocate Robert Manne has admitted, Labor softened our border protection regime and let the genie back out of the bottle. It is shameful that nearly 7000 asylum-seekers are now in detention. We also support a doubling of our orderly refugee intake along with tough measures to prevent boat arrivals. Any serious attempt to restore order must involve disincentives to boat arrivals by creating uncertainty about the people smugglers' prized product -- permanent residency. So Labor should immediately resume overseas processing at Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and consider reinstating a form of temporary visas for all boat arrivals -- both measures it scrapped in 2008.

If the only reason the Prime Minister won't contemplate these measures is because they are part of the Howard government legacy, she ought to get over that hang-up and implement a policy overhaul that once again gives Australia a border protection regime that works.






Australian political history shows the fraught nature of the relationship between premiers and police commissioners -- in various states, both premiers and commissioners have suffered dire consequences from falling out. So the testy posturing between Victoria's Chief Commissioner, Simon Overland, and Premier Ted Baillieu could have significant ramifications.

Just over two years ago, eyebrows were raised when then premier John Brumby and his police minister provided a picture opportunity pinning the insignia to the uniformed shoulders of their newly appointed top cop. This was seen by many police, lawyers and politicians as less than the requisite healthy detachment between senior police and politicians. Overland, from day one, was perceived as being close to the Labor government. He assiduously courted media coverage and contacts as he established a high profile. But now, facing difficulties, he has complained and instituted media bans, including against top-rating morning radio host Neil Mitchell.

The commissioner's relationship with the Liberal Baillieu government quickly has become strained, with the Premier effectively putting him on notice to lift his game. Overland has been dogged by controversy over various issues, from claims his releasing of intelligence undermined a murder investigation to suggestions he has not sufficiently distanced the Office of Police Integrity from the police force itself. Now he is confronting a range of challenges, including inherited computer problems that have allowed parole breakers to remain at large and allegedly commit murders, difficulties in recruiting increased numbers of officers, allegations that crime statistics have been manipulated and, apparently, severe tensions with some of his most senior staff, including his deputy commissioner Sir Ken Jones. On top of this there is a sense Overland is bunkering down and surrounding himself with allies, including former OPI investigations chief, now assistant commissioner, Graham Ashton and, potentially, current OPI deputy director Paul Jevtovic. Against this backdrop, the Premier has promised to scrap the OPI and establish a new all-powerful anti-corruption body. He has made it clear he expects the commissioner to resolve his many challenges. The onus is now on both men to deliver the right outcomes.







THE Guantanamo Bay dossiers on the Australians Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks, released by WikiLeaks, demonstrate two things. One is that, if tortured sufficiently or even indefinitely incarcerated, most people will eventually break, agreeing to admit to almost anything to avoid further pain. The second is that interrogators, if freed of the restraints imposed by common decency, the rules of evidence and judicial oversight, tend to believe what they want to believe of their captives. In Guantanamo Bay, the latter tendency was magnified by the extraterritorial isolation of the place and the horror of the terrorist attacks on New York's Twin Towers and Washington.

It is now clear that allegations on which the two Australians were held at the detention centre at the US naval base in Cuba were based on evidence that was often at best flimsy or unverified or, worse, tainted or plain wrong. A 2004 secret document from Guantanamo's commanding officer acknowledged that Habib's confessions while being held in Egyptian custody before being brought to Guantanamo - they included a plot to hijack a Qantas plane - had been made under ''extreme duress''. By Habib's account, this was a euphemism for sustained and brutal torture. The document says Habib subsequently denied all his ''confessions''. Nevertheless, the officer recommended he continue to be held because he was ''a high risk and of high intelligence value''. Five months later, Habib was released without charges being laid.

The Hicks document paints a similarly inflated,if not downright fanciful, picture of his significance, accusing him of links with various terrorist organisations and describing him as ''a highly skilled and advanced combatant, as well as a valuable asset and possible leader for extremist organisations''. One published report says the document even declares - wholly mistakenly, it seems - that in 1999 Hicks flew from Kosovo to take part in the conflict in East Timor. Does the old joke that military intelligence is an oxymoron have a grain of truth to it after all?

Still, having pleaded guilty to providing ''material support'' to terrorism and having served nine months' prison in Adelaide, Hicks has put Guantanamo behind him. Unfortunately, the US still has not. Despite the good intentions of President Barack Obama, there are still 172 people detained there, waiting to be transferred to other countries - as about 600 already have been - or, perhaps, tried. Overall, it seems that the majority of those sent to Guantanamo were low-ranking foot soldiers or innocent bystanders caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is an ugly story.





THE Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, is being criticised by the left and the right about his proposed change to laws about refugee visas, allowing him to deny permanent residency to anyone convicted of a criminal offence during their time in immigration detention centres. Unfortunately, his critics raise many valid points: it is unclear that what he proposes will help settle the rising pressures in our system of processing asylum claims. It gives every appearance of policy on the run, reeling from incident to incident.

Certainly, Bowen is responding to widespread public anger at asylum seekers rioting and setting fire to buildings in the detention camps at Christmas Island and Villawood. As minister responsible, he must also be dismayed at destruction of accommodation that will make overcrowding even more of a problem in what remains of the centres. As current legislation denies permanent protection visas only to those given a criminal sentence of a year or more's jail, Bowen wants the trigger to be any criminal conviction. The alternative he suggests for those deemed to have failed this ''character test'' is a temporary visa, subject to revocation at the government's discretion.

But this puts such asylum seekers back in the limbo his own government ended in 2008 for humanitarian reasons. And what happens then? The system is devolving into a two-stage test for asylum seekers. First they have to show a genuine risk of persecution in their homeland, entitling them to claim protection as a refugee. Then they have to pass an endurance test of confinement in a remote and crowded detention without cracking.

The first process is a lengthening one. Labor came to office setting a guideline of 90 days for assessing asylum claims. The average processing time is now many months longer than that. The second trial is one hard to assess, chiefly since the handling of the detention centres has been outsourced from government to private security operators. Clearly it is causing some inmates to explode in destructive protests.

Some of the protesters are people who have had their claims to refugee status rejected. We learn of one Iranian man at Villawood rejected, while his brother who arrived on the same boat has been accepted as a refugee and is out in the community. Is it not possible for the public to have some explanation, to make decisions less opaque and arbitrary-looking? And where asylum claims are rejected, why is deportation not more speedy? But is mandatory detention - the shibboleth neither side of politics wants to question - itself the problem?





THE state's police chief last week claimed he was the victim of a campaign to undermine him. To some extent this goes with the territory; Simon Overland is hardly the first chief commissioner with a modernising impulse to become a target of vested interests and petty grievances from both inside and outside police ranks. But when the government of the day lends tacit support to a campaign - promoted with barely disguised relish by some sections of the media - to destabilise the state's top cop, the future integrity and independence of the force is suddenly at stake.

Mr Overland shrewdly stressed he was ''certainly not pointing the finger at government'' in alleging ''ongoing attempts'' to undermine him during his eight years with Victoria Police. Yet Premier Ted Baillieu has effectively put the Chief Commissioner on notice in calling for a speedy fix to a series of bungled projects. ''It is no use and it is unacceptable to have problems like this hanging around for five, six years,'' Mr Baillieu said.

The ''problems'', involving a failure of police to communicate child protection concerns, a cost blowout for a replacement crime database and flaws in the existing database, which failed to identify parole violators, are undoubtedly serious matters. Significantly, however, the government has not accused Mr Overland of serious operational failures in policing. Hassles with IT systems - stated to be the primary cause of dissatisfaction with Mr Overland's performance - do not constitute sufficient grounds for the public dressing down of a police chief. Any number of government-appointed officials ought to fear for their positions if it were. By sticking the boot in at a time when Mr Overland was also under attack for his managerial style, amid claims some key deputies were set to resign, the Premier naturally fuelled speculation that Mr Overland's days in the top job may be numbered. He also risked damaging public confidence in the force more generally - a move which could backfire strongly.

Whatever the agendas of those pushing against Mr Overland, it must be recognised that he has, in the main, performed creditably as Victoria's top cop, particularly on issues such as late-night violence in the CBD. And if he has offended some in the new government by speaking frankly on issues such as the dubious plan to put armed guards on all metropolitan railway stations, that is to his credit. The independence of his office must be respected and defended.






HOW significantly Labor's position has shifted on the asylum-seeker debate over the past four years can be seen by the transition from once encouraging promises to what is now harsh reality. In the months before the 2007 federal election, with the stigma of the Howard government's Pacific solution vivid in the public mind, Labor's assurance it would hold asylum seekers for no more than a matter of months for health and security checks and assessment of their claims was welcome and timely. How, then, does the Gillard government account for the policy momentum that has led to the aggravated tensions of the past week, symbolised, but by no means confined to, the fiery riots at the Villawood detention centre? Not with compassion or understanding, but with hard-hearted rhetoric and by toughening immigration laws.

Late yesterday, three asylum seekers remained on the roof at Villawood, refusing to come down until their claims are reassessed. They are as short of food as Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is short on patience. He not only says the government will not ''engage with people while they are engaged with activity on top of a roof'', but intends to go further and, according to some reports, make retrospective changes to the Migration Act. These would include an increase in the penalty for manufacture, use, or possession of a weapon inside immigration detention from three years' jail to five, and, more contentiously, the automatic denial of a permanent protection visa to any detainee involved in criminal action - raising the likelihood of a return to the temporary protection visa system of the Howard years. The amendments would be backdated to yesterday, meaning they would apply to anyone convicted over the protests at Villawood (22 detainees have been transferred to a maximum security jail, and are yet to be charged) and on Christmas Island.

Mr Bowen's reasoning for these changes could be viewed in two ways. The first is that he is acting genuinely in the interests of public safety, or what he calls ''a more significant disincentive for this sort of destructive behaviour''. The second, more likely, reason is that the government is applying a conveniently simplistic political solution to what is a far more problematic and complex policy towards boat people that requires a different sort of resolution. Mr Bowen's instant fix-it proposal is designed to appeal to those of narrow view - those who regard asylum seekers as queue-jumping foreign hordes rather than desperate and vulnerable people who have fled their countries in fear of their lives. The government risks an uneasy alliance with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's stop-the-boats mantra - and even Mr Abbott says he wants to see more details before supporting the legislation.

Mr Bowen should have been more reflective. A good start would be to consider why the view from the roof at Villawood reveals a panorama of such disruption, misery and common concern. Why has a detainee on Christmas Island sewn his lips together? Why are 12 detainees on a hunger strike at a detention centre in the Kimberley? Why so much public disquiet? The short answer comes down to time and efficiency. In spite of its assurances to shorten detention times and speed up assessments, the government has done little to improve matters for asylum seekers. It is little wonder this has led to increased frustration and the inevitable explosive tensions. How else to draw attention to flaws in the processing system and unreasonable time behind razor wire? As psychiatrist Tanveer Ahmed has said, ''Torture, persecution or life-threatening journeys do not seem to compare to the frustration of dealing with the bureaucracy.'' The longer answer involves a political change of heart, and treating asylum seekers as people who should be regarded with fairness and humanity.






Truth and accountability are not divisible, and a single failure of international justice is also a collective one

When Richard Goldstone, the judge who headed a UN fact-finding mission to Gaza, partially recanted last month – an act that was disowned by fellow members of the mission – the saga was used as Exhibit A in the case against the UN. The organisation, it was claimed, was so inherently biased against Israel that it lacked the moral authority to investigate it. Where was the Goldstone report about Sri Lanka, some asked?

A UN panel has just produced such a report about the carnage of civilians which took place two years ago when government forces crushed the Tamil Tigers. It is as hard-hitting as anything Goldstone produced, and therefore is just as likely to be shelved. The point is that truth and accountability, let alone international justice, are not divisible. One country's ability to bury the evidence of war crimes endangers how civilians are treated in all other conflicts. A single failure of international justice is also a collective one.

That there is credible evidence that government soldiers targeted civilians, shelled hospitals and attacked aid workers in the final months of the war against the Tamil Tigers is indisputable. That the Tigers used civilians as human shields and shot those attempting to flee the carnage at point-blank range is equally true. Tens of thousands died as a result of these twin brutalities. The zone that the government established in the north-east of the country in the final months of its civil war was an area where savagery was organised on a daily basis. Civilians queueing at a food distribution centre would be shelled while President Mahinda Rajapaksa's office instructed the army to stop what it claimed it had not been doing. It was a no-journalist, no-aid-worker zone, but it was anything but a no-fire zone.

Two years on, the goal has to be to establish an independent inquiry into these events. The Sri Lankan government has consistently opposed the UN, and at one point organised demonstrations against UN staff in Colombo. It has established two ad hoc bodies, but no one has been held accountable. Its supporters claim that anything more trenchant would endanger the peace that has reigned on the island since. All of these arguments are self-serving.

That leaves the UN itself. The secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, claims he lacks the authority to order an inquiry into the mass killings without the consent of the Sri Lankan government, which is not a member of the international criminal court, or a decision by an appropriate international forum of member states. Human Rights Watch is right to disagree. Having fought to establish the panel, the UN secretary general has a responsibility to finish what he started.





Some students are finding that this is one market where the customer is always wrong

Slowly but surely, the demand for university continues to grow. Amid tales of woe from unemployed graduates, and even while a demographic dip is making 18-year-olds something of a rare species, new figures from the clearing house Ucas reveal that applications have, once again, crept up. The effect of the great recession, which has greatly swelled the number of hopefuls in the last few years, has been not only sustained but somewhat intensified, with another 2% increase. But hopes may rise and be dashed – if the means to fulfil them do not keep pace. Record numbers who have bought the university dream – youngsters prepared to work hard and be saddled with debts – could be disappointed.

The clustering of English university fees at £9,000 is of obvious significance to would-be students, and is also deeply embarrassing for ministers who had promised that such stratospheric levies would be the exception, not the rule. It is not in itself, however, quite as ruinous for the sector's finances as some over-excited reports suggest. Not every student gets a costly loan to cover their fees, and not every student's fees will be levied at the full whack, thanks to scholarship schemes. Factoring these in, and remembering also that the exchequer will eventually recoup much of the money that it lends out, the budgetary hole that results is measured in millions as opposed to the panicked predictions of billions. Even so, there is a gap, and it admits no room for expansion to meet rising demand. Indeed, with the large budget for scientific research properly protected, it will probably require fresh retrenchment from the freeze on numbers which the coalition has already imposed.

The deepest pangs will afflict those who receive rejection letters over the next few months, but there could also be frustration in store for many getting the green light. After a full quarter-century during which numbers have increased continually and funding only falteringly, universities are already creaking. Few students paying the full price in a market that is rigged against them will be satisfied by the service they receive. Every last crumb of direct support is being removed from the teaching of arts and social sciences, on the strength of the Browne report, a technocratic document which did not contain the word "humanities". Many who stump up the full £9,000 in exchange for a few weekly hours of crowded lectures and photocopied reading lists will soon cotton on to the reality that they are cross-subsidising laboratories and field trips on other courses. The government's big idea is for profit-hungry providers to set up shop, and drive rip-off colleges to the wall. It might work in theory, but it will never do so in practice for as long as the Treasury continues to impose manifold restrictions on the creation of the surplus places this would involve. The new educational market gets tangled up in other ways with the quotas imposed by a cash-strapped Whitehall. The universities that more people would like to attend do not have the freedom to answer that demand, and the old notion that good A-level grades should be a passport to a good college, which is already fading fast, will become a distant memory. Even as students are metamorphosed into paying punters, some are finding that this is one market where the customer is always wrong.

With much of the architecture of the loan system specified in law, there is limited freedom to address its emergent shortcomings. So desperate is the scramble to rescue nice ideas about choice from being entirely drowned in dark financial waters that some people are even asking whether top colleges might start auctioning some share of their places to those English students with the deepest pockets, a previously unthinkable thought that was unthinkable for good reason. The university dream risks souring into a politically poisonous mix of debt and disappointment.





If the AMC loses its entire £500,000 grant, its good work, unrivalled passion and expertise will stop next spring

A few months ago David Cameron called for different ethnic communities to find out more about each other. However flawed the prime minister's views on multiculturalism might be, this was an excellent suggestion. So why has the Arts Council cut all of its funding to one organisation that has done most to bring different cultures in contact with each other? For the past 20 years the Asian Music Circuit has been bringing over some of the best musicians and dancers from India, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Afghanistan and other Asian countries. The hallmarks of an AMC show are breadth of knowledge, imagination and a touch of wit: they put on jazz concerts featuring Bengali flautists alongside Texan guitarists; they unleash Rajasthani dancers in Kensington Gardens; and when Prince Charles turns up to a performance they greet him with a camel. Such cheek runs alongside a commitment to spreading under-exposed Asian music far and wide. AMC artists play not only in the big cities but from Cornwall to the Hebrides. Asian classical and folk concerts will never make an organiser rich, but the tiny group matches its Arts Council cash with private money. It has opened a museum of Asian music aptly described by the culture minister, Ed Vaizey, as "brilliant". If the AMC loses its entire £500,000 grant, all this good work stops next spring – and what will disappear with it is unrivalled passion and expertise. This is madness. The Arts Council should reconsider – and reverse its decision.







The relationship between Thailand and Cambodia continues to deteriorate. The two countries' militaries have been trading blows since February, when a dispute over a temple erupted in armed clashes. A cease fire maintained the peace for a couple of months, but it collapsed last week. The trigger is a disputed border, but the real cause is long-standing enmity that politicians on both sides are exploiting for domestic purposes. The crisis is a test not only of the political maturity of the two countries' leadership, but of the meaning and relevance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is forced to stand idly by as two of its members make a mockery of the group's commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes.

The kingdoms of Thailand and Cambodia, two proud civilizations with long and rich histories, have contested for regional pre-eminence for centuries. One source of tension is the 900-year old Preah Vihear temple, which the International Court of Justice decided in 1962 was located on Cambodian territory, a ruling that inflamed nationalists in Thailand. In 2008, the United Nations declared the temple to be a World Heritage Site, a ruling that increased tensions between the two nations. While ownership of the temple may have been decided - legally at least - a 14.6-sq.-km patch of land surrounding it is still contested.

Given the sensitivity of the site, periodic clashes there are not unusual. There was fighting when Cambodia asked the U.N. to designate the temple a World Heritage Site but it was limited. This February, for reasons that are still unclear, conflict broke out for several days and ran through several cease fires. By the time the fighting stopped, 11 troops had been killed, dozens more wounded and 30,000 people had been displaced.

That cease fire held until last week, when troops again exchanged fire, this time at a temple complex some 150 km west of Preah Vihear. Again, the precise cause is unknown. Both sides claim the other violated its territory or shot at its troops. By Sunday, the exchange of artillery fire had resulted in 12 deaths, injuries to dozens more and the evacuation of thousands of civilians.

Cambodia has accused Thailand of using spy planes, heavy artillery, cluster munitions and chemical weapons. Thai officials "categorically deny" all the charges. (The Thais were also accused of using cluster munitions - which are banned by over 100 nations - in the February clashes. The Thai government eventually conceded that they had used such munitions, but neither it nor the Cambodian government has banned their use.)

After the February incidents, the two governments agreed to allow unarmed military observers from Indonesia to be posted along their disputed border. That arrangement has not been put in place, primarily because Thailand has insisted that the issue should be resolved bilaterally. After last week's clashes, Bangkok apparently reversed course and agreed to the stationing of observers, but not in the disputed area around Preah Vihear.

Thailand argues that bilateral mechanisms exist to solve the problem and accuses Cambodia of trying to internationalize the dispute to shift the negotiation dynamics. There is probably some truth to that. But the real driving force behind the clashes is the intense nationalism in both countries. The Cambodian government is eager to find a rallying point for its people and Thailand's readiness to usurp a part of Khmer patrimony is as fat a target as Prime Minister Hun Sen can hope for.

Meanwhile in Bangkok, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva assumed office on the wave of protests against allies of deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who, while popular among Thailand's poor and disenfranchised, is despised by the country's elites. A key charge against the pro-Thaksin forces was their acquiescence to the designation of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site. That was considered a betrayal of Thai sovereignty and subsequent governments had to repudiate the move.

Mr. Abhisit is anticipating national elections this summer to claim a mandate. And Mr. Hun Sen has upped the ante by hiring Mr. Thaksin as his own economic advisor, adding insult to injury. Compromise, always difficult, looks virtually impossible for now.

There is more at stake here than the political fortunes of two leaders. ASEAN too is being tested. For all its faults, the regional organization has always been able to assert that it has maintained the peace in Southeast Asia. The ASEAN way may be inefficient, but it has built confidence and prevented war among its members. As Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa - who is on the point since Jakarta currently occupies the chair of ASEAN - says, "The use of force has no place in relations among ASEAN member countries." Yet, that is exactly what is happening between Thailand and Cambodia.

If ASEAN cannot prevent two member states - one of which was a founding member - from violating one of its fundamental principles, then the organization is more bankrupt than any had assumed. ASEAN must demand more from its members and reassert its legitimacy. Failure to resolve this dispute peacefully bodes ill for Thailand, Cambodia and ASEAN when the two countries dispute nearly 27,000 sq. km of water in the Gulf of Thailand along with other parts of their shared land border.







NEW, York — Ignorance is the root of all evil, according to Plato, who also famously gave us a still-current definition of its opposite: knowledge. For Plato, knowledge is "justified true belief." That definition is worthy of consideration as we reflect on the perils of ignorance in the 21st century.

Plato thought that three conditions must be met in order for us to "know" something: the notion in question must actually be true; we must believe it (because if we do not believe something that is true, we can hardly claim that we know it); and, most subtly, it must be justifiable - there must be reasons why we believe the notion to be true.

Consider something that we all think we know: the Earth is (approximately) round. This is as true as astronomical facts get, particularly because we have sent artificial satellites into orbit and seen that our planet is indeed roundish. Most of us (except for a lunatic fringe of flat-earthers) also believe this to be the case.

What about the justification of that belief? How would you answer if someone asked you why you believe that the Earth is round?

The obvious place to begin would be to point to the aforementioned satellite images, but then our skeptical interlocutor could reasonably ask if you know how those images were obtained. Unless you are an expert on space engineering and imaging software, you may have some trouble at that point.

Of course, you could fall back on more traditional reasons to believe in a round Earth, like the fact that our planet projects a round-looking shadow on the moon during eclipses. Naturally, you would have to be in a position to explain - if challenged - what an eclipse is and how you know that. You see where this could easily go: if we push far enough, most of us do not actually know, in the Platonic sense, much of anything. In other words, we are far more ignorant than we realize.

Socrates, Plato's teacher, famously goaded the Athenian authorities by maintaining that he was wiser than the Oracle at Delphi, who claimed to be the wisest, because he, unlike most people (including the Athenian authorities), knew that he did not know anything.

Whether Socrates' humility was sincere or a secret joke at the expense of the powers that be (before said powers put him to death after tiring of his irreverence), the point is that the beginning of wisdom lies in the recognition of how little we really know.

Which brings me to the paradox of ignorance in our era: on the one hand, we are constantly bombarded by expert opinion, by all sorts of people - with or without Ph.D. after their name - who tell us exactly what to think (though rarely why we should think it). On the other hand, most of us are woefully inadequate to practice the venerable and vital art of baloney detection (or, more politely, critical thinking), which is so necessary in modern society.

You can think of the paradox in another way: We live in an era when knowledge - in the sense of information - is constantly available in real time through computers, smart phones, electronic tablets, and book readers. And yet we still lack the basic skills of reflecting on such information, of sifting through the dirt to find the worthy nuggets. We are ignorant masses awash in information.

Of course, it may be that humanity has always been short on critical thinking. That's why we keep allowing ourselves to be talked into supporting unjust wars (not to mention actually dying in them), or voting for people whose main job seems to be to amass as much wealth for the rich as they can get away with. It is also why so many people are duped by exceedingly costly sugar pills sold to them by homeopathic "doctors," and why we follow the advice of celebrities (rather than real doctors) about whether to vaccinate our kids.

But the need for critical thinking has never been as pressing as in the Internet era. At least in developed countries - but increasingly in underdeveloped ones as well - the problem is no longer one of access to information, but of the lack of ability to process and make sense of that information.

Unfortunately, colleges, high schools, and even elementary schools are unlikely to mandate introductory courses in critical thinking on their own. Education has increasingly been transformed into a commodity system, in which the "customers" (formerly students) are kept happy with personalized curricula while being prepared for the job market (rather than being prepared to be responsible human beings and citizens).

This can and must change, but it requires a grass-roots movement that uses blogs, online magazines and newspapers, book clubs and meet-up clubs, and anything else that might work to promote educational opportunities to develop critical-thinking skills. After all, we do know that it is our future.

Massimo Pigliucci is a professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. © Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences, 2011.







Have the alarm bells been sounded on Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC)? This is the question millions of cricket fans will want answers to. Irrespective of how the team will perform on the upcoming tour of England, the bureaucrats running the game in the "Permanent Committee" posing as an interim one, have messed up so much that cricket has become more about making money than playing the game well.

That captain Kumar Sangakkara quit his role just two days after the World Cup followed by vice captain Mahela Jayewardena and the four-member selection committee throwing in the towel, only goes to show that the interim committee headed by D.S. de Silva and secretary Nishantha Ranatunga are living on borrowed time. The SLC, which was described as the most corrupt in the country by former sports minister C.B. Ratnayake in the presence of local and international journalists, must be  among most privileged public institutions in the world to carry on in the face of debacles and resignations, perhaps causing more embarrassment to the people who installed them undemocratically.

If purists cry out that the 1996 World Cup triumph was what paved the way for corruption to set in, a worst scenario has now been created with the Indian Premier League (IPL) further corrupting the system. Some of the players had openly said on Indian television that they were in an uncomfortable position to play in the World Cup final against India and then having to go back to their second and more lavish employer the IPL six days later.

Is this not enough to hold a full inquiry into the conduct of some of the players who are currently part of the Sri Lanka team and those who have retired with an eye on the IPL. But will any inquiry succeed?

It is no secret that the Rajapaksa regime procured the services of several Sri Lankan players to coax voters on its behalf at the last presidential election. It was a case of payback time for the players and with Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage demanding that members of the Sri Lanka team abort the IPL and return to prepare for the England tour; no further proof is required as to the depth to which the establishment has fallen.

Given the relationship that Sri Lankan players have cultivated with the Rajapaksa regime, it appears that Minister Aluthgamage is like a batsman without a bat  as the players may be just a telephone call away from settling the issue and hurling a bouncer at the sports boss.

Unfortunately for cricket, its most vocal crusader -- Arjuna Ranatunga has been written off the scorebook of the Rajapaksa regime because of his political affiliations. Little or nothing of what he says will be taken seriously. Now being a politician, we don't hold a bat for Ranatunga who also thrived in the interim committee not so long ago. But we agree with his warning given recently on local television where he said Sri Lanka might end up like Zimbabwe given the extent to which cricket in Sri Lanka has been politicized. Last Monday Ranatunge warned that an ill-prepared Sri Lanka team in crisis faced the danger of getting thrashed in test series in England and might thus not find a place in next year's World Test Championship.








Much has been written about the panel, its appointment in the context of resounding defeats at the UN of attempts to censure Sri Lanka and an approval vote of effectively defeating terrorism, the mal-intent of the UN Secretary General, the lack of adequate substantiation of allegation and the politically motivated nature and therefore unreliability of sources.   Need one talk about double standards?  Nalin De Silva is in a sense correct when he says that there isn't a trashcan in Sri Lanka that will not be disrespected by having to accommodate the panel report.  Equally vociferous has been the voices of support.

Kumar David has stated that the meat of the report was already known to him.  I doubt if Kumar was anywhere near the final battle but he possibly prayed. This was not out of a love for the LTTE but a manifest opposition to the regime and paranoia about imagined notions about what is Sinhala and what is Buddhist.  His salutations, which conspicuously are devoid of any decent Marxist caveats regarding global political economy and machinations therein, are therefore framed by chagrin at eventual outcome. 

Among the many comments, I was particularly struck by two: a) Kalana Senaratne's in ('Revisiting accountability') and b) Gomin Dayasri's in the Daily Mirror ('Constructing the moat to prevent a foreign crossing into Sri Lanka).  Both have excellent credentials of holding balanced views and for submitting well-argued, no-nonsense views.  Their brand of nationalism, in my opinion, is not discoloured by regime-loyalty but are motivated by concerns about democracy, accountability, transparency, sovereignty and the overall health of institutions, meaningful citizenship and societal well-being. 

Kalana argues that 'a serious internal or international accountability mechanism will not succeed in the present context, and that needs to be accepted and acknowledged'.   He points out, also, the danger of acknowledging and even endorsing "the precedent set by the UNSG in convening a Panel, getting its 'advice', and making the ensuing report a tool which allows Western powers to exert pressure on small and less-powerful States".  This point will not be lost on Russia and China and it is incumbent on the Government, in its response to underline it and moreover convince the UN membership of the long-term implications, which include the establishment of yet another avenue to undermine the integrity and indeed the mandate of the UN. 

While stressing the need for a credible truth and reconciliation commission with adequate safeguards, Kalana points out that just as the Ki-moon panel's 'independence' is suspect, so too is that of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).  If Ki-moon's initiative is fraught with malice, then it can be argued that President Mahinda Rajapaksa's intentions weren't benign either.  On the other hand, the point cannot be stressed enough that the integrity of all such bodies can be similarly questioned.  There is always an appointing authority and no one, after all, can be called absolutely apolitical. 

Absolute independence and absolute integrity are obtained, I believe, not by label but in the process, the transparency, the rigor exercised in questions posed and in the analysis and the cogency of deliberation-outcome.   For example, when President Ranasinghe Premadasa appointed a commission to look into the activities of NGOs, it was widely argued that the purpose was to target possible political opponents, a charge buttressed by the fact that among the commissioners was a strong Premadasa loyalist.  One of the other commissioners, former Supreme Court judge, Rajah Wanasundara himself is supposed to have had doubts about this person's integrity but later expressed surprise at how his fellow commissioner conducted himself. 

Gomin Dayasri concurs with Kalana with respect to the mal-intent of the Ki-moon initiative and the scandalously anti-intellectual character of the report.  He agrees that the Government has erred in approaching the entire issue.  He adds, moreover, that the conclusions of the panel were expected, not on account of their validity but the pernicious nature of the entire process.  Most importantly, however, Gomin is in agreement with Kalana about the need for a credible and effective domestic mechanism to investigate allegation, ascertain truth, recommend corrective measures should such be deemed necessary and a bringing to book of wrongdoers where guilt is established.  'The road show must be in Sri Lanka according to our laws by our judges so that we do not barter our sovereignty,' he insists, just as Kalana implies. 

Sri Lanka needs to recognize the realities surrounding UN politics and be mindful of location in the grand structures pertaining to political economy.  The Ki-moon panel has clearly erred in favour of emotion and happily gone along with the crass political machinations of anti-Sri Lanka elements in the international community.  All the more reason, I believe, that Sri Lanka opts for reason.  Reasonable assessment and relevant refutation alone will not win the day of course.  Even if, as Gomin points out, Sri Lanka missed a trick by appointing the LLRC after it became known that there were pernicious international moves to exact revenge for effectively preventing the preferred outcome of such movers, it is never too late to set things right. Not because some outsider wants it but we need it, even if not to deal with today's issues, but the problems that may arise in the tomorrows that our children will have to inhabit.      

The malice of Ki-moon and his backers probably comes from a need to effect regime change. It has, sadly for these people, only served to strengthen the regime further.  This is where Mahinda Rajapaksa can once again shed 'politician' and emerge as 'statesman'.  This is why the LLRC must exercise its mandate to the maximum and if they do, why the President should implement to the last letter the recommendations made. 

A thoughtful response to the Ki-moon report replete with substantiation will probably be issued in the days to come, but that would be half-victory in the struggle to regain lost ground.  Capturing the moral high ground requires the Government to do justice by the citizenry.  International thug nations care little about legal niceties and this we all know.  We will not fight them off by refuting argument.  We can hold our ground, though, as we did during the last phase of the war.  It requires the unity of the people, the kind of solidarity that goes beyond 'being better and more popular than the UNP'.  

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who

can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it





Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne said the government would scale down the emergency regulations next month with due consultation with the judiciary. The state of emergency was re-imposed in Parliament in August 2005 following the assassination of then Foreign Affairs Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. Since then, it has been extended every month through a majority vote in the House.

After the end of the war in May, 2009, there were requests from civil and international communities and groups for the government to scale down these regulations.  Accordingly, in May last year, the government rescinded the power (under the state of emergency) to impose curfews in the country. Also, the government removed the provisions that related to propaganda activities.

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) parliamentary group leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake

We ask the Government not to make the Emergency Regulations lenient but totally remove it. It has been two years since end of the war but the Government continues to use it baselessly; mainly to crackdown on forces in the civil society and personalities who oppose the views and thinking of the Government. The only thing the Government should do is to remove it. They have to remove it entirely. Since the end of the war we have voted against it. I proposed to remove it bringing a special debate on the issue in parliament. Not only the Emergency Regulations but also the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is also a huge issue. The both of them are used together to crackdown on the civil society and dissenting viewpoints. Both of it should be abolished or in the least discontinued.

United National Party (UNP) MP Dayasiri Jayasekara

If we look back, we can clearly see in a gazette notification issued before the end of the war; the President is criticizing the protests held against the Government which we believe is the true intention behind extending the term of the emergency regulations. But after the war we expected these regulations to be removed but that did not happen. The emergency regulations are used to crackdown on the public. The emergency regulations are a threat to democracy, lawlessness and a declining trend in the rule of law we witness daily are the by products of the emergency regulations.

When we held a peaceful protest against the Government on April 4, our vehicles were damaged and we were threatened by the law enforcement authorities. The law does not apply to all alike.

The Government stating that it is looking to make the emergency regulations lenient comes as a result of the Ban Ki moon's expert panel report on Sri Lanka. The emergency regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is depriving the citizens of their right to freedoms as in the country's constitution. The statement by Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne implies that the Government is trying to fulfil a condition on Moon's report.

The removal of emergency regulations will pave the way to democracy and an independent judiciary which is a need of the hour. Together with removing the emergency regulations we should fight for an independent police and election commission to ensure the rights of the public which is also pointed out in the UN' expert panels report.

Director of the Media Center for National Security Lakshman Hulugalle

I'm not aware on that the statement the Prime Minister had made. So far the Ministry of Defence has not issued any statement or direction with regard to this to the MCNS. However it is a decision made by the Government at the Security Council meeting. They always assess the security situation of the country before making decision concerning the emergency regulations. Therefore the emergency regulations are implemented according to Security Council assessment and intelligence reports. The decisions are not up for discussion and the reasons are not made public. Although it's been discussed every month at the parliament when the emergency regulations are extended and the reasons are on the Hansard. It is never extended without a reason, reasons for extension are given at the beginning of the debate by the Prime Minister who  presents it to the parliament based on the decisions arrived at the Security Council meeting.

Democratic Left Front (DLF) Leader and Minister of National Languages and Social

Integration Vasudeva Nanayakkara

The emergency regulations have been relaxed to a very good extent. It now remains at a bare minimum. Things like the right of meetings, demonstration in activities of the public even in opposition of the Government have been allowed. Further removal of conditions relating to the emergency regulations will be presented next time in parliament. I would recommend to further relax the regulations in lieu of taking them out in future. These were relaxed two months ago long before the so called expert panel's report therefore it can be said that it has had no bearing on our work. The so called expert panel has not taken note of these relaxations, civil and political rights.





UN Organization sources say that there are a number of similarities between the report of the panel appointed by Ban Ki-moon to investigate war crime charges in Sudan where there was a conflict, and that of the panel of experts on war crimes pertaining to Sri Lanka (SL) . The UN report on the war crime charges against Sudan was released in November 2009.   Sudans Ambassador to the UN Abdel Mahmoud reacted angrily to the panel's report saying , ' Khartoum will demand that the Security Council terminates the panel's mandate. They are just representatives of Western Intelligence agencies'. He told Reuters, 'we are fed up with this Committee .Our position is a total rejection of this report …..'

Sudan too like the SL Govt. reposed immense confidence in Russia and China at the UN security council: China was taking 10 per cent of its oil requirements from Sudan. Besides, China was  the largest supplier of arms to Sudan, and the leading foreign investor with annual trade value of roughly  one billion dollars. Russia also had modest weapon sales and oil deals with Sudan. Russian Companies are even sub- contractors to the Chinese - the pipeline that will be built by Russians will be built out of Chinese money. Sudan therefore anticipated Russia and China to oppose any proposals brought to the UN security Council to impose sanctions against it. When a resolution to impose sanctions on Sudan was once brought before the UN security Council, Russia delivered 12 MiG 29 jet fighters to Sudan. 'Russia is against sanctions primarily because those sanctions make some people happy, and they hurt Russian trade' , a Russian military expert declared.

Russia and China always insisted that, as there was a peace process in progress in Sudan, sanctions will militate against the peace process, while also adding that the UN must contribute towards reconciliation within the country rather than obstructing it. Yet, in 2006 when the Security Council imposed financial and travel sanctions on Sudan - Russia and China instead of using their veto powers only abstained from voting. Consequently, the resolution was passed. Even when resolutions were brought against Libya - Russia and China just abstained allowing  the resolutions to be  passed. This was not Sudans President Omar Al Bashir expected. His hopes to teach a lesson or two to the Western countries including America by enlisting Russia, China and Arab countries (the Arab league) began to wane only from that point of time. He carried on a one party rule after jailing the country's opposition leaders, stifling and suppressing the media, and driving out the foreign NGOs. In 2010, he contested the Presidential elections and won polling 68 per cent of the votes amidst allegations of the International community that the elections were corrupt and ridden with malpractices, frauds and vote 'plundering'. When the International community began sidelining Sudan, sanctions were imposed on it and an international arrest warrant was issued by the Int. Criminal court (ICC) against him in 2009,  Bashir loudly proclaimed that 68 per cent of his people are with him .

Bashir won the Presidential election on 15th April 2010, but on 12th July  2010,  an arrest warrant was issued against  him based  on genocide charges by the ICC. This was apart from the warrant issued for his arrest in 2009. Interestingly, such a warrant was issued while Rome treaty was not yet ratified although Sudan had joined it and was a signatory  to the Rome statute governed by the ICC . Incidentally, SL has not signed the Rome treaty. When the ICC was on the trail of Sudan's President, the latter hired a British Lawyer to advise them on setting up some type of internal procedure of investigation to satisfy the International community. But that did not bear him fruit as the ICC issued an arrest warrant against him.

Sudans President similarly made attempts to lobby the Non aligned movement (NAM) countries to halt the UN from proceeding with the war crime investigations. But that also failed. In the end , the Sudanese President who went into hiding in fear of the ICC arrest warrant had to yield to the intense pressures brought to bear on him by the Western countries including America. Finally, he had to hold a fair and free people's referendum in respect of South Sudan where the conflict was raging.

At the people's referendum, the South Sudanese overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence from Sudan. The region is set to become independent on 9th July 2011. Some interpret the report of the panel appointed by Ban ki Moon to investigate SL war crimes as akin to an attempt to draw a parallel between SL and Sudan. It is however impossible to think that this view is correct. In all probability India will never allow that to happen. India is now in the Security Council , and America has as a matter of policy declared it will never allow SL to be divided. Hence the SL Govt. ought to take precautions against following the tactics of Sudan in respect of the UN report. Sudan is more important than SL to Russia and China. Yet, they permitted America to do what it wished against Sudan.

In the circumstances ,it is well for the SL Govt. to bear these facts in mind  and avert the disaster that can result  by lobbying  the NAM countries , enlisting  the support of  Russia and China , paying heed to the advice of British PR Firms  , deluding the International community and  colliding  with the Western countries including America .

It should on the contrary, win over the Western countries including America via India and defeat the war crime charges .





The latest revelations from WikiLeaks pertaining Guantanamo are anything but surprising. Yet they are potent enough to reiterate the well-known fact of the gross human rights violations that were enacted in the name of the war on terror.

The fact that many of the detainees at the infamous Gitmo were innocent has now (been reconfirmed.

Of the total detainees, only 220 were deemed to pose a high security risk whereas 380 were profiled as low ranking guerrillas. The icing on the cake is the 150 people who were clearly innocent and picked up from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Worse is the fact that these men were detained for years without any reason recorded for detention. Their crime, being at the wrong place at the wrong time and thus routinely picked up by intelligence agents.

The furore created over the exposure of the humiliations and torture subjected on Iraqi prisoners by US military personnel at the infamous Iraqi prison, Abu Ghraib in Iraq may have died down in the mainstream media but its real impact is still being felt by US policymakers. Not only did it incite wide-scale anti-US sentiments it continues to provide extremists a major recruiting and radicalising advantage. Similarly, did Guantanamo. The continued existence of Gitmo that now hosts about 180 detainees deemed too high a security risk to be transferred elsewhere especially to homeland America, is the added (fuel on the fire.

With the latest Gitmo leaks, the Pentagon is doubly concerned of the ensuing damage on the anti-terrorism efforts.  It has also refuted the impression given from assessments it claims are dated and which later reviewed led to different conclusions than previously assessed. Besides, the New York Times report on the Gitmo leaks speaks of faulty assessments carried out at the hands of US analysts that resulted in the release of some high security threat figures for example, the Pakistani pro-Taleban militant, Abdullah Mehsud who post release continued to stage attacks in Pakistan. In short, confusion, faulty intelligence and assessments — often contributed to by wrong leads by some detainees — make the Gitmo diaries an interesting study of things gone wrong. The fact remains that Guantanamo is to date a living reminder of how the US-led war on terror has been mismanaged and even exploited. It is particularly significant now as US-led military efforts in Afghanistan enter a decisive phase against the Al Qaeda affiliated insurgency. 

It may be time to finally close  this dark chapter that unfortunately remains in existence due to the inability of the Obama administration to break the shackles of the administrative bureaucracy and the neo-con's powerful lobbying. Unless the wrongs are righted and apologies made in the case of innocent men who have been wrongly treated, the US will continue to face growing hatred.  This would also inadvertently provide cause for extremists groups to fan radicalisation.

Khaleej Times








The first time I took my teenagers to Los Angeles six years ago, we were a family hooked on the TV series 24. It didn't take long for my son to be disillusioned with its claim to be following events as if they were unfolding in real time.

After a day driving around the city, he observed glumly that if 24 were true to life, Jack Bauer would spend entire episodes in a traffic jam on the freeway, rather than racing around saving the nation.

We were willing to suspend our disbelief on that one. But if 24 were going out today, it would suffer a more serious reality check.

Bauer spends most of his time chasing baddies, catching them and then being infuriated by not being able to tell where they've been or where their headquarters, bosses or safe houses are. Even his blithe use of torture doesn't always reveal what he wants to know.

Now he would have a simpler option. He could just confiscate their iPhones or iPads and open up the file that would reveal every detail of where its user had been over the past year.

With location details updated up to 100 times a day, and timed to the second, Bauer would have a complete record of every movement a user had made.

This is no longer fantasy. Last week two computer researchers revealed that for the past year anyone using one of these Apple products has been unwittingly filing this information to their device and any computer used for backup.

The file is not automatically encrypted, and can't be turned off, so anybody with access to the phone or computer can copy and analyse it.

The implications of this for the end of privacy are extraordinary. As one divorce lawyer remarked, from now on the first question anyone will ask a suspicious spouse is whether their partner has an iPhone.

The researchers who publicised this information, Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, have constructed an app to illustrate how easily the file can be read.

The app is deliberately light on detail so as not to add to the problem. It takes location readings once a week and maps them onto a grid point rather than anything more specific.

As Allan and Warden remark, however, the underlying database has no such constrains: "There was a scary amount of detail on our movements."

The existence of this file is news to the public, but not to computer development companies or law enforcement agencies.

They saw its potential immediately. A file could be read without a legal warrant. Several companies now compete to sell devices that can download the files within minutes. The Swedish firm Micro Systematic, which offers courses on how to extract the information, received the biggest order in its history last year from the US government.

Apples has hit on a brilliant Faustian bargain. We would never have signed up for this loss of privacy if ordered into it.

But we have been enchanted by what these sleek and beautiful machines offer us. With them we are never bored, never lost, never alone.

And if the price of that turns out to be an unprecedented extension of what others might uncover about us, it seems to be one we're willing to pay.







The Arab revolutions are not only shaking the structure of tyranny to the core - they are shattering many of the myths about the Arab region that have been accumulating for decades. Topping the list of dominant myths are those of Arab women as caged in, silenced, and invisible. Yet these are not the types of women that have emerged out of Tunisia, Egypt, or even ultra-conservative Yemen in the last few weeks and months.

Not only did women actively participate in the protest movements raging in those countries, they have assumed leadership roles as well. They organized demonstrations and pickets, mobilized fellow citizens, and eloquently expressed their demands and aspirations for democratic change.

Like Israa Abdel Fatteh, Nawara Nejm, and Tawakul Karman, the majority of the women are in their 20s and 30s. Yet there were also inspiring cases of senior activists as well: Saida Saadouni, a woman in her 70s from Tunisia, draped the national flag around her shoulders and partook in the Qasaba protests which succeeded in toppling M. Ghannouchi's provisional government. Having protested for two weeks, she breathed a unique revolutionary spirit into the thousands who congregated around her to hear her fiery speeches. "I resisted French occupation. I resisted the dictatorships of Bourguiba and Ben Ali. I will not rest until our revolution meets its ends, for your sakes my sons and daughters, not for mine," said Saadouni.

Whether on the virtual battlefields of the Internet or the physical protests in the streets, women have been proving themselves as real incubators of leadership. This is part of a wider phenomenon characteristic of these revolutions: The open politics of the street have bred and matured future leaders. They are grown organically in the field, rather than being imposed upon from above by political organizations, religious groups, or gender roles.

Another stereotype being dismantled in action is the association of the Islamic headscarf with passivity, submissiveness, and segregation. Among this new generation of prominent Arab women, the majority choose to wear the hijab. Urbanized and educated, they are no less confident or charismatic than their unveiled sisters. They are an expression of the complex interplay of Muslim culture, with processes of modernization and globalization being the hallmark of contemporary Arab society.

This new model of home grown women leaders, born out of revolutionary struggle, represents a challenge to two narratives, which, though different in detail, are similar in reference to the myth of Arab cultural singularity; they both dismiss Arab women as inert creatures devoid of will-power.

The first narrative - which is dominant in conservative Muslim circles - sentences women to a life of childbearing and rearing; women are to live in the narrow confines of their homes at the mercy of their husbands and male relatives. Their presence must revolve around notions of purity and family honor; reductionist interpretations of religion are looked upon for justification.

The other view is espoused by Euro-American neo-liberals, who view Arab and Muslim women through the narrow prism of the Taliban model: Miserable objects of pity in need of benevolent intervention from intellectuals, politicians, or even the military. Arab women await deliverance from the dark cage of veiling to a promised garden of enlightenment.

Arab women are rebelling against both models: They are seizing the reigns of their own destinies by liberating themselves as they liberate their societies from dictatorship. The model of emancipation they are shaping with their own hands is one defined by their own needs, choices, and priorities - not anyone else's.

Although there may be resistance to this process of emancipation, Tahrir Square and Qasaba are now part of the psyche and formative culture of Arab women. Indeed, they are finally given a voice to their long-silenced yearnings for liberation from authoritarianism - both political and patriarchal.

Soumaya Ghannoushi is a freelance writer specializing in the history of European Perceptions of Islam. Her work has appeared in a number of leading British papers including the Guardian and the Independent.

(Source: Al Jazeera)

Photo: Arab women organized demonstrations and pickets, mobilized fellow citizens, and expressed their demands for democratic change. (EPA photo)






Following intense domestically and internationally organized negotiations, Yemen's president has finally agreed to the conditional transfer of power.

The Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC), Yemen's national conference, and the revolutionary forces (the opposition) all took part in the negotiations.

The first roadmap proposed by the PGCC member states was rejected by the opposition as it did not clearly indicate the terms of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's departure.

The revolutionaries are demanding the prosecution of Saleh, changes in the constitution and free elections.

Under the terms of the first PGCC proposal Saleh was to remain in power until the end of his term in 2013. He was also to be stripped of his procedural authority.

But the people of Yemen found the proposal to be in favor of Abdullah Saleh and pressed for his removal and called for the fall his regime.

Finally, following numerous negotiations between the opposition and PGCC foreign ministers in Riyadh, the sides agreed to the removal of President Abdullah Saleh within 30 days. Based on the proposal, Saleh is to resign from all military and civil positions in Yemen as well.

Saleh, who has ruled over the Yemeni nation for 32 years, has turned the country into a hotbed of influence for his al-Hashed tribe. Most of the top military and government officials are from the al-Hashed and al-Ahmar tribe.

He continues to enjoy close ties with the Saudi royal family and has even housed fugitive elements of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization in the southern parts of his country at the request of the Saudis. Since Saudi Arabia was the birthplace of the al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization's members fled to Yemen following the September 11 attacks. During that period, Saleh began accepting financial aid from Saudi Arabia in exchange for giving refuge to al-Qaeda elements in the cities of Taiz, Makla, Hadramaut, and Aden in southern Yemen.

Saudi Arabia had expelled the fugitive al-Qaeda elements in order to enhance its relations with the US, which had recently suffered the September 11 attacks. And Saleh was in a way taking advantage of the presence of al-Qaeda elements on its soil by requesting aid from the U.S. and Europe.

Al-Qaeda's control over the strategic Bab-el-Mandab strait made shipping between the Red Sea and Arabian Sea insecure and threatened the interests of the U.S. and Europe. Therefore, Abdullah Saleh requested aid from both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia under the pretext of fighting al-Qaeda and received nearly one billion dollars in financial aid annually.

On the other hand, bearing in mind the influence of the al-Houthi Shia population in Saada, northern Yemen, Saudi Arabia has been to trying to disconnect its Shia population in the east from the al-Houthi tribes. During this era, Saudi Wahabis established over 400 schools to teach Salafi and Wahhabi ideologies in a bid to prevent the spread of Houthi influence in the region.

A vast area in the north of Yemen has been under the influence of violent Wahhabi leaders and Saudi Arabia during the Saleh-era.

These events started tension between Zeydi and Shia Houthi tribes in the north of Yemen to a point where a bloody war broke out between the Houthi tribes and the Yemeni government from 2005-2010. In this unbalanced war, the Saudi and Yemen militaries utilized vast resources at their disposal to massacre the Houthi Shia population.

After the war, Saudi Arabia gave the green light to Yemen to join the PGCC but the proposal was fiercely rejected by the other wealthy member states.

The average income per capita in Yemen is roughly USD1,100 per year. The average per capita income of the six PGCC member states is roughly USD 28,000. Therefore, Yemen was not able to join the PGCC despite following the policies of Saudi Arabia.

With the beginning of the popular uprising across Yemeni cities, Saudi Arabia tried to help quell the movement of the people by sending military aid and equipment.

These attempts not only failed to reduce the size of the protests but fueled the youth demonstrations to a point where protests engulfed Yemen from north to south.

The U.S. and the West, under Saudi influence, first tried to force Saleh into making symbolic reforms; but under severe pressure from the people, the U.S. and the West were forced to accept the agreement which stipulates the removal of Saleh from power.

Currently, Saleh only has a month to leave office and he is using this time to immune himself from criminal prosecution when he leaves office.

At the end, Saleh will have a fate similar to Hosni Mubarak of Egypt when he cedes power. Arab dictators, who oppressed their nation for decades, are becoming history one after the other.

With the departure of Arab dictators from the axis of power in the Middle East, the future political map will be drawn without the presence of the U.S. and the West and their propped up dictators.

Hassan Hanizadeh is the head of the Arabic service of the Mehr News Agency.

(Source: Press TV)

Photo: Yemeni soldiers stand in line at a barrier blocking a demonstration demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of Taiz on April 26, 2011. (Reuters photo)




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