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Thursday, April 28, 2011

EDITORIAL 28.04.11

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month april 28, edition 000818, csollected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. SEIZE THE MOMENT
  2. DOUSE THE FLAMES
  3. BRICS IN THE GREAT WALL - G PARTHASARATHY
  4. BEWARE OF CHINA'S NEW ROADS - CLAUDE ARPI
  5. STRAY DOGS ALERT TERRORISTS' APPROACH - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
  6. ISRAEL ANTICIPATES CHANGE IN SYRIA WITH SUSPICION - MATTI FRIEDMAN

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. OPEN SEASON
  2. DOLLARS, BRICS AND THE CHINA TRAP
  3. SUDIPTO MUNDLE
  4. BE SAFE, NOT SORRY
  5. THE KAT BELLS WILL - BACHI KARKARIA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. FLYING INTO THE FACE OF DANGER
  2. DO KEEP US POSTED
  3. THE DNA OF CHANGE - K ANJI REDDY
  4. MAMATA'S MUSCLE
  5. DIFFERENT RULES FOR DIFFERENT PEOPLE - BAHAR DUTT
  6. BACKSTORY, ANYONE? - DILIP CHERIAN

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. A CLEARER ORBIT
  2. ANOTHER GOAL
  3. WORK BETTER
  4. AMERICAN EAGLE, AFGHAN CAGE - C. RAJA MOHAN
  5. RAISING THE FLOOR - M R MADHAVAN
  6. REBUILDING UNIVERSITIES, DEGREE BY DEGREE - DEEPAK PENTAL
  7. A FUNERAL, A WEDDING, A SPECTACLE - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
  8. AFTER THE KILLING FIELDS, THE BETRAYAL
  9. TAMIL TAKEOVER - MANOJ C G

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. AVIATION MINISTRY CAN'T FLY
  2. GOOD NEWS AT JAITAPUR
  3. WHO WILL REPLACE US CONSUMERS? - STEPHEN S ROACH
  4. IN RBI'S INTEREST - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE

THE HINDU

  1. AMERICA'S SHAMEFUL SECRET WIKILEAKED
  2. CAVEATS TO AN UPBEAT OUTLOOK
  3. THE NEW GREAT GAME IN WEST ASIA?  - CHINMAYA R. GHAREKHAN
  4. SHRINKING FUNDS PULL THE PLUG ON ALIEN SEARCH DEVICES  
  5. A VISIT TO CHERNOBYL  - BAN KI-MOON
  6. FOOD HERE SPELLS HEALTH RISKS  - THOMAS FULLER
  7. 'WE WANT TO STRENGTHEN THE RELATIONSHIP WITH INDIA'

DAILY EXCELSIOR

1.      REDUCING FISCAL DEFICIT

2.      SHAMEFUL SUBTERFUGE

3.      ECONOMIC GROWTH BOOSTS TAX COLLECTION

4.      BY RAMESH KANITKAR

5.      BOOSTING AGRI EXPORTS THROUGH AEZS

6.      BY PAWAN KUMAR SHARMA AND ANIL BHAT

1.      KASHMIR- SOLUTION NOWHERE IN SIGHT - BY AMIT KUSHARI

 

THE TRIBUNE

  1. N-SAGACITY
  2. ISI ROLE IN TERROR
  3. GOVT SOFT ON KHAPS
  4. CWG, 2-G AND OTHER SCAMS - BY INDER MALHOTRA
  5. AGELESS FOREVER ! - BY RAJI P. SHRIVASTAVA
  6. NEED FOR CLEANSING THE MEDICAL PROFESSION - RAVI K GUPTA

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE
  2. FUELLING BILATERAL TRADE
  3. THE G20'S EMPTY GESTURES - MARTIN FELDSTEIN
  4. DOES IT PAY TO SPEND LESS? - KANIKA DATTA
  5. HOW TO SALVAGE DOHA - T S VISHWANATH
  6. MANU'FRACTURED' GROWTH - INDICUS ANALYTICS

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. MIS-SELLING MISHAPS
  2. LANKAN CARNAGE
  3. CONSUMING PASSIONS
  4. NEXT: SUPPLY SIDE OF CORRUPTION
  5. TO SPIN A TOP-CLASS YARN  - MANOJ NAIR
  6. IMF LESSONS AND OTHER TALES  - T T RAM MOHAN

BUSINESS LINE

  1. INJUSTICE TO WHEAT FARMERS
  2. BRICS: THE CHALLENGES AHEAD - G.PARTHASARATHY
  3. LETTERS FROM WEB AND MAIL
  4. PRUDENT MOVE BY RBI

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. A HOME AWAY FROM HOME?

 

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. ISI'S TERROR: CAN WE IGNORE THE EVIDENCE?
  2. NUCLEAR INDEPENDENCE
  3. BUILDING A NATION WITH A GLASS OF MILK
  4. A MATTER OF TRUST
  5. SATYA SAI: A BORN LEGEND
  6. CHECKS & BALANCES

THE STATESMAN

  1. NO HARD FEELINGS
  2. BAN ON ENDOSULFAN
  3. CORRUPTION ALERT
  4. SECRET TALKS? - SALMAN HAIDAR
  5. WHAT TO DO WITH NARENDRA MODI?  - KULDIP NAYAR
  6. ONE MORE WIKILEAKS INJECTION!  - RAJINDER PURI
  7. THE TAXI QUEUE  - SOMDATTA MANDAL

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. LATEST CATCH
  2. STATE OF DISUNION
  3. ROYAL WEDDING
  4. NOT AN OPEN AND SHUT CASE  - NEHA SAHAY
  5. THE SHRILL BEEP OF DEMOCRACY  
  6. IPSITA CHAKRAVARTY
  7. LONG WAIT  - UDDALAK MUKHERJEE
  8. MEN AT ARMS  - SOMAK GHOSHAL
  9. BAMBOO SHOOTS  - BHASWATI CHAKRAVORTY

DECCAN HERALD

  1. CBI'S ACTIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH TO RESTORE UPA'S CREDIBILITY.'
  2. INFUSE COMPETITION
  3. CHANGING CALCULUS  - BY JAGANNATH PANDA
  4. LESSONS FROM CHERNOBYL -  BY BAN KI-MOON
  5. OTHERS KNOW US BETTER -  BY KALPANA KRISHNAMOORTHY

HAARTEZ

  1. PEACE IS BETTER THAN NO PEACE  - BY HAARETZ SERVICE
  2. BACK TO BLOODY DAYS  - BY ISRAEL HAREL
  3. ODE TO THE LEAF BLOWER  - BY GIDEON LEVY
  4. THE SEDER NIGHT QUESTION  - BY AMALIA ROSENBLUM
  5. SURVIVING IN A WORLD GONE MAD  - BY ARI SHAVIT

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. A CERTIFICATE OF EMBARRASSMENT
  2. THE LIMITS OF FED POLICY
  3. RECIDIVISM'S HIGH COST AND A WAY TO CUT IT
  4. THE DUTY OF COUNSEL
  5. HONORING THOSE WHO SAID NO - BY JAMEEL JAFFER AND LARRY SIEMS
  6. PAIN AT THE PUMP? WE NEED MORE - BY DANIEL C. ESTY AND MICHAEL E. PORTER
  7. DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NEWS - BY GAIL COLLINS
  8. GREAT LEAP BACKWARD - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. THE CRAZY PROJECT - ERSU ABLAK
  2. A REAL CRAZY PROJECT - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  3. NOW ERDOĞAN HAS A DREAM AS WELL - YUSUF KANLI
  4. THE REVENGE OF 10 CHILDREN WITH NAILS REMOVED - FEHİM TAŞTEKİN
  5. DAMASCUS RECESSIONAL - RICHARD REID
  6. TURKISH JOURNALISM BEHIND BARS - - STEVEN M. ELLIS

THE NEWS

  1. RISING HEAT
  2. ROAD TO GO DOWN
  3. THE BIG STEP
  4. LEGACY OF HATRED  - PATRICK COCKBURN
  5. THE TWILIGHT OF HOPE?  -  AMEER BHUTTO
  6. THE DOCTRINE OF NECESSITY  - IKRAM SEHGAL
  7. TASHAKKUR, GREG!  - SADAF SHAHID
  8. PHILANTHROPY OR AGENDA?  - AZIZ ALI DAD
  9. FATA: A LITMUS TEST  - AYAZ WAZIR

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. PM'S MISPLACED OPTIMISM ABOUT INDIA
  2. ATTACKS ON NAVY'S STAFF BUSES
  3. PBC'S IDEA FOR NATIONAL ECONOMIC AGENDA
  4. DRONE: A US WEAPON OF CHOICE - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  5. EXTREMISM BREEDS EXTREMISM - NAZIA NAZAR
  6. PASTOR JONES FAILS IN HIS MISSION - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
  7. GOVERNED BY DEAD PEOPLE? - MAHBOOB A KHWAJA
  8. MAKE YOUR WEAKNESS, YOUR STRENGTH..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. LEAKS REVEAL TERRORISM CONCERN
  2. LEAKS REVEAL TERRORISM CONCERN
  3. BOOM OR BUST? MIXED MESSAGES FOR TAXPAYERS

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. IT'S THE VISION THING, BARRY
  2. HOPES, TOO, UNDERMINED
  3. RAIL THE POOR RELATION FOR TOO LONG
  4. A CAUTIONARY TALE OF TWO BOOM-TIME BUDGETS

THE GUARDIAN

  1. THE ECONOMY: FLATLINING
  2. DAVID PETRAEUS: BORN IN THE USA
  3. IN PRAISE OF ... WITTGENSTEIN

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. ECONOMY FEELS THE EFFECTS
  2. CRITICAL EYE ON MR. KAN
  3. BEIJING'S TROUBLING SOUTH CHINA SEA POLICY - BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON
  4. COMMUNICATION CHALLENGE - BY SADAAKI NUMATA

DAILY MIRROR

  1. WAKE UP TO THE REAL AGENDA BEHIND THE UN THREAT
  2. UNITE TO DEFEAT IMPERIALIST CONSPIRACY
  3. NO UN PANEL IN IRAQ WHERE OVER A MILLION HAD DIED: PROF. ROHAN GUNARATNA
  4. DON'T DOOM THESE TEMPLES, PLEASE
  5. CREDIBILITY OF MOON'S ADVISORY PANEL

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. COURTS NEED MORE POWER  - BY JONATHAN POWER

 TEHRAN TIMES

  1. IRAN-PAKISTAN RELATIONS IN LIGHT OF POPULAR UPRISING IN BAHRAIN - BY ABOLGHASEM BAYYENAT 

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

SEIZE THE MOMENT

ACT ON MONEY SALTED ABROAD


Remarks by Julian Assange the founder of the whistleblower website Wikileaks that there is more Indian money stashed away in Swiss banks that any other another nationality has once again brought to the forefront a complex issue of, both black and white, that has been routinely parked in offshore accounts in foreign lands that serve as tax havens. It is an open secret that vast amounts of Indian money have been illegally taken out of the country and stashed away in tax havens abroad although authorities are still struggling to put a number on it. A Swiss Banking Association report from 2006 pegs the amount of Indian black money in Swiss Banks alone at $1456 billion while more recent figures have updated that to a whopping trillion dollars, which the Supreme Court has described as "plunder of the nation". To put matters into perspective, just take a look at Hasan Ali Khan's numbers: A scrap dealer by day and stud farm owner by night, Hasan Khan is supposedly worth at least 9 billion dollars and would have been India's fourth richest person had all his wealth not been in black money. Today, Hasan Khan owes the country 50,000 crore in unpaid taxes. And he is just one person that got caught. Now given that India tops the list for black money in the world, one can only imagine the amount of money this country has been cheated out off. There are tens of thousands of Hasan Khans out there — who have their wealth safely stowed away not just in Switzerland but also in other countries such as Liechtenstein, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas. Now, it must be pointed out that there are essentially two kinds of money that are wired out of the country to be parked elsewhere. One is rightfully earned legal money that is sent abroad — to a tax haven which is usually a small country that is well governed, uncorrupt and imposes little or no tax — so that the owner can evade taxes on his income in his home country. The second type is wrongfully earned illegal money such as that earned from Hawala transactions or drug sales, which is then transferred to foreign accounts to avoid detection at home. In both cases, it is imperative that the Government tracked down the hidden stash, bring the money home and ensure that exemplary punishment is meted out to both tax evaders and money launderers.

To the Government's credit, it has undertaken a few measures to bring back the stolen money; however, these are just baby steps. Given the scale of this steal — it does make the CWG loot fest and the 2G Spectrum scam look like minor incidents of pickpocket — a whole lot more needs to be done than just establishment of a multi-disciplinary committee, comprising top officials that will oversee and coordinate investigations into cases of money laundering and tax evasion. The newly resurgent India needs to be more aggressive while working with naturally reluctant foreign Governments to not just make sure we get back what rightfully belongs to us but also to prevent the debasing of the Rupee which is a direct consequence of money being illegally stashed abroad. Additionally, the entire global financial architecture needs to modified to allow for increased transparency and greater cooperation and it is the emerging economies of the world, such as India, that will have to push for this change.

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

DOUSE THE FLAMES

DEAL GENTLY WITH JAITAPUR PROTESTERS


Neither the Union Government nor the Government of Maharashtra has been right in its approach towards dealing with the agitation against the proposed nuclear power plant at Jaitapur. It is by now evident that strong arm measures adopted by the local administration, on the instructions of the State Government and which obviously enjoy the sanction of the Union Government, are unlikely to yield results. The people of Jaitapur are not convinced and a generous compensation package cannot possibly dispel their fear. Yet a path has to be found without trampling on their sentiments as we need additional and accelerated power generation. India's energy requirement is rising alarmingly with an 8.5 per cent economic growth. Both industrial and domestic consumption of power is bound to increase exponentially in the coming years. So the Government, irrespective of the party in power, has to deal with the issue by stepping up the production of electricity. We also need to ensure the harnessing of green technology. This underscores the necessity of setting up nuclear power plants but not without appropriate and assured safeguards and definitely not at the cost of law and order. Given Japan's recent experience at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the resistance to acquisition of land, it is only natural that the people of Jaitapur should raise questions and strike a defiant posture. This calls for a two-pronged approach. At one level, the local administration has to be more understanding and humane: Lathis and bullets will only serve to provoke the protesters further. At another level, the Congress should abandon its unilateralism and seek to forge a larger political consensus.


Seen in perspective, the Government's decision to create an autonomous nuclear regulatory authority that will be vested with the power to take a final call on the safety issues of nuclear power projects is a welcome step. However, to be effective, such a body should have the right people with impeccable technical knowledge and without any known political bias as decisions taken will be for collective good. The idea is not to raise barriers but get credible assessments done. Most important the mandate has to be rightly framed to give the body teeth to pull up the suppliers and not limit it to minding the operator's interests. Anything less and we may see a repeat show of the Bhopal Gas tragedy. It should be remembered that setting up a nuclear power plant, or any infrastructure project for that matter, is not for the benefit of any single political party or its leader but the nation as a whole. Hence, a bipartisan approach must be taken by the Union Government. Let the Congress get the BJP and others on board to dispel the concerns of the people.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

BRICS IN THE GREAT WALL

G PARTHASARATHY


Despite talks of a multipolar world, China clearly wants a bipolar one that it will share with the US. India must cautiously engage with both powers.


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 of 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 Summit meetings with China or Pakistan. Our scribes, therefore, breathlessly reported after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met President Of China 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 "JointTerror 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", fashioned 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. India would prefer strengthening the IMF by expansion of "Special Drawing Rights". At the same time, however, BRICS believes that the current domination of the IMF and World Bank by G7 members should end.

The Sanya Summit did 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 shared concern about prevalent volatility in prices of energy and food. The Sanya 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 criticism of NATO actions has been avoided, the 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 multipolar 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 that it jointly dominates 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 sphere 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.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

BEWARE OF CHINA'S NEW ROADS

CLAUDE ARPI


Apart from the increasing presence of PLA troops in PoK, India must take cognizance of the fact that China is fast spinning a web of roads and railway networks in the region that effectively traps India within its own borders and poses a serious security threat. India has ignored similar Chinese acts of aggression in the past and has paid heavily for it. New Delhi must not repeat its mistakes

Around the time Mr Manmohan Singh arrived on the island of Hainan to attend the Third Summit of BRICS nations, an article of Willy Lam, the veteran China watcher appeared in East-Asia-Intel.com


Mr Lam's point was: "Call it damage-control diplomacy. Since President Hu Jintao's American visit in January, Chinese diplomats and 'official' academics have been trying to reassure the world of Beijing's non-aggressive, 'peaceful development' diplomatic posture."


Mr Lam particularly mentioned the role of the Dean of School of International Studies in Peking University Wang Jisi who in an article in The Global Times asserted that China "had no ambition of displacing the US as the world's No. 1 power".

 

After the return of the Prime Minister, a similar feeling was apparent in the Indian Press: China was trying to mend fences.


However, several new issues have cropped up between New Delhi and Beijing. One of the most serious is the presence of Chinese soldiers in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.


A few months ago in an opeditorial in The New York Times, Selig Harrison had sent a warning, 'informing' India that Chinese troops were roaming around Gilgit-Baltistan, legally a part of Indian territory. Mr Harrison spoke of two important new developments in Gilgit-Baltistan: "A simmering rebellion against Pakistani rule and the influx of an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 soldiers of the People's Liberation Army."


Lt Gen KT Parnaik, the Northern Army Commander had confirmed the information about China's military presence in PoK and cautioned: "China's links with Pakistan through PoK facilitated quicker deployment of Pakistani forces to complement the Communist neighbour's military operations, outflanking India and jeopardising its security."


Beijing reacted quickly: The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei denied the presence of the PLA troops in PoK: "Chinese military personnel were present in PoK only for the purpose of providing relief to victims of massive floods that affected the areas."


But there are more serious issues: China is slowly encircling India with new railway lines. During the last National People's Congress meet in March, it was announced that during China's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), Beijing would build a railway line between Golmud on the Tibetan plateau (Qinghai province) and Korla in Xinjiang.


The Vice Governor of Qinghai Luo Yulin announced that "the new line will cut the train journey between the two capital cities by more than 1,000 km." He also added: "The new railway line will play a significant role in boosting the economic development in the country's western regions and promoting exchanges among different ethnic groups."


An ominous sentence when one knows the resentment of the Tibetan and Uyghur populations against Beijing. The construction has apparently already started and the project will be completed by 2015.


After invading Tibet in 1950, one of the great dreams of Mao Zedong was to link China's two newly acquired provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang. The Tibet-Xinjiang road was eventually built, cutting through Indian territory in the Aksai Chin region of Ladakh.


Recently declassified US documents featured the transcript of a conversation between the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and Henry Kissinger, the US President's Assistant for National Security Affairs. During the encounter which took place in July 1971 in Beijing, the Chinese Premier explained the origin of the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 and mentioned the road, built without Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru noticing it.


Mr Zhou affirmed: "The Aksai Chin Plateau is the route along which we have to travel when crossing from Sinkiang to the Ali (Ngari) district of Tibet. The height of the plateau is 5000 meters. We started to build this highway in 1951" (The first Indian 'informal note' to complain about the road dates October 18, 1958).

Mr Zhou continued: "…Even three years after the road was built, Nehru didn't know about it. In my discussions with Nehru on the Sino-Indian boundary in 1956, he suddenly raised the issue of the road. I said, 'You didn't even know we were building a road the last three years, and now you suddenly say that it is your territory.' I remarked upon how strange this was."


Mr Zhou's words obviously support China's position on the issue, but the fact remains that the Government of India was extremely slow to react to what became China's most strategic road (at least as far as India is concerned).

The Chinese Government has now decided to link Tibet and Xinjiang by train. Though the new railway track will not cross through Indian territory, it has serious military implications. One can only hope that New Delhi will keep its eyes and ears open, especially if another railway line is constructed between Xinjiang and PoK, through Gilgit area.


But that is not all: Beijing is planning to 'double' the 1,904 kilometers Lanxin Railway linking Lanzhou in Gansu province to Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital.


Following the ancient Silk Road and cutting across the Gobi desert, this line will run parallel to the existing Lanxin Railway. It will also be operational in 2015.


Ren Shaoqiang, the Chief Engineer responsible for the construction, told Xinhua that "compared with the Qinghai-Tibet plateau railway and the existing line between Lanzhou and Urumqi, construction of this fast rail line is more challenging".


Xinhua commented: "This line is designed for trains traveling at up to 300 kilometers per hour, much faster than the current 120 kilometers per hour on the existing line, cutting travel time between Lanzhou and Urumqi to about six hours."


The cost of building a railway track in this remote area is twice higher than for ordinary rail line. Lanxin Railway planned to invest a staggering 21 billion US dollars in the project. Xinhua admits: "Analysts are divided over whether the benefits outweigh the costs of building high-speed lines in the ecologically fragile western regions".

But there is an explanation, a senior researcher at the China Academy of Railway Sciences told Xinhua: "It's more of a political thing. It's more about national defence and ethnic unity. The new railway is expected to facilitate transport of energy resources from the vast desolate northwest to other regions of the country."


In other words, it will help transport oil and minerals from the energy-rich Xinjiang province to the Mainland and quickly transfer troops and military equipment from one restive area to another (from Tibet to Xinjiang and vice-versa) as well as to the border with India and Nepal.


Can you imagine a super fast train running from Jammu to Leh?


Yes, it is a mirage, but a railway linking Tibet to Xinjiang will be a reality in 2015; it could be a real nightmare for India. Will New Delhi wake up before it is too late?

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

STRAY DOGS ALERT TERRORISTS' APPROACH

HIRANMAY KARLEKAR


As several authorities cite that stray dogs warn of approaching terrorists, there is every possibility that terrorists are orchestrating not only a mass hysteria against stray dogs in Kashmir but also the demand for their killing


A report in Greater Kashmir of April 21, 2011, states, "The police top brass (on) Wednesday dispelled the notion given by some media agencies that the elimination of stray dogs would facilitate a rise in militancy". The report did not mention the name of the agencies but carried quotes from my column in The Pioneer of 17 March on the mass killing of stray dogs in Srinagar, which clearly indicated that the reference was to the latter. The report further quoted a Deputy Inspector General of Jammu & Kashmir Police as saying that there was no relationship between stray dog populations and militancy, which were altogether different issues. It quoted the DIG, who described "dog menace" as a big issue", as saying that it was for bodies like the Srinagar Municipal Corporation to "get rid of the problem." The police was ready to help them in whatever way they wanted.

I will begin with reference to my column. The part of it which referred to terrorism in Kashmir, mentioned among other things, media accounts of the death of a JeM militant and his driver in an encounter with the police on March 10, and added, "The reports quoted Mr RM Sahai, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, as saying that they were trying to set up a base in Srinagar 'to carry out big strikes in the future on security force installations.' Was the killing of stray dogs meant to facilitate the strikes?" Clearly, I was referring to efforts to set up bases to carry out big strikes and not, repeat not, increasing militancy. The two are entirely different things.

A terrorist strike is a single act. It is a part of militancy, which is a complex and wider phenomenon. At one level, militancy is the state of mind which is a blend of alienation, anger and aggression, prone to explode in violence. Since violence is an expression of militancy, the latter at the social context connotes a situation created by violence and the aggression associated with militancy. An increase in militancy means a rise in the incidence of militancy-related violence and the number of militants, as well as the spread and intensification of the aggressive mindset associated with militancy.

A single terrorist strike — or several strikes — however severe, need not indicate increasing militancy if more strikes do not follow. It is easier to organise a single or a couple of terrorist strikes than sustaining an increase in the level of militancy which requires the establishment of an infrastructure for procuring funds, arms, ammunition, explosives and the provision of electronic communication facilities through emails, phones and so on. It also requires propaganda for the militants' cause, recruitment, training and indoctrination of terrorists and the organisation of shelters, false travel and identification documents, and storage of arms, explosives and so on. Nine-eleven in the United States and 7/11 (attacks on London' underground subway system) in 2005 sent shockwaves throughout the world but did not lead to rising level of militancy in America and Britain.

Surprise is critical to the success of terrorist strikes. It can be neutralised by an efficient intelligence set-up which collects advance information and pre-empts terror strikes and destroys terrorists' infrastructure. Equally, a strike can be neutralised if an alert is sounded as terrorists approach their target, enabling the security forces to repulse them. As several authorities cited in my column aver, stray dogs sound precisely such an alert. There is, therefore, every possibility that terrorists are orchestrating not only a mass hysteria against stray dogs in Kashmir but also the demand for their killing.


It is possible that the reporter, who did not understand what I had written, had also failed to understand what the DIG had said. If, however, the latter did say what he reportedly has, then he has betrayed a very narrow and conventional approach to counter-terrorism which ignores the complex and mutli-dimensional nature of the challenge. Referring to terrorism in India, Maj-Gen (Retd) Afsir Karim writes in his contribution entitled "Terrorism: the Indian Experience", in Confronting Terrorism edited by Mr Maroof Raza, "The challenges of internal destabilisation, subversion, creation of administrative and economic chaos, and engineering divisions among diverse socio-political and ethnic groups cannot be met by conventional responses." No further comments.

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THE PIONEER

OPED

ISRAEL ANTICIPATES CHANGE IN SYRIA WITH SUSPICION

HAVING WATCHED HAMAS AND HIZBULLAH RISE TO POWER THROUGH INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNISED ELECTIONS, ISRAEL IS WARY OF MOVES TOWARDS DEMOCRACY IN THE REGION, SAYS MATTI FRIEDMAN


With upheaval in Syria spreading and the crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad growing more violent, Israel has begun bracing for change in an authoritarian regime that has been a potent yet familiar enemy for four decades.

A shake-up in Syria would have implications beyond the border the two countries share. While Syria has not fought a direct war with Israel since 1973, it has cultivated relations with Israel's most bitter foes. A staunch Iranian ally, it backs Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

These ties are suddenly in question as Mr Assad faces the biggest challenge yet to his rule. Israeli officials now appear to believe that whether Mr Assad survives, some sort of change in Syria is inevitable. For Israel, that will mean facing another wild card in a regional mix that has seen outwardly stable dictatorships quickly become volatile states in varying degrees of flux.

Any potential outcome in the power struggle holds "risks and opportunities" for Israel, said an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of an order not to discuss the issue with the media.

Some in Israel believe changes in Syria's regime, or its disappearance altogether, could potentially weaken enemies such as Hamas and Hizbullah, which would work in Israel's favour. Others warn that the result could be anarchy or the strengthening of Islamic extremists.

All seem to agree that peace with Syria, which several Israeli Governments have pursued without success, is off the table indefinitely.

Israeli officials are under strict instructions to remain silent on the events in Syria. This has made it difficult to gauge the official assessment.

But the Israeli official, who is privy to senior policy debates, said the Government is closely following the developments in Syria and believes Mr Assad is in a battle for survival.

The official said it is impossible to predict whether Mr Assad will succeed in outwitting or overpowering his opponents. Israeli leaders are divided over whether his downfall would serve the country's interest, he said.

But he said officials believe irreversible change is under way. Even if Mr Assad survives the challenge to his rule, the official said: "The Assad of the past is not the same Assad we will see in the future."

Israeli officials say that concerns that Assad may try to heat up hostilities with Israel to divert public outrage are unfounded, as he is currently too focussed on his own domestic troubles.

Nonetheless, Israeli Army officials said military commanders are holding briefings every few hours to monitor developments in Syria. Israel's military believes that Mr Assad's deployment of the Syrian Army to confront protesters shows just how serious the threat is. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing sensitive and confidential assessments.

The unrest sweeping the region has forced Israeli leaders to carefully calibrate their public statements. Israelis do not want to be seen as opposing the forces of freedom, but Israel has come to view moves toward democracy with suspicion, having watched Hamas and Hizbullah rise to power through internationally recognised elections.

In an appearance earlier this month on YouTube's World View Project, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered support for democratic change in West Asia but expressed concern that "democracy will be hijacked by radical regimes or militant Islamic regimes."

"We'd like to see everywhere, including in Syria, genuine reforms for democracy, genuine emergence of democracy," Mr Netanyahu said. "That's no threat to any of us."

A widening crackdown by Mr Assad's forces has killed more than 400 people across Syria since mid-March, according to Syrian rights groups.

Mr Guy Bechor, a Mideast expert at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, said months of unrest in Syria can be expected as Mr Assad's ruling Alawite minority battles protesters in what he called a "zero-sum game for both sides".

"The assessment is that stability for Israel will continue in any case, as Syria will be busy with internal affairs for months or possibly years," Mr Bechor said.

The Assad family has ruled Syria for four decades, constituting an unfriendly but stable presence along Israel's north-eastern border.

Syria arms Hizbullah, the Lebanese guerrilla group that battled Israel in a monthlong war five summers ago, and also hosts the headquarters of the Palestinian Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and rocket attacks. Last month, Israel's navy seized a ship carrying weapons that it said were sent by Iran and Syria to Hamas.

Regime change in Syria could be a blow to Israel's enemies, but could also usher in a successor that could be more extreme, Islamist and belligerent.

Syria has enforced decades of quiet along a shared frontier, and expressed willingness to make peace in return for the Golan Heights, which it lost to Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. Several rounds of talks have failed.

"There is always a tendency to stick with the status quo: Quiet on the security front, quiet on the diplomatic front," said Prof Eyal Zisser, a Syria expert at Tel Aviv University. "But there are those who say that with all due respect to quiet, Mr Assad is causing more damage through Lebanon and Gaza."

The upheaval in Syria makes it unlikely that Israel will pursue a peace deal, but talks were not being discussed even before the recent protests, said Mr Alon Liel, a former director general of Israel's Foreign Ministry and proponent of an Israeli-Syrian peace. "Renewal of talks was never on the agenda, and isn't on the agenda now," he said.

Some in Israel have seen the experience of Egypt, where Israeli ally Mr Hosni Mubarak was ousted after 30 years in power, as a warning. Contenders for Egypt's presidency have taken a cooler line toward Israel and have suggested the peace treaty between the two countries would be reviewed and could be canceled.

Ties with Jordan, the only other Arab regime to have a peace agreement with Israel, could also be in jeopardy as regional unrest touches on the ruling monarchy. Ties with Turkey, another one-time ally, have soured in recent years as Turkey has tilted away from the West and toward the Islamic world.

"Syria cannot be seen alone. It's a part of everything else that is happening around us," Mr Liel said. "Israel's isolation in the region is almost unprecedented."

-AP

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

OPEN SEASON

 

The government's proposal to radically overhaul India's nuclear architecture by opening it to public scrutiny is welcome. The proposed restructuring addresses decades-old concerns and aligns our nuclear establishment with internationally accepted norms. Long overdue, the reforms are especially significant because nuclear energy is to become a major part of our energy basket and therefore requires safeguarding not only from environmental threats, but also terror.


That it took not just a catastrophe like Fukushima but also the petty political manoeuvrings orchestrated by the Shiv Sena at Jaitapur, raises questions about the government's responsiveness. Safety issues have however been addressed by the proposals made public on the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, the world's worst nuclear disaster. Most significant of the reforms is the promise to table a Bill in the next parliamentary session to end a conflict of interest at the heart of our nuclear establishment. Currently, the nuclear watchdog - the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board - is also a part of the body that builds reactors, the Department of Atomic Energy. The Bill will terminate this overlap by creating an independent and autonomous watchdog, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India. It's imperative that no party plays politics with the Bill.


The government's proposals also signal a new approach to nuclear matters. The veil of secrecy enclosing our nuclear decision-making process, a remnant of when nuclear signified military, is to be lifted. The India-US nuclear agreement opened our civilian reactors to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It will now be invited to carry out an audit and help us develop monitoring methods. Reports generated by six safety review committees in the wake of Fukushima, as well as action taken on previous reviews, are also to be made public. Nuclear policy will be open to not just national but also international scrutiny. It means that the public will know, and in detail, about the vast majority of the reactors planned. That should provide a politically conducive environment for the Jaitapur nuclear park to go ahead.


While the government is taking seriously the issue of safety, it would be an error to focus entirely on environmental safety. What is also required is devising the means to protect nuclear power plants and materials from terrorists and the possibility of scientists being co-opted by radicalised groups. India has a perfect record on proliferation. Maintaining it demands creating controls and mechanisms for supervision befitting the role nuclear power is to play in our energy matrix.

 

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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

DOLLARS, BRICS AND THE CHINA TRAP

 

Earlier this month the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) agreed at their summit meeting in Sanya, China, to establish mutual lines of credit in local currencies. On the face of it, this is an innocuous effort by the world's fastest growing countries to strengthen their mutual relationship. However, in the context of the emerging global power relations, this is yet another important step in the Chinese initiative to end the reign of the dollar as the world's single reserve currency.


Two years ago i wrote in these columns about the Chinese campaign to dethrone the dollar. Shortly before the G20 London summit, China's central bank governor announced that the dollar should be replaced by SDRs. This was a shrewd approach. About half of China's foreign exchange reserves of $2 trillion are reportedly held as dollar denominated assets, as indeed are large chunks of the reserves of many central banks. This large exposure implies that any major depreciation of the dollar would severely erode the value of these assets. At the same time, large diversification of these reserves away from the dollar is not an option. Such a move itself would trigger a sharp depreciation of the dollar. But the exchange rate of SDR is a weighted average of a basket of convertible currencies, and a swap of dollars for SDRs at a pre-determined exchange rate would allow China, and other countries, to significantly reduce their dollar exposure without any erosion of the value of their reserves. Of course, it would also end the reign of the dollar.


At the time, most analysts dismissed the Chinese initiative as impractical and unworkable. However, China has taken several strategic steps to carry forward its agenda through alternative routes. It has established currency swap arrangements with several developing countries, which protects their trade with China against the risk of their currencies depreciating. The initial value of these arrangements was quite modest, less than $100 billion. However, during the past two years, the volume of these arrangements would have grown significantly and could eventually cover the entire trade of these countries with China. Reportedly, Russia has also adopted the same approach. China is also leading the initiative for an Asian Monetary Fund. The IMF vehemently opposed the idea when it was originally mooted by Japan during the Asian financial crisis. However, the idea was revived a year later as the Chiang Mai initiative of the ASEAN + 3 (China, Japan, Korea), and finally became a reality when the fund was launched in 2009, this time with IMF support. The initial capital of the fund was quite modest. However, this fund could eventually be scaled up to cover the entire foreign exchange risk of total intra-ASEAN + 3 trade.


On top of these earlier moves, China has now led the latest initiative to establish mutual lines of credit in local currencies to protect intra-BRICS trade from foreign exchange risk. The volume of this trade is only around $230 billion at present, but as a measure of potential, it is noted that the BRICS countries together account for over 15% of world trade, worth over $4.5 trillion. Thus, China has led the establishment of three overlapping circuits of non-dollar trade-cum-currency protection arrangements covering the BRICS countries, the ASEAN+3 countries, and many developing countries of Africa and Latin America.


These arrangements are in their embryonic stages at present, and the volumes are small. However, these are the most dynamic and fastest growing countries of the world today, and trade among them is growing much faster than the average rate of growth of global trade. In other words, the road map for these non-dollar trade and currency arrangements could eventually lead to virtually the whole of world trade barring trade with and among the countries of Europe and North America. Were that to happen, the reign of the dollar would be over, and the question of whether or not it can be replaced by SDRs would no longer be relevant.

Such a scenario may sound quite implausible today, a bit of economic 'science fiction'. But we must remember that the basic institutional arrangements for such an outcome are already being put in place. In the early 20th century, when Britain was still the dominant imperial power, the pound sterling was the reigning reserve currency of the world. But Britain was already a tired imperial power. As its power waned, bled especially by two world wars, it didn't take very long for the US and France to end the reign of the pound. Is it then so unrealistic to imagine that as US power wanes, the reign of the dollar as reserve currency will be replaced by SDRs, non-dollar currency swaps, local currency credit lines for trade and other such arrangements?


How should India prepare for such an outcome? India should embed itself in the currency arrangement being forged for the BRICS countries, and strive to join the embryonic Asian Monetary Fund to take full advantage of opportunities arising from these initiatives. At the same time it must remain mindful that North America and the EU will remain important trading partners in the foreseeable future.


The writer is emeritus professor at the National institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

BE SAFE, NOT SORRY

 

It's time for the government of India to ban endosulfan. The issue's been intensively raised by Kerala's chief minister V S Achuthanandan, who recently observed a day's hunger strike demanding a ban. Despite political divisions, the Left Front leader was joined by BJP members, church representatives, movie stars, poets and civil society activists concerned about the harmful pesticide. According to one study, Kasargod district alone suffered over 1,000 deaths due to endosulfan-exposure. That's not all; studies show endosulfan's use in the state's cashew, coffee and cardamom plantations has resulted in terrible health issues impacting young and old, including physical deformities, cerebral palsy, vision loss, infertility and cancer.


While 84 countries, including America, Australia and EU members, have banned the pesticide, India refuses to do so, stating it needs evidence from across the nation. This reason is baffling. Considering the human body varies relatively little across India, the effects of the same mix of chemicals are not likely to differ widely either. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar observes endosulfan is under a 'partial' ban. This is little consolation. Much cheaper than substitutes it's smuggled across state borders and continually used.


A national ban is urgently required. Not only does the pesticide destroy human lives but also harms aquatic and animal life, including adversely impacting honeybee populations playing a role in pollination over plantations. Ironically, the pesticide thus cuts into the economic activity it purportedly bolsters. Critics state the government's reluctance to ban endosulfan is linked to India being its largest global producer. The government must show it values citizens' lives and well-being more than such deadly profits. Studies probing endosulfan's effects on those consuming impacted products haven't even begun. Let the government adopt safety before it is too late.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

ERRATICA

THE KAT BELLS WILL

BACHI KARKARIA

 

It's a case of both 'Never say die' and 'Ever say Di'. Kate Middleton's unflagging pursuit of Prince William has paid off, and tomorrow she will marry him in a ceremony which the breathless media keeps comparing with the wedding of Diana and Charles. How stupid is that, considering how that fell apart? She's even saddled with her late Mum-in-law's engagement ring. Any Indian could have told father and son that a sapphire is an astrologically iffy stone.

Which brings us to Hash 'n' Chan. This is not a Chinese acid-rock band, but refers to Hashmukh and Chandrika, the Gujarati banias of Bucklebury, Berkshire, who have upped the Obamas and been invited to The Wedding: their convenience store has kept the bride's middle-class family in bread, biscuits and Bovril for years. The Shingadias should dump that blingy kurti, and instead give the bride an astral gem that can deflect the famous ring's baleful influence just in case sapphires don't 'suit' Katie-beti any more than they did the beauteous Diana.

The Shingadias' sudden celebrity is not the only reason why London's Gujaratis are breaking into garbas. The Cake has been entrusted to their 'bhabhi'. Now, Fiona Cairns may not be a fafda-frying Finchley-ben, but her husband Kishore is a Gujju to the gathia born. He persuaded his Mrs to monetise her baking talents, no doubt making the business rise with the entrepreneurial yeast of his community. True, tomorrow's tiered confection won't have a smidgeon of shrikhand, but Kate's wholesome richness does make her sound like doodh-pak.

But forget about modest mithai or even the faux silk sari that PETA sent the bride to tell her that high fashion need not involve cruelty to lowly creatures. A fatter cash cow awaits our killing. Consider the boast of a poem recited last Sunday on BBC's World Today. 'For in a world of 3G phones.../And airborne drones,/ Of China's rise, and Russia's might,/ There's still one thing the Brits do right./ We might be small, we might be poorish,/ Our cooking might not be more-ish,/ Our reputation's had a shredding,/ But we know how to do a wedding.'

Really? May i remind you that a British-style royal wedding is just a pretender, the throne rightfully belongs to us. The rich and the famous from afar already clamour for the Exotic Indian Wedding, complete with slokas, saat pheras and shimmying sangeets. Ask pop star Kate Perry who last October wed British comedian
Russell Brand near Ranthambhor, and so could add shers to the sherwanis. Ask Liz who became Mrs Arun Nayar at Jaipur's Rambagh Palace in 2007; even Hurley's new burly, Shane Warne wouldn't be averse.

No, for several years now, you didn't need any blue in your bloodstream to avail of a fully feudal shaadi in princely mahals; all you needed was a king's ransom. Now it's time to raise the service to the peerage; offer it not merely to the wanna-be aristocrat, but to the already-are. In fact, let us audaciously market the royal Indian to British royalty, to Prince William's younger brother.

It would be an easy transfer of rites. From Buckingham palace to Balmoral castle, there are enough Raj-time treasures for a quick make-over into an authentic Indian princely venue. Mummy and Aunt Fergie both dabbled in our curries, couture and karma-colonialism, so you'd have a comfort level on those other nuptial essentials too. Try it, Prince 'Hari'. You'd look more dashing in a turban than in a top hat, and we wouldn't even need to send a diamond for its 'sarpech'; Gran could let you borrow the Kohinoor.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

FLYING INTO THE FACE OF DANGER

The fact that Air India has had to go in for a second restructuring barely a couple of years after it merged with Indian Airlines raises a few uncomfortable questions. The logic of that merger has not been completely upended by the external environment. The economies of scale that were to accrue, a consolidated domestic and international reach and an upgraded fleet are part of any airline's medium-term goals. What went wrong is a mishandling of the merger process. Two flabby organisations have not coalesced into a leaner structure, capacities have expanded despite a slump in the industry, fleets by competing aircraft manufactures do not permit operational synergies while parity between employees of the legacy airlines is elusive, and the airline continues to be headed by bureaucrats with little experience of aviation.

Central to any revival strategy for Air India is shedding flab in an airline that has half again as many employees per aircraft as the global average. The world over, an aircraft makes money in the air and loses it when on the tarmac; Air India's bloated wage bill, in contradistinction, makes it cheaper to keep the fleet grounded. The government has deep enough pockets to keep Air India flying against economic logic. As policy maker, on the other hand, the government must bear in mind that the bleeding Maharaja does not bring the industry at large to its knees. And as regulator of aviation, the government has to ensure flights are not cancelled every time Air India's pilots threaten to go on strike. That is one hat too many the aviation ministry is wearing. Governments in other countries have got around this problem by exiting the airline business and by splitting the ministry's regulatory and policy jobs.

The government is well within its rights to demand a turnaround strategy from Air India's management. It would also be a prudential financier if it were to benchmark cash infusion to quantifiable metrics. More than as regulator of aviation, the government must act decisively as owner of Air India to ensure that efforts to arrest the decline are not waylaid into the minefield of industrial dispute. The vision that Air India lacks can easily be imported from the private sector.

The failed marriage with Indian Airlines also needs to be looked at. Induction of a strategic partner for Air India cannot be put off indefinitely if it has to survive in a cut-throat market. No airline can afford to fly without knowing where it is headed.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

DO KEEP US POSTED

The wait is almost over for Kate and her mate but it is all getting too much for us. Bereft of any real colour about the royal family, we have been hard put to write on them for years. The Queen herself does not inspire too many editorial potshots and neither are readers too breathless about her walkabouts with a posse of corgis. Of course, the Duke of Windsor's racial gaffes gave us an occasion to vent our spleen in a sad empire strikes back sort of way.

Prince Charles gave us some moments of joy by marrying the incandescently beautiful Diana. But soon, she seemed to prefer hitting the high spots with Hollywood hicks, leathery designers, poofter singers and huckster playboys. Not what we would term a touch of class. But the poor thing's passing in a Paris tunnel revived interest in her with the faithful running around the streets wondering whether a la Eva Peron we would ever have anyone like her. Poor horsy Camilla Parker Bowles came along and battlelines were drawn in direct proportion to the lines on her none too fetching visage. The marriage of the shrub-embracing Charles and Camilla did not even have us breaking out the tea, let alone the champagne. The only other royal who has potential to set the tabloids on fire is hellraiser Harry with his bottles and blondes appeal. But dear old Will with the receding hairline and colourless Catherine are not likely to give us much fodder in the following years, even if they pull off a right royal wedding.

We have just seen them so often, read everything about the 'middle class' Middletons, the wisteria-like ambitions of Katie and her sister and her parents who have made good selling party props. So, it is clear that we will have to find newer victims to write about, maybe the wannabes who may never enter the portals of Buckingham palace but whose vulgarity and wealth could make them the nouveau royalty. But we may have felt differently about Will and Kate if that embossed invitation to the wedding had come our way. There is still one more day…

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE DNA OF CHANGE

K ANJI REDDY

In the summer of 1964, an incident struck me with the force of a thunderbolt. In many ways, it shaped my future. I was doing my PhD at the National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, when I got a call to rush to my village, Tadepalli in Andhra Pradesh. I reached the railway station a couple of hours before the train to my place was scheduled to leave. After two hours of negotiating a serpentine queue, the clerk at the ticket counter said all trains were full and the first available seat would be only after one month. Sensing my urgency, he advised me to talk to the travelling ticket collector of the train.

I accosted a grumpy official who said the same thing. Unwilling to take no for an answer, I pleaded with him. Finally, minutes before the train's departure, he called me aside and issued a berth. I thanked him profusely. He looked at me and said: "If it is only thanks, mention not!" For a moment, I couldn't understand what he meant. I was just 23 years old with two degrees and two work experiences, none of which had equipped me with the ability to understand this subtle hint.

Corruption in India is an accepted fact; but to me, it was unacceptable. Since that day, I often wondered if it's possible to eradicate corruption. The recent fast of Anna Hazare and the candlelight marches reminded me of that incident. I wondered why we never use those tools (fasting and vigils) to get railway reservations. The lack of a ticket obtained through legal means could mean missing a vital examination or the last rites of a loved one. I am all for lighting candles. But I wonder if it's an over-simplification of the means to deal with a culture which has become ingrained in our psyche. Is it not akin to entering the confession box and saying I have sinned only to do the same thing the next day?

Let's revisit the railway story today. If one wants a ticket, she can book it online, get it couriered home and, if it's a waitlisted ticket, she can monitor the status online. Further, one also has emergency options like the tatkal seva, which comes at a premium. Clearly, the Indian Railways has undergone a metamorphosis that was unthinkable even a decade ago. How? Two simple acts. One, technology has closed all windows for human manipulation and forced errors. Second, outsourcing the whole process of ticketing to a private firm.

The e-Seva programme of Andhra Pradesh, an online transaction system for taxation, bill payment for utilities etc, was another silent revolution that liberated millions from the clutches of corruption. Therefore, the solution lies in technology and its smart use. This may eliminate labour at one level, but often the efficiencies of a changing system outweigh economic losses due to this shortchanging.

From the use of mobile phones, biometrics to cloud computing, all forms of technological solutions have to be harvested for better governance and improving service delivery. Technology can create accountability, eliminate inequities at the user level and make things more transparent.

The media-savvy to middle class youth should petition the government about the smart use of technology. Once the option of a technology-based solution is offered, some babu or mantri may pick it up and implement it. If it works, market forces will compel the government to make it the norm. So let's start scribbling or touching the iPad screens for the best technological solutions to weed out corruption in India. And light a candle once in a while too.

For a start, let me offer the idea of legalising donations to political parties, especially the drives for funds during election time. We may even offer tax exemptions to donors and make way for political parties to list themselves on the stock exchange. The US has done this with reasonable success. More seriously, maybe we should aim for 'total computer literacy' than the mockery of adult literacy where a person learns to sign their names and get declared as literate. This will make the use of the internet possible for people in the last mile as well.

Lastly, technology will also help us nudge people and change consumer behaviour. After all, for every corrupt politician in the country there are scores of willing bribe- givers.

I shall end with a story that may sound more apocryphal than true.

Years ago, home minister Gulzarilal Nanda vowed to eradicate corruption and said: "I am determined to do this. Anyone who has been affected by this can meet me personally at my house with the complaint." One morning, there was a long queue of people with their grievances. The first person entered and started describing how he got to be number one in the queue. Apparently, he had got there by bribing Nanda's peon Rs 50.

I think we should put out the candlelight marches and instead light the innovation bulbs in our minds. May a million algorithms bloom!

(K Anji Reddy is founder chairman of Dr Reddy's Laboratories Limited and the Naandi Foundation)

The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

MAMATA'S MUSCLE

The country... er, the state has gone to the dogs...

State? Which state?

West Bengal. Have you heard the latest? Mamata Banerjee says that she controls many goons and can set them on the original goon factory, the CPI(M). How the tables have turned!

So what's the problem with this?

She is paying them back in their own coin, rather in their own language. That's good... at least she has got guts. The young Bengali voters will love such bravado.

But what about Ben-gali culture, bhad-ralok language. That's all lost, na? Suave Bengalis like Somnath Chatterjee are appalled.

Are you daft? All is fair in love and war. Besides, after many years Bengal is thinking of poriborton... that's a revolution in itself.. and revolutions need tough language. And suave Bengalis don't have to fight elections... It's easy to talk from the pulpit...

So do you think the Left Front is afraid of the new, angry Mamata?

Oh, no they know her well. But this is a goon-for-a-goon election. Mamata is just displaying her wares like the Left did in the previous elections.

Do say: The voters will have the last laugh.

Don't say: Goon with the wind.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

DIFFERENT RULES FOR DIFFERENT PEOPLE

BAHAR DUTT

On the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, India announced that it would go ahead with the planned nuclear power plant at Jaitapur, Maharashtra. Even the media, which could have kept up the pressure on the government, dismissed the protests by the local people in Jaitapur as one incited by the Shiv Sena and so not worthy of any attention. While I am no Sena supporter, it is difficult to forget the political opportunism displayed by the Congress. After all, didn't the Congress clear the project hastily just ahead of President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit. Even environment minister Jairam Ramesh has acknowledged that there were "strategic, economic and diplomatic concerns" that influenced his decision to clear the project.

There is also another attempt to put the Jaitapur issue in that convenient basket of the environment vs development debate. The supporters of this view see the protests as one orchestrated by a handful of green fanatics who are coming in the way of electricity generation for Maharashtra, which is facing a power crisis. But the problems for the people in Jaitapur are far more complex: a thriving vibrant economy, rich in natural resources, is being destabilised and only a handful of people have been offered employment.

Let's start by admitting that the site of the power plant is on productive agricultural land (government reports, however, label it as barren) that it will deprive 1,000 families of their farmland and 6,000 who depend on fishing for their steady income. Next, let's now look at the issue of compensation. The fishermen of Sankri Nata are less than a kilometre from the proposed site of the nuclear plant and the harbour here is the only access point for hundreds of boats to head out to the sea. Their daily catch — mackerel, prawn, pomfret, and oysters — are worth thousands of rupees. Will the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd, the project proponents, allow boats to fish in the area? Will it not cordon off the area for protecting India's largest nuclear power plant? Surprisingly, not one fisherman from Sankri Nata is on the compensation package list. Why? Because, they do not own any land!

The Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg region is one of the resource-rich regions of the country and over the years has become famous for its Alphonso mango, cashew nuts and a thriving fish industry. Instead of developing these industries further or even cashing in on the tourism potential of the Konkan region, the two districts are being developed as a power hub.

Yet, no study has been done on the cumulative impact of so many big power projects in a small region that has over 65,000 hectares of land under Alphonso and 90,000 hectares under cashew cultivation.

Already, the locals are alleging that the JSW thermal power plant in Jaigad in Ratnagiri has started impacting the water table and could affect mango production levels. Who will pay these farmers for such losses in the future?

Lastly, is it fair to label the fears of the people of Jaitapur as anti-national because they do not want radioactive nuclear waste in their backyard? Compare this with another protest by residents of a posh south Delhi colony against a waste-to-energy project that's coming up in their backyard. They have threatened an "Anna Hazare-type fast" if the project is not scrapped. But this agitation will never be dubbed as anti-national. Because in this case, the stench of the garbage is much closer home.

( Bahar Dutt is a conservation biologist and environment editor of CNN-IBN )

The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

BACKSTORY, ANYONE?

DILIP CHERIAN

It is clear that the solutions to deal with corruption are scarce. It's worth drawing parallels between today's India and the America of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That was an age when railroad and other industry barons along with politicians built corrupt partnerships. Corruption during this period reached such levels that various journalists began to investigate the murky wheelings and dealings between politicians and industrialists. They were termed 'Muckrakers' by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 when he first warned journalists of the dangers of always keeping one's attention trained 'on the muck'.

Nevertheless, the dirt exposed by journalists then galvanised civil society, which responded with organised protests and focused on breaking the corrupt nexus between politicians and industrialists and reforming federal, state and municipal governments with an objective to increasing efficiency and accountability.

But there are many differences in India and America of the late 19th century too. In America, representatives were elected to facilitate economic growth, to protect individual freedoms and ensure law and order. India, on the other hand, had a well-established civil service at the time of Independence. It also had a huge population, widespread poverty and little infrastructure.

In the case of India, some of our major faultlines were created when our political masters opted for the socialist model of growth. The word 'socialist' implied authoritarian control at the administrative level as opposed to free market enterprise. This is where India was — on a slippery downward slope — a few years ago when it was virtually bankrupt and had to hock its gold. Prodded along by international pressure, PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh then started the process of economic liberalisation, but not before the strongly authoritarian socialist system of governance had done its damage to the body politic, establishing bad precedents that even today continue to subvert.

Overcoming this damage will require not just 24/7 TV 'muckraking', fasts-unto-death by individuals or a single bill to address corruption at the administrative levels. It will require more than a single-point agenda, as there is sadly more than just one faultline. I think our Muckrakers need to segue into true investigative journalists and do some 'meaningful' digging. It's not enough to expose wrongdoings but to reveal the faultlines underlying these. Only then can they can be repaired and the body politic attempt a more fundamental healing process.

( Dilip Cherian is former editor, Business India and a policy analyst )

The views expressed by the author are personal

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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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

A CLEARER ORBIT

 

The Union government has announced two welcome decisions. One is the decision to continue with the Jaitapur nuclear project, where India is planning to build six nuclear reactors, beginning with two in the first phase. Fast-growing economies like India, and heavily populated ones at that, have no choice but to depend on more and more of nuclear energy in near future to meet their energy requirements as both an economic and clean option. The other decision — to convert the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) into an independent and statutory body — will have far-reaching consequences for the nuclear industry in India as well as public perception about nuclear plants, the latter still driving the Jaitapur project through rough weather.

While the necessity of nuclear energy in near future is undeniable, the same goes for raising questions about nuclear projects and demanding sufficiently adequate answers. In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, nuclear nations are undertaking reviews of their reactors. India had immediately announced the same, the aim being not just taking stock of things as they stand but also upgrading safety standards and preparing to deal with multiple and even simultaneous incidents. In this context, this is the perfect time to separate the AERB from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), to which the regulator has been reporting all this while. It has been argued earlier in these columns that the AERB — currently the only body in India capable of assessing the radiological impact of any nuclear activity — needed to be freed from any deference to the nuclear establishment. The nuclear industry is too complex and demanding to house its establishment and regulator together. An "independent and autonomous" body, as the proposed Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India is supposed to be, should not only tighten the checks on projects but also convey the right message to both the nation as well as India's nuclear partners.

A large part of the public nature of the nuclear question owes itself to the psychological impact of the very idea of a nuclear plant on society. That is why it is always imperative for the government to reach out and engender nuclear literacy. In a week that saw the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster against the backdrop of Fukushima, the decision on an independent and statutory nuclear regulator is a mark of India's seriousness about its nuclear industry — the recognition of both the need for nuclear energy and the necessity of enhanced safety.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

ANOTHER GOAL

 

No team sport has perhaps been as determined as field hockey has been to keep itself from becoming boring. In what is being described as the IPL effect, hockey has been quick to propose an International Super Series. Overseen by the International Hockey Federation, the matches will be abbreviate, more interactive and just more fun. The first competition is to be held in Perth this October, and besides hosts Australia competitors would include India, Pakistan, Malaysia and New Zealand.

How the first season fares will be interesting, because hockey, one of the most entertaining sports on the ground, too often struggles to keep enough television audiences interested to consolidate its popularity, and also reap the financial benefits of broadcast rights. The Super

Series is attempting some innovations that may help: music on the public address system, and earpieces for umpires and some players to make the game more interactive. In addition, the game will be abbreviated as well as made faster by some changes: 30-minute matches in 15-minute halves, nine players on field with a minimum two in the attacking half and a less crowded fray for penalty corners. Before the purists start gasping, it's worthwhile to recall the innovations that have made hockey ever more athletic and pacier: astroturf gave the sport speed as well as portability, rolling substitutions and the no-offside liberation, and the recent self-pass allowance.

How it goes in Perth is bound to have consequences for international hockey. For one, if such complementary formats work, it will be valuable for Indian players, on whose behalf it's often argued they don't get enough big-match experience. It could make viable club-based leagues to fill in gaps in the international calendar. If it doesn't work, be sure that hockey will find another way to innovate — it's in the DNA of the sport.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WORK BETTER

 

As one of the largest job programmes in history, NREGA often gets a bad rap from those who think it does not contribute to growth — that it amounts to giving people fish, rather than teaching them to fish, to use the Chinese expression.

Now, there's an interesting proposal in the works, floated by the Prime Minister's National Council on Skill Development, to impart greater sustainability to NREGA employment by investing in skill-formation. However, to make sure that the original intent of the scheme is not diluted, it's going to be rolled out in a calibrated way and meant for those who have already completed the required number of days of unskilled manual labour. Also, it will focus largely on artisan skills, because NREGA was felt to have unwittingly contributed to a de-skilling as many craftspeople abandoned their work to shovel soil and build ditches, because it was a reliable source of income.

Meanwhile, as far as the skill development mission goes, hitching its wagon to NREGA is a great idea, giving it a country-wide horizontal reach to scale up. Apart from the major crafts clusters, like weavers in Varanasi or Chanderi, brass workers in Moradabad, etc, we don't know the dimensions of our artisan community. NREGA has phenomenal scale and covers all the districts across India, and will help provide a real database so that the skill development programme can have greater range and depth. This will add greater heft to the programme, which aims to massively expand the skilled pool of workers in health, information technology, tourism and hospitality, with private sector cooperation. So this plan would not only raise the NREGA profile and make it a productivity-enhancing scheme rather than simply welfare, it would also make a huge difference to the skilling project, so crucial if India is to make use of its demographic advantage. At a less abstract level, it could stop the free fall of Indian craftsmanship, the slump in self-belief among our artisans who now feel that digging a well gives them greater returns

and security.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

AMERICAN EAGLE, AFGHAN CAGE

C. RAJA MOHAN

 

As it receives today the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, New Delhi will be eager to get a first-hand account of the rapidly evolving American policy towards Kabul and Islamabad.

This is Grossman's first visit to Delhi after US President Barack Obama appointed him to the current position following the death of Richard Holbrooke a few months ago. That Grossman was part of the original team in the Bush administration that launched the transformation of the bilateral relationship with India during the middle of the last decade, will make him especially welcome in Delhi.

Grossman has the opportunity then to set up a reliable and productive channel of communication between Washington and Delhi on the Af-Pak issues that are at the very top of the national security agenda in both capitals.

India understands the many domestic factors driving the US

Af-Pak policy and the difficult challenges confronting Washington across the Durand Line.

As the US prepares to draw down its military presence in Afghanistan, starting from July, as part of a plan to hand over the security responsibilities to local forces by 2014, Delhi and Washington need a precise understanding of each other's objectives in the Af-Pak region.

Only then would it be possible for them to limit the potential conflicts of interest and expand the possible areas of cooperation in stabilising Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Delhi must dispel the widespread impression that India is desperate to carve out a special position for itself in Afghanistan. The chatter in Delhi's strategic community about constructing an expansive Indian role beyond the

Durand Line has played right into the hands of Pakistan's propaganda that projects India as part of the problem in Afghanistan.

The current public refrain in Washington goes somewhat like this: "If only Delhi can stop competing with Rawalpindi in Afghanistan, the Pakistan army would be far more helpful to the United States. If only India can make major concessions on Kashmir, discard the 'Cold Start' doctrine, and perhaps stop growing its economy too fast, Rawalpindi will feel secure enough to end its support to the Taliban and other extremist groups in Afghanistan."

Grossman, one can only hope, has a better brief. For its part, Delhi must tell the US envoy that it is fully conscious of the limits imposed by geography on any Indian role in Afghanistan. Grossman must know that India's pursuit of its national interests in Afghanistan will be tempered by supreme realism. And that Delhi is open to collaboration with anyone, including Washington, in preventing the re-emergence of Afghanistan as the hotbed of religious extremism, a haven for international terrorism, and a source of regional instability.

Delhi would also have many questions to ask of Grossman.

Until it exits from Afghanistan, the US will remain the principal external determinant of the strategic environment in the north-western subcontinent.

Amidst the many current ambiguities that have enveloped the US Af-Pak policy, Delhi would want to get a measure of Washington's latest thinking from Grossman. One set of Indian questions will be about the changing US approach to the Taliban.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently redefined the terms of engagement with the Taliban. Until now, Washington said renouncing the links to Al Qaeda, laying down arms and respecting the Afghan constitution were preconditions for talks. Now they appear to have been recast as possible outcomes from a dialogue with the Taliban.

In Washington, many have come to believe that embracing the Taliban is the only answer to Afghanistan's problems. There are also unconfirmed reports of a direct contact between Washington and the Taliban.

But there is little information, at least in the public domain, on the nature of these contacts. Delhi would surely want to know Washington's assessment of the Taliban's interest in the dialogue and its willingness to compromise with other forces in Afghanistan.

India would also want to know if there is any thinking at all in Washington about the consequences of accommodating the Taliban. The insertion of the Taliban into Afghan power structures is bound to alter the ethnic and sectarian balances within and around the country.

A second set of important questions for Grossman are about the current instability in the US-

Pakistan relations. The last few months have seen the repeated boiling over of bilateral tensions.

The conventional wisdom is that Washington and Rawalpindi are hostages to each other. Their recent difficulties, it is argued, represent at best a passing phase and that the two will find a way to work together in Afghanistan.

There is an emerging counter-view which suggests that the current divergence between Washington and Rawalpindi is structural. It might be rooted in the Pakistan army's belief that the US is a much diminished power a decade after 9/11 and cannot set the terms for Afghanistan's future.

The Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, might believe that the rise of China has altered the context of the Great Game and provides the resources to establish Rawalpindi's long-sought primacy in Afghanistan.

Rawalpindi and Beijing, this argument goes, are convinced that the American Eagle trapped in the Afghan cage might have no option but to go along. Nothing else explains, according to this view, the current bold strategic defiance of the US by Kayani.

If Grossman wants to explain the current dynamism in US-Pakistan relations, Delhi will be all ears. Delhi in turn must signal its readiness to cooperate with the Obama administration in stabilising the north-western subcontinent.

It's really up to Grossman to say if the US sees India as part of the solution in Afghanistan and if Washington is prepared to work with Delhi in changing the strategic calculus of the Pakistan army.

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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

RAISING THE FLOOR

M R MADHAVAN

 

In recent days, several members of Parliament have written in these pages about measures to increase the effectiveness of Parliament. Several steps can be taken to enable Parliament work better as the premier institution to hold government accountable for its proposals and actions.

Parliamentary committees provide a forum to MPs to examine bills and budget proposals. Specialised financial committees also look at audit reports of ministries and PSUs. The committees, however, are handicapped by the lack of expert researchers working for them. Parliament can correct this by having subject experts for each committee, and supplementing this expertise with outside experts whenever needed. The British Parliament, for instance, has research staff attached to its committees.

The issue of asymmetric information between the government and MPs becomes even more stark when we look at the facilities provided to individual MPs. They do not have any office space in Delhi, and usually work out of home (which varies from a bungalow to a hostel room). They do not have any individual research staff — though the recent increase in allowances may enable them to appoint one junior level researcher. Contrast this with the investments made by mature democracies. The United States and the United Kingdom provide office space next to the legislature building. Each US Senator has 15 to 20 researchers supporting her work, while the figure is three to five staff for a British MP. In addition, both these countries have large research staff attached to their legislative libraries who provide detailed notes on bills, current issues and any queries raised by members. The US

Congressional Research Service has about 700 staff, and the corresponding number in the UK is about 100 staff.

Other issues often raised include the limited debate on bills, the limited number of days that Parliament meets, as well as the lack of freedom for MPs to vote their conscience as important matters. These three issues are interconnected when it comes to the incentive structure for MPs to perform their parliamentary functions. Voters do not know about the work of their representatives in Parliament, and rarely use that as a performance metric when MPs come for re-election. Therefore, there is no direct incentive to work hard on understanding issues and debating them in Parliament. In any case, the whip and the anti-defection law are valid reasons for an MP to justify why she did not act in a particular way. Four moves can change the system dramatically.

First, the rules can be amended to require that all final votes on bills or debates be recorded. That is, these should not be decided by a voice vote but should have each MP press the voting button. Such a step will lead to a voting record for each MP, which will be available to the electorate. Thus, the voters will see how the MP voted (and whether the MP voted). This step will also prevent the passage of bills during a commotion in the House, as has been seen several times in recent years.

Second, Parliament should have a pre-announced annual calendar of sittings. Such a measure will help MPs and other stakeholders plan their schedules. It will also make it difficult for the government to shorten sessions when it finds it inconvenient to face tough questions in Parliament. This addresses the issue that Parliament meets for too few days every year.

Another idea is that a significant minority should have the power to insist on a discussion or referral of an issue to a parliamentary committee. Such a procedure would have prevented the stalemate in the winter session last year over the formation of a joint parliamentary committee to look into the 2G spectrum allocation. Indeed, this formula could be used when some MPs want to convene a session. Currently, only the government can decide when Parliament meets, with the only stipulation that it should meet at least once in six months. Given that government accountability is ensured through Parliament, it is important that it not have complete freedom to avoid holdin-g sessions or having only very short sessions.

Finally, it is important to take stock of the anti-defection law, and the proposal that the provisions be limited to trust votes and money bills. This step will allow MPs to represent the interests of their voters and vote according to their conscience on most issues. At the same time, it will preserve the objective of having stable governments as envisaged by the anti-defection legislation.

The writer is with PRS Legislative, Delhi

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

REBUILDING UNIVERSITIES, DEGREE BY DEGREE

DEEPAK PENTAL

 

Almost everyone agrees that education will play a key role in national development. As a bare minimum, it has to create employable human resources; and at their creative best, institutions of learning have to unearth talent which will create new knowledge, and use existing knowledge in a creative manner to solve problems. An overarching theme has to be the creation of a citizenry that is committed to secular and liberal ideals, and has a work ethic and a public consciousness.

The past five years have witnessed a heightened commitment to education, including higher education. Major emphasis has been put on access, equity and excellence. A number of committees and commissions have made very valuable recommendations. The reports by the following four committees are extremely pertinent:

The UGC committee on academic and administrative reforms.

The National Knowledge Commission (2006-2009).

The committee on the renovation and rejuvenation of higher education (the Yashpal committee).

The committee on restructuring post-school science teaching — from India's three major science academies.

The most critical and important recommendation of the UGC committee was the adoption of the semester system, and of a choice-based credit system. It emphasised how important it is to revise courses at regular intervals; to have transparent admission procedures; to reform examination procedures so results are declared on time; and to ensure an involved and fair marking system, with some internal assessment.

The semester system is the preferred mode of organising teaching globally. The only exception is Britain and some of erstwhile British colonies, like India. Europe has already implemented a semester system with choice-based credits to encourage mobility and uniformity. In India, the IITs and agricultural universities have had a semester system and credits since their inception.

The science academies document identified major drawbacks in post-school science education. Amongst these were: "compartmentalised teaching/learning of a few sub-disciplines of science; time and energy wasted in sequential admissions to B.Sc, M.Sc and Ph.D programmes; repetitions of topics at B.Sc and M.Sc levels; poor laboratory facilities and consequent poor training of students in experimental methods; little exposure to research methodologies; limited options for movement between science and technology streams." This report suggested a four-year B.S programme, stating categorically that "it is essential that all the existing B.Sc and M.Sc as well as the proposed four-year B.S programmes follow the semester pattern with credit-based courses."

The Knowledge Commission highlighted the importance of increasing the number of universities and keeping these small; emphasised curriculum revisions once every three years; a movement away from rote-learning; semester-based teaching; a credits system; and encouragement for science and maths in education. The commission also proposed four-year undergraduate degrees and emphasised the training of teachers working at the undergraduate level. A particularly important recommendation was to enhance training in skills to create a well-equipped work force for both the manufacturing and services sectors, and the use of information and communication technology tools.

The Yashpal committee report, meanwhile, tried to bring national attention back to the concept of a university. The report states that "the loss of the primacy of the universities in the scheme of the higher education sector in India, the growing distance between knowledge areas and the isolation of universities from the real world, and crass commercialisation are some of the problems that characterise the growth of the Indian higher education system." The report identified the disconnect between different areas of knowledge, the divide between research bodies and universities, the creation of isolated learning centres, the erosion of democratic space, narrowly-focused courses and unrevised syllabi, and poor undergraduate education as some of the major reasons for the lack of excellence in higher education. The committee also made a very important suggestion: creating an independent body to regulate education. In the light of recommendations from both the Knowledge Commission and the Yashpal committee, the HRD Ministry has proposed the creation of an independent body — to be called NCHER — to look after all forms of education. This idea now needs implementation.

More recently, a committee of vice-chancellors of Central universities, appointed by the HRD minister, made detailed recommendations on reforms. This was followed by a meeting of the vice-chancellors of state and Central universities at Vigyan Bhavan on March 25 and 26. Some very pertinent recommendations were made, and these have been displayed on the UGC website for comments and critique. The dominant refrain in the meeting was: enough has been written and said; it is time to act.

What are the impediments to reforms? There are many. The Central government currently is occupied with too many issues. There is a sense of perpetual opposition in our democratic system. Almost anything that is brought in for legislation by the ruling party in the states or at the Centre has to be opposed. This is leading to delays and weakening of the institutions which are supposed to legislate and govern. Concentration spans are too short, voices are becoming shriller, and theatrics are in vogue. It is as if we are perpetually seeking attention rather than being creative. Within ministries, there are turf wars. In all this, reform processes suffer.

There is opposition within universities and colleges to reforms. Years of depletion has led to a loss of appetite for excellence. This stagnation has been exacerbated by the opening of small research institutions. The Yashpal committee saw it true: we seem to be losing the sense of what a university is all about.

Publicly-funded universities must be given more autonomy, and there should be no political interference in appointments, in resource mobilisation and utilisation, and in the research interests of faculty members. In appointments and promotions, merit should be the only consideration. While intellectual freedom has to be the bedrock of a university, parameters of accountability need to be spelled out — and the performance of the faculty needs to be open to scrutiny. Unfortunately, those who have been shirking work and have moved miles away from intellectual rigour want to avoid scrutiny and merit-based promotions. Course revision is anathema to many, as it requires additional effort. Moreover there are teachers' unions to protect non-performers and to oppose reforms.

Society at large must know that reforms and changes suggested by various committees are pertinent and long overdue. Many Asian countries which were way behind the West in higher education are fast catching up. A global movement to strengthen universities is on. If we are serious about our universities and higher education — and the Central government does seem to have such intentions — the time has come to act.

The writer is professor of genetics and former vice-chancellor of Delhi University

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A FUNERAL, A WEDDING, A SPECTACLE

SHAILAJA BAJPAI

 

Sometimes, faith can overcome the worst odds. And so it came to pass that that the illness and subsequent death of Sathya Sai Baba dominated news TV over the last week without much visual appeal or the nightly roundabout of studio hyperventilation. There was no talk of corruption, no heated disputes, no political jousting, no morality show, not even voices breaking the sound barrier. When was the last time that happened?

The breaking news, throughout last week, was a medical bulletin. The discussion, when held, was a calm one on the future of his spiritual empire. The TV reporters were left standing outside the hospital or the Sathya Sai Baba Trust premises, trying to play the interpreters of maladies or biographers of his ailments. The most moving moments came when the Hindi news channels found devotees who spoke of their devotion and what Sathya Sai Baba meant to them. There was some scepticism of Sathya Sai Baba as a miracle man, but it was muted out of respect for his critical condition.

What does this prove, if anything at all? That television can treat a subject as news and not an IPL Twenty20 jamboree when it wants to.

Lest we get accustomed to the low-key nature of this coverage, TV news returned to top gear the moment the death of the spiritual leader was announced. Thereafter, we were treated to the sight of mourners, the more famous the better, in mourning. Besides politicians, we saw the likes of Sunil Gavaskar stalked by the TV cameras when he went to pay his last respects. But it was the spectacle of Sachin Tendulkar, weeping, and his wife Anjali solicitously watching him before passing him a handkerchief and then sitting by his side to console him that transfixed news channels, especially the Hindi ones. Again and again, the shots were replayed. That Tendulkar was grieving for Sathya Sai Baba became incidental to Tendulkar weeping, Anjali passing him the hanky and then talking to him.

From grief to celebrations. With the William weds Kate wedding around the corner, BBC — more royal and loyal than the entire United Kingdom — has been running hour-long "happy" programmes each evening on the kinds of things you never wanted to know about the royals, their weddings and those who serve them. Honestly, the Beeb does itself no favours by telecasting what are ill-disguised promos for the House of Windsor and tourist guides to Britain, that too at prime time.

One evening was all about how the royals work. This involved a series of meals, most notably breakfast with the Arsenal soccer team and Thierry Henry who was a hit with the Buckingham Palace staff. The players were introduced to Queen Elizabeth who asked them their nationalities, and upon learning that several belonged to one country, exclaimed, "Oh, so many of you", or words to that effect. That's what is called a Royal Observation (BBC Entertainment).

BBC World had the reporter looking for mementos from shops which cater to royal tastes. So buy English cheese from the gentleman who sends it around to the palace. Or how about shoes made by the cobblers who cobble the royal feet and a jeweller who bejewels them? All frightfully expensive and not terribly interesting because after your mouth has fallen open at the prices of these ornaments and hung out there for a few minutes frozen in shock and awe, and then just about managed to clamp down again, they've moved on to more expensive artifacts. Time for fish mouth again.

It isn't only the British channels that have gone all regal on us. NDTV Good Times was gushing like a broken faucet about Kate Middleton. "She is our superstar, our Hollywood", said one Ingrid Seward. Or, our Shah Rukh Khan, we presume. We listened to how wonderful Kate is and was. She's sensible and mature but sexy and fun too and does she or does she not love William!

When TLC began to replay the wedding of Prince Charles to Diana Spencer, Tuesday, you knew it was time to go out and buy a little Union Jack flag. Alternatively, watch a Suresh Kalmadi on slippery ground.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

AFTER THE KILLING FIELDS, THE BETRAYAL

 

More than 30 years after the murderous Khmer Rouge were driven from power in Cambodia, the UN-backed effort to bring justice to the victims of the killing fields stands on the brink of ignominious failure due to political interference from the Cambodian government and the indifference of the international community.

A hybrid court, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, has spent over $200 million since it was set up in 2003 with both international and local judges and prosecutors. It has tried only one person: Kang Kech Eav, or Duch, the head of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison complex, who is appealing his conviction for crimes against humanity, murder and torture.

Now Cambodia's PM Hun Sen has taken an axe to further proceedings. In power for over 25 years, Hun Sen has repeatedly and publicly declared that the court should try only one more case (case "002" in court parlance), against four detained senior ex-Khmer Rouge leaders, all of whom are in their late 70s or 80s.

As for five additional unnamed suspects, whom the court's pre-trial chamber approved for investigation, Hun Sen bluntly informed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon late last year that they would not be "allowed" to go forward.

The reason offered is the supposed threat any additional trial would pose to peace in Cambodia. Others suspect the PM is simply enforcing a pact he long ago cut within his ruling Cambodian People's Party that none of its ex-Khmer Rouge members would ever be tried or otherwise exposed for crimes they committed, no matter how serious.

Having invested more than a decade in negotiations to launch the court and keep it alive, the UN finds it hard to walk away now. It is institutionally committed to the court, even though in 2002, then-secretary general Kofi Annan recommended against UN involvement in a tribunal which he rightly believed lacked adequate protections against precisely the kind of political interference that is blocking the additional cases.

Annan was compelled by pressure from the US, Australia, France and Japan to accept the present flawed structure (the International Criminal Court is limited to prosecuting crimes committed after it was established in 2002). Court officials are thus caught in a trap. The fearful Cambodian staff must respond to political pressures. Even international staffers feel constrained to focus their efforts on making the most of case 002, given the unlikelihood of further trials.

As a result, the right course of action — allowing all cases currently before the judges to proceed through to completion — now seems unattainable. Advocates of impartial justice are faced, as they have been throughout the morally tainted history of this tribunal, with a choice of lesser evils.

One option under discussion would involve deception. According to various sources, court officials might "gracefully" dispose of the additional five suspects, for example, by presumptively finding that none of them are among those "most responsible" for Khmer Rouge crimes, as the governing statute requires. Such a move would implicate the court in a political decision to halt proceedings.

Unfortunately, this is where things seem to be headed. By their own awkward admission, the Cambodian and international judges responsible for investigating the additional cases have restricted their staff to desk review; no field investigation is underway. This month the deputy national co-prosecutor reaffirmed there would be no further prosecutions. The fix, it seems, is in.

A preferable, if still distasteful, alternative, would be to honestly horse-trade abandonment of the additional cases in exchange for a guarantee of total government cooperation, and full donor resources, for case 002.

The UN and the Cambodian authorities should openly declare that the hybrid court will cease operations after conclusion of case 002 due to government objections and the lack of continued funding. As part of the squalid bargain, the government should publicly commit itself to lifting its illegal veto of the pending witness summonses and comply swiftly with any other court order or request.

Even with these conditions fulfilled, victims of the Khmer Rouge will be cheated of the more comprehensive accountability further trials would have produced. And every Cambodian will know that all the will the international community could muster was not sufficient to create a truly independent court. It's time for the UN to end the charade.

James A. Goldston is executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative. In 2007-2008 he was coordinator of prosecutions at the International Criminal Court

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

TAMIL TAKEOVER

MANOJ C G

 

Tamil takeover

Allegations of religious conversions by the church have been a key part of the RSS's arsenal. Now, the Sangh weekly, Organiser claims Christian missionaries have intensified their efforts in Tamil Nadu. A front-page article says the church, with political support, is attempting to spread the theory that Tamils were a separate race and that a popular Hindu cult there, Saiva Siddhantam, was an early version of Christianity. "After successfully converting India's northeast into a Christian-dominated region, the evangelists have now stepped up their work in the south," it says. The article refers to a book, Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines, which, it says, explains the "elaborate plans of the missionaries hatched decades ago, with the arrival of the early soul harvesters from the West." It adds: "The history of Tamil Nadu has been twisted beyond imagination by these 'academic' religious men, who in the guise of serving the Tamil language have invented a new version, according to which, Thiruvalluvar who lived during the Sangam period (the BC era) was influenced by St Paul, who is supposed to have visited Tamil Nadu around 2nd century AD."

It says the separate "Dravidian race" theory was first articulated by Bishop Robert Caldwell, who claimed Dravidians were the "original" inhabitants of the south and were "cheated" by the Aryan Brahmins. G.U. Pope, who translated a sacred Hindu text, Thiruvasagam, proposed the theory that Christianity and Saiva Siddhantam were similar. Recently, it says, a highly endorsed work of evangelist propaganda, India is a Christian Nation, builds upon the foundations of Caldwell and Pope to reinterpret Tamil spirituality as a part of Christianity. The book, it says, is "part of a global network working on a three-pronged strategy to dismember India, using religion, violence and social fissures — Islamic radicalism with Pakistan as the epicentre, Naxalism with Chinese support and the caste-communal conflicts fuelled by the West."

Going nuclear

The Organiser editorial says the motive behind the UPA's determination to go ahead with the Jaitapur nuclear power project despite severe local opposition and warnings from scientists is "questionable". It says the technology and reactors that will be used at Jaitapur are untried. France, which sold India this technology, "does not have one, nor do any of the other Western nations where nuclear power potential has been tapped for years." The location of the project is the ecologically sensitive Sahyadris in the Western Ghats. India had applied to UNESCO for the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme status for the Western Ghats in 2006. It says: "This part of the country is densely populated. According to a report of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the government of India has not been fully transparent with its citizens... We have to halt to the Jaitapur project, reassess it and go ahead with it only when it is safe, sound and sensible."

Court of opinion

An article in Panchjanya about Binayak Sen's bail questions the double standards of NGOs and activists, saying these so-called civil society groups and individuals hailed the Supreme Court's decision to grant bail, but the same people had raised questions when a lower court had handed down a sentence to him and three others earlier. It says tempers had run high when the Bilaspur high court had not granted him relief.

For such "secular" intellectuals and so-called human rights activists, no matter the logic, circumstances or evidence, it is justice if bail is granted and injustice if punishment is meted out, says the article. It says there is not an iota of doubt that there is evidence regarding Sen helping Naxals. It adds abetting the activities of Naxals is clearly sedition, and the fact remains Sen has not been given a clean chit, and nor has the government's evidence been disproved.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

AVIATION MINISTRY CAN'T FLY

The aviation ministry is yet to get over the scandal of pilots with fake licences being allowed to fly; it has now been hit by the Supreme Court on how it allowed the airports at Delhi and Mumbai (DIAL and MIAL, respectively) to charge an airport development fee. More trouble could lie ahead with the consultation paper put out by the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (AERA) on the development fees DIAL should be allowed to levy—while the airport's costs have skyrocketed from the original estimate of R5,900 crore to R12,857 crore thanks in part to larger capacity, two consultants have recommended R830-1,000 crore be disallowed; they've also said neither the ministry nor the Airports Authority of India (which owns 26% of DIAL) were regularly updated on the cost overruns; if 84,000 square metres extra were built by DIAL without taking prior Board approval, as the consultation paper says, it indicates the ministry was pretty much sleeping on the job.

The ministry has broadly defended its February 2, 2009, letter to allow DIAL to charge R200 per departing domestic passenger and R1,300 per departing international passenger (R100 and R600 respectively for MIAL on February 27, 2009) on the grounds that AAI was entitled to levy such a development fee under Section 22A of the AAI Act of 1994. Since DIAL and MIAL were running the airports under lease from AAI, the ministry was justified in extending this facility to them. This is what the Supreme Court has struck down. For one, it points out, the development fee was "really a cess or a tax for a special purpose", and under Article 265 of the Constitution, no tax "can be levied or collected except by authority of law…" In other words, the Court has ruled, even if AAI were running the Delhi and Mumbai airports, it had no power to fix the rates without Parliament's sanction—in the same way that the finance ministry can't raise income tax rates unless Parliament approves this. Two, since this power to fix rates was given to AERA by virtue of the AERA Act which was notified on December 5, 2008 (for some reason, AERA was established only on May 12, 2009), the ministry was usurping AERA's powers—it gave DIAL and MIAL permission to collect the development fees in February 2009 even though the AERA Act had been gazetted. How the ministry chooses to react to the Supreme Court judgment should be interesting, as also the final decision AERA takes on DIAL's costs once the consultation process is over.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GOOD NEWS AT JAITAPUR

As soon as the Fukushima plant began unravelling in Japan following an earthquake and a tsunami on March 11, it became obvious that the global nuclear debate would hit renewed heights of acrimony. Protesters would gather strength, supporters would need to strengthen defences. So, the escalation of conflict in the Indian heartland should not have come as a surprise. In the specific case of Jaitapur, the government should have made a special effort to improve public outreach, quell rumours, and communicate that people's safety and other interests were not being neglected. To its credit, the government seems to be finally getting its act together, announcing everything from an enhanced compensation package to an independent regulator and standalone safety systems for each reactor at Jaitapur—the global nuclear watchdog IAEA's Operational Safety Review Team is to be called in to assist India's safety reviews and audits of nuclear power plants; the findings of the six safety

review committees set up by the government after the Fukushima accident are to be made public; and each of the 35 conditions stipulated as part of the environmental clearance, NPCIL has said, will be adhered to in a transparent manner.

The independent regulator, the Bill for which will be introduced in the monsoon session, is especially good news since the current position in which the regulator reports to the Department of Atomic Energy was always asking for trouble—this way, there is another, independent layer of authority, to ensure safety interests are paramount. The issue of land for big projects has become especially tricky in the last few years, and this remains a matter of concern. After South Korean steelmaker Posco thought it had finally cleared all hurdles in its five-year journey, Jairam Ramesh's ministry has withheld forest clearances (it got environmental clearances in January) on the grounds the claims of two villages haven't been settled—the Orissa government has argued the people living in these two villages have no rights on the forest land on which Posco's plant will be built. In the Jaitapur case, Ramesh has taken a different view of the protesters, one of whom was killed in police firing, who don't want the project in their backyard or to give up their land. We welcome Ramesh taking a more holistic view of Jaitapur's costs and benefits, but surely the standards have to be uniform across projects?

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHO WILL REPLACE US CONSUMERS?

STEPHEN S ROACH

 

Asia needs a new model consumer. A post-crisis generation of "zombie consumers" in the US is likely to hobble growth in global consumption for years to come. And that means that export-led developing Asia now has no choice but to turn inward and rely on its own 3.5 billion consumers.

Of course, this is not the first time that Asia has had to cope with the walking economic dead. Japan's corporate zombies were at the epicentre of its first "lost decade" in the 1990s. Sclerotic companies were put on life-support credit lines by their zaibatsu—like banking partners—delaying their

inevitable failure and perpetuating inefficiencies and disincentives that resulted in a post-bubble collapse in Japanese productivity growth.

Similarly, the crisis of 2008-09 led to zombie-creating bailouts in the West. From Wall Street to AIG to Detroit, the US was quick to rescue corporate giants that would have failed otherwise. Britain and Europe did the same, throwing lifelines to RBS, HBOS-Lloyds, Fortis, Hypo Real Estate and others. In the West, the excuse was "too big to fail". How different is that from Japan's mindset nearly 20 years ago?

But the most prominent zombie may well be a broad cross-section of American consumers who are still

suffering from the ravages of the Great Recession. Afflicted by historically high unemployment, massive under-employment, and relatively stagnant real wages, while burdened with underwater mortgages, excessive debt, and subpar saving, US consumers are stretched as never before.

Yet the US government has tried virtually everything to prevent consumers from adjusting. Going well beyond the requisite extension of unemployment-insurance benefits, the safety net has been expanded to include home-foreclosure containment programmes, other forms of debt forgiveness, and extraordinary monetary and fiscal stimulus.

Compassion is part of the moral fabric of any society. But a fine line separates it from the "creative destruction" that is essential to purge a post-crisis system of its excesses. Japan crossed that line in the 1990s, as its corporate zombies prevented the painful but necessary adjustments in its post-bubble economy. That could happen in the US if Washington continues to favour policies that condone the reckless excesses of the recent past and inhibit the deleveraging and balance-sheet repair that America's zombie consumers now need for post-crisis healing.

Notwithstanding government life-support initiatives, US consumers seem headed for years of retrenchment. Consumption's share of US GDP currently stands at a sharply elevated 70%. While that's down from the high of 71.3% in early 2009, it remains fully four percentage points above the 66% norm that prevailed in the final quarter of the twentieth century.

Reversion to that earlier share is likely as American consumers make the transition from the insanity of the boom to the sanity required of the bust. That spells subdued growth in US consumption for years to come—with a predictably massive impact on global consumption. While the US accounts for only 4.5% of the world's population, its consumers spend $10.3 trillion annually—by far the most in the world.

So, with US consumption growth likely to be restrained, who will take America's place? Europe? Japan? I wouldn't bet on either.

That's where Asia fits into the equation. As an export-led region, Asia remains heavily dependent on end-market demand from consumers in the developed world. The export share of developing Asia's 12 largest economies rose from 35% of pan-regional output in the late 1990s to 45% in early 2007. Little wonder that every economy in the region either fell into recession or experienced sharp slowdowns when global trade plunged in late 2008. Decoupling was not an option.

Nor should Asia draw a false sense of security from all the hype currently being accorded to the hopes and dreams of a so-called "two-speed world". Heavily dependent on western markets, Asia must seek support from a new source of demand.

It should start by looking in the mirror. For developing Asia as a whole, internal private consumption currently stands at a record low of just 45% of GDP—down ten percentage points from the 55% share prevailing as recently as 2002.

It's not as if Asian consumer demand is dormant. But at the margin, economic growth is heavily skewed toward exports and fixed investment as the primary means of absorbing surplus labour and spreading prosperity. In a post-crisis world—impaired by America's zombie consumers—

export-led Asia is in serious need of a pro-consumption rebalancing.

Nowhere is that more evident than in China. With private consumption having fallen to a record low of 35% of GDP in 2008 (fully ten percentage points below the Asian norm), China faces major rebalancing imperatives—all the more urgent if post-crisis consumption growth in the West remains weak.

The good news is that China appears to have arrived at a similar conclusion. Its 12th Five-Year Plan is focused on three major pro-consumption initiatives: jobs (especially labour-intensive services); wages (underscored by accelerated urbanisation); and a reduction of fear-driven precautionary saving (arising out of a broadening of the social safety net). If China delivers on each of these three fronts—as I suspect it will—private consumption's share of Chinese GDP could rise by as much as five percentage points between now and 2015.

That would be good news for East Asia's other economies—namely, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. With relatively small populations—and a declining one in the case of Japan—these countries have no choice but to rely on exports and external demand to drive economic growth. In all three cases, China has replaced the US as their major export market.

That shift came just in the nick of time. If China is successful in implementing its pro-consumption agenda, the rest of Asia will be well positioned to avoid the fallout from America's new generation of zombie consumers. How the US copes is a different matter altogether.

The author, a member of the faculty at Yale University, is non-executive chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and has published 'The Next Asia' (Wiley 2009). Project Syndicate, 2011.

www.project-syndicate.org

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

IN RBI'S INTEREST
SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE

Between March 2010 and 2011, RBI raised the interest rates by 200 basis points. In response, in the same period, the commercial banks raised their lending rates by 50 to 75 basis points less. So, as RBI mulls another rate hike next week, what are the chances costlier money will translate into higher lending rates by banks? A look at the table shows, till the middle of 2010, the banks hardly moved despite the prod by RBI. In fact, the apex bank was also simultaneously raising the reverse repo or the rate which banks earn when they park surplus cash with RBI. There was obviously a strong demand on RBI from the banking system to keep doing so as liquidity sloshed around in the system.

The curious thing is the trend thereafter. By October, the effect of the huge loans for the 3G auctions made by the banks to the telecom companies and the turning bad of micro-finance ones made liquidity very scarce in the markets. In response, RBI had to resort to open market operations to pump in additional funds into the banks and keep open the daily second borrowing window, though it was meant to be a temporary facility. The net effect of the sustained liquidity crunch since October last year and the sustained rise in the benchmark interest rates by RBI should have, therefore, made the banks rapidly push up their lending rates, too. But, as the table shows, the RBI action has got diluted in transmission.

Sure, there are indications that it is becoming difficult for the banks to hold on to their base rates. For instance, the table shows in the four months from December until now, when RBI has heated up the water by 75 basis points, the strongest banks (which typically populate the lower end of the base rate) have raised their rates by 65 basis points. So, the degree of freedom or the slack in the system is certainly coming down. Compare this with the almost flat response of the banks from March 2010 to September 2010 to a 100 basis points rise in benchmark rates.

What were the reasons why banks have been so reluctant to make loans costly for the economy? RBI data shows that till the end of February 2011, non-food credit has grown by less than 17% in this fiscal. Compare this with an even worse 11% in the year before and it's obvious the growth still has a way to go before it reaches anywhere near 20% plus, the marker set by the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, for instance. In fact, the breakdown of the figure shows that agricultural credit is actually down from last year. Compared with a 24% growth rate that partially accounted for the rapid burst of growth of production in the sector, it has come down to 18%.

While industry has made up for this gap, moving up to 26.5% against 20% last year, the larger growth story is loans to commercial real estate and non-banking finance companies (NBFCs). There are a couple of other sectors that have shown fast growth rates, but those like tourism are too small to impact the decisions by the banks to change their rates. None of the other sectors are big or growing fast enough for the banks to be confident that the growth trajectory will keep up, even if they hike rates.

Interestingly, other than commercial real estate, the other villain in the inflation roll—the housing sector—is also rather tepid. Including priority sector loans, credit to this segment has not grown sharply in 2010-11, averaging just 14% on the back of a poor 6.4% growth rate in the year before. So, as RBI searches for the elusive inflation virus in this mix, the banks have given a clear indication that they believe the reason for the disease lies elsewhere. It is this mismatch that accounts for the lower transmission efficacy of the interest rate signals from RBI to the banks and from there to the rest of the economy.

Possibly a key reason for the hardening of the inflation trends is the increasing pace of financial inclusion that is taking place in the economy. RBI numbers show that in terms of volume, loans to weaker sections is now the third-largest segment of loans given by Indian banks, excluding large industry. The category is largely government driven but, at R1,91,843 crore of total banking credit, it is far bigger than either credit to commercial real estate or those given to NBFCs. It has grown at 17.6% in 2010-11.

Since a large percentage of those loans is now getting ploughed back into the economy as demand for mainly goods, the inflation potential from them is mounting fast. Of course, it will be necessary to disaggregate the loans to ascertain the percentage reaching the right segments, but the upside on the price level is definitely there.

But these are issues on which RBI will have little to offer in terms of policy guidelines. Instead, it may have to be factored in as concomitant to growth and worked in accordingly.

subhomoy.bhattacharjee@expressindia.com

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

AMERICA'S SHAMEFUL SECRET WIKILEAKED

Guantánamo is an insult to human civilisation — and American values — but it has survived as a prison for nearly a decade largely because successive U.S. administrations have peddled the myth that its cell blocks are a vital frontline in the global war against terror. So dangerous are the men 'Gitmo' holds, it is claimed, that they can never be safely released from captivity or even afforded the protections of an open and transparent judicial process. This myth has now been exploded by the release and publication of more than 700 official Pentagon documents by WikiLeaks. The documents lay bare what U.S. military interrogators knew about the men they were holding. And though they do not tell us much about the interrogation techniques used at Guantánamo or the other prisons to which many were initially "rendered," the files provide a damning insight into a chaotic and dysfunctional system that swept up individuals with no connection to al-Qaeda or terrorism and held them for months and even years at a stretch despite their innocence being apparent after a few weeks of detention. Of the 600-odd prisoners released since 2002, some turned out to have been press-ganged by the Taliban or al-Qaeda in the chaotic days following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, while others were framed by unreliable bounty-hunters.

Above all, the documents establish the ineffectiveness of the Guantánamo method as a means of fighting terror. Terrorism may be a special crime that requires special investigative tools but what the latest files reveal is the ad hoc and even experimental nature of the interrogation enterprise in which U.S. military personnel simply made up the rules as they went along. And the inefficiencies cut both ways: innocent men — including one Afghan as old as 89 — and children as young as 14 languished for long periods while potentially dangerous individuals, such as Abu Sufian Qumu of the al-Qaeda, were released. Qumu is now said to be leading a section of the Nato-backed rebels fighting against the Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi. Another interesting aspect of the documents is the place accorded to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate in the 2007 Joint Task Force Guantánamo Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants. Any link to the ISI or al-Qaida, Hamas, or Hizbollah, the document notes, should be considered an indication of terrorist or insurgent activity. This assessment points to the single biggest flaw in the U.S. approach to terrorism. When it is clear at the operational level that the problem lies in Pakistan and its ISI, facilities such as Guantánamo are, at best, a lawless, witch-doctorish attempt to treat the symptom without going after the root cause of the disease. In reality, we know Gitmo doesn't even treat the symptom. It corrodes the very attributes of human civilisation that the terrorists wish to destroy. There can be no substitute for due process and the rule of law, even for men accused of monstrous crimes. That is why Barack Obama once promised to shut the place down. The latest documents are a reminder of that unfulfilled promise. Bravo WikiLeaks.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

CAVEATS TO AN UPBEAT OUTLOOK

The International Monetary Fund's twice-yearly publication, the World Economic Outlook, has been tracking the progress of the global economy in its recovery phase. During the early days of recovery, world economic growth was sustained by the large developing economies, especially China and India. Recently, recovery has become more broad-based, if still uneven. According to the latest WEO, the advanced economies will continue to recover from the global financial crisis while many developing economies are above pre-crisis trend levels. The 'two-speed' recovery carries with it risks. It has resulted in a situation where the world's major economic powers are either unwilling or unable to agree on a common approach to solving global problems. Global financial imbalances cannot be tackled because deficit and surplus countries differ sharply on the policies to be adopted. Virtually every country professes faith in multilateral trade, yet the Doha round is in danger of collapse. G20 countries have found it more difficult to co-ordinate their strategies during the recovery phase than they were able to during the crisis.

The IMF forecasts world gross domestic product to expand by 4.4 per cent this year and by 4.5 per cent in 2012. The advanced economies will grow at 2.4 per cent in 2011 and 2.6 per cent in 2012 and the emerging and developing countries at 6.5 per cent in both years. Many old challenges remain unaddressed even as new ones have emerged. Weak sovereign balance sheets and still moribund real estate markets remain major concerns, especially in some euro area countries. Strengthening the recovery in the developed economies requires that ultra-soft monetary policies continue but these fuel potentially destabilising capital flows to India, Brazil, and other emerging economies. Financial conditions remain fragile in some countries. Rising food and commodity prices impose harsh burdens on people. For India and many emerging economies, the challenge is to ensure that boom-like conditions do not yield to overheating in the coming year. Inflation is likely to intensify as capacity constraints accentuate supply side pressures. The IMF has marked down India's growth estimate to 8.2 per cent this year, from 10.4 per cent in 2010.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

THE NEW GREAT GAME IN WEST ASIA?

WITH SAUDI ARABIA REGARDING ITSELF AS THE LEADER OF SUNNI MUSLIMS AND IRAN CONSIDERING ITSELF THE PROTECTOR OF SHIAS, THE GAME HAS GEO-POLITICAL AS WELL AS RELIGIOUS OVERTONES.

CHINMAYA R. GHAREKHAN

A new great game seems to be on. The locale is West Asia and the principal protagonists are Saudi Arabia and Iran. Unlike the original great game of the late 19th-early 20th century, the current great game has geo-political as well as religious overtones. Saudi Arabia regards itself as the leader of the Sunni Muslim community and Iran is the self-appointed protector of Shias. The Umma technically applies to the entire Muslim fraternity but, in practice, the two branches of Muslim faith do not regard themselves as belonging to the same Umma. They might do so when dealing with or confronting non-Muslims, but between themselves they are antagonistic. The two powers are also engaged in a bitter and determined struggle for dominance in the region.

The Arab-Persian divide cuts across, at least partially, the Shia-Sunni rivalry. At the risk of slight oversimplification, it can be said that as a general rule, an Arab Shia is likely to be more loyal to his Arab identity than to the Shia faith if the latter would imply acting against the interests of his country. This was conclusively demonstrated when the Shias of Iraq fought alongside their Sunni brethren in the war against Iran for eight years.

There are a billion-plus Muslims in the world. Indeed, Islam is the fastest growing religion. Sunnis are in a majority by far; Shias might constitute no more than 15 per cent though most Sunnis would place the figure much lower. Every Sunni majority country has a Shia minority and vice-versa, but the size of the minority varies. There are four Shia majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan. The rest are Sunni majority states, with some having significant Shia minorities. In Pakistan, 20 per cent of the population is Shia, Kuwait has about 25 per cent Shias, and Yemen slightly more. In Lebanon, Shias form 35-40 per cent of the total population, while in Egypt the percentage is negligible. Afghanistan has a significant Shia population in its western part, along the border with Iran.

The differences between the two schools emerged soon after Prophet Muhammad's death in 632 over his succession. One group, later known as Sunnis, wanted an elected successor and chose Abu Bakr; the other group, which eventually came to be called Shias, insisted that the succession pass through the Prophet's bloodline and wanted his nephew and son-in-law Ali to be the successor. The two parted company after the death of Ali who became the fourth caliph, more particularly after Hussein, Ali's grandson, was killed by the Sunni caliph of Baghdad. Ever since, the hostility amounting to enmity between the two groups has claimed many lives.

In several Sunni majority countries, Shias may not even be recognised as Muslims. This was the case in Saudi Arabia until a few years ago. In Pakistan, Shias are regularly targeted and killed by Sunni extremists. Even today, the sub-sects of the Shias, such as Ismailis (Seveners) and Ithnasharis (Twelvers), are considered heretics. In Tehran, a city of 16 million, the small Sunni population does not have a single place of worship of its own; there are differences in the rituals of the two groups. When this writer visited Iran some time ago, the locals invariably referred to fellow Shias as Muslims and the others as Sunnis or Sunnas.

The tensions between the Shias and the Sunnis got greatly exacerbated after the American intervention in Iraq in March 2003. The majority Shia community had been repressed since the state of Iraq came into existence in 1932. This continued during Saddam Hussein's reign though he did place some Shias as well as Christians — Tariq Aziz being the most well-known example — in prominent positions. The Shias suddenly found themselves in power for the first time ever and decided to take their revenge on the Sunnis. The result was a bitter and bloody sectarian strife which claimed thousands of lives. Entire neighbourhoods were ethnically, or rather communally, cleansed and people changed names. Most of those who sought refuge in Jordan and Syria were Sunnis. But the most significant consequence of the American intervention, not intended by any means but anticipatable, was the increased space it created for Iran to interfere in the affairs of the region and to become a significant regional player.

The situation today is that Iran has a major voice in Iraq, Lebanon through its proxy Hezbolla which is a predominantly Shia group, and Palestine through its support to Hamas which is a 100 per cent Sunni movement. In Afghanistan, Iran has vital interests as well as influence, and any solution to the Afghan problem would need Iran's cooperation which it is willing to offer but only on its terms which have a lot to do with its dispute with the U.S. and others over its nuclear programme.

Ever since the Islamic Republic was born in 1979, it has boldly pronounced its policy of exporting the Islamic revolution. When the Egyptians poured into the Tahrir Square in January-February this year, Iran claimed the phenomenon as success for its revolution, but clamped down sternly on its own people wanting to demonstrate in Tehran's Azadi Square. The 'Arab Spring' of 2011 has opened up fresh opportunities for Iran in its neighbourhood, especially Bahrain. Bahrain's ruling family is Sunni, while the Shias account for 65-70 per cent of the population. When the Shia community protested peacefully at the Pearl Square, there were credible reports that Iran was not involved in the beginning. Once external forces, primarily from Saudi Arabia, entered the scene and used significant force to suppress the protests, Iran made its intentions clear. Although it continues to deny any involvement, it is entirely believable that Iran is doing its best to help fellow Shias in Bahrain by whatever means, short of physically sending its militia. It is noteworthy that many Iraqi voices are expressing strong disapproval of the crackdown of the Shia population in Bahrain, especially the Saudi intervention. Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has warned that the Saudi action could launch wars of religion in the Middle East. Ayatolla Ali Shistani, the most powerful leader of the Shia community in Iraq and beyond, has demanded that the Bahrain authorities not use force against the protesters and has called for a dialogue.

In the years immediately following its attack on Iraq, the U.S. tried to cobble together a coalition of 'moderate' Sunni states to contain Iran's growing influence in the region. Israel could not obviously be a part of this grouping but it fully supported the effort. During the visits by this writer to the countries in the region, it was made clear to him that Iraq's neighbours would not remain silent and inactive if the Sunnis there came under serious danger. The situation did not escalate to that level; neither of the regional powers wanted to risk war.

The interesting point is that it is Iran, the lone Shia superpower which does not have the economic clout of Saudi Arabia, which has adopted an aggressive posture whereas the Sunni states seem to be on the defensive. Iran feels isolated, encircled and threatened by hostile American forces as well as by what it might perceive as antagonistic Sunni states. It is this which perhaps makes the Iranian regime more motivated and forceful in its diplomacy and actions. The feeble attempts by the Americans to discourage Saudi Arabia from sending its troops into Bahrain not only did not succeed but also led the Saudis to the conclusion that they must be on their own when it came to defending their regime and checking Iran's growing influence. If Bahrain's Shias succeed in gaining a share in the power structure, the Saudis will feel truly threatened, given that its Shia community, accounting for about 10 per cent of the population, is concentrated in its eastern territory where its oil assets are located. Any prospect of Iranian influence on the mainland of Saudi Arabia will be a nightmare to its ruling dynasty.

It is perhaps too late to soften the Shia-Sunni, Iran-Saudi tensions. Even if the Sunni-ruled states satisfy the demands of their Shia populations to some extent, Iran will continue to press home the advantage that has come its way recently, consolidate and build on it. The Americans will certainly not watch this game passively.

It will be fascinating to watch how this new great game plays out. We in India do not have much to worry about its implications domestically, since we are the most inclusive multicultural and multireligious society in the world, bar none. But externally, this great game will demand an agile foreign policy approach, which might demand a new form of non-alignment or dual alignment.

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

SHRINKING FUNDS PULL THE PLUG ON ALIEN SEARCH DEVICES

In the mountains of Northern California, a field of radio dishes that look like giant dinner plates waited for years for the first call from intelligent life among the stars.

But they're not listening anymore.

Cash-strapped governments, it seems, can no longer pay the interstellar phone bill.

Astronomers at the SETI Institute said a steep drop in state and federal funds has forced the shutdown of the Allen Telescope Array, a powerful tool in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, an effort scientists refer to as SETI. "There's plenty of cosmic real estate that looks promising," Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the institute, said on April 26. "We've lost the instrument that's best for zeroing in on these better targets."

The shutdown came just as researchers were preparing to point the radio dishes at a batch of new planets.

About 50 or 60 of those planets appear to be about the right distance from stars to have temperatures that could make them habitable, Shostak said.

The 42 radio dishes had scanned deep space since 2007 for signals from alien civilizations while also conducting research into the structure and origin of the universe.

SETI Institute chief executive Tom Pierson said in an email to donors last week that the University of California, Berkeley, has run out of money for day-to-day operation of the dishes.

"Unfortunately, today's government budgetary environment is very difficult, and new solutions must be found," Pierson wrote.

The $50 million array was built by SETI and UC Berkeley with the help of a $30 million donation from Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen. Operating the dishes cost about $1.5 million a year, mostly to pay for the staff of eight to 10 researchers and technicians to operate the facility.

An additional $1 million a year was needed to collect and sift the data from the dishes.

The SETI Institute was founded in 1984. Despite the shutdown of the Allen Telescope Array, the search for E.T. will go on using other telescopes such as a dish at Arecibo in Puerto Rico, the largest radio telescope in the world, Shostak said.

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THE HINDU

OPED

A VISIT TO CHERNOBYL

THE U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL'S FIVE-POINT STRATEGY TO IMPROVE NUCLEAR SAFETY.

BAN KI-MOON

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 town itself 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 clean-up 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.

( Courtesy: UN Information Centre, New Delhi. Ban Ki-moon is the Secretary-General of the United Nations.)

 

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THE HINDU

FOOD HERE SPELLS HEALTH RISKS

THOMAS FULLER

The villagers in Lawa, Thailand, a poverty-stricken farming community are passionate about their food, especially the traditional varieties of fermented fish that one aficionado describes as tasting like heaven but smelling like hell.

It can be a fatal attraction, medical researchers say. The raw fish that is so avidly consumed in the stilt houses that sit among rice paddies and wetlands of Thailand's northern provinces contain parasites that can accumulate in the liver and lead to a deadly cancer. Known as bile duct cancer, it is relatively uncommon in most parts of the world but represents the majority of the 70 liver cancer deaths a day in Thailand, according to Dr. Banchob Sripa, the head of the tropical disease research laboratory at nearby Khon Kaen University.

"It's the most deadly and persistent cancer in the region," Dr. Banchob said.

For the past three decades, he has led an unsuccessful campaign against the parasite, known as a liver fluke and which is also endemic in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, parts of China, the Korean Peninsula and Siberia.

Cause of cancer

Dr. Peter Hotez, the president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, a non-profit organisation in the United States that researches neglected tropical diseases, describes liver flukes as one of "the most important infectious causes of cancer that no one has ever heard of."

Cooking the fish would eliminate the risk of infection. But the battle against liver flukes is being undermined in Thailand by a deeply ingrained love of the sour and smoky-tasting fermented dishes that generations of villagers have relished.

Some villagers just cannot break the habit, said Nutcharin Yanarangsri, a volunteer at a government health clinic in the village here who spends her days walking from house to house with a singular message: "Say no to raw fish!"

"We tell them, 'If you really want to eat it, you'd better boil it or cook it,"' Ms. Nutcharin said during one of her rounds through the village. "But they tell me, 'Eating it raw is so delicious. I can't stop. I love it!"' Whether it is a green papaya salad with just the right mix of sweet and sour or a duck curry swimming in spices, the cuisine of Thailand is a national passion. The love of fermented foods, especially in north-eastern Thailand, is the extreme version of this gourmand obsession — and that love is often heedless of the consequences.

Popular dish

One popular dish in north-east Thailand is called pla som, or sour fish, which is made by mixing raw fish, garlic, salt, steamed rice and a pinch of seasoning powder. The mixture is shaped into egg-size portions, put into plastic bags and left to sit in the tropical heat for three days. That is not nearly long enough to kill the parasites, which die only after at least six months of fermentation.

Liver flukes are present only in fresh water, but they are not found everywhere. The rate of infection in Bangkok, a five-hour drive away, is close to zero.

Transmitted through faeces, the parasites thrive in rural areas without proper sanitation, and they rely on snails, fish, cats and humans as hosts. Yet villagers do not see fermented fish as a dangerous thrill.

This is not analogous to the tradition in Japan of eating fugu, the puffer fish that is potentially toxic when prepared the wrong way.

The deadly effects of eating parasite-infected raw fish accumulate over decades, in the same way that drinking large amounts of alcohol over a lifetime can damage one's liver. (Heavy drinking increases the chance of bile duct cancer for those infected with the parasite, Dr. Banchob said.)

Somewhere between one per cent and five per cent of people infected with the parasites contract liver cancer.

Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia also have high rates of liver cancer, according to statistics from the United Nations. Dr. Banchob estimates that about 10 per cent of the population in Laos is infected with liver flukes.

Dr. Hotez of the Sabin Institute said that the parasite is similar to other worms and ailments that get less attention because they rarely afflict wealthy urban populations. "We've got the technology to make vaccines. But we don't have the funding." Dr. Cherdchai Tontisirin, a surgeon in Khon Kaen who has operated on liver cancer patients, blames the Thai government for the persistence of the disease. More could be done to make sure villagers stop eating raw fish, he said.

    © New York Times News Service

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THE HINDU

'WE WANT TO STRENGTHEN THE RELATIONSHIP WITH INDIA'

INTERVIEW WITHPUSHPA KAMAL DAHAL PRACHANDA.

As head of Nepal's most powerful party, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda's position holds the key to the political developments in the republic. On April 26 (Tuesday night), Mr. Prachanda spoke exclusively to Prashant Jha to discuss the state of transitional politics in Nepal, internal party divisions, and relations with India. Excerpts:

Will Nepal have a new constitution by May 28?

We should have been able to conclude the peace process and promulgate the statute by May 28. But the absence of an agreement between political parties has limited that possibility. I won't say it is impossible, because we have often made historic decisions at the last minute. As the largest party in the CA, and as the force that pushed the agenda of the Constituent Assembly, republic, federalism, secularism, social justice, inclusion, proportional representation, we are committed to taking the peace process forward and creating a unified draft of the constitution before May 28 so that the Nepali people believe these tasks will be completed. They themselves would happily give us time after that.

Why did the parties fail to come to an agreement?

The first reason is that we were in a movement against the last government, since they were trying to isolate the biggest party in the CA. Our claim was that Maoists should lead the government, but others did not accept our legitimate claim. Then we went in for elections in parliament, but could not elect a PM for seven months. The disagreement between parties was one reason for this, but we also felt that various other forces tried to create obstacles in government formation. We then sacrificed our claim, but it was too late to take the process forward.

In the earlier stages, it was agreed that parties would move ahead together, in consensus. But after the Maoists emerged as the strongest party in the CA, other parties developed suspicions that Maoists would be in power forever — they had not anticipated the widespread popular support for the Maoists, and got terrorised at this prospect. They broke the agreement to move ahead consensually, creating difficulties.

Internal party dynamics

Can you tell us the exact nature of the debates within the party?

There are three kinds of thought in the party. One school believes that instead of emphasising peace and constitution, we should go in for a people's revolt to get power. The second school believes that we should focus on peace and constitution at whatever cost. And the third school, which I lead, is that we should focus on peace and constitution, but if there are conspiracies, then there may be a need to get people on the streets to revolt. At the end, the party adopted a line that we should focus on peace and constitution, but also make people aware to make these conspiracies unsuccessful.

But it is precisely this dual line — of both peace and constitution and revolt — that makes other parties suspicious of your intentions.

Some people are calling this a dual line. But we don't see it that way. Our aim is to take the peace process forward, according to the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and Interim Constitution, and write the constitution according to the desire for change among Nepali people. But when the Maoist-led government tried to address this aspiration, especially during the army chief episode, there was an effort not to allow change, and not to allow the conclusion of the peace process on respectable terms. Status quo-ists and reactionaries have tried to make this process unsuccessful — we only wanted to appeal to the people that if such conspiracies continue, there may be a need to come on to the streets again.

Yet, as the force that made the most sacrifices for the new agenda, the Maoists have to take the lead. Now, I have proposed in the party's central committee that we need to focus on the peace and constitution process, without turning left or right. Maoists must not give space to others to allege that the process is not moving because of us. Now, it is absolutely clear, in black and white, that we must focus fully on peace and constitution.

In agreements with other parties, you have signed up for a federal democratic republic. But in party documents, your stated aim is a people's federal republic. What is the difference between the two?

It is true that we have agreed to institutionalise a federal democratic republic with other parties. That is the bottom line. But we are communists — we believe in people's democracy, socialism, and communism. Like the NC insists there should only be parliamentary democracy, we want the federal republic to be as pro people and as anti imperialist and anti feudal as possible and are pushing this in the constitution.

Is your model compatible with liberal democracy?

It is not contradictory. We have already accepted notions like freedom of press, independence of judiciary, and human rights.

Personal inconsistency

Your colleagues accuse you of vacillating and not taking a stand. Others outside the party also say that you don't deliver on promises and behave inconsistently. Have you introspected on this criticism?

I cannot accept this. Those who think from a right or left perspective, from only one side, and who do not change according to changed circumstances see me in that light. But as someone who believes in Marxist principles, I am more dialectical, materialistic and realistic. In fact, my problem is that whatever I feel inside emerges outside.

If I am angry today, I show it; if I am happy, I show it. Perhaps a leader of this stature should not do that. Prachanda has his own ideology, culture, politics, working style, and way of thinking — otherwise he won't be Prachanda. My nature is emotional and sensitive, and some people call this unstable. I have been in the communist party for the last 40 years. If I was not consistent, it would have been impossible to lead such a big movement, a decade long people's war with ups and downs, and then get it here towards a resolution. I have weaknesses, but politically, in my beliefs and commitment to nation and class, I am consistent.

The Nepal Army has proposed the creation of a mixed force under a directorate as a modality of integrating Maoist combatants. Is that acceptable to you?

We have taken it positively, and are encouraged. That proposal emerged after the government asked the army for a suggestion. In that sense, it is fine but finally, political parties have to arrive at a decision on modality. We are very close to an agreement on a mixed force that includes the Nepal Army and Nepal Police personnel and Maoist combatants. Once there is agreement, we can move for regrouping of combatants immediately.

What can be the possible compromise on the number of combatants to be integrated, standard norms, and rank harmonisation?

Our priority would be to create a separate force of the Maoist combatants who can be given separate responsibility but that may not be possible right now. On the basis of discussions in the party, we have agreed to go ahead with a mixed force. This is now decided.

On numbers, we are very close to an agreement — 1,000 or 2,000 people plus or minus is not a problem. On standard norms, each security force has its own criteria — of physical fitness, international norms which we will follow. But we are in the process of integration as a component of the peace process, and this is different from recruitment of an individual citizen into a security force — so some special norms can be created. Those who fit into the norms can be integrated as a group. On rank, once we create a force, then on the basis of ratio, numbers, and considering the fact that the People's Liberation Army has its own ranking, we should move ahead. The best alternative would be to give the Maoists the command of such a mixed force.

Constitution

While other parties say finish the peace process first, constitution writing comes later, there are voices in your party which say it should be the other way round. What's the meeting point?

In my current proposal, I have suggested we should find an agreement on the timeline and process of integration and rehabilitation and agree on a unified draft of the constitution before May 28. Instead of focussing on what comes first and second, we should take it simultaneously and see them as inter-linked. But we agree that the constitution should be promulgated after the process of integration is over.

Your party proposes a directly elected president. The NC wants a parliamentary democratic system. What can be the compromise on the form of government?

On issues like the form of government and electoral system, parties are just entering into serious discussion. We feel that in a country like ours, which is in acute need of stability and development, a directly elected president for four or five years is the best option. The second factor is that we are moving to a federal system where there could be a tendency of separating from the centre. A directly elected president, voted by different castes, classes, regions, can be a unifying figure.

We feel that the parliamentary system in third world countries has not been very successful.

It has really been harrowing, with changes in government every few months and horse-trading. UML has talked about a directly elected PM and ceremonial president. But here, there is a danger of a dual power centre. Our model is also within the multi-party democratic system, and we hope others will accept it.

How do you propose to reach a deal on federalism?

Our own proposal for 14 states is already in the report of the CA's State Restructuring Committee. But we can think again about names and boundaries. The main thing is that oppressed nationalities, languages, regions must get rights. But it is not to say that there has to be a state for every group, and instead local autonomy can be given. Economic viability and culture have to be considered. We are firm on guaranteeing autonomous rights to the oppressed, but on the number of states there can be new thinking.

India

How is the party's relationship with the Government of India?

There are two-three things here. One, we are not anti-Indian. Relations between India and Nepal are unique on the basis of history, culture, geography, and economy. No one can think of weakening this. Our party also believes in strengthening these links.

Through the 12-point agreement, peace process, and CA elections, India played a supporting role. The 12-point agreement was signed in Delhi and without India's direct and indirect support, it would not have been possible. But once the Maoists became the largest party and led the government, we tried to address the popular aspiration for change. When I went to India as PM, I raised the issue of building the relationship in a new way, and dealing with older issues like treaties, trade problems, and border issues. In Nepal too, as PM, my focus was on addressing this aspiration for change — either in terms of dealing with security sector, foreign policy, or economy.

When I tried to do this, at some level, I did not get the kind of support I expected from India — instead I began feeling there was non-cooperation and in the Katawal case, this became clear. So our relationship, which was warm during the 12-point agreement and CA elections, chilled. What we want is that existing confusion, misunderstandings and differences must be resolved and build and strengthen the relationship.

When Foreign Minister [S.M.] Krishna was here last week, and during the Foreign Secretary's visit earlier, we had a frank conversation. I raised the issue of who is more responsible. Being a bigger country, with a rising economy, and an international power player, now that there is a chill in our relationship, whose responsibility is to improve these ties? The Foreign Minister asked why Maoists were stoking anti-Indianism, defacing Indian flags, and attacking the Indian Ambassador. I told him that we respect the Indian flag and can't even think of insulting the emotions of Indian people. Obstructing the Indian Ambassador is also not party policy. But India must also introspect whether they have created difficulties for Maoists, who are the biggest party in the country, and an agent of change. We are also very sensitive to India's security and economic interests. India should also think creatively about how to generate trust in a country which is passing through historic transition. We want that both sides to understand each other's concerns.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

REDUCING FISCAL DEFICIT

 

The 13th Financial Commission has suggested some framework within which the state is expected to work towards reducing fiscal deficit to whatever minimum level possible. The Commission has found that some fundamental changes are desirable that would reduce pressure on expenditures incurred by the government. One important measure towards the realization of this objective is to reduce establishment related expenditures. Encouraging private enterprise has been generally recommended by experts for the J&K State to reduce dependence on cash doles and at the same time to create more job opportunities for the youth. Unfortunately our state has not debated at length the validity of private investment as a viable means of reducing unemployment among the educated youth. We have large scale scope of investment by private sector in all the three regions of the state. Even some items of raw material available in the state are not properly exploited to bring justifiable reward to the state. At the same time some unproductive Public Sector Unites have become a white elephant and are unable to deliver despite crutches provided from time to time. Therefore the government would be within its right to debate the closing down of these unites in order to save unnecessary expenditure. However in doing so, it will be incumbent upon the government to provide the affected employees' alternative source of income so that a new problem is not created that would bring the social fabric under stress.

 

J&K has remained complacent about how it can generate economy without large scale financial dependence on the cAntre. Jammu and Kashmir being a special category State has been receiving all Central transfers under 90 (grant): 10 (loan) dispensation and, therefore, continued to be a revenue surplus State. This is a somewhat delicate and not recommendable situation. Dependence of financial support in whatever form it be, has to be reduced or at lest met with balancing act. The secret of reducing fiscal deficit in the state as its long range financial policy lies in promoting investment from private entrepreneurs and in industrialization of the state. Modernizing agricultural and horticultural industries and making them as the mainstay of our economy would go a long way in controlling the fiscal deficits. Investment on infrastructure and power production is of vital importance. Total dependence on hydroelectric power generation has to be replaced by diversified means of power production. With the establishment of rail link to the inner areas of the state, it should be possible to move materials including coal as energy source for producing electricity locally. Oil and Natural Gas Commission of India has to be invited for large scale investigation for gas energy deposits in the state especially the regions of Rajouri, Poonch, and Pir Panchal ranges. There could be mineral resources that would boost state's economy if rightly explored and exploited. The state is not perhaps making proper use of its rich forests. The age old policy of leading out forests for marketing of timber needs a drastic change with far-reaching impact on the economy of the State. A team of experts should be deputed to visit timber industries in countries like Russian Federation, USA and Canada, which have large forests and highly developed utilization sector of their forest wealth. Our water bodies' management is dismal despite the fact that we are rich in that resource. Reducing the fiscal deficit in terms of recommendations of 13th Financial Commission is for immediate implementation. But the question that will come up year after year from responsible official quarters is of reducing fiscal deficit. It will be noted that much is to be done before doing what is precisely desired to be done. Commission's recommendations notwithstanding, the administrative machine can easily circumvent the directive principles and that is being done more often than not. Existing vacancies in various departments cannot be frozen and new recruitments cannot be stopped. These are administrative mechanisms that will follow their own set course. Over-staffing of departments, unproductive baggage of work, inability to introduce latest methods of communication and administration are also big deprivations for the people in the rural areas of the state. Medical aid to deserving people in far off places is a priority. All these works ask for adequate infrastructure that would ensure permanence of the remedial measures. It is true that the 6th Pay Commission has put a heavy financial burden on the state after the government announced that it was willing to implement it. But the state financial department should have been geared to this eventuality much ahead of actual date when the recommendations were accepted. Therefore it seems rather overstating the role of 6th Pay Commission in increasing the rate of fiscal deficit. There are other causes and these have been adequately touched upon in Commissions recommendations. Austerity drives have been conducted in the past also in many States of India. But what is important is the follow up action and sticking to the implementation of austerity measures. The government has to begin with the charity at home. Unless the people are convinced that upper echelons of bureaucracy and polity are seriously interested in the austerity drive, they will continue considering it an exercise in futility. Some sections of civil sector employees misuse the facilities provided by the government. Therein remain hidden the root causes of fiscal deficit.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

SHAMEFUL SUBTERFUGE

 

Gunning down of Head Constable Abdul Khaliq of Ajas, Bandipore, and Constable Farooq Ahmed of Pulwama by the militants when they were on duty at Nowgam Chowk to protect VIPs like Sagar, Sakeena and Akhoon from a guerrilla strike, did not instill any sense of responsibility in these ministers and most of the MLAs of what they owed to the slain heroes. They avoided attending the wreath laying ceremony on their dead bodies arranged by the police authorities. Many other ministers very much present in the valley, too, meticulously avoided attending the funeral of the martyrs. Obviously their absence from the occasion speaks a lot about how they see the Kashmir insurgency. They took shelter behind the condolence message sent by the chief minister to the bereaved family, and did not think it advisable to come forward and mourn or condemn the killing. These same ministers and MLAs cry at the top of their voice when somebody gets killed in the valley by a chance accident. This double deal is not going to help them build bridges with the militants just because they are naives to believe they can hunt with the hound and run with the hare for all the time. They are getting increasingly exposed to the public gaze and are losing their credibility either way by indulging in shameful subterfuge

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

ECONOMIC GROWTH BOOSTS TAX COLLECTION

BY RAMESH KANITKAR

At this juncture when the economy is witnessing not so robust growth momentum, the impressive surge in revenue collection has come as a big relief for the Congress-led UPA regime at the centre now facing the challenge of further bringing down the fiscal deficit-the net difference between the Government expenditure and income.

Much to the pleasant surprise of the revenue officials the tax collection - both on direct and indirect tax heads - zoomed to nearly Rs. 7.92 lakh crore in 2010-11 exceeding even the revised estimate shown in the Budget for 2011-12.

The total Budget estimate for both direct and indirect tax collections was pegged at Rs. 7, 46,651 crore in the fiscal 2010-11. This was finally revised upwards to Rs. 7, 86,888 crore. But when the revenue officials made the final compilation the actual revenue collection at the end of financial year 2010-11, it jumped to Rs. 7.92 lakh crore thus posting a record 27 per cent growth over that of previous fiscal. The tax revenue collection stood at Rs. 6, 24,527 crore during the fiscal 2009-10. An analysis of actual revenue collection during 2010-11 shows that of the total direct tax collection, mainly personal Income Tax and Corporate Tax, the Government collected revenue to the tune of about Rs. 4.50 lakh crore.

The remaining Rs. 3.42 lakh crore came from Indirect taxes comprising of Central Excise, Customs duty and Service Tax. The Government had earlier estimated a direct tax collection of Rs. 4.30 lakh crore and revised it to Rs. 4.46 lakh crore while presenting the Budget 2011-12.

As senior officials of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) say impressive surge in direct tax collection in the fiscal 2010-11 has taken place despite the Income Tax Department's having paid Rs. 72,000 crore in refunds.

Reflecting general buoyancy in revenue collections the actual indirect tax collection on three heads-Customs, Central Excise and Service Tax-- in 2010-11 shot up to about Rs. 3.42 lakh crore as against the revised estimate of Rs. 3.38 lakh crore.

Compared to actual indirect tax revenue collection of Rs. 2.44 lakh crore in 2009-10 the tax collection at Rs. 3.42 lakh crore in 2010-11 posted an impressive growth of nearly 40 per cent.

How did the Government manage to get so much money from taxes? As analysts say the impressive buoyancy in tax revenue collection is primarily due to robust economic growth in the last fiscal 2010-11.

The growth momentum of the Indian economy, which posted a remarkable recovery from the quagmire of global slowdown that set in late 2008, laid the base for buoyancy in revenue collection.

As the chief economic adviser in the finance ministry Prof. Kaushik Basu says "the Indian economy has emerged with remarkable rapidity from the slowdown caused by the global financial crisis of 2007-09. With growth in 2009-10 now estimated at 8 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 8.6 per cent in 2010-11, the turn around has been fast and strong."

The growth was strong in 2010-11 with a rebound in agriculture and continued momentum in manufacturing in most part of the fiscal. The pick up in growth momentum is one of the factors that have laid to buoyancy in revenue collection, says Basu. The rise in GDP growth rate primarily reflects that there was expansion in wide range of economic activities including manufacturing and service sector. More expansion of economic activities means more scope for the government to get revenue through taxes.

Of course, the Government is also reaping major benefits from the sharp rise in international crude prices. Since both customs (on imported crude and petroleum products) and excise duty (on domestic sales) are levied on ad valorem basis, higher the oil price bigger is the tax collection.

Another reason for robust tax growth was the partial withdrawal of economic stimulus measures in the Budget 2010-11. Under the process of partial withdrawal of economic stimulus measures, which were given by the government in 2009 to enable the economy to withstand the ripple effect of global slowdown, the Budget for 2010-11 partially rolled back reduction in Excise Duty on wide range of commodities.

Thus the hike in duty level has led to rise in the revenue collection realised through indirect taxes. In fact the Budget for 2010-11 had begun the process of fiscal consolidation with a partial withdrawal of the stimulus measures as at that juncture there was clear evidence of economic recovery.

The officials in the finance ministry are quite optimistic that given the predominance of pro-growth policy initiatives being adopted by the Government at macro-economic level the buoyancy in revenue collection will be maintained.

As the revenue secretary Sunil Mitra says with sound growth-oriented macro-economic policies in place the Government is quite optimistic of rising buoyancy in revenue collection. With the introduction of proposed tax reforms in both Direct and Indirect tax through new tax regimes will boost buoyancy of revenue collection, he says.

On the direct tax front the Government proposes to implement new Direct Tax Code (DTC), which seeks to replace the archaic Income Tax Act, 1961, with effect from April 1, 2012. On the indirect tax front the government is moving ahead with introduction of Goods and Services Tax (GST), which seeks to subsume Excise duty and Service Tax at the central level and Value Added Tax (VAT) and other local levies at the state level. The finance ministry is of the view that introduction of GST-touted as the biggest ever tax reform in the indirect tax front-will boost overall revenue collection.

But economists caution that buoyancy in revenue collection will largely depend on maintaining high GDP growth rate in the range of 9 to 10 per cent on a sustainable basis. The sustainability of high GDP growth level will depend on both external factors like overall state of global economy as well as movement of global crude oil.

Similarly the sustainability of high GDP growth level will depend on key domestic factors like pursuance of fiscal consolidation through expenditure reforms, keeping inflation at tolerable level of 4 to 5 per cent and persisting with pro-reform macro-economic policies. Thus sustaining the current phenomenon of buoyancy in revenue collection is, no doubt, a challenging job. (INAV)

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

BOOSTING AGRI EXPORTS THROUGH AEZS

BY PAWAN KUMAR SHARMA AND ANIL BHAT

India was one of the first in Asia to recognize the effectiveness of the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) model in promoting exports, with Asia's first EPZ set up in Kandla in 1965. To overcome the shortcomings experienced in EPZ, a new scheme for setting up of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the country to promote exports was announced by the Government in the Export-Import Policy on 31st March, 2000. On the similar lines, with the objectives to provide organized marketing for agricultural products and to provide remunerative prices to the farmers for their produce, the concept of the Agri Export Zones (AEZs) was introduced in the Export-Import Policy on 31st March, 2001. Agri Export Zone (AEZ) identifies products from a specific geographical area and manages its entire value chain from farm to the ultimate consumer. The scheme was implemented by the Ministry of Commerce, GOI through Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) - the Nodal agency for AEZ. Sixty numbers of AEZs have been sanctioned so far in India.

Units in AEZ are entitled for all the facilities available for exports of goods in terms of provisions of the respective schemes like Export Promotion Capital goods (EPCG) scheme under which import of capital goods shall be permitted duty free & be permitted to be installed anywhere in the AEZ and Duty Exemption/ Remission Scheme under which the agriculture exporter shall be entitled to the facility for import of inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, packing material etc. under Advance Licence/DFRC/DEPB scheme.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir contributes about 60 percent of national apple production. The share of Indian walnut in the international market is 7 percent of which most of the walnut comes from Jammu and Kashmir. It is on behalf of their marketing potential that J&K state has been declared AEZ for apple and walnuts.

Jammu & Kashmir is known for delicious apples. However, on account of poor infrastructure, marketing of these apples has been a major problem both within and outside the country. With a view to providing assistance to ensure appropriate supply chain, a decision was taken to set up an Agri Export Zone for apples in Jammu & Kashmir. The Zone covers districts of Srinagar, Baramula, Anantnag, Kupwara, Kathua and Pulwama.

Walnut is the most important nut amongst various nut fruits grown in India, with J&K being the leading State. The variety found in J&K is unique in nature and the entire quantity of walnut exported from India comes from this State. With a view to overcoming the bottlenecks in the export of walnuts, this Agri Export Zone is being set up in the districts of Baramulla, Anantnag, Pulwama, Budgam and Kupwara of Srinagar division and district Doda, Poonch, Udhampur, Rajouri and Kathua of Jammu Region. The focus of this Agri Export Zone is to streamline the pre-harvest, harvesting and post harvest management which includes setting up of appropriate infrastructure.

MOU has been signed in the year 2002 between Agriculture Production Department of the state and APEDA for development of AEZ in J&K. Funding for various aspects under AEZs for apple and walnut has been provided which includes Production & quality management programme, Improvement of Production & Productivity, Demonstration and Trainings, Integrated post harvest Management, Promotion Program in target markets and Research & Demonstration Programmes. Since the MOU has been signed between Agri Production Department of the state and APEDA, the export of walnut has increased from 99.30 crore in 2003-04 to Rs 118.03 crore in 2006-07. The export of apples has also been raised from Rs 13.17 crore in 2003-04 to Rs 31.38 crore in 2006-07.

The entire effort of AEZ focuses on the cluster approach of identifying the potential products, the geographical region in which these products are grown and adopting an end-to-end approach of integrating the entire process right from the stage of production till it reaches the market. Agri Export Zones can yield benefits like strengthening of backward linkages with a market oriented approach; product acceptability and its competitiveness abroad as well as in the domestic market; value addition to basic agricultural produce; bring down cost of production through economy of scale; better price for agricultural produce; improvement in product quality & packaging; promote trade-related research and development; and increase employment opportunities. Thus, Agri Export zones concern with A to Z of Agri - exports.

Presently, AEZs functioning in Jammu and Kashmir related to only two commodities. However, there is vast potential for foreign exchange earnings in the state by setting zones in some other crucial agricultural products. The products like saffron, Kala zeera, and fresh flowers grown in Kashmir division of J&K have some unique features and quality which can be successfully exploited in international market. Similarly basmati grown in Jammu division has a peculiar aroma and taste. The productivity of basmati in the region, however, is very less which requires some attention. The Ladakh region of J&K is also a home of high quality apricots. A large number of aromatic and medicinal plants are also wildly available at the hilly regions of the state. Moreover the hilly areas of the state can provide valuable site for organic fruit production. So, efforts need to be made to recognize some of these unique products for which AEZs can be set up and agricultural exports from the state as well as from the country can be increased. The topography and small size of land holding in J&K (0.76 ha) not ideally suited for field crops also necessitates the generation of business activities and employment through AEZs.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

KASHMIR- SOLUTION NOWHERE IN SIGHT

BY AMIT KUSHARI

"Yeh gutthi kabhie nahin suljhi, na kabhie suljhegi---kyonki daanishmandon ney ise uljhaya hai." This is how a poet had described an intricate problem which could not be solved easily ("this problem was never solved in the past - nor will it be solved in future- because wise men had created the problem "). This Urdu couplet very appropriately describes the Kashmir problem. No body seems to be seriously interested in solving the problem. The reluctance of the Govt. of India as well as the people of India can be easily understood because of the fear that if this problem is to be solved, a high degree of autonomy or self governace or independence has to be granted to the Kashmiris, making the Kashmiris drift away from India's center of gravity--ultimately leading to some sort of curtailment of powers for the govt. of India or perhaps loss of territory.

The reluctance of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, (with the exception of Ladakh) is more intriguing . The people of Jammu are so patriotic that they would not like an inch of their state, J&K, to drift away from India and are therefore totally against granting autonomy or self rule or semi- independent status to the Kashmiri speaking areas of J&K or the Muslim majority tehsils of J&K. The Kashmiri speaking people, on the other hand do not like the idea of losing the non- Kashmiri areas of J&K which are mainly inhabited by Hindus and Sikhs. Many Kashmiri muslims have vested interests in the Jammu area and they will be very sad to lose this fiefdom. How can they forget the palatial bungalows they have built in Bhatindi, Sunjwan, Sidhra? Only the Ladakhis of J&K have a clear cut goal of having a separate Ladakh as a union territory. Kashmiri muslims across the entire political spectrum, from Hurriat Conference to National Conference and PDP and Congress, hold this identical view. The Jammu province which usually returns Congress or BJP MPs also hold the inflexible view that no part of J&K can be chipped off from the map of India. The two sets of viewpoints cannot be reconciled. If the kashmiri speaking areas of J&K are allowed to become a semi independent territory leaving Jammu as a normal state of India, the Secretaiat of J&K in Jammu will become 80% vacant because 80% employees are from Kashmir and they may not opt for working for the Indian state of Jammu. The big vacancies will give the Jammuites windfall promotions and appointments . But most of the people of Jammu are so patriotic that they will not agree to take such promotions and appointments if that means granting Kashmiris some sort of azaadi or autonomy. In this situation it is indeed very difficult to find an amicable solution to the Kashmir problem even within the boundaries of India, not to speak of problems that could be raised by Pakistan and Pakistan administered Kashmir.

In my view, the first step towards the solution would be to carve out three linguistic states in J&K. Although Kashmiri and Dogri are listed as major Indian languages in the 8th schedule of the constitution, these two languages have so far been denied separate states of their own. The Kashmiris should, as a first step, seek a separate Kashmiri speaking state of their own and there should be no mention of religion in such a demand. In secular India division by religion is a big 'no,no' and therefore, Kashmir's Islamic character should never be highlighted. India has already accepted the principle of linguistic states and it will not be easy for them to throw this demand out of the window.

In India the general feeling is that Kashmiris should not be allowed to form a separate Kashmir state and that Jammu amd Ladakh should be kept tied to Kashmir so that there are at least 30 to 40 MLAs in the assembly who could stall any demand for 'azaadi'.

The latest census shows the population of J&K is 125 lakhs- 68 lakhs in Kashmir valley, 3 lakhs in Ladakh, and 53lakhs in Jammu. 30 % of the people are Hindus and 2% are Sikhs. In other words there are 37 lakhs of Hindus and 2.5 lakhs of Sikhs in J&K. Kashmir valley is almost entirely muslim- with only 0.5 lakh Sikhs. This means Jammu province is home to 37 lakhs of Hindus and 2 lakhs of Sikhs. The remaining 14 lakhs are Muslims. 50% of this population could be Kashmiri speaking. J&K thus has, roughly, 75 lakh Kashmiri muslims ( 68+7). Kashmiris have to search for a separate Kashmir for these 75 lakh people. If the Kashmiris succeed in getting a home state for these 75 lakh people - they would have taken the first step successfully. Thereafter they can vigorously pursue their other controversial demands .

(The author can be contacted at amitkus@hotmail.com )

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

N-SAGACITY
YES TO JAITAPUR, BUT TIGHT MONITORING

 

Ever since Fukushima played havoc in Japan, the lobby in India opposing nuclear plants has been in overdrive. It has played on the genuine apprehensions of the public to paint a doomsday picture, leading to a demand of abandoning such projects outright. Such vehement opposition was the result of misconceptions and rumours. While one empathises with the worries of the citizens in whose neighbourhood such plants are functioning or are to be established, an exaggerated reaction would be tantamount to throwing the baby with the bathwater. Countries like Germany which have other dependable power sources and a stable population can afford to give the nuclear energy a miss, but India is not in a position to afford that extreme reaction. Under the circumstances, it is good that the Prime Minister's intervention has cleared the decks for the setting up of two 1650-MW reactors at Jaitapur.

What has got the entire country – rather the world – worried is the possibility of something similar to Fukushima and Chernobyl taking place in India. If these fears are addressed suitably, even those opposed to nuclear power plants would agree that this form of energy generation is far cleaner and economical than many other methods in operation. That is why the clearance has come riding on the shoulders of a commitment to reform the country's nuclear review mechanism. An independent and autonomous Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India (NRAI) is proposed to be established in place of the existing Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). The problem with the AERB was that it was administratively subordinate to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and could not be expected to challenge the proposals put up by the AEC.

 

At least partly, protests against Jaitapur and other plants have been politically motivated and the public can be reassured if the government makes sufficient efforts to disseminate the actual facts before the citizens and also makes adequate compensatory arrangements for those who will be displaced by the projects. Jaitapur is not prone to tsunami. It happens to be in seismic zone III while Fukushima was in a far more dangerous zone V. Highlighting these details can restore the shaken confidence of citizens. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ISI ROLE IN TERROR

THE WRITING IS CLEARLY ON THE WALL

 

The complicity of the Pakistan establishment in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks of 2008 has come into sharp focus yet again with US federal prosecutors in a Chicago court naming four more Pakistani conspirators in the attack. Significantly, one of the conspirators named is 'Major Iqbal', a Pakistani army officer who worked for the ISI when the attack took place. This corroborates the Indian version in a dossier submitted to the Pakistan government last year in which he had been identified as one of the masterminds of the attack. The three others named by US investigators — Sajid Mir, Mazhar Iqbal and Abu Qahafa — have been identified as Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives. That Major Iqbal's name cropped up in the FBI interrogation of David Coleman Headley shows that the Americans are well tuned into what were the forces at work in the ghastly Mumbai terror attacks.

 

The naming of four Pakistani conspirators has come close on the heels of Wikileaks disclosures that some classified US documents of 2007 had listed ISI as a 'terrorist' organization. Last week, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, had said that the ISI had continued links to the powerful network of an Afghan warlord that has bases in a northwestern tribal region of Pakistan. Evidently, the Americans are acutely conscious of ISI's role in fuelling terror especially against India but choose to look the other way as part of their own self-seeking strategy.

 

As India moves towards a renewed composite dialogue with Pakistan, it is imperative that the Pakistan government be told that it cannot evade responsibility for the actions of its own intelligence outfit. Lip-service apart, the government in Islamabad has done nothing to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to book. Apparently, the ISI, being an adjunct of the Pakistani army evokes awe in that country's establishment. But that is for the Pakistan government to sort out. It is also wrong for the American administration to deal with Pakistan with kid gloves when a wing of that country's establishment is stoking terror and insurgency in India.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

GOVT SOFT ON KHAPS

IT'S TRADITION VS DEMOCRACY IN HARYANA

 

The Haryana government told the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Tuesday that it had no intention of declaring the activities of khap panchayats as 'unlawful' under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The Haryana home department filed an affidavit with the high court in response to the directions passed by the court in January this year, wherein the court had asked the state government to place on record any policy it had adopted to curb rising incidents of violence arising out of diktats issued by the khaps. Clearly, the soft attitude towards khaps by the government shows that it does not wish to rub a solid vote bank on the wrong side.

 

The government's take is more shocking in the wake of the sharp criticism that came from the apex court on April 20, when the court said that there was nothing honourable about "honour killings" and held the administration accountable for all these acts of barbarism. Predictably, Khaps, in most parts of India defiantly declared their refusal to accept that the Supreme Court could stop their activities, which they termed as their tradition coming down through generations.

 

If khaps are tradition, then, one wonders why do these communities sit on railway tracks and highways, demanding reservation in government jobs. By doing so, inadvertently they admit that they are at the mercy of the government. Then, how can kangaroo courts pass diktats on people's lives as though they were the government! The plea taken by the state government that these panchayats have existed since time immemorial and that they have been framing laws for the 'benefit and protection' of the community is a denial of facts which points at khaps acting as a law unto themselves — ordering harsh beatings, social ostracism and even murders. Khaps may have been doing good work when they were constituted, in the recent past they have been indulging in 'barbaric and shameful' deeds in the name of tradition. Therefore, it is surprising that a state government has looked the other way on the governing powers of a community, as against laws laid down by its own body.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

CWG, 2-G AND OTHER SCAMS

SOME ACTION, MORE NEEDED

BY INDER MALHOTRA

 

IN the welcome — if also belated and still in need of greater impetus — drive against the galloping cancer of corruption in this country, Monday, April 25, was a landmark. In the forenoon of that day, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested at long last Suresh Kalmadi, the man who had presided over the conversion of the Commonwealth Games, 2010, into uncommonly filthy games that stank of venality to high heavens. In the afternoon, it filed a second charge sheet in the 2-G Spectrum scam, arraigning eight more persons, including M. K. Kanimozhi, a DMK member of the Rajya Sabha and, more importantly, a daughter of M. Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and the DMK patriarch.

 

To the best of my knowledge and belief, nothing comparable has happened ever before during the nearly 64 years since Independence. But then it must be remembered never before until the last few years had corruption raged in India on so staggering a scale as at present. In all fairness, therefore, the action taken merits applause, but it would be equally futile to deny that what has been done is not enough and leaves a lot to be desired.

 

For instance, Ms. Kanimozhi has been made an accused and a "co-conspirator" in the acceptance of bribes amounting to Rs. 200 crore to a TV company owned by the family and named "Kalaignar", her father's "honorific". But surprisingly Mr. Karunanidhi's wife, Dayalu Ammal, has been left out even though she owns 60 per cent of the company's equity as against 20 per cent held by Ms. Kanimozhi.

 

So far, the only excuse for this selectivity, trotted out by or on behalf of the CBI, is that Mrs. Ammal speaks only Tamil, signs no books or papers and is merely a "sleeping partner" in Kalaignar TV. This is both fatuous and disingenuous. Under the law, the majority shareholder cannot be absolved of his or her responsibility for the company's criminal activity. No wonder, the widespread impression, rightly or wrongly, is that the CBI too may have been influenced by the "compulsions of coalition politics".

 

After all, on Sunday the country was resounding with reports from Chennai that the six DMK members of the Union Council of Ministers were "standing by" to resign in case Mrs. Ammal's name was included in the charge sheet. Now the talk is that the relatively relieved party leadership might not take any hasty step but wait until May 13 when the results of the state assembly elections would be known, the voting having been completed on April 13.

 

The problem with this line of reasoning is that the CBI honchos are no fools. They know that the Supreme Court is monitoring their investigations into the 2-G mega scam. They cannot, therefore, afford to behave — in this particular case, at least — as they usually do, as virtual handmaidens of the government of the day, regardless of whichever party or coalition is in power. Is there a clue here why the investigative agency calls its 48-page second dossier "the first Supplementary Charge Sheet"? This can surely serve as an escape hatch. It also remains to be seen what the special CBI court would say on May 6 when the next hearing is scheduled.

 

As for the gargantuan mess called the Commonwealth Games, there is striking unanimity among observers that Mr. Kalmadi's arrest has come too late. The charge is valid. For, an outcry for stringent action against the former chairman of the Organizing Committee of the Games and his cohorts had begun in July last year when the stench of corruption and wrong-doing had first fouled Delhi's air. The Manmohan Singh government's understandable reply then was that the need to hold the Games on time and successfully was paramount, but as soon these were over strict and immediate action would be taken against all those who had brought the country bad name. Since then no fewer than nine months have elapsed. Moreover, some of Mr. Kalmadi's collaborators, including Lalit Bhanot and S. K. Varma, arrested well before him, are out on bail because of the CBI's failure to file the charge sheet against them within the mandatory 60-day period, Could this precedent be repeated this time around as well?

 

Add to this the fusillade of statements by spokespersons of almost all Opposition parties and many others alleging that even Mr. Kalmadi is a "small fish" and that "high-profile politicians and bureaucrats" have also been beneficiaries of the "CWG loot". The Shunglu Committee's report has either named them or pointed the needle of suspicion towards them. They have, of course, denied the allegations, as Mr. Kalmadi had done at one time.

 

Under the circumstances, it is vital that the public's faith in the adequacy and fairness of governmental action to combat corruption, still fragile, is not damaged, wittingly or unwittingly. It is perhaps heartless to shove additional burden on the already overworked Their Lordships of the apex court. But the crusade against corruption would be reinforced greater and wider interests of the country better served if the Supreme Court supervises also the CBI investigations into the CWG scandal. About the implication of this suggestion for not only the present ruling coalition but also for all political parties that have been in power at some time or the other the less said the better.

 

Whatever ugly turn the aftermath of Anna Hazare's triumphal fast on the issue of corruption may have taken —and both sides are equally to blame for this — the fact remains that the Jantar Mantar episode has demonstrated beyond doubt that the people are fed up with all-embracing corruption and the issue can no longer be dodged or diffused with mere palliatives. On the Civil Services Day, the Prime Minister displayed a healthy awareness of this. That being the case, it is high time that the higher judiciary and the highest leadership of the executive, with full backing by the legislature, should cope with a fatal problem.

 

Thanks to a manifest lack of political will, deliberate and often diabolical perversion of investigations, and lamentable judicial delays at every rung of the ladder, no politician, even if convicted by a lower court, gets his or her just deserts because a series of appeals take years to be disposed of at each stage. Without eliminating this area of darkness the fight against corruption could well be futile.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

AGELESS FOREVER !

BY RAJI P. SHRIVASTAVA

 

A 60-something celebrity was often asked by strangers, "How do you stay so well-preserved?" She routinely offered the acidic reply, "In vinegar !"

 

A recent film about reaching 30 has got us talking about age milestones in animated drawing room discussions. In a world that unabashedly celebrates youth, turning 40 or 50 must seem like a terrible disaster. One to be avoided at all costs, I presume! It is inevitable that one will reach 60 or progress to 70 with the relentless march of time. But the finer point is that it is unacceptable to LOOK that age!  

 

If you live and work in Indian cities, are 40 and have been called "Aunty" or "Uncle" for eight years now, there is no real need to panic. If you want to carry the war into the enemy's camp, try retorting, "Mataji, don't call me Aunty!" Impractical, but hugely liberating, if you can pull it off with panache!

 

An immensely talented and beautiful lady who is a regular jogger and golfer mentioned how she has progressed from 'Aunty' to 'Maa-ji' in forms of casual address by strangers. The reason: she has the most outstanding silver hair ever seen on a human being. Today, shelves are full of anti-ageing products and minds are filled with anti-ageing attitudes. 'Sixty is the new fifty!' or 'Forty is the new 25!' are the slogans of our times.

 

Anyone who is balding, graying, overweight or wrinkled has gone through these experiences. With courtesies melting away and good behaviour no longer an ideal, being 'Uncle-ed' or 'Auntie-ed' must surely rank as only the mildest of offensives that one encounters on the street. Using the age-neutral 'Sir' or 'Ma'am' or the everything-neutral 'Ji' are some options that work in most situations but such sensitivity is rare. Judging a person by their appearance is the commonest of all prejudices known to man. A pity it is not defined anywhere in India.

 

Even in the 1990s, employers in the West had clear policies on equal opportunity. One of the prejudices mentioned in company mission statements was 'lookism' – in addition to racism and other more commonly encountered workplace biases based on gender, ethnicity, religion and disability.  'Lookist' behaviour involved judging a person's capabilities or competence based on outward appearances and responding to co-workers in an unfair or unjust way owing to such flawed perceptions.

 

Too unreal or obscure? Not if you sample the discrimination that people tend to face: a young man was repeatedly denied promotions because he wore expensive clothes that made his superiors feel that he didn't really need the job. Others involved an attractive lady who was seen as not being an ideal candidate for an elevation because the post involved 'serious responsibility'.

 

If age is merely a number then youth has to be a state of mind. However, snide comments are inevitable and you cannot please the whole world. If you colour your salt and pepper hair overnight  to a more flattering rich brown, be prepared for labels like 'behenji-turned-mod' or 'mutton dressed as lamb' !

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

NEED FOR CLEANSING THE MEDICAL PROFESSION

ONCE CONSIDERED NOBLE, THE MEDICAL PROFESSION IS TODAY PLAGUED BY INCREASING CUT SYSTEM, APPOINTMENT OF AGENTS FOR PROCURING BUSINESS AND UNNECESSARY BILLING

RAVI K GUPTA

 

The Medical Council of India (MCI) has recently issued certain notices to the medical fraternity forbidding them from accepting gifts or favours from private pharmaceutical companies. We are all aware that this is already incorporated into the Indian Medical Council Act and the breach of this is likely to attract punitive action for the defaulters. The issuing of such notices is tantamount to an indirect evidence that probably such unethical practices are becoming rampant in the medical profession day by day. But is issuing of a notice to the highly educated group of professionals, who are otherwise well aware of the law, a solution to curb such practices?

 

As a child, I studied in a small school in a remote village, where it used to be written on the walls that "Sada Sach Bolo" (Always speak truth) "Safai Rab da roop hai" (Cleanliness is next to Godliness). I am sure that such slogans are an integral part of our schools even today, as are those evil habits a part of our personality. Both of them, the slogans as well as the evil habits, are very conveniently able to live together harmoniously. Similar is the situation in our noble profession where such circulars are unfortunately making the impact similar to the slogans written on the walls of the schools.

 

I remember a story of 1930s from the life of Gandhiji, wherein a mother walked for hours under scorching sun to request Gandhiji for advising her son to stop eating too much sugar that was affecting his health. Gandhiji listened to the woman calmly, thought for a while and asked her to come after two weeks. The woman left frustrated, thinking as to why Gandhiji could not plainly ask her child to stop eating sugar.

 

After two weeks, walking the same distance again, when she came, Gandhiji very plainly asked the child to stop eating sugar and the child nodded in affirmation. Puzzled with the plain advice, the mother asked Gandhiji the reason of postponing such a small advice during her last visit. Gandhiji smiled and said that during her last visit Gandhiji himself was in the habit of eating raw sugar and it took him two weeks to get rid of the habit himself before he could advise it to the child. The story being true, should not be brushed aside by us — the Indians — the sons of the great Bapu. In the present context, it must be emulated by the custodians of the medical ethics of our country.

 

It is important that the MCI should first take into account the senior members of the medical institutions – both in private as well as the government — to expose the corrupt practices, if any, being prevalent with them. Once that is done, surely the clean top leaders are bound to ensure clean environment and work culture in their respective institutions. Of course, it is ultimately the individual responsibility that will ensure a lasting effect of the clean medical practices.

 

A few decades back medicine was a noble profession and the doctors were largely honest. But the trouble actually started with the introduction of big private corporate hospitals, diagnostic centres and uncontrolled growth of pharmaceutical houses that in a race to succeed over the other started luring the doctors with huge commissions in cash and/or kind. Uptill now, only pharmaceutical companies were luring the doctors for writing their drugs in prescriptions, but now corporate hospitals and diagnostic centres are likewise luring a doctor for referring a patient to their respective centers. In our country, today, in the corporate cities usually there is a tendency amongst the treating doctors for handing over a referral slip in the hand of the patient, who otherwise is very much able to be treated with simple drugs at the level of the local physician only resulting in the exchange of large sums of money between doctors and the corporate hospital. The "legitimate" way to impart this commission is to include the name of the referring doctor on the panel of the treating doctors of the hospital (only on paper) so that his commission is shown as a visiting fee given to the referring doctor.

 

The situation has gone so bad that some of medical men are prescribing even unethical expensive treatments to the patients just for the sake of monetary benefits, very well aware of the fact that the prescribed treatment is not required by the patient and is rather harmful in the long run. A couple of months back I came across a horrifying true story from Andhra Pradesh where some of the medical men were prescribing hysterectomy for everything from irregular periods to cramps, forcing a menopause on women as young as 20. The unfortunate victims are contributing endlessly to the enormous pool of the osteoporotic patients thus preparing themselves to suffer from another group of troubles arising because of osteoporosis.

 

An important factor that has triggered the downfall of the medical profession is the comparison in the minds of the medical men of the salary packages with their counterparts in the other nonmedical professions where the multinational culture is offering huge salary packages. The corrupt practices in the surrounding environment in other professions and in the society in general are also acting as an induction for the medical men to use all means, good or bad, for gathering faster.

 

While traveling in train, a few years back, in the general compartment, I happened to observe a hot and interesting discussion on the topic of "Corruption in Army" wherein one after the other participants were bubbling with knowledge of incidents of corrupt practices in the army resulting into the unsafe borders and concerns of security, till one gentleman who had been a silent spectator for almost two hours, disclosed his identity as an army officer. He cooled down the enthusiasm of all the participants by asking just one question from all of them that whether the people working in army came from the same society as of the participants or they come from some other universe! He asked all the participants to look into each one of them as to how honest they were. The professions like army, medicine and teaching are expected to be noble ones. Should the workers be imported? Can we stop malpractices by issuing just a few circulars or writing slogans on the wall?

But these are no arguments to accept the corrupt practices in the noble professions. The situation in such professions has gone from bad to worse with the increase of greed. We are witnessing a downward trend in the medical profession also with increasing cut system, appointment of agents for procuring business and unnecessary billing. The practices are not innovative but are being imported from abroad along with the import of technology and modernism.

 

The picture is very hazy and becoming darker day by day. The solution should be multipronged. Sending the circulars and enacting the laws are just small pieces of this big jigsaw puzzle. The people already in the medical profession need to be controlled by effective implementation of the legal aspect, which should start from the top level so that it automatically trickles to the grassroots level.

 

The new entrants should, however, undergo a personality assessment test that the incumbent entering the medical profession has certain basic level of ethical values in his personality. During his teaching years also, he should be taught some subjects that can inculcate moral values in his personality. Fortunately for us, we have such subjects already existing in our Indian System of medicine known as Ayurveda. As learned from my Ayurvedic doctor friends, there are subjects like Swasth Vrita and Aurveda ke Sidhant that contain inherent teaching of moral values. Thus an expert group of top leaders of Indian and Ayurvedic system should study the possibility of adding some of the subjects from Ayurvedic system or any other subjects that can inculcate some good moral values in our medical students.

 

Simultaneously, the government should be very cautious in allowing privatisation of the health sector, especially the medical education. A doctor who enters the medical profession in a private medical college by spending a huge sum of money is very likely to practice all kinds of means to reimburse the funds spent by his family. It is true that private hospitals are also important for catering to the needs of a particular segment of the society, but it is the duty of the government to establish and maintain the equivalent facilities, both qualitatively and quantitatively, in the public sector also so that there is a reasonable competition to the private player to break the monotony in the profession.

 

The writer is Associate Professor, Orthopaedics, Government Medical College and Hospital, Chandigarh

 

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

EDITORIAL

NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE

NEW REGULATOR AND SAFETY NORMS ARE REASSURING INITIATIVES

The Union government has done well to approve the creation of a new national regulatory institution for nuclear power in India. The proposed Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India should be independent of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), its authority should cover all nuclear power plants and it should be answerable only to Parliament. For far too long, India's DAE has kept itself away from the glare of public and transparent scrutiny in the name of national security. Now that the Indian nuclear programme is above board and has come of age, thanks to the civil nuclear energy cooperation agreements that India has entered into with members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency, an independent regulator will inspire confidence both at home and abroad. The importance of professional scrutiny of standards has been re-emphasised worldwide following the recent disaster in Japan. The government's assurance that India will have new safety standards and that at the proposed Jaitapur nuclear power plant there would be plant-specific safety systems should be welcomed by all. The transparent sincerity with which the chief minister of Maharashtra and two Union ministers have reassured concerned citizens about the safety standards to be adopted at Jaitapur should calm the nerves of those who have been agitating against the project. To be sure, not all opposition to the Jaitapur nuclear power plant was motivated by genuine concern for safety. It is clear that some of it was politically motivated. However, to the extent that there are genuine concerns, they have been convincingly addressed by the government.

While nothing will satisfy anti-nuclear activists and they will continue to oppose not just the Jaitapur plant but all new plans for nuclear energy, no sensible policy maker in India can afford to neglect nuclear power development. Even if India triples the share of nuclear power in total energy supplies, this would be rising from a lowly 3.0 per cent to about 9.0 per cent over the next two decades. The bulk of India's power supply will continue to come from existing and traditional sources, with new and alternative sources gaining space only at the margins. The anti-nuclear agitation in Maharashtra has been irresponsibly played up by vested interests and sections of the media. Any objective assessment will not only show that India has had a reasonably good record on safety and regulation, but also that the Fukushima analogy does not hold for Indian plants. However, since there is renewed concern about nuclear safety, it is good that the government has chosen to confront and address the issue. It will be in the national interest that all political parties come together to vote in favour of the proposed Bill that the government intends to bring to Parliament, so as to assuage public concern about nuclear energy development.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

FUELLING BILATERAL TRADE

INDIAN OIL EXPORTS WILL BENEFIT PAKISTAN'S CONSUMERS

An Indian army official keeping an eye on the India-Pakistan border says that over a 100 trucks cross the border every month at the point where he stands. This is just a small part of the unaccounted cross-border trade between the neighbours. Add to this the trade going through third ports like Dubai and Singapore and the total India-Pakistan "unofficial" trade is several times the lowly official estimate of $2 billion. So, when the commerce secretaries of both countries agree to improve the bilateral trade relationship, they are partly helping legitimise the existing trade. This is good. Hopefully, the trade talks will also focus on issues like granting India the most favoured nation status, increasing service-sector exports to Pakistan, allowing the transit of Indian goods to Central Asia, while also addressing Pakistan's concerns about what it perceives as non-tariff barriers imposed by India on its exports. However, acceptance of the Indian proposal to resume exporting petroleum products to Pakistan, an idea first mooted in 2004, will be truly path breaking for both countries. In virtually any other situation, the Indian proposal would be a no-brainer! With an existing capacity of 190 million tonnes per annum (expected to increase further as mega projects like the HPCL-Mittal joint venture in Bathinda come on stream), India is a global refining powerhouse. Approximately 25 per cent of refined output is exported. Pakistan, on the other hand, imports 50 per cent of its annual requirement of 24 million tonnes. If there was ever a case for trade based on the theory of comparative advantage, this is it!

Therefore, Pakistan's stubborn refusal to allow the import of diesel and petrol from India on grounds of energy security and making fuel imports conditional upon India's participation in the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) or the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline is unfortunate and can only hurt its own people. India's misgivings about the viability of the two pipelines are fundamentally more grounded in geo-political reality than Pakistan's fears about India disrupting fuel supplies in the event of a conflict. The prospect of fuel exports to Pakistan has both private and public sector players in the refining space excited. Resumption of fuel exports to Pakistan will provide Reliance Industries Limited and Essar Limited, both of which have extensive refining facilities in Jamnagar, and Indian Oil Corporation, with a refinery in Patiala, with business opportunities across the border. Looking ahead, the output from the HPCL's Bathinda refinery could be transported to Lahore by simply laying a 100-kilometre pipeline. These are not pipe dreams, but techno-economically feasible solutions, provided the political will to move forward is in place. Amid the euphoria, a note of caution is in order. Pakistan's fuel imports are heavily subsidised by "friendly" Gulf states, notably Kuwait. Indian firms may be unwilling to offer competing subsidies. As a related matter, the parlous finances of Pakistan's oil marketing company will also need to be carefully scrutinised. It would be interesting to see how both sides get around this potential dampener. For the "Mohali spirit" to sustain, concrete steps on the ground are needed. Laying the foundation for a win-win relationship, which would ensure uninterrupted fuel supplies to Pakistan while providing Indian refiners with economies of scale and hard currency earnings, would be a wonderful way to begin.

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 BUSINESS STANDARD

THE G20'S EMPTY GESTURES

THE RECENT MEETING IN WASHINGTON HAS CONTRIBUTED LITTLE TO OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE CURRENT 'GLOBAL IMBALANCES'

MARTIN FELDSTEIN

The world's 20 most important finance ministers and 20 most important central bankers travelled to Washington this month from every part of the globe to accomplish, predictably, exactly nothing.

The subject of the G20's recent meeting was "global imbalances". According to the communiqué issued by the group, the meeting focused on developing a procedure for identifying which G20 countries have "persistently large imbalances" and why they have them. This delicate analytical task was assigned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is to complete its work before the ministers' next meeting in October.

 

 It hardly takes a team of IMF economists to answer these questions. Anyone who has taken a first-year undergraduate course in economics would have no difficulty in identifying the countries with the largest trade surpluses and deficits. The United States wins first prize with a trade deficit of more than $650 billion in the most recent 12 months. No other country comes close enough to be awarded second prize.

The broader current account indicator (which includes trade in services and net investment income) confirms America's leading role: its external deficit is nearly $500 billion. No other country has more than a $100 billion current account deficit.

Even if we look at current account deficits relative to countries' GDP, America's 3.3 per cent ratio exceeds that of almost every other economy. The three countries with larger deficit-to-GDP ratios have a combined deficit of less than $70 billion — not enough to warrant the G20's attention.

The country with the largest current account surplus is, no surprise, China, with a positive balance of more than $300 billion. Japan and Germany are the only other countries whose current account surpluses exceed $100 billion.

China's current account surplus is 4 per cent of its GDP. Several oil producers have larger relative current account surpluses that, combined, exceed China's in absolute terms. And there are several other European and Asian countries with higher relative current account surpluses that together exceed that of China.

But the G20's decision to focus only on the member countries that account for more than 5 per cent of its combined GDP will exclude these smaller countries from the spotlight. Only China and the US, and perhaps Germany and Japan, will occupy centre stage.

So much for the not-so-difficult task of identifying the countries with big imbalances. But what about the causes of those imbalances?

Every student of economics knows that a country's current account deficit is the difference between its national investment (in business equipment, structures and inventories) and its national saving (by households, businesses and government). That is not a theory or an empirical regularity. It is an implication of the national income-accounting definitions.

The US has an enormous current-account deficit because the federal government's dis-saving (that is, the fiscal deficit) drags down America's overall national saving. And the reverse is true for the Chinese, German and Japanese current account surpluses. In each of those countries, the level of national saving exceeds domestic investment, leaving output to be exported and funds to be loaned abroad.

So the policy actions needed to reduce the trade and current account imbalances are clear enough. The US must raise its national saving rate by shrinking its budget deficit, which currently stands at nearly 10 per cent of GDP. Fortunately, the desirability of doing so is now clear to every policy maker in Washington and to most of the American public. It will begin to happen as the massive "fiscal stimulus" enacted in 2009 comes to an end, the political process begins to deliver spending cuts, and economic growth yields more tax revenue.

When President Barack Obama attends the G20's summit of heads of state in Cannes in November, he will no doubt agree to further reductions in the US budget deficit. But that will be an empty promise: the US president has far less control over legislation than government heads in parliamentary democracies like Britain or in countries like China. And Obama's power is even more limited now that his Democratic Party controls only one house of the US Congress. The history of previous summits suggests that the president will promise in Cannes only what he has already proposed at home.

The G20 ministers and central bankers are, of course, in no position to change the behaviour of either the US or China, whose recently adopted five-year plan makes clear that it will reduce national saving by increasing consumer spending and raising government outlays for services like health care. In other words, China will, for its own domestic reasons, reduce its current account surplus.

The same kind of national self-interest that is driving the Chinese to stimulate domestic spending was at work when the G20 leaders met in London in April 2009 and agreed to take steps to stimulate their economies. That agreement was easy to achieve, since it was in each country's interest to expand demand. The G20 only ratified what was going to happen anyway. But the G20 leaders and finance ministers nonetheless now point with pride to what they "accomplished" in London.

The same is likely to happen over the next few years as the US reduces its fiscal deficit and thereby shrinks its current account deficit while China reduces its national saving and thereby shrinks its current account surplus. The leaders of the G20 will no doubt claim credit for this achievement. Perhaps that is why they like to meet.

The author is Professor of Economics at Harvard.
He was Chairman of President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers and is former President of the National Bureau for Economic Research

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

DOES IT PAY TO SPEND LESS?

KANIKA DATTA

Would more Indians be better off if rich Indians were more austere? As the latest War on Wasteful Weddings suggests, the issue has come to acquire an enduring significance as middle class incomes and lifestyles scale new heights of opulence, the band of crorepatis expands by the year and lefty economists shake their heads disapprovingly at Gini coefficients that point to growing inequality.

Just four years ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent corporate promoters and chiefs into a tizzy when he suggested, in his trademark nuanced bureaucratese, that they "resist excessive remuneration" and "discourage conspicuous consumption" at a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) meet. Two years later, Salman Khurshid, then corporate affairs minister, was more direct: he advised companies against paying their top executives "vulgar" salaries.

 

India Inc, ever alert to signals from Raisina Hill, read into this a sure bet that CEO salaries would be put under strict government-mandated limits as they were in the seventies and eighties. In the event, a week after Khurshid's blunt advice, Singh soothingly told reporters that there were no such plans; the matter of austerity, he explained, had been raised "in a general way". But the issue didn't go away. In late 2010, with the economies in the throes of rising food inflation, a Parliamentary Standing Committee on the everlastingly delayed companies Bill recommended salary caps on CEOs beyond the existing links to net profits.

Singh's CII statement was possibly his way of sending India Inc a gentle reminder that it is faintly distasteful to spend too well when many Indians struggle to earn a dollar a day. India Inc protests that its pay and perks are nowhere near western levels, an odd argument since our companies are still smaller than those in the West. Either way, the question of how much the fat cats reward themselves isn't going away anytime soon.

Many influential leaders in government and Opposition are certainly old enough to remember the experience in the bad old days of socialism when a managing director's salary was capped, first, to Rs 7,000 a month and then generously doubled after about a decade, before scrapping it.

So what did companies do? One, they compensated by giving CEOs a lifestyle that was often more luxurious than what many of their counterparts enjoy today — palatial mansions, armies of household staff and multiple cars, phone connections and expense accounts. Much of this was taxed, of course, but the government helpfully allowed accountants to be legally creative and minimise the burden. Two, other promoters, especially those with strong managerial proclivities, simply gave their CEOs designations that kept them outside the purview of the legal definition of CEO-ship and paid them lavishly. Forget about the gap between rich and poor, the gap between the rich and middle class was huge.

Did this cause widespread social unrest, a key reason for those exhorting austerity today? The Naxalite movement, with its origins in the hedonistic tea plantations of north Bengal, was conspicuous by its presence because it wasn't really replicated country-wide. It is also worth noting that no big business establishment – the supposed Class Enemy – was attacked during the sixties movement nor was any big industrialist. Also, the middle class was probably way more discontented then. But it never took to the streets in protest if only because it saw little point in doing so. If it does so today, it is because it understands well how corruption in governance can impede its journey into the ranks of the rich.

The inequality that exercises some economists and thinkers now is not the result of more Indians growing poorer but because more Indians are getting richer. So yes, it would do CEOs and senior executives a power of good to curb the salaries and perks they pay themselves and follow the kind of unassuming philanthropy and austerity of, say, Narayana Murthy or Warren Buffett. But that's a moral choice, not an efficient re-distributive mechanism as populist politicians will have it. It wouldn't actually make the poor better off nor release a significant amount of wealth for their benefit.

Indeed, the poor don't really care if the rich get richer — note that instead of revolutionary protests outside Mukesh Ambani's extravagant new home, it's become an sattraction for locals to showcase to tourists. They would care even less if they were given the same opportunities to rise; that's the essential message emanating from the current Naxal movement in the jungles of the east and south.

It is uncertain, however, whether Singh is aware of the irony in the great CEO salary debate that he sparked off. India's expanding New Rich class is the result of the economic liberalisation he set in motion. Equally, the existence of so many poor people (the percentage varies according to the ideological proclivities of the economist and politician) is a product of policy failures at a time when garibi hatao is back in an updated format.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

HOW TO SALVAGE DOHA

IMPROVING LDCS' MARKET ACCESS AND ADDRESSING DEVELOPING COUNTRIES' DEVELOPMENT CONCERNS WOULD HELP

T S VISHWANATH

The Doha round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is at the crossroads again with WTO Director General Pascal Lamy making a fervent appeal to member countries seeking their support to "identify and converge upon a way forward which preserves the objectives and values of the Doha mandate."

Lamy made this appeal while releasing a set of documents that represent the work undertaken by negotiators over the last ten years. These documents are expected to help countries understand the political differences that exist in various areas of the Doha agenda so that they can collaborate with each other to bridge the differences.

 

 What is significant in Lamy's statement is the specific reference to the negotiations on industrial goods. What is equally striking is the fact that there is a separate note on sectoral negotiations on industrial goods. The reference is surprising because sectoral negotiations were brought into the agenda at a much later date and developing countries, including India, Brazil and China have not been in favour of a deal on tariff reduction in industrial goods with a sectoral focus. Even as the documents cover most crucial aspects of the negotiations, the emphasis, as in the earlier rounds of the negotiations, seems to be moving towards a deal in the area of industrial goods.

The director general seems to have missed out on elaborating the differences in two important areas of negotiations in his message, namely services and agriculture, on which there have been political differences impeding the move towards a balanced outcome in the Doha negotiations.

It is difficult to disagree with Lamy when he appeals to governments to think hard about the consequences of throwing away "10 years of solid multilateral work" if adequate support is not built by countries for trade opening.

Countries will meet in the coming days to look at how the Doha round can be saved. The last few weeks have seen several online discussion forums looking at whether the Doha round is still relevant for countries. Interestingly, many analysts are of the view that the Doha round has lost its relevance today. Even if this may not be true, it remains to be seen whether countries will be able to rise above their domestic concerns and look at how a global deal can help build a stronger economic environment across the world, which will be a win-win situation for all countries.

To achieve this objective, Lamy and the member countries of the WTO need to look at the core issues that ail the Doha round. The issue is not about the lack of momentum on sectoral negotiation in the WTO, as pointed out by the director general, but about not being able to close the negotiations on such issues as cotton, which are important for some least developed countries (LDCs), as also on some important issues related to agriculture or services, which are important for developing countries. The director general talks about a bottom-up approach to negotiations. The approach has to be directed towards completing the development aspects of the round before moving on to market access issues.

Lamy rightly says he still senses an "overall commitment to the aims of the round" — which is hopefully a reference to making this a development round. He also points out that to find a way forward "it cannot be business as usual." The answer as he again states "cannot simply be to stop and reboot."

Given this backdrop, the strategy to close this round has to be three-pronged. First, move towards a development-oriented approach where the LDCs are first provided with an opportunity to improve their access to global markets. Second, address some core outstanding issues related to development objectives that are important to developing countries. And finally, steer clear of issues that were placed on the table in the middle of the talks, like the sectoral negotiations in industrial goods.

A lot is at stake for most countries in concluding the Doha round at the earliest. Given the economic turmoil in many developed countries it is equally important for them to work towards an early conclusion of the Doha negotiations. Completing the round in 2011 seems difficult but with some strong push it may move forward in the next six months to hopefully conclude next year.

(The author is Principal Adviser APJ-SLG Law Offices)

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BUSINESS STANDARD

MANU'FRACTURED' GROWTH

THE MANUFACTURING SECTOR HAS NOT DEVELOPED UNIFORMLY ACROSS STATES AND ITS SHARE IN THE GDP REMAINS STAGNANT

INDICUS ANALYTICS

The manufacturing sector, an engine of growth in many economies, has not grown as vibrantly in India as the services sector. The share of the manufacturing sector in India's GDP has been more or less stagnant; it rose from around eight per cent in 1950-51 to remain in the 14 to 16 per cent range over the last two decades. Even as the first 10 years of economic planning recorded high annual growth of 6.12 per cent, in the subsequent two decades growth slowed to four to five per cent a year. Definite signs of positive growth came only with the eighties when liberalisation reforms pushed growth above the five per cent level.

According to the latest national income series data at 2004-05 prices, growth in the manufacturing sector in the last six years since 2005-06 has averaged an impressive 9.43 per cent a year, despite a hard knock in 2008-09.

 

Like other indicators the manufacturing sector, too, has not developed uniformly across India. Some states have achieved a much higher level of industrialisation, whereas others are lagging. Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu together account for more than a third of India's manufacturing GDP, making them the leading industrial states of the country. When it comes to the sectoral share of the gross state domestic product (GSDP), states where manufacturing accounts for more than a fifth of the state income are Puducherry, Goa, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh. At the other end, manufacturing accounts for 10 per cent or less of state income in all the north-eastern states, among the larger states West Bengal, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, and Bihar share this characteristic. (Click here for graph)
 

ON THE SLOW TRACK
Compound annual growth rate of manufacturing GSDP

Period

at 1999-00 
prices%

1950-51 to 1959-60

6.12

1960-61 to 1969-70

4.74

1970-71 to 1979-80

4.89

1980-81 to 1989-90

5.95

1990-91 to 1999-00

6.91

2000-01 to 2008-09

7.98

Source: CSO

According to the latest period for which data from the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) are available for all states, 2000-01 to 2007-08, growth in manufacturing at 1999-2000 prices ranges from 26.67 per cent to 1.8 per cent a year, with the national average standing at 7.76 per cent. Meghalaya ranks at the top mainly due to the large-scale cement factories set up in recent years, while Madhya Pradesh holds the lowest rank. Other top performers include Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, with annual manufacturing growth exceeding 15 per cent.

Interestingly, manufacturing activities in these states have centred on the large natural resource base. There are six states with double-digit growth in the manufacturing sector during this period — Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Puducherry, Karnataka and Assam. And four states where manufacturing growth has been less than five per cent a year — Tripura, Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Even as these growth estimates are provisional and subject to change, it is clear that although India's manufacturing sector is currently recording fast rates of growth, large parts of the country continue to lag due to many constraints — availability of infrastructure and land, bureaucratic procedures, access to capital, and so on. Meanwhile, a National Manufacturing Policy aimed at increasing the share of manufacturing in GDP to 25-26 per cent by 2020 is on the anvil; for states that are competing with each other for industrial investment, this will call for proactive state-level policies that will ensure strong manufacturing growth across the country.

Indian States Development Scorecard, a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics, focuses on the progress in India and across the states across various socio-economic parameters.
sumita@indicus.net  

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MIS-SELLING MISHAPS

RBI HAS RAPPED BANKS ON THE KNUCKLES BUT GREED CANNOT BLIND COMPANIES EITHER

 

In penalising 19 banks for violating currency derivatives norms and selling products to companies that did not understate them, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has merely emulated regulators elsewhere. Selling financial products to those who don't understand them or mis-selling as it is called, has invited the wrath of regulators who see themselves as protectors of the larger public good. Earlier this year, the UK Financial Services Authority fined Barclays £7.7 million for selling retail products on the grounds of failing to ensure the funds sold were tailored to meet their 'customers needs, specifically their financial circumstances and investment objectives'. Last July the US Securities and Exchange Commission fined investment bank,Goldman Sachs a record $550 million for failing to disclose 'vital information'.


There is, however, a thin dividing line between mis-selling by falsifying information or failing to disclose information and mis-buying by those who do not comprehend the transaction in question but are so driven by greed that they are willing to punt on it. While regulators must guard against the former and penalise the guilty, they must be equally wary of riding to the rescue of those who have only themselves and their greed to blame for getting their fingers burnt. The simple rule of caveat emptor or 'buyer beware' is as relevant in the field of complex financial products as in any other. Tiny companies from places like Jalandhar and Tirupur had no business to get carried away by complex products. They should have stuck to the knitting and at best hedged their risks through plain vanilla products. This is not to say banks are entirely blameless in the matter. They have a fiduciary responsibility to their customers. But unless, as with Goldman where the bank was found taking an opposite position to what it had urged for its customers, or there is a deliberate act of omission or commission, some of the blame rests with corporates too. Presumably the RBI found enough evidence of banks failure to comply with its regulations; hence the penalty. As far as corporates are concerned, the rule is simple: don't get into what you don't understand, as Warren Buffet would tell them.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

LANKAN CARNAGE

A UN PANEL'S INDICTMENT MAKES DEVOLUTION OF POWER ALL THE MORE URGENT

 

A UN panel has indicted the Lankan army for killing tens of thousands of civlians towards the end of the civil war in 2009. It confirms the worst fears about war crimes having being committed. It is unlikely that Colombo will assent to any further international investigation, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa instead having issued a call to turn the upcoming May Day rally into a demonstration against a UN investigation. But the indictment of the panel's report warrants New Delhi taking a more proactive role on the issue. The crimes listed are grisly enough — with most civilian lives having been lost due to indiscriminate shelling by Lankan troops during the months leading to the LTTE's defeat as well as the denial of aid and medical supplies to civilians in the conflict zone. Add the fact that these findings give the lie to Colombo's dismissal of video tapes aired late last year, which showed Lankan troops executing bound and stripped Tamils, as well as Lanka's insistence that it had not violated the 'No-Fire Zone' during the last stages of the war, and the scale of Colombo's tactic of denial while indulging in gross violations is manifest.


The Rajapaksa regime, meanwhile, has been using Chinese and Russian support to ward off discussions on the issue at the UN Security Council while whipping up even more Sinhala-nationalistic passions at home. The latter, in fact, posits the larger problem that the Rajapaksa regime has so far paid mere lip service to the broader need to devolve political power to the minorities as a lasting solution to the conflict as it wallows in its chauvinist, militarist belief that winning the war has ended all issues. Denial of having committed war crimes, leave alone acknowledging the necessity of conducting an investigation, fixing culpability and then possible reparations to the affected Tamil population, is an indication of the lack of any real intent to address the disempowerment of the minorities. That is the message New Delhi must, however diplomatically, deliver to Colombo. International opinion must make it difficult for China to offer support for Lankan reluctance to devolve power.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CONSUMING PASSIONS

IT IS TIME WE TRULY VALUED WHAT WE EAT, HONOURING SNACKS WITH SPECIAL DAYS


India has its fair share of holidays, gazetted and restricted, to use clumsily arcane governmentalese. And as if we do not already have potential reasons to celebrate every which day, if we delve deep enough into the reservoirs of our diverse and ancient culture, we have also borrowed, adopted and adapted many more, without official sanction but with the blessings of at least the marketing mavens. Valentine's Day, as the modern-day antidote to the brotherly implications of Rakhi, for instance. But there is clearly room for more. Consider the case of National Pretzel Day in the US, an unofficial annual jamboree that came into the limelight around eight years ago when a Pennsylvania politician decided to support a day to commemorate the salty, heart-shaped baked treat. Elevated to a national celebration, little wonder stores give pretzels out free on April 26 every year, and reams are written on the day about this curious cross between bread and biscuit.


Given that the US also has a National Potato Chip Day (March 14), a Pizza Day (February 9), a Hamburger Day (December 21) and so on, it is time that India, with its vast array of food items, celebrated them too, instead of just eating them. No one has hazarded a guess about the size of the samosa industry in India, but as a fast consumed moveable good (FCMG), it would undoubtedly give other FMCGs a run for their rupee. However, there is nary a day, hour or even minute to celebrate this great Indian snack that has made it even to the White House. The pretzel has been honoured with a day by a country mindful that it constitutes a $550 million industry. It is time that the national value of popular Indian eatables are calculated too — and commemorated. That would be one way for us to have our samosa and eat it too.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NEXT: SUPPLY SIDE OF CORRUPTION

THE BATTLE AGAINST CORRUPTION WILL NEVER BE WON UNTIL THE BRIBE-GIVING CORPORATE CLASS IS TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT

 

Anna Hazare and the civil society won a crucial first battle in the war against corruption. There is a possibility that the Lokpal Bill could be passed by Parliament by August 15. However, that is by no means assured: a number of politicians, a part of section of political establishment and a section of bureaucracy will try to derail the Bill or dilute it so much that it is rendered ineffective. In fact, the financial stakes for them in perpetuating corruption are enormous.


The war against corruption will be a tough and long, but it can be won. Effective Lokpal and Lok Ayuktas could transform the political and administrative landscape of India. They can give a clear message to criminal and crooked politicians that winning an election and becoming a minister is not a ticket to amass ill-gotten wealth with impunity.


Media has played an active role in exposing many recent scams. The Supreme Court has been the leading light in the battle for improved governance, particularly through its oversight of the 2G probe and questioning the appointment of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). The early results are excellent, with many heads rolling. Importantly, Hazare has already highlighted the need for electoral finance reforms in order to clean up politics. There is a discussion about scraping the archaic laws and regulations that promote corruption. There is reason to hope.


The focus so far has been largely on the demand side of corruption. Equally and perhaps more important is to control the supply side of corruption. In Hazare's civil society movement, the business community was conspicuous by its absence. In various scams and scandals, the business community has cut a sorry figure.
In the 2G auction in 2008, 16 major telecom companies were eliminated. CBI alleges that this was due to "criminal conspiracy and criminal misconduct orchestrated by minister Raja and telecom ministry officials in collusion with eight company officials who won the licences". What is most surprising is that none of the 16 companies unjustly eliminated took the matter to the court.


It was a PIL that exposed this corruption over a year later. Why? Is the business so deeply mired in promoting and financing corruption that no one dares to protest even if they are hurt by corruption and bribery?
I do not think so; it is the 80:20 rule at work — 80% of corruption and bribery is orchestrated by 20% of corrupt companies. These companies use corruption as a business strategy to get competitive advantage and exceptional return on their investments (bribe). They finance elections, orchestrate appointment of pliable ministers, ensure bureaucrats beholden to them get powerful positions and exercise control over much of the media.
On the other hand, a vast majority of companies are victims of corruption that distorts the business and competitive environment and acts as an additional tax on business. Some of these companies do pay bribes to protect their interests, but with resentment. However, the mainstream business establishment is not motivated or brave enough to take on the major corrupt companies.


Challenging corrupt companies — that is, the supply side — will be even harder than to fight corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, that is, the demand side of corruption. The reason is explained by the economics of corruption. Let us assume that in the 2G scam, the telecom minister made . 200 crore and perhaps bureaucrats involved made . 20 crore. There is a clear indication that corrupt businesses involved made several thousand crores, several in bribery. Corruption and bribery for these companies is a very lucrative investment. They are the ones who have siphoned of a large portion of India's wealth in offshore accounts of their promoters and crooked politicians and bureaucrats.

 Concerted action will be required to rein in the supply side of corruption. Here are some essential steps.
First, we need to strengthen our anti-bribery Act and impose tougher penalties and sentences on the bribe-giver. The UK's anti-bribery Act of 2010 and the US anti-bribery Act (and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) are good models.


Second, the enormous wealth stashed outside India must be brought back. Perhaps there can be amnesty for six months. After that, determined pursuit, confiscation of money hidden overseas and severe jail terms to owners or beneficiaries of these accounts or trusts.


Third, enact a Lobbyist Act that requires all corporate lobbyists to register and report their activities. The recent Canadian Lobbyist Act is an excellent example.


Fourth, an effective whistleblower mechanism, so that employees, corporates and others can safely report corrupt activities without fear of reprisal. This can be included in the Lokpal Bill, who should be able to follow the money trail to prosecute both the bribe-giver and taker.


And fifth, responsibility for ethical corporate conduct should vest with the board of directors of the company, who should ensure that the company develops a culture which does not encourage or tolerate corrupt practices or bribery. If a company is engaged in corrupt practices, Sebi should penalize it and blacklist its promoters/directors.


By fighting both the demand and supply sides of corruption, we can hope to reduce, if not eliminate, the cancer of corruption from our society. India can not only be a strong and prosperous democracy but also have major influence in the world as amorally clean country.

 

ARUN DUGGAL CHAIRMAN, SHRIRAM CAPITAL LTD

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NEURAL NET

TO SPIN A TOP-CLASS YARN

MANOJ NAIR


Lattu, Pambaram, Buguri, Bambaram, Bhamaido.… Any idea what these words mean? It will definitely ring a bell if one were to add the word Beyblade to that list of names of spinning tops. All those words in our vernacular lexicon have drowned in the cross-Pacific dissonance from Japan. It seems no national disaster, natural or man-made, can stop the invasion by Japan's cultural exports on our mindscape. Beyblade is the latest.
Last November it made a comeback. The return came after about a couple of years of hiatus forced on it by Ben 10 alien force, which put the Japanamerica battle squarely in favour of the US. Now, Battle Strikers, Beigoma, Beyblade, Spin Fighters, Spinja, Lego Ninjago, members of the Beyblade community, have returned to the lexicon of the young in India with a bang. These are bearing tops, with a tip that spins. In addition, plastic and metal have largely supplanted the use of wood in these tops. Fixed-tip tops are featured in National Championships in Chico, California and in the World Championships in Orlando, Florida.
As for the kids, their only concern, even if it means begging, borrowing or blackmailing, is to keep on adding to their collection of Beyblades, which first appeared on the horizon in the fag end of 2002.
What in heaven's name are Beyblades? They are plastic and metal version of a spinning top with many additional features. They are flat and illimitic illuminations that emit sound and spin at breakneck speeds depending on how long the rip cord is and how fast it has been pulled through the launcher. That's when the kids have taken it to the 'stadium' for a battle of spinning speeds. Before that they watch the Beyblade episodes shown at the vantage time of 4 pm everyday.


The Beyblade series have a raptorial raconteur who narrates the story in each episode. Like the one about Gingka, a boy from the Beyblading residence Koma Village, who is traveling across the country searching for a fight with other beyblades. Kenta is his younger friend and Madoka is a bey mechanic-engineer. Throughout the series, Ginga uses various beys to ward off evil forces like L drago, in all likelihood made of stronger metals.
What draws kids to this round toy shaped like a spacecraft? It is the allure of opportunity to be destructive and creative, to both destroy and rebuild, without hurting anyone. One battles an opponent and the last top standing is the winner.


This latest fad among kids shows that compelling characters; intriguing, twisting and developed stories; and moody, totally appropriate and attractive art appeals to the young mind. It is the narrative strung around it that makes Beyblades a hot favourite. Check out this independent universe on beyblade.com.
These games — aided by slick advertising, carpet bombing via animated series on TV that run simultaneously with the atmospheric frenzy on ground — indeed have a raucous impact on the culturescape of children, which is very much validated by the Kraziness in its acceptance. Pokemon had its Darwinian side. Ben 10 has its Dickensian side with 'the worst of times and the best of times' collapsing into one, and now Beyblade has its Marxian side with every blade getting an equal opportunity to succeed.


Like Pokemon and Ben 10, the Beyblade series is also thick with corporate metaphors. Strategikes are made via verticalisation of the group with clusters and vertical heads in command. Even as it is about a few spinning tops, the game and its appendage — the TV series — inspires kids to embark on a quest to be a middle manager. The delirious world of Beyblade, which according to Shirley R Steinberg, Priya Parmar, Birgit Richard, authors of Contemporary Youth Culture, "uses motifs of a post-nuclear, teenage techno-wasteland" to depict "vagabond kids traveling around the world in search of opponents to challenge, tournaments to win, and glory to be gained". However, it has a diagonally opposite outcome on parents and their children.
The complex, quasi-religious language and art of Beybladism evoke manic confessions of doomsday fears and samurai fantasy in adults, particularly in Japan. On the contrary, it also addresses welcome concerns, albeit vicariously, among kids — finding friends and having a good time. The meeting point of children and their parents is the acknowledgement of a universal truth — everyone harbours a hidden desire to be a hero, even if it is in a secret life of make-believe.


Never mind the spectacularly absurd mélange of sketched settings, photographic images, and typical Japanese cartoon style under the rising sun. It is time for a spin to be right on top.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

THE BIG PICTURE

IMF LESSONS AND OTHER TALES

T T RAM MOHAN

 

Through the nineties, the IMF preached the virtues of free capital flows. It has learnt since, from the East Asian crisis as well as the recent sub-prime crisis. In 2010, the IMF made something of a volte face. It discarded its long-standing hostility to capital controls. It took the position that countries would be justified in responding to temporary surges in capital flows.


The IMF is still learning. In recent months, it has come out with another staff paper and a policy framework that shows that its position is still evolving. The paper goes further than the one last year and argues that countries may be justified in responding to surges in flows that are of a permanent nature as well. The policy framework presents recommendations that arise from the paper.


The IMF outlines a threestep approach to dealing with capital flows. The first step is to get macroeconomic policies right. Where the exchange rate is undervalued, it should be allowed to appreciate through increased inflows. Where forex reserves are not adequate, countries can respond to inflows by building up reserves and limiting the impact on liquidity through sterilisation. Fiscal policy should be tightened and monetary policy eased where there is scope for doing these. In other words, in dealing with capital flows, countries should first exhaust these macroeconomic options. Only then should other options be considered.


The next line of defence is what the IMF calls prudential measures. These measures are of a long-term nature and may not be deployed only in response to a surge in capital flows. They could be measures aimed at increasing the capacity of an economy to absorb foreign inflows (e.g., strengthening the bond market). Or they could be measures that increase the resilience of financial institutions (e.g., higher capital adequacy norms or loan-to-value norms). They may not have an immediate impact on capital flows but they help limit the damage to the financial sector that can be done by volatile flows.


Suppose the currency is undervalued, forex reserves are inadequate and monetary policy can be eased. In the face of a surge in capital flows, would prudential measures suffice? The answer is not obvious. You can do what you like to protect the financial sector but there is no getting away from the fact that the financial sector is exposed to the real sector. If there is rapid appreciation in currency, it could undermine the competitiveness of firms in the real sector and that is bound to impact on the financial sector.


Moreover, the whole problem with capital flows is their fickleness. Capital that flows in easily can flow out just as easily. There is huge volatility in the exchange rate and this can undermine stability in the economy, including financial sector stability. If a large portion of flows bypasses the regulated financial sector, prudential measures may not suffice. Some resort to capital controls may become unavoidable.
That would explain why many countries, such as Brazil and Peru in recent times, have thought it necessary to use controls to deal with capital flows. The IMF finds that 9 out of 30 countries it surveyed met the macroeconomic conditions it specifies for the use of capital control measures. Unfortunately, the jury is out on the effectiveness in the long-run of such controls. The IMF makes a distinction between capital control measures that distinguish based on residency and those do not. It indicates a preference for the latter. Then again, countries may have to choose between price-based bases (such as taxes on inflows) and administrative measures (such as outright bans on certain types of inflows).


However, even well-designed capital controls may not work. Capital has a way of bypassing barriers. Moreover, there could be costs to the economy of erecting barriers. The IMF policy framework suggests that capital controls should be temporary and should be scaled back at the earliest opportunity. But this assumes that surges in capital flows are of a relatively short duration. It does not tell us how countries are to cope with sustained surges in capital.


For emerging economies, capital flows are not a function only or even mainly of their growth prospects. Global economic conditions are an even bigger determinant, especially what happens to US interest rates. In other words, however well emerging markets may manage their economies, they will be at the mercy of volatile flows of capital, based on what happens in advanced economies. This is the nub of the issue. It has become even more relevant in the world economy after the sub-prime crisis. Monetary easing in the US and Europe is causing a flood of liquidity in emerging economies. The point, as some emerging markets have pointed out, is not how well emerging markets manage their economies but how well advanced economies manage theirs. From preaching to emerging markets, the IMF has begun to learn from them. This is one lesson it still needs to absorb.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

INJUSTICE TO WHEAT FARMERS

By getting its agencies to procure wheat at sub-MSP rates and not allowing the farmers to export, the Centre has committed a double injustice.

On April 1, at the start of the new harvesting season, India's public wheat stocks, at 15.36 million tonnes, were more than twice the required minimum buffer and strategic reserve of seven million tonnes. On top of that, the size of the crop about to be marketed was reckoned at an all-time-high of 84.27 million tonnes. There could not, arguably, have been a better time to lift the ban on exports, in place since February 2007. Allowing exports would have helped farmers by creating a new source of demand, besides easing the Centre's own burden of finding space to store more grain in already overflowing warehouses. Killing two birds with one stone, in other words.

But, instead of exercising common sense, the Centre has done what has now become its trademark practice of not doing anything, even while speaking in different voices. Thus, only last week, we had the Agriculture Minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, making a strong case for opening up exports to enable the country's wheat growers take advantage of the prevailing high global prices. This Monday, however, saw his counterpart in the Food and Consumer Affairs Ministry, Mr K.V. Thomas, vehemently opposing exports, stating it would hurt domestic consumers. The result: No decision. Even if a decision happens now, it would perhaps be too late, because roughly half of the crop has been harvested and brought to the mandis. By the time an 'empowered' group of ministers, scheduled to meet on May 2, takes a final call on the matter, the farmer will have little to gain either way. In fact, one could very well argue that exports should not be permitted, now that the farmer has already sold his crop and the chances of consumers getting hurt are higher once the main marketing season is over. It would be worse if there are trading houses that have bought up large quantities in the expectation of exports eventually being allowed — with this knowledge based on privileged official information rather than any calculated gamble.

The real loser in the entire game has, no doubt, been the ordinary wheat-grower in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or Rajasthan. Wheat has been sold during this season in mandis such as Hardoi and Bareilly for as low as Rs 1,020-1,030 a quintal — as against the Centre's minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 1,120 plus a bonus of Rs 50. By not implementing the MSP through actual procurement of grain at this rate, and simultaneously denying the farmer the opportunity to benefit from exports, the Centre has willy-nilly committed a double injustice. The grower has every reason to be angry at the Government and may not be wholly unjustified in seeking legal redress on this count.

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BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

BRICS: THE CHALLENGES AHEAD

G.PARTHASARATHY

Never before had a new global grouping emerged from the research of a US 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. 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, 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 not accidental. Sanya is located close to the disputed Xisha (Paracel) and Nansha (Spratly) Islands in the South China Sea, which China recently declared as an area of "core interest", like Tibet and Taiwan. The Hainan submarine base, with five nuclear submarines, is adjacent to Sanya and will be home to China's first aircraft carrier.

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.

DEALING WITH CHINA

Our worthy leaders and mandarins have few equals in giving a spin to whatever emerges from summit meetings 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 maintaining 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, on the basis of 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.

ALTERNATIVE TO G-7

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", fashioned as an alternative to the IMF. The initiative was intended to bail out East Asian economies, facing economic downturn. China has consistently sought alternatives to the Western-dominated Bretton Woods Financial Institutions. With reserves of $3 trillion 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. India would prefer strengthening the IMF by expansion of "Special Drawing Rights". But, there was agreement in principle in Sanya to establish credit lines in local currencies, which will insulate recipients from exchange rate risks, for joint projects. At the same time, BRICS believe that the current domination of the IMF and 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 shared concern about prevalent volatility in prices of energy and food.

STRATEGIC ISSUES

The Sanya 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.

While there has been much talk around building a multipolar world order, Russia, Brazil, South Africa and India recognise that China really seeks a bipolar world order, which it jointly dominates with the Americans. 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.

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BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

LETTERS FROM WEB AND MAIL

PRUDENT MOVE BY RBI

Banks have been plagued with non performing assets due to various reasons. Stringent regulatory norms require banks to make increased provisioning for bad loans as a cushion. It was a good move on the part of the RBI in 2009, when banks were making good profits, to advise banks to maintain a provision coverage ratio of 70 per cent of their gross non-performing assets with a view to have a provisioning buffer.

While the majority of banks ensured compliance within the stipulated deadline of September 30, 2010, few banks understandably sought extension of time due to high burden caused on their balance-sheets. The current move by the RBI that they need not maintain 70 per cent PCR on an ongoing basis and further specifying the end point (which is the same as September 30, 2010 as was earlier) for setting aside additional provisions would be a big relief to all banks and ease pressure on profits.

While usual provisioning for bad loans will continue, additional burden on the balance-sheet will cease. Clearly, banks failing to achieve the PCR of 70 per cent will have to compute the shortfalls, as of the prescribed date, and strive to meet them at the earliest.

Those banks that have already done so will have the further advantage of segregating the surplus provision under PCR into a separate buffer account opened for the purpose so that they can be utilised for specific provisioning for NPAs during the bad times, subject of course to the approval by the regulator. In effect, it is a good step forward by the RBI for it provides banks with the flexibility to make higher provisioning in good times for use in bad times.

Srinivasan Umashankar Nagpur

Ill-conceived conclusion

This refers to the author's views expressed in "A lamentable letdown" ( Business Line, April 26). I am rather surprised that the author has joined the bandwagon and come to a hasty and ill-considered conclusion about the Bhushans.

In none of the charges made against the Bhushans is there a prima facie evidence of dishonesty. For instance, the CD first.

The author suggests the Government lab should be trusted without any question, but why should we? Can the author vouch for the competence and independence of the Government lab, after knowing how competent and independent other agencies of the government are?

As far as the charge of stamp duty evasion is concerned, Mr Shanti Bhushan has clarified the basis of computation and payment of stamp duty as well as produced a copy of his application to the Stamps department.

If the author agrees with the basic facts that the Bhushans were living in a tenanted property, as defined in the State Act; that the stamp duty on such property in Uttar Pradesh is 20 times the rateable value for municipal tax and that Mr Bhushan had made an application to the Stamps department (another copy of the application should be available with the Stamps department which the detractors of the Bhushans could care to verify), where is the question of stamp duty evasion?

Finally, the purchase of land allotted in Noida by the UP Government. As the Bhushans have clarified, the allotment was based on applications invited through a newspaper advertisement and not from the Chief Minister's discretionary quota. So, how does the question of quid pro quo and, hence, conflict of interest arise? The author can certainly find out if applications were rejected and, if so, what was the basis of land allotment followed by the Government. Such an enquiry could reveal if an out-of-turn allotment was made in favour of the Bhushans.

S. Balakrishnan

e-mail

Lokpal Bill

I am surprised at the conclusion drawn by the author that the Bhushans should be dropped from the committee and team should go for two young, intelligent and eminent lawyers who will command universal respectability.

It is difficult to find such people of integrity in India; who cannot be accused of nepotism, regionalism, corruption or bending rules. If the members are changed, new facts will be either be brought out or fabricated to discredit them.

There are enough people to do this work, which we cannot afford that at this juncture. We must proceed with this team and settle differences later.

Vidyarthi

Social responsibility

This is with reference to CSR: Rhetoric and Reality ( Business Line, April 25) in which the author has rightly pointed that even though the companies ought to look at social responsibility, it must not be at the cost of its bottomline. The company cannot dilute its rudimentary responsibility to share holders.

N. R. Nagarajan e-mail

Money transfers

Money transfer is a big problem for the illiterate and low-income class of people.

Even the educated class who migrate to far-off places on transfer find it difficult to open an account in the banks; for the low-income group, the less said the better.

The problem is more about providing one's address proof to the satisfaction of the bank authorities. The difficulty in opening the account at new places can be done away with if the banking authorities take a decision to accept the prospective customer's application for opening account if he/she has an account in any part of the country.

Holding an account in any part of India should be the sufficient reason to accept the application of prospective customers in good faith.

This is also enough to show that he/she is the genuine citizen of India who has no questionable antecedents that render him/her not qualified for opening the account.

However, a simple address proof can be accepted if the employers or the landlords certify it.

In many banks, the staff members do not disclose the facility of online transfer of money, free of cost up to a certain limit. The staff must be imparted training to be customer-friendly.

K.V. Seetharamaiah e-mail

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

A HOME AWAY FROM HOME?

THROUGH B&W PHOTOGRAPHS, DILEEP PRAKASH CAPTURES THE AMBIVALENCE OF SOMEONE WHO, EVEN AS AN ADULT, STILL NEEDS TO ASK HIMSELF ABOUT THE SENSE OF FAMILIAL BELONGING THAT SEEMED TO HAVE BEEN OUT OF BOUNDS FOR HIM AS A CHILD


Devika Daulet-Singh of Photoink, a celebrated photography gallery in Delhi, has very kindly sent me a book of photographs by Dileep Prakash who is currently exhibiting there. The exhibition, titled "What Was Home" has an essay by art historian and curator Deepak Ananth who lives in Paris, and has written on a range of modern and contemporary artists, European and Indian.

 

Dileep Prakash's exhibition is a series of stark, rather desolating black and white images of the "innards" of our great public schools such as The Lawrence School, Sanawar, Doon, St Paul's in Darjeeling, Mayo College, Ajmer and many others. They feature empty classrooms, empty dormitories, empty gyms, labs and washrooms.

 

This is very different from the aura with which these institutions have been traditionally invested: built mainly in the mid to late 19th century to impart the kind of education available in British public schools, they have illustrious histories, tasteful buildings, and beautiful settings. For instance, St Paul's in Darjeeling, built on the highest point of the town has an uninterrupted view of the magnificent Kanchenjunga range.

 

At the same time, life could be rigorous. It is said that the military training imparted at The Lawrence School was so rigorous that contingents of boys went straight from school to the battlefields of the Great War.

 

If the photographs are bleak, it is not because the photographer has any kind of simple-minded "subversion" in mind. Deepak Ananth writes that the title of the exhibition What Was Home "eloquently sums up the profound ambivalence of someone who, even as an adult, still needs to ask himself about the sense of familial belonging that, as a child, seemed to have been out of bounds for him. That emotional wrench was, of course, part of the experience of growing up for generations of English schoolboys from the upper classes leaving home to attend boarding school, however much they might have put on a brave face".

 

Dileep Prakash was sent to Mayo when he was nine, and saw his family only twice a year. Returning to his alma mater as an adult, he wanted to record it in a documentary fashion but then decided on "a more contemplative approach. My attempt was to explore memory, not descriptively but emotionally…" He then decided to explore other boarding schools in India, and felt "many commonalities that resonated with my years in Mayo".

 

There are lighter moments too. Ananth writes, "For all his mixed feelings about growing up in a boarding school, Prakash's retrospective survey is hardly oblivious to the occasions of levity that came his way: the skeleton in an anatomy class that is literally in a cupboard, the framed reproduction of a madonna and child presiding over a blackboard bearing a detailed biological illustration of reproductive organs…"

 

The first photograph in the exhibition features the word "SILENCE" framed on a wall. It is this word that Ananth uses to explore the work. "The unoccupied chair and its ghostly shadow, the lockers in {temporary?} disuse, the weathered wooden floor…everything suggests vacancy or emptiness and is resonant precisely for that reason – the familiar spiritual paradox of absence as presence, albeit inflected by the melancholy that Dileep Prakash brings to it."

 

Ananth's essay is a luminous piece of writing, a model of its kind. Full of empathy for the emotional journey of the photographs, and their technical achievements, the essay keeps the work and the viewer in focus, pointing to details which one could have missed, the play of light and shade, the passing of time indicated by the pictures of leaders on the walls.

 

All the essays I've read by him have this quality. I hope they will be put together in an anthology. In the meantime, it's a pity that Devika Daulet-Singh has no plans for bringing the exhibition to Mumbai.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

ISI'S TERROR: CAN WE IGNORE THE EVIDENCE?

 

In Pakistan, the Army runs the country. The Inter-Services Intelligence directorate — a wing of the military — is its preferred instrument for maintaining contact with terrorist outfits which are used to further the country's foreign policy objectives. The Pakistan Army's undeniable terror link is thus not merely a general proposition. From time to time, specific instances of its personnel being cited in operations linked to terrorism come to light. Unless a catalogue is maintained, many may be misled into the naïve belief that each revelation is a one-off, and that the Pakistan Army exists as a pristine force in a sea of trouble. On paper, this is the line taken by most nations that routinely deal with Pakistan — such as the United States, or even India. Unfortunately for the Pakistan Army (and the ISI), the lid is once again off, and its association with the netherworld exposed. In the second superseding indictment filed by US federal prosecutors in a Chicago court earlier this week, four Pakistani conspirators were charged with carrying out the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, in which the victims included Americans. One of those indicted is a "Major Iqbal", a serving officer. This name emerged in the FBI's interrogation of terror suspect David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani who became an American citizen. A dossier that India handed over to Pakistan in February 2010 had also mentioned "Major Iqbal", besides a "Major Samir Ali". Islamabad did not even bother to respond. It is hard to say if things will be any different now that the matter is before a US court. In any case, it is unlikely the Army officer in question will be asked any questions. Islamabad will probably flatly deny such a person exists. It is unlikely the Americans will press the matter. Far too much is at stake. In spite of the current strain in relations between Washington and Islamabad over continuing US drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas targeting Al Qaeda and the Taliban, both sides know only too well that the US believes it cannot do without the Pakistan Army in the Afghan theatre and beyond. Only recently, Tahhawur Hussain Rana, Headley's accomplice, had informed a Chicago court in an affidavit that he had taken part in planning and reconnaissance for the Mumbai 26/11 attacks under the ISI's guidance. We thus have two instances in a few weeks when the US judicial system has received information from indicted individuals about the part played by Pakistan Army and ISI personnel in a major terrorist strike against India. There is also the treasure trove of leaked Guantanamo documents, which became public on Sunday. One of them — dating to 2007 — unflinchingly associates the ISI with international terrorism. It informs the prison supervisors that detainees associated with the ISI "may have provided support to Al Qaeda or the Taliban, or engaged in hostilities against US or coalition forces (in Afghanistan)". It may be recalled that Ajmal Kasab, the lone gunman caught after the 26/11 assault on Mumbai, had noted in his testimony that "a Major General Saheb" had visited him and fellow attackers while they were undergoing training. The officer came accompanied by Hafiz Saeed, the ideological leader of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba which associates flagrantly with the ISI. Innumerable former Kashmiri terrorists recall dealing with a "Brigadier Saheb" or a "Colonel Saheb" in Pakistan-run training camps. The story is not new. Not challenging this state of affairs in our diplomatic dealings with Islamabad, whose pace has once again picked up, does not do us justice. Our interlocutors must not be shy to tell the country what the Pakistani response is.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

NUCLEAR INDEPENDENCE

 

At bottom, the unrest in Jaitapur is not about the prospective Areva nuclear park and its perils but rather about angry locals feeling cheated and is akin to the agitations in Singur, Nandigram, and several other locations identified for big industrial projects. Beneath the hullabaloo, it is the prospect of disturbed livelihoods and the supposedly paltry sums being paid to the locals for their land that sparked disturbances. But the recent nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi complex has handed protesters the club to beat the government with. It has left the far graver issues of the affordability and sustainability of the nuclear electricity-driven atomic energy programme unaddressed. Alone among all nuclear weapon states, India did it straight. It developed a broad-based nuclear energy science and technology programme first and obtained weapons as a side benefit. This last required no diversion of effort and little additional investment, but the programme ensured the most economical use of scarce public monies and efficient deployment of the even scarcer resource — skilled manpower. Hence, to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's query, post-1974 test, about the cost of the atom bomb, the head of the physics group at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, and later chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr P.K. Iyengar, replied it had cost nothing. Unlike India, however, every other nuclear weapon state inverted the thrust — seeding a nuclear weapons project and then building a larger programme around it. With national security as rationale, cost was no consideration and the programmes in all these countries naturally evolved with weapons design and production as the core. In India's case, the unique trajectory of the Indian programme convinced three generations of Indian scientists and engineers that nuclear security was extraneous to their primary tasks of nation-building-cum-development activity involving provision of cheap electricity, affordable nuclear medicine, cost-sensitive irradiation techniques to extend the shelf life of grains and vegetables, and what not. Except, disarmament and "peaceful uses of the atom" constituted the rhetorical policy shield behind which Jawaharlal Nehru nursed the weapons capability. Not understanding Nehru's motivation has prevented the nuclear establishment and the Indian government from dispassionately considering how best to utilise the country's nuclear energy programme for the future. The early optimism about the peaceful atom was, of course, misplaced. What was also not anticipated were the exorbitant price tags for all civilian nuclear applications. Worse, the environmental dangers posed by nuclear reactors were insufficiently appreciated, such as the spread of radioactivity, prospectively, from the storage of vast amounts of spent low enriched uranium fuel generated by innumerable LWRs (light water reactors) as in Fukushima. As were the problems associated with decommissioning such LWRs by vitrification or entombment in cement, which is as expensive a business as commissioning them, and takes just as long. Their import at humongous cost — just the six French Areva reactors of doubtful provenance for Jaitapur will cost in excess of `70,000 crores — will, moreover, mostly enrich foreign nuclear industries. Considering the problems and high costs, compoundable in case of mishaps, nuclear power plants are more liability than boon, a fact no safety reviews ordered by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh can change. The Prime Minister has called for "coolheaded discussions" on the future of nuclear energy once the current hysteria subsides. But he has expended too much foreign policy capital, made too many executive commitments with nuclear supplier countries, to rethink his policy of meeting the energy deficit by importing LWRs. It has eventuated in the phantasmagorical and plainly ridiculous plan the department of atomic energy has drafted with an eye, it seems, on helping Dr Singh service his civilian nuclear fixation. The scheme envisages nuclear power production totalling 208,000 MW by 2052 with a 1,000 MW plant sited every 55 kms along the 7,000 km long coastline! Other than any man-made or natural disaster striking these plants, no one, apparently, has thought about the nearly insurmountable security problems these plants will create and, even less, about the resulting impossibly high unit cost of electricity. In this context, the Indian government's enthusiasm for nuclear energy is, perhaps, not puzzling. Unless the goal is for the ruling party to rake in the "commissions", there is a better solution. Give a fillip to the indigenous nuclear industry and, in the process, amortise public investment in this sector by selling the home-grown 220 MW pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) to energy-hungry developing states under international safeguards. This export revenue stream can make the country's nuclear programme self-sustaining and finance the implementation of the 1955 three-stage Bhabha Plan for genuine energy independence. Instead, some 65 years on, India's nuclear energy programme is being pulled back into becoming a dependency of Western supplier countries and the poor taxpayer is paying hugely for this move, even as the development of second stage breeder and third stage thorium reactor technologies is being starved of funds. It is still not too late for India to unlearn the nonsensical demand and supply energy arithmetic and follow the lead given by other nuclear weapon states: Designate ever more advanced weaponry as the central mission of its nuclear energy programme. Such a singular thrust, moreover, will provide ample political cover for India to focus on developing the technological competence to where the country's thorium reserves — the world's largest — can be exploited for electricity and, in the interim, to install advanced PHWR capacity, fired by the small domestic reserves of uranium, as the bridge via the breeder stage to the thorium reactor. It will require, in the main, Delhi to discard the impedimenta of its declaratory nuclear policy and commitments. Freed of the non-proliferation cant and the system of self-imposed restraints the government has foolishly adopted, India can yoke the atom to national interest and, primarily, military purpose as the United States, China, Britain, France, North Korea, and Pakistan have done. Sadly, our political class lacks the "big power" vision, historical sense, strategic self-confidence and the guts to change its short-sighted nuclear policy and shrug off the inevitable Western pressure against such transformation. Bharat Karnad is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

BUILDING A NATION WITH A GLASS OF MILK

 

Though Libyan government forces have killed and wounded hundreds of civilians in their siege of the western city of Mistreat, one of the most telling examples of Col. Muammar Gaddafi's wrath has been the bombing and destruction of a diary plant there. In just a few years the Nauseam dairy plant, owned by a local family, had achieved what Col. Gaddafi's regime could never do: provide Libyans with a decent glass of milk. I was five when Col. Gaddafi came to power in 1969. One of my earliest pre-Gaddafi memories is of a small Peugeot manoeuvring 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 Col. Gaddafi's coup, though, milk ceased to come magically to our door. The dairy farm apparently belonged to "an enemy of the revolution", and was nationalised. 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-litre 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 Gaddafi 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 yoghurt from Amal. The containers all had bananas on them. Holding the pack, I asked the store owner if he had Amal plain yoghurt instead of banana. "What banana?" he said. "This says it's got banana flavour. I want plain". "No banana flavour!" "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 yoghurt. 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 flavoured yoghurt, 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 Nauseam plant in Mistreat tried to change that. At the time, Col. Gaddafi had begun to move Libya towards 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, Nauseam was different, and its milk was good. In Benghazi and all across Libya we started to buy Nauseam milk, then plain and flavoured yoghurt, eventually even ice cream. No one in Libya was surprised that such commercial success took place in Mistreat. It is a hard-working town; people there rise with the dawn. More recently, to block Col. Gaddafi'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 Col. Gaddafi 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 Mistreat, which happens to be my family's ancestral town, is the country's hands. A torturer par excellence, Col. Gaddafi 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 Nauseam plant, burned to cinders, will soon be rebuilt. And when this war is over, the people of Mistreat 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. By arrangement with the New York Times

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A MATTER OF TRUST

 

AP must act in public interest By K. Ramakrishna Reddy It is the responsibility of the state government to take over the administration of the Sri Satya Sai Central Trust and any other institutions founded by Sri Satya Sai Baba. This is in the interest of the general public, and also required to spread projects initiated by Satya Sai. There was an amendment to the AP Religious Endowments and Charitable Act of 1987 which empowers the government to take over any trust of institution, whether registered or unregistered, including the Sai Baba Trust. In Sections 24 and 25, a charitable institution has been clearly defined. Any trusts or institutions which take up activities for public purpose are called public trusts or charitable institutions. According to reports, Satya Sai Baba's trust takes up several such activities in India and in other countries. It also regularly receives donations and funds from the public. It has properties in many countries too. Its main object is to provide free education, free medical care and drinking water facilities. Since Satya Sai Baba has been using all the funds for public purpose all these years, out of respect for him successive governments kept themselves away from a supervisory role on the. But since he is no more present physically with us, in order to not only safeguard the properties and funds of the trusts, but also to continue the projects, it should be the duty of the state government to immediately interfere in the trust activities. The government can appoint an administrator to supervise all the activities of the trust. The trust has very learned and honest persons as its members, like Justice Bhagawati. Still, it would be in the interest of the public that the government takes over. Media reports suggest that after Satya Sai Baba suffered severe health problems, some people started diverting funds and large quantities of jewellery from the trust. As he is no more, it is for the government to immediately come to the rescue of the trust. The eminent persons associated with it may continue to be on it. * K. Ramakrishna Reddy, senior advocate, AP High Court * * * Can state keep people's faith? By Jasti Eswar Prasad The reason Satya Sai Baba came as an avatar was to help the needy and provide them basic amenities. This is why he started a trust, which took care of all the service activities, such as providing food and water and proper education for the poor. After the trust was established, it started receiving donations from all over the world to serve its many aims, including drinking water projects through the Telugu Ganga project for Chennai, and setting up of hospitals to provide free service to the poor. The contributed funds were invested as fixed deposits, with the interest used to run the many organisations and projects. The trust can be run effectively and cleanly after the Satya Sai's demise as the institution's able trustees, such as former Chief Justice of India P.N. Bhagwati, Indulal Shah and others, handpicked by Sai Baba himself. There are people who seek the dissolution of the trust, or its takeover by the government. I ask them, why? Why should the trust not be there? Why should it not be run on the same lines as before? It is after all a charitable, service-oriented body. All talk of its dissolution or takeover by the government should be ignored. There are several religious institutions and trusts being run without government interference. It is not the obligation of the government to interfere in the activities of each and every trust in the country. If the government were to take over the Satya Sai Trust, who will be blamed if something untoward happens? Where is the guarantee that the public will continue to make contributions to the institution once the government begins to supervise it? A trust whose work has been lauded by former Presidents like Shankar Dayal Sharma and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, as well as former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, should not have mud flung at it even unwittingly. That is what is being done by those who demand its takeover by the government. * Justice Jasti Eswar Prasad, former judge, Andhra Pradesh High Court

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

SATYA SAI: A BORN LEGEND

 

A normal human being is bound by his/her five senses. Each sense relates to an aspect of the physically-manifested world, which translates as one of the five senses of the body. The sum total of these five senses is what we call life and whatever surrounds it. A normal human being, because of his limitations, cannot look beyond his immediate family, business and the health of near and dear ones. That is the precise reason why he is called a normal human being. It is this attribute, limited versus the unlimited, which resides at the core of every individual and determines a human being's level of evolution. It would be simpler to say that the more you limit yourself the more normal you are and the more you expand yourself the more special you are. Here the implication of the word expansion goes beyond one's own body and immediate family, say, maybe, expanding till your neighbourhood, colony, city, country, world... the entire creation. Expansion is directly proportional to your level of evolution — the more evolved you are, the more expanded you are and the more you will care about your surroundings. Satya Sai Baba was one such evolved, expanded human being. If I am to talk about his good works, be it in the field of education, serving the poor, or development of backward areas... it would require volumes of writings. But I would like to say that the more you shine the more the minor imperfections or hairline cracks in you become visible — the visibility of craters on the moon are directly proportional to its luminosity. The more your glow, the more people look at you and the more the acclaims... the more the critics. Life and death, sunset and sunrise, darkness and light, sound and silence, all the formers are redundant without the latter and vice versa. Similarly, acclaims lose their shine if there is no one to criticise, just like life would loose its meaning if there was no death. A person who is in vairagya, which is called one of the finalities in Sanatan Kriya, is least concerned about critics or acclaims. He just moves on the chosen path. It's of no consequence to him who is saying what about him... good or bad. It's his mission which is important and of utmost concern to him. No matter who says what, no matter what the circumstance, no matter what the occasion, he finds some way to put his point across and that too very effectively. The stature of Satya Sai is such that on his death rivers of tears were shed by those whom he supported. Thousands of families for whom he was a pillar suddenly now find themselves roofless; the many so-called rationalists who never ceased to malign this great soul are stunned and mourning his death. Friends and foes today stand on the same platform and for once talk in the same tone. My tribute to the soul of Satya Sai and my salutation to him for his vision on charity. I just hope that his death does not create a vacuum in all the charities which he personally supervised. His legacy should not be the thousands of crores which he has left behind... but the thousands of those whom he was supporting. — Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He is the guiding light of Dhyan Foundation. He has recently written a book, Sanatan Kriya: 51 Miracles... And a Haunting. Contact him at dhyan@dhyanfoundation.com

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CHECKS & BALANCES

The attempt to establish the institution of Lokpal commenced long ago on the recommendation of the Administrative Reform Commission. The Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 1968, was introduced in the fourth Lok Sabha and since then there have been eight attempts to secure Parliament's approval. The need of the hour is to subject the various complexities involved in different proposals to cool consideration and frame a a law which meets the objective of curbing corruption in high places without jeopardising other vital concerns of national security, stability and efficient governance. The seven main principles and provisions of the Lokpal Bill, which have emerged out of the 84th Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2001) and which, with slight modifications, were under consideration of the government before Mr Hazare launched his agitation for a stronger Lokpal Bill, are: First, the Lokpal would be a plural body comprising a chairperson and two other members who would enjoy a fixed term. The chairperson would be one "who is or has been a Chief Justice or a judge of the Supreme Court" and the two members would be those "who are or have been judges of the SC or the Chief Justices of the HC". Secondly, appointments of chairperson and other members would be made by the President of India on the recommendations of the Screening Committee consisting of the Vice-President of India, as chairman, Prime Minister, speaker of the Lok Sabha, the home minister, leader of the House other than the House in which the PM is a member of Parliament, the Leader of Opposition in the house of the people and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha. Thirdly, neither the chairperson nor the members could be removed from office except by order made by the President on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity. Fourthly, the Lokpal would be empowered to inquire into complaints against a "public functionary" as defined in the Bill has committed an offence punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, and the expression "public functionary" would cover the PM, the ministers, the ministers of state, the deputy ministers and MPs. Fifthly, the constitutional functionaries, such as judges of the SC and HCs, the Chief Election Commissioner, election commissioners etc. would not come within the purview of the Lokpal. Sixthly, the complainant who is found to have "filed a false and frivolous complaint, with malafide intention of harassing the public functionary", could be punished by the Lokpal with imprisonment which "would not be less than one year, but, could extend up to three years". Seventhly, the Lokpal would be a fact-finding body which would communicate its findings to the competent authority which would be the house of the people in the case of PM, PM in the cases of ministers and the House concerned in the case of MPs. The group led by Mr Hazare insists that the jurisdiction of the Lokpal over the PM should be all-embracing, while the legislation proposed by the government has excluded matters dealing with national security, defence, foreign affairs and public order. It has been argued that in the form of government that we have, the PM is the kingpin of the governmental structure. He has to take many decisions which annoy powerful interests, both internal and external. These interests could manipulate complaints against him. Even the country's security could be imperilled. If the PM or the PM's secretariat is left out of the purview of the law, the objective of controlling "corruption upstream" may not be achieved. It is necessary to exclude from the ambit of the Lokpal certain decisions of the PM in the arenas of national security and defence. It should also be made incumbent upon the Lokpal to first hold preliminary inquiry, internally and confidentially, and satisfy himself that the complainant is to keep the public life clean. Another key issue relates to the role assigned to the "competent authority". In the case of PM, the "competent authority" is the Lok Sabha. The majority of the members in this House would be supporters of the PM. They could pass a resolution rejecting the conclusions drawn by the Lokpal. Likewise, if the Lokpal records an adverse finding against a minister and sends it to the PM, who is the "competent authority" in the case of his ministers, he could take the stand that he does not agree with the views of the Lokpal and would not ask for the minister concerned to resign. Given the nature of politics that is emerging in the country, it is not unlikely that such cases would occur, giving rise to bitter controversies and deeper political animosities. In the circumstances, the better alternative would be to make the findings of the Lokpal binding on all concerned. This is the first of a two-part series * Jagmohan is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

NO HARD FEELINGS

SOMNATH ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL


MR Somnath Chatterjee's spirited campaign in the two districts of undivided 24-Parganas conveys a pregnant message from the Bengal lobby to the likes of Prakash Karat. Chiefly that an expelled comrade can yet have a certain utilitarian value as a campaigner for a party seemingly in the dumps. The party's general secretary has offered a feeble defence of Alimuddin Street's move by comparing the expelled comrade with in-house critics, pre-eminently Ashok Mitra and Prabhat Patnaik. It might have been a mite difficult for him to digest that the former Speaker's electioneering was approved by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose. Notable also is that Mr Chatterjee accepted the invitation without being in the party. And the Chief Minister's message to Gopalan Bhavan was as blunt as it could be. "I feel Mr Somnath Chatterjee is an important player in our party. He is our party's part and parcel. His campaign will surely help." Obliquely has Mr Bhattacharjee driven home the point that Mr Chatterjee's expulsion in July 2008 had contributed not a little to the party's denouement in May 2009. The Bengal school has spoken, whatever the outcome in the constituencies that Mr Chatterjee visited.


Most importantly, the expelled comrade has been fielded to buttress the candidature of the two young faces nominated from the prized constituencies ~ Satarup Ghosh (Kasba) and Dr Fuad Halim (Ballygunge). And also, of course, Gautam Deb, the increasingly vocal and controversial housing minister. The striking feature of Mr Chatterjee's campaign was the absence of hard feelings against the party's central leadership. Of course, he batted as robustly as he could for the Left candidates. Yet there was no rancour in his references to the other side, only reminding Mamata Banerjee that not to have engaged in any interaction with the government is "simple arrogance", indeed an attitude that runs counter to the spirit of the Constitution. Indubitably, this exercise in unilateral democracy has been one of the failings of the Trinamul Congress. It is open to question whether Mr Chatterjee will be re-admitted to the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Mr Bhattacharjee has articulated the position of the Bengal lobby with the assertion that "he is undeniably a prominent Left leader".


BAN ON ENDOSULFAN

INDIA SHOULD RECONSIDER OPPOSITION

THERE is a strident demand in India to ban endosulfan, a harmful pesticide widely used in the country. Parties to the Stockholm Convention are meeting in Geneva this week to discuss, among other things, a global ban on endosulfan. India was the only member country to oppose the ban at the sixth meeting of the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee last year. Kerala is in the grip of endosulfan epidemic in the Malabar region. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and environment minister Jairam Ramesh have been advocating a fresh study, Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, accompanied by his supporters, observed a day's fast at the Martyrs' Column in Thiruvananthapuram on 25 April, observed as "anti-endosulfan day" to pressurise the Centre to reconsider its opposition to the global ban at the Geneva conference.  India is a major producer, user and exporter of hazardous endosulfan to the 27 Third World countries still using this pesticide; 81 countries have banned it. The Indian delegation at the Geneva conference is reported to have circulated a draft statement denying the harmful effects of endosulfan and canvassed support among the Asia-Pacific group of countries for postponement of any decision. The endosulfan lobby has found a champion in the Union agriculture ministry which says the ban would deprive farmers of a cheap and effective pesticide. Non-governmental organisations and individuals campaigning for a ban on the pesticide maintain endosulfan causes more than 50 diseases and abnormalities in human beings.

World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organisation studies have also found endosulfan harmful. However, taking decisions on substantive matters by vote is inconsistent with the Stockholm Convention, as it would undermine its cooperative character. As a result, the Geneva conference is unlikely to arrive at a decision and India cannot escape responsibility for preventing the ban. Manmohan Singh has taken the stand that request for ban of endosulfan had come from only Kerala and Karnataka and that the Centre would wait for the final report of the Indian Council for Medical Research. The ICMR gave its report way back in 2002 recommending a ban on the pesticide. West Bengal is the largest consumer of endosulfan, followed by Gujarat. The Prime Minister's  offer to an all-party delegation to consider a national ban on endosulfan if more States reported similar health problems made Achuthanandan retort, "Should the country wait for more deaths and the poison to spread before the Centre acts?"


CORRUPTION ALERT

A STIGMA ON THE UNIFORM

ONCE upon a time such were the standards of integrity to which the military adhered that no dhotiwallah would have dared lecture faujis on morality. But that was long ago ~ hence the fairy-tale opening line ~ and the top brass of the Army and Air Force have just had to sit through a sermon from the defence minister. Instead of issues pertaining to operational preparedness or strategic perceptions, AK Antony chose corruption as the keynote of his address to the Army and Air Force commanders' conferences. And who could question the relevance: with some big-ticket acquisitions approaching critical stages his warning against the "influences" of competing commercial entities was timely. For the track-record confirms the frequency and ease with which vendors have vitiated the selection process, how it became necessary to blacklist some firms, or that the proverbial "wine, women and song" are part of the sales pitch. And if evidence is needed of how keen some folk are on being "sweetened" it was provided by an IAF officer seeking a bribe of a paltry Rs 20,000 to arrange a "more prominent" display-point for one of the competitors in the MMRCA race. Since that is how low some can stoop the minister's message was appropriate ~ even though it might have minimal impact. It would be self-deception to conclude that Antony's observations were limited to the immediate potential for graft. There have been so many "shockers" in recent times that such a message was possibly overdue; the stigma that has been brought upon the uniform can no longer be ignored.

 

Significant is the possibility that one of the proposals at the Army conference is to re-invent the Corps of Military Police ~ equipping it to deal with criminal investigation, corruption, and preventive action, rather than ceremonial duties, traffic management and dealing with the odd punch-up or similar misdemeanour. And remember that when Gen VK Singh assumed the Chief's office he identified "inner health" as a priority issue and powerfully rejected the alibi that the military could not remain unaffected by what was happening elsewhere. What a contrast from some years ago when an Army officer "doing" Connaught Place fancied a tennis racquet but did not have enough money on him to pay for it (soldiers took pride in having slim wallets then): the salesman insisted he take it, confident he would make the payment subsequently. He did. And that is no fairy-tale!

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

SECRET TALKS?

FORWARD MOVEMENT IN THE BILATERAL DIALOGUE

SALMAN HAIDAR


A considerable flutter has been caused by a report first published in London that secret talks between the Prime Minister of India and the Army Chief of Pakistan have been taking place for the last several months. In this season of leaks, this information was supposedly leaked to a British newspaper. The report itself contains nothing more than a bare assertion ~ no details of where, when, who. Notwithstanding, it has raised much interest. In New Delhi, it has been denied that any secret contact has taken place, but that has not cooled speculation, and no official word seems to have been put out in Islamabad.


Refusal by observers to dismiss the report as unfounded may owe something to the fact that backchannel talks between the two sides have taken place in the past, even when relations were at a low ebb. Currently, there is something of an upswing, with the two Prime Ministers having met just the other day at Mohali. India has been keen to resume the discussions that had been taking place in the backchannel, and there is general agreement that meetings between officials of the armed forces and the security agencies could be an important confidence-building measure. To be noted, too, is that the DG, ISI has expressed willingness to meet with Indian counterparts at any convenient time and place. Hence, putting all these pieces together, there is a readiness among observers to give credence to the report from London which suggests that something could be stirring behind the scenes.


The influence exerted by the armed forces on Pakistani security policy does not need to be emphasized. In certain key areas of foreign policy, the final word is believed to lie with the army rather than the civilian government, including Afghanistan, USA, and India, which are seen as central to Pakistani concerns. This is nothing new, and there have been efforts in the past to institutionalise the role of the armed forces by giving them a dominant position in a national security council. Such an apparatus is not currently in being but even without it the paramount influence of the army is not in doubt, and it is accentuated by what is regarded as the ineffectiveness of the civilian administration.


So far as India is concerned, it is all too aware that the civilian interlocutors in Pakistan may not be the final arbiters, but at the same time it has had no access to the military figures who are in command ~ it was much simpler, no doubt, notwithstanding India's democratic bias, to deal with a military dictator like Gen. Musharraf who combined civil and military authority in his own person. Today, there is the additional complication that developing a channel to the army chief could be regarded as deliberately diminishing the civilian leadership ~ indeed, an abundance of caution on both sides has ensured that communication should be between like and like, civil to civil, military to military. Hence, if it is correct that India's PM and Pakistan's Army Chief are indeed in touch with each other, this would represent an innovation. It is nonetheless something to welcome, for better mutual understanding among effective leaders of the two countries can head off unnecessary, and possibly dangerous, misunderstandings.


Pakistanis argue that their country is badly squeezed between the Taliban to the west and India to the east. Their security challenges are vast, and increasing, and though Pakistan would like to respond effectively, as it is constantly being urged by the USA, it lacks the resources, including the troops, to do so. They point to the unceasing terror attacks that have extracted such a heavy price, and they demand sympathy from the international community rather than the obloquy that has now become habitual. Others, especially India, do not see it that way and remain deeply concerned about the links between terror groups and state agencies in Pakistan. Nor does India agree that it is acting as a distraction against Pakistan's security effort on its Afghan front, or trying to take advantage of it. This is a question that could profitably be discussed between military authorities of the two sides. It also needs to be acknowledged that in today's circumstances, even though uneasiness remains, full scale war between the two South Asian nuclear powers has become inconceivable. Some individuals, including former senior generals, have spoken of the need for force reductions along the frontier, as both armies are over-equipped for the role they now have to discharge. Reducing forces, of course, requires a degree of mutual confidence, traditionally in short supply. But the wheel has turned, and as apocalyptic struggle is no longer the issue that confronts statesmen, they may be better inclined to seek means of advancing the interests the two countries have in common, including security interests. If positive engagement between them to address such issues comes out of the reported secret contact, it would merit a real welcome ~ nor is it necessary to suppose, as some have done, that the parties are being pushed into it by the USA and UK: they are quite capable of getting there on their own.

 

 

Another major issue that needs joint attention is that of Kashmir. According to reports from former members of the Pakistan government, the backchannel talks on this matter had made real progress, to the point that an agreement was in sight. Then Gen. Musharraf fell, his works fell into disrepute, and today nobody seems to want to identify with what he had promoted. The stalling of dialogue is thus not for reasons intrinsic to the issue but is the result of wider political developments. Whatever the sensitivities, at some stage the two sides will no doubt return to the issue of Kashmir, and on revisiting the matter, find that much that was useful and positive can be disinterred from the Manmohan Singh-Musharraf backchannel. This is the sort of major step that requires top level decisions from the political prime movers in the two capitals, be they civilian or military.
Setting our sights a little lower, we can take into account that we are now in the midst of another round of the composite dialogue: already the two home secretaries and commerce secretaries have met, and several other senior officials' meetings are to follow. There is an extensive agenda before them ~ items such as Sir Creek, Tulbul, trade, visa regime, Siachen where the two are in military confrontation, among others. Many of the issues are relatively small but they can only be resolved if there is a desire at the top they should be. The reported secret contact can encourage forward movement in the bilateral dialogue. It should be welcomed in that spirit.


The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

WHAT TO DO WITH NARENDRA MODI?

THE PRIME MINISTER COMMENDED THE GUJARAT CHIEF MINISTER'S RECORD OF GIVING JOBS TO MUSLIMS AT A CRUCIAL STATE ELECTION CAMPAIGN. THIS UNCALLED FOR PRAISE OF NARENDRA MODI IS OMINOUS IN MANY WAYS

KULDIP NAYAR

POLITICIANS often make loaded remarks to convey what they have in mind without spelling it out explicitly. However, when a country's Prime Minister takes to such an exercise, it means he wants to say something specific but does not like to face the storm it might evoke.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has said in Kolkata that Gujarat chief minister Mr Narendra Modi had given more jobs to Muslims than the Left government in West Bengal. He may be factually correct. But does this lessen Mr Modi's crime of planning and executing the killing of Muslims in 2002? Roughly 3,000 Muslims were killed and many more thousands looted and ousted from their homes and lands.

If Mr Modi has given some jobs to Muslims, he has not in any way made amends for his diabolical scheme of ethnic cleansing. It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister should commend Mr Modi at a crucial state election campaign. In a way, he has tried to cover up the biggest mass murder after Independence.

This uncalled for praise of Mr Modi is ominous in many ways. The Supreme Court has appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to reopen the cases of fake encounters and other crimes. The Gujarat government and, more so, Mr Modi is in the dock. Do the Prime Minister's remarks reflect in any way the Central government's thinking on the judgment? The verdict is yet to be delivered. Mr Modi has already started preparing the ground for criticising the judgment. 

Some 14 policemen, who are being prosecuted, have said that they had no faith in the SIT inquiry. Another disclosure has tumbled out of the state's cupboard. This time, the state's inspector-general of police Mr Sanjeev Bhatt has spilled the beans. He has said in an affidavit that Mr Modi wanted the police to let Hindus "ventilate their feelings" and "teach a lesson to Muslims." The police officer was referring to a top-level meeting on 27 February after the Godhara incident when a train compartment was set on fire in which some Hindu kar sevaks were burnt to death.

I have had no doubt about Mr Modi's involvement from day one. When I visited Ahmedabad two days after the killings and talked to men and women in refugee camps, I could reconstruct a story of a pre-meditated murder of Muslims in the entire Gujarat state and their forcible eviction from homes and hearths. It was a familiar pattern of killing and looting, with police keeping a distance.

At that time, I was a Member of Parliament and wielded some authority. The present chief secretary was the chief secretary when the killings took place. I admonished him for not taking action against the mob wielding swords and even guns. He explained to me that it was the failure of law and order machinery. Little did I know at that time that the law and order machinery was part of a pogrom that was carried out. Subsequent disclosures made it clear that the government was an active participant.

Looking back, it is apparent that India's secular polity did little even after knowing Mr Modi's culpability. Seven years ago, the Supreme Court took notice of fake encounters for the first time. It appointed SIT under its own supervision. Even though late, the entire conspiracy is being peeled off like the skin of an onion. The SIT submitted its report to the Supreme Court this week with the finding on whether Mr Modi had actually ordered police officers to take no action against rioters.

One person who could have taken action against Mr Modi was Bhartiya Janata Party's Prime Minister Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, during whose tenure the massacre took place. I believe that he wanted to dismiss Mr Modi. But the RSS, the BJP's mentor, and leaders like Mr LK Advani did not allow the Prime Minister to act. On his own Mr Vajpayee, did not have the political support to take on the RSS and Mr Advani at the same time.
However, lack of action does not change the fact of Mr Modi's involvement. A police officer has said that Mr Bhatt was not present at the meeting where Mr Modi had given the instructions. But Mr Bhatt's driver has told the media that he drove his boss to Mr Modi's bungalow for the meeting. Strange, the entire campaign of government is directed at denying Mr Bhatt's presence at the meeting. More important is his affidavit which leaves no doubt about Mr Modi's guilt.

All eyes are focused on the Supreme Court, although there are allegations that the SIT had been selective about admitting evidence. Mr Bhatt's affidavit was not even considered when he submitted it for the first time. Whether his fresh affidavit was taken into account before the SIT submitted its report is not known.
The question which the government of India has to answer is whether it would take any action at all. If it were a matter of moral responsibility, the chief minister should have quit long ago. Instead, Mr Modi has built a campaign to show how Gujarat has achieved 12 per cent growth rate and how his tight administration was an example for the rest of the country. In fact, top industrialists have been taken in by this propaganda when they met at Ahmedabad two years ago to declare Mr Modi as the best person to be the country's Prime Minister. These things hardly matter in the backdrop of Mr Modi had done in 2002.

Ultimately, the Centre would have to decide how to punish Mr Modi. I do not think that the Manmohan Singh government or, for that matter, the Sonia Gandhi-headed Congress has the gumption to do anything even if the Supreme Court passes strictures against Mr Modi without directly blaming the chief minister. The Prime Minister's remark at Kolkata indicates his attitude.

What the nation has to worry about is that Mr Modi has singularly distorted India's ethos of pluralism. That he has brainwashed most Gujaratis is a dangerous development. He won the state election even after "ordering" a massacre. The very ideology of secularism is endangered if Mr Modi gets away with what he did. This is the reason why the Constitution-makers had laid down that the Centre could impose President's Rule should law and order break down in a state. Political considerations came in the way of what should have been done nine years ago. The Modi government should have been dismissed. Should the Centre still be dependent on political exigencies?

It would be a tragedy if Mr Modi gets the benefit of doubt. His is a test case for the entire nation, particularly the minorities. Neither the court nor the Centre can afford to play with the basic premise of India's Constitution: democratic, secular polity.

The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator

 

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THE STATESMAN

ONE MORE WIKILEAKS INJECTION!

RAJINDER PURI

One does not grudge Julian Assange the fame he has acquired. The WikiLeaks exposes merit global attention. The sheer volume of diplomatic cables accessed by the website is astonishing, even though the disclosures thus far merely titillate or give insight to what US diplomats think of current events. The breathless excitement with which Mr Prakash Karat reacted to the disclosure that US authorities preferred Miss Mamata Banerjee to the communists was confined only to him. Any child could have told him that America preferred non-communists to communists for governing states. What does disturb about the WikiLeaks exposures is the reaction of India's politicians and media. The servility acquired by India's elite during the colonial era has not abated.  It was pointed out earlier in these columns how pathetic was the response of the Indian media and the political class to the drab exposures put out by the WikiLeaks website. Old information published earlier by Indian media sources that was more damaging and more documented than anything revealed by WikiLeaks till now was given short shrift by Indian politicians and pundits. Now, the same class dances like a performing monkey to old hat being drummed up by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Assange rubbishes those who doubt the authenticity of his leaked cables. But what about his own authenticity? Is he the genuine article or a manipulated instrument created by the US establishment? It was pointed out how the material leaked to newspapers by WikiLeaks had been vetted and cleared by the White House before publication. This was confirmed by the New York Times. It was also pointed out that just one US army Private, Bradley Manning, was singly responsible for leaking 76,000 US military documents, 40,000 US war logs and 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. Is this believable? Certainly not to nations that are not intellectually sold out to the West as India's politicians and media are.

Arab websites alleged that Assange had met in Geneva with Israeli Mossad officials and agreed not to disclose documents that could harm Israel. Some of the WikiLeaks disclosures have embarrassed Arab leaders who were depicted as secret supporters of a military attack by the USA or Israel on Iran. But on 13 January, 2011 the Israeli daily, Haaretz, published a report by its intelligence correspondent, Yossi Melman, claiming that the NGO, International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights , which hosted Assange's November visit to Geneva, was financed by the Iranian government! Whatever the truth, Assange's links defy any easy explanation.

This week, the TV channel, Times Now, obtained an interview with Assange. The channel screamed that shocking revelations had been made in that interview. Our politicians, like monkeys on a cue, swung into action demanding from the government the names of Indians holding illegal foreign bank accounts. But what had Assange disclosed to provoke this excited reaction? In a drab, dull interview he said that Indians, more than any other nationality, had the largest amount of illegal money deposited in foreign banks. He said that the double taxation treaties in no way hindered the Indian government from going after black money abroad. He said that the Indian government was dragging its feet and needed to be more aggressive while addressing the issue. He said that there were Indian names among the Swiss bank account holders. He disclosed no names. But he advised Indians to "absolutely not lose hope" because the truth will come out one day.

This activated our Opposition leaders who demanded that the government reveal all names. Did the Opposition require this empty sermon by Assange to sit up, and that too for just one day, to perform its tired and meaningless ritual? Mr Ram Jethmalani and Mr Subramaniam Swamy are fighting court cases against the government on the basis of much stronger allegations related to black money abroad and corruption cases. Mr MR Venkatesh has written an entire book, Sense, Sensex and Sentiments, dealing with the hollow excuse of double taxation treaties offered by the government and black money stashed abroad. This scribe has demanded from the government the names of Indians having illegal bank accounts in Lichtenstein which the finance ministry has withheld from the Supreme Court. And all this while, the Opposition was twiddling its thumbs. Now, thanks to Assange, the Opposition has momentarily remembered that the government is brazenly covering up corruption and crime. So consider the larger issue. The black money deposited abroad by ruling politicians may ruin the nation. But is not the tendency of Indian politicians to surrender their faculties to foreign powers ruining the nation even more?

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

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THE STATESMAN

THE TAXI QUEUE

SOMDATTA MANDAL


One of these days I am sure to be beaten up by police. Let me tell you why. Every week, when I stand in queue at the taxi stand just outside Terminal I of Howrah Station, I wait patiently for my turn to board a taxi allotted by the policemen on duty. As a regular traveller, I have noticed some interesting facts and this has led to many altercations with them. There are always two policemen. One stands with a dog-eared notebook apparently taking down the name and destination of the passenger along with the number of the taxi allotted. The second policeman positions himself in the middle of the cabway calling the waiting taxis one by one. One may well think what great help these men in uniform are! But the truth is, they are helping themselves more than they are ever likely to assist you or me.


The policeman minding the passenger queue will first ask one's destination. If the distance is great, he will scribble something in his notebook and alert his colleague minding the cabbies. Then, he will direct you to a taxi that is not waiting for its legitimate turn but has been parked a little distance away. Our "helpful" cop will then go and collect extra Rs 10 from the driver of that cab. This is over and above Rs 2 collected by another guy with some sort of union coupon. I checked with cab drivers and found out that this Rs 10 was in addition to the regular Rs 10 they paid to another cop standing at the point of entering the cabway. "Didi, that's why we don't like to come to Howrah. It means shelling out Rs 22 for each trip," one cabbie rued.


One day, when the cop asked me where I wanted to go, I decided to give him a taste of his own medicine. "I am in queue, my turn has come and it's your duty to allot me a taxi, no matter where I go. I am getting into this one." That said, I boarded a taxi, leaving him rather perplexed.


Next week, the cop recognised me. I iterated what I had told him the week before but this time, he waved his dog-eared notebook at me and said I was breaking rules and preventing him from doing his duty.
"Oh, really? Go and throw your khata in the Ganga," I retorted. "Don't you think I know what's going on? And, how you extort money from cabbies?" The cop mellowed. "You only see us collecting money. What about other people ?" "I don't see any one else doing it, only you."

 

When he asked my destination, I said: "Burrabazar." The distance was too short to warrant a bribe and the policeman sulked. Next week, when I put down Manicktala as my destination, there began a long and involved debate between the two policemen on duty on whether the ride should be described as long or short. Ultimately, they decided not to bother the cabbie.


While in queue this week, the sulking cop asked my name. "Soorpanakha." He glared at me but left it at that.
"Kothay jaaben (where are you headed)?"


"Jahannam (to hell). Note it down properly in your khata," I replied and got into the first waiting taxi.
I hope they don't gang up on me next week to give me a good beating. I'm pretty sure that even if they do, other passengers standing in queue will just look the other way.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

LATEST CATCH

Too perfect a memory May make life unbearable. Perhaps that is why Indians prefer to forget that corruption is a punishable offence; the thought has become an echo of moral fables from an innocent childhood. Otherwise it would be impossible to function sensibly in a country that ranks 87 in a corruption index that goes down to 178, and that has as compatriots in corruption Albania, Jamaica and Liberia. It is only with a faint shock that people realize that powerful individuals can still be hauled up for corruption. The arrest of Suresh Kalmadi — specifically for awarding contracts to companies that overcharge for their services, thus causing enormous losses to the national exchequer — is therefore heartening, even if it is perceived as a tiny drop in a vast ocean. The delay in making the arrest could be put down to the time taken by the Central Bureau of Investigation to join the dots, but it is more likely to be perceived by the people as an inbuilt reluctance in the system to use the law on a powerful person. Neither are people unconscious of the Congress's need to be seen cleaning up its dirty stables. But whatever the pressures and whatever the logic, Mr Kalmadi's arrest suggests that the government is eager to convey the message that corruption will not be tolerated. That, at least, is cause for hope.

But it is time that politicians and political parties in power stopped displaying their obvious reluctance to catch the big fish. The tug of war preceding A. Raja's arrest can still be called to mind. It is discouraging that politics played an even bigger role in Mr Raja's arrest, as a result of which his detention just for questioning had seemed to be overkill. It is, then, necessary to proceed with the judicial process with no delay, for it is important to know, as soon as possible, whether ministers or officials have actually been defrauding the country or whether they have been coerced and framed. In which case, the real villains need to be caught. Delay is useful. Popular interest and memory begin to lose their edge, cynicism overtakes the first flush of hope, and layers of time gradually smother issues of corruption and justice, both specific and general. The most corrupt can then quietly and happily disappear with their ill-gotten gains. After governments have let the corrupt go free for years, a clear line of action with transparent trial proceedings is needed now to convince the people of the intention to clean up.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

STATE OF DISUNION

The Jasmine Revolution, which took root in the Arab world early this year before embracing North Africa, may end up changing more things than were imagined in the first place. The popular revolts that rocked Tunisia, Egypt and Libya among others were meant to initiate structural changes in domestic politics. But the impact of these reforms is being no less keenly felt by the Western world — and not just with regard to the ebb and flow of oil from these oil-rich autocracies. The latest crisis to have erupted since the clarion call for democracy was sounded in the Arab world threatens to undo one of the crucial achievements of European integration. Upset by the steady influx of refugees from Tunisia into Italy, as also by France's refusal to share the burden of these immigrants, the government of Italy started issuing visas to the fleeing foreigners in order to enable them to move on to other Schengen nations such as Germany, France and Belgium. The French retaliated by invoking some of the older passport control norms from the pre-Schengen days, stopping trains at borders and undermining one of the major successes of the European Union — free travel across Schengen nations. Then recently, Italy and France came together with their demand for an "in-depth" revision of European law for the sake of earning the trust of "fellow citizens" on the idea of unrestricted circulation within the Schengen area.

Although the stance adopted by Italy cannot be faulted on legal grounds, it remains an indisputably sneaky thing to do. Italy is anyway averse to the idea of immigrants settling down on its soil from the wrong parts of the world. So, unable to coerce or cajole other EU nations to take on some of the refugees, Italy devised a cunning plan to pass off some of its irritants on to France. In any case, most of these economic refugees from Tunisia would rather head for France, since many of them speak decent French, than be stranded in Italy, even though it is only a boat-ride away from Tunisia. Such a situation is unenviable for most EU countries, but still, it does not call for the dissolution of the free-travel pact in the Schengen zone that came into effect in 1995. Italy should try instead to stem the problem by increasing checks on its waterfront. That may be a sensible solution to what seems at present to be an insurmountable problem.

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THE TELEGRAPH

ROYAL WEDDING

 BRITISH MONARCHY MAY LAST IF IT MAKES ITSELF FIT FOR THE TIMES WESTMINSTER GLEANINGS ANABEL LOYD

The British press has got wedding fever. With the royal wedding less than two weeks away, we are bombarded with everything from a history of royal weddings and wedding dresses to dubious reports of rows between the bride's mother and her dress designer. The Middleton family cupboard seems to be distressingly bare of any really worthwhile skeletons, the odd black sheep, perhaps, but that is as nothing in comparison with the future in-laws. Nevertheless, there is a television programme that is doing its best by dredging up relations that Catherine Middleton probably never knew she had and that are unlikely to have invitations to the wedding. In the London marathon last weekend, a couple ran in Catherine and William masks which must have been thoroughly uncomfortable on an unseasonably warm day, but the United States of America seems to be a great deal more fascinated by the event than most people are here. I have been getting emails from American friends assuming that we are all running around covering the whole place in bunting and buying up every commemorative item we can find. In fact, the souvenir trade seems to be thriving mainly on its online transatlantic customers.

People here are more blasé about the whole affair. They have seen these events before and most of them have ended badly, plus the William and Kate romance has been old news for nearly a decade. They seem a decent and attractive young couple with their feet firmly enough on the ground to achieve a remarkable level of propriety and normality in the face of very abnormal levels of attention. Even staunch republicans wish them well so far as their marriage is concerned. Their apparent regularity, and, in particular, their perceived approachability encourage the idea that the royal family might successfully evolve into an institution that remains fit for purpose in the 21st century, although the general unpopularity of the Prince of Wales is a hurdle yet to be jumped.

Whether he will allow himself to be passed over in the succession in favour of people-pleasing Prince William or whether indeed the prince will be prepared to step over his father to take up the crown and sceptre remains to be seen. The queen is in her mid-eighties with her diamond jubilee next year but she is fit and well; her son may be an old man before she dies and happy finally not to fill the role for which he has waited his entire life.

If the monarchy, hopefully in a contemporary mould, is to continue to exist, it would be as well for it to jump a generation. Prince Charles will never be forgiven for his treatment of Diana, although, had he been more admired in other respects, the fact that all but her most ardent hagiographers agree she was unbalanced and extremely difficult would have been taken in greater mitigation. Unfortunately, and unlike his first wife, he is a man with little charm and none of the popular touch that allowed her so successfully to style herself the 'People's Princess'. His interference in political arenas has continually backfired: the posturing of an over-privileged man with an outdated view of life and without a proper job. His wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, is seen as getting on with her allotted role quite successfully; in late middle age it is harder to paint her the scarlet woman, but she cannot be queen and has none of the glamour required to capture the popular imagination in our celebrity-ridden times.

As for the rest of the second generation of royals: Princess Anne, a doer if ever there was one — fulfilling more public duties than any other Windsor, is popular enough, but has two other brothers and her nephews ahead of any highly improbable bid for the throne. Of the brothers, Prince Edward is mercifully largely out of the spotlight while doing whatever duties are required of him in a quietly uninspired way. Prince Andrew is both a royal and diplomatic disaster as more and more reports of his friendships with the dodgiest international business billionaires hit the headlines and his role as ambassador for British business is besmirched with cash and corruption. His ex-wife, Sarah, Duchess of York, from whom he has never successfully distanced himself, has only made things worse and the best that can be said for either of them is that they were too stupid ever to do any better. A hundred years or so ago, they would have been kept carefully behind palace walls where they could do no harm.

When the queen does eventually die, there will be ructions and no mistake behind those walls but the monarchy might continue to be considered a worthwhile expense if it is modernized by its third generation, most of whom have been schooled, have lived and worked very much in the normal, unroyal world, surrounded by less obvious glitter and privilege than the children of the oligarchs and business emperors so cultivated by Prince Andrew. There is absolutely nothing royal or blue-blooded about Catherine Middleton which is very much in her favour. Her family is solid; self-made and modestly wealthy, and press attempts to drum up sneering snobbery over her relations have been met largely with disinterest. For most people it is yet more hollow celebrity gossip and the idea that the residue of the old aristocracy could care less one way or the other is laughable. It is rarely well understood outside this country that the upper classes have, since approximately the days of Charles II, Queen Anne at a pinch, considered the royal family thoroughly déclassé, nothing but a bunch of jumped-up Germans.

Communities are entering only lightly into the spirit of another royal occasion. This government is dedicated to reducing the idiocies of some of the health and safety regulations of the past few years, but reviving the sort of community celebrations like street parties with which national events were greeted 70 or 100 years ago is hardly worth struggling through the red tape and the attached costs involved. Really, most of us would as soon sit in front of our own TVs with a drink, enjoying the royal flummery, examining and dissecting the wedding guests, their clothes and the bride's secretly designed dress than getting involved in ersatz jollies based on friendships and neighbourliness that barely exist in fractured urban communities or villages where most people are incomers or weekenders working in the nearest big city. That is a slight exaggeration, of course, but a healing of community and social ties was at the centre of early New Labour thinking and is now the basis for David Cameron's Big Society. Like the happy community street party, it is all a lovely idea, but is it real life in the bustle and hustle of the 21st century or just a romantic ideal, a rose-tinted reminiscence of the blitz spirit and a Betjaminesque village green?

I expect there will be a bit of bunting about by next week and we will all raise a glass to the royal couple and wish them very well, hoping they continue to achieve some level of normal private life even as their photographs are plastered over our front pages for god knows how many years. I, like many others, subject only and inevitably to the vagaries of British Airways industrial disputes and strikes, will be toasting the happy couple at a distance. The long weekend is a good excuse and I am off to Italy to see the fifth and sixth century imperial Byzantine glories of Ravenna and the royal portraits in the mosaic of the time. They include the famous Empress Theodora who dramatically improved her prospects through her royal marriage to Emperor Justinian. After starting life as a prostitute, she became a forceful proponent of women's rights and ended up a saint. I shall set the TV to record the wedding for later viewing; I can't quite resist the pageantry and the frocks.

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THE TELEGRAPH

NOT AN OPEN AND SHUT CASE

NEHA SAHAY

The story of Yao Jiaxin, the 21-year old who stabbed a migrant worker to death, could have been one of many. In October last, Yao Jiaxin drove his Chevrolet into cyclist Zhang Miao, injuring her slightly. However, when he saw Zhang staring at his number plate, he got off, stabbed her eight times and drove away. In his haste, he ran into two other passers-by, but continued speeding.

When Yao surrendered the next day, he told the police he acted out of fear that the peasant-looking woman would pester his parents for compensation. "Farmers are too difficult to get rid of," he said. Expectedly, netizens traced his background — student of the Xian Music Conservatory, son of a retired military officer. The "farmer" was a waitress in Yao's campus, and a 26-year-old mother of a 16-month-old boy. She had given up schooling after 15 because she couldn't afford it; she skipped meals and took on multiple jobs to support her siblings' education.

A black-and-white case, it seemed.The incident occurred just a month after the notorious "My dad is Li Gang" incident (in which a rich kid yelled out these words when he was apprehended after running over two students). To make things worse, Yao's parents initially refused to meet Zhang's husband. The cry — Yao must hang — began.

The first discordant note was struck by Yao's classmate, who blogged that she would have done the same. "How come public opinion all supports the victim? How come they do not consider how shameless it is for her to mark down the car's license (sic) number?'' The official media could not but take note. CCTV interviewed Yao's parents, just as it had in the Li Gang case. Turned out they were not that rich. Both lived off pensions. Yao had a mortgage on his mobile phone; they had bought him the car just four months back because he gave piano lessons at night. In court, Yao's lawyer, calling it a "crime of passion", displayed four letters from his classmates and his 13 merit certificates, saying he was too good a student to deserve death. Countered a netizen: "It makes me start to regret that I didn't kill those I hate. I have much more merit certificates than Yao has."

New twist

It was Yao's own defence, however, that gave another twist to the story. From the age of four, his life had been "all about piano and studying". If he didn't score well in school, his father would lock him up in the basement. If he made mistakes in piano practice, his parents would beat him. "I used to think about committing suicide." Breaking down, Yao pleaded for another chance, promising to serve his victim's family for the rest of his life.

Just a clever defence? May be. But a senior criminal psychologist's TV interview added weight to it, linking his act with his unhappy childhood that had led to a lack of feelings. Yao's repeated stabbing reflected his mechanical banging of piano keys, she said. For the public, that turned out to be the last straw. Zhang's villagers decided to demonstrate; TV debates were organized, with the death penalty itself being discussed. A few lawyers said that the "mob" baying for his blood was simply venting its own anger against the State; it was afraid that Yao's family's skilful defence would win.

All this while, the debate remained outside the court. However, in an unprecedented move, the judge invited Yao's classmates to watch the trial and asked for their opinion on his punishment. Most of them said he should be given a second chance. Finally, the censors stepped in, directing the media to use only the official Xinhua report on the case. Describing Yao's motive as "despicable", the court ordered him to pay 45,500 yuan as compensation, stripped him of his political rights and sentenced him to death.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

 

THE SHRILL BEEP OF DEMOCRACY

STRANGE SYMBOLS, ODDLY SILENT NEIGHBOURHOODS, SMART AND NOT-SO-SMART MEN IN UNIFORM, AND FINALLY, QUEUING UP FOR PARIBARTAN — RANDOM SNAPSHOTS OF CALCUTTA ON THE D-DAY

Growing up, voting was an impossibly adult and, therefore, terribly glamorous thing to do. The word "vote" was both a noun and a verb. It was a place the grown-ups disappeared into every couple of years, it was something mysterious and powerful that they knew how to do. When they came back, their fingers were punched with purple. They had been marked, they were the elect. I wondered if it hurt.

Nothing in this hot April morning seemed to register the mythic power of this occasion. The 'place', which now went by the name of 'polling station', was the New Alipore College, mere yards from my house. The polling booths were classrooms. Voters were led past the 'wall magazine' of the Maths department and injunctions like "dewaley pa deben na (do not place your foot on the wall)". Families sauntered in and out of the station; it was quiet, almost sombre.

There were no festoons leading up to the polling station this year, and none of the attendant din of the night before the polls. The only thing out the ordinary was the number of police and paramilitary forces that had descended on the area — the April sun often caught the gleam of a gun. Older voters recall men on motorcycles circling the polling station in previous years. This year, these home-grown Hell's Angels had stayed away.

New Alipore's ward number 81 falls within the Rashbehari constituency, which has long been a bastion of the Trinamul Congress, and before that, of the Congress. The last time a candidate of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) won in Rashbehari was 1977, when the Left Front government came to power. This, the year of "paribartan" for much of Bengal, may not spell much of a change for New Alipore. The TMC candidate for the constituency is Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay. This former captain of the Indian School Boxing Team, who also counts drama and literature among his interests, won the two previous assembly elections from Rashbehari. The CPI(M) campaign seems lacklustre in contrast, even though the party candidate, Shantanu Basu, who has taught in various colleges over two decades, comes vetted by supporters like Harsh Neotia and Barry O' Brien.The independent candidates were a drizzle of symbols. None, to my jaundiced eye, looked particularly promising.

Voting, it turns out, is a simple matter of choice, or even a matter of taste. But when is the choice of a new government really made? In the months of shouting slogans, flinging mud and making improbable promises, or in the years of hope and anger that pass before them? Or is it made in the seconds spent in the seclusion of a cardboard enclosure propped up by a brick? I had no idea as I advanced towards the polling booth. Then suddenly, my forefinger was inked with purple and it was my turn. Still staring at it in awe, I jabbed my powerful finger on a button. The shrill beep that emerged from the box must be the sound of democracy functioning.

IPSITA CHAKRAVARTY

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THE TELEGRAPH

 

LONG WAIT

Somewhere in Tollygunge, four people stood in a queue, waiting for an autorickshaw, on the day Calcutta went to the polls. The first three in line — an elderly gentleman, a dapper professional and a domestic help, a woman — had a vote. The fourth, a journalist whose name has not yet been included in the voters' list, had a story to file. It was just a little after eight, and the party flags atop closed shops fluttered merrily. The nearest polling booth, like the road, was empty. There wasn't any public transport in sight; just a solitary man pushing his creaky vegetable cart nearby. Stuck in one another's company, the four of us decided to spend our time in idle banter.

The elderly man reminisced about another time: change had been promised earlier as well, he said. Like many others, he too had waited outside a polling booth in his locality, never doubting the dream of an equal and peaceful society. Thirty-four years later, he now stood, once again, on the cusp of yet another political churning. He confessed that the Party has changed, even though much around him — the closed factories, crumbling civic infrastructure and a sense of unassailable despair — remain the same. His voice trailed off, but the other man, much younger and less cynical, broke the silence. Parroting a popular slogan, he said he will vote for change, for better roads, lucrative jobs, for another life. His buoyancy seemed to jolt the woman, who had remained silent. In a hoarse voice, she said that she doesn't believe in the future. Neither did she know why she voted, every five years, for something that doesn't exist.

As I stood watching the speakers, I knew I was watching democracy at work. Betrayal, hope, rhetoric — everything has a place in this intriguing political system that India has grown to like. Woven into this complicated political fabric is a network of dreams, demands and, I realized in hindsight, a few pitfalls. Two near-empty autorickshaws had ambled by, but the four of us had been too busy to notice.

UDDALAK MUKHERJEE

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THE TELEGRAPH

 

MEN AT ARMS

Election time is extraordinary time. The city is infiltrated by carloads of men in uniform, usually imported from places afar, who walk, talk and behave quite unlike our good, old neighbourhood pulish. If the men in khaki are fit, chivalrous, no-nonsense and armed with serious-looking weapons, their counterparts in white are oppressed by bulging tummies, barely buckled and harnessed by archaic contraptions, and fortified with guns that do not look more than toys until, of course, they are fired.

At the polling station of my constituency, which is located on the fringes of a red-light district in South Calcutta, the gaggle of men from the Calcutta police looked distinctly ill at ease, sweating under a tree and being generally unhelpful, while the men from the Border Security Force went about their job briskly. Sulking and scowling at the simplest of questions, the regular policeman lived up to his reputation. And the BSF men, at once competent, chivalrous, even a bit menacing, lived up to theirs.

The average middle-class Bengali, unused to order and efficiency for well over three decades, seemed wary of, if not intimidated by, the pace of the operations. Because for most of Bengal, 'a helpful policeman' is an oxymoron. For the sari-clad respectable boudi and her nattily dressed husband, the police are creatures from whom it is best to keep a safe distance. For the nightie-clad boudi and her lungi-clad other half, the pulish are worse enemies than ombol and bukjala. And for the no-citizens of this state, who have little to wear and less to eat, the police are the mortal enemy. Out on a walk on the eve of D-Day, I saw an army truck spilling men in khaki on Prince Anwar Shah Road, as a resident pagli muttered, while still ogling at them, "Ebar shobbaike guli kore marbe! (Now they will shoot us all.)"

SOMAK GHOSHAL

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THE TELEGRAPH

 

BAMBOO SHOOTS

If you own a pet elephant, be careful not to ride it to a poll booth on election day. You also cannot carry a torch, sip tea from a cup, or eat a cake. Do these sound like the weird rules that are said to prevail in Lord Shiv's very own country in Sukumar Ray's poem, "Ekushe Ayin"? Not quite, since if you do any of these, you are violating the rules of the Election Commission, which has specified that none of the items assigned as election symbols to independent candidates and political parties should be used within 200 metres of polling stations. This explained the stifling heat inside the schoolroom where the voting was being held. The ceiling fan is one of the election symbols.

I have always favoured independent candidates because of their professed independence and also because of their eloquent symbols. In the countdown to the elections, an apocryphal story doing the rounds went like this. A candidate, who has the bamboo as his symbol, was reportedly telling voters, "Apnara amake vote din, ami apnader bansh debo (Vote for me, I'll make you feel the bamboo)." When I went in to vote yesterday, I looked eagerly for the telltale bamboo, which, unfortunately, was not there. I saw instead a blank slate, which perfectly reflected my state of mind as I stood on the brink of making the all-important electoral choice. Having done what cannot be undone, when I came out of the booth and looked around, I saw clumps of green grass topped with flowers that have pushed their way up through the concrete floor of the school courtyard. Why had the EC not removed these? Perhaps because it could not use the scythe for the purpose.Anusua Mukherjeedumb and dumberWas it the lull before the storm or the peace of the graveyard? I may be growing more deaf with age, but I do not remember a quieter polling day. Even the local dadas seated in their usual polling-day positions were unusually muted: no jokes or teasing, no strident boasts or raw-voiced argument. And the voters too: families in holiday finery, friends without a friendly word, housewives with their sari ends fluttering in the breeze on an unseasonably gentle day, drifting like fluffy little clouds along the roads in the north, all were strangely quiet. Is Bengal actually thinking about its future? I was led to participate in building it by a young woman who clearly has no vote, and not our kind of mind. With cropped hair, her sari ending below her knees, a shapeless bundle tucked beneath her left arm, she strode ahead of me all the way to the booth, zigzagging along the empty road, gesticulating to the sky and the trees, talking nineteen to the dozen to the empty air. I did not understand a word. That was, I thought, the perfect augury of Bengal's future.

BHASWATI CHAKRAVORTY

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DECCAN HERALD

FIRST EDIT

CBI'S ACTIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH TO RESTORE UPA'S CREDIBILITY.'


The arrest of Suresh Kalmadi, Congress MP and former chief of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, and charge sheeting of Kanimozhi, DMK MP and daughter of DMK chief Karunanidhi, by the CBI is heartening. It raises a flicker of hope in the people that the long arm of the law will eventually catch up with at least some of the corrupt, however powerful and politically well-connected they might be. Kalmadi has been arrested for conspiring in awarding the timing, scoring and result contract for the Games to a Swiss company at an inflated price. He is being investigated for several other Games-related scams too. His questionable role in awarding contracts was obvious several months ahead of the Games. However, the government refused to act against him, preferring to wait till the event was over. Much time was allowed to lapse before the probe or the first of the arrests came, raising concern over the possible destruction of evidence. Over the last few months, several of Kalmadi's aides were arrested. His arrest now, though long overdue, is welcome. However, this is only the beginning. There are others who were in the loop on the awarding of contracts. Under pressure now, Kalmadi can be expected to spill the beans. The CBI must bring to book the others too.


The charge sheeting of Kanimozhi and four others for criminal conspiracy and receiving kickbacks in the 2G spectrum case is a huge embarrassment for the DMK and the Congress, as well. Whether the CBI will arrest Kanimozhi as others who were earlier charge sheeted in the 2G case will be keenly watched. Although the CBI's action against Kanimozhi is likely to sour Congress-DMK relations, whether it will result in rupture will depend on the outcome of the Assembly elections.


Scarred and stained by multiple scams involving its MPs and ministers, the UPA government will be hoping that the CBI's action against Kalmadi and Kanimozhi, though embarrassing, will help it redeem its image and send out a strong signal that it is not soft on corruption. The CBI's belated actions are insufficient. By themselves they will not shore up the UPA's tattered credentials. However, if these first steps are taken to their logical conclusion and all those involved in the scams are punished, the UPA stands a fair chance of convincing the public that it does not indeed tolerate

 

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DECCAN HERALD

SECOND EDIT

INFUSE COMPETITION

'BANKS SHOULD GIVE BETTER RETURNS TO CUSTOMERS.'


The demand for deregulation of interest rates in the banking sector is not new. It has been debated for long but remains an idea whose time is yet to come, in spite of strong endorsement from various quarters. Assocham, the country's leading chamber of commerce, has now represented to the finance ministry to actively consider the demand. The industry has always advocated it, but the proposal is of wider public interest. The Reserve Bank has also favoured it but has not been able to make the banks accept the idea. As far back as five years ago the apex bank had said that "in principle deregulation of interest rates is essential for product innovation and price discovery." But it has not gone beyond this statement.


The RBI prevailed upon the banks last year to calculate interest rates on a daily basis. The banks were unhappy with this even when interest on deposits is calculated on an hourly basis in many other countries. The rates are very low in India and the value of savings gets badly eroded by inflation. How does a below 4 per cent interest rate help when inflation is about 10 per cent? Unshackling of the rates will lead to competition between the banks to offer the best rates to the customers. This will help raise the quantum of savings and will ultimately benefit the banks. Most of the bank deposits are in the form of current accounts and savings accounts. These low-cost funds help the banks to make good profits. But they should try to give better returns to their customers and to earn profits through increasing efficiency and productivity.


Nationalised banks have to play a key role in this as the larger part of the savings in the country are deposited with them because their network and are considered safer than private banks. Most people keep money in savings accounts because there is no safer alternative. If the banks compete on interest rates and attract more deposits, not only will they help themselves, but will be able to serve their customers and the nation better. As the economy keeps growing at a high rate, there is increasing need for funds which can come from higher savings of individuals. Customers are now being made to pay for the lack of dynamism and inefficiency of banks.

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

CHANGING CALCULUS

BY JAGANNATH PANDA


Sanya summit underlines the growing Chinese seriousness to push the club as an alternative to the western-dominated global financial system.


The emergence of the group Brazil, Russia, India and China (Bric) has been impressive; with the induction of South Africa as its latest member, Bric becomes Brics. With the latest summit at Sanya in the Hainan province of China, the grouping completed three rounds of annual leadership summit and is heading for the fourth round in India in 2012. This pace of events is prompting many to wonder if Brics is slowly getting institutionalised in global politics.


While many still question its relevance as the group consists of diverse powers in diverse continents with various strategic interests, the very fact that Brics has emerged as a group and has been meeting regularly has confirmed to some extent that global politics is changing its hue with the lead of the developing economies. Moreover, Brics has never been static; it has matured into some sort of an alliance that looks at key global political, economic and trade issues from the perspective of the developing world and offers an emerging model for global economic cooperation and competition.


The Sanya summit was strategically important for a few reasons: South Africa's debut as a new member, making the club grow; gathering support for Russia's entry into WTO; the idea of trading directly among Brics nations and cutting out unstable globally convertible currencies. The Sanya summit also underlines the growing Chinese seriousness to push the club as a credible alternative to the western-dominated global financial system.


South Africa's entry into the club has been a matter of mystery for many. It is still unclear whether this was done through consensus or by the pressure of the Chinese. Unlike the other members of the Bric combination, South Africa's economy remains far from impressive. South Africa's current GDP, $268 billion, is almost a quarter that of Russia.


Nevertheless, South Africa is the largest economy of the African continent and geographically is a gateway for the Bric members' entry into the continent of Africa.


The Sanya summit also witnessed Russia's growing clout in its global posture and it got endorsement for its accession to the WTO in the current year. It has so far been denied accession to the WTO because of political reasons. With Russia's entry to the WTO, the clout of Brics vis-à-vis developing economies is likely to increase in the global financial bodies. This is also an opportunity for Russia to make its presence felt at a time when its economy is still struggling to be on par with those of China and India.


A breathtaking development at Sanya was the idea of having a common currency among Brics members. The proposal bears direct implications for the US dollar particularly. The proposal is a formulation to place better the developing world's market voice for a greater say in the global financial order and on which the developing market's currencies will have substantial drawing rights in the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Limitations

It is generally seen that the West-dominated economic world is undermining developing economies like South Africa by inflating its own currencies as investors always look for superior exchange rates. But while the idea of a common currency sounds great, it remains to be seen how the conversion rate would be computed. The geographic distances between Brics members also poses difficulties in formulating something similar to euro as common currency among the entire European countries. Nevertheless, a beginning has been made at Sanya for a world order that provide an alternative to US hegemony.


The bottom line of the Sanya declaration is also on similar lines: it clearly reiterates the need for a greater 'global financial decision-making' structure and reform of the IMF. The Brics countries are currently on a massive growth trajectory and plan to use the IMF as a starting point of their strategy to influence the global financial structure. The Chinese role and dialogue in this strategy remain an interesting phenomenon. While the markets in EU and the US are still struggling to overcome their current financial crisis, the Chinese have emerged from the global economic slowdown stronger than ever, buying up 10 billions of pound sterling of debt to help recover some of the EU economies like Spain, Greece and Portugal.


The rise of Brics could help China achieve numerous global objectives, overcoming the pressures from the western and European powers. On issues like climate change, Doha talks and bringing transparency to the global financial structure, the Chinese need the support of India and Brazil. Brics nations were among those who abstained during the recent UN Security Council veto on supporting military intervention in Libya. The Sanya declaration on a common currency will also help China to successfully sideline the supremacy of the US dollar in the global financial order.


The idea of promoting trade settlements in 'alternative currencies' is also a strategy to test the India-US and US-Brazil relationship as both India and Brazil share close trade relations with the US. The Chinese president Hu Jintao categorically highlighted in his speech at Sanya the Chinese effort to restructure the global economic system and governance process.


Future expansion proposals suggest new representation from the West Asia, with Egypt coming to the grouping; this will have greater continental representation. There is optimism that Brics share a vision for inclusive growth and prosperity in global politics through South-South dialogue. What it requires is a non-confrontational approach among its members. The Sanya summit confirms that the emerging economies seek a more balanced global and financial system more than anything else.


(The writer is research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN PERSPECTIVE

LESSONS FROM CHERNOBYL

 BY BAN KI-MOON


A swathe of geography half the size of Italy or my own country, Korea, was contaminated.
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 3,00,000 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.


No borders


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 traveled 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.

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.

(The writer is the secretary general of the United Nations)
 IHT

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DECCAN HERALD

IN RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

OTHERS KNOW US BETTER

 BY KALPANA KRISHNAMOORTHY


Even a person who looks so ordinary is so savvy about most things.
House hunting, I met Shalom and her little adorable pug of six years, Jasmine. Shalom is the tenant, she and her husband are moving to a place with a larger yard, maybe for Jasmine? "Our overly spoilt dog!" exclaims Shalom lovingly. In that way we got talking and she explained how happy she was in their current dwelling. She had particularly chosen this house, because at first she was overwhelmed by the multitudinous faces. This house she hoped would ensconce her until she became acclimatised with our population.

We spoke forgetting the agent and my husband were waiting under the blistering sun outside. Shalom is so impressed with India. "I am amazed with the people here. They are so intelligent and can do anything! I literally mean anything, even a person who looks so ordinary is so savvy about most things, computers..." her sentence tapered off in awe to quiet introspection.

I felt happy about the American's first impressions. Then I remembered the other thing she had said. As amazingly she found Indians very intelligent, she found government officials rather obtuse! It makes me wonder whether our country is battling within itself, like a man battles with schizophrenia; the ego and the alter ego. There are hard working Indians as against the officials and politicians. We have professionals who create the marketable concepts and commodities; health care workers, engineers and scientists who create platform for research and development; eminent doctors who care for people. Businessmen create wealth and opportunities for the country; these productive people are up against slothful officials.

We have Ratan Tata on top of the list, creating wealth and opportunities, Dhoni and boys, who reap in big money via endorsements. N R Narayanamurthy put Bangalore on the globe much to Obama's chagrin. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen begot India fame. The list is long, many who create wealth intellectual as well as monetary; industrious against government that runs shoddy with excuses of monetary constraints. When Ratan Tata from India can lead his company effectively to grow 12 folds, obviously there are opportunities if there is the will, and a democratic process can do wonders for an economy.

 

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

PEACE IS BETTER THAN NO PEACE

THE WEAKNESS OF THE PEACE WITH EGYPT AND JORDAN STEMS FROM THE FACT THAT THE PEACE HAS ONLY BELONGED TO A FEW POLITICIANS, ARMY OFFICERS, DIPLOMATS AND A GROUP OF BUSINESS PEOPLE ON BOTH SIDES, WHILE THE GULF BETWEEN PEOPLES HAS CONTINUED.

BY HAARETZ SERVICE

In an opinion poll in Egypt by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center, more than half the respondents supported annulling the peace treaty with Israel, compared with 36 percent who wanted to keep it in place, as reported by Natasha Mozgovaya in yesterday's Haaretz. Support for the treaty is higher among well-off Egyptians and those with higher education, while opposition is widespread among the poor.

The findings appear to heighten concerns in Israel that the peace accords lack a stable foundation and could collapse due to regime change in neighboring countries. A dispute has again arisen over whether stable democracy is an essential condition for peace. Developments in Egypt since the popular uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's long rule lead to conflicting conclusions. The peace treaty has survived even without Mubarak. The border remains open and many Israelis visited Sinai over Passover.There are no particular military concerns on the southern border, and the security ties continue.

On Israel's northern border, however, the situation is different, and worrying. Syria has an open conflict with Israel, which occupies Syrian territory in the Golan Heights, but in the absence of peace, there is no direct dialogue between Damascus and Jerusalem. Any future Syrian ruler could launch a war to "recover land and honor" and enjoy domestic and foreign legitimacy. It is much harder to annul an existing peace agreement and pay the international price involved than to refuse to enter into a new one. That's the lesson from the missed opportunity of peace with Syria.

The weakness of the peace with Egypt and Jordan stems from the fact that the peace has only belonged to a few politicians, army officers, diplomats and a group of business people on both sides, while the gulf between peoples has continued. The main reason for this disconnect remains the public's criticism in the Arab countries of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians in the territories. Arab public opinion is concerned about the Palestinians in the same way Diaspora Jews are concerned about Israel's welfare, peace and prosperity. Israel has a clear interest in broadening international public support for the peace agreements and ensuring their stability and development. To further that goal, it should also reach a peace accord with the Palestinians based on a partitioning of the land into two states.

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

BACK TO BLOODY DAYS

ON THE EVE OF THE HOLIDAY, WHEN PALESTINIAN POLICE OFFICERS MURDERED AND WOUNDED JEWS AT JOSEPH'S TOMB, OFFICERS IN THE CENTRAL COMMAND BRIEFED REPORTERS THAT A BUNCH OF BRATSLAV HASIDIM HAD BROKEN THROUGH A ROADBLOCK IN THE RUSH TO THEIR IDOLATRY.

BY ISRAEL HAREL

About three months after the spring revolution - more than half of the Egyptians, according to an American survey, are in favor of revoking the peace agreement with Israel and 62 percent think "the laws should adhere to the Koran." In Syria, demonstrators are storming tanks. They are not demanding liberty and freedom of expression, as many Israelis fantasize, but rather, an end to the rule of the minority Alawi regime and the handover of government reins to the Suni majority.

Not for democracy, and certainly not for peace with Israel, are the corpses piling up in Daraa. Among the slogans heard there and in other places, one stands out in particular - "Assad the coward, liberate the Golan."

But the lead editorials and opening items on Israel radio and television this week were not dedicated to the profound significance of these marginal developments. On the eve of the holiday, when Palestinian police officers murdered and wounded Jews at Joseph's Tomb, officers in the Central Command briefed reporters (after the Fogel family's murder, too, they pointed their fingers at the Itamar security coordinators ) that a bunch of Bratslav Hasidim had broken through a roadblock in the rush to their idolatry.

Thus, by attaching this stigma, the electronic media - one news edition after another - strived to blame the Jews and clear the Arabs.

This is a familiar Jewish trait, which becomes extreme when dealing with the "other." And Bratslav Hasidim, in every sense, are the epitome of the other. Of the strange. They do not accept any authority. They refuse to appoint even a "rebbe," a teacher and mentor, who will bind them together. As fate would have it, the murdered man was a Bratslav Hasid, second generation to settlers (from Elon Moreh ) and the descendant of a family that carries on its back a hump of hatred dating back to pre-state days, as well as an aunt, Likud MK Limor Livnat, Israel's controversial minister of culture.

Yael Ben Dov and Ezra Yachin, former Lehi fighters and comrades in arms of Ben Yosef Livnat's grandparents, can cite numerous examples from those bloody days. One of them is the cold-blooded British massacre of a group of teenage boys and girls, combatant cadets, in a Ra'anana grove ("the Ra'anana children" ). The pre-state establishment, instead of blaming the British, "aimed all the arrows at us."

Nothing has changed. This time the defense of the murderers stems - apart from hatred toward the settlers and the Bratslav Hasidim - from the need to prove the concept that we have a partner (as Assad is the Syrian partner, if only we would withdraw from the Golan ) for peace.

Israel has many human rights organizations. Although most of them are entirely secular, they diligently protect Arab rights and the freedom of ritual at every religious site. To the best of my recollection, they have not demanded this freedom for Jews as well. Not on the Temple Mount, where Jews are forbidden to pray and the Waqf upholds the prohibition, not at Joseph's Tomb, and not at the Shalom al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho. Naturally, no such organization issued a denunciation of the murder at Joseph's Tomb.

In contrast, representatives of such organizations came to Awarta, to the homes of the Fogel family's murderers, hugged the family members and condemned the IDF's barbarism during the searches in the village. When their shame was revealed, the Israeli media hastened to clear them, saying the visit was held two days before the official announcement came that the murder had been solved, so the visitors "did not know for a fact" that the families they visited were the murderers' families.

They obviously did not go to console the Fogel family. Nor did they find another way to express their sympathy. Maybe because they didn't feel any.

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

ODE TO THE LEAF BLOWER

THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION MINISTRY DECLARED THIS NOTHING LESS THAN A "REVOLUTION" - THE LEAF BLOWER REVOLUTION. THE ARAB WORLD IS DEPOSING RULERS AND WE ARE DEPOSING THE LEAF BLOWER.

BY GIDEON LEVY

Sometimes I'd watch him, the leaf blower. Making a racket, raising clouds of dust but doing a wonderful job of cleaning our streets. Crouching along the sidewalks of the city, he would never get anything but barrages of curses from passersby. Yesterday his work ended. The new noise prevention regulations went into effect, and with them, the end of the leaf blower.

I loved them, but apparently most Israelis thought otherwise. The Environmental Protection Ministry declared this nothing less than a "revolution" - the leaf blower revolution. The Arab world is deposing rulers and we are deposing the leaf blower. Now they will inundate the streets with thousands of African sanitation workers, who will sweep our streets in a hush and clean up after us ever so quietly with their wretched brooms of twigs, these sub-contracted workers, who earn the very minimum of the minimum wage and do not receive any social benefits or health insurance. But what's important is that our rest is not disturbed and our tranquility is preserved, no matter the cost.

This is how we are, we Israelis. We love to eat our cake and have it, too. We love the artfully achieved natural "look." We want someone to clean up after us but without making noise; we want someone to sweep up after us in conditions of near enslavement and without making a sound. It's not Israeli raucousness, the persistent honking of car horns, and the music blaring out of these cars - all the work of our own hands - that disturbs us. What disturbs us is the leaf blower. It's not the sounds of the seething environment that disturbs us. Not the outcries of the oppressed among us, not the mutterings of the world that opposes us and not the moans of those under our occupation. These do not disturb our serenity. Only the leaf blower does.

This leaf blower is, indeed, a metaphor. There are many other leaf blowers and brooms out there that Israelis would want to "do their work" for them, to clear away the fallen leaves and the piled up garbage, but they better not disturb their tranquility.

The separation wall is a case in point. They are there and we are here (and also there ), but the main thing is that the Palestinians disappear from our sight - separation and sweeping without any noise. Every time the occupation has the gall to proclaim its existence and make a racket like a leaf blower, we hasten to issue regulations to muffle it and use violent means to silence it.

Like the cleanliness of our cities, we want the occupation to continue but without making noise. We want violent wars and brutal military operations but without a peep from the world in their wake. We want crude violations of human rights but without the clamor of criticism; to preach to the world to boycott Hamas but to be against international boycotts. We want democracy but without the background noises of the minority. We want to live in a near theocracy, one of the most religious countries in the world, and to imagine we are living in a secular and liberal democracy. We want to consider ourselves enlightened and to vote for Kadima - a rightist, nationalist party in every respect, only without the leaf-blowing racket of the undisguised right-wing nationalists.

We say that most of us are in favor of the two-state solution, but we vote for parties that will do nothing to advance it. We vehemently oppose a one-state solution but we live, in fact for decades, in an apartheid state. We favor free access and worship at Joseph's Tomb but not at Al Aqsa. We remember 1948 but without the Nakba. We oppose returning Palestinian property from before 1948 but we evict Palestinian inhabitants in Hebron and Sheikh Jarrah on the grounds that their homes were under Jewish ownership before 1948. We shoot passengers in Palestinian cars who refuse to stop at roadblocks, but when the Palestinian police do the same, we call it a "murderous terror attack." We call the Israeli army Defense Forces, while most of its work is occupation. We live without a civil society but believe that tying a yellow ribbon onto our car mirrors for Gilad Shalit is an act of protest. We support Shalit's release but oppose the release of 450 terrorists in exchange for him. And we sweep and sweep, but without making any noise.

I loved the leaf blower, but not only for his effectiveness: Sometimes it is, in fact, the silence that is rubbish. I, too, love quiet but not imaginary quiet, not quiet that sweeps things under the rug and deceives. If it is necessary to clean, let us do it with the necessary clamor, without disguising anything. Hence this desperate cry that stands no chance: Bring back the leaf blower.

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

THE SEDER NIGHT QUESTION

DESPITE THE DESIRE TO USE THIS CEREMONY TO CONNECT WITH JEWISH CULTURE AND TRADITION, IN MANY SECULAR HOMES, READING THE HAGGADAH AND CONDUCTING A SEDER AROUSES MUCH CONFUSION.

BY AMALIA ROSENBLUM

Hundreds of thousands of Israeli households held a Passover seder last week. According to the findings of a national survey, 30 percent conduct a seder out of religious beliefs, and as such, take pains to adhere to halakha during the ceremony. Most of the other 70 percent said they hold a seder for "reasons that have to do with family, Jewish culture and tradition."

Despite the desire to use this ceremony to connect with Jewish culture and tradition, in many secular homes, reading the Haggadah and conducting a seder arouses much confusion. How much of the Haggadah should be read (just the part before the meal or after as well )? How are certain words pronounced? Which instructions written in the Haggadah actually need to be followed?

The confusion is often resolved in some strange compromise, like singing only some of the songs or putting the most devout person in the family in charge.

How does one explain the gap between the importance of this holiday in many secular Jewish homes and the inability to extract much significance out of it? Some of the confusion indicates a lack of confidence that is characteristic of secular Jews interested in defining themselves as Jewish in a cultural, rather than religious, sense. A paradigm has taken root in Israel, according to which authentic Judaism is associated with pagan rituals and with traditionalism in the folklorist sense of the word. The ceremonies and traditions serve to preserve Judaism in its ethnological sense but leave little for the secular. Indeed, apart from institutions like Alma College, there are few places in this country where secular Jews can explore questions of Jewish-Israeli identity and Hebrew culture. This paradigm was able to take root not only because of a hostile takeover by a small group who sought to impose their own definition of Judaism on the uneducated masses, but also because the first generations of secular Jews in Israel surrendered, without any fight whatsoever, anything that smacked to them of exile and the Diaspora. They did this because they believed it was a necessary price to pay in their struggle to create a new Jew.

But that historical context is no longer relevant. Secular Jews who give up their right to Jewish identity, as part of a political battle against what they perceive as the ultra-Orthodox or right-wing radicalization of society, are forfeiting an important asset, both in personal terms and in terms of the battle over Israeli culture. The seder provides an excellent opportunity to learn how the historical memory of a people is shaped, to explore the historical transformations of the Jewish holidays, and to discuss how Jewish tradition was influenced by the struggle to distinguish itself initially from neighboring pagan traditions, and subsequently, from Muslim and Christian rites.

It also provides an opportunity to spark a discussion among friends and family on the following key questions: Why do we seek signs of divinity in the supernatural rather than the natural? Is it possible to talk about prophecy without revelation, in terms relevant for modern leaders and thinkers? Is it legitimate to promote fantasies like divine supervision and the existence of an afterworld to preserve Judaism? And do we need a detailed list of rewards and punishments in order to encourage moral behavior? These questions are relevant to any Jew, and whoever suffices with singing Had Gadya alone, whether out of a sense of inferiority or confusion, has forfeited his right to understand his history and culture, Passover after Passover.

 

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HAARTEZ

OPINION

SURVIVING IN A WORLD GONE MAD

AS NETANYAHU FACES A WORLD GONE MAD, HE MUST ACT COURAGEOUSLY AND WISELY. HE MUST PRESENT A REAL PLAN IN WASHINGTON FOR PARTITIONING THE LAND.

BY ARI SHAVIT

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks around, he sees a world gone mad. The United States undermines Hosni Mubarak's Egypt but stands by idly as Bashar Assad's Syria murders its citizens. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is attacking Muammar Gadhafi (who relinquished the bomb ), but it is not lifting a finger against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who is building a bomb ). The United States is systematically sabotaging its own interests and shooting its bodyguards in the head. Europe is acting in a confused and childish way.

There is no diplomatic sense and no moral consistency in the behavior of the West. There is still no Marshall Plan for rehabilitating the Egyptian economy and rescuing it from the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. There is still no strategic alliance to stop the Shi'a. Neither Egypt nor Iraq nor Turkey is confronting Iran. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates are neither forgiving nor forgetting, but the only thing the international community is determined to do this coming fall is to establish a Palestinian state. In these insane circumstances and with the most insane timing, the world is determined to take an insane decision in the matter of Palestine.

Truly a crazy world. And today it is clear to everyone that Netanyahu's historical analysis was correct: The Middle East's real problem is not the Israeli occupation but rather Arab oppression. What has corrupted the region for half a century has not been Israeli control of the West Bank but rather the tyrannical control in Damascus, Baghdad and Riyadh. Some of Netanyahu's foreign policy conclusions were also correct: There is no certainty in this rough neighborhood. There is room for caution and conservatism. Israel needs broad security margins, and Israel must avoid reckless gambles. But even though events have to a large extent proved him correct, no one is listening to Netanyahu. U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton loathe him. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy have lost their trust in him. The international community is hardening its heart with regard to Bibi and is yielding unconditionally to Abu Mazen. The United Nations is heading with eyes wide open toward a hasty decision that is liable to reignite the conflict and set the land afire.

Tough luck, Netanyahu. A crazy world is also a world. Only a nut case would ignore a crazy world. A statesman is not an historian. The statesman must maneuver within the reality in which he lives. He must not ignore the spirit of the times or come out against the spirit of the times. He must catch the breeze of the spirit of the times in order to sail to his desired destination. If he does not do so, the spirit of the times will overturn his ship and take it to the bottom of the sea. Within less than a month, Bibi will stand up and confront the spirit of the times. The entire world will follow the things he says before the two houses of Congress in Washington. For Netanyahu, May 24, 2011, will be a day of to be or not to be. If he does not make a clear and decisive statement on the Palestinian issue, no one will listen to anything else he has to say. If he does not restore to himself the diplomatic credit he has lost, he will not be able to act like a leader in any area. Nor will he survive.

Time is up. There is no more room for ambiguity. Precisely in order to divert the international community from the insane trajectory it is following, Netanyahu must offer it an alternative and sane trajectory. He must formulate a realistic and responsible path to ending the conflict. The end is known: a Palestinian state in modified 1967 borders. Thus, Netanyahu's first historic task is to ensure that this Palestinian state will be demilitarized, will recognize the Jewish state and will enable reasonable solutions to the security problem, the settlement problem and the Jerusalem problem. Netanyahu's second historic task is to ensure the Palestinian state will arise gradually, cautiously and securely.But in order to carry out these two tasks Netanyahu must be generous, courageous and clear.

True, it's not easy. It counters several principles he internalized in his father's home. But when Theodor Herzl saw a contradiction between the state and the land, he chose the state, even if it were established in Uganda. When Winston Churchill had to choose between victory and empire, he chose victory. As Netanyahu faces a world gone mad, he must act courageously and wisely. He must present a real plan in Washington for partitioning the land.

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                                    THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A CERTIFICATE OF EMBARRASSMENT

 

With sardonic resignation, President Obama, an eminently rational man, stared directly into political irrationality on Wednesday and released his birth certificate to history. More than halfway through his term, the president felt obliged to prove that he was a legitimate occupant of the Oval Office. It was a profoundly low and debasing moment in American political life.

 

The disbelief fairly dripped from Mr. Obama as he stood at the West Wing lectern. People are out of work, American soldiers are dying overseas and here were cameras to record him stating that he was born in a Hawaii hospital. It was particularly galling to us that it was in answer to a baseless attack with heavy racial undertones.

 

Mr. Obama practically begged the public to set aside these distractions, expressing hope that his gesture would end the "silliness" and allow a national debate about budget priorities. It won't, of course.

 

If there was ever any doubt about Mr. Obama's citizenship, which there was not, the issue was settled years ago when Hawaii released his birth certificate. The fuller document that Mr. Obama had to request contains some extra information, including his parents' signatures and the name of the hospital where he was born, but it was unnecessary to show his legitimacy.

 

So it will not quiet the most avid attackers. Several quickly questioned its authenticity. That's because the birther question was never really about citizenship; it was simply a proxy for those who never accepted the president's legitimacy, for a toxic mix of reasons involving ideology, deep political anger and, most insidious of all, race. It was originally promulgated by fringe figures of the radical right, but mainstream Republican leaders allowed it to simmer to satisfy those who are inflamed by Mr. Obama's presence in the White House.

 

Sarah Palin said the birth certificate issue was "fair game," and the public was "rightfully" making it an issue. The House speaker, John Boehner, grudgingly said in February that he would take Mr. Obama "at his word" that he was a citizen, a suggestion that the proof was insufficient. He said, however, that it was not his job to end the nonsensical attacks. "The American people have the right to think what they want to think," he said at the time. That signal was clearly received. Lawmakers in nearly a dozen states introduced bills requiring presidential candidates to release their full birth certificates.

 

It is inconceivable that this campaign to portray Mr. Obama as the insidious "other" would have been conducted against a white president.

 

There was a price to the party for keeping the issue alive; inevitably, it was picked up by a cartoon candidate, Donald Trump, who rode birtherism directly to the prime-time promontories of cable TV. The Republican establishment began to wince as it became increasingly tied to Mr. Trump's flirtations with racial provocation, and Karl Rove told him to knock it off. Naturally, he did not.

 

Finally, his taunting and the questions of television correspondents obliging Mr. Trump got on the president's nerves. Mr. Obama was tactically smart to release the certificate and marginalize those who continue to keep the matter alive. It is tragic that American politics is fueled by such poisonous fire. Mr. Trump quickly moved on to a new fixation, questioning Mr. Obama's academic credentials. Mr. Boehner, and other party leaders, have a new reason to call a halt to the politics of paranoia and intolerance.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE LIMITS OF FED POLICY

 

For too long policy decisions by the Federal Reserve were cloaked in secrecy and Alan Greenspan, the longtime chairman, was notoriously Delphic. So it was good to see the current chairman, Ben Bernanke, meeting the press on Wednesday, in the first of what are to be quarterly question-and-answer sessions. It shows that the Fed has learned, albeit the hard way, that it must build understanding and support for its policies.

 

For all the talk, there is little Mr. Bernanke can say, or do, to alter today's grim economic realities. The tools the Fed has to raise or lower interest rates, are not, by themselves, going to fix what most ails the economy today: continued high unemployment; falling home prices; weak income growth; the erosion of the manufacturing sector.

 

Only fiscal policy can directly address those crushing problems. That requires Congress and the White House to agree on ways to raise and invest taxpayer dollars for specific programs, projects and recovery efforts.

 

That is not to imply, as Fed critics contend, that current Fed policy has failed. Its most controversial action — a $600 billion bond-buying program intended to keep long-term interest rates low — has succeeded in preventing a deflationary spiral and has correlated with more robust job growth. The Fed's decision on Wednesday to continue the bond-buying program as scheduled through June, together with its decision to keep interest rates near zero for the foreseeable future, represent sensible support for a still fragile economy.

 

So long as fiscal policy is off the table, the economy is likely to limp along for years. The White House has some good ideas, including proposals to boost educational achievement and, importantly, to raise taxes for needed spending. A bipartisan group of senators have recently proposed creating an infrastructure bank to lend out seed money — and attract private capital — for major public works projects. But most Congressional Republicans are fixated solely on cutting federal spending as quickly as possible, and have successfully dominated debate and policy-making.

 

In his press conference, Mr. Bernanke emphasized the need to control the long-term budget deficit. Just as clearly, he emphasized that the best approach would be to enact a credible plan soon — to be implemented over time. If only Congress would take heed.

 

It is important that the Fed not prematurely raise interest rates or otherwise tighten its policy. The Fed's ability to boost economic activity is limited. Unfortunately for now, monetary policy is the only game in town.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

RECIDIVISM'S HIGH COST AND A WAY TO CUT IT

 

Corrections costs for the states have quadrupled in the last 20 years — to about $52 billion a year nationally — making prison spending their second-fastest growing budget item after Medicaid. To cut those costs, the states must first rethink parole and probation policies that drive hundreds of thousands of people back to prison every year, not for new crimes, but for technical violations that present no threat to public safety.

 

According to a new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts' Center on the States, 43 percent of prisoners nationally return to the lockup within three years. The authors estimate that the 41 states covered in the study would reap a significant savings — $635 million in the first year — if they managed to cut their recidivism rates by just 10 percent. For California's hugely costly prison system, that would mean $233 million in savings; for New York, $42 million; and for Texas, $33.6 million.

 

The study, which looked at prisoner release data in 1999 and 2004, found recidivism rates varied widely. Some of the highest rates were in California (57.8 percent) and Missouri (54.4). New York is slightly under the national average (39.9 percent). Oregon had the lowest: only 22.8 percent of inmates released in 2004 returned within three years. Crime has also declined significantly.

 

In the 1990s, the Oregon Legislature created a rating system that allows parole officers to employ a range of sanctions — short of a return to prison — for offenders whose infractions were minor and did not present a danger. A parolee who fails a drug test can be sent to residential drug treatment or sentenced to house arrest or community service. In 2003, the state passed a law requiring all state-financed correctional treatment programs to use methods that have been shown to improve client compliance and to reduce recidivism.

 

Pressured by the dismal economy, many states, including New York, are looking for ways to cut recidivism. The wise approach would be to adopt the programs that have proved so successful in Oregon.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE DUTY OF COUNSEL

 

We strongly oppose the federal statute known as the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans recognizing same-sex marriage. House Republicans should not have used taxpayer money to hire outside lawyers to defend it. But the decision of those lawyers, the law firm of King & Spalding, to abandon their clients is deplorable.

 

King & Spalding had no ethical or moral obligation to take the case, but in having done so, it was obliged to stay with its clients, to resist political pressure from the left that it feared would hurt its business. Paul Clement, a former solicitor general who quit as partner in King & Spalding over the decision, said, "a representation should not be abandoned because the client's legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters."

 

Justice is best served when everyone whose case is being decided by a court is represented by able counsel.

 

When Brown v. Board of Education was argued almost 60 years ago, two of the great American lawyers squared off, Thurgood Marshall for the winning side of desegregation and the renowned Wall Street lawyer John Davis for the principle of separate but equal. Segregation in public schools was the law of the land then.

 

The Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, remains on the books despite rulings against it. That did not mean the administration was required to defend the law, and it was right to decide to stop. But that is separate from the law firm's action.

 

About twice every three terms, the justices hear a case in which one side is abandoned by a party in the lower courts. The court appoints counsel for that unpopular side, and he argues for the client as best he can. Last week, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. expressed the court's gratitude to the appointed lawyer in such a case. King & Spalding seems to have forgotten that ideal of advocacy.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

HONORING THOSE WHO SAID NO

BY JAMEEL JAFFER AND LARRY SIEMS

 

IN January 2004, Spec. Joseph M. Darby, a 24-year-old Army reservist in Iraq, discovered a set of photographs showing other members of his company torturing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. The discovery anguished him, and he struggled over how to respond. "I had the choice between what I knew was morally right, and my loyalty to other soldiers," he recalled later. "I couldn't have it both ways."

 

So he copied the photographs onto a CD, sealed it in an envelope, and delivered the envelope and an anonymous letter to the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. Three months later — seven years ago today — the photographs were published. Specialist Darby soon found himself the target of death threats, but he had no regrets. Testifying at a pretrial hearing for a fellow soldier, he said that the abuse "violated everything I personally believed in and all I'd been taught about the rules of war."

 

He was not alone. Throughout the military, and throughout the government, brave men and women reported abuse, challenged interrogation directives that permitted abuse, and refused to participate in an interrogation and detention program that they believed to be unwise, unlawful and immoral. The Bush administration's most senior officials expressly approved the torture of prisoners, but there was dissent in every agency, and at every level.

 

There are many things the Obama administration could do to repair some of the damage done by the last administration, but among the simplest and most urgent is this: It could recognize and honor the public servants who rejected torture.

 

In the thousands of pages that have been made public about the detention and interrogation program, we hear the voices of the prisoners who were tortured and the voices of those who inflicted their suffering. But we also hear the voices of the many Americans who said no.

 

Some of these voices belong to people whose names have been redacted from the public record. In Afghanistan, soldiers and contractors recoiled at interrogation techniques they witnessed. After seeing a prisoner beaten by a mysterious special forces team, one interpreter filed an official complaint. "I was very upset that such a thing could happen," she wrote. "I take my responsibilities as an interrogator and as a human being very seriously."

 

Similarly, after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told interrogators that they could hold Guantánamo prisoners in "stress positions," barrage them with strobe lights and loud music, and hold them in freezing-cold cells, F.B.I. agents at the naval base refused to participate in the interrogations and complained to F.B.I. headquarters.

 

But some of the names we know. When Alberto J. Mora, the Navy's general counsel, learned of the interrogation directive that Mr. Rumsfeld issued at Guantánamo, he campaigned to have it revoked, arguing that it was "unlawful and unworthy of the military services." Guantánamo prosecutors resigned rather than present cases founded on coerced evidence. One, Lt. Col. Stuart Couch of the Marines, said the abuse violated basic religious precepts of human dignity. Another, Lt. Col. Darrel J. Vandeveld of the Army, filed an affidavit in support of the child prisoner he had been assigned to prosecute.

 

There were dissenters even within the C.I.A. Early in 2003, the agency's inspector general, John L. Helgerson, began an investigation after agents in the field expressed concern that the agency's secret-site interrogations "might involve violations of human rights." Mr. Helgerson, a 30-year agency veteran, was himself a kind of dissenter: in 2004 he sent the agency a meticulously researched report documenting some of the abuses that had taken place in C.I.A.-run prisons, questioning the wisdom and legality of the policies that had led to those abuses, and characterizing some of the agency's activities as inhumane. Without his investigation and report, the torture program might still be operating today.

 

Thus far, though, our official history has honored only those who approved torture, not those who rejected it. In December 2004, as the leadership of the C.I.A. was debating whether to destroy videotapes of prisoners being waterboarded in the agency's secret prisons, President Bush bestowed the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on George J. Tenet, the former C.I.A. director who had signed off on the torture sessions. In 2006, the Army major general who oversaw the torture of prisoners at Guantánamowas given the Distinguished Service MedalOne of the lawyers responsible for the Bush administration's "torture memos" received awards from the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Agency.

 

President Obama has disavowed torture, but he has been unenthusiastic about examining the last administration's interrogation policies. He has said the country should look to the future rather than the past. But averting our eyes from recent history means not only that we fail in our legal and moral duty to provide redress to victims of torture, but also that we betray the public servants who risked so much to reverse what they knew was a disastrous and shameful course.

 

Those who stayed true to our values and stood up against cruelty are worthy of a wide range of civilian and military commendations, up to and including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Honoring them is a way of encouraging the best in our public servants, now and in the future. It is also a way of honoring the best in ourselves.

 

Jameel Jaffer is a deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. Larry Siems is the director of the Freedom to Write program at the PEN American Center.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

PAIN AT THE PUMP? WE NEED MORE

BY DANIEL C. ESTY AND MICHAEL E. PORTER

 

GASOLINE prices are above $4 per gallon in much of the country, a reminder that our dependence on oil carries a great cost. President Obama has promised that the Justice Department will be vigilant in pursuing price-gouging at the pump, but what we really need is to address the full set of energy-related problems, with a focus on spurring clean energy innovation.

 

Our trade deficit arises in large measure from the hundreds of billions of dollars we pay for foreign oil. The imbalances threaten America's economic stability and national security. Our consumption of fossil fuels and our energy inefficiency are a drag on our competitiveness and increase air pollution and the threat of climate change.

 

To compete globally, we need to encourage clean energy innovation while letting the market decide which particular technologies prevail. Experience in fields like information technology and telecommunications suggests that creating demand for innovation is far more effective than subsidizing company-specific research projects or providing incentives for particular technologies. Governments just aren't good at picking winners; witness the billions wasted on corn-based ethanol subsidies.

 

The best way to drive energy innovation would be an emissions charge of $5 per ton of greenhouse gases beginning in 2012, rising to $100 per ton by 2032. The low initial charge, starting next year, would make the short-term burden on consumers and businesses almost negligible.

 

An emissions charge is not a radical idea; making people pay for the harm they cause lies at the heart of property rights. European countries participate in a cap-and-trade system that effectively imposes a carbon charge. Even China is pushing to shut down inefficient coal-burning plants by imposing emissions charges. Thus, instituting a carbon charge would have only a minimal impact on American competitiveness — and might even improve it as the incentive for efficiency and innovation kicked in.

 

Our proposal would apply to all greenhouse gas emissions, so that everybody, and every fossil-fuel-dependent form of energy, would be included. Coal-burning power plants would pay based on the emissions measured at their smokestacks. Oil companies would pay for every gallon of gas or oil delivered. Yes, these costs would be passed on to consumers, but this is what motivates changes in behavior and technological investments.

 

Some will say that even the modest emissions charge we propose is politically impossible, given the death of the cap-and-trade bill that the House passed in 2009. But the ballooning federal deficit has created a new political imperative. A modest emissions charge will look attractive compared with raising individual income taxes or burdening the economy with new corporate or payroll taxes.

 

Let's be clear: the main goal is not to raise revenue. It is to create a powerful incentive for a gradual but steady shift toward clean and sustainable energy sources. In the short term, an emissions charge would create a major impetus for a move from oil and coal to natural gas, with its much lower carbon content. Gas would likely become the preferred fuel for new power generation, and by extension, for transportation, as electric vehicles become cost-effective alternatives to internal combustion cars.

 

Technological advances have made vast quantities of domestic shale gas accessible. The shift to gas as a transitional fuel would allow the United States to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 50 percent over the next decade. In the longer term, the prospect of a steadily rising emissions charge would focus the private sector's attention on energy-saving and carbon-reducing innovations. The calculus for investments would immediately change. Anyone pursuing an energy-consuming project, like a power plant, would factor in the rising long-term charge into their choice of technology. People buying new cars would have an added incentive to think about fuel economy.

 

Entrepreneurial spirit would be unleashed in companies from multinational enterprises to back-of-the-garage inventors. By stimulating major gains in energy productivity and renewable energy, our approach would help stimulate global growth and free up resources to meet other pressing needs.

 

In tackling our trade imbalance, budget deficit, competitiveness challenges and oil-related vulnerability — not to mention climate change — our plan has a powerful logic. And because it harnesses our capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship, it could attract broad support, and a bipartisan majority in Congress.

 

Daniel C. Esty is the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. Michael E. Porter is a professor at Harvard Business School.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

 

DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NEWS

BY GAIL COLLINS

 

Well, I just don't see how things can get better than this when it comes to current affairs. Prince William is about to get married and President Obama has released his long-form birth certificate.

 

All we need now is for the House speaker, John Boehner, to follow through on his call for the oil companies to pay their fair share of taxes. Then, really, I think we could go into the weekend with a true feeling of closure.

 

 

Boehner, you may remember, told ABC News that big oil companies don't need the oil depletion allowance and that Congress "certainly ought to take a look at" the tax breaks our energy mega-firms enjoy.

 

What a great guy John Boehner is! You may not remember, but there was a time when Democrats hatedhatedhated him. That was before the House Tea Party Republicans started giving him so much misery. Now you have Howard Dean calling him a "reasonable person" and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, offering to him "a bouquet." Everyone loves a winner, except in Washington where losers are so much more attractive.

 

However, as soon as the Democrats started applauding the oil-company interview, a Boehner spokesman issued a clarification, which said that the House speaker "is opposed to raising taxes." Obviously, when he said that we should look at things like the oil depletion allowance, he meant "look" in the same way that we are going to look at the royal wedding. It was not an invitation to join the buffet line.

 

Unlike the John Boehner Oil Tax Loophole Closing Bill, the wedding is definitely coming off, allowing the entire planet to bask in the aura of a fairy-tale moment before moving on to pregnancy rumors. And about time. The world cannot keep generating more than 100 million William/Kate-related blog postings a day for all that much longer.

 

I got that figure from Trendrr, which also reported that 40 percent of the English-language wedding Twitter messages originated in the United States as opposed to only 31 percent in the United Kingdom.

 

To which we can only respond: Well, there are a whole lot more of us. Also, as a nation, we pride ourselves on our Twittering. America intends to be the world leader in all things twit-related. Soon, there will be a ninth-grade proficiency test on it, and teachers whose classes perform badly will be fired.

 

Meanwhile, on behalf of all of us Yanks, let me say: Good luck, Kate and William!

 

Most of us have only been paying attention to you for a week or so, but, still, we have come to know you well. "Kate oozes refinement — her friends wear pearls while hunting," Time magazine reported. That tidbit alone has kept me engrossed all day. Do you think Time meant fox hunting? A lot of bouncing around in fox hunting, and if the pearls broke I guarantee you that you would never, ever find them. Perhaps the Friends of Kate hunt ducks. Or squirrels. Nothing like a tasty squirrel stew, served to people sporting really expensive neckwear.

 

Estimates of the cost of the upcoming nuptials range from $34 million to more than $7 billion, depending on whether you factor in the bill for giving an entire nation a day off work. Either way, this is Kate's special day and you cannot possibly put a price on that. Plus, there is nothing like a wedding to raise the national spirits. Who among us can ever forget the way the national psyche soared when Tricia Nixon tied the knot?

 

But I digress. In the other important, chapter-closing news of the moment, President Obama has released the long-form version of his birth certificate in an attempt to quell the unflaggable "birther" movement and get the news media to notice when he names a new secretary of defense.

 

Donald Trump immediately took credit. "Today I am very proud of myself," he said. This is in contrast to normal days, when Trump is continually walking around in an existential funk, asking himself why he was ever born.

 

Our next question is how far the closure extends. Will the birthers who have been demanding to see that long-form certificate since 2008 now throw in the towel and move on to other important issues, such as whether the rapture will occur on May 21?

 

Emily Ramshaw of The Texas Tribune quickly tracked down the state representative who's sponsoring the Texas version of the birther bill and found him — surprise! — unconvinced. Among other things, she reported, Representative Leo Berman wants to know why the hospital where the president was allegedly born doesn't have a "plaque on the door" commemorating the event.

 

 The more things close, the more they open.

 

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

GREAT LEAP BACKWARD

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

 

SHANGHAI

 

Since China is in the middle of its harshest crackdown on independent thought in two decades, I thought that on this visit I might write about a woman named Cheng Jianping who is imprisoned for tweeting.

 

Ms. Cheng was arrested on what was supposed to have been her wedding day last fall for sending a single sarcastic Twitter message that included the words "charge, angry youth." The government, lacking a sense of humor, sentenced her to a year in labor camp.

 

So I tried to interview her fiancé, Hua Chunhui, but it turns out that Mr. Hua was recently arrested and imprisoned as well. That's the way it goes in China these days. The government's crackdown is rippling through the country, undercutting China's prodigious growth and representing the harshest clampdown since the crushing of the Tiananmen democracy movement in 1989.

 

The reason? Surprising as it may seem, the government is worried that China could become the next Egypt or Tunisia, unless security forces act early and ruthlessly.

 

"Of course, they're scared that the same thing might happen here," one Chinese friend with family and professional ties to top leaders told me. A family member of another Chinese leader put it this way: "They're just terrified. That's why they're cracking down."

 

Yet another official says that the Politburo internalized a basic lesson from the Tiananmen movement: It's crucial to suppress protests early, before they gain traction. He says that from China's point of view, the mistake that autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia made was not cracking down earlier and harder.

 

Paranoia also plays a role. Some Chinese leaders believe that America is nurturing a movement to subvert the government. Chen Jiping, a senior official, expressed this fear when he warned recently against "hostile Western forces attempting to Westernize and split us." China, for a time, even blocked access to the blog of the outgoing American ambassador, Jon Huntsman Jr.

 

In truth, the differences with Egypt and Tunisia are profound. China's leaders may be just as autocratic as those in the Middle East, and just as corrupt, but they're far more competent. They've overseen astonishing improvements in the standard of living, in education, in health, in infrastructure. But I don't want to get ahead of myself: That's the topic of my next column.

 

Another reason for the crackdown seems to be jitters over the transfer of power next year. President Hu Jintao, who seems, to me, to be the least visionary Communist Party leader since Hua Guofeng in the late-1970s, is expected to step down and be replaced by Xi Jinping, the current vice president. Officials say that the plan is for Li Keqiang to be prime minister and Wang Qishan (perhaps the ablest of the three) to be deputy prime minister.

 

But there is still jockeying, partly because President Hu is weak. Chinese officials are remarkably open about criticizing Mr. Hu, and the critics are said to include the military brass and former President Jiang Zemin. The complaints have little to do with the crackdown on dissent ("That's just a very small issue to them," one Chinese official explained to me), and more to do with the way Mr. Hu has frozen or backtracked on economic and political reforms, allowed inflation to stir and harmed relations with the U.S.

 

Many ordinary Chinese seem to feel the same way. Most Chinese I have talked to don't care much about dissidents; their main concerns are inflation, corruption and better jobs. Moreover, they feel freer in their daily lives — so long as they don't challenge the government, it mostly will leave them alone.

 

Still, the crackdown represents a great leap backward, and it is particularly nasty in two respects.

 

First, the government is arresting not only dissidents and Christians but also their family members and even their lawyers. Second, after a long period in which police would torture working-class prisoners but usually not intellectuals, the authorities are again brutalizing white-collar dissidents.

 

One lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, was arrested and, by his account, subjected to beatings and electric shocks because

he had represented Christians and dissidents. After a brief stint of freedom nearly a year ago, he apparently was arrested again and vanished. In China, "disappear" has become a transitive verb.

 

The crackdown has extended to the Internet. My teenage daughter, with me on this trip, complains that in China "everything is blocked." By that, she means that Facebook and YouTube are walled off, access to Gmail and Google searches comes and goes, and even her homework on Google Documents is inaccessible.

 

 Here we have a country that is coming of age, with an economic rise that is pretty much unprecedented in the history of the world — and it tarnishes those achievements with a harsh crackdown. For those of us who love China and believe in its future, this retreat is painful to watch.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE CRAZY PROJECT

ERSU ABLAK

 

Prime Minister told the nation that he would reveal a crazy project yesterday. He kept his promise. The project will be another Bosphorus dividing the European side of Istanbul into two. It is a wonder to me why Turkish authorities still focus on construction while they are thinking about big projects. I see it as one of the fundamental signs that Turkey is lagging far behind the developed world. We are still fighting with the earth.

The Turkish Prime Minister told the nation he would reveal a "crazy project" on Tuesday. He kept his promise while I was writing this column. I did not know which speculations about the project would come true. Though none of what I heard was crazy enough for me. They were all about architecture and construction. Some said it would be a second Bosphorus, some say it would be a twin Selimiye Mosque in another location, etc. The bidders for the first "crazy" project were correct. There will be another Bosphorus that will divide the European side in two. According to a Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review report, the plan for the new canal, named "Canal Istanbul," will be built on the outskirts of the European side of the city and will connect the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea and is planned to be 45-50 kilometers long, the prime minister said, speaking at a conference in Istanbul on Wednesday.

It is a wonder to me why Turkish authorities still focus on construction while they are thinking about big projects, or while they are boasting about the greatness of their term. Our prime minister always likes to talk about how many kilometers of "double roads" they have built. The previous governments weren't any different. They were also talking about roads, bridges and dams.

I see it as one of the fundamental signs that Turkey is lagging far behind the developed world. We are still fighting with the earth.

While Prime Minister Erdoğan is planning his crazy projects, according to the Discovery News Agency President Obama is making great strides in promoting and investing in renewable energy technology and energy efficiency programs. The Recovery Act allocated about $70 billion for energy-related programs, including research and development in weatherization assistance, vehicle technologies, biomass, fuel cells, geothermal technologies, and solar and wind energy. For example, the Cape Wind Farm in the sea surrounding Massachusetts remains one of the most notable, yet controversial, clean energy projects approved by the Obama administration. In May 2010 the Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar signed the lease for the country's first-ever offshore wind project, which had been fighting for approval for 10 years.

As a global citizen, I am not at all impressed with the Dubai-inspired heavy construction projects. Instead, they are making me even more disappointed in our will, as a nation, to catch up with the new era of science and technology. I am so frustrated about being left behind 30-40 years compared to the European Union, the U.S., South Korea, Japan and even China, when it comes to how government funds are spent. The rest of the world is investing heavily in software development, new medicine technologies, new material technologies, bio engineering, mobile technologies, Internet communication, new energy possibilities and cleaner production technologies.

However, I guess these types of investments are not crazy enough for us. We will see how the immense funds needed for this very "crazy" project will affect the Turkish youth.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

A REAL CRAZY PROJECT

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was done with his statement my first reaction was, "This project is really a crazy one."

Even if the details of this project are not yet clear, it is easy to understand what Erdoğan has in mind. No matter how hard it is to realize this project it will greatly ease Istanbul and the Bosphorus. New cities will emerge and we'll face a completely different scene.

If my memory does not play tricks on me, former Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit came up with a similar idea years ago but it did not draw much attention. His passage was through Thrace.

But reducing traffic on the Bosphorus seems difficult. The reason behind it is that the traffic on the Bosphorus is regulated by the Montreux convention providing for free passage. Whereas when this channel is built, money will be collected from ships. After spending so much money for the construction it would seem impossible to allow free passage.

Now everybody will start talking saying it's "impossible and unnecessary." But wait and see until details emerge.

But even this seems to be a crazy project.

Ankara monitors al-Assad with astonishment and concern

Ankara is extremely uncomfortable.

I talked to people close to the prime minister and saw that discomfort is progressively spreading. The prime minister met three times with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad himself and sent delegates three times. Today, there will be another delegate leaving.

The message is clear:

"Continue with reforms, don't fire at people and don't use force."

But what astonishes and concerns Ankara is that al-Assad is becoming progressively brisker and believes that he can oppress a revolt with the power of arms. Concern increased as he looked on last Friday as people at a funeral how were fired upon.

The perception in Ankara is that Syria got caught in the riptide thinking that with oppression they are on the safe side and that this is the most dangerous course of all.

What scares Ankara even further is that in case the oppression and death toll increases, external intervention will occur. In order to prevent this in advance, it often warns Washington.

Intelligence reports presented to Erdoğan prove that al-Assad still receives support from some segment of his people. It seems that al-Assad as of yet is not on his way out but if he continues this course there will be serious questions raises. 

The background for developments is not known clearly because the strings in Syria are attached to different segments.

There is the Baath party.

There is the army.

There is the intelligence service and the president's family.

Each of their expectation and influence are different. It is not clearly understood who is dominant and who exactly convinced the president to open fire on his people.

Ankara at this point in time believes that there is nothing else left to do other than verbally contact the regime and offer advice. Pointing at Turkey's despair, one official says, "What can we do, shall we send the army?"

"We are aware that it is expected of us to speak up in Turkey and Arab countries sending strict messages to al-Assad. In such case we remain outside the game and lose our effectiveness. But notice that we are not conducting politics through media. And this provides for trust in us," he said.

To sum up, Ankara is in a difficult position and does not know what else to do other then warning al-Assad through the prime minister. It does not see any other option but to wait for developments and keep repeating its advice and desire.

If Syria explodes it'll make the region explode

It suffices only to look at Syria to understand Ankara's great unease.

Syria may seem a small country to you but it looks like an ice berg. The part above the water may seem unimportant but the part under water accommodates a big mountain.

Syria influences and controls two countries in the region. One of them is Lebanon.

Even if it is not like the old days, Iran and Syria still support and feed Hezbollah who holds Lebanon's fate in its hands.

Syria is similarly the key to the Palestinian issue. 

Hamas holds Gaza and the solution in its hands, and it is one of the best customers of Iran and Syria.

If the al-Assad regime falls, it will foremost put Iran in discomfort and spoil balances. A great struggle for power will start and Israel, trying to benefit from this, will stir up everything.

Not only that but also the internal balance and ethnic composition in Syria will lead to internal fights.

Syria's population is 22 million:

*74 percent are Sunni

*12 percent are Nusayri (Alawite) who are in charge of the administration despite being a minority

*10 percent are Christians

*7-8 percent are Kurds

*5-6 percent are Turks

*2 percent are Armenians

*1 percent is Circassian

Now within such a chaos can you imagine how this will affect Turkey?

Thousands of immigrants piled up at the border.

Internal feuds and uproar among Kurds.

Economic and financial losses.

This is what gives Ankara sleepless nights.

Al-Assad may in the short and medium run keep this uproar under control but in the long run, Syria remaining the same and continuing in the accustomed order is impossible.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

NOW ERDOĞAN HAS A DREAM AS WELL

YUSUF KANLI

Hopefully all opponents are wrong and time will prove that the "crazy project" of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his political clan is indeed a viable one. Hopefully, the project is not a crazy endeavor to add wealth to the members of either the political or Islamist brotherhood clans (or both) but is indeed aimed at saving the historical and natural riches of Istanbul by removing the tanker traffic and some business out of the over 9,000-year-old city.

Hopefully, together with some other crazy projects such as building two more cities – one on the European side and one on the Asian side – the present population of Istanbul, which is pushing 17 million, will not be further inflated and the already-maddening Istanbul traffic will not be made worse.

Erdoğan was perfectly right. There are many cities in the world through which a river runs, but Istanbul is the only city in which there is a sea. If this "crazy project" of Erdoğan is not a political fiction and as promised becomes a reality by the 2023 centennial celebrations of the Republic, Istanbul will become a city with an island, two big one small peninsulas and through which two separate seaways will pass.

If and when finished, the 45-50 kilometers long, 120 to 150-meter wide and 25 meter deep "Canal Istanbul" will be a man-made miracle with its bridges, underground passes, universities, hospitals, residential projects, recreational projects, hotels, conference centers and the biggest airport in the city; the whole project will be in a different league from the Suez or the Panama canals or with any other man-made modern time landmark.

Indeed, since Ottoman times, there have been a number of utopian projects that envisioned the digging of a canal passage from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea, providing an alternate sea passage for the intense traffic of the Istanbul Strait, saving the city and its historical-natural fabric from the impacts of commercial naval traffic. The fact that it has not yet been achieved definitely should not be considered as an indication that Erdoğan and his political clan are not sincere in their project and will not try to achieve it.

As it stands, the project unveiled by the prime minister is nothing more than political rhetoric. Right, let's agree that the prime minister has the strong intention of undertaking such a project: Even so, when the project is put on paper in all its complexity, feasibility studies are concluded, environmental hazard calculations are done and its financing is laid down, no one can come up with the claim that the project is underway.

What the prime minister did yesterday was in fact a continuation of what might be described best as the "craziest projects contest" that he launched two weeks ago in starting the election campaigning of his Justice and Development Party, or AKP. Soon he will unveil with some details the "two cities" project for Istanbul, some projects for Ankara and İzmir and God knows perhaps will tell people from Konya that he will carry the sea to the Konya plain should he stay in power until the 150th anniversary of the Republic in 2073.

Sky is the limit in political rhetoric

The sky is the limit in rhetoric and empty promises to the people. Now, Erdoğan has a dream as well. Frankly, his dream is not as "difficult and farfetched" as ending slavery or putting an end to discrimination based on color of skin. If slavery is long buried in history, if discrimination based on skin color has become a crime and if the Apartheid regime has been buried in the dark pages of history, the project of Erdoğan has a chance of success provided there is a political will filling the sails of such a gigantic project.

The Taliban of Afghanistan will be remembered for the barbaric demolition of the gigantic historical Buddha statues. The Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia will be remembered for the death fields and the mountain of skulls they left behind. Bush Jr. will be remembered for the Iraq War and Iraqis dancing on the monument of fallen dictator Saddam Hussein, as well as the hundreds of thousands of people murdered in U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Will the Erdoğan period be remembered with the Canal Istanbul project? Why not? If Erdoğan can indeed launch such a project and Turkey finds a way to finance its construction, irrespective of whether he stays or not in power to see its completion, he will definitely be remembered as the "visionary leader" who had the dream of such a gigantic project.

Unfortunately, for now it is very likely that Erdoğan will be remembered as the leader who had a "freakish" taste in art as he ordered the demolition of the "Monument to Humanity," a monument depicting Turkish-Armenian peace and brotherhood. Of course, in time, everyone will forget that the demolition of the monument condemned by the premier for being "freakish" started on April 24, the anniversary of the alleged murder of Armenians by the dissolving Ottoman Empire in 1915. Freak coincidence, no?

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE REVENGE OF 10 CHILDREN WITH NAILS REMOVED

FEHİM TAŞTEKİN

Ten children living in the Syrian city of Daraa were inspired by the Arab Spring and wrote an expression of freedom on walls. They were arrested by the intelligence agency. Families of the children applied to the Office of the Governor, but that didn't help. They went to the intelligence offices, that didn't help either. Finally, the Office of the Governor was raided and the children were taken back. There was a problem however: Nails of the children had been removed and some of them had been raped. The families went ballistic and their tribes were outraged by the fact. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets, burned down the intelligence headquarters and the phone company belonging to Rami Makhlouf. This is how the fear threshold was passed against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.

By revealing this horrific incident, a businessman from Hamali refutes the claims that the uprising in Syria was encouraged by external forces. "Irhal irhal yeskutu nezam" (Go, go. The regime is coming down) was the slogan the children wrote on the walls.

As we were looking for an answer to who is leading the revolt against the Assad regime in Syria, who these opponents are, Syrian dissidents arrived in Istanbul, so we met them. Almost having members of all spectrums of ethnicities in Syria represented at the Grand Cevahir Hotel against the "instigation," in a way to disprove the scenarios produced by the Alewite minority against the Sunni majority, Kurds against Arabs in the north, Turks against Arabs in Aleppo, the Druze against Circassian at the Golan Heights would have clashes.

Though each ethnic group believes themselves to be the strongest dissidents in Syria, from the Muslim Brothers to leftists, from liberal groups to tribe leaders, everyone has agreed on one thing: No political party or group led the uprising. This is being organized by young people on the Internet. Though tribe leaders warn, "This is not the time; the regime will wipe you out," the young do not seem to follow it.

Opposition parties and groups are giving support to the young willy-nilly. I was backstage to decipher the codes of the revolt. I asked Ibrahim Adelmelik attending the conference at the hotel on behalf of the Syrian youth, "Who are you? Who is backing you up?" He responded to me in perfect English, "There is no religion, no religious sect and no race. We are the nationalists of Syria. We exist for Syria. The only thing we want is freedom."

Seems quite political but that doesn't mean it lacks ideology. This is rather a brotherhood in rebellion, where differences are pushed aside. The spectrum has decided to knock off the regime of cruelty. Views vary on who takes the lead, be it leftists or Islamists. Since all wings of the opposition were eliminated after the Hama massacre following a series of assassinations allegedly by the Muslim Brothers in 1982, it is difficult to say who is in the lead by just looking at the streets of Syria.

According M Selame al-Selan, the leader of the Rula tribe spread throughout in Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, "Neither leftists nor the Brotherhood took the lead in the uprising. The grassroots of both are joining demonstrations. But leftists, owing to good connections with the media, come forward in the international community. However, the Baath being 'Socialist' has put a distance between the people and the leftists."

A doctor in exile referring to the Muslim Brothers said, "They have not been around for 30 years, but the spirit of the Brotherhood is on the streets. Under normal circumstances, they would gain 30 percent of the votes." A leftist Vajdi Mostafa claims the power and role of the Brotherhood is being exaggerated. There are reservations about political discretion of the Muslim Brothers. Since they cooperated with Rifat al-Assad, who is considered to be the architect of the Hama massacre, and since the claims that former Brotherhood members in London have received American aid, doubts have increased about the Muslim Brothers.

An Ihvan member said this "ominous" partnership came to an end in 2007 due to the disturbance felt among the grassroots, "We have returned from a mistake." The biggest dilemma of the Syrian opponents is the lack of an alternative backbone to stand up to the regime. And the reason is that they have been grouping in exile for the last 30 years. Selan taking over the leadership from his father who was sent to exile together with 600,000 people for resisting against the Baath in 1961 admits he cannot be a politically determinative figure over the tribe members. Selan said, "But if I do have the chance to do politics, I will drag them with me."

The Syrian opposition is sensitive toward the possibility of clashes between ethnic groups or religious sects. According to a Kurdish representative from Kamışlı Mohammed İbrahim, Kurds want to split from Arabs as Assad announced that 400,000 Kurds would be granted citizenship, but they failed. In 2004, Arab gangs, protected by intelligence agents, plundered stores owned by Kurds and Christians as ethnic encounters were fomented. Arabs living in the Kurdish region were given guns. So, there is the potential of having clashes in the region. Since Kurds are not counted as citizens, they do not have control over the land. Kurdish territories were handed to Arabs who were the aggrieved of the Tabqa Dam. The issue between the two communities is like a landmine.

In order to prevent a civil war, the Syrian opponents target the Assad family in control of the regime, not the "Alewite-majority regime itself." Three names are being pushed to the forefront: Maher al-Assad, Assad's brother and commander of the Presidential Guards; Asef Shawqat the chief of the intelligence agency; and Assad's cousin and "businessman" Makhlouf. Mahir is in charge of the military, Asef of the intelligence and Makhlouf of finance. To keep the reign, the Assad family will cause bloodshed but the military eventually will be broken apart and the game of Assad will be ruined. This is the cold comfort of the Syrian opponents.

Şebbiha: The regime's mob

The true identity of the "Şebbiha" who opened fire on both troops and demonstrators during the protests remains an enigma for us, but for the Syrians, neither their aims nor their identities constitute a mystery. According to dissidents, the "Şebbiha" is attacking the army to provoke them into using more violence against the people. Its members shave their heads and grow long beards and moustaches. Everyone knows who these people are. The picture that I have managed to piece together based on accounts provided by the dissidents goes like this: "Şebbiha" is an epithet used to describe a mafia-like organization whose purpose is to do the regime's dirty work. It is a term derived from the word "Şebah," which means ghost, and has no lexical meaning. Şebah is also used to refer to a limousine, as in "ghost car."

In ordinary people's lexicon, "Şebbiha" means "the men who drive the limousine." Back in time, there was a gang that carried out the deeds of Hafız al-Assad, Mahir al-Assad and Rıfat. When conflict arose within the trio, Rıfat was ousted and fled abroad. Rıfat's men in the gang became defunct. Mahir al-Assad, Asıf Şevket and Rami Mahluf restructured the gang. This gang now operates customs and smuggling activities along the shoreline. The bulk of the gang is made up of Alewites. When demonstrations erupted in Syria, this gang was sent into the rebellious cities.

* Fehim Taştekin is a columnist for daily Radikal. This piece was translated by the Daily News staff.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

DAMASCUS RECESSIONAL

RICHARD REID

Of all the Arab regimes visited by revolt this season, none seemed more certain to hold fast than Syria. The Baath government's readiness to slaughter uncooperative citizens had given it an iron grip. Forty-eight years of rule had seen the tentacles of state reach every segment of the population. Only Ceausescu's Romania, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and North Korea could compare in the penetration of their control. Since Saddam's fall, Syria has been the only true police state in the region. Pre-uprising Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were lax and lenient by comparison.

In my earlier work I often crossed into Syria by road through Daraa, the ignition point of the current revolt, a drab Sunni town where people seldom looked at you. I liked and got to know a number of Syrians in Damascus and other places over the years, but all of them, chocolate merchants, government ministers, waiters and television people alike, were afraid to really speak to me. They held back. My U.N. credentials didn't ease them. Memories of their fear still make me wince.

The mukhabarat was everywhere, and when it knocked on your door, goodbye – so watch out, fellow citizen. One of my staff, a non-Syrian Arab, was swept up because his name was the same as that of a Syrian dissident who had gone underground. It took us weeks to pry him loose.

Now that Bashar al-Assad's regime is reeling, it's tempting to wonder what thoughts are running through his mind. One may even have a touch of sympathy for him. He wouldn't be where he is if his uncle Rifaat hadn't overstepped, or if the presumed successor, his flashy brother Basil, hadn't killed himself in a car crash. Bashar al-Assad is not the hard man, not the natural-born enforcer his father Hafez and his brothers were. He got to go off to London because he was not like them. Ten years of rule have taught him to be Byzantine, but have surely made him tough-minded enough to realize that his dad would have cut this mess short by shooting them all the first day.

Yet when he came back to Damascus, a kindly looking London ophthalmologist, to take over as head warden of the prison, did he suppose that the house that Hafez built would never fall down? Did he imagine that his softer manner would win the hearts of the inmates? That all the al-Assad family transgressions, like the obliteration of the disobedient city of Hama, would be forgotten? That the pious Sunni majority actually enjoyed being ruled by a 10 percent Alawite minority? That Syrians are deeply secular by nature, and loved living in a gendarme state copied from Mussolini's? That all this would be fine because he was a new boy with a sweet stylish wife?

It hasn't worked out that way. And there will be cascade effects, radical ones, if his government does fall. All of Syria's friends and dependents will be hit hard. Opportunities will land in the laps of its enemies.

The hardest hit would be Iran. Baathist Syria has been its only state ally of substance – and its main channel of funds and weapons to Hezbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Occupied Territories. Iranian field agents must already be scrambling to find replacement channels, because any loss of ability to manipulate these anti-Israel surrogates would be a body blow to Tehran's prestige.

In Lebanon the effects could be the greatest. After decades of subjugation, the Syrian overlord would be gone. Hezbullah, minus a sponsor, would lose much of its menace. A total realignment of Lebanese politics could come.

Israel would benefit broadly – first, from the dismantling of Iran's main collaborator; second, from the at least temporary weakening and confusion of Hezbullah and Hamas; third, by being strategically distanced from Iran itself. There would be no guarantee of a less hostile replacement government in Damascus, but for a good while it would be a less cohesive one.

Any of these outcomes would have been unthinkable three weeks ago. The al-Assad dynasty seemed indestructible. This wouldn't have been the finale the fierce elder al-Assad had in mind. The mild ophthalmologist and his wife may wish they had stayed in London. But it's late in the day now.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TURKISH JOURNALISM BEHIND BARS

ALISON BETHEL MCKENZIE - STEVEN M. ELLIS

VIENNA – In a study released in early April, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, reported that 57 journalists are currently in prison in Turkey, mostly on the basis of the country's anti-terrorism laws. With 11 more Turkish journalists also facing charges, the total number could soon double the records of Iran and China, each of which reportedly held 34 journalists in prison in December 2010. Indeed, Mijatovic estimated that another 700-1,000 proceedings against journalists remain ongoing.

Such a situation is intolerable anywhere, but particularly in a democracy that seeks European Union membership, and that recognizes freedom of expression as a fundamental right. Turkey's behavior thus calls into question not only its desire but also its ability to commit to the values underlying the EU.

Journalists linked to Kurdish or Marxist organizations have regularly been targeted under Turkey's anti-terrorism laws, and the OSCE study found that they have faced some of the harshest punishments. One Kurdish journalist was sentenced to 166 years in prison. Others currently face – wait for it – 3,000-year sentences if convicted.

The relative lack of scrutiny of Turkey's treatment of journalists by many in the West has changed, however, owing to the recent waves of arrests in the so-called "Ergenekon" case. Numerous military officers and academics have been implicated in that case, which involves an alleged plot by secular ultra-nationalists to overthrow the Turkish government. The probe has now turned increasingly toward journalists.

One of those accused of participating in the plot is daily Milliyet's investigative reporter, Nedim Şener, whose work includes a book about links between security forces and the 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. The International Press Institute, or IPI, named Şener a World Press Freedom Hero in 2010. Incarcerated following his arrest last month, he reportedly stands accused of belonging to the same armed terrorist organization seeking to overthrow the government.

Another journalist under fire is Ahmet Şık, who already faced prosecution for co-writing a book criticizing the government's crackdown on the Ergenekon plot. Şık was said to be working on a book about the alleged influence of an Islamic group within Turkey's police force, which authorities last month ordered confiscated before it could be printed.

A common thread in all of the cases targeting journalists is that the alleged facts are shrouded in secrecy, and the authorities have declined to release any evidence of crimes or criminal organizations. Worse still, they have declined even to inform those brought before courts – sometimes in secret – or their attorneys of the charges they face.

Indeed, journalists caught in this Kafkaesque affair can expect to spend years behind bars before being allowed to respond to the accusations against them. A climate of fear escalates with each raid and arrest.

Meanwhile, Turkish authorities affirm the country's commitment to press freedom, even as they impugn the motives of those who exercise it. Given that so many journalists have been jailed, and that all of them have been critical of the government, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that journalists are being targeted because of their work.

Such concern has been voiced not only by press-freedom groups such as IPI, and journalists, like the Freedom for Journalists Platform (an umbrella group representing local and national media organizations in Turkey), but also by respected international institutions. The United States' Mission to the OSCE and the European Commission have joined Mijatovic in calling on Turkey's authorities to stop their intimidation of the media immediately, and to uphold basic OSCE media freedom commitments. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Turkey to guarantee freedom of opinion and expression.

Even Turkey's president, Abdullah Gül, recently called for "prosecutors and courts to be more diligent in pursuing their responsibilities, and to act in a way that does not harm the honor and rights of the people."

Turkey plays a pivotal, bridge-building role between East and West, and the country has been praised for demonstrating that democracy can coexist with Islam. But the arrests of so many journalists are eroding this image.

The right of journalists to cover sensitive topics, including national security, is fundamental. Those who do not engage in criminal activity should not face arrest, imprisonment, or any other form of harassment or intimidation for doing their job. Those accused of criminal activity must be given due process and a fair trial. Evidence must be provided, and the accused must be presented with the charges they face and the opportunity to defend themselves.

Far from being defamatory subversives, journalists who investigate and criticize their government's actions demonstrate true patriotism, because no democracy can survive without the open and independent assessment of public policies that journalists provide. If Turkey, a major regional power with an ancient cultural heritage, truly wishes to be welcomed into Europe, to take its rightful place on the world stage, and, indeed, to remain a democracy, its leaders must not hold freedom of the press in contempt.

*Alison Bethel McKenzie is Director of the International Press Institute, or IPI. Steven M. Ellis is IPI Press Freedom Adviser. This piece was provided by Project Syndicate, at www.project-syndicate.org.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

RISING HEAT

 

As summer temperatures rise, Lahore has witnessed its first power protests. Traders, whose businesses have been crippled by the power cuts, have demonstrated against the outages which extend to 10 hours a day or more in some areas. In other places, furious citizens, including textile workers, have attacked Wapda offices. It is almost impossible to keep track of the duration of the cuts, given that, unlike the situation in previous years, there appears to be no set schedule and no order in the way the cuts are managed. Rather than flickering out on the hour, the loadshedding occurs erratically, at any time during the day, making any kind of planning impossible. Workshop owners cannot even hope to guess when it is possible to get tasks of various kinds done, and must instead deal with irate clients seeking to get cars repaired or documents photocopied. Perhaps, this creation of deliberate mayhem is a way to leave doubts over the precise duration of loadshedding. A countrywide power shortfall of nearly 5000 MW is being reported, and there is no indication of what steps – if any – are being taken to bring this under control.


The situation is worse in smaller towns in Punjab, with power, in some cases, available for barely four hours a day. The GT Road, and even the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway has been blocked, but it seems the calls of desperate citizens fall on deaf ears. In Peshawar too, people have taken to the streets. The government remains essentially indifferent to the plight of its citizens. This is hardly surprising given the giant generators that bring light to the homes of ministers, even as the masses flounder in the darkness. Worse still, is the fact that solutions seem to be available, but are being ignored. Both Iran and China have offered to provide power to Pakistan, according to reports. So too has India. It is a mystery why these offers have not been taken up and why the long agony of the people has not been ended. This mystery needs to be solved immediately. It has continued for far too long already.

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

 

ROAD TO GO DOWN

 

The sight of men carrying bags of wheat or rice up to a broad white line painted on the ground, handing those bags to men on the other side of the line and receiving some bags from them in return may be a trading practice of a thousand years ago, but this is how much of the trade between Pakistan and India has been conducted. The signs are that there is an easing of the tensions between Pakistan and India, and that the deep freeze that set in after the 2008 Mumbai attacks is finally thawing. Trade is one of those areas where the two countries could make significant advances relatively quickly. There are markets in both states that would benefit enormously from an easing of restrictions.

The talks between the commerce secretaries of the two countries on the possibility of expanding trade and the removal of non-tariff barriers are welcome. A by-product of the talks is that Pakistan has persuaded India to withdraw its resistance to the EU trade concessions it was offered after the floods of 2010. In a decidedly unfriendly move, India, in concert with other states, had orchestrated opposition to the concessions – worth a hefty $900 million – which had been proposed by the World Trade Organisation in Geneva. It is encouraging that the talks are to be unstructured, without a fixed agenda, which will allow the participants to range far and wide. Topics for discussion will include the ongoing work at the Attari-Wagah Integrated Checkpost and the possibility of India being granted the most favoured nation status by Pakistan. If achieved, this will be a very significant step. We also need to see a relaxation of business visas on both sides and all that can be done to encourage the two-way flow of tourists should be done. A properly negotiated trade relationship is of mutual benefit, and trade is a powerful confidence-building measure. Trade is the road to go down, and it would appear that the first steps are being taken. Let us hope for many more in the near future.

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

THE BIG STEP

 

In a significant development the president, on the advice of the prime minister, has notified the extension in the appointment of the six additional judges of the Lahore and Sindh high courts. The extension had been recommended by the Judicial Commission, but was rejected by the Parliamentary Committee set up under the 18th Amendment. However, this decision was then overturned by the Supreme Court. After being asked to do so by the Supreme Court, the attorney general had written to the Parliamentary Committee seeking the appointments be duly notified, and the court verdict respected. Conflicts between state institutions are always unpleasant and harmful. It is vital that these institutions work smoothly together, within the framework laid out by the Constitution, to prevent the kind of crises we have witnessed time and again. But in this case, it must be said, the fact that the judiciary has prevailed is good news for all of us as citizens. Its assertion of independence is especially important in the times we live in. Things could have been even worse than they are now had the SC and Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry not taken it upon themselves to ensure that the judiciary emerge as an institution capable of playing a decisive role in setting things right in society and correcting, where possible, a badly skewed political system.

The executive has acted sensibly in this case. Following the long chain of events we have witnessed and the time taken up by the proceedings, it may be worth considering if the Parliamentary Committee has any useful role to play. This matter has already come up before. It needs at this point to be revisited so that clarity can be achieved, the role of institutions reaffirmed and the kind of damaging confusion we have been seeing, avoided in the future. It is apparent that we need a fully independent judiciary. The big step that has been taken towards this end is extremely welcome.

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

LEGACY OF HATRED

PATRICK COCKBURN

 

Publication of pictures showing Iraqi prisoners being abused and humiliated by American soldiers was one of the crucial turning points in the war in Iraq. It showed that the US takeover of the country was as brutal and self-interested as most imperial occupations. For Iraqis and foreigners alike the photographs discredited the idea that the Americans were interested in bringing freedom and democracy.

It is worth looking at the grim aftermath of foreign intervention in Iraq as British, French and American involvement in Libya grows by the day. Both actions could be justified on humanitarian grounds. In Libya foreign powers are at the start of a process aimed at overthrowing an indigenous government, while in Iraq the shattering consequences of foreign intervention on the daily lives of people remain all too evident long after the foreign media has largely departed.

This is the weakness of journalism. It reports, and its consumers expect it to report, what is new. The abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which once seemed so shocking, has become old news and no longer relevant. A useful antidote to the preoccupations and narrow news agendas of the foreign media is the excellent Institute of War and Peace Reporting, which publishes stories from local journalists.

Iraq slipped off the international media map in 2008 just as Afghanistan had done in 2002, in both cases on the mistaken premise that the enemy was defeated and the war was over. From about 2009 news editors began to notice that the Taliban was back in business and the Afghan war was on again. Now it is once again disappearing from the headlines as there is a surge of journalists into Libya to cover a new war.

War has always been the meat and drink of international journalism. The same is true of home-grown violence. "If it bleeds it leads," is the well-tried editors' rule. But how well is war reporting being done as the Arab world is convulsed by uprisings against the police states that have ruled it for so long? Will it do better than it did during the conflict in Iraq?

A problem is that the causes, course and consequence of wars are vastly complicated, but the reporting of them is crudely simple minded. Saddam was once condemned as the source of all evil in Iraq just as Qaddafi is today demonised as an unrelenting tyrant. This picture fosters the lethally misleading belief that once the Satanic leader is removed everything will fall into place, and, whatever the failings of new leadership, it is bound to be better than what went before.

The reasons why so much of the media have headed for Libya rather than covering uprisings in Bahrain, Yemen or Syria are simple enough. There is a real war there and the US, Britain and France are involved in it. It is also easy to get access to Libya without being stopped at the border at a time when it is becoming difficult or impossible to get new visas to enter the other three Arab countries where there have been serious uprisings.

The exaggeration of the military strength of the rebels has led to a misunderstanding of the consequences of Nato involvement. President Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy started by claiming they were launching air strikes to defend civilians. This has since escalated into saying that the aim of the war is to get rid of Qaddafi.

When all this is over what will Libya look like? The country is gripped by civil war whatever the rebels may say and its legacy of hatred will take decades to disappear.



Courtesy: www.counterpunch.org

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE TWILIGHT OF HOPE?

 AMEER BHUTTO

 

Security of life and property, along with trade and commerce and pooling of multifaceted individual talents and skills to derive maximum communal benefits, formed the nucleus of the justification for the origin of the modern state as we know it. As mankind evolved, scattered and isolated dwellings proved to be inadequate to satisfy increasingly complex requirements. Thus villages, then towns, then city states and finally the modern state came into being. In time, the concept of national sovereignty took root in reaction to the hegemonistic designs of the more powerful states among them and the archaic notion of rule by divine right gave way to political legitimacy derived through the sanction of the people and democratic rule became the most morally acceptable system of government.


Pakistan stands without any of the above justifications of statehood today. In my previous article ('Hanging by a string' April, 13 2011), I touched upon the fact that this country had drifted far and wide from its founding ideology. To summarise, having been founded in the name of Islam, Pakistan is now stigmatised as the prime manufacturer and exporter of religious extremism and terror.

Though the ideology of Pakistan is based on the sanctity of minorities rights (Muslims being a minority in India), minorities of all sorts and those who champion their cause have become hunted prey in this country. Having been lured by the promise of autonomy and sovereignty in the Pakistan Resolution, the smaller nations that opted for Pakistan have been subjugated by the heavy handedness of the majority. But the situation is more dire than the fading out of core founding values; the very raison d' etre or justification of statehood and the foundations of modern socio-political structures that are a cine qua non for the existence of states have either disappeared or are eroding under an unrelenting attack from indigenous and foreign vested interests.

On the issue of sovereignty, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whose name and legacy the present motley bunch pounce on like a political ATM cash machine to bail themselves out of the mess they often make, confronted foreign hegemonic powers even though he had to ultimately face the gallows. Even Musharraf, a humble servant of the foreign overlords, found the will to deny his benefactors now and then, for which they dumped him into the trash can of history. The incumbent lot has learnt the lesson from the fate their predecessors suffered that if you want to save your necks and your hold on to power, prostrate yourselves before the foreign masters and deny them nothing. Compromise national sovereignty. Compromise your principles, integrity and commitments to the people. Compromise everything, but keep the gora sahibs happy. Thus, they have handed the country over to them on a silver platter. In return, the foreign masters prop them up in power and give them free reign to run the country into the ground with their corruption and incompetence.

Under international law, drone attacks on our soil are nothing short of an open declaration of war against Pakistan. But our government can only muster up lame verbal condemnations only for public consumption. We fell to a new low when the CIA chief recently told the head of ISI in no uncertain terms that they needed neither our permission nor our assistance in the pursuit of their military objectives in Pakistan since their own intelligence and operation network is now well established here. Where does that leave Pakistani sovereignty? How can we still claim to be independent? All that remains is for Americans to declare Pakistan to be the fifty-first state of the United States of America and issue all of us American passports.

As far as security is concerned, no one is safe even inside their homes. In rural areas streets are deserted well before sunset as no one dares venture forth. Murder, kidnapping for ransom and looting is rampant even in broad daylight in crowded cities. Karachi, the erstwhile city of lights, has become a killing field, with target killings going on unabated. Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa is held under some semblance of control only because of the heavy military presence there. No members of government or senior civil servants dare set foot outside their bunkers without the protection of an army of state security forces and private bodyguards. The entire neighbourhood where Zardari's home is located in Karachi has been cordoned off by security forces and massive iron fences erected, making life a painful ordeal for the residents of the area. How can a government that devotes most of the security resources to protect itself but still fails to save governors and ministers from assassins provide security to ordinary citizens?

How can trade and commerce flourish with target killings, suicide and bomb attacks, extortion, kidnappings and lootings turning ordinary citizens into hunted prey? What little is earned by the fruits of their labour that escapes the clutches of street criminals is robbed by the rulers. A few months ago a forum of local businessmen put out a report showing that an estimated thousand billion rupees are embezzled annually. Under such insecure conditions foreign investment has fizzled out and the economy is floundering. We are living off aid and handouts that come at a crippling price and mortgage our future while making slaves of us all.

We do not fulfil the democracy criteria either. Democracy entails a clash of ideas which gives the electorate a genuine choice of different solutions to the country's problems. Here we find no ideas, no prescriptions or solutions, but only a mad dash for power based on outdated loyalties to personality cults. What little variety of ideas existed has been smothered by this government under the guise of mufahimat to silence all dissent and invite all and sundry to the grand banquet of power. They grow fatter while the nation suffers. Recently it was revealed that about a third of the names in the 2008 electoral rolls were bogus entries, laying to rest all claims of genuine public representation.

This country cannot cope with the onslaught of vested interests much longer. Few seem to appreciate the seriousness of the situation: All justifications of statehood already stand eroded; if the state institutions and structures are also hollowed out to the extent that they implode under their own weight, Pakistan cannot and will not survive. Yet, for some reason, if one talks about constructive change, even some seemingly reasonable elements in society wail like banshees. If one talks about mal-administration and corruption, one is counted among the 'chattering classes'. If one talks about the compromising of national sovereignty, one is labelled as being 'ultra-patriotic'. They relish with unconcealed glee the fact that all prophecies for the collapse of the current dispensation have proven inaccurate thus far, even though it is amply self-evident that their sole agenda is to derive personal and political benefits, even if it destroys the country.

Dishonest practices, lies, deception and unashamed breaking of promises by these so-called leaders, instead of being condemned as criminal conduct, is heralded by some as political acumen and savvy. Expertise at looting the country is seen as political genius. This amounts to the incineration of honesty, sincerity and commitment to the national and public good on the funeral pyre of all that is good and holy. It amounts to the surrender of hope and a fateful resignation to remain mired forever in the filth and sleaze in which Pakistan is drowning. We cannot let this happen. We cannot allow the agents of the status quo to rob us of hope. Hope is the seed from which blooms the possibility of positive, progressive change. Without it, we have nothing.



The writer is vice-chairman of the Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE DOCTRINE OF NECESSITY

IKRAM SEHGAL

 

On the assassination of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan Shaheed in October 1951, Governor General Khwaja Nazimuddin was convinced by the bureaucracy that it would be extremely beneficial for the country if he became prime minister. Thus a politician was replaced by a bureaucrat. Ghulam Muhammad cleverly eased into the driving seat. Less than two years later the Prime Minister Nazimuddin found himself out in the cold, summarily sacked by the governor general. Using extra-constitutional emergency powers, he dissolved the country's Constituent Assembly in 1953 and appointed a new Council of Ministers on the grounds that the Constituent Assembly no longer represented the people. Chief Justice Munir validated the governor general's extra-constitutional action in 1954 using the maxim: "That which is otherwise not lawful is made lawful by necessity." Thus the "Doctrine of Necessity" was invoked for the first time to legalise an extra-constitutional action.

Since 1954 it has been repeatedly used to define and validate extra-constitutional issues that fall outside the purview of the Constitution but are necessary to preserve political stability. The doctrine creates controversy as it legally justifies abandonment of the Constitution in order to preserve the country. The government in power can do no wrong, no matter how illegal or unconstitutional its actions may be. In a historic 2010 judgment the Supreme Court buried this doctrine forever. Or has it really?

Rather than the Constitution, national or international law, this so-called doctrine, which was first used by the civilian bureaucracy and not the military as is the general perception, became the basis subsequently for every judicial decision about the legitimacy of a military takeover. No one seems to remember that after first applying it in 1953, bureaucrat Ghulam Mohammad and then Iskander Mirza, the bureaucrat who replaced Ghulam Mohmmad as governor general used their powers arbitrarily nearly half a dozen times to sack their appointed prime ministers. Iskander Mirza, who then became president in 1956, was also the first to impose countrywide martial law. In October 1958 Mirza dissolved parliament and abrogated the 1956 Constitution. When he tried to be clever and oust the army chief Gen Ayub Khan, he was himself ousted 20 days later. The common perception remains that the army orchestrated the destruction of the foundations of constitutional rule in Pakistan so that it could walk into government anytime it wanted.

In 1969, Yahya Khan became the second commander-in-chief to impose martial law. In 1977 Gen Ziaul Haq dissolved parliament and abrogated the Constitution of 1973. History was repeated in 2000 when the full bench of the Supreme Court not only upheld the 1999 coup by Musharraf but went so far as to give the COAS unlimited powers to amend the Constitution as he pleased. Perhaps the most blatant exploitation of the doctrine in our history. The sorry fact remains that the state of the country was such that rather than protesting, the people welcomed the army intervention and the legitimisation of the coup.

Politically necessary in some situations, as was clearly the general public demand in 1999, the doctrine can never be seen as the best solution and has led to the violation of the rule of law and human rights. Every government has used it as a political weapon to either intimidate their opponents or repress the rule of law by using extra-constitutional means.

Pakistan has a long history of "regularisation" and "legalisation" and plea bargaining, which constitutes an unofficial application of the doctrine. Plea bargaining has seen many looters of the national till getting away with no punishment. It proves that crime pays. Black money is whitened, smuggled cars are regularised, illegal appointments are regularised, tax evasions are condoned, unauthorised buildings are legalised, land-grabbing is regularised, illegal weapons are legalised when that suits these power brokers. Thus, what is illegal today will be legal tomorrow as regularised by the blackest of black laws, the Musharraf enacted the National Reconciliation Order (NRO) in 2007. That black law encapsulated the culture being practiced today. It assures the lawbreakers that even if they are caught, they will not be punished.

The problem is that politicians use diversionary tactics – e.g., the Sindh card that encourages questioning the authenticity of the only agreed-upon document, the Constitution of Pakistan. We are at serious risk of putting our sovereignty and national integrity at stake. As a very fragmented nation today, we have failed to achieve consensus on such minor issues as water distribution and building of water reservoirs. Many other issues have been allowed to linger on and on by filibustering politicians and their cronies because it suits them to do so.

Muammar Qaddafi ruled Libya for over four decades with an iron hand. Hosny Mubarak of Egypt and Zine al Abedine Ben Ali of Tunisia also ruled for decades. When protests erupted, what stance did the international community adopt but to support the people in the streets rather than the despots who ruled, using the Constitution as a fig leaf supporting their "legitimacy"? Despite the legitimacy derived from the present Libyan constitution, the Doctrine of Necessity has been resorted to by the international community by enlarging the scope of the UN mandate of a "no-fly zone" to interdict Qaddafi's forces attacking the civilian population indiscriminately and save the hapless population from the excesses of a madman.

To satisfy the exigencies which have been created by certain situations outside the contemplation of the Constitution or the rule of law, the significant feature of the doctrine is the deliberate circumvention of the Constitution or some aspects of the rule of law in order to get out of the political quagmire. Put simply, to "save" the country the Constitution has had to be dumped repeatedly and the rule of law has to be sidelined. Yet it is a political arrangement that has garnered some form of legal validation and global support. English and American courts have long recognised the defence of necessity. Historically, courts have applied the necessity defence almost exclusively to situations in which the actor faced imminent death or bodily harm to himself or a third person.

Contrary to the general perception the Doctrine of Necessity is noble when properly used and valuable when rarely applied. Notwithstanding the fact that its application does become necessary sometimes, the doctrine goes wrong when those that apply it forget that their role is limited, to support technocratic governance for a short period and not become a part of it. When soldiers become part of the wrong they came to correct, they force-multiply the wrongs into a catastrophe, like Musharraf eventually did. The common belief is that all human endeavours are controlled by law and every human act is determined by law, it must not be assumed that all acts of man are contemplated by law. Therefore, certain acts, though harmful and seemingly unconstitutional, might be necessary in order to avert a greater harm. Where is that failsafe line which separates the Doctrine of Necessity from that of "absurdity"?



The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

TASHAKKUR, GREG!

SADAF SHAHID

 

"Terror doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere . . . simply decide to hate [others]. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death."

– Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea)



It was the fall of 2010 when Ali flew with his parents to the United States to join the undergrad programme at one of the most prestigious universities. At orientation, he was the only Pakistani in that batch. As parents and students exchanged greetings, the 'Pakis' could feel an unmistakable coolness and reserve towards them. This display of aloofness was quickly turning the excitement of studying in a foreign university to unease, even fear. And then Ali heard a friendly voice boom from across the room, "Are you from the areas where Greg Mortenson has built his schools? I have been working for 'Pennies for Peace'". She was his roommate's mother. "That's right, from the same country, but his schools are farther in the North" The ice broken, everyone gathered round to hear more about the country Greg Mortenson has made famous for the right reasons.

"Dr Mortenson has done what most Pakistanis couldn't. Thousands of young boys and girls are studying in his schools. The area has recently been hit by the worst floods and CAI is helping the IDP's to restart their lives, without having their education affected. When I go home this winter, I too will do whatever little I can. Greg Mortenson has been my inspiration."

As many parents and students got involved in the conversation, people from the two countries, whose relationship vacillates from cooperation to discord, found a connection through one man's epic struggle. Areas ravaged by terrorism and natural disaster, unvisited, unknown and abandoned by its own inhabitants is what Greg Mortenson proudly calls 'His Pakistan'

Three Cups of Tea, by Dr Greg Mortenson and co author David Oliver Relin, is a story of metamorphosis that has taken place in a remote land known more for its terrorism and rugged terrain than anything else. The transformation commenced with Dr Greg's promise to build a school for the children of Korphe, whom he found writing with sticks on snow covered land under the open skies, living in abject poverty and still singing the national anthem and praying for the prosperity of Pakistan. He took up the task of building schools for a civilisation where the previous three generations had been deprived of education and there was no hope of getting any form of education in the near future.

I don't know Greg Mortenson and have never met him, though I would dearly like to. I have only known him through his books and through people he has transformed. Young, well educated Pakistanis after seeing his work have joined philanthropic organisations and are putting in their bit. I have travelled to Baltistan and to some of the areas where Dr Greg has done his work. The tough circumstances people live in are unimaginable. The three cups of tea that Greg had with Haji Ali, was not only to join their families, but to open the doors of peace and progress for the people of Korphe. There must have been something special about Greg that the reclusive people, who have always strictly guarded their culture, opened their hearts and homes for the man who made miracles happen.

Unfortunately, this same man is now under fire. The TV programme '60 minutes' was extremely disappointing. Mortenson's first encounter with the people of Korphe is being called a 'lie' (Jon Krakaeur in 60 minutes). Greg Mortenson explains it as a "compressed version of the event" (Bozeman Chronicle). Everyone would agree with Ethan Casey, the author of 'Alive and Well in Pakistan' and 'Overtaken by Events' that it is a 'non issue'. He further mentions in his article, "Any writer has the right to shape material". Authors are entitled to similar license and that doesn't make the account a 'lie'

Questions have been raised about the salary drawn by Greg Mortenson as executive director of CAI, the funds collected from book signing ceremonies and the honoraria he receives from speaking engagements. His talks attract thousands of people, who come to listen to his remarkable adventures and how one man's determination and character cannot only change the fate of thousands of young boys and girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but also achieve the larger objective of peace in the region.

CAI, in response to a question about their economic interest in the book has said, "CAI benefits directly from Greg's books which are integral to accomplishing our mission. They are the primary means of raising awareness among Americans and the international community. Our success in raising funds is directly related to the success of Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, both of which educate readers about advancing peace and stability in the region." (more at www.ikat.org)

The CAI is focusing on sustainability and has honestly declared, "CAI has also been saving funds, now in excess of $20 million, that can be used to maintain the schools and its programmes on a sustained basis for years to come."

Ethan Casey in his article quotes Sadia Ashraf, the outreach coordinator for Three Cups of Tea. "What we're doing with that money is we're keeping it," Sadia tells Casey, "so that everyone of the CAI schools can have an endowment. The fact that I don't have to worry about fundraising twenty years from now, because Greg is worrying about it now – that is genius. He still lives in that two-bedroom house. He still wears the same suit he wore a decade ago, and a tie that has the fashion sense of 1992. He wears an old pair of loafers that are worn down. Every single dollar that CAI earns is because of the outreach that Greg does. He spends 200 days a year away from his family, because he truly believes in the empowerment of women and girls."

Volumes can be written in support of Greg Mortenson, but I would only like to say that even if he has flaws, even if he is disorganised, he is "Our Hero". Certainly, improvements and greater efficiencies can be effected. But that should be through well meaning dialogue and suggestions. The role of the media too is critical. Evoking religious sentiments or terming his mission 'Books for Bombs' a military strategy does great disservice not only to the man and his work, but indeed to our own country ravaged as it is by lack of education and religious fundamentalism. It is instructive to note that 'Three Cups of Tea' is required reading for all servicemen serving in Afghanistan, so they know that they are dealing with human lives.

The future of thousands of girls and women is at stake here. If we cannot marvel at the value of Dr Mortenson's passion and commitment, let us at least treat it with the deference and consideration that it deserves. What happens in one part of the world affects all others. The effects of this controversy will spread far and wide. Philanthropists and the common man, the world over, may well have second thoughts. All the painful journeys that Greg has made, all the dangers that he has braced, may be compromised. The little girls, who now wear uniforms every morning to go to school, may again be confined to their homes. There will be no more Jehans, Tahiras and Nasreens. They depend on their Dr. Greg as their brightest ray of hope to take the next step towards the journey of a thousand miles. Tashakkur, Greg, we pray for your health and stand by your side!



The writer is a speech therapist.

Email: sadafshah01@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

PHILANTHROPY OR AGENDA?

AZIZ ALI DAD

 

The controversy about the authenticity of projects undertaken by Greg Mortenson through his Central Asian Institute (CAI) in northern Afghanistan and Gilgit-Baltistan and the financial irregularities in CAI has created a furore in the international media. In the ensuing debate arguments of his votaries and detractors have focused only on Mortenson's personality. Indeed, the controversy surrounding his philanthropic initiatives is a manifestation of global philanthropy and its discontents, which are a product of broader power relations and of the economic structure of the world dominated by a neo-liberal political and economic regime.

Mortenson's book Three Cups of Tea is a New York Times bestseller. The author is accused of fabricating "some of the most dramatic and inspiring stories" in Three Cups of Tea and committing irregularities in the finances of the CAI. The impression he gives in the book is that he brought civilisation to the region of Gilgit-Baltistan to ward off the pernicious effects of Taliban ideology through education. Interestingly, the region, especially Baltistan, where he claimed to have set up schools, does not even have Taliban supporters, let alone the Taliban themselves.

Mortenson gives the impression that nobody had worked in this field before in the areas where he operated, and that he remained undeterred despite all odds and threats. That is why his representation of the region reeks of condescension. Amidst illiteracy and darkness the protagonist appears to be an emissary of civilisation who is bringing light to the dark spots of the earth. Philanthropic activities appear to be humanitarian, but there is a colonial mindset behind them. Mortenson reminds you of Western scholars who provided moral justification for their countries' interventions in foreign countries during the colonial period.

There is no denying the fact that philanthropic interventions through soft initiatives can be used to defeat the scourge of terrorism, violence, ignorance and extremism. Unfortunately, the "soft" component of the counterterrorism strategy has become embedded within disaster capitalism. That is why initiatives of the soft component in development attract development professionals in droves to reap the benefits from reconstruction project in the aftermath of a war or disaster. No one can object to the opening of girls' schools, but the question is: why it is always necessary to declare an area of intervention as being a land of obscurantism and ignorance, where the society is necessarily uncivilised? It is to provide a justification for the wiping out of all vestiges of the indigenous system and turning the society into a clean slate so that a neo-liberal economic script can be written with philanthropy used as an excuse.

In the case of Mortenson, the American Institute of Philanthropy reportedly stated that the CAI spent $1.7 million in "book-related expenses." According to the Institute, this is more than the CAI spent on schools in Pakistan. He has succeeded in finding a niche as a bestselling writer and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize through his manoeuvring of the public-relations industry and the media. Most surprisingly, this non-scholarly book is required reading for American officers posted to Afghanistan and it is through it that they see and understand Afghanistan and Pakistan. The effects of such artificial philanthropy do not remain confined to economics. They also determine our perception of "the other."

A real danger of the collusion of philanthropy with the neo-liberal agenda is that genuine philanthropic initiatives in future will be jeopardised when a bad precedent is set in a local setting. The events of Mortenson's becoming a bestselling writer and his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize on the basis of false claims of development is an example of the modus operandi of the neo-liberal discourse which presents philanthropy as a viable solution to problems. Angela M Eikenberry and Patricia Mooney Nickel in their research about philanthropy in the age of fast capitalism and global governance say that "in its subordination of benevolence to money, the current texts of philanthropy stabilise the very system that results in suffering."

To address the discontents of neo-liberal philanthropy, there is the need to harness passion for philanthropy to eliminate the social, political, cultural and economic injustices that create a condition for it on the one hand, and rejecting a philanthropy that creates a storm in three teacups of the development sector. Real philanthropy strives to finish its own reason of existence by eliminating conditions of need and poverty, whereas neo-liberal philanthropy sustains itself by feeding on the condition that the generate need for it.



The writer is a social scientist associated with a rights-based organisation in Islamabad. Email: azizalidad@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

FATA: A LITMUS TEST

AYAZ WAZIR

 

 

The writer is a former ambassador who belongs to Fata.

The tribal areas of Pakistan will be the litmus test for what the prime minister said during his recent visit to Afghanistan. Although the winds of change have been blowing in Afghanistan for the last 40 years, there has been no change in the adjoining tribal areas of Pakistan. Let us be optimistic, even at the cost of deceiving ourselves - let's believe that this time, the government is serious about bringing change in its policy towards Afghanistan which will have a direct bearing on Fata.

This visit being the second in four months is in itself an indicator of the importance that the government attaches to its relations with Afghanistan. Inclusion of the army chief and DG ISI in the prime minister's delegation has demonstrated the fact that the civil and military establishment are now on the same page in terms of dealing with the situation in Afghanistan.

The visit could be ground-breaking in view of what the prime minister said in his press conference at Kabul. It should be an Afghan-led solution, a home-based solution and no outside formula, he said while talking about the problems in Afghanistan. It appeared as though, for the first time, each side's concerns were being addressed and a new chapter was being written in the history of relations between the two countries. Those who keep a close eye on development in the areas knew that the civil and military authorities were not on the same page, but what the prime minister said negated this impression.

Both countries have a long history of mutual distrust, suspecting interference by each other's intelligence agencies in their internal affairs. The Afghans have been more vocal in expressing these reservations accusing the ISI of being responsible for the fast deteriorating situation in their country. This was evident in a meeting recently held in Islamabad between members of parliaments of the two countries. The emphasis of the Afghan side was on the need for close cooperation between intelligence agencies which they thought would lead to improvement of relations between the two governments. It is interesting to note that while people to people contacts have always remained excellent, relations between the two governments have not been free of acrimony.

Another factor contributing to this distrust has been Pakistan's reservation over the increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan. During his visit to Islamabad, President Karzai tried to assuage this concern through a statement terming Pakistan and Afghanistan as conjoined twins, not separable from each other, whereas India was declared just a friend.

The prime minister reciprocated in a befitting manner in his recent visit to Kabul and his utterances of an Afghan-led solution free of an outside formula must have sounded like music to Karzai's ears. The timing of the visit was perfect for such a gesture, as relations between the ISI and the CIA have taken a new turn and are no longer as trouble-free as before, or as they should have been after the Raymond Davis episode, and also considering the cold shoulder given to the DG ISI in Washington.

Leon Panetta, director CIA, had told Gen Pasha that it was his fundamental responsibility to protect the American people, and he would not halt operations that supported that objective. I wish our rulers had felt similar emotions when deciding to fight somebody else's war on our own soil. We still have time to demonstrate that resolve, and steer toward a path independent of foreign influence.

The propping up of India by the US while dealing with the situation in Afghanistan and in countering influence of China and Russia in the region may have been another factor influencing Islamabad's decision to revisit its policy – if it can be called so at this stage – towards Afghanistan.

The policy that Pakistan has followed so far has neither enabled Islamabad to achieve its objectives nor has it benefited the country politically or economically in terms of its foreign relations. Pakistan instead witnessed political isolation and economic sanctions encouraging its financial dependence upon powers that it joined as a front line ally in the war on terror but who keep repeating the "do more" mantra without any understanding or regard for our constraints or interests.

Peace will not return to the area nor will prosperity visit the region without close cooperation between Kabul and Islamabad. Gwadar will not become a hub of economic activity unless Afghanistan is in peace. Only a peaceful Afghanistan can make our dream of having a reliable overland link with the Central Asian Republics come true. It would thus be appropriate only if the policy line, as indicated by the prime minister, is put into practice without further delay.

The tribal areas, as we all know, share many similarities with Afghanistan. In addition to historical, religious, ethnic and cultural links, the two have a unique relationship in the sense that a situation in one affects the other immediately. It will thus be prudent on the part of the government to reconsider its policy towards Fata, of which there are no signs, and to agree to the demands of the tribesmen of having a person amongst them as governor who should have a council of two elected/selected tribesmen from each tribal agency (to give representation to each tribe) to run the day to day affairs. It should also amend the FCR forthwith and initiate, at the same time, mega developmental projects in the area. The governor and his council must not be impeded in their function by the army or else that will be another exercise in futility.

If the government is serious about what our prime minister said in Kabul, and so far we have no reason to suspect otherwise, then it should take the first steps in Fata by decolonising it, giving its people the right to manage their own affairs. This will send positive signals to the people across the Durand line that Islamabad is serious this time about winning the hearts and minds of the people across the border. This in turn may also lead to permanent friendship between the two people, a desire of which the COAS made mention in his address at Nato's headquarters in Brussels.

Once friendship is established and confidence built, it will pave the way for peaceful resolution of the problem on a permanent footing. Only then can Gwadar port be linked with the riches of the Central Asian Republics and turn the area into a trade centre of the world.

Acting upon what the prime minister articulated in Kabul would be a win-win situation for all. Fata will have self-rule like other provinces in the country, Afghanistan will have peace, Pakistan will have strategic friendship instead of non-existent "strategic depth", and the US with its other allies in Nato, will have reasons to begin the long awaited withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.



Email address: waziruk@hotmail.com

 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PM'S MISPLACED OPTIMISM ABOUT INDIA

 

THERE can be no two opinions about the need for good ties between Pakistan and India, as without this there can't be durable peace and prosperity in South Asia. It is, perhaps, in this perspective that Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday pointed out that constructive engagement with India was vital for good ties.

We would, however, differ with the Prime Minister in that his optimism about 'constructive engagement' with India was misplaced and this is borne out by unending series of talks between the two countries during the span of about 64 long years. Throughout, Pakistan has tried to give substance to the dialogue process but India never showed the same level of reciprocity as a result of which the two countries were pushed back to square one as far as resolution of the longstanding disputes is concerned. Pakistan has even demonstrated remarkable flexibility in addressing the fundamental issues like that of Jammu and Kashmir, as it believed that without its final settlement there can't be genuine peace and process in the region. However, India participated in the dialogue process with the sole objective of promoting economic ties sans progress towards resolution of the core issues. India always wanted to establish its political and economic hegemony in the region and turn Pakistan into a market for its products. And it seems New Delhi has, to some extent, succeeded in its objective as the list of tradable items is increasing every year and of late India is also offering Pakistan energy and diesel export. We are also mindful of the fact that there was no harm if cheaper goods are imported at short notice from India, which is economical from commercial point of view but normal trading ties are not possible or advisable when Indian occupation forces are shedding blood of innocent Kashmiri people. In our view, the attitude of the worthy Prime Minister after his Mohali visit has further softened towards India and he was attaching undue importance to the dialogue process that is unlikely to yield any positive outcome without genuine commitment on the part of New Delhi to address the core issues. We also believe that there is no point in continuing the dialogue progress for an indefinite period, as India is exploiting the process to consolidate its illegal and illegitimate hold on Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore, there must be timeframe for talks and progress on all agenda items should be in tandem, as was the position adopted by Pakistan in the past.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

ATTACKS ON NAVY'S STAFF BUSES

 

TERRORISTS struck once again in Karachi and this time they attacked two staff buses of Pakistan navy when the staff was going to their duties. Such attacks are part of the conspiracy of the enemy and are carried out whenever there is laxity in security with the sole purpose to weaken Pakistan.


Pakistan Navy is a formidable force tasked to secure the maritime boundaries of the country and is performing its duties in line with demands of the time. It is not involved in any operation against militants and therefore targeting of naval personnel could not be considered as a retaliation. However the banned TTP has claimed responsibility of the blasts and it appears that certain inimical forces are trying to demoralize the Pakistan Navy and then implement their nefarious designs. The timing of the attacks, which took place in a space of few minutes to each other, indicate that the militants had complete information of their movement and were in sight of the buses when they detonated the explosives killing four personnel and injuring 56 others. It reflects how well organised the militants are in the mega city and we fear they might launch more such suicide bombings. Earlier in 2002, a coach carrying French naval engineers and technicians was bombed as it left a hotel in Karachi killing 14 people and that attack led to the withdrawal of French Engineers thus suspending the work on the construction of Agosta submarine. There could be several reasons behind the latest attack as Pakistan Navy is playing an important role to stop the arms and narcotics smuggling as well. Suicide attacks against the security forces are not new and are carried out to demoralize them but these attempts have further strengthened the determination of the guardians of our borders. Pakistan armed forces had risen to the occasion in war and peace in the past and we have no doubt that they have the will and capacity to defeat all conspiracies against the motherland. The need however is to show greater alertness and bring an end to the attacks as we witnessed in Karachi. For this the intelligence agencies must redouble their efforts and unearth the hideouts of the militants, the planners and executioners of dastardly acts and those financing them.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PBC'S IDEA FOR NATIONAL ECONOMIC AGENDA

 

PAKISTAN Business Council (PBC), a conglomerate of the country's top business concerns, has come out with a highly laudable initiative of convening a moot of the political parties in a bid to develop a common national economic agenda. According to its vibrant Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Kamran Y Mirza, their objective is to seek an agreement on a common long-term strategy for better economic management of the country.

Since its inception, PBC has been instrumental in creating awareness about economic issues and the need for a sustained and coherent approach to address them for the good of the country. They have been having interaction with governmental leadership and other stakeholders for the purpose but convening of the APC type moot for developing national economic agenda assumes greater significance in view of the precarious economic conditions of the country. Unfortunately, the Government remained victim of politicking during the last three years with negligible emphasis on economic issues as a result of which our woes are complicating with the passage of time. Whatever measures the Government tried to adopt in the past could not succeed due to lack of ownership by the business community and therefore, the plan for national economic agenda and that too supported by PBC inspires confidence for resolution of the economic challenges. Those constituting PBC have required experience and made success stories in different spheres of economy and we are fully convinced that they would show the way out of the exiting mess. We hope that the Business Council leadership would organise frequent interactions at different levels and tiers and push forward its idea to a successful conclusion so that it forms the basis for the forthcoming budget.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

DRONE: A US WEAPON OF CHOICE

ASIF HAROON RAJA

 

Gen Musharraf who had accepted all the seven demands of USA in September 2001 had also agreed to allow employment of drones for acquisition of intelligence. However, unmanned Predator was offensively fired for the first time on June 18, 2004 in South Waziristan (SW) to kill Taliban leader Nek Muhammad when he signed a peace deal with the Army. In 2005, two strikes took place on 14 May and 30 November killing seven people. On 13 January 2006, a house in Damadola village in Bajaur was targeted in which several sleeping women and children were killed. Another drone strike was made against a religious seminary in village Chenagai in Bajaur on 30 October 2006 killing 80 young students. This strike was conducted a day before a peace deal was to be signed with the Taliban in Bajaur. The two strikes in Bajaur were intended to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri. Rather than questioning Washington and warning it to refrain from such unfriendly acts, the Army imprudently took the blame to prevent rise of anti-Americanism. It stirred up anti-Army sentiments among people of FATA.

In 2007, four drone strikes took place in the months of January, April, June and November killing 74 persons. In 2008 the number of attacks rose to 36 resulting in deaths of 296. Most strikes were in North Waziristan (NW) and SW. After Barack Obama replaced George Bush, rate of strikes in January 2009 accelerated to 55 and death toll to 709. The whole brunt came on SW and NW. There were reports in September last that the US military was secretly diverting more drones and weaponry from Afghanistan and deploying along Pakistan border. This was in line with the US stated fears that FATA in general and NW in particular had become the hub centre of terrorism and base of al-Qaeda leadership. In 2010 the death toll reached 1000 as a result of 225 strikes, which was the heaviest. 51 strikes were made between September and December 2010 killing 451 people. Maximum attacks came against NW and SW, with 98% strikes in NW.

Total drone strikes from 2004 till 13 April 2011 were 246 murdering 2306. Well over 90% of 2306 killed were unarmed civilians. Kenneth Anderson says that Obama administration unambiguously believes in the strategic advantage of drone policy because it offers 'best hope for regional stability and success in dealing with al-Qaeda and incorrigible Taliban'. The excessive use of drones has turned our tribal belt into killing field. The severe backlash has come in the form of suicide, bomb and terrorist attacks in cities killing over 22000 innocent civilians.

The policy is domestically saleable in USA since it doesn't endanger lives of troops on ground. The US is justifying excessive use of drones in NW on the plea that since Pak Army is not launching a military operation in that region, drones are the only substitute available to win war without proclaiming a new war in Pakistan. Drones have been described as the weapons of choice in fighting al-Qaeda. The US has however not been able to offer any legal justification for the attacks but covers it up by saying that these are effective means. The US objects to extra judicial killings of terrorists but feels no compunction in resorting to target killings to kill terrorists and unarmed civilians.

Worth of a Muslim in the eyes of Americans can be gauged from the discriminatory payment of compensations to families of victims of terrorism. The US pays $2000 to families of civilians killed by US-NATO. The families of those who had been killed in 9/11 blasts received $2 million. Not a single penny has been paid to unarmed civilians killed by drones in FATA. Pakistan had experienced wars, insurgencies, bomb attacks and natural calamities but had never experienced suicide attacks or drone attacks. These two which have afflicted Pakistan in the aftermath of 9/11 are much more lethal than any other hazard. Bodies of victims of drones are shred into pieces and flesh and bones collected for burial. While the people of affected area do not have the means to confront the unmanned flying machines, the air force has the capability but cannot respond due to lack of will of the political leadership, which has perhaps secretly given its approval as was disclosed by WikiLeaks and American officials.

Under intense public pressure the rulers have now started beseeching US officials to put an end to this madness. Ignoring Pakistan's repeated protests that drones are not curbing but fuelling extremism and terrorism, USA is continuing to use this destructive weapon recklessly. Violation of territorial integrity and sovereignty and killing people amounts to declaring war on Pakistan but the US still hypocritically asserts that Pakistan is its non-NATO ally and a strategic partner and indiscriminate use of drones is in its interest. The US has refused to transfer drone technology to Pakistan. Drone technology has appealed to several countries afflicted with scourge of terrorism since it helps in overcoming laborious and time consuming exercise of locating, capturing and trying the terrorists in courts. Pakistan, Russia, Georgia, Brazil, China and Israel are reportedly developing weaponized drone technology.

Drone attacks abruptly stopped when Raymond Davis a CIA undercover agent was arrested on 27 January. It was found that he and Jonathan Banks, who has fled to USA, were the master coordinators of drone war in Pakistan. Chips used for making the drones home on to intended targets were found on the person of Davis. On the following day of his release on 16 March under dubious circumstances, a deadly drone attack came on a peace Jirga in Dattakhel in NW killing 48 people. The unfortunate incident took anti-Americanism in Pakistan to new heights. The elders of Waziristan belonging to various tribes vowed to avenge the deaths.

The incident was vociferously condemned by Gen Kayani. A strong message was conveyed by him to his counterpart in Pentagon and by DGISI to Leon Panetta that Pak Army and ISI would cease to cooperate with USA in war on terror if such offensive acts are taken against an ally. They were told in clear terms that Pakistan should not be taken for granted and treated both as an ally and a target suiting US whims. The term used by Colin Powel in September 2001 that 'you are either with us or against us' is now applicable to USA itself. Lt Gen Pasha on his recent meeting with Panetta and Mike Mullen at CIA HQ in Langley, Virginia once again pressed the hosts to put an end to counter productive use of drones and also call back CIA undercover agents stationed in Pakistan.

Drone attack on 13 April in SW broke the 25-day lull and it appears that despite strong objections raised by Pakistan the US is bent upon making use of drones. Drones have become a core irritant in counter-terror campaign and have tensed Pak-US relations. Gen Wynne and Gen Kayani during their meetings with visiting Adm Mike Mullen have conveyed their serious concerns asserting that drones were not only fuelling terrorism but turning the public against the Army. Foreign office too has lodged strong protests, while Imran Khan has announced sit-in across the GT Road in Peshawar to block movement of NATO supplies. To calm down raised tempers of military brass, Mullen promised to provide 85 small 'Raven' mini-drones to Pakistan. While this technology may or may not be transferred, it is hoped that the US sets aside its cruel practice of target killing Muslims with drones and become more humane and civilized. Today drone has become a weapon of choice for USA. What happens when this weapon fails and the US makes nuclear bomb a weapon of choice?

—The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

EXTREMISM BREEDS EXTREMISM

NAZIA NAZAR

 

The danger of nuclear arsenals is considered as an imminent threat to this globe; however, the real enemy the world confronts today is extremism. Unfortunately, the words 'extremists' and 'extremism' are considered as synonyms for Muslims and Islam only, which is a flawed and biased perception propagated by the western media. The fact of the matter is that extremists could be found everywhere in the world belonging to every religion and creed.

The Christian pastor John Terry who has burnt the religious book of Muslims in a fit of acute hatred against Islam is as much a religious 'extremist' as those who retaliated by killing some UN workers in Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan. It is indicative of how extremism breeds extremism and poses a threat to peace in the world. However, neither Christianity can be held responsible for the hate mongering act of Christian Pastor John Terry nor Islam should be blamed for the acts of those misguided Muslims who resort to violence and bloodshed to implement their agendas. In fact, generalizing an individual criminal act in religious perspective is utterly wrong, as this dangerous trend is polarizing the world and widening the gulf between different communities; thus hampering their peaceful co-existence.

Unfortunately, endorsing tirade against Islam and Muslims under the garb of freedom of expression has become a fashion of the day in west. Nevertheless, the motives are no other than getting cheap popularity and inciting Muslims to violence, and then blaming Islam for all the mess. The recent burning of Quran by Pastor John Terry and senior British politician Sion Owens is also an effort to express their hate against Islam and not to serve their religion whose teachings exhort love for humanity and prohibit the spreading of hatred and enmity. Nevertheless, Muslims' extreme violent reaction and unnecessarily media hype from the west to such incidents is serving the purpose of blasphemers and hate mongers, inspiring the likeminded to follow suit. However, despite resorting to violent means and punishing the innocents for such incidents, Muslims must raise their voice and invite the pro-pacifist world community to join hands with them against those hate-mongers who defame and insult someone's religion.

Likewise, the world community must not be oblivious to the fact that addressing the root causes of extremism is the only way out to realize the dream of making this world a land of peace. To achieve this objective, it is incumbent upon all the communities of the world to respect each other's faith and refrain from hurting the religious feelings of others. In this perspective, one must not ignore the demographic proportion of this world where Muslims are 1.5 billion ie about one fourth of total world population. And Islam is the second largest religion of the world after Christianity. However, hurting the feelings of second largest religious community in the name of freedom of expression is the real impediment in the way of interfaith harmony.

Unfortunately, freedom of expression has become a buzzword, and there are some people in the West who believe that unless they participate in tirade against Muslims they have not used their right to freedom of expression. However, when the question pertinent to the freedom of adopting a particular dress code comes to fore, the West always shows a double standard. Banning Burqa or veil in France and supporting and promoting nudity on the other extreme is a recent example which raises the question as to who would determine the rules to sanctify freedom with the right sense of justice. In fact, the perception is gaining currency among the Muslims that the term 'freedom' is being used to ridicule the Muslim world. On one hand, use of derogatory language or desecrating the holy book of Muslims is sanctioned in the name of freedom of expression, whereas on the other hand the very basic human right to live freely and peacefully according to one's wishes has been denied to Muslims in Palestine and Kashmir for last six decades. Such display of double standard is in fact the core issue which is embittering relations between the West and the Muslims more than ever before.

The need is to understand that limitless freedom has never been sanctified in a civilized world; nevertheless it has been a distinctive feature of a primitive society which was free from the compulsion of adhering to the rules and laws. Moreover, the situation necessitates understanding the difference between freedom of expression and freedom to offend someone, which mostly pushes one towards retaliation. To understand such an action and reaction phenomenon just think for a moment how would you react if someone resorts to derogatory language about you or your dear ones?

It might result into a brawl, or abusing in retaliation. If such a small offence gives rise to a hate vs hate phenomenon, how passions could be controlled or violence be avoided in case of blasphemy against a religion? The fact of the matter is that tirade always gives rise to major clashes pushing people towards endless enmity. For that very reason Islam, despite presenting the concept of oneness of God, prohibits Muslims from abusing the gods of non-believers and ordains 'abuse not those whom they (i.e. non-believers) call upon besides Allah' (Quran 6:109). Unfortunately, apostles of unbridled freedom of expression hardly look into the seriousness and sensitivity of blasphemy issue and its repercussions on today's world, which is confronted with the danger of terrorism posed by some militant organizations who remain busy in hunting down new recruitment. Since, blasphemy has been a boiling issue in Muslim world, so militant organizations find it an easy pretext to give a call to Muslim youth all over the world in the name of revenge. Hence, it strengthens the roots of terrorism and enhances the might of terrorist organizations and their dangerous agendas.

In this perspective, it would not be an exaggeration to conclude that the survival of this globe depends upon harmonious relations among different faiths, creeds and religions, which could be achieved only by tolerance, reverence and understanding. However, it does not mean that the doors of polemics and criticism should be closed forever. But criticism should be conducted in a healthy and positive environment and necessarily on scholarly level exhibiting one's wisdom and sense of intellectual reasoning and not someone's hatred, prejudice and personal vendetta. Moreover, using derogatory and abusive language against anyone's religion does not fall into the category of freedom of expression but it is indicative of a person's sickness of mind and low level of his human faculties. History is evident that great people and apostles of freedom never resorted to derogatory and mean kind of expressions. So why to defend tirade in the name freedom of expression at the cost of peace and harmonious relations among different communities?

—The writer is a Lahore-based freelance bilingual (English/Urdu) columnist.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

PASTOR JONES FAILS IN HIS MISSION

LETTER FROM AMERICA

BURHANUDDIN HASAN

 

Pastor Terry Jones, who had the audacity to burn the pages of the Holy Quran, had another evil plan to go to Dearborn, Michigan, where the largest Muslim Arab community in the United States resides, and hold a rally in front of the biggest mosque in America and speak against radical Islam, Shariah Law, and Jihad. He reached the mosque, with another pastor; both had pistols in their possession. A large majority of Muslims had also gathered in front of the mosque, and there was likelihood of a clash.

Luckily however, Pastor Jones, and his colleagues who were posing a threat to public safety were arrested on the orders of a jury, and one of his followers was arrested as well. The two men later posted bond, and were released from jail. The prosecutor argued that Pastor Jones and his associate, Pastor Sapp, were free to speak in one of the cities, for "free speech" zones, but both the Pastors, opposed restrictions to their First Amendment rights on free speech and free assembly. The jury reached a unanimous verdict, that the pastors were a threat to public safety. The judge said the verdict required him to set a bond of $25,000, but taking a lenient view, the Pastors post dollar one bond each. The judgment also said that both the pastors cannot go to the Islamic Center of America, or the property nearby, for the length of the bond, which was 14 years. The rally that had been scheduled for 5 p.m., never took place.

Pastor Jones told the jurors that he and Pastor Sapp had come in peace in Dearborn, a city of 98,000 people, out of which 32,000 residents are Arab Muslims. Both pastors asserted that they didn't intend to burn the Quran, as they had done last month in Florida. The judge said that he and the jurors were not trying to suppress the free speech rights of the pastors, but opposed the timing and the location of the planned rally. Dearborn police chief said his department was aware of 300 death threats against Pastor Jones and Sapp.

It was the first time in U.S. history, that a Christian leader, of a small church in Florida, had the courage to desecrate the Holy Quran, and then reached a city which had the largest Muslim population, and openly challenged the Islamic Shariah Law, and radicalism in Islam. These Christian leaders were not aware that Islam has the greatest regard for Christianity and all other religions sent down by God to the world. Islam has urged Muslims to respect Christianity and their Holy book, the Bible. Islam believes that Christ was a very important figure among all the Middle-Eastern religions, sent by God. As regards the Shariah Laws, they are mostly based on the interpretation of the divine laws given by God in the Quran. Had Pastor Jones made a comparative study of the Bible and the QURAN, he would have found great affinity between Islam and Christianity. As regards, radicalism and terrorism, let loose by some misguided Muslims, who were not aware of Islam's teachings, which doesn't allow terrorism in any form.

Islam in fact, is a religion of tolerance and peaceful coexistence with Christianity and all other religions, sent down by God, for the guidance of not only Muslims, but for all the humanity. Pastor Jones' interpretation of Islamic laws is based on his ignorance about Quran, and even the spirit of Christianity. To the best of our knowledge, no Christian religious leader has ever interpreted Islamic laws like Pastor Jones has done. Muslims, have been living in the United States for quite a long time, in a spirit of tolerance of each others' religion and laws.

It is obvious that Pastor Jones' interpretation of Islamic laws was meant to create hatred among Muslims and Christians. It is highly satisfying for Muslims of America that a U.S. court punished Pastor Jones and his colleague. Though this punishment is only symbolic, but it will create precedence for other Christian leaders who want to create rift among Muslims and Christians, living in America, with amity and goodwill.

One hopes that President Obama, who had strongly condemned the idea of burning the pages of the Quran, will take serious notice of Pastor Jones' recent move in Dearborn, which could have resulted in bloodshed, if it were not stopped by the court. It is obvious that America's alliance with Pakistan in curbing terrorism and radicalism, by some Muslim religious parties requires a clear-cut action by the U.S government against certain Christian elements in America, which are creating hatred between Christians and Muslims living in the United States.

An American newspaper published in Toledo, Ohio, has called Pastor Jones obnoxious, self -promoter. The title may give too much credit, for his non-denomination church, of which has only about 30 members. It also says, the best way to respond to an anti-Islamic bigot, is to ignore him. Other former church members have said the Pastor was less interested in saving their souls, and more interested in making money. This is not to say, that his activities are harmless. Last month, after he staged a phony trial of the QURAN, the Islamic Holy Book for "crimes against humanity", and this deliberate incitement was broadcast online, when he soaked a copy of the QURAN in kerosene, and set it on fire. This generated protests in Afghanistan in which seven foreign employees and guards of the United Nations were killed in Mazaar-e-Sharif. In Kandahar, 12 protesters died in clashes with the police.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

GOVERNED BY DEAD PEOPLE?

MAHBOOB A KHWAJA

 

In wars, when an aggressor sees the defeat coming, it resorts to mass killings of the civilian population to avenge the fear of the unknown. To pursue its policy of global domination, now American strategists run death squads in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The aim is to terrorize the masses by drone attacks and death squads and destroy their habitats thus creating more reactionary terrorism through its paid political agents - the ruling elite. The cruelty of the American led bogus war on terrorism has transformed Pakistan into a non-productive beggar nation, solely looking to military and economic aid for all of its operations.

The army Generals and their by-products — the ruling Bhutto family-PPP Zardari, and in-waiting Nawaz Sharif (Muslim League-N), have infected the body politics of Pakistan with corruption and political tyranny, draining out all of the positive thinking and creative energies of the nation for change, development and a promising future. Bhuttos and the Zardari gang must be tried for crimes against the people of Pakistan. If the law and justice system is in tact, these political thugs and indicted criminals should not be allowed to hold offices of public responsibility but be held accountable in a court of law. The besieged nation MUST see itself in the mirror and learn from the dead past, to change the future course of history and to articulate a new beginning - a new political system under the new educated generation of honest, intelligent and visionary leadership to strive for a promising future. When pretension and stingy greed give life to politically manipulated leadership, treachery and oppression become the rule of political governance in which people are seen as the eggs and chickens, conveniently broken and slaughtered and politicians are akin to assume the above normal role play lacking legitimacy and accountability. Pakistani politics regrettably as is, a venture of intrigues, self-engineered conspiracies and dead roll calls to explain the history of this beleaguered nation.

Feudal lords are the political masters, and Bhutto family with complacent army Generals, has been one of them to unfold a naïve and destructive chapter of the Pakistan's political misfortunes. Mr. ZA Bhutto, the leader of the PPP, his daughter Benazir Bhutto, two of her brothers, all are dead but they still ruling the country by Zardari as the latest example. Alive or dead, Bhutto family has been the centre of political intrigues and destructive problems in Pakistan. How irrational and untrue it seems that dead people are leading the living masses of Pakistan? The business of the dead as usual. A situation comparable to the present day Iraq under the American-British occupation.

Pakistan, a Muslim nation of living people is governed by physically, morally and politically dead people who cannot change the course of history nor make any difference to the present volatile politics carving a hopeless future. Islamically, dead are those who are forgetful of the memory of Allah, ignorant and arrogant people devoid of public accountability. The PPP regime under Zardari meets the set criterion requirements. The political elite sees its best interests in engaging with dead ideas and foreign strategies and buying time for good times at the expense of the nation toll of miseries and havoc social and political conditions. The overwhelming occupation of the dead minds and souls is to see how best they could exploit the common citizens or to get foreign monetary assistance to finance the self and bogus projects for change and economic development.

A century earlier, Robert Briffault (The Making of Humanity), made a candid observation which amicably represents the contemporary Pakistani politics: "The men who have most injured and oppressed humanity, who have most deeply sinned against it, were according to their standards and their conscience, good men; what was bad in them, what wrought moral evil and cruelty."

Leaders do lead or they are imposters and stage puppets. The criterion requirements determine the role of leaders as standing for righteousness, not for falsehood. They cherish the collective interests and good of the masses and defy the obsession of egoistic self-interests and they are always open to listening, learning and capable of making navigational change, if the facts of life warrant such a change. Western democratic nations eagerly search and patronize new and creative talents and people with visionary leadership outlook and merits. This appears to be a rare commodity in Pakistani politics. To change the adverse historical trend, Pakistan is desperate for new, educated and intelligent proactive leadership to facilitate a sustainable future for the nation.

In a knowledge-driven global age of rising expectations and public accountability, most developed societal politics would set criterion requirements and define standards of quality and specifications for performance in jobs/role-plays and in positions of greater public responsibility. Why are not there any written standards and defined criterion requirements for the positions of the President, Prime Ministers and Ministers and MP's in Pakistan? Should the Constitution not define such salient features and characteristics of the vital office bearers? Is there any law and justice system in the country to protect the interests of the beleaguered masses? Are the leaders not supposed to provide intellectual security and sense of direction in crises, and a visionary picture of the future to the nation they claim to represent? Under what operational system, do thugs and indicted criminals get legitimacy and approval to hold public offices for which they do not even qualify?

—The writer specializes in global

security, peace and conflict resolution.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

MAKE YOUR WEAKNESS, YOUR STRENGTH..!

VIEWS FROM ABROAD

ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

Many years ago, a close friend of mine from the south came to Mumbai and joined a newspaper, one of his jobs was to review Hindi movies, "How do you know Hindi so well?" I asked him, knowing that in those days there was an aversion to the national language where he came from.

He smiled at me and said, "I was very weak at Hindi and then one summer I fell sick and couldn't sit for my exams, so my dad asked me what I'd like to do, and I told him, I'd like a tutor who would help me master Hindi!" "Why?" I asked him. "I wanted to turn my weakness into my strength!" he said and we both chuckled.

There was a 10-year-old boy who decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident. The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn't understand why, after three months of training, the master had taught him only one move. "Sensei," the boy finally said, "Shouldn't I be learning more moves?" "This is the only move I can teach a one arm person and the only move you'll ever need to know," the Sensei replied. Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training. Several months later, the Sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals.

This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the Sensei intervened. "No," the Sensei insisted, "Let him continue."

Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.

On the way home, the boy and Sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind. "Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?" "You won for two reasons," the Sensei answered. "First, you've almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm; you don't have one, right? You turned your weakness into your strength..!"

—Email: bobsbanter@gmail.com

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

LEAKS REVEAL TERRORISM CONCERN

GUANTANAMO papers show why authorities were worried.

Wikileaks documents have been paid unduly high regard by some sections of the media when the leaks have suited their particular world view. Thus when diplomatic cables revealed Australian politicians routinely met with US diplomats to discuss politics, the Fairfax press breathlessly reported "Yanks in the ranks". But when the information in leaked documents doesn't suit a pre-ordained agenda, some seek to contest or downplay the information. The truth is, of course, the information contained in leaked diplomatic cables and other documents needs to be judged on its merits.

The latest revelations are documents relating to Guantanamo Bay and, in particular, the two Australian detainees, David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib, which have been incongruously discounted by some. The documents do contain some obvious errors, but they also provide an insight into allegations and evidence assembled by the US about these two detainees.

The documents are not primary intelligence material, but rather summaries relating to each man, so clearly errors could have been made in their compilation. In fact, there is not a great deal of information contained in the leaks that was not already on the public record through previous legal proceedings and statements. The most concerning new revelation is that "under extreme duress" in his native Egypt Mr Habib had admitted to planning a Qantas plane hijacking. This is perturbing both because of the startling allegation, which Mr Habib later recanted and still denies, and because the reference to duress lends weight to Mr Habib's claim that he was tortured by Egyptian authorities.

Seen in toto the leaks explain exactly why the US and Australian authorities were interested in these men. Charges were not laid against Mr Habib and he was returned to Australia a free man. After a range of charges and extended legal manoeuvring, Mr Hicks pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism and served the remainder of his sentence in Australia before being released.

The Australian maintains doubts about the military commission process and the extended delays in administering justice at Guantanamo Bay. While the Australian government must maintain its vigilance on security matters, it must also do all it can to ascertain exactly what happened to Mr Habib while he was in the custody of the Egyptian authorities.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

LEAKS REVEAL TERRORISM CONCERN

GUANTANAMO PAPERS SHOW WHY AUTHORITIES WERE WORRIED.

Wikileaks documents have been paid unduly high regard by some sections of the media when the leaks have suited their particular world view. Thus when diplomatic cables revealed Australian politicians routinely met with US diplomats to discuss politics, the Fairfax press breathlessly reported "Yanks in the ranks". But when the information in leaked documents doesn't suit a pre-ordained agenda, some seek to contest or downplay the information. The truth is, of course, the information contained in leaked diplomatic cables and other documents needs to be judged on its merits.

The latest revelations are documents relating to Guantanamo Bay and, in particular, the two Australian detainees, David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib, which have been incongruously discounted by some. The documents do contain some obvious errors, but they also provide an insight into allegations and evidence assembled by the US about these two detainees.

The documents are not primary intelligence material, but rather summaries relating to each man, so clearly errors could have been made in their compilation. In fact, there is not a great deal of information contained in the leaks that was not already on the public record through previous legal proceedings and statements. The most concerning new revelation is that "under extreme duress" in his native Egypt Mr Habib had admitted to planning a Qantas plane hijacking. This is perturbing both because of the startling allegation, which Mr Habib later recanted and still denies, and because the reference to duress lends weight to Mr Habib's claim that he was tortured by Egyptian authorities.

Seen in toto the leaks explain exactly why the US and Australian authorities were interested in these men. Charges were not laid against Mr Habib and he was returned to Australia a free man. After a range of charges and extended legal manoeuvring, Mr Hicks pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism and served the remainder of his sentence in Australia before being released.

The Australian maintains doubts about the military commission process and the extended delays in administering justice at Guantanamo Bay. While the Australian government must maintain its vigilance on security matters, it must also do all it can to ascertain exactly what happened to Mr Habib while he was in the custody of the Egyptian authorities.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

BOOM OR BUST? MIXED MESSAGES FOR TAXPAYERS

SPENDING CUTS ARE NEEDED IN STATE CAPITALS AND CANBERRA.

Budget season is upon us and the Australian people could be forgiven for being a little confused by the mixed economic messages being sent their way. Unemployment is at such an historic low that we debate how close we are to full employment, and policy-makers are grappling with measures to lure people out of their homes or away from welfare into the workforce to relieve our skills shortage. Our dollar is more valuable than the greenback, boosting our export income and generating historically beneficial terms of trade. The drought has broken across most of the continent (West Australians still look to the skies in hope), leading to a boost in the agriculture outlook. We have run out of superlatives to describe the dimensions of the resources boom, the investments it will bring and the income it will generate for workers and government revenue. Yet, for all this optimism, taxpayers are being softened up for budgetary hardship.

In Victoria and NSW, incoming Coalition governments have "discovered" budget black holes and are using them to explain the need to trim spending. In Canberra, Wayne Swan has found a dark lining even on the clear skies of the mining boom, claiming it won't generate the tax revenue of previous upturns.

As in most economic arguments, there is a grain of truth to support every claim. Premiers Ted Baillieu and Barry O'Farrell are right to look at the underlying structure of their budgets and curtail their spending to reach genuine budgetary balance. Yet some of their claims stretch the argument. Mr Baillieu, for instance, complains BER allocations for new school infrastructure has left him short by not funding the building maintenance. This is like being gifted a car and complaining about the lack of petrol vouchers. For all its waste and mismanagement, the BER program must have saved the states some capital expenditure, and the maintenance costs cannot be overly burdensome.

The expenditure side of state budgets have swollen over the past decade with public sector job and wages growth outstripping that in the private sector. This means that to structurally repair their budgets Mr Baillieu and Mr O'Farrell, and for that matter all the premiers, need to stand up to the public sector unions, particularly in the high-spending areas of health and education. Job numbers need to be curbed, particularly in non-productive parts of the bureaucracy, and wages need to be constrained to sustainable levels. All the more so because the revenue side of state budgets is increasingly restricted. The GST has the states increasingly dependent on federal funding, and that trend is set to continue, with the new mining tax perhaps removing royalty flexibility and poker machine reforms likely to reduce gambling tax revenue.

While the Treasurer might agree with the need for the states to improve their budget discipline, he must also indulge in some self-examination. He can blame some of his predicament on natural disasters and the need for GFC stimulus, but he has presided over shameful waste and locked himself into the ongoing NBN and BER, continuing expansionary spending at the same time he's looking to cut expenditure in his own budget. And, for all the talk, we have seen little real reform to improve efficiency in federal-/state relations.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

IT'S THE VISION THING, BARRY

TREASURY'S report into the NSW government's purported ''black hole'' reveals what a hamfisted job Barry O'Farrell is doing at informing the NSW public about the true position of the state's finances. Of the original claim of a $4.5 billion hole, Treasury finds only $1.9 billion could credibly be claimed as a discrepancy between the midyear budget review and Treasury's incoming brief to the government, and even this discrepancy ''accurately reflected available information at the time'' and was ''consistent with a robust approach to budgeting adopted by the NSW Treasury''.

And yet, despite this virtual absolution by the acting Treasury Secretary, Michael Lambert, of the Treasury head, Michael Schur - who is on ''gardening leave'' - it emerges O'Farrell intends to advertise the position, in effect ousting Schur. This is worrying indeed.

All this talk of ''black holes'' comes straight from the standard-issue political playbook. The political aim of the game is to discover a black hole big enough to justify deep cuts to the predecessor's projects to free up the funding needed to implement new ideas. But O'Farrell had us at hello. Residents of NSW want reform. At last month's election they delivered the Liberal Party perhaps the most resounding mandate given to any Australian government, state or federal, in recent political history. They know that tough decisions will be needed to reinvigorate the state's crumbling infrastructure without jeopardising the AAA credit rating. Voters did not depose the Labor government because it couldn't add up, but because it lacked vision and demonstrated an inability to formulate credible plans to underpin the state's development, especially in Sydney's transport infrastructure.

O'Farrell must understand that his mandate is as much about delivering a new style of public performance, of engagement with the public, as it is about increased investment in infrastructure. For an incoming government that rightly fought against spin from opposition, this heavy-handed use of ''black hole'' politics, not to mention hysterical comparisons between NSW budgeting and Enron, is not promising. Indeed, it may even be dangerously counterproductive.

In its handling of Schur, the Liberal leadership risks creating unnecessary fear and hostility in Treasury, the central economic decision-making department represented in cabinet. Incoming governments have always had the freedom to choose their department heads. If O'Farrell did not deem Schur a competent, or even desirable, head of Treasury, he could simply have stood him down. He did not need a smoking black hole to blast him out. How can this performance do anything but breed mistrust and cynicism?

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

HOPES, TOO, UNDERMINED

HOPES that America and its allies might soon be confident to start a drawdown of their forces in Afghanistan have been dealt a huge blow by the mass escape of Taliban prisoners in Kandahar. There will probably be an immediate adverse military effect, but a possibly even more fundamental psychological blow has already been delivered. If the precedent of the last mass escape at the Sarpoza jail is any guide - some 870 inmates including 390 Taliban were let loose when suicide attackers drove an explosive-filled vehicle into the gate in June 2008 - there will be a surge in attacks against the American-led coalition forces and Afghan government troops. The released fighters include dozens of the field-level commanders whom the coalition had been trying to kill or capture. These are the Taliban leaders who know how not to waste men in frontal attacks, but wear down their enemy in hit-and-run raids and explosive traps, and crucially, how to maintain a protective relationship with local populations.

In psywar terms, the mass escape may rank with the Tet offensive in Vietnam. The tunnel built from an ostensible construction depot in Kandahar city was a model of ingenuity and brazenness, allowing standing space for much of its length and fitted with electric lights and air circulation, and emerging right on target in the political wing holding the Taliban prisoners. Disposing of the excavated soil was simple: it was sold in the local market. Prisoners were given clothes to replace their prison stripes, and whisked into the night. Guards, many of them said to sleep on the job with the help of hashish and heroin, did not notice the empty cells until several hours later, as the Taliban helpfully pointed out in an English-language press release and mobile phone calls to correspondents.

The stunt has undermined the assertion of steady progress being made by coalition commanders. Importantly, it was aimed at demonstrating ineptness and lack of dedication in Afghan government ranks, a perception that will be helped by accusations already flying around of ''inside'' help for the escape. With America preparing to start withdrawing troops midyear, and encouraging talks with the Taliban via offices in Turkey or the Gulf, it was also intended to show a more sophisticated, clever Taliban than the turbanned fundamentalists of before. Unfortunately for our soldiers and their efforts, it seems to have succeeded.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

RAIL THE POOR RELATION FOR TOO LONG

HIGH among the reasons for the Coalition's victory in last November's state election was voter discontent with the Brumby government's record in provision of community services, especially public transport. As observers noted on election night, the collapse in Labor's support could be traced along the Frankston and Pakenham rail lines. After years of neglect of public transport by both sides of politics, the Coalition's plan for a new authority to take responsibility for planning and co-ordinating the system recognised that a fundamentally new approach was needed.

Since the election, little has been heard about the new central authority from the Baillieu government, which has been preoccupied with police matters and, as we also note on this page today, with preparations for next week's budget. Public transport has chiefly been mentioned in connection with the government's contentious plan for the deployment of station guards after dark. It must be hoped that the proposed authority will not gradually fade from the agenda, as the Brumby government's successive transport plans did. As The Age reported yesterday, rectifying the years of neglect will be no small task.

A study by the Australian Conservation Foundation has revealed that, measured as a percentage of the state's economic output, Victoria's spending on rail and light rail has been the lowest of any mainland state during the past decade. Only 0.11 per cent of gross state product was spent on railways, bridges and harbours, but three times as much was spent on roads. This was despite the fact that use of public transport soared during the same period, largely because of higher petrol prices.

Increases in petrol prices will continue, and the pressures on the transport system will increase along with them. Reversing priorities that stem from the Bolte government's decisions in the 1960s to build freeways to connect Melbourne is a daunting prospect, but the Baillieu government does not have the option of further delay. It has inherited from its predecessor one major project that will help to alleviate the problem, the $5 billion regional rail link, which will give V/Line services their own route into Melbourne. And, the government plans to build a rail line to Doncaster, the first new line in a metropolitan network that has essentially remained unchanged since 1930. These are welcome beginnings, but Victoria still awaits the substantial reform it was promised in November.


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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

A CAUTIONARY TALE OF TWO BOOM-TIME BUDGETS

WARNINGS OF TOUGH TIMES SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN AT FACE VALUE.

THE budget season should be a time of economic clarity, when governments reveal the state of the books and detail their policy priorities for the next 12 months, four years (the so-called forward estimates period) and (one hopes) well beyond. Unfortunately, the reality is different. In this age of what has come to be called ''spin'', too often the lead-up to budgets turns out to be a time of political positioning. We are seeing this again in 2011, as federal Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan and new state Liberal Treasurer Kim Wells seek to warn Australians and Victorians that they should expect tough and tight budgets in the next couple of weeks.

The process is no less lamentable for being time-honoured: treasurers talk up the extent of the problems in the hope that their governments will attain a political benefit when the budget turns out to be less severe than voters had been led to fear it might be. In observing this trend, we do not contest the fact that Mr Swan and Mr Wells have been confronted with particular difficulties as they construct the 2011-12 budgets, to be delivered on the next two Tuesdays, notably because of Australia's summer of natural disasters and, in the case of Victoria, because of cuts to previously expected GST revenues from the Commonwealth. We await the budget documents themselves before being in a position to judge exactly how substantial are the difficulties facing each jurisdiction. In the meantime, though, we suggest people take some of the woe-is-us rhetoric emanating from the treasurers at something less than face value.

Mr Swan's predecessor as federal treasurer, Peter Costello, was right when he argued in these pages yesterday that Australians are not living in normal economic times. ''We are living through a period of unprecedented prosperity in Australia's terms of trade. This is bigger than the gold rush of the mid-19th century,'' Mr Costello wrote, pointing to the fact that the Reserve Bank's index of commodity prices was at an all-time high in March and is nearly double where it was in 2006 and triple the levels of the late 1990s.

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Mr Swan is entitled to point out (as, indeed, is Mr Wells in the non-resources state of Victoria) that the benefits of the minerals boom are not being enjoyed evenly across what the federal Treasurer calls ''our patchwork economy''. He is correct, too, in saying the unprecedented strength of the Australian dollar is dragging down trade-exposed industries, notably tourism, education and manufacturing. Nonetheless, the minerals boom continues, the labour market is pleasingly close to what economists refer to as full employment, and underlying inflation remains at manageable levels in spite of the March quarter surge in consumer prices caused largely by the summer floods in Queensland's food bowl.

In Victoria, too, the economic story remains more positive than Mr Wells might have people believe, at least until he delivers his first budget next week. The state's triple-A credit rating appears safe, the Baillieu government is indicating it will be able to keep the budget in surplus and, as former Labor premier Steve Bracks writes in The Age today, more jobs have been created in this state over the past four years than in any other, and Victoria continues to report strong economic growth.

Certainly the $2.5 billion reduction in Victoria's GST revenues over the next four years contained in the Commonwealth Grants Commission's 2011 update has made Mr Wells's task more difficult. The Age believes the commission's ruling is unfair on Victoria and should be overturned by Mr Swan. But none of the pre-budget rhetoric from Mr Wells - or his federal counterpart - has persuaded us that now is the time for severe budget cuts or diminution of government services.


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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

THE ECONOMY: FLATLINING

UK plc has made back the income it lost – nothing more. This does not count as a recovery; it is more of a stabilisation

The following statement sounds unbelievable, yet it is true: yesterday, the GDP report confirmed that the UK economy has essentially flatlined since autumn; David Cameron described it as "good news". The inevitable question arises: what would the prime minister consider bad news? Because even Doctor Pangloss would struggle to greet that grim GDP release with a smile.

The line the government is keen to push about yesterday's report is that the economy grew 0.5% in the first three months of this year. Yes, not everything is picture-perfect, but manufacturing is going great guns, and the service sector is not far behind. And even if the figures show construction falling off a cliff, the statisticians might well be wrong. This is the story that Mr Cameron brought out at prime minister's questions yesterday; the first problem with it is that it is flatly contradicted by the chief statistician at the Office for National Statistics, Joe Grice, who yesterday morning described the economy as having been "on a plateau" since last summer. Yes, national income rose 0.5% in the three months to the end of March – but it slumped 0.5% in last winter's terrible snow. So all that has happened is that UK plc has made back the income it lost – nothing more. This does not count as a recovery; it is more of a stabilisation.

The second problem with Mr Cameron's story is that these figures are disappointing even by the reckoning of his own Office for Budget Responsibility. Just last month, the OBR – which now supplies the Treasury's macroeconomic forecasts – predicted that the economy would have grown 0.8% in the first quarter. There is more behind this than just a clash of numbers: the UK is actually underperforming. Two years out of a recession, the economy should be powering ahead, in a classic V-shaped recovery. Instead of which, the economy is limping along in what looks more like an L-shaped journey.

To reiterate, these figures are for the period from January to March – that is, before George Osborne's austerity programme began in earnest this month. They show the impact of this January's increase in VAT but not the other tax rises and spending cuts that have only just kicked in. This picture then is of an economy already in a perilously weak condition even before Whitehall, town halls and other parts of the public sector started making their biggest cuts. Against this backdrop, many Treasury ministers would be thinking about changing their strategy. Mr Osborne has yet to produce a Plan B – despite calls from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others. Yesterday, Jonathan Portes, former chief economist at the Cabinet Office, reiterated his call for "scaling back" the "fiscal overkill". Mr Portes worked in a senior policymaking capacity with coalition ministers until recently; his intervention deserves to be taken very seriously.

Instead of which, the government talks about the need for a growth strategy and unveils changes to the planning laws. The problem with this is threefold. One, the greatest threat to the economy at the moment is of insufficient demand – of families not buying things (for fear of job losses) and businesses not investing. Fiddling with what economists call the supply side will not help with that. Two, under Thatcher and Blair there have already been successive "bonfires of the red tape" and all the rest. And three, any payback from these reforms is likely to take a long time to materialise. What is needed now is another shot of government spending, or at least an easing of the spending cuts; but that is a political impossibility, given Mr Osborne's rhetoric that any such thing would be reckless.

Meanwhile, unemployment continues to rise and wage rises are not keeping pace with high inflation. Cabinet colleagues of Mr Osborne report him remarking that the economy is broadly "on the right track". What would he consider the wrong track?

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

DAVID PETRAEUS: BORN IN THE USA

Unlike his president, the general is already the closest thing to an all-American hero

David Petraeus, the son of a Dutch sea captain who emigrated to the US after the second world war, has no need to produce his birth certificate to prove that he was born in the USA. Unlike his president, the general is already the closest thing to an all-American hero. The Republican nomination in 2016 could be his for the taking and, to this end, a stint heading the CIA – widely trailed yesterday – would do his political ambitions no harm. Articulate, charming and driven – the 58-year-old can still outrun his marine escorts around Hyde Park – this philosopher king is adept at marketing his own brand.

Whether that story is quite the star-studded success that Gen Petraeus's CV suggests is less clear. Widely credited with turning the war in Iraq around, he was in charge of two disasters, the capture of Mosul in 2003, only to lose it to insurgents nine months later, and the training of Iraq's army, a process that involved the disappearance at one stage of its procurement budget. Neither is the war in Afghanistan going according to the counter-insurgency rule book that he rewrote. He is due in Washington this week to present his plans for the troop reductions which are scheduled for July. The draw down of US troops is expected to be modest and will be spread over a longer period, a reflection of how hesitant the Pentagon are about the territorial gains made in Helmand and Kandahar.

The flaw of the strategy he has been pursuing is a political one. After all this time, there is still no state strong enough to occupy the areas that US troops have been clearing and holding. Local support is tentative and conditional. The handover of US military control to an Afghan one will still mean replacing one set of foreign troops with another. The percentage of southern Pashtuns in the Afghan National Army is small. State-building is proving to be patchy and conditional. And the insurgency always has another card up its sleeve – the mass prison break, the infiltration of the Afghan security forces, the multitude of soft targets. The most potent recruiter for the insurgency is the presence of foreign troops on Afghan soil, and that will not change soon. If Gen Petraeus's move to the CIA means that the policy will be less military-led, and that a clear political strategy will start to emerge, then this is to be welcomed. But no one should be holding their breath.

The other major move expected to be announced today is that of Leon Panetta, the current CIA director, to the position of defence secretary. Robert Gates, who is retiring, served as a senior cabinet member in both Republican and Democrat administrations. The Democrats needed him, but it is also a testament to his experience and realism. Alas, his advice that the US should stay out of Libya was ignored.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF ... WITTGENSTEIN

A newly discovered archive will illuminate his relationships as well as the emergence of his later thought

Solving the problems of philosophy once is quite something, but solving them twice? Now that is unique. After a spell in engineering, the young Ludwig Wittgenstein had his first go, tracing the limits of language to provide a cocksure account of what could be said with any meaning. The rest, said the last line of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, "one must pass over in silence". The author planned to do just that, packing his bags to work in an Austrian primary school. He stopped penning difficult words, and instead published a manual for children about how to spell them. But the meditative itch returned after he noticed the semantics of colour didn't fit with his grand model of meaning. He was soon back in Cambridge, with Keynes writing: "God has arrived. I met him on the 5.15 train." An otherworldly appearance fed this caricature, as did the monastic digs and the band of disciples. Wittgenstein would harangue them to quit the academy and do something useful, like grinding lenses in Omsk. A newly discovered archive from the most devoted of the devotees, Francis Skinner, will illuminate the relationships of the master's "wonderful life", as well as the emergence of his later thought. It uses weird images (beetles in boxes) and off-the-wall questions (can dogs have headaches?) to expose ontological anxieties as mere confusions, produced by entanglement in words. Ill at ease with modern life, he tried dissolving that with language too. Encountering a jukebox at the end of his life, he asked "what, pray, is a juke?"

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ECONOMY FEELS THE EFFECTS

The government in its monthly report released in mid-April downgraded its basic assessment of the Japanese economy for the first time in six months. It said the March 11 catastrophe is causing downward pressure on exports, production and consumption.

Although there is a view that the economy will start to pick up around July, partly assisted by increased demand linked to reconstruction projects, this may be too optimistic.

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated infrastructure and manufacturing facilities in northeastern Japan and disrupted nationwide supply chains of goods.

Difficulties in stably securing electronic and other parts has pushed the production level of Japan's auto industry down to around 50 percent of the level that prevailed before March 11.

Japan's exports grew a seasonably adjusted 2.7 percent in February. But the calamity's negative effects on exports in March are clear. The Finance Ministry said April 20 that the exports in March dipped 2.2 percent from a year before and that Japan's trade surplus plummeted 78.9 percent from the same month the previous year. Since the March 11 disasters, consumers are not in a mood to buy as before, thus causing consumer spending to shrink.

In addition to the physical damage to production facilities caused by the disasters, the power shortage caused by the accidents at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is hampering enterprises' production activities. Agriculture and fisheries are suffering from radioactive contamination fears due to the nuclear crisis.

The same fears have even led some countries to restrict imports of manufactured goods from Japan.

Although Tepco has started work under its road map for actions to mitigate the Fukushima nuclear crisis, there is no guarantee that the situation will improve as the road map depicts. Politicians, citizens and enterprises need to give full play to their ingenuity to put the economy on a path of recovery.

The ruling and opposition parties must cooperate to quickly pass a supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 to provide funds needed for reconstruction projects.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

CRITICAL EYE ON MR. KAN

The results of the unified local elections on April 10 and 24 underline the waning of the Democratic Party of Japan's strength. On April 10, the DPJ lost in the gubernatorial elections in Hokkaido, Tokyo and Mie. Its strength decreased from 415 seats to 346 seats in 41 prefectural assemblies and from 165 seats to 147 seats in assemblies of 15 major cities.

The Liberal Democratic Party became the No. 1 party in the prefectural assemblies, except in Osaka, and secured a majority in 21 of them. Still its total number of seats in the prefectural assemblies went down from 1,248 to 1,119 and that in the assemblies of 15 major cities fell from 262 to 222.

On April 24, the DPJ won only in three of the 10 city and ward mayor elections in which it confronted the LDP. In the Lower House by-election in the Aichi No. 6 constituency, the DPJ could not even run its own candidate.

These election results show that people have a critical eye on Prime Minister Naoto Kan's ability as a leader who has to reconstruct the nation from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and to end the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

He may manage to have the Diet pass the first supplementary budget for 2011, which finances projects for the reconstruction. But the fate of the second supplementary budget is uncertain because, given the election results, the opposition camp will step up moves to remove Mr. Kan from power.

Some DPJ members will heighten their call that he take responsibility for the election losses.

Mr. Kan should humbly examine whether he has tackled the task of helping victims of the triple disasters with sincerity and whether he mobilized all the resources available to solve the problems. He also must create an environment in which bureaucrats and other parties concerned will do their utmost to help disaster victims and solve the nuclear crisis as well as to establish a definite chain of command to manage various bodies set up to cope with the triple crises.

Mr. Kan should not forget that the possibility is now before him that if the opposition parties submit a no-confidence vote, some DPJ members will join them.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

BEIJING'S TROUBLING SOUTH CHINA SEA POLICY

BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON

SINGAPORE — China is already one of the world's largest offshore energy producers. It wants to become bigger still by finding more oil and natural gas in home waters or in zones close to China, to avoid becoming excessively dependent on foreign imports.

However, China's evolving energy security strategy could further complicate its relations with Southeast Asia, and with countries like Japan, the United States and South Korea that regard the South China Sea as an international highway for trade and free movement of military planes and ships.

A major focus of Beijing's offshore search for energy to fuel its rapid economic growth is on the South China Sea, where it has overlapping territorial claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

China's Global Times on April 19 published a special report on the South China Sea, which it dubbed the "second Persian Gulf." The paper said that the South China Sea contained over 50 billion tons of crude oil and more than 20 trillion cubic meters of gas. This is about 25 times China's proven reserves of oil and eight times its gas reserves.

No source was cited by the Global Times for its estimate of the amount of oil and gas beneath the seabed of the South China Sea. However, the paper quoted Zhang Dawei, a senior official in the Ministry of Land and Resources, as saying that an intensified offshore search was "the key" to solving China 's energy predicament.

China's voracious appetite for oil to run its transport system has shifted the economy from oil self-sufficiency in the early 1990s to dependence on imports for 55 percent of its consumption in 2010, exceeding what the Global Times called "the globally recognized energy security alert level of 50 percent."

Not only is China's oil import ratio rising fast, its reliance on foreign gas is increasing apace too as the government encourages a switch to cleaner burning gas from coal to cut air pollution and global warming emissions. Coal is China's predominant fuel for generating electricity.

A recent report by Macquarie investment bank forecast that China's gas self-sufficiency ratio was set to decline from 90 percent in 2010 to 65 percent in 2020. State-owned energy companies are preparing to search the seabed off the Chinese coast for oil and gas at ever greater water depths and distances from China's shores.

CNOOC, the offshore oil and gas producer, notes that the deep waters of the South China Sea remain "underexplored" and have "huge potential." The company has outlined plans for a major push into the area as it learns to operate a fleet of Chinese-built deep-sea drilling rigs over the next few years.

China's navy and air force are rapidly acquiring the equipment and skills to project power into the South China Sea and protect Chinese energy companies there.

Until now, China's energy search and production have been confined to the northern sector of the South China Sea off Hong Kong and Hainan Island. Only Taiwan contests China's territorial claims in this area.

But just this month, Beijing reiterated its assertion of control over some 80 percent of the South China Sea and all the islands and reefs in a U-shaped claim extending deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia. It did so in a letter of protest concerning the Philippines that was circulated to all member states of the United Nations.

In the letter, dated April 14, China said that since the 1970s, the Philippines had "started to invade and occupy some islands and reefs of China's Nansha Islands," known in English as the Spratly Islands. In defining the scope of China's claim, Beijing's letter went further than its previous U.N. protests at Malaysian and Vietnamese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Beijing's letter asserted that the widely scattered Spratly Islands were "fully entitled" to their own Territorial Sea, Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf, even though most are uninhabited and barely visible at high tide.

There is no way that China could use current international law to justify a claim to a sovereign territorial sea extending out as far as 12 nautical miles from each Spratly atoll and reef, plus a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and a continental shelf stretching as far out as 350 nautical miles, for fisheries, energy and mineral resources.

But in the U.N. letter, China justified its claim based on two of its own controversial maritime laws, in addition to the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The national laws validate China's claims; the U.N. treaty does not.

If the struggle to control the South China Sea is based on power politics instead of current international law, Beijing will have the upper hand against weaker opponents.

Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

COMMUNICATION CHALLENGE

BY SADAAKI NUMATA

The catastrophe of the earthquake, the tsunami and the crippled nuclear power plant on March 11 posed an unprecedented challenge of crisis communication with the world. Those in charge were faced with the difficult choice between calming the public by presenting an optimistic scenario that could lead to complacency, and preparing for emergencies by painting a worst-case scenario that could cause panic. They seemed to take the middle course.

The world was watching Japan with acute concern. The media-relations people in the Cabinet Office, the Foreign Ministry, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, etc., were working very hard for information transparency through their almost daily foreign press briefings. To dispel the images of an "unsafe Japan" created by some members of the foreign media, unambiguous, forceful messages rather than detailed factual accounts were called for, but they were not easy to come by in a fast-moving situation.

The demonstrated resilience of the victims of the earthquake and the tsunami presented a positive image abroad with their calmness, orderliness and perseverance. Sir Howard Stringer, chairman of Sony Corporation, said on CNN's Fareed Zakaria's GPS (Global Public Square) show on March 20, "Japan will rebuild with a ferocity the world will not have seen."

A cloud was cast, however, on Japan's image by allegations of secrecy and lack of transparency on the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The low point was when French economist Jacques Attali declared that the international community must intervene in Japan to prevent radiation from poisoning the planet (Christian Science Monitor, March 30. Takeshi Hikihara, consul general of Japan in Boston, openly rebutted the French intellectual's false and misleading statements (Christian Science Monitor, April 9).

We now have a clearer picture with respect to both the severity of the nuclear disaster and the prospects for its resolution. Japan upgraded its INES rating of the Fukushima nuclear crisis to Level 7 on April 13, on the basis of its estimate of the total amount of radioactive substances released. The fact remains that leaks at Fukushima are still one-tenth of those released by Chernobyl, and, in Tokyo, radiation has never reached a level that would affect human health.

The Tepco road map for resolving the crisis, announced on April 17, represents the combined wisdom of Japanese, American and French experts. It lays down important benchmarks for ensuring a steady decline in radiation dose over the next three months, then bringing the plant into a state of cold shutdown in six to nine months.

We have moved into the stage of drawing up the master plan for not just simple reconstruction but creative reconstruction and taking the necessary budgetary and legislative steps. This will be our major internal preoccupation. However, we should not forget that the world will continue to watch us, keen to see whether Japan will react to the disaster by re-energizing itself for reconstruction and resuming its role in the world.

For example, Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who accompanied U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Japan on April 17, said in a press interview that U.S. help to Japan to keep its position in the global supply chain would serve to maintain Japan's geopolitical position in the region.

Resuming Japan's role in the world is not just about the global supply chain, the Japan-U.S. alliance, or the set of issues such as nuclear safety, energy security and global warming. According to the United Nations, Japan is expected to become the No. 1 recipient of foreign aid in 2011, with its receipt of emergency donations and supplies reaching ¥86.4 billion. Surely, we should repay this outpouring of support and solidarity from 143 countries by continuing to discharge our responsibility as a major foreign aid donor.

The task before us is not only to achieve creative reconstruction but also to show that Japan is determined to act as a global player. The lessons learned in terms of global communication in crisis should serve us well. What we need above all is a visionary political leadership that can rise above myopic partisan squabbling and send clear, forceful messages to the world.

Saadaki Numata is a former Foreign Ministry spokesman and ambassador to Pakistan and Canada. He is currently vice chairman of The English-Speaking Union of Japan. This article originally appeared on the website of The English-Speaking Union of Japan on April 25.

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

WAKE UP TO THE REAL AGENDA BEHIND THE UN THREAT

Our Opinion page carries some interesting facts on the three members of the controversial expert panel appointed to advice the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban ki-moon on how our war was won. The legitimacy of the very appointment of the panel aside, the biases by the Indonesian member of the panel Marzuki Darusman, NGO activist Yasmin Sooka, Steven Ratner who long before his appointment had recommended action against Sri Lanka in a book he has authored, stand exposed.

From Sooka's history of being funded by the European Union and her close relationship to Human Rights Commissioner Navanitham Pillai whose own agenda against Sri Lanka is not new, to Darusman's own US$ loaded NGO; it is increasingly difficult to negate their agenda against countries like Sri Lanka.

With their dubious track records bringing serious questions on the validity of their 'findings'; the Sri Lankan government is duty-bound to bring these concerns before the United Nations. These are in fact questions that should have been raised by our representatives enjoying the comforts of the West at state expense, as and when these appointments were made.

The credentials of the three members show a clear bias that should have warned our Foreign Office of the depths to which their 'findings' would stoop to. Such diplomatic bungling will continue to bring disrepute to the men who died on the battlefield vanquishing the most ruthless terror organization the world had seen. Our men who believe their only job to play subservient slave to western agendas must be made accountable for the unfortunate predicament the country faces today.

Until the country wakes up to the real agendas behind the threat and the serious consequences thereon, much will remain undone. The longer the country waits on hope the harder its ability to overcome the many battles along its path of real peace and much needed development; both conditions that do not serve the economic plans the West has for 'struggling economies' like Sri Lanka.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

UNITE TO DEFEAT IMPERIALIST CONSPIRACY

Following is the statement sent by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party on the Experts panel's report on Sri Lanka
The Government is facing a serious diplomatic offensive that could have disastrous consequences for the country as a whole. The LSSP calls on all Sri Lankans to unite to defeat this imperialist conspiracy which is based on the Ban Ki Moon Panel Report. The Government should not react emotionally or underestimate the magnitude of the threat. It needs to act effectively, but with great care.

The Mahinda Rajapaksa-led Government has carried out a non-aligned foreign policy which does not find favour with the USA. It has not only effectively defeated the deadly terrorist LTTE and its efforts to divide the country, but also thwarted the efforts of the USA to save the LTTE leadership at the end of the war in May 2009. By ending the war the arms sales to both sides of the conflict have practically ended, a blow to struggling Western economies. Therefore the USA would like to see a regime change in Sri Lanka.

The Imperialists therefore seek to discredit the Government both locally and internationally and if possible pave the way for their intervention through the UN mechanism. The way they are seeking to do so is by charging the government with "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity" directed against the minority Tamil population. By making the issue one of injustice by a majority Sinhala government against an innocent Tamil minority, who have suffered due to a long and bitter conflict, world public sympathy is harnessed to achieve the Imperialist objective.

The Panel (BKMP) appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been presented with a large body of information, some of which may be accurate. However much of what has been included are clearly exaggerations, distortions or even complete fabrications by those wishing to discredit the Government. Unfortunately the sources include people who are expected to be neutral, such as members of United Nations and other international organizations, but over the years it has become evident that many of them are blatantly biased. Even if the three members preparing this report had been neutral, they were probably unaware of this and have taken the statements given to them to be factual. Many people abroad are unaware of the friendly relations that exist among the different racial groups in Sri Lanka, particularly the Sinhalese and the Tamils. This contrasts with the intense hostility that prevails between racial or religious groups associated with conflict situations abroad.

The LSSP requests the Ministry of External Affairs and other relevant government ministries to quickly and objectively point out and refute the misinformation contained in the BKMP Report, so that the record can be put straight.

 The BKMP report aims to enable UN interventions in Sri Lanka to be initiated. Among the recommendations are the establishment of an International Investigative Process to look in to alleged human rights violations from the point of view of accountability. Considering the biased nature of the BKMP report one cannot expect fairness in such a process. The need for the suggested course of action can be overcome by establishing a credible accountability process within Sri Lanka itself, as this is an internal problem which we should address.

The LSSP also calls upon the government to intensify the efforts being made to attend to the grievances of the Tamil people. While attending to economic and social needs of the Tamil people it is important that they should also get a reasonable share of political power. One of the outcomes of the All Party Representatives Committee (APRC) process was the reaching of a consensus on power sharing at the center and the periphery within a unitary framework. Meeting the economic and social needs of the Tamil people in a country that is still poor and underdeveloped like Sri Lanka will take a long time. But the necessary political changes can be implemented quickly. This would effectively undermine the attack of the Diaspora and Western Powers against the Government on behalf of the Tamil people.

The LSSP calls upon the government to respond effectively and with dignity on the lines outlined here so that we can effectively defeat the machinations of the imperialist countries. We give our fullest support to the government in this endeavor.

Tissa Vitarana
General Secretary

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

NO UN PANEL IN IRAQ WHERE OVER A MILLION HAD DIED: PROF. ROHAN GUNARATNA

Q:  The UN claims the panel of experts set up to advise Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on accountability issues with respect to the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka has found 'credible reports of war crimes' committed by both the Government and Tamil rebels. How valid are these assertions in your opinion?

The Sri Lankan government should respond, not react, to the panel report. This should be viewed as an opportunity for Sri Lanka to tell its side of the story. The UN Panel of Experts never visited Sri Lanka and interviewed the key players. For instance, the Panel should visit the centres rehabilitating former LTTE leaders and cadres, the unprecedented development in the north and the east devastated by 30 years of war, review the documentation on how government provided humanitarian assistance to the LTTE controlled areas, and interview the formation commanders that fought in the last war. The UN panel report is largely based on reporting by human rights, media, and international organizations heavily lobbied by the LTTE as well as front, cover and sympathetic organizations of the LTTE. For instance the Panel quotes from the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), a LTTE front group acknowledged by the international security and intelligence community as a principal provider of funds for LTTE procurement of arms, ammunition and explosives. While the Sri Lankan government lacking in public diplomacy failed to reflect the ground reality of the fight in the terminal phase (October 2008-May 2009), LTTE's aggressive and selective reporting influenced human rights, media and international organizations.

In Iraq and Afghanistan where over a million civilians have been killed, there is no UN Panel advising the UN Secretary General to investigate war crimes. In May 2009, Sri Lanka was successful in dismantling the LTTE the battlefield but failed to counter the LTTE led misinformation and the disinformation campaign globally. Governments, International organizations and NGOs today react to lobbying and campaigning, a capability Sri Lanka needs to build and operationalize in the coming months and years.  The number one lesson from Sri Lanka for contemporary and future war fighters is that they must win both the battlefield and the information operation campaign.

Q:  The UN statement issued on the release states that 'The Secretary-General sincerely hopes that this advisory report will make a contribution to full accountability and justice so that the Sri Lankan Government and people will be able to proceed towards national reconciliation and peace.' Given the long term repercussions of the report, how would you recommend the government's respond to the contents of this report?

In addition to a point by point rebuttal of what is factually inaccurate, the Sri Lankan government should respond to the Panel report in many other ways. The outcome of such a Report signifies a massive failure on the part of the Sri Lankan government especially of the Ministry of External Affairs to respond to a new type of threat.

The Sri Lanka government should produce a White Paper detailing what happened in the terminal phase of the battle and recommendations to ensure that Sri Lanka will remain stable and peaceful. The White Paper should also list what government has done since May 2009 to build reconciliation between the different communities, rehabilitation efforts to give a second life to LTTE leaders and cadres, and the unprecedented development in the north and the east. Sri Lanka must highlight that not a single terrorist incident has occurred in the country since the LTTE was dismantled and all communities in Sri Lanka now live in peace and harmony. 

Q:    The panel in its recommendations calls for 'initiating an effective accountability process beginning with genuine investigations'. How far do you believe the government should go in heeding these recommendations?

The Sri Lankan government routinely investigates allegations of atrocities. Whenever there is a credible allegation, it is absolutely essential for the Sri Lankan criminal justice and prisons system to act.  If a soldier or an officer is found guilty, the state has the responsibility to punish that individual. However, there is a distinction between isolated acts of atrocities conducted by individual soldier and systematic war crimes conducted by an army. The UN Panel report alleges that there were war crimes committed by both the Sri Lankan military and by the LTTE. It is apparent that the LTTE had a policy of conducting massacres of border villages, bombings of public places and forced recruitment of children. Even during the IPKF period, the LTTE used hospitals as cover to attack Indian peacekeepers causing high fatalities and casualties among Indian soldiers. In defence, when the IPKF fired back, both LTTE cadres and civilians were killed. As a professional military trained by the US, UK, India and other countries, the Sri Lankan military did not systematically and deliberately kill or injure civilians. In contrast, the LTTE has been notorious for using human shields, human bombs and provoking retaliatory attacks. After penetrating a government declared zone for civilians, the LTTE deliberately hid behind a human wall and attacked causing suffering, injury, and death to both civilians and military personnel. Alleging that Sri Lankan security forces intentionally and wilfully targeted civilians stated by a UN panel of experts need careful study. Similar allegations by UN agencies, NGOs, and other bodies have been levelled against the armies of US, UK, Israel and other standing militaries fighting brutal insurgencies.

As such, the Sri Lankan government should meet with the UN Panel and discuss these allegations. It should not be an adversarial process.  It should be a process to clarify, elucidate and educate each other.  The Sri Lankan government should not shy away from the truth. As the LTTE was not amenable to a negotiated solution mediated by India and Norway backed by the US EU and Japan, the intention of the Sri Lankan government was to military contain, isolate, and eliminate the LTTE.  The LTTE forcibly uprooted and moved the Wanni population as a human shield and eventually infiltrated the government designated No-Fire Zone reserved for civilians. Despite repeated calls to surrender, the LTTE persisted. Eventually, the LTTE engineered a humanitarian crises by taking civilians as hostage and attacking the Sri Lankan security forces from within the NFZ. Although the Sri Lankan government never intended to harm Tamil civilians and had a policy of zero-tolerance civilian casualties, it must admit that there were deaths and injuries.

Q: The Panel also recommends that the SG should 'immediately' proceed to establish an independent international mechanism, to conduct investigations independently in to the alleged violations. Can you compare with other instances where such a mechanism has not interfered with the domestic freedoms?

The UN Secretary General has no authority or mandate to appoint such an advisory panel without the approval of the Security Council or the General Assembly. This is the first time in the history of the UN that such an advisory panel has been appointed. With Sri Lanka increasing looking eastward, there is a view that the Secretary General, campaigning for his second term of office, is vulnerable to pressure from a few western countries. This is likely to be perception rather than reality. However, considering the scale of human rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sri Lanka has been singled out and targeted by the UN.  Is it because Sri Lanka is drifting closer to China? Does the US and EU want to use human rights to bring Sri Lanka's back to her previous alignment? 

 Nonetheless, both the content and the manner in which the report was released has impeded rather than facilitated the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. If such an international mechanism is established, it will be a huge boost to LTTE remnants globaly. The LTTE fronts in New York – the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam led by Rudrakumaran, the legal advisor to the LTTE, in the UK – the Global Tamil Forum led by Father Emmanuel, a LTTE propagandist, and in Oslo -Nediyawan, the current LTTE leader controlling the LTTE branches including the British Tamil Forum (BTF) already celebrated the release of the report.

 Today, the LTTE remnants has taken credit for this fete against Sri Lanka  and is now pressurizing the Tamil diaspora to once again contribute to the LTTE. After the defeat of the LTTE, the bulk of the diaspora that was forced to contribute to the LTTE distanced itself from the LTTE. The release of the report has created an environment for the LTTE to re-emerge and persist as a ideological, political and diplomatic force in the west.  Already, photos of Prabhakaran that was removed from grocery shops have begun to emerge. With the release of the report, the LTTE has instilled a feeling that the West is against Sri Lanka.

Such an international mechanism will polarize the two communities, the avowed goal of the LTTE. The report has already drifted the TNA, a LTTE proxy towards LTTE remnants overseas. When the report was released, the government was in the process of engaging the TNA with the intention of mainstreaming the group. After years of functioning as the mouthpiece of the LTTE, TNA is likely to re-emerge as the voice of the LTTE remnants.

Q: Its second recommendation involves providing death certificates to the families and releasing the displaced and providing interim relief etc. According to your findings how much of this really remain to be done?

Sri Lanka has made immense progress in this area but much more work needs to be done to relieve the surviving victims of the war.  Among the living, those who suffered most were the IDPs. After screening for LTTE traces in 2009 and 2010, all IDPs have been released. A few thousand who are free to travel remain in government run open welfare centres because the LTTE has mined their areas or their homes were destroyed during the war.  Without exception, all IDPS received government grants to rebuild their homes.  A few NGOS such as the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and a few governments such as India assisted.  However, these IDPs need continued assistance. When the LTTE forcibly uprooted them from their traditional homes, most of the IDPs lost their livelihood. As such, the assistance provided by the government is insufficient. Ideally, government should reach out to foreign governments, international organizations and NGOs that are genuinely interested in the future well being of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans to help those who survived the war.  This will prevent the LTTE remnants overseas from reaching out to the resettled IDPs and re-radicalizing them once again to hate the government and other communities.

Since 2010, the Sri Lankan government has started to compile a list of persons that died in the Wanni including in the NFZ.  After matching that list against security databases of cadres and civilians that worked for the LTTE, the government will be able to identify the exact number of non-combatants killed. As the LTTE front, cover and sympathetic organizations and LTTE influenced personalities and NGOs have come up with extraordinary figures of civilian deaths, the Sri Lankan Victim's of the War Database will help to determine the accuracy of that data. As 20-22,000 cadres and employees of the LTTE perished in the war, it is necessary to distinguish between the different classes of deaths.  Ideally, the Sri Lankan government should create a secretariat to house these databases including those LTTE cadres and employees undergoing rehabilitation. Considering that the Tamils in the Wanni suffered most from the war, Sri Lanka should issue not only death certificates but ensure that the parents, siblings and children of those killed are cared for. The Sri Lankan government should reach out to governments, international organizations and NGOs to assist in their community rehabilitation.

Q: The Panel also calls for the Human Rights Council to 'reconsider' its May 2009 Special Session Resolution. Would you say there was a valid call for such a reversal of a resolution of this kind?

As it stands the panel is advising the Secretary General, therefore any action deriving from the report must be initiated by the Secretary General. There is no precedence where the Secretary General has called on the Human Rights Council to reconsider its resolutions.

 One could argue that there is new evidence that was not available in May 2009 which must be considered. Rather than moving a new resolution, the Secretary General is using Sri Lanka's own resolution of 2009 where Sri Lanka also drew attention to the Secretary General –Government of Sri Lanka joint statement as a peg to re-open the issue. Now its up to the countries in UN General Assembly, Security Council or Human Rights Council to move things forward, with Secretary General's  office keeping a watching brief.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

DON'T DOOM THESE TEMPLES, PLEASE

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.

The Hindu

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

CREDIBILITY OF MOON'S ADVISORY PANEL

There is reportedly an interesting remark in the report prepared by Ban-ki Moon's advisory panel on Sri Lanka. They have criticized Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on the basis that two of its members were government officers during the war against the LTTE. The Chairman of the LLRC, R De Silva was our Attorney General during the war. Similarly, H M G S Palihakkara was our Foreign Secretary. In this backdrop, the Panel had suggested in the report that these two officers were bias towards government's conduct during the war and therefore it is difficult to expect an independent conduct from the Commission. Let us now apply the same criterion to evaluate Moon's Advisory Panel.

Moon's Advisory Panel consists of three members, namely, Marzuki Darusman, Yasmin Sooka and Steven Ratner. The Chairman of the Panel, Darusman was formally a member of International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP). The IIGEP was appointed by the Government of Sri Lanka in 2007 to supervise the conduct of different commissions appointed by the Government to inquire into alleged human right violations. After submitting their interim report, the IIGEP including Darusman resigned accusing the Government of not taking adequate measures to improve the country's human right record. In this backdrop, Darusman possesses a prejudiced mind with regard to human right situation in Sri Lanka. How could we expect an independent conduct from a person with such a background?

Darusman's integrity is also questionable. According to sources of  the Ministry of External Affairs, Darusman has not attended a single meeting of the IIGEP. However, he has not only collected the full payment for sitting members but also signed the interim report of the Group. Therefore, we must question Ban-ki Moon whether Darusman's dishonesty was considered as the best qualification to be the chair of the panel.

Darusman belongs to the insignificant Christian minority in Indonesia. His father was an Indonesian Diplomat. Therefore, he spent his entire childhood in European capitals. Darusman has a pro-western mindset because of this background. When the West wanted to oust President Suharto in Indonesia in 2008, their obvious choice to lead the rebel was Darusman. Darusman was a parliamentarian and a member of Suharto's Golkar Party. He successfully led the campaign to oust President Suharto and invited a total outsider, Abdurrahman Wahid, to be the presidential candidate of Golkar Party. During this crisis, pro-Suharto media alleged that Darusman was a puppet of former US ambassador for Indonesia, Paul Wolfowitz. Darusman presently serve as a Trustee of US Indonesia Society known as USINDO of which the objective is to promote friendship between Indonesia and USA. This NGO is heavily funded by US charity foundations.

The dark history of Darusman clearly reflects his pro-Western mindset. When Ban-ki Moon wanted to appoint an advisory panel with ulterior motives, his obvious choice was Darusman. Darusman has a history of serving UN panels and delivering the reports anticipated by the West. The classic example is his conduct as the UN special rapporteur on alleged human right violations in North Korea in 2009.

Yasmin Sooka, the second member of the Panel, is an NGO activist in South Africa. She is the Executive Director of Sooka Centre for Human Rights. Her Centre has received Euro 25 million from European Union as a grant for their project titled "Access to Justice" in 2009. The EU is the first Western organization which took punitive action against Sri Lanka with regard to alleged human right violations. The EU threatened Sri Lanka that unless Sri Lanka probes into alleged human right violations during the last phase of war, they would withdraw GSP+ duty concession. They did not merely threaten with GSP+, it was later actually withdrawn after realizing they cannot influence our government. If Sooka heavily depends on EU funds for her survival, could we expect her to conduct herself independent of the EU influence?

Navanethem Pillay is a South African Tamil who now functions as Human Right Commissioner of the United Nations. She was the person behind the resolution brought against Sri Lanka at United Nations Human Right Commission in May 2009. Her anti-Sri Lanka attitude is not a secret.

As the two leading women right activists in South Africa, Pillay and Sooka maintain a very close relationship. Pillay used to function as an advisor to Sooka's NGO. Further, Pillay has frequently written to the international magazine titled "Transnational Justice" of which Sooka serves in editorial board. Ban-ki Moon has accidently exposed his hidden agenda by appointing Navanethem Pillay's close friend to his advisory panel.

Third member of the panel is Steven Ratner. He is a professor in International Law in USA. He has co-authored a book with Jason S. Abrams, titled "Accountability for Human rights: Atrocities in International Law-Beyond the Nuremberg Legacy". In Page 123 of this book, they advocate that the Crime of Apartheid Convention of the UN be invoked in relation to several countries including Sri Lanka. As practised in South Africa, apartheid is a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the government. There were separate hospitals, schools,hotels, restaurants, trains, buses and toilets exclusively for Whites during Apartheid period in SouthAfrica.

The situation in Sri Lanka is the contrast of South Africa. There is no legal restriction for Tamils to hold any post or use any public place in Sri Lanka. Hence, Ratner has depended on unreliable and non authentic sources for his academic writing. Moreover, Ratner is prejudiced about Sri Lanka because of this misinformation. How can such a person be appointed to a UN panel?

Ratner's appointment caused a conflict of interest as well. He serves as a Legal Advisor to both US State Department and the NGO called Human Rights Watch. The State Department was playing a lead role against Sri Lanka in international fora with regard to war crime allegations.

It frequently publishes reports criticizing human right situation in Sri Lanka. Similarly, Human Right Watch has frequently called for an international probe into human right situation in Sri Lanka. Ratner was firstly the complainant about Sri Lankas human right situation. He later became the judge by being a panel member. Could we expect an impartial judgment when the complainant later turned to be the judge?

In the light of above, it is abundantly clear that the Moon's panel is partial towards the West and possesses anti-Sri Lanka attitude. Therefore, it is natural for them to come out with the report produced by them. As early as June 2010, we warned the government about the background of the panelists and the expected outcome. We advocated the government to attack the panelists by challenging their credibility. If we did so, Ban-ki moon would be forced to dissolve the panel. Even if he did not dissolve the panel, the report would not have made any significant impact.

Unfortunately, the government chose to adopt an alternative strategy of winning the panel over. We are now late but not too late. We still have the opportunity to expose the shady background of Moon's panelists.

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

COURTS NEED MORE POWER 

BY JONATHAN POWER

TOO little too late. It's as true of Muammar Gadaffi as it was of Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot. The problem always has been not lack of early warning but of early action.

Gadaffi ran an intolerably repressive and amoral regime. But he climbed out of the pit he had dug for himself when exploding the Pan Am flight over Scotland and a French airliner over Africa, and the almost successful construction of a nuclear weapon - and reinstalled himself in the good books of the West.

The US and the UK armed Saddam in Iraq's war against Iran though Amnesty International had reported he tortured the children of his domestic enemies and rivals.

Former Amnesty secretary-gen