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Monday, May 2, 2011

EDITORIAL 02.05.11

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Editorial

month may 02, edition 000821, collected & 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. KILLER PESTICIDE IS BANNED
  2. THE ARMS-DROP MYSTERY
  3. OUR CORRUPT BABUDOM - JOGINDER SINGH
  4. CPM WILL WIN BUT WITH A MARGIN CLOSER TO THAT OF 2001, SAYS  BIMAN BOSE  - KANCHAN GUPTA

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. PRIVATISE IT
  2. EARTH CALLING SUPERMAN
  3. PRINCESS ENTREPRENEUR - RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL
  4. 'THE US SUPPORTED PAKISTAN INDIRECTLY' - ADITI BHADURI
  5. A SHOE-IN  LALIT MOHAN

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. WE HAVE TO COME CLEAN
  2. NOT TIGHTLIPPED AT ALL
  3. IT'S TIME TO SEE RED - LALITA PANICKER
  4. CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER  - PRAFUL BIDWAI,
  5. NOT SO LAST CENTURY  - DANNY LEIGH

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. SHUT AI DOWN
  2. OPENING UP
  3. LIBYAN STALEMATE
  4. THE WHEELS ARE OFF - PRANABDHALSAMANTA
  5. THE ARMY ADVANCES - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
  6. CAPTAIN OF THE RIGHT - NADEEM F PARACHA
  7. A WEDDING TOAST TO CINDERELLA - MAUREEN DOWD
  8. IS SHANGHAI BETTER THAN AMERICA? - NIC HOLAS D. KRISTOF
  9. AN ACT OF COMMISSION ON EMISSIONS - ROHINI PANDE

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. INTEREST-ING TIMES
  2. INSURING INSURERS
  3. MAHARAJA WITHOUT CLOTHES - M GOVINDA RAO
  4. EUROPE'S TEST IN NORTH AFRICA - PETER SUTHERLAND

THE HINDU

  1. WIDEN THE INVESTIGATION
  2. WHAT AILS PUBLIC HEALTH RESEARCH?
  3. WHY THE CRITICS OF INDIA'S COMBAT JET DEAL ARE WRONG  - PRAVEEN SWAMI
  4. AT MICROSOFT, FUTURE GROWTH RIDES ON RESEARCH, INNOVATION  - G. ANANTHAKRISHNAN
  5. INTENSIFIED STRIKES RAISE QUESTIONS ON U.N. MANDATE  - DAVID D.  -KIRKPATRICK & KAREEM FAHIM
  6. OPEN PAGE IS GROWING MORE POPULAR BY THE WEEK
  7. QADHAFI INNER CIRCLE FEELS BETRAYED  - HARRIET SHERWOOD

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. INDIA BACKTRACKING ON ITS AFGHAN ROLE?
  2. DECODE THE SIGNS - INDRANIL BANERJIE

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. JAH KASHMIR ON CROSSROAD
  2. BUNGLING IN LADAKH RELIEF
  3. BOOM TIME IN KASHMIR THIS SUMMER ?
  4. WHY GROWTH DOES NOT BEGET HAPPINESS - BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA
  5. STOP CHILD LABOUR - BY DR. INDU SWAMI

THE TRIBUNE

  1. UNSAFE IN MODILAND
  2. WRONGLY BOOKED
  3. CORRUPTION IN CRICKET
  4. ALLIES WITH CONFLICTING INTERESTS - BY ANITA INDER SINGH
  5. BABUS AT WORK - BY SHRINIWAS JOSHI
  6. NO MORE MORAL POLICING PLEASE!  - RAJESH GILL
  7. GENDER QUESTIONS - HARBHAJAN SINGH DEOL

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. DESIRABLE NEWNESS
  2. EMPOWER THE SAVERS
  3. ON A WING AND A PRAYER - SANJAYA BARU
  4. TIME FOR A US-INDIA INVESTMENT TREATY - EVAN A FEIGENBAUM
  5. LOOKING BEYOND THE GS - A V RAJWADE
  6. STATSGURU-02-MAY-11

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. CHANGING SLOWLY
  2. TRADING GOODWILL
  3. ROYAL RESPONSIBILITY
  4. EMPEROR OF ALL (ECONOMIC) MALADIES
  5. 'CYBER ATTACKS MOVING TO MOBILE, SOCIAL SITES'  - SHANTANU GHOSH
  6. OVERHAUL REGULATION, GLOBALLY  - AJAY CHHIBBER

BUSINESS LINE

  1. END(OF)SULFAN?
  2. NO REALITY CHECK
  3. CHANGE OF GUARD AT INFOSYS - B.S.RAGHAVAN
  4. SO MUCH FOR INCLUSIVE GROWTH - ASHOAK UPADHYAY
  5. WE NEED GOOD JUDGES, NOT LOKPAL - P.V.INDIRESAN
  6. A NEW TWIST TO STATE AND RELIGION - DEBABRATA DAS

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. ROBBER BARONS OF YAMUNA

DECCAN CHRONICLE

  1. INDIA BACKTRACKING ON ITS AFGHAN ROLE?
  2. DECODE THE SIGNS
  3. CHINA'S YIN AND YANG THAT OUTPACES US
  4. TRICKY SITUATIONS, CHEEKY MOVES
  5. GIFT OF NEW LIFE
  6. A CINDERELLA ENDING?

DECCAN HERALD

  1. TRANSPARENCY NOW
  2. TACIT ADMISSION
  3. QUESTIONS OVER THE ABUSES OF BRITAIN -  ALAN COWELL,NYT
  4. A FIRE IN A SLUM  - B APARNA

HAARETZ

  1. LEARNING THE HOLOCAUST'S LESSONS
  2. THOSE WHO TURN DAY TO DARKNESS  - BY AKIVA ELDAR
  3. REMEMBERING, BUT NOT UNDERSTANDING  - BY AMOS GOLDBERG
  4. ALAS, WE HAVE SWITCHED ROLES  - BY NIVA LANIR
  5. NOTHING BUT EMPTY WORDS  - BY OUDEH BASHARAT

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. THE ECONOMY SLOWS
  2. FROM SECRECY TO ABSURDITY
  3. STANDING UP FOR GUEST WORKERS
  4. SPRINGTIME FOR BANKERS - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  5. STANDING UP FOR GUEST WORKERS
  6. WHAT HAPPENS IN BROOKLYN WHEN YOU TRY TO CUT MEDICARE - BY DAVID FIRESTONE
  7. THE LIBYAN CONCEIT - BY ROSS DOUTHAT

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR - MURAT YETKİN
  2. ISTANBUL RUMS PONDERING BEFORE TURKEY'S GENERAL ELECTIONS - ARIANA FERENTINOU
  3. FINANCIAL CENTER DREAMING – II - EMRE DELİVELI
  4. OF CLAY POTS AND PANS, CRAZY PROJECTS AND DEMOCRACY - TUĞBA TANYERİ-ERDEMİR
  5. FORGET 'CRAZY PROJECT,' LOOK AT THE CRAZY PICTURE - YUSUF KANLI
  6. POST-TRAUMATIC PSYCHO-BABBLE - GWYNNE DYER

THE NEWS

  1. THE AGENDA
  2. RISE IN CRIME
  3. BOOKS AND BEATINGS
  4. THE MOUSE THAT ROARED  - S IFTIKHAR MURSHED
  5. DOCTRINE OF ABSURDITY  - IKRAM SEHGAL
  6. THE PRINCESS, THE CHAUDHRY AND THE SHORT MARCH  -  ADIAH AFRAZ
  7. IGNORANCE AND IMPUDENCE  - DR A Q KHAN
  8. OUR PROSPERING PAUPERS  -  ASIF EZDI
  9. WEDDING BELLS  - CHRIS CORK

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. GENERAL KAYANI REFLECTS NATION'S HONOUR
  2. THEY SAY POL IS CHEAPEST!
  3. THE RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE
  4. OUR N-PROGRAMME ENSURES PEACE - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
  5. RESISTING US PRESSURE - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  6. CHANGES IN US ESTABLISHMENT - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
  7. OUR BILLIONAIR CLUB OF M.P.'S - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
  8. US SECURITY CHIEF KEEPS A LOW PROFILE - PETER NICHOLAS

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. NSW POLICE GET THE JOB DONE
  2. GADDAFI'S RULE IS IRREDEEMABLE
  3. ONLY THE POPULACE, NOT THE ELITE, CAN FOSTER A REPUBLIC

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. GOVERNMENT BY THE BOOK
  2. TOWARDS ADVICE WITHOUT KICKBACKS
  3. SWANSTON STREET ON A LONG ROAD TO REDEMPTION
  4. WHAT THE INTERVENTION FAILED TO DO

THE GUARDIAN

  1. NORTH SEA TAXES: THE FIGHT TURNS NASTY
  2. WOMEN IN POLITICS: PROGRESSIVE DECLINE
  3. IN PRAISE OF … THE IRISH WRITERS' CENTRE

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. PUSHING ELECTRIC CARS
  2. DIET AND DISASTER
  3. LIMITS TO BLOCKING TYRANNY - BY HUGH CORTAZZI
  4. INDIA PROTECTS KAZAKHSTAN STAKE - BY HARSH V. PANT

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. RECRUITING THE BEST MINDS
  2. DANCING WITH ANOTHER GIANT
  3. GAS-POWERED TRANSPORTATION: WHY IS IT MOVING SO SLOWLY?  - HANAN NUGROHO
  4. THE FOURTH WAVE OF DEMOCRATIZATION  - A. AGUS SRIYONO
  5. INDONESIA: RESILIENT GROWTH TO CONTINUE  - ANOOP SINGH
  6. SAFER SCHOOLS PART OF QUALITY EDUCATION  - IWAN GUNAWAN
  7. REREADING DEWANTARA'S VISION - SETIONO SUGIHARTO

DAILY MIRROR

  1. CHINA URGES IC NOT TO COMPLICATE LANKA ISSUE
  2. NOT THAT ROYAL ELSEWHERE  - BY IMAN KURDI
  3. MEN OF MEDICINE
  4. LACK OF JOBS FOR WOMEN COSTS ASIA BILLIONS  - BY ELAINE LIES
  5. BOB BLAKE'S VISIT AND A HUMAN RIGHTS AGENDA
  6. OVER THE MOON

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. AGREEMENT SHOULD BE SUPPORTED   - BY DR JAMES J ZOGBY PRESIDENT
  2. MACDONALD ON MONDAY 

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. WHERE CHINA OUTPACES AMERICA - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

KILLER PESTICIDE IS BANNED

WE WILL BE FAR BETTER OFF WITHOUT ENDOSULFAN

 

The decision to ban Endosulfan globally, taken by the Stockholm Convention of the Review Committee on Persistent Organic Pollutants at its April 25-29 meeting in Geneva, has opened an opportunity for the whole world to make the environment free of killer pesticides for the future generations. Kerala, the biggest victim of Endosulfan poisoning in the entire world, has termed the ban as the "success of humanity and people's will". The proposal to ban Endosulfan was unanimously approved at the Geneva meeting despite the overt and covert efforts of the official Indian delegation to defeat it till the last minute. But our officials were forced to retreat in the face of the determination of representatives of other member-countries who refused to accept the pro-pesticide arguments. That the international committee's intention is not to jeopardise the agricultural sectors of India, China and other developing nations but to make the world a safer place is obvious from the fact that these countries would be given enough time and facilities to phase out Endosulfan and find suitable alternatives. The delegates sent by the UPA Government, particularly the Agriculture and Environment Ministries, tried their level best to defeat the proposal with arguments that could well have been drafted by the pesticides lobby which views human lives with contempt. Just how pro-Endosulfan the Government is can be gauged from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's response when an all-party team from Kerala visited him on April 22: He had ruled out the possibility of a ban! Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had declared that a ban would not be imposed on the killer pesticide until all the States demanded it. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had endorsed that declaration, unmoved by the havoc wrought by Endosulfan in Kerala and Karnataka. Ironically, these statements were no different from the stout defence of the pesticide put up by the manufacturers of Endosulfan.

If any State deserves the credit for creating public awareness about the hazards of using Endosulfan and pushing for its ban, it is Kerala. In the Kasaragod district of the State, the aerial spraying of Endosulfan for two decades has caused the death of at least 1,000 people and mysterious diseases to nearly 10,000. Unable to stand the sight of the sufferings of the poor people there anymore, the entire society of Kerala intensified its agitation against the pesticide. Octogenarian Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan led the final push for its ban which was supported by all parties except the Congress. Reports from Geneva said that the agitation in Kerala and pictures of the victims from Kasaragod convinced the delegates about the hypocrisy of Indian officials and politicians who were opposed to the ban proposal. Now that the decision to ban Endosulfan globally has been taken, India — like other countries — must work towards making the environment poison-free so that our future generations do not have to suffer like the victims of this pesticide in Kasaragod. Let us not forget that Endosulfan is only one of the pesticides that leave a trail of death and deformity, human grief and suffering. There are many such pesticides and each one of them needs to be identified, with the help of scientific evidence, and banned forever from being used for growing the food we eat.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

THE ARMS-DROP MYSTERY

IT'S TIME THE COUNTRY LEARNED THE TRUTH


Sixteen years after it first made newspaper headlines, the infamous Purulia arms drop case is back in the news following allegations by Peter Bleach, the British national who was convicted in the case, and Kim Davy, the Danish fugitive who managed to escape, that the then PV Narasimha Rao-led Congress Government at the Centre had planned the entire operation to destabilise the CPI (M)-led Left Front Government in West Bengal. Last Thursday, Bleach and Davy told Times NOW that "political forces" were behind the arms drop and other state agencies such as India's premier investigative agency the CBI, our external intelligence agency R&AW and even the British secret service MI5 were aware of the plan and even provided necessary logistical support. The claims, which made for several hours of sensational television news, however did little to throw light on the case which has forever been shrouded in mystery. For one, the allegations have been made by persons whose credibility is suspect — Bleach is a convict while Davy is a shady fugitive with more aliases than one can keep track of. Second, neither the duo nor Times NOW for that matter has provided anything by way of corroborative evidence. The way things stand now, the startling allegations have little value unless there is unimpeachable evidence to prove that they are not elaborate fabrications to stave off Davy's extradition.


Yet, having noted this fact, it is also necessary to take into consideration other aspects of the case of the mysterious air-dropping of arms and ammunition over a village in Purulia, a backward district of West Bengal. For example, the consignment of weapons that was air-dropped included Kalashnikov rifles, rocket-launchers and anti-tank grenades (among other heavy duty artillery), which would suggest that there is more to the entire incident than is known. Also, it is no secret that the Ananda Marg sect, which has been openly hostile to the CPI(M) ever since its monks and nuns were burned alive in Kolkata, was the intended recipient of the air-dropped weapons. Keeping these facts in mind, the Union Government should launch a full-fledged investigation into the recent allegations. True, the allegations have come at an interesting time when the CPI(M)-led Left Front is fighting for its survival in the ongoing West Bengal Assembly election and could be ousted by the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine led by Ms Mamata Banerjee. Did Bleach and Davy plan the sensational 'disclosure' to coincide with the election? If yes, why did they do so? Merely to grab prime time on television and front page space in newspapers, or because they are desperate to prevent Davy's possible extradition to stand trial in India? We need to know more than what is known, which is not much.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

OUR CORRUPT BABUDOM

JOGINDER SINGH


We have heard far too many promises about fighting corruption. They are meaningless because bureaucracy continues to be corrupt.


Once upon a time, I used to listen to the speeches of our leaders, including the Prime Minister, on adopting a policy of zero tolerance towards corruption, unearthing black money and enforcing laws strictly with rapt attention. Now I realise they did not deserve that attention. I would take their words as the gospel truth in the ardent hope that things would be better tomorrow. Now I don't believe so.


The Central Board of Direct Taxes has taken this welcome initiative to unearth black money in shady property deals which are largely going undetected due to the difference between the market rates and the registry rates fixed by State Governments. It is a good step, but unfortunately its success shall depend upon the cooperation it will receive from officials of State Governments, especially the revenue and property registration authorities. Most tax-evaders believe that defrauding the Government of revenue is no more than a petty traffic offence.


But just initiating this one step of scrutinising property deals and deeds will not do. The whole gamut of black money generation will not only have to be looked into, but harsh and unpleasant steps will have to be taken to unearth illicit funds. Can the Government achieve this goal?


Assigning additional duties to officials without providing them with the necessary wherewithal — for instance, strict laws, adequate staff, equipment and office — is unlikely to solve the problem of black money. It is a standard practice for the Government to announce a new scheme and then forget about it. If any staff is sanctioned, it is only on paper as it takes years to recruit new hands. Providing appropriate office space and other requisites are issues that are just simply forgotten.


India has a culture of black money. Some so-called experts have been telling us that people evade taxes and duties as the rates are abnormally high. We have heard this absurd argument ever since the phenomenon of black money first surfaced in independent India. High or low taxes have nothing to do with evading taxes. What encourages tax evasion is the near fictional punishment that the law provides for this crime. This has encouraged people to believe that whether or not they are complying with tax laws (as also other laws) is immaterial as nothing is going to happen. They are not wrong: The prescribed punishments for violating tax (and other) laws are not only laughable but can be appealed against through several layers.


Bureaucrats are the biggest culprits responsible for the generation of black money due to corruption. By granting, delaying or denying requests for permissions, sanctions and permits, they accumulate illicit money. A recent news report says that a traffic inspector and a zonal officer were suspended from work for allowing a large number of buses to ply without permits. This was done at the expense of the Government which lost the revenue that would have accrued to it had permits been issued. The punitive action taken against them is suspension from work, which means they will get 75 per cent of their salary during the suspension period and 90 per cent after six months. The only other action against them would be 'departmental proceedings' which might linger on for years. Normally such people are posted to some other job after a year and they get back to the business of making money which they use to fight their cases.


Corrupt policemen are small fry compared to the infamous IAS couple of Madhya Pradesh who, according to a report of the Income Tax Department, have accumulated Rs 350 crore over the years after being inducted into the much-coveted civil services. The culpable party in such cases is the Government which has put all kinds of restrictions on inquiries being conducted against officers of the level of Joint Secretary and above. A similar order, called 'Single Directive', issued in 1988 was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1997 on the ground that corruption is not a part of any official duty.


What all this demonstrates is that the battle against black money or illicit funds, whether in India or abroad, is not only half-hearted but the feeble efforts to deal with the menace are stymied on specious grounds of even-handedness, impartiality, and justice. Will the fight against corruption and the black money it generates gather speed with the announcement of the CBI setting up 71 additional courts to expedite cases against the high and mighty? At least something is better than nothing. The Supreme Court had once famously observed that the Union Government was moving at a pace "worse than that of a tortoise" on the anti-corruption front. "Everybody — right from the top — wants corruption cases to be dealt with expeditiously. But at the end of the day, we find the progress made is worse than a tortoise's pace," the Supreme Court had said.


Just how all-pervasive corruption is can be gauged from the Attorney-General's disclosure of the list of officials against whom sanction to prosecute has been sought. The list comprises 126 cases as on December 3, 2010. He said the total number of people against whom sanction had been sought was 319. The break-up is: All-India services — 2; Government — 166; Public Sector Undertakings — 83; banks and financial institutions — 60; and others. These cases were registered between 2000 and 2010, with Customs and Central Excise departments accounting for 69 people, followed by the Communications Ministry with 32. As many as 26 corruption cases are pending against 13 senior IAS officials; sanction to prosecute them is still awaited.


In his latest sermon to the civil services on April 21, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that the people have little or no tolerance for corruption. True, but what is he doing about it? The Government has the right to dispense with the services of any its employees under Article 311 of the Constitution. But this power has never been used to crack down on corruption in the bureaucracy.


Corruption and black money are inseparable. Without tackling one you cannot terminate the other. Chapman once said, "Wherever you see a man who gives someone else's corruption, someone else's prejudice, as a reason for not taking action himself, you see a cog in The Machine that governs us." When we look at our system, our bureaucracy, we will find why there are so many cogs in The Machine that governs us.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

CPM WILL WIN BUT WITH A MARGIN CLOSER TO THAT OF 2001, SAYS BIMAN BOSE

KANCHAN GUPTA


I can say for sure that we will form the eighth Left Front Government... Arrogance has been a problem. But arrogance has reduced to a great extent. You will find that there is no arrogance in the future...

Alimuddin Street, off Lower Circular Road, one of the busiest thoroughfares in Kolkata, is more a Byzantine lane, cobbled in parts, than a street. Decrepit, nondescript houses with peeling paint and leaning balconies crowd in from both sides. The walls of most of the houses are blackish-green, with moss growing on the surface and banyan saplings peeping out of crevices. It has been drizzling since morning and the moist air is redolent with the smell of decay.


Finding Number 31, Alimuddin Street, is not a difficult task. A slight bend in the alley hides the CPI(M)'s headquarters in West Bengal, Muzaffar Ahmed Bhawan, from sight. It's the building next to Taj Leather Works at 30/1, Alimuddin Street, with a wide gate open to all. It's mid-morning and the ground floor wears a deserted look; in the foyer a plainclothes policeman casually looks up as I enter, eyebrows raised in an unspoken question. "I am here to meet Mr Biman Bose," I tell the elderly comrade reading that morning's Ganashakti at a ramshackle table which passes for a reception desk. Without taking his eyes off the party daily, he points to the staircase. Yes, of course, I am no stranger to this building.


On the second floor the person who manages the office, a middle-aged comrade with neatly combed hair and in a starched shirt, takes my visiting card, asks me to sit on the wooden bench meant for visitors, and leaves the room to check with the CPI(M) State secretary, the party boss and Left Front chairman, whether he will meet me. A short while later he returns to tell me that "Bimanda is busy in a meeting, he has asked you to come for the Press conference at 5.30 in the evening after which he will meet you." But, of course, it's polling day in Kolkata and it's only natural that he should be busy.


I return in the evening. Alimuddin Street is chock-a-block with OB vans and the ground floor of Muzaffar Ahmed Bhawan is teeming with mediapersons. At quarter past five everybody marches up the stairs to a room on the first floor which is used for briefing the media. The chairs are new, or comparatively new, but everything else in the room is antiquated. The walls, which haven't seen a fresh coat of paint for a long, long time, are adorned with large framed prints, sepia with age, of Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Vladimir Ilych Lenin and Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, each one of them staring down at us sternly, unsmilingly.


Strangely enough, there are no portraits of Indian Communist leaders. Harkishan Singh Surjeet's presence is recorded through a mass-produced calendar printed in Kerala. A small obituary notice, clipped from a newspaper, of Subhash Chakraborty, whose crowd mobilising abilities the party must be sorely missing in this election, is pasted on the wall in a corner.


The table where Mr Biman Bose, popularly known simply as 'Bimanda', would be sitting to brief us is scarred and chipped, the polish long gone. Behind the chair hangs a large map of world, fraying at the edges, the print and boundaries of countries long faded. From where I am sitting, the map appears to be of 1970s vintage when the Soviet Empire straddled most of the world. On one side hangs a portrait of Lenin, on the other of Stalin. In the middle there's a fine framed print of Ho Chi Minh. A sooty trail of cobwebs stretches from one end to another, swaying gently in the breeze blowing in through the large windows.

Bimanda arrives, looking fresh, without a trace of the busy day he has had, tracking every constituency, every polling station in Kolkata and North and South 24 Parganas. He has a sheet of paper crammed with voter-turnout statistics which he rattles off. Next he cites stray incidents of violence, nothing much to write home about. The evening azaan begins at the local masjid; Bimanda puts a finger to his lips and silence descends in the room. Azaan over, some banal questions are asked and desultorily replied. The Press conference is over and Bimanda tells the gathered mediapersons to go home, take a hot water shower and sleep peacefully as "all is well and there's nothing to worry about".


Everybody leaves to file the story; I hang around, hoping Bimanda hadn't forgotten that he had promised to meet me after the briefing. No, he hadn't. Bimanda has two minor vices — he drinks huge quantities of black tea and smokes a large number of cigarettes. He asks me if I have had tea, lights a cigarette, takes a deep drag, looks for an ashtray, and then settles down for what I had expected to be a brief interview but turns out to be a very long, very cordial, very interesting conversation. The last I had met him was during the 2009 general election campaign. There was much catching up to do but I need not have bothered. Bimanda, like his predecessor Anil Biswas, keeps tracks of those whom he thinks are worth keeping track of. I feel both humbled and honoured.


Much of what we talked about must remain unpublished, largely because it would be of little interest to readers. But here are some portions of the conversation that could be of interest:


KG: The common perception is that the Left Front, more so the CPI(M), is set for a historic defeat, that too at the hands of the Trinamool Congress…


BB: I can say it for sure that we will form the eighth Left Front Government. There is no doubt about it… we will retain power and that's the reality…


KG: That seems a bit tough, going by the mood and popular wisdom.


BB: I don't know about others, but I am confident that we shall form the Government. Perhaps not with the majority of 2006 (when the CPI(M) alone had won a near two-thirds majority with 176 seats) but it will be closer to the results of 2001 (when the party won 143 seats and had to depend on its allies for a majority in the Assembly).

KG: Look at the surge of support for Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress…


BB: You are seeing the surge, but not the counter-surge. We are mobilising each of our supporters, our voters, to come out on polling day (during each phase of the election). In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, they (the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance) got 11 lakh votes more than us (the Left Front). Since then we have been working to cover the difference… 11 lakh votes is not a lot. We have done an extensive review of where and why we failed (in the 2009 election) and we have undertaken rectification within the party at the political as well as the organisational level.


KG: For example…

BB: We have reviewed the method of our work (at the grassroots level)… we have identified individual leaders and cadre who have let the party down and taken action against them … we have expelled many of them. Without saying it publicly, we have not renewed the membership of thousands of our cadre. The effects of these steps are now beginning to show.


KG: And how has the method of your working changed since 2009?


BB: Take for example our election campaign strategy. Earlier, it was the 'monologue system' — leaders would just talk to the people. This time we adopted the 'dialogue system'. We went out and listened to the people and we learned a lot. You know, to learn something new, you have to unlearn what you know. We did that. That is yielding us good dividends. We switched over to the 'monologue system' just before the elections, taking our message to the voters. There's something else we tried this time: We went to the people to collect election funds. We conducted a door-to-door campaign, asking people to give us whatever they could afford. We also collected money on the streets… we asked our sympathisers to contribute one day's wages… It's amazing, you know, the amount we have collected in some districts. But more than collecting money, our purpose was to involve the people (he uses the word 'manush', which most Marxists have forgotten) and that purpose has been served.

KG: Many of the people I have spoken to in the past few days say what has turned them off the CPI(M) is the arrogance of the party cadre and leaders.


BB: I agree, arrogance (he uses the quaint expression 'arrogancy') has been a problem. But arrogance has reduced to a great extent. You will find that there is no 'arrogancy' in (the party) in future.

KG: What about governance issues? People seem to be quite bothered about the quality of governance…

BB: It's a question of whose governance is better, ours or theirs. (We versus them, aamra and oraa, aamader and oder, are a common refrain in this election.) Look at the municipalities they control (after last year's civic elections). They are in a mess. It's the same story in the panchayats. At the block level… They (the Trinamool Congress) control two zilla parishads. Their performance record is so bad that I can't explain it (in words)… khaali khaao-khaao (just eat-eat, a colloquial expression for smash-and-grab). They are exposed, at the village level, the block level, the district level.

KG: How is that any different from… (Bimanda lights another cigarette, takes a deep puff, and waves my intervention aside in a cloud of smoke. I use the opportunity to light a cigarette, take a deep puff, and wait for him to continue.)

BB: Exposed. They are all exposed. The people (he again uses the word 'manush') have realised they are not a better lot. They have no policy, no principles. Others have a structured party organisation (aah, the Party, at last!) with cadre and leaders. But they have only one thing — one leader. Can you tell me the names of the six Trinamool Congress Ministers in the Union Government? But we all know the name of the Railways Minister!

KG: Let's get back to governance and development…

BB: Yes, let's do. I wanted to tell you something. West Bengal has been adjudged the fourth best State by the Centre in rural development. The best State is Kerala, the second best is Karnataka, followed by Sikkim and then West Bengal. This is despite the terrible performance of the Trinamool Congress in the two districts they control — East Midnapore and South 24-Parganas — and the indifferent record of the Congress in the two districts they control — Malda and North Dinajpur. Actually, the Congress's performance hasn't been too bad, at least they have been doing something. But they (oraa)? They have only been obstructing development work.

KG: I find it striking that nobody seems to be bothered about price rise and corruption…

BB: You are wrong. The people (the 'manush' word again!) are concerned, they are seething with anger about corruption, they are angry with the rise in food prices. But they are silent about it, they are not talking about it at all. It is ironical that we and the BJP are the only ones talking about corruption and price rise. The Left and the Right are talking about these two issues, but the rest, the Trinamool Congress and the Congress, they are not talking about them.

KG: The Left and the Right are together on this… (Bimanda ignores my comment.) Tell me about the extremely distasteful statements by some of your senior leaders about Mamata.

BB: We do not endorse vulgar speech. One of our senior leaders (former MP Anil Bose) said objectionable things and we reprimanded him, asked him for an explanation. Nobody has ever done this before. But look at what she (he does not name Mamata Banerjee) has been saying. At one rally she said, "Aamra goonda control kori" (We control goondas). And then she added, "Goonda dhukiye debo" (We will shove the goondas). I don't want to say anything more, I find it extremely distasteful, but we all know what she meant by that (about shoving the goondas). Siddhartha Shankar Ray used to control goondas. And now we have her controlling goondas. (His allusion is to the lawless years when Ray was Chief Minister in the early-1970s.)

KG: Do you still wash your own clothes and iron them too?

BB: I still wash my own clothes… my panjabi and dhuti. But I don't iron them myself anymore. I find it too stressful and start sweating. Look, I own nothing, I live a Spartan life. (He lives at the party office and has his meals there.) The party gives me Rs 1,600 per month. That is more than enough. I don't have a bank account. Neither does Buddha (Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee). He donates the salary which he gets from the Government to the party, and the party gives him some money — he gets a bit more than me because he has a family — every month. I think it's Rs 5,000. And we both are happy. Let me tell you a funny story. I was invited to visit Canada, but the Canadian High Commission wouldn't give me a visa because I don't have a bank account!

KG: Thank you for your time, Bimanda.

BB: Meet me on the 15th (of May) and I will remind you of what I told you today: We are going to form the eighth Left Front Government.

Outside Muzaffar Ahmed Bhawan, darkness of the night has descended and a pleasant breeze is blowing. We shan't know of the direction of that breeze till the votes are counted on May 13.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

PRIVATISE IT

 

The long-standing need to privatise Air India receives new impetus from the pilots' strike action - over pay differentials - that threatens to put the flag carrier into lockdown. That won't do anything for passenger confidence, will further diminish already paltry ticket sales and exacerbate financial woes, something AI's management has repeatedly demonstrated its inability to manage.


Mismanagement long precedes the strike. Chronically unable to balance its books, AI last posted a modest profit in 2005-06. Since then it's been running at a loss and the figures are staggering. The deficit was Rs 2,226 crore in 2007-08, ballooned to Rs 5,548 crore in 2008-09 and touched Rs 1,791 crore during the first quarter of this financial year. Inexplicably, rather than balancing its books, AI went on a spending spree and ordered 111 new planes. That makes for a debt burden so heavy that the Indian Commercial Pilots Association has asked that the CBI probe the decision to buy. Add to this overstaffing - there are 243 employees for every AI plane whereas the industry average is just 150 - and extremely poor aircraft usage - planes fly nine hours a day - and the financial future is bleak.


The truth that a timid government cannot face up to is that an airline cannot be run like one of its departments. The only way to save AI is to privatise it, even if it means conceding some ministerial turf (not to mention opportunities for corruption). The government has already put in Rs 2,000 crore and plans to put in another Rs 1,200 crore this year. Yet that won't be enough to save AI. Financial consultant Deloitte estimates an infusion of Rs 17,500 crore is needed. Given AI's past performance this amounts to throwing good money after bad. Far wiser to divest to a first rate private airline capable of renewing the brand. If the government carries on like this, however, even AI's old brand value will soon be forgotten.


The assumption is that Indians need a flag carrier not only for prestige reasons, but also to step into emergencies. Unfortunately the former motivation is dead as the dodo - no one takes pride in having a 'national' airline any more - while AI is incapable of fulfilling the latter objective. The recent evacuation of Indians from Egypt was criticised because AI overcharged distressed citizens. Put simply, there's no longer a case for continuing with an airline that haemorrhages taxpayer's money. That money would have been far better invested in building roads, schools and hospitals - all of which are areas where we really need a public sector.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

EARTH CALLING SUPERMAN

 

Superman's that boy from Kansas who defends "the American way of life", right? Well, not entirely. Going by the latest issue of Action Comics, Superman's more that alien from Krypton, a far-off planet. And he's had it up to his kryptonite ears that his exploits are "construed as instruments of US policy". Yup, the do-gooder icon's mulling renouncing US citizenship so he can better protect the Global Village. In his new avatar, Superman's rapped by US authorities for siding with non-violent protesters in Iran, a place Uncle Sam's not too crazy about. That's when he realises he champions humanity, not nationality. Not that he's the first in the league of extraordinary supermen to see the light. Proudly patriotic Captain America once chose to become "Nomad, the Man Without a Country". Why? He was mad at US politicians during the Watergate years!


True, there might be something deeply American about the comic book saviour, who epitomises individual effort and courage even in his most brooding incarnations (Batman as "Dark Knight"). But historical compulsions made America itself junk splendid isolationism. Its heroes can repeat the story, with a 21st century twist: wearing too tight a national straitjacket in a globalised universe means courting irrelevance. As Superman says of his decidedly earthly mission, "The world's too small. Too interconnected." He's right. Heroes battle evil, and evil is universal. Aren't crimes from human trafficking to terrorism global scourges? Also, war or recession, everyone's affected some way or other. As for nuclear risks, climate change or having to conserve the global commons, we're all in it together. Finally, these are times when interlinked cyber warriors can make despots eat crow. Leave alone Kryptonians, earthlings are looking beyond their backyards to shape change. So, Superman, get out of Smallville. The world needs you.

 

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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

PRINCESS ENTREPRENEUR

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL

 

Seventy-two hours after she became the newest princess on the world stage, Kate Middleton symbolises a new royal engagement with entrepreneurial skills. Her eight-year wait for Prince William to pop the question has been called the longest job interview in history. It was certainly an extraordinary investment in time and hope, leaving the future Duchess of Cambridge with little on her CV other than the words "longtime girlfriend" and sundry newspaper photos documenting her presence at William's side. In the five years since she graduated - along with Prince William - from St Andrews University, right up to her wedding, Miss Middleton had no discernible career, professional track record, or income. It must have been the single-minded, go-for-broke entrepreneurial spirit because the wait might so easily have been doomed to no-return-on-investment. After all, nothing is so fleeting as a young man's fancy.


But raising up the entrepreneur is a profoundly British practice and notionally repairs the British royal family business. It marries the monarchy to the spirit of an estimated five million small British businesses that employ roughly 13 million people. Napoleon is often wrongly credited with the phrase traditionally used to describe Britain - a nation of shopkeepers. But it comes from Adam Smith, the Scottish philosopher who is arguably the father of modern economics and capitalist theory. In The Wealth of Nations, which became one of the most influential works on economics ever, Smith wrote that the founding of a "great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers...is a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers".


The newly prominent Middletons, Kate's blood family, are modern boxwallahs, living off the small trade conducted around inexpensive, throwaway baubles such as party hats, paper cups, tablecloths and napkins themed on Hello Kitty, Justin Bieber and other tweenager hearthrobs of the moment. Even though she can now count a future king of England as her son-in-law, Carole Middleton exemplifies the never-clock-off spirit of the small entrepreneur when she dismisses the hype of ennoblement with the words: "I still work through to the early hours to hit a deadline and never take our success for granted."


It is surely the same verve that inspired Kate's 23-year-old college dropout brother, James, to register three companies in London in the week before his sister's glorious wedding. The young Mr Middleton was already engaged in selling "homemade, made easier" themed cake kits through his parents' business. The royal connection ensures free advertising for life.


Why ever not? It is undeniable that the social status of entrepreneurship has been elevated by the transformation of boxwallah Kate into a full-fledged member of a 300-year-old blue-blooded family. For centuries, trade and all commercial activities were looked down upon in Britain. The aristocracy's wealth lay in owning land and it displayed a sneering disdain for the vulgar pursuit of money through trade. Lytton Strachey, whose psychologically astute biographical series, Eminent Victorians, required him to focus on the passions and predilections of the British aristocracy, described their 20th century metamorphosis thus: "The old interests of aristocracy - the romance of action, the exalted passions of chivalry and war - faded into the background, and their place was taken by the refined and intimate pursuits of peace and civilisation."


Those "refined and intimate pursuits" largely stayed resolutely away from trade well into the 21st century, except when profit accrued easily and at one remove. Prince Charles, William's father and the first in line to the British throne, exemplifies this. Using the Prince of Wales brand to sell biscuits, snacks and other boxwallah items, he launched his own organic food company, Duchy Originals, 20 years ago. Though Duchy Originals has seen falling revenues in recent years and had to strike an exclusive licensing deal with a British grocery chain, Prince Charles's entrepreneurial instincts cannot be challenged. In effect, he realised that the common weal and the new middle classes hungered - and would pay handsomely - for some association with aristocracy, even if just a packet of handcrafted vegetable crisps fashioned from the produce grown on his extensive estates.


Clearly, the entry of a boxwallah's daughter into the royal family came not a moment too soon. As John Berlau, director of the Washington think tank Centre for Investors and Entrepreneurs at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, recently said: "Kate and her family embody a noble, if relatively modern tradition of bettering oneself and one's family...the tradition of entrepreneurship" and the new princess could encourage the culture of "happiness through individual initiative".


Berlau went on to extol the satisfaction of "earned success" and the native entrepreneurial spirit of the Middletons, who went from salaried flight assistants to self-made millionaires in the span of 20 years.


This wedding has undoubtedly caused the British sun, which notoriously plays hide-and-seek with the clouds, to shine as never before on small and innovative business ideas like the Middleton's Party Pieces company. It also offers a sound strategic plan to Monarchy Inc, which can exist - and profit - only if it stays relevant to the consumer. In the ugly and threatening aftermath of Diana's death in 1997, less than half of all Britons thought the UK would be worse off without the crown; last weekend, 62% voted for the royal family according to pollsters ICM. The boxwallah effect has only just begun.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q & A

'THE US SUPPORTED PAKISTAN INDIRECTLY'

ADITI BHADURI |

 

You have been campaigning since the 1990s for a war crimes tribunal. Sheikh Hasina has set up one now. How is the work proceeding?

Our government set up the tribunal in March 2010 and it's in process. Government-appointed lawyers are looking into it. What is unique about this tribunal is that while there are many international laws regarding war crimes tribunals, Bangladesh is the first country to set up a domestic law for genocide and war crimes. But we lack experience and there are internal and external challenges too. Internally it is the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami. Externally Pakistan and the US are not sitting idle.


Is there US pressure against the tribunal?

ot directly. The US said the trial is an internal matter. Since the US considers Bangladesh's Jamaat-e-Islami a moderate Islamic party and a partner of their "war on terror" they would like to protect their ally. Recently, US ambassador at large for war crimes Stephen Rapp said the US wouldn't object if a few war criminals are tried but they're against the trial of any organisation. My impression is that the US supported Pakistan during Bangladesh's liberation war and was indirectly responsible for genocide and war crimes perpetrated by the Pakistani army. If there is a free and fair trial of the war crimes the supporters' names will be mentioned accordingly. And that may embarrass the US.


How optimistic are you about the tribunal?

In 1971, we had far greater challenges yet won. Now the government has to be decisive. There are people who would like to drag it into the next election in order to cash in on it. But that strategy may not succeed as people voted for the grand alliance currently ruling the country for this very reason. If they don't deliver then people may not vote for them again.


Why is there a need to campaign against religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh?

We created Bangladesh in 1971 to be a secular democracy. But after Mujib's death pro-Pakistanis grabbed power and they removed secularism from the Constitution. Finally, General Ershad introduced Islam as the state religion and that was the beginning of the Islamisation and Pakistanisation of Bangladesh. But we have a vibrant civil society that led democratic movements even before the war. Since the Islamisation of Bangladesh, civil society began a campaign for secularisation and democracy. The first step was inserting the word 'secularism' into the Constitution again.


Your recent book finds Indian epics to be a source for war crime trials?

My book, War, War Crimes & Trial of War Criminals in the Atlas of Civilisation, deals with scholars ignoring India's history of the laws of war. They're the earliest source of modern international laws and conventions. I try to prove that civility in those days was much more advanced and humane in comparison with contemporary civilisation. For instance, Arjun had weapons of mass destruction but he refused to use them. Compare this to the use of nuclear bombs by the US. Similarly, before the battle of Kurukshetra, the Kauravas and Pandavas drafted a detailed code of conduct, including that the war will commence after sunrise and end at sunset each day. This was almost 5,000 years ago. Compare this to when the US and its allies bombed Iraq at night.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

A SHOE-IN

LALIT MOHAN

 

Yet another shoe has missed its target. But Suresh Kalmadi has joined the ranks of such distinguished people as George Bush, Asif Ali Zardari, Wen Jiabao, P Chidambaram, Navin Jindal, L K Advani and Omar Abdullah who have been in the past considered worthy of such attention.


Shoe throwing seems to be catching on as a form of dissent or protest mainly because in a secure environment it is the only object at hand which has some mass. Nevertheless, some ground rules must be laid down so that, as a political statement, it can be distinguished from the proceedings of some of our legislatures.


In all recent protests of this genre, only George Bush and Asif Ali Zardari have been considered worthy of receiving a pair. The others mentioned above have been targeted with just one piece of footwear each.


Dispatch of just one piece of footwear is un-Gandhian. There is a story that once, during a train journey, Bapu was standing in the open door of his carriage, lost deep in his thoughts, when one of his slippers slipped from his foot and fell out. Without waiting to think, he promptly dropped the other slipper too. Someone standing beside him asked why he had done that. He replied: "One slipper is of no use to anyone, and neither is the remaining piece to me. So, why not let the finder get both. At least he will be able to use them."


There is a lesson here that shoe throwers must learn. Separating a pair is a waste. It is of no benefit to either the hurler or the hurlee. Therefore, the first rule of any shoe-pitching protest is that both pieces should be released simultaneously. Speed is of the essence here. If there is any delay and the protester is overpowered and is unable to launch the second piece, the twain may never meet again. If the shoes have laces then they can even be tied together before being thrown. Then they can swirl through the air like bolas used by South America's native hunters, who have a reputation for deadly accuracy.


A single piece, because of its eccentric shape, can never be trusted to adhere to its programmed flight path. Omar Abdullah may, in fact, have got what, according to Abdul Ahad Jan, the thrower, was intended for the DGP. Had he been better informed of the aerodynamics of an object of the shape and size of his shoe, or dispatched the two in tandem, he might have found his target.


The second rule to be observed relates to the choice of footwear. Since the protest is intended to be symbolic, care should be taken not to cause any injury. The hawai chappal or any light rubber footwear must always be preferred to army or police jackboots. Heavy shoes of the kind that was issued in the direction of L K Advani must be banned.


On the other hand, a person conscious of his social status has to be careful in selecting the brand of the shoe used. If what is released is a Gucci, the hurler will be looked at with awe and will make it to page 3. Balancing such considerations will be the real test of innovativeness.


The third rule is that the thrower must face his victim, who must get a sporting chance to duck the missile. Like George Bush did. It showed that while his wits may have been slow, his reflexes were in good shape. Chidambaram, of course, saw the footwear fly past him with the disdain that is characteristic of him. (His detractors can cite that as another instance of the man's arrogance.) But Omar Abdullah received his benediction from somewhere behind him, and that is unacceptable.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

WE HAVE TO COME CLEAN

Politics should ideally be banned from the issue of pollutants and pesticides, but it is certain that India's decision to ban endosulfan at the latest Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants will be used to score political points. India has fallen in line after resisting a ban for years on various grounds, most of which have little merit.

There is also no doubt now that the Left — Kerala chief minister VS Achuthanandan had gone on a seven-hour fast demanding its nationwide ban — will claim this as its own victory. There is no doubt that the banning of this cost-effective pesticide which is used for vegetables, fruits, paddy, cotton, tea, coffee, cashew, tobacco, rubber and timber will push up the prices of these items.

Organic alternatives are 15 times more expensive than endosulfan. The argument that the endosulfan industry brings in R1,340 crore and, therefore, is economically viable is pernicious to say the least. The economic cost of adverse health effects and long-term damage to the environment far outstrips that.

In any event, people's wellbeing cannot be pitted against revenue. Much damage has already been done and the endeavour now should be to see how best to deal with this effectively. The Left has been talking about rehabilitating the victims of endosulfan, many of whom suffer from debilitating ailments and we hope that it will show the way. It is incumbent upon the government to try and explore alternatives for the pesticide using the resources of India's innovative agricultural scientists.

We should also explore how other countries which have banned endosulfan have developed substitutes. Perhaps we need to tap into the native wisdom of our own farmers and include them in the hunt for a safe and cost-effective alternative. The cost could also be offset by imaginative private-public partnerships.

Since the pesticide is used in a variety of crops and since India has bought itself at least 10 years of breathing space to phase it out, the agriculture ministry has enough time to begin a search for technology-based solutions. The logic that there will be further rises in food prices with the ban of endosulfan is belied to an extent, by the fact that the cost of edibles has been going up steadily in spite of the use of the pesticide.

The government has a duty to see that neither farmers nor consumers are excessively burdened by a decision taken for the greater common good. We all remember the crop duster scene in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest. It comes as a revelation that similar crop dusters were still being used in places like Kerala to spray endosulfan until not so long ago.

We have drunk from the poisoned chalice for too long, it is time to come clean now.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

NOT TIGHTLIPPED AT ALL

Nearly half of mankind watched as William from the House of Windsor locked lips with the fair Kate Middleton. Television history was made, the BBC website crashed under the onslaught of voyeurs, and the world went crazy at the 'shahi chumban'.

As kisses go, this one would be the most watched and analysed. Pity Victoria and her descendants are not more becoming on the gaze, but they do manage to rustle up fairly fetching specimens as their spouses. For what they are worth, the fancy dress and decorations do their bit to bring the crowds in.

And it does not hurt the revelry to have a wedding at the beginning of an extended weekend.

But spare a thought for Britain's future royals. If every wedding kiss is to be beamed around the world, and probably beyond, think of the performance pressure every Windsor bahu faces. Her marriage will be dissected from the word go, as it were.

A peck will be looked at askance as will a slobbering kiss. Too much or too little passion on display can doom a duchess. Finishing schools will have to teach wannabe queens — and by extension all wannabes — the politically correct wedding smooch. We are not certain yet whether protocol officers already throw in a trial buss in wedding rehearsals to see if it passes muster in the media. At this rate, it is just a matter of time.

Uneasy indeed lies the head that kisses the crown in full public gaze. The osculatory exercise is the point that divides the private from the public personage of celebrity. As the doors close on the ducal bedchamber, the 2.5 billion people who sighed, muttered or just ogled at WillKate's balcony performance will have found eminently better things to do.

Our heartfelt wishes to the newlyweds, but we need our daily fix of tamasha too.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

IT'S TIME TO SEE RED

LALITA PANICKER

Loktantra Divas which was a week ago to mark the historic moment in 2006 when public protests forced King Gyanendra to withdraw emergency and restore a Parliament that he had unceremoniously sacked a year earlier should have been one of joy unconfined. So why was there such an air of pessimism?

Nepali political leaders, opinion-makers and the aam aadmi are all worried that the victory of 2006 may turn out to be hollow as it is yet to be translated into the solid foundations of democracy and peace.

Foreign minister SM Krishna was in Nepal recently for a first hand assessment of the political situation. With over five million Nepali nationals working in India, 30,000 serving in the Indian Army, an open border through which more than Rs 20 crore in fake Indian currency is smuggled in every year and a visa-free regime which makes it an attractive route for terrorists to infiltrate into India, we can hardly remain unconcerned about deteriorating governance in Nepal.

On May 28, the extended term of the Constituent Assembly is set to expire. The integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist PLA which should have happened years ago has not even begun. Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal who was elected three months ago stands discredited within his party for the seven-point agreement which he signed with Maoist supremo Prachanda to obtain his support.

Apparently, Khanal pleaded with Krishna seeking an early visit to Delhi in the hope that this would provide him some breathing space. But when Krishna pointed out the growing deterioration in India-Nepal relations in recent months, Khanal was stumped. His feeble assurances carried little weight, leaving no doubt in anybody's mind that he could only deliver as much as he was allowed to by Prachanda.

From all accounts, Krishna had a frank chat with Prachanda, pointing to the growing trend of anti-Indian activities and rhetoric that the Maoists have engaged in over the last 18 months — blackening of the Indian flag, targeting Indian commercial ventures in Nepal, delaying Indian projects, attacking the Indian ambassador etc.

Evidently, Prachanda maintained his ambiguous stand if his answers were anything like those provided in an interview to an Indian daily recently.

The first Loktantra Divas five years ago was a time of celebration because peace was returning to Nepal after a 10-year Maoist insurgency. A stalemate with the army made the Maoists realise that the path of militancy could no longer serve their purpose and, together with the political parties and with the blessings of Delhi, the palace was identified as a common adversary. 

Prachanda committed to the peace process under which his PLA would be dismantled, rehabilitated and partly integrated into the army and the police. Prachanda also declared that his party would support a Constitution that would uphold multi-party democracy.  But these commitments have remained empty promises over the last five years.

Meanwhile, the Maoists engaged in a clever campaign to achieve their objectives through propaganda, obfuscation and downright intimidation. New fraternal organisations were set up to keep pace with growing financial muscle. Maoist trade unions set up their own checkpoints on highways, took control of lucrative hotel and casino businesses, entered the media field and invested in real estate.

The real reason for today's political impasse in Nepal is the breakdown of consensus after the 2008 election. The Maoists emerged as the single largest party but instead of forming a consensus government, set up a coalition with their Left partner Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist(UML), pushing the Nepali Congress (NC) into the opposition.

Of course, according to the Maoist version, the Communist Party of Nepal is to be blamed for a breakdown in the consensus. Maoist political victories came in quick succession — abolition of the monarchy and replacing a Hindu rashtra with a secular State.

Having weaned away the UML from the democratic fold and abolished the monarchy, PM Prachanda now set about 'democratising' the army, the last institution which could still be an obstacle in his design. In April 2009, he decided to dismiss army chief but this was a case of overstretch.

Sections of the UML protested forcing the leadership to quit Prachanda's government bringing an end to his short-lived tenure as PM.

It is clear that the Maoists had no intention of giving up the PLA or committing to multi-party democracy. If Prachanda had returned as PM, he may have let the Constituent Assembly lapse so that the Maoists could bring about a 'people's Constitution'.

But for the moment, Prachanda needs an assembly extension and will once more resort to tactical pyrotechnics in the coming weeks as a display of his flexibility.

A framework Constitution might just be the catalyst needed to help push an extension through, following which Prachanda could ask Khanal to honour the rotation principle and yield the prime minister's chair to him. Unfortunately for Prachanda, other political parties have seen through his game.

But they are weakened by factionalism within. Nepali intellectuals have also realised that the Maoists are not the agents of progressive social change but intent on fulfilling an ideological agenda. A Maoist-led one party State will only militarise Nepali society because violence remains their principal tool and more important, undermines the special relationship that India and Nepal have.

Political consensus needs to be restored but not on the Maoists' terms, this time on democratic terms. The Constituent Assembly should be extended but it will only be credible if this happens under a national consensus government.

For five years, the Maoists have shifted the goalposts, prevaricated and fooled people with their doublespeak. For five years, New Delhi has given Prachanda the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully, a much-needed course correction is underway now in India's Nepal policy.          

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER

PRAFUL BIDWAI,

The government has shown crass insensitivity towards nuclear safety by announcing on the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that it will go ahead with the Jaitapur atomic power project. This is on a par with the callousness of the statement by India's ambassador to Japan on Hiroshima Day in 1998, at Hiroshima, that he hopes "the Japanese people will understand" why India had acquired nuclear weapons.

It also mocks safety concerns just when the Fukushima multiple-reactor disaster is unfolding and the plant has released cancer-causing iodine-131 and caesium-137 in quantities similar to those from Chernobyl.

India's nuclear stance is sharply at odds with that of Germany or Switzerland which are phasing out or cancelling nuclear reactors. The European Union has ordered safety audits on all its 143 reactors lasting several months. Even China has embargoed further reactor construction.

Post-Fukushima, the global nuclear industry's future appears bleak.

However, the Indian government is recklessly forging ahead with new reactor projects. Its hubris isn't rooted in the Department of Atomic Energy's (DAE) technology or experience, but in blind faith in imported reactor designs, such as the French company Areva's, to be installed at Jaitapur.

But Areva's European Pressurised Reactor is untested and hasn't received regulatory approval anywhere, including France.

The first-ever EPR under construction, in Finland, has become a fiasco: four years behind schedule, 90% over budget and mired in bitter litigation over a contract that forbids cost escalation. It has attracted hundreds of queries about safety from regulators in Finland, Britain, the US and France.

Put simply, the EPR design is not yet frozen. But that hasn't prevented the DAE or Maharashtra chief minister P Chavan from certifying it as safe.

Such loyalty is shocking, but not surprising. Why, when the Fukushima reactors suffered hydrogen explosions last month, pointing to serious nuclear-fuel damage, DAE secretary Srikumar Banerjee declared that these were "a purely chemical reaction, not a nuclear emergency…" Nuclear Power Corporation chairman SK Jain described the crisis, which sent operator TEPCO into a panic, not as a "nuclear accident", but "a well-planned emergency preparedness programme…" That men prone to such delusions run our nuclear programme inspires no confidence. That they aren't publicly accountable is positively scary.

This is of a piece with the nuclear industry's practice of deception and disinformation everywhere. Areva's CEO also pronounced after the March 11 accident that "Fukushima was not a nuclear catastrophe." Yet, on March 12, Areva pulled out all its staff from the Fukushima station.

Last fortnight, Areva flew a group of Indian journalists to its headquarters. Its COO Luc Oursel boasted that a Fukushima-type accident cannot happen in EPRs: "The EPR has the highest safety standards, it can resist an air crash — an Airbus A380 crash." This is, of course, unverifiable.

But Areva and French authorities have claimed that the EPR design is protected against both terrorist attacks and air crashes. Yet, when the EU mandated comprehensive reactor "stress tests", covering threats from airplane crashes and terrorists, France lobbied for their exclusion from the audits.

The French nuclear safety authority chief said: "I will do what I can to keep risks from planes and terrorism out of the audits."

If hypocrisy is built into the nuclear industry, so is monumental arrogance. The DAE and the government have convinced themselves that the sustained five-year long popular protests against the Jaitapur project are based on ignorance, irrational fear, and provocation by 'outsiders'. This is false.

As I noted during my visit to Jaitapur, its farmers, Alphonso mango-growers and fishermen are well-informed and aware of the inherent hazards of nuclear power. They are determined to resist the project despite the compensation being offered for land (raised eightfold, and to be increased further): 95% of them have refused to take the money. The rest are mostly absentee landowners.

Citing the Shiv Sena's entry into Jaitapur is a red herring. The anti-project movement is autonomous and firmly under grassroots activists' control. An overwhelming majority of the area's 40,000 people oppose the project for good reasons. Pushing the project through at gun-point will violate the public's fundamental rights, offend political decency, and degrade our democracy, besides inviting nuclear danger.

The government has finally decided to separate the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) from the DAE. But the AERB's responsibilities and powers must be defined in advance and its members selected with exemplary care and prudence so that only persons with the highest integrity, impartiality, and commitment to the public interest are chosen by a broad-based collegium.

This is as important as choosing the lokpal. The life and death of millions will depend on the AERB. India's experience with regulatory authorities in telecom, insurance and hydrocarbons has been unhappy. We simply cannot afford 'regulatory capture' or sham regulation in the nuclear field.

(Praful Bidwai is a Delhi-based political commentator and environmental activist. The views expressed by the author are personal)

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

NOT SO LAST CENTURY

DANNY LEIGH

 

You can't choose your family and neither do you get a say in the era you come of age. For me, cinematically at least, the timing was cruelly double-edged. As an 80s adolescent I spent formative evenings gawping in front of Blue Velvet, Brazil and so on; but by the time I was old enough to spend all my spare time in cinemas, the rather less magical 90s had rolled around.

And therein lies the rub. Because mulching the cinema of a decade down into a single impression is, of course, a reductive business. But it's one almost all of us do: the 70s are routinely seen as the Edenic idyll portrayed in Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls; the 80s as a riot of subversive cultdom. But the 90s? No one seems sure what to make of those years.

The era is distant enough for many of its landmarks to feel dated, but plenty of its best film-makers are still active.
Witness Gregg Araki, creator of dark hipster romps like The Living End and The Doom Generation. Now, having conjured up a genuine moment of brilliance in the interim with 2005's Mysterious Skin, Araki is circling back to his roots with the expertly trashy Kaboom, due for a Britain release in June.

Such is the dilatory effect of the passing years, whereby history makes masterpieces of tat and one generation's triumph a footnote to the next. But the verdict on some 90s moments seems a surer thing -not least the hubbub that will surely greet next year's 20th anniversary of Quentin Tarantino's hugely influential Reservoir Dogs. True, for many the novelty of all that blood-soaked jibber-jabber wore thin pretty quickly. But only a churl would deny the potency it held the first time round, in the last period American cinema felt like a world leader, with Tarantino's success given ballast by a purple patch for the Coen brothers and Robert Altman's glorious Indian summer. On screen, it felt like an American decade -which, given the tarnishing of the country's reputation thereafter, may be one reason it feels unloved now.

That may also be down to the erratic outputs of so many of the film-makers who have kept on trucking into the present day. There again, many who were big news at the time later all but vanished; the ascent of others now just seems regrettable in the first place. And this is all without mentioning the pall cast over the decade by cinema's most legendary names, their form veering from wobbly (Allen, Cronenberg, Scorsese) to inexcusable (Francis Ford Coppola put out both Bram Stoker's Dracula and Jack).
Again, every time you try to find a coherent spirit of the times, you come up with the glib, plasticky post-modernism practised by Williamson and Tarantino at his most annoying. The triumphs are random and scattered -the elegant Suture, the unforgettable Hoop Dreams, Starship Troopers, Slums of Beverly Hills, and a sudden rush of excellence in 1999.

But it was also at the very end of the decade that perhaps its most crucial development took place -only it wasn't on a cinema screen. In the final year of the 20th century, The Sopranos aired on TV for the first time, throwing the way open many other long-form, small-screen epics that in the last 10 years have so often stolen film's artistic thunder. So maybe the 90s has its place in things after all -as the last decade in cinema history when the movies would truly have the place to themselves. The Guardian

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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

SHUT AI DOWN

 

Hundreds of pilots at state-owned Air India went on strike on Thursday, forcing the airline to cancel flights, leading to cascading chaos at India's airports. The flashpoint, as before, is the demand from those pilots formerly with Indian Airlines that they be paid as much as those who were with Air India before the botched merger of those two carriers. The simple point that Air India is monstrously in debt and that it would be ridiculous to up already high salaries now seems to be one the government is unable to make forcefully enough.

Possibly the government's culpability in bringing Air India to this pass makes it speak softly in argument. The merger was poorly thought out; and the decision by an empowered group of ministers in UPA 1 to take on additional debt to purchase a new fleet is now being seen for the folly it was. That decision was born of the misguided belief that the Centre has a duty to "revive" Air India, a mantra that has been repeated by one civil aviation minister after another. We now, post-reshuffle, have a new minister in charge, Vayalar Ravi. The last thing that he needs is to have this albatross around our necks for the foreseeable future. The wise move for Ravi would be to acknowledge that past decisions have dug Air India into a hole of mismanagement and debt — Rs 40,000 crore deep — from which there is no escaping. Wiping out Air India's debt would cost several times more than the Centre spends on rural health annually. This is not an expenditure that a government can justify — especially on something in which the private sector has amply demonstrated its ability to satisfy the public's needs. Instead of throwing good money after bad, the time has come to stand up and say: yes, Air India must be shut down.

Air India should be seen for what it is: one of the last institutional holdovers of that dull, depressing time when the state felt that it alone could provide services to India's population. Post-1991, that myth has been exploded, and notably so in Air India's own business. Vast amounts of taxpayer money should not go to support a business on life-support. This strike is just another reminder of the uselessness of pretending that Air India can somehow be put back the way it was. It is broken beyond repair; the government must acknowledge that, and announce its strategy for shutting the carrier down.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

OPENING UP

 

The government has taken an essential step towards accountability and transparency by deciding to make public the assets of those in the higher echelons of bureaucracy. All serving IAS officers, other Group A Central service officers and their dependents will have to disclose their assets and income-tax returns. Defaulters will face serious consequen- ces, and therein hopefully lies a pointer to the gravity with which the government is seized of the matter. Those who refuse to submit their details will be denied vigilance clearance, will not be considered for promotion and empanelment for senior posts in the government and their names will be proclaimed online.

Declaring one's assets is an elementary act of transparency between the public servants and the public. While there have been arguments, especially in the context of the higher judiciary declaring their assets, that this bit of personal information has no bearing whatsoever on how one conducts in public office, putting the documents out there is considered one way of deterring potential acts of corruption. That is why declaration of assets by election candidates has gained such traction — though the format needs more regulation. Over a year ago judges of the Supreme Court too made public details of their wealth — first due to public pressure and then a judgment by the Delhi High Court. After the legislature and judiciary, now it is bureaucracy's turn.

The Right to Information Act has indeed ensured a greater sense of transparency over the past few years, but here the public has to seek out much of the information which should have been open and accessible to them as a matter of course, without them having to take recourse even to the minimum act of filing and submitting application forms. This is not to discount the enormous impact that the RTI has had, but to point to new creative ways in which the government can subject itself to greater accountability. By simply putting up online details of procedures and policymaking, of services rendered and auctions made, etc, the government would be able to contain corruption, address the prevailing consternation about institutional opaqueness and make people feel they are indeed part of the system, not shut out of it. Sunlight really is the best disinfectant.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LIBYAN STALEMATE

 

The Saturday evening Nato air strike on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound that reportedly killed his son Saif al-Arab and three grandchildren came shortly after Gaddafi had called for a ceasefire and talks with Nato to stop the coalition's air strikes against his regime. Nato and the Libyan rebel leadership had rejected Gaddafi's offer. While the rebels claim the time for compromise is past, Nato says it will be unmoved till it sees action on the ground, not just words. This wasn't Gaddafi's first offer of ceasefire, and his actions hadn't actually matched his earlier declarations of halts to fighting.

However, Saturday's strike comes in the midst of what was being called the "Libyan stalemate", since neither the rebels nor the regime seemed strong enough to decisively win. For the rebels, the drawn-out battle of Mistrata would symbolise the difficulty of toppling Gaddafi. However, Nato's "limited" but significant involvement could still be the gamechanger for them as the Tripoli strike showed. Although the deaths have not been independently confirmed, Gaddafi's willpower has just been put to its toughest trial yet.

The reason why Libya — which was not on anybody's "who's next" list immediately after the "Arab Spring" began — has been every bit the nightmare it was feared to degenerate into, is the obstinacy on both sides. The rebels will not cease till the "Butcher of Tripoli" goes, and Gaddafi, less than a memory of the young captain who engineered the coup of 1969, has repeatedly said that he will not leave the country. His speech before the Nato strike, albeit more conciliatory than before, was every bit as defiant as ever. Meanwhile, Libyan civilians are dying, although Nato claims its targets are only military and that the Bab al-Aziziya compound was a "known command-and-control building". It seems this bloody chapter of the Arab tumult will not close without somebody blinking. Is it any clearer now who that is more likely to be?

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE WHEELS ARE OFF

PRANABDHALSAMANTA

 

The umpteenth attempt at putting Humpty Dumpty back on the wall does not look like succeeding. It's well known that Air India has been in a precarious state for the past couple of years, but the current management seems to be aiding and hastening the downfall. The pilots have again gone on a strike despite knowing the stringent options the management can exercise, like moving for de-recognition of their association, a route it had adopted with other unions in the recent past. So, the ICPA now stands de-recognised, the strike is illegal in the eyes of law and, yet, there is no resolution in sight.

But the issue is not really about pilots and their grievances. All agree that whatever the problems, there is no justification in passing them over to the passenger. That said, all this points to a larger malaise, one where all channels of communication within the organisation have broken down. Systemic attributes like a basic level of trust, fidelity and flexibility among employees and managers, the workforce and executives have just evaporated in the past few months. No one seems to trust anyone in that airline, which has turned into a hotbed for conspiracy theories like, "there are powers that want us to fail, so that private competitors can succeed" — or for that matter, "air bilateral rights are being given away at our cost to private carriers" — least realising that these are sovereign rights, not a company's treasure trove that it can trade to shore up its finances.

These are all signs of a company gone bust and here's where the real problems begin because the government has committed large amounts of public money for its revival. And that's why the Prime Minister's Office is today exasperated but not combative, urging the ministry and the management to resolve the situation through dialogue. The government knows it will be held accountable for the money it's spending through this revival package, but the airline's top brass could not care less. As a result, Air India is a rundown airline dealing with issues of a rich company just because government funding has created an artificial sense of security — and more damagingly, a lazy, spoilt attitude that the government will never let us fail. So, the future is even dimmer.

Let's just consider the present problem. Pilots of the erstwhile pre-merger Air India get an assured amount of money for 80 hours of flying every month, regardless of whether they clock that many hours. Back-of-the-envelope, this works out to around Rs 8 lakh a month for a flight commander. The old Indian Airlines pilots got paid on an hourly basis, which means income calculated on the number of hours you fly. A true merger of the airline ought to have logically led to the creation of a single system of calculating these emoluments. That was never done, giving rise to parity issues. Despite the merger, both systems continue to prevail. On an average, an erstwhile IA pilot could get close to Rs 4 lakh a month with an average flying cycle of about 60-65 hours. It was not a perfect situation, but everyone went along with the hope that a uniform system would eventually be devised.

Far from it, the worst has happened. To get its finances in order, a short-sighted management went full steam to cut routes and, therefore, reduce costs under the garb of making it a trim airline. Like any patch-up job, the results were also temporary. What happened though was the pie got smaller by the day. DGCA figures for the month of March show the market share of Air India (domestic) was down to 14.9 per cent, way below Jet, Kingfisher and Indigo while catching up steadily is Spicejet at 13.5 per cent. From being market leaders, the airline is down to the fourth position and likely to be relegated to the fifth in the next few months.

What has all this meant for the pilots on the domestic sector? Fewer flights to fly, therefore, fewer hours and hence, a reduced pay package, which is bound to hurt someone in wait for a raise. So these pilots are actually agitating for more work, more flying hours, but there isn't any scope.

The truth, which the pilots must be told, is that their company has shrunk in size, stature and revenue. So, incomes linked with something like flying hours will come down which, obviously, raises the question of what happens to those receiving fixed salaries on an assumed 80-hour cycle.

Essentially, Air India is in a twin spiral. If coping with complex issues resulting from the merger of the two airlines was not enough, it has to now deal with problems of suddenly becoming a smaller airline. The tragedy is that the second problem is a boomerang of a revival strategy aimed at cutting costs through streamlining operations which, in the end, was just a blanket withdrawal of routes. All this was done to be able to window dress performance, justify infusion of more public money and spawn a new fiefdom of managed incompetence. It's time the government realised at the highest levels that the wheels have come off Air India and there's no point just aimlessly pumping in resources to somehow hold Humpty Dumpty together.

The issue is not the absence of ideas or strategies as much as that of organisational commitment to carry everybody along. From leadership to the workforce, there is a clear disconnect at every level, rendering any plan unsuccessful. As for the government, it had better watch out because these thousands of crores in aid of a revival package could well sow the seeds of the next scam.

pranab.samanta@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE ARMY ADVANCES

YUBARAJ GHIMIRE

 

With Nepal's constituent assembly unlikely to draft and deliver the constitution by the new deadline of May 28, and given the loss of credibility of the bickering political parties, the army is being seen by every major external player as the most important — if not the only — stabilising institution in the country. Clearly, countries near and far are keen to cooperate with it.

The Chinese army chief, Chen Bingde, was in Nepal a month ago to hold meetings with the president, the prime minister and the chief of the Nepal army. The army accepted 160 million yuan from Beijing for expansion and purchase of equipment for the military hospital in Kathmandu. Interestingly, Pakistan had earlier offered 1 billion Nepali rupees for the expansion of the military hospital, but the Nepal government declined it. Given its long and traditional relations with the Indian army on one hand, and the hostility between India and Pakistan on the other, the Nepal army was hesitant to accept the offer from Pakistan.

India's army chief, General V.K. Singh, during his visit to Nepal about three months ago, confided to a small group of senior generals that he felt India's new Nepal policy was not all that right. He did not explain the statement, but those present there read it in two ways. One, that the Indian establishment's complete trust in the Maoists — who still treat Nepal's army as their enemy — in 2006 was inappropriate. Two, that the overthrow of the monarchy, without mooting a credible, permanent and strong institution in its place, was counter-productive.

India is not the only country uncomfortable with China's growing interest in Nepal — since China is perceived to be close to the Maoists, the biggest party today. The US, going by its recent Congressional report, seems as wary. General Chen's efforts to develop closer ties with Nepal's army will add to those concerns.

Chhatraman Singh, chief of the Nepal army, found that out when he went to Washington, DC less than a week after General Chen's visit. Apart from the unusually warm welcome he received, the army chief was happy that the US did not raise the issue of human rights for the first time in many years, nor their violation by Nepal's army.

The US's deliberate omission and the usual promise of support as well as India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna's statement during his visit that the army's professional and apolitical character must be maintained only signal the role the army will be playing in Nepal in the days to come. Perhaps the world outside has inferred that there will be more chaos and uncertainty in Nepal, and that the political process and parties are likely to be further discredited.

Political parties no longer indulge in cornering the army as an outfit loyal to the king. The army is neither branded as pro-king nor vilified as anti-democracy. The issue of "democratisation" of the Nepal army is no longer being raised, with no one having clarified or explained what that term means.

Although the perception of the army has undergone a major change at home and abroad, there are still concerns about differences at the top level and the role it should play in the future. With just about a month left for the extended deadline for drafting the constitution, Nepal's political players are looking for an excuse to justify the failure of the constituent assembly. They are sure to face the people's anger and non-cooperation. The four big parties, including the Maoists and the Nepali Congress, have fallen out, and a broad political consensus that almost all the parties swore by has evaporated.

However, chances of their coming together to give the House a further extension cannot be ruled out, given the fact that these parties will otherwise be dumped as a collective failure. The army may seek a larger recognition if that happens. It is likely to demand that it should not be treated on par with Maoist combatants, something which the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) promised, that the army will mainly decide on the conditions for integration of Maoist combatants in the security set-up and that political parties will abide by it if peace and political stability are achieved. The army in that context would have gained a lot, but the question that needs to be urgently answered is: what can a national army without credible political bosses or set-up, during an unduly prolonged transitional phase, do?

The army, despite regaining its lost image, cannot substitute for political parties. This is something political parties perhaps understand and one reason why they are not quite keen to get their act together.

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

CAPTAIN OF THE RIGHT

NADEEM F PARACHA

 

In Pakistan, certain absurdities are casually treated as being products of clever political pragmatism. Nothing's shocking anymore.

As civilians and security personnel build taller and taller walls around their schools, mosques, shrines, markets and offices, a hapless polity and its leadership have no clue so far how to stop monsters we call "khudkush bambaar" (suicide bombers). Yet, in the animated electronic media of Pakistan, it is not these mad men with bombs around their waists and visions of paradise in their warped heads that dominate the discourse on the country's war against Islamists. No sir, what gets discussed and decried more in this respect are the American drone attacks in the country's tribal, militant-infested north-west areas.

Statistics do not matter. For example, a whopping 34,017 people have died in terrorist attacks since 2004 in Pakistan, whereas 1,968 have been killed by the drones — more than half of them militants! Nevertheless, this hasn't stopped the media and politicians from sounding louder in their condemnation of drone attacks, and striking utterly ambiguous postures about terror attacks.

The groaning became so loud at one point that the truth finally came screaming out. Fortunately, amidst all this, some senior journalists and political analysts turned leftwards and became articulate vassals of this truth. They suggested that it is most probably the Pakistani intelligence agencies who want their various recruits in the media to begin a concentrated campaign against the Americans, using the drone attack issue as a confrontational plank.

Not so absurd a theory, really. The CIA accuses the ISI of being selective in targeting Islamists, killing some but at the same time protecting others. The drones issue becomes a way for the media and opposition parties to whip up anti-American sentiments in the public, so the agencies can tell their aggravated counterparts in the CIA that America better listen to the ISI's concerns, otherwise the public will eat them up.

Yes, Pakistani intelligence agencies have had a history of propping up whole political parties and politicians and a number of media-men to speak for them in a civilian set-up. But now the scenario has become rather bizarre. As the rampaging media's credibility is increasingly coming under scrutiny, it seems those who want to keep this cyclic game against the Americans going have begun to prop up certain politicians. Again, nothing new. But what is new is the fact that it is those parties and politicians with a history of being propped up by the agencies in the past who have decided to raise the alarm.

The leader of the opposition, Chaudhry Nisar, thumped his desk in the National Assembly for three consecutive days, accusing the ISI of funding cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. Though there is every likelihood that Nisar is right, it is ironic that he belongs to a party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which in the 1990s was the most gracious recipient of agency tinkering and manoeuvring.

But why is the PML-N raising the biggest hue-and-cry about Imran's new-found status? After all, it shares Imran's largely right-wing views and concerns about drone attacks, and has sounded as apologetic about the Taliban as has Imran.

Well, Imran's almost non-existent party is now said to be all set to suddenly emerge into an organised unit. But his enigmatic backers also know that, no matter how much of a shine they give to his party, his vote-bank will remain rooted in the central part of Pakistan's largest province, Punjab.

Central Punjab is also the PML-N's traditional constituency. But since the PML-N has washed its hands of whatever history it has had as an establishmentarian party, the establishment has gone looking for those who not only have similar right-wing views, but can be easily controlled.

Thus Imran becomes an attractive choice. Though still a minnow, some of his backers see a lot of promise in him. They feel he can be moulded into the next big right-wing thing in the populous Punjab, and his rampant quasi-reactionary views can be an asset, helping the military-establishment continue its silly little games with the Americans.

In another bizarre twist, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has dismissed Nisar's anti-ISI tirades. This is bizarre because Gilani belongs to a party (PPP) that is perhaps the only mainstream Pakistani party that had no links whatsoever with the agencies. In fact, it had been a target of the establishment for over 30 years.

But look at it this way. The PPP is in the government. It is barely surviving, but has done well to stay put. Come the next elections, it is bound to lose a lot of votes, especially in Punjab. But if Imran is able to make a dramatic impact in Punjab, he will be cannibalising PML-N votes, not the PPP's.

So why should the PPP be worried about what the ISI is supposedly up to with Imran? In fact, Gilani, a southern Punjabi, seems to be saying, "ISI propping up a new alliance in Punjab? Sou bismillah!" (By the grace of God, do it a hundred times).

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A WEDDING TOAST TO CINDERELLA

MAUREEN DOWD

Once upon a time, Cinderella fell out of favour. In the '70s, feminists found her insipid, waiting in the ashes for her prince. But they didn't give her enough credit. Teaming with the spirit of her dead mother, Cinderella cleverly rescues herself from servitude, conjures up her own glittery makeover and then saves the prince from the same torment she endured living with her hideous stepsisters.

In real life, however, many of our Cinderella brides have taken tragic turns — from Jackie Kennedy to Grace Kelly to the doe-eyed Diana Spencer. Yet the power of the fairy tale was vividly illustrated once more with the luminous wedding of comely commoner Kate Middleton to a charming Prince William, and a hypnotic new film adaptation of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte's gothic take on the Cinderella story.

The newly christened Duchess of Cambridge only had to rise above a middle-class background, the hydra-headed press beast and Will's understandable hesitation about marriage. But her task is herculean: to help save a stiff-necked monarchy sent into a shame spiral by Diana's humiliation and confessions.

A central element of the stories of Cinderella, Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte herself was a mystical connection to a mother who died too young. And that was certainly present at Westminster Abbey. Diana complained that Camilla Parker-Bowles crowded her out of her marriage to Charles. And Camilla (not a wicked stepmother) was in the congregation for William's wedding as she had been for Diana's 30 years ago.

But for the throng who turned out to see the Dress and the Kiss, Diana was the more palpable presence, hovering over her sons and Kate. The princes walked down the same long aisle where as heartbroken boys they followed behind their mother's coffin. The first hymn sung was the last one sung at Diana's funeral. Kate wore Diana's sapphire engagement ring. You could sense a collective prayer that Kate was not a lamb being led to slaughter. Many assured the invading celebrity journalists that Kate was older and more grounded than the virginal and high-strung 20-year-old who married an older man who loved another woman.

Jane Eyre is not as lovely as Kate Middleton. Charlotte Bronte, who never felt attractive herself, wanted to show her sisters that a plain heroine could be just as compelling as a beautiful one.

Poor little Jane also has a wedding, wearing a beautiful white dress and veil, to the wealthy man of her dreams. When the wedding is shattered by the news that there's already a Mrs Rochester, Jane listens to her former master's anguished explanation about his mad, vampirish wife in the attic. He begs her to stay and be "my comforter, my rescuer." When a dazed Jane goes to bed, she looks out the window and sees the moon start to blaze as if "a white human form shone in the azure, inclining a glorious brow earthward. It gazed and gazed on me ... it whispered in my heart, 'My daughter, flee temptation'."

Jane answers, "Mother, I will," picks up her slippers and flees Thornfield Hall. In the end, after Rochester has been widowed and mutilated for his sins, Jane returns. She rescues her dark prince even as he rescues her.

When Rochester first meets Jane, he calls her a "curious" sort of caged bird, "a vivid, restless, resolute" one. When she returns and sees him blind, with one hand gone, she describes him as a "caged eagle, whose gold-ringed eyes cruelty has extinguished." Now on a footing of equality, because she has inherited money and is less dependent on him, and he has lost his mansion and sight and is more dependent on her, they release each other from their cages.

Reader, she marries him. It's a bare-bones ceremony with only a parson and a clerk present. There's no coach or tiara. But it's very much a Cinderella ending

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

IS SHANGHAI BETTER THAN AMERICA?

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Here's a fact about China that you may not know: people in Shanghai today have a longer life expectancy than Americans. A child in Shanghai is expected to live 82 years. In the United States, the figure is not quite 79 years. (For all of China, including rural areas, life expectancy is lower, 73 years — but rising steadily.)

The harsh repression in China these days rightly garners headlines, but health data reflect another side of a nation that could scarcely be more complex and contradictory. For those who remember Shanghai a quarter-century ago as a dilapidated city where farmers would collect nightsoil from families without sanitation, it's extraordinary that among permanent residents, infant mortality is 2.9 deaths per 1,000 births. That is well below the rate of 5.3 in New York City. (Include migrant labourers living in Shanghai, perhaps a fairer comparison, and the rate climbs to a bit higher than in New York.)

That Shanghai child enjoys a world-class education in a public school — the best school system of any in a recent 65-nation survey, although it's also true that Chinese schools have their own problems such as widespread cheating and stifling of creativity.

That's what makes China such a fascinating and contradictory place. Other countries, from Egypt to North Korea, oppress and impoverish their people. But the Chinese Communist Party in the reform era has been oppressive politically — even worse lately, with the harshest clampdown in two decades — while hugely enriching its people.

President Hu Jintao and other top officials are autocrats, yes, but unusually competent autocrats. Polls show Chinese citizens pretty happy with their lot by international standards, although there's some doubt about how meaningful these polls are. My hunch is that if the Communist Party did hold free elections, it would win by a landslide — especially in rural areas.

A Harvard scholar once told me that today's China is best approached with ambivalence, and that seems about right to me. The crackdown that I deplored in my last column is real, and so is the stunning level of official corruption. But the same government that throws small numbers of dissidents in prison also provides new opportunities to hundreds of millions.

What's the trade-off between imprisoning a brilliant Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident like Liu Xiaobo and saving hundreds of thousands of babies' lives each year through improved health care? There isn't one. The two sides of China are incommensurate. They are the yin and yang of 21st-century China.

The United States tends to perceive China through a Manichaean lens — either the economic juggernaut overcoming poverty and investing brilliantly in alternative energy, or the Darth Vader that tortures dissidents. In fact, both are equally real. Likewise, China abuses trade pacts, but it has also been appreciating its currency (mostly through inflation) much more than Americans give it credit for.

When I lived in China in the 1980s and 1990s, there was always an awkward economic imbalance between me and my Chinese friends. I had a car, and they had bicycles. I paid for our meals together because I was so much better off. Now there's a new imbalance: Some of those same people ride around in chauffeured limousines while I get around in taxis. They take me to fancy restaurants whose prices give me headaches. One Chinese friend took me to a home with private indoor basketball court and personal movie theatre. It was a tribute to the stunning improvement in the country's standard of living. But it also speaks to growing income gaps at a time when, by official figures, 320 million rural Chinese do not even have access to safe water.

Moreover, some of the economic boom appears attributable to a bubble, particularly in real estate. And some of the grand fortunes are linked to corruption by government officials. One friend, the son of a Politburo member, once told me that he was being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by a Chinese company just to be on its board. That way, the company could persuade local governments to give it land at reduced prices.

What are we to make of such a country?

That it contains multitudes. And that any simplistic black or white view of it may well be right — but also incomplete and misleading.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

AN ACT OF COMMISSION ON EMISSIONS

ROHINI PANDE

 

India's growth miracle has improved the lives and prospects of millions of people, but it is taking a toll on the country's environment. High levels of air and water pollution are shortening people's lives and threatening vital ecosystems. What's the best way for India to continue to increase the standard of living of its citizens while preventing further environmental harm?

A promising solution lies in the ministry of environment and forests' recent decision to test-pilot a market-friendly emissions-trading system. This system offers the potential to produce a cleaner environment without unnecessarily penalising the industries that are the vital engine of India's spectacular growth.

India currently relies on a traditional command-and-control approach to reducing pollution. This method dictates that industry install particular pollution-abatement technologies or achieve fixed concentration norms for emissions. There are several fundamental problems with this approach.

First, focusing on emissions concentrations ignores the total impact of emissions on the environment. An area with many industries may be badly polluted even if all are in compliance. An emissions-trading system will focus on total emissions to strictly limit net adverse environment impact, as mandated by the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 and accompanying rules.

Second, traditional regulation imposes unnecessarily heavy costs on firms. The reason is simple. Some firms will find it less expensive to reduce pollution than others. Command-and-control ignores this difference, requiring the same reductions by all industries, even though it would cost society less, on the whole, if the industries that found it cheaper to reduce pollution cut emissions more. Plus, the industries doing the greater cutting would benefit from receiving payments from the industries doing less.

Third, the current system is opaque and does not gain the confidence of regulated industries or the public. Fixed concentration norms bring complaints among industries that the current system is unfair, in not accounting for the scale of emissions. Further, there is a sense that there is an unequal treatment of violation and general unpredictability in the regulatory process. The public can see national ambient air standards tightening without corresponding improvements in air quality and feel that the current system is failing them.

These problems make it difficult to enforce current regulations and to introduce new regulations. This dynamic endangers the health and well-being of Indians.

An emissions-trading system is a proven tool to improve the trade-off between economic growth and environmental quality. Emissions trading can reduce all industries' compliance costs and provide regulators with a less costly and more effective way to limit overall emissions.

It gives an incentive for industries to identify inexpensive ways to reduce pollution and for emissions reductions to be done by the industries that find it least expensive to do so. This has been demonstrated in the famously successful sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide markets in the US, as well as in other countries. The ministry of environment and forests has announced a pilot scheme for emissions trading for particulate matter in three Indian states.

Particulate air pollution is widely believed to be the most dangerous form of air pollution. Our own research has demonstrated that it leads to increased rates of infant and substantially reduced life expectancies. The pilot scheme will set and enforce caps on total particulate emissions from point sources. Permits under the cap will be allocated to polluting firms either directly or through an auction. These firms will then be able to choose to either reduce their own emissions, or buy permits from firms that can abate more cheaply. Continuous monitoring of emissions and a public market will make this regulatory process transparent. Further, they will allow pollution levels to be controlled effectively, with minimal costs to both regulators and to firms.

The pilot scheme will be rigorously evaluated through a randomised trial. The results of the pilot will then be used to determine the viability and effectiveness of roll-out to other areas and pollutants. Over the longer run, it will help make participating in global carbon markets a more feasible option for India.

The scheme puts India at the forefront of environmental innovation. To the best of our knowledge, India's scheme will be the first emissions-trading programme in any developing country. Remarkably, only a few weeks after India's programme was launched, China announced its own plans to pilot emissions-trading schemes in six provinces in 2012. Most importantly, though, India's move into market-friendly regulation represents an effective and efficient way of facilitating the high rates of growth that are transforming the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians, without unnecessarily harming human health and the environment.

Greenstone is a professor of environmental economics at MIT. Pande is a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

INTEREST-ING TIMES

By now, it's pretty much of a foregone conclusion that even if a hike in policy rates by RBI tomorrow won't help curb inflation, it will certainly jeopardise India's growth prospects. While the repo rates rose from 4.75% in March 2010 to 6.75% right now, and reverse repo from 3.25% to 5.75%, this hasn't had anywhere near the desired effect on curtailing WPI inflation, which was just under 9% in March—it was nearly 13% for primary articles, a little over 6% for manufactured products and around 13% for fuel and power, the latter likely to rise further once fuel prices are raised after the West Bengal assembly elections are over. The impact on lowering GDP growth, however, appears a lot more certain, especially since growth has already been trending down. Growth in real gross fixed capital formation, Crisil estimates show, fell from 26% in the first quarter of 2010-11 to 6% in the third quarter on a year-on-year basis; once you do a seasonal adjustment on this, quarter-on-quarter growth fell to -5.3% in Q3. Much of this, in any case, can be seen from the falling order books of most capital goods manufacturers. If RBI raises policy rates, the banks will pass them on this time around—of the 75 bps hike in repo rates since December, commercial banks raised rates their base rates by 65 bps. Our Oped columnist Saugata Bhattacharya points out that even this underestimates the impact—see his chart on how the 200 bps hike in policy rates last year has resulted in a situation where the cost of short-term funds for banks, and companies, has gone up 400 bps. So, borrowing is getting costly, whether RBI hikes rates or not.

But the question is whether there is an alternative to hiking rates. Sure, we know GDP growth will get hit, but how else is inflation to be tackled? This is tricky, especially since part of the inflation, such as in commodities, is imported and can't be easily tackled. A few points can, however, be made. JPMorgan chief economist Jahangir Aziz pointed out to FE, a few days ago, that no company had raised capacity in India since 2008. Clearly, this is a factor in manufacturers inflation rising. So, if the government were to make it easier to get land and various environment and forest clearances, capacity would go up significantly, and prices would get a breather—think of Posco and other big projects to know how serious the problem is. The short point is that the government has to aid RBI in its inflation-fight. Monetary policy can't work in the presence of large fiscal deficits; similarly, if the investment environment is not improved, the economy will heat up faster.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

INSURING INSURERS

After Crisil's estimates that industry losses for third-party motor insurance would be R10,000 crore in 2010-11, there's worse news for the R2,65,000-crore life insurance industry. The number of new policies sold each year is the best way to judge the health of the industry, and the first-year premium grew by just 15% in 2010-11 as compared to an average of 25% per year in the last four years. Private firms, which account for a fifth of the life insurance market, were the worst hit, and their first-year premiums rose just 2.5% as compared to over 35% each year in the last four years. LIC wasn't as badly hit, and its first-year premiums rose 22% in 2010-11. There are four segments of the life insurance business—individual single premium, individual non-single premium, group single premium and group non-single premium—of which individual non-single premium is seen as the segment with the greatest growth potential. This segment saw a fall of 22% for the private sector life insurance players.

Much of the reason is the sudden fall in the purchases of unit-linked insurance plans, or Ulips, which account for 40% of LIC's business and around 80% in the case of the private sector players. The new Irda guidelines, which came into effect from September last year, have made Ulips a lot less lucrative. For one, the lock-in period for Ulips has been raised to five years from the earlier three. A minimum of 20% of the value of the premium now has to compulsorily be used for the insurance part of a Ulip. Commissions for agents have also been drastically pared. While insurance companies used to pass on around 40% of the first year premium to agents, this has now been reduced to 5%. So, customers are less keen on Ulips and agents aren't going overboard to push them anymore. Irda has also made it mandatory for life insurers to guarantee a minimum level of return on their Ulips. Irda has also mandated insurance companies to rationalise their cost structure, which has resulted in companies downsizing their distribution model, especially in tier II and tier III cities. For now, with just seven of the 22 private life insurance firms making profits, the insurance industry could do with some life cover of its own.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

MAHARAJA WITHOUT CLOTHES
M GOVINDA RAO

The recent standoff of the pilots with the management in Air India once again brings to the fore the rot in the company and the way pressure tactics are used to harass the passengers and burden the taxpayers. Indeed, its poor record of service delivery and the large losses and bailouts make its existence and continuation difficult to justify. Flouted as the 'National Carrier', the airline has become a national embarrassment.

Economists' argument for public ownership is grounded in market failure arguments. But here is a case of nationalisation of a well-run private aviation company in 1953 not for reasons of market failure, but in our zealousness to establish a socialistic pattern of society! Thus, the government, rather than promoting the market, decided to convert a well-run private company into a public monopoly and vested enormous powers of exploitation with the political class and bureaucracy and bestowed the blackmailing powers to the employees. Of course, different categories of employees' unions have different powers that they exercise liberally at enormous cost to the passengers. In the process, over the years, neither the management nor the employees see their main job as serving the customers, but looking after themselves, the bureaucrats who matter and, of course, the political masters. Not surprisingly, customers do not matter to Air India.

There are several horror stories of how the politicians (and their kith and kin), both from the ruling parties and opposition, have continued to exploit the airline. Holding up the airlines and changing the timings to suit their convenience is a minor issue. Only recently, a worthy former Prime Minister made the passengers wait for more than an hour because he fell asleep in the VIP lounge and nobody had the courage to wake him up! Similarly, our political and bureaucratic worthies shun the 'cattle class' and, therefore, upgradation for them and their kith and kin, even if that means offloading genuine passengers, is a routine matter. In fact, genuine passengers with valid ticket come last in the list of preference. I was told of an incident a few years ago when one of the Cabinet ministers who, on his visit to Russia, had a stroke and was admitted to a hospital and two first class seats between Moscow and New Delhi in Air India were kept reserved for him every day until he actually returned, and this was done at his instruction. Of course, in this case, the concerned ministry must have paid the bill. Now, it is even better. The worthies do not even have to pay for their spouses. Air India has a unique scheme of 'buy one get one free'! The free ticket to accompanying spouse solves the problem! It is particularly useful when the senior bureaucrats and politicians travel to Europe and the US. Don't they deserve a paid-for vacation?

Obviously, when the objective of the airline is to look after its employees and serve the bureaucrats and politicians, the airline demands that its large losses should be bailed out. So long it was a public monopoly, people had no option but to pay for the poor service the airline rendered. However, with increased competition, the financial fortunes of Air India have taken a plunge. As the monopoly power was lost, the airline could not set the price to cover the cost. It nevertheless used all its tactics with the government to introduce protectionist policies such as government employees having to travel only by Indian Airlines/ Air India. But these have not helped. The net losses of Air India in 2009-10 are estimated at over R5,500 crore. After all, Air India has almost 40,000 employees, of which 20,000 are loaders and 10,000 are commercial staff. At about 120 employees per aircraft, this is the most employment-intensive airline in the world. The working capital debt of the airline amounts to a whopping R18,000 crore. Ironically, the Indian Commercial Pilots Association complains that the management has given up over 30 profitable routes to benefit private airlines. Indeed, when you do not care for customers, every profitable route will become loss-making and protectionist policies will not help.

The airline's apathy for the customers is common and it now comes to be associated with the brand name. Cancelling the flights without any prior notice or delaying the flights for hours together has become all too common. Giving information is not a necessity. You can always 'regret' the delay as it happened because the flight 'arrived' late. And there are 'technical' reasons. When you go to the counters, it reminds us of an 'action replay' shown in cricket telecasts. Last week, I had a personal experience of having to make a booking at the airport in New Delhi for a return flight from Mumbai. As the Jet Airways (which competes hard with Air India to reach the latter's efficiency levels) cancelled its 8.05 pm flight (9W 361), I decided to book with Air India (AI 101). Even as the gentleman at the counter was reluctant, he was left with no choice but book my ticket. I was in for a surprise when I went to the check-in counter at the domestic airport in Mumbai. I was told that the flight would depart from the International Airport! Neither the gentleman who booked the ticket had informed me, nor did the ticket carry any mention of this! Apparently, this is normal for this flight and, as I rushed out, a taxi driver was ready to take me on a costly drive to the international airport. I discovered in the flight that this is a regular practice and quite a few people, including Kiran Choudhary, the finance minister of Haryana, had the same experience!

Air India is surely not a viable idea and there are no sound economic arguments to keep it in the ventilator and load the huge burden on the taxpayer. Of course, it has a lot of high value real estate and, perhaps, some of it should be sold to provide funds for a golden handshake, particularly for loaders and some commercial staff. That would improve the marketability of the company and the government should go ahead and sell off the company. Half way houses will only cause more misery for the passengers and taxpayers.

The author is director, NIPFP. These are his personal views

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

EUROPE'S TEST IN NORTH AFRICA
PETER SUTHERLAND

Europe's reaction to the historic revolutions in North Africa has vacillated between exhilaration and fear. The natural instinct to celebrate and support democratisation across the Mediterranean has been tempered by concerns that the crisis will spill onto European shores.

A few leaders have invoked the post-World War II Marshall Plan as a model for large-scale European development assistance for the region, the aim being to ensure the sustainability of a democratic transformation and generate long-term political and economic benefits for Europe. But the mainstream reaction has been much more fearful: media and politicians throughout the European Union are obsessing about the threat of waves of migrants reaching their borders.

Such a threat should not be taken lightly. Already, the controversy over Tunisian migrants in Italy has started to fray the political underpinnings that allow free movement in the Schengen area. The war in Libya, meanwhile, could lead to many more thousands of civilians fleeing the violence and needing international protection.

So far, nearly 400,000 people have filled refugee camps in Tunisia and Egypt, and an estimated 20,000 have reached Italy's shores. Dealing with any surge of asylum seekers will require the EU to strengthen its capacity to offer temporary protection—and possibly to reconsider how its overall asylum system works. That the Union has been moving towards a common approach to border security, most visibly with the expansion of the Frontex border agency, will be of help here.

But if Europe allows itself to be consumed by the short-term crisis, it risks squandering an extraordinary long-term opportunity. By using this moment strategically and wisely, the EU would have a chance to reframe its relationship with the southern Mediterranean (as it is being redubbed) to promote generational development and growth in ways that can address Europe's interests, too.

The best way to allay European fears and prevent uncontrolled migration is to establish positive incentives, and the practical means, for potential migrants to stay home—most significantly by creating jobs in the southern Mediterranean. After all, the vast majority of migrants leave home reluctantly.

Yet, at the same time, as its baby boomers retire en masse in the coming decade, Europe will need workers at all skill levels. The southern Mediterranean can be the source of this labour, given its huge youth bulge. The trick will be to ensure that migrants are given the chance to acquire the skills that European employers need, and that they have the chance to move in a safe, legal, and orderly fashion.

Policies that help train the next generation of North Africans, and allow them to circulate more freely between Europe and their home countries, are a much smarter solution than the current approach, which sustains illegal migration without meeting Europe's labour needs. This is an argument not for more migration, but for better migration—well thought out and planned.

Of course, if Europe helps North Africa build sustainable, prosperous democracies, this would be the greatest long-term deterrent to illegal migration of all. It is worth recalling that 50 years ago, the largest immigrant populations in northern Europe hailed from Italy, Greece, Portugal, and Spain. As those countries prospered, the émigrés returned home: their countries eventually became engines of European growth, and major export markets for Germany, France and other EU member states. The same arc of development can and should be limned for the southern Mediterranean.

Fortunately, research on migration and development in recent years has helped foster a range of policy tools that Europe should be considering. Experts and policymakers have been devising many innovative programs, including low-cost remittances from migrants to their home countries, efforts to strengthen ties between diasporas and their homelands, and initiatives that help skilled migrants find proper employment, so that qualified surgeons are not driving taxis.

In thinking about how to reframe the EU's relationship with the southern Mediterranean, we should draw on these ideas as expansively as possible. In order to connect our societies in positive ways, we should seriously consider liberalising trade regimes, opening new avenues for legal migration, and vastly expanding the number of students from the region who come to Europe for education and professional training. After all, it was the youth of North Africa, both at home and abroad, whose notions of freedom helped bring down dictators in Egypt and Tunisia. Their talents and energy should now be cultivated and harnessed to help rebuild their societies.

Responding to the challenges and opportunities of this moment demands the creation of strong partnerships among states, international institutions, and non-governmental actors. Since its inception in 2006, the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) has provided a much-needed platform for dialogue among states and other stakeholders on issues related to migration and development. Its annual plenary sessions facilitate the exchange of experiences and good practices in a way that transcends traditional "North-South" conflicts.

Among other changes that it has spurred, the GFMD has compelled governments to understand migration more holistically, and to develop a "whole of government" approach to addressing the opportunities and challenges that it poses. It also has highlighted the importance to development of protecting migrant rights and of fighting illegal migration.

The Global Forum has done its job by generating and fostering ideas that can make migration benefit the development of countries of origin and destination. It is high time that these ideas are implemented. There could be no greater opportunity for doing so than this strategically crucial window in the history of Europe and the southern Mediterranean. If we do not seize this moment for action, history could well pass us by.

Peter Sutherland is Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Migration, former Director General of the WTO and a former EU Commissioner.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

www.project-syndicate.org

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

WIDEN THE INVESTIGATION

Given the central government's conspicuous lack of enthusiasm to act against those responsible for the string of financial irregularities related to the Commonwealth Games 2010, the arrest of Suresh Kalmadi is certainly a step forward. The former Chairman of the Organising Committee — who has been arrested on corruption charges in a case relating to a contract for Timing, Scoring and Result (TSR) devices awarded to a Swiss firm at a scandalously high rate — has a lot to answer for. The Central Bureau of Investigation is investigating his role in another case relating to the Queen's Baton Relay, a traditional precursor to the Commonwealth Games (CWG) that was launched in London in October 2009. But there is no ignoring the fact that many of the scandals in CWG 2010 were the result of either the commission or omission of authorities belonging to a clutch of government bodies, which include the Union Sports Ministry, the Delhi government, and the Delhi Development Authority. The V.K. Shunglu Committee, which was set up to probe "the weaknesses in management, alleged misappropriation, irregularities, wasteful expenditure and wrongdoing in the conduct of the Games," stresses in its report that the extravagance of the Organising Committee of the Games was coupled with a reckless lack of budgetary control on the part of government authorities. The report records the "galactic jump" of the original budget estimate — placed at somewhere between Rs.300 crore and Rs.400 crore — to an actual expenditure of over Rs.28,000 crore, of which Rs.16,560 crore was spent by the Delhi government.

The Shunglu Committee report implies that there were bigger fish than Mr. Kalmadi in the sea of corrupt CWG-related deals and projects. The CBI must keep the findings of the report in mind while broadening its investigation. The fortunes of Mr. Kalmadi, a Lok Sabha MP and former Union Minister, dipped rapidly after the conclusion of the Commonwealth Games. He was dismissed as the chief of the Organising Committee of the CWG, forced to resign as Secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party and, following his arrest, suspended from the party's primary membership. Now Mr. Kalmadi is fighting to hold on to the position of the President of the Indian Olympic Association, his role having been taken over by the body's senior vice-president as a result of the former's "indisposition." Rather than allow him unbridled power as chief of the Organising Committee, a firm check should have been put on Mr. Kalmadi once the first suspicions about financial irregularities emerged. The chaos today is a result of the failure of the central government and the Congress to act against him when they should have.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

WHAT AILS PUBLIC HEALTH RESEARCH?

Why has the incidence of tuberculosis in India remained around 170 per 100,000 people for the last 20 years despite DOTS, the directly observed treatment strategy, being in place? Answer: DOTS is a passive system that kicks in only after a person takes the initiative and gets tested for the disease. Despite the high prevalence and mortality rate, researchers are yet to figure out a system that works proactively, identifying all people with active TB and treating them. The compulsion to identify and treat people with active pulmonary TB as early as possible arises from the fact these patients stop infecting others only at the end of two months of treatment. The reason for the overall failure to identify an efficient and effective system for tracking down people with tuberculosis boils down to a grievous lack of public health research originating from India. India has the greatest total disease burden in the world, and is plagued by both communicable and non-communicable diseases. Yet the total number of research reports and journal papers on public health is small. This, despite the fact that public health research plays a pivotal role in understanding disease distribution in the population and reducing the burden through effective intervention strategies.

A paper recently published online in The Lancet ("Research to achieve health care for all in India," by Lalit Dandona et al.) reported that though the proportion of health papers published from India increased from 0.4 per cent of the global total in 1988 to 1.8 per cent in 2008, the papers on public health constituted a measly 5 per cent of the total health research papers published. While there has rightly been increasing representation of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in recent times, many of the leading causes of the disease burden such as lower respiratory infections and mental illness continue to be under-represented. The skew in the focus of health research reflects funding priorities. For instance, HIV/AIDS is better covered than chronic diseases and injuries that have much greater weightage in India's disease burden. Of what use are public health programmes and policies if the evaluation research to understand their effectiveness and deficiencies is weak? It is time these shortcomings were addressed by the national health policy, which promises to strengthen public health research. Increasing funding for evaluation research in addition to research on high burden diseases and the health system must be taken up as a life-saving priority. Now is the time for the government to put its money and political will where its mouth is.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

WHY THE CRITICS OF INDIA'S COMBAT JET DEAL ARE WRONG

FOLLOWING A RAFT OF TECHNICAL TESTS BY THE IAF, THE MANMOHAN SINGH GOVERNMENT HAS SHORTLISTED THE EUROFIGHTER CONSORTIUM'S TYPHOON AND THE FRENCH-MADE DASSAULT RAFALE FOR A MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR FOURTH GENERATION FIGHTER DEAL. NEW DELHI WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY COME UNDER INTENSE PRESSURE TO REVIEW ITS DECISION.

PRAVEEN SWAMI


Less than six months ago, President Barack Obama described the growing relationship between his country and India as "one of the defining and indispensable partnerships of the 21st century." India's decision to pick European-made jets to equip its frontline combat jet fleet instead of United States-manufactured competitors has led more than a few to argue that the relationship has already hit a dead-end.

Sadanand Dhume, writing in the journal of the American Enterprise Institute, has argued India has "rebuffed the US offer of a closer strategic partnership"; and Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has argued that New Delhi "settled for a plane, not a relationship." Indian commentators seem to agree: Nitin Pai, the editor of the strategic journal Pragati, charged India with being "gratuitously generous" to Europe; and The Times of India's Chidanand Rajghatta said the decision had dealt the India-U.S. alliance "a significant blow."

These critics are thoughtful commentators who need to be taken seriously. They are also wrong.

Like all other transactional dealings between states, arms purchases do indeed have strategic implications. India ought, for sound common sense reasons, to pursue a robust relationship with the United States. It is unclear, though, why the purchase of this particular weapons system ought to undermine the larger strategic relationship between India and the U.S.

If countries like the United Kingdom and France can actually produce and operate combat jets not made by their key strategic partner, the U.S., there is no particular reason why India's decision to buy them ought be seen as a strategic affront. Earlier this year, India picked U.S.-made engines for its Tejas light combat aircraft over European competitors; its strategic relationship with Europe did not fall apart as a consequence. Nor will India and Russia end their enduring military relationship because the MiG31 lost the combat-jet dogfight.

Secondly, the U.S. itself has pursued multiple strategic relationships that best serve its interests — and India, like every other nation state, ought do the same.

Ever since the tragic events of 9/11, the U.S. has supplied Pakistan with a raft of military assets of no conceivable use other than against India — among them, eight P3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft, 32 F16 variants, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, and anti-artillery radars. K. Alan Krondstadt's 2009 survey for the U.S. Congressional Research Service shows that much of this equipment was paid for through military assistance grants.

American diplomats were made aware of Indian concerns. Back in 2004, Robert O. Blake, the U.S. Charge d'Affaires in New Delhi, had warned in an Embassy cable, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks (23418: confidential, November 30, 2004), that sales of F-16s to Pakistan could "be a blow to those in the GOI [Government of India] who are trying to deepen our partnership." Mr. Blake again warned, in a 2005 cable, of "universal opposition in India to the supply of sophisticated arms to Pakistan, with the F-16 aircraft symbolizing a US commitment to upgrading the Pakistani armed forces" [ 28592: confidential, March 11, 2005].

But the administration of President George W. Bush made the argument that such grants would help Pakistan meet its "legitimate defence needs" – and claimed, more disingenuously, that the aircraft would be used for close air support in the war against jihadists.

It would have been churlish for India, though, to make its relationship with the U.S. contingent on how Washington chose to engage Islamabad. It would be similarly churlish for the U.S. to insist that India ought not to exercise its right to buy the best equipment on offer for its money.

The only question ought be: has India picked the right jet?

No such thing as "the best thing"

"Imagine," says a senior Indian Air Force official, "being asked to pick between a top-end Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar and Ferrari. It would be plain stupid to think of one high-performance car as better than another. For example, one might have better acceleration; another greater range; a third better handling."

The IAF's Request for Proposals brought into contention the European multinational Eurofighter consortium's Typhoon, the French-made Dassault Rafale, the Swedish Grippen, the Russian MiG35, and the United States' F16IN and FA18.

Each aircraft had distinct advantages: though it has a slow top speed compared with the Eurofighter Typhoon, the F-16IN or the MiG 35, the Grippen had a better sustained turn capability; the Rafale did not manoeuvre well at high speed, but demonstrated outstanding instantaneous turn rates; the Lockheed Martin-produced F16IN and its Boeing rival, the FA18, had the best radar.

The MiG35s, though from a stable that has been plagued by maintenance problems and untested in service in Russia, had genuine multi-role capabilities, would have cost just $45 million apiece, and come with generous transfer-of-technology provisions.

Few are surprised that the Eurofighter appears to be leading the race: the aircraft has won the admiration of Indian pilots who have encountered it in exercises with their British counterparts. In November 2010, The Telegraph reported from London that Eurofighter was closing in on the multi-billion deal.

Dr. Tellis noted, in a thorough scholarly appraisal, that the Typhoon "conformed most closely to the [IAF's] Request for Proposals, and in a purely technical sense, it arguably remains the most sophisticated airplane in the mix – at least in its fully mature configuration, which is still gestating." Eurofighter advocates point, among other things, that it was the only one of the contenders to demonstrate some supercruise capabilities – which means it can achieve supersonic speeds without the use of afterburners, improving endurance and reducing its radar signature.

Pilots told The Hindu they were also impressed with the aircraft's man-machine interface, which presents data streams from dozens of on-board and off-board sensors on a single screen

But the aircraft, like its European counterparts and the MiG35, also had a significant weakness – the absence of active electronically scanned array radar, or Aesa. Aesa broadcasts signals across a band of frequencies, enabling the radar to at once be powerful and stealthy. Eurofighter variants due to come into service around 2015 will carry an Aesa radar system called Caesar – but the aircraft's competitors pointed out that the radar, unlike those on the F16 and FA18, is untested.

Each U.S. contender was also a remarkable aircraft: although the F16 has been in service in 1979, the variant India was offered was state-of-the-art and proven in combat. Ramesh Phadke, a former Air Force pilot who serves as an analyst at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, noted the F16 "is destined to be remembered as the best multi-role fighter ever." The FA18, too, is combat tested, and won over its competitors in some spheres.

In the end, the IAF short-listed the two frontrunners after putting the contenders through a raft of complex technical tests – tests that no one has yet claimed were skewed or rigged. Each firm has been provided a technical appraisal of why its offer was rejected, an appraisal it is free to dispute.

New Delhi will now have to determine which of the two contenders it will choose – and finance could play a key role. The Eurofighter is likely to charge some $125 million apiece, which means the initial purchase of 126 jets will cost India $15.75 billion, and a likely final order of around 200 aircraft, $20 billion. The Rafale is likely to be pegged around $85 million apiece.

Though the Grippen would have cost around the same as the Rafale, the F-16IN and FA-18 would have come at around $60 million each, and the MiG35 a relatively modest $45 million – though, given problems with its engine, the overall life-cycle costs of the Russian jet may not have been much lower than its U.S. competitors.

It is imperative, though, that the decision is made fast. Back in 1969, the IAF determined that it needed 64 squadrons, 45 of them made up of combat aircraft, to defend the country. India's economic situation, however, meant it could build only 45 squadrons, 40 of them made up of combat jets. Even that meant it retained an almost 3:1 advantage over Pakistan through much of the 1980s.

In the years since, though, the en bloc obsolescence of aircraft like the MiG21, MiG23 and MiG25 has meant the IAF's edge has blunted: Pakistan today has 22 squadrons of combat jets, or some 380, to India's 29 squadrons, or 630 fighters.

Pakistan, moreover, has received new jets from the U.S., as well as the JF-17 from China, and a slew of advanced radar and missiles. Its air defence capabilities are due to be enhanced with four Swedish SAAB-2000 jets equipped with Erieye phased-array radar, and Y8 anti-electronic warfare platforms from China.

Even as India's advantage over Pakistan diminishes, it has China to consider – not because a war is probable, or even plausible, but because militaries must plan and be prepared for worst-case scenarios.

For much of its history, China's People's Liberation Army Air Force had a huge air inventory, numbering over 5,000 aircraft, but over three-fifths of this consisted of obsolete MiG19 second-generation fighters. But in recent years, China has moved towards becoming a genuine aerospace power: by 2020, the PLAAF will have more fourth-generation fighters than the entire IAF fleet.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government will almost certainly come under intense pressure to review its decision. It would do well to accept the expert assessment of those who understand its combat aviation needs the best – the women and men who may or may not, one day, have to fly them into danger.

(Praveen Swami is Diplomatic Editor of The Daily Telegraph , London.)

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

AT MICROSOFT, FUTURE GROWTH RIDES ON RESEARCH, INNOVATION

RESEARCH AT MICROSOFT HAS A STRONG EMPHASIS ON ADVANCING WHAT IT CALLS THE CONSUMERISATION OF IT. THAT APPROACH HELPS IT COME UP WITH NEW PRODUCT RELEASES AND ADD CAPABILITIES TO EXISTING ONES.

G. ANANTHAKRISHNAN

 

Software and services giant Microsoft is focussed on new ideas and research that will bring more advanced products to the consumer and enterprise market segments in an era of intensifying competition.

Fresh from its success with the Kinect for Xbox 360, a motion sensor device that holds the record for the fastest selling consumer electronics ever since it was launched, Microsoft has embarked on a 'journey of innovation.' Kinect allows users to, among other things, play games using natural hand gestures and dance in synchronisation with screen figures.

The path ahead extends such intelligence for Microsoft. It envisions walls in homes and offices that turn into giant touchscreens and possess the capacity to see and hear, to create a world of devices that seamlessly combine work and leisure. Next generation products will use Natural User Interface technology more.

Microsoft reported growth in revenues in 2010 touching $62.5 billion, a seven per cent increase over the previous fiscal year. Operating income grew 18 per cent for this period, to $24.1 billion.

"We are focussed on the broadest demands of people. Our aim is to bring technology to the next billion. In the last 18 months we have had some great results, such as Kinect, in innovating for the future," Steve Clayton, Microsoft Storyteller, told invited journalists at the headquarters of the company at Redmond, United States.

Kinect can see and hear

Kinect, which was launched on November 4 last year, has sold 10 million units and entered the Guinness Book as the fastest selling consumer electronics device in history, bar none. It features instant streaming of high definition 1080p content, reads body and facial gestures, and responds to voice commands. Adding to the existing feature set, "Avatar Kinect" will allow X Box Live users to chat and interact online socially in their 'avatar' (a faithful and live animation character of themselves) starting in the first half of 2011. This forms part of Microsoft's approach to more closely integrate socialisation features into its products.

The Kinect console uses cutting-edge technology to read the movements of the person in front of it, even to the point of reproducing smiles, frowns and raised eyebrows and other facial expressions. So how does it do this?

The gadget uses its own light source to illuminate the room, whether it is pitch dark or brightly illuminated, to 'understand' the surroundings. Alex Kipman, the Director of Incubation, says this technology enables one of the 'eyes' of the Kinect to see the room, as a monochrome view. "Things that are super close to the sensor are white, super far away are black, we file both of those numbers away and focus on the infinite shades of grey in between. For each shade of grey it maps a real-world coordinate, the distance, eyeball, a point. A colour eye, as in a phone or camcorder allows us to capture the user's memories, and enable video conferencing. It also recognises when you are walking towards the sensor," Mr. Kipman says.

The 'ears' of the device sit underneath the sensor, and they are essentially four microphones in an asymmetrical configuration. This acoustic chamber is a first, a system created with a non push-to-talk feature. The environment is always-on and listening. So, in the living room when people are having fun creating a lot of ambient sounds, the sensor is still able to differentiate the speech of different individuals through robust voice recognition.

The 'brains' of the Kinect are, like many other parts of the gadget, the product of work done in the field of machine learning at Microsoft Research. The research division of the company has centres around the world, including Bangalore. It taps the abilities of 850 Ph. Ds, or the equivalent of 20 major Computer Science laboratories.

Rick Rashid, Senior Vice-President, Microsoft Research, explains how Kinect depends heavily on machine learning to do what it is does. "It is not just tracking using its 3D camera. Actually there is a huge amount of machine learning technology that has been built-in that rapidly recognises which parts of the body are being looked at, at the instant time. So it recognises you when you are moving around, it does not confuse the person with your friend, or a dog that jumps at you," Dr. Rashid adds.

Machine learning is increasingly a critical component in fields like business intelligence, where the system must be able to take streams of data, recognise properties of that data and infer information from it. It is a very broadly used technology of importance to companies such as Microsoft in many of its businesses.

The products of research have given computers the kind of sensors that humans have. The Kinect is an example. It has the ability to see in 3D space. It also has the ability to localise sound, and do some things that people can do in terms of recognising aspects of the environment. "We put in sensors such as accelerometers, magnetometers and other types of sensors into devices such as laptops, phones or others, giving computers some of the abilities that we have to interact with the world and integrate that information to solve tasks," Dr. Rashid says.

Asked to predict the shape of computing in 2030, he says that would be hazardous, but the trend so far has been towards big developments in the field of machine translation. Large amounts of data produced by the growth of the Internet are now available to be processed, and the advances in machine learning have made this possible. This would evolve even more in coming years.

Office goes social

Research at Microsoft also has a strong emphasis on advancing what it calls the consumerisation of IT. That approach helps it come up with new product releases and add capabilities to existing ones such as Windows, Office and online services. Cloud computing, which has been growing in importance for over a decade, is set for explosive growth.

The economics of the cloud show that there is a steady and sharp fall in cost of computing power, measured in dollars per million instructions per second (MIPS). Over time, the biggest cost advantage has accrued to cloud computing, followed by client servers and mainframe computers.

These trends have resulted in Microsoft devoting resources to do more with its Azure platform. The concept helps divide infrastructure, platform and software into three distinct services, with cloud computing benefits. Customers derive greater levels of efficiency, guaranteed uptime and reduced cost. This model makes it possible for smaller companies to benefit from the high quality infrastructure and performance, without themselves having to make costly investments on hardware and software. They can manage short peaks in demand and opt for the 'pay-as-you-go' model.

Small companies thus get access to high levels of computing power but only pay for actual use. High-quality animation, for example, becomes possible for small film companies who can use the Renderman software from Pixar on the cloud for a la carte assignments. Customers of a greenhouse gas emission analysis system, manageCarbon, do not have to consider local upgrades, and benefit from centralised updating. Automaker Toyota is rolling out a next-generation telematics service in partnership with Microsoft on Windows Azure that enables remote assessment of the performance of plug-in and hybrid cars starting 2012. "This also provides companies to look afresh at 'cold cases,' or problems that defied solutions. With new technology and computing power, they have a better chance of solving old, unsolved cases," says Jamin Spitzer, Senior Director of Platform Strategy.

Cloud power is also being harnessed to create new access to the key components of Microsoft Office. The flagship productivity suite will be available as Office365, a customisable, managed productivity service across devices including the mobile phone with guaranteed uptime. The key components of the Office suite, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Onenote are integrated with email, calendar, instant messaging and online meetings in the cloud version, now in beta.

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

INTENSIFIED STRIKES RAISE QUESTIONS ON U.N. MANDATE

FRUSTRATED BY EVASION AND RESILIENCE OF QADHAFI'S MILITARY, NATO HAS PLEDGED TO STEP UP ITS STRIKES ON THE BROADER INSTRUMENTS OF HIS POWER.

DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK & KAREEM FAHIM

The government of Muammar Qadhafi said he survived an airstrike in Tripoli late Saturday night that killed one of his sons and three grandchildren, in the sharpest intensification yet of the Nato air campaign intended to pressure the Libyan leader from power.

The son, Seif al-Arab Muammar Qadhafi, 29, and the grandchildren, all said to be younger than 12, were possibly the first confirmed casualties in the airstrikes on the Libyan capital. And while the deaths could not be independently verified, the campaign against Libya's most densely populated areas raised new questions about how broadly Nato is interpreting its United Nations mandate to protect civilians.

It is the second airstrike in seven days to hit a location intimately close to the Libyan leader, following a midnight attack last week that destroyed an office building in his compound where he and his aides sometimes work.

In a news conference early Sunday in Tripoli, a Qadhafi government spokesman called the strike an illegal attack. "This was a direct operation to assassinate the leader of this country," said the spokesman, Musa Ibrahim. "This is not permitted by international law. It is not permitted by any moral code or principle." He said Mr. Qadhafi and his wife, who were staying at the house along with "friends and family," were not hurt.

American and Nato officials have said they are not seeking to kill Mr. Qadhafi, and some have suggested it might not be very easy. But frustrated by the evasion and resilience of Mr. Qadhafi's military, Nato has pledged to step up its strikes on the broader instruments of his power, including state television facilities and command centres in the capital.

In a news release, the Nato mission's operational commander, Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, said he was aware of the reports of Qadhafi family deaths but called them unconfirmed. He added: "All Nato's targets are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the Qadhafi regime's systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas. We do not target individuals."

A Nato official in Naples, Italy, reached by e-mail and responding on the condition of anonymity, said allied planners had not known that Mr. Qadhafi's family members were in the building that was attacked, which the official described as a command and control centre. The official would not specify the nationality of the aircraft or pilots that carried out the strike.

In a video broadcast by the satellite channel Al-Jazeera, Libyan officials showed reporters what they said was the destroyed house, a large crater, crumbled concrete and twisted metal, and someone dusting off what appeared to be an unexploded bomb. 

It is not the first time Mr. Qadhafi has survived such a close call. In 1986, the U.S. struck his compound in retaliation for a terrorist attack on a German nightclub frequented by U.S. service members. Mr. Qadhafi has incorporated his survival into his cult of personality, preserving the wreckage of the building as a "Museum of Resistance" and erecting a statue of a giant fist grabbing an American warplane.

Although several of Mr. Qadhafi's seven sons and one daughter play major roles in the Libyan economy and government (including an older brother with a similar name, Seif al-Islam Qadhafi), the son reported killed had been considered a black sheep, believed to spend much of his time in Munich. Many Libyans said they had never seen his picture. 

In Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital in eastern Libya, and in Misrata, a western city that Mr. Qadhafi's forces have besieged for months, celebratory gunfire rang out and explosions could be heard.

But even then, doubts lingered in Benghazi about whether the news was true:  In interviews, residents said they were happy but suspected a ploy by Mr. Qadhafi to win sympathy. Ramadan el-Sheikhy, who said his brother was killed in one of Mr. Qadhafi's prisons, said any sympathy was misplaced. "I was happy at the news," he said. "Hopefully, he felt the pain of having a relative killed." 

Earlier on Saturday, Nato officials had rejected an offer by Mr. Qadhafi to call a ceasefire and negotiate as false. The proposal was delivered in a rambling and often defiant speech, broadcast over Libyan state television, in which Mr. Qadhafi insisted he would never leave Libya. "Come France, Italy, U.K., America, come, we'll negotiate with you," he said. "You lie and say I'm killing my own people. Show us the bodies."

The speech, which was broadcast about 2:30 am, was the latest in a series of proclamations from the Libyan leader, and it was made as Nato forces said they would broaden their list of targets to include palaces, communication centres and other administrative buildings that Mr. Qadhafi relies on to maintain power.

Nato and the rebels immediately rejected the call for a ceasefire, which they described as a disingenuous ploy. Mr. Qadhafi repeated his assertions that the rebels belonged to the al-Qaeda or were terrorists and mercenaries, even as he appealed to them to lay down their weapons.

Looking relaxed as he sat behind a desk, and gazing at someone or something off camera, he lost his train of thought several times and referred to notes in his hand. "Qadhafi doesn't have the power, he doesn't have the position to leave," he said of himself. "With my rifle, I will fight for my country."

An opposition spokesman in Benghazi, Jalal al-Gallal, dismissed Mr. Qadhafi's offers as "public relations for the world."

"We know he's not being genuine," al-Gallal said. "He's not once offered anything and followed through."

There were few signs that he intended to ease the military pressure on his opponents. A rebel military spokesman said Qadhafi forces had begun an assault early Saturday on the eastern towns of Jalu and Awjilah, about 120 miles south of Ajdabiya, attacking in trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns and Grad rockets. The spokesman, Col. Ahmed Omar Bani, said five civilians had been killed in the fighting and 10 had been wounded.

The attack, which could not immediately be confirmed, seemed to follow an emerging pattern in the conflict in which the rebels have stepped up their resistance in the west in the Nefusa mountain region, along the Tunisian border and in the strategic port city of Misrata. At the same time, Mr. Qadhafi's forces have made harassing raids on poorly defended towns near the eastern oil fields in recent weeks, at times straining the rebels' efforts to keep producing oil.

A stalemate persisted on the country's main coastal road near the city of Brega, which was the site of intense fighting for weeks. Col. Bani said there had been few skirmishes over the past two weeks on the front there, which lies between Brega and Ajdabiya, about 45 miles to the east.

The rebels have said that in the coming days, they will appoint a new defence minister to replace Omar al-Hariri, a former political prisoner who occupied a largely ceremonial role in the rebels' transitional government. They were hoping the appointment of a civilian would impose a measure of organisation on an inexperienced fighting force that has been plagued by setbacks on the eastern front and infighting in its upper ranks. Fighting continued for Misrata, and early Saturday, large explosions on the outskirts shook the coastal city. Rebels later said they were Nato airstrikes.

The pro-Qadhafi forces resumed shelling and firing rockets into the city in the morning, and again late at night. At least 15 people were reported killed, including at least five rebel fighters, an old man who was struck by shrapnel, and a young father of four children.

(Kareem Fahim reported from Benghazi, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo. C.J. Chivers contributed reporting from Misrata, Libya.) — New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

OPEN PAGE IS GROWING MORE POPULAR BY THE WEEK


There is every indication that the "Open Page" of The Hindu is becoming more and more popular among both writers and readers — so much so I learn that expanding the space allotted to it is under active editorial consideration. The articles covering a variety of subjects receive insightful responses from informed readers. In the last issue, "Teachers in the dock" (April 24, 2011) by Sharada Sivaram, an outspoken assessment of the status of teacher-student-parent relations in today's schools, has generated a lot of concern among readers, who have responded to the critique with a remarkable sense of responsibility. No less significant was the reader response to "The Ambedkar party" by Siddharthya Swapan Roy, which is about the 120th birthday celebrations of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, narrated, in an atypical way, with reference to the horrific living conditions of Dalits vis-a-vis non-Dalits across the country.

In the first piece, the author contends that unlike in the past today's teachers are not "respected or honoured" by children and parents (to some extent). The tendency is to throw the blame for this on the teachers. Teachers, on the other hand, believe it is the "unacceptable" behaviour of children that provokes them to "reprimand" them verbally or physically, albeit mildly. Parents invariably believe their children never err and it is the teachers who are at fault. As a result, "the noble community," as teachers were celebrated once upon a time, "has gone into hibernation." This is how passionate teachers have turned into indifferent teachers, the author concludes. Why should the teacher-student-parent relations deteriorate to such a low? In Ms Sivaram's view: "Today…the children are the consumers and the teacher is the seller. 'Value for money' is the new catchphrase. And if your teacher does not give you value for money, then she has no right to inhabit this side of the planet."

Why the loss of respect

The readers who have responded touch upon several problematical aspects of the education system and the way it is functioning. T.R. Maragatham (Chennai) comments: "With education commercialised, teachers have become passive spectators. The loss of respect for teachers has led to the deterioration of student behaviour." According to Sakina Slihu (Erode), "Teachers fail to identify the needs of children. Both teaching and learning have hit the lowest levels in schools."

Another reader, A. Babu Karuppiah (Madurai), is of the view that "including ethics in the curriculum will help in changing the consumer-is-king attitude among students and parents." B.R. Kumar (Chennai) observes: "Schools must pay teachers well and employ qualified teachers with good social background." Rukmani Sharma (Haridwar) refers to the overcrowding of classrooms and notes that emotional bonding between the teacher and the taught has disappeared.

Many more deficiencies such as a poor teacher-student ratio in schools, the failure to provide quality teachers, irregularities in the disbursal of salary to teachers, and the absence of periodical inspection of schools have been pointed out in the discussion. It is not a mere "behavioural" problem between the teacher and the taught, and it has more to it than meets the eye. What is clear is that it is a problem that relates to the education system as a whole. It is not just the commercialisation of education but also the state's failure over the decades to perform its constitutional responsibility of providing education to all.

It's party time

In Siddharthya Swapan Roy's analysis, "The Ambedkar party" is not about a birthday bash, a party to entertain the masses. It is perhaps to tell their caste-Hindu oppressors the plight of the victims of centuries-old, caste-based prejudice who were separated from the rest of the society. It is like a "know what it means to be a Dalit" story, which attempts to tell the rest of the society their agony, sorrow, and pain.

By way of response, a couple of readers have applauded the contributions of Dr. Ambedkar to the underprivileged but have expressed their reservations over the way the piece has been written. A third one, S.V. Venugopalan (Chennai), however, views the essay in a different light: "Siddharthya Swapan Roy's assertive tone is passionate reading and dispassionate rereading of the casteist practices going on for centuries in our Nation." The essay reminds him of the Khairlanji and Thinniyam atrocities against Dalits.

Such experiences continue to haunt the collective conscience of the people and, hopefully, the progressive outlook of growing sections of society will help them turn more assertive sooner than later and put an end to such atrocities.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

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THE HINDU

QADHAFI INNER CIRCLE FEELS BETRAYED

OFFICIALS IN TRIPOLI COMPLAIN OF 'GREAT INJUSTICE' AGAINST LIBYAN REGIME.

HARRIET SHERWOOD

The apparent death of Muammar Qadhafi's youngest son and three of his grandchildren in a Nato air strike will reinforce and magnify the powerful sense of victimhood that is gripping the inner circle in Tripoli.

Feelings of betrayal and incomprehension at the West's rejection of the Libyan regime, particularly directed at the U.K., are compounded by aggression, belligerence and merciless military assaults. It is a potent mix.

Dismissing the violent suppression of protests in Libya as the normal reaction of any government and the military campaign as self-defence, regime officials believe they are victims of a "great injustice" perpetrated against them by the international coalition — led, they say, by Britain and France.

A series of private conversations with figures considered to be among the more open and reform-minded within the government highlights a fin-de-siecle mood within the regime. "I face losing everything I have worked for," said a diplomat who has clocked up more than 30 years in Mr. Qadhafi's service.

Britain was frequently singled out as a source of aggrievement. "We gave them everything," said one official. "We gave up our WMD [weapons of mass destruction] voluntarily. We were the best country participating in the fight against terrorism. Qadhafi gave all the information we had about al-Qaeda. We gave them the file about the IRA." Libya had co-operated over the Lockerbie investigation and offered British oil firms access to Libya's greatest natural asset.

"I honestly don't know what happened. I have thought about it for two months. We feel betrayed." A second diplomat said: "The U.K. was a country that was friends with Libya. It had diplomatic relations, cultural relations, investments. Why have they taken sides?" In answer to his own question, he went on: "They decided from day one. It was a plot, 10 times a plot, a conspiracy to remove Qadhafi, to change the regime." David Cameron, he said, had not attempted to build a relationship with Mr. Qadhafi since becoming Prime Minister.

The officials accused Britain of judging the Libyan regime too harshly over its response to the uprising. "I'm not defending what happened," said one. "There was bad management — but it doesn't warrant war.

"OK, so there were some demonstrations and some policemen got upset — so what is the role of ambassadors? What is the point of building up good relations? Ambassadors exist to cool things down." The "bad management" referred to the days following the start of unrest when cities and towns across the country erupted in protests.

Officials described the West's horrified response and subsequent action as "interference in internal affairs." They pointed to the "double standards" in the West's response. "What's the difference between the Libyan rebels and the IRA?" asked one. "The IRA were armed rebels who wanted their independence. The British — the legitimate government — fought them, and anyone who gave [the IRA] support was considered an enemy. Now the British are doing the same with the Libyan rebels." Another said: "If the British talk to the self-appointed [opposition] council, why not talk to Hamas? Or the Taliban?" Why hadn't the West imposed a no-fly zone on Israel over Gaza, or intervened militarily over pro-democracy protests in Bahrain?

Libyan arguments about unwarranted interference and betrayal were robustly rejected by Sir Richard Dalton, the British ambassador to Tripoli from 1999 to 2002. "The argument that the West abandoned them is grossly superficial," he told the Guardian.

"What the hell do they expect when they behave the way they did after 17 February? They shouldn't be remotely surprised that their friendships throughout the world deserted them." Sir Dalton described the U.K.'s rapprochement with Libya as "functional." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

AP

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

INDIA BACKTRACKING ON ITS AFGHAN ROLE?

It would ordinarily be assumed that a country such as Afghanistan would always be on the radar screen of our government, our politicians and our media since we have spent more money in that country than in any other in recent years, and we probably have more to lose than any other country if the Taliban return to power in Kabul by either militarily defeating the Hamid Karzai regime or striking a favourable deal with it with Pakistan's help. This is, however, not the case, although for some months there have been signs of oncoming change in Afghanistan.
While Pakistan has had an inimical equation with Afghanistan, there is suddenly an urgency on Islamabad's part to persuade Kabul that the two can work together. Pakistan only asks that Kabul should dilute ties with India. Such an invitation might appeal to Afghanistan for two reasons. The United States and its European allies fighting in Afghanistan have increasingly come to believe that the war is just not worth the trouble. This summer, a partial withdrawal of US forces fighting the Taliban is thought to be on the cards, in line with political commitments made by President Barack Obama. Given these circumstances, the American line on Afghanistan appears to be changing perceptibly. From a stout rejection of any political and ideological accommodation of the Taliban leadership (which Islamabad urges) that hides inside Pakistan — seen vividly at the London Conference just over a year ago — Washington is now signalling it may not be averse to a patchup between the Kabul government and the Taliban, with Islamabad playing the midwife. The second key reason that could move Kabul in the direction Pakistan desires is that Mr Karzai has no reason to believe India will play a proactive role to help maintain stability in Afghanistan when the Americans leave. Going a step further, it can also be said that the Afghan leader, and that country's political class, regard India as a weak state, especially when it comes to taking steps that might displease Pakistan, which of course will be the case if New Delhi extends Kabul a strong helping hand when the Americans leave.
Washington has just announced that Ryan Crocker, a US foreign service officer who earlier served with distinction as ambassador to Pakistan, will be pulled out of retirement and made the next US ambassador to Kabul. This indicates a transition in broad US policy, and seeks to emphasise that Washington is now possibly looking for a transformation of the Afghan state to incorporate a Taliban presence, and naturally to keep Islamabad on its right side as this major shift occurs. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, is to be withdrawn in a few months and will take charge of the CIA as its new director. The Indian thinking — at a time of possibly game-changing events — appears to be anybody's guess. There has been little clarity on New Delhi's thinking in these changing circumstances. Unofficial indications are that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's proposed visit to Afghanistan might not take place in the near future. This possibly suggests we are not sure of President Karzai's next moves. The new US Af-Pak special envoy, Marc Grossman, has just visited India, but the government has fought shy of disclosing any information about discussions with him. The Prime Minister's task is not rendered any easier as far-reaching developments in the context of Afghanistan — from where Pakistan wants India out — are taking shape even as Dr Singh has taken an initiative to repair ties with Islamabad. Does this possibly mean a reluctant Indian willingness to backtrack in Afghanistan?

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

DECODE THE SIGNS

INDRANIL BANERJIE

The ongoing state election has not been getting high TRPs at the national level. The state polls are being viewed as strictly local events while the centre of attention remains riveted on the high political drama being played out in the national capital. Yet, the outcome of the state polls, far from being of limited consequence, could affect several significant political coefficients in this country.
The message voters send in the April-May state elections is sure to be studied meticulously by all political parties. For, all indications suggest that the times are indeed changing. The huge and spontaneous reaction to the anti-corruption crusade is just one pointer, there are many other unreported ones coming in from the states that suggest the stirrings of subterranean resentment.
A proper reading of the state results will give a good indication of the extent of the shift in political behaviour.
The electoral message, however, is unlikely to be equivocal or as straight as a commercial advertisement; it will necessarily be complex given that each of the four states and one Union Territory where elections have or are being held has a different set of conditions.
To decode the electoral message from all the states with one key would therefore be a mistake.
In Kerala, for instance, electoral dynamics over the last two decades have largely been predictable, with the anti-incumbency vote proving decisive in each election. The state's political scene is completely dominated by two alliances: the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). The two fronts have usually alternated in forming the government. The question today is whether the familiar pattern of the past will be repeated.
The incumbent chief minister, veteran CPI(M) leader V.S. Achuthanandan, has a good and clean record. He has campaigned, among other things, against the Congress Party's dismal governance and corruption at the Centre, but his party is itself tainted by corruption charges against some senior leaders. The principal Congress campaigner, defence minister A.K. Antony, who has been the chief minister thrice in the past, has an equally clean, if ineffectual, record. In other words, Kerala has two clean leaders vying against each other, both encumbered by poor party images.
The electoral message in Kerala will predictably be complicated. However, if for any reason the UDF cannot oust the LDF, then it would signal a huge setback for the Congress and an equally great victory for Mr Achuthanandan. The impact of such an outcome on the Congress at the Centre would be significant.
In Tamil Nadu, three scenarios are possible: A Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-Congress alliance victory, an All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) alliance victory with a small margin, and an AIADMK victory with a huge margin. The effects of each outcome would be very different.
A DMK-Congress victory would be astounding and would almost certainly dilute, if not completely spike, the ongoing anti-corruption drive at the Centre. The defeat of the ruling combine with a small margin would still be acceptable but an electoral rout will profoundly rattle the United Progressive Alliance coalition at the Centre and almost certainly bring about unpredictable changes in New Delhi's corridors of power.
In Assam, Tarun Gogoi of the Congress, who has been the chief minister for two terms since 2001, has tried to provide good and relatively clean governance. He has, however, not managed to resolve the sharp ethnic and communal issues that have bedevilled the state for some decades now. These faultlines continue to contribute to high levels of political instability in Assam. The Bodos, represented to a large extent by the Bodo People's Front, and the state's Muslims represented by the All-India United Democratic Front have become the two crucial components of the state's polity and they will determine the nature of the next coalition in Guwahati. It would not be a surprise, however, if the Asom Gana Parishad-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance ultimately fails to form a government.
In Bengal, the Congress has long been reduced to a bit player although it retains a traditional support base spread across the state. Without this chunk of votes, the Trinamul Congress led by Mamata Banerjee has little chance of defeating the Marxists. Yet, there can be no denying that she is the star in the state's election scenario and is seen as a valiant daughter of the soil taking on an entrenched, increasingly unresponsive Marxist behemoth.
Ms Banerjee's alliance with the Congress, however, can at best be described as uneasy. While she wants to capture the entire Congress support base, the Congress does not want her to become a truly independent and dominant political force in the state.
The two parties are held together by expediency and the poll results will tell if this alliance will last. If the Congress cannot win a decent number of seats even after campaigning by the Prime Minister and party president, then Ms Banerjee will have a strong motive to discard or marginalise the Congress at some stage in the future.
No elections are without consequence, this one less so because it could bring about significant shifts in the balance of power.
The poll results will tell if the increasingly complex political alliances are working and it will also indicate the long-term fortunes of many a state leader. The play of these two factors could result in some much-required churning at the national level.

Indranil Banerjie is an independent security and political risk consultant

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

JAH KASHMIR ON CROSSROAD

 

Reaction to the assassination of the chief of Jamiat-e Ahle-Hadth (JAH) Kashmir did not shape into usual mass protests and rallies or accusations made indiscriminately against security forces in Kashmir. Of course, something of lip service was rendered, and one or two token meetings of so-called All Party Committee were also held announcing the constitution of a commission of enquiry into the killing. This somewhat saner course of handling the tragedy is unique in the background of turbulent protests and invectives usually hurled at the security forces, the government and the presence of India on incidents of chance killing of an ordinary Kashmiri man or woman. Separatist leadership in the valley issued very guarded statements in the context of this murder whose wording vacillated between the opposites. Most of the statements remained confined to the ambiguous phrase of "exposing the perpetrators of the act". Reading between the lines, one could feel that the separatists and secessionists in Kashmir did not have any doubt about the assassination conspiracy being hatched by the extremists within the militant groups comprising members from different ideological schools. Some of the separatist leaders even went to the extent of claiming to know who the murderers were which evoked a sharp observation by a sympathizer demanding that the names be disclosed. A reference to Muzaffarabad-based chief of United Jihad Council meant its indictment by the pragmatic segment of JAH as it controls all jihadi groups meant to span jihadi activities in the valley.
That there is factionalism within JAH is no more a secret. Maulana Showkat was killed for his tolerance of other factions, and more particularly, for his dislike for division among Sunni and Shia communities. It is a known fact that religious extremist groups operating in Kashmir are adherents of Wahhabi ideology upheld by the outfits like LeT, HM and the rest of them. Additionally, late Maulana Showkat did not like Kashmiri Muslims abandon their traditional way of harmonious life, something which the radicals are not comfortable with. He had many friends among local Shia gentry whom he valued. The Kanihama mosque incident about a clash between two factions of JAH, in which one man got killed and 16 were injured, speaks of deep division within the group. It reflects the conflict between the radicals and the liberals within Islamic fold. The radicals, who attacked the praying people in the Kanihama mosque with sticks and other sharp weapons, represent the extremists and hardliners within JAH. We know that JAH has a long history in the valley going back to the days of the Dogra rule. The group has always been deeply influenced by Wahhabi ideology. Therefore any attempt of infusing tolerance and coexistence in the thinking of the members of this group could not go without disastrous consequences. The killing of Maulana Showkat, therefore, is a big set back to liberal Islam in Kashmir. This is the reason why the killing did not evoke emotive reaction from the people in the valley. If this is the correct analysis, one can say that Kashmiri Muslims, by and large, are not able to appreciate the widespread movement for liberalization in the Middle East and the Sunni Muslim world. It is a civil rights movement asking the rulers of the day to concede the civil and political rights and liberties of the masses of people. In that sense, Maulana Showkat's contribution to liberalizing Kashmir Muslim society will be recorded in very appreciative words in the contemporary history of Kashmir. In the backdrop of these conflicting events, it seems unlikely that the commission of enquiry constituted by the All Party Committee with the assignment of identifying the assailants of the JAH chief can make any headway. It is already bogged with controversies and contradictions to which the recent Kanihama mosque incident has added fuel. The ouster of Maulana Abbas Ansari, the Shia leader from the APHC (M) and the happening of Kanihama mosque incident in a Shia dominated area of Budgam tehsil are all strong pointers that factional discord could deepen and become lethal if the gaps are not filled through a process of reconciliation and understanding of ground realities by the concerned groups.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

BUNGLING IN LADAKH RELIEF

 

Last autumn, a cloud burst and floods had devastated a large habitat in Ladakh region. Besides the Home Minister and other VIPs the Prime Minister also paid a visit and promised full support for rehabilitation of the uprooted families and reclamation of land which has been their only source of sustenance. But local social activists have of late complained of misuse and bungling of vast funds meant for the rehabilitation of the affected people. This includes PM's Rs 125 crore relief package. Tehsil Chhepal says that he was not satisfied with the distribution of relief and therefore he approached the Deputy Commissioner Leh and asked him to provide the information regarding the beneficiaries of the relief package. As per the information provided under RTI Act filed by Tehsil Chhepal (VRC) Chief of Congress Sewa Dal, it showcases that the funds have not been properly used. According to government decision, a sum of two lac rupees along with one housing plot and one prefabricated hut was sanctioned in favour of each fully washed off house. In the case of partially washed houses, the relief amount was Rs 1 lac. But Tehsil Chhepal alleges that first of all information under RTI was provided with much delay, and secondly, the information provided reveals that there is major bungling in the distribution of relief package. He alleges that there are many beneficiaries who were categorized under the fully washed houses whereas their houses were not even partially washed off. He has alleged that there are others who don't fall under either of the categories as their houses did not meet with any damage. He contends that owing to this bungling many people who were the real sufferers are sidelined as there are instances where the people with fully washed houses have been put under category of partially washed off houses and even there are instances where these people have not been provided with any relief, while they are the real suffers. The entire affair of distributing relief among the sufferers of mud-slide and floods in Ladakh seems murky. It is unfortunate that the suffering people in such a cut off and famished area in the Himalayas are given a rough deal. A commission of enquiry needs to be instituted to go into the big bungling scandal in Ladakh. The episode cannot be pushed under carpet just because it is a far off region and therefore out of public glaze.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

BOOM TIME IN KASHMIR THIS SUMMER ?

 

Kashmir politics changes as fast as the seasons in India and a crisis situation one day turns into serenity in a matter of few days much to the surprise and discomfort of the prophets of doom who have repeatedly predicted that the Valley has reached a point of no return. All those who witnessed violent scenes last summer when stone pelting and calls for hartal and bandh took place with a regularity unheard of in the past must be surprised if not shocked to discover that the calls for boycott of Panchayat polls by same leaders was totally ignored. Over 80 per cent turnout in the polls clearly demonstrated the people of Kashmir are as concerned if not more with issues of daily life and want a democratic structure at grassroot level.
This is the third time that call for poll boycott has been ignored by people. Earlier it was done when elections for the Lok Sabha took place followed by the poll for the Strate Assembly. This time the turnout is the highest recorded so far. The killing of Molvi Showkat Ahmed Shah a moderate cleric who had objected to stone pelting and decsribed it as anti-Islamic followed by shooting down of a candidate who was a supporter of PDP were expected to act as warning to all those defying the call for poll boycott, but people chose to go ahead and show that it was not easy to intimidate them.
The other sign is admission by leaders of the Hurriyat that killing of leaders like Molvi Farooq, father of the present chairman of the Hurriyat Conference and Mr. Abdul Gani Lone was the work of Jihadis groups. This admission was made by Prof Abdul Ghani Bhatt, former chairman of the Hurriyat Conference who wanted all to do some rethinking and admit that these leaders were shot down by people who belonged to their ranks or so called freedom fighters and not the work of any State agency as propagated by few.
The killing of Shia cleric has added to the growing disillusionment in the ranks of ordinary people and made many even in the ranks of pro-freedom leaders to question the motives of all those who have been trying to enforce their writ by assassination of those who differ with them. Even hard core leaders like Sayeed Ali Shah Gillani had to condemn such acts including killing of two innocent girls in his home town Sopore by militants who suspected them of collaborating with police and army.
Another good sign was when Molvi Abbas Anasari a member of the Hurriyat Conference chose to meet the Central interlocutors and thus defied the leadership who had refused to engage with them. Molvi was expelled from Hurriyat but it has only shown that there was widespread disillusionment with Hurriyat leadership whose so called struggle for getting freedom has made no headway and has only added to the misery of people by increasing their hardships and damaging the fragile state economy.
In the meantime Major General Om Prakash, an officer looking after Rajouri sector has predicted that it is a matter of months before the problem of militancy is solved in the State. Killing of a top militant commander by security forces are all hopeful signs and one can say that with end of militancy, the Government would be able to relax application of harsh laws under which security forces and Army operates in Jammu and Kashmir. According to the Army General many youngmen from Kashmir who had gone for arms training across the line of control have now expressed a desire to return and sent applications to the State Government for their rehalitation. One hopes that the better training of State police will enable them to deal with protest marches and hartals efficiently without leading to any loss of lives or use of excessive force.
There is, however, a question mark as camps for training militants across the line of control continue to function and attempts to infiltrate militants continue with active help of Pakistan forces who resort to violation of ceasefire by resorting to firing in their bid to provide cover for militants trying to enter the Valley. One hopes that resumption of dialogue between the Government of India and Pakistan would help in easing of tension between the two countries and put a check on border skirmishes and end to attempts to send militants across.
It is difficult to be state anything with total certainty about Kashmir politics, but there are many hopeful signs that the Valley will have a record tourist season, summer will be peaceful and people will get a chance to work for prosperity of State and many who were engaged in stone pelting in the past will find useful employment this time as part of drives initiated by the Government of India and the State Government to improve employment opportunities. (NPA)

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

WHY GROWTH DOES NOT BEGET HAPPINESS

BY DR BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA

 

India has attained one of the highest rates of economic growth at 8-9 percent under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But this is not translating into wellbeing or happiness for our people. India has been ranked at a lowly 71st in wellbeing among 124 countries surveyed by Gallup last year. The problem is that growth in GDP and improvement in wellbeing are totally different ball games. It was pointed out by Nobel laureate Simon Kuznets, who helped make the concept of GDP in the 1930s that GDP fails on many counts. GDP only counts what is bought or sold in the market. Fees paid to a childcare center for taking care of the child adds to GDP. However, the same care done by the homemaker is not added. Similarly, salary paid to the maid for making a meal is added in GDP. However, if the master marries the maid, the GDP declines because meal prepared by the homemaker is not added. Hurricanes and floods push up GDP because money spent in reconstruction is added to GDP. Countries with more prisons look better than those with fewer prisons because building and running prisons counts as economic activity. And if corporations and the very rich are doing well, then it may appear that majority is okay while actually inequality may increase and most people may be suffering in grinding poverty.
In a study available on the website of Santa Barbara Family Foundation it is shown that the percent of 'very happy' people in the United States has declined from about 34 percent to 32 percent between 1955 and 2005. The average level of income rose from $ 8,000 to $ 22,000 in the same period. Clearly improvement of standard of living is not leading to improved happiness.
The problem originates with one of the elementary concepts of Economics --that of utility. Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson explains it thus: A customer buys a banana because he feels that it gives him satisfaction or 'utility'. The first banana gives him certain amount of psychological utility. Now imagine eating a second banana. His utility goes up because the second banana gives him some additional utility. Is that really so, though?
Consider a different situation. Ramesh is happy eating a banana a day which he can afford. Now, he sees bananas being advertised on the TV. He develops a desire to eat two bananas a day. But his income allows him to buy just one banana. Poor Ramesh is now unhappy. He wants two bananas but is able to eat only one.
So Ramesh puts in an extra hour of work and gets that second banana. An economist would say, his total utility has gone up because the second banana gives him additional utility. But what about the disutility created while putting in that additional hour of work? His total utility may stand reduced.
That is the unfortunate situation of the industrial civilization today. Man has begun to consume more and leads unhappier live. Man has been converted into a consumption machine. Technically he has higher utility from consumption and GDP is higher but his welfare is lower.
The Gallup poll asked people whether they thought them to be 'thriving,' 'struggling,' or 'suffering. The poll found that maximum 72 percent people in Denmark thought them to be thriving only 17 percent thought so in India. Denmark's growth rate is expected to be less than 2 percent while India's is nearly 9 percent yet Danes are well off. The poll sounds a warning bell for India. Yet, the wellbeing index is inherently biased towards the material aspects of life. The Gallup survey asked people whether they were thriving. This immediately has a materialist connotation. One does not necessarily 'thrive' if he is contented. A monk may be contended but he may not be thriving.
Such indices fail to distinguish between 'pleasure' that is short-lived and 'contentment' that is stable. People of Denmark may feel themselves to be well off because they may compare themselves with less fortunate brothers in Asia or Africa. But they may or may or may not be contended in a stable sense. A pervert is 'happy' drinking alcohol. He may feel he is thriving if he has got adequate supply of liquor. But he may not be contended. The bout of drinking may be followed by a long depression. It is necessary, therefore, to develop an index that is not misled by material and short term aspects of consumption and hypnotic happiness.
There are two levels in the human psyche-conscious and unconscious, the latter includes the subconscious. 'Pleasure' arises at the level of the conscious psyche. One's conscious mind is held 'in pleasure' by the movie during the three hours in the cinema hall but mind comes back to the problems of home and office as soon as one is outside. The effect of the movie is short-lived because it does not connect with the unconscious. Happiness cannot be defined merely at the conscious level. True happiness arises when the conscious and the unconscious are connected with each other and they 'develop' together just as the development of a couple takes place only when the husband and wife hold each other's hands. This connection of the conscious and the unconscious can be seen clearly in the persons of Mahatma Gandhi and Vivekananda. On the one hand they listened to the 'inner voice'; on the other hand they were politically or socially active. The correct definition of development, therefore, would be 'holistic development of the psyche'.
It is indeed difficult to construct an index for such a definition. It is difficult enough to peer into the unconscious of a single individual. Great psychologists like Freud may have been able to penetrate the unconscious of barely a hundred persons in their lifetime. To examine the connection of the conscious and unconscious of billions of people and to construct an index would be a near impossible task.
But there is no alternative. It is better to walk half step in the right direction rather than many steps in the wrong direction. We should ask the economists to construct an index of development along these lines. Proxies can be sought for assessing the state of the psyche. For example, people resort to consumption of tobacco because they are unable to listen to the voice of the unconscious and want to suppress it. High consumption of tobacco would then indicate a separation between the conscious and the unconscious. Economists should apply their minds to the construction of such an index of development which should replace GDP as a measure of progess.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

STOP CHILD LABOUR

BY DR. INDU SWAMI

 

What brand of clothing are you wearing right now? Where was your shirt made? Do you know what went into the making of your clothes? It could be the sweat of a child, the tears of a child or the blood of a child. Child labor in India is a human right issue for the whole world. It is a serious and extensive problem, with many children under the age of fourteen working in carpet making factories, glass blowing units and making fireworks with bare little hands. According to the statistics given by Indian Government there are 20 million child laborers in the country, while other agencies claim that it is 50 million. The situation of child laborers in India is desperate. Children work for eight hours at a stretch with only a small break for meals. The meals are also frugal and the children are ill nourished. Most of the migrant children, who cannot go home, sleep at their work place, which is very bad for their health and development. Seventy five percent of Indian population still resides in rural areas and are very poor. Children in rural families who are ailing with poverty perceive their children as an income generating resource to supplement the family income. Parents sacrifice their children's education to the growing needs of their younger siblings in such families and view them as wage earners for the entire clan.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), an estimated 120 million children from the ages of five to fourteen work fulltime or more; of these, India is responsible for about 44 million. Child labor is a complicated matter not only because it is a deeply ingrained tradition, but determining with certainty what exactly is happening where is difficult. But enough has been discovered over the years to conclude that children are often placed in extremely hazardous areas such as mines and factories with exposure to toxic chemicals and poor ventilation systems. Children are often assigned positions operating heavy machinery designed for adults. Often they work twelve hour shifts or longer. All of this takes its toll on bodies not yet fully developed. Children who work under adverse conditions often end up stunted in growth, knock-kneed, deformed, or otherwise damaged for life. In girls, the pelvic area may not develop properly (forming a triangular shape, rather than the regular oval), which can lead to the eventual death of a baby the grown woman bears. Besides these long-term physical side effects, there are more immediate health concerns, such as on-site injuries (often with no option for medical attention) and physical and sexual abuse of children by the owner or adult in charge. The former can lead to hospitalization, debt, and more long years of work. The latter can cause deep emotional trauma and make it difficult for the child to emotionally connect with other people for years to come.
Some common causes of child labor are poverty, parental illiteracy, social apathy, ignorance, lack of education and exposure, exploitation of cheap and unorganized labor. The family practice to inculcate traditional skills in children also pulls little ones inexorably in the trap of child labor, as they never get the opportunity to learn anything else. Absence of compulsory education at the primary level, parental ignorance regarding the bad effects of child labour, the in-effectivity of child laour laws in terms of implementation, non availability and non accessibility of schools, boring and unpractical school curriculum and cheap child labour are some other factors which encourages the phenomenon of child labour. It is also very difficult for immature minds and undeveloped bodies to understand and organize themselves against exploitation in the absence of an adult guidance. Poverty and over population have been identified as the two main causes of child labour. Parents are forced to send little children into hazardous jobs for reason of survival, even when they know it is wrong. Monetary constraints and the need for food, shelter and clothing drives their children in the trap of premature labour. Illiterate and ignorant parents do not understand the need for wholesome proper physical, cognitive and emotional development of their child. They are themselves uneducated and unexposed, so they don't realize the importance of education for their children. Adult unemployment and urbanization also causes child labor. Adults often find it difficult to find jobs because factory owners find it more beneficial to employ children at cheap rates. This exploitation is particularly visible in garment factories of urban areas. Adult exploitation of children is also seen in many places. The industrial revolution has also had a negative effect by giving rise to circumstances which encourages child labor. Sometimes multinationals prefer to employ child workers in the developing countries. This is so because they can be recruited for less pay, more work can be extracted from them and there is no union problem with them. This attitude also makes it difficult for adults to find jobs in factories, forcing them to drive their little ones to work to keep the fire burning their homes.
The future of a community is in the well being of its children. The above fact is beautifully expressed by Wordsworth in his famous lines "child is father of the man." So it becomes imperative for the health of a nation to protect its children from premature labor which is hazardous to their mental, physical, educational and spiritual development needs. It is urgently required to save children from the murderous clutches of social injustice and educational deprivation, and ensure that they are given opportunities for healthy, normal and happy growth. The Indian government has tried to take some steps to alleviate the problem of child labor in recent years by invoking a law that makes the employment of children below 14 illegal, except in family owned enterprises. However this law is rarely adhered to due to practical difficulties. Factories usually find loopholes and circumvent the law by declaring that the child laborer is a distant family member. Also in villages there is no law implementing mechanism, and any punitive actions for commercial enterprises violating these laws is almost non-existent.
Important legislation on child labour includes the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 prohibiting the employment of children below 14 years of age in specified hazardous occupations and processes. Along with this, the December 1996 Supreme Court judgment directs the withdrawal of children from hazardous occupation and the creation of a welfare fund for them, besides regulating working conditions in non hazardous occupations. Government policy has also been pro active in the area of child labour since the mid 1980 with the formulation of national policy on Child Labour in August 1987 and subsequent implementation of National Child Labour Projects.

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

UNSAFE IN MODILAND

WHISTLE-BLOWER BHATT PAYING A PRICE

 

Gujarat is Chief Minister Narendra Modi's pocketborough and he lords over it like a true-blue dictator. Anyone who dares to challenge his authority better beware! IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt did so recently and is having to pay a heavy price for it. He had alleged in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court that Mr Modi instructed officers during a late night meeting held on February 27, 2002, to allow Hindus to "vent their anger" after the Godhra train carnage and he wanted Muslims to be "taught a lesson". Ever since, he has been a marked man. Inspired stories about his past demeanors have been splashed in the media and even his security has been removed. Five constables deployed with him have been withdrawn, despite the fact that he has been reportedly recommended Y category security by the State Intelligence Bureau.

 

Director-General of Police Chittaranjan Singh ordered the withdrawal on the plea that Mr Bhatt, currently posted as Principal, State Reserve Police Training College, Junagadh, was on "unauthorised leave" and had been "absent" from his place of posting. Mr Bhatt's claim that he was staying put in Ahmedabad on the instructions of Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the Godhra riots has not cut much ice with the DGP. Mr Bhatt appeared before the SIT on March 21 and it could summon him again.

 

That just goes to show how anyone who dares to speak up against the Chief Minister can be hounded. The state government needs to be reminded that it is its duty to ensure that Mr Bhatt and his family are provided adequate and effective security. There is also a "witness protection programme" ordered by the Supreme Court for witnesses of the communal riot cases being probed by the agency. He must not be added to the long list of serving officers who have already been penalised by the state government for stopping the riots in 2002 in the areas under their jurisdiction.

 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

WRONGLY BOOKED

DOCTORS ARE GIVEN A RAW DEAL

 

THE Supreme Court has held that if a doctor in government service charges consultation fee from patients during spare hours in a private clinic, s/he cannot be booked for corruption nor accused of indulging in a trade, which is an offence under Section 168 of the Indian Penal Code. The case involved two Ludhiana doctors who were caught doing private practice in violation of the ban imposed by the Punjab government. Government doctors are paid non-practising allowance (NPA) so that they do not neglect their duty towards patients in government hospitals and lure them to private clinics. This is fair enough. Still, violations of the ban order are not uncommon in Punjab.

 

The Supreme Court says a doctor getting a remuneration for extending medical help is doing that by way of his professional duty and cannot be accused of receiving an illegal gratification. S/he may be proceeded against for violation of the service rules but not for corruption. The court order should shame the Punjab prosecution agencies for their casual approach to work. It is a pity that doctors are not shown the respect they deserve by society in general and the security agencies in particular. They are treated like ordinary criminals for small violations of the rules or the laws even before their guilt is established.

 

Morally, it is wrong on the part of government doctors to engage in private practice when they are paid NPA. Given the shortage of doctors, rush in hospitals and lack of easy access to health services in India, it may not be a bad idea to allow or even encourage private practice by doctors. Perhaps, they can be given a choice: NPA or private practice? If talent is to be lured to the medical profession, doctors' incomes and working/living conditions have to be improved suitably.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

CORRUPTION IN CRICKET

TILLEKERATNE MUST EXPOSE THE BLACK SHEEP FAST

 

Cricket has sadly become synonymous with corruption in today's world. What Hashan Tillekeratne says about Sri Lankan cricket – that matches have been fixed at the national level since 1992 – while being unsavoury, cannot be brushed aside as inconsequential. At the same time, Tillekeratne would be well advised to supply some proof about his allegations. Match-fixing, and its more current offshoot, spot-fixing, have severely dented the credibility of sub-continental cricket. Even the 'West' has its share of dubious players, but the western cricket associations and media do a much better job of circling their wagons around these players, while the media here feeds on any morsels, real or fictitious.

 

But there is no denying that betting is rampant. Even in local level cricket, there are punters who sit and make small bets throughout the day. More than any profit, it's just a little game. But when the money proportions grow, this little game also expands into huge amounts. Indeed, money makes the cricketing world go around. And to entice young cricketers into indiscretion isn't difficult. Many come from modest backgrounds, with very limited education. So for them, taking one small step is a thrill, like shoplifting, and once they do it a few times, they feel the surge of invincibility that youth and money bring.

 

Many players have fallen prey to this rut, with Sri Lankans allegedly also being approached by 'suspicious characters' in the recent past. Pakistan had to take action against Salman Butt, Mohd. Aamir and Mohd. Asif. But these are just a few names in an intertwined jungle of betting and fixing. Even the cricketing officialdom isn't beyond 'arranging' a few things if it would make money, the most noteworthy being the case of Eden Gardens losing the big India-England World Cup match. So if the lawmakers can be guilty of such things, the lesser beings surely cannot be blamed totally for their human weaknesses, regrettable as it may be.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

ALLIES WITH CONFLICTING INTERESTS

US STILL DEPENDENT ON PAKISTAN IN AFGHANISTAN

BY ANITA INDER SINGH

 

Reports that the US views Pakistan's Inter-Intelligence Services (ISI) as terrorists will not sweeten relations between Washington and Islamabad. The main reason is that Pakistan's Army has so far refused to hunt down the Afghan Taliban who enjoy safe havens in their country's northwestern territory bordering Afghanistan.

 

That in turn raises the question whether Pakistan really wants a stable Afghanistan, and Washington doesn't know the answer. For its part, as the US prepares to start withdrawing some of its troops from Afghanistan next July, it wants a centralised government in Kabul and a large and strong Afghan army which will have a monopoly of force within Afghanistan's borders. Moreover, American military officials are irked by the close ties between the ISI and extremists, including the Jalaluddin Haqqani group, based in Pakistan and linked to Al-Qaeda, and who have carried out many deadly attacks on NATO forces.

 

On the Pakistani side, there is resentment at American drone attacks which have killed civilians and which many Pakistanis regard as infringing their country's sovereignty. General Ashfaq Kayani has condemned drone attacks as "acts of violence". Tension between the US and Pakistan runs high as popular protests — including one organised by cricketer Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaf — continue against recent American drone strikes in North Waziristan. Thirty-nine civilians were killed on March 17 —seven on April 22 — along with 18 suspected militants.

 

Pakistan does not welcome American plans to build a powerful Afghan state, which would probably not be Pakistan's client. Since Pakistan's birth in 1947 Afghan-Pakistan ties have not always been amicable, although both are Muslim-majority states. It was only after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in1979 that Pakistan gained clout in Kabul — via its patronage of the extremist Taliban regime. America's overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 ended that influence. But Pakistan gave safe havens to the Taliban who then fled Afghanistan. And it sustained and trained them so well that they have been able to frustrate the success of NATO's Afghan campaign — and to stake its claim in the political future of Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, President Hamid Karzai has frequently accused Pakistan of exporting extremists to destabilise his country.

 

Nato hasn't lost but it hasn't won. Nor have the Taliban. This stalemate has inspired the talk of reconciliation between the Karzai government and the Taliban. Many in the West and Pakistan argue that reconciliation is the only way out of the mess in Afghanistan. That could give Pakistan a say in any settlement with the Taliban and in any "post-settlement" government in Kabul.

 

That is what Pakistan wants, with the intent of keeping Indian influence out of Afghanistan and acquiring "strategic depth" against India. But it is not paying the price demanded by the US. Rather, Washington thinks it is the US that is paying the price. Pakistan is the largest recipient of American aid: it has received $12 billion over the last decade. But Washington complains that it is not getting enough in return, in the form of a crackdown on the Afghan Taliban and their militant friends in Pakistan.

 

Tension between the CIA and the ISI has also grown over the revelations of American spying activities, which were highlighted by the case of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who was accused of killing two Pakistani men in January.

 

American officials have reportedly agreed to greater transparency with Pakistan on intelligence operations but have refused to stop drone strikes. Washington claims that the residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in northwest Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan, appreciate the attacks. Senior Pakistani military officials in North Waziristan agree with the US that most of those killed are terrorists.

 

Then there is the India factor. Pakistan has claimed that it cannot tackle the Afghan Taliban on its turf until and unless the Kashmir dispute is resolved. The US doesn't expect it to be; nor does it share Pakistan's perception of India as an aggressive, destabilising power in South Asia.

 

Rather, the assassinations of top Pakistani officials opposing the blasphemy law — Salman Taseer in January and Shahbaz Bhatti in March — revealed the intolerance and insecurity innate in a political system in which politicians, the military and the clergy are aligned. That is not winning Pakistan many admirers in the West. So, there is little enthusiasm in Washington for Islamabad's role as a player in negotiations on the future of Afghanistan.

 

The US and Pakistan then are likely to remain allies with conflicting aims and interests in South Asia. For all its grumbling about Pakistan's refusal to challenge the Afghan Taliban, the US remains militarily dependent on Pakistan. Unfortunately there is no sign of that reliance enabling the US to gain the vantage it wants before entering into possible talks with the Afghan Taliban - let alone winning the battle in Afghanistan.

 

The writer is Visiting Professor, Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, New Delhi.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

BABUS AT WORK

BY SHRINIWAS JOSHI

 

I wonder, at times, what the Bhagwadgita would have read like if Lord Krishna had told it to the bureaucrats instead of Arjuna because the text of even a simple official memorandum gets twisted as it passes from the top-bureau to the mid-bureau and then the media juts in to blast the superficial.

 

The office of the Chief Secretary simply copied what was written in the past with the only amendment in the age of the late Prime Minister and sent it to all the Principal Secretaries/ Secretaries:

 

"The pledge for 'quami ekta week' will be administered, as ever, by the Chief Secretary in the compound of the Secretariat on the 19th of November at 11 am. All officials may be directed to attend it. If it rains, then the assemblage will be in the Conference Hall where a film on Indira Gandhi will also be shown on her 93rd birthday to pay tributes to the late Prime Minister."

 

The office of the Secretaries modified it and sent it to the Directorates but permit me to disclose that the government is an infant that has an alimentary canal at one end that leaks at will and no sense of responsibility at the other. So each memorandum contained the expression 'as per the orders': "As per the orders of the Chief Secretary, the compound of the Secretariat will be pledged to 'quami ekta week' on the coming 19th November at 11 a.m. and if it rains on that day, then employees be asked to assemble at the Conference Hall to pay tributes to the 93 year old P.M."

 

There was confusion at the directorate level whether acronym p.m. meant Plus Minus, Personal Message, Past Meridian or Prime Minister and the consensus was that the Prime Minister was not that old and the order has to do something with pledging in of the Secretariat compound, so it has to be Plus Minus.

 

The memorandum was modified and was sent to the District Offices: "As per the orders of the Secretary concerned, the compound of the Secretariat is going to be pledged in to a non-government organisation by the Chief Secretary at 93 Plus Minus on November the 19th. If it rains, the assembly will be held at the Conference Hall to pay tributes to the Prime Minister. All concerned to note."

 

The media could latch on to a copy of the memorandum meant strictly for official use and blasted: "The government is wriggling out of its precarious debt position by leasing the compound of the Secretariat to a foreign agency thus jeopardising the security of the state. It is likely to be pawned or sold at a price encoded as '93 plus minus' on the 19th November and the Prime Minister is a party to it. A few NGOs have decided to protest against the move and to form a human-chain to prevent the entrance of the Prime Minister into the Secretariat compound. They have also placed orders for raincoats, in case it downpours that day."

 

The hapless Chief Secretary had to steal lines "maine aisa to nahin kaha tha" from that popular 'rafta-rafta dekho aankh meri ladi hai' song.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

NO MORE MORAL POLICING PLEASE!

THOUGH WOMEN HAVE STORMED EVERY CONCEIVABLE MALE BASTION AND EARNED A PLACE FOR THEMSELVES IN PUBLIC LIFE, MEN CONTINUE TO LOOK AT WOMEN THROUGH A BLINKERED PERSPECTIVE AND INSIST ON LAYING DOWN RULES ON HOW WOMEN SHOULD BEHAVE AND ACT

RAJESH GILL

 

THE Constitution of India bestows equal rights to all its citizens, men and women, rich and poor, irrespective of race, religion, caste etc. But how these rights get translated in real life situations is a different story.

 

Let us take the case of gender differences. Recognising that men and women are biologically different, any discrimination on the basis of gender is prohibited by law. As a result, women are outnumbering men in educational institutions both as students and teachers. The gender proportion in erstwhile male professional courses has also tilted in the favour of girls over the last few years. From the typically feminine jobs, women even at the lower rung have moved into jobs conventionally held by men such as bus conductors and drivers. At least in metros; they can be seen driving autos and taxis; they are working at petrol stations and they have been recruited as officers in the defence forces. This has created a strange situation in traditional societies, not used to having women in public spaces in such large numbers.

 

While it has been found alright to have women as teachers, doctors, clerks, air hostesses, receptionists, etc. their presence in formal organisations in a sizeable number is something with which our society is not very familiar. The situation gets more atypical when women in such public spaces assert themselves, excel as professionals and question the 'taken for granted' attitudes of society around, again including men and women. Although globally speaking women's movement has moved from 'women and development' to 'women in development', this shift in paradigm is relevant only for the academic discourse.

 

Ground reality

 

At the grassroots level, whatever freedom women have acquired is perceived as a bonus bestowed upon them by a generous society, mainly men at the helm of affairs. While women occupy almost all kinds of public places and offices today and make a larger chunk of the student community even at the level of higher education, they continue to be marginalised by men, who usually choose to be women's spokespersons. In a recent training programme conducted for university and college teachers, a male teacher introduced a female colleague as a wonderful cook while the female teacher frowned at him. While she denied having ever told him that she liked cooking, the man said "the very fact that she is a woman implies that she has to be a good cook."

 

No code for men

 

It is very common for men to be giving out public judgments about the dress code adequate for a woman and the way she should behave. A woman who is outspoken and has the grit to call a spade a spade is usually despised by men and is often ridiculed. Imagine the plight of a working woman who has to give out her best and work constantly under a scanner. I have often found women professionals doing a wonderful job at office spending long hours at work, not letting their household responsibilities interfere with their professional work. Do they get appreciation for that?

 

The spontaneous response from male colleagues is "poor chap who married her, and poor children to have got such a mother." Men continuously engage themselves in the process of moral policing, keeping a watch on women around, with a self-acquired right to comment upon them, ridicule them and correct them. It is strange that men keep themselves free from all such hassles. I have never seen a man objecting to another man urinating along the road in full public view where women, young and old, are moving. Nobody has ever made up an issue about the stalking by men threatening young girls. Ask any college or university girl student and she would relate her harrowing experiences of men's exhibitionist actions terrorising them which they cannot share with anyone except the peer group. I am yet to find these issues making headlines in the media or public discourses of male academia which otherwise shows great concerns about a code of conduct for women. In the recent past, several cases involving male schoolteachers molesting their young female students have been reported. It is a pity that even a small child is perceived by a male teacher as primarily a woman. Where is the problem then?

 

Male gaze

 

Is it at the level of the girl who wants to come out in the world, given her fundamental rights to equality, life, personal liberty and privacy or at the level of the male gaze that always gets fixed at her physical contours? This kind of moral policing by men definitely invades into a woman's fundamental right to privacy and personal liberty, seriously inhibiting her in her professional and academic pursuits. As a woman, while travelling in a bus where every now and then men, young and old, keep on pressing against her, touching her body, making her feel very helpless and small; while she keeps thinking that this is normal and she is not the only woman to face this. Shockingly still, for all this harassment it is again a woman who is blamed. She is therefore directed to dress up "properly". Could anybody explain why girls as young as two years and girls in salwar kameez continue to be molested and raped? Recently, farmers have been found to be selling their wives to repay their loans in Bundelkhand spanning the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. In Kashmir, a number of young girls lost their lives for not obeying the dress code prescribed by a militant outfit. Recently, a Saudi civil court is getting ready to hear the first ever case brought against the religious police, known as the Muttawa. The woman in question wanted compensation after she and her daughter were allegedly wrongfully arrested in a car park of a shopping centre for "not wearing decent clothing."

 

In Saudi Arabia, women must follow a strict dress code and be completely covered, from head to toe, when they are in public. Bubbling with freedom, equality and liberty and boasting as the largest democracy of the world, India deceits its Constitution when it treats its men and women differently to the disadvantage of the latter. Women in this country for ages have carried the burden of preserving the so-called rich Indian culture. Let us now at least do away with the hypocrisy and the double standards, for assessing men and women when both of them are today recognised as equals by the Constitution. If there is a need to mind the dress code and body language in public spaces, it exists for both genders.

 

When men's bodies and sexuality is publicly celebrated while woman's sexuality is controlled in Talibanic ways, it is the woman who is being treated as polluting. While women are assuming responsible positions in society, we must learn to build trust in their ability to hold themselves respectably in public life. Instead of the 'blaming of victim' approach, let us work towards improving our own mindset, learning to look at women as human beings. Men may find it difficult but I am sure constant practice and training at home and outside can go a long way. Let the moral policing, if any, be gender neutral.

 

Dr Gill is Professor and Chairperson, Department of Women's Studies & Development and Department of Sociology, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

GENDER QUESTIONS

HARBHAJAN SINGH DEOL

 

THE women's issue is a socially vibrant question because the plight of women is as frustrating as it ever was in human history. Throughout different periods of chequered history woman remained engrossed in tackling only secondary issues and the main issue of power politics was kept out of her purview and she therefore, entrenched herself in psychic timidity resulting in growth of profound sense of ennui in her personality.

 

Women were hamstrung by their servile and secondary position in the family. Power politics became anathema to her while individual exceptions were always there. The human values in all historical periods of civilization remained male dominated.

 

In slave society that emerged in early Greece, Plato in his Republic talked about emancipation of women and the equality of sexes. Religion in its various manifestations approached the gender question in a casual pedestrian way. During feudal age women remained incarcerated in the kitchen. In capitalist imperialist age she was presented as a decorative commodity yet she saw a streak of freedom in society immediately after industrial revolution in Europe.

 

Still she remained ostracised in the world of power politics. The rising democracies in the capitalist systems opened a window to her to visualise the political world but she was denied the right to franchise in the male dominated democracies. She, therefore always remained marginalised from the process concerning decision making.

 

Marxist revolutionary interpretations of social dynamics took women's cause along with the cause of proletariat but she remained on the periphery of politics of power.In our country the position of women was no better. A peculiar claustrophobia confined her within the premises of the household and she was falsely eulogised and shrewdly pampered as the queen of kitchen.

 

The modern age brought in the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. Women's first organised revolt to achieve political power burst forth, when they captured Paris during Paris commune uprising and the enlightening ideas of liberation slowly started appearing all over the world. Women openly challenged male chauvinism and the call for sharing political power with the male partners did not remain within the boundary of a single state. It became an international movement for the liberation of women, steadily moving for achieving political power within the systems. Still men in the field of power politics could not digest such a trend. In the US, when a women organisation raised a motto on its banner: "we will foment a rebellion"— pat came the reaction from a male organisation: "we will fight the despotism of petticoat."

 

In this backdrop of history we realise, that the feminine collectivity is continuously facing the same old crisis. Despite rapid growth and advancement of democratic ideology the existing institutions of political power are so apathetic and lethargic that they are still not able to define the independent entity of woman. Rather she is always tagged with men as a secondary and subordinate phenomenon in spite of certain exceptions. Women must not struggle in isolation; they must create broad fronts and even join hands with men who can understand the reality of women's anguish and agony.

 

They should save their movement from getting elitist and they must organise joint action with other socially neglected cultural and linguistic minorities, immigrants, worker and peasants groups. Indian women need to chalk out a strategy. Socially, they need to confront all the worn out rituals and customs regarding marriage, sexual behaviour and gender hegemony in the traditional family. Politically women are to be assertive in the voting behaviour and act as women first and anything else afterwards.

 

Individual cases should not be left on their own rather their cooperation with the movement is of utmost importance. Women should work in close collaboration with men in social organisations. In their party meetings, academic groups, and social circles, they need to express solidarity with those who work for democratic equality . Women should not isolate themselves. When Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish revolutionary was asked to lead a woman section of Social Democratic Party, she objected to this sectarian attitude: "Why should not I lead the entire social democratic movement in its totality rather than leading only women's section" She retorted. Such a spirit will restore courage, confidence and dignity among women.

 

The writer is a former head of National Integration Chair, Punjabi University, Patiala

 

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

EDITORIAL

DESIRABLE NEWNESS

KAMATH, KRIS, SHIBULAL AND INFOSYS' MIDLIFE CRISIS

India's premier software services company, Infosys Limited, has reached out to its banker, the non-executive chairman of ICICI Bank, K V Kamath, to step into the shoes of its founder N R Narayana Murthy. This long-expected move should bring an embattled firm a "desirable newness" that Mr Kamath is capable of offering. The transition from the era of the founders has not been smooth for Infosys. Not only has the external environment become more competitive, but the internal environment has also become increasingly contentious. Managing these twin challenges and dealing with the firm's "midlife crisis" will be the main task before the new team. Mr Kamath comes with high credentials, though one must not exaggerate the leadership he was able to provide at ICICI Bank or his role in brokering peace between the Ambani brothers — the two things that keep coming up in the media as Mr Kamath's assets. ICICI Bank needed hand holding from the outside till it was able to weather the global financial storm and the Ambani brothers are still quarrelling! But Mr Kamath has one qualification that his predecessor values most — credibility and, to use one of Mr Kamath's favourite phrases, "positive aggression". The brand image of Infosys was built on these two qualities and Mr Kamath is capable of contributing to both.

It is only natural that a large part of the responsibility to deal with the external challenge facing Infosys, and the challenge of managerial transition, will be borne by the new executive co-chairman, S Gopalakrishnan (Kris), and the new CEO and MD, S D Shibulal. It is this duo that will have to carry forward Mr Murthy's day-to-day role at Infosys. Both are co-founders and organisation men, who can be expected to work in tandem. However, it will be Mr Kamath's responsibility to ensure that they do that and that Infosys is able to adapt to the "desirable newness" it needs. How the three work together will shape the future of Infosys and its ability to claw back the leadership it has yielded to the Tatas in recent months.

 

 Needless to say, the ability of the new trio to leave its mark will also depend on Mr Murthy's willingness to let go and allow the new team to experiment and make mistakes. Mr Murthy has said that he feels like the "father of the bride". Mercifully, he did not say "mother of the groom", since the mother-in-law syndrome is not particularly helpful when it comes to managerial transition! Mr Murthy can, however, play a very useful part in training younger managers, mentoring senior managers and in his new role as a venture capitalist. India is bubbling with entrepreneurs and the successful ones like Mr Murthy can play a tremendous role in encouraging and supporting the new generation of Indian enterprise. The one temptation Mr Murthy must resist is to enter public life and lecture the country. Indians love gurus, especially those who believe in "high thinking and simple living" and are capable of performing miracles. Mr Murthy has those positive qualities, but he must resist the temptation to pontificate. In the end, people like Mr Murthy, Mr Kamath and the new leadership at Infosys represent a new breed of middle-class professionals who have become billionaires through the power of knowledge and honest hard work. They inspire middle-class India. And they must continue to do that.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

EMPOWER THE SAVERS

THE RBI SHOULD DEREGULATE SAVINGS BANK DEPOSIT RATES

The case for deregulation of the savings bank deposit rate by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is becoming stronger day by day. It is time India returned to a system favoured by most modern economies around the world. The giant steps taken in banking reform have not only significantly improved industry health but also the effectiveness of the regulator. So this last vestige of old-style regulation is more of a psychological prop which can be safely removed without fear of mishap. The chief concern of the regulator in contemplating the move is whether it will put greater pressure on weak banks and, thus, create avoidable trouble for the regulator and the banks' significant owner, the government. Freeing the savings bank rate may heighten competition, forcing weaker banks to pay more than they can comfortably do. With banks competing for deposits both on price and quality of service, weak banks, which lag behind in service quality, will have to rely largely on paying more, which will further weaken them. Thus, the deregulation will highlight weaknesses and force the owner and the regulator to take steps that will either get operations to improve or force takeover. This will end the camouflaging of weaknesses and lead to a systemic improvement.

Long-neglected small depositors should look forward to the freeing of the savings bank rate because it will give them a chance to get a bit more of their money's worth. There is, of course, a chance that a splurge of liquidity will cause the rate to go down and not up. However, since the depositor is already living with high negative interest rates, prospects of a further downslide are limited. What will be new is that there would be a possibility of an upward movement. The main concern of the regulator should be twofold: protecting the interests of small depositors and using the deregulation to take inclusive banking forward. To address these, an incentive needs to be created for those outside the banking system to convert whatever modest resources they have into financial savings. One way of doing that can be for the government to give an interest subsidy to small deposits, maybe by limiting it to the first Rs 10,000 in a savings bank account.

 

 The policy should aim at limiting to the minimum, if not eliminate altogether, negative interest rates so that the poor do not find the value of their most crucial savings – which they keep in a readily accessible form for emergencies – going down. It is not as though the government is not bailing out weak banks and their stakeholders. Every time they are recapitalised, after they have lost a part of their capital through provisioning for bad loans, the culture of going easy on bad loans continues, and banks remain protected. Most importantly, modestly attractive interest earnings for small depositors, made possible by deregulation and subsidy, will significantly raise the national savings rate in the long run.

 

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 BUSINESS STANDARD

ON A WING AND A PRAYER

THE DECISION TO MAKE INDIA'S CHOICE OF FIGHTER JET A PURELY TECHNICAL ONE WAS, IN FACT, POLITICAL.

SANJAYA BARU

Major and strategically important defence purchases have rarely, if ever, been purely technical decisions. In the 1950s, Jawaharlal Nehru made political choices in opting to seal deals with the British, the Americans and the French. Nehru's and Indira Gandhi's switch to the Soviet Union in the early 1960s was a political and strategic decision. In her second stint in the 1980s, she turned westwards to Europe and Rajiv Gandhi followed suit. Narasimha Rao allowed Israel to open shop and Atal Bihari Vajpayee took the first step towards a strategic partnership with the United States. In each case, geo-political considerations took precedence over techno-economic evaluations.

No government decision to spend upwards of $11 billion on defence equipment could have been devoid of political and strategic calculations. Few will, therefore, readily accept the explanation that the decision to disqualify bids from the US, Russia and Sweden for a medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), and shortlist European jets, was purely technical. Even if that was the case, the decision to allow only technical considerations to dictate the choice was a political one.

 

Technical considerations must get priority. Also, one should not jump to the conclusion that it will mark an irreversible turning point in India's relations with the US, which is visibly upset, more "angry" than "disappointed". The least important part of the disappointment for the US would be the money lost because not only has the US done well in the past couple of years selling defence equipment to India, but it is also likely to get other big orders, like the $4-billion purchase order for Boeing's C-17 transport aircraft, which according to US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer would benefit "30,000 American workers and 650 American suppliers located in 44 states".

However, international relations experts and strategic analysts have already commented that the very "de-politicisation" of this decision could well be a manifestation of a downslide in the India-US bilateral political relationship, compared to the heyday of the second Bush administration and the first Manmohan Singh government. Such a perception will have its own political and geo-political consequences.

What exactly is the deal about? The best analysis of the MMRCA tender has been offered by an Indian-American scholar of defence studies, Ashley Tellis, who also served as a policy advisor to the US State Department and the White House. In his lucid and, obviously, partisan analysis, Dogfight: India's Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft Decision (available at: http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/dogfight.pdf), Dr Tellis sums up: "The MMRCA bid has been one of the hottest recent aviation procurements not just in India, but internationally, too. Eight countries and six companies eagerly await the outcome of this contest. This has turned into such a sizzling affair not only because of the size of the contract. Indeed, there are bigger procurement battles raging internationally. Rather, this procurement bid has been incandescent because it involves geopolitics, the economic fortunes of major aerospace companies, complex transitions in combat aviation technology, and the evolving character of the IAF itself."

Over several months in 2009-10, the Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted trials along India-Pakistan and India-China borders to test six different aircraft: Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper (US), Dassault Aviation's Rafale (France), MiG-35 (Russia), the Eurofighter Consortium's Typhoon (Germany, Italy, Spain and UK) and Saab's Gripen (Sweden). By all accounts, the tests were extensive and exhausting. (This newspaper's defence analyst Ajai Shukla has written extensively on the subject.)

Of the five jets which were rated on around 450 specs, Rafale and Typhoon were shortlisted based on technical parameters. Interestingly, neither the weightage or evaluation methodologies of the vital technical specifications nor the costs of aircraft have so far been considered a variable. Another "technical" consideration that seems to have been ignored so far is the extent to which the indigenisation of production, technology transfer and financial support would be offered by different suppliers. After all, the deal is not just to procure 126 or more jets, but to help modernise India's aerospace industry.

Were the technical factors favouring the two European jets so overwhelming that they prevailed over any political considerations weighing in favour of either the US or Russia? Or, put differently, were political considerations so weak that they could not override technical factors? Was the MMRCA verdict an assertion of an "independent foreign policy", as some gratuitous commentators suggest, or a manifestation of either political weakness or changing strategic preferences?

The decision to favour Europe in this deal could also have been prompted by concerns about European economies falling like ninepins and being bailed out by cash-rich China. Building partnerships in Europe is important, even if less so than building one with the US. Moreover, while promoting Europe as a partner of the IAF, the US can still emerge as the key partner for India's increasingly important Navy.

Few will believe that politics played no role in the MMRCA decision. Instead, most will assume that the political factor in India's strategic relations with the US has weakened since the days of the historic civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement. Has President Barack Obama's "successful visit" to India not helped repair the damage done to the bilateral relationship in his first year in office? Are issues of strategic importance to India getting short shrift from US? Equally, and importantly, is the drift in India beginning to take its toll in terms of our long-term strategic planning?

The domestic political preoccupation of the leaders of the world's largest democracies seems to have weakened the political foundation of an as yet evolving strategic partnership. That alone would explain the politics of a technical decision.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

TIME FOR A US-INDIA INVESTMENT TREATY

EVAN A FEIGENBAUM

India has concluded a raft of trade agreements – with Japan, South Korea, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), and many others – and it looks set to initiate more negotiations. But the US is the forgotten player, in part because Washington has yet to sort out its own trade priorities with India.

First, the good news: The US-India trade has grown rapidly — more than doubled from 2004 to around $66 billion in goods and services trade in 2008. Growth areas include aircraft, machinery, commercial services and defence-related equipment. And Washington and New Delhi are reaching out in other ways as well. During President Barack Obama's visit to India in November, the two sides announced plans to create a $10-billion infrastructure debt fund as a public-private partnership. India seeks large-scale foreign funding for its infrastructure build-out. And its decision to raise the limit for foreign institutional investment in corporate bonds in the infrastructure sector will almost certainly open up new opportunities for US investors.

 

locked in rancorous disagreements in the Doha Round of multilateral trade talks. And bilateral initiatives, like the BIT, were viewed, in part, as a way to provide ballast to US-India relations in the face of disagreements on multilateral arrangements.

But the BIT is stalled, principally because the US remains locked in an interminable internal review of its model treaty. And neither President Obama's November visit to India nor his administration's December decision to move forward with other pacts, such as the Korea-US free trade agreement (FTA), has done much to shake it loose.

That's a shame, for at least three reasons:

First, India isn't standing still. In early April, Indian policy makers announced that they would seek new trade agreements this year affecting services, investment and tariffs on goods. They will aim to conclude comprehensive accords with Thailand, the European Union and the European Free Trade Association by year end. And they look set to begin talks with Indonesia, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, and others, perhaps including Australia.

These agreements will result in lower tariffs on imported goods. Import tariff concessions from India's recently signed deals with Japan and Malaysia will come into effect this year. And concessions from New Delhi's Asean deal will be phased between 2013 and 2016.

In coming years, such a proliferation of preferential trade agreements could help keep merchandise costs down in India and gradually liberalise the country's commercial ties with important trading partners. But the US isn't part of the equation. And while a US-India FTA isn't on the cards, the idea of a BIT offered a pathway through which to build confidence on both sides.

Second, a BIT could have a salutary effect on US-India commercial relations. The US-India trade has grown rapidly, but so has bilateral investment.

Why a BIT? US firms would welcome relevant legal changes, as well as the symbolic implications of such a treaty for further subsequent liberalisation in India. A treaty will establish safeguards and an independent arbitration process, which could benefit both countries.

A BIT would also enable further US investment in India's infrastructure by American investors. And it would provide protection to Indian investors as Indian firms' US-bound investments multiply. In fact, investment has grown in both directions, with Indian investment into the US growing by some 60 per cent to more than $4 billion from 2007 to 2008.

Third, many in Asia are now questioning America's commitment to the economic pillars of its postwar role in Asia. A BIT with India could be one element of a broader US effort to reinvigorate its trade engagement in this region.

Trade and investment have both economic and political implications. They have become controversial in the US as protectionist sentiment broadens and the country wrestles with a mostly jobless recovery. But in the 20th century, from the Open Door to the Cold War, commercial engagement was a central pillar of American leadership in Asia.

Put simply, America's postwar economic role in Asia was underpinned by three pillars: sustained commitment to openness at home, deep faith in US competitiveness abroad, and strong US leadership on international trade agreements and regimes. All three pillars are now under attack in the US. And with Doha stalled, but with India and other Asian powers forging regional agreements, the US risks being left behind.

A BIT won't offer a magic bullet. No such trade or investment agreement could. And ideally, the US will push to conclude the Doha round, so that multilateral liberalisation erases intra-regional preferences.

But in the absence of progress on Doha, it makes sense for the US to lean on a mix of other trade-related tools, from BITs with India and others to an expansion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — the potentially important, if still modest, effort among some Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation members to move beyond consensus by taking concrete steps toward World Trade Organisation-compatible free trade expansion.

The US and India do not always agree. And they most certainly have had strong differences on trade and investment rules. But there is no reason why the two countries cannot turn common interests into complementary policies. In their commercial relations, a BIT would be one important, if modest, way to forge ahead.

The author is head, Asia Practice Group, at Eurasia Group, and is also adjunct senior fellow for Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations Washington, DC

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

LOOKING BEYOND THE GS

CHINA HOLDS THE KEY TO RESTORING GLOBAL IMBALANCES.

A V RAJWADE

The various Gs (different groups of member countries) met in Washington in mid-April as part of the Fund Bank spring meetings. India is a member of the Monetary and Financial Committee of the IMF, the G24 grouping of the most important developing countries, and G20, the group of largest economies that has become active, including at the heads of government level, since the financial crisis of 2008.

The G24 did not agree with the proposed IMF framework for staff advice to member countries on managing capital flows and its inclusion in fund surveillance. In contrast, the Monetary and Financial Committee praised the IMF's recent work on managing capital inflows as "a step that should lead toward a comprehensive and balanced approach for the management of capital flows drawing on country experiences." It seems rather strange that India agrees with both statements!

 

The G20 finance ministers also agreed on "Indicative guidelines for assessing persistently large imbalances". The chosen indicators are "(i) public debt and fiscal debt deficits; and private savings rate and private debt (ii) and the external imbalance composed of the trade balance and net investment income flows and transfers, whilst taking due consideration of exchange rate, fiscal, monetary and other policies." Why India agreed to the inclusion of transfers in this, given our huge remittance inflows, is difficult to understand. In my view, these are more like capital inflows, albeit of an irreversible nature, and are no indicator of the domestic economy. Also, one assumes that the expression trade balance includes trade in both goods and services. These indicators are to be monitored by the IMF using "statistical approaches" in comparison with the 1990 to 2004 period. And, "countries identified by at least two of the four approaches as having persistently large imbalances will be assessed in-depth to determine in a second step the nature and root causes of their imbalances and to identify impediments to adjustment." Why the IMF is needed to undertake the statistical analysis is something of a mystery. Surely, anyone with a spreadsheet and the data of national accounts would be able to make the calculations in a few days? One wonders whether the whole approach to this "indicators" was to arrive at variables with which the Big 2 – the US and China – are comfortable. Incidentally, the G20 also agreed on the criteria for the countries to be monitored by the IMF: those with a GDP, either in nominal exchange rate or PPP terms, more than five per cent of the corresponding G20 aggregate. India is one of this seven and qualifies under the alternative criterion, namely GDP at PPP terms. A new G7?

What will help cure global imbalances is of course China's, perhaps belated, recognition that building up further USD assets in the form of treasuries could lead to a major loss on the value of its savings. It seems to have clearly recognised this risk and taken various steps recently:  

·      Knowing well that the effect of its trying to diversify existing reserves into other currencies would only hasten the possibility of a sharp fall of the dollar, China has recently transferred another $200 bn from its reserves to its sovereign wealth fund. Presumably, this would be invested in riskier but hopefully higher rewarding assets, and not in the US treasuries. One should expect that, one way or another, China would stop adding to its stock of the US treasuries. This of course has serious implications for the external value of the dollar, and the USD yield curve which, even otherwise, is likely to start steepening as the QEII purchase of treasuries by the Federal Reserve, comes to an end.

·      While China has stubbornly resisted pressures to appreciate its currency faster in nominal terms, it is simultaneously making sure that the currency appreciates in real terms through both domestic inflation and sharp hikes in manufacturing wages. The result is perhaps already seen in the fact that the country registered a trade deficit in Q1 of 2011, for the first time since 2004.

But coming back to India, I expect to come back to the following two comments in the Governor's intervention in the Monetary and Financial Committee of the IMF 

·      Global rebalancing will require deficit economies to save more and consume less, while depending more on external demand relative to domestic demand for sustaining growth.

·      That currency interventions should not be resorted to as an instrument of trade policy should be central to a coordinated approach at a multilateral level.

avrajwade@gmail.com

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

STATSGURU-02-MAY-11

India's share in the world gross domestic product (GDP) has increased from around three per cent in 1990 (at purchasing power parity-adjusted exchange rates) to around five per cent now, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world in recent years.

Growth in the three years preceding the global economic crisis (2005-2007) averaged an impressive 9.5 per cent. And in FY2011 the economy is projected to grow 8.8 per cent.

 

 India's economic success since the 1980s has been attributed to reforms aimed at strengthening macroeconomic stability and improving the supply-side of the economy. Key among the reform steps were fiscal consolidation, liberalisation of sectors, and the gradual opening of the external trade and finance channels. These steps have lifted India's growth potential by raising productivity, spurring investments and strengthening human capital.

The IT and telecom revolution contributed to the success story of India's services sector with growth picking up to 7.4 per cent from 2000 to 2010. And from 2005 to 2010 it averaged an impressive 8.6 per cent. This not only made India one of the fastest-growing economies but also helped it close the growth gap with China. The industrial sector also provided a number of success stories in the form of pharma, refinery and steel. (Click here for table & graph)

According to Citigroup Global Markets research, India expects to overtake Japan to become the third-largest economy in the world by 2015. The research also predicted that by 2020, China would have overtaken the US to become the world's largest economy, while Italy would have dropped out of the top ten, to be followed by France by 2030, the UK by 2040, and Germany by 2050. Thus by 2050, the make-up of the world's ten largest economies will bear little resemblance to the 2010 line-up.

India's real per capita GDP is expected to grow at 6.4 per cent annually over the next 40 years between 2010 and 2050 (7.2 per cent a year over the next 10 years and at rates of 7.7 per cent a year between 2020 and 2030 and 5.2 per cent a year between 2030 and 2050). As a result, we expect India to become the world's largest economy by 2050, overtaking China and the US in the process.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CHANGING SLOWLY

INFOSYS' NEW MANAGEMENT STRUCTURE IS COMPLEX BUT CAN STILL WORK

 

Arose by any other name would smell as sweet, we know; but what about chairmen? Infosys now has three chairmen, one emeritus, one co-executive and one plain vanilla. This is overkill, at first glance, but still a workable arrangement on closer scrutiny, provided all the three at the top collectively mark out their areas of responsibility and curb wanderlust. By appointing SD Shibulal as managing director and chief executive officer, Infosys has continued its tradition of honouring the founders, turn by turn. So far, this has not done the company any harm. This time around, too, it could work, particularly given that the board has also decided to induct three younger leaders by June. The decision to change the name of the company, dropping Technology, reflects the sensible ambition to be recognised as a business solution provider, rather than a technology company. This, indeed, is the way to go. A consulting-led approach of undertaking to solve a client's business problems, whatever it takes, rather than to merely deliver the technology solutions the client asks for, will lead to greater value addition, which is what Indian IT companies need.


Mr Kamath could well prove a useful choice for Infosys. Apart from his other achievements at ICICI, Mr Kamath's outstanding contribution was effective succession planning. And this could be his lasting contribution at Infosys in the few years he has here before he also retires. Mr Narayana Murthy's stamp on Infosys is indelible and given his energy and capacity for statesmanly advocacy, it would be silly for the company not to continue to use him as brand ambassador for as long as possible. Mr Murthy can be trusted to provide the room his successors need in the company's active management. Mr Gopalakrishnan's elevation probably reflects the company's desire to reward an effective leader who saw revenues double over a turbulent four years and take the right strategic calls on stepping up consulting and moving into growth areas like telecom. While some younger companies show greater dynamism of late, the shake-up shows that Infosys has the will to evolve and stay at the top of the game.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TRADING GOODWILL

INDIA AND PAKISTAN ARE BEGINNING TO BUILD THE BASE FOR STRONGER TRADE TIES

 

 Few expected the meeting of the commerce secretaries of India and Pakistan to end with anything concrete, so it is a positive surprise to see that Pakistan is willing to extend the most favoured nation (MFN) status to India and open up bilateral trade flows. This column has always argued that more trade in goods and services between the subcontinental neighbours could only have one outcome: better relations and increased prosperity for all. Today, the volume of trade between the two countries is a paltry $2 billion, mostly exports from India to Pakistan. The unofficial trade, routed through entrepots like Dubai, is reckoned to be another $2 billion. These are tiny numbers when you recall that trade between India and China was more than $61 billion last year, and growing at a 40%-plus gallop annually. Trade between India and Pakistan can even surpass, at least qualitatively, that between India and China, which largely consists of commodity exports from India and manufactured imports from China. The India-Pakistan relationship should have much more in common, including very common tastes and preferences on both sides of the border. With deep cultural connects, it should be possible to build strong trade ties, not just with fuels and manufactures, but soft exports like entertainment, music, tourism and movies.
Cross-border trade at Wagah and in Kashmir has been trifling, despite the huge potential. That is explained by lack of mutual faith, which has translated into an unwillingness to accept each other's currencies in these crossborder trades. With no Pakistani accepting Indian rupees and vice versa, trade is reduced to barter with a lot of haggling, no consistency in valuation and tiny volumes. In this season of thaw, it might be a good idea to set up a trade account, monitored jointly by the two Central banks, to facilitate trade in Pakistani and Indian currency. This clearing-house could set and revise exchange rates for cross-border trades and facilitate lending for some transactions as well. That will boost volumes as well as ties on both sides of the border.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

ROYAL RESPONSIBILITY

THE NEWEST ENTRANT INTO BRITAIN'S OLDEST FAMILY FIRM MAY BE JUST WHAT IT NEEDS


The newest entrant into Britain's most closely held family firm has a tough initiation on the cards. Even if she has been a special invitee on the board for some years — that included dining rights — taking office as a joint managing director, reporting formally to the CEO-designate and the chairman, will be a daunting task. For, along with the perks of accommodation, entertainment allowances and foreign travel comes the burden of a constant cost-benefit analysis conducted by the media. The smallest of wrong decisions can have far-reaching effects as it is a private firm with very public businesses where sentiment plays a huge role in determining valuations. So, while disseminating information about the concerns and workings of the company is not imperative, it is often more politic.


Of course, her experience in her own fairly new family firm, which adroitly turned a kitchen-table idea into a successful business, should also stand her in good stead as she gears up to jointly steer a 1,000-year old conglomerate in a new millennium. Provided she is brave enough to speak up, given her previous experience she may be the best person to persuade the board (whose members also hold majority shares in the firm) to open up to new ideas before the market forces them to, as has happened before. But at the same time, she also has to reassure the longstanding members that she will not try to change the basic nature of the business or make any moves to go public. The experience the firm had of several earlier joint ventures has made them very chary of those who come into the boardroom by mergers. She has the unequivocal support of at least one member of the firm — the one who got her the job on the board in the first place — so she may be more successful in her new role than her predecessors.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EMPEROR OF ALL (ECONOMIC) MALADIES

TACKLING INFLATION CALLS FOR TOUGHER MEASURES THAN THE RBI HAS SHOWN STOMACH FOR, TO DATE

 

 Okay, you missed the bus? What next? Well, if you're a mortal, you could make a dash for it; and if you're lucky (depending on whether it's one of the capital's infamous blueline buses you're chasing!) you might just make it. Or you could throw up your hands and decide to sit it out for the next one.
Central banks, unfortunately, are not so lucky. They do not have the options you and I have. So, if they miss the bus on inflation, like many have, it is far from certain they can make up for lost time by pumping iron (read raising rates). If they do, there is the odd chance it will be a waste of effort. Worse, there is the distinct possibility it may have just the opposite effect. Depending on the state of the economy, it may boomerang and leave them with a bigger problem of stagflation, or stagnation accompanied by inflation, on their hands. At the same time, they cannot throw up their hands and hope to get away with a bland, 'too-badwe-hope-to-do-better-nexttime' statement either.
That, in a nutshell, is the dilemma facing the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) today. It missed the bus on inflation by a mile — as against the Bank's initial estimate of 5.5% for March 2011, fiscal 2010-11 ended with inflation at 8.98% and likely to be revised upward when the final numbers come in later. The January inflation number of 8.2% has already been revised to 9.4%. So, chances are the final wholesale price index (WPI) for March 2011 will be in double digits.
Thus far, from pushing GDP growth to double digits, our policies (both fiscal and monetary) appear to have led us to sub-10% growth, and slowing, and close-to-10% inflation and rising. Given the huge retail margins, consumer price inflation (CPI) will almost certainly revert to double-digits after the brief respite we saw earlier in the year. For consumers, who have been at the receiving end of high prices for close to two years, there is little to cheer. Especially since the outlook is bleak. Inflation has spread from food to non-food items and with inflationary expectations taking root it is going to be difficult to put the inflation genie back in the bottle. To all intents and purposes, the RBI's hesitant (faint-hearted?) baby steps have proved futile. The Bank and the government must share the blame for this, the Bank a little more than the government. Central banks the world over have a tough job marrying political ambitions with economic compulsions. Rising global inflation numbers are testimony to how central banks are trying, without much success, to pick up the pieces after elected governments loosened the taps on spending after the financial crisis.
The RBI's lack of formal independence makes its task more difficult compared to its peers; but not impossible. So it cannot absolve itself of not doing enough and at the right time. No central bank that keeps real interest rates negative for so long can hope to get away from the consequences. Agreed the combination of rising commodity prices, a spillover of the reckless quantitative easing by the US Federal Reserve, structural bottlenecks and a government unwilling to share the burden of reining in prices through tighter fiscal management would have been enough to daunt most central banks.
Having said that, what can the Bank do now? If indeed there is no growth-inflation trade-off (and today everyone swears there is none), should the RBI continue to be diffident? Remember, for all the talk of multiplicity of objectives, its primary mandate is inflation control or growth with inflation control, with the focus shifting from one to the other depending on underlying macroeconomic fundamentals. Remember also that the best driver of growth (and of poverty reduction) is low inflation.
    So, should it go ahead and deliver a tough dose (a 50 basis point hike) rather than the 25 basis points hike that markets have already factored in? Naysayers will point to the economy showing signs of slowing down, reports of slackening investment demand (an inevitable corollary of high inflation) and the imminent withdrawal of stimulus programmes elsewhere in the world.
Votaries of tough medicine, and their numbers are growing, will point to how high and persistent inflation of the kind we've experienced can derail the growth process altogether. Headline inflation has been above 8% for 15 months now, inflation is no longer confined to food items where it can be glibly explained away as the result of supply shocks, but has now spread to non-food items reflecting rising demand pressures. IIP numbers, volatile as always, cannot hide the underlying anxieties.
Meanwhile, the combination of rising global oil prices and domestic prices yet to be aligned with higher global prices creates further upside risk for inflation. Fuel prices have not been revised since January 15, 2011 when our crude basket was about $88 a barrel as against the current $120 a barrel. Add to this historical evidence of the adverse effect of high inflation on investment in India (the mid-1970s and mid-1990s) and it's difficult to escape from the conclusion that the economy is not exactly in the pink of health. In such a scenario, will it withstand a strong dose?
The best analogy lies in the field of medicine, more specifically, cancer treatment. Inflation is often called a cancer for the rapid-fire way it spreads once out of control. Will a strong dose of chemotherapy, rather than the standard dose given in the past, save the patient if administered now, when his health is not too good? There is a possibility that it could go terribly awry; but is that a risk worth taking? Is it the only hope?
The answer, as with cancer treatment, lies in the doctor's (the RBI's) reading of the state of the patient's (economy's) health. And, of course, that crucial element of luck! All the best, governor!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

ET INTERACTIVE

'CYBER ATTACKS MOVING TO MOBILE, SOCIAL SITES'

OMKAR SAPRE


India has rapidly adopted modern technology, be it cellular telephony, computers, smartphones, social networks and now tablets. No wonder, the country comes second after the US in incidences of cyber attacks and malicious activity. Shantanu Ghosh, vice president, India Product Operations, Symantec, one of the world's largest data security company, says that smartphones, instant messaging and social networks are becoming the new playground for virus and malware attacks in India.
"We have found that attackers are now embedding malware into apps that are available for download on app stores of smartphone makers. On the face of it, these apps look legitimate, doing the same function the user downloaded them for. However, in the background, they function in a way they should not. Indians have the highest confidence levels in the Asia-Pacific-Japan region regarding the use of third-party software on their mobile phones. As India Inc takes to mobile computing and social networking in a big way, it needs to be watchful about the vulnerabilities and threats on these platforms," he says.
The vulnerabilities on mobile platforms rose by 42% in 2010. The company also noticed a massive threat volume — of over 286 million new threats — with web-based attacks increasing by 92% last year. He reckons that the incidence of malicious activity is not only growing in India, but the country is also among the top originators of malicious activity. "Our data shows that India was the third highest originator of spam globally, accounting for 35% of the spam zombies and 11% of phishing hosts in the Asia-Pacific-Japan region. Almost half of the malcodes in India are worm and 33% are viruses. An unnerving feature is that six of the 10 worms in India disable security processes. The bot mania continues, with Mumbai and Bangalore accounting for half of the 37,000 odd bot-infected computers."
Ghosh describes 2010 as the year of targeted attacks. He says these attacks were designed for specific targets and were planned with precision. There was steep rise in the frequency and sophistication of targeted attacks on business infrastructure, the notable incidences being of Stuxnet and Hydraq. "The most visible cyber-events of 2010, Stuxnet and Hydraq, have turned the focus on protecting businesses and critical infrastructure. India had the third highest Stuxnet infections, after Iran and Indonesia. A large number of infections were through computer users relying on removable drives to copy data."
Stuxnet, first reported in June, targeted computers managing industrial control systems. India had 10% of total infections. Such attacks also have the ability to leap the 'air gap': they can reach computers that are not connected to the internet, through USB drives. Indian companies that have critical infrastructure, all of which is managed these days by computers, need to be vigilant too, he says. According to industry estimates, more than half of the critical infrastructure providers have faced targeted cyber attacks. Social networking, too, is a rage in the country and a major medium of attacks. India is now the seventh largest social networking market. It witnessed a 43% annual growth in social networking audience in 2010. Instant Messaging and shortened Uniform Resource Locator (such as bit.ly and t.co) which are integral to social networking are also used to perpetuate malicious activity. "Attackers overwhelmingly used the news-feed capabilities provided by social networking sites to mass-distribute attacks. In a typical scenario, the attacker logs into a compromised social networking account and posts a shortened link to a malicious website in the victim's status area," Ghosh says.
According to him, this should be a wake-up call for companies as 82% of Indian employees access social networking sites at their workplace. In 2010, 65% of malicious links in news feeds used shortened URLs. Of these, 73% were clicked 11 times or more, with 33% receiving between 11 and 50 clicks. Some malicious links currently doing rounds on Facebook include stuff like 'how will you look after 20 years', 'check who viewed your profile', and so on.
"The lack of vigilance among social networking users also results in their becoming a weak link for attackers. Hackers have used profile information on social networking sites to create targeted social engineering attack. We saw that attackers launched targeted attacks against a diverse collection of publicly traded, multinational corporations and government agencies, as well as a surprising number of smaller companies. In many cases, the attackers had researched key victims within each corporation and then used tailored social engineering attacks to gain entry into the victims' networks," he says.
Ironically, the economic incentives favour the attackers as they are relatively easy and cheap, but defence can be expensive, reckon cyber security experts. Businesses must look at cyber security the same way as physical security.

 

SHANTANU GHOSH

VICE PRESIDENT, INDIA PRODUCT OPERATIONS Symantec

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

OVERHAUL REGULATION, GLOBALLY

AJAY CHHIBBER



    The global financial crisis has brought the state roaring back, with large stimulus packages and overhaul of regulatory systems. The state remains the ultimate protector of people's interests as markets overreach, on both the upswings and the downswings of capitalism. Self-regulation — à la 16th-century Scottish bankers — or a light-touch regulatory system cannot be the solution for the modern financial world. A coordinated, activist and sceptical regulatory system is needed.
Globalisation had reduced perceptions of risk as no one regulator had a complete picture of balance sheets. In the post-crisis scenario, the oversight of systemic risk has emerged as the new important variable that has to be addressed globally. Institutional regulation alone is not sufficient in capturing and addressing systemic risks. It is imperative to have a mechanism to monitor and act upon the risks that are inherent in the interconnected global financial system. It is now better appreciated that systemic risk is created endogenously rather than having exogenous origins that are beyond the remit of financial markets. Regulatory systems must, therefore, put in place norms that dampen, rather than boost, credit expansion during a boom.
Asian-style state-led capitalism has performed well during the crisis. With low public debt at around 40% of GDP (India being an exception with much higher levels of debt), regulatory systems were more hands-on. In any case, much lower levels of financial liberalisation put constraints on the ability of financial markets to take risk. The clean-up of financial systems after the 1997 crisis was also a major factor in helping Asia avoid being hit very badly by this global crisis.
Today, besides the financial sector, we are facing challenges from issues related to competitiveness and climate change. The role of the state has become more critical. Investment in green technologies and public infrastructure must be the priority. There is now a serious danger that the world's polluting industries will shift to the developing world with much weaker environmental regulation. We need more globalised rules on environmental regulation that ensure that pollution will not be dumped on the developing world, but we must also ensure that there is flexibility and resources are made available to developing countries through green energy mechanisms to adjust. More grant financing is also needed as we see that in Asia, much of the new green financing schemes have largely gone to China and India. China has lifted millions out of poverty, but at a huge environmental cost. Paying for the clean-up is far more costly afterwards.
In India, economic growth is led by robust performance of the industrial sector. There is impressive growth in manufacturing industries that are highly polluting and have significant environmental consequences in terms of water effluents, air emissions and hazardous wastes. The economic boom has also seen rapidly expanding construction, mining, and iron & steel sectors that are vitiating the problem of a visibly deteriorating environmental quality. This highlights the urgent need to step up efforts to manage the consequences of accelerated growth.
In some instances, less is better than more. Governments sometimes restrict competition in a wide range of sectors by inappropriately regulating markets in areas such as labour, land and investment with unintended consequences. For example, labour market regulations that protect jobs often constrain employment. Similarly, regulating land and property can slow growth by inhibiting capital investment and industrial consolidation. India is still suffering from some of this type of over-regulation. This has, in fact, hurt employment. It is time for India to address these issues if it is to maintain more inclusive growth in the 21st century.
In some countries, the biggest constraints on economic growth result from inappropriate and unevenly enforced regulations in naturally competitive manufacturing and service sectors. We have seen the removal of such protectionist policies the world over and even with the financial crisis we have not seen a very visible return to protectionism so far. But there is scope for more — for example, tariffs between South-South countries are still three times higher than tariffs between the South and the North.
So, a new 21st century regulatory system must be built on the principle that we are now facing issues which carry huge systemic risk globally. In this century, we live in a global commons and need a global regulatory approach to address issues of market failure. At the same time, we know that institutional regulatory structures must be national and local. We need then clearer global regulatory standards — mutually agreed — which are applied in national and local settings. "Think global but act local" applies as much to regulation as it does elsewhere. The role of the UN and the G-20 in helping shape such rules becomes critical.
(The author is UN Assistant Secretary General and Assistant Administrator, UNDP)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

END(OF)SULFAN?

Amidst heavy European-led global pressure and the growing domestic clamour seeking a ban on endosulfan, India has managed to secure a 11-year time-frame to phase-out the low-cost insecticide used against a broad spectrum of pests. The 172 countries that are signatories to the Stockholm Convention have, at a meeting in Geneva, decided to list endosulfan as a persistent organic pollutant (POP), requiring parties to eliminate or reduce its release into the environment. In this case, India — having consistently opposed endosulfan's inclusion as a POP — has eventually gone with the 'international consensus', while wresting a 11-year breather and exemptions for application on 22 major crops. This, it is believed, would give the domestic industry as well as farmers sufficient adjustment time.

For farmers, spraying endosulfan costs hardly Rs 50-75 for an acre of vegetables or paddy, as against Rs 200 and upwards for alternatives. Affordability and broad-spectrum usage apart, endosulfan is considered soft on pollinator insects such as honeybees — one reason why farm scientists specifically recommend it during the flowering stage. This is also a pesticide in which Indian companies have huge stakes, supplying 70 per cent of the 40 million litres of worldwide sales worth about $300 million. The industry here claims that the campaign against endosulfan has been largely inspired by European agro-chemical interests keen to replace a generic insecticide with their own proprietary molecules. One cannot rule this out totally, given that just three multinational firms make up half of the $40-billion global pesticide market.

That still raises the core issue of environmental safety and human health. Endosulfan, like most organochlorines, takes a long time to degrade in the soil. The compound has a 'half life' beyond 180 days to qualify as 'persistent', though the industry cites studies showing it to be much lower in tropical conditions as in India. As regards human health, much of endosulfan's alleged impact is based on the reports of malignancies, neurological problems and congenital malformations in some villages of Kasargod district in Kerala. While the prevalence of these unusual illnesses is confirmed, the evidence of their linkage with endosulfan use is unclear, more so when Kerala, even at its peak, consumed only a few kilo-litres of the pesticide. Of the estimated 12 million litres national consumption, over a third is by Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal, which have so far reported no major adverse events. The Indian Council of Medical Research is currently undertaking an epidemiological study in the identified villages and its report will, hopefully, throw more light on the issue. Everybody — the NGOs and politicians included — should wait for the report before firing their next salvo.

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BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

 

NO REALITY CHECK

OUR BUREAUS

Better to be safe than sorry. This is certainly not something that the Indian media care to heed as they scramble to catch and 'break' news. Take the Supreme Court's order last Tuesday that struck down the levy of airport development fee at the Mumbai airport. The channels started flashing the 'breaking news' sometime before noon.

Even before anyone could lay their hands on the court order, there were heavy-duty 'analyses' on the channels of how GMR Infrastructure, which operates the Delhi airport, and GVK Power, the Mumbai airport operator, would face a strain on cash flows after this move. Some brokerage reports even went so far as to quantify the impact of this development at the scrip level. One report put the potential 'valuation drop' for GMR Infra and GVK Power at Rs 1 and Rs 1.6 respectively, based on the impending 'strain' on their respective cash flows. Predictably, the two stocks were pummelled by 3-4 per cent that day. While the various analyses by themselves may not have been off the mark, it transpired soon that their very basis was wrong. The apex court had directed only the Mumbai operator to stop levying the fee, but said nothing about GMR. It only goes to show that in analysis, it doesn't quite pay to be quick on the draw.

Crazy days

It's not just the seven days of the week that some of us need to know, it seems. Creeping up always is an international 'this' day or a world 'that' day, as public relations pundits keep springing on us. Their FAQs go: 'Are you writing on liver? No? Not even kidney?' 'How about autism then?' Earth Day did not sell. A recent enterprising pitch at a health reporter was a last-ditch 'Then you could do something for Plumbing Day!' Thanks to the likes of the United Nations and World Health Organisation, most diseases, body organs, issues and nature's elements already have their day in the calendar, as also mom and dad; literacy, environment, mountains and rivers. Too bad if you felt 'zero tolerance to female genital mutilation', mother language, slave trade, or craved do-nuts. Potato Day, Panic Day, Sleep-in Day are taken, as are days for the deliberately unemployed, house sparrows, ballpoint pens and towels. Do hurry up if you have a rare fetish, there are only the last few days left.

Full bounty

We now know enough about voter freebies that peak at election times. And the umpteen free services that governments conjure up for the poor. As to who and how many really benefit from them is anyone's guess. And so it was mightily consoling to be reminded all over again that here is a non-government entity that not only provides world-class services to the needy, it doesn't charge them a paisa for them.

Amidst the tragic coverage of the passing of Sri Satya Sai Baba, one of the trustees at the Puttaparthi Trust, Mr V. Srinivasan, observed at a news conference that "We don't have a billing department for any of the services offered by the Trust." Puttaparthi's schools and colleges, as well as the medical services through the two super-specialty hospitals there and at Whitefield are really free in the fullest sense of the term; there are no bills or receipts though lakhs of people make use of them. That also means freedom from money worries for many.

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BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

 

CHANGE OF GUARD AT INFOSYS

B.S.RAGHAVAN

Mr Narayana Murthy has reinforced the organisational culture of dispensability that he himself had implanted in the Infosys by voluntarily relinquishing his position as the Chairman in favour of the non-Executive Chairman of the ICICI, Mr K. V. Kamath.

In recommending a banker to the top slot of a technology behemoth, the Nominations Committee, headed by Mr Jefferey S. Lehman, has apparently gone by Mr Kamath's general leadership qualities and overall capabilities in running a sprawling investment and industrial credit outfit with financials as the mainstay.

This is, of course, in sync with the trends in the US with which Mr Lehman, a legal expert himself, is familiar. There, technical companies opt for chiefs whose previous experience may have nothing to do with the products and services of the companies they are chosen to head.

Some thrive under this dispensation, but many are known to fall by the wayside, as happened at the time of the financial crisis that engulfed the US a couple of years ago. Whatever way one looks at this method of selection/nomination, it is a gamble.

Keeping pace with ideas

It is all the more so in the case of a company like the Infosys. Although it is claimed to have diversified in a number of directions, much of it is still technology-dominated.

Maintenance of leadership in the domain of development and dissemination of technology and its applications and, more particularly, lifting the trajectory of the achievements of Infosys to hitherto unscaled heights call for being abreast of the entire range and reach of the knowledge, information and technology revolutions that are simultaneously taking place, and keeping pace with the velocity, volume, variety and versatility of the flow of new ideas.

The person heading such an organisation should have either grown with it and built it brick by brick or been gifted with extraordinary creativity, innovative capacity, intuition and the genius to sculpt and invent the future.

Further, a whale of a reputation in one field does not necessarily mean that taking over an institution in quite a different field will be attendant with the same degree of success.

Some companies in Europe, the UK and the US are not content with putting a high premium on the past performance and reputation, but adopt practical techniques to ascertain the suitability and compatibility by exposing the nominee to a question-and-answer session with selected discerning shareholders. In other words, the reputation is not accepted on trust as a stand-alone criterion to adjudge professional competence in the new field.

Possible embarrassment

It is necessary for companies in India also to undertake a similar evaluation with the needed rigour to guard against any possible future embarrassment.

For this, knowledge of local conditions is important which a person brought from outside the country as the head of the Nomination Committee is unlikely to have.

For instance, a criminal investigation is reportedly going on in Uttar Pradesh into money launderings, black money, and the fudging of finances of the UP Development Council — an industrial development advisory board, headed by Mr Amar Singh, set up during Mulayam Singh Yadav's regime as the Chief Minister between 2003 and 2007.

According to the version of the UP Police published in the Tehelka magazine, (May 7, 2011), hundreds of crores of rupees were earned by Amar Singh's companies while he was helming the Board, of which big shots in industrial, business and banking circles, such as Messrs Anil Ambani, Kumar Mangalam Birla and K.V. Kamath were members.

Mr Amar Singh has expectedly denied all accusations of corrupt practices levelled at him and the Council, but has added ominously that "If I am being investigated, then all those corporate honchos who were on board should also be investigated."

I have the very best for Infosys at heart in sharing these reflections, as a public duty deriving from 60 years of public service in various capacities as the Commerce and Industry Secretary and Chief Secretary of a State and CMD of four major public sector enterprises.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

SO MUCH FOR INCLUSIVE GROWTH

ASHOAK UPADHYAY

A fortnight ago, the Prime Minister flagged off the Planning Commission's 12 {+t} {+h} Plan exercise with stirring targets of 9.5 per cent growth for the next five years, and greater focus on water, health education and infrastructure. The emphasis, he advised the Plan panel consisting of his Cabinet members and the deputy chief, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, would have to be on "policy and governance reforms…"

As is typical of Dr Manmohan Singh whose stratospheric vision tends to lose sight of the grimy reality below, his advice had an unreal quality about it. Seven decades after Independence, two decades after liberalisation and eight years into high growth, planners have to be reminded of the sorry fact that the basic necessities of life are still in short supply. No wonder the inclusive growth rhetoric of this government rings hollow.

PUSHED TO THE PERIPHERY

Less than a month before the PM's homilies, northern India had been almost paralysed by Jats demanding job quotas and membership of that unique institution, the Reservation Club.

You might wonder what exactly the connection is between these two events: The former spells a rosy future the latter a troubling present, a way station the Indian Gravy Train can skirt around on its way to 9 per cent growth.

But agitation by Jats for an assured place on the train to prosperity, fierce and prolonged as it was in Uttar Pradesh Haryana and Rajasthan, was an eloquent reminder of just how growth, of which policy planners seem so proud, had left behind one of the most prominent constituents of the mainstream economy.

The Jats of northern India are not anywhere like the dispossessed tribals of Orissa or Thane district outside Mumbai, or even the Gujjars of Rajasthan that have set a record for voluntary downward mobility, first as backwards and then as scheduled tribes.

The Jats have historically been the backbone of agriculture in northern India, the real authors of the Green Revolution. For decades their social and economic ambition has contributed greatly to the dynamism of Indian enterprise and politics across parties, and their daring for the unknown has made them a vital part of a silent and, sometimes, invisible Indian diaspora across the world as farm hands or as budding entrepreneurs. Who would have thought that such a community would look to downgrade themselves into that club meant to provide a leg-up to the unprivileged?

The violent agitation for social descent by the Gujjars four years ago and the Jats' demand for a similar leg-down may appear part of the hurly-burly of Indian politics but, at the core, it spells a more profound shift in the worldviews of communities that historically have not required reservation to acquire the basic entitlements for upward mobility.

ECONOMIC FAILURE

When an upwardly mobile community like the Jats seek in so virulent a form the safety net of job quotas, the message they transmit is not so much their inability to cope with the demands of the "competitive economy" as as the failure of the absorptive capacity of that economy. For the Jats, the reservation route is like the dole in Western countries, and when an increasing number seek the comfort of food coupons, policy planners read in them a case of economic failure.

The agitation by upper castes that have been economically active in the mainstream economy for reservation status could set the precedent for further protests by other communities historically blessed (brahmins, for instance) but economically deprived.

India now has two sources of dispossession; one located in history and the other in economic growth's exclusivity. One might say this is common enough in large parts of the world unable to cope with globalisation. India's uniqueness lies in the range of world views confronting that growing inequality all at the same time.

The demand for downward mobility is one of them; suicides by an increasing number of farmers unable to cope with stress of market economics is another, while the quiet acquiescence to the power of the gun by tribals who have never known what democracy means spells the third. All of them are contemporaneous. Together they shatter the neon-light fantasy of India's growth. All three represent self-perceptions and, most of all, ideas of what India means to a wide swathe of Indians outside the alpenglow of 9.5 per cent growth.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

WE NEED GOOD JUDGES, NOT LOKPAL

P.V.INDIRESAN

My previous article on Anna Hazare's fast against corruption evoked praise and criticism. The criticisms were directed at my suggestions (a) that, in place of a single Lokpal, the entire judiciary should be strengthened, and (b) candidates for elections should be selected locally and not by a central High Command as is the case at present. Critics were also concerned about what would happen if the judges became corrupt.

I had, in mild terms, mentioned the concern of some critics against Anna Hazare's tactics of forcing the government's hand by threatening a fast unto death. That too will ever be a matter for debate.

It is a fact that there is deep concern over the probity of the judges, a sentiment voiced even by the Chief Justice of India. In the early 19 {+t} {+h} century, there was similar concern about the officials of the East India Company. They were paid poorly and were expected to make good by taking bribes. In 1830s, the Company increased salaries enormously.

As Philip Mason puts it in his monumental work The Men Who Ruled India, corruption did reduce, not immediately, but within 10 years. A new breed of youth emerged, who were proud to belong to the service and were scrupulously honest.

PAY JUDGES MORE

At the time of Independence, the Chief Justice of India was paid a salary of Rs 7,000, around 50 times the annual per capita income. Unfortunately, our Constitution framers had no idea of inflation; now that salary is about four times the annual per capita income.

Why should present day judges not be paid like their predecessors at the time of Independence — around Rs 20 lakh a month? Considering what private industry pays their far less responsible officers, that is not much.

Senior advocates complain that linking judges' salaries to annual per capita incomes will lead to over-paying quite a few present day judges. On the other hand, much more competent people will come forward to sit on the bench. Perhaps, in another 10 years, we will have an entirely new look and judges will not hanker after post-retirement positions the way they do now.

For some reason or the other, we never considered making judges' tenure lifelong as the way it is in UK and the US.

If we were to equate judges' salaries with what they received during Independence as a multiple of per capita income, and make their tenure life-long (with perhaps an annual medical check-up), we can surely expect judges to be far more independent and honest than they are now. There are over a thousand judges at the High Courts and in the Supreme Court. Their standards can be expected to improve in about 10 years.

Why a lokpal

My concern about the Lokpal is the fact that he (or she) will assume the role of a 'super-judge' with no guarantee that the individual will always be superior.

When we raise the quality of the judges as a whole, a few mistakes here and there will not matter much — so long as the average level is high. In communications engineering, we have an equivalent called the phased array radar which has an antenna with thousands of independent elements.

Shoot down a few of them or even many of them, the radar will still function quite effectively. That is the advantage of numbers and, more important, of the independence of each of those members. That is what a high quality judicial system offers.

Let us not forget that President Nixon was disciplined, not by a Lokpal, not even by the Supreme Court, but by a lower judge. We are asking for a Lokpal because we have lost confidence in our judiciary.

Improve quality

Which is the correct solution? Is it devising a better quality of life for the judiciary to keep judges beyond the usual temptations of ordinary life or is it devising a different kind of a judge?

If we think the Lokpal is a better choice, why not accord all judges the same emoluments, perquisites and discipline as the Lokpal? Above all, will a single judge strike enough terror into the minds of the high and the mighty when a whole band of judges cannot? We forget that the Lokpal is only a secondary issue; the primary issue is corruption in high places. Lokpal is merely one solution to that primary problem.

We are so bemused by all that has been said about an independent Lokpal that we are not thinking in terms of alternative solutions, solutions that will prevent corruption before it occurs, rather than punish it after its occurrence.

(To be continued)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

EDITORIAL

A NEW TWIST TO STATE AND RELIGION

DEBABRATA DAS

When all else fails God will take care of you — sometimes even if He doesn't want to. This theory has helped religion in its forms to thrive.

In a recent NBER paper (" Exporting Christianity: Governance and doctrine in the globalisation of US denominations") Mr Gordon H. Hanson and Mr Chong Xiang have examined religious denominations as a multinational enterprise.

The authors studied Christianity and its various forms. And guess what they found: religious denominations with stricter religious doctrine attract more followers in countries in which the risk of natural disaster or disease outbreak is greater and in which Government provision of health services is weaker.

Although these predictions have been tested based on US Protestant Christian denominations, the assumptions prove to be true even in cases like Pakistan which is currently under a wave of fundamentalist Islamic movement.

Method to fanaticism

So how do the strictest denominations of religion prosper in today's world? The authors of the paper provide the answer by treating a denomination akin to a multinational enterprise, which chooses which markets to enter, based on the combined objectives of attracting members and generating revenues.

Just like a multinational, for a religious denomination, the principal factor that determines the selection of a market would be whether they can attract consumers, i.e, believers.

In such a scenario religious denominations enter markets where the State fails to provide basic public services such as healthcare and education. They thrive because in the absence of such services from the State, people put their faith in religion which offers healthcare and services.

But there are no free lunches in this world. In return for services, religious denominations or sects enforce a strict doctrine to ensure loyalty amongst the believers.

Thus after drawing the correlation between strict religious doctrines and lack of public services, Mr Hanson and Mr Xiang go on to find the perfect market for strict religious sects.

Ideal locations

Countries frequently ravaged by natural disasters would form the ideal location for strict religious doctrines. This explains the religious system in South East Asia, where earthquakes and tsunamis are unfortunately a common occurrence.

But there are also cases where outbreaks of diseases are frequent. The African continent, for example, is a victim of such outbreaks. Most African Governments have failed to provide necessary healthcare giving rise to alternate forms of medicine based on local religious beliefs. No wonder the African people are bound by their strict religious beliefs.

Finally, countries where the financial development has failed to take off forms another appetising market for religious fundamentalists. Afghanistan forms the perfect example for this. The country's economy was shattered by the years for war, leading to the rise of the ultra-fundamentalist system of Taliban.

Role of Religious Leaders

The spread of religious denominations is not just based on the socio-economic conditions of a country. For a religion to thrive, the leader must also be hyper-active.

From St Peter to the modern day maulvis, for any de-centralised religious denomination, the marginal utility of a leader becomes crucial for its growth.

More sermons from the leader result in getting more followers for the denomination. So the next time you hear religious sermons disturbing the peaceful mornings, do not crib for it is just another corporation doing its business.

Mr Hanson and Mr Xiang come to the conclusions based on Christian Protestant data from the World Christian Database but by forming linear mathematical equations for making the correlations, it is possible to substitute data for any other religion to draw the results.

Mr Hanson and Mr Xiang, quite simply, have proved on the basis of public records that strict religious doctrines work where all else have failed. Religion, therefore, becomes an alternate form of dictatorship when democracy fails.

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

ROBBER BARONS OF YAMUNA

SOME BIG GUNS ARE IN JAIL NOW, BUT THE QUESTION IS WHETHER WE'LL JUST CLEAN UP SOME SELF-SERVING MEN OR THE ENTIRE SYSTEM


When the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III died in 1250 without an agreed successor, his empire went into turmoil. Among the first administrative casualties of the flux were the toll collectors on the river Rhine, which for a thousand years had been the commercial heart of Europe and its principal economic highway.
    With the government in retreat, a bunch of entrepreneurial strong-arms took over the river and began collecting unauthorised tax. The illegal tax-collectors of the Rhine made huge fortunes and were so brazen that they came to be known as the first robber barons, a term that has since come to symbolise all that can be unethical and crooked about business.

 

 The predatory barons of the Rhine, who took advantage of weak governmental authority, were not too dissimilar to the new robber barons of the Yamuna who similarly colluded with compromised officials to make money on telecom and the Commonwealth Games.

 

 We have some big guns in jail now and as the wheels of Delhi finally turn under public pressure, the real question is whether we will just clean up some of the new robber barons alone or the Yamuna itself? The rot in telecom and the Commonwealth Games after all is only symptomatic of deeper imbedded problems within our wider governance structures. It only came to light because telecom licensing and the Games became public in a way that most governmental departments never are.

 

 Take the example of Suresh Kalmadi, now the most famous inmate of the CBI's spanking new headquarters in Delhi. The symbol of all that went wrong with the Games, as the jeers at the opening ceremony testified, he has much to answer for. He is, however, right in pointing out that his Organising Committee was only responsible for a miniscule part of the total money spent on the Games.

 

The Organising Committee he headed was tasked with the conduct of the Games itself. The rest of the infrastructural spending: roads, street lights, flyovers, the Games Village, city beautification etc. was all in the hands of the Delhi government and myriad agencies like MCD and NDMC. As the Shunglu panel has pointed out, there was much that is rotten in all of this with routine corruption being endemic.

 

In street lighting contracts, for instance, the panel found that contractors received undue gains to the tune of Rs. 63.2 crore; in streetscaping contracts, undue gains were to the tune of Rs 16 crore. So will those responsible be held accountable here too? Or will Kalmadi's head be enough?

 

The second big question is the difference between wrongs of corruption and wrongs of policy. The CBI, as long as it is allowed to investigate unfettered, can bring those who obviously made money to book but the deeper issue is the enabling environment that allowed this brazen loot to go on for so long.

 

For instance, despite having won the bid for the Commonwealth Games in 2003, Delhi did not start serious planning until as late as 2006. Despite having all the time in the world, most of the construction in the city was commissioned so late and so near the final deadline that corners were cut on everything from mandatory permissions, to basic quality standards to heavy commissions and over-charging by contractors.

 

Bad planning clearly resulted in a situation where those in charge could go away with anything in the final dash to the Games in the name of national interest, as in the case of the unprecedented bailout by DDA for Emaar-MGF, which built the Games Village in a sweetheart deal which led to losses of hundreds of crores on various counts for the exchequer.

 

In the telecom scam, policy was directly twisted to help the robber barons, while in the Commonwealth Games, policy mistakes in most cases allowed nepotism to flourish at various levels. Or was this always part of the plan in any case?

 

Perhaps there is some solace in the fact that Delhi is not alone in this quagmire. In Brazil, preparations for the 2014 soccer World Cup have run into such a mess that President Dilma Rousseff's government has announced a new policy of name and shame. The names of all contractors and officials in charge of every project will be put on a site in the hope that if people know who is responsible for which mess, there will be enough public pressure on errant officials.

 

The Brazilians may be on to something. This perhaps is the very reason Delhi's Organising Committee refused to answer RTI requests, arguing in the Delhi High Court in 2008 that it was "not responsible to the people".
    The argument was that Kalmadi's Organising Committee had only taken loans from the government (which may never be returned, by the way) and was only responsible to them, not to public scrutiny, even if the government itself was. Rhine's robber barons were finally brought to heel through an association of merchants and aristocrats called the Rhine League which created a new militia to crush the illegal tax-collectors.

The question now is will our own version of the Rhine League go the full haul and bring all the robber barons of the Yamuna to heel or just a few showpiece ones to assuage public anger so the rest can resume business as usual?

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DECCAN CHRONICLE

COMMENT

INDIA BACKTRACKING ON ITS AFGHAN ROLE?

 

It would ordinarily be assumed that a country such as Afghanistan would always be on the radar screen of our government, our politicians and our media since we have spent more money in that country than in any other in recent years, and we probably have more to lose than any other country if the Taliban return to power in Kabul by either militarily defeating the Hamid Karzai regime or striking a favourable deal with it with Pakistan's help. This is, however, not the case, although for some months there have been signs of oncoming change in Afghanistan. While Pakistan has had an inimical equation with Afghanistan, there is suddenly an urgency on Islamabad's part to persuade Kabul that the two can work together. Pakistan only asks that Kabul should dilute ties with India. Such an invitation might appeal to Afghanistan for two reasons. The United States and its European allies fighting in Afghanistan have increasingly come to believe that the war is just not worth the trouble. This summer, a partial withdrawal of US forces fighting the Taliban is thought to be on the cards, in line with political commitments made by President Barack Obama. Given these circumstances, the American line on Afghanistan appears to be changing perceptibly. From a stout rejection of any political and ideological accommodation of the Taliban leadership (which Islamabad urges) that hides inside Pakistan — seen vividly at the London Conference just over a year ago — Washington is now signalling it may not be averse to a patchup between the Kabul government and the Taliban, with Islamabad playing the midwife. The second key reason that could move Kabul in the direction Pakistan desires is that Mr Karzai has no reason to believe India will play a proactive role to help maintain stability in Afghanistan when the Americans leave. Going a step further, it can also be said that the Afghan leader, and that country's political class, regard India as a weak state, especially when it comes to taking steps that might displease Pakistan, which of course will be the case if New Delhi extends Kabul a strong helping hand when the Americans leave. Washington has just announced that Ryan Crocker, a US foreign service officer who earlier served with distinction as ambassador to Pakistan, will be pulled out of retirement and made the next US ambassador to Kabul. This indicates a transition in broad US policy, and seeks to emphasise that Washington is now possibly looking for a transformation of the Afghan state to incorporate a Taliban presence, and naturally to keep Islamabad on its right side as this major shift occurs. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, is to be withdrawn in a few months and will take charge of the CIA as its new director. The Indian thinking — at a time of possibly game-changing events — appears to be anybody's guess. There has been little clarity on New Delhi's thinking in these changing circumstances. Unofficial indications are that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's proposed visit to Afghanistan might not take place in the near future. This possibly suggests we are not sure of President Karzai's next moves. The new US Af-Pak special envoy, Marc Grossman, has just visited India, but the government has fought shy of disclosing any information about discussions with him. The Prime Minister's task is not rendered any easier as far-reaching developments in the context of Afghanistan — from where Pakistan wants India out — are taking shape even as Dr Singh has taken an initiative to repair ties with Islamabad. Does this possibly mean a reluctant Indian willingness to backtrack in Afghanistan?

 

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DECCAN CHRONICLE

COMMENT

 

DECODE THE SIGNS

 

The ongoing state election has not been getting high TRPs at the national level. The state polls are being viewed as strictly local events while the centre of attention remains riveted on the high political drama being played out in the national capital. Yet, the outcome of the state polls, far from being of limited consequence, could affect several significant political coefficients in this country. The message voters send in the April-May state elections is sure to be studied meticulously by all political parties. For, all indications suggest that the times are indeed changing. The huge and spontaneous reaction to the anti-corruption crusade is just one pointer, there are many other unreported ones coming in from the states that suggest the stirrings of subterranean resentment. A proper reading of the state results will give a good indication of the extent of the shift in political behaviour. The electoral message, however, is unlikely to be equivocal or as straight as a commercial advertisement; it will necessarily be complex given that each of the four states and one Union Territory where elections have or are being held has a different set of conditions. To decode the electoral message from all the states with one key would therefore be a mistake. In Kerala, for instance, electoral dynamics over the last two decades have largely been predictable, with the anti-incumbency vote proving decisive in each election. The state's political scene is completely dominated by two alliances: the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). The two fronts have usually alternated in forming the government. The question today is whether the familiar pattern of the past will be repeated. The incumbent chief minister, veteran CPI(M) leader V.S. Achuthanandan, has a good and clean record. He has campaigned, among other things, against the Congress Party's dismal governance and corruption at the Centre, but his party is itself tainted by corruption charges against some senior leaders. The principal Congress campaigner, defence minister A.K. Antony, who has been the chief minister thrice in the past, has an equally clean, if ineffectual, record. In other words, Kerala has two clean leaders vying against each other, both encumbered by poor party images. The electoral message in Kerala will predictably be complicated. However, if for any reason the UDF cannot oust the LDF, then it would signal a huge setback for the Congress and an equally great victory for Mr Achuthanandan. The impact of such an outcome on the Congress at the Centre would be significant. In Tamil Nadu, three scenarios are possible: A Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-Congress alliance victory, an All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) alliance victory with a small margin, and an AIADMK victory with a huge margin. The effects of each outcome would be very different. A DMK-Congress victory would be astounding and would almost certainly dilute, if not completely spike, the ongoing anti-corruption drive at the Centre. The defeat of the ruling combine with a small margin would still be acceptable but an electoral rout will profoundly rattle the United Progressive Alliance coalition at the Centre and almost certainly bring about unpredictable changes in New Delhi's corridors of power. In Assam, Tarun Gogoi of the Congress, who has been the chief minister for two terms since 2001, has tried to provide good and relatively clean governance. He has, however, not managed to resolve the sharp ethnic and communal issues that have bedevilled the state for some decades now. These faultlines continue to contribute to high levels of political instability in Assam. The Bodos, represented to a large extent by the Bodo People's Front, and the state's Muslims represented by the All-India United Democratic Front have become the two crucial components of the state's polity and they will determine the nature of the next coalition in Guwahati. It would not be a surprise, however, if the Asom Gana Parishad-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance ultimately fails to form a government. In Bengal, the Congress has long been reduced to a bit player although it retains a traditional support base spread across the state. Without this chunk of votes, the Trinamul Congress led by Mamata Banerjee has little chance of defeating the Marxists. Yet, there can be no denying that she is the star in the state's election scenario and is seen as a valiant daughter of the soil taking on an entrenched, increasingly unresponsive Marxist behemoth. Ms Banerjee's alliance with the Congress, however, can at best be described as uneasy. While she wants to capture the entire Congress support base, the Congress does not want her to become a truly independent and dominant political force in the state. The two parties are held together by expediency and the poll results will tell if this alliance will last. If the Congress cannot win a decent number of seats even after campaigning by the Prime Minister and party president, then Ms Banerjee will have a strong motive to discard or marginalise the Congress at some stage in the future. No elections are without consequence, this one less so because it could bring about significant shifts in the balance of power. The poll results will tell if the increasingly complex political alliances are working and it will also indicate the long-term fortunes of many a state leader. The play of these two factors could result in some much-required churning at the national level. *Indranil Banerjie is an independent security and political risk consultant

 

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DECCAN CHRONICLE

COMMENT

CHINA'S YIN AND YANG THAT OUTPACES US

 

Here's a fact about China that you may not know: people in Shanghai today have a longer life expectancy than Americans. A child in Shanghai is expected to live 82 years. In the United States, the figure is not quite 79 years. (For all of China, including rural areas, life expectancy is lower, 73 years — but rising steadily.) The harsh repression in China these days rightly garners headlines, but health data reflect another side of a nation that could scarcely be more complex and contradictory. For those who remember Shanghai a quarter century ago as a dilapidated city where farmers would collect night soil from families without sanitation, it's extraordinary that among permanent residents of Shanghai, infant mortality is 2.9 deaths per 1,000 births. That is well below the rate of 5.3 in New York City. (Include migrant labourers living in Shanghai, perhaps a fairer comparison, and the rate climbs to a bit higher than in New York.) That Shanghai child enjoys a world-class education in a public school — the best school system of any in a recent 65-nation survey, although it's also true that Chinese schools have their own problems such as widespread cheating and stifling of creativity. Since 1990, the country has reduced infant mortality rates by 54 per cent, according to Unicef statistics. On a Chinese scale, that represents more than 360,000 children's lives saved each year. That's what makes China such a fascinating and contradictory place. Other countries, from Egypt to North Korea, oppress and impoverish their people. But the Chinese Communist Party in the reform era has been oppressive politically — even worse lately, with the harshest clampdown in two decades — while hugely enriching its people. President Hu Jintao and other top Communist Party officials are autocrats, yes, but unusually competent autocrats. Polls show Chinese citizens pretty happy with their lot by international standards, although there's some doubt about how meaningful these polls are. My hunch is that if the Communist Party did hold free elections, it would win by a landslide — especially in rural areas. A Harvard scholar once told me that today's China is best approached with ambivalence, and that seems about right to me. The crackdown that I deplored in my last column is real, and so is the stunning level of official corruption. But the same government that throws small numbers of dissidents in prison also provides new opportunities to hundreds of millions. What's the trade-off between imprisoning a brilliant Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident like Liu Xiaobo and saving hundreds of thousands of babies' lives each year through improved healthcare? There isn't one. The two sides of China are incommensurate. They are the yin and yang of 21st-century China. The United States tends to perceive China through a Manichaean lens — either the economic juggernaut overcoming poverty and investing brilliantly in alternative energy, or the Darth Vader that tortures dissidents. In fact, both are equally real. Likewise, China abuses trade pacts, but it has also been appreciating its currency (mostly through inflation) much more than Americans give it credit for. We face a period in which Chinese-American tensions are likely to rise, aggravated by the American presidential election and the Chinese leadership transition in 2012, as well as by the crackdown that was the topic of my last column. When I lived in China in the 1980s and '90s, there was always an awkward economic imbalance between me and my Chinese friends. I had a car, and they had bicycles. I paid for our meals together because I was so much better off. Now there's a new imbalance: Some of those same people ride around in chauffeured limousines while I get around in taxis. They take me to fancy restaurants whose prices give me headaches. One Chinese friend took me to a home with private indoor basketball court and personal movie theatre. It was a tribute to the stunning improvement in the country's standard of living. But it also speaks to growing income gaps at a time when, by official figures, 320 million rural Chinese do not even have access to safe water. Moreover, some of the economic boom appears attributable to a bubble, particularly in real estate. And some of the grand fortunes are linked to corruption by government officials. One friend, the son of a Politburo member, once told me that he was being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by a Chinese company just to be on its board. That way, the company could persuade local governments to give it land at reduced prices. What are we to make of such a country? That it contains multitudes. And that at this time of rising China-United States tensions, any simplistic black or white view of it may well be right — but also incomplete and misleading.

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DECCAN CHRONICLE

COMMENT

 

TRICKY SITUATIONS, CHEEKY MOVES

 

>> They know not what they do The Uttar Pradesh information department is well known for doing everything except disseminating information properly and promptly. And whenever it attempts to give out information, it makes a faux pas that leaves red faces all around. On Good Friday, an information officer issued a press release saying that chief minister Mayawati extended her congratulations to the Christian community on Good Friday and her best wishes for celebrations. The information officer did not realise that Good Friday is a solemn occasion for Christians — he probably thought since it was "Good" it must be happy. The press release was distributed, emailed and the mistake realised only when some scribes brought it to the notice of the concerned officials. No suspensions yet. That's good, no? >> Gehlot's eight commandments A Congress functionary from Rajasthan recently created a stir when he ferreted out a copy of the code of ethics written by chief minister Ashok Gehlot in 1975, when he was state president of the National Students' Union of India (NSUI). Copies were circulated at a gathering in Jaipur to remind the people of the values adhered to by Mr Gehlot. As a youth leader, Mr Gehlot had cobbled together eight commandments, so to say, for the NSUI workers: No alcohol; Live simply; Say no to dowry; Always travel by second class in trains; Avoid luxury hotels; Don't display your wealth etc. No need to add that most Congressmen laughed at Mr Gehlot's ideals in private but applauded him at the meeting. "If such a code is made applicable, nobody is likely to be a member of our party", said a Congress leader. >> A planned rescue Maharashtra home minister R.R. Patil was once focused on shutting down the dance bars in Mumbai and despite facing allegations from certain quarters, he did manage to get his way. Now, it is the turn of Mumbai's new police commissioner, who wants to shut down massage parlours, which he says are actually pick-up joints. With several massage parlours being raided and many women "rescued" recently, commissioner of police Arup Patnaik has shown why he wanted to take the social service branch out off the jurisdiction of the crime branch since crime branch was doing nothing about these parlours. Small-time bookies who are operating in their small offices fear that they might be arrested anytime by the local police. One bookie known to us left on a holiday for a fortnight after the social service branch was taken over by the commissioner of police. The biggies are now trying to find respite. >> BSY finds a workable strategy Why does Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa look so smug these days? According to party insiders, he has finally thought of a strategy to rein in dissidents in his party. He is set to ensure that none of them get to meet the central BJP leaders to narrate their tales of woe. "Do you think we are allowed to meet central leaders in private? And even if we could, would we survive in the Cabinet after that?" rued a minister. Last week, some dissidents saw a ray of hope when senior party leader L.K. Advani arrived in the city to inaugurate the BJP's new air-conditioned offices. Disgruntled leaders felt this was their chance since party president Nitin Gadkari had not been of much help. But Mr Yeddyurappa ensured that Mr Advani was packed off to the airport as soon as he was done with the inauguration, even before the dissidents could say namaste. No wonder there's a new air of confidence about him these days. Ask him about the trouble in the party and pat comes the reply, "Where? When? Have you seen it?" >> How to impress starlets A prominent businessman of Chhattisgarh learnt the hard way that you need more than wealth to impress a starlet. The industrialist, aged around 60, was invited to chair a function organised recently in Raipur by an association of local businessmen. Congress MLA from Raipur North Kuldeep Singh Juneja and a noted actress of regional movies were among the prominent personalities attending the function. The legislator and the actress were absorbed in lively conversation when the industrialist was led to the dais. Mr Juneja was politely asked by the organisers to vacate his seat to accommodate the businessman beside the filmstar. The businessman, jokingly asked the MLA, "Do you have any objection if I occupy this chair?" "I have absolutely no objection but you should first verify if she has any", the MLA quipped, pointing at the indignation on the starlet's pretty face. The industrialist got the message. >> What an idea, Sirjee Nobody seems to have a clear idea about how many poor people there are in India. Different agencies cite different numbers. Confused and fed up, the government has decided to conduct yet another survey to prepare a list of Below Poverty Line people. Exasperated by all this, former rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh has come up with an innovative solution to fix the number once and for all. "If the government finds it difficult to count the poor, who are more in the country, it should go in for a headcount of the rich", he said recently. "By doing this it would be easier for the government to arrive at the number of poor people, as once the number of rich is known, the rest could definitely be termed as poor". What an idea, Sirji!

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DECCAN CHRONICLE

OPED

 

GIFT OF NEW LIFE

 

One of the astounding experiences I had during my first trip to Europe was the sight of a tree in winter. I had arrived in Germany in the month of July when everything was green and beautiful and I particularly remember a cherry tree in the backyard of a family garden. I was totally taken aback when I saw the same tree in December with not a single leaf on it. Not being familiar with the seasonal changes that trees undergo, I wondered how the tree had died so soon. The stark difference between autumn and spring seasons in our country are not as clearly visible as they are in colder countries where the trees wear a completely barren look for a few months after autumn until new leaves are noticed on them during spring season. In our country the process of trees shedding their leaves and the new ones taking their place happens almost simultaneously as one can see happening these days. Be it in the colder countries of the North or the warmer climates of the South, the fact of trees shedding their leaves and wearing new ones is pleasing not just to the eyes but it also warms the cockles of one's heart. Year after year, this cycle of changes in the season announces a new beginning of a portion of life in nature. Interestingly, it is in the season of spring that the great Christian feast of Easter comes about. The church and Christians celebrate Easter season, in all liturgies and prayers for the next 40 days till the feast of Pentecost. After more than 40 days of Lent, when, like the trees which shed the old leaves, believers in Jesus Christ, try to shed their old inconvenient habits and renew their life, by attempting to wear new habits with the author of life, the Son of God. Jesus, by his death and resurrection, does not merely promise a new life but actually grants to believers the gift of new life. As the Bible says, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life". At Easter, however, it is not just the case of new leaves symbolising some portion of newness in life by shedding old habits. Spring time and Easter may be coincidental and life in Christ is much more than just getting rid of our negative tendencies. The real meaning and import of Easter is new life in its totality and in ways that brings much fruits for others too. The gospel of St. John describes to us that before Jesus began his journey which ended up in His crucifixion, he told his disciples, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit". The gospel says that Jesus said this in response to his disciples' request that some Greeks wanted to see him. Greeks were a new set of people who were coming across Jesus, having heard of His miraculous powers and His teachings. It is curious that to His disciples as well as to the Greeks, Jesus lets them know that His forthcoming death on the Cross would be an hour that will glorify Him. Even more interestingly, he compares His death with a grain of wheat which goes into the dark recesses of the earth to die there. It loses itself completely to the soil. That, however, is not the end of its life. It dies only to bring new life, multiplying it manifolds. The image of the grain of wheat dying in order to bear much fruit signifies that the death of Jesus is in order to give life to many. Jesus was clear from the beginning about the purpose of His coming to this earth and that He would have to embrace death in order to fulfil the promise of new life. That is the reason, St. Paul, referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus, writes, "For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living." Jesus becomes the Lord of the dead and the living not by acquiring wealth and power. He becomes that by sacrificing His life. The resurrection of Jesus in this Easter season shows us that our readiness to sacrifice our life for others, even to the point of death, brings new life for ourselves and for others and which is much more valuable and indeed more beautiful than new leaves on trees in spring. — Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India. He can be contacted at frdominic@gmail.com

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DECCAN CHRONICLE

OPED

 

A CINDERELLA ENDING?

 

Once upon a time, Cinderella fell out of favour. In the '70s, feminists found her insipid, waiting in the ashes for her prince. But they didn't give her enough credit. Teaming with the spirit of her dead mother, Cinderella cleverly rescues herself from servitude, conjures up her own glittery makeover and then saves the prince from the same torment she endured living with her hideous stepsisters. The Grimms' version doesn't end with any Disneyesque pablum about Happily Ever After. It finishes with a gory Hitchcockian wedding scene featuring two vengeful birds from the grave of Cinderella's mother: as the bridal party leaves church, the white doves fly from Cinderella's shoulders to pluck out the eyes of the wicked stepsisters. Those unsisterly sisters messed with the wrong girl. In real life, however, many of our Cinderella brides have taken tragic turns — from Jackie Kennedy to Grace Kelly to Carolyn Bessette to the doe-eyed Diana Spencer. Yet the power of the fairy tale was vividly illustrated once more with the luminous wedding of comely commoner Kate Middleton to a charming Prince William, and a hypnotic new film adaptation of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë's gothic take on the Cinderella story. The enduring fable is a female version of The Odyssey. Our heroine, starting with a family disadvantage, faces hypocrisies, cruelties and obstacles on a perilous journey to a thrilling new world, and uses her wits and integrity to triumph. The newly-christened Duchess of Cambridge only had to rise above a middle-class background, the hydra-headed press beast and Will's understandable hesitation about marriage. But her task is herculean: to help save a stiff-necked monarchy sent into a shame spiral by Diana's humiliation and confessions. A central element of the stories of Cinderella, Jane Eyre and Charlotte Brontë herself was a mystical connection to a mother who died too young. And that was certainly present at Westminster Abbey, but this time the bride lamented the mother-in-law she would never know. Diana complained that Camilla Parker-Bowles crowded her out of her marriage to Charles. And Camilla (not a wicked stepmother) was in the congregation for William's wedding as she had been for Diana's 30 years ago. But for the throng who turned out to see the dress and the kiss, Diana was the more palpable presence, hovering over her sons and Kate. Prince William chose to have his wedding in the same cathedral where Diana's funeral was held. He and Harry walked down the same long aisle where as heartbroken boys they followed behind their mother's coffin. The first hymn sung at William's wedding was the last one sung at Diana's funeral. Kate wore Diana's sapphire engagement ring and Diana's older sister Sarah wore the diamond earrings Diana wore at her wedding. Diana's brother Earl Spencer, remembered by all for his rant against the royal family at her funeral, was seated not with the Windsors but, like the rest of her family, with the Middletons. You could sense a collective prayer among the spectators that Kate, with her Cinderella coach, Cartier tiara and satin slippers, was not a lamb being led to slaughter. Many assured the invading celebrity journalists that Kate was older and more grounded than the virginal and high-strung 20-year-old who married an older man who loved another woman. Jane Eyre is not as lovely as Kate Middleton. Charlotte Brontë, who never felt attractive herself, wanted to show her sisters that a plain heroine could be just as compelling as a beautiful one. Poor little Jane also has a wedding, wearing a beautiful white dress and veil, to the wealthy man of her dreams. When the wedding is shattered by the news that there's already a Mrs Rochester, Jane listens to her former master's anguished explanation about his mad, vampirish wife in the attic. He begs her to stay and be "my comforter, my rescuer". When a dazed Jane goes to bed, she looks out the window and sees the moon start to blaze as if "a white human form shone in the azure, inclining a glorious brow earthward. It gazed and gazed on me... it whispered in my heart, 'My daughter, flee temptation'". Jane answers, "Mother, I will", picks up her slippers and flees Thornfield Hall. In the end, after Rochester has been widowed and mutilated for his sins, Jane returns. She rescues her dark prince even as he rescues her. When Rochester first meets Jane, he calls her a "curious" sort of caged bird, "a vivid, restless, resolute" one. When she returns and sees him blind, with one hand gone, she describes him as a "caged eagle, whose gold-ringed eyes cruelty has extinguished". Now on a footing of equality, because she has inherited money and is less dependent on him, and he has lost his mansion and sight and is more dependent on her, they release each other from their cages. Reader, she marries him. It's a bare-bones ceremony with only a parson and a clerk present. There's no coach or tiara. But it's very much a Cinderella ending. By arrangement with The New York Times

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DECCAN HERALD

FIRST EDIT

TRANSPARENCY NOW

''THE AERB SHOULD BE INDEPENDENT OF GOVT.''


The Centre's decision to make India's nuclear energy establishment more transparent and accountable was long overdue. It has always been an insular set-up which is not subjected to questioning and scrutiny. Though there has been a long history of criticism of nuclear policies and the ways in which these are implemented, and though such criticism has been vocal and widespread, it has hardly been effective. One reason is that the criticism has not always been informed. Sometimes it has arisen from fundamentalist opposition to nuclear energy and at other times has been political. The military and national security dimension of the nuclear establishment also made it secretive. But the set-up is set to undergo a major change with the nuclear deal with the US and the agreements with other countries throwing open the civil nuclear power sector.  The reactors will be open to IAEA inspections and a regime of secrecy will no longer be possible.

The Fukushima mishap has given an impetus to the review and reform process. All countries in the world are reviewing their safety systems and putting in place additional safety mechanisms. Those who can afford to reduce the output of nuclear energy are doing so. India may not be able to do so because its future energy needs cannot be entirely met from other resources. The decision to create a new national regulatory authority is part of the process of reforming the present system. The existing Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is neither independent nor autonomous as it is in effect an adjunct of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The AEC is controlled by the Department of Atomic Energy. The government proposes to bring forward a bill in the next session of parliament to change the status and functions of the AERB. The body should be independent of government, should only be accountable to parliament and its authority should cover all nuclear power plants.

It is not uncommon in India for statutory bodies to lose their independence and freedom of action, subjected as they are to various pressures and interests. This is mainly because of the dominance of government. That should not happen to the proposed nuclear regulatory body, which should not compromise on its responsibility to formulate the tightest checks and implement them.  It should act as the custodian of public interest which is not always what the government and interested lobbies make it out to be.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

SECOND EDIT

TACIT ADMISSION

''THE US HAS BEEN AVOIDING CONFRONTING ISLAMABAD.''


The US appears to have gone a step further than India in linking Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) with terrorism. While India has been drawing the world's attention to the ISI's logistical support to terrorist groups and its role in masterminding terrorist attacks, US government briefing documents for Guantanamo officials that were leaked by WikiLeaks list the ISI as a terrorist organisation. The documents also say that inmates with links to the ISI in the late 1990s-2003 period were to be looked upon as al-Qaeda or Taliban. The US, which in its public documents has been reluctant to label Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism and which described ISI's links with terrorism as being confined to 'rogue elements', has a different view in private. In its classified documents, it sees Pakistan's intelligence agency not just as a sponsor or supporter of terrorism but as a terrorist organisation itself.

Even in recent months, top US military officials have been waxing eloquent over the enormous co-operation from the ISI in battling terrorism. Now that their true perception of the ISI is out in the public domain, will the ensuing debate and discussion result in a change in strategy? Dependent on Pakistan's support in the 'war against terrorism', the US has been avoiding confronting Islamabad — at least in public — on the ISI's links with terrorism. It has shirked demanding the ISI's reform simply because it depends on it for intelligence on various terror networks. But a strategy which involves using terrorists to fight terrorists has not worked. India has repeatedly pointed out that the US' approach of ignoring anti-India terrorists and its pre-occupation with only those targeting the US is flawed. It has warned Washington of its selective approach to terrorism. All terrorists, even if they are official as is the ISI, should be targeted. If the US recognises the ISI as terrorist, why is it not acting resolutely against it too?

Much of the US' resistance to tackle the ISI with a firm hand is the fact that they both have much to hide. The US played a major role in making the ISI what it is today. Who can forget the close ties between the CIA and the ISI during the 1980s? Was it not US funding of the ISI that made it a monster, an entity far more powerful than the Pakistani state?

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DECCAN HERALD

IN PERSPECTIVE

QUESTIONS OVER THE ABUSES OF BRITAIN

 ALAN COWELL,NYT


The British people used to see the vast networks of colonies and protectorates as part of a natural order.
Leaf through the school-yard scrapbooks of some British baby boomers and you might find items common to them all, signposts to a distant era when possibility began to supplant privation as the legacy of war.

Faded snapshots from box Brownies show the just-built, semi-detached homes of an aspirant middle class, alongside the cramped row houses of its forebears. There will be photographs of youngsters in newly minted uniforms, notations of appointments with doctors and dentists under the just-created National Health Service. And somewhere among the keepsakes of a lost age, quite possibly, there will be the atlas showing slabs of the world coloured pink to denote the reach of the British Empire.

At that time, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan had yet to tell a South African parliament in Cape Town in 1960 that a wind of change had begun to buffet the continent to the north — three years after Ghana became Britain's first African colony to achieve independence, in 1957.

True, India, the jewel in the imperial crown, had wrested its freedom from Britain a decade earlier. But even though the imperial fabric had begun to fray, postwar Britain was still proud of its empire, its people used to seeing the vast networks of colonies and protectorates as part of a natural order.

Colonial conscience

Britain's colonial conscience was clear: Had not Wilberforce campaigned against slavery? Had not David Livingstone focused Christianity's bright beam into a dark continent?
Recently, in London's high court, four aging Kenyans offered their own riposte — one not mentioned in the scrapbooks. Seeking compensation, the four — three men and a woman — alleged huge abuse by the British colonial authorities as they suppressed the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s and deliberately kept Britons back home ignorant of actions committed in their name.

While the boomers were sharpening their pencils in class, young British soldiers, not much older than they, were beating, torturing, raping and even castrating people in the far reaches of Africa, the high court case alleged, raising a question more familiar to modern Germans than modern Britons: Are the sins of one generation to be visited on its successors?

The same question recurred when Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting Pakistan, turned to the bloodstained dispute over Kashmir and its roots in the partition of imperial India. "As with so many of the world's problems," he said, "we are responsible for the issue in the first place."

His assessment stirred protest among Britons and sat uneasily with Cameron's own assessment in 2009 that "Britain is a great country with a history we can truly be proud of." Britain, of course, has long maintained a Jekyll-and-Hyde relationship with its past, weighing the achievements of empire against its abuses.

But when the past reasserts itself as graphically as in the high court case, the debate ceases to be academic. It stirs uncomfortable feelings — guilt, shame, anger, denial — and perhaps an unspoken acknowledgement that the charges might just be plausible, or even true. The past may well be another country, but it is not such a foreign land as to be unrecognisable.

As for Kenya, the four claiming compensation have their own narrative, one that Britain still disputes.

But the debate is about moral responsibility, not legal conceits. The memory of perceived British transgression runs deep, not just in Africa or Kashmir. How often do Palestinian refugees invoke a British declaration in 1917 promising a Jewish homeland in Palestine as the source of their woes today?

Of course, the generations have changed since that legacy was created. The liberal reflex of post-imperial apology sometimes gives way to a clamour for a statute of limitations on colonial guilt. For every argument that Britain must shoulder responsibility for its past, there is another that says: enough already — the responsibility has surely passed to others.

"Britain's rapid retreat from former colonies exposed historic fault-lines which now cause wars and unrest across the world," Tristram Hunt, a historian and politician, wrote in 'The Daily Mirror'. "But it is no longer good enough to blame Britain. It is an easy get-out-of-jail card for failing and corrupt leaders to blame the last Empire."

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DECCAN HERALD

IN RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

A FIRE IN A SLUM

B APARNA


In no time there were about 50 to 60 small babies lying on the footpath.
Behind our office in Noida was one of the largest slums of the area, stretching about half-a-kilometer. The slum had all sorts of people — Tamil construction labourers, Andhra Pradesh masons, Muslim scrap dealers, Bangladeshi labourers, stone breakers from Haryana, mechanics from Delhi — all settled in the slum to earn their livelihood in Noida's concrete jungle.

It was a hot summer afternoon with mercury touching 45 degrees. Then it happened. I could see smoke bellowing from one of the huts. It appeared there was no adequate water to douse the fire. Within the next 15 minutes the wind carried the fire to the neighbouring huts and I promptly called up the fire brigade.

In the next few minutes what I saw was unbelievable. All the women worked in unison and brought out the babies, some clutching two babies at a time, irrespective of whether the babies belonged to them or not. They laid the babies neatly one after the other on the footpath, over newspapers, cardboard cartons and torn clothes. In no time there were about 50 to 60 small babies lying on the footpath oblivious of the calamity nearby.

Then the women retrieved all the toddlers and followed the same process. The menfolk retrieved cycle rickshaws, hand carts, sewing machines and shearing machines which provide them livelihood. The fire spread rapidly and the entire warren huts was on fire.

All plastic materials and clothings were left to be consumed by the flames. By the time fire engines reached the spot, everything was over. There were no cries, no breast beating, just plain anguish written on the faces of the people. Although all the babies looked alike to me, their mothers identified them and put them on their shoulders. There was absolutely no confusion among them.

There was no visit by any politicians or police officials, there was no enquiry, there was no TV coverage. Since the slum belonged to all communities, there was no way the politicians could get any mileage by visiting the place and consoling the people. The slum dwellers were left to fend themselves.

In about a week, most of the huts reappeared and the people were back in business. The babies kicked around happily and the small boys played with old tyres and broken toys. The only reminiscence of the catastrophe was the burnt grass and the air filled with pungent odour.

 

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                                                                                                                        HAARETZ

OPINION

LEARNING THE HOLOCAUST'S LESSONS

Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Day, which is being marked today, is above all a day of remembrance. Today is the day on which the Holocaust is to be recalled, and on which the memory of those who perished and the heritage of those who managed to survive is invoked. It is also a day on which to remember those survivors who are still among us and to consider their well-being.

All of this, however, is not enough: Israelis must also devote themselves to studying the lessons of the Holocaust. In addition to the lessons that have been learned well here - such as the need for the existence of a strong and thriving sovereign state, and the duty to combat anti-Semitism - one must not on any account neglect the moral lesson of the Holocaust.

One lesson must be that such horrors can arise within a purportedly enlightened society, even one with a democratic government, and that it is perilous to overlook worrying signs - such as incipient indications of nationalism or damages caused by racism - that presage a descent down a slippery slope with all the attendant consequences.

From this standpoint, there is reason for concern in Israel. From one Holocaust Remembrance Day to the next, our society has deteriorated, as seen in the appearance of worrying indications of hatred of foreigners and the oppression of the "other," along with palpable cracks in the resilience of democratic governance here. This must be of concern to each Israeli every day of the year, but on Holocaust Remembrance Day, it takes on special significance.

When racism and nationalism rear their heads, they must be addressed vigorously before they result in calamity. Israeli society, many of whose founders and builders were themselves survivors of anti-Semitic persecution and of the horrors of the extermination camps and the ghettos, must undertake to serve as a moral example in the struggle against any ugly manifestations of hatred or persecution that may be motivated by national, ethnic or racial considerations.

It is extremely unfortunate that such a commitment is not always present. In recent years more and more voices in our society have been heard, for instance, calling on the public not to rent apartments to Arabs or foreign workers, or to keep victims of war from finding proper asylum in the country, thus limiting civil liberties and human rights. One must fight such views, which are also being expressed in our parliament. This is the moral lesson of the Holocaust, to be applied not only with respect to the memory of the past or as a catch-all response by the country's leaders to deflect criticism of Israel from abroad. It must also serve as a warning for the future.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THOSE WHO TURN DAY TO DARKNESS

BY AKIVA ELDAR

What do they have in common - the hawks of Iz al-Din al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; his bodyguard, Defense Minister Ehud Barak; and Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Shimon Peres ? They all threw a fit over the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas.

The protest from the Palestinian rejectionist front is obvious; the Egyptian document is Hamas' deed of surrender. It obligates the militant organization to accept the authority of the security forces subordinate to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, without giving it any purchase in the political arena.

From Israel's perspective, the agreement appears to be too good for Hamas political head Khaled Meshal to sign.

So why were Israeli politicians who purport to be peace-loving statesmen so quick to go after Abbas? In the worst case, they realize, the agreement puts paid to the government's claim that Abbas "represents only half of the Palestinian people." If the conditions that Abbas set are observed - "one authority, one law, one gun [army]" - this could ruin the main mantra of the Israeli right: "We left Gaza and got Qassam rockets in return."

The right, knowing that internal Palestinian reconciliation could expedite international recognition for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, intentionally depicts the unity move as anti-Israel. A Fatah-Hamas accord is likely to cool down the Gaza border, but the right is consciously heightening panic by raising the specter of "Qassams in Judea and Samaria."

In the less-than-worst (or perhaps worse than "worst" ) case, Netanyahu, Barak and Peres did not bother to read the agreement nor wanted to hear Abbas' clear explication. The document specifies that the Palestinian provisional unity government will only be authorized to deal with the unification and operation of the security forces, the restoration of buildings and infrastructure damaged during Operation Cast Lead and preparations for the election scheduled for May 2012.

Abbas has repeatedly stressed that it was the Palestine Liberation Organization that has signed treaties with Israel since the Oslo Accords, and that the government of technocrats it will appoint will not be able to prevent him from negotiating with the Netanyahu government on the basis of the 1967 borders, territorial exchanges, an agreed solution to the refugee problem and a moratorium on construction in the settlements and in East Jerusalem for a period of three months. Thus, Hamas recognition of the conditions put forth by the Quartet, which include honoring all previous agreements with Israel, is all but meaningless.

If the leaders of the state and their loyal servant in the President's Residence did read the text of the reconciliation agreement, they did not delve into the conditions that made it possible. Middle East expert Matti Steinberg, currently a visiting scholar at Princeton, would be happy to explain to them that the text is the very same one submitted to Hamas months ago - only its context has changed. Steinberg, who has advised several Shin Bet security service chiefs on Palestinian affairs, could refer them to the loud, pointed criticism voiced by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Islamic scholar of the Muslim Brotherhood - Hamas' big sister - of the massacre of Sunni Muslims by Syria's Alawite regime.

The ground is trembling in Syria. Bashar Assad, the patron of Meshal and his colleagues, has become a clone of Muammar Gadhafi in the eyes of the world. Signing the reconciliation agreement is the price paid by the Hamas refugees from Damascus for the trip to Cairo. The decision to open the gates of Rafah, like the pressure on Hamas to sign the treaty, reflect Egypt's desire to create a context that will enable the Palestinians to resume negotiations with Israel; it will obviate the planned flotilla to Gaza and hurt the tunnel trade that funds Hamas forces in Gaza.

If Israel causes the reconciliation to fail, this would perpetuate the violence along the border with Gaza. Injury to the agreement would rock the delicate relationship being formed with the new regime in Cairo and improve the position of Iran.

The reconciliation agreement and the closing of ranks in the occupied territories are the best news possible for seekers of peace - on both sides of the Green Line. I only hope that Hamas does not get cold feet at the last minute, and that it honors both the spirit and the letter of the agreement.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

REMEMBERING, BUT NOT UNDERSTANDING

BY AMOS GOLDBERG

The Holocaust has long since become a very dominant part of Jewish identity in Israel. Precisely for that reason, it is surprising that in this country historical knowledge about the Holocaust - to judge by the literature on the subject published in Hebrew - is among the most meager in the Western world. Most of the outstanding books in the field were not written in Hebrew, and few of them have been translated. Although the trend has begun to change in the past decade, this is a case of too little, too late. And sometimes too tendentious, as well.

The Holocaust is an extreme, perhaps unprecedented, event. For that reason alone, understanding its history is a difficult task. The key to this understanding can be found first and foremost in meticulous studies done on Nazi policy toward the Jews, and on the cultural and political context in which Nazism flourished. On these issues there is almost no literature in Hebrew, although in general they have been the subject of an unparalleled amount of in-depth research as compared to other historical events, and the literature that has been written on them in German and English is outstanding.

The most scandalous example of the lack of Hebrew publications is the monumental book by the greatest Holocaust historian, who in effect laid the foundations for work in the field: Austrian-born American Jew Raoul Hilberg. His book, "The Destruction of the European Jews," which was first published in 1961 and has been translated into many languages, centers around Nazi bureaucracy as being the perpetrator of the Holocaust, rather than Hitler or anti-Semitic ideology. Hilberg passed away in 2007, but only now is this book being translated into Hebrew by Yad Vashem.

There are dozens of additional examples. "Modernity and the Holocaust," the highly influential book by sociologist Sygmunt Bauman, which was published in 1989 and translated into over 20 languages, is only now being translated into Hebrew by Resling. The book's radical thesis, which has aroused stormy debates, maintains that the Holocaust is not an anti-modern event per se, but rather a direct result of modernity.

In the 1990s historians pounced on archives in the countries of the former Soviet Union. What they discovered there largely changed the historical picture of the Holocaust. Among other things, two German historians - Susanne Heim and Goetz Aly - ignited a fierce debate when they suggested that the Holocaust should be understood as a rational enterprise initiated by a class of intellectuals including economists, demographers and agronomists, who wanted, by means of the murder of the Jews, to make the demographic-economic structure of Eastern Europe more rational and modern.

They, and other scholars, also linked the persecution of the Jews to the project of reorganization of European demographics, with which Himmler was preoccupied. In its context millions of people (Jews and non-Jews ) were supposed to be expelled from their homes (in order to settle Germans from the diaspora in them, as part of the "return to the homeland" project ), and several tens of millions of Slaves were doomed to die within a decade or two. These claims also aroused a fierce debate. Yet almost none of this rich literature is available to the Hebrew reader.

And if that is the case regarding issues touching directly on the Final Solution - it is even more true true when it comes to literature that links the Holocaust to other aspects of modern European history, such as the colonial experience, modern nationalism, racist thought and so on. This ramified literature has given rise to a very complex understanding of the Holocaust, in which, along with anti-Semitism, other significant factors are taken into account. But almost none of it is accessible to the Hebrew reader, nor is it reflected in the education system or in public discourse.

The unavoidable conclusion is that we are interested in remembering the Holocaust, but not in really understanding it as an historical event that took place in this world. Perhaps because if we understand it in all its complexity, we will also understand the extent to which it grew out of historical, cultural and political contexts that are not so different from the situation in which we ourselves are now living.

Dr. Amos Goldberg is a lecturer in Holocaust history and literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

ALAS, WE HAVE SWITCHED ROLES

BY NIVA LANIR

Here is some good and even comforting news: the Israeli public is smarter and braver than its leaders. In a survey conducted by Dr. Mina Tzemach (published in Yedioth Ahronoth on April 29 ), 53 percent of the respondents said that "Netanyahu needs to present in Washington a plan with significant concessions to the Palestinians." That compares with 42 percent who said he did not. Forty eight percent said they believe that Israel must recognize a Palestinian state in September, as most countries in the world plan to do (but keep the settlement blocs ). That compares with 41 percent who said it should not.

There is nothing to rejoice about here. It appears that most Israelis have reached the conclusion that our political situation is bad. They ask themselves: What do we have to lose? And they expect their leaders to get a hold of themselves and do something, a moment before there is a broad international consensus that Israel has gone from being "an island of stability" to an island of uncertainty - an island which misunderstands the limits of force.

Israel's leadership lacks courage, wisdom and sophistication. A reminder from the past few days: Just a short while after news broke of the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to announce to his people, to Mahmoud Abbas and to the world - either an agreement with us or with them. Rushing behind him were Defense Minister Ehud Barak (who telephoned the UN Secretary General! ), Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who proposed sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, and Minister of Communications Moshe Kahlon, who urged the government to annex the West Bank.

Topping it all was President Shimon Peres. The leader who enshrined the vision of "a new Middle East" (according to which economic and supra-national interests would secure peace in the region ), made a personal appeal to Abbas: "Unify for the sake of peace and do not create a facade of peace that will not allow you to move to any direction." He said this but did not look at Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman, the triad that for the past two years has moved nowhere.

Neither the president nor any of the government spokesmen thought of waiting and examining what would happen if an agreement is indeed signed. Perhaps something good, perhaps something bad, and perhaps nothing significant. First they pulled down the shutters, drew the curtains, and turned off the light, leaving themselves groping blindly in the dark.

Essentially, this is all they know how to do. To hunker down behind barricades. To threaten and to frighten. The Middle East is changing before their eyes and they are praising our (good ) luck that we still do not have peace agreements with the Palestinians and Syria.

You will not hear a single senior minister say that while the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan may not have resulted in a new Middle East, a demilitarized Sinai and Jordanian forces patrolling the other side of the river are much, much better for Israel than a situation of no-peace. Not only is the Israeli leadership unable to think outside the box on how to move forward with peace, but in the black box of the aircraft it is flying to nowhere, it has marked its target: "Not to miss any opportunity to miss an opportunity."

Alas, we have switched roles. Where are we and where are the Palestinians? Not that many years have passed that we should have forgotten: Freedom and independence are the rights of all nations who want them and fight for them. This virtually banal fact determined our past and will continue to determine our future in the Middle East. What we have, others should also have. It happened, it is happening and it will happen in every place in the world. It is an insult to Israelis that their leaders no longer recognize this simple truth and that they are putting up a false front that they can change it. Instead of a "villa in the jungle," they may imprison us in the biggest ghetto of all.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

NOTHING BUT EMPTY WORDS

BY OUDEH BASHARAT

On my way to the market to stock up on food - sunflower seeds, snacks and canned goods - to last me during the long waiting period prior to the prime minister's speech, I met an old friend. I explained the situation and the reason for my excitement. My experienced friend poured a bucket of cold water on my expectations and reminded me of the Arabic proverb: "A promise is a cloud, fulfillment is rain."

It was not only my friend who put a damper on my joy. Entertainer Yehoram Gaon, on his weekly radio program, criticized the exaggerated use of speeches, for which the Arabs give nothing in return. Another speech and then another one, fumed Gaon. Soon Benjamin Netanyahu will deliver a speech at Al Azhar in Cairo, and from the Arabs, we'll get - how did Gaon put it in his cracked and tortured voice - "nada."

It's a shame that Gaon is not familiar with the greatest Arab poet of all times, Al-Mutanabbi, who said, about 1,000 years ago, something to the effect of: "You have no horses to give her and no money. Then let speech aid you, if your circumstances do not." As we know, Netanyahu has no fortune, nor any horses (the poor man has also been forced to use his friend's flying taxi ), so he gives words, and that infuriates Gaon, who is stingy even with speeches.

In the premier's previous speech it wasn't only the conditions he demanded: Not only "bye-bye Jerusalem," but the continuation of the settlements, the refusal to accept responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem and its solution were there. Rather, the speech was entirely based on claiming the historic, exclusive right of the Jewish people to all parts of historic Palestine: After all, even "Judea and Samaria, the places where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, David and Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah walked, are not a foreign land for us. This is the land of our forefathers."

Nevertheless - and because of "the international situation that has been created" - with amazing generosity, Netanyahu has declared he will give the Palestinians, who turned up out of nowhere, the right to run their own lives, granting them powers equivalent to those of a local council - or at most a regional council. And it will be a pleasant surprise if the prime minister's plan doesn't include a clause that authorizes the Interior Ministry to dismantle the Palestine regional council if necessary, and to replace it with a special committee.

Netanyahu's world of survival ranges from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to MK Anastasia Michaeli (both of Yisrael Beiteinu ). If Lieberman is pleased then the world can wait. Legend has it that when someone once wanted to close the window in the taxi because it was cold outside, the late Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz muttered: And if we close the window will it be warm outside?! So there are some people who think that world public opinion ranges between the extremist settlements of Yitzhar and Kfar Tapuah. But still, the world is somewhat broader, and it is changing and doesn't feel like waiting, to boot.

In addition, no local statesman who has tried to change anything on the ground was able to maintain shalom bayit, domestic harmony. Even the limited and controversial steps taken by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the disengagement from Gaza caused an unprecedented split in the ranks of the Likud. By the way, Netanyahu was on the opposing side at the time.

And still, as an incorrigible optimist, I am turning my eyes to Washington at the moment, in the hope that in his second speech, Netanyahu will upgrade the local council to the status of a city. For he deserves to go down in history as the person who said: "In Washington I founded the town of Palestine."

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                                    THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

 

THE ECONOMY SLOWS

 

It has long been clear that economists do not see the world the way people experience it. That disconnect is especially pronounced now.

 

The economy lost steam in the first quarter. Growth in personal consumption — the single largest component of the economy — slowed markedly. Business-related construction cratered and residential construction fell. Exports stumbled. The only unambiguous plus was continued business investment in equipment and software, which is necessary but not sufficient for overall growth.

 

In all, economic growth slowed from an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 1.8 percent in the first quarter of 2011.

 

Not to worry. Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, called the slowdown "transitory," a judgment echoed by many economists who believe that the poor performance can be chalked up to bad weather, political unrest and other presumably temporary setbacks.

 

If only. Take jobs: When lauding the economy, Mr. Bernanke and many other economists and politicians point out, correctly, that the unemployment rate has declined from a recession high of 10.1 percent in late 2009 to 8.8 percent now. That would be encouraging news if it indicated robust hiring for good jobs. It does not.

 

Over the last year, the number of new hires has been outstripped by the masses who have either given up looking for work or who have not undertaken a consistent job search, say, after graduating from high school or college. Those missing millions are not counted in the official jobless rate; if they were, unemployment today would be 9.8 percent. The rate would be 15.7 percent if it included those who took part-time jobs in lieu of full-time ones.

 

Another purported bright spot in the unemployment data — the relatively low jobless rate for college-educated workers — does not stand up to scrutiny. For college educated workers over age 25, unemployment is indeed lower than for other groups. But for college graduates under age 25, unemployment over the last year has averaged 9.7 percent, and shows no sign of improvement.

 

Inflation is another example. Mr. Bernanke and others say that today's inflation will likely be temporary, and they are probably right. But one of the reasons for believing higher prices won't endure is that, in general, for inflation to take off, wages must also rise. There's no sign of that. Stagnant wages mean Americans will have to cut consumption in the face of higher prices, and as demand drops, prices are subdued — hardly reason to cheer.

 

The economy still needs help and, specifically, a sustained focus on jobs and income. Instead, policy makers are gearing up for deep spending cuts, ignoring the damage they are likely to cause. Last quarter, cutbacks by governments at all levels took a chunk out of overall growth. If cuts of similar or greater magnitude become the norm, the slow economic pace of the first quarter also could very well become the norm. It's nice to believe slowing growth is transitory. But as long as spending, jobs and incomes are at risk and policy priorities are skewed, it's hard to believe in a turnaround.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

FROM SECRECY TO ABSURDITY

 

Anyone, anywhere, with Internet access can read the internal documents from Guantánamo Bay that were published last week. Anyone can analyze them and argue about them. Except lawyers for the people in those documents.

 

The Justice Department has warned lawyers representing prisoners held by the military in Cuba that the documents remain legally classified. That means the lawyers may not look at them except at a secure facility in Washington and may not discuss any classified information they learn. The rules, which serve no valid purpose, infringe on their ability to effectively represent their clients by promptly rebutting the government's accusations and testing its basis for detention.

 

The papers include the military's risk assessments of 700 past or present Guantánamo prisoners, including Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman accused of discussing further plots against the United States with Al Qaeda after Sept. 11, 2001. A lawyer handling Mr. Paracha's challenge to his detention, David Remes, has asked the Federal District Court in Washington to let him "print, copy, disseminate and discuss" the documents without fear of losing his security clearance or other punishment.

 

The Justice Department says it is studying the issue. The right answer is clear. Administration officials should make the petition unnecessary by agreeing to Mr. Remes's request and treating the publication as de facto declassification. If they do not, the court should order it.

 

The government has a real interest in classifying certain information. But it is hard to see a current threat to national security in the released files. (They are certainly an embarrassing portrait of the Bush team's incompetence in judging whether detainees were legitimately held.)

 

There is no sense in continuing to classify the files unless the aim is to improperly gag defense lawyers and let the government's one-sided account of the evidence regarding their clients go unchallenged in public.

 

This ridiculous dust-up should occasion a thorough re-examination of the whole edifice of secrecy governing habeas cases filed by Gitmo prisoners. Beyond overclassification of documents and foot-dragging in declassification, lawyers are barred from discussing key information with their clients, all information obtained from clients is presumptively classified, and there is broad insistence on secret hearings.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

STANDING UP FOR GUEST WORKERS

 

Slavery and human trafficking are alive and well in the United States, according to lawsuits filed by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of farm laborers in Hawaii and Washington State and shipyard workers on the Gulf Coast.

 

The suits allege that labor recruiters and employers lured, trapped and abused foreign workers hired through federal guest-worker programs. The government charges that more than 500 Indian men hired by Signal International of Alabama for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina were confined in squalid camps, illegally charged for lodging and food, and subject to discrimination and abuse. When they complained, the suit says, Signal agents tried to intimidate workers' families in India. Two lawsuits filed in Hawaii and Washington against other employers make similar charges about 200 men brought from Thailand.

 

The United States urgently needs to strengthen protections for guest workers who are lied to by recruiters and tied to employers with too much power to exploit them. Today's shackles are the threats of deportation and financial ruin. They might as well be iron.

 

A recent agreement by the federal Labor and Homeland Security Departments to work together on immigration and labor enforcement at work sites is encouraging, though there are serious concerns about Homeland Security's past behavior. Sworn testimony in a separate civil lawsuit against Signal International charged that rather than protecting the Indian workers, immigration officials coached the company on how to silence and deport them.

 

Workers in the new lawsuits may win some money and be eligible for special visas for trafficking victims. But they are only a handful of workers — both documented and undocumented — stranded in a system that accepts their labor but fails to prevent their exploitation.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

SPRINGTIME FOR BANKERS

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

Last year the G.O.P. pulled off two spectacular examples of bait-and-switch campaigning. Medicare, where the same people who screamed about death panels are now trying to dismantle the whole program, was the most obvious. But the same thing 
happened with regard to financial reform.

 

As you may recall, Republicans ran hard against bank bailouts. Among other things, they managed to convince a plurality of voters that the deeply unpopular bailout legislation proposed and passed by the Bush administration was enacted on President Obama's watch.

 

And now they're doing everything they can to ensure that there will be even bigger bailouts in years to come.

 

What does it take to limit future bailouts? Declaring that we'll never do it again is no answer: when financial turmoil strikes, standing aside while banks fall like dominoes isn't an option. After all, that's what policy makers did in 1931, and the resulting banking crisis turned a mere recession into the Great Depression.

 

And let's not forget that markets went into free fall when the Bush administration let Lehman Brothers go into liquidation. Only quick action — including passage of the much-hated bailout — prevented a full replay of 1931.

 

So what's the solution? The answer is regulation that limits the frequency and size of financial crises, combined with rules that let the government strike a good deal when bailouts become necessary.

 

Remember, from the 1930s until the 1980s the United States managed to avoid large bailouts of financial institutions. The modern era of bailouts only began in the Reagan years, when politicians started dismantling 1930s-vintage regulation.

 

Moreover, regulation wasn't updated as the financial system evolved. The institutions that were rescued in 2008-9 weren't old-fashioned banks; they were complex financial empires, many of whose activities were effectively unregulated — and it was these unregulated activities that brought the U.S. economy to its knees.

 

Worse yet, officials lacked clear authority to seize these failing empires the way the F.D.I.C. can seize a conventional bank when it goes bust. That's one reason the bailout looked so much like a giveaway: officials felt they lacked the legal tools to save the financial system without letting the people who created the crisis off the hook.

 

Last year Congressional Democrats enacted a financial reform bill that sought to close these gaps. The bill extended regulation in a number of ways: consumer protection, higher capital standards for major institutions, greater transparency for complex financial instruments. And it created new powers — "resolution authority" — to help officials drive a harder bargain in future crises.

 

There are many criticisms one can make of this legislation, which is arguably much too weak. And the Obama administration has frustrated many people with its too-lenient attitude toward Wall Street — exemplified by last week's decision to exempt foreign-exchange swaps, a major source of dislocation in 2008, from regulation.

 

But Republicans are trying to undermine the whole thing.

 

Back in February G.O.P. legislators admitted frankly that they were trying to cripple financial reform by cutting off funding. And the recent House budget proposal, which calls for privatizing and voucherizing Medicare, also calls for eliminating resolution authority, in effect setting things up so that the bankers will get as good a deal in the next crisis as they got in 2008.

 

Of course, that's not how Republicans put it. They claim that their goal is to "end the cycle of future bailouts," under the general rubric of "ending corporate welfare."

 

But as we've already seen, future bailouts will happen whatever today's politicians say — and they'll be bigger, more frequent and more expensive without effective regulation.

 

To see what's really going on, follow the money. Wall Street used to favor Democrats, perhaps because financiers tend to be liberal on social issues. But greed trumps gay rights, and financial industry contributions swung sharply toward the Republicans in the 2010 elections. Apparently Wall Street, unlike the voters, had no trouble divining the party's real intentions.

 

And one more thing: by standing in the way of regulations that would limit future financial crises, Republicans are giving further evidence that they don't really care about budget deficits.

 

For our current deficit is overwhelmingly the result of the 2008 financial 
crisis, which devastated revenue and 
increased the cost of programs like unemployment insurance. And while we managed to avoid large direct bailout costs (a fact not appreciated in public debate), we might not be lucky next time.

 

More and bigger crises; more and bigger bailouts; more and bigger deficits. If you like that prospect, you should love what the G.O.P. is doing to financial reform.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

STANDING UP FOR GUEST WORKERS

 

Slavery and human trafficking are alive and well in the United States, according to lawsuits filed by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of farm laborers in Hawaii and Washington State and shipyard workers on the Gulf Coast.

 

The suits allege that labor recruiters and employers lured, trapped and abused foreign workers hired through federal guest-worker programs. The government charges that more than 500 Indian men hired by Signal International of Alabama for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina were confined in squalid camps, illegally charged for lodging and food, and subject to discrimination and abuse. When they complained, the suit says, Signal agents tried to intimidate workers' families in India. Two lawsuits filed in Hawaii and Washington against other employers make similar charges about 200 men brought from Thailand.

 

The United States urgently needs to strengthen protections for guest workers who are lied to by recruiters and tied to employers with too much power to exploit them. Today's shackles are the threats of deportation and financial ruin. They might as well be iron.

 

A recent agreement by the federal Labor and Homeland Security Departments to work together on immigration and labor enforcement at work sites is encouraging, though there are serious concerns about Homeland Security's past behavior. Sworn testimony in a separate civil lawsuit against Signal International charged that rather than protecting the Indian workers, immigration officials coached the company on how to silence and deport them.

 

Workers in the new lawsuits may win some money and be eligible for special visas for trafficking victims. But they are only a handful of workers — both documented and undocumented — stranded in a system that accepts their labor but fails to prevent their exploitation.

 

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHAT HAPPENS IN BROOKLYN WHEN YOU TRY TO CUT MEDICARE

BY DAVID FIRESTONE

 

Only one Republican represents New York City in Congress, and even in his 13th Congressional District, which includes Staten Island and a small southwest corner of Brooklyn, it's a high-wire act. You can talk all you want about the need to cut federal spending and taxes when you're in the Staten Island part of the district, but try that after crossing the Verrazano Bridge, and you're going to need some protection.

 

That Republican is Michael Grimm, one of the freshmen elected in last November's wave, and he learned that lesson rather painfully on Wednesday night in a junior high school auditorium in the Dyker Heights section of the borough. It was his first town hall meeting in Brooklyn, and it came less than two weeks after he voted for the ravaging new House Republican budget. That plan would essentially privatize Medicare, slash Medicaid and many other federal programs that are very popular in New York, and further cut taxes for the rich.

 

The crowd lay in wait for him with sharpened reports from the Congressional Budget Office, incendiary printouts from liberal blogs, and even a few lethal rolled-up newspapers with articles about the House plan. Mr. Grimm was left standing, but only after 90 minutes of high-decibel debate, during which a school security guard had to threaten to remove several citizens vibrating with anger about Medicare.

 

It began when he asked the crowd of about 100 people whether they believed the nation faced a debt crisis. A woman near the front row responded that the nation faced a revenue crisis. Someone else shouted out that taxes were too low, and a third person shouted that it was all President George W. Bush's fault for cutting taxes on the rich. There was a big round of applause, and with that the evening became a battle of statistics and worldviews, in perhaps the only section of the city divided enough to match the national debate.

 

"Adjust Medicare, don't kill it!" shouted one woman. "The program just isn't sustainable," Mr. Grimm said, trying to control his meeting. "That's a flat-out lie," said a man in a Communications Workers of America shirt.

 

Around the country, Republican lawmakers on recess have encountered bitter opposition as they meet with constituents infuriated at their Medicare vote. Republicans have complained that the town meetings have been targeted by Democratic activist groups like MoveOn. It's true, but the criticism is no less legitimate than when members of the Tea Party swarmed town halls in 2009 at the height of the health care debate.

 

Many of Mr. Grimm's critics at the Brooklyn meeting were wearing union shirts, or reading from printouts. One woman who almost got thrown out for shouting is a regular contributor to the Daily Kos Web site. A few said in interviews that they lived in more affluent sections of the borough. But just as many appeared to be Mr. Grimm's constituents, and said they had grave concerns about his vote to cut the safety net while benefiting the rich.

 

"If this whole budget is about trying to get out of debt," asked one woman, "then why are we still providing tax cuts to the people who need it less?"

 

Mr. Grimm responded in a depressingly familiar way: "What this debate has turned into is class warfare — let's be honest about it," he said. Lower taxes across the board would increase government revenue, he maintained, in the face of loud catcalls from those who pointed out that that economic theory has long since been discredited.

 

According to one show of hands, nearly half the audience voted for Mr. Grimm, and while they occasionally applauded, they were far quieter than the critics. None stood up to support his vote on Medicare. At his Staten Island meeting the next night, someone even rose to accuse him of trying to "kill Grandma." Mr. Grimm, who won election by only three percentage points in 2010 (and who lost the Brooklyn section) may find his vote makes the task quite a bit harder in 2012.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

 

THE LIBYAN CONCEIT

BY ROSS DOUTHAT

 

With our quasiwar in Libya now six weeks old and stalemated, it's worth looking back at one of the more implausible justifications that the Obama White House offered when it joined with France and Britain to save the Libyan rebels from defeat.

 

This was the conceit that toppling Muammar el-Qaddafi would alter America's image in the Muslim world. The White House saw the Libyan intervention as a unique opportunity "to realign our interests and our values," according to Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin. It was part of "a new foreign policy paradigm," National Journal's Marc Ambinder suggested, summarizing the administration's hopes, "that relies less on autocratic governments and their oil reserves and more on a genuine connection between Americans and citizens of the Arab world." It would show "those kids," as an Obama aide described the Arab Spring's protesters, that the United States is really on their side.

 

Now imagine yourself as one of "those kids" for a moment, and think about how the last two months have played out.

 

Maybe you're a young Bahraini who participated in the protests against King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, a longtime American ally whose government plays host to the U.S.'s Fifth Fleet. You listened hopefully when President Obama praised Libyans who "took to the streets to claim their basic human rights." But while American warplanes were flying missions over Libya, your own country's marchers were being brutally suppressed by Bahraini security forces, with assistance from America's friends the Saudis, and with hardly any public protest from Washington.

 

Maybe you're a young Syrian, putting your life on the line to protest the police state of Bashar al-Assad. When Qaddafi's forces were on the doorstep of Benghazi, you heard a lot of talk from America about the "responsibility to protect" and the need to make an example of a dictator who massacred his own people. But now your own government is killing protesters by the hundreds, and so far the United States has only put modest pressure on Assad's regime — out of fear, presumably, of what might follow in its wake.

 

Maybe you're a young Afghan or Pakistani, living on the front lines of America's drone campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. You don't know much about Libya, but you hear that the United States has approved the use of Predator drones against Qaddafi's regime, in the hopes of minimizing civilian casualties. To you, this sounds like a bad joke. In your part of the world, drone warfare doesn't evoke risk-free, remote-controlled precision. It evokes the innocents who die when the American manning the remote control has the wrong intelligence, or when the strike isn't quite precise enough.

 

Or maybe you're a young Libyan — an inhabitant of besieged Misurata, or a rebel fighter in the east. You're still grateful to the United States for intervening, but your gratitude is increasingly mixed with disappointment at the halfheartedness of the NATO effort. You watched as President Obama essentially declared "mission accomplished" after the initial air campaign. But civilians are still dying, aid is slow to trickle in, and the West's precision-guided bombs may be proving more adept at killing Qaddafi's grandchildren than actually decapitating his regime.

 

 

These examples illustrate a cold reality: Given its existing commitments and entanglements, the United States simply isn't a credible agent of democratic transformation in the Muslim world. We can encourage reform in certain times and places, the way we just did in Egypt, easing Hosni Mubarak into retirement. But as president after president has discovered, our interests in the region — hunting Al Qaeda, containing Iran, keeping the world's oil supply flowing — require compromising with unsavory elites in ways that rarely endear us to the people whom they rule.

 

Yet we persist in the hope that it could be otherwise — that there's a game-changer that will make our interests and our values suddenly align. For Bill Clinton, the game-changer was supposed to be a solution to the Israel-Palestinian deadlock. For George W. Bush, it was supposed to be the liberation of Iraq.

 

These projects did not have the desired results. But at least they had the potential to be genuinely revolutionary. The Obama White House seems to have convinced itself that it could change America's image on the cheap — leavening its realpolitik with a splendid little Libyan war of liberation, in which France and Britain would do the heavy lifting and the United States would somehow reap the P.R. benefits.

 

Instead, the world's leading military powers are being fought to a standstill by mercenaries in pickup trucks. And for people all around the region, the main takeaway from the war probably isn't how much the United States cares about Muslim liberty. It's how little, once again, we're willing to risk on its behalf.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

MURAT YETKİN

When this newspaper was established 50 years ago, it debuted into another world and another Turkey.

In 1961, the bipolar world had not yet reached the climax of the Cold War (no Berlin Wall, no Cuba-Turkey missile crisis) and the mass media still meant print journalism. Published under the name of Turkish Daily News, the paper met a need for expatriate English-speakers in Turkey, largely American soldiers at the country's military bases. Even in the early 1990s, you could find a lot of Super Bowl headlines in the TDN.

Then came the fall of the Soviet Union.

In a post-Cold War environment, which developed in parallel with the CNN effect and the digitalization – and democratization – of the news with the Internet, media had to transform as well. I consider myself lucky, because my predecessor, David Judson, has already paved the way for such a transformation.

There is no local news anymore; a street demonstration or a corruption scandal in Sanaa, Pristina, Yerevan or Ashgabat can hit the international wires almost instantly. In the digitalized world of communications, news is an activity carried out across borders, even without borders. The phenomenon of social media is one of the motivating factors behind the recent search for freedom shaking once again the cradle of civilization.

The winds of change, or winds of "hurriya" (freedom), which inspired the name of our paper, "Hürriyet," are creating a once-in-50-years chance and opening new avenues before us and anyone else who wants to increase the role and effect of media; a new kind of media in this dynamic political and economic atmosphere.

This opportunity will likely lead us to expand from a newspaper for English speakers in Turkey to a news source about a broader region for English speakers all around the world. We will also need to provide fresh, in-depth news – whether in hard copy or on the Internet – to our readers, offering analysis and features and representing all the colors of life in pursuit of reflecting what is really going on.

But it is you, the readers, who will tell us whether we are doing our job properly. We will be listening to your comments and trying our best to interact with you in order to improve ourselves, and thus contribute better to your right to know. That is a right and need for all of us.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

ISTANBUL RUMS PONDERING BEFORE TURKEY'S GENERAL ELECTIONS

ARIANA FERENTINOU

Some additional professional commitments during the last few weeks brought me closer to the small Greek Orthodox community of the Rums (Anatolian Greeks) of Istanbul. As this coincided more or less with this year's Orthodox Easter celebrations, I was able to be with them at the most important date of their religious calendar.

This year, that event fell just a few weeks before the crucial general elections in Turkey on June 12.

There are several religious and social occasions where one can meet the few thousand Rums who remain today in Istanbul. Their historical churches spread all over the city and the Princes' Islands were busy preparing their flocks with daily masses for the apex of the Greek Orthodox faith, Easter Sunday, occurring this year on April 24.

The physical center of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Fener, was the busiest of all holy locations, not only carrying out the ancient duties of the Holy Passion but also hosting a number of important religious and secular dignitaries who paid visits to its headquarters and attended mass in the Patriarchal Church of St. George.

But it was not the religious aspect of this year's celebrations that caught my attention most, although Orthodox Easter has never ceased to move me deeply since my childhood. It was the interesting conversations I managed to have with Istanbul Rums on the margins of several social events that accompanied this year's religious festivities. These showed me that a few weeks before Turks decide whether or not they want a Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government for the third time, an ancient minority group like the Rums is as split as the country they belong to.

Istanbul Rums have in general benefited from the AKP's rise to power in 2002. The selection of the European Union as a national target by the present government created strong hopes among the Rums that their rights could be safeguarded within the framework of the EU acquis. These hopes were much enhanced when Turkey was declared officially a candidate member in 2004 and, even further, when formal accession negotiations started with the EU one year later. Hopes multiplied yet further when one of their major demands from the Turkish state was accepted and after 2007 they were able to hold elections for new councils of their self-governed community foundations.

These elections – although still not carried out by all the foundations – brought younger Rums in the administration of their "vakıfs" and inserted new energy in the community. Not only that, the foundations were also allowed to manage their estates in a way that would be most beneficial and profitable for them provided that they received the permission of the Turkish General Directorate of Foundations. The appointment of a Rum to the directorate's council representing all the minorities in Turkey was an additional reason for optimism.

However, some 25 Rum foundations, which include churches, monasteries and their estates, continue to be considered as "mazbut" (occupied) by the Turkish General Directorate of Foundations. A legal battle is going on and the Rum foundations are claiming back hundreds of their properties that were taken from them after 1936. There have been a few important turning points in this ongoing struggle. The recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights to return the ownership of the Greek orphanage on the Princes' Islands provided a strong legal precedent to the Patriarchate's recognition as a legal entity.

"But our real problem is the demographic problem," a respected member of the Rum community pointed out to me during the ceremony in Fener for the launching of a new book entitled "Ecumenical Patriarchate." A collection of articles by several Turkish and Greek intellectuals, scientists and theologians under the editorship of the Turkish prominent journalist Cengiz Aktar contributes with new arguments in favor of the use of the title "ecumenical" for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Fener. The title, although a spiritual attribute to the Orthodox Patriarchal throne in Istanbul – and in spite of official promises by even the Turkish prime minister – remains an issue of dispute between the Turkish state and the Orthodox community.

"In 2006 we held a conference here in Istanbul for the past and the future of our community. It was the first-ever conference of all the Rums. What did we agree to then? That we have to restructure our community on the basis of complete transparency and with the view to persuade the Rums who had left the city to return to it. Five years later, what have we achieved? Very little. The Turks give promises without any concrete results, they do not even allow the children of Greeks to study in the schools of the Istanbul Rums. How, then, can we make them come back?" my elderly friend, a retired school teacher, continued in frustration.

For him, and for some of the Istanbul Rums, what is more important for the survival of their community is the creation of a trusted infrastructure created by the Turkish authorities to make the few remaining Rums feel safe and to persuade the ones who left the city or were expelled from it to return to their homeland. This group believes that although issues like the legal recognition of the Patriarchate and its ecumenical role, as well as the issue of the return of "captured" properties of the Rums and the reopening of the Halki Seminary, are of major importance, they should not overshadow the cardinal issue of the numerical shrinkage of the community.

This group does not intend to vote for the AKP as they feel that the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has not delivered on its promises. This is not the same for the other part of the community, which is generally happy with the relatively positive climate in the relations between the community and the Turkish authorities. Among this second group are several representatives of the new administration of the foundations who see their institutions benefiting from the new state of affairs.

This split picture of such a tiny community may not play a major role in the big social issues at stake in these coming elections for the future orientation of Turkey. However against such a chaotic general picture, the Istanbul Rums' stubborn dynamism for survival cannot help but move us.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FINANCIAL CENTER DREAMING - II

EMRE DELİVELI

emre.deliveli@gmail.com

The government has been dreaming about carving a financial center out of Istanbul ever since economy czar Ali Babacan first disclosed the Istanbul Finance Center, or IFC, strategy and action plan, or SAP, to great fanfare on the eve of the IMF-World Bank meetings in Istanbul.

That press conference was marked by a lack of foreign journalists, hinting that they had taken the idea with a grain of salt. The foreign economists I talked to during the meetings humorously (and politely) mentioned the traffic as the biggest obstacle, and I and Kaan Sarıaydın shared that skepticism in a column at the time.

One and a half years later, I had an opportunity to learn how much ground has been covered with that SAP in the Istanbul Finance Center: Perspectives and Creating Stimuli conference organized by the Foreign Economic Relations Board, or DEİK.

In the keynote address, Babacan noted that they have covered 9 of the 71 action plans in the SAP and are working on 13 others. In the second session of the conference, representatives of the different state agencies involved in the project summarized their work. But the show-stealers were the morning and afternoon panels, which brought together a very impressive list of professionals sharing their views on the IFC.

I am happy to take Babacan's word on the progress of the SAP so far and that it would be completed in the next five years. However, I do have serious reservations about such a laundry list approach that not only does not prioritize among the action plans, but also fails to take IFC's objectives and its competition into consideration.

For one thing, one of the highlights of the conference for your friendly neighborhood economist was to learn that Jeju is not a Jedi knight. It is a special autonomous province in South Korea that would like to become a financial center. In fact, the panelists noted that many other countries, all the way from Russia to Colombia and Peru, have financial center aspirations.

According to them, the largest financial centers have lost some of their share to smaller ones as a result of over-regulation and a loss of confidence in developed economies after the crisis. In addition, several panelists highlighted that capital will no longer be as bountiful and cheap as in the past, which should strengthen this trend.

Therefore, as Domenico Siniscalco of Morgan Stanley noted, becoming a financial center is not an exercise in creation, but one in competition. And in that regard, Istanbul does not fare well: It is ranked 71st in the Global Financial Centers index prepared by the Z/Yen Group for the City of London, up one place from its latest ranking before the SAP was enacted.

If the government enacted the SAP and leapfrogged in these rankings, Istanbul would certainly attract more capital, but it would need more than that to become a financial center. As the panelists argued, Istanbul, and other contenders for that matter, needs to find its niche. Those specialties could be geographic or product-based: Commodities, derivatives, exchange-traded funds and Islamic finance were some of the recommendations.

It is at least positive that the government is willing to engage the private sector in the process. In fact, Laura Cox of PricewaterhouseCoopers noted that she was impressed by the level of consultation. I have learned that Babacan met the panelists in private the previous night, and State Planning Organization Undersecretary Kemal Madenoğlu confided in his closing remarks that the conference has shown him the need to hold discussions with domestic stakeholders right away.

Let's hope that all this advice is made well use of before IFC turns into yet another one of the government's "crazy" projects.

Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at http://emredeliveli.blogspot.com.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

OF CLAY POTS AND PANS, CRAZY PROJECTS AND DEMOCRACY

TUĞBA TANYERİ-ERDEMİR

The Turkish prime minister has the reputation of being a man of his word. Just a few months ago, he said he would do everything in his power to remove Kars' abstract, monumental sculpture, the Monument to Humanity, which he publicly called "freakish." The head of the sculpture was chopped off this week, and its demolition continues despite significant public uproar.

On Feb. 26, the prime minister blamed "archaeological stuff" and archaeologists for delaying the Marmaray Project in Istanbul. "First there was archaeological stuff, and then it was clay pots and pans, then this, then that. Is any of this stuff more important than people?" asked the prime minister, and continued with a question, "Why do we allow ourselves to be trapped by all this stuff?" 

The "archaeological stuff" Mr. Erdoğan referred to in his speech is perhaps the most amazing archaeological discovery of this century in Istanbul: the remains of the first inhabitants of the city were found under the ancient harbor of Byzantium. These remains proved Istanbul has a much longer past than anyone had expected. In addition to the discovery and excavation of some 30 Byzantine ships, precious and unique wooden and organic remains dating back some 8,000 years were uncovered. These finds proved to be revolutionary in changing our understanding of the deep past of this magnificent city.

It was not only expert knowledge, however, but also legal procedures that created obstacles and slowed down the Marmaray Project. The prime minister blamed the committees and courts. He said these had held them up for years. Mr. Erdoğan concluded his words by clearly stating, "But there will be no barriers from now on, whatever it takes."

Indeed, just a few months ago, experts and concerned citizens faced the harsh reality that there was no way to stop certain projects. Take, for instance, the case of Allianoi. This ancient Roman spa and healing center near Bergama was discovered during the building of the Yortanlı Dam. The finds from this ancient site were so spectacular that experts prepared numerous reports explaining the importance of this discovery, and why it should be saved as part of shared cultural heritage of humanity. Meanwhile, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Minister Veysel Eroğlu denied the very existence of the site and publicly mocked the archaeologists and concerned citizens who wanted to save the site. The legal battle for Allianoi continued for almost a decade. Civil voices, domestic and international NGOs, opinions in the press, legal actions, expert opinions, scholarly articles and protests were all futile. No one and nothing could save Allianoi. The flooding of this precious ancient site started in early 2011. 

This week, Mr. Erdoğan publicly announced the AKP vision for Istanbul in 2023; a giant project nicknamed the "Crazy Project." This project involves the building of a massive channel, 25 meters deep, 150 meters wide and approximately 45-50 kilometers long that will pass through the Istanbul peninsula, connecting the Marmara and Black seas and effectively turning part of the city into an island. Although the exact path of this channel is not yet disclosed, its route will inevitably pass through natural and historical heritage protection areas.

During his speech, the prime minister repeated what he had already warned us about in the Marmaray excavations almost verbatim. "This understanding delayed Marmaray for four years," said Erdoğan. "They stopped this investment because they found pots and pans during the excavations." In Erdoğan's statement "this understanding" presumably refers to those who thought there was value in trying to save the precious finds that emerged during the Marmaray project.

If the prime minister's words are to be trusted, and he has repeatedly shown he means business in such matters, there is really not much anyone can do to save whatever cultural heritage comes across his path during the implementation of this "Crazy Project." Possibly the most fascinating information we are yet to discover will soon be destroyed before we have a chance to grasp it. 

In most democratic systems, we at least have the illusion that people have some control over their futures, that they can, in certain contexts and through certain procedures, alter decisions affecting their lives. But let's face the current reality: an abstract sculpture is being demolished as we speak and an ancient site has already disappeared under the waters of a dam, despite prominent, significant, persistent civil public opposition, expert opinions and legal procedures. Perhaps it is time to face the grim truth. In the future nothing and no one will be able to save whatever else will be found during the construction of any other future project. The Crazy Project will be built. No matter what the cost is for the past, present or the future.

This alone, perhaps, clearly indicates the project indeed deserves its nickname.

*Tuğba Tanyeri-Erdemir is director of the Science and Society Center and a lecturer at the graduate program in Architectural History at Middle East Technical University.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FORGET 'CRAZY PROJECT,' LOOK AT THE CRAZY PICTURE

YUSUF KANLI

Will the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan manage to convert from utopian idea to full-fledged project, and later to reality, the so-called "crazy project" of digging a canal from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea?

Will the government of Erdoğan, who for some time has been behaving as if he has become the absolute ruler of Turkey manage, to convince the Russians, for example, not to object to construction of an alternate seaway for Bosphorus traffic currently governed by the Montreux Convention? Should Turkey, let's say, allow a non-Black Sea country – not necessarily the Americans – cross into the Black Sea through the "Istanbul Canal" and maintain there some military vessels for further than the period allowed by the Montreux Convention, signed back on July 20, 1936, for such ships crossing into the Black Sea through the Bosphorus?

Indeed, there is neither a feasibility project, nor anything further than some brilliant slides highlighting an utopian idea and thus what was announced last week in Istanbul as the "crazy project" by the premier is so far nothing further than crazy consideration. Yet if the government of the absolute ruler was serious on the issue it would not "unveil" it as part of the election campaign or indeed as part of an effort to distract public attention from some bitter realities of the country, which might be very costly in the forthcoming June 12 election for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Without much elaboration, if the rhetoric of the ruling AKP that Turkey has expanded so much economically over the past nine years because of successful administration of the economy and stability in governance was to be taken into consideration, why did the government of this country introduce financial or tax amnesties four times in past five to six years? If an economy expanded 45 to 50 percent in nine years – that's what growth figures indicate – how has it happened that this country still has rampant unemployment? How could a country have such a high growth rate and such rampant unemployment at the same time, defying Keynes and all other grand economy theoreticians?

Is it probable that Turkey has become a country where billions of dollars of unregistered money are pouring in from outside – such as the cargo from Iran found a few years ago at customs, whose owner could not be detected and was registered by the Treasury as income? Is it probable to achieve such a high growth rate for the economy with little production increase but a mushrooming consumption society?

An interesting OECD report

For the first time, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, has published a "Doing Better for Families" report. The 275-page report included chapters titled "Families are changing," "The balance of family policy tools," "Fertility trends: what have been the main drivers?" "Reducing barriers to parental employment," "Promoting child development and child well-being," "Single parents, public policy, employment and poverty" and "Child maltreatment."

According to this report, Turkey has the lowest female employment rate in the OECD. Less than one-quarter of Turkish women (24.4 percent) work, compared to more than half in the OECD on average (59.6 percent). Moreover, in the 10 years since 1999, Turkish female labor market participation has fallen. In terms of female employment rate, Turkey unfortunately is worse than Indonesia (49 percent) and India (34 percent). In contrast, Turkey has one of the highest fertility rates in the OECD. The average number of births per woman in Turkey is 2.12 compared to an OECD average of 1.74. Only three countries have higher rates.

According to the OECD report, child poverty remains a concern in Turkey. Perhaps in this field Turkey might contest for a "championship" in the 34-country organization together with two countries in even worse situations, Israel and Mexico. Nearly one in every four children (24.6 percent) lives in poverty. The OECD average poverty rate is half that size (12.7 percent).

One contributor to high poverty is large families. As the absolute ruler of Turkey insists that Turkish families should have at least three kids, Turkey ranks first in average household size in the OECD. The average Turkish household has 4.11 persons and with that rate shares the most crowded family category in the OECD together with Chile and Mexico. In the OECD, the average household size is 2.63 persons.

In 20 years, Turkey has reduced its infant mortality rate from 71 deaths per 1,000 births in 1987 to 21 per 1,000 births in 2007. Nonetheless, Turkey maintains its "absolute championship" in that category as the OECD average is much lower, at just five deaths per 1,000 births.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

POST-TRAUMATIC PSYCHO-BABBLE

GWYNNE DYER

American and British soldiers have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for about the same length of time, and their casualty rates have been about the same. More than 30 percent of the American troops subsequently suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, a condition that involves memory suppression and uncontrollable anxiety. Only 4 percent of British troops do. It's a statistic that suddenly undermines long-held assumptions.

My own long-held assumption, in this case, was that the rise of PTSD in Western armies was mainly due to a major change in the way they trained their troops. Before 1945, like all the other armies, they just trained soldiers to shoot. After 1945, they started training their soldiers to kill people.

The change was triggered by a discovery that General S.L.A. Marshall made during World War II. He sent out teams to interview American infantry companies immediately after combat, with a guarantee that each soldier's testimony would remain absolutely confidential – and he learned that up to 90 percent of those American infantrymen had found it impossible to kill enemy soldiers.

They did not run away, they may even have shot their weapons into the air – but they simply could not look down the sights and kill another human being. At the last moment, they became conscientious objectors.

Marshall had stumbled upon the single most important fact about the modern battlefield: most of the soldiers present were not really taking part in the battle. Moreover, this secret refusal to kill could not be solely an American trait, or else the U.S. Army would have lost every battle it fought against the Germans and the Japanese. In fact, it was true of every army that fought in World War II.

Significantly, however, it was only the private infantrymen, alone and unobserved in their foxholes, who silently refused to kill (but never admitted it to their comrades). Men on weapons like machine-guns, whose failure to do their duty would be seen by their comrades, did what the army expected of them.

The lesson U.S. military leaders drew was that while the soldiers' private morality made it hard for them to kill, the right training could overcome their moral inhibitions. So they changed the training.

By the early 1950s, U.S. Army basic training sought to lay down reflex pathways that bypassed the inhibitions, by training soldiers to snap-shoot at human-shaped targets that only appeared for a few seconds. They also addressed the problem directly, psyching their young soldiers up until they believed that they actually wanted to kill.

It worked: by the time of the Vietnam War, 90 percent of American infantry were firing their weapons in combat and trying to kill their targets. Other Western armies adopted the same training techniques, with equally impressive results. But there is an obvious psychological price to be paid for all this, or so it seemed.

The Vietnam War in the 1960s was when the incidence of PTSD among American veterans began to soar. They had been tricked into doing something that was morally abhorrent to them, and that was why so many of them fell apart afterwards.

Veterans of earlier wars had suffered higher-than-average levels of alcoholism, depression and suicide, but that was nothing to compare with the PTSD plague that infected the new generation of veterans. The psychological manipulation they had been subjected to seemed to be the key – but then along comes this statistic saying that American soldiers are seven times more likely to suffer from PTSD than British soldiers.

The research, led by Neil Greenberg, a commando-trained naval officer and professor of mental health at King's College London, even points out that while the mental-health risk increases for American soldiers who do several tours of combat, there is no such link for British soldiers.

So what is actually going on here? American writer Ethan Watters' recent book, "Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche," offers a highly subversive answer. It is that American society has been permeated by psychoanalytical beliefs about the fragility of the human mind.

This creates an expectation, he argues, that people who have been through horrible experiences will be traumatized. The veterans are simply falling in with that expectation, and exhibiting the symptoms that the theory says they should be showing. In Britain, where the psychoanalytical approach never got such a hold on popular culture, this expectation is much rarer – and so are the symptoms of PTSD.

Watters then goes on to speculate that the very high incidence of PTSD in American veterans is also due to the decline of religion, patriotism, and other belief systems that once gave a kind of meaning, however imaginary, to human suffering. This is just ideologically driven nonsense: Britain, where the PTSD rate is seven times lower, is also less nationalistic and far less religious than the United States.

But Watters's core question remains. Is PTSD really caused by what happened to veterans while they served in the military, or by the expectations of the civilian society they returned to afterwards? Suddenly, there is a case to answer.

*Gwynne Dyer is a former military historian whose award-winning book "War" was republished in a completely updated version in 2004 by Random House.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE AGENDA

 

The dismal economic situation has compelled an umbrella organisation of the corporate sector -- the Pakistan Business Council (PBC) -- to come up with a "National Economic Agenda" and drive home the point that the economy needs urgent attention. The initiative to develop such an agenda should have come from the political parties; for in democratic societies it is politicians who are expected to develop a vision in the face of challenges, find opportunities, mobilise public opinion and inspire people to overcome difficulties and strive for change. But at a time when the country is caught in a vortex of low growth and double-digit inflation, our rulers and politicians appear to have no sense of direction; capable neither of leading from the front nor of taking the right action at the right time. The government has been dragging its feet on the crucial question of reforms for too long. Its inaction, half-measures and lack of strategy have cast a spell of gloom which is not only affecting ordinary citizens but has badly hit business and industry. Parliament is being blamed for "the tragedy of delay." It stands accused of being an obstacle to reforms.

In an unprecedented move, the PBC brought representatives of the major political parties -- including the Pakistan People's Party, the major factions of the Pakistan Muslim League and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement – to its meeting on Friday last week in Islamabad, for them to agree on a minimum framework for key economic reforms. Most of the recommendations made by the PBC are pieces of advice given countless times to successive governments by local and foreign experts. They include proposals such as generating additional revenues of Rs300-400 billion within the present tax regime through better coverage and enforcement, broadening the tax-base of direct taxpayers and documentation of the economy. The PBC has also called for steps to tackle the problem of over- and under-invoicing and measures to block Afghan Transit Trade leakages. It has advocated reforms for the enforcement and collection of a tax on agriculture. The PBC estimates that these measures, if added to the present policy of taxing incomes, would increase the tax-to-GDP ratio to 15 percent in five years time from the present, slim nine to 10 percent. A rise in revenues, then, will help keep fiscal deficit at a manageable 4.0 percent. The body has also recommended that the government restructure loss-making public-sector enterprises and give targeted subsidies to the poor. Although the political representatives gave a nod to these proposals which in fact have been there for ages, the real test will be when they prepare and approve the budget for the coming fiscal. Will our politicians and parliamentarians go for the reforms our economy needs at this crucial juncture? Their past gives little hope, but the sense of desperation on the Pakistani street, the growing realisation among interest groups of the gravity of the situation and the international pressure might nudge our reluctant parliamentarians into taking the plunge. Let us hope that this parliament proves its critics wrong – at least for once!

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

 

RISE IN CRIME

 

According to available statistics, the rate of crime all over the country is growing rapidly. Even in Islamabad, the usually quiet capital, crime is reported to have risen by 18 percent in 2010, as compared to the previous year. The rise is probably even higher in other major cities. Barriers placed by citizens to defend their neighbourhoods are just one indication of the sense of fear that has crept rapidly across the country and influenced the way all of us live. Everyday life has changed too. On the streets, we look behind us in constant apprehension – aware that a phone may be snatched or a wallet nicked. Kidnappings have become more commonplace than ever before, and businessmen, school children and others move around shadowed by guards.

The issue of crime has not been discussed often enough even though it affects us profoundly. In the absence of security, people go out less often than before. They are aware that the state is unable to offer them even the most basic protection they need. There can be no greater failure on the part of a government than this. The National Assembly needs to take up this pressing issue. The problem is growing rapidly and there is no sign of things improving. The number of weapons present in society adds to the risks. The MQM has moved a bill in the National Assembly seeking deweaponisation. This is something we desperately need to work on. We must hope that the bill will generate a debate in the assembly and will lead to other measures being considered to make our cities and towns safer for everyone. We simply cannot allow the situation to continue worsening at the present rate, with the police apparently unable to curb crime, even in Islamabad.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

BOOKS AND BEATINGS

 

The issue of the book fair organised annually by the Punjab University has led to unpleasantness again. Activists of the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) are reported to have beaten up two staff members at the University's Maths and Statistics Department for taking down posters put up by the group announcing that the book fair would be held next month. The posters went up just days after the University administration had announced a book fair for the same dates. A clash has persisted between the PU administration and the IJT for some years over who organises the book fair which is usually attended by a wide spectrum of people.

The real issue is not the holding of the book fair but control over what happens on campus. A tussle over this matter has continued for several years – but despite the efforts of administrators, IJT dominance has not vanished entirely. Issues such as the holding of musical functions also tend to lead to retaliation from the group. Most disturbing of all, is the thuggish behaviour we see on campus. The beating up of people is simply unacceptable. This thorough lack of discipline should not be tolerated. We have suffered it for far too long at many educational institutions across the country. These institutions need to be turned into true centres of learning, with groups such as the IJT prevented from using them to engage in games of power or from using force to compel other students to follow particular codes of conduct. There has, in recent weeks, been much talk of higher education and issues related to it. Perhaps, we also need to discuss the need to check groups which have a negative influence and hamper the growth of a truly academic environment in some of the most prestigious institutions across the country.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE MOUSE THAT ROARED

S IFTIKHAR MURSHED

 

On more than one occasion the editorial in an English newspaper published from Lahore has adopted a strong line on the need to put an end to US drone strikes, and recommended that in future the Predators should be shot down by the Pakistani air force. Only then would the country be able to win back its sovereignty which the incumbent and previous governments had surrendered to the Americans.

One is reminded of the 1955 Cold War satirical novel, The Mouse that Roared, by the Irish-American writer Leonard Wibberley. The story revolves around the tiny European duchy of Grand Fenwick tucked away in the Alps between Switzerland and France. The country proudly retains its pre-industrial economy, which is almost wholly dependent on the production and export of a particular brand of wine. However, an unscrupulous American winery starts making the same wine under a slightly modified brand name, and the economy of Grand Fenwick is crippled. The prime minister accordingly declares war on the US, even though his army is equipped only with bows and arrows.

The hope was that immediate defeat would soon bring in American largesse, as happened in the case of post-war Germany under the Marshall Plan, and this would enable the little country to rebuild its economy. Through a quirk of fate, the duchy ends up winning the war, and the world's smallest country becomes a nuclear power but has no use for the bomb!

Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan has also raved and ranted against drone attacks and, like the prime minister of Grand Fenwick, has vowed to take on the US if the Predator strikes are not terminated within a month. During a two-day sit-in on April 23-24 in Peshawar's Hayatabad suburb, an event in which an estimated 4,000 people participated, he declared that NATO supply routes to Afghanistan would be blocked "in different parts of the country." If this did not result in the termination of drone strikes, thousands of his supporters would swarm Islamabad for a massive sit-in till the government firmly told Washington that it would no longer permit drone operations. In a flight of imagination he told his audience that "the American people will hold even bigger demonstrations if they come to know that innocent civilians are being killed in drone attacks."

The same illusory predilection was in evidence when Imran Khan said during a television talk show on April 26 that 25,000 people had taken part in the Hayatabad sit-in. Whatever the actual number of participants, the event was conspicuous by the absence of tribal Pakhtuns although every very single drone strike has occurred in their areas. Experts who belong to the region, notably Farhat Taj, have no doubt that the Predator attacks are actually welcomed by the tribesmen because the targets are terrorist groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Al Qaeda and their foreign affiliates.

This is corroborated by statistics. There have been 236 drone attacks from June 1994 to April 19, 2011 and 95.7 percent of these have occurred since 2008. Computations carried out by think tanks reveal that 70 of these strikes have been against Maulvi Gul Bahadur's group, 56 against the Haqqani network, 35 against Al Qaeda and its foreign offshoots, and 30 and 29, respectively, have hit the outfits of Mullah Nazir and Waliur Rehman. The remainder have been against various splinter groups.

These attacks have been fairly successful, according to Maj Gen Ghayur Mehmud, the GOC of the Pakistan army's 7th Division. During a press briefing in North Waziristan on March 8, he said that the drone strikes had killed mostly "hardcore Taliban or Al Qaeda elements, especially foreigners" and the number of civilian fatalities had been "few." A paper titled "Myths and Rumours about US Predator Strikes" was subsequently distributed among the journalists.

Nine days later, 45 tribesmen participating in a jirga were killed in a drone attack in Dattakhel, North Waziristan, and an ISPR press release of March 17 quoted the COAS, General Ashfaq Kayani, as "strongly condemning the Predator strike" which he said was "unjustified and intolerable under any circumstances." Despite this, there has been no attempt by the Pakistani army to distance itself from Maj Gen Ghayur Mehmud's March 8 statement.

To this extent, the army has been far more honest than the country's civilian leadership in admitting it is mainly terrorists who have been killed in drone attacks, while at the same time conceding that there have regrettably also been a "few" civilian casualties. In this sense, it is to Imran Khan's credit that at least he was bold enough to come out openly on this issue and was perfectly right in demanding, as he did at the Hayatabad demonstration, that "politicians should end their hypocrisy. They should either support drone strikes or oppose them openly. The government should end the dual policy on drone attacks."

Two reasons are advanced for the emerging national consensus against drone strikes. The first is the unacceptable number of civilian casualties of around 2,200. However, if the army is to be believed, these deaths are mostly of terrorists. In contrast, according to The South Asian Intelligence Review, from 2003 to February this year the total number of fatalities caused by terrorist attacks is 33,213. In its report for 2010, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has claimed that there were 2,500 terrorist-related deaths in the country, and of these 1,160 were from suicide attacks. The figure continues to mount by the day in 2011, as is evident from last week's three bomb attacks on buses of the Pakistan Navy.

The second, and more important, argument advanced is that drone attacks violate Pakistan's sovereignty. This needs to be put in perspective. It is widely known that drones have been assigned specific airfields in Pakistan from where they take off and fly along pre-designated routes to the target areas. These flights through Pakistan's airspace would not be possible without elaborate coordination with the local air-defence authorities. In the words of a former Pakistani air vice marshal, it is in this context that the "ill-informed hype that is expropriated to whip (up) a religious-nationalist frenzy on the violation of Pakistan's sovereignty" has to be seen. In other words, the country's sovereignty can hardly be said to have been violated if the drone strikes have occurred with the consent and cooperation of the Pakistani government.

Pakistan's sovereignty has certainly been compromised, but this has nothing to do with drone strikes. It is economic. The government is incurably addicted to a policy of "beg and spend." Till there is radical reform, the country will remain in the shadow of servitude to foreign donors. The anticipated budget deficit for 2011-2012 is Rs950 billion, or 5.3 percent of the GDP. This is the biggest ever in Pakistan's economic history and is likely to cross the trillion-rupee mark. The gap is being met by yet more external and internal borrowing as well as by printing more currency notes. In the process, the country would have forfeited whatever little remains of its sovereignty.

After World War II the British economy was shattered. There were severe shortages of food, fuel and all essential commodities. In the harsh winter of 1946, England's greatest economist, John Maynard Keynes, told his countrymen: "We are a poor nation, and must learn to live accordingly." This is a lesson that the leadership of Pakistan has never learnt.

The writer publishes the Criterion quarterly. Email: iftimurshed@ gmail.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

DOCTRINE OF ABSURDITY

IKRAM SEHGAL

 

The problem with the "Doctrine of Necessity" is that in Pakistan it competes with what a perceptive colleague has called the "Doctrine of Absurdity." How else can you describe how and why the government in power in Pakistan retains legitimacy?

The Supreme Court judgment about the National Reconciliation Order (NRO), a black law if ever there was one, is not being implemented; the Supreme Court shows no real inclination to implement it either, it is simply kept hanging over the government as a judicial "Sword of Damocles." Either the judgment should be implemented or the Supreme Court should back down. Not having the same qualms about the letter and/or spirit of the law as the Supreme Court, the NRO beneficiaries, applying their own version of "the rule of the law" for the foreseeable future, will prosper by looting the public till at will.

Once unthinkable, the possible inclusion of the PML-Q (Zardari's "Qatil League") in the PPP-led federal cabinet is a sign of desperate times for the PPP because of the impending federal budget. The individual leaders of consequence of the PML-Q cannot hope to come on the national stage without the prop of either one of the major political parties or the army. Their 50 MNAs would consolidate the PPP's position presently teetering precariously at a bare majority of 172 in a house of 342. For the PML-Q the consideration of the possible loss of its 20 Senate seats in next year's election looms large. Seat adjustments in a future election are being dangled as a carrot by the PPP, the "stick" is the involvement of Chaudhry Pervez Elahi's son Moonis in the NICL scandal.

Nadra received data of 81.2 million people eligible to vote in the previous election for verification and augmentation purposes to move towards developing error-free computerised electoral rolls. The Nadra exercise revealed that the electoral rolls used for the last polls contained over 37 million questionable entries, which undercuts the credibility of the 2008 general elections. With only 44.02 million entries verified as valid, 37.18 million entries (nearly 45 percent) were deemed to be bogus votes. Will anyone hold responsible the officials working for the Election Commission then for foisting this fraud on us in the name of democracy?

Hundreds of parliamentarians in Pakistan could lose their seats because of fake degrees and possibly also face jail time. How incongruous that those involved in such forgery and chicanery now frame the laws that we have to adhere to. The task of verification of degrees was given to the Higher Education Commission in compliance with the orders of the Supreme Court. HEC chairman Javaid Leghari refused pointed suggestions to slow down the process for a year. Failing all sorts of crude intimidation, the government decided to devolve the HEC to the provinces in using the cover of the 18th Amendment, in utter disregard of the consequences, which many scholars say will be disastrous for the country. Those with fake degrees have a vested interest in derailing the enquiry process. In any case, one clause of the 18th Amendment makes the concept of democracy absurd. The party head has dictatorial powers to dismiss anyone from his party (and government office) who does not listen to his (or her) diktat.

Once Musharraf had committed troops for counter-insurgency (COIN) operations into Fata in 2003 without proper military preparation, terrorism was poised to retaliate in the Pakistani heartland. Why no contingency plan was prepared escapes sound military reasoning, it borders on the absurd. The nexus of corruption and organised crime in the Pakistani heartland provides fuel for the terrorism that has proliferated since. Three decades is a long time for such evil to take a firm hold. Given a tremendous opportunity to eradicate all three evils when he came to power, the National Accountability Bureau was a tremendous Musharraf initiative. The tragedy is that he himself destroyed the concept in playing politics with its potential in a vain attempt to remain head of state forever. Whatever gains NAB made despite his motivated political meddling was irretrievably destroyed when Musharraf's NRO foisted Asif Zardari's version of the PPP on us. Having acquired power through the money generated by corruption, there is no way the PPP-led government is going to go after "organised crime." Does it require nuclear science to understand why at the ground zero of terrorism there is no dedicated Counter Terrorism Force (CTF)? COIN has been very successful under Kayani. Young men have been sent into battle and made sacrifices. What prevents the military hierarchy from insisting upon the obvious, a CTF that will eradicate the menace of terrorism flourishing in the heart land? While the politicians may have motivated interest in avoiding such a campaign in almost every constituency, what is the vested interest of the military hierarchy? The military hierarchy cannot pretend to be deaf and blind amid this circus of the absurd.

Today's parliament has legislators with fake degrees, and almost all of whom have been elected on bogus votes. Where is the legitimacy of that parliament? What can be more absurd that not one of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's original PPP stalwarts (and almost no loyalists of Benazir Bhutto) occupy PPP leadership positions in the country's governance. Indeed, what is truly absurd is "Dr" Babar Awan (of Monticello University fame), who publicly distributed sweets celebrating Bhutto's unfortunate hanging, is now a born-again PPP loyalist and leading the PPP charge to get the party's venerated leader exonerated by the Supreme Court. Talk about poetic justice, a PPP stalwart contends that such is Bhutto's power that even from the grave he has made Awan resign as federal minister and take up the cudgels in his defence.

One can be forgiven for accepting Aristotle's reasoning in describing the state of governance in Pakistan. "Once the irrational has been introduced and an air of likelihood imparted to it, we must accept it in spite of the absurdity." What indeed is the failsafe line between the Doctrine of Necessity, and what we have currently in place in Pakistan, the Doctrine of Absurdity?

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE PRINCESS, THE CHAUDHRY AND THE SHORT MARCH

 ADIAH AFRAZ

 

They fought and they fought and they got to each other's throats and then they made up. Moral of the story: Two Chaudhries in hand are better than two non Chaudhries out of hand.

Message for the nation: This might have been Qatil league in 2007, but this is 2011. And frankly my dears, in 2011, we don't give a damn!!! Haven't you heard, yesterday was another day?!

If history was ever to document the twists and turns of the PPP-Muslim League love story, then this bizarre PQN love triangle with all its break ups and make ups, the forward blocks and the progressive blocks, the like mindeds and the unlike mindeds, the alphabetical factions and the dissident sections, the mudslinging and the praise singing, the fake embraces and the fallen graces, would together make for the most fascinating chapter indeed.

This off again, on again melodrama is way better than any royal romance any day. So all those who have been unfocussed enough not to be paying attention and have been busy enough watching a prince getting married in another part of the world this weekend, should wake up and decide once and for all: What is more important for you, Kate Middleton or Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain? Tough choice to make, I know, but what is life if there are no tough choices to make?

Wake up and look around people. Kate Middleton is old story, while the great Chaudhry, like the proverbial phoenix, has risen from the ashes of the Charter of Democracy. This is the rise and rise of the fallen Chaudhries and that has got to be much more interesting than somebody who has Middle for a middle name. So isn't it our national obligation to stop obsessing over the former and start worrying about the latter?

Finally!! Our saviours from Gujrat have arrived (yet again). And arrived, they have, with a saviours' agenda. They are calling it the 'unified national agenda', and what agenda it is.

Revive the economy, they say; curb inflation, improve the law and order situation, and deal with the energy crisis. Do all of this and we are all yours. After all mockery is the best revenge.

Ok, I concede that they didn't say the last part, and I with my layman's license have made it up in my head but the rest of it is true, I promise. And isn't it what we call political genius, the major breakthrough in the unsolved mystery of the woes of Pakistan. I mean why didn't anyone think of this before?

If all we had to do was to think about inflation and energy crisis and the dying people in a dying economy then why did we have to wait so long?

So upset I am with the long wait that I have decided to make a scary poster, and go for a long march around Kalma Chowk. My apologies for not going further than that but then how can I when they have dug up the whole place, and there are too many holes in the ground for a long march to hold itself together. Plus all that dust makes me sneeze, and when I am sneezing it is very difficult to think patriotic, especially during rush hours.

So instead of hopping onto the bandwagon of long marches that yield nothing, I am seriously contemplating going for a short march that yields nothing. If the result is the same at the end of the day, then why take the trouble of marching long in the heat. This way it is economical, saves time and best of all can be done twice a day every day. Long live the princess, long live the Chaudhry and long live the short march. May at least one of them yield something. And soon.

The writer is an academic. Email: adiahafraz @gmail.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

IGNORANCE AND IMPUDENCE

DR A Q KHAN

 

Once in a while you see something interesting or amusing on TV. Usually it is about playful and intelligent animals and birds. Just the other day something like this caught my eye. A cat was walking in a garden near a hedge. A large bird, probably a magpie, started pecking at its tail. As soon as the cat turned around, the bird would fly away a short distance and then repeat the same thing all over again. At one point, while the magpie pecked at its tail, it turned and, quick as lightning, caught the bird in midair. Within seconds the bird was dead.

This reminds you of the mischievous behaviour of our rulers regarding the orders of the Supreme Court. On one pretext or another, Prime Minister Gilani and his cronies are ignoring the Supreme Court's orders and, so to speak, teasing the court. One day the Supreme Court will be compelled to give them what they deserve – a lifelong ban on holding any public office.

The party accused of rigging elections and facing charges of corruption and misappropriation of hundreds of millions of dollars is now trying to become a "martyr." Never before in the 63 years of our history have there been such incompetent, incapable, hypocritical rulers. Without shame or remorse they reneged on solemn promises, telling blatant lies. The rulers create new controversies to divert attention from existing ones. The latest action is the reopening of the case of Mr Bhutto after 32 years. Benazir's case has been put on a backburner and those of Murtaza Bhutto and Shahnawaz Bhutto are never even talked about.

All the important orders of the Supreme Court have been ignored and discarded. Criminals have been put at responsible, high posts in total violation of existing rules. I am afraid these "clever and cunning" rulers will soon face the same fate as the crow and the magpie. It is our misfortune, and the rulers' good fortune, that they are not facing the likes of Justice M R Kyani or Justice Shabbir. Those judges would have been able to put everyone in place with a single stroke of their pens and ban them from holding public office for life.

You must have read in Jang, The News and other papers about the comprehensive report on all the judgements of the Supreme Court that have not been heeded by the prime minister, although the government cries itself hoarse saying, "We respect the judgements of the Supreme Court. We will implement all of them." I really wonder at the claim of the prime minister of being a Syedzada and descendant of Ghaus-e-Azam Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, when I see the disparity between his utterances and his actions.

One should never forget Allah's edict that munafiqin (hypocrites) will be severely punished. After seeing the actions of our rulers, one cannot help but wonder whether they ever read the Quran (with translation) to learn what awaits them if they continue on this path.

The mischief of discarding the orders of the Supreme Court was in full swing when some "wise guys" managed to convince the rulers to devolve the Higher Education Commission. The cruel joke is that the responsibilities of the HEC would then be transferred to the provinces which are incapable of even running primary schools efficiently. Thousands of dilapidated buildings and "ghost schools" are lying vacant under the very noses of the provincial education secretaries and ministers.

The HEC has been victimised for initiating the verification of the forged and fake degrees of our honourable elected representatives. The rulers would like to kill two birds with one stone – destroy the HEC and allow the provinces to loot the funds and appoint hundreds of stooges at lucrative posts. They are applying "ignorance" over "education" and will soon have to face the consequences.

Another mischievous action currently being undertaken by the government is the harassment and shutting down of Geo Super, all the while claiming that the media is free and that no inappropriate action is underway. All attempts are being made to financially cripple the Jang Group. Geo, Geo Super, The News and Jang are very popular sources of information and read the world over. I still remember how Mir Khalilur Rahman was subjected to pressures, blackmail, withholding of advertisements and financial inducements, but Mir Sahab stood like a rock and faced all the mischief, never compromising on principles.

The same tactics are being tried on Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. People forget that a tiger fathers a tiger and a jackal fathers a jackal. The present government has crossed all boundaries of decency in trying to break Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, but they forget that a proud head cannot be bowed before wrongdoers.

Let me point out here that, in all nations, at various times, the Almighty chose one or more people from their population who are righteous, honest, capable and just. They serve the people, they promote harmony, love and affection, and this brings about peace and prosperity in the country. However, if the people go astray and indulge in mischief, corruption and nepotism, they face the curse of Allah Almighty, and are replaced by others who are better in their deeds. The power to rule is bestowed by Allah and He gives it to whomever He pleases. When rulers are caring and look after the comfort and needs of the public, they earn the blessing of Allah and the public prays for their well-being. Hazrat Ali (KW) said that a kingdom run by non-believers could survive, but one run by tyrants is doomed.

There is a Hadith saying that when Hazrat Yusuf (AS) lay dying, he expressed the desire to be buried next to his ancestor, Hazrat Ibrahim (AS). When his body was taken there, the angel Jibreel (AS) appeared and prohibited his burial, there saying that, since Hazrat Yusuf (AS) had also served as a ruler, he would be answerable for his deeds on the Day of Judgement. Hence, he could not be buried next to Hazrat Ibrahim (AS). This is a warning to our rulers that they too will be held responsible for all their deeds on the Day of Judgement. Our Holy Prophet (PBUH) said that people with authority (rulers, officers, etc.) of all eras will be gathered on the Day of Judgement, their hands tied to their necks and they will be judged according to their deeds. Only those who are honest, just and pious will be allowed to enter Paradise with their hands untied, while the others will be thrown into hell with their hands still tied.

Oh, rulers! The Almighty has clearly and unambiguously warned you to follow the right path. Wo why don't you pay heed? Do you want to be punished like the earlier wrongdoers and become an example for posterity?

Email: ali4drkhan@gmail.com

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I. THE NEWS

OUR PROSPERING PAUPERS

 ASIF EZDI

 

The writer is a former member of Foreign Service

Press reports last month on the annual declaration of assets by our members of parliament contained plenty of information, but did little to provide transparency on the question of whether they have been amassing wealth by abusing their positions or through other unlawful means. It would in any case be too much to expect that someone who has been stealing public money or otherwise dishonestly enriching himself would then have the honesty to publicly disclose his illicit gains.

Still, there are some glaring cases of incomplete, if not false, declarations. If media reports are correct, Gilani has no source of income other than the salary he draws as prime minister; and his domestic expenditure is only Rs400,000 a year or less than Rs34,000 a month. That means that if he were to lose his job, he would be reduced to a pauper. If their declarations are to be believed, there are many other lawmakers just barely managing to make both ends meet. Clearly, many of them have not told the whole truth. But they do not have to fear any consequences because there is no effective provision in the law for scrutinising the declarations and prosecuting those who are found to have cheated.

The requirement of annual declaration of assets by members of parliament and their spouses and dependants was introduced in 2002 by Musharraf through amendments to the Representation of the People Act, 1976, which governs elections to the National Assembly and the Provincial Assemblies, and to the Senate Election Act, 1975, which is about the election of senators. These amendments also provide that if a declaration is "found to be false" in material particulars, the person making it "may be proceeded against" for committing the offence of "corrupt practice," which is punishable with imprisonment and disqualifies for election. But the law does not specify whose responsibility it is to initiate an inquiry. The Election Commission obviously does not consider it to be its job. It has never held any inquiry and not a single person has been "proceeded against" under this law. It is no wonder that our honourable elected representatives do not take it seriously.

Candidates for election to parliament are also required to state, at the time they file their nomination papers, how much income tax and land revenue they have paid for the three preceding years. But for some strange reason, they are not required to give this information once they get elected. We do not know therefore how much tax our lawmakers have been paying after their election.

From Gilani's nomination papers for the 2008 election, we do know that he did not pay any income tax for the three preceding years. He is probably the only prime minister in the world with this unique distinction. Twenty-four of the ministers who were in his cabinet last December also did not pay any income tax. Among others political leaders in the same category are Asfandyar Wali and Fazlur Rahman. Opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar paid Rs39,120 for the year preceding the 2008 election. We do not have information from the Election Commission about Nawaz Sharif because he was not a candidate in the 2008 election.

The Election Commission also does not have any information on the assets held by Zardari or the income tax paid by him, because the law does not require the president to file any such declaration. This loophole seems to have been left deliberately by Musharraf for his own benefit. But its main beneficiary today is Zardari.

Nations make progress when their citizens are prepared to give more to the country than they get out of it. But it is scandalous that in Pakistan those who get the most from the country and have been entrusted with guiding its destiny are also those who are least willing to pay back their debt to society. In most countries, it is the affluent class which bears the bulk of the tax burden to provide for education, health and other social services. But in Pakistan, it is the poor man who pays the tax and the rich rulers who pocket the money. As Pir Pagaro said of his class in one of his recent bons mots, "Ham lene wale hain, dene wale nahin." ("We there to take, not to give.")

Hillary Clinton was absolutely right when she urged the Pakistani leadership to pass meaningful reforms to expand the tax base. The Pakistani people are also demanding more and more that the state force the wealthy to dig into their pockets. But our ruling class is in no mood to listen. After the finance minister told World Bank and IMF officials last month that parliament is resisting tax reforms, he was roundly criticised by all parties. PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal asked the minister to tender an apology to parliament and some of his party members have submitted a privilege motion in the National Assembly. Our parliamentarians are evidently more concerned about their own privileges and those of their class than about social justice and good governance. Through this attitude, they themselves provide a breeding ground for extremism and terrorism.

One of them last month submitted a bill in the National Assembly seeking to disqualify anyone who owns property abroad from being elected to parliament. The bill has been referred for consideration to the standing committee concerned. But anyone with even the faintest idea of how our politicians operate would know that such a bill stands no chance of being adopted. Although only a few dozen members of parliament have declared in their statements that they own property abroad, the actual number runs into a couple of hundreds, if not more. Those owning vast properties abroad include such towering figures as Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. It is therefore inconceivable that their parties would support such legislation.

The bill also proposes the disqualification of anyone holding the nationality of a foreign country. Another member of the National Assembly has proposed a similar amendment. A star TV commentator, Najam Sethi, has supported this idea. It seems they have not read the Constitution. Article 63 (1) (c) already lays down that a person who ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state is disqualified from being elected to parliament. The fact that the Pakistani Citizenship Act now allows dual citizenship with some countries does not affect this constitutional bar. Besides, Section 99 (1) (a) (c) of the Representation of the People Act and Section 78 (c) of the Senate Election Act also disqualify all those holding the citizenship of a foreign state from being elected to the federal and provincial legislatures.

What is needed is not fresh legislation but the implementation of existing law. The public does not know how many of our parliamentarians have foreign nationality but they are obviously very influential. The government has repeatedly been trying to avoid answering questions in the National Assembly seeking information on this point.

German philosopher Emmanuel Kant wrote in 1784 that from such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. He was making a philosophical proposition. But what he said is quite literally true of our parliament. Its members have been elected under a deeply flawed electoral process which places a premium on corruption; most of them cheat in the payment of taxes; a large number hold fake degrees; many steal public money; they care little for national interest; they have been resisting the passage of a new accountability law with teeth; they are mainly concerned with preserving the power and privileges of a small ruling class; and they are not public representatives in any real sense. They are a major part of the problem. From them little good can be expected.

Email: asifezdi@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

WEDDING BELLS

CHRIS CORK

 

Averse to both weddings and royalty as I am and cynical to a fault, even I found a scintilla of happiness in the marriage of William and Catherine last Friday. Like most English people of my generation I remembered the wedding of Charles and Diana thirty years ago, and the razzmatazz that went with it; soon to be replaced by knowledge of the misery of an unhappy match, adultery on both sides, divorce and eventually death in a car crash for the fairytale princess.

My wife and I were in Islamabad when Diana's death was announced, and I remember both the shock and the sadness that I felt. I was astonished that there was a similar sense of shock and grief around me. The people of Pakistan had taken Diana to their hearts as had much of the rest of the world and there was a hush on the streets that was palpable.

In Islamabad again, minus wife but with other family members, we watched as did many others here a vintage piece of pomp and circumstance that nobody does like the Brits. We probably invented this stuff anyway which will give us an edge when it comes to putting on a grand show; but there was something that I noticed about this one that has been missing in much of what I have seen of my home country in recent years. What I noticed was that this was Britain wearing its happy face. So often we see imagery of riots, disorder, this or that downturn in the economy or some politician wriggling on the hook. But this was a day of happiness, and it flowed out of the TV screen and all over us in a comfortable wash that left us smiling, pleased to be peripherally a part of a magical day.

What was also different was the couple at the centre of it all. They looked genuinely pleased to be doing what they were doing. This was no arranged marriage between royal families. One side was decidedly royal – William will one day be king of England (...and Scotland, northern Ireland and Wales as well about which there is less than universal rejoicing) but the woman he married comes from a more ordinary background.

Catherine Middleton comes from a successful middle class family. She met William at university and they have had a relationship for almost a decade. There is not much that William and Kate do not know about one another. They lived together before marriage in a rented farmhouse, without staff to look after them. They did their own shopping, cooked their own food. William has a real job, and flies search and rescue helicopters. Catherine may not be able to return to her old job in the family business; but one suspects that she is not going to be putting her feet up whilst a liveried flunkey burnishes her toenails.

That bedrock of shared experience shone through as they went through the ceremony, eventually to emerge before a crowd of hundreds of thousands on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. This was a truly happy couple, and there was nothing contrived about the brace of kisses they exchanged – it was possible to believe that these two people really did love one another and that their marriage has a real chance of success.

Later in the evening I spent time with a few of my fellow countrymen. There was something of a rosy glow about the gathering. We cynics put our negativism 'on hold' and even the most stonyhearted of us softened a little. Bon-voyage William and Kate, and sail safe on the sea of matrimony.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail. com

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

GENERAL KAYANI REFLECTS NATION'S HONOUR

 

CHIEF of army Staff (COAS) has expressed the sentiments of the entire nation when he in an unambiguous term asserted that Pakistani nation's honour and integrity would not be compromised in exchange for prosperity. The assertion by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has come at a time when pressures are being exerted from different countries for acceptance of their conditionalities in return for financial assistance, trade concessions or in other areas.

Speaking at Yaum-e-Shuhada function on Saturday the COAS pointed out that Pakistan today was going through the most tumultuous times in its history but Pakistanis are a proud nation and they know what is in national interest and what is not. Very well organised Yaum –e-Shuhada has become an annual feature at which the nation and the army pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for the country's defence and solidarity and for their countrymen to live in peace. People of Pakistan are fully determined guard their independence and honour at whatever the cost and they have proved it in most difficult times including in the 1965 and 1971 wars and the operations against terrorists and militants. We believe that General Kayani in his address at the important occasion reflected nation's determination to zealously guard the honour of the country and it should send a clear and loud signal to the countries who think that suspension of aid or trade would force Pakistan to bend to the knees. The Pakistani nation and the armed forces are like one unit as stated by the COAS and they would face all the odds collectively for the cause of a strong country. Pakistan is a great country and its people are industrious, brave and talented. Pursuing a foreign policy of peace, independence, and non-alignment, Pakistan plays a constructive and positive role in regional and international affairs and would not allow any one to dictate terms. Borrowed money never makes us prosper and we have to stand on our own feet. No doubt there would be difficulties for some time but ultimately we would succeed and there would be a realization at the international level that they cannot pressurize Pakistan any more. If we work in co-operation with sincerity, we are bound to succeed, our people will have prosperity as we have all the required resources and Pakistan will become one of the greatest nations of the world.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

THEY SAY POL IS CHEAPEST!

 

THE Government has once again increased the prices of POL products under the pretext of hike in global oil prices. The reason given is that Pakistan imports 85% of the required oil, the Government cannot subsidise it and has to pass on the cost increase to the consumers.


The increase would play havoc as it would lead to high inflation because the cost of production and transportation of all items would go up and the poor masses already pushed to the wall would ultimately suffer. The Government has also claimed that the prices of POL are lowest in Pakistan when compared to other oil importing countries and the comparison has been made with India, Japan, UK and Germany. This could be the case as far as POL prices are concerned but the authorities have never given the facts and figures about the per capita income of the people there. In Europe people have much higher purchasing power as compared to Pakistan. In India, the inflation is in single digit and the Government subsidizes the food items for the poorer sections. In Pakistan, the inflation is double as compared to India. There is no check on the cost of transportation and those engaged in the business of transportation increase their fares whenever there is hike in the prices of oil products. A case in point is that while the Wagons and Taxis are being run on CNG, they raise the fares at their will whenever there is increase in diesel or petrol prices. What is more unfortunate is that the concerned authorities are unable to check this arbitrary increase because they indulge in corrupt practices. Another aspect is that after increase in oil prices the rate of GST would also increase as the government would continue charging Petroleum Levy at the higher rates. In fact the government has generated more than Rs 52 billion as petroleum levy and would be collecting Rs 110 billion by the end of the financial year without caring for the plight of the masses. What is needed is that the GST on oil prices must be fixed and the Government should reduce its income on POL products to meet budgetary targets rather than increasing the prices every month otherwise people would be forced to once again come on streets.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

THE RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

 

AFTER an incident of blasphemy, a demonstration was held in Gujranwala on Saturday and as a result ten people including police officials were injured. It is not an isolated incident and in fact Muslims are attacking Muslims which speaks of brutalization of our society.


The Pakistani society today is vertically and horizontally divided and this is very worrisome. This intolerance and suicidal tendency is very dangerous phenomenon and the leadership of all sorts in Pakistan must give a serious thinking to it. If this phenomenon continued, no one would feel secure and our enemies would get a tool to launch propaganda against us. We need to build a tolerant and peaceful society that provides a decent quality of life, security and equal economic opportunity to all citizens, greater accountability, ethical behaviour, austerity, protecting women, children and minorities and providing easy, equal and efficient justice to all. In the situation we are faced with the role of political and religious leaders becomes very important and they need to promote understanding and tolerance in the areas of their influence. Islam seeks to establish such a society where all citizens of the state enjoy equal rights and religion does not become the basis for any discrimination. It is high time we initiate intellectual discourse aimed at identifying the factors, which lead to such tragedies. The principal purpose behind this exercise should be to fashion a cohesive and comprehensive strategy to educate masses about the real teachings of Islam and pre-empt any similar untoward incident in future. It is also of equal importance to seek input of the representatives of all schools of thought and other sections of society like journalists, intellectuals, civil society activists, lawyers and professors. The long-term solution to such problems lies in changing the mindset through sustained engagement and projection of real teachings of Islam so that no one having a limited understanding of Islam, could exploit the religious feelings of people for ulterior motives.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

OUR N-PROGRAMME ENSURES PEACE

AMBASSADOR'S DIARY

DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI

 

Few critics of Pak acquisition o happy valentine day screen saver from and get new tips and N-capability realize that after Pakistan became a regional N-power, a change has taken place in India 's policy towards Pakistan because India has understood the limitations of its power in dealing with Pakistan, and N-capability has created self confidence in Pakistan on its security vis-à-vis India'a conventional overwhelming military superiority It seems that the Chagi N-Explosion was a water shed in Pakistan's foreign policy itself. Until, Chagi Explosion our entire foreign policy was based on countering India's threat to Pakistan's security and against Indian predilection for use of force against Pakistan. We were afraid of Indian threat till we acquired N-capability. India- Pakistan can now try co-existence diplomacy. Few people in international community have looked upon Pakistan's nuclear explosion in this context. Thus it can be said that the first phase of our foreign policy moved round countering Indian threat to Pakistan which lasted from 1947 to Chagi Explosion.. In this phase our first and foremost concern was to counter India militarily and diplomatically or to counter India threat to our existence. During this Phase we were countering India through acquisition of conventional weapons and entering into military Pacts and agreements. We went into CENTO, SEATO, Mutual Security Pact with US, to feel safe vis-a-vis Indian military might.


Could we face Indian military threat by building our armed forces to the level of Indian military; financially not possible. We acquired N-option as the new means of self reliance in defence. In post Chagi Explosion, twice India threatened Pakistan to teach it's a lesson and massed its troops on our borders but could not execute the threat as it calculated the risk of a nuclear strike by Pakistan which could have had disastrous results.

It is necessary to trace the reasons for India –Pakistan bitterness right after independence in 1947, since we were hoping that partition of India will be an amicable solution to Hindu-Muslim bitterness. But these hopes were dashed to the ground one after the other from 1946 onwards .First enmity was created by the Hindu-Sikh attacks on Muslims in India One million Muslims- men, women, children - were put to sword in these pre-Independence Riots, seven million had to leave their ancestral homes in India for Pakistan True atrocities were committed on Hindus and Sikhs also but in a retaliation and not by any militias organized by any political party in Pakistan.


Then came Indian invasion on Kashmir to occupy it in an attempt to refuse to apply on Kashmir the principle on the basis of which the Sub-Continent was divided. India use military force to occupy Hyderabas, Junagarh .India had made brute force as its instrument of diplomacy in settling India Pak disputes. Similarly India acted with arrogance of military power in 1965 War with Pakistan and in 1971 supported Bangla Desh Movement by naked aggression on East Pakistan . It was clear to Pakistan that India was intoxicated with is military power, bamboozling Pakistan with its superiority of military power, and the world community was inactive, UN was impotent except wasting time in endless debates. In those days it seemed to Pakistan that its number one priority was to counter Indian threat to its independence. In this bleak situation, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto thought of acquiring N-capability, collected the scientists like A Q Khan and also initiated what became known as Kahuta Project. A large number of Pakistanis thought that for Pakistan to become a nuclear state was a pipe dream, We had no money and technical skill to make a nuclear bomb When ZAB initiated our N-project, Henry Kissinger threatened him to make an example of him .ZAB changed Pakistan posture from allied diplomacy to independent foreign policy, a policy initiated by Ayub Khan but fine tuned by ZAB He visualized that N-option will be a balancer with India's military power since we could never match India in conventional weapons. It was beyond our financial means. N-option was conceived as a deterrence for Indian military threat not as a weapon for aggression.


While our plan was in early stages ZAB was ousted from power and later executed. However, it was the wisdom and power of this thought that even after ZAB's ouster , every regime which followed him furthered this project despite the impediment put in Pakistan's efforts to frustrate completion of its N-project. Finally, in early 80s USA-Israel and India planned to destroy Kahuta through aerial strikes by Israel using Indian territory. Israeli planes obtained a base in Sri Lanka to come to India and bombard Kahuta. Soviet invasion of Afghanistan intervened in this period to change US policy towards Pakistan when US wanting to launch its "Jihad" in Afghanistan. During America's Afghan "Jihad" US closed its eyes on Pakistan's Nuclear plans and Pakistan completed its project through a lab test of N-explosion in around 1982/83. But for this American creation of "Jihad " in Afghanistan Pakistan's Kahuta site could have been bombed out by Israel helped by India supervised by US. The last stage in it came in Nawaz Sharif's regime when despite American pressures and inducements not to conduct the Chagi Explosion, we became a known regional N-power.


Exploding our N-bomb was a kind of declaration that we have Nuclear bombs and we are a Regional N-power. No doubts about it. We acquired delivery system but limited to our needs and not with ambitions for controlling and blackmailing others. The whole scenario changed since then on India-Pak power equations. We proved to the world that the phobias about a N-Pakistan were hallucinations. We did not acquire N-option like US to terrorize smaller powers, or for global conquest, nor like late USSR to counter US designs – nor like China to put US on notice that China is out of bonds for US military adventures, but to create an equalizer with India's military juggernaut. For peace and eliminating our subordination. The result is that the Second Phase of Pakistan's Foreign Policy is based on establishing co-existence. Nuclear option as ZAB conceived is an equalizer with superior forces and not a means of coercion, threat or aggression. Pakistan is more sensible and peaceful country than the ever ready aggressors any where. An antidote for aggressive designs has to be updated. It has to be raised if the balance is disturbed . But we do not go for long range missiles.


New Provinces. I have written on the impractibility or unacceptability of creation of new provinces. To that I would add that Sindh will not agree for creation of any part of a new province out of it, Baluchistan would similarly reject ; Pakhtoon Khawa has already got what it wanted, so in practice this proposal would boil down to dividing Punjab into new provinces.


Somali Pirates: Surprising that any Somali should maltreat Pakistanis. I am referring to the demand Somali pirates have made for ransom for releasing some Pakistani merchant navy Captain and set date that if ransom is not paid by a certain date they will behead or kill the Pakistani navy captain and sailors . It is time to remind them that if Somalia owes its independence as a sovereign country Pakistan played a part in it. In 1949 the question of "future disposal" of Italian Somaliland and Eriterea came before the First Committee of the UN General Assembly. Western proposal was to give Somaliland into Italian Trusteeship. Pakistan strongly opposed the proposal on the ground that the fifty years of Italian rule was miserable, and that the former territories of colonial powers should not be given under their Trusteeship. Pakistan asked that the Somali territory under British occupation should be merged in Somaliland and not given to Ethiopia. It would mean one part of Somalis will have the right of self determination but other would not. Eventually, the General Assembly ccepted Pakistan's proposal.


Have a heart pirates you are dealing with nationals of a country which got your country independence. Is the reward of gratitude not gratitude? Please release Pakistani hostages. We are a poor nation not US or a West European nation where our poor wage earners can dish out millions of dollars.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

RESISTING US PRESSURE

ASIF HAROON RAJA

Pak-US relations that apparently ran smoothly from September 2001 till 2005 developed hiccups in 2006 and ever since the relations have been uneasy. Award of civil nuclear deal together with inking of several defence contracts with India and its efforts to make India a key player in Afghanistan exposed US pronounced tilt towards India . It was natural for Pakistan to feel let down. The US secret designs against Pakistan and negative role of India played a big role in widening the trust deficit. Both the US and India worked on an engineered program to harm Pakistan under the garb of friendship. With no troops and no responsibility, it suited India to keep expanding its influence in Afghanistan and in Central Asia and at the same time harming Pakistan through covert war without having to face hazards of guerrilla war.


With eyes on Pakistan nukes and on Gwadar Port , seen as a jump off point in envisaged energy corridor from Central Asia to Indian Ocean via Afghanistan and Pakistan , it suited USA to weaken Pakistan and make it toe its line. Commonality of objectives impelled USA , India , Israel , Britain and Afghanistan under US installed Karzai regime to gang up against Pakistan . Ignoring Pakistan 's security concerns, USA helped India in consolidating its presence in Afghanistan .

The CIA and other allied agencies have been assiduously operating in Pakistan to destabilize the targeted regions of FATA, settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan from 2004 onwards. Psy war and 'do more' mantra were unleashed from 2005 onwards to malign Pakistan 's premier institutions. In 2008, the US started targeting ISI and Army and in 2009 terrorism was brought into major cities of Pakistan with focus on Peshawar , Lahore , Rawalpindi and Islamabad . Besides the attack on GHQ, several ISI offices were targeted in its bid to break the resolve of the Army and ISI. Spies and Special Forces under cover operatives disguised as diplomats, businessmen and security contractors were positioned to further tighten the noose and choke Pakistan .

By December a vast network of CIA spies-Blackwater-US Special Forces operatives-RAW agents linked with local militant groups in tribal belt and in urban centers, anti-state elements and pro-US and pro-Indian elements was established. The network was protected by foreign embassies as well as some purchased Pakistani officials holding key appointments. In this timeframe, governed by wicked design, maximum pressure was exerted on Pakistan to launch an operation in North Waziristan (NW). Pakistan 's reluctance because of its host of compulsions became a source of friction.

While the US pressed Pakistan to play the game in accordance with its dictates in return for financial munificence, Pakistan military wanted to play within defined parameters so as not to compromise its core national interests. It tried to guide USA onto the winning path but the latter misguided by India and Israel chose to adopt the self-destructive path.

It was stroke of luck for Pakistan and bad luck for USA that Raymond Davis was caught in the disgraceful act with his pants down and that too in broad daylight in a crowded area. His arrest triggered the panic button in Washington and Langley and hundreds of secret agents ran for cover. However, once the golden sparrow flew away, the rats came out of their holes and recommenced their activities but cautiously.

In order to free Davis , senior US officials made false promises assuring Pakistan that his release would help in removing the cobwebs of distrust and bring a marked improvement in Pak-US relations. Panetta assured Lt Gen Pasha that he would expedite return of those CIA operatives about whom correct information had not been fed. After quickly repatriating 35 unwanted persons who had been identified by the ISI, the outflow stopped. When Pasha proceeded to Langley to remind Panetta of his commitments, he took a new stand asserting that he couldn't afford to withdraw his men or stop drone attacks and put the lives of Americans in Afghanistan in jeopardy. In his view secret agents and drones acted as a safety net against militants operating from NW into Afghanistan .

Both Pakistan and USA are now pursuing divergent agendas and are disinclined to accommodate each other's strategic concerns. The US alleges that the ISI has old ties with Haqqani network and is supporting Siraj Haqqani. Lashkar-e-Taiba, allegedly linked with ISI is now seen as a threat not only to India but also to the world. It claims that Al-Qaeda leadership and Afghan Shura are housed in NW and Quetta respectively and protected by the Army. It suspects that because of Army's softness towards Taliban, it is reluctant to undertake a major operation in NW, which in its calculations is the hub center of terrorism.

These lurking doubts and suspicions have frustrated Obama's administration so intensely that White House came out with a 36-page cockeyed report on 6 April and sent it to the Congress. The crux of the report is that Pak Army doesn't have the ability to crush militants. It says Pakistan 's 144000 strong force has been fighting the militants along Afghan border but was unable to achieve any victory. The report says that conversely the US forces have succeeded in weakening al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan and in that Pak forces had no role to play. The authors of this misleading report forget that till very recent and even now all US military leaders have been extolling the heroics of Pak Army.

The US has been gradually penetrating deeper and deeper into Pakistan under various deceptive ruses. The major tools it had to make our leaders go flaccid were its coercive and aid giving capacities and overplaying of threat of terrorism. CIA-FBI outposts were made on the plea that it would help in tracing wanted high value al-Qaeda targets. Control over immigration on airports was also taken over on similar pretext. Permission to use drones from Shamsi airbase in Balochistan was obtained to hit targets in inaccessible areas in FATA. 2002 and 2008 elections were rigged to ensure subservient parliament and make the top man all-powerful. Blackwater elements were positioned in Pakistan major urban centers in 2008 with the connivance of Pak leadership. Between July-December, Gilani, Rahman Malik and Hussein Haqqani facilitated entry of large number of US Special Forces operatives into Pakistan . The only area in which the US failed was its desire for joint Pak-US control over nuclear arsenal. Plea taken was to prevent the nukes falling in wrong hands. 'Wrong hands' mantra was incessantly sung but custodians of nukes plugged their ears.

The US tilt towards India , increasing influence of India in Afghanistan and subtle efforts to keep Pakistan out of the loop are matters of serious security concerns for the military leadership. Till recent, it was a one-sided affair with USA pushing its way and Pakistan docilely ceding ground. For the first time the military leadership has dug its heels and is not prepared to cede any more ground since the US ingress has reached closer to Pakistan 's vital ground. Any further one-sided concession offered would render the defence of our core assets indefensible.

Gen Wynne, Gen Kayani and Lt Gen Pasha have taken a firm stand on issues of drones and undercover CIA operatives. In frustration, the jangle-nerved US military leadership has again fired Hellfire missiles in NW on 22 April. Battle of nerves is going on, one trying to bulldoze its way by sheer weight of authority and money, and the other standing on a weak but morally high ground to safeguard vital interests of Pakistan. Unless the lower and upper houses of the parliament jointly decide to doggedly confront the US menace, nerves shown by the military alone would be of little consequence. It is to be seen who emerges as the winner in this battle of nerves.

—The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

CHANGES IN US ESTABLISHMENT

DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN

 

Finding no way to an honourable exit from Afghanistan, US President Obama has finally decided to bring significant changes in his team dealing directly with Afghan affairs. Following his failed effort of conceiving and trying to implement the infamous AfPak policy and sacking General MacCrystal from the command of ISAF in Afghanistan, these changes would be third major effort to bring a stability in Afghanistan, before US could have a face saving withdrawal. The new changes, subject to rectification by US Congress, would place Gen David Petraeus, as the Director of CIA; US most power spying network. The current Director CIA; Leon Panetta, will replace the outgoing Defence Secretary; Robert Gates. Besides, upon his promotion Lt-Gen. John Allen, Deputy Commander of US Central Command, would take over as the Commander of the ISAF in Afghanistan. On the diplomatic front the former US ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq, Mr Ryan Crocker will take over as the new US ambassador to Afghanistan.

All these changes are taking place at a very crucial time of US decade old engagement in Afghanistan. Unlike the lofty claims of pentagon and US military hierarchy in Afghanistan about its military successes there, the fact of the matter is that, there is no worthwhile US gains in last two years. Rather US position has deteriorated in during this time frame and Taliban and warlords gained more grounds and popular support of the Afghan people. Besides Afghanistan, Pak-US relationship is at the lowest ebb of its decade's old military cooperation. The gulf in the military relationship between Pakistan and US can be attributed to many factors. The foremost being the element of mistrust. U.S wants Pakistan and its armed forces should blindly obey its orders as a satellite or a subservient state. After having known the nefarious CIA activities worldwide and equating ISI with terrorist organizations, as recently disclosed by Wiki leaks, how can Pakistan, its military and intelligence setup can trust U.S and its anti-Pakistan intelligence network?

Despite wholehearted and dedicated efforts from Pakistani side, US military commanders, especially Chairman Joint Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has publically accused Pakistani spying network for not cooperating with US team on many account. US demand of launching a military operation in North Waziristan Agency has been a sole point where difference between both could not be bridged. Besides, U.S desires that Pakistan should have no direct role in Afghanistan, which Pakistan consider as an essential part of its foreign policy to maintain a cordial, brotherly and neighbourly relationship.

As a sovereign and independent country, Pakistan would not like that US CIA operatives are carrying out covert activities in various parts of the country against the national interest of Pakistan. Upon revelations of CIA activities in various parts of the country, Pakistan demanded from US to eliminate this CIA driven network, which exasperated the higher defence and intelligence departments in US against Pakistan. Likewise, Pakistan considers the CIA directed drone attacks have proved counterproductive, hence must be stopped forthwith. This Pakistani objective is being resisted by US, which intends continuing with this failed strategy. Today Pakistani nation stands united against US drone attacks and its covert CIA operations in any part of the country. Protecting its sovereignty and national interests have perhaps not liked by the US and especially its defence establishment and spying hawks. Therefore, they have decided to launch well orchestrated propaganda against Pakistani armed forces and its intelligence setup.

A summary of post World War-II US policy guidelines have proves that, it has never been a trustworthy nation. It betrayed the trust of its war allies like former Soviet Union and United Kingdom, during WW-II, once it covertly developed and later attacked two Japanese cities; Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. It was US which started the Cold War and divided the world on two different ideologies. It was US which made the military alliance like NATO, which is now lashing out everywhere in the world to pursue the US aims and objective. Indeed, this trans-Atlantic military alliance has repeatedly undermined the UN role as an institute responsible to regulate the global affairs. Even EU countries have serious reservations about the role of this institution as against its basic spirit. The alliance is being used as a tool of U.S foreign policy which indeed is hostile in nature for the pursuance of its hidden goals all over the globe.

Nomination of General David H. Petraeus, as the Director of CIA has raised many questions about the future of Afghanistan and US policy towards Pakistan. He is considered to be a rigid general and logics are uncommon to him. During his stay in Iraq, he architected the balkanization of this Arab national country into three parts viz; Northern Iraq under Kurd's homeland; Central Iraq as Sunny state and Southern Iraq as the Shia state. His balkanization plan was seriously resented by people of Iraq and Arab world. After experiencing a military command in Afghanistan, this ill will military despot would not hesitate to pursue a plan for the balkanization if Afghanistan. Division of Afghanistan on ethnic lines was initially proposed by Robert D Blackwill, the former US ambassador in India. In his proposal he had backing of the Indian military and civil establishments, as had extensive meetings with them before putting the plan on table.

The General would not mind to pursue such a policy for Pakistan. Throughout of his military command in Afghanistan, he has reflected unfriendly attitude towards Pakistan. He has been discriminatory towards armed forces of Pakistan and its spying agency. He believes in military way of solving the issues, rather through political and social measures. Generally he has been hostile towards Afghan Administration under Hamid Karazai and has been quite often accusing him on various pretexts. The bone of contention was that over last two years, Hamid Karazai has strongly resented the US military operations in Afghanistan, resulting into killing of thousands of innocent Afghans. This critic was not liked by General Petraeus and CIA.

The General's antagonism against Pakistan is on three accounts. First; Pakistan wants a political solution of the Afghan issue through the involvement of stake holders especially the geographically contiguous states. Secondly; Pakistan wants that Indian role in Afghanistan should be reduced to minimum essential. Whereas the General, State Department and Pentagon wants a dominating Indian role in all fields including Afghan defence and intelligence network, even at the cost of security of Pakistan. Thirdly; General demands Pakistan to launch a military operation in NWA and also allow US freedom of action everywhere in Pakistan in the garb of intelligence gathering. Pakistani defence establishment would never like any of these anti-Pakistan designs are fulfilled.

Under the directorship of Lean Penethra, there have been maximum drone attacks in Pakistan, killing thousands of innocent Pakistani masses. After his taking over as the Secretary Defence, Pakistan and Afghanistan should not expect any miracles for the betterment of these countries. Rather, it is more likely that he would devise more anti Pakistan policies in the days to come.

The need of the hour is that, Parliament of Pakistan should pass a unanimous resolution, disallowing US drone attacks, banning on covert CIA operative inside Pakistan and not accepting any dictation from US for launching military operation in any of its part. The resolution should ask for a political solution of the Afghan issue, incorporating all factions of the country without any external influence.

—The writer is an International Relations analyst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

OUR BILLIONAIR CLUB OF M.P.'S

ALI ASHRAF KHAN

In the middle of Pakistan's financial crunch with the country cash reserves starved and the budget spending chronically overdraft few days back the Election Commission of Pakistan was sharing with the public the statements of assets and liabilities of members of the National Assembly submitted to the Election Commission under the Raw. All candidates contesting elections are required to submit a statement of their assets and when elected they have to renew this statement every year. The idea of the law must have been to keep public control over the rise in personal assets and spending of the elected members so as to prevent or put a check on mis-use of office and corruption. While this requirement has been in place for quite some years it has not been implemented in letter and spirit until recently against politicians or bureaucrats who live a royal mughal style of life. Under the government of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto it was made a point to scrutinize this requirement from the declaration of assets by politicians and bureaucrats vis-a-vis record of banks to face the consequences in a bid to establish corruption free socio-economic culture. It was seen that Establishment division also receives a one line annual declaration of assets from all the officers from BPS-17 to 22, which were perhaps never ever seen by any responsible functionary with any seriousness, So we in FACC designed a 22 item questionnaire for all the civil servants in BPS-17 and above, which was strongly resisted and twice the issue came on federal cabinet agenda and finally the then Prime Minister agreed that the FACC, designed questionnaire will be submitted annually to Establishment division and not to this committee, so as to ensure that Establishment division never shows it the light of the day and keeps on dumping these in their cold storage.

At that time even the then President Mr Farooq Ahmad Khan Laghari submitted such a statement of assets though the law does not require him to do so, but because he understood that this was an important way to gain or keep creditability. The current president is not of this opinion and thus has not shared the amount of his assets and how they have been growing during the last few years. This of course undermines our present ruling elite creditability given the fact that Pakistan government is rated as the most corrupt ever in the country history. Apart from this there is no pressure on the Election Commission to take action against those who defaulted in fulfilling this requirement. The information which contained in those statements seems to contain quite a number of inaccuracies and it is not clear if and what action is likely to be taken as a consequence. The publicized data in the media show that there are quite a number of billionaires among them. For instance few weeks back one of the contestants of NA seat vacated due to the death of Farooq Ahmad Laghari, which his son won was also contested by a Sunni leader on PML (N) ticket who was reported in the media having declared his assets around Rs.13 billion. Reading about the fabulous wealth of some of the candidates and elected Members one wonders how this wealth might have been accumulated and how people of such affluence and splendor can represent and fight for the interests of their electorate living in poverty stricken sub human conditions looking towards the sky for food, water, gas and electricity, which are gift of nature available in abundance but artificially made short in supply due to manipulation and corruption.

But there is a host of other problems also, among them the problem of loan defaulting with the active connivance of bankers, which has a long history in Pakistan and which is one of the reasons for Pakistan financial crunch. Many of the names on the Election Commission assets declaration list and those of the bank defaulter submission as personal guarantees with collateral documents have certain variations or names of spouses are mentioned. One example is the wife of Prime Minister Gilani. She had been defaulting in two loans totaling Rs200 million which had swelled to Rs570 million because of non-payment of installments spanned for more then a decade. However, she managed to settle the case by paying back Rs45.521 million against liabilities of Rs570 million.

Another example is from a personal experience in 1994 when I was Member Federal Anti Corruption Committee, on receiving complaints about loan defaulters including political personalities as had been published by care taker Prime Minister Moeen Qureshi, while scrutinizing Ittefaq Group loans I was provided the details of collateral given to banks by its director; Mian Nawaz Sharif & Mian Shahbaz Sharif, where the given value of properties as collateral to the banks for sanction of limits was worth millions of rupees. Then we approached Election Commission to provide copies of their declaration of assets, which were denied to FACC, as the law forbids supplying the information even to the government investigation agency, under this cumbersome law only his opponent contestant could get it through legal course from the election commission. So we had to request their opponent candidates to appear in person before the Election Commission and then the information was provided to them. Seeing those declarations we were surprised as they showed only Rs.1.7 and Rs.1.9 million worth of their assets holding. So, Chairman FACC Malik Mohammad Qasim was convinced that on the basis of these two declarations if we prepare a reference and send it to the Speaker, they will be losing their seats. So Malik Qasim held a press conference at Islamabad Hotel announcing that a reference is being prepared for sending it to the Speaker accordingly. On that same evening the Prime Minister intervened saying if we adopt this method of eradicating corruption, then most of our members will also be losing their seats, as they have also done the same.

One can imagine how much money has been lost through such a dishonest attitude which is one of the reasons for our dismal situation today. Finance Minister Hafeez Sheikh who came back recently from the talks with the IMF empty handed had been first naming the parliament as one of the obstacles in putting the economic and financial situation of the country on the right track. He was of course right, but backed down on the protests of the PPP government on whose good-will he has made himself depending.

It is absolutely impossible to get the real worth of financial wealth of the billionaire club of parliamentarians, determined when there is no commitment for financial scrutiny visible in those saddled in power, which if calculated at present market value would be many times more then what they have declared. In my opinion the government should frame a law that the government can by contesting that the value of assets declared in such declarations are under valued, and thus can take over such properties at its declared value under the law. Situation will become crystal clear to impose wealth tax to generate revenue, and to asses the quantum of corruption going on unchecked. It is our misfortune that we have never had honest and sincere leaders, so far with the exception of a few, only self serving people have ruled us with impunity and that is why our democracy is Off from people, far from people to buy the people. Trust deficit is multiplying and this demon should be arrested first and foremost.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

US SECURITY CHIEF KEEPS A LOW PROFILE

VIEWS FROM ABROAD

PETER NICHOLAS

 

Peering down at a blank sheet of graph paper, a fresh crisis looming, President Obama's top national security advisor calmly scribbled notes. The Pentagon was poised to launch strikes against Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, whose forces were advancing on rebel-held cities. But the advisor, Thomas E Donilon, wasn't writing a memo urging war or peace, airstrikes or diplomatic pressure. Instead, working a few paces from the Oval Office, Donilon was doing what he does whenever emergencies arise: setting up a system for his boss to make choices. On time. And in a way that ensures presidential orders get carried out.

With changes taking place atop the CIA, the Pentagon and in key overseas posts, Donilon, who has held the national security advisor's post for six months after two years as No. 2, is expected to see his sway over US foreign policymaking grow. But his influence differs from that of many of his predecessors. Where some past national security advisors — Henry A. Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, for example — were grand strategists, Donilon is a master of process, enforcing order and structure for a president who deeply values both. "He's very devoted to a rigorous process," said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor. "When things are chaotic in the world, the first thing he'll do is set up a process."

Donilon's rise to one of the most powerful posts in the US government reflects Obama's wish to maintain personal control over foreign strategy. Rather than rely on architects with a worldview worked out through years of study and research, Obama wants a national security advisor who will execute the president's vision, someone willing to wheedle and prod the foreign policy machinery to carry out Obama's goals. Though a top White House official, Donilon is virtually unknown to the public. He insists on preparing so carefully for news interviews that he can't afford to do very many of them. He typically avoids the Sunday talk shows. One aide recalled that before Donilon delivered a routine news briefing, he demanded more than five hours of staff time to prepare.

Obama seems to share his penchant for logic and order. Both are trained as lawyers, and their minds work in similar ways. A couple of times a year Obama gives Donilon a handwritten list of goals, from nuclear weapons containment to progress in Afghanistan. Obama breaks down his outline into points and "sub-points," Donilon said. Proximity to the president and control of the paper trail is a recipe for real power in the White House. Donilon has both. By contrast, his predecessor and former boss, Gen. Jim Jones, never developed a close rapport with Obama.

Apart from the first family, there may be no one in the White House who spends more time in Obama's company than the 55-year-old Donilon. He has walk-in privileges to the Oval Office and a guaranteed spot on the president's calendar as the advisor who chairs the morning national security briefing. So low-key is Donilon that even foreign policy experts are unsure of where he stands. They see him as a manager, not a strategist.

"I have no doubt that he is a very, very experienced and intelligent operational guy," Brzezinski, the national security advisor under President Carter, said in an interview. "And that is very important, because part of the job is that. Whether he does the other part is also a question of whether the president really wants it." Colleagues describe Donilon as inherently cautious, wary of the fast-moving currents that have shaken Egypt, Syria and other states. Younger National Security Council aides like Rhodes and Samantha Power have been quicker to embrace the fledgling democratic movements. Donilon seems less invested in affecting policy than in helping Obama make sense of the chaos.

He does it by imposing rigorous demands across the government. State Department and Pentagon aides must come to meetings prepared to speak for their bosses. Meeting summaries are typed up and circulated to participants. Assignments are handed out; dissenting opinions are taken to Obama for a final airing, if need be. In some parts of the bureaucracy, aides have bristled over the control Donilon exerts. He doesn't seem to mind. "This is not a salon," Donilon says.

Seated for an interview at the long walnut meeting table in his sunny office on a recent afternoon, a large globe near his desk, Donilon made his points in numerical sequence. Some ideas came with two points; others as many as seven. Always, there was a list. To the degree that he has a foreign policy vision, it has to do with priorities. The Bush administration paid great attention to Iraq and terrorism at the expense of Asia and the spread of nuclear weapons, White House officials contend.

—Courtesy: The Los Angeles Times

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

NSW POLICE GET THE JOB DONE

CANBERRA is sending the wrong signals on asylum-seekers.

It's no laughing matter, but there is a bad joke doing the rounds in pubs as drinkers speculate whether they might get away with burning down the tax office if they first claimed refugee status. Unfortunately, the asylum-seekers who spent 11 days on the roof of Sydney's Villawood detention centre treated the Australian government as a joke, defying repeated orders and pleas to climb down. The Immigration Department, the Australian Federal Police and the operator of the centre, Serco, appeared helpless until Kurdish detainees Mehdi Darabi, 24, and Amir Morad, 22, climbed down on Saturday. The mishandling of the crisis sent a bad message to the nation and the world that Australia's handling of the issue is out of control.

Federal authorities have much to learn from NSW Police and Fire and Rescue officers who wasted no time in safely pulling three protesters off the roof of Immigration Minister Chris Bowen's Sydney electorate office on Friday. It's understood that Premier Barry O'Farrell would have happily sent in police with the expertise to handle the Villawood debacle, but it was not his jurisdiction. Serco staff have raised serious concerns with their union that their training is inadequate for the task they are being asked to perform. Until that shortcoming is rectified, the government needs to delegate the harder jobs to the AFP, the army or contract it out to services such as the NSW police. Instead, as it dithered, the rooftop protest, which followed a riot on April 20 in which nine buildings were set alight, causing millions of dollars damage, signalled to the world, including people-smugglers and would-be asylum-seekers, that Australia has lost control of the problem.

Mr Bowen is right to amend the character test to ensure that detainees who incur any criminal convictions fail the test so that those responsible for riots, violence and vandalism will have their quest for permanent residency rejected. While the Gillard government denies it is restoring Howard-style temporary protection visas, it is right in granting only temporary asylum to refugees who break the law.

Beyond handling of the crisis in overcrowded centres, the government must also stop the influx of boatpeople by resuming offshore processing at Nauru or Manus Island, and considering a form of temporary visas for all boat arrivals. It is time to retake control.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

GADDAFI'S RULE IS IRREDEEMABLE

ONLY THE DESPOT'S DEPARTURE WILL END THE BLOODSHED.

With the death of his youngest son and three grandchildren in a NATO airstrike, Muammar Gaddafi, even in his megalomaniacal madness, must now realise the game is up and he has no alternative but to go. Otherwise he faces not just further destruction of his country, something about which he has shown he cares little, but also more loss of life within his family circle.

Libyan government officials say Gaddafi and his wife were in the mansion when their son Saif al-Arab, 29, and three grandchildren were killed and other family members and friends injured. The despot and his wife, it is claimed, were unharmed in what his officials label an assassination attempt, something denied by NATO, which insists the attack hit one of the regime's command and control centres and individuals are not being targeted.

Loss of life in any conflict is always to be regretted, especially that of children. But the inescapable reality is that the bloodshed in Libya, wherever it is occurring, is the result of Gaddafi's murderous obduracy, and it will end only when he goes. The Libyan government's oleaginous spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, seeking to raise sympathy in the Islamic world, claims Saif al-Arab was martyred. That's hogwash. He died as a consequence of his father's murderous rampage against the Libyan people as they seek freedom and democracy after decades of tyranny, and NATO's determination, at the behest of the UN Security Council, to put an end to the bloodshed. Claims of martyrdom will inevitably find an echo in some parts of the world. So, too, will charges that Gaddafi and his family are being unreasonably targeted, something not provided for in UNSC resolution 1973. The coalition must not be deflected by such arguments, but should step up its drive to demonstrate that his situation is irredeemable.

While not specified by the Security Council, regime change is an inevitable consequence of seeking to end the bloodshed. It is also essential to serve notice on other loathsome dictators such as Syria's Bashar al-Assad that they face similar consequences if they continue their brutal suppression. NATO is right to reject Gaddafi's latest disingenuous plea for a ceasefire. The only thing that will end the killing is the despot's departure. The sooner he buckles, the fewer lives that will be lost.

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

ONLY THE POPULACE, NOT THE ELITE, CAN FOSTER A REPUBLIC

PRINCE WILLIAM IS SHAPING UP AS A FIRST-RATE MONARCH.

As senior members of the royal family have indicated in the past, the question of Australia becoming a republic is entirely a matter for Australians. Such a transition is not a first-order issue, but The Australian has long supported the idea as a natural progression of our independent, robust democracy -- possibly after the distinguished reign of the Queen. That said, the extraordinary worldwide interest in last Friday's royal wedding is an indication of the resilience and durability of the monarchy, which has defied attempts to be written off as an anachronism. And, from what we have seen in recent weeks of Prince William's interactions with victims of Queensland's floods and cyclone and the New Zealand earthquake, and at his wedding on Friday, Britain and possibly this nation have the makings of a first rate monarch in the future William V.

Most of Australia's commentariat regard the advent of a republic as a no-brainer. Once again, however, their preoccupations have been shown to be vastly out of step with millions of Australians, including many young people. When the figures are finalised, the number of Australians who watched the royal wedding on television or online will not fall too far short of the audience who tuned in to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Most were delighted by the rich pageantry, the dignity of the traditional ceremony in the hallowed halls of Westminster Abbey and the refreshingly unaffected young couple at the centre of it all. It does not suggest any widespread desire to break ties with the commonwealth or turn our backs on the Westminster system, heritage and cultural traditions. Nor will the predictable arguments of radical nationalists impress young Australians, who have rediscovered the Anzac tradition in a way that has surprised their parents, who were reared on the cynicism of the One Day of the Year and the teachings of left-wing historians in the 1970s. For them, William and Catherine are people to admire and respect.

It is almost half a century since Donald Horne wrote about the inevitability of a republic, a concept heavily promoted by the old Bulletin magazine late in the 19th century. Horne and others recognised one of the biggest threats to the monarchy would be its possible degeneration into nothing more than a celebrity cult or, in modern terms, a soap opera. Such a fate seemed imaginable with the crumbling of the first marriage of the Prince of Wales and that of his brother, the Duke of York. But the stoicism of the Queen following her "annus horribilis" has shown that it is so much more. The stability afforded by constitutional monarchy was emphasised on Friday in the abbey that has served as the Coronation church since 1066.

Being discerning and independent, Australians would eagerly oppose the monarchy if they saw it eroding the robustness of our democracy. After voting down the 1999 republican referendum in all states, people will need more convincing, and a much better model, before they revisit the issue. Given the resistance of the monarchy to fall in with predictions of its demise, only a brave person would predict when Australia might become a republic, which this newspaper believes is our destiny. In the meantime, in the absence of an Australian head of state, Prince William has the makings of a good substitute.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

GOVERNMENT BY THE BOOK

CIRCUMSTANCES surrounding the issue of eligibility of a new MP deemed unable to work before the March state election are more troubling than the O'Farrell government wants us to believe.

John Flowers, a former teacher, had been on a disability pension for about 14 years when he won the seat of Rockdale for the Liberals. Under the law, he could not be in receipt of two government incomes simultaneously and participate in parliamentary votes. It was beholden on Flowers to surrender his pension before the election, as is required, for instance, of public servants standing for office. There was no option to seek a moratorium on his pension payments. He was on the disability pension, and therefore ineligible for parliamentary office, or the pension was cancelled.

That rule stood for nearly 100 years. It was disingenuous of the Finance Minister, Greg Pearce, therefore, to try to bury the issue as an "unforeseen situation … sparked by an anomaly" in the law. It raises questions about the professionalism of a political machine, for example, in vetting its candidates to ensure t's are crossed and i's are dotted. It tarnishes the government's claim to a new textbook of transparency and accountability in state politics.

Flowers failed to explain how he was unfit for work for so long but is ready and able to serve as an MP. And the government seems willing to allow him to maintain his silence, even though the public is abundantly entitled to an explanation. As valid as that explanation might be, Flowers's written statement that he was "pleased the matter is now closed" only adds to the intrigue.

So what came of this mess? The government says it was approached by the State Superannuation Board to approve rule changes that would allow Flowers to suspend - rather than cancel - his pension while an MP. That presumably means that once Flowers ceases being an MP, he may again be unfit to hold a job.

Flowers is now able to continue as an MP. A byelection in Rockdale will be unnecessary. But it should not have got to that point. The Liberals wrested all sorts of traditionally Labor seats - including Rockdale. That is no excuse for sloppiness in vetting candidates but it helps explain it.

The government is new and the challenges ahead large. If there is a time for error, this is it. But it will learn public tolerance for cleaning up messes by changing the rules will quickly evaporate.

 


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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

TOWARDS ADVICE WITHOUT KICKBACKS

COMPLAINTS from financial advisers about the new regulations for their profession - that the cost of their services to clients will be pushed up - were predictable. They are unlikely to sway public opinion given the string of investment disasters that have underlined the fact that bad or conflicted advice can be more than costly - it can be ruinous.

Take the collapse of Storm Financial in 2009, which left some 14,000 investors owing a total of $3 billion debt, stripping many ordinary Australians of their homes, their life savings or retirement nest eggs. Or the Opes Prime billion-dollar bust or the $300 million Westpoint property group failure.

Financial planners might dress in suits like accountants, but in some cases that is where the similarity ends. The financial planning industry in Australia has been poorly regulated, which means too many of its advisers are underqualified and, at times, compromised in their advice. That is why the federal government's package to promote transparency and professionalism, and to insist the client's interests come first, is welcome and overdue.

Some 16,000 people in Australia call themselves financial planners and, as such, offer advice to investors. But, unlike accountants, they are not required to have tertiary qualifications; some have undergone as little as the minimum eight days' training required to qualify for a licence. A separate review of education levels in the industry has led to a proposed national competency exam and one year of supervision for new entrants into the financial planning industry, another important move to engender trust.

For decades financial planners have been able to push commission-based products on to unwitting clients in the guise of objective advice. Under the new package of controls, commissions paid by banks and insurers to advisers selling their products will be eliminated entirely and clients will have to actively "opt in" by signing a new contract every two years. The cost of financial advice, then, will be borne solely by the consumer. Naturally, upfront fees will rise, but so will confidence in the industry once people are certain they are not being steered towards high-cost superannuation or dubious investments.

A late inclusion in the reform package is a ban on commissions on life insurance policies sold as part of superannuation packages. This is a double-edged sword. The packaging of life insurance with super undoubtedly encourages the take-up of policies, and Australians are already underinsured. However, the principle is sound.

The next challenge for the government is to finesse the reforms through Parliament. This should not be an opportunity for the Coalition to dissent for the sake of dissent; it is in everyone's interests to build professionalism and confidence in an industry tainted by a minority of "cowboy" operators.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

SWANSTON STREET ON A LONG ROAD TO REDEMPTION

BROADER PROBLEMS MUST BE SOLVED TO FIX THIS CBD ARTERY.

TWENTY years is a long time to experiment with one of Melbourne's most important streets. The management of Swanston Street since it was first closed to traffic in March 1992 has not been a success. Yet Melbourne cannot allow such a key thoroughfare to endure as one of the CBD's planning failures. Lord mayor Robert Doyle was not the first to come to office vowing to open up Swanston Street to more traffic. To his credit, he changed his mind and the $25.6 million redesign starting this month may yet make the experiment work.

From the beginning, The Age supported closing the street to road traffic, at least two-thirds of which used it as a thoroughfare to destinations outside the CBD. The daily traffic volume of 12,500 in 1992 has surged to 60,000 since its 1999 re-opening to traffic between 7pm and 7am. That decision, just two years after then lord mayor Ivan Deveson had declared the matter closed, put paid to the vision of a ''European-style concourse'' lined with inviting shops and cafes, trees and green areas. Traffic snarls, fumes and noise condemned Swanston Street, as this newspaper had warned in 1997, to being a ''dreary and hostile traffic artery''.

Of course, that was not the goal of Cr Doyle and the lord mayor at the time of the 1999 re-opening, Peter Costigan. They were concerned that the experiment had failed, that retailers were struggling and that much of the street was home to a motley, even tacky, assortment of discount shops and fast-food outlets. Ever-increasing traffic congestion created pressure to open up the north-south route.

However, as Cr Doyle has come to recognise, ''no city in the world wants to bring more and more cars into its heart''. This would be simply incompatible with making Swanston Street ''the street we should be proud of as our civic street''. With landmarks such as the Town Hall, St Paul's Cathedral, the State Library, Flinders Street Station and Federation Square, the street deserves better.

The lesson of the past 20 years, though, is that the problems of Swanston Street cannot be fixed in isolation. Every decision on traffic flows on through the Hoddle Grid. A holistic approach to this part of the CBD, including Bourke Street mall, is essential.

In a 1996 call to ''let our vision be broad and bold'', The Age observed: ''What we need with Swanston Walk, therefore, are not superficial solutions, such as adding or subtracting cars to the daily traffic mix, but bold city-wide planning.'' That has been lacking, most notably in public transport. Also lacking was the support for the planning vision that only public input could generate. Overcoming these failings must be the starting point for transforming Swanston Street into a desirable destination, rather than a route to somewhere else.

All rail and tram lines lead to the CBD, so the solution to traffic congestion is at hand. That depends on the government showing the political and financial commitment to ensure public transport offers the reliability, comfort and capacity to ease pressure on the roads. Along Swanston Street itself, tram travel times improved markedly after the 1992 closure and the provision of a dedicated bicycle lane along a road that serves both Melbourne and RMIT universities is long overdue.

New, sunny lighting should also make for a safer, more attractive street for pedestrians and cyclists. A desirable mix of shops, restaurants and leisure areas still cannot be imposed; the street needs to become a relaxing place that encourages people to linger, thus attracting better retailers and services.

The plan being implemented over the next three years was favoured by more than half the 5000 respondents to seven plans released for comment. The public welcomed the latest vision of what Swanston Street could be. In our view, the street should highlight the best of the contemporary character of Melbourne, rather than slavishly mimic a European boulevard. The challenge, as ever, is to see the vision through to a living reality.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

WHAT THE INTERVENTION FAILED TO DO

IN JUNE 2007 the then chief minister of the Northern Territory, Clare Martin, released the report Little Children Are Sacred, in which the authors, Rex Wild, QC, and an Alyawerre woman, Pat Anderson, detailed shocking child abuse in indigenous communities. The report portrayed many communities as near total breakdown, with alcohol, pornography, family violence and sexual assault combining to blight the lives of their youngest and most vulnerable members.

The revelations prompted the Howard government to begin the Northern Territory Emergency Response, which has since been known simply as the intervention. The government's action was controversial from the outset, receiving both strong support and bitter opposition from indigenous Territorians. Those divisions continue over the revised form of the intervention that has been maintained by the Rudd and Gillard governments.

The intervention's earliest critics were the authors of Little Children Are Sacred, who said that its measures were not what they had called for. Mr Wild said that the Howard government had ignored the report's first recommendation, which was that solutions not be imposed from above, without consultation. Ms Anderson complained that the intervention was a ''pre-election stunt'' that did not address ''any, not one, of the recommendations of our enquiry''. Four years later, opponents of the intervention argue that, in essence, little has changed, despite the restoration of the Racial Discrimination Act, which had been suspended to allow some of the intervention's tough measures, such as compulsory income management so that welfare payments can only be spent on food and household items, not on alcohol or pornography. This measure still applies, but cannot be directed at indigenous people only. In theory at least, it now applies to any Territorian on welfare.

Where there is a clear threat to the well-being of children, compulsory management of income to restrict the availability of alcohol and pornography can surely be justified. Many Territorians say that they sleep more securely because of it, and the families are no longer short of food. But the measure is no less paternalistic for that, and those directing any continuation of the intervention - an unhelpful term - could diminish its paternalist overtones if they heed the advice of Little Children Are Sacred's authors and consult communities first. The same applies to seizures of indigenous land, which, even though temporary, scarcely comply with the spirit of the Racial Discrimination Act.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

NORTH SEA TAXES: THE FIGHT TURNS NASTY

Sudden lurches in tax policy just make life harder for businesses and deprive measures of vital oversight and consultation

Six weeks ago, George Osborne picked a fight with gas companies. Yesterday, it escalated several notches – and is likely to turn really nasty before the end of summer. The chancellor will not emerge unscathed from this battle.

Ever since his March budget, Mr Osborne has come under attack from energy businesses furious at his imposition of a £2bn windfall tax on North Sea profits. Shell has estimated that the hike will cost it about $600m; Chevron and BP have complained too. Representatives from the oil and gas industry have been assiduously lobbying ministers and the press. But yesterday, things moved beyond whining and whispers. The company that owns British Gas, Centrica, announced it would close down Britain's biggest gas field, in Morecambe Bay, for routine maintenance – and that production might not be restarted. Centrica claims that the rise in tax on North Sea profits, to 32% from 12%, means that reopening the field may be uneconomical. It estimates that its older South Morecambe field is taxed at 81p for every pound brought in. Hostilities are unlikely to stop there: representatives from the oil and gas industry give evidence to the energy select committee this Wednesday and will in all probability attack both the tax rise and energy secretary, Chris Huhne – just before he turns up to speak to the panel of MPs. And over the longer run, industry observers forecast that other offshore explorers will also mothball their facilities.

Chancellors should generally avoid launching big tax changes overnight. Sudden lurches in tax policy just make life harder for businesses and deprive measures of vital oversight and consultation. This isn't just this paper's view, but apparently also that of Mr Osborne, who in 2007 blasted Gordon Brown for a "short-term focus on squeezing the maximum amount of revenue" out of the North Sea and so chasing away private investment. Now in No 11, the Conservative chancellor has learned what his predecessors also knew: that taxes on "profiteering" energy companies and highly paid bankers are the most politically acceptable revenue raisers. While it may be good politics, it also looks hypocritical. Nor does the government's appointment last December of Centrica boss Sam Laidlaw to a non-executive directorship in Whitehall look so clever.

On North Sea tax, Mr Osborne and other ministers do not have a totally watertight case. That said, companies are obliged to pay their tax bills even when they are sharply higher. After all, if a family decided to send back its gas bill because it was far higher than the last one, British Gas has the option to come down on them like a ton of bricks. Exactly the same principle applies here.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

WOMEN IN POLITICS: PROGRESSIVE DECLINE

What seemed signed and sealed 10 years ago now appears to be a chimera that fractured a progressive coalition

This week could and should have marked a transformation in the politics of the United Kingdom. The elections to English councils, to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies, and above all the AV vote, taken together, add up to a Super Thursday. It should also have been the moment when it became clear that women belonged at the heart of devolved politics. It could have been a truly progressive moment. The souring of the promise of electoral reform, and the probable demolition of a new politics, have many different sources – but both warn of the daunting conservatism of British political culture and its institutions.

Hope is not entirely dead. If everyone who wants political change turns out to support AV on Thursday, the bookies now raking in the cash for a no vote could yet have an expensive night. There is no such prospect for gender balance in Wales and Scotland. What seemed signed and sealed 10 years ago now appears to be a chimera that, with the premature belief that it was won, fractured the progressive coalition which had fought for the cause. Last month research for the Guardian confirmed what the Hansard Society had already anticipated, that less than a third of candidates were female. In Scotland, all five of the Labour women constituency MSPs who are retiring have been replaced by men, and if the very male SNP does as well as the polls suggest then the number of women in Edinburgh's parliament will tumble to a new low. As in Scotland, so in Wales, even though in 2003 half of its assembly members were women – setting a world record. So much for the idea that with critical mass comes change that cannot be undone.

Experience in Scotland and Wales has revealed an ineluctable reassertion of the values of the old politics, where conflict and confrontation are scored above compromise and conciliation, and reporting is too often about style and not often enough about substance. And then there is the relentless day-and-night news agenda, the morale-sapping personal scrutiny and the basic level of political debate in which, at Westminster, "calm down, dear" can be hailed as a side-splitting example of Commons repartee.

Into this traditional political culture, in the words of the Edinburgh academic Fiona Mackay, the new politics was temporarily "nested" – and found to be more or less defenceless. For this is a culture so robust that not even the glorious new buildings , with their non-confrontational, hemispheric debating chambers, nor their soft architecture of family-friendly working and gender-balanced electoral systems, have been able to survive its corrosive embrace. Worse, the effort to institutionalise reform – through, for example, all-women shortlists – merely set up a headline-grabbing backlash that in 2005 cost Labour Blaenau Gwent for the parliament.

Electoral politics merely reflects the wider world. The apparent triumph of education that sees slightly more girls than boys go to university, train as doctors and qualify as lawyers is immediately undermined at work, where the culture into which they graduate can be reflected in the sentiments of Simon Murray, the Glencore chairman, who claimed last week that women just don't try hard enough to get to the top.

But constitutional and cultural conservatism does not only hold back women. Black and minority ethnic groups are at least as disadvantaged by it. It excludes difference, whether of class or creed or colour. This is the big lesson from the reverse in electoral politics' gender wars: advance was achieved not by women alone but by a progressive coalition, and it is undermined the moment that progressive coalition fades. Meanwhile, electoral reform has not even had a clear run at building a progressive coalition. The decline of women in the political heartlands is the miner's canary: a symptom of an even graver failure of progressive politics.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … THE IRISH WRITERS' CENTRE

Among the locations the Queen will visit during her tour of the Irish Republic will be the Dublin's Garden of Remembrance

Among the various locations the Queen will visit during her historic tour of the Irish Republic this month will be the Garden of Remembrance just north of Dublin's O'Connell Street. Amid the pomp and ceremony, and the inevitable tight security, she might care to glance to the right of the memorial dedicated to Irish republicanism's fallen. Directly overlooking the gardens is a four-storey Georgian building that has become a powerhouse of literary creativity. Next door to the Dublin Writers Museum, which commemorates the dead scribes of the country's literary pantheon, is the Irish Writers' Centre, a place that concerns itself with encouraging the living. Founded in 1991 and staffed entirely by volunteers, it stages readings by Nobel laureates such as Seamus Heaney and workshops for would-be poets and novelists. Six days out of seven its doors remain open to readers and writers who are offered free tea, coffee and Wi-Fi as well as a vast range of books. The centre just survived Ireland's recent bouts of brutal spending cuts – apposite given that Dublin recently (and rather belatedly) became a Unesco City of Literature. It also embodies that sense of voluntary public service which long preceded David Cameron's "big society". The Irish Writers' Centre should now become a must-stop part of any culture tour around Dublin. Perhaps Queen Elizabeth could start the tourist trend with a quick nip over to 19 Parnell Square to see a real live literary hothouse in action.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PUSHING ELECTRIC CARS

Carmakers in Japan, the United States, China and South Korea have become serious about mass production of electric cars. Japanese makers are on the leading edge in technologies for motors, high-quality and high-capacity batteries, and electronic control parts.

It is hoped that they will widen their lead and help spread the use of electric cars, although power shortages caused by the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis since the March 11 earthquake is a negative factor.

As many countries strengthen regulations for automobile emissions, electric car manufacturing can become an important eco-friendly industry. But sales of electric cars are expected to increase only at a gradual pace since their prices are still high compared with ordinary cars.

The distance such cars can cover with one recharge is not long while rapid-recharge stations are few in number.

It will be imperative that both the government and the private sector improve infrastructure for electric cars. If crude oil prices remain high, electric cars will be able to compete with ordinary cars on an equal footing. Cheaper night-time electricity bills can make the energy cost of electric cars cheaper than that for ordinary cars.

Since the structure of electric cars is simpler than that of ordinary cars, it will be easy for companies from other fields to enter the business of manufacturing electric cars. There is the possibility, for example, that former subcontractors for large carmakers will enter the new field.

Nissan started selling the five-seat electric hatchback Leaf in December. It has a plan to produce 50,000 units of the car in fiscal 2011.

Other carmakers are also making efforts. In April 2010, Mitsubishi started selling the i MiEV electric cars to individuals. Until then, the cars were sold only to corporate users.

Toyota plans to start selling the iQ microcar in Japan, the United States and Europe and Honda both a plugged-in hybrid car and an electric car in Japan and the United States in 2012.

Mazda plans to start leasing an electric car based on its Demio subcompact to firms and local governments in the spring of 2012.

China and South Korea are strengthening government supportive measures for electric car makers. Japan should take necessary steps to enable Japanese makers to retain their competitive edge.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

DIET AND DISASTER

Both houses of the Diet held extensive deliberations on the March 11 earthquake and tsunami last week. Some lawmakers mixed questions related to measures for coping with the aftermath of the disasters with either an attack on Prime Minister Naoto Kan's performance or a call for him to resign.

This kind of approach could be counterproductive and raise the suspicion that they are pursuing partisan interests.

Now is the time for both government leaders and lawmakers to rack their brains together to work out the best possible measures to help victims of the disasters, push the reconstruction of the country and end the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

A Democratic Party of Japan member reported the hardships of people in the affected areas and pointed out that the construction of temporary housing is slow. He also called for government assistance for work to remove debris in those areas.

A Liberal Democratic Party member first asked about the progress of the temporary housing construction, government assistance for disaster sufferers who have debts or have to repay housing loans, and measures to help disaster victims get income. But he started attacking Mr. Kan on the basis of rather weak evidence, such as a media report that when Mr. Kan visited a school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, he instructed his aide to have a large number of evacuees gather around him.

A Komeito member first called for a special measure for medium-size and small firms affected by the disasters and simplification of procedures related to the foster parents system for children who lost their parents in the disasters. But he then took up the issue of the recent low approval rating of the Kan Cabinet, accusing Mr. Kan of showing insensitivity to people's feelings and calling on him to resign.

Although people's frustration is mounting over the slowness of the government's post-disaster actions, just attacking Mr. Kan will not produce desirable results.

He must strictly examine what he has done. But lawmakers have the responsibility of making politics responsive to the needs of both disaster sufferers and the country as a whole.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

LIMITS TO BLOCKING TYRANNY

BY HUGH CORTAZZI

Special to The Japan Times

LONDON — When and how far should the rest of the world interfere in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries? Can we and should we try to stop repression by tyrannical rulers?

And what are the implications of unrest in the Arab world for autocracies such as China? These are fair questions, but there are no easy answers to any of them.

Libya has remained the main focus of attention. The United Nations resolution calling for all steps to secure the safety of the civilian population and the establishment of a no-fly zone came just in time to save the opposition forces based on Benghazi from defeat and a massacre of the population there, but it has not so far led to the defeat of Moammar Gadhafi's forces. The fighting in the town of Misurata has been fierce.

Snipers and illegal cluster bombs have led to numerous civilian casualties, and refugees from the city have only been able to escape by sea. The limitations of air power in dealing with ground forces in close combat municipal areas have been demonstrated.

The Libyan conflict has been going on for too long and there are real fears of a stalemate in the current civil war. The opposition needs supplies and money. The Gadhafi regime in Tripoli, despite sanctions and air strikes on military targets, seems prepared for a long drawn out struggle. In the meantime the Libyan population suffers privation and the Libyan economy, deprived of immigrant labour, will stagnate.

U.S. British and French leaders have called for the ousting of Gadhafi. An utterly ruthless leader, able to recruit mercenaries from other parts of Africa, Gadhafi knows that the opposition, which has limited firepower, cannot retaliate in kind. He has been accused of war crimes and he should surely face the international criminal court one day if he escapes alive from Libya. African attempts to mediate were rebuffed by the opposition, which treats offers and promises from his regime with the contempt they deserve after his many deceits and lies.

Gadhafi has no friends in the Arab world, and even his few remaining African friends, such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, may now be reluctant to offer him sanctuary.

Regime change is surely needed if Libya is to resume normal relations with other countries but how is it to be achieved?

The U.N. resolution on Libya precluded any kind of occupying force.

Assistance to the opposition is not forbidden, but stretching the resolution too far to allow more than a handful of military advisers to be sent to Benghazi could exacerbate strains within NATO, which has assumed responsibility for implementing the resolution.

A new resolution to allow more active intervention might fail to win a majority in the U.N. Security Council and could even attract a veto from China or/and Russia.

Within NATO Germany, which abstained on the U.N. resolution, is not taking part in the operations,while Italy and Spain have not been prepared to allow their combat aircraft to take part in the operations over Libya.

Turkey has shown disquiet, and the continuing support of Arab countries for the Libyan opposition has hardly been enthusiastic, despite Gadhafi's unpopularity with other Arab rulers. Difficult though this is, NATO must continue to seek a consensus that will increase pressure on Gadhafi and lead to his early removal from the Libyan scene.

Unrest in Syria has grown. The response of the autocratic Assad regime has been a mixture of concessions and repression. The size of demonstrators in Syrian cities including the capital Damascus has grown and the number of demonstrators killed and injured has greatly increased. The repressive policies of the regime have been condemned by the U.S. president and other leaders, but outside intervention is unlikely.

There is little sign of Arab support for the overthrow of the Syrian regime. Action by NATO would be impractical and would not in present circumstances be backed by member states.

In Bahrain, popular calls for greater democracy have been repressed following intervention by Saudi forces and abuse of human rights has continued. Western pressure on the Bahraini Princes has been sadly muted.

In Yemen, the President has apparently agreed reluctantly to stand down, but it is not clear that he will in fact do so and the situation there remains unstable.

In Egypt, constitutional amendments have been approved, and former President Hosni Mubarak and his sons have been arrested. Some progress toward democracy seems to have been made. Much the same can be said of Tunisia where the first revolt began.

In Iran discontent remains rife, but the theocratic regime is not currently under threat.

Chinese authorities have done their best not only to prevent news of turmoil in the Middle East being reported, but have also significantly tightened the screws to suppress any signs of discontent. The arrest of the popular and internationally well-known eccentric artist Ai Wei-wei and of Christians attending churches which have not been recognized by the authorities suggest that hardliners have grasped the reins and lost their sense of proportion.

Supporters of democratic institutions and of human rights face real dilemmas. Our media are free and it would not be possible even if it were desirable to suppress public declarations of support for democratic forces.

Criticism by Western leaders may be used as an excuse for even harsher measures being taken against dissidents and may result in reprisals against our commercial interests. But if we sacrifice our principles and take hypocritical positions, we shall rightly be accused of double standards.

We should back democratic protest and condemn repression wherever it takes place. We should ostracize leaders involved in repression and, where possible, take steps to freeze the assets of tyrants and consider the effectiveness of other sanctions. The use of force against tyranny must be a last resort and only used when authorized by the United Nations.

Hugh Cortazzi, a former British career diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA PROTECTS KAZAKHSTAN STAKE

BY HARSH V. PANT

LONDON — Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Kazakhstan last month is a reminder of the Central Asian stakes for Indian foreign policy.

While Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev needed legitimacy for his re-election victory that has been criticized in Western capitals, for New Delhi there are real issues in that part of the world that concern its national security and economic growth.

Not surprisingly, the two main areas that were given serious consideration were the civilian nuclear cooperation pact and the situation in Afghanistan. New Delhi and Astana signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement, which provides a legal framework for cooperation in this field including fuel supply, joint mining of uranium, reactor safety mechanisms and construction and operation of nuclear power plants.

Nazarbayev also affirmed that his nation is on course to fulfill its commitment of supplying 2100 tons of uranium to India by 2014. On Afghanistan, the two sides agreed that "it was essential that renewed efforts were made to sufficiently build up the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces."

President Nazarbayev won overwhelming approval in the presidential election held in early April with more than 95.5 percent of the votes but the world community remained unimpressed. The elections were widely considered a sham as an absence of opposition candidates and a vibrant political discourse had resulted in a non-competitive electoral environment in the country.

Nazarbayev's domination has been so complete that no serious political competition has been able to emerge and yet much of the population reveres him, as he is credited with keeping Kazakhstan protected from the turmoil that has roiled otherCentral Asian nations such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Manmohan's visit to Astana gave Nazarbayev a much needed opportunity to showcase his international acceptability as the leader of a strategically vital state in Central Asia.

Major powers have competed for power and influence in Central Asia since the 19th century and that "Great Game" seems to be back with a bang.

The importance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that has evolved into a forum for discussion on regional security and economic issues cannot be overstated in this context. It has become even more important post-9/11, because growing ethnic nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism is a major cause of concern for Russia, China and Central Asian states.

Russia and China have been successful in using the strong aversion of the United States to terrorism since 9/11 for their own ends to tackle Islamic insurgency within their territories.

In the post-9/11 environment, the SCO serves as a means to keep control of Central Asia and limit U.S. influence in the region. In fact, the SCO denounced the misuse of antiterror war to target any country and threw its weight behind the U.N. in an attempt to show its disagreement with the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

India's growing interests in Central Asia are well-recognized. There is a growing convergence between U.S. and Indian interests, especially their reluctance to see the region fall under the exclusive influence of Russia or China.

India was worried in the 1990s when Russian influence in Central Asia weakened substantially with a commensurate rise in Chinese influence. This negatively impacted Indian threat perceptions, which stabilized only after the growing U.S. presence in the region since 2001.

India views itself as a stabilizer and security provider in the region and with its growing economic clout, an attractive economic power for region state. India's interest in securing reliable energy supplies and trade through Central Asia remains substantial.

There is a seamless logical web from the objective of ensuring Central Asian stability and India's voice there to the conclusion that India must also ensure reliable energy access to oil and gas sources originating in Central Asia.

The requirements of energy security also postulate a continuing positive relationship with Moscow — even had the past 60 years not been one of unbroken friendship — and friendly ties to all the Central Asian states. India must create firm ties among the energy-exporting states of Central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and, if possible,Turkmenistan.

It should be no surprise then that India's ties with the regional states are growing. Moreover, the imperatives of getting Afghanistan right are stronger than ever today when the situation is rapidly deteriorating.

India opened its air base in Ayni, Tajikistan, in 2002 to guard against growing instability in the region, though nothing much has happened on that front for a long time. India's ties with regional states are growing and moderate Islam of the region makes it imperative for India to engage the region more substantively.

Other powers, barring China, have recognized this reality and have sought to harness India toward achieving common goals. Russia, for example, supports Indian membership in the SCO and has talked about the possibility of India participating in the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

A great power competition in Central Asia will make it harder for India to pursue its interests in Central Asia. As such, it becomes imperative for Indian diplomacy to work toward major power cooperation to bring some measure of stability to Afghanistan as well as the larger Central Asian region.

The Indian prime minister has made a start by bringing Kazakhstan back on India's diplomatic radar. It remains to be seen whether New Delhi can harness its growing profile in the region to its diplomatic advantage.

Harsh V. Pant teaches at King's College, London.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

RECRUITING THE BEST MINDS

This year's commemoration of National Education Day, which falls today, will essentially be a repeat of such events in the past, unless there are key strategic policies promoted to upgrade the country's education system, particularly its end products – the students.

It is important to note that the government has taken significant measures to ensure that Indonesians of low-income-bracket families have relatively equal opportunities to attend state universities. One of these measures is a national education ministerial decree that requires state universities to accept more high-school graduates taking the open nationwide university entrance test system (SNMPTN), and fewer high-school graduates taking the limited university admission system (Mandiri or invitation).

That excludes the initiatives taken by both the government and the private sectors to provide scholarships to poor but eligible students to continue their studies at all levels of education, including university.

However, such measures are not enough, especially when we do a cost-benefit analysis of the existing system.

The current system does help provide students with equal opportunities to get proper education, but it is still unable to develop their academic potential, let alone compete with counterparts from more advanced countries in this globalized era.

The government's decision, with the approval of the House of Representatives, to have the budget for the education sector increased to Rp 250 trillion this year, or 20.2 percent of the 2011 state budget -  a significant hike from Rp 225 trillion the previous year — will remain meaningless unless the money is put to the best possible use to help increase the quality of our students.

There are a lot of measures that we need to take to reach the target of producing quality Indonesian students. But the most important thing to do perhaps is to start recruiting the country's best minds, for example screening the top 20 to 30 best graduates from top universities nationwide to be groomed as teachers. Having highly intelligent teachers should produce high-quality students.

That will bring consequences of increasing the budget of the education sector in the future. But the increased expenditure is not comparable to the potential products — quality Indonesian students who are on par with those of advanced countries.

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

DANCING WITH ANOTHER GIANT

About three months ago, Indonesia and India held a summit in New Delhi where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also witnessed the signing of US$15 billion in new investment commitments by Indian companies in the development of natural resources and basic infrastructure in Indonesia.

During Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's visit to Jakarta over the weekend, Chinese companies also signed almost a dozen agreements committing over $15 billion in new loans and investments in Indonesia's infrastructure and natural resource development.

It was encouraging to note that despite the noisy protests by Indonesian manufacturers and farmers over the last few weeks against the flood of Chinese goods in the domestic market since January 2010, the launching of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) did not divert the attention of Indonesia's government and business leaders from the long-term, broader benefits of expanded bilateral economic cooperation.

Bilateral trade has expanded in leaps and bounds over the past five years to almost $40 billion last year, although Indonesia has faced a widening deficit. But, we think this is only temporary as the country has yet to improve its economic efficiency and competitiveness through massive infrastructure development and bureaucratic reforms.

As a member of the prestigious Group of 20 major economies (G20) together with China and India, it would look immature and capricious for Indonesia to ask for a renegotiation of regional trade pacts like ACFTA because of our widening trade deficit.

The agreement was not a bilateral deal between Indonesia and China, but also involved nine other ASEAN members. Moreover, the primary cause of the imbalance is our gross economic inefficiency and uncompetitiveness.

If imports from China caused severe disruptions in the domestic market, Indonesia could still resort to safeguard measures allowed by the Geneva-based World Trade Organization like anti-dumping and countervailing actions.

More important is for both countries to increase the depth and breadth of their economic linkages through investment, which is the best vehicle for the transfer of expertise, technology and the development of global market networks.

Indonesia has enjoyed many benefits from the booming Chinese economy. The persistently high prices of our major commodities like palm oil, rubber, cocoa, coal and other minerals while the demand from rich countries has fallen should be attributed to the robust demand in China.


Hence, China's lending and investment commitments to infrastructure development are rather strategic because it is poor and inadequate infrastructure that has long been the main cause of Indonesia's economic inefficiency and uncompetitiveness.

But, the devil is in the technical details. The implementation of Chinese loan and investment commitments will still depend on the ground preparations and regulatory framework already in place in Indonesia itself.

This requires a lot of homework on the part of the government, especially with regard to inter-ministerial coordination.

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

GAS-POWERED TRANSPORTATION: WHY IS IT MOVING SO SLOWLY?

HANAN NUGROHO

Why does Indonesia — a long-time gas-exporting country — not use gas to fuel its transportation system? Gas is cleaner, cheaper, and it burns more efficiently than gasoline/diesel fuels. While we are experiencing the severe oil-subsidy problem, why don't we utilize our gas in vast amounts as a substitute for oil in our transportation?

The question is asked frequently when oil prices increase and the government is busy finding responses to the price hikes.

The use of gas to fuel transportation vehicles is practiced widely in Pakistan, India, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia. Worldwide, there were 11.2 million natural gas vehicles (NGV) by 2009, led by Pakistan (2.4 million), Argentina (1.8 million), Iran (1.7 million), Brazil (1.6 million) and India (0.8 million). Pakistan, the world leader, is currently operating about 3,000 CNG (compressed natural gas) refueling stations.

Indonesia is already using gas for some transportation, actually. We started promoting CNG for public transportation in 1987. However, in contrast to NGV and CNG refueling stations that have been installed in Pakistan, India and many other countries, our operating CNG refueling stations currently only number about 10, while our vehicles running on CNG are less than 1,000.

There are two categories of gas used to fuel vehicles. The first most common is CNG, which is made by compressing natural gas (consists mostly of methane) to less than 1 percent of the volume it occupies at standard atmospheric pressure.

The other kind is liquefied gas, which could be based on either LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) or LNG (liquefied natural gas).

LPG cars (vehicles using LGV: liquefied gas for vehicles, which is based on LPG) are popular in India and can be found in Japan, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and France. LNG vehicles are driven in LNG-importing countries such Japan and South Korea.

In Indonesia, CNG was endorsed by the government's launching of the Blue Sky program in 1996. Following the endorsement, the total number of refueling stations reached 30 units in the Jakarta area, Medan, Palembang, Surabaya and Denpasar. Unfortunately, due to several factors, that number has been decreasing. Currently, the CNG (known locally as BBG) is utilized to fuel Jakarta's bus fleet and a number of taxis.

LGV has also been introduced in recent years by Pertamina using Vigas as its trademark. Vigas is sold sparingly in Jakarta. So far, Indonesia has not brought in LNG as vehicle fuel.

While many other countries are promoting "gas for transport" (including by those having no gas reserves in their territories), the question becomes why a similar program is not working well in Indonesia?

The major reason is that pricing is not being set correctly.

When BBG/CNG was introduced, economic price was considered unimportant. The volume of gas delivered was small while the company was in a strong financial position.

In addition, the company promoting the program was playing additional roles as a regulator and a government representative. The BBG/CNG was priced at discount rates.

The situation is far different since the Law on Oil and Gas was issued in 2001, forcing the company to work with a profit motive. While other customers (industry, electricity) demand larger volume and offer better prices, the transport sector is still asking for "old, low" prices. Beyond all questions, this makes the gas company reluctant to produce and deliver/transport the gas.

One reason is the pricing factor. The government still keeps prices for gasoline and diesel oil low, reducing the incentives to shift to gas. This is in contrast with, for example India, which gives zero subsidy to gasoline but about 40 percent to gas to boost its use.

Another reason is that shifting to gas will require investing in converter kits. Even though gas is cheaper and in the long term promises lower costs, the kit's high up-front cost hinders our existing gasoline/diesel users to move to gas. Due to very limited infrastructure, our private car owners are unwilling to switch to bi-fueled (gas and oil) engines.

So far, demand for gas in our transportation is not properly secured. There are government regulations (for instance, Governor of Jakarta's Regulation No. 141/2007) requiring public buses and taxis to use gas, but the regulation is not fully enforced. As for many other gas projects, non-secured demand prevents gas companies (producers and distributors) from delivering their gas.

Recently, the government has made progress, for example by issuing a ministerial regulation that sets quotas for gas producers to allocate the gas to meet the demand from transportation sector. Of course, this does not mean a guarantee for the gas-for-transportation program to work effectively.

Between gases in their fields and consumers needing them, infrastructure problems are spreading (piping and refueling stations, CNG mother-daughter stations, LGV storages, etc.). Is the gas price justifying the construction and operation of such infrastructures? Who is responsible for developing them, the government, upstream producers, distributors or the gas consumers? How do we effectively bridge the gap between production prices and the consumer's willingness to pay?

Answering these questions incompletely — as we still are — will further delay the success of our gas-for-transport program.

Learning from other countries, it is the government that triggers progress for gas-for-transportation. It is the government's comprehensive policies that secure demand, as through regulation or even mandated by energy/environment laws, and ensure that the gas will be supplied, as through a willingness to pay producers' prices. Also, the government should take an active role in developing infrastructure by direct involvement, readiness to finance or incentives provisions.

Government involvement, including assigning local manufacturers to produce converter kits and promoting the growth of local expertise, is extremely important before business to business sale and purchase agreements can replace it in the following stages.

Considering the three E-factors (energy, economy, environment), gas-for-transportation is a must for this country.

The writer is a senior energy planner and an economist with the National Development Planning Agency. The opinions expressed are his own.

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

THE FOURTH WAVE OF DEMOCRATIZATION

A. AGUS SRIYONO

During the last four months, the attention of the international community has been focused on political upheavals in North Africa and Middle East countries. It was started by the Jasmine revolution in Tunisia, populist anger in Egypt, followed by other nations in the regions.

After days of political uprisings, Tunisia and Egypt had been able to overcome the first phase of the crisis. The presidents of those countries were toppled by popular revolt. The two countries are now entering a crucial phase of general elections.

Other countries in the regions such as Yemen, Libya and Syria have been struggling to maintain
the status-quo by paying a high price in which many people have been killed.

The political uprisings in the region of North Africa and the Middle East were driven by at least two factors. First, the people in general were upset with the long-standing dictatorships. They demanded regime change. Second, they were keen to install democratic principles in their homelands, in particular individual freedoms and fair elections.

The idea of regime change is a manifestation of people's frustration with the authoritarian regimes. President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali had been in power for 23 years, and President Hosni Mubarak for 29 years.

The idea of upholding democracy is actually an antithesis of the existing corrupt and repressive governments. The social conditions such as poverty and social injustice have become triggers for political unrest.

From an institutional perspective, regime change happened because the old structures of government had having provided enough space to adapt themselves to the new dynamics of democracy. The old structures of power diametrically opposed the current values of democracy. When people demanded individual freedoms and fair elections, the authoritarian regimes were invariably against it.

Any regime changes affect the process of democratization in a particular country. Regime change theoretically opens a window of opportunity for democratization. However, the breakdown of an authoritarian regime does not always lead to a democratic outcome. If a country cannot materialize regime change then democracy will be only a dream.

So far, the current governments of Yemen, Libya and Syria have been successful in maintaining their power. In such situations, the military's role in maintaining power is of paramount importance. In many developing countries when the military or the security apparatus supported the government then it became difficult for the opposition to bring about a regime change. To the contrary, if the military supports the opposition there are opportunities for the opposition to establish a new government.

Tunisia and Egypt are now in the process of democratic transition. The resignations of President Ben Ali and President Mubarak have paved the way toward democratic transition.

In the meantime, the opposition parties in Yemen, Libya and Syria are still struggling to change the respective regimes before entering the phase of democratic transition.

If we use the theory of Samuel P. Huntington (The Third Wave, 1991), the current phenomena in North Africa and the Middle East might be classified as the fourth wave of democratization.

In Huntington's view, the first wave lasted for a century from about 1828 and saw some 33 countries establish "at least minimal national democratic institutions". This wave had its roots in the American and French revolutions.

Huntington's second wave of democratization began in 1943 and lasted until about 1962 and embraced many of the countries liberated at the end of the Second World War.

The third wave of democratization began in Portugal and Greece in 1974 and expanded to include Spain, Latin America, the former Soviet Union and East and Southeast Asia. The breakdown of the Soviet Union in 1991 symbolized the end of the third wave of democratization.

The fourth wave of democratization in North Africa and the Middle East was driven particularly by the younger generation who are familiar with information technology such us Twitter and Facebook. It is estimated that 60 percent of the total population in the regions are young people under the age of 30.

After changing regimes, the success of democratization then depends upon the ability of elites in respective countries to resolve the existing problems during the period of transition and consolidation of democracy. It is important to note that during these periods economic growth and welfare should be sustained to cultivate democracy.

There is a positive correlation between economic development and democracy. In Seymour Martin Lipset's words, "the more well-to-do a nation, the greater the chances that it will sustain democracy". (Some Social Requisites of Democracy, 1959).

If countries in North Africa and the Middle East fail to manage the transition and consolidation of democracy following political uprisings, as history teaches us, there is a possibility of a reverse wave emerging which will threaten democracy. Whether or not Tunisia and Egypt are able to become democratic states, we'll just have to wait and see.

The writer is Indonesian Ambassador to New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga. He is currently preparing a book, The Dynamics of Democratization in Developing Countries. This article represents the writer's personal view.

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

INDONESIA: RESILIENT GROWTH TO CONTINUE

ANOOP SINGH

Asia, with solid economic growth of 8.3 percent in 2010, continues to drive the global recovery. In the IMF's latest Asia and Pacific Economic Outlook, Asia is projected to grow by about 7 percent in both 2011 and 2012 fueled by robust domestic demand and rising exports.

Risks to the growth outlook have become more balanced now than last October, thanks to the strengthened prospects for sustained growth and reduced uncertainties of private domestic demand in advanced economies.

Meanwhile, new downside risks have arisen such as the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa region and the related risk of further spikes in oil prices, greater than expected spillovers from the earthquake-related tragedy in Japan, as well as the underlying fiscal and financial vulnerabilities in several advanced economies.

However, potential overheating pressures, in particular, a rise of inflation pressures are posing more domestic risks to the outlook in emerging Asia. Upward pressure on prices is expected to persist in 2011, before decelerating modestly in 2012 as global commodity prices stabilize and projected further efforts to tighten monetary policy in the region become effective.

Strong economic growth and overheating concerns imply that the need to tighten macroeconomic policy stances in Asia has become more pressing than it was six month ago. Chapter 2 of our Economic Outlook suggests that an effective tightening of the monetary policy stance in Asia will require higher short term interest rates. Exchange rate appreciation should also be a key line of defense to avoid overheating. In economies that still face large capital inflows, macro prudential measures can usefully complement monetary policy in addressing specific risks to financial stability.

Over the medium term, to sustain robust growth, Asia needs to continue efforts to rebalance growth toward private domestic demand. The Economic Outlook shows that intra-regional exports are a growing source of demand for many Asian economies. However, Asia still relies heavily on demand from the rest of world and has made only limited progress toward reducing external imbalances after the global financial crisis. Without further measures to strengthen domestic demand, the region's external imbalance would reemerge as the global economy recovers and demand from advanced economies picks up.

Indonesia has been one of the world's best performers during the global financial crisis. The economy continues to show resilience, expanding at a better than expected growth of 6.1 percent in 2010 driven by strong domestic demand and exports. Growth is projected to remain strong at 6.2−6.5 percent, mainly driven by buoyant domestic demand, especially a projected increase in investment.

However, inflation has picked up since late 2010 and is expected to be above the top of BI's target range of 5 percent +/−1 percent in 2011. Rising domestic food prices have been the main driver of inflation, but there is increasing evidence of spillover to core inflation. Bank Indonesia's recent decision to raise policy rate by 25 bps is a step in the right direction. Further monetary tightening will likely be necessary to contain rising inflation expectations and emerging general price pressures.

As in many other countries in emerging Asia, capital is expected to continue flowing into Indonesia in 2011 and 2012, attracted by its strong growth prospects and fueled by abundant global liquidity and risk appetite, but at a more moderate pace. Bank Indonesia (BI) has managed capital flow volatility relatively well using a combination of currency appreciation and reserve accumulation. Going forward, exchange rate flexibility will continue to serve as an important tool for managing the risks associated with volatile capital flows, as well as containing inflation.

The government has targeted GDP growth of around 7−8 percent after 2013, which would make Indonesia one of the world's ten largest economies by 2025. For Indonesia to achieve this goal it will need greater efforts to address long-standing constraints to growth. Supportive policies for infrastructure development, such as a more effective fiscal policy through improved budget execution would be crucial to this effort.

The IMF remains closely engaged with Indonesia. In January, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn visited Indonesia. Following his meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono he said it was "the foundation of rebuilding the new kind of relationship between the IMF and Asia in general, and Indonesia in particular."

In March, the IMF and the Indonesian government jointly held a conference in Bali entitled "Coping with Asia's Large Capital Inflows in a Multi-Speed Global Economy" to exchange views on the benefits of capital flows and how best to manage them. The one-day conference is part of the strengthened ongoing engagement between the IMF and Asian policymakers following the major IMF-sponsored conference in Daejeon, Korea, in July 2010, at which the Fund committed to cementing a new and mutually beneficial relationship with Asia. Indonesia will play an international role in this partnership.

The writer is Director, Asia and Pacific Department International Monetary Fund.

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

SAFER SCHOOLS PART OF QUALITY EDUCATION

IWAN GUNAWAN

"Quality education" has become the main buzzword in dialogue concerning Indonesia's current education system. Beginning with securing 20 percent of public spending through constitutional amendment, the education sector has made notable improvements by making education free for 9-year primary schooling.

Different funding programs have also been provided to allow schools to improve the quality of teachers, curriculum and teaching facilities. But how safe are our public school buildings in the face of potential structural collapse during natural phenomenon, such as an earthquake?

In the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake, 2,155 schools were heavily damaged while in the 2009 West Java and the 2009 West Sumatra earthquakes 2,287 and 1,013 schools were respectively destroyed. On average, damages to schools accounted for more than half of the collective impacts to social infrastructure (education, health, religious facilities) during the last seven major disasters, from the Aceh tsunami through the recent Merapi volcanic eruptions. The question remains; are the schools suffering such significant impacts because they are located in disaster-prone locations, or are they simply sub-standard?

Data from the National Education Ministry shows that in 2009, more than 142,000 schools were in need of major refurbishment or rebuilding. More than 317,000 classrooms across the country were also in run-down condition. Many of the school buildings, which were constructed during the "SD Inpres" (pioneer elementary school) era of the 1970s, are in an aged state and have lacked routine maintenance since they were first constructed.

This factor is on top of the fact that they were constructed in sub-standard fashion due to the massive corruption that prevailed under the scheme at that time. Many schools would have collapsed even without the earthquakes. Indonesia has been lucky that all of the above quakes occurred before or after school hours.

Unless something is quickly done to improve the safety and structural resilience of our school facilities, it seems to be only a matter of time before a regrettable event impacts our school children.

The Central Government through the National Education Ministry is planning to spend around Rp 11 trillion (over US$1.28 billion) this year through the Special Allocation Fund (DAK) to subsidize local government efforts to rehabilitate schools.

Although this massive spending is intended to rehabilitate the aging buildings, it actually presents a golden opportunity to strengthen the structure and to improve the security of schools in the face of common disasters such as earthquake, landslides or volcanic eruptions. The cost of putting stronger concrete columns and sheer wall and the widening exit doors so children can run unimpeded to safety are small items in the costs associated with standard renovations.

Current building standards in the country have taken into account potential earthquake risks. Implementation of this standard, however, through supervision and compliance during construction is generally weak, even for privately-owned buildings, and is even weaker for public buildings.

It is time that such large public resources entrusted to the Ministry of Education are spent wisely, not only to provide free education and improve the quality of teaching, but also to enhance the safety and resilience of our school infrastructure. The DAK fund that will be distributed to local governments this year have to be attached with a condition that it should be spent to ensure that the renovated schools can withstand the next earthquake. While supervision of civil works funded by DAK typically falls under the funding responsibility of local governments, it is important that this time school committees and independent engineers are involved in supervising the renovations.

It is common knowledge that local construction industry has become one of the main cash cows of local politicians. Therefore, it is best if the central government, with
the help of school committees and independent engineers, conduct direct supervision over the use of these funds.

We have been lucky that so far the number of deaths caused by collapsing school buildings during an earthquake have been relatively small. But for a country so vulnerable to natural disasters, earthquake resistant construction and the practice of safety in schools should be an integral part of raising the quality of Indonesian education.

The writer teaches regional development studies at the University of Indonesia, Bogor Institute of Agriculture and the National Defense University.

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

REREADING DEWANTARA'S VISION

SETIONO SUGIHARTO

It is interesting to note that apart from independence and equality for all people, the spirit of national education instilled by our forefathers such as Ki Hajar Dewantara, Moh. Hatta and Moh. Yamin shares very much with the dictum voiced by the founder of Berlin University, Wilhelm von Humbolt, that is, Lehrfreiheit (freedom in teaching) and Lernfreiheit (freedom in learning).

This freedom implies that both teachers and students have the full rights to adhere to their own beliefs and other beliefs they respect or value without being suppressed by outside forces, including the state.

More importantly, they have the authority — developed and then established through their experiences — to voice what they consider as a "truth". Our respect to this authority is tantamount to valuing the autonomy of the human mind, which goes to the very heart of the idea of liberatory education.

While it is normally the state (through the National Education Ministry) that has the authority to issue educational policies related to, for example, curriculum and assessment, the full participation of teachers, students, education practitioners and other related stakeholders in interrogating such policies is mandatory to ensure their usefulness and viability.

That is, all these parties have the authority to directly intervene in the policy-making process.  

This is indeed a plausible argument. Educational practice always operates under social contexts. Education specialist H.H. Stern affirms this by saying that education is a field of discipline always interrelated to sociology — hence the term educational sociology.

In this perspective, educational organizations such as schools are a representation of a society as they reflect the existing social structure.

Such a point of view, however, seems paradoxical as far as our educational context is concerned. On the one hand, education is perceived as a way of widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots, eventually creating the so called "elitist" education reserved only for the former. On the other hand, education is construed as a means of narrowing or eliminating social class or division and promoting equality among social groups, irrespective of socio-economic classes. Class barriers, it is argued, can only be broken down through educational activities.

Interestingly, the paradox also reflects many of the government's ambivalent educational policies. For example, attempts have been made to improve the quality of education through the establishment of elite local international-based standard schools that can be afforded only by the opulent. However, at the same time equal opportunity for education and access to gain from it has been realized through the building of schools and libraries mostly in remote and underprivileged regions.

While the latter's efforts should be lauded, the ambivalence stirs suspicion among the people as to whether or not the government is really committed to improving the system of education in this country.   

With the benefit of hindsight, the goal of national education once envisioned by R.M. Suwardi Suryaningrat, better known as Ki Hajar Dewantara, through his Taman Siswa (a social organization devoted to peoples' education) was to create equal access to education regardless of social classes and area of origin.

Ki Hajar believed that the spirit of nationalism and the struggle to maintain the nation's dignity and uplift prosperity could be best instilled through national education. Education was, after all, deemed
the beacon of hope for the young generation.   

We need to admit, however, that what we miss much from Ki Hajar's vision and philosophy of education is that education is a conduit for social transformation. It is a means of elevating national dignity and a resource for understanding and preserving civilization. It is a weapon against intellectual "colonialism".

Such vision is certainly germane with the present condition when hitherto the goal of national education seems uncertain. Amid the influx of competing educational models –most of which are foreign to us — we have become disoriented and have no clear "intellectual guidance" to follow.

It is therefore not surprising that most educational problems remain unaddressed and controversies over educational activities, such as national exams, curriculum change and teacher certification programs, continue unabated.

Tight state control over and excessive intervention in the practice of education seems to have tarnished the image of education as an activity of empowering citizens for the common good, as well for protecting them from the shackles of poverty.     

Ki Hajar's vision and philosophical educational outlook have been our indelible intellectual heritage, which has been proven to withstand the test of time.

All in all, inspired by this vision, we are able to reconstruct an alternative educational framework or model that fits our present and future educational needs.

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University. He is also chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching. The article is dedicated to National Education Day on May 2.

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

CHINA URGES IC NOT TO COMPLICATE LANKA ISSUE

 

May 01, 2011: China said Saturday that it believes the Sri Lankan government and people will handle properly problems conerning its civil war and urged the international community not to complicate the issue.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei made the remarks when asked to comment on a panel report on armed conflicts in Sri Lanka published by the United Nations on Monday.

Hong said in a statement that China has already noticed the publication of the report. He said Sri Lanka has already set up its own institutes to investigate relevant issues.

"The Chinese side is confident that the Sri Lankan government and people are able to properly address all relevant issues," Hong said.

He said China hopes that the international community could provide support and assistance to such efforts by the Sri Lankan government.

"We hope that the international community could help develop a favorable external environment for the Sri Lankan government to stabilize the country's internal situation and accelerate economic growth, and avoid taking measures that could further complicate the issue," Hong said.

Despite the opposition of Colombo, the United Nations(UN) Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka published a report on armed conflicts in the country on Monday. The report says that activities by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) and the government in the final months of Sri Lanka's civil war might amount to war crimes.

Sri Lanka's External Affairs Ministry said Wednesday that the UN panel report on the country is fundamentally flawed in many respects and has divisive influence to the country that has just concluded its decades old conflict.

Tens of thousands of civilians were killed in almost three decades of civil war that erupted in 1983 between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, who had launched a separatist insurgency fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east before they were defeated in 2009.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

NOT THAT ROYAL ELSEWHERE

BY IMAN KURDI

As I write Kate Middleton and Prince William have tied the knot. I wish them a happy life together but I have to confess to being a little bewildered by the scale of the excitement generated by a royal wedding.

 Of course, I was curious to see the only unknown in this ceremony - namely's Kate's dress - and I enjoyed the sheer theatre of it all, but I would have felt just the same had they married privately in front of family and friends in Windsor Chapel. I fail to comprehend why 600,000 people travelled to London to line the streets in the hope of getting a glimpse of the Royal couple. How can you feel so excited about the marriage of people you have never met?

Yet at the same time, I know it is indeed possible to feel strongly for someone you have never met. As our television screens fill with joyous images from London, I grieve for the families of those  who have been killed where television cameras are not allowed. I grieve for those killed or jailed in Syria, for those whose lives have been destroyed in Libya and for the mothers, wives and sisters who have lost loved ones all around the Middle East.

The so-called Arab Spring seems to have skipped straight to autumn and may soon turn into a hard winter. One particular image haunts me. It is an image from Syria. As an armoured vehicle is seen approaching on the road, young men lay down one by one blocking the road. They are literally laying their ?lives down, peacefully and submissively. What happened to them I do not know, the film footage stops there, but the message is loud and clear whatever their fate: take our lives if you want to continue on.

As the killing continues the Syrian Ambassador to the Court of St James has had his invitation to the royal wedding revoked. Hooray! That is going to make Bashar Al Assad feel seriously humiliated and worried about his future! He's probably not sleeping at night after such a snub, perhaps he will call his old friend Tony Blair to commiserate since he too has not been invited to the wedding! The international community dithers. The EU is meeting today to consider sanctions. The UN Security Council met on Wednesday, it deliberated, draft resolutions were circulated but to no avail, hardly a surprise given Syria's allies are not the UK and the US but Russia and Iran. Besides do we really want to enlist that guarantee of failure: international intervention?

International intervention can come for the right reasons, as in Libya, or for the wrong reasons, as in Iraq, but generally fails to deliver peace and democracy. It may be a truth hard to stomach but once you have armed a 'regime' - and I use the word and the inverted commas to comment on how quickly the word is put to use to discredit a government that only a few weeks ago would have been considered someone good to do business with - it is hard to then stop that 'regime' from using said the arms to kill its own people. Egypt was a special case because the country was a client state of the US, without American aid it would quickly flounder. When the Americans told the Egyptians they could not use American made weapons to shoot at protesters, the Egyptians had to heed. Besides Egypt also has an army that enjoys the support of the people. I was astouned when I saw the first images of tanks rolling into Cairo. I thought they would instill fear in the hearts of those on the streets, instead I heard them rejoice. They saw the army as noble and on their side, and to some extent that proved  right during the overthrow of Husni Mubarak but only what happens next will show whether the army supported a revolution or simply sacrificied its ailing head in order to install a replacement. The Syrian army, however, already has form. Killing Syrian citizens is not something alien to its nature.

Not everyone I know supports the protesters in Syria. For a start there are those who cherish stability and security, and the Baath party has delivered both to the Syrian people. There are those who have worked hard to build homes and businesses and do not want to see their livelihoods destroyed. There are those who sensibly ask what is the alternative? If the Baath Party goes what will replace it? They want to fight for something rather than against something.  And, of course, none wants to see their country descend into chaos or civil war. There also those who believe in Bashar the Reformer.

Facts and funerals unfortunately tell us otherwise: the death toll has now passed 500. There is a time when doubt and worry can keep us on the fence, but when a government kills hundreds of its own people just for protesting peacefully, our moral compass can only point in one direction. Today the spotlight is on Syria, but tomorrow it could be on any one of a number of countries in the Middle East. It is a sobering and depressing thought.

I watched the royal wedding after all. Believing in fairy tales is so much more pleasant than thinking about the future of the Arab world. A princess in a horse-drawn carriage! Yes, I can see the attraction now!

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

MEN OF MEDICINE

 

Medicine is not about machines. It is about people. It is about gentleness and courtesy and a bedside manner that comforts rather than cowers.

 What can possibly be more awesome than a doctor providing that span across the fear which courses through relatives when a loved one is seriously ill. If you look up to anyone you look up to a man of medicine.

There is no feeling as helpless as that of waiting in a hospital emergency for news from within, men and women of stature and accomplishment reduced to a cringing dignity by the suspense of the situation and the inability to do anything tangible to tackle it.

The doctor in such circumstances becomes a superman and those of the medical tribe that understand this and are sensitive enough never to get so jaded as not to care are the salt of the earth.

Then there are those who see it as just another job and are bored and officious and graceless and see the anxiety of nervous and tense relatives as something of an irritation, away with you, get these out of my sight, I have loftier goals for my day than mingling with the great unwashed.

If you are unfortunate enough to come into contact with one of these rude examples you feel so much pity that someone so blessed as to practise medicine on this earth and be in a position to give solace to the human race should be so lacking in soul that he or she is incapable of displaying empathy or compassion. Without compassion a doctor is merely a machine.

And medicine is not about machines. It is about people.

It is about caring and much of healing can be achieved just through attitude. One doctor, tired after a whole day's effort, still carrying on, bringing into a room of gloom a slash of hope, a little sunshine merely by his manner and the fact that he packaged his medical expertise with rapport rather than arrogance.

Of course you can be arrogant and ignore the pitiful friends and relatives waiting for information, you can shoo them away and snub them and they'll come back for more, you can be autocratic and downright rude because you have the power, you are the doctor and they will still come back and stand in your shadow.

For there, inside the room, on the bed, fragile and in pain, is someone they love and their only hope is the doctor and the nurse and if they see this inspiring privilege as a burden rather than a benediction perhaps they are in the wrong job.

Like this other doctor who gave time, who explained to the throng what was wrong and what was done.

He did not treat them like they were in the way nor did he keep the patient's condition secret and act as if he was unapproachable, which is something that some doctors assume, you know this cloak made of 'stay away from me I am a medicine man' material.

One is told they get so used to the sad side of the human experience, that the emotions freeze, that they are so busy they do not have the time, they are overworked and harassed and short of sleep and they cannot be standing by answering hundreds of questions and that is why they get misunderstood. It is a good argument but medicine isn't about machines. It is about people.

And caring about them. Like a touch and a tender word, the right note of confidence, the ability to avoid speaking of the patient in the third person as if the patient was not there. This doctor, he was splendid. He cheered up this patient even as the relatives watched, he chatted with them and patiently answered their questions, told them firmly but kindly what to expect and what was wrong. He didn't walk away because he could afford to. That sort of doctor makes medicine work. Because that is what it is all about. Not the money, nor the power but definitely the glory... The glory of healing. And caring.

Courtesy Kaleej  Times

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

LACK OF JOBS FOR WOMEN COSTS ASIA BILLIONS

BY ELAINE LIES

Poorly employed Asian women pose both old and new challenges to the world's fastest growing region, with nearly half of them without jobs and struggling with perennial issues of lower wages and fewer chances for education.

But now, their lack of job opportunities is also costing billions of dollars a year in Asia, a report said on Friday.

"Asian women have certainly been an engine of the region's economic dynamism," the report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) said.

"But 45 per cent of working-age Asian women were inactive compared to 19 per cent of men, and differentials persist in the types of jobs women and men have access to."

As a result, even before the global economic crisis, the Asia-Pacific region was losing a potential $42 billion to $47 billion annually - a situation that has likely only worsened.

Though overall regional unemployment rates for women remain better than those for men, at 4.3 against 4.7 per cent in 2009, this does not necessarily mean that the jobs they have are good, the report warned.

Many of these jobs are poorly-paid and may be in the "informal" economy, meaning they are more vulnerable to economic fluctuations in times both good and bad.

For one thing, demand may be high for women in labour-intensive manufacturing jobs. But it is largely due to women being seen as willing to accept lower wages, easier to manage and less likely to unionise, and easier to dismiss, with marriage and childbirth as excuses.

In addition, 48.2 per cent of all employed women worked in agriculture in 2009 compared with 38.9 per cent of men. Only 18 per cent worked in industry against 26.2 per cent of men.

"Asia faces both old and new challenges and it needs to address both if it is to reap the social and economic benefits of gender equality," Sachiko Yamamoto, ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement.

"The drive to rebalance towards more sustainable, fairer development must not distract policymakers from dealing with ingrained gender inequalities."

Even in sectors where women made up more than 50 per cent of the workforce, such as health and social work and education, they tended to be in the lower echelons - nurses as opposed to doctors, or primary school teachers instead of university teaching staff.

As a result, women's wages were typically 70 to 90 per cent those of men.

Conditions have improved as the global economy recovers, with Asia leading the way, but recovery remains fragile for many, the report said. Thus, governments should consider support for female-run businesses and equality in education, it added.

As the region rebuilds economically, it actually has the chance to build better labour markets - at least where women are concerned, it added.

"The social and economic costs of missing this opportunity will be felt for decades," Yamamoto said.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

BOB BLAKE'S VISIT AND A HUMAN RIGHTS AGENDA

 

Robert O Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs and former United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka is due to visit Sri Lanka on May 3rd, a visit originally scheduled to occur in April but postponed to May. Bob Blake will be coming to Sri Lanka at a time when the government is facing a serious international situation with the publication in full of the UN experts report on accountability issues in Sri Lanka. It is widely believed that the US will be at the forefront of pushing for accountability in Sri Lanka. This also comes at a time when the US State Department has raised concerns regarding the state of human rights in Sri Lanka.

"Disappearances continued to be a problem, although the total also declined. Many independent observers cited a continued climate of fear among minority populations, in large part based on past incidents. Official impunity was a problem; there were no public indications or reports that civilian or military courts convicted any military or police members for human rights abuses. The government established a post-war Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

"Infringement on freedom of movement was lower than in the previous year, and citizens were able to travel almost anywhere in the island; in practice police and military checkpoints were still a frequent sight in Colombo and elsewhere, and numerous High Security Zones (HSZs) and other areas remained off limits to citizens. Election law violations and government influence created doubts about the fairness of both the Presidential and the Parliamentary elections.

"With the passage of the 18th amendment in September, the mechanism by which the seats on the Constitutional Council and its subsidiary councils are filled was changed. The president now holds the authority to name all members to each of these councils, with only the requirement to "seek advice," but not approval, of the parliament. Violence and discrimination against women were problems, as were abuse of children and trafficking in persons. Discrimination against persons with disabilities, persons with HIV/AIDS, and the ethnic Tamil minority continued, and a disproportionate number of victims of human rights violations were Tamils". (US State Department, 2011) 

The government response was as follows.

"Yes there are incidents of torture, we ourselves have admitted that but yes there are cases we could not investigate especially in the North and the East due to the conflict," Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe told BBC Sinhala service. 

 Human rights flow from our being human beings. Civilized societies and legitimate states are required to protect them. Human rights violations in Sri Lanka are a sensitive subject. The government denies it; the people ignore it, all part of a social compact, during a necessary war against separatist terrorism. As Cicero argued in the Roman Senate, "In the war of good against evil, the laws are silent". However surely there is a very valid political question whether two years after the end of the war, such a situation should continue, whether as part of our peace dividend, an improvement in the human rights situation should not occur.  

 There are irrefutable facts in the US State Department report we cannot deny, such as impunity. Blanket denials lack seriousness and erode the credibility of the persons making such denials and the institutions they represent. A better response by the Sri Lankan government, her security agencies and Human Rights Commission, would be to admit to problems regarding human rights and take concrete, if small and incremental measures towards improving the same for the betterment and welfare of Sri Lanka.

(The writer served as Presidential Spokesman from 2001-2005)

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

OVER THE MOON

So we saw another May Day yesterday.

The International Workers' Day is a celebration of the international labour movement and left-wing movements. It commonly sees organized street demonstrations and marches by working people and their labour unions throughout most of the world. May 1 is a national holiday in more than 80 countries. It is also celebrated unofficially in many other countries. International Workers' Day is the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, when, after an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they dispersed a public meeting, Chicago police fired on workers during a general strike for the eight hour workday, killing several demonstrators and resulting in the deaths of several police officers, largely from friendly fire.

So much for the history of the Workers' Day, but the definition of who the worker is remains disputable. The concept of worker (The world's richest and many leading investors work harder than the salary men who lead a fragmented life of eight hour shifts anyway, that's an aside)

But in general it has come to refer to "Workers" (Blue collar) whose pay is less or who figure at the bottom of the pay scale.

But the saddest part is that many a May Day today have been hijacked by the political parties to make a case for their survival rather than a Day which celebrates the hard work of the worker.

Yesterday again as usual the country saw May Day being hijacked by the major powers to demonstrate against a man called Ban Ki moon, who has knowingly or unknowingly solied his finger in the mire that is a country in the Indian ocean.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa meanwhile issuing a message on May Day stated  "after vanquishing the scourge of terrorism the government was in a speedy path to protect the rights of the working population. The introduction of a pension scheme for the private sector is another great victory achieved. He said that from this measure the contributory employees would get a better future."

He had also expressed his gratitude for the working population for defeating terrorism (How?) which was the biggest challenge faced by this country.

The President said "that the hand that was raised by the working population of this country is being raised with much responsibility to safeguard the victory achieved."

The United Nations and its Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was thus the focal point of attention of the May Day procession and rally in Colombo. 

Effigies, posters, cutouts and floats were taken in procession as part of rally. A few days after the UN report was handed over, President Mahinda Rajapaksa told his supporters to convert May Day into a show of strength against moves to slap war crimes charges on Sri Lanka.

One wonders how come Ban Ki moon affect a worker's rights or his pay or standard of living.

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

AGREEMENT SHOULD BE SUPPORTED  

BY DR JAMES J ZOGBY PRESIDENT

 

THE Israeli response to news that Palestinian factions had achieved a unity agreement was predictably irritating. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu derided the agreement (http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/netanyahu-palestinian-authority-must-choose-peace-with-israel-or-hamas-1.358460) in stark terms, saying the Palestinians had a choice of either "Peace with Israel or peace with Hamas".

His spokesperson reduced this bumper sticker rejection to "reconciliation or peace".

What is galling is the assumption implicit in Netanyahu's framing of the matter - that peace with his government is a real possibility the Palestinians have now rejected. In reality, he has shown no interest in moving towards peace - unless on terms they dictate and the Palestinians accept.

The pressure he was feeling to deliver some "concessions" to the Palestinians in his upcoming speech to the US Congress has been relieved. He can now revert to old form, expressing a vague desire for peace while warning that there is evidence there is no Palestinian partner he can work with.

What Fateh and Hamas have done in achieving their accord should be supported. But two cautionary notes are in order:

They have merely announced an engagement, the wedding will be fragile and subject to interference from obstructionists who will work hard to break it up

The US can be one of these home-wreckers if it puts pressure on the Palestinians and/or supports Congress' efforts to deny them aid.

Because Palestine remains a captive nation, it is not the master of its fate.

To suggest that the Palestinians must choose reconciliation or peace, when peace has not been and is not an option, is nothing more than a disingenuous and cruel taunt.

The Palestinian polity had been fractured and in disarray since the 2006 elections. The US and Israel did not accept the outcome of the poll the Bush administration had pushed for. Israel took repressive measures. Aid was cut and the US began to press the losing side, Fateh, to seek a confrontation. Hamas, instead of assuming the role of a responsible government and ignoring provocations, continued its violent behaviour.

They need this unity and, whether they know it or not, the US and the Israelis need them to be unified. Palestinian reconciliation is a precondition to any peace deal and stability in that region. Hamas is a real part of the Palestinian polity. The Bush administration's approach of working to deepen the internal Palestinian divide threatened to create a permanent rupture.

What should be of concern is Hamas, and this reconciliation agreement may yet prove to be the best way to guarantee that Hamas will act responsibly.

If the new government of technocrats is allowed to function and continue on the path laid out by Prime Minister Salam Fayyed, and if Hamas and Fateh can continue to work out a modus operandi in their areas, leading to a new election later this year, Palestinians will have put themselves in a stronger position to claim statehood.

Bottom line: Palestinians shouldn't be asked to choose "reconciliation or peace", when the party doing the asking is denying them the chance to have both. Palestinians need reconciliation and peace. They are working on the former. Now is the time for the US and Israel to make a real contribution to advancing the later.

In the short-term, should the Congress suspend aid, it would be important for the Arab states and others to sustain the Authority, allowing the reconciliation plan time to work through elections and an expected UN vote in the fall.

None of this will, by itself, result in a state. But a democratic and unified Authority will make a stronger moral and legal case for recognition than Palestinians can make today living divided and governed by entities of questionable legitimacy.

Can this be why Israel is so hostile to the agreement?

jzogby@aaiusa.org

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

MACDONALD ON MONDAY 

 

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the first modern war, which is also one of the most understood wars of history.

The American Civil War is generally seen as a straightforward conflict between the anti-slavery north and the pro-slavery south.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

At the end of the day it was a war about democracy in which the pro-democracy guys lost and the central government administration won.

When Abraham Lincoln won the election to the presidency he did not fight on a ticket to do away with slavery.

What he actually stood for was an end to slavery expansion.

For political rather than moral reasons he demanded that no new states formed as part of the union would be allowed to have slavery.

This was simply a device that would ensure that the non-slave north would continue to have a majority in national government and allow it to determine what happened at a state level in the south.

The continued existence of slavery was never on his agenda or anyone else's.

But the south was not happy about central government making rules that determined what future states could or could not do.

So they went to war and lost.

It was an odd sort of war because what you had was central government imposing its will on what were, up until then, independent democratic bodies that had not agreed to outside influence interfering with their rights.

And here is the important point as far as I am concerned.

Neither Lincoln nor anyone else sent in the troops to end slavery.

That was an idea they came up with after they had won.

They simply went to war to announce that the industrial north had the right to tell the agrarian feudal south that what they wanted they would get.

And thus it happened.

Slavery would almost certainly have died out anyway because it was already extremely uneconomic.

But the north with its factories and trains destroyed the agrarian south and outlawed slavery and invented modern warfare where the machines took over from the men.

Did much change?

Well slavery was abolished, at least in name.

One hundred years later the young black Cassius Clay was allowed to represent the US at the Olympic games.

He won America a gold medal in the boxing ring. But when he got back home to Kentucky he still had to sit at the back of the bus.

Why Cambridge?

Are you one of those people who did not tune in for the royal wedding?

Apparently more than a quarter of the population of the entire world tuned in to see Oor Wullie and wee Kate get married.

Now, given that a reasonable percentage of the population do not have a television, the number of people on this planet who had nothing better to do on a Friday while sitting in their living room is probably a higher percentage than that.

The guy I really liked in the television coverage was the bloke who turned up at the street party in downtown Manhattan.

He said he was really thrilled by the wedding because the royal couple were such down to earth normal people.

You have to wonder why he does not spend every Friday turning up at weddings of down to earth normal people because there are probably thousands of them every Friday in New York without having to tune into UK television to see one.

What I find really odd about these nuptials is the decision of the Queen to announce that she had made her son's daughter-in-law into the Duchess of Cambridge.

Why Cambridge?

She went to St Andrews not Oxbridge and I imagine the reason she went there was she failed to get the A-levels to get into Oxbridge.

I sort of went to the same university as the royal couple.

I went to Dundee University in 1969, two years after it had gone independent.

Previously, it has been Queen's College St Andrews and when I arrived there it was still populated with a lot of students who had failed to get into an Oxbridge college.

Instead they chose to come north to the UK's third oldest university contemplating spending a few years bicycling to lectures in a cute historic old Scottish town.

But having got off the train and purchased a gown they then turned up at the matriculation office to discover that Queen's College was in fact on the other side of the River Tay in what was then one of the dirtiest industrial cities in Europe.

It was an odd place for a kid from the east end of Glasgow to go because some of these people insisted on wearing gowns to lectures and the students' union still had a junior and senior common room.

It was a bit like walking into a Billy Bunter book.

Dundee University was fairly historic in its own right.

It was founded back in the 1880s as University College had only merged with St Andrews in 1905.

At that time St Andrews was failing to attract the Oxbridge rejects, or anyone else for that matter, and faced bankruptcy.

Dundee on the other hand was booming, not least on the back of a medical faculty which was thriving on the large number of jute factory workers who were succumbing to lung diseases.

Exactly why Dundee decided to go it alone in 1969 escapes me, though it was a time when for whatever reason the government of the day had decided that the country needed more universities and as turning every other technical college into a varsity.

In retrospect, I think it is rather sad that Queen's College became a university in its own right.

I rather like the idea of a future king and queen of Britain turning up in St Andrews and being dispatched to share a flat in Peddie Street in Dundee.

I think the monarchy could have been better served if young William and Kate had spent their youth dining on Wallace's Bridie and bean pies, drinking in Alan Bannerman's Phoenix bar and going off to Tannadice on a Saturday afternoon to watch Dundee United lose.

- ARThur Macdonald

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TEHRAN TIMES

ECITORIAL

WHERE CHINA OUTPACES AMERICA

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

 

SHANGHAI -- Here's a fact about China that you may not know: people in Shanghai today have a longer life expectancy than Americans.

A child in Shanghai is expected to live 82 years. In the United States, the figure is not quite 79 years. (For all of China, including rural areas, life expectancy is lower, 73 years — but rising steadily.)

The harsh repression in China these days rightly garners headlines, but health data reflect another side of a nation that could scarcely be more complex and contradictory.

For those who remember Shanghai a quarter-century ago as a dilapidated city where farmers would collect night soil from families without sanitation, it's extraordinary that among permanent residents of Shanghai, infant mortality is 2.9 deaths per 1,000 births. That is well below the rate of 5.3 in New York City. (Include migrant laborers living in Shanghai, perhaps a fairer comparison, and the rate climbs to a bit higher than in New York.)

That Shanghai child enjoys a world-class education in a public school — the best school system of any in a recent 65-nation survey, although it's also true that Chinese schools have their own problems such as widespread cheating and stifling of creativity.

Since 1990, the country has reduced infant mortality rates by 54 percent, according to Unicef statistics. On a Chinese scale, that represents more than 360,000 children's lives saved each year.

That's what makes China such a fascinating and contradictory place. Other countries, from Egypt to North Korea, oppress and impoverish their people. But the Chinese Communist Party in the reform era has been oppressive politically — even worse lately, with the harshest clampdown in two decades — while hugely enriching its people.

President Hu Jintao and other top Communist Party officials are autocrats, yes, but unusually competent autocrats. Polls show Chinese citizens pretty happy with their lot by international standards, although there's some doubt about how meaningful these polls are. My hunch is that if the Communist Party did hold free elections, it would win by a landslide — especially in rural areas.

A Harvard scholar once told me that today's China is best approached with ambivalence, and that seems about right to me. The crackdown that I deplored in my last column is real, and so is the stunning level of official corruption. But the same government that throws small numbers of dissidents in prison also provides new opportunities to hundreds of millions.

What's the trade-off between imprisoning a brilliant Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident like Liu Xiaobo and saving hundreds of thousands of babies' lives each year through improved health care? There isn't one. The two sides of China are incommensurate. They are the yin and yang of 21st-century China.

The United States tends to perceive China through a Manichaean lens — either the economic juggernaut overcoming poverty and investing brilliantly in alternative energy, or the Darth Vader that tortures dissidents. In fact, both are equally real. Likewise, China abuses trade pacts, but it has also been appreciating its currency (mostly through inflation) much more than Americans give it credit for.

We face a period in which Chinese-American tensions are likely to rise, aggravated by the American presidential election and the Chinese leadership transition in 2012, as well as by the crackdown that was the topic of my last column.

When I lived in China in the 1980s and '90s, there was always an awkward economic imbalance between me and my Chinese friends. I had a car, and they had bicycles. I paid for our meals together because I was so much better off.

Now there's a new imbalance: Some of those same people ride around in chauffeured limousines while I get around in taxis. They take me to fancy restaurants whose prices give me headaches.

One Chinese friend took me to a home with private indoor basketball court and personal movie theater. It was a tribute to the stunning improvement in the country's standard of living. But it also speaks to growing income gaps at a time when, by official figures, 320 million rural Chinese do not even have access to safe water.

Moreover, some of the economic boom appears attributable to a bubble, particularly in real estate. And some of the grand fortunes are linked to corruption by government officials. One friend, the son of a Politburo member, once told me that he was being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by a Chinese company just to be on its board. That way, the company could persuade local governments to give it land at reduced prices.

What are we to make of such a country?

That it contains multitudes. And that at this time of rising China-United States tensions, any simplistic black or white view of it may well be right — but also incomplete and misleading.

(Source: The New York Times)

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