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Friday, May 6, 2011

EDITORIAL 06.05.11

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Editorial

month may 06, edition 000825, 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. FAMILIAR SABRE-RATTLING
  2. US WON'T DUMP PAKISTAN - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
  3. PAKISTAN IS A TERRORIST STATE - ARINDAM CHAUDHURI
  4. VICTORY FOR OBAMA - ANURADHA DUTT
  5. LESSONS FROM OSAMA'S KILLING - KALYANI SHANKAR
  6. THE ROLE OF IDEOLOGY IN ECONOMICS - VINAYSHIL GAUTAM

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. FREE IT UP
  2. HELD ACCOUNTABLE
  3. CAGING HAWKS POST-OSAMA - DIPANKAR GUPTA
  4. 'STRENGTHENING SOUTH-SOUTH COOPERATION IS CRUCIAL'
  5. CROWN AND COUNTRY

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. NOT ENOUGH TO ITS CREDIT
  2. FREE-WHEELING DEALING
  3. STATE OF TWO STATES - RAJDEEP SARDESAI,
  4. BEYOND THE EMPTY CHATTER - KEKI N DARUWALLA KEKI N DARUWALLA,
  5. N D COWBOYS AND CODENAMES  - STEVEN NEWCOMB

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. PHOTO FINISH
  2. PSP FIR
  3. CHOPPY SKIES
  4. THE MESSAGE IS THE AIM - ILA PATNAIK
  5. IT IS NOT OVER - ALIA ALLANA
  6. THE BATTLE IN BUNDELKHAND, THE WAR IN UP - SUDHA PAI
  7. DARE TO BE PRISSY - KRISHNA KUMAR
  8. PEER TO PEER LEARNING, BETWEEN BIHAR AND CHICAGO - SARITHA RAI
  9. THE CAMERA, NOT THE GUN

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. MORE ZAIN & MORE PAIN
  2. NEW ASIAN DRAMA
  3. WHERE HAVE ALL THE WORKERS GONE? - AMITENDU PALIT
  4. WORDS, ACTIONS AND OUTCOMES - RAJEEV MALIK

THE HINDU

  1. INDIA-PAKISTAN: UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY
  2. UNSAFE HELICOPTERING
  3. SOME STICKS YET MORE CARROTS FOR PAKISTAN  - BRAHMA CHELLANEY
  4. DOES POLITICAL RESERVATION AFFECT VOTER TURNOUT?  - YUKO MORI AND TAKASHI KUROSAKI
  5. THE DEATH OF OSAMA BIN LADEN: IT'S A PITY …  - RICHARD JACKSON
  6. U.S. PANEL CALLS FOR SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN LATINO MUSEUM
  7. U.S. MILITARY'S HISTORY OF CHANGING ITS STORIES  - SAM JONES
  8. TURKEY MAY RAISE FEES FOR BOSPORUS PASSAGE USE

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. N-E COPTER CRASH: LET IT BE THE LAST
  2. PAK APOCALYPSE WHEN?  - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
  3. CONG, BJP & THE CORRUPTION ROUNDABOUT - INDER MALHOTRA

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. BILATERAL TALKS SHOULD CONTINUE
  2. EXASPERATION OVER BLACK MONEY
  3. DISCRIMINATED WE STAND, DISCREDITED WE FALL - BY COL J P SINGH, (RETD)
  4. PAKISTAN A TERRORIST STATE - BY ARUN NEHRU
  5. JUSTICE HAS BEEN DONE - BY TAVLEEN SINGH

THE TRIBUNE

  1. PAKISTAN UNMASKED
  2. ONE MORE BOARD
  3. RAMDEV'S FAST ONE
  4. DIMENSIONS OF 2-G SCAM - BY T.V. RAJESWAR
  5. IF OSAMA WAS HOLED UP HERE! - BY AMAR CHANDEL
  6. FINDING A VOICE- POST 9/11 - VANDANA SHUKLA

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. MINISTERIAL DISCOMFORT
  2. HOME TRUTHS ABOUT ICT
  3. AN OVER-THE-TOP APPROACH - MADHUKAR SABNAVIS
  4. THE BANE OF INDIA'S HEALTH CARE - ARVIND SINGHAL
  5. BACK IN ORBIT - DEVANGSHU DATTA
  6. SPECTRUM REFORMS - GOOD & BAD NEWS - SHYAM PONAPPA

BUSINESS LINE

  1. RATE CAPS FUND FLOW
  2. COFFEE SANS AROMA - G. SRINIVASAN
  3. IF WISHES WERE HORSES . . - RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. HOW SECURE?
  2. A BAD IDEA
  3. MOBILE CONNECTIONS
  4. THE MAGIC BULLET MIRAGE
  5. DO COMPANIES REQUIRE BUSINESS TRANSFORMATION?
  6. THE MASTERMIND'S AFTERLIFE  - SREERAM CHAULIA

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. THE INTERNET'S CHILD AND ITS NANNY

DECCAN CHRONICLE

  1. N-E COPTER CRASH: LET IT BE THE LAST
  2. CONG, BJP & THE CORRUPTION ROUNDABOUT
  3. RBI GETS DECISIVE, HOPE NOT TOO LATE
  4. ARE YOU A GOOD MOTHER?
  5. MY SISTER, MY GRIEF
  6. MAGIC OF DISSENT

THE STATESMAN

  1. HELICOPTER HAZARDS
  2. A DANGEROUS GAME
  3. TRENDS IN CANADA
  4. DEATH OF A TERRORIST - SALMAN HAIDAR
  5. US-PAK TIES NOT EASY TO SEVER  - SEEMA MUSTAFA
  6. WHAT'S IN A NAME?  - JAGMOHAN CHOPRA
  7. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. FANTASTIC TALES
  2. DEATH AGAIN
  3. WHERE TO GO FROM HERE?  - CORNERS: ASHOK MITRA
  4. STORY OF A FAILED STATE  - BONAFIDE: MALVIKA SINGH

DECCAN HERALD

  1. SERIOUS LAPSE
  2. MUSCLE FLEXING
  3. BURDEN OF HISTORY SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
  4. ALGAE AS A VIABLE FOOD, FEED AND ENERGY OPTION  - MARK SOMMER
  5. A HOLIDAY PLAN  - DOROTHY VICTOR

HAARETZ

  1. QUESTION MARKS IN THE POLICE FORCE
  2. OBAMA MURDERED BIN LADEN FOR A FISTFUL OF VOTES - BY HAIM BARAM
  3. PALESTINIAN UNITY IS A CHANCE FOR MIDEAST PEACE BETWEEN EQUALS - BY YITZHAK LAOR
  4. THE SEA AND THE MOUNTAIN STATES  - BY GIDEON BIGER
  5. NETANYAHU'S ISRAEL IS FLEEING THE PEACE IT ONCE PURSUED - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
  6. LOOKING BEYOND INCOME GROWTH  - BY EJAZ GHANI
  7. AN ISRAELI PROCESS OF RECONCILIATION  - BY DANIEL LEVY
  8. TBILISI TIES ARE VITAL  - BY DANIELLA PELED
  9. TBILISI TIES ARE VITAL  - BY DANIELLA PELED
  10. HAMAS' USEFUL IDIOTS  - BY JAMES KIRCHICK

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. STALLED MISSION IN LIBYA
  2. COULD IT HAVE BEEN THE POLLS?
  3. THE POLITICS OF SOLIPSISM - BY DAVID BROOKS
  4. 'BIG STICK 306' AND CHINA'S CONTEMPT FOR THE LAW
  5. FEARS AND FAILURE - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  6. THE QUIET AT GROUND ZERO
  7. A SMOKING BAN TOO FAR - BY MICHAEL B. SIEGEL
  8. PREVENTING THE NEXT FLASH CRASH - BY EDWARD E. KAUFMAN JR. AND CARL M. LEVIN

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. DANGEROUS ESCALATION IN TURKISH POLITICS - MURAT YETKİN
  2. THE HOLY WARRIOR AND UNCLE JULE - BURAK BEKDİL
  3. TURKEY CHANGES TACK ON LIBYA - SEMİH İDİZ
  4. OBSESSED POLITICS FOR ABSOLUTE DICTATORSHIP - YUSUF KANLI
  5. GONE IS BIN LADEN, THE ENEMY OF THE REPUBLIC - SİNAN ÜLGEN
  6. WHY IS AZERBAIJAN POSTPONING THE VISA ISSUE? - GÖKNUR AKÇADAĞ
  7. A PROSECUTORS' STATE IS BORN - KORAY ÇALIŞKAN
  8. COMMUNICATION STYLE STEALS AWAY LEADERS' PRESTIGE - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

THE NEWS

  1. TOUGH TRUTHS
  2. THE ARAB SPRINGS
  3. MOTHER OF ALL EMBARRASSMENTS  - AYAZ AMIR
  4. NAKED EMPEROR, DEAD RABBIT  - MEHREEN ZAHRA-MALIK
  5. WHAT DO KARACHIWALAS WANT?  - YUSUF H SHIRAZI
  6. THE MONOLITHIC NARRATIVE  - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  7. THE CHALLENGING AFTERMATH  - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
  8. SIDE-EFFECT  - HARRIS KHALIQUE

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. WHOSE INTELLIGENCE FAILURE?
  2. PM'S VISIT STRENGTHENS TIES WITH FRANCE
  3. SANITY PREVAILS AMONG PALESTINIANS
  4. HAS CARLA BRUNI'S CHARM WORKED IN INDIA? - M D NALAPAT
  5. "GERONIMO. EKIA" - SULTAN M HALI
  6. THE ROLE OF MASJID - ATIF NOOR KHAN
  7. TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE - SUNITA VAKIL

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. HECS DISCOUNT PROMOTES THRIFT
  2. REWARDING OUR BEST TEACHERS
  3. GILLARD'S FIRST BUDGET IN NEED OF A CLEAR NARRATIVE

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. SOME BETS SHOULD BE OFF
  2. CONSULTANTS AND OTHER BOGYMEN
  3. REPRESENTATIVES FORGET ROLE IN MARRIAGE ROWS
  4. WHEN CLUBS PUT THEMSELVES FIRST

THE GUARDIAN

  1. BARACK OBAMA: BELIEF RETURNS
  2. IN PRAISE OF… CELEBRATING KENNETH BRANAGH
  3. BANKS: THE PROTECTION RACKET

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. IN THE FOCUS OF INVESTOR RADAR
  2. PROF. JAMIE MACKIE, A FORCEFUL ADVOCATE FOR CLOSE INDONESIA-AUSTRALIA RELATIONS  - THEE KIAN WIE
  3. REDEFINING INDONESIA'S FOSSIL FUTURE AND ENERGY INDUSTRY  - EDWARD CUNNINGHAM
  4. IS THE ASIAN CENTURY A DREAM OR REALITY?  - HARUHIKO KURODA
  5. WAR ON TERRORISM IS FAR FROM OVER  - LIM SUE GOAN
  6. THE END OF BIN LADEN NOT END OF TERROR  - PENI HANGGARINI
  7. ASEAN REBALANCING ACT  -  S. PUSHPANATHAN

DAILY MIRROR

  1. CRICKET CRISIS: MATCH-FIXING OR FIX-UP
  2. WHAT THE LLRC SHOULD DO NEXT?
  3. MILITARY TRAINING FOR UNDERGRADS
  4. CELEBRATING US. TRIUMPHALISM
  5. OBAMA'S BIN LADEN: CHASING CROOKED SHADOWS

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. DIGNITY IN POVERTY   - BY JENNIFER GNANA  

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

FAMILIAR SABRE-RATTLING

IF ONLY PAKISTAN COULD SEE ITS FACE IN THE MIRROR


It's stunningly astonishing that in its first official reaction to the raid conducted by American special forces on a safe house in Abbottabad during which the world's most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden was killed, Pakistan should train its guns on India. Instead of displaying shame and remorse for being caught providing shelter to the Al Qaeda amir who was responsible for shedding the blood of thousands of innocent people around the world and whose murderous ideology of hate has inspired Islamists to kill and maim innumerable Muslims, including in Pakistan, the Islamabad establishment has taken refuge in baiting India and spewing venom. In a sense, it's the same old rope trick: Every time Pakistan finds it has painted itself into a corner, its Government, such as it is, plays the old, frayed, India card, hoping to divert attention both at home and abroad from its criminal misdeeds. To that extent, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir's sabre-rattling on Thursday was only to be expected, although it makes little sense as to why he should have "warned" India against replicating any Abbottabad-like operation which, according to him, would be a "misadventure" and lead to a "terrible catastrophe". He need not have wasted his breath or his energy on such vigorous fist-shaking; after all, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been extremely cautious in his reaction to the slaying of Osama bin Laden while South Block has used the services of a pliant media to send across the message that India has no intention of adopting a policy of hot pursuit or to force Pakistan into acting against state-sponsored terrorists guilty of mass murder in this country. To remove any doubts that might linger on, a senior official of the Ministry of External Affairs bizarrely let it be known that while "Pakistan is a foreign country" it is "a part of us". That such utterances are at total variance with popular opinion — and mood — in India is neither here nor there. It is equally immaterial that our defence forces are confident of conducting a raid similar to the one that has exposed Pakistan, though not for the first time, as the patron saint of evil monsters. Unlike the miserable failed state of Pakistan which boasts of nuclear warheads but can't feed its teeming millions, India is a democracy where the civilian Government, whatever its faults and weaknesses, calls the shots, not the military despite its virtues and strengths.

It could be argued that Mr Bashir's pathetic assertion is yet further evidence of Pakistan continuing to live in denial and pretending victimhood. The argument is not without merit. But that does not mean India, or for that matter the rest of the world, should feel persuaded to deal with Pakistan with sympathy and kindness — both are unwarranted when dealing with a rogue state, a terror-sponsoring criminal enterprise which deserves the collective contempt and wrath of those who value freedom, democracy and pluralism. These ideals are anathema to the Pakistani establishment; they militate against everything that the Pakistani state stands for and has stood for ever since Mohammed Ali Jinnah forged his homeland for the sub-continent's Muslims through means that have been amplified over the decades. It would be futile to suggest to those who claim to control Pakistan's destiny that they should look within to find where the fault lies.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

US WON'T DUMP PAKISTAN

SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY


Making heavy weather of Osama bin Laden being in Pakistan or of Pakistani sponsorship of terrorist groups won't alter US attitude.


The closure of the American Embassy and Consulates in Pakistan must seem like the answer to their prayers to President Hamid Karzai and India's television anchors and commentators. Some in the Government, too, might be carried away by similar wishful thinking. It's just as well, therefore, that Mr Manmohan Singh's response to last Sunday's drama was so studiedly restrained.


Whatever persuasion and pressure India might attempt behind the scenes, public jubilation and strident calls to punish Pakistan for harbouring Osama bin Laden only strengthen Mr Henry Kissinger's theory that India sees a politically stable, economically vibrant Islamic state next door as a challenge to its own idea of nationhood. Several US State Department, Pentagon and CIA position papers going back to 1948 reflect the fear that the moment American patronage is withdrawn, India, whose control of Jammu & Kashmir remains a contentious point in Western eyes, would gobble up its smaller neighbour. American and Pakistani interests diverge as well as converge but the Abbottabad operation again demonstrated how Pakistan retains US gratitude by substituting one service for another.


Mr Karzai's gloating not so much over Osama bin Laden being hunted down and killed but over where it happened shows how desperately he needs a 'Foreign Hand' to establish that his regime enjoys the trust and confidence of all Afghans. He must continue pointing a finger at Afghanistan's historic adversary though others argue that Osama bin Laden had given up operational control; that the Taliban is an autonomous national outfit; and that Pakistan, whose elite institutions are at war with each other, doesn't direct either Al Qaeda or the Afghan Taliban. But, yes, Al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri and senior Taliban leaders are probably still in Pakistan, courtesy some elements of the fractured power structure.


Consciously or unconsciously reflecting the Indian desire to emerge (in Mr Sitaram Yechury's words) as America's "new Pakistan", many of our experts seem to have concluded that news of the Al Qaeda chief's hideaway was as much a bombshell for the US as it was for them. That's a naive delusion after US President Barack Obama described the chase over several months during which knowledge of Abbottabad's secret resident did not impinge on bilateral relations.


The US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, reaffirmed Washington's business-as-usual policy next morning by quoting Mr Obama's tribute to Pakistan's anti-Al Qaeda record and reiterating that continuing "close cooperation" would be "just as important in the days ahead". If this was a face-saving salve for President Asif Ali Zardari and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, then the US obviously values Pakistan enough not to damage its leaders' prestige. Islamabad may be embarrassed but General Pervez Musharraf's thunder and talk of protesting to the US and complaining to the UN is for domestic listeners. Neither side wants a break.


The alliance goes back to the 1940s when the Americans decided that while India was of "negligible positive strategic importance", Pakistan occupied "one of the most strategic areas in the world". It could provide "a staging area for forces engaged in the defence or recapture of Middle East oil areas". It was ideal for "ideological and intelligence penetration" of the Soviet Union. Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar were potential launching pads for air operations against the Soviet Union's industrial heartland.


Geopolitical changes have obviously prompted adjustments in that assessment. Pakistan's strategic value shot up even more when it provided a conduit to China and, again, after the trauma of 9/11. Mr George W Bush raised US-India ties to new heights but without jeopardising America's "longstanding relationship with Pakistan" which he thought "crucial to the peace of the region". The constant is that the US has not stinted money and arms for its "major non-Nato ally", as Pakistan was designated in 2004. The symbolism mattered even more than the substance — priority delivery of defence material, stockpiling US military hardware, participation in defence research and development programmes and loan guarantees — reaffirming Pakistan's status as America's closest South Asian partner.


There's no point fretting and fuming over why this should be so. The point is that it is, and India must adjust its own policies accordingly. The nearest the US has ever come to acknowledging what Indians see as the glaring truth was when Mr Peter Burleigh was counter-terrorism coordinator. The State Department's annual report, 'Patterns of Global Terrorism', spoke then of "continuing credible reports throughout 1991 of official Pakistani support for Kashmiri militant groups engaged in terrorism in Indian-controlled Kashmir, as well as support to Sikh militant groups engaged in terrorism in Indian Punjab. This support allegedly includes provision of weapons and training". Never before or since — not even in the aftermath of 26/11 — has the US criticised its protégé so bluntly. Armed with the Burleigh report, Mr Nicholas Platt, US Ambassador in Islamabad, delivered a letter from Secretary of State James Baker to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif warning the US might declare Pakistan a "terrorist state".


That emboldened PV Narasimha Rao to predict in his 1992 Independence Day speech from the Red Fort's ramparts that the US would brand Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism. Seeing no sign of this happening, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, then Ambassador in Washington, broached the subject to Mr Frank G Wisner, Under-Secretary for Defence Policy and also in charge of international security affairs. Mr Wisner advised him not to try "because it will never happen".


That is a truth Indians must face. Making heavy weather of Osama bin Laden being in Pakistan or of Pakistani sponsorship of terrorist groups won't alter the US's attitude which is based on long-term calculations of national interest, intimate knowledge of Pakistan's internal power dynamics and deep-seated reservations about India. Some might plead Ms Clinton did not include Mumbai in her list of places (Africa, London, Madrid, Istanbul) where terrorists had struck because 26/11 was not an Al Qaeda operation. A more likely reason for the omission is that Americans believe terrorist attacks in India are by disgruntled Kashmiris and will continue until the Kashmir dispute is resolved to their satisfaction.


Some nuanced shifting in the US-India-Pakistan equation would not be surprising, but no major reversal need be expected. The US still needs Pakistan to extricate itself from the Afghan quagmire without too much loss of prestige; and it can do so only by ensuring that the right clique holds the reins of power in Islamabad.

-- sunandadr@yahoo.co.in

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

PAKISTAN IS A TERRORIST STATE

ARINDAM CHAUDHURI


There's nothing new about the revelation that the Pakistani Army and its ISI were sheltering Osama bin Laden at a safe house in Abbottabad till he was hunted down by American forces. The US is not ignorant about Pakistan's policy of aiding, abetting and funding terrorism. Nor are the Americans bothered about the threat posed by Pakistan to India and the rest of the world


Not very long ago the former President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, said during an interview to CNN, "I think now, frankly, he (Osama bin Laden) is dead for the reason he is a kidney patient. I don't know if he has been getting all that treatment in Afghanistan now. And the photographs that have been shown of him on television show him extremely weak. I would give the first priority that he is dead and the second priority that he is alive somewhere in Afghanistan."


Cut to May 1-2, 2011. Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is hunted and killed not in any remote hideout in any tribal area of Pakistan but in Abbottabad, which is just a short distance from the Pakistan Military Academy and merely 60 miles from Islamabad. In March, an Indonesian terrorist, Umar Patek, having links with Al Qaeda, was captured from Abbottabad. He was the mastermind behind the Bali bombings and was an important agent of Jemaah Islamiya Tahir Shehzad (an Al Qaeda facilitator).


These incidents that occurred in close proximity of Islamabad and the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad suggest nothing else but how the Pakistani Government always knew about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and provided him with safe haven. How else could have Osama bin Laden stayed safely right under the Army and ISI establishment's nose?

In spite of his followers being found and killed, Osama bin Laden never got spotted. It is normal military and anti-terror routine to sanitise the vicinity of strategically sensitive locations such as Abbottabad and check for terror elements after even a single terrorist is captured. Moreover, the military academy near Osama bin Laden's hideout was visited just a month back by the Pakistani Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. All this clearly indicates the Pakistani Government knew about Osama bin Laden's hideout; it knows about the location of other extremist leaders and groups despite feigning ignorance.


This is not just about Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden but also terror masterminds like Abu Zubaydah (found in a safe house in Faisalabad), Ramzi bin Al Shibh (key facilitator of 9/11 caught in Karachi) and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (nabbed in Rawalpindi) were all hunted down in Pakistan. Call it coincidence, but all these terrorists were found not in the remote Afghanistan-Pakistan border region but in Pakistani cities.

 

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was captured on February 8, 2010, from Karachi while many more were picked up from Quetta. American cables put out by WikiLeaks have shown how Pakistan has gone about harbouring terrorists. One of the cables pointed out General Hamid Gul, former head of ISI, was linked with Al Qaeda operatives. Another cable revealed how Pakistan's security services tipped Osama bin Laden whenever US troops approached their 'target', and also "smuggled Al Qaeda terrorists through airport security" to ensure they escaped capture.


The Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, known for its terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008, is still active in Pakistan. Almost a decade back, TIME had reported that the Pakistani Army, through its 12th Infantry Division, aids and funds members of the LeT and also provides fire cover during infiltration across the LoC. In December 2001, India's Parliament House was attacked by well-trained terrorists funded by agencies within Pakistan. Later, it was confirmed that the ISI funded the attack.


The July 2006 commuter train bombings in Mumbai were executed by SIMI, LeT and ISI. The ISI was involved in the July 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which left 58 people dead. The banned Students Islamic Movement of India as well as the Indian Mujahideen have been active with support from Al Qaeda and other extremist outfits based in Pakistan. Pakistan's involvement in acts of cross-border terrorism was irrevocably proved when Ajmal Kasab, one of the terrorists involved in the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, was captured alive.


Pakistan has turned into a rogue state and is increasingly becoming a threat to India as well as global security. This is exactly where we need to realise that the threat is not just from Pakistan but America as well. The Americans have killed Osama bin Laden because he dared to attack them only. Had he not done so, he would have still been alive. One must never forget that Osama bin Laden was created by the Americans to destroy the former USSR. It is common American practice to use such elements to destabilise countries.


From using Osama bin Laden against the USSR to killing Presidents of neighbouring countries to installing ruthless dictators in countries of strategic importance to the US to bombing countries shamelessly for oil, the American establishment has done it all. What the Americans are doing right now in Libya is the worst possible act. They are taking revenge on a 40-year-old issue and settling scores with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi for uniting the OPEC nations then and raising oil prices — something which resulted in the massive transfer of wealth from the Western nations to West Asia. Today, in a totally undemocratic manner, the US is bombing Libya and killing its people for no reason but oil.


While the US knew all along that Pakistan was hiding Osama bin Laden and supporting his terror activities, it did not act against Islamabad because it needs to use Pakistan against India. The Americans have merely been cleansing Pakistan of those terrorists who are potentially dangerous to the US. Pakistan is the number one terrorist state in the world today, but the US has refused to acknowledge this fact.


On the contrary, US President Barack Obama continues to maintain that Pakistan is being cooperative in the war on terror. That there is no substance to this assertion is demonstrated by the fact that the US didn't even inform Pakistan of the operation to get Osama bin Laden, knowing full well that had they done so, the most wanted terrorists would have been promptly shifted to another safe house.


No doubt the Americans have done a great job in killing Osama bin Laden, but they have done for their own personal interests. Nonetheless, the killing of Osama bin Laden has reconfirmed two things. One, Pakistan, a rogue state which harbours terrorists, is today the most dangerous country in the world. For no country can be more dangerous than a country that provided shelter to Osama bin Laden while pretending to be an ally of the US. Second, the US, which still supports and pampers the rogue state called Pakistan, can't be trusted any more.

From nuclear power plants to defence deals, India must stop selling itself to the US and take a clear stance against Pakistan and against any country that provides direct and indirect support to Pakistan — America being at the top of that list.


The writer is a management guru and editor, The Sunday Indian.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

VICTORY FOR OBAMA

ANURADHA DUTT


But Osama's followers are yet to lose the war on terror


News of the killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in an American operation has evoked varying reactions, ranging from jubilation in the United States to disbelief by his admirers, for whom he was a Muslim hero, fighting Western imperialism. Some have even chosen to discredit the report, citing similar reports in the past of the death of the terrorist. However, US President Barack Obama's address to his people, aired on television and making the news public, is intended to dispel doubts about its veracity. Top US Government functionaries apparently watched the raids on the safe house provided to Osama bin Laden and his retinue at Abbottabad, a town located 60 km from Islamabad, via satellite, in a room at the White House. The recording of the strike at the hideout by the US Navy Seals will reportedly be released to the public.


The destruction of terror's most visible face is being hailed as Mr Obama's greatest achievement during a presidency that has failed so far to fulfill the pledge of economic revival. That remains elusive, as people still struggle to find well-paying jobs, pay college fees and buy homes. It may be recalled that President George W Bush's second term had hurled the US into severe depression, the culmination of ruinous military expeditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, as much as debt-ridden economic policies. Mr Obama and his team coasted to victory in November 2008 by vowing to undo the havoc, wrought by the Bush's Administration. The news of Osama bin Laden's death is possibly intended to send out the message that the President is very much in control even as questions are being raised about his leadership, and the prospect of re-election in late 2012 seems dim.


Buried at sea, Osama bin Laden's memory will remain a painful reminder of the air assault on New York's World Trade Centre on September 9, 2001, which resulted in almost 3,000 casualties. The destruction of the twin towers was alleged by US intelligence to have been master-minded by Osama bin Laden, a renegade member of the wealthy bin Laden family of Saudi Arabia. The man was said to have turned to funding and orchestrating Islamist terror across countries — a phenomenon described as stateless terror — after being trained by the US's Central Intelligence Agency as an operative. While the complete truth is unlikely ever to be known, it is certain that Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and the allied Taliban funded numerous attacks by terror groups but never managed to strike the US again.


Economic recession and natural calamities caused greater havoc worldwide in the past few years than sporadic terror attacks. This is not to dismiss the reprisal threatened by the Taliban, for Osama bin Laden's killing. Reports of fundamentalists possessing a dirty bomb, maybe several, could be true in light of reports that Pakistani nuclear scientist AQ Khan secretly transferred technology to make nuclear weapons to North Korea, Libya and other clientele. While the US-led power axis's offensive against Afghanistan, named Operation Enduring Freedom, on October 7, 2001, was triggered by the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre, it has only partly attained its objectives of destroying Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Afghanistan is a long way off from becoming a functioning democracy.


This power axis's invasion of Iraq in March 2003, ostensibly to fish out 'weapons of mass destruction', was really a ploy to get rid of the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and gain control of Iraq's petroleum resources. So far as Afghanistan is concerned, Osama bin Laden's death is bound to precipitate a severe backlash. The western power bloc and its allies can expect the worst. The operation could not have been conducted without Pakistan's assent, nor refuge provided to Osama bin Laden without the complicity of the ruling regime. What is intriguing is the timing of the strike as preceding American Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush never quite showed the will to track down the man.


Mr Clinton, who demitted the presidential office in January 2001, after two terms, is seen not to have made a serious attempt to catch Osama bin Laden though Sudanese authorities in 1996 offered to capture and extradite the terrorist, then blamed for his role in the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Similarly, Mr Bush, his successor, also failed to deploy the massive arms and intelligence arsenals at his command to capture Osama bin Laden and his aides though he threatened to smoke them out of their holes shortly after the destruction of the twin towers. Both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began during his tenure, but even during his second term as President, the military impasse in these regions remained unresolved.


Mr Obama, a political greenhorn, coasted to power in November 2008 by pledging restoration of the US's health. But things continued to spiral out of control, with Ms Sarah Palin, a Republican lightweight, who ran unsuccessfully for Vice President in the last election, now getting emboldened enough to project herself as the future President. A former beauty queen, she seems to be banking on Americans' susceptibility to televised glamour to be elected. The Osama episode is perhaps meant to counter the Republicans' growing criticism of the current leadership. But whether Osama bin Laden is dead or alive, Mr Obama has more substance than Ms Palin. Economic revival is a difficult task, and he deserves more time.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

LESSONS FROM OSAMA'S KILLING

KALYANI SHANKAR


India does not need to be soft while dealing with terrorism or terrorists sheltered by Pakistan. Nor should India's politicians reduce national interest to what will fetch them votes in elections


While announcing the elimination of Osama bin Laden, US President Barack Obama has said with satisfaction that "justice has been done" to the 9/11 victims. It took almost 10 years for the US to relentlessly pursue the Al Qaeda leader and kill him in his hiding place in Pakistan in a dramatic manner.


Mr Obama and the Americans have much to rejoice. They have been able to teach a lesson to those who dared to attack the US. For them the security of every American is more important than anything else. While the Republicans and the Democrats are politically opposed, they work in unison where national security is concerned. In fact, the US law-makers have already begun to put pressure on the Obama Administration to get Islamabad's explanation about the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The US has provided more than $20 billion in aid to Pakistan since 9/11. But Washington, DC needs Islamabad for its Afghan strategy.

Mr Obama is sure to get a second term for his courageous decision to go after Osama bin Laden hiding for the past five years in a villa surrounded by houses of retired Pakistani military officers in Abbottabad, 60 km away from Islamabad. However, the extent of collusion between Osama bin Laden, the Pakistani military and the intelligence agencies is a matter of debate.


Is there a lesson for India to learn from the elimination of Osama bin Laden? What about justice to our own victims of the Mumbai terror attack? What about justice to the victims of the Parliament House attack in which security guards and Parliament staff gave their lives while dealing with the terrorists.


One might argue that New Delhi has adopted the due process of law. Agreed that these culprits have gone through the judicial process but why is not justice being done after the courts have pronounced the death sentence to Afzal Guru who has been held guilty of plotting the attack on Parliament House? The mercy plea is still awaiting a presidential decision. How come Dawood Ibrahim, mastermind of the Mumbai 1993 bombings, is walking free in Pakistan?


Already people have started questioning the delay in punishing Afzal Guru and the murmurs will grow further in the coming months after Osama bin Laden's killing. India's political class is hesitant to use force to punish terrorists. India's military chiefs had suggested surgical strikes across the border after the Mumbai terror attack and Parliament House attack but the political leadership on both occasions lacked nerves and capitulated under pressure from the US and other foreign Governments.

 

Unfortunately, the politicians seem to be confused about justice to the culprits and their vote-bank politics. This is true of Afzal Guru or Ajmal Kasab as the politicians worry more about their votes rather than giving exemplary punishment to the terrorists. The national parties like the Congress and the BJP are seen to be pleading for or against the punishment to Afzal Guru, keeping in mind their vote-banks. What is the religion of terrorists? Things that affect the national security should not be confused with religion or vote-banks. Politicians should allow the law to take its own course. India should learn a lesson or two from the Americans and the Israelis who have shown time and again that non-state actors who indulge in terrorism will not be tolerated.

Second, Osama bin Laden's exit and the way he was eliminated has provided an opportunity to India to send a message to Pakistan and the world on 26/11. It is bound to put pressure on the Manmohan Singh Government to rework its Pakistan policy as well as AfPak policy. As Mr Obama and his Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, hinted after the announcement of killing of Osama bin Laden, it is clear that the Americans need logistical support of Pakistan to deal with Afghanistan while Pakistanis need the American dollars for improving their economy and military strength. This mutual dependence on each other is going to continue for some more time and therefore the US will not push Pakistan beyond a point. New Delhi must use this opportunity to impress upon Washington and the international community the need to force Pakistan to deal with other terrorist outfits in a firm manner. Otherwise, Osama bin Laden may be dead but the jihadi terrorism may continue.


Third, while the US can declare with satisfaction that it has hunted down Osama and killed him, there is no such relief for New Delhi as we are still expecting Pakistan to deliver to the perpetrators of Mumbai terror attack. Moreover, proxy war on the Kashmir border still continues. Now is the time to build international pressure on Islamabad to deliver perpetrators of 26/11-terror attack to justice.


It is clear that so long as the Pakistan Army controls there could be no real change in India-Pakistan strategy. When the ISI could manage to keep out the American agencies from discovering the hiding place of Osama bin Laden for five years, how can one expect that it would deliver Lashkar-e-Tayyeba? One lesson from the American experience is that New Delhi should also explore other avenues, as simply depending upon Pakistani authorities is not going to yield results.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

THE ROLE OF IDEOLOGY IN ECONOMICS

VINAYSHIL GAUTAM


It would be useful to look at economics as an instrument of social policy. It is only then that economics can become an effective instrument in bringing about social change. Ideology helps bridge the gap

It is useful to look at economics as an instrument of social policy. Perhaps it is only then that it can become an effective instrument of social change. This, however, does not come easy because politics and its terminology overtake economics and its terminology. The role of ideology is to bridge the gap between economic reality and social reality.

Operationally, however, in the Indian decision-making circles of policy, ideology is progressively taking a back seat. Governance process is being increasingly manipulated by cliques and factions of political convenience.

Like in anything else, someone can argue: So what? In the ultimate analysis at a subliminal level it is always difficult to answer 'so what'? From a high vantage point nothing material matters. However, in real life situation, many things matter.


If the ideology base does not bind people and put people apart then the only thing which can put people together or put people apart is personal interest. This easily makes politics or the control of the decision-making process a hand maiden of transaction give and take and worse.


It is part of the wider problem of the difficulty which human mind faces in confronting and grasping the social and economic changes induced by the rapid transformation of the modes and sources of production and profit.

The impact of the real world on the thinking of the economist has been palpable and a methodology deficiency has increasingly become apparent.


One of the reasons why Keynes was unable to limit himself to an argument on inflation merely as a factor of the level of cash balances was because the issue of cash habits has to be considered. Public finance was then not a fashionable area but policies were needed for the public, for business and of banks mattered even then. Some will recall that while looking at the social effect of change in the value of money, Keynes had divided society into the investing class, the business class and the earning class. For this the terms: Rentiers, entrepreneurs and salariat respectively were coined. Interestingly, these classes could be responsible for inflationary process or may be its victim. That the social groups affect economic functioning is not a matter of debate.


The larger point is that for any theory of trade cycle the process variable and sociology approach comes in handy and this when handled under the overall nomenclature of economic thinking, calls for clarity of concepts. The votaries of longitudinal thinking and the sociology approach have good company. The case of some French economists easily comes to mind — the name of Aujec is a good example. Interestingly, he defined inflation as a situation where "monetary relationships are disturbed by action and reaction of social groups whether for political, economic or other reasons."


His text "Inflation as a Monetary Consequence of Behaviour of Social Groups" in International Economic Papers is worth reading if the purport of the statement of Julian Assange, as reported in the Press that Indians are the largest depositors in Swiss Bank is to be fully appreciated.


It needs to be realised that financial wheeling-dealing when it touches the kind of scale which it has in India, it becomes necessary for those who can, take money out of the territorial sovereign limits of the country. Or else the inflationary pressures which their action is causing begins to eat into their assets also.


That simultaneously with all the celebratory mood of GNP of growth, there is a very real danger of fiscal deficit and huge inflationary pressure not being factored in ultimately in the reality of economic growth.

Consider the question from the point of view of the impact of rural urban trade, upon the rural sector. During the period of transition to commercialisation of the rural sector, the whole matter has run berserk .Commercialisation of agriculture and the monetisation of the rural economy have consequences for overall economic growth. Trade can and does cause a rise in the prices of those factors which are specific to agriculture.

It also, causes is a rise in the prices of non-specific factor capable of alternative employment in commerce, transportation, money lending and the like.


Coupled up with the horizontal supply curve of labour from agriculture, it is easy to understand how relative rise in real earning in agriculture got stymied.


The time has come to understand economics as its flows and realise its implications. This would be the way forward.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

FREE IT UP

 

The UPA government has hard choices to make next week. Indications are that if and when the ministerial panel on fuel prices meets on May 11, it will go ahead and hike petrol, diesel and cooking gas prices to ease pressure on state-run oil firms owing to rising global crude prices. But this is a half-step, addressing a symptom that's bound to recur if the underlying problem stays unaddressed. RBI's monetary policy statement has highlighted the need to go ahead with full deregulation of fuel prices with diesel next on the table. New Delhi must find the political will to carry through the process.


Political instability in the Middle East had pushed the average crude price for the Indian basket to $110.4 per barrel in March 2011. Conventional wisdom holds that at a time inflation is a core issue, making fuel prices reflect global trends will exacerbate the problem. But this is a specious argument, as RBI governor D Subbarao has pointed out. In the case of diesel, if prices aren't freed up, fiscal expansion through a greater subsidy burden will boost inflation in any case. And lowering subsidy allocation as the finance minister has done is a sleight of hand. Mounting under-recoveries of state-run oil companies will impact government revenues in the end.

In the medium-to-long term, such a policy will drive a wedge deeper into the fiscal deficit. Oil PSUs still look to the government to allow petrol price hikes despite deregulation. As a result, domestic prices don't truly reflect international trends. Freeing up diesel prices and allowing a market-dictated passthrough of petrol prices will bring about market efficiency and appropriate demand adjustment. The crucial balancing part of the equation to avoid impacting growth negatively is to rationalise the fuel tax regime. Currently, customs duty on crude oil is 5% and on petrol and diesel 7.5%, while excise duty on petrol and diesel is Rs 14.35 and Rs 4.60 per litre respectively. Cumulatively, taxes make up half the retail prices of motor fuel.


That is where the government has the most space to manoeuvre in achieving the twin objectives of completing deregulation without undercutting growth or pinching consumers. Also, those who can afford higher-priced petrol must be discouraged from making wasteful and environmentally harmful use of subsidised diesel. As for the dent in tax revenues, the shortfall for bridging the fiscal deficit - which seems the finance minister's main focus - can be made up elsewhere. There's enough flab in government expenditure to be cut. Economic logic must provide the political will that is currently lacking.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

HELD ACCOUNTABLE

 

Vice-president Hamid Ansari has said, "The days of the so-called mai-baap sarkar are over." Are they truly? They can be, if we empower citizens in terms of what he calls a new paradigm of "right and entitlement". With issues like corruption and governance deficit in public focus, let's have laws and institutional mechanisms that eliminate the 'mai-baap' culture characterising bureaucracy. Inordinate delays in and poor delivery of government services mar good governance and encourage graft. The way forward is to make service delivery an entitlement rather than an extension of patronage politics. It's, therefore, welcome that Delhi has joined states like Madhya Pradesh and Bihar by ratifying its own variant of a law guaranteeing right to timely services from civil servants. The Delhi Right of Citizen to Time-Bound Delivery of Services Act allows for fines on officials who delay clearance of files and service delivery within stipulated time frames. This will compel greater administrative responsiveness and help reduce corruption.


People can expect greater bureaucratic alacrity in a range of services, be it delivery of ration cards or public amenities. But, as highlighted by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, an awareness campaign must also educate the masses about their rights. Further, administrative reforms like simplifying official procedures and points of contacts, besides minimising political interference especially in official postings and transfers, must complement right to services. Also, bureaucratic delay is often politically dictated, so safeguards are needed against unfair penalties. If RTI targeted red tape and official secrecy, right to service equips citizens to hold authorities accountable. The vice-president rightly said citizens now view "government interventions...through the prism and framework of rights." Thanks to increased literacy and economic progress, people everywhere expect more from public servants. All the more reason right to services should be applied across the country.

 

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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

CAGING HAWKS POST-OSAMA

DIPANKAR GUPTA

 

Who let the Hawks out in India? The American SEALS, of course. They took wing after the Hollywood-like finish with which the American Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) forces rubbed out Osama bin Laden. This spectacular event also converted some of our defence experts into scriptwriters. If only India could send its commandos to do a sequel to the Osama episode, that would be one blockbuster.


Well, what is the delay? We know that Dawood is in 30, Defence Housing Society in Karachi and Hafiz Saeed of Jamaat-ul-Dawa in 4, Lake Road, Lahore. So why doesn't India come down from the skies and turn their lights off? They may not be in the mood for guests, but we shouldn't let that stop us.


What Indian hawks miss out in their posturing is that the Kashmir problem will not be resolved by capturing or killing some unbelievably evil people in Pakistan. Terrorists have a way of breeding rapidly if they receive political patronage. Ergo, to resolve Kashmir, or terrorism in the subcontinent, there is no alternative but a state-to-state dialogue.


If we must be inspired by events outside, then let us think Ireland, not America. The long years of violence between the Protestants and Catholics came to a close in Northern Ireland once the British and Irish governments decided to call it a day. It is only then that the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 could be signed and delivered. It is this high-level goodwill and plain straight talk that finally ended the "Troubles" in Ireland.

For years the British did to Irish Republicans what our native hawks want us to do to Pakistani jihadists. They killed, captured and maimed hundreds, but that did not bring them closer to peace. True,
Bill Clinton started the process by turning off the taps that funded IRA terrorists, but that was not enough. Eventually it was the resolve of the governments of Ireland and Britain that did the trick.


Even if India can pull off a forced entry into Lahore, Karachi, or wherever, this will not keep the jihadis from breeding. As long as the Pakistani government holds on to the petri-dish, terrorists will spawn like worms. Ireland teaches us that peace happens only when governments want peace. Make no mistake, the fissures in Northern Ireland ran very deep, perhaps deeper than those in Kashmir.


During the decades-long "Troubles", the Catholics and Protestants were using a number of tell-tale signs to mark each other out. They not only went to separate churches, but also played different sports. Even personal names and the use of certain phrases bore an identity tag. Close attention was paid to the way alphabets "a" and "h" were pronounced. On an everyday basis people resolved to such acts of "telling" in order to make out friend from foe.


As long as the Republic of Ireland and the British government tried to scare each other, the "Troubles" got worse in Northern Ireland. Over time, the resemblances between the two sides grew and so did their mutual antipathy. In India we run the same risk. Whenever Pakistan postures aggressively, we have to reciprocate.

 

Where is the alternative?

This has had disastrous consequences for Indo-Pak relations and there is really no end in sight. For some time, there is a deceptive peace in the Valley and then suddenly a single stone starts an avalanche. Such incidents bring out the worst in both Pakistan and India. Religious bigots, whether Hindu or Muslim, are able to raise the ante and scare the rest from calling their bluff. It is this that keeps miracles from happening.

Who would have imagined, prior to the Good Friday Agreement, that the Republic of Ireland would actually change Articles 2 and 3 of its Constitution? With this single act it gave up its long-cherished claim on Northern Ulster. On the other side, Britain too reciprocated by repealing the Ireland Act of 1920. India and Pakistan need to do something that is as grand and magnanimous as this.


The mood against violence is unshakably palpable in all Ireland. When a car bomb killed a rookie Catholic policeman in Northern Ireland, activists from both sides condemned the attack. Catholics and Protestants went in large numbers to the funeral. Many wore T-shirts or carried banners on which "Not in my name" was boldly lettered. When peace looks this good up close, it can help overcome personal tragedies.


We can have such a happy ending too, but not with swooping hawks or staged melodrama. Sadly, the Abbottabad incident shows that Pakistan is unwavering in its support to jihadis. Now that it has been shamed in the open, Pakistan must quickly make up its mind: will it hit back or think about peace?


One often slips up on their names, but what Obama is to Osama, Geelani of Kashmir is not to Gilani of Pakistan. The latter two get on fine and, objectively, need each other. It is this tie that needs to snap, but that will not happen till the government of Pakistan (or is it just the ISI?) wants it to. Perhaps a push from big brother might help. If Bill Clinton could do it for Ireland, President Obama should do it for us. Only then will the war on terror, in Kashmir and elsewhere, end.


In the meantime, Indian hawks could lend their talents to Bollywood.


The writer is former professor, JNU.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'STRENGTHENING SOUTH-SOUTH COOPERATION IS CRUCIAL'

 

In the midst of the upheavals in the Arab world, Morocco is undertaking extensive constitutional reforms to strengthen democracy. Recently in New Delhi for the 4th session of the India-Morocco joint commission, Moroccan foreign trade minister Abdellatif Maazouz spoke to Rudroneel Ghosh about reforms and relations:


How will King Mohammed VI's latest push for constitutional reforms address desires for greater political, social and economic freedoms in Morocco?

The core of His Majesty's programme of constitutional reforms is separation of powers between the government, the legislature and the judiciary. Greater power is envisaged for the executive headed by the prime minister. Second, there is great emphasis on the constitutionalisation of human rights by defining rules that preserve freedoms of unions, political parties, press, consumers etc. Morocco is a democratic constitutional monarchy. The present reforms will enhance the existing provisions of the Constitution and strengthen democratic institutions. The process of regionalisation that has been initiated will see greater political and economic powers being devolved to the regions. The latter will now directly elect the presidents of regional councils, which in turn will have a great degree of autonomy to manage regional affairs. All this and more will be defined in the new Constitution.


Is there a case for greater Indian engagement with North Africa?

Certainly. Morocco is working for the establishment of consolidated economic cooperation that would bring about regional integration in North and sub-Saharan Africa. Owing to free trade agreements it has with most North African countries and its efforts to set up preferential trade agreements with certain sub-Saharan countries, Morocco could be a platform for Indian investment in this region. A tripartite partnership between India, Morocco and other African countries with the aim of harnessing investment opportunities and strengthening South-South cooperation is crucial.


How can, and will, the India-Morocco joint commission take bilateral relations forward?

The commission this time tried to establish a roadmap for bilateral trade. We have targeted some specific sectors we want to develop together. Textile is one such sector where we can compliment each other and jointly target markets in Europe and the US that have a steady demand for Moroccan goods. Another sector that has great potential for cooperation is IT. Joint ventures here, both in software and hardware, can open the door to growing markets in Africa. Trade exchanges between India and Morocco have tripled between 2005 and 2010. India is Morocco's third trading client in the world and the first at the Asian level.


What are some important decisions the commission has taken this time?

We have decided to convene every three years. A sub-commission of experts will meet every 18 months. Indian and Moroccan private sectors will have task forces in the areas of textile, IT, energy and pharmaceuticals. A delegation of Indian textile businessmen is already expected in Morocco in September. Given the great potential of the two countries, their strategic geographical locations as well as the strong political will on both sides which has always pushed for bilateral cooperation, i believe that maritime routes linking the Tangiers Port in north Morocco and the different ports in India will play a substantial role in promoting commercial relations.

Along with trade, how can we enhance people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the two countries?
The two countries have very rich cultures. Our histories stretch back millennia. Diplomatic missions in both countries should organise greater people-to-people and cultural exchanges. India is very strong in IT and perhaps we can leverage this to share our cultural heritage like writing, literature, etc. We already have one common historical figure, Ibn Battuta. Perhaps we should start there

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

JUGULAR VEIN

CROWN AND COUNTRY

 

In the event, i didn't go to the WillKat wedding. For one thing, i read somewhere that the couple were going to be serving wine and champagne at the event but no beer. Why? Because beer - unlike wine and champagne - is seen to be a drink of the working classes. Beer at a Windsor at-home? Good lord. Mummyji would get her tiara, not to mention other things, in a right royal twist.


The other reason that i didn't go is that over the years i've developed an allergy to any form of royalty. Some people are allergic to peanuts, or prawns, or dairy products. If, by mistake, they ingest one of these things their faces swell up, or they break out in spots. In my case, my allergy to royalty causes me to break into a sneezing fit, often at the mere mention of a member of the species.


It first manifested itself years ago when i knew a Calcutta family the head of which had in his youth been an ADC to a Rajasthani maharaja. Every now and then, in the course of general conversation (So hot and sticky the weather is, no?), mention would be made of the maharaja connection whereupon the entire family would apparently be seized by a collective fit of sneezing, all of them going Ziness!, Ziness!, Ziness ! Bless you, i'd say to them. Bless you, bless you.


One day, one of them asked me: Why do you keep saying bless you? Because you keep sneezing all the time, i replied, and demonstrated how they did it: Ziness! We're not sneezing, you idiot, i was informed. We're referring to His Ziness, the Maharaja.


It seemed that, in royal circles, the preferred pronunciation of 'Highness' - as in 'His Most Royal and Exalted Highness' - was 'Ziness' with an exclamation mark at the end and an accompanying clicking together of heels. I don't know if it was that particular experience or something else, but i start sneezing when people start talking about royalty. Reason i don't play cards. Can't, what with all those kings and queens mucking about.

Anyway, i'm glad that the WillKat nuptials went off without any glitches, or sneezes. Though it all seemed pretty tame stuff, no drama-baji like we have in Indian weddings. No last-minute dowry demands. No bhangra-ing baratis. No helicopters. No shotguns fired into the air, bringing down the stray crow or curious bystander caught in the blast. No wailing pooh-paah cars competing with the wailing of shehnais. No Bollywood starlets doing item numbers.


Still, it was a nice shaadi, and i wish the couple all the best for the future. As and when Mummyji finally steps down, and Charlie-baba ascends to the throne - How will they get him out of the wheelchair and onto it? - Willie will be next in line to be king. Perhaps it's time he began to take a few kingly lessons. True, he'll be king of only a small, wet island largely inhabited by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who run balti restaurants the waiters of which are rumoured to spit in cheery contempt into the chicken tikka masala that the natives consume with obsessive dedication. But a king's a king for all that, and a little royal tutoring might well be in order. Where should Willie go to get it?


Ever since the French Revolution, royalty keeps a low profile in Europe. As in the case of the midget monarch, Sarkozy I of France, who stands five-foot nothing in his elevator shoes. With the Indian takeover and the booting out of the poor Chogyal, royalty has been banished from Sikkim, as it has from Nepal following popular demand. Bhutan's King Jigme Wangchuk has stepped down for his son (why won't Mummyji take a hint?) and has also announced a rollout plan for democracy. The anti-royal Jasmine Revolution is sweeping West Asia and North Africa. So where can poor Willie go to learn to be a proper monarch? Which is the only country left in the world where dynasty is destiny, and destiny is dynasty?


All right Willie, pop across and we'll try and arrange to get you a darshan of a truly Royal Family. OK, Maharani Soniaji, Yuvraj Rahulji? Ziness! (Damn, there goes the sneezing again.)

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

NOT ENOUGH TO ITS CREDIT

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is now in the midst of a full-fledged firefight against inflation. The half a percentage point increase this week in the rate at which the central bank lends overnight money to banks is being seen as a precursor to a similar hike over the next six months during which the RBI expects inflation to stay close to the 9% clocked in March 2011 before it begins to drift down towards 6% in the second half of this financial year. The impact of dearer money shows up in the central bank's assessment that the economy will grow in the region of 7.4-8.5%, slower than the government's budgetary projection of 9% for 2011-12. Inflation is now clearly eating into the country's growth momentum and RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao makes a strong case for the government to raise suppressed energy prices that are fueling incipient inflation, despite the short term pain that this entails.

Despite having raised interest rates by 3 percentage points since March 2010, when the RBI embarked on its rate-tightening cycle, the demand for credit has not flagged, growing 21.4% in 2010-11, above the central bank's comfort level of 20%. Industry and services, respectively, borrowed 23.6% and 23.9% more during the year, while farm credit growth fell to 10.6% from 22.9% a year ago. Households borrowed 17% more, a big jump from the 4% growth logged in 2009-10. Credit rating agency ICRA reckons a high base and a further monetary tightening leading to persistently high interest rates could bring down the overall credit growth in credit in 2011-12 to around 18-19%.

Inflation control has not kept the central bank completely occupied in its latest credit policy. A slew of structural changes for the banking industry should help improve the monetary mechanism that is set in motion from Mumbai's Mint Road. A half a percentage point hike in the savings rate is halfway house towards deregulation. A cap on money banks can park in mutual fund schemes that offer better returns than the overnight central bank rate should lessen the slippages from the system. A fixed spread between the rates at which banks borrow and lend from the central bank provides consistency in liquidity management. And it always helps to set more money aside for bad debts. The RBI has also come out with rules for loans to micro-financiers to qualify for an interest subsidy. The central bank's stocktaking of measures to strengthen banking regulation over the past year yields a mixed bag with a central registry for loans, rules for new banks, changes in banks' holding structure, and improved real-time settlement of transactions all being in the works.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

FREE-WHEELING DEALING

Things are already looking up in Pakistan. The most potent indicator? No, it's not Osama bin Laden being forcibly made to leave town by the Americans. The good signs come from across the border where the poppy plant doesn't bloom. There's an interest from a Pakistani company in selling that symbol of social mobility, the Tata Nano. The imaginatively named International Multi Group of Companies has businesses in edible oil and is Pakistan's largest importer of Indian films. Now, the group wants to import automobiles including the Nano and CNG buses from the Tata Group.

While it may seem like a small deal about a small car crossing a non-neighbourly border, the entry of the Nano in the Pakistani market could well be revolutionary. Till now, the car-owning population in the country has strictly been the rich in their (bullet-proof) SUVs and rugged landowners in the deceptively ragged Toyotas. The Nano may, inshallah, lead the Pakistani nation to the birth of a middle-class, something that neither the legendary television soaps nor its free media has able to prop up.

The Nano hasn't been able to usher in the demographic revolution in the country of its birth as was pitched by its manufacturers. But perhaps India-Pakistan relations will finally manage to make that great paradigm shift after diplomatic relations are privatised, and what better way to kickstart this new non-governmental 'Track Four' diplomacy than through a Tata company. In a country that desperately needs a middle class — or at least a visible one — what better way than to wheel it out on an affordable set of wheels?

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

STATE OF TWO STATES

RAJDEEP SARDESAI,

This week, two states, separated at birth, completed their 50th birthday celebrations. While comparing siblings is often best avoided, the journey of Maharashtra and Gujarat offer many lessons for the future. Fifty years ago, Maharashtra was the country's economic powerhouse, benefiting from the colonial legacy of being the heart of the old Bombay state while Gujarat was 'an idea in the making'. Today, on several growth indicators — including an impressive double-digit agricultural growth rate — Gujarat is showing signs of marching ahead, even while Maharashtra is reaching saturation point. What explains the divergent paths taken by two states, which have been tied by history and geography?

In the first instance, let's compare the quality of political leadership. For the first 20 years of its existence, Maharashtra was blessed to have a visionary leadership backed by a high degree of political stability. Single party rule and chief ministers who lasted their full term, ensured a single-minded focus on industrial and agrarian development. By contrast, Gujarat had eight CMs in its first 20 years, not a single one completing a five-year term. The political uncertainty meant that Gujarat struggled to match Maharashtra's growth trajectory.

In the last 20 years though, the political situation in both states has changed dramatically. Since 1995, Maharashtra has been cursed with coalition governments that have slowed down decision-making. Every CM has had to compromise for political survival, with the result that the authority of the leadership has been undermined from within. Worse, the vacuum has been filled by an unholy power nexus led by real estate barons. On the other hand, Gujarat, in this period and particularly in the last decade, has been fortunate to have assured political stability, which in turn has given the state an opportunity to unleash its entrepreneurial energies.

Gujarat CM Narendra Modi remains a contentious political figure, but it can't be denied that he provided Gujarat with a strong, decisive leadership. He may be an autocrat, but he has also provided a single-window clearance to investors, with no glaring instance of corruption, which is attractive to business leaders when evaluating options. Just contrast the speed with which the Nano project was cleared with the hesitancy shown by Maharashtra when confronted with similar proposals. Or the innovative agro-technology schemes in Gujarat with the manner in which agrarian distress in rural Maharashtra, especially Vidarbha, has remained a festering sore.

Part of the problem lies in the over-politicisation of decision-making in Maharashtra when compared with Gujarat. Take the recent controversy over Jaitapur. Instead of a rational evaluation of the merits of the nuclear power project, a political war has broken out between the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance and the opposition Shiv Sena. There have even been unsubstantiated allegations of the Sena bankrolling some of the anti-Jaitapur protesters. The agitation is worryingly similar to the anti-Enron movement of the 1990s where again politics hijacked economic imperatives. The result is that a once power surplus state today suffers from 16 hours of load-shedding in several districts.

In Gujarat, by contrast, politics has always been subservient to economics. The mercantilist traditions have meant that the Gujarati won't allow political battles to trump 'dhandha'. For the Gujarati, the sensex, not 'asmita', is the ultimate barometer of his well-being; Mukesh Ambani, not Shivaji, is his icon; and money, not Matoshree, is the prized deity. A pragmatic approach to development has meant that there has been relatively muted opposition to any project — be it a special economic zone or a dam — that is seen to benefit the larger economic interests of  the state.

And yet, while being economically aspirational, Gujarati society remains socially conservative: its sex ratio remains below the national average while Dalits and tribal communities are still marginalised. Moreover, the rise of overt religiosity has turned Gandhi's Gujarat into a state that is today a laboratory for Hindutva politics. The influence of religious sects and their self-styled leaders is perhaps greater in Gujarat than any other state. The 2002 riots were a reflection of the coarseness of a mindset that saw religious minorities as the 'enemy'. Since 2002, there hasn't been a major eruption of violence in the state. But as the recent report of economist Abu Saleh Sharief has revealed, the 'Vibrant Gujarat' concept has clearly bypassed its minorities. For example, poverty among Gujarat Muslims is eight times more than high-caste Hindus and 50% more than OBCs. Twelve per cent Muslims have bank accounts but only 2.6% of them get bank loans.

It isn't as if Maharashtra hasn't seen religious rioting or linguistic bigotry in this period. The fact that parties like the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena can still use their goons to target other communities without any effective censure is a blot on a state that swears by a legacy of social progressiveness. However, the Senas remain fringe groups, largely confined to Mumbai and a few other urban pockets, proof of the limits of the politics of hate across Maharashtra.

The challenges before the two states then are clear. Maharashtra needs to rediscover a far-sighted political leadership that is able to look beyond personal self-aggrandisement. For Gujarat, the challenge is to show that its growth story is not measured in investments alone, but in the ability of a non-partisan state to reach out to its less privileged groups.

Post-script: As someone born in Ahmedabad, but grew up in Mumbai, I can only wish that both states learn the lessons of the first 50 years so that the next half century establishes the rise of western India!

Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

BEYOND THE EMPTY CHATTER

KEKI N DARUWALLA KEKI N DARUWALLA,

Things come full circle at times. What started with the 1998 blasts in the United States embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam ended in Abbottabad in Pakistan on May 2. But it was the horror of 9/11, the two aircraft moving into New York's World Trade Centre towers, which will remain a defining image of the 21st century. Fittingly enough, nemesis came for its perpetrators in the shape of an operation second only to Israel's Entebbe raid.

How long are we going to beat the drum of Pakistani complicity? It was foolish to have squirreled away Osama bin Laden to Abbottabad of all places, with the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul next door, and numerous army formations all around, including the Baloch and the Frontier Forces Regimental Training Centres and the Army Medical Corps headquarters. Pakistan's army chief Ashfaq Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence chief Shuja Pasha belong to the Baloch and Frontier Force respectively. The Pakistani establishment wasn't clueless; it was complicit.

Was it bin Laden's charisma or ideology that preserved him so long and made the Taliban stand by him at the cost of losing its hold over Afghanistan? Or was it his 'sacrifice' in leaving a life of luxury and giving his $50 million wealth to the cause?

Bin Laden's 'ideology' was a part of his charisma. He was no ideologue like Sayyid Qutb or Hassan al-Banna, the doctrinal bulwarks of the Muslim Brotherhood. But if your ideology is 'kill', especially Americans, you will score good marks with certain people. What was his ideology? He hated West Asian regimes — that vast warren of dictatorships and monarchies that had truck with the West or were members of the United Nations and were regarded as un-Islamic. What dribbles down to us is mostly his rant and racial hatred, like his 2002 statement: "The war is between us and the Jews. Any country that steps into the same trench as the Jews has only itself to blame." He linked 'Zionists' and 'crusaders', and blamed them for the Iraq invasion. His ideology never went beyond nihilism.

Islamabad, too afraid of a backlash from its own jihadis, provided sanctuary to bin Laden. The Pakistani public, who showered rose petals on the killer of Punjab's governor Salman Taseer must share the blame. What will be the effect of bin Laden's death? He had become a derelict, a fugitive living in a safehouse for over five years, more a symbol than a leader of terrorists. But symbols matter. The burst of Arab Spring had already bypassed bin Laden and his ideology. Power can come through protest and the ballot and not necessarily through the barrel of the gun. In the long run, al-Qaeda would need inspiration. There are two likely successors: the Egyptian second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri and the Yemeni Anwar al-Awlaki. Already, a split in the outfit between Gulf Arabs and Egyptians is being talked about.

Pakistan can no longer remain cocooned within its self-generated myths — that it is the victims, not producer of terror; that Mullah Omar, like bin Laden, is in Afghanistan; that Pakistanis are anti-jihad; that the country is the face of moderate Islam. Or that absurd shibboleth that Pakistan is the bridge which the West can use to reach out to Islamic radicals. No West Asian country has nursed fanaticism, hate and blood lust the way Pakistan has done. It has given jihad a bad name. We have also had enough of those military-manufactured myths that justify Pakistan's control over Afghanistan for 'strategic depth' against India. The US could also do well by discarding certain myths, especially its belief that it can do nothing in Afghanistan without Pakistan's help.

Myths are related to collective perceptions, with images playing a part in their longevity. Saddam Hussein's image took a beating when he was caught in a squalid dug-out. Bin Laden's stock would also fall if the unconfirmed reports that he did not fight back and allowed his wife to shield him turned out to be true.

Keki N Daruwalla is a former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

N D COWBOYS AND CODENAMES

STEVEN NEWCOMB

 

Why was the great Apache chief Geronimo's name used for Osama bin Laden?

 

Why was the great Apache chief's name used for Osama bin Laden?

 

Why would the first African American president of the United States, as US commander-in-chief, think nothing of military forces applying the codename `Geronimo' to Osama bin Laden during the assault against that longsought enemy of the US? Apparently, having an African American president in the White House is not enough to overturn the more than 200-year American tradition of treating and thinking of Indians as enemies of the US.

 

George Washington, in 1784, used the analogy "the savage as the wolf" to refer to Indian ancestors as less-than-human "beasts". As Henry Wheaton said in his Elements of International Law, "The heathen nations of the other quarters of the globe were the lawful spoil and prey of their civilised conquerors." Thus, one of the normative American metaphors throughout the history of the US has been `Indians are enemies'. We're talking about a US tradition of dehumanisation and dominance used against our nations and peoples. From the perspective of non-Indian colonisers, our indigenous ancestors were enemies to be uprooted from the vast extent of our traditional lands and territories and confined to `reservations' in remote areas, under US control. Someone who has gone off the reservation is considered to be an `outlaw' -which in our case is outside the bounds of imposed laws and policies of the US.

 

Geronimo's life story is a direct result of the invasion of the Apache territory and attempts to subdue the free and independent Apache. After his family was massacred by Mexicans in 1851, Geronimo became a Chiricahua Apache leader who fit perfectly into the non-Indian metaphorical frame `Indians are enemies'. He and a small group of fellow Apaches brilliantly eluded capture by 5,000 US Army soldiers, 500 Indian scouts and 3,000 Mexican soldiers. The desert terrain was steep and formidable. The temperatures were extreme: intense cold and blistering heat. Geronimo and his band had very little food or water.

 

What those Apaches accomplished is very likely one of the most amazing physical feats of stamina in the history of the human race. He finally surrendered in 1886.

 

In the reported stories of Osama bin Laden being killed by US military forces, bin Laden was codenamed `Geronimo'.
According to CBS News, those who came up with that "inappropriate code name" apparently "thought of bin Laden as a 21st century equivalent" of Geronimo. In other words, the codename was based on an extension of the metaphor `Indians are enemies' to `Geronimo was a terrorist', thus perpetuating the US tradition of treating Indian nations and peoples as enemies.

 

Geronimo was fighting against the invasion of his country and the oppression of his people. He did not invade the US. Rather, Spain, Mexico and then the US invaded the Apache territory and the territories of hundreds of other indigenous nations. Horrific atrocities were committed against the Apache, and men such as Geronimo, whose family was massacred by Mexicans, did not hesitate to retaliate.
Geronimo died a `prisoner of war' in 1909.

 

The Guardian The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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

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

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

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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PHOTO FINISH

 

Despite the clamour from the conspiracy-minded and the morbidly curious, the US has refused to release photographic "proof" of Osama bin Laden's bloodied body. US President Barack Obama was firm — "we don't trot this stuff out as trophies." Not wanting to display victims like souvenir-photographs that soldiers used to take shows dignity and restraint, though it is unlikely to satisfy those like Sarah Palin who demand the pictures be publicised to show the world the dangers of messing with America, or those who want to see him dead for a sense of closure on 9/11. Obama stressed that the graphic images would inflame many in the Muslim world and create security risks for the US. Many others share that instinctive recoil, thinking that releasing the pictures would be an unnecessary provocation. As Susan Sontag has written, photographs can be more easily used as "totems of causes" than verbal slogans, they can crystallise sentiment around themselves more effectively than words. A picture of a dead and disfigured Osama bin Laden would have great power to galvanise, given his unusual charisma and power.

Besides, as Obama said, those who did not believe that Osama was dead would remain unconvinced even if there was photographic evidence. Conspiracy theorists believe what they want to believe, and what's more, photographs command no special trust and authority in our times. In the last decade, taking pictures, editing and manipulating them have become child's play. Just look at the first, mistaken picture of Osama's corpse that flashed all over the Web and TV — it turned out to be a simple photo-editing trick that smushed Osama's face with someone else's. Or even that now-famous photograph of Obama's tense "situation room" — one of the enduring images of Operation Geronimo — which has now been mercilessly spoofed online. So releasing the picture is not going to stop the free fantasising about political events and motives that parts of the Middle East and the US are prone to.

However, equally, withholding the picture may create greater mystique around him and his death. Combined with the slow trickle of official information about the Abbottabad operation, there's something still open-ended about the affair — and it's possible that the Obama administration may eventually have to share visual proof more widely. Either way, the dilemma is wholly understandable.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PSP FIR

 

On April 26, Sony announced that information comprising the user accounts at its PlayStation Network could have been stolen, following a massive data breach. And then, again, on May 2, they said that the breach was bigger than they had earlier suspected, and they added 25 million more compromised accounts to the list, those of customers who hadn't logged on to the PlayStation Network, but had accounts with Sony Online Entertainment. The information that could have been stolen by hackers included, crucially, credit and debit card data — which means that a massive replacement exercise will have to be carried out.

This is more than just an inconvenience. It comes with very real costs. Sony, fearing lawsuits, has undertaken to pay some of the costs that credit card companies suffer because of replacement and because they'll have to cover any unauthorised use of the cards before they're replaced. That won't help those who handed over debit card numbers to Sony, of course — money, if stolen, will have gone straight out of their bank account already. The total cost could go over $1 billion.

The questions that will be asked of Sony are many. How did this happen? How did two separate sets of accounts be compromised? Did they have to wait a few days before announcing the second tranche of compromised accounts? But this will also add to the concerns of those already worried about putting their financial data online. We will no doubt all learn, over time, best practices — not saving credit card information on websites, for example. Many PlayStation owners were perhaps more careless about storing information on the game console than they would have been online otherwise; these are precisely the sort of lessons that we will learn, hard, as the Internet expands its presence in our daily lives.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CHOPPY SKIES

 

The Congress party has asked for a review of helicopter safety after losing its second serving chief minister in a chopper crash in less than two years. However, a helicopter safety review in India has to cover the whole ground. The chopper segment has traditionally been the poor cousin within the civil aviation sector, with 60 civil chopper crashes in the last couple of decades. The tragic death of Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu adds to the growing list of high-profile victims, after former Andhra Pradesh CM Y.S.R. Reddy's death in September 2009. As recently as April 19 this year, 17 people were killed in another chopper crash in Tawang.

Both Khandu's death and the April 19 incident involved the PSU Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd (PHHL). However, the failures of helicopter operations cut across agencies and departments, exposing flawed flight safety policy implementations. At the root of it all is a shambolic, amateurish segment severely compromised by inadequate manpower. As reported in The Financial Express on Thursday, India has only four flight safety inspectors and 130 non-scheduled flight operators for a civil fleet of approximately 270 helicopters. Moreover, the four safety inspectors work "part-time", doubling up as chopper pilots. Of these four, three are pilots with PHHL, and are PHHL appointees. Little wonder we have made scant progress from 2005, when the D.C. Kaushik Committee report emphasised the inadequacy of flight inspectors (back then, one for nearly 150 choppers). Apart from sufficient numbers of neutral, full-time inspectors, aviation safety experts underscore the need for an independent flight safety board — and an independent, transparent audit for PHHL. Technologically, flight tracking and upgraded communications systems are also needed.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee has expressed concern about breaches of aviation safety norms by chartered helicopters — primarily pilots flying VIPs being pressured to take off or land in low visibility or adverse weather, often with minor defects in the craft. It may be a good idea to consider the committee's recommendation that pilots be legally equipped to refuse flying without mandatory technical and weather clearances, with penal provisions against both those pressuring pilots and pilots violating norms. The civil helicopter segment needs nothing less than a complete overhaul.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE MESSAGE IS THE AIM

ILA PATNAIK

 

In the monetary policy statement this week, the Reserve Bank changed its policy stance to a strong anti-inflationary one. However, though this step was much needed and is in the right direction, it will not be enough to bring inflation down. Hiking rates and contracting demand is only one part, the painful part, of the story. An equally important element is public perception about the central bank. To build credibility on its anti-inflationary stance, the RBI will need to improve its research capacity and communication strategy, get rid of conflicting objectives and be consistent in its pursuit of inflation control. This part, fortunately, does not hurt anyone. It needs a change in the framework, functions and objectives of the RBI.

Not only are there long lags in the weak monetary policy transmission mechanism in India, the bigger problem for the effectiveness of the tighter monetary policy is that the RBI is yet to build credibility as a central bank that puts inflation control above all objectives. To control inflation it will need to build this credibility with a consistent pursuit of inflation control as its primary function. To consistently pursue inflation control as its objective, it will have to get rid of conflicting objectives like maintaining the competitiveness of exports and being the government's debt manager. Given its poor record on projecting inflation in the last two years, it will have to visibly create new research capacity to ably forecast future inflation and measure inflationary expectations better.

Considering its exchange rate pegging in the past, it is not enough that the RBI has stopped intervening in the foreign exchange market — it has to communicate its new framework and make a clean break from the framework of exchange rate pegging and multiple objectives. In the past, the RBI has prevented liberalisation of financial markets for both domestic and foreign participants for fear of bringing in capital flows and making it difficult to prevent volatility in the foreign exchange market. Preventing financial markets from developing has not allowed the monetary policy transmission mechanism to strengthen. As a consequence, even when the RBI has been tightening policy over many months, the tightening has not yielded results.

The RBI has to become a central bank that actively seeks to improve the transmission mechanism of monetary policy through developing the bond-currency-derivatives nexus. Once public perception about the RBI changes, the effectiveness of monetary policy in India will improve.

What should the RBI's next step be, even before the rate hike? First, if inflation control has to be its dharma, the central bank must attempt to get rid of all those functions that might conflict with this objective. In the past, some of these conflicting objectives have come in the way of inflation control. For example, if keeping Indian exports competitive by manipulating the exchange rate had not been an important object of RBI policy, the 2004-2008 period would not have witnessed the build-up of reserves and the consequent increase in liquidity, and inflation might arguably have been quite different. Indeed, the RBI would have preferred an appreciating rupee to keep prices under control.

Similarly, if the RBI did not have the responsibility of being the debt manager of the government and keeping its interest expenditure low, it might have raised interest rates more sharply last year. Even though the RBI has moved to a floating rupee, it has shied away from making a commitment that it will not go back to intervening in the foreign exchange market. The market does not believe that if the rupee hits Rs 40 to a dollar, the RBI will still be wedded to inflation control. It is because of such conflicts with the objective of inflation control that most central banks in advanced economies no longer intervene in foreign exchange markets or act as the government's debt manager. The RBI cannot build credibility as a central bank focused on inflation if it continues its present stance of arguing that it will continue to have multiple objectives and will somehow manage these objectives when a conflict arises.

Second, the RBI's communication on inflation needs to change. On the trade-off between growth and inflation, it has often been argued that inflation targeting means that a central bank must ignore all other objectives such as growth in employment. The present policy statement has seen a break from this framework. The RBI has acknowledged that the objective of high growth does not conflict with that of inflation control. Indeed, high and volatile inflation reduces investment by introducing uncertainty and hurts medium- and long-term growth. This analytical framework needs to become the RBI's main message.

Next, to build credibility, the RBI should state its inflation measure and target. In the present policy it says: "Accordingly, the conduct of monetary policy will continue to condition and contain perceptions of inflation in the range of 4.0-4.5 per cent, with particular focus on the behaviour of the non-food manufacturing component. This will be in line with the medium-term objective of 3.0 per cent inflation consistent with

India's broader integration into the global economy."

This is not enough. The RBI needs to state which measure of inflation, such as the one based on the Consumer Price Index, underlies this target. More, few people would find this objective credible. The RBI can gain credibility by presenting how it is faring against this objective in the next policy announcement. A report similar to the Bank of England report and a framework where the governor is questioned by Parliament if he fails to meet his targets would help in bringing credibility to the RBI's commitment.

Third, better conduct of monetary policy would also require creating a much stronger research capability for measuring inflationary expectations. For example, the present policy statement asserts: "Significantly, the stability of long-term yields, despite the current high rates of inflation, suggests that inflationary expectations remain anchored." The RBI's own data on inflationary expectations strongly contradicts this.

Fourth, a short, concise policy statement would be more effective than the present statement which also includes other policy initiatives.

The above are some of the steps that can be taken relatively painlessly in the fight against inflation that could last many quarters. If the RBI is serious about this fight, it needs to start on these urgently.

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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

IT IS NOT OVER

ALIA ALLANA

 

Geronimo is what young children scream when they've knocked down all the pins in the bowling alley in one swift go. It was Operation Geronimo that took down Osama bin Laden in all of 40 minutes. But the game is far from over.

Tangible changes have taken place over the 10-year manhunt: al-Qaeda is no longer the centralised outfit it once was. Its tentacles have spread and cells have been created from East Africa to Europe, each operating as an individual unit, inspired by the man and his ideology.

But standing at the helm of the militant network is Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in Yemen. Early last year, calls were made on jihadi websites, asking "brothers to return home" to Yemen. And so they did. Brian O'Neill, a fellow of the American think tank, Council on Foreign Relations, writes, "AQAP is at the forefront of the next wave of jihad and is determined to bring down the Yemeni government to create a safe haven."

For many years, it was the Yemeni Nasir al-Wuhayshi who looked after Osama's affairs. He started as an assistant, rose to prominence as Osama's personal secretary and it is believed that he even threw himself in the line of fire to protect his leader once. Al-Wuhayshi has graduated from Osama's school of die-hard extremism. It is he, stone-eyed and fastidious in his reading of the Quran, who spews religious explanations and authorises attacks. Editor-in-chief of AQAP's propaganda magazine, he has been called Emir of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula by Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The second-in-command, cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, is also of Yemeni descent and a dual citizen of Yemen and the US. It is the sermons of this Internet-savvy orator that has helped AQAP attract Western jihadists. Both al-Wuhayshi and al-Awlaki call the unforgiving Yemeni terrain home.

Yemen, among Arabia's poorest countries, is often dismissed as a black hole, with worryingly high levels of illiteracy and unemployment. A civil war is waging in the north and a secessionist movement in the south. This complex mosaic of Yemeni politics and sectarian conflicts — the northern Houthi rebels pitched against the Sunnis, and the southerners against the government — has resulted in alliances between AQAP and alienated tribes. This has in turn created safe havens for the growing al-Qaeda franchise.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh's power is limited to the capital Sana'a and is stripped of resources that are mostly spent on fighting two different forces in the north and south. (Note that even 10 years ago, he failed to curb the activities of a fledgling al-Qaeda consortium after it bombed USS Cole that was harboured for refuelling in the Yemeni port of Aden.)

Now Saleh's weak government is grappling with the spring of discontent in the Middle East. Pro-democracy movements sweeping through the region have taken hold of Sana'a as well. For the past two months, thousands of people have risen against their president. They demand his exit, saying he and his nepotistic alliance have run Yemen into the ground.

In a march held in the capital on May 2, reports say protesters held up posters of Osama bin Laden. This is possibly a first for Yemen. It is also an extremely dangerous development in a country where al-Qaeda cells are looking for recruits. Like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who stuffed his underwear with powder explosives on Christmas Day 2009, in a botched attempt to blow up a transatlantic flight to Detroit. The Nigerian's jihad journey reportedly began in Yemen.

AQAP grew ambitious in its attacks around that time: a failed plot to assassinate Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in Jeddah in August 2009; attacks on Belgian tourists in January 2008 and on Korean tourists in March 2009, both in Yemen; two successful attacks on the US embassy in Sana'a and four pipeline bombings in Yemen.

While the war in Afghanistan moves forward, in this downtrodden country, the dream of an Arab Spring could be disturbed by al-Qaeda's ideology. Its Yemeni affiliate, AQAP, and its players stand ready to participate in a great game despite the death of their icon.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE BATTLE IN BUNDELKHAND, THE WAR IN UP

SUDHA PAI

 

Given the political significance of Uttar Pradesh, the campaign for assembly elections due in May 2012 has started gathering strength. It was flagged off by Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav with a three-day state-wide agitation in early March, when he criticised the Bahujan Samaj Party government as corrupt and incompetent, leading to violence and the arrest of many workers and leaders. Recently, the Congress party organised a "parivartan" rally at Banda in Bundelkhand district, addressed not only by Rahul Gandhi but also by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

With the decline of identity-based politics that had played a central role throughout the 1990s, all political parties in UP, including the Congress, have adopted an agenda of economic development. Two recent changes in the Hindi heartland have rendered this imperative. The Mayawati-led BSP government, on assuming power in 2007 pronounced — unlike in the past when it pursued Dalit-oriented policies — that its priorities were the inclusive development of all social segments and backward regions. Second, the electoral victory of Nitish Kumar in Bihar has heightened aspirations among the electorate, and sharpened the demands for development.

On earlier visits to Bundelkhand, Rahul Gandhi had focused on the problems of Dalits. At the Banda rally, he attacked the BSP government for lacking an economic vision and neglecting backward regions like Bundelkhand. The rally is part of his endeavour since the early 2000s, and more seriously, 2007, when the BSP captured power, to revive the organisation and base of the Congress party in the state. This effort has assumed greater political significance after the Congress obtained 21 seats in the 2009 national elections, the poor performance of the SP and the continued decline of the BJP, which has brought the Congress into direct confrontation with the ruling BSP.

According to a report by the Giri Institute of Development, Lucknow, Bundelkhand is not the most backward region of UP — it has shown remarkable progress since the early 1990s in reducing poverty, and recorded relatively satisfactory growth. Rather, the region was selected by Gandhi because it has 21 assembly and four Lok Sabha seats, and is a former Congress bastion, which it hopes to recapture from the BSP. Beginning his 2009 election campaign from here, Gandhi had demanded the establishment of a Bundelkhand Autonomous Authority, a financial package for large-scale irrigation, the trifurcation of UP and the establishment of a separate state of Bundelkhand to upstage this demand by the BSP. Taking this forward at the Banda rally, Gandhi argued that Bundelkhand had progressed when the Congress ruled the state and even now, it was the Central government that was attentive to the needs of its people, while the state government had failed to implement the development package provided by the former in 2009. This, he promised, would change once the Congress returned to power. The PM, on his first visit to the region, announced a slew of projects: rural drinking water, an agriculture university in Jhansi, a super-thermal power plant at Bargarh, upgrading the government medical college at Jhansi and setting up of five more Central schools and a development package that could be split between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to overcome water shortage and improve agricultural potential.

The sharpening political contestation between the two parties is evident in Mayawati's strident response. In 2009, strongly criticising Gandhi's remarks as Central interference, she had announced a number of welfare programmes for the region including the revival of the defunct Bundelkhand Vikas Nigam. Following the recent Congress rally, the UP government held the Centre responsible for the region's backwardness, as it had ignored the CM's request in May 2007 for a special area package of Rs 80,000 crore covering Bundelkhand and Poorvanchal. While the PM had promised a separate package of Rs 7,000 crore for Bundelkhand, only Rs 3,500 crore had been released in the last three years. Nor had the Centre provided BPL cards, and it was the UP government with its limited resources that had provided help under the Mukhyamantri Mahamaya Gareeb Arthik Madad Yojna. Much of this competition between the Congress and BSP over development stems from Mayawati's actions since 2007, as she undertook the revival of major metropolises and 43 other cities in the state with special emphasis on sewage, garbage disposal, drinking water facilities, roads, etc. Apart from programmes for scheduled castes and the minorities, a considerable part of the budget has been spent on the social security of backward classes, women, children and the rural and urban poor.

Thus, the next 12 months will witness an aggressive battle between the Congress attempting to regain lost ground as a broad-based party and the BSP attempting to consolidate its position as a party of disadvantaged sections but with a Dalit core. Identity politics has not disappeared — it is being used with an inclusive agenda of growth and not for any specific social group as in the past. After almost two decades of instability and economic neglect, two major parties are facing each other in a contest where questions of development are placed front-and-centre. While it is too early to discuss outcomes, it is hoped that this battle will bring concrete progress to a state long-engulfed by identity politics.

The writer is professor at the Centre for Political Studies, and rector, at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

DARE TO BE PRISSY

KRISHNA KUMAR

 

The appointment of Leela Samson as the chief of the Central Board of Film Certification marks an opportunity for Indian society to engage with a medium on which it has lost all control. Obviously, she faces a formidable task. As an artist and a thinker of aesthetics, she is deeply aware of cinema's paralysing effect on our collective conscience and will. While the financial and political clout of the film industry has grown over the recent decades, the moral authority of the censor board has diminished. The new urban elites find any form of censorship an encroachment on their right to be entertained. Powered by growing wealth, they have developed a devouring appetite for entertainment. Their victims — who serve as means of entertainment — must shed all hesitation when they are devoured. The victim is supposed to enjoy the opportunity to give pleasure to the master. In order to understand this remarkable arrangement, notice how gender relations are encrypted in the prevailing concept of entertainment, especially cinema.

Cinema inherited an old tradition in which men of status had the right to be entertained and one of the common roles women were supposed to play in the lives of such men was that of an entertainer. This tradition and the frames of perception associated with it have been available to the cinema industry in many genres, and Indian cinema has developed some of these to suit modern audiences. The mujra is a particularly apt example — it is hardly unreasonable to imagine that the genre would have withered away if cinema had not served as a life-support system. The film industry patronised the mujra and found it profitable to insert it in one or another variation. The basic form is simple enough: a woman faces the eyes of an assembly of men whose right to be present in the assembly is based on status and wealth. The free use of a woman's dancing body surrounded by men has enabled the cinema industry to manufacture an astonishing variety of barbaric ways to choreograph an entertaining occasion.

The lyrics crafted into the visual experience of such occasions have, over the years, taught the wider society to transcend all forms of restraint that the fabric of relationships might have imparted to the language. This year's award-winning song, "Munni Badnaam Hui, Darling Tere Liye" is not without predecessors, but both in its choreography and in the range of Hindi phrases it uses to humiliate women's dignity, it sets a new standard. The popular liberal view is that Indian society is shedding its sexual inhibitions. But if we accept the risk of being labeled prudish, we might say that the popularity of "Munni Badnaam Hui" is a measure of patriarchy's new resolve to crush Indian women's demand for being treated with dignity.

Social institutions like the family and kinship are also displaying this tendency. Old forms of subjugation are being revived, along with new strategies involving appeasement and participation of the victim. The iconic value of "Munni Badnaam Hui" comes partly from the way it invites young girls and women to join in their own outrage. The culture of item numbers is meant to induce girls to share and contribute to what Lata Mani has called the new body politic. It promises to enslave the female self before it develops any association with a collective identity that could serve as positive inspiration.

As the chief of India's film censor board, Leela Samson will have the opportunity and mandate to redefine the relationship between cinema and citizens. As a state institution, the censor board has over the decades silently defined childhood and adulthood by dispensing U, A and U/A certificates. It should now make public what attributes other than age it assigns to the "adult" who can watch violence and cruelty of the kind that children are not supposed to. Celebrated director Shyam Benegal permitted an urban audience to be entertained with demeaning references to rural people, including women. In a film meant to be educational, no less a personality than Aamir Khan caused mirth by replacing dhan (money) with stan (breasts) and chamatkar (miracle) with balaatkar (rape). Both these films had the censor's U certificate. It is time that the censor authorities emerged from their darkened preview rooms and met India's parents in different regions, ensuring sufficient social and economic representation. Censorship is, in principle, an educational voice which dares to interrupt the human craving for fun. For the moment, at least, one feels somewhat relieved that this voice is being represented by a sensitive teacher of the arts.

The author is professor of education at Delhi University

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

PEER TO PEER LEARNING, BETWEEN BIHAR AND CHICAGO

SARITHA RAI

 

With an accent that pins down exactly where he comes from, he jokes that he is a product of "St. Bora" school. Bora is the Bhojpuri word for cement sacks. Then he explains that until Class 6, at his remote Bihar village school, he and his fellow students sat on discarded cement bags. At night, he studied by the light of a kerosene lamp since the village had no electricity.

Today, about two-and-a-half decades after Chandrakant Singh left the school and became successful — in the conventional sense of the word, with an IIT education and a job with General Motors — many things still remain the same at Chamanpura, a poor village in Gopalganj. There is still no electricity.

The rickshawallas, thelawallas and coolies of the village would still be unable to afford a decent education for their children had it not been for one transformation — the modern, hi-tech Chaitanya Gurukul Public School that Singh started at the village.

Singh's school has been operational for one whole academic year during which it made news for its Skype-imparted lessons and its biometric teacher attendance system. Into the second year of its academic existence, Singh wants to take the school a step further into the globalised world. A few weeks ago, he resigned from his technical job at General Motors in Bangalore to realise his dream — make a global school out of Chaitanya Gurukul, so what if it is in a village with not a single electricity pole?

Singh says he and his fellow founders, half-a-dozen other Biharis who have made it outside the state, are in talks with three schools in the United States to forge a school-to-school collaboration. As the world becomes flatter by the day, an alliance across the world is the natural thing, he argues. Whether physics, math or biology, the concepts that an eighth grader in Chamanpura in Bihar studies is exactly the same as the theory taught at a school in Chicago or elsewhere in the United States.

The challenges that these students will take on in their careers, whether finding renewable energy solutions or finding cures for chronic diseases, would be the same the world over, says Singh.

The collaboration between a school in rural, impoverished Bihar and a school in the United States seems a dream concept but Singh says he is determined to make it work. He envisages students from the same grades working on projects together, tapping into mentors from Singh's own network. He pictures teachers from the Bihar school teaching students in urban United States and vice versa. He talks of exchange programmes between students and teachers of the two schools.

Chaitanya Gurukul is well into its second academic year with 430 students from a cross-section of Bihar society. The fees paid by children of well-to-do doctors and businessmen subsidise the tuition of 55 children of the poorest families — landless labourers and daily wage construction workers. It is a sustainable, self-renewing model that could lead the way to scale up such efforts.

Electricity is still to arrive at Chamanpura so the school's needs are powered by its own generators. Internet connectivity is another challenge and Singh and his fellow-founders are constantly experimenting with various free tools to remote-teach, supplementing the work of its 16 resident teachers.

Despite its remote location, Chaitanya Gurukul's teachers prepare lessons on their netbook computers. Every classroom is equipped with either a projector or an LCD player. The school's broadband-connected computer lab is open 24x7 and so is the school library. "Our technology and teaching content is on par or better than the content at DPS schools," says Chandrakant Singh. "Which DPS can have IIT-ians teach eighth graders?"

Meanwhile in Bangalore, Singh is setting up an education R&D start-up which he says will work in the fields of education technology and renewable energy, to support the needs of schools in rural, backward India. It is a tall and daunting mission but Singh, a patent holder for General Motors, has made a worthy beginning.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE CAMERA, NOT THE GUN

 

Osama bin Laden, the visual icon of terrorism in our fear-driven age, is gone. No one can replace him.

Jihadists will doubtless hatch new conspiracies. But warriors committed to sacrificing their lives for his murderous cause are a wasting resource unless they can draw new recruits into their ranks. And while bin Laden may or may not have been the mastermind behind the attacks launched by al-Qaeda and its imitators, he was unquestionably their master recruiter.

Any number of studies have analysed the intricate pathways by which a young computer programmer here, an out-of-work immigrant there, or the raped widow of a suicide bomber somewhere else have found their way into jihadist cells in a score of countries. Mosque-based activists nurture some, family networks ensnare others, and a few develop overwhelming feelings of outrage or victimisation just by reading the news or watching videotapes.

But Osama bin Laden spoke to everyone, including many millions of Muslims who admired his analysis of world affairs but never themselves developed the courage and commitment to follow his logic to its lethal end. He inspired both the suicide bomber and the armchair critic of American and Israeli imperialism.

In 2003, the Pew Research Centre's Global Attitudes Project reported that 59 per cent of Indonesians, 46 per cent of Pakistanis and 56 per cent of Jordanians expressed confidence that bin Laden would "do the right thing in world affairs." By 2009, however, this had fallen steeply to 25 per cent in Indonesia, 18 per cent in Pakistan, and 28 per cent in Jordan. Though still distressingly high, bin Laden's decline as the symbol of resistance to what he called "Crusaders and Jews" was unquestionable.

What largely accounted for this decline was a near total eclipse of his video image. Though the media or jihadist websites aired at least 21 bin Laden tapes between 2003 and 2009, they included scarcely five minutes of live video footage. The leader who had stirred global fascination as a visual icon had been reduced to a sporadic voice of often uncertain identity.

If one looks back now at the two-hour bin Laden recruitment video that became publicly available in the aftermath of 9/11, the power of his screen presence is unmistakable, particularly in comparison with other jihadist leaders who show up on the same tape. A tall, bearded, austere-looking man with an impressively calm demeanour, he recites poetry, rides a horse, and fires a Kalashnikov. He delivers a sermon dressed in white robe and headdress, he holds an interview wearing military camo and a white turban, he sits on a rocky hillside wearing the vest and rolled-edge Nuristani hat of the Taliban.

Most impressive are the clips showing bin Laden giving an open-air sermon. The camera looks up at him reverently from below as if the cameraman is among the audience. The voices of children are heard in the background. The impression is of bin Laden explaining to a group of ordinary people the problems they face in the world and the reasons behind them. "Muslims must examine Allah's Book — the Koran — in order to understand their predicament and the causes of their illnesses so that they may find a way out of their entrapment." Compared with the two-dozen jihadist videotapes I analysed in 2002-2003, bin Laden's propaganda stands out.

His screen presence also far outshadows that of other jihadist leaders. Where they are strident, or ranting, or dull, he is calm and articulate. Where they come across as one-note preachers or pedantic classroom teachers, he appears as a fully formed individual. Comfortable in the mosque, on the battlefield, at the training camp, or in a poetry recital.

One cannot mourn the death of a man who planned or inspired so many atrocities. But we should recognise that his bigger-than-life iconic presence was the heart and soul of jihadist Islam. When US pressure forced him away from the television cameras, his ideology lost momentum. And now that the dogged determination of American counter-terrorism forces has silenced him for good, there is no one who can replace him. Thank God.Richard Bulliet

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MORE ZAIN & MORE PAIN

A 31% fall in net earnings despite a 51% increase in quarterly turnover (March 2011 over March 2010) for India's top telecom operator can't augur too well for the telco results that are to follow. It is true Bharti Airtel's numbers look worse because its African Zain operations are yet to yield results (the company's presser hopefully describes the position as "successful African acquisition and integration of operations"). While consolidated net incomes fell to R1,401 crore in the March 2011 quarter from R2,044 crore in the March 2010 quarter, the fall was a lower 13% for the Indian operations—to R1,817 crore in March 2011 from R2,095 crore in March 2010. One of the reasons for the sharp decline in net incomes has been a sharp hike in access and interconnection charges, which rose 85% to touch R2,138 crore in March 2011, largely due to Africa (Indian access and interconnection charges rose just 13.5%) where the ratio of access and interconnection charges to total revenues is double that of the Indian operations. Indeed, Bharti explains most of the fall in net income for the full year as a hike in interest outgo (50%), forex losses (23%), rebranding (12%) and rise in Indian spectrum charges (9%).

Much of this, however, is missing the woods for the trees. If it is re-branding and interest costs this time around, the next time around it will be the one-time charge of R4,000 crore or so that Bharti Airtel will likely have to pay for the 'extra' spectrum it has beyond 6.2 MHz. Leave the financials aside, and come to the core of the telecom business, the talk-time of each customer and what she paid for it. On a year-on-year basis, the minutes of usage have fallen to 449 minutes in March 2011—this is a 4% fall over a year ago and flat over the last quarter. The average revenue per user has fallen to R194—a 12% fall over a year ago and a 2% fall over the last quarter. Monthly churn rate, or the proportion of customers leaving Bharti Airtel, is up to 7.6% in March 2011, from 5.7% a year ago—this is the reason why the telco is spending more on branding and selling expenses. The good news here is that non-voice revenues are up to 15% of mobile revenues, up from under 12% a year ago. Cutting costs is going to be difficult going forward—they're down as a proportion of total revenue over the last quarter, but up over the year. So the hope has to lie in customers talking and paying more, in both India and Africa. Right now, that's not happening.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NEW ASIAN DRAMA

A recent report by the Asian Development Bank has put numbers to the well-acknowledged trend of Asia's, and India's, growing middle class, establishing its size right now, and predicting its growth up to 2050. At present, Asia's middle class is 525 million strong, and accounts for 23% of global consumption. The report forecasts a blistering 9% growth in Asia's middle class spending every year through 2030, driven primarily by China, India and Indonesia. Specific to India, the report predicts the middle class population will reach 1.19 billion by 2030 and 1.40 billion by 2050. This, coupled with the growth in China's middle class (1.12 billion by 2030, 1.24 billion by 2050), effectively puts Asia at the centre of world economic growth in the coming decades. By 2050, the numbers suggest India will be leading this push, with a larger middle class than even China, and a per capita GDP of $41,700. However, it is this number that points towards some of the greatest challenges India will face due to this rising middle class, and rise in overall population. Inequality within India will become a major problem. Using the Gini coefficient, the report says inequality in India was at 32.9 in 1993, and will rise 10% to 36.2 by 2004. This rising trend continues, and will only gather steam in the future. Urbanisation, too, is taking place rapidly. Between now and 2050, the report predicts Asia's urban population will double from 1.6 billion to 3.1 billion. This, coupled with the rising inequality, will expose its cities to rising trends of crime, drugs and violence.

Apart from these social development issues, the problem of what the report calls the 'middle income trap' is also a major issue. Simply put, this 'trap' is the inability of a middle income country like India to make a shift from resource-driven growth to productivity-driven grown, thus stagnating overall growth rates. In short, all this suggests that there's lots of work for the government to do in the coming years, in improving urban infrastructure, tackling the problems of inequality and increasing efficiencies in India's economic infrastructure. The impact on the environment and the demand for natural resources will also create their own set of issues. India's energy demand in 2007 was 622 million tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe), and the report predicts this demand to almost quadruple to 2,389 mtoe by 2050. And this is just India; China's predicted energy demand in 2050 is 11,480 mtoe. Then there's the demand for water, for land ... The new Asian Drama, as it were.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHERE HAVE ALL THE WORKERS GONE?

AMITENDU PALIT

 

For China, the world's most populous economy, the wheel appears to have turned full circle. From being known as a country where young labour would never run out of supply, China is not only experiencing a decline in population growth, but also an increasingly ageing population.

The latest census of China shows more than 13% of the population to comprise people aged more than 60. This is a sharp increase compared to the previous decade when less than 10% of the population figured in the 60-plus cohort. At a more disaggregated level, almost 9% of the population, or around 118 million people, are aged 65 years and above, which is again an increase of 30 million over the last decade, from 88 million people in the 65-plus age group in 2000.

An ageing population is a problem of developed countries. Typically, as societies and economies mature and experience a rise in incomes along with improvements in healthcare, the rate of growth of population declines. The decline begins with a reduction in death rates, at which point, with birth rates still remaining high, population experiences rapid increases. This first phase of demographic transition continues till birth rates come down out of conscious decisions of households to restrict births. At the same time, death rates keep falling and longevities keep increasing, as better quality of lives and improved healthcare extends to almost all parts of the societies. Finally, with birth rates slipping below death rates, net additions to population might become zero and countries might start experiencing declines in their total population. At the same time, the demographic trends also give rise to large ageing populations.

This final stage of demographic transition is associated with a particular economic structure of societies. The OECD countries are noted to have the lowest rates of growth in population and also the highest longevities. The dependency ratio—reflecting the number of non-working age people to the working age—also tends to be high for these countries due to more aged people. Paradoxically though, dependency ratios are high even in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. But that is due to a greater number of people below 15 years. On the whole though, demographic trends from other parts of the world appear to suggest that ageing populations are a problem of high-income countries with high human development indices. In other words, it is hardly an issue affecting the developing world and, in that sense, China is an exception. Unlike the developed OECD countries, China is still a medium human development country with health and education indicators below the developed world averages. Its per capita GDP is only around 8% of the OECD level and is less than the average of the Arab world.

How is then China 'blessed' with a problem that is typical of high-income countries? Two factors explain the paradox. First is the improvement in healthcare. In this respect, the improvement is not only in terms of expanding health coverage but also including health support as a part of the social security cover being extended to the population. The social security scheme pushed by China since the last decade following the exhaustive and fairly drastic restructuring of state-owned enterprises and large lay-offs of employees has helped in a greater number of people being included in the health cover net. This has particularly benefited the urban areas. With healthcare becoming more widespread, death rates have reduced significantly, leading to an increase in the aged population.

The second factor, of course, is the much discussed 'one child' policy pursued by China for years. The policy has reduced family sizes and has brought down the incremental rate of growth of population. Indeed, the fertility rate in China—the number of children a woman is capable of bearing in her lifetime—is among the lowest in the world. The debate is mounting over whether the low rate is natural or 'induced' by the restrictive policy. Experts argue that the remarkable decline in the fertility rate from 5.8 in the 1970s to 1.8 at present (the rate is as low as 0.8 in Shanghai) has much to do with the 'one child' norm. This is a rather disturbing decline for China because the current fertility rate may not be enough for replacing the population.

President Hu Jintao's reactions to the census figures suggest that China is unlikely to revisit its restrictive policy at this point in time as it aims to maintain a 'rationally' low birth rate. The problem that is looming large for policymakers, however, is the enlarging community of elderly people, who are struggling to cope with higher costs of shelter and health. The stress levels for the elderly are indeed increasing as is evident from the higher rates of suicides among the aged in both urban and rural areas. Other than high costs of living, the lack of emotional support due to lack of children is presumably a driver behind the suicides. The 'one child' policy appears to be taking a much bigger toll than it was imagined to.

The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. The are his personal views

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WORDS, ACTIONS AND OUTCOMES

RAJEEV MALIK

 

Investors in India already have had two major shifts in policy guidance so far in 2011. The first was the federal budget in February that signalled some overdue spending restraint after sharply higher expenditure in the prior three years. The second is the recent RBI policy meeting where the central bank announced a higher-than-expected 50 bps increase in the repo rate. Both signalled a change in guidance and were followed through with some initial actions, with RBI historically enjoying a bit more credibility on its actions than the government in setting its fiscal house in order.

The fiscal deficit target of 4.6% of GDP for FY12 was wishful thinking to start with, and investors will get around to focusing more on its slippage that was likely even before the ink was dry.

RBI's recent shift is more striking as it was unexpected. However, its own inflation guidance appears to partly compromise its renewed efforts to earn brownie points for fighting inflation. Indian policymakers have been strangely unique until recently in saying that monetary tightening will check inflation without affecting growth, when the very idea of monetary tightening is to affect aggregate demand, which, in turn, moderates growth, hence checking inflation.

RBI has at least corrected that causality, and the government will probably soon follow.

While higher global commodity prices remain a risk to growth and inflation, RBI suggests that it wants to further moderate aggregate demand as that is contributing to higher inflation, even as its own measures are already being effective in moderating demand. Now, investment spending is not rebounding, so that could not be contributing to inflation. Nor is it being affected by inflation—the government's inaction is the biggest cause of the investment malaise. Recall that investment spending was much stronger in 2006-08, even though inflation was a real concern.

That leaves the bulk of the demand adjustment on consumption and government spending. Consumption will likely be more resilient, but a quicker and more complete fuel price adjustment that shrinks the subsidy bill and the government's fiscal deficit will be much more effective in moderating aggregate demand, and hopefully also limit the magnitude of rate increases needed. Of course, the government should have gone in for a much earlier slowdown in its spending.

No central bank worth its salt will ever suggest that inflation in its economy is on a new higher normal, as that would be admitting defeat. RBI is no different. But outcomes speak louder than words and actions. Few appear to realise that the actual WPI inflation (an inappropriate measure to set interest rate policy uniquely practised in India, but that is a different issue) has been consistently overshooting RBI's forecast in the last several years.

With the exception of the disinflationary spiral in FY09, following the global credit crisis (recall that RBI was still worried about inflation in its October 2008 policy when all hell had already broken loose globally), the outcome for end-March has been higher than the guidance it has offered in the prior year. While the overshooting averaged 2 full percentage points in FY07 and FY08, the magnitude jumped to average just shy of 5 percentage points in FY10 and FY11. Frankly, it is hard to imagine why inflation in the current fiscal year will not overshoot.

To be fair, the WPI inflation trajectory is affected by uncertainty over the monsoons and the government's decision about increasing local fuel prices. These are the same risks that market economists have to deal with as well and the track record there is not any better. But, as the central bank, RBI has the final call of deciding an appropriate inflation measure so as to focus on things that it can control. Indeed, just to get back on track, RBI will have to meet its forecast for some time.

In the final tally, despite all the rhetoric of a more assertive and hawkish RBI that will fix the current high inflation even at the expense of near-term growth, the central bank's forecast of WPI inflation of 6% (with upward bias) for March 2012 is the highest in at least seven years.

Go figure.

The author is senior economist at CLSA, Singapore. These are his personal views

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

INDIA-PAKISTAN: UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY

New Delhi has done right to make it clear that the agenda of the talks between India and Pakistan, which recommenced last month after many false starts, will remain unaffected by the death of Osama bin Laden. Since the killing of the al-Qaeda leader in a U.S. operation in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, many fanciful notions have gained ground in India, among them the suggestion that like the U.S., India must not hesitate to use force in the quest for justice for the victims of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Nothing can be more absurd. India and Pakistan are both joined and divided by history and geography; the sum of the ties between the two is different from that between Pakistan and the United States. There is no alternative to normalising relations between our two countries. Undoubtedly, the bin Laden episode has reinforced long-held Indian suspicions about the Pakistani establishment and its dubious role in nurturing militants on its territory. It has highlighted India's own list of "wanted" in Pakistan that includes the Jamat-ud-dawa chief and the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks Hafiz Saeed and the underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, suspected to be living in comfort in Karachi. It has reiterated in a unique way Indian doubts about Pakistani promises that it will not allow its territory to be used by terrorists. It has strengthened India's demand that Pakistan should dismantle "the infrastructure of terror on its soil." At the same time, it has also placed the Pakistan military on the defensive with its own people. Questions are being asked in Pakistan about how much the military and the intelligence agencies knew about bin Laden's presence a short distance from a prestigious military academy, and why the security apparatus was kept out of the operation by the U.S. In the three years since a civilian government took office in Pakistan, the politicians have been blamed for much that has gone wrong, but it is a rare moment in the rocky civilian-military relations of the country when the khakis take the flak.

For all these reasons, the death of bin Laden presents an opportunity for India and Pakistan to reshape their relations in a constructive way rather than for India to indulge in short-sighted triumphalism. Irrespective of how the al-Qaeda leader's departure affects the war in Afghanistan, and what strategies Pakistan's generals are planning in that country, this is India's chance to persuade the people of Pakistan that it is not the mortal enemy that it has been made out to be by their security establishment. It implies a whole hearted engagement, not just with the government but also with the people of Pakistan on all issues that trouble bilateral relations. Such engagement will also pave the way towards justice for the victims of the Mumbai attacks.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

UNSAFE HELICOPTERING

The tragic death of Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister, 56-year old Dorjee Khandu, and four others in the crash of a single-engined Pawan Hans helicopter on the Indo-Bhutan borders has turned the focus on the need to urgently address the safety and security systems for this class of aircraft. Too many lives, especially of political leaders, are being lost for one reason or another while moving around in helicopters. It has taken five days to locate the wreckage after the chopper, which was on an hour-long trip to Itanagar, went missing on April 30. That the wreckage was found 30 km north of the 13,700 feet Sela pass in Tawang district speaks to the sort of terrain in which it crashed. The search missions, in which ISRO and Defence personnel were involved, encountered several hurdles, chiefly the persistently inclement weather that forced them to cease operations intermittently. This raises serious questions about the clearance for flying the chopper on that ill-fated day.

Pawan Hans, a mini-ratna public sector undertaking that was primarily meant to provide transport to the oil basins and the ONGC's exploration staff, has expanded its remit to offer charter services and cater to tourism in a big way. On September 2, 2009, a charismatic and dominant political leader, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, was killed in a helicopter crash under comparable circumstances in a forest area —the chopper, owned by the State government, should not have taken off. It is incumbent on the operators and the regulators who permit such flights to insist on the air worthiness of the helicopter as well as the weather clearance for the particular operation. As a parliamentary standing committee on transport, tourism and culture chaired by Sitaram Yechury points out in its latest report, VVIPs are known to force pilots to operate in adverse weather conditions, when visibility is poor and the terrain inhospitable. When the aircraft in question is a single-engine helicopter, the risk is all the more. It is time to put in place a strict set of rules to govern the operation of these aircraft. India needs an independent and statutory National Transportation Safety Board to investigate air crashes and accidents on water, in addition to major road tragedies. Before Pawan Hans embarks on its fleet expansion plans and proceeds to set up a training academy in Pune, it is imperative that no-nonsense regulations are in place with a clear enforcement mandate.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

SOME STICKS YET MORE CARROTS FOR PAKISTAN

A FUNDAMENTAL SHIFT IN THE FAILED U.S. POLICY APPROACH THAT HAS INADVERTENTLY TURNED PAKISTAN INTO GROUND ZERO FOR GLOBAL TERRORISM SEEMS UNLIKELY DESPITE THE BIN LADEN AFFAIR.

BRAHMA CHELLANEY

For the United States, Pakistan poses a particularly difficult challenge. Despite providing more than $20 billion to Pakistan in counterterrorism and other aid since 9/11, the U.S. has received grudging assistance, at best, and duplicitous cooperation, at worst. Today, amid a rising tide of anti-Americanism, U.S. policy on Pakistan is rapidly crumbling. Yet Pakistan, with one of the world's lowest tax-to-GDP ratios, has become more dependent on U.S. aid than ever.

While Americans rejoice over the daring helicopter assault that killed Osama bin Laden in his hideout in Abbottabad — the cradle of the Pakistan army — U.S. policy must recognise how its failed approach on Pakistan has inadvertently made that country Ground Zero for global terrorism. Rather than helping to build robust civilian institutions there, the U.S. has invested heavily in the jihadist-penetrated Pakistani military establishment. After dictator Pervez Musharraf was driven out of office, the new Pakistani civilian government ordered the ISI — the only spy agency in the world charged with sponsoring international terrorism — to report to the Interior Ministry, but received no support from the U.S. for this effort to assert civilian control, allowing the army to quickly frustrate the move.

No sooner had U.S. President Barack Obama assumed office than he implemented a military surge in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, however, he implemented an aid surge, turning it into the largest recipient of American aid. This only deepened U.S. involvement in the wrong war and emboldened Pakistan to fatten the Afghan Taliban, even as sustained U.S. drone and other attacks in Waziristan continued to severely weaken the already-fragmented al- Qaeda.

Make no mistake: the scourge of Pakistani terrorism emanates more from the country's Scotch whisky-sipping generals than from the bead-rubbing mullahs. It is the self-styled secular generals who have reared the forces of jihad. Yet, by passing the blame for their ongoing terrorist-proxy policy to their mullah puppets, the generals made many in the U.S. believe that the key was to contain the religious fringe, not the puppeteers. In fact, Pakistan's descent into a jihadist dungeon occurred not under civilian rule, but under two military dictators — Zia ul-Haq who nurtured and let loose jihadist forces, and Gen. Musharraf who took his country to the very edge of the precipice.

The bin Laden affair spotlights a fundamental reality — the fight against international terrorism cannot be won without demilitarising and de-radicalising Pakistan, including rebalancing civil-military relations there. Without reform of the Pakistani army and the ISI, there can be no end to transnational terrorism — and no genuine nation-building in Pakistan. How can Pakistan be a "normal" state if its army and intelligence agency remain outside civilian oversight and decisive power remains with military generals?

According to classified U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden of his fear that the Pakistani military might "take me out." And the United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister told U.S. special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke in early 2010 that Mr. Zardari had asked "that his family be allowed to live in the UAE in the event of his death." In such a deviant setting, the risks that jihadists within the military could gain control of Pakistan's arsenal of nuclear and biological weapons are real.

History attests that decisive opportunities rarely repeat themselves. The U.S. let go of one historic opportunity to help bring the ISI under civilian oversight in July 2008 when, in the aftermath of a dictator's ouster by people's power, it did not back the new government's decision. Now, with the military establishment's complicity in sheltering bin Laden laid bare, the U.S. has a chance to force reforms on the defensive Pakistani generals by holding out the threat of punitive sanctions and stepped-up drone strikes.

Yet it is very likely the U.S. will miss this opportunity too. After all, what is logical may not be practical at the altar of political expediency.

The U.S. has long been aware of Pakistan's Janus-faced approach to fighting terrorism, and the discovery of bin Laden's years-long residence in the shadow of Pakistan's premier military academy has given Washington fresh evidence of Pakistani duplicity and aroused its anger but without affecting the fundamentals of U.S. policy. That the U.S. has little trust in the Pakistani army and the ISI became evident when it deployed a number of CIA operatives, Special Operations forces and contractors deep inside Pakistan without the knowledge of Pakistani authorities — a deployment that triggered the showdown over Raymond Davis but helped open the trail to bin Laden. Indeed, in a damning statement, the CIA director said the Pakistanis were given no advance knowledge of the raid because they might have tipped bin Laden off.

Washington has enough evidence of the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan and the cosy relationship between state and non-state actors there. The problem is that the U.S. policy continues to be driven by short-term regional interests, in which Pakistan remains central to facilitating a U.S. military exit from Afghanistan, shaping the post-2014 Afghan political landscape, and aiding the U.S. squeeze of Iran. In fact, Mr. Obama's narrowing of the Afghan war goals has made the U.S. only more dependent on Pakistan.

By moving away from the Bush-era counterinsurgency strategy toward limited objectives centred on political reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban and ending all combat operations by 2014, Mr. Obama now needs the Pakistani generals to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. After all, these generals provide a haven to the top Afghan Taliban leadership, besides allowing Taliban fighters to use Pakistan as a sanctuary from which to launch cross-border attacks. A face-saving U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is simply inconceivable without Pakistani cooperation.

After bin Laden's elimination, pressure is already growing on the U.S. and its Nato allies for a quicker withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, making the Pakistani generals an even more critical factor in facilitating America's reconciling with the Taliban. Although the Taliban was ISI procreation, its birth in the early 1990s was midwifed by the CIA. This is the reason why Washington fervently believes reconciliation with an estranged ex-ally is possible. And this is also the reason why — despite its main foe on the Afghan battlefield being the Taliban, not the al-Qaeda — the U.S. military never attempted to wipe out the Quetta shura, eschewing any drone or commando strikes to decapitate the Afghan Taliban.

Significantly, just two-and-a-half months ago, the U.S. publicly eased its terms for reconciliation with the Taliban shura, dropping three key preconditions — renounce violence, embrace the Afghan Constitution, and snap links with the al-Qaeda. What were preconditions were turned into "necessary outcomes of any negotiation." The U.S. National Security Council then formally endorsed the new reconciliation strategy, which offers the Taliban power sharing in Afghanistan. No less significant is that America's new Af-Pak envoy, Marc Grossman — despite the U.S. outrage over the bin Laden affair — travelled to Islamabad this week and reached agreement to set up a U.S.-Pakistani-Afghan "core group for promoting and facilitating the process of reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan."

Mr. Obama actually believes that bin Laden's killing serves as a potential catalyst to soften the Pakistani generals and the Taliban shura so as to clinch a peace deal, besides providing an opportunity to quickly conclude a post-2014 Permanent U.S. Bases Agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Obama indeed is set to announce a substantial reduction in U.S. forces starting this summer.

In this light, far from unravelling the remaining threads in the strained U.S.-Pakistan relationship, the bin Laden affair is likely to prove a temporary setback, even if a serious one. Some heads in the Pakistani military establishment may roll to placate Washington, with the blame being conveniently put (as in the past) on rogue elements within what itself is a rogue agency — the ISI. Washington may brandish new sticks, but carrots would still weigh more, with U.S. policy doling out further multibillion-dollar awards to Islamabad. British Prime Minister David Cameron has candidly said that it is "in our national interest" not to have "a flaming great row with Pakistan over this" but rather to "engage with Pakistan." And Mr. Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser has pledged that Pakistan will remain a critical partner in the U.S. counterterrorism strategy.

Narrow geopolitical interests thus are likely to trump the imperative for externally supported Pakistani reforms to help cut the ISI down to size, loosen the military's vice-like grip on power, rein in militant Islamist groups, and build a moderate, stable Pakistan.

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

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THE HINDU

OPED

DOES POLITICAL RESERVATION AFFECT VOTER TURNOUT?

THE ARTICLE IS A STATISTICAL REGRESSION ANALYSIS OF THE RELATIVE VOTE-SHARES OF DIFFERENT SOCIAL GROUPS IN RESERVED AND NON-RESERVED CONSTITUENCIES.

YUKO MORI AND TAKASHI KUROSAKI


Affirmative action comprises an important element of public policies in enhancing welfares of disadvantaged populations. In India, affirmative action in the form of reserving seats in electoral constituencies has been in effect since 1950. The objective of this reservation policy is to guarantee the political representation of specific groups at all levels. This article shows empirically that, as far as voters' turnout rates in Lok Sabha elections are concerned, the system of constituency reservation does indeed help to serve this objective.

Political reservation in India initially began for historically disadvantaged groups designated in the constitution as scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) and has been recently extended to women and other sections in local elections (such reservation is beyond the scope of this article). In reserved constituencies, as is well known, only candidates belonging to reserved groups can stand for elections. How does this electoral system affect the voting behaviour of disadvantaged groups and other groups? In constituencies reserved for SC candidates (SC constituencies for short), are SC voters encouraged to vote by the system? Does reservation "discourage" non-SC voters, who quietly boycott the election? Since non-SC voters are usually the majority in SC constituencies, SC candidates need to appeal to non-SC voters to win elections so that non-SC voters may have an incentive to vote in SC constituencies. In order to throw light on such questions, we undertook a statistical regression analysis of the relative vote-shares of different social groups in reserved and non-reserved constituencies. We used micro-data on voters collected as part of the National Election Study 2004 (NES04).

NES04 was conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). It offers the largest and most comprehensive election database of its kind in India. We used NES04 micro-data on 27,000 voters in 420 randomly-selected parliament constituencies. The sample voters were interviewed after the 2004 Lok Sabha election on their voting behaviour, political opinion, and background.

In the main empirical analysis, a regression model was estimated with each voter's voting (dummy variable) as the dependent variable, separately for each group of voters (either SC, ST, OBC, Other Hindu or Others). The explanatory variables include the status dummies of his/her constituency with respect to reservation (either SC, ST or general constituency) and various socio-economic characteristics of the constituency. The regression coefficient on SC or ST constituency dummies is our estimate for the impact of political reservation on voter turnout.

The results are summarised in the Table ( see above). With regard to ST constituencies, we were not able to obtain meaningful results, possibly due to the small number of ST constituencies relative to SC constituencies.

The findings

Three interesting findings emerge from the Table.

First, the turnout of SC voters in SC constituencies is significantly higher in statistical terms than the turnout of SC voters in general constituencies. As the Table shows, the turnout of SC voters is 4.5 percentage points higher in SC constituencies than their turnout in general constituencies. The difference is not only statistically significant but also politically significant — 4.5 percentage points compared with the national turnout rate of 58.1 per cent in the Lok Sabha election of 2004. To put the point differently, SC voters are thus significantly more likely to vote when they reside in SC constituencies.

Second, non-SC voters are slightly less likely to vote in SC constituencies than they do in non-SC constituencies, but the difference is small (-0.7 percentage point) and statistically insignificant (column 2).

Third, the statistical insignificance remains intact even if we further divide non-SC voters into ST, OBC, Other Hindu, and Others (columns 3 and 4). Our results thus show that OBC and Other Hindu voters in SC constituencies are as likely to cast their votes as they are when they belong to general constituencies.

Summary and implications

Let us conclude this article with the summary of our findings and their implications. First, political reservation increases the turnout of SC voters in Lok Sabha constituencies reserved for SC candidates. This implies that reservation not only guarantees parliamentary representation but also promotes the mass participation of disadvantaged classes in the electoral process. Second, non-SC voters including relatively "upper" caste voters are not "discouraged" by the system of reservation to vote in SC constituencies. This implies that there is a general acceptance of political reservation in the Indian electoral system. These findings thus clarify how the electoral reservation in India contributes to the achievement of affirmative action. To promote the overall welfare of disadvantaged populations, however, other aspects of political reservations as well as economic reservations are important, an issue on which further research is called for.

( Yuko Mori is Research Fellow of the Japan Society for Promotion of Science and Takashi Kurosaki is Professor at the Institute of Economic Research, both affiliated to Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo. The authors are very grateful to Professor V. K. Ramachandran for comments. They also acknowledge the CSDS for allowing them the use of NES04 microdata. A full paper version is available on request.)

     

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THE HINDU

OPED

THE DEATH OF OSAMA BIN LADEN: IT'S A PITY …

AN ENTRY IN A PERSONAL BLOG ABOUT THE KILLING OF THE AL-QAEDA LEADER, SITUATING IT WITHIN THE LOCUS OF U.S. MILITARISM.

RICHARD JACKSON

The fact that Osama bin Laden, a man who fought his enemies with violence that frequently killed the innocent, is now dead is from many perspectives a positive development. That the world now has one less influential leader who is willing to kill and destroy as a means of engendering political change is hopefully a small step towards a more peaceful world…

But it's a pity that the U.S. chose to pursue a massive 'war on terrorism' as a response to bin Laden's violent campaign, a war in which far more innocent people have been killed and injured than bin Laden's initial attacks. Their deaths are also part of this story and must be counted and acknowledged in our reflections on the real costs of this so-called act of 'justice'…

No mention of Iraq

And it's a pity that the Bush administration and the coalition of the willing wrongly linked Iraq to al-Qaeda and bin Laden, and then invaded with the result of more than 600,000 dead and millions displaced. The immeasurable suffering of that nation is one of the most shameful episodes of the hunt for bin Laden, but I have seen no mention of Iraq in all the discussion. To the victims of the invasion, the rejoicing in the death of bin Laden will most likely leave a bitter taste…

And it's a pity that so many people, including many innocents, were kidnapped, rendered and tortured for information on bin Laden's whereabouts, and in the end, normal methods of intelligence-gathering found him anyway. Those innocent individuals who can no longer sleep properly because they endured sleep deprivation torture, who suffer nightmares and post-traumatic stress from being waterboarded, also have to be counted as part of the enduring costs of the hunt for bin Laden…

And it's a pity that the U.S. did not respond to the Taliban's offer to hand over bin Laden to trial in Pakistan in 2001, and that they did not take the opportunity to strengthen international law and the ICC, so that bin Laden (and any other wanted terrorist or war criminal) could be captured, tried and imprisoned at the Hague. A strong international legal system guaranteed by the U.S., rather than the rule of force, would have been far better outcome than the disastrous decade of war on terrorism that we have had instead…

And it's a pity that so many are celebrating using violent means to fight a violent group, and that it will most likely lead to a continuing, maybe even intensifying, cycle of violence. It's sad that so few today recognise or understand that the use of violence rarely leads to any long-term solutions, but instead, most often creates ever more violence and suffering in the long run. This event and the response to it are an opportune moment to reflect on our addiction to political violence and our belief that conflict can best be solved by killing…

And it's a pity that some think we should just celebrate his death without thinking about the context in which it occurred, the history of suffering he and his enemies engendered, the inherent moral and strategic problems with the way it was done, and the likely future consequences for so many. This small death should be a moment to reflect on how many lives were lost in the campaign to finally get bin Laden and whether killing terrorists without dealing with the reasons why they fight is a useful long-term strategy. These deeper questions have been lost in all the rejoicing…

And it's a pity that the U.S. and other Western states view 'justice' as killing a man extra-judicially and then disappearing his body in the ocean. Apart from the denial of full justice to the victims of 9/11 who will never know now what really happened, this seems like a surrender of our own values, norms and beliefs in the rule of law. Making exceptions to human rights and legal standards of justice only succeeds in creating a world in which law and justice is ever weaker. By responding to bin Laden in a lawless manner, and treating him as he treated his victims, we simply go down and join him in the pit of immorality. We become the monster we hunt…

And it's a pity that targeted killing is now a core tactic of counter-terrorism, especially when the Israeli experience clearly demonstrates that it does not work to reduce terrorism, kills many innocent bystanders, and leads to more recruits for terrorist groups…

About 'one evil guy'

And it's a pity that bin Laden came to be seen as the personalisation of evil, the mastermind who could be blamed for causing most of the world's terrorism, and who therefore needed to be eradicated at all costs. Solely focussing on one man meant that the history and context of real political grievances which lead to bin Laden's rise was silenced and erased; terrorism was about one evil guy, not decades of U.S. foreign policy, entrenched grievances, structures of oppression and daily physical, structural and cultural violence. Now he's gone, one wonders who will take his place as the next personification of evil…

And it's a pity that it happened so late that it will have no positive effect at all on terrorism or counter-terrorism, or on bin Laden's mythical status as the man who stood up to the Western world for more than a decade…

And it's a pity that they dumped his body in the sea, which will most likely add to his mythical status. It won't be surprising if many of his supporters refuse to believe he is really dead. They may also be further angered that his corpse was desecrated by not being given a proper burial on land. Killing him in this way now makes him even more of a martyr to his followers and a potent symbol of resistance. It probably would have been much better to de-mythologise him and exorcise his power by putting him on trial and showing him in prison — an ordinary man growing old, rather than some kind of super-terrorist who eluded the world's greatest superpower for years…

Law and conflict

And it's a pity that all the resources and efforts put into killing bin Laden over 10 years was not instead put into strengthening international law, dealing with political grievances, supporting peace constituencies, resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, genuinely promoting political participation and democracy, and reforming the oppressive and unjust foreign policies which provoke violent resistance…

And it's a pity that so many Americans are on the streets celebrating and so many political leaders are crowing about it as a major victory. It will be a further humiliation for some in the Middle East, and they may rightly feel that the celebrations contain no acknowledgement of the suffering they have experienced from U.S. invasion, counter-terrorism operations, drone attacks, rendition, etc. I wonder how we would react to celebrations in Iraq if George W. Bush was to die…

And it's a pity that no one is talking about the other three people killed in the operation, one of whom was bin Laden's son and another an unknown woman. They may turn out to be far less guilty than bin Laden, more 'collateral damage' in our war on terror. It illustrates something about our real values that their lives, and the lives of all the others lost in the hunt for bin Laden, are so unimportant that they won't be discussed or mourned in all the euphoria over killing bin Laden, the evil mastermind. And it's a pity that Obama said 'no Americans were harmed' in the operation, as if American lives are more valuable than others. This way of ordering the world into worthy and unworthy victims, people to be mourned and people to be erased, is what keeps the cycle of violence ever turning…

And it's a pity that it will not lead to the end of the war on terror, the culture of fear, and all the intrusions into daily life of militarised forms of counter-terrorism. It's a pity that in response to bin Laden's initial attacks, we irrevocably changed our way of life and undermined our own values, and that political leaders are still saying that his death changes none of these things but that we will have to (endlessly) continue the fight against terrorism…

It's a pity that this event will do nothing to end the sheer stupidity and shameful waste of ten years of war and violence.

( Professor Richard Jackson is Secretary, British International Studies Association and Editor, Critical Studies on Terrorism. He is in the Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University, Wales. rsj@aber.ac.uk)

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THE HINDU

U.S. PANEL CALLS FOR SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN LATINO MUSEUM

A federal commission is appealing for a national museum devoted to American Latino history and culture to be built next to the U.S. Capitol as part of the Smithsonian Institution, to join ethnic museums about American Indians and African-American history.

A copy of the commission's report obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its release said the museum would represent Latinos on the National Mall where their heritage has been absent.

"The mall, more than any other public space in our country does indeed tell the story of America, and yet that story is not complete," wrote commission chairman Henry R. Munoz III. "There must also be a living monument that recognises that Latinos were here well before 1776 and that in this new century, the future is increasingly Latino, more than 50 million people and growing." In recent years, Latinos have replaced black Americans as the largest minority group. The commission submits its report to Congress and the White House.

It calls for the museum to be established as the Smithsonian American Latino Museum. The commission recommends Congress provide half the cost of a $600 million museum to be built near the reflecting pool on the Capitol grounds. Private donations would cover the remainder. Since 2009, the commission has studied the feasibility for such a museum, the fundraising potential and how it would affect local and regional Latino museums. It also relied on models from the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and its planned National Museum of African-American History and Culture, slated to open in four years near the Washington Monument.

The report lays out a case for retracing 500 years of Latino history with roots in Europe, Africa and Asia and from indigenous people before English settlers founded Jamestown in what is now Virginia. It notes Spanish explorers were first to land in Florida and created outposts that eventually led to cities like San Francisco, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Former President George W. Bush signed legislation establishing the Latino museum commission in 2008, and President Barack Obama, along with congressional leaders, appointed a 23-member commission. It includes Eva Longoria from TV's "Desperate Housewives," producer Emilio Estefan and others for their expertise in museums, fundraising and Latino culture.— AP

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THE HINDU

U.S. MILITARY'S HISTORY OF CHANGING ITS STORIES

STORIES TOLD OF PRIVATE JESSICA LYNCH, AMERICAN FOOTBALLER PAT TILLMAN AND BRITISH AID WORKER LINDA NORGROVE WERE ALL INCORRECT.

SAM JONES

The discrepancies in Washington's description of the death of Osama bin Laden are not the first that have forced the U.S. military to clarify information or backtrack on it. Nor is this the first time it has had to admit that the facts, as they were initially presented, were patently incorrect.

In 2003, Private Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old U.S. army clerk from Palestine, West Virginia, became a poster girl for the Iraq invasion.

Despite being badly wounded when her company came under attack near the town of Nasiriyah in March that year, the soldier kept her finger on the trigger of her gun until her ammunition ran out. Nor did her pluck exhaust itself there: Lynch also survived abuse and interrogation at the hands of local hospital staff until she was rescued by U.S. special forces after a fierce firefight.

The only problem with the official account is that it was untrue. In fact, Lynch's gun jammed and she did not fire a shot; Iraqi hospital staff treated her kindly and tried to return her to U.S. forces; and, there was no need for a raid by army rangers and navy seals as the Iraqi military had fled the day before. Nor, contrary to initial reports, had she been shot or stabbed — her injuries had been caused after her truck was hit and crashed.

Rescue operation

The rescue operation — which was filmed — was described by one doctor as "like a Hollywood film. They cried, 'Go, go, go', with guns and blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show — an action movie like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan, with jumping and shouting, breaking down doors."

Giving evidence at a congressional hearing four years later, Lynch said: "I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary ... [The] bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes, and they don't need to be told elaborate tales." Nor was Lynch's an isolated case. In 2002, moved by the devastation of 9/11, Pat Tillman gave up a lucrative career in American football to enlist in the U.S. army. His selfless decision was hailed by President Bush, and, when Tillman was killed in Afghanistan in April 2004, the footballer-turned-soldier was held up as the epitome of American heroism. The Pentagon described him as a war hero, and he was posthumously awarded the silver star and the purple heart.

Despite the initial suggestion that he died "in the line of devastating enemy fire", he was killed by his own side. His family was not told the truth about how he died until five weeks after his memorial service was broadcast on national TV.

In a biography published two years ago, it was claimed Tillman regarded his president as a cowboy who had led the country into an illegal and unjust war in Iraq. Tillman had noted in his diary his suspicion that the rescue of Jessica Lynch was "a media blitz."

Until the killing of the al-Qaeda chief, the most recent inaccurate account of a high-profile incident came last October, with the botched mission to free the kidnapped British aid worker Linda Norgrove.

Members of Seal Team 6 — the special forces unit that killed Bin Laden — were sent to rescue Norgrove from eastern Afghanistan but one of them accidentally killed her by throwing a fragmentation grenade close to where she was sheltering.

The seal did not own up to what happened, and initial reports suggested she had been killed when an insurgent detonated his suicide bomb vest. When the mission's commanding officer reviewed surveillance videos he saw an explosion after one of the seals threw something in Norgrove's direction.

General David Petraeus, the commander of the Nato-led campaign in Afghanistan, announced that finding out how Norgrove died was his "personal priority", and a number of the seals involved in the failed rescue were disciplined. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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THE HINDU

TURKEY MAY RAISE FEES FOR BOSPORUS PASSAGE USE

Turkey has indicated that it may raise the fees it charges commercial ships to use the heavily congested Bosporus Strait once it finishes building a canal designed as an alternative route.

Turkey wants to reduce the shipment of oil, liquefied gas and chemicals through the Bosporus and the risk of accidents in the narrow waterway that bisects Istanbul, a city of more than 12 million people.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently announced a new canal project that would create a second waterway linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Black Sea.

The Montreux Convention of 1936 requires Turkey to allow commercial ships through the strait, dividing Europe and Asia, while restricting the passage of military ships.

But Transportation Minister Mehmet Habib Soluk said Turkey could reconsider its policy of charging discounted fees for transit through the Bosporus Strait once the canal is operational.

The plan is to complete the canal by 2023, the year Turkey will be celebrating the centenary of the founding of the Turkish republic after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Increasing the Bosporus fees could persuade ships to use the proposed Canal Istanbul, even though fees also are expected to be charged there to cover its construction costs.

Turkey said it has no plans to block passage through the Bosporus. But it believes the canal, which would link the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara further west of Istanbul, would attract ships that the Prime Minister said lose about $1.4 billion annually by waiting at either end of the Bosporus for permission to cross through.

Ships coming from the Black Sea wend their way through the 31-kilometre (20-mile) Bosporus and its 12 turns, emerge in the Sea of Marmara and sail through the Dardanelles into the Mediterranean. Problems are less serious in the Dardanelles, a strait that is wider, has less treacherous currents and much less local boat traffic.

About 150 big ships transit the Bosporus each day, including up to 15 oil tankers, and many of them are Russian. They share a waterway that is generally only about 1,000 yards (meters) wide with tugs, coast guard cutters, fishing boats, cruise ships, ferries, yachts, pilot boats and water taxis.

The Bosporus, lined up with palaces, mosques and wooden mansions, has been the site of numerous accidents over the decades. — AP

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

N-E COPTER CRASH: LET IT BE THE LAST

The recent crash of a Pawan Hans helicopter in Tawang district, in which Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu tragically lost his life, raises a host of concerns. It is just as well that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi have decided to visit the state on Friday to offer their condolences

and to send a message to the people of Arunachal Pradesh — and the region as a whole — that the Centre is alive to their needs, and is supportive of their aspirations. This was badly needed. The accident has triggered debates in public forums in Arunachal Pradesh that if the government at various levels had not been indifferent, the tragedy might even have been averted. No grounds should have been offered for politicising the issue.
After all, the story of helicopter crashes — both civilian and military helicopters — in different states of the region is noteworthy for the persistence of its occurrence. Just a week before the Pawan Hans machine carrying the chief minister and four others went down, another helicopter of the same company had crashed, killing 17 passengers. A Dornier — another small aircraft — had also crashed two days prior to that. Just about a year earlier, another Dornier carrying a number of Army officers had met with an accident, killing them all. There is the distinct impression that the companies which have been operating these aircraft have been less than transparent in holding inquiries, and providing answers to frequently asked questions. Two demands have been made on a regular basis by the people of the Northeast — that the aircraft which are flown in the region should have high capability to manoeuvre through the hills which characterise its terrain; and that airstrips be made longer and at locations where there is no danger of crashing into hills or mountains. These appear to be reasonable and legitimate demands, and they have been pressed for long. But there is no sign that anyone in authority has heard. It was the duty of the Union government and aircraft providers to have paid heed and responded with alacrity. In the specific case of the ill-fated flight of the Arunachal Pradesh chief minister, there is the added unhappiness in the state that several national-level outfits were a shade lackadaisical in conducting the search once it became clear that the helicopter had gone missing. As it turned out, the equipment employed proved inadequate and yielded no results. The wreckage was eventually found after five days by local villagers. Radical elements in the state have seized the chance to kick up an anti-India sentiment in a state that borders China. Unfavourable comparisons have been sought to be made with the effort put in to locate the wreckage of the aircraft that had crashed killing Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy in 2009. This is just plain mischief. The conditions for flying — especially in the Sela Pass belt — and for search and rescue operations at high altitude in the Tawang area are far more difficult and complex than in Andhra Pradesh. But common to both events is the impression that the two political leaders in question did not sufficiently heed the weather forecast warnings. To this, in the Arunachal Pradesh case, must be added the criminal negligence of flying single-engine instead of twin-engine aircraft.

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

PAK APOCALYPSE WHEN?

SWAPAN DASGUPTA

When he made his momentous broadcast at 11 am on September 3, 1939, to announce that Germany had not replied to the ultimatum served on it and that "consequently, Great Britain and Germany were at war", Neville Chamberlain didn't quite rise to the occasion. A character in Alan Bennett's Forty Years On is recorded as remarking

that the speech was so utterly deadpan that the Prime Minister may as well have been announcing a "by-election defeat".
Mercifully, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh didn't deem it appropriate to say something in public after the tranquillity of a Monday morning was disturbed by the excitement over the "fire-fight" that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. He waited till evening before issuing a message so tepid that it could as well have recorded the Reserve Bank's rise in interest rates. Where most of India was in a "we told you so" mood and revelling in Pakistan's misfortune at having been caught cheating, our Prime Minister was unmoved.
It is likely that the mirth over a neighbour being found in a proverbial compromising position may turn out to be a passing show. The country that deftly managed to ride out the A.Q. Khan scandal, the US anger after 9/11 and the global indignation that followed the 26/11 Mumbai outrage has by now developed the hide of a rhinoceros and is unlikely to be affected by the discovery that the world's most wanted terrorist was safely ensconced in a town teeming with the military. To believe that today's Pakistan can be shamed into goodness is like hoping Harry Flashman (in Tom Brown's Schooldays) would cease to be a cad and become a true gentleman.
Yet, it was not cynicism that prompted Dr Singh's apparent show of detachment. Since the Saarc summit in Thimphu last February, Dr Singh has tried to turn India's Pakistan policy upside down. The earlier position — robustly reaffirmed after the Mumbai outrage of 2008 — of making meaningful bilateral engagement conditional on Pakistan's disengagement from all acts of terrorism was substituted by a candyfloss diplomacy premised on the belief that engagement was the best way to make Islamabad fall in line. It is not that New Delhi was blind to the roguish agenda of a section of the Pakistan military and its intelligence services. However, it was felt that the fragile civilian dispensation would be strengthened if India demonstrated magnanimity. Dr Singh, in short, was also engaging in a civilising mission: to bolster the "good" Pakistani establishment and isolate the "bad" guys in the cantonments.
The progress of what has subsequently been dubbed the "spirit of Mohali" depended crucially on public indifference. Dr Singh appears to have calculated that the fierce preoccupation with domestic politics would give him the space to proceed quickly but silently on building bridges with Pakistan. What he didn't want was the furore that greeted the Sharm-el-Sheikh declaration of July 2009 where the U-turn was unveiled for the first time. That storm resulted in even the Congress distancing itself from its Prime Minister's initiative.
To the extent that the Abbottabad raid has brought Pakistan's duplicity in full international glare, Dr Singh's muted response to the US' show of might is understandable. Pakistan, after all, has been exposed as monumentally perfidious. Bin Laden wasn't just an ordinary terrorist: he personified America's perception of evil. Pakistan doesn't merely face the wrath of the White House, Capitol Hill and Langley; it is confronted by the collective anger of an entire nation. It will take considerable ingenuity and grovelling on the part of Pakistan to get its relationship with the US back on a surer footing.
As more and more evidence of Pakistan's double game hits the American networks, public opinion in the US is certain to become more and more hostile to the idea of subsidising a rogue state with billions of dollars and sophisticated armaments. A re-born President Barack Obama who has added machismo to his list of political attributes can hardly go against public sentiment — and certainly not in the run-up to next year's presidential election.
Ironically, the West's pressure on Pakistan to come clean on its relationship with Bin Laden and stop "looking both ways" is likely to play out very differently within that country. Pakistan may not be a text-book model of a functioning democracy but even there public opinion cannot be ignored. The remarkable ease with which a beleaguered Pakistan establishment was able to steer the public debate into one involving the violation of national sovereignty, thereby giving full expression to the prevailing torrent of anti-Americanism, is revealing. It suggests that far from this national embarrassment opening a window of opportunity to the "good" Pakistanis to question an unscrupulous and rotten dispensation, a wave of perverse xenophobia and Osama worship could become the pretext for an already illiberal society to turn medieval. A cocktail of xenophobia and religion may make sensible Pakistani voices irrelevant.
There is a section of radical opinion in the Islamic world that feels that the West is economically so challenged that the threat of more upheaval will force it to retreat, leaving Pakistan to reclaim its pre-2001 status in Afghanistan. This is not a wild calculation. Underneath the triumphalism that has manifested itself in the US is also a feeling that the war goals set after 9/11 have been achieved and that it is time to leave the region to its anarchic fate. The flip side of this belief is that the West's disengagement is certain to be seen as a triumph of Islamist radicalism and a posthumous victory of the "martyr" of Abbottabad.
In whichever direction the endgame finally plays out, India will not be unaffected by the shifts. The tenuous assumptions on which Dr Singh built his policy of appeasement towards Pakistan seem set to fall apart. No wonder he preferred the written to the spoken word: he would have sounded like someone who had just lost a general election.

Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

 

CONG, BJP & THE CORRUPTION ROUNDABOUT

INDER MALHOTRA

With the reappointment of senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Murli Manohar Joshi as chairman of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the grave danger of the collapse of the entire parliamentary committee system has been averted. For, had not Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar decided to stick to the established convention

and thus disregard the clamour within a large section of the Congress to keep Dr Joshi out, the principal Opposition party would almost certainly have withdrawn its members from all committees of Parliament. However, any comfort the country wishes to draw from this can only be limited, because the face-off between the two sides over the 2G issue is by no means over and can revert to the ugly ruckus that nearly tore apart and discredited Parliament's oldest and most respected committee.
The Congress has already sent to the new committee a team of "formidable" members with the avowed objective of "taking on" Dr Joshi. Nor is it a mere coincidence that the Union minister for parliamentary affairs, Pavan Bansal, has issued a statement fiercely critical of the PAC chairman. Moreover, the looming uncertainty is compounded by some other factors. Paramount among these is that at the time of writing, the Speaker's verdict on the status of what Dr Joshi claims to be the "PAC report on 2G" that he submitted over the weekend, is still awaited.
To any independent observer, however, it is obvious that the document in question is at best a draft report that never received the collective endorsement of the PAC as a whole. According to Dr Joshi, he had adjourned the committee's meeting because members belonging to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) made it impossible to continue the proceedings. Where then is the question of there being a report of the PAC on 2G?
On the other hand, the conduct of the UPA members of the PAC, after the adjournment of the meeting a day before the end of its tenure, was much worse than anything that Dr Joshi, his party and its allies have done so far or are trying to do. The nine UPA members of the committee, with the support of a member each from the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, arrogated to themselves the right to "remove" the PAC chairman and "elect" his replacement (who else but Saifuddin Soz of the Congress?), throwing to the winds the basic canon that the PAC chairman is appointed by the Speaker after ascertaining the wishes of the Opposition. Thereafter, claiming that they represented a clear majority of the 21-member PAC, these 11 members trashed the draft report and rejected it out of hand. Not content with this, they showered all kinds of epithets on Dr Joshi. Union Cabinet minister Kapil Sibal, with a gift of the gab, remarked: "It was a Joshi report, and it has now become a doshi (guilty) report". Since then both sides have been trading charges of subversion of the Constitution.
There is a further, rather alarming, twist to the sordid tale. Ever since Independence, reports of all parliamentary committees, not just the PAC, are privileged until presented to the House. In the days when I used to cover Parliament, any violation of this norm used to invite sharp rebuke from the Chair and the only escape hatch for the guilty party was "unqualified apology". All this seems to have gone with the wind. The 270-page, explosive draft report of the PAC was available to every single TV channel and newspaper and all of them merrily broadcast its every juicy detail. Does it require great cogitation to guess in whose interest the massive leakage was?
From the foregoing flow two very depressing and disturbing conclusions emerge. First, over long years the authority, prestige and dignity of Parliament have been constantly and systematically eroded by the untruly from among its own members. Successive presiding officers of the two Houses have lamented this and tried to stem the disastrous trend but to no avail. So far parliamentary committees had managed to function smoothly and efficaciously. Are they also on the block now, especially if the new PAC again takes up the draft report on 2G, currently hanging in midair like Trishanku, or starts considering the Commonwealth Games scandal or any other of the scams bedevilling the UPA-2 government?
Therein lies the clue to the second conclusion emanating from the ugly confrontation and conflict within the outgoing PAC: Partisan politics of an extremely squalid kind has made any rational discussion on such vital problems as the scourge of corruption eating into the vitals of the country more or less impossible. Any attempt to come to grips with it immediately degenerates into a no-holds-barred war of words between the Congress and the BJP. It matters little whether the forum is a closed-door meeting of the PAC or a high-decibel TV talk show.
The impression is growing that the burning issue of corruption gets sidetracked because in the highly polarised political atmosphere between the two mainstream parties, the BJP seems intent only on blaming Congress and UPA leaders, individually and collectively, for everything that has gone wrong. The Congress and its allies hit back that the record of the BJP, at present as well as in the past, is much worse, and therefore the latter has no right to speak. For the saffron party this becomes the "clinching proof" that the Congress' sole purpose is to "defend" and "perpetuate" corruption. There are, of course, wheels within wheels. At times Dr Joshi seems to be targeting both the Congress and some of his BJP colleagues simultaneously.
The crowning irony is that all this dismal drama is taking place at a time when it appeared as if India had indeed united against corruption. First, it was the messy aftermath of Anna Hazare's triumphal fast at Jantar Mantar, and now the virtual civil war in the PAC. Can anything be more pernicious and perverse?

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

BILATERAL TALKS SHOULD CONTINUE

 

Serious doubts are expressed by sections of knowledgeable circles about the fate of ongoing Indo-Pak dialogue in the aftermath of the killing of Al Qaeda chief, and its reverberations in official circles in Pakistan. Government of India's suggestion to the Indian participants in the forthcoming conference of the European Union on Kashmir question in Brussels was cited as akin to the Government of India retracting steps from the bilateral talks. But an official clarification in the matter has now come in from New Delhi saying that India favoured continuing the bilateral dialogue notwithstanding the Osama happening and its repercussions. The same line of argument was adopted by the spokesman when he argued that the reason of recalling Indian delegation from Brussels conference was that the process of bilateral talks with Pakistan was going on. Therefore opening the conference on the subject was likely to create hurdles in the way of continuing the talks. It means that India is serious in continuing the talks whatever the circumstances.
This apart, the fact of the matter is that a large section of Indian civil society is somewhat skeptic about the talks. Even the national party in opposition has asked the Prime Minister to re-think his decision of continuing the bilateral talks with Pakistan when it was now clear to the world that this country was preaching international peace on the one hand and on the other hand it was giving safe haven to the very fountain-head of international terrorism. This was a contradictory and conflicting situation and India had no justification to get embroiled in the mess. They believe that first Pakistan should clarify its position in regard to providing safe haven to Osama just close to its Military Academy in the garrison town of Abbotabad. They further contend that Pakistan has done nothing to wind up training camps for Kashmir terrorists in PoK and rather is reinforcing them and replenishing them with full material support. In addition, very conflicting statements are coming out from Pakistani official circles in regard to the Osama episode. They are blowing hot and cold in the same breath. Sometimes they say that the Pakistan government is not at all involved in providing safe haven to Bin Laden or in the assault led by the Americans on his hideout. At other times, it wants to claim the role of fighting against international terror.
However, setting all these arguments aside, New Delhi has said in very clear and unambiguous words that it wants to engage Pakistan in bilateral talks. The talks are covering a variety of subjects and New Delhi's contention is that sine Pakistan is beset with many domestic problems India would not want to close her eyes to the ground reality. "Talks with Pakistan will continue. We have to engage them. We have to focus on the issues of concern that we have with Pakistan. We have to engage them on the issues of normalization, whether it comes to trade, humanitarian exchange, prisoners, cross LoC trade in Jammu and Kashmir", sources said. It has to be remembered that the Osama episode may make Pakistan upset for some time. But the hard reality is that Pakistan retains her strategic importance and relevance to the Americans in their world view. Relations between the two countries are deeper than what the Osama episode may bring in train. Therefore India cannot escape the need and option of engaging Pakistan in talks.
Admitting that much more pressure was required to be put on Pakistan to deal with terrorism, India certainly is concerned over the presence of groups like LeT, JeM and Hizbul Mujahideen on the Pakistani soil as these remain a serious threat to India's security. Apart from being vigilant to this factor and safeguarding its interest, India should continue to press this point with its US interlocutors and as well as in discussion with Pakistan. This then explains why India has to continue talks with Pakistan not out of any compulsion but out of flow of diplomatic practices. Pakistan will overcome the present crisis, and we should not give up the hope that democracy will ultimately stabilize in this country which has no tradition of democratic life style. We need to give space to saner elements in Pakistani civil society especially at a time when world powers are trying to support the fragile democracy existing there against heavy odds created by her Army and its affiliates.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

EXASPERATION OVER BLACK MONEY

 

The Apex Court seemingly finds the central government fighting with it back to the wall to protect those who have stashed enormous monies in foreign banks like Switzerland. The Attorney General could not convince the Supreme Court Bench that the speed with which the ten-member committee appointed by the centre was pursuing the case was reasonable. The first case was filed in 2007 and its hearing came up only n 2011. The Apex Court understands the delaying tactics of the government and its unwillingness to disclose the names of those who are holding account for huge monies in foreign banks. The court asked a simple question: what is the difficulty in disclosing the names of defaulters? But the government has no answer. The government vehemently rejected the idea of the Supreme Court Bench of appointing Special Investigation Team (SIT) to monitor the speed with which the ten-member committee was handling the black money case. Obviously, the government has the apprehension of skeletons falling out of cupboard. But how long can the government circumvent the process and hide the names of the involved persons. With each ploy that the government resorts to, it is getting more and more exposed to the public gaze. It never denied huge monies being stashed away in foreign banks but it never came to grips with the very crux of the question. Wherefrom was this enormous money got? The government has created the bogey of threats and dangers and debacles in case the prosecution of the offenders was stepped up or if the names of the offenders were disclosed, and has beseeched the Apex Court not to pressurize it for speedy disposal of the case. But the court was not prepared to buy this line of argument and only deferred its judgment. The truth is that the matter can neither be stalled nor kept in cold store for too long a time. It is a matter of days and the whole truth about the black money will come out.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

DISCRIMINATED WE STAND, DISCREDITED WE FALL

BY COL J P SINGH, (RETD)

Revocation of Dogra Certificate is a proverbial last nail in the ethnic coffin of Jammu region. Histories of progressive nations have been written in blood. When attempts are made to destroy their history in a systematic manner, an everlasting fear is created in the minds of effected people about their future. History is said to repeat itself. It takes a step backwards before taking a leap forward. To my mind, revocation of Dogra Certificate for the people of Jammu region is a direct assault on the ethnicity of Dogras and discrimination with the region. Repeated acts of discrimination lead to revival of demands for a separate statehood for Jammu and Union Territory for Ladakh and each time the resolve is stronger. The last nail has the potential of impacting the politics of J&K if viewed seriously.


Dogras are a diversified Indo Aryan ethnic tribe like many other tribes of India and are no aliens at all. They are Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs and are predominantly in Jammu region of J&K. They are also living in Punjab, Himachal and North East Pakistan. They speak Dogri language which is one of the recognized national languages. Jammu has been the seat of power of Duggar Pradesh for centuries. It is a land of Rajas, Generals, soldiers, warriors and hardy farmers and is different from the Kashmir valley in many respects. The Dogras are short in height though sturdy in disposition. Being a martial race, they prefer to join the armed forces and vice versa. Since 1887 they were allowed some relaxation in physical measurements for enrolment in the army on the basis of a certificate issued by revenue authorities. This certificate has now been denied at the behest of Kashmiri leaders.


Since the independence, people of Jammu have been burning in the heat of oppression. Prolonged discrimination in political, economic and financial spheres besides glaring disparity in employment opportunities was seriously taken up by many social organizations in the past. Since it was ignored by media, it never became a forceful issue. Dogra certificate was a document to receive traditional physical concession for enrolment in Armed Forces. With revocation of this facility, job opportunities will be further curtailed for the Dogra youths. Today Jammu stands out as victim of discrimination and hegemony of the Kashmiri leadership. Panther party legislators took up the issue of denial of this certificate at certain places in the Assembly. Govt issued a formal order to issue Dogra Certificate as per norms. Hurriyat and main stream political leaders made it a political and religious issue stating that Muslims of Jammu are not being given certificates and hence they do not get the benefits of concession etc etc, which was a fallacy. Govt rescinded the order. Dogra certificate was no issue at all; a issue was made out of it, blown out of proportion and issue killed to the disadvantage to Jammu; all in a pre planned manner to get one upmanship over Jammu. The gulf between Jammu and Kashmir has been further widened and self respect of Dogras hurt.


We usually do not have regrets for what we did but for the things we did not do. Time to regret is gone past. Earlier one felt that the politicians who discriminate against Jammu must talk more against it and those who are the sufferers just listen. Identity of the leaders who inflicted this deep wound on the Dogras and will continue doing so with vengeance is no more a secret. But Jammuites have not politicised this issues perhaps for the fear of lacking consensus. They never used such issues to blackmail Jammu based politicians. Isn't there any victim who can take up the cudgel and challenge the might of discriminators. Under the circumstances Jammu will have a Anna Hazare sooner or later to rescue the aggrieved region from the oppressors.


Jammu deserves more than 50 seats in the State Assembly and 6 to 8 more districts, parity in employment opportunities, allotment of funds on the basis of area, population and ground realities. Regional equality and communal harmony remained in the state only till govt changed over from autocratic ruler to the democratic despots. Independence and partition sowed the seeds of harassment of Dogras and the discrimination continues till now. Silent and chalta hai stance of Congress leaders and ruthlessly ditching and discrediting of Jammu by BJP MLAs emboldens perpetrators of discrimination. Society led by such leaders is bound to go retrograde. We shall continue to be discriminated and discredited. Here is the situation where we are discriminated not because we are the generation of lesser god but it is because we rarely contested it. Nature gives opportunities to one and all. The wisdom lies in grabbing that opportunity. This indeed is a testing time for the common man . It is a test of his political maturity, social consciousness, self respect and above all his willingness to fight against discrimination and discredit. Did we stop playing because we grew old or we grew old because we stopped playing, has to be answered. Admirably younger generation which is wiser and pro active has to get ready to get what has been denied to them to mar their future. And for the rest of us it is another opportunity to decide if we really want freedom from oppression or continue to be oppressed.
Is fiqar mein sab baithe the; aakher hamen ab kia karna hai,
Kitna zulam sahena hai; kab zulam karne walon se larna hai.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

PAKISTAN A TERRORIST STATE

BY ARUN NEHRU

 

President Barack Obama applies closure to 9/11/2001 and after a decade justice catches up with Osama bin Laden on the outskirts of Islamabad. There will be new details by the hour as details of the commando operation are disclosed and there is no doubt that this operation has been a huge success. Osama bin Laden was no longer the leader of a global movement and very much a man on the run but he was the symbol of 9/11, he was the architect of the cold blooded murder of 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and many other crimes in Europe, UK, Africa, Middle East and in India and many other countries in South East Asia. The house built in 2005 implicates the Pakistani government, the Army and the ISI and they provided him sanctuary [at a cost?] and few if any will believe the falsehoods being spread by interested elements. The house after the raid will no doubt provide a wealth of information but the living conditions indicated a man on the run, no internet, no phones and you cannot run a global empire by a few couriers! Osama was killed but his family including his wife and several children were spared and this was generous considering that innocent women and children were slaughtered by bomb blasts and suicide bombers across the globe on his orders.
The event over the 'before and after' syndrome applies and while it is true that new terror links have been formed over the last decade there are several questions for Pakistan to answer and in a World where there are few secrets it is not wise to live in denial or in fear! There have been 30-40,000 civilian casualties in Pakistan and these will continue as 'rouge' elements within the system provide space and sanctuary to terrorists and criminals and for all practical purposes Pakistan has become a terrorist state and no surprise that the USA have closed the Embassy, suspended issue of visa and others will follow suit unless the government acts and this is no longer a issue any longer. There are provocations and we must remember that terror is a very lucrative business for many and no surprise that the prime accused in 26/11 led the prayers in Pakistan and in India we may find a few discredited minority clerics doing the same thing and they should be ignored. We are a free society and in every religion we have a small sect of extremists who indulge in these acts and do not represent anyone except their own selfish interests. We are on full alert and we must wait and watch for events to unfold and the commando raid and the death of Osama bin Laden brings closure to 9/11 and the US President will gain in political terms but public opinion cannot be taken for granted and I think interest will focus on Pakistan and the three billion dollars aid from the USA to fight terror will be in jeopardy and what India has said for three decades with facts and figures is now a global reality.
The situation in Tunisia and Egypt is very different from Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Syria and Libya and we see serious developments in Bahrain and even in Saudi Arabia. We have six million Indians in the area, we have huge business and commercial interests and as a emerging super power we have a political responsibility to fulfill in the decision making process. Vote bank politics are a essential part of any Democratic structure and President Barack Obama and his party have a election to fight and he has converted many a 'negative' into instant 'positives' by the successful commando operation and although it has taken ten years to eliminate Osama bin Laden is a major public issue and for the media this coverage could last for months and generate a great deal of public interest. We cannot predict the future but I think Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will once again be in the public spotlight and along with the economy which in comparative terms is doing well the President is in a good position and the Democratic party will rally around him with enthusiasm and this is a dream opportunity which every party looks for at election time. A few days ago Barack Obama thought it necessary to release his birth certificate and look how the situation has changed in a few days!
Retribution always come even after a decade and closure comes to 9/11 and our thoughts are with those who perished and with their families and Pakistan and the terrorists they harbor still have to account for 26/11. We are not the USA, we do not give them 3 billion in aid, we do not supply them weapons to fight terrorists [this is a joke] and they will do nothing to help us in tracking the killers of 26/11. We have a long list of names starting with Hafiz Saeed and we cannot jeopardize our security indefinitely and adopt a passive attitude. The next few days will indicate the pattern the USA will follow and then we have to evolve a long term plan and show our firm resolve not only to Pakistan but also to the USA. Pakistan as things stand is a terrorist State and there cannot be two different standards in dealing with criminals and those guilty of mass murder.
I am a little surprised by the attitude of the USA and the UK in dealing with Army dictators who have violated laws within their country and in recent days we hear of the massive assets going into billions of the deposed Egyptian Dictator Hosni Mubarak and his sons and Col Gaddafi and sons have vast investments in the UK and many parts of Europe and we have Pervaz Musharraf the former Pakistan Army chief living in luxury in London and where does the money come from and is he being funded by intelligence agencies for services rendered?

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

JUSTICE HAS BEEN DONE

ON THE SPOT

BY TAVLEEN SINGH

 

The news that came from Abbotabad last Monday morning was news I had lost all hope of hearing in my lifetime. As someone who is passionately opposed to the religious lunacy that Osama bin Laden's jihad represents I have followed his disappearance after 9/11 as well as I can. Whenever I have met Pakistani friends or traveled in Pakistan I have asked about Osama's whereabouts and always everyone convinced me that he was most certainly dead. They gave different reasons. Some said that the Generals who controlled Pakistan had no reason to keep him alive if they knew where he was. It would be more profitable, they said, for them to give him up to the Americans in exchange for more dollars and F-16s. Then there was the theory that if he was in Pakistan he was hiding in a cave in the wild and inaccessible mountains that divide Afghanistan from Pakistan. If he was there, my Pakistani friends pointed out, then he was outside the reach of the Pakistani army because the Pathan tribes who inhabit those parts are a law unto themselves.


Only one friend, who shall remain nameless, once said laughingly at a dinner party that Osama was in a heavily fortified safe house in a military cantonment. My friend had high connections in the Pakistani army and I wish I had listened more carefully. As I did not I was taken by complete surprise last Monday when my son called to say, 'Put on the television. They've killed Osama bin Laden.' Since then I have, like millions of people all over the world, followed every detail that has come out from behind the high walls of the house in Abbotabad. I have gazed transfixed at the blood-stained mattress where the world's most notorious mass murderer fell and stared at the medicine bottles in their neat row above his bed. I have listened to every detail of how the American Navy Seals entered the house, killed Osama and escaped with his body before anyone in Pakistan realized that the country's air space had been violated.


Like other journalists who wandered about Peshawar in the late eighties and early nineties, covering the war that brought the Soviet Union down, I have my own Osama story. An American friend and I were once interviewing Mujahideen leaders in Peshawar when we noticed a very tall, bearded man leaning against a table. We did not speak to him and we did not know who he was but when 9/11 happened my friend, who lives in New York, reminded me of this incident and we cursed ourselves for not having tried to talk to the tall stranger. In the early nineties, on another trip to Pakistan, I heard that Osama, who was then beginning to gain notoriety, was living in the Northwest Frontier Province in a house that belonged to my friend Rehmat Shah Afridi. He owned the Frontier Post newspaper at the time and had invited a group of Indian journalists to Pakistan for one of those attempts at a second track, informal peace dialogue. This was before 9/11, before 26/11 and already talking peace with Pakistan was complicated.


We who spoke for India in a totally unofficial capacity found it hard to get beyond Kashmir and talk of other things. Rehmat Shah was present at all the discussions we had in Lahore and Peshawar and in the evenings organized for us entertainments of all kind including a memorable private concert at which Farida Khanum sang. None of us had any idea of his real claim to fame: his very close links to the mastermind of the worldwide jihad. I bring this up here to make the point that the links between the pillars of Pakistan's establishment and the jihad remain nebulous and it should surprise nobody that Osama spent the last five years of his life in the garrison town of Abbotabad. Anyone who continues to believe that he was there without the knowledge of the Commander in Chief of Pakistan's army needs their head examined.


What Osama's violent end draws attention to is the role of the Pakistani army in the worldwide jihad. If the jihad continues, and there is little doubt that it will, there is no question that it is because of the support that it gets from the Pakistani army. The Generals who control this army have never hesitated to make it absolutely clear that Pakistan's foreign and defense policy is something that only they have a right to make. Civilian governments who have tried to interfere in these sacrosanct areas have been unceremoniously dismissed the minute they have stepped out of line. And, the only constant feature of Pakistan's foreign policy in the past two decades has been the financing and promotion of jihadi groups like Al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. This support has been so total that the lines between soldiers and jihadi warriors have blurred and at least one serving Pakistani army officer was involved in the 26/11 attack.


So what happens now that Pakistan's Generals have been caught with their pants down in Abbotabad? Will the Americans acknowledge that their closest ally in the global war against terrorism is in fact the perpetrator of this war? There are signs that this is already beginning to happen but for us in India it is even more important that our own Government speaks in more robust tones about the involvement of the Pakistani state in the spread of violent Islamism. There is no point in a peace dialogue with Pakistan until this happens. The truth is that there is no point in a peace dialogue with Pakistan until we can show that India has the will and the ability to conduct the sort of operation we saw last week in Abbotabad. Instead of constantly whining about Pakistan's reluctance to render unto us the men who have been responsible for terrorist acts in India we should build the capacity to go and get them ourselves. If we had gone after the hijackers of IC 814 and the criminals we released in Kandahar ten years ago there is every likelihood that 26/11 would never have happened. Every state has the right to defend itself in every way possible. The Americans showed us how in Abbotabad last week.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

PAKISTAN UNMASKED

INDIA MUST STEP UP DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE

 

The unilateral action by the US to hunt down the world's most-wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan without taking Islamabad into confidence has rekindled the debate about whether India should undertake surgical strikes to eliminate the likes of Dawood Ibrahim for their involvement in several terrorist attacks in India over the years. There is also the question of hot pursuit of terrorists from across the border and destroying their training camps in Pak-occupied Kashmir which has been long discussed. Army Chief General V.K. Singh's statement justifying the US operation but admitting that while we have the capability for an Abbottabad-like strike the ground realities dictate that we proceed with caution is candid and realistic. With Pakistan now a nuclear-armed state and reckless elements on the loose there, there is need to ensure that we do not give an opportunity to the hawks in that country to run amuck. The question really is not of India's capability to undertake such precision strikes but of factoring in the possible response of a nuclear-armed Pakistan in the event of such a strike.

 

The fact that the world's most-wanted terrorist was living under the very nose of the Pakistani establishment for years while Islamabad persistently denied that he was in their territory has punctured whatever credibility Pakistan had in the international community. It is now for India to use all its diplomatic skills to build up pressure on the US Administration as also on other governments not to funnel deadly arms supplies to Pakistan until it brings to book all the perpetrators of terror attacks against India and closes camps that train young men to take to the gun against this country. Indeed, Pakistan has been paying lip service to punishing the conspirators in the 2008 terror strikes in Mumbai but has done virtually nothing in that direction and the US with its characteristic double standards has failed to force the Pakistanis into acting against the masterminds.

It is all very well for India and Pakistan to sign accords signaling closer relations but the basic issue of Pak-sponsored terrorism needs to be addressed strongly and effectively. There is indeed no alternative to India stepping up its diplomatic offensive. 

 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ONE MORE BOARD

FIGHTING DRUGS IS A SERIOUS JOB

 

Punjab will have a drug prevention board – not because experts have suggested it but because Punjab Youth Congress president Ravneet Singh Bittu has gone on fast to demand it. Punjab already has 62 boards and corporations doing limited relevant work but providing employment to activists of the ruling party. Most are a drain on the exchequer. The Punjab Chief Minister sees no harm in forming another board if Bittu wants it.

 

Even though Bittu's fast is well-meaning and has drawn attention to the serious problem of drug addiction among Punjabi youth, controlling drug trade is a major challenge that requires a multi-pronged approach and expertise. A board having MLAs, among others, as its members may be ill-equipped to do the job, especially when it is widely recognised that the drug mafia in the state enjoys political patronage. Drugs are distributed freely during elections. Health Minister Laxmi Kanta Chawla faced political trouble when she took on some drug retailers. Concerned politicians like Bittu should first nail those in their fraternity profiteering from the illegal trade that has destroyed many families.

 

According to the UN, there is a flourishing $65 billion global drug trade which gets most of its supplies from the Taliban-held areas in Afghanistan, where 90 per cent of the world's opum is produced and is used to make heroin and other banned substances. India is a transit centre as well as a large market. Narcotics are also smuggled through the country's courier and postal services. Being a border state, Punjab has suffered the brunt. The worst-hit are the border districts. Drug trade can be contained if punishment given is stringent such as the death penalty, the laws are enforced, the international borders are sealed, the nexus of the politician-police-drug peddler is smashed, drug addicts are rehabilitated and awareness about the deadly trade is created. This can happen if the Central and state governments get serious about drug trafficking, especially because drug money funds terrorism.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

RAMDEV'S FAST ONE

GOING ONE-UP ON HAZARE

 

Whatever Anna Hazare can do, Baba Ramdev can do better, or so the latter believes. The former had gone on a fast in support of the Lok Pal Bill. The yoga guru has decided to emulate him from June 4 in New Delhi to force the Central Government to bring black money stashed away in Swiss banks. He must be hoping that the large number of people who rose in support of Hazare would back him also with the same vim and vigour. If he could throw in yoga lessons also, perhaps he can prove to be an even bigger crowd puller. However, no invitation has been extended to Anna Hazare, or to Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan. "I joined his fast without any invitation from Hazare. He too can join me without an invitation," he has said. That is perhaps the ancient way of saying "I scratched your back and now you scratch mine".

 

The methods suggested by Ramdev for eradicating corruption and black money are far more radical than those of Anna Hazare. He not only wants the Lok Pal to have the powers to award the death penalty to corrupt people but also to enforce a ban on currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination. What the ban will do to those who have kept their petty savings in these notes has not been touched upon. One thing is certain. The crores that Baba Ramdev made through his yoga camps and medicine sales are not kept in these two denominations.

 

He has never hidden his political ambitions. Some politicians are bound to jump on to his bandwagon. The most interesting would be the reaction of Brinda Karat. Her allegations that the TV baba mixes human bones in the sundry churans that he makes had not really held ground. Her reaction to the satyagraha announcement would be quite a verbal treat – with a dash of cyanide perhaps. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

RAMDEV'S FAST ONE

GOING ONE-UP ON HAZARE

 

Whatever Anna Hazare can do, Baba Ramdev can do better, or so the latter believes. The former had gone on a fast in support of the Lok Pal Bill. The yoga guru has decided to emulate him from June 4 in New Delhi to force the Central Government to bring black money stashed away in Swiss banks. He must be hoping that the large number of people who rose in support of Hazare would back him also with the same vim and vigour. If he could throw in yoga lessons also, perhaps he can prove to be an even bigger crowd puller. However, no invitation has been extended to Anna Hazare, or to Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan. "I joined his fast without any invitation from Hazare. He too can join me without an invitation," he has said. That is perhaps the ancient way of saying "I scratched your back and now you scratch mine".

 

The methods suggested by Ramdev for eradicating corruption and black money are far more radical than those of Anna Hazare. He not only wants the Lok Pal to have the powers to award the death penalty to corrupt people but also to enforce a ban on currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination. What the ban will do to those who have kept their petty savings in these notes has not been touched upon. One thing is certain. The crores that Baba Ramdev made through his yoga camps and medicine sales are not kept in these two denominations.

 

He has never hidden his political ambitions. Some politicians are bound to jump on to his bandwagon. The most interesting would be the reaction of Brinda Karat. Her allegations that the TV baba mixes human bones in the sundry churans that he makes had not really held ground. Her reaction to the satyagraha announcement would be quite a verbal treat – with a dash of cyanide perhaps. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

DIMENSIONS OF 2-G SCAM

SPECTRUM ALLOTMENTS SHOULD BE CANCELLED

BY T.V. RAJESWAR

 

The CBI has already filed two charge sheets before the Supreme Court on issues connected with the 2-G scam. Yet another charge sheet is expected to be filed before the Supreme Court by the CBI in the coming weeks. Former Telecom Minister A. Raja, the prime accused, has been in jail for over four months. The heads of a number of telecom companies who maneuvered themselves irregular 2-G licences and spectrum allocations are also in jail, their application for bail having been rejected by courts.

 

The DMK Rajya Sabha MP, Kanimozhi, daughter of Chief Minister Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu, has been cited as one of the accused. More and more ugly details are tumbling out and it is a matter of time before they are all made to account for their scams.

 

It is to the credit of the Supreme Court that the unravelling of one of the biggest scams in the post-Independence era is being thoroughly examined and exposed by the efforts of the CBI and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament presided over by the BJP veteran, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, had had some traumatic sittings and had to wind up prematurely due to the accusations and counter-accusations of the members constituting the PAC. The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) will commence its task presumably when Parliament assembles for the monsoon session.

 

The proceedings of the JPC will be extremely important and interesting as these will largely deal with the 2-G scam. The PAC, presided over by Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, mentioned in the initial draft report that the loss to the exchequer by the 2-G scam was Rs. 1.90 lakh crore while granting 122 licences in 2008, dual technology licences and extra spectrum.

 

However, the CAG of India had put the presumptive loss in the range of Rs. 57,000 crore to Rs. 1.76 lakh crore. On the other hand, the CBI which took up the case, estimated the loss at more than Rs 30,000 crore which they mentioned in the charge sheet. The PAC draft report had made a reference to the calculation made by Dr. Subramaniam Swamy, President of the Janata Party, that the net loss in the 2-G scam was Rs 97,410.74 crore.

 

Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal had, however, questioned the calculation of the CAG in respect of the presumptive loss of 2-G allocations and he characterised the calculation method of the CAG as without a basis. These figures are bewildering and tend to confuse the main issue, which is that there was a tremendous loss to the national exchequer which had never been seen before in the post-Independence years.

 

It is, therefore, all the more imperative that the exact figure and dimensions of the 2-G scam should be arrived at by an expert body. The CAG is a constitutional authority whose calculation in its report should be acceptable. The CBI, which took up the investigation of the 2-G scam on the directive of the Supreme Court, had made its own calculation and arrived at a much smaller figure and now comes the calculation made by the PAC and mentioned in its draft report released to the press on April 28. The figure arrived by the PAC is much more than what was calculated by the CAG, the CBI and by Dr. Subramaniam Swamy.

 

Therefore, it is hoped that the Supreme Court in its wisdom would constitute a committee consisting of the CAG, the Director of the CBI, the Chairman of Telecom Authority and possibly a renowned chartered accountant and give it the task of working out the most approximate quantum of loss to the national exchequer in the entire 2-G scam.

Simultaneously, the Supreme Court may also consider, in consultation with the high-powered committee, ways and means of making good the colossal loss to the maximum extent possible.

 

The spectrum allotments should be cancelled or forfeited and given afresh by way of auction or other means. The wrongful beneficiaries may also have to be asked to make good the loss failing which their properties should be attached. It will be a multi-dimensional task for the Supreme Court appointed high-powered committee. It is hoped that this may come about sooner or later.

 

Apart from exploring and establishing a fairly correct estimate of the loss to the national exchequer in terms of revenue, all those responsible for the scam should also be identified and brought to justice. It is not enough to punish only Raja and his associates in the Department of Telecom who are now in jail along with him. All those persons who were responsible for the scam by acts of omission and commission should also be brought to justice sooner or later.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

IF OSAMA WAS HOLED UP HERE!

BY AMAR CHANDEL

 

Ever since American Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden in an operation inside Pakistan, idle talk has been going on here as to why India does not carry out similar daring missions. Banish the thought, friends. We would not even dream of such "unprecedented, unconstitutional and illegal" activity that militates against the principles of "ahimsa".

 

Leave alone Pakistan, even if he were hiding here, we would have handled things strictly according to established democratic procedures. In all probability, the situation would have unfolded in the following fashion:

 

Policemen would have visited his house and after the customary grant of "kharcha-pani",  would have issued him a character certificate  that he was a bona fide Indian citizen named Osama Kumar with a yellow BPL (below poverty line) ration card.

 

He would have also armed himself with a stay order against any kind of forcible eviction. He would have also approached several minority organisations for support.

 

Some parties would have sent him feelers that if he joins their organisation, all his purported crimes would be forgiven and forgotten. Not only that, he would also be made head of the foreign cell of the party. Everybody is innocent till his guilt is proved in a court of law.

 

There may have also been a ban on causing any kind of damage to his house, it having been declared a protected monument. 

 

The government would have taken at least 20 years to decide what impact a raid would have on Muslim votes. There would have been many seminars suggesting that instead of acting against him, the government should invite him to the negotiating table.

 

If at all action became unavoidable, there would have been a heated discussion to decide in which police station's jurisdiction his house fell.

 

The satellite pictures of the locality where he was holed up would have been leaked out, not for what was found within his compound, but for the accidentally recorded salacious activities of couples living in the  neighbourhood. These would have been a rage on the MMS circuit. 

 

Even if the government gathered the political courage to send a raiding party, Mayawati would have objected vehemently to the composition of the commando team if it did not have enough Dalit representation.

 

The moment the raiding helicopters became airborne, the news would have reached the dharna types, who would have started a relay fast and candlelight vigil atop his house protesting against such state-sponsored terrorism against an ailing, hapless person on flimsy grounds. Human rights organisations would have formed a human chain.

 

There would have been 50 OB vans of TV channels outside the house beaming minute-by-minute progress of the commando operation "exclusively". 

The more enterprising ones would be even airing interviews of his family members, relatives, friends, neighbours and admirers shedding copious tears that he was totally innocent. The visuals of his philanthropic work would have been telecast repeatedly.

 

No question of his being shot. He would have been arrested – without being handcuffed, of course -- and would have gone to jail amidst lusty slogans such as "Osamaji aap sangharsh karo hum tumhare saath hain". Top lawyers would have come forward to defend him. Even if he were sentenced, he would have either been released in exchange for kidnapped relatives of some minister or would have been let off within a year or two due to good conduct in jail. He would have definitely won an election with a record margin and become a minister.

 

Publishing houses would have offered him billions for his autobiography. Bollywood too would have paid him astronomical sums to star in a multilingual film tentatively titled "Victim of Circumstances". 

 

Oh Osama, if only you knew what a tactical blunder you made by going to Pakistan!

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

FINDING A VOICE- POST 9/11

IN THE POST-9/11 ERA, THE NOTION OF A 'MUSLIM' STIGMA BECAME INCREASINGLY SIGNIFICANT, IN LITERATURE AND IN FILMS. THE ACT OF 'SHOCK AND AWE' AROUSED INESCAPABLE QUESTIONS, SHARPENING MUSLIM WRITERS' NARRATIVES AND ALTERING THE 'NAME VALUE' OF THE AUTHOR.

VANDANA SHUKLA

Poetic license allows freedom to ask uncomfortable questions. Ironically, Al -Qaeda's attacks on New York's twin towers offered this license to scores of writers across the globe, who were feeling stifled under a renewed Talibisation of Islam. Gone were the days of a solitary Sulman Rushdie, scuttled around the globe at anonymous addresses for the protection of his life. Writers came out of their creative slumber in droves to jolt the world, demanding a fresh look at their identity- of a Muslim, caught between the worlds of aspired modernity and forced religious regression. Iran based professor of English literature, who later migrated to the US, Azar Nafisi's 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' is the best example of this conflict wherein she probes the crisis of identity at several layers, using the decoy of teaching literature ( Lolita, Gatsby, James and Austen) to young Iranian students.

But, unlike Rushdie, these writers tread the safer path. Although the incident allows them to probe truth at a deeper level, the search is often restricted to social responses, cultural identities and at best, political issues, like questioning Khomeini's dictat in Azar Nafisi's novel. Almost no one touches tenets of religion, barring the firebrand Somalian writer, Ayyan Hirsi Ali.

Voices of anger

The Muslim migrant community, particularly, experienced a fresh branding of identity post 9/11; of suspicion, mistrust and cultural exclusion from the Western world, which resulted in a spurt to creative expression among the Muslim diaspora across the globe. Mohsin Hamid, Pakistan born author of 'Moth Smoke' and 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist', shared during an interview at Jaipur Literature Festival that when he wrote 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' in 2000, his agent dissuaded him saying , no one will be interested in a well- off Pakistani working as investment banker. But, after 9/11things changed and the very agent came enquiring about how the book was progressing. The book sold like hot cakes because of a deceptive title, is a separate story. 'Home Boy', for which H M Naqvi won the first ever DSC South Asian Literature Award, too is partially autobiographical. Shahzad, the protagonist in the novel bore the brunt of being a Muslim in New York, drove taxi to survive, lived in penury and mulled over terrorism as an option to survive. More daring, Omair Ahmad's brilliant novella 'Jimmy The Terrorist' offers the vicarious pleasure of dredging the mind of a terrorist. It's a tempting trip more than a few writers have attempted, who remain on the periphery of the subject. The 18- year- old's tale in a fictional town of Moazzamabad, with a knife, and what he does with it becomes of far lesser significance than the story of what drives him to pick it up. All these writers have initiated a debate to erupt in the public sphere about Islam, and its associated misgivings by turning Muslim names into a sort of familiar resonance.

The names of Arabic origin

The Muslim names became less 'foreign' after 9/11 and interested more readers. Moreover, a generation of Western-educated Muslim immigrants' children were coming of age and, regardless of the 'Muslim' issue, they were choosing literature as a medium through which to express their artistic creativity. As a result of all these factors, the amount of Muslim-related fiction soared after 9/11 both by non Muslims and by writers with a Muslim ancestry. Who would have thought of a name like Khaled Hosseini, a doctor from Afghanistan based in the US, to appear in the best sellers list for 'The Kite Runner' and 'A Thousand Splendid Suns.' The narratives for both the books take place in obscure places of Afghanistan, at Peshawar and parts of Swat region. Even though 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' did not have much to offer in terms of freshness of the narrative, it rode on the success of 'The Kite Runner', as the publishers could capitalise on the reader's interest in these newly discovered geographical regions of interest for their political affiliations with Islam.

Shrieks from dark spaces

Women found legitimacy in the opened up spaces for debate over Islam, post 9/11, to give vent to their stored anger of living through years of oppression. There has been a profusion of novels by Muslim women authors who are beginning to listen to their own lost voices. Book shelves are flooded with such obscure titles like 'The Caged Virgin' to 'I am Najood, Age 10 and Divorced' by Nujood Ali, reflecting a kind of voyeuristic interest of the world in the dark, oppressed world of women from different cultures. Most of these voices are struggling to find poise, much required for literary merit. From writing about oppressive feudal husbands to the fundamentalist mullahs, one finds a kind of commonality in the characters of the women novelists and the motifs used. Women writers from Pakistan and Bangladesh, representatives of traditional victims of all kinds of socio- political oppression, braving a fresh threat that comes with growing Talibisation of their societies too had a opportunity to give vent to their angst post 9/11. Zaheda Hina, Shaneen Akhtar, from Bangladesh, and Kamila Shamsie from Pakistan are some of the important voices who are addressing the cultural crisis of Muslim women in a global milieu. In the much talked about 'Brick Lane' by Monica Ali, the Bangladeshi author allows her protagonist, a god fearing, husband abiding woman, Nazneen, who lives in a suburb of London a life of drudgery and boredom with a much older and fat husband to seek happiness in a relationship with a London- born, younger lover. The simpleton learns not to be apologetic about this affair in a new cultural milieu. Although, when the lover turns to fundamentalists for re- affirmation of his Muslim identity in the post 9/11 world, Nazneen dumps him. This new genre of literature is throwing up role models, which is unsettling for the conformist Islamic societies.

There is just one Ayyan HirSi Ali

Most daring and most hated of these voices by the radical Muslims, is that of Ayyan Hirsi Ali, Somali born Dutch member of parliament, who faced death threats after collaborating on a film about domestic violence against Muslim women with controversial director Theo Van Gogh( who was assassinated) . Her attacks on Islamic culture in her best sellers 'Infidel' and 'Nomad' which describe the Muslim world as " brutal, bigoted, and fixated on controlling women" had generated much controversy. She gives a candid account of her life and her internal struggle with her Muslim faith in 'Infidel', wherein she shows how these views were shaped by her experiences amid the political chaos of Somalia and other African nations, where she was subjected to genital mutilation and later forced into an unwanted marriage. Written in descriptive, clear prose, the autobiographical narrative with its radical feminist criticism of Islam offers a disturbing view of the modern world, which explains why Ayyan arouses strong passions among the radicals. 

 

Fahrenheit 9/11 and thereafter

In the genre of films, there were fewer tear-jerkers woven around the tragedy of 9/11. The emphasis was more on analytical probe. No wonder, the highest grossing documentaries were produced post 9/11 and were watched with great interest across the globe:

Fahrenheit 9/11: Michael Moore, the forever controversial journalist's view on what happened to the United States after September 11; and how the Bush Administration allegedly used the tragic event to push forward its agenda for unjust wars in Afghanistan and Iraq turned Fahrenheit 9/11a trendsetter for films dealing with the event. It created its own benchmark to make it the highest-grossing documentary of all times.

ZERO: Another investigation into 9/11, by Italian production company Telemaco had one central thesis - that the official version of the events surrounding the attacks on 9/11 can not be true. This documentary explores the latest scientific evidence and reveals dramatic new witness testimony, which directly conflicts with the US Government's account.

911: Press for Truth: Following the attacks of September 11, the grieving families waged a tenacious battle against those who sought to bury the truth about the attack, including the Bush administration. In "9/11 Press For Truth," three of the Jersey Girls, most affected by the tragedy tell the story of how they took on the powers in Washington and won. They forced an investigation, only to subsequently watch the 9/11 Commission fail to even ask their most urgent questions.

World Trade Centre: Oliver Stone's feature film glorifies the valour of Port Authority Police, featuring Nicholas Cage. After the twin towers collapsed over the rescue team from the Port Authority Police Department, Will Jimeno and his sergeant John McLoughlin are found alive trapped under the wreckage while the rescue teams fight to save them. The film sends a message of keeping the hope alive and refusing to bow down to terrorism. The film is based on the true story of the last survivors extracted from Ground Zero.

Bin Laden- the muse: Indian and Pakistani film makers too were inspired by the event. Khuda Ke Liye became perhaps the best film produced in Pakistan in decades. In India films like Kabul Express, My Name is Khan, New York and Kurbaan attempted to unravel Muslim identity crisis, but the best humorous take on it came from a small budget film Tere Bin Laden, in 2010. The comedy is about a journalist Ali Hassan , who, in his desperation to migrate to the U S, makes a fake Osama Bin Laden video using a look-alike, and sells it to TV channels.

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

EDITORIAL

MINISTERIAL DISCOMFORT

RULES, NOT WHIM AND FANCY, MUST DETERMINE PUBLIC POLICY

The Union minister of state for environment and forests (not to forget, independent charge), Jairam Ramesh, made a curious remark while signing off on the Posco project in Orissa. While declaring correctly that "faith and trust in what the state government says is an essential pillar of cooperative federalism", and gratuitously conceding that "beyond a point, the bona fides of a democratically elected state government cannot always be questioned by the Centre", Mr Ramesh still proceeded to do precisely that. While not clarifying what that "point" is in a case such as this, and how the point on which the Centre can question a state government's "bona fides" is constitutionally defined, and, indeed, who defines what is bona fide and what is not, Mr Ramesh went ahead to enunciate a bizarre new principle of Centre-state relations. Explaining the reasons for clearing the project, the minister added that he was "deeply uncomfortable" with the project because the original memorandum of understanding (MoU), which has now expired, had provisions for the export of iron ore. Mr Ramesh then declared that he now "expects" that the revised MoU between Posco and the Orissa government will completely avoid such provisions. How is a Union minister's personal discomfort relevant to a national policy decision?

That, precisely, is the question that the state government rightly posed when it asked Mr Ramesh to mind his own business! The state government is right to assert that the minister's personal views do not constitute official policy. The MoU between the Orissa government and Posco has not violated any law or policy. Ministerial discomfort, that too expressed in the first person (with Mr Ramesh constantly saying "I" in his official statement rather than "the ministry"), cannot become the basis for government policy, however well-intentioned. Today, one minister may be discomfited by iron- ore exports for good economic and ecological reasons, tomorrow another may feel equally uncomfortable for political reasons, and the day after yet another minister could express such discomfort if he is not adequately compensated!

 

 If the export of raw materials is disallowed by law then no company can export iron ore. If such export is not banned, how can ministerial discomfort come in the way? Perhaps it is the decency of Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik that prevented him from letting off steam. Or he may well have thought that it was enough for a state government official to pooh-pooh Mr Ramesh's whim and fancy. In any case, the larger issue of whether iron-ore exports ought to be permitted or banned is currently being considered by the Supreme Court, even if this is once again one of those issues on which a court ought not be sitting in judgement. A Supreme Court bench has, in fact, given an interim injunction lifting the ban and permitting such exports. With the matter still sub judice, it is funny that Mr Ramesh should be lecturing a state government on what he thinks is good and bad policy.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

HOME TRUTHS ABOUT ICT

INDIA HURT BY THE GAP BETWEEN GLOBAL REACH AND DOMESTIC CAPACITY

The annual Global Information Technology Report plots the status of countries in terms of their ability to use information and communication technology (ICT) to drive their overall competitiveness and improve the well-being of their citizens. In the process, it captures the duality of India, which has the wherewithal to deliver global IT services but is poor when it comes to delivering the same to its own citizens. However, this collaborative offering of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and INSEAD, a leading European business school, overlaps with the global competitiveness report prepared by the parent WEF. Hence the oddities like a report on countries' ICT status, which takes note of criteria such as judicial independence and press freedom. True, these are important in all aspects of life. But if you include them in a weighted average of various criteria to get final country scores on a network readiness index then it will partially shadow countries' global competitiveness index scores, partly losing focus of the basic objective of measuring countries' ICT prowess. Also, there are also some counter-intuitive scores like press freedom in the US being placed lower than not just India's but also Bangladesh's and the effectiveness of law-making bodies being lower in the US than in China and India.

That apart, the report captures certain home truths. As groups, the Nordic countries and the Asian Tigers score equally well and figure at the top of the league table. The European Union, minus the Nordics, falls behind. The Asian Tigers score in network readiness (countries' ability to benefit from new technologies and compete better) and usage and the Nordics in environment (market, political, regulatory and infrastructure). The emerging BRICS are still emerging, with around a third of the 138 countries measured being ahead of them. China leads the group (rank 36), followed by India (48), Brazil (56), South Africa (61) and Russia (77). Interestingly, Vietnam (55) is catching up, closely followed by Thailand (59). Much need not be made of India going down five notches in the latest report (2010-11) against the previous year, since that was a nine-notch improvement over the year before (2008-09). Perhaps the most striking progress made over a five-year period (2005-09) has been by Afghanistan and Tanzania, with their mobile penetration going up from under 20 per cent of population to over 80 per cent. And China is a clear leader in global ITC goods export, accounting for 22.6 per cent, with the US way behind at 9.2 per cent.

 

 India's strengths and weaknesses, as measured, are revealing. Venture capital funding is readily available; the government has ICT high on its priority list and has the right vision; there are any number of competent engineers and scientists available; the management schools are of top quality; mobile tariffs are among the lowest in the world and competition in the field is intense. But India falls behind in mobile phone subscription, personal computer ownership, internet usage, broadband subscription and even mobile network coverage. Most fundamentally, electricity availability and literacy scores are low by global standards. If a lot of people can't read and don't have access to power, how can they benefit from ICT?

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

AN OVER-THE-TOP APPROACH

INDIANS EXCEL AT BEING EXPRESSIVE

MADHUKAR SABNAVIS

April 2, 2011 was a high point in India's life. The cricket World Cup returned to the country after 28 years on the back of wins against Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in consecutive matches. There was much to be proud of. Captain M S Dhoni was dubbed India's "best captain ever".

However, it's worthwhile to pause and go back to the articles written before and after India's tie with England and defeat against South Africa. Sports commentators were questioning Mr Dhoni's strategic thinking, his risk-taking ability and his supposed unimaginative captaincy. Mr Dhoni himself, quite "light-heartedly", said at the finals presentation ceremony that a number of questions would have been raised if the result had gone the other way — from team selection to batting order to bowling changes.

 

 Indians are over the top. There are no half measures for us. One is either a hero or zero; a demigod today and a man with feet of clay tomorrow. Remember that in the 2007 cricket World Cup in England, India couldn't make it past the qualifier stage. The families of Indian cricketers faced the brunt back home — their homes stoned, cars blackened and posters burnt. Both adulation and castigation are extreme. There doesn't seem to be a sense of proportion in either case.

This reflects our approach to life. Everything we do has an element of exaggeration. When we talk, we gesticulate dramatically — the Indian head wobble is famous the world over; it could mean a yes or a no depending on how we do it.

Take movies. Look at any Bollywood blockbuster that is a Hollywood film adaptation. Apart from the nuances that are necessary to adapt a story to India – societal issues over personal ambition, importance of family, no kids before marriage and so on – the fundamental tone of execution tells a story. The Indian version is always much louder — in the way the characters talk and express their emotions; the good guys and the bad guys are clearly delineated, the good is all good, the bad is all bad; and the visuals are "loud and almost garish" to a westerner.

Take celebrations. India is a country of festivals thanks to our secular leanings, our acceptance of multiple religions and their auspicious dates. But every festival is accompanied by song and dance performances and people join in with gay abandon — often unconscious of civic sense and inconvenience to others. Festivals are an excuse to raise decibel levels. We often pray to god assuming he is deaf or maybe given as many as 1.2 billion people in the country, that's the only way we can be heard over others! This gets accentuated at weddings, which are an occasion for ostentatious display of both wealth and familial love.

Take our television anchors and reality shows. There are many western shows that we have adapted to our culture, language and issues. The anchor invariably comes across as more "aggressive" and "interrupting". Also, it is a deeper reflection of our inherent need to "show" ourselves as intellectually superior to others – the anchor's guests in this case – without necessarily appearing to be wiser, smarter or more knowledgeable. The reality shows include oodles of family melodrama, almost making it seem incredulous to a "sceptical" westernised viewer brought up on a staple of more understated reactions and emotional expressions.

Or take clothes and homes. The Indian inclination towards "being expressive" is clearly reflected in the excessive use of bold and contrasting colours. It could be a byproduct of our geography — the desert in Rajasthan stimulates the need for colour for relief and identification. Or it could have something do with pronouncing distinctiveness, as exterior colour is used in south India to make the house stand out. For Indians, that's a way of life.

We would like to believe that the world is getting flat and people are coming closer to each other. Thus, they are becoming like each other. With access to similar products and services and growing affluence, one may like to believe we are becoming like people in the West. There is this constant fear, especially among cultural activists, that consumerism from the West is threatening the Indian culture. However, some of these behaviour patterns reflect that "East is East and West is West and never the twain will meet". So this must reassure culture guards!

Being expressive is what makes some of our best advertising works engaging and charming. It clearly shows the importance of "heart" for Indians. Two recent campaigns are worth mentioning. In a Cadbury Dairy Milk shubh arambh commercial, a girl is "eloping" with her boyfriend. She leaves home all distressed only to find her parents and brother sitting in the rear seat of her boyfriend's car. They offer her a chocolate as a symbol of good luck for her new life. In a Samsung commercial, Aamir Khan – the protagonist – leaves his home in a small town and the family sees him off. It shows the father is worried that the son is going away. The father is then given a "Guru" instrument so that he can stay connected. Such campaigns touch the heart and reflect the melodrama of life that we appreciate and enjoy. These two executions in audio were quite understated. However, watch a commercial break on television and much of the work that you view is "loud" even by average Indian decibel levels. It is hard to see western sensibilities enjoying this in any measure — but "we Indians are like this only".

There are no half measures so our reaction to India's win last month is not surprising — the typical Indian excess! This is not to take away from either Dhoni's captaincy or his team's performance, but it would be an exaggeration to suddenly rate him the "best captain ever" and declare him a "corporate leadership icon". At the same time, it is perhaps this spirit of expressing emotions unabashedly that makes the culture warm and welcoming. It gives us a big heart. And this way we are able to welcome diversity, assimilate emotions and live harmoniously with them.

Something worth thinking about.

The views expressed are personal
madhukar.sabnavis@ogilvy.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

THE BANE OF INDIA'S HEALTH CARE

AS ANOTHER INDIAN WINS THE PULITZER FOR WORK ON CANCER, WE SHOULD ALSO FOCUS ON THE MANY CANCERS THAT HAVE ENTERED THE HEALTH SYSTEM

ARVIND SINGHAL

 

Even as we bask in the glory of yet another Indian winning the Pulitzer prize for a brilliant "biography" of the "emperor of all maladies" – cancer – there is an urgent need to focus on the many cancers that have already gained entry into the Indian health care system. If left unchecked and untreated, these cancers could soon advance to subsequent stages and terminally debilitate the already precarious health care delivery apparatus that caters to 1.2 billion Indian citizens.

 

 The first of these cancers, and perhaps the most worrisome, is the emergence of malpractice in the as yet nascent "organised" health care delivery sector. Increasingly, we get to hear stories from patients and their attendants who claim to have been subjected to uncalled-for (expensive) investigations and medical procedures, extended stay in hospitals, and unnecessary visits from "specialists" who come to patients' rooms merely to mark their attendance and add visitation fees to the bill. Also reported are instances of irregularities in pricing, with prices and procedures markedly different – and higher – for those covered under some kind of medical insurance. Even worse is the deteriorating quality of outcome despite inflated costs.

There is understandably a vehement denial from many of these operators or a studied silence since there is little regulatory or market-driven pressure on them. Currently, India has less than 700,000 functional hospital beds, of which more than 40 per cent are located in the top-20 cities. On a conservative note, given the geographical spread of population, India urgently needs almost 1 million additional hospital beds and another million by the end of the decade.

The second of these cancers is the unchecked proliferation of adulterated and expired medicines and devices across India. There are no reliable estimates of the extent of penetration. However, considering that most government agencies tend to under- report the magnitude of this malaise, the number could be as much as 20 per cent – or even high er – of all drugs. Delhi (and north India) seems to be the hub of this nefarious trade.

The third of these cancers is the unregulated entry of unqualified medical practitioners into the health care system. Under the garb of accepting, and even encouraging, all forms of medicinal systems, including those with little or no scientific basis, India has created a situation in which there may be more quacks than qualified practitioners. Going by Medical Council of India data, there are less than 650,000 qualified medical professionals in India. This estimate could be guided by optimism. India urgently needs an additional 750,000 to 1 million doctors if universal access to health care is to be attempted. With the current capacity of less than 45,000 seats for Bachelor of Medical and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), and less than 10,000 Doctors of Medicine (MDs), it isn't surprising that all kinds of charlatans flaunt fancy fake qualification certificates and ply their trade openly. If fake pilots can gain entry into airlines, it is far easier – and more lucrative if not as glamourous – for doctors to start business by putting a signboard outside their shop.

At the same time, the entire Indian health care delivery system, practitioners and service providers are not be tarred with the same brush. There are tens of thousands of exceptionally talented, committed and conscientious doctors. Similarly, hundreds of independent operators continue to offer high-quality, affordable and reliable health care services. The worry is that these cancerous developments could affect the healthy and the good in the near future. Further, as described by the Pulitzer prize winner in his book, each type of cancer requires different approaches to tackle and "resilience, inventiveness, and survivorship" of the "patient" are equally important. Thus, all the stakeholders in the Indian health care delivery ecosystem would do well to acknowledge that that there is a problem and it could threaten lives if immediate and radical steps are not taken. The root cause and the lines of treatment are, fortunately, known to these stakeholders. They just need to take urgent, firm and decisive steps.

arvind.singhal@technopak.com  

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BUSINESS STANDARD

BACK IN ORBIT

THE SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH OF PSLV-C16 SHOULD LIFT ISRO'S MORALE AND PUT ITS SPACE EXPLORATION PROGRAMME BACK ON TRACK

DEVANGSHU DATTA

 

The launch of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C16) from the Satish Dhawan Centre, Sriharikota went off smoothly on April 20. The lift-off was bang on schedule. In 18 minutes, the target altitude of 822 km was reached and three satellites were placed in orbit. The big payload was the 1206 kg Resourcesat-2, along with the 92 kg Youthsat and the 106 kg X-SAT.

That routine launch was a relief for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The four-stage, 45-metre, 290-tonne PSLV, which went into service in 1993, is very reliable. This was the 18th consecutive successful launch. It was also successfully adapted for the 2008 Chandrayaan Mission.

But two failed Geosynchronous SLV (GSLV) launches in 2010 had everyone on tenterhooks. ISRO has also faced much flak due to the now-cancelled deal between its marketing arm, Antrix and Devas Multimedia where transponder spectrum in an upcoming GSAT6 launch was leased for a song to Devas. Although the Rs 230 crore PSLV-C16 has no direct relevance to the Devas deal (GSAT also uses PSLV platforms), failure would have damaged ISRO's image and hit Antrix's revenues.

Control of satellites is maintained from ISRO's Telemetry Tracking and Command Network Centre (ISTRAC) in Bangalore, which is connected to a network of ground stations at Lucknow, Mauritius, Biak (Indonesia), Svalbard (North Pole) and Troll (South Pole).

Resourcesat 2 will replace Resourcesat 1, which is still operational, three years after its design life-span ended in 2008. Resourcesat2's LISS-4 camera sweeps 70 km at one go. Resourcesat 2 also carries a Canadian automatic identification system (AIS) for ship surveillance — this is part of global anti-piracy plans.

Overall, Resourcesat-2 carries three cameras of different resolutions and two solar panels for power. The images are used in mapping natural resource in applications like crop health surveys, ground water mapping, deforestation tracking, monitoring water-levels in reservoirs and lakes, snow-melt in the Himalayas and so on.

A typical application is Forecasting Agricultural output using Space, Agrometeorology and Land-based observations (FASAL) that provides accurate crop forecasting. There are also apps in town-planning, airport and road-building design.

YouthSat is an Indo-Russian construct, with one payload from Russia and two from ISRO. It's focussed on upper atmosphere studies between 50 km and 1,000 km altitude. X-Sat is Singapore's first indigenous satellite and the 26th foreign satellite launched by PSLV — an index of ISRO's commitment to commercial launches.

On April 28, the first high-res images came through from Resourcesat2, which is in a polar sun-synchronous orbit. Sun-synchronous orbits ensure that given parts of the Earth are surveyed at the same local time, for consistent lighting. The first images covered 3,000 kms from Joshimath (Uttarakhand) to Kannur (Kerala).

Before April 20, there were already nine Indian remote-sensing (IRS) satellites in orbit, including Resourcesat-1. IRS images are sold commercially and Antrix generates over 20 per cent of its annual revenues (Rs 900 crore in 2009-10) from IRS.

PSLV is a "mixed", solid-liquid propellant, four-stage design, adapted mainly from French specs. It has at least five variants. Each stage has its own control systems. An inertial guidance system navigates, guides and offers attitude control and flight sequencing.

PSLV are workhorses with respectable payloads of about 1600 kg. In 2011, PSLVs will launch GSAT-12, the Megha-Tropiques satellite, GSAT-6 and Radar Imaging Satellite (RISAT-1), all from Sriharikota. Another GSAT would also be launched from Kourou, French Guiana, by an Ariane rocket from Arianespace in June 2011.

The next-generation triple-stage GSLV costs Rs 350 crore and is designed to carry a massive 4,500 kg. But the design is not yet stable. GSLV-FO6 had to be aborted and blown up within 50 seconds of launch on Christmas Day, 2010. An earlier GSLV launch in April 2010 also failed.

Until GSLV is "pucca", India will rely on Ariane to launch heavier satellites. The key third-stage of GSLV is a Russian cryogenic engine, developed by GlavKosmos. The first and second stage are Vikas engines, based on Ariane's Viking. In April 2010, GSLV used an Indian cryogenic engine. All stages use Indian avionics. In December, there was a problem with a fuel booster pump; in April, ground-to-air communications failed.

While remote-sensing has huge utility – including locating aircraft wreckage as in the recent Arunachal Pradesh tragedy – a Comptroller and Auditor General of India ( CAG) report suggests the image-processing techniques are inefficient.

The CAG cites delays in image processing at the National Remote Sensing Centre (Hyderabad) and claims around 90 per cent of images are not utilised. An ISRO wasteland-mapping project has also been delayed for 14 years. ISRO chairman, K Radhakrishnan accepts, "The CAG findings are hundred per cent correct," which implies an overhaul in IRS processing systems is overdue.

For years, ISRO maintained a pristine image. It delivered a string of glittering successes. It created the satellite network, which is the cornerstone of India's electronic media and telecom revolution. Recent events have rubbed off some of the sheen. This launch should lift morale, and put the ambitious space exploration programme back on track

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BUSINESS STANDARD

SPECTRUM REFORMS - GOOD & BAD NEWS

A GOOD INITIATIVE IS UNDER WAY, BUT NEEDS CHANGES TO WORK OUT COMPLEX ISSUES

SHYAM PONAPPA

There's some good news, and yes, some bad news… The good news is that momentous developments are under way in spectrum and telecom policy:

  • The Ministry of Communications & Information Technology held consultations with service providers, then posted the transcript on the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) website. 
     

The Wireless Planning & Coordination Wing (WPC) disclosed data on all commercial spectrum allocations – frequencies allotted by geography and service provider or operator – on its website.

 

Terrific first steps in a constructive approach. There's more: the ministry's report of 100 days states: "We will hold consultations with key stakeholders to evolve a clear and transparent regime covering licensing, spectrum allocation, tariffs or pricing, linkage with roll out performance, flexibility within licenses, spectrum sharing, spectrum trading, MVNOs, unlicensed bands, M&A, etc, in a technology agnostic environment after due consideration of Trai recommendations in this regard. Interest of the 'aam aadmi' would be the prime consideration." That's comprehensive alright, which is good, though the 'aam aadmi' bit is either confused or manipulative. Elected governments should act in the public interest, no more, no less. While the private sector is exhorted not to play games, the government at all levels – politicians, administrators and agencies – must also focus on results, and avoid populism.

DISPLAY & PRESENTATION
The presentation of information could be more effective for the patterns and structure to be easily accessible. The WPC display is of voluminous raw data. There is no overview, with the ability to drill down to details, nor to aggregate details by operator or frequency. The full set runs into 32 pages of tables.

Compare this with a display in colour from the US' National Telecommunications and Information Administration (Click here for chart). Similar information from the WPC runs into many pages.

However, the US display contains not as much detail, and has no interactive capabilities (these are possible extensions). For an interactive graphical interface, consider the "market map" by Moneycontrol.com for stocks (http://www.moneycontrol.com/mcplus/marketmap/nse/marketmap.php), if adapted for details on spectrum. One can drill down in any sector by clicking on the rectangle. For example, "Telecommunication", which opens a map with the listed companies, each colour-coded to reflect more detail (green for gains, red for losses).

Clicking on a company shows its daily price and volume chart. In a variant (at Smartmoney.com), it opens a menu with access to details like news, financials and so on. Similar spectrum displays could show, for example, information by operator for network rollout and subscribers by frequency.

An alternate display format is the "Topics most commented on" on the The Economist website (http://www.economist.com/ conversation-cloud?days=30). When the cursor hovers on a topic, related comments are displayed. Clicking on a topic realigns the clusters based on content around that top. This would work well for aggregating comments on related issues in the consultation transcripts.

Imagine what such a graphical interface to a relational database could do for effectiveness and transparency in the spectrum policy. It could be extended to telecom and broadband next, and, eventually, to all of government.

THE BAD NEWS: PROCESS LIMITATIONS
Judging from news reports, process inadequacies might render the ministry's grand intentions unachievable. The following examples show why.

  • Spectrum sharing is an obvious solution for high demand with limited supply. The DoT has reportedly considered it for years, but discussions so far have been superficial and on "excess spectrum". Also, the statements of intent on sharing or trading are confusing. "Spectrum trading" implies exclusive rights to spectrum, unless otherwise specified. "Spectrum sharing" means aggregating spectrum for redeployment, with Dynamic Spectrum Allocation. This is analogous to "common carrier access" and "big pipes" for railways, roads, oil pipelines, or airways. Therefore, from a policy perspective, spectrum sharing and spectrum trading are mutually exclusive.

Spectrum and airways or flight paths coexist in the atmosphere. Imagine if airways were auctioned to each airline for its exclusive use, instead of being available to all airlines for similar aircraft through Air Traffic Control. That's what we have with spectrum auctions in communications. The logic for spectrum auctions is based on old technology with no allowances for improvements in managing interference in the last 60-70 years. Also, allocating spectrum in this way means that aggregate capacity is constrained for two reasons. One is that each operator uses only part of allotted capacity. A study in Singapore in 2008 found that only two bands had a utilisation rate of 50 per cent; the overall utilisation rate for 80-5,850 MHz was about five per cent (http://www.pwtc.eee.ntu.edu.sg/ News/Documents/Spectrum%20survey%20in%20Singapore_%20Occupancy%20measurements%20and%20analyses.pdf). Second, a large band provides much greater capacity than the sum of smaller bands.

Our spectrum predicament arises primarily from inappropriate allocation policies. Therefore, forward-looking policies need the incorporation of a technical understanding of spectrum occupancy, of the effects of spectrum aggregation versus fragmentation, and of technologies like multiple antenna effects (multiple-input and multiple-output, or MIMO), which enable more effective spectrum use and improve functional attributes of higher frequencies. A backward-looking audit of historical data will not serve these purposes.

An inherent limitation of the consultation-and-pronouncement approach (as opposed to a collaborative-stakeholder-workout) is that external expertise in technology and process consultation, sorely needed in India, has to be brought in only by the government. This must be done before formulating new policies, because the issues are too complex to resolve without objective expertise.

shyamponappa@gmail.com

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

RATE CAPS FUND FLOW

A cap on interest rates may only constrict credit flow to the poor. The RBI should let the MFIs sort out the issue themselves.

The path to hell, said an obscure French saint, is paved with good intentions. Thus, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to accept the recommendations of the Malegam Committee on micro-finance institutions (MFIs), which was set up in response to the micro-finance crisis of 2010 in Andhra Pradesh. It had turned out that many of the MFIs were owed huge amounts of money which, it seemed they would never be able to recover; and hence may have to shut down. As always happens during and after a crisis, lots of skeletons came tumbling out of the MFI cupboards. One of these pertained to the high rates of interest being charged by them. Sometimes, there rates were as high as 48 per cent, which made them no different from the money-lenders of the past — on whom the RBI had prepared a good report four years ago. Worried by what was going on in the business of borrowing and lending money — an area that the RBI considers its own — but loathe to touch a political hot potato, it resorted to a tried-and-tested method. It set up a Committee that asked it to do many things. The most important of these related to defining what sort of a banking animal an MFI was. The Malegam Committee classified it as a sub-species of NBFCs called NBFC-MFIs. The second, and equally important, recommendation was the placing of a cap on the rate at which NBFC-MFIs can lend. The Committee not only agreed to impose such a cap, but also fixed the rate at 24 per cent; the RBI has now seen fit to set it at 26 per cent. The rest of the recommendations were mostly procedural and exhortatory.

Has the RBI done the right thing in accepting the idea of a cap? Probably not, because its own history shows how badly they have worked in the past, notably the differential rate of interest of scheme. This had been imposed on banks in the early 1970s as part of the financial inclusion programme. There was also priority sector lending, which fell by the wayside in the late 1980s. Undaunted, the Committee has recommended a cap and the RBI has accepted it. If the RBI expects that this will result in more of risky credit at artificially low rates to individuals whose creditworthiness is not good, it is in for a disappointment, not least because it needs the co-operation of State governments, at least in some measure. The Andhra Pradesh government has already said it will disregard what the RBI says if it is inconvenient. Other States will do the same when it suits them. What happens next will be interesting to watch because there is likely to be a significant reduction in the flow of credit to the poor. This is because neither the Malegam Committee not the RBI has understood that to those who can't get loans at all, often the price is not an issue, at least as long as some external event does not derail their repayment plans.

It is still not too late and the RBI would be well-advised not to impose the cap but, rather, allow the MFIs to sort out the issue among themselves.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

COFFEE SANS AROMA

G. SRINIVASAN

For South Indians unwilling to miss the mandatory morning cup of filter coffee with its heavenly aroma, the quality of the beverage on offer by the country's premier coffee promotion agency, the Coffee Board of India, is far from inviting these days.  This is a sad descent and a let-down from its past glory.

Functioning under the umbrella of the Ministry of Commerce, the Coffee Board has, ironically, been tasked with the domestic and external promotion of coffee. This at a time when the coffee or coffee powder available at dozens of outlets across the country under the rubric India Coffee House/Depots, lamentably lack the aroma and intensity of quality they were widely credited with.

Unsavoury changes

A little probing into the reasons for this declining taste revealed some unsavoury changes. Till the mid-1990s the Coffee Board used to procure the best Arabica seeds from Karnataka's Chickmagalur and other hilly belts and, on its own, roast and grind the berries after testing the quality at two of its labs set up in that State. These labs still exist, if the information on the Board's Web site is correct.

Even as the Coffee Board boasts of the high-quality roasting and brewing machines installed there, the reality is that it has outsourced the job of roasting and brewing to private parties, though it purveys them the best picks of berries for value-addition. What supervenes at the level of private industry in turning the berries into aromatic powder has no touchstone!

In fact, in the capital, till a few months ago, the Coffee Board was doing the roasting and grinding in a limited way, even in a commercial area such as Janpath, where it had an outlet.  Now this has been shifted to the outer circle of Connaught Place, where coffee powder, roasted and packed from Bangalore, is kept for supply across the city to individual consumers and to its own ICH or small stalls such as in Central Government offices and in Parliament. To lovers of filter coffee, the berry must be freshly roasted and powdered before it is served but the Coffee Board is promoting filter coffee after it is roasted and ground in Bangalore and then transported by road! In between, a fortnight passes, rendering the brew and potions bereft of even a caffeine flavour.

Brand in danger

No wonder the gullible customer buying coffee powder at Rs 500 per kg or the normal cup at Rs 1.50 or Rs 10 in any of the coffee houses of Coffee Board gets incensed. If the Coffee Board thinks that placing ads in glitzy in-flight magazines or top journals could promote its brand, it is doing a disservice to lakhs of coffee quaffers who feel let down by the worsening quality of the India Coffee brand in recent times.

It is time that the Coffee Board learnt a few lessons from the chain of successful coffee outlets such as Barista, Costa Coffee and Café Coffee Day, which charge cost-plus for the ambience and royal service they extend. It need not emulate them but it should, at least, retain its historic edge of serving the discerning coffee drinkers in its own way of roasting, grinding and brewing the coffee afresh instead of storing the powder a fortnight ahead to render the consumer with a bad taste in the tongue!

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

IF WISHES WERE HORSES . . .

RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY

If wishes were horses, the saner elements in Pakistan and India would begin to implement in right earnest economic cooperation between the two countries which, according to the most recent estimates, would catapult the bilateral figure to around $14 billion, up from the current roughly $2 billion. In fact, such a wish has been around for as long as one can remember, the tragedy being that on every occasion when there has been a strong chance of implementation, vested interests have disrupted the proceedings. The present is one such occasion when the chances of things working out right on the trade front have never been better. The hope is that this initiative, too, must not be let go waste.

Defining point

The defining point about the still shining ray of hope is that the two Governments concerned have themselves taken the bull by its horns, something which has rarely happened in the past. The most important development is the change in Islamabad's stand on the Most-Favoured-Nation issue; in the past (despite recent feelers indicating a softening of the stand) the Pakistanis were being rather rigid in their approach to the subject. To take just one instance, in February 2006, as reported in The Hindu, Islamabad reiterated unequivocally that "full trade relations between the two countries were not possible without a resolution of the Kashmir issue".

That the road travelled since then has been a pretty long one is indicated in the agreed minutes of the recent meeting between the Commerce Secretaries of the two countries which state, among other things, that Pakistan "recognised that grant of MFN status to India would help in expanding the bilateral trade relations". The relevant section of the minutes adds conclusively that "both sides agreed to remove the NTBs (non-tariff barriers) and all other restrictive practices which hamper bilateral trade".

The MFN issue defines the broad framework within which bilateral trade between the two neighbours can be conducted, and there is little doubt that Islamabad has taken a big leap forward in sorting things out for the better between the two countries (New Delhi granted MFN status to Pakistan some years ago). But the meeting between the Commerce Secretaries did not solely focus on the macro aspect of trade issues.

A redeeming feature of the meeting is that it applied the magnifying glass to specific sectors such as petroleum products and power, to name only two, the officials involved not merely mentioning the subjects and their potential to increase bilateral trade but also laying down time-barred road maps which, at the very least, suggests that both countries mean strict business this time around.

Expectedly, some quarters in Pakistan have already opposed Islamabad's intention to grant MFN status to New Delhi. But this time the powers that be across the border – and this includes the Pakistani military, for without its sanction the civilian Government could not have moved at all – appear to be determined to open the door to bilateral trade, and there is now little doubt that matters will unfold in a beneficial manner, assuming there is no last-minute hitch.

But this is a crucial assumption. Simply put, since the other side is Pakistan, one cannot be sure that the policy enunciated at the secretary-level meeting will be implemented smoothly. If the Pakistani military establishment has agreed to a normalisation of trade relations with India, it has done so with a larger canvas in mind. And that canvas still has Kashmir as the thorn in India's side.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HOW SECURE?

THE GOVERNMENT AND THE PRIVATE SECTOR MUST INVEST WAY MORE IN CYBER SECURITY


 Three recent events put the spotlight on cyber security. One, Amazon, which lends out its server farms for the use of customers in an arrangement popularly called cloud computing, suffered a major outage, halting the services of some clients. Two, hackers mounted a denial of service attack on Sony, in the process of which vital information including credit card details of around 100 million customers — 77 million Playstation users and other online entertainment service customers — got stolen. And three, it comes to light that US intelligence tracked down Osama bin Laden by eavesdropping on a conversation between someone it was tracking and another person who turned out to be Osama's elusive courier. There are lessons to be learned from all three developments. The first is not to conclude that cloud computing is, by definition, insecure. By doing away with the need to own expensive hardware and software, offering scalability and upgradation and bringing down the cost of operations, cloud computing will continue to be an attractive business proposition and it makes sense for industry to exploit its advantages. However, there is a clear need to plan ahead for different kinds of failure of different components of what is sourced from the cloud: some of Amazon's clients came out unscathed while others shut down temporarily. Distributing resources and creating architecture in which software parts can work independently are obvious solutions. These, and obtaining professional risk management for cloud failure, will add to the cost but would still not negate the overall cost efficacy of cloud computing.


For the government of India, the lesson is that it must invest in its technological capability to monitor calls and unscramble encrypted data traffic. India's current approach is to bully equipment-makers to help state agencies access calls. For a self-styled knowledge economy giant, the right approach would be to fund research projects in universities, specialised government labs and designated companies to create the capability to read telecom traffic off the air, whether encrypted or not.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A BAD IDEA

POOLED PRICING OF COAL WILL ONLY HELP STYMIE OPENING UP OF DOMESTIC COAL MINING


 A Planning Commission panel has proposed pooled pricing of coal, so as to average out the higher import prices with the (much lower) going domestic rates. A blended price of coal seems attractive, especially as imported coal can be 50% dearer than coal mined in India. But an artificially pooled price would really amount to domestic coal subsidising imports and so would be plain distorting. Such a policy would be at huge national cost, as it would be a perverse incentive to neglect domestic mining. India has amongst the largest proven coal reserves globally, and the price signal of imports, in the face of rising coal demand, ought to incentivise domestic output. What we need is urgent opening up and reform of domestic mining of coal, and pooled pricing would only hamper the process. The ground reality is that productivity in domestic mining remains at rock bottom by international comparison. A pooled coal price would actually be a throw-back to the pre-reform era when, for instance, the freight-equalisation scheme in steel was a glaring anomaly that prevented market-determined prices and stultified output.


The plan panel reiterates that the policy on pooling gas prices — in the face of routine shortages — has helped revived the Dabhol power plant, and so wants similar pooling for coal. But such a stance would mean giving shortshrift to our huge coal reserves, and the huge upside possible with proactive policy. The way ahead is transparent bidding for coal blocks, and parallel moves at afforestation so as not to reduce forest cover. Projections by the Commission show that the national coal shortage would add up to 200 million tonnes by the end of the 12th Plan (2012-17), with annual domestic output amounting to no more than 800 MT. The domestic target seems optimistic and much too high, given that the coal shortage next year is expected to be as much as 142 MT what with indigenous output likely to be just about 554 MT. Hence, the pressing need to repeal the Coal Mines Nationalisation Act, 1973 without delay, and end the cosy public sector monopoly on coal mining with its panoply of rigidities that simply debilitate output, and actually add to overall costs.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MOBILE CONNECTIONS

MORE PHONEY BLAME FOR MARITAL DISCONNECT THAN IS CALLED FOR

 

The debate on the dangers of excessive use of mobile phones usually centres on the possible harmful effects of its electronic systems; the gadgets' deleterious impact on relationships is hardly considered. The Punjab State Commission for Women (PSCW) linking the rise in divorce cases to the wide spread of mobile phones, therefore, opens up a new angle. Telecom companies should rejoice that practically everyone is now connected and unlike their predecessors in decades past, modern brides who are unwilling to cut umbilical chords now have the option of replacing them with telephonic ones instead. But there is reason to investigate the commission's statistic of 90% newly-weds wanting divorces because brides are suspected of talking to other men, when in fact they are merely discussing the goings-on in their marital homes with their parents. Why does a bride's new family presume she is talking to an old flame? Indeed, why should a portable communication device be dubbed the culprit if a bride's family interferes too much in her relationship with her new in-laws? Then we might as well blame India's attractive telecom tariffs — that facilitate long cross-country confabulations — for Punjab's divorce dilemma.


Of course, the PSCW is not the first institution to home in on the mobile phone as a home-breaker. Nine years ago, a Zambian judge averred that "cell phones are contributing to the destruction of people's marriages (and being used for) other than their intended purposes" when deciding on a case of a woman suing her husband's female business partner, under a law that country has on marriage interference. Perhaps India needs just this sort of intermediate law to redress such grievances, instead of a caveat on newly-weds' mobile phone usage, or divorce suits.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE MAGIC BULLET MIRAGE

IT TAKES A WHOLE RANGE OF INITIATIVES TO EVEN MINIMISE CORRUPTION, OF WHICH LOKPAL IS JUST ONE


 Humans are complex beings: our physiology is complicated, our psychology even more so. The combination of such entities into a network — a society — raises the complexity by a few further notches. Each one of us knows this for a fact, since we experience it in our day-to-day lives. Yet, surprisingly, we look for single-point solutions — the magic bullet — to difficult problems. Religion is one such assumed cure-all, and a whole industry of god-men is built around this value proposition. Equally — and, again, despite our own experience to the contrary — many feel that the simple solution to intricate issues is simply greater force. The proverbial bully — individual, corporate giant or country — is convinced that all obstacles can be overcome merely by applying more or superior force. Thus, we see the use of force to "solve" complex religious issues (as in Ayodhya or — more recently and horrifyingly — Gujarat), or on stone-pelters in Kashmir or even on those dubbed 'sympathisers' in Naxalite areas. This, despite the experience that it is generally easier to open a package by untying a knot of the tough string, rather than pulling at its two ends — making the knot more difficult to untie — and trying to break it.


Yet, faced with the complex issue of corruption, many feel that a magic bullet (the Lokpal) will solve it, and that this will be ensured by giving the institution extraordinary power. The comparison with the "benevolent dictator" model is certainly unfair, but inescapable.


Many see corruption as the end-product of the system, and want to eradicate it through a strong, all-powerful Lokpal with full authority to investigate and punish. Some feel that the root cause is funds for elections, and so look at electoral reform as being the answer. Very few acknowledge that there are multiple causes, various drivers, different motivations and a variety of methods through which corruption originates and thrives. Tackling these requires correctives and interventions at various levels. However, even before that, there may be need for systemic changes — a re-engineering of policies and processes — so that the very scope for corruption is minimised.


An example of systemic changes which reduce corruption are policies that increase supply or introduce competition. These have reduced 'retail corruption' for items like cooking gas and telephone connections. Even in monopoly or government services, technology can be used to create 'competition'. An illustration is the digitisation of land records and multiple points of delivery, which have reduced — if not eliminated — the bribes that farmers had to generally pay to get a copy of their land ownership certificate.


The impact of these systemic changes is reflected in a recent report by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS).

 

This study — the seventh such since 2000 — indicates that the percentage of rural households which paid bribes has come down drastically, from 56% to 28%, between 2005 and 2010. However, in a crucial area like the public distribution system (PDS), the percentage of rural households paying a bribe almost tripled — from 8% to 22%. Bribes had to be paid mainly for getting a new ration card and to get the monthly ration, with amounts ranging from . 5 to . 800 for the former and . 5 to . 700 for the latter. The study also indicates massive leakages and diversion of foodgrains from PDS to the open market. There is no equivalent study of what one may call 'wholesale corruption'. In contrast to retail competition, which seems to have generally decreased at the overall level (as indicated in the CMS study), the liberalisation-privatisation model has spawned megacorruption on an unheard-of scale. This model has the dangers of crony capitalism inherent in it, as was seen in Russia in the 1990s. In India, top institutes produce MBAs who are known to get mind-boggling incomes; however, the new and bigger money-spinning MBA is the minister-businessmenadministrator nexus.
    Are the solutions of reducing day-to-day bribe-taking — policy, competition, technology — applicable to more sophisticated, big-ticket corruption? One noteworthy point is that even for retail corruption, the reduction has required a slew of measures. For the more complex issue of highlevel mega-corruption, clearly there cannot be any single-point solution. Some — in keeping with the brute-force or "hang then from the nearest lamppost" paradigm — recommend strong action. A judge recently talked of castration as punishment for rape. Whether or not even such medieval forms of justice work will depend not just on the severity of the punishment, but its certainty and speed. These call for competent investigation and quick justice.


Among the more potent anticorruption weapons is the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which provides access to practically all governmental information and thus helps to exposure any wrongdoing. US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant."


This needs to be supplemented by strong whistleblower protection, the use of technology to bring transparency, and electoral and police reforms. The last is essential, if we are to see fair and fearless implementation of laws (rather than merely enacting more stringent ones or greater punishments) and professional investigation (instead of crude third-degree measures that often punish the innocent) to improve the dismal conviction rates. In addition, judicial changes that ensure speedy justice are essential, for it is only punishment that is speedy and certain that will deter wrongdoers. These and other multiple measures — including societal awareness, values and ethics — are the only hope of weeding out corruption; not some single magical silver bullet.

 

KIRAN KARNIK

INDEPENDENT STRATEGY AND POLICY ANALYST

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NEURAL NET

DO COMPANIES REQUIRE BUSINESS TRANSFORMATION?

ABHIJIT A NAG

  It's not only IT.
    It's not an evolutionary process that one can wait for.
    It's an urgent proactive measure, if not taken now, it can threaten one's existence.
    The choice is yours.


The tools and techniques of management and technology are only a means and not an end by themselves. The end is business success and leadership in a competitive market. The tools may change over time, depending on the development of technologies, and changing socio-economic and market paradigms, but the ends must be achieved successfully all the times.
If we see the Indian market from the time of political independence in 1947 till 2011, we will be able to divide the market development into three distinct periods.
Phase 1: 1947-1991: Sellers' Market
Markets for all types of products and services were controlled by the government, which is commonly referred to as the 'license raj'. Nobody could produce any product without getting an industrial licence from the government. The government would restrict allocation of licence to as much as they thought the demand would be. The actual demand was far more than the government's estimate, as a result of which, the licence issued was for far less. This lead to a huge shortages of products in the market and this was commonly referred to as the 'sellers' market'. Any company who were able to get an industrial licence during that period, success for them was an automatic corollary.
Phase 2: 1991-2006: Period of Delicensing
The markets now are opened. The licence raj has been dismantled. Companies need not have to get an industrial licence to produce any product. If they feel confident of selling their products, they can put up their manufacturing plants, or, any other necessary business infrastructure, without having to take any industrial licence. More and more companies have, therefore, entered the market in every type of products and services. As a result, the supply-demand mismatch has been corrected and there is no shortages of products and services. This liberalisation of market has brought huge benefits to customers. They have now more choices and better prices. This has brought huge benefits to new entrepreneurs. The supply side increase has outpaced the demand growth, leading to competition between companies to woo today's customers. The markets have changed to a 'buyers' market'. Companies who could not understand this change and did not undertake the business transformation perished.
Phase 3: 2006 onwards: Liberalisation and globalisation
Having been a signatory to the World Trade Organization, India slowly opened the market to all players, domestic and foreign, creating a levelplaying field for them such that the most efficient can serve customers. The paradigm has seen a sea-change and a traditional company will find the following major pain points:
One, the entry of large and medium-size MNCs to the Indian market with vastly superior technology and management strengths.
Two, margins are shrinking due to high competition. Profits now come from volume and not margins.
Three, markets are split between organised and unorganised players. When unorganised players have more marketshare, the organised sector bleeds, like in the textile and apparel sectors. This happens due to low barrier to entry. Four, when the number of players in the organised sector increase, it significantly affects the margin, as is the case with the FMCG sector, though the organised players are less. Five, when the market is ruled by technology, there is no supply chain worth the name, as one can see in the FMCD sector. Six, the IT sector's honeymoon period is over. Cost arbitrage is now a thing of the past. There is no understanding as how to re-engineer the business model to a value arbitrage.
Such list goes on. In addition, there are vagaries of regulatory positions and government interventions.
Therefore, questions arise for every CEO as to how to systematically overcome the above pain points so as to take the company to a driver's position. Today's businesses cannot be only technology-driven, or, just cannot be opportunity-driven, but has to be business-driven through sheer excellence. Business, therefore, has to constantly undergo transformation processes in accordance with changes in the environment. But how do identify the transformations required and consequently bring that about seamlessly and painlessly?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

THE MASTERMIND'S AFTERLIFE

SREERAM CHAULIA


 The killing of Al Qaeda's supremo Osama bin Laden by American forces in Pakistan has stilled a restless warrior who gnawed at the US for two decades. The astonishing survivor of the Tora Bora caves, who slipped away like an eel during the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, has at last been 'smoked out'. From the status of most wanted man whose location was the best kept secret, the Arabian 'Sheikh' has now entered the pantheon of haloed martyrs who gave their lives fighting the supposedly evil American empire accused of strangulating the Muslim world.


Bin Laden had such a largerthan-life aura around him because he chose to confront the US at a time when the Soviet Union had disintegrated and when a 'new world order' was coming into place under the undisputed command of Washington. In retrospect, he and his band of jihadists filled a vacuum in the Middle East left by the onset of unipolarity in the 1990s. Together with the Egyptian doctor, Ayman al Zawahiri, Bin Laden pieced together a credible and deadly countervailing force to American military bases and political stranglehold of the region.


One of Bin Laden's most remarkable videos said the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were aimed at crashing the nerve-centre of the American economy. The sheer audacity of such a vision by a nonstate actor, who could lay out a blueprint for step-by-step demolition of the world's strongest state, required gumption as well as supreme self-confidence — hallmark traits of history-making individuals.


From a scion of a leading conservative Saudi business family to a hell-raising radical who shook pax

 

Americana, Bin Laden made an extreme transformation that few life trajectories can compare with. All his biographers have written how he was motivated by stern Wahhabi and Salafi strains of Sunni Islam early on, and how the breaking point came when American boots stayed on in the holy lands of Mecca and Medina after the threat of Iraq's Saddam Hussein had been quelled in 1991.


Terrorism — commonly defined as politically motivated acts of deliberate violence aimed at civilians — found a new tenor in the form of Bin Laden, who combined tactical shrewdness with emotional appeals for sacrifice from alienated young Muslims. The testimonies of several captured or interviewed Al Qaeda rank-and-file diehards reveal how they all had felt hollow within and how Bin Laden entered those disturbed minds to fill them with a purpose and calling. Inspiration was never in short supply for jihadists because Bin Laden lived frugally and dangerously, while endlessly taunting the 800-pound gorilla called the US.


'Bin Ladenism', as a phenomenon, will outlive the 'Sheikh' as long as political freedoms remain constricted in the Middle East and the youth bulge of the region meets repressive state apparatuses that humiliate ad nauseam. The surprisingly secular popular movements against dictatorships which are convulsing this region for the past few months have led many to argue that the Bin Laden formula of secretive cells which plot with explosives and attack with vehemence has been superseded by democratic people power.
The low profile that Bin Laden himself maintained as mass protests toppled despots in Tunisia and Egypt seemed to confirm that he and his terrorist brethren had indeed lost the plot. But once counter-revolutionary forces went into full swing to halt the march of democracy through tribalist war (Qaddafi's Libya), limitless crackdown (Assad's Syria) and Saudi military invasion (Al Khalifa's Bahrain), Zawahiri issued a trademark audio tape on April 14 asserting that jihadists had a "historic opportunity" ahead of them since revolutions can get hijacked and boomerang on those who started them.
Not since Egypt's great pan-Arab hero Gamal Abdel Nasser did a charismatic Arab personality manage to throw light on existential angst of disoriented Muslims and channel it into forceful action the way Bin Laden did. In that sense alone, Bin Laden is a legend, however distorted his means and message appeared from the lenses of the civilised world.
Yet, the usage of 'Bin Ladenism' as a form of evening the scales against tyranny and worldwide American domination should not be dispassionately understood in an intellectual sense. It must be strongly discouraged and prevented from a policymaking angle. The bloodshed and spirals of revenge unleashed by Bin Laden's methods have displaced millions and cost tens of thousands of lives across numerous fronts in the so-called 'war on terrorism'. The whole world, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi's famous aphorism, has been made blind by hatred spun out of Salafist threads.
By dint of historical circumstances and his own certitude, Bin Laden can never be cloned. But his ideology can be defeated through a more democratic Middle East and a genuinely multipolar world order.
(The author is vice dean of the
Jindal School of International Affairs)

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

THE INTERNET'S CHILD AND ITS NANNY

HOW THE AMENDED IT ACT WILL EMPOWER THE GOVERNMENT TO DEMAND ACCESS TO EVERYTHING THAT CITIZENS DO ONLINE



    In the first week of April this year, India's Department of Information Technology notified draft rules under the Information Technology Act 2000. Those relating to personal data and service providers have provisions that, barring a few news reports, have gone largely unnoticed. They require closer attention. Their wording is deliberately hazy, and arms the government with wide unregulated powers against citizens.
    Under the amended IT Act, search engines, cyber cafes, telecom operators, webhosts, ISPs – virtually anybody who provides any kind of digital communication service – are all "intermediaries". The new rules require all of them to put in place agreements prohibiting users from all Internet activity relating to any material which is, among the litany of the usual nefarious activities, "grossly harmful", "harassing"; "blasphemous", or "insults any other nation". Nobody knows what grossly harmful means or how it differs from being merely harmful; what constitutes blasphemy (imagine Ram and Sita on Facebook); and Pakistan and US bashing are definitely out. What follows is worse. Within 36 hours of being informed of such heinous crimes, the intermediary must remove the offending material. It can terminate access rights. And "when required by lawful order", the intermediary must provide identifying user information to the government. The personal information rules, ostensibly to protect Internet users' privacy, say that sensitive information – financial information, passwords, medical information and (gasp) sexual orientation – is not to be disclosed; unless the government demands it, in which case it must be disclosed. Read together, these rules allow the government to demand access to everything you do online, and to every bit of information about you that you may have innocently supplied to any online service. The government can spy on you, and can demand that every online service does so too.
    We are constantly asked to believe that our government is a benevolent and maternal. The truth is more sinister: the government enthusiastically spies on citizens. On 18 April, Freedom House, an independent watchdog organisation set up in 1941 and an advocate for democracy and human rights, released "Freedom on the Net 2011", its global assessment report of Internet and digital freedom. The report has a breakdown of Internet statistics and comparatives by country. India is "partly free", well behind USA, UK, Germany, Brazil, and, of all places, Estonia. Since 2009, there has been a slight decline in India's Internet freedom. The report notes that this is related to the 26/11 attacks and Maoist insurgencies.
    Our government sporadically tries blocking "objectionable" websites through CERT-IN, the Computer Emergency Response Team. The approach is often ham-fisted. Apart from the usual moral policing against "obscene" sites, blocks are also used for political reasons: to censor comments on historical figures, for example. The results are always futile. Blocking websites just doesn't work. There are countless ways around.
    The consequences of not complying with a blocking request are severe: up to seven years in jail. Worse: there are no provisions for review or appeal, no systems of prior judicial permission or subsequent supervision. The new rules now stretch to make all platforms, even search engines, liable for user content. This is about as sensible as punishing a mailman for carrying a postcard.
    These rules operate on three assumptions. First, that the Internet is unregulated; second, that the very existence of the Internet threatens government; and third, that if you use the Internet you must be a criminal. Every assumption is wrong.
    It's a popular myth with the government that the Internet is unregulated and disorganised. Using democractic mechanisms of discussion and consensus (described as a "bottom up" approach to regulation), different technical groups establish policies and technical standards of self-regulation and organisation for the Internet. New standards evolve from the community. These are publicly reviewed, tested, and adopted after a broad consensus is reached. Its open, organic, self-fulfilling nature makes it more effective and more just that the mindless statutes dreamed up by government flunkies with no imagination and less common sense. The Internet encourages challenges to orthodoxy, to the status quo and offers the freedom to choose. There are things you can do, things you perhaps shouldn't, but nothing that you must. The Internet is heretical.
    Perhaps the single greatest communication invention since writing, with opportunities of thought and expression impossible earlier, the Internet has changed the way we think, work and live. Nowhere is this more evident than in its power to unite people to a common cause, as recent events from Egypt to Jantar Mantar show. When citizens use the Internet like this, they are not criminals; they are fighting for freedom. Yet, because such use is so often anti-government, it is seen as criminal. Given those circumstances, any law that arms the government with such broad powers to snoop, and without control or review mechanisms, is one that undermines liberty. Freedom is the sometimes unruly adopted child of the Internet. Its spirit cannot be caged by a shrewish governmental nanny.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

N-E COPTER CRASH: LET IT BE THE LAST

 

The recent crash of a Pawan Hans helicopter in Tawang district, in which Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu tragically lost his life, raises a host of concerns. It is just as well that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi have decided to visit the state on Friday to offer their condolences and to send a message to the people of Arunachal Pradesh — and the region as a whole — that the Centre is alive to their needs, and is supportive of their aspirations. This was badly needed. The accident has triggered debates in public forums in Arunachal Pradesh that if the government at various levels had not been indifferent, the tragedy might even have been averted. No grounds should have been offered for politicising the issue. After all, the story of helicopter crashes — both civilian and military helicopters — in different states of the region is noteworthy for the persistence of its occurrence. Just a week before the Pawan Hans machine carrying the chief minister and four others went down, another helicopter of the same company had crashed, killing 17 passengers. A Dornier — another small aircraft — had also crashed two days prior to that. Just about a year earlier, another Dornier carrying a number of Army officers had met with an accident, killing them all. There is the distinct impression that the companies which have been operating these aircraft have been less than transparent in holding inquiries, and providing answers to frequently asked questions. Two demands have been made on a regular basis by the people of the Northeast — that the aircraft which are flown in the region should have high capability to manoeuvre through the hills which characterise its terrain; and that airstrips be made longer and at locations where there is no danger of crashing into hills or mountains. These appear to be reasonable and legitimate demands, and they have been pressed for long. But there is no sign that anyone in authority has heard. It was the duty of the Union government and aircraft providers to have paid heed and responded with alacrity. In the specific case of the ill-fated flight of the Arunachal Pradesh chief minister, there is the added unhappiness in the state that several national-level outfits were a shade lackadaisical in conducting the search once it became clear that the helicopter had gone missing. As it turned out, the equipment employed proved inadequate and yielded no results. The wreckage was eventually found after five days by local villagers. Radical elements in the state have seized the chance to kick up an anti-India sentiment in a state that borders China. Unfavourable comparisons have been sought to be made with the effort put in to locate the wreckage of the aircraft that had crashed killing Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy in 2009. This is just plain mischief. The conditions for flying — especially in the Sela Pass belt — and for search and rescue operations at high altitude in the Tawang area are far more difficult and complex than in Andhra Pradesh. But common to both events is the impression that the two political leaders in question did not sufficiently heed the weather forecast warnings. To this, in the Arunachal Pradesh case, must be added the criminal negligence of flying single-engine instead of twin-engine aircraft.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CONG, BJP & THE CORRUPTION ROUNDABOUT

 

WITH the reappointment of senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Murli Manohar Joshi as chairman of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the grave danger of the collapse of the entire parliamentary committee system has been averted. For, had not Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar decided to stick to the established convention and thus disregard the clamour within a large section of the Congress to keep Dr Joshi out, the principal Opposition party would almost certainly have withdrawn its members from all committees of Parliament. However, any comfort the country wishes to draw from this can only be limited, because the face-off between the two sides over the 2G issue is by no means over and can revert to the ugly ruckus that nearly tore apart and discredited Parliament's oldest and most respected committee. The Congress has already sent to the new committee a team of "formidable" members with the avowed objective of "taking on" Dr Joshi. Nor is it a mere coincidence that the Union minister for parliamentary affairs, Pavan Bansal, has issued a statement fiercely critical of the PAC chairman. Moreover, the looming uncertainty is compounded by some other factors. Paramount among these is that at the time of writing, the Speaker's verdict on the status of what Dr Joshi claims to be the "PAC report on 2G" that he submitted over the weekend, is still awaited. To any independent observer, however, it is obvious that the document in question is at best a draft report that never received the collective endorsement of the PAC as a whole. According to Dr Joshi, he had adjourned the committee's meeting because members belonging to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) made it impossible to continue the proceedings. Where then is the question of there being a report of the PAC on 2G? On the other hand, the conduct of the UPA members of the PAC, after the adjournment of the meeting a day before the end of its tenure, was much worse than anything that Dr Joshi, his party and its allies have done so far or are trying to do. The nine UPA members of the committee, with the support of a member each from the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, arrogated to themselves the right to "remove" the PAC chairman and "elect" his replacement (who else but Saifuddin Soz of the Congress?), throwing to the winds the basic canon that the PAC chairman is appointed by the Speaker after ascertaining the wishes of the Opposition. Thereafter, claiming that they represented a clear majority of the 21-member PAC, these 11 members trashed the draft report and rejected it out of hand. Not content with this, they showered all kinds of epithets on Dr Joshi. Union Cabinet minister Kapil Sibal, with a gift of the gab, remarked: "It was a Joshi report, and it has now become a doshi (guilty) report". Since then both sides have been trading charges of subversion of the Constitution. There is a further, rather alarming, twist to the sordid tale. Ever since Independence, reports of all parliamentary committees, not just the PAC, are privileged until presented to the House. In the days when I used to cover Parliament, any violation of this norm used to invite sharp rebuke from the Chair and the only escape hatch for the guilty party was "unqualified apology". All this seems to have gone with the wind. The 270-page, explosive draft report of the PAC was available to every single TV channel and newspaper and all of them merrily broadcast its every juicy detail. Does it require great cogitation to guess in whose interest the massive leakage was? From the foregoing flow two very depressing and disturbing conclusions emerge. First, over long years the authority, prestige and dignity of Parliament have been constantly and systematically eroded by the untruly from among its own members. Successive presiding officers of the two Houses have lamented this and tried to stem the disastrous trend but to no avail. So far parliamentary committees had managed to function smoothly and efficaciously. Are they also on the block now, especially if the new PAC again takes up the draft report on 2G, currently hanging in midair like Trishanku, or starts considering the Commonwealth Games scandal or any other of the scams bedevilling the UPA-2 government? Therein lies the clue to the second conclusion emanating from the ugly confrontation and conflict within the outgoing PAC: Partisan politics of an extremely squalid kind has made any rational discussion on such vital problems as the scourge of corruption eating into the vitals of the country more or less impossible. Any attempt to come to grips with it immediately degenerates into a no-holds-barred war of words between the Congress and the BJP. It matters little whether the forum is a closed-door meeting of the PAC or a high-decibel TV talk show. The impression is growing that the burning issue of corruption gets sidetracked because in the highly polarised political atmosphere between the two mainstream parties, the BJP seems intent only on blaming Congress and UPA leaders, individually and collectively, for everything that has gone wrong. The Congress and its allies hit back that the record of the BJP, at present as well as in the past, is much worse, and therefore the latter has no right to speak. For the saffron party this becomes the "clinching proof" that the Congress' sole purpose is to "defend" and "perpetuate" corruption. There are, of course, wheels within wheels. At times Dr Joshi seems to be targeting both the Congress and some of his BJP colleagues simultaneously. The crowning irony is that all this dismal drama is taking place at a time when it appeared as if India had indeed united against corruption. First, it was the messy aftermath of Anna Hazare's triumphal fast at Jantar Mantar, and now the virtual civil war in the PAC. Can anything be more pernicious and perverse?

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

RBI GETS DECISIVE, HOPE NOT TOO LATE

 

The Reserve Bank of India has finally decided to bite the bullet, and one only hopes it's not too late. There is a view that the half per cent rate hike the RBI announced in its monetary policy review on Tuesday should have come a while back: the six or seven quarter per cent hikes in the last few policy reviews had failed to temper rising inflation. Since December 2009, the RBI impounded Rs 50,000 crores through cash reserve ratio requirements (the amount that banks keep with the RBI, which are frozen). Since none of these "baby steps" — as RBI governor D. Subbarao described his earlier policies — could curb inflation, he decided to adopt a more hawkish stance. As he himself noted, this was a demand side problem, very different from the supply side problem seen since 2009. This was reflected in high food prices, particularly of pulses, the poor man's protein. Food prices remained stubbornly high despite a good monsoon and good rabi crops, defying the pronouncements of mandarins in the Planning Commission and the finance ministry who looked to the rain gods for help in wriggling out of the inflationary spiral. The RBI's latest move aims to curb the demand syndrome, which is driving inflation. There is a lot of disposable income chasing too few goods. The rising cost of raw materials saw manufacturers pass on cost increases to consumers, who paid without grumbling. The RBI is trying to temper this demand. We will know in a few weeks if it works as there is a time lag before the effects of policy pronouncement are visible. The government is surely aware, though, that it is the common man who will be hit the hardest as loans will get more expensive and salaries and wages will not be able to keep pace. Those who have taken home loans and personal loans will be hit the hardest, followed by those with car and other loans. The middle class and the poor will feel the impact; the rich will continue to splurge on everything, from real estate to automobiles, with abandon. And things can get worse — whether it is commodity prices like metals and minerals or crude oil, nothing is likely to cost less, at least in the short term. In fact, the RBI has already warned of "hidden inflation" waiting to surface — in the form of a hike in petrol and diesel prices. The government has been waiting for the state elections to get over; and a fuel hike is expected to be announced soon after the Assembly poll results are out. The hike might well be justified in the light of increasing international crude prices, but it would add to the burden of the middle class and lower income groups. The rich will continue to guzzle petrol even if its price goes up to Rs 100 per litre! The government is yet to visibly demonstrate that it is serious about tackling the problem — at least on the food front. Why should vegetables and fruits be so expensive? Is it so difficult to grow these to meet the rising demand? If the prices of food, vegetables and fruits remain high even when there is a good monsoon (such as last year), what should we expect if this year's monsoon is not as good as it was in 2010? There is something very wrong in the handling of the economy. There is little time left: unless the government gets its act together swiftly, and works decisively to tackle the question of rising prices, the middle class and the poor are in danger of getting crushed by inflation.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

ARE YOU A GOOD MOTHER?

 

Respecting and remembering your own mother is not new to the world. It dates back to the ancient Greek and Roman cultures. Even in India the oft-repeated line "Matru devo bhav, pitru devo bhav", dates way back to the time of Taittiriya Upanishad. The whole emphasis of honouring one's own mother is a kind of thanksgiving, connecting to the source. However, the modern version, the Mother's Day, was started in the US because of the long and hard efforts of the activist and writer Julia Ward Howe in 1870. Nobody will deny the sanctity and sensitivity of this beautiful gesture. However, I often wonder if that is all there should be to Mother's Day: just thanking mothers once a year and then forgetting all about them? Mother's Day for me has a deeper significance. It is celebrating the essence of motherhood, the source of all creation. Mothering is a colossal job, it doesn't end with giving birth to the offspring. The real task lies in nurturing and bringing them up. Do we respect this process of mothering wherever we find it — whether in nature, in earth, or in the whole of creation? Do we revere the protective womb of life around us and are sensitive not to hurt it in any way? The Mother's Day can also be celebrated in another way. We teach every child to respect and love his/her mother, but no culture asks aspiring mothers: Are you ready to bring up a child? Are you qualified to take responsibility of nurturing life, shaping its destiny? Biological motherhood is simple, it is nature's mechanism of procreation. Birds, animals and humans perpetuate life in a similar way, and for this nature has bestowed necessary qualities to the female species. These very qualities urge a female bird to build a nest in the tree, a tigress to suckle its cubs, and a woman to feed and protect her kids. However, as humans we have a higher responsibility towards our children. Just being a biological mother is not enough. We have to become a psychological womb for our children. Their bodies are developed by nature but their minds and hearts are to be cultivated by mothers. Osho insists on women being conscious mothers. And how does one become a conscious mother? A woman has to be a meditator so that she can sculpt the children into conscious, enlightened beings. She has to learn to give freedom to her children, not to be too demanding yet protect them from going astray. She should not try to possess the children, or try to dominate them but be available whenever they need her. Osho once said to a woman who wanted to be a mother, "Become a mother, but be aware that becoming a mother is a great art, it is a great achievement. First create that quality, that creativity in you, that joy, that celebration, and then invite the child in your womb. Then you will have something to give to the child — your celebration, your song, your dance — and you will not create a pathological being". Any woman can give birth to a child, but to be a mother needs great understanding. Motherhood is a great opportunity. Meditate over it, go into it deeply. You will never find such a deep relationship; in fact, there is no other relationship as special as it is between a child and the mother. Not even between the husband and the wife, the lover and the beloved. The child has lived in you for nine months as "you"; nobody else can live in you for nine months as "you". The child will become a separate individual, but somewhere deep down in the unconscious the mother and the child remain linked. Being a psychological and a spiritual mother is the highest potential of a woman. If a woman can blossom into being a mother she will be grateful to the child for giving her this opportunity. Her love will not be human, it will surpass human sentiments and sublimate into compassion and prayerfulness. When such mothers abound on the earth, there will be no need to reserve a separate day for them. The children, with their love, will reciprocate by revering the mother every day. — Amrit Sadhana is in the management team of Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune. She facilitates meditation workshops around the country and abroad.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

MY SISTER, MY GRIEF

 

"After someone has been murdered, their family members often feel peace when the murderer has been executed", a friend called to tell me on May 2. "Do you feel peace?" Another friend asked, "Are you going to dance in the streets now and celebrate?" On September 11, 2001, my sister Karen died while working at the World Trade Centre. In the weeks that followed, my family and I held a memorial service for her, and emptied and sold her apartment. Then, my body gave out. For weeks, I couldn't get out of bed. I lost all interest in watching TV, listening to music or reading. I thought I had the flu, but friends told me my symptoms were all due to grief. I had trained as a psychiatrist, but grief and the sense of dread I experienced were far more physical than I would have ever expected. Over the months that followed, I began to feel better. My friends asked periodically if I'd had closure. But I did not fully. I still felt haunted. My remaining family spent more time together, feeling closer than we had since my sisters and I were children. Every year since, we have gone on long family vacations, and come to appreciate one another more. We have managed to move on with our lives — though Karen will always remain with us in some way. Then, out of the blue, we learned that Osama bin Laden had died. We were surprised at the large numbers of phone calls and emails we received, asking how we felt. We phoned one another. How did we feel? Decidedly mixed. "It's anti-climactic", one of my two surviving sisters said. Yes, the body of the man who, more than anyone else, had caused my sister's death 10 years ago was now at the bottom of the sea. I was glad for that, and that Americans were the ones who had found him and ended his life, and that years of planning had finally succeeded. But the news of his death still feels surreal. I realise now how much our loss is both personal and political. I suppose people who ask us about our reactions are often uncertain how to react themselves — how much to celebrate or still fear. But we do not want to be simply emblems of grieving family members. Still, I understand that in the chaos of any act of destruction, people need something tangible to hold onto, an embodiment, a story. They need to know who is responsible, and they want to know the responses of those most affected: Have the deaths of 9/11 now been sufficiently avenged? Is it over? Bin Laden's death was cathartic — his terrorist attacks traumatised all of us — but in large part it is only a symbolic victory. Al Qaeda may even have more cells and members than it did 10 years ago, though no one knows. Certainly, Islamic extremists are vowing to avenge his death. "An eye for an eye" perpetuates a never-ending cycle of destruction. Dangers continue. My family has struggled to adapt and move forward, and so, too, has everyone else. In the past decade, the world has, of course, drastically changed. As a result of the deaths of my sister and the thousands of others at the trade centre and Pentagon, George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan, and then under false pretences invaded Iraq. Thousands of American and foreign soldiers and untold thousands of civilians have been killed or wounded. Politicians have exploited the deaths on 9/11 for their own ends. When the members of Al Qaeda attacked on 9/11, Americans wondered, "Why do they hate us so much?" Many here believe they dislike us for our "freedom", but I think otherwise. There are lessons we have not yet learned. I feel Karen would share my concerns that underlying forces of greed and hate persevere. American imperialism, corporate avarice, abuses of our power abroad and our historical support of corrupt dictators like Hosni Mubarak have created an abhorrence of us that, unfortunately, persists. We need to recognise how the rest of the world sees us, and figure out how to change that. Until we do that, more Bin Ladens will arise, and more innocent people like my sister will die. I hope that the death of Bin Laden will bring closure and peace. I am relieved that this chapter is over, somewhat, for me. But I fear the war will not end. *Robert Klitzman is a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia and the author of When Doctors Become Patients. *By arrangement with The New York Times

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

MAGIC OF DISSENT

 

The Anna Hazare demonstration shows that political protest in India has become fairly predictable. The logic follows the standard scenarios where either a group of rebels protest against those in power or a group of citizens protest about a delay in reform. Such forms of protest do not question the system. They either seek reform or seek more power within the system. While welcome as a ritual, such protests lack a sense of variety, a diversity that adds to the content and drama of politics. One has to realise that dissent has an immense variety, an ethnography of its own and that India was at one time a compost heap of questioning imaginations. The Eighties and the Nineties of the last century produced a range of imaginations which one hopes to choreograph. Difference articulated as politics can be of several kinds. Every society needs the availability of eccentricity. Eccentricity is visually personal. It is the hallmark of a particular style, a ritualised attitude to life which can be a public reminder of another imagination as a dress, a life. The writer Nirad C. Chaudhuri was an eccentric. He was an Indian who worshipped the British empire and eventually felt it was not British enough. Eccentricity is seen as an exaggerated form of dissent. But it is usually personalised and remains often a choice of style, a source of pride, or imitation at an individual level. Dissent is much more public but dissent is a single word that implies a variety of views and performances. The roots of dissent go back to a worldview of an ideology or an ethics. Dissenters are those who question or critique the system and they can do so from a variety of views. The trade unionist Ela Bhatt built up a union of over one million working women into a legendary organisation called Sewa. Sewa was almost unimaginable a few decades ago in a male-dominated world of trade unions. At that time, women were not seen as independent beings with a right to organise or to even register as a trade union. Sewa was a powerful dissenting imagination that empowered women in everyday ways — a bank account became a form of empowerment. One sees a different playfulness in the dissent of the author U.R. Ananthamurthy. Only his domain of creativity is language and he has shown how language can contain a diversity of dissent. Each dialect becomes a form of dissent and every form of linguistic innovation contains the seeds of new dissent. Mr Ananthamurthy uses Kannada to say what the English language cannot say or says differently. Dissent is a promise of a different world. It is not just an act of resistance. It shows that the world can be constructed differently. It is not mere disagreement. It is the craftsmanship, the imagination to construct a different grammar. One of the most poignant of dissenting imaginations has been the movement against the dam on the Narmada. It failed politically but caught the imagination of the world — raising issues, pointing out the poignancy of the fate of displaced tribals. The anti-dam movement ended the official legitimacy of dam projects as symbols of development. The anti-dam movement also points to the link between dissent and the alternatives imagination. An alternatives imagination can be of two kinds. It could be marginal and minoritarian as the tribal or craft imaginations are in a developmental world. The question is how does a marginal group survive in the authoritarian wilderness of a developmental world? What can the tribal offer as the essence of an alternative worldview and does it have value? These are precious ethical issues where one has to embody not just style of thought but the power of a way of life. The challenge of alternatives is much more important as globalisation forces these worlds into obsolescence. Does India have to industrialise and urbanise or are they alternative visions of the city, of science? At a time when the world watches two behemoths — India and China — imitate the West in all its crudity, one wishes there were alternative ways of dreaming things. The sadness of uniformity clings to globalisation. This is where dissent becomes important. Dissent has to rethink the uniformity of the unilineal futures we are planning for ourselves. Dissent in such circumstances is not easy. Consider for example the case of environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh. The minister is insisting mines must contribute to forest cover because when a mine destroys nature it is mining away our future. Yet, Mr Ramesh finds himself at loggerheads with the growth lobby which sees him as archaic or fundamentalist, when all he is asking for is a responsibility to the future. Mr Ramesh's wings have been clipped on the coal and nuclear problem, but we need a sense of alternatives, different ways of dreaming and living the future. It is here that India is being outthought by the West. The Indian celebration of itself as a major nation state is actually the dirge of alternatives. We have to become a nation of sidebets. Civil society needs dissent and alternatives to give content to its protests. Ask yourself which India is going to survive. Is it only the middle class or a civilisation with all its alternative imaginations? Are our tribes, our dances, our music, our seeds going to survive with us? What is the new imagination of our cities? How are we to look at pain, medicine and healing? Look at it — all our major groups, from our professionals, our business class, even our godmen, are managerialising and modernising needlessly. We are becoming a nation which is starving of dissent hypothecated to the mind of the official West. I am talking of India as an imagination and the imagination of India. Can we rethink our futures as a democracy, as a South Asian imagination? To do this, dissent is critical. It provides the horizon beyond our current calendars, the surprises we need to thrive on as a democracy. Arresting them is arresting our thought processes and policing our thoughts is the beginning of an empty future. This much we can be sure of: An India without its humus of dissent is an undemocratic India. *Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

HELICOPTER HAZARDS

ARE WE CONDEMNED TO ACCEPT THEM?

 

"DEAD men tell no tales" is one old saying; another insists that "wise men learn from the mistakes of others, fools from their own". Regretfully both come into play in the wake of the third helicopter mishap in the Tawang area in the past few weeks ~ the most recent taking the lives of the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, and all others aboard his special flight. In the absence of "live" evidence it will never be categorically established when, and to what degree, the weather "packed up" after the chopper took off: and more importantly whether the "demanding schedule" that all VIPs suffer resulted in pressuring the pilot to operate in adverse weather conditions. Some other queries might be answered by a probe: why was a single-engine unit used after regulations revised after the crash that killed the Andhra chief minister prescribed twin-engine craft for VIP movement? Were weather updates available to the pilot? Was this particular helicopter "fully loaded" with technological aids desirable for operating in admittedly difficult conditions? And is there adequate radar "cover" in this strategic, sensitive, frontier region? Or in the context of a previous mishap are heliports in regular use in the region equipped to handle emergencies? It might be unfair to base any reflection on Pawan Hans' efficiency-standards on the basis of this crash of a Eurocopter AS350 B3, sadly the organisation's flight-safety record (covering a range of chopper-types) is hardly reassuring.


Not that the performance of other helicopter operators glitters. Even larger issues of helicopter safety were raised in a report of the parliamentary standing committee that, coincidentally, was submitted about the same time the wreckage of Dorje Khandu's ill-fated craft was spotted. It drew attention to inadequate training facilities for this specialised section of pilots, poor maintenance, and an appalling shortcoming in "institutional mechanisms" to support helicopter operations that are so popular with VIPs, so critical to communications in otherwise inaccessible regions. That report constitutes another condemnation of the manner in which key issues of civil aviation have been criminally neglected in recent years ~ Air-India is not the sole mess inherited by Vayalar Ravi, who is yet to indicate a capability of ensuring that fliers are even relatively protected. Perhaps the sole "silver lining" to the present dark cloud over Tawang/Itanagar is that when quizzed on the Eurocopter crash the BJP's aviation "authority", Rajiv Pratap Rudy (himself a pilot), spoke with mature restraint. For once professionalism prevailed over politics.

 

A DANGEROUS GAME

SC PUTS CHHATTISGARH ON NOTICE

THE Chhattisgarh government, smarting in the wake of the bail granted to Dr Binayak Sen, has been rapped on its knuckles once again by the Supreme Court. The Bench (coram: Sudershan Reddy and SS Nijjar, JJ) has put the state on notice over the dangerous disingenuity of raising the Salwa Judum ~ with teenagers in the vanguard ~ to counter Maoists. The spurious label of Special Police Officers is intended to lend the entity the character of a quasi-police force. The strong words of the Bench call for reflection, if not a change in policy just yet. "You are playing with the so-called SPOs. What will happen if they turn against the state? God save this country." The Salwa Judum, against which Dr Sen has been campaigning, is not part of the official machinery. To rein in the Maoists ~ a task that has come a cropper ~ Chhattisgarh's BJP government has set tribal against tribal, civilian against civilian. The experiment has been as sinister as it is suicidal, provoking the apex court to preface its observation with the words, "You are playing..." The government truly is. Far from addressing the bread-and-butter issues raised by the Maoists, the state has for years pursued a scorched earth policy that is designed to kill the Left radicals as much as the teenaged activists of  the Salwa Judum.

With the state police in the background as a matter of policy, the government's private army is intended to protect its own force as also to minimise the possibility of police disaffection. As part of the Salwa Judum, it is the innocent civilian who is facing the brunt;  the enormity of the tragedy deepens with the reality that many of the casualties are civilians. If a segment of the citizenry is disaffected, the consequences can be too chilling even to imagine. Hence the observation of the Bench: "If they turned against the state, think how dangerous they would be." The risk is substantial. More than any other state along the Red Corridor, Chhattisgarh is placed on a powder-keg not least because of the dangerous game being played with the Salwa Judum. It must be disbanded.


TRENDS IN CANADA

INCUMBENT VICTORY, LIBERAL DISASTER

AS CRITICAL as the Conservatives retaining power in Canada's general elections is the disaster suffered by the Liberals leading to the resignation of their leader, Michael Ignatieff. The incumbent Prime Minister, Stephen Harper's Conservatives have eventually won an absolute majority in Parliament. Between the two disparate developments in Ottawa, there appears to have been a change in the country's political contours. The result indicates a realignment of the Centre-Left; the New Democratic Party has tripled its strength to emerge as the main Opposition entity. In the event, for the first time the Liberals will have to contend with a third-place finish. For long perceived as a potential party of governance, its strength has sapped dramatically from 77 in the previous House to 34. This doubtless has been an electoral humiliation; a merger with the ascendant New Democratic Party ~ to the left of the Liberals ~ can only be speculated upon. The other striking development may not relate to a mainstream entity, but is critical nonetheless. Notably, the drubbing suffered by the Bloc Qubecois, the robust champion of sovereignty for French-speaking Canada. It has been virtually routed with its strength in the House having plummeted from 47 to four. In effect, it has been reduced to a parliamentary non-entity, indeed a defeat for linguistic chauvinism. 


Mr Harper will inevitably be the focus of attention. The Conservatives have won an absolute majority in the third attempt, and the victory has reinforced the incumbency factor unlike in other parts of the world. The Prime Minister has been remarkably unassuming in his immediate response. "I am humbled by the decisive endorsement of so many Canadians." He now has a massive mandate to buttress his objectives ~ a free market economy, lowering of taxes and an increase in military spending. Canada, under his dispensation, was largely unaffected by the 2008 global meltdown. In foreign policy, its presence has been enhanced in Afghanistan and more recently in Libya. The primary goal of his agenda remains the rout of the hitherto well-entrenched Liberals. Mr Harper has four years to achieve that objective of his choice which is not to be confused with issues of governance.

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

DEATH OF A TERRORIST

AMERICA REASSERTS ITS MIGHT

SALMAN HAIDAR

 

Nothing quite like the outpouring of words and emotions that marked the death of Osama bin Laden has been seen for as long as can be remembered. From the measured tones of President Obama as he made the announcement to the tumultuous rejoicing in the streets of Washington and New York to the unending accounts and analyses of the event, the whole world it seemed was mesmerized. The huge attention Osama bin Laden commanded in death was a measure of his impact on governments and people everywhere. By the end, many judged that his influence had diminished, that his followers had set up on their own, that the Al Qaida he had founded and made so notorious had been harried and reduced to relative inactivity. That may well be so, but Osama Bin Laden remained in the eye of the storm, the symbol and ultimate target in the 'war against terror'. The enormous attention drawn by him in his passing is not misplaced for his hunting down is indeed a turning point.
As he made the announcement, the US President showed his great satisfaction at the successful operation against the elusive quarry that had been chased for years by US forces. What had taken place was more than a big victory in the long drawn struggle against terrorism, and while it did not mark the end of the conflict and may not decisively weaken those who trade in terror, there is no denying that it was a great coup for the USA. For years now the USA had seemed to be floundering in AfPak, borne down by divided counsel at home and indifferent performance in the field. Public support in the USA had drifted away from the Afghan war, to the extent that this seemingly endless struggle began to look like a major political liability for the incumbent President. But all that has changed overnight.
The successful conclusion to the ten-year pursuit has won enthusiastic public support for the US President. He and other senior members of his administration have been careful to avoid triumphalist rhetoric but their satisfaction is palpable. The might of the USA, long under eclipse, has been reasserted, and that country looks once more like the dominant nation it has been and that its people expect it to be. As part of this dramatic transformation, President Obama, whose re-election bid was announced only recently, to considerable skepticism, suddenly looks difficult to challenge.
In the immediate aftermath of the death of Bin Laden, US authorities have put out warning notices against anticipated retaliation upon their citizens. At the battlefront in Afghanistan, no early change is anticipated, and for now the war against the Taliban seems likely to continue on its familiar course. But new voices are to be heard, and already there are some in the USA to say that victory has been achieved and US forces can now return. While no change of strategy in this direction is on the cards, it can be argued perhaps that US options on the timing and mode of disengagement have been expanded. Eliminating Bin Laden was always the key goal, and now that it has been achieved, the USA, if it feels it must, can withdraw with flags flying. This may not happen, and the 'war against terror' in Afghanistan may continue without any change of the timetable already announced, according to which 2014 may be the year of decision, but it now looks as if the initiative has been regained by the USA and its allies, and their departure, when it takes place, could be of their own choice and not something forced on them.
The most immediate, perhaps the most important, effects of Bin Laden's elimination are likely to be felt in South Asia. The shocking part of the event was that it revealed this fugitive, supposedly on the run and the quarry of security agencies from all over the world, was in fact comfortably ensconced in a custom built mansion in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, just a few miles from the capital Islamabad and just a few metres from the Pakistani military academy. Before he was actually run to earth, he was widely believed to be in the mountainous frontier region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan consistently, and vigorously, denied that he could be on their territory and suggested there was a greater likelihood of his being in Afghanistan, something always denied by the other side who pointed to Pakistan as his more likely hiding place. Now that the facts are known, many Afghans have been quick to denounce their neighbour, both for sheltering Bin Laden and for blaming Afghanistan. How this will affect cooperation between the two countries remains to be seen: it was only a short while ago that Pakistan's President, its army chief and head of ISI were all in Kabul for what were reported to be very cordial talks.
In India and elsewhere in the world, the reaction to the revelation of Bin Laden's whereabouts has been sharp. Nobody gives credence to the claim that Pakistan's intelligence agencies were unaware that he was living in Abbottabad, and that he may have been there or elsewhere in Pakistan for years. India's apprehensions about Pakistani support to terrorist groups targeting India have been strongly revived, and in the USA the resentment against what looks like double dealing by a purported ally is especially strong. It is to be seen how this event will affect Pakistan's international standing, especially bilateral India-Pakistani relations at a time when the two countries are trying to put their difficulties behind them and settle their many differences through revived dialogue. It is noteworthy that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while welcoming this blow against terrorism, has been careful with his words and refrained from trying to exploit Pakistan's difficulty.
Nevertheless, some fresh problems have been thrust upon India by the unsettled conditions that now loom ahead. There is renewed trepidation about the possibility of Al Qaida striking at India, and elsewhere in the world, to show that Bin Laden may have gone but the organization retains its lethal capacity and its willingness to strike. The need for heightened vigilance does not apply to the USA alone, and they have already shut down posts in Pakistan. Inter-linkages between various terror groups mean that there are multiple sources of danger, not Al Qaida alone. At the same time, such organizations cannot be permitted to dictate the agenda for South Asia; they have to be kept at bay without holding up the ongoing effort for better neighbourhood relations. Reconciling these different priorities remains a delicate matter and a renewed challenge.

(The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary)

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

US-PAK TIES NOT EASY TO SEVER

SEEMA MUSTAFA

The popularity ratings of US President Barack Obama have soared, while the never-very-high ratings of Pakistan have predictably plummeted to fathomless depths after "Operation Geronimo" managed to sniff out and kill Osama bin Laden. And while Michelle Obama was justified in doing her little victory dance to a Beyonce song, the Pakistani establishment is still reeling from the impact of the hard blow from Washington.
The world is clear on Pakistan's role in providing a safe haven to Osama bin Laden and that the mansion where he lived had been provided for and secured by the ISI and sections of the Pakistan Army. It is more than clear, and will only be confirmed as more details come out, that the top echelons of the military and ISI knew of this and were holding on to the terrorist to extract continuous mileage from the Americans in the prolonged war against terror. The USA became wise to the two-facedness of the ISI a while ago and decided to work independently in tracking down bin Laden. It's notable that it attributed operational success to the fact that the Pakistan army and ISI had been kept out of the offensive altogether.

On the other hand, Pakistan is overwhelmed by conspiracy theories with most centring around the complicity of the Pakistani army in the raid on the mansion at Abbotabad. Very few Pakistanis believe the US claim of having acted independently, pointing out in interviews and articles that four helicopters in attack mode could not have moved through Pakistani airspace without eliciting a reaction from the country's air force. And all this is fuelling the flak that the Pakistan government is getting from the people and the conservative and extremist sections of society, who have already started demonstrating against the USA and their own government for having allowing the Americans to violate Pakistan's "sovereignty."

It does seem that if Pakistan had been informed, that had been done just ahead of the final act to ensure that the helicopters reached the target area without incident. But even then, it's unlikely that full details had been shared, given the status of Osama bin Laden as a valued guest of the ISI. The American military and CIA have been complaining for a long time about the dual role being played by Pakistani agencies, and Washington had suggested more than once that Islamabad knew more than it ever shared Intelligence on bin Laden.
Relations between the USA and Pakistan have come under a tremendous strain, but interestingly, both sides are working to remedy this. The umbilical cord has definitely stretched but not ripped as yet, as both need each other for Afghanistan. It will not be surprising to see quick patch-up meetings at different levels so that Mr Barack Obama's plan to withdraw from Afghanistan starts taking a concrete shape. It is true that the Pakistan military has taken a beating and it will likely mellow down for at least for the next few weeks. The silence of Pakistan army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani is intriguing, and his views, when he decides to break his silence, will be heard and analysed carefully.

One got a sense of Kabul gloating over Pakistan's discomfiture. The pressure on Pakistan, externally and internally, will only increase and for the time being, the USA can extract more than its pound of flesh. Of course, there is a possibility that Pakistan's army will use militant and other extremist groups to whip up strong anti-US sentiments in the country and then use that to bargain its way back into the decision making process. The "we are better than what you can get" argument has always floored the USA, and one can almost visualise the strategy meetings taking place in Pakistan's corridors of power to see how this can be leveraged for maximum benefit now. At the same time, the Americans have demonstrated that they can, and will attack important targets within Pakistan as and when required, and this real threat will, in all probability, act as a leash on the ISI and the Pakistani army. The game for both the USA and Pakistan has begun afresh and it will be interesting to see how it impacts their relations and the region.

The one certainty is the impact of this operation on the US President who has finally overcome the handicap of his Muslim name, his birth certificate and all the other questions concerning his provenance. He has finally earned the trust and confidence of Americans, and seems set to fight a second election. He has also got the space he so desperately needed for his policies on Afghanistan and the region. Of course, there has not been a significant shift in US foreign policy since the days of Mr George W. Bush and the exit from Afghanistan will not be without a price.

In the coming days and weeks, one can expect to see US pressure on Pakistan to wind up its terror industry in a concrete and transparent manner. At the same time, to balance it all out, there will be pressure on India to resolve the Kashmir issue and sit down with Islamabad to seriously discuss this. The USA wants both India and Pakistan to cooperate on Afghanistan and Kashmir remains the blot on both the maps. The Indian decision to reject two US firms for the 126 multi-combat jet deal has certainly not brought Washington and New Delhi closer what with the ongoing anti-nuclear plant protests at Jaitapur are making it clear to the Americans that the civilian nuclear agreement might not reap benefits just yet. The people of India have minds of their own, and hence the country lives by political dynamics that even mighty powers cannot control. Thus, the pressure on Kashmir might be a little rough-edged, given the fact that this was one of the issues highlighted by the US President shortly after he took power.

In all, the situation after Geronimo has turned fluid. The facts are yet to come out and there is considerable scepticism in the Muslim world about the Operation. As Islamabad is still trying to cope with the shock, the Americans are now working to mend relations at least for now, with Afghanistan looming large on everyone's horizon. India did try and make hay with its military chiefs warning of similar action against Pakistan if required, but chest-thumping at this stage means little. The USA remains protective of Pakistan, and much will now depend on the Pakistan army to determine how this relationship plays out in the immediate future.

The writer is Consulting Editor, The Statesman

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

JAGMOHAN CHOPRA


Uttar Pradesh chief minister Miss Mayawati's move to re-name Amethi as Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Nagar  may have left  a bad taste in the Congress's mouth, but this is a strategy that political parties  have  also used  for scoring  points against their adversaries.


Renaming of cities in India started shortly after Independence. With swadeshi on everyone's lips, a concerted effort was made to rename cities whose names ended with a very English sounding "pore" or "sau" to a Hindi-sounding  "pur" or  "sa". Thus Cawnpore was renamed as Kanpur, Jubbelpore as  Jabalpur and Saugor as  Sagar, to name a few. The second round of renaming  started 40 years later in 1991 with the  renaming of Trivandrum as Thiruvananthapuram. If the Congress-led UDF can do this to Trivandrum, why can't we do the same to Bombay, Madras, Calcutta and Bangalore cried parties in power, and pronto,  Bombay  was renamed as  Mumbai  in 1995, Madras  as  Chennai in 1996, Calcutta as Kolkata in 2001 and Bangalore as Bengaluru in 2007, irrespective of the tongue twisting or mind stretching one would have to do to utter or remember these names, not to talk of crores of rupees that would be spent on printing and painting of stationery and billboards. Orissa too has been renamed as Odisha. Interestingly, Amethi is not the first name Miss Mayawati has dabbled with, having done it earlier by uniting the districts of Noida, Greater Noida and Dadri to name them  Gautam Budh Nagar.


The Congress hardly has a reason to sulk, because besides cities, it has been instrumental in renaming important landmarks as well ~   having rechristened Delhi's Connaught Place as Rajiv Chowk and Palam Airport as  Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.  Built between 1929 and 1933, and named after the Duke of Connaught, Connaught Place or CP as it is popularly known, held on to its name for 62 years before falling prey to  the Congress's clamour to name it after its departed leader Rajiv Gandhi. Similarly,  Palam Airport, built during World War II as an air force base, and later used for handling civilian domestic and international flights, held on to its name for  46 years before being named after the assassinated Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. In practice, however,  people refer to Rajiv Chowk  as Connaught Place or CP,  although they are slowly getting used to calling Palam as IGI.


Renaming of cities, landmarks within cities, and even countries, is not an India-centric phenomena. Other countries too have indulged in it off and on ~ the New York International Airport, renamed as John F. Kennedy International Airport or JFK after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, being an example.  Interestingly, while India has held on to its English sounding name for centuries, three of its neighbours have undergone change of name in the last 40 years, with East Pakistan being renamed as Bangladesh in 1971, Ceylon as Sri Lanka in 1972 and Burma as Myanmar in 1989 for different reasons.


Which brings us to the question, does changing the name of a city or place really help? Does it change the image people retain in their minds? Does it restore so-called regional or national  pride? I doubt it. Lives of people living in Bombay, Trivandrum, Madras, Calcutta or Bangalore  have not changed a wee bit since the cities got their new names. Nor are the lives of people living in Amethi and Orissa likely to. New names may have found their way into official files and stationery, but people continue to use the old ones in their daily conversation. According to experts, it is not easy to forget names you've been used to for more than 50 years. However, new names are  easy to absorb if they are short, easy to speak and sound  similar to old ones, e.g. Bombay and Mumbai,  Cochin and Kochi,  Calcutta and Kolkata, Poona and Pune, Simla and Shimla, Pondicherry and Puducherry and the like.  Names which are long  and  sound different from the older versions take a much longer time to register, such as  Koyamutthoor (for Coimbatore) or Udagamandalam  (for Ootacamund).  Of the proposed names, Karnavati (for Ahmedabad), Tirth Raj Prayag (for Allahabad), Deen Dayal Nagar (for Mughalsarai) and Bhagyanagaram (for Hyderabad) also fall into the category of difficult-to-remember names. Therefore,  whatever Miss Mayawati may say or do,  there is every possibility that people will keep referring to Gautam Budh Nagar as Noida and Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Nagar as Amethi for  many years to come.


The writer is a freelance contributor 

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

 

We have no desire that the restrictions and risks under which newspapers carry on their work should be increased, but we are bound to express our regret that the proceedings against the Bengalee and the Amrita Bazar Patrika for contempt of court should have resulted as they did. The practice of commenting upon cases which are still sub judice is very common in this country, and is so clearly disrespectful to the courts and so full of potential mischief that it ought to be rigorously suppressed. In the proceedings on Monday, the Advocate-General, Mr A Chaudhuri, and the learned Judge appear to have gone on the assumption that the Bengalee and the Amrita Bazar Patrika were unfortunate first offenders who deserved to be treated with the utmost leniency for their lapse from virtue. In accordance with this theory the ridiculous excuse of the Bengalee that the comment on Mr Weston's evidence was published owing to the confusion caused by a change of offices was accepted as valid. Strangely enough, the same blunder occurred in the office of the Amrita Bazar Patrika, which had apparently not left its moorings. In this case the plea of the Editor was that he did not know that he had committed contempt. This we can well believe. He has commented on judicial proceedings so often with impunity that he must have felt some surprise when he was called to account. Hence possibly the half-hearted apology which Counsel offered on his behalf. In both cases a substantial fine would have been a valuable lesson in journalistic propriety. Unfortunately, owing to a technical flaw in the rule, both the innocents escaped without so much as paying costs. We hope, however, that Mr Justice Fletcher's emphatic declaration that comment on a case still proceeding is contempt of court will have a salutary effect.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

FANTASTIC TALES

Operation Geronimo seems destined to undergo a mutation with each retelling. So seems the attendant tale of the America-Pakistan partnership in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. But more than the United States of America, it is Pakistan which is desperate to hit upon that perfect 'fit-all' version of the truth. A lot hinges on it. For one, an uninterrupted flow of aid that can be assured only if there is sufficient proof that the partnership has not been completely in vain. But more immediately, Pakistan needs to tell a story that does not further undermine its ghairat or dignity. After the Raymond Davis affair, a successful US operation on Pakistani soil with little or no knowledge of the Pakistan government could be the last straw on the camel's back. The people want to know how vulnerable their nation has become and if the army is capable of protecting its sovereignty. Pakistan's establishment, including the army, has naturally gone into a huddle.

For Pakistan, a time of national shame could easily become a moment of truth. The establishment could admit — as it had come close to doing during the initial days of the Asif Ali Zardari presidency — that its policy of nurturing terror links to gain strategic depth in the region had turned the nation into a nursery for terrorists and made it vulnerable to attacks from within and without. But Pakistan seems aeons away from such a moment. It may be unsettled by the daring of the US operation that struck deep into Pakistan territory to take out the quarry, but it is unlikely to change its spots in a hurry. There is no indication yet that Pakistan is willing to clamp down on the Inter-Services Intelligence, which stands thoroughly discredited after the operation against al Qaida's leader, or go after al Qaida links in North Waziristan. In fact, there is a threat that Pakistan, with its pride severely wounded, might further curl inwards. The dangers of a nuclear-powered Pakistan turning enemy forever sufficiently worry the world. China has decided to back its old ally in its difficult hour. The United Kingdom has followed suit and the swiftness with which the US has been issuing joint declarations with Pakistan on the value of their defence cooperation shows that this fact has not evaded its notice either.

The US and Pakistan may underwrite or overwrite their interaction keeping in mind their domestic audience, but it will be unwise to let go of the head start that the success of Operation Geronimo has produced. An embarrassed Pakistan does not necessarily mean a pliant Pakistan, but post-Osama bin Laden, the world has a chance of collectively driving Pakistan into compromises that could not have been foreseen earlier. But for Pakistan to give up its double play, its allies in the West too have to give up some of their own.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

DEATH AGAIN

Fate is often a concatenation of circumstances and habits, most of which leave scope for change. The death of the sixth chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Dorjee Khandu, in a helicopter crash among forested hills of his own constituency follows a tragically long line of such deaths, suggesting that the situation could have been different. It is almost an eerie repetition of the sequence of waiting, hoping and searching that led to the discovery of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy's death in 2009. Other politicians have gone earlier — G.M.C. Balayogi, S. Mohan Kumaramangalam, Madhavrao Scindia — the list could go on. Undoubtedly, politicians or their followers may put pressure on pilots to operate their craft in inclement weather, or with mechanical weakness or even on a different route. Pilots may have to capitulate in spite of their training. It is worse in mountainous areas, as in the Northeast or in Arunachal Pradesh. Since Reddy's death, a committee has tried to make stricter rules, including some to protect pilots forced to refuse their VIP passengers' urgings. The recommendations have been hurriedly put in after Khandu's death.

As usual, India has awoken slowly to the fact that an embarrassingly large number of politicians were dying in helicopter accidents. Perhaps the government should also consider the kind of craft that politicians and their pilots find at their disposal. What is the point of pinching pennies when lives are concerned? Surely healthy young choppers with technically advanced equipment in first-rate condition should at least be on offer, even as an option? It may be pointless to argue now whether Khandu should have had a single-engine or a two-engine helicopter. But should not the helicopter company make sure each time that passengers have helicopters safest for that particular route and weather? There are a lot of things that should be changed, including attitude. Without that, even the pilot who has the highest number of flying hours may have to encounter danger.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE?

THE JUDICIARY IS TAKING A DIM VIEW OF THE GOVERNMENT'S LAXITY CUTTING CORNERS: ASHOK MITRA

India Incorporated cannot quite believe it: five bigwigs of the corporate world have been chargesheeted for the 2G spectrum felony and taken into custody; they have been refused bail till now and packed off to Tihar jail to keep the august company of the minister who till the other day was presiding over the distribution of spectrums.

The apex body of the corporate sector has every reason to feel aggrieved. The government in New Delhi was, it had assumed, its pocket borough; this or that of its constituents had a direct hand in naming this or that cabinet minister, it had a direct hand in scripting the government's economic policies too; a part of the extra booty that was the spin-off of these policies it had shared with the ministers and the parties they belonged to. Outrage of such a dastardly nature could still take place: five of its luminaries got dragged to prison as if they were common criminals and denied bail.

India Incorporated should calm down. No, the government, of which it owns a significant part of the equity, did not play Judas. The prime minister and his colleagues have continued to be as loyal to it as a domestic pet is to its master. It is the wretched office of the comptroller and auditor-general which is the villain of the piece. This body, protected by Articles 148 to 151 of the Constitution, had submitted a devastating report to the president with regard to the fun and games the allocation of the 2G spectrum had been. Even before submission to Parliament, this report was leaked to the media. Parties in the Opposition naturally took advantage of its contents. The government tried to stand firm and refused to pay any heed to such motivated rubbish. Everything would have been fine and excellent had not the nation's highest judiciary intervened at this stage. It is at the moment hell-bent on preventing departures from legal and constitutional processes in official acts and activities and has in its wisdom reached the conclusion that the government had something to do with the Central Bureau of Investigation's dragging its feet over the CAG report. The CBI was ordered to henceforth report periodically to the nation's highest court on the progress of investigations concerning the scam and take instructions from it. The honourable judges have apparently no faith in the government's legal counsel either and appointed a special public prosecutor to conduct the cases against those chargesheeted. Ruling politicians are helpless; as long as the Constitution is there, the writ of the Supreme Court has to be obeyed. The CBI, in pursuit of the directive of the court, has taken in the India Incorporated quintet. The government's hands are tied.

What is adversity for India Incorporated is happy tidings for the general populace, otherwise helpless watchers of unchecked chicanery at high places. But this could merely be a version of the so-called Indian summer. It is a historical accident that, at this particular moment, the nation's highest judiciary is going through its liberal hour and taking a dim view of the government's palpable indulgence of, and, in some instances, enthusiastic participation in, malfeasance on the part of the greedy rich. This season could however soon end. The Supreme Court is itself wary about the perils of 'judicial activism' straying beyond limits. In a fledgling democratic system such as ours is supposed to be, the government elected by the people has the sole prerogative to formulate public policies; the judiciary has no business to question such policies. It is only where reasonable ground exists for suspecting that either constitutional obligations have been violated or the due process of law and guidelines laid down in the rules of business have been contravened that the judiciary has the discretion to intercede. In a recent communication, the nation's highest court has advised all the high courts to be particularly careful where to tread and where not to. This exhortation of judicial restraint is in fact a reiteration of the fundamental doctrine which is the hallmark of a democratic polity: the judiciary must step in only when it is necessary to ensure observance of constitutional proprieties and conservation of the legal system, nothing beyond that; passing judgment on policy issues is beyond its ken.

So far, so good. One or two knotty issues nonetheless refuse to disappear. Where does the remedy lie in case a policy enunciated by the government of the day is prima facie irreconcilable with a fundamental right granted by the Constitution or a directive principle of state policy again sanctified by the Constitution? One specific instance is the repeated use of the colonial law of sedition to harass individuals and institutions whose views radically differ from those held sacrosanct by the authorities. Section 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code, first introduced by the British in 1870 to tackle the Wahabi rebellion, was subsequently deployed to persecute participants in the nation's freedom struggle; the list of the thousands charged and convicted under this section stretches from Lokmanya Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi at one end to Bhagat Singh and Surya Sen at the other. Independence did not make any difference. Leaders of the Indian National Congress, who assumed power on the departure of the foreign masters, took pride in the totality of the British inheritance, including Section 124 (A) of the IPC. When declared by the judiciary to be inconsistent with the fundamental rights enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution, the section was not dropped from the IPC; instead Article 19 was amended in order to suspend fundamental rights in the interest of "public order" or protection of "national sovereignty". There have been any number of occasions over the past 60 years when the judiciary at various levels has expressed disquiet regarding the stance of the executive authorities over what constitutes a threat to "public order" or is tantamount to endangering the "nation's sovereignty". The latest occasion was the bail application of Binayak Sen before the Supreme Court. The imperialists might have left India long ago, their haughty laws are nonetheless considered necessary by the powers that be, especially to combat the nuisance of political dissidence. Active opposition — even if of the 'non-violent' species — to the British rulers was declared sedition; similarly, registering protest against the overly authoritarian ways of a regime established by law has been sought to be reckoned in independent India as waging war against the country. Total identification with the official American concept of 'global terror' has been in the nature of an extra impetus for resorting to Section 124 (A) alongside brand new legislations one after another beginning with the Preventive Detention Act of the 1950s and ending with the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in the 21st century. The murder-equates-revolution school of Maoists has provided further opportunities for the indiscriminate use of Section 124 (A).

How will the judiciary react if, despite the mild admonition dispensed by its apex body while granting bail to Sen, the authorities refuse to purge the clause on sedition from the statute book? Even if declared ultra vires of the Constitution, the substance of the section might still be replicated in a new legislation. In the event of this new law too being struck down, a determined government could enact yet another legislation containing the same provision. This cat-and-mouse encounter between the judiciary and the executive could vitiate the atmosphere beyond measure.

Or consider the government's rigid stand against subsidising the public distribution of essential commodities, including foodgrains. Any such subsidy, neo-liberal logic says, affects adversely the incentive of traders and certain groups of farmers. Suppose a large number of very poor villagers in a remote area are without work and have no wherewithal to buy foodgrains at the skyrocketing prices traders are charging. At the same time, a huge pile of foodgrains is rotting in government godowns in the neighbouring district town. The authorities, sticking to official policy, decline to release even a small part of the stocks either free or at substantially subsidized prices so that the starving people can survive. Is it or is it not within the purview of the judiciary to step in and direct the authorities to relent on the rigidity of its policy? The issue had cropped up a few months ago through a reference to the Supreme Court and the court had issued a directive to the authorities not to quote scripture and reach food to those at the door of death. The authorities did something to tide over the crisis and the controversy died down. But the prime minister had then made a statement which was quite unambiguous; his government was determined not to do anything detrimental to the interests of traders and surplus-raising farmers, free or subsidized distribution of foodgrains was out. Will the nation's highest judiciary be within its rights to proclaim this particular official policy in conflict with the fundamental right to live granted by the Constitution and the directive principle which urges the authorities to ensure "means of livelihood" for each citizen? But in case such a judicial proclamation too was brushed aside by the government, the nation's highest court admittedly could do nothing. It has no army at its disposal to bring the government down to its knees.

Even within the precincts of a seemingly impeccable democratic dispensation, no constitutional means — including recourse to the judiciary — are in the circumstances of any avail if the regime ensconced in power chooses to behave in an obtuse way and deny people food or civil liberties or relief from corruption. This can hardly be the end of history though.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

STORY OF A FAILED STATE

BONAFIDE: MALVIKA SINGH

The double-talk and half-truths propounded by the State in Pakistan have all come under full public glare, dismantling the myth that the Inter-Services Intelligence and the civilian government are fighting terrorist groups in their soil. Pakistan has been a safe haven for many militant formations, primarily because the country had the tacit support — both military and economic — of the United States of America. That sense of security will change radically with the 'ambush' conducted independently by ally and friend, the US, in which it targeted and killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on the outskirts of the capital, Islamabad. The US will play the game carefully to control 'rogue' elements in that dangerous nation, a country struggling to come to terms with the monster it has created, unable to deal with its 'failed-state' status.

America must share the responsibility for the desperate socio-political condition that has overwhelmed Pakistan. Both nations are paying the price of pursuing faulty and dangerous politics in the region, and the repercussions of their grand folly will have devastating effects on South Asia. China, a quiet and stronger ally of Pakistan, is bound to step in to 'protect' an exposed Pakistan, if only to entrench itself in an effort to 'control' the region. India, of course, true to style, watches in apparent confusion. This moment could be an opportunity for Pakistan, including its army and the ISI, to change course and liberate itself from the archaic mindset that belongs to an age gone by. It needs to unshackle the inherent strength of its people and allow their creative energies to bring about a fundamental restructuring. The military and the ISI must disengage themselves from the monster they have created if they are committed to give Pakistanis a productive and energetic life built on ethos and values that are synonymous with those of the sub-continent.

Bring change

India is also going through its own set of upheavals, grappling with decades-old mal-functioning of delivery systems, be they law and order, justice or the administration. We need a 'leadership' that will buck the trend, and not be concerned with staying on in power. Instead, it should lead the process of transformation at a moment in time when a generation is aspiring to break out of the faulty system. The corrective needs to come from within for it to be effective and substantive. India needs to be led forward in that cleansing by the same 'leadership' that allowed the corruption and corrosion to set in. This is an opportune time and somebody must take the bull by its horns and initiate the restoration.

The timing for change needs to be calibrated deftly. The Congress appears to operate on unilateral diktats and does not seem to be aware of the options that could, in fact, prevent the tearing of the fabric of the party in power. Senior leaders are pulling in different directions instead of debating the critical issues and extracting an innovative solution that would rescue the political party from the tired, predictable and manipulative reality that has diluted the impact of the party at a time when the dynamics of the Indian socio-political and economic spaces have changed completely. The old guard must make way for the 'inexperienced' lot, who need to bring in a fresh political ethos without the 'old' lot sabotaging change with a smile on their faces.

The Opposition, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party, is formulating its assault for a win at the polls in the next general elections with the support of the corporate class. The strategy is becoming clearer by the day but one does not get the impression that the Congress is working to counter it. Sadly, the political discourse in India leaves much to be desired.

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******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

SERIOUS LAPSE

''THERE WERE DEMANDS THAT THE COPTER FLEET BE GROUNDED.''


The death of Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu in a helicopter crash near Tawang raises uncomfortable questions about aviation safety in difficult terrains, the efficiency of rescue operations and infrastructure development in strategic areas. Khandu's helicopter  was missing for five days after it took off from the Tawang airport  last Saturday.


It does no credit to any body that there was no clue to the whereabouts of the helicopter and all search and rescue attempts failed even though the helicopter was claimed to be equipped with the latest version of an emergency locator transmitter. The signals were not  picked up by satellites or searching IAF aircraft. There were confusing and contradictory views given out by supposedly responsible authorities. Even after accepting the fact that the terrain is difficult and the weather was bad, five days are too long a period to locate a missing helicopter.  Ultimately the wreckage was found by villagers, not by a search team. It shows the poor state of the country's emergency response system.


The operator of the helicopter, Pawan Hans, has to answer some questions. It was only a fortnight ago that another Pawan Hans copter crashed in the same area, killing 17 people.  There have been charges that the copters are badly maintained and the pilots are not well trained in flying over difficult terrains. There were demands that the copter fleet be grounded for checking after last month's crash but the management maintained that everything was right.


Flights to the North-East have only now been suspended. It is likely that the  operator's  negligence was a contributing factor for the crash. There have been too many air mishaps in the region,  and this should be a matter of concern. Road connectivity is very poor in Arunachal Pradesh and therefore copter services have become popular. It is necessary to make good roads extensively in the state, as China has done on the other side of the border in Tibet.  This is important for national security reasons and in the interest of promotion of tourism.

Khandu was a popular chief minister and was at the helm of the state for four years. He had taken a number of development initiatives and was liked by even his political rivals. As a politician who had come up from the grassroots level, he was close to the people and would be missed by the people of the state.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MUSCLE FLEXING

''POLITICIANS ARE STOKING NATIONALIST SENTIMENTS.''


Fierce fighting has broken out between Thai and Cambodian forces. Although a ceasefire agreement was reached late last week, there have been several breaches, leaving the situation along the Thai-Cambodian border tense. Reports suggest that while the intensity of the fighting has reduced since the ceasefire, it has not stopped.

Both sides are continuing to engage in shelling. Steps must be taken by the two governments to enforce the ceasefire as the roughly two-week long armed clashes have already taken a huge toll. At least 18 people have been killed in the recent fighting and tens of thousands of villagers have been displaced.  Ancient temples are said to have suffered significant damage in the fighting.


The Thai-Cambodian border has not been fully demarcated and clashes have erupted periodically over it. At the heart of the latest clashes are centuries-old temples at Preah Vihear, Ta Moan and Ta Krabey. The dispute over the 11th century Preah Vihear temple - the most renowned example of Khmer architecture - dates back to the late 19th century. In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled that the temple belonged to Cambodia. Although Thailand handed over the temple to Cambodia, it has retained control over surrounding areas, contending that the border here is yet to be demarcated. Preah Vihear became a flashpoint again in 2008 when the UN granted it heritage status. And since then fighting has erupted in the area off and on.


Political parties in Thailand and Cambodia have been using the Preah Vihear temple to stoke nationalist sentiments and reap electoral benefits. The listing of the temple as a world heritage site was exploited by Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen during the 2008 general election. In Thailand, parties have sought to score political points over the issue, with the opposition demanding prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's resignation for 'failing to defend the country's sovereignty' over the temples.


Vejjajiva is due to announce dates for general elections soon, sparking speculation over whether the muscle flexing at the border is aimed at impressing voters. Some have suggested that it is the Thai military rather than the political leadership that is calling the shots on the current clashes along the border as evident from the fact that Asean's plan for Indonesian mediation in the conflict was shot down by the Thai military.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

BURDEN OF HISTORY SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY

ARABS HAVE A LONG HISTORY BUT MANY OF THEIR MODERN STATES WERE CREATED TO SAFEGUARD EUROPEAN INTERESTS AFTER THE WW I.

Democracy and human rights are wonderful catchwords for the unrest sweeping West Asia like a tsunami. But the turbulence has deeper roots. Seeking to shake off the burdens of history – economic, political and colonial exploitation – Arabs are also seeking identities that are not determined by Western perceptions.

 Neither planned nor coordinated, the insurrection is like the Intifada -- literally 'The Shaking' -- the spontaneous Palestinian uprising against Israel that erupted in December 1987. The disorganisation of the battles raging in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt and other countries recalls a comment about the Paris Commune of 1871: "Never had a revolution taken the revolutionaries so much by surprise."

Arabs have a long and glorious history but many of their modern states were created to safeguard European interests after the end of the First World War and the break-up of the Ottoman empire. Winston Churchill boasted of drawing many of these borders with a ruler after a liquid lunch in Cairo in 1921 when he was Britain's colonial secretary. Churchill called his colleagues (only two Arabs among them) in this nation-creating exercise the 'Forty Thieves.'

It didn't bother them that the new borders cut arbitrarily across tribal homelands, sowing the seeds of future friction as in Iraq where Sunni, Shia and Kurds comprise three distinct entities. They saddled the new states with alien kings (sons of the ousted Shereef of Mecca who helped Lawrence of Arabia against the Ottomans) and equally alien parliamentary constitutions. Their aims were to reward friends, secure the oil deposits then just being discovered and safeguard communications. Jordan's panhandle – a finger of desert extending to Iraq – ensured that with the rival French in nearby Syria, Britain was assured of a direct and friendly air corridor from the Mediterranean to India.

  With discontents mounting over the decades, it took an unemployed Tunisian graduate's self-immolation to ignite the Jasmine Revolution. This replay of earlier uprisings against monarchical absolutism is now directed at populist rulers whose long stranglehold on power has not improved living conditions for the masses.

Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh has held office for 32 years. The al-Assads, father and son, have controlled Syria since November 1970. After ruling Tunisia for 23 years, president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee even though he claimed 89.62 per cent voter support. Syria's embattled president Bashar al-Assad goes even better with a claim of 97.6 per cent support.

Thirty years as president made Hosni Mubarak Egypt's longest-serving ruler since Muhammad Ali Pasha founded the former royal dynasty in the 19th century. He also represented an unbroken line of military-turned-political dictators since 1952 when Mohammed Naguib, head of the Free Officers Movement, gave his marching orders to King Farouk after the humiliation of his military defeat at Israel's hands.

The fallen monarch's enigmatic comment, "You have done what I always meant to do!" suggested that West Asian autocrats were not unaware of neglecting their people. Their successors have a tough job holding together their often patchwork countries. Saleh survived by playing off conflicting factions and tribes in an uneasy marriage of the Yemeni imamate with the British colony of Aden and dozens of pocket-sized sultanates and emirates. With its borders a moveable for the British and Saudis, Yemen even entered into a shortlived union with Egypt and Syria in 1958.

 Some multi-ethnic, multi-religious states survived by being forced into the straitjacket of colonial occupation. The Cold War froze others into immobility. With both gone, the Arabs are awakening to a sense of their own destiny, differences and deprivation. Though a Libyan rebel leader boasts "There are no tribes...It's only Libyan people fighting against Gaddafi's forces," it's difficult to say whether the 140 tribal groups are indulging in traditional warring or engaged in anti-government protest. But whatever Libya's fault lines, Nato's attacks have compounded the sense of western injustice which will be aggravated if the west attacks Syria.

 What Arabs call 'nakbah' (catastrophe), Israel's emergence and eviction of millions of Palestinians, further lacerated the Arab psyche, and Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, paid with his life for compromising with Israel.

The resultant desperation partly explains the turn to radical Islam. Syria brutally put down the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982 but it is surfacing again in Egypt. Yemen's tribal feudalism unleashed Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda against the world.
No one can say for sure where this new Intifada will lead but the west adds fuel to fire by succouring the rebels. That doesn't mean Americans should prop up dictators on the "He's-a-bastard-but-he's-our-bastard" logic. The United States should rise above narrow strategic aims to apply the great principles of its founding fathers in selecting its Asian friends.

The red, black and white pan-Arab colours (seen on Syrian, Egyptian, Iraqi, Sudanese and Yemeni flags) represent oppression, struggle and success. Ultimately, only the princes, politicians and people of the Arab world can determine whether the white will win, but the crisis presents the United States with a chance to restore Arab self-respect and dwindling faith in western justice by effectively pressuring Israel to disgorge the territories it conquered in 1967.  

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

ALGAE AS A VIABLE FOOD, FEED AND ENERGY OPTION

MARK SOMMER

 

Algae is not a high priority on energy R&D agendas now, but it is rapidly gaining traction.

At a time when most conventional fuels cast ever longer shadows of unintended consequences, algae ­that lowly pond scum — offers a pleasant surprise: a near-term, low-tech alternative with apparently few of the hidden costs of more elaborate, expensive and exploitive energy sources.

The first, simplest, and fastest-growing life form, algae holds unheralded promise to become a pivotal resource for the planet's future as the basis for a high quality biodiesel that doesn't (like corn) siphon food from humans. And it's not just a fuel. It's animal feed, human food and the building block for a wide range of biodegradable bio-plastics to replace petroleum-based plastics. And algae does all this as it grows by absorbing enormous amounts of CO2, the very greenhouse gas we most urgently need to reduce.

At the moment algae is not a high priority on most national or major corporate energy R&D agendas, but it is rapidly gaining traction in the private sector and academia as its potential becomes clear. In some cases it is being researched by giant energy conglomerates as a byproduct of the development of so-called 'clean coal,' since it effectively absorbs the CO2 generated by the burning of carbon. But coal is nothing but 500 million-year-old algae. So, ask some algae advocates, why not just stop strip-mining and mountaintop removal, leave the coal in the ground and instead farm fast-growing, CO2-absorbing algae?

Technical obstacles

This is not a distant dream. One fact that sets algae apart from just about every other energy option, conventional or alternative, is its simplicity, ubiquity, and near-term availability. Algae researchers say that while technical obstacles remain to be resolved before they can achieve cost-effective large-scale production for its many uses, none appear to be insurmountable. With its prodigious growth habit, algae under cultivation does need to be carefully controlled. Algal blooms occur naturally, but they are also triggered by chemical and agricultural pollution. It's a serious problem and must be considered when designing algae farms in the open rather than in the controlled environments of bio-digesters, as most biodiesel is currently produced. But unlike a nuclear chain reaction, even if allowed to bloom excessively, algae will inflict consequences nowhere near those of a nuclear meltdown.

On a recent visit to ENN, a fast-growing Chinese energy company based an hour from Beijing, this correspondent was given a tour of a laboratory where a team of scientists is developing micro-algae for a variety of uses. It's part of a joint venture between ENN and Duke Energy, the largest US public utility. Standing in a sunlit greenhouse filled with walls of clear glass tubing through which green sludge circulates, Liu Minsung, the young, energetic director of ENN's algae team, gestured to a row of transparent vials of varying colour and consistency.

In 2012, the US Navy will launch what it calls a Green Strike Group, a flotilla of ships powered by a 50 per cent algae-based and 50 per cent  NATO F-76 fuel, forming a 50/50 blend of hydro-processed renewable diesel. By 2016, the Navy plans to launch a Great Green Fleet, a carrier strike group composed of hybrid electric ships and aircraft propelled by biofuels including algae, and ­maybe not so green- nuclear-powered vessels.

Algae is a full circle innovation because it serves many uses at once. In its elegant synthesis of stacked functions, algae as fuel, food, feed and plastic follows bio-logic rather than techno-logic. It demonstrates the virtues of elemental simplicity in an era of hype technology. Technological solutions have grown so complicated and costly that, as with not-so-smart phones, a surfeit of inessential features ends up defeating their core capabilities. Algae is ancient but it is far from primitive. In fact, it has had about five billion years to evolve into a lean green growing being.

Like every other 'solution' that's ever been devised, algae undoubtedly has shadow sides that have yet to be discovered. But the greatest danger it poses is that, like the electric car, it won't developed. But one great virtue of algae is that you can grow your own. Life on earth began with algae, and if life is found on distant orbs it will likely be algae we find there first. Will this simplest, wisest life form help rescue us from our energy dilemma?

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

A HOLIDAY PLAN

DOROTHY VICTOR


Parenting back in the '80s was after all a lot simpler with humble life styles.


With the commencement of summer vacation, the anticipation of getting a good holiday rose to a fever high with my kids. 'Singapore or Malaysia?' asked my son. 'South Africa or at least Sri Lanka!' commanded my daughter. The mention of these places took me back to the year 1984 when I, a teenager then, had made a similar plea to my parents.


'Ma, we could at least go to Sri Lanka or Nepal, if not Singapore or Africa,' I whined in a childlike innocence. 'Why not, dear?' my mom retorted, giving me her usual empathetic smile. A smile she always gave me, whenever I brought my teenage fantasies to her attention.  I was immediately convinced that she would have a perfect plan worked out, to take me places. Sure enough, my mom did not disappoint me.


It was an awesome summer vacation, the kind that does not get erased from memory. The aroma of the delicious Sri Lankan cuisine is still fresh in my mind. The Singaporean dresses that I shopped added new colours and elegance to my modest wardrobe. The amazing safari at the zoo brought the best of Africa that lingers in my memory after all these years.


Coming back to the present, I wondered if I could do an encore for my kids. 'No way!' I rationalised. Not with the kids of the new millennium. Parenting back in the '80s was after all a lot simpler with humble life styles and minimal peer pressure. You need a taste of the neighbouring country of Sri Lanka? All it takes is to visit the famous 'Buhari's hotel' where Chennaites could get the authentic and delicious Ceylon egg parota served piping hot at the table. One could shop for Singaporean fabrics at affordable prices all year round at the erstwhile 'Moore Market,' Chennai's popular shopping complex of the '80s. Even the adventurous African safari could be experienced in the famous Chennai Vandalur Zoo. Or so, we unassuming generation believed back then sans You-tube and satellite TV.


Working on a similar plan to take my kids around the world in a simulated ride here in Bangalore is undoubtedly ruled out. Smarter kids, never ending traffic jams and the congestion in urban cities do not help in planning an exciting staycation. However, since going places is a big chore, after much contemplation I found the perfect answer to my children's question; the most marvelous economical idea for a trip. "Hey kids, just climb into a hammock and let your mind wander!" I said, ignoring their protests.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

QUESTION MARKS IN THE POLICE FORCE

HAS PUBLIC SECURITY MINISTER YITZHAK AHARONOVITCH LIVED UP TO THE STANDARDS THAT HE HIMSELF HAS SET?

When Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch entered office some two years ago, his appointment raised two questions: Would he be able to overcome any lingering resentment over the end of his police service, when he served as deputy commissioner but was not appointed commissioner? And would he be wise enough to run the ministry without any intervention - direct or indirect, in reality or in appearance - by his party's leader, eternal criminal suspect Avigdor Lieberman?

The first question has been answered satisfactorily, on the whole. A retired officer who becomes the politico in charge of his former organization has advantage in knowing the field and in formulating ideas. But such a situation also has disadvantages, in the form of bias on certain issues or toward certain people.

Aharonovitch did not live up to the standards he himself set for the police commissioner's appointment: He wanted a veteran police commander, preferably with a deputy commissioner's experience. Nor did he fulfill his stated desire to appoint a Prison Service commissioner from the service's ranks.

However, it cannot be said that he foisted arbitrary and unprofessional changes on the police. Even those who disagree with his claim that Yohanan Danino was the best candidate for police commissioner do not doubt Danino's qualifications, or that both men truly desire to improve the police force.

But the second question, concerning Lieberman, continues to haunt Aharonovitch despite his bitter protests. Lieberman is no longer under police investigation; only a hearing stands between him and an indictment. But his longstanding hostility toward the police's investigations and intelligence division and his insistence on giving the public security and justice portfolios to members of his Yisrael Beiteinu party sent a challenge to the law enforcement agencies. Lieberman will be the one who decides whether Aharonovitch and the party's other ministers remain in the cabinet and whether to fight for increasing the police budget.

The fear of being portrayed as Lieberman's paroled prisoner was expected to restrain Aharonovitch's decisions about changes in the police force upon Danino's entry into office. But on Wednesday, he made a slip of the tongue, implying that personnel cutbacks in the force's premier investigation unit, Lahav 433, would undermine corruption probes against public figures.

The cutbacks may well have a logical explanation, relating to the different priorities of headquarters versus field units or relations among the various commanders. But the burden of proof is on Aharonovitch.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

OBAMA MURDERED BIN LADEN FOR A FISTFUL OF VOTES

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA IGNORED ALL THE ETHICAL CRITERIA, AND MURDERED BIN LADEN IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS AT ANY PRICE IN ADVANCE OF THE ELECTIONS. EVEN SOMEONE WHO PREFERS OBAMA TO HIS OPPONENTS HAS GOOD REASON TO FEAR THE CYNICISM THAT OBAMA DEMONSTRATED IN THE BIN LADEN AFFAIR.

BY HAIM BARAM

Since most of the political commentators here behaved like particularly rowdy soccer fans after a bloody and perhaps even undeserved victory, we, the leftists, are not exempt from expressing disgust about the millions dancing on the corpse of mega-terrorist Osama bin Laden. The man was contemptible, and his hands were sullied with the blood of innocents - there's no question about that. But the operation by the U.S. Navy SEALs was an act of licensed gangsterism, murder without trial, and a cruel operation that did not take into account the victims who fell around the main victim.

The humanist approach requires us to reject the act of terror against bin Laden for three reasons: ethical, legal and political-ideological. The president of the United States has no authority to operate in foreign countries arbitrarily and in contradiction to the principles of international law. Even inside his country, nobody authorized him to issue a death sentence, not to mention murdering people who were next to the victim.

For years the U.S. has been bringing hostages to the horrifying concentration camp in Guatanamo, Cuba, and shamelessly torturing them. There is an international conspiracy of silence in most of the Western countries - which consider themselves enlightened - in regard to the acts of terror, looting and greed that characterize Washington's conduct in the international arena. In Israel the situation is far worse: It's the liberal camp (which sometimes calls itself the "left" ) that enthusiastically cheers any U.S. president who fights against poor countries, whereas the right treats Washington with suspicion, for fear that its successes in acts of violence against Arabs or blacks will grant it too much authority in enforcing peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians or the Syrians.

The ethical aspect is unequivocal. The humanism that is officially accepted by the U.S. too, requires its leaders not to murder political opponents or military enemies, and mainly to refrain from murdering people who have no connection at all to terror. U.S. President Barack Obama ignored all the ethical criteria, and murdered bin Laden in order to achieve success at any price in advance of the elections. Even someone who prefers Obama to his opponents has good reason to fear the cynicism that Obama demonstrated in the bin Laden affair.

The legal aspect is also clear. Murder in cold blood (especially in a foreign country ) contradicts the principles of international law, but thanks to military, economic and political power - and not for reasons of principle - there is no chance that Obama will have to pay for it. The murder of bin Laden now enables many governments the world over, including the Israeli government, to continue to slaughter civilians and to explain the act by referring to the Obama precedent.

Washington no longer has the moral authority to preach to other countries about arbitrary acts of murder for the sake of political or economic interests. Some 38 years after giving the fascists in Chile a green light to murder elected president Salvador Allende, Washington is now adopting the "direct operation," to use the old fascist expression.

On the diplomatic front, Obama is allowing American conservatives and their allies everywhere (including "our" prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu ) to preach in favor of official terror as the only way to stop liberation movements the world over. Bin Laden was a terrorist in every possible sense, but his success in surviving for so many years also stems from the fact that the industrialized West refuses to share its treasures with poor countries. The president, who came to power with liberal slogans and a pose of reconciliation with the Muslim world, speaks like Martin Luther King but operates in the international area like a right-wing/conservative outlaw from Alabama. He may defeat the Republicans at the polls, but he has adopted their ideological path.

In the 1970s West German Chancellor Willy Brandt and British Prime Minister Edward Heath proposed a new path for the Western world, in order to transfer resources to the poorer parts of the world and create a new situation that would prevent hunger and disease.

The plan was shelved, the neo-liberals came to power in all the key countries in the West, and the huge swamp of poverty and neglect is breeding lethal mosquitoes that cause disasters and carry out acts of terror all over the world. The conservatives have always believed that the threat could be eliminated with force, killing the mosquitoes without draining the swamps. Now Obama has also joined this conservative chorus, and the Great Black Hope has been shelved.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

PALESTINIAN UNITY IS A CHANCE FOR MIDEAST PEACE BETWEEN EQUALS

ANYONE WHO DOESN'T UNDERSTAND THAT THE AGREEMENT BETWEEN FATAH AND HAMAS REFLECTS A WILL TO LIVE - A PREFERENCE FOR EGYPT, A RELINQUISHMENT OF RELIANCE ON SYRIA, A SEARCH FOR POWER - IS REFUSING TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE CONFLICT WILL NOT END WITHOUT AN AGREEMENT BETWEEN EQUALS.

BY YITZHAK LAOR

Meretz met its demise on January 10, 2009, at the end of the second week of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Only then did the chief supporter of a peace agreement with the Palestinians urge its members to publicly oppose the war, after supporting it because it was a war "against Hamas." At the funeral, its spokesmen at the demonstration stood opposite the Defense Ministry and, instead of speaking against the war, they went into contortions to justify it - and themselves.

Then came the elections, and the voters went to Kadima. If the rationale was "negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and war against Hamas," why not Kadima chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni?

This wasn't the first time a peace movement evaporated during a war. One upon a time, there was an organization called Courage to Refuse, born to great yuppie fanfare. But it disappeared with its support for the Second Lebanon War - the first war to cross the officers' paths after they had finished being interviewed everywhere about their courage to refuse. Courage was something they didn't have, not even the courage to say: "This isn't our war."

Granted, there's a herd instinct at work here, and this instinct can be found everywhere - on the right and on the left, in the East and in the West. Just look at the citizens of the greatest power in the world capering as though they had won some tournament.

But this explanation does not suffice. Every manifestation of the herd instinct has a call-up code, and apparently the Israeli herd's code is not only sad songs on the radio. Another element of this herd consciousness has its source in military thinking: The Palestinians are partners only when they are submissive.

The Oslo agreements were signed when the Palestine Liberation Organization was on the brink of economic and political bankruptcy. Thus the agreement's supporters perceived it as an organization that would come crawling and would even import its forces from Tunis to serve as collaborators and control the "locals." As a result, there was an increase in support for Hamas - which, to put it mildly, is not a likable organization.

The collective wail over the agreement just signed between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority is the code the herd will use when the next uprising erupts. Alas and alack, they are refusing to dance to our tune. Yet the truth is that the Palestinians are refusing to crawl mainly because by crawling, they achieved nothing: They bought their legitimization, at least among certain segments of Israel, at the price of total surrender and relinquishing nearly everything.

The rightist lie to the effect that the Palestinians "only take" and "don't give" is logical according to the school of thought that believes if you repeat a lie enough times, it will eventually come true. Nevertheless, the Palestinians have not received anything. On the contrary: Ever since they began the peace process with Israel, their situation has become much worse - ghettoization, poverty and military oppression without any law restraining their Israeli overlords.

When our leaders, especially those who advocate surrender as a condition for peace - President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak - say it is impossible to reach an agreement with Hamas, they are not only being cynical (as though they had reached an agreement with the PA ), they are also using the tattered slogans of the 1980s. Yet the fact remains: One doesn't make peace either with friends or with slaves. Moreover, the greater the oppression, the more appalling the opponents of that oppression will be, to match the oppression.

Anyone who doesn't understand that the agreement between Fatah and Hamas reflects a will to live - a preference for Egypt, a relinquishment of reliance on Syria, a search for power - is refusing to understand that the conflict will not end without an agreement between equals. The long adventure of incorporating the occupied territories as downtrodden apartheid zones must end, out of recognition that we, too, are weak.

With Egypt, the establishment wanted an agreement from a position of power. The terrible price tag is written in the military graveyards. Colonialism is dead. And wherever it is maintained, traffic jams clog the roads to the memorial ceremonies.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE SEA AND THE MOUNTAIN STATES

CAN A STATE THAT IS DIVIDED INTO TWO PARTS, IN THE MIDST OF WHICH IS ANOTHER STATE, CONTINUE TO EXIST FOR A PROLONGED PERIOD?

BY GIDEON BIGER

It is about to happen. There is pressure in the world to recognize Palestinian independence, and concurrently the Palestinian Authority has signed an agreement with Hamas in Gaza for unity and joint political activity. But apart from the political discussion, there is a geographic question to be asked: Can a state that is divided into two parts, in the midst of which is another state, continue to exist for a prolonged period?

As things stand, we are about to see a new state on the map of the world whose most unique feature will be that it consists of two parts, without territorial contiguity on land or by sea. Beyond all the political differences of opinion, and whether it is good or bad for Israel, the question arises of whether it will be able to survive.

A short survey of similar cases in the past does not leave room for optimism on this issue. In the past century, there were several countries whose different parts were not territorially touching. Following World War I, a German state was created which had one part - Eastern Prussia and the city of Danzig (Gdansk ) - that was non-contiguous with its other parts; access was through a corridor in Polish territory that connected the capital of Warsaw to the sea.

Following World War II, West Germany was created and part of it, West Berlin, was not territorially contiguous with the other parts. When British India broke up, the state of Pakistan was set up on the basis of the Muslim population of the sub-continent. The Pakistani state of 1947 consisted of two parts, east and west, in the middle of which lay India. Between 1948 and 1967, the state of Israel likewise had a territorial enclave, Mount Scopus, that did not have territorial contiguity with other parts of the country.

In all of these cases, mechanisms were put in place to connect the different parts - a safe passage route (Berlin ), special roads or train lines, air routes, convoys (Mt. Scopus ), and so forth.

These mechanisms remained in effect for a short time and eventually broke down, either because of another round of war (the Danzig and Mt. Scopus enclaves ); because of a union between the two parts (Berlin ); or because one of the parts broke away and became independent (Eastern Pakistan, which became Bangladesh ).

Today there is merely one salient example of a state with territory that is non-contiguous: The United States, where Canada cuts between Alaska and its other parts. But it has a safe and free marine passage between the areas and the relations between the U.S. and Canada are such that no special arrangements are needed to pass through.

Additional cases were created when the Soviet Union broke up. In the Caucasus region, there is the area of Nakhchivan, which belongs to Azerbaijan but is separated from it by Armenian territory, and there is no direct or indirect connection between the two parts. Simultaneously, inside Azerbaijan itself is the temporary, unofficial province of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited mainly by Armenians but does not have territorial contiguity to Armenia. A third case is that of the Kaliningrad area, the Russian territory on the shores of the Baltic Sea which is cut off from the rest of Russia.

These unique territories have been in existence for the past 20 years and they have various kinds of access routes to them, but it is still difficult to see how they will continue to exist.

As for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, there has been a great deal of talk about a safe passage route, bridges, tunnels, air connections, supervision of travelers and vehicles, etc., and many people are occupied with this. However, historical experience shows that, even if they existed for a number of years, mechanisms of this kind didn't manage to survive in the end.

It can be argued that one cannot draw conclusions from events of the past for those of the future. However, it seems likely that eventually - both because of the obvious difference between Gaza and Ramallah, and the fact that both territories are linked by being the products of military occupation in 1948 (Egyptian in the Gaza Strip and Jordanian-Iraqi in the West Bank ) without any previous basis for uniqueness - two separate Arab states will be set up in the Land of Israel: A Gazan state that is on the sea and is flat, and which is connected more to Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea; and a mountain state in the West Bank that is connected to Jordan and the east.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

NETANYAHU'S ISRAEL IS FLEEING THE PEACE IT ONCE PURSUED

NETANYAHU WOULD LIKE TO BELIEVE THAT TIME IS ON OUR SIDE. HE DOESN'T UNDERSTAND THAT HIS REJECTIONIST POLICY IS UNDERMINING OUR INDEPENDENCE TO THE POINT OF ENDANGERING OUR EXISTENCE.

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

The ceremony at Mount Herzl that concludes Memorial Day and opens Independence Day is quintessentially Israeli - a special mix of grief and joy, of mourning for the fallen while also celebrating the fact of the state's existence. But even in this ceremony, changes are occurring.

For 57 years, radio personality Amikam Gurevitch read the Yizkor memorial prayer at the ceremony. Last year, Gurevitch was unable to participate, so the Yizkor prayer was read instead by Eli Ben-Shem, chairman of the Yad Lebanim memorial organization for the fallen. Gurevitch used to read the original version written when the Israel Defense Forces were founded, which said, "The people of Israel will remember their sons and daughters." But there is also another version, formulated immediately after the Six-Day War by the chief army chaplain, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, in a burst of messianic enthusiasm. Goren changed one substantive word and wrote, "God will remember His sons and daughters."

For many years, former education minister Zevulun Hammer tried to coerce Gurevitch into reading the Goren version, but Gurevitch stuck to the original, secular, state-oriented version. Last year, however, the organizers exploited Gurevitch's absence to introduce Goren's version into the ceremony. From his resting place in heaven, Hammer is no doubt smiling and saying, "I finally won."

This is not a minor victory. It is indicative of the deep change the state has undergone in its 63 years. From a secular state with a strong government and a weak rabbinate, we have become a state where the rabbis rule and governance is weak. The Yizkor prayer, after all, is meant to remind the people of Israel not to forget those who sacrificed their lives in battle. What does God have to do with this?

But that is not the only change we have undergone. The biggest and most tragic change is the transition from being a nation that pursued peace to a nation that flees it - from a nation that stretched out its hand to its neighbors to a nation that perceives peace as a threat that must be repulsed.

Nine years ago, 24 Arab states came out with an Arab peace initiative. But Israel was so alarmed that it has preferred to ignore it to this very day. Nine years have also elapsed since Syrian President Bashar Assad proposed peace in return for the Golan Heights. His outstretched hand was also rejected with contempt.

This policy of rejecting any attempt at negotiations was invented by Yitzhak Shamir. Whenever such an attempt occurred, he would say: "Nu, good." And when his efforts to reject the initiative bore fruit, he would say with satisfaction: "The threat of peace has been removed."

Benjamin Netanyahu, his diligent pupil, is even more adept than his mentor. He spends most of his time looking for new ideas on how to present himself as someone interested in negotiations, in contrast to the other side, which is torpedoing them. In this way, he can gain another month and another year without moving. Former Labor MK Amir Peretz said of him this week: "He doesn't reject peace, he plays games with it." How right he is.

Until recently, Netanyahu was worried about his upcoming visit to the United States. Perhaps President Barack Obama would announce a new peace initiative, and then what would he do? But now he is calm and happy.

A golden opportunity has fallen into his lap for yet another postponement of the negotiations, because this week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' true face was exposed.

How, asks Netanyahu, does a Palestinian leader dare to sign a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, a terrorist organization? This, after all, is proof that Abbas does not really want peace. This shuts the door to negotiations, the prime minister laments, as he smiles to himself because he has once again succeeded in pulling the wool over our eyes. True, even without any agreement with Hamas, I have yet to sit with Mahmoud Abbas for even one moment in order to discuss the borders of a Palestinian state. But who's counting?

Netanyahu would like to believe that time is on our side. He doesn't understand that his rejectionist policy is undermining our independence to the point of endangering our existence.

The Western world is no longer prepared to accept the occupation. The countries of Europe will recognize a Palestinian state in September, and this will begin the process of imposing an agreement on Israel. International investors are already voting with their feet. They are not prepared to risk their money here. How long can we resist the pressure of the entire world?

After all, South Africa also thought it was strong and independent - until sanctions were imposed on it. The zealots of Masada 2,000 years ago thought they were big heroes as well, until they had no choice but to commit suicide - with complete independence, of course.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

LOOKING BEYOND INCOME GROWTH

HAVE POVERTY REDUCTION AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT KEPT UP WITH INCOME GROWTH? IS GROWTH INCOMPLETE WITHOUT SOCIAL PROGRESS AND GENDER-INCLUSIVENESS?

BY EJAZ GHANI

The geography of poverty and social deprivation has changed dramatically over the last two decades. More than 70 percent of the world's poor now live in middle-income countries. This pattern, likely to continue into the next decade, raises important questions. Have poverty reduction and human development kept up with income growth? Is growth incomplete without social progress and gender-inclusiveness?

Consider South Asia, where the poverty rate fell from 60 percent in 1981 to 40 percent in 2005 - not fast enough, given population growth, to reduce the total number of poor people. In fact, the number of poor people (defined as those living on less than $1.25 per capita per day at 2005 purchasing power parity ) in South Asia increased from 549 million in 1981 to 595 million in 2005, and from 420 million to 455 million in India, where almost three-quarters of the region's poor reside.

In other words, while South Asia's economies have not underperformed on poverty reduction, merely matching global trends may not be enough for the region with the world's largest concentration of poor people.

India has experienced slower income growth than has China, which partly explains its higher poverty rate. But a country's poverty rate also depends on the degree of income inequality, and inequality in China has, in fact, increased more rapidly than in India. So a rising tide really can lift all boats, with growth trumping inequality when it comes to poverty reduction.

Moreover, income growth has contributed to improved education. But educational outcomes in South Asia lag when it comes to secondary and higher education, which are becoming increasingly necessary to thrive in today's world. Nor have health indicators kept up with income growth. South Asia has the world's highest rates of malnutrition and the largest number of undernourished children, who have higher mortality rates, lower cognitive performance, and a greater likelihood of being dropouts. More than 200,000 people in India die annually from malaria, mainly in poor regions.

And, while much of the existing international health-care assistance is focused on sub-Saharan Africa, India, along with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, are just as devastated by neglected tropical diseases. Indeed, India alone accounts for more than one-half of all cases of elephantiasis, leprosy and visceral leishmaniasis.

Over the last 50 years, the most striking forms of inequality, including discrimination against women in access to education, health care, employment, political participation and household resources, have been largely reversed. But dramatic gender inequities persist in South Asia, more so than in other low-income countries.

Although gender parity in primary education has improved, dropout rates for girls are higher than for boys. The dowry tradition puts pressure on girls' families to marry them early, leading to a preference for sons - and thus to sex-specific abortions. Legislation, courts and law-enforcement mechanisms have failed to address the high incidence of violence against women. Death rates for young girls are much higher than for boys.

The expectation that girls will grow up to do little other than serve their husbands reduces parents' incentives to invest in their daughters' education. Uneducated women then have few alternatives, and the expectation becomes self-fulfilling, leaving women in a continuous cycle of powerlessness that has had significant adverse long-term effects. In 2008, India's female labor-force participation rate averaged 35 percent, while low-income countries averaged 58 percent. Moreover, a large proportion of women in the region are employed in the informal sector.

The paradox of South Asia is that growth has been instrumental in reducing poverty and improving social outcomes, but poverty rates and social outcomes have not improved fast enough to reduce the total number of people living in misery. As a result, policy makers should begin to consider direct policy interventions to accelerate social progress, with a particular focus on human development and gender inclusiveness.

In today's uncertain world, social turmoil, gender deprivation and rising conflict have tested countries' abilities to create jobs, promote gender equity, equip young people with skills, and design effective social protection programs. Tackling these challenges requires a clear understanding of how economic opportunities can be broadened.

Greater gender equality can contribute to economic growth and development, and major initiatives to increase opportunities for women can transform society. If more girls had gone to school a generation ago, millions of infant deaths could have been averted each year, and tens of millions of families could have been more educated, healthier and happier.

Deeper social disparities should never be viewed as the inevitable price of rapid growth, and more egalitarian outcomes in education, health and gender should not be considered "second-stage" reforms. A development strategy that promotes growth first - and only then deals with human misery - is not sustainable. Policies designed to make redistribution more efficient need not hamper growth itself.

Ejaz Ghani is economic adviser on South Asia poverty reduction and economic management at the World Bank, and the editor of "The Poor Half-Billion in South Asia - What is Holding Back Lagging Regions?"

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HAARETZ

OPINION

AN ISRAELI PROCESS OF RECONCILIATION

IT IS TIME FOR ISRAEL TO ENGAGE IN THE EXERCISE THAT PALESTINIANS HAVE BEGUN, AND TO ASK WHAT IT IS THAT WE REALLY WANT FOR OURSELVES.

BY DANIEL LEVY

The Palestinian factions have reached a power-sharing deal - albeit a fragile one. Regional developments helped, affecting the calculations of both Fatah and Hamas. The role of post-Mubarak Egypt and its emerging independent regional policy cannot be underestimated. Israel's current government, though, is key to the glue binding Fatah and Hamas together. While the peace process has long been moribund, the Netanyahu government's refusal to indulge in the make-believe of possible progress rendered obsolete even Fatah's well-honed capacity to suspend disbelief.

Yet if the deal is to last, the Palestinian factions will eventually have to address substance: their national goals and the strategies to be pursued in attaining them. A real political dialogue will force both Fatah and Hamas out of their respective comfort zones. Fatah will have to elaborate a post-negotiation and (one imagines ) non-violent plan for freedom, and decide how such a plan co-exists or breaks with existing donor and international relations, including coordination with Israel. Hamas will have to confront the requirements of international law (including abandoning the use of violence against civilians ), and ultimately resolve its own verbal acrobatics regarding a Palestinian state alongside Israel - if a serious deal becomes available.

Not surprisingly, unity is also popular in Israel. Israeli unity that is. Palestinian unity has been met with almost blanket condemnation at the political level. But in reacting to Palestinian developments, we Israelis should first of all be asking what the problem is that we need to address. For the Netanyahu government that major problem, apparently, is Israel's international image and the prospect of pressure being exerted on Israel to advance peace. In the community of nations, Israel's standing has further plummeted under the tutelage of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The intra-Palestinian deal therefore offers a delightful opportunity for Israel to register some big points on the "Who's to blame for no peace?" scorecard and to fend off any such pressure.

Israel's challenge, though, goes way beyond public relations. Israel's challenge is how to adapt, shape and secure its future in this region.

For that reason alone, we would benefit from our own national reconciliation dialogue, one focused on what Israel's aspirations and strategies should look like.

As tectonic plates shift around us, Israel is clinging to an illusion, namely that when and if the Palestinians are ready, Israel will be able and willing to deliver a dignified two-state solution. The truth is less comforting. Currently there is no political path to an Israeli governing majority that could deliver a mutually acceptable two-state outcome. And there is no status quo: Israel's predicament is deteriorating, not stable. It is time for Israel to engage in the exercise that Palestinians have begun, and to ask what it is that we really want for ourselves.

Such a conversation might go in a number of directions.

Perhaps, in an honest dialogue regarding our future, enough of a consensus could be reached to allow for the actual evacuation of at least 100,000 settlers, a withdrawal from the vast majority of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and agreement on a two-state border delineation (with equal land swaps ), even as other outstanding issues and a full end to conflict are left to future state-to-state negotiations.

A second option could be to build on the above, taking it in a more challenging direction - that of a full truth and reconciliation process with the Palestinians, addressing all claims. That would necessitate a difficult preliminary phase of Israeli introspection - are we ready to come to terms with the Nakba, with sharing Jerusalem's holy sites, and with being a fully democratic state, including for our Palestinian citizens?

If significant settler evacuation has become a red line that is impossible for Israel's political realities to cross, and alongside that a two-state solution is still preferred, then a third set of possibilities come into play. Israelis might develop a sufficient consensus that, while being unwilling to uproot fellow citizens, we are still willing to cede sovereignty over the '67 Palestinian territories. One might then enter into a negotiation over the rights and responsibilities of former settlers as residents in Palestine and what Israel would offer in exchange for these arrangements.

Alternately, we could pursue the two-ethnic-states model to its logical conclusion and call for a border that would be a modern-day version of the 1947 partition plan - and probably closer to a 50-50, rather than a 78-22, divide on the percentage of territory. This would be an intellectually honest platform for Lieberman's party.

If Israel cannot remove settlers, cannot engage in a genuine truth and reconciliation process, cannot cede sovereignty on the '67 lines to the Palestinians, or ask the United Nations to re-partition Palestine, then we must be honest and translate the existing one-space reality into a political plan for a one-state democracy - whether on the basis of a federal system, a cantonal system, a binational democracy, or a still more creative formulation. Perhaps just having such a conversation will help generate a governing majority for the more conventional two-state outcome, perhaps not. The more we avoid this conversation, the more we endanger our future in this democratizing region, and the more we entrench a reality of apartheid-by-stealth.

It is doubtful that such a conversation can evolve without an external impetus. It took Egyptian intervention to revive a serious Palestinian national dialogue. Is it too much to suggest that our American ally, apparently politically unable to lead a solution, could at least help lead a conversation?

Daniel Levy directs the Middle East Taskforce at the New America Foundation and is an editor of the Middle East Channel at foreignpolicy.com.

***************************************


HAARETZ

OPINION

TBILISI TIES ARE VITAL

THREE MAJOR INCIDENTS INVOLVING ISRAELIS IN LESS THAN A MONTH HAVE APPARENTLY SCANDALIZED THE GEORGIANS.

BY DANIELLA PELED

Georgians boast that Jews have been part of their society for 26 centuries, and their country still seems a friendly place for Israeli visitors. Hebrew is heard everywhere in Tbilisi, currency exchange shops display Israeli flags, and outside a large restaurant near the immaculately kept 19th-century synagogue, a Hebrew sign promises "kosher meat."

On the other side of the country, in the Black Sea resort of Batumi, hotels offer Hebrew-language television, direct Tel Aviv flights start this month, and casinos welcome Israelis as valued customers.

But it was also in Batumi that two Israeli businessmen were arrested last year, in what was - depending whom you listen to - either a symptom or a cause of deteriorating bilateral relations already wobbly from the fall-out of the 2008 Georgia-Russia war. Rony Fuchs and associate Zeev Frenkiel were convicted of offering the Georgian deputy finance minister a $7-million bribe to convince his government not to appeal an international arbitration award of $98.1 million on a past energy deal.

Despite numerous Israeli efforts, including a call by President Shimon Peres to Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili - asking for leniency, according to the businessmen's families - last month they were sentenced to terms of seven and six-and-a-half years respectively. Shortly after came news that the Israeli defense contractor Elbit was suing Tbilisi for $100 million, followed by revelations that Israeli security firm Global CST had visited the breakaway republic of Abkhazia to deliver "economic" consultancy.

Three major incidents in less than a month apparently scandalized the Georgians. Jerusalem's interventions on behalf of Fuchs and Frenkiel were viewed as a direct insult by Tbilisi, which has made much of recent anti-corruption measures. "It's hard to understand how they thought we could ignore our own laws, just because the businessmen happened to be Israeli," one Georgian diplomat told me.

The supposed debt to Elbit has been staunchly denied, and as for the Abkhazia visit, "How would the Israelis feel if we supplied 'security advice' to the Gaza Strip?" asked another official.

This seems to bode ill for two countries that once enjoyed such close relations. In the 1990s, Israel was among the first to recognize the newly independent Georgia, and private investors began to take an interest in the state, still reeling from civil war. There was military cooperation, too, with Israel helping refurbish Georgia's fleet of Soviet MIG jets, as well as providing army training and equipment. Beyond the economic and sentimental ties - some 120,000 Georgian Jews live in Israel, with a community of around 13,000 remaining back home - Georgia is a strategic ally too. It is relatively close, both geographically and politically, to Iran; located on a crucial energy supply route; and is a useful base for Israel to keep an eye on Islamists in the north Caucasus.

But things have changed since the 2008 war, which left Saakashvili humiliated by the West's refusal to rush to his aid. Russia demanded Israel cease military ties with Georgia, and Jerusalem duly complied. And it could be that the new Georgia's passionate embrace of all things Western has waned a little ever since. Certainly President Barack Obama did not follow his predecessor's initial approach toward Georgia, preferring to prioritize his relationship with Russia.

Georgia's annoyance with Israel might be a way of displaying its proxy frustration with the U.S. Some close to Fuchs and Frenkiel - both impeccably connected businessmen - believe that their prosecution would have been unthinkable pre-2008.

But there is also a wider change of policy which Israel can't ignore, with Tbilisi looking more closely at building connections with regional allies, notably Turkey and Iran. Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze made rather pointed comments last year defending Iran's right, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to develop domestic nuclear power, in what was interpreted as a swipe at non-signatory Israel. And Iran is ever more a valued partner for Tbilisi, not only as a potential investor, but as a source of tourism, a sector Georgia is awarding obsessional importance. Last November, an Iranian consulate opened in Batumi and with visa requirements recently abolished, the seaside town was filled with Iranian families during the spring festival of Nourouz.

It might be rather nice if Israeli and Iranian tourists find themselves side by side on Batumi beaches this summer. But links with Georgia aren't all about tourism. Israel can ill afford to let bilateral relations deteriorate in other fields, not least because its diplomatic and economic ties with other previous allies - Turkey and Egypt come to mind - are increasingly uncertain. Many Georgians see the hand of Russia in Israel's actions, and Russian diplomacy is notorious for its shopping-list approach, with negotiations accompanied by demands for unrelated concessions. It's likely that Georgia has come up in Moscow-Jerusalem discussions.

But this shouldn't be a zero-sum game, and strategic considerations can't be allowed to further widen the gulf between Israel and Georgia. At the very least, last month's apparent tit-for-tat exchanges are an irresponsible display of power.

Tbilisi's links to so many other issues of significance to Jerusalem - Iran, energy, monitoring extremism - means that it is a friendship that remains important, and shouldn't just be measured in the number of bottles of Georgian wine Israeli tourists bring back each year.

Daniella Peled is an editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

***************************************


HAARETZ

OPINION

TBILISI TIES ARE VITAL

THREE MAJOR INCIDENTS INVOLVING ISRAELIS IN LESS THAN A MONTH HAVE APPARENTLY SCANDALIZED THE GEORGIANS.

BY DANIELLA PELED

Georgians boast that Jews have been part of their society for 26 centuries, and their country still seems a friendly place for Israeli visitors. Hebrew is heard everywhere in Tbilisi, currency exchange shops display Israeli flags, and outside a large restaurant near the immaculately kept 19th-century synagogue, a Hebrew sign promises "kosher meat."

On the other side of the country, in the Black Sea resort of Batumi, hotels offer Hebrew-language television, direct Tel Aviv flights start this month, and casinos welcome Israelis as valued customers.

But it was also in Batumi that two Israeli businessmen were arrested last year, in what was - depending whom you listen to - either a symptom or a cause of deteriorating bilateral relations already wobbly from the fall-out of the 2008 Georgia-Russia war. Rony Fuchs and associate Zeev Frenkiel were convicted of offering the Georgian deputy finance minister a $7-million bribe to convince his government not to appeal an international arbitration award of $98.1 million on a past energy deal.

Despite numerous Israeli efforts, including a call by President Shimon Peres to Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili - asking for leniency, according to the businessmen's families - last month they were sentenced to terms of seven and six-and-a-half years respectively. Shortly after came news that the Israeli defense contractor Elbit was suing Tbilisi for $100 million, followed by revelations that Israeli security firm Global CST had visited the breakaway republic of Abkhazia to deliver "economic" consultancy.

Three major incidents in less than a month apparently scandalized the Georgians. Jerusalem's interventions on behalf of Fuchs and Frenkiel were viewed as a direct insult by Tbilisi, which has made much of recent anti-corruption measures. "It's hard to understand how they thought we could ignore our own laws, just because the businessmen happened to be Israeli," one Georgian diplomat told me.

The supposed debt to Elbit has been staunchly denied, and as for the Abkhazia visit, "How would the Israelis feel if we supplied 'security advice' to the Gaza Strip?" asked another official.

This seems to bode ill for two countries that once enjoyed such close relations. In the 1990s, Israel was among the first to recognize the newly independent Georgia, and private investors began to take an interest in the state, still reeling from civil war. There was military cooperation, too, with Israel helping refurbish Georgia's fleet of Soviet MIG jets, as well as providing army training and equipment. Beyond the economic and sentimental ties - some 120,000 Georgian Jews live in Israel, with a community of around 13,000 remaining back home - Georgia is a strategic ally too. It is relatively close, both geographically and politically, to Iran; located on a crucial energy supply route; and is a useful base for Israel to keep an eye on Islamists in the north Caucasus.

But things have changed since the 2008 war, which left Saakashvili humiliated by the West's refusal to rush to his aid. Russia demanded Israel cease military ties with Georgia, and Jerusalem duly complied. And it could be that the new Georgia's passionate embrace of all things Western has waned a little ever since. Certainly President Barack Obama did not follow his predecessor's initial approach toward Georgia, preferring to prioritize his relationship with Russia.

Georgia's annoyance with Israel might be a way of displaying its proxy frustration with the U.S. Some close to Fuchs and Frenkiel - both impeccably connected businessmen - believe that their prosecution would have been unthinkable pre-2008.

But there is also a wider change of policy which Israel can't ignore, with Tbilisi looking more closely at building connections with regional allies, notably Turkey and Iran. Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze made rather pointed comments last year defending Iran's right, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to develop domestic nuclear power, in what was interpreted as a swipe at non-signatory Israel. And Iran is ever more a valued partner for Tbilisi, not only as a potential investor, but as a source of tourism, a sector Georgia is awarding obsessional importance. Last November, an Iranian consulate opened in Batumi and with visa requirements recently abolished, the seaside town was filled with Iranian families during the spring festival of Nourouz.

It might be rather nice if Israeli and Iranian tourists find themselves side by side on Batumi beaches this summer. But links with Georgia aren't all about tourism. Israel can ill afford to let bilateral relations deteriorate in other fields, not least because its diplomatic and economic ties with other previous allies - Turkey and Egypt come to mind - are increasingly uncertain. Many Georgians see the hand of Russia in Israel's actions, and Russian diplomacy is notorious for its shopping-list approach, with negotiations accompanied by demands for unrelated concessions. It's likely that Georgia has come up in Moscow-Jerusalem discussions.

But this shouldn't be a zero-sum game, and strategic considerations can't be allowed to further widen the gulf between Israel and Georgia. At the very least, last month's apparent tit-for-tat exchanges are an irresponsible display of power.

Tbilisi's links to so many other issues of significance to Jerusalem - Iran, energy, monitoring extremism - means that it is a friendship that remains important, and shouldn't just be measured in the number of bottles of Georgian wine Israeli tourists bring back each year.

Daniella Peled is an editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

***************************************


HAARETZ

OPINION

HAMAS' USEFUL IDIOTS

THESE ARE THE SAME PEOPLE WHO CONSIDER ISRAEL-SUPPORTING EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS APOCALYPTIC EXTREMISTS, YET APPLAUD THE LEGITIMIZATION OF RELIGIOUS FASCISTS.

BY JAMES KIRCHICK

The reconciliation pact signed between Fatah and Hamas on Wednesday is a disaster. A disaster for Israelis, who for years have suffered rocket attacks from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and for their government, which waged a war on Hamas in late 2008 and early 2009 and has subsequently tried to weaken the Islamist movement's hold on the Strip via an unpopular blockade. And it's a disaster for the West, which has attempted to isolate Hamas with sanctions while giving billions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank.

But most of all, it is a disaster for the Palestinian people, who have seen their chances of achieving statehood suffer a serious blow.

You wouldn't know this from reading the upbeat reactions of those people outside the region who consider themselves friends of the Palestinian cause. "If the United States and the international community support this effort, they can help Palestinian democracy and establish the basis for a unified Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza that can make a secure peace with Israel," former President Jimmy Carter wrote in The Washington Post on Wednesday.

In that same paper on the same day, Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group suggested that, "Washington should at least refrain from reflexively viewing [a unity government] as a setback and seeking to undo it." Support for this agreement goes back years. In 2009, Peter Beinart wrote in Time magazine that Hamas was nothing less than "U.S. Diplomacy's Final Frontier."

Supporters of Hamas' inclusion in the Palestinian government base their case on the movement's victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections. The West refused to recognize the result because Hamas is a terrorist organization that has yet to accept the Quartet's preconditions for negotiations - namely, renouncing violence and recognizing Israel. None of this mattered to Hamas' useful idiots in the West, however, who have been echoing the organization's grievances since it fought its way to power in the Strip nearly four years ago.

In July 2007, a month after Hamas' violent Gaza coup, prominent unity government advocate Daniel Levy told the Daily Telegraph that, "For any process to have sustainability, legitimacy, and to guarantee security, it will have to be inclusive, not divisive, and to bring in Hamas over time." Levy called Hamas a "bulwark against al Qaeda."

That would surely be news to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who this week earned the dubious distinction of being the most prominent person to denounce Osama bin Laden's killing. "We condemn the assassination ... of an Arab holy warrior," Haniyeh said. "We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs."

Contrast Haniyeh's remorse to the reaction of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - the most honest man in Palestinian politics, deemed a "traitor" by Hamas, and whose remarkable state-building efforts in the West Bank could be destroyed by this unity agreement should he be replaced. He expressed his hope that bin Laden's death would "mark the beginning of the end of a very dark era." Given the ideological solidarity of Al-Qaida and Hamas, Haniyeh's response to the death of bin Laden ought to have come as no surprise.

Most perverse has been the attempt by the unity agreement's Western backers to conflate it with the democratic movements sweeping the Arab world. As soon as rumor of the agreement broke, the Guardian editorialized that, "The Arab spring has finally had an impact on the core issue of the region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Carter deemed the agreement the "Palestinian contribution to the "Arab awakening.'" Earlier this year, on the sidelines of the Al Jazeera Forum, Levy told an interviewer that, "Islamists are going to be part of this democratic tapestry. Deal with it. Put aside your prejudices."

Note that these are the very same people who consider Israel-supporting evangelical Christians apocalyptic extremists, yet applaud the empowerment and legitimization of actual, not imagined, religious fascists.

Hamas is everything that self-professed liberals should be "prejudiced" toward: obscurantist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, warlike and rejectionist. It calls for the death of homosexuals and bans dancing. Its charter beckons Muslims to hunt down Jews from "behind rocks and trees," claims that Muslims "have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad" and, in a prescient use of the rhetoric that has since united the radical Western left and the reactionary Islamic right, accused Jews of "Nazism." It picks fights with Israel that result in the needless deaths of Palestinian civilians. It could end the blockade in Gaza tomorrow if it wanted to, simply by laying down arms, renouncing terrorism and accepting Israel's right to exist - but no amount of Palestinian suffering will ever cause it to do so.

This unity deal breathes new life not only into Palestinian rejectionists but Israeli ones as well. A gift to the Israeli right, a unity government with Hamas will only strengthen the claims of Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas that there is no Palestinian partner for peace and thus no reason for making further concessions. Palestinian unity is indeed a prerequisite for a two-state solution, but it's fair to ask at what price that unity should come. Israelis, the majority of whom have long supported a two-state solution, cannot be expected to make deals with an organization constitutionally bound to the genocide of Jews.

Ever since it won the 2006 election, Hamas' apologists in the West have advocated for the terrorist group's inclusion in a Palestinian government. They have finally achieved their goal. But it will be the people of the region - the Palestinians most of all - who will reap the disastrous consequences of the credulity these useful idiots have sown.

James Kirchick is a contributing editor to The New Republic.

***************************************

 


 

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

EDITORIAL

 

STALLED MISSION IN LIBYA

 

Unless NATO, including the United States, get more serious, Libya's liberation war could turn into a prolonged, bloody stalemate. Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is ruthless, and rebel forces are weak and disorganized. NATO still has the military means to help tip the balance if it can summon the unity and the will.

 

In their latest horror, Qaddafi forces rained shells this week on the rebel-held port area of Misurata, trying to keep international relief vessels from unloading humanitarian supplies. The civilian death toll from the war is already estimated in the thousands, while streams of desperate refugees keep pouring into Tunisia, Egypt and Europe. The alliance needs to get its act together.

 

President Obama was right to hand over this mission to Canadian and European command once the initial American strikes had shattered Libyan air defenses. But crucial momentum was lost in the transition. Coordination with rebel fighters was initially poor, leading to friendly fire disasters. The string of defections from the Qaddafi inner circle came to an end, as government forces dug in.

 

NATO allies, particularly Britain and France, have the high performance fighters that can carry the main burden of the air campaign. But the Pentagon needs to send America's specialized low-flying attack planes, the A-10 and the AC-130, back into action against Libyan Army tanks. These are far more effective at destroying enemy vehicles and avoiding friendly ones.

 

Colonel Qaddafi has left no question about his willingness to murder civilians. Bombing strikes against military command centers, including Qaddafi compounds, are well within the United Nations Security Council's mandate. They need to continue, though innocent Qaddafi family members should not be deliberately targeted.

 

Washington and other capitals need to do more intelligence work to figure out how to peel away more important Libyan players — and what mix of pressures and inducements need to be brought to bear.

 

And NATO needs to start speaking with one clear voice. We were pleased to hear Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, finally declare that Colonel Qaddafi must "immediately step down." But Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany remains on the sidelines. All of the public squabbling has played into Colonel Qaddafi's hands, reinforcing his claims that NATO doesn't have the stomach or the sticking power.

 

Events in Libya pose a more direct threat to Europe than to the United States. Europe relies heavily on Libyan oil and a prolonged crisis will cause serious shortfalls in Italy and other countries. European leaders are already fighting over which country will take Libyan (and Tunisian) refugees, leading panicky French politicians to partially shutter their previously open border with Italy.

 

With no quick resolution in sight, the international community must extend a financial lifeline to beleaguered rebel-held regions. Diplomats from 22 NATO and Arab countries met in Rome on Thursday to consider rebel requests for urgent financial assistance. There are legal obstacles to immediately releasing the roughly $30 billion in frozen Qaddafi regime assets to rebel authorities in Benghazi. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged to expedite that process.

 

At Thursday's meeting, diplomats also said they were creating an international fund to channel humanitarian and financial assistance to rebel areas. The United States, Qatar and Kuwait promised generous contributions. European nations and other affluent Arab countries should do the same, with strict monitoring mechanisms put in place to make sure the aid goes to its intended recipients.

 

***************************************

 


THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

COULD IT HAVE BEEN THE POLLS?

 

All but seven House Republicans voted for a budget plan last month that would eliminate Medicare's guarantee to the elderly. It was always bad policy. But now that the vote has proved to be wildly unpopular, the party is suddenly running in the opposite direction.

 

On Thursday, Dave Camp, a Republican of Michigan and the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he was no longer interested in pushing a plan that could not win support among the Democrats who control the Senate. Speaker John Boehner said Mr. Camp was just being realistic. Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, suggested the proposal would probably not be a part of the debt-limit talks that began Thursday because President Obama "excoriated us" for the Medicare plan.

 

These Republican leaders are trying to make it sound as if they were shocked by the Democratic opposition. In fact, their real surprise was how much bitter resistance the Medicare idea encountered among voters — the ones they claim share their fervent desire to dismantle much of the federal government.

 

For the last two weeks, Republican lawmakers fanned out to town hall meetings across the country to defend their vote, only to face waves of angry constituents. Opinion polls showed the same thing.

 

It's good that Republicans are willing to admit they made a mistake, but they're not doing so because they have suddenly seen Medicare's virtues. The retreat is solely because they know they angered a politically potent electoral group: older Americans, not to mention those who are planning to become old. With Democrats poised to run attack ads on the subject, the Republicans decided that some spending cuts are not worth defending. The record stands, and those ads are still going to run.

 

Will the party also back off cuts it supported to Medicaid, food stamps, Pell grants and Head Start? It should. But we suspect it won't because the low-income beneficiaries of those programs are not their usual supporters and don't vote in the same large numbers. Republicans are happy to cut, as long as they don't anger the wrong people.

 

 ***************************************


THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE POLITICS OF SOLIPSISM

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

The United States, as you know, was founded as a republic, not simply as a democracy. The distinction has been lost over the past few decades, but it is an important one.

 

The believers in a democracy have unlimited faith in the character and judgment of the people and believe that political institutions should be responsive to their desires. The believers in a republic have large but limited faith in the character and judgment of the people and erect institutions and barriers to improve that character and guide that judgment.

 

America's founders were republicans. This was not simply elitism, a matter of some rich men distrusting the masses. This was a belief that ran through society and derived from an understanding of history. As Irving Kristol put it in a brilliant 1974 essay called "Republican Virtue vs. Servile Institutions," "The common man is not a fool, and the proof is that he has such modest faith in himself."

 

The first citizens of this country erected institutions to protect themselves from their own shortcomings. We're familiar with some of them: the system of checks and balances, the Senate, etc. More important, they believed, was public spiritedness — a system of habits and attitudes that would check egotism and self-indulgence.

 

As Kristol points out in the essay, the meaning of the phrase "public spiritedness" has flipped since the 18th century. Now we think a public-spirited person is somebody with passionate opinions about public matters, one who signs petitions and becomes an activist for a cause.

 

In its original sense, it meant the opposite. As Kristol wrote, it meant "curbing one's passions and moderating one's opinions in order to achieve a large consensus that will ensure domestic tranquility." Instead of self-expression, it meant self-restraint. It was best exemplified in the person of George Washington.

 

Over the years, the democratic values have swamped the republican ones. We're now impatient with any institution that stands in the way of the popular will, regarding it as undemocratic and illegitimate. Politicians see it as their duty to serve voters in the way a business serves its customers. The customer is always right.

 

A few things have been lost in this transition. Because we take it as a matter of faith that the people are good, we are no longer alert to arrangements that may corrode the character of the nation. For example, many generations had a moral aversion to debt. They believed that to go into debt was to indulge your basest urges and to surrender your future independence. That aversion has clearly been overcome.

 

We no longer have a leadership class — of the sort that existed as late as the Truman and Eisenhower administrations — that believes that governing means finding an equilibrium between different economic interests and a balance between political factions. Instead, we have the politics of solipsism. The political culture encourages politicians and activists to imagine that the country's problems would be solved if other people's interests and values magically disappeared.

 

The democratic triumph has created a nation that runs up huge debt and is increasingly incapable of finding a balance between competing interests. Today, the country faces three intertwined economic challenges. We have to make the welfare state fiscally sustainable. We have to do it in a way that preserves the economic dynamism in the country — that provides incentives for creative destruction. We also have to do it in a way that preserves social cohesion — that reduces the growing economic and lifestyle gaps between the educated and less educated.

 

These three goals are in tension with one another, but to prosper America has to address all three at the same time.

 

Voters will have to embrace institutional arrangements that restrain their desire to spend on themselves right now. Political leaders will have to find ways to moderate solipsistic tribalism and come up with tax and welfare state reforms that balance economic dynamism and social cohesion.

 

Over the past months, there has been some progress in getting Americans to accept the need for self-restraint. With their various budget approaches, the Simpson-Bowles commission, Paul Ryan and President Obama have sent the message that politics can no longer be about satisfying voters' immediate needs. The public hasn't bought it yet, but progress is being made.

 

There has been less progress in getting political leaders to come up with compromises that balance dynamism and cohesion. Republicans still mostly talk about incentives for growth, and Democrats still mostly talk about economic security. The breakthrough, if there is one, will come from the least directly democratic parts of the government, from the Senate or some commission of Establishment bigwigs. It will be enacted when voters realize we need to build arrangements to protect ourselves from our own weaknesses. It will all depend on reviving the republican virtues upon which the country was founded.

 

LAWRENCE DOWNES

***************************************

 


THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

'BIG STICK 306' AND CHINA'S CONTEMPT FOR THE LAW

 

China's harassment of human rights activists and the lawyers who defend them is well known. But Beijing's contempt for the law doesn't stop there. It is increasingly harassing and jailing lawyers who represent criminal defendants. As a result, many have become too fearful to collect evidence or provide their clients a robust defense.

 

Li Zhuang went on trial last month for allegedly fabricating evidence in support of one of his clients. As Ian Johnson reported in The Times, many in China believe the lawyer was framed for pushing back against corruption. Three days later, prosecutors dropped the charges, likely because the case had drawn so much attention at home and abroad. But Mr. Li remains in prison for a previous conviction on a similar made-up charge and Caixin, a Chinese news Web site, reported that a law firm where Mr. Li worked remains "under criminal investigation."

 

Criminal lawyers in China have long spoken of "Three Difficulties": how hard it is for them to meet with clients, collect evidence about their cases and review the evidence gathered by the prosecution. Now, the phrase is used to describe how risky it is to do the work — period.

 

They point in particular to article 306 of China's Criminal Law — "Big Stick 306" — that they say gives prosecutors unlimited power to intimidate lawyers and derail defenses. Any defense lawyer accused of fabricating evidence or inducing a witness to change his testimony, as Mr. Li was, can be immediately detained, arrested and prosecuted for perjury. Although the majority of lawyers prosecuted have been acquitted, the long, demeaning process of investigation is severe punishment.

 

Sida Liu and Terence Halliday, who study the Chinese legal system, estimate hundreds of defense lawyers have been prosecuted under "Big Stick 306." They say it is why "the vast majority of Chinese lawyers do not collect their own evidence in criminal cases."

 

If lawyers don't gather evidence to defend clients, they lack a critical tool for making sure the state applies its power fairly. China can make no claim to seriousness about the rule of law until it guarantees the rights of lawyers to do their job.

 

***************************************


THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

FEARS AND FAILURE

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

From G.D.P. to private-sector payrolls, from business surveys to new claims for unemployment insurance, key economic indicators suggest that the recovery may be sputtering.

 

And it wasn't much of a recovery to start with. Employment has risen from its low point, but it has grown no faster than the adult population. And the plight of the unemployed continues to worsen: more than six million Americans have been out of work for six months or longer, and more than four million have been jobless for more than a year.

 

It would be nice if someone in Washington actually cared.

 

It's not as if our political class is feeling complacent. On the contrary, D.C. economic discourse is saturated with fear: fear of a debt crisis, of runaway inflation, of a disastrous plunge in the dollar. Scare stories are very much on politicians' minds.

 

Yet none of these scare stories reflect anything that is actually happening, or is likely to happen. And while the threats are imaginary, fear of these imaginary threats has real consequences: an absence of any action to deal with the real crisis, the suffering now being experienced by millions of jobless Americans and their families.

 

What does Washington currently fear? Topping the list is fear that budget deficits will cause a fiscal crisis any day now. In fact, a number of people — like Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairmen of President Obama's debt commission — have settled on a specific time frame: terrible things will happen within two years unless we make drastic spending cuts.

 

I have no idea where that two-year deadline comes from. After all, what we do in the next couple of years hardly matters at all for U.S. solvency, which mainly depends on what we'll do in the long run about Medicare and taxes. And, for what it's worth, actual investors — people putting real money on the line — are notably unworried about any near-term fiscal crisis: the Treasury Department continues to have no trouble selling debt and remains able to borrow very cheaply, indicating high confidence on the part of investors that debts will be repaid in full.

 

Do the scare-mongers even believe their own stories? Maybe not. As Jonathan Chait of The New Republic notes, the politicians most given to apocalyptic rhetoric about the deficit are also utterly opposed to any tax increase; they argue that debt is destroying America, but they'd rather let that happen than accept even a dime of higher taxes. Yet the inconsistency and probable insincerity of their fear-mongering hasn't stopped it from having a huge effect on policy debate.

 

The deficit isn't the only unfounded fear. I've written before about misguided inflation fear, but, for now, let me focus on a new issue that has suddenly begun to loom large in opinion pieces and remarks on talk shows: fear of a disastrous plunge in the dollar. (Who sends out the memos telling people what to worry about, and why don't I get them?)

 

What you would never know from all the agitated dollar discussion is that the recent dollar slide is actually tiny compared with big drops in the past, notably under the administration of George W. Bush and during Ronald Reagan's second term. And you'd also never know that those earlier dollar slides, far from hurting the economy, were beneficial, because they helped U.S. manufacturing compete on world markets.

 

Which brings me back to the destructive effect of focusing on invisible monsters. For the clear and present danger to the American economy isn't what some people imagine might happen one of these days, it's what is actually happening now.

 

Unemployment isn't just blighting the lives of millions, it's undermining America's future. The longer this goes on, the more workers will find it impossible ever to return to employment, the more young people will find their prospects destroyed because they can't find a decent starting job. It may not create excited chatter on cable TV, but the unemployment crisis is real, and it's eating away at our society.

 

Yet any action to help the unemployed is vetoed by the fear-mongers. Should we spend modest sums on job creation? No way, say the deficit hawks, who threaten us with the purely hypothetical wrath of financial markets, and, in fact, demand that we slash spending now now now — which might well send us back into recession. Should the Federal Reserve do more to promote expansion? No, say the inflation and dollar hawks, who have been wrong again and again but insist that this time their dire warnings about runaway prices and a plunging dollar really will be vindicated.

 

So we're paying a heavy price for Washington's obsession with phantom menaces. By looking for trouble in all the wrong places, our political class is preventing us from dealing with the real crisis: the millions of American men and women who can't find work.

 

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE QUIET AT GROUND ZERO

 

President Obama made no speech as he placed a wreath of red, white and blue flowers at ground zero on Thursday. His silence was the best way to honor the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. No words were needed to remind Americans of our continuing pain.

 

The closest Mr. Obama came to mentioning this week's killing of Osama bin Laden was at a lunch cooked by the firefighters of Engine Company 54, Ladder Company 4 and Battalion 9, the station that lost 15 members on 9/11. "When we say we will never forget, we mean what we say."

 

The sky above was deep blue when Mr. Obama stepped forth later at ground zero and bowed his head. Before privately visiting families of the victims, Mr. Obama paid his open-air respects to the nearly 3,000 who perished. He stood near what is now called the Survivor Tree — a gnarled, scalded callery pear tree found in the wreckage. It was nursed back to flourish at the heart of what will be the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

 

Crowds were kept well away on surrounding sidewalks, offering their own silence beyond sight of the president. A dozen construction cranes were stilled above acres of work in progress as ground zero slowly comes back from the ashen wound it was on Sept. 11.

 

One World Trade Center, stood barely halfway up to its 1,776 feet, but its mirror-finish skin reflected promisingly across the scene. "It's not joyful, but we persevere," one man in the crowd declared of the occasion. He echoed the tone of President Obama before police responders from 9/11: "We did what we said we were going to do."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

A SMOKING BAN TOO FAR

BY MICHAEL B. SIEGEL

 

NEW YORK CITY'S ban on smoking in its parks and on its beaches won't go into effect until May 23, but notices about the rule are already appearing on benches and lampposts around town.

 

The City Council passed the ban on the principle that a nonsmoker shouldn't have to inhale even a tiny amount of secondhand smoke, whether in a bar or a Central Park meadow. But while there is a strong public-health case for banning smoking indoors, the case for banning it outdoors is much weaker — particularly when it runs the risk of a backlash that could undermine the basic goals of the antismoking movement.

 

For 25 years I have testified before court proceedings, city council meetings and Congressional hearings in support of smoking bans in workplaces, including restaurants, bars and casinos. I base my position on the scientific evidence demonstrating that chronic exposure to secondhand smoke — the sort of levels you'd experience working in a smoky bar or restaurant — significantly increases the risk of respiratory disease, heart disease and lung cancer.

 

Inevitably, smoking-ban opponents ask me, "What's next, banning smoking outdoors?" My answer has always been no: not only can people move around and thus avoid intense exposure, but smoke quickly disperses in the open air.

 

True, there is evidence that being near someone smoking, even outdoors, can result in significant secondhand smoke exposure. Researchers at Stanford found that levels of tobacco smoke within three feet of a smoker outside are comparable to inside levels. But no evidence demonstrates that the duration of outdoor exposure — in places where people can move freely about — is long enough to cause substantial health damage.

 

But that hasn't stopped many opponents of smoking. Citing new research, they have argued that even transient exposure to tobacco smoke can cause severe health effects like heart disease and lung cancer. For example, last year the surgeon general's office claimed that "even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease and could trigger acute cardiac events, such as heart attack," and that "inhaling even the smallest amount of tobacco smoke can also damage your DNA, which can lead to cancer."

 

However, the surgeon general's statement conflates the temporary negative effects of secondhand smoke on the circulatory system, which have been shown to occur with short-term exposure, with heart disease, a process that requires repeated exposure and recurring damage to the coronary arteries. It also conflates one-time DNA damage, which occurs with any carcinogenic exposure, with cancer risk, which likewise generally requires repeated exposure.

 

Moreover, bans like New York's may actually increase exposure by creating smoke-filled areas near park entrances that cannot be avoided.

 

To make matters worse, in trying to convince people that even transient exposure to secondhand smoke is a potentially deadly hazard, smoking opponents risk losing scientific credibility. The antismoking movement has always fought with science on its side, but New York's ban on outdoor smoking seems to fulfill its opponents' charge that the movement is being driven instead by an unthinking hatred of tobacco smoke.

 

 

That, in turn, could jeopardize more important fronts in the antismoking fight, in particular the 21 states that still allow smoking in bars and restaurants.

 

A ban on outdoor smoking may provide a symbolic victory. But from a public health perspective, it's pointless. Instead, antismoking organizations should focus on extending workplace protections, already enjoyed by millions of New Yorkers, to the 100 million Americans still denied the right to work without having to breathe in secondhand smoke.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

PREVENTING THE NEXT FLASH CRASH

BY EDWARD E. KAUFMAN JR. AND CARL M. LEVIN

 

ONE year ago, the stock market took a brief and terrifying nose-dive. Almost a trillion dollars in wealth momentarily vanished. Shares in blue-chip companies were traded at absurdly low prices. High-frequency traders, who use computers to look for microscopic price differences in stocks on different exchanges and other trading venues, stopped trading, while others immediately sold whatever they bought, mainly to each other, in what has been called "hot potato" trading.

 

We haven't had a repeat of last year's "flash crash," but algorithmic trading has caused mini-flash crashes since, and surveys suggest that most investors and analysts believe it's only a matter of time before the Big One.

 

They're right to be afraid. The top cop for our financial markets remains inexcusably blind to the activities of high-speed computer trading. 

 

After the flash crash, the Securities and Exchange Commission moved quickly to apply a Band-Aid in the form of circuit breakers to limit daily price moves.  Then it proposed a long-overdue consolidated audit trail, to plug the gaps in reporting requirements that prevent the efficient tracking and policing of orders and trades. It spent months painstakingly using antiquated methods to reconstruct and study the trading data during the flash crash. With the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, it convened a joint advisory committee, which presented an array of recommendations in February. And it continued to dither. 

 

The consequences of inaction are dire. If the average investor comes to believe stocks are valued not on the basis of a company's expected future earnings but on the machinations of computers trading against other computers for speed and advantage, our stock markets will have become a casino.

 

The explosion in computer-based trading has occurred over the past decade as the S.E.C. adopted rules that allowed dozens of new trading venues to compete for stock orders and accelerated the move toward high-frequency trading, which now accounts for 70 percent of daily stock-trading volume.

 

While competition has lowered trading costs and in some cases improved efficiency, the result has been a confusing amalgam of more than 50 electronic trading networks, some of which are designed to hide large block trades, and traditional exchanges, which are governed by outmoded regulations that do not require full transparency. High-frequency traders navigate this maze with ever more sophisticated technology — and armies of computer and math specialists — to find and exploit slight price variations.

 

Yes, both volume and volatility in the equity markets have been declining in recent months, but the centrality of high-frequency trading has not diminished. Moreover, high-frequency traders have gone beyond trading stocks to futures, options, bonds, currencies and other asset classes — and are making incursions in foreign markets. The next flash crash could be more pervasive than last year's, as global asset markets become increasingly correlated through the convergence of computer-driven trading strategies.

 

Why hasn't the S.E.C. acted?  Defenders would say that Congressionally imposed deadlines for instituting the Dodd-Frank overhaul of financial regulations have overwhelmed the commission and forced it to put changes to the equity markets on the back burner. 

 

 

But the paralysis at the S.E.C. runs much deeper.  It's been 20 years since Congress gave it the authority to require large-volume traders to make more detailed disclosures; 18 months since the commission's chairman, Mary L. Schapiro, said it would use that authority; 13 months since the agency proposed a rule to do so; and three months since the advisory committee recommended proceeding with "urgency" on the audit trail.  

 

Meanwhile, even Ms. Schapiro has publicly expressed worry that our markets no longer adequately perform their main functions: helping companies to raise capital to innovate and grow and helping long-term investors to contribute to the American economy while building a retirement nest egg. Mutual fund outflows continued unabated after the flash crash through the end of 2010, an indication that ordinary investors are fleeing the market.

 

In response, the S.E.C. should work with the C.F.T.C. to establish the audit trail, which would allow real-time monitoring of electronic trading; stop trading venues from catering unfairly to high-speed traders at the expense of regular investors; make high-frequency traders bear their fair share of the costs involved in heavy, instantaneous flow of electronic messages, which would discourage strategies to stuff the system with orders that are immediately canceled; and rethink rules that give too much priority to the rapid-fire orders that high-frequency traders rely upon.

 

More is at stake than the confidence of small investors. A survey by the consulting firm Grant Thornton shows that initial public offerings by small companies have declined over the past 15 years. The profits to be made in supporting small-cap stocks have dried up as Wall Street has focused obsessively on leverage and high-volume trading.

 

One promising idea being floated is an experimental market, with rules tailored to support the capitalization of the fastest-growing companies, many of them start-ups that are drivers of job creation.

 

America's capital markets, once the envy of the world, have been transformed in the name of competition that was said to benefit investors. Instead, this has produced an almost lawless high-speed maze where prices can spiral out of control, spooking average investors and start-up entrepreneurs alike. 

 

The flash crash should have sounded an alarm. Unfortunately, the regulators are still asleep.

 

Edward E. Kaufman Jr. was a Democratic senator from Delaware from 2009 to 2010. Carl M. Levin, a Democratic senator from Michigan, is the chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

DANGEROUS ESCALATION IN TURKISH POLITICS

MURAT YETKİN

The attack Wednesday on the election convoy of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan marked an escalation in Turkish politics on the road to the June 12 parliamentary elections.

Erdoğan was not on the election bus when six gunmen attacked the convoy's police escort as it traveled between the northern cities of Kastamonu and Amasya; he had left Kastamonu by helicopter in order to be able to deliver his second speech on the same day. The gunmen managed to escape into the Ilgaz Mountain forest after a clash with the prime minister's bodyguards that lasted nearly half an hour.

On Thursday the governor of Kastamonu said the attackers belonged to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

The PKK is active in the predominantly Kurdish-populated Southeast of Turkey. But this is the second time in a month that the militants have attacked official targets in the Black Sea region, which has almost no Kurdish population, as if to say that they can now hit in every corner of Turkey, any time they choose.

Right before this attack, the imprisoned-for-life leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, had told his followers through lawyers that the government might be abusing its secret contacts with him in order to play for time on the Kurdish problem. In addition, there were seven militants killed in the eastern stronghold of Tunceli in a clash with security forces. At the funeral for four of them in Diyarbakır, a policeman was stabbed by the angry crowd and ended up in a coma, hours before the Kastamonu attack.

The Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, which shares the same grassroots as the PKK, is now considering withdrawing its support from the regional candidates who are entering the elections as "independents" in order to bypass the 10 percent election threshold.

If they do so, such a boycott will jeopardize election security, especially in the country's East and Southeast, and also cast doubts over the election results.

Observers already started to speculate on the Diyabakır stop of Erdoğan's campaign.

The prime minister has a new constitution in mind right after the election, with a presidential system in focus, but other facts of Turkish politics such as the Kurdish issue may not let him make his moves smoothly.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE HOLY WARRIOR AND UNCLE JULE

BURAK BEKDİL

There is something wrong in the equation:

Hamas is the darling of Turkey' Islamist rulers, and according to Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, Hamas "condemns the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior, Osama bin Laden," whose skilful operatives had once bombed Istanbul, killing mostly Muslim Turks.

When combined into one compact idea, the picture is telling us that: 

The Turkish government views as a great friend, an entity, which views the boss of Istanbul's bombers as a holy warrior.

Bizarre? It just happens among holy warriors.

It is similarly bizarre former press advisor to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and current columnist for the daily Radikal, Akif Beki, thinks the detainee, who allegedly disclosed the whereabouts of Mr. bin Laden, to be a "traitor."

It is complex to understand the shy solidarity Turkey's official ideology exhibits in favor of Islamic terrorists who bombed their own jewel of a city. Scratch the shyness, and underneath a glitter of stealth jihadism will shine through, like a newly polished Kalashnikov. So, some Turks think the man who helped the killing of a terrorist who ordered the bombings in Istanbul in 2003 is a traitor? Funny seems to be too innocent of a word.

But why, really, would someone side with a terrorist of foreign nationality who had targeted his own country? The answer is in the holy books and the holy causes they have inspired. How, otherwise, could Mr. bin Laden have been viewed by many as an anti-imperialist hero? Were the more than 50 Muslim Turks killed in the Istanbul bombings bloody imperialists? Or just casualties in a holy war fought against the Satan?

Several contributors connecting to express their opinions at a radio broadcast aired on news station NTV on Tuesday, a program titled "The People's Voice," reflected similar views. "This is not how you fight terrorism," one voice said. "The only way to fight global terrorism is the annihilation of Israel." He and others probably think it was Israeli commandoes disguised as jihadists who bombed banks and synagogues in Istanbul, killing Turkish citizens.

In the same program, another contributor suggested al-Qaeda was a Jewish plot as it never targeted Israel. I switched off the radio before someone suggested al-Qaeda was a Jewish terror organization as evinced by the fact that more than 95 percent of its victims were Muslims.

These days, it is highly popular among the Turkish pundits to discuss Mr. bin Laden's central theme, "the suffering and humiliation of Muslims in the hands of non-Muslims." Precisely for the same reason why the bombs exploding in the heart of Istanbul were in fact an "anti-imperialist war" and the dead mere "unfortunate casualties," the suffering and humiliation of hundreds of millions of Muslims at Muslim hands is a non issue.

But jihad is seldom rational. Take, for instance, the story of Juliano Mer-Khamis, an Arab Jew, actor and activist, an anti-Zionist who set up Freedom Theater, an acting school in Palestinian territories, or a camp, described by the Economist as "a seeding ground for a brand new and liberated Palestinian identity." He had co founded his theatre with Zacharia Zubeidi, once the military head of the al-Aqsa Brigades.

"Though Jewish extremists saw him as an Arab, in Jenin of the West Bank, he was 'Uncle Jule,' the good Jew, frustratingly pigeonholed as a philanthropist," the Economist wrote of Mer-Khamis. "He felt he was alien being before an Israeli audience, and considered Israeli society as 'pathological." Certainly not your typical Zionist Jew.

On Apr. 4, Mer-Khamis was killed outside his theatre, shot five times by a man who, according to the Economist, apparently had links to Hamas. He had not left the camp before, although his theatre had twice been firebombed and flyers had been sent to him, warning of bullets if he stayed.

Mourning the "Arab holy warrior" and killing "Uncle Jule" sums it up. Did anyone say this is an anti-imperialist war against Zionists? Good luck.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TURKEY CHANGES TACK ON LIBYA

SEMİH İDİZ

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan realigned Turkey's Libya policy earlier this week in favor of the Transitional National Council, or TNC, in Benghazi, prior to Thursday's international talks on the situation in Libya in Rome. Erdoğan, in harsh remarks aimed at Moammar Gadhafi, effectively placed Turkey on the side of the rebels after weeks of trying to sit on the fence between the two sides. It was noteworthy that Erdoğan's remarks also came just days after Ankara decided to close its embassy in Tripoli and evacuate its staff.

Talking at a press briefing specifically designed to take up the Libya issue - and after which he did not take any questions from the media - Erdoğan openly called on Gadhafi to not only quit but to also leave Libya.

"We called on Gadhafi from the start to leave the administration telling him this is the only way that peace and stability could be established. We said that the transition to a constitutional democracy requires the Gadhafi regime to go. A new period has started in Libya's history. We are at the point where there is no room left for words."

Calling on his "Libyan brothers" in the TNC, Erdoğan also tried to reassure them that Turkey would be cooperating with the international community in order for freedom, justice and democracy to be established in their country.

Also recalling the anti-Turkish demonstrations in Benghazi – where many criticized what they saw as Ankara's pro-Gadhafi stance – Erdoğan also indicated that those demonstrators had been misguided by outside powers, who he said - in loaded remarks - "are known to us."

While it is possible to criticize Mr. Erdoğan for the almost 180 degree turn he has made on Libya over the past few months – and we have done so in this column - the fact is we are where we are, and Turkey has made its anti-Gadhafi and pro-TNC position known now.

It is clear that this is significant for the region, as well as the powers involved in Libya, since Erdoğan's words were not only widely covered by the international media but also given live on Al Jazeera, which has become the supreme network on issues relating to the Middle East and the Islamic world.

Put another way, regardless of how Ankara may have wavered initially it is still considered a potential key player in the Middle East whose position on specific regional issues is important. As an aside here it must also be pointed out that Erdoğan had harsh words for the Syrian leadership too, even though he did not name any names during his Libya statement.

"I find it necessary to repeat my warning to countries in the region. Equality, justice and democracy are not the right of some countries but of every nation. We do not want new Hamas', Humus' and Bosnia's (…) We will continue to defend the rights of the oppressed and never make any concessions in this regard."

The perceptive reader will have picked up the meaning of his reference to "Hama" and Humus here. There can also be no doubt that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad picked up on this part of Erdoğan's message. At any rate Ankara is now telling Damascus, though these remarks of Erdoğan's, that Turkey's support is not unconditional and limitless.

This is generally speaking a positive shift on the part of Ankara and one that is more in tune with its traditional Western allies. It also shows that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, administration has started to acknowledge existing realities in the region and is realigning its policies accordingly.

Given the turmoil in the region, and the fact that it looks unlikely that things will settle down for a number of years at least, it is clear that Turkey is now trying to regain some of the regional influence it lost due to not being able to read developments properly.

We have mentioned it in this column before but it is worth remembering again that Turkey's vision for the Middle East was predicated on cooperation with the status quo there. In other words the idea was that these countries, with Turkey's help, would "evolve" over time into more democratic societies.

Never was it expected that revolution would break out across the whole region shattering everyone's plans and expectations. This means that Ankara will have to establish new bridges now and Erdoğan's change of tack is a first, yet significant step, in this direction.

It is also noteworthy that Erdoğan's advice to regional leaders in his Libya remarks had no Islamic overtones. He did not use any religious imagery or metaphors the way he did in his statements directed at Hosni Mubarak at the time. Erdoğan's emphasis instead, was on freedom, justice and democracy.

We believe that in time he will also have to start stressing secularism, since this not only completes the notion of democracy, but is seen to be increasingly necessary in a part of the world that is getting ripe for sectarian strife, mainly along the Sunni-Shiite fault line. This is a fact that worries Arab diplomats in Ankara too.

A secular constitution is the only way that regimes can stay equidistant to all denominations and sects, including lack of any denomination or religious beliefs, thus protecting everyone's beliefs. The AKP of course has a reluctance to stress the importance of secularism, given the Jacobin way this has been implemented in Turkey in the past. But it has to get rid of this complex if it is to be as influential in the region as it desires.

The bottom line, however, is that a Turkey that is actively promoting democracy, justice, freedom and secularism in the region is a Turkey that will regain the regional influence it has lost over these past months of wavering in the face of developments.

There is of course a missing link here for Ankara and that is relations with Israel. These will have to also be improved if Turkey's is to ultimately have real influence in the Middle East peace process, which is a key issue if the region is ever to gain stability.

Ankara has started to act in line with regional realities, even if it took time for it to get there. It is now up to Israel to do the same. This is also a "sine qua non" for Israel in the face of developments that are clearly out of its control too.

Statements coming out of that country at the present time do not portend well in this regard, reflecting as they do more of a panic over what is happening, rather than an effort to try and understand the dynamics in force. This is particularly evident Israel's its position on the Hamas – Al Fatah reconciliation, which has generally been welcomed around the world.

Any Israeli retort in this regard involving Turkey and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, is also not valid since Turkey's problem with Kurdish terrorism does not have the potential of starting a global conflict as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has.

At the end of the day Israel – as the lonely and odd man out – like Turkey, has little choice ultimately to accept the emerging situation. How long it will take for it to do this and for it and Turkey to overcome their current mutual animosity is not clear, of course.

What is clear, however, is that the sooner this happens the better it will be for everyone, including Israel. Anyone following these matters closely will also know that this is the belief in many Western capitals too, including Washington, of course.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

OBSESSED POLITICS FOR ABSOLUTE DICTATORSHIP

YUSUF KANLI

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and development Party, or AKP, appears to be determined to exploit everything and everyone available, and not available, in order to acquire sufficient parliamentary strength to enable them to undertake constitutional reforms in the new legislature single handedly without feeling the slightest need of compromising or seeking reconciliation with the other parties and transform Turkey into a presidential system of governance.

There is of course nothing abnormal in a political team having political designs, ambitions or targets to be attained. Indeed, that is why in democracies there are different parties, ideologies, programs or priorities.

There is no rule either that a political party should set itself some achievable targets, or some reasonable aims. There is nothing abnormal in pledging to construct a canal in Istanbul and place aside the gigantic financing difficulties such a project might land the country in, or the lunacy of expecting oil tankers and other commercial traffic to use the canal and pay a fee while the Bosporus is a free waterway under the Montreux Treaty. There is the option of ignoring the restrictions in the Montreux Treaty but indeed that cannot be done in the absence of agreement of all parties to it to renegotiate the treaty regulating free passage through the Turkish Straits in exchange for restoring Turkish sovereignty over them.

If the name of the game is Machiavellian opportunism there is nothing wrong perhaps in the hope of wooing the nationalist vote and pushing down the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, below the 10 percent national electoral threshold, and thus hoping to win over 50 percent of the vote, declaring the country has no Kurdish problem but Kurds have some problems. Was it not this AKP government and Erdoğan himself who launched the so-called Kurdish opening, or was it the "National unity and togetherness project" or something like that? Was it not the AKP government and Erdoğan who first declared that talking with the imprisoned chieftain of the separatist gang would be ignominious but later, just for the sake of achieving some progress in the "non-existent" Kurdish problem, conceded that it was the duty of the state and governments to talk or engage in negotiations with everyone if such contacts would solve some important problems?

Anyhow, the premier is out to win hearts and minds of some nationalists and now he has started saying that there is no Kurdish problem.

The ambition or target of AKP and Erdoğan is plain clear: Exploitation of everything just for the sake of winning over 50 percent or to put it more plainly getting at least 330 seats, preferably over 367 seats and having the power of legislating a new constitution, long written by the constitutional experts of the AKP headed by Burhan Kuzu and Professor Ergun Özbudun singlehandedly and introducing presidential governance, and perhaps a federal Turkey instead of the current unitary state with parliamentary democracy.

Erdoğan, whose election campaign convoy was unfortunately attacked by some terrorists Wednesday afternoon and a policeman murdered, like former premier Adnan Menderes – who was hanged after the 1960 coup after a mock trial – and late President Turgut Özal, who survived an assassination attempt and whose 1993 death is believed by many might be an assassination – has been stressing that he entered politics with his burial shroud ready. As frightening as such a statement, the prime minister even exploited the attack on the police car in his campaign convoy as a probable suicidal attack and reiterated his preparedness to die for the country.

The language the prime minister has started using in campaign speeches is full of rhetoric, enmity and incitement to lawlessness as well. For example, for the prime minister there is nothing abnormal in wiretapping telephone conversations, circumstantial listening, secretly following the private life of political opponents and the exposing the acts and attitudes of opponents that might not conform with the ethical or moral values of the society and thus forcing political opponents to step down from their positions or quit politics all together. Why? Because, for the prime minister, a politician's only private life is in his bedroom with his wife. What a mentality!

Or, exploiting a "The God of corruption is in Ankara" statement or something like that by the main opposition leader, which is an allegorical statement very much used in collegial Turkish to mean the biggest or most extreme of an odd thing, as a demonstration of a polytheist mentality incompatible with the norms of a predominantly Muslim society, thus the politician who used such an expression must abandon party chairmanship, testify to the fact that the premier sees no limit in his obsession to win a parliamentary majority that will carry himself to an even stringent "absolute ruler" status in the post June 12 Turkey.

Turkey is living through some bitter examples of obsessed politics aimed at achieving an absolute dictatorship.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

GONE IS BIN LADEN, THE ENEMY OF THE REPUBLIC

SİNAN ÜLGEN

In light of the extensive coverage of these last few days, there is no strong need for underscoring yet another time the significance of the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Special Forces in Pakistan. However, it is necessary to think about the longer term consequences for Turkey of this watershed event in the fight against terror.

After the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden sent a tape to Al-Jazeera, which had just started its life in the world of broadcasting. In this recording, the leader of al-Qaeda took responsibility for the attack and affirmed his aim to end nearly 80 years of the humiliation of Islam. Bin Laden was not referring to the widespread hostility towards the United States or Israel. He was actually making a reference to the abolition of the caliphate by Atatürk and the young Turkish Republic. He was declaring he would eliminate this decades-long feeling of humiliation shared by radical believers of Islam, through terror against the West and the Westernized countries like Turkey. It was thus not a coincidence Istanbul was selected as a target by al-Qaeda in later years. Al-Qaeda was also at war with the secularism of Turkey. From this perspective, the killing of bin Laden would also be a turning point in the fight against the al-Qaeda terror in Turkey.

The new constants in foreign policy

However the elimination of bin Laden could be a beginning of a new and more challenging period for Turkey's foreign policy and its relations with the U.S. In the context of the Turkish-American relationship, Ankara's support to Washington in Iraq and in Afghanistan was critical. Even in the aggravated circumstances between the two countries which reached a peak last year following Turkey's no vote at the United Nations Security Council for strengthened sanctions on Iran, this mutual interdependence made possible a more nuanced U.S. reaction. In other words, the cooperation between Ankara and Washington in Iraq and in Afghanistan constituted a visible and solid pillar of the bilateral relations allowing the parties to overcome their occasional crisis of confidence.

This important feature of bilateral relations is about to vanish. The U.S. will withdraw its troops from Iraq within the year. After that, the significance of the support, which Turkey provided or will provide to the U.S., will not be as important as in the past. Turkey is therefore set loose from this significant point of leverage in its bilateral relations with the U.S.

A similar process is also under way for Afghanistan. The U.S. President Obama declared the U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2014. The death of bin Laden dissipated the lingering doubts about whether this agenda could actually be implemented. Obama will now be able to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan with complacency without facing undue criticisms in domestic politics. As a result, the Afghan card would no longer be relevant in Turkey's relations with the U.S.

Moreover, a similar decision was also adopted by NATO. NATO soldiers will not be in this troubled region after 2014. Turkey reluctantly agreed with this Alliance decision. However, Turkey's policy in Afghanistan is different from all other NATO countries. At NATO's Lisbon Summit last year, President Abdullah Gül said Turkey's responsibility to Afghanistan is open-ended. Turkey would remain in this country as long as the Afghan people so desire. For instance, while other countries have begun to prepare their exit strategy, Turkey established a new provincial reconstruction team in Cevizcan in addition to the existing one in Mezar-ı Sherif. In these conditions, Turkey can find itself as the only foreign actor in this unstable country post 2014. The risk for Ankara would then be to confront the instability of Afghanistan without the protective umbrella of the international community.

In conclusion, it is important to have a long term look at the death of Osama bin Laden. This event, which is rightly perceived as a significant success in the fight against terror in the short run, will inevitably lead to fundamental changes in Turkish foreign policy in terms of Turkey's bilateral relations with the U.S. and its presence in Afghanistan. Going forward, the anchoring role that Iraq and Afghanistan played for the Turkish-American relationship can possibly be overtaken by a strengthened cooperation in the Arab Middle East.

*Sinan Ülgen is the chairman of the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, or EDAM, and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WHY IS AZERBAIJAN POSTPONING THE VISA ISSUE?

GÖKNUR AKÇADAĞ

The first news I saw in the Azeri press concerning the abolishment of the visa regime between Turkey and Azerbaijan was published in November 2009. Referring to a statement from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the news article said the final decision to abolish it would be made during a visit to Turkey by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.

In addition, deputy Nizami Caferov recalled that Turkey had taken the initiative on the issue in 2007, but Azerbaijan had not yet made a decision.

"There must be some reasons why Azerbaijan has delayed making a decision on this issue," Caferov was quoted as saying at the time.

In the 2007 EU progress report on the state of Turkey's accession to the European Union, Turkey was criticized for abolishing the visa regime for Turkic countries.

This agreement has not been realized, although the parties agreed to terms to abolish visa requirements during Mammadyarov's visit to Turkey. Mammadyarov says there were some bureaucratic impediments. But in these cases, the protocols may be signed regardless and a deadline may be given to abolish the impediments. It is a pity they could not get to this point. What sorts of economic and political reasons may be preventing Azerbaijan from abolishing the visa regime?

We may try to find an answer for this by glancing at the Azeri press. Rövşen Ağayev, an economic expert, states there are no economic reasons to abolish the visa for Turkish citizens by Azerbaijan, but that this is a political and legal issue.

"There are simple reasons behind the issues that seem to be difficult to understand outside. The Azeri authorities and bureaucrats do not want to lose any monetary resource. Therefore they haven't abolished the visa regime for Iran and Turkey," political scientist Zerdüşt Alizade explains.

Fuat Kahramanlı, deputy chairman of the Popular Front of Azerbaijan, claims the government does not want to abolish the visa regime as the problem has not been solved so far and the Azeri side has produced a lot of excuses.

"It thinks the Azeri government sees it as a worrying issue for its power; therefore, the solution is being delayed. In my opinion the will of Russia on this issue may be considered. Azerbaijan, by not solving the problem, gives a message to Russia implying that she is closer to and more intimate with Russia. But whatever may come, not solving the problem makes relations more tense," Kahramanlı says.

His statement summarizes the reaction inside Azerbaijan, where there have been some comments attributing the problem to the Karabakh issue.

Regnum, in its news article titled "Does the Power Party of Azerbaijan Oppose the Abolishment of Visa Regime with Turkey?" mentioned discussions in the Azerbaijan National Assembly during the Feb. 22 session about the abolishment of the visa regime between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Fazıl Mustafa, chairman of the Great Creation Party, proposed that visa restrictions be annulled between two countries.

"The visa implementation for Turkey must be eliminated as it was with Georgia. This will be in favor of the strategic interests of Azerbaijan," Mustafa said.

A deputy of the New Azerbaijan Party, the power party, Siyavuç Novruzov, was in favor of abolishing the visa regime, proposing a free moving application initially between Turkey and Azerbaijan in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. In addition, the Azeri sources wrote that the visit of Erdoğan to Azerbaijan was postponed several times due to the difference of opinion that arose between Baku and Ankara on this issue.

My fellow countryman can go to Azerbaijan without a visa as my Azeri brother comes to Turkey freely

Turkish State Minister Zafer Çağlayan, who spoke at the Turkish-Azeri Business Council, said the impediments to developing trade between Turkey and Azerbaijan should be eliminated. He asked Azerbaijan to abolish the visa regime enforced for Turkish citizens and sign the free trade agreement soon. He emphasized that the visa problem was not related to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.

"The visa issue is a psychologically important matter for Turkey. This is not a monetary issue. Azerbaijan does not enforce the visa for the citizens of Russia and the Turkic countries. I hope Azerbaijan is seeking a way to abolish it soon," said Çağlayan.

When we look at recent Turkish-Azeri relations, the "Armenian initiative," which cooled relations two years ago, is not on the agenda now. Prime Minister Erdoğan explained clearly several times that the interests of Azerbaijan would be defended. The main argument of those who oppose the abolishment of a visa regime in Azerbaijan is that there are some groups that do not like Turkey and Azerbaijan and they may come to Azerbaijan to involve themselves in opposition activity.

Possibly for Azerbaijan the visa issue is considered in parallel to other political and economic developments. For example, the problems of natural gas and the Nabucco project between the two countries have not been solved yet. Azerbaijan is a party that does not want Turkey to have the authority to re-import the natural gas of Şahdeniz. There are negotiations underway to sell this natural gas directly to European countries. Despite it being said that relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan are perfect, there is ambiguity about some issues. It is also likely that Azerbaijan may take a decision on the visa issue according to the stance of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, after the June elections.

We often stress the will of Russia while suggesting that the problems related to the Caucasus must be solved amongst the regional countries. Though it was expected that Azerbaijan would make her decision on the visa with her belated willpower before Russia, this retardation has created a serious trouble between the two brother countries. Turkey expects the visa problem to be eliminated as soon as possible.

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Göknur Akçadağ is an assistant professor at Yıldız Technical University's Department of Humanities and Social Sciences.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

A PROSECUTORS' STATE IS BORN

KORAY ÇALIŞKAN

I thought last week, following the case on the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır that the process turned into vaudeville. But I think I was impolite to vaudevilles because it became a realistic play compared to what we have been through.

In the last ten days, a total of 930, mostly young, people were taken under arrest as part of the KCK case. These individuals from numerous cities around the country were transferred to Diyarbakır for interrogations. One of them was a student of mine at Boğaziçi University, Nejat Ağırnaslı.

Ağırnaslı was at a friend's house last week at 4a.m. About 10 police officers with long-barreled guns raided the house, confiscated Ağırnaslı's laptop, study notes and notebooks.

One of the confiscated documents is an official curriculum of Boğaziçi University. During the interrogation, Ağırnaslı could not reply when the police officer asked: "What is this document? It says 'POLS' on it, is it a code?" What should he have said? Was he supposed to have said: "POLS is a course code created by our professors. It's not a KCK password"? This is such outrageous behavior that Boğaziçi students have setup a blog, titled "Let Foucault and Gramsci be tried, too." Imagine the intelligence level of officers dealing with such brilliant students.

POLS and the KCK

I am a political science faculty member. Let me "help" prosecutors a little. In our department, there is this course titled "Federalism." And if you connect POLS and Federalism with the KCK, you will have separatism. I have colleagues who teach in the Sociology Department. I think for the moment, sociology is more dangerous than atomic physics in Turkey. Ağırnaslı is a Master's student in Sociology. Among the courses taught there are Political Sociology and Ethnicity. We are in trouble.

Ağırnaslı is one of the most skilled young men in Turkey. His Master's thesis is on "Tuzla Shipyards." I am sure, he will be a good academic someday, but he is standing trial in the KCK case today.

As the vaudeville transforms into a realistic drama, prosecutors become lead actors of this new politics, it is a sluggish legal system, irrational accusations, a scandal in, which the judicial system turns into a punishment machine. In the past, concerns were understandable but now fear rules. Why does no one say "This is enough"?

* Koray Çalışkan is a columnist of daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

COMMUNICATION STYLE STEALS AWAY LEADERS' PRESTIGE

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

Things are getting out of hand.

As election squares are enlivened, political party leaders are lashing out at each other in the worst manner in order to influence voters and grab their attention instead of explaining their projects.

The public loves watching fights.

The media carries a leader's meeting into the headlines if there are arguments.

However, this race becomes more unbearable every day. The latest battles of words, with remarks almost getting to the point of insults, are reviving election squares, but the public does not like any of this at all.

People miss having leaders who are polite to each other, who are shaking hands with each other yet are still able to criticize each other.

The Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu had come into the game as a gentleman, but today it is impossible to say how much he has changed.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has always been rough, but never this much.

The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli is known with his very gentleman manners, but today he is spitting fire.

We have 37 more days to the June 12 general elections. If this is the point we have reached today, political party leaders will not have a face to look at each other at the end of election trials. Unfortunately, they fail to see what they lose or they think everything would be long forgotten in the future.

If filtering the Internet not censorship, then what is it?

Honestly, I don't get this.

The Prime Ministry's Information Technologies Board, or BTK, has brought up some certain restrictions to Internet users.

Each user will have to make a choice among a few packages prepared by the BTK that include only sites determined by the board. You will deny access to any site at your discretion.

More precisely, the BTK is going for a social engineering issue. And we face again the tradition justification from which we cannot save ourselves for years. That is "in order to protect our traditions and customs." "We are protecting our children," it's been said, "We are banning porno sites."

That I don't get.

The Internet watchdog BTK's Chairman Tayfun Acarer says similar restrictions are applied more in Europe, too. That's right, but most of the sites are under supervision for opening the door to terror or child pornography.

No one bans soft porno sites.

No one looks at innocent sites banned by the BTK.

I don't see why the state is trying to regulate my life.

There are right-minded people in France

First, it has been stopped in the commission and then the senate in France rejected it in the general council.

A bill on the punishment of those who refute the "Armenian genocide" claims was turned down by some right-minded senators in France.

If it had been passed accidentally, we would've been in a real trouble. In fact owing to French President Nicolas Sarkozy we are having enough tension with France. If the bill had been approved on top, that would upset the apple cart. Turkish-French relations could have taken an irreparable turn.

As it's said, God has protected us.

However, we should also know that we cannot resolve this issue on a day-to-day basis. Someday we will see that either in Washington or in Paris or in any other important capital for that matter, decisions we dislike would be made. We shouldn't act as though it will never happen. We shouldn't consider that our allies will always back us just because of our strategic importance. We could be caught off guard in such a conjuncture that no one could care about us, can apologize and shut the case.

Egypt has tossed its hat into the ring as Davutoğlu witnesses

The truce between Hamas and Fatah has ended a four-year fight between brothers. In every fight of brothers, they have caused the biggest harm to the Palestinian cause. Israel has benefited from disunity.

Hamas won the elections, but the Fatah administration did their best not to share the power with them. So, Hamas took the Gaza Strip under control. The West Bank and the administration have remained with Fatah.

Struggling with each other the two could not have an effective opposition. Hamas was a naughty organization in the eye of Palestine that has always come against the rules and it was an organization that Washington cornered for being terrorist. Fatah, on the other hand, has served the purpose for Israel and the United States. Fatah got used to being ordered around.

The U.S. backed by the ousted Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and confined Hamas into Gaza. Neither was it allowed to have aid, nor was it given Egypt's support.

With the emergence of the new Egypt now, balance in the region has changed.

Egypt has tossed its hat into the ring and made two brothers have a truce. To the more, Egypt has announced that the gates to Gaza will be opened and aids will be resumed.

This is an extremely critical development showing how balances will change in the region.

Clearly, Egypt has said, "I am in charge of the Palestinian cause."

What has Turkey done?

This time, it has only witnessed, even if it is not at the sidelines completely. But Turkey has played a lesser role next to Egypt. In fact, there is nothing to be upset about it. Turkey is not a country that expected to solve every single issue or always act for mediation.

Reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah will make things easier for Turkey and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in the future.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

TOUGH TRUTHS

 

Facing up to the truth is clearly not our strength. While television surveys suggest many people in the country refuse to believe Osama is dead, keeping alive our tradition of believing in bizarre conspiracies as opposed to the truth, even our prime minister seems eager to avoid accepting what has actually happened and instead appears to be trying to shrug off embarrassment saying that, as intelligence is shared with other agencies around the world, they too are to blame for the failure to discover Osama's presence in Pakistan. Intelligence-sharing may be a reality, but the prime responsibility for events on our soil lies with us. There is no getting away from this fact. We would do ourselves less damage by telling the truth, openly confessing failure, and addressing the issue of avoiding similar disasters in the future by conducting a detailed review of what went wrong. The enquiry into the intelligence failure announced after a crucial corps commanders meeting must not remain just talk and must become a meaningful reality. The findings of such an enquiry need to be made public, given that the incident in Abbottabad is the talk of the world.

The need to avoid a future debacle along the same lines is all the more urgent now that the White House has made it quite clear that it will not hesitate to carry out another operation of a similar nature in the country. It has also said that there will be no apology for what took place. It is apparent that in a triumphant Washington distrust for Pakistan runs deeper than ever. Feeble excuses and attempts to deflect blame will not help anyone, least of all us. Attempted cover-ups will lead us nowhere. This is all the more true given that we cannot rule out the possibility of further US action on our soil. A report in this newspaper suggests the next targets may be Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda's second most important leader after Bin Laden, or former Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Meanwhile Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has said that more such raids will not be tolerated and will lead to a review of cooperation with the United States. There is no doubt that further American action, possibly in North Waziristan or Quetta, would tear the notion of our sovereignty into even smaller pieces. And that's why those at the helm of affairs should act wisely. The flurry of confused statements coming from our leaders is helping no one, and is only making matters worse for us. Though the military commanders have stated that no repeat of Abbottabad will be tolerated, we need a far clearer line of thinking, and also action that proves we are committed to combating militancy, thus dispelling growing doubts that have been expressed in this regard in various capitals of the world. Pressure on Pakistan will continue to grow unless we demonstrate the ability and the will to take on militants, rather than merely going on about how we have suffered at their hands.

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE ARAB SPRINGS

 

  As the world digests the implications of the death of Osama bin Laden, a set of events of arguably far greater importance than the death of a semi-retired terrorist, continue. These events had their genesis in Tunisia in December 2010 and now sail under the generic flag of the 'Arab Spring' – but spring is not advancing at the same rate everywhere in the Arab world, and not all the countries under the Arab Spring flag are Arab. In Tunisia, democracy is still a work in progress, and the turmoil in both eastern states, Libya and Egypt, makes life difficult for a country that has seen its tourism industry collapse and whose natural reserves make it a pygmy beside giants. In Libya a civil war has ground to a stalemate with Qaddafi not just clinging to power but holding on to it despite sustained aerial bombardment by a coalition of European nations that are beginning to wonder what they have got themselves into. Bahrain has dropped off the headlines – but the government there is planning to prosecute the doctors who bravely treated those wounded in the riots in February and March. A transition of power is supposed to be under way in Yemen but looks increasingly doubtful as the days pass. A brutal crackdown against protesters in Syria indicates that Bashar al-Assad is no more likely to listen to his people than his father was.


It is Egypt that has begun to emerge into the light after decades of repression. Within the last few days, one of the great logjams of Middle Eastern politics, the stand-off between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Gaza, has edged a little closer to resolution, courtesy of the Egyptians. They have brokered a rapprochement that is as yet far from being a peace agreement between the feuding factions, but at least provides a starting point for talks about talks. Israel views this with scepticism and the Americans are in a bind as they have not been a part of the process. None of this would have been possible under the Mubarak regime and may be an indicator of the future ownership and resolution of local problems by nations local to the Middle East -- a real change in the way the world does business. It is also of note that in none of the countries where revolt has happened or is in process has there been anything other than a symbolic presence of Islamists or extremists in the actions that have challenged regimes. These are secular revolutions, not the Islamist revolutions predicted for a decade by Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. This in itself is an indicator of how marginalised and unrepresentative Al-Qaeda is, and how out of touch with popular sentiment. The Arab springs will continue, and there will be no going back to whatever was in place six months ago. Finally, after more than 60 years, the Arab states may have begun to move into a truly post-colonial era.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

MOTHER OF ALL EMBARRASSMENTS

AYAZ AMIR

 

For a country with more than its share of misfortunes and sheer bad luck, we could have done without this warrior of the faith, Osama bin Laden, spreading his beneficence amongst us. He was a headache for us while he lived, but nothing short of a catastrophe in his death. For his killing, and the manner of it, have exposed Pakistan and its security establishment like nothing else.

To say that our security czars and assorted knights have been caught with their pants down would be the understatement of the century. This is the mother of all embarrassments, showing us either to be incompetent – it can't get any worse than this, Osama living in a sprawling compound a short walk from that nursery school of the army, the Pakistan Military Academy and, if we are to believe this, our ever-vigilant eyes and ears knowing nothing about it – or, heaven forbid, complicit.

I would settle for incompetence anytime because the implications of complicity are too dreadful to contemplate.

And the Americans came, swooping over the mountains, right into the heart of the compound, and after carrying out their operation flew away into the moonless night without our formidable guardians of national security knowing anything about it. This is to pour salt over our wounds. The obvious question which even a child would raise is that if a cantonment crawling with the army such as Abbottabad is not safe from stealthy assault what does it say about the safety of our famous nuke capability, the mainstay of national pride and defence?

Barely 24 hours before the Osama assault General Kayani, at a ceremony in General Headquarters in remembrance of our soldiers killed in our Taliban wars, was describing the army as the defender of the country's ideological and geographical frontiers. For the time being, I think, we should concentrate on ideology and leave geography well alone, the Abbottabad assault having made a mockery of our geographical frontiers.

Every other country in the world is happy if its armed forces can defend geography. We are the only country in the world which waxes lyrical about ideological frontiers. To us alone belongs the distinction of calling ourselves a fortress of Islam.

In the wake of the Raymond Davis affair a certain sternness had crept into our tone with the Americans, as we told them that they would have to curtail their footprint in Pakistan. I wonder what we tell them now. It is not difficult to imagine the smile on American lips when we now speak of the absolute necessity of minimising CIA activities.

With whom the gods would jest, they first make ridiculous. The hardest thing to bear in this saga is not wounded pride or breached sovereignty but our exposure to ridicule. Osama made us suffer in life and has made us look ridiculous after his death. Around the tallest mountains there is the echo of too much laughter at our expense.

Consider also the Foreign Office statement of May 3, "As far as the target compound is concerned, ISI had been sharing information with CIA...since 2009....It is important to highlight that taking advantage of much superior technological assets, CIA exploited intelligence leads given by us to identify and reach Osama bin Laden." This is hilarious. If we were aware of the compound and had suspicions about its occupants what 'superior technological assets' were required to go in and find out?

But what takes the cake is the stern warning attached: "This event of unauthorised unilateral action cannot be taken as a rule. The government of Pakistan further affirms that such an event shall not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the US." We can imagine the CIA trembling in its shoes. My son burst out laughing when he read this. If the Americans get a clue to the whereabouts of Ayman al-Zawahiri or Mullah Omar will they ask our permission before sending their SEAL teams in?

The CIA chief, Leon Panetta, has rubbed the point in: "It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardise the mission. They might alert the targets." That's about the level of trust we seem to inspire.

Anyway, trust Prime Minister Gilani to put it best, that the failure to find Osama for so long was not just Pakistan's failure but that of intelligence agencies around the world. This is really cool, absolving ourselves of all responsibility even when Osama is discovered within walking distance of PMA Kakul.

We have some funny notions of sovereignty and national honour. The CIA spreading itself wide in Pakistan is a breach of national sovereignty, and rightly so. And American boots on the ground, as in Abbottabad, are totally unacceptable. But when it comes to Al Qaeda using Pakistan as a base, Sirajuddin Haqqani and the rest of the Taliban holed up in North Waziristan and Taliban elements in Quetta, we somehow can't work up the same outrage.

We already had a tough job on our hands convincing the world of our bona fides. After the Osama operation it gets that much tougher.

In an ideal world this should be a wakeup call for Pakistan, an opportunity for some honest introspection and a hard look at some of the bizarre notions underpinning our theories of national security. Must we spend so much on defence? Is the world engaged in a conspiracy to undermine our foundations? Aren't our nuclear weapons enough to give us a sense of security? Hasn't the time come to curb some of our zest for nurturing and sustaining jihadi militias? And isn't it time we stopped fretting so much about Afghanistan and made internal order and prosperity the principal focus of our endeavours?

But we do not live in an ideal world and our capacity for self-deception should not be under-estimated. Shaken as we may be by the Osama operation, we can safely assume that we won't take this as a wakeup call. As the Foreign Office statement vividly shows, we'll hunt for lame excuses and hide behind false explanations, convinced of our ability to fool the world when the only thing fooled will be ourselves.

So we will keep talking about strategic assets and good and bad Taliban, and about protecting our interests in Afghanistan, and we'll keep subscribing to theories of Indian hostility and encirclement, because these are the foundations on which stands the peculiar national security state we have constructed, forever threatened and insecure.

If the separation of East Pakistan was not a wakeup call, if Musharraf's adventure in Kargil wasn't that either, it is too much to expect that Pakistan's comprehensive exposure in this saga, the Islamic Republic without its clothes, will lead to any radical departures in national outlook.

Our ruling establishment is too set in its ways and, sadly, the roots of national stupidity run too deep.

And perish the thought of anyone taking responsibility and throwing in his papers. That's just not the Pakistani way.

But there should be no escaping the fact that from now on we will have to be more careful. All the signs suggest that this may prove to be a milestone of sorts, a dangerous turning point, in that our friends, let alone our enemies, become more sceptical of our pronouncements and increasingly less willing to put up with our hidden and double games.

We will be asked some tough questions and the time for bluster or a show of righteous indignation may have passed.



Email: winlust@yahoo.com

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

NAKED EMPEROR, DEAD RABBIT

MEHREEN ZAHRA-MALIK

 

Picture this: a magician, creating illusions and pulling a rabbit from a hat. Now mix with this image a second image from the fable of the Emperor's New Clothes, which turn out to be invisible, leaving the emperor naked in public. Two illusions in one: of an emperor wearing magnificent but illusory robes and a conjurer producing a rabbit from a hat.

Now picture the PPP government shedding old rags stained by terrorism, inflation, price hikes and power outages and putting on a sparkling new patchwork ensemble of several-point agendas and enemy-turned-allies. Picture President Zardari pulling out of a hat a 'national reconciliation' government that will extricate the country from its myriad messes and pave the way for long-term reform.

While the government parades around in its amazing new duds, how many of us know it's completely naked and the rabbit it's holding up is dead?

When the MQM withdrew its ministers from the federal cabinet earlier this year, the PPP no longer had the 172 seats needed to preserve its majority in the 342-member National Assembly. Next out was Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, and smelling blood, Nawaz too added pressure by demanding action on a 10-point agenda and subsequently sent PPP's ministers in the Punjab province home.

Remaining allies and 19 independent MPs summed up to the total strength of 166, still six short of target. With the federal budget and Senate elections looming, this just wasn't going to work, especially when the government had already failed to pass key financial legislation like the reformed general sales tax and a flood surcharge.

What to do? Get besieged and renegade parties to shoulder the numbers-burden for a quid pro quo and call it 'national reconciliation' in the name of saving the country. From villain to semi-hero in two words. One hell of a magic trick, no? Same emperor, new clothes – or rather, no clothes at all.

The PMLN wasn't going to play ball and bridges with the JUIF had been burned. Pesky MQM wasn't a complicated target because all it wanted was control over Karachi where the PPP demonstrated it would play by Altaf's rules (sacking Dr Mirza and banning the People's Amn Committee are cases in point).

That left the PML-Q: a party barely at the margins of the opposition with a taste for mainstream politics. The king's party during Musharraf's reign, it was going to be the biggest loser in the Senate elections when its 20 senators retired. Enter the PPP with promises of seat adjustments in the Senate election, important ministries, alliance in general elections – and it was a match made in heaven. Except the PML-Q wanted more. Remember the NICL corruption investigation in which Moonis Elahi is currently detained as a suspect? Two investigation officers on the case, federally appointed, have already been removed from their posts. Remember the voluminous report submitted to the Supreme Court last month alleging that new "senior minister" Pervaiz Elahi siphoned Rs. 5.4 billion from the Bank of Punjab? Enough said.

The contours of the power-sharing deal were finalised almost three weeks ago but the public back-and-forth was orchestrated to lend a whiff of legitimacy to a done deal and to buy time to placate disgruntled PMLQ members.

While the army was too busy worrying about the US, and now Osama, to care about these political distractions, the alliance did set off alarm bells in Raiwind. For the PPP and the PML-Q, that was half the battle already won.

In all the talk of who would get what ministry, however, there was little talk of who would work on what problem. This was a no-good union from the very get-go. Clever politics and rather impressive opportunism; a war of distraction that won't make even a modest wrinkle in the fabric of Pakistan's problems but which works perfectly to divert attention from the truth: that we're in for a long, slow slog to worse times. A naked emperor and a dead rabbit – Pakistani politics summed up in two images.

If that's not enough on the art of alliance making, here's more. What do you do if you don't have federal ministries to hand out in exchange for favours from other irrelevant politicians? On the good authority of someone very close to Musharraf, we know that owner of 'champion German Shepherds,' Humayun Gauhar, was requested by Musharraf to 'gift' Imran Khan one of his best dogs. Poor Imran unwittingly sent one of his servants to pick up the pup, which Gauhar and his family considered an affront to dogs everywhere. After all, no dog-respecting person would ever send his servant to pick up a thorough-bred, right? Needless to say, the former president had to intervene and persuade Gauhar that the dog was important for any future alliance between Musharraf and Imran. Dog diplomacy? Now there's an idea.

Here's another one: One of the new PML-Q advisors to the PM explained over lunch that what Pakistan needed now were philosopher kings. How about you focus on industries and human rights, sir? Leave Plato's dialogues to those who don't have a collapsing state on their hands.

But this is how the political cookie crumbles here, the old hats will tell you: anything requiring undivided attention--terrorism, power shortages, Osama--is always accompanied by equally compelling distractions.

So here's welcoming me to Islamabad, where politics is a distraction from politics itself.



The writer is assistant editor, The News International. Email: mehreen.tft@gmail.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

WHAT DO KARACHIWALAS WANT?

YUSUF H SHIRAZI

 

"What do the Karachiwalas want? Why are they against...?" Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto asked in a hurried meeting in Hyderabad. I was not ready for such a question at all. I paused, leaned back and exclaimed: "How can you expect Karachiwalas to be for you when they have to buy water to drink, when their children cannot be admitted in schools, and when their lives are disturbed with even mild rain. No electricity, no gas, no transport. Not to mention the law-and- order situation, which leaves a lot to be desired. No one is safe – men, women or children."

It was now Bhutto's turn to lean back – on the reclining chair that he sat on, and his body language suggested as if he had heard all of this for the first time! And, I was mistaken. Bhutto never meant to talk politics with me. He never meant the Karachiwalas as I understood them to be. By "Karachiwalas" he actually meant the business community. And, we were both tense: I for my own reasons, among others, having travelled fast for two and a half hours from Karachi to Hyderabad in the afternoon, wanting to return in time for the reception that I had hosted in honour of the outgoing president of the Overseas Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Uneasily, Bhutto asked why the Karachiwalas were not investing. Boldly I once again stated: "You have taken over their hearths and homes – nationalised everything that they had. You have taken over ten basic industries; nationalised banks, life insurance and a part of general insurance; and even taken over small units like those doing cotton ginning and the rice husking mills. What do you expect from them then?" There was a pause: Bhutto, visibly, went into deep thought.


I first met Bhutto in Sind Muslim Law College, where we were both part-time lecturers. Bhutto was, suave and generous. It was his pleasure to entertain all those there during the tea interval. One day, I stepped out and paid the bill. He looked at me, was surprised – nay, shocked. But, this, however, developed a relationship of mutual respect.

Bhutto was in his mid-30 when he was inducted as a minister and given the portfolio of foreign affairs in the cabinet, first by Sikander Mirza and then by Ayub Khan. As a minister, he did a great job till he fell out with Ayub Khan on his Tashkent settlement with Shastri after the India-Pakistan war of 1965. Bhutto resigned. He returned to power again, particularly after East Pakistan came into being, as civilian chief martial law administrator. Later, he started electioneering for the next term. I was president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry – the premier Chamber – during this time. He called me and said he would like to use the KCCI platform in order to address the business community. I said I will have to consult the managing committee. The committee declined and said that the chamber's platform cannot be used for any political campaign.

Sometime later, our paths crossed again at the Karachi Boat Club. He sat with Begum Nusrat Bhutto, his brother-in-law Brigadier Islam and the brigadier's wife. An unintended skirmish took place between him and me which, through the sagacity of Begum Nusrat, was amicably resolved and bygones were bygones. And so we sat together for a while, as if nothing had happened.


When Bhutto was elected president, he started nationalising industry after industry. The situation became tense. It shook the private sector. The investment stopped – both local and foreign. Although the government started putting up industries there was a limit to investment from the public sector. The government started realising this and was seeking solutions, particularly since the private sector started approaching the opposition who were only too eager to listen. Most started leaving the country: Flight of talent and capital. Those who had no choice, particularly, the small traders, cotton-ginners, rice huskers, etc. whose industries were nationalised, created a bad atmosphere for the government. Even workers, professionals and the consumers, in whose name nationalisation was done, were hit hard – harder than before the nationalisation.


One day, I received a call in Karachi, at 3 p.m., from Masood Mahmood, then chief of the Federal Security Force (FSF). He said I had sought an appointment with the president, and he will see me at 5.30 p.m. in Hyderabad. I was surprised because I had not sought any appointment. For a reception in honour of the outgoing president of the Overseas Chamber a large number of guests were invited, both local and foreigners. However, I was advised that I must go at any cost. Anyhow, I reached Hyderabad at 5.30 p.m. – just in time to meet the president.


I found Bhutto ill at ease and not at peace with himself. We sat together rather at ease. And, lo and behold! he, at the very outset, reminded me of the Boat Club skirmish and my refusing him the KCCI platform for his address to the business community. I chose not to respond.


Bhutto then came out with his agenda of the meeting. Bhutto said: "You are the 'badshah' – the king – of the chamber," implying that the chamber under my management and control had not allowed him to address the business community from its platform. I said: "I am the president of the KCCI and the business community is not happy with you, among other reasons, for your nationalising everything." They are left with no choice but to contact everybody – whether he is for the government and against the government. He intervened and said: "Go and tell them that I have nationalised and it is only I who will denationalizes, and no one else. However, I am not going to nationalise anymore: in fact, I will rationalise the nationalisation." This I understood to mean that at least smaller units would return, particularly cotton ginning units and rice husking mills. He would introduce a pattern of mixed economy which would revive and, in fact, strengthen the economy. So he said: "issue a statement on my behalf. Right at the reception that you are holding for the president of the Overseas Chamber." He knew, about the reception, and perhaps I was called to Hyderabad at short notice for that purpose only.

LeVaillant, the president of the Overseas Chambers of Commerce and Industry for whom the reception was arranged, was called, and told that I was on my way back. And I was almost in time. Jawaid Bukhari, then of PPI, was there for the reception. I trusted him with the statement. He was thrilled with the news but wanted to be ensured that the news will not be contradicted, which I did. The next day, there was a banner headline: "Rationalisation of the Nationalisation, a job indeed well done."


(To be continued)


The writer is the founder/chairman of the Atlas group of companies.


Email: yhs@atlas.com.pk

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE MONOLITHIC NARRATIVE

DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL

 

  "If they kill me, it will be martyrdom for me. If they expel me, it will be a hijrah for me and I will call people to Allah. If they imprison me, it will be a place of worship for me." - Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328)

Granted that in the unipolar world we now live in, there is no room for anything but a monolithic narrative, yet one would expect that those who craft this narrative would at least have the decency to keep it consistent; this, sadly, is not the case. The world was first told that Osama bin Laden had put up a fight and shot at the Navy Seals' Team Six that stormed his alleged hideout in Abbottabad; that he used one of his wives as a human shield, that there was a "firefight".


The White House changed the narrative within 36 hours and confirmed that none of this was true. In fact, Bin Laden was unarmed, was shot in the head and chest, and his wife had been wounded in the leg while rushing towards the kill team. This means: he was assassinated in cold blood by a kill team illegally sent into Pakistan. The lame excuse that the operation took place under the US policy of finding and killing him wherever he was found, would make no sense in any court of law. But a court of law is what we do not have in the unipolar world; international law now stands suspended.


We were told that Bin Laden lived in a million dollar mansion, but anyone who knows what one million dollars can buy in Abbottabad, Pakistan, would immediately know that there is no truth in this claim; only one or two Western journalists have pointed out this flaw in the narrative. What no one has so far (to my knowledge) pointed out a greater falsehood of the whole narrative: we have been told that the operation lasted just 40 minutes!

Putting bits and pieces of the official narrative together, one wonders how this could have been practically possible. After all, they came in their helicopters, landed, attacked the compound, killed the two courier brothers, then went up to the second and third floors, searched for and found Osama in a bedroom, fired at him and killed him. Then they dragged him down the stairs (blood all over the stairs), searched through every room, every drawer, took out hard drives from the computers. We are told, they emptied all the papers they found into their bags, destroyed their own helicopter which had crashed earlier in the operation and took the bodies of those they had killed and loaded them onto their remaining helicopters. All of this, we are told, was done in 40 minutes. Obviously someone was not wearing a watch.


So, the question is: why did they limit it to 40 minutes in the first narrative? A larger question is: why did they cook up a narrative with so many flaws? A still larger question is: how is it that we are now left with only one narrative which burst into view on that fatal morning of September 11, 2001 when the world woke up in shock and went to sleep in awe?


Perhaps we should revisit the beginning of this narrative and go back to its background – barely visible to many, but still traceable nevertheless – to the summer of 1978, when Nur Muhammad Taraki toppled the government and paved way for a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets in 1979. By 2001, there was hardly a family left in this poorest of all countries which had not seen death and destruction. A whole generation had grown up knowing nothing but war.


To cut it short, let us just skip the part of the narrative detailing the emergence of Osama bin Laden, as this part has been repeated ad nauseam. Let us just go to the next question: When the Soviets left – more true would be to say when the Soviet army was defeated and driven out – why no one in the international community sought justice. Why did we not hear: let us set up an international tribunal to try those who have committed heinous crimes in remote villages of Afghanistan. Rather, the Soviets were allowed to just leave, as if their coming and going had no legal consequences for the so-called international community. Then the quick unravelling of the Soviet Union itself pushed that phase of history into a barely visible background.


It has been different for the Americans. There was no counter balance left in the world when bombs started to rain down from Afghan skies and hence there was little possibility of anyone standing up to them and say: before you push this wounded country further into the Stone Age, let us have an international court of justice which can scrutinise your narrative, establish truth, and pass a judgment on what really happened on that fatal September day when 3000 men, women and children were killed in a manner that had never happened in the entire human history. This did not happen. Instead, the world witnessed a brief spring of alternate media, where one could see gruesome pictures of American crimes in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq: rape, murder, torture, kidnapping, American soldiers smoking cigarettes next to their victims, posing for photographs, water boarding, electrical shocks, and the rest.


Yet, that brief spring of independent, alternate narrative was simply stumped out by the brute force that now reigns: First came embedded journalists, who had no eyes to see save those given to them. Then, in the wake of death and destruction of over one million human beings in Iraq, we saw an unprecedented accomplishment, perhaps as collateral damage: the bleak silence of all voices other than his majesty's.


This did not happen overnight, but took steady, cold and calculated planning and manoeuvring. Not everyone was silenced but what remained of the few world-class journalists was made dysfunctional, obsolete. Most of them finally became tired of repeating a narrative that produced no results, that moved no one, and that had no force left in it. Alternative media outlets, which had sprung up in the wake of a global anti-war movement, simply disappeared from the scene. What was left of any independent narrative was hunted down, systematically destroyed, or silenced into submission.


In this gruesome monolithic age, only a dim light remains; what the great Bard of Avon had said four centuries ago is still true: "But it is no matter. Let Hercules himself do what he may, the cat will mew, and dog will have his day." Thus, the probe launched by the Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon may yet spin an alternative narrative, telling us about the systematic torture at that American heart of darkness called the Guantanamo Bay, as he investigates "perpetrators, instigators, necessary collaborators and accomplices" to the torture of Guantanamo prisoners.

The writer is a freelance columnist.


Email: quantumnotes@gmail.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE CHALLENGING AFTERMATH

SHAFQAT MAHMOOD

 

The Pakistani state finds itself in a difficult place after the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad. The international community is blaming it of at least incompetence, if not duplicity. Its people are in a state of shock, not being able to comprehend the ease of US intrusion, and the fragility of its sovereignty.

The plain facts are indeed hard to explain. Osama was living not in a cave as generally assumed but in a city that has a fair military presence. It is baffling that no one, neither the intelligence agencies nor local police, had a clue about it.

The brazen American assault, with nary an apology for the violation of another state's sovereignty, also raises many questions. Is Pakistan its ally or adversary? Why did the Americans not trust Pakistan with the information? And, why was the intrusion not detected? What kind of defence preparedness do we have if another country can come in so easily and do what it likes? Does this mean that our nuclear assets are also not safe?

At another level, the competence quotient in this government is also being seriously questioned. The president wrote an article in The Washington Post essentially endorsing the US raid. A day later, the Foreign Office comes out with a statement which, among other things, raises the sovereignty issue and sternly cautions the US not to test Pakistan's resolve again. The contradiction between the two positions is obvious. Who is right? The only possible conclusion is that this is a government in complete disarray.

What is worse, the Pakistan case went by default when the Western leaders and media were challenging its credentials regarding the fight against Al-Qaeda. In the first 24-hour news cycle when any press interaction at a senior political level would have had a global audience, there was complete silence. A huge opportunity to present our version was missed.

And there is a case to be made. The American intelligence community, with all its resources, technical abilities, highly trained manpower and huge budgets, could not discover the 9/11 plot and prevent the subsequent attacks. This happens not because of negligence or incompetence, but because thousands of leads pour in every day and it is virtually impossible to follow each one.

The same holds true for other intelligence outfits, including Pakistan's. They were not able to find Osama's hideout, and that indeed is a failure. But the explanation is the same: too many leads, too few resources. But – and this is what someone in the government could have told a global audience – since 2001, Pakistan has arrested more members of Al-Qaeda hierarchy than all the Western agencies put together.

Since Pakistan is being bashed from all sides, it is worth repeating some details. After the American invasion of Afghanistan, 248 Arabs, presumably Al-Qaeda were arrested crossing the border. This was the largest cache of Al-Qaeda-related people apprehended ever.

It did not stop there. In the last decade important Al-Qaeda leaders like Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Abu Faraj Al-Libi, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al Shibh, Umar Patek, Ammar Al Baluchi, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailari were arrested. The list goes on and on. Some like Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Al-Libi were top lieutenants to Osama bin Laden and allegedly involved in the 9/11 attacks. The rest included Mohsin Matwalli Atwah, involved in the Kenya embassy bombing, who was killed in 2006 by Pakistani agencies with six other militants.

And yet the Western media and leaders say that Pakistan is playing a double game. The sad part is that our case has not been put before the world and now we find ourselves saddled with a serious credibility crisis. No one is willing to believe what we say. Our adversaries are having a field day dredging out the worst charges about us, and people like Salman Rushdie are having the temerity to demand that Pakistan should be declared a rogue state.

There is a domestic credibility gap too. People are concerned about their country's security. Some are conjecturing that if the US can intrude so easily, what would stop the Indians? There is an explanation here too that has not come out in the domestic media. It may not completely put people's fears to rest but there is certainly a case that a competent government would have been able to make.

Yes, the US was able to intrude with ease and evade our radars. There were both technical and tactical reasons for this. Technical, because superior equipment and high-tech gadgetry, combined with mountainous terrain, hid the intruders from the radars. Tactical, because military resources are deployed according to threat perception. There was little expectation of an attack from Afghanistan, so the radar network there was probably not extensive.

The situation is completely different when it comes to the Indian border or the strategic nuclear sites. They are heavily protected and the radar network is extensive. The possibility of an intruder coming in from that side without detection and a response is nonexistent. In other words, threat and capability go together. Americans sprang a surprise because there was no perception of threat from that side.

While all these explanations are valid and have gone by default because of a poor response from the Pakistani government, the sad fact is that damage has been done. Internationally now we are saddled with a serious credibility gap. This needs to change. Our objective has to be that while we cannot control every event happening here or abroad and, cannot rule out another terrorist popping up within the country, the Pakistani state is committed to the fight against militancy and international terrorism.

To make this commitment credible, mere words would not be enough. It is important to understand that for Pakistan the world is not the same after 1/5. A paradigm shift has come about and it needs to be understood. To be in a state of denial is not just an irritant but positively damaging for the country. There has to be a realisation that explanations having some resonance before would no longer hold validity. Our narrative has to change, backed by performance.

In particular, any impression of softness on militant groups because they are not a threat to the Pakistani state, or seen as assets for the future, would have little acceptance. In the new reality, if they are a threat to someone else, we have to play our part in ensuring that our soil is not used for attacks outside. It is not easy, because every option has its drawbacks, but a changed reality requires a serious rethink.

Our people need peace and prosperity, and that cannot come about by making the world our adversary. We need a cold analysis of our strengths and weaknesses and craft our policies accordingly. For too long we have sought to punch above our weight. This may no longer be possible.



Email: shafqatmd@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

SIDE-EFFECT

HARRIS KHALIQUE

 

The denial, the half-truths, the conspiracy theories, the illusory high moral ground and the act of presenting themselves as embodiments of definite knowledge on the subject under discussion have become the hallmarks of some women and men who ride the primetime television airwaves in Pakistan as anchors and permanent analysts. They have encroached upon the living rooms of a large number of homes across the country, invaded shared public spaces in low income neighbourhoods and occupied the roadside restaurants along the highways in cities, towns and villages alike. As Michael Ignatieff has said and I have quoted before that television has become the church of modern authority. In an oral culture like ours where literacy level is low to further exacerbate the precarious situation surrounding our reading habits and the derivative skills to absorb and analyse the information that we receive through written word, the responsibility of those informing and educating people through electronic media increases manifold.


They are journalists first and foremost. Neither they are thespians, performers or filmstars who are there to entertain and sensationalise nor should they have an unprofessional slant. Particularly, it gets even worse when the slant is in favour of something that is totally untrue, completely concocted and serves a specific agenda.

Pakistan's foreign policy failures rooted in a defective national security paradigm pursued for many decades have hugely impacted our economy, polity and societal norms on the one hand and tarnished our image as a state and people in the comity of nations on the other. The champions of this narrative got egg on their face once again. This time around this was not the egg of a turtle or a hen but that of an ostrich. A big round egg cracked open on their heads and smeared their faces. They are in a fix. If they own up to being collaborators or claim to be in the know of things about an impending operation that could eliminate Osama bin Laden at the hands of American SEAL commandoes, they would take the wrath of the religious extremists, irrespective of their estimate that extremist outfits could still be controlled and used as a military asset in future.

If they say they had no idea where Osama was, apparently after he had lived in a garrison town near the military academy for years, this is a reflection on their capacity to safeguard the interests of Pakistan. For, Pakistan is a part of a war against Al-Qaeda and Taliban and Osama had declared war on Pakistan for siding with the Americans and Nato-ISAF. How could he then survive in the heart of the country?

It is about time that in the supreme national interest, we whole-heartedly participate in the effort to root out terrorism, take stock of what went wrong in our policy and practice and set it right. It will take some time and both our strategic allies and our neighbours will have to demonstrate some patience. Surrounded and besieged, a wounded cat can cause harm to all. But the civil and military establishment of Pakistan have to finally decide at this juncture in our history that the 180 million poor souls they either represent or claim to be custodians of need a stable, peaceful and prosperous country to live in. They have little choice but to clear out the mess themselves so that outsiders are not able to intervene. People are confused. Our anchors have to stop whipping up emotions and let the powers that be change their course.



The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy adviser. Email: harris. khalique@gmail.com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

WHOSE INTELLIGENCE FAILURE?

THERE is no bound to American joy over killing of Osama bin Laden —President Obama is taking pride in being commander-in-chief of a force that so superbly planned and executed Abbottabad operation, citizens are shown celebrating the grand victory and above all CIA chief is claiming that either ISI was an accomplice or incompetent. Americans are so power drunken and arrogant that they have flatly refused to offer any apology for violating Pakistan's sovereignty and are instead hinting that they would hit targets in future as well.

Leaving aside some other aspects of the entire drama, which would become clear with the passage of time and in fact reports have already started appearing in media across the globe making mockery of American claims, it would be worthwhile to analyze Leon Panetta's abhorring but boastful remarks. According to the US claims, it was Osama-led Al-Qaeda that planned and carried out 9/11 attacks and therefore, OBL was dubbed as number one enemy of the United States. Americans bombed Afghanistan to Stone Age just on this pretext but intriguingly they could not hunt or harm the most wanted person for ten long years. This is despite the fact that that the United States brags of being in possession of equipment and technology that can scan every inch of the earth. If the United States could not do that despite being at such an advantageous position then how can it expect Pakistan to work wonders with meager resources and obsolete facilities. Add to this the policy statement of Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan in the Senate on Wednesday in which she revealed that Pakistan had been sharing information about the suspected compound in Abbottabad till as late as April 2011 and no one would be convinced of American big talk in this regard. It is also significant to note that the United States was not alone in this biggest manhunt, as almost entire powerful West was at its disposal and therefore, Prime Minister Gilani has a point in saying that it was intelligence failure of the whole world. There are also credible reports that at the time of operation, OBL was unarmed and despite that American commandos thought it appropriate to kill him on the spot rather than arrest him to stand trial for his actions and reveal important information about his organization and its activities. All these show that things are not as simple as Americans are trying to portray and want the world to believe and facts would come to light with the passage of time.

 

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AKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PM'S VISIT STRENGTHENS TIES WITH FRANCE

 

PRIME Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani held very productive talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris where the French leader assured to help enhance the capability of Pakistan's law enforcement agencies and extend full cooperation in combating militancy and terrorism. In addition to bilateral talks, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani also addressed the MEDEF forum, which was attended by top corporate leaders and heads of major organisations of France inviting them to invest in Pakistan as the country offers lucrative incentives to foreign investors.

The visit took place in a difficult international environment but it was essential as Pakistan is trying to attract foreign investment and improve its standing in the international community by conveying its point of view at the highest level regarding war against terrorism. Due to deteriorating security situation in the country, foreign investment has gone down significantly over the past, few years which led to increased unemployment and poverty. France is an important member of the European Union and the Prime Minister raised the issue of greater access to Pakistani goods in European markets. It is essential that Pakistan should have a comprehensive and lasting partnership and forge a strategic partnership with EU to bring about political and economic stability in South Asia. The Pak-France relations have seen many ups and downs in the past and we are confident that Premier Gilani's visit and talks with Government and business leaders would yield positive results particularly in security cooperation and investment in energy sector. The MoU signed for the establishment of Joint Business Council is a step in the right direction. It is necessary that the French businessmen may be persuaded to visit Pakistan and see the ground security situation, which is far better than being propagated by the western media. Already more than 30 French companies are doing business in Pakistan besides those from USA, Europe, China and other parts of the world. None of these companies has suffered losses in Pakistan and that is a plus point and attraction for doing good business and expanding their operations. Also the geo-strategic location and hard working and cheap labour force provide unmatched business and export opportunities to foreign investors. We are confident that the visit of the Prime Minister would further strengthen ties with France and the goodwill generated would be followed with practical measures for the advantage of the two countries.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

SANITY PREVAILS AMONG PALESTINIANS

 

AFTER four years of infighting that was a great setback to the cause of Palestinian people, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal buried the hatchet at a ceremony in Cairo on Wednesday. Palestinians gathered in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip to celebrate the long-awaited agreement to put an end to the rivalry between the administrations in the West Bank and Gaza and restore the unity shattered by deadly infighting in June 2007.


Palestinian reconciliation has understandably pained Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who termed it as 'blow to peace' because the Jewish state was the real beneficiary of internal strife between Hamas and Fatah Movement. Political observers were of the view that the split of the Palestinians into virtually two entities was the biggest blow to the cause of Palestine and the situation was fully exploited by Israel. However, these four years served as an eye opener for those who believed that they can engage Israel in peace negotiations by distancing themselves from those who believe in Intifada. Despite serious and sincere efforts by Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, Israel showed no reciprocity and pursued the same path of oppression and suppression. Israel also did not accept the oft-repeated demand of Abbas to halt construction of illegal settlements and this convinced Palestinians that the Jewish State was only buying time and had no intention of peacefully resolving the conflict. We hope that Palestinians would not allow the enemy to again exploit their internal differences and they would work in complete solidarity in their struggle to realise the dream of an independent homeland with Jerusalem as its capital.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

HAS CARLA BRUNI'S CHARM WORKED IN INDIA?

GEOPOLITICAL NOTES FROM INDIA

M D NALAPAT

The Obama administration has largely reverted to the Clinton presidency's policy of looking at India as a lesser power, although unlike Clinton, who began mouthing praise on Delhi only when US business interests in the country reached critical mass, Barack Obama has been generous with "wampum", showering sugary words and making insubstantial gestures, even while it seeks to lock India into a dependent relationship now that Pakistan is drifting apart from Washington and moving into Beijing's orbit. In the nuclear field, the Obama administration is insisting on conditions that collectively negate the Singh-Bush nuclear accord, in effect continuing to force India off the path of nuclear capability. In Space, although a few token gestures have been made, none of these has been followed up by any intensification of cooperation between NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The grip of the Europeanist world view is too strong for President Obama to acknowledge that India is at least the equal of France, Britain or Germany, and needs to be so treated. Instead, the policymakers in the DC Beltway are still at work using their many friends in the Sonia Gandhi-led coalition to lock India into a one-sided relationship that would severely affect this country's prospects for future growth and technological autonomy and excellence.


That the Sonia Gandhi-led administration ( for let us face reality, rather than cling to the legal fiction that any minister other than - perhaps - himself sees Manmohan Singh as the boss) is uninterested in going the China route of technological self-sufficiency has been once again illustrated by the decision to award the 126-aircraft contract to the French or to a French-led consortium. A senior Indian politician, who seems to have been given information from a rival country's sources once it was clear that France was in the driver's seat on what is expected to balloon into a $18 billion contract, has publicly accused France's First Lady Carla Bruni of having intervened with Italian-born Sonia Gandhi in order to ensure that the contract went to Paris in one form or the other, something that has now happened. For more than a year, reports have been swirling around Raisina Road that "Number Ten" ( the 10 Janpath residence of the all-powerful UPA chairperson, who was born in Orbassano in Italy but has made India her home for four decades) was in favour of the French option, although such reports were not accompanied by any proof. It may be that Sonia Gandhi is simply being made the target of a smear campaign, so hopefully both she as well as Bruni will clarify the nature of their contacts and discussions before gossip spreads about the relationship that she shares with the Maino family, who are frequent visitors to India. Of course, given the timidity of the Indian media on all negative matters relating to Sonia Gandhi, the allegation made by Dr Swamy, the Indian politician close to both China and the US, has gone almost totally unreported.

In the interests of transparency, let it be stated that this columnist favoured the Swedish option in the aircraft contract. The reason for this is the fact that the Scandinavian countries are far less hidebound than the EU core of France and Germany in their relations with former colonies of the Europeans. An India-Sweden technological alliance, followed by other linkages with Finland and Norway, could enable the Scandinavians to compete with the rest of Europe, while giving India a massive leg up in technological upgradation. Further, in the case of the Swedish option, India could have become a shareholder of the company producing the Gripen military aircraft, thereby ensuring that it enters as a player in the international market.


The French ( and the French-led European consortium) are far more stingy with sharing of technology than the Swedes would be. The geopolitical benefits of buying either of the two aircraft short listed by the Ministry of Defense would be minimal, given that past experience shows that for the Franco-Germans, cooperation is a one-way street, in which India makes the substantive concessions and the Franco-Germans respond by anodyne phrases and state visits, Obama-style. Going the "Tata way" would have been best. Ratan Tata, the visionary boss of the House of Tatas, bought over Jaguar-Land Rover and thereby ensured a world-class technology boost for all the vehicles produced by the conglomerate. Had India become a major stakeholder in SAAB as part of a deal to buy the Gripen, such an advantage could have come to the aerospace sector as well.


As for the US, there is no doubt that in geopolitical terms, buying US aircraft would have been best. Certainly, sources on Raisina Hill say that this was the early preference of the small group around Prime Minister Singh. However, the US side refused to relent on the numerous conditionalities that they loaded onto the purchase. Some of these would have blocked the delivery of spares during crisis situations, exactly the period when they are most needed. Others would have opened the way for intrusive US inspections on air force bases across India. This country is not Pakistan, and public opinion would not stand for it being declared a free area for US personnel. The Obama team ( following the Clinton playbook) was even pushing for a SOFA,
that would give immunity to US personnel operating in India. Such an agreement would have led to the impeachment of the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister by the Parliament, and both wisely declined the honour. Tempers were not lowered when Defense Secretary Gates came calling and insisted on India accepting the same conditions that Oman or Kuwait would in military purchases from the US. The fact is that India stands on a level different from any other country except China and the US itself, and until Washington understands and operationalises that, it will continue to lose contracts in India.


What about the Russians? Much of the Indian Air Force fleet is from Russia, and it may therefore have made sense to once again turn to Moscow. However, the experience with Moscow over the past decade has been disappointing. All that the Russians seek is money,and lots of it, which is why the costs of their equipment and spares have ballooned year on year. Also, there seems to be different lobbies in Russia, and a powerful US-EU lobby ( led by Presidenrt Medvedev) is pushing for India to accept the same terms as are being offered by the NATO powers. That this would shut Russia out of the Indian market seems to have escaped those in Moscow who take their cues from the NATO powers. While some projects are being done jointly with Russia, each of these has been subjected to sabotage by the NATO lobby within Russia, the result of which has made that country an unreliable partner for India. Had the Russians followed the Vladimir Putin line of policy autonomy, it would have been the best partner, even better than the Scandinavians. However, it seems that Putin is losing ground in his country to the muscular lobby that seeks a return to the Yeltsin policy of going along with NATO apart from occasional verbal bouts of defiance.


$18 billion is a lot of money, and even half of that could have ensured that India enter the same league as China, which is fast developing superb military aircraft. However, this would have meant a turning away from the Sonia Gandhi line of close proximity to the NATO powers, especially France and Italy. These days, companies based in Italy are coming to India for contracts in large numbers, and even one of the world's worst airlines, Alitalia, has been given prize slots into and out of India by former Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, who is a close friend of the Nehru family. As this columnist can testify, even the Business Class in Alitalia is worse than a bullock cart. On one flight from the US to India, the aircraft made an unscheduled stopover in Karachi, where the Indian passengers were forced to remain on board for hours without even a snack. This seems to be Italy's time in Indian and also that of France.


In the absence of proof, it would be wrong to blame Sonia Gandhi for the many contracts that entities from the two countries are getting in India. However, gossip about the alleged business activities of her two sisters floats around the internet (the conventional media being silent, in view of the Income Tax and other repercussions of annoying VVIPs in India) to the fury of Home Minister Chidambaram and Finance Minister Mukherjee, who are ever vigilant at protecting the interests of The Family and are each looking forward to soon replacing Manmohan Singh as PM.


—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

"GERONIMO. EKIA"

SULTAN M HALI

 

The US Navy SEALS, who conducted the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound early Sunday, messaged to the White House: "Geronimo. E-KIA," indicating the code name of the operation, "Geronimo", the enemy has been killed in action. U.S. President Barack Obama appeared in a hastily arranged televised address the night of May 1, 2011, to inform the world that U.S. counterterrorism forces had located and killed Osama bin Laden. The operation, which reportedly happened in the early hours of May 2, targeted a compound in Abbotabad. The nighttime raid resulted in a brief firefight that left bin Laden and several others dead. A U.S. helicopter reportedly was damaged in the raid and later destroyed by U.S. forces. Obama reported that no U.S. personnel were lost in the operation. After a brief search of the compound, the U.S. forces left with bin Laden's body and presumably anything else that appeared to have intelligence value.


From Obama's carefully scripted speech, it would appear that the U.S. conducted the operation unilaterally with no Pakistani assistance—or even knowledge. If one recalls Hillary Clinton's comment during her last visit to Islamabad, she had stepped on a number of toes with her comment: "I'm not saying that they're at the highest levels, but I believe that somewhere in this government are people who know where Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda is, where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is, and we expect more cooperation to help us bring to justice, capture or kill those who attacked us on 9/11." She must be having a smirk on her face depicting "I told you so". Indeed Operation Geronimo brings out more questions than answers. The US media is asking how Osama was able to live for six years in the compound undetected by Pakistani intelligence agencies unless he had support from within. The question that the people of Pakistan want answers to start with: was the Pakistani military in the knowledge of Operation Geronimo before it was executed? If not then how did the US Navy Seals helicopters penetrate so deep into Pakistan, conduct their raid and egress undetected. If this is true then the taxpayers are highly perturbed as to what use are the air defence systems and the other implements of early warning, which were caught napping.


We have witnessed the eruption of spontaneous celebrations in Washington DC as well as in New York, where the families of the 9/11 victims looked for closure to their grief. Indeed 9/11 was a terrible catastrophe but look at Pakistan and Afghanistan, who have each lost more than 30,000 civilians and 5,000 security personnel. Collectively this is 700% more than the souls lost in 9/11. The aim is not to belittle the grief of 9/11 affectees' families but to draw attention to Pakistan's predicament. US authorities are now trying to justify the torture, harassment and even water boarding of the inmates of Guantánamo Bay military prison, providing the rationale that this information led to the successful tracking and targeting of Osama bin Laden.


It is time to address what effects the death of bin Laden will have on Pak-US relations? It is imperative that to appreciate the impact of bin Laden's death on the global jihadist movement, we must first remember that the phenomenon of jihadism is far wider than just the al Qaeda core leadership of bin Laden and his closest followers. Stratfor, a US think tank opines that rather than a monolithic entity based on the al Qaeda group, jihadism has devolved into a far more diffuse network composed of many different parts. These parts include the core al Qaeda group formerly headed by bin Laden; a network of various regional franchise groups such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; and last, a broad array of grassroots operatives who are adherents to the jihadist ideology but who are not formally affiliated with the al Qaeda core or one of the regional franchises.

The al Qaeda core always has been a fairly small and elite vanguard. Since 9/11, intense pressure has been placed upon this core organization by the U.S. government and its allies. This pressure has resulted in the death or capture of many al Qaeda cadres and has served to keep the group small due to overriding operational security concerns. This insular group has laid low in Pakistan, and this isolation has significantly degraded its ability to conduct attacks. All of this has caused the al Qaeda core to become primarily an organization that produces propaganda and provides guidance and inspiration to the other jihadist elements rather than an organization focused on conducting operations. While bin Laden and the al Qaeda core have received a great deal of media attention, the core group comprises only a very small portion of the larger jihadist movement.

While the al Qaeda core has been marginalized recently, it has practiced good operational security and has been able to protect its apex leadership for nearly 10 years from one of the most intense manhunts in human history. It clearly foresaw the possibility that one of its apex leaders could be taken out and planned accordingly. This means keeping bin Laden and his deputy, Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawahiri, in different locations and having a succession plan. There is also very little question that al-Zawahiri is firmly in command of the core group.

Even prior to bin Laden's death, many analysts considered al-Zawahiri to be the man in charge of most of the operational aspects of the al Qaeda group — the "chief executive officer," with bin Laden being more of a figurehead or "chairman of the board." That said, the intelligence collected during the operation against bin Laden could provide leads to track down other leaders, and this may make them nervous in spite of their efforts to practice good operational security. The survival of the ideology of jihadism means the threat of terrorist attacks remains.

This analysis makes it imperative for the US and Pakistan to maintain close cooperation to defeat terrorism and make the world a safer place.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

THE ROLE OF MASJID

THE SPIRIT OF ISLAM

ATIF NOOR KHAN

 

Masjid literally means "place for prostration (sajdah)," a humbling position before Allah (SWT) and an essential part of salat (formal prayer). Even though salat can be performed anywhere, for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, "The whole Earth is made as a place of worship (masjid) and a means of cleansing for me," Muslims come to the masjid to offer salat, for it is preferable to pray with others, even if only two persons. A hadith says that one receives as 25-fold reward for praying in congregation. Also, the Friday noon prayer must be offered in a congregation.


People learn, teach, and study the Qur'an and other Islamic literature, as well as discuss community issues, in the masjid. This was the Prophet's practice (pbuh), for he conducted his meetings and most of his duties as Islamic community's leader at the masjid. The young Muslim community used to gather there for a variety of reasons, even to lead expeditions. Thus, we should use the masjid to educate and create awareness and political activism. Some Muslims, especially secularized ones, mistakenly think that Islam and the masjid should be limited to acts of worship. However, Islam means complete submission, commitment, and obedience to Allah (swt), for only the Creator knows what is best for us and the universe? We exist only to serve Him: " I have only created jinns and human beings only to serve me" (Surat adh-Dhariyat, 51:56). Our salvation in the next life, as well as our success here, lie in serving Him. Islam tells us that mere belief, despite its essentiality, cannot save us; good works must accompany it. When our actions correspond with our belief, we are at rest and our conscience is satisfied. Otherwise, we are "grievously odious in Allah's sight" (Surat as-Saff, 61:3) and thus experience spiritual conflict. If we sincerely believe in Allah (swt) and Islam, we must end this situation, for: "Indeed, the way of life with Allah is that of Islam (submission to His will)" (Surat Al-e 'Imran, 3:19) and "If anyone desires other than Islam as his way of life, never will it be accepted from him" (Surat Al-e 'Imran, 3:85).

Another mistaken idea is that politics is a dirty game to be avoided by good and pious Muslims. If it is dirty, it is because of the people involved in it. And, it will remain dirty as long as good people do not participate and manage their own affairs. Politics, in essence, is dealing with the country's or nation's collective internal and external affairs, and it is these collective affairs that must be set on a righteous course through good conduct.

Similarly, some think that Muslims should not participate in a non-Islamic system. This is rather naïve, for there is no established Islamic system in which we can participate. But, more importantly, how can we have an Islamic system if we do not work to establish it? All prominent Islamic political parties within the Muslim world generally acknowledge this and are committed to change through democratic and nonviolent means, canvassing the people, and asking for their support.


Muslim minorities must abide by the laws of the countries in which they live, participate fully in the democratic process, and use the available means to empower and better their communities. Attending to the community's collective affairs is an obligatory duty, and our neglect of it is the major source of our problems, regardless of where we are living. This situation must change if any improvement is to be expected.

A masjid is the place for Muslims to study and educate themselves on current issues, discuss and consult with others, and determine the issues' relevance to our community. Islam requires that all of our affairs be decided through consultation (shura): "Their affairs are decided by consultation between them" (Surat ash-Shura, 42:38). Even the Prophet (pbuh) was told to: "Consult them in affairs (of moment)" (Surat Al-e 'Imran, 3:159).

Indeed, the masjid is the best place in which sincere Muslims can discuss current issues thoroughly and insightfully. Everyone should participate in a free and open manner while, of course, observing the Islamic adab (manners and etiquette) of decency and consideration.

Differences are natural, because Allah (swt) created us with different talents and abilities to display His creative power. They open our minds to different possibilities and new ways of thinking by stimulating our intellectual development. This is essential for our progress. In fact, the Prophet (pbuh) encouraged us: "Differences in my Ummah are a blessing." The Qur'an and Sunnah condemn them only when they become a source of discord and schism that harms the community.

After an issue is thoroughly analyzed and discussed, a decision must be made. Consensus (ijma') is an important part of the Islamic decision-making process, and is required on all issues that affect the community members collectively. Thus, there has to be overall agreement on, and approval of, decisions that affect the whole community. Achieving this requires compromise. When complete unanimity is impossible, we are advised to follow the majority, for the hadith say: "My Ummah will never agree on wrongdoing" and "You should follow the majority of the Ummah."

The masjid should be the center of various da'wah programs designed to counter the negative publicity and stereotyping of Islam and Muslims with accurate information. In the masjid, we can illustrate Islam's beauty and reality through our transcendental literature and personal example. Every Muslim should be involved in da'wah programs.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

SUNITA VAKIL

 

Though it took a shamefully long time, the arrest of Suresh Kalmadi in the CWG scam and the charge sheeting of Kanimozhi and four others in the 2G case is heartening. With its credibility at its lowest, many hope that the Congress led UPA at long last has starting taking baby steps for walking the talk on corruption and gaining a higher moral ground on governance. Indeed the action taken by CBI merits applause but the fact remains that this elation is misplaced. Stray arrest of minor politicians on weak charges is not the solution to widespread corruption prevalent in the incumbent regime.

Kalmadi axing is nothing more than an eye wash. The party is trying to escape under this smoke cover. The government has no answers why it did not exercise control on ministers and other functionaries in key positions. What we see is only the tip of the iceberg. What about other political bigwigs who have been indicted by the Shunglu committee report? Why is a probe not being ordered against them also? Unless investigations are taken to a logical conclusion to unfold the truth behind the string of scams, these symbolic arrests will be reduced to mere dramatics and may not convince the detractors of the government.

It is no secret that the commonwealth games were crammed with scams. And yet, it took CBI so long to arrest Suresh Kalmadi even as his close aides, former CWG organizing committee Secretary General Lalit Bhanote and Director-General V.K. Verma were already jailed in connection with alleged irregularities in the Rs.. 107 corer deal with a Swiss time keeping firm. The delayed arrest, that came six months after the scandalously mismanaged games, is nothing but a stunt to show the country that the Congress is serious about its campaign against corruption. The UPA government - had no other option, but to act against Kalmadi as it had little room to manouvre in the face of mounting pressure from different quarters. Apart from the opposition, overwhelming support extended by the people to Anna Hazare's anti-corruption drive also ensured that the sacked CWG organization chairman was not let off the hook. The government finally woke up to the fact that continued inaction would further erode its already battered credibility.

Hence, it may be seen as the Congress's attempt to earn political mileage by trying to give the impression that the party is doing something about corruption. The timing of Kalmadi's arrest has also left those in opposition quite miffed as the deliberate delayed arrest was surely designed to give him enough time to damage the evidence so that he easily escapes punishment on account of the lack of incriminating proof. However, this drama to pacify public uproar does not convince anybody. There is no mistaking the fact that after a few days we will see Kalmadi walking the streets as a free man and after some years, contesting elections again.

Though the CBI deserves praise for its action against corruption, it leaves a lot to be desired. Clearly, this is not enough. A few months ago Kalmadi had said that every decision made by him was countersigned by key officials in the PMO. According to him, the organizing Committee has spent only 5 per cent of the total amount allotted for the CWG while the rest has been spent by other government agencies including the Delhi government. He is also known to gloat that if arrested he would expose other people who benefited from the CWG loot. This is then definitely a case of "too little, too late". That the congress has made Kalmadi the scapegoat for allowing high profile politicians and bureaucrats to escape the dragnet is open to debate. In its plenary session the Congress Party emphasized upon the need to tackle corruption at higher levels. That the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wishes to fight corruption while being part of the most corrupt political party and that he shows no gumption to nail those who encourage corrupt practices is beyond comprehension. There is an urgent need to press for the prosecution of those involved in the scam including the Chief Minister and the Lt. Governor without further delay. The party has to be alive to the reality that corruption has to be eliminated at all levels. There is a need to fight graft on the ground otherwise its stated agenda will be seen as a mere rhetoric.

UPA II has let down the country in a big way. Just because it is a coalition does not mean that there should be no transparency in governance. While India hopes to be a superpower, everyone from politicians to corporate giants is busy robbing the exchequer. The common man has been reduced to the level of hapless spectator in this scheme of things. This is only working to government's benefit as it is busy covering up various scams. The ongoing war cry against corruption is nothing but a mare fight to replace one corrupt system with another. Leaders facing corruption charges continue to enjoy people's support. Corruption has afflicted every sphere of human activity. Transparency, accountability, probity in public life and good governance are only slogans. That is why the outflow of legal money to foreign countries has a assumed the form of a deluge. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is right in saying that Indian government should be more aggresive in taking action against those who have accounts in Swiss Banks. But it appears that the government is paying no heed to the issue of black money as nothing significant has been announced so far. With Mr. Assange's assurance to the Indian people that the names of those who hold accounts in Swiss banks will be released soon, it is hoped that the government will act on the new information to check the flow of Indian money to foreign countries.

The leakage of the PAC report ahead of its meeting and the mudslinging among members of the committee has yet again proved that the politicians are least bothered about the nation. The common man can no longer trust the Congress government. It is clear that our leaders have not learnt any lesson from the Jantar Mantar protests. The UPA government's action on the Shanglu report will test its sincereity The arrest of Kalmadi and others may give some respite to aam aadmi but ultimately it is conviction that will retrieve public faith in the system. With a huge voter turnout in the West Bengal Assembly Polls and the recently held. Panchayat Polls in J&K reinforcing people's faith in democracy and in their power to being the change through the ballot, is the UPA ready to seize the moment and make the system more transparent and efficient?

—The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist.

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

HECS DISCOUNT PROMOTES THRIFT

MANY FAMILIES STRUGGLE TO HELP STUDENTS PAY FEES UPFRONT.

It goes without saying that fiscal discipline should be the hallmark of next week's budget. But if halving the 20 per cent discount for early payment of Higher Education Contribution Scheme fees has the perverse effect of reducing the incentive for individual families and students to save for a university education, the government should think again. Cutting the discount would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars but it would also have unintended consequences. It would reduce revenue flows to universities from HECS payments and leave many students less inclined to use their earnings from part-time jobs to reduce their debts. The public HECS debt is currently $20 billion and more than a fifth of it is unlikely to be repaid.

HECS, introduced by the Hawke government, is an effective user-pays system that allows all students to fulfill their academic potential. One in six students takes advantage of the discount, including many from middle- or high-income families. Others, however, are mature-aged students and risk-averse poorer people who also prefer to pay up front and who struggle and save to pay at least some of their students' HECS debts in advance, subsidising the money their children earn from part-time jobs. The responsible behaviour of such families is to be encouraged. Perhaps inadvertently, the government would hurt them by cutting the discount. It would also need to consider the thousands of students on academic scholarships who also access the discount by paying their fees before they receive their scholarship payments.

Cutting the discount would not help the education revolution. It would also sit oddly with the government's reported plan to give low-income families with teenagers at school or in training up to $10,700 a year in extra benefits as an incentive to complete their studies. In penalising one group at the expense of another, the government would be open to claims it was playing the politics of envy -- one of the last resorts of Labor governments clean out of ideas. While a staunch advocate of abolishing middle-class welfare, The Australian recognises that measures such as cutting the HECS discount would need to be made in tandem with a flatter tax system that left more money in families' pockets.

 

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    THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

REWARDING OUR BEST TEACHERS

EDUCATION ENRICHES THE LIVES OF DISADVANTAGED STUDENTS.

Commendably, in keeping with her long-standing commitment to education, Julia Gillard's first budget as Prime Minister is set to reward Australia's best teachers with pay bonuses. Whatever the opposition of teacher unions to merit pay, Ms Gillard and Education Minister Peter Garrett must not be swayed from their intention to provide the bonuses to about one in 10 teachers, based on NAPLAN testing results, lesson observations and parental feedback. The bonuses will not be paid until 2014, when the budget should be in surplus. Improving classroom standards is so important that it is worth cutting other spending to fund the bonuses.

Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos claims, erroneously, that the system will be "counterproductive and divisive". Given their way, teacher unions would favour the initiative degenerating into an across-the-board pay rise for all teachers, not linked to performance.

Ironically, the Australian Primary Principals Association president Norm Hart rejects the idea of giving parents, whose taxes will fund the bonuses, a say in which teachers should receive then. With the same "parents don't know best" outlook, teacher unions oppose providing detailed feedback on school performance and test results. Discerning parents, however, have voted with their feet. In outer metropolitan areas, enrolments in low-fee, Christian schools have soared and state school enrolments have fallen as aspirational parents make heavy sacrifices.

Implemented properly, the $8100 bonuses for experienced teachers and $5400 for those in their first few years of service should help lift the standard of teaching in some of the nation's most disadvantaged schools. Overseas experience, including that of public schools in New York under the performance-driven policies of former schools chancellor Joel Klein, shows that competition between schools and devolving decision-making to head teachers and parents help transform the lives and socio-economic prospects of students, even in the most disadvantaged schools. So does outstanding teaching, and merit bonuses will be a useful incentive to encourage teachers, on a daily basis, to go the extra mile for their students in order to promote greater achievement. The benefits to the nation will be more productive school leavers with better literacy and numeracy skills.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

GILLARD'S FIRST BUDGET IN NEED OF A CLEAR NARRATIVE

COMMUNICATING AN ECONOMIC MESSAGE IS VITAL IN POLITICS.

Preparing for her government's first budget, Julia Gillard should be in no doubt about how crucial it is in the quest to forge a sense of hope for her floundering team. Aside from recognising the primary importance of sound economic management, the Prime Minister needs to understand the need to provide a coherent economic story. Call it an agenda, a plan or, in the fashionable parlance, a narrative, the point is that the public won't support the government's economic policy unless they understand what it is doing and why.

Just four days out from the budget, the Gillard government's economic narrative is confused. Labor has poor recent form in this regard. Two budgets back, for instance, it managed to deliver a $57 billion deficit, the largest in the nation's history, without using the word deficit. This smacks of playing the voters for fools and it is a poor contrast with the reforming governments of Hawke and Keating where, in good and bad times, voters were confronted with the reality of our economic challenges.

Yet in the lead-up to this budget, Labor is struggling for consistency, arguing that the mining boom produced "rivers of gold" for the previous government but it won't this time around. At the same time, it argues for a new mining tax to capture more of that gold from those non-existent rivers. Yet Labor seeks to blame the expanding resources sector for the need to cut back on government expenditure, but all the while it says the mining boom revenue will drag us back into surplus in two years time.

Then what has been promoted initially as a tough budget delivering the fiscal discipline the nation needs, this week has been portrayed as generous, with pre-announcements about bonus payments for teachers and extra funding to keep teenagers in school. All things to all people.

The underlying reason for the confused narrative seems to be the government's unwillingness to confront the economic facts. In 2008-09, the global financial crisis presented a significant threat and we weathered the storm for a number of reasons. Prime among them were China's insatiable demand for our resources, loosening of monetary policy through cuts in interest rates, stability in our own financial institutions and the government's stimulus packages. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that some of criticism at the time was correct: the government overreacted. Labor spent too much, too unwisely, with billions of dollars wasted on the home insulation scheme and mismanagement of the school halls program. Even now, two years on from the GFC, some stimulus money is flowing into the economy through the last of the school halls and, although it was not, strictly speaking, part of the stimulus, the NBN rollout.

So while we should be enjoying the proceeds of the mining boom and concentrating on how to manage our wealth, the Gillard government needs to rein in spending to sustainable levels to ease inflationary and interest rate pressures, and return the budget to a structural surplus. The government's problem is not the nature of the mining boom -- it is the spending it committed to in the past two budgets. Yes Prime Minister, yes Treasurer, we do need a tough budget. But dare the government explain why?

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

SOME BETS SHOULD BE OFF

WITH an almost casual remark in his maiden speech to the NSW Parliament, the Sports Minister, Graham Annesley, has aroused enormous interest and a pleasingly positive response. Referring to the growth of gambling on big events, and to new and exotic types of betting, Annesley told Parliament the trend threatened sport's integrity. ''Any sport with a question mark over its integrity will not enjoy public confidence and will over time become nothing more than a sideshow.'' The Gaming Minister, George Souris, has agreed with him, and has quite rightly backed a national approach on the issue, focusing in particular on the practice of betting on negative aspects of a game.

Wagers on micro-events within a match - whether a player will reach a certain score, or kick a certain number of goals, or reach a particular benchmark - all tend to cast a shadow over the contest, because players can be bribed to fail. The presence of big money wagers on apparently trivial details of a game - whatever the probity of the agency arranging the bets - automatically introduces a doubt in the minds of spectators about the genuineness of what they are seeing. The experiences of cricket and to a lesser extent rugby league in recent times are warnings of what may await all sports.

The betting industry has argued strenuously against regulation or interference. Banning some types of bets will only send them underground, the industry says, where malpractice would be harder to trace and corruption more lucrative. As things stand at least sporting bodies and government regulators are dealing with reputable operators with an interest in remaining above board and corruption free. The argument has some merit. The fact that online betting may move overseas to sidestep any national regulation also makes the regulators' job more difficult.

Nonetheless, there is a wider issue here. The internet has made online sports betting a lot easier, and though it may represent only a small part (1.2 per cent, the Productivity Commission says) of Australia's estimated $19 billion betting industry, it is growing rapidly. Online betting firms sponsor many NRL and AFL teams. Their advertisements are woven both into the garments the teams wear, and into the commentaries broadcast about the matches. Children who grow up watching sport are now encouraged, along with everyone else, to bet on it - not just watch it, as if betting somehow brings the spectator closer to the event. This emphasis on betting is new, and in this sport-obsessed and gambling-sodden culture, destructive, we believe. At the very least Australia needs uniform laws to regulate the industry, and clamp down on the types of betting that tend to corrupt. The NSW Law Reform Commission's coming review of the law as it applies to gambling should provide an opportunity to make needed changes.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

CONSULTANTS AND OTHER BOGYMEN

THE private health insurance industry has heard the signals coming from Labor about its need to cut spending and is fighting hard to keep its privileged position. The industry will have found a consultants' report, commissioned to estimate the effects of means-testing eligibility for the private health insurance rebate, to be gratifyingly catastrophic. Means testing, its consultants found, would be a disaster: consumers, particularly healthy ones, would dump private health insurance in their tens of thousands. Those who remained, being sicker on average, would have to pay higher premiums to cover the increased cost of their more frequent treatments. The government might save some money by means-testing its rebate and making other changes, but it would end up paying more to accommodate the flood of former private patients suddenly seeking treatment in public hospitals.

The only conclusion to be drawn, the industry hopes, from this series of terrifying possibilities is that the government must abandon its plans, and the private health insurance industry must continue to enjoy the privileged position it now holds thanks to existing rules that force consumers to buy its products or face significant financial penalties.

The industry believes its forecast of what might happen if the government proceeds is superior to Treasury's far less alarming forecasts, being based on an opinion survey of what consumers say they would do if faced with higher premiums. But a survey is not real life, while Treasury's analysis was based on studies of actual consumer behaviour. The point is at least moot.

Moreover, on the broader question the industry is wrong. There is no justification for continuing the present arrangements that corral wealthier patients from the public system and help them, through private health funds, to use private hospitals. The present arrangements are certainly complicated, but they amount in effect to a form of middle-class welfare of a particularly perverse kind, spending scarce health dollars on a split system with two levels of care. The government's primary focus should be on fixing the public health system. Those who can afford private health care, and those who help them do so with insurance, are well able to look after themselves without government assistance.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

REPRESENTATIVES FORGET ROLE IN MARRIAGE ROWS

GOVERNMENTS ARE BETTER KEPT IN CHECK BY VOTERS THAN VETOES.

FEDERAL Labor is agonising over a bill that would end ministerial vetoes of laws passed by the territories. The democratic case is clear: governments elected by voters in the Northern Territory and ACT should not be subject to arbitrary powers of veto. Despite professions of concern about constitutional anomalies (what of anomalies between the rights of state and territory voters to have laws that reflect their views?), the real fear is that the bill opens the door to same-sex marriage and euthanasia legislation.

This, too, is an issue of representative democracy. The House of Representatives is elected to represent the balance of views and values of voters. This principle of representation applies to all tiers of government and to individual electorates. The result may dismay a federal government when a territory passes laws that reflect its voters' more progressive views. Prime Minister Julia Gillard's predecessor, Kevin Rudd, and the Coalition's John Howard both vetoed such territory legislation.

Ms Gillard insists on limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman, but not because she holds traditional religious beliefs. It is more likely she wishes to avoid further political difficulties. Being in minority government, which has to allow more private members' bills, has upset that strategy. The Greens introduced a bill to the upper house that would give same-sex couples equal marriage rights. Last November, the lower house passed a motion calling on MPs ''to gauge their constituents' views on ways to achieve equal treatment for same-sex couples, including marriage''. The ACT has twice legislated to recognise civil unions between same-sex couples and would go further if it could. In March, after the ALP caucus agreed to support the bill increasing territories' autonomy, a right-wing revolt forced the bill to be referred to a Senate committee.

The committee has now endorsed the bill, but its dissenting Coalition members see the Green-drafted legislation as ''a vehicle to promote pet policies such as euthanasia and same-sex marriage''. The ALP is sensitive to any accusations of undue Greens influence. However, the Coalition's conservative leader, Tony Abbott, has pointed out that federal laws on euthanasia and marriage override state and territory legislation. Under the bill, a veto of territory laws would still be possible, but would require the approval of both houses of Parliament.

The political battle is divorced from contemporary community views. Attitudes have changed, as Ms Gillard should know. A prime minister in a de facto relationship would once have been unthinkable. Today, only a few rail at ''living in sin''. It is Ms Gillard's right to choose her partner and they may yet decide to marry, knowing that the state will recognise the marriage. Yet she is willing to deny that right to same-sex couples whose relationships are an inherent part of their identity. Most Australians accept same-sex relationships, including those involving a party leader, a High Court judge, one of Ms Gillard's senior ministers and her former chief of staff.

Polling shows that barely one in three people opposes same-sex marriage, which has majority support even among blue-collar and rural voters (although Coalition voters are more evenly divided) and in all states except Queensland. Churchgoers, about one in six Australians, rightly expect churches to decide which relationships they will bless, but they have no right to impose those views on secular law.

Is Ms Gillard going to let a conservative minority call the shots or will she finally show leadership to end discrimination that causes widespread hurt and harm? This is an issue of human decency. One cannot expect MPs to vote against their strongly held beliefs, or those of their electors, so Ms Gillard should declare a conscience vote. And once a federal, state or territory Parliament has adopted a law, it should not be overturned simply by a minister's veto, especially when the law clearly reflects contemporary norms.


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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

When clubs put themselves first

CLUBS are privileged institutions, and not just because some of them have lots of oak panelling and expensive silverware, and are very choosy about whom they allow to join them. In fact, the sorts of clubs that don't restrict their membership lists to a supposedly elite few are privileged, too, especially if they have a room full of poker machines.

Under Victoria's Gambling Regulation Act, hotels with poker machines are required to pay 8.33 per cent of their net gambling revenue - gamblers' losses - into a community support fund. Clubs, however, can claim an exemption from this levy provided they spend an equivalent proportion of their earnings from gambling on activities that benefit the community.

On the face of it, this exemption seems fair since clubs are institutions that have a community focus. At least in theory, they are not commercial enterprises like hotels. The reports that clubs must lodge annually with the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation, however, present a different picture of how most clubs understand their community obligations.

Clubs are required to inform the commission of how they spend the 8.33 per cent of gambling revenue that they are exempt from paying as tax but which supposedly benefits the community. In their reports, the clubs must specify the spending in three categories: philanthropic (donations, sponsorships, sporting activities, volunteer work, support for veterans); institutional (club capital spending, financial arrangements and operating costs); and gambling-related (''responsible gambling measures'' other than those required by law, preparation of the community benefits statement, etc).

Not the least dubious aspect of this reporting process is that it is the first category of activities that most people would regard as having anything to do with benefit to the community. What is worse, this category seems not to be the one most favoured by clubs. A study by Monash University senior lecturer in health social science Charles Livingstone of clubs' reports filed in 2009-10 reveals that of a total net gambling revenue of $887 million, only $60 million was spent on activities allocated to the first category, and $783,353 to those in the third category. In contrast, $231 million went to the second category - in other words, to the clubs themselves.

How does subsidising a club's wages bill benefit the wider community? By increasing staff numbers in the gaming room, perhaps? If clubs cannot serve their communities better than this, they should lose their exemption from the community support fund levy.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

BARACK OBAMA: BELIEF RETURNS

'No one can say whether this has been a pivotal week for the US president, but it has certainly been an extraordinary one'

No one can yet say whether this has been a pivotal week for Barack Obama's presidency, but it has certainly been an extraordinary one. You don't need polls to judge how far he has travelled in just a few days. All you have to do is compare what his friends were saying about him before Bin Laden's killing and what his enemies are saying now. The New Yorker culled a litany of barbed judgments from the foreign policy establishment two weeks ago. They ran: Mr Obama does not strategise, he sermonizes; he leads from behind; he's no John Wayne. And now? "The administration deserves credit," says Dick Cheney. "I admire the courage of the president," claps Rudolph Giuliani. "I want to personally congratulate President Obama," says Donald Trump, the man who hounded the Democrat for his birth certificate.

Not all of this can be attributed to Harold Macmillan's explanation of what blows a term of office off course: "Events, dear boy, events." Mr Obama placed himself firmly at the centre of this event. It was he who instructed Leon Panetta to make the hunt for Bin Laden the CIA's number one priority; he who was briefed on a possible lead six months ago and repeatedly since; he who determined they had evidence to go; he who insisted on the riskier helicopter raid, rather than one well-placed bomb. This last decision will earn him the respect of his military. It is safe to say that questioning his national security credentials is a game that can be played no more. Nor will Republican attempts to paint him as a liberal out of touch with the nation's values find such fertile ground. But is something bigger going on, or will it all soon be back to business as usual in the beleaguered West Wing – raging budget deficits, unemployment and petrol prices?

When Mr Obama walked into the fire station in midtown Manhattan yesterday and said that his commitment to making sure justice was done transcended politics and party, and that his audience would always have a president and an administration who has got their back, he was conscious of addressing an audience larger than the firemen who had lost 15 of their colleagues 10 years ago. He has made calls for national unity before. He has attempted to position himself above the partisan fray and fallen woefully short. He has appealed before to his political opponents' higher instincts, only to be roundly defeated by them. Yesterday he had a chance to make the same grab for the higher ground and remain on it. No longer as a dangerous, possibly even un-American liberal intent on pushing through unpopular reforms in stormy times but as a leader who can harness the mood of the nation. This is potent stuff. If he succeeds in winning re-election it will be because he has re-assembled many of the constituents responsible for propelling him into power. Until now, they have been clobbered in the battles of his first term – the most likely to be unemployed, or to have had their home repossessed. As they lost faith in the man who heralded change they could believe in, the independent voter lost faith too. And in many states with strong military connections this has the power to change the political map.

There was a sign yesterday that the Republicans, too, were changing tactics. They conceded their plan to overhaul Medicare was unlikely to succeed and offered to open talks with the Democrats on the budget. They have not got long – two weeks before the debt will hit the limit of $14.3tn, and before Congress faces a difficult vote to raise the ceiling. Much will still depend on the economy and on jobs. On these fronts, Mr Obama has yet to show the audacity of hope. But if a leasehold of the centre ground starts to grow in political value, then it has not come a moment too soon for his presidency. This does not mean that Mr Obama will come good on his promise to change America. But it may mean more Americans start to believe in him.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF… CELEBRATING KENNETH BRANAGH

In any other country Branagh's achievements would be a source of acclaim and collective pride

Is there something about Kenneth Branagh that justifies the sour press that has so often mugged him – including, let it be admitted, on occasion in the Guardian? Or does the intermittent Branagh-bashing say more about media culture than the man himself? In any other country, Mr Branagh's achievements would be a source of full-throated acclaim and collective pride – and indeed he has rarely been out of favour with the public. Mr Branagh may not be the supreme actor-director of his generation – but then, though he has few peers, he has never claimed to be. At 50, the record is already too prodigious to list in full: highlights include a memorable breakthrough in Fortunes of War, a succession of fine Shakespeare roles on stage and screen, compelling TV roles as the explorer Ernest Shackleton, the fascist Reinhard Heydrich and, in the face of the incomparably idiomatic Swedish version, the troubled detective Kurt Wallander. Yes, Mr Branagh has produced his turkeys, and his latest movie project Thor has once again divided the critics from the public. But his failures are always ambitious ones. They pale into insignificance compared with Mr Branagh's life-enhancing successes. Anyone who saw his Ivanov in the West End will savour the other Chekhov and Ibsen roles to come that might have been written for him. What an Antony, Oberon and Prospero he will be. Which actor today could better drive a re-examination of Shaw? This is merely the interval. The second act, even better if we're lucky, beckons.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

BANKS: THE PROTECTION RACKET

The PPI racket casts a light on how much needs to be done to clean up the banks

Company results can tell you about much more than the fortunes of an individual business; they sometimes reveal the worrying state of an entire industry. So it is with yesterday's quarterly figures from Lloyds. Sure, the company-specific stuff gets its full and ugly reflection. Taxpayers and other interested observers can see for themselves that the state-owned bank remains in fragile condition, racking up losses of £3.47bn in the first three months of this year. And the group continues to pay a heavy price for earlier misadventures in the Irish property market. Lloyds shares are now bouncing around 55p, about 25% below the price the government paid for its stake, which raises serious questions about when and how taxpayers will get their money back.

But yesterday's results tell us about more than one messed-up balance sheet; they help paint a picture of a rotten industry practice. Because the bank's single biggest source of red ink is due to losses in a business that most of its high-street competitors were also in up to their necks: payment protection insurance.

The theory behind PPI was simple: you take out a mortgage or a credit card, but are worried about falling sick or losing your job – so the bank sells you an insurance policy that covers your payments. Unfortunately, as so many customers over the past decade found, the theory behind PPI rarely translated into practice: according to industry sources, most banks paid as little as 15% of their PPI income to claimants. And many of these costly policies should never have been sold in the first place; yet the banks had no compunction about flogging protection against redundancy to, say, self-employed plumbers. This was a racket, yet when the industry came under fire from the press (the Guardian was the first national paper to report on the PPI profiteering), consumer action groups and bloggers, it clammed up. Institutions batted off claims for compensation; and the British Bankers' Association took its own regulators to court. The best that can be said for Lloyds is that at least it has woken up to reality. By setting aside more than £3bn to compensate swindled customers, it has done the right thing – and upped the pressure on RBS and other rivals to follow suit.

But the bottom line is this: the PPI racket casts a light on how much needs to be done to clean up the banks. Just making the system safer, as regulators are urging, is not enough; it needs to be made more useful. Even in their pomp and glory, British banks lent like drunkards and ripped off their PPI-buying customers. They must not be patched up and allowed to go back to business as usual. Because as PPI reminds us, business as usual was rotten.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

IN THE FOCUS OF INVESTOR RADAR

Indonesia, with its strong political and macroeconomic stability and sterling performance of 4.9 percent economic growth in 2009 when most other economies contracted, and another robust expansion of 6.1 percent last year, has increasingly been on the radars of international investors.

The lingering European debt woes, the almost zero interest rates in most of the developed economies and the increasing risk of a stall in the US economic recovery have made investment opportunities in Indonesia's rich natural resources and its burgeoning market of 240 million people even more promising.

Following on the heels of the meeting between Indonesian and Chinese business leaders here over the weekend during China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's state visit, which resulted in investment and loan commitments of more than US$15 billion from China, Jakarta is again hosting three more important investor conferences this week.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono opened on Wednesday a two-day conference of the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which attracted 250 American business leaders. Thursday saw the launch of the first ASEAN-European Union Business Summit, and this weekend ASEAN business leaders will hold a conference on the sidelines of the summit of ASEAN Leaders.

Then in the middle of next month, Jakarta will again become the focus of attention when business leaders and analysts from around the world gather at the international conference on East Asia organized by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

The OPIC conference is especially important because this 40-year old American development institution mobilizes private capital to help U.S. businesses gain footholds in emerging markets, providing American businesses with financing, guarantees, political risk insurance and support for private equity investment funds.

OPIC can provide facilities to US investors looking for partners abroad and vice-versa and financing for any project as long as US shareholding is at least 25 percent.

So important has been OPIC's role as the catalyst for promoting American investments, notably small and medium-scale businesses, overseas that, President Barack Obama felt it necessary to specifically mention the planned OPIC conference during his visit in Jakarta last November.

OPIC has $13 billion invested in projects worldwide,
but only $76 million of that has been channeled into Indonesia so far.

Similarly important is the first ASEAN-EU Business Summit because connecting to the European market is also crucial for ASEAN economic success as well.

First of all, the EU is still ASEAN's largest export destination and its second-largest trading partner with two-way trade of around $200 billion a year and Europe also accounts for one fourth of all foreign direct investment in ASEAN. Last year alone, EU businesses ploughed in $11 billion in new investment in ASEAN countries.

All this investor attention makes it even more imperative and urgent for both the Indonesian government, including regional administrations, and businesspeople to join hands to make our economy much more hospitable to foreign investors.

We should magnanimously acknowledge Indonesia remains a difficult place to do business, as shown by the The Doing Business 2011 report of the International Finance Corporation which ranked Indonesia 121 out of 183 countries surveyed in terms of ease of doing business.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

PROF. JAMIE MACKIE, A FORCEFUL ADVOCATE FOR CLOSE INDONESIA-AUSTRALIA RELATIONS

THEE KIAN WIE

Professor James Austin Copland (J.A.C.) Mackie, Jamie to his friends, passed away peacefully on Thursday, April 21, 2011 at his home near Melbourne at the age of 86.

Mackie was born in Kandy, Sri Lanka, which enabled him to joke about being Asian by birth. As the second son of an Australian manager of a tea plantation, Mackie was raised in a colonial society which placed him on the other side from those people who later became his particular concern.

After graduating from Geelong Grammar, Mackie took an Honors course at the School of History at the University of Melbourne. Mackie's university study was interrupted by the Pacific War when he joined the Australian Navy in 1943. While serving in the navy, Mackie got a first glimpse of Indonesia from the deck of an Australian destroyer of Hollandia (now Jayapura, Papua, Biak and Morotai), but at that stage his attention was focused toward participating in the war against the enemy, Japan.

After the war, Mackie resumed his history studies at the University of Melbourne where he graduated with First Class Honors. Thereafter, Mackie went to The University of Oxford where he extended his history training by studying PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) which gave him a broad training which provided a good basis for an inter-disciplinary study of Southeast Asia.

Upon graduation from Oxford, Mackie wanted to work for a time in Southeast Asia. Under the Volunteer Graduate Scheme formalized by an Australian-Indonesian intergovernmental agreement in 1953, Mackie worked at the National Planning Bureau (Biro Perancang Nasional) for two years, analyzing economic data and discussing with his Indonesian colleagues the turbulent politics of that time.

At the Planning Bureau Mackie's boss was Ali Budiardjo who, together with his wife Miriam Budiardjo, and her brother Soedjatmoko, became Mackie's mentors and close friends. Two of the Bureau's economists, Widjojo Nitisastro and Benjamin Higgins, a United Nations economic adviser to the Bureau also gave Mackie a better understanding of the Indonesian economy.

However, Mackie's greatest sense of satisfaction came from a part-time position at Gadjah Mada University where he taught economic history and where he came in close contact with Indonesian students and colleagues teaching at the university.

During his time in Indonesia, Mackie became convinced that Indonesia should receive greater attention from Australian academics and intellectuals in general who were mostly still focused on Western Europe and the US. During his time in Indonesia, Mackie very much enjoyed his discussions with other expatriate intellectuals about the vigor and refinement of Indonesian culture and the subtleties of Indonesia's society and politics.

The two years Mackie spent in the Planning Bureau and the subsequent two years at Cornell University, the then outstanding Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, and particularly its Modern Indonesia Project under the headship of Professor George Kahin, and his friendship with Daniel Lev and Benedict Anderson, provided Mackie with an even better understanding of Indonesian society and politics.

Mackie was particularly impressed with Professor Kahin's willingness to become involved in important causes and his attempts to influence American foreign policy.

Mackie's own active and reformist tendencies were evident when he joined the Immigration Reform Group in Melbourne in 1960, which provided a forceful proposal to change in Australia's immigration policy, specifically by abandoning its racist "White Australia" policy.

Although this document was not the only factor which led Australia's Labor government under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to officially abandon its "White Australia" policy, it did play a role in fostering public debate in Australia about "the nonsense" of race superiority. Anyone visiting contemporary Australia, with its hundreds of thousands of Asians in Australian cities may not be aware that the "White Australia" was only officially abolished less than half a century ago.

Mackie's reformist tendencies were again evident in his subsequent academic career as the founding Head of the Department of Indonesian and Malayan Studies, University of Melbourne, then as Research Director of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University, and finally as Professor and Head of the Department of Political and Social Change at The Australian National University.

In various papers, most recently his Lowy Institute Paper Australia and Indonesia — Current Problems … Future Prospects, Mackie eloquently put forward his views on Australia's national interests regarding Indonesia, as follows:

• Australia must take care to avoid sliding into military conflict or serious antagonism toward Indonesia;

• Australia has a basic national interest in assisting Indonesia to become a stable, prosperous and steadily developing nation;

• It is in Australia's national interest to uphold the maintenance of a unified Indonesia, provided it is in accordance with the wishes of the majority of Indonesians and the consent of the people concerned;

• It is in Australia's national interests to try to help Indonesians maintain their uniquely tolerant, moderate and eclectic version of Islam as well as preserve their acceptance of a diversity of other religions in accordance with the five principles of Pancasila;

• It is very much in Australia's national interest to achieve the closest possible degree of engagement with Indonesia at the people-to-people level through a building of bridges that will span the cultural differences between Australia and Indonesia and put as much "ballast" into the relationship through personal, institutional and cultural links. Successful engagement with Indonesia along these lines will also help greatly toward achieving deeper engagement with Asia in due course.

Mackie's many friends and admirers in Australia, Indonesia and other countries mourn the passing away of a great scholar, a very good man, an enlightened visionary and a warm and generous friend.

The writer is a senior economist at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

REDEFINING INDONESIA'S FOSSIL FUTURE AND ENERGY INDUSTRY

EDWARD CUNNINGHAM

This week Jakarta hosts the ASEAN Summit two years ahead of schedule. Later next month it will organize the East Asian World Economic Forum (WEF) for the first time.

As ASEAN's largest economy and the world's fourth most populous nation, Indonesia plays a pivotal role in shaping change in Asia. Increasingly, Indonesian decisions are shaping global change as well, particularly in energy trade and the environment.

However, it is precisely in these strategic areas that Indonesia's vision falls short. A transformative national energy vision must begin with a fundamental redefinition of the way Indonesians view themselves and their economy.

Most importantly, Indonesia can no longer afford to think of itself as a "resource rich" nation. A government that spends 20 percent of its national budget on energy subsidies, has withdrawn from OPEC, refines below 70 percent of its crude oil, and continues to rely on imported diesel to power many of its generation plants clearly must change its approach to energy use if economic growth is to become sustainable.

 Over the past decade alone, Indonesia has transformed from a major energy exporter to an energy importer, characterized by rising production costs, growing energy subsidies, a manufacturing sector declining as a percentage of GDP, and over one-third of its people still lacking access to electricity.

Sustaining healthy economic growth will require a thorough overhaul of the political economy of Indonesia's energy sector.

A combination of misaligned energy pricing signals and a largely unreformed energy industry structure ironically renders economic growth a source of spiraling cost to the nation.

As the IEA observed in its 2010 World Energy Outlook report, "Indonesia's fuel subsidies have the negative consequence of making growth itself an unaffordable expense to the government of Indonesia, which must pay more money for every new unit of electricity sold — money that is not spent on economic growth needs or social programs."

The IEA predicts that, even under the more progressive "New Policies Scenario" — a model that incorporates currently planned reductions in subsidies and aggressive climate targets — Indonesia will be the world's fourth largest consumer of coal in two decades, just behind the US. China and India will rank first and second respectively.

Sustaining energy security will require a diversification of energy supply and the reduction of peak energy demand.

Important advances in renewable energy investment support have been made, such as Indonesia's feed-in tariff for electricity produced from geothermal energy, and the creation of a laudable US$400 million co-financing fund from the World Bank to aid the building of such plants.

A transition to larger domestic consumption of natural gas will alleviate some transportation fuel needs. Yet while Indonesian political leaders recognize the need for energy market reform and diversification, many industrial leaders continue to invest in a fossil future.

Such underlying tension results in President Susilo Bambang Yudho-yono announcing dramatic goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 26 percent by 2020, while over two-thirds of Indonesia's primary energy demand continues to be met by fossil fuels, led by national coal demand averaging 14 percent annual growth between 1990 and 2008.

As many have written, sustaining the environment will in large part also depend on gains in efficiency — or the ways in which energy is used.

 However, as in China, it must be recognized that the long life cycle of such coal-fired power investments and the pace of current investment in coal mean that much of Indonesia's needed national efficiency gains will need to made on the supply side of the ledger, probably through ultra supercritical power conversion technology and electricity prices that reflect time of use costs.

Coal investment policy will need to focus on the creation of higher value-added activities along the coal supply chain such as logistics, processing, and, potentially, higher investments in coal bed methane production sites, that in turn will enable Indonesian firms to capture more value than in the past and consolidate the footprint of coal exploitation.

Indonesian leaders from the energy industry, government and academics will convene at Bimasena, Indonesia's Mines and Energy Society, May 10 and 11 to discuss the public policy challenges with counterparts from the Asian region and the US.

This international seminar, entitled "Energy, Innovation, and Sustainable Development", is being organized by the University of Indonesia's Faculty of Economics along with the Harvard Kennedy School, and sponsored by Bimasena and the Rajawali Foundation.

It is the hope of these partners to identify a path forward that will enable Indonesia to strengthen intensification of energy investment, diversification of energy supply, and conservation of energy demand.

It is only through coordinated advances on these three fronts that Indonesia will be able to ensure
wrobust real economic growth, energy security, and environmental sustainability.

The writer is a joint post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. In the fall of 2011 he will join Boston University's Department of Geography and Environment as an assistant professor focusing on energy markets, energy policy, and the political economy of development.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

IS THE ASIAN CENTURY A DREAM OR REALITY?

HARUHIKO KURODA

An Asia producing over half of global GDP? Three billion Asians considered part of the "rich world" by 2050? A dream… or plausible reality?

It could happen if the region's economy keeps growing at its current rate and if new Asian generations grab the baton and run
with it.

That baton, however, could be a very slippery one. There are several daunting multigenerational challenges and risks that must be overcome along the way.

It is true that developing Asia led the world out of its worst recession since the World War II. And it is true that the center of economic gravity appears to be shifting toward Asia.

So an Asian Century is certainly plausible. But Asia's rise is by no means preordained.

Asia's march toward prosperity and the freeing of the region from extreme poverty will require much more than simply high growth. Yawning inequalities must be narrowed.

And as home to over half of the world's population, Asia must confront a massive wave of urbanization and grapple with changing demographic profiles.

Asia's long-term competitiveness will depend heavily on the intensity of its resource use, including resources such as water and food, and an ability to manage the region's carbon footprint. It is in Asia's best interest to encourage and invest in innovation and clean technology to maintain its impressive growth momentum.

These challenges are anything but mutually exclusive. Asians are addressing these challenges by continued improvements in productivity, taking steps to tackle climate change and impact of global warming and focusing on inclusive growth.

But the list of challenges is long and if left unattended could deprive millions of Asians the opportunity to participate in the region's progress.

These risks not only reinforce one another but could exacerbate existing tensions or create new conflicts. If not managed intelligently, they could threaten the hard-earned gains of the past 40 years, and undermine the huge potential gains possible over the next 40 years.

Asia must learn from history. Perhaps the most important lesson is to avoid the mistakes that countries or regions in the past made after an unprecedented era of rapid growth and industrialization.

Fast growing economies like the People's Republic of China, India, Indonesia and Viet Nam cannot afford falling into a middle income trap — moving from resource driven growth with cheap labor and capital to growth with high productivity and innovation.

Then there is the great challenge of governance and institution-building — an Achilles heel for most Asian economies. Institutional quality must rise as much as corruption must be quashed.

The ultimate challenge is effective governance — governance that provides quality health care and education; the infrastructure to move goods and people; the creation of efficient, livable cities; stable banking and financial systems; and reliable, fair legal structures that protect citizens rights.

In short, Asia must modernize its governance systems and retool its institutions to ensure transparency, accountability and enforceability.

Globalization, embracing open-regionalism and better regional cooperation has helped bring us success thus far. If we strengthen this process further with innovation and entrepreneurship, focusing on greater inclusion within and across economies; if we pursue sustainable development and improve governance as the key building blocks for the future; then yes, an Asian Century is both plausible and reachable.

It is time to look at ourselves in the mirror and learn from our mistakes as well as successes. Policies that worked when Asia was low-income and capital scarce are less likely to work today and unlikely to work in the future. Asia's leaders must devise bold and innovative national policies while pursuing regional and global cooperation.

I believe regional cooperation and integration are critical to Asia's march toward prosperity. Greater cooperation helps protect hard-won economic gains from external vulnerabilities. But it also cements the region's economic power and strengthens its voice in an ever-evolving global financial architecture. Regional cooperation is the bridge linking individual economies with the rest of humanity.

But even more important, Asians must learn to trust each other. Without trust little can be achieved in regional cooperation.

Yes, Asians can learn from Europe's history. But we must also learn from our own history of transforming conflict to cooperation — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) are two cases in point.

Asia's future global footprint carries with it new responsibilities and obligations. Global public goods — such as free trade, financial system stability, climate change, and security — are responsibilities we must embrace and show the world our willingness to be constructive in advancing the global commons. As an emerging global leader, Asia should act and be seen as a responsible global citizen.

Let me stress that The Asian Century is not Asia's Century. It will be the century of Shared Global Prosperity where Asians will take their place among the ranks of the affluent — on par with those in Europe and North America.

Our challenges remain formidable. Future prosperity must be earned. And as advanced economies know well, it is never preordained.


The writer is the President of the Asian Development Bank.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

WAR ON TERRORISM IS FAR FROM OVER

LIM SUE GOAN

The world's most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden has been killed by the US troops in Pakistan. However, would his death make the world safer?

Terrorism is still a threat to world peace and the world will be safe only after the hotbeds of terrorism are eliminated and terrorist organizations are collapsed.

During the 9/11 attack, I had made a point that the world was not safe, so did the US. I meant that there would be breeding grounds of terrorism all around the world particularly when the Muslim world was full of instabilities. Meanwhile, the US, being regarded as an oppressor, would continue being attacked.

In recent years, there were fewer attacks launched against the US. It is not because al-Qaeda has become weaker, but the US has strengthened its defense. If there are security loopholes, the US might have to suffer another tragedy.

Even though Osama is dead, his successors will continue launching terrorist attacks. The Americans have to be aware of al-Qaeda's reprisal when they go overseas. Therefore, the fundamental strategy is to eradicate the hotbeds of terrorism and cut off its sources to get new and young members with pressure of the Muslim world.

The growth and expansion of terrorism has its historical reasons. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1991 has led to a geopolitical vacuum in Central Asia. It was followed by the outbreak of racial, religious and cultural conflicts, forming a hotbed of international terrorism.

Former US president George W. Bush's inappropriate Middle East policy and unilateralism did not only destroy the peace process of Middle East but as well triggered hatred of fanatical Muslims.

To retaliate after the 9/11 attack, Bush sent troops to Afghanistan and invaded Iraq. Also, the failure of the Allied Forces to find weapons of mass destructive in Iraq has further provoked the Muslim world. Another mistake of Bush was to alienate Muslim countries.

After Barack Obama took over the office, he made an announcement to abolish unilateralism and adjusted Bush's stand of bias toward Israel. He also introduced a new Middle East policy and reopened dialogues with the Muslim world. Obama has even gradually withdrawn troops from Iraq, restored stability to the Middle East and ensured the safety of Americans.

However, in addition to foreign policy adjustments and strengthened communication, Western countries need to empathize with Muslims instead of viewing the issue only from the Western perspective.

Only by establishing the spirit of understanding, frictions between religions and the values of Western and Eastern can be eliminated.

Poverty in Muslim countries is another hotbed of terrorism. Corruption and dictatorship of those in power have caused unemployed young people to be more hostile toward the US, which is assisting their governments. Some Muslim countries rely on free education provided by religious schools. However, some of these schools promote fundamentalist indoctrination that could drive young people into religious fanaticism and eventually, they join al-Qaeda.

The Middle East Jasmine Revolution erupted in 2011 and Libya has been trapped in a civil war. The US has learned a lesson and does not interfere this time. However, it must still beware of al-Qaeda's swoop. If the situation goes out of hand and the people have to suffer hardships, terrorism would find its breeding grounds in more places.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

THE END OF BIN LADEN NOT END OF TERROR

PENI HANGGARINI

The day when the United States remembered the eighth anniversary of Bush's mission accomplished in Iraq was a historic day for the Obama administration's fight against al-Qaeda. It also came just a few days after a NATO missile air strike killed the youngest son and grandchildren of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

In the US, NATO's unsuccessful attempt to kill Qaddafi was certainly not heard as loudly as the story of Bin Laden's end.

There was widespread cheering and chanting in front of the White House after the breathtaking news of Bin Laden's death in Pakistan, which was announced by Obama himself.

For the Americans who suffered from the 9/11 terror attack in 2001, this news is not just important psychologically and emotionally, but also politically. It is also great news for many people in the world who cursed Bin Laden's crime against humanity.

But many are now left pondering whether his death will make a difference to the threat of terrorism to US national security and international stability? The leader might be dead but al-Qaeda is not.

Al-Qaeda is an organization that differs from other hierarchical terrorist organizations. It has a network of companies and training camps, and many local militant groups in other countries.

The death of Bin Laden does not automatically make the US more secure. This is why Obama has urged the US to remain vigilant at home and abroad. So, why should Bin Laden's ending be announced to the world? Wouldn't it have been better to have prosecuted him quietly?

Bin Laden's death should not be exaggerated but should suggest a more cautious approach to handling terrorism. However, the news of his death understandably comes as a great relief for those who lost loved ones on 9/11. Thus, Bin Laden's end has somewhat presented a victory for legacy of Bush's war on terror.

While this is not a complete mistake, Obama's announcement has some important messages.

First, his announcement highlights the success of joint forces between the US and Pakistan's military to work together, instead of working on it unilaterally. Obama even mentioned that this is also an important achievement for Pakistan and all the states in the world. However, Islamabad has countered any speculation that it knew about Bin Laden's presence in the country.

Second, Obama's message clearly emphasized that the US has no intention to wage a war against the Muslim world. He said that fighting al-Qaeda is not a war against Muslim because bin Laden is not the leader of Muslim, but a mass murderer. This is the message that should be continuously highlighted as the basis of cooperation between the US and Muslim-majority states after 9/11.

The death of Bin Laden has put the US national security and foreign policy at risk particularly in three major areas: Terrorism, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the most crucial aspect is the vulnerability of the homeland.

In addition, his announcement raises the question of whether Obama can justify staying in Pakistan or in Afghanistan as the July deadline is nearing. Or, would Obama prefer to end the war in Afghanistan?

After Bin Laden's demise, it makes sense to anticipate the future al-Qaeda or any terrorist groups' retaliation to the US. The cheers for bin Laden's death should stop. It is time to focus on how to de-radicalize terrorists and the next generation of terrorists. These are people who according Sageman (2008) are the terrorists-wannabes, cyber-jihadists. They are self-recruited and have never been trained in terrorists camps. They maintain the spirit of terrorism through social solidarity developed on the Internet.

However in continuing to combat terrorists, the US should not create similar threats, panic, or fear in the world as the terrorists did. Obama should lead by example and adhere to his initiatives in global non-nuclear proliferation diplomacy in this new phase of counter-terrorism.

For Indonesia, which was once called a terrorist haven, this news should come as an alert for us to be more aware of the threat to our national security. Domestic security threats and trans-national threats are equally important in this interdependent world.

The writer, a lecturer at the Department of International Relations at Paramadina University, Jakarta, is a Fulbright-DIKTI PhD student at the Department of Political Science, Northern Illinois University.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

ASEAN REBALANCING ACT

S. PUSHPANATHAN

When the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet in Jakarta this weekend for their 18th annual summit, the economy will continue to be one of their top agenda.

True to the commitment they made in 2003, the leaders will discuss the progress of building a competitive and highly integrated economic region by 2015. Now, it's time to hold on that commitment, and perhaps show some gains — and more actions.

Perhaps one action that is more needed now than before is how to sustain the current economic recovery in ASEAN. It is tempting to dismiss the economy for now when economic conditions have started to show some strength again. However, as the ASEAN finance ministers have warned in their meeting in Bali last month, there are still risks that can derail the recovery.

Last year the region grew by 7.6 percent, after stalling to 1.5 percent in 2009 because of the crisis. Most countries have now reached or exceeded their pre-crisis growth rates. For the first time in a decade, six countries (Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) expanded by 7 percent or higher.

The more advanced ASEAN-5 economies have now posted five consecutive quarters of economic expansion, while the smaller economies also rebounded strongly. The ASEAN Integration Monitoring Office (AIMO) of the ASEAN Secretariat predicted that regional GDP should expand by 6.4 percent this year — slower than last year but still above the region's average growth of 5.7 percent over the last 10 years.

To be sure, it's the strength of domestic demand that helped the region cope with the onslaught of the financial meltdown. Not surprisingly, considering the spending power that the various fiscal stimulus measures have unleashed in a market of US$1.6 trillion and 600 million consumers. But what's more surprising is the apparent return of private sector in the region.

 Private investment — a perennial Achilles heel in the region's quest for growth, has shown signs of growth lately, even in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines where private investment has always been a drag. Last year private inflows (mainly FDI) in the region are estimated to have reached US$70 billion. Market issuance of bonds, equities and loans by private firms in the region also peaked at $23.5 billion.

In many ways, ASEAN has managed to keep its fundamentals in better shape to support private demand. Courtesy of good economic management since the Asian financial crisis, both macroeconomic and financial stability is well entrenched. The region's banks are more stable, its exchange rates more flexible, and its foreign exchange reserves bigger.

Countries in the region have also become more integrated — with trade and investment regimes less rigid and more open than seen in earlier years. Despite the pockets of poverty that still exist, social tensions have been eased somewhat — thanks to some trickle-down effects. No one can deny that these changes have helped firm up regional domestic demand.

Yet the reality is that these changes are not enough. Somehow there is still this missing ingredient of rebalancing in favor of domestic demand. ASEAN economies are still dependent on exports as engine of growth — with the share of external trade amounting to more than 100 percent of regional GDP on average.

 Most obviously, fixed investment in ASEAN has been sluggish. Its average contribution to growth in the region over the last ten years has been very low (0.2 percent) — and although it increased strongly last year — perhaps due to low base effects, private investment has been stagnant on real terms. Most vital signs, from productivity to real income growth, have also slowed a bit.

While rebalancing is not easy to do, it's about time that ASEAN countries act on it if the current recovery is to be sustained. With the continuing global uncertainty, ASEAN economies would be better off to focus on the domestic foundations for growth which would shield the region from further volatility in global demand. Such rebalancing requires two important actions.

First macroeconomic policies must be recalibrated. Critical here are those policies that increase the return on investment, improve access to financing, and bolster business climate to reduce uncertainty. Recent initiatives that address financing constraints to investment in the region such as the ASEAN Infrastructure Fund are steps in right direction, but more comprehensive actions are needed.

Diversifying the sources of growth would also help. This can be done by pursuing productivity-augmenting measures in agriculture and the services sector, improving wages and income through greater labor market flexibility and supporting skills upgrading. Policies that would support the growth of domestic income including the provision of public transfers and safety nets are also noteworthy.

Second, and just as important, is for ASEAN to remain committed to market reforms, particularly reforms that enhance the efficiency and transparency of domestic financial systems. So far ASEAN is heeding the call — with its various roadmaps to financial integration, as well as initiatives that develop the capital markets such as the Asian Bond Markets Initiative and Implementation Plan for Integrated Capital Markets under the ASEAN Capital Markets Forum.

But given the financial sector fragility, more credible and appropriate reforms must continue to be implemented to sustain investor confidence, re-establish market and financial stability, and support growth. The region should also continue to implement measures that boost medium-growth prospects, including more human capital development and capital accumulation to support innovation and technical progress.

None of these actions is easy. Policy interventions will not yield instant rewards to be sure. Current uncertainties such as rising food and commodity prices, overheating pressures in Asia, and continued global financial stresses may also complicate policies. But these should not prevent ASEAN countries from putting their rebalancing act together. In fact, the more countries cooperate and coordinate policies the more they can sustain the recovery against all these external uncertainties

This weekend's summit, I believe, should get them off to a good start.

The writer is the Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for ASEAN Economic Community. His views are personal

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

 

CRICKET CRISIS: MATCH-FIXING OR FIX-UP

Will former captain Hashan Tillekaratne keep his promise and come out with the names in the latest scourge to hit Sri Lanka cricket just a month after the team conceded the World Cup to India in a manner that raised many questions, some relating to match-fixing.  For a nation that was only a witness to match-fixing over the past two decades with none of its players tainted or hauled up before the ICC's anti-corruption unit, the scourge must be hard to bear and how the establishment will tackle such a syndrome is the million dollar question.

First and foremost Hashan Tillekaratne needs to be given all the protection usually reserved for court witnesses and not be seen as some disgruntled political element waiting to bowl no balls or bouncers. Tillekaratne is a widely respected cricketer and obviously knows what he is talking about or the gravity of making such accusations in an age when the very establishment he once played for and later served as administrator, was not so long ago branded the most corrupt public institution in the country by none other than former sports minister C.B. Ratnayake.

While questions may be asked why Tillekaratne waited so long to come up with such a shocking charge, it is also important to bear in mind that Sri Lanka has never been known to enforce the code of conduct on players, other than when administrators feel insecure, and nearly all of them down the ages were treated as sacred cows for emotional reasons except for one instance when in the early 1990s disciplinary action was taken against former captain Arjuna Ranatunga who rebelled against the establishment on a tour of New Zealand.

Could Tillekaratne's shocking allegation be a turning point, we hope for the better and not worse, and change a system that needed a messiah to lead the game into a promised land where once again the game and not individuals can flourish. For his part Tillekeratne, whatever the reason he may have had to stir up such a hornet's nest, from now on will be looked at differently and whatever he does or says in public will be followed closely by both his critics and admirers. When none had the  guts to take on the dreaded subject of match-fixing Tillekeratne stood out and thus he'll be seen as the latest face of Sri Lanka Cricket right or wrong until what he has said has been investigated and made public.

Of-course the experts have plenty of ammunition to take on Tillekaratne on the question of why he remained silent for almost 20 years. This may also make him a guilty party for concealing what in his belief were facts and figures or the man he was attempting to fix. Only an International Cricket Council-sponsored tribunal can take up this matter independently with credibility for Tillekaratne was once accountable to them (ICC) as a player who had to follow their rules and  code.

The sooner that Sri Lanka gets over the match-fixing saga the better will it be for the team. Time may be running out. The game and players are fast out-growing everything else and Tillekaratne's claims may only go against him. It started with him and it should end with him and the sooner the ICC and Sri Lanka Cricket get to the bottom of it will be in the best interests of everyone concerned.

For Tillekeratne and Sri Lanka Cricket there is no going back. The road ahead is laid with political landmines and it is important to bear in mind that no side takes undue advantage over the other. Right now there are signs that Tillekaratne may be hounded and victimised by the powers that be who will take the easy way out, thereby allowing the wound to fester or perhaps create another time bomb.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

WHAT THE LLRC SHOULD DO NEXT?

The gravitational pull is dragging the administration towards the LLRC, after the Moon report. It has become Sri Lanka's All-Purpose Vehicle or Home of Last Resort. Its anticipated singular pronouncement is worth more than the contradictory crap coming from official sources. Unwittingly, it has assumed the role of a saviour, for which it was not mandated.

In the LLRC, some members are wise and diplomatic, others pragmatic and sensible; all are honorable and none are faulted except by the Moon panelist in their strategic desire to discredit and disqualify the entirety of the LLRC exercise. Their recommendations can put Sri Lanka in the trophy vault or the sin bin?

 It is imperative an interim report is issued without delay so that the Government can implement the recommendations. The Ministry of External Affairs sent the Moon report to the LLRC to deliberate; ignoring is the best snub for Moon and Ministry. The answer is elementary; it does not fall within the mandate of the Commission. No response from any quarter should flow to the Moon's Report except to the international community highlighting its infirmities by an unofficial body. A silly document should be made look sillier by silently ignoring the contents.

There are four areas on which the recommendations should be made by the LLRC
[1] Tamil Grievances.

The priority issue that I have been harking back so often have made a few call me a tiger in sheep clothing as well as a Sinhala chauvinist. Both are backhand compliments. Though there has been massive development in the North and East, the pressing legitimate grievances of the Tamil people remain untouched- partly being insensitive to the live issues of the Tamil people and the incapacity to comprehend them. Development has brought economic resurgence but to a backward community that has suffered for 30 years of terrorism, that alone is not sufficient. Further devolution through the 13th amendment, will only take those ambitious politicians in India and Sri Lanka, swiftly to the state of Elam.It's the hearts and minds of the Tamil people that must be won and not that of the purchasable TNA MPs' standing on shifting sands. There pressing problems stretching for years – caused by the government and the LTTE – must be alleviated.

LLRC has given a patient hearing to voices-little else have they done- and should be possessed of the known legitimate grievances of the Tamils. Now is the time to list them with the remedies and make the government implement them and if they fail, public opinion should rise to compel them. This is a problem we should not bequeath to the next generation. Let not the LLRC stand accused in history of being the house of missed opportunities? Future will glorify or crucify them!

(2) Internal Mechanism

The West is pointing a direction to overcome our problem. The finger is pointed towards having our domestic methodology to answer the allegations. We cannot afford to live on a tiny island like Robinson Crusoe.

The LLRC must direct the government to make the systems within our sovereign constitution function credibly, transparently and effectively and not allow it to be taken outside our laws rules and procedures. It should be placed on a fast track through an institution like the Criminal Justice Commission (which once heard cases against the JVP insurgents and exchange control violators) with three Supreme Court judges sitting. Any accusation is best attended fast without delay in the interest of the accuser and accused and still more for Sri Lanka; the Police and the AG's Department should be rapped for its lackadaisical attitude.

The LLRC must set up a bureau with units in the North and East, under its control to entertain complaints and to forward them to institutions for action and monitor until such is initiated. LLRC has gained respectability and is ideally poised to do such  recording service by trained agents and must be given an extension of time, funds and mandate. There is no comparable institution that the Tamil civilians will feel more comfortable to speak forth their minds. Indeed it is the initial complaint that need be safeguarded and acted upon; the safest custodian is the LLRC.

The envisaged complaint procedure should be in addition to others presently functional for such purposes. Provision must be made for any complaint made/recorded by an identifiable individual be forwarded to the LLRC for immediate action. The complainants must be kept informed regularly on the progress of his complaint.

If it reaches the stage of action being filed in court, there must be a witness protection system evolved. Any investigational insufficiency or impropriety should be reportable to the LLRC that must be invested with a staff to handle such situations.Private prosecutors must be permitted to participate at the trial if the accuser so desires along with the public prosecutor. The due process of law should take over with the independence of the judiciary safeguarded. The LLRC should be the post box to register complaints if any made during the period of the investigation and trial and should be forwarded to relevant authorities and the LLRC should ensure it is acted upon.

The LLRC must give public notice of the safeguards provided to complainants and witnesses.

After the initial period if the LLRC is unable or unwilling to perform such services, the government must set up an alternate body to carry out such functions but permit the LLRC –not the government- to select the members and officials to man such an institution and similar powers should be granted to its successors for purpose of aloofness from the state.

 (3) Good Governance

The issue of good governance is the front-runner for the proposed internal mechanism. International recognition will flow to the credibility of the internal mechanism, if there is good governance and it is on this aspect that the LLRC must come down severely on the government, which looks palpably weak. Indeed the credibility of the LLRC itself, is at stake on its observations? If they are prepared to fire at the government, it is their reputation that will be enhanced.

 It is indeed an aspect, the so-called good Samaritans in civil society should have alerted the LLRC but failed, understandably as they are not interested in improving the image of Sri Lanka but rather to degenerate it.

LLRC must show that the government's track record is woeful on good governance and impress- if there is no marked improvement it could have repercussions on the country profile.

(4) Terrorism Commission

There must be a recommendation for the appointment of a Terrorism Commission that must make a complete study on the aspects of terrorism in Sri Lanka and report to the world the steps that should be taken to prevent it happening and its accountability. Is LTTE's accountability for terror of 30 years, especially the gruesome ethnic cleansing exercises that affected the Muslims and Sinhalese and violence, discounted because the leadership is no more? Will it get wiped off the slate on the basis that the horrendous crimes committed with intent against civilians have none to answer?

Society still harbours those that covertly and tacitly supported them logistically, financially and politically. Some cheered the LTTE enjoyed their company and gained mileage, others impliedly and tacitly supported the LTTE from a distance. The law of abetting is just a street away from committing.

The West is showing a way to traverse; our true friends in the hour of need are ready to fight for us, while India our closest neighbour and should be our closest ally, stays mutely silent. They undid us once, are they trying it twice? Friendship is recipocal. We should follow a course in lending a helping hand to our friends and listen to the not so friendly if they are coming to our assistance.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

MILITARY TRAINING FOR UNDERGRADS

I write as the Head of a girls' school in Colombo to express my dismay at the article about a new criterion that has been made compulsory prior to admission to University for the A'Level batch of 2010.The Sunday Times in its article on this issue has quoted the Secretary, Ministry of Higher Education as stating that the three-week training is compulsory, and that  'those eligible for University admission and failing to attend the leadership training under the military will not be accepted into the universities.'

Since a fair number of students enter Universities in Sri Lanka annually from our school, I am concerned that parents and perhaps the students themselves, will be hesitant to participate in a three-week residential camp in an Army facility, undergoing such training, especially as it has been suddenly  'sprung' on them. There already exists a reluctance to enter the local university system owing to the long delays in processing admissions, sudden closures etc. and this new criterion would perhaps be an additional objection
We appreciate the need for such an orientation, especially if the new entrants are challenged to value the free education they receive, respect the university environment and property, and are challenged to use their education to serve the local community, as opposed to using it as a means to go overseas; but it needs to be planned more systematically, with input from both the University faculty and perhaps undergraduates themselves.

I am deeply concerned that many of my students will be compelled to forego university admission which they achieved with much hard work, owing to this new and sudden criterion added on, details of which are still not clear; it could  be legally challenged as it was not a criterion even at the point of applying for admission in January this year. This may cause further delays in entering, making many more disillusioned about our higher education system. I must also speak on behalf of our Muslim students, many of whom enter, but who may have religious restrictions in residing three-weeks in a training facility without the presence of a male family member.

I appeal to the Ministry of Higher Education, to (i) implement this after more thought and discussion with all parties concerned; (ii) give due notice to students at the point of joining the A'level programme (i.e. post O'Level) that this is a requirement for university admission; (iii) let the Universities themselves conduct this programme as they will have a greater commitment to the quality of the training; and (iv) at least make it a non-residential programme so that any fears or difficulties about residing in a military facility will not discourage them from entering.

Shanthi Dias

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

 

 

CELEBRATING US. TRIUMPHALISM

It was triumphalism time in the USA (and frankly as a former New Yorker, I join in that US triumphalism). The "most wanted man" Bin Laden had been captured while using his own wife as a human shield. He was conveniently shot dead in the head and dropped in the Indian Ocean without outside witnesses. Indeed after the Vietnam War which the US lost because of direct and correct reporting, subsequent US wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere were often wars without reliable witnesses. "Embedded" reporters and controlled information was the name of the game to ensure that truth would not undermine US morale. That is why the 700,000 deaths in Iraq caused by the US as reported by the medical journal Lancet has not entered the American and the world's psyche.

After midnight, the crowds thronged outside the White House and grew still larger. In New York where the Twin Towers had been blasted by Bin Laden's suicide planes and Times Square where Americans celebrate New Year, equally large crowds gathered. They chanted "USA!", "USA!" and in that most religious country in the West, they sang "God bless America". It was indeed triumphalism speaking.

From around eight o'clock Sri Lanka time, I watched the unfurling events on CNN, BBC, NDTV and Al Jazeera. Ten years ago, I had watched from Cambodia, a similar significant event as Bin Laden's planes crashed into New York's tallest buildings. The following day, I flew to Brazil to give a keynote address for UNESCO, and on the return stopped over in New York. Tears came to my eyes as I saw the familiar landscape in down town New York as it lay devastated, an area I knew very well. Just as I had then cried in grief, I now rejoiced with the cheering US crowds on the death of Bin Laden, Prabahakaran's parallel. In grief, I had ten years ago quickly written an article to a national weekly with the title "We are all New Yorkers now". Bin Laden had taken over several inventions of our LTTE beast, most notably suicide bombings. And Bin Laden did not die near a lagoon like our Prabhakaran but with a well aimed shot on his head, watched in "real time" by Obama and others in the White House Situation Room. It was a high level US decision not to take him alive, a "Kill Operation" as a US news medium announced. There were no question of surrendering white flags for Bin Laden to get away to fight another day.

But for the NGOs, our victory over the LTTE was no victory. Their phones were probably tapped by the government but as Prabahakaran's body was fished out from the lagoon, they were probably sending encrypted e-mails of misinformation on the loss of their cause. As normalcy returned after 30 odd years, they were denouncing our triumphalism. As busloads of Southerners after several decades went on pilgrimage to Naga Deepa, the NGOs named it "triumphalism". The word echoes in the UN so-called expert panel as does the usual NGO misinformation.

On May Day, real civil society, was marching. The local trade unions and political parties were shouting their voices hoarse on that day. Unlike in the classic example of "rent a crowd", where NGOs paid their flock to attend their meetings, May Day crowds were very large. The government May Day celebrations, misused state privileges by transporting many of their followers. It was a form of corruption but their party members had been party followers much earlier. It was the same voluntary spirit in the case of the UNP and the JVP meetings who had to find their own transportation. And on this May Day, as on other May Days, tens of thousands cried themselves hoarse as their leaders shouted, scolded and berated each other. It was real civil society in action. They were not spying for foreign countries or for foreign intervention.

In the meantime, while the workers and their representatives marched, their professional bosses in the form of the Organization of Professional Associations OPA issued a stern statement attacking the veracity of the UN Panel report. And the OPA represents nearly 50 professional organizations. I am told that other organizations are to follow. Members of these professional organizations pay membership fees; they are not paid by foreign moneybags.

The NGO meeting at the US Embassy was a prelude to the arrival of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert O. Blake to pressurize our government on "war crimes". The prior meeting with NGOs was for local spies to report. This time, Blake was not visiting Afghanistan where his US responsibilities also extend to. He definitely will not be discussing about US war crimes in Afghanistan.

There in Afghanistan, the US created, trained and armed the Mujahadeen and Bin Laden, ignoring their Muslim extremist ideology. Thus was how the US was dragged into its present quagmire of being tied down in several wars. And as people rise up, the dictatorial prodigies of the US in the Middle East are falling like dominoes. Already, America is overstretched economically and militarily and in a few decades time as Asia rises, it will have to make tough choices. In Asia's century, it has to manage its relative decline. She should join real civil society, the May Day crowd, not the paid NGO spies. O Blake, join with US and Sri Lanka triumphalism.

 

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

OBAMA'S BIN LADEN: CHASING CROOKED SHADOWS

Is the enemy real? Is the victory real? Is the death of Osama bin Laden real? One thing certain is that what we are being told as the truth is not exactly the whole truth.

Contradictions in statements coming from Washington and Islamabad compound the confusion. US President Barack Obama said Pakistan cooperated in the operation but a day later top US military officials said they kept the operation a secret from the Pakistanis because they feared a leak. A highly embarrassed Pakistan, meanwhile, said it was part of the operation and then denied it. The babbling continues with US officials revising their earlier version that spoke about a gun fight and bin Laden using a woman as a human shield when the commandos raided his Abbotabad hideout.

But who cares? Truth and morality have little or no place in international politics where even genocide — like the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 — is permissible as long as it helps achieve the goals of big powers.

In a world order where justice, morality and truth or the people's right to know are suppressed, those who clamour for them remain neutral or when pressed choose the lesser evil. This is more so in a war on terror where confusion reigns as to whether the hunter or the hunted is worse.

9/11 attacks

On the one side of this war was al-Qaeda, the group that bin Laden formed. The group is accused of carrying out the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the US base in Khobar (Saudi Arabia) in 1996, the American warship USS Cole in 2000 and several other US and Western targets.

Of these, unquestionably, the September 11 attacks were the worst because they took place on US soil and killed more than 3,000 civilians. However, some analysts suspect that the intelligence negligence which led to the attacks was deliberate.

On the other side of the divide were the United States and its allies which include the Western world and several Arab and Islamic countries. In the modern history of warfare, apart from Nazi Germany, no country has killed more civilians than the United States and no country has got involved in so many wars as the United States has.

The atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the last stages of World War II, the My Lai massacre, the napalm bombing and the use of chemical weapons in the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba, the invasion of Grenada and Panama, the attacks on Libya that killed Muammar Gaddafi's little daughter, the involvement in the wars in Somalia an