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Saturday, May 7, 2011

EDITORIAL 07.05.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month may 07, edition 000826, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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

































































A recently released UN annual report on economic and social trends in the Asia- Pacific region has offered a mixed bag review of the Indian scenario, highlighting some praiseworthy developments while also pointing to some worrying phenomena. First, the good news: After having maintained a steady growth momentum throughout the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, India has successfully emerged as a stronger nation. To some extent this is in keeping with the larger regional trend wherein most developing economies of the Asia-Pacific region recovered remarkably well from the crisis in 2010. In fact, the resilience of the region to withstand the cascading impact of the financial crisis became a "growth pole" for the international economy and served as a "critical anchor for global recovery", says the 'Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2011'. Produced by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the report, which was released on Thursday, highlights the "dynamism" of the region as a major factor driving economic recovery worldwide in 2010. The report points out that India's 2009 GDP growth rate of eight per cent has strengthened to an estimated 8.6 per cent in 2010 and is projected to grow at an impressive 8.7 per cent during 2011, thanks to greater local consumption and increasing investment. Keeping in mind that the growth rate slowed down in many of the emerging market economies during the financial crisis, India's performance remains praiseworthy. However, as the report adds, it is important to take note of the challenges that lie ahead. According to the report, a sharp increase in inflation is a major threat to India's growth story and will most definitely have an adverse impact on the country's ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. High food prices have prevented 15.6 million people in the region from emerging from poverty while pushing another 3.8 million below the poverty line — that's a total of 19.4 million people who are now poor in the Asia-Pacific region because of food inflation alone. To make matters worse, Budget deficit remains at worryingly high levels. Even before the financial crisis, Budget deficits in India and other South Asian countries were at sky high levels. The global financial crisis has forced Governments in the region to run up yet higher deficits as a means of counter-cyclical stabilisation.

Given this scenario, the UNESCAP report predicts certain major challenges for policy-makers in the next fiscal. While high inflation rate remains the biggest threat to India's growth potential, long-pending economic reforms have served to hold up big ticket investments. On its part, the report recommends that containing inflation should be top priority for the Government. It is imperative that policy-makers take into consideration both demand and supply side factors as they have equally contributed to inflationary pressure. Ultimately, it is a combination of monetary and fiscal measures that is needed to reduce inflation. As for the Budget deficit, an effective fiscal consolidation plan is already in place but must be well implemented. India has the potential to become a strong economic force but only if the Government successfully deals with the challenges it faces.







Kerala, which had taken the lead in demanding a ban on the killer pesticide Endosulfan, has now embarked upon an ambitious programme aimed at putting an end to the use of all poisonous chemical pesticides by farmers. Inspired by the success of the agitation demanding a total ban on Endosulfan, the State Government has decided to ban the sale and use of all pesticides carrying the red label indicating their highly hazardous nature as also some yellow-labelled pesticides that are classified as dangerous. The purpose is to guide farmers towards organic farming and the proposed ban will come into force in June. In the first phase, the sale and use of eight highly hazardous pesticides, including Furadan, known as the 'most favourite insecticide' among farmers, will be banned. Subsequently, the use of other dangerous pesticides will be eased out. The Kerala Agricultural University, which is the official adviser to all farmers in the State on the methods to be adopted for agriculture, has been asked to identify alternative formulations to replace chemical pesticides that will be banned. While people by and large have welcomed the Government's move which enjoys the support of farmers too, the plantation sector has expressed its concerns, namely that any delay in finding appropriate alternatives to replace the use of chemical pesticides could result in huge cash crop losses. This apprehension, however, has failed to find a resonance among the masses who are relieved that the use of Endosulfan and other hazardous pesticides will no longer be allowed. The shocking tragedy that has gripped Kasaragod, where at least 1,000 people have already died and nearly 10,000 have fallen victim to various diseases and deformities due to the indiscriminate and persistent use of Endosulfan in cashew plantations, has served as a wake-up call.

However, admirable as it may be, the Kerala Government's efforts to make farmers take to organic farming cannot succeed without the support of the Union Government, which alone has the power to enforce a ban on chemical pesticides as per the law of the land. Also, State Governments across the country have to arrive at an agreement on what pesticides are to be allowed and which are to be banned. It would make little sense if Kerala were to ban the use of hazardous pesticides if their sale were to be allowed in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka: Big plantation owners would smuggle them in and the State Government's efforts would fail. This is best exemplified by the fact that though Kerala had banned the use of Endosulfan a decade ago, it continued to be sprayed in cash crop farms and plantations due to its easy availability in Tamil Nadu. The idea is not hurt the farmers, but enable them to grow crops without killer chemicals. Let the nation follow Kerala. ***************************************







The CAG's audit of the accounts of Maharashtra's PSUs and statutory corporations reveals how extensive corruption is in this country.

One of the collateral damages caused by gargantuan scams like those associated with the 2G Spectrum allocation and the Commonwealth Games is the sidelining of lesser but significant instances of corruption that, consequently, can be in danger of being buried. This is most unfortunate as corruption is ubiquitous at all levels of the Government and public and statutory corporations in the country, as is inefficiency resulting from favouritism and worse in recruitment and promotions, and cavalier indifference to accountability in the use of public money. The Comptroller and Auditor-General of India's report on the functioning of the Maharashtra Government's companies and statutory corporations for the year ended March 31, 2010, comes as a searing reminder of this.

The findings would have been shocking had corruption and worse not been the rule — rather than the exception — in almost everything associated with the Government, whether at the Central or the State level. The report, prepared by the Accountant-General (Commercial), Maharashtra, Ms Sayantani Jafa, covers 62 working public sector undertakings of the State Government, including 58 companies and four statutory corporations, and 23 non-working companies. According to the report, 21 PSUs incurred a loss of Rs 2,101.56 crore during the financial year 2009-10, while 36 incurred profit totalling Rs 741.56 crore, resulting in an overall loss of Rs 1,360 crore against Rs 1,160.46 crore during 2004-05. Four working PSUs prepared their accounts on a 'no-proift-no-loss' basis; one did not prepare a profit and loss account because it was under construction.

A loss of Rs 1,360 crore appears insignificant compared to the loss caused by the under-pricing of 2G Spectrum allocation which, as the CAG has shown, amounts to Rs 1.76 lakh crore. But the amount is not only significant but has been caused by factors which have wrought havoc in other States as well. As the Accountant-General (Commercial), Maharashtra, points out in her report, "The losses of working PSUs are mainly attributable to deficiencies in financial management, planning, implementation and monitoring. A review of the latest audit reports of the CAG shows that the State Government's working PSUs incurred losses to the tune of Rs 2,259.25 crore and infructuous investments of Rs 68.05 crore (during the period from 2007-08 to 2009-10), which were controllable with better management."

What caused losses would become clear on looking at the observations made in respect of specific companies. In the case of the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation Limited, a performance audit for the period from 2005-06 to 2009-10, to assess its record in financial and project management, operational performance and monitoring by top management, revealed glaring lapses and shortcomings. The CAG's report stated that though "incorporated specifically to promote and develop tourism in the State, it had neither identified critical/nodal areas for effecting micro-level planning to augment tourism nor evolved clear milestones which were overall or destination-specific for (the) development of tourism in the State". The company "had not prepared a concrete corporate plan or a five-year action plan keeping in view the Maharashtra Government's Tourism Policy of 2006". Nor had it any system of collecting tourist statistic as indicated by the Tourism Policy.

The report further noticed that the utilisation of capital grants — Rs 74.86 crore for 41 projects from the Centre and Rs 542.87 crore for 37 projects from the State Government between 2005-06 and 2009-10, was very low and ranged between 7.63 and 29.82 per cent of the amounts available. Not only that, the company "failed to attract adequate number of tourists to its resorts", despite incurring huge expenditure on development. The reply to the query as to whether a proper mechanism existed for redressing grievances and complaints of customers was not based on facts as there was no adequate management information system in a prescribed format for the transmission of feedback summaries from resorts to the head office.

In another telling comment on the level of internal monitoring and control, the report further noted that only 11 board meetings were held between 2005-06 and 2009-10 against the mandated 20, and there was none in 2005-06. Nor had it set up an internal audit wing despite being in existence since 1975. Firms of chartered accountants performed internal auditing. Audit coverage, however, was inadequate as internal auditors were appointed separately at the head office and the regional offices and there was no system of consolidation of accounts.

Much more serious, the report observed that the company's accounts had been finalised only up to 2005-06 and were in arrears for a period of four years from 2006-07 to 2009-10, adding, "In the absence of timely finalisation of the accounts and their subsequent audit, it could not be verified in audit whether the investments and expenditures incurred had been properly accounted for and the purpose for which the amounts were invested had been achieved. Further, delay in finalisation of accounts is not only fraught with the risk of fraud and leakage of public money but might lead to non-fixation of accountability and responsibility".

Was the non-finalisation of accounts deliberate and intended to hide corruption and worse? The matter requires serious investigation given the ubiquity of corruption in Maharashtra epitomised by the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam. The seriousness of the matter is further underlined by the fact that the accounts of as many as 56 working PSUs were in arrears as on September 30, 2010 — 26 for two years; seven and four for two and three years respectively; and seven and four again for four and five years respectively. The accounts of eight units were in arrears for more than five years. The accounts of 15 non-working PSUs were also in arrears for one to 12 years.

It is not that the highest echelons of Maharashtra were in dark about the matter. The report states, "Though the concerned administrative departments and officials of the Government were informed every quarter by Audit, of arrears in finalisation of accounts, no remedial steps were taken." Not only that, "The matter of arrears in accounts was repeatedly taken up at the level of Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary (Finance), the latest requests being made in August, September, October and November 2010."

Very little has happened. Clearly, corruption has become almost co-extensive with governance in Maharashtra, which is hardly surprising given the UPA Government in Delhi acting as an exemplar.






America ignored evidence of Pakistan being a rogue state for over decade — to its own peril. But after Sunday's Abbottabad operation, Washington has to answer to the community of nations why the ISI shouldn't be declared a terrorist entity

Even the last excuse for not declaring Pakistan Army and its intelligence arm, Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, as global terrorist entities, disappeared with the two bullets that killed world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, in a house adjacent to Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad, just about two hours drive from the ISI headquarters in Aabpara, Islamabad.

As per the guidelines prescribed by the UN Security Council Committee Concerning al Qaeda and the Taliban and Associated Individuals and Entities (Resolution 1267{1999}), five conditions are necessary for any entity to be listed under the Sanctions List of Terrorist Entities — 1) Participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf of, or in support of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the Taliban, or any cell, affiliate, splinter group or derivative thereof; 2) supply, selling or transferring arms and related material AQ, OBL or the Taliban, or any cell, affiliate, splinter group, or derivative thereof; 3) recruiting for AQ, OBL, or the Taliban or any cell, affiliate etc: 4) otherwise supporting acts or activities of AQ, OBL, or the Taliban etc; and 5) Other acts and activity associated with AQ, OBL, or the Taliban, etc.

Participating in the financing, planning: The fact that Osama bin Laden was living in the protective custody of ISI for over five years should fulfil this first condition. There may be doubts about how much did the Army know about the US Special Forces' covert action in Abbottabad in the wee hours of May 2 but there cannot be any doubt that the Army was well aware of Laden's safe house near the military academy. Abbottabad is not only a garrison town but also the headquarters of a Brigade belonging to Army's 2nd Artillery Div. (Gujranwala XXX Corps). Interestingly, it also houses Army's Mountain Warfare School where Special Services Group commandos are trained in HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) courses. Several senior retired Army officers have residences in the district which also has quite a few military establishments and officers' messes.

A mysterious building of the magnitude of the Waziristan Haveli, as the locals called it, could not have come up without alerting the local intelligence, Army and police officials. By all accounts, the Waziristan Manzil was constructed in 2005, a period when Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani was the head of ISI and was part of the CIA-ISI operation to hunt down Osama bin Laden. Kayani, who succeeded in getting close to General Pervez Musharraf, and Pentagon after the 9/11 attacks, was largely instrumental in protecting ISI's 'strategic assets' among the terrorist groups. One such asset, as recent events have revealed, was al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

The direct role of ISI and Pakistan in the Mumbai attacks of November 2008 and the July 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul should be regarded as 'perpetrating of acts' in conjunction with AQ, Laden and Taliban. The aim of both the attacks was to help AQ and Taliban escape the intense military offensive launched by the western forces in Afghanistan-Pakistan areas by creating a 'hot spot' elsewhere.

Supplying, selling or transferring arms to AQ, Taliban: Besides Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Army and ISI have been hand in glove with the Taliban for over 10 years, helping them with safe houses, recruitment bases, training and weapons. Their alliances have been effectively documented not only by the Indian security agencies but also by different western security and intelligence agencies. Of the several documented nexus between the Taliban-al Qaeda and ISI, a less known instance is worth quoting here. Well known Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid quoted a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) report on Operation Medusa (September 4-17, 2006) in Panjwal district, Afghanistan, which accused the ISI of shoring up the Taliban's military capability. So intense was the firefight that the Taliban, according to NATO, used 400,000 rounds of ammunition, 2,000 rocket-propelled grenades and 1,000 mortar shells. The ammunition dumps discovered by the NATO and Afghan forces revealed that the Taliban had over 2 million rounds of ammunition in Panjwal alone. The NATO force captured 160 Taliban, most of them Pakistanis who detailed the ISI's support for the Taliban, including setting up two training camps outside Quetta. It was also revealed that the Taliban recruits were housed and indoctrinated in madrassas run by radical groups supported by ISI.

Recruiting for AQ, Taliban and affiliates: It was during Kayani's tenure as DG ISI that new training camps were set up in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for terrorists leaving for Kashmir and Afghanistan. In June 2006, reports emerged about the fresh recruitment drive launched by the terrorist groups and the sprouting of training camps. Dozens of aspiring recruits from Khyber Pakhtunwa and FATA towns were sent each month to training camps in Wana in South Waziristan. According to the report, at least three major terrorist groups maintained their liaison and recruitment offices in the Timergara area of Lower Dir District. These included the Hizb-ul Mujahideen (HM), Al Badr Mujahideen, renamed as Al Suffa Foundation, and LeT, renamed as Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). For instance, after the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) when terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) lost their training infrastructure and other facilities it was ISI which facilitated the mass transfer of LeT cadre and leadership to safer areas of Dir and Upper Dir in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These camps were utilised to recruit cadres for the Taliban and al Qaeda forces fighting the western alliance in Afghanistan.

Supporting AQ, Taliban etc: In fact, Kayani, contrary to the image he has managed to create in the western capitals of a professional soldier, has been assiduously cultivating terrorist groups as 'combat reserves', protecting them from international scrutiny and allowing them to recoup and regroup in different parts of Pakistan. When al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and cadre fled the US bombing of their hideouts in Afghanistan after 9/11, Kayani was the Director General of Military Operations in charge of the US-Pakistan alliance in the Global War on Terror. It is now fairly well documented that al Qaeda and Taliban managed to eke out a sanctuary on both sides of Durand Line between 2002 and 2007, the period when Kayani was DGMO and DG ISI.

As DG ISI, Kayani was also responsible for the release of over 2,000 terrorists arrested from different parts of Pakistan on American insistence. Among them were Harkat-ul Mujahideen chief Fazlur Rehman Kahlil (December 2004) and Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami chief Qari Saifullah Akhtar (May 2007), two of the Afghan jihad veterans who were instrumental in reorganising terrorist strategies and operations on behalf of the Army. Akhtar was an adviser to Taliban chief Mullah Omar till October 2001. No less important is the fact that a close confidante of Akhtar was Illyas Kashmiri, whose role in several recent terrorist incidents is no secret.

In fact, there is no dearth of evidence to prove that Pakistan and ISI could be declared as terrorist entities. The Abbottabad incident has only added weight to an urgent need to impose severe sanctions on these two entities if the world wanted to be rid of the scourge of terrorism.

-- Wilson John is Vice-President and Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi ***************************************





The Pakistanis protected Osama bin Laden for as long as it suited them and last week gave him up because a new design has been sculpted

Osama bin Laden is dead and everybody with any idea of terrorism is blaming Pakistan for keeping him alive for the past 10 years. But, will history judge Pakistan likewise?

It appears that the entire world is angry with Pakistan. Civilised humanity is angry, frustrated, and, above all helpless at the chicanery of the rulers of this rogue State bordering India to the west. But, are the Americans and Indians so naive as to think that Pakistan should have disclosed his whereabouts and allowed him to be killed or arrested soon after 9/11?

This may sound against the current of present thinking, but It is important to appreciate the fact that actually it goes to the credit of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that the might of the United States was resisted through deception for not one or two years, but an entire decade. There is also a possibility that Osama was actually turned over the Americans when the ISI realised that he was no longer relevant to Pakistan's designs.

It has been argued that it is ISI's failure that Osama stayed in Pakistan for so long without getting noticed. But, in reality it could be viewed as the ISI's success. It was a clever ploy to hide him at a place like Abbottabad, a quiet suburb of Islamabad, often referred to as the city of schools in a building next to a military training academy. Who could ever suspect that Osama would stay in a town dominated by the military? This place is around 60 km from Islamabad and 150 km from Peshawar. So, all kinds of political and logistical support were easily available. There is an airport in the vicinity in case there was need to fly him off in an emergency. Being a services town all kinds of modern medical facilities are available and military medical services could be put in use to hide the identity of the patient.

The interesting aspect is that Osama's protectors, whoever they were, allowed the notion to spread that he was hiding in a cave. This could be viewed as a success of the ISI's misinformation campaign. For students of media, this is a supreme case of "media management". About Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief Prabhakaran it was said that he wore "cyanide necklaces" at all times, which turned out an exaggeration. Similarly, TV clips were leaked to the global media showing Osama always against a mountainous background. Those, in conjunction with the televised images of his 1999 interview, erected a permanent visual of him as a mountain man. This was admirable on the part of the ISI as this fiction allowed the world's most notorious intelligence organisation to shield the world's most wanted terrorist for almost a full decade without any problems.

While most people always believed that Osama could be hiding in Pakistan's inaccessible mountain passes, they were successfully persuaded by post-9/11 Islamabad regimes that they were not to blame for that. A whole lot of associated fiction was created — for instance, it was spread that the tribes who lived in those areas did not care for Islamabad's writ and that the Pakistani Army was forever inadequately equipped to take on the fierce, committed Taliban soldiers who guarded him— so please would America send more dollars?

Post 9/11, Pakistan was not offered too many options but to tow the US line. Now, it appears that they made best out of their compulsions. In one of his earliest albeit private outbursts, George W. Bush had threatened to reduce Pakistan to "fetal position". A country which could have been attacked by the US actually ended up extracting maximum political and financial help from the US. So the operation to keep Osama in hiding was part of a larger strategy to squeeze the maximum possible out of America.

Within days of the Osama hit, Pakistan launched Plan B. They understand that now the US is likely to put them under tremendous pressure. So, they have started playing their cards carefully. Officially, they have admitted that "not knowing" the whereabouts of Osama for so many years was the failure of their intelligence setup. Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator who is the object of the needle of suspicion, has started giving TV interviews denying a Pakistani hand in the concealment. In the process he is batting for the ISI and General Ashfaq Kayani. Most importantly the country is not speaking in the same voice. This is useful for creating confusion. By harping on the line that more than 30,000 Pakistanis have died due to acts of terrorism in the past decade, the intellectuals deployed by the Pakistani establishment are generating a lot of patriotic bluster — this is coming useful because within days the hardline elements organised the first a series of prayer meetings for the fallen terrorist leader.

Pakistan understands that with Osama dead, its importance in America's scheme of things would diminish by many degrees. But, to make themselves relevant for the US they still have two cards: Afghanistan and the nuclear issue. It would be interesting to watch how they could play these cards in coming days.

Predictably, old friend China has started making the familiar noises about the need for the world powers to keep Pakistan in humour. Two weeks before the killing of Osama, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had told the Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the Americans had failed them both. In his view, the US is facing significant economic problems and hence is unlikely to support any process of long-term regional development. Under these circumstances it's better to engage China. Such statements could have also been made to pressurise the US. Today, Pakistan needs more US support than ever.

Meanwhile, there are important lessons here for India. Assuming that the powers in Pakistan had some idea about the Osama's hideout location there is a lot to ponder over. Is India's post 26/11 policy of 'dossier diplomacy' relevant? Will Pakistan ever response to India's demands truthfully? If Pakistan can fool the US, is India's policy of confidence building measures (CBMs) appropriate? Can Pakistan be trusted?

India's own intelligence agencies should pick up a few tips from their Pakistani opposite numbers. Our babu-laden R&AW and IB would really benefit if a little part of the professionalism of the ISI infects them. It is important to appreciate that the US succeeded in locating Osama because of the correct mix of human and technical intelligence. In Indian context much more needs to be done in both these fields.

It looks unlikely that Pakistan would abandon its policy of using terrorism as a tool against India. Under these circumstances are the methods followed by India are correct or there is a need for the midcourse correction?

-- The writer is Research Fellow, IDSA







Barack Obama's stock was not particularly high before the Obama smokeout. The promised jobs, the "change" that he symbolised, were fast turning into a mirage. But now, he is back and unstoppable — 2012 ahoy!

2012 election cancelled — Obama buoyed by 100 per cent approval rating," wrote US satirist Andy Borowitz a day after President Barack Obama announced to the world that Osama bin Laden was dead and gone.

From the manner in which the likes of Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and other hardcore conservatives have rushed to compliment Obama, one may conclude that Borowitz is on the dot.

But it is early days, with the 2012 race a good 18 months away. So pollsters and pundits would be watching keenly over the coming months to find out if the Osama operation proves a game-changer for the first non-white President of the United States — all the more since the state of the economy is far from satisfactory. Even so, there is no mistaking the bounce for now, with Obama riding high after hurtling downhill in recent months. In about every opinion poll since the dramatic Sunday night operation, his job approval ratings have jumped considerably.

Significantly, the unexpected bounce for Obama has come just when dire predictions were being made by some politicos that he might have to rest content with being a one-term president — in line with the "shellacking" that his party received at the hands of Republicans in the Congressional and gubernatorial races last November.

The striking aspect of the daring mission to take out Laden is that it casts Obama in altogether new light. Traditionally, national security issues have not been the strongest suit of Democrats, when compared to the Republicans. Obama may now have fundamentally altered that perception. Boldness apart, it boosts his credibility as his action in Pakistan has matched his rhetoric on this issue during his presidential campaign.

In the early stages of the campaign in 2007, Obama had famously said: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will." That became his refrain as the campaign progressed. Last week, he could — and didn't he! — claim that he lived up to his promise by ordering his elite commandos to capture and kill bin Laden right in the heart of Pakistan. As he put it in his address after the mission: "Over the years, I've repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where Laden was. That is what we've done."

The best news for Obama this week has come from the New York Times/CBS News poll, giving him an 11 per cent boost — a 57 per cent approval rating, up from 46 per cent last month. "The glow of national pride seemed to rise above partisan politics, as support for the president rose significantly among both Republicans and independents," the Times said.

Gallup Poll on Thursday reported a 6 per cent surge — from an average 46 per cent approval during the three days before the commando raid to an average 52 per cent in the three days following the operation. This incidentally marks Obama's highest rating in the Gallup tracking polls over a year, compared to a lowest of 41 per cent over the same period.

Here again, the upswing has been courtesy Republicans and independents. Gallup speaks of a 12-point increase among Republicans and a 9-point rise among independents, while the committed Democrats' approval remains unchanged. But the support of Republicans and independents is regarded as a mixed blessing, given the likelihood of bread and butter issues returning before long to take the centre stage.

Since "bounces" of the type are common after big events, Democratic strategists are trying to figure out how durable the trend would be for Obama. Curiously enough, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 produced the biggest-ever Gallup rally of 35 per cent for George W Bush, with Americans clearly rallying behind him in that hour of crisis. Other big rallies of the past have included an 18-point jump for George HW Bush at the beginning of the 1991 Gulf War and a 16-point swing for Richard Nixon after the Vietnam War peace accords were signed.

"The question is whether Obama can sustain that higher level of support, or whether it will quickly dissipate. Most often, a president's approval rating begins to decline fairly soon after the rally event occurs, with the increases in approval often disappearing in as little as one to four weeks," says a Gallup analysis. Andy Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, says that while there is high approval for his handling of the bin Laden matter and Afghanistan, there is no change in his approval rating for the economy. "It was 40 per cent last week. It's 40 per cent this week. That is one of the long-term challenges for Barack Obama," notes Kohut.

As Republican strategist Carl Forti looks at it, bin Laden's death provides "a momentary lift to the president and his numbers". By next month, he says the debate will revert to subjects like debt ceiling. "And in a year, this (Osama) moment will have zero impact on people's decision-making on who should be president," he says. Democratic strategist Donna Brazile agrees that the bottom line is the economy. "While bringing bin Laden to justice is a cause everyone approves, most Americans are also anxious about their economic future," she says.

-- The writer is Washington Correspondent, The Pioneer.











Quickly disconnect. Don't you know the Punjab State Commission for Women thinks mobile phones are marriage wreckers? Pained at far too many newlyweds divorcing, this statutory body's morphed into a marriage counselor. And its advisory says that in wedlock's initial two years, the wife must make the "small adjustments". Such as: not chatting on the mobile with her nosey parents - even if it's to solicit advice on how to make a marriage work. For, hubby and in-laws can start thinking their bahu's talkathons are with a paramour! Call it a suspected case of love, cell and dhoka.

What a wring tone. Some mobile operators are already seeing profits dented courtesy business-expanding African safaris. What'll happen if Indian brides now stop subscribing, fearing shaadi will turn to barbaadi? But hold the line. Certain telcos are reportedly thriving by selling off-limits numbers on the Do Not Call registry for princely sums. More to the point, if not their Mrs, husbands will remain customers. Presumably, another 'adjustment' a wife must make is not to doubt hubby dear's fidelity when he makes those roaming calls. Nor, in a fit of rage, dial M for Mummy.

After all, the Indian male seems not to want to be upwardly 'mobile' through his better half. A well-known marriage portal reveals that 97% of the men it's surveyed in a modern city like Mumbai want wives who earn less than them; only 1% wants wives to be more educated. If women happily seek partners more qualified than themselves, men go for "fair" plus "lovely". Naturally, the more lovely the bride, the more her hotline's jammed. And the more her number's 'engaged', the more marital groom and doom there'll be on the in-laws' suspicion that fair is foul.

Does that mean marriage is past its cell-by-date? Or that relationships are best lived out in mobile homes? Well, many brides might support Hollywood actress Eva Mendes's view of wedlock as "very boring". Consider, after all, another marital 'adjustment' that requires women to mostly do the housework. Recent research says if men do wash dishes or vacuum-clean, they must reclaim surrendered manliness by punching a few bags immediately after. So what's new? A 2009 survey showed that men acted deaf or feigned illness when chores came up. Or they pretended to have to make a long, crucial call! Such phony excuses don't always cell well.

Talking of buying and selling, conjugal life can also be a drag thanks to yet another 'adjustment': gals shop alone because mall-hopping's not a guy thing. But instead of dreading spousal extravagance, men should get on the feminine bandwidth here. Haven't they heard of "retail therapy"? Frequent shopping, a study says, can make people live longer! That means frequent shopping can also make couples communicate longer - provided the shop frequented sells mobiles. If only spouses got SIM-biotically connected on cellular platforms with marital Apps. That way, handsets can become hand-holding devices. Hello, smart phone. Buy-buy happiness.








Last Sunday in Abbottabad, one of the great, awful, stories of modern times was seemingly drawn to a conclusion. In an operation that had the drama and spectacular efficacy of an action film, the grand villain of the contemporary American imagination was finally tracked down and slain. Americans had been awaiting the moment for a decade, and when it came, the word "closure" was very much in the air.

The man who authorised the operation, Barack Obama, had entered the White House on the campaign slogan 'Yes we can.' On the night of the killing, at Ground Zero in New York and in front of the White House, young people carried placards that declared: 'Yes we did'. There seemed to be an end point to a narrative about the Global War on Terror.

All the world over, people seek to make sense of their world by stories that have a beginning, middle and end. The impulse is both romantic and practical. But every narrative is a simplification of the individual events that are stitched together to constitute it, and in this age of Twitter and WikiLeaks, such elisions tend to come to light quickly. It was only a matter of hours after the president's speech, which itself had been sober and scrupulous, that key elements of the story put forth by Obama's advisers were being corrected.

Bin Laden was not armed, after all. He hadn't used a woman as a human shield. President Obama had not watched the operation in real time. Other contrary details may turn up in due course. These needn't undermine the underlying significance of what happened last Sunday, but they underline a significance of a different type. Narrative always involves a degree of trickery - even when it's in the service of benign effects.

President Obama certainly has the rhetorical powers and imaginative ability to tell rousing stories - see Dreams of My Father, his narrative of his own coming of age. But what is more interesting about Obama as president is his temperamental resistance to the seductions of narrative. In fact, it was precisely his purpose to get away from over-arching, framing narratives that he rightly associated with ideologically driven decisions of his predecessor. His preferred focus is domestic nuts and bolts matters like healthcare reform.

Similarly, in foreign policy, Obama made clear he preferred analysis over narrative, empiricism over hardened principle, inductive logic rather than deductive reasoning. Where President Bush displayed impatience and willingness to precipitate situations - 'pre-emption', or the modern version of the Napoleonic 'you engage and, then, you see' - Obama self-consciously rejected that style, as he has rejected aviator jackets, speechifying, and 'Mission Accomplished' banners when he laid a wreath at Ground Zero on Thursday.

If one can speak of an 'Obama doctrine', it is one that aspires to a rigorous empiricism: to data-driven decision making, as opposed to the ideology-tinted Bush epic, whose adepts famously spoke of 'making their own reality'. Instead of dispensing Manichean binaries, with or against, good or evil, Obama is a nuancer. He promises the crafting of a country-by-country policy, in opposition to, for instance, a blanket doctrine of intervention. This has left him open to charges of inconsistency and vacillation. He was "leading from behind", in the sniping assessment of an aide in a recent, much-discussed analysis in the New Yorker magazine. The bin Laden operation outflanks such assessments, providing a new story for Obama's own presidential qualities and virtues.

As good as this might be for his re-election fundraising and poll ratings, there is much of value in his original position. And perhaps implicit in that position is a recognition - denied, of course, in the cause of electoral politics - that America does not have an unending future claim to history's starring role, or to being the global enforcer of justice.

The old legends that propped up the US's claims to act legitimately on the international stage while pursuing its own interests - 'leader and defender of the free world', for one - began to crumble with the end of the Cold War. Subsequent efforts to anoint the US as the vanguard of globalisation - as Clinton tried in the 1990s - and more recently, the Bush administration's story of America as the champion of democratic freedoms, have fared poorly in the electronic mall that is world opinion.

And today, as the world media swarms around a desolate compound in Abbottabad, the Arab Spring continues to astonish, a potentially transformative upheaval that escapes American choreography and marginalises its closest ally, Israel. Pakistan, America's most necessary if least willing partner, continues to sabotage its paymaster. China flexes economic, financial and now also military muscle. India has just cancelled American bids for the largest military hardware purchase in recent years. Both US ambassadors in these two Asian countries resigned last month, each publicly expressing frustration at their inability to achieve US goals.

This is the world outside the 'main story' of the week, which is to say, this is the world as it is: a multiplicity of unruly, simultaneous, often contradictory narratives, in which context a triumphal American story of Navy SEALs finishing off bin Laden seems a poignant throwback. Americans can take some comfort in that clear and simple story as they advance into an infinitely complicated future. But not too much. For that future - like the Osama bin Laden narrative of this week - is going to prove very difficult to control, and won't fit within the frame of a single story.

( The writer is director, India Institute, King's College, London, and an author.)






The decision of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to have three captains for the three cricket formats - Tests, ODIs and T20 - is innovative. But the formula may not necessarily work for all teams and in all situations. The English team's decision relates to its recent experience. Having won an engaging Ashes series, it had little time to recharge its batteries for the World Cup. It was felt necessary to redistribute the burden of captaincy, keeping in mind the hectic playing schedule. In any case, England's outgoing ODI captain Andrew Strauss wants to concentrate on his job as Test captain. The ECB wanted to groom younger players for leadership roles like Alastair Cook, appointed ODI captain, and Stuart Broad, appointed T20 captain.

Nonetheless, there's no guarantee the experiment will work. England coach Andy Flower has admitted as much. A multiplicity of authorities within a single team could lead to complications. Every team has a certain playing philosophy and work ethic. The captain plays a crucial part in providing his team direction and leading by example. Having three skippers could be a case of too many cooks. It could also make the coach's work more difficult, forcing him to juggle conflicting ideas. If such a system were the norm rather than a matter of need or choice, finding the right candidates to fill the posts could also pose a problem.

In recent years, the Indian cricket team has had two captains leading the charge in different formats. But current captain M S Dhoni has proved more than capable of handling all three formats. As things stand, there's no reason to impose a three-skipper formula on Team India. If it ain't broke, why fix it? The future may or may not be different. Hence, a flexible approach to the leadership question is the best option.








Following Andrew Strauss's decision to concentrate exclusively on Test cricket, the ECB has taken the wise and bold step of announcing separate Test, one-day and Twenty20 captains. Alistair Cook, long considered Strauss's natural successor, and Stuart Broad, a vital member of the team across formats, will reinvigorate England's efforts in the shorter versions of the game. What is, however, baffling is that many cricket pundits should take exception to the ECB's decision.

It is not uncommon for leading nations to have different captains for different forms of the game. In the past, countries like Australia, pioneers in this regard, have successfully implemented the idea. The Australian team achieved a fair degree of success under Mark Taylor's Test captaincy and Steve Waugh's one-day reign. India too has experimented with the two-captain model when Anil Kumble took over as Test skipper from Rahul Dravid while M S Dhoni captained the one-day side. Not only did Kumble win India its first home triumph against Pakistan in 27 years, his leadership was instrumental in holding the side together during the controversial series in Australia in 2007-08. There's no reason why England can't replicate such success. Indeed, there's no reason why the formula can't become the norm among cricket-playing nations.

Having separate captains is a way to democratise leadership. At the same time, it provides a new framework to cope with the hectic schedules and strains of international cricket. The three-skipper formula will contribute to generating a fresh stream of ideas for players in all formats of the game that require specialised skills. If anything, we may see an overall improvement in cricketing standards. Such an arrangement creates the time and space to nurture young leaders from the shortest to the highest form of cricket while ensuring a graceful and smooth exit for the older leaders.









If there's one pony on which the Great Indian Success Story has been riding for the last two decades or so, it is the service sector. The sector accounts for 65% of India's gross domestic product. And yet, there's one serious shortcoming that remains unattended to: service quality. On Friday, services of one of India's biggest telecom companies, Bharti Airtel, turned 'blind' for three-four hours. Going by the figures of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, at the end of March, Airtel Bharti had 7.98 million subscribers in the capital region. How many of them were left stranded is yet to be ascertained. But to downplay the temporary disruption would be approving that old 'chalta hai' mentality that India 2011 should be very wary of.

Glitches happen in any sector, service industries included. There will be times when, for whatever reasons, a fly will be in your soup. But at the heart of any service industry lies the consumer. This is especially true in the high product-customer interface of the telephone industry. And Friday's glitch was yet another indicator that the Indian consumer is quite often treated as nothing more than a serial number to bolster figures in a company annual report. The reaction of Airtel to the 'blackout' was a muffled apology, the usual 'accidents happen' line. Coming back to the fly in the soup analogy, a gaffé in a restaurant is tackled by the owner by providing something that smoothens the ruffled feathers of a customer. Instead, the usual gesture of a service-providing company here is the equivalent of the faulty soup being taken away without it being replaced and charging it on the bill. No free 'talk time' or free SMSes were provided as compensation. The message was: cock-ups happen, deal with it. The continuing Air India debacle highlights the worst case scenario in which consumers are treated as, at best, abstract numbers, and, at worst, as people who should be thankful that any kind of service is around. Clearly, as anyone who has faced the ignominy of bad service, this attitude isn't confined to 80s-style 'take it or leave it' public sector service.

Much improvement has happened over the decades. thanks to competition. But when there are 'lapses' where the consumer becomes a bit role player in the scheme of things, the 'service quality dividend' - so crucial to the sector - crashes. Here, consumer awareness and the right of the customer to demand quality service and compensation if this quality falls short has to become part of consumer behaviour. With the choice of service providers available these days, companies should realise that their businesses depend on one mantra only: it's their comfort, stupid! Of the customers being provided a service, that is.





The 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore today provides an opportunity to claim the man for the world at large. Tagore has been iconised by Bengalis and feted by foreigners. But somehow, he has eluded being appreciated by non-Bengali Indians. One way of 'introducing' his genius to the world at large is to look beyond his 'literary quotient' and discover in his poems and essays the startlingly modern way in which he thought about the challenges that continue to face the world today.

In his 1909 essay 'Tapovan' (Forest), Tagore wrote: "[The] culture that has arisen from the forest has been influenced by the diverse processes of renewal of life." In the conflict between greed and compassion, conquest and cooperation, nature alone could "impart peace of the eternal to human emotions". Tagore was not against technology - unlike Gandhi. He wanted us to use machines not for the conquest of nature but for ecological conservation.  He abhorred the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and recommended traditional institutions of cooperatives and panchayats to work to restore the human-nature balance.

But it wasn't the sustenance of nature alone that Tagore was deeply interested in. The humanist in him wanted amity among men. In the poem, 'The Sunset of the Century', written on the last day of the 19th century, Tagore wrote: "The last sun of the century sets amidst the blood-red clouds of the West and the whirlwind of hatred." In today's context of a post-26/11 and post-9/11 world, Tagore's message of pacifism takes on great significance.

Tagore described his family as a product of a confluence of three cultures: Hindu, Muslim and British. It is not so much that he tried to produce a synthesis of the three different cultures either in his life or in his writings as much as this natural mix going on to make his personality.

Tagore worked for one supreme cause: the brotherhood of man. He was opposed to every kind of religious fundamentalism and cultural separatism. He wanted Indians to learn about how other people lived and what they believed in, while remaining interested and involved in their own culture and heritage.

True democracy and freedom, Tagore believed, would lead to the realisation of the full potential of humans. It was in this context that he emphasised the 'freedom of the mind'. And in this education played a big role for him. It is in this context and much more that Rabindranath Tagore is a guide of our times to all people.

Balmiki Pratap Singh is Governor of Sikkim.

The views expressed by the author are personal.






'To me the place seemed like a dream/ And far ran a lonesome stream.' The lines are from a poem written by an English artilleryman as he beheld a beauteous scene in the western extremities of the British Raj. The place had occupied, preoccupied, British minds before. In Mughal times, the 'place like a dream' had been home to mixed tribes that soon began to assert independence from the powers at Agra and Delhi. Chaos spells opportunity for the daring. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, using his Zam Zam gun and his cavalry, established hegemony over the Frontier tracts, his empire thereby acquiring much of what today is Pakistan, Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and Jammu and Kashmir. But when has seized territory stayed in the seizing clasp?

The British followed opportunity when they saw it, calling it danger one day, self-interest another. And when Ranjit Singh, crippled by two paralytic strokes, was on a low tide, they used him deftly to checkmate Russia in the Great Game.

Our young artilleryman, the author of that rather schoolboy poem, had joined the Bengal Artillery at the age of 16. Deployed to play a role in a diplomatic manoeuvre of the Great Game at Khiva in 1839, he volunteered for action in the aftermath of the popular revolt that gathered momentum against Sikh rule. Sikh nationalism had to - and did - retaliate. Violating the Treaty of Lahore, it threatened the loose sway that Britain had established for itself west of the Sutlej. Governor General Dalhousie, just six months into his office, declared, in October 1848, "Unwarned by precedent, uninfluenced by example, the Sikh nation has called for war, and on my words, Sirs, they shall have it with a vengeance."

The soldier-poet was among those destined to be noticed and deployed for that bloody but decisive war. By March 1849, after pitched battles, including the celebrated one at Chillianwala, the Sikh army surrendered and Punjab was annexed outright. A report sent to the board of the East India Company put it graphically: "... a difficult frontier has been guarded, 500 miles long, inhabited by a semi-barbarous population and menaced by numerous tribes of hostile mountaineers... With a police force of 14,000 men, internal peace has been kept from the borders of Sind to the foot of the Himalaya, from the banks of the Sutlej to the banks of the Indus..."

Hazara was among the areas where peace had been brought. It was described as "... a wedge of territory extending far into the heart of the outer Himalayas, and consisting of a long narrow valley, shut in on both sides by lofty mountains, whose peaks rise to a height of 17,000 ft above sea level [it] is bounded by mountain chains, which sweep southward... and send off spurs on every side which divide the country into numerous minor dales... well watered by the tributaries of the Indus, the Kunhar, which flows through the Kagan Valley into the Jhelum, and many rivulets..."

The artilleryman, now well experienced in both war and pacification, was appointed Hazara's first deputy commissioner. His name: James Abbott.

Scouring Hazara, Abbott held his breath as he saw these beauteous hills with streams around them. Picking one such spot, some 4,000 feet above sea level, he decided he would set up a new hill station there, a westerly Darjeeling. Abbottabad, it came to be called. But when has seized territory...

Less than a 100 years after Abbott had encountered those regions, the British Raj was in retreat, World War 2 was about to break out and a 'tribal' leader, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, did the unimaginable. He started a movement of the Khudai Khidmatgar, which, in Pashto meant 'Servants of God', for a non-violent Pashtuni struggle against the British Raj in an Islamic context and vocabulary.

What would have also stumped the British even more is that Ghaffar Khan, known also Badshah Khan, motivated his cadres, the 'Surkh Posh' (Red Shirts), to work for the elimination of blood feuds. And, wonder of wonders, on more than one occasion when Hindus and Sikhs were attacked in Peshawar, the Red Shirts helped protect their lives and property. "There is nothing surprising," said Badshah Khan, "in a Muslim or a Pathan like me subscribing to the creed of non-violence. It's not a new creed. It was followed 1,400 years ago by the Prophet all the time he was in Mecca."

Not surprisingly, he was rebuffed by the Muslim League. Along with his brother Khan Sahib, Badshah Khan gravitated towards Gandhi. The two brought meaning to the term 'kindred spirits'. The Khudai Khidmatgar gave Gandhi a hope and a vigour he, too, could never have imagined.

Visiting Abbottabad in 1938, Gandhi inhaled its pure air and also drew on its history of turbulence. He wrote to Madeleine Slade from Abbottabad: "This is a beautiful place except for its associations." Back in Abbottabad the following year, he stayed there for over 10 days, the Khidmatgars looking after him as they would an elder from within their own kin. And they gave him time for thinking of issues beyond that province - among which was the phenomenon, then 50 years old, and rearing its head, called Adolf Hitler.

The ogre-in-the-making had already entered Vienna and Prague and was contemplating the invasion of Poland when Gandhi wrote to him, from Abbottabad, on July 23, 1939: "Dear friend, friends have been urging me to write to you for the sake of humanity. But I have resisted their request, because of the feeling that any letter from me would be an impertinence. Something tells me that I must not calculate and that I must make my appeal for whatever it may be worth. It is quite clear that you are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to a savage state. Must you pay that price for an object however worthy it may appear to you to be? Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success? Anyway I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you."

The diabolism of the period between 1939 and 1945, which saw 11-14 million people, including about 6 million Jews, killed in concentration camps and ghettoes lay in the wordless future. As did deaths through "less systematic methods" as a result of starvation and disease. That an Indian voice had challenged "for the sake of humanity" a new and unimaginable menace to human civilisation before that menace had bared all its fangs, to "prevent a war which may reduce humanity to a savage state" is not sufficiently known. That the challenge was made from Abbottabad , can't now afford to remain unknown.

So have we exorcised the ogre of a savage state? The most formidable and the ferocious are yet the most vulnerable. Be they be ever so well-bunkered in a metropolitan residence or in a 'place like a dream' not far from where beckons... a lonesome stream.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor.

The views expressed by the author are personal.





In a crowded planet, even the last undisclosed, nameless location is getting mighty claustrophobic now that Elvis, Netaji and Michael Jackson have to make room for Osama bin Laden. The arch-terrorist's body has already been sighted off the Gujarat coast. How long before he is seen alive, perhaps teaching rabbits to smoke pot and play ball while strapped to little dialysis machines?

The Americans were in a tearing hurry to despatch Osama and get rid of the body of evidence to pre-empt the birth of a new radical martyrology. But they opened the door to a bumper crop of urban legends, which is already ripening very nicely. The founding father of al Qaeda apparently collected balls. He raised rabbits. He grew pot at home. The world's leading America-hater drank Coke and Pepsi in industrial quantities. Maybe that's what rotted his kidneys and put him on dialysis. Sure, that's a wild surmise. So? Post-Osama, we're in a highly speculative market.

But seriously, what will this do to the brand image of the two cola giants? Imagine the terror of being accidentally endorsed by a mass-murdering, rabbit-fondling pothead on the lam. And is there no future for 'Islamic' colas, which Osama clearly abjured?

Anyway, RIP Osama. The man had died and risen so many times already that Orpheus, Osiris, Jesus and Lazarus have lost first-mover advantage. He first died in 2002. And then he died again and again, as reported by the Taliban, Iranian state radio, Bush administration officials and Benazir Bhutto.

Between these fatal episodes, conspiracy theorists in high places claimed that he had been put on ice at a secret location unknown even to Elvis, to be thawed by Republican spin doctors just before a US election. Ironically, he has now become campaign fodder for Barack Obama as he runs for a second term. No wonder the popular, unofficial spelling of his name is now Usama. USAma, get it?

And no wonder there are so many conspiracy theories going around that Abbottabad sounds like Roswell. Intelligence imperatives - and plain vanilla intelligence, too - suggest that a man who created a huge network which touched lives and extinguished them from New York to Bali should be taken alive and pumped for information, not shot in the head and dumped in the sea.

But it appears that the only way Osama could have avoided being shot dead was by being naked. The SEALs who attacked him were told that he could have explosives strapped on, and they should kill him if they didn't see him in his birthday suit. I suspect that very few people sleep in the nude in Abbottabad, so this amounted to an order to execute him. I'm dying to know why this was considered to be a better alternative than capturing him. I bet I'm not alone.

It is said that some people are alive only because it is illegal to kill them. Now, the Americans have demonstrated that the law is not necessarily a deterrent. But the high-strung public relations bungling which followed could prove to be as potent as Ajit's liquid oxygen. Osama is dead, and yet he is as alive as Netaji and Elvis. And likely to grow livelier in the popular imagination.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

The views expressed by the author are personal.



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

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

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

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






The civil aviation ministry, which has handled the Air India pilots' strike, showed an alarming softness in dealing with what is egregious white-collar activism in a struggling company. The Air India management took a sensible, firm line to begin with: the pilot's union leading the strike that has disrupted air travel all over India was de-recognised, its nine leaders fired. It was at that point that the civil aviation ministry stepped in, greatly diluting the strength of the response, allowing the strike to continue for longer, and signalling to those of Air India's employees hoping to squeeze something extra out of the taxpayer, that the Centre is a soft touch.

What did the civil aviation ministry do? On Tuesday, Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi said, "If the agitating pilots of Air India call off their strike, the airline management will take back the pilots who were terminated." That was unacceptably weak. Flights were cancelled; a loss-making enterprise was driven further into the red; travel schedules of tens of thousands of Indians were horrendously upset. Who will be held accountable for this?

And it won't just be the pilots that will be reinstated; the entire association, which was appropriately de-recognised, will be formally

re-recognised. The civil aviation ministry has demonstrated a complete lack of spine in this respect, and an unwillingness to consider the fact that it is empowering provocateurs who will only continue to make trouble. These are not oppressed workers by any stretch of the imagination, but white-collar employees who through a loophole in the law are considered "manual workers". They are a set of overpaid professionals who were angry that their bankrupt company is not overpaying them as it is some other overpaid professionals. Because the bankrupt company in question is state-run, they thought they could blackmail the state into handing over taxpayer money to supplement their already above-market salaries. This was a moment the Centre should have seized to articulate a vision of Air India's future in which costs are cut, excess workforce shed, and the company taken off the taxpayer's payroll. Returning to status quo ante is not the solution, and the civil aviation ministry should not think that it is. Air India will inevitably be shut; treating it like a PSU, its employees like errant children, will only prolong the agony.






Calling an election ahead of schedule is always risky, and by all accounts many of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's royalist backers are not quite convinced that he's done the right thing. It's not entirely another matter that they believe Thailand would be better off with an extended spell without even scheduled polls — and in their extreme views they frame the political crisis that's settled over the country these past few years. Ever since Thaksin Shinawatra was removed as PM in a military coup in 2006, the tussle between his supporters and their opponents has acquired geographic and class dimensions. It's a measure of the severity of the crisis that it's still far from clear whether the general election — likely to be held by early July — will resolve this rupture in Thai society.

Vejjajiva came to power in 2008 after extended sit-ins in Bangkok by royalist supporters, believed to be backed by the Bangkok elite and the military, and called the Yellow Shirts because of their identifying gear, resulted in the removal from office of Thaksin proteges. (Thaksin, mired in corruption cases, has lived outside Thailand since the coup.) Last year, Thaksin supporters — Red Shirts — took over Bangkok's streets demanding an election. They are mainly drawn from the north and rural areas, and were won over by his healthcare and credit programmes. In protests like last year's, which disrupted normal life in Bangkok and provoked an armed crackdown, they argue the majority their leaders get at election-time is blunted by manoeuvres, believed to be with the assent of the military and the palace.

In the 1990s, Thailand was a shining example of an emerging economy that had embraced democracy — and the coming elections will test its capacity to settle the issue peacefully and avert further street battles.






With West Bengal reporting a steady 80 to 90 per cent polling, a strange freedom from fear has characterised polling as much in Kolkata as in other urban centres and the large swathes of rural Bengal. But the momentousness of this election alone doesn't explain that lack of fear. The elaborate preparations the Election Commission made to order for West Bengal seem to have paid off. The EC began last October, breaking polling into six phases — making more-rounds-the-better an axiom for Bengal's literal battlefields — to optimally deploy security personnel for the six days.

The irony in armoured vehicles and gun turrets encouraging the electorate to come out and vote is uncharacteristically blunt. But we are talking about a state long confined to a class of its own — in terms of the longevity of its elected government and the bloodshed that any election, at any level, unhesitatingly provoked. Therefore, the EC must be congratulated for the spectacularly violence-free polls so far. For, the memory of free and fair elections in Bengal had faded thin after decades of enduring cadres calling on residents to either drag them to the booth or prevent them from stepping out of their homes or, ultimately, to physically keep them from voting inside the polling station. That's to say nothing of

all-out cadre battles on the street. This time round, those bombs and guns and goons appear to have vanished into thin air.

Whether the large turnouts are the result of a reduced electorate base figure or the lack of intimidation is irrelevant. What's not irrelevant is the weeding out of the names of false and deceased voters from the electoral rolls, which combined with delimitation to make the electorate size realistic and manageable across constituencies. Today's penultimate fifth phase will be followed by the most challenging phase of all on May 10, covering the most troubled part of the state — Jungle Mahal. If this forbiddingly elaborate exercise

has been a comment on the state's law and order and security, and thereby an indictment of its political culture, it is also a concrete model of efficiency for Bengal's next government.








On Al-Jazeera, people say, the neighbours were upset: "Never in my life, not once, did it cross my mind that he was America's most wanted. We're all in total shock. You should see my other neighbour, people coming in and out at all hours and strange banging at night, I'd like something to be done about him too." In Abbottabad, as elsewhere, there's something fascinating about the neighbours getting into a bit of trouble.

And while schadenfreude is a natural human emotion, even if we need to borrow a word from the Germans to describe it, it would be dangerous to take it too far. Yes, everybody of note in Pakistan sombrely assured the world that Osama bin Laden was either dead or elsewhere — meaning that his presence in a giant farmhouse in a sedate cantonment with a big "Beware of Mujahideen" balloon on the gate does tend to show up Pakistan's establishment as either hilariously incompetent or completely duplicitous. (As one hastily printed T-shirt put it, "talk Abbottabad place to hide".) And so questioning the degree to which the establishment was implicated in covering for its terrorist proxies has taken on a new urgency. Developing strategies to get them to break that addiction is yet more urgent. Merely restating our long-held complaints to the world, even if they have grown more powerful as arguments now, will not help us.

If we truly expect a seat at the global high table, we have to act like it. We're told, all the time, that the world is about to stop hyphenating India-and-Pakistan. But we re-hyphenate ourselves every time we show that we're unwilling to break out of an older mould, shouting our complaints to the world, however justified, is all we care to do. The problems that we have with Pakistan's establishment haven't changed — or at least for the better. But how we approach them should have. And there is simply no way that we can ascend to a global high table of any sort if Pakistan is busily heading in the opposite direction, and we're stapled together in the world's —and, apparently, our — eyes. No country has ever risen to a stable greatness without making peace, one way or another, with its smaller neighbours.

Which is why, no doubt, we frequently hear, in anodyne diplomat-speak, that "India has a stake in a prosperous and stable Pakistan." Wonderful. Then why don't we work towards it? Instead of applying to be the Cassandra of the global order, we should recognise that, as people with a stake in the house burning down next door, we had better grab a bucket.

But India's government never misses an opportunity to spit in the bucket instead. Consider this: at about the same time as the White House was finalising its assault on Abbottabad, our two commerce secretaries were meeting in Islamabad, supposedly to try and get trade working between us. We declared the meeting a success — because

we squeezed concessions out of Pakistan, and squeezing stuff out of desperate, bankrupt Pakistan is still, apparently, a New Delhi bhavan's definition of success.

What concessions? A commitment that Islamabad would press for the essentially meaningless declaration of India as a "most favoured" trading partner — a declaration tough for the ruling PPP to get passed in the National Assembly, as several lawmakers from its new ally, the PML-Q, are set against it. And what shall we do to push trade along until the Pakistani government manages to act on this? Nothing at all, which could also describe, therefore, what the talks amounted to. And now, every indication is that the process will slow down further.

Most-favoured nation, or MFN status, is simply the assurance that a particular country won't have special restrictions on trade with it built into law. Our commerce ministry is happy to self-righteously point out that we haven't got any openly discriminatory trade regulations of that sort, while Pakistan has an India-specific "positive list" of items that can be imported from here. Except this smugness is unearned: our restrictions are theoretically non-discriminatory but, in practice, obviously and clearly discriminatory. Most glaringly, we restrict, from "all" countries we trade with, textile imports. In effect, that hits our textile-intensive neighbours hardest, everybody else not at all — and we know it. Meanwhile, Pakistani traders justifiably complain that "non-tariff barriers" to trade — onerous red tape, most of all — hit them more than those from other nationalities, but India wants progress on everything else before moving to fix them.

Forcing Pakistan to go the extra mile isn't the marker of a strong state; it's the act of an immature one.

Until we learn that it isn't our neighbours but us who need to make more concessions, we will continue to be tied to our troubled, troubling neighbourhood. This is a lesson that China has learnt, and applies brilliantly; it hasn't just placated Korea and ASEAN with trade agreements, but Taiwan, with which it has as fraught a relationship as ours with Pakistan, is being slowly won over through hyper-generous trade concessions. If we worry that we don't have the leverage with Pakistan that America does, why don't we try to acquire it? Ideally, by spending our money a little more smartly than the Americans have.

The Americans, after all, are separated from Pakistan by half the world. The thing about neighbours is that you live next to them, and you can't expect that good fences will cure everything. You can't stop talking to them, however badly they may behave. You can't pretend they're doing nothing wrong, either — but you need to make it worth their while to listen to us, too. The Americans will not be able to lecture them for us for ever.

If we eventually want Pakistan to take our concerns into account, if we want its middle class to throw off the shackles of its India-obsessed military establishment, then it is we who will have to help create the conditions for it. As China's example shows, nothing succeeds in that like being people you depend on to do business with. India's trade with Pakistan, if normalised, would go up ten, perhaps even thirty times. And what matters is that Pakistan makes money off us — money going directly to its middle class and poor, not diverted by a military elite to planes at our border. It won't work overnight; but what sort of country denies itself even the opportunity of gaining such leverage?

We need answers on how Pakistan's establishment failed us, and their own people, so badly. We, and Pakistanis, need accountability. But we can't afford smug self-righteousness, either, until we get to work on making Pakistan a better place to live in — and to live next to.







The hearing on the bail application of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi may have been deferred on Friday, but the CBI's charge that she is a co-conspirator in the 2G scam is not going to disappear easily. Kanimozhi's alleged involvement in the spectrum allotment is bound to trouble the DMK-Congress alliance in the state.

Notwithstanding his party's assertion that it will fight the case against Kanimozhi "legally", the DMK patriarch views his daughter's chargesheet and possible imprisonment as a political affront to his party and family. To make it abundantly clear that the full weight of the DMK was behind Kanimozhi, she was accompanied to the special CBI court in Patiala House, Delhi, by a grand procession, which included party workers, five DMK MPs, as well as her husband, mother and son. An ailing Karunanidhi was unable to fly down to lend his daughter moral support, but he closely monitored developments from Chennai along with his son, Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, and several state ministers.

However, a reprieve for Kanimozhi may not be as easy as the DMK assumes. All the others named in the CBI chargesheet, from former Telecom Minister A. Raja to about half-a-dozen top executives whose companies benefited from spectrum allotments, have been denied bail so far and are still languishing in Delhi's Tihar Jail. Apart from naming Kanimozhi as a co-conspirator in the 2G scam, the CBI has also taken note of the fact that telecom companies donated crores of rupees to a Chennai-based NGO, of which Kanimozhi is a director, just days before they got spectrum licences on June 10, 2008. The Enforcement Directorate, meanwhile, is investigating whether the same NGO was used for money-laundering activities.

Kanimozhi's image has suffered a dramatic decline. When Kanimozhi, then only 39, emerged on the national scene in June 2007, after being elected to Rajya Sabha on a DMK ticket, she was hailed as a shining example of a Gen-Next politician. She was well-educated, articulate in English and concerned about politically correct issues. She took particular interest in matters like health and family welfare, rural development, empowerment of women, and children and malnutrition. Kanimozhi conscientiously attended Parliament when in session. In over four years, she raised around 186 questions during Question Hour.

The soft-spoken Kanimozhi preferred to be known not just as a politician but as a journalist and poet as well. She was dubbed as her father's literary heir, while her two half-brothers, Stalin and Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers M.K. Alagiri, squabbled publicly as to who should inherit Karunanidhi's political mantle. Like her good friend in Parliament, Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule, Kanimozhi was keen to make the point that she felt a bit of a misfit in politics; literary pursuits and social welfare being her main areas of interest. Unlike her siblings, Kanimozhi joined politics only after following several other pursuits. After a master's in economics, she worked in several publications. She was chief of the DMK's art, literature and rationalism cell, and instituted an annual Tamil cultural festival. She also organised job fairs in rural Tamil Nadu under the Kalaignar banner and more recently set up Kalaignar TV channel in which she has a 20 per cent stake.

Insiders, however, point out that she was no starry-eyed amateur in politics but a significant player in the jostling for power. When Kanimozhi first arrived in Delhi, it was said her foray into politics coincided with the fall from grace of Karunanidhi's grandnephews, the Marans. The CM's family was resentful that the Maran clan had built up a huge communications and media empire from which the Karunanidhi family was excluded. In UPA 1, Dayanidhi Maran had got the much-coveted telecom portfolio.

Kanimozhi has been accused by the CBI of conspiring with Raja so that DB Reality, whose owners are close to the Pawar family, paid Rs 214 crore as kickbacks to Kalaignar TV in return for the allotment of spectrum. Her defence is that the money was merely a loan which she has since paid back with interest. Displaying remarkable dignity and composure under pressure, Kanimozhi on Friday insisted that she was willing to face any eventuality and she would fight her case legally. But it remains to be seen whether her devoted father will stand by silently if his daughter continues to be pursued by the CBI.







Never since the 1971 East Pakistan debacle has the Pakistan army been so sheepish; never since has it faced such public outrage and censure in the media. There's been a barrage of questions with no answers coming forth from the mighty military establishment, the self-proclaimed defenders of Pakistan's ideological frontiers. It is now being asked: "What about this country's geographical frontiers?" And this concern has overshadowed the question of why Osama bin Laden was found in Pakistan in the first place.

Pakistan's popular and overly patriotic Geo News has led the demand for making the truth known because the people have the right to know, and also because even in these tough economic times, a whopping percentage of taxpayers' money is spent on defence. The channel's popular current affairs show hosts, who traditionally voice opinions close to the military establishment's, urged the generals and the government not to lie any more to the people, to snap out of their denial mode and ready the people to face certain bitter truths without worrying about public opinion. As far as the army is concerned, it cannot get worse.

An otherwise right-wing daily from Lahore, Pakistan Today, put it more unequivocally, with advice to the effect that terrorism and extremism were the country's biggest enemies, and must be fought with the full force of the state instead of preparing to fight India. We cannot afford to have any more Osamas discovered hiding in Pakistan, the paper implied. The Jamaat-e-Islami too urged the civil-military leadership to tell the nation the truth and stop lying. Only the Islamist JUI-F and the banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa, both of which are close to the Taliban, condemned the killing of bin Laden.

Pakistanis in general have reacted to Osama's presence in this country with an awkward mix of muted surprise and disbelief. There's no question that the nation's pride has been hurt beyond repair in the aftermath of the American commando action in which they came and went, taking away who and what they had come looking for. It all happened without the knowledge of the nuclear-armed army and its intelligence network, which, it can now be argued more forcefully, is more interested in making and breaking political coalitions than guarding the country's frontiers. The charge from certain domestic quarters as well as world capitals, that Osama could not have been living here in such a high security military zone without the knowledge of at least some within the powerful military establishment, is also hard to wish away any time soon.

Amidst all this, it is asked with equal force as to what President Zardari's government was doing as the dangerous drama of Osama's capture and killing was unfolding. The same Monday morning when the American action took place, Zardari, as planned, swore in new ministers from a new ruling coalition partner — the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, the former "Qaatil League", as he had labelled it after Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Not only that, PML-Q leader Pervaiz Elahi, the then-chief minister of Punjab who Bhutto said should be held among those responsible if she were assassinated, was inducted as a senior federal minister, to be later designated as deputy prime minister, a post that is yet to be created.

Coming on top of this apathetic approach to what was happening in Pakistan and what the world made of it, Prime Minister Gilani on Tuesday embarked on a state visit to France, just as planned. In his absence, the president carried on doing what he deemed best — that is, induct more ministers, as he wooed the breakaway MQM back into joining the treasury benches, mirroring the complexion of the cabinet under Musharraf, save the PPP and the ANP.

From the government's lame defence of the American action and its subsequent conduct of routine affairs as if nothing has happened, to the army's silence over allegations of incompetence and complacence in the entire Osama episode — from his presence in a safe house close to the military academy to his killing and taking away — this is the stuff of which banana republics are made. It is hard to believe this is happening in what is considered a national security state. The world accused Pakistan of being a dangerous country; Pakistanis are now waking up to how dangerous their country really is, for them and for the world alike.

The government's detached attitude to public discomfort and concerns and international pressure means that it expects the army to explain what is going on. It is a confirmation that it has all but abdicated internal and external policy decisions to the military establishment.

The army chief finally blew hot and cold on Thursday, as he presided over a meeting of his trusted corps commanders three days after the event that shook the world. He told the US that no such raids would be tolerated henceforth and that the number of US army personnel based in Pakistan would be cut back — not that anyone knew before this day that there was such a US military presence here. Is this the beginning of starting to telling the truth?

So where does Pakistan go from here? Given the generals' belated response on Thursday, not very far really. What is lacking in both the government and the army is the will to wholeheartedly own the war against terrorism. It is true that more Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan in the aftermath of 9/11 than citizens in any other country, but the question remains: what are we doing about it? It is also being asked, in all earnestness, whether Pakistan needs external enemies to bring it down when we are quite capable of doing so as the world watches in utter shock and horror.

The writer is an editor with 'Dawn', Karachi








With April 1 as its release date, a film titled F.A.L.T.U.was supposed to be a Fool's Day joke. Nobody was taking the Jackky Bhagnani film seriously. Nobody even gave it a chance, especially since its release clashed with the Farhan Akhtar-Ritesh Sidhwani produced, Abhishek Bachchan-Kangna Ranaut starrer, Game.

But surprise, surprise: nobody went to watch Game while a decent opening and eventually found its feet. In today's scenario, when multiplex occupancy fluctuates between six and 13 people (for Thank You and Saat Khoon Maaf respectively in a Mumbai multiplex on the Monday evening show of both the films), Faltu's above average success is commendable. With Faltu, producer Vashu Bhagnani has successfully relaunched his son and also proved that he's an old fox when it comes to the tricks of the trade. Bhagnani had famously released the Salman Khan-Karisma Kapoor Biwi

No. 1 bang in the middle of the 1999 cricket World Cup. The David Dhawan comedy was a mega success.

Bhagnani designed F.A.L.T.U.for the youth. It was THAT song that got them in. Come on, admit it, you've also caught yourself humming "Char Baj Gaye Lekin Party Abhi Baaki Hai". So what if the groove is a direct lift from the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps"? Or for that matter so what if F.A.L.T.U.itself is a rip-off of the Blake Lively-Justin Long starrer, Accepted? It's a hit, right? And in Bollywood, somehow, that makes everything legit. F.A.L.T.U.gave its intended audience just what they desire — hot babe in a bikini, Mauritius beaches, college campus and a hit soundtrack. The Youngistan is mighty pleased with all this.

In Hollywood, the young demographic is already exerting its power. Tween heartthrobs Zac Efron, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner are spearheading franchises. Bollywood obviously is taking note. No wonder then Yash Raj Films, the big daddy studio has started a new division, Y Films. Their first offering, Luv Ka The End starring Shakti Kapoor's daughter, Shraddha, released this Friday. Y Films will follow this up with two more youth-centric films — Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge and Virus Diwan, the latter marks the debut of producer Boney Kapoor's son, Arjun.

Ashish Patil, business and creative head of Y Films, feels the studio will hit the bull's eye with their young fare. "We are talking about today's India where 70 per cent of the population is below the age of 35. The 15- 35s years old make up for more than 350 million people, which is more than the population of USA and Japan put together. We have to make content for them. We have to speak to them in their language," he tells me.

Other production houses are also following suit. Balaji Motion Pictures have launched Alt Ent, which will be dedicated to youth-centric content. The banner's last release Shor In The City minted critical acclaim and now Ekta Kapoor's banner is gearing up for Ragini MMS. Inspired by Paranormal Activity, it looks like a concoction of sex and horror. The film's tagline, "They didn't know it yet. It was a threesome," could not be more direct.

Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies is also aiming to woo the youth. The directorial debut of Roshan Abbas, Always Kabhie Kabhie, is a coming-of-age campus romance. All those who love Archie's comics and yes, High School Musical, will obviously make a beeline. Just for the record, Karan Johar's next directorial venture, Student of the Year, is also about campus, students, romance and love. Yes, they say this is also High School Musical redux. If so then, well, it seems, everyone in B-town wants to be Zac Efron. Wait, there's more. Viacom18's Pyaar Ka Punchnama is about jilted and frustrated tweens who want to know what girls really want. The banner will follow this youth fare with Michael and Shaitan, also about the young 'uns.

The content of these young films is woven around what interests the target audience. The scales are tipping towards stories about casual hook-ups, break-ups, social networking, etc. As Patil says, "Today's youngsters don't have the attention span to stick to even the flavour of the month. They deal in the flavour of the second. The content has to keep pace with them." So then shall we get ready for some desi Edward and Bella? My money is on Ekta Kapoor to spin a desi Twilight. She did it with her television serial, Pyar Ki Ek Kahani. Now maybe she can do it with the F.A.L.T.U.guy, Jackky Bhagnani. Will you "like" it?






The killing of Osama bin Laden marks the beginning of the end of America's war in Afghanistan. That's why it's especially worrisome that already troubled US-Pakistani relations are about to be tested as never before.

President Obama's determination to begin a move toward the exits in Afghanistan was known well before Sunday. He pledged many months ago that troop withdrawals would begin this July, and though the pace of drawdown remains subject to change, an administration personnel shuffle last week signalled that the president is ready to turn the page.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates will retire June 30. His replacement, current CIA director Leon Panetta, is reported to be sceptical that American troops can build lasting stability in Afghanistan at an acceptable cost. The result is a national security team that may be more favourably inclined to arguments that defence department budget cuts are a higher priority than extended support for Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul. Troop withdrawals, increasingly popular with a war-weary public and both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, still pose a political danger for Obama ahead of next year's election by opening him to charges that he lacks toughness and resolve. But the killing of bin Laden provides a potent response.

The second significant change we'll see now that bin Laden is dead is a sharp deterioration in US relations with Pakistan. The debate will continue in Washington over how Pakistan could have not known that bin Laden was living in a custom-built fortress just 35 miles north of Pakistan's capital.

We may never have the answer, but it's clear that for this high-risk mission, the Obama administration had zero confidence in their reliability. Washington did not inform Pakistan of the operation to kill bin Laden until the US helicopter carrying his body had left Pakistani airspace.

Forced to choose between deceit and incompetence to explain its failure to uncover bin Laden's whereabouts, Pakistan's security services, the ISI have chosen incompetence. To deflect charges that ranking officials within the ISI are playing both sides in America's war on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Pakistani diplomats remind anyone who will listen that in 2003, it was Pakistan that arrested Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the Qaeda leader often described as the architect of the September 11 attacks. That defence won't slow momentum in Washington for an investigation of Pakistan's complicity with al-Qaeda and a review of the billions of dollars in civilian, government and military aid that Washington sends to Islamabad each year. There's nothing new about US suspicion of Pakistan's commitment to antiterrorism efforts, but the Obama administration has lately been unusually outspoken on the subject. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has visited Pakistan more than two dozen times to work with Pakistani General Ashfaq Kayani to overcome decades of mutual suspicion, a mistrust that began to crest with the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Following a visit to Pakistan two weeks ago, Mullen made headlines with a charge that Pakistan's intelligence community has "a long-standing relationship" with a militant network that is "supporting, funding, training fighters that are killing Americans." Kayani dismissed the charge as "negative propaganda." Accusations of support for a militant group that few Americans have heard of are one thing; charges of harbouring Osama bin Laden in a suburb of Islamabad are quite another.

Most senior US officials understand that when it comes to combating Islamic militancy in South Asia, US-Pakistani relations are too big to fail. When Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, went before cameras to discuss the killing of bin Laden, he refused to accuse Pakistan of anything and noted that since 9/11, Pakistan has captured or killed more terrorists than any other country.

Officials on both sides have jumped into damage control. But others on both sides will fan the flames. The former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf called the killing of bin Laden a "positive step," but then charged that the US operation had violated Pakistan's sovereignty. The Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg called for a suspension of up to $3 billion in aid to Pakistan "until Congress and the American public are assured that the Pakistani government is not shielding terrorists."

This is a dangerous game. As US forces prepare to leave Afghanistan, Pakistan's role in the region and its willingness to target Islamic militants will become more important than ever. Killing Osama bin Laden required no help from Pakistan, but that should not persuade anyone in Washington that Pakistan is not a crucial partner in America's ongoing struggle with

Islamic militants.

IAN BREMMER, the writer heads The Eurasia Group







Pakistan's big O

Daily Times reported the scene from the Senate on May 3: "The killing of... Osama bin Laden echoed in the upper house of parliament on Monday as the senators questioned the operation of US forces inside the country which, they said, was a direct assault on Pakistan's territorial sovereignty. They also deplored the silence of the government on its version of the events involving US military operations in Abbottabad... They noted that 'the killing of al-Qaeda chief has given an opportunity to the international community to blame Pakistan for having safe sanctuaries of terrorists on its soil'."

A statement, widely termed as "bland" and an expression of Pakistan's "helplessness", was issued later that day: "This operation was conducted by the US forces in accordance with declared US policy that Osama bin Laden will be eliminated in a direct action by the US forces, wherever found in the world." Facing much heat from all quarters for leaving questions unanswered, the government issued a rejoinder the next day, reported Dawn on May 4: "This... unauthorised unilateral action cannot be taken as a rule... The government of Pakistan expresses its deep concerns and reservations on the manner in which the government of the US carried out this operation without prior information or authorisation from the government of Pakistan... 'Red lines' earlier conveyed to the Obama administration by Pakistan had specifically stressed on 'no foreign boots on Pakistani soil'." The article, however, questioned the revision in Pakistan's tone in a day's space: "Did the blowback the military got over the perceived violation of national sovereignty push the foreign office to restate its policy of 'no tolerance' for foreign military action on its soil? The message, on the face of it, seemed to have been designed to silence public criticism and questioning at home about the conduct of the operation, but it also contained a nuanced note for the international audience, particularly India, which has been mulling plans for a long time for targeting groups based on Pakistani soil it considers as a threat."

It was reported on May 4 that "in absentia" funeral prayers for Osama were offered in Karachi by Hafiz Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Dawah, who extolled his "contribution to Islam".

The May 4 editorial in Daily Times was severe: "Pakistan has been double-dealing for too long now and the circumstances in which Osama bin Laden was found are all very troublesome. If we have helped the US track down and kill the most wanted man, we need to tell it as it is. If we shared intelligence and then wiped our hands clean of the whole matter, then the public has another thing to think about. Our defence budget shoots through the roof every year, slashing funds for the development and social sectors. If the army and the government had 'no idea' about what was going on in a garrison town, we need to rethink our priorities." On May 6, the army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was reported as announcing that US troops will be brought down to the "minimum essential level" in Pakistan.

The new team

A major political event in Pakistan was overshadowed by Osama. After the PML-N walked out of the federal coalition early this year, the PPP-led government in Islamabad was batting on a sticky wicket. To complete its lineup, it chose to ally with its erstwhile adversary, PML-Q, of which they had said "Q for qaatil" after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated when they were in power. Daily Times quoted PM Yousuf Raza Gilani on May 2 as saying the coalition was "in interest of the country, for its stability and need of the hour." It was also agreed between the two allies that new provinces be carved out of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The News reported: "The two parties agreed to... creation of new provinces, especially in southern Punjab (Seraiki) and Hazara..." This move is aimed to benefit both the PPP and PML-Q, as the PML-N enjoys strong backing in both Punjab and the Hazara Division of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.








Ever since commercial air travel took off, there has been a whiff of danger associated with it. But all the statistics show that, counting distances travelled, it is one of the safest modes of transportation. Great advances in technologies for flying and navigating have obviously helped. But safety is also a factor of oversight. As India mourns the loss of its second CM in as many years to a helicopter crash, the aura of regulatory uncertainty encircling these tragedies is very troubling. Accidents happen but regulation should reduce their probability. Investigations following the Andhra CM's death revealed that (a) the crew flew the helicopter in conditions it was not cleared for, spending precious minutes poring over the flight manual in the face of crisis, and (b) the Andhra Pradesh Aviation Corporation Ltd had not been audited by DGCA for at least five years. There was also speculation about whether VIP pressure had forced a compromise in safety standards on the crew. As information about what factors caused the Arunachal CM's accident are still emerging, it is Pawan Hans, the company whose craft the CM was flying and which saw another accident in Tawang less than two weeks earlier, that is taking a lot of flak and its services have been suspended in the Northeast. Plus, a Parliamentary Committee report has cited repeated violation of safety rules in flights involving VIPs, with the crew succumbing to pressure to fly crafts even with defects or under adverse weather conditions.

Domestic air travel has been growing fast, as has the demand for pilots and the congestion at the airports. So, DGCA really needs to up its game. Its task is complex—tracking exams, certification, licences and surveillance. And it's being performed by a skeleton staff. Around 70% of the posts are vacant. There are only four flight safety inspectors to track a fleet of around 270 civil choppers and 130 non-scheduled flight operators. Even when an Air Safety Director is suspended because he had 'persuaded' an airlines to give a job to a daughter who had failed her pilot's test, how does DGCA fill up his shoes without emptying some key ones elsewhere? It has even taken people from Pawan Hans to help check the credentials of flying schools and pilots. This is exactly the kind of talent crunch that has the potential to mess up India's broader growth story unless it is tackled asap.





Where is the Google or the Apple that our country has produced? This question reflects an obsession to emulate American innovation. It is asked as often in India as in China. And the Americans are more than aware that Asians are nipping at their heels. In his latest State of the Union speech, Barack Obama said he would not accept second place for America. His administration sees China's rise as a Sputnik moment, when the Soviets shocked their Cold War rivals by putting the first satellite in orbit around the Earth. The American sprint to take first place once again had a dramatic day when their man landed on the Moon, but they kept pouring money into research and created an entrepreneur-friendly environment that India and China really want to replicate today. China has deeper pockets. Its latest innovation push in seven 'strategic' sectors, from green cars to advanced manufacturing, has a government budget of $1.5 trillion over the next five years. The money will go into government-backed loans, tax deductions and discounted interest rates for R&D investments. But the merits of heavyweight government backing of innovation also raises doubts. Perhaps "reinventing the wheel" will be encouraged and be wasteful too; there will be 'tinkering', or incremental innovation, rather than the kind that Silicon Valley has epitomised. Should India go down this path, assuming the necessary policy focus and fiscal room?

There is no question that the government can do its bit to encourage innovation, but perhaps building up infrastructure so that entrepreneurs do not waste time stuck in traffic or figuring their way around red tape would be a better use of its resources. Perhaps the Sputnik reference is passé. US government research laid the groundwork for the Internet revolution but now that the new information age is very much upon us, governments are not optimal agents for identifying new horizons any longer. When the world talks about innovation in India, it often refers to the Nano. Purists would call this only an incremental innovation but it won the kind of brand attention that perhaps no Chinese label can claim. There was attention to context and the domestic market; as this market becomes more lucrative, if the government encourages its smooth working, it will drive innovation without the classical global imperative. Plus, innovation is not a zero-sum game any more. What gets created in one country can end up doing great good in another.








The second and final bidding stage—commercial negotiations—of the $10.4 billion, 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender floated by the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the Indian Air Force in 2007 has selected two European products (Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale). This entails the exit of two American (F-16 and FA-18), one European (JAS-39 Gripen) and one Russian (MiG-35) system from the race.

The selected vendors have been forwarded bid extension letters. The commercial bidding process will be carried out with simultaneous negotiations on offset obligations and Transfer of Technology (ToT) conditions. Others have been given explanations through official communications for their rejection. Procedural provisions will now go through a rigorous commercial negotiations process under the Contract Negotiation Committee (CNC), and with the approval of Competent Financial Authority (CFA), the contract would be finally announced. Contract administration and post-contract management would follow thereafter.

While many recent Indian acquisition programmes—the $3.8 billion Scorpene submarines, $2.6 Hawk advanced jet trainers with a follow-on order of 57 aircraft, $9 billion American products (C-130J, P-8I, C-17) with follow-on orders, additional 80-plus order of Su-30s, to name a few—have undergone acquisition procedures or thorough inter-governmental agreements, none have received so much attention that the MMRCA deal has received for the past few years. It is interesting to note that even a $30 billion worth joint project on a fifth-generation fighter and many multi-billion dollar current and future joint projects with Russia (next line of Brahmos, Military Transport Aircraft, to name a few) have not received similar attention. Price, volume, timing, media and involvement of big players have made the MMRCA look like a political deal while it should have been otherwise treated as just another military procurement.

Reactions to the MoD decision, especially by the Americans, are interesting on many counts. Consider these: the announcement of resignation of the US Ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, made within 24 hours of the MoD verdict; one of the American vendors hinting at an 'appropriate response' to the MoD's communication, now supported by the US government trying to seek explanations from India on the same; strong statements coming from analysts like Ashley Tellis and others; and apprehensions concerning the future trajectory of India-US relations by both American and Indian commentators. In brief, the bulk of the opinion in the US and India has been vocal against the MoD verdict.

The American braggadocio on their superior products not being selected and oozed out frustrations after the MoD selection process typify not only a bad marketing strategy but, more importantly, display utter arrogance. Imagine the verdict going the American way and the response of others. No doubt, both visible and possible reactions would be in both extremes. This shows the extent of politicisation of a major arms deal.

The MMRCA verdict must be examined in its totality to see whether India has made a strategic blunder or a prudent decision. First, the problems started with volume and price tag. 126 fighters (with a possible follow on order of an equivalent or more numbers) with a price tag of $10.4 billion would obviously attract major vendors around the world, even though top aerospace companies like Boeing, Lockheed and EADS have formidable order books. But what was important for India was to select a reasonably good product with a future horizon in which Indian technology and industry could benefit as well as contribute. Systems selected by the MoD conform to this aspect. Second, the timing of the MMRCA process interestingly coincided with a bilateral strategic partnership construction period between India and the US. The linkage was unavoidable yet unfortunate as this provided a fertile ground for politicisation, primarily through the use of media. The verdict has proved that the MoD was concentrating more on techno-procedural aspects rather than being subject to influence of any kind.

Third, the deal provided large grounds for negotiations on important aspects like offsets and ToT. Both offsets and ToT have undergone torturous processes and are likely to continue further. What might have gone in favour of the selected vendors could be the gamut of offers made by them vis-à-vis their competitors. Equal ownership and partnership, quantifiable technology transfer and formidable industrial linkages were other decisive factors apart from conforming to most of the 643 technical parameters and better performance in the field trials. Fourth, even if there have been time delays, the MoD has done an excellent job by taking the process forward through appropriate routes at a time when there have even been rumours of a split verdict or an eventual scrapping of the deal.

Fifth, much has been argued on the politico-strategic aspects of arms procurement, which is a fact of life for any major deal. Both the US and Russia have bagged major projects from India in recent times and a possible European winner in MMRCA would reflect the mindset of the Indian political leadership, which hints at enlargement of the basket of choices for Indian military procurement beyond prime suppliers. This way, India has made a prudent decision.

By awarding the contract, India could receive strategic dividends from the Europeans, who have been supportive of Indian postures on critical international issues.

If the selection thus far has shown emphases on technicalities, the final selection should primarily be based on more concrete benefits that either company offers. The final MMRCA award would also reflect the abilities of the MoD in processing such complex contracts in the future.

The author is a senior fellow in security studies at the Observer Research Foundation. These are his personal views





Despite being such a fraught and unpredictable profession, politics is full of clichés, which, like most clichés, have more than an element of truth in them. Last April saw Parliament's Public Account Committee (PAC) chairman Dr Murli Manohar Joshi prove yet another cliché right—that it's never too late to reinvent yourself in politics.

For years, Joshi had been the awkward third wheel to the Atal-Advani tag team in the BJP. While Vajpayee occupied the moderate slot, Advani was the hardliner, what did that make Joshi? Also a hardliner, with a professorial disdain for the less erudite among his colleagues. What he was valued for, despite all attempts to freeze him out, was his eye for detail and academic diligence in constructing an argument. Even senior ministers in the UPA government concede that Joshi's intellect is formidable.

It was, therefore, less of a surprise in hindsight to realise that the 2G scam, a graveyard of reputations, would restore him to the bosom of his often cold party. Joshi started off as a favourite of the Congress and a pariah in his own as he soldiered on with the 2G investigation, often defying the party's line of waiting for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). By April, however, when Congressmen and the BJP realised what a powder keg the PAC report was turning out to be, the positions were reversed.

The BJP has embraced Joshi to the extent that he is the pivot of their anti-corruption campaign against the government. The party, in fact, needs to draw lessons from their senior leader, not just on what to do to become relevant again, but also what not to do.

The first lesson to be learnt is never veer from your domain expertise. Joshi, always referred to as "Dr Joshi", lest anybody forget the fact he is a former professor of physics, has never been a wildly popular leader. His core strength was intellect and academic application. He is cussed to boot. All qualities that he played up in his standoff with the Congress on the PAC report on the 2G scam.

The BJP's core strength is its organisation, party workers who are willing to serve them even through a barren trek of being out of power. They need to be taken care of. The 2004 elections, which saw two-thirds of the NDA's Union Cabinet lose elections, was lost because of the leadership's arrogance vis-à-vis the party workers.

The other lesson to be drawn from Joshi quite simply is to know your audience. The 2G scam was dismissed by several Congress leaders as "too complicated to be explained to the general public". They thought this would be like the Indo-US nuclear deal, with barely an elite intellectual class understanding the intricacies of it and writing about it for the benefit of that class only. Joshi, however, understood that the issue, which saw a complicity between politicians, bureaucrats and big business, appealed to the middle class, the core audience of his party.

As TV grabs of big corporate honchos, the solicitor general and the CBI director waiting outside the committee room of Parliament were beamed across the country, it gave an impetus to a middle class rage against corruption.

In any reinvention, however, one thing is certain, you have to deal with what you have, and not what you wish was there. Joshi took the ball on 2G and kept running with it. He was, his colleagues say, determined to put out a report whether or not a JPC was granted on the issue. Now his party needs to show a little bit of that steely resolve, and his doggedness to wait out for that 15 minutes of fame promised by Andy Warhol.







The intra-Palestinian reconciliation accord signed in Cairo on May 4 is a significant achievement and therefore a cause for measured celebration. Signed in the presence of Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, who belongs to Fatah, and Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, the agreement ends four years of estrangement between the two main rival groups. Bitter fighting in June 2007 compelled Fatah forces to move out of Gaza, which Hamas, isolated from the international mainstream, has been administering since then. Fatah barricaded itself in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Despite being courted by Israel, the United States, and the so-called moderate Arab states, there was, deep down, a realisation within the Fatah core that the grand vision of establishing a viable Palestinian state was achievable only if the Palestinian people stood united, with Hamas fully on board. With the signing of the accord, the foundations of Palestinian unity have been re-laid. A road map envisaging the formation of a national unity government, which will comprise mainly technocrats, to lead the Palestinian people towards fresh elections now awaits implementation.

The accord is bound to lift the spirits of the stateless Palestinians, whose loyalties over the past four years have been torn between the Islamist Hamas and the secular, but increasingly pro-western Fatah. The unity accord also signals the arrival of the 'Arab Spring' at the doorstep of Palestine. It is extremely unlikely that the agreement would have been signed without a change of leadership in Cairo brought about by Egypt's youthful uprising. By doggedly pursuing both Palestinian factions to break common ground, Egypt's transitional government has demonstrated the first signs of a strategic shift in its thinking: the ground rules of the alliance between Egypt and Israel as interpreted during the Mubarak era have changed. Aligning itself with the Arab awakening, Iran, an ally of Hamas, is also showing significant enthusiasm to re-engage with Egypt. But two major obstacles have to be cleared before ordinary Palestinian can experience tangible change. The world needs to persuade Israel to work with a united Palestinian leadership. There are precedents in history, notably the example of Northern Ireland where an engagement with the IRA, a militant force comparable in its tactics with Hamas, emerged as the centrepiece of a peace accord. On its part, Hamas would do well to realise that its future lies not in rejecting the existence of Israel; it lies in working unitedly and vigilantly with its partners for an honourable and viable two-state solution, based on mutual respect.





Unlike in past decades, when governments had a larger role as economic players, national development plans now are set against the backdrop of the state's gradual withdrawal from economic activities. Flowing from this shift is the need for the state to redefine its role as a strong regulator and policy-setter, directing the economy towards the set goals. India's officially proclaimed economic goal of ensuring that high growth rates are also inclusive is mostly empty rhetoric. The Eleventh Plan's strategy was to ensure that key sectors of the economy grew at acceptable rates and, secondly, to make critical interventions in the social sector. That this approach has failed to yield the desired results is evident from two official sources. The Mid-Term Appraisal (MTA) of the 11 {+t} {+h} Plan, released last year, for instance, put the likely growth rate at 8.1 per cent during the Plan period, against the targeted rate of 9 per cent. Further, sectoral contributions to the GDP fell short of expectations across the primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors in all but one category, 'personal and community services.' A more significant admission came earlier this month when the Planning Commission noted, with more than a touch of euphemism, that the "progress on inclusiveness" was "less than expected."

The Twelfth Plan process is set to commence at a time when there is serious concern over government finances. The changing role of the state, the near-jobless growth in the primary sector, and the increasing informalisation of workforce in the secondary and tertiary sectors call for strong state action to redress poverty. Growth is important; but higher economic growth rates do not, by themselves, bring inclusiveness or a reduction of inequalities. The extent to which policymakers are able to carry forward the apparently conflicting objectives of stepping up government's role as the 'agent of change' and maintaining fiscal prudence will determine how successful they are in lifting millions out of poverty. Equally important is policy-setting that mainstreams inclusive growth through strong regulatory and oversight mechanisms that prevent leakages. The current plan to increase spending in critical sectors such as health, education, skill development, and infrastructure is welcome. International experience demonstrates that it is easier to meet targets that are related to provision of access to social opportunities — education, for example — than those linked to outcomes, such as improving school-completion rates. But focussing on progressive outcomes will be crucial in meeting the challenge of poverty reduction and inclusiveness.








A statue of YSR and posters carrying his pictures at the Kadapa District Congress Committee office.

Rarely has so much money been spent in an election just to reduce a candidate's winning margin. (Or to increase it, depending on whose side you are on). Seldom have two major political parties fought so hard, knowingly, for second place, as the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party have in the Kadapa parliamentary constituency bypoll (voting tomorrow). And while rival parties often claim the same leader's legacy, it isn't often that one of them first abuses that leader as corrupt and then seeks votes in his name. Which the Congress has done in Kadapa, in a massive effort to humble Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress (son of Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy who died in 2009).

As many as 14 Ministers have campaigned in this Lok Sabha seat with over 13 lakh voters in Andhra Pradesh's Rayalaseema region. There is a Minister in charge of each of its seven Assembly segments running the campaign round the clock, while several others, including Chief Minister Kiran Reddy flit in and out. In the Pulivendula segment, YSR's own brother (Agriculture Minister till the elections), is pitted against YSR's widow Vijayamma in a bypoll to the State legislature. The Congress candidate challenging Jagan Reddy, D.L. Ravindra Reddy, is presently Health Minister. The joke here is that the Andhra Pradesh Cabinet meets more often in Kadapa than in Hyderabad. Factor in Chiranjeevi, and the firepower deployed by the Congress is awesome. In the process, what might have been just another bypoll now commands national significance.

TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu has tried lifting the spirits of his party's cadre and boosting their candidate, M.V. Mysoora Reddy. The party publicly claims a coming victory. As its leaders point out: "a vertical split in the Congress — which is what Jagan's party represents — can only favour us." In 2009, a united Congress with YSR at the helm saw Jagan beat his TDP rival with a margin of 1.78 lakh votes in an almost straight fight. Mr. Chiranjeevi's PRP bagged just 63,000 votes. "With Chiranjeevi joining the Congress, even if that party retains a third of its own vote, it means our man will beat Jagan." That's the TDP's seductive logic.

Yet, party leaders know they are fighting for the second place. Mr. Chiranjeevi's votes have faded. Major local TDP leaders have joined the Congress in recent months. Most significantly, large numbers of people across many mandals in Kadapa are voting not so much for Jagan as for his father. "People are voting for YSR," says Shankar Reddy, a four-acre cotton grower in Cherulopalli village of Pendlimarri mandal. He believes the TDP will come third in his segment. "When Naidu was Chief Minister, life was a constant harassment. The authorities would cut off our electricity and water when the crops most needed it, demanding payment of bills on heavily raised rates we could not afford. Many of us were ruined that way, our crop wasted. YSR treated us better." Everywhere, there are references to the latter's welfare programmes, rice at Rs. 2 a kilo and more.

Meanwhile, farmers like Ramanjaneyulu Reddy in Mallepalli village of Vempalli mandal are amused: "We are getting seven hours of electricity every day now for our fields. Only because there is a bypoll on." And, says a cynical voter in Chapadu town: "It will end on the evening of polling day. Then it will be back to two or three hours in the fields."

"We are getting barely Rs. 60 (less than half the wage)," say labourers at an MGNREGS site in Cheemalapenti village in Pendlimarri Mandal. Women workers say they get even less. However, Dalit labourers are most reluctant to discuss the polls. This feudal district's history of repression of Dalits has taught them caution. Even so, those from the Mala community seem to favour Jagan Reddy, again on account of his father, not the candidate himself. There are also complaints of intimidation by local authorities. Many with old case records, some of them trivial, have been summoned to police stations and are on a leash till the polls end. Since ordinary folk have also had cases foisted on them in the past in a region notorious for arbitrary abuse of power, they see this as persecution by the Congress government.

The Congress has charged Jagan Reddy with gross corruption and highlighted his rapid amassment of wealth. (His election affidavit declares his worth, along with his wife, at Rs. 430 crore). Yet, this hasn't cut much ice, even with those acknowledging the seriousness of the charges. For them, these bypolls are about doing justice to YSR's memory. That the corruption charges come from a Congress party swimming in scams reduces their weight. In Kadapa town, the Congress office sports a huge picture of YSR. But in the villages, hostile voters have told its campaigners to replace his posters with those of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi "when you are fighting his family."

In the Pulivendula Assembly constituency, Vivekandanda Reddy is putting up a spirited fight against his sister-in-law Vijayamma. Here, the contest is keener. YSR's brother is well regarded. "We took our problems to him even when YSR was alive," said several male voters. However, women see Vijayamma as grievously wronged and could turn out in strength for her. "We are all for her," says Gangamma, a landless labourer in Thumalapalli village of Tondur Mandal. "She deserves justice."

Certainly, the all-out effort of the Congress has improved its candidate's position. Only a few days ago, D. L. Ravindra was mocked as "Deposit Loss Ravindra." He seems to have banished that and picked up steam with some aggressive campaigning. "Too little, too late," says one senior TDP leader. "Not believing they could win, they started too late. Now their high-voltage campaign has made Jagan a hero. First they cracked down on his yatras and padayatras, making him a Statewide figure. Then they fight him like this, giving this election national significance. Had they said 'in respect for the memory of our leader YSR, we will not contest against his wife and son,' that would have ended the story. Now, defeat will be humiliating."

Expenditures have been staggering. Several voters told us they had been paid Rs.500 each to favour particular candidates. "That's in the villages," scoff people in Mydukuru. "Here in the towns the rate is Rs.1,000 to Rs.2,000." Besides, with local community heads being enticed by huge sums, leaders allege that over Rs. 200 crore has already been spent by all those in the contest. Police, under the Election Commission's directions, have seized nearly Rs.3 crore during vehicle checks. That sum mounts hourly, while more cases evade detection. Everyone says the day before voting will see the maximum 'buying.' The Election Commission has ordered the district's 22 banks to report any transaction of over Rs. 50,000. It has also ordered deployment of 11,100 security personnel, a record for a single constituency (one with an awful history of violence and rigging). Meanwhile, it has served 39 notices relating to "Paid News" on Mr. Jagan Reddy, and four and three respectively on his TDP and Congress rivals. His mother Vijayamma (7) and her rival Vivekananda Reddy (2) have also been served such notices.

Why is the margin of victory so crucial? In 2009, Jagan's lead of 1.78 lakh came in an almost straight fight against the TDP. Now there are three major candidates. Retaining that margin would be hard. Bettering it would be astonishing. Many Congress MPs and MLAs are close to Jagan Reddy, even a few now campaigning against him. The same or bigger margin this time could see Congress MLAs switching sides. More embarrassingly, he might get 20-25 of them and even a few MPs to resign, forcing by-elections in their seats. Which means the Congress could unravel in Andhra Pradesh — from where it has 33 MPs in the Lok Sabha, its highest from any State.

Already, people are restless. Though Mr. Kiran Reddy has tried in recent weeks to galvanise its functioning, many feel there is no government at all. The welfare programmes that did the party proud in 2009 seem paralysed. On Telangana, the Congress has painted itself into a corner. Its internal surveys show the party doing badly across the State, should there be an election. Having staked so much prestige on a by-election they feel they cannot win, Congress campaigners talk of shredding Jagan's margin. Managing that might deflate his tyres and discourage would-be defectors.

The TDP struggles for relevance. Voters have not yet forgiven Mr. Naidu's regime. A third place in both battles, in a district from which they sent members to the legislature, could affect his party Statewide. It needs to nose ahead of the Congress — and cut the winner's margin. As for Jagan, anything short of a big win could disrupt his drive to power.

The Kadapa margin is now a live sport for the State's betting industry, with books opening on the race even in coastal Andhra. The betting is on the margin, not on the result. A margin that could affect not just Kadapa politics but the government at the Centre itself.








The 2011 Rabindranath Tagore festivities are under way, and those that I have already taken part in, or am rehearsing for now, give me a new answer to that perpetual question: what makes him relevant today?

I've often reacted to that question irritably, because those who ask it seem to know the answer already. They want me to say that Tagore's universalism is relevant to our unfair and embattled world, that his ideas about education, religion, nationalism, development and more address many of our contemporary anxieties and problems, and point to solutions. 'Yes,' I say testily, 'all that is important, but we don't need to go to Tagore for ideas. Many people have those ideas already. He was a great, infinitely varied and complex creative artist. His works — whether poems, songs, stories, novels, plays or paintings — were not just vehicles for ideas and ideals. Like those of all truly great artists, they say many things at once. They contain paradoxes and counter-currents. They are great because every generation can find new things in them. They have immense potential for use and adaptation by artists and performers in many different media. With Asian cultural traditions catching up with the European and American in terms of global influence, we will see Tagore's works being used more and more, all over the world.'

Putting Tagore the thinker above Tagore the writer has set up a barrier to the full appreciation of his creative achievements, ever since Gitanjali in 1912 launched his international career. His Nobel Prize of 1913 was given to him for his literature (though not for his Bengali writings), but the audiences who flocked to hear him on his extensive foreign tours wanted his message rather than his poetry. He gave them what they wanted, and lived up to his role as a sage by his long beard and unique, 'pan-Asian' style of dress. But he often felt constricted by that role. In 1930, he wrote to his close friend, William Rothenstein:

The rich luxury of leisure is not for me while I am in Europe — I am doomed to be unrelentingly good to humanity and remain harnessed to a cause. The artist in me ever urges me to be naughty and natural — but it requires a good deal of courage to be what I truly am. Then again I do not really know myself and dare not play tricks with my nature. So the good for nothing artist must have for his bed-fellow the man of a hundred good intentions.

Revealing words that all organisers of the 150th anniversary events and publications would do well to remember!

The Tagore Festival

But my experiences this week at the Tagore Festival at Dartington Hall in Devon make me inclined to answer the 'relevance' question more flexibly and tolerantly. A writer is relevant if anything by or about or inspired by that writer engages and moves readers and audiences — for any reason, whether aesthetic, emotional, spiritual, ideological or political. This may sound like a truism. A writer is relevant by being relevant, moves by being moving. But the capaciousness of this answer is a way of bringing together Tagore's appeal both as a thinker and as an artist.

Can one point to any other figure in world history with such power to bring idealists and artists and scholars together? The Dartington Festival was masterminded by Satish Kumar, the Gandhian founder of Schumacher College and The Small School at Dartington, and editor of Resurgence magazine. His passionate interest in Tagore is primarily ideological, and the galaxy of distinguished speakers he assembled for the conference shared his commitment to peace, ecology and progressive education. In the two days I was there, I was privileged to hear brilliant lectures by Dame Jane Goodall (the primate scientist, conservationist and UN Ambassador for Peace who, at the age of 77, spends 300 days of the year travelling and speaking), the brain scientist Iain McGilchrist, and the educationist Anthony Seldon. I suspect that 90 per cent of the audience are similarly committed to these values, given that Totnes, Dartington's local town, is — as a taxi-driver once said to me — the 'New Age capital of England.'

But the really impressive thing about the festival was the scope it also gave to artists, musicians and dancers directly or indirectly inspired by Tagore, or to a translator of Tagore's literature such as myself. In many of my articles and lectures during this anniversary year, I am emphasising Tagore's adaptability, the many and often surprising uses to which his works have been put by composers and musicians and dancers, the potential he offers for opera, theatre and film. Many of these adaptations — whether by Alexander Zemlinsky in his massive Lyrische Symphonie of 1922 (which incorporates seven poems from The Gardener in German translation), or by Param Vir in his highly acclaimed and widely performed opera Snatched by the Gods with a libretto by me based on my translation of Debatar Gras), or in the programme I am doing with the jazz musicians Zoe and Idris Rahman at the British Library on May 17 ('Flying Man/Pakshi-Manab: poems for the 21st century' by Rabindranath Tagore, directed by Mukul Ahmed), or Valerie Doulton's superb new production of The Post Office premiered at the Nehru Centre in London on May 4 ('set in India in London in 2011'), or the new dance production based on songs by Tagore currently being developed by Akademi in London (choreographed by Ash Mukherjee) — take Tagore in directions that he could never have imagined. But that is as it should be, that is what makes him great. Future generations come along in the Golden Boat, take his works away and make new, creative use of them, leaving Tagore the Gurudev behind on the river-bank.

This year may bring many surprises and rewards, but I am certain that the joint programme I did on May 4 at Dartington with Debashish and Rohini Raychaudhuri will remain in my mind as a high spot. I have known Debashish since before Rohini was born, and we have collaborated on several projects. I suggested to Satish Kumar that we could try out at Dartington a programme on Rabindrasangit we had been thinking about for some time. We've called it 'How Magically You Sing' (a quotation from my new translation of Gitanjali). Through conversation and examples, we describe and explore the universe of Tagore's songs. It worked brilliantly well: the audience was enraptured, rising to their feet at the end. It was an utterly unifying experience, because it brought idealists and aesthetes and scholars together. I persuaded Debashish and Rohini to sing the songs without accompaniment — just with tanpura. The effect was astounding: the barriers that have been set up not only by putting ideology before art but also by a leaden and mindless way of performing Rabindrasangit (with harmonium, tabla, guitars, synthesisers and heaven knows what) that has — frankly — brought Bengali culture into disrepute. Strip all that away, explain what the songs are about and how they are structured, and at once you have an experience that can touch and inspire any audience — young, old, mainstream, New Age, Asian, Western. This is Tagore's relevance. Pious speeches and reflections on his ideas and ideals are all very well, but what ultimately makes him relevant is the power of his art to move audiences to tears.

( The author teaches Bengali Language and Literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and is a poet, writer and translator. His new translation of Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali is being published this month by Penguin India.)







Before Sunday (May 1), the last time an American President thought he had Osama bin Laden in his sights was the late summer of 2007.

Al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders, terrorist volunteers and insurgent foot soldiers would be meeting in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, a stream of intelligence reports showed. And there were hints that bin Laden himself might travel from his hiding place in Pakistan to rally militants training for large-scale suicide attacks in Europe or the United States.

"We thought we had 'No. 1' on this side of the border," said a senior American military officer involved in planning the operation. "It was the best intelligence we'd had on him in a long time."

The military set into motion one of the largest strike missions of its kind, with long-range bombers, attack helicopters, artillery and commandos all ready to pummel the rugged mountain valley along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, according to military officers and former government officials.

But just as the half dozen B-2 Stealth bombers were halfway on the 3,000-mile flight to their target, commanders ordered them to return to their secret base in the Indian Ocean, because of doubts about the intelligence on Bin Laden and concerns about civilian casualties from the bombs.

A smaller, more precise raid was carried out by commandos and attack helicopters, killing several dozen militants in the episode, which has not been previously disclosed.

But the founder and formative figure of al-Qaeda was not there.

Inside the White House, the disappointment was palpable, according to senior aides to former President George W. Bush. What might have been Mr. Bush's last chance at redeeming his administration's failure to capture or kill Bin Laden after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, when he was cornered in the same Tora Bora region but escaped into Pakistan, did not materialise.

Amid the national relief over the killing of bin Laden by a Navy Seal team in Abbottabad, Pakistan, this secret chapter in the hunt for the world's most famous fugitive is a reminder of the years of frustration and false hopes government officials endured in trying to pick up his trail.

Lessons of the 2007 mission

Lessons of the 2007 mission echoed through the White House and the Pentagon in recent months, as a fresh stream of intelligence pointed to a compound in Abbottabad that appeared to house bin Laden. The options presented to President Barack Obama for the raid that killed bin Laden were strikingly similar to those drawn up in 2007, as tensions in Washington heated up over reports of possible terrorist plots emanating from Pakistan.

At that time, Afghan intelligence officers, eavesdropping on insurgent conversations in the early summer of 2007, first picked up strong indications that Taliban and Qaeda fighters were planning the largest gathering in Afghanistan since early in the war. The intelligence was so compelling that President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan summoned American officers to his palace in Kabul to request a major American operation to crush the fighters.

It was not just the Afghans who were tracking bin Laden's potential movements. Independently, the American Special Operations unit assigned to hunt high-level Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, with analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency and other American spy organisations working alongside, had gathered information that more than 100 Taliban and Qaeda commanders and fighters planned to enter Afghanistan from Pakistan through Tora Bora.

Part of a new book

This intelligence stream suggesting a bin Laden plan to slip into Tora Bora, and the attack devised to kill him in 2007, was uncovered in reporting about the episode conducted for a book, "Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda." It will be published in August by Times Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company.

The account of the 2007 attack is based on interviews with almost a dozen military officers and former Bush administration officials, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, who were involved in planning the mission. On Thursday (May 5), Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment about the episode, saying the Defence Department did not discuss, or even confirm, such classified missions.

The rugged, rocky region of Tora Bora is honeycombed with caves, some of which were used by the mujahedeen in their standoff against the Soviet Army in the 1980s. The terrain, easy to defend and hard to attack, had been the site of bin Laden's last stand before he escaped into Pakistan in the winter of 2001-2002, a missed chance that was a blow to the Bush administration.

Faint if tantalising hints that bin Laden was going to join the insurgent and terrorist gathering, a meeting described by military officers as akin to a congress of Mafia dons, seized the attention of senior administration officials. The intelligence reports were viewed as solid enough that they were briefed all the way up to Mr. Bush, former White House aides said.

Because Afghanistan was a declared war zone, the regional military commander had authority to carry out the raid without requiring Mr. Bush's approval in advance, officials said.

Top military and intelligence officers who read the reports said the camps in Tora Bora were used not merely as a staging area for attacks across Afghanistan but as a planning and training area for an intended high-visibility, mass-casualty attack somewhere outside Afghanistan, in Western Europe or perhaps even the United States.

That larger threat is what led some to interpret the intelligence as indicating Bin Laden himself might be in attendance — to motivate suicide bombers and bless a mission that would perhaps try to replicate the scale of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

"The threat stream was viable," said one senior military officer. "The area was a hub for high-value leaders, midlevel commanders and foot soldiers. It was a command-and-control centre. They went there as a launching pad to fight inside Afghanistan, but also to plan and train for a spectacular attack outside the theatre of combat."

As often happens in the uncertain world of intelligence, there were divisions among analysts over whether bin Laden would show up. "If UBL had been there, it would have been just luck," scoffed one commander, using the government's initials for al-Qaeda's founder.

Others who thought it more likely that bin Laden might address the militants argued that Tora Bora was one of the few areas of Afghanistan in which he might feel safe moving.

Even as the analysts argued over the intelligence in 2007, Special Operations planners were taking no chances. If this terrorist war council did convene, and bin Laden might be there, he would not escape Tora Bora again, they vowed.

One of the largest missions

Planners, over a period of weeks, began building one of the largest missions of its kind.

In addition to assigning about half a dozen B-2 bombers to the mission, dozens of attack jets were in place, ready to strike with precision-guided bombs. On the ground, the military deployed a new, long-range artillery system. Helicopter gunships and Special Operations troops were in place to go in to kill or capture any insurgents who escaped the initial aerial bombardment.

"It was going to be a piling on," said one senior American officer. The size of the mission, coupled with the ambiguity of the intelligence, alarmed some senior United States commanders, including Adm. William J. Fallon, then the head of Central Command.

"Fallon's view was you're swatting a fly with a 16-pound hammer," said the senior American officer, who was familiar with the commander's thinking.

Diplomatic and political concerns also surfaced. The B-2s would be flying from a British air base in Diego Garcia, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, and would need to fly through Pakistani airspace to carry out the mission. While the bombs aboard each B-2 were satellite-guided, there was a risk that one could fall into Pakistan territory.

In late July, as the date of the militants' meeting approached, civilian and military analysts pored over intelligence reports and communications intercepts for fresh clues. The picture was still murky. Even so, commanders were given the green light a few days later and ordered the B-2s to take off, to be in position if the meeting materialised.

But roughly halfway to their targets, Admiral Fallon called them off. "This was carpet bombing, pure and simple," said another top military officer who had openly voiced disagreement with the operation. "It was not precision-targeted. There was no way to separate the al-Qaeda leadership that might be on hand, and the fighters, from the local population and the camp followers."

More than three years later, Mr. Obama was presented with a near carbon copy of such a bombing option as he considered how to attack a compound in Abbottabad believed to be bin Laden's refuge.

But the President and his war council decided that it was important to be able to prove that they had, in fact, killed or captured bin Laden. Rather than obliterating the three-story house and everyone inside, they rejected a large bombing attack and approved the riskier commando raid that killed him.

To this day, senior military and intelligence officials debate whether bin Laden had decided not to travel to the meeting in Tora Bora in 2007 because the risk was too high, whether the American operation was tipped off to al-Qaeda or Taliban operatives through Afghan or Pakistani sources — or whether the intelligence had been interpreted incorrectly from the outset.

"What we thought was happening didn't happen," said one former senior administration official. "And nobody knows why." — New York Times News Service





The enemy in this war — inexpensive, imitation pashmina wool mainly made in China and India that producers in Nepal say has caused their own sales to plummet.

Pashmina wool (it comes from the Persian pašm or 'wool'), the soft, warm fibre from Himalayan goats, has become world famous over the past couple of decades, sold in boutiques from Manhattan to Paris, and bringing much-needed money to this impoverished mountain nation bordered by two Asian giants.

The wool comes from changthangi or pashmina goat, which is a special breed of goat indigenous to high altitudes of the Himalayas in Nepal, Pakistan and northern India.

In 2000, Nepal exported $103 million worth of pashmina wool. By last year, exports had slumped to $18 million. While Nepal endured widespread political unrest over the past decade, traders say the main reason for the plunge was competition from inexpensive mass-produced imitations made from synthetic fabrics and cheaper wool.

"Pashmina has gone from being a luxury product associated with royalty to a cheap shawl or scarf," said Rebecca Ordish, an Australian intellectual property lawyer based in Nepal. Consumers now "associate pashmina with the imitation, cheap, low-quality product, so they won't be prepared to pay for the more expensive genuine product."

Registered logo

So the Nepalese government and pashmina producers have a battle plan.

They have registered the trademark for Nepal's particular wool, called "chyangra pashmina" after its sub-species of the goat, in dozens of Western countries, said Manoj Acharya, a top official with the Ministry for Commerce and Industries.

Exporters will mark Nepal's pashminas with a "chyangra pashmina" logo to set it off from imitations, and the government is setting up a small laboratory in Kathmandu to prove their goods are real, he said.

"Our hope is to separate Nepal's products from the others so that consumers are not fooled," Acharya said.

Mandu Bahadur Adhikari, head of an umbrella body of Nepali pashmina producers, said members would also be monitoring major wool markets in the West to make sure others don't use the "chyangra pashmina" label. Members will fly around the world, checking labelling at high-end stores that sell pashmina wool and organising media campaigns. They'll also be updating importers and consumers about possible imitations.

Thousands of Nepalis are involved in pashmina production, from Himalayan herdsmen to wool processors to weavers to exporters. About half in the industry have lost their jobs or businesses over the past decade.

Pashmina sales made up just three per cent of Nepal's exports last year. But they were the third-ranked export when it came to sales in hard currencies, such as euros and U.S. dollars, which Nepal needs to import things like electrical equipment. Most of Nepal's foreign trade is conducted in Indian rupees.

Nepal is not the only country to have faced pashmina troubles. Producers in India's Kashmir also saw a steep drop in exports amid competition from cheaper competitors.

Local officials there also began putting special stamps on their products, though it was not immediately clear whether that helped fight off imitations. — AP







The belligerent observations made on behalf of Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and by the country's foreign secretary Salman Bashir against the United States, and more particularly India, on Thursday, speak of a gripping nervousness. For four days after the killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a secret American operation, there was virtual silence from the Pakistani establishment.

It was evident the regime knew it had been caught sheltering the world's number one terrorist, and did not know where to look. So the bogey of violation of sovereignty by a foreign power was drummed up at the behest of its security establishment, completely bypassing the question uppermost in the minds of people all over the world: how come Bin Laden was hiding in a military cantonment for five years and the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence had no clue?

Ironically, for the military establishment, the issue of sovereignty it encouraged the populace to feed on has become a millstone around its neck, with Pakistani newspapers and television channels questioning the Army's ability to defend the country and to protect its nuclear weapons, and even asking for heads to roll! It is probably the first time since Pakistan's inglorious rout in the 1971 war against India that a public questioning of its capability and role is taking place. The tough noises made on Thursday are clearly aimed at placating domestic public opinion, and reassuring it that the Army is still in good shape and remains worthy of the people's trust. What better way to do this than engage in familiar sabre-rattling against India? India had indeed expected this kind of diversionary tactic to be deployed by Islamabad in this hour of crisis of confidence in the country, and Pakistan went bang on cue. The basic question, of course, still begs to be answered: do ordinary people in Pakistan believe their military establishment now? The whole narrative of years of using the ruse to play victim at the hands of terrorists has gone up in smoke with the discovery of Osama bin Laden's lair in the heart of a military area.

All this is for Pakistan to figure out. India will no doubt take all that hot air in its stride. On the day the news of Bin Laden's killing broke, New Delhi indicated strongly to Pakistan that it would continue with its peace track with Islamabad. In the circumstances Mr Bashir appeared foolish in his belligerence. He chose to slay demons that did not exist. But that is not all. He sounded undignified, irresponsible and reckless as well when he sought to warn India that there would be a "catastrophe" if India chose to run a surgical strike against Pakistan in the manner of the United States taking out Bin Laden. This can only be interpreted as thinly disguised code for a nuclear strike.

It does not behove the head of a neighbouring country's foreign office to be invoking such imagery. This is truly stupefying. When all is said and done, no one can believe that India is about to launch a strike against Pakistan (it did not do so even in the face of the grave provocation of the Mumbai attacks!). Nor can anyone be expected to believe that Islamabad would reconsider its relationship with Washington if the United States launched another Abbottabad-style strike, as Gen. Kayani threatened. For 60 years, Islamabad has lived off America's goodwill and bailout funds, or it would have gone bust, thanks to the way the Army has run the country. Then, all that remains of the Kayani-Bashir bravado is the implied threat of a nuclear attack against India. It's time Islamabad was told to pipe down.






"Oh leave the prophets
Who promise life divine —
Embrace the one
Who turns water into wine."

From Kabuli Kissey
by Bachchoo
Historic days! The earth vibrates as it rotates and revolves — I don't mean the apprehension and disposal of mass murderer and pointless fanatic O.B. Laden. I mean the seal on the romance of Prince William of the Royal House of Windsor

and Catherine Middleton, the "commoner" whose ancestors were north-England miners and whose parents run a business selling party balloons and knick-knacks.
They were married in pomp. Circumstance and a discerning Indian TV channel invited me to comment, over two days, on the proceedings.
Now Wills and Kate, as we must learn to call them in their demotic avatars, have gone off for their £4,000-a-day honeymoon in the Caribbean for a well-deserved rest — tiring stuff all that marrying! Or has that been cancelled? Only WikiLeaks can tell.
Not being a US Navy Seal, I confess I wasn't present at the capture and execution of Bin Laden, but through the munificence of the above-mentioned Indian TV channel (whose name I don't think my editor would not be happy for me to advertise) I was standing on broadcasting platforms outside Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey on the Thursday before and Friday of the wedding.
My sister Zareen (who was born in Abu Dhabi but lives in India) tells me that she was in Hong Kong during the wedding and missed my moments of glory but that her friends in India saw my broadcasts and were disappointed. They thought I was irreverent.
This saddens me as it was not my intention. On both days I wore different suits out of respect. I only mention this because for a week before there was a kerfuffle in the British press about what people were going to wear. There was endless speculation about the bride's dress. There was a debate about whether Prime Minister David Cameron should wear a morning dress or a lounge suit. What would Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, wear? Who was designing the dress of Mrs Middleton, the ex-airhostess and bride's mum?
There was obviously not much speculation as to what I would wear, but I decided on a linen suit with an open beige shirt on the first day and my other black suit with a white cotton shirt and no tie on the second. (Must buy one — all contributions welcome!)
Having been afforded my few minutes of, albeit limited, fame by this invitation to comment on the betrothal of these two beautiful young individuals who have contributed so much to civilisation, I began to compose my thoughts.
Four days before the event, the London police announced that all dissenting elements attempting to disrupt the wedding would be robustly dealt with. Islamicists had threatened on the Internet to mount mass protests against the wedding in order to undermine the "tyranny of Queen Elizabeth II". For the life of me, apart from bad taste in her attire, I couldn't think of anything that this poor Queen has ever done that amounts to tyranny.
Which led me to the thought that Britain doesn't really have a monarchy. Ever since Cromwell's rebellion chopped off King Charles I's head it has had no monarchy but only a less and less potent royalty. The poor dears, though they live off the taxes of the people, have no say in anything.
So was I then a Republican? Having been associated all my life with Left-leaning or socialistic principles, I thought I should be. But then Britain would perhaps end up with a President Margaret Thatcher or a President Tony Blair and would I want that?
No! Better to spend taxpayer's subsidy on the long running soap opera of royal weddings, three royal divorces out of four marriages in the current Prince of Wales' generation, one out of two in the Queen's generation, a tragic death in the car of a playboy of the divorced Princess Di, the scandal of Prince Andrew's association with dodgy businessmen and a convicted paedophile, the amusing remarks of Prince Phillip about foreigners, the adventures in night clubs of Prince Harry and his girlfriend called Kensington or something, the refusal to invite Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of Elsewhere, to the wedding... Better than anything television writers can invent. And hey, I'm wrong! It's not a soap opera — it's the nation's most revered reality show. Long live the show!
Those were the thoughts which I held in my head as I approached my moments of fame. The commentary from outside Buck House on the eve of the wedding was conducted by a charming young lady in Hindi. Now my proficiency in Hindustani is adequate, on occasion even lyrical in a clichéd, filmy-dialogue way, but doesn't extend to subtle sarcasm or pointed ambivalence, so my answers and commentary were very positive and supportive of the young couple.
I was specifically asked and sincerely answered that theirs was, in contrast to that of William's father Charles and his mother Diana Spencer, a love marriage. The world didn't know it at the time, but Charles and Diana were married by arrangement. It didn't seem to work. She was a world icon but he loved another.
The William and Catherine thing was love. They were at St. Andrews University where they met — up in remote Scotland where you can watch TV when the reception's good, go to the one local pub or fall in love. Wonderful.
The royal family, conscious of the connection they have on pain of death to establish with the modern world, embraced their new "commoner" princess.
Some said she was the first such, so I thought it imperative to point out that Elizabeth Woodville who married Edward IV in the 15th century was deemed a "commoner". She was the mother of the Princes in the Tower, murdered by their chacha Richard III who went on to usurp the throne. The whole thing didn't end well.
My sister's friend told Zareen that as I made this historic point the microphone was snatched from me, presumably because Indian viewers, unlike the Brits, can't bear too much historic reality. In fact, no mikes were snatched. The hired TV platform, operated by a Polish cameraman and team, ran out of time.
God save the Queen!






How I love that line: "It's a go!" said US President Barack Obama. And they went! It is so quintessentially American. So cowboy! On Friday, April 29, 2011, the mighty President of the United States of America ordered the historic raid that killed one of the most dreaded men who ever lived — Osama bin Laden.

Strange, but not even a week later, all the drama witnessed by incredulous viewers across the world is beginning to resemble a bang bang Western from the early '80s. "Geronimo EKIA…" was the terse confirmation from Central Intelligence Agency chief Leon Panetta to his boss, after those mysterious US Navy Seals descended on an ugly mansion in a peculiarly named town, Abbottabad, deep inside Pakistan. Nobody in India had really heard of this blessed place, nobody… except our very own Manoj (Bharat) Kumar, who was born there.
Listening to President Obama's precisely delivered televised speech (strictly, no emotions), it was impossible not to rub one's eyes in sheer disbelief and ask, "Is this really the whole story? Will the world ever know what really happened on that moonless night?" The answer is obvious: No, we won't. The sensible thing to do is take Mr Obama's word for it… and move on. There will be versions galore in the years to come. Military analysts will deconstruct and point out the obvious holes in the official version. But for most observers, it's enough that Mr Obama took out the man responsible for the deaths of so many innocent people, not just in America, but across the world. Why probe? Or go too deeply into how it was done… why now… or even that it came nearly a decade too late. Let's just say "Thank you, Barack" and khisko to the nearest disco. The euphoria of this victory needs to be savoured just a bit longer, without nit-picking or bitching.

Though, it's hard not to indulge in either activity, given some of the obvious absurdities and contradictions that are now emerging. Kyunki, think about it: Is a dead Osama better than Osama alive? Does his death make the world a safer place? On the contrary, we are back to square one, looking over our shoulders at possible retaliatory action planned by members of the dreaded Al Qaeda. Some say the backlash is inevitable.
Two nights after Mr Obama's announcement, I was with a low-key, self-styled American expert. This is a very clued in person who hangs out with sources most professional journos would give an arm and a leg to cultivate. I was pretty sure he'd be in the mood to brag a little… or even, a lot! People like him make a pretty cushy living out of creating "clout perceptions" that suggest their proximity to powerful insiders. I asked my acquaintance some basic questions about Operation Geronimo — questions that demanded common sense not military intelligence. From where did those attack choppers take off? If they flew in from a distance, even a short one, how come they went undetected for close to an hour? What about the noise? Sure, it was a moonless night and black birds (even gigantic ones) in the sky are hard to spot. But we are not discussing visibility here. What about hearing? Those guys in the neighbourhood may have been asleep, but were they also deaf… did nobody hear the roar of those killer machines hovering over their heads?

The expert leaned forward conspiratorially and said, "Why are you forgetting one thing? It is the Americans themselves who have given all the hardware to Pakistan, trained their men, set up the systems. How difficult is it for the very same Americans to use the systems, facilities, locations, codes and machines to conduct such a strike from within the country? Who would suspect or stop them? It is the Americans who have equipped the Pakistani military, armed them to the teeth, given billions of dollars to create sophisticated establishments all over. They merely used their own expertise and free access for this operation. Smart move. I'd call it a good return on their investment!" I immediately bought the guy two more drinks. Whether or not this is an accurate assessment, it made sense. The Americans neatly turned the tables on their "students" and pulled off one of the biggest coups before those sleepy chaps could blink.

The hard work begins now. According to Mr Know It All, this has been one of Mr Obama's shrewdest moves, not just to assert himself and work on falling ratings (up, already), but also to show Hillary Clinton her place. Apparently, Mr Obama is a bit tired of Hill and Bill running the show in Washington. The Clintons were seen as an annoying, interfering duo, trying to dominate the White House with the full support of key aides loyal to both of them. It was time to show them who was the boss. It was also time to tell the world he was indeed the "most powerful human being alive", and never mind detractors constantly reminding him of his failings… his weaknesses.

The "Situation Room" images had their own story to tell. Ms Hillary looked worried as the team waited for more live feeds from Navy Seals in Abbottabad. Mr Obama appeared the coolest customer in the group, casually attired in a white tee and bomber jacket. But it was the President's calm and strong address to his people and the rest of the world a few hours later that will become the definitive moment of his presidency, regardless of what follows. I have to confess, I have always been critical of his much-acclaimed oratory. No doubt, he has a great speech writer and Mr Obama delivers those evocative lines faultlessly. But a tele-prompted speech remains a mechanical performance and somehow doesn't touch hearts in quite the same way as an old fashioned, unrehearsed bhaashan. Clearly, I am in a minority on this one going by the spate of nasty comments posted on my blog after my spontaneous reaction to the address.
Acchha… now to clear the debris left behind by those 79 Seals in four choppers… physical and psychological debris.
Khel khatam? Hardly. Kahani abhi baaki hai. A new khel has just begun. Kyon, Kayaniji?

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The Left in West Bengal has staged a brilliant recovery, even though it is near certain that it will be voted out of power after 34 years when the ballots are counted on May 13. The last stand to stop the tsunami of parivartan has worked; the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has ensured that it will live to fight another day.

Just as the United States of America has not won the war against terror even though it has fulfilled its promise to find Osama bin Laden "dead or alive", so too the political war of the Trinamul Congress will not end with the electoral defeat of the Left. The world remains a dangerous place even though Bin Laden is dead; West Bengal will remain a Left bastion even after it loses the 2011 election.
When the parivartan wave crashed against the badly maintained walls of the Left bastion in 2008, it broke through the crumbling defences because the CPI(M) had been complacent and careless, even arrogant, in its belief of invincibility. The panchayat elections revealed the extent to which the Left had lost support among the masses.
Since the panchayat elections, the CPI(M) has been fighting a war on two fronts: internally, to "rectify" its machinery, and externally, to contain and compress the spread of the anti-Left political consolidation under the Trinamul Congress leadership. The realisation that it was doing so came only after it lost dramatically in the Lok Sabha elections.
It has taken the party 18 months to handle the shock of the defeat and work out how it can save itself from being wiped out.
The last stretch of the 2011 election campaign has been the Left's strategic fight back as a dominant political force in West Bengal. It helped that the burden of running a government was virtually taken off its back under the existing dispensation where the Election Commission assumes the role of a supra-state.
It was to pin the Trinamul Congress down and nail its lie about parivartan that the Left sought to achieve in its fightback in the run-up to the elections. By halting the wave of emotion that swept through West Bengal, the CPI(M) has managed to drain out much of the mystique of Maa, Mati, Manush. It has inserted real expectations into a hypnotic trance and post the Trinamul Congress' victory and the Left's defeat, Mamata Banerjee will have to deliver on what she has promised. The refrain that has gained strength and at some points seemed to overpower the lullaby that the Trinamul Congress warbled about parivartan is: What will Ms Banerjee actually do for a positive parivartan?
The Trinamul Congress' campaign was simple — it declared that the CPI(M) had done "nothing" in 34 years for West Bengal except siphon off resources to its supporters and consequently exclude those who were politically against it.
It was the second part of the campaign that captured the popular imagination and wiped out the enormous accumulated political capital that the CPI(M) had amassed since 1947 — that the CPI(M) had siphoned off resources to its "own people". There was sufficient truth in this accusation of patronage and party raj, of alienation and arrogance, because the anti-incumbency mood that swept West Bengal in 2008, 2009 and 2010 leading to the Left being defeated in panchayat, parliamentary and municipal elections confirmed it. People matched their real life experiences to the charges made against the CPI(M) by the Trinamul Congress and voted for Mamata Banerjee.
The CPI(M) needed to rescue its party and its past from this very powerful political message. It was, therefore, interesting that as the election campaign reached its final stages, the merits and demerits of various Left candidates were measured in terms of how much they had been accessible and helpful, individually and, collectively, through the party.
Therefore, the reactions to the nomination of "outsiders" by the Trinamul Congress — from the patrician ex-Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry boss Amit Mitra, to former chief secretary Manish Gupta, to film actors Chiranjit and Debasree Roy — changed from excitement to doubt and then resistance. It did not help that Ms Banerjee herself is notoriously inaccessible despite her girl-next-door persona.
From repeating that any parivartan from the CPI(M) is better than no parivartan, the political debate that now
pervades the political space is — if this parivartan does not work, we will produce another parivartan.
For the CPI(M) this is balm to its wounded spirits, for it gives hope where once there seemed to be nothing but oblivion. The cost of every personal attack — wearing hawai chappal and flying around in helicopters — is small compared to the dividend that the CPI(M) has gained in terms of restoration of its credibility and a return in small measure of the trust that had deserted it.
The combination of "party raj" and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's headlong rush to enter West Bengal as a competitor in the 21st century India growth race was almost lethal. The resistance to the "vision" of West Bengal as an investment destination and, therefore, a participant in the India growth story has been enormous within the CPI(M) and among its Left Front partners. The resistance, therefore, gained traction when the Trinamul Congress added its unique mix of high-pitched emotional blackmail via its Maa, Mati, Manush slogan and the Singur-Nandigram debacle. It succeeded in stopping the Tata Nano factory from going into production even though most of the construction was complete because it captured the blind panic that had swamped the state and its political leadership barring Mr Bhattacharjee and a few of his men at the prospect of a change that would fundamentally alter the economy and the old way of life of West Bengal.
The parivartan that the Trinamul Congress promised and will have to roll out when it assumes power is the assurance of a weak parent who, in the desire to be protective, falsely promises the child that even though things have changed nothing will change.
In other words, the Trinamul Congress will have to, as it has promised, make West Bengal prosperous without selling out to the market, and well governed without setting up its own "party raj".
That these specific expectations and minimal requirements are in the foreground vis-à-vis parivartan is the CPI(M) calling card for 2010. Even as seems certain it will lose the 2011 elections.

Shikha Mukerjee is a senior journalist in Kolkata






Post Osama bin Laden's killing, while the bloodhounds in India immediately began to clamour for a similar "surgical strike" on the head of the D-Company allegedly in Pakistan, in the United Kingdom it was a time for sober reflection. A time to ponder about justifying the killing of an unarmed man, in front of his wife and children, even if he was a dangerous terrorist.

The nuanced reaction in Europe, which takes human rights very seriously, has been a little different to that in the US.
In the US, it is apparent, different laws apply to other countries, while America is a law into itself. The scale of the celebration and jubilation over Bin Laden's death was different in Europe, and apart from Prime Minister David Cameron's unequivocal statement, there were many voices in Britain, including that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which were not as approving. Was this the only way to "take out" Bin Laden? Does justice now comprise reprisals and bloodbaths — an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? In that case, shall we shut down the courts and say goodbye to human rights altogether? Shall we also forget that the US war on terror has already led to the death of thousands of Iraqis and, thanks to the US' meddling in Pakistan and Afghanistan, many more people have died there than during the assault on the Twin Towers? But the recent actions of the US, and the hubris, is scary beyond belief. This is one country that can do anything for its self-interest. Thus, though it may be controversial to say so, some of the reaction in Europe has been reassuring.
He may have been a murderer, a war criminal, or even an evil genius, but if other criminals are given a fair trial why was he not hauled up before an international court of justice? Was President Barack Obama's rough justice — though put across more eruditely and logically than President George W. Bush ever managed to do — any different to that meted out by Saddam Hussein towards his enemies? Even the unfortunate naming of Operation Geronimo, after a native Indian rebel, brought to mind a cowboy and Indian face-off, and we know who the winners of that encounter were. The visuals of Mr Obama and his team looking at the killing (or a report about it) live made it look like a playstation game, wiped clean of all humanitarian concerns. The bloodthirsty acronym "EKIA" (Enemy Killed In Action) belongs more to the virtual world than to real life. Obama-turned-Rambo is an unrecognisable character. Did this man really get the Nobel Peace prize? Through his actions, Mr Obama has completely humiliated Pakistan and created even more dysfunctional relationships in the entire area.
The question once again is, by going into a sovereign country and killing people in order to uphold American-owned "values" and "democracy" what has America achieved? It has killed one "monster" but destabilised an entire region. A kidnap may have been more audacious, but it would not have invited the humanitarian critique now being associated with it.
Isn't it about time someone pointed out that invading countries in pursuit of the liberal, democratic message might be somewhat contradictory. Even the Israelis in their hunting of war criminals ensured that they faced a proper trial. What India is doing with Ajmal Kasab, whilst it would have been easier to kill him off, is the civilised path to follow.
It also spoke volumes for America's diminished power that the killing of Bin Laden did not lead to automatic celebration in countries which could be deemed its allies, and was in fact greeted with far more introspection. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, (who had just earned fame for presiding over the "WillKat" wedding) has also expressed his own discomfort. He said, "The killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling because it does not look as if justice is seen to be done". While some Americans have been wildly accusing the Europeans of being "cheese eating surrender monkeys", the concerns expressed have been supported by the constantly changing narrative of the encounter. The shooting of an unarmed man and the hasty burial at sea has left a nasty aftertaste and diminished the image of the US among liberals. Several religious leaders, including the Bishop of Winchester, are now concerned that there may be fresh terrorist reprisals against Christians.
Mr Obama may have as yet made his biggest blunder. Not only has he upset some in Europe and elsewhere, he has also completely alienated the people of Pakistan and others in the Muslim world. In fact, by killing Bin Laden, Mr Obama may have managed to complete the agenda of the dead terrorist.

Meanwhile, coalition blues have begun to hit the ruling party in Britain as the referendum to change the voting process was finally held this week. It has been a very difficult time for the ruling coalition partners who have agreed to disagree. The Tories were persuading voters to stick to the existing system of First Past The Post (FPTP) and the Liberal Democrats were promoting the Alternative Vote (AV) system. The latter, if it were chosen, would have meant that people would cast their votes in order of preference. The tragedy for the LibDems is that their own declining vote ratio has adversely impacted the vote for AV. A while ago, people were so disillusioned with politics (thanks to scams!) that the majority wanted to vote for the change.
But now the numbers are in the reverse: around 60 per cent support FPTP, and only 40 per cent want AV. This has been a huge blow for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the leader of the LibDems, who had been personally promoting the AV system. Mr Cameron, however, is happy that FPTP won in what was the first serious and very public rift between them. Now it remains to be seen whether this acknowledgement of differences gets translated into other policy matters and whether the precarious bonhomie within the coalition is disrupted by the defeat of the LibDem agenda.

Kishwar Desai can be contacted at










Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), is a special Act of the Indian Parliament to be applied in any part of the country if it is declared disturbed area. The need of imposing the Act arises out of an unusual situation in a particular area that is neither normal nor usual. Army usually has its stations in different parts of the country but its deployment in a particular region or sector is a decision taken by various components of the union government in consultation with the state government. In J&K State, a proxy war has been launched by our hostile neighbour by inciting, abetting and sponsoring armed uprising in Kashmir in the name of "struggle for freedom." A large number of local youth have been lured to training camps set up by the enemy country on the soil of the part of Kashmir under its illegal occupation. Now, what actually our army and security forces are required to do is to fight the militants trained in those camps but actually belonging to Kashmir and returning to Kashmir to fight the Indian army and security forces. In a sense it is an army required to fight a civilian armed insurgency. The first question to be asked is why the local government failed to scuttle any effort by the hostile country to lure its youth to the camps? Why did the elected government take no preventive measures when it came to know that after the rigged elections of 1986, there were dissident elements hobnobbing with the agents of a hostile neighbouring country? Now the Army has been deployed to deal with a very unusual situation in which the enemy is moving around as a civilian entity, fighting only covertly and aiming at attacks on crowds and on public property to wreck law and order in the State. This has necessitated induction of the AFSPA, which the then State Government recommended and appreciated. Deployment of armed forces to accomplish the task of eradicating armed insurgency from the state also meant that defence personnel could meet with serious challenges and make scarifies of their life while taking on the armed insurgents. It also meant that the troops had to deal with such civilian elements as had become accomplices to armed insurgency according to their information. The army is not and did not behave as an enemy though vested interests do try to project it as enemy. It had to secure the population and itself as well against militant attacks. The army man too has human rights and he also needs protection of his rights. Therefore to deal with this very unusual situation, the AFSPA was promulgated purely with a view to restore normalcy in the state as early as possible. With the passage of time, army has controlled insurgency to good extent but the scenario of infiltration has not ceased permanently. The real problem is that Pakistan continues to keep the terrorist training camps intact on PoK soil; it continues to give all possible help to the terrorists and helps them cross the LoC and sneak into Indian part of Kashmir for perpetrating their perfidy. Army intelligence reports say that anything over 1000 well-armed and well-equipped terrorists are waiting along the LoC to infiltrate into J&K. Army has caught many spies and obtained information from them. Additionally, it is found that Pakistan Army is giving them cover by opening fire on our forward posts. This is to distract the attention of our security forces on the border and let the infiltration take place.
The strange thing is that the political party leading the coalition government in the state is demanding that AFSPA be withdrawn. The party in opposition, going a step further, demands that the army should be withdrawn from the state. This being so, none of the two is prepared to tell us how many armed infiltrators are waiting along the LoC for infiltration? They are not prepared to tell us whether the armed infiltrators have agreed to return to their original places in PoK and Pakistan and let Kashmiris manage their affairs? Have these parties ever asked the insurgents to lay down their arms and rejoin the fold? These political parties know that they are not in a position to demand anything from the insurgents but they can demand anything from the army. Therefore to carry forward their political agenda, they demand withdrawal of AFSPA. This is done to win favour with the separatists and protesting mobs, something like winning negative popularity. But the army and defene ministry cannot go by the political agenda of local political parties. They have the larger interests of security of the country in view. It cannot let the army face embarrassment just because of wayward moves of a civilian government. There is a realization among the army that some of the areas and segments in the state where militancy has come down considerably could be declared as non-disturbed areas and thus army would be withdrawn from these areas and with that the AFSPA will also go. But this is not a unilateral decision of the State Government. The Defence Ministry has to be party to it and unless it is convinced, no area can be declared un-disturbed. In final analysis, the State Government and the Defence Ministry have to put heads together to take a holistic view of the ground situation and take a cautious decision about AFSPA







White House spokesman says that he US President is of view that if more covert attacks are needed to eliminate terrorist threat to the US, these would be taken without hesitation. President Obama rightly considers more covert attacks legal because these are in conformity with the laws of war. Al Qaeda had openly declared war against the US, and the US reserves the right to strike back wherever necessary. Pakistan never protested against US commando strike that eliminated Osama. It never called it violation of its air or land space. It never said that it violated international law. It never demanded that the body of killed Bin Laden be handed over to his next of kin now living in Pakistan. Pakistan did not even react to Obama's threat to conduct more covert strikes. All that the Pakistan Corps Commanders said in their recent meeting was one, they would react if India enacted the Osama-like operation inside Pakistan; and two, and Pakistan's nuclear installations were fully protected as against the unprotected Osama complex in Abbotabad. This reveals the deep frustration gripping Pakistan rulers.








The sands of time finally ran out on the man born in a land where the deserts never seem to end, a man whose very name spelt terror in capital letters. And the irony of it, that the sand man who spent early three decades evading his hunters, running breathlessly from one mountain range to another, living in caves in one of which he was nearly hunted down, in Tora Bora, should finally have ended, his face disfigured beyond recognition in the salty waters of the sea, his body dumped their by the Americans whom he had hated, tormented for the past one decade and more.

Two US Presidents came and went away, each went with two terms, each committed to smoke him out of the safety of caves in mountain ranges dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan. It's not that Osama bin Laden, whose name like that of the India film legend "Sholay", Gabbar, send children running seeking cover in their hilly homes or plush multi-storey housing blocks, had any need to be a brigand, a terrorist. By all accounts he was a millionaire, until the very last; his rich business family in Saudi Arabia used to set apart his share of their fortune annually with easy accessibility. It was neither that he was born to piety; as a rich young Arab, whose family had migrated to Saudi Arabia and made billions, young Osama had his flirtations in, where else but Switzerland. He took a few wives as well from whom he begot several children two of whom were reportedly killed with him. One of his elder boys, barely out of his teens, took an old Englishwoman, old enough to be grandfather for his first bride (since separated). One of his wives even wrote a best selling book on Osama, the bright young man who had yet to find his mission in life. And the accounts she gives of the double life which the Laden women lived in Saudi Arabia, enjoying life yet remaining within the bounds of the Wahabilaw. There were many shopping sprees as well while in Switzerland, all that one expected of a rich Saudi, not royal yet close to royalty. Except that, as his wife states, he was not as extrovertish as the other rich young Saudis.
His family business had by then expanded to the US as well, flourishing enough for him to get into George Bush's list of favoured. And it was the Bush connexion that on 9/11 managed the impossible: laid on two aircraft, when flying was banned after the twin towers and Pentagaon bombings, to enable the huge Bin Laden entourage in America that dreadful night to fly out in two aircraft.

One would have to forgive Bush: for here was a President exactly then talking to school children in a US school, away from New York and Washington, who took time to understand the depth of the horror of 9/11 before winging away to New York to join the mourning megapolis.

Many arrests were subsequently made, mostly young Saudis who had learned rudimentary flying, and like our own fake pilots, carried out their dastardly attacks; in the twin towers alone 3,000 people belonging to all nationalities including many Indians and Pakistanis were massacred when the pride of New York city was reduced to rubble. I remember having gone to the top floor revolving restaurant of the one of the towers, which the amber stuff apart, gave you a breath-taking view of the city at night. Two years ago when I was in the US again I went to the deep hollow pits where the towers had stood and wondered why rich, educated youngmen would turn into monsters to destroy such lovely pieces of architecture.

And that's where Osama bin Laden entered the scene. One came to know later of the massive indoctrination, training in the use of lethal arms, flying aircraft etc - the handiwork of the evil genius of who had fathered the Al Qaeda, reckless, fundamentalist organization raised in the name of Islam by the cash-rich Osama.
Most Muslims the world over were taken aback by the Osama phenomenon. Young Muslims the world over falling to the lure of the man, gladly swelling the ranks of the Al Qaeda from beyond Arabia, north Africa to lands a far as Indonesia, the Philippines, India and several European countries with substantial Muslim migrant populations.
Coming to think of it Osama's first laboratory to experiment with his ideas came in Yemen and Sudan and, importantly during the years of the late Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Afghan Mujahideen aided by American and Saudi's, with Pakistan providing a helping hand, were engaged in a long war, with the Soviets keen to capture Kabul. They did succeed in part and for a while in capturing and installing their own puppet regimes there.
I visited Afghanistan thrice during that decade of the 80's to see some of the action first-hand, also to witness thousands of poor Afghans, men, women and children trudging down from Jalalabad to Torkhum to Peshawar in search of safety. Many managed to come as far away as Delhi.
It was in the midst of this devastation that Osama bin Laden came to Afghanistan. The Russians were gone finally. But Osama with his bagfuls of money had in the meantime struck friendship with Mullah Umar and many Pakistani leaders including Mian Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister at the time.
Prince Turki, the Saudi Intelligence Chief who was a regular visitor to Pakistan all those ears, had struk up friendship with Nawaz Sahrif which was to help him later.
After a while Osama bin Laden made another trip to his old Arab haunts beginning to show his teeth like by attacking an American warship. Ayman al Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor had by now become some sort of a number two and mentor of Osama and it was not long there after that the two some along with some collaborators including Osama's two sons made it to Afghanistan.
The wanderings in one of the world's most difficult mountain terrains apparently had come to an end some four years back when the ISI and Pakistan Army finally chose a permanent accommodation - a three storey mansion, next to Abbotabad's famed military academy, an exclusive area surrounded by low hills, a lovely valley and (seen from a height a green carpet as it were, trees with abundant foliage.
I was again very lucky to have had a glimpse of Abbotabad, courtesy Gen. Ziaul Haq, who one day, when I had an appointment with him, asked "Old boy, have you been to Quetta?" No General I said. "Torkhum? Abbotabad? Turning to his Secretary Lt. Gen. Mujibur Rahman: "Take my friend to Torkhum, first later to Quetta," the President cum CMLA ordered. And it was while travelling to Torkhum and within a couple of hours we crossed a longish bridge to give me a close look at Abbotabad, a very picturesque place, once favourite of the British rulers like nearby Swat valley etc.
Little did a realize then that later that a sprawling three-storey mansion in the neighbourhood of the military academy would be home to Osama bin Laden. Reports now tell me there was no obvious sign of anyone living inside, thanks to the high boundary walls and no-phone, no internet etc. The ISI and the Army could not afford to be in denial of the whereabouts of the man and yet somehow they did. The fact is that the Americans had built their intelligence about the Osama mansion quiet sometime back choosing not to make any hoo-ha about it.
And when they struck past midnight last week Osama's haven and his protectors, (forget the later alibis) were taken by surprise. The operation as the world had since come to know lasted 42 minutes, Osama and three others shot dead on the spot. Two of his wives and a son, one is told were also killed.
But with Osama gone does it mean that Al Qaeda too is dead. I was listening to a top Muslim intellectuals on one of the foreign news channels the other day; I heard one of the most knowledgeable cautioning, that it would be a folly on the part of the Americans to think that terror is dead. Aymn al Zawahiri, the Egyptian who had underplayed his role as Osama's mentor, is very much around. And Afghan veteran of the 1980 vintage (he looked after the illed and the wounded mujahideen). The bond between him and Osama became stronger when he treated Osama in one of his cave hideouts in Afghanistan. There after it was Osama's money and derring-do and Zawahiri's strategic planning.
To conclude the closure of the Osama legend has left the Pakistan Army and the ISI red-faced. Even the civilian government was made to sell lies to the Americans. Not that Washington had bought any of these. For instance, the US knew about Osama's Abbotabad mansion for quiet sometime but chose to act only when Pakistan was fast asleep. That's why one heard desperate explanations from many Pakistani spokesmen that the Pak Army was part of the operation that got Osama. India will have its own lessons to draw now that we hear talk yet again of resuming the bilateral dialogue with Pakistan.







When Indian socialism was constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, it induced widespread pessimism about the possibility of breaking out of the Hindu growth rate of 3.5 per cent. The events of the late 1970s and early 1980s provided the first break, to a growth rate of 5.5 per cent. The events of the early 1990s gave the second break, to a growth rate of 7.5 per cent. Today, India holds an enviable track record, where GDP expanded by six times in the last 30 years: an average growth rate of 6.17 per cent.
The growth pessimism of the 1970s has been replaced by a sense of entitlement to high growth. Starting with Goldman Sachs, many people have got used to doing linear extrapolation, thinking that there is a boundless future of high growth. Most of us are pretty certain that in the next 30 years, GDP will grow between 6 per cent and 8 per cent, thus rising by between 6x and 10x.
The global experience over the last 200 years does not support such extrapolation. The growth experience of countries holds many surprises. Sometimes, a country that used to have low growth shifts into high gear (e.g., India). At other times, a country that used to have high growth shifts into low gear (e.g., Japan). Growth is much more complicated than counting labour and capital.
Alongside economic growth is the political system. The Indian elite has long been certain that in time India will develop a political system like that of the US or the UK. There has been a sense of inevitability about this destination, of a high quality political system. While this might indeed come about, the experience of the last 200 years is not encouraging. Italy and Japan do not yet have a good political system, and as recently as 1982, Spain had an attempted coup. The US and the UK stand out as exceptions rather than the rule.
The goal of the Indian development project, over the next 30 years, is that of getting a 6x to 10x enlargement of GDP and emerging with a UK- or US-quality political system. India has a crack at achieving these remarkable things. But this is not a certainty and history encourages considerable caution. What might go wrong along the way?
The first problem is that of exuberant spending. Thirty years of high growth has given politicians a sense that public money is there for spending. The hard won lessons of fiscal prudence, which were starting to take root in the 1990s and early 2000s, have been abandoned by the UPA. Many a country has come apart when large spending programmes were not supported by commensurate tax revenues, particularly in downturns. The political stress associated with these spending programmes is the highest when they are entitlements (such as NREG or RTE) as opposed to discretionary (such as building highways).
The second problem is that of corruption. When the licence-permit raj was eased, we expected corruption in India to decline. And indeed, in fields with a low government interface, it has. But every functioning market economy requires a complex government interface in many fields. Regulation is a feature of a vast swathe of the economy, ranging from health, safety and environmental regulation that influences a large number of firms, to much more detailed regulatory interfaces in finance and infrastructure. India's nascent capitalism is characterised by firms vigorously pursuing profits. All too often, these firms have low ethical standards. Under normal notions of competition in the market economy, the most efficient firms get to the top. But when corruption is pervasive, the most rotten firms get to the top.
The third dimension is the political system. It is our cherished belief that in 30 years, as prosperity seeps in, India will get to a US- or UK-quality political system. But there are formidable hurdles along the way. The fledgling capitalism that has been unleashed by economic reforms is interacting with the political system in dangerous ways. There is not even one state in India where governance and politics is working well. First-past-the-post elections have given incentives to political parties to find a loyal base of roughly 25 per cent of voters, and not reach out to the middle through policies that benefit all. The foundations of civilisation-courts, human rights and freedom of speech-are malfunctioning.
The fourth dimension is state capacity. The Commonwealth Games are a salutory reminder of the incompetence of the Indian state. We are a $1.2-trillion economy, but we do not have the commensurate state capability to address sophisticated questions. Each year of high GDP growth is increasing the gap between requirements and capabilities. Will the Indian development project succeed? It might, but we cannot assume that it will. (INAV)








It is gratifying that Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar reappointed Murli Manohar Joshi as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee notwithstanding Congress' protest. It reinforces people's faith in the parliamentary democracy that every thing is not lost. But the way the report of the PAC on the 2G spectrum allocation scam was leaked (by whosoever) and was rejected by the ruling coalition has given a body blow to the credibility of the oldest parliamentary committee which came into existence in 1921 in the wake of the Montague-Chelmsford reforms.
The then Committee on Public Accounts became a parliamentary committee functioning under the control of the Speaker after the coming into force of the Constitution. Since the beginning the chairman of the committee is from the Opposition and since 1969 the PAC has been giving its report unanimously. But the glorious tradition was breached this time with the Congress and the BJP holding each other responsible for this sordid impasse.
The PAC has estimated that the Government lost Rs. 1.90 lakh crore in grant of 122 new licences in 2008, issuance of dual technology licences and grant of extra spectrum to operators. It further pointed out that 2G Spectrum was arbitrarily given at a throwaway price and 3G auction gave revenue five times more than the base price.
The Comptroller and Auditor General had pegged the presumptive loss to the exchequer between Rs. 57,000 crore and Rs. 1.76 lakh crore while the CBI put the loss at Rs. 30,000 crore. So, there are differences among various agencies about the quantum of loss but there is unanimity that the allocation of spectrum in an arbitrary manner did cause huge loss to the Government. It is but natural that different parties would scramble to score political points and salvage the damage to itself but on such a vital issue politicking should not get the better of governance.
But this is what has exactly happened. Out of a total of 21 members, 11 of the Congress, the DMK, The SP and the BSP rejected the report after Chairman M. M. Joshi adjourned the meeting. The UPA members allege that the chairman was biased from the beginning and hardly held any consultations with the members. They wanted to summon former Telecom Minister Arun Shourie and the law secretary but the chairman did not listen to them. The BJP, on the other hand, has charged the Congress with derailing the investigations as its hands are not clean and the obstreperous attitude of the Congress members and their allies was a well thought-out strategy.
Recommendations of a parliamentary committee are normally accepted or at least taken seriously by the government. The PAC is a recommendatory body but traditionally the Government has accepted most of the reports submitted by it. The Government has to file an Action Taken Report (ATR) within three months on the submission of the report and reasons are to be adduced if certain recommendations are not accepted. Legally speaking, it can adopt a report by majority but since the committee is manned by members of different parties on proportional basis the ruling party or coalition will always have a majority in the committee also and then it can never censor the Government making it redundant.
However, the Congress says that it was undemocratic for Joshi to press for approval of a report which did not find acceptance of the majority of the members. It is also of the view that after the creation of the JPC, it would have been in the fitness of things if Joshi had referred the issue to the JPC as it was the BJP and others which obstructed the entire winter session of parliament for the setting up of the JPC.
PAC must not be a wrestling ground of political parties. An adverse comment by the PAC on V. K. Krishna Menon in the jeep scandal forced Jawaharlal Nehru to keep him out of the cabinet though Nehru personally wanted him in. What happened this time is total breach of parliamentary privilege. What is discussed in the meeting of the committee is confidential and no member can divulge it outside. But members freely talked to media about the proceedings of the meeting. Now the ball is in the Speaker's court who has to decide whether the report is acceptable or not, but the credibility of the institution must be restored.
However, the PAC has made some important suggestions for improving the governance to combat the canker of corruption and the Government and the Opposition should seriously excogitate on them. Taking note of the recent happenings in the department of telecom, the draft report laments that the administrative powers of postings and transfers were used as a powerful leverage to reward pliant officers and to punish or marginalise officers of unquestionable rectitude who refuse to be privy to wrongdoing.
It has recommended that the system of concurrent internal audit needs to strengthened and accorded full autonomy with a duty cast on each financial advisor to report all financial irregularities to the finance ministry as well as to the statutory audit. It has also castigated the disturbing tendency of some top civil servants joining private sector soon after their superannuation and has suggested a three year cooling off period after retirement before they are allowed to join any tribunal or non-government company. These recommendations merit serious consideration. (INAV)









The Akali-BJP coalition is in a crisis of sorts. Punjab BJP MLA Raj Khurana has been arrested for corruption. Industries Minister Manoranjan Kalia has been named in the CBI FIR. The name of another BJP leader, Swarna Ram, Technical Education Minister, also figures in the bribery case investigations. Pushed to the wall, the BJP is in disarray in Punjab. A shocked and divided leadership has failed to advance a credible argument in defence of its leaders in trouble. Street protests don't prove innocence.


The plight of the BJP's coalition partner, the Shiromani Akali Dal, is even worse. A few days ago the Akali MLA from Mahilpur, Sohan Singh Thandal, was convicted for corruption. The list of its leaders facing civil and criminal cases is too long. Speaker Nirmal Singh Kahlon has got off the hook because of the Badal government's refusal to accord sanction to the CBI to pursue a job bribery case against him. The ruling Badals have got relief after years of trial for possessing assets disproportionate to their known sources of income.


Both BJP and Akali Dal leaders had been quite vocal in the past some months in criticising the Congress-led UPA government, which is facing the shame of the 2-G scam and a series of scandals related to Commonwealth Games. There is hardly any party that is above board. Therefore, a systemic purge of the corrupt and criminals in politics is required. For this, the Election Commission must take at least two steps: (1) make funding to political parties transparent and (2) disqualify any leader facing a charge sheet in court from contesting elections. A conviction takes too long and is often influenced by the accused when in power. Secondly, all states must pass the law to attach properties of civil servants, including politicians, if convicted for corruption. Work on another deterrent, the Lok Pal Bill, is already in progress and the recent momentum on that front must be maintained. 









US President Barack Obama should stand by his decision of not releasing pictures of the body of Osama bin Laden after he was killed in his Abbottabad hideout. When a cool and collected President Obama announced: "The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden," the world at large believed him.


No doubt there has been a mounting clamour from some quarters, including presidential-aspirant Sarah Palin, for these pictures to be released; however, not much will be achieved by doing so, except to feed a gory need of people to see the body of the terrorist leader. The pictures could be used as propaganda devices to further terrorist ends.


White House, however, showed undue haste in releasing details about the raid that killed Osama. Officials, presumably under pressure from the media to provide more information, gave various descriptions of the raid which they had to later retract. The fluidity of narrative further fed sceptics, and thus these people have much to tear apart from the official versions of the raid. Indeed, at one time, it seemed that the moment of victory for the Obama Administration would well become a public relations fiasco, as one after another statements about the raid were revised.


Some recently-filed requests by a new organisation for the release of pictures of Osama's body and burial under the US Freedom of Information Act, may even be fruitful, but the time-lag would make the exercise far less inflammatory, though no less offensive. President Obama has rightly said "We don't trot out this stuff as trophies." Indeed, the President's dignified mannerisms bring a dash of sobriety in an emotionally surcharged environment that seeks closure over the 9/11 attacks. The killing of Osama bin Laden was not a media event; it was a significant military victory in the continuing war against terror. Decisions about what to reveal about the operation and when should therefore be based on long-term strategic thinking rather than on knee-jerk responses to external pressures.











In February this year, the Supreme Court had directed the Centre and states/Union Territories to prepare suitable rehabilitation schemes for the welfare of sex workers, who, the court said, were entitled to a life of dignity under Article 21. On May 4, the court sought reports on what vocational and technical training schemes the states were proposing to ensure meaningful rehabilitation of the physically and sexually abused women; sex workers to be precise.


This reflects seriousness of the apex court in ensuring a life of dignity to the women who indulge in the oldest profession of the world. According to a report published in 2007 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, over three million women sex workers are involved in the trade in India, of which over 35 per cent enter it before they are 18. About 1.2 million children are working as child prostitutes.


Significantly, the court has put the onus for delivering vocational alternatives for sex workers on the chief secretaries of the states and has also assigned a deadline, which is rather short. But, rehabilitation of such a large number of women, who are caught up in an extremely well-knit system, whose tentacles remain invisible yet formidable, is a huge task. It may take time.


The move is important to lend some degree of dignity not only to the women but to the children of these women, who remain at the receiving end of deep rooted scorn and rejection from society. In January, another welcome step taken by the court had ensured that father's name will not be asked for the children of single mothers and prostitutes, at the time of school admission. These small steps will go a long way in ensuring dignity for this hapless section of society.









A huge wastage of food grains due to lack of proper storage facilities is not something that has come to notice now. After food grains in the markets of Punjab had suffered damage for many years, the state government constituted a committee under my chairmanship in 1985.


A report of the committee on remedial measures was submitted in 1986. The problem was so serious that at some places paddy stocks in the market got burned due to the generation of internal heat because of moisture in paddy heaps. The Central government dragged its feet on procurement due to excessive stocks in its godowns. Consequently, farmers suffered and the state government agencies were helpless.


Among the measures, the report suggested diversification of crops, replacing 20 per cent of the area under wheat and rice with other crops. Quite a few alternatives were suggested, but all those needed definitive government policy and financial support. However, the continuous drought for the next four years from 1987 onwards resulted in shortages of food grains and no government cared for the report. Whereas the authors of the report had a projected period of 50 years in mind in making their recommendations, the government did not see beyond its nose.


As a result, the state again faced the problem of unmanageable surplus stocks. Consequently, the government started exporting food grains at very low prices. In many cases exports were made at prices below the BPL prices. Even then quite a few consignments were rejected by importers because the grains were not fit for human consumption. The damage to the grains was so serious that several lots were unfit for animal feed even. As an example, the Government of India exported 35 million tonnes of food grains between 2001 and 2005. Of these 23 million tonnes were rice and 12 million tones wheat.


All these exports were at a loss of thousands of crores of rupees. Surprisingly, in 2005 up to the month of September, five million tonnes of rice and 0.72 million tonnes of wheat were exported and in December the government faced shortages and imported some five million tonnes of wheat in 2006, which was not needed and this export was made at very high prices and huge costs. One wonders at the mindset of the policymakers that deal with such exports and imports.


On the other hand, the government imported pulses, oils and oilseeds worth Rs 14,000 crore per annum. The Government of Punjab again constituted a committee under my chairmanship in 2002 to suggest remedial measures. This report was submitted in May-June 2002, suggesting the replacement of one million hectare of land under paddy with oilseed and pulses and other high value crops and fruits and vegetables. But all these again needed policy and financial inputs from the government. Although on my own I could convince the Union Ministry of Food on the viability and economics of the scheme and even the Ministry of Finance agreed and the scheme was forwarded to the Union Ministry of Agriculture for consideration, but the Punjab bureaucrats concerned did not show interest and could not carry the proposal with the Ministry of Agriculture. No political process was undertaken as well. As a result, the Punjab government lost a valuable opportunity to rectify its untenable and unsustainable cropping pattern. It is all a failure at the level of policy priorities and lack of political will at the level of the state government.


At the level of technology and state policy, especially on free supply of electricity for tube-wells and starving the state research apparatus of needed financial support, there is no likelihood of the rice crop being replaced with alternative crops on a large scale. If the Central and state governments are seriously interested in the diversification of the cropping patterns in the state, they need to flush Punjab Agricultural University with funds and demand matching accountability. The situation can change in less than three years if such a support is provided and a challenge is put to the university.


But our political leadership has put this high-potential university on the back-burner and surprisingly some farm leaders say that they do not need the university. Under these circumstances, what can be expected of such a premier agricultural institute — starved of funds and political backing? The state government needs to realise that it is only the area and region specific research that finds effective application at the field level. Looking to the ICAR institutions for such results is nothing but dreaming in the vacuum.


On storage, Dr M.S. Swaminathan has unfortunately blamed the state government for laxity. He has suggested that Rs 6,000 crore should be spared by the state government for the construction of metallic grain silos. Good, but it is peanuts in the face of some twenty million tonnes of food grains procured by the state on behalf of the Central government every year. We need to understand that the state procurement agencies act only as the agents of the FCI. There is comparatively very little that the state agencies procure for their own needs. The storage problem rests with the Centre and not with the states of Punjab and Haryana. Where from can the state government spare Rs 6,000 crore when already there is a financial crunch and the government is borrowing heavily even to meet its revenue expenditure and retire its interest payment obligations? The Central government has much wider financial capacity and in its own interest can easily create such scientific metallic storage structures as has been created at Moga, maybe in the private sector or under the public-private partnership model.


If the Central government had paid heed to the problems of grain storage over the last three decades, it would have easily solved the problem much earlier and there would have been no wastage of grains and no loss on exports when needed and would have avoided imports at heavy costs. Way back, I suggested that at least five to six million tonnes of wheat should be stored in metallic silos and one-third of these grains should be recycled every year. These grains should be specifically put under the direct control of the PMO and should be considered for release only when the need arises for imports or surpluses have to be exported. At least ten million tones of grains should be kept in metallic silos and the rest in covered storage. There is no place for open storage or plinth storage if food security is the primary concern of the government. The cost of such additional storage will not be more than one or at best two financial scandals perpetrated by politicians, bureaucrats and business houses at the Centre!


Agreed, there is widespread corruption in almost every aspect of the state administration and some laxity on the part of the state government in handling the grains in the markets and their storage, yet given the volume of arrivals in a very short period and shortage of space due to the inability of the FCI to vacate the godowns in time, the state government is doing as best as it can. There is no point in blaming the state government on this aspect. The ball is in the central governments' court and it needs to correct its priorities.










Downtown damsel to duchess, Kate Middleton's spectacular sojourn into the palatial portals of British royalty bears all the frills of a fairytale.Closer home, another commoner's fleeting foray into the British Raj-reminiscent chandeliered chambers of the Indian sovereign many summers ago carried a Cinderella-esque charm, too.


Rashtrapati Bhavan was playing host to a group of media school grads from City Beautiful. There was a ball and banquet any bachelorette, fed on a Victorian literary diet of M&Bs and Georgette Heyers, would have died to be at. There were the 'princes', too — strapping bachelors whose deportment was no less regal than the scions of sovereigns. Their liveried lanky frames made no less pretty a picture than Kate's Prince William in RAF regalia. These were men from the Forces, whose duty it was to dance attendance on the President of India.


That evening though, these ADCs were doing more dancing than duty. As hosts of this unofficial bash, that saw them in the company of small-town bright-eyed belles, they were in foot tapping mode instead of playing foot soldiers to the First Citizen.


From captain to commander, the dapper dudes were soon floored by some commoners. That meant cross-cultural connections being cultivated on the dance floor.


What followed was a close contest of who would put the best foot forward: the media or the military. Sometimes, the military 'moves' put the media on the back foot. Sometimes, the media caught the military on the 'wrong' foot.


Whilst this wooing and waltzing was on, a singular 'unit' of the media found itself on the fringe of the frolicking, owing its seclusion more to disposition than to dancing disability. Being of a temperament that got tongue tied in the profuse presence of specimens of bachelorhood, that gawky sample of girlhood preferred the periphery of the pirouetting population.


But who could check an advancing army (man)! The marginalised media element had caught the eye of a defence 'unit' that detached itself from the grooving group and attached itself pronto to the singleton on the sidelines. As the evening advanced, so did the advances of this ADC.


So 'single' minded was the 'naval pursuit' that the choreographically challenged commoner ended up doing lambada with the liveried lieutenant-commander.


Then, as in the fable, the midnight hour struck and it was time to depart.


In a departure from the fable though, it was not a sour stepmom but a sardonic spinster aunt that awaited this visiting niece, partying past permissible time and beyond parental proximity.


Bidding adieu, when this Prince Charming asked for that crucial contact number to call at the next day, visions of the aged aunt — who looked upon any man in uniform as a possible rake with a propensity to inflict heartbreak — sabotaging a telephonic tryst led to a 'departure' that didn't see the casting of the customary cue.


Had those been more tryst-enabling tech times, I could have dropped a SIM number, if not a slipper. There could have been a twist, rather tweet, in the tale!n






The story of Indian defence technology is one of unexpected miracles and unacceptable failures. Indian defence technology is at the crossroads today, with each of the stakeholders and its drivers wanting to take a different road resulting in an impasse. The answer lies in an Indian military industrial commission that would visualise, coordinate and synergise all efforts of military, research and industrial establishments
Vice Admiral Venkat Bharathan & Brig (Dr) Arun Saghal

The philosophy of approach in Military technology is based on the concept of purpose, vision of intent, potency in performance and relevancy in role, together with effectiveness in execution and purposeful in performance. Sixty years down the line and four wars in our fledgling democratic history, the story of defence technology is one of unexpected miracles and unacceptable failures. Indian defence technology is at the cross roads today.


There are four roads for us to take. These are:


 The Import Highway


 The Indigenous Route


 The Private Path


 The Nowhere Road


In our context, the technology omnibus has five concurrent drivers, which include:


 The Indian Military


 The DRDO & DPSUs


 The Private Sector


 The Political leadership


 The People of India


Of the first three, each want to take a different road. Each one is correct and each one is wrong. The fourth diver lacks understanding while the fifth is passive and perhaps indifferent. Since no consensus is emanating, the omnibus has driven itself mostly to the fourth road.


The most important aspect of this impasse is that the import highway is used by outsiders as a quick fix to show their advanced technology hardware much to the relief and delight of the operationally hard-pressed military concerned about its dwindling operational preparedness. It naturally wants to induct equipment within an acceptable time frame so that it would serve them optimally.


The Indian (indigenous) route is slowly gaining in traction and progressively finding its niche, thanks to the persistence of the government that has sensed the wisdom of allowing the import highway and Indian route to coexist in the interim.


The private path has just begun to be paved, remains dependent upon on both the military and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Defence Public Sector Undertaings (DPSUs). Increased participation with greater access to technology is key to Indianisation.


The "Nowhere road" is an illusion. It looks real and good close at hand, but is actually a shimmering mirage. Our country had no choice but to be on this road. Post-Independence, India chose to be non-aligned. The West shunned us and ensured that even Great Britain did not pass on any military technology. If we missed the industrial revolution in the distant past, we missed the technological evolution of the late 19th and early 20th century. Compounding this is the ironic reality of the Indian political leadership's approach of separating foreign and security policy. Consequently, development of defence technology remained far removed from the politico-bureaucratic-military mind.


Resultantly, the Indian military remained a British clone, mostly using Russian equipment, with western doctrines in South Asian terrain -- an enigma to itself and the world.


Establishment of indigenous research and development (R&D) facilities in terms of DRDO has the embryonic flaw of being hierarchical, with seniority taking priority over talent and innovation. The promotion structure, the pulls and pushes of the annual confidential reports, often result in the sacrifice of true R&D. The armed forces are also obtuse in their appreciation of what military technology development entail. Most ironically, the concept of tasking DRDO to develop a felt need or upgrade an existing system was rarely contemplated.




Indianisation means converting all equipment to meet our specific military needs. In this there has been considerable achievement as proven in the 1971 Indo-Pak war and the 1999 Kargil conflict. The use of missile boats, MIG 21s, armour and weapons is testimony to our innovative adaptation of equipment. Indigenisation means building at home complete systems or parts thereof. Here too, we have several achievements in terms of graduating from assembling knocked-down kits to building systems from scratch. All these have been part of a big trial and error process. The services too have set up considerable technology infrastructure -- base repair depots, EME workshops, naval dockyards for operational maintenance and repair.


In a nutshell we have Indianised well, indigenised satisfactorily. Herein comes our latent and potent skill euphemistically called "Jugard" and often laughed at. A serious look at our five "Is" of Indianisation, Indigenisation, Innovation, Industrialisation and Integration reveals as to how we have built ourselves from nothing to something sustainable and very recognizable. We are capable of becoming, "Indian" in terms self-reliance across the spectrum of a conflict scenario. It entails the politico-bureaucratic-military-DRDO-industrial leadership to grasp that self-reliance is not a cliché but a caveat that needs to believed and obeyed. It must openly acknowledge that, complete dependence on outsiders is actually deterrence across the spectrum of development, security, economic health and strategic confidence of 'Bharat'. Yet it must also recognize the prudence of interdependence on advanced technological sources to achieve successful leapfrog results in our security and military preparedness.


What prevents us from achieving this are some macro realities; The Indian psyche, of grossly exaggerating our achievements, glossing over screw driver technology successes, ultra-sensitiveness to criticism over failure and reluctance to work together in synergy remains burden of our mindset. The way the higher defence decision structure is designed is sub-optimal in function, output and result. The concept of stakeholder/customer satisfaction as an important accountable imperative is virtually absent. Lack of ownership approach by the armed forces too is a militating factor. Notable examples are the LCA, the MBT Arjun, Dhruv helicopter among the many. In all these, the military virtually took a hands-off approach wanting the DRDO/DPSU to hand them a readymade product that they would then examine for failure!




The dynamics of defence technology is complex. It needs a simple strategy of didactics, direction, determination and drive through the aegis of a Military Industrial Commission (MIC). The. MIC charter has to be inclusive and participative. This could be set up from existing entities like CII, FICCI, DRDO, DPSUs, armed forces, CSIR, NRSA, ISRO, private and public sector companies. The Defense Acquisition Council, the Director General Acquisition and the service chiefs/vice-chiefs can become part of the MIC. This could be tiered suitably for policy, planning, review and oversight. It would then emerge as a coordinating catalyst in an all round defence technology development in a win-win scenario. The success of MIC would lie in its composition, autonomy and executive authority. It must have oversight right to review long term perspective planning. It must be empowered to negotiate with foreign governments and international defence companies on transfer of technology.


The foundation of our defence technology edifice is ready and strong. Rapid advances in science, materiel development, electronic-engineering fusion all point towards the advantages of adopting a strategy of technology leapfrog. Reinventing the wheel is no longer needed as India is emerging out of the denial drought. The West woos us while the East engages us vigorously. All this highlights the availability of a span of technologies that can be adopted and adapted to become industrially and militarily Indian. MIC would enable melding military technology and civil technology as an enterprise. Maturing of military commerce, intensive and expansive R&D and focused objectives are the consequent collateral benefits.




The armed forces must commit to operationalise all Indian systems despite perceived limitations. Equipment and system improvement through upgrades must become ongoing exercise. We need to take a leaf out of Chinese technology innovation To cite an example, it developed the WS-10 engines for its prestigious J-10 fighter aircraft with only a 20-hour life initially. Subsequent upgrades were done based on operating experience and feedback from the end- users.


The MIC can convert the four roads into one common highway. The omnibus can be driven in synergy, and in shifts, by all the drivers and stakeholders. Our five I's can be maximised. India can be truly independent while being interdependent. It is an exciting prospect. Most importantly it is very realisable and really important for India to reach its destiny. The answer lies in an Indian military industrial commission with the Five-I approach.


The writers are former Vice Chief of the Naval Staff and former Director, Faculty of Studies, Army War College, respectively




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In a party-based electoral democracy like ours, there can be no getting away from the central link between corruption and the need to fund political parties. Until this is confronted head-on, any control devised in one part of the system will merely push corruption to some other part of the system. There has to be some process like that which moved the drafting of the Constitution, which looks into this central cause, and devises some way by which to contain if not quite eliminate it.

In the US, political funding is legal and declared by both giver and receiver, but other problems have arisen in its wake. Policy is susceptible to capture by large funders, and has therefore loosened the regulatory apparatus which alone can prevent large corruption. The legal cap on any single contribution can easily be evaded by a concerted lobby, each member of which is below the cap. In a bid to shake free of this, President Obama famously collected substantial campaign funds through small online contributions, and even now, has begun his bid for a second term with an early start to a second online call.


In India too, political contributions are legal, and even carry an income tax deduction under sections 80GGB and 80GGC of the present Act (soon to be replaced by the Direct Tax Code now before Parliament). But the figures in the latest Union Budget documents show the tax foregone as a result of this deduction at a paltry Rs 42 crore in 2009-10 from corporate bodies, and Rs 2 crore from small firms. At current statutory rates of taxation, that works out to a total contribution of Rs 130 crore. The deductions claimed by individuals under section 80GGC were quite a bit larger, at Rs 170 crore. Applying the top marginal rate of taxation on these, we get a total contribution from individuals of Rs 500 crore. Adding together corporate bodies, firms and individuals, we get Rs 630 crore. Over five years, if initial collections are well invested by party treasurers in the interim, that could amount to nearly Rs 4,000 crore.

How many parliamentary campaigns would that fund? One candidate each in 400 constituencies, maybe? There are 550 parliamentary constituencies, and at least three other major contenders in each race, who would need equivalent funding. Then there are state elections. These in some cases are more serious business in terms of funding required. In the current campaign in Tamil Nadu, small refrigerators have replaced colour TV sets as the electoral inducement of choice.

You see why political parties have to look elsewhere for funding. The Indian diaspora provides some of it. The rest has to be domestically raised through organised corruption. There is also unorganised corruption, where the demand is placed by an unsupported individual, which takes inspiration from the organised variety and runs along the same channels.

As an illustration, some years ago I was travelling by auto-rickshaw in Bangalore, when at a traffic stoplight, a cop came over to my driver and demanded Rs 100. The driver pleaded poverty. The cop described himself as a kind-hearted man, trying to save the driver the penalty for the traffic offence he had committed, which was Rs 500. The driver furiously disputed the charge, and the cop eventually let him off.

No move to legalise bribe giving could have headed off the incident. The cop was anonymous. If traced, he could have turned the tables on the auto driver, and accused him of trying to wriggle out of a traffic offence. Even if bribe giving becomes legal, an allegation of obstruction of justice will always carry the day. No witness could have testified against that accusation.

Later, the driver said the only reason he was let off was that this was an individual without the department behind him. He said in cases of organised collection by the police department in response to demands from above, the demander gets to keep none of what he collects, and even gets the sympathy of the bribe giver.

In the old import control days, the banned and restricted lists were a steady source of income for political coffers. Defence deals are another perennial standby. The pattern of collection evolves continually. The only people who have an understanding of the pattern of organised collection as it stands today are the treasurers of the various political parties. They are deeply knowledgeable, and have gained their very important posts as fund-raisers by virtue of the trust the party places in them. As people in stressful jobs, they might extend their cooperation towards devising a more open system of political funding.

But what might such a system be? Maybe a political cess, to add to all the others now in place? But that will surely bring upon us cess fatigue, particularly since we do not know what is happening to all the other cesses we have been paying.

At a recent conference on renewable energy, questions were raised about the cess on coal, which feeds into a Clean Energy Fund. One speaker estimated that the accumulated collections from the cess should have amounted to Rs 3,332 crore by the end of 2010-11. But the Fund has become a black hole, from which nothing emerges. Renewable energy, which is characterised by the natural regional imbalance in generation capacity, critically needs transmission lines to evacuate the energy generated. It was to fund those transmission lines, along with other facilitative investments towards replacing thermal with renewable energy, that the cess on coal was introduced.

Against this background, yet another cess will not be welcomed at all. And there are huge issues that will go with it, such as how the fund is to be distributed among political parties. But some such mechanism has to be devised if we are serious about tackling corruption in the Indian system.

The author is Honorary Visiting Professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi







The eldest of my cats, a dignified nine-year-old tom called Tiggy, has two ways of showing displeasure. One is by relieving himself somewhere inconvenient — he is usually fastidious and perfectly toilet-trained. His other method is to ostentatiously upset his food bowl and refuse to eat, until he has been coaxed and cuddled out of the sulks.

It is odd to think that the latter, rather primitive mode of protest, was adopted, and transformed into a powerful weapon by one of the sharpest political thinkers of all time. Then again, not so odd, given the way people react to voluntary starvation undertaken by anyone other than fashion models.


Gandhiji was probably not drawing upon any knowledge of pet psychology when he evolved this then-novel method of protest. More likely, he was drawing upon religious experience. Western India is steeped in the Jain tradition of ritual fasting.

The Mahatma often fasted in the furtherance of non-negotiable demands. He was then metaphorically coaxed and cuddled into eating. People agreed to do what he wanted, since they were horrified at the thought that he felt strongly enough about something to deliberately starve.

The hunger strikes of the freedom movement in India worked because the British were among the more humane of imperialists. Civil disobedience et al would not have worked with colonial powers like the Dutch, the Germans, the Spaniards, or the Belgians. Britain has a broad-spectrum tradition of free speech and Gandhiji's hunger-strikes were reported diligently, both in India and "back home".

Attitudes have hardened since. In the 1980s, Ms Thatcher let several Irish Republican Army guerillas (their leader Bobby Sands was an elected member of Parliament) fast to death in prison. In Gitmo, force feeding is supposedly par for the course.

In India itself, Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila has been relentlessly force-fed ever since she started fasting in November 2000 to demand repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Ms Sharmila has now been on hunger strike for much longer than anyone else on record.

In part, the impact of hunger strikes has been diminished by overuse. They lend themselves to ludicrous variations and they can, of course, be used to support any cause at all. The ritual rotational hunger strike is standard operating procedure for many trade unionists. It is a ridiculous spectacle with individuals gamely abstaining from food for a couple of hours. As a wit once pointed out, the average human being thrives on fasting 22 hours a day, so long as they eat three meals in between fasts.

Quite often, the psychological impact of a fast can be such that logic goes out of the window when it comes to evaluating causes. Anna Hazare's recent dramatic advocacy of the Jan Lok Pal via hunger strike led to the Bill being fast-tracked, if that is the word for legislation pending for 40-odd years.

This would be wonderful, except that the Bill, as it is conceptualised, appears far more likely to create an alternative power centre rather than to make a serious dent in corruption. But the fine print was ignored, once Mr Hazare stopped eating.

Mr Hazare's success has given hunger strikes a new high-profile lease of life. Baba Ramdev has now got into the act, demanding repatriation of black money stashed overseas. Presumably, more copycats will be jumping on the starvation bandwagon soon, in support of who-knows-what in the way of causes.

Our cultural attitude to this is schizophrenic. Indians adore hunger strikes and generally respond with sympathy to somebody who starves for a cause, any cause. But we are also inured to ignoring involuntary hunger on the streets every day, responding with irritation to beggars, whose ribs can be counted. Would we be more sympathetic, if instead of panhandling, they sat around Jantar Mantar claiming to be on hunger strike?






It was a false alarm. The chest pain that kept the wife – and me – awake through the night was caused by her chronic gastric problem, not heart trouble. We must visit Tirupati immediately, she said after the doctor declared her fit the following day, in a tone that implied that the previous night's travail was a mild reproof from Sri Venkateswara for not paying our respects despite having been in Bangalore for almost ten years now.

That happened because I am not religious, and visit a temple only if it is known for its architecture, and then preferably see it from the outside. And my wife has her own little problem. Acutely claustrophobic, she cannot stand in long queues where thousands of people jostle for hours down narrow and winding walkways with firm grills on either side that make you feel you are in a cage.


I readily agreed to go this time because I realised that the phenomenon that attracts nearly one lakh pilgrims every day to the hill town of Tirumala – near the bigger town of Tirupati – for darshan of the avatar of Vishnu had to be seen and understood, if for nothing else then as a sociological phenomenon, to get a grasp of what moves India beyond rationalist logic. I laid down only one condition: in Tiruptai, we must stay in a hotel with a view of the Tirumala hills so that appreciating nature's beauty and respectfully looking at the god's abode are rolled into one.

It becomes clear right from the first moment that Tirumala is special. It is India, yet not quite so. It is like making a day trip to a bit of heaven with a return ticket. India of the crowds is present in enormous measure but not the confusion and the dirt. And India of forests and scrubs is there but not the heat. (No wonder the sages decided to make Mount Kailash the abode of Shiva and Parvati.) The duality is evident right from the ornate gate at the entrance, a multi-lane toll plaza of a modern highway but the ornate multi-arch gateway tells you that you are entering the gated compound of a god.

The nearly 20-odd km ghat road is like a long driveway fringed by wild bushes and shrubs with overhanging branches in bloom, much like pennants on the way to a Buddhist monastery, part manmade garden, part natural forest. This is what India must have been in the beginning before Indians made it filthy and degraded it.

The little Lego temple town at the top maintains the duality. It is bustling India — cars, buses and endless rows of guest houses where pilgrims bathe before going for darshan, have prasadam and then return to their difficult lives, fortified by faith till the lord gives enough to come back on another pilgrimage. It is a predominantly humble, common folks' India in a children's toy town where everything runs perfectly. The clean roads are cleaned again and again by armies of sweepers and, try as I might, the only element I found missing was a toy train in the ornate parks — how is a toy town complete without that?  

The endless serpentine queue, even of those who were paying Rs 300 for a quicker darshan, cured me of the desire to make myself a sociological guinea pig. But there was one chore I could not miss. I had promised my friend KBL that I would bring the prasadam for him and send it by courier to Delhi. However, the queue of those who wanted to buy extra prasadam (not what you got free with your darshan ticket) was almost as daunting as the one for the darshan. So at midday, we returned to Tirupati (the wife had made her round of lesser temples and paid obeisance to the lord from a distance), and I decided to come again early the following morning to perform my chore.

Going up to Tirumala at the crack of dawn was a different experience. As the hue of the wooded hillside became clear in the new light and we approached the top, a gentle mist enveloped the road, a leftover from the previous day's rain. The toy town took on a fairy- tale look and the gentle bhajan from the public address system completed the feeling of heavenly peace. My mind went back to the similar hour three decades ago when I opened my eyes to see through the window a snow peak tinged with light gold, with the bells of the temple at Badrinath beckoning.

It took me 45 minutes in that early hour, when most other pilgrims still stood in their darshan queue, to get to the counter for extra prasadam. The counter clerk threw back at me most of the money I had proffered, saying prasadam was only worth Rs 200 a person. Then, after joining two more queues, one for a plastic carry bag for the huge laddus and another for laddus proper, I was out breathing the rain-washed early morning air again.

It was time to go back but I decided to sit on a culvert to collect my thoughts. You could surely have a deal with god, settle for a half or a quarter god, murmuring silently that given the long life that modern medicine promised, there was time for many more visits and transactions until he would command all of you. The interim deal done, I set out to go back. No, I did not go for a darshan. I did not need to. The spirit of the place was all around me, a peace so complete that you would almost stop breathing.





Oliver Sacks, the foremost interpreter of neurology for a reader, has transformed the relationship between brain and mind into an almost literary one. In his classic work, The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, published over 25 years ago, Dr Sacks had said in his introduction that neurology's favourite word was "deficit", denoting an impairment or incapacity in neurological function: loss of speech, loss of language, loss of memory, loss of vision, loss of dexterity, loss of identity, "and myriad other lacks and losses of specific functions or faculties". In his 11th book, The Mind's Eye (Picador, Rs 535), he has continued with his study of "deficits" or our sensibilities dulled by what the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins describes as "the anaesthetic of familiarity". But this time, Dr Sacks takes vision and visual imagination as his basic theme, mixing case histories, essays and memoirs to show "what is often concealed in health, the complex workings of the brain and its outstanding ability to adapt and overcome disabilities".

There are seven essays in the book: "Sight Reading", "Recalled to Life", "A Man of Letters", "Face-Blind", "Stereo Sue", "Persistence of Vision: A Journal" and "The Mind's Eye". All deal with vision or sight gone awry. The first three are about the neurology of language and reading; the last four are about the neurology of perception. Neither are the two sections linked to each nor do they spell out any underlying theme. They are stories, though there are occasional attempts at explaining the variety of symptoms he describes. But the serious common reader is really interested in the richness of the experiences and the oddities of the phenomena presented. Implicit in Dr Sacks' panorama of the classical problems is a deep understanding of reading, perceiving and understanding.


The first half of the book is dominated by one of the most famous neurological cases in medical history that was described in 1892 as "different kinds of verbal blindness" or an inability to read with "faded and colourless vision on the right side". The patient was 68 years old and had always been in excellent health. He led a happy married life, frequently played music, was well informed about literature and read a great deal.

One day he had a series of attacks of numbness on his right leg but this did not particularly hamper his lifestyle till he realised he couldn't read a single word. Yet, he was able to speak and write and had no difficulty in recognising objects or people. Thinking he needed reading glasses, his wife consulted an ophthalmologist. The patient said he could figure out every letter on the eye chart but he couldn't read them. With great difficulty he could write each letter but he still couldn't read what he had written.

It was much the same with figures. "When shown the number 112, he could write 1, a 1 and a 2. But he couldn't read the multi-digit number unless it was written down."

After the patient's death, his wife had an autopsy done. It revealed that "the visual centres of his brain were disconnected from the language centres", which is why, Dr Sacks says, patients with stroke lesions see letters and words as "drawings" rather than language symbols.

Howard, a crime novelist, suffers from the same condition. How could he write another detective story if he couldn't read his own plot notes? Another patient, Pat, suffered a stroke and lost the power of speech. She doesn't have a perpetual disorder but she remains aloof from people and is, therefore, considered a little eccentric. In Stereo Sue, she sees the world only in two dimensions until her 50s. The gift of depth analysis is simply beyond her. "Enough thinking," she tells Dr Sacks at one point.

Dr Sacks is very good at showing the resourcefulness of embattled brains for which he is indebted to the famous Russian neurologist A R Luria, the author of two classic works, The Mind of a Mnemonist and The Man with a Shattered World. These show how the cross-wiring of the brain helps take over the functions of the damaged part. (Dr Sacks generously acknowledges the contributions of famous neurologist V S Ramachandran in understanding the human mind.) He shows here how Howard, for example, discovers the complementarity of vision and action when he realises that tracing the outlines of words with his tongue remarkably improves reading comprehension. "This by an extraordinary, metamodal, sensory-motor alchemy he was in fact reading with his tongue." And he goes on to write another novel!

In his lead essay, "The Mind's Eye", Dr Sacks raises the question that all of us would ask: "To what extent are we the authors, the creators, of our own experiences? How much are these predetermined by the brains or senses we are born with, and to what extent do we shape our brains through experience?" Dr Sacks attempts to answer these questions but these lead to another question: is consciousness determined by structures of the brain (the brain is fairly well-mapped-out now) or is there something unknown that we can't account for? As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and earth/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."






As Indian television went overboard last week over Britain's royal wedding, I was reminded of a possession I haven't thought of for years but which may well be the only one of its kind in this country. It's the chair I sat on at the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in the 13th century Caernarvon Castle on July 1, 1969. Guests were invited to buy the chairs to help out with expenses, though the event can't possibly have cost anything remotely like the $32 million said to have been spent last Friday. Buyers were solemnly assured no one would be palmed off with a chair on which his or her posterior hadn't actually rested.

Getting to Caernarvon meant changing at Bangor in north Wales for the narrow gauge branch line. The two elderly pearl-and-perm Englishwomen in navy costumes in my compartment were intensely curious about my destination. "I knew it! I knew it!" the older one exclaimed when I asked the ticket checker how much time I would have at Bangor station. Then followed her non sequitur, "I don't care what you say" – I hadn't said a word – "but royal occasions haven't been the same since those dear maharajahs stopped coming!"


The investiture was a choreographer's delight. Eric Hobsbawm could have used it instead of the Delhi Durbar to illustrate his thesis that some of Britian's most hallowed ceremonies are modern creations. The choreographer himself was a recent invention. Anthony Armstrong-Jones, Princess Margaret's self-hyphenated photographer husband whom the Queen had created Earl of Snowdon and appointed Constable of Caernarvon, had devised the short, simple and moving ceremony without benefit of historical precedent. Charles looked very young for 20 as he knelt to swear fealty to his mother who tenderly fastened an ermine cape about his shoulders after giving him the insignia of his rank.

Armstrong-Jones designed the spiky crown the Queen placed on Charles's head, the perspex canopy over her chair and his own bottle green uniform with a wide sash and the flared trousers that were then fashionable. He probably also designed the vermillion arm chairs that made a brilliant splash of colour against the castle's grey stone walls. I thought he had reinvented the Prince of Wales's feathers on the back of each chair for the plumes seemed more long, narrow and curling than in the usual motif. But heraldry isn't for tampering: apparently, this version came from an old tombstone.

However, the traditionally plain invitation cards weren't Armstrong-Jones's handiwork. Not that I – or anyone else – was actually invited. Our presence was commanded by order of the Earl Marshal, otherwise called the Duke of Norfolk. It's another of England's quirks that the Roman Catholic Earl Marshal organises these events but doesn't attend those that are specifically Anglican, the official faith.

I spotted Shanti Swarup Dhavan, our high commissioner, in the distance but no other Indian journalist. There were very few in London in those days though several Indians who lived there and did odd jobs for a living claimed accreditation from minor regional papers under the impression that a newspaper connection bestowed respectability! I seemed to be surrounded by Americans. "Say," a large peroxide blonde leaned over. "Do you want your chair? I'm looking for a dozen to make a dining room set." Since each guest could buy only one, I clung to mine. But the peroxide blonde or others like her had pull, and the Ministry of Works announced soon afterwards it would make and sell more investiture chairs to meet demand. "In that case, those of us who were there will return ours!" retorted Jeremy Thorpe, the Liberal party leader, and the ministry dropped the money-making scheme that would have devalued the 4,600 originals.

I am told these chairs are now collectors' items and sell for hundreds of pounds at auctions. Mine won't. It's travelled a long way to Calcutta's cruel climate, gathered dust and dirt in storage and been submerged for several days when our bungalow was flooded. But I don't mind when I see the mint edition in Brighton's Royal Pavilion. Something that has been with me for 42 years is all the more dear for being as bruised as its owner.

One of the sideshows at the investiture was an informal reception by the friendly Mayor of Caernarvon. Receiving the newly invested Prince of Wales, he held out his hand, announcing his name in the Welsh fashion, "I B Jones". The prince grasped the proffered mayoral hand and responded straight-faced, "I be Charles!"






On May 3, a charged atmosphere greeted the members of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee as they met to discuss the endgame in Afghanistan. Although the meeting, the first in the series of six, had been scheduled ahead of the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden, the new ground situations weighed heavily on the minds of the Congressmen. Contrary to what appears in the media and part of the chatter that the US is now once again ready to abandon the region, the meeting took serious note of the new challenges in Af-Pak and the unaccomplished counter-terrorism efforts that must be completed before a total pull-out is effected. Osama's killing has indeed renewed a vigorous debate in the US on the role and policy objectives in post-Osama Afghanistan.

"After Osama bin Laden, what" was always a crucial question even when the elusive terrorist leader was alive and not necessarily running for his life. The poser has assumed an ever greater significance after the circumstances surrounding his killing. The demonstrative impact, with far-reaching consequences for the peace and stability in the region, is quite clear. His elimination is said to have sapped the morale of Al Qaeda, has boosted the image of the US presidency and prospects for Obama's re-election bid. At the same time, it has underlined the troubled US-Pakistan counter-terrorism cooperation of the last decade.


Accusations of collusion between sections of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies with the world's top terrorist have been hurled not just by the Americans but even by the Pakistani media. In reaction, the Pakistani army, which allowed the country's president and prime minister to do the explaining in the initial days, has started talking tough. However, it is clear that the warnings asking the US not to repeat its misadventure and to scale down its military and intelligence presence in Pakistan remains a poorly calibrated tactic to deflect domestic and global criticism and, more importantly, a desperate survival strategy for what was perceived to be a well-organised, cohesive and disciplined force. Pakistan today is a far weaker and vulnerable state than it was when the hunt for bin Laden began, with chronic political and economic problems.

Painting Pakistan black, however, can never be a part of the strategy. For many years, the country has been known as the fountainhead of terrorism worldwide. Although it has participated with some spirit in the war on terror and has been the victim of attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, its fetish for using terrorism as a matter of state policy remains insatiable, which in turn has led to severe strains on its polity, society and economy. The nexus between elements in Pakistan and Osama obviously goes far deeper than the grieving activists of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (previously Lashkar-e-Toiba) who offered prayers for him on the streets of Karachi on May 3. The time, therefore, is ripe for dealing with the organised threat Pakistan poses to the world at large and addressing issues such as schisms within the military, intelligence and civilian administration and the increased radicalisation of Pakistani society. Calls have been made in the US to stop providing aid to Pakistan for harbouring Osama. But the aim needs to be far deeper than that. America's engagement in the Af-Pak region is far more a necessity today than ever before.

This makes implementing the calls for an accelerated "pack-and-run" strategy for the US troops in Afghanistan rather difficult. A drawdown of US forces is slated to begin in July 2011, which will also mark the beginning of the process when international forces would confine themselves to counter-terrorism while gradually allowing Afghan forces to do the bulk of the counter-insurgency duties. While Obama would like to stick to the date in his promise of December 2009 and augment his new-found domestic public support, the altered ground situation after Osama's death continues to pose several challenges.

Killing Osama, a figurehead of the Al Qaeda for many terrorist outfits around the world, is a definite blow to the movement. However, given the fact that Al Qaeda has functioned as a loosely amorphous organisation with sub-contracting to local chapters and franchisees, the killing of its leader may have only limited impact on the operational capacities of the global jihadi network. A suicide attack that claimed the lives of 18 police officers in Iraq on May 5 could be the beginning of a wave of revenge attacks by Al Qaeda franchises. The Lashkar-e-Toiba, known as an affiliate of the Al Qaeda-Taliban so far, with a global reach and ambitions, has made a bid and could fill the vacuum created by Osama's death. The Lashkar has increased its presence in Afghanistan lately and made renewed calls for a global jihad.

More than the drawdown of US forces, which in any event is slated to continue at least till July 2014, what would have a lasting impact on Afghanistan's stability is the culmination of the reconciliation process. What would, thus, be interesting, is to see if the US will use enough force or diplomatic skill to get the Quetta Shura of the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table, before it ventures on a retreating mission. Though the Taliban has announced the launch of its spring offensive, there is speculation that Osama's death could advance the effort to reach a political resolution to the Afghan war, because it might convince the Taliban and Al Qaeda to come to the negotiating table.

The fact remains, however, that without dismantling the sanctuaries and terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan and breaking the linkages of these groups with Al Qaeda, an early end to the conflict in Afghanistan cannot be conceived. The collusion of elements of the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies with these groups would ensure that the Afghan conflict lingers beyond 2014 and Pakistan is able to accomplish its mission of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan. This makes it doubly crucial for the US to address the anomalies Pakistan poses to the world rather than declaring victory and going home, as it did in Iraq.

The end goal, to disrupt, dismantle and defeat the Al Qaeda remains an unfinished project even after the death of Osama bin Laden. In the moments of euphoria, a partially-finished task should not be conceived as a full-blown victory.

Dr Shanthie Mariet D'Souza is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), Singapore, and Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray is a former Deputy Director at the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), Government of India






Strategic disinvestment in 1998 could have saved the state-owned airline its current problems

The present turmoil in Air India has thrown up many alternatives including privatisation. Memories are short. Recalling the past may be relevant.


 Air-India was one of the public sector companies referred to the Disinvestment Commission (DC) in 1987. The commission had as members D Basu, retired chairman of the State Bank of India, Suresh Tendulkar, an eminent economist who later became chairman of the prime minister's economic council, and M R Nair, chairman of Steel Authority of India. I was chairman of the commission.

The commission had a study done by reputed consultants on the condition of Air-India and also met the airline's management. The eighth report of the commission was released to the press the same day it was sent to the government in August 1998.

The DC considered four options for the revival of Air-India. The option that was recommended for reasons analysed in the report, and that would prevent the airline from becoming sick and would ensure a turnaround in its operations, was as follows:

  • The government should immediately provide Rs 1,000 crore as equity, according to Air-India estimates, for the financial restructuring of the airline, which would raise its paid-up share capital to Rs 1,154 crore. 
  • Simultaneously, the process of inducting a strategic partner was to be initiated, on the basis of global competitive bids, through an issue of fresh equity shares of the face value of Rs 770 crore. This would enhance the airline's paid-up equity capital to Rs 1,924 crore and reduce the government's holding to 60 per cent. The strategic partner should be a consortium of airlines and investors, with at least 25 per cent of the equity brought in by the consortium being held by Indian investors.

The selection of the strategic partner should be through global competitive bidding among pre-qualified bidders. The pre-qualification of bidders should be based on their financial, technical, marketing and managerial capabilities and commitment to Air-India's fleet expansion. A shareholder agreement providing for an appropriate share in the management to the strategic partner would also be necessary.

  • The government should thereafter disinvest 20 per cent of the total paid-up equity capital by offering 10 per cent to domestic institutional investors at the price paid by the highest bidder for Air-India shares and the remaining 10 per cent to retail investors and employees at a discount. Any shares not taken up by retail investors and employees may be offered to domestic institutional investors. This would eventually bring the government shareholding in Air-India down to 40 per cent.

Following the implementation of these steps, the government and the strategic partner would each hold 40 per cent of the equity capital of Air-India and the remaining would be dispersed among the domestic institutional investors, employees and the public.

The DC suggested appointing global advisors to help conduct the strategic sale and the offer of sale. Together with the steps for strategic sales, the DC recommended the following measures.

  • The maintenance, engineering and ground support operations of Air-India, which are its inherent strengths, could be hived off as separate companies. In line with the current global trend, this would enable the airline to benefit from outsourcing these services and reduce its overheads. 
  • Currently, Air-India connects major international destinations with all major international airports in India. A well-knit and effective hub-and-spoke arrangement with Indian Airlines would enable Air-India to provide direct and convenient connectivity with all Indian airports to its customers. For this purpose, there should be a clear demarcation of roles that these two airlines have to play in providing better customer service and jointly competing with other international airlines. 
  • A voluntary retirement scheme should be immediately introduced to reduce manpower. 
  • And finally, since the airline is a highly service-oriented industry, Air-India should initiate steps to improve the quality of its service to enhance its market share.

(The writer is former Chairman of the Disinvestment Commission)





No one should cavil at the new repo rate of 7.25 per cent (up from 6.75 per cent earlier), since inflation is at 9 per cent. Still, in a week when the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has said that combating inflation is now its primary focus, it is important to ask: is RBI fighting yesterday's war, instead of peering into the future to glean what might be coming — as monetary policy is supposed to do?

Rewind to where the inflation debate started. From the middle of 2009-10, sundry government spokesmen predicted that the year would end with 5 per cent inflation. It wasn't to be. Then they switched to making the same forecast for 2010-11. Several reasons were given for the expected drop in inflation: a high base effect would kick in, a good harvest was coming, and so on. None of it made a difference. Last year, wholesale price inflation was 9 per cent, and the year before 10.2 per cent. Retail price inflation was comparable, if not worse (8.8 per cent and 14.9 per cent).


Forecasting is a hazardous business, especially about the future, as a rueful Dr Subbarao wisecracked the other day. So if you were to ask why RBI and the government got their inflation numbers way off track, the truth is that no one could have seen that international oil prices would treble in the last two years, from $40 per barrel to $120. Or that global commodity prices as a whole (including oil) would see an 80 per cent price surge. The domestic backwash was clear too: primary articles went up 22.4 per cent, and fuel and power 13.8 per cent in 2009-10; both went up a further 13 per cent in 2010-11. How could any governor achieve 5 per cent wholesale price inflation in such a context?

Having got it wrong twice, the RBI wants to be third time lucky —except that global commodity prices have just taken a tumble. Oil has dropped below $100, and silver is down 30 per cent. Copper, tin, coffee, cocoa … they have all dropped. From the country demand perspective, China is slowing down and US indicators look shaky. As for the domestic signals, from January 2010 till now, consumer price inflation has virtually halved (from over 16 per cent). There is more room to fall, but in the most recent months, between November and March, the consumer price index went up from 182 to just 185. So, has the inflation beast already been tamed — especially if global commodity prices are falling? And if so, is the anti-inflation thrust in danger of curbing growth?

Note that the index of industrial production for the latest four months (till February) has shown average annual growth of less than 3 per cent. Despite the surge in commodity prices last year, import growth was just 17 per cent. Discounting for the price surge (think oil and commodities), import growth would have been in the low single-digit region — pointing to a lack of domestic demand. If you look at sectors, the demand for capital goods has already slowed. With higher interest rates, the demand for consumer goods should slow too. And the government has become less of a spendthrift; with lower deficit numbers, it is no longer pumping up demand as it was doing through 2008-11 (a period in which 43 per cent of the increase in money supply was accounted for by fresh credit to the government!). Finally, agricultural growth this year is likely to be modest, since it comes on top of a good harvest last year. In short, you might be lucky to get even the lower 8 per cent GDP growth that is now forecast.







Recently, the Economic Advisor to the Finance Ministry, Mr Kaushik Basu, told presspersons that the Ministry might just revisit the forecast for GDP in the current year and lower it a notch. Global commodity and fuel prices are rising, putting pressure on growth worldwide, and India, he said, will have to take stock of that. In a break from past practice, the Finance Ministry will undertake an interim review of the economy that will analyse current developments and, accordingly, fix a new and more modest GDP forecast. As Mr Basu added, India will be following a trend prevalent all over the world, with several economies pegging their growth for the current year at lower levels. That should not become an excuse for not exploring policy options on revitalising the engine of growth.

The downside risk is real. The RBI's annual statement, released a few days ago, has already sounded the cautionary note in its analysis of the year gone by and its prognosis of the one we are in now. According to the central bank, it is the inflationary pressure brought about by global commodity prices that is now adding to the "downside risk" of subdued growth. In fact, the RBI has found evidence of "moderating growth" with a sluggish capital goods industry and slackening investment spending. What spending there is, a good chunk of it is flowing to overseas suppliers, especially the Chinese, starving domestic producers, in the process, of much needed incremental demand. Take a look at external commercial borrowings and it is evident that a number of firms in power and telecommunication sectors are importing capital equipment; and no prizes for guessing what they regard as the most attractive source of such imports. China has built up a sizable capital goods industry and now is considered a major exporter of even alternative energy equipment. What the Ministry will have to remember is that the review will be gauged against the sombre mood that permeates the RBI report. What it essentially points to is slowing growth coupled with rising inflation and, as a central bank, it has done what it can do. Now, North Block, while revising its growth estimates, will have to find out just how its vaster and more varied armoury can be utilised to fight sticky prices. So far, New Delhi has simply waxed eloquent on the prospects of high growth without a thought to inflation, treating it as a problem for the RBI to handle.

Restoring the past momentum of growth, combating inflation on multiple fronts and easing regulatory bottlenecks must top the Finance Ministry's policy agenda.






While travelling in the smaller cities and rural India, I have seen and felt the desperation of graduates, including engineering graduates, who aspire for a decent job but cannot get one. Surveys have shown a bulk of our engineering graduates take 1-2 years to land a job. But at the same time, there is a huge, unmet aspiration of lakhs of young Indians seeking higher education. They simply lack the means to pay for it.

So, is there justification for increasing the number of engineering institutions or the capacity of existing ones to churn out more unemployed graduates?

Consider this: Today India has 3,800 engineering colleges offering 1.2 million seats against only 550,000 four years ago. And yet the enrolment to colleges from the 18-24 age group is a dismal 13 per cent.

But the dilemma is: If people cannot find jobs, should seats be increased? Yes, says T.V. Mohandas Pai, who has quit as HR Director of Infosys, and who has put in sterling work in the area of higher education. He is on the Anil Kakodkar panel on the IITs, on the boards of several universities and working with the Karnataka government for five years on its Skill Development Corporation.

Armed with this experience and blessed with the gift for clear thinking and vision, a razor sharp mind and a lot of passion and compassion for less privileged Indians who aspire for quality higher education, his "next dream" is to invest 30 per cent of his time in the area of higher education, after his Infosys stint ends on June 11.

"The challenge for India is to increase access to higher education… increase the gross enrolment from 13 per cent to 30 per cent in the next 5-7 years. If you have 87 per cent of your youngsters not going to college what will they do? They'll be on the streets, unemployed, with low skills and lower capacity to contribute to society. They will become stone throwers as in Kashmir, or will join the Maoists or get into crime."

Brownfield expansion

More seats should be created by brownfield expansion. Setting up new colleges is difficult because it will take 10 years to stabilise management, attract faculty and build a reputation. "So, good colleges that are 10 -20 years old should be allowed to expand freely; double, treble in capacity. If they need money, create a financial corporation and give them a 10-year loan at reasonable interest."

On faculty shortage he says, in the last 2-3 years, with salaries going up after the Sixth Pay Commission, academics working overseas are returning. "They've seen India's economic growth; on the IIT panel we found applications from many young Ph.Ds who want to return home from US."

We need to work on the premise that a relatively bad education is better than no education. When youngsters spend 3-5 years in a college, they get, along with the curriculum, social bonding with their peers, they learn to think, debate, argue, negotiate, "become problem-solvers and create a peer network. Their aspirations go up and they become less bitter about lost opportunities".

Scholarship Authority

To finance the education of the underprivileged, the government should set up a national scholarship programme, says Mr Pai. While Rs 20,000 a year can be given to a student for degree courses, engineering students should get Rs 50,000 a year. "Assume five million students get the degree scholarship, the amount is Rs 10,000 crore, and this could be stepped up to Rs 15,000 crore in three years. If half a million benefit from the engineering programme, it'll cost Rs 2,500 crore a year and Rs 10,000 crore over four years. Rs 2,500 crore from a Central budget of Rs 12 lakh crore — Rs 20 lakh crore, if we include the State Budgets — is peanuts," he says.

Surely, this should become a national or social priority. Such a scheme would empower the students to choose the best college, and the parents would be grateful that the government is meeting their children's aspirations. But, then, what about employment for these huge numbers?


For this, too, this finance/HR professional has a ready answer. He says today about 8 crore people are employed in the formal sector, being paid benefits such as ESI, PF, etc. Of these, he says about 2 crore are with the government and para-government — about 45 lakh with the Central government and the rest with State governments. The public sector employs up to a crore and the private sector about 5 crore.

He argues that if the economy grows even at 7 per cent, it can double in the next 10 years, which means we'll need 8 crore more people. "And 2 crore of the present 8 crore will retire in the next 10 years, so we'll need an additional 10 crore educated, skilled people. Should we not prepare for that?" he asks. The banking system should be roped in to disburse scholarships and then get reimbursed by the national authority.

With such visionary ideas supported by statistics at his fingertips, shouldn't people like him be involved in giving shape to such schemes? Just as Mr Nandan Nilekani was roped in for the Unique Identification Development project, would he be willing to head such a task force?


"I am willing to be part of such a group, but not head it. This is not an execution problem, as the UID is. It just needs some good policy initiatives," says Mr Pai.

He has already discussed with the Karnataka Chief Minister the setting up of such a scholarship venture in the State; "they are interested and are looking at it. It would start with Rs 250 crore and be stepped up to Rs 1,000 crore in three years," he says.

But shouldn't corporate India also chip in? "Of course; let the Prime Minister, a scholar himself, make a public appeal to 10 industrial groups to set up world-class universities, spending about Rs 1,000 crore over 3-4 years." They should have full freedom to recruit the best faculty, admissions would be merit-based, but include voluntary, independent diversity programmes to ensure social inclusion. They should be allowed to charge suitable fees but students with less means should get some help.

He names the Tatas, Birlas, Mahindras, Bhartis, Infosys, Wipro, Essar Group, Vedanta, TVS, and a few PSUs for this. Asked if he thought they would respond, he says: "Of course, Rs 1,000 crore is nothing for them; they have all benefited from the country's economic growth, they are our leaders and nationalists, and would love to do this for their country. But don't interfere, keep away; give them no subsidy, no grants, let them choose the location and buy the land."

Wonderful ideas, doable ideas, but will they get done is the question. Execution, Mr Pai, is always a problem in India, at least when it comes to the non-privileged classes.






The Reserve Bank Governor, Dr D. Subbarao, finally made up his mind to tackle the runaway inflation by raising the repo rate by 50 basis points, a significant departure from baby steps to a strong, mature step. Food inflation is the cause of worry for the aam aadmi.

Even when the monsoon was good in 2010-11, the prices of essential commodities were ruling too high. It is a dreadful thought what if the monsoon fails in 2011-12. The frequent rise in crude oil prices is fuelling the inflation. Since the RBI cannot control the rise in oil prices in the international market, the steps taken to contain inflation are having a retrograde effect. No sooner are the Assembly elections over than the petrol and diesel prices are raised.

It looks farcical that steps are initiated to curb the inflation, on the one hand, and the prices of petrol and petroleum products are raised, on the other, neutralizing the effect of the action taken to rein in inflation.

The RBI's measure to curb money supply to counter the demand-pull inflation has had little effect in the past, as the affluent consumers buy what they want, whatever may be the cost. Even the sky-rocketing oil prices are not deterring the vehicle users to limit the use of vehicles. Time was when a bicycle was luxury. But now, there are many families which own more than one four-wheeler.

It remains to be seen whether the RBI action will prove successful in containing the inflation.

K. V. Seetharamaiah Hassan

Ban endosulfan

This refers to the editorial "End(of)sulfan" ( Business Line, May 2), which had made some very good suggestions on the approach to the endosulfan issue. Nevertheless, many feel that the chemical pesticide endosulfan should be banned immediately to save the environment and the soil, apart from protecting human health.

In the year 1965, when endosulfan was introduced in India, it contained only 35 per cent of the emulsifiable concentrate, with the rest made up of a combined organic substance.

At that time there were no harmful effects to other beneficial insects. But today the product, manufactured by an MNC, is harmful to beneficial insects and the residue is hazardous to human health too.

 Due to growing market competition with other insecticide manufacturers, endosulfan makers tend to mix cheap and dangerous materials that affect human health and the soil.

Many toxic pesticides, such as BHC, DDT, and enderin are banned worldwide, and endosulfan is banned in 82 countries. The Central Government should ban endosulfan immediately to save agriculture and the people who consume farm products believing them to be pure.

N. A. Ramachandra Raja  District President Tamilaga Vivasayigal Sangam Virudhunagar Rajapalayam

Lokpal not the answer

Thank you, Mr Narender Pani, for bringing the most important points regarding the Lokpal Bill out into the open for discussions. It is very saddening that social issues are being hijacked by a few thousand people with the backing of the electronic media.

We don't have to go beyond the borders of our country to find out how the unelected authorities behave once they get into the constitutional positions.

If we look even the recent history / current events, we find Judges, Prasar Bharati chief, CVC, UPSC chief, have misused their positions.

And once such persons occupy these positions, it is very difficult to remove them. Contrast this with the ease with which Chief Ministers, Union Ministers are removed from their positions because of pressure of public opinion.

More important, the idea of a Jan Lokpal makes politicians answerable to two authorities — the people, through Parliament, and the Jan Lokpal. And it is common sense that having two bosses cannot work at the highest level.

Actually Jan Lokpal is façade by which the so-called elite want to usurp the power of the people. If anything is required to fight corruption, it is education of the masses, in its real sense. But that takes criticising people and their habits. Making them realise they have power to elect good people.

And it is absolutely necessary to vote in good candidates without succumbing to inducements. This is a long process. But a Jan Lokpal is definitely not the answer.

Anil P


Fee income

Banking on fees" ( Business Line, May 5) was an interesting pointer to bankers, especially in PSU banks, to focus on this unexplored area.

With gradual rise in the savings deposit rates, coupled with higher lending rates, the differential amounts do not augur well for banks' bottom-lines. Innovative products and services can increase the 'fee income' of banks and may be well worth the effort of offering such services.

After setting a few examples, corporate bodies get to know the availability of such bank services and will prefer to use them if there are savings in time and cost. Thus, there can be a strategic alliance between banks and customers.

Staff costs and other administrative overheads of PSU banks are not reducing by the day and tend to pose a challenge to the management, which desperately tries to curtail costs by reducing the number of new recruits or offering Voluntary Retirement Scheme that can prove to be counter-productive, sooner or later. Time to use the route of fee-based income as an opportunity hitherto unexploited.

Ashok Jayaram Bangalore










The government should stand firm against intense lobbying on right now to extend the duty entitlement passbook (DEPB) scheme by another five years. The point is to put in place a seamless goods and services tax (GST) facilitating the process of ensuring that exporters receive credits for taxes paid on exports, not to persist with a wholly non-transparent system. It is welcome that the finance ministry has finally moved to end the 14-year old DEPB scheme, which supposedly reimburses exporters the assorted taxes they have paid on inputs through duty-free scrips that can be freely sold in the market. The robust recovery in exports in 2010-11, coupled with strong capital inflows, weakens the case for yet another extension of the DEPB. Sops are a drain on the exchequer and our exporters should learn to live without them. Instead, they and the government should focus on building an enabling macroeconomic environment, reducing transaction costs, creating better infrastructure and minimising export bans. The principle behind reimbursing domestic levies on exports is that a country should look to export goods and services, not taxes. The DEPB is a non-transparent scheme and has been a subject of controversy regarding its compliance with the World Trade Organization's (WTO) requirements. The reason is that it is difficult to establish a one-to-one relationship between the value of the sops, in this case the duty free scrips, and the extra imposts suffered by the exporter on account of state and central level levies. The scheme has also been a huge source of revenue leakage. And there is no fool-proof system in place to plug such leakage. However, exporters across sectors, including pharma, petrochemicals, engineering and auto components, are lobbying for a five-year extension of DEPB, saying its withdrawal would render exports uncompetitive. The argument is untenable.

The actual incidence of taxes on exports will be simpler to work out once the GST, with fewer rates, is rolled out. All energies should turn towards rolling out GST. That will boost exports, not sops. Exporters should lobby with state governments not to delay GST.







The two big questions post-Osama's killing are whether the opprobrium Pakistan's military faces will translate into international pressure to abandon its policy of using terrorist/extremist groups for strategic objectives and if the United States will now hasten its withdrawal from Afghanistan, accompanied by a return to power — in some shape or form — of the Taliban in Kabul. India is one of the primary stakeholders in the answers to those questions. And New Delhi must do its utmost to ensure that its interests and commitments in Afghanistan aren't sidetracked in a political resolution process. There is cause for worry on that count. US officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have mentioned the possibility of the Taliban being more amenable to a deal after Osama's death. And Afghan President Hamid Karzai is reported to maintain channels to get Taliban leaders on board. On the ground, the problem is that a broader Afghan national legacy hasn't emerged in a land riven by corruption, ethnic and tribal divides and meddlesome neighbours. Pakistan, on its part, has had a policy of conflating Pashtun interests with the Taliban, thus seeking to garner a large share of the pie for the latter in any future settlement. India must stress on the need for continued international presence in, and assistance to, Afghanistan while helping Kabul to form a system of credible governance which includes the strengthening of the Afghan national army and bringing governance and development to the Pashtun areas. But the situation is also directly linked to Pakistan's border and tribal areas, where the Taliban find sanctuary, apart from the Pakistan army's overt support for groups like the Haqqani network fighting international troops in Afghanistan. The whole world has echoed the sentiment that Pakistan must do more to act against such networks. The big question is whether the Pakistan army initiates some action in areas like North Waziristan. So long as such safe havens for terrorists and the Taliban exist, it would be futile to speak of enduring peace and stability for Afghanistan and the wider region









The Prime Minister's Office's dismissal of the proposal for a National Elephant Conservation Authority is sad. It ignores the elephant's enormous significance in India. For an animal that dominates many aspects of life here — as an anthropomorphic deity, genteel guardian of temples, formidable war machine of yore , even tireless worker in the forests — the elephant is curiously underplayed, underestimated and underappreciated. Consider the insouciant use of the Greek-derived word 'pachyderm' as a synonym for the elephant even by Indians, thereby reducing it to a mere thick-skinned, non-ruminant ungulate, which is what the western zoologist sees it as. Only the very thick-skinned, and those unaware of the elephant's cultural significance here, would see nothing amiss in sticking our 35,000 representatives of the Elephas Maximus Indicus in a defunct genus that once included warthogs, aardvarks, hippopotami, tapirs, wild boars and rhinoceroses.
For so many Indians, the elephant is much more than just a thick-skinned, ivory-tusked trophy of the s h i k a r i s of yore. Nor do we concur with that other western notion of the elephant — as Disney's lovably idiotic Dumbo. Our different perception is apparent right from the Bollywood's portrayal of the wise and loyal elephant in H a t h i M e r e S a t h ito MF Husain naming his cinematic ode to womanhood (and Madhuri Dixit) G a j a g a m i n i for the langorous, hip-swinging walk that the elephant and the muse famously share. Rudyard Kipling came closest to the Indian notion, when he created the grand and powerful Colonel Hathi, who dinned the mantra 'an elephant never forgets' into the western psyche. The PMO should at least play its part to ensure we don't forget the elephant.






India will achieve a historical milestone in 2013 by overtaking Japan to become the world's third largest economy after the US and China with an estimated GDP (by purchasing power parity) of $4.41 trillion to Japan's estimated $4.32 trillion, according to the latest Pricewaterhouse-Coopers estimate. The credibility of the UN Security Council (UNSC) without India's permanent membership would then be rendered increasingly tenuous. The US will be compelled to proactively (rather than gratuitously) seek Indian permanent membership to safeguard the UNSC's legitimacy: a permanent UNSC seat for India will follow as the consequence of a new world order.

Events in the Middle East are both a challenge and opportunity for Indian foreign policy. Robust diplomatic engagement in a region where India has historical, economic and cultural links will strengthen the country's campaign for a permanent UNSC seat. India must speak with clarity and act decisively in global forums. It should be a firm advocate of pro-democracy movements across the Arab world. Indian diplomacy must keep step with its growing global economic clout.

Whether he meant it or not, US President Barack Obama was right when he told the Indian Parliament last November that the UNSC, the world's rule-making body, cannot be "effective, efficient, credible and legitimate" without India's permanent membership. As even the determinedly conservative, The Economist, acknowledged: "The case for (UNSC) reform is overwhelming." But what sort of reformed UNSC will serve the world more credibly than the current one?

The UNSC reform process is a quagmire. A two-thirds majority in the General Assembly (128 out of 192 countries) is needed to approve it and twothirds of these countries' national legislatures (including those of all the permanent members, the P5) must ratify an amendment in the UN Charter. At the end of this fraught process, however, we will have a UNSC that reflects today's, not yesterday's, world and deals firmly but fairly with global problems.

The four candidates for a permanent UNSC seat (the G4: India, Brazil, Germany and Japan) are making a concerted new effort to break the reform logjam. By happenstance, three of the G4 (except Japan) are currently non-permanent members of the UNSC for two years. They are determined to use the two-year window to force through reform.
Italy will next week host a meeting in Rome of a group of countries known as Uniting For Consensus (UFC), which wants to stall UNSC reform. The group is a hoary mix — Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, Argentina, Canada, Turkey and Egypt — with their own political agendas. After China's qualified support for India's bid, at the recent Brics summit, Beijing is quietly supporting the UFC to stem the momentum gathering in favour of the G4. And yet, the momentum is building. Four of the P5 (barring China) have given their unequivocal support to the G4. The problem is, when it matters, will the US share its veto with four new permanent members (plus possibly a fifth, South Africa)? The US have floated a proposal to give the G4 + South Africa permanent membership, but without a veto for an initial 15-year period. The G4 must press, however, for parity on the veto from the outset — a two-tiered permanent membership structure is in no one's interest.
Meanwhile, Pakistan, in a misconceived effort to block India's bid for permanent membership, continues to raise an old bogey: the country's alleged violation of UNSC resolutions calling for a plebiscite in Jammu & Kashmir. Amjad Hussaini B Sial, Pakistan's deputy permanent representative to the UN, bizarrely declared: "It is amazing that a country that continues to violate several UN Security Council resolutions aspires to become a permanent member of the Security Council."
    This old fiction needs to be buried for good. The UNSC adopted four resolutions on the Indo-Pak conflict over J&K between January 17 and June 3, 1948. The UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) then forwarded a binding proposal to the Security Council through a resolution dated August 13, 1948. This resolution had three parts. Part I dealt with the ceasefire between India and Pakistan following their first war over Kashmir, part II with the subsequent truce agreement and part III with a plebiscite. Part I (the ceasefire) was complied with by India and Pakistan. Part II (the truce agreement) was not. The truce agreement explicitly required Pakistan to withdraw all its troops from all of J&K. Since Pakistani troops, 62 years later, are still in occupation of onethird of J&K (i.e., PoK), Islamabad remains in perpetual violation of part-II of the resolution. This renders part-III (on the plebiscite) infructuous. Till Pakistan vacates all of PoK, every UNSC resolution adopted on J&K is null and void.
Indian diplomats must not allow invalid UNSC resolutions or the UFC's forthcoming Rome meeting to stymie the country's bid for a permanent UNSC seat. India's candidature has received official backing from the Republican-controlled US House of Representative, which has ratified a resolution supporting Indian permanent membership. With this powerful public endorsement, India's diplomacy will be fully tested: the remnants of opposition from vested interests need to be neutralised over the next few crucial months.
A successful outcome will serve a larger purpose: with India's permanent membership at its heart, the UNSC as an international force for good will finally, 66 years after its establishment, be both — as President Obama said — "effective, efficient, credible, legitimate" and — though the US President did not say it — genuinely democratic.










She is proud that her company is older than most American companies. It is one that walked along with the country's rather short history and lived the American Dream longer than usual. "To be a 180-yearold company in the US is rare. It is hard to be even 100 year-old because somebody comes and makes you obsolete. There could be just 15 others who could be even 100-year old," says Sara Mathew, chairman and chief executive officer, D&B, who overseas the entire global operations from its headquarters in New Jersey, the US.
D&B started operations as a business information provider. Over the years, it has gained expertise in interpretation of credit information and writing credit reports. The company claims to have had a major role in the westward expansion of the US economy, helping businessmen based in both the East and West by providing credit and information about each others' regions. Not just that. Four former US presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, were credit correspondents for D&B at various points in time. Ms Mathew says that D&B has been instrumental in building many of America's top companies through their credit reports.

"We were the first company to commercialise the use of typewriters. We created a company called Remington," says Ms Mathew, alumni of the Women's Christian College, Chennai. She graduated around the same time as Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo chairman and CEO, alumni of Madras Christian College. The firm also pioneered the use of computers in communications and was among the early players in providing commercial credit information.
Over the past few years, the company has undergone restructuring to make it trimmer and more tightly focused. "AC Nielson, Cognizant, Reuben HDonnelley and Moody's Corporation, which D&B owned once, were all hived off to allow each company to pursue focused strategies. We were a $8-billion information services company when we owned all these firms. But then we went for planned divestment in these companies to create value for our shareholders," she says.

Back home in India, the company had a role in setting up the country's first commercial credit bureau, CIBIL, in partnership with State Bank of India (SBI), Housing Development Finance Corporation (HDFC), TransUnion and several public and private sector banks. D&B provided the technical infrastructure and earns a royalty. It also has a distributorship arrangement with the Export Credit Guarantee Corporation of India, the country's only export credit insurer, to provide a database on exporters. It was involved in setting up SMERA, a rating agency specialising in rating small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as well. Recently, SMERA secured Sebi's nod to start a full-fledged credit rating agency in partnership with D&B, which has a 34% stake in the venture.
D&B now has a wider agenda for India. "India is a focus area for us because we are a global company. The D-U-N-S number, a unique nine-digit identification number, for each physical location of a business, is globally recognised. It is akin to the permanent account number, the unique identifier for India's tax department. We want to ensure that Indian businesses are a part of it as India is a key player in the global market. Also, there is considerable demand for information on Indian businesses from our global clients," she says.

One indicator of a larger interest of the global parent in the Indian market is its recent change in ownership pattern, says Ms Mathew. Globally, D&B's presence in about 200 markets is largely in the form of distributorship or local partnerships. But operations in Europe and the US are fully run by the parent. The company follows a model of partnering with local managements and private equity players. As India became a frontend centre, the business model converged around reinvesting in core markets such as China and India.
D&B's parent headquartered in New Jersey acquired the India operations in 2008. Equity investment from the headquarters was raised to 53%. The rest is owned by the company's Middle East subsidiary. However, the challenge for D&B in India is that much of the demand is for information on SMEs, mostly from smaller cities and towns and even rural areas. Limitation in data, especially financials of an unlisted company in India, is a big challenge. "A large chunk of our database comprises SME companies. But the real test will be on how to ensure high-quality data and a database that has multiple topics. The challenge is not just one of creating a database, but also keeping it updated," she says. D&B already has a commercial database of 12 million businesses of 7.2 million clients in India where there are around eight lakh incorporated entities. Of the two million record that D&B is planning to add this year, nearly 60- 70% will be from tier-III and rural areas.









Trade between India and China surpassed the targeted $60 billion mark last year, up from the $42.4 billion clocked in 2009-10. China emerged as India's largest trading partner in 2008 and India is already one of China's top 10 trading partners. Further, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently ratified an ambitious target to achieve $100 billion in bilateral trade with China by 2015.

It is surprising that despite these robust ties, there is still reluctance in India to have greater economic cooperation with China. One of the concerns evinced is the balance of trade, which is heavily in favour of China. The deficit for India last year stood at over $20 billion, up from $15.87 billion in the previous year. The Indian industry alleges that the Chinese economy is an export machine with unclear costs of production, veiled subsidies and with still an undervalued currency. It is also opposed to an FTA with China due to the competitive disadvantage it faces, many of which arise from poor transport and other infrastructure in India.
It is time for India's policy pundits and industry leaders to revisit their stance.

The 12th Five-Year Plan passed by the Chinese government recently marks a paradigm shift in the direction the Chinese economy is headed. It brought down the targeted annual growth rate to 7%, a deliberate deceleration from the double-digit growth over the past couple of decades. And with far more spending on social welfare, services, defence and internal security, it clearly seeks to address inequality and create an environment for more sustainable growth through equitable distribution of wealth, improved social infrastructure and social safety nets. The less developed western interior of China will now be the focus of infrastructural development. All this adds up to a very deliberate and planned effort to move to a more domestic demanddriven, consumption-oriented pattern of growth.

This ambitious transformation, however, can only come about through a conducive external environment. The uncertainties arising from the crisis in the Middle East and the Japanese nuclear disaster may change the assumptions underlying China's strategy. Nonetheless, it is imperative for India to not only take note of but also to formulate its own strategy to take advantage of the shift in China's policy.

That China has already begun acting on its plans is evident from the latest trade data the government released last month. China has reported its first quarterly trade deficit in seven years, registering a shortfall of $1.02 billion in the first quarter, compared with a surplus of $13.9 billion last year. It was the first deficit since the first quarter of 2004 when a $8 billion deficit was reported. According to the General Administration of Customs, imports have risen by 32.6% to $400 billion in the first quarter of 2011. Hence, any approach by India should be calibrated to tap the over $1,000 billion Chinese consumption market that will be stimulated as China seeks to hedge risks arising from complete dependence on an exportoriented growth strategy.

Indian businesses should focus on complementarities they could offer to China's manufacturing prowess. India's export basket to China is dominated by iron-ore and primary and semi-finished iron & steel products which together account for almost half of the total value. As China's infrastructure gets progressively saturated, these commodities will lose their dynamism in the export basket. India should hence aim towards building a more diversified trade basket, moving away from resource and labour-intensive goods and towards more value-added product categories. Pharma is obviously a sector which needs more intensive interaction between companies of the two countries. So are IT and financial services. China has for long expressed desire to establish synergies between its hardware sector and India's software industry. Booming consumerism in China would give rise to opportunities in many areas where India has a relative competitive advantage. Tourism and hospitality, media & films, healthcare, educational services, etc are a few that come to mind.

An FTA with China, which India is sceptical to pursue at present, may well turn out to be in India's own interest. India could leverage its superiority in the service sector to offset China's gains in the manufacturing sector. One must remember that as the economy becomes more open, the industry — in this case Indian manufacturing — may well face an adverse situation. But as firms discover their comparative advantages, competencies will increase. India-China cooperation will go a long way in enhancing linkages between East and South Asia and could facilitate an Asian economic integration. The Indian government has in recent times revived its "Look East policy' through aggressive pursuit of economic, political and social relations with its Asian neighbours. No such initiative can be complete without China being a part of it.

(The author is with Icrier)









Four years ago the government of India decided to merge its international carrier Air India, with its domestic airline called Indian Airlines (renamed temporarily as just "Indian") into a new company called National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL). You will ask Nacil who? Exactly! Three years after formation of Nacil, wisdom dawned in government quarters, and the new entity was renamed as Air India Limited.
    Air India has been a global brand, founded originally as Tata Airlines by JRD. Tata in 1932, and rebranded as Air India in 1953. Tata served as its Chairman for twenty five years, during which period the "Maharajah" became an iconic brand of this international airline.


In 1953, a separate domestic airline called Indian Airlines was hived off. Nacil was born in 2007 as a re-merger of these two hived off entities of 1953. Whether the decision to merge two dissimilar organisations was sound or not, is a moot question now. The past four years have been hellish for the airline. The combined entity called Air India has accumulated losses of over Rs 15,000 crore upto March 2010. It has a debt of Rs 40,000 crore outstanding, and it says that it will expand its fleet of planes 135 to 248 in the next four years. It ordered 50 brand new Boeing airplanes in 2006, a decision being scrutinized by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) (Yes, CAG are the same guys who are unearthing the 2G scam, and the Commonwealth Games fiasco).
    For the past eleven days, half of Air India's pilots were on strike. The main demand seemed to be that the erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots be given pay parity to the erstwhile Air India pilots. For two companies which officially merged four years ago, it is astonishing that such merger details as integration of staff salaries and perquisites are still a pending and contentious issue. But it may only be the tip of a proverbial iceberg full of problems.
    When the pilot strike was called, the airline bravely tried to continue running with hired hands, and offloading passengers onto other airlines (who gleefully accepted due to windfall profits). But as days go by, Air India has already accumulated further losses of more than Rs 100 crore. The banks who are owed 40,000 crores must be a worried lot. But most of the banks too, like Air India, are owned by the government. So the bailout of Air India by the banks, would be a case of the money going from the left pocket to the right pocket.
    India's skies were opened to free competition just about a decade ago, and till 2007 growth was fantastic. Passenger traffic grew at more than 25 percent every year. The low-cost airline revolution, whose fares competed with a first class railway ticket ensured that even the aam admi was entering an airport and flying in the sky.
    Of course, despite all this growth, less than 2 percent of India's population has flown in an aeroplane. The annual air traffic in India is equal to the daily domestic traffic in United States. So we have a long way to go. But nevertheless the airline industry in India did well until 2007. This was despite very high taxes on airline fuel, and over capacity which built up over the years. In the past few years the industry started accumulating losses, and the leader was Air India, which accounts for more than half the industry's total losses.
    While others have started reviving, and have restructured their debts, the woes of AI seem to be endless. There is really no reason why an airline founded by JRD, whose brand is internationally recognised, which has one of the world's highest number of bilateral landing rights, should be in such a miserable state. This was entirely avoidable and the owners should take the blame and revive its old glory.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The belligerent observations made on behalf of Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and by the country's foreign secretary Salman Bashir against the United States, and more particularly India, on Thursday, speak of a gripping nervousness. For four days after the killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a secret American operation, there was virtual silence from the Pakistani establishment. It was evident the regime knew it had been caught sheltering the world's number one terrorist, and did not know where to look. So the bogey of violation of sovereignty by a foreign power was drummed up at the behest of its security establishment, completely bypassing the question uppermost in the minds of people all over the world: how come Bin Laden was hiding in a military cantonment for five years and the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence had no clue? Ironically, for the military establishment, the issue of sovereignty it encouraged the populace to feed on has become a millstone around its neck, with Pakistani newspapers and television channels questioning the Army's ability to defend the country and to protect its nuclear weapons, and even asking for heads to roll! It is probably the first time since Pakistan's inglorious rout in the 1971 war against India that a public questioning of its capability and role is taking place. The tough noises made on Thursday are clearly aimed at placating domestic public opinion, and reassuring it that the Army is still in good shape and remains worthy of the people's trust. What better way to do this than engage in familiar sabre-rattling against India? India had indeed expected this kind of diversionary tactic to be deployed by Islamabad in this hour of crisis of confidence in the country, and Pakistan went bang on cue. The basic question, of course, still begs to be answered: do ordinary people in Pakistan believe their military establishment now? The whole narrative of years of using the ruse to play victim at the hands of terrorists has gone up in smoke with the discovery of Osama bin Laden's lair in the heart of a military area. All this is for Pakistan to figure out. India will no doubt take all that hot air in its stride. On the day the news of Bin Laden's killing broke, New Delhi indicated strongly to Pakistan that it would continue with its peace track with Islamabad. In the circumstances Mr Bashir appeared foolish in his belligerence. He chose to slay demons that did not exist. But that is not all. He sounded undignified, irresponsible and reckless as well when he sought to warn India that there would be a "catastrophe" if India chose to run a surgical strike against Pakistan in the manner of the United States taking out Bin Laden. This can only be interpreted as thinly disguised code for a nuclear strike. It does not behove the head of a neighbouring country's foreign office to be invoking such imagery. This is truly stupefying. When all is said and done, no one can believe that India is about to launch a strike against Pakistan (it did not do so even in the face of the grave provocation of the Mumbai attacks!). Nor can anyone be expected to believe that Islamabad would reconsider its relationship with Washington if the United States launched another Abbottabad-style strike, as Gen. Kayani threatened. For 60 years, Islamabad has lived off America's goodwill and bailout funds, or it would have gone bust, thanks to the way the Army has run the country. Then, all that remains of the Kayani-Bashir bravado is the implied threat of a nuclear attack against India. It's time Islamabad was told to pipe down.







"Oh leave the prophets Who promise life divine — Embrace the one Who turns water into wine." -From Kabuli Kissey by Bachchoo Historic days! The earth vibrates as it rotates and revolves — I don't mean the apprehension and disposal of mass murderer and pointless fanatic O.B. Laden. I mean the seal on the romance of Prince William of the Royal House of Windsor and Catherine Middleton, the "commoner" whose ancestors were north-England miners and whose parents run a business selling party balloons and knick-knacks. They were married in pomp. Circumstance and a discerning Indian TV channel invited me to comment, over two days, on the proceedings. Now Wills and Kate, as we must learn to call them in their demotic avatars, have gone off for their £4,000-a-day honeymoon in the Caribbean for a well-deserved rest — tiring stuff all that marrying! Or has that been cancelled? Only WikiLeaks can tell. Not being a US Navy Seal, I confess I wasn't present at the capture and execution of Bin Laden, but through the munificence of the above-mentioned Indian TV channel (whose name I don't think my editor would not be happy for me to advertise) I was standing on broadcasting platforms outside Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey on the Thursday before and Friday of the wedding. My sister Zareen (who was born in Abu Dhabi but lives in India) tells me that she was in Hong Kong during the wedding and missed my moments of glory but that her friends in India saw my broadcasts and were disappointed. They thought I was irreverent. This saddens me as it was not my intention. On both days I wore different suits out of respect. I only mention this because for a week before there was a kerfuffle in the British press about what people were going to wear. There was endless speculation about the bride's dress. There was a debate about whether Prime Minister David Cameron should wear a morning dress or a lounge suit. What would Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, wear? Who was designing the dress of Mrs Middleton, the ex-airhostess and bride's mum? There was obviously not much speculation as to what I would wear, but I decided on a linen suit with an open beige shirt on the first day and my other black suit with a white cotton shirt and no tie on the second. (Must buy one — all contributions welcome!) Having been afforded my few minutes of, albeit limited, fame by this invitation to comment on the betrothal of these two beautiful young individuals who have contributed so much to civilisation, I began to compose my thoughts. Four days before the event, the London police announced that all dissenting elements attempting to disrupt the wedding would be robustly dealt with. Islamicists had threatened on the Internet to mount mass protests against the wedding in order to undermine the "tyranny of Queen Elizabeth II". For the life of me, apart from bad taste in her attire, I couldn't think of anything that this poor Queen has ever done that amounts to tyranny. Which led me to the thought that Britain doesn't really have a monarchy. Ever since Cromwell's rebellion chopped off King Charles I's head it has had no monarchy but only a less and less potent royalty. The poor dears, though they live off the taxes of the people, have no say in anything. So was I then a Republican? Having been associated all my life with Left-leaning or socialistic principles, I thought I should be. But then Britain would perhaps end up with a President Margaret Thatcher or a President Tony Blair and would I want that? No! Better to spend taxpayer's subsidy on the long running soap opera of royal weddings, three royal divorces out of four marriages in the current Prince of Wales' generation, one out of two in the Queen's generation, a tragic death in the car of a playboy of the divorced Princess Di, the scandal of Prince Andrew's association with dodgy businessmen and a convicted paedophile, the amusing remarks of Prince Phillip about foreigners, the adventures in night clubs of Prince Harry and his girlfriend called Kensington or something, the refusal to invite Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of Elsewhere, to the wedding... Better than anything television writers can invent. And hey, I'm wrong! It's not a soap opera — it's the nation's most revered reality show. Long live the show! Those were the thoughts which I held in my head as I approached my moments of fame. The commentary from outside Buck House on the eve of the wedding was conducted by a charming young lady in Hindi. Now my proficiency in Hindustani is adequate, on occasion even lyrical in a clichéd, filmy-dialogue way, but doesn't extend to subtle sarcasm or pointed ambivalence, so my answers and commentary were very positive and supportive of the young couple. I was specifically asked and sincerely answered that theirs was, in contrast to that of William's father Charles and his mother Diana Spencer, a love marriage. The world didn't know it at the time, but Charles and Diana were married by arrangement. It didn't seem to work. She was a world icon but he loved another. The William and Catherine thing was love. They were at St. Andrews University where they met — up in remote Scotland where you can watch TV when the reception's good, go to the one local pub or fall in love. Wonderful. The royal family, conscious of the connection they have on pain of death to establish with the modern world, embraced their new "commoner" princess. Some said she was the first such, so I thought it imperative to point out that Elizabeth Woodville who married Edward IV in the 15th century was deemed a "commoner". She was the mother of the Princes in the Tower, murdered by their chacha Richard III who went on to usurp the throne. The whole thing didn't end well. My sister's friend told Zareen that as I made this historic point the microphone was snatched from me, presumably because Indian viewers, unlike the Brits, can't bear too much historic reality. In fact, no mikes were snatched. The hired TV platform, operated by a Polish cameraman and team, ran out of time. God save the Queen!






There are several pleasant little towns like Abbottabad in Pakistan, strung out along the roads that lead towards the mountains from Rawalpindi. Muzaffarabad, Abbottabad... cool in summer and winter, with majestic views and discreet amenities. The colonial British, like Maj. James Abbott who gave his name to this one, called them "hill stations", designed for the rest and recreation of commissioned officers. The charming idea, like the location itself, survives among the Pakistani officer corps. If you tell me that you are staying in a rather nice walled compound in Abbottabad, I can tell you in return that you are the honoured guest of a military establishment that annually consumes several billion dollars in American aid. It's the sheer blatancy of it that catches the breath. There's perhaps some slight satisfaction to be gained from this smoking-gun proof of official Pakistani complicity with Al Qaeda, but in general it only underlines the sense of anticlimax. After all, who did not know that the United States was lavishly feeding the same hands that fed Osama bin Laden? There's some minor triumph, also, in the confirmation that our old enemy was not a heroic guerrilla fighter but the pampered client of a corrupt and vicious oligarchy that runs a failed and rogue state. But, again, we were aware of all this already. At least we won't have to put up with a smirking video when the 10th anniversary of his best-known atrocity comes around. Come to think of it, though, he hadn't issued any major communiqués on any subject lately, and the really hateful work of his group and his ideology was being carried out by a successor generation like his incomparably more ruthless clone in Iraq, Abu Muss al-Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda leader slain in 2006. I find myself hoping that, like al-Zarqawi, Bin Laden had a few moments at the end to realise who it was who had found him and to wonder who the traitor had been. That would be something. Not much, but something. In what people irritatingly call "iconic" terms, Bin Laden certainly had no rival. His strange, scrofulous quasi-nobility and bogus spirituality were appallingly telegenic, and it will be highly interesting to see whether this charisma survives the alternative definition of revolution that has lately transfigured the Muslim world. The most tenaciously lasting impression of all, however, is that of his sheer irrationality. What did the man think he was doing? Ten years ago, did he expect, let alone desire, to be in a walled compound in dear little Abbottabad? Ten years ago, I remind you, he had a gigantic influence in one rogue, failed state — Afghanistan — and was exerting an increasing force over its neighbour Pakistan. Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathisers were in senior positions in the Pakistani Army and the nuclear programme had not yet been detected. Huge financial subventions flowed his way, often through official channels, from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. As well as running a nihilist international group, he was the head of a giant and profitable network of banking and money laundering. He could have heavy artillery wheeled up to destroy the Buddhist treasures of Afghanistan in broad daylight. A nexus of "madrasas" was spreading the word from Indonesia to London, just as a nexus of camps was schooling future murderers. And he decided to gamble all these ripening strategic advantages in a single day. Then, not only did he run away from Afghanistan, leaving his deluded followers to be killed in very large numbers, but he chose to remain a furtive and shady figure, on whom the odds of a successful covert "hit", or bought-and-paid-for betrayal, were bound to lengthen every day. It seems thinkable that he truly believed his own mad propaganda. The West, he maintained, was rotten with corruption and run by cabals of Jews and homosexuals. It had no will to resist. It had become feminised and cowardly. One devastating psychological blow and the rest of the edifice would gradually follow the Twin Towers in a shower of dust. Well, he and his fellow psychopaths did succeed in killing thousands in North America and Western Europe, but in the past few years, their main military triumphs have been against such targets as Afghan schoolgirls, Shia Muslim civilians and defenceless synagogues in Tunisia and Turkey. Has there ever been a more contemptible leader from behind, or a commander who authorised more blanket death sentences on bystanders? No doubt some braggarts will continue to tell instant opinion polls in the region that they regard him as a holy sheikh or some such drivel. With any luck, there will even be demented rumours that Bin Laden is not "really" dead. Fine: He had probably already done the worst damage he was going to do. In anything describable as the real world, his tactics were creating antibodies and antagonists. From Baghdad to Bali, it has been conclusively demonstrated that Bin Ladenism is the cause of poverty, misery, and unemployment and not — as some know-nothings used to claim — a response to it. The martyr of Abbottabad is no more, and the competing Fuhrer-complexes of his surviving underlings will, perhaps, now enjoy an exciting free rein. Yet the uniformed and anonymous patrons of that sheltered Abbottabad compound are still very much with us, and US President Barack Obama's speech will be entirely worthless if he expects us to go on arming and financing the very people who made this trace into such a needlessly long, arduous and costly one. Christopher Hitchens, an internationally acclaimed author, journalist, political commentator and literary critic, recently wrote Hitch-22 By arrangement with The New York Times







Post Osama bin Laden's killing, while the bloodhounds in India immediately began to clamour for a similar "surgical strike" on the head of the D-Company allegedly in Pakistan, in the United Kingdom it was a time for sober reflection. A time to ponder about justifying the killing of an unarmed man, in front of his wife and children, even if he was a dangerous terrorist. The nuanced reaction in Europe, which takes human rights very seriously, has been a little different to that in the US. In the US, it is apparent, different laws apply to other countries, while America is a law into itself. The scale of the celebration and jubilation over Bin Laden's death was different in Europe, and apart from Prime Minister David Cameron's unequivocal statement, there were many voices in Britain, including that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which were not as approving. Was this the only way to "take out" Bin Laden? Does justice now comprise reprisals and bloodbaths — an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? In that case, shall we shut down the courts and say goodbye to human rights altogether? Shall we also forget that the US war on terror has already led to the death of thousands of Iraqis and, thanks to the US' meddling in Pakistan and Afghanistan, many more people have died there than during the assault on the Twin Towers? But the recent actions of the US, and the hubris, is scary beyond belief. This is one country that can do anything for its self-interest. Thus, though it may be controversial to say so, some of the reaction in Europe has been reassuring. He may have been a murderer, a war criminal, or even an evil genius, but if other criminals are given a fair trial why was he not hauled up before an international court of justice? Was President Barack Obama's rough justice — though put across more eruditely and logically than President George W. Bush ever managed to do — any different to that meted out by Saddam Hussein towards his enemies? Even the unfortunate naming of Operation Geronimo, after a native Indian rebel, brought to mind a cowboy and Indian face-off, and we know who the winners of that encounter were. The visuals of Mr Obama and his team looking at the killing (or a report about it) live made it look like a playstation game, wiped clean of all humanitarian concerns. The bloodthirsty acronym "EKIA" (Enemy Killed In Action) belongs more to the virtual world than to real life. Obama-turned-Rambo is an unrecognisable character. Did this man really get the Nobel Peace prize? Through his actions, Mr Obama has completely humiliated Pakistan and created even more dysfunctional relationships in the entire area. The question once again is, by going into a sovereign country and killing people in order to uphold American-owned "values" and "democracy" what has America achieved? It has killed one "monster" but destabilised an entire region. A kidnap may have been more audacious, but it would not have invited the humanitarian critique now being associated with it. Isn't it about time someone pointed out that invading countries in pursuit of the liberal, democratic message might be somewhat contradictory. Even the Israelis in their hunting of war criminals ensured that they faced a proper trial. What India is doing with Ajmal Kasab, whilst it would have been easier to kill him off, is the civilised path to follow. It also spoke volumes for America's diminished power that the killing of Bin Laden did not lead to automatic celebration in countries which could be deemed its allies, and was in fact greeted with far more introspection. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, (who had just earned fame for presiding over the "WillKat" wedding) has also expressed his own discomfort. He said, "The killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling because it does not look as if justice is seen to be done". While some Americans have been wildly accusing the Europeans of being "cheese eating surrender monkeys", the concerns expressed have been supported by the constantly changing narrative of the encounter. The shooting of an unarmed man and the hasty burial at sea has left a nasty aftertaste and diminished the image of the US among liberals. Several religious leaders, including the Bishop of Winchester, are now concerned that there may be fresh terrorist reprisals against Christians. Mr Obama may have as yet made his biggest blunder. Not only has he upset some in Europe and elsewhere, he has also completely alienated the people of Pakistan and others in the Muslim world. In fact, by killing Bin Laden, Mr Obama may have managed to complete the agenda of the dead terrorist. Meanwhile, coalition blues have begun to hit the ruling party in Britain as the referendum to change the voting process was finally held this week. It has been a very difficult time for the ruling coalition partners who have agreed to disagree. The Tories were persuading voters to stick to the existing system of First Past The Post (FPTP) and the Liberal Democrats were promoting the Alternative Vote (AV) system. The latter, if it were chosen, would have meant that people would cast their votes in order of preference. The tragedy for the LibDems is that their own declining vote ratio has adversely impacted the vote for AV. A while ago, people were so disillusioned with politics (thanks to scams!) that the majority wanted to vote for the change. But now the numbers are in the reverse: around 60 per cent support FPTP, and only 40 per cent want AV. This has been a huge blow for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the leader of the LibDems, who had been personally promoting the AV system. Mr Cameron, however, is happy that FPTP won in what was the first serious and very public rift between them. Now it remains to be seen whether this acknowledgement of differences gets translated into other policy matters and whether the precarious bonhomie within the coalition is disrupted by the defeat of the LibDem agenda. *Kishwar Desai can be contacted at








WITHIN hours of Osama bin Laden's elimination in Abbottabad, India's several "hawks" took wing. Alas, like carrion vultures they opted to feast off somebody else's kill. While a certain amount of "we told you so" directed at the Americans was valid, the ensuing gloating and jingoism was not. For even in as rugged a contest as boxing no points accrue for hitting someone who is down. The government, perhaps P Chidambaram excepted, was circumspect. Not so the several ex-diplomats, former generals and academics who seem to be ever-available to TV channels (for a fee actually) who joined recklessly immature and occasionally infantile news "anchors" in their single purpose of attaining higher TRPs by sensational, emotional, Pakistan-bashing. Time was ~ in the era before the "box" made idiots of us all ~ when top defence officers appreciated the importance of keeping their lips zipped, letting others wage the war of words, conserving their strength for the real thing. Sadly, two of our Chiefs could not resist the camera's temptation and needlessly claimed they had the capacity to do their own "Geronimo" ~ a claim they were well aware they were unlikely to have to back up on the ground. Are they required to answer every question, loaded or otherwise, put to them? There is no point in slamming Pakistan for its strident reaction, cornered cats are always vicious ~ but it was not India that had cornered them this time around.

Verbal overkill is a Pakistani super-specialty: there is method in the madness. From the very outset, whenever Pakistan's commitment to the so-called War on Terror was questioned, it insisted that it could not deploy all its military assets in support of Uncle Sam because of the constant and grave threat on its India front. The ratcheted-up rhetoric in this country could so easily be used to bolster that argument, exploited to dilute American ire over Bin Laden having found himself, or been provided, such a safe spot. The Pakistani foreign secretary's warning that an Indian misadventure would result in a "terrible catastrophe" was intended to fuel western fears of the nuclear button being pressed in the subcontinent. The moral high horse India hoped to ride has bolted, courtesy those who mistake the tongue/TV for a weapon of mass destruction. Whether New Delhi likes it or not, Salman Bashir registered a "hit" in asserting that the rampant rhetoric was designed to "subvert the agenda of Manmohan Singh". That might not have been the intention of the torrent of bravado ~ it could have that impact. And finally what of television anchors who believe they must create verbal spats so that they can "cover" them or their consequences?  Didn't someone say there was a Broadcast Code to deal with just this kind of irresponsible TV journalism? The sad truth is that television dishes out so much nonsense it is unfit to be called news. That, however, may not be its objective for it exists to entertain and not to inform.



IF India and Bangladesh have to revive the memory of Rabindranath Tagore and the linguistic bonding to smoothen ruffled feathers, it is a conscious exercise in simulated bonhomie on the poet's 150th anniversary. As Dhaka gears up for the cultural grandstanding on 9 May, Vice-President Hamid Ansari was realistic enough to go beyond the lilting performing arts and raise the issue of terrorism in course of his interaction with Begum Hasina. Though Mr Ansari stopped short of cross-border migration of militants on a ceremonial occasion, he was forthright enough to tell the Bangladesh Prime Minister: "Extremist forces always appear larger than life. And their support base is limited and narrow if you were to test it." The fact of the matter is that the Islamist militants of Bangladesh had received a fair measure of support during the regime of Begum Khaleda. A seemingly secular dispensation, now in office, hasn't banned the Islamist outfits either. Thursday's meeting is said to have agreed that "all countries" need to take steps to combat terrorism. And that must of necessity include Pakistan not least because successive pro-Pakistan dispensations had wielded power in Bangladesh since the assassination of Mujibur Rahman in August 1975. Dhaka has been ever so wary in its references to Pakistan; a discussion on terrorism ought to go beyond generics. No less intractable since the Seventies has been the boundary issue and the sharing of the Teesta waters.

A Tagore recital cannot obfuscate the thorny issues that still sour bilateral relations. The anniversary celebrations can at best relieve the tension that persists. The euphoria that marked the joint declaration during Hasina's visit to Delhi in January 2010 has dissipated. Since then, scheduled visits to Bangladesh have been cancelled by India's foreign secretary and external affairs minister. And it is still not certain whether the Prime Minister will make it to Dhaka this year. It would be self-deceptive to be impervious to the sense of drift that has marked bilateral equations since the signing of the joint declaration. On the Bangladesh side, too, irritants remain and it would be unstatesmanlike for India to fail to acknowledge these. A celebration in concert of the Tagore anniversary ~ the poet had penned the national anthem of both countries ~ is of relatively minor moment in the overall construct. The contentious reality is less easily addressed.



THE report of a four-member panel of medical experts, that probed the cholera epidemic in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake, is  bound to exacerbate tension between the suffering locals and the UN peacekeepers. And it is a cruel irony that a reconstruction mission should be under a cloud. Small wonder that Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon has pledged to "convene a task force" within the UN to "study the findings and recommendations". The origins of the virulent cholera strain have been traced to Asia and it is generally feared that the epidemic is embedded in the dysfunctional septic tank system in a rural camp that was used by the Nepalese contingent of the UN mission. It has polluted the river system that is used by hundreds of thousands of Haitians. Of reconstruction there has been little; of an attempt to mitigate the suffering there has been less. The national tragedy has deepened since Wednesday when the report was released. With the UN peacekeepers being blamed for the catastrophe, the medical emergency, in force for the past six months, has exacerbated the twin national calamity ~ earthquake and cholera.

   It might be less than fair though to blame the UN's Nepalese peacekeepers alone for the mortal spread of the bacteria. If it is rooted in a derelict sanitation network, the primary responsibility for maintenance is of the beleaguered Haitian authorities. And it is testament to the acute poverty that the government scarcely has the wherewithal to put in place a scientific network of underground sanitation. That governmental inability has been compounded by the UN mission's failure to put the essentials back in shape. Cholera has no ethnicity and it would be grossly unfair to attribute the epidemic wholly to the UN's blue-bereted Nepalese soldiers. Mr Ban ki-Moon's intervention ought to lead to a replacement of what the medical report calls a "poorly constructed sanitation system". An earthquake, rated as the world's worst natural disaster in modern history, has been followed by cholera. The comity of nations must respond. Haiti has been on the brink since January 2010.








"I AM forced to conclude that there is no valid gram sabha resolution under Section 6(1) of the Forest Rights Act," said Jairam Ramesh, Union minister of state for environment and forest, while granting final forest clearance to Posco's Rs 54,000-crore 12 million tonne integrated steel plant near Paradip in Orissa barely three months after putting 60 conditions pertaining to pollution control and the captive port in the vicinity of the plant. His volte-face is inexplicable.  Ignoring resolutions passed by the gram sabhas of Dhinkia and Gobindapur that the Orissa government had failed to implement the Forest Rights Act, which promises tribals and other forest dwellers legal land rights, Ramesh said in his 2 May order granting clearance: "Faith and trust in what the State government says is an essential pillar of cooperative federalism which is why I rejected the option of an independent inquiry into the contradictory claims."

The enquiry committee appointed by his own ministry had described the project as an "environmental disaster in the making" and he is now saying that he was "not only doing the right thing but doing the thing right." The Indian Council for Social Development in its summary report on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act has said: "All the key features of this legislation have been undermined by a combination of apathy and sabotage during the process of implementation.  Unless immediate remedial measures are taken, instead of undoing the historical injustice to tribal and other traditional forest dwellers, the Act will have the opposite outcome of making them even more vulnerable to eviction and denial of their customary access to forests.  The testimonies made it clear that this is not merely a result of bureaucratic failure; both the Central and the State governments have actively pursued policies that are in direct violation of the spirit and letter of the Act."
The project is said to bring prosperity and well-being to the people of Orissa through industrialisation based on exploitation of its natural resources and the UPA government is committed to remove all hurdles on its path.  Coming up on 1,620 hectares of land spread over eight villages in Jagatsinghpur district, 1,253 hectares is forest land.  A South Korean multi-national corporation, the Posco steel plant will have the combined capacity of Bhilai, Bokaro, Durgapur, Rourkela, Burnpur and Salem steel plants.  Unmindful of the project's irreversible and widespread social, environmental and ecological consequences, the Centre and the state government rushed through clearances.  The Orissa government suppressed the fact that the area was home to about 4,000 tribal families comprising more than 20,000 members. Instead of certificates from gram sabhas, as required under the Forest Rights Act, certificates from the district magistrate were relied on while granting clearance.  Instead of treating this massive project as a whole, it was broken up into smaller units for purposes of granting clearance. The steel mill is treated as three separate ones of four million tones each.  The captive port, to come up at the ecologically sensitive Jatadhar creek, was fraudulently termed "minor" whereas it will be larger than the largest port in the country with a capacity to berth Capesize 170,000 DTW capacity ships 280 m in length. This would require 12 km channels and massive sea walls.  The creek is an important nesting site for the endangered Olive Ridley turtles.

When Ramesh appointed widely respected former bureaucrats and experts in two fact-finding committees to investigate all aspects of coastal regulations, forest diversion and environmental clearances given to Posco by his predecessor, A Raja of spectrum fame, there was hope he would not succumb to pressure from extra-constitutional authorities. As the committees exposed extensive illegalities and fraud in the environmental decision-making processes, Ramesh was "compelled"  to brush aside these reports and take to Raja's ways of decision-making.  Ramesh must realise his role model is now in Tihar jail.

Steel plants are not permitted in areas coming under Coastal Regulation Zones.  A National Institute of Oceanography study, commissioned by Posco itself, found the plant falls within such zones.  The plant will be constructed in an area raised by five metres by dumping millions of tonnes of sand dredged from the sea to protect it from supercyclones like the one that lashed Orissa coast in 1999 with wind speeds of 260 kmph and waves 5.6 m high in which nearly 15,000 people perished.  The dredging is bound to increase vulnerability of surrounding areas.  A road on stilts, a concrete structure 18 ft high and 80 ft wide, has been added to the CRZ draft notification which has the potential to devastate the coastline by opening it up to huge construction and real estate development.

What has not been revealed so far in this joint venture is the attempt to short-sell India's natural resources to corporate moneybags with attendant kickbacks for our political netas.  A concerned citizen from Bangalore, AK Agrawal, has already made a complaint to the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, Central Vigilance Commission, an important post allowed to remain vacant for months, against the Union steel minister, Virbhadra Singh, Orissa Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik and others, and a plea to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to prevent the loot of minerals worth $50 billion by private profiteers in collusion with corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
Posco needs 600 million tonnes of iron ore for a capacity of 12 million tonnes of steel per annum. The current international price of iron ore is about Rs5,000 per tonne and is likely to go much higher in the next 30 to 50 years. The cost of mining, transport, cess, duties and royalty works out to about Rs 1,000 per tonne which means the cost comes to Rs 60,000 crore for 600 million tones.  The profit on iron ore alone after meeting all costs will be Rs 240,000 crore per annum. Posco's gain is loss to the nation.  The project is to produce 12 million tonnes of steel per annum for 30 years with an option to renew for another 20 years. Hot rolled steel coil sells for Rs 30,000 per tonne and has a margin of about Rs 10,000 per tonne.  The value addition almost doubles the profit. osco would bring foreign capital of Rs 54,000 crore, spread over a nine-year period.  Steel is a decontrolled item and does not figure in the list of essential commodities. Giving valuable iron ore virtually free to the Korean MNC and making the Indian consumer pay international price for the finished product may be Manmohanomics socialism the UPA wants to usher in.

The decision-makers involved in bestowing this largesse on Posco at the cost of the public are guilty of violation of Section 13(1)(d)(i) and (iii)  of the Prevention of Corruption Act.  Their action also violates Article 39(b) and (c) of the Constitution. Though the MMDR Act of 1958 does permit allotment of minerals and iron ore to private parties, it has not been amended since the steep rice in iron ore price from the year 2000 onwards when profitability of one tonne of mined iron ore increased from Rs 50 to Rs 5,000.  In view of this increase, it does not make sense for the Union and the State governments giving clearance to private parties and MNCs  for mining rights on an effective royalty of paltry three per cent which does not even cover the cost to the exchequer for the resultant damages caused by mining and expenses incurred in collecting the royalty. The Supreme Court had held that the right of the Union and State governments to pre-empt the mineral wealth under Section 17 of the MMDR Act is paramount and supercedes the right of the private parties under Section 11. Therefore, it ill becomes of the Centre and the State to hand over highly profitable mines worth billions of dollars to foreign MNCs unless it is determined to scale new heights in corruption.

The writer is a veteran journalist and former Director of Statesman Print Journalism School







Mr Arvind Kejriwal is a member of the joint committee to draft the Lokpal Bill and is credited with being the brain behind the successful campaign for the proposed anti-graft law led by Mr Anna Hazare.
A mechanical engineer from IIT, Kharagpur, Mr Kejriwal was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership in 2006 for activating India's Right to Information movement at the grassroots level and for his initiative to empower the poorest citizens to fight corruption by holding the government answerable to the people.
Born in Hissar, Haryana, in 1968, Kejriwal joined the Indian Revenue Service in 1992. But he resigned after five years to work full time as a social activist for greater transparency in government. He founded Parivartan, a Delhi-based citizens' movement, which works on ensuring just, transparent and accountable governance.
Mr Kejriwal spoke to RANJEET S JAMWAL on the recent agitation for the Lokpal Bill, the controversies surrounding civil society representatives in the joint-drafting panel and the importance of a strong anti-graft law.
What was the reason for the overwhelming response to your (India Against Corruption) campaign under the leadership of Mr Anna Hazare?
Firstly, the people of this country are completely fed up with corruption. Corruption in public life is being exposed by one scam after another and the common man is paying the price. The slew of scams exposed in the past year has enraged people and the government's passivity only rubbed salt into the wound. People were already very angry. This campaign was not only directed against corruption but also proposed a very concrete solution by way of the Lokpal Bill to tackle corruption realistically for the first time. All previous campaigns against corruption had offered no roadmap to tackle it. But this one offered one. Everything put together, the response was overwhelming.
What do you think will come of this whole exercise? Will the proposed Lokpal Bill be enough to tackle corruption?
We hope that a strong and effective strong Lokpal Bill will be enacted.
There is a perception that your campaign for the Lokpal Bill is directed against the parliamentary system of India. More so, as civil society members are not elected and are not accountable to anyone. What do you have to say on that?
Is the Planning Commission of India elected? Is the current Prime Minister of India elected? Is the National Advisory Council elected? I think the argument is bogus. We are not even bypassing Parliament and there are several precedents for this kind of an exercise. Seven laws in Maharashtra  have been drafted with the help of a similar joint committee. What we will create will be the first draft (of the Lokpal Bill). It will then go to the Cabinet and Parliament. So, we are not bypassing Parliament.
What do you make of the alleged smear campaign against civil society members in the joint drafting committee? Was it motivated?
I think it was well organised and well orchestrated to derail the process of drafting the Lokpal Bill by maligning the members of civil society. Some people acted as the face of that smear campaign but there were many forces behind it. But we are very happy that they have not been successful.
Is the government now earnest in working out a comprehensive and credible Lokpal Bill through the joint drafting committee?
Let us see. The 2 May meeting was very fruitful. It was held in a very good atmosphere.
Some civil society members are upset with Mr Anna Hazare's praise of Gujarat chief minister Mr Narendra Modi. Has it damaged your campaign?
I don't think so. Mr Hazare made an innocuous statement. In it, he only praised the rate of rural development in Gujarat. He hadn't, in any way, endorsed the communal violence perpetrated in that state. Subsequently, he issued a statement saying that he was completely against communal violence. Later on, he received many letters from people living in Gujarat claiming that the state had not seen as much progress as being made out in media. So he went to the extent of saying that if rural development in Gujarat hadn't taken place with as much gusto as thought, he took back his statement in its entirety. So, I don't think that a lot should be attached to a stray or innocuous statement of (Mr) Hazare.
If the 15 August deadline for the passage of the Lokpal Bill is not met, will you or India Against Corruption (IAC) again take to the streets?
It will depend on the circumstances at that time. All of us spearheading the campaign will sit together and discuss the future course of action.
Some civil society members are of the view that liberalisation, privatisation and corporatisation that have taken place in India since 1991 are the main reasons for corruption in the country. Do you agree?
Yes, of course. I agree. But the causes of corruption can't be compartmentalised. It is all-pervasive. It is not as if India had no corruption prior to 1991. There had been corruption before liberalisation and there is corruption post-liberalisation. What this law (Lokpal Bill) is aiming at is to put in place an effective system of deterrence. We are not saying that the Lokpal law will wipe out corruption from the country. But it will build deterrence. There are many more things that are needed beyond the Lokpal Bill. Annaji has already announced what course of action needs to be taken following the enactment of the Lokpal Bill.
What criteria were followed for nominating civil society representatives in the Lokpal Bill joint drafting committee?
There was just one criterion ~ that the panel should comprise the people who had drafted the original Lokpal Bill. There were four people who had drafted the Bill. Myself, Mr Shanti Bhushan, Mr Prashant Bhushan and Mr Justice Santosh Hegde. So, the people who had drafted the original Lokpal Bill were nominated for the joint drafting committee.

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On nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to Al Qaida's terror: Justice has been done.
US President Barrack Obama while breaking the news of Osama bin Laden's capture and death in Pakistan
I welcome it as a significant step forward and hope that it will deal a decisive blow to Al Qaida and other terrorist groups.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.
Intelligence failure happens across the world, not in Pakistan alone.
Pakistan Prime Minister Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani
A planned propaganda is going on with the motive of demoralising Left Front activists. An imaginary Trinamul-led government is being projected in order to influence those who will vote in the remaining two phases of the ongoing election.
West Bengal chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Rallies and street meetings will be organised all over the state to protest against the conspiracy to oust the Left Front government. We are also demanding a fresh probe to unravel the face of the conspirators.
Left Front chairman Mr Biman Bose on the latest Purulia arms drop revelations
I am happy with the turnout rate. It is clear the people have cast their vote to being about a change and with today's polling, a new government will be in place as people have already decided to help form the Maa-Mati-Manush-er government for the sake of development and to end the era of Left Front government.
Trinamul supremo Miss Mamata Banerjee at a rally at Golgram in Debra
As a pilot, I can say that if there is proper maintenance and the pilot goes by the book, helicopters are 100 per cent safe. But most times, pilots are under pressure while flying VVIPs. We call it the VVIP syndrome, wherein politician passengers compel pilots to take an unsafe decision.
Union minister of state for health Mr Dinesh Trivedi after Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorji Khandu was killed in a air crash
The BJP and Left are displaying blatant opportunism, collusion and complicity in destabilising secular forces such as the Congress and the UPA.
Congress spokesman Mr Abhishek Singhvi







The causation of leprosy has for over a quarter of a century been ascribed to infection by a bacillus, but it could not be regarded as proved since attempts to cultivate the suspected bacillus failed and hence it was impossible to demonstrate by experimental inoculation that the bacillus would produce the disease. Apparently, however, success has at length been achieved. Major Rost, I.M.S., and Captain T.S.B. Williams, I.M.S., working independently, have been able to obtain a growth from the nodules which are characteristic of one form of leprosy. Major Rost claimed to have cultivated the bacillus leprae in 1904, but at that time the culture which he produced was declared to be merely a contamination. In October, 1909, however, Surgeon-General Lukis satisfied himself by personal investigation that Major Rost had "succeeded in isolating and cultivating an organism which possessed very distinctive characteristics." About the same time Captain Beauchamp Williams, who had been studying the effects of "Nastin" at the Matunga Leper Asylum, reported that he had succeeded in growing an organism similar to that described by Rost. Major Rost's cultures and those of Captain Williams have since been examined by Lieutenant Colonel Bannerman, the Director of the Bombay Bacteriological Laboratory, who is of opinion that the organisms found by the two investigators are "probably identical". Further, there is reason to believe that the organisms isolated by Major Rost and Captain Williams are the same as that discovered by Deycke, the investigator by whom "Nastin" was invented. The reserve which can be traced in Lieutenant Colonel Bannerman's opinion is due to certain apparent differences between the two growths which Captain Williams and Major Rost have obtained. The fact is that recent research has established a distinction between a bacillus and an organism known as a streptothrix. The streptothrix belongs to a higher group of organisms than the bacillus. As an interesting example of the ever-increasing care and vigilance with which the world of the infinitely little is being surveyed and re-surveyed we find that Koch's tubercle bacillus is now considered to be not a bacillus but a streptothrix. In the case of the organisms to which leprosy is ascribed Major Rost describes the growth which he has made as an acid-fast bacillus, whereas Captain Beauchamp Williams regards his culture as a streptothrix. The explanation which Captain Williams offers of this seeming disagreement is that Major Rost's bacillus is in reality a bacillary form of a streptothrix. In this view Lieut.-Colonel Bannerman concurs, though he seems to be disposed to desire a further investigation. Surgeon-General Lukis is still more cautious in his pronouncement on the value of the discovery. "The results," he says, "obtained by these officers cannot be regarded as being absolutely conclusive, but they are in my opinion of sufficient importance to justify their publication." There the matter rests at present. But the lay public may venture to cherish the hope that this very proper reserve does not preclude the probability that an important advance has been made towards the discovery of the real causation of leprosy and of a remedy for this dreadful disease.







The Bible is revered by all Christians. But the King James Version — often called the Authorized Version — deserves the reverence of all those who love and cherish the English language. The King James Version — to use one of its words —begat the English language. It was first printed and published 400 years ago in 1611. The Authorized Version owes its origins to William Tyndale's translation of the Greek New Testament into English that he published from Worms in 1526. Tyndale's most important successor was Miles Coverdale, who, in October 1535, published the first edition of the entire Bible in English. It was only in 1604, when King James assembled a group of bishops and moderate puritans at Hampton Court, that it was decided that a new translation of the Bible in English should be prepared since all the previous translations had several defects and were thus "not answerable to the truth of the original''. The work of translating was distributed to six companies based in Westminster, Oxford and Cambridge. Out of the scholarship and diligence of these men was born the King James Version of the Bible.

Given the majesty of the prose of the King James Version, what is often overlooked is that large portions of the latter are derived from Tyndale's translation. The Authorized Version, in fact, completed Tyndale's original plan of making the Bible available to the lay English-speaking public. In this sense, the King James Bible is a triumph since it is said to be the most read book in English and, despite competition from other modern translations, it sells 250,000 copies annually.

A large part of the charm and attraction of the Authorized Version lies in its prose. The style is marked by the use of archaic language. The example of "begat" has already been cited in the first paragraph. The translators deliberately chose to use words like "ye'', "thee'' and "thou''. It retained "eth'' endings: thus "knoweth". The most famous of these archaic uses occurs in the first line of the Lord's Prayer: "Our father which art in heaven.'' It is difficult for theologians and grammarians to explain the use of "which". The use of such words, spellings and phrases cannot take away from the unforgettable cadences of the prose. Consider the simple profundity of the first verse of St John's gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.'' The 23rd Psalm, in most previous translations, began with, "God is my shepherd, therefore I can lack nothing.'' The King James Version made it memorable as, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.'' But more than this, what the King James Version did was introduce innumerable phrases and sentences that have now become part of the English language. It thus completely transformed English. James Thurber, in one of his short stories, made a character say that Hamlet was full of quotations. The comment would apply a fortiori to the Bible King James commissioned and authorized.








In spite of its gender bias, India has women in leading positions POLITICS AND PLAY: Ramachandra Guha

A remarkable yet perhaps under-appreciated fact about Indian politics today is the influence, at the very top, of women. The most powerful individual in the country is a woman. The most powerful individual in the country's largest state is a woman. The leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha is a woman. Within a week's time, the most powerful individual in the state of West Bengal will certainly be a woman, and the most powerful individual in the state of Tamil Nadu will quite possibly be a woman.

This is an extraordinary conjunction, especially when one considers the historic oppression of women in South Asia down the ages. India's major religions, Hinduism and Islam, are in scriptural and practical terms deeply inhospitable to the emancipation of women, to the emergence of individual women as independent actors who can take their own decisions about how to live their life (rather than having these decisions taken for them by fathers, brothers, or husbands). And yet, here we have the policies of the country as a whole, and of several massive states within it, being shaped by women. Hundreds of millions of Indian men are now having their fate and future determined by those whom they have traditionally regarded as being subservient to them.

How does one explain the rise to power and influence of Sonia Gandhi, Mayavati, Sushma Swaraj, Jayalalithaa, and Mamata Banerjee? The cynic may claim that except for the last-named, all have had their paths smoothed by male patrons or family members. Had Sonia Gandhi not been Rajiv Gandhi's widow, she would not have become president of the Congress. Mayavati and Jayalalithaa were the protegées and anointed successors, respectively, of Kanshi Ram and M.G. Ramachandran, the founders of the political formations these ladies now head: the Bahujan Samaj Party and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Sushma Swaraj was supported in her early years in politics by her husband, the former socialist leader, Swaraj Kaushal, while her recent rise in the Bharatiya Janata Party has been aided by male patrons, most crucially perhaps the Reddy brothers of Karnataka.

(Mamata Banerjee's career in politics owes much less to male patronage. In fact, she came to prominence through challenging powerful men — first, the anti-Congress stalwart, Jayaprakash Narayan, on whose car she stamped and danced in 1974, and then, the communist stalwart, Somnath Chatterjee, whom she defeated in a Lok Sabha election in the Jadavpur constituency of Calcutta in 1984.)

The scholar may answer (or temper) the cynic by arguing that Sonia, Mayavati and company are the beneficiaries not of this or that individual, but of a long historical process, led and shaped by several generations of social reformers. In the early 19th century, Rammohun Roy responded to the challenge of Christian missionaries by campaigning for the abolition of sati and by arguing that in moral and intellectual terms women were at least the equal of men. In Roy's wake came Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Jyotiba Phule and D.K. Karve, who championed women's education; Mahatma Gandhi, who brought women into the freedom struggle; and Jawaharlal Nehru and B.R. Ambedkar, who insisted that women get the vote at the same time as men (in the West, they obtained the vote decades later), and who rewrote personal and family laws to allow most Indian women to own and inherit property and to choose their marriage partners.

Roy excepted, these male reformers were stimulated, challenged, aided and provoked by their female counterparts. The state of Maharashtra in particular produced some brilliant and very influential feminists, among them Pandita Ramabai Ranade and Tarabai Shinde. From the South came such remarkable women as Ammu Swaminadhan, Muthulakshmi Reddy, and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya. These feminists helped transform social mores and change state laws, so as to permit the greater participation of women in the economy, in education, in the arts, and in politics.

History and family ties have played their part, but so, too, has the character of these particular individuals. It helped Sonia Gandhi that she was the wife of one prime minister and the daughter-in-law of another, but these connections would have come to naught without her own determination and courage, which saw her bring her party back from the dead to a position of dominance. Both Mayavati and Jayalalithaa have faced, and overcome, vicious and vindictive male opponents. The former has had the additional handicap of being a Dalit in a country still subject to the cultural hegemony of the upper castes, the latter of being a Brahmin in a political climate soaked in anti-Brahminism. The Hindu Right is nothing if not reactionary and patriarchal, attitudes which Sushma Swaraj has had to negotiate and combat. And in some ways Mamata Banerjee's journey has been the toughest of all, for she has had to fight, in district after district if not para by para, the rule of the wholly male dadas of the long-entrenched Communist Party of India (Marxist).

The success, in political terms, of these five women is manifest. Ironically, though, women continue to be marginal in parties and regions where one might have thought them to have enjoyed more influence. Communists the world over claim to stand for gender equality. Why then is there no significant woman leader of the CPI(M) in either Kerala or West Bengal? Adivasi culture has traditionally allowed women greater freedom; yet one cannot easily think of an important adivasi woman politician. The tribal and Christian communities of the Northeast have traditionally accorded more dignity to women than Hindu or Muslim communities; why then do only men become chief ministers in Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and so on? Unlike Hinduism and Islam, Sikhism grants scriptural equality to women; why has only one woman become the chief minister of Punjab, and that for a brief, abbreviated term?

(One must also note that there is not a single Muslim woman leader of consequence anywhere in India. While perhaps easier to explain in sociological terms, this deficiency is nonetheless to be deplored and, if possible, remedied.)

The rise to power of Sonia, Sushma, Mamata, Mayavati and Jayalalithaa has also to be set off against the continuing discrimination against women in Indian society. Female foeticide, dowry deaths, khap panchayats, unwritten rules which militate against women becoming vice-chancellors of major universities and editors of major newspapers — these are the deep and poisonous residues of history, which generations of reformers have been unsuccessful in removing.

Finally, one must note that the five most powerful women in India have not always used their power wisely or well. Sonia Gandhi has promoted a culture of sycophancy that has inhibited Congress regimes from responding effectively to the challenges of governance. Mayavati and Jayalalithaa have pronounced authoritarian tendencies. Mamata Banerjee is, to put it politely, temperamental; her frequent changes of mood, and her lack of interest in policy matters, do not bode well for the government and state she is about to take charge of. Sushma Swaraj's dependence on the mafia dons of Bellary seriously undermines her personal and political credibility.

The rise of Sonia, Sushma, Mamata, Mayavati and Jayalalithaa does not thus herald a 'stree raj', or even a new age of gender equality. Still, that in a society and culture so steeped in discrimination against women these five individuals have come to exercise so much influence is both striking and surprising. Whatever the reasons for their rise — personal (their courage and drive), or historical (the impact of generations of reformers), or political (the advent of universal adult franchise, where a woman's vote equals a man's) — and whatever its consequences, the phenomenon itself is noteworthy, and merits an appreciation, however qualified.




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




There are serious problems in the implementation of the Right to Education Act in all the states of the country.The Act, which makes all children aged between 6 and 14 entitled to free and compulsory education, was notified in April 2010. But its enforcement is shoddy and uneven and there are large numbers of complaints about lack of compliance with the provisions of the law from all over the country. The complaints come from people who are aware of the right and find violations of the law. But the majority of the people are unaware of the law. The number of complaints would have been manifold if they knew that their children's rights are being denied. Since schools are going to reopen in the next few weeks and this is the peak admission time, it is necessary to address the problems urgently.

A review meeting held by the human resources development ministry last week has decided to evolve procedures to address the complaints. Most complaints relate to denial of admission, prejudiced admission procedures, demand for capitation fees, poor quality of teaching,  absence of schools in accessible areas and lack of teachers and physical infrastructure. Some of these problems should have been addressed in the past few months but some others like the admission problems can still be sorted out. One important complaint relates to the 25 per cent quota for economically weaker sections in private schools. Many schools are unwilling to implement the provision and some have even incited parents to oppose it on objectionable grounds. The fee compensation scheme in the case of such students  is being disputed. But the refusal of some school managements to admit poor students on grounds of difference in family backgrounds and alleged learning disabilities are more serious and should be handled strictly.

The ministry has decided to make the grievance redressal mechanism more accessible to people. The mechanism does not exist in some states. Redressal  bodies should function effectively at the lowest levels like panchayats. There is a proposal to put in place a malpractices law which can better handle violations of the RTE Act.  While this may be considered, the present focus should be on using the powers which are already available. Wider dissemination of the rights under the Act, especially in the educationally and economically backward areas,  is necessary.  Non-government organisations and others interested in education should also be involved in the awareness programme.






With Osama bin Laden's death, the imminence of the US' pullout of its troops from Afghanistan is growing by the day. The likely exit of foreign troops is expected to result in a vacuum that the Taliban backed by Pakistan will seek to fill. The implications of such a scenario for India are immense. In fact, like India there are several countries including Tajikistan, Iran, Russia, which are deeply worried over the emerging scenario. Of course, Iran and Russia will not be unhappy to see the back of the American forces but the likely return of the Taliban to Afghanistan and the surge in Pakistan-backed religious extremism in the region are triggering the worst fears of leaders in the region. It is imperative that India reaches out to Iran, Russia, Tajikistan and other likeminded Central Asian powers without further delay in order to ensure that Afghanistan remains in friendly hands.

India has worked with Iran, Russia and Tajikistan before; so co-operating with these countries now to keep at bay inimical forces should not be difficult. In the late 1990s, Delhi joined hands with Russia and Iran to provide medical and other support to the Northern Alliance's fighters battling the Taliban in Afghanistan. And yet, there is there is some unease in Delhi over the possibility of co-operation not falling in place easily. Over the past few years, India's relationship with Iran has soured considerably even as that with the US has warmed. Teheran is unlikely to have forgotten the many slights it has suffered from India. It will have to redouble its efforts to woo Iran. However, since India-Iran-Russia co-operation on Afghanistan is as much in Teheran's interest as it is in India's and Teheran should be brought on board.

 There are hotheads in India who are suggesting that Delhi should replicate an Abbottabad-style operation to take out Pakistan-based terrorists who are waging war on India. They are calling for deeper co-operation with Israel on counter-terrorism as the way forward. India must desist from charting out unilateral strategies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Going it alone in a violent neighbourhood is a recipe for disaster. A regional approach that is inclusive is likely to be far more productive and to result in a durable settlement. ***************************************





Bangalore's middle class and students came out in their thousands in support of the Anna Hazare movement for the Jan Lokpal Bill and against corruption. They might look at their own city and compel accountability of Bangalore's venal politicians, many municipal bureaucrats, engineers and contractors who have turned a beautiful city into a perennial ugly urban wasteland of diggings, mud, slush, potholed roads, no pavements, and huge concrete piling work everywhere. It has been never ending for ten years. What is worse, many are constantly repeated (like pavement slabs). When it rains, walls collapse, two wheeler drivers break their necks, houses are flooded by sewage, and children die in open drains.  
Bangalore is home to some of the brightest engineers in the world. 'Bangalored' has entered the American lexicon for white collar American jobs now performed in Bangalore. Bangalore brains design and redesign many things from animation films to sophisticated medical equipment and diagnosis. Other Indian cities are catching up with Bangalore ---Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad and Ahmadabad. They have large and growing populations of techies and the middle classes. They have widened roads, constructed flyovers, improved drainage and water supply, and built massive new housing colonies in less than five years, with little discomfort to residents. 
However, for ten years now Bangalore has been developing less as a livable city and more as an ever-expanding and permanent construction site. There was a time when it was possible, indeed a pleasure, to walk on Bangalore's beautiful wide pavements with many shady trees. Now it is dangerous to life and limb. Most of the trees have now gone and the old stone slabs on pavements have been replaced by a mish mash of prefabricated concrete pieces that do not fit and cannot bear the weight of the traffic, leaving gaping holes in the pavements.

 In any case, most pavements have been uprooted and do not exist, and certainly not as a continuity. Almost every road is dug up, and everywhere there is one or more from among the following: flyover construction, metro work, underground sewer pipe laying, broken pavements or work on demolition of houses for widening of roads. None of these activities anticipates the concerns of citizens as pedestrians or those using public or personal transportation. There is a casual attempt to enclose dangerous construction sites like metro rail, (except near the Vidhana Saudha), unlike in Delhi where not only were there enclosures but they were cleaned every day, with well-kept alternate roads and pavements prepared for use. Bangalore's bureaucrats do not even think of this.

Every government since that of SM Krishna has tinkered with Bangalore's urban topography. Every chief minister and public works minister as well as sundry mayors, and loud mouthed corporators and commissioners of the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike have promised to fill potholes in roads and improve the pavements forthwith. But they have always remained mere promises. Contracts for these works are awarded usually to local contractors or they are appointed as sub-contractors. Their work emulates that of the famous Tirupati temple barbers who line up dozens of customers eager to offer their hair to the Lord. In imitation of good production engineers they shave one side of the heads, and leave the half-shorn devotees to wait while the barbers go in search of fresh victims.

The half-shorn cannot go away or to another barber. Similarly, Bangalore urban contractors dig up the road or pavement and then disappear often for months, before they return to desultorily continue with their contracted work. 

The rare honest inspection of the work of contractors has shown substandard materials being used; poor, careless workmanship, and every attempt to cut costs by reducing quality, below the contract conditions. The contractors generously share the loot with all officials connected with the work. No wonder that walls collapse, children drown, scooter drivers are maimed for life, vehicles are damaged, and people dread walking on the streets. The poor, who have no choice, take their lives in their hands every time they venture out.

Bangalore Mahanagara Palike has a large bureaucracy of engineers, inspectors, accountants and many others. They are all conscious of their status and rights but not of their duties. There is zero accountability for any individual. Almost every official or employee appears to be on the take, making much more than his legitimate salary. The Lokayukta can only do so much in identifying them. In any case he cannot prosecute them without government permission, which is rarely given.

We need a mass movement to enforce individual accountability for substandard municipal work, delays and especially the 'Tirupati barber' method of starting work and leaving it undone for years, with  exemplary punishments of imprisonment and dismissal; not the puny ones now available. The contractor who loots the system, the municipal employee who colludes in this, the corporators who wink at it and other higher officials must all be brought to book. The Freedom Park can start a people's movement to save Bangalore.








I sold my car almost ten years ago. I do not go out except for periodical visits to my dentist Vohra in Khan Market or Dr Sachdev, the eye specialist or Vipin Buckshey, my optician.

But every time I do it takes me longer to get to there because of the increasing traffic. Delhi has more cars than Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata put together. New overbridges, widening roads — most of all the Metro have brought some relief but not enough. We have to think of some radical measures to relieve congestion on our roads; otherwise our capital city will become unliveable.

I recommend people take a look at a small booklet by Ram Niwas Malik, a retired engineer-in-chief, Public Health, entitled 10-Point Solution For Traffic Problems of Delhi. Some of his suggestions are in practice in many western countries and Japan. Malik's first suggestions is likely to make a lot of difference as soon as it is implemented. It is new to me and most sensible. He suggests that office working hours should be so organised that the staff of different offices come and go at different hours. At present they are observing same timings and clog the roads. If some report for duty at 8 am others at 9 or 10 am, they will not be on the roads at the same time.

His second suggestion is that on certain days of the week no vehicular traffic be allowed in selected areas. If no cars were allowed in Connaught Place on Sundays but shops remained open, it would make a lot of difference. I have seen this done in Tokyo — streets congested on most days, suddenly turn into open spaces because people drink and eat in restaurants and children play about. I saw the same happen in Ottawa (Canada). Some bazaars like Chandni Chowk should be declared out of bounds for cars and scooters. We have to make provision for parking of vehicles. I see no alternative to creating multi-storeyed parking buildings. All advanced countries which have space problems have them. I also think the number of cars with red lights on their roofs to indicate that the owner is a VIP should be abolished. Let VIPs learn by experience what the common man has to put up with. The problem acquires more and more urgency by the day as almost 100 vehicles are added daily to Delhi.

Merchant of death

After reading the affidavit of Sanjiv Bhatt, a senior police officer in Gujarat stating that chief minister Narendra Modi had exhorted Hindus to teach Muslims a lesson for what some of their fellow Muslims had done to the Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station in which 68 Hindu Kar Sewaks returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive, one can easily understand why Sonia Gandhi had called him 'Maut Ka Saudagar' — Merchant of Death. However good Modi may have done by industrialising the state, his hands are soiled with human blood.

If you examine the causes and effects of communal conflicts you will see that when the state fails to take action, people take the law in their own hands to seek revenge. It should always be borne in mind that maintenance of law and order is the sole monopoly of the government — no one else has the right to do so.

When Indira Gandhi was assassinated, the government should have known that lawless elements would go for the Sikhs because the assassins were Sikhs. Instead of doing that it encouraged thugs to 'teach the Sikhs a lesson.' Consequently, over 5,000 innocent Sikhs were killed and their properties looted. Modi did not learn anything from that experience.  He should have known that after the train was set on fire by some Muslims, Hindus would go for innocent Muslims. Instead of preventing them from doing so, he encouraged them to 'teach the Muslims a lesson.' So thousands of innocent Muslims were done to death by Hindu mobs. He fully deserved to be known as 'Maut, Ka Saudagar.'

Well said

Women's styles may change, but their designs remain the same.

Running into debt doesn't bother me, it's running into creditors that's upsetting. Two feet on the ground are worth one in the mouth.

Bachelor: A rolling stone that gathers no moss.

Race horse: An animal that can take several people for a ride at the same time.

A secret: Something you tell only to one person at a time.

A Will: A rich man died and a line in his will read: "I leave to my beloved son all the money he owes me.

What Sheikh Saadi said:
"I fear the following two: Rabb (God) and Those who don't fear the God — (Jehre Raab kolon nahin darde)

(Contributed by Rajnish, Shimla.)







When most people get grouchy, it was the most productive phase of his life.
Every city in India has distinct characteristics, and New Delhi is said to be a city where only power and status count. It is where the heat of summer and the chill of winter dominate all conversations and events. It is a happening city – always in the news for the right and wrong reasons.  People are constantly on the move, travelling by metro, air-conditioned cars or the rash city buses. Amidst all this din there was a posthumous book launch done with quiet dignity.  From Bangalore, members of the author's family flew to Delhi with mixed feelings. 

This was an event that the author had been waiting for, but the book's release was delayed due to various reasons.  Battling ill health, the author breathed his last. But even two days before his demise the book's launch was uppermost in his mind. He gazed blankly at his daughter and requested her to write his welcome speech and her thank you speech to the guests. 

Post-retirement, when most people get grouchy and restless, it was the most productive phase of his life. He wrote five books pertaining to the oil industry and published many white papers. However, his autobiography remains incomplete. If someone were to write about his life and times it could be neatly divided into four parts: his growing up years in Vizag; university years in France; long association with the oil industry; and his remarkable sense of humour. Out of these, the years in France which he referred to as his fatherland, were the most inspiring and interesting to listen to.  When he was leaving for France his mother told him not to eat beef and he replied, "But those are French cows!"

Two incidents stand out. One night he stood transfixed watching snowflakes float down from the sky. A passerby warned him about an approaching snowstorm, but he didn't seem to hear him. Later, the passerby made him get into his car and took him home. The stranger was the dean of Nancy University.  Four years later when he defended his thesis in fluent French, the jury was so impressed that they gave him a standing ovation.

The clock moved on and he returned to India. Later his children would ask him why he returned when he had such a good life in France. He'd reply that if he hadn't, he would have never known them!  The last few years of his life were painful ones – both physically and emotionally.  Still he would say that he was thankful that the suffering was only towards the end.  Even when in hospital his wit was razor sharp.  Referring to the nurses as vampires he would say that they have come to draw blood.  Once he told his daughters that they must become famous and their names must spread far and wide; one of them jokingly said that she was already famous.  He looked up and said, "Did I miss something?"

And as I stood up to make the thank you speech at my father's book launch, my eyes welled with tears when I read out the title of his last book – Summons to Greatness.




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





Jobs data can be hard to read. When an economy is emerging from recession, a rising jobless rate can be a good sign if it reflects an increase in the people actively looking for work. Sadly, that was not the case with the April employment numbers reported on Friday. The jobless rate rose because the people who lost or left their jobs outnumbered those who found new work.


That does not diminish the boost from the increase of 244,000 jobs in April, but it does add perspective. Job growth is not taking off. At the current monthly rate, it would take more than five years to return to the pre-recession unemployment rate of 5 percent in December 2007.


What will it take to move the job market from weak to strong? For starters, it would require top policy makers to be asking that question and looking for answers. Instead, Congress and the White House are preoccupied with budget cutting, ignoring that more good jobs — which would create tax revenue and reduce spending on government aid — would be the best way to fight deficits.


They are also ignoring that a modicum of recovery has exposed deep pockets of distress. States and local governments are still shedding jobs. High school graduates under age 25 have had a jobless rate of nearly 22 percent in the past year. For young college graduates, the rate has been 9.6 percent, about the same as high school graduates over age 25. For black workers, unemployment was 16.1 percent in April, far higher than that of white workers. College-educated blacks are also more likely to be unemployed than their white peers. Among the jobless, 43.4 percent have been out of work for more than six months.


The fixation on the federal deficit has silenced talk of more fiscal stimulus. But more aid to states could help stanch job loss. Programs that create public-works jobs could be tailored to groups with high unemployment, and job re-training could focus on the long-term unemployed.


The sound of one hand clapping is what you hear when policy makers wave those kinds of ideas away.









The only thing missing from Preet Bharara's press conference was the blaring of trumpets.


It was Tuesday, and the U.S. attorney in Manhattan was proudly unveiling a lawsuit against Deutsche Bank that his office had filed that morning. As he took reporters through the legal complaint, Bharara spoke sternly about how the bank had defrauded the Federal Housing Administration, which had insured hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of bad loans that the bank then sold to investors, reaping handsome fees.


Listening to Bharara, one could easily think that prosecutors were finally — finally! — getting tough on the bad behavior that helped bring about the financial crisis. Alas, it was mainly an illusion.


Upon closer inspection, it turns out that the main target of Bharara's wrath was MortgageIT, a smallish division that Deutsche Bank bought in 2007 — eight years into an alleged fraud that ended in 2009. In the complaint itself, not one MortgageIT executive was singled out as a wrongdoer; it was as if this faceless corporation had somehow defrauded the government without human help.


Most stunningly, despite concluding that MortgageIT executives had "knowingly, wantonly and recklessly" lied to federal officials, Bharara's office had decided that none of them deserved jail time. It had brought a civil, not a criminal, case, meaning the only punishment prosecutors could seek was money — more than $1 billion in this instance. That sounds like a lot until you realize that Deutsche Bank's 2010 revenues were more than $42 billion. In other words, a tap on the wrist.


"Every lie is not a crime," said Bharara, when he was asked why no criminal charges had been brought. But two-plus years after the financial crisis, that's not the right question anymore. The right question is: Are there any lies that amount to crimes? When it comes to financial executives, it sure doesn't look that way.


To give him his due, Bharara has brought serious insider-trading charges against Raj Rajaratnam, the hedge fund manager, using evidence that included wiretaps of brazen phone calls between Rajaratnam and the insiders who were feeding him illegal information. If Rajaratnam is convicted — inexplicably, the jury remains out after several weeks — he would go to prison for a long time.


But that case doesn't have anything to do with the events that led to the financial crisis; indeed, one can argue that the immense resources devoted to cracking the insider-trading case meant that Bharara lacked manpower to go after those culpable for bringing us to the brink of financial disaster.


He also put Bernie Madoff in prison, though that didn't exactly require heaving lifting. Later, Bharara would take credit for forcing large settlements from two of Madoff's presumed enablers, Carl Shapiro and the late Jeffry Picower. But, here again, Bharara was searching for applause he doesn't deserve. Bharara parachuted into settlement talks that were well under way between Irving Picard, the trustee handling the Madoff bankruptcy, and lawyers for Shapiro and Picower. It was Picard's inquiry that made those settlements possible.


As for the big fish, they're all walking away unscathed. The Securities and Exchange Commission got a $67.5 million settlement out of Angelo Mozilo, the former chief executive of Countrywide. (Mozilo paid only $22.5 million; the rest was picked up by Countrywide's owner, Bank of America.) But prosecutors on the West Coast dropped their criminal investigation.


The Justice Department spent several years trying to build a case against Joe Cassano, the former head of A.I.G.'s Financial Products division. It gave up. Richard Fuld, the former chief executive of Lehman Brothers, approved a bookkeeping scam that hid billions of dollars of Lehman's debt from investors. Recent reports suggest that not only will he not be charged with a crime, he isn't even likely to face civil charges.


The MortgageIT executives are hardly in the same rank as Fuld or Mozilo, but the facts laid out in Bharara's complaint are truly shocking. Given special status by the F.H.A. to make loans to low-income Americans, which the government would then insure, the company flagrantly lied about the underwriting it had done. Loans would often default in a matter of months. Independent auditors who reported problems saw reports stashed in a closet, unread. To make a criminal case, prosecutors need to show that executives knowingly intended to deceive. If 10 years of this behavior doesn't qualify as intentional deception, it is hard to know what would.


I know that these are difficult cases to win. The one time prosecutors brought a criminal case involving the financial crisis — against two Bear Stearns hedge fund managers whose fund collapsed in the summer of 2007 — they lost. But so long as prosecutors resist bringing criminal cases against financial executives, they are sending a message.


Crime pays.







Osama goes down. Obama ticks up. That's the narrative of the killing of Osama bin Laden and the lift in the polls for President Obama in its aftermath. In fact, a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted after Bin Laden was killed found an 11-point jump in the president's approval rating.


But the event and its effect are likely fleeting moments in our memories.


First, the same poll found that the president's approval rating on the economy dropped to its lowest level of his presidency.


It is a sobering reminder that terror for most Americans is no longer embodied in a bearded man hiding in Pakistan. It manifests daily in thoughts of not having enough to feed a family or fill a tank and in worrying about losing a job or a house.


Second, we are an America in need of Adderall. We have a hard time focusing on heady issues for long stretches. We prefer little candy-coated news nuggets to issues of substance — picking Chiclets over chowder every time.


In fact, we can't even seem to be able to focus on our distractions, according to a new study reported on the Web site Science Daily and set to appear in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. In the study, researchers put participants in a room with a computer and a television and gave them 30 minutes to use either. On average, participants thought that they might have looked back and forth between the two devices about 15 times. In fact, they had looked back and forth, on average, 120 times.


We think we're multitasking, but we're only mincing attention.


And, third, the right and its corporate overlords will work tirelessly and spend endlessly to ensure that Obama's accomplishment is diminished. They're already tripping over themselves to credit George W. Bush in Bin Laden's demise, and Glenn Beck, that paragon of political distortion and delusion, went so far as to call the president's trip to ground zero "disgusting," "obscene" and "grotesque."


Furthermore, the Supreme Court, by turning Lady Justice into a corporate concubine in the Citizens United ruling, has opened the floodgates of corporate spending on elections, and 2012 will be the first presidential test of it.


One omen for out-of-control spending by corporations is the amount donated to the Republican and Democratic Governors Associations — which could already take unlimited amounts from corporations — during the last election cycle.


According to a report issued last week by the Center for Responsive Politics, the Republican Governors Association received more than $60 million — nearly half of all the money it raised — from businesses, lawyers and lobbyists. That was nearly twice as much as the Democratic association received from those sources. And the biggest corporate contributor to the Republicans was, you guessed it: News America, a subsidiary of the News Corporation, which owns Fox News.


Aristotle once said that "democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers." We as a country are moving further and further away from that ideal.


This uptick for Obama is likely temporary. What will matter most as we enter the campaign season is the jobs picture, the public's level of engagement and an avalanche of ads.









I. Match that quote:


1) "He got the position himself. I didn't get it for him."


A) Donald Trump, on Donald Jr.'s job as an executive vice president at the Trump Organization.


B) Wisconsin lobbyist whose college-dropout son was named to an important state job and then given a promotion and 26 percent raise two months later.


C) Hosni Mubarak on how son Gamal rose to be general secretary of the Egyptian government's policy committee.


D) Queen Elizabeth on naming Prince William the Duke of Cambridge.




2) "Frankly, my toilets don't work in my house, and I blame you."


A) Participant in a "This Old House" episode.


B) Participant in an "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" episode.


C) Participant in a "Selling New York" episode.


D) Senator Rand Paul to Department of Energy official during a hearing on energy efficiency standards.




3) "There's no question, at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."


A) Gen. Stanley McChrystal on his interview with Rolling Stone.


B) Newt Gingrich on adultery.


C) Bernie Madoff on his Ponzi scheme.


D) Retiring Senator John Ensign in his farewell address.




4) "We will carry on this struggle until in God's good time, with all His power and might, He steps forth to the rescue and liberation of our God-given American liberty."


A) Abraham Lincoln on the Civil War.


B) Mayor of tornado-ravaged Tuscaloosa, Ala.


C) Gen. David Petraeus, addressing the troops in Iraq.


D) Representative Steve King of Iowa on repealing the health care reform act.




II. Match the governor:


1) Aide: "He likes a cold room."


2) "So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother, and you're not my sister."


3) "I went to work at 11 years old. I became governor. It's not a big deal. Work doesn't hurt anybody."


4) "I do chase women, like the prime minister of Italy, but that's about it."


A) Paul LePage of Maine.


B) Robert Bentley of Alabama.


C) Andrew Cuomo of New York.


D) Arne Moltis (O.K., he's only a gubernatorial candidate) of West Virginia.




III. Match the Republican presidential hopefuls:


1) Newt Gingrich


2) Mitt Romney


3) Mitch Daniels


4) Tim Pawlenty


5) Mike Huckabee


6) Michele Bachmann


7) Ron Paul


8) Herman Cain


A) Criticized President Obama for doing exactly what he demanded Obama do about Libya.


B) Latest book tells about a joke he pulled on a man who had just been fitted for a new hearing aid, by "moving my lips as if I were talking but without saying anything so he'd think something was wrong."

C) Latest book fails to mention that he once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car.


D) Told a New Hampshire audience: "You're the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord."


E) Attacked Superman for encouraging "this whole globalist trend."


F) Recently debated a Barack Obama impersonator on Fox.


G) Recently said only an "insane person" would like to run for president.


H) Promised to discriminate against Muslims if elected.




EXTRA CREDIT: Match the state with the bill proposed in the current legislative session:

1) Undertake a study on whether the state should create its own currency in case the Federal Reserve breaks down.


2) Make it a state crime to hire an undocumented worker, except for jobs like nannies, housekeepers or lawn mowers.


3) Make the state a coal company "sanctuary" exempt from federal environmental laws.


4) Declare global warming is "beneficial to the welfare and business climate" of the state.


5) Require every adult in the state to own a gun.

A) Kentucky


B) Montana


C) Tennessee


D) South Dakota

E) Texas


ANSWERS: I: 1-B, 2-D, 3-B, 4-D; II: 1-C, 2-B, 3-A, 4-D; III: 1-A, 2-C, 3-G, 4-B, 5-E, 6-D, 7-F, 8-H; Extra Credit: 1-C, 2-E, 3-A, 4-B, 5-D.










TODAY is the 300th birthday of David Hume, the most important philosopher ever to write in English, according to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The conferences being held on Hume this year in Austria, the Czech Republic, Russia, Finland and Brazil suggest that the encyclopedia's claim is perhaps too modest.


Panelists will cite Hume's seismic impact on epistemology, political theory, economics, historiography, aesthetics and religion, as well as his deep skepticism of the powers of reason. But chances are they won't have much to say about Hume the man.


It's not surprising; Hume was most concerned with the nature of knowledge, morality, causality — not with fashioning a philosophy for everyday life. And yet his life, like his work, does offer insights about how to live. Consider an episode in Hume's life that reflects his most provocative and misunderstood claim: that reason is and always will be the slave to our passions. Predictably, it happened in Paris.


In 1761, Hippolyte de Saujon, the estranged wife of the Comte de Boufflers and celebrated mistress of the Prince de Conti, sent a fan letter to Hume. His best-selling "History of England," she wrote, "enlightens the soul and fills the heart with sentiments of humanity and benevolence." It must have been written by "some celestial being, free from human passions."


From Edinburgh, the rotund and flustered Hume, long resigned to a bachelor's life, thanked Mme. de Boufflers. "I have rusted amid books and study," he wrote, and "been little engaged ... in the pleasurable scenes of life." But he would be pleased to meet her.


And so he did, two years later, when he was posted to the British Embassy in Paris. Boufflers and Hume quickly became intimate friends, visiting and writing to each other often. Hume soon confessed his attachment and his jealousy of Conti. Boufflers encouraged him, though no one knows how far: "Were I to add our deepened friendship to my other sources of happiness ... I cannot conceive how I could ever complain of my destiny."


Yet she was also merciless. Men, she wrote to Hume, have "servile souls"; they "like to be mistreated; they are avid for severity, all the while indifferent to kindness." Hume seemed different, but she warned him: "If I have been mistaken, my affection and all that supports it will soon be destroyed."


While visiting Paris, Gilbert Elliot, a Scottish friend of Hume's, became alarmed by Hume's preoccupation with the comtesse and feared that his heart would be destroyed by her domineering character. After leaving, Elliot wrote to warn him: "I see you at present upon the very brink of a precipice ... the active powers of our mind are much too limited to be usefully employed in any pursuit more general than the service of that portion of mankind we call our country."


In seeing his friend in danger of losing himself to passion, Elliot might have heard an echo of Hume's own philosophical precepts. In his "Treatise of Human Nature," Hume argued that "reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will." Desire, for example, "arises not from reason." And yet it can (and ought to be) "directed by it."


As Elliot foresaw, his friend's bliss was soon shattered. The comtesse's husband died; she was free to try to convince the Prince de Conti to marry her, and focused her formidable energy on doing so. A distressed Hume was transformed into her platonic adviser and confidant.


Yet he acquitted himself with dignity. When it became clear to everyone except Boufflers that the prince would not marry her, Hume urged her to be reasonable.


In effect, Hume did for her as Elliot had done for him. He reminded her that, insofar as it never causes or creates our desires, reason is indeed passion's slave. But it is a most useful slave, for it helps us understand and guide our competing passions.


The "chief triumph of art and philosophy," he wrote years before meeting Boufflers, is that it "refines the temper" and "points out to us those dispositions which we should endeavor to attain, by a constant bent of mind and by repeated habit."


Those lines sound as if they came from a philosopher whose life reflects his convictions and intends to offer us a model for our own lives. Scholars of the urbane and portly Hume typically see him as an unlikely candidate to place alongside, say, Socrates as a philosopher of this "art of living." So it's worth remembering that Hume proved himself equal to his philosophy in his relationship with Boufflers.


He corresponded with her until the end of his life. In fact, he was on his own deathbed when news of the Prince de Conti's death reached him. Yet he took up his pen to commiserate with the greatest love of his life.


And at the letter's end he said goodbye: "I see death approach gradually without any anxiety or regret. I salute you, with great affection and regard, for the last time."


Robert Zaretsky, a professor of history at the University of Houston, is a co-author of "The Philosophers' Quarrel: Hume, Rousseau and the Limits of Human Understanding."








With the country again facing $4-a-gallon gasoline, the time would seem ripe for a grown-up conversation on energy. What we are getting instead is a mindless rerun of the drill-baby-drill operatics of the 2008 campaign, when gas was also at $4 a gallon. Then, as now, opportunistic politicians insisted that vastly expanded oil drilling would bring relief at the pump and reduced dependence on foreign oil. Then, as now, these arguments were bogus.


As President Obama observed in a March 30 address on energy issues, drilling alone cannot possibly ensure energy independence in a country that uses one-quarter of the world's oil while owning only 2 percent of its reserves. Nor can it lower prices, except at the margins. Only coordinated measures — greater auto efficiency, alternative fuels, improved mass transit — can address these issues.


Still the oil industry and its political allies persist in their fantasies. On Thursday, the House passed the first of three bills that will require theInterior Department to accelerate drilling permits without proper environmental or engineering reviews, reinstate lease sales off the Virginia coast that were canceled after the BP blowout, and open up protected coastal waters — East, West and in Alaska — to drilling.


The bills would make regulation of offshore drilling even weaker than it was before the spill. They would also do almost nothing to solve the problems of $4-a-gallon gas.


Here's the hard truth: Prices are set on the world market by the major producers, OPEC in particular. Even countries that produce more oil than they need, like Canada, have little leverage. Canada's prices track ours.


The Energy Information Agency recently projected what would happen if the nation tripled production on the outer continental shelf. There would be no price impact at all until 2020 and only 3 cents to 5 cents a gallon in 2030.


By contrast, the agency found, raising the fuel efficiency of America's cars would do real good. Increasing the fleetwide average from roughly 30 m.p.g. today to 60 m.p.g. in the next 15 years, an ambitious but not implausible goal, could bring prices down by 20 percent.


Some politicians get it. Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, is drafting a bill that seeks to repeal $4 billion in annual taxpayer subsidies to the oil industry and use the proceeds to develop more efficient cars and alternative fuel sources. Mr. Obama has tried twice, without success, to get rid of those subsidies, and the House voted in March to preserve them in the current budget.


The tax breaks — fast write-offs for drilling expenses, generous depletion allowances, and the like — may have been useful years ago but are wholly unnecessary when oil prices and industry profits are reaching new highs.


Even John Boehner, the Republican leader, conceded in a recent ABC News interview that oil companies "ought to be paying their fair share." When horrified aides reminded him that ending the subsidies would amount to a tax increase — anathema among Republicans — he backed off.


Repealing these breaks would reduce the deficit and yield revenues to be invested in cleaner fuels, while having no real impact on prices. Mr. Obama may not be able to persuade the House of these simple truths. But he can and must seize whatever opportunities are offered in the Senate, involving himself, not just rhetorically, in the hard but necessary struggle for a sane energy policy.









MUMBAI --- There is, as journalists like to say, another side to the story. Which could be a way to explain this column, as the last I wrote for this page announced my departure. This is "-31- " if you will, the sequel to "-30-," the newsman's code for "The End." Alas, a reporter's story continues after all.

I might argue this explains the dateline. Yes, I am in India. I've long sought a moment to look broadly at Turkey's near abroad from the opposite side. That story would surely be here, in Istanbul's geographical opposite.

Rather, though, this "other side" refracts a different light on the story we are all familiar with these days. This is the narrative of turmoil in the Middle East, restive young people fulminating revolution on Facebook, regimes falling in Egypt, metamorphosing in Jordan and tottering in Syria at the dawn of a new political era. All of that, including Sunday's raid on a villa north of Islamabad, is meaningful of course. But it will mean far less if Turkey's region does not begin a serious discussion about something far more mundane: water.

"For at least two decades there has been regional discussion about water in terms of sharing it, of how to divide the pie if you will," Sundeep Waslekar, founder of the world's only global policy think tank not located someplace predictable like Brussels or Washington, told me this week. "We need to discuss how to extend the life of the pie, how to manage the pie, how to protect the pie."

To back up a bit, this "other side" to the story began in January 2010 when President Abdullah Gül visited here. Waslekar, a prolific author well known in India, was among those meeting with Gül. The result of that meeting, with financial support that ultimately came from Switzerland and Sweden, was a year-long study by Waslekar's Mumbai-based Strategic Foresight Group. To pull together researchers from Turkey, Syria, the Palestine Territories, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel is no small task. But Waslekar did. More than 100 of them, in fact.

The result is "The Blue Peace – Rethinking Middle East Water," a detailed 150-page roadmap to avoidance of calamity in southeastern Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Israel over the next 20 years. Unveiled in Ankara last February, the study was ignored by the Turkish news media. On Tuesday, it will get its first regional public airing in Qatar, at the annual "Doha Forum." Turkey will be represented there by former Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış. The media will no doubt ignore it again.

Too bad. For while the topic is grim, the report makes encouraging reading. The basic dilemma is that, the world's highest population growths aside, Turkey and her region will face a reduction of water availability of about 30 percent in the next two decades. "It's not just of the water we see in rivers and lakes," Waslekar explained to me over lunch at a cafe a few blocks off the Arabian Sea. "It's also the water in the underground aquifers ravaged by pollution and overdrafts and the water in the clouds now subject to the whims of climate change."

National responses are meaningless, he argued. So too are the plans to redistribute the water wealth that have occupied western-driven analysis and discussion for the past quarter century. What is politically possible and technically do-able is something different. It is an approach that could only come from a research group living and working in a region equally as volatile as Turkey's. As an initial step, it envisions a "Cooperation Council" among a core group of Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. It would develop standard measurements of water quality and quantity and create common use of data. It would set goals for restoration. The vision includes better use of new irrigation technologies to reduce evaporation losses.  The study envisions dissemination of rain harvesting tools and implementation of aquifer mapping, now almost non-existent. Decentralized and low-cost waste treatment in urban areas could go a long way to protect underground resources. Emergent technologies of solar-power desalinization await deployment, the report persuasively argues. Use of crop varieties using less water, such as a chickpea developed in a Syrian laboratory, make sense in the language of "Blue Peace."

Among detailed sub-sections, the report elucidates ways for Israel and Syria to break years of deadlock over management of Lake Kinnernet (or Tiberias) on the Golan Heights, not with a breakthrough peace deal but an interim accord to manage the resource base as a "Regional Commons."

As we all know, our region faces deepening turmoil. Indeed that's an important side of the story. But the little-discussed side of that same story is the inescapable fact that without regional water planning, leaving other issues and debates aside,  rising rural poverty and unemployment, skyrocketing food prices and competition for the basic commodity of life, will tomorrow have us look back on today's volatility as a moment of relative calm.

I can't get much more than that into a column. But copies of "Blue Peace" are floating around Ankara. The basics are available at If all else fails, send me an e-mail and I'll try to get this remarkable body of work into your hands.

"The strategies presented here may appear to be ambitious on the surface," reads one paragraph of the report. "However, in the context of geopolitical changes and the dire need for water for survival, compounded by climate crises, they are merely bold."

If ever there was a time for bold thinking and action, this is surely it. One need not take sides to argue for this side of the regional story.






Heavy regional storms should not stop us seeing what is ahead. Last week Turkish Ambassador to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or TRNC, Halil İbrahim Akça ended a months-long discussion when he said: "85 percent of the budget goes to 32,000 civil servants and retirees. This needs to be reduced. With such a bulky state structure, it is impossible to maintain the economy. Politicians should consider paying the price of the economic package."

To Akça's ukase, General Secretary of the Turkish Cypriot Primary School Teachers' Trade Union, or KTÖS, Şener Elçil, reacted in the following way: "Mr. Governor [ambassador] avoids seeing the realities in the north of the island and is trying to cover it up with various remarks and talks about a bulky structure, which is a segregationist structure built by themselves in the first place. Are you not the one who said, 'Go for tourism or trade' and not the one who closed Sanayi Industry Holding down, disassembled factories and moved them out? With the austerity package you have imposed on us while forcing the Turcocypriot youth to move out, you also have brought a crowd into the north and made Turcocypriots pay for employment, food, health, and education expenditures of this crowd. Have you not? And now, you are lecturing us. As we don't have money for education, health and economy is it Turcocypriot's making to build mosques or religious complexes more than schools in almost every town?"

Let's also hear what the United Cyprus Party, or BKP, General Secretary İzzet İzcan said: "You will grant properties of Grecocypriots, the most beautiful land of our country and valuable assets of Turcocypriots to your cronies for nothing and transfer population to the north of the island and let Turcocypriots die out as you prevent a durable solution to the Cyprus dispute. You will take us hostage during the European Union membership process and use us as a trump-card to say, 'I have strategic interests,' then turn around and ask us to pay the price. Turkey's real intention is to make the north of Cyprus a province of its own, increase the population to a million and bring another Hatay [Antioch] example into life."

Either annexation or a federation

Pay attention to the relations between the de facto ruler of the TRNC, the governor/ambassador and Turcocypriots. In the old days, when talking about Cyprus, thr first thing that came to mind was endless peace talks between the Republic of Cyprus, or RC, in the south of the island and the TRNC up in the north. Later on, hostility between RC and Turkey has deepened in connection with Turkey's EU membership and RC's membership to international institutions. Things have gotten more complicated. Now we have a problem between Turkey and TRNC.

Let's look at the calendar and see how the dead-lock cannot be eliminated if Turkey doesn't make a move. There will be the House of Representatives elections held in the RC this month. Though the president's role is essential, the election is quite critical in terms of future political balances. Another important date is the RC's approaching EU term presidency due on July 1 2012. If normalization cannot be achieved by then, it means the already frozen Turkey-EU relations would be placed into the deep-freezer. In other words, it will not harm much. But there follows presidential elections in the RC in 2013.

Therefore, for any progress on Cyprus we have normally no more than a full year ahead for us after the June 12 general elections in Turkey. However, one of the actors says "enough" now: The U.N.. Even the most low profile U.N. secretary general since 1945, Ban Ki-moon, is fed up with Cyprus talks. His special envoy, Alexander Downer, has announced the deadline for peace talks as March 2012. Shortly and precisely, if there is not a noteworthy progress in the period July 2011-March 2012, the problem will deteriorate further. It may turn into an open crisis due to the antagonism between people of TRNC and Turkey, not to mention its consequences on the already clogged membership talks with the EU.

In this picture, the key is there: To pave the way for a "new federation" as Turkey's solution formula for decades, to leave aside interim formulas such as the return of Maraş [Varocha] in exchange of Direct Trade Regulation and to apply the "land in return for political equality" paradigm in peace talks between RC and TRNC. In fact, let's recall that although progress has been made in political equality during the talks led by former president of TRNC Mehmet Ali Talat, there has been no progress regarding return of land and property.

The only alternative to this formula, if we set aside the dream of recognition of TRNC's independence, is annexation of TRNC as its management will be ever more difficult in present conditions. But that is a costly alternative in every way. Turcocypriots turning into actors is probably a messenger of the final stage, forcing either a solution or a costly annexation.







Most of us who write for this paper are engaged in a unique cross-cultural exercise: We write in a language other than our own, and to readers from societies to which we do not belong. Although I live in Istanbul, Turkey, in the midst of millions of Muslim Turks, for example, my column in these pages are mostly read by English-speaking Westerners.

This gives me with two strategic options: I can either tell my Western readers what they want to hear about the realities of my world. Or, I can tell them how I really interpret those realities, regardless of whether this would make them happy or unhappy.

Westerner in the East

Honestly, there are some who choose the first option, and it works for them well. They know there is a deep-seated distrust in the West these days about the nature of Islam and Muslims, and they simply go with that flow.

When they write about Israel and the Arabs, for example, they choose to concentrate only on the troubles on the latter side. The Arabs, in this rhetoric, are simply irrational, violent, mad people, who will not find peace of mind without destroying all the "pieces" of Israel one by one. The Jewish State, on the other hand, is absolutely justified in everything she does. Those who question that narrative, and ask silly questions about trivia such as "occupation" and "humiliation," are just anti-Semites in disguise. Perhaps not even in disguise.

Similarly, when the same commentators write about Turkey, they push all the right buttons that will resonate with the Islamo-sceptic biases of the West. The fact that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has authoritarian tendencies is explained not by matters of personality, or the patrimonial nature of Turkish politics, but by an imagined Islamist conspiracy to dominate Turkey. Kemalism is constantly praised for teaching Muslims some manners by destroying their institutions, banning their practices, and secularizing their brains.

Now, I know this rhetoric "sells." The fact that such views come out from at least nominally "Muslim" voices attracts great applause. Many Western leaders praise such "men of courage." If the rest of the Muslim world, that giant mass of the unwashed, was like these "enlightened" voices, we are even told, the word would be heaven on earth.

Yet still, despite all the apparent advantages of being such "a Westerner in the East, "I can't help but choosing the other option for myself: telling the Westerners how I really interpret the realities on the Muslim world, regardless of whether this would make them happy or unhappy.

What I said lately on bin Laden and al-Qaeda was of that nature. For me, these are simply terrorists who shed the blood of many innocents, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Like the fringe Kharijites of the early ages of Islam, they are wild-eyed fanatics who committed many non-Islamic crimes in the name of Islam.

But it is also true there are quite a few people in the Muslim world who sympathize with bin Laden for his "heroic stance" against "the imperialists." In fact, I have been negatively surprised in the past few days on the extent of that rhetoric in Turkey. The daily Vakit and the Saadet, or Felicity Party, both boldly Islamist, announced bin Laden as "martyr," whereas some mixed feelings could be seen even in daily Yeni Şafak, which is a bit more mainstream.

A remarkable detail was that most of these Turkish commentators who felt for bin Laden did not "believe" that the man was responsible for 9/11 and other atrocities against civilians, just like a communist would probably not believe that neither Stalin nor Che Guevara were ruthless killers, and were only depicted as such by "imperialist propaganda." They also argued "the real terrorist" was the United States and co., and that al-Qaeda has only followed the old rule: "eye for an eye."

Dangerous illusions

I make my arguments against these fellow Turks when I speak and write to them. So, let me tell you something about the other side of the story.

As deplorable as those pro-al-Qaeda feelings might be, they must also be understood. Granted, a part of the problem lies in the culture of our part of the world. Here, there is a mind-boggling level of addiction to conspiracy theories, and a rigid "umma nationalism" that wants to whitewash fellow Muslims at every instance and accuse outside forces for every misfortune.

But these are partly created, and greatly reinforced, by the overwhelming presence of the West, and particularly the United States, a country whose "freedom" I always love, but whose foreign policy I sometimes decry. America has made for decades the terrible mistake of supporting Middle Eastern dictators for the sake of "stability," and supporting the expansionism of Israel, which she should have restrained for the sake of not only her own and the Arabs, but also the Jewish State itself. In one sense, al-Qaeda is a reaction to all these policies.

Refraining from saying such truths might make one a bit more loveable in the eyes of a Western audience, especially among the Westerners who want to hear only affirmations of their presuppositions. But it was a long time ago that I decided to challenge, not cater, people's dangerous illusions.







The World Economic Forum, or WEF, published its information and communication technologies report around a month ago.

But unfortunately, the report has not grabbed enough attention in our country's media.

Turkey was ranked 71st in the report, which covers 138 countries. If we had examined Turkey's scores in the blueprint, perhaps we could have better understood the prospective Internet bans in Turkey.

This week I discussed the WEF report with Turkey Informatics Foundation, or TBV, President Faruk Eczacıbaşı.

We rank 135th among 138 countries in press freedom. We are 116th in the protection of intellectual property and 82nd in judicial independence, according to the report.

Even only these examples show how we are deprived of democracy by western standards.

As Eczacıbaşı points out, democracy and transparency are sine quo non of innovation and creativity, leading the way for the production in information and communication technologies.

Who can claim the existence of liberal and transparent environment in Turkey, considering the bans on YouTube and blogs, and if we do remember the ban on the website of Professor Richard Dawkins, renowned atheist and evolution theorist?

Is filtering system a kind of censorship?

If we go back to the data in the WEF report, Turkey ranks 94th in the education system's quality, 98th in mathematical and scientific education quality and 89th in the quality of scientific institutions.

Considering the repressive climate added to the poor quality of education, we have actually managed well in being ranked 71st in the WEF's ICT report.

However, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, or TÜBİTAK, President Nükhet Yetil was recently drawing a rosy picture about research and development expenditures as well as technological moves.

I don't know what she could say about the WEF's report, but Eczacıbaşı said the TBV would be the closest follower of the data provided in the blueprint.

All right. What is Eczacıbaşı thinking about the Internet "filtering system," which could be applied as of August 22?

We all are confused about the issue.

Tayfun Acarer, the head of the Prime Ministry's Information Technologies Board, or BTK, claims the "filtering system" is not censorship or a ban, but experts say otherwise.

Yaman Akdeniz, a faculty member at Bilgi University, whom I watched on TV recently, said the "filtering system" will be applied by the state and websites we can visit will be determined by the state.

The Internet Law is like a dead elephant 

There is something quite interesting as Eczacıbaşı points out:

The "Internet bans" should have legal ground, but as experts say, we don't see any.

For the "Internet law," numbered 5651 and in force since 2007, does not provide any.

"The law numbered 5651 is like a dead elephant," Eczacıbaşı said, "Nobody is pleased with it but the law existed for years."

The TBV submitted a proposal to the government last November suggested legal infrastructure for the law.

In the new "Internet law" being prepared, the TBV's suggestions are taken into consideration.

And the bill is shaped in accordance with these suggestions.

"The bill was supposed to be passed in Parliament before the elections. We thought it could be out by March, but that didn't happen," Eczacıbaşı said.

In the meantime, the BTK, which has announced the "filtering system," did not consult on the issue with the related institutions, such as the TBV.

If civil society is not consulted for the most liberal environment in the world, the Internet, you go figure out the rest.







"Kurds have issued their verdict; the solution will come about independently of the AKP [ruling Justice and Development Party]. The Kurds' patience and tolerance have run out. Our people are sufficiently organized to establish their own democracy and to live in that system, if things do not work out with the state," said Aysel Tuğluk, vice chairwoman of the Democratic Turkey Congress, or DTK.

Tuğluk also made a suggestion: "Kurds are facing the responsibility to find their own solutions and build their own solutions. The time is now for building the democratic autonomy solution with [our] own will and organization."

The democratic autonomy issue Tuğluk has been talking about is being served into a public discussion in advance of the elections. It seems that Kurds have already begun to practice the project through relevant pilot implementations.

In neighborhoods, villages and hamlets where they live, Kurds are setting up their own assemblies by getting organized. DTK member Cemal Coşkun has confirmed the implementations. The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP's, media organ, the "Voice of Peace," recently covered the issue. Through a 50-village commune in Diyarbakır, 21 local councils, four district councils and the city council, social, political, economic and cultural autonomy demands are being actualized.

"Village communes" have been set up in Diyarbakır for the first time. A commune consisting of 50 villages in the Bağlar district in Diyarbakır is being founded while works continue in other villages in other districts. In villages as part of communes, councils consisting of 11 or 13 members, depending on the village population, are being set up. Every village has spokespersons, one of whom is woman. Such a model is identical with the BDP's co-chairmanship model.

Though against the law, individuals who are violating council rules are being punished. For instance, individuals who beat women, who usurp properties of others, who are involved in immoral ways of living and who attempt polygamy are first being warned by the commune and then if the person continues misbehaviors, he or she is driven out of the commune.

In Diyarbakır, nine councils have been set up in the Bağlar district, five in Kayapınar, four in Sur in addition to three neighborhood councils, which are the smallest administrative unit. Neighborhood councils aim to bring neighbors together, discuss common issues and find solutions, consisting of an average of 20-30 members. Each has two spokespersons, one of whom is woman. Even a disciplinary council exists within a neighborhood council.

Problems, fights and discussions taking place in a neighborhood are directly resolved in the "Neighborhood Justice Commission" rather than official units. For instance, against drugs, prostitution, robbery, or usurps a neighborhood council directly interferes as a dimension of the democratic autonomy model. If warning is not enough, individuals committing the said crimes are exposed in public and are removed from the region.

The city council is the largest body in the region. This has not been formed yet. The goal is to have 450 members in the prospective council. The executive council convenes weekly while the general council meets monthly. The city council covers all and organizes a convention every other year.

In addition to Diyarbakır, Van and Batman could set up councils at any moment. Kurds living in the region aim formation of autonomous councils in 15 provinces. This project is based on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, leader Abdullah Öcalan's democratic autonomy idea that he brought up after 1999.

The BDP plans to include "democratic autonomous local governments" in its constitution proposal.

Apparently, Tuğluk does not speak for nothing.

The DTK and the BDP have prepared Kurds for the "democratic autonomy" project through pilot implementations for months.

We'll see if things would work out as calculated.







The so-called Kurdish opening, or "Peace and Brotherhood Project" as it was later named by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was launched immediately after President Abdullah Gül told Newspeople "Good things will happen in Turkey."

It was an ambiguous statement. What the president indeed said was unclear for many people. But since the president made the comment in response to questions regarding the Kurdish problem – that the premier now says no longer exists but generously concedes that there are problems of Kurdish citizens – some great expectations started to be pumped to the Turkish society that the country would soon undertake some tangible reforms to eradicate perennial impediment to peace, security and indeed brotherhood feelings in this society.

After the statement, headed by the Habur fiasco many bad things have happened in this country. While the Kurdish problem remained almost untouched and indeed became even worse, the separatist terrorist expectations and thus demands were boosted with some wrong applications of the political authority and under the disguise of first "dialogue" and later "talks," the entire process was allowed to be held hostage by Abdullah Öcalan, the separatist chieftain serving an enforced life-term sentence at the İmralı island prison.

The government, in its typical "as if" attitude that it has been pursuing regarding almost all issues of the country, never tried to define what the Kurdish opening indeed was or attempted to identify the problem that it said it would try to resolve. Even the diehard opponents of the government agreed with the assertions of the premier and relevant ministers and top bureaucrats that the time has come for a resolution of this problem and in order to stop bloodshed, restore peace, tranquility and brotherhood feelings, without compromising national and territorial integrity of the country, the government should take all required steps. Yet, fearing probable political cost the government refused to identify the problem it said it wanted to eradicate and thus created great and mostly unattainable expectations in some parts of the society, that is among the Kurds, and great phobias that through such endeavors the government might compromise from the national and territorial integrity. Consequently, inability to cater to such great expectations of some sections of the society and soothe the immense phobia in the rest, the Kurdish opening collapsed producing an even worse atmosphere in the country.

The "there is no Kurdish problem in Turkey; there are problems of Kurdish citizens," assertion of the prime minister and the "I am sorry to say but we are at a sharp crossroads. I don't want to say it but some very bad things will happen in this country," insolence of Aysel Tuğluk are indeed confessions from two different political poles, which in effect demonstrate the greave dangers ahead.

Ultimatum from Tuğluk, Demirtaş

Worse, there were some remarks of Selahattin Demirtaş yesterday. He was warning in all clarity that the Kastamonu murder of a policeman in an attack by the separatist outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, gang on the campaign convoy of Erdoğan and the killing of 35 members of the PKK in operations of the security forces over the past month were indicating a dangerous escalation which, this part is very important, might gradually lead to an election boycott in the eastern and southeastern provinces.

The threats not to allow election booths in eastern and southeastern provinces, coupled with the, "If a resolution is not possible with the state, our people (Kurds) are sufficiently organized to establish their own democracy and live within the system they have created. This without a status situation cannot continue forever. No one can know whether it will be like how it happened in Egypt, or in Syria. But, we shall acquire a status and whatever might be the cost we shall defend that status," statement of Tuğluk, demonstrates the "outstanding success" of the government in administering this vital problem of the country.

Indeed for a long period it has been the wildest fear of this writer and many other people in this country that the atmosphere spreading in the Arab street and now at the Turkish border with the developments in Syria and which has already produced some very serious civilian disobedience in this country, might soon produce on Turkey's agenda the question of disintegration.

Such disintegration might appear so easy in words, or might be spelled out with great ease but in reality it will produce a catastrophic situation and immense suffering in this society in most parts of which ethnic Turks, Kurds and others are so perfectly amalgamated that who is what is so difficult to identify.

There is absolute need for moderation of the language of politics; intensification of dialogue and replacement of the obsessive confrontation politics with compromise and reconciliation politics.

Unfortunately with Erdoğan, who adamantly sees personal and party fortune in consolidation of polarization, it will be difficult for Turkey to sail to safe waters soon.






First cultural shock: Invited to my class mate's home for dinner in Den Haag, Holland. As soon as I entered their living room a sculpture caught my eye. It was a hand where the thumb was in between pointing and middle finger which is an equivalent version of showing middle figure in Turkey. First I ignored it, but then could not stop myself asking my friend about it? He said my mom was from Brazil and the gesture, the sculptures meaning, brings good luck over there. Lesson for expats: Things have different meanings in different cultures. Don't wish any Turk good luck "Brazilian style." 

First business presentation ever: Started working for a Dutch company. I was not aware the Dutch deliver sharp and direct critiques despite the fact they might like your presentation. Whenever I gave an answer, they kept telling me "don't take it personally". It took me another year and many more "don't take it personally" warnings to detach myself from work I had done. Lesson for expats: South personalize, the North is very neutral with regards to critics. Be indirect, nice and careful when you deliver a critique in Turkey.

First interview with a Japanese executive: I asked my first question, he paused. I thought to myself he does not get it and paraphrased the same question. He paused again. Then I figured out he always delays before answering. Wondering why until I read about communication patterns of Far East. Waiting a while shows thinking about what has been asked and shows respect at the same time. A different pattern is valid for North. When one speaks other one waits until the first one finishes. Southern people like to talk at the same time and no one is bothered about this. Lesson for expats: Communication patterns differ from one culture to another. If it is not your pattern try to get used to it rather than defending your own style. People do not cut your word in Turkey or Italy, they are not impolite, it is just how they talk.

First Italian boss: First time in my life I worked with someone with almost the same cultural patterns. He was emotional, personal, indirect while communicating, does two three things at the same time, acted like a brother, in facts after 22 years he still calls me "brother," and we talked over each other all the time. When we discussed something, people in our Dutch office used to think we were fighting. Failed together and celebrated together. I was very often invited for dinner at their family home. His wife and mother treated me as part of their family. It was business integrated with a strong friendship. He never let me down and I never underperformed. Not for my bonus, but because of my respect to him. Lesson for expats: Cultures do have twins.

First lesson in Turkey: My first winter back in Turkey. We were skiing with my girlfriend. She fell in front of me. Her skis went off. I stop and asked, "Do you need any help?" She said no thank you, and I said OK and skied off down the hill and waited for her. She came down with a long face. I asked her what was wrong, and she said: "You just left me there. You should have helped me without even asking. What was I supposed to say if you just ask me like that!?" Well there you go. It is impolite to insist helping someone if she says no thanks in Holland. Staying in Holland for 10 years was long enough for me to have acquired that behavioral pattern. Lesson for expats: When in Turkey do as Turks? Please do insist when you offer food and help.

First radio silence: We kind of agreed on the conditions to take over three of his stores. He said let me think it over during the weekend and get back to you on Monday for sure. No news until Thursday. I called, he was in a meeting. Next Monday I called, he was out of office. In short, he did not want to pick up the phone and say he has decided not to go ahead with the deal. He pitied for me. In Northern Europe or U.S., it is impolite not to inform the opposite party however down south or in the Far East; silence is a polite no as an answer. Lesson for expats: when there is silence you can forget the deal and next time when you are together don't mention it until he does because it will just embarrass him.

Conclusion: Think out of your own cultural box because it might not fit into the local space you operate. 






Founded two months ago, with the objective of raising awareness for achieving equal representation of women in parliament, increasing women's employment and preventing women against violence and putting relevant laws into work, the Righteous Women Platform, or HKP, blazed a trail recently.

The HKP hosted female deputy candidates, as well as representatives of nongovernmental organizations, or NGO's, at Istanbul Technical University's Taşkışla campus, so deputies had the chance to become acquainted with each other, as well as representatives of civil society.

We listened to 34 candidates

The HKP's master mind daily Hürriyet CEO Vuslat Doğan Sabancı delivered a keynote speech in this special gathering. Sixteen candidates from the Republican People's Party, or CHP, nine from the Justice and Development Party, seven from the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and one from the Liberal Democratic Party, LDP, and one independent candidate all made a two-minute addresses, introducing themselves and explained, which women's issue they would try to find solution if elected.

Don't say, "What can you explain in two minutes?" Thirty-four female politicians, a mixture of incumbents and newcomers, shared quite valuable aspects both among themselves and with NGOs representatives as well as press members in such a short time.

Really independent women

One of the most active deputies, Alev Dedegil of the AKP said she submitted eight bills on women's issues, hinting she would do some more to create tremendous impact. The AKP's Ayşegül Esra Atik who said she was the district women's branches head in her party will focus on increasing women employment and vocational training.

A Bosnian-descent Ayten Kayalıoğlu of the CHP is in fact her party's assembly member. Kayalıoğlu said she became a CHP member because she was impressed by the CHP's sensitivity towards the Bosnian women raped in 1992. Though actively involved in the CHP for 19 years, Kayalıoğlu was nominated for the first time and if elected she would put an end to sexual violence and rape.

I admire Independent Women Party Initiative Chairwoman Benal Yazgan's courage to become a candidate from Istanbul 1st electoral region. Yazgan is Istanbul's, or perhaps Turkey's, only independent female deputy candidate. She expects support from the Kadıköy district.

A meeting for male candidates too

The LDP candidate Ayşe Pervin Sutaş Bozkut was so excited she barely completed her speech. I loved her childish excitement and determination for sticking into this even though she would remain below the threshold in the end.

Professor Binnaz Toprak, of the CHP, is a very strong brand. Her research is extensive, her studies on"others" and ethnic groups are the assurance of what she can do from now on. Professor Toprak made a critical suggestion to the platform, "Have a similar meeting for male candidates from Istanbul and ask them what they would do for the benefit of women in the next parliamentary term."

Two young women going up to the rostrum later on told that they were Professor Toprak's students from Boğaziçi University. Apparently, Professor Toprak has brought them into politics as well.

The CHP's young candidates

The CHP's youngest candidate is a member to the Mor Çatı Women's Shelter Foundation, Bilge Koçkaya. The 29-year-old Koçkaya has been nominated in Istanbul 1st electoral region and is the youngest in her region too.

"I am go on trips to Africa for trade although I am a woman," said another candidate Derya Şentürk having two dreams for women: to create a secure environment for women who need sheltering and help women to setup their own businesses or get a job and therefore gain their economic independence.

The incumbent CHP deputy Fatma Nur Serter preferred to address TV cameras in the back rather than women audience in the hall. Nur Serter is an experienced orator. For her, the women were just small targets in a huge world of politics.

The MHP's women discourse

The MHP's, Gülay Doğanay was so very excited that we saw her body at the podium but couldn't understand what she could do for women if elected.

I would like to end this piece by an assessment of Çiğdem Aydın, who has made tremendous efforts in the subject matter as the chairwoman of the Association for the Support and Training of Women Candidates, or KA.DER. Following the meeting Aydın said she was impressed by all female candidates but especially by the MHP nominees for claiming women's issues. "Neither in the MHP leader's discourses nor in the party's activities do women exist. But still, it is very critical for the MHP deputy candidates emphasize on gender equality, social gender and violence against women. The MHP's women have claimed the issue and apparently they will work on it," Aydın said.






We have not commented for a long time about issues in Turkey since these are usually amply covered in other columns of this newspaper. But when we heard about the plan of the prime minister to make a canal connecting the Black Sea to the Marmara, we could not resist the temptation to chirp about it.

The plan is a Pharaonic one, reminding us of the gigantic infrastructure projects done in ancient Egypt. And of course it can be done with today's technology. Even the Persian king, Xerxes, built a canal in the northern part of Mount Athos in 480 B.C. when he was invading Athens. He did so in order to avoid the destruction of his fleet from storms prevalent in the southern part of Mount Athos as happened to his father Darius. The idea is to create this canal to the west of Istanbul as an almost parallel Bosphorus, which would handle ship traffic going to and from the Black Sea and alleviate traffic from the Bosphorus. It would also make European Istanbul an island since it would be surrounded by water.

However the prime minister has not yet asked the permission of our planet Earth that we inhabit and we do not know if he will. As we all know our planet has had enough of humanity and is trying to get rid of it. The earthquakes, extreme weather phenomena and increased catastrophic natural disasters are the messages the planet is sending and it seems nobody is listening. While we birds are not experts in canal construction, we still think that the traffic of the Bosphorus is still not so great it justifies such a project and we doubt it will be in the next 100 years since we will run out of oil. And when that happens, the oil tankers will be scrapped and the traffic will be automatically reduced on the Bosphorus.

Our basic objection to the project is that it is against nature, as was the construction of other canals like the Panama and Suez canals. The project might create problems for the Black Sea since it has a very sensitive ecological balance. It might reduce the depth of the Black Sea with serious consequences for the fish in it. It might create problems for the waters of the Bosphorus and the currents there, thus creating difficulties for ships going through it. And earthquakes. Nobody can guarantee us that the change of pressure on the land because of the project will not trigger the big earthquake. As for protecting the environment, we must keep in mind that pristine land will be destroyed to create the canal and the area will be polluted during and after construction.

A wonderful worst case scenario would be if the island of Istanbul would start floating away, down the Dardanelles and into the Aegean, passing close to Athens and ending up in Cyprus. The shock of seeing Istanbul in Cyprus might force the Cypriots to automatically solve the problem there. It would also permit visa free travel and reduce transportation costs for the inhabitants of Istanbul.

So maybe it may not be such a bad idea to make the canal after all. But please ask permission of the planet before trying.

Ponder our thoughts dear humans for your benefit.






Almost a decade later, Osama bin Laden, a man who wreaked havoc between civilizations is gone for good.

President Obama paid visit to New York City's Ground Zero on Thursday, and met with relatives of the 9/11 victims. It was sober, a combination of commemoration and a low-key celebration event, which will hopefully come to be known as end of the 9/11 era.

 "The Arab Spring continue to create a lot of dilemmas for both the United States and Turkey," said David F. Gordon, former director of policy planning under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, between 2007-2009, and currently Eurasia Group's head of research and director of global macro analysis, during our long phone interview in which we talked about the Arab Spring and bin Laden 's death extensively. Director of policy planning is known as the head of State Department's internal think tank, and has a huge influence steering the overall policy of the U.S. administration in a strategic fashion.

  The Arab Spring has entered into the second phase

"During the first phase," Mr. Gordon argued ''the outlook was quiet optimistic following the fall of two backward looking dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. Countries like Morocco, Jordan and Qatar showed strong commitment for significant reforms, political mobilization even social mobilization appeared to be blooming. Now we are in a period to see if these countries can reap the fruits of these changes and what kind of regimes will emerge... it is still very uncertain.

"In this second phase, the challenges to the regimes in various states became much more conflicted. Out of three, Yemen, Libya and Syria, it appears only Yemen's transition can effectively happen, though still uncertain. Libya is in stalemate, rebels in Syria seem not to have the ability to bring down the Assad regime. In Gulf countries, in Bahrain, Gulf Cooperation Council doesn't allow Al Khalifa regime to fall, applying means to minimize the effect of revolts. Though Syria is the most uncertain place, it is the place where the outcome potentially would be the greatest. You might also neighbors drawn into the Syrian conflict, for instance Iran vs. Saudi Arabia.''

I asked Gordon to assess U.S. policy so far towards the Arab Awakening. "The U.S. utilized a political and military pressure quiet well in Egypt and Tunisia for the peaceful transition. The U.S. dilemma is, on the one side it has to take in favor of democracy, but also has to remain ally with other non-democratic regimes in theGulf region especially. Now there seems to be tough challenges with the Syrian case as well. Syria now applies naked power to its own people. Though, I think Washington is precarious about what might come next if the Assad regime falls. We knew what it would be like post-Mubarak, given well respected individuals and institutions there, whom got together in post-Mubarak time, but Syria?''

Gordon thinks it is extremely unlikely for the U.S. to get involved with any military intervention in Syria. "In Libya, the U.S. waited for the international consensus and there was even the Arab League urging for an action. In Syria, at most, there could be a humanitarian intervention and the U.S. can participate in such operations, there would be greater calls for financial sanctions, travel restrictions etc.''

  What, if any, lessons learned from bin Laden's death and Arab Spring

"If bin Laden had been killed in 2002, '03 or 04, there would have been substantial demonstrations across the world. In 2011, there is almost nothing. Bin Laden's type of very extreme Islamism has been rejected. During the Arab Spring, perception (emphasized by Gordon) of Turkey is being discussed as a role model with its Islamic identity, thriving economy and open democracy. The lesson is here is that the extreme is loosing in internal struggles within the Arab Spring," said Gordon.

"Another big picture problem between U.S. and the Islamic world relations since 9/11 is how to gather traction over the Palestine-Israeli conflict. Then two state frameworks was officially accepted during the last administration for the first time, but the Obama administration is facing the same challenge as the Bush administration did [finding the venue]. This conflict is a very central problem. The U.S. actually has much less leverage over Israel then the Islamic world would like to believe. There is big political constrain in Washington on the administration etc. Though this is something we need to keep working on."

Turkey's Arab Awakening Policy

"Turkey is a rising power in the Middle East and it is really important for U.S. to cooperate with Turkey on many issues. Turkey just needs to learn how to deal with all these different policy matters at the same time. Arab Spring, just like the U.S., created many dilemmas for Turkey as well."


"Unfortunate reality is that it is increasingly the belief that Turkey's potential accession to the European Union is not going to happen. Turkey is a crossroad country, economically dynamic, has strong trade ties with EU countries and U.S., and would have been much happier if the EU were to be more favorable towards Turkish accession. It is not our ability to make it happen."

  Arab Spring Quo Vadis?

 "I think that Arab Spring has net positive effects. I think in Egypt and Tunisia, where they are going is a more democratic and open political system over time. Morocco is also heading that direction. I think the Arab Spring has substantial impact on many states. Though there will not be any kind of unified transition across the region all at the same time. It will be much slower in the Gulf countries for instance," explained Gordon.

  Speaking with Michele Flournoy  

 I was invited to participate an off the record meeting that Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy conducted on Thursday morning with about two dozens of prominent national security experts. Flournoy was in Pakistan on Monday for periodic U.S.-Pakistan security consultations when she learned of bin Laden's death and conveyed U.S.' tough messages to the Pakistani counterparts first hand.

From the conversation it appeared that U.S. doesn't have any immediate, sharp policy change in Afghanistan or Pakistan following the killing. After closed meeting, Flournoy happened to share the first on-the-record comments from the Defense Department after bin Laden's death with a few press participants after the event.

Flourney said they expect to see more "concrete" and "undeniable" cooperation from Pakistan and added that they do not have "definitive" evidence that Pakistanis knew Laden was indeed hiding there.

 While answering my insistent questions about releasing the photos of Laden, Flourney said "there is no one credible doubting bin Laden's death." When I disputed her account and argued that the problem is seriously being discussed in Muslim countries, including Turkey, Flournoy said, "in time [death] will become undeniably apparent. Al-Qaeda also will make changes in its leadership structure to reflect that truth. The same people, who doubt whether he is dead today, will probably look at any photo and doubt its authenticity."

 There is indeed overwhelming evidence that bin Laden is dead. However, the U.S. administration has obligation to release photos for the public to know and see. Not that it would be any more convincing for conspiracy theorists, but still, let's face it, the U.S. also has its own credibility problems, following especially the on-going revelations of the Cablegate saga and many other events of the last decade.










For reasons that are easy enough to understand, Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, in remarks made some days after the operation against Osama bin Laden that left behind a stunned nation, have warned against any further action along the same lines. Remarks made in India have generated fears that New Delhi may at some point attempt to replicate the US example. The precedent set is obviously a dangerous one and our failure to detect the aerial incursion has raised pressing security questions. General Kayani has said that key issues concerning the whole affair are being looked at. Quite obviously, Pakistan needs to do everything possible to prevent such an adventure again. No nation can afford such embarrassment and loss of sovereignty. The COAS has warned that the consequences could be devastating – and it is true given Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

But while the Indian threat looms naturally, this may also be a time to think of the matter in a slightly different light. We cannot continue to live with a sense of threat constantly haunting us. Under such circumstances, the need to focus our energies on the numerous and immense tasks that should be tackled at home to ensure the welfare of our people gets sidelined. We must remember that in the broader scheme of things our citizens are our biggest asset and are key to ensuring our safety and stability as a nation. And an improvement in our relations with India is of importance in vanquishing the kind of apprehensions we feel now as India takes full advantage of Pakistan's plight and loudly voices its warnings of what actions it could choose to take. India too should not forget that a future of greater stability and less hostility is favourable to both nations and the region as a whole. We should, in the aftermath of all that has happened, be considering tactics on various fronts. Working to develop an alliance with India could bring us benefits while also reducing perceptions of threats. In the presence of nuclear arms in both countries, war-like rhetoric is always alarming. We need to do everything we can to prevent this rhetoric becoming a reality. A solid military defence is vital for us, and so is calm diplomacy which can tame the tempers that tend to fly on both sides of the border each time there is an incident of some kind that, in turn, serves to create new tensions and augment old problems.







After recent shenanigans around the Sindh minorities ministry and its inability to manage its way out of a paper bag, it is now the turn of the federal minorities ministry to be the focus of attention. The murder of federal minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti earlier in the year left a vacancy. Filling it was never going to be easy as the job is no sinecure, and – as the Bhatti murder indicated – if it was filled with a man who took his job seriously it would expose him to numerous dangers. There are competent members of the minorities who would be willing to serve, risky as it would be. But in a move that speaks of breathtaking insensitivity, a prominent PML-Q leader, Riaz Pirzada, has been offered the job. To the surprise of nobody, the minorities are not amused by this latest political chicanery.

Mr Pirzada has at least had the good sense and decency to say that he is mentally unprepared for the job and that he believes it should be given to a member of the minorities – which is impossible to disagree with. He is reported to have offered his resignation if minority representatives requested it and the matter is still developing. That he was offered the job at all is part of the 'accommodation price' that the PPP has to pay for the acceptance of seven members of the PML-Q into the coalition. Pirzada has been inducted into the federal cabinet and like all the other newly minted cabinet members, he needs a portfolio, and mischance handed him the minorities ministry. Not only does this lack sensitivity it also threatens that part of the PPP vote bank in Punjab, which traditionally votes PPP and is drawn from the substantial Christian and Hindu minorities. The whole affair smacks of expediency and incompetence – as well as being a clear indication as to where in the scale of priorities the needs and wishes of minority communities lie for the present government. We can but hope that a member of the minority groups is inducted post-haste.







In the latest episode of violence to hit the city of Quetta, six people were killed and 15 others injured when unknown persons opened fire early Friday morning in a specific area of the Balochistan capital. Those killed are all believed to be members of the Hazara community, though police have not given any details of their ethnicity. Attacks on the same community have taken place often in the past as well. It is not clear who is responsible for the latest attack or those that have taken place previously. What is clear is that the latest episode has left yet more families in mourning. It has also added to the violence being experienced all across Balochistan in many different forms. There has so far been no success in bringing this to an end.

It is quite obvious that the security setup is more or less helpless and people wonder how long this state of affairs will continue in our largest province. It has already created deep rifts which can lead only to still more killings. Political solutions to the problems of Balochistan need to be found. All groups should sit together to achieve this. So far the federal government has been unable to make any progress towards bringing people together – and this can only serve to worsen the existing situation.









Did the United States secure 'justice' for the 9/11 victims, as President Barack Obama claimed, by killing Osama bin Laden? The honest answer is no: the US accomplished retribution or revenge, not full justice. This is not to trivialise the importance of the elimination of the world's most wanted criminal, or the painstaking intelligence-gathering effort that tracked Osama in Abbottabad. Least of all does this mean shedding tears for Osama.

However, full justice would mean punishing the 9/11 culprits after conclusively establishing their guilt in a fair public trial. It would also demand humane redressal of the genuine grievances that jihadi terrorists exploit, which relate to the West's project of hegemonic domination, its demonisation of Islam and Israel's occupation of Palestine.

The present explosion of triumphalist nationalism in the US is a far cry from this. The depiction of Liberty holding Osama's severed head in one hand and the torch of freedom in the other is as revenge-driven as Al-Qaeda's celebration of jihadi violence. Many Americans are revelling in an aggressive reaffirmation of the US's military power and influence. That's why the Republicans are lavishing praise upon Obama, who now seems certain to win his second term as president.

Yet, the US's post-9/11 anti-terror achievements are meagre. On September 12, 2001, Washington launched an unlimited Global War on Terror (GWoT). It began by invading Afghanistan. In 2003, it invaded Iraq after citing Al-Qaeda's growing influence and the existence of weapons of mass destruction – a patent falsehood. GWoT then spread to the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia.

GWoT has caused an estimated 1.2 million civilian casualties in Iraq and another 20,000 in Afghanistan, besides 6,000 US military casualties (double the number of civilians killed in 9/11). The US has spent $1.3 trillion on GWoT.

Since 9/11, there have been 13 major terrorist attacks in different countries, in which over 1,000 people died. Many of these were by groups other than Al-Qaeda. The jihadi ideology caught on, as did the idea that citizens of mighty states like the US can and should be slaughtered. Al-Qaeda has evolved into a decentralised 'franchise' organisation: there's no unifying central command; its affiliates can act autonomously.

Politically, the US's 2003 decision to wage war against Iraq alienated its key allies. Even small countries like Cameroon, Angola and Guinea resisted heavy US pressure and refused to vote for war in the Security Council. Allies who supported President Bush lost domestic elections.

Not least, the US response to 9/11 perverted the notion of justice. The US violated its own citizens' civil liberties and resorted to torture. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay will remain abiding reminders of inhuman detention and extremely coercive interrogation. Washington also instigated 'rendition' of terror suspects to third countries which have scant regard for legality.

The US bypassed its own courts and international crimes tribunals and branded terror suspects enemy 'combatants' who didn't deserve regular trial. Bin Laden thus succeeded in negating some of the democratic achievements that Americans are (rightly) proud of, and in returning the US from modernity to the medieval culture of torture.

GWoT, then, has extracted an exorbitant price. Yet, Obama declared victory after Operation Geronimo, grotesquely named after an American-Indian chief. This claim would have been less unconvincing had the US not conducted a targeted assassination, and instead lawfully detained Osama (who was unarmed), held him to account for unleashing terror, and punished him after a scrupulously fair trial. This would have highlighted Osama's demonic ideology and excesses before the whole world, including millions of Muslims.

President Obama, a Nobel peace laureate, boasted on May 1: "[W]e are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to." The menacing potential for abuse of power contained in this is worrisome.

Many would treat the US covert action in Abbottabad as legitimate because of the risk that the ISI would have alerted Osama if it got to know of the operation. Yet, it involved a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and penetration of spies into its territory. The extension of this logic to other countries could produce horrendous illegalities and human rights violations – witness the Nato invasion of Libya.

Osama's killing will weaken Al-Qaeda, which is already marginalised in the Arab world. The Arab Spring doesn't derive its inspiration from global jihad against a universal enemy, but from an urge to depose domestic dictators.

However, Al-Qaeda and its supporters haven't been decisively defeated. They may still be capable of launching murderous attacks in Pakistan, and Mumbai-type operations against India. This should be a sobering thought.

Osama's killing has impelled some Indian hardliners to clamour for "taking out" Pakistan-based jihadi extremists like Hafiz Mohammed Saeed through "covert operations". This is a counsel for adventurism and all-out war. But New Delhi has wisely decided to continue the dialogue process with Pakistan.

The Abbottabad episode highlights numerous truths about Al-Qaeda and Pakistan. It's inconceivable that Osama could have stayed for five to six years next door to the Pakistan Military Academy without the army/ISI's knowledge and tacit support. That suggests complicity and unwillingness to conduct anti-terror operations sincerely.

If the army/ISI was unaware of Osama's hideout and the US operation, that would reflect poorly on its intelligence-gathering ability. If it was aware, that would suggest its acceptance of the US violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.

At any rate, the Pakistan Army's duplicity in running with the Al-Qaeda-Taliban hare and hunting with US hounds stands exposed. This has damaged Pakistan's global image and weakened its bargaining power vis-à-vis the US.

For many Americans, the Osama manhunt was GWoT's principal rationale. Osama's elimination will allow Obama to begin rapid troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in July. Before it withdraws, the US will try to cut a deal with the 'moderate' Taliban so they can share power in Afghanistan.

Last year, the ISI showed its desperate determination to be part of any negotiation with the Taliban. It tracked down 'moderate' Taliban leader Mullah Baradar with the US's technological support. But it kidnapped Baradar and sabotaged US plans to talk to him.

A purely Taliban-based settlement involving the Pashtuns, only one of Afghanistan's ethnic groups, won't hold. What's needed is a broad-based settlement, which also includes the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, endorsed by the regional powers, including Pakistan, India, Russia and Iran.

This will require India to demand a regional approach, and Pakistan to accept it because of India's legitimate historical ties with Afghanistan. Simultaneously, India must continue the dialogue process with Pakistan and strengthen its domestic pro-peace constituency which wants the army to be placed under civilian control and the ISI reined in.

The first task entails that India take a fiercely independent foreign policy stance vis-à-vis the US, especially on Iran's inclusion, which Washington will dogmatically oppose.

The alternative is colluding with Washington and worsening the mess in Afghanistan. Extremist forces will thrive in this and turn Afghanistan into a cauldron of unending violence, in which jihadis can threaten India's (and Pakistan's) security.

The Afghanistan challenge will test India's diplomacy. India must evolve a mature, morally clear and bold policy. The security, stability and democratic evolution of the northwestern part of South Asia are at stake. India cannot afford to fail this test.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email:







Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote: "The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."

Prison – the very sound of it conjures up images of yesteryear's infamous ones like the Bastille, Alcatraz, Newgate, San Quentin and the Devil's Island. Today, we have the Guantanamo Bay, Pul Chakri and Abu Ghraibs, signifying that things are not much better.

The right to be free is the most basic and fundamental of human rights. This can be subjugated only under exceptional circumstances. This includes incarceration for a criminal act. It is a quirk of fate that our president and prime minister have been unwilling inmates of Adiala jail. If nothing else, the 'Adialians' have fostered a power sharing bond.

Our criminal justice system (CJS) and prisons are some of the most dysfunctional aspects of our society. They are also counter-productive and the most detached from penal reform. As with most of our ills, we have politicised and neglected the CJS for so long that we have ended up dehumanising it completely.

The basic premise of the CJS, apart from punishment, is rehabilitation and helping prevent the sentenced from becoming habitual criminal offenders. This is the heart of the matter. Unfortunately, we see this premise completely ignored in fulfilling the functions of punishment. Fundamental rights are violated and rehabilitation is not just ignored, but actually reversed. This leads to the CJS and the prisons failing miserably to achieve their societal function.

The treatment of prisoners should not be merely punitive but remedial too. Rehabilitation should start as soon as a prisoner enters the prison. Those most capable of reform are first time offenders and those serving short sentences. On the contrary, convicted habitual offenders and hardened criminals enjoy a 'hallowed' status with most benefits and privileges. They are provided with drugs, mobile phones and pornographic movies whereas those with minor offences bear the brunt of a callous system, having to grease palms even to meet their family members.

The conditions within are appalling. Our prisons are incubators of tuberculosis and infectious diseases. Unhygienic conditions lead to terrible skin ailments. Corruption of the prison staff and gross mistreatment of prisoners lead to the physical and emotional degradation of prisoners. Many inmates, packed like sardines in a can, await trial for years. According to the HRCP, there are 89,370 prisoners occupying 87 jails, originally built to hold a maximum of 36,000 persons.

Children and adults are often held together. There is not a single facility for female juveniles in the whole country. They are kept with women who may be drug dealers, addicts or even murderers. This often leads to a girl with a misdemeanour coming out prone to commit a more serious crime. Despite the fact that more than half our population is under 18, the country has just one juvenile court.

Some prisoners are called 'forgotten inmates'. They never go to court, and even if they do, the CJS is such a morass that nobody knows how much longer their detention will last. According to human rights monitors, almost 50 percent of our prison population is awaiting trial. A staggering 33 percent of the female inmates are awaiting trial on adultery related charges alone. Most of these cases were filed without supporting evidence. Trials often take years and bail is routinely denied if the complainants are influential.

The law stipulates that detainees must be brought to trial within 30 days of their arrest. Tragically many spend more time behind bars awaiting trial than the maximum sentence they would receive if eventually convicted. Poet Robert Burns aptly summed up this agony when he said: "In durance vile here must I wake and weep."

The Pakistan Prisons Act of 1894 and the Prison Rules of Pakistan, both relics from the colonial era, permit the use of fetters and chains as instruments of restraint and punishment under certain conditions. It is a common sight to see prisoners, even juveniles, being brought to courts hand-cuffed and in iron fetters. Another example of archaic rules and a grossly underfunded system – the system allocates an unbelievably paltry 20 rupees per inmate to fund three meals a day!

We have a rejuvenated superior judiciary yet vacant lower courts and inefficient procedures have resulted in alarming backlogs at both trial and appellate levels. These lower courts remain corrupt, inefficient and subject to pressure from prominent political and feudal figures.

The Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill 2011 has now been signed into law. It shall allow bail to prisoners whose trials and appeals have not been disposed of within a prescribed period of time. It will also help those who are presently suffering, or would have to suffer, interment for years awaiting trial for minor offences. Though a welcome move, the appalling prison conditions cannot be done away with by a stroke of the pen. They require sustained political will with more steps towards penal reform.

It is imperative that the state and judiciary exercise their responsibility for monitoring prison conditions with, if not more, the same zeal with which it sends people to these overcrowded jails. Involvement of well-known civil organisations to ensure independent monitoring of prison conditions can help. It will also be greatly beneficial to improve the recruitment, remuneration, training and management of prison staff.

Penal reform needs both urgent and compassionate attention. We need to overcome the lock them up and throw away the key approach that has prevailed unchecked, for too long. Not all criminals, even convicted ones, are unredeemable psychopaths. A great majority, if treated like human beings and keeping rehabilitation in mind, are capable of becoming useful members of society. This cost-efficient form of crime prevention is absolutely ignored.

The ruling party, apart from many other things, had promised prison reforms in its election manifesto. In their next get-together, the Adialians should take a trip down memory lane. If they conjure up cherished and nostalgic memories of their class "A" days behind bars, they can sleep easy. Otherwise, they should try and reform the gulags that are our prisons.

The writer is a freelance contributor.








Cotton ginning factories and rice husking mills were later returned, along with some other small units soon after, in such bad condition that they did not work without reconditioning. The 10 basic industries, banks, life insurance and a part of the general insurance nationalised, however, continued to be nationalised. During later governments, however, even the ten basic industries were denationalised except life insurance – State Life Insurance – after a lot of cost to the socio-politico-economic fabric of the nation's life. If left to Bhutto he would have further rationalised, a word he liked to use, if not denationalised, on his own. But he was left with no time. He was arrested and persecuted ultimately. He was acclaimed, among others things, for uniting the Muslim world and as a world leader by the then secretary general of the UN.

Benazir succeeded Bhutto after Zia's reign. She consolidated the PPP. I knew her, among others, as a Harvard alumni member of the Harvard Club, of which I was the president. As prime minister she passed on the chairmanship of the PPP to Begum Nusrat, her mother, who led the party very well. During Benazir's second term 1993-96 there were differences between the mother and the daughter. So much so that the mother issued disparaging public statements against her daughter. The Begum wanted her son to contest for the second term rather than her daughter. Benazir would not agree.

Among others, the begum sahiba called me to her house where she was surrounded by a lot of people and angrily said: "Why don't you make Benazir understand. First, she has snatched my chairmanship of the PPP, and she wants now to fight the election again. I would like a Bhutto son to fight instead of a Bhutto daughter." I said Benazir was a tried and tested politician and a known figure. Her son was not. Benazir had a better chance of winning the election. I recommended to her that she support Benazir and when she came into power she should leave the country with her son – maybe as ambassadors. She was furious. I left disappointed. Benazir was elected and became the prime minister for the second time and acclaimed as Daughter of the East.

Once, as prime minister, Benazir called me and I saw her along with Syed Qaim Ali Shah, the-then chief minister of Sindh. After a while, Shah Saheb left to join. Benazir then talked to me, first about my interaction with the Begum which, I had not told her. Then she started discussing some pressing economic issues for which I was not prepared. However, the next day, there was a statement in my name: something that I had said and something that suited the occasion.

Alas, she did not survive. Otherwise, given a chance, she would have mended the socio-politico-economic fabric of the country – nay, helped worldwide peace and order.

Whether denationalisation or rationalisation, the world has been led since then by globalisation. The result is that, according to IMF managing director Dominique Strauss Kahn, it has led to a "lethal cocktail of high unemployment, strained social cohesion and political instability, which, in turn, has affected macro-economic stability." In Pakistan, thus 10 percent poorest get just four percent of the national cake while the richest 10 percent gobble up 27 percent.

For the last 63 years, the average GDP growth in Pakistan, despite all happenings, has been about five percent. The country now has its highest foreign exchange reserves at $17.5 billion with surplus current account and monthly remittances of one billion dollars. Agricultural economy is highest. In spite of the flood damage, the country exported rice and wheat and witnessed record price increase in cotton. With the sixth largest population in the world and with one of the best resources – human capital, agriculture, mines, coal, copper, silver and gold – the "lethal cocktail" has affected Pakistan's economic stability. The socio-politico-economic disparity remains as it was.

The socio-politico economic parity is possible, among others, through "glocalisation" not globalisation. In Pakistan it is also due to lawlessness. The legislators are striking against the judiciary – the lawyers, duly paid by the clients, are striking when they should appear in courts and, as if this is not enough, the doctors, who are under oath to treat the sick, are playing with the lives of their patients. The specialists among them work only for fees and for extra benefits – not for national health. Civil servants, who are supposed to maintain order are themselves on the roads. "Nations can survive with infidelity but not without justice."

There are suicide attacks – even on shrines, mosques, temples, and what not. There are kidnappings, snatching of purses, mobiles and vehicles. Those who offer resistance face death. Whoever can afford them have guards at homes, in spite of all the police and Rangers.

The working days are shortening. In addition to religious and national holidays there are holidays marking the deaths and births of heroes. This frequency of holidays is seen nowhere else in the world. Moreover, the penchant to call strikes regularly and therefore shut down business activity is at the cost of economic stability.

The workers' strike at the cost of management is a grave issue: KESC, where the management could not retrench 5,000 excess workers due to undue pressures and the PIA managing director had to leave as was demanded by the union, being recent examples. Industrialists have been demonstrating against shortage in supplies of water, gas and electricity and other problems. Industrial units consequently are getting closed. The traders have been on strike against extortions, bhatta. Those who can afford to do that are leaving the country and depriving the country of capital and talent.

Above all, according to the FBR and a World Bank report, 57 percent of Pakistan's economy is untaxed. There is under-invoicing, sales tax evasion and failure to payincome tax. Only if the taxes on hidden incomes are collected will it be more than the annual revenues and moreover, more than the foreign aid, loans and credit which compromise our socio-politico-economic sovereignty. Now, even the donors have started emphasising that the aid recipients should first of all rely on their own resources. Therein lies the solution of our problems and in nothing else.

The writer is the founder/chairman of the Atlas group of companies.








Iftikhar Murshid's article "The mouse that roared" which appeared in this publication on May 2 is a sad mixture of postulations that are not only mutually contradictory, but makes a self-defeating argument in favour of continuing with the US-led drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The writer seems inherently insensitive to the nature and extent of physical, emotional and psychological damage that the drone strikes are causing to the inhabitants of these areas. He also seems oblivious to the grave repercussions that the Predator strikes are bound to generate in Pakistan and throughout the region – even beyond it.

In an effort to promote his pre-conceived notions, the writer also tries to distort facts. He puts the number of those who attended the Hayatabad sit-in at 4,000 when, according to practically all those who attended the function including media personnel, the number varies from 30,000 upwards of 100,000. In fact, there were groups of people who kept coming to the Bagh-e-Naran Square throughout the duration of the sit-in. According to conservative estimates, over 300,000 people may have visited the site during the sit-in. Mr Murshed should have been there to see it firsthand rather than depend on hearsay and his own 'illusory predilection'.

Much more important than the numbers is the fact that, out of the entire political leadership of the country it is Imran Khan who showed the courage and the conviction to actually spearhead the sit-in which, even the author has conceded grudgingly: "It is to Imran Khan's credit that, at least, he was bold enough to come out openly on this issue and was perfectly right in demanding that politicians should end their hypocrisy. They should either support the drone strikes or oppose them openly. The government should end the dual policy on the drone strikes."

Not only has Khan initiated the movement towards liberating Pakistan from the clutches of a servile mindset, which is only bound to grow with the passage of time, he actually slept under the open sky alongside numerous others who had come from all over the country to support a cause that resonates in the hearts and minds of every patriotic Pakistani. Let another political leader who claims support of hundreds of thousands show the grit to be physically present among his people without the pomp and show of battalions of security personnel.

Khan carried the message of the inviolability of our national sovereignty to the grassroots level. The sit-in was symbolic of the deep resentment that Pakistanis feel over the repeated infringements of our national sovereignty and the death of countless tribal inhabitants who have fought many a battle to defend Pakistan's honour and promote its interests. Their commitment to Pakistan and its strategic security has remained steadfast through times of trials and tribulations. Perhaps, Mr Murshed is not aware of that. Some basic readings could be suggested for him to pursue the matter.

It is also a travesty of truth that the tribal Pakhtuns were not represented in the sit-in. Of the many people who actually travelled to the site and spoke for the cause, Senator Hameed Ullah Jan Afridi, Senator Saleh Shah, Akhunzada Chattan (MNA), Kamran Khan Wazir (MNA) and former ambassador Ayaz Khan Wazi are just a few. Numerous others sent their messages of support as they could not personally attend the sit-in.

Imran Khan has always advocated principles. His stand has been resolute and consistent. What he said back in 2004 regarding the situation in Fata is the same as what he says today. The difference is that the world has joined him now in advocating this point of view. Rather than concede that it is Khan alone who has been correct and consistent in his political appraisals. Instead of quoting apologists of US imperialism such as Farhar Taj – someone who is ensconced in the comforts of lands far off – Mr Murshid should go through the contents of the New American Foundation Survey published about six months ago reiterating that more than 80 percent people in the tribal areas oppose drone attacks.

Unlike the advocates of foreign interests in Pakistan, Imran Khan has been speaking and fighting for the underprivileged and the suffering people of Pakistan. He has lent his voice to those who lacked one. He has physically stood with people who needed support. He has advocated Pakistan's interests within the country and beyond, on all conceivable forums. He is determined to continue his fight for the liberation of Pakistan. He is resolute in re-asserting Pakistan's sovereignty and independence and freeing it from the venomous clutches of an incompetent and corrupt coterie of leaders who have been hoisted to promote the interests of their foreign masters and the local criminal mafias. He has been steadfast in his beliefs so far and is determined to remain so in the future.

In the post-Osama scenario when the country has been literally hung without a leader in sight, it is through Khan and his sincere efforts that the people of Pakistan, led by its youth, have started seeing a ray of hope for their salvation.







The writer publishes Criterion quarterly.

Osama bin Laden is dead but his ghost continues to haunt Pakistan. The initial absence of any authoritative and detailed statement from the government unleashed a tidal wave of speculative assessments ranging from the plausible to the ridiculous. Several hours after the Al-Qaeda leader was killed, the foreign office issued a press release, the only relevant portion of which was that the operation was "intelligence-driven" and "conducted by US forces in accordance with declared US policy that Osama bin Laden will be eliminated in a direct action by the US forces, wherever found in the world." It further states that President Obama had telephoned his Pakistani counterpart after the event.

Instead of focusing on the issue, President Zardari informed the world in a thoughtless article carried by The Washington Post on May 3 that the Al-Qaeda supremo had been closely involved in Pakistan's internal affairs for several years. In an effort to malign his political opponents he volunteered the unsubstantiated information that in 1989 Osama bin Laden had "poured $50 million into a no-confidence vote to topple" Benazir Bhutto's first government.

He then went on to admit that bin Laden "was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be, but now he is gone." In effect, he conceded that Pakistan's fervent denials in the past that the Al-Qaeda chief was not on its soil were far removed from the truth. Such disclaimers were never taken seriously by the international community and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not mince words when she told the media during her visit to Pakistan last year: "I'm not saying that they're at the highest level, but I believe somewhere in the government are people who know where Osama bin Laden 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."

The most relevant element in Zardari's Washington Post article from Pakistan's perspective was the assertion that it was on a tip-off from Islamabad some months earlier that the Al-Qaeda courier had been identified which ultimately resulted in the elimination of bin Laden. This was also implied by President Barrack Obama when he triumphantly informed his countrymen and the world that the operation had been a stunning success: "Our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to Bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding."

Complacency is a luxury that no one, not even a superpower, can afford in the global fight against terrorism. The enemy is not only difficult to locate but is also ubiquitous and could be present in the most unlikely places. A few days before Bin Laden was eliminated, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani declared at the Military Academy in Kakul that the Pakistani army had succeeded in breaking the back of terrorist outfits and "was completely aware of the internal and external threats to the country." Yet, as he spoke, the man whose perverted religious ideology had been responsible for the killing of thousands of civilians and military personnel was hiding barely a mile away in the same high security garrison town where the 2nd Division of Pakistan's northern army corps is headquartered.

As an afterthought, the Foreign Ministry issued a second statement on May 3 expressing Pakistan's "deep concerns and reservations over the manner in which" the US had "carried out this operation without the prior information or authorisation" of the Pakistani government. The tracking and targeting of Osama bin Laden was undoubtedly Washington's most closely guarded secret since planning for the operation began last August. The expectation that it would be implemented only with "the prior information or authorisation" of Pakistan is absurdly naïve.

However, the statement has the merit of setting at rest unwarranted media speculation that the American helicopters had taken off from bases in the country and categorically affirms that they "had entered Pakistani airspace making use of blind spots in the radar coverage due to hilly terrain." In other words, the government was completely unaware that such an operation was imminent. The president and the prime minister were engrossed in cobbling together the PPP's unholy alliance with the PML-Q for no higher motive than the survival of their government and even the COAS had found the time to meet the Punjab chief minister.

The Foreign Office has also revealed that "the target compound" where bin Laden was killed had been under surveillance and information about it had been shared by the ISI "with the CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009." Yet the search for him was focused on the inhospitable conflict-ravaged terrain of the tribal areas even though several leaders of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates had been arrested in the country's major cities over the last nine years. These include Abu Zubaydah who was apprehended in Faisalabad in March 2002, and Khaled Sheikh Muhammad was picked up from Rawalpindi on March 1, 2003. This was followed by the arrest of his maternal nephew and husband of Aaafia Siddiqui, Ammar al-Baluchi, on April 29, 2003, in Karachi; the 9/11 facilitator. Ramzi bin al-Shibh, was captured in Karachi on Sept 11, 2003; senior Al-Qaeda operative Abu Faraj al-Libi was arrested by the ISI on May 2, 2005, in Mardan; and, as recently as this March 29, Umar Patek, of the Jemaah Islamiyah, closely linked to Al Qaeda, was nabbed in Abbottabad. Patek had been involved in the Bali bombing in 2002, in which more than two hundred people were killed.

It is ironical that precisely because of the impressive track record of Pakistan's intelligence outfits, particularly the ISI, there is skepticism that Islamabad was unaware of the presence of the world's most wanted man in one of its major towns. This has put the country under grim international focus. US congressmen have called for an investigation about exactly how much and when Islamabad knew about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts. The head of the US Senate Intelligence Committee has said that Congress may consider drastically reducing, or even terminating, annual assistance of almost $1.3 billion to Pakistan if it transpired that the government was aware of the Al-Qaeda chief's presence in Abbottabad. The chairman of the House Subcommittee On Counterterrorism and Intelligence, Patrick Meehan, has asked whether "Pakistan was driven by divided loyalty, complicity or incompetence," while Republican Senator Susan Collins has bluntly accused Pakistan of playing a double game.

There is need for Pakistan to discard the shallow mask of affected affliction on the manner in which the US handled the Bin Laden operation. The danger of the country being isolated internationally is emerging as a possibility. It is for the leadership to boldly grasp the nettle by being more open about the recent events. Only then will Pakistan's credibility be restored.

An analyst has described Osama bin Laden as "a middle-aged nonentity, a political failure outstripped by history – with millions of Arabs demanding freedom and democracy in the Middle East" rather than his distorted interpretation of Islam. This is probably correct to an extent, because there is evidence that Al- Qaeda is not only tearing apart at the seams but is also losing its grip on its affiliates. However, this does not diminish the terrorist threat as extremist groups in Pakistan continue to kill, destroy and maim because they have espoused the concept of takfir propounded by Al-Qaeda. A consensus-based counterterrorism strategy has still to articulated and implemented by the government.









 General Kayani keeps a studied silence on Osama. Let's then turn to the other 'K'. Maybe Kissinger is Kayani's best spokesman. As the proponent of Realpolitic: practicing diplomacy on the lines of Machiavelli, the former secretary of state is a fox in this game. So what's his take on Pakistan's role in killing of Bin Laden? It's certainly different from the mindless commentary babbling out of America now.

"It's hard to believe that they (Pakistan) did not know that Bin Laden was there – it's inconceivable – but it's also conceivable to me that somebody in the Pakistani establishment cooperated with us to make this raid possible and didn't want to admit it either. If they admit the first, then they are admitting collusion with the terrorists; if they admit the second, then they admit cooperation with the Americans. Either one of these will hurt the better part of their public."

He told Fox News that Pakistan was thus in a bind. The father of statecraft, Kissinger, 88, is the man who threatened Z A Bhutto if Pakistan refused to tow America's line. Bhutto was hanged and Kissinger, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, went on to greater glory as America's ace diplomat.

Does our military then fit the picture of a counterfeit traitor? Aiding and abetting America but pretending ignorance to its people on Osama?

If only Pakistan had diplomats like Kissinger, an intelligence agency like CIA, and a president like Obama, Islamabad would not look the donkey that it does – like it or not – today. Zardari's column in Washington Post, probably ghostwritten by our ambassador in Washington, could have portrayed Pakistan's case better. But to be fair to Zardari, Kayani, Gilani and Haqqani, no matter what these gents say, write, or claim at this moment in time, their views has no takers. I watched Wolf Blitzer interview Husain Haqqani who was brave enough to face the press but came out the loser. Just after 9/11 when Pakistan joined in the 'war against terror' Blitzer interviewed our then ambassador Maleeha Lodhi. He asked her what 'Al-Qaeda' stood for. She looked blank.

We could get away with anything then because US considered us their buddy.

Bad idea to have Musharraf as Pakistan Army's spokesman today. The man is a compulsive liar and is currently shown as a laughing stock on the US media because he keeps changing his statement on Bin Laden. And will someone ask Gen (r) Mahmud Durrani in Pindi to hold his tongue and not run down the army before the US media as he's doing.

The blood hounds are baying to tear Pakistan to pieces. The US media smells blood and nothing else: they don't know how to pronounce Abbottabad. Can someone tell these ignoramuses that the town was named after an Englishman called 'Abbott'? It's an Anglo-Saxon word; even Obama calls it 'A-bata- bad'! Nor have they bothered to find out the actual motoring distance between Islamabad and Abbottabad – they keep insisting that it's "35 miles outside Pakistan's capital". Further they don't know the difference between an ordinary whitewashed three storied house and a mansion! They keep calling it a "million-dollar mansion".

Wake up you Americans and smell the coffee. Just spend half an hour practicing how to pronounce Abbottabad and getting your facts right. You're too busy beating up Pakistan and blowing your own trumpet about the courage of their navy seals!

But we deserve the truth General Kayani. Or shall we push Kissinger's logic as a face saver? To merely set up a "broad-based military inquiry" is passing the buck as the Zardari government has been doing for the last three years. Inquiries yield no concrete results. We, the Pakistani press need to know today.

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. Email:








THE circumstances surrounding killing of Al-Qaeda chief in dramatic manner near Kakul Military Academy in Abbottabad have indeed had overall demoralizing effect on people of Pakistan, triggering apprehensions about capability of defenders of the land and our security agencies to safeguard national interests, honour and sovereignty. Serious questions are being raised in this regard by different circles and apart from our relevant institutions it was a great embarrassment for the country as a whole as well.

It was, perhaps, in this backdrop that both civilian and military arms of the Government sprang into action on Thursday, albeit belatedly, and apart from expressing their resolve to protect security of the country at all costs, they also announced and hinted at some initiatives to address fears of the people and send right signals to those who have started intimidating Pakistan. While Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, who usually adopts mild tone, warned that any misadventure or miscalculation in future would result in terrible catastrophe, Corps Commanders' Conference, which had one point agenda of Abbottabad incident, was more forthcoming in declaring that violating the sovereignty of Pakistan, will warrant a review on the level of military and intelligence cooperation with the United States. More important than that was the decision to reduce presence of American troops in Pakistan to the minimum essential. These are surely moves in right direction and might help boost morale of the nation if followed by concrete measures to translate these pronouncements into reality. The issue of carte blanche given to Americans to come, stay and go as per their sweet will without any foolproof scrutiny of their credentials and any apparent check on their movements and activities, which often cross limits, is sheer offensive to national honour, prestige and a grave threat to our strategic interests. It is satisfying that at least after Raymond Davis and OBL episodes our authorities have woken up to the danger and have shown willingness to do some damage control. Credible media reports say that only the other day an American and three other Western diplomats/so-called officials were caught lurking around a nuclear site which speaks volumes about their designs and activities and, therefore, there should be zero-tolerance against such trespassing. Taking advantage of the situation, India too has started relaying red signals prompting Corps Commanders to come out with a strongly worded response warning India that any misadventure of the kind will be responded to very strongly. We hope both civilian and military leadership would move beyond morale boosting statements and demonstrate through actions that they mean what they say.







EVERY year around announcement of the budget, people are made to believe that the authorities concerned are mulling proposals to broaden the tax base but at the end of the day ordinary citizen is further burdened and those having capacity to pay go scot-free because of their influence and connections. Now again we are being told the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is working with NADRA to broaden the tax net and one hopes this would not turn out to be mere rhetoric.

There are no two opinions that the only viable solution to our financial problems is to increase revenue collection for which there exists great potential but it remained untapped mainly because of lack of commitment and sincerity on the part of successive rulers who protected privileged classes at the cost of the middle class and the poor. They prefer to roam about in the world with begging bowl to get aid and loans from IMF and other donors on conditions that border compromising political sovereignty of the country but do not make the wealthy to contribute their due share to the national exchequer. It would not be an exaggeration to say that in this country only the salaried class pays its due taxes while others either evade taxes or pay much less than their obligation. A debate is going on for the last 64 years whether or not the feudal should be brought under tax net and as the governments rely on his support to sustain their rule, the possibility is still far off despite the fact that there was no justification to exempt him when even poorest of the poor is also paying indirect taxes if not the direct tax. Instead, he gets huge subsidies out of tax payers' money for power, fertilizers and tractors. Real estate business has become the most lucrative one and countless people have become millionaires because of timely and shrewd investment in the sector but still even real estate tycoons are not paying their due taxes. Similarly, shopkeepers and food outlets earning thousands of rupees daily are effectively evading payment of taxes through their collusion with tax officials. Price-hike has reached a stage where common man is no more in a position to absorb more taxes and therefore, the new budget should focus its attention on untapped sectors and segments of the society.






THE Capital Development Authority (CDA), which can take legitimate pride in developing Islamabad into an international standard city, has embarked upon new initiatives in a bid to resolve problems of the citizens and beautify the capital. After announcing launch of the environment friendly Park Enclave Housing project, it is now taking steps to revamp, reorganize, modernize and improve the existing traffic management system besides developing standardized kiosks and security posts to give a beautiful look to the city. Like other institutions and organizations, CDA too is confronting financial crunch but luckily it has devised workable plans to generate necessary revenue to discharge its functions smoothly and as per expectations of the residents of the city.

The new state-of-the-art housing scheme would not only maintain green character of the zone where the project is proposed to be implemented but also fetch Rs 10 billion for the authority in the first phase that envisages development of 700 residential plots. Chairman of the Authority Imtiaz Inayat Elahi and his team deserve appreciation for conceiving such innovative plans and projects. However, it is understood that the new housing scheme is directed at affluent class as Rs 10.25 million reserve price is indeed beyond the capacity of the ordinary citizen to pay. Therefore, CDA should take immediate steps for opening of residential sectors to tackle with the problem of growing shortage of housing units in the capital. Similarly, traffic congestion has eased out to a great extent on different roads and intersections because of expansion schemes undertaken by the authority but still there are several crossings where vehicles have to wait for long time especially during rush hours and these should also be taken care of. Drinking water lines and sewerage system are also giving problems and there is urgent need to repair and upgrade them on modern lines.








Since the day, US Special forces conducted surgical strike and violated Pakistan's sovereignty, Pakistanis feel ashamed of the insult heaped on our nation. They are deeply hurt and are extremely angry. They do not want American aid for which the ruling elite have bartered away our sovereignty, but they want to live and die with honour. They demand of the government to stop logistics support to US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and should stop strategic dialogue with the US. After four days of Osama episode, statements from COAS and Foreign Secretary have been a source of some comfort for the people. Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has said that more raids like the one in Abbottabad would not be tolerated. "COAS made it clear that any similar action violating the sovereignty of Pakistan will warrant a review on the level of military/intelligence cooperation with the United States," press release said. It was also decided in a meeting that the investigation into intelligence failures to detect the world's most wanted man on the soil would be conducted.

Simultaneously, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said that if any country tried to raid its territory would face dire consequences from Pakistan's military. Speaking at a media briefing in Islamabad on Thursday Salman Bashir said the American allegations about intelligence agencies' links with Al Qaeda were baseless. Our dependency syndrome owes its origin to 1950s when Pakistan started receiving economic and military aid from the US after Pakistan's ruling elite intertwined Pakistan with the US and the West. They did help Pakistan in economic and defence fields but kept Pakistan at subsistence level, which did not allow it develop as a modern industrial state. On the other hand, American leadership was always infatuated with Indian democracy and the size of the market. It was after the collapse of the Union and end of Cold War that India tried to curry favour with the only super power. In fact, it was in Bill Clinton's era that die was cast for strategic partnership with India. If one dispassionately evaluates the Pak-America relations, Pakistan has given more than what it got. Pakistan's role as a frontline state against Communism and supporting jihad started by Afghans, but hijacked by the US.

It was the US that had eulogized Osama bin Laden and presented him as a symbol who had sacrificed wealth and luxurious life for the sake of jihad against infidels. After the Soviet Union disintegrated, the US left Afghanistan at the mercy of the CIA to run the affairs of the region. Osama bin Laden, however wished to advance his agenda of Arab nationalism, and demanded that Israel should vacate Palestinian land and America should withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia. In May 1988, the USSR had started withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan, and in October 1990 as soon as the Soviet forces' withdrawal was completed, U.S. cut off aid to Pakistan under Pressler Amendment. Earlier, aid had flowed in because the US president used to certify, under Section 620-E (e) of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) of Pressler Amendment made in August 1985, that Pakistan did not possess nuclear device. In February 1996, the US President signed into law the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, which included provisions that relax restrictions on economic assistance to Pakistan and permitted a one-time release of $368 million in military hardware ordered by Pakistan prior to the aid cutoff.

After Pakistan's detonation of nuclear devices in May 1998, the US stopped all economic and military aid to Pakistan. President Bush went to the extent of signing nuclear agreement with India disregarding the limits placed by the IAEA that did not allow non-signatory to the NPT to import nuclear-related materials from Nuclear Suppliers Group. Not only that, members of Bush administration unleashed propaganda campaign against Pakistan. President Bush had passed on the baton to President Obama, who envisages an important role for India in Afghanistan. The statements about Pakistani nukes from members of Obama administration, American Generals, American think tanks and the media, could drive one to the conclusion that the US has not digested Pakistan's nuclear capability. The US government functionaries have been casting aspersions and accusing Pakistan for either protecting the militants or for not putting wholehearted efforts in eliminating the scourge of terrorism and extremism. The then Senator Joe Biden (now vice president) in an interview with ABC News during the election campaign for president-elect Barack Obama had said: "Here, you have a country that is on the edge, called Pakistan, with nuclear weapons and missiles to carry them that can strike the entire portion of the world, the subcontinent, all the way to the Mediterranean".

America's spy agencies and analysts often express their concern over Pakistan's nukes. European countries leaderships also share those sentiments but they express their views in a subtle manner. Barack Obama, during his election campaign and thereafter also expressed concern over threat from militants in Pak-Afghan border areas and said that this region posed a grave threat to the US and the West. President Obama either does not understand or does not wish to understand that when Pakistan is threatened on the eastern border, and India taking advantage of Pakistan's preoccupation with the war on terror on the western border expects from Pakistan to forget Kashmir, how Pakistan could extend military operations to North Waziristan and other places. The question is what America and its allies have been able to achieve in Afghanistan during the last nine years, where the situation is bleak with no prospects of peace in the near future.

Only two weeks ago, Pakistani and Afghan civil and military leaders held a crucial meeting, and agreed on upgrading the joint commission to carry forward the reconciliation process. Pakistan and Afghanistan had declared to work together for peace and stability in the region. But within one week when US Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabat, President Hamid Karzai once against lambasted Pakistan and said he was dead right that Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan. What our leadership has not been able to understand the nexus between India, Afghanistan and US to destabilize Pakistan. Indian caucus in US Congress and media have been trying to create mistrust between CIA and ISI and wished to spoil relations between Pakistan and the US. American think tanks, US army generals and members of Obama administration have unleashed propaganda that the next attack on the US would come from Pakistan. A senior US military commander General James Conway, then head of the Marine Corps and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had said in an interview: "Iraq is now a rear-guard action on the part of Al Qaeda, They have changed their strategic focus not to Afghanistan but to Pakistan, because Pakistan is the closest place where you have the nexus of terrorism and nuclear weapons."

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.







The reported death of Osama bin Laden has created an outcry in the Muslim world. Though many people would not admit it that this charismatic leader, a dialysis patient for last ten years, who shunned personal comfort and a life in luxury for living and fighting for the principles he believed in carried much sympathy and love among Muslims. We all understand how difficult it is to first of all have firm principles and believes and then stand by them regardless of physical discomfort or material loss. When the news of his Shahadat by the hands of US Special Forces broke millions of silent prayers for his soul must have been sent to heaven to make his journey comfortable and easy. Osama bin Laden had never feared death because every Muslim knows that time, place and circumstances of death are most certain than any other thing.

From the very beginning of his journey, when he was first planted by CIA to lead the Jihadis against USSR in Afghanistan, he had seen eye to eye with it as thousands of jihadis born after this launching are doing day by day. Death is not the end of life; it is only a departure from life in this world to the hereafter. While his family, friends and followers even if they have never met him feel the loss heavily, he lived and died the way he had wanted it: in confrontation with the enemy, who claims to have killed him mercilessly though he was unarmed and no exchange of fire took place at that moment because this operation was about revenge in the first place, so they claimed to have killed him to bring this political trophy for the White House. But there is no doubt that Osama always preferred death to surrender and humiliation and sell-out of his honour and principles. He would never have surrendered and never submitted himself to his enemies. He died in the company of some of his family members and friends; his wife getting shot while trying to shield her unarmed and sick husband from the bullets of the killers. It shows the primitive mindset of cretins like US counter terrorism adviser John Brennan who tried to suggest during his press conference in the White House that Osama bin Laden may have used his wife as a human shield hiding behind her back!

Osama factor appears to be more politically motivated than terrorist threats to the West. Looking behind in history if we see the useful technique of Hitler's media man Goering, that keep on hammering a lie about war with so much vigour and commitment that people tend to believe it, at last, so are the Americans doing it now to build an American Empire by bulldozing the worlds public opinion. The terrorist phobia alleged against the Islamic Jihadis is nothing but a brain child of American CIA, who perhaps don't remember the threats given to US by Israel during the Youm-Kapoor war of 1967, when Israel saw they can not win this war and wanted lethal or chemical weapons supply from US immediately, the then US President knowing fully well was reluctant in meeting the Israeli Ambassador in Washington first. Is it not a fact that Israeli Prime Minister sent a message giving a short time notice to US that if their demands are not fulfilled before 5 am the following day I have already signed the orders to release nuclear bombs on five capitals of Muslim countries in the Middle East. US was bogged down on this ultimatum and rushed supplies to Israel that changed the complex of 1967 war against Egypt and other Arab countries but Israel has never been labeled as first Terrorist country.

Now what was the reason for Osama's hide out to have been discovered at this particular time? There are quite some doubts and contradictions about the whole story as told to people by the CIA and the White House. After all why it has taken the US ten long years to find Osama and kill him though the knowledge about the house in Abtottabad was in their hands for the last four to five years according to their own words. For that matter even last ten years during which he was living and fighting and inspiring the fight of others shows a deliberate lapse on the part of Americans. Given the huge military technological power which was employed to detect him it was only a matter of time to chose. He must have known that. Besides, sitting enclosed in a huge compound in a posh area of Abtottabad probably since 2005 it is rather unbelievable that he was not detected earlier. According to the reports it was people visiting him and couriers identified by detainees at Guantanamo, who were water boarded, a heinous act of torture, which is known as enhanced interrogation techniques during investigation about those who were carrying his messages and keeping up contact with his operatives who finally provided the lead. Osama's health probably didn't allow him to keep moving around and sitting in mountain caves as he used to do; he must have needed some medical treatment and rest for survival after handing over his command. But living in a compound like a sitting duck as his only option he was bound to be found one day. Should he not have sent messengers or received guests? That would have rendered him dead before death.

He chose to live as full a life as possible accepting all the consequences and according to Gen.(R) Hamid Gul Osama bin Laden had already expired some years before. From Osama's point of view though there is no reason for regrets. But from the point of view of the Obama administration its election campaign time: US economy is down, the dollar is falling, unemployment high and the budget deficit even higher. Obama wants to be re-elected and hence needed a success trophy. That may have been staged in a real Hollywood manner. We don't also know which of the pictures we are shown are real and which are staged. We have been fooled before! Remember when after 9/11 we were shown pictures of Arabs dancing in the streets like the Americans repeating the same at ground-zero on Osama's death â?" the Arabs dancing later turned out to be of earlier origin and unrelated to 9/11.

Otherwise why would the US destroy all evidence allegedly dumping his body into the sea within hours, without a postmortem, without releasing any funeral or deceased photographs? The story about the funeral prayers by the hand of US marines also sounds like Hollywood, if only half of what is said is right then they must have known that sea burial is unacceptable to Muslims. It is also interesting to watch all the commentators report the rise of Obama's popularity in the eyes of the US public. The Western world is jubilant; they think that they have achieved a victory. Killing Osama bin Laden was one of their main objectives like killing is in general a major part of their philosophy of life. Thousands of them are seen dancing in the streets drunk with joy and alcohol? Shouting mindlessly while the Western governments are cautioning their citizens not to travel, to be vigilant, US and other Western embassies are on high alert and the US embassy and consulates in Pakistan have even closed down. Is this what victory looks like? It rather looks like a new phase of violence in the offing. And that is probably what we are going to see: a new wave of attacks, hundreds or thousands of new jihadis joining the ranks of the fight. As Osama was quoted by Hamid Mir, a journalist who had interviewed Osama bin Laden several times as saying: they can claim victory only if they get me alive but if they will just capture my dead body, it will be a defeat, the war against Americans will not be over even after my death, I will fight till the last bullet in my gun, martyrdom is my biggest dream and my martyrdom will create more Osama bin Laden. A word of advice to our American friends, who are intoxicated with their power myth and vengeance against Islam that cool down and start fresh rethinking, what they have gained and what they have lost in both melee drama's the 9 / 11 and the Osama factor.







That the White House had to correct its statements about the killing of Bin Laden, has diminished the glow of success claimed by all those involved in the operation. Several lies were told, which are being corrected now. The first lie was that Bin Laden was carrying a gun. Now it is being admitted that he was not armed when he was shot. It raises suspicions that this was indeed a deliberate shoot-to-kill operation. It was a commando operation without mercy, for a terrorist who had killed thousands.

Here are the other inaccuracies in the first version. The woman killed was not his wife. Osama Bin Laden did not use any woman as a human shield. And he was not armed. The President's press secretary Jay Carney suggested that "wrong statements were made in trying to provide a great deal of information in a great deal of haste; meaning lies had to be told to justify the commando action".There is no mileage in misleading people and then correcting yourself. But the President's assistant national security advisor John Brennan had to twist the facts in order to prove that Osama was a coward, to give a moral message to justify the American action. So they lied about the sort of man Bin Laden was. They lied that he was cowering behind his wife, using her as a shield. Nice narrative. Not true. In fact, according to Carney this unarmed woman tried to attack the heavily armed Navy Seal. In another circumstance that might even be described as brave. Jay Carney said that Bin Laden didn't have to have a gun to be resisting. He said there was a great deal of resistance in general and a highly volatile fire fight. The latest version says Bin Laden's wife charged at the US commando and was shot in the leg, but not killed.

The two brothers, the couriers and owners of the compound, and a woman were killed on the ground floor of the main building. This version doesn't mention Bin Laden's son, who also died. By this count only three men, at the most, were armed. I do wonder how much fight they could put up against two helicopters' worth of Navy Seals. Does any of this matter? Well, getting the facts right and speaking the truth is always important. You can't make an honest judgment without speaking the truth. An honest judgment cannot be based on lies. We all make mistakes, and journalists hate doing so because it makes people trust them less. For those involved a commando operation like this, time must go past in a confused and noisy instant, and they aren't taking notes. Confusion is very understandable. But you start to wonder how much the facts are being twisted, for self acclaim and to gloss over the less appealing parts of the operation. And of course there is the strong suspicion that the US never wanted to take Bin Laden alive.

It was important to kill him to avoid the complications of a living Osama Bin Laden. He had to be killed to deny a chance for terrorists to grandstand, and to avoid a back lash of sympathy for the top terrorist, and to bury the anti-American symbol for good. US authorities justify that, "In the confusion of a highly risky and dangerous commando raid it's hard to see how the Navy Seals could be sure that Bin Laden wasn't armed, didn't have his finger on the trigger of a bomb, wasn't about to pull a nasty surprise.

If he had his hands in the air shouting "don't shoot" he might have lived, but anything short of that seems to have ensured his death." All Americans- politicians, officials, and common public is delighted that Osama was killed- taken out in a daring and thrilling filmed commando action. They care less for reaction in Islamic countries and criticism in some quarters in Britain and Europe. They do not wish to debate the right or wrong of the commando action.

Leo Panetta the CIA Director and important American officials have rejected Pakistani arguments that intelligence about OBL compound in Abbottabad and operational planning for the commando attack should have been shared with the ISI and Pakistani military. They argue that the mission would have failed if total secrecy was not maintained. US media is talking about the OBL support groups in Pakistan, including Pakistani establishment, and hate American propaganda on the Pakistani media. They are justifying the commando action by saying, "We are less comfortable about frontier justice, less forgiving about even police shooting people who turn out to be unarmed, perhaps less inculcated with the Dirty Harry message that arresting villains is for wimps, and real justice grows from the barrel of a gun. Many in America won't be in the slightest bit bothered that a mass murderer got what was coming to him swiftly, whether he was trying to kill anyone in that instant or not."








Followed by the threats of a horrible tomorrow for the people of Pakistan, the so-called dramatic killing of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad is going to give a new twist and turn to the 'fabulous' story of the US war on terror. Who is going to be held responsible for the death of Osama Bin Laden; USA or Pakistan; CIA or ISI; it is yet too earlier to be decided. Things are still very ambiguous; particularly in Pakistan people are taking this hunting episode simply as a play staged by the CIA under the crafty direction of the US policy makers. The sole aim behind seems to generate a state of depression among the Pakistani nation and create more troubles for Pakistan by defaming the repute of the Pakistani law enforcing agencies including the Pakistan army and the ISI.

Most of the people are of the opinion that the commando action in Abbot Abad by the US security forces was nothing different from the drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The drones claim the lives of innocent children, guiltless women and helpless old men in the name of terrorism and extremism; the Abbottabad massacre also did the same. It is something unbelievable that world's most eagerly searched for terrorist had been using that place as his hide-out for the last six years allegedly without coming to the knowledge of the intelligence agencies, both of Pakistan and USA.

The intelligence agencies of the two countries have a very authentic history of mutual understanding and co-operation. Let us suppose for a few moments that the ISI was sheltering Osama there in Abbot Abad by playing a double game with the CIA; the question arises what the CIA was doing. After the release of the Raymond Davis it was claimed by the CIA authorities that the CIA has succeeded in establishing a very strong intelligence net-work in Pakistan. It was also claimed that in near future the CIA would not need the support of the ISI for the execution of its operation plans in Pakistan.

It is also a day-light fact that in the last ten years Pakistan has become a joint battle-field for so many intelligence agencies of the world. One can feel the presence of the Raw, the Musad, the Khad, and the MI6 agents and above all those of the CIA here in Pakistan. It is the exemplary skill and talent of the security and intelligence agencies of Pakistan that in presence of so many hostile agencies, they are doing their best possible for their motherland. It is something next to impossible even for the CIA like organizations to keep an eye on terrorists in each and every nook and corner throughout the country. The situation becomes more gruesome when most of the terrorists are trained, guided, supported and patronized by the self-claimed world peace keepers. If terrorist activities are the result of intelligence failure what about the 9/11 incident; how did the planners of the 9/11 atrocity escape out of the US territory and what had been the CIA and US army doing for the last ten years when Osama was reported to be there somewhere in Afghanistan.

Our American friends are doing nothing but adding to the miseries of our lives in the name of the war against terror. The people of Pakistan have always been a friend of America and there is no fault of these common people for whom the most grievous issue of life is only earning simple bread. The whole of the Pakistani nation is being punished for the misdeeds of a very small group of foreign miscreants which is trying to dismantle the entire fabric of a peaceful society. USA in its rage and fury is ignoring the reality that its war on terror has become a war of horror even for those who have nothing to do with terrorism.

The US policy makers must try to realize that the suicidal attacks on public and the security personnel in Pakistan are nothing but a reaction of the extremists against the US policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. America is gaining nothing out of this havoc but the innocent people of Pakistan are losing whatever they have. As a result of it America is unknowingly sowing the seeds of hatred and disliking in the hearts of the Pakistanis. The stronger ones react, the weaker ones protest; the protesters and the reactors go side by side. When the protest seems failing, it changes into aggression. Extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism, all are different shapes of aggression born out of protest. Exertion of force is not a wise solution to this complicated situation.

Pakistan is doing all best possible to fight against the menace of terrorism. Its efforts have always been appreciated by the world but it is yet to be compensated for the losses it has suffered in the process. The intelligence agencies of Pakistan have also performed well under challenging security environment and have put in their best to arrest the growing menace of extremism and terrorism. The nation fully backs their firm resolve and determination. The US policy makers must understand the fact that allegations and suspicions do nothing but add to the complications and gravity of a situation. Another important thing to be kept in mind is that Pakistan is not only a piece of land, it is a homeland. Home is the name of a feeling. Bombs, drones, guns and bullets can demolish and scatter a building but not a home. So our American friends must not waste their time and energy knowingly or unknowingly in futile efforts of demolishing our home. They would never succeed.

—The writer is defence and strategic affairs analyst.







So America has finally managed to kill the monster it had created. And in one of those ironies that fate throws up, Bin Laden met his end at the hands of someone whose name has often been confused with his own. In his death, Bin Laden hasn't just saved the struggling US president; he may have gifted his nemesis a second term in office. But can you really kill men like OBL? He was not just another human being, a man of flesh and blood like you and me. Rather, he represented an idea. And you can't kill ideas — even if you happen to be the most powerful nation on the planet and have the deadliest of arms man has invented at your disposal. The long crippled man who spurned a life of obscene luxury to live on the run forever like a hunted animal, had to go the way he did. There's hardly a surprise there. The real story and feat lies in the fact that the Al-Qaeda chief managed to evade the long and powerful arms of the empire for so long — for 11 long years.

While the "coalition of the willing" hunted the most wanted man on the planet all across the wild frontier stretching from Pakistan's Northwest to the Afghan border with Russia, he ostensibly lived right in the heart of the Abbottabad cantonment, a stone's throw away from Pakistan's elite Kakul Military Academy. What an extraordinary, extraordinary story! And what chutzpah, what masterstroke of the evil genius that Bin Laden was! And what embarrassment for Pakistan's leaders! They haven't been just caught unawares; they've been found with their pants down. The country has become the laughing stock of the whole world. It's damned if it admits that this was a one-sided US operation and it had no clue whatsoever until US choppers with their elite commandos barged right into the heart of the cantonment and took out their man. It's damned if it suggests otherwise. How's it possible for the world's most hunted man with a $50 million bounty on his head to live next to a military base close to Islamabad and go unnoticed by Pakistan's fabled sleuths? These are disturbing questions that no one seems to have any answers for.

Whoever is responsible for this mess, they've put Pakistan in a rather nice spot, perhaps like never before in its history. The ever voracious and vicious television networks across the border haven't stopped partying since. It's the great Pakistan barbecue season all over again. All his life Bin Laden had been an enigma and a perpetual source of concern to his distinguished clan and the land of his birth. Now he has visited a calamity on the folks who hosted and worked with him during the glorious decade of the Afghan jihad. Lest we forget the commander of the faithful in that "holy war" against the so-called "Evil Empire" was none other than the leader of the free world. Uncle Sam headed the Western coalition as he does now. Pakistan was only their second lieutenant, a facilitator if you will. Only when the music stopped, Pakistan was left holding the baby. Everyone went home and it had to live with the mess that was left behind. Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Taleban and the whole rag-tag army of various other groups are a blast from the past that the West doesn't want to have anything to do with today.

When the tide turned after 9/11 and Pakistan went with the flow, the chickens came home to roost. Bin Laden came home to where he thought he belonged. His final suicide mission was to blow up his former friends and the land that sheltered him. However, the ultimate victim of the misguided missile that the billionaire Bin Laden fired had been the faith that he claimed to champion. He brought nothing but disgrace and disaster to Muslim lands and fellow believers. More Muslims than the Westerners or Christians and Jews have died as a direct consequence of Al-Qaeda attacks, or by those that were inspired by his murderous ideology. A noble religion of 1.6 billion believers has come to be condemned as a death cult, with all Arabs and Muslims being tarred as terrorists. For which Bin Laden will not perhaps be ever forgiven by Muslims. Yet you can't help a twinge of sadness at the tragic end Bin Laden has met — far from the land of his birth that he so loved. He was driven by the belief — hopelessly distorted as it was — that he was fighting to free Muslim lands and for justice for the Palestinians, Afghans and for the oppressed everywhere. Muslims never identified with OBL or condoned his appalling crimes. They, however, understood what forced a quiet young man to kick his billion-dollar fortune and take up arms. He struck a chord in not just Arabs and Muslims but in the dispossessed everywhere by taking on the big bullies who have killed more innocents and wreaked more destruction on our world than a million Bin Ladens could have managed in their life time. Besides, the way this whole charade has been played out with President Obama and his aides "coolly" watching the action live in real time as if it was a baseball game, and his body being dumped into the Arabian Sea has only added to their disgust and outrage. Using all that overwhelming force to kill an unarmed, ailing man without a trial.

Shouldn't Bin Laden have been put on the trial for the crimes he has been accused of? What was the hurry to buy him at sea? What was it that America was trying to cover? And how's Obama's justice different from the "dead-or-alive" cowboy retribution of his predecessor? But dead or alive, we haven't heard the last of this yet. Bin Laden may be dead and gone; his cause is not. Others will take his place and may already have. If the world is to prevent the rise of more Bin Ladens, it must take its scalpel to the festering cancer of injustice and oppression in the Holy Land. Now that the so-called architect of 9/11 is gone, the US has no pretext or business to be in Afghanistan-Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere. —The CG News

— The writer is a widely published columnist.









SOMEWHERE on the floor of the North Arabian Sea lies the body of al-Qa'ida founder Osama bin Laden.

We should be grateful for this not-so-small mercy. But we must also take a hard look at the implications of what has occurred and whether it has made us safer.

An excess of hand-wringing, self-loathing and self-analysis over the way the Americans, our allies in the war on terror, ended bin Laden's evil life has been the chief distraction of the week. The absurd moral equivalence that demands a lawyerly "due process' for a cynical, strategic terrorist leader who launched a horrific asymmetric war, deliberately designed to slaughter civilians, invites ridicule. Here was a man who sanctioned numerous attacks killing thousands of defenceless men, women and children for the express purpose of weakening our resolve. So when we show the resolve to track him down and bring his leadership to an end, anyway we can, it affirms our willingness to defend our freedoms. And it is a just outcome.

It is surprising and disappointing that the White House has chosen not to release the images of bin Laden's corpse given US commitment to free speech. As gruesome as this would be, it would provide additional confirmation, closure and transparency. President Barack Obama's justification for not doing so is flimsy. Those who are offended by bin Laden's death will react, photographs or not. The central purpose of the war on terrorism is to protect freedom so that our decisions and policies are not dictated by threats or acts of violence.

The sobering revelations of this momentous week point to the ongoing threat of terrorism, including in our region. Already material seized from the Abbottabad compound has alluded to plots against US passenger trains as a sickening way to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11. We are reminded that bin Laden's ideological supporters will carry on in the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and in Western nations such as our own. Long-held concerns about Pakistan are now heightened as its tenuous political leadership, always just an incident away from chaos itself, seems incapable of exercising control over the military and security apparatus. Covert support is provided to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and we must assume, al-Qa'ida, not only in Pakistan's border regions but in its cities as well.

The discovery of bin Laden in Abbottabad places greater significance on the arrest of Bali bomber Umar Patek there earlier this year. We know other bombers met and trained with al-Qa'ida before their murderous Bali attacks. So news that Patek could have been seeking funding and/or guidance from the al-Qa'ida leadership for another attack in Indonesia is disturbing. It underscores the need for vigilance and ongoing determination in the battle against this insidious threat. The security co-operation between Australian and Indonesia, forged in the aftermath of Bali, has been pivotal to the successful prosecutions against al-Qa'ida's regional franchise, Jemaah Islamiah. Sadly, whatever comfort we take from bin Laden's death must be tempered by the realisation that al-Qa'ida and its affiliates are still active, even in our region. For these reasons, we end the week in a higher state of apprehension than we began it.






THE ABC's Lateline has done a good job this week examining the shortcomings that might have arisen from the Gillard government's contracting out of the management of detention centres to Serco.


In the same vein, taxpayers have the right to ask why their ABC contracted out one of the biggest news stories of the decade, the slaying of the world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, by US forces. If it was unable to cross to its own bureaus or provide its own hosts in an Australian studio, coverage was available from independent British and American broadcasters. Instead, the ABC surrendered control of its airwaves to Middle East broadcaster Al-Jazeera, which is owned by the Emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. According to Britain's Index on Censorship, an organisation committed to promoting free speech, Qatar is so sensitive about censorship that in March it detained blogger and human rights activist Sultan al-Khalaifi for daring to criticise the country's censorship rules. All of which makes Qatar's national broadcaster a curious choice for outsourcing the initial coverage of such a major story by the ABC.

Taxpayers are entitled to ask why the provision of more than $1 billion in annual funding does not buy Australian coverage but an Al-Jazeera feed.





IT'S too little too late but the Gillard government's decision to partially revive John Howard's so-called Pacific Solution seems rushed and incomplete.

We can only hope the formal announcement involves more than processing refugees in Papua New Guinea, because that alone is unlikely to solve the problem. Violence and arson at Australia's overcrowded detention centres and the arrival of about 10,000 boatpeople since Labor abandoned the Coalition's tough border protection policies in February 2008 have compelled Julia Gillard to act. She should have done so much sooner, long before the tragic drowning of as many as 50 people in a boat wreck off Christmas Island last December.

Offshore processing on its own will not stop the boats when people-smugglers and their desperate passengers know that the chances of asylum-seekers eventually ending up in Australia are good. The government's move, however, is at least a step in the right direction. It has chosen PNG rather than Nauru because PNG is a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees. And thankfully it signals the embarrassing end of the Prime Minister's fanciful notion of a regional processing centre in East Timor.

Within PNG, Manus Island, where the Howard government operated a processing centre, would be a good location. The local people are well disposed to the idea, welcoming the financial boost to the local economy it provided last time, including AusAID in the form of new classrooms. But if Labor is to have any hope of stemming the flow of boats, it cannot afford to stop at piecemeal measures, or ruthless people-smugglers will continue to perceive it as a "soft touch". The Howard government's effectiveness in stopping the boats involved occasionally turning them around before they reached their destination and the extensive use of temporary protection visas, which prevent asylum-seekers sponsoring relatives to come to Australia and which allow individuals to be repatriated if conditions improve.

Politically, the Gillard government's decision to send senior officials cap in hand for help to PNG is a humiliating backdown. After years of "collective denial" over the tide of boatpeople, the appeal to PNG is a tacit admission that weak policies have boosted the "pull" factors and encouraged desperate people to pay at least $10,000 to risk their lives on a treacherous journey rather than wait and hope to enter Australia through official channels. As a result of its own incompetence and procrastination, Labor is being forced to eat its words. In 2008, when the Rudd government abandoned the Pacific Solution, then-immigration minister Chris Evans labelled it a "cynical, costly and ultimately unsuccessful exercise." Last year, he said it was about "conning the Australian people and ... punishing those who sought our protection."

In another useful backflip, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has acted to ensure that any detainee who commits a crime in an immigration facility will receive only a temporary visa, even if he or she obtains refugee status. The law will be backdated to cover the fires at the Villawood detention centre. However apoplectic the Greens and the human rights lobby become about this more pragmatic approach, the government has no alternative if it is to stem an inhuman trade. Whether it can put the genie back in the bottle remains to be seen.







WHEN Kevin Rudd was campaigning before the 2007 election the comment was made on several occasions that he was trying to present himself to the electorate as a newer version of the man he was seeking to replace. John Howard had built a formidable reputation on being safe and dependable; his chief problem at the end of many years in government was that he had been there too long and voters had become tired of listening to him.

One of the few big differences between the Coalition and Labor, though, was on immigration and the treatment of asylum seekers. Labor criticised the ''Pacific solution'' Howard had instituted, and promised to replace it with something better, more humane and more in keeping with Australia's international treaty obligations. That difference has now virtually disappeared.

With the Gillard government's apparent decision to resume sending asylum seekers who arrive by boat to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, there is little beyond details to distinguish Howard's supposedly inadequate policy from what Labor is planning. The principle is the same. As backdowns go, this is about as big as they get. Howard, Labor is saying, was right.

The themes of Labor's 2007 policy were "humanity, fairness, integrity and public confidence". The last of these was undermined almost as soon as Julia Gillard came to power, when she attempted to railroad East Timor into accepting her regional solution. The Timorese government, quite reasonably, resisted, as did other regional states. The regional solution, and Gillard's reputation for competence in this field, never got off the ground. Once the public's confidence was undermined, the need for the other three themes of the original policy seems to have disappeared. Hence this backdown.

The change has been driven not by the need to devise good policy, or to cement regional relations, or to remedy the causes of the flow of refugees at their source, but to fix an image problem. It is spin.

Will the ''Pacific solution Mark II'' work? It may serve to deter new boat arrivals, as the old one did - although even that is doubtful. On this issue at least the Howard government used to do pretty much what it said it would, and its determination, brutal though it undoubtedly was at times, did have the effect of frightening refugees away. But Labor under both Rudd and Gillard has made a habit of policy U-turns in the face of adverse publicity. The people smugglers may well see Labor as a much softer touch, and keep pushing their lucrative clients into leaky boats.

Even if it does deter desperates from seeking safety in Australia, it will not help Australia regain respectability in the international community for its humane treatment of refugees. Nor, given the minor scale of the asylum-seeker problem in the larger picture of our immigration intake, will it earn it a reputation as a country with a sense of proportion. The only positive that can be hoped for - and it is a very small hope - is that this is a temporary measure, taken to gain time so that a more effective, humane and longer-lasting means of handling asylum seekers can be found.

Whatever its effectiveness as a deterrent, it will not help Gillard retain the respect of her party's supporters who looked to her, after the disappointment of Rudd, to uphold distinctive Labor values in a hostile political environment. Rudd undermined his own support when he dumped the emissions trading scheme he had promised; it would not be surprising if Gillard has done the same for herself with the decision to reinstate a policy which - more than most - was emblematic of the government Labor replaced.

Gillard's government faces challenges on many fronts. Its reliance on the votes of independents for survival gives it a fragile foundation from which to operate. That explains and can excuse many of its failings. It is preparing a tough budget which will probably lower its support even further. To win back that support, voters must be shown reasons to have confidence. They must see a clearly thought-out and workable set of policies, and the administrative skill to implement them. Instead, this government has shown itself no better than its predecessor in managing the highly ambitious projects it has taken on, yet equally obsessed with managing perceptions. The effort has been in vain. Voters are still, after more than three years of Labor in power, asking what Labor stands for. In deciding to reinstate the ''Pacific solution'', Labor has only prompted them to wonder yet again what the point of this government might be.






Conclusions from the 7/7 verdict suggest the institutions guarding people's safety are not as good as they could be

London is one of the great cities of the world, an ethnic and cultural hub, a tourist magnet. In 15 months' time, it will host the Olympics, attracting hundreds of thousands more visitors in a glare of global publicity. The institutions that guard the safety and well-being of the capital have to be world-class too. Yesterday's conclusions of the long and careful inquest into the 7 July bombings suggest they are not as good as they should be. Worse, they suggest a reluctance in MI5 either to acknowledge or to address the weaknesses the terrorists exposed.

Lady Justice Hallett has proved a compassionate and feisty coroner, allowing survivors and witnesses the space to recall their experiences in a way that may, perhaps, have helped them and certainly allowed the rest of us to honour the extraordinary courage of ordinary people on an ordinary day caught up in extraordinary and unforgivable events. She has illuminated shortcomings in the emergency services' response. Even more significantly, she has brought a senior MI5 officer to the witness box and exposed what has been at best a shameful negligence of the truth, at worst a deliberate intention to mislead members of Westminster's intelligence and security committee. Not surprisingly, some of the victims' families believe a public inquiry might uncover more MI5 lapses. A long history of inadequate (and until recently non-existent) scrutiny has fostered a dangerous culture of arrogance.

The coroner believes the bombings could not have been prevented. But her inquest was restricted by rule 43, under which she could only make recommendations aimed at preventing further deaths. It is not a substitute for a fuller probe into the competence of the intelligence agencies. While seven of her nine recommendations relate to the emergency response, on the central issue of whether the bombings might have been prevented Lady Justice Hallett is able to demand just two reforms. All the same, although she acknowledges the scale of the complex challenges facing the security services and recognises that the clarity of hindsight can be misleading, there is no mistaking that she is deeply concerned about MI5's conduct in the years leading up to July 2005, even in the truncated narrative she allows herself.

Her call for the best available photographs to be shown to witnesses for possible identification and her proposal for proper recording of the reasons for not putting an individual under surveillance seem elementary. That either point needs to be made suggests the security services were overwhelmed in the face of mounting evidence of home-grown terrorism. Indeed there is a litany of weekly resource allocation meetings that hint at the struggle for the necessary share of an inadequate pot. Surveillance is costly, time-consuming and labour-intensive but it is also indispensible. Much has changed in the past five years: MI5 is both much bigger and much better-resourced. But that only increases the need for proper accountability.

From Iraq to torture allegations to the London bombings, intelligence failings have been a recurrent part of the story that is matched by a reluctance to accept accountability. It has taken successive inquiries to extract an accurate picture. Lady Justice Hallett details the discrepancies between what she learned in evidence and what the ISC was told in its two earlier inquiries – most significantly that far from believing two of the bombers, Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, to be "small time fraudsters", desk officers knew they were in contact with others against whom there was more compelling evidence. Given the opportunity to correct the ISC's misapprehension, MI5 ignored it. Others also went unchallenged. "Unfortunate," Lady Justice Hallett remarks – all the more so since, when she began, she was assured there was nothing new to learn. The ISC had already conducted an exhaustive inquiry. Yesterday's report should embarrass MI5. It is mortifying for the ISC.

Despite the shortcomings, the coroner concludes MI5 could not have prevented the attacks. The 52 innocent lives could not have been saved. But if the same mistakes are not to be made again the security services must be properly held to account for their failures. If a public inquiry is what it takes to change the culture, then a public inquiry must be held.






The single most important consequence of Thursday's voting is the sheer bloodiness of the bloody nose delivered to the Liberal Democrats

So many of the most potent themes of British politics came together for a few hours in Thursday's elections that the contests, and the simultaneous AV referendum, seemed as important as a mini-general election. Except that a general election has only one overridingly large story to tell – the new government. This week's Super Thursday, by contrast, produced such a bulging goody-bag of resonant local and national stories – the defeat of electoral reform, the nationalist triumph in Scotland, the nationalist setback in Wales, excellent news for the Conservatives, grim news for the Liberal Democrats, something in between for Labour – that it is hard to know where to start.

On any other day, the triumph of the Scottish National Party in winning an outright majority in the Holyrood parliament – the very outcome that the devolved electoral system was expressly designed to prevent – would take the palm. While the United Kingdom survives, however, the single most important consequence of Thursday's voting is the sheer bloodiness of the bloody nose delivered to the Liberal Democrats. The damage is truly shocking. One in three Lib Dem voters from 2010 abandoned the party. At least 550 councillors were lost and the party was bundled from power in cities like Newcastle and Sheffield. The Lib Dem presence at Holyrood was decimated and in the Welsh assembly is now vestigial. The writing is on the wall for many of the party's biggest names in the House of Commons. And the AV referendum, so central to the party's hopes of having something distinctive to show for the coalition, was swept away by two-to-one.

There is something for the Lib Dems to cling on to all the same: the 15% share of the poll is grim not catastrophic; council victories in Burnley, Eastbourne, Watford and elsewhere serve notice that this was not an all-out rout, while in Eastleigh (the seat of Chris Huhne) there was even some Lib Dem advance. Yet Nick Clegg now presides over the rubble of his party's 20-year incremental forward march through British politics. This defeat is the all but inescapable price to be paid for an all but inescapable decision to enter government a year ago. Much the same may happen next year too. The bottom-line is that a large swathe of liberal Britain, more than this party can afford to lose, feels abandoned by Lib Dem membership of a coalition which is overwhelmingly defined by the slashing of public services, the overturning of the health service and the about-face on tuition fees. Mr Clegg and his party must confront this or face a decade of marginalisation.

The contrast with the fate of the Conservatives makes this all the more dismaying. If liberal Britain feels abandoned, conservative Britain feels vindicated. The Tory vote held up. There were even some council gains. And AV was crushed. True, there were Scottish and Welsh setbacks yet again. But the party of David Cameron, George Osborne, Andrew Lansley and Michael Gove – the real architects of the coalition's core policies – went not merely unpunished but has been majorly rewarded. In some ways, the Conservatives have more to cheer than Labour, who should have done better, not just in Scotland, but everywhere outside its traditional heartlands. For Labour, feeling good about winning well in Wales and about attracting back voters who should never have been lost in the first place are the easy bits – Labour's eight-point boost since 2010 and its nearly 700 new councillors are in one sense the Gordon Brown departure dividend. The larger point is that Labour's electoral counter-attack against the Tories is still almost non-existent. Yet without a credible strategy for turning some Tory votes into Labour ones, Labour's hopes of governing again may remain stillborn.

Both Scotland and electoral reform also remain crucial to any future centre-left advance of any kind. Yet Alex Salmond's stunning SNP win – amazing under a proportional system as well as the biggest personal electoral triumph for any party leader since Tony Blair's 1997 Labour landslide – poses a double challenge to Labour aspirations: it threatens Labour's future Westminster election chances and if – big if – the SNP win their way on independence, it may mean the end of any Scottish MPs at Westminster at all. In the wake of the abject failure of AV to win public backing, meanwhile, many will conclude that electoral reform is off the agenda for a generation. Yet if British voters go on producing general election outcomes with which the two-party Westminster system cannot cope, electoral reform may get back on the agenda sooner than now seems likely.







The late night operation of the Transjakarta Busway on two of its corridors has undeniably been helpful for people who work late, and we believe that extending operational hours along all of the 10 busway corridors would help ease the acute traffic congestion in the capital.

A city administration official has said that the decision to extend the operational hours at night was based on the increasing number of passengers using the Pinangranti-Pluit corridor (Corridor 9) and the Blok-M-Kota corridor (Corridor I). On both corridors, Transjakarta buses run until 11:30 p.m.

"We will soon operate buses along Corridor 2 [Pulogadung-Harmoni] and Corridor 3 [Kalideres-Harmoni]. As both corridors are connected to each other, it will help the night working people," Transjakarta Busway head Muhainmad Akbar said this week.

We support the busway's extended night operations, not only because it will be helpful to people who work late, but because the buses, we believe, will ease traffic congestion.

The late night busway service, if it materializes, would be a similar move to that of state railway operator PT KAI Commuter Jabodetabek, which already operates night trains, will encourage workers to reevaluate their working hours. Many people may prefer to travel at night on more convenient bus services rather than getting trapped in traffic gridlock during rush hour.

The city administration may even need to further focus on traffic congestion by reevaluating its policy on the working hours of both civil servants and private employees. The shift in working hours will help reduce congestion as it will provide opportunities for urban workers to have different working hours.

We believe that consistent night busway operations will not only give people working late more alternatives for transportation, but that it can also help the city overcome traffic problems. Therefore, the city authorities need to integrate this policy with other efforts to ease the burden on the city roads, such as by improving public transportation services in the capital.

And the most important thing is that Transjakarta Busway's operator has to maintain the quality of its services, including by paying serious attention to the security and safety of passengers, particularly when they are inside the buses or in the busway shelters.





 "Nambahin macet saja [just worsens the already congested traffic]," the abusive words have often and will continue to be heard before and during the May 7-8 ASEAN summit.

Such a complaint, however, is not only about the more severe traffic jams during the regional grouping leaders' meeting, but more importantly about the indifferent feeling of Jakartans on the summit as they do not see yet the benefit or relevance of the event.

As a good host, however, we Jakartans have the moral responsibility to create a comfortable and friendly atmosphere during the stay of our guests, be they diplomats, government officials, politicians, social workers and journalists. It is true that many of us do not see the urgency of such a costly event in the short term, but foreign affairs and policies are unseparated from other pillars of the state's life.

It is understandable when many stakeholders of this state complain that the government should give priority to much more pressing domestic issues such as huge unemployment and unsatisfactory economic growth. But we should not forget that our economy also heavily depends on the outside world.

In the meantime, it is not impossible that some guests may take extra security arrangements to ensure the safety of their delegations, especially their leaders. We need to understand their feeling no matter how ridiculous it may be for Indonesia.

We should realize that Jakarta has several times been the target of terror attacks over the past decade. But we also call for an understanding of our guests that the government, including the security forces and the whole of society, do their best for the comfort and safety of our honorable guests.

Since its establishment in 1967 in Bangkok and even since its transformation into an official organization after the signing of the ASEAN Charter in 2007 in Singapore, many Indonesians and citizens of other member countries have perceived that ASEAN is their government's business and has almost nothing to do with them.

All leaders of the 10-member ASEAN — except Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who has to focus on the general election on Saturday — will regroup on Saturday and Sunday. At the end of their discussion they are expected to issue their accountability report to the public on the direction of the regional bloc for another year ahead.

Many Jakartans perhaps do not realize that their city slowly but consistenly has transformed itself as the capital city of ASEAN such as Brussels for the EU. More countries such as the US and Japan have stationed their ambassadors to ASEAN here. In the past many envoys to Indonesia also served as representatives of their governments to ASEAN. Being a diplomatic capital city of ASEAN does not only mean political prestige but also major economic benefits.

We do hope that ASEAN leaders can achieve concrete results during their meeting to prove to their citizens that their conclusions of their meeting are not just strong on paper.

Be a good host. The positive attitude is expected from all citizens of this city. And we believe our guests will also appreciate our warm hospitality.







For the infamous strongmen, there were several ways out. Some died in their old age due to terminal diseases, lonely but unrepentant. Some committed suicide, but only when they were cornered. Some succumbed to sudden illness.

Only a minority of them were assassinated, for a good reason. They were so well-protected and lucky; assassination attempts by insiders were often foiled by a mixture of bad luck and hesitation.

Osama bin Laden might have been killed in, or after, a Hollywood-style finale shootout. If the US elite troops came in with the main intent to kill him, that is a pretty unconventional, yet surprisingly effective assassination method. The Western governments in the past had relied on bombings or hoping for an accomplice to kill from a close range.

What was Bin Laden's life goal? Certainly random bombings would not bring Muslim countries to unite under a caliphate. The greatest fear after the 9/11 terror attack in 2001 was that similar bombings would occur across America and perhaps the world in the same month. Al-Qaeda had planned to bomb a dozen airplanes across the Pacific in the mid-1990s, which no doubt would kill several Indonesians and thousands of other Asians.

Perhaps it was fair to say that he wanted the rich world to feel fear. He wanted the people to stop laughing over wine and pork ribs while many Muslims are still impoverished.

He, like many other radical Muslims, also believed that the medieval war between Christianity and Islam, which was called the Crusades, is still going on. For him, all Westerners are practicing Christians who serve the Jews, referred to as the Zionists.

The modern world history from the discovery of America to American hegemony is controlled by this coalition. The 9/11, the bombings of public transport in Europe, of hotels and churches in Asia, and many other acts of terror were seen as fair game; as fair as the Israeli and Western (and their allies) bombings of Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir and everywhere else. Whether in New York City, Bali, London and Mumbai, a great number of the victims were also Middle Easterners, Asians and Africans. Many of them were Muslims.

Bin Laden condemned himself to a life of hatred. But he believed that it was his opponents who lived that way. He was a fighter who lived a blessed life. Of course, the notion of human rights and of rationality did not work for him. Like many others before him, they thought that those were silly and evil thoughts that belonged to hypocrites, weaklings and fools.

On his baptism of fire he battled against communists who thought similarly, and he fought with some help from the defenders of freedom and democracy. He never liked them as they also helped the Israelis and corrupt the Arabic princes.

The hatred boiled when the princes rallied their troops behind the Americans against Iraq, when the infidel soldiers tred on the soil of the Holy Land. He talked to the powerful men of Saudi Arabia, his family and his lords, pointing out their mistakes. They told him to leave.

He found sanctuary in the old battlefield of Afghanistan and met Muslims from all over the world who believed in the same thing. In a few years time, he had begun his war against America. After 9/11, he demanded the independence of Palestine and departure of the Crusaders. They responded by crashing through Afghanistan hunting from him, before straying into Iraq.

For the next years, he had some breathing space between Afghanistan and Pakistan, while his enemies were pinned in Iraq. The rich of the world, despite his warnings, were still kissing in public, buying the latest iPods and ignoring Palestine, but also lived in fear and discomfort.

Americans were cynically seen as boorish oafs by Europeans, Australians and Canadians. The non-Westerners were even less friendly. Just in three years, the world stopped being sympathetic to America and Bin Laden wished that the world could see what he had seen for decades.

Bin Laden needed no love. He had four wives without romance. He looked after his children as a master looked after his servants. He believed in servitude to God and never questioned his world view. Like every other people who were happy with their possessions, he wanted to continue life although he said he did not fear death.

The youthful suicide bombers believed in a great afterlife and in martyrdom. He appreciated them for that, but like other leaders he could only envy their sacrifice from above. Maybe he knew America and Israel would not surrender, but he could not let them live in peace.

He died a loveless man. Not everyone cheered or felt relief upon news of his death, but he died without remorse. We are also victims of Osama bin Laden. It might be unethical to cheer for his death. It is ethical to feel relief.

Everyone agrees that the danger is far from over. Indonesians are still worried about an Islamic State of Indonesia (NII). Recently there was a mass murder attempt in Tangerang and Cirebon. Bin Laden would not have known these plans, but the terrorists certainly wanted his credit.

His death shows that sometimes evil is punished. If the state of Palestine is created, he will get no credit. His life legacy was of death and hatred, not of hope and happiness.

The writer is a graduate of La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.







Aware of Jakarta traffic madness, two Harvard students bound for Jakarta this summer asked me: What stops the government from building comprehensive mass rapid transportation in the city?

After two seconds of awkward silence, I offered my take: There is probably little incentive for the government to do so. Building a subway or bus system is a long-term project.

At the same time, the administration's lifetime, under democracy, is limited to five or 10 years. There are no guarantees that the current administration can survive the next election and take political credit for benefits of such projects in the future.

In a democracy, or maybe because of democracy, we need to have public policies that take into account political representation and the technocratic capacity of policymakers.

You need to build roads, maintain school and build transportation systems, even when it doesn't really pay for the current administration to do so. You need to internalize such long-term returns and put them into the short-term political game.

Alas, this is not the case yet. In a young democracy like Indonesia's, political process and infrastructure has not yet accommodated such concerns.

Let's take another issue: state budget absorption. In the recent post-crisis years, we have encountered problems of a lack of budget absorption capacity. The tax money has been budgeted for certain public services and goods provision, and yet in practice some of it can't be disbursed efficiently.

A big irony, outrageous many would say, given our disappointing public infrastructure availability, quality and performance.

What seems to be the problem here? Like it or not, it has something to do with greater accountability pressure and anticorruption efforts that have been picked up in recent years.

Few bureaucrats are now willing to take a job as project leaders because they don't want to deal with the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), partly because there is much less room for corruption now, and partly because dealing with the KPK, even when no corruption is committed, is uncertain as well as time and energy consuming.

And don't get me started with those anti-religious-tolerance regional ordinances.

Nevertheless, make no mistake; I am very far from suggesting a reversal of political reform, democracy and anticorruption enforcement. My point is that political reform produces sometimes have unintended adverse consequences for public service provision. This needs to be addressed as quickly as possible.

The pressing agenda now is thus to produce public policies that are effective, deliverable in a timely manner, and that do not violate civil society's values. At the same time these policies need to survive democratic and anticorruption litmus tests.

Such policies also have to win votes, quickly, in the political market to gain credibility. And higher credibility can be attained if stakeholders of such policies engage in substantive exchanges — exchanges supported by evidence-based and reasoned arguments.

And here, in general, we still have lots of homework to do. Too often we see government policies without sound rationale. Think of the hundreds of economically distorted local government regulation drafts rejected by the Finance Ministry, or the anti-religious tolerance local government decrees I just mentioned.

To make things worse, a lack of government accountability is still around. The very imperfect political market means the rewarding and punishing of government (under) performance is not yet part of the equation for the administration's political survival.

For example, we don't yet see administrations being properly punished for failing to meet their political promises.

In the other direction, responses and feedback from politicians, pundits and the media — the flag-bearers of the educated and (supposedly) public-policy-informed classes in Indonesia — suffer from a lack of coherent logic and empirical evidence, if they are not full of empty jargon. The press corps also generally doesn't help.

Despite all these problems, the good news is we have an institution that can potentially help in producing reasoned arguments in the policymaking and policy debates arena. It is the public policy schools. Almost all reputable universities across Indonesia have this kind of school or department.

The demand for public policy schools and practitioners and analysts is obviously increasing. Yet at the same time our public policy schools are still searching for their format and orientation.

What we haven't seen yet is these schools' strong contribution and influence in real policy making. They don't seem yet to inspire policymakers and policy stakeholders to use reasoned arguments to make their political case.

Thus, there is an urge to improve the supply side for public policy education, especially the teaching method in public policy schools. One direction is to have more high quality case-study sessions — the standard method in world-class public policy schools yet demanding pedagogy, particularly in Indonesia where the education system leans heavily toward a more traditional lecture approach.

This is why initiatives such as the forthcoming Workshop on Teaching Public Policy in Asia, jointly hosted by Harvard Kennedy School and Faculty of Economics and the University of Indonesia from May 9 to 11 is important and useful milestone.

Without the existing policy analysis program modeling actual analysis, discussion and engagement with issues, we are missing some important lessons and opportunities.

In my opinion a good public policy school educates its students to be fully aware that there is always trade-offs among policies. By nature, public policy is about contestation among interest groups and certain policies have different impacts across groups.

The other lesson is that any public policy is subject to various constraints — and you have to work realistically under such constraints. Moreover, understanding constraints is never easy. You need to have wide perspectives and this is only achievable if one is open and exposed to multi-disciplined approaches, as students of public policy normally do.

To recap, why do we need good public policy education? Because we want our public policymaking to not only be conducted democratically, but also to be supported by reasoned arguments among reasonably well-informed critical stakeholders.

The writer is a research fellow at the Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge, Massachusetts and a lecturer at the University of Indonesia's School of Economics in Depok, West Java.






On May 7, 2011, 2.35 million Singaporeans will go to the polls. Eighty-four out of 87 seats in the single chamber parliament are at the heart of the political competition.

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) is a behemoth that has been in power since 1965, and has in the past come to power easily and without much fanfare.

During the last few elections, the PAP would come to power on nomination day and the competition would center on one or two single member constituencies.

At its best, the opposition won four seats in parliament, and this was in 1984. Singapore is known for its single dominant party system that is unrivaled by any other country in the 21st century.

But even before results of the 2011 general election are known, this election is worthy of notice for several reasons:

First, the electoral campaign process has been tweaked with notable effects. Parliament passed several key changes to the electoral process in 2010.

This included relaxing existing restrictions on the use of new media platforms for political party campaigning and the introduction of a one day cooling-off period. Whereas in the past political parties were not allowed to use social media for campaign purposes, parties are now
allowed to stream messages and campaign rallies online via social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs during the campaign period.

The effect is noticeable. There are a lot of activities on the web. Live streaming of the rallies are carried on Internet channels manned by mainstream media companies, while political sites such as The Online Citizen (TOC) run live commentaries of the rallies throughout the night.

There are also a great number of individual commentaries on blogs and other social media sites, either in favor of the ruling party or the opposition. These instant analyses come fast and furious throughout the day, with many creative takes on the political scene.

What this means is that one-sided analyses published in the mainstream media are often very quickly confronted by alternative takes on the same issues. It makes the one-sided bias of the mainstream media appear stark and at odds in this new and vibrant media landscape.

The space for the opposition to present their case, at least to the growing numbers of Singaporeans who are online, has also expanded significantly with these changes.

While in the past opposition leaders often complained of a lack of space to present their case, their rallies and other activities are now captured and posted online quickly. It would appear that the opposition parties are getting the space to get their ideas across and to connect with the voters. People want to hear what they have to say.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the nature of the contest seems to have shifted. The opposition strategy reflects greater thought and a certain maturity.

In part this may be a result of concrete changes to the electoral system announced in 2009, where the numbers of multi-member constituencies or Group Representative Constituencies (GRCs) were reduced while the numbers of single-member seat constituencies increased.

Additionally, the Prime Minster has promised to increase the number of non-constituency members of parliament (NCMPs). These are seats which are "given to the best losers" of the electoral competition to better reflect alternative views within parliament. The seats allow the NCMPs to debate issues, but deny them voting rights on key bills, including the budget and constitutional changes.

Yet, the opposition parties did not focus their fight only on the single member constituencies in this year's election. Nor did they embrace the offer for more NCMPs in parliament. In the past the opposition had opted for a strategy where they chose to consolidate their resources for fights in mainly single member constituencies (SMCs) and perhaps one-group representative constituencies (GRCs).

This was necessary in large part because the opposition worked with very little resources and often only had a small handful of good candidates that could match the PAP. Opposition parties also faced the uphill battle of fielding minority candidates in a GRC – a fundamental requirement for political competition in GRCs.

This time around the opposition chose to contest 84 out of the 87 seats in parliament, thereby preventing the PAP from coming to power on nomination day. This automatically widened the competition, allowing more people to vote.

Most interestingly, perhaps, the more established political parties fielded candidates who were on par with the ruling party in terms of their credentials and quality.

For example, the opposition candidates contesting this general election include quite a few government scholarship recipients, former high-ranking civil servants, a very successful investment banker and graduates from local universities. Several opposition candidates have elite pedigree.

Vincent Wijeysingha, a star candidate for the Singapore Democratic Party, is the son of well-known and well-respected educator, Eugene Wijeysingha. This is far cry from the opposition candidates of yester years, many of whom were from the working class.

The fact that the opposition parties are attracting young and highly qualified slate of individuals is symbolically important. It has debunked the myth that Singaporeans are too afraid to be associated with opposition politics and that the ruling PAP has the monopoly over qualified candidates.

The younger slate of candidates stepping up to the opposition plate also sends the message that younger Singaporeans are looking at Singapore politics in potentially different ways. It gives the impression that there is a new generation of voters who are driven by values, beyond the bread and butter issues of survivability and material wealth alone.

There are notable changes to the voter profile. Some 600,000 among the 2.35 million who will vote are between the ages of 21 and 35. This translates into one in four voters coming from a segment of society that were born and educated in a time when Singapore has enjoyed tremendous growth and wealth.

Even the ruling PAP has adapted their campaign strategy in response to these shifts. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong openly admitted that there was a need for the ruling PAP to admit its past mistakes
and rethink some of the fundamental points in his plan for Singapore's future.

He spoke at a lunchtime rally distinguishing himself and his team from that of his father, and has been promising voters that the ruling party will respond to the voices of discontent among younger Singaporeans and the middle class.

Whatever the outcome of Singapore's general election today, the shifts in Singapore's political scene are worth noting. The PAP may continue to entrench its dominance further on May 8th by winning all the parliamentary seats, but the currents of change are already in the air.

Suzaina Kadir is a lecturer at the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS, Singapore. Zulkieflimansyah is a lecturer at the University of Indonesia's School of Economics.








All of civilization and human achievements we must admit are growing towards great and rapid progress. There seems to be something in the creative forces at work, pushing people to high levels of ascendancy. One could even say that there seems to be some extraordinary intelligence behind this creative force. The purpose undoubtedly being the wellbeing of all humanity. Yet, the process originates in and through every individual heart and mind. It could become operative only through the cooperation of each individual.

Every segment of society is involved in bringing about this continuous change to enhance the whole community and humankind. The family unit which serves as the nucleus compliments the secular to the spiritual and other seats of governance. All have a part to play. One needs to be aware that everyone carries some responsibility that one is answerable to. How does one's life complement the lives of others?

To harmonize with creation, we need to look into our selves. The negative factors within become impediments to our own growth and that of others. Those include the seeking of personal gain or glory in subtle or deceptive ways, power to use or abuse others and refusal to be corrected. Many a family has collapsed because one member sows seeds of disharmony and disunity. History is replete with dynasties, empires and kingdoms becoming nonexistent because of their greed for self glory, more and more power and self fulfillment at the expense of others.

To look inward is sometimes prompted by what others say or convey. The initial response is to reject that person's criticism. Very few if any wish to hear the truth about themselves. There is that element of fear that something is wrong within and none wants to face it. Only the courageous dare to turn the searchlight within and only they dare to accept the truth about themselves; for they know that they become stronger and more enduring as a consequence.

People may not always be right in what they say of you. Yet one need not react or give a knee jerk reaction, as our psyche wants. The need is to stay in control of oneself amid the sea of fear and anger. After all, is it not the calmest and most secure place, in the eye of the storm? The centre of one's heart is where one could explore and discover that tranquility of life. Let truth deal with every discord and falsehood, any other solution would become counterproductive.

There are the cowards who don't like to face the truth about themselves. They take cover looking at others faults. Looking at their own cowardice could help them to liberate themselves because only truth can set them free.

Every form of disturbance or criticism could become an opportunity to go where one has not been. It could take us, to the frontiers of truth or if one is not aware of its reality, into death throes in the wilderness. Every disturbance could lead to life or death. We are empowered with the option to choose life.

Let us not miss out in this mighty surge where creation is leading us to the frontiers of truth. It is only there where reconciliation and peace exist. The whole earth needs to go there and only those courageous could lead it to those sublime heights. The world is waiting for such leaders to emerge from within each one of us. As you read, may your hearts be planted with seeds of hope, so that all may receive the flame to march forward into that new unexplored frontier, where there is no fear, suspicion or hatred.





The situation that the majority of Muslims faced after the killing of Al-Queda founder and its leader Osama Bin Laden on May 2 by the US Navy SEALs in Pakistani was very much similar to that faced by the Tamils after LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed by the Sri Lankan forces on May 18, 2009 on the banks of Nandikadal in Mullaitivu District.

This was more so when the dilemma faced by the Muslims who live as minorities in their countries is considered. However, some Muslims who respect Osama as a freedom fighter might not like one to compare him with Prabhakaran as they treat the latter as a "terrorist" and those who venerate Prabhakaran too might feel the same with the comparison for a similar reason.

Majority of Tamils, here and abroad, were of the view that Prabhakaran was fighting for the rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka, as he claimed or they wanted him to do so. Some Tamils might have had reasons to follow that line of thinking as they believed, for reasons, real or imaginary, that Sinhalese leaders have been discriminating against their community.

In fact, there had been communal attacks against Tamils in the past, such as the ones in 1958, 1961, 1977, 1981's and the one in 1983 which drew the world's attention and commonly known as the Black July, apart from the political and social demands put forward by Tamil leaders. Thus, Tamils justified Prabhakaran's armed struggle, in spite of the fact that all three communities in Sri Lanka, Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslims had experienced several horrendous physical attacks against their lot, by the time Prabhakaran was killed.

Whether they want to see a separate Tamil State or not, majority of Tamils did not want to see the Tamil LTTE to be defeated by a government led by Sinhalese due to their instinctive urge. At the same time they did not prefer to be identified with the LTTE or terrorism, especially in the light of the celebrations or the "triumphalism of the Sinhalese. Also they too breathed a sigh of relief when the war came to a halt irrespective of Prabhakaran's death.

The situation that the Muslims face today is exactly the same. They have a plethora of reasons, real or imaginary, to believe that the US is against their faith and those follow it. Top of them is the creation and sustaining of Israel, in the heart of the prime Muslim region in the world, in a manner that threatens the security of Muslim States in the region. This hurt the Muslims. 

Muslims in all countries were highly offended when their third holiest place, Baithul Muqaddas or Al Aqsa in Jerusalem came under Israel rule and the Israeli regime started excavations around it. Hundreds of resolutions that condemned Israel's atrocities in Palestine and particularly in Jerusalem were vetoed by the US in the UN General Assembly as well as the Security Council.

The whole world knew that the real reason behind the military adventures of the Western States including the US and the UK in Muslim countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya had been nothing other than the greed over oil and other strategic needs of the West and the stories about WMD and Super Guns have been proven to be a utter fraud. Hence, it is natural for Osama to become a hero at least for a section of Muslims in the world, because he challenged the world leaders who offended the Muslim feelings.

The Western leaders and the Western media use terms such as "Islamic terrorism" when identifying the activities of Muslim insurgent groups in various countries. These people in the so-called developed nations simply can not realize that these terms offend all Muslims in the world.

On May 3 Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, commenting on the killing of Osama said that  "Americans had earlier in the past decade bombarded the region    ruthlessly, killing lots of innocent ordinary people, whose number is roughly 110,000 in various military operations." Hence, the Muslims were inwardly joyous when Osama struck. However, they did not want to be identified as terrorists or espousers of terrorism either.

In Sri Lanka, Sinhalese leaders were in a hurry to praise the US troops for killing Osama for various strategic reasons. They wanted to be identified with the US leaders at a time when the latter boast to have given the world's terrorism a death blow. It would be easier for them to bring forth counter arguments against the UN Secretary General's Panel report which accused the Sri Lankan leaders of war crimes.

Being among those Sinhalese it is further difficult for the Muslims to publicly express solidarity to Osama. However, Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana did it. A group of Northern Province Muslims too have done it.       





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.








Only a few days separate the actions to "liquidate" Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and Colonel Muammar Al Gaddafi in Libya.

The actions were carried out by US/NATO forces operating in Afghanistan and Libya against totally different enemies and in entirely different circumstances and different settings. But very few people are aware of the fact that the first-ever arrest warrant against Bin Laden was issued by Muammar Al Gaddafi in March 1998 and both men have a long history of conflict between them. No doubt getting rid of both men would be good news for the Arab and the wider world, as both, in different manner and for different objectives, have caused a huge amount of suffering and conducted a number of terror attacks which killed innocent people around the world. In the process, they have caused irreparable damage to the image and reputation of Arabs and Muslims. 

There is no doubt that the killing of Bin Laden was a remarkable achievement for the US intelligence and military institutions, and represents a remarkable moral and psychological triumph for the American nation and specifically for the families of the 9/11 victims. But once the euphoria dies down, one will have to view this development from a wider, logical perspective. The Bin Laden phenomenon is a regrettable byproduct of the unjust environment in which we live in the Middle East. He and his likes are examples of Arab and Muslim citizens who have felt deeply frustrated (by the policies of their own governments as well as by the policies of the outside powers.

The feelings of frustration, humiliation, hopelessness, and stagnation have taken deep root in the minds of the Arab youth. Some Arab youth took to the streets in peaceful protests, hoping to change a repressive and corrupt political regime only to face the regime's bullets or prisons. Some societies were successful in removing dictatorships, others are trying, and the rest are watching. Indeed, some months ago, no one could imagine that peaceful protests could overthrow such authoritarian regimes in the Arab world. But it has already happened, and it is happening now.

However, popular uprisings against some local governments in the Arab world constitute only one half of the story. The other half relates to a different issue. Peaceful protest against unjust US and western policies in the region seems to have had little impact. For many decades now, the Arab people, and at times the Arab leadership, have been protesting loudly and relentlessly against the irrational US policy in the region, but these peaceful protests have fallen on deaf ears. A good example is the unlimited and unrestricted US support for Israel's aggressive policies, expansionist tendencies, and humiliation of the Palestinian Arab people. In the opinion of many Arabs, American support for Israeli policies places the US in the position of 'partners in crime' accused of aiding and abetting all of the crimes committed by Israeli governments. US policy makers have turned a blind eye to the Israeli disregard of international laws and humanity's basic moral code.  

Against such a background, political violence directed against the US has established its roots and derived strength from the continuing unjust policies and attitudes of the US, which are a clear departure from the basic moral principles cherished by the founding fathers of this great nation. In the eyes of the average Arab citizen, the US could be everything, but not a moral or just power. Some — and Bin Laden was one of them – believed and loudly preached that peaceful means will never bring an element of justice to US policy. He found many Arab youth willing to answer his call and believe in his political interpretations. We might have the right to celebrate the demise of Bin Laden, the mastermind of the criminal act of 9/11, but we should not indulge in self-deception by believing that his death will bring down the final curtain on political violence in the Middle East, or specifically violence directed against the US. The continuation of unjust US policies in the region could give rise to more bin Ladens in the coming years. One has to emphasise that bin Laden is dead, but Al Qaeda has multiplied, with several franchises still active in many countries.

The misguided US policies in the region helped Bin Laden to move Al Qaeda from a mere terrorist organisation to a deeply rooted ideology that has become popular among many Arab youths. This ideology has now turned into a force by itself giving rise to a new generation of indigenous, self-contained terrorist organisations.

Yet, the news of Bin Laden's demise should not overshadow or derail the developments of the ongoing Arab popular uprising. Support for the people's uprising must remain a priority in US policy. If popular protest is able to reform the Arab political system and remove incumbent dictatorships, it is time now that the US takes notice of Arab popular wishes and embarks on a comprehensive review of its policy in the Middle East. The US policy in the Middle East is in urgent need for reform. US politicians must wake up to the new realities shaping up in our neighbourhood.  

Dr. Mustafa Alani is Senior Adviser and (Director of Security Department, (Gulf Research Center
Khaleej Times         








"Tolerance is a tremendous virtue, but the immediate neighbours of tolerance are apathy and weakness." - James Goldsmith

PSYCHOLOGIST Rollo May wrote: "Hate is not the opposite of love. Apathy is."

Well-known 20th century American author Leo Buscaglia added that apathy was "not giving a damn".

Those two voices go a long way towards making clear what apathy is.

But what is it that we don't give a damn about that should concern us?

Think for a moment about those who preach love of fellow humans, but who are uncaring and disinterested about those who should be the concern of any humanist.

For example, the world turned away from Iraq while over a million men, women and children were killed or starved to punish Saddam Hussein and render him no longer a threat to Israel.

America, with 50,000 troops still in Iraq, continues the interference, while a listless US public goes on about their lives with no shared objective.

They just don't care, even though their taxes pay the bill.

Deaf and blind political activist Helen Keller said: "Science may have found a cure for most evils, but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings."

A clue to what motivated her can be found in the wisdom of French political thinker Charles de Montesquieu, who wrote: "The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy."

A comment ancient Greek philosopher Plato made centuries ago described the danger: "The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."

One need only consider how the US government is ruled by the Israeli lobby, the gun lobby, Wall Street thieves, Big Oil, the defence industry and the insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies.

The distinguished 19th century American editor Horace Greeley called apathy "a living oblivion".

To describe the present in such terms portrays the dark reality of the world we live in.

Apart from American listlessness about domestic and international concerns, the rest of the world also reveals a general disregard for corruption, the environment, widespread poverty and human suffering.

Why did it take three or four decades for Tunisian Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egyptian Hosni Mubarak or Libyan Muammar Gaddafi to arouse their publics out of a seemingly uncaring, disinterested apathy?

Some historians will write off the disinterest in these oligarchs to forced silence and fear.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing," wrote Anglo-Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke more than two centuries ago.

Similarly, Albert Einstein observed: "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."

Having heard from a number of the world's critical thinkers who define apathy and assert its evils, the listlessness of those who practise it raises serious questions.

For example, why are people apathetic about so much? It is because public education has failed to attach equal importance of our social responsibilities to work and family matters.

But what dangers exist because of apathy? Well, environmental destruction, revolutions, starvation, tribal hatred, racism and continuous warfare are some.

It is more important than ever to raise awareness of the dangers of not giving a damn, something so many great thinkers have tried to do in the past.



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