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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

EDITORIAL 10.05.11

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month may 10, edition 000828, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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










  2. EYE ON 2012


  3. 100 seats for the Left in Bengal? - MK VENU










































  2. TWO OF THE TOP 100
















The Supreme Court is fully justified in admitting the various petitions appealing against the Allahabad High Court's judgement in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. And it's only natural that the Supreme Court should have stayed the High Court's verdict as that is a natural corollary of admitting an appeal — in this case, a set of appeals against the September 30, 2010, majority judgement that had offered a unique resolution to the conflict by proposing a three-way division of the disputed 2.77 acres of land among Hindus, Muslims and the Nirmohi Akhara. There is no dispute over the 67 acres of land adjacent to the site where a makeshift Ram Mandir now stands and which strangely remains in the custody of the Union Government; on Monday, the Supreme Court, in an extraordinary move, forbade any "religious activity" on this land, although it has nothing to do with the title suit which is under adjudication. No less extraordinary, and entirely uncalled for, are the comments of the Supreme Court Bench which has admitted the bunch of petitions appealing against the High Court's verdict. The Bench is at liberty to strike down the High Court's judgement for reasons of law. But it is astonishing that the Bench should have decided to describe the judgement under review as "strange" even before formal hearing has begun. According to the Bench, "A new dimension was given by the High Court as the decree of partition was not sought by the parties. It was not prayed by anyone... It's a strange order". By that logic, any judgement of any court, including the Supreme Court, that does not comply with what litigants want, should be tagged as "strange". For instance, in a murder case, the defence may plead innocence and ask the court to absolve the accused of all charges while the prosecution may demand nothing less than the death sentence. The court, however, in its wisdom may hand down a life sentence, or a lesser punishment. Should such a judgement be deemed as "strange" and held up to ridicule? In this particular case, the Bench is expected to hear the petitioners, go through the Allahabad High Court's verdict in detail (there are three separate voluminous judgements) and then give a ruling based on points of law. There is no scope for subjective interpretation. Yet, the Bench has chosen to comment, without going through the established elaborate process, that "Such kind of decrees cannot be allowed to be in operation." Assertions like these could be interpreted, and unhappily if not unfairly so, as the Bench prejudging the issue at hand.

Prolonged litigation on who owns the 2.77 acres of land had failed to resolve the age-old dispute. The three-judge Bench of the High Court adopted what may at best be called a novel route to resolving the conflict. That the 2-1 verdict was welcomed by both Hindus and Muslims (never mind the litigants) is ample evidence that the judges did not err in their judgement. The order should have been implemented under court supervision and neither challenged nor stayed. This is not to suggest any circumvention of the process of appeals, but to highlight the fact that the Ayodhya dispute is in need of resolution, not endless litigation or a verdict that reopens old wounds. It would also be in order to underscore the need for judges to desist from making comments that could be seen as prejudicial, a point repeatedly made by the Chief Justice of India from various forums.






Violent clashes over the weekend between Muslims and Christians in Cairo, claiming the lives of at least a dozen people and leaving 200 others injured, have only added to Egypt's worsening law and order situation that has been in free fall ever since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. Sadly, the riots have also tarred Egypt's widely hailed post-revolution transition to democracy. The unrest began on Saturday night in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba as hardline Salafi Muslims attacked the Coptic church of Virgin Mary over allegations that the Christians were holding two women who had recently converted to Islam. On Sunday, demonstrators protested in Tahrir Square in Cairo and blocked the building that houses Egypt's main television station. Eventually, parts of Cairo were cordoned off and 190 people arrested. They will, most likely, be tried in a military tribunal in what is clearly an attempt by Egypt's ruling Supreme Military Council to deter radical Islamists from inciting sectarian violence. While this is a welcome move, the fact remains that the frequency of such incidents have risen sharply since Mr Mubarak was forced to leave office on February 11 following an 18-day-long protest. The military leadership which has taken over until a new Government is elected in September has unfortunately failed to maintain the country's law and order. Emboldened by their recently discovered ability to voice their grievances, to go on strike and take out protest marches, members of the Ikhwan and Salafis, who were kept on a tight leash during Mr Mubarak's much-maligned 'autocratic rule', have now run amok, fearless of consequences as they know there shall not be any.

Historically, Muslims and Christians in Egypt have always been at odds. Even during Mr Mubarak's regime, there were confrontations as was evident in the New Year's Day attack on a church in Alexandria that killed 21 people. But Mr Mubarak ensured such incidents were few and far between. His successors, however, have been bogged down with the definitions of freedom of speech and expression while still trying to figure out how to rule a newly 'liberated' nation. Little wonder then that the Islamists, which include not just the Salafis but also the Muslim Brotherhood, have quickly emerged at the fore. The attack on the church, which was preceded by equally violent protests against the appointment of a Coptic Christian Governor in the southern city of Qena, are all attempts by the Islamists — who on Friday condemned the "murder" of Osama bin Laden — to increase their visibility as they prepare to stand for election. Clearly, the world's largest Arab country is set to fall to the Islamists. The 'Arab Spring', ironically, has set the stage for a very long and harsh winter.









It is strange that Osama bin Laden, who propagated the purist Wahhabi Islam of Saudi Arabia, never articulated a viable path for his followers.

Osama bin Laden's purported last will and testament and the manner of his death hold vital lessons that the Islamic world, particularly the Sunni Muslim ummah, should urgently ponder over. According to the Kuwait-based newspaper Al-Anbaa, Osama bin Laden instructed his wives not to remarry, thus flouting Islamic law and practice, and putting himself at par with Prophet Mohammed, for whom alone Allah made this exception, as per the Quran. He also asked his children not to join Al Qaeda. By apologising to them for the lack of time he devoted to their upbringing, he virtually repudiated the universal jihad to which he had committed his life, and those of his followers.

Contemporary Islam's most charismatic figure, comparable with Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab who inspired the rise of the Saudi dynasty as protector of a new Islamic purism, was doomed to fail in his mission to establish an Islamic Caliphate. For Osama bin Laden lacked the autonomy of the Prophet and the early Caliphs; he was trained and funded by Washington, DC to serve American political objectives. He subordinated himself and his movement to serve a nation leading a civilisation at war with his own Islamic faith; a contradiction of ends and means that ultimately proved fatal.

The idea of the Caliphate attracted Muslim youth experiencing the powerlessness of Islam in the modern era; but the dream was part of the West's cynical manipulation of Muslim societies, a continuum of its patronage of military dictatorships in strategically important countries. Osama bin Laden compares well with TE Lawrence who instigated the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire to extend British influence in the region; Osama bin Laden provided validation for American overreach in many parts of the globe, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. He became the symbol of the West's systematic demonisation of Islam.

It is strange that a man who propagated the purist Wahhabi Islam of his native Saudi Arabia and never articulated a viable path for his followers should have privately nurtured prophet-like ambitions, with the right to demand beyond-death allegiance from his wives. If Sunni Islam accepts this novelty, the ummah must further introspect and modulate aspects of the faith — specifically jihad — that put it at odds with the world, particularly non-monotheistic societies.

Since the World Wars, many Muslim leaders have surrendered to Western manipulation in exchange for totalitarian power over their subjects. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, pillars of Anglo-American control over much of the Muslim world, face a new challenge. As London recovers from military-economic fatigue and flexes old imperial muscles, and Washington injects fresh adrenaline to maintain sole superpower status, Riyadh and Islamabad must decide if they will continue a 'friendship' hated by their own citizens, or rise in defence of fellow Muslim countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, that resist Western powers?

More pertinently, will Riyadh and Islamabad resist Western pressure against Shias as represented by Iran and Syria (Alawite) where the US wants 'regime change'? Will Saudis make peace with their Shia population in the north-east, Iraq's Shia majority which is pro-Iran, and Shia-majority Bahrain? The regime is fragile with rising unemployment and local resentment at the lifestyle of 7,000-odd princelings; the royals depend upon former Pakistani soldiers for security. While Saudi oil wealth lubricates the Western economies, Pakistan is critical for America's renewed interest in Central Asia, where fears of 'regime change' again loom. In fact, Iran cannot be contained without a hold in Central Asia.

But the fresh strain in Washington-Islamabad relations following the action against Osama bin Laden has shaken Pakistan's delicate democracy and made it vulnerable to a military takeover. The question naturally arises: How does America plan to compensate Pakistan — in Afghanistan, or Kashmir, or both? The US has had troops in Afghanistan since October 2001 and is anxious to pull them out; Osama bin Laden's death provides an honourable exit. A Pakistan-friendly Afghanistan will upset India, but there is no guarantee that the tumultuous Afghan tribes will defer to America's 'major non-NATO ally'.

A few words about Osama bin Laden's death are in order. He was killed by American Navy SEALs on the intervening night of May 1-2, as attested by his wife and 12-year-old daughter, who said her father was caught and shot in cold blood, unarmed. Pakistani policemen found at least three corpses of unarmed men shot through the nose and ears, lying in pools of blood. No arms of any kind were found.

There can be only one reason why the world's most wanted man would live with his family and associates completely unarmed in a foreign country, which is that the Pakistan Government had assumed responsibility for his security. Only Islamabad could have enabled Osama bin Laden to live in a sheltered mansion in Abbottabad, within yards of the elite Military Academy and in the neighbourhood of retired defence officers. Doubtless this catered to his need for regular dialysis.

Assuming that the Pakistani Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the ISI Director-General, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, were not informed about the US raid, and the Black Hawk stealth helicopters evaded radar detection, but four helicopters could hardly land in a neighbourhood unnoticed. Civilian neighbours watched from their roofs, but local police constables slept through the episode, as did the serving and retired officers. All this reeks of complicity.

It seems likely that Osama bin Laden, suffering from serious kidney problems, diabetes and low blood pressure, was turned over to the Americans because he was near his end. Pakistan would not have been able to conceal his death or manage the fallout in terms of a surge in support for Al Qaeda, funeral crowds, and so on. Maybe his native Saudi Arabia gave the nudge, saying it would not accept his body. Washington managed all these issues by killing him and tossing his body into the Arabian Sea. A man who died on land cannot be buried at sea; this was politically expedient. The flip side is that it has humiliated the entire ummah.

The militant Sunni Muslims of Jammu & Kashmir who are keen to join Pakistan's US-serving Generals would do well to recall how India ensured a burial with appropriate rites to the perpetrators of the terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008, as also those who attacked Parliament House in 2001, after Pakistan refused to accept their bodies. Do they still want to abandon the land of dharma for the land of deceit?






During the past decade we have seen corruption soar to an unimaginable level in our country. In China, scores would have been put to death for similar crimes. But not so in India where we take a relaxed view and adopt an unhurried approach towards dealing with corruption. Our leaders are more worried about the political consequences of acting against corrupt individuals, not the image of India and its people

Let us, for argument's sake, concede the point that judged in terms of economic progress the last decade represents a shining moment in India's independent history. But it must also be admitted, unreservedly, that it has been a decade of the most spectacular moral failure.

Had it been China, scores of the corrupt may have been put to death; as indeed they have been. Many other countries have a streamlined system of dealing with the malaise of corrupt practices. In the UK, for example, the Financial Services Authority seizes all the bank accounts and stops business operations of the accused party till it has been cleared of all charges. In the US, the authorities lost no time in putting people like Maddof and Rajaratnam to prison and taking control of their financial empires while a legal process was simultaneously put in motion.

In contrast, we take a Hindu view of it all. It takes ages for us to make up our minds and to initiate any sort of action. Even then we hesitate, political considerations weigh heavily in prosecuting the guilty. The emphasis, it seems, is often on finding the mitigating circumstances, the loophole that will let the important off. In the process delays are interminable; in some cases the evidence has long since been tampered with or even destroyed. Sadly, we as a nation have taken a liberal, all accepting view of the violations of sacred public trust. Our forgiving nature has unfortunately encouraged the violators to become more, and yet more, brazen.

It was beyond the realm of public imagination, just a few years back, to think that a single case of corruption might involve a colossal sum of 1.76 lakh crore. For the people who had once prided themselves on being frugal, on not leaving even a morsel of food uneaten in the plate, it was shocking to learn that some thought nothing of pocketing crores of rupees of Government funds. And they got away with it routinely. But as is often said; before the fall, the heights. Perhaps it is the same with the naked greed of those who have had a free run of the treasury so far. No more now.

People are in a state of sulk; towards the political parties in general and the Government in particular. The crowds which gathered in ever increasing numbers, each passing day at the Jantar Mantar, were clearly in a hostile mood. They weren't angry in the sense of those who had gathered at the Tahrir Square in Cairo, but they were equally determined and potentially perhaps as hostile. Anna Hazare was the difference between the crowds at the Tahrir square and those at the Jantar Mantar.

In Cairo they didn't have an alternative plan or a leader who could point the masses towards life after the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. At Jantar Mantar, Anna Hazare had come prepared with a plan; that of the Jan Lok Pal Bill. That was the big difference between the two; Egypt is floundering in the eddies spun by its Army and other vested interests, here in India the 'civil society' has been better prepared.

Still, some question whether Anna Hazare is truly a great man, whether he deserves all that he was made out to be during and after his Jantar Mantar fast? Whether the Gandhi like crown, which people are placing around his head, is well deserved? But to engage in this argument would be futile; a false debate. The issue is not whether Anna Hazare is a great soul or a committed social reformer. The point is whether he has been able to address the epiphany of Indian distress. There, the answer must be in strongly affirmative terms.

The sense of a pure and grand India, which seemed reachable a year back, is now fraying at its political edges. Scams and corruption bewilder people by their immensity. Rumours about plenty for some and misery for majority, concessions for some and red tape for masses get confirmed routinely in the national media. All of it couldn't be mere allegations.

Therefore, the tide of public sentiment is strongly in favour of reforms and for wiping the system clean. Both are desirable and doable because in the initial decades of our independence we had a relatively clean system where a significant number were honest and upright. Anna Hazare, or the absolute probity of his supporters, is not, and should not, be the central point at this moment. That battle should be joined separately, and a determination about their absolute probity should be made in due course on its own merit.

What is vital now is to understand the temper of the times and the desire of people for change; the wiping clean of the tainted national slate. Like the argument about chicken and egg it will be futile to debate as to how much and who is responsible for the present rot? Or how completely is the political, bureaucratic and business class corrupt? The fact is that they are all deeply dented and hence the need for a clean sweep.

The external observer, the foreign investor, is usually the first to detect signs of discomfort in a country because he is held to account by his company's board for profit or loss of its investment. The World Bank's global index on the 'ease of starting a business' ranks India at 165th place in a list of 183 countries. The foreign investor has already begun to doubt the Indian story. Last year the Foreign Direct Investment fell by a third, and in January this year it fell by 48 per cent. While in Brazil the stock market is booming reflecting the confidence of the foreign and domestic investor, here in India it lurches uncertainly.

Within India, the mood among the business people is not particularly sunny; a Legatum Institute survey of Indian entrepreneurs found that only 11 per cent thought that the Government was doing a 'very good job'. Inflation is dogging progress. Despite these warning signs, and against the proven economic theory and practice, we are being told by the Government that high inflation and high growth go together! While verbal feints such as these may deceive people momentarily, but they are all too aware of the fact that the wild horses of inflation must be tamed before the nation can find its full growth potential. And people also know that an establishment, or a significant part thereof, which skims the cream as a matter of course can hardly point the nation towards great glory.

-- The writer is a former Ambassador.






The hoopla around Osama bin Laden's death is an orchestrated reality show to prepare the ground for withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan

Whether Pakistan was aware of the fact that Osama bin Laden was living in a large house just a stone's throw away from an elite Army academy or not, he had run out of relevance. He had already been used by the Pakistani authorities to hoodwink large stashes of cash from the Americans under the guise of "fight against terrorism".

He had been relegated to the sands of uselessness by the agitators in Tunisia, Egypt, Quwait and Libya (his baby, Al Qaeda had no constructive role in the popular uprisings against the America-supported dictators it had been running campaigns against for years) and even his own comrades had moved on. Add to that the various ailments that had confined him to a limited terrain. So killing him was basically like beating a dead horse pretending that he could still break ribs with his hooves if he got angry.

So why so much drama surrounding his death? It has turned into an urban legend. Right from accidental live tweeting numerous theories are being floated regarding how for months his courier was followed around by CIA agents, how the elite of the elite SEALs practiced for weeks before the D-day, how the "Geronimo kill order" was issued and how within 40 minutes they entered the Pakistani territory from an airbase in Afghanistan and then shot dead Osama bin Laden in an Abbottabad 'mansion'. For added effects they also lost, strangely (considering there was no counter-attack), a helicopter and the Pakistani military authorities thought they had been attacked by India! They even released some 'edge of the seat' photographs from the White House showing President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looking on as if watching a gripping Stephen King flick.

Despite the fact that our teenagers are highly ignorant of the current world affairs it is a telling sign; "who is Osama bin Laden" and "who killed Osama bin Laden" were the top search terms on major search engines in the age groups of 13-17 in the West. It shows how little media has covered this "most notorious terrorist" during recent years.

Even among those who are quite aware of his antecedents he doesn't hold much ground. According to Pew Research Center (source Wall Street Journal) confidence in Osama bin Laden dropped from 56 per cent to 13 per cent of respondents in Jordan from 2003 to 2011, from 15 per cent to 3 per cent in Turkey, and from 72 per cent to 34 per cent in the Palestinian territories. By the time he died he was no longer an epitome of Islamic resistance against the hegemonic and infidel America. People in the Muslim world have decided to fight their own battles without taking help from jihadis. His ideas like only violent jihad can bring positive results have totally been beaten to pulp by the Arabs.

All the hoopla generated around his death is basically an orchestrated reality show to prepare the ground for the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. They want to tell their citizens that all this money spent on the war and the men killed weren't for nothing. It is not a coincidence that Mr Obama declares that American forces will be withdrawn from Afghanistan in July and Osama bin Laden is bumped off suddenly out of the blue. It has also been a great political boost for Mr Obama. His ratings were all time low and there was no chance he was coming back to the White House. Now there is a great chance that he will. The TV speech that he gave after Osama bin Laden's death was the most widely watched presidential telecast ever.

Frankly, if the Americans wanted they could have killed Osama bin Laden years ago. Just imagine, the world's most advanced military force couldn't trace down a terrorist who was supposed to be living inside a cave, and knowingly living in some Pakistani city, and that too after giving more than $3 billion every year to Pakistan in lieu of being an 'ally' against the forces of terror and getting more than 1,000 of their own servicemen and women killed. They wanted to keep this bogeyman alive to carry on their 'war' against terrorism and pumping money into the corrupt citadel of Pakistan, whatever convoluted reasons they have.

Is the world safer now that Osama bin Laden is dead? Hardly. It wasn't even more dangerous while he was alive. The problem is not with terrorists like Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. The problem is with the regimes and agencies that support and fund the activities of these terrorists and jihadis. Unless they are taken to task nothing much is going to happen. Without logistical support from countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and to a certain extent, even the US and other first world countries the problem of terrorism wouldn't have come to the present state. If the international community is really serious about curbing this menace it has to go to the root cause and that is the support system that keeps it afloat.

Just as Mrs Indira Gandhi had planted Bhindrawale to counter the Akalis in Punjab, the Governments of Saudi Arabia and the US planted Osama bin Laden, having no clue that someday he would turn into a Frankenstein's monster (or maybe they had, politics!). The only difference between Bhindrawale and Osama bin Laden is that when Bhindrawale was killed he was very much in control of the affairs around him and killing him was a big setback for Khalistanis. On the other hand Osama bin Laden isn't going to be missed much by either the world or his own henchmen.






In a recently published book, British Papers — 1958-1969 (OUP), Mr Humayun Khan, Pakistan's former High Commissioner in New Delhi, has written a masterly introduction. The papers have been compiled and selected by his colleague Roedad Khan.

Mr Humayun Khan laments that successive Pakistani Governments have committed the same mistakes had overlooked "the wishes of the people of Pakistan".

Let us remember that Pakistan was born in hate and violence with Britain as midwife. The tribal invaders fully armed in 200 trucks, crossed Pakistan's boundary to invade Kashmir in October 1947 with or without the knowledge of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a lawyer of Bombay, who claimed that Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations, and that both could not live together.

The invasion of Jammu & Kashmir was an extension of policy of hate and violence started by Jinnah, though some Indian Communists say that VD Savarkar was the originator of this theory. Jinnah had successfully defended Gopal Krishna Gokhale, when he was tried in Pune for sedition by the British, but having lived for many years in England Jinnah developed the British passion for Partition of the sub-continent, a passion which cost a million Indian lives and caused untold misery in 1947 and changed the course of history.

It is this hatred and violence which created partition of Pakistan in 1971 when a new country called Bangladesh was born. This reinforces the lament of Mr Humayun Khan.

Even today the policy of state terror is continued by Pakistan against India, as exemplified by Ms Angela Merkel, the current Chancellor of Germany. Now Pakistan is leaning heavily on China to solve its problems, and perhaps to invade India, though in size and in population, India is eight times bigger than Pakistan. Who knows China may incite it to do so at an opportune time? The so-called Kashmir problem is only an excuse. No Kashmiri is enamoured of killings in Pakistan, the killing of innocents maybe Shias, maybe political leaders; last but not the least is the wiping off all religious minorities. Before the creation of Pakistan, Mohammed Zafarullah Khan, in his oral statement before a British political commission, had said, "The idea of Pakistan is a chimerical idea."

The lament of Mr Humayun Khan is justified. He adds, "If there is still reason for hope. It lies in vigorous, hard working, simple yet imaginative men and women who are the backbone of this country, surely some day their will in the true sense shall prevail."

In my opinion, this wish is difficult to fulfil so long as bigotry and persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan prevails, where in schools young children are taught to berate, malign, hate non-Muslims, whether Ahmadis, Shias, Hindus or Christians. School teachers and religious teachers propagate that only Islam is the true religion, and that non-Muslims are kafirs, who are destined to go to hell. Even books of research published in Pakistan like The Quranic Art of War repeat the same controversial and intolerant teachings, which is a cause for alarm.






Nato said that it has significantly weakened the Taliban insurgency, capturing or killing thousands of militants in Afghanistan during the past three months.

It also said that the Taliban failed in an attempt to carry out attacks against key Government buildings over the weekend in the southern city of Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban and the economic hub of southern Afghanistan.

Nato and its top commander, US Gen. David Petraeus, have said that a surge of 30,000 troops last summer helped coalition forces take, and hold, areas of Afghanistan that were long dominated by the Taliban.

Nato spokeswoman Brig Gen Christine Whitecross said Nato's winter operations had sapped the Taliban and that in the past 90 days, Nato carried out 1,400 operations and killed or captured 500 insurgent leaders and 2,700 lower-level insurgents.

She added that Nato also was "taking more weapons away from a weakened insurgency," adding: "In fact, we have seized more weapons caches in the past six months than in the previous two years."

Still, a highly coordinated attack over the weekend raised new questions about the effectiveness of the yearlong campaign to secure Afghanistan's south and Kandahar in particular.

Taliban fighters on Saturday attacked the governor's office, the headquarters of the Afghan intelligence agency, a police headquarters and other buildings. After two days of fighting, Afghan forces supported by the coalition killed or captured all the insurgents.

Afghan officials said at least 25 insurgents, two members of the Afghan security forces and one civilian were killed. At least four were arrested, and 40 people were wounded. The final two insurgents were killed late Sunday making a last stand in the Kandahar Hotel.

"There were no breaches in the compounds, and the areas that coalition forces and Afghan forces took over in the winter season are still in Afghan and coalition control, and all the insurgents involved in the attack are either captured or killed. The attacks in Kandahar were ineffective," Brig Gen Whitecross said.

The Taliban attack on Kandahar city was the most ambitious since the insurgents declared the start of a spring offensive against Nato and the Afghan Government last month. Nato has been expecting the Taliban to stage a series of spectacular and complex attacks, and the group has already carried out a number of them — but Kandahar was the largest so far.

"The Afghan forces responded capably. They kept this from becoming a spectacular attack that the insurgents had hoped for," Brig Gen Whitecross said.

The effectiveness of the Taliban's long-awaited spring campaign, code-named Badr after one of the Prophet Muhammad's decisive military victories, could affect the size of President Barack Obama's planned drawdown of US troops in July. Gen Petraeus has said the size will depend on conditions on the ground.

The alliance has committed itself to handing over control of security in the country to Afghans by 2014.

"Conversely, the insurgents have threatened a surge of violence in order to gain a propaganda victory. The insurgents think these attacks will demonstrate they can exert power," Brig Gen Whitecross said. "This violence will have no lasting impact in light of the gains Afghan and coalition forces have made through the winter."

But despite the progress claimed by Nato, violence is persistent and increases daily.

In eastern Laghman province, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up in front of a compound belonging to Saleh Mohammad Niazi, the chief of the Qarghayi district. Mr Niazi said three people were killed in the blast and an additional 12 were wounded — including two police officers. The bomber was targeting a Nato convoy. There were no immediate reports of coalition casualties.

In the northern province of Kunduz, insurgents killed a former Taliban commander who had decided to reconcile and begin peace talks with the Government. Maulvi Mohammad Nabi was killed by gunmen along with four of his bodyguards, District chief Mohammad Ayub Aqyar said. Nabi had left the insurgency four months ago, Aqyar said.

-- AP












The last time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Afghanistan, it was 2005 and the country was stuck in the quagmire of the Taliban insurgency with no end in sight. This time around - if he does indeed plan to visit Afghanistan this week as reported - the Taliban are still in the frame, but the other variables have changed dramatically. Just how much can be judged from the haste with which this trip is being put together. Osama bin Laden's death could throw Afghanistan's future into flux, and New Delhi knows it.

The irony of the situation is that despite the embarrassment of bin
Laden being found in Abbottabad, the Pakistani establishment may just be able to parlay it into an advantage in the medium-to-long term. With a symbolic victory of this magnitude to Washington's credit, there is already speculation that the American withdrawal from Afghanistan may be accelerated. As things stand, the withdrawal is set to begin in July this year. But the assumption was that would merely be the beginning of a lengthy process stretching over years. This belief is being questioned now, giving New Delhi good cause for concern. India has a vested interest in Afghanistan's stability - not to encircle Pakistan as Rawalpindi claims, but because an unstable Afghanistan will have a ripple effect through South Asia.

The best way for New Delhi to ensure its concerns remain on the table is to ramp up its already considerable economic engagement with Kabul. With $1.2 billion aid and numerous ongoing developmental projects, India has generated goodwill by making substantial contributions to creating the infrastructure of a modern Afghan state. New Delhi must build upon this, deepening and broadening the scope of its projects in a low-profile manner. The 1.8 billion tonnes Hajigak iron ore mines project is a case in point: of the 22 firms bidding for exploration rights, 15 are Indian. New Delhi must do all it can to support their efforts.

In the diplomatic arena, India must, as it has before, stress the importance of a regional approach to Afghanistan involving neighbours such as
Iran, Russia, China and the Central Asian republics. Creating a transparent environment for any reintegration process initiated by Kabul is critical. Having all stakeholders on board will facilitate this, while offsetting Pakistan's view of Afghanistan solely as its strategic backyard and, hopefully, allaying its fears about Indian intentions. New Delhi should also bear in mind that, while it has cause to be wary of Taliban's reintegration, in the end the decision is Kabul's. For Pashtun nationalism is not about to go away - and to allow the Taliban to coopt it entirely would be a big mistake.







The UP farmers' agitation highlights yet again how explosive the issue of land acquisition has become. Clashes, killing four, saw state police battling farmers demanding better compensation for land acquired by UP authorities for the Yamuna Expressway project. This is just another reminder of the urgent need to push through the Land Acquisition Bill, which proposes to restrict government's role in land acquisition while mandating private companies buy at least 70% of land for projects at market prices. The reform's been hanging fire because the Trinamool Congress, a key UPA ally, wants the state's role scrapped altogether. True, it's desirable that the new framework be made as market-oriented as possible. However, the reworked Bill as it stands is an improvement on the present situation, besides allowing the state a limited but possibly useful role should last mile problems - a few holding out against private buyers to get ever-higher prices for their land - threaten projects.

Besides hitting development, land-related strife is also spooking investors. Though
Posco received environmental clearances only recently, it still might come unstuck: Orissa's authorities having to deploy security personnel to prevent land-related strife isn't very good PR. Agitations are threatening industrialisation and infrastructure-building everywhere. Projects as diverse as power plants and expressways, in locations as disparate as Maharashtra and Meghalaya, are being delayed. This, despite the fact that India's land needs for mining, industry and urban development combined over the next two decades are estimated to amount to just 2% of its total land mass. A market-based land acquisition template is imperative to give a sense of agency to those relinquishing land. Dealing directly with buyers, they'll have less reason to feel shortchanged on compensation or relief. Therefore, rather than make every land-related clash an excuse for political point-scoring, the political class should focus on getting the Bill through Parliament.









India's recent decision against shortlisting American fighter jets in the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition has been interpreted in many ways in different quarters. Many feel had India decided upon American-made jets, the choice would have furthered US-India military ties and manufacturing collaboration. Touted as the world's biggest international military aircraft deal in two decades, the nearly $12 billion deal being equal to over half of US exports to India last year, it would have taken bilateral trade between the two to a much higher platform. Rumour mills even have it that former US ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, resigned because the deal did not get through.

Some observers have gone further. They claim the choice to be an affront on America's call for closer strategic partnership. This section has again begun viewing India with suspicion and through the prism of "non-alignment". They cite India's recent abstention on UNSC Resolution 1973 on
Libya, its reluctance to cooperate on Iran and Myanmar and also its attempts at creating a new power bloc of BRICS nations as evidence of its commitment to the long-deceased policy. For them, the deal was a litmus test of American success in subverting India's independent foreign policy through carrots-like acceptance of India as a de facto nuclear power by virtue of the India-US nuclear deal as also the offer of a UNSC permanent membership.

They are unhappy because they thought the deal's success would have furthered India's and America's shared interest in containing China. While
Pakistan remains a constant worry, India is also increasingly concerned by the strategic challenge posed by China. Its approval of the American bids, according to them, would have boosted joint capabilities in warfare. This they claim would serve as a deterrent to potential Chinese hostility on the subcontinent and in the Indian Ocean and also help train the armed forces to fight alongside one another should deterrence fail.

On the other hand, people elated at Indian rejection of the American bid cite the unreliability of American supply as the greatest hitch. According to them, the US is not trustworthy: it has been known to stop supply of parts if the buyer does not adhere to American whims and fancies.

The other reasons include excessive restrictions placed on users and the end-user monitoring on the aircraft, which undermine sovereignty and make the Indian establishment uncomfortable. Further, the Indian government has recently mandated that foreign contractors invest a certain percentage of the deal for indigenous production. It envisions the deal will go beyond just procurement of 126 jets and help modernise India's aerospace industry. American firms are said to have a history of being unwilling to honour this agreement. The US has in place stringent export control regimes that prevent American companies from transferring technology and outsourcing manufacturing of strategic equipment. Moreover, America's move to sell the exorbitantly priced jets to India is seen as an extension of its ongoing begger-thy-neighbour policy to offset its ailing domestic economy.

Bracketing India's decision within either of the above analyses is myopic. There may have been political calculations involved, but the choice was largely determined by technical considerations. Six aircraft were bid for the order - the Swedish Saab Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon, French Dassault Rafale, Russian Mikoyan MiG-35 and the American F-16IN and F/A-18IN Super Hornet. Mikoyan and Dassault have been regular suppliers of aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the past.

The IAF shortlisted Rafale and Typhoon only after putting them through an intense schedule of technical evaluations lasting over several months. The factors that appear to have favoured them are clearly the offer of an equal partnership between the vendor and the buyer, perceptible technology transfer, existing industrial linkages and, most importantly, superior performance of the jets which also conformed to most of the 643 laid down technical parameters. IAF pilots and technicians are already familiar with the earlier aircraft from those two aircraft manufacturers, and hence would need minimal retraining. Infrastructural and logistical support for maintenance and spares would also be easier for these aircraft. To alter those to suit new American jets would not only involve further complexities but also expand the already allocated mammoth budget.

There is no doubt that the contract represented a prime opportunity for US companies to gain a foothold in the Indian defence market, estimated to be about $100 billion in the next 10 years. But surely India-US relations go much beyond a few chunks of military and aeronautical hardware. The Indian decision, hence, was certainly not intended to snub America.

With a complex global cold war for control over resources and markets already in sight, the political calculations behind the
MMRCA decision must be inferred in this context. India perceives itself to be one of the poles in a multipolar world and next only to the US and China. The country's policy pundits are aware that in the face of an increasingly aggressive and affluent China, India needs to ensure that Europe, with its economy in doldrums right now, remains in its sphere of influence. Europe matters not just as a strategic partner but also because of its advanced technological prowess. The deal is clearly an attempt by India to woo the Europeans and ensure their continued support for New Delhi's positions on critical international issues.

The MMRCA conclusion is not an expression of India's limitations or shifting strategic inclinations. It just reflects smart







The government has decided to institute a Rabindranath Tagore Award on the 150th birth anniversary of Asia's first Nobel laureate. This will achieve little, going by past experience. Comprising a cash prize worth Rs 1 crore and meant to recognise contributions towards "promotion of international brotherhood and fraternity", the award seems destined to go the way of some of our other international honours. Since 2007, the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding hasn't been awarded. Similarly, the International Gandhi Peace Prize hasn't surfaced since 2005. If the aim is to pay tribute to Tagore's legacy, there are better ways of going about it. An award can only be a weak sarkari substitute for the genuine effort needed to popularise Tagore's works and ideals for a larger audience.

The main challenge facing Tagore scholars is how to make him relevant for today's generation. Even within
India, Tagore continues to be an enigma for large sections outside Bengal. There is a dearth of translation of his works in vernacular languages. The cash prize associated with the award will be better utilised funding and rewarding translation projects. Tagore was an internationalist; sadly, his works remain limited in global reach. Encouraging efforts to popularise his works in China, Southeast Asia and beyond will be more in keeping with his universalist vision.

People won't appreciate Tagore's significance just because some individual or other is honoured in his name. Often, choice of candidates for awards is unimaginative at best and political at worst. Promoting greater understanding of Tagore requires us to instead make his works accessible to greater numbers of people here and abroad, be it through translations, better digitisation of his works, tourism projects, scholarship and cultural exchange programmes, etc. Let's go beyond symbolism in paying homage to the icon.







The government award in the name of Tagore, honouring contributions to international brotherhood, is deeply welcome on his 150th birth anniversary. Tagore was a genius with the ability to capture in words, images and music diverse experiences, from the flavours of mustard fish and to pangs of hunger, the warmth of community and the courage of solitude, the beauties of tradition along with its oppressiveness.

Tagore had tremendous sensitivity towards the human condition. Despite being a privileged Bengali male, his vision of humanity was unfettered by caste, class and gender divides. He empathised with Bengal's peasants, battered by floods and famines, as with political protesters martyred in Punjab. He felt for women trapped in homesteads and men, pummelled by the world beyond. He criticised imperialism while drawing from international cultures. This award recognises these qualities.

Critics may say not enough is being done to translate Tagore, popularise his works and ensure his relevance remains contemporary. This award does that and more. 'Translating' Tagore cannot be limited simply to print and verbiage; Tagore's ideas must be felt. Compassion was as important to him as rhyme and meter, pen and paintbrush. By awarding contributions to fraternity, the government has hit on a wonderful way to keep Tagore's legacy fresh. At a time when 'a clash of civilisations' is discussed, it's important to remember an icon who was firmly rooted, yet emphasised that no walls separated human souls. This award rewards similar efforts by others, keeping a vital part of Tagore's legacy alive. It's a fitting way to remember an extraordinary individual, artist, litterateur and much more.







Apart from the impressive pomp and pageantry of the recent William-Kate wedding, what a sartorial feast it turned out to be for countless viewers across the world! In particular, what intrigued me most was the bewildering variety of millinery sported by the ladies, some of whom appeared to be vying for honours with a Native American chief's elaborately feathered head-dress.

Every conceivable form of feminine headgear was on display - from the ridiculous to the quaint and from the flamboyant to the dignified. Sizes and dimensions varied but all the ladies' hats had one common feature: they were unavoidably eye-catching.

Indeed, for the benefit of viewers, BBC's TV cameras pointedly zeroed in on the elegantly dressed invitees sporting unusual headgear. One looked as if she had a perky hornbill perched on her head. Another appeared to be weighed down by a tortoise on her skull, or at least its shell, while yet another seemed to be skilfully balancing an empty basket of sorts on her cranium. Then, believe it or not, one socialite flaunted a truly unique hat - an array of horns sticking unnaturally out of her head! Yet another appeared to have hijacked a beehive as a fashion accessory, wearing it as nonchalantly as she did her earrings. One lady wore with elan what looked like a cowboy's floppy sombrero while another, with a statuesque figure, had donned what appeared to be a London bobby's helmet! In keeping with her dignity, Queen Elizabeth herself wore a simple yellow hat to match her similar-coloured attire.

Thanks to the royal wedding, milliners undoubtedly must have made a killing, designing these bizarre creations for their finicky and well-heeled customers. That such weird, if not ludicrous, headgear finds favour in British society amused me no end. Quite frankly, some of those oddly 'hatted' ladies left me - admittedly a philistine - tittering and i'm sure their milliners must have guffawed all the way to the bank, having turned millionaires with their crazy creations.

Irked by my ribbing, my indignant better half gallantly rallied to the defence of her gender. Like beauty, she asserted, elegance in dress lies in the eye of not only the beholder but also the wearer. And such finesse, she icily concluded, was beyond a fashion ignoramus like me. The ladies in question were making "profound fashion statements", she added, quite scornful of my ignorance, and the varied headgear they displayed was the skilled creation of eminent milliners of international repute. She went on to tutor me that ladies in the higher echelons of British society never go hatless on such formal occasions as a royal wedding. Indeed, a fashionable hat is an integral and vital part of their attire.

In the interests of domestic peace, i refrained from pointing out that to me, far from being "fashion statements", those outlandish apologies for hats resembled grotesque growths on otherwise elegant-looking patrician pates, exposing the wearers to the risk of being mistaken for aliens from outer space. Instead, to placate the lady of the house, i conceded that some British men, too, are eccentric about headwear. I mentioned the legendary Sherlock Holmes who was addicted to wearing a deerstalker even though he stalked criminals rather than deer. Then, nearer home, there's the High Range Club in Munnar where, way back in 1926, sentimental British planters started hanging up their hats on retirement - a ritual that has built up a vintage and varied collection of mouldy 'lids' still on display. That soothed her hackles.

However, i'm convinced that the grossly weird handiwork of present-day milliners lends credence to the phrase 'as mad as a hatter'. The recent royal wedding threw up some truly 'heady' wear indeed!










The anti-land acquisition stir in parts of Uttar Pradesh shouldn't come as a surprise. In the last few years, similar conflicts have erupted across the country over compensation and rehabilitation issues. Like in Tappal in Aligarh district last year, farmers in Greater Noida, the epicentre of the current round of protests, Agra and Aligarh, are alleging this time that Mayawati's government has been acquiring land, forcibly in some cases, at cheap rates at the behest of private developers. The state government denies this. The truth lies somewhere in between. While it is true that one particular infrastructure giant enjoys a lion's share of UP's projects, farmers too are trying to squeeze as much as possible from the government. Some reports indicate that the farmers want the government to compensate them according to UP's 2010 land acquisition policy, but retrospectively from 2000. The farmers in these areas were not compensated according to the new policy as they had sold their lands before 2010. Issues like these will always have the ability to push governments on the backfoot because the process of land acquisition, which includes holding public hearings and discussing rates with the land sellers, are not always followed in either letter or spirit.

Last year, UP learnt a lesson the hard way thanks to the Tappal agitation and came up with a decent land acquisition policy. According to the policy, no land would be acquired without the consent of the farmer and the price would be finalised through a negotiated settlement between the government and the landowner. In addition, the government would offer the farmer an annuity for 33 years or a one-time payment. How well UP implements this needs to be seen. The ongoing stir also shows the opposition parties in poor light. While at the Centre, political parties have not been able to join hands to push through the much-needed land acquisition and rehabilitation bills in Parliament, at the state level, all parties except the ruling BSP seem to be playing activists on behalf of the farmers. With assembly elections in India's largest electorate next year, there are no prizes for guessing where the opposition parties are deriving their populist impetus from.

But land acquisition policies, no matter how good or bad, will never be the end of such strife. There's another issue that gets lost in the din of such allegations and  counter-allegations: once a lump sum amount is paid to a farmer, what happens after that? In most cases, it is wasted on conspicuous consumption. With no land and no skill set to get a job in the non-agricultural sector, it's a dead-end for most. So it's no surprise that most protests of this nature are spearheaded by the unemployed-unemployable youth. Unless the central and state governments engage with this 'What next?' question and equip these 'land losers' with some kind of skill set, watch out for more post-land acquisition protests.




Always have an excuse or two up your sleeve in case you are faced with the prospect of a prolonged vacation in the clink. In this day and age, with people falling like tenpins on various charges of corruption, it pays to have a good lawyer who will argue the prosecution into a hole as to why the accused should be allowed a breather. The latest example of the law summoning the highest in the land is that of Kanimozhi, daughter of DMK supremo M Karunanidhi and Rajya Sabha MP whose association with the 2G scam has raised more than a few doubts.
She, as we all know is no mean poet, so perhaps she could have outlined her defence in verse. But no, she chose a more ingenious path. Being a woman and a mother, she claimed that she was liable to bail. Now this raises all sorts of possibilities for those who are accused of skating on the wrong side of the law. Perhaps, we could claim immunity as editorial writers, after all, it is incumbent upon us to inform the public on what goes on in the world, a task which may not be quite so easy if we were cooling our heels in the chokey.
Could being a spouse also be grounds for bail? Why not?

It is far more difficult to be a good spouse than a mother, as those of us locked in matrimony will attest to. This way, we
could do away with the jail system altogether. So Kanimozhi could well have started a new trend, that of the implausible excuse to stay out of jail. If only her compatriot A Raja had come up with an excuse, which would have fitted into this spectrum, 2G or otherwise.






A wave of scepticism and anger in Pakistan has greeted the clandestine raid by US naval commandoes into the residence of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad, near Islamabad, on May 1-2, which resulted in his death. The scepticism has been over the claims made by both the US and Pakistan regarding the operation itself. Large sections of the Pakistani civil society believe that a chopper-borne hit-and-run raid of this nature could not have been carried out by the US Special Forces without the acquiescence, if not the covert collaboration, of the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment.

Barring the technical breakdown of a chopper that resulted in its being blown up, the entire operation — lasting about two hours, most of which was spent by the US raiding team either in the Pakistani air space or territory — was carried out with clock-like precision. It would be very difficult to attribute  the total absence of any engagement between the US raiding party and the Pakistani security forces only to the remarkable capabilities of the US forces for a clandestine operation of this nature.

There ought to have been a Pakistani role — even if that role was only one of pre-determined inaction till the Americans had killed bin Laden and left — which ensured the success of the operation with a remarkable absence of engagement in the air or on the ground and a total lack of any collateral damage. That is what many not only in Pakistan but also outside believe and this belief will remain strong whatever be the US claims and explanations.

There have been outbursts of public anger, but surprisingly not of rage. The first Friday prayers after the raid on May 6 surprisingly passed off without any serious incident of violence. The anger has been over the US violation of Pakistani sovereignty and over the suspected Pakistani collaboration with the US for killing a pious Muslim who is seen by many in the Islamic world not as a dreaded terrorist but as a saviour and defender of Islam.

It would be difficult to assess for how long this scepticism and anger would last, but so long as it does, Pakistan would remain a vulnerable State — even more than in the past. Its internal security situation could further deteriorate due to a possible rise in acts of suicide terrorism directed against soft as well as hard targets. At a time when the anger caused by the Pakistani commando raid into the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July 2007 was showing signs of subsiding, there is a danger of it being re-kindled by the US operation in Abbottabad.

Pakistan has been passing through a state of unstable equilibrium for some years now. This equilibrium could become even more unstable in the weeks and months to come as a consequence of the Abbottabad raid. How to prevent this unstable equilibrium from worsening further? That will be an important objective of the US policy towards Pakistan.

Pakistan's strategic importance for the US will not diminish despite the elimination of bin Laden. Pakistani cooperation had served US interests well in the past — whether it was in relation to the Cold War or the US rapprochement with China. It could serve US interests in the Islamic world equally well in the future. There cannot be a stable Afghanistan without a stable Pakistan and vice versa. The US interest in ensuring the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal will remain as strong as ever. Pakistan will continue to be a key State in the fight against Islamic extremism and jihadi terrorism.

It would be a miscalculation to think that US suspicion and anger over possible local support — official or unofficial or both — to bin Laden in Pakistan could result in major changes in the US policy in the subcontinent to the detriment of Pakistan and benefit of India. While stepping up pressure on Pakistan for more sincerity and effectiveness in dealing with jihadi terrorism, the US will eschew any policies or actions which could prove detrimental to its interests in Pakistan.

Instead of hoping to be able to drive a wedge between the US and Pakistan by exploiting the cloud over the sanctuary enjoyed by bin Laden, India should examine how the bin Laden incident could be used as one more argument to convince Pakistan of the need to give up the path of terrorism. These are traumatising moments for Pakistan and its people. We should avoid any signs of glee. That would be unwise.

The problems faced by us in our relations with Pakistan due to its use of terrorism will continue. We should seek a solution to this problem through our own genius and in our own way through an appropriate mix of policy incentives and disincentives. We need a stand-alone policy which will not depend on the US policy towards Pakistan for its success.

B Raman is a former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. The views expressed by the author are personal.





'Where a deep divide exists between capital and wage, democracy is bound to be throttled at every step there, since money is the main vehicle.' The average arm-chair Marxist might be shocked to note that the above words are quoted from Rabindranath Tagore, from one of his essays called Samabay Neeti (on co-operatives), published in 1928, two years before his visit to the now-defunct Soviet Union. Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818 and Tagore on May 7, 1861. Tagore did not read Marx, not at least texts like A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy or Communist Manifesto, not to speak of Capital or Grundrisse. Yet as Paresh Chattopadhyay, professor of political economy at the University of Quebec, Canada, has pointed out, a synergy existed in thoughts between Marx and Tagore in their commitment to take up cudgels for the 'emancipation' of mankind.

In one of his recent papers, 'The Myth of Twentieth Century Socialism and the Continuing Relevance of Karl Marx', Chattopadhyay questioned the ideological validity of all socialist models for neglect of the 'emancipatory content of socialism'. For Tagore, Chattopadhyay points out, emancipation "doesn't emanate from any shackle-less vacuum, but aims at fulfillment". The 'myriad-minded poet' had a clear perception of society he craved for. "If the society doesn't ensure me full freedom, how do I belong to that society," he said in his article 'Letter of a Chinese'. It reminds us of the 19th century scholar George Holland Sabine, who in his treatise A History of Political Theory, said "Society is made for man, not man for society".

Tagore elucidated his point further. "The basis of society is coherence. This togetherness became absent in the West since the early 20th century." Worried about its derivative, the encirclement of countryside by urbanisation that permeated into colonial India, Tagore wrote: "This unnatural imbalance cannot be good (for any society)…"

Tagore was a spiritualist, Marx a materialist. Religion had a different connotation with Tagore. His god was 'Jeevan Debata' (the god of life). In 1909, in an essay, 'Verdict of Religion', he observed that the new era would look forward to a new religion: "The human knowledge has reached a point in the arena of emancipation that unless it is fitted into the prevailing mindset, the religion would be discordant with the theme music of life, rather fail repeatedly to catch up with the rhythm." For Marx, individuals are assigned to "build a new world from the historical acquisitions of their floundering world" and in producing "material conditions of a new society, no effort of spirit or will can free them from this destiny".

Differences notwithstanding, Marx and Tagore had the same goal: emancipation of individuals. Marx envisioned "a reunion of free individuals". Tagore harped on the same point in every sphere of life. They had a striking similarity in the ideation of alienation. Two workers in Tagore's play Red Oleanders (1925) introduce themselves as '47-O' and '69-E', an idea propounded by Marx in his 'Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844', which wasn't known in India even during the Stalin era. "The worker", Marx wrote, "only feels himself outside his work" and gives in to "forced labour". In his lyric 'The Tame Bird Was In A Cage', Tagore says "They flutter their wings in yearning, and sing, 'Come closer, my love!'/The free bird cries, 'It cannot be, I fear the closed doors of the cage.'/The cage bird whispers, 'Alas, my wings are powerless and dead.'"

Tagore scathingly criticised two things that Marx did synoptically. One was the  darkness of egoism in the West. India, he firmly believed, was against the intense consciousness of the separateness of one's own people from others . "Let India stand for the co-operation of all the people of the world," Tagore said. The second was his chagrin against "hyper-consumption", expressed in an essay 'Samabay Neeti'.

Chattopadhyay, in a personal communication to this writer, said, "Rabindranath is my second hero, after Marx in extolling the emancipatory ideals. One can't help but agree with him.

Sankar Ray is a veteran journalist specialising in Left politics and history. 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






As West Bengal votes in its sixth and last phase today, it is time to look at the agenda for the next government in Kolkata. There has never been any doubt about the momentousness of this election. Comparisons are made to the 1977 wave which swept away the Emergency-tainted Congress in most parts of the country and which brought the Left to power in Bengal. Who, in that beginning, had seen what has of late been variously foretold as the end of the Left Front government, stretched out over 34 long years? We will not know before Friday, May 13, whether Mamata Banerjee will indeed ride triumphantly into Writers' Building or Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee hold on, amazed and confused. Ever since his well-intentioned but badly managed programme to fast-track industrialisation came unstuck in Singur and Nandigram so soon after his 2006 mandate, Bhattacharjee's government has governed Bengal practically as a lameduck. The task after May 13 will be as much to bring direction and momentum to the administration as to retrieve a working civility between government and opposition.

These polls have made a narrative of managerial triumph. The Election Commission, so far, has ensured Bengal's first violence-free elections in decades. The EC's triumph, however, is the lesson and task left behind for the next government. As recently as the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, it had been painful to recount and analyse election-day stories from the state, given the heartless brutality of cadre battles and innocents killed in crossfire. After years of such blood-drenched human stories, this time, a dam seemed to burst causing 82.2 per cent turnout even in the penultimate phase in some of the more troubled areas.

The task of the new executive and the opposition will be to rebuild Bengal's shredded body politic, reconstructing its political culture, which has been utterly shorn of civility in the last few years. Both the CPM and Trinamool must comprehend the responsibilities of mainstream parties in a democratic framework. Past examples of neither the Trinamool, which had boycotted this government and resorted to the default option of non-cooperation, nor those of the Left in its street agitating bus-and-tram-burning days, will do ever again. That was the spiral that took Bengal up in smoke. The fires must be doused and full attention given to socio-economic reconstruction of a near-bankrupt state. It is an unenviable job, and whoever comes to power would do well to first read Bertolt Brecht's poem "Parade of the Old New" that shows how the old and the new are intertwined inseparably. The new must beware the ghosts of its own old.




EYE ON 2012


There is no doubt that our politics needs to engage with questions of land acquisition. India must come up with an efficient and demonstrably fair mechanism for evaluating and acquiring agricultural land for industry. The effects of whatever law is finalised will be so far-reaching that it will need wide political participation and consultation. But the political engagement with the problem needs to be constructive and responsible — qualities not on display in the response to recent developments in western Uttar Pradesh. Agra, Aligarh and Greater Noida have been wracked by protest in the past few days, following some farmers' demands that they be paid a higher price for the land being acquired for the giant expressway projects fanning out from Delhi. At least four people, including two policemen, have died in the violence.

The political reaction to this violence has left a lot to be desired. Ajit Singh, the leader of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, a pivotal component of western UP's political landscape, was arrested when he tried to get to the protest site in Greater Noida; the BJP's local leaders have blamed it on the chief minister's "arrogance". The Congress, which is at power at the Centre has set aside discussion on the land acquisition bill, the need for which this violence was an urgent reminder. Meanwhile, Rajnath Singh, former BJP president, and Sharad Yadav, president of the JD(U), would like all land acquisition to be put on hold till a national law comes into force. Rather than searching for solutions, there has been a political scramble to take advantage of the protests.

That there is an incentive to do so should perhaps not surprise us: UP goes to the polls early next year, and it will no doubt be a tight, four-cornered race. (With, in western UP, Ajit Singh's RLD as well.) But the Indian electorate is not so easily fooled. Those who jump onto bandwagons without demonstrating that they can envision and implement a solution find that no amount of irresponsible politics will help them. And, in the meanwhile, they will have allowed a genuine problem to grow worse.






The US did not release photographic evidence of Osama bin Laden's mutilated body out of concerns that it could be inflammatory. Instead, what's being revealed is another picture — of the bin Laden who was alive, holed up in a safe house in Abbottabad. As the US administration puts out little details from the huge cache of documents and disks seized in the operation, a carefully calibrated exercise is set in motion — where the aim is to unravel Osama and in the process strip him of much of the mystique that surrounded him over the years.

After the initial release of five soundless videos which showed a greying Osama, wrapped in a blanket and stroking a beard, watching himself on television, details have emerged of his domestic life in Abbottabad. Of an ageing man who lived with his many wives and children, whose world was restricted to two rooms and walks in the courtyard and whose couriers delivered, along with thumb drives loaded with information, goats and sheep and, curiously, bottles of Coca-Cola. For a man who so vehemently hated the US, there were incidentally a few American things that he enjoyed: sodas, Noam Chomsky and Jimmy Carter's book on Palestine.

Osama was extremely careful of the image he projected in the videos relayed to the world: his soft-spoken Arabic and the bearded, messianic face a foil to his message of terror and bloodshed. One of the recently released videos too shows him in a gold robe, with beard dyed black and against a pleasant blue backdrop. However, this new image of a Coke-sipping Osama is hardly the larger-than-life emblem that jihadists would rush to rally around. And this is how an image gets quietly demolished and insidiously replaced by another image.








Amid the welter of words and the high-decibel debate over the future of al-Qaeda and who will be the likely successor to the late unlamented Osama bin Laden, the popular view seems to be that global jihadists will be inspired rather than undermined by his passing. Reactions by the Taliban in Afghanistan, reported statements by al-Qaeda leaders in Syria and Yemen and the scenes of outrage and mourning led by our own Most Wanted, Hafiz Muhammed Saeed of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, have only served to bolster the argument. Yet, even as the world braces for the widely predicted backlash, there is another side to the argument that has been missed by most strategic analysts. Apart from Islamic-related terrorism, in the subcontinent we have seen the rise of two major terrorist groups committed to a violent ideology with much fervour and fearlessness. One was the Liberation Front for Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka led by V. Prabhakaran and the other was the Khalistan movement in Punjab whose prime mover and rallying icon was Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

Like al-Qaeda, both used religion and ethnic identity to create an ideological backbone for their bloody crusades. Both used the bogey of the omnipresent state — it was the Sri Lankan government for Prabhakaran and its Indian equivalent for Bhindranwale — to create a persecution complex among their recruits and a sense of betrayal and revenge. Not dissimilar to what bin Laden and his clones have done with the Muslim identity and the thirst for revenge against the West for perceived bias and attacks on a particular community. For groups like the LeT, it is against India. The similarity doesn't end there. Both Prabhakaran and Bhindranwale rose to prominence and notoriety by the force of their personalities (charisma seems a bit of a stretch), their ability to organise substantial funds and popular backing from large sections of the Tamil or Sikh population locally and abroad, and, like Osama, their own image of bravery and courage.

Here's the key issue: they both had a massive following, armed and dangerous and ideologically committed, and yet they were one-man armies. Prabhakaran's death was also the death of the LTTE. They are a spent force today, unable to rise and regroup, rendered headless. Bhindranwale's bloody end created a violent backlash, including the assassination of a prime minister, but because of the damage to the Golden Temple where he was holed up, and not because of any sense of revenge for his death. The Khalistan demand died a natural death without a rallying figure who was seen as taking on the might of the state, as was the case with Prabhakaran.

Both were such larger-than-life figures, made larger by myth and legend, that they became symbolic of the movements they led and the violence they unleashed. Their passing also buried an ideology and the violence that became its signature.

Osama has the potential to go the same way as far as the group he founded, al-Qaeda, is concerned. Other Islamic militant groups, most notably the LeT, will survive mainly because of the state sponsorship they receive, but al-Qaeda without Osama, even as figurehead, may not. For one, al-Qaeda does not embrace or attract all Muslims. It is, in fact, intolerant of non-Sunni branches of Islam and most of al-Qaeda's alternative leadership regards liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other such sects as heretics.

Also, al-Qaeda's management philosophy has been described as "centralisation of decision and decentralisation of execution". Al-Qaeda Central revolved around bin Laden. His ideological sway was paramount and singularly effective in inspiring legions of misguided followers. Over the years, terrorism experts have argued that al-Qaeda has fragmented into a variety of disconnected regional movements that have little connection with each other. Without Osama, there is now no umbrella organisation. According to the award-winning 2004 BBC documentary, The Power of Nightmares, al-Qaeda was so weakly linked together that it was hard to say it existed apart from bin Laden and a small clique of close associates. The lack of any significant number of convicted al-Qaeda members, despite a large number of arrests on terrorism charges, was cited by the documentary as reason to doubt whether a widespread entity that met the description of al-Qaeda even existed.

Indeed, in the months leading up to Osama's death, a survey of Muslims around the world found evidence of waning support for bin Laden. Among the six predominantly Muslim nations recently surveyed by the Pew Research Centre's Global Attitudes Project, Osama bin Laden received his highest level of support among Muslims in the Palestinian territories — although even there, only 34 per cent said they had confidence in the terrorist leader to do the right thing in world affairs. In Indonesia (26 per cent), Egypt (22 per cent) and Jordan (13 per cent), the numbers who expressed confidence in Osama were down drastically from an earlier survey in 2003. In fact, he had little support among Turkish (3 per cent) or Lebanese Muslims (1 per cent) in the latest poll. Since 2003, the percentage of Muslims voicing confidence in him has declined by 38 per cent. The greatest decline has occurred in Jordan, where 56 per cent of Muslims had confidence in Osama in 2003, compared with just 13 per cent in the latest poll.

What this suggests is that Osama's influence and rallying power may have been highly exaggerated and, towards the end, obscured by myth and legend. Abbottabad may acquire a larger symbolism of closure than just the death of one man.







Nepal has been a failed lab for many political experiments since the 1990s. Now, the control of the state by the radical left is emerging as a distinct possibility. Its takeover will be difficult to contain if the tenure of the constituent assembly, which expires on May 28, gets extended.

Last week, Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal, who is also the chairman of the CPN-UML, entrusted the home ministry to Maoist leader and Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, overruling his own party's directive. For Khanal, appeasing the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), the largest in the House, is important to ensure his survival.

The Armed Police Force (APF), the police and the intelligence come under the home ministry. That the Maoists are now in charge of that portfolio, when their army is still intact, has worried the other parties and even a large section of the CPN-UML. According to a leaked statement, the UCPN-M's secretary, C.P. Gajurel, told cadres at a training programme that controlling the police and the APF is necessary to eventually "take on the Nepal army" — perhaps the biggest if not the sole hurdle — in its taking control of the state.

Extending the term of the constituent assembly, which has so far failed to deliver a constitution, is now solely the agenda of the radical left in general, and of Prachanda and Khanal in particular. Only then can the UCPN-M continue to enjoy being the No 1 party in the House. More than any other party, the UCPN-M needs the House to gain whatever legitimacy it can in the peace and democratic process.

The international community, which supported the entry of Maoists into Nepal's democratic process about five years ago, is confused and remorseful of what now appears to have been wasted years. The European Union, mainly the UK and Denmark, mooted the idea of bringing Maoists into peace politics in March 2005. India, which wields considerable influence in Nepal, came into the picture nine months later, but took the lead by bringing Maoists and pro-democracy parties together through the much-talked-about 12-point agreement.

Unlike the UK and Denmark, India — given its location next door and various security-related interests — does not have the luxury of ignoring the current mess in Nepal. India, of late, seems convinced that the continuation of the constituent assembly will not be in the interest of democratic consolidation and has possibly outlived its utility.

A delegation of the European Parliament was in Nepal in May last year to lobby for the extension of the constituent assembly. India had endorsed it then. The constituent assembly is unlikely to fulfil its task even this time. The EU may not be able to lobby openly for another extension. India too is unlikely to watch the process unfold silently; it could in fact be very vocal in its opposition.

India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, during his recent visit to Nepal, said that India was in favour of a constitution being drafted within the designated timeframe. Meanwhile, there are fears in and outside Nepal that China has come to patronise Nepal's radical left ruling coalition. China has kept away from directly or visibly dictating Nepal's political course. However, it has given clear messages over a period of time, especially after the end of the monarchy, that its interests in Nepal are no less than India's. Even so, more than Chinese involvement, the two crucial issues that will concern internal and external players will be the future of democracy and political stability.

The consolidation of the radical left and its control of the state apparatus have greatly minimised the participation of democratic groups, including the Nepali Congress and most of Terai-based parties, in government. Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai has been advocating their entry to government, but it seems more of a tactic to secure their support to have the House tenure extended, than a genuine commitment to democracy.

Nepal could see new permutations in the near future. One possibility is that Khanal will be blamed for the crisis, and a section of the Maoists will propose that the Nepali Congress lead the new government on condition that the House continues to exist.

What Nepal's political class should realise is that the constituent assembly has run its course. The parties, including the Maoists, should accept full responsibility for the time wasted and opportunities bungled.

They should chart out a new course for peace, democracy and reconciliation.

If they fail to do so, the radical left could be pitted against the rest. It may even lead to the restoration of the constitution of 1991 that was unceremoniously and unconstitutionally dismantled exactly five years ago. After all, a country cannot indefinitely remain without a constitution.







Being funny is difficult. Even if you are Tina Fey — a seven-time Emmy Award, three-time Golden Globe Award, and four-time Writers Guild of America Award winner. A funny woman is a rare species, as Fey says in her bestselling autobiography, Bossypants. "Only in comedy," she says, "does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity."

While Tina Fey with her Sarah Palin impersonations and more importantly as her alter ego, Liz Lemon, a writer of a late-night comedy show on NBC's 30 Rock, Fey is a huge hit. But she hasn't always been appreciated. She's even been called "an ugly, pear-shaped, bitchy, overrated troll." It is not easy being funny. But before we get to how difficult it really is (Fey mentions handling difficult Hollywood stars, colleagues who pee in jars, and worse), take a closer look home. Can you think of a single Indian female comic? Not slapstick-funny but sharp, witty funny? Go on, take all the time you need.

To help you think aloud, let's list what we have been offered as comedy at its best. First it was Tun Tun (screen name for Uma Devi Khatri) and Guddi Maruti that Bollywood presented as comic relief in the '50s and '80s. Both worked on simple lines — they wobbled on screen, and everyone laughed. Because if you are fat, you are funny, and all you have to do is sway your hips and eat constantly. Things never got better in Bollywood for the funny woman. In the '90s, actors like Juhi Chawla and Sridevi had to prance around quite a bit to get laughs. Slapstick is the only thing that works on Bollywood screens.

As far as late night comedy goes, you have The Laughter Challenge, which is clearly challenged in the humour department, with little beyond stale mother-in-law jokes, and children impersonating adults. If you are searching for talented women, Comedy Circus has a female judge, an ex-actress who dresses like she is on her way to a wedding, except that she adds a loud guffaw for this appearance. On cue, "ha ha."

Books haven't helped us out with funny lines either — slapstick only gets worse when committed to paper. Chick lit tries hard, but you've got to be clever to get lipstick, heels and boyfriends together for a great punchline.

There is a huge gaping hole, just right for a good, original comic voice — and a female one would be nice. The stage for stand-up comics in India is small, not many know anyone beyond Vir Das or Papa CJ, and there are no famous female stand-ups. Desis in the US and UK do sell the Indian family stereotype well, and there are a few NRI desi women who say it like it is, but there is little homegrown talent.

It's a pity, because between politics, scams, cricket, bad movies and sanctimonious protestors, there's plenty of material that's crying out to be used as satire. And without putting a heavy feminist spin on it, surely it's not too much to expect some comedy we can relate to? There is no dearth of women who are funny, but no one has made a successful career in comedy. Not that it would be easy — they can expect a long line of "haters" in India — but it's still worth it.

Even Fey has had to deal with a few mean-spirited critics, but like all good comics, she strikes back in style. To the person who called her an "overrated troll," Fey replied, "To say I'm an overrated troll, when you have never even seen me guard a bridge, is patently unfair. I'll leave it for others to say if I'm the best, but I am certainly one of the most dedicated trolls guarding bridges today. I always ask three questions, at least two of which are riddles. As for 'ugly, pear-shaped and bitchy,' I prefer the terms 'offbeat, business class-assed and exhausted,' but I'll take what I can get." Find me an Indian woman who can take on a heckler with such pizzazz.

And in the meantime, please inject our TV shows and movies with some real wit and humour. Even though we can't manage a Tina Fey right now, we can certainly do better than stagey laughter.








Award-winning American journalist and writer Steve Coll is the author of best-selling books like Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 and The Bin Ladens: an Arabian Family in the American Century. He is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and heads the New America Foundation. He talked to Alia Allana about al-Qaeda's future direction and Pakistan's complicity, the threat from groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and what India must do about Pakistan. Excerpts from the interview:

Did the fact that bin Laden was found in Pakistan surprise you?

No. Simply look at bin Laden's history. He has been there since the 1980s. When he came out of Tora Bora in 2001, it seemed as though he had friends in Pakistan, those willing to provide a refuge. In fact, there is a larger pattern of al-Qaeda leaders being there. But I was surprised about the exact location — that he was so close to Pakistan's military. Ultimately, it was a matter of time before he got caught. With US technology and surveillance (human agents and surveillance technology) he was going to be caught eventually. But yes, the town — Abbottabad — did surprise me, and also his housing estate.

What do you make of Pakistan's commitment to catching him?

Musharraf had said in Davos that Pakistan had stopped looking, that the ISI possibly knew of his hiding place but that they had bigger fish to fry, and that this (bin Laden) was an American problem now. They stopped looking a while back, and this does raise questions about what Pakistan/ISI knew about him. Then again, bin Laden's circumstances in the house, the refuge, are not different from Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists who are given a safe house.

What about succession and changes in al-Qaeda?

Al-Qaeda has been around since 1988, with Zawahiri as second in command, so I expect he will be the emir of al-Qaeda. It would be hard to have a shura meeting — on paper there is a shura structure but there will be new players. But the organisational structure is changing because they (al-Qaeda) are under pressure; they can't cross borders as easily, gather together as they used to. Their methods of communication have changed and they are therefore more decentralised. Gathering together as they used to has become much harder after 9/11.

Do you see any changes in the US-Pakistan relationship after Operation Geronimo?

The US Congress has already asked Pakistan to be held to greater account. But in the US, there are others who think that the relationship with Pakistan is too big (important) to risk. For instance, the supply lines for the Afghan war run through Pakistan. Pakistan also matters for the US, NATO, and the international community to create a stable polity in Afghanistan. The US cannot be hostile towards Pakistan right now. But in the medium-term future, questions will be asked about the partnership in Pakistan.

What are the similarities with the LeT?

It is one of the most dangerous organisations (especially against India). But they are not the same as al-Qaeda. The two are not ideologically aligned, though cooperation between the two has been increasing as is seen on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. LeT does enjoy support from the Pakistani state, and this is a group with talent — it includes doctors, lawyers and others with a strong educational base. The LeT is not just made up of young suicide bombers.

LeT is emerging as a big player, what do you make of this?

First, LeT is not the new al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is a central organisation — including AQAP (in the Arabian peninsula) and in the Maghreb — and is focused on international targets. They do not support regional violence against Pakistan, against India. The reason for its being is to attack the world's great powers. LeT has a primarily regional focus but they are acquiring international ambitions. It will be hard for them to take the organisation into an al-Qaeda level of revolutionary activity.

What about the India-Pakistan relationship?

Dialogue with Pakistan is in India's benefit. The talks between the two countries need to produce greater investment and economic interdependence. Pakistan can benefit from this economic growth and this is the factor that will bring the two countries together. The best way to combat terrorism is to attach Pakistan's economy to India's. But India does have legitimate concerns and has been unnerved by Pakistan's delivery on terrorism. There has been no attack after 26/11, but another one is possible. India is an easy target, through the Kashmir border and the sea border. That's, of course, a worry. India has every right to be disappointed with the Pakistan government's response to terror, to 26/11 and with Pakistan for what they have allowed to develop on their soil. The solution has two directions. The first is to isolate Pakistan, punish the ISI and the army, and the other is to make Pakistan a part of India's success story. This is what India needs to enjoy the success it gets as its economy grows. It is in India's interest that Pakistan succeeds — in fact the only obstacle to India's greatness is Pakistan's failure. The question then is what can India do, and I believe the best course is economic integration and interdependency. I believe this is what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh means when he talks of borders mattering less.

Do you foresee any changes in the policy (the war effort) in Afghanistan?

Obama has been talking about US sacrifices (in the war) and has used al-Qaeda as an explanation. But now there will be a reform in the policy (after bin Laden's death). It should, of course be remembered, that al-Qaeda is not gone. There was a plan to reduce troops and there will be a reduction this year. But in the long run, many in the Obama administration would like to create a stable security relationship with Afghanistan (something like what we see in Iraq where troops are not involved in active combat). But Afghanistan needs to be able to provide its own security and the US role would be complimentary.






May 7 was the 300th birthday of David Hume, the most important philosopher ever to write in English. Panellists will cite Hume's seismic impact on epistemology, political theory, economics, historiography, aesthetics and religion, as well as his deep scepticism of the powers of reason. But chances are they won't have much to say about Hume the man.

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 will be the slave to our passions. Predictably, it happened in Paris.

In 1761, Hippolyte de Boufflers, mistress of the Prince de Conti, sent a fan letter to Hume. His 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. 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."

Gilbert Elliot, a Scottish friend of Hume's, became alarmed by Hume's preoccupation with the comtesse. 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. 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.

Scholars of the urbane and portly Hume typically see him as an unlikely candidate to place alongside 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."

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






For those with eyes to see, the daylight between the foreign policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama has been shrinking ever since the current president took the oath of office. But last week made it official: When the story of America's post-9/11 wars is written, historians will be obliged to assess the two administrations together, and pass judgment on the Bush-Obama era.

The death of Osama bin Laden, in a raid that operationalised Bush's famous "dead or alive" dictum, offered the most visible proof of this continuity. But the more important evidence of the Bush-Obama convergence lay elsewhere, in developments from last week that didn't merit screaming headlines, because they seemed routine rather than remarkable.

One was NATO's ongoing bombing campaign in Libya, which now barely even pretends to be confined to humanitarian objectives, or to be bound by the letter of the United Nations resolution. Another was Friday's Predator strike inside Pakistan's tribal regions, which killed a group of suspected militants while the world's attention was still fixed on bin Laden's final hours. Another was the American missile that just missed killing Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who has emerged as a key recruiter for al-Qaeda's Yemen affiliate.

Imagine, for a moment, that these were George W. Bush's policies at work. A quest for regime change in Libya, conducted without even a pro forma request for Congressional approval. A campaign of remote-controlled airstrikes, in which collateral damage is inevitable, carried out inside a country where we are not officially at war. A policy of targeted assassination against an American citizen who has been neither charged nor convicted in any US court.

Imagine the outrage, the protests, the furious op-eds about right-wing tyranny and neoconservative overreach. Imagine all that, and then look at the reality. For most Democrats, what was considered creeping fascism under Bush is just good old-fashioned common sense when the president has a "D" beside his name.

There is good news for the country in this turnabout. Having one of their own in the White House has forced Democrats to walk in the Bush administration's shoes, and appreciate its dilemmas and decisions. To some extent, the Bush-Obama convergence is a sign that the Democratic Party is growing up, putting away certain fond illusions, and accepting its share of responsibility for the messy realities of the post-9/11 world.

It's a good thing, for instance, that President Obama has slow-walked the American withdrawal from Iraq, and it's a sign of political maturity that his base hasn't punished him for doing so. It's a good thing that this White House didn't just send every Guantánamo prisoner to a civilian court (or back home without a trial). It's a very good thing that many Democrats seem willing to opt for frontier justice over procedural justice when the circumstances call for it — as they did in Abbottabad last week.

But there are dangers in this turnabout as well. Now that Democrats have learned to stop worrying and embrace the imperial presidency, the United States lacks a strong institutional check on the tendency toward executive hubris and wartime overreach. The speed with which many once-dovish liberals rallied behind the Libyan war — at best a gamble, at worst a folly — was revealing and depressing. The absence of any sustained outcry over the White House's willingness to assassinate American citizens without trial should be equally disquieting.

As Barack Obama has discovered, an open-ended, borderless conflict requires a certain comfort with moral grey areas. But it requires vigilance as well, and a scepticism about giving the executive branch a free hand in a forever war. During the Bush era, such vigilance was supplied (albeit sometimes cynically, and often in excess) by one of the country's two major political parties. But in the Obama era, it's mainly confined to the far left and the libertarian right.

This vigilance needs to be mathematical as well as moral. The most dangerous continuity between the Bush and Obama presidencies, perhaps, is their shared unwillingness to level with the country about what our current foreign policy posture costs, and how it fits into our broader fiscal liabilities.

Instead, big government conservatism has given way to big government liberalism, America's overseas footprint keeps expanding, and nobody has been willing to explain to the public that the global war on terror isn't a free lunch.

The next president won't have that luxury. In one form or another, the war on terror is likely to continue long after Osama bin Laden's bones have turned to coral. But we'll know that the Bush-Obama era is officially over when somebody presents us with the bill.







In 2003, as part of the process of cleaning up the mess in the Unit Trust of India (UTI), it was broken up into two parts—Special Undertaking of UTI (SUUTI) with all the assured return schemes of UTI and a UTI Asset Management Company (UTI AMC) to run Sebi-compliant non-assured return schemes. As part of the process of distancing the government from it, UTI AMC's shares were given to LIC, SBI, Punjab National Bank and Bank of Baroda. In 2008, each sold 6.25% of their shareholding to T Rowe Price, one of the top 20 global investment firms. Now, while UTI is by no stretch of the imagination a government firm, there are reports, first broken by FE, that the finance ministry is trying to push its candidate for the top job now that UTI's chief UK Sinha has taken over the reins at Sebi. Given the government's conscious decision to free UTI from its clutches, to give investors who've put in R67,000 crore in UTI AMC a sense of comfort, this would be tantamount to re-nationalising the mutual fund, with all its attendant risks. And this is when the AMC has followed a transparent procedure for appointing the new chief—a board appointed HR committee has, in turn, appointed global HR firm Egon Zehnder to come up with a shortlist which will be vetted by the HR committee, and the HR committee has given its panel of two to UTI's board to choose from.

Equally problematic is the manner in which the heads of two other financial institutions, this time under direct control of the government, are being dealt with. LIC is India's largest life insurance firm, and collects around R86,000 crore of annual premium—its chief TS Vijayan was demoted to an MD two weeks ago, and a bureaucrat has been asked to take temporary charge. Surely it was known when Vijayan's term would end and a full-time chief could have been appointed? Nor is it clear why Vijayan was not given an extension, at least till the new chief was appointed—if it was for his role in the LIC Housing Finance scam some months ago, he should have been sacked, and not retained as MD. In the case of Nabard, which is the regulator-cum-nodal banker for the agriculture sector and has assets of R1,18,176 crore, UC Sarangi's tenure as chairman finished in December 2010. He went back to his parent cadre, Maharashtra; last week, its MD KG Karmakar left after a five-year term. Once again, the same additional secretary who will hold the fort at LIC has been asked to take charge. The finance minister would do well to spend some time on how top-notch institutions under his charge are being run, and how those not under his charge are being run as though they are. The practice of getting bureaucrats to head commercial organisations must stop. If it doesn't, why not consider appointing private sector persons to top bureaucratic positions!





Violence has broken out over land acquisition for the Yamuna Expressway, despite the fact that acquisition policies for this project have really evolved since the Singur days. And if even these evolved policies can't win over farmers, it is very uncertain what will do so. This is, after all, a project that not only promises greater good in UP but has also seen some of the most promising land acquisition policies in the country. On the first front, we have lauded the Mayawati government's plans to build a megalopolis along the Yamuna Expressway across an approximate area of 2,36,682 hectares spread over 1,187 villages, with over 2 million people, as a landmark event in India's (necessary) urbanisation. Trickle down wealth effects of the Expressway are already visible in the Greater Noida region. On the second front, in addition to the one-time compensation (which is usually low and based on circle rates), UP gives landowners a choice of a 33-year annuity of R20,000 per acre (with small increments) and additional compensation—an innovative model borrowed from Haryana. UP will also give the original landowners 7% of the acquired land for residential plots and allow them to use a quarter of the one-time compensation for purchasing shares in concerned companies (if land is acquired for a township, for instance). Obviously, giving farmers a stake in the future development of the land they originally held is intended to ensure their cooperation in the transfer of ownership. Equally obviously, as the protests that spread from Greater Noida to Agra and Aligarh show, the demand for compensation and stakes will keep going north in the future.

There is some speculation, voiced by the UP Cabinet Secretary, that the current agitation actually originates with "anti-social" elements and is connected with some temple construction matter. But the bottom line is that as the demands of urbanisation, industry and growth keep pushing up the demand for land, another demand that will keep going up will be that for better compensation and rehabilitation packages. Maybe the state should look at the private sector for the way forward. Players like Jindal have prospered in areas like Lalgrah because they have kept sweetening their packages—ranging from more jobs to more "land for land". While the UP package looks good, assuming it is being implemented in toto, it clearly doesn't look good enough to the agitators, especially those living near big cities like Noida.





100 seats for the Left in Bengal?



Singur, a small hamlet just two hours from Kolkata, forced itself into the national consciousness when the West Bengal government acquired some 997 acres of fertile land for the Tata Nano project in 2007. Of course, the Tatas had to abandon the project following massive protests over land acquisition. It triggered a raging debate on how to acquire land for industrialisation throughout the country. West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told some visiting journalists at his party office in Kolkata last week that "there had been a lot of learnings from Singur". The complex Indian reality does not fit into any set pattern. So, it is a constant process of learning by experience for those in power. The ongoing assembly election in West Bengal is also part of this process of learning-by-doing for both the ruling Left Front and the opposition led by the Trinamool Congress.

In many ways, even today, Singur represents the most important socio-economic puzzle for politicians in West Bengal and indeed the rest of India. A visit to Singur, at once, brought home the visual metaphor representing both the pain and inevitability of the transition from the pre-industrial to modern mode of life. There is a nearly kilometre-long wall that separates many villages from the car factory structure, which was nearly 8% complete. It looks forlorn today, as if abandoned after war. But for many villagers, it is a constant reminder of what things could have been. Tempers have cooled with the passage of time and village elders, who led the campaign against the Tata Nano project, spoke with greater objectivity and clarity that inevitably comes as you move forward in time. Says Manoranjan Malik of Bajmella village, "We opposed the Tata project only because of the way the government handled the land acquisition issue. We would welcome new industrial projects that give employment." Manoranjan Malik is the father of Taposhi Malik, a 19-year-old girl who was killed during the Singur agitation. Later, her death became a rallying point for the other villages that joined the campaign against the small car project. The village closest to the Nano project site is Joymollah, where a 65-year-old marginal Govinda Chattra says he laments the loss of jobs for his two sons who were absorbed at the Tata factory as guards.

Back in Kolkata, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee echoes the sentiment of the Singur village patriarch Manoranjan Malik and says, "Yes, we made mistakes in Singur and have learnt a lot from it." Bhattacharjee displays rare humility to outline what he had learnt from Singur and how his government had course corrected over the past two years. He says the government has acquired some 8,000 fresh acres of land since the Singur and Nandigram agitations for industrial use and there has been no protest. "We realised a few things after the Singur experience. One, as far as possible, avoid acquiring very fertile multi-crop land. Two, have total consensus among villagers over the price of land acquired and rehabilitation packages, which includes creating a long-term stake for them in the industrial land use. It is not enough that 90% of villagers agree and 10% don't. Everyone must be on board." Bhattacharjee asserts people want industrialisation but in a manner that removes all their fears in regard to the future. In 2010 and 2011 so far, the state has attracted investments worth R25,000 crore from private sector companies like Jindal Steel, Videocon etc.

However, the ruling Left Front may have learnt its lessons a trifle too late. Sometimes the price paid for a mistake or two may be too high, although it does result in new understandings and realisations. There is a big sentiment in favour of change (poribortan) in West Bengal, which is threatening to sweep the Left Front out of power. The yearning for change is so visible even in smaller villages in the backward districts of Purulia, West Medinipur and Bankura that it is difficult to miss. A rally addressed by Mamata Banerjee in Borjora village in Bankura revealed a sort of spontaneous response from a largely young crowd that would seem unusual. A CPI(M) leader dismissed the crowd's response saying they do not necessarily translate into votes.

Although the CPI(M) is acutely aware of the massive sentiment in favour of change, it is relying on Trinamool Congress's sub-optimal organisational efficiency to minimise the damage. One logic trotted out by the Left leaders is that they have seen the worst during the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, when they lost their total vote share in the state by nearly 7% compared with the total vote share they had in the 2006 assembly polls. Mind you, this big drop in the Left Front's vote share came after the Singur and Nandigram agitations. Therefore, Singur and Nandigram remain inflection points in the recent poll history of West Bengal.

The Left Front came down from a total vote share of about 49.5% at the 2006 assembly elections to about 43% in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. So, if the voters in this assembly poll vote exactly the way they did at the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Left Front would get 100 seats, down from 234 seats they got in 2006, in a house of 294. Many Left leaders, therefore, argue the worst has been seen by the CPI(M) in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. If anything, their vote share should recover marginally now. Even if you concede this for a moment, it will mean that the Left Front might stretch to about 110 to 120 seats. That still doesn't get them anywhere close to power. So, the dice is clearly loaded in favour of Mamata Banerjee, even going by the Left's most optimistic scenario.





The changes in the macro-economic numbers over the past couple of weeks have been so unusual, rapid and drastic, the underpinnings of the budget calculations have come unstuck. Of these, the most significant has been the acknowledgement by the finance minister that the real rate of growth of the Indian economy for fiscal 2011-12 will be at a lower pace of 8% instead of the expected 9%.

This means, all the assumptions made by the finance ministry, including the budget calculationsfor the year, must be reset and very soon. The reset is necessary on two counts. When the cost of funds is rising so fast in the economy, it is not fair that the financial markets should have to wait for the end of the year (usually the fourth quarter) to get a leeway in costs. The uncertainly will shave off some more basis points from the growth rate, which obviously cannot be the intention of the government.

A reset will be necessary as the GDP numbers have changed. The Medium Term Fiscal Policy Statement had estimated the real GDP to grow by 9% and inflation by 5%. The nominal GDP was, therefore, pegged at 14%. Flipping the numbers over to 8% and 6% does not mean the same thing, as this will mean the government is expecting a business-as-usual scenario where it needs to do nothing better.

This leads to the other reason why the finance ministry must present a mini-budget in the monsoon session with the redrawn numbers. The Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act of 2003 is quite clear about this. The Act says any variations in the government accounts that affect the numbers projected for the year must be reported and corrections made every six months.

The foregoing does not imply a blame game. The correction to the budget assumptions this time is the largest that has occurred for the Indian economy since the developments of 2008-09, when the rate of growth of GDP dipped to 6.8%. Coming just two years after the global meltdown, the government can claim this is unfair. The unfavourable macro-economic environment with a troika of high commodity prices, high inflation and high interest rates has made the job of steering the fiscal vehicle tough. But, in these circumstances, it is only fair that the government, instead of looking to perform an easier budget math at the end of the year, see the larger picture of the impact on the economy now.

In the circumstances, the finance ministry should budget for a lower growth in corporate and even direct taxes as inflation will not lead to these floating up to a higher level. A mapping of a rise in direct tax with high inflation periods will show that a one rupee rise in prices does not create a one rupee rise in direct tax. Customs will also be flat; excise and services will be the only ones to grow apace. In these circumstances, the government will be rash in sticking to its plans to raise expenditure on the major Plan programmes now by depending on the same level of market borrowing. It might achieve the projected level of fiscal deficit but at a higher cost to the economy. On a lower GDP base, it will increase debt-to-GDP and interest-payment-to-tax-revenue proceeds.

The two costs over which Mukherjee will have little control will be subsidy and interests. Right when the budget was tabled, analysts were surprised at the tight ship Mukherjee planned to run to keep his market borrowing under control. With oil way above the projected $100 a barrel (it came down yesterday), those numbers do not hold. The projections for the interest cost were also seen as under-statements, due for changes now. The other is the fancy idea of doing off-budget borrowing like the ways and means advance of R10,000 crore to partially lower the carrying cost of food grains for FCI. Those are now going to be more costly. An unplanned third is the Bill to recapitalise the public sector banks. These loose ends may now have to be plucked out of the budget.

If the finance minister avoids such course correction now, then, over the next few months, it is inevitable that we shall see his ministry instead change the numbers and assumptions for this fiscal's budget exercise one by one. But that is dishonest. Instead, the minister should take the opportunity to present a mini-budget in the next session to give the economy a sense of the new assumptions under which it should operate for the rest of the year.

At present, while the financial markets are sore over the sustained rise in RBI rates, the announcement of a revised and lower market borrowing will be a huge positive as it will clearly lead to a lower cost of funds.







The Electronic Service Delivery Bill, 2011, which aims at delivering all public services to citizens in the electronic mode, is a welcome piece of legislation. By eliminating paperwork on a massive scale, the new measure can cut the red tape and corruption that notoriously plague governance in the country. The draft Bill published by the Ministry of Information Technology at its website is similar to the Right to Information Act, 2005 in that it incorporates a complaints mechanism and prescribes penalties for failure to comply with the provisions. Importantly, it sets a five-year deadline for all public services to make the online transition, with a further concession of three years in some cases. What people can expect in the new dispensation is electronic submission of forms and applications, issue or grant of any licence, permit, certificate, sanction or approval, and receipt or payment of money. No time must be lost in enacting the law, given India's poor record of delivery of citizen services. Moreover, services now facing severe bottlenecks, such as passports, should be prioritised for electronic processing. The draft provisions make it incumbent on the central and State governments to publish a list within six months of the date of enactment, and they would do well to pick the worst-performing departments for inclusion first.

India badly needs a major initiative on electronic service delivery and e-governance. That it has done little to use Information and Communications Technology to help citizens is evident from its 119th rank among 192 countries in the United Nations E-Government Development Index 2010. Although there is no standardised measure of e-governance, the indicators used by the U.N. — online service availability, telecom infrastructure, and human capital — suggest that India is below the world average for the composite index. This underscores the need to get the electronic service delivery law in place urgently and to enforce it seriously. The experience with the RTI Act indicates that public support for modernisation will overwhelm any resistance from vested interests. What must be noted, however, is the continued failure of many government departments to disclose information pro-actively on the Internet, as laid down under the RTI Act. Successful e-government requires that citizens get maximum information, and are able to conduct online transactions and participate in decision-making. All this calls for wide access to online services in the form of kiosks and special centres. Rising India must make progress on each of these metrics, if it hopes to leave its colonial baggage of red tape behind.





Cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers, and chronic respiratory diseases account for 63 per cent (36 million) of all deaths globally. This is the finding of the World Health Organisation's global status report on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) for 2008, and the situation is unlikely to be very different today. The picture also runs counter to the general perception that such deaths are largely restricted to developed countries. In truth, nearly 80 per cent of deaths from NCDs occur in low- and middle-income countries (if Africa is kept out of the picture). Of the four chronic diseases, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are responsible for 80 per cent of all deaths. High blood pressure turns out to be the biggest risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. It caused an estimated 7.5 million deaths round the world. In India, according to estimates by the Public Health Foundation of India, about two million people die every year from cardiovascular diseases caused directly by high blood pressure. The rate of prevalence of high blood pressure is 24-30 per cent in urban areas and 12-14 per cent in rural areas. But the percentage of people aware of their condition is only 30 per cent in cities/towns and 10-12 per cent in villages. Shockingly, just about 10-12 per cent of those who have high blood pressure in urban areas and a mere 4-5 per cent in rural areas have it adequately controlled for their risks.

The New England Journal of Medicine reported last year that India would lose $237 billion over the next decade owing to non-communicable diseases. Prevention and control of these diseases is achievable, provided the government uses a little imagination to implement some effective low-cost population-wide interventions. Finland reduced the cardiovascular diseases mortality rate by 75 per cent, and Japan achieved a 70 per cent drop in strokes by mandating a reduction in salt content of packaged foods. Many countries have introduced chilling pictorial warnings on cigarette packets and are rotating them annually in keeping with WHO guidelines. But India has taken a retrograde step. Three years after introducing pictorial warnings in India, the warnings continue to be as ineffective as ever. The government recently decided to rotate the pictorial warnings every two years and allow the manufacturers to have the final say in the choice of pictures! As every physician knows, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and unhealthy diets figure high in the list of causative factors for NCDs. If individuals can be faulted for not adopting healthier lifestyles, the failure of the government to spread awareness is inexcusable.







"… It [the CBI] has always to do what is right and correct. For an investigating agency, there can be only one guiding beacon, only one gold standard, and that is the law of the land. Whoever transgresses it, however mighty, has to be brought to book."

Those were bold words indeed from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who also said on April 30, after inaugurating the new building housing the headquarters of the Central Bureau Investigation (CBI) in New Delhi, that the CBI should act without fear or favour. The premier criminal investigation agency needed more physical space to work in and a more congenial work environment for its 5,000-plus staff members. It has now got this reward after decades of hard and sustained labour under trying circumstances.

Nobody will ever grudge more facilities being given to the CBI to enable it to discharge its duties. Its workload has increased phenomenally over time: more than a thousand new cases are entrusted to it each year, and there is a huge backlog in courts in various parts of India. A larger workforce, and more tangible incentives for its officers to cope with the burden and proceed methodically with the work, are legitimate dues. The governments headed by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) have been more than generous in this respect, and both need to be complimented for their vision.

However, every government has its own resources crunch and cannot go on spending lavishly to buttress a criminal investigation agency. At the same time, lack of money should not prove to be a limiting factor, for the CBI needs to be made a top-class outfit that is on a par with the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States. Anything less does not match India's image as a growing force in the comity of nations. Subjecting the CBI severely to bureaucratic prescriptions of effecting economy in administration will be preposterous and disastrous.

The Prime Minister's assurance that his government would be generous in giving the organisation what it needs is gratifying. It is to be hoped that his top babus would not lag behind and that they would be forthcoming in implementing their leader's promises. It is known to many how a Secretary to the government can sabotage with impunity what his Minister promises.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that he would like to see a sleek CBI that acts without prejudice and avoids harassing innocent persons. These are words of wisdom that should influence even operatives at the lowest level in the agency and convince the people that despite occasional aberrations, the UPA government means well by the organisation. It is easy to be critical of the Executive for its efforts — often subtle, sometimes blatant — to influence the CBI's decisions in sensitive cases. The fact is that no political party is without blame in trying to arm-twist the CBI Director. Let us therefore not point fingers to indict this or that government as being more guilty of the obnoxious and questionable tactics that go with the pattern all over the world, of the Executive arm of the government trying to subjugate investigation agencies to suit its own caprice and will.

On its part, the CBI also has to do a lot of introspection and some spring-cleaning with regard to its internal processes in order not to give ammunition to its tendentious detractors. The one stick with which the agency is often beaten relates to its tendency to prolong investigations. The charge is not without basis. This is somewhat analogous to the accusations against the judiciary for not doing enough to speed up trials.

The apparent sloth in this area is explained by several factors. These include the non-availability of critical documents, non-receipt of expert opinion on the genuineness of documents, audio-video recording, and samples collected at the scene of a crime. Another factor is indolence on the part of Ministries in according permission to the CBI to initiate an enquiry/investigation and in sanctioning prosecution of a public servant once the CBI has garnered enough evidence to prove guilt.

Perhaps the most unjustified and deplorable among the fetters imposed on the CBI is the infamous 'single directive,' which found legal sanctity under the NDA government in 2003 through incorporation in the Central Vigilance Commission Act. (Under this Directive, the CBI needs the permission of the Ministry concerned before undertaking even a Preliminary Enquiry against an officer of and above the rank of a Joint Secretary.)

Equally relevant is the prolonged correspondence with foreign governments and courts in cases that require investigation on external soil. The Bofors investigation is a classic example. A whole book can be written on how, in this instance, red tape and protocol issues helped neutralise solid evidence of guilt and greed, built up over a decade through assiduous investigations.

There are many similar impediments that come in the way of the CBI being able to complete its investigations swiftly, especially in sensitive cases. If the CBI still managed to file two charge sheets recently in the 2G spectrum scam investigation, it is a tribute to its perseverance and hard-work. (No doubt, Supreme Court monitoring was earlier the prime mover that set off positive responses from the CBI.)

This does not, however, mask the fact that some CBI officers at all levels are themselves prone to lethargy. Fortunately, the number of such officers is not too large. This writer knows for a fact that supervisory officers of the CBI are driven hard to quicken the process of investigation in many cases, and a provision for periodic stocktaking by the Director himself is built into the system. The CBI owes it to society to speed up all its investigations, whether they are major or minor, by cutting out traditional requirements that do not have legal sanction.

In a number of cases, far too many witnesses are being examined and far too many documents summoned than are required. The agency has a well-equipped computer system, and this has to be harnessed to the maximum so that manual methods of storing and retrieving crucial data are jettisoned. Technology is not only the answer to subjectivity, but a tool to facilitate expeditious handling of matters that are intimately linked to a fair investigation.

None of this will, however, eliminate the widely held suspicion that the CBI is the handmaiden of the ruling party or alliance. This is why there is a clamour to free it from the dictates of the Executive. The Prime Minister said that the current crop of sensitive investigations (it was an obvious reference to the 2G spectrum scam, the Adarsh Society affair and the CWG scandal) would constitute a litmus test for the CBI.

The citizens of India will apply the same test to the Prime Minister in the matter of conferring near-total autonomy to the CBI. While the agency will depend on the government for logistic support, it will be accountable only to the law (read the Supreme Court and the High Courts), and no one else, in investigating cases and sending up the accused to the courts for trial.

Ensuring this will require the enactment by Parliament of a clear-cut CBI Act, a draft of which is being done by the CBI. (Several such drafts are languishing at the CBI headquarters or in North Block, for want of a political will.) If the elusive institution of the Lokpal does ultimately come into existence, the CBI ought to become a part of it to supervise its investigative functions. The Leader of the Opposition should also be involved in the choice of the Director of the CBI, just as in the case of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. Finally, it should be laid down that for five years after retirement a CBI Director shall not be eligible for any post to which the appointment is made by the government. This will greatly enhance his capacity to take a totally independent position, especially during his last days in office.

From what he said at the agency's new headquarters, there is no paucity of ideas for the Prime Minister to mull and implement. For this, he will have to assert himself against so many, both within his party and in the Opposition, who will not want an autonomous CBI. Posterity will judge Dr. Manmohan Singh on this issue, among many other issues that are critical to restoring decency in public life.

( The writer is a former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.)








Dozens of African migrants were left to die in the Mediterranean Sea after a series of European and NATO military units apparently ignored their cries for help, the Guardian has learned.

A boat carrying 72 passengers, including several women, young children and political refugees, ran into trouble in late March after leaving Tripoli for the Italian island of Lampedusa. Despite alarms being raised with the Italian coastguard and the boat making contact with a military helicopter and a NATO warship, no rescue effort was attempted.

Nearly all of those on board eventually died from thirst and hunger after their vessel was left to drift in open waters for 16 days. "Every morning we would wake up and find more bodies, which we would leave for 24 hours and then throw overboard," said Abu Kurke, one of only nine survivors. "By the final days, we didn't know ourselves ... everyone was either praying, or dying."

International maritime law compels all vessels, including military units, to answer distress calls from nearby boats and to offer help where possible. Refugee rights campaigners have demanded an investigation into the deaths, while UNHCR, the United Nation's refugee agency, has called for stricter cooperation among commercial and military vessels in the Mediterranean in an effort to save human lives. "The Mediterranean cannot become the wild west," said spokeswoman Laura Boldrini. "Those who do not rescue people at sea cannot remain unpunished." Her words were echoed by Father Moses Zerai, an Eritrean priest in Rome who runs the refugee rights organisation Habeshia, and who was one of the last people to be in communication with the migrant boat before the onboard satellite phone ran out of battery. "There was an abdication of responsibility which led to the deaths of over 60 people, including children," he claimed. "That constitutes a crime, and that crime cannot go unpunished just because the victims were African migrants and not tourists on a cruise liner." This year's political turmoil and military conflict in North Africa has fuelled a sharp rise in the number of people attempting to reach Europe by sea, with up to 30,000 migrants believed to have made the journey across the Mediterranean over the past four months. Large numbers have died en route; last month alone, more than 800 migrants of different nationalities who left on boats from Libya never made it to European shores and are presumed dead.

The boat of 72 set sail from Tripoli on March 25, carrying 47 Ethiopians, seven Nigerians, seven Eritreans, six Ghanaians and five Sudanese migrants. Twenty were women and two were small children, one of whom was just one year old.

The boat's Ghanaian captain was aiming for the Italian island of Lampedusa, 290 km north-west of the Libyan capital, but after just 18 hours at sea the small vessel began running into trouble and losing fuel.

Using witness testimony from survivors and other individuals who were in contact with the boat's passengers during its doomed voyage, the Guardian has pieced together what happened next.

The account paints a harrowing picture of a group of increasingly desperate migrants condemned to death by a combination of bad luck, bureaucracy and the apparent indifference of European military forces who had the opportunity to attempt a rescue.

The migrants initially used the boat's onboard satellite phone to call Father Zerai in Rome, who in turn contacted the Italian coastguard. The boat's location was narrowed down to about 100 km outside of Tripoli, and coastguard officials assured Father Zerai that the alarm had been raised and all relevant authorities had been alerted to the boat's situation.

Soon afterwards a military helicopter with the word "army" on its side appeared above the boat. The pilots, who were wearing military uniforms, lowered down bottles of water and packets of biscuits and gestured to passengers that they should hold their position until a rescue boat came to help. The helicopter then flew off, but no rescue boat ever arrived.

No country has yet admitted to sending the helicopter that made contact with the migrants. A spokesman for the Italian coastguard said: "We advised Malta that the vessel was heading towards their search and rescue zone, and we issued an alert telling vessels to look out for the boat, obliging them to attempt a rescue." The Maltese authorities denied they had any involvement with the boat.

After several hours of waiting, it became apparent to those on board that help was not on the way. The vessel had only 20 litres of fuel left, but the captain told passengers that Lampedusa was close enough for him to make it there unaided. It was a fatal mistake. By March 27, the boat had lost its way, ran out of fuel and was drifting with the currents. "We'd finished the oil, we'd finished the food and water, we'd finished everything," said Kurke, a 24-year-old migrant who was fleeing ethnic conflict in his homeland, the Oromia region of Ethiopia. "We were drifting in the sea, and the weather was very dangerous." At some point on March 29 or 30, the boat was carried near to a NATO aircraft carrier — so close that it would have been impossible to be missed. According to survivors, two jet planes took off from the ship and flew low over the boat while the migrants stood on deck and held the two starving babies aloft into the air. But from that point on no help was forthcoming. Unable to manoeuvre any closer to the giant aircraft carrier, the migrants' boat eventually drifted away. Shorn of supplies, fuel or means of contacting the outside world, they began succumbing one by one to thirst and starvation.

The Guardian has made extensive enquiries to ascertain the identity of the NATO aircraft carrier, and has concluded that it is likely to have been the French ship Charles de Gaulle, which was operating in the Mediterranean on those dates.

French naval authorities initially denied that the ship was in the region at that time. After being shown news reports which indicated this was untrue, a spokesperson declined to comment.

A spokesman for NATO, which is coordinating the military action in Libya, said that it had not logged any distress signals from the migrant boat and had no records of the incident. "NATO units are fully aware of their responsibilities with regard to the international maritime law regarding safety of life at sea," said an official. "NATO ships will answer all distress calls at sea and always provide help when necessary. Saving lives is a priority for any NATO ships." For the migrants, the failure of the NATO ship to mount any rescue attempt proved fatal; over the next 10 days, almost everyone on board died. "We saved one bottle of water from the helicopter for the two babies, and kept feeding them even after their parents had passed [away]," said Kurke, who survived by drinking his own urine and eating two tubes of toothpaste. "But after two days, the babies passed too, because they were so small." On April 10, the boat washed up on a beach near the Libyan town of Zlitan near Misrata. Of the 72 migrants who had embarked at Tripoli, only 11 were still alive and one of those died almost immediately on reaching land. Another survivor died shortly afterwards in prison, after Qadhafi forces arrested the migrants and detained them for four days.

Despite the trauma of their last attempt, the migrants — who are hiding out in the house of an Ethiopian in the Libyan capital — are willing to tackle the Mediterranean again if it means reaching Europe and gaining asylum there.

"These are people living an unimaginable existence, fleeing political, religious and ethnic persecution," said Father Zerai. "We must have justice for them, for those that died alongside them, and for the families who have lost their loved ones." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

(Additional reporting by John Hooper and Tom Kington in Rome, and Kim Willsher in Paris.)








It is strange that even the killing of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad, near Pakistan's capital, has failed to raise fundamental questions about the idea of creating Frankensteins in the name of strategic assets and the wisdom of the defence experts and strategic analysts. A cursory look at history since the end of the Second World War shows that strategic assets proved to be an albatross around humanity's neck: they played a key role in undermining legitimate political struggles across the globe. Yet the military narrative has not freed itself from the stranglehold of two fatally flawed ideas — strategic asset and strategic depth.

Before exploring the debilitating impact of these two terms —strategic asset and strategic depth — it is important to understand the origins of these terms. They were the product of the colonial imagination where the world was divided among the empires, and the geostrategic pivots determined the expansion or shrinking of any colonial power. One state was pitted against another and people became collateral damage even before the term could gain the current political currency. The Cold War invested the two terms with an entirely new meaning and scale of application and the damage done to peoples and countries across the world was incomparably greater.

West Asian authoritarianism, for example, is in part the creation of the notion of strategic asset in the form of oil reserves. Much has been written, by way of strategic analysis, about the role of the Soviet Union in Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. But its move into Afghanistan is the source of our present concern and the one that redefined international politics permanently. The United States, the Arab dictators, and Pakistan used the Soviet occupation as an excuse to create a political Islam that not only distorted the religion but also unleashed unprecedented violence against its perceived enemies and against itself. The Soviets left Afghanistan by February 1989 but the so-called 'liberators' never left the country, which has been under one form of occupation or another since 1979. The mujahideen and their jihads were supported, funded, trained, armed, and seen as great strategic assets that could provide strategic depth to bleed the opposition to death. This vision did not take into account the irreparable damage it would inflict upon the Muslim world in general and Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular.

Well-known Pakistani writer Zahid Hussain pointed out the cost to Pakistan during an India-Pakistan-Afghanistan editors' meet. He said: "I think 2007 was the turning point for Pakistan, when almost a dozen militant leaders got together and formed the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This group had a distinctive agenda of enforcing a so-called Sharia rule in the style of the Afghan Taliban — before that, the focus of the Pakistani militants had largely been on fighting the U.S. coalition forces across the border…. That also changed the perception of how the Taliban and the Afghan Taliban are tied together. It is not only the nexus between the TTP and al-Qaeda; there is also a growing nexus between the banned militant groups and the Taliban, and a new form of al-Qaeda that has emerged. I think probably al-Qaeda has taken a different form, which the Americans have failed to understand. The new al-Qaeda is largely Pakistani. Further, there is also distinction between al-Qaeda and the Taliban: TTP provides the recruits or suicide bombers, but al-Qaeda largely attracts educated Pakistanis who have not been a part of other militant organisations."

A tenuous peace process, weak governance, a security structure that is yet to gain the confidence or competence to tackle sectarian violence, growing doubts about whether to make a deal with the "good Taliban" or to break the "bad Taliban", and the wavering international commitment have made Afghanistan more vulnerable then ever before. There is an apprehension in Kabul that with the death of Osama bin Laden, the U.S. might not show the same intensity to wage its "war on terror" as its principal enemy has been eliminated. With multiple players trying to create their own strategic assets, Afghans fear that their country might once again be divided into myriad fiefdoms of warlords and drug mafia. The tragedy is Afghanistan today is much worse off than it was before the Soviet occupation and withdrawal.

This dangerous trend spilled over to India in the form of increased militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, a shocking terrorist attack on Parliament, the monstrous Mumbai carnage, to name just a few of the horrific experiences of the past decade and a half. It is not that India is free from delusions of strategic assets and the grandeur of strategic depth, despite every move backfiring badly — notably with respect to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. But that is another story.

Till the armed men from across the border reached the valley, a large number of informed Indians understood the Kashmiri struggle, and did not hesitate to criticise the government of India for rigging elections. They refused to accept the BJP's demand for the abrogation of Article 370, which confers a special status on Jammu and Kashmir. However, the overt militarisation of the State inspired by the strategic interests of Pakistan has hurt the people of Kashmir incalculably. In reality, the power enjoyed by J&K today is decisively lower than what was enshrined in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

The same is true for most of the Northeastern States as their special status has been hugely undermined by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the constant appointments of former Army Generals as Governors, who tend to wield more power than the respective Chief Ministers. India's new strategic interest in using its close relations with Myanmar's military junta to check China's reach to the Bay of Bengal has already taken a toll. The country has virtually ceased its support for the pro-democracy movement and its iconic leader Aung San Suu Kyi and no one knows what the fallouts will be.

The language of strategic asset reduces the ideas of home, state, country, and continent to movable pieces on the chessboard. It is a language that is never peopled; it has no capability to empathise or be poignant; it fails to understand pain; and it has no sense to understand the profound grief of any society that lost its liberal space to a variety of bigots. The security experts' idea of supremacy is directly pitted against the people's deepest dream of living fully while existing. To achieve this, we need to temper the power of the entrenched security establishments and retrieve the space for a larger political discourse.

(S. Panneerselvan is the Executive Director of Panos South Asia. Panos South Asia has been organising an annual editors' retreat that brings together the influential media personalities from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to increase the information flow to curtail the mutual trust deficit.)






Mathematicians are not known as a social bunch, but a new "WikiMaths" project is allowing anyone to join in their cutting-edge research. A study into the effectiveness of the world's first virtual mathematics project will be released this week.

It all started in 2009, when Cambridge mathematician Tim Gowers wrote about the possibility of an open online group allowing unprecedented numbers of people to work on the same problem, hopefully solving conundrums much more quickly. He suggested the "Hales-Jewett theorem" as a good first target.

Analogous to a complicated game of noughts and crosses played on a 4x4 cube in five dimensions, the theorem shows how many squares you would need to block to make it impossible to complete any straight lines. On a 3x3 grid, you can do this by blocking three squares; in five dimensions, things are a bit more complicated.

Truly collaborative

This theorem had already been proven, but the solution was long and complicated and no one had found a much-needed basic proof.

Contributions poured in — a staggering 1,228 significant comments across 14 blog posts with 39 people providing meaningful contributions. Within six weeks the answer had been found. It was published under the collective pseudonym "DHJ Polymath".

But was the process truly collaborative? Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, think so. Much of the work was done by professional mathematicians, but a number of smaller, vital contributions came from those without serious credentials.

The 39 contributors to the Hales-Jewett theorem solution ranged from the world's top mathematicians to secondary school maths teachers. Several seminal ideas came from inexperienced mathematicians. Which all means that the exercise could redefine who is considered a mathematician — and offer new insight into unsolved problems.

The researchers are presenting their results in Vancouver next week, while the "Polymath Project", as it now known, continues to work on seven different problems with more than 5,000 comments from 275 unique contributors. Why not join in at — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011







The bloody farmer-police clashes over land acquisition along Uttar Pradesh's Yamuna Expressway, spreading from Greater Noida to Agra and Aligarh, shows the issue still burns while the government fiddles. The land acquisition legislation it had drafted, which it hopes to table in the next session of Parliament, is, however, weighted against the poor — just as the initial Lokpal Bill official draft was soft on the corrupt. Last weekend's clashes in Greater Noida and elsewhere should remind us that enactment of a fair, equitable land acquisition law cannot be put on the backburner forever. The UP farmers were agitating since January for a fair compensation package: for the state to dismiss this as the work of mischief-makers and use brutal force against them is suicidal.
Land is, of course, needed for the nation to develop, and while ideally it should be acquired through market processes wherever possible, there will be occasions when the state must step in. The purpose of such a law is twofold: to ensure the state gets the land it needs for a public purpose — construction of a road, rail line or other infrastructure; and those who surrender it are paid its current market value, so they too enjoy the fruits of development. Too often, though, while land is acquired for one reason, it is then used for a different purpose: some people make a lot of money, but not those to whom it originally belonged. How hard would it be to ensure that if land is compulsorily acquired for a stated purpose, if later the state finds no further need for it, that it be returned to the owner at the price it was acquired at? This would ensure that those in authority do not use land acquisition laws for commercial exploitation through the backdoor!
The government could talk to civil society figures who have done pioneering work and have suggested alternative development paths. Take special economic zones: do they really ensure development, or are they a form of "land grab" by the powerful? It is estimated the 40 lakhs acres of land taken for SEZs has produced five lakh jobs with an investment of `100,000 crores — an expenditure of `20 lakhs per job. Its effect on people losing their land can be devastating: one West Bengal study shows a 45 per cent fall in access to work, 50 per cent rise in poverty, 60 per cent children leaving school to work to supplement family incomes, and women forced to become sex workers. This is not the development we need! It's a telling sign that the government still relies on a British colonial law of 1894, as amended in 1984, giving it the power to acquire land for private industry. The draft new bill only reinforces the colonial concept of "eminent domain" — compensation at market value, which the Supreme Court described as the registered price of the land in the preceding three years. It is an open secret across India that barely 40 per cent of land prices are registered. And what about backward areas? Do people there not have the same rights to live their lives with dignity — guaranteed to all under our Constitution? Since Independence till 2000, not even 20 per cent of those displaced for development have been resettled and rehabilitated. Do we really want to add to their numbers?
It will be interesting, incidentally, to see what line Mamata Banerjee, who in a matter of days might come to power in Kolkata, takes on the issue. Almost singlehandedly she stalled enactment of a law she considers unfair to poor farmers. Now that she is on the cusp of power in West Bengal, which like many other states desperately needs development, is there some rethink by her in the offing?







Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on six hydro-electric power projects in J&K State reveals total inefficiency and incompetence of the State Government in implementing very essential projects of power generation with the result that the entire system presents a story of collapse and abject chaos. One shudders on noticing the callousness of the authorities supposed to be running the entire power generating plans. The CAG has noticed time and cost overruns of incredible magnitude. The report reveals that all along the Government has been telling lies and cheating people. The excess expenditure on these six power generating projects escalated from 41 per cent to whopping 687 per cent adding up to Rs. 1,700 crores. The delays were from four to 16 years. The details of each project as given in the CAG report should, without loss of time, ask for legal prosecution of the concerned authorities for wasting public money and for breach of trust. As the very professionalism of the executives of the projects in question is under question, a commission of inquiry should be set up to fix responsibility and exemplary punishment be given to those on whom onus rests. No soft pedaling in the case will help. Giving details, the CAG report says there was a cost over-run of Rs 1,708.97 crore on six mini and major projects that detail project reports (DPR) had estimated involved a total expenditure of Rs 3,945.30 crore. The actual spending on these projects was Rs 5,654.27 crore. In a recent statement the PDC commenting on some snag in Baglihar II had said that there would be no cuts after the repairs are carried out by the German team. Now that the repairs have been carried out there is no improvement in power cuts whatsoever. And the truth about Baglihar is that the 450-MW Phase-I Baglihar project, which DPR estimates had envisaged, involved an expenditure of Rs 3,899 crore and would be completed in 2003, was completed and commissioned in 2009 after a delay of six years and cost escalation of Rs 1,611.09 crore, with total expenditure of Rs. 5,510.09 crore, Similarly, the Marpacho mini-hydel project, with a cost estimate of Rs 1.63 crore and completion schedule of 1990 as per the DPR, was completed in 2006 at a cost of Rs 11.21 crores with a cost overrun of Rs. 11.21 crore (687 per cent) and a delay of 15 years, There can be no sadder a commentary on our power production exercise. In summer Jammu is reeling under power cuts and in winter Kashmir is facing the same problem. If a mini project takes 16 years to complete, we should better write off the hope that a day will come when we will be self sufficient in power supply. All that one can say is that our power generating organization is in the hands of criminals and inefficient people who are playing with the sentiments of the people. We claim that India is going to be a super power in a decade or so. But keeping the negligible progress of our power development department in view, we should be justified to think that in next few decade our state will return to Stone Age. The CAG report is an eye opener although it makes one absolutely disappointed and hopeless about any improvement in the electric power supply in the state for another ten years. When this is the condition of power generation, what do we expect from the department in regard to modernization of technology of supply of electric power? Electric posts stand awkwardly in the midst of the road, most o them are dangerously tilting sideways and about to crash, low phased wiring results in recurrent power break down, low voltage spoils the electric home gadgets and so forth and so on. All this needs constituting a power commission of inquiry into the inefficiency and incompetence of the department, reasons for delay and escalation of cost and shabby supply system. CAG Report is an eye opener and civil society cannot take it lying low and let the power development responsible authorities laugh in heir sleeves as if nothing has happened or nothing is going to happen.
Jammu region has the potential to grow as the industrial hub of the state. Industry means regular power supply. When there is no assured supply of power, industries cannot expand and the result is that the battle against unemployment and poverty cannot be won. Electricity is the key to overall development of any state in the Union. Civil society has a right to demand regular and uninterrupted power supply throughout the year. Government cannot compromise on this right of the people.







A raid conducted by the police and security forces jointly on a militant hideout in the Kupwara jungle has unearthed a big cache of arms. According to sources militant hideout was busted in the Rajwar forest area of Handwara in Kupwara district by troops of 6 and 7-Rashtriya Rifles assisted by the police. Eight AK-56 and four AK-47 rifles, one Under Barrel Grenade Launcher, 40 UBGL grenades and 31 hand grenades were recovered from the hideout. The forces also recovered 10 IED boxes, 48 detonators, 25 switches, 30 meters cordex wire, 42 magazines of AK rifles, 694 AK ammunition and 63 PIKA rounds. In addition sophisticated navigation and communication equipment were also recovered from the hideout. This shows that the assertion of the 15 Corps Commander about terrorists assembling on the other side of the LoC and looking for an opportunity to infiltrate is based on hard facts of ground situation. Maybe some of them have already infiltrated. Ground situation shows that terrorists have fully escalated their subversive activities. The recent failed attempt on the life an Army General near Udhampur and the links of the conspiracy now disclosed by the police can give an idea of the magnitude of damage the ISI-sponsored militancy in Kashmir is contemplating. The ultras have become active in Kupwara and Rajouri-Poonch Range. They want to reinforce their so-called Pir Panchal division with its headquarters in Kishtwar-Doda region. There is likelihood of Pakistan trying hard to escalate tension along the LoC after it met with a shameful debacle in the decapitation of Osama bin Laden by the Americans. ISI, whose chief is absconding, is trying hard to restore its battered and mauled image. Keeping all these factors in view, it is important that our Government and security forces mount vigil on the movement of the militants who have adopted new tactics of subversion by roping in some policemen and insiders into their subversive schemes. We need to keep strict vigil on our borders and deny the in-coming terrorists any opportunity of pushing their agenda in Kashmir.








The bitter truth is: the poor elect the Government and the rich take the maximum advantage of it. The Government - both in the states and at the Centre - is of the rich and for the rich. Generally, three categories of people queue up before an election booth - the poor and the slum dwellers, the politically conscious common man and the political party workers. There is also another category - the celebs - who visits election booths for photo opportunity.
The poor and the working class representing both the below (BPL) and above the poverty lines (APL) with monthly income less than Rs. 10,000 each represent nearly 70 per cent of the country's population. Ironically, the average polling in most constituencies in the country rarely exceeded 70 per cent. Slum-dwellers, industrial workers, sweepers, government and semi-government employees, farm laborers, cycle-rickshaw pullers, auto-rickshaw drivers, petty businessman, traders, artisans, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, office clerks and accountants, students, teachers and media persons are among those most excited about participating in a franchise and casting their votes. It is from their elected representatives, Governments are formed in states or at the Centre. Candidates and their respective political parties spend maximum time and money to woo this band of voters before election. Door-to-door campaign by candidates is the order of the day. Independent candidates, without the support of any regional or main-stream political party, stand little chance to win assembly or parliamentary elections, these days. Although, the same may not be always true about strong 'dissident' candidates fighting election independently.
Once the elections are over and the winners and their allies, in the absence of a clear mandate for a single party, form the ministry and the Government. Thereafter, the people's representatives in the Government become off the limit of the people, especially of the poor and the common man. For this category, meeting a minister in his office chamber or at his official residence rarely provides a pleasant experience. Not many elected representatives, who become ministers and run Government, care to revisit their electorates before the next election is due. Instead, the corridors of power are thrown open to the hubris, the big business and their agents, big-time fixers and top Government suppliers who rarely cast votes. The hubris and their agents often have hands in the formation of coalition governments, selection of ministers and even allocation of ministries to their 'preferred' candidates. And, it would appear that the primary objective of the Government, thus formed, is to serve the hubris first. In the process, the Government is seen more as anti-people or least sensitive to the concerns of the common man it pretends to serve.
It seems the real beneficiary of the so-called popular democracy and the universal adult franchise in India are the politicians, businessmen and their agents, money managers, bureaucrats and the officialdom. The number of these classes of population, the wealth they possess or control and power they enjoy has vastly increased over the last sixty years of India's popular democracy. Demographically speaking, the vast increase in the population of these groups of highly privileged people, who may be branded as the rich, controlling over 80 per cent of the country's wealth, should have led to a sizeable reduction in the number of the poor. In reality, the reverse has taken place. The number of the poor and the common man had expanded several times in the last six decades, making the divide between the rich and the poor much wider and sharper than they were in the early 1950s, when the universal adult franchise first started. Since then, social injustice and inequity among the poor have become deeper.
If any single factor is responsible for the decline of the status of the poor and the increase in its number over the years, it is the apathy of our democratically elected representatives in the Government towards education, healthcare, social infrastructure and living-wage for the underprivileged. The state-funded free primary schools for the poor and Government-aided secondary education system are in total shambles in terms of quality and utility. Most Government hospitals and health centres, visited largely by the underprivileged, are generally a one-way traffic for patients. Those who manage to return home 'cured' often come back with secondary infection because of an extremely unhealthy condition and poor housekeeping in these Government hospitals and health centres. The least spoken about the social infrastructure and the level of sanitation and potable filter water connection in the areas dwelled by the underprivileged is the best. Incapable of or even unwilling to improve the quality of life of the underprivileged by efficiently managing the state-funded schools, health centres and social infrastructure, which would have certainly narrowed down the rich-poor divide, the elected governments by the poor are out to ominously privatise these services to the further misery of these social underdogs.
Thus, it would appear that the Government by the poor is not only off the poor, but also against the poor. The Government subsidy, which was originally designed for the benefit of the poor, had in fact helped the business community more through whom subsidy was disbursed to keep the prices of food, fuel, fertilizer and low-cost housing lower and affordable. What those poor and the underprivileged actually got was only a trickle. Now that the Government has been made to understand by its outdated laissez-faire oriented economists that the subsidy is a drain on the exchequer, the whole administration is on a pricing freedom mode, from petro-products, cooking gas, fertilizer and life-saving drugs to electricity and drinking water. This, along with rampant export of food articles and legalizing commodity futures and options trade, is fiercely adding to inflation. It seems our politicians and political parties, the left included, have taken the electorates for granted. There is hardly any real concern to improve the lot of those who religiously come to vote in every election to create governments in states and at the centre. The system may be considered safe as long as poverty, lack of education and fear of repression keep weakening the morale of this large section of the civil society. Till then, the oligarchy of the rich will continue to dominate the Government at the cost of poor democrats. (IPA)








Nepal will face, during the next thirty days, nail- biting moments of hope and despair as selected members of the 601-member Constituent Assembly (CA) struggle day and night to prepare a Constitution and get it approved by the House by May 28 at the latest.
May 28 is important because the CA got itself from the House a mandate to remain in office for one more year last year on this date in order that a new Constitution of Nepal could be written, and adopted by the House by May 28, 2011.
The original date for preparation of the Constitution and its adoption by the House was May 28, 2010 the second anniversary of the convening of CA and abolition of monarchy. The House had met, after elections, on May 28, 2008 first to do away with the monarchy and then resolve to write the constitution and get it approved by the House by May 28, 2010.
This could not be done and the Government then led by Madhav Kumar Nepal had sought and got from the House a year's extension till May 28, 2011. During this period the House had to adopt the new Constitution, In between, Mr. Nepal had to resign and was succeeded by Mr. Jhalanath Khanal of the same party (Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist or UML in short), However when eleven months already over, this Government and the CA has only about 30 days to write the new Constitution and adopt it. That is easier said than done and unless a miracle happens, it is more or less impossible for the CA and the political parties to accomplish this feat.
What can happen on May 28, if there is no Constitution in place? The Government headed by Mr. Khanal may seek another extension of the House by say one year. There will be only reluctance on the part of the Members to accede to that request.
If the House is not extended the second time, the very legitimacy of the Khanal Government will disappear It will not be compulsory for Government employees to obey the orders of an "unlawful" Government and chaos will prevail.
There are a number of other ethnic groups who too seek separate, self-governing States affiliated to the Centre. How does anybody reconcile with these demands before adopting a new Constitution?
As the D-date nears, there is palpable signs of nervousness all around. Loose talks of military takeover are, fortunately not yet heard. However, if the Mohan Vaidya faction lays stress on "people's revolt", things will be very difficult for the Government and the Army to maintain the unity and integrity of Nepal.
In such a context, there are talks among certain sections of politicians to return to the monarchical system. Responsible people have been stressing that in a monarchy there would not be any instability in the system. However, return to the past is unlikely to be a favourable slogan, among most politicians. They point out that it was the monarchy in the first place which had introduced instability in the polity by dismissing the democratically-elected Government led by B.P. Koirala on December 15, 1960. He had introduced the Panchayat system which was hated by all people loving democracy. They had launched an agitation in 1989 against this system which had resulted in its abolition by King Birendra.
This benevolent King had re-introduced parliamentary democracy. However, after he and most members of his family were assassinated by his crown prince Deependra on Jun1, 2001(who too had perished) it was Gyanendra who had become the King. He had added to the mess by dismissing an elected Government on Feb 1, 2005 and had formed Government whose members were diehard monarchists. That experiment had miserably failed and after some years, he was ousted as the King on May 28, 2008. Monarchy cannot be the substitute for democracy in the 21st century, people say. In the meantime, people wait with bated breath for May 28, 2011. (NPA)






Surprisingly, India stands out as one of the few countries in the world that have not acceded to the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). This convention, which came into force in 2005, has 140 countries. India, which regularly battles corruption of mammoth proportions, has not yet ratified the convention even after six years.
India signed the convention in 2005 but the UPA Government has steadfastly refused to ratify it. The official reason is that India has not yet brought its domestic laws in line with the international Convention. However, it has been about six years and there has been little interest by the government in making India less prone to corruption. The stand of India is particularly strange since many Indian diplomats helped to pilot the Convention through the UN.
In a major breakthrough, countries agreed on asset-recovery, which is stated explicitly as a fundamental principle of the Convention. This is a particularly important issue for many developing countries like India, where high-level corruption has plundered the national wealth, and where resources are badly needed for reconstruction and the rehabilitation of societies and poor. The Convention entered into force on 14 December 2005, in accordance with its article 68 (1).
Acceding to the Convention could have made it easier for India to repatriate the billions of dollars in ill-gotten wealth that have been stashed overseas. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has found himself in complex negotiations with Leichtenstein, Switzerland and Germany to bring back looted assets. Under the Convention, asset recovery is a fundamental principle, Article 51 provides for the return of assets to countries of origin as a fundamental principle of this Convention.
Countries agreed to cooperate with one another in every aspect of the fight against corruption, including prevention, investigation, and the prosecution of offenders. Countries are bound by the Convention to render specific forms of mutual legal assistance in gathering and transferring evidence for use in court
Corrupt can be prosecuted after the act, but first and foremost, it requires prevention. An entire chapter of the Convention is dedicated to prevention, with measures directed at both the public and private sectors. These include model preventive policies, such as the establishment of anticorruption bodies and enhanced transparency in the financing of election campaigns and political parties. States must endeavour to ensure that their public services are subject to safeguards. Public servants would have to be subject to codes of conduct, requirements for financial and other disclosures and appropriate disciplinary measures.
The Convention criminalises not only basic corruption such as bribery and the embezzlement of public funds but also trading in influence and the concealment and laundering of the proceeds of corruption. According to UN literature, "offences committed in support of corruption, including money-laundering and obstructing justice, are also dealt with. Convention offences also deal with the problematic areas of private sector corruption."
According to PRS Legislative Research, which provides research support on legislative and policy issues, prosecution is dismally low because the Government delays sanctioning prosecution of public servants.
Till the end of 2010, the Centre had not responded to 236 requests for prosecution by various agencies. Of these, 155 requests (66 per cent) had been pending for over three months. State governments were no better. There was no response to 84 requests for prosecution, of which 13 (15 per cent) were pending for more than three months.
The institutions set up to tackle corruption cases speak another story. The Central Vigilance Commission, which tackles corruption cases in the Central Government, took up only six per cent cases for prosecution between 2004 and 2009. The rest, 94 per cent, were settled with departmental penalties only.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the main investigative agency, is grossly under-staffed. As of December 2010, 21 per cent of the sanctioned posts in it were lying vacant. The criminal justice system, too, cuts a sorry figure. As of end-2010, there were 9,927 CBI cases pending in courts. Of these, 2,245 cases (23 per cent of the total) for more than 10 years.
Why has the UPA Government not ratified UNCFC even after having become signatory of the convention for the last six years? Because it has no intention of changing country's legislation in conformation to the Convention where the politicians, bureaucrats and other private parties need to be included for prosecution and the money embezzled/stashed out of the country has to be recovered from the culprits.
The present Lokpal Bill pending in the Parliament for the last 42 years has not been passed being toothless. It is only a recommendatory authority having no prosecution powers to deal with the corrupt. Even that has also not been passed by the Government for the obvious reasons.
That is why Anna Hazare had to fast unto death (98 hours) till the Government agreed to bring the Jan Lokpal Bill in the monsoon session of the Parliament. The Committee to draft the Bill will consist five members each from civil society of Anna non-tainted Ministers from the government side by June 30th 2011.
Anna's draft bill states that Lokpal will be appointed at the centre after the Jan Lokpal Bill is passed by 15th August 2011. He will be a constitutional authority like Chief Election Commissioner of India and Controller and Auditor General of India. In each and every state, Lokayukta will be appointed. In this Bill all politicians including the Prime Minister and all bureaucrats will be included who will be charged directly by Lokpal for their alleged corrupt deeds. The money involved in the embezzlement cases/stashed out of the country illegally will be recovered from them besides imprisonment depending on the seriousness of the charges.
The Lokpal wil bring all alleged parties to trial in case of corruptions within one year and within two years the guilty will be punished. Not like, Bofors scam or Bhopal Gas Tragedy cases that have not been resolved for the last 25 years without any result.










THE farmers' agitation demanding higher compensation for the acquisition of land in Uttar Pradesh for the Yamuna Expressway project had erupted last year, but had petered out after Chief Minister Mayawati threatened to drop the townships that were proposed to be built alongside it. But it has been revived with a vengeance, with violent clashes breaking out between the police and the agitators in Greater Noida area on Saturday and also Aligarh, Mathura and Agra later. Four persons have died, including two policemen. This is rather intriguing, because in some areas the acquisition was complete last year and the compensation had been paid. That gives the Mayawati government a chance to say that the agitation has been politically orchestrated.


A national land acquisition policy is the need of the hour. Right now if a particular price is paid at a specific place, say Greater Noida, where high market rates prevail due to its proximity to Delhi, a similar price is demanded all along the highway. That is why there is a clamour for higher compensation even at Aligarh and Agra. Even otherwise, the compensation that the government pays does not keep pace with prevailing market rates.


Once an agitation becomes violent, truth becomes the first casualty. While the agitators have accused the police of high-handedness, the latter has blamed the protesters for using firearms freely. Charred crops and vehicles of villagers and serious injuries to Greater Noida's District Magistrate Deepak Aggarwal, SSP S.N. Singh and many other policemen are indicators that neither side can claim to be innocent. There are also allegations that policemen misbehaved with women. On the other hand, it is also a fact that police vehicles were set on fire, as also the camp office of a construction company. The situation should be defused quickly lest it snowballs further and stalls the ambitious 165-km Rs 9,739-crore project, which can greatly reduce the travel time between Delhi and Agra and also lead to industrialisation of this belt. This is perhaps the first time that a Rs 50,000-reward has been declared for the arrest of a farmer leader, Manveer Singh Teotia.









THE joint drafting committee on the Lokpal Bill has rightly evolved a consensus on bringing the IAS, IPS and other civil services officers within the ambit of the Lokpal Bill. This is a refreshing development because corrupt bureaucrats have been getting away all along by twisting laws and subverting the system. It is noteworthy that the committee has decided to review the laws that have drawn flak for shielding corrupt bureaucrats. As a first step, once the Lokpal Bill is duly enacted by Parliament, the Lokpal may not need the Centre's prior permission for prosecution of a bureaucrat of and above the rank of a Joint Secretary to the government. Significantly, the drafting committee has decided to examine in this context amendments to Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPEA). Under the DSPEA, the CBI cannot prosecute an official in a corruption case without the Centre's sanction.


Corruption in administration has increased so much that it must be tackled on a war footing. If the latest proposal is pursued to its logical conclusion, as many as 300 corrupt bureaucrats could face speedy prosecution. And this will, certainly, make a lot of difference to the quality of administration and governance. However, the powers that be should tread with caution and utmost circumspection so that the roles, powers and functions of existing institutions like the Central Vigilance Commissioner and the CBI do not clash and/or overlap with those of the Lokpal. The higher judiciary's role in the new Lokpal regime should also be properly defined. While the Centre is yet to take a stand on this issue, the civil society activists have reportedly extended an "olive branch" to the government by maintaining that all judicial-related matters will be referred to a seven-member Lokpal Bench first.


Another issue of consideration is the repeal of Article 311 of the Constitution which has protected the corrupt and non-performing civil servants from punishment. Because of the safeguards in this Article, most cases go in favour of the delinquent civil servants. True, it was amended in 1976, permitting a penalty to be imposed on the basis of evidence. However, even in the amended form, the safeguards tend to protract the proceedings indefinitely. If a Committee of Secretaries will have to inquire into the charges of corruption against a Secretary first before his prosecution, it must be given a timeframe to complete the inquiry so as to facilitate expeditious prosecution.











Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was a true renaissance man — multifaceted; dreamer, thinker, and a doer. No other person could bring such recognition to Indian culture in its entirety, as he did. He was at home in the world, without losing his unique Indianness. After 150 years of his birth, if his poetic renderings are used by young men to woo their lasses, by grieving souls to get over loss of life, and by politicians in campaign speeches, his thoughts on education, nationalism and women's emancipation turn out to be prescient.


Even while the world around him was engaged in fierce battles of national freedom, he understood the folly of extreme nationalism. To him cultures changed along the flow of river, they need not be restricted within the boundaries of barbed wires. As democracies mature and humanity evolves, a realisation dawns that his verses express a universal aspiration, which is not only utopian. The world is gradually inching towards a reality," Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depth of truth; Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection…" Tagore was a visionary who could foresee the relevance of translations in a world where ideas need to flow freely. By translating Geetanjali into English, he gave the world the benefit of reading a mystic's perspective on life which reflects beauty, love and compassion. He was the first one to introduce the saint poet Kabeer to the English speaking world by translating his poetry. On his 150th birth anniversary, the government would pay a befitting tribute to this poet laureate by promoting this much neglected aspect of our cultural ecology. The exhaustive body of his works need to be understood with the help of quality translations. Because those who do not understand Bengali and are deprived of a song like jodi tor dak sune keo na ase… fail to know what it feels to be led through the journey of life by such power of words that can take away weariness. And make one smile through all the seasons of life.









Osama bin Laden's end at the hands of the Special Forces of the United States in his hideout near Abbottabad in Pakistan has several lessons to learn for India.


Al-Qaida's carefully planned operations leading to the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, resulting in the death of over 3000 persons, as also targeting of the Pentagon on the same day were the main events for which Osama's terrorist outfit is remembered. The attack on the World Trade Centre was a shocking experience to the American people and the US establishment alike.


Since then the US had been working out ways and means of hunting down Osama. The Tora Bora mountain area between Afghanistan and Pakistan had been intensely bombed. There was no trace of Osama, and there were many theories of his escape to Afghanistan or beyond. In the nationwide broadcast of Obama on May 2, President Barack Obama told the Americans and others that soon after he assumed office he had directed intensification of the efforts to trace Osama and bring him to justice. CIA chief Leon Panetta intensified his efforts and eventually zeroed in on his whereabouts in the outskirts of Abbottabad , the garrison town of Pakistan, not far from Islamabad. The hideout of Osama was a specially constructed building with tall walls. It had no telephone or Internet connection.


Osama had a couple of couriers through whom he maintained links with the outside world. With the special forces stationed in Pakistan and the drones which operated from there, full coverage of the hideout of Osama was available. The strike was planned between the midnight and 3 a.m. on May 2, and two helicopters with special naval forces called Seals were dispatched and they completed the operations within 40 minutes. Osama himself was shot dead when he reportedly opened fire on the US forces.


As for the lessons to be learnt from the American operations leading to the death of Osama bin Laden, the most important one is to have a clear policy as to how to deal with the principal accused in the concerned case; how to deal with him or them.


But is India in a position to carry out an operation of this type? The answer is regrettably in the negative. India has been the victim of a series of attacks by terrorists and jihadi elements over the years. Among such incidents were the serial blasts carried out in Mumbai in 1993 by the henchmen of Dawood Ibrahim. These attacks were said to be in retaliation for the demolition of Babri Masjid in December 1992, and the entire operation in Mumbai was carried out under the direction of the ISI of Pakistan.


Dawood Ibrahim is known to be living in his own palatial quarters in Karachi, which is very much within the knowledge of Pakistan. He frequently visits Dubai and his name is also there on the list of international terrorists put out by the US. To the several demands over the years by India, Pakistan has blandly asserted that Dawood Ibrahim did not live in that country, and India had done nothing beyond making appeals. In a situation like this, what would be the reaction of a country like Israel if it were faced with a similar predicament? It would have sent out an expeditionary force by helicopter or any other means and nabbed or eliminated him.


The next case to be analysed was the attack on Parliament in 2001 by the Jaish-e-Mohammed, founded by Masood Azhar. In December 2001, the Parliament building was attacked resulting in the death of some security men. Among those who were arrested and prosecuted were Afzal Guru, whose death sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court. His execution is pending since his mercy petition to the President of India remains undisposed of. Apart from this, the A.B. Vajpayee government massed troops in the Northern Command in a show of force to Pakistan. It gave the impression that a limited attack against Pakistan as a punitive measure was imminent. However, international pressure came forth, resulting in the return of the amassed troops to their normal locations. Masood Azhar remains active in Pakistan and there is nothing India can do about it.


The attack on Mumbai on Nov 26, 2008, by LeT terrorists was the most serious of them all. Nearly 300 people were killed in this carefully planned attack by the LeT jihadis under the overall direction of the ISI. The evidence provided by David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana regarding the role of ISI in the attack on Mumbai has been recorded in a Chicago court in the US. Subsequently, the US included the ISI among the terrorist groups operating from Pakistan.


Ajmal Kasab, one of the Mumbai attackers captured alive, was sentenced to death by a Mumbai court after due trial. Several dossiers have been passed on to Pakistan on the case and full evidence had been provided regarding the role played by the ISI . US prosecutors had charged four Pakistanis, including Major Iqbal of the ISI, in connection with the Mumbai terrorist carnage. This list includes ISI commando Ilyas Kashmiri, a retired Pakistan military man, Abdur Rahman, Hashim Sayed and Tahawwur Hussain Rana.


LeT founder Hafiz Saeed remains active in Pakistan. At the last Kashmir Solidarity Day function, an annual feature in Pakistan, Hafiz Saeed spoke in favour of an all-out war against India over Kashmir. He said if even nuclear weapons should be used against India. Saeed has a big establishment at Muridke, on the outskirts of Lahore. In a situation like this, where Pakistan has taken no action against Saeed and other LeT activists who had played active role in the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, does India have any other option apart from pressing for action during periodical meetings between the Secretaries of India and Pakistan and exchange of correspondence between the Foreign Ministers? The answer is regrettably in the negative.


Around 2005, Osama Bin Laden had his mansion constructed on the outskirts of Abbottabad with 18 ft. high walls, and he had prohibited telephone and Internet connections. It is difficult to believe that the Pakistan Army and its ISI did not know of Osama's hideout in this palatial house during the past five years. The CIA chief said that it was difficult to believe that Osama did not have a supporting system during these five years and that Pakistan was not aware of the same. Pakistan was, therefore, not kept in the loop by the US when Operation Geronimo, as the Osama operation was called, was put into motion. Pakistan was informed only after the operation was over. President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan have since asserted that they did not know where Osama was living.


Taking into account all these factors, the Indian political establishment as well as the security agencies should revise their thinking and be realistic about facing problems which may emerge in the future with Pakistan.


Pakistan continues to assert that Kashmir remains the main problem between India and Pakistan. Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani has gone on record that his approach remains India-centric.


India should be realistic enough to understand that more attacks like the one on 26/11 on Mumbai by jihadi elements under the guidance of the ISI cannot be ruled out, and India should take all steps to anticipate them and take adequate preventive measures.


The writer, a former Governor of UP and West Bengal, was the chief of the Intelligence Bureau.









I write with a fair amount of regularity. But what I write has always been modestly successful and never been worthy of making it to the bestseller list. But my deep and abiding awareness of my severe limitations as a writer has not prevented me from having an occasional and fierce desire of wanting to write a bestseller. During one of these delusions of grandeur, I hit upon what I felt was a surefire formula for a bestseller. I roped in two of my colleagues and they too were enthused by the project.


We first found a Barbara Cartland novel which had had about three dozen reprints. It was one of the standard Barbara Cartland romances about a tall dark and handsome hero from an aristocratic family and the beautiful, naïve daughter of a tenant farmer. The romance went through the usual ups and downs but true love finally triumphed. We took the basic plot and, in what we considered a highly creative set of meetings, transposed it to an Indian setting, with the dark hero becoming fair and other such suitable transformations. We added episodes of violence and sex which we thought are mandatory for a bestseller. Then we parcelled out the chapters between us and got down to the serious matter of writing. We would meet after each chapter had been written and try to bring some uniformity to the style. Looking back I think we succeeded admirably.


Once we had a complete manuscript we persuaded another colleague, from the Hindi Department, to translate the manuscript into Hindi. Of course, everything was official and an agreement had been drawn up and signed in which each of us would have a 25 per cent share in the millions that would accrue to us by way of royalty.


We found a publisher. Our translator colleague made a trip to Lucknow to negotiate the terms and sign the agreement. Of course, the fact that the book had been published under a pseudonym took some of the gloss off our achievement.


We waited with bated breath: we did not have long to wait. By the end of the year the book had had five reprints, had been translated into Urdu and the film rights had been sold. Our millions came in the shape of a cheque for the princely sum of Rs 7,857: the publisher claimed that each print order had been of a hundred copies and that according to the contract the translation and film rights had been made over to the publisher in return for his agreeing to publish the novel!


We knew that our translator colleague had stolen from us, but then in a sense, the entire venture had originated in a theft. I have never again made a deliberate attempt at writing a bestseller but that doesn't keep me from hoping, once in a while, for the miracle that will transform one of my modest attempts at writing into one.









Often we witness convulsions in our body politic, which are indeed the outward symptoms of some brewing, real or perceived, sense of social injustice from within. There has been distressing disquiet on the issue of reservations. In 1990, there was relatively a prolonged spell of protests and agitations on the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report that affirmed the initiation of affirmative action under the Indian law. The precipitant forms of those protests were bandhs (a version of a strike), hartals (a version of a municipal shutdown), and dharnas (a version of swarming). The issue involved was the seat reservations and quotas in government services and educational institutions for people who were "socially and educationally backward" to redress caste discrimination.


After a lull, the situation became explosive when the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act of 2006 (No.5 of 2007) was enacted in pursuance of the Constitution (Ninety-third Amendment) Act, 2005. Through this law 15 per cent reservation of seats in central educational institutions was sought for the Scheduled Castes, 7.5 per cent for the Scheduled Tribes, and 27 per cent for the OBCs, which have been defined as Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs) of citizens.


Emotive issue


In this respect, when the medical services were paralysed by the striking medical doctors in premier medical institutions, particularly those located in New Delhi, the modicum of law and order was restored only with the Supreme Court's intervention. Alongside, since the emotive issue of reservation impinged upon the interest of the millions of citizens, for its faster resolution, the Supreme Court clubbed all the writ petitions challenging the validity of the reservation law before the different Benches into one case, Ashok Kumar Thakur, to be considered by the Constitution Bench led by the Chief Justice of India.


Most recently, the Jat community mainly from Haryana, Rajasthan and parts of Uttar Pradesh have held protests for the inclusion of their castes within the ambit of OBCs for quotas in Central government jobs. When the protests turned violent causing loss to private and public property, and disrupted the free flow of essential goods of life, the Supreme Court intervened and directed the state governments to take suitable steps to ensure that the supply and transportation of essential commodities, including milk, food and fuel from one place to another was not affected.


Later, a Division Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Kanwaljit Singh Ahluwalia directed the Jat leaders to desist from disrupting movement of trains. For due compliance of their order, the Bench directed the concerned Deputy Commissioners to serve a copy of the directions to the leaders concerned.


One might construe such judicial interventions into the affairs of the state as acts of judicial activism. However, despite the separation of powers, the judiciary is obligated to review the acts of commissions and omissions of the executive and the legislature, apart from its own, on the touchstone of the Constitution. In the instant case, when the executive failed to restore train traffic for days, the judiciary had to step in.


What did the Punjab and Haryana High Court do? Did it deny the right of the agitators to protest? Did it question the legitimacy of the protestors' claim? And did it devalue the concept of reservation? Nothing of this sort was done. Instead, it took the judicial notice of the "large-scale disruption of train movement, including the movement of trains on the Delhi-Chandigarh route" that fall within its territorial jurisdiction.


Resultantly, it observed that "we are of the view that different agitating groups who may have a right to agitate for the redress of their just grievances have to limit the modes of agitation within the parameter of law, without adversely affecting the national interest." With this prefatory statement, the Judges directed the leaders who were spearheading the present agitation in clear and categorical terms to "exclude the blockades of train from their agitational programme with immediate effect."


Statute commandment


Lest the court's directive should be misconstrued as unwarranted intrusion into the territory of the executive, the Judges did remind the government that "since maintenance of law and order is the function of the state," "primarily" it was their duty and not that of the courts "to handle situations like the present," and decide "as to how such situations should be best handled."


Judicial feat has done the job! The order has prompted the Haryana government to set up a three-member Backward Classes Commission headed by Justice K.C. Gupta to consider the legitimacy of the claims to reservations of various segments of society such as Jats, Tyagis, Rors and Bishnois. In fact, the creation of an inclusive social order, envisaging the system of governance in which the people of all segments of society are empowered to get equal opportunity to participate is a constitutional commandment. The Preamble of our Constitution conveys that, alongside justice, liberty and equality, we have promised to secure to all its citizens fraternity, by assuring the dignity of the individual and national unity and integrity.


However, for realising the inclusive social order when the founding fathers of the Constitution juxtaposed the provision of reservation with the principle of equality under Articles 15 and 16, it was a challenge to reconcile the notion of reservation with that of equality when seemingly the former militates against the latter.


The Supreme Court, as the final exponent of the Constitution under Article 141, has finally resolved the seeming contradiction. True, it took quite some time to do this. Jurisprudentially, I do decipher at least four distinct, and yet closely related, phases.


The first phase represents the view when the apex court read the constitutional mandate, say, under clause (4) of Article 16 (that expressly prompts the state to make 'any special provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens, which in the opinion of the state, is not adequately represented in the services under the State') as an exception to the general principle of equality enshrined in clause (1) of the same article (which proclaims that there shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office). (See, for instance, M.R. Balaji v. State of Mysore, 1963 Supp. 1 SCR 439 at 455.) The implication of the rule of 'exception' is that provision of reservation is to be invoked only restrictively and not as a matter of course because it negates the equality principle.


The second phase comes into picture when attempt is made to regard reservation not as an exception to, but quite independent of, the principle of equality. This view is reflected in the powerful dissenting judgement of Subba Rao, J. in T. Devadasan v. Union of India and Another, 1964(4) SCR 680.


Equality principle

The third phase emerges when social and educational backwardness of the weaker sections of society becomes "one of the forms of classification" for applying the principle of equality under Articles 15 or 16 of the Constitution. This stance is reflected in the exposition made by the Seven- Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in N.M. Thomas case (1976).


The fourth phase represents the complete integration of the policy of reservation with the principle of equality, which operates on the basic premise of 'likes should be treated alike'. This culmination finds expression when it is held that the provision of reservation under Article 15 is "neither an exception nor a proviso" to the equality principle, but "an instance of classification inherent in clause (1), and an emphatic restatement of the principle implicit in clause (1) of Article 15."


This position has been clearly articulated by Justice Raveendran in the Five-Judge Bench decision of the Supreme Court in Ashok Kumar Thakur (2008). In effect, for all intents and purposes, what is stated in relation to Article 15 equally applies to Article 16 for comprehending connectivity or integrity between the two conceptions of equality and reservation.


This restatement of the principle of equality assimilating the concept of reservation is conducive to the creation of inclusive social order, because it does neutralise or negate the mindset against the issue of reservation to a great extent. However, with this shift in conceptual basis the taxing task before the commission to be appointed under Article 340 of the Constitution is not over. It is still required to determine the legitimacy of the claims of various agitating caste groups.


Unarguably, caste alone cannot be the basis of reasonable classification for the application of equality principle. That would make India more caste-ridden instead of a casteless society. In this respect, the Gupta panel would do well to remember the functional mode of determining the socially and educationally backward classes of citizens as commended by the nine-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney I (1992).


The writer is Director (Academics), Chandigarh Judicial Academy, Chandigarh. He is a former Professor and Chairman, and UGC Emeritus Fellow, Department of Laws, Panjab University

Tasks before the JUSTICE GUPTA Commission

  • The Justice K.C. Gupta Commission should identify the castes for conferring reservation benefits not arbitrarily but in a transparent and rational manner, say, after holding public hearings and on the basis of authentic detailed data with regard to their social, educational and economic conditions, collected through elaborate questionnaire prepared by it and the responses received.In terms of judicially approved methodology, the commission may follow the three-step exercise:
  • Mark out the various occupations, which on the lower level in many cases amongst Hindus would be their caste itself, as in the case of Bhangis (ex-untouchables), Telis, Chamars, etc.
  • Find out their social acceptability and educational standard. A person carrying on scavenging, for instance, becomes an untouchable, whereas others who are as low in the social strata as untouchables become a depressed class.
  • Weigh them in the balance of economic condition. The economic criteria or means-test should be applied since poverty is the prime cause of all backwardness, as it generates social and economic backwardness.
  • The resultant effect would yield the determinant of backwardness requiring the special constitutional protection through reservation. In the application of this criterion, the Supreme Court has, however, cautioned that mere educational or social backwardness is not sufficient as it would unduly enlarge the field, thus frustrating the very purpose of reservation policy meant for weaker sections of society. The backwardness should be "traditional," that is, owing to the factors of 'historical discrimination' over which you do not have any control.
  • The commission should bear in mind that if a particular caste has been identified as a conglomeration of persons, who could be called 'socially and educationally backward class of citizens' on the touchstone of judicially evolved three-step formula, it should still exclude the creamy-layers amongst them, else the very basis of reservation policy would become suspect, and the creation of inclusive social order a distant dream. — Virendra Kumar




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A recent statement by Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of China's central bank, that China's foreign exchange reserves "exceeded reasonable requirements" has generated consternation in global financial circles. This opinion has been repeated with increasing candour in recent months in China's academic and policy circles, generally considered very close to the government, if not under its direct control. However, to date, the Chinese authorities have acted with restraint for fear of disrupting global financial markets. China's foreign exchange reserves crossed the $3 trillion mark in March 2011, driven by an annual trade surplus of $200 billion, which is considerable, even if lower than in previous years. Since the reserves are mostly dollar-denominated, it makes China vulnerable to a decline in the dollar's value. To hedge against this possibility, the Chinese authorities have diversified their portfolio by increasing their exposure to Asian and European debts, although in quantities not large enough to alarm financial markets. For the first time, China has eased its tight restrictions on export earnings, which required exporters to repatriate all hard currency earnings.

Informed analysts place China's optimal reserve requirements anywhere between $800 billion and $1.3 trillion. China has already initiated steps to rationalise its present corpus to these levels. Though plans to invest the foreign exchange to develop domestic infrastructure have been shelved for fear of stoking inflation and adding to overcapacity, Chinese authorities are pursuing other avenues such as buying high technology (both civilian and military), buying strategic resources, expanding overseas investment and increasing domestic social-sector spending. The benefits are evident.


China's restraint so far is largely a manifestation of enlightened self-interest. Dollar depreciation would diminish the value of its holdings, lead to higher interest rates in the US and raise commodity prices, stoking inflation the world over. It could easily derail the nascent global economic recovery and even trigger another recession. Such an outcome will disproportionately hurt China, considering its economy is closely intertwined with world economy. The unilateral moves by China are, thus, a sign of the growing impatience with the US' unwillingness to get its act together. The US' public debt has reached 100 per cent of GDP and shows no sign of a let-up. China is also signalling its willingness to confront the US, if it is required to protect its interests.

Enlightened self-interest of another kind would be needed to ameliorate the precarious global situation. The US will have to do everything possible to curb its public debt and trade deficit. On the other hand, China will have to increase its share of domestic consumption in GDP. To be fair to the Chinese authorities, they have made an honest attempt to undertake reforms that would spur domestic consumption. These include the abolition of agricultural taxes in rural areas, expanding the scope of credit markets and lowering consumption taxes. It would be unrealistic to expect the renminbi to appreciate significantly from current levels. Exports (along with investment) remain a very important component of China's economy. More importantly, the employment they generate holds the key to social stability. Regardless of the actual steps taken to reduce the size of the forex tranche, a $2 trillion reduction is bound to have global ramifications.






The long search for an effective system to target subsidies on food, fertiliser and fuel has finally ended with the Planning Commission accepting the idea of an Aadhaar-based rechargeable smart card. Ideas like direct cash transfers and food stamps have been rejected in favour of the Aadhaar smart card. The new proposal can help target the food subsidy with the tamper-proof biometric cards – Aadhaar unique identity cards – being issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). What sets it apart from most of the other Aadhaar-based methods mooted earlier is the inscription of households' entitlement on the cards and, more significantly, the choice it offers to the intended beneficiary who can use it for buying any food item, be it cereal, milk, eggs, or fish, from either ration shops or other designated stores. This ends the monopoly of the ration shops as the final delivery point and allows the smart card to be used only by the owner against purchase of food items. It, therefore, minimises the scope for leakages and diversion of grains in the distribution process and even its misuse for buying non-food items by individual beneficiaries.

There would surely be some implementation issues, but these can be handled in due course. However, there is one downside to the new plan that even the Planning Commission has acknowledged. The smart card system will need further fine-tuning before it can be used to deliver fertiliser and fuel (kerosene and cooking gas) subsidies. There is a need to accurately identify intended beneficiaries and work out their entitlements. Unlike food, which is consumed by all, subsidised fertilisers and fuels are not accessed by everyone. At the same time, non-users today cannot be denied the benefit of a subsidy if they become users tomorrow. The quantities consumed also vary among various types of users, especially in the case of fertilisers, where the amounts applied vary from crop to crop and season to season. Moreover, tricky issues concerning land records, ownership pattern, benami land holdings, absentee landlordism and share-cropping need to be addressed while handing out such cards to consumers of fertilisers. Therefore, it seems difficult, if not impossible, to meet the March 2012 deadline for starting the phased switch to the cash subsidy regime in fertilisers and fuels as announced by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in his Budget speech. Though a task force headed by the UIDAI chief, Nandan Nilekani, is studying the details of direct transfer of these subsidies and is expected to submit its report next month, it is unlikely that it will come out with a foolproof system that can be implemented straightaway, without any field trials and administrative preparation. Therefore, it is better to miss the deadline than adopt a half-backed subsidy delivery model that may prove worse than the existing system it seeks to replace.






What is the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI's) view of the Indian economy's prospects over the next 18 months? Does this view justify the RBI's move to more aggressive monetary policy actions announced on May 3? These are questions T N Ninan rightly raised in his column titled "The wrong war?" on May 7. These are also questions that are directly, if not wholly, addressed convincingly in the monetary policy statement issued in the name of the RBI governor that day.

The early summer statement of monetary policy is by convention the most authoritative articulation of the RBI's goals and stance. It is based on data for the previous fiscal year, and takes into account the Union government's fiscal stance indicated in the Budget. The primacy of this statement dates back to a more sedate era when domestic influences were paramount, and it was still possible to speak of a policy for the "busy" and the "lean" season. I am not aware that any of the other major central banks follows an equivalent ritual in the more globalised and fast-paced environment for monetary management today. Nonetheless, I think this practice is worth preserving to provide an accountability benchmark for the year as a whole.


The governor's case is most compactly enunciated in the introduction. He admits that the resurgence of inflation in the last quarter of 2010-11 came as an unpleasant shock. While asserting that the initial trigger came from abroad, in the form of a surge in commodity prices, he argues that "the fact that these were quickly passing through into the entire range of domestic manufactured goods indicated that domestic pricing power is significant. In other words, demand has been strong enough to allow significant pass-through of input price increases. Significantly, this is happening even as there are visible signs of moderating growth, particularly in capital goods production and investment spending, suggesting that cumulative monetary actions are beginning to have an impact on demand".

What is one to make of this remarkable formulation? Taken at face value, it seems to assert that pricing power in domestic non-food manufacturing has increased rather than decreased in a slowing economy. A more charitable interpretation would disassociate the recent commodity price spike (mainly in fuels and metals) from pricing power in manufacturing, but this would then raise the uncomfortable question of why this pricing power has surfaced now when it was largely dormant in the golden growth years up to 2008.

In making the case for monetary tightening, the statement cites three proximate factors. These are the outlook for global commodity prices, the overshooting of inflation in recent months, and the fiscal outlook on a business-as-usual, no-reform scenario. These "momentum" factors are only partially offset by the already perceptible slowing of the economy.

The summary judgement is: "Current elevated rates of inflation pose significant risks to future growth. Bringing them down, therefore, even at the cost of some growth in the short-run [sic], should take precedence." Press reports about reactions from the finance minister, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, the chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and the chief economic advisor suggest that the decision to sacrifice growth at the altar of inflation control enjoys at least a modicum of support throughout the government, no matter how slender the analytic basis.

To its credit, the RBI has this time committed itself to a more specific view on the outlook for growth and inflation, with a confidence margin associated with each. In the case of growth, the range of outcomes is projected as lying between 7.4 and 8.5 per cent, with a central level of 8 per cent and the balance of risks on the downside. In the case of inflation, the statement frankly acknowledges the RBI's poor performance in predicting year-end inflation in 2010-11, at substantial cost to its credibility. The baseline projection for March 2012 is placed at 6 per cent with an upward bias. In addition, in an effort to manage expectations, the RBI warns that "inflation is expected to remain at an elevated level in the first half of the year due to expected pass-through of increase in international petroleum prices to domestic prices, and continued pass-through of high input prices into manufactured products".

It is instructive to link this discussion to controversies on the appropriate framework for monetary management raging elsewhere in the world. Neither of these is particularly novel, but both are relevant to the situation facing India at this time. The first is the familiar debate on rules versus discretion in the conduct of monetary policy; the second is the suitability of a formal inflation target in the Indian environment, something that the RBI has consistently and repeatedly rejected.

It should be stressed that these are quite distinct debates, in that the implementation of an inflation-targeting regime actually requires entrusting the central bank with almost total discretion in the tools it deploys to hit its target. As against this, the rules versus discretion debate essentially revolves around the near impossibility of timing monetary policy actions correctly so that they act as a force for stability rather than instability.

It would be irresponsible to ask the RBI to commit itself to a formal inflation-targeting regime under the fiscal and debt circumstances that currently prevail in India. However, this does not prevent it from giving primacy to what the Raghuram Rajan report called a "low inflation objective". Indeed, the record of non-intervention in the foreign exchanges under the present team in the RBI, coupled with the finance ministry's continued maturity on the issue of capital flows, suggests the RBI is now focused on delivering low and stable inflation. It has now publicised the indicator, namely the wholesale price index for non-food manufacturing, which it intends to monitor as an indicator of demand pressure in the economy. And finally we have "fan charts" for growth and inflation, as well as a clean-up of the system of policy rates.

So at the end of the day, despite my initial concerns, I come away with the feeling that the RBI is moving in the right direction in terms of how it should be held accountable. It is now up to the rest of the research community to give it the tools it requires to do its job.   

The author is the Country Advisor, International Growth Centre and Member, Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council

The views expressed are personal





Has the Indian television broadcast industry grown up? Last week the Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) released the much- awaited self-regulation code. This 22-page document lays down the principles and the related guidelines that television companies should follow while creating non-news programmes. It contains the usual sensible stuff that all programming guidelines do.

The code, however, is peripheral. It is the fact it came about that is interesting to investors and anyone doing business with this Rs 30,000 crore industry. It implies that the men and women running the business have managed to sit down, talk and formulate a code. This is a far cry from the usual lack of unity this industry has shown in the 19 years since private television took off. Ironically, for an industry that influences more than 600 million Indians, television broadcasting has almost no voice and no lobbying strength to make regulators listen to its point of view.

Is this then a symbol of maturity? Will this "new" co-operative spirit help deal with some pressing business issues — price control or lobbying for higher foreign direct investment (FDI) or more satellite space in the direct-to-home segment? No, it won't. It is a good sign, but it does not indicate that the IBF will become the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) and that the television broadcast industry will become as big as IT — though that should be the aim. It simply shows that small positive steps toward co-petition are working.

Why does it matter? The TV industry is in big trouble. Even as ad revenue growth has slowed, content and carriage costs have doubled in the last four years. Meanwhile, pay revenues continue to stagnate at 10 to 15 per cent of the topline for most broadcasters. The operating margins for the industry halved in the last five years. The title of being the world's second-largest cable TV market has not amounted to much — either in returns for investors or profits for media owners.

Higher limits on FDI in different distribution technologies, licensing in cable and dismantling price controls alone would release $2 billion in additional revenues. Take price regulation, for example. Cable prices have actually fallen in the last decade. Instead of using data to prove its point to regulators, the industry is busy fighting operators and distributors.

Much of this didn't matter for long since growth in the first decade from 1992 to 2003 was powered by pent-up demand — from audiences and advertisers. Today, growth hinges on the industry's ability to tackle these structural issues. That means everyone has to sit down and have a "chat". They have to agree on the battles they will fight and back it up with data and lobbying power with the public, regulators and the trade a la telecom and IT.

Till about four years ago, none of the "sitting together and talking" was happening. Then, two things happened simultaneously.

One, new – and younger – guards took over at most major TV companies. Puneet Goenka at Zee and Uday Shankar at Star, among others, decided that it made sense to tackle long-term growth issues instead of fighting each other. Regulation soon became a priority for most bosses. Almost every CEO turned out for a closed-door interaction with the minister of information and broadcasting, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry in New Delhi in April last year. Something like this was impossible earlier.

Two, news channels started coming in for a lot of flak. That is when the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) was formed in 2007. A content code was brought out in 2008 and a News Broadcasting Standards Authority started functioning under former justice J S Verma. Though complaints still exist and scope for improvement remains, the code has worked better than expected.

This is where the good news ends. The NBA, news code and, now, the non-news code could be made possible because the government forced the industry to do something . Left to its own devices, the industry has achieved little. What the news code and the non-news code show is that when the need arises, the broadcasting industry can get its act together.

Here is hoping that these guys chat more often.  






Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh made a startling disclosure the other day when he said the Prime Minister's Office or PMO had influenced his ministry's decision to allow the resumption of construction at the Maheshwar Hydro Power Project in Madhya Pradesh. There were also suggestions that the pressure to grant environmental clearance to the controversial project came not just from the PMO, but from the state government too. This is a startling disclosure because central ministers are usually reticent about disclosing the various pressures and influences brought to bear on their decision making.

If you look at it a little differently, the significance of what happened will become clearer. In the corporate world, for instance, no general manager heading a department of a company would ever disclose that the chairperson or the chief executive had influenced his decisions on, say, placing orders with certain vendors, although in reality that may well be the case. Indeed, even Ramesh is perhaps not straying from the truth when he said the PMO had a role in many other decisions he made, particularly the ones that reversed his ministry's stand on a few projects.


Yet, no general manager or a central minister would talk about the pressures they were under before taking decisions. That is because of the principle of collective responsibility that governs the decision-making process as much in the corporate sector as in government. In making public the PMO's pressure on his ministry in taking a certain decision, Ramesh has made a departure from a time-honoured convention.

It is worth remembering that even civil servants are not very comfortable about making public their individual observations in a decision-making process. The enforcement of the Right to Information (RTI) Act had spelt trouble for many bureaucrats, who wanted transparency in decision making only up to a point. Under the RTI Act, any individual could demand information on the views of the officials concerned on decisions that were in the public interest.

In view of such reservations, the information commissioners under the Act, many of whom were retired bureaucrats and predictably sympathetic to such reservations, had initially barred unhindered access to officials' notings on government files. Thanks to RTI activists' sustained campaign, the matter went to court, which has now ruled that information commissioners should consider only on merit the request for access to official files and observations made in them by officers.

There were, of course, other reasons bureaucrats were keen to keep their notings on official files secret. They wanted to avoid possible controversies if the disclosures revealed that they had held a different opinion on an issue. They believed that the thought of such disclosures could deter some of them from expressing their views on the files frankly and fearlessly.

That, however, was not the only reason for keeping the bureaucrats' notings on official files secret. There was a bigger issue at stake. Would governance improve if people knew which officials disagreed with a certain decision that the government finally took? Would this give rise to extreme forms of democracy, neutralising the gains from such transparency and disclosure?

Similarly, Ramesh's disclosure should not have raised eyebrows, particularly when seen from a transparency point of view. Since the PMO has not denied its influence on the decision in question, we have to presume that Ramesh has presented to the people only the facts of the case. So, why should there be a problem with the minister sharing with the people what really happened with regard to the hydropower project in Madhya Pradesh?

The point here, however, is not just about facts or transparency. It is also about governance. If Ramesh was indeed forced to compromise following PMO pressure, he should have fought the battle internally. If he failed, he should have accepted the verdict gracefully and not made his differences public.

Ramesh's problem seems to be worse. He has argued that if there are rules on environment, it is his responsibility to ensure that everybody follows them. If it is true the circumstances are such that he has no option but to ignore those rules and making compromises, then the battle gets tougher. He has to force his colleagues in the government to see logic in either ensuring compliance with those rules or making necessary amendments to those rules so that he does not have to make compromises. However, until such time as this battle is over, Ramesh's public disclosure of these differences may enhance his personal image, but the government's image and overall governance are likely to suffer.





Over the last few years, the subtlest shifts in the way we read have been brought about by a thriving company of independent publishers, ranging from veterans like Seagull and Katha to relative newcomers like Queer Ink. Here's a look at a handful of indie favourites, and why you should read them.

Seagull Books, run by Naveen Kishore and Anjum Katyal, is known for its exquisitely produced books, often with the trademark black-and-white covers. Seagull has grown over the years; it now has an arts foundation and a London arm. The house did seminal translations of authors such as Mahasweta Devi, but has increasingly been publishing foreign authors, academics and thinkers in India. In many ways, Seagull acts as a filter, bringing to us what Kishore and his team see as the thinking person's essential library, from Tariq Ali to a brilliant collection of works on theatre and cinema.


Read: The Offence series and The Censorship series — collected essays on the rise of intolerance worldwide.

If there's a contemporary heir to Seagull, it may be S Anand's Navayana, set up to challenge the invisibility of many kinds of Indian writing, from works by Dalit authors to poetry. The "only publishing house that focuses on caste from an anti-caste perspective", Navayana's titles include works by D N Jha, the fiery Marathi poet Namdeo Dhasal, path-breaking autobiographies and works that might best be called testimonies; the catalogue is politically engaged, challenging and often unsettling. "We must engage with what Dalits are writing — not simply for reasons of authenticity, or as a concession to identity politics, but simply because of the aesthetic value of this body of writing, and for the insights it offers into the human condition," Anand wrote in a brilliant essay for The Caravan, where he took apart the non-Dalit view of Dalits in Indian writing.

Read: Bhimayana — the life of Ambedkar retold through the drawings of Pardhan Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam.

Blaft's name captures much of the attitude behind this young, dynamic publishing house —irreverent, playful and imaginative. Kaveri and Rakesh made their mark with The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction, and by publishing unusual work by authors such as Kuzhali Manickavel, who runs an excellent blog with this irresistible url:

The playfulness masks a determination to change the way translations are read; this is a natural progression, perhaps, from the work of houses like Katha, which pioneered more conventional translations for many years. Blaft's approach is to look for pulp and offbeat fiction — and their packaging, as with a collection of Tamil folk tales where the raunchier ones were discreetly separated from the rest of the book by a red ribbon, is beautiful.

Read: The Ibn-e-Safi series — swaggering spy stories from Pakistan with suitably subcontinental intrigue.

The Yoda Press has an eclectic indie list, with titles ranging from the stories of hijras edited by A Revathi to explorations of Indian nationalism, screenplays and essays that mine the "alternative" India. But it's the Yoda Press bookstore, Yodakin in Delhi's Hauz Khas village, that has gone a step further, becoming a relaxed space for offbeat book readings and discussions. Like 4S, the seedy bar in Defence Colony market, or Olypub in Calcutta, or the brief reign of The Little Magazine's bookstore in Mayur Vihar some years ago, Yodakin has become an unofficial adda for this generation of writers, artists and activists.

When Kali for Women changed avatars after 20 successful years as a pioneering feminist press, many were unsure of the directions Zubaan and Women Unlimited would take. Almost a decade later, Women Unlimited has continued Kali's legacy, building a library of women's voices and working to create space for feminist activism. Zubaan retains its indie edge and passionate engagement, but has also increasingly experimented with more mainstream work, including children's publishing with Young Zubaan.

Read: Women Changing India — interviews and photo-essays with women who work on the frontlines, from Zubaan.

Queer Ink is the kind of initiative that was needed in India a decade ago, but that would probably not have survived at that time. Set up by two women in Bombay, Queer Ink creates a thriving space for discussion, provocation and reading by combining a bookstore with the QI community. The store retails and publishes authors who look at gender identity from an open and inclusive perspective; the community supports writers, film-makers and activists.

Read: From their website, Queer Lingo — a kind of brief history of alternative sexuality from Aquwas to Stonewall to Polyamory.

Even those who don't know Tara Books have probably bought some of their distinctive and beautifully designed notebooks, or browsed at the stall this small press sets up every year at the Jaipur literature festival. Tara's innovativeness is everywhere: their "graphic novel" on Martin Luther King is done in the form of a traditional project by a patua (a painter of scrolls), Samhita Arni's children's Mahabharata was illustrated by the author when she was just 12.

Read: The Night Life of Trees — three Gond artists illuminate a secret and stunningly beautiful world, with their stories accompanying each painting.






Procurement of even a million tonnes of pulses at minimum support price would provide a huge boost to growers and help sustain production.

Even as suppliers across continents have come to rely on India importing increasing quantities of pulses each year, the world's topmost producer, consumer and importer has surprised them this year with a significant increase in domestic output (to a record 17.3 million tonnes in 2010-11 from 14.7 million tonnes in 2009-10) which, in turn, has resulted in a decline in imports to an estimated 2.7 million tonnes that fiscal from the record import of 3.6 million tonnes the previous year. Although their prices are still slightly elevated, pulses have become a lot more affordable in recent months than they were at this time last year. Importantly, this shows that India's pulses production is capable of springing surprises with notable expansion. With the planting season in full swing in the northern hemisphere, the big question confronting major exporting countries is whether India will repeat its record performance in 2011-12.

In addition to ensuring availability of various inputs, one of the ways to motivate growers to sustain this momentum is to improve marketability. This can be achieved partly through government procurement — similar to wheat and rice — for eventual sale to consumers through the public distribution system. Procurement of even a million tonnes of pulses at the minimum support price would provide a tremendous boost to growers and may help sustain the current level of production, if not boost it. There will be other benefits too. Farmers in grain mono-cropping regions (Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh) may start to practise crop rotation, with pulses helping fix nitrogen in soil and reverse deteriorating soil health. Importantly, pulses in PDS will allow the nutritionally-challenged to access this vegetable protein. Pulses ought to become an integral part of supplies under the Right to Food Act.

A year from now, the country's Twelfth Five-Year Plan will take off. A new thrust is necessary for promoting pulses and oilseeds — two commodities for which the country is dependent on large-scale imports. Clearly, we cannot afford the same lackadaisical approach seen in the Eleventh Plan, during which annual growth targets were seldom achieved. Encouraging cultivation of pulses through policy support is the way forward. More investment in R&D is required as the lack of a genetic breakthrough in seed technology for long years is keeping yields low — around 600 kg per hectare versus 1,800 kg/ha in Canada, for instance. In his last Budget speech, the Finance Minister exhorted the nation to attain self-sufficiency in pulses within the next three years. To sceptics, this may seem a tall order; but even an increase of 100 kg a hectare will mean an additional 2.6 million tonnes harvested from 26 million hectares, the current planted area. This is eminently doable; but needs determination on the part of farm scientists, growers and policymakers alike.





Inflation targeting is neither feasible nor advisable in India. The RBI cannot escape from the challenge of weighing the growth-inflation trade off. Even if we settle on inflation targeting, we have a problem about which index to target.

Neither the RBI Act nor any rules lay down a formal accountability mechanism. In the absence of a specific formulation, the fallback is on the general principle underlying a democracy — which is to render accountability to Parliament through the Finance Minister. As regards autonomy, the Reserve Bank has not been accorded autonomy under the statute. The RBI Act lays down that the Central Government may give directions to the Bank, from time to time, after consultation with the Governor, where considered necessary in public interest.


The reality, however, is quite different. RBI in effect functions with a functionally autonomous mandate and there has been no instance so far of the Government exercising its reserve powers to issue a directive. Since we are not an inflation targeting central bank, there is no formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) or a 'Results Agreement' between the Government and the Reserve Bank. Nevertheless, we render accountability for our performance on inflation. We explain the rationale for our monetary policy stance quite extensively.

For most of the other important, non-monetary policy decisions, it has now become standard practice for the Reserve Bank to consult with stakeholders and call for feedback on the draft policy before a final decision is taken.


Monetary policy decisions are made by the Governor. There is no formal committee structure like the FOMC of the Fed or the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of England. The Governor holds structured consultations with the four Deputy Governors and they constitute an informal MPC although a committee structure is not enjoined under the law or the rules. By its very nature there is no voting in this committee and the final call is that of the Governor.

Ahead of each quarterly monetary policy announcement, there is also an extensive process of structured consultation by the Governor with banks, financial market representatives, trade bodies and industry associations. We also convene a meeting of economists and analysts twice a year, ahead of the annual policy in April and the second quarter policy in October.

Finally, close to the policy decision, an established practice for the Governor is to meet the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister informally, give them an assessment of the macroeconomic situation and indicate to them his proposed policy stance. This is only a matter of courtesy, and the process has not impinged on the autonomy of the Reserve Bank in monetary policy making.

The consultation with the Finance Minister, in particular, should be seen as an avenue for fiscal-monetary coordination. An issue that comes up often is that even as the current system is working, whether we might be better served by having a formal MPC with its majority advice becoming binding. My own view is that we should be moving towards an MPC system, but in a phased manner. There are some pre-conditions to be met.

First, the central bank should be given legally-backed formal autonomy. Second, in a situation where inflation dynamics are more often dictated by supply side elements, the central bank's ability to control inflation is restricted.

An MPC mechanism in such a situation can weaken the coordination between the Government and the Reserve Bank. However, when our financial markets deepen further, operating procedures improve and monetary transmission becomes more efficient, shifting to an MPC system becomes a realistic option.


The RBI is not an inflation targeting central bank. Nevertheless there is an influential view that our economy will be better served if the Reserve Bank becomes one.

The argument is that inflation hurts much more in a country like India with hundreds of millions of poor people and that the RBI will be more effective in combating inflation if it is not burdened with other objectives.

This argument is contestable. Inflation targeting is neither feasible nor advisable in India, and for several reasons. First, in an emerging economy like ours, it is not practical for the central bank to focus exclusively on inflation oblivious of the larger development context. The Reserve Bank cannot escape from the difficult challenge of weighing the growth-inflation trade off in determining its monetary policy stance.

Second, the drivers of inflation in India often emanate from the supply side which are normally beyond the pale of monetary policy. In particular, given the low income levels, food items have a relatively larger weight in the consumption basket in India compared to advanced economies and even many emerging market economies.

We have three consumer price indices each covering different segments of the population with the weight for food ranging between 46-70 per cent.

Monetary policy, as is well known, is an ineffective instrument for reining in inflation emanating from supply pressures. It is unrealistic, under these circumstances, to expect the Reserve Bank to deliver on an inflation target in the short-term.

An alternative put forward is that we could target core inflation rather than headline inflation. That is not a feasible solution either. An inflation index, with half the basket excluded from it, hardly reflects reality.

Moreover, the exclusion of food from the core index can be justified if average food inflation is the same as the average non-food inflation. If food inflation is higher, as is typically the case in many low income countries including India, then we would be underestimating inflationary pressures on a systemic basis. That would mislead policy prescriptions.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we settle on inflation targeting, we have a problem about which inflation index to target. The headline inflation index is the wholesale price index (WPI), and that does not, by definition, reflect the consumer price situation. However, getting a single representative inflation rate for a large economy with 1.2 billion people, fragmented markets and diverse geography is a formidable challenge.

Finally, a necessary condition for inflation targeting to work is efficient monetary transmission. There are several factors inhibiting the transmission process such as an asymmetric relationship between depositors and banks, administered interest rates on postal savings that are not adjusted in line with prevailing interest rate trends and rigidities in the financial markets. All these factors dampen the efficacy of monetary signals and complicate the adoption of an inflation targeting regime in India.

Excerpts from a lecture by the RBI Governor, Dr Duvvuri Subbarao, at the meeting of the Central Bank Governance Group in Basel on May 9.

(To be concluded)






The strike achieved nothing. It only ended up leaving a mark on the airline's account books, stock markets and, most importantly, passengers.

Nobody gained from the Air India pilots' strike. But the 10-day strike did leave behind a significant amount of damage. The airline, which is struggling to attract passengers, lost out on valuable holiday season bookings.

Its brand image was also tarnished, with the strike shaking up passengers' faith in Air India. With private airlines prospering during the strike, questions were also raised on the viability of Air India's presence in the domestic aviation industry.

Bookings lost

Air India has seen its market share slip away steadily. However, just days before the strike, Air India's strategy of summer special low fares was proving to be correct.

Passenger load factor on the day of the strike was close to 80 per cent, according to airline officials. "Even forward bookings were close to 77-80 per cent because of the holiday season. So we were doing well," said a senior Air India official.

But the strike grounded more than 1,000 flights during the 10-day period, resulting in Air India losing out on a large number of passengers.

For the duration of the strike, the seat offerings per day had declined by 22,500. As compared to 30,000-32,000 seats on offer every normal day, during the strike, the number slipped to 9,500. All this resulted in a revenue loss of close to Rs 150 crore for the 10-day period.

Despite Air India's best efforts to ease the problems of the passengers and increase capacity, little could be done to accommodate all of them. Private airlines picked up 15,000-16,000 of Air India's domestic passengers.

Wrong Timing

The strike came at the worst possible time from a passenger's perspective. Thousands of passengers were affected by it in the midst of a busy holiday season for airlines.

It was also bad timing for Air India. The strike came when the airline was in talks with 20 banks on restructuring debts to reduce borrowing costs.

After the lenders agree to the proposals of the airline's debt restructuring plan, the Reserve Bank of India will approve it, following which a turnaround plan will be submitted to the Ministry of Finance.

The strike effectively delayed the whole process as the Air India management was occupied with trying to find ways to end the strike.

"If the strike had not taken place, we would have been working on finalising the restructuring plan. However, despite the delays, we plan to submit the restructuring plan to RBI by the end of May," said an Air India official recently.

Airline Stocks Jump

Coincidentally, with Air India's operations being crippled, airline stocks in the country rose sharply. Stocks of Jet Airways, Kingfisher and SpiceJet — the three listed airlines — rose by 11.5 per cent, 10.46 per cent and 10.72 per cent respectively on Friday on the BSE.

For Jet Airways, it was the biggest gain in more than a year, while for SpiceJet it was the biggest gain since September 2009.

According to analysts, the surge in stock prices was due to a sales jump because of the Air India strike as well as a drop in oil prices. Oil prices tanked over the last week following news of Osama Bin Laden. On Friday, crude oil prices slipped below $100 mark on the New York Mercantile Exchange and stayed below $100 for a long duration.

"Private airlines benefited during the week because load factors were high and yield was higher because of higher fares. This combined with a drop in oil prices helped propel the airline stocks," said a stock analyst.

"Certainly, there has been an increase in load factor," said Kingfisher Airlines' Chief Executive Officer, Mr Sanjay Aggarwal, last week.

Thus, the strike has inadvertently raised the question of Air India's viability, according to analysts. Air India's operations even while running losses has been hurting the domestic aviation industry, according to Mr Peter Harbison, Executive Chairman of Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation

Futile Strike

In the end, the strike achieved nothing. None of the pilots' original demands were conceded to even after two days of talks. But the 10-day strike, one of the biggest in recent years in Air India, left its mark on the airline's account books, stock markets and, most importantly, passengers.










The Supreme Court has not only stayed the Allahabad High Court judgment on the Ayodhya title suit but also termed it 'strange' and leading to 'a litany of litigation'. This holds out the hope that the Supreme Court would rid the law of the irrationality that had been introduced into it by the Allahabad High Court verdict. It should be clear that the Ayodhya dispute is not amenable to a judicial solution. The legal system can only settle a title dispute. That will not satisfy the losing side, whichever way the court decides. The dispute involves faith, the commitment of the Republic and its institutions to the essential values of a plural, multi-constituent society, recorded history, oral tradition and many other diverse things that hinge on values and core questions as to what constitutes Indian nationhood. These depend neither on evidence nor on the law. In other words, the dispute is not justiciable. Only political action, based on the will to transcend differences for the sake of the larger nation and its collective good, can find a solution. Yet, the Allahabad High Court tried to clothe a compromise as a form of legal resolution, relying on faith as actionable evidence and doing damage, in the process, to the law and to vital political values. It is necessary and sufficient that the Supreme Court should undo this damage done by the high court. If it can delineate the boundaries of judicial action and leave needed further resolution to the political process, that would be what is required.

Given this reality, it is entirely necessary for the political class to work on a viable solution at the political level, even as the court goes about judicial salvage, taking its time. It is not enough for the politicians to get into the act once the court has delivered its verdict. They must be proactive and come up with a solution, sparing the Supreme Court the possible trauma of being found wanting, ignored or losing respect. Many a politician would welcome, right now, a development that would bring down the Supreme Court's standing a notch or two. However, by reducing the stature of the court, the political class would not gain; rather, the entire constitutional framework would suffer eroded legitimacy.







Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) chairman U K Sinha has said that he is in favour of encouraging competition among bourses. This is wholly welcome. It acknowledges two things. One, competition is necessary to improve efficiency, lower transaction charges and encourage innovation. Two, competition is possible in the exchange business, contrary to the assumption of the Jalan committee, which approaches exchanges with the outmoded vision that infrastructure is mostly natural monopoly. Technological change that creates new possibilities and changes in the way commerce is conducted, taking advantage of technological change, have rendered the notion of natural monopoly virtually redundant in sector after sector of infrastructure. In any case, competing bourses are a functioning reality in developed markets. While this newspaper salutes the National Stock Exchange's yeoman contribution to modernising and professionlising India's capital market, it also recognises that NSE has a virtual monopoly in the business of stock exchanges. Its rival BSE's share is next to nothing in derivatives trading and one-fifth and shrinking, in the spot market. A new entrant, the MCXSX, has been hobbled by Sebi's own policy. In the lone segment of currency futures where it is permitted to trade, it has more than proved its potential to offer real competition to the dominant capital market player, NSE. However, Sebi has refused to grant the exchange any further operating avenues, saying that it is in violation of its regulation, the Manner of Increasing and Maintaining Public Shareholding in Recognised Stock Exchanges (Mimps). It restricts ownership of exchanges to 5% (15% in some cases) for any person, along with persons acting in concert. The regulation stifles competition in the exchange space, entrenches existing players and creates entry barriers for new ones.

By Sebi's own admission earlier, the cap on shareholding has led individual holders of tiny stakes losing interest in the business. Mimps must change, if Mr Sinha is serious about competition among exchanges.







 The recent TV advertisement campaign that featured a young man supposedly creating a new word — 'zoot' — during a game of Scrabble and then using his smartphone to popularise it to the extent that it became a d e j u r e element in youth vocabulary, was not exactly original. Zoot suits, after all, were the almost comical style of men's suits that became trendy in the 1940s with salwar-like cuffed trousers and mid-thigh length jackets with padded shoulders and wide lapels. But the broader premise of the commercial — that any word can eventually become Scrabble-worthy provided it is widely used — appears to be borne out by the newest Collins compendium, the bible for aficionados of the boardgame in the non-American English speaking world. Considering web-spawned jargon like grrl and myspace, street slang like innit and even diverse borrowed words from other languages like wiki ('fast' in Hawaiian) and gobi and aloo figure among the 3,000-odd new additions to the over 2.5 lakh already on the game's approved list, it is not unlikely that any random sequence of letters will soon suffice.

The fear, of course, is that with more and more new-fangled words entering the lexicon, young practitioners of the game will no longer feel the need to know star words of the existing vocabulary, including the 6,000 or so that exceed 15 letters. As the world becomes smaller, words from other languages leaching into Scrabblespeak will also increase. Take the word 'singhiozzerebbe' (third person singular of the Italian word s i n g h i o z z a r e, meaning 'to sob') that notched up 2,118 points on the online avatar of the game, Scrabulous. Maybe, it will make it to mainstream Scrabble one day as a soon-to-be-widely-used Indlish word meaning 'deniability when in high office'.






Ahigh-powered committee with Isher Judge Ahluwalia and eight other eminent persons as members has projected an investment requirement of . 39.2 lakh crore for our cities and towns for 2012-2032. The committee needs to be complimented for the thoroughness with which it has gone about its work.

The Eleventh Plan projected a resource requirement of . 1,29,337 crore for the four basic services, . 1,32,590 crore for urban transport and . 1,32,590 crore for housing. A broader assessment based on the city development plans prepared for the 63 mission cities under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) showed that a per capita spend of . 27,533 is needed over a seven-year period and this amounts to a total of . 8 lakh crore for all our cities and towns. The recent Mckinsey report on urbanisation put the figure at $1.2 trillion (roughly . 54 lakh crore). And the enhanced central provision for urban areas over the seven-year period of the urban mission from 2005 to 2012 is . 66,000 crore, the whole of which has not yet been drawn by the states.

The Mckinsey report drew attention to the increasing importance of India's towns. Nearly 70% of India's GDP would be generated in the cities, as would 85% of our tax revenue and 70% of all new jobs. And what are we now investing to improve urban infrastructure? An annual capital spending of just $17 per capita.
The committee has projected not only the resource requirement but also the manner of its financing. While a new, improved JNNURM covering all cities and towns, with implementation spread over a period of 20 years, will ensure continuous flow of funds from the government of India, more broadbased revenue sharing by the states with urban bodies is the other route.

Recommendations like inserting a local bodies finance list in the Constitution along the lines of the Union and State lists, empowering the local bodies to exclusively levy taxes like property, profession, entertainment and advertisement, allocating to towns a separate share, based on a formula, of all taxes on goods and services, analogous to the present allocation to states, are other means. Mechanisms to support municipal bonds by tapping the growing market of pension, insurance and provident funds, public private partnerships (PPPs), a new role for Housing and Urban Development Finance Corporation and increased reliance on a wide variety of land-based instruments for financing are other sources recommended. The committee has rightly emphasised spending on capacity building, improving service delivery, properly structuring city planning and a regulatory framework. Provision has been made for investment in renewal and redevelopment, including of slums. Operation and maintenance costs of a massive . 19.9 lakh crore also have been projected, recognising the importance of maintaining assets for better service delivery. The report also highlights governance, calling for a mayor in council or an executive mayor system to ensure single-point accountability.
Do cities have the capacity to absorb this kind of spending? The report refers to an average investment per person for the eight areas covered at a level of . 43,386. While the total urban expenditure for 2011-12 is estimated at . 51,000 crore, with the level of investment projected by the year 2021-22, the annual investment in the urban investment is expected to be 1.14% of GDP. Is this possible and feasible and even if capacities are attempted to be created, can the local bodies elevate themselves to this level of activity? That is why whenever projections are made, those responsible for finding and allocating the resources always tend to be as modest as possible.


If this type and level of spending is not possible, what will happen to our towns? Or if only a part of the resources can be found, what will or should take priority and what impact will it have on growth? The report does not answer two questions: one, what is the aimed-for level of service or urban infrastructure and two, what happens if the needed resources are not found? Other basics like education, health, electricity, etc, all essential for good urban living, have not been covered in this report because that was not the mandate. In the quest for sustainable cities, environmental balance, maximum possible energy conservation, opting for more and more technology-efficient methods, larger dependence on e-governance, all will make a big difference.
The National Development Council has mandated a group of chief ministers to look at urban reforms, but it is unlikely to solve financing issues. This is where the Union ministry of urban development has to come in proactively to get the broad policy contours approved by the cabinet, of course after taking the Planning commission into confidence. And this is where this report is different from other reports because the ministry itself had commissioned it. But the big question is, will this happen in reasonable time or will the report be subjected to yet another time-taking process of circulation and eliciting comments. Then there is no hope for our cities, an agenda long neglected and as years pass by, we will see more of deterioration in urban services in the nerve centres of GDP generation.








Hey Ram…

At least Ram Jethmalani has helped the BJP to prove itself to be "a party with a difference". Gone are the days when the BJP would cling onto its "ideological and nationalist commitment" by expelling Jethmalani for defending an accused in the Indira Gandhi assassination case. Today the very BJP, spearheading an "uncompromising war" against UPA-II on the spectrum scam, will not even raise a little finger when Jethmalani, now a party MP, decides to be Kanimozhi's lawyer in the SC. Nor did the BJP, which tonguelashed those who lamented a life term for Binayank Sen, show any real anger when Jethmalani defended Sen in the apex court and got him bail. But then, the BJP had chosen to gift Jethmalani a Rajya Sabha berth despite his contesting against A B Vajpayee and vocally opposing the death sentence to Afzal Guru. What else do you expect the BJP to do when it has a long line of leaders, from Amit Shah and Narendra Modi to L K Advani, in need of a good criminal lawyer? Jethmalani surely knows his price and his party too well. Ram, Ram…

The Edgy Trio

Days ahead of the state assembly elections results, three Congress men have similar hopes and despair. K V Thangabalu, Ramesh Chennithala and Manas Bhuniya, the PCC chiefs of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal respectively, have stuck their necks out by contesting the polls rather than overseeing the party campaign. Thangabalu and Bhuniya hope if their party ride to power by riding on the DMK and Trinamool Congress, they could end up as the deputy chief ministers if the Congress high command and allies ink a power-sharing pact. Chennithala hopes to be the CM himself or, at least, a senior minister under Oomman Chandy if the UDF defeats the LDF. But on the flip side, with the three already exhibiting their 'parliamentary ambitions', their inner party rivals have already started a campaign, saying these PCC chiefs should be made to quit if the Congress loses in their respective turfs.

Cutting It Short

Ex-babu N K Singh's presence as aJD(U) member on the previous Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had been a matter of unease for the NDA and of recreation for the UPA and observers when the panel 'probed' the 2G spectrum scam. Having figured in the Radia tapes, giving Niira Radia's colourful insights on which minister is linked to which corporate and what A thinks about B and how C works with D inside the regime, it was quite something to expect Singh to be 'a detached PAC crusader' to unearth the politician-bureaucrat-corporate nexus beneath the scam. No wonder, Singh had had to recuse himself from the PAC proceedings to avoid trysts with certain witnesses who could have proved tricky for him. Finally, the JD(U) leadership decided, mercifully, to end his trauma by not renominating Singh for another term on the PAC, by diplomatically giving the slot to NDA ally, the Akali Dal. Thus ended a farce.

Seven-Year Itch

His many gallant efforts since 2004 to bag a maiden ministerial perch at the Centre have failed. Yet, AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi remains diligent the month of May brings back the buzz of cabinet expansion. His sympathisers say Dwivedi has to make it this time for three critical reasons. First, his age is on the wrong side for a first-time minister in a party making a song and dance about 'generation shift'. Second, if he fails in this 2011 bid, then he could have trouble in renewing his Rajya Sabha seat from Delhi in 2012, given his tense ties with the Sheila Dikshit camp. And third, Dwivedi, as the designated head of AICC media cell, is finding virtually no decent audience these days whenever Digvijaya Singh displays the craft of real political talk in the adjacent room at 24, Akbar Road. Dwivedi is reportedly no more particular about a cabinet rank and even a MoS will be fine with him. We understand.

Tracking Acharya

So, we are told Uma Bharati will be soon be back in the BJP after L K Advani, with Nitin Gadkari in tow, finally got MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to agree on a tradeoff: Bharti would be sent on political vanvaas to UP, and MP wouldbe marked as forbidden land. But, then what about her mentor and guide Govindacharya? The buzz in the BJP is that it would be a 'bring-one-and-get-one-free' deal. We don't know about that. But what we do hear is Govindacharya is now busy, reportedly with RSS blessing, guiding Baba Ramdev's quest to overtake Anna Hazara in anti-scam politics. An ideological content provider?







In enunciating its latest policy stance last week, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was clear-cut in its appraisal that high oil and other commodity prices and the impact of attendant dearer cost of funds indicated by the monetary authority will weigh on economic growth. High oil prices do, after all, adversely affect costs and rev of inflationary expectations all round. Further, there is significant 'suppressed component of inflation', as the increase in global crude oil prices has not been passed on completely in revised, higher retail prices of petroleum products, noted the central bank. It points to the pressing need to review the high extant taxes and duties on oil products, so as to stem the price impact. The point is that the fiscal authorities do need to rationalise taxes on oil products, which can make up over half the retail price. It is plain distorting. Worse, in a scenario of buoyant oil prices and consequent widespread expectations of hardening prices in the pipeline, the effect of high indirect levies on oil products would unwarrantedly add to the inflationary spiral.
Meanwhile, iron ore too found mention in the front pages last week albeit in the fine print, in the forest clearance for Posco's proposed mega steel plant in coastal Orissa. Quite apart from the issue of export of iron ore from captive mines, there is the need to levy excise on mining output for transparency. We must modernise tax design for commodities like oil goods and ore. It is a fact that taxes on petroproducts have traditionally amounted to a very substantial chunk of government revenues. There may have been several reasons for such tax design, especially in the prereform days when the scope of levying direct taxes on incomes was rather limited and indirect taxes accounted for the bulk of tax collection. Additionally, the tax base for indirect levies was also constrained, which is why much of burden of garnering taxes willy-nilly fell on oil products. Besides, collecting fuel taxes is rather straightforward: fuel demand is known to rise with income or that its demand is income-elastic.

However, in a fast-growing economy that is purposefully globalising as well, the way ahead is to broadbase taxes across goods and services, and not rely disproportionately on petroleum taxes. In any case, high taxes and duties on oil goods would merely imply high relative tariff barriers for such products. Note also that the value-added in refining crude is minimal, generally in single digit, and so, seemingly modest duty protection for the refined products would effectively imply high tariff walls for the value added.

And heightened duty protection really means continuing with a high-cost oil economy, with much scope for routine opacity, cost-plus pricing and a panoply of inefficiencies. Now, a case can well be made that oil products, given their negative externalities, do need to be appropriately taxed to discourage usage and negate the societal harm of oil pollution.

It actually suggests a strong case for a cess on oil products that is earmarked for proactive environmental measures, cleaner fuels and the common good. However, a general regime of high taxes on oil products designed very much as a revenue-augmenting measure is incongruous, after two whole decades of reforms, albeit often checkered.

It is true that the more progressive tax regimes abroad do levy high taxes on petrogoods, but in such cases, there is usually a modern system of value-added taxes in operation, including for petro-products, with tax paid only on the value added and setoffs available along the value chain.

Yet, we continue with a system of cascading taxes on oil products, with its umpteen anomalies and all. The tax differential between dearer petrol and diesel has actually lead to large-scale fuel-switching to the relatively lightlytaxed fuel and almost certainly aggravated pollution levels. There are other negative implications of the warped policy of high taxes on automotive fuel, such as fuel adulteration and much faster engine wear and tear. In parallel, there is no reason why oil retailing need remain a cosy monopoly of the oil companies. Abroad, in the mature markets, independent retailers account for over half the volumes in retail oil offtake. The point remains that ringfencing retail oil sales would disallow room for efficiency gains and productivity improvements in a large, highgrowth segment like oil.

As one of the largest consumers of oil products, with much of the crude imported, we can no longer afford runaway populism and monopoly prices in oil. It would have unsustainable monetary and fiscal implications. In tandem, we do need to levy excise duty on minerals such as ferrous and non-ferrous ore, as per the Central Excise and Salt Act, 1944, and the Excise Tariff Act, 1985. Note that minerals in their finished form are very much excisable items. But they have been merely exempt from the 'whole of the duty of excise leviable thereon'. The move, that would be Vattable, could put paid to large-scale illegality reported in ore mining and exports.









In the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos in 1991, the cars were on the starting grid, the engines were revving, but you couldn't hear the sound of the deafening Formula One motor. For, in the stands, 300,000 fans were screaming in unison, drowning everything with their chant of "Ole, ole ole ole, Senna, Senna".


ESPN commentator John Bisignano gets goosebumps when he talks about that afternoon in a 2010 documentary on Ayrton Senna made by British filmmaker Asif Kapadia. Senna, who died in an accident during the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, is widely regarded as the best driver ever to sit in a cockpit. He was 34. For his fans, he will always remain young, beautiful, and fast. In a poetically unjust, tragically inappropriate way, he will never grow old; he will always be the greatest.


Kapadia's film is a masterpiece. Not just for the rare footage he's managed to collect but simply because of the story he's telling: an incredible career that ended so suddenly. When the documentary is over, the larger question, which he never asks, lingers in the air. All great sportsmen toy with a problem which Senna didn't have to — when is the right time to stop; how that moment defines not just your life from then on, but also your legacy.


Two days ago, when Roger Federer lost to Rafael Nadal, who then was beaten so handsomely by Novak Djokovic on Sunday night, the debate about his 'greatest ever' tag started to rage furiously. Federer, clearly the thirdbest player in the world now, has an 8-16 record against his biggest rival. His 16 Grand Slams and his 237 consecutive weeks at No 1 notwithstanding, his critics believe the Nadal statistic must count for something.

More curious for me, however, is another problem. Federer is still only 29 years old, with a good four or five seasons ahead of him. If, for argument's sake, he keeps getting beaten by Nadal and Djokovic over this period, will it impact how he is eventually remembered, even if neither of them goes on to break his records?

On Saturday night, Shaquille O'Neal made a return from injury for the Boston Celtics, his third team in three years, against the Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs. He was on court for eightand-a-half minutes, scored two points, got one assist, one steal, and no rebounds.


O'Neal, the greatest modern Centre in NBA history (sorry, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson) is now 39. His performance was described by the Boston Globe as having given the team a "huge post presence" that will "perhaps alter this Eastern Conference semi-final series". Have pedestrian numbers from O'Neal really started to pass off as impactful? Or are we being too charitable, balancing his denial with our own uncomfortable kindness? Shouldn't we stop pretending that his glory days aren't long gone?


At the Turkish Grand Prix over the weekend, Michael Schumacher was outqualified by team mate Nico Rosberg for the fourth time in as many races. On the first lap, the winningest driver in F1 history, bumped into Vitaly Petrov while trying to close the door on an overtaking manoeuvre from the outside. His front-wing broken, Schumi rushed into the pits for a replacement, only to come out behind Narain Karthikeyan's Hispania. It took him five laps to pass the Indian, a few more to head to the middle of the field, and the entire race distance to end up in 12th place.


Forty-two years old now, Schumacher, with 91 wins in a sterling career, hasn't once been on the podium since his return from retirement in 2010. "The big joy has gone right now," he said after Sunday's race. Welcome to life at the back of the grid. Welcome, also, to being written off as a has-been. He'd come to rescue F1, but managed only to somewhat diminish his own aura.


To be fair to the three sportsmen, Federer, O'Neal and Schumacher — one barely past his prime, another on the verge of quitting, and the third who came back from retirement — it never is easy to say goodbye to your life as you've known it so far. Only a handful have got it right, and managed to exit without compromising their stature.

You either stop early, or play long enough to become a bit of a joke. For a devastatingly unfortunate reason, Senna didn't have to make the choice. He never heard the boos, only a hail of 'oles'.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The bloody farmer-police clashes over land acquisition along Uttar Pradesh's Yamuna Expressway, spreading from Greater Noida to Agra and Aligarh, shows the issue still burns while the government fiddles. The land acquisition legislation it had drafted, which it hopes to table in the next session of Parliament, is, however, weighted against the poor — just as the initial Lokpal Bill official draft was soft on the corrupt. Last weekend's clashes in Greater Noida and elsewhere should remind us that enactment of a fair, equitable land acquisition law cannot be put on the backburner forever. The UP farmers were agitating since January for a fair compensation package: for the state to dismiss this as the work of mischief-makers and use brutal force against them is suicidal. Land is, of course, needed for the nation to develop, and while ideally it should be acquired through market processes wherever possible, there will be occasions when the state must step in. The purpose of such a law is twofold: to ensure the state gets the land it needs for a public purpose — construction of a road, rail line or other infrastructure; and those who surrender it are paid its current market value, so they too enjoy the fruits of development. Too often, though, while land is acquired for one reason, it is then used for a different purpose: some people make a lot of money, but not those to whom it originally belonged. How hard would it be to ensure that if land is compulsorily acquired for a stated purpose, if later the state finds no further need for it, that it be returned to the owner at the price it was acquired at? This would ensure that those in authority do not use land acquisition laws for commercial exploitation through the backdoor! The government could talk to civil society figures who have done pioneering work and have suggested alternative development paths. Take special economic zones: do they really ensure development, or are they a form of "land grab" by the powerful? It is estimated the 40 lakhs acres of land taken for SEZs has produced five lakh jobs with an investment of Rs 100,000 crores — an expenditure of `20 lakhs per job. Its effect on people losing their land can be devastating: one West Bengal study shows a 45 per cent fall in access to work, 50 per cent rise in poverty, 60 per cent children leaving school to work to supplement family incomes, and women forced to become sex workers. This is not the development we need! It's a telling sign that the government still relies on a British colonial law of 1894, as amended in 1984, giving it the power to acquire land for private industry. The draft new bill only reinforces the colonial concept of "eminent domain" — compensation at market value, which the Supreme Court described as the registered price of the land in the preceding three years. It is an open secret across India that barely 40 per cent of land prices are registered. And what about backward areas? Do people there not have the same rights to live their lives with dignity — guaranteed to all under our Constitution? Since Independence till 2000, not even 20 per cent of those displaced for development have been resettled and rehabilitated. Do we really want to add to their numbers? It will be interesting, incidentally, to see what line Mamata Banerjee, who in a matter of days might come to power in Kolkata, takes on the issue. Almost singlehandedly she stalled enactment of a law she considers unfair to poor farmers. Now that she is on the cusp of power in West Bengal, which like many other states desperately needs development, is there some rethink by her in the offing?






The past three years have been a disaster for most Western economies. The United States has mass long-term unemployment for the first time since the 1930s. Meanwhile, Europe's single currency is coming apart at the seams. How did it all go so wrong? Well, what I've been hearing with growing frequency from members of the policy elite — self-appointed wise men, officials, and pundits in good standing — is the claim that it's mostly the public's fault. The idea is that we got into this mess because voters wanted something for nothing, and weak-minded politicians catered to the electorate's foolishness. So this seems like a good time to point out that this blame-the-public view isn't just self-serving, it's dead wrong. The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. The policies that got us into this mess weren't responses to public demand. They were, with few exceptions, policies championed by small groups of influential people — in many cases, the same people now lecturing the rest of us on the need to get serious. And by trying to shift the blame to the general populace, elites are ducking some much-needed reflection on their own catastrophic mistakes. Let me focus mainly on what happened in the United States, then say a few words about Europe. These days Americans get constant lectures about the need to reduce the budget deficit. That focus in itself represents distorted priorities, since our immediate concern should be job creation. But suppose we restrict ourselves to talking about the deficit, and ask: What happened to the budget surplus the federal government had in 2000? The answer is, three main things. First, there were the Bush tax cuts, which added roughly $2 trillion to the national debt over the last decade. Second, there were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which added an additional $1.1 trillion or so. And third was the Great Recession, which led both to a collapse in revenue and to a sharp rise in spending on unemployment insurance and other safety-net programmes. So who was responsible for these budget busters? It wasn't the man in the street. Former US President George W. Bush cut taxes in the service of his party's ideology, not in response to a groundswell of popular demand — and the bulk of the cuts went to a small, affluent minority. Similarly, Mr Bush chose to invade Iraq because that was something he and his advisers wanted to do, not because Americans were clamouring for war against a regime that had nothing to do with 9/11. In fact, it took a highly deceptive sales campaign to get Americans to support the invasion, and even so, voters were never as solidly behind the war as America's political and pundit elite. Finally, the Great Recession was brought on by a runaway financial sector, empowered by reckless deregulation. And who was responsible for that deregulation? Powerful people in Washington with close ties to the financial industry, that's who. Let me give a particular shout-out to Alan Greenspan, who played a crucial role both in financial deregulation and in the passage of the Bush tax cuts — and who is now, of course, among those hectoring us about the deficit. So it was the bad judgment of the elite, not the greediness of the common man that caused America's deficit. And much the same is true of the European crisis. Needless to say, that's not what you hear from European policymakers. The official story in Europe these days is that governments of troubled nations catered too much to the masses, promising too much to voters while collecting too little in taxes. And that is, to be fair, a reasonably accurate story for Greece. But it's not at all what happened in Ireland and Spain, both of which had low debt and budget surpluses on the eve of the crisis. The real story of Europe's crisis is that leaders created a single currency, the euro, without creating the institutions that were needed to cope with booms and busts within the euro zone. And the drive for a single European currency was the ultimate top-down project, an elite vision imposed on highly reluctant voters. Does any of this matter? Why should we be concerned about the effort to shift the blame for bad policies onto the general public? One answer is simple accountability. People who advocated budget-busting policies during the Bush years shouldn't be allowed to pass themselves off as deficit hawks; people who praised Ireland as a role model shouldn't be giving lectures on responsible government. But the larger answer, I'd argue, is that by making up stories about our current predicament that absolve the people who put us here and there, we cut off any chance to learn from the crisis. We need to place the blame where it belongs, to chasten our policy elites. Otherwise, they'll do even more damage in the years ahead.







For all the recent anti-politician Jantar Mantar drama that constituted the starting point of the demand for an effective Lokpal Bill, and the subsequent muckraking that we saw which was intended to discredit some civil society elements on the joint panel to draft the legislation, the discussions within the forum itself appear to be going on in a businesslike manner, and seems free from rancour. Indeed, the deliberations so far may even be called constructive, belying the impression some people harboured that the civil society members were a strange bunch who do little more than froth at the mouth, and government representatives are cussed status quoists. The three rounds of deliberations held so far appear to have been conducted in a spirit that suggests that all concerned do wish to deliver. The five ministers in the group and the five civil society nominees may have differing points of emphasis, and occasionally divergent views on specifics, but essentially they do not appear to be on a different page from one another. After round three on Saturday, human resources development minister Kapil Sibal, one of the five members from the government side, described the joint panel proceedings as "exceptionally constructive". It is this that makes the prospect of clinching a draft bill in reasonable time look realistic. It is reasonable to say that a clear area of agreement has already emerged. There is no difference of view in the joint committee that an independent Lokpal authority should be set up, endowed with financial and administrative autonomy. However, the details are to be worked out as on how many members there should be on the body, and the methodology of selecting the members as well as the chairperson. The civil society nominees are dead right when they say that anyone who is on the Lokpal authority, as a member or as chairperson, must not take up any government appointment subsequently or be an election candidate on behalf of any political party. Precisely because these criteria have not been adhered to has the institution of governor got debased. Some members of the higher judiciary too unfortunately think nothing of accepting post-retirement assignments from governments. The only way the Lokpal body can remain above the fray is by staying far away from governmental or political lure, and this needs to be built into the proposed legislation. Another area of consensus already reached in the joint panel is that governmental sanction (or the governor's sanction, in case of a chief minister) will no longer be required to prosecute civil servants and political appointees above a certain rank for corruption. This is a happy augury. The proposed step takes away the virtual immunity the corrupt among higher officials enjoyed within the system as sanctions were difficult to obtain. It is just as well that the debate continues — not just in the joint committee but in the wider community at large — on whether the office of Prime Minister and members of the higher judiciary should also be brought under the ambit of of the Lokpal authority. It is a positive sign that within the joint panel there is no division between governmental and civil society nominees on the question. Differences of view pertain to individuals, not which side has sent them to the committee. At its second meeting on May 2, the joint panel apparently agreed to meet even on a day-to-day basis if needed in order to conclude their work as early as practicable. This suggestion had been made earlier through these columns. While civil society elements had set the deadline of June 30 for completing the drafting exercise, we need to take a liberal view of things if we are persuaded that the committee is serious about its undertaking.








Can the Communists achieve what appears impossible to all but its most die-hard supporters and be re-elected to power in West Bengal for the eighth time in a row? The odds appear so heavily weighted against such a possibility that many analysts expect a tsunami of support in favour of the Trinamul Congress, in an uneasy coalition with the Congress. This writer, however, believes the contest will be closer than anticipated although the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led coalition will find it difficult to significantly improve on its performance when compared to the Lok Sabha elections held two years ago in which the Left managed to record leads in a third of the Assembly constituencies (to be precise, 99 out of 294). West Bengal is unique among the 28 states in the country. It is the only part of India (perhaps, the world) that has elected a Left coalition no less than seven times continuously over a period of 34 years. Even as this record is expected to break on May 13, a few questions remain. Will the Trinamul Congress on its own get a majority? Will Mamata Banerjee become the new chief minister of Bengal or remain India's railways minister? Is the state in for a period of turmoil? The Left Front's opponents have for long claimed that the CPI(M) and its supporters have rigged elections through intimidation of voters, because they control the local administration and the police. Left spokespersons, however, contend that their supporters could not have manipulated the outcome of successive elections because the proportion of anti-Left votes has varied between 55 per cent and 49 per cent of the total votes polled since 1977. The shoe is now on the other foot. More complaints of alleged rigging and intimidation have come from the Left during these elections. The desperation of the Left is on account of the expectation that anti-Left votes will consolidate. Yet a sweep against the ruling regime may not materialise because of a number of reasons. The consolidation of anti-Left votes is uneven because the Trinamul Congress' alliance with the Congress is more of a seat-sharing arrangement and less of a coalition. The fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has a marginal presence in the state, has put up candidates in almost all the Vidhan Sabha constituencies could help the Left. While distributing tickets, the Left has replaced nearly two out of three sitting members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and selected young candidates in nearly a third of the seats. Then there is the presence of strong rebel candidates, especially "former" Congressmen in Kolkata and Murshidabad. The dent in the image of the United Progressive Alliance government in Delhi following a slew of corruption scandals may indirectly help the Left. What is working against the Communists is the belief that the "red fort" is no longer invincible. After the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the number of members of Parliament (MPs) belonging to the Left from Bengal crashed from 35 to 15 while the number of Trinamul Congress MPs jumped from one to 19. More importantly, the overall mood in the state appears to be in favour of paribartan (change) instead of pratyabartan (a return of the incumbents) even among sections of traditional Left supporters who argue that the only way the Communists can cleanse their organisations of corrupt and criminal elements is if they are out of power. Why have the strong anti-incumbency sentiments that have prevailed in all states in India been conspicuous by their absence in Bengal? Those who support the Left argue that this is largely on account of the state government's land reforms programme during the 1980s, especially Operation Barga — a scheme to provide rights to tillers of land. For over a decade, agricultural productivity in Bengal went up roughly twice as fast as the all-India average. But this success story is now a thing of the past with farm productivity hitting a plateau. The government in Kolkata used to accuse the Union government of having neglected the state for decades by, among other things, initiating a policy of "freight equalisation" of coal and steel prices that robbed the eastern region of many of its locational advantages. Once a centre of steel making and heavy industry, many large factories in the state have shut down throwing hundreds of thousands of workers out of their jobs. Since the 1990s, however, as the Indian economy liberalised, complaints of discrimination by Delhi became less valid. The industrial rejuvenation of Bengal is yet to take place. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, 68, who took over charge in Writers' Buildings in November 2000 from Jyoti Basu (India's longest serving chief minister who headed the West Bengal government for nearly 25 years) had a reputation of being a practical "new Left" leader. He had, for a while, become the darling of the middle classes till Singur and Nandigram changed all that. The chief minister is today fighting with his back to the wall. Gone is the swagger that accompanied his announcement that the Tata group would be setting up a car factory in the state the evening the results of the 2006 Assembly elections were declared in May 2006 in which the Left Front won 235 out of the 294 seats with a more that 50 per cent vote share. In retrospect, it seems that this unexpectedly convincing victory added to complacency of the Left. In fact, the writing on the wall was clear a year before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, when the Left lost control over 1,620 of the 3,220 gram panchayats where elections were held, lost majority in panchayat samitis in seven (out of 18) districts (excluding Kolkata) and four zilla parishads. This trend got reinforced when the Left lost in 54 out of the 80 municipalities where elections were held in 2010. What had aided the Left in the past was the weakness of its political opponents — the Trinamul Congress had formally broken away from its parent in 1988 but its periodic flirtations with the BJP worked to the advantage of the Communists. (Ms Banerjee had ditched the BJP in 2001, then joined hands with the Congress and again returned to the fold of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance after losing the state Assembly elections that year.) It is not as if Ms Banerjee will be able to quickly revive Bengal's industrial fortunes. On the contrary, there is every possibility that the state will go through a period of unrest. Out of power, the Communists will have tremendous nuisance value. *Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator







Abu Said ibn Khair, famed mystic of the early 11th century, said: "Sufism is glory in wretchedness and richness in poverty and lordship in servitude and satiety in hunger and clothedness in nakedness and freedom in slavery and life in death and sweetness in bitterness". Those who love the Lord believe that both afflictions and bounties come from Him and that His kindness embraces all creations. One of the basic principles of the Sufi way is rida, contentment with the Divine decree. The Prophet said: "Contentment is an inexhaustible treasure". Many people live with rancour in their hearts because of the way life has treated them. A "why me" attitude essentially denies God's omnipotence and the acceptance that God alone decrees all things. No one has the ability to choose what will befall him/her, but we can choose our responses to tribulations that come our way. The Sufi Bayazid of Bistam told followers, "If you have a friend whose relationship with you is at its worst, the relationship will improve if you act according to the right code of behaviour. If something is given to you, be thankful to Allah, because He alone turns hearts in your favour. If you suffer calamity, take refuge in repentance and patience, because your being will gather strength". The Islamic tradition defines the four states that human beings live in. One is either receiving blessings or tribulations, living in obedience or disobedience. The qalb, or the heart, means something that turns. It is an organ that is constantly turning, either towards God or away from God, either in obedience or in disobedience. Obedience comes from God, for He guides whom He wills. Even in the state of obedience, one needs to be careful not to develop an attitude of self-righteousness, sometimes seen in outwardly religious people. Actions that lead to a sense of remorse and repentance before God are better than actions that lead to a sense of pride and arrogance. Prophet Mohammad said that he feared for his people, feared the vanity of self-righteousness. The response to disobedience should be repentance, seeking God's pardon with the resolve of remaining steadfast on the right path. Compassion and mercy are among the foremost attributes of Allah who accepts forgiveness from those who truly seek it. Masters remind followers that the door of repentance remains open till doomsday. Rumi's mausoleum in Konya has his famous verse inscribed on it, "Come back, come back, even if you have broken your repentance a thousand times". Delays in repentance compound the wrong action, another repentance is required for the delay in seeking forgiveness. The appropriate responses to life can help a person move closer to God. The Quran states, "It may be that you dislike something though it is good for you. And maybe that you like something that is not good for you. And God knows, you do not know". (2:216)  Tribulations have many blessings which require gratitude. First, the tribulation could have been worse, secondly, it is in worldly matters and not spiritual matters, and thirdly, it is in the finite world and not in the infinite one that lasts forever. Tribulations also force us into self-reflection and often bring us closer to God, teaching us never to give up on God's mercy. In the Quran, Allah assures, "Verily, with every difficulty, there is relief" (96:4). Displeasure with divine decree is to plunge into a state of ghaflah, heedlessness. God has decreed evil to exist in order to test mankind and for reasons that accord to His wisdom. Abu Bakr Al Margahi, a master of the mystic path, explained, "The intelligent one is he who arranges the concerns of the world with contentment at a slow pace, the concerns of the Hereafter with greed and hate, and the concerns of religion with knowledge and striving". Other masters have said that contentment is finding sufficiency with what is at hand, and ceasing to covet what is not at hand.  — Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at










WINNERS take all. Sam Manekshaw was a winner. While several top commanders resented his seeming to take full credit for the decisive 1971 victory, many would concede that such was his character that had the campaign flopped he would have squarely taken the rap. No operations are glitch-free, nor precisely what they were initially portrayed. That must be factored-in when assessing some of the "revelations" made by Lt Gen JFR Jacob (then Chief of Staff, HQ Eastern Command) in his autobiography 'An Odyssey in War and Peace'. Acknowledged as a brilliant strategist and meticulous planner, Jacob has actually been making most of the same points in previous writings, interviews, seminars. It is perhaps unfortunate that few will read his book in its entirety, public opinion will be based on media accounts ~ in which the "newsworthy" (sensational?) gets top priority. Jacob's critics will point out that he has long resented Sam's projecting that war as a one-man show, that his own contribution was inadequately recognised. Just as he was never reconciled to being overlooked for the top slot ~ allegedly because he is Jewish, and India was then waltzing down Arab Street. Jacob's barb that "going for Dhaka" was not part of New Delhi's battle plan may now (with hindsight) seem incredible, but given political realities there was valid circumspection over targeting a massive urban centre: that it "fell" without a fight is another matter. Another point Jacob has repeatedly made is that it was he who insisted on a proper build-up and resisted the government's desire to launch operations in April-May. That may be true, but it was Sam who "sold" that contrary line to Indira Gandhi.

The list of hits and misses could be extensive: to cut a long story short Manekshaw was the man of the moment. This is not to disparage Jacob's view, or presentation of it. Students of military history, those who wear/wore the uniform will greatly benefit from his straight-from-the-shoulder account. It also reinforces demands for making public official histories of major campaigns ~ does the reluctance stem from fear of a revived call for de-classifying the Henderson-Brookes report on the 1962 debacle? Back to 1971: Manekshaw had that rare ability to have the right man in the right place ~ Jacob included. And for all his swagger he seldom projected himself as a great "thinker". Yet, dare anyone dispute he was a supreme leader of 'faujis'?





IN the general climate of change, Britain has voted for continuity in last week's historic referendum. Fortunes have swayed from summer to summer. Exactly a year ago, the Liberal-Democratic leader, Mr Nick Clegg, had famously forged a coalition with the Conservatives, itself a landmark in the country's political history. Last week, Britain rejected his plan for electoral reforms, notably a replacement of the first-past-the-post system. Though it is generally conceded that the convention has its shortcomings, the outcome of the referendum suggests that there are few or no takers for the Alternative Voting (AV) proposal. Equally does the message mark a victory for Labour and also as much the Conservatives. Indeed, the LibDems rank third in the ratings. The scale of triumph for the 'No' vote puts Labour on 37 per cent, the Conservatives on 35 per cent and the Liberal Democrats way down on 15 per cent. A partner of the coalition would appear to be in the dumps. The first-past-the-post system has been retained and convincingly so with a ratio of 70 to 30 per cent; the prospect of change must remain ever so uncertain. Even the LibDems appear to be split over the need for reform. As the intra-party blame-game intensifies, the traditional system of elections has won, warts and all. Even the votaries of AV concede that the chance of reform has now gone for a generation.
Indeed, last week's "Super Thursday" witnessed a double whammy for the LibDems who suffered a severe defeat in Scotland's  elections to the Edinburgh Parliament, set up in 1999. The other striking feature is the poor performance of Labour. The results signify a famous victory for the Scottish National Party, which for the first time has won an overall majority. Constitutionally, the SNP's  spectacular victory could well have momentous  implications for the United Kingdom not least because of the scheduled referendum on whether Scotland should leave the Union during the party's five-year term. The LibDems have taken a knock, which makes the other proposal ~ reform of the House of Lords ~ ever more uncertain. Britain isn't quite ready for constitutional reforms, but at least it is prepared to get the proposition tested democratically unlike some countries we could name.




THE preoccupation of the West Bengal police in the renewal of democracy partially explains the emergence of kangaroo courts in politically volatile Murshidabad district. And the police apparently could spare the time to intervene only after the worst was over. In accord with a kangaroo court's verdict, an 18-year-old youth was tortured and tonsured for allegedly having stolen a cell-phone. Nay more, he was forced to consume pesticide in a brazen attempt to pass off a possible death to attempted suicide. He is reported to be struggling for life in one of the decrepit district hospitals. Once the hurlyburly of the election is over, the administration will hopefully realise that this rough-and-ready justice with intent to kill has been decidedly more serious than the cell-phone theft. Unlike in northern India, kangaroo courts in West Bengal don't sit in judgment over societal causes and contrived matrimonial suits. But the verdict that is awarded is ruthless no less. The preliminary punishment even surpasses the usual rigorous imprisonment in correctional homes. In this case, the suspect was made to thresh a one-bigha paddy field without pause. Murshidabad's kangaroo court has made a mockery of the law-enforcement authorities, such as they exist, and still more crucially the "idea of justice" in a decidedly libertarian state where the release of Amartya Sen's book of the same name was marked by considerable academic grandstanding.

The disconnect is stark. It is astonishing that the district administration was ignorant of the incident, let alone the existence of kangaroo courts in a border area. Not that the incident coincided with the day of the polls; even if it did, it would scarcely have been an excuse for inaction. A politicised police remains dutybound to protect the games politicians play. True, an assembly of people ~ whether in a khap panchayat or kangaroo court ~ is permitted by the Constitution. Ergo, a ban is not feasible. But the administration, whether in Haryana, Rajasthan, Bengal or the national Capital can at least keep tabs on the intent... as often as not to kill. Kangaroo and khap justice have no constitutional sanction.









Corruption is sweeping the nation, recalling De Jouvenel's "society of sheep (that) must in time beget a government of wolves?" The Government of India now has 100 Union ministers, up from 18 in 1947. Persistent bureaucratic failures and instances of corruption have frequently been highlighted by the media and the Comptroller and Auditor-General, the Central Vigilance Commission, and the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The rapid politicisation of the civil services has been matched by a faster reduction of transparency in matters of appointment to strategic posts. The age-old argument advanced by a powerful segment of the bureaucracy is that specialised Central services and experts of the "non-service" domain lack exposure and the perceived wisdom to address issues of governance.

The Prime Minister and the Home minister recently spoke of the twin deficits of ethics and governance. Reform, therefore, must begin at the top decision-making levels. 

Nandan Nilekani at present and NP Sen, Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, SS Bhatnagar, K Zachariah, PC Mahalanobis, S Gopal and Mantosh Sondhi in the past, are outstanding examples of people who have/had  joined the government without the baggage of the past. Even among bureaucrats, the names of LK Jha, IG Patel, Sir Girija Bajpai, NR Pillai, Arun Roy, S Ranganathan, V Narahari Rao and Subimal Dutt come readily to mind. Not all of them belonged to the same civil service. They were men of sterling integrity, officers who did not suffer from the "deficits of ethics and governance". With their extensive domain knowledge and courage of conviction, they created institutions and formulated policy.

The government needs to reintroduce the practice of appointing experts from outside on a regular basis to strategic posts in the Central Secretariat (CS). This will stem the systemic rot. If we have doubts about the integrity of such experts, let us not forget the dubious integrity and patriotism of the black sheep within the civil services at present. 

Those who drafted the Constitution had  envisaged a strong Centre. Yet the states were not deprived of their rights. The all-India services, such as the IAS and IPS served as a bridge between the states and the Centre. The Central services were created to ensure specialisation within the government. A common management pool was created in the Fifties to which many officers were seconded. They functioned in tandem to create the infrastructure and introduce welfare measures. Over the decades, this system was denuded for a variety of reasons. Cosmetic reforms have benefited a chosen few and it is in this context that the recent lament of the Prime Minister and Home minister must be considered. This has brought about a sense of deja vu and indifference. Appointments to the level of Joint Secretaries should be effected on the basis of the officers' domain knowledge, integrity and professional competence. Unless some of the major pitfalls are addressed, reforms will remain grounded in the politics of patronage and nepotism and the country will be ranked poorly in terms of development and corruption,  indeed a national shame.

At present, all officers, upon completing the specified years of service, are eligible for appointment to the Centre as Deputy Secretary under the Central Staffing Scheme (CSS). On paper, the CSS seeks to draw the best from all services and create a pool of competent officers. Officers of more than 35 services are screened and retained on the panel for a year. These officers are then grouped into panels of two/three each and deputed to the ministries. At the end of their tenure, all-India service officers revert to their states while those of the Central services return to their parent departments. Thereafter, they are ineligible for empanelment under the CSS for a period of three years ~ a period that may be waived by the government at its discretion.
However, the decision to retain or deny empanelment to civil servants is not based on any transparent or published parameters. Instead these are opaquely judged by a committee of secretaries (CoS) that occasionally has a non-IAS member. Even service cadre controllers are not aware of the benchmark for empanelment. A ludicrous aspect is that if an officer is not empanelled by the CoS, he/she has the right to petition the Central Administrative Tribunal even as cadre controllers are blissfully unaware of the reasons for their own officer's unsuitability, let alone the officer himself! In many cases, an officer is declared fit for promotion to a higher pay grade in his parent service but not empanelled under the CSS. Yet there are many others, as in the recent case of the CVC, who are not eligible for promotion but nonetheless, move up the ladder. 

Panels for every post  are drawn from the CSS pool by the Civil Services Board (CSB) chaired by the Cabinet Secretary with the Secretary (personnel) and the Secretary of the ministry. The members of the CSB are invariably IAS officers. Here too, there is a provison that permits ministries to request the CSB to include the name of a particular officer on the panel for final selection by the minister-in-charge. There is no adverse reference. Even vigilance approvals are fudged as is evident from the recent CVC case.

The deliberations of the CSB are subject to confirmation by the MoS (personnel). If the latter's  favourite is not on the panel, the minister may not confirm the minutes of the meeting, and exert pressure on the CSB to amend the minutes or prepare a fresh panel. If there is a deadlock, the post remains vacant for several months. If, however, the MoS (personnel) confirms the recommendations of the CSB, the approved panel of two/three officers is sent to the minister concerned. Here too, the minister may select an officer without any recorded reasons or return the panel to the CSB for including his/her favourite. How is it possible that a ministry charged with monitoring the private sector, has top officers drawn from a particular state cadre of the IAS ? The officer's proximity to a minister, rather than merit, is the determinant for a senior appointment. Merit and diversity of officers from various services are usually ignored in favour of an IAS officer.

 The role of the PMO is another factor. If it doesn't agree with the minister's recommendation, it may select another officer from the same panel or simply include any other name it finds suitable. Websites and magazines often speculate on senior appointments. And the predictions turn out to be true. Obviously the names are leaked from on high. Over the decades, the civil service has become powerful, clannish, corrupt, grossly inefficient and insufferably arrogant. The minister is no less responsible. In the words of Gibbon, he is "an absolute monarch, rich without patrimony, charitable without merit".

 India needs to salvage its national pride,  character, economy, society and sagging international reputation. Reforms must begin at the top. To quote Cicero: "A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within ... the traitor is the plague."

The writer is India's former Ambassador to Cuba, Chile and Bolivia







During my 2010 holiday in Turkey, I brought only one book to read ~ George Friedman's The Next 100 Years.   Friedman is an American political scientist and founder of the private intelligence company Stratfor.   I first came across him through browsing in the Internet and found his analysis of political events uniquely penetrating and bold.   For someone to forecast the next century showed an audacity that few would dare to prognosticate, let alone pontificate.

Friedman rightly claims that he has no crystal ball, but his grasp of the grand order of history, the dictates of geography and imperatives of demography and culture all enable him to weave a framework for us to think about the future.   In an age when world watchers are wondering whether Pax Americana is going through self-doubt, Friedman sees the 21st century as the American Age.  In his view, the United States is central because of its dominant geography, securely protected by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, endowed with rich lands and small population and the most open, technologically advanced culture in existence.   Militarily and economically, the US has defined the second half of the 20th century and he thinks that North America will dominate the current century.

Friedman is a disciple of the Machiavellian approach to geopolitics ~ to him, it "is not about the rights and wrongs of things, it is not about the virtues and vices of politicians, and it is not about foreign policy debates.  Geopolitics is about broad impersonal forces that constrain nations and human beings and compel them to act in certain ways".

His boldest forecasts is that the European Age has ended, that Turkey will be the dominant Muslim power, that China is a paper tiger, and that there will be a world war in the middle of the 21st century.  Most of us cannot think beyond our lifetimes, but we must thank Friedman for framing our thoughts around what can happen in the future.   His new book The Next Decade: Where We've Been..and Where We're Going is much closer to home and again US-centric.  It is in fact a lecture to the current and next US President what he or she should be thinking about in this unfolding decade.  

He argues quite correctly that the USA must address the question of its unintended empire, in the same way that the Romans and the British had to deal with their position of pre-eminent power.   The former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan famously said that the British Empire was founded not by design, but by pirates.  The United States was founded against British imperialism, with her War of Independence and Civil War fought on the moral basis that all men are equal.   

Friedman's clear-eyed Machiavellian approach is to state that "justice comes from power, and power is only possible from a degree of ruthlessness most of us can't abide."   In this, he draws upon three great US Presidents, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan, who understood that power is defined between the limit of good intentions and the necessity of power.  To exercise power to ensure goodness requires greatness, but also amorality.

Friedman's fundamental point is that the US should go back to the idea that the Romans and British did not rule by dominant military power or moral high ground, but by divide and rule – a delicate balance of strategic interests to cancel their competing power in the broader interest of Pax Americana.  

Friedman reminded us that the US President may appear to be the most powerful person on earth, but actually he has limited powers domestically and can only lead through his powers on foreign policy.   The founding fathers designed a constitution where much of state power, civil society, religion, press, culture and arts are checks and balances on the President domestically.  In this sense, his job is to prevent the US become more inward looking, but open to global trade, where the US derives its true economic power, both as consumer and thought leader.   But trade comes from the hard fact that the US is the only global military power.  
Accordingly, Friedman recommends three power balances.  The first is to accommodate with Iran to achieve a new balance in West Asia, to keep oil flowing and to neutralise the terrorist threat.  The second is to manage Europe in such a way that Germany does not align with Russia.  After all, there is a resurgence of Germany and Russia that came out of the current crisis in Europe.  The third is to manage Asian rivalries between China, India, Japan and the others to ensure that Asia is not a threat to US and global interests.   

Friedman's major insight is that the current crisis was due to imbalances in American power that can be corrected, such as speculation and financial manipulation.  However, it is the demographic forces and technological innovation that will shape the years to come.   America has the advantage over Europe and Asia in its openness to immigration and its still low population/arable land ratio.   This means that the US will still enjoy a demographic endowment, rather than the European and Asian deficit of looking after an aging population with a smaller labour force.  

He rightly worries that technology may be lagging behind human needs, because we are still reliant on fossil uels and there are no game-changing technologies in sight to deal with the challenges of climate warming.   Like Asians, he warns that market forces are not enough and that the state must take the lead.  
To sum up, Friedman sees that the USA "must manage the chaos of the Islamic world, a resurgent Russia, a sullen and divided Europe, and a China both huge and profoundly troubled." There is no other writer who is so clear-eyed and brutally realistic on the global scene.   If he is right, we are turning away from the recent US foreign policy of moral preach and reach, back towards no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.  

The writer is the author of From Asian to Global Financial Crisis







Of the many businesses that my father had set up and shut down, one involved painting signs and film hoardings. I have no memory of the venture, but heard later that some upcoming film stars would come to the room on our terrace to see their pictures being painted. Uttam Kumar, the future heart-throb of millions and the supreme Bengali film actor of the 20th century, was among them.


Subhash Kar was an antithesis of Uttam Kumar: dark, thin, of medium height, and prematurely balding. A soft-spoken young man, he met my father as a painter of hoardings. He didn't leave us when the studio had to be closed down because by then, he had become a part of the family. He had studied painting at Government Art College in Kolkata, where the Bengal School of Painting had emerged under Abanindra Nath Tagore in the early 20th century. Subhash-kaku belonged to the same school. His principal source of income was tutoring children in painting. He also played the flute. Those days, painting was a profession that usually led one to penury; playing the flute didn't improve things one jot. He was always in a dhoti and a shabby grey shirt that was long past its use-by date. He smiled all the time but never spoke about his parents or siblings. He was alone.
The ever-smiling Subhash-kaku was father's Man Friday who botched up things once in a way. Baba was affectionate towards him and couldn't do without him. I never saw my father shouting at him except on one occasion, but Subhash-kaku's respect for Baba was not unmixed with fear.  A basic difference between an adult and a child is that a child never tries to mend the ways of others. My sister and myself called him kaku (uncle), but Subhash-kaku was the only adult who didn't try to make us more well-behaved children. He treated us as equals. Only true artists and the finest human specimens can deal with children with such simplicity. He was an eternal child at heart who had many things in common with us siblings. For one thing, he was as much scared of our father as we were. For another, our mother loved him almost as much as she loved us, and would often protect him from her short-tempered husband. Ma often recited a couplet from Tagore: "So many homes you've put me in, made me know the unknown / You've brought the distant close, My Friend, n' made strangers my own."

I do not know what exactly we found so fascinating in Subhash-kaku ~ his simplicity or his vulnerability. Later, Subhash-kaku found a job as a school teacher, married, and rented a house at Baruipur, which was an hour's train ride from the city. Problems continued to dog him. His daughter was born with a heart problem that required a series of complex, risky, and expensive surgeries. He visited us regularly and was with us in happiness and sorrow for almost five decades. When my mother was terminally ill, he too had become frail. He could no longer visit us, but would regularly write postcards and telephone to enquire after boudi. We could not phone him back as he didn't have a telephone. When my mother died, I wrote to him, but the letter came back with the note "addressee left". I believe the addressee had left for a place where no postcards were sold and where no public telephone booths were there either.

During the 50 years that I knew him, I never saw Subhash-kaku without a smile. Neither did I ever hear him complain about anything. Without knowing, he taught me a great lesson: happiness does not depend on things that happen to or around us. Rather, it depends on us.







Independent UN human rights experts have called on the Obama administration to disclose details of Osama bin Laden's killing and demanded to know if it had plans to capture him alive.

"In respect of the recent use of deadly force against Osama bin Laden, the US should disclose the supporting facts to allow an assessment in terms of international human rights law standards," Mr Christof Heyns, the expert dealing with extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and Mr Martin Scheinin, who deals with human rights and counter-terrorism, said in a joint statement issued in New York.

It noted that the founder and head of Al Qaida had been killed by US forces at a compound in the military town of Abbottabad near Islamabad. "For instance, it will be particularly important to know if the planning of the mission allowed an effort to capture Bin Laden," the statement reads. "It may well be that the questions that are being asked about the operation could be answered, but it is important to get this into the open."
The experts noted that in certain exceptional cases, use of deadly force may be permissible as a measure of last resort in accordance with international standards on the use of force, to protect life, including in operations against terrorists. "However, the norm should be that terrorists be dealt with as criminals, through legal processes of arrest, trial and judicially decided punishment," the statement reads. "Actions taken by states in combating terrorism, especially in high profile cases, set precedents for the way in which the right to life will be treated in future instances." Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for 9/11 attacks that killed 3,000 people. He is also believed to be responsible for organising or funding many other terrorist attacks, including the 1998 bombing of US Embassies in East Africa, the 1995 bombing of a Saudi security training centre in Riyadh and numerous attacks in Afghanistan.

UN deputy spokesperson Mr Farhan Haq said that Secretary-General Mr Ban ki-Moon had expressed his relief at the death of Osama saying that a leading terrorist would no longer be able to carry out crimes and stood by those views. He noted that some UN human rights rapporteurs were seeking further information on the incident and added that the United Nations expected all counter-terrorism operations to be conducted in conformity with international law.

'Murky' Nepal appointment

The UN human rights office in Nepal has voiced concern over the appointment of an individual to the Cabinet who is a suspect in a case of kidnapping and murder in Nepal.

According to a statement issued by the UN Human Rights Office in Nepal, Mr Agni Sapkota, the new minister of information and communications, had been named as a suspect in a 2008 police report in connection with the alleged abduction and killing of Arjun Lama in 2005. The office stated that the police report followed an order from the country's Supreme Court which demanded that a full investigation be carried out in accordance with Nepalese law. The court's order is yet to be carried out though it had been issued three years ago. It added that no action had been taken on a recommendation from the National Human Rights Commission issued to the government in June 2008 requesting that the case be investigated and the alleged perpetrators prosecuted.
The UN office reiterated that the state had the responsibility to ensure that the name of a person was fully cleared in a thorough probe before any appointment to a high public office. It said the decision to appoint Mr Sapkota as a Cabinet minister contradicted Nepal's commitments ~ as expressed during the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council ~ towards accountability for serious human rights violations and abuses committed during the Nepalese conflict and reinforced the culture of impunity.
"My office has consistently maintained that all allegations of human rights and humanitarian law violations by all parties be promptly and thoroughly investigated," said Ms Jyoti Sanghera, the head of the UN Human Rights Office in Nepal. "Lack of accountability in cases of alleged human rights violations not only sends a message that there are no consequences for the perpetrators of such violations, but further adds to the suffering of the victims and their families who have been awaiting justice for many years."

Japan plant very serious: IAEA

International Atomic Energy Agency deputy director-general Mr Denis Flory has said that the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant remained very serious after it was damaged in an earthquake. "Overall, the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remains very serious," Mr Flory said in a news conference while outlining the ongoing measures taken by the Japanese authorities in response to the accident.
He noted that the percentage of core damage to several units of the plant had been revised. The core damage to Unit 1 was revised from an estimated 70 per cent to 55 per cent, while it was revised from 30 to 35 per cent for Unit 2 and from 25 to 30 per cent for Unit 3. This reflects revisions to assessments from 15 March rather than any recent changes in conditions in the reactor cores, he said.

Mr Flory outlined a number of measures carried out by Japanese authorities in recent weeks as part of their response to the accident, including counter-measures against water outflow to the sea and those to prevent a minimised spread of radionuclides in water. The Japanese government has announced a no-entry, planned evacuation and identified emergency evacuation zones in the vicinity of the plant, Mr Flory said. "The radiation monitoring continues for 47 prefectures with reported values showing that the deposition of radionuclides is still occurring in certain prefectures." "But the values for deposition are significantly lower than those detected in the first weeks of the emergency and the number of prefectures affected is diminishing," Mr Flory said.

anjali sharma








Coalition politics can make strange bedfellows. The unlikely passion that was ignited between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats after the general elections in Britain last year seems to have run its course. Ideologically, the two have always been like chalk and cheese. The exigencies of a hung parliament, and mutual self-interest, had coaxed them to hold each other's hand. But a year on, that gossamer edifice of cordiality dissolved into frostiness as the Lib Dem dream of reforming an ailing political system was sabotaged by an aggressive Tory campaign. Apart from the popular rejection of the alternative vote, the Lib Dems have to reckon with the severe battering they got at the local elections. There is reason to believe that the people are punishing the party for supping with the devil. Even as coalition partners, the Lib Dems routinely failed to assert themselves in areas crucial to public interest. So, although Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, lobbied for a system of proportional representation, he capitulated on the Tory offer of AV, knowing full well that it was a "miserable little compromise".

In the first-past-the-post system that is currently followed by Britain, voters put a cross next to their preferred candidate on ballot paper. The one with the most crosses wins. FPTP is an uncomplicated system that brings clarity but disproportionately rewards parties with locally concentrated support bases. So the Conservatives fare poorly in the north, the Labours do badly in the south, and the Lib Dems suffer everywhere. This is not only ironic but also patently unfair. In the last general elections, the Lib Dems picked up nearly a quarter of all the votes but got fewer than one in ten seats. AV encourages voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If, after a first round, no one gets more than half the votes, the votes for the least popular candidate gets redistributed, following the second preferences indicated by the supporters of the eliminated candidate. Such redistributions continue till someone crosses the 50 per cent mark. Clearly, AV forces candidates to work harder for their vote and can play havoc with the idea of 'safe seats'. Australia has relied on the system with benefit for several years now.

In spite of its relative merits over FPTP, AV has its limits too. For one, it dilutes PR, which gives parties seats in proportion to their votes. More worryingly, it gives voters a chance to opt for extremists by making centrist parties their second preference. Finally, under AV, a voter can mark his favourite '1' and leave it at that — thus turning it into a version of FPTP. But the fairness quotient of AV still outweighs that of FPTP. It is a pity that the British electorate gave up a chance to clean up their tired and tainted political system.







No one asks to be born. But many infants, if not most, have at least some things to be happy about, even if it be for just a few years. A baby born on the pavement is normally cared for by parents, siblings and members of the pavement–family with as much tenderness as a baby brought up in a sheltering house. But the three infants in the Howrah district hospital born to mentally ill mothers have only the hospital staff to look after them. Brought in from the streets, their mothers cannot recognize them, and even turn aggressive. However kind the hospital staff may be, it is impractical for the hospital to keep three infants occupying beds and claiming time from the staff. They also need a proper diet and will soon need schooling. The three babies were thrust into a nowhere world from the moment they were born.

Yet this nowhere world need not have existed. A society that makes homes for its orphans — not sufficient, perhaps, but existing — and puts mentally ill women into hospitals, seems unable to make the connection between women and children. Or to observe that the mentally ill often have no family — families tend to disappear — and are therefore orphaned themselves. It is bad enough that women convicts sometimes have their children with them, but that still remains a relationship with the mother. Besides, various programmes aim to improve the lives of children born or bred in prison. But the only solution for the three infants in the hospital is to be sent to a government home that can bring them up and send them to school. Because of the peculiar status of these 'unorphaned' orphans, a special representation must be made on their behalf either by the hospital or by the health department to the child welfare committee. No one has got around to that for 18 months. What is needed is not just these children's transfer to an appropriate institution, but also a plan, if not an institution, for more cases of the kind. These three cannot be the only babies in this predicament.






Foreign interventions were habitual during the process of Afghan nation-formation in the 19th and 20th centuries; they were usually resisted, and contributed nothing to the welfare of the Afghans, who harbour a well-known and well-merited aversion to foreigners. The present Afghan war has been going on for more than 30 years and, during those years, several million Afghans were killed and more than 10 million have fled, leaving 28 million in the country. Almost all the great powers tested their military hardware there, promises of peace and democracy degenerated into more war and devastation, and uncountable fruitless operations resulted in bloodshed, hatred, horror, and an increase in drug production.

The Taliban, ruling Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, are best remembered for barbaric Islamist practices and the wanton destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas. From 2001 onwards, under United Nations security council resolutions, an international security assistance force was set up, initially to protect the government of Hamid Karzai, and then to eliminate al Qaida and combat insurgents. The ISAF has 100,000 troops from the United States of America and 40,000 from 48 other countries engaged in what is already the longest military exercise in US history. But there is no international consensus on the limits or objectives of intervention. The Americans themselves seem hardly to know why they are there. They assert they have no quarrel with the Afghans; it is only al Qaida that is the enemy. Speaking to me at the time of the ISAF's creation, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, then the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, envisaged an early withdrawal when democracy and rule of law were established in Afghanistan. That type of nation-building did not succeed in Kosovo or Albania or Bosnia in Europe: how was it ever possible in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan is portrayed as the most acute security problem in the world, and the Taliban as a threat to regional and global peace. Is terror contained because of the presence of the ISAF or Nato? The answer depends on the definition of the Taliban. People everywhere have heard of these Afghan 'students', but to describe their objectives, apart from the removal of foreigners from their country, is problematic. Despite the presence of the ISAF, 65 per cent of Afghanistan is under Taliban sway. The Talibs are now vastly different from the pre-2001 variety, being younger, more skilled at propaganda, and closer to al Qaida, Wahabis and Salafis. They have better tactics, use guerrilla methods and are entrenched even in urban areas. They obtain widespread Afghan respect because they are seen as fully opposed to foreigners. Karzai himself describes the Talibs as 'disenfranchised brothers', thereby confusing the people and his army.

The Karzai government's control continuously shrinks in the face of the Taliban, and security deteriorates every year. Al Qaida has been disrupted by the US offensive and the death of Osama bin Laden but jihadi terrorism will continue for as long as it has the support of the Pakistan State. The Taliban are far from degraded owing to their safe havens in Pakistan. Calling Pakistan the "epicentre" of global terrorism, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, has said that America cannot succeed in Afghanistan unless terrorist safe havens in Pakistan are shut down. So the prime obstacle to removing the threat of terror is clearly identified.

The ISAF's aim to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" al Qaida and its principal backers, the Taliban, has been modified more realistically. This year, according to President Barack Obama, the US will start transferring out of Afghanistan and 2014 is the timeline to shift authority to Kabul. This is made easier by bin Laden's demise. The immediate goal is to secure an agreement with the Taliban because the Afghan army and police cannot cope with internal and external threats unless the level of threat is reduced. This exit strategy is only about exit and not strategy, according to Henry Kissinger.

Afghanistan must prepare for the reality of US military withdrawal. There is wide disapproval of the Afghan campaign in the US and in all Nato countries, making it politically impossible to stay on. The US military budget, at this time of economic strife, is higher than the rest of the world combined, and the ratio between the highest and the average incomes in the US is an unacceptable 120:1. American troops may remain in Kandahar and former Soviet-era bases, not for the sake of Afghanistan, but to maintain surveillance over Pakistan's nuclear facilities that are vulnerable to terrorists. Washington will not make this public, unless it is obliged to by domestic political considerations.

There has been some development in Afghanistan; it is not a medieval or broken state. There have been advances since 2001 with regard to media and civil society, roads, railways and power. Six million children go to school, of whom 38 per cent are girls. In 2001, only one million were in school, all boys. There is primary health in two-thirds of the country as opposed to 10 per cent in 2001. But there are setbacks in economy and security, rule of law, corruption and narcotics, and human rights abuses are perpetrated both by the government and the insurgents. Reconstruction in Afghanistan needs prolonged engagement with the West and the UN since it will need huge funding. The US says it is committed to Afghanistan's development but, as the largest donor, its aid has too closely been tied to counter-insurgency strategies, with the blurring of humanitarian and military objectives.

In politics too, there have been serious errors. External controls over governance have weakened moves for Afghan self-government. The Afghans have a tradition of decentralized authority, whereas the US stresses a strong centre, though it simultaneously undermines it by dealing directly with warlords and local power groups. Sub-governance is probably the answer, but all Afghans will oppose American suggestions of balkanization into quasi-sovereign provinces or seven administrative units that correspond roughly to ethno-political divisions. There is corruption at all levels, with the ISAF itself guilty of paying protection money to local warlords. Counter-narcotics policies are not succeeding, and non-governmental organizations act like parallel authorities. The polity is a hybrid between the traditional and the modern, and debates about a presidential or a parliamentary system and the role of shuras and jirgas in any future dispensation continue. Despite the problems in determining legitimacy, the West will have to relax its control over outcomes. Elections have failed to produce an Afghan voice, and the old forms of consensus-building like the shura and jirga have not succeeded.

In the search for a solution, various regional approaches have been mooted, especially since diverse ethnicities in Afghanistan need reconciliation. The ethno-linguistic complexities are immense, with Pashtun, Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara majorities living outside the country and only the minority within Afghanistan. The neighbours act out competing and conflicting interests, as do outsiders like Saudi Arabia with its profound links with the Taliban. Pakistan wants to exclude any Indian influence in what it regards as its backyard; Iran cannot accept Shias being treated as apostates by Wahabis; China fears Uighur contamination by Islamic extremism; Central Asia fears narcotics and terrorism. The US refuses to involve Iran, while any armed action against Iran by the US or Israel will hugely increase radicalism in the Middle East and Central Asia with unpredictable consequences. Pakistan can be a deal-maker or deal-breaker, but a Pakistani brokered peace will not be acceptable to its neighbours or to all the Afghans.

There is no such thing as a card-carrying Taliban. Pashtuns and Talibs are not synonymous and the Taliban are not monolithic. The Talibs are in at least three formations — Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura, Haqqani in North Waziristan (with a strong Arab element and attached to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence) and the Pakistani Taliban. Each Taliban group has a different leadership with different agendas. The Taliban are more of a 'movement' intending to defeat ISAF/Nato and reclaim Afghanistan. Ethnicity and Islam are not cementing factors, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the mujahid of anti-Soviet vintage, is a constant spoiler, and the Taliban will not cohere after any settlement and the Nato troops' withdrawal.

But moves for a settlement are constantly afoot and will now accelerate. Karzai is moving closer to regarding Pakistan as essential for his continuation, and Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president, is acting as his intermediary with the Quetta Shura, though the US does not want Mullah Omar in the reconciliation process. The process among the various players is highly opaque. There are whispers of future talks, perhaps in the Gulf, or in Turkey. The broad principles could be no partition, no single outside power to be dominant, no handover to Pakistan, no reversion to the status quo, no imposed neutrality, the Afghans to own the process, and Afghanistan's independence and sovereignty to be guaranteed by Pakistan.

It is unlikely that any talks will be fruitful unless there is a prior end to combat operations, and in addition to insurgents, any negotiation must include formal and informal power holders, and should ideally include obligations to human rights and accountability — though enforcement will be impossible. But there is a saying in Afghanistan: "In principle, no compromise; in compromise, no principle." And that, finally, is likely to be the untidy and unsatisfactory outcome.

The author is former foreign secretary of India







The forthcoming monsoon session of Parliament will probably be remembered as one of the most shameful ones with no debate whatsoever on any issue. The inability of the Indian political class to articulate ideas and argue cogently makes the people hugely insecure about the quality of their 'leaders'. The free-for-all tamasha enacted within the halls of Parliament, with members hitting below the belt with abusive innuendoes, shames the constituents of this democracy. The exploitative men and women who fight to win a place in the echelons of power, and who have failed to deliver a decent civil society where the administration is made accountable for the goods and services it is mandated to deliver, leave us with no alternative worth its weight. Will we manage to reinvent our democratic institutions, ensuring a vitality of mind, spirit and action?

The two major national parties will confront each other to secure a place on the treasury benches of the Lok Sabha two-and-a-half years from now if India does not go in for mid-term polls. The reality today is that the Congress is afloat and in one piece because its anchor is one political family, while the Bharatiya Janata Party is so because it abides vehemently by its Hindutva ideology. Both talk of 'development', 'growth', 'opportunity' and so on. This is not extraordinary since these are the primary functions of political dispensations across the world. That is what governments are elected to do. It is their job to administer civil society. Having said that, India needs urgent cleansing and restructuring of its delivery mechanisms and systems. The nation craves for energetic and value-based leadership that can generate change, development and growth within the parameters of honesty and integrity.

Imagine a hypothetical scenario where the BJP decides to put Narendra Modi to bat as the prime ministerial candidate despite all the chatter about him not being acceptable. All he needs to do is apologize for what happened in Gujarat and a magnanimous India will forgive him.

A fresh face

Who will be the counterpoint to Modi from the Congress? Or will the grand, old and tired party revert to the elected-representatives-will-elect-the-leader syndrome and have no viable and charismatic person as potential prime minister in these changed times? If there is a will in the Congress to compete head on, it needs to get Rahul Gandhi as the captain of the team. No other candidate fits the bill for circa 2014. The process has to begin now, halfway through this term, to enable the reinvention of a tired Congress into a liberal party representing a new millennium.

Does Rahul Gandhi have the political will to go in for the kill? Will the failed politicos in the Congress, who have indulged in endless patchwork in lieu of a structural overhaul to deal with changing demands, cease to lobby against the next-in-command in a bid to stall the change of guard? Will the seen-to-be-loyalists engineer a confrontation of factions within the Congress to protect their turf, pretending to protect the present commanders? It is apparent from outside that the sanctum sanctorum has been sealed off from the real world, isolated from the crumbling walls of the house that A.O. Hume, M.K. Gandhi and others built. Does the edifice need to be pulled down or does it need to be taken over by a fresh incumbent raring to transform its moribund state?

To merely stay in power and lose all credibility is stupid strategy in this 'age of information'. A political party that believes it has a dynamic future role must engage with the people and use every forum to do so. The days of staying away from the public domain are gone and proactive connectivity is the need of the hour.






It has been said that it is in our memories that we find ourselves, the parts of ourselves which make us what we are today; it is in our past that we find our commitment to the present, our hopes for the future. Yet, even as I look back on my life, I wonder whether my life is of any interest to anyone else beside myself. My cinema yes, but my life? This exercise — thinking about my life — forces me to look back. And it comes as a shock that I have completed more than 50 years in cinema. And how enmeshed my life and work have been, how inseparable. They constantly overlapped and one constantly impacted the other.

It seems only the other day that I came back home from school to be told by my father that Satyajit Ray had called, wanting to cast me in his next film.

It is impossible to encapsulate 50 years in cinema in a few hundred words. So what I will present are vignettes that will hopefully provide some insights into not just my life but also some of the films I have acted in. My film journey has been a fascinating one, more so as I have straddled two diametrically opposite genres of cinema, that is, Bengali regional cinema and Bombay popular cinema. This unique intersection has served me well as I experienced the best of both worlds.

For the sake of brevity, I will limit myself to talking primarily of three films, Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959), Devi (The Goddess, 1960) and Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest, 1970). All three films present very different perspectives of Bengal, its ways of life, location and time. While the first two are, strictly speaking, period pieces, Aranyer Din Ratri locates itself in the contemporary world of that time. The 10 years that separated the first two films and the last witnessed a distinct shift in the socioeconomic-political life of our country which found reflection in Ray's work. During this time, I too had made a shift that was at the time deemed quite 'unusual'. I started working in Bombay films or Hindi films as they were called then. Given my surname and the literary and cultural lineage it invoked, my middle-class background and the fact that I was introduced to cinema by Ray, I was least expected to make this choice.

Today, as I watch cinema become a career option for so many young people, I cannot but be surprised at how things have changed. The one constant refrain of my childhood was that the young had to be kept away from films lest it affect their character development. For all the glamour associated with stars, there was very little respect for the profession.

Life before Apur Sansar

My famous surname notwithstanding, I was just another school-going 13-year-old when Apur Sansar happened. I grew up in a joint family with my grandparents in Calcutta as my father's work took him to places where schooling was a problem. My father was the first in our family to hold a regular nine-to-five job; the earlier Tagores had all been landlords. But times were changing. My grandfather and his brother lived in the same house with their children and grandchildren and it bustled with people and activities the whole day. I vividly remember the kitchen which my grandmother presided over with the help of her three daughters-in-law. I remember the women with their colourful saris, busy sorting out ingredients — and this, even a simple thing like peeling a potato, had to be done in a prescribed manner. This was indeed a visual and aesthetic treat for us children who were always roped in to do something or the other every time we crossed the periphery of their vision. The routine activity of cooking was transformed into a pageant, with all the gossip, laughter and singing.

My grandfather was in all respects the head of the family. Like Rabindranath Tagore, he wore the jubba, and was the last man in the family to do so. Everyone after him took to trousers or the traditional dhoti-kurta. I would often sit with my grandfather in the evenings as he smoked his hookah and enjoyed his whiskey. On Friday evening at nine o'clock, we would both listen to the radio play together. I would cry and smile and react as we do now in movies, which, at that time, we were prohibited to watch. I grew up with many cousins and so never knew what it was to be lonely. At all times the house resonated with conversations. One of my cousins, who was years older than me, was a communist, while another uncle was a Congress worker, and so we would witness lively political discussions which often became quite heated. I was a voracious reader, a habit not uncommon in middle-class Bengali families of the time. I read Bengali classics, including Tagore, and loved poetry. In fact, I even got caught cheating once. We had been asked to write a modern poem. I came home and found an anthology of modern poems, copied one from it and gave it to my teacher the next day. She read it and asked me if I had written it. Without batting an eyelid, I said, "Yes." She said it was very good. I beamed. She asked me again if I had written it. I could lie no longer. It turned out that I had passed off a poem by Tagore as my own, and a well-known one at that, "Proshno". I often console myself that I had at least demonstrated good taste.

Looking back to those days, I now realize how the ambience around me must have subconsciously prepared me for my tryst with cinema. I must have closely observed everyone in the family, the procession of guests who dropped by, and the army of domestic help we had. I watched how they behaved, the way they spoke — the grandmothers, newly-weds, daughters-in-law, daughters, maids and cooks — everyone's place in the family could be ascertained through their demeanour. These must have been the 'teachers' I unconsciously drew from, particularly in the first two films in which I acted.

The spinster aunt who actually brought me up since my parents were away was keen that I get some cultural education, so she enrolled me in a music school where I learnt music and dance. I also joined children's theatre where I participated in a number of plays and dance dramas when I was all of six or seven years old. I would perform and tour with the troupe. When the tours got over, I was overwhelmed with sadness. I missed the attention I received when I was on stage. Clearly, I liked the exhibitionism that came with all the dressing up and performing. I also fancied myself a brooding romantic. I would sit in front of the mirror and will myself into a state of melancholic sadness at some imagined situation, fuelled no doubt by the many books I read. I would glance at the mirror now and again to see if my face properly reflected the 'turmoil' that I had imagined in my heart.

In short, I was well-schooled in the theatre of life. My being part of a joint family, my engagement with literature, my exposure to the stage as a child, my overall curiosity about life around me and a constant desire to introspect and question almost everything I experienced must have stood me in good stead when I entered the world of cinema. Meanwhile, my younger sister, Tinku, had acted in a film called Kabuliwala, directed by Tapan Sinha. Her performance as the five-year-old Mini was much lauded. And then came the call from Satyajit Ray.

Apur Sansar and after

I had been spotted outside my school and followed home by one of the scouts that Ray had deployed. When Ray, who by now had become a respected filmmaker, called my father, he agreed. His only condition was that the shooting would have to be done over the vacation so that I did not miss my classes.

When the shooting began, I didn't find Ray intimidating at all even though he physically towered over everyone. He had a way of relating to everyone individually and always made eye contact when he spoke. I wasn't treated any differently just because I was a child or a newcomer. He handed me a bound script — like everyone else — which I was expected to read and comment upon. In Apur Sansar, I play a child-bride who is deeply in love with her husband. Even though I was only 13, it was not hard for me to relate to the character. Having a boyfriend at that age was out of the question, but we had a keen interest in boys, not to mention the excitement, whispered gossip and the naughty chit-chat that surrounded marriages in the family. Moreover, I was an avid reader of novels whose romantic allusions always struck a responsive chord. So, though 'love' had not actually happened, I knew in my adolescent imagination what it felt like to hold hands with a lover. This suited the character of Aparna.

I must say here that whatever I had to do in Apur Sansar and Devi was infinitely easier than what I would be required to do later in Bombay films: like lip-sync to a playback song.

My very first scene was the one where Apu and Aparna enter the one-room terrace tenement for the first time after their marriage. Soumitra Chatterjee (who played Apu) and I were standing in front of a closed door, while the camera was inside the room. While we were waiting for my first shot, Soumitra whispered, "Are you nervous?" Actually, I wasn't the least bit nervous but before I could answer, Manikda's voice rang out, "Start sound, camera, action." Soumitra opens the door, enters, turns to me and says, "Esho." I step in tentatively. Ray says: "Come forward, take two more steps, look up, look right, raise your shoulders, sigh, cut, excellent, next shot." And it was over. First take okay. And immediately after he took that shot of Aparna going over to the window and getting overwhelmed. I think her tears come out of sheer exhaustion, the unexpected turn of events, the huge change, and the realization that she no longer has the protective comfort of her family; she is on her own with a stranger in a new city. At that point she hears a mother and child laughing and looking down she sees their happy interaction. She calms down and looks as if she has resolved something in her mind. Today, I often wonder whether Manikda chose that scene deliberately. Since Aparna's and my state of mind would have been the same: both of us had no idea what lay behind that closed door. Crossing that threshold changed both our lives completely.

One of the most celebrated sequences in the film is the morning after Apu and Aparna's night of conjugal intimacy. Aparna disengages herself from Apu, who lies in bed, lazily playing with her hairclip while talking to her. A languid grace suffuses the scene as love blooms between the newly-weds. This is followed by a montage of simply unforgettable romance. What is it about the sequence that resonates even today? It is for everyone to decide for themselves. But for me it is a reminder that one does not really need champagne and diamonds or a moonlit Riviera for love: you just need each other. Apur Sansar among other things articulates this wonderful sense of love and hope. Even today, 50 years later, the romance of Apur Sansar has not faded. An entirely new generation thrills to it exactly the same way as they did at the time.

Having said that the shooting was easy for me, I must admit to one sequence that went very wrong. There was a scene in which I had to light a matchstick and I simply couldn't do it as I had a phobia about fire. When I failed to light a matchstick after 10 or 12 takes, we had to 'cheat' the shot. Someone lit the matchstick off camera and handed it to me. This was that famous carriage scene where Aparna's face is lit just with that light from the matchstick. Apu dreamily asks, "What have you got in your eyes?" and she, in a big close-up, says in all innocence, "Kajal."

Thirty years after the film was shot, I revisited that terrace tenement. I was accompanied by Catherine Berge, who made a documentary on Soumitra Chatterjee. The house, incredible as it may sound, was exactly the same. That is when I got an insight into Apu the writer and what this terrace room must have meant to him. Apu's house in a crowded area is a beehive of people and activity. When he walks up the stairs, he is aware of inquisitive, prying eyes. Nowhere in the city can he afford any privacy. But once he reaches the terrace all he sees is the open sky. When, after so many years, I walked up to the terrace with Catherine, I heard the cacophony of the city recede and the only sound that remained was that of the passing train. I began to understand how liberated Apu must have felt each time he came through the door and was greeted by the open sky.

The second and concluding part of the article willl appear on May 12




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




The violence in UP's Gautam Buddha Nagar and Agra in the last few days has again brought to the fore the continuing inability of governments to evolve sound and satisfactory legal and procedural steps to address the problems related to land acquisition.

Four people have died in clashes between farmers and the police over the demand for fair price for land to be acquired for the Yamuna Expressway project. The protests are spreading and the politics over land is deepening. UP and other parts of the country have seen major agitations over the issue in the past. UP and Haryana have better land acquisition rules and processes than other states. But even these have been found to be inadequate.

The blame does not rest only on state governments. The Centre and all political parties should share responsibility for their inability to agree on a legislation that reconciles the need for land for economic growth and urbanisation with demands and grievances of those who are divested of it.

The existing 1894 Act is outdated. Its amendment in 1984 also could not ensure fair prices and just acquisition processes to poor land-owners. The provisions are ambiguous and biased in favour of the government, public purpose is ill defined, the compensation offered is low and the procedures are clumsy. Much debate has taken place over this, and many suggestions have been made to make the law sensitive and contemporary.

The Centre actually introduced a new bill in the Lok Sabha in 2009. That was not very satisfactory but even that was allowed to lapse. As the demand for land grows, its prices are going up everywhere. Very often land is acquired in the name of development to supply cheap real estate to private companies.

Owners of land are short-changed in the process. Livelihood and rehabilitation issues are ignored. Even in cases of need for land for genuine development there cannot be different standards for compensation. The proposal to give land losers a stake in the projects that come up on their land is not generally followed.

The problem of poor land records and ambiguous transactions add to the difficulties. Other laws relating to rehabilitation and resettlement also need to be changed in line with an effective and humane acquisition law. A change of laws is needed for development but it should at the same time protect the just rights of land owners.







Minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh has said he was under 'pressure' to overlook violations of environmental norms while clearing certain projects. He has not named the projects which he was reportedly forced to give his nod to. However, one can surmise this could have happened in relation to those projects he turned down initially, only to give his assent eventually.

That the minister was under tremendous pressure from ministries such as mines, surface transport, etc that are keen to green signal projects to boost 'development' was never in doubt. What is problematic about Ramesh's candid confession, however, is that it raises questions over the depth of his commitment to the cause of environment. If he is indeed convinced that environmental regulations are being violated, why did he waver and give in? He should have dug in and convinced his ministerial colleagues with strong arguments.

Had he been really convinced over the violations, he should have stepped down on a matter of principle, rather than give his assent and then grumble. Huffing and puffing on environmental issues is not enough. One needs to run with the issue till the very end. With his revelation Ramesh has indicated, sadly, that he lacks the stamina to run the marathon on environment issues.

Ramesh has infused the environment ministry with a new energy. This was a ministry that had become largely irrelevant over the past decade. Ramesh not only raised its profile, but also has pushed environmental issues to the fore of public discussions. He has rightly argued that we cannot deforest or pollute our way to prosperity.

Yet, with his confession that he buckled to pressure on several projects, it does seem that these arguments were empty bluster aimed at scoring points with activists. Was Ramesh's passionate espousal of the cause of India's dwindling forests, its tigers and magnificent marine life only confined to rhetoric?

Ramesh will find that giving the go-ahead to projects that violate norms will not be problematic if he assiduously implements the 'polluter pays' principle. That is, if a mining project envisages destruction of forest land, it will be given the green signal only if it engages in reforestation, rehabilitation and so on in a way that it undoes all the damage done. That way, neither Ramesh nor the public will regret his green signalling development projects.






In 2009 when India was faced with one of its worst droughts, the monsoon forecast was for an 'almost normal' rainfall season.
You must have heard of the meteorological department's monsoon forecast. It promises to be a near normal monsoon season from June-September with rains expected to be 98 per cent of the long period average with a 5 per cent variation. Sounds good.

But if you are a farmer, keep your fingers crossed. Instead of depending on the first monsoon forecast that was given out in April, I suggest you keep on praying before rain gods to be kind to you. Pray with folded hands that the rains do not deceive you once again as it did two years back in 2009. You haven't yet recovered from the economic distress that the 2009 drought had inflicted, and if the monsoon fails again you will be in dire straits.

The near-normal forecast certainly brought respite to the policymakers struggling to check rising food inflation. To industrialists it brought hope of a positive business and market sentiments meaning more consumer goods can be sold in rural areas. But let me warn you. You need not be too hopeful. Don't read too much into the first official monsoon forecast of the year.

The day the forecast came I was in a TV studio. The anchor asked me as to what I read of a 98 per cent normal monsoon prediction. My answer to him was that I am disappointed. If this is all that the meteorological department is capable of predicting then I would rather trust my grandmother. Her predictions, not as sharp in quantitative terms as that of the meteorology department, but have rarely gone wrong. She has never let me down. I would stand by her. So should you.

First, the meteorological department itself has conceded that the accuracy of its prediction is only 53 per cent correct, which means it has 50:50 probability of going wrong. This is where I said that my grandmother's traditional instincts are much trustworthy. Secondly, the department says that it can't tell us exactly as to how much rainfall would come in each of the three months of the monsoon season — July, August and September. That is what you need it most.

The meteorological department will therefore be able to tell in June as to how much rainfall you can expect the next month in July; in July they will tell us about the intensity expected in August; and in August they can make a prediction about September. Now, don't get me wrong but if you were to yourself stand on your rooftop in June, the chances are that you too can predict with quite a broad assessment about the coming rains in the next few weeks.


For the farmers, the monsoon forecast makes little sense. It is the timeliness and the geographical spread that is more important. If the rains come on time in June and then disappear for the next few months, and then again there is a heavy downpour in August, the average performance would be near normal. But in the process the entire freshly sown crop would have withered away necessitating either re-sowing or for many abandoning the kharif crop altogether.

This year also indications are that the rainfall will be deficient in north-western parts of the country as well as the northeast. But in the absence of any definite assessment it is difficult to know how spatially it would be distributed and for how long. There have been times earlier when the country as a whole gets normal or above normal rains, some parts/regions go dry. It has happened a few years in Rajasthan, and there have been cases when rains have bypassed the central region of the country altogether. Last year, Bihar and Jharkhand were faced with drought while the rest of the country received bountiful rains.

Although the meteorological department has been promising to provide block-level forecasts, I wonder how it can when it even fails to make a correct macro prediction for the country as a whole. Don't forget, in 2009 when the country was faced with one of its worst droughts, the monsoon forecast was for an 'almost normal' rainfall season with 96 per cent overall rainfall expected. It is however another matter that the country received a deficit of 22 per cent in rains causing a severe drought across the country. Moreover, despite all the technological sophistication it may surprise you to know that the department has never been able to predict a drought or impending floods.

When asked as to give the exact date of monsoon hitting the Kerala coast in India, minister for science and technology Pawan Bansal said that based on the averages of the past, he was expecting rains to arrive on June 1 in Kerala and June 29 over Delhi. He wasn't sure but he was banking his assessment on the past averages. Well, I am sure you would agree that our grandmother too knows when the rains would normally appear. She too banks upon the past averages. That is why I am asking you to keep your fingers crossed, and pray.








It won't take long for al-Qaeda to begin wishing that Osama bin Laden wasn't dead.
To the al-Qaeda members I interrogated at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere in the aftermath of 9/11, Osama bin Laden was never just the founder and leader of the group, but also an idea. He embodied the belief that their version of Islam was correct, that terrorism was the right weapon, and that they would ultimately be victorious. Osama's death did not kill that idea, but did deal it a mortal blow.

The immediate reaction of al-Qaeda members to Osama's death will be to celebrate his martyrdom. The group's ideology champions death for the cause: Songs are composed, videos made and training camps named in honour of dead fighters. Osama's deputies will try to energise people by turning him into a Che Guevara-like figure for al-Qaeda — a more effective propaganda tool dead than alive.

But it won't take long for al-Qaeda to begin wishing that Osama wasn't dead. He not only was the embodiment of al-Qaeda's ideology, but also was central to the group's fund-raising and recruiting successes. Without him, al-Qaeda will find itself short on cash — and members.

Divine powers

Osama's fund-raising and his personal story had brought him to prominence during the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan and later secured his position as al-Qaeda's leader. He further cultivated that image by trying to model his ascetic life on that of the Prophet Muhammad — by dressing similarly and encouraging his followers to ascribe divine powers to him.

Not only has al-Qaeda lost its best recruiter and fund-raiser, but no one in the organization can come close to filling that void. Osama's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, who will probably try to take over, is a divisive figure. His personality and leadership style alienate many, he lacks Osama's charisma and connections and his Egyptian nationality is a major mark against him.

Indeed, one of the earliest things I discovered from interrogating Qaeda members in Afghanistan and Yemen as well as Guantánamo was the group's internal divisions; the most severe is the rivalry between the Egyptians and members hailing from the Arabian Peninsula. While Egyptians typically travel to the Gulf to work for Arabs there, in al-Qaeda, Egyptians have traditionally held most of the senior positions.

It was only the knowledge that they were ultimately following Osama — a Saudi of Yemeni origin, and therefore one of their own — that kept non-Egyptian members in line. Now, unless a non-Egyptian takes over, the group is likely to splinter into subgroups.

Someone like Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American who is a leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is a likely rival to Zawahri. Osama was adept at convincing smaller, regional terrorist groups that allying with al-Qaeda and focusing on America were the best ways to topple corrupt regimes at home. But many of his supporters grew increasingly distressed by al-Qaeda's attacks in the last few years — which have killed mostly Muslims — and came to realise that Osama had no long-term political programme aside from nihilism and death.

The Arab Spring, during which ordinary people in countries like Tunisia and Egypt overthrew their governments, proved that contrary to al-Qaeda's narrative, hated rulers could be toppled peacefully without attacking America. Indeed, protesters in many cases saw Washington supporting their efforts, further undermining al-Qaeda's claims.

Most of al-Qaeda's leadership council members are still at large, and they command their own followers. They will try to carry out operations to prove al-Qaeda's continuing relevance. And with al-Qaeda on the decline, regional groups that had aligned themselves with the network may return to operating independently, making them harder to monitor and hence deadlier.

Investigations, intelligence and military successes are only half the battle. The other half is in the arena of ideas, and countering the rhetoric and methods that extremists use to recruit. We can keep killing and arresting terrorists, but if new ones are recruited, our war will never end.

(The writer was an FBI special agent from 1997 to 2005)







Men know their machines much better than they know themselves.
What is it, with men and their machines that we women never seem to under-stand? Right from the time a boy gets on his tricycle to the day he grows up and drives a car, it is a never-ending love affair.

I know guys who ogle cars and bikes as if these were models cat-walking the ramp. The purr of the engine and the way it takes off is all noted with such rapt attention, that these inanimate objects can give girl-friends a huge complex. And the same guys can spend hour's together washing and polishing their machines and when they get into this frenzy, girl-friends and wives can take a backseat. I guess, when it comes to wheels, we women always take the backseat (no offence meant to those female car and bike enthusiasts. May your tribe increase.)

While we women just notice, may be, the shapes and shades of cars and occasionally compare it to some hunk, like my friend equates the Swift to Salman-Khan, men can go to great length describing the engine, the suspension, the transmission and how can you forget the power, the gear-box, the ride and the handling. In short they know their machines much better than they know themselves.

And then there are guys who name their cars ala Basanthi or Britney and carry on a monologue with it. But the ultimate happiness lies in taking these Basanthis to every nook and corner, atop the highest mountains, crossing streams and rivers, through loops and tight hand-braking curves.

Happiness also lies in having covered so many kilometers in that many hours and touching a particular speed on a certain stretch. Never mind the spills enroute, they only add to the thrill. Having done all this and more, they think they have bragging rights for the rest of their lives.









On the eve of the 63rd anniversary of its independence, more than ever Israel ostensibly appears like the "villa in the jungle" that Defense Minister Ehud Barak referred to. It enjoys stable governance, strong democracy, economic power and relative quiet on the security front. In the region, on the other hand, the ground is shaking under Israel's neighbors and altering the geopolitical situation, with regimes being toppled and leaders slaughtering their own citizens, and with the adversaries of yesterday closing ranks in advance of major diplomatic concessions, including a real Palestinian state on our doorstep.

Anyone getting heady from the quiet in the eye of the storm should not ignore its transient nature and its fragility. Israel is not located on a different planet than its neighbors. It cannot cut itself off from the storms raging in the Middle East, from the spirit of the times or from its growing isolation.

That is apparently not the Israeli government's line of thinking, however, in that it is acting as if the image of the villa in the jungle does not represent unfortunate constraints, devoid of a bright future, but rather an ideal worth promoting and perpetuating. Led by a prime minister who instinctively deflects any initiative or change, who sows fear and foils any positive prospects, pouncing on any proof that there is no partner for diplomatic dialogue, the country in its 63rd year looks like someone on whom old age has suddenly crept up: withdrawn and shut-in, paralyzed with fear, repressing what it sees out the window, entrenched in its views. Its initiatives reflect a steadfast embrace of every status quo, casting aspersions at every change, complaining to the world and frightening its own citizens over the dangers lurking in the jungle and the ostensibly unavoidable "next war."

Deeds carried out just for the sake of doing them have no special value, and sometimes there is also wisdom in waiting. The changes in the region, however, including the demise of autocratic regimes and efforts at unity among the Palestinians, present not only risks but also new possibilities for creative leadership.

Does Israel have such a leadership? Beyond any specific diplomatic step one wonders, particularly on Independence Day, where that creative, optimistic, peace-seeking spirit that reverberated in Israel in the past has gone, and how it was supplanted by a passive and introverted mentality, evading reality - particularly the reality of positive prospects and opportunities.







The 63rd anniversary of the state is looking like it will be the last Independence Day for an Israel without borders. In four months the UN General Assembly is expected to determine the eastern border of the State of Israel and recognize Jerusalem as its capital. No, that's not a typo. The flip side of international recognition of a Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967, borders is international recognition of the 1949 cease-fire lines (the Rhodes Agreement ). Recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine means recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

If war is the continuation of politics by other means, as Carl von Clausewitz famously put it, this will be the most successful political implementation yet of the gains of the War of Independence. If the conquests of June 1967 were meant to achieve Arab recognition of the June 4 lines, and not to take over the land in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for the establishment of settlements or to "liberate" Jerusalem, then the expected vote at the United Nations in September is the ultimate political manifestation of the military victory of the Six-Day War.

Israel's Declaration of Independence, signed on May 14, 1948, states: "We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land." In 2011, more than 100 countries, including all Arab states and most Muslim states, support the extended hand of the Palestinian neighbors for peace and good neighborliness on the basis of the 1967 borders, and the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference are offering normalized relations with Israel.

UN recognition for a Palestinian state along the June 4, 1967, borders will grant international legality of the first rank to the Palestine Liberation Organization's 1988 decision to do away with the demand (albeit not the dream ) of returning to Haifa, Acre and Jaffa. This time the initiative came from the Palestinian side and enjoys the enthusiastic support of Arab states. President Shimon Peres said not long ago, in a private conversation, that David Ben-Gurion would have begun singing with joy were he to hear that the United Nations was about to make the Green Line an international border and do away with the idea of an international status for Jerusalem, paving the way to the recognition of Jerusalem - the city that serves as the seat of the Knesset, the President's Residence and the Prime Minister's Office - as Israel's capital.

Unfortunately, Israel is not led by a whiz at action like Ben-Gurion, but by Benjamin Netanyahu, a whiz at talk. Instead of depicting the recognition of the Green Line as a huge step toward the completion of the Zionist vision, the prime minister insists on turning the recognition of a Palestinian state into a black day for Israel. Instead of declaring victory, he is determined to drag Israel into a loss. Luckily, the Palestinians are led by Mahmoud Abbas, an astute and courageous statesman who is holding steadfast against the religious, nationalist and irrational fanatics. Not only is he securing broad support for the great achievement of the War of Independence, he is also giving Israel the chance to benefit from significant portions of the gains of the Six-Day War.

An internal document prepared at the Muqata about the Palestinian plan to seek independence at the United Nations states that the world body's recognition of a Palestinian state and its determination of borders should not be perceived as an alternative to peace negotiations with Israel, but as an incentive for resuming talks. International recognition of a sovereign Palestine, the document says, will enable the new state to discuss all the core issues with its neighbor, as an equal. The first issue cited is exchanging territory, followed by setting policies for borders, water and security, and finally, resolving the refugee problem.

Soldiers killed in Israel's wars, whose memory we honor today, did not die for the expansion of Israel's borders. They were sent to battle to defend the state's continued existence within recognized and secure borders. In their death they command us to seek peace, not annexation or dispossession. We can only hope that by the next Independence Day we will be a state like all others - a state with borders, free from the burden of occupation and living in peace with its neighbors. To that we can add the hope that at this time next year, the Palestinian ambassador to Jerusalem will be an honored guest at the Independence Day reception at the President's Residence.







The guards are against Netanyahu. No, not the members of the state VIP protection unit, whose compliance with the General Security Service Law means they only whisper about the prime minister's behavior. We mean the guards of the State of Israel, the highest-ranking members of the nation's security forces. They are united in their anxiety over Benjamin Netanyahu, his actions, his mistakes and the slope down which he is liable to take Israel.

The heads of the security branches, restrained and officious as they are, don't name names but it isn't hard to figure out who bears supreme responsibility for the difficult situation behind the dire warnings. They also punctiliously observe the principle of separation of powers, and give the political leadership its due. But the image created by the aggregation of remarks by former or about-to-be-former holders of the most sensitive positions - army chief of staff and the leaders of the Mossad, of Military Intelligence and of the Shin Bet security service - is a terrifying one of a lack of confidence in this prime minister. In stark contrast to all his predecessors, this prime minister does not have their trust.

It happened during Netanyahu's first term, too. On more than one occasion the icy countenances of the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff (Amnon Lipkin-Shahak ), the Shin Bet chief (Ami Ayalon ) and the police commissioner (Assaf Hefetz ) headed off some adventure in the territories or beyond. This time around it is the former chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi; former Mossad head Meir Dagan and the outgoing Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin; and, halfheartedly, also the former head of MI, Amos Yadlin, who have spoken out against him.

The issues are diverse: Iran, the stalled peace process, the neglect of Israel's Arabs and Netanyahu's role, either active or passive - in concert with Defense Minister Ehud Barak - in appointing their successors.

No one questions the legality of his actions. The issue is not one of authority, but rather of authoritativeness, which is a function of the respect an officeholder commands from their subordinates, without which their authority is hollow. In this respect Netanyahu has failed again, as he did from 1996-1999. People do not believe him. People do not believe in him, in his sincerity, in his judgment.

In his testimony to the Turkel committee - which in three weeks' time will celebrate the anniversary of Israel's raid of the Turkish flotilla bound for Gaza that has provided its members with a comfortable living - Barak dissembled when it came to the proverbial issue of the "what" as opposed to the "how": the presumed dividing line between the political leadership, which makes the decision to act, and the military, which executes that decision. That is the line behind which politicians barricade themselves when they want the officers to remain on the battlefield - that is, in the event of defeat. In practice, during the secret deliberations over Muslim nuclear development, from Syria to Iran, it is also important to determine what one wants to achieve via the "how" that the army is commanded to prepare, and how a handful of cabinet ministers takes the "what" decision.

None of the above is grounds for turning the criticism of Netanyahu on the part of newly retired holders of high office, and a few of their still-serving colleagues, into a military-intelligence coup in the making. These figures know the rules of the democracy game: The electorate chooses its representatives, who appoint or remove the officers. It's a good thing it's this way and not the reverse. Also, the officers, successful or not, popular or dismissed from service, can enter politics and do to the next generation as they would not want done to themselves.

In times of crisis public opinion influences the army and paramilitary branches, whose leaders are more attentive to the moods of their organizations than their counterparts in elite units. Dan Halutz resigned as chief of staff when he sensed he had lost the backing of his officers, while Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz deployed entire corps of political force in their battles for survival.

The late Maj. Gen. Israel Tal used to divide leaders into three levels: "head and shoulders above the rest" (David Ben-Gurion as prime minister. Yitzhak Rabin as chief of staff ); "first among equals;" and "head and shoulders below the rest." Those who knew Tal well knew where Netanyahu belongs - in both his terms, going on five years now.

Prime ministers and defense minister often attempt to impress and awe the public, on the grounds that their activity is a function of the advantage their being privy to secrets affords them. That is applicable, if at all - and after all, it is the reality that is exposed that is genuinely important - to ordinary citizens, not the most senior state employees who are privy to the same secrets. The display window can fool the passersby, but the store knows the truth.








The decision to leave the prime minister's military aide, Maj. Gen. Yohanan Locker, at home last week - to avoid the risk that the officer might be arrested during Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to London - was the climax of a prolonged national disgrace. Locker served as deputy commander of the Air Force during Operation Cast Lead and thus risked facing prosecution in Britain over allegations of war crimes. Like underground fighters during the Mandate, officers of the Israel Defense Forces have to act like escaped criminals for fear of the British.

David Cameron is the third British prime minister who has promised Israeli leaders he will bring about a change in the law that makes it possible for courts in the United Kingdom to issue arrest warrants against senior Israeli figures on suspicion of war crimes. But like his predecessors, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Cameron is wary of a confrontation with the backbenchers in Parliament over an unpopular issue such as assisting Israeli officers to avoid taking responsibility for their conduct toward the Palestinian people.

For five years now, Israeli governments have been trying to change the situation through pressure on 10 Downing Street. Meanwhile, senior officers no longer go for a year's study or participate in seminars and study programs at the prestigious strategic research institutes in Britain. Even the previous IDF spokesman, Avi Benayahu, went to lecture in London under an assumed name.

The Israeli approach is mistaken from the start. The principle of universal jurisdiction, which makes it possible to prosecute people suspected of crimes against humanity in any place in the world, is not necessarily immoral, and the legal claims in its favor are not much different from those that justified legislating the law against bringing Nazi criminals to justice. In any case, Israel does not have the right to intervene in the affairs of another sovereign state and to demand that it change its laws.

The problem with the universal jurisdiction laws in Britain lies with the way in which they enable opponents of Israel to draw public and media attention and to pursue IDF officers, in particular, among all the representatives of the world's nations that visit London. But the mockery of British law is a British problem. Israel is not supposed to fight against it through diplomatic pressure but rather by legal means.

The Military Advocate General, Maj. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, has repeatedly said that the IDF knows how to examine itself and, when necessary, to put on trial and punish soldiers and officers that have committed crimes. And in all instances, the military judicial system is subordinate in every respect and issue to the Supreme Court, and every person - Israeli or foreigner - can petition the High Court of Justice against the army.

If this is the case, and on the face of it the latest remarks by Judge Richard Goldstone uphold this, there is no need to fear universal jurisdiction which is customary only against those whose countries do not investigate their deeds or bring them to trial.

What would go on trial in London, together with an IDF officer who commanded a controversial operation, would be the entire Israeli judicial system. Instead of the Foreign Ministry advising an officer to remain in Israel as if he has something to hide, the Israeli embassy must find itself a competent attorney who at any time could go out and demand the immediate cancelation of an arrest warrant against an officer or senior Israeli official. He will use just one argument: Anyone who feels that the IDF had committed a crime toward him has the right to turn to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. Thanks to Israeli human rights organizations such as B'Tselem and Yesh Din, there are a great many precedents of this kind.

If the army in Israel is above the law, then all of us should be ashamed to show our faces in the world. But if indeed the state demands of its army officers that they obey the laws of the land in carrying out their duty - and if they fail to do so, brings them to trial - then the state is also obliged to supply its officers with the required legal protection when they are abroad as well, and not to confine them to base.







Thanks to the Nakba Law, this will be my first Independence Day during which I think more about the Nakba than about Independence Day. The Nakba Law, which bars public funding for groups that mark the Nakba - which is Arabic for "catastrophe" and is the name Israeli Palestinians use for the events of 1948 - is yet another act by successive Israeli governments that constitutes a blow to Israel's Arab citizens, harms them and pushes them into the corner. But the thing is that these acts also harm the state itself. They push the Jews into a corner and damage the Jewish society that exists within the sick and twisted reality created by these actions.

Israel's Jewish society is falling apart because Israeli governments do not allow it to give up the role of frightened victim under constant threat, or to stop fighting the rest of the world. In the same way, the Nakba Law means that instead of fostering a potentially empathetic discourse between the majority and the minority, the Nakba becomes just another time for hatred and quarrels.

"A mature, wise and righteous nation should be able to understand that there are other people here, who cannot take part in celebrating an independence that pours salt on the open wound in their hearts," Avirama Golan wrote in Haaretz last month. But how will the Jewish nation in Zion understand the open wound in the hearts of the Arab citizens who live here if it has never had a proper chance to be exposed to the story of their catastrophe, certainly not as a legitimate narrative? The vast majority of citizens do not grasp the significance of the Nakba because they have not had the opportunity to hear firsthand about the pain, trauma and loss that the Israeli Palestinians experienced in 1948. Until now, Israeli governments have disregarded, hidden or denied this pain; from now on, acknowledging it is also prohibited by law.

The Nakba Law is a sad reflection of the non-independence of the State of Israel. It is not merely that, after 63 years, Israel is unable to recognize that no matter how necessary and justified its establishment was, it was accompanied by wrongs and pain inflicted on others. The country is insecure about itself and its continued existence; both its leaders and its opposition figures tirelessly warn that the state will cease to exist, each in accordance with his or her own ideology and fears. Sixty-three years after its establishment, the State of Israel and its Jewish society lack confidence, require external approval and recognition, and feel threatened by the entire world - and even by the minority that lives within. Is that independence? Is that what the "free people in our land," as per the national anthem, looks like?

Thus the citizens of Israel arrive at this Independence Day in a kind of schizophrenic state, which is expressed every time they answer the question "How are you?" with the answer "Personally, excellent." Personally cannot be less than excellent because collectively we are victims all the time, either because someone is threatening us or because someone is blaming us. Collectively, everything is onerous and difficult and exhausting, so personally everything is simply wonderful. That's why every year the public opinion polls discover anew that Israelis are supremely happy with their lives even though they don't trust the government and can't make it through the month without an overdraft. Thus it is that on the 63rd anniversary of the state's founding, the citizens of Israel have more and more foreign passports and more and more thoughts about living elsewhere.

I hope that one day we get to celebrate an Independence Day when we will be genuinely independent - when we want to make peace, when we realize that there are partners with whom to do it, when we understand that the Arab citizens here want to be reconciled with us and that they declare this in the Israeli Arab Future Vision document, and when we stop fearing that soon we will no longer be here. Happy Independence Day.



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





Ultimately, a successful Palestinian state will need to have all its people, from both the West Bank and Gaza, working together to build a stable and prosperous future. The recent agreement between the two main factions — Fatah, which leads the Palestinian Authority and has committed to peace with Israel, and Hamas, which has committed to Israel's destruction — is not the answer.


We have many concerns about the accord, starting with the fact that Hamas has neither renounced its legacy of violence nor agreed to recognize Israel. The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has said he remains in charge of peace efforts and the unity government will be responsible for rebuilding Gaza and organizing elections. Whether that is Hamas's vision is unclear.


Also disconcerting are suggestions that Mr. Abbas may have privately agreed to replace his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who has done so much to build up the West Bank economy and institutions. There are big questions about the future of the two sides' security forces.


The United States has spent millions of dollars helping the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority create a security force that Israel has come to rely on to keep the peace in the West Bank. Whether Hamas, which has terrorized Israel with rockets from Gaza, can ever be integrated into that force, or even work side by side, is a huge question.


Israel certainly has many reasons to mistrust this deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suspended tax remittances and is pressing Washington hard to cut off aid to the Abbas government. The Obama administration has reacted warily to the new pact but said its assistance will continue for now. Congress is talking tough.


It's too early for a cut-off. The money is Washington's main leverage on the new government. A cut-off would shift the political balance dangerously toward Hamas.


Other reconciliation attempts between Fatah and Hamas have imploded, but Mr. Abbas seems to believe this will advance his push to get the United Nations General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state. Above all, his sudden willingness to deal with his enemies in Hamas is a sign of his desperation with the stalled peace process.


Hamas's goals are far harder to game, although there are reports of new frictions with Syria and a desire for better ties with Egypt's new government. In an interview with The Times last week, Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, declared himself fully committed to working for a two-state solution. Just a few days earlier Hamas's (supposedly more moderate) prime minister, Ismail Haniya, was out there celebrating Osama bin Laden as a "Muslim and Arab warrior." Huge skepticism and vigilance are essential. But more months with no progress on peace talks will only further play into extremists' hands.


So what happens now? The United States and the other members of the quartet — the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — need to put the new government on notice that all support will be carefully scrutinized and that firing Mr. Fayyad would be a big mistake. They need to tell Hamas that if it is serious about coming in from the cold, it must halt all attacks on Israel and recognize its right to exist.


At the same time Washington needs to press Mr. Netanyahu back to the peace table. A negotiated settlement is the only way to guarantee Israel's lasting security.


For weeks President Obama and his aides have been debating how to revive the peace process — and how deeply the president should engage. (His peace envoy has not even been in the region for five months.)


The answer, to us, is clear. It is time for Mr. Obama, alone or with the quartet, to put a map and deal on the table. If Bin Laden's death has given the president capital to spend, all the better. The Israelis and Palestinians are not going to break the stalemate on their own. And more drift will only lead to more desperation and more extremism.








Republican leaders and White House officials will meet on Tuesday to continue talks on the federal debt limit. They need to tread very carefully here.


The Republicans have long insisted on deep spending cuts — ignoring the fact that a failure to raise the limit by August at the latest would disrupt financial markets and endanger the recovery. The administration understands the danger, but giving in to overly deep spending cuts and making unwise tax concessions would also be damaging.


Both sides have indicated that a probable deal would impose a budget target and enforcement triggers, like automatic spending cuts, if the target was not met. A deal built on such mechanisms could keep markets calm, but they can also be a trap.


Democratic lawmakers and the White House must reject targets and triggers that rule out tax increases, because without higher taxes, the burden of cutting would fall largely on lower- and middle-income Americans. Some Republicans also have said they want the deal to include many of the spending cuts in the House-passed budget. That would be a disaster for vulnerable Americans and for the fragile recovery. Farm subsidies for rich farmers can go but not food stamps and Head Start.


Targets and triggers that do not allow for tax increases could make it even harder to reach a comprehensive deficit-reduction deal in the future. They would reinforce the Republicans' fantasy that the deficit is solely the result of spending. And once automatic spending cuts are locked into the budget process, Republicans would feel no pressure to accept a tax increase.


Any targets must also be realistic. One bipartisan Senate plan would hold spending to 20.6 percent of gross domestic product, the average over the last 40 years. That may sound reasonable, but it would mean destructive cuts because it ignores rising health costs, an aging population and other dynamics that were not issues in the past.


Negotiations on the debt limit are not the time or place to force a deficit deal. As ever, the Republicans' positions have little to do with economic reality. Really tackling the deficit will require specific, thoughtful changes centered on raising taxes and controlling health care costs, neither of which Republicans support.


It would be better if lawmakers would pass a clean debt limit increase for another year or two, and use the time to work diligently toward a true budget deal. Unfortunately, seriousness of purpose is not on the table.







Here is a chilling and potentially lethal fact of life: A person on the F.B.I.'s terrorist watch list is barred from boarding an airplane yet is quite free to buy high-power firearms and ammunition at any American gun shop.


This bizarre "terror gap" is starkly underlined by the latest federal data showing that 272 individuals on the terrorist watch list attempted to buy firearms last year, and all but 25 were cleared to make purchases. Those rejected had records for criminal felonies, spousal violence and other threats stipulated in federal gun controls that still don't use the terrorist watch list as a red-flag caution.


The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama wanted to rectify the situation, proposing that the attorney general be given authority to block gun sales to those on the list, after they were investigated and deemed suspicious under careful guidelines. But successive Congresses rejected reform bills — cowering as usual before the gun lobby, which deemed it an "arbitrary" interference with its never-to-be-trumped right to bear arms.


The watch list is ever a work in progress and innocent citizens have too often complained of being barred from flying. But this shortcoming has nothing to do with the dangerous loophole that Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, and Representative Peter King, Republican of New York, are again trying to close.


The last Congress, in its 11th-hour rush, showed no qualms about approving a ridiculous proposal requiring 9/11 responders and victims to be checked against the terrorist watch list before receiving federal health care benefits. If first-responder heroes must be put to the test, how can Congress continue to guarantee the gun rights of individuals already on the terrorist watch list?









The past three years have been a disaster for most Western economies. The United States has mass long-term unemployment for the first time since the 1930s. Meanwhile, Europe's single currency is coming apart at the seams. How did it all go so wrong?


Well, what I've been hearing with growing frequency from members of the policy elite — self-appointed wise men, officials, and pundits in good standing — is the claim that it's mostly the public's fault. The idea is that we got into this mess because voters wanted something for nothing, and weak-minded politicians catered to the electorate's foolishness.


So this seems like a good time to point out that this blame-the-public view isn't just self-serving, it's dead wrong.


The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. The policies that got us into this mess weren't responses to public demand. They were, with few exceptions, policies championed by small groups of influential people — in many cases, the same people now lecturing the rest of us on the need to get serious. And by trying to shift the blame to the general populace, elites are ducking some much-needed reflection on their own catastrophic mistakes.


Let me focus mainly on what happened in the United States, then say a few words about Europe.


These days Americans get constant lectures about the need to reduce the budget deficit. That focus in itself represents distorted priorities, since our immediate concern should be job creation. But suppose we restrict ourselves to talking about the deficit, and ask: What happened to the budget surplus the federal government had in 2000?


The answer is, three main things. First, there were the Bush tax cuts, which added roughly $2 trillion to the national debt over the last decade. Second, there were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which added an additional $1.1 trillion or so. And third was the Great Recession, which led both to a collapse in revenue and to a sharp rise in spending on unemployment insurance and other safety-net programs.


So who was responsible for these budget busters? It wasn't the man in the street.


President George W. Bush cut taxes in the service of his party's ideology, not in response to a groundswell of popular demand — and the bulk of the cuts went to a small, affluent minority.


Similarly, Mr. Bush chose to invade Iraq because that was something he and his advisers wanted to do, not because Americans were clamoring for war against a regime that had nothing to do with 9/11. In fact, it took a highly deceptive sales campaign to get Americans to support the invasion, and even so, voters were never as solidly behind the war as America's political and pundit elite.


Finally, the Great Recession was brought on by a runaway financial sector, empowered by reckless deregulation. And who was responsible for that deregulation? Powerful people in Washington with close ties to the financial industry, that's who. Let me give a particular shout-out to Alan Greenspan, who played a crucial role both in financial deregulation and in the passage of the Bush tax cuts — and who is now, of course, among those hectoring us about the deficit.


So it was the bad judgment of the elite, not the greediness of the common man, that caused America's deficit. And much the same is true of the European crisis.


Needless to say, that's not what you hear from European policy makers. The official story in Europe these days is that governments of troubled nations catered too much to the masses, promising too much to voters while collecting too little in taxes. And that is, to be fair, a reasonably accurate story for Greece. But it's not at all what happened in Ireland and Spain, both of which had low debt and budget surpluses on the eve of the crisis.


The real story of Europe's crisis is that leaders created a single currency, the euro, without creating the institutions that were needed to cope with booms and busts within the euro zone. And the drive for a single European currency was the ultimate top-down project, an elite vision imposed on highly reluctant voters.


Does any of this matter? Why should we be concerned about the effort to shift the blame for bad policies onto the general public?


One answer is simple accountability. People who advocated budget-busting policies during the Bush years shouldn't be allowed to pass themselves off as deficit hawks; people who praised Ireland as a role model shouldn't be giving lectures on responsible government.


But the larger answer, I'd argue, is that by making up stories about our current predicament that absolve the people who put us here there, we cut off any chance to learn from the crisis. We need to place the blame where it belongs, to chasten our policy elites. Otherwise, they'll do even more damage in the years ahead.








For those with eyes to see, the daylight between the foreign policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama has been shrinking ever since the current president took the oath of office. But last week made it official: When the story of America's post-9/11 wars is written, historians will be obliged to assess the two administrations together, and pass judgment on the Bush-Obama era.


The death of Osama bin Laden, in a raid that operationalized Bush's famous "dead or alive" dictum, offered the most visible proof of this continuity. But the more important evidence of the Bush-Obama convergence lay elsewhere, in developments from last week that didn't merit screaming headlines, because they seemed routine rather than remarkable.


One was NATO's ongoing bombing campaign in Libya, which now barely even pretends to be confined to humanitarian objectives, or to be bound by the letter of the United Nations resolution. Another was Friday's Predator strike inside Pakistan's tribal regions, which killed a group of suspected militants while the world's attention was still fixed on Bin Laden's final hours. Another was the American missile that just missed killing Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who has emerged as a key recruiter for Al Qaeda's Yemen affiliate.


Imagine, for a moment, that these were George W. Bush's policies at work. A quest for regime change in Libya, conducted without even a pro forma request for Congressional approval. A campaign of remote-controlled airstrikes, in which collateral damage is inevitable, carried out inside a country where we are not officially at war. A policy of targeted assassination against an American citizen who has been neither charged nor convicted in any U.S. court.


Imagine the outrage, the protests, the furious op-eds about right-wing tyranny and neoconservative overreach. Imagine all that, and then look at the reality. For most Democrats, what was considered creeping fascism under Bush is just good old-fashioned common sense when the president has a "D" beside his name.


There is good news for the country in this turnabout. Having one of their own in the White House has forced Democrats to walk in the Bush administration's shoes, and appreciate its dilemmas and decisions. To some extent, the Bush-Obama convergence is a sign that the Democratic Party is growing up, putting away certain fond illusions, and accepting its share of responsibility for the messy realities of the post-9/11 world.


It's a good thing, for instance, that President Obama has slow-walked the American withdrawal from Iraq, and it's a sign of political maturity that his base hasn't punished him for doing so. It's a good thing that this White House didn't just send every Guantánamo prisoner to a civilian court (or back home without a trial). It's a very good thing that many Democrats seem willing to opt for frontier justice over procedural justice when the circumstances call for it — as they did in Abbottabad last week.


But there are dangers in this turnabout as well. Now that Democrats have learned to stop worrying and embrace the imperial presidency, the United States lacks a strong institutional check on the tendency toward executive hubris and wartime overreach. The speed with which many once-dovish liberals rallied behind the Libyan war — at best a gamble, at worst a folly — was revealing and depressing. The absence of any sustained outcry over the White House's willingness to assassinate American citizens without trial should be equally disquieting.


As Barack Obama has discovered, an open-ended, borderless conflict requires a certain comfort with moral gray areas. But it requires vigilance as well, and a skepticism about giving the executive branch a free hand in a forever war. During the Bush era, such vigilance was supplied (albeit sometimes cynically, and often in excess) by one of the country's two major political parties. But in the Obama era, it's mainly confined to the far left and the libertarian right.


This vigilance needs to be mathematical as well as moral. The most dangerous continuity between the Bush and Obama presidencies, perhaps, is their shared unwillingness to level with the country about what our current foreign policy posture costs, and how it fits into our broader fiscal liabilities.


Instead, big government conservatism has given way to big government liberalism, America's overseas footprint keeps expanding, and nobody has been willing to explain to the public that the global war on terror isn't a free lunch.


The next president won't have that luxury. In one form or another, the war on terror is likely to continue long after Osama bin Laden's bones have turned to coral. But we'll know that the Bush-Obama era is officially over when somebody presents us with the bill.









SUDDENLY, there's a baby boom going on around me. I'm making weekly shopping trips to stock friends' nurseries, and I'm struck by how many signs on the shelves advertise BPA-free bottles, BPA-free sippy cups. It breaks my heart. Manufacturers might be removing BPA, a chemical used to harden certain plastics, from their products, but they are substituting chemicals that may be just as dangerous, if not more so.


"BPA-free" seems like a step in the right direction. BPA, or Bisphenol A, is a synthetic estrogen that disrupts normal endocrine function. There is growing evidence in animal studies that exposure during fetal growth affects the development of reproductive systems and, in offspring, can lead to neurological problems. BPA has also been linked to prostate and breast cancer.


BPA has been found on money, likely transferred from credit card and A.T.M. receipts printed on thermal paper that contains BPA; it's also in dental sealants, in the lining of food cans, and in many other items.


Because the federal government has taken no action to ban or even limit BPA, some states have taken matters into their own hands. Mainejust approved a ban on BPA in reusable food and beverage containers that will go into effect next year; Oregon is considering banning it in sippy cups and baby bottles.


In apparent recognition of the consumer clout new parents wield, some manufacturers have stopped using BPA. You would think this proves the marketplace can take care of these problems, right?


Wrong. Consider the thermal paper that comes out of cash registers. Its BPA passes through the skin into the bodies of anyone who works at check-out counters, as well as their customers. Appleton, a specialty paper company, markets a BPA-free thermal paper that uses Bisphenol S instead. The Environmental Protection Agency has a voluntary program that is evaluating BPS and 17 other possible substitutes for thermal paper, but has not yet completed its analysis. Until it does, it will not endorse any alternatives.


In the few, limited tests conducted outside the United States, BPS shows estrogenic activity — not as strong as BPA, but not a good sign. BPS is now used in the United States to make PES (polyethersulfone) plastic. Some baby bottles marketed as BPA-free use PES plastic.


Bisphenols are shaping up to be a dysfunctional family of chemicals. BPAF is BPA's fluorinated twin. It is used in electronic devices, optical fibers and more. New studies have found BPAF to be an even more potent endocrine disrupter than BPA. Bisphenol B and Bisphenol F are other variants used instead of BPA in various products. In the limited testing done on those chemicals in other countries, scientists found Bisphenol B to be more potent than BPA in stimulating breast cancer cells.


A similar drama played out with PBDEs, a family of flame-retarding chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems, such as altered hormone levels, abnormal brain development and fertility issues. PBDEs migrate off electronic casings or are released from foam cushions. (It is no small irony that we worry about what our kids are watching on their computers instead of the toxic stuff coming off some of their equipment.) Under intense pressure, manufacturers have begun to replace PBDEs — with new, untested chemicals whose effect on people is unknown.


The problem is that our regulatory system allows manufacturers to introduce or continue to use chemicals that have not been adequately tested for safety. A manufacturer can replace BPA with another untested compound and get a few years' use out of it before it, too, becomes the subject of health alerts or news media attention. By the time we know what those new chemicals do to us, entire generations are affected. We are the guinea pigs.


The system is broken. We must reverse the process: test first. And we should allow only chemicals proven to be safe into the marketplace.


Back to our beloved babies, sucking day and night from their BPA-free bottles. Parents of newborns hardly have time to take showers, much less make the endless and usually fruitless calls to inquire about the chemical components of their children's sippy cups. We can do something important for new parents — after we've bought them glass bottles.


We can get angry, and demand action. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey recently introduced a bill to change our main chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, so that chemical companies would have to demonstrate to the E.P.A. that their products are safe before they are sold to consumers. We will have to make as much noise as newborns to get Congress to pay attention to Senator Lautenberg's proposal and, more broadly, to chemical regulation.


Swapping out BPA-free bottles, teething rings and sippy cups for substitutes whose dangers are unknown isn't keeping our children safe. There's only one thing that can do that: good, old-fashioned, sweeping regulatory reform. Fueled by the fiercest passion of all, a parent's love.


Dominique Browning blogs at Moms CleanAirForce and is the author of "Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas and Found Happiness."









Palestine is ripe for a revolution. How do we know that? Because the two rival governments that have so spectacularly failed their hypothetical country are finally ending their four-year-old breach and getting back together. Or at least that is what they say they are doing.

The reconciliation took place in Cairo on Wednesday, when Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, and Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, signed an agreement to form an interim government to rule both parts of the would-be country.

"We forever turn the black page of division," Abbas said in his opening remarks.

The two men went further. They agreed no member either of Hamas or of Fatah, the movement that is Abbas's political base, could be part of the interim government. That government would pave the way for free elections next year in both parts of the disjointed proto-state that would really restore Palestinian national unity. Or so the deal says.

But Fatah and Hamas still hate each other, and they haven't actually made a single compromise on the key areas where they disagree, like the question of whether to make peace with Israel. Most observers still doubt the gulf between the two sides can ever be bridged. So why would they even bother to sign such a "unity" accord?

Because they are both running scared. They have seen what happened to other oppressive and/or corrupt regimes in the Arab world as the "Arab spring" has unfolded, and they are afraid that a comparable revolution could drive them from power too. Fatah, after all, is very corrupt and quite authoritarian, while Hamas is less corrupt but extremely repressive and economically incompetent to boot.

There have already been large popular demonstrations in the Palestinian territories, although they have not been widely reported. The protesters' main demand is "national unity," but there is good reason to suspect many of them actually have a broader agenda.

Like the Syrian demonstrators demanding the repeal of the 48-year-old "state of emergency" when what they really want is the end of the regime, many of the Palestinian protesters are using "national unity" as a popular mobilizing call when what they really want is the end of both Fatah and Hamas.

So Fatah and Hamas are giving them what they say they want in order to avoid having to give them what they really want. But it is a shotgun marriage at best, and most unlikely to last.

One further incentive for the deal, from Abbas's point of view, is that he hopes to get formal recognition of the Palestinian state from the United Nations General Assembly in September, even though its borders with Israel have still not been agreed upon and much of it is under Israeli military occupation.

This is mere gesture politics, since it will not force Israel to remove its troops or make any other concessions, but Abbas hopes it will strengthen his standing with his own people. Besides, he can hardly ask the U.N. members to recognize Palestinian sovereignty so long as different parts of its territory are ruled by rival and indeed hostile regimes. A cosmetic reconciliation with Hamas is necessary, at least for a while.

The probable price of this Fatah-Hamas deal is a complete shutdown of peace negotiations with Israel, because Israel, the European Union and the United States define Hamas as a "terrorist movement." Therefore, they will have nothing to do with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, or so they say.

Israel's hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the accord was a "tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism." But Netanyahu is widely and probably correctly seen as a man who isn't interested in a peace agreement anyway, so Abbas doesn't think anything important will be lost if he cozies up to Hamas for a while.

The real question is whether the Palestinians will ignore all this window-dressing, and rise up like their Egyptian neighbors to rid themselves of the arbitrary and corrupt governments that now rule them. The answer is probably no, because the felt need for "unity" in the face of the Israelis usually cripples Palestinian attempts to address the failings of their own institutions.

Indeed, the biggest short-term consequence of the "Arab spring" for the Palestinians may be another Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip, or even a full-scale reoccupation of that territory, because the new Egyptian government plans to reopen its border with Gaza very soon.

Under Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's recently deposed dictator, Cairo fully cooperated with Israel in enforcing a tight blockade of the Gaza Strip. Once the border with Egypt is reopened, Israel fears, the extremists who regularly fire rockets into Israel from the territory will have access to an endless flow of weapons.

Trying to shut that border down again would immediately embroil Israel in a conflict not only with Hamas but with a newly democratic Egypt. That would certainly not be to Israel's long-term advantage, but it doesn't mean they won't do it.






While the European Union celebrated "Europe day" on Monday, the occasion went by in Turkey without anyone taking any real notice, despite efforts by the government to generate some interest. Just how much excitement the day generated in Europe, on the other hand, is also questionable of course.

The fact is the EU is not a subject most Turks are focused on or excited about any more. There is little belief left among the general public that the union will someday accept Turkey as a full member.

It is also noticeable that although Turkey is in the throes of a highly competitive period of campaigning, prior to the June 12 general elections, the EU perspective is not a topic any political leader is touching on in any meaningful way. The simple fact is that the EU argument is not something that brings in votes anymore.

All the political parties mention the subject in their pamphlets, which outline their broad political programs, of course, and promise adherence to the countries EU perspective. But this is done very much in passing and by rote, and is not central to any of the campaigning underway.

As for those following developments in Europe closely, on the other hand, they also have reasons to believe that there may be no EU that still holds any attraction for Turkey in the end. The ongoing debates in Europe today and the divergences between members of the union on economic as well as foreign policy, defense and immigration issues are not exactly hope inspiring in this respect.

The bottom line is Turkey today appears no closer to EU membership than it did 20 years ago. The fact that membership negotiations are underway makes no difference in this respect. It is clear that those countries that oppose Turkish membership will try and stall this process in anyway that they can, no matter what.

If it is not the Cyprus issue, which is conveniently used by the EU today to block eight negotiation chapters, then it will be unilateral steps like those taken by France, which has blocked five negotiation chapters for the sake of its own national interests, regardless of whether this is strictly legal and/or proper under EU rules and practices.

This overall situation in turn reflects itself in the lack of enthusiasm among members of the Turkish government in fulfilling some of their own responsibilities towards the EU. If anything Turkish-EU ties today look more like an exercise in one-upmanship, than representing the behavior of sides that aim to integrate one day.

The fact that France is maintaining the attitude it has towards Turkish membership, however, has a certain truth embedded in it, which is showing itself more and more as the EU comes under pressures from inside. This truth does not portend well for the EU itself. The latest debate over the Schengen treaty initiated by Paris after Italy issued visas to thousands of Tunisians is only the latest case in point.

Many Europeans are currently in the process of falling out of love with the EU because of the strains placed on them by the latest economic crisis in Europe and matters such as the immigration issue.

A recent Policy Brief by the European Council on Foreign Relations, or ECFR, indicates that "frustrated by bailing out three other EU members, 63 percent of Germans say they have little or no confidence in the EU, and 53 percent say Europe is no longer the future for Germany."

The authors of the brief, Ulrike Guérot and Mark Leonard, make the following point:

"Germany is now revising the four pillars of European integration: the Franco-German relationship; the role of the European Commission; the disproportionate influence of smaller states; and the willingness of Germany to pay more without getting more formal power."

Given that Germany is the locomotive of Europe, whatever other members may say about this, the ECFR's Policy Brief does not exactly paint a rosy picture about the future of the EU as we know it today. Neither is the picture any rosier in terms of the EU's common foreign and defense policies.

The fact that members states can still not act collectively on key foreign policy issues was demonstrated once again during the Libya crisis, when Berlin decided to follow a line that diverged seriously from that of France and Great Britain.

The lack of a collective approach in foreign and defense policy issues goes back to the Yugoslav war, of course, and surfaced seriously prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. France's failed effort, after Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president, to override the EU's Barcelona Process and initiated a "Mediterranean Union" led by Paris provides another case in point.

Highlighting these serious problems is not a case of "sour grapes" for Turks, as some Europeans like to claim. An EU that is successful in the end is an EU that still holds positive prospects for Ankara, despite existing problems, given that Turkey is also growing in economic and political influence, which many European leaders continue to see as something that is to Europe's advantage.

Neither can an inward looking "fortress Europe," which does not even function properly inside its own borders, let alone what pressures it may feel it is under from the outside, be considered to Turkey's advantage in the long term.

In fact, when looked at from a Turkish perspective the EU today appears as much an "open ended project" as some Europeans maintain Turkey's EU bid is. While it is not clear whether Turkey will be a member one day, it is also not clear whether there will be a Europe that is still attractive to join in the end.

Therefore when President Abdullah Gül stresses, as he is doing a lot these days, especially during his visits to Europe, that Turks themselves may not want to join the union in the end, he is not just letting of steam because of frustration with the EU, he is pointing to a real prospect given global developments.

Finally it must be pointed out that if Turkey's EU perspective should disappear all of a sudden, and this also appears unlikely since neither side really knows what to replace it with, this does not mean an end to Ankara's dealing with Europe as such.

Ankara is developing strong bilateral ties with those countries that are generally friendly towards Turkey's EU membership today, and no doubt these ties will continue to develop and flourish. Turkey has, after all, attained a critical mass both economically and politically that can not be disregarded even by countries that are unfriendly to Ankara's EU bid.

At the end of the day Eurocrats may try to put a brave face on it, but it is a fact that there was little to celebrate on Monday during this year's Europe Day. Instead there was much to mull over about not just Turkey's real prospects for joining the union, but also about where the union itself is headed.







Considering the recent developments, nobody doubts the upcoming term will be a period to get rid of dictators surrounding us.

It started with Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Syria became involved along the way but surely others will follow.

We shouldn't be impatient about sound democratic regimes. Turkey should be staidly ready for a transition period full of uncertainties.

This will be a process in which, Turkey's relations in the region will be reshaped.

Has Turkey not increased influence in the Middle East particularly during the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, period? It has.

Turkey, in its history, has an $8.5 billion surplus in foreign trade with the Middle Eastern countries. The trade volume has reached $30 billion.

These are very critical developments.

But Turkey has reached this point by having good ties with "dictators." Just like other countries. Since the final decision rests with country leaders in economic relations and not with the system and procurements, this close-up period, which has opened new horizons to Turkey, has brought benefits to the "dictators" as well.

Their benefit has been to gain "legitimacy" in the international community thanks to Turkey.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad and even Sudan's Omar al-Bashir are among them.

Now, they are being ousted one by one. It's not clear what would happen to Turkish investments in Libya in the post-Gadhafi period as there is a question mark about the deals made with the Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

In the upcoming period, Turkey will try to save these deals signed with the dictators.

This will not be the only issue, though.

What will be Turkey's role and expectations in the post-dictator and in transition periods?

Turkey will inspire as a "soft power" in the region.

There is no other way.

What will make Turkey effective in the eye of new rulers and peoples in these countries will be its 80 something years of experience in democracy, European Union membership bid and creativity of its civil society.

Though conservative approach talks about a unique democratic experience based on culture and traditions of Islam and claims that the demand for change in the Middle East and Africa is also based on the same argument, this will not be the case.

The period as claimed by conservatives might be in power for a while.

However, the Arab Spring in the Middle East cannot blossom without a real democratic transition based on rights, freedoms and equalities. Some of those who have set out the road in order to get rid of dictators are aware of this anyway. Others will realize the fact that democracy can be reached only by fighting in this direction.

Turkey can have an impact on the masses trying to catch-up with change not because the majority of population are Muslim or its military power or economic opportunities.

In the aftermath of the World War II, one of the trump-cards that had been important in the United States' gaining power was the "American dream" created by the contributions of Hollywood.

And there have been signs in recent years that Turkey, with the help of above qualities, can create a "Turkish dream" in the region.

It is enough to look at tourists flocking into big cities such as Istanbul and Antalya during high tourism seasons and at their appetite for the life-style in these cities.

However, with its soft power and inspiration, if Turkey wants to be an influential country, it should resolve its own issues first. The Kurdish conflict, putting an end to violence and elimination of repressive mindset are the most important of all.

*Ferai Tınç is a columnist of daily Hürriyet, in which this piece appeared Monday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.







Turkey is in trouble.

There is a progressively spreading perception in the international public.

We can't call it perception anymore.

A definite decision is about to be made about Turkey being labeled "a country with a lack of press freedom, with columnists being silenced and those who can't be silenced being put behind bars for years based on invented crimes."

This is such a dangerous label, which cannot be erased easily. We'd be forced to work on it for years.

And Turkey is the one to be labeled.

The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is being blamed.

You may say, "This subject is none of my business, it is the judiciary's business," but no one will believe you. For, everybody knows this party with eight years in power may change this abnormal situation by making some constitutional amendments.

Everybody from Brussels to Washington, from Berlin to London dealing with freedom of press found a new suspect: Turkey. Serious nongovernmental organizations, international parliaments or those who want Turkey to stumble, all descend on Turkey.

They exaggerate and unnecessarily maltreat our country.

They believe the AKP intentionally limits these rights.

And what does the ruling party do?


The prime minister comes down on, and blames foreign deputies who criticize this matter by saying, "You are ill-intentioned."  His justifications are not very credible.

But let's not forget that by passing the ball to the judiciary he cannot escape.

But even with minor changes in the law these abnormalities can be eliminated.

Arrested journalists Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık are progressively becoming a symbol. The reason for their arrest is a secret. We are also unable to explain to anybody why Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan are under arrest for two years now without knowing their offence.

Some of the symbols may spoil a country's or governments' image so much so that no one can easily overcome it for quite some time.

I wonder why the AKP is so insensitive and doesn't care. If it is because it has so much self-confidence then it is very mistaken.

With this brains we can't keep F1 in Istanbul

An immense amount of money has been spent to build a fabulous race track for F1.

But as you see we are unable to complete the task.

An agreement for a certain amount of money was reached with the owner of F1 Bernie Ecclestone. With the increase in price the owner of the race track the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce was in trouble.

The reason was the lack of spectators. With no spectators the income decreases and the difference has to be paid out of the pocket of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce. And when the chamber doesn't have enough means the state is being called for help. But the state does not want to pay extra money. Heavy negotiations continue. It is being discussed whether or not to cancel the race for next year.

There are two reasons for this vicious cycle.

One is the lack of spectators and the other lack of event organization.

To tell the truth, whoever organizes the race does not do anything for publicity. Were you aware of the weekend race? There has not been a single poster or publicity campaign anywhere in Istanbul. Instead of making a TV show or creating a festival-like atmosphere this race passed silently, unnoticed.

Under these circumstances, would you be curious about the race and intend to go?

One other thing is that the race track is not being used more than once or twice a year. There is no other event organized, no races sponsored. Naturally income decreases.

Of course we should not miss out on F1 but not with this attitude.

Instead of extracting money from the state we need good publicity and good rational income management.






U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, during his first and unexpected press conference last week, declared "if inflation persists or if inflation expectations begin to move," the Fed "would have to respond." Does this mean in the near future there will be no further monetary easing? When Bernanke warned that the U.S. deficit was not sustainable and pointed a more modest growth rate expectation for this year, it was understood that the Fed will be ready to intervene in markets if the inflation risk becomes evident. Will this be a temporary intervention, or the beginning of a series of interventions that will be realized whenever it is necessary to stop the emergence of new problems? If the second alternative is true, a new discussion will begin on which interventions can be justified to fight against those problems.

During the last crisis, some politicians and economists put the blame on the markets. This made so-called "deregulation" a debatable issue. Now there are some intentions in the United States and Europe to introduce certain legal regulations to control financial markets. This might be defined as a step back to conditions that were being implemented years ago. As a result, these new intentions might trigger a discussion on whether state or government interventions on markets can be justified and more importantly, whether they are necessary.

During these discussions, a distinction must be made between rich and developing countries. Until the beginning of the most recent crisis, government interventions on markets in rich countries were defended as necessary acts to ensure free market and fair competition conditions and in addition, to avoid economic and social drawbacks that might occur when these conditions are abused.

In developing countries, there exists different justifications that are underlying government interventions due to various aspirations: In a reasonably short time to reach to the per capita income levels of rich countries, to create new job opportunities in order to solve chronic unemployment, to balance household and regional income and wealth distribution, to encourage exports in order to obtain enough foreign exchange to finance the import of new technologies, etc.

Moreover, during the accomplishments of these aspirations, it is necessary to avoid the emergence of a rapid inflation that could prevent reaching these goals. In addition, it must be given importance that social and economic development can only be achieved through well-educated and trained generations. It is also necessary not to neglect agricultural and regional development in order to prevent migration from rural to urban areas, which might create new social and economic problems.

Drawbacks in developing countries, such as low per capita income, insufficient capital accumulation, high population growth rate and other important problems generally prevent good intentions and create vicious circles. For example, for rapid development it is necessary to use new technologies, which means increase in productivity and decrease in employment. Moreover, imports of new technologies and machinery, generally widens foreign trade deficit that only can be financed through borrowing and generally results in a serious foreign debt problem. And as a result of all these problems, new crises could emerge and potentially increase unemployment and deteriorate income distribution further.

What could be done to avoid all these problems and to ensure a sustainable and reasonable growth rate? First, it is essential to decide on the priorities and to measure the real financial resources to realize these priorities. Development of a country is a complicated and difficult process that cannot be realized through randomly selected policies.

 The problem is about who is deciding on most feasible and reasonable policies. In almost all developing countries, government interventions, which are supposed to be the best decisions, are preferred. However, in most cases mistakes in decision-making, waste of financial resources and widespread corruption hamper development efforts. In democratic countries, the solution to this very important problem is in political party programs. Through elections, the people choose the development strategy they prefer. But democracy is rare for most developing countries. This is the biggest dilemma in the world economy today.







It has become some sort of an entertainment for the Turkish public not necessarily limited with the election periods, but indeed "coincides" mostly with either approaching elections or some very important political developments.

The low-income conservative Turkish people, who long migrated from the rural and settled in the suburbs of big cities but could not accommodate to urban reality and helped opportunist politicians to turn the cities into big villages, are fond of "action" films. They are very much conservative. Their religious beliefs prohibit gossip and hearsay of all kinds. Talking bad of someone is a sin. Shoveling mud at others, particularly intentionally creating doubts about the honor and pride of someone is not at all compatible with the teachings of Islam, moral values of the society or laws of the country.

Yet, discreetly recorded extramarital affairs of politicians or people aspiring to enter into politics have become, in this country, one of the strongest and deadliest weapons to kill the prospects of political adversaries or to force changes from the manipulators or distributors of such tape recordings have indeed designed.

It is the responsibility, of course, of a government in any country to stand firm against such disgusting manipulations in politics and thus in political administration of a country by some elements in violation of not only laws but all moral principles of the society and in dastard violation of the fundamental secrecy of private life.

Around this time last year, when no one was estimating there might be a leadership change in the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, and when the CHP was preparing its convention where it was expected to decide to put into implementation its new party statute ending some sort of a communist party-style strong secretary-general centered organization of the party, which was why in order to complete preparations for such a drastic transformation, the statue was not immediately put into force. Everyone knew that the then all-powerful secretary general Önder Sav did not want the changes to enter into force, the then party leader Deniz Baykal was very strong and it was more or less a foregone conclusion that Baykal would change the statute, consolidate his firm control over the party and indeed open a new era in the party.

Then, all of a sudden, a U.S.-based website ran a video recording and the link of that video was provided to thousands of mail addresses in Turkey, including this writer, in the middle of a night, when parliament was closing discussions on a set of key constitutional reforms very much wanted by the ruling party and opposed by the opposition parties on grounds with those changes the control of the executive over the judiciary would be enhanced.

It was as if an A-bomb fell on Turkish politics. For some time Baykal tried to avoid talking on the issue but he could not cling on and stepped down from the party leadership, a post where it was believed just a week ago he was unmovable. That political avalanche brought in Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as the new leader of the CHP who initially appeared to be a puppet of Sav. Yet, within few months Kılıçdaroğlu reshaped the party administration, put into force the statute Sav very much objected, brought in new top executives to the party and in the current list of candidates Sav and most of his supporters,  as well as excluding himself almost the entire die-hard supporters of Baykal, were left out.

The CHP under Baykal was trailing around 23-25 percent in public opinion polls, now there are claims that the CHP of Kılıçdaroğlu has left behind the sex-tape scandal erosion in party popularity and started sailing around 30 percent. Why was that sex-tape operation was staged? Who staged it? Nothing has been so far clarified by the police and the judiciary. Naturally, it is the prime responsibility of the government to act on such serious developments.

Then, there was the first batch of sex-tapes scandal involving, in different recordings, two senior executives of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. They resigned both from their duties and candidacy in the upcoming elections. Government did nothing on the issue, MHP complained of a "Pennsylvania connection." MHP votes briefly receded below the 10 percent threshold but picked up quickly. Then, a second batch of sex-tapes scandal erupted. This time two senior MHP candidates were apparently secretly filmed having separate intimate activity with some young girls. MHP again suffered a very serious image problem with only few weeks left to the June 12 polls.

After one full year, Baykal incident is still unresolved. MHP is haunted by sex-tapes scandals it describes as a "Pennsylvania connection conspiracy" – meaning the Gülen movement is involved – staged by an Istanbul local municipal assembly member from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Finally, yesterday prosecutor launched a probe into the sex-tape scandals. Yet, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is exploiting the Baykal and MHP sex-tape scandals to the best of his capability in his bid to bring down the apparently increasing CHP popularity and to push the MHP below the 10 percent national threshold and thus obtain the parliamentary strength to write a constitution single handedly and carry Turkey to a presidential system of governance and make Erdoğan the first president of that new Turkey.






In his book "The Future of Ideas," Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at Harvard Law School, aptly refers to a book, pointing out to the "two" futures of the Internet: "In 1999, in a book entitled the Control Revolution, journalist and legal scholar Andrew Shapiro described two futures that the Internet might take. The first was the familiar story of increased social freedom, as the network gave us greater control over our lives, and over the institutions, including the government, which regulates our lives. The second was a less familiar warning, of the rebirth of technologies of control, as institutions 'disintermediate' by the Internet, learned how to alter the network to reestablish their control."

When the Turkish Telecommunications Directorate issued a statement last week to Turkish web hosts, announcing a new epoch in the regulation of the Internet scheduled to take effect on Aug. 22, asking them to ban websites with domain names containing any of the 138 offensive words, along with its announcement of a plan to require Internet users in Turkey to choose one of four content-filtering packages, has met widespread outcry in the country. The statement, added that with the existing protectionist policies controlling the use of the Internet in Turkey, have made it clearer that from the two futures Shapiro argued the Internet might take, we are headed unashamedly towards "the Internet creates the rebirth of control."

Cyberspace has naively been compared by many to the Wild West, as a new frontier with no rules, no authority. However, to quote Lawrence Lessig, 'the forces that the original Internet threatened to transform are well on their way to transforming the Internet.'

The sad truth lies in the fact that we in Turkey are not alone in the new paranoia, and the new ways of transforming the use of Internet that authorities are all looking into.

Looking around, examples of digital paranoia and control abound: In Russia, authorities are expressing concern over the lack of Internet regulation in the country and a spokesperson for Prime Minister Putin followed up a state tender released in April 2011 on Internet controls by saying that state researchers would begin studying best practices in online regulation from countries such as China and Iran. Meanwhile, Iran, a country that already has a very bad record in allowing for Internet freedom, has announced that it will assert its sovereignty over cyberspace via the creation of a nationalized cyberspace, a "halal Internet," to combat Western influence. On May 5, reports were published informing that the Syrian Telecom Ministry had launched an amateur man-in-the-middle attack against the HTTPS version of the Facebook site.

Developed countries are also not immune to an increased desire to control the Internet. As a working party by the Council of the European Union presented its intention to propose concrete measures towards creating a single secure European cyberspace, implying a "virtual Schengen border," a "great Firewall of the European Union" of sorts, and as these intentions were revealed to the press last week, there has been widespread criticism from civil rights groups from various European countries. The plan has been compared to the "Great Firewall of China," the notorious Chinese system for controlling citizens' access to blogs, news websites and social networking services.  Even in the United States, the apparent advocate of Internet freedom, with its advocacy crystallized in the "Internet Freedom Agenda" pushed forward by the State Department, the Internet freedoms are on a bumpy and inconsistent road. In December 2010, Amazon, which hosted WikiLeaks, upon the request of Senator Lieberman, the current head of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, booted WikiLeaks, drawing ire from free speech activists all around the world.

The conclusion of the story so far is that the tectonic plates of cyberspace are shifting and as the global Internet expands in reach and ability to influence, governments' controlling tendencies increase and are evident not only in authoritarian states but also in democratic ones.

Therefore, a healthy review of what has been going on in Turkey, in terms of the state strengthening its grip on the use of the Internet, requires taking into context the widespread paranoia that many states, authoritarian and democratic, feel to various degrees. Within this context, it is even more important for us, the public, not to panic, not to think that this restrictive and paranoid behavior is particular to Turkish authorities, and to not necessarily compare Turkey's record to other countries, as the important thing is not how Turkey fares in comparison to other countries, when all countries are struggling to find the right balance between a need for security on the Internet and a responsibility for freedom of expression online. The important thing is how Turkey fares "absolutely."

Although Turkish courts already ban more websites than any other European country, and it is believed that more than 12,000 websites are currently banned, and although many of the new rulings are unconstitutional, there are also reasons to be not too pessimistic.

So far, we have seen in terms of digital freedoms, governments and authorities have been responsive to well-organized public protests and an informed criticism from civil society. So far, both when the situation aggravated in June 2010, and currently, the Common Platform Against Internet Censorship, a platform of over 50 nongovernmental organizations, has been calling for mass demonstrations. This time, some 400,000 people are expected to gather in several provinces in Turkey to protest the filter plan. The news portal already filed a complaint to the Council of State, deeming the new filtering plans unconstitutional. Many civil society organizations have condemned the recent statement as unconstitutional and vowed to mobilize against it. This kind of a healthy civil society and public pressure, especially if it increases in magnitude, could act as a rebalancing force and force the authorities to take back many steps.

"Censorship is always an opportunity, because it reveals a fear of reform. And if an organization is expressing a fear of reform, it is also expressing the fact that it can be reformed," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange boldly stated in a recent interview. Taking the global context of confusion over internet policies into context, and trusting the words of the dark prince of the Internet, Assange, the Turkish public both has an unprecedented power and responsibility to change the Internet policies, on which the state itself is confused and ready to take steps back. It is time to take censorship as an opportunity.

*Nazlı Çakıroğlu, MSc London School of Economics and Political Science, is a communications and corporate social responsibility expert.






In his book "The Future of Ideas," Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at Harvard Law School, aptly refers to a book, pointing out to the "two" futures of the Internet: "In 1999, in a book entitled the Control Revolution, journalist and legal scholar Andrew Shapiro described two futures that the Internet might take. The first was the familiar story of increased social freedom, as the network gave us greater control over our lives, and over the institutions, including the government, which regulates our lives. The second was a less familiar warning, of the rebirth of technologies of control, as institutions 'disintermediate' by the Internet, learned how to alter the network to reestablish their control."

When the Turkish Telecommunications Directorate issued a statement last week to Turkish web hosts, announcing a new epoch in the regulation of the Internet scheduled to take effect on Aug. 22, asking them to ban websites with domain names containing any of the 138 offensive words, along with its announcement of a plan to require Internet users in Turkey to choose one of four content-filtering packages, has met widespread outcry in the country. The statement, added that with the existing protectionist policies controlling the use of the Internet in Turkey, have made it clearer that from the two futures Shapiro argued the Internet might take, we are headed unashamedly towards "the Internet creates the rebirth of control."

Cyberspace has naively been compared by many to the Wild West, as a new frontier with no rules, no authority. However, to quote Lawrence Lessig, 'the forces that the original Internet threatened to transform are well on their way to transforming the Internet.'

The sad truth lies in the fact that we in Turkey are not alone in the new paranoia, and the new ways of transforming the use of Internet that authorities are all looking into.

Looking around, examples of digital paranoia and control abound: In Russia, authorities are expressing concern over the lack of Internet regulation in the country and a spokesperson for Prime Minister Putin followed up a state tender released in April 2011 on Internet controls by saying that state researchers would begin studying best practices in online regulation from countries such as China and Iran. Meanwhile, Iran, a country that already has a very bad record in allowing for Internet freedom, has announced that it will assert its sovereignty over cyberspace via the creation of a nationalized cyberspace, a "halal Internet," to combat Western influence. On May 5, reports were published informing that the Syrian Telecom Ministry had launched an amateur man-in-the-middle attack against the HTTPS version of the Facebook site.

Developed countries are also not immune to an increased desire to control the Internet. As a working party by the Council of the European Union presented its intention to propose concrete measures towards creating a single secure European cyberspace, implying a "virtual Schengen border," a "great Firewall of the European Union" of sorts, and as these intentions were revealed to the press last week, there has been widespread criticism from civil rights groups from various European countries. The plan has been compared to the "Great Firewall of China," the notorious Chinese system for controlling citizens' access to blogs, news websites and social networking services.  Even in the United States, the apparent advocate of Internet freedom, with its advocacy crystallized in the "Internet Freedom Agenda" pushed forward by the State Department, the Internet freedoms are on a bumpy and inconsistent road. In December 2010, Amazon, which hosted WikiLeaks, upon the request of Senator Lieberman, the current head of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, booted WikiLeaks, drawing ire from free speech activists all around the world.

The conclusion of the story so far is that the tectonic plates of cyberspace are shifting and as the global Internet expands in reach and ability to influence, governments' controlling tendencies increase and are evident not only in authoritarian states but also in democratic ones.

Therefore, a healthy review of what has been going on in Turkey, in terms of the state strengthening its grip on the use of the Internet, requires taking into context the widespread paranoia that many states, authoritarian and democratic, feel to various degrees. Within this context, it is even more important for us, the public, not to panic, not to think that this restrictive and paranoid behavior is particular to Turkish authorities, and to not necessarily compare Turkey's record to other countries, as the important thing is not how Turkey fares in comparison to other countries, when all countries are struggling to find the right balance between a need for security on the Internet and a responsibility for freedom of expression online. The important thing is how Turkey fares "absolutely."

Although Turkish courts already ban more websites than any other European country, and it is believed that more than 12,000 websites are currently banned, and although many of the new rulings are unconstitutional, there are also reasons to be not too pessimistic.

So far, we have seen in terms of digital freedoms, governments and authorities have been responsive to well-organized public protests and an informed criticism from civil society. So far, both when the situation aggravated in June 2010, and currently, the Common Platform Against Internet Censorship, a platform of over 50 nongovernmental organizations, has been calling for mass demonstrations. This time, some 400,000 people are expected to gather in several provinces in Turkey to protest the filter plan. The news portal already filed a complaint to the Council of State, deeming the new filtering plans unconstitutional. Many civil society organizations have condemned the recent statement as unconstitutional and vowed to mobilize against it. This kind of a healthy civil society and public pressure, especially if it increases in magnitude, could act as a rebalancing force and force the authorities to take back many steps.

"Censorship is always an opportunity, because it reveals a fear of reform. And if an organization is expressing a fear of reform, it is also expressing the fact that it can be reformed," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange boldly stated in a recent interview. Taking the global context of confusion over internet policies into context, and trusting the words of the dark prince of the Internet, Assange, the Turkish public both has an unprecedented power and responsibility to change the Internet policies, on which the state itself is confused and ready to take steps back. It is time to take censorship as an opportunity.

*Nazlı Çakıroğlu, MSc London School of Economics and Political Science, is a communications and corporate social responsibility expert.









Have we truly been taken into confidence and learned anything new as a result of the prime minister's address to parliament yesterday evening? No we have not. The PM spent much of the time giving history a run around the track -- again -- reminding us of our sacrifices -- again -- and telling us that the intelligence failure that allowed the world's most wanted man to live in peace and security in Pakistan was a global failure and not ours -- again. All this we already knew. The new news was that there was to be a committee of enquiry – but there was no mention of a time frame or terms of reference. We were also told that the joint houses of parliament were to get an in-camera briefing by the security agencies and the armed forces on Friday May 13. We are thus to be none the wiser, unless we are an MNA or a senator, as to what went wrong or happened in Abbottabad on May 1. The policy of say nothing or prevaricate or simply hide, once again won the day.

It was the culmination of three days of conflicting and confused statements by our senior diplomats and politicians. Interior Minister Rehman Malik made his latest excursion into edible foot territory in Jeddah last weekend when he gave an interview to the Arab News. He ruled out the possibility of anyone, be they part of the military, intelligence or civilian apparatus stepping down as a result of the fallout from the Osama bin Laden fiasco. He cited other intelligence failures as precedents in terms of heads failing to roll (as did the PM) and comforted himself -- and us -- with the thought that these things happen from time to time and we just have to move on. In Washington Ambassador Husain Haqqani offered a different perspective which included the rolling of heads if necessary and pointed towards an urgent need for an enquiry to establish who did and did not know what, how much of the 'what' they knew, and to what extent they were complicit or culpable. He was explicit in saying that there would be 'zero tolerance' for complicity but also referred very diplomatically to the 'complexity' of Pakistan and the difficulties that went alongside that complexity.

It is this very complexity that makes the government's handling of the Bin Laden affair look like an explosion in a paint factory, rather than an exercise in coordinated crisis and information management. We are getting contradictory statements from our ambassador to the US and the interior minister, and on his single outing so far in the Bin Laden affair the foreign secretary was floundering considerably out of his depth as well. The PM when it came to his turn, in effect, promised to tell us nothing. This quartet of talent was each speaking to a different audience. Ambassador Haqqani will have an eye to his hosts' view of Pakistan as infested with dissemblers, Interior Minister Malik would have wanted to ensure a smooth path with the Saudis and the foreign secretary appeared bent on displaying little beyond urbane mediocrity. Taken as a package and viewed from a distance all this looks like a monumental cock-up, a classic failure to coordinate. It is a picture of institutionalised incompetence that runs right to the top; and does nothing to inspire confidence at home or abroad. Had our government and its various organs and mouthpieces arranged to sing from the same song-sheet from the outset, then we would not look as foolish -- or culpable -- as we do now. We may not be culpable, but nothing we are saying is doing anything to dispel the impression that we are.







Karachi took a welcome step towards normality on Sunday with the once-bustling book fair on the lawns of Frere Hall reopening to the public after a gap of several years. As the world focused its gaze on the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2, Karachi citizens hoped against hope that one tragic chapter in their city's brush with his violent legacy had also been closed forever. Although the book fair, once the favourite haunt of thousands of book lovers, battled to survive for some years after the first blast at the US consulate opposite the park in 2002, Frere Hall soon became a virtual no-go area for the public owing to the suffocating security around it following a series of further Al-Qaeda-inspired attacks. Sandwiched as it was between the US consulate and the consul-general's residence, not to mention another consulate, a five-star hotel and other sensitive buildings, the park was considered much too vulnerable. Soon parking was banned from its compound and the streets around it restricted to many kinds of traffic putting the area virtually under siege. Another vital part of the city's cultural life had been abruptly snatched away from its embattled people.

In its heyday, the fair was nothing short of a book lover's paradise. The magnificent surroundings of the park and the imposing neo-Gothic Victorian structure at its centre made a striking backdrop to the Sunday event. Dozens of the city's booksellers set up stalls here and books on a delightfully varied range of subjects were offered for sale. The crowds too were of a different kind. Located in the heart of the city, the event drew people of all ages and social backgrounds – one of the dwindling places where the classes could mingle and interact in an increasingly ghettoised city. While the crowds were thinner on Sunday than during its prime, the city's well-wishers hope they will soon return as word gets round. Karachi has seen more than enough blood and carnage over the last decade and the tranquil haven of Frere Hall in the heart of the city must be born again to revive memories of gentler, happier days in its history.








The world's biggest, longest and costliest manhunt spread over more than 15 years finally ended on May 2 when President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden has been killed in Pakistan.

Though many all over the world have questioned the US side of the story and will continue to do so until some convincing proof of Bin Laden's presence and death in his Abbottabad house is made available, far more important in the context of Pakistan are questions regarding the failure to detect the Al-Qaeda founder's hideout located in plain sight of the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, in an army garrison city and the unchallenged intrusion of US Special Forces into Pakistani territory to eliminate the most wanted man in the world.

The so-called "red lines" often mentioned by Pakistani authorities were brazenly crossed and there were American boots on the ground, and still Pakistan's vaunted military didn't react. Though it wasn't the first time that the "red lines" were breached, the earlier US intrusions were in the godforsaken tribal regions of South Waziristan and North Waziristan, and not deep inside Pakistan: Abbottabad is located only 71 kilometres north of the federal capital, Islamabad.

One has serious doubts about this version of events.

For two hours or so, the US Blackhawk helicopters were in Pakistan's airspace and American boots were on the ground and yet we are told that the country's land and air forces and intelligence agencies were unaware of the presence of alien aircraft and soldiers inside our territory. It sounds unbelievable, and for this reason one is of the view that top Pakistani authorities were actually made aware of the US move but were told at the same time that the Pakistanis need not act or panic as the Americans were after a high-value target.

This should explain the first reaction by Pakistan's foreign ministry on May 3 and the statement by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani the same day that justified the American military operation in Pakistan by pointing out that this was "conducted by the US forces in accordance with the declared US policy that Osama bin Laden will be eliminated in a direct action by the US forces wherever found in the world." In so many words, the people of Pakistan were told that Pakistan had no choice in the matter as the mighty US would have gone ahead and undertaken this unilateral military mission anyway, overriding Islamabad's objections. There was no stopping the US after it had received the first real actionable intelligence about the man who had caused so much pain to the Americans as a result of the 9/11 attacks. According to reports in the US media, the planners had calculated that there was a 40-60 percent chance of finding Bin Laden at his Abbottabad compound and it was considered good enough to undertake the mission.

It is possible that the place where the US commando operation was to be conducted was revealed to the Pakistani authorities at the last moment to avoid complications, but the high-value target was never disclosed. That should explain CIA chief Leon Panetta's insulting, but perfectly understandable, remark that the US didn't trust the Pakistanis and thus couldn't tell them that the target of their secret mission was Bin Laden. The Al-Qaeda leader's presence in Abbottabad, a place teeming with soldiers, would certainly have aroused suspicion about Pakistani military's intentions and prompted the US to keep the Pakistanis outside the loop and undertake the mission itself.

Another reason for Panetta, who is designated to replace Robert Gates as US defence secretary, to distrust his counterparts in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was the continuing friction between the CIA and ISI as a result of the Raymond Davis affair. The arrest of the CIA operative in January after his having killed two Pakistanis in Lahore and his hurried release following the ISI-brokered "blood-money" deal with the families of the deceased, had provided the ISI with leverage to demand the expulsion of the CIA operatives infiltrated into Pakistan in the guise of diplomats. Through the Abbottabad operation the CIA appears to have neutralised the advantage hitherto enjoyed by the ISI, but their turf war is far from over.

It should therefore surprise none that there is serious lack of trust between the two countries and their secret services. The US and Pakistan have clearly different agendas in our part of the world. One is a superpower with an imperialistic agenda and the aspiration to control the world, the other a struggling state confronted with multiple challenges, and yet a proud nuclear power with regional ambitions. If the Americans don't trust the Pakistanis, there are valid reasons for them to do so. But Pakistanis also don't trust the Americans, and in their case there are even more valid reasons for the distrust. The distrust is reciprocal and yet the two countries continue to maintain their loveless relationship due to the hard ground realities.

Showing its punishing arm and superior technology, the world's lone superpower got its public enemy number one not in some remote mountain hideout in the tribal borderland straddling the Pak-Afghan border but in Abbottabad, the summer hill-station known for its pleasant weather, quality schools and colleges and military installations. According to the US narrative leaked in bits and pieces to the media and corrected a few times, the mission was accomplished by 79 US navy SEALS flying in four Blackhawk helicopters from Afghanistan's Bagram airbase and returning safely after a 40-minute ground raid on the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad's Bilal Town. If the Pakistanis were on board as one is suspecting, the operation was largely risk-free as no Pakistani jet-fighter was scrambled or artillery gun was readied to attack the intruding US helicopters. Another reason for suspecting that the Pakistani military had been informed by the US beforehand was the arrival of our soldiers at the Bin Laden compound soon after the Americans had flown away. The policemen also arrived at the scene fairly quickly but were turned back by the army officers guarding the place.

It was understandable for the Americans to celebrate the success of the Abbottabad mission even though killing Bin Laden won't mean the final defeat of Al-Qaeda or the end of the "war on terror" and victory for the US-led Nato forces against the Taliban in Afghanistan. They have reasons to praise the bravery of their commandoes who raided the compound and reportedly killed Bin Laden along with three others and took away his body. But to describe the mission as heroic seems far-fetched because 79 heavily-armed commandoes in the end had a fairly easy job shooting dead an unarmed Bin Laden and the three other men caught unawares in their sleep. The other inmates of the compound were women and children and there were no heavy weapons or suicide jackets around, contrary to what the Americans had come to believe. Killing one woman and causing injuries to another also wasn't a manly and honourable thing to do. Questions are also being asked as to why Bin Laden wasn't captured alive to bring him to justice. Former President George W Bush, in line with his Texan concept of frontier justice, wanted him "dead or alive" but it seems the Obama administration had decided not to make him prisoner and to throw his body into the sea to prevent the emergence of a grave turned into a shrine.

More importantly, the United States' job was made easier as the Pakistanis stood aside and let it accomplish the inappropriately named "Operation Geronimo" after a Native American chief who fought for the freedom of his people. The Pakistan government and military had little choice but to feign ignorance about the raid in Abbottabad and helplessly face criticism because any attempt to stop the American helicopters would have led to open confrontation and even war with the US. For the same reasons, Pakistan is unable to tackle the US drones launching missile attacks unchallenged in its tribal areas.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim









The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) launched its flagship regional socio-economic survey on May 5, 2011. Having reviewed the economic achievements of the region and its member countries for 2010, the survey presents the outlook for 2011, along with an assessment of the critical issues facing the region, and highlights the policy challenges and the risks that the region faces in the coming months. The survey also outlines the policy agenda for sustaining growth dynamism and inclusive development for an Asia-Pacific Century.

The ESCAP Survey is an excellent and comprehensive report on the economies of the Asia-Pacific region and a must-read for policymakers and students of economics, and for those who have interest in the dynamism of this region. The Survey argues that the regional economies recovered strongly in 2010 from the depths of the "Great Recession" of 2008-9 as a result of massive fiscal stimulus packages and a strong pick-up in exports, which in turn helped the region to emerge as a growth driver and anchor of stability for the global economy.

The Asia-Pacific region grew by 8.8 percent in 2010, supported impressively by China (10.3 percent), India (8.6 percent), Malaysia (7.2 percent), the Philippines (7.3 percent), Sri Lanka (8 percent), and Thailand (7.8 percent). As the recovery was expected to be consolidated in 2011, the region encountered fresh challenges, including the return of high food and fuel prices that threaten the hard-earned development gains, risks of volatile capital flows building asset price bubbles and the appreciation of exchange rate, as well as the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, highlighting the region's vulnerability to natural disasters.

These challenges pose significant downside risks to the growth outlook for the region. Notwithstanding these headwinds, the economies of the region are expected to post strong growth (7.3 percent) in 2011. The major economies of the region such as China (9.5 percent), India (8.7 percent), Sri Lanka (8 percent), Indonesia (6.5 percent), and Bangladesh (6.4 percent) are projected to maintain their growth momentum. Pakistan, which until 2007 was regarded as one of the four fastest-growing economies of the region along with China, India and Vietnam, has become a laggard and posted a meagre growth of 2.4 percent in 2010-11 and an average yearly growth of 2.6 percent over the last three years. This is nothing but shameful for those responsible for managing the economy of Pakistan during this period. Yet these economic managers and their midgets still have the nerve to criticise the economic performance of the previous regime.

The survey asks the policymakers of the member countries to consider boosting domestic demand (consumption and investment) and intensifying regional integration to sustain growth dynamism in coming years. This is bad news for the so-called economists in Pakistan who have always criticised the importance of consumption-led growth. The message is clear: unless people consume, why would businesses expand their operations?

The survey also highlights three challenges that pose significant downside risks to the robust growth outlook for the region. One of the challenges is the return of food and fuel crises threatening the lives of millions of poor in the region. In this article, I will discuss the rise in food and fuel prices and their implications for the poor in the region, including Pakistan.

Global food and oil prices have been rising since early 2010. Food prices have increased in various countries in the region by up to 35 percent. Adverse weather conditions, conversion of food crops into bio-fuels, export bans, hoarding, heightened speculative activity in food commodities are some of the factors responsible for the surge in global food prices. ESCAP has estimated that rising food and oil prices could push 42 million additional people into poverty, joining the 19 million already affected in 2010. In a worst-case scenario, with food-price inflation doubling in 2011 and average oil prices at $130 per barrel, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals for poverty could be postponed by up to half a decade in some developing countries. ESCAP estimates that persistently rising oil prices could cut GDP growth in 2011 by up to 1 percentage point in some countries.

In the case of Pakistan, the government itself has increased the price of food and through the higher and multiple taxation on petroleum products; it has increased the domestic price of oil. Pakistan's finance minister has stated that food inflation is beyond national control. He has totally forgotten that the government itself has more than doubled the wheat support price, resulting in the rise in food prices. In the same breath, the finance minister has argued that Pakistan is expecting a bumper wheat crop due to the rise in support price.

In his first remark, he has not been transparent in explaining food inflation and in the second, he has shown that he has learnt the art of being a politician. The issue is not of availability but of affordability of wheat. With the criminal increase in the support price of wheat, the government may have increased its production, but is it affordable for the poor and vulnerable? I hope the finance minister will be careful in making such political statements.

The ESCAP Survey expects oil prices to rise further. It is in the interest of the government to review the taxation structure of petroleum sector. Last year, the FBR collected almost 27 percent of its taxes from this sector alone. The current year is not going to be different either. To protect the people and economic growth from the rising cost of oil, it is imperative that we reduce the burden of taxation on this sector.

How to address the issue of rising cost of food and fuel nationally and internationally will be one of the topics of my next article.

The writer is principal and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ahkhan@








The Osama bin Laden killing last week has exposed Pakistan's severe vulnerabilities to the three most clear and present dangers that face the country. The first vulnerability is to Pakistan's own inadequacies and incompetence as a state. The second vulnerability is to the cunning and evil of terrorists (and the concurrent stupidity and myopia of those obscure elements of the state that may cling to terror as an instrument of national self-defence). The third vulnerability is to other countries' relentless pursuit of their own national interests in Pakistan – this is a long list that includes the United States, India, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan among others.

The Bin Laden killing should not become yet another opportunity for Pakistanis to wallow in self-pity, to search furiously for excuses and justifications, or to blame a clumsy and legally conflicted global superpower for all of Pakistan's problems.

Instead, the Bin Laden killing offers an unprecedented opportunity for Pakistan to press the rest button, and define, openly and coherently, what Pakistan's concept of national security is, and how it will be pursued. Pakistan's military and political leadership must now realise that the need to dramatically alter the course of this country is urgent and inevitable.

Calls for change are a dime a dozen in Pakistan, and the chorus for "reform, reform, reform" has echoed and continues to echo from Beijing to Riyadh, from New Delhi to London and door-to-door across Washington DC.

The Bin Laden killing is a catastrophe for Pakistan on so many levels that perhaps this is the moment when the abstract notion of reform could be channelled into a meaningful exercise of reflection and a subsequent series of events that give life to the mantra of change and reform.

This catastrophe is made up of three specific failures that should stir the most important people in Pakistan – General Kayani, General Pasha, President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, Mian Nawaz Sharif, and Chief Justice Chaudhry Iftikhar – into doing something new, different and radical as a response.

The first failure is that Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan. This is an epic failure on the part of the state machinery. Bin Laden was public enemy number one, globally, for his self-embraced role as the man behind the 9/11 attacks. He represented nothing less than what Hitler represented in World War II. How did he manage to get into and stay in Pakistan? Who stamped his passport? Did he get in without a passport? How is this possible? How did he end up in Abbottabad? What were ISI agents doing in Abbottabad while Bin Laden slept peacefully less than a few hundred yards from PMA Kakul?

The second failure is that a foreign country invaded Pakistan. This too is an epic failure of the state. Gen Kayani was apparently informed by Admiral Mullen of the invasion at 5 am Pakistan time. That was four hours after the event took place. First, the government said the jammers were blocked. Then Gen Kayani said they were not. Then the PAF said that they were switched off. Then it said, they were not. But the questions go far beyond the radars. How is it that modified US Blackhawks got from Bagram (ostensibly) to Abbottabad in 40 minutes, but PAF fighters from Kamra and/or air defence assets in Tarbela took more than two hours to get from their locations to the skies above Abbottabad? Were there or were there not Pakistani troops cordoning off the area during the US raid? Was this a joint or a solo operation? If so, what is the quid pro quo with the US government? Why does US spin seem so real and truthful, and Pakistani spin seem so incredibly disingenuous? Most of all, if the US can swoop in and conduct this operation, why should Pakistanis not worry about Indian hawks when they mimic the language of Leon Panetta and John Brennan? Could a brute and irrational Indian rush of blood not produce a similar "invasion" on Muridke?

The third failure is that Pakistan's official response to the event was mangled, incoherent, inconsistent and incompetent. With regard to the response in the first few days after Bin Laden was killed, it is difficult to imagine how much worse it could have been. The foreign office issued two separate statements, PR NO150/2011 on May 2, 2011 and then PR NO152/2011 on May 3, 2011.

On May 4, Firdous Ashiq Awan gave a statement in parliament that began with a point about Pakistan's commitment to counter-terrorism – this from a cabinet member of a country that has no counter-terrorism strategy or policy in place, despite having lost more than 30,000 people to terrorism since 9/11. This was followed up by an ISPR press release on the Corps Commanders Conference meeting on May 5, 2011. That same day, the senior military leadership had invited around two dozen influential reporters, editors and media persons to share their side of the story. One of the revelations in this meeting was that the CIA has more intelligence assets in Pakistan than the ISI. (The PM had not addressed parliament by the time of writing – but expecting coherence from a man who has failed that test repeatedly is unfair, to say the least).

A resignation or firing would be a symbolic response to these massive failures, but it would not be an adequate institutional response. After the catastrophic failure of the US security establishment on 9/11, a commission of widely respected Americans was put together, called the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. The commission's report has been the most important reform document in recent US history, altering the very structures of US government that were deemed to have failed.

It is now time for a Pakistani commission on national security. Such a commission would be tasked primarily with exploring these three failures and providing short, medium and long-term solutions to the problems that it identifies. If such a commission requires statutory powers, they must be given to it.

There is no shortage of qualified and credible names that could serve on such a commission. Experience in politics, foreign policy and the military would comprise the core set of qualifications. Some of the most obvious names for such a commission are Aitzaz Ahsan, Maleeha Lodhi, Jahangir Karamat, Aftab Sherpao, Wajahat Latif, Riaz Mohammed Khan, Ilahi Bux Soomro, Najmuddin Shaikh, Ejaz Haider and Rana Bhagwandas. This is not an exhaustive list of candidates, but represents the kind of wide-ranging, multifarious commission that would not only be competent to undertake a commission's work, but also enjoy domestic and international credibility.

The commission would be answerable to parliament, but would operate without political bias. The Pakistani people must get answers from their military and political leaders for the disastrous state of affairs that the Bin Laden killing has exposed. Knee jerk resignations or firings will only serve to sweep realities further under the carpet, if not accompanied by a commission. The time for plain-speaking and truthful accountability has arrived. The government must seize the moment.

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy.








At the cost of being judged as superficial, unpatriotic and unintellectual by my insightful, patriotic and intellectual readers, I must admit that I like Indian films.

Yes I do. And my ultimate favourite in the recent past has been the fun flick called 'Jab We Met'. I absolutely loved this film, and can watch it 10 times in a row without losing interest.

So the question is that when the rest of the world is talking about Osama bin Laden, his hideout in Pakistan, and nothing else, why am I not talking about Osama bin Laden, his hideout in Pakistan and nothing else? How superficial, unpatriotic and unintellectual am I really to be talking about an Indian film with a linguistically questionable title and a patriotically questionable association.

Well, the answer lies in the fact that today as I sit here to write these lines, I feel inspired like never before. And the source of my inspiration is a dialogue from this film. Like the title of the film, this dialogue might be linguistically questionable too, but then it is stuck in my head like a thorn (if indeed thorns actually get stuck in people's heads), and would just not leave me alone until I get it out of my system.

So here's the story of 'Jab We Met'. Guy likes girl, girl likes another guy, girl's family thinks the other guy is actually the real other guy and the real other guy is actually the real guy. The real other guy falls for the girl, the girl responds and the original other guy exclaims in frustration 'Ye s*@# ho kiya raha hai?' (What the fish is going on around here?)

It's ok if you don't understand the story as I tell it. Watch the film and you'll get it. What is important to consider right now, is the final utterance made by the other guy and the special stress he makes on the word ho.

Look around dear readers, turn on the TV and watch it for a while, look at the newspaper and read it for a while, listen to the conspiracy theories mushrooming in your face and keep listening for a while. And then take a deep breath and try saying what the other guy had said. Place the stress on the word ho and see if you feel vindicated.

Well, my sentiments exactly.

If the story of the film has confused you the way I think it has, then see what you think about our indigenous P meets Q love story.

P meets Q and P meets N. P and N hate Q, and Q hates P and N. Based on this mutual hatred P and N get together. P thinks N is the real guy, and N thinks P is the real guy. The nation thinks real or unreal, they are all thieves, and the thieves think it doesn't really matter as long as the money is good and the judges are bad.

Enter the new phenomenon the M (QM). Now N likes P and M likes P, but N doesn't like M and M doesn't like N, and M and N and P together don't like Q. And then within the blink of the eye nobody likes anybody, N and M are out of the scene and P and Q live happily ever after.

What the fish!

And then there is a person called Osama bin Laden. This Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan and didn't really care what P and Q do in Pakistan. And that is all right because P and Q didn't care what Osama bin Laden did in Pakistan either.

Ha, ha tit for tat. Aren't we so cool, the P and the Q! We don't care about anything. Didn't you see our super cool 'we don't give a damn' performance right on the day when Osama bin Laden went ahead and got himself killed in our own backyard?

Didn't you see that when the whole world was going crazy about Osama bin Laden being in our part of the world, and when the perpetually confused Pakistani nation was left at the mercy of the more confused TV anchors, how super cool the P and Q were acting that day on prime time TV, looking solemn and taking oaths and shaking hands and generally not giving a fish to anything or anyone (Osama bin Laden and the nation included).

Well Obama can go ahead and talk to his nation, lay wreaths on Ground Zero and give politically correct hugs to the US awam. That's his job and his business. As far as we are concerned we are too cool for such stuff. We don't talk unless we are spoken to, and so far nobody has spoken to us, primarily because our ears are in our noses and our noses are up in the air.

All we do is take oaths every now and then and feel smug and then take some more oaths.

I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan. I will discharge my duties, and perform my functions, honestly, to the best of my ability, faithfully in accordance with the Constitution of Pakistan and the law, and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well being and prosperity of Pakistan I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions. I will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of Pakistan. In all circumstances, I will do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

Now let's read the last half of this oath together as a nation, raise our hands collectively in the air and say: What the fish!

The writer teaches writing at a university in Lahore. Email:








The writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK.

It may be too early to assess the security ramifications and political fallout in Pakistan of the killing of Osama bin Laden by a clandestine American assault mission last week. But what is widely seen as a failure of the entire system has already shaken public confidence in the country's security arrangements and damaged the credibility of its managers. The government's inept handling of the aftermath has left the nation adrift and in a state of bewilderment.

What happened on May 2 was not just a failure of intelligence. To construe it in these narrow terms is to miss the bigger picture, draw the wrong conclusion and be denuded of the means to fix the fundamental problem.

This was a failure of state institutions, leadership, and imagination. Not to have envisaged that such an intervention could occur if the United States had the world's most wanted man in its sights and about which its top officials had long warned, points to an inability to recognise much less take steps to avert a likely scenario.

The covert US raid marked a systemic breakdown in which the national security apparatus was tested and found wanting. Two telling vulnerabilities were exposed: an incapacity to protect the country from external intrusion and the inability to defend against the terrorist threat, which Bin Laden's long and undetected presence in a garrison town signified.

Unless all the dimensions of this failure are identified and addressed in a wide-ranging review of national security procedures and structures the country's defences will continue to be at risk of being breached. Nor will people have any credible assurance that Pakistan's strategic capability is secure from the possibility of penetration from outside.

The crisis of credibility at home can only be resolved by a full disclosure of the facts leading up to the Abbottabad raid and assumption of responsibility for the security fiasco.

I was in the US and then the UK as the story of the raid unfolded. The hostile media coverage of Pakistan was unlike anything I had seen before. Fanned by official briefings and 'expert' commentaries, the media's questioning of Pakistan, its government, military and security agencies, assumed the tone of indicting, even demonising the entire country.

Official Pakistani silence in the first twenty-four hours exacerbated the situation and allowed the Western media to ramp up its accusations and all but hold the state responsible for complicity in harbouring Bin Laden. The lack of any serious or timely official attempt to reframe the issue meant that Pakistan's case went by default.

This provided open season to Pakistan-bashers. Accusations flew fast and furious. Some op-ed writers rejoiced over President Obama's decision not to take Islamabad into confidence until the assault team had successfully concluded its mission. In so doing, a columnist suggested, Obama allowed Pakistan "to be exposed and humiliated in front of the world".

Much official comment abroad revolved around the "support system" Bin Laden "evidently had" to be able to live for five years "in plain sight" in Abottabad. Among the more fanciful suggestions in the Western media was this: "How do we know that officers in the military or intelligence would not help Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups to gain access to sensitive nuclear material?"

More important than the criticism outside the country are the doubts raised within. Public questioning of the competence of the authorities has focused on the two dimensions of the May 2 incident mentioned earlier: how did a US covert operation undertaken deep inside Pakistani territory go undetected until it was over? And how did Bin Laden's presence in a place like Abbottabad for five years escape the attention of the authorities?

In the days following the clandestine operation, the official response that emerged was so incoherent that it heightened rather than assuaged public anxiety on these counts. On an overseas trip at the time the prime minister was in no rush to return home and took a week to make a statement.

The piecemeal release of information and shifting posture laid bare the utter disarray in the government. The paralysis of the first twenty-four hours was one thing but the inability to marshal out a credible explanation intensified the national outrage. The scramble to control the damage remained just that – a scramble with no direction and little thought.

Then came the acknowledgement in a statement from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) following a Corps Commanders Conference, of "shortcomings in developing intelligence on the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan" and the Army leadership's promise of "an investigation". But no details are yet available about the scope of this inquiry and who will conduct it.

The inquiry will obviously have to examine how and why "leads" that the security agencies, by their own admission, provided to the US and that ultimately led the CIA to Bin Laden's home were not vigorously investigated by the Pakistani authorities themselves. Arguments that America has technical capabilities that Pakistan lacks are spurious on this count when all that our authorities needed was on-the-ground surveillance and human intelligence in the very town that saw the arrest just a few months ago of Umar Patek, one of the Bali bombers with close connections to Al- Qaeda.

The inquiry must also look into reports that the CIA maintained a safe house in Abbottabad for a team of spies who conducted surveillance over several months on the compound of the house where Bin Laden was found and killed. How did such an active and prolonged intelligence-gathering mission elude Pakistan's many security agencies?

The question uppermost in the Pakistani public mind relates to the bigger, security failure rather than just that of intelligence. How was it that helicopters entered Pakistan's airspace carrying an assault team, which conducted a 40-minute operation in Abbottabad – and not some remote borderland – which the concerned authorities were only alerted to when one of the Black Hawk helicopters crashed into the compound wall?

The official explanation heard so far of superior "stealth" technology trumping the country's radar and early warning systems misses the point. If our defences can be breached in this manner and we do not possess the capability to overcome this vulnerability how can a repeat of such intrusions be deterred in the future?

The ISPR statement in which a warning was issued that Pakistan would not tolerate a repeat of any action that violated "the sovereignty of Pakistan" is not backed by any credible assurance that the country has the ability to deter such transgressions. The only response the statement held out was a 'review of intelligence and military cooperation with the US' if there was a replay of a covert operation. Can 'a review' of cooperation serve as a deterrent or the basis of a security policy to prevent another intrusion?

These questions urge a full and comprehensive review of the country's security policy and procedures. For the review to be meaningful it must be undertaken in an independent and objective manner by credible figures with knowledge and expertise of the issues at hand. Its aim should be to address the obvious security weaknesses laid bare by the recent developments. It should have a time-bound and result oriented mandate as well as the competence to make recommendations. Its objective should be to identify the necessary steps that need to be taken to insure that the gaps in Pakistan's security – and intelligence – are effectively and promptly plugged.

Only by pursuing this course will the authorities also be able to assure our people – and the world – that the country has the capability to protect its strategic capabilities and assets.







As expected, Osama's death has opened endless worldwide debates on who, when and why? While the debate is hot, based on circumstantial evidence, one might as well ponder over some questions and theories.

Here is food for thought. Xe/Blackwater conducted the 'Get-Osama operation' and not Navy Seals. Why use Xe? Plausible deniability, in case the operation goes south.

Where's the proof of Blackwater's involvement? The American government claimed that two Chinook/Sea Knight and two Blackhawk/Seahawks (standard transport air-assets used by the Seals) took part in the raid. It admitted losing one Seahawk during the operation. However, on a close study of the pictures of the helicopter wreckage, the claim falls flat on its face.

Why did the Americans go through the trouble of burning the wreckage of the crashed helicopter? Obviously, they didn't want the world to find out the kind of helicopters that took part in the raid. The pictures of the tail section of the crashed helicopter clearly do not match with any model of CH-46/Sea Knight or UH-60Seahawk. Neither helicopters come with split and swept horizontal stabiliser nor do they come with tail-rotor disk.

However, the boom (a much smaller and lighter to be of a UH-60), stabilisers and quad tail-rotor configurations match with the modified S-76 helicopters that Blackwater frequently used in Iraq. Contrary to rumours of supposed stealth helicopter (Comanchi or Silent Hawk), with a high degree of confidence, the pictures suggest the wreckage to be of a S-76, and certainly not of Blackhawk's.

The mystery deepens when one questions the need for the Pakistan Army to transport the wreckage covered by tarps? Clearly, they had an interest in covering up something more than the mere identity of the wreckage. Like, Blackwater is running wild in Pakistan with the full knowledge and probably tacit consent of the Pakistani military.

Things became even more interesting, when in less than 24 hours of Osama's killing the American government announced a rather hasty burial of his body in the Arabian Sea. Earlier, well within 24 hours, President Obama confirmed Osama's identity, citing, among others, a DNA test. However, the problem remains there is no scientific method that can positively confirm a DNA test within 24 hours. A paternity DNA test takes at least 2-3 days and an extended family testing takes five weeks to confirm a match.

Everyone seems to be focused on the question, why wouldn't the American government publicise pictures of Laden's body and put the mystery to rest? Answers could range from: disbelievers would never be convinced; he isn't killed and is in custody for interrogation; the body is still in custody for further tests.

Finally, why would Obama go through so much trouble? Simple answer, to save the American economy from an imminent collapse. Three wars are literally sucking the life out of the American economy. It is estimated that in addition to secret funds, US is currently spending over $1 trillion on the military through appropriated and discretionary funds. As of March 25, 2011, total American Public Debt Outstanding was $14.26 trillion. Cutting military spending to half alone could amount to 25 percent reduction of yearly deficit.

Osama's death will hopefully serve as a closure to the American public, which will allow Obama to wind up and begin American troops exit from Afghanistan by 2012. Just in time for the next presidential elections!







OBAMA administration has announced it saw no evidence as yet to prove that Pakistan's political, military or intelligence leadership had knowledge about Osama's presence in Abbottabad. A statement in this regard by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon has further been explained by Senator John Kerry who said that there was no evidence that at the highest level, General Pasha, General Kayani, the President of Pakistan knew this.

However, these are not categorical statements because at the same time President Obama himself told the CBS show that OBL had a support network in Pakistan but it is not clear if the Pakistan Government was involved. As had been the case in the past, this time too mixed signals are emanating from Washington and no one knows what kind of story the US authorities would weave on the basis of 'terabytes' of information they claim to be in possession of following raid at the Abbottabad residence of Osama. There are also reports that the US is asking for access to family members of the Al-Qaeda chief and pressing for investigations to ascertain about the support network. Therefore, Pakistan is not off-the-hook and proof or no proof, the episode would surely be misused by the United States to pressurize Islamabad to do more. But here we would like to raise another question, which, in our view, is very pertinent and that is whether OBL was really the mastermind. We say so because the last hide out in which he was living gave no resemblance of a headquarters of the world's most dreaded organization. There was no sophisticated equipment or technology, no modern communication network and not even extraordinary personal security for head of the organization. Videos of OBL also show that he was frail, ill and totally detached from ground realities. Otherwise too, a person living in a small dark room for five longs years is not expected to be in effective control of an organization that has forced even the super power to have sleepless nights. At some point of time in the past, OBL might have been an effective and relevant figure but not at the time when he was raided by the United States. In fact, there are reasons to believe that like so-called weapons of mass destruction of Saddam Hussain, the United States created the bogey of Osama to advance its regional and global agenda and it would continue to do so for sometime in future on the basis of 'information' it laid hands on in Abbottabad.







IN an exclusive interview with this paper, Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, Head of the Delegation of the European Union dwelt at length on EU's growing influence both regionally and globally and desire to give more substance to its relations with Pakistan. The Ambassador, who recently assumed his new responsibilities, expressed resolve of the European Union to expand cooperation with Pakistan in economic, trade and social sectors.

With the passage of time, the European Union has not only expanded in its size but also in its influence and clout in the international relations. Regional integration apart, the EU has moved swiftly to diversify its relations with different countries of the world and that too on the principle of sovereign equality. Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark's policy statement has very well been received in Pakistan, as it has brightened the prospects of taking Pakistan-EU relations to new heights. As the ambassador has rich and varied experience in diplomacy and has a charming personality, we are confident that he would work more closely with Pakistani authorities in strengthening economic cooperation and ensuring more market access. The importance that the EU gives to Pakistan was also manifested by its decision to hold two exclusive summits with the country that have helped crystallize many issues and paved the way for comprehensive cooperation with the aim to engage in strategic dialogue as partners, including at the highest level. They have also discussed, amongst other issues, security, humanitarian aid, energy, trade, development, and the global financial situation. We believe that there is great scope for expanding ties with EU, as luckily we do not have any bilateral dispute with any of the member of the powerful economic block. It is also important that unlike some other countries of the world, the EU assistance and cooperation has no strings attached to it and therefore, there is every reason for our policy-makers to look towards EU.







ARBITRARY decisions taken by the government have caused immense losses to the nation and after realization that a wrong has been done half hearted attempts are made to repair the damage. Apart from dumping Kalabagh Dam, for which the country would continue to suffer for ever, another ill advised act was the scrapping of productive local bodies system which was instrumental in development at the local level and resolution of people's problems at their door step. Yet another worrying aspect is that the devolution plan is weakening the federation and we would stress that certain subjects should remain with the Federal Government for uniformity and to keep hold of the Federation on key issues.

The fact is that there is lot of hue and cry at the non existence of the very useful LG system which had started delivering after a lot of brainstorming by the previous government. Funds were released to the District Councils according to their needs and elected representatives accelerated development work in many areas where people were deprived of basic necessities of life including drinking water, electricity and link roads. But due to political considerations the Government scrapped the system and despite lot of criticism and indignation, there is no move to hold local government elections which were due last year. Now surprisingly for political expediency the Government has succumbed to pressure and reached an agreement with the MQM to keep the local government in force in Sindh. MQM implemented mega projects in Karachi through the LG system and it wants to continue the development work for the benefit of the citizens. As a result of the understanding the MQM would rejoin the government and the former LG system would be restored. The question arises if the LG system is being restored in Sindh then why not in other Provinces. The good work done by the Local Governments is now in a shamble. No financial allocations are being made for new projects or at least to maintain the completed ones because the priorities have changed. We would therefore emphasise that the LG system should be put in place once again and improvements can be made in line with the needs of the time.









Government of Pakistan, our armed forces and people of Pakistan were flabbergasted, stunned and shocked on the violation of Pakistan territory by the US because they had least expected from an ally. Of course, there was tremendous trust deficit between the US and Pakistan, and we have been stressing this point in these pages that Pakistan should not lower its guard, and political leadership and military leadership should remain alert. Our leaders, media and the people should understand that intelligence agencies like the Mossad, RAW, KGB and CIA have in the past seen intelligence failures. Secondly, brave nations take their intelligence failures or defeats with quiet dignity. However, both the president and the prime minister should not leave the country and sit at home to prepare for the new security threats in-the-making with intensive deliberations with the officials and extensive consultations with cross-sections of the political strands. A consensus action plan they must evolve to face up to these emerging threats. It is true that Pakistan depends on the US for economic and military aid, and that without America's nod the IMF and the World Bank would stop funding. Pakistan can indeed live without American aid, but efforts have to be made to make Pakistan a self-reliant economy.

Anyhow, unilateral action by the US Special Forces in Abbottabad killing Osama bin Laden without sharing information has added to the trust deficit between Pakistan and the US. Already, violation of Pakistan's sovereignty by drone attacks that killed hundreds of innocent citizens just to take out a few dozen Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, had exacerbated anti-American sentiments. People of Pakistan have been enraged by American adventurism and utter disregard shown to Pakistan's sovereignty. They vociferously demand to disengage from US on the basis of its unilateral action in Abbottabad, instead of issuing warnings our military and air force should go into action, if another attack is made. America's arrogant behaviour provides ammo in the hands of those who are already against the cooperation with the US. Pakistan military and Foreign Office have already warned the US that another act of violation of Pakistan's sovereignty could lead to a catastrophe. Pakistan has been protesting on drone attacks for quite some time. A few days before attack in Abbottabad, America had reportedly insisted that it would continue its covert operations, and if the need be overt operations in Pakistan.

In the history of mankind, there have been many instances when a nation faced the dilemma of choosing the right course of action for the solution of their problems. Unfortunately, both the state and the society remained clueless and do not understand as to how to capitalize on these rich resources, release the immense latent energy and reach the ultimate goal of spiritual emancipation, prosperity, social cohesion and solidarity of the people. The question arises as to what should be done to rid the society of inertia and corruption? Can Plato's managerial meritocracy help? It may hold good in services but political exigencies demand far greater than what is provided in that discipline. Leading the people in their pursuit of political freedom, self-governance, economic independence, evolution of a vibrant society and progress in the fields of science and art requires different category of leaders. Pakistan today finds itself at the crossroads. To meet the internal and external challenges to its security, it is imperative that the nation is united, and all and sundry work to convert moribund society plagued by corruption, immorality, inertia, factionalism into a progressive, vibrant and dynamic organism brimming with vitality and creativity.

Pakistan, indeed, is rich in resources, and is the only nuclear state in 55 Muslim countries. Arab countries might be having oil wealth, but Pakistan has distinguished scientists, professors, strong and disciplined army; and above all, Pakistan has very hard working people who have the will and determination to make it a self-reliant country. But where did we go wrong? Pakistan's ruling elite, civil and military governments of the past have made many mistakes, rather blunders. The first one was joining the defence pacts with the US and the West that provided opportunity to America to use Pakistan's soil to violate the USSR's sovereignty when the U-2 took off from Pakistan's base and was downed by the Soviet Union. It was in this backdrop that former Soviet Union had backed India to violate Pakistan's sovereignty by invading the then East Pakistan. The second one was joining the Afghan jihad, when Osama bin Laden and thousands of jihadists were allowed to 'violate our sovereignty' and use our soil to violate Afghanistan's sovereignty. Anyhow, this is the third time that our sovereignty has been violated by our so-called ally many a time.

The question is whether any other Muslim country in the world would allow the jihadis from all over the world to assemble there, and arm them to wage jihad. Would Saudi Arabia or Iran have ever done it? Will Saudi King ever tolerate jihadis in his kingdom? Unfortunately, our political and religious parties in the past have been inspiring people to constantly protest for the cause of Palestine, the Arab and the Muslim world. And inspired and motivated by the US and Arab countries they waged jihad against infidels. By the way, who was Osama, and who had permitted him to come and violate our sovereignty and use our soil to violate sovereignty of another neighbouring country. Since the inception of Pakistan, those who had opposed Pakistan later wanted to enforce the law based on Quran and Sunnah. Despite the fact, that Objectives Resolution was passed, and no law can be passed against the dictates of Islam, yet there is constant bickering and debating over the issue, which is hijacked by people like Maulvi Fazlullah and Sufi Muhammad and others of their ilk. Acts of terrorism and sectarian conflicts often create law and order situation with the result that nobody is willing to invest in Pakistan.

Therefore, Pakistan's civil and military leaders should sit together and set their priorities right. First of all they have to eliminate extremism in every form and manifestation, and there should be zero-tolerance towards any of the groups. Secondly, they should review Pakistan's foreign policy, as the political landscape of the world has changed after the end of Cold War. Thirdly, they have to work out a fool-proof system to meet challenges to Pakistan's internal and external security. Fourthly, people of Pakistan should be given a fair deal, and plans should be made to provide them education and health facilities to the poor sections of the society on urgent basis.

However, to implement the plans and programmes to strengthen defence, Pakistan needs to increase its revenue. Improving law and order situation should be at the highest rung of the priorities, which will attract investment and help increase tax revenue. Nevertheless, taxes should be levied on every business, vocation and profession including tax on agriculture. Finally, Pakistan should stop being thakedar of Islam and Muslim Ummah, because America as well as Muslim countries have benefited more from Pakistan in different ways than what they have given in the form of aid and grants.

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.








War on terror fought by Pakistan Army at the behest of USA became the biggest source of economic drain and a cause of social imbalance. Musharraf employed regular troops in South Waziristan (SW) for the first time without carrying out in-depth analyses and ground preparations. On and off policy fluctuating between launching military operations and signing peace deals allowed the militants to shift, regroup and strike back with greater vengeance. By the time the Army moved into North Waziristan (NW) in 2005, the militants in tribal belt duly reinforced by Al-Qaeda elements had become more organized and trained. CIA and RAW thwarted all attempts of reconciliation and kept inflaming terrorism. Army's Employment against own people lowered its image in the eyes of the people of the tribal area.

Wrongful sacking of chief justice Iftikhar in March 2007 and bloody Lal Masjid operation in July plunged the popularity of Musharraf and also lowered the standing of the Army. In retaliation to the deaths of men, women and children at the hands of security forces in Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafza, rate of suicide bombings jumped up substantially and urban centres were targeted. Raised emotions of the youth of lower class enabled Baitullah Mehsud to speed up recruitment and form Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) in December 2007. Jihadi groups banned in 2001/02 started linking up with TTP and terrorism engulfed Pakistan. By 2008, the Army started losing space to the militants and a sort of dreariness crept in among lower ranks since many thought that the Taliban were on the right.

High lifestyle of the opulent class, their outlandish behaviour towards the have-nots but total compliance to Washington's dictates, and rapid growth of liberalism under the garb of enlightened moderation became other causes of frustration, dejection, and resentment among the dispossessed. Subservience of judiciary, the police and other law enforcement agencies to the rulers and insensitivity towards the poor as well as arrogance of government officials towards them were other reasons which perturbed them. Their growing bitterness and sense of hopelessness fuelled religious extremism. The dispossessed got further despondent when change over from one-man dictatorship to democracy in February 2008 didn't bring any change in their lives. In fact, things began to worsen with every passing day under the rule of elected rulers. GDP tumbled to below 3% while inflation shot up to 15%. Sky rocketing price spiral, gas and electric load shedding, shortage of food items, record breaking corruption, high rate of unemployment, diminishing openings for the educated youth, bad governance and near absence of accountability of the wrong doers further distressed them. Efforts of NRO cleansed rulers to retain PCO judges and to keep upright and clean judges out brought the people on the streets for the second time in a span of two years and frustrated their sinister designs. However, as a consequence to pro-rich and anti-people policies pursued by the ruling regime, menace of terrorism kept expanding.

In 2008, the militants in northwest with the assistance of foreign powers had gained a psychological edge over security forces. They had gained strength in FATA, most settled districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Swat and suburbs of Peshawar. Fazlullah's men had terrorized the people of Swat through cruel acts. Talibanization had made inroads in southern Punjab wherefrom sizeable number of militants had joined TTP. At that critical stage when the overall situation looked gloomy, certain positive developments had taken place. The judiciary under chief justice Iftikhar had become independent and assertive; the Army's reins had come in the hands of Gen Kayani; the ISI had smelt the rat and had started taking counter measures against CIA And FBI's unchecked activities; the media and civil society had become vibrant; foolproof arrangements for security and safety of our nuclear and missile assets had been made and there was complete harmony between all the services of armed forces. In Afghanistan, despite the troop surge, Helmand operation had failed and reverses had occurred in Nuristan. Scales had decisively tipped in favour of Afghan Taliban.

It will be recalled that soon after taking over as COAS in November 2007, Gen Kayani had announced that the Army will not have any role in the elections other than providing security. He withdrew all officers seconded to civil departments, started low intensity operations training in regiments, appointed right kind of senior officers in combat zones and took extraordinary welfare measures to boost the morale of lower ranks. These steps prepared the Army to take on the challenge of faceless enemy more robustly. Non-implementation of February 2009 peace accord by Maulana Sufi and Maulana Fazlullah and their expansion to Buner and lower Dir changed the perceptions of the people and their sympathies gravitated towards the military. Unanimous resolution of National Assembly to fight the anti-state militants with full force coupled with peoples support helped the Army in launching a decisive operation on 28 April 2008. It achieved outstanding results in the critical battles of Swat and SW. Stronghold of Bajaur too was successfully pacified.

These three hard fought operations in which the Army and Frontier Corps suffered heavy losses not only broke the back of the militants and disarrayed the TTP; it took the steam out of the hostile propaganda of the west that the militants were on the verge of takeover of the state and the nukes. It forced the militants and their patrons to affect a change in their strategy by shifting the main weight of terrorism from the frontiers to urban centres where mosques, shrines, ISI offices, police and other soft targets were targeted. Recommencement of militancy in Mohmand Agency and recent spate of suicide attacks in several cities are a result of continued support of foreign powers to the militant organizations and failure of our government to remove the inequities of the tribal belt. Drone attacks are also fuelling terrorism. Families of victims of drones and suicide attacks have not been compensated. Despite government's rhetoric, drone strikes are continuing. Bulk of displaced persons from SW living in make shift camps since September 2009 as a consequent to Operation Rah-e-Nijat have yet not returned.

Very little has so far been done to alleviate the suffering of the people of FATA. Only small scale development works under army supervision are in progress. George Bush administration had promised duty free export to the US goods produced in special industrial zones set up in FATA. The ROZ bill was sent to the Congress for approval twice but it couldn't materialize into law due to stiff opposition by the US textile industry. The US has again forward the ROZ bill but chances of its approval are slim. FATA must be brought in the mainstream as in the case of Gilgit-Baltistan. Old demand of the tribesmen to appoint a Governor for their region should be met and hateful FCR amended speedily. Decision to open a cadet college in Wana is a good step but many other suchlike projects are required. Modern educational and technical colleges, health facilities, vocational centres, factories and business centres are required to be opened to make all the seven tribal agencies more prosperous and to remove their sense of deprivation.

Besides forcing USA to stop drone attacks, security of peaceful residents as well as anti-militant lashkars should be ensured. Cross border movement of foreign agents from neighbouring Afghan provinces like Kunar, Paktika, Khost and Paktia to be blocked. There is also a need for an awareness drive through psychological operations to highlight perverse role of those among tribesmen misguiding teenagers to become suicide bombers. Until and unless ignorance and sense of deprivation are removed by providing greater job opportunities and the region developed on a crash program, extremism and terrorism will keep growing.

—The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.







Russian-Pakistani relations are on the rise. Since 2010 the intensity of bilateral contacts at all levels has increased significantly. In June our presidents Mr D A Medvedev and Mr A A Zardari met in Tashkent on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit. Then in August they held a substantial discussion in Sochi, where the heads of all countries of the "Four" including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia and Tajikistan assembled together. Sochi agreements were logically followed by September's substantial contacts of the ministers of foreign affairs held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly's 65th session in New-York.

On November 25 Chairman of Government V V Putin and Prime Minister Y R Gilani had a separate meeting at the SCO Heads of Government Council in Dushanbe. On October 5-8 the Head of the Federal Service of the Russian Federation for Narcotics Control paid a visit to Islamabad to sign an agreement on cooperation in combating illicit drug trafficking. In January this year consultations on strategic stability issues at deputy ministers level were held successfully in Islamabad.

The intensification of our political contacts is not an accidental phenomenon – it is logically stipulated by growing understanding in Moscow and Islamabad that our countries have many common interests and objectives. First and foremost, it applies to providing regional security and stability, countering threats of terrorism and extremism in all forms and manifestations. Along with our Pakistani partners we resolutely stand against illicit arms trade, drug trafficking, money laundering, cross-border organized crime. We hold detailed discussions on all these issues, particularly within the framework of the joint working group on countering international terrorism and other new challenges to international security. Russia fully recognizes and appreciates the substantial contribution made by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the efforts of world community in this sphere. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers and officers, policemen and intelligence operatives sacrificed their lives while purging their country of terror hotbeds, proving with deeds the commitment of Pakistan to genuine Islamic and human values.

Russia attaches great importance to cooperation with Pakistan in the sphere of Afghan settlement. Instability in this country is our mutual concern. The success of efforts to elaborate optimum ways of reconstruction and reconciliation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is impossible to achieve without active interaction with states bordering it, and primarily Pakistan, because many problems of these two countries are closely intertwined.

Russian and Pakistani policy is characterized by recognition of the fact that the search of ways to settle current highly sophisticated conflict situation must not become the prerogative of solely external players. The participation of the regional community in this process is imperative.

Certainly, the Afghans themselves must make a major and crucial contribution to the settlement by strengthening the state that would maintain good-neighbourly relations with the circumjacent countries and carry out the policy of neutralism while not allowing any external interference in its internal affairs. There is no doubt that it is indispensable to guarantee full sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Both Russia and Pakistan substantially contribute to the economic development and reconstruction of the friendly state.

Regional security including settlement of the Afghan situation, struggle against terror and drug threat would undoubtedly be facilitated by normalizing the relationship between the two major South Asian states – India and Pakistan. In this connection Moscow supports the resumption of political dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi. On the whole, Russia and Pakistan work productively within both international and regional formats. We adhere to similar or identical positions on major international issues including crisis management, formation of multipolar world order, strengthening of the United Nations' role and authority as well as supremacy of international law. We have a lot of common interests in disarmament and non-proliferation sphere: we discuss these problems on a regular basis. It does not mean that there are no differences between us. But most importantly, we discuss existing complex issues sincerely and in a practical way, respecting and not offending each other, thus promoting the atmosphere of healthy cooperation between our countries. We attach primary importance to the consolidating and integrating role of the SCO. This organization has lately become one of the most authoritative and influential in the region. By now Pakistan enjoys the status of the SCO observer-state, but along with other candidates it has all the chances to become a full member of the organization. The real prospects of Islamabad's contribution to the SCO activity – both in the sphere of solving security problems (within the framework of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure) and in expanding economic cooperation – are already evident.

It would be proper to mention that being the largest transit state, Russia quite positively assesses Pakistan's transit capabilities, whose importance is undoubtedly gaining ground in today's interdependent world. In our opinion, the construction of transport and energy corridors in Southwest and Central Asia is a key not only to successful development of the countries situated there, but also an important factor of strengthening security in the region. Today we have vast opportunities for giving impetus to the economic component of our bilateral cooperation. In this connection the first meeting of Russian-Pakistani Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation held in September, 2010 was a significant event. It helped to outline specific areas of our interaction as well as the projects that can be practically realized within the framework of the two countries' cooperation.

Special attention is drawn to the possibilities of oil-, gas- and coal-deposits exploitation, participation of Russian companies in providing electricity transit from Central Asia (CASA-1000), construction of Iran-Pakistan and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipelines, reconstruction and modernization of Pakistan Steel Mills in Karachi, establishment of banks' representations in both countries, telecommunication development and modernization of Pakistani railways.

After the session of the Intergovernmental Commission the exchange of delegations representing both countries' business communities has become more intense. This is helpful for practical implementation of existing and newly emerged plans and ideas. In this connection the visits paid to Moscow by Minister of State, Chairman of the Pakistani Board of Investment Mr. S.Mandviwalla on September 28 – October 4 and Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources Mr. S.N.Qamar on November 19-20 were extremely useful. Quadrilateral meeting of the ministers of economic block of the "Four" including Russia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan held on October 22 in Moscow and attended by the Minister for Commerce of Pakistan, Mr. M.A.Fahim, is also worth mentioning.

It should be acknowledged that there are some factors impeding the development of economic cooperation between Russia and Pakistan. That is a certain passivity of our companies as well as the lack of mutual awareness, particularly, of the economy dynamics and the development of both countries' legal basis in the respective sphere. In this connection we welcome the establishment of Pakistan-Russia Business Forum by Pakistani companies and local organizations concerned. This Forum along with Pakistan-Russia Business Council (also formed by Pakistani enterprises) aims at promoting direct contacts between the business communities of our states. We are also working at the idea of establishing a joint business council with an active participation of Russian companies.

Analyzing Russian-Pakistani relations, one would draw attention to a simplified approach to their history still remaining in a section of the Pakistani political circles. Appeals to "abandon the prejudice of a cold war period" resound here from time to time. In this connection it is appropriate to emphasize that even at the height of this period when the Soviet Union and Pakistan were pushed to opposite block systems, Moscow continued to develop its contacts with Islamabad and gave active assistance to Pakistani economy. It was in the seventies and eighties when Karachi's Pakistan Steel Mills, Multan and Guddu power plants were constructed with the direct help of USSR.

The re-evaluation of the Russian-Pakistani relations in accordance with the realities of modern international situation took the period of the late nineties and early years of the current century. It was then that the leaders of both countries categorically opted for overcoming the remaining divisive lines in the region and emphasized that Moscow-Islamabad interaction is not subject to any outside influence and has its own value. The past decade fully proved the correctness of this approach. To sum up, the main thing has to be emphasized. We have a solid foundation for constructing a multistorey building of Russian-Pakistani relations, and there are excellent opportunities to do it in a proper way. All we need is to use them.

—The writer is Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Pakistan.







Reports emitting from various quarters in Kabul suggests that Osama Bin Laden is alive. Media reports/sources also quoted Al-Qaeda's commander Abu Hamza Bin Zahid saying that Osama Bin Laden is not in Pakistan and he is still alive. He said, ''I think USA wants to attack Pakistan and for this may be India will help him but we will help Pakistani people, despite of that what Pakistani Government has policy about us. Pakistani nation is very peace loving nation, they helped us during war on Afghanistan, so we can't left them alone.''

No doubt that these are unconfirmed reports as there are some reports that appeared in the leading newspapers that global militant group in an internet message claimed that it will soon release an audio tape made by its leader a week before he died. The group stressed not to deviate from the path of armed struggle and said "Bin Laden's blood "is more precious to us and to every Muslim than to be wasted in vain." "It will remain, with permission from God Almighty, a curse that hunts the Americans and their collaborators and chase them outside and inside their country." One seriously doubts the credibility of statement released on Islamic Internet forums. In case the forum was genuine by now the US and Indian Cyber Command would have tracked all the individuals linked with the forum. One wonders if an edited audio tape made by its leader a week before he died is released how it can confirm the Osama Bin Laden is dead or alive and it was result of Abbottabad operation. Even if the pictures of dead body of this Muslim leader is released who would judge its authenticity? The plot is to arose the sentiments of the Pakistan public for an excuse of more attacks.

Whatever the case may be some political parties in Pakistan have demanded resignation of the Pakistani government over its role in the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Pakistan has officially denied that they had any knowledge regarding living of Osama Bin Laden living in Abbottabad. Even for a second we accept that there was an operation by US from across the border that killed Osama Bin Laden, what about acceptance or denial about the killing of Osama Bin Laden by Pakistani government? Do we have any confirmation from the Pakistani authorities if any of their officials is witness to Osama's martyrdom? Probably the answer is "No" as so far no such claim has been surfaced. There are certain people in Pakistan who have been mislead by the western and Indian propaganda that our armed forces are not capable of defending our frontier. Such people should not forget that we have one of the best forces in the world who are second to none. It should be kept in mind that when ever such critical occasion arise whole nation is required to be united and should not act as tools in the hands of enemy forces as fifth columnists and conspirators. One must understand that our political government and the state functionaries are doing their best in the larger interests, integrity and sovereignty of the country. One need to be watchful if we are party to hubs of psychological operations in the shape of various cyber clubs, media houses, think tanks, front organizations and pressure groups of the enemies and adversaries against our motherland. Can't we understand how the media channels can report authentic casualties with names of those martyred as a result of US drone attacks immediately after each attack? Again it was the media channels which reported about the Abbottabad incident on the lines they were directed by the hands behind them to telecast. We need to be vigilant about various propaganda tactics through media, mobile phone services and internet campaigns to created hatred and mistrust against our government and institutions.

There are serious doubts in the authenticity that Osama Bin Laden or any of the members of Al Qaida was living in Abbottabad. There can be chances that some foreign front organization might have used this house to shift some undesired persons to blame Pakistani agencies. We need to reach to the gravity of the incident and stop speculating. India is already in tune with Washington and its agencies regarding the Abbottabad mock operation. US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is scheduled to visit India this month to discuss important issues. What is bothering New Delhi is that what would be the fate of Indian projects in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US and allies in next three to four months period? India is quite fearful that after the humiliating withdrawal of the American and other foreign intruders New Delhi will be exposed to hostile pro-Pakistan Afghanistan and unfriendly Pakistan who may harm India. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to visit Afghanistan in a couple of days to get assurance from US Commanders and Kabul regarding New Delhi's commitment to complete various projects undertaken by India there.

Most important issue that would be discussed there would be plans to carryout attacks on locations inside Pakistan. Indian intelligence agencies especially the Defence Intelligence Agency and Military intelligence are persuading its leadership that a full fledge Indo-US joint operation against Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayyiaba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) would be required in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are rightly concerned that how did US manage to come so deep inside Pakistan and what are the assurances that they would not challenge our sovereignty again. As a patriotic Pakistani, one needs to be confident that those who matter in Pakistan including our government and armed forces are following a strategy and plan of our own in the larger interest of the country.







Every time there is a Pakistan-sourced terrorist attack in India, the reaction in the world's largest democracy is predictable. Demands range from "hot pursuit" of the terrorists across the border to cries for all-out war. In the last decade, analysts have proposed other alternatives: surgical air strikes, a limited armoured offensive and covert operations. The latter option seems especially inviting after US Special Forces took out Osama bin Laden last Sunday.

These demands for strong action are in stark contrast with the way the Indian government has responded to these attacks: pursuing bland diplomacy. The starker this contrast gets, the more complicated it will be for New Delhi to implement a foreign policy that is assertive, yet careful and deterrent, in the future. Instead, if the government displays the requisite will and capabilities for a targeted strike today, it can avoid the need for an actual strike later. History offers some perspective. After the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed attacked New Delhi's Parliament in December 2001, the US had to step in quickly to prevent armed clashes between the arch rivals. In May 2002, following yet another terrorist attack and after months of coercive diplomacy by both New Delhi and Washington, Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf offered a very strong assurance that his country's territory would not be used to host attacks against India. This assurance was conveyed to New Delhi by then-US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who said that terrorism emanating from Pakistan would end "permanently, irreversibly, visibly and to the satisfaction of India."

New Delhi bought that assurance and started to reach out to Islamabad diplomatically. Yet its pattern of responses since 2002 has led to six more terrorist attacks originating in Pakistan. All Islamabad has done is give similar reassurances. After the attack on Mumbai in November 2008, India found itself in the same trap. It issued the usual protests accompanied by vague threats of retaliation and called off the dialogue that had started a few years ago. But Islamabad denied any state complicity. At that point, India's strategic-affairs and military community noted that New Delhi had to raise Pakistan's costs of encouraging cross-border terrorism. However, by 2009, the Manmohan Singh government's energies were focused on sending dossiers of evidence to Islamabad, pointing to proof of LeT's hand in the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan's civilian government stalled on them. Still, Mr. Singh staked his reputation on trying to start a dialogue. Earlier this year it began, most visibly at the sidelines of the cricket world cup.

These diplomatic back-and-forths have not yielded results. Despite playing nice, Islamabad has snubbed its neighbour's friendliness. Last week, Pakistan's government called India's demand for the Mumbai 2008 suspects "familiar and outdated." What should New Delhi do then? Even with the world's fourth largest military, India has failed to deter Pakistan's cross-border terrorism. Now, the success of America's Operation Geronimo in killing bin Laden has whetted its appetite to do more.

This could well be bravado on the chiefs' part, because India suffers from fundamental deficiencies. For one, India's political leadership has been risk-averse. Even before the two sides fought a limited war in Kashmir in 1999, New Delhi had already announced that it would never cross the Line of Control, the de facto border. This tied the Indian army's hands when Pakistan crossed this amorphous line and claimed Indian soil as its down. More broadly, India has a history of strategic restraint, which means its diplomatic and military strategy hasn't been focused on assertively achieving select goals. As a result, India has invested in neither the legal architecture nor the physical capabilities to pull off an Operation Geronimo.

For instance, US counter-terrorism policy declares that terrorists in breach of US laws who are harboured by any state will be brought back for prosecution through "induced cooperation" and, when necessary, force. India needs something like this. Such laws would give its counter-terror operators legal cover as well as set the ground for dealing with other gray legalities in the war on terror. Equipment- and training-wise, too, India falls short. Indian commandos freed the Mumbai hostages with much clumsiness over a prolonged 72-hour operation in November 2008, making some wonder how they would operate in alien environments. None of this is to suggest that India should prosecute an operation similar to Geronimo in coming months.

—The writer is a retired major general of the Indian Army and founder member of India's Defence Planning Staff.

—Courtesy: The Wall Street Journal








WHEN Wayne Swan rises to his feet in parliament tonight, he must avoid making any more excuses.

In what will be his fourth budget and the Gillard government's first, it must be close to the last chance for Labor to outline a clear strategy to gain control of its own economic destiny. We have lots of alibis for failure from the Treasurer beyond the one serious mitigating factor he has had to deal with, the global financial crisis. It is time to stop blaming the Howard government, the unique characteristics of mining boom Mark II and the natural disasters here and overseas. Rather, Mr Swan should demonstrate discipline in the one aspect of the economy over which he has almost unfettered control -- government spending.

Such is the way of politics, it would be too much to expect the Treasurer to admit he overreacted to the GFC, wasted too much money and plunged Australia further into deficit than was necessary. But this judgment must at least inform his thinking as he frames a path back to a structural surplus. With unemployment low, commodity prices high, export demand strong and the dollar above parity, now is the time to significantly rein in spending, easing upward pressure on interest rates and allowing private sector investment to fuel economic growth.

Unfortunately Mr Swan and Julia Gillard have handicapped themselves by locking in to extensive government spending through the $36 billion NBN project, not to mention hundreds of millions of dollars of stimulus money still being spent on the school halls program. These are part of a political promise to every school in the nation, so perhaps none of that spend can be curtailed. But the NBN was never subject to a cost-benefit analysis, has failed to award construction tenders at the initial price and is designed to roll out over a decade. Now must be an appropriate time to reassess the government largesse in the project and consider whether it is better to allow private investors to provide more broadband infrastructure by upgrading a range of technologies.

The government recognises skills shortages and increased labour costs are pressure points in the economy, so it is the wrong time for massive public infrastructure projects to compete in the marketplace for those same resources, adding to the inflationary pressure. We also need to see a heavy emphasis on training and welfare to work reforms that, as well as providing incentives, are sufficiently hard-headed to nudge people into the workforce.

Apart from announcing substantial spending cuts, Mr Swan must explain why they are needed. Part of his rationale must reflect the need to ease inflationary pressures. He also should declare that it is time for the government to retreat from people's lives. Labor has used the excuse of the GFC to insinuate government into too many aspects of our lives: sending us cheques to get us spending, running optical fibre to our door for broadband, building a hall at every school, knocking on our door to offer insulation, giving us funding to switch to solar and, now we learn, even popping in to deliver and install a digital set-top box for our televisions.

Enough, Treasurer. If you cut your spending to make the budget self-sustaining, Australians can get on with ensuring they are self-reliant.






FOR all its imperfections and transgressions, the fourth estate is crucial in facilitating the public discourse, enabling the contest of ideas and delivering the transparency and accountability that underpin our democracy.

Serious media accept these responsibilities, providing reportage and commentary on all issues of relevance, unpalatable or not. Journalists must avoid applying a moral handbrake on issues that run counter to their world view. Readers expect quality media to keep them abreast of any current events worthy of debate so they can assess not only what has happened but also what might be unfolding.

We have noted before that readers of the Fairfax press all too often must be taken completely by surprise. For instance, while the knifing of then prime minister Kevin Rudd climaxed at a dramatic pace last year, the readers of those papers wouldn't have known about the building internal desperation that preceded the coup. Similarly, the demotion of environment minister Peter Garrett must have mystified readers who had not read about the ongoing disaster of the home insulation scandal. The insulation shambles and the school halls wastage did not fit the narrative of Fairfax journalists, so the stories were ignored.

So it was last weekend, with The Sydney Morning Herald devoting a full page to a significant story it had ignored for almost a month (save for a single comment piece). Our readers will be familiar with the furore sparked by indigenous activist and academic Larissa Behrendt tweeting a nasty put-down about Aboriginal woman Bess Price, who was supporting the indigenous intervention on ABC TV's Q&A program. The controversy threw a spotlight on a schism between the pragmatic and ideological views of the intervention. Fairfax papers self-censored the story and the ongoing debate but on the weekend the Herald spoke at length with Behrendt in a self-serving piece, ignoring the key issues and consigning the episode to history. This strange approach matters little to us as it serves only to highlight the benefits our readers enjoy. But it hardly seems fair to Herald readers or the broader public, who might be interested in this crucial discussion. The intervention's future and decisions about who speaks for indigenous communities remain highly contentious issues in Central Australia, and are important for our nation.





LIONEL Rose faced world bantamweight champion Masahiko Harada as a 19-year-old underdog in a bout few pundits believed he could win but which all Australians hoped he would.

That supercharged victory over 15 dogged rounds in Tokyo in 1968, which stemmed from Rose's raw talent and sheer guts, changed Australian sporting history.

In a referendum less than a year earlier, 90 per cent of Australians had voted to empower the federal government to implement policies to benefit Aborigines. Rose's victory gave his people their first indigenous superstar and a big confidence boost. With 42 wins, including 12 knockouts, from 53 fights, Rose paved the way for other indigenous sporting stars, including Evonne Cawley, Cathy Freeman, Nova Peris-Kneebone, Tony Mundine, Arthur Beetson, Jonathan Thurston and Wendell Sailor.

Rose, who died on Sunday aged 62, richly deserved the accolades bestowed upon him. More than 100,000 people greeted him in Melbourne when he returned from Tokyo and he was Australian of the Year in 1968, the first Aborigine to receive the honour. Rose had the world at his feet that year, a time when the referendum had created new optimism and expectations among Aborigines. Subsequent decades, however, proved difficult both for Rose and for many of his people. A talented singer, Rose scored two hits with I Thank You and Remember Me but a stroke in 2007 left him partially paralysed. Sadly, the ill health that plagued him and his death at a relatively young age is a fate shared by many of his people, whose social and economic wellbeing have been hampered by decades of ineffective policies.

A deeply principled man, Rose took pride in refusing a lucrative offer to fight in apartheid-riven South Africa in 1970, where he would have been classed as an honorary "white". In 1996, he generously gave his world-title belt to six-year-old Tjandamurra O'Shane, the victim of a racially charged attack in Cairns in the hope it would hasten the child's recovery.

Despite dirt floors and practising in a ring surrounded with chicken wire, Lionel Rose had "fond, incredible memories" of his "black tea and damper days" growing up in Jackson's Track, Gippsland. He was an Australian hero who remained true to his roots.







THE best teachers impart not only scholarship; they inspire their charges to reach for the stars and instil the work ethic necessary to get there. Lest there be some "expert" waiting to pounce on this assertion, readers should trust their own judgment and recall their own school days. Excellent teachers generally got the best out of us all and lousy teachers failed us miserably - whether we attended the finest schools in the land or the poorest.

A natural extension of this thinking leads to the door of Terry Moran who, as secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, is the nation's most senior public servant. "I would put all my effort into how we find really bright young kids and develop them to be teachers, and keep them in that profession," Moran told a Sydney University audience last week. And then, he said, he would go about finding the right school principals, "invest in their development and pay them accordingly".

Instead, Australia's best and brightest are encouraged by society's perceptions to eschew teaching and to aim for challenging careers with prospects of greater social status and richer financial rewards. This is most acute among talented young women who once overwhelmingly opted for teaching careers. Law, medicine, architecture and investment banking are worthy, sometimes noble, aspirations. They should not be diminished but, for the sake of Australia, education must be elevated in public sentiment as much as in government policy.

Education is the key not only to individual fulfilment but to national growth, wealth and comfort. Australia is at risk of being overtaken because education is not taken seriously enough at home and because policies have been too broad and, therefore, too often unwieldy.

The general solution has been to spread ever greater money across schooling; what Moran might call the Vegemite approach. Sure, money matters and schools can always do with more, but the Moran model is a lot more targeted and likely to be a lot more effective. He would like to see a return to generous scholarships for talented students looking to teach. And, he notes, education spending that improves teacher quality pays for itself many times over because it achieves so much for so relatively little.

The expected budget announcement today that meritorious teachers will be paid bonuses, based on NAPLAN test results and other criteria, is a step along the path. But the journey is not for government alone. Getting the best from our teachers, and therefore from our students, is a challenge for us all.






THE death of Lionel Rose, indigenous Australia's first world champion boxer, offers a chance to reflect on the way Aborigines have fared since the optimistic days of Rose's youth, when Aboriginal Australia seemed to be at the dawn of a new and more hopeful era.

Rose followed the route taken by many Aborigines before and since to succeed in a country where the odds have been stacked against them because of their race. Fast reflexes and superb athletic ability won him what his other talents probably might not have: recognition in the world of white Australia. Sport is a frequent route out of a ghettoised existence for minority cultures throughout the world. Indeed, as it was for Rose in white Australia, so it has been often enough for Australia itself. Australians are sports mad because, suffering a national inferiority complex, sport enables them to take on and beat even superpowers on equal terms. In Rose's triumph all Australians could see something of their own aspirations fulfilled. On his return to Melbourne in 1968 as world champion, he was greeted by a crowd of more than 100,000.

It was a time when anything seemed possible. Rose won his title only a year after Australians had voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to recognise indigenous Australians' rights. His victory thus captured the spirit of the age - not reconciliation, perhaps, since the issue was not expressed in those terms; but certainly a hope that equal opportunity might end disadvantage. The impetus for reform of race relations thus begun eventually culminated in the land rights victories of the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

But those victories did not solve other underlying problems. Australia has yet to devise a solution to the generic difficulties bedevilling race relations and social deprivation in this country. Indigenous Australians suffer not only discrimination; they are also imprisoned far more, live shorter lives and in worse health than other Australians. Policy after well-meaning policy has been devised to improve the situation - the most recent being the Northern Territory intervention, the draconian rules of which have produced only mixed results. Perhaps no set of government rules can ever solve the specific problems underlying the plight of many in indigenous Australia - but only create new, different ones.

In the meantime, though, by ones and twos, some Aborigines have managed to succeed. Many of them have, like Rose, used their individual sporting prowess to lift themselves out of a world of social and cultural oppression. Long may they do so. Their lone efforts symbolise the best hope for indigenous Australia's future.






IT HAS been a dramatic four days for Victoria Police that began last Friday with Chief Commissioner Simon Overland's removal of his deputy, Sir Ken Jones. After a weekend in which more public attention was focused on internal politics than the external matters the police are there to monitor and control, the state government late yesterday afternoon announced it had ordered a special inquiry ''to identify any shortcomings in the police command structure''.

As this newspaper said on Saturday: ''For Mr Overland, the circumstances of Sir Ken's departure are likely to increase political questioning of Victoria Police's operational direction.'' This is now a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The mere fact that Premier Ted Baillieu and his deputy, Police Minister Peter Ryan have felt this review necessary adds, rather than detracts from, the intensity of the problems facing Victoria Police, especially its beleaguered Chief Commissioner.

Despite the government's expression of confidence in Mr Overland, he remains destabilised. Even if the inquiry finds in his favour, as well it may, Mr Overland's authority has been compromised by time, circumstance and conflicting messages.

The government appears confused in its approach to the whole matter: while saying that Mr Overland has its support, it criticises him, almost in the the same breath, for not advising the Premier or Police Minister that he intended to remove Sir Ken - something Mr Baillieu then said Mr Overland was legally entitled to do. So why raise the criticism at all? In any case, it is something that would be best for the inquiry to determine.

None of this, of course, should be of detriment to the process of the inquiry itself, which is to be headed by Jack Rush, QC, the counsel assisting the Bushfires Royal Commission. Mr Rush is not only outstandingly well qualified, but has a reputation for exactitude that should not be lost on those who appear before him. It is hoped, though, that his terms of reference will enable him to conduct as full an inquiry as is necessary. For example, there is already a potential complication arising from a possible overlap with the investigation by Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer into the circumstances of the moving of underworld figure Carl Williams from isolation at Barwon Prison to the maximum-security Acacia unit, where he was killed. As The Age reported on Saturday, this incident, an apparent source of friction between Mr Overland and Sir Ken, was a possible contributing factor in Sir Ken's dismissal.

The events of the past week have brought to light an incidental, but crucially important, aspect of the job of chief commissioner: that it has become less independent and more political in inappropriate ways. This is not through the behaviour of any individual but more in the way the position has come to be treated by governments of the day and perceived by the public at large. Matters have not been helped by the recent revelation in this newspaper that the former Brumby government may have sought to pressure Simon Overland to release favourable crime statistics just before last November's election campaign. Former commissioner Kel Glare told The Sunday Age: ''Police chiefs seem to be bending to the will of the government and perhaps not acting in the proper manner.''

Mr Glare's suggestion that chief commissioners should be appointed by a joint parliamentary committee, instead of by the Governor ''in council'', on the recommendation of government ministers, has considerable merit. It would remove the chief commissioner from the political arena, as well as helping to restore public confidence not only in the top cop, but the force he or she would lead. Ultimately, the control of Victoria Police, and particularly the office of chief commissioner, must be put above partisan politics.






21-6-1948 - 8-5-2011

THERE are comparatively few sporting figures who transcend their particular field to become emblematic of a wider society. Such a person was Lionel Rose, one of Australia's greatest boxers, who died on Sunday aged 62, and who became one of the most admired Aboriginal Australians.

For those of his generation, Lionel Rose was the 19-year-old from a humpy at Jackson's Track, near Warragul, who won the world bantamweight title from Fighting Harada in Tokyo in February 1968. More than a quarter of a million people lined Melbourne's streets to welcome Rose home. Within months, he was appointed Australian of the Year and received the MBE. Rose also fought other, more personal, battles: he fought against the hardship of his youth; he fought for what he believed - but always through quiet, persuasive determination; and he fought to shift entrenched racial attitudes at a time when there were far cruder substitutes for the word ''indigenous''. Indeed, when Rose won his title, it was not yet a year since Aboriginal rights were recognised by referendum. In later life, Rose countered with dignity and fortitude the deterioration of his health. As his family said in a statement on Sunday, Rose's ''fighting spirit and determination did not waver during this time''.

Like most human beings, Lionel Rose had his occasional failings - episodes of gambling and drugs among them, along with a foray, in the 1970s, into recording: his hit single, I Thank You, could be said to have achieved for singing what Frank Sinatra did for boxing. But these were mere blemishes compared with Rose's legion of professional and personal achievements. Former Australian Boxing Federation president, and Rose's cousin, Brad Vocale, said yesterday: ''He made us all very, very proud. He gave us all something to fight for and something to live for.''

Last June, Lionel Rose made one of his last public appearances, in a Warragul park. He was in a wheelchair, surrounded by his family, at the unveiling of a bronze statue of his former pugilistic self. The ceremony was to honour Rose's long contribution to this country's sporting and cultural life - he won 42 of a total of 53 fights, losing just 11. But his inspiration went well beyond the ring and the ropes. World Boxing Council president Frank Quill, recalling how, in 1970, Rose refused to fight in apartheid South Africa, described him as ''a champion of humanity''. Lionel Edward Rose was also a champion of his sport, his country and his time.







The failure to act promptly on the three officers' evidence prompts serious questions for the City force and the IPCC

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) yesterday published three reports. One was into the death of Ian Tomlinson, in April 2009, a second looked at the police media handling of the case, while the third was a particularly critical one on the police evidence to pathologists. The reports are detailed. The main one is a thorough piece of work, running to 98 pages. But it is not thorough enough.

Here's why. The Guardian reported yesterday that, two days after Mr Tomlinson's death, three Metropolitan police officers reported to their superiors that they had seen a colleague push Mr Tomlinson to the ground. The Met police passed the officers' information to the City of London force, which polices the Square Mile where Mr Tomlinson died and which was responsible for the initial 2009 investigation.

Yet the City police do not appear to have told the IPCC, or the pathologist who was due to examine Mr Tomlinson, or the coroner or, not least, Mr Tomlinson's family any of this. All this happened four days before the Guardian released video footage of the officer striking Mr Tomlinson. It was only then that the Tomlinson investigation went up a gear, setting in train a sequence of events that produced last week's unlawful killing inquest verdict, a new referral to the director of public prosecutions and, yesterday, the release of the IPCC report.

It is, of course, possible that justice will eventually be done to Mr Tomlinson in spite of the initial failures of response. Yet the failure to act promptly on the three officers' evidence prompts serious questions for the City force and the IPCC. The death of any citizen during a police public order operation is a matter of the highest seriousness. Yet the response was slow and not proportionate to the potential and, as it later turned out, the actual importance of the case. Why did the City force not raise its game as soon as the three Met officers' reports were known? Why did the IPCC not start its investigation immediately as it learned of Mr Tomlinson's death on 1 April, or on 3 April when it learned that members of the public saw the pushing incident, or on 5 April when the Observer published the first photographs of the police assault? Why, if the IPCC now knew about the three police witnesses when it finally took over the investigation on 8 April, has it released a report more than two years later which fails to acknowledge their evidence at all?

The IPCC's job is to provide a professional, independent and accountable check on police actions. It does its best with limited resources. But it did not respond effectively enough when the Tomlinson case occurred. Now, two years on, it still seems unable to see the wood for the trees or to get to the heart of this crucial case.





Irrepressible and raffish, this weed is a rebel, an outsider and saboteur of neat lawns and raked beds

In human terms it would be the child you would rather yours didn't play with, raggedy-muffin, snot-nosed and with a worryingly independent gleam in the eyes. How much more reassuring to go round for the afternoon to the nice, dependable Cowslips, or have tea with that pretty Bluebell girl. But if they can get away with it, children will seek out the Dandelion type every time. Who can blame them, even when cursing your way round the garden with a taproot claw or chasing windblown clocks and trying to stuff them in the bin before the seeds escape? There is something brave about this irrepressible weed, as well as raffish. A rebel, an outsider and saboteur of neat lawns and raked beds, but with seed dispersal arrangements that place it high up Charles Darwin's survival league. With an estimated 97,000,000 seeds per hectare floating from its fluffy mop, the dandelion will be here long after we have gone. But while we share the planet, those same clocks, with a puff for each hour, can help a family through the boredom of an afternoon walk with grown-ups, without cranky arguments. En masse, the flowers set a roadside verge ablaze with gold as efficiently as any daffodil-planting local council, and more naturally. Dandelions are useful in the kitchen, too, the medicine cupboard and for biodiversity as the food plant of many animal species. How better, in short, to celebrate a good, if pointless, day's dandelion-digging during the spring break than with dandelion tea afterwards, or dandelion wine?






Unfortunately for Andrew Lansley, the more the small print is studied, the more it is disliked

Coming to the Commons as the face of a bill which is currently being rewritten by other people, the health secretary Andrew Lansley had a horrendous task yesterday. He tackled it by suggesting his masterplan was less about what he wanted than empowering medical staff. A pity, then, that a few hours before the chair of the Royal College of GPs, the very medics he would put in the driving seat, had said the English NHS was skidding towards a crash. The proclaimed "natural break", imposed midway through the law-making process, is in fact quite unprecedented, and it has provoked a degree of scrutiny of the devilish detail that few bills get, though many might benefit from. Unfortunately for Mr Lansley, however, the more the small print is studied, the more it is disliked.

Bismarck likened laws to sausages, saying you would do well not to watch either being made, and in the slow-motion passage of the health and social care bill, everyone can sniff out one ingredient or another than makes them queasy. For top managers the breakneck timetable is the most acute worry, and for many Liberal Democrats it is the abject lack of democratic oversight in the proposed new structures. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg – talking tough after his mauling last week – has now signalled he thinks it folly to foist purse strings on those family doctors who are unwilling or unable to take them. Each of these objections is important, and each must be addressed. But amid the great mass of concessions now on the table, it is essential to keep focused on the one which is, by far, the most important of the lot.

Even before the general election, these columns warned on the basis of documents buried away on the Conservative website that, for all the soft soap in their manifesto, the Tories would unleash a destructive gale through the service by recasting the regulator so that it actively promoted competition, as opposed to merely policing it. This is not to dispute that challenging state monopolies can sometimes improve things. And there is no doubt some public hospitals need improving, if you doubt it think Mid Staffordshire. But the experience of Royal Mail, which underwent a similar regime change some years ago, provides a chilling precedent of what aggressive regulators can do, and also of the snare that European competition laws potentially lay for public services when they are transformed into players in a market.

In medicine, of course, the complexities are infinitely greater than in mail. The patient is not sovereign as other customers might be, but is instead beholden to expert advice. Then there is the need to see to adequate training, the geographical spread and the proper integration of care, all of which requires planning. None will be properly attended to if the invisible hand is left to regulate between rival hospitals bidding for discrete procedures. Mr Lansley can point to all sorts of safeguards in his bill, but the risks can never be decisively banished until the order for competition to set off on a march with no specified end is qualified.

It is true that the Labour party that now presses this case once rigged the NHS rules in favour of private providers, and also that Mr Clegg, who is now charged with seeing to it that it prevails, has said disobliging things about the health service in the past. He also foolishly signed off on the original Lansley plan with excess haste. But none of this detracts from the urgency of what the deputy prime minister now needs to do. His instinctive tendency to regard markets as a medicine for public services is less important than it would be for a Conservative or New Labour leader, since the Lib Dems really are democrats in nature as well as name, and his party has given him explicit instruction. With the wind of public and medical opinion blowing their way, the Lib Dems now have a chance not simply to adjust the timetable and the implementation, but also redirect the marketising thrust of the plans. They must seize it.




            THE JAPAN TIMES



Japan's Children's Day on May 5th had less to celebrate this year than ever before. The number of children in Japan dropped for the 30th straight year to a record low, according to a report from the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry on May 2. Children under 15 now make up only 13 percent of the Japanese population, the lowest ratio of children among the 27 countries with populations over 40 million.

That ratio might not seem too bad, since most people would surely prefer smaller classes, less crowded trains or larger living spaces. And other countries, such as Germany, Poland and Italy, are also facing population declines due to low birth rates. However, the population decline, which according to the Ministry could lead Japan's population to fall to 60 million by 2100, presents problems that must be addressed. Together with a record-high 23 percent of the population aged 65 or older, Japan is quickly becoming a very different country. Most of the worries about these population shifts focus on economic issues. Certainly, a minimum level of workers is needed to keep the economy going and more dependents for each productive worker could weaken social services and welfare. The question of what size population is best is more than an economic question; it involves a broader conception of what can improve the quality of life. Few people in any country would consider bringing up a child under stressful conditions. Countering the low birthrate will require extensive changes in many areas of Japanese life.

Before more young people will again feel confident in investing the time, money and effort needed to raise a child, they must be assured of help. More flexible working conditions, better child care options, affordable education and community support networks need to be assured. These require a basic shift in a broad spectrum of government policies. One small monetary handout and a pat on the back from the government will not be enough.

The resistance to having children is, in part, a plea for serious improvements in the conditions of daily life. Even though the country is slowly recovering from the Tohoku disaster, now is the time to undertake new and substantial changes in workplaces, schools and support networks. Until it becomes more comfortable, easy and fun to have children, the future of Japan, and its Children's Day, will remain in question.





Among the famous artists, magnates and leaders on Time Magazine's list of the 100 most influential people this year were two lesser-known names from Japan: Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai and Dr. Takeshi Kanno. That a young medical doctor and a small-city mayor could make the list of the most prominent people from around the world shows just how impressed the world was at the fortitude and courage of so many Japanese during the Tohoku disaster.

Thirty-one-year-old Dr. Kanno was working at the Shizugawa public hospital in Minami Sanriku when the earthquake hit. He helped patients escape the oncoming tsunami that engulfed the hospital and surrounding area, bravely waiting while all of the survivors could be taken up by helicopter before he went himself. Three days after the quake, he finally made it back to his wife, who would, a few hours after he arrived, give birth to his second child. His understanding of what it means to care for human beings extended far beyond the standard practice of medicine.

Frustrated for two weeks over the limited help, Mayor Sakurai of Minami Soma, one of the hardest-hit municipalities, delivered harsh criticism and a plea for help in an 11-minute video broadcast on YouTube. That video, subtitled in English, was viewed by thousands of people around the world, and spurred the government and industry officials to speed up their emergency assistance.

Standing up to a bureaucratized and hierarchical system is not easy, but Mayor Sakurai's words and actions encapsulate the best of what government service can and should be.

These two individuals' bravery and strength deserve notice and respect. They are but two of the many people who worked tirelessly to be sure others were safe. Many others whose work has not received such recognition can surely share in their congratulations. If Tokyo Electric Power Co. and government officials had been as professional and sensible as Dr. Kanno and Mayor Sakurai, many of the problems in the aftermath of the disaster could have been greatly lessened.

The dedication and sense of community Dr. Kanno and Mayor Sakurai displayed are exactly what will be needed to recover and start anew. Their affirmation of the importance of human life in the midst of catastrophe is an inspiration.






As a scholar whose specialty includes energy economics and the environment, I am somewhat puzzled by the relatively small number of social scientists who look into problems concerning energy. Is it because they are afraid of clarifying whether they should be for or against nuclear power generation?

There are two reasons why it is inconceivable for a utilities company to construct a new nuclear power station or expand an existing one at a time when the government, in its pursuit of a policy to "liberalize" electricity supplies, is ordering members of the power industry to follow business principles and become "ordinary private corporations."

First of all, a nuclear power station requires huge initial investments. In addition to the high construction costs, a power company must spend more than 10 years getting the consent of local residents and agreeing to terms of compensation for fishermen and others who will be adversely affected if a nuclear plant is built. Under three laws governing the development of electric power sources, the government pays subsidies to municipalities surrounding a nuclear plant site. Indeed, about ¥13 billion has been paid out to the municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, where the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power stations are located.

Second, it is presumably all but impossible to build a nuclear power station in a densely populated area — where most of the electricity demanded is consumed — because of the "not in my backyard" sentiments of local citizens. This is what prompted Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) to build plants in Fukushima and Niigata prefectures and to plan another in Aomori Prefecture — all outside the regions where Tepco is authorized to supply electricity.

A general tendency up to the end of the 20th century was that municipalities in coastal areas, which were not affluent, gladly accepted plans to locate nuclear power plants in their area in exchange for government incentives, including subsidies and more fixed property tax revenue.

In August 1996, however, residents of the town of Maki, Niigata Prefecture, voted overwhelmingly in a referendum against allowing a nuclear plant to locate near the town. Thus began the age in Japan when power companies could expect enormous difficulty finding a place for such a plant. A similar result followed in November 2001 in the Mie Prefecture town of Miyama. Another referendum scheduled for Kushima, Miyazaki Prefecture, on April 10 was postponed indefinitely after the accidents at Fukushima.

Under these circumstances, it appears next to impossible for a utility company, which is supposed to be an "ordinary private corporation," to undertake construction or expansion of a nuclear power station in the future.

The government has taken note of these developments and started taking measures aimed at achieving more efficient operations at existing plants. One such measure is to extend the life of a nuclear power plant beyond the 40 years anticipated at design. Indeed, the No. 1 reactor at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant was cleared to operate for an additional 20 years after the original 40 years expired. Also, the government has tried to shorten the time required for an annual check of a nuclear power plant. The check typically takes 30 to 100 days.

In other words, both the private and public sectors have endeavored to ensure improved efficiency at existing plants. Why, then, have power companies so far continued to build nuclear power stations? The answer is simple: The government has granted each of them the privilege of monopolizing the delivery of power within a designated region. In exchange for this privilege, the companies have had no choice but to accede to the government's policy of making nuclear power the core of the energy supply, as adopted by the government after the first oil crisis of 1973.

Meanwhile, electric power companies, operating as private enterprises, do not see an incentive to construct or expand nuclear power stations with a capacity exceeding 1 million kilowatts when there is scant prospect of a sharp increase in power usage over the next 10 to 20 years. Three factors have contributed to this outlook: (1) the graying of the nation's population and the low birthrate; (2) the shift in Japan's industrial structure from production of steel and other materials, which require large amounts of electricity, to processing and assembly of electronic appliances, automobiles and other consumer items; and (3) the increasing energy efficiency of electronic appliances and other products.

The impact of this situation is reflected at the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of Tokyo, where the number of students has declined so much that the department merged with another. This phenomenon casts dark clouds over the training of the next generation of nuclear engineers in Japan.

I have long argued that we must thoroughly evaluate the assertion of pro-nuclear forces that the need for nuclear power generation in the next two to three decades is irrefutable because (1) finite energy sources like petroleum and natural gas can be tapped for only 40 to 50 more years; (2) there is a limit to the energy that renewable sources can supply; and (3) CO₂ emissions must be reduced.

If this assertion proves true, then, for the purpose of "maintaining" the technologies related to nuclear power generation, a new state-owned company should have been created for building and expanding nuclear stations and serving as the "wholesaler" of electricity to the existing nine regional utilities (except Okinawa Electric Power Co.)

Nuclear power station safety can be assured only if concerns about how to reduce costs and increase efficiency, as pursued by private power companies, take a backseat. The liberalization of electric power supplies is being pursued on the assumption that the efficient management of utilities companies is impossible as long as they are given the privilege of a regional monopoly. This liberalization in turn has forced the power companies to work toward maximizing profits as private enterprises.

I've long argued that ensuring safety is not compatible with the corporate pursuit of profits. Regretfully, this argument has been verified by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Takamitsu Sawa is president of Shiga University, Japan.






HONG KONG — "They feel they are sitting on a volcano," said a prominent Chinese academic when explaining the government's crackdown on its critics.

"Even though China is very different from Egypt or Tunisia," the Chinese government realizes that "there are so many people who are unhappy over so many different issues, including seizure of land by officials, corruption and housing, that they are fearful that any one issue may provide the fuse that sets off a huge explosion in the country."

The latest Gallup global well-being survey, compiled between 2005 and 2009, provides a glimpse into the mood of the Chinese people. It found that despite robust economic growth, only 12 percent of Chinese people thought of themselves as "thriving," while 71 percent said they were struggling and 17 percent said they were suffering. This is clearly linked to a poor or nonexistent social safety net.

(The happiest countries incidentally were found to be in Scandinavia, where people's basic needs are taken care of to a higher degree than elsewhere. Oil-rich countries that provide for their citizens' welfare, too, reported high levels of satisfaction.)

China ranked only 125 of 155 countries, behind war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan and even behind poorer countries such as India, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

To prevent public dissatisfaction from erupting, Beijing is cracking down hard on public interest lawyers who help the vulnerable fight for their legal rights, whether it is over tainted milk, illegal land grabs or flimsily constructed school buildings that collapsed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, killing thousands of children.

In the recent human rights dialogue in Beijing between the United States and China, U.S. delegation head Michael H. Posner accused China of "serious backsliding," spotlighting the case of Teng Biao, a leading human rights lawyer detained without charge since Feb. 19.

Before the dialogue began, the official newspaper Global Times commented that "most Chinese people are disgusted with Western pressure on human rights."

However, this attitude was very different from that of people fighting for human rights in China. For example, Li Fangping, another leading rights lawyer, said international attention was crucial to cases like that of Teng Biao.

"His detention, for over two months now, is completely illegal," Li said. "The effect of the dialogue may not seem direct or obvious, but there will be an effect and it will help."

Ironically, the day after dialogue, Teng Biao was released, but hours later Li Fangping was abducted by security personnel. Perhaps his comment on the value of foreign pressure led to his own detention.

The lack of progress at these human rights dialogues has led to calls for ending the talks, which consume a great deal of time and resources on the part of senior American officials.

However, victims of abuses evidently appreciate these efforts. Gao Ge, sister of the detained artist Ai Weiwei, said she hoped that his case would be brought up during the dialogue and "I think the whole world is paying attention."

As long as Chinese victims appreciate such efforts, they should continue. After all, the official vituperation shows that the government wants such efforts to stop.

The lawless behavior of the Chinese authorities, such as making people "disappear" without resorting to any legal process, is extremely worrying. And the government continues to insist that China is a country governed by law. In this regard, it is good that China has agreed to begin another dialogue with the U.S. in June, this one involving legal experts.

Hopefully, Chinese legal experts will consider issues from a legal perspective and be willing to discuss the legality or lack thereof of their government's actions.

It is true that changes in human rights need to come from within a country and cannot be imposed from without. But in China, the government is attempting to silence voices calling for change.

Outsiders can only call on the Chinese government to honor its commitments, made in the Chinese constitution and in U.N. human rights treaties. Ultimately, human rights can only be guaranteed if the Chinese government respects the Chinese people.

This it should be willing to do without the urging of foreign countries. After all, what is the point of having a people's republic if the people are not the masters of their own country?

E-mail: Twitter: @FrankChing1






Special to The Japan Times

CAIRO — For the first time in Egypt's modern history, Islamists, the most organized political group on the ground with a recognizable outreach to every corner of the country, seem close to governing Egypt, after decades of social influence.

Being the most confident, coherent and active group in both social and political spheres of Egypt's post-Mubarak era, Islamists put many actors -domestically, regionally and internationally — on alert. Domestically, Christians and liberals believe that Islamic rule means their exclusion from public affairs. Regionally, Israel and Arab countries fear that Islamist leadership of Egypt means losing a moderate neighbor that had been working to keep balances intact in the hot Mideast.

As for the world's big powers, which have always depended on Egypt to keep peace and security in the area, they worry that Islamist rule will mark a dramatic change that may lead to a fundamentalist Egypt, one that might introduce a Sunni version of hardline Iran Islamism, which has been suppressed in the Egyptian Republic since its founding in 1952.

In the media, the Muslim Brotherhood, long experienced in public works and the most organized sect of Islamists, now provides regular guests on all talk shows and is covered by private as well as public TV news channels. Moreover, they are preparing to launch their own channel this summer to promote themselves professionally and to fulfill their political agenda among Egyptians.

Salafis, less organized but widely popular in Upper Egypt, the countryside and Cairo, are now regular commentators on Egyptian TV and in the press.

Socially, Islamists are more prominent. Besides their role in organizing and leading in the streets during the 18 days of Egyptian protests that forced Hosni Mubarak to step down Feb. 11, Islamists are the real drivers for at least 40 percent of Egyptians who live in less developed urban cities and villages.

Right after Feb. 11 the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis began organizing public lectures at public places including mosques, public markets, universities and its affiliated dorms, and side and main street venues to explain their vision of what is next for Egypt economically, socially and politically. Days later and after the burning of a church in Helwan province, south of Cairo, in what seemed to be a feud between a Muslim and a Christian family, Salafis, through their public figure Sheikh Mohammed Hassan, convinced Muslims there to let the army rebuild the church.

It was ironic that for long time the entire apparatus of government, civil society and scholars had failed to talk to people there. Yet, in a few hours Sheikh Hassan calmed the situation and got people's approval to prove Islamists' strength in social affairs of the state. When thousands of Muslims, mostly mobilized by Salafis, protested in the southern Egyptian province of Qina against the appointment of a Christian governor, the government was forced to freeze his post. A few days later the governor had nowhere to go except to resign.

Politically, Islamists are running much better. Utilizing fragile liberal and leftist forces, Islamists set out to form more than one religiously inspired political party. For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood, after struggling to form a legitimate political party for more than eight decades, has recently launched their own "Freedom and Justice" Party, declaring that they will contest for 50 percent of parliamentary seats in next September elections but will not run for the presidency.

Islamists are highly favored to win a slight majority in the parliamentary elections in September. Several factors support this belief:

First, in a religiously inspired society like Egypt, political parties and groups that raise religious slogans can easily reach the public, regardless of their political programs, ideologies or the sincerity of their candidates.

Second, being oppressed for many decades by old regimes, the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Salafis have sympathy and wide support among Egyptians, who see them as victims of a corrupted secular regime that "wanted to exclude religion from society."

Third, Islamists' work with social and economic welfare programs during Egypt's long history of economic hardship gives them wide popularity among the poor.

Last, fragmentation and fragile organization of all other liberal and leftist forces has left a vacuum in the political sphere that Islamists will exploit to further their interests.

In the coming parliamentary elections, and regardless of the system of governance — presidential or parliamentary, electoral plurality or proportional representation — there is no doubt that Islamists can easily gain a slight majority that will enable them to reshape Egyptian domestic and foreign policies.

Ahmed Abd Rabou is assistant professor of comparative and Asian Studies, Cairo University.







Indonesia and the European Union (EU) joined hands last week in stepping up their campaign against illegal logging by addressing the problem from both the supply and demand sides.

Their cooperation will be implemented through the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (Flegt). Starting in 2013, all timber products from Indonesia — one of the world's largest suppliers — exported to Europe — one of the world's largest consumers — should be certified as having been logged in processes that prioritize sustainability.

So far, only about 50 percent of Indonesian timber and wood-based exports to Europe, worth annually about US$1.2 billion, have been certified as legal and harvested in a sustainable manner.

The agreement will implement both the EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Policy on timber and timber products and the Indonesian Timber Legality Assurance System. The pact ensures that all Indonesian timber products that have the Flegt license will have unlimited access to EU member states.

But in addition to efforts to slow global deforestation, implementing the agreement will also help Indonesia's timber products compete in the United States and other consumer nations that have adopted policies to ensure the legality of such imports.

Most developed countries have now imposed stricter regulations on imports of timber and other forest-based products, such as pulp and paper, due to concerns over the dangers of climate change and because of strong pressure from consumer and environmental organizations that have asked for the certification of all forest products.

Indonesia was the first country in Asia to sign the voluntary partnership agreement with the EU and will be the largest timber exporter among those that have already signed it.

The biggest challenge for Indonesia is to ensure the credibility and integrity of its Timber Legality Verification System (SVLK), which is scheduled to be fully implemented in early 2012. The system should ensure that only timber with a certificate of legality will be allowed to be traded domestically or internationally.

A wood audit for forest certification aims at verifying that a particular species of wood is derived from legally managed forests. This process requires companies across the entire wood supply chain hold chain-of-custody certificates so that the label or bar-code can follow the wood from the forests to the finished product.

The chain of custody itself is the process of harvesting wood, primary and secondary processing, manufacturing, distribution and sales.

The wood audit inspects each of these processing steps to ensure that the timber or wood originated from forests are being managed in accordance with the social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainable forest management.

The wood and timber inspections currently carried out by the Forestry Ministry are not only ineffective and vulnerable to corruption and abuse, but the process only inspects documents from forestry offices, which can easily be forged or falsified.

Even though premium prices gained by certified timber in other major importing countries, such as China, do not seem to offset the certification costs, neither the government nor companies can wait much longer. Consumer organizations in developed countries have increasingly pressured importers to only buy legal and sustainable certified forest products.





Established more than four decades ago, ASEAN has enjoyed a considerable amount of attention from the international public in a wide range of issues.

One crucial question concerns the future of ASEAN in terms of the regional integration model best suited to Southeast Asia.

The ongoing armed clashes over the disputed Thai-Cambodian border, however, show that this regional arrangement still suffers from fragility and vagueness.

Symbolically enshrined by the motto "One vision, one identity, one community", ASEAN has much work ahead in realizing this idea. The ASEAN Charter, which signifies the first ever rules-based intergovernmental framework, envisages the great ambitions of the organization that include, among other things, to bond solidarity, to enhance cooperation and integration and to maintain stability in the region. But, what will make this ambition into a reality remains to be seen. The construction of the rules of the game and the struggle to achieve ASEAN integration remain contested topics.

Indeed, the strong commitment of ASEAN member states and ASEAN's institutional capacity, along with concrete and strategic actions, are indispensable in cultivating trust in transforming the ASEAN community and regional integration.

When it comes to norms and behavior of regional interactions, the logic of the ASEAN "way" poses its own challenges in terms of manner of action. Despite having various definitions, it has been commonly suggested that this ASEAN way favors the non-usage of force, informal arrangements, discrete consensus, non-legally binding mechanisms and the sacred concept of non-interference and sovereignty.

Until now, ASEAN member states have found it convenient to maintain this logic and have remained reluctant to change the ASEAN way that has completely distinguished it as a regional grouping from the European Union model. However, constraints may cause ASEAN's performance to move forward beyond the rhetoric of the ASEAN community and integration.

Seen from its institutional capabilities, ASEAN is more or less a weak organization or, to put it more diplomatically, it is an example of the "soft institutionalism" discussed by Amitav Acharya.

In fact, this seems like a paradox considering that ASEAN has strategic roles and potential for prosperity and stability in the region and its contribution to the world.

For the past few decades, the European Union (EU) has inspired ASEAN to adopt measures to enhance cooperation and integration. As the most successful regional integration in the world, the EU represents complex configuration and dynamics. That is why the EU has been defined as a sui generis entity that makes it differ from nation-state and international organizations.

Generally speaking, the EU combines intergovernmentalism, supranationalism, the pooling of national sovereignty and parlementarism. The concept of spillover is salient in the context of European integration in which integration commences from areas of low politics (economic activities) and moves afterward into areas of high politics (political affairs), which is very sensitive.

In the early formative years, Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, founding fathers of what the so-called now EU, were in favor of sector-by-sector integration as it firstly established in the 1951 European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The institutional structure in the form of supranational authority has been maintained up to date.

In the 1960s, economists put forward the following steps of economic integration comprising Free Trade Area, Customs Union and Common Market.

In praxis, it was hard to run. Not only did it demonstrate how national interests and states' preference play a significant role in European integration process, but also did external contexts and extra-mural factors have an impact on how European community had been examined.

For instance, it can be seen in a long series of Economic and Monetary Union and the single currency. Initiated since in 1969, the euro has entered into effect in 2002.

In further developments, various responses over European integration stem from anti-EU (Euroskeptic), pro-EU (Euro-enthusiastic) and those who are neutral. The today's issue of bail-out from EU provided for Greece, Ireland and Portugal to recover from economic crisis provokes a pro-contra row. But, in a reversed question to ASEAN, did it play a major role in the 1997-1998 financial and economic crises to help its member states out of crisis?

It goes without saying that ASEAN and EU differs one another in terms of several aspects ranging from historical legacy, socio-political structure, economy, culture to its particular context and motives. Nevertheless, the similarity between them lies in the elite-driven mechanics that underpin these regional arrangements. The challenge for ASEAN is how to bring ASEAN closer to ordinary people.

Critics have been posed to state-centric character of ASEAN. Some contend that the association looks like a diplomatic caucus with ample ceremonial events.

Over the last one decade, ASEAN has produced many initiatives, declarations and frameworks of institutional mechanisms to advance ASEAN community.

It can be seen from Bali Concord II with the adoption of three ASEAN pillars, the 2004 Vientiane Action Program, the 2007 Cebu Declaration, and the 2009 Cha-am Hua Hin Declaration.

However, skeptics may contest the ASEAN ability to set up institutional rules and manage intra-mural tensions. It is not surprising that member states, such as in Sipadan-Ligitan case, would rather prefer to appeal the dispute before international judicial arbitration than through ASEAN system.

Looking at regional potentials, ASEAN partners like EU, Australia and New Zealand eager to hammer out free trade agreements. But, with the lack of single voice and strong institutional capacity, how does ASEAN overcome negative effects caused by such agreements as it happens in ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA)? At the end, bilateral mechanism will be opted to be pursued, not though ASEAN level where the agreement is made.

If ASEAN community is slowgoing to transform, it is most likely  that ASEAN-skeptic will emerge as a sort of "expectation deficit" to the association.

The writer is a graduate of the Political Science program at the University of Lille 2, France, and currently lectures at the School of Social and Political Sciences, State Islamic University, Jakarta.







Over the past few weeks, the Malinda Dee case has taken a new turn with the recent involvement of the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK) in its investigation.

The authorities believe that Malinda was involved in money laundering offenses presumably to cover up traces of the embezzled money. At least eight banks and two companies have been identified as being used by Malinda to launder her illicit money.

This should not come as a surprise considering that generally in most if not all fraud cases there are three essential elements in the perpetration of the offense: the act, concealment and conversion. Fraud itself is a crime, but not all crimes are considered fraud. Fraud is constituted by four main characteristics: a false statement by the offender; the offender's awareness that such a statement was false; the victim's reliance on the statement and damages resulting from the victim's reliance on the false statement.

A successful fraud offense is often supplemented by acts of concealment by the fraudster to avoid being caught.

Finally, conversion is the act of ensuring that proceeds from crimes can be enjoyed by the offender.

A common means is to transfer the illicit assets to other parties over which the fraudster has a degree of control such as spouses, children, close relatives and close friends. These practices are often categorized as acts of money laundering.

Although in practice its elements can be difficult to identify, money laundering consists of three important stages: placement, layering and integration. In the placement stage, the illicit funds are introduced to the financial system by means of a cash-heavy business or sending the money to offshore countries with tight secrecy and privacy laws.

In the layering stage, the fraudster will try to hide the origin of the money. A common method in this stage is again using offshore accounts in countries with strict secrecy and privacy laws.

In the integration stage, the illicit funds are converted back to the hands of the fraudster by means of, for example, mixing laundered money with legitimate money in cash-heavy businesses.

The aim of this stage is none other than to ensure that the fraudster will be able to use the illicit money. Worthy of note is that money laundering can be used in more than one stage (e.g. a cash-heavy business is used in both placement and integration stages).

As stated by the head of the PPATK Yunus Husein, "Her transferring of the illicit money to multiple entities, purchases of luxurious cars, conversion into foreign currencies, to name a few, are strong indications that money laundering is used to cover the traces of her fraud (embezzlement of Citibank customer funds)." Subsequent investigation also revealed that in doing so, she utilized four IDs with the same name, presumably as an attempt to avoid suspicion.

The same also applies to her "husband", Andhika Gumilang, who is accused of involvement in her fraud scheme. He used seven IDs, three of which had different names.

In Indonesia, with the absence of centralized identity management, money laundering investigations have often been hindered by the use of multiple and, in many cases, false IDs by the offenders.

This is a major problem as offenders will often use false addresses. However, this is also a common problem in crime investigations all around the world.

In the United States, for example, investigation revealed that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented had the US government established a sound identity management mechanism in the first place.

A statement by the Indonesian Police in early April suggested that in this year alone there have been at least eight banking fraud cases involving bankers of several major banks in Indonesia.

From all these cases, the weak internal controls within the organizations had been at the center of the authorities' attention.

As the "fraud triangle" theory suggests, opportunity is a major factor that caused fraud to occur (other factors being motivation/pressure and rationalization). Loose internal controls will provide potential fraud offenders with the necessary means to commit their offenses.

Additionally, as most if not all fraud offenses will be concealed (and subsequently converted into usable money) by the offenders, money laundering will almost certainly be part of major fraud schemes everywhere in the world.

Over the years, the trusted means of preventing money laundering within a banking system was known as the "Know-Your-Customer" policy, which diminishes the opportunity to launder money through the Indonesian banking system, at least for large amounts of money.

Recently, with the emergence of cases of fraud perpetrated particularly by employees of banks, it appears that Indonesian banks may need to also have the "Know-Your-Employee" mechanism.

A few years ago, Indonesian banks were worried about the threats of external fraud such as debit card and credit card fraud.

Schemes such as "skimming and counterfeiting", "card-not-present fraud" and "fictitious merchants",  to name a few, have been highlighted as major threats to banking  customers.

Losses from these fraud schemes were at the time already at an alarming level. Furthermore, some of  the proceeds from these offenses were believed to have been used  to support other crimes, including terrorism.

Therefore, Bank Indonesia finally decided to begin the nationwide implementation of smartcard technology in Indonesia in January 2010. Evidenced by the success of countries, such as the United Kingdom and Malaysia, in addressing the problem of card fraud in particular "skimming and counterfeiting", smartcard technology was hoped to be able to protect Indonesian banking customers from external threats (e.g. credit card fraud offenders).

Nowadays, with the emergence of banking fraud cases perpetrated by people who are supposed to  be the protectors of customer  interest, one question arises in society's mind, "Where should we keep our money?"

For this, Bank Indonesia as the highest authority in the Indonesian payment system, needs to act quickly to restore public trust in the nation's banking system because no banks in this world can exist without the trust of society.

The writer is the director of the Center for Forensic Accounting Studies in the Department of Accounting at the Islamic University of Indonesia. He obtained his Master's and Ph.D. in forensic accounting from the University of Wollongong, Australia







At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, Japan was hit by one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history. We are now making all-out efforts to restore livelihoods and recover from the series of tragedies that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake. The disaster left more than 27,000 people dead or missing, including foreign citizens.

Since March 11, Japan has been strongly supported by the international community and our friends around the world. On behalf of the Japanese people, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude for the outpouring of support and solidarity we have received from over 130 countries, nearly 40 international organizations, numerous NGOs, and countless individuals from all parts of the world.

The Japanese people deeply appreciate the kizuna (a Japanese word for "bonds of friendship") that has been shown to us by friends around the world. Through this hardship, we have also come to truly understand the meaning of "a friend in need is a friend indeed".

After the earthquake struck, Indonesia, our important friend, has provided swift cooperation. President Yudhoyono kindly sent a condolence letter for me to convey his strong commitment, confirming that Indonesia stands ready to provide all-out support to the Japanese people during this time of great difficulty. He also reaffirmed that the friendship between our two nations is unshakeable. So many Japanese citizens, including myself, were enormously encouraged by these remarks.

The Indonesian Government has diligently performed relief activities sending a batch of Emergency Relief Rescue Team and providing 10,000 of blankets for disaster victims. Also, the Government of Indonesia has pledged to provide financial assistance with the amount of US$2 million. In addition, the Indonesian Government has recently provided 1,200 boxes (approximately 2.25 ton) of preserved foods as well.

The cordial attitude that Indonesians have demonstrated toward us under this operation has deeply touched the hearts and minds of the Japanese.

Support has come from not only the Government, but also NGOs and countless individuals, in the various forms of humanitarian assistance, search and rescue missions, and charity events and fund-raising. We have also received the full support of the US in responding to the accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, from providing equipment and other material assistance such as fire trucks and special protective suits, to dispatching nuclear experts and radiation control teams. I wish to express our sincere thanks for all the sympathy and assistance the American people have extended to us.

That Japan has experienced nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi plant whose severity was assessed as most serious based on an international scale is extremely regrettable and something I take it very seriously. Bringing the situation at the plant under control at the earliest possible date is currently my top priority. I have been working at the forefront of efforts to tackle this troubling situation, leading a unified effort by the Government.

I have mobilized all available resources to combat the risks posed by the plant, based on three principles: first, give the highest priority to the safety and health of all citizens, in particular those residents living close to the plant; second, conduct thorough risk management; and, third, plan for all possible scenarios so that we are fully prepared to respond to any future situation. For example, we continue to make the utmost efforts to address the issue of outflow of radioactive water into the ocean from the plant.

In addition, the Government has taken every possible measure to ensure the safety of all food and other products, based on strict scientific criteria. We have taken highly precautionary measures so that the safety of all Japanese food and products that reach the market has been and will continue to be ensured.

In order to assure domestic and foreign consumer confidence in the safety of Japanese food and products, my administration will redouble its efforts to maintain transparency and keep everyone informed of our progress in the complex and evolving circumstances at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

I pledge that the Japanese Government will promptly and thoroughly verify the cause of this incident, as well as share information and the lessons learned with the rest of the world in order to prevent such accidents from occurring in the future. Through such a process, we will proactively contribute to global debate to enhance the safety of nuclear power generation.

Meanwhile, from a comprehensive energy policy perspective, we must squarely tackle a two-pronged challenge; responding to rising global energy demand and striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming.

Through the "Rebirth of Japan" I would like to present a clear vision to the entire world — that includes the aggressive promotion of clean energy — that may contribute to solving global energy issues.

The Great East Japan Earthquake and the resulting tsunami are the worst natural disasters that Japan has faced since the end of the World War II. Reconstruction of the devastated Tohoku region will not be easy. However, I believe that this difficult period will provide us with a precious window of opportunity to secure the "Rebirth of Japan."

The Government will dedicate itself to demonstrating to the world its ability to establish the most sophisticated reconstruction plans for East Japan, based on three principles: First, create a regional society that is highly resistant to natural disasters; second, establish a social system that allows people to live in harmony with the global environment; and third, build a compassionate society that cares about people, in particular, the vulnerable.

We, the Japanese people, rose from the ashes of the World War II, using our fundamental strength to secure a remarkable recovery and the country's present prosperity. I have not a single doubt that Japan will overcome this crisis, recover from the aftermath of the disaster, emerge stronger than ever, and establish a more vibrant and better Japan for future generations.

I believe that the best way for Japan to reciprocate the strong kizuna and cordial friendship extended to us by the international community is to continue our contribution to the development of the international community. To that end, I will work to the best of my ability to realize a "forward-looking" reconstruction that gives people bright hopes for the future. I would wholeheartedly appreciate your continued support and cooperation. Arigatou.

The writer is Prime Minister of Japan.






ASEAN strategy to deal with climate change has been formulated in ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC), one of the three ASEAN pillars.

There are some major strategies taken by the ASCC. First, dealing with information about diseases as a specific impact of climate change, the ASCC will strengthen cooperation through sharing of information and experiences to prevent and control infectious diseases related to global warming, climate change, natural and man-made disasters.

Second, to ensure environmental sustainability as the basic objective of the environmental aspect, the ASCC says that ASEAN will actively participate in global efforts toward addressing global environmental challenges, including climate change and ozone layer protection, and developing and adapting environmentally sound technology for development needs and environmental sustainability.

Third, ASCC specifically explains efforts in paragraph D.10, which describes actions that should be taken on mitigation and adaptation to climate change. All of those actions are related to technicalities on how to deal with climate change through developing transfer of technology, a low carbon economy, expanding research, developing measures and baselines, reducing deforestation and forest degradation, afforestation and reforestation.

ASEAN turns a blind eye to the real problems resulting from climate change. Its strategy has no reference to help people suffering from climate change effects, such as floods, prolonged drought or caterpillar plagues that are currently in Java and Madura.

Apparently, ASEAN climate change is hijacked by the international fora and trapped in a kind of "step forward, step back" strategy that maintains business as usual.

Climate change actions ignore the main reasons why ASEAN should deal with those technicalities. Stressed in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the main goal of endeavors against climate change is giving hope to the future of the existence of humans. It means the first priority of all mitigation and adaptation efforts is protecting people. Subsequently, those who are potentially impacted by climate change should be the priority.

Indigenous people, local communities, women and children and their fragile ecosystems are the most prone to climate change impacts.

Their condition should be the main reason to allocate an adaptation strategy.

Instead of doing more to help people, ASEAN climate change prefers the strategy adopted by the Annex I or developed countries, which give priorities to low carbon economy and transfer of technology.

The main strategy of developing countries should be allocating resources to help people that are living in danger because of climate change.

Another strategy stated in ASEAN climate change is ASEAN will promote Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) to retain forest cover in the future.

Conceptually, SFM is industrial strategy to keep trees standing until the cutting period is coming. This concept does reduce deforestation but helps industry run their business by continuing cutting trees in certain period.

SFM in ASEAN has revealed its failure. In 2004, ASEAN launched the Vientiane Action Plan that promoted and supported SFM.

However, in 2009 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that deforestation rates in ASEAN countries remained high at approximately 3.7 million hectares per year, equaling the 2000-2005 rate (Global Witness, September 2009: 5).

The progress made by ASEAN climate change through SFM is to promote forest management that involves the community living within and surrounding the forest for the sustainability of the forest and prosperity of the people.

This strategy should not only involve people but also place people living in the forest as the main actors who hold the rights and traditional knowledge to maintain forest sustainability.

However, SFM history is the history of the forest industry. Promoting SFM is a way to benefit deforesters and compensate them through the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) fund.

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), another ASEAN pillar, also mentions climate change. Regarding infrastructure development, AEC says that while ASEAN strives to accelerate the establishment of an ASEAN Community by 2015, it is important to ensure that such development is sustainable through, among others, mitigating greenhouse gas emission by means of effective policies and measures, thus contributing to global climate change abatement.

Recognizing the limited global reserves of fossil energy and the unstable world prices of fuel, it is essential for ASEAN to emphasize the need to strengthen renewable energy development, such as bio-fuels, as well as to promote open trade, facilitation and cooperation in the renewable energy sector and related industries, and investment in infrastructure for renewable energy development. AEC also supports investment climate to contribute to climate change mitigation.

Like the ASCC, the AEC prioritizes actions that do not directly help vulnerable people who suffer from economic burdens from the impacts of climate change.

Indeed, from an economic perspective the real business of climate change is helping small economic groups recover after hardly hit by a catastrophe.

The AEC is wasting too much time on jargon and debates about fossil fuel but it definitely fails to link the real needs of the people who suffer from climate change and regional strategies to keep their economic prospects alive.

The charter, three pillars and ASEAN road map are full of progressive language, such as governance, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, anti-corruption and equality, but not substantially concerned on people's rights, interests and welfare. Indigenous peoples are not at all mentioned or referred to in any ASEAN document, although they are an integral part of the ASEAN community.

The three pillars should not repeat those histories but conversely give space to make progress that respect human rights, including for those people living in the forest.

They need social and environmental safeguards to guarantee their rights with any project intended to mitigate climate change.

The pillars should reflect the reality on the ground and specifically the needs of those vulnerable groups, including indigenous people.

Therefore, the challenge of ASEAN is to make vulnerable people visible in terms of their rights and contributions in all aspects of the ASEAN community.

The writer is the program coordinator of Climate Change and REDD, HuMa Association, Jakarta










On every occasion whether politicians are addressing a school prize giving or a religious function we hear most of them waxing eloquently about the Darusman report. The May Day rallies of certain government affiliated political parties gave wide prominence to the falsity of the report and even had effigies of the UN Secretary General and in certain instances burnt the effigies. One does not think that anyone in the country ever considers the  report to be factual but considering the hype generated by the politicians who appear to have nothing to say about the economic reality affecting the marginalized, one wonders whether the Darusman report is being used as a red herring to divert the focus of the people from the every escalating cost of living and the deprivations they suffer. In fact even trade union action that is contemplated by certain sections is deemed to be unpatriotic since a united front is advocated by all political exponents who make emotional speeches against the report! The collection of signatures against the much publicized pensions act too will be the label of being unpatriotic.

One however tends to wonder how the ministers view their obtaining various perks and privileges and even salaries given as against the actual economic realities that exist. According to Minister Dinesh Gunewardene answering a question in Parliament the total amount paid to Ministers and deputies for two months from May 01 to July 01 last year amounted to Rs 78.2 mn. In addition to the salaries the ministers and deputy ministers are entitled to allowances for transport, housing, communication, offices, newspapers and entertainment. Given such emoluments provided to the ministers and deputies it is no wonder that they are often unaware or unconcerned what happens to the voters who trusted their promises and gave them the vote. After all chances are that for another five years they will not need to seek votes and anyway if after that they do lose at the elections they will continue to get a pension for the rest of the lives and the pension will be commensurate with the incomes they now get. One wonders whether they would have to contribute for such a pension!

The workers' rights really do not over bother politicians for the present form of globiliazation we have and our close dependence on the World Bank and the IMF loans prevent even those politicians who may be even slightly concerned about the existing situation to refrain from making any remarks. Due to our dependency on such loans the present government is totally committed to further liberalize trade, remove trade barriers, promote privatization and reduce regulations. Even though it may not be public knowledge in return for loans we will be forced to adopt severe structural adjustments. As a result of this compliance to IMF and World Bank requirements we can already see that  there is inadequate spending on public services such as health and education.

In fact most hospitals don't have even the very basic facilities to serve the poor and marginalized. Most hospitals request patients to purchase drugs that are not available in the hospitals. In fact recently it was commented that a person who suffered a severe heart attack and was advised to get an angiogram done at the hospital had gone thrice to the hospital and each time he had been turned back once because the staff was not available, the next time the machine was not functional and the third time so many of the people who had been unable to get it done earlier had arrived and as such it had been impossible for him to be given the test. The poor guy may pass away before he ever gets the test done! Education is also in a similar plight and the number of school drop outs is increasing yearly.

Given such a climate how on earth can any trade union agitate for their dues , Regulations are passed and imposed  and every few appear to know what regulations will supersede their inherent rights as workers to seek their just dues. Pay levels are low except for those who are in specialized professionals and apprentices or euphemistically called sales executives find that their allowances at training are so low that without sales commissions they are unable to get a sustainable income.

Given the prevailing dissatisfaction and helplessness of the poor and marginalized the best instrument available  to use is to whip up patriotic fervour in the hope that like the utopia promised at elections the people will forget their travails but what has been said "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool ALL of the people ALL of the time."






The killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by the U.S Navy's special operations force has created an obvious rift between the people of Pakistan and their Army. Tough questions are being asked about the security establishment's role in the entire affair: did it know that the world's most wanted man was living at walking distance from the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul in Abbottabad? Was it involved in turning him in? If not, why not? Did it know about the U.S. operation in advance? If so, why did it allow the unilateral operation on its territory? If it did not know, what is the point of a military?

The last time public ire against the military was apparent was in 2007 when Pervez Musharraf was running the show as "President General" — he was Army chief as well as head of government. Eight years had passed since his coup against Nawaz Sharif, and if Pakistan had once welcomed the takeover, it was quite sick of him by this time. Not surprisingly, his decision to sack Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary backfired not just on him but by his association with it, on the entire Pakistan Army. The judge was hailed as someone who had finally shown the guts to stand up to the "khakis" by his refusal to resign, and became an unlikely hero.

Throughout that summer, there were cries of "Go Fauj (military) go," alongside the slogans of "Go Musharraf Go." Questions were asked about the military budget; a vehicle mounted with a cut-out of a military boot stomping over the common man was a permanent feature of countless rallies that year asking Musharraf to quit office. But if there was a civilian opportunity here, it disappeared quickly.

After Musharraf finally tearfully stepped down as the Army chief in November 2007 before taking oath as President for a second five-year term as part of a grand political bargain with Benazir Bhutto, the new Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani wasted no time in setting about rebuilding and restoring the image of the institution.

It did not take him too long. Aside from its immediate goal of having the Chief Justice restored to his position, the lawyers' movement may have at times seemed as if it was about reducing the Pakistan Army's oversized role in national affairs; in reality, it was about getting rid of one unpopular soldier, General Musharraf, not only because he had tried to sack the Chief Justice, but also for a sackful of different reasons: for his pro-U.S. policies, for handing over alleged terrorist suspects to the U.S, for cracking down on militant groups, for what people saw as virtual "surrender" to India on Kashmir.

Rid of Musharraf, the Army distanced itself from him immediately. Though military co-operation with the U.S remained intact, Gen. Kayani took measures that restored its popularity and made him look good in comparison to Musharraf, such as pulling military officers from civilian positions in government, prohibiting the officer corps from hobnobbing with politicians, and reining in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) during the February 2008 election, so it played no role in the selection of candidates, during the voting itself, in government formation or in the allocation of portfolios.

The unpopularity of Asif Ali Zardari, especially after he became President, helped improve the Army's stock. The November 2008 Mumbai attacks tilted the delicate civilian-military balance completely to the side of the military. By cranking up fears of a strike by India and scrambling its fighter jets to meet the purported Indian threat, the Pakistan Army deflected the entire debate about the Mumbai attacks to the imminence of an India-Pakistan war. The nation rallied behind its Army, and India was no longer victim, but the aggressor. President Zardari's vision of building not just peace but "synergies" with India, which he articulated several times in 2008, was given an unceremonious burial.

After that, the Pakistan Army was on a roll. The anti-Taliban operations in Swat saw it aggressively market itself as the saviour of the nation. Much of the Pakistani media was eating out of its hands. By the time the Kerry-Lugar Bill authorising non-military aid to Pakistan came to fruition in late 2009, the Army was in a position to rally the entire country to protest against conditions in the legislation that sought to rein in its role in national affairs, and to blame the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government for having those conditions inserted. For a country that had taken pride in its democracy movement just two years earlier, this was a swift turnaround.

Much to the glee of the people, the Supreme Court aggressively questioned hapless government officials for letting President Zardari off the hook in corruption cases. But neither the judges nor the media ever asked any questions of General Kayani — as the head of the ISI in 2007, he was part of the regime's "A" team that worked out the details of the amnesty granted to Benazir and Zardari in order to facilitate Musharraf's election as President, flying between Islamabad, Dubai and London for meetings with the PPP leader on behalf of his boss.

Instead, there were stories about how General Kayani was the only one of the assembled top brass who did not say a word at the March 2007 meeting at Army House in Rawalpindi where Musharraf asked the Chief Justice to resign, while the heads of Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Military Intelligence (MI) went as far as to submit affidavits to support Musharraf's move against him.

The bin Laden episode has brought back questions about the Army. As in 2007, this time too there is more than one thread to the people's anger. There are those who are taking the Army to task for allowing the U.S. to violate national sovereignty, thus putting at stake national honour and pride; they are asking how this self-appointed guardian of the "national ideology" can guard its frontiers from other wolves at the door, mainly India,

Separately, there are those asking questions about what Osama bin Laden was doing in the country, right in the middle of the military's stamping ground, why the Pakistan Army and the ISI had failed to find him when he was in their midst all these years, if they knew he was there, if so, why did they not give him up.

Once again, there is a civilian opportunity, but it lies in the second line of questioning about the Pakistan Army's national security vision, its strategic priorities and its links to extremism and militancy.

Predictably though, it is the first line of questioning that the security establishment is using to reassert itself because it is this that helps shift the debate back towards the perceived threat from India, the oxygen on which the military has built its pre-eminence in national life.

Statements from the Indian defence establishment, and others boasting about the Indian Army's capacity to carry out Operation Geronimo style raids to seize India's "most wanted" such as Dawood Ibrahim, aside from being highly dubious, have only given a lifeline to the Pakistan Army as it flails about trying to explain away its OBL failure.

It has sent out a thinly veiled warning to India of the consequences of "any misadventures of this kind". And it has sought to reassure the "national honour" school of critics that Pakistan's nuclear jewels are safe, reasoning that unlike an unguarded civilian compound that could be attacked by an airspace violating helicopter, these are under stricter care. This has helped to deflect some of the attention from its dubious role in l'affaire OBL and divert it across the border. Predictably also, efforts have begun to implicate the country's civilian leadership for what was essentially a military fiasco from Pakistan's point of view.

For India, peace with Pakistan is dependent to a large extent on the strengthening of that country's civilian moments. Undoubtedly such moments suffer from the absence of good leadership; the country's politicians are hate figures distrusted by the people; the people too are easily swayed by their security establishment, as they were after the Mumbai attacks. But Indian chest-thumping at Pakistan's multiple embarrassments last week does nothing to help tilt the balance toward the civilian side either; it only ends up strengthening the military and pushes back the two countries chances for normalising relations.

The Hindu





The age when the kids were addicted to The Famous Five and got immersed in the optimism of the childhood heroics has become a thing of yesterday. What would Harry Potter or Stephenie Meyer do in enhancing the optimism Blyton was so good at injecting into the reader's mind. The answer would be- none; for Rowling looks too much into the world of dark forces and Meyer only takes you through a maze and leaves you to the werewolves and vampires. The imagery they create is as black and red as the book-covers.

Both Rowling and Meyer may be good writers whose writing styles are enchanting enough to keep the readers glued to their books. It is not only the hype created by media or the movie adoptions, made the books into best sellers but the newness of the worlds they created and wry freshness they gave to the age-old European folklore.

But the fact remains that how much magic can Harry Potter perform when it comes to planting good attitudes and inculcating good habits among the young readers who seem to recreate in their minds the worlds Meyer and Rowling created in their sagas.

When writing for kids and young adults, the aims and objectives of the writer should be saner than hitting the best-seller lists or earning a quick buck. For what seems to be the reading-sprees when every sequel of these mega-million seller series was out, the kids often went to the extent of dressing themselves like witches and wizards and queuing in front of the bookstores until midnight just to return home deprived of a goodnight's sleep.

It is a common complaint that these books elaborate on the evil and give detailed accounts on battles and encounters that are supposed to be prevailing in the mysterious worlds. It is no secret that some of the religious institutions and Sunday schools have actually black-listed these books among the kids.

Best-sellers or not, they enjoy an unbound popularity thanks to the high marketing strategies and good campaigning. What else one would expect from the posters, the themed T-shirts and of course video games and movies that take the front seat once they succeed the book.A good book is one with a plot where the main character makes peace with others as well as with himself with the minimal external help and without violence.

Writers like Blyton and Twain made sure that their protagonists have their share of mischief, trouble as well as an uncorrupt childishness that turn every trouble into a victory at the end. Through these adventures, they tickled the bravery-nerve of the young reader and enhanced their self-learning skills by evoking their curiosity. That way, the children's classics encouraged a certain degree of independence, taking decisions and responsibilities. These books also promoted the concept of team and family and emphasized on the vitality of unity.

Contrastingly, neither Meyer nor Rowling got their focus right in promoting them, as their spotlights were always on one hero or may be a couple. Also the subtleness Blyton or Twain had mastered in strewing love and compassion in their stories were never matched by the two modern best-selling authors who put the word 'love' into the mouths of the characters too often in the vain attempt of fishing out the feeling from the marsh of evil.

As Oscar Wilde once said, there are no such things as good books or bad books, either they are well-written or badly written. When it comes to children's literature, a well-written book should be one that makes the reader feel that he is as capable as the protagonist to overcome the challenges in life. Sadly, a book that preaches about magic wands, portions, complicated spells and death curses may not create the same impression.







Truth, accountability and reconciliation are being talked about a lot these days. Interestingly, many who use these terms think 'truth' is equal to systematic and deliberation massacre of Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan security forces. They believe 'accountability' is about the Government pleading guilty to such charges. Finally, they equate 'reconciliation' to 'power sharing' which in turn they believe is about devolving power to provinces whose boundaries were arbitrarily drawn by some white men almost two centuries ago and over which they assume Tamil people have exclusive claims ('traditional homelands').

There are some 'truths' that are disconcerting to those who subscribe to the above rendition of grievance/aspiration.  Less than 50% of the Tamil population actually live in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.  As such, the North and East (which constitute more than a third of the land mass) is to be handed over to less than 6% of the population and they would get almost half the coast to boot, courtesy 'reconciliation via devolution'.  Another interesting and damning demographic detail that's left out by these pundits is that the Tamil population in the East is concentrated in a ten mile wide stretch along the coast.  Given demographic realities, if police powers are devolved, the majority of Tamils in the island would have to live under the generosity of Sinhala or Muslim Chief Ministers.

There are other 'truths' that are footnoted or ignored.  Here are some. On February 14, 1766, Kirthi Sri Rajasinha, the King of the Kandyan Kingdom ceded a stretch of land in the Eastern part of the island, 10 miles in width from the coast to the Dutch East India Company.  Prof. James Crawford refers to this treaty in his book 'The creation of states in international law' as one of the earliest such agreements recorded.  The implication is that the Kandyan Kingdom had the right to cede that portion of land and that it continued to have sovereignty over the rest of the territory until the British obtained full control of the island in 1815.

In 1766 therefore there was no question of sovereignty of any other polity and when the relinquished sovereignty was recovered and reasserted in 1948 by the State of Ceylon it naturally reverted to the political geography prior to the signing of that treaty.

That treaty, moreover, is the genesis of the demographic realities of today's Eastern Province, referring to above. The ancestors of the vast majority of Tamils in the Eastern Province were brought there by the Dutch to grow tobacco. Even today the majority of the Grama Niladhari divisions contain a Sinhala majority population.

Tamil chauvinists and those who have swallowed their myths (which come with 'fact' tag) uncritically speak of a 'Tamil Nation' that co-existed with the 'Sinhala Nation'. For 'centuries', they add.  Arguments that contradict this thesis are summarily brushed aside as the imaginations of Sinhala racists.  Well, here's what a celebrated Dravidian monarch and quite a powerful one at that, says about this island and to whom it belonged way back in the 10th Century.  This is in the year 993 AD, right in the middle of the golden period of Chola expansion/invasion.   Raja Raja Chola invaded the island in that year.  He is known as a builder of Hindu Temples.  The inscriptions at these places, according to the Archaeological Survey of India, resolve all doubts about traditional homelands and sovereignty.  The inscriptions at the temples in Tanjavur and Ukkal speak in glorifying vein that Raja Raja Chola conquered many countries, including one 'Ila-mandalam'.  The inscription elaborates that this 'was the country of the warlike Singalas'.  The plunder of wealth, one notes, is not from 'Singalas' who lived in 'Ila-mandalam' ('Ila' being a corruption of 'Sihala' or 'Hela') but the land of the 'Singalas', whether they were warlike or not being irrelevant to the issue.

The archeological evidence shows that what is today called the Northern and Eastern Provinces were at one time the heartland of Buddhist civilization in the island.  Although there have been claims that these were the work of Tamil Buddhists, the theses not supported outside the rhetoric.

It is a strange fact isn't it that Tamil chauvinists have no reliable historical tract they can refer to buttress homeland-claim?  They have to twist-read the Sinhala chronicles.  Or else bank on a lyrical fantasy whose value as even a supplementary source for obtaining historical transcripts is negligible if not zero.

These are the thoughts that came to mind when I read N. Satya Moorthy's column in the Daily Mirror (May 9, 2011).   The term he uses is 'incremental devolution'.  This is C.J.V. Chelvanayakam all over again, nothing else. This is why 'devolution' is not the 'moderation' sweet that Satya Moorthy claims it is.  In fact, he is advocating 'Asymmetrical Devolution', which gives legitimacy to the fantastic claims made by Tamil chauvinism.  Once done, history will not be referenced again, for Tamil Chauvinism can claim thus: 'The Sinhala Buddhist dominated (hardly!) state of its own accord recognized implicitly the veracity of our traditional homeland claim by resolving to devolve power to the relevant boundaries as a solution to expressed grievance'.  He uses an interesting term: 'victim community'. 

Now there is no argument that there are citizenship anomalies and that grievances do exist. The key issue is to identify the true dimension of these grievances, in other words, obtain truth by un-frilling claim of rhetoric and fantasy.  The Sinhalese too are a victim community. So too the Buddhists.  How about some 'redress' for the poor, while we are at it?  Satya Moorthy is engaging in a deft exercise of obfuscation here.  

A sense of belonging is needed.  It is needed by every citizen.  This is what constitutional reform should keep in mind.  Truth is of great value here.  Accountability too. The bottom line is 'truth'.  Hard to digest, I know, but it will emerge again and again to trump the ignorant, the chauvinist and the conscious or unconscious meddler.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at





The communal chaos in Egypt is unfortunate. These new twist of events in which Christian and Muslim activists fought pitched battles in Cairo is juxtaposed to the wave of freedom and fundamental rights that had brought the nation together.

This burning of a church and bloodshed which claimed at least 10 lives, and that too over a petty personal dispute of faith, is no less than a conspiracy.

The spirit of Tahrir Square had experienced a blow, and it's high time the government moves in rapidly to fill the void. Egyptians who had unfurled a new chapter in the Middle East by bringing down a dictator and compelling the military junta to work for democratic reforms should not be bothered with issues that do not warrant attention. This is the time for the Egyptians to work closely with the government and ensure that the forthcoming September polls are not only free and fair, but held in a peaceful manner.Tensions have been brewing between Copts and the Muslims for quite some time, and the violence that rocked Cairo early this year was a case in point. Coptic Christians who account for more than 10 per cent of Egypts population had long complained of discrimination and pressure tactics from a particular school of thought. Conversions and organisation of religious festivals had been issues wherein they very often crossed swords, plunging the heterogeneous society into communal crisis. The former regime had one way or the other been seen taking sides whenever such an occasion arose, pointing out at the tactics of divide and rule policy. It is, however, a good sign that the present dispensation has taken a strong notice of the incident, and Prime Minister Essam Sharaf had postponed his visit to the Gulf countries to discuss the unrest back home. The concern and attention that the premier had devoted to an isolated incident in the capital district is appreciated. It is incumbent upon his administration to look into the allegations that unscrupulous members of the former regime may have a hand in the foul play, and might be using the petty dispute to further their agenda. Egypt cannot afford to remain bogged down in a communal strife, as people count down for a new era of constitutionalism and democratic institutions. The evil is in need of being exposed and eradicated.





On May 7 the world commemorated the 150th birth anniversary of one of Mother India's most illustrious sons -- Rabindranath Tagore, an author, poet, mystic, teacher, painter and Nobel Laureate in Literature.

One of the best ways of remembering him is by emulating his life of humility, simplicity, sincerity and selfless service.

Among the subjects he wrote and taught about was the one on the dangers of cultivating an Ego. Some of our political leaders who appear to be building super egos would be well advised to take a lesson from Tagore before it is too late and the ego explodes in mental instability. In this verse from one of his poems Tagore who composed the national anthems of India and Bangladesh underscores his continuous struggle to overcome the gravitational or downward pull of the ever present evil force of the Ego: "I came out alone on my way to my tryst; but who is this me in the dark? I move aside to avoid his presence but I escape him not; he makes the dust rise from the earth with his swagger; he adds his loud voice to every word I utter; he is my own little self, my lord, he knows no shame; but I am ashamed to come to thy door in his company."

Tagore in this dialogue with God wonders, who is this me or Ego in the dark, this thing which is inseparable with the self, swaggering through life with self-importance self-centeredness shamelessly infecting every word and deed and blocks the entranceway to the highest realm.

Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 for one of his greatest and best known collections of mystical and devotional songs, the "Gitanjali", which was translated to English in 1912. Having felt no kinship with such an honour he lived his life writing about how to rid oneself of identifying with such prizes. Tagore's poems in particular offer a valuable reminder especially to political leaders of the benefits of subduing the Ego and listening to the spirit which beckons us to peace and other-centeredness.

Some of the lessons we can learn is to listen to our heart before reacting and see if we can tame our Ego once today. Before speaking let us ask ourself whether what we are about to say is for the purpose of making someone else wrong and proving our self special. Will I create more turmoil or more serenity? Be aware of how often we use I in conversations and instead see if we can let our sentences begin with You a few times each day. Pass up the need to brag and boast in favour of applauding the accomplishments of others. Work at being less attached to the things you've accumulated and begin a practice of letting go. Giving more of yourself to others by giving some of your stuff away is a helpful way to tame the attachment to acquisitions and to retrain ego and allow the peace and tranquillity that the spirit desires.

When we live in harmony with our core values and principles we can be straight forward, honest and up-front and nothing is more disturbing to people who are full of trickery and duplicity than straight forward honesty, which such people find too difficult to deal with or handle. If we conceptualise ourselves from what others think of us we begin to live a life geared to meet the wants and expectations of others and in the process end up becoming weak, shallow and insecure because we are essentially allowing others to run if not ruin our lives.

It was Socrates who said, "The greatest way to live with honour in this world is to really be what we pretend to be."









Palestine is ripe for a revolution. How do we know that? Because the two rival governments that have so spectacularly failed that hypothetical country are finally ending their four-year-old breach and getting back together. Or at least that's what they say they're doing.

The reconciliation took place in Cairo last Wednesday, when Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (which controls the West Bank), and Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas (which controls the Gaza Strip), signed an agreement to form an interim government to rule both parts of the would-be country. "We forever turn the black page of division," said Abbas in his opening remarks.

The two men went further than that. They agreed that no member either of Hamas or of Fatah (the movement that is Mahmoud Abbas's political base) could be part of the interim government. That government would pave the way for free elections next year in both parts of the disjointed proto-state that would really restore Palestinian national unity. Or so the deal says.

But Fatah and Hamas still hate each other, and they haven't actually made a single compromise on the key areas where they disagree, like the question of whether to make peace with Israel. Most observers still doubt that the gulf between the two sides can ever be bridged. So why would they even bother to sign such a "unity" accord?

Because they are both running scared. They have seen what happened to other oppressive and/or corrupt regimes in the Arab world and they are afraid that a comparable revolution could drive them from power too.

There have already been large popular demonstrations in the Palestinian territories, although they have not been widely reported. The protesters' main demand is "national unity", but there is good reason to suspect that many of them have a broader agenda.

Many of the Palestinian protesters are using "national unity" as a popular mobilising call when what they really want is the end of both Fatah and Hamas.

So Fatah and Hamas are giving them what they say they want, in order to avoid having to give them what they really want. But it is a shotgun marriage at best, and most unlikely to last.

The probable price of this Fatah-Hamas deal is a complete shutdown of peace negotiations with Israel, because Israel, the European Union and the US define Hamas as a "terrorist movement". Therefore, they will have nothing to do with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas (or so they say).

Israel's hard-line prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said the accord was a "tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism". But Netanyahu is widely and probably correctly seen as a man who isn't interested in an agreement anyway, so Abbas doesn't think anything important will be lost if he cozies up to Hamas for a while.

The real question is whether the Palestinians will ignore all this window-dressing, and rise up like their Egyptian neighbours to rid themselves of the arbitrary and corrupt governments that now rule them. The answer is probably no, because the felt need for "unity" in the face of the Israelis usually cripples Palestinian attempts to address the failings of their own institutions.

Indeed, the biggest short-term consequence of the "Arab spring" for the Palestinians may be another Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip, or even a full-scale re-occupation of that territory, because the new Egyptian government plans to reopen its border with Gaza very soon.

Trying to shut that border down again would immediately embroil Israel in a conflict not only with Hamas but with newly democratic Egypt. That would certainly not be to Israel's long-term advantage, but that doesn't mean they won't do it.








The mainstream media outlets in the United States are celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, while trying to convince the world that the U.S. has established the justice everyone has waited so long for.

At the same time, the repression of the people of Bahrain is continuing, with the tacit approval of Washington.

The death of the Al-Qaeda leader provided an opportunity for U.S. President Barack Obama to appear on television and speak about the U.S. version of justice, the justice which has allegedly been established after years and years of counterinsurgency operations in the mountains and villages of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Yet, unimaginable suffering had to be imposed on the people of Afghanistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan to establish this so-called justice and restore order. But everyone knows there is no justice or order in Afghanistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

Now there is no more discussion about justice. The topic has changed. Osama bin Laden is dead and nothing else matters for U.S. officials.

It is more than three months since the beginning of the violence in Bahrain. Innocent people are being killed by the security forces of the Al Khalifa royal family and Saudi Arabian troops, and nary a peep is heard from the international community. The U.S. remains silent because its interests are being served by the Saudis. And the general public in the Western world is kept distracted by the death of Bin Laden, so there is no time to speak about Bahrain and whether justice matters or not.

The Al Khalifa family has ruled Bahrain as absolute monarchs for decades and is backed by Saudi Arabia, a key ally of the U.S. in the region.

And it was recently reported that the Pentagon has signed the biggest military contract in its history with Saudi Arabia. The value of the contract is estimated to be over $60 billion. The stockholders of the U.S. military-industrial complex are making their money and are indifferent to the fact that Bahraini security forces and Saudi troops are committing atrocities on a small island in the Persian Gulf, which is also the base of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Thus, no response is the best response. U.S. officials want to maintain ties with their strategic ally, which is also the world's biggest oil producer, and they do not care what happens to the people of Bahrain.

Bahrain is another clear example of the double-standard policy the U.S. is using in dealing with international issues and the issue of justice itself.

Apparently, for U.S. officials, celebrating the death of a terrorist like Bin Laden is much more important than the lives and future of hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis.

The U.S. tries to give the world the impression that it is the standard-bearer of peace and justice, but its hypocrisy is exposed in Bahrain and countless other places, where U.S. actions are actually promoting injustice and war.







It was such a seismic event that, like many people of her generation, my mother's point of reference for most things is the Second World War

And while I'm quite sure she and her friends registered their approval over the demise of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, they must be wondering why the America Administration continues to make such a fuss.

Osama was, after all, no Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Stalin or Caligula -- he headed no country nor ruled over a state; and in fact the last few years of his life have proven to be extremely reclusive, secluded and isolated.

Yet one week on and we're being bombarded with dramatic headlines, videotapes and other insignificant, contradictory details of the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

I know a presidential election is around the corner but Obama really does need to get a grip and a sense of proportion here.

Journalist Brendan O'Neill, editor of Spiked Online nailed it when he said: "The killing of the head of Al-Qaeda has been treated as if it were a momentous occasion on a par with the Allies' defeat of Germany and Japan in the Second World War."

Raining on the U.S. President's parade he added: "..all that really happened in Pakistan is that a small group of American soldiers shot and killed an ageing, sickly man in a mansion, who was the nominal head of a small and increasingly fractured terrorist organization.."

I couldn't have said it better myself but I'm often accused of being anti-American (totally untrue, by the way) because I say things that sadly Uncle Sam's best friends won't. The reality is the OBL news was a great day for Obama's election campaign but equally a bad day for international justice.

What the Commander in Chief really did was order the summary execution of an unarmed and frail man whose body was then disposed of by being dumped in the sea, without the legal requirement of a post mortem examination. It was almost as though they were afraid of the corpse.

This actually made the most powerful nation in the world look incredibly weak and cowardly; too afraid to put OBL on trial as was done with Second World War Nazi leader Adolf Otto Eichmann.

For those who don't know or want a reminder, Eichmann was captured, drugged and kidnapped in Argentina by Mossad agents in 1960 after fleeing Germany and living in hiding after the Second World War.

Eichmann was one of the chief architects of the Holocaust which involved the slaughter of millions of Jewish people, the genocide of the Romani and other minority groups including… political dissidents and trade unionists.

The trial caused huge international controversy, as well as an international sensation but it was broadcast live with few restrictions so the whole world could see justice being done. Eichmann was hanged on May 31, 1962, at a prison in Ramla before his body was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Mediterranean's international waters to ensure no country would serve as his final resting place.

Importantly, the trial gave closure for many Holocaust survivors and the world was able to witness justice in action just as it had been in 1945 during the Nuremberg trials for the likes of Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess and Martin Bormann.

On a scale measuring pure evil, OBL was a mere pygmy compared to Eichmann and Hitler's close circle.

But it was Western governments led by the U.S. that fed, developed and nurtured Osama's reputation for being the most feared, most wanted and most evil man alive. OBL himself must have been delighted, he couldn't have done a better job than if he'd hired Hill and Knowlton or Saatchi & Saatchi.

His very name was deliberately used to panic ordinary Americans and so, I guess, it was hardly surprising that high school kids and frat boys in New York responded with undiluted hysteria and took to the streets on hearing Obama declare he was dead.

What a missed opportunity.

The Eichmann trial was a victory for justice and most people approved although the Argentineans who had their sovereignty breached were still miffed by the audacious kidnap, drugging and removal of the war criminal by Mossad.

Anyone who knows me and why work know I loathe the Zionist regime and what it stands for, and that includes its intelligence agency Mossad but give credit where it's due… there is good reason why Mossad shines above most agencies for its work and that is because its hallmarks, on the whole, are secrecy and discretion.

Similar reputations are enjoyed by the CIA's nemesis Pakistan's ISI which rarely responds to criticism or comment of its work, as well as Britain's SIS, China's feared MSS and Russia's FSB.

At the other end of the scale is the Central Intelligence Agency who has been briefing the world's media non-stop since the Abbottabad fiasco. Instead of remaining in the shadows the CIA team dissecting the intelligence data are singing like canaries on crack.

Well they do say that empty vessels make the loudest noise.

* Yvonne Ridley is a patron for the London-based NGO Cageprisoners – as well as the European president of the International Muslim Women's Union






Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's response to the Hamas-Fatah deal in Cairo was both swift and predictable. "The Palestinian Authority must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both," he said, in a televised speech shortly after the Palestinian political rivals reached a reconciliation agreement under Egyptian sponsorship on April 27.

Despite numerous past attempts to undercut Mahmoud Abbas, stall peace talks, and derail Israel's commitment to previous agreements, Netanyahu and his rightwing government are now arguing that Palestinians are solely responsible for the demise of the illusory 'peace process'. Israeli bulldozers will continue to carve up the hapless West Bank to make room for more illegal settlements, but this time their excuse may not be 'natural expansion'. The justification might instead be Israel has no partner. U.S. and other media will merrily repeat the dreadful logic, and Palestinians will, as usual, be chastised.

But frankly, at this juncture of Middle East history, Israel is almost negligible. It no longer has a transformative influence in the region. When the Arab people began revolting, a new dimension to the Arab-Israeli conflict emerged. As the chants in Cairo's Tahrir Square began to adopt a pan-Arab and pro-Palestinian language, it became obvious that Egypt would soon venture outside the political confines of Washington's patronizing labels, which divide the Arabs into moderates (good) and radicals (bad).

A day after the handshakes exchanged by chief Fatah representative, Azzam al-Ahmed, and Hamas's leaders, Damascus-based Dr. Moussa Abu Marzoug and Gaza-based Mahmoud Al Zahar, the forces behind the agreement in Cairo became apparent. While Israeli leaders used the only language they know for these situations – that of threats, intimidation and ultimatums -- the U.S. response was flat, confused, and extraneous. Aside from the outmoded nature of U.S. officials' remarks, the focus was largely placed on the only leverage the U.S. has over Abbas and its Fatah allies. Jennifer Rubin wrote in her Washington Post blog on April 29: "The Obama administration is reluctant to articulate clearly a position that if a Hamas-Fatah unity government emerges as Mahmoud Abbas has been describing, the U.S. will cut off aid."

The temporary reluctance is not pervading, however. "Congress is an entirely different matter," Rubin wrote, quoting an angry, unnamed official: "The only acceptable answers (to whether the U.S. should fund the new Palestinian government) for most Americans would be no or hell no."

But how effective will such financial arm-twisting be, especially with the possibility of other donor countries following suit?

If the question had been asked prior to the Arab Spring - and the Egyptian revolution in particular - the answer would have been marred by uncertainty. A whole class of Palestinian politicians had arranged their stances almost exclusively around funding issues.

What really allowed Israel and the U.S. to control the outcome of political events, even internal Palestinian affairs, was the lack of any real political balance surrounding this conflict. The U.S. and its