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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

EDITORIAL 11.05.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month may 11, edition 000829, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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
































  1. ISI ROLE IN 26/11





































One may be understandably hard pressed to credit the Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousuf Raza Gilani with anything positive but after his address to the National Assembly, he almost deserves to be applauded for putting on a brave face and continuing to insist that Pakistan has done much to fight terror while simultaneously providing the world's most wanted terrorist with a safe haven right outside the national capital. Such blatant hypocrisy! Mr Gilani's statement on Monday was supposed to be an account of what Pakistan knew about Osama bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad but instead turned out to be criticism of the US for daring to enter Pakistani air space without the express sanction of the country's leaders. Mr Gilani not only came down heavily on the US for having violated Pakistan's sovereignty while carrying out 'Operation Geronimo' which he described as a "unilateral action," but also warned that a repeat of such an "attack... will get a matching response" and similar attempts to capture high profile terrorists safely ensconced within Pakistani borders will be met with "full force." It does not take a political analyst to decipher Mr Gilani's statement as a veiled threat to India. It is an open secret that Pakistan is home to several fugitives who have found themselves a spot on India's most wanted list, including the masterminds of the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. Clearly, Mr Gilani is worried stiff that India might actually go ahead and carry out a similar operation. The legitimacy of his fears apart, the most amusing part of his speech was his reverse criticism of the US for fostering terrorism in the first place! In a thinly disguised counter-attack, Mr Gilani told the National Assembly that, "We cannot be blamed for the flawed policies and blunders of others" — a clear reference to the American policy of supporting mujahideen in Afghanistan in a bid to counter the growing influence of the erstwhile Soviet Union. He further added: "Pakistan is not the birthplace of Al Qaeda. We did not invite Osama bin Laden to Pakistan." As if any of that is an excuse for the fact that the Al Qaeda chief was living right under the Pakistani military's nose for several years. However, it was Mr Gilani's assertion that "no other country in the world and no other security agency has done so much to interdict Al Qaeda than the ISI and our armed forces" which served as the proverbial cherry on the cake. His efforts to defend the country's intelligence services would have been praiseworthy had it not been so ludicrous. His claims that American "allegations of complicity (between the ISI and Al Qaeda) and incompetence are absurd" is exactly that: Absurd.

Thankfully, the Obama Administration continues to stand its ground. Irrespective of whether the US was "within its rights", as White House officials put it, to violate Pakistani air space, the fact is that Osama bin Laden — the head of a terror network who had ordered the deaths of thousands of innocent people around the world — secured sanctuary in Pakistan. Now it is time for Pakistan to explain to the rest of the world how exactly he managed to do so when the country's leadership claims it has been firm in its commitment to the war on terror since 9/11. The US would do well to keep up the pressure on Pakistan so as to ensure that it answers some tough questions that the whole world is asking.







The sudden outbreak of violent protests by farmers in western Uttar Pradesh, especially in Greater Noida which is a short distance from the national capital, has come as a surprise. While it is true that there was simmering resentment among a section of the farmers against the acquisition of land by the State Government for the proposed Yamuna Expressway, such mass fury as has been witnessed in recent days was least expected. The State Government headed by Ms Mayawati insists that it has been mindful of farmers' sentiments and taken all possible measures to ensure they get a fair deal. On paper, the acquisition has been done after due deliberation and discussion with the farmers; their legitimate demands have been factored in. Yet, a section of the farmers has now reopened the issue and is demanding further compensation based on projected escalation of the value of the land. This may find a resonance among some people, but cannot be countenanced. For, if the criterion for settling the value of land were to be based on what would be its selling price 20 or 30 or, for that matter, 100 years later, then no land can possibly be acquired. By the same logic, if at all this word can be used, houses and apartments should be sold not at prices that reflect the current market value of the property but how much it would be worth on an imaginary future date. The demand to revalue the acquired land, hence, is patently unacceptable. The belligerence displayed by the farmers should not force the Government on the back foot: That would send a wrong message. By killing two policemen, the protesters have betrayed their true intention — of using militant force to make the Government revise the terms of acquisition. If it were to do so now, similar violence would be replicated in a score of other places.

The protests, however, serve to underscore a point that has been repeatedly made while discussing the issue of acquiring land for infrastructure projects: Our antiquated land acquisition law has to be junked and a new law introduced for this purpose to safeguard the interests of farmers and ensure uniformity across the country in the manner in which land is acquired. The Union Government is not unaware of the urgency to revise land acquisition norms, but it has abjectly failed to act on this front, as it has on every other issue related to reforms. A draft law for land acquisition, based on sensible recommendations, awaits the Union Cabinet's approval before it can be debated and voted upon by Parliament. But the draft appears to have been put in cold storage because certain politicians are opposed to it on account of their vote-bank compulsions. Thereby hangs the tale of stalled reforms under the current UPA dispensation.









The F16 is a 40-year-old single-engine aircraft which has been the mainstay of the Pakistani Air Force while the F18 did not fulfil the IAF's parameters.

The President of the USA, Mr Barack Obama, described 'Operation Geronimo' as "one of the greatest intelligence military operations in our nation's history. We got Osama". But a month earlier, Mr Obama lost out — at least so far — on the other prize he had eyed: India's multi-million-dollar order for Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft.

In a letter dated February 4, 2011 to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mr Obama wrote: "Let me reassure you that the US is a willing, capable and reliable defence partner to India. High-tech defence sales are increasingly a cornerstone of our strategic partnership. I want to underscore the strategic importance the United States attaches to the selection of a US proposal in India's MMRCA competition. The US is offering India two of the most advanced multi-mission combat aircraft in the world — the Boeing FA/18IN and the Lockheed Martin F16IN. These aircraft have a demonstrated qualitative military advantage over any current fourth generation plus aircraft… I view the MMRCA acquisition as a key step along this path. I respectfully ask that your Government will give its full consideration to the commercial, technical and strategic merit to the US proposal."

Two months later, the upfront rejection by India of both the Boeing F18 and Lockheed Martin F16 is a strategic error. Many defence experts expected the F18 to be sneaked into the shortlist along with the European Typhoon and the French Rafale to make the competition trans-Atlantic and politically more vibrant.

Many reasons are being given for keeping the American aircraft out, the most obvious being that they are not up to scratch. The F16 is a 40-year-old single-engine aircraft with a psychological hangover for the Indian Air Force — it has been the mainstay of the Pakistani Air Force for four decades. The F18 did not fulfil all of the IAF's technical parameters but the twin-engine aircraft could have been included in deference to the India-US strategic partnership and to keep the price negotiations on an even keel.

The Eurofighter is priced at around $125 million while the Rafale is $85 million. Less than $50 million, the F18 could have forced some markdown of the European contenders, inducing additionally cuts in lifecycle costs. The two aircraft selected have been asked to review their price bids. The final selection will be a political and strategic decision not necessarily based on the lowest bid and will be taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security.

The IAF favours the Rafale not the least because the French are promising the moon. There is also a high level back channel Italian connection, they say. The Rafale will bestow several advantages — facilitate the Mirage 2000 upgrade programme; slip fit into the existing operational and logistics infrastructure of Mirage 2000. Snecma, which has built the Rafale engine, is also the company which provides engines for Mirage 2000, so that is a bonus. The Rafale though is not in service of any other air force except that of France.

Similarly of the four countries that have developed the Typhoon, three — Britain, Italy and Spain — have decided to go in for the fifth generation F35 being developed by the US. The British RAF is pounding Col Gaddafi with the Typhoon.

The $10 million MMRCA contract was expected to generate 27,000 jobs and boost the flagging defence industry in the US. But the history of India-US defence relationship has not been a happy one. Except for the purchase of the Packet aircraft by the IAF in 1962, no other aircraft has been acquired. The IAF has relied on British, French and mainly Soviet/Russian origin fleets.

The US has not stood by India and imposed sanctions on it in 1974, after the Pokhran I peaceful nuclear explosion, and again in 1998, after the Pokhran II nuclear tests. Ironically, the nuclear tests revived defence ties but India was still wary that the US would turn off the tap as it had in the case of spares of Westland Sea-King helicopters, Navy ALH engines, etc. In 2004, when India signed the Hawk jet trainer contract with the UK, the clause that there will be no US parts was inserted on India's insistence which led to time and cost overruns.

As WikiLeaks has revealed, India had the word 'strategic' removed from the text of the Defence Framework Agreement of 2005 with the US, so high was the level of distrust. India has evaded signing many of the several obligatory agreements going by difficult acronyms like CISMOA, BECA, SOFA, EUMA and so on which accompany high-tech equipment and convert a partnership into a de facto alliance relationship. They entail interoperability, end-user inspections and verifications and periodic certification on legitimate use of equipment and supplies.

Till 2005, India had acquired military supplies from the US worth less than $500 million which included 12 weapon-locating radars — this one single deal taking 15 years to fructify after a tortuous scrutiny of India's bona fides. Since then, the US has sold (or will sell) equipment worth $15 billion through the FMS route which ensures probity and transparency. The huge jump in US defence sales has turned the corner as far as reliability of American defence supplies is concerned.

Why have technical considerations alone trumped political and strategic imperatives of the MMRCA contract? The US Ambassador to India, Mr Timothy Roemer, who announced his resignation the day after the decision to reject the American bid, said, "I am deeply disappointed but respect the selection process." Analysts believe awarding the contract to a European fighter is political balancing: The US has won $15 billion worth of contracts and Russia already hogs defence purchases and has been awarded the fifth generation fighter deal. So Europe is the obvious choice for spreading the largesse, given it has a first rate fourth generation aircraft.

The door seems to have been closed for American aircraft by not including the F18 in the short list which would have been politically correct and would also have recognised the White House missive. Maybe it was the presidential letter and the WikiLeaks cable indicating how craven Indian officials are with American diplomats. The Left has consistently accused the Manmohan Singh Government of having sold out to the US.

Ruling out US aircraft reflects strategic autonomy certainly, but the game could have been played more optimally by making it a three-horse race.







By not succumbing to the inflationary pressure created by the global oil and food price rise, the Asia-Pacific region has become the growth locomotive of the world economy, says the UN Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific

Given the manner in which the Asia-Pacific region has managed to withstand multiple global challenges by adopting measures that have strengthened intra-regional trade, this is likely to remain the most dynamic growth region in the world, states the UN's 'Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2011'. The fastest-growing economies in the region have also adopted measures to reorient the consumption and investment trend so as to combat the sluggish growth of the developed countries which is a major concern for most export-oriented economies.

However, the report anticipates that growth in the region will go down from 8.8 per cent in 2010 to 7.3 per cent in 2011. But the moderation in the growth trend has to be seen against the backdrop of global food and oil price rise — two major challenges for the economies in the region. The return of food and oil price rise has created an unwarranted inflationary pressure on the developing as well as developed economies in the world. To complicate matters further, different economies employ different approaches, in accordance with its basic structure, to curb inflation — methods used to clamp down on inflation at home in country have often had a contradictory effects in other countries. For example, monetary easing in the developed world as a recovery measure resulting in excess global liquidity has triggered inflation elsewhere by causing a steady rise in commodity prices in those countries. In response to such inflationary pressure, the developing economies like India, China and Viet Nam have tightened their monetary policy.

What is worth mentioning here is that India and China have been projected to be the fastest growing economies in the region. There is additional relief for India as here "inflation on inflation is negative while for most other emerging economies in the region it is positive" says Mr Kaushik Basu, Chief Economic Adviser to the Union Ministry of Finance.

Clearly, a uniform measure may not rein in the emerging global or, for that matter, regional challenges, given that the Asia-Pacific region represents a mixed bag of diverse economies that include least developed countries too. Therefore, the report puts emphasis on regional integration through enhanced financial cooperation, and transport and trade facilitation that would help increase the productive capacity of the LDCs in the region. In other words, mere tightening of monetary policy might not be enough to combat the rapid escalation in price.

Moreover, ESCAP estimates that high oil price could reduce growth rate of some developing ESCAP economies by one per cent while higher food and energy prices could lead to as many as 42 million additional people in poverty. What is more worrisome is that up to half-a-decade could be lost in the battle to achieve Millennium Development Goals. Additionally, an accommodative monetary policy and comparatively high interest rates are attracting unregulated capital inflows from international investors that not only boost demand-side inflationary pressure but also hamper recovery of exports from the region by appreciating exchange rate. Therefore, along with a responsive monetary policy, adequate capital control measures should also be included to reduce the volatility of capital flows, as suggested by the ESCAP.

Exacerbating the short-term threat has been a host of natural disasters that have been affected the region. Last year, the flood in Pakistan, the earthquake in New Zealand as well as other climactic conditions adversely affected the domestic economies. The catastrophic earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan a couple of months ago has affected both the country and the wider region due to the key role played by the island nation in the interconnected Asia-Pacific economy. Direct impact could be seen in terms of disruption in supply of inputs from Japan, given severe interruption in supply of nuclear power in the country that accounts for 30 per cent of electricity production. Still ESCAP estimates that some countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia would be more adversely affected in terms of export growth rate whereas the overall impact on Asia's developing economies would be lesser than expected. Moreover, the reconstruction in the affected area is likely to provide an economic boost in the following year.

Still, since the region has been projected to be the growth locomotive for the global economy, several policy measures promoting growth and inclusive development would be a step in right direction. In order to moderate the volatility of the food prices, buffer food stocks should be established despite lowering tariffs and taxes at the national level. Social protection programmes which serve to reduce precautionary savings for health and education, and other measures to increase domestic consumption and demand mostly by raising real wages, enhancing employment opportunities, providing the poor with food vouchers etc, would also complement growth prospects in the region.

ESCAP also suggests that regional cooperation and economic integration in the Asia-Pacific would be the key to combating macroeconomic volatility at the global level. With a combined foreign exchange of $5 trillion, the region has the ability to develop an ambitious regional financial architecture, complementing the international financial architecture. Additionally, such financial architecture could make a positive contribution to exchange rate coordination as well by discouraging currency competition in the region. Also, enhanced regional economic integration through market integration, improved connectivity, and the facilitation of cross-border movement of goods and services would be corrective measures for inclusive and sustainable development.

The report also mentions a regional food reserve on the lines of the ASEAS+3 Emergency Rice Agreement and the SAARC Food Bank. More importantly, the report recommends that the Asia-Pacific region should play an active role in reforming the global economic and financial architecture in order to ensure that the new order best serves the region's development goals. For example, the eight countries from the region who are also members of the G20 should collectively coordinate with other members so as to be able to assert greater influence in the international arena.






Since it is politically impossible for a US President to acknowledge military defeat, for half-a-century the default method for extracting American troops from lost wars has been to declare a victory and leave. It worked for George Bush in Iraq, and Barack Obama could use it to get out of Afghanistan

With a single bound, our hero was free," as writers of pulp fiction used to say when they saved their hero from some implausible but inescapable peril. US President Barack Obama could now free himself from Afghanistan with a single bound, if he had the nerve.

The death of Osama bin Laden, founder of Al Qaeda, matters little in practical terms, but Mr Obama could use it as a means of deflating the grossly exaggerated 'terrorist threat' that legitimises the bloated American security establishment. He could also use it to escape from the war in Afghanistan.

If he acted in the next few months, while his success in killing the terrorist-in-chief still makes him politically unassailable on military matters, he could start moving US troops out of Afghanistan, and even begin to cut the Homeland Security Department down to size. His political enemies would accuse him of being "soft on defence," but right now the accusation would not stick.

The Homeland Security Department's reason for being is the "terrorist threat". Drive home the point that Osama bin Laden is dead, and that there has been no terrorist attack in the West at even one-fiftieth the scale of the 9/11 attacks for the past five years, and its budget becomes very vulnerable.

Mr Obama promised in 2009 that the first of the 30,000 extra US troops he sent to Afghanistan in that year will be withdrawn this July. It would be harder to get the remaining 70,000 American troops and the 50,000 other foreign troops out — but it is now within his reach.

Since it is politically impossible for a US President to acknowledge military defeat, for half-a-century the default method for extracting American troops from lost wars has been to 'declare a victory and leave'. It was pioneered by Henry Kissinger in the Vietnam era, it worked for the junior Bush in Iraq, and Mr Obama could use it to get out of Afghanistan.

It just has to look like a victory of sorts until one or two years after all the American troops are gone, so that when the roof falls in it no longer looks like the Americans' fault. Kissinger talked about the need for a 'decent interval' between the departure of US troops and whatever disasters might ensue in Vietnam, and the concept applies equally to Mr Obama and Afghanistan.

The case for getting Western troops out of Afghanistan now rests on three arguments. Firstly, that the Taliban, the Islamist radicals who governed the country until 2001 and are now fighting Western troops there, were never America's enemies. Al Qaeda (which was almost entirely Arab in those days) abused their hospitality by planning its attacks in Afghanistan, but no Afghan has ever been involved in a terrorist attack against the West.

Second, the Taliban never controlled the minority areas of the country even during their five years in power, so why assume that they will conquer the whole country if Western troops leave? President Hamid Karzai's deeply corrupt and widely hated government would certainly fall, but Afghanistan's future would probably be decided, as usual, by a combination of fighting and bargaining between the major ethnic groups.

And third, Western troops will obviously leave eventually. Whether they leave sooner or later, roughly the same events will happen after they go. Those events are unlikely to pose a threat to the security of any Western country — so why not leave now, and spare some tens of thousands of lives?

This last argument is, of course, disputed by the US military, who insist (as soldiers usually do) that victory is attainable if they are only given enough resources and time. But Mr Karzai's Government is beyond salvage, and this month's strikingly successful Taliban attacks in Kandahar city discredit the claim that pro-Government forces are 'making progress' in 'restoring security'.

Western armies have fought dozens of wars in the Third World since the European empires began to collapse 60 years ago, and they lost almost every one. The local nationalists (who sometimes calling themselves Marxists or Islamists) cannot beat the foreign armies in open battle, but they can go on fighting longer and take far higher casualties.

Afghanistan fits the model. When a delegation from Central Asia visited a US base in Afghanistan, one of the delegates was a former Soviet general who had fought in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. He listened patiently as eager young American officers explained how new technology and a new emphasis on 'winning hearts and minds' would defeat the insurgency.

Finally his patience snapped. "We tried all that when we were here and it didn't work then, so why should it work now?" he asked. Answer: It won't.

Osama bin Laden's death has given Obama a chance to leave Afghanistan without humiliation. Just wait a couple of months to guard against the improbable contingency of a big terrorist revenge attack, and then start bringing the troops home. Once the Taliban are convinced that he is really leaving, they would probably even give him a 'decent interval'.

Will this actually happen? Probably not, for in terms of domestic US politics it would be a gamble, and Mr Obama is not a gambler.

-- Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist..







By relying on the world's sympathy and solidarity in the struggle against terrorism, the US has tried to eliminate the infrastructure of Osama bin Laden's organisation. This has set the course of history in this millennium. Or has it?

The operation that killed internationally notorious terrorist Osama bin Laden brings an end to a short, albeit tumultuous era in world history — the 2000s. The era was very eventful, and it's hard to say what turn history would have taken if it had not been for the Osama bin Laden-planned attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

Strictly speaking, we still know very little about this appalling act of terror. First and foremost, we haven't heard any sensible explanation as to why it was committed. The reasons behind this secrecy are clear, though, and the relevant documents won't be declassified in the near future.

Why the US secret services' former appointee in the struggle against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan quarreled with his one-time allies is a separate issue. We all know things happen. But why deal a blow to the very heart of the US?

There may be an answer to this question, but for the time being we can only guess, trying to get to the bottom of this crucial matter — the political and moral objectives of the attack.

For now, we might adhere to the following version. The 1990s were unacceptable for most cultures, with the illusions of US-style globalisation and of the emergence of the US as the world's sole superpower. The US and Nato's 'pinpoint' strikes in Yugoslavia in 1999, a highly suspicious financial crisis in Asia in 1997-1999 and other events created the semblance of a US onslaught on the planet.

A blow to the epicenter of the US's financial kingdom was symbolic given these circumstances and strongly affected the world. The ensuing singing and dancing in the city streets of several West-Asian countries that were not at war with the US showed which audience the terrorists had in mind.

Several years after 2001, a prestigious military magazine even ranked Osama bin Laden on the list of the greatest military leaders of all time (after Genghis Khan) with a note — an outstanding example of an asymmetrical response to a far superior enemy.

The course of world history in the 2000s can be expressed in two short sentences: By relying on the world's sympathy and solidarity in the struggle against terrorism, the US tried to eliminate the infrastructure of Osama bin Laden's organisation in Afghanistan. However, it simultaneously set itself quite different tasks by starting a war in Iraq, thereby demonstrating its military incapacity to reach its goals, and its financial limitations.

Consequently, the world saw the weakness of the US and the rise of other big powers, such as China. The US wasn't destined to dominate the 2000s. Obviously, Osama bin Laden couldn't have planned anything along these lines, not to mention engineer the 2008 financial crisis that exacerbated these processes.

If Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda hoped to provoke a 'clash of civilizations' with their acts of terror, they didn't achieve their goal. There was no war between the Western and Muslim civilizations for many reasons. The main reason is that Muslim extremism (usually called jihadism in India) is only one of the many problems besetting the societies of West Asia, North Africa and South-East Asia.

The Arab riots this winter and spring showed that the Muslim civilization is ridden with tough problems and a war against the US certainly won't resolve them. Al Qaeda is trying to use these events in its own interests, but there are already plenty of other actors and extras on the stage.

It's impossible to predict whether Osama bin Laden's death will impact the violent events in Libya. Most probably, the triumph of the US secret services will facilitate US President Barack Obama's re-election to a second term, although this isn't certain.
However, let's not forget that having learned from his predecessor's bitter experience, Mr Obama has daintily quit the Libyan operation and left the Europeans to deal with the problem themselves. Their feverish attempts to physically destroy Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi could be compared to the decade-long successful hunting of Osama bin Laden, although these are essentially two different stories. Osama bin Laden is a man from the 2000s, an era of different symbols and parallels.

Was Osama bin Laden alive at all or was he murdered during the US Afghan campaign in 2001-2002? Up until today, this question has evoked heated debate. Strange as it may seem, even after his killing in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, many conspiracy theorists believe Osama bin Laden is still alive or didn't exist at all, as they haven't seen his body and documents and videotapes aren't compelling evidence (especially taking into account the alternative theory of the 9/11 attacks).

This mythology is an inevitable consequence of a war with an unconventional enemy, the art of which is gradually being mastered by the world's secret services.

Good or bad, disinformation and the concealment of truth are necessary tools here. The Russian public has seen this tactic employed numerously as a part of anti-terrorist activities in the North Caucasus and many other places.

Osama bin Laden wasn't a myth. Moreover, one can conclude from his short biography that despite his graying beard, born in 1957, he was a relatively young and able-bodied man. Most probably, he had been isolated from the terrorist underground for the past few years as everyone knew he would be found sooner or later and this has now happened.

I would very much like to add that this destiny will befall every terrorist, but this is still a distant prospect.

-- The writer is a Moscow-based political affairs columnist.








Though it is just an interim order, the Supreme Court's decision to stay the Allahabad high court's verdict on the Ayodhya title suits is profoundly significant. All the more so because of the apex court's accompanying observation that the high court's decision of September 30, 2010 - stipulating partition of the land where the Babri masjid stood between the two communities on the basis of the title dispute - was "strange and surprising". These are strong words for the partition idea that had been erroneously hailed by a section of civil society as pragmatic or conciliatory. The Supreme Court intervention comes as a much-needed corrective to signal India's commitment to secularism and the rule of law.

The partition scheme under which two parts of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri masjid complex were given to Hindu parties and one part to a Muslim party had placed faith above law and, seemingly, expediency over legal principle. Though the title suits had originated from the surreptitious installation of idols in the medieval mosque in 1949, the high court glossed over the fact that nothing said about the history of the Hindu belief prior to that year would have detracted from this dubious cause of action. Instead, it ended up conferring legitimacy on the 1949 act by accepting the claim that Lord Ram was born exactly where the central dome of the Babri masjid once stood. While not condoning it in any way, the high court verdict - running into thousands of pages - seemed equally unmindful of the 1992 demolition, though the latter was a violent interference with the subject matter of the title suits.

It is just as well that this partition scheme did not satisfy even the Hindu parties to the title suits. The appeals filed by all the parties concerned has provided an opportunity to the Supreme Court to undo the error of the high court in not letting, among other things, the illegality of the 1949 and 1992 events have a bearing on the title suits. Having stayed the high court verdict, the Supreme Court should reconsider all its postulates and premises, whether they had been derived from religious scriptures or legal tomes.

The Ayodhya title suits, in any event, are but a part of the larger backlog of justice related to the chain of events triggered by the Babri masjid demolition. Criminal proceedings are still pending and the political leaders accused in the case have all been let off the conspiracy charge. There can be no closure to this long-vexed problem unless the Supreme Court verdict, besides being a robust affirmation of the rule of law, is forward-looking and sets a salutary precedent for resolving inter-community differences.







Those of us who're naturally cheery may have more than one reason to clap our hands. According to London School of Economics researchers, happiness lies in the genes. In fact, it's been discovered that joviality and sense of satisfaction all really depend on which form of the gene 5-HTT - the "happiness gene" which distributes serotinin across nerve cells - people inherit from their parents. For some, there's a double bonanza: those getting two sets of the 'happy' gene, one "long" strand from mommy, the other from daddy, are likely to be twice as joyful! The least happy are those with two variants of the "short" gene. Parental guidance just acquired a new meaning.

Now you know why they say it all goes back to mommy...and daddy. Forget all those homilies about discovering and spreading your own happiness. It turns out that if life sucks, parents can be blamed for not being more generous with their genetic bequest. And if you're feeling on top of the world, clearly it's not because you aced appraisals or weigh 50 kilos despite six helpings of kheer. Put it down to genetically triggered 'happy' chemicals partying in your brain. Clearly, there's no business like biological determinism where everything can be traced back to the forebears. Were it not for your genes, you'd never have that adorable twice-a-day sulk. Or smash fewer vases on seeing red. Ah well. Just when you thought that at least being satisfied - or making others feel good - was your own doing, you find that it's a genetic accident. Maybe that's why the scientists also say that, with greater insight into happiness genes, would-be parents could very well 'create' a child who's more content! Wow. The pursuit of happiness may be taken out of our hands entirely, becoming a matter of prenatal design. So, don't worry, be happy.








West Bengal looks finally determined to vote out a government which has been in power for 34 continuous years. Mamata Banerjee's tenacity and perseverance may dislodge the Left from Writers' Buildings once the results are counted on Friday. But for the feisty Trinamool Congress chief, it is hardly going to be all smooth sailing if she wins. Once the electronic voting machines have revealed her fate, she will have to abandon her partisan politics and start behaving like the impartial chief minister.

Her first and immediate task will be to prevent possible violent reprisals and backlashes. She has to realise that real change would not come to West Bengal if, goaded on by her jubilant cadres, she chooses the predictable path of vindictive politics. For once, there should not be any "unstated arrangement" between the new ruling party and the police machinery. There's no denying that it was the
CPM which had carefully constructed the "party society" - a system of benefiting only that section of the polarised, committed electorate which swore by the Left. But Mamata cannot persist with the prevailing culture of rewarding supporters and alienating detractors and opponents.

It does not require administrative experience to gauge the extent of injustice a ruling party might have done when it was the beneficiary of unabashed state protection for more than three decades. In places like Keshpur, Nandigram, and parts of Jangalmahal, there are families of victims of state-sponsored violence who are eagerly waiting for power to change hands so that they can avenge themselves. Mamata will have to walk the tightrope, preventing her followers from taking the law into their own hands and guaranteeing the security of all, irrespective of party affiliation. Given her track record in over-aligning herself with the Trinamool cause, she will first have to win a battle against herself. Her manifesto mentions that she is sworn to the politics of badal (change) and not the politics of badla (revenge). She must remember that pledge.

Undoubtedly, another of her priorities will be to cleanse the administration or, as some would assert, "de-politicise" governance but she must go about her business carefully and gradually. Mamata has promised a government with an improved work culture but eradicating the entrenched CPM party structure in the administration with one or two quick, successive blows will be an imprudent step. She should wait and see if the CPM's enormous influence in the existing set-up wanes within the first two months before initiating strong action against zealots who will never embrace the rules laid down by a new dispensation.

Apart from a neutral administration, Mamata needs to help evolve an apolitical police force. For long, the police have been used to taking orders from the CPM leadership at various levels. While the state party leadership at Alimuddin Street expects the top brass to be deferential and obedient, even the local committee functionaries have a significant say in the routine activities of the police stations, often insisting that people of a particular political background cannot be apprehended. Mamata cannot demoralise the already disempowered police force by taking unpleasant decisions in a hurry. She must understand that she will have to be patient; she cannot dismantle a three-decade-old system in a fortnight. The result will be lawlessness, anarchic confusion, definitely not the kind of hopeful atmosphere her voters are looking forward to.

The state's economy is in a shambles; it is hardly a legacy worth inheriting. Senior Trinamool ideologues may be exaggerating when they allege that the state's total debt has surpassed nearly a staggering Rs 2 lakh crore. West Bengal spends most of its money on paying salary and pension to present and former government employees. Its Plan expenditure is unremarkable; it lacks the financial clout to invest in health and education. Whoever Mamata chooses to be her finance minister has the unenviable task of reviving an economy which is badly looking for a fresh injection of funds. To make this possible, Mamata will have to change the nature of her relationship with the UPA leadership in
New Delhi. She must learn to extract more for the state she hopes to govern much in the way N Chandrababu Naidu achieved for Andhra Pradesh during a greater part of the Vajpayee era.

Within the first 100 days itself, Mamata will be expected to spell out separate rural, urban and minority-related policies. She will have to conceive development projects in the rural hinterland without falling back on rapid industrialisation. West Bengal's shabby towns need a well-thought-out urban development model. Mamata has been able to win over the Muslims by convincing them that they were excluded from the Left's development agenda. She must devise a separate plan for the minority community.

It will be interesting to watch how Mamata crosses her first hurdle of choosing a cabinet without upsetting too many of her trusted lieutenants. Till now, she has controlled indiscipline with an iron hand, knowing that the non-Left forces will be under compulsion to gravitate towards her. But the widespread desire to taste power after 34 years in the wilderness is not easy to deal with. Her victory may demand a change of her very personality, a change of what she has been all these years. The question is if a calm, composed and less impulsive Mamata is possible.






Educators and parliamentarians from across the world go to Finland to learn about a miracle in school education: few hours of study but excellent results. Patrik Scheinin , the dean of the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences at the University of Helsinki, looks after research in teacher education. He spoke to Faizal Khan about Finnish lessons for India:

Finnish students start school late, spend few hours in school, do almost no homework and have no private tuition, but are still among the best in the world. How?

In the Programme for International Student Assessment, jointly prepared by the OECDs participating countries, Finnish students are consistently among the best in the world. They start at the age of seven, with one year of pre-school. Every subject is taught well and everybody is taught irrespective of their home background in every school while making every hour count. This has to do with a national curriculum, and a teacher education in sync with it. Finland holds the world record for the smallest variation between performances of schools. Another reason is the breadth and quality of educational research.

What is the role of the teacher in this success story?

It is a strong contributing factor. Education in general and teachers in particular are highly respected by our society. All our schoolteachers have masters degrees. For teachers for Grade I-VI, their masters is in education, from Grade VII-IX, its in the subjects they teach. I do think that we were lucky in moving teacher training into universities and raising it to the masters level. This has made research a normal part of teacher qualifications. The amount of educational research is huge in Finland and the share of it done by the teachers is very big. It has also made the teachers more self-sufficient in their planning as they now base their arguments on research findings. Its prestige has also improved the quality as well as increased the number of applicants to teacher training.

How important is the selection process of teachers?

It is very important. Academic skills and learning potential are measured using a national test based on educational research published for that purpose. This gives everybody the same time - one month - to prepare. Based on the test results, a relatively small group is invited to the interview. The criteria interviewers look for are motivation, how well-equipped the applicant is to work as a teacher, interaction and communication skills, as well as the ability to argue convincingly based on our research findings. This last part is naturally subjective by nature, but we find it tends to give us students to whom teaching comes more naturally.

What are the lessons India could learn from the Finnish model to bring down the huge gap between students and between schools?

I am afraid the obvious answer is: make sure children cross the threshold and come to the school in the first place, and are neither sick nor too hungry to learn. Finland has built up a welfare state, as well as taught the previous generations (that have taught the teachers of today) as best as we knew how to. We have also integrated special education (for anybody with temporary or long-term learning difficulties) into the ordinary classes and schools with special material and specialists available when needed. Children are not willingly left behind and dropout rates are very low. The goal is this: no child is left behind.








Would you sanction the use of torture to make the subject give information, which could end up saving hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent lives in the future? Would you subject the suspect's children to torture to get the life-saving information?

These are some of the questions that ethicists - in the US and elsewhere - are once again raising following Operation Geronimo. It is possible that President Obama may have sanctioned the use of 'intensive interrogation' - a euphemism for torture - to extract information from detainees in Guantanamo about Osama's whereabouts. If such reports are true, it would imply an about-turn in the Obama administration's policy on the use of torture - or 'extraordinary rendition', to use another euphemism - as an instrument in the campaign against terror. While
George W Bush is said to have given the nod to extreme methods in interrogation - particularly in Guantanamo - Obama had publicly opposed such measures as being fundamentally incompatible with the self-styled global guardian of democracy and democratic values. Torture is widely judged to be the ultimate violation of human rights.

Can any democracy or free society legitimise such a violation and still call itself a democracy? But if torture is a violation of human rights, isn't terrorism an even greater violation, in that its targets are largely completely innocent men, women and children, unlike the subjects of torture who are at least suspected of having terrorist or other criminal links? Torture is a moral outrage. But so is terrorism. Can one outrage cancel out another? Can one poison be used to combat another poison? Toxin-anti-toxin - poison to fight poison - is a tried and tested formula in the world of medicine. Can such an equation be equally valid in the moral realm?

All those who believe in Gandhian ahimsa, and in the principle that the means must justify the end, would answer that question in the negative. But as advocates of real-politik have pointed out, Gandhian ahimsa would be suicidal in the face of inhuman aggression, as represented by Nazism or modern-day terror.

Those who oppose the use of torture, and other forms of 'cruel and unnatural' punishment, argue that the sanctioned use of such methods inevitably dehumanises and brutalises any society which has recourse to them. The stoning to death of women accused of adultery in Talibanised societies is a case in point. In such a situation, would you be the first to cast a stone at the offender? And if you were, what effect would it have on you?

India, the use of torture - or to use yet another euphemism, 'third degree methods' - is commonplace among the police, military and paramilitary forces deployed in 'disturbed areas' like the northeast, Kashmir and the badlands of Naxalism. Barring a few human rights activists, civil society by and large averts its gaze from such radical - some would say unconscionable - means of preserving what we like to think of as 'law and order'. The question that arises is: what price law and order which must be preserved through the use of that most lawless and soul-destroying of disorders called torture that dehumanises both its victims and those who inflict it?

In The Brothers Karamazov, the Devil poses a question to Ivan Karamazov: Suppose you could put an end to all human suffering forever, but in order to do so you would have to torture just one child; would you do it? Ivan says 'No' in reply. How would we reply to the devil of inner temptation that asked a similar question of us?






The very term honour killing is an oxymoron, one which accepts that a murder motivated by a misplaced sense of pride is somehow in a different category from a common or garden killing.

The Supreme Court in its latest directive that such killings are barbaric and feudal and as such punishable by death is right in spirit. In most cases, 'honour' killings take place when a member of the family contracts what is seen as an unsuitable alliance with a person not approved of by the elders either because he or she if from another community or caste. The fragile honour of the family or community, if the ghastly khap panchayat verdicts in Haryana are anything to go by, is offended and the punishment is nothing less than death for the 'deemed' offender, most often a young man or woman whose only crime is to have fallen in love.

The apex court in right in terming these sort of killings as a slur on our nation, but there is no exalted category that honour killings can be bracketed under. They are murders of innocent persons whose only crime is that they went against the social grain dictated by people who have no legitimate authority to do so other than that they are community 'elders'.

To put these cases in a category of their own would be to equate them with the sort of murders which take place in Pakistan under the guise of karo-kari, in which the honour of the family is besmirched, invariably by a young man or woman who chose their own partner without the sanction of those who ostensibly know better.

The fact that the police have opened shelters for young couples on the run from the wrath of families and communities should go some way in allowing young people to decide on the course of their own lives without the restraints placed on them by an oppressive and feudal social order. There is definitely some merit in the apex court prescribing the harshest of punishment for those carrying out these crimes, since it is often seen as a right for the family or community to mete out 'justice' to those who deviate from their norms.

The law on murder is applicable in all instances and no khap or community should be allowed to get away with citing outdated feudal norms. Real honour for any person or community comes from adhering to the rule of law, not from taking on the spurious role of judge, jury and all too often executioner.




Rational thinking can sometimes be such a stupid activity. The Supreme Court, supreme in its logic, has found it "strange and surprising" that the Allahabad high court had ordered in September 2010 the division into three equal parts of the Babri masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi complex in Ayodhya.

The complex was to be divvied up among the contesting parties, the Sunni Wakf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and the Ram Lalla Virajman. Well, this wasn't your ordinary property dispute now. And it wasn't that we didn't find it exceedingly "strange and surprising" that a 20-year-old tussle for a structure had a deity as a claimant. But for odd things, smart people pull out smart options. Which is why when the high court had ordered a trifurcation of the site, we found it a very interesting option indeed.

The apex court now says that the high court had no business to slice up the property into three. No one asked for such a division, it says. Well, which party wouldn't like to retain the whole property instead of being forced to share it with its antagonists? That's like asking King Solomon, adjudicating the ownership of a baby, to cut the baby up and divide it between two people contesting to be its mother. The slicing up of the Babri-Ramjanmabhoomi real estate into three wasn't only a practical move that also introduced the concept of sharing to an unsharing lot, but it also played it by the "strange and surprising" rules of the dispute itself — a litigation between a god and a centuries-dead ruler.

But all is not lost. The Supreme Court may have stayed the earlier high court verdict, but it has ordered good old 'status quo' on the dispute. Effectively, 'letting things lie' has the advantage of being seen as a victory for all three contesting parties.

The Hindu blokes are happy, the Muslim blokes are happy and the supporters on both sides of the fence — Ram Lalla included — are happy that they have come out looking like they are the true claimants of the property in another 100 years.

The only downside is that the religious bit that had been injected in the high court verdict earlier seems to have been taken out again. Which in such a "strange and surprising" case is akin to keeping a matter of mumbo jumbo in a forensic lab's deep freezer.






The last vote has been cast. The surveys are out. Electronic voting machines stand at the ready. In 48 hours, the voice of the Indian voter will thunder and we will know who has been chosen to rule in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam. 

Verdict 2011 has been about local personalities. Every contest this time has been a presidential contest among local heroes. Parties, manifestos and national leaders have faded into irrelevance. Instead, towering local personalities are the determinants of electoral victories. The 2011 polls have shown how desperately national parties need to nurture local leaders. They have shown that the era of the national parachutist from Delhi has come to an end.

In Kerala roars the Malabar lion, 87-year-old VS Achuthanandan. The CPI(M) politburo in Delhi tried to deny him a ticket. But public uproar forced the lofty leadership at the Left headquarters to eat humble pie and today Achuthanandan fights from Malampuzha. Rahul Gandhi made the mistake of calling him aged, a remark seen in Kerala as both disrespectful and ill-informed. In a state where the number of elderly is expected to constitute 15% by 2021, age is to be respected — not scoffed at. Achuthanandan may be an octogenarian warhorse, but he's also seen as the regional fighter against a dictatorial Delhi, an anti-incumbent against his own deeply divided party, the politically-incorrect, spartan, son-of-the-soil who speaks his mind about Islamic terror and enjoys an approval rating unusual for a sitting CM. The Left's fortunes in Kerala revolve around the personality of Achuthanandan and whether or not voters believe he deserves a second term.

In West Bengal, storms Ma Durga in a crumpled sari, 56-year-old Mamata Banerjee. She's not a goddess isolated in some brahmanical temple. She is a footpath kali who has waged a single-minded battle against the Left Front for over two decades. Sheer persistence and tenacity have built the Mamata Banerjee cult in the state. The Bengal Congress gave up fighting the Left two decades ago. Banerjee herself suffered crushing defeats. But now she is the Lech Walesa of India, the anti-communist hero who is set to defeat, through democratic politics, one of the oldest communist regimes in the world. No one knows much about the Trinamool, its programme, who exactly are its second-rung leaders or what kind of governance it will deliver. It's Banerjee who has fought a presidential contest in Bengal. Her possible victory is a good moment for the Congress to reflect on why it let a natural born politician like her leave the party. Why did the high command not nurture her as a state president and why is it that any talented local leader is sooner or later forced to leave the Grand Old Party?

In Tamil Nadu, it's a face off between the Dravida patriarch, 86-year-old Karunanidhi  and the state's very own Cleopatra, 63-year-old Jayalalithaa. When politics is personality-based, the role of family becomes crucial. The once-revolutionary DMK patriarch's family is seen to be drowning in corruption. Goonda raj and family raj have destroyed Kalaignar's Dravida idealism. Those who rule through presidential politics also die by presidential politics. When a beloved leader loves his own sons and daughters more than he loves the sons and daughters of Tamil Nadu, a personality cult sours rapidly. The 2011 verdict in the state revolves around the personality of Karunanidhi and whether voters want to punish him or give him another chance.

In Assam, the election once again centres around the personality of the Ahomiya-for-all-seasons, Tarun Gogoi — the only Assamese leader most Indians have heard about. The CNN-IBN post-poll survey suggests that Gogoi is set to return to power for a record third term. His success lies in his peace deal with Ulfa, the development-oriented government he is seen to have delivered in spite of serious corruption charges and the fact that there is no other leader to pose a challenge to the Gogoi persona.

State elections magnify personality-based politics and now general elections are no different. Even a party like the BJP, which apparently doesn't believe in personality-based politics, was forced to make AB Vajpayee into a larger-than-life figure. The Congress won the 2009 election in urban India because of the promise and goodwill embodied by a Manmohan Singh.

In state elections, there is another critical dimension: the regional leader — be it a Nitish Kumar or a Narendra Modi or a Mamata Banerjee — must be deeply rooted in the political culture of that state. National leaders can parachute in and out in their helicopters, address stage-managed rallies and declare their fondness for the local cuisine. But at a time when regional identities are becoming sharper, elections will be won by state-level popular personalities who fight presidential campaigns. This might partly explain why the Congress is still struggling to revive itself in Uttar Pradesh or why, post-YSR, it is on the backfoot in Andhra Pradesh.

However seductive a party manifesto, however clever the backroom deals, it is the dominant local personalities — not national faces — who win assembly elections. A good example of political re-invention in this context is Naveen Patnaik. From being a Manhattan party animal, he is now a son-of-the-soil Oriya leader. If Patnaik can do it, why can't India's Generation Next politicians? They may not quite be 'Amul Babies' yet they appear disconnected from the perseverance required to become true blue local heroes.

Sagarika Ghose is deputy editor, CNN-IBN
The views expressed by the author are personal





The following is the text of a briefing on the recent events in Abbottabad given by a Pakistan ministry of foreign affairs spokesman to the international media:

"How could we not have known where Osama bin Laden was? As you know, there are known knowns and unknown knowns. You do know that, don't you? There are things we know we know, like which side of our naan is buttered.

We like things to be clarified, which is what we're doing now. But there are other things that we don't know we know.

These are things buried deep in the rubble of our subconscious, like the Mossad agents under the debris of the Twin Towers they brought down. So we didn't know that we knew where Osama was. Or didn't know when we were asked if we knew.

When we said Osama wasn't in Pakistan we weren't lying. You just don't understand how tough a neighbourhood we live in. None of our borders is settled. Afghanistan claims Pakhtunkhwa, the Indians won't give us Kashmir, we've given up part of the Northern Areas to China. We just don't know where Pakistan begins and where it ends. Truth is we didn't know Abbottabad was in Pakistan.

Why did the Pakistan army have its academy and so many establishments there then? You know how our army is. It keeps going into places that don't belong to Pakistan. It's a tradition it started in 1947. Doesn't mean that because the Pakistan army's there it's part of Pakistan.

But the Americans did find Osama there and killed him and the Pakistan Army was all around him. So how did the army not know when the Americans did? But, of course, we knew he was there. But we knew him as Abu Abdullah. If you'd asked us, "Do you know where Abu Abdullah is?" we'd have told you. You never did. We wonder why. Was it to make Pakistan look bad later? You didn't know that he was called Abu Abdullah? How could you not have known?

You expect us to believe that? We also thought he was dead earlier, well before the Americans arrived. Why? Because over the last five years, we've delivered well over 72 virgins to that house. So we thought he'd been martyred already.

We didn't know Abu Abdullah was a Saudi sheikh. Crescent my heart and hope to dye, like our president does. Not our fault if the penny didn't drop. Which reminds us: could you spare a dime? Why? Because we are one of the countries hit hardest by global warming. That's what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says, though it's run by an Indian. And it's happening faster than anyone anticipated. First the Americans warming up with the baniyas, and now seals in Abbottabad. What next? We need billions fast. At least give us the $25 million the Americans put
on Osama's head. If we hadn't looked after him, he'd have died shivering in a cave in Tora Bora, no one would have found him, and the Americans wouldn't have been able to pull off this stunt. So be grateful. That's all we ask.
And, of course, we knew there was something going on at the compound that night. We had a secure two-way link with Abu Abdullah that the Americans never picked up. Two empty non-alcoholic beer cans with the tops cut out and tied with string. So when the Americans came through the door, we heard him yelling 'May Day! May Day!' Why didn't we help? Well, at first we thought he was stating the obvious; we knew it was May Day. Then someone said he was probably speaking in Bengali and asking for girls, but it was quite late and we didn't think we'd find any."

Aslam Niazi is the pseudonym of a South Asian diplomat
The views expressed by the author are personal





Big philanthropic announcements in India have pleasantly been coming ever so frequently in recent years. To me, however, as important as the increasing size of the contributions is the change in attitude towards philanthropy in the country. Starting from the very rich to the middle class, everyone has found a way to contribute. Rising individual prosperity propelled by rapid economic growth has made this possible.

Though big ticket philanthropic announcements are a recent affair, India is not new to the concept of giving. Wealthy families contributed generously to build schools, hospitals, community centres as their contribution towards a more equitable society. An encouraging trend today is that many philanthropists are moving beyond merely a donation and making a sincere endeavour to become agents of change by getting actively involved in the execution of philanthropic projects.

Another important dimension of philanthropy today is its increasing professionalisation. Though we still have some way to go in this regard when compared to countries like America, we are making good progress. Bharti Foundation, for instance, the philanthropic arm of Bharti Enterprises, is running 242 primary schools and one senior secondary school in rural areas across five states reaching out to over 30,000 under-privileged children. The programme is specifically focused on the girl child.

To run a programme of this scale and the geographic diversity it operates in, the foundation has put in place a strong team of professionals to manage day-to-day operations. It aims to set up 50 senior secondary schools and 500 primary schools in a phased manner. One important initiative is the foundation's collaboration with Google Inc to scale up and run 50 elementary schools in India. Such a collaborative model will help increase the reach and quality of school education in India rapidly.

It does not surprise me when I hear that students from the schools prevented 16 child marriages in Jodhpur in Rajasthan and that they led a campaign against alcoholism in Haryana. These schools have managed to develop a symbiotic relationship with the communities around them.

I am a firm believer that philanthropy is not merely nor exclusively be limited to financial contributions. Sometimes a more powerful impact can be created by giving one's time, talent and skills to a cause. A lot of work is happening in our country to encourage people to volunteer in grassroots projects.

Given India's rising status as a global economic power, comparison with developed societies is but natural. According to a 2010 study, philanthropic donations in India amount to 0.6% of the GDP, whereas in the US, it stands at about 2.2%.

The fact that individual and corporate donations make up only 10% of charitable giving in India — in the US, three fourths of all philanthropy is led by these segments — does not really come as a surprise. Indians, being family-oriented tend to bequeath personal wealth to the next generation. Therefore, donating a large share of wealth for social causes is still not a trend.

But things are changing rapidly. I clearly see a transformation in attitude with regard to philanthropic giving. Though it is going to be largely led by corporates and the rich, the middle class is also going to pitch in enthusiastically and play an important role in driving this change.

Rakesh Bharti Mittal is vice-chairman and managing director, Bharti Enterprises & Co, and chairman, Bharti Foundation
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






RBI Governor D. Subbarao has, for the first time, explicitly and openly spoken against the government setting up its own Debt Management Office (DMO). The world over when central banks have modernised and moved their focus to monetary policy, they have got rid of conflicting objectives and additional responsibilities. And the government has proposed to set up its own DMO which would minimise the cost of its borrowing, go about it professionally, and do so without forcing banks to buy government securities in the statutory liquidity ratio environment. In his budget speech of 2011-12 the finance minister announced that it would be accomplished this year. Yet it seems the RBI would like to retain this job, regardless of whether this is the best allocation of responsibilities for the country or not.

This is especially disturbing in the present context. In the most recent credit policy, Subbarao had indicated that the RBI would conduct monetary policy with a focus on controlling inflation. The difficulty with the RBI's present framework is that there are conflicting objectives. So, should interest rates be raised with a view to having an impact of monetary policy on inflation when the government has large borrowings and an increase would raise interest expenditure of the government? The moment the RBI says that it opposes setting up an independent DMO, it says more about the RBI's priorities than raising the repo rate by 50 basis points does. It indicates that inflation control is not its top priority. In this scenario, it will be difficult for the RBI to change the public perception, as it tried to do with the credit policy announcement and the hawkish tone of the governor's speech.

He suggested there should be a monetary policy committee structure and the RBI should have autonomy. In other countries, when this is so, it is part of giving the central bank a clear single mandate, often inflation-targeting, and then making it accountable for that mandate. Without accepting accountability, the RBI cannot realistically expect to be given autonomy. A public institution should be responsible to the people of India. A clear framework in which this system of accountability will work can pave the way for greater autonomy. However, today, the RBI has, barely a few days after its hawkish credit policy, quickly backed away from accepting responsibility for inflation and is back to fighting turf wars on the DMO. It is a pity, and it will unfortunately take credibility away from the RBI's credit policy announcements. A monetary policy committee cannot compensate for lack of credibility.






Following the death of former Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu in a helicopter crash, the Ministry of Development of Northeastern Region (DoNER) has requested the prime minister's intervention to get scheduled airlines to operate from Assam's Tezpur and Lilabari airports bordering Arunachal. Currently, no airline operates from these airports, even though the ministry spends money maintaining the Lilabari airport just 70-odd km from Itanagar. It has cited the "strong resentment" and lowered confidence among locals following three chopper accidents within 11 days and urged the

Centre to improve air connectivity. These are people on rough and remote terrain, dependent on helicopters, services of which are now suspended, which again, the ministry claims, could affect development.

There has always been so much to do, and do earnestly, in the Northeast that any specific and immediate need ties itself up with larger, long-term development. The DoNER ministry was set up to develop the region, after it was recognised that its deprivation and underdevelopment called for a dedicated Union department. However, it was left to Arunachal to remind New Delhi time and again that if the Centre was not to be bothered by periodic Chinese noises, it had to develop the state. That involves infrastructure to begin with, followed by trade and industry, encompassing the power projects. While the airline services are an immediate need, they are undoubtedly linked to the larger transportation project of roadways to enable freer movement of people.

The Northeast is landlocked and needs gateways to markets. India may have lost out on rebuilding the Stilwell Road, but it still has the Sitwe port which can link the Northeast to the Bay of Bengal via NH 54 and the Kaladan river. There's also NH 39 and the border infrastructure project which can build a trans-Asian road system. However, Delhi hasn't moved on utilising the recast India-Bangladesh relationship. A rail and road connection through Bangladesh would make life and livelihood immensely simpler and richer for the Northeast. Within the region and without, Delhi has to act unilaterally and quickly. The Northeast not only calls for redress of its underdevelopment but also offers the pivot of India's Look East policy and geopolitical calculations in the east.







Conditional cash transfers" (CCTs) are a new buzzword in policy circles. The idea is simple: give poor people cash conditional on good behaviour such as sending children to school. This helps to score two goals in one shot: poor people get some income support, and at the same time, they take steps to lift themselves out of poverty.

CCT enthusiasm, however, is often based on a superficial reading of the Latin American experience. In Brazil, Mexico and other pioneers of this approach, CCTs were used to bring into the fold of health and education services a fringe of marginalised households, in a situation where a large majority of the population was already covered by extensive social insurance systems. CCT is basically an incentive and, predictably enough, it often works: if you pay people to do something that benefits them anyway, they tend to do it. It is the same principle as scholarships for disadvantaged children. Incidentally, there is no evidence that scholarships — that is, conditional cash transfers — work better than "conditional kind transfers" like school meals or free bicycles for girls who complete Class 8. In fact, I submit that the latter would win hands down in any sensible and sensitive evaluation of the two approaches. Be that as it may, I am not questioning the potential effectiveness of CCTs in their limited capacity of "incentive".

What is remarkably dangerous, however, is the illusion that CCTs can replace public services by enabling recipients to buy health and education services from private providers. This is not how CCTs work in, say, Brazil or Mexico. In Latin America, CCTs are usually seen as a complement, not a substitute, for public provision of health, education and other basic services. The incentives work because the services are there in the first place. In India, these basic services are still missing to a large extent, and CCTs are no substitute.

Consider, for instance, healthcare. In Brazil, basic health services such as immunisation, antenatal care, and skilled attendance at birth are virtually universal. The state has done its homework — almost half of all health expenditure in Brazil is public expenditure, compared with barely one quarter (of a much lower total) in India. In this situation, providing incentives to complete the universalisation of healthcare seems quite sensible. In India, however, public health services are virtually non-existent, and it would be very unwise to think that CCT-type programmes like the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) can fill the gap.

Another contextual difference, mentioned earlier, is that Latin American countries tend to have highly developed social insurance systems, with wide coverage. "Targeting" CCTs to marginalised groups in such a situation makes some sense, because the bulk of the population is already covered and the rest is (relatively) easy to identify. In India, however, large sections of the population are in dire need of social support, and the experience with targeting is quite sobering. Indeed, every known method of identifying "BPL" (below poverty line) households involves large exclusion errors. This is an unresolved issue for any targeted CCT initiative in India.

In short, a nuanced approach is required to the design of social security transfers. CCTs are useful in some circumstances: scholarships are one example. In other situations, like pensions for widows and the elderly, there is a case for unconditional cash transfers. Conditional transfers in kind, such as midday meals in primary schools, also have a role.

Finally, there is a place for unconditional transfers in kind, such as the Public Distribution System (PDS).

A wholesale transition from the PDS to cash transfers in rural India would, in my view, be misguided and at the very least premature. For poor people, food entitlements have several advantages over cash transfers. First, they are inflation-proof, unlike cash transfers that can be eroded by local price increases, even if they are indexed to the general price level. Second, food tends to be consumed more wisely and sparingly; cash, on the other hand, can easily be misused. Third, food is shared equitably within the family, while cash can easily be cornered by selfish individuals. Fourth, the PDS network has a much wider reach than the banking system. In remote areas, where the need for social assistance is the greatest, banking facilities are simply not ready for a system of cash transfers (as it is, they are unable to cope with NREGA wage payments). Last but not least, cash transfers are likely to bring in their trail predatory commercial interests and exploitative elements, eager to sell alcohol, branded products, fake insurance policies or other items that would contribute very little to people's nutrition or well-being.

Of course, cash transfers have their advantages too: they have lower transaction costs, are (potentially) more convenient for migrant labourers, and may be easier to monitor. Sometime in the future, when the banking system has a wider reach and the food security problem has been resolved, a cautious transition to cash transfers may be advisable. Indeed, I am not averse to the idea of a "universal basic income". But this is a somewhat futuristic idea, and for the time being, food is best.

The most common argument for cash transfers is that cash makes it possible to satisfy a variety of needs (not just food), and that people are best judges of their own priorities. Fair enough. But if people are best judges of their own interest, why not ask them whether they prefer food or cash? In my limited experience, poor people tend to prefer food, with a gradual shift from food-preference to cash-preference among better-off households. Further, poor people tend to give very convincing reasons for preferring food. I am more inclined to listen to them than to the learned champions of cash transfers.

The writer is an honorary professor at the Delhi School of Economics and a member of the National Advisory Council








It may appear that IPL 4 lacks the spark and intensity of prior seasons, and that there has been an overdose of cricket over the past few months, especially since much of the excitement and passion has been spent on the cricket World Cup. This has led to what many claim is the stark divide between cricket as a national pastime and cricket as entertainment. While it is unfair to gauge the IPL with the same yardstick as one uses for what was a dream World Cup 2011 for every Indian, the past couple of weeks have witnessed developments that are worrying for the IPL's long-term growth and viability.

Of immediate concern is the choice that cricketers are forced to make with regard to playing for their countries or for their career sustainability. In particular, the situation faced by two impact cricketers — Chris Gayle and his ongoing tussle with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), and Lasith Malinga's retirement from Test and his impending dispute with the Sri Lankan Cricket Board. Both men, implicitly or explicitly, have made it clear that the IPL is a format they are keen to participate in and, in fact, excel in. Gayle is set to become the leading batsman in IPL 4 and has put Royal Challengers Bangalore in firm contention for winning it all, while Mumbai Indians' Malinga is virtually unplayable and the best bowler in this tournament by a long slingshot.

This isn't the end of it. The league-versus-country debate is an issue that has just begun to rear its ugly head in the game. Cricket is besieged with complications, largely due to the tri-format calendar, the swamped commitments by different cricket boards, the dichotomous earning capabilities of cricketers and, above all else, the diverse priorities of the varying stakeholders.

In the upcoming ICC world cricket schedule for the next seven-eight years, bilateral series are likely to overlap each of the future editions of the IPL. Not only that, in four of the five upcoming seasons, the IPL will follow immediately after an ICC world event — thus leaving the IPL, again, susceptible to saturation and declining viewership/ revenue. What this will lead to is either uncertainty in choosing rosters for teams — IPL or national, or it could lead to warring factions of boards making fair or unfair demands of the ICC, BCCI and, even more unfortunate, the players.

This is of greater concern to the league than boredom, overdose and over-commercialism. With the Sri Lankan board causing a stir by initially recalling its IPL players for the England tour, and the WICB expressing its disappointment in Gayle's decision, there is bound to be a time when national team vs career will be a dilemma for most international cricketers. Apart from the BCCI and, to a lesser extent, a few other national boards, the fact remains that no other cricket board can afford to remunerate its players enough to incentivise their commitment to the national team.

Scheduling and reconciliation of contrasting priorities at the global level and a strong governing body are needed to ensure that this situation does not spiral out of control. Placating and accommodating may not always be feasible, as seems to have been done by officially recognising and blessing the seven-team Sri Lankan Premier League earlier this week.

While indentured servitude is no longer an option for cricket boards, what may ensue is a glut of mass retirements by stars from international cricket, due to unfair pressure being imposed on them. And there's no one to blame for this. A cricketer has a limited window of opportunity and the IPL is just reward for the wear and tear that each international or domestic cricketer has subjected his body and dreams to.

There are lessons to be learnt from how other sports are managed, especially football. The FIFA World Cup and the international commitments of all countries are factored into the league schedules. Therefore, teams, state and national football federations, players, sponsors and the international governing body are all on the same page in a seamless calendar.

Due to its unique nature and various formats, cricket cannot emulate the football model without clear-cut direction from the the ICC. The difficulty also lies in the fact that the IPL, despite being an "official" cricket league, does not actually have a place in the international calendar. Therefore, the ICC and the BCCI/ IPL overlap, and this is why the league vs country debate is unlikely to be resolved unless the stakeholders work together.

Across sports, national duty is for the national team and living the dream, while league participation is for personal achievement and career security. Therefore, it is unfair to all stakeholders to expect choices to be made without some sort of resolution and compromise. How the ICC, BCCI and the other boards resolve this potential conflict will go a long way in determining the parameters within which the IPL is allowed to grow.

The writer is a sports attorney







Every teacher in a journalism school and, subsequently, every guru in a newsroom tells you one central principle: never approach a story with pre-conceived notions or prejudices. Yet, every journalist, even one with the vintage of this reporter, does precisely that. Particularly if it happens to be a story as old and contentious as West Bengal politics. And the fact that you hold a strong view on it, as I do, as a critic of the Left doesn't help. So you can begin by believing every negative stereotype about the politics of a remarkable state that has kept in power one party, and one with which I, and this newspaper, have had an intellectual argument. These stereotypes range from de-industrialisation to forced industrialisation at the cost of farming, massive urban decay and rural deprivation, a reign of terror, total under-development and destitution, and so on. And it is precisely because you begin your travels through West Bengal with all this baggage, reading the writings on the walls, hearing the mood on the street and sniffing the political air for a hawa of some sorts, that it is such a remarkable reality check.

Remarkable, because most of what you presumed about West Bengal under the Left, does not fully measure up to facts on the ground, and that is a surprise. Remarkable also because you learn that Bengal politics is more complex than you had imagined and so might be the reasons why its voters have made up their minds to bring about a stunning change — in spite of the reality not quite matching up to your notions of the governance disaster here.

Over four days of travels through Bengal's southwest, that includes some of its poorest, driest districts (Bankura, Purulia and even Midnapore to some extent), its own Jamshedpur-lite (Durgapur) and an industrial showpiece that could have been, in Singur, one thing you do not see is hunger. Never a beggar, never a human being sitting or lying helpless by the street, even in villages that are nothing but mud-hovels. In the driest zones, deep into the Maoist heartland of Lalgarh, made famous by the siege that rendered it "liberated" for months in 2008 and 2009, you find not just borewells, but even fully functional handpumps. Roads are in excellent condition, and a real surprise. Primary school buildings, health centres all look functional, even if not of the showpiece quality you might find in Gujarat or even Tamil Nadu. Everybody is properly clothed, nobody, repeat nobody, is in bare feet. So why are people so angry?

Come with us, the usual motley group of journalists, psephologists, economists and financial whiz-kids, the self-styled Limousine Liberals, cross the barrage on the Damodar on the road running from Durgapur through Bankura district where the land gets drier with each mile, and stop at the village of Makurgram. There is a reasonable road connecting the main population set about a mile back from the highway. There is electricity and, most importantly, a borewell and a water tank. Yet, why does everybody complain of water being the biggest problem? You find out soon enough: as the tank was built, the CPM thugs put a red flag on it and announced that only those approved by them — meaning their party loyalists — would be allowed access to. That story then repeats in many versions at every stop you make. At the college in Barjora, where Mamata holds her election rally in a mud-pile playground, you are told of how almost all the teachers are CPM cadres. Ditto for the schoolteachers in Parbellia Colliery in Purulia, in Dharmapur near Lalgarh, and in Lalgarh itself. And why is that such a problem? Because one, it tells you that unless you are a party faithful, you cannot get any of these government jobs. Two, schools and colleges, even district magistrates' offices hardly function as so many days each month all these party cadres have to go and participate in "michils" (political rallies). Mamata Banerjee has built her campaign as an "azadi ki ladai" on a folklore of Marxist tyranny, of intimidation, torture and reprisals. On the ground, however, it is more a story of politically determined deprivation: an almost George Bush-like if you are not with us, you must be against us, so you will not get water, jobs, hospital admissions, anything. It is not always a narrative of physical thrashing or rape, but over 34 years, the piled-up anger is bad enough, so bad that Mamata can pretty much choose her script, and people will say yes, Didi.

Not that Didi needs much help with her script, or style. Having played the victim for three decades, she now strides on the stage like a giant-killer. You can tell she has this election in the bag even with the enthusiasm with which people, on a burnishing and sultry afternoon in Barjora, receive her helicopter, which lands kicking up a cloud of lung-choking red, haematite dust. Didi has no time to sit, nor the patience. She strides up and down the stage, not looking at anything or anybody in particular, just walking, like a tigress stalking its already-cornered prey, contemplating when to make the killer leap. She absentmindedly gives the odd instruction to a worker or two, totally ignoring the local crowd-warmer singing her praises. Then she takes the microphone.

Now I have made my living as a travelling reporter dealing with many great rhetoricians and polemicists, people who could light a mutiny just with their remarkable skills at talking to large crowds, the kind of rabble-rouser the subcontinent specialises in producing: Bhindranwale, Kanshi Ram, Benazir Bhutto, Altaf Hussain of Pakistan's MQM, Assam's Prafulla Mahanta and Bhrigu Phukan in their better days as student leaders, and far away, even Bill Clinton. Each of them had a distinctive style, but had one thing in common: their ability to keep eye contact with their audience, an elementary skill any school of public-speaking will teach you first. But don't say that to Mamata.

She grabs the wireless microphone and continues to stride across the stage and back, talking, never looking at the audience, and yet getting it to respond as I have seen nobody else do in an election in years. She looks at nobody, in fact, just the floor now, the ceiling then, or just the odd cloud hanging low here and there. She just strides the ten yards to the other end, and does a quick turnaround like a lonely sentry in some commando comics kind of movies, the microphone her rifle, and just recites a script that her audience knows by heart already. And, more importantly, believes in.

To be fair, she has worked on her message. It is not merely an old harangue about Marxist tyranny, though that is not missing either. She has picked up real issues, those that bedevil the people of her state. She attacks the Left for having banished from government primary schools and robbing an entire generation of Bengalis of all competitive opportunity. "All your children were forced to sing..." she says, and, anticipating, the crowd joins her as she chants the popular Bengali popular kindergarten equivalent of A for apple:

Aw-e ajgar aschhe tere

Aa-e aamti khabo pere...

It is tough to translate this, but it would be something like, A for ajgar (python) which is chasing after you, Aa for aamti (that is mango which you pluck from the tree), and so on. And while your children were chanting this, she asks, what were the children of the Marxist leaders singing? Twinkle-twinkle little star, the front rows answer. "Now your children are begging for peons' jobs, and theirs have gone to England to become barristers." She rests her case. Or, as a mathematician would have said, QED.

She knows the pulse of her people, and their pain. She promises modern schools, colleges and new specialty hospitals so you won't have to run to "Madras" anytime somebody in your family falls sick. For the first time, you also hear a mainstream leader make environment an election issue: illegal, unregulated coal mining, totally illegal sponge iron factories have destroyed your air, I will clean it up in six months. And then, her condemnations, indictments and promises delivered, she finally turns to her audience, fist raised, Netaji style, and sets up a chant of "CPM aar na" (CPM no more), and then quickly disappears after making the shortest possible introduction of the candidates you have seen any campaigner make. They are not important in this election, you know, as Didi makes ten stops a day, each time lighting a fire in a region so much the CPM's it even defied her storm in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

Off the campaign stage, though, Mamata is more cautious than you have ever seen her to be. Election in the bag, she is not willing to take any chances, no false step, no false statement. "Shekhar da, yeh jung hai, ajaadi ka ladayee hai, abhi kuch bolega nahin hum... yeh CPM log mere workers ka murder kar dega," is all she will say even when you congratulate her on her "victory".

Decent roads, functional schools, electrification, food in the belly, clothing, footwear. So if the Left rule answers your basic needs of roti-kapda-makaan and even bijli-sadak and padhai to a reasonable extent, what are you complaining about? The state has reduced poverty faster than most of the country, has literacy levels above the national average. Search for evidence from the writings on the wall. In vast rural parts of this region, the walls have nothing to sell to you, the clearest indication of this being a zone where people have nothing left in their pockets after filling their bellies. No factories, no offices, no sign at all of that new phenomenon, private engineering, management and medical colleges, springing up elsewhere in the Indian countryside, holding out the comfort of higher education, promise of jobs higher up the value chain than subsistence on your miserable half-acre farm of paddy, okra or sesame, or as a NREGA labourer. There is nothing, nothing at all, to signal hope, opportunity, the promise of a better future. Where the Left has gone wrong is in internalising unquestioningly the idea of a Marxist Utopia, of a non-urbanising rural population where everybody should not only be satisfied but also send you thank you cards for not being made to starve or exploited as share-croppers, unlike their forefathers. They missed the fact meanwhile that this is not North Korea, that people here change, their desperation yielding to aspiration. It is for this reason that the Left now faces the double-blow, the one-two punch, whatever you call it, of politics of grievance (because of its cadres' excesses) and politics of aspiration. Its self-serving notion of a perfect, minimalistic, subsistence-farming rural Bengal where everybody has enough for his "needs" now lies in a shambles. In four days of travels in mostly farming countryside, I searched far and wide for that one symbol of agricultural success and surplus, the tractor. I found one, in desperate Lalgarh of all places, and its owner told me he had been contracted to transport barbed wire for the CRPF. And who can you blame? Most landholdings, post Operation Barga, are just like a kitchen garden in an old Gurgaon house, too small to even justify a pair of bullocks. And people of Bengal will no longer be satisfied living off what it yields, and the humiliating NREGA handouts.







Labour Intensive

In his article in the CPM mouthpiece People's Democracy, Prabhat Patnaik counters the argument that the absence of labour-market flexibility — "the absolute right of employers to hire and fire workers as and when they please, without any let or hindrance" — has been holding up employment growth in the country. He says there is no empirical evidence for this claim.

The argument, Patnaik says, does not recognise the issue of workers' motivation at all. It believes that fear alone will be enough to make them work, that their motivations are irrelevant. "With this fear-instilling mechanism in place, it sees workers as potentially reducible to inhuman objects appended to machines and no different from machines," he says.

The article says that this reduction of the worker to the level of an object is both the premise and the objective of capitalism. It adds, "Neo-liberalism, with its insistence upon labour market flexibility, is nothing else but a reassertion of this elemental drive of capitalism."

Obama's Osama

An editorial in the CPI organ New Age says the media frenzy in India over the killing of Osama bin Laden can only be compared to the furore "shown by the media and the ruling politicians" after Vajpayee government's Pokhran II. "At that time too nobody was ready to pay heed to any sensible voice. Anything against the nuclear test was termed 'unpatriotic' and 'anti-national'," it says.

The media, the piece says, is reporting all that is "originating from Washington" to justify what President Barack Obama has done to "boost his own election campaign" for the second term. It has also been used to "obliterate very serious developments in the Arab world where Obama administration is really in a Catch-22 situation". The editorial says that in the hype, everyone has forgotten that Osama himself was a creation of the CIA. "The US imperialists have harvested during the past decade what they had sowed in 1979 by promoting Jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet forces there... If there is a global network of terrorism, it is for the Americans to shoulder the full blame."

Chase the Drop

An editorial in People's Democracy has called for the extradition of Kim Davy, the prime accused in the Purulia arms drop case, who alleged that the Narasimha Rao government had allowed arms to be dropped to destabilise the West Bengal government.

"The matter," the article says, "is much more serious in the sense that, if this allegation is true, the central government itself permitted a grievous breach of Indian security to allow these arms to be dropped... It is indeed a grave matter that in order to achieve its political and electoral objectives, the central government led by the Congress party was prepared to undermine the very Constitution under whose oath they were in office."

It has demanded a judicial probe into the episode.








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.






Both Air India's management and the civil aviation ministry have reason to be worried about the contents of the Deloitte review of Air India's turnaround plan. As FE reported yesterday, the consultant has poured a lot of cold water on the turnaround plan, using terms as 'ambitious', 'conceivable in principle' and requiring 'massive reorientation efforts'. None of this should be too surprising when you consider that, when it comes to the domestic market, the market share AI is targeting—21% in five years, from the current 17%—assumes competing airlines, which are beating the pants off AI, will grow at 10% annually as compared to Air India's 22%. In the international market, the plan assumes that while the overall market will grow by 8-9% annually, AI's traffic will grow by 15% as compared to the competition's 3-4%. Even more ambitious is what's planned in terms of cost structure which, Deloitte points out, will imply AI's cost structure will be significantly lower than that of Kingfisher and Jet over the next 5 years and only higher than that of low-cost carrier SpiceJet.

What Deloitte says about the ministry is even more scathing. It begins by talking of how AI's consultants had suggested 87 narrow-body aircraft be bought, but 143 such planes were bought. Deloitte doesn't formally talk of the liberal policy of giving out bilateral rights to competing airlines in the past while getting AI to buy more planes—that's hugely increasing the competition while saddling AI with debt whose servicing alone requires AI to raise revenues 2-3 times! But while evaluating the global plan, it quotes the aviation minister on his plans to go easy on awarding bilateral rights to competitors and says the plans 'seem to be achievable' if there is no relaxation in the 'competitive scenario'. That's a big if, and the government needs to be clear on whether it will in fact restrict competition in the international market—earlier, Praful Patel had argued more bilaterals lowered air fares and he was the minister for India, not Air India.

So, should AI just be shut, given what's been said? As this newspaper has held, if the government is serious about reviving AI, it needs to make a commitment on restricting global competition, it needs to give AI the necessary equity to get it out of the debt trap it was put in. Above all, as Deloitte says, the business model entails 'huge operational complexities' and requires an 'experienced transformation team'. Think of how Gustav Baldauf, an important part of that transformation team, was hounded out, and you see just how shallow the commitment is; think of how easy it is for pilots, loaders and freeloaders to get an audience with the ministry. This is Arvind Jadhav's job, not Vayalar Ravi's. Let's agree on that to begin with.





RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao is right when he says inflation targeting is neither feasible nor advisable in India. But while saying this, it's important to keep in mind RBI does do inflation-targeting, it's just that inflation-control is not RBI's sole focus. So, RBI has to look at policies that will help raise growth rates, help in raising financial inclusion, ensuring exchange rates are stable, and so on. If RBI wasn't doing informal inflation-targeting, we wouldn't have had a situation as happened some years ago when, while the finance ministry was in favour of a loose monetary policy, RBI's view and actions were quite different. In any case, as Subbarao has pointed out, inflation-targeting is complicated in India since there are administered rates on postal savings as well as other rigidities in financial markets.

It's not too clear why Subbarao opposed the separation of the Debt Management Office (DMO) from RBI since the public perception is RBI signed on to the separation proposed by the finance ministry. If anything, RBI should welcome the move as it frees it from the conflict that comes when it is in charge of placing government debt as well as managing inflation—as the government's debt-manager, RBI would want a looser monetary policy while, as the controller of inflation, it may want a tighter policy. That said, though, the independent DMO has to work in close coordination with RBI—placement of government debt affects interest rates and you can't have RBI playing one tune while the government plays another. Which is why, even today, the amount of government's borrowing calender, made in consultation with RBI, is made public at the beginning of the year.

Indeed, it is not practical for a central bank to be fully autonomous from the central government. While there has to be functional autonomy, in times of crisis (such as the one in 2008) both fiscal and monetary policy have to work in complete coordination. Perhaps what the RBI Governor had in mind when he said a legally-backed autonomous structure of the central bank was required was really the issue of functional autonomy, of its primacy among financial sector regulators, for instance.






As Indian capital markets have increasingly looked to attract foreign investors, capital from abroad has become an important source of financing for local Indian firms. However, poor corporate governance is one reason foreign institutional investors may be reluctant to invest in many Indian companies. According to a recent study titled "Do Foreigners Invest Less in Poorly Governed Firms?" that was published in The Review of Financial Studies*, which is one of the three elite journals in finance, foreigners are wary of investing in a firm in which the managers are also its controlling shareholders since foreign investors fear that these "insiders" may not act in the investors' best interest.

As witnessed in the recent stock price declines of companies embroiled in the 2G scandal, the price of a firm's stock reflects the consequences of weak corporate governance since investors protect themselves by lowering the price they are willing to pay to ensure that they obtain a fair return. However, since domestic investors may possess more information about the local business environment compared to foreigners, the price of the firm's stock will reflect primarily what the locals know. The stock price will not reflect the cost that foreigners would have to incur in figuring out whether to invest in a company. In other words, the share price will not be low enough to adequately compensate foreign investors.

Locals have the upper hand in unravelling the activities of corporate insiders, which puts foreign investors at a significant disadvantage. In emerging markets like India, where many businesses are controlled by families, for instance, local investors have a better chance of understanding the complex and often opaque nature of political and business connections, banking relations, and other social and institutional factors that can affect the quality of corporate governance. Locals have a better sense of whether families run their companies in a way that benefits everybody or engage in transactions that harm outside investors. For foreigners who are thousands of miles away, it is much harder to make such assessments. As a result, foreign investors may shy away from companies with weak governance.

Foreign institutional investors need to understand insider relationships and the quality of corporate governance in a firm, particularly when the firm operates in a country where investors are poorly protected. Furthermore, developing such an understanding becomes more costly in countries where firms do not provide information transparently. The authors of this study analyse the impact of corporate governance on foreign holdings of US institutional investors for a large sample of firms across many countries. They measure governance as the extent to which managers and their families control their companies. A high level of control implies that it would be easier for insiders to take advantage of small investors because their decisions cannot be challenged by any other large group of shareholders. Although the presence of powerful insiders is not always bad, its implications are difficult for foreigners to figure out.

The study finds strong evidence that US investors hold significantly fewer shares in a firm where insiders exert substantial control if the firm is located in a country where disclosure requirements are weak, securities regulations are lax, and outside shareholders are weakly protected by law. In contrast, if a similar firm (i.e. one where inside shareholders exert managerial control) is located in a country that provides strong protection to investors and requires more transparent disclosure by firms, these firms do not experience less foreign investment.

In fact, the study shows that its findings do not simply depend on a country's economic development but appear to be directly related to its legal institutions and rules on disclosure and investor protection. To find out if poor information is indeed at the centre of the study's results, the authors look at the impact of "earnings management" on foreigners' decisions to invest abroad. Under this practice, managers use their discretion in financial reporting. Managers can abuse their discretion to manipulate earnings in order to give the impression of a healthier bottom line. Foreigners may stay away from firms that manage earnings if they feel the practice substantially reduces transparency. In fact, the study finds that investors hold fewer foreign stocks if there is evidence of earnings management, especially if the firm is located in a country with weak disclosure requirements and investor protection.

The incentive to manipulate earnings is naturally higher in firms where the ownership structure makes this easier to do so, such as when managers and their families control a company.

To fully understand the mechanism behind the relationship between corporate governance and foreign investment, the authors analyse the combined impact on foreign holdings if firms frequently practice earnings management and if the company has a weak governance structure.

The authors find that in countries with little investor protection, foreigners avoid investing abroad when earnings management is prevalent and when there is a high level of insider control. This combined effect is more significant than the impact on foreign holdings of insider control alone, which is expected since not all family-run companies deliberately hide information from investors. These results confirm the authors' prediction that inadequate transparency associated with poor corporate governance is what prevents foreigners from investing abroad.

The authors find a substantial economic effect of corporate governance on US institutional investors' inclination to provide capital to a foreign firm. In a country where the transparency of corporate disclosures is low, US institutional investors do not mind investing in firms till the inflection point of 28% ownership by family/management is reached. However, beyond this inflection point, any increase in ownership by family/management increases US institutional investors' reluctance to investing in such firms. This inflection point is quite plausible in the Indian context since 28% ownership is usually sufficient for insiders to be effectively in control of the firm.

* "Do Foreigners Invest Less in Poorly Governed Firms?" Christian Leuz, Karl V Lins and Francis E Warnock. Review of Financial Studies, August 2009.

The author is a PhD in finance from the University of Chicago and is currently a faculty in finance at the Indian School of Business







The steel ministry has once again started working on a national steel policy. If the effort fructifies, it will have to be called a new national steel policy since currently a national steel policy is in force, since 2005. Why do we need a new policy within just six years, and in an old economy sector, which is totally deregulated. The steel secretary has justified this, in an interview, by referring to changing parameters, growing demand and changed underlying assumptions. In his words: "The current policy estimated steel demand would reach 120 MT by 2020. It was finalised in 2005, assuming a 6.9% growth and a 7.5% growth in economy. However, in the last five years, India has expanded at 9%, with the steel sector growing at a 9.2% CAGR. We expect India's steel demand will reach 120 MT by 2013-14. We expect this demand to be maintained or to grow with investment in infrastructure."

Implicit in his statement is that the task of formulating a steel policy is fairly simple: Gauge demand by a model and fix a target. How to achieve it is a different story altogether, and that becomes clear if one goes through the 15-page national steel policy—in terms of achieving the goal of 120 MT by 2020, it only outlines the requirements that anybody broadly familiar with the sector would also know and does not require this document.

Well, let's see the development since the time the steel policy was made in 2005. That year, the South Korean steel manufacturer Posco announced its plan to set up a 12 MT plant in India. It has only recently been able to get some kind of an approval, which may see it finally set up the plant. In 2006, LN Mittal also announced setting up a 24 MT plant in India, not even a tonne's production has begun yet. The year 2005 saw numerous private steel manufacturers entering into MoUs with state governments for steel plants, not a single one has seen the light of the day yet.

Tata Steel was then a 4 MT company, ranking 55th in the world in terms of production capacity. In 2007, it acquired Corus and emerged as the world's fifth largest producer. In the interim, it also acquired NatSteel and Millennium Steel overseas, thus increasing its capacity.

Early this year, JSW Steel, another major domestic producer hungry for growth, acquired a 41.29% stake in Ispat Industries, thus raising its overall capacity very close to the country's largest steel producer, the state-owned SAIL. Tata Steel's expansion in the domestic market through greenfield ventures is moving slowly because of regulatory hurdles and similar is the case with JSW Steel. Both had to look towards acquisition to shore up capacities.

This makes it clear that whatever capacity addition has taken place in the last six years and whatever growth the companies achieved were despite the government in general and the national steel policy in specific. If the industry does not need any steel policy, as the 2005 exercise shows, why waste time? However, the steel ministry can make this exercise meaningful by addressing the core issues where the industry needs its help, something which it did not do in 2005.

What's the single biggest demand of the industry in the steel sector today? Problem of land to set up plants and getting linkages to iron ore mines to feed their steel plants. The other crucial raw material depending upon technology is coking coal, but since India does not have enough reserves as well as quality coal required for steel making, this has to be largely imported. Both are beset with problems and the 2005 policy does not offer any road map. With regard to iron ore, it simply describes the scenario and highlights what needs to be done, which is simply a statement of intent. It is fine for an analyst to do so but not for the government, which needs to offer a solution and a clear road map. On land, the policy is totally silent as if the problem does not exist!

Will the steel ministry be able to solve these two problems in its new national steel policy? No chance, looking at the way it is going about the process. Iron ore is not in its domain but in the realm of the mines ministry and land is a state subject riddled with several other regulatory hurdles. Unless the ministry doesn't approach the government to set up a GoM, which has representation from other related ministries, the exercise to come out with a policy would be meaningless. If it is really serious about coming out with a policy, first of all it should press for a GoM. This body then should identify sites, both land and iron ore mines, and acquire them, and subsequently offer them to the industry through competitive bids. All regulatory clearances, like environmental, should be taken care of by this government agency. A policy initiative only by the steel ministry does not make sense as all areas—be it trade-related, mines and coal, power, land, and road and rail tariff—are outside its purview.

In short, there has to be unified approach to policymaking rather than an isolated approach, which seems the case currently.

Without this, the 2011 steel policy will be as meaningless as the one drafted in 2005 and some six years later the exercise will have to be repeated.







Hollywood has done its bit. But as a reply to why bin Laden was discovered living in relative comfort in the heart of Pakistan, not by the country's own military or intelligence agencies but by the U.S., Prime Minister Gilani's account falls far short of an adequate explanation. His characterisation of this failure as that of "all the intelligence agencies in the world" comes across more as an attempt to deflect blame than as a response born out of honest introspection by the Pakistan state. Even as a history lesson, Mr. Gilani's statement was incomplete. No one pushed Pakistan into the first Afghan war; Pakistan's military under General Zia ul Haq made a calculated choice to participate in it. Aside from the U.S. support, Saudi Arabia generously poured money into Pakistan to create a culture of jihad. After the war, the same military and its intelligence agencies decided to deploy some of those jihadists to establish a pro-Pakistan regime in Afghanistan, while others were despatched for the task of 'liberating' Kashmir from India. No Pakistan army chief has ever made an attempt to institutionally repudiate the Zia legacy. No civilian government has dared to do it. By the time of 9/11, the poison of jihad had gone so deep into Pakistan that any effort to purge it was bound to take generations of cleansing. Whichever way you slice this cake, Pakistan's paramount institution, its military, cannot escape the blame for l'affaire OBL, notwithstanding Mr. Gilani's clean chit to it and the Inter-Services Intelligence.

Prime Minister Gilani announced in parliament that an "investigation has been ordered" into the entire episode. He did not specify any terms of reference or a time frame for this. But The Guardian has provided the interesting lead that in 2001, the Bush administration struck a deal with General Pervez Musharraf, then the military ruler of Pakistan, that permitted a unilateral U.S. operation against bin Laden on Pakistani soil. The agreement is said to have been renewed in 2008, when the present Army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, was in charge. While the full truth about how OBL managed to hide in Abbottabad may never come out, it is time for the Pakistan military to face up to some truths about itself — and about its role in bringing the country to its present state.





Asia may be leading the world in terms of economic recovery from the recent global crisis, but in one critical area it remains a laggard: employment of women. A recent publication by the International Labour Organisation and the Asian Development Bank, "Women and Labour Markets in Asia: Rebalancing for gender equality," makes out a strong case for effective policy interventions in this important segment of the labour market for two main reasons — the untapped economic potential and the effect on meeting the region's development goals. The finding that the Asia and Pacific region loses up to $47 billion annually because of the limited access given to women for employment and another $16-30 billion as a result of gender gaps in education drives home the magnitude of the social opportunities lost.

But it is not merely the missed growth in incomes that matters. Deeper still lie stubborn differentials that persist between the genders in various attributes of employment — the type of jobs and the regularity of incomes, for instance — reducing women to serve as the "buffer workforce." South Asia is home to the highest percentage of women in vulnerable employment: 84.5 per cent in 2009, compared with the global average of 52.9 per cent. This vulnerability is exacerbated by the high and rising informalisation of the workforce. The strong link between informal employment and poverty calls for urgent policy interventions to break the vicious cycle. Of the interventions suggested by the ILO and the ADB, two are crucial: better-designed public employment programmes that factor in gender sensitivity and a mechanism to provide for social security. The immediate and long-term effects of these two measures will be highly beneficial. For example, the study provides persuasive evidence that India's Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has been successful in bringing in unskilled women agricultural workers to this public works programme as private wages for women are lower in the farm sector. Such public works-based solutions, howsoever effective they may be, can only be interim measures. In the long term what matters are coordinated policies that mainstream gender issues in employment. Rising India has everything to gain — economically, socially, and morally — by quickly initiating a process that will empower the women in the workforce.







It was in April-May 1968, that the country witnessed the wonderful spectacle of large arrivals of wheat grain in the mandis of Punjab like Moga and Khanna. Wheat production in the country rose to nearly 17 million tonnes that year, from the previous best harvest of 12 million tonnes. Indira Gandhi released a special stamp titled "Wheat Revolution" in July 1968, to mark this new phase in our agricultural evolution. The nation rejoiced at our coming out of a "ship to mouth" existence. Later in 1968, Dr. William Gaud of the U.S. referred to the quantum jumps in production brought about by semi-dwarf varieties of wheat and rice as a "green revolution." This term has since come to symbolise a steep rise in productivity and, thereby, of production of major crops.

Wheat production this year may reach a level of 85 million tonnes, in contrast to the seven million tonnes our farmers harvested at the time of independence in 1947. I visited several grain mandis in Moga, Khanna, Khananon and other places in the Punjab during April 23-27, 2011 and experienced, concurrently, a feeling of ecstasy and agony. It was heart-warming to see the great work done by our farm men and women under difficult circumstances when, often, they had to irrigate the fields at night due to a lack of availability of power during the day. The cause of agony was the way the grains produced by farmers with loving care were being handled. The various State marketing agencies and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) are trying their best to procure and store the mountains of grains arriving every day. The gunny bags containing the wheat procured during April-May 2010, are still occupying a considerable part of the storage space available at several mandis. The condition of the grains of earlier years presents a sad sight. The impact of moisture on the quality of paddy is even worse. Malathion sprays and fumigation with Aluminium Sulphide tablets are used to prevent grain spoilage. Safe storage involves attention to both quantity and quality. Grain safety is as important as grain saving. Due to rain and relatively milder temperature, grain arrivals were initially slow, but have now picked up. For all concerned with the procurement, dispatch and storage of wheat grains in the Punjab-Haryana-Western U.P. region, which is the heartland of the green revolution, the task on hand is stupendous.

Farmers in Punjab contribute nearly 40 per cent of the wheat and 26 per cent of the rice needed to sustain the public distribution system. The legal entitlement to food envisaged under the proposed National Food Security Act cannot be implemented without the help of the farm families of Punjab, Haryana and other grain surplus areas. Farmers are currently facing serious problems during production and post-harvest phases of farming due to inadequate investment in farm machinery and storage infrastructure. The investment made and steps taken to ensure environmentally sustainable production and safe storage and efficient distribution of grains will determine the future of both agriculture in Punjab and national food security.

On the production side, the ecological foundations essential for sustainable food production are in distress. There is an over-exploitation of the aquifer and nearly 70 per cent of irrigated area shows a negative water balance. The quality of the water is also deteriorating due to the indiscriminate use of pesticides and mineral fertilizer. Over 50,000 ha of crop land in the south-west region of Punjab are affected by water logging and salinisation. Deficiencies of Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Zinc are affecting 66, 48 and 22 per cent of soils in Punjab respectively. No wonder factor productivity, i.e., return from a unit of input, is going down. Unless urgent steps are taken to convert the green revolution into an ever-green revolution leading to the enhancement of productivity in perpetuity without associated ecological harm, both agriculture in Punjab and our public distribution system will be in danger. Worried about the future fate of farming as a profession, the younger generation is unwilling to follow in the footsteps of their parents and remain on the farm. This is the greatest worry. If steps are not taken to attract and retain youth in farming, the older generation will have no option but to sell land to real estate agents, who are all the time tempting them with attractive offers. Global prices of wheat, rice and maize are almost 50 per cent higher than the minimum support price paid to our farmers. Our population is now over 1.2 billion and we can implement a sustainable and affordable food security system only with home-grown food.

A disturbing finding of Census-2011 is the deteriorating sex ratio in the Punjab-Haryana region. The female-male ratio among children has come to its lowest point since independence. Already, women are shouldering a significant portion of farm work. If the current trends of youth migrating from villages coupled with a drop in the sex ratio continue, agricultural progress will be further endangered. The prevailing preference for a male child is in part due to the fear of farm land going out of a family's control, when the girl child gets married. I hope the loss of interest in taking to farming as a profession among male youth will remove the bias in favour of male children. I foresee an increasing feminisation of agriculture in the green revolution areas. While the drop in the sex ratio should be halted, steps are also needed to intensify the design, manufacture and distribution of women friendly farm machinery.

Tasks ahead: The first task is to defend the gains already made in improving the productivity and production of wheat, rice, maize and other crops. For the purpose of providing the needed technologies, it will be advisable to set up soon a Multi-disciplinary Research and Training Centre for Sustainable Agriculture at the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. This centre can be organised under the National Action Plan for the Management of Climate Change developed under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister, which includes a Mission for Sustainable Agriculture. Such a centre should initiate a Land and Water Care Movement in the Punjab in association with the farming community. The other urgent task is the promotion of appropriate changes in land use. Over 2.7 million ha are now under rice leading to the unsustainable exploitation of the ground water. Our immediate aim should be to find alternative land use for about a million ha under rice. This will be possible only if farmers can get income similar to that they are now earning from rice. Possible alternative crops will be maize and arhar (Pigeon pea). Quality Protein Maize will fetch a premium price from the poultry industry which is fast growing in the Punjab. Arhar being a legume will also enrich soil fertility as well as soil physical properties. Other high value but low water requiring crops like pulses and oilseeds can also be promoted. At the same time, there could be diversified basmati rice production in over a million ha. In addition to Pusa Basmati 1121 which occupies the largest area now, Pusa Basmati-I (1460) and Pusa Basmati 6 (1401) can be promoted. These have resistance to bacterial leaf blight. Varietal diversity will reduce genetic vulnerability to pests and diseases.

For handling the over 26 million tonnes of wheat which will be purchased during this season, a four-pronged strategy may be useful. First, distribution through railway wagons could be expanded and expedited. One wagon can handle 2,500 tonnes. Currently 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes of wheat are being dispatched each day through wagons. With advanced planning, this quantity can be raised to over 1 lakh tonnes per day. They can be dispatched to different States for meeting the needs of PDS, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), School Noon Meal Programme, Annapoorna, etc. Second, the present Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and godown storage systems can be improved with a little more investment and planning. In Punjab there are 146 mandis and 1,746 Purchase Points. They could be grouped and their infrastructure improved. Third, storage in modern silos, like the one put up at Moga by Adani Agri-logistics, and another one coming up in Amritsar, should be promoted. This will help to adopt an end- to-end system from the point of view of procurement, cleaning, quality assurance, safe storage and distribution. The cost of building silos to store a million tonnes of food grains may be about Rs.600 crore, if the required land is made available by state governments. An investment of about Rs.10,000 crore would help to establish a grid of modern grain storages with a capacity for storing, in good condition, over 15 million tonnes in the Punjab-Haryana-Western U.P. region. Lastly, export options can be explored after taking steps to make food available to the hungry, as suggested by the Supreme Court. Also, we should ensure that adequate food grains will be available for implementing the proposed Food Security Act. Export should be done only if the global food prices are attractive and if the profit made is distributed as bonus to our farmers, as suggested by the National Commission on Farmers.

It is time that we organise a National grid of grain storages, starting with storage at the farm level in well designed bins and extending to rural godowns and regional ultra-modern silos. Post harvest losses can then be minimised or even eliminated and food safety ensured. Unless the prevailing mismatch between production and post-harvest technologies is ended, neither the producer nor the consumer will derive full benefit from bumper harvests.

( M.S. Swaminathan is Chairman, MSSRF, and Member of Parliament of the Rajya Sabha.)








The "sabre-rattling" from different quarters in the Indian civil and military hierarchy has reinforced the growing perception in Pakistan that a hawkish security mindset and establishment is determining the mainstream narrative in India vis-à-vis Pakistan and the well-meaning Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may not be able to stay the course of dialogue.

This was articulated in no uncertain terms last Thursday by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir who described the post-"Operation Geronimo" remarks by senior Indian political and military leaders as symptomatic of trends and tendencies within India which were trying to subvert Dr. Singh's agenda of normalising ties with Pakistan.

Earlier in the week, he had dismissed demands in India for surgical strikes against terror camps in Pakistan on the lines of the U.S. operation against al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as "a line of thinking mired in a mindset that is neither realistic nor productive".

That Pakistan's civil and military leadership should warn of "terrible catastrophe" if India took this route was only to be expected after the media here picked up comments made by Indian Army Chief V.K. Singh and Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik about India having the capability to carry out a similar stealth operation.

In fact, India's military capability is something that Pakistan has always been wary of. The present Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had said on record to an Indian publication last year that Pakistan Army was India-centric and what mattered were not just India's intentions but also its capabilities. "Good intentions can change overnight," he had said, and his words rang true as the sound bytes from India last week seemed to articulate a shift in the Mohali spirit.

Though External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao subsequently tried to bring down tempers by stating that the two countries need to remain engaged on various fronts, these statements could not wipe out the impact of the "bytes" given by the two Indian service chiefs.

The statements by the senior-most leadership of India's Foreign Ministry found little or no play in the Pakistani media, just like the background briefing provided to Indian and foreign journalists on Wednesday by the External Affairs Ministry.

That it is unrealistic to assume India can exercise a giant swatter-like approach towards Pakistan and the reasons to stay engaged got completely eclipsed by the remarks of the two men in uniform.

Drawing attention to the off-record briefing was also pointless as the fact that South Block did not initially want to go public with its pragmatic approach was seen as further evidence of the security establishment's stranglehold over New Delhi's Pakistan narrative. If anything, the divergent voices from India rekindled deep-rooted suspicions among the Pakistani right-wing and let down the pro-peace community who felt Indian service chiefs were being repeatedly allowed to queer the Indo-Pak pitch.

And, as one keen India-watcher pointed out, this is not the first time. Last October, Islamabad took strong exception to General Singh describing Pakistan and China as major irritants to India's national security. Such statements invariably get more play in Pakistan than in India; primarily because the Pakistani mindscape — conditioned to fear the uniformed services after years of martial rule — tends to take the voices of men in uniform more seriously than the political leadership anywhere.

Add to this 24x7 television news channels. Every shrill statement gets picked up and voices of sobriety are ignored in the competition for eyeballs and advertisement revenue. Even during the run-up to the World Cup cricket semi-final match between India and Pakistan, it was the shrillest of Indian coverage that got referred to here. To the extent that channels that are not particularly watched in India became the gospel truth here, all because they were showing Pakistan in a negative light or portraying the match as a war between the two countries. And, this view is seen as the Indian nation's attitude towards Pakistan.

No doubt, analysts and the Foreign Office are conscious of the pulls and pressures on Dr. Singh. Mr. Bashir reflected that when he tempered his "terrible catastrophe" warning with the observation that "we believe the Indian leadership does not subscribe to such a view" [conduct surgical strikes in Pakistan].

But, hawkish statements — often off-the-cuff remarks made to reporters — become putty in the hands of the hawks in Pakistan and help build and sustain the anti-India rhetoric. This time, say some die-hard advocates of democracy in Pakistan, these Indian statements gifted Pakistan's establishment — in particular, the deep state, as analysts describe the actual powers that be here — an opportunity to divert attention from what columnist Ayaz Amir described as "the mother of all embarrassments".







Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's official visit to Russia on May 11-14 will mark another step in Moscow's strategy of engaging Islamabad.

Russian-Pakistani relations have recently acquired breathtaking dynamics. When Mr. Zardari meets Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday it will be their fifth meeting in the past three years, even if the four previous interactions were on the sidelines of multilateral forums.

The current summit was prepared in record time: it was only last August that Mr. Medvedev extended an invitation to his Pakistani counterpart to come to Moscow. By comparison, it took the then President, Pervez Musharraf, years to get the Kremlin to act on its formal invitation to him. Russia then was still looking at Pakistan through India's eyes, and Mr. Musharraf's visit to Moscow in 2003 failed to break the ice. The current summit is different if only because the Kremlin has since de-hyphenated its relations with New Delhi and Islamabad.

Pakistan has now taken centre stage in Russia's efforts to play a more active role in Central and South Asia as Moscow braces for the drawdown of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.

At a summit in Sochi last August, Russia institutionalised a quadripartite forum with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan to counter the spread of drugs, terrorism and instability via Central Asia towards Russian borders. The four countries agreed to undertake joint economic projects in power generation, transport infrastructure and mining. At a follow-up meeting of economic Ministers in Moscow last October, the four discussed in greater detail plans to rebuild a trade Silk Route from former Soviet Central Asia via Afghanistan to Pakistan and export electricity from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Russia confirmed its readiness to invest in the oil, gas and hydropower sectors of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan.

Energising economic ties

In the past few months Moscow and Islamabad have prepared the ground for energising their flagging economic ties. The Inter-governmental Commission on Trade and Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation met for the first time in Moscow last September. Two months later Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani at a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Dushanbe that Russia was willing to help fund and build the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, to which Moscow was earlier opposed. During Mr. Zardari's visit the sides are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding for the modernisation and expansion of the Pakistan Steel Mills in Karachi, which the Soviet Union built in the 1970s, as well as five other MoUs for the supply of Russian rail tracks, cooperation in the oil and gas sector, power generation, coal mining and agriculture.

The Pakistani President is arriving in Russia ten days after U.S. commandoes killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan where he had enjoyed safe haven for years. However, Moscow made it clear this fact will not affect relations with Islamabad.

"Russia fully recognises and appreciates the substantial contribution made by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the efforts of world community" in countering international terrorism, Russian Ambassador to Pakistan Andrey Budnik said in an article he penned several days after the operation in Abbottabad.

The reason why Russia refused to join the U.S. in ostracising Islamabad is Afghanistan.

"Russia attaches great importance to cooperation with Pakistan in the sphere of Afghan settlement," Mr. Budnik wrote. He explained that this cooperation was based on a shared understanding that the quest for peace in Afghanistan "must not become the prerogative of solely external players", an obvious reference to the U.S.

Russia's veteran diplomat and orientalist Zamir Kabulov, appointed two months ago to the newly instituted post of the Kremlin representative for Afghanistan, immediately stated that Moscow is "open to dialogue" with those in the Taliban who are prepared to cut ties with al-Qaeda. Russia clearly counts on Pakistan to facilitate such dialogue. In return it promises to support Pakistan's bid to join the SCO.

Pakistan, along with the other observer nations in the SCO, "has all the chances to become a full member of the organisation", according to the Russia envoy to Islamabad.

Mr. Zardari in return has offered to provide for Russia "access to warm seas".

All the settings are there that the current summit may be a momentous event not only for Russian-Pakistani relations, but for the entire region.






Forty-eight hours after Islamabad's latest embarrassment, the bizarre circumstances surrounding the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, the Pakistan High Commission in London hosted the launch of academic and former diplomat Maleeha Lodhi's new book, Pakistan: Beyond the 'Crisis State' (Hurst & Company, £16.99), a collection of articles by Pakistani scholars offering an "insiders' perspective" on Pakistan. According to Ms Lodhi, it is intended to challenge the "doomsday scenarios" about Pakistan painted by "outsiders".

After the event, one guest — a prominent British Pakistani academic — described it as a "typical gathering of Pakistani liberals" alluding to the hand-wringing comments about the state of Pakistan combined with fervent expressions of "faith" in its future. Pakistan, Ms Lodhi and others complained, had come to be "defined and judged" almost wholly by outsiders who tended to view it through "a single lens". Pakistan was often reduced to a "caricature" by instant experts who did not care to see beyond their noses.

"There is more to Pakistan than an entity which lurches from crisis to crisis," said Ms Lodhi.

Yes, Pakistan had more than its share of extremists, crazy mullahs, lying politicians and venal spooks. And, true, the country was in a huge mess. But prophecies about its imminent collapse were vastly exaggerated, she claimed. A few years ago, she recalled, a prominent American commentator predicted that Pakistan was "six days away from an implosion".

"I met him on the eighth day and said I had just returned from Pakistan and we were still standing. He said: no, no I didn't mean it that way."

If foreign critics of Pakistan were to look more closely and without preconceived notions, we were told, they would discover a country with a resilient people, a robust civil society, an independent and noisy media and a vibrant cultural scene. Pakistan's misfortune was that it was afflicted with a "weak" and "fragile" state. But it was also blessed with a "strong society" which retained its faith in Pakistan's future.

Although the book is meant to counter Pakistan's negative image, ironically its analysis of "what led us to where we are" ends up confirming why it is seen the way it is. Which, in fact, makes it a rather honest book; a mostly candid account of the near-collapse of the Pakistani state, the only sacred cow, understandably, being Jinnah whose flawed vision of a modern state founded in the name of religion remains unexamined.

Ms Lodhi is pretty brutal in her criticism of successive governments, including the two she served in. She was at the heart of Pakistan's foreign policy establishment in the Musharraf regime in the run-up to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, first as Ambassador in Washington from 1999 to 2002 and then in London from 2003 to 2008. Before that (between 1993 and 1996) she served Benazir Bhutto's government as its top diplomat in Washington. Yet, in her account of their failings she comes across simply as a passive bystander.

Arguably one of the best pieces is historian Ayesha Jalal's, "The Past As Present", a withering examination of what she calls the "reality deficit" of Pakistanis and their "tendency for paranoia" — a result of years of peddling of "myths" as historical truths in an attempt by the Pakistani state to assert an imagined "Islamic superiority". The origins of Pakistan itself are shrouded in "mistruths" and "distortions".

"History has been reduced to a jumble of clichés by official hacks expounding improbable versions Pakistan's much-touted Islamic ideology...The self-glorification of an imagined past matched by habits of national denial have assumed crisis proportions today when Pakistan's existence is under far more serious threat from fellow Muslims than it was in 1947 from rival non-Muslim communities," she writes. What Pakistanis need is a "mature" understanding of their history allowing them to shed their "penchant for myths, delusions and conspiracies".

"Critical awareness of Pakistan's present problems in the light of history can overcome the reality deficit and help create the political will that can allow Pakistan to navigate its way out of a daunting present and chart a future consistent with the aspirations of its rudderless and long-suffering people," concludes Professor Jalal.

Novelist Mohsin Hamid is more optimistic and insists that a "brighter future awaits us" though his optimism appears to derive more from deeply-felt emotions of someone who had been away from his homeland for many years than tangible evidence. Other contributors include journalist Ahmed Rashid who examines Pakistan's role in Afghanistan and Syed Rifaat Hussain, a strategic affairs expert, who writes on "the India factor" arguing that a solution of the Kashmir dispute holds the key to the stalled peace process.

Ms Lodhi and her team of writers call for bold political and electoral reforms involving what she calls a "paradigm shift from patronage to issue-based politics". Pakistan's political parties need to "evolve into modern political organisations". There also has to be a recognition that Pakistan's problems are its own and need "home-grown" solutions independent of "external" assistance", a shorthand for America. Hope and faith in Pakistan's future underpin much of the debate but can hope alone be a substitute for a coherent strategy and a will on the part of Pakistan's ruling elite to change course, of which there is scant evidence?

But Ms Lodhi retorts that "you can't have strategy without hope".

( Pakistan: Beyond the 'Crisis State' is to be published in India soon.)






Few places in the world better symbolise the power and opportunities of globalisation than Dubai. Without large oil reserves, our future depends on our success as a trading hub and our strategic position in the world. We are an open society not just in economic terms but in the make-up of our population. More than 200 nationalities live and work in harmony within our borders.

Given our location, heritage and ambitions, the shape of global trade is crucial to our future success. We need to understand not just the major trends but the details which put the bigger picture in focus. Too often, and in defiance of traditional economic thinking, trade is seen in terms of winners and losers. The true picture, as a new authoritative report on the trade between the countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council and the rest of world highlights, is more balanced.

The report, of course, captures the astonishing rise in economic power of the emerging markets over the last two decades. In 1987, they made up just 16 per cent of global GDP. Today, they account for 31 per cent, a figure forecasted to rise to 41 per cent by 2015. The skyline, and not just the bottom-line, illustrates the remarkable shift underway. In 1989, the ten tallest buildings were all in North America. Today seven are in Asia, with the tallest in Dubai.

As you might expect, the GCC's trade experience underlines this mega-trend. Thirty years ago, 85 per cent of the GCC's trade was with OECD members, a group of countries dominated by the developed economies of North America and Europe. By 2009 the emerging markets' share was 45 per cent.

This switch, however, does not mean trade with the developed world has fallen. It has not. It is just that its annual growth of five per cent cannot keep up with the boom in trade with the economies of Asia and Africa. The underlying figures also show that OECD countries will remain an important trading partner, especially in knowledge-intensive sectors such as education and healthcare. For investment, too, it will continue to be an attractive destination for capital from the Gulf, particularly for risk averse funds.

It is easy to caricature trade with the new economic powerhouses of the East as a transfer of raw materials to them with low-cost manufactured goods flowing the other way. In this scenario, the smartphone in your pocket is the perfect symbol of the new global economy. Again, it is only a partial picture. It is not only goods but also capital which is flowing out of an increasingly prosperous Asia. A third of Dubai's 2009 sovereign bond issue was taken up by Asian investors.

Across Asia, too, the purchasing power and aspirations of a rising middle class are starting to be felt. Walk through Dubai Airport's terminal three and you will see just how popular luxury brands are with Chinese and Indian tourists. In an extraordinarily short period of time, they have developed the same tastes and love of travel as their counterparts across the world.

China, in particular, figures large in any discussion of global trade trends. The country's growing need for oil — 70 per cent of which will come from the Gulf states by 2015 — creates a long-term co-dependence between the Middle and the Far East.

But to focus narrowly on such raw data is, once again, to miss the nuanced picture. India, culturally, is the GCC's closest neighbour and there are more than six million Indians living in the Gulf. Indian merchants pre-date the British presence here.

Such deep historical and cultural affinity will be an important driver for bilateral trade.

Nor can we afford to ignore the south when we consider future trends. Trade between the GCC and Africa is rising, from an admittedly low base, by an impressive 11 per cent per annum. Strong economic growth and increased political stability within Africa is likely to continue this performance.

There are, however, two further factors which could have an important impact on the links between Africa and the Gulf region. The natural fit between the continent's abundant and under-used arable land and the GCC's declared aim of securing food security for its citizens seems certain to be an important driver of future investment and trade.

Africa also has the youngest and fastest-urbanising population in the world. GCC firms are already investing in these smaller, faster-growing consumer markets. The potential for low cost manufacturing in Africa is also likely to be increasingly significant.

In a world changing more rapidly than ever, it is becoming more and more difficult to predict the future. We can, however, be certain that as prosperity continues to spread, global trade will keep expanding. We can be also be confident that, through our location, our open attitude and continued investment, Dubai is ideally placed to help the increased flow of goods, services and people among the north, south, east and west.

(The author is CEO of Dubai Foreign Investment Office. A new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit – 'GCC Trade and Investment Flows; the Emerging Market Surge' – examines trade between the Gulf Cooperation Council and the rest of the world. Read the full report from the EIU at -south)








The Supreme Court's stay order on the Allahabad high court's verdict last year in the Ayodhya title suit is a welcome relief as it removes one possible avenue of acrimony in what the court described as a "difficult situation" — one that created a "litany of litigations". In one sense we are back to square one — as the question of what is to be done with the disputed site remains open — and in search of an amicable solution.

The high court had ordered a three-way division of the 2.77-acre site where the Babri Masjid once stood, between the Ram Lalla, the Nirmohi Akhara and the Sunni Central Waqf Board. Interestingly, the high court had thus recognised Lord Ram as a juridical personality — something which goes back to the history of British India. The British too had recognised Lord Ram as a juridical figure back in the 1900s, but they had tried to please both Hindus and Muslims while keeping them at loggerheads. The Allahabad high court might well have thought that its verdict last September would make all parties happy, but it actually had the opposite effect — no one was pleased, and all of them said so in the Supreme Court on Monday. The judges had asked representatives of all three sides if they were satisfied, to which all responded in the negative, prompting the Supreme Court to note in a lighter vein that at least there was unanimity on one point.
The Supreme Court, while describing the Allahabad high court verdict as a "strange" one, noted that none of the parties to the dispute had sought partition of the site. It is normal practice for a court to hear the prayers of litigants, but in this case there were no such "prayers"; therefore the Supreme Court felt it was justified in quashing the high court's order. In doing so, it automatically restored the status quo at the site; thus the aarti and other rituals that were being performed at the makeshift Ram Lalla temple can now continue.
The Supreme Court has now given all sides time and space to come to an amicable settlement of an age-old problem which is acceptable to all. Historical records show that a Hindu pandit had filed a petition in 1885 seeking permission to build a temple next to the 15th-century Babri Masjid, named after the Mughal emperor who had ordered the masjid built. It is difficult for the courts, in any case, to judicially determine what is a highly-emotive social and religious issue, especially one that can inflame passions across the land. If, for instance, the Supreme Court were to deliver a verdict which was found to be unacceptable by either community, the court as an institution would be put in a very difficult situation.

It should also be noted that no single group can satisfactorily speak on behalf of an entire community spread all across the country, though there are many religion-based institutions and organisations which claim to do so. Is there a single entity which can speak for all Hindus or all Muslims? There are many people in both communities opposed to the bloodshed and acrimony over this disputed site at Ayodhya, that worsened over the years with politicians jumping on to the bandwagon to gain electoral advantage. One option is to allow the issue to continue meandering through a combination of riots and litigation for several decades. The other is to collect a rainbow committee comprising people of all viewpoints on both sides to thrash out a solution. But that, of course, is easier said than done, as events of the past few decades have shown.






Broadly speaking, futurology is an exercise in making predictions of the future states of a society, given its present condition and past history. As such it is an interdisciplinary exercise involving the arts, the sciences and technology, social conditions, and many other parameters that characterise the culture of a society.

Briefly, one can say that futurology tries to answer the question that many of us ask at some time or the other: Here we are, this is how we have been; now where are we headed?
This exercise is becoming more and more difficult since the parameters specifying science and technology are changing rapidly. So whatever judgment we make today is liable to be falsified in the not too distant future. Besides, the history of past predictions is there to warn us of the fallibility of what we are convinced about today. Let us take a look at some of the expert assessments that went wrong in the past.
Take the prediction of Thomas Alva Edison, the well-known inventor, on the emerging role of alternating currents. In 1889, Edison said: "I have always consistently opposed high-tension and alternating systems of electric lighting, not only on account of danger, but because of their general unreliability and unsuitability for any general system of distribution".
A public prosecutor, bringing Lee DeForest, the inventor of the audion tube to trial on charges of fraudulently using US mail to sell the public stock in his radio telephone company, said: "DeForest has said in many newspapers and over his signature that it would be possible to transmit human voice across the Atlantic before many years. Based on these absurd and deliberately misleading statements, the misguided public… has been persuaded to purchase stock in his company".
And then we have the comment of Admiral Leahy to US President Truman when the atomic bomb was to be made: "That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives".
Many would agree with the first sentence of the admiral but for a different reason. Not because the bomb, in the view of conventional explosive expert, was not expected to work as it was based on entirely new technology, but because it worked too efficiently and too effectively. This is characteristic of the way science and technology have exceeded the forecasts made about their achievements.
The electronics computer is another case in point. As an undergraduate at Cambridge in the late 1950s, I was a user of the EDSAC which represented one of the pioneering computers in the world. It used space equivalent to a big hall and inputs were fed to this behemoth by punched paper tape. So there was little scope to correct any programming mistakes. But its capacity to store and speed of work were considered far higher than what the manually-operated desktop machines could manage. In the spectacular advances over the past five decades the computer has shrunk but has grown faster and far more efficient as a store of information. A palm-top computer today can far outperform the EDSAC.
Nobody in the 1950s could have predicted such a spectacular achievement. But this is not an exceptional example. In space, atomic energy, medicine and surgery, and so many other fields futurology has fallen short of what actually happened. And this has led skeptics to question the "worthwhileness" of the whole exercise.
Rather than attempt and fail, is it better not to attempt at all? Hardly so! Despite its limitations futurology has its advantages. The predictions are made on the basis of the information available at present. This information is useful in short- and long-term planning without which the society in question will drift with no specific direction. Likewise, even though long-term prediction may go wrong, there usually exists a provision for mid-course correction.
Take the evolution of the age-old library system. Traditionally the library is a storehouse of volumes, books as well as periodicals. It became clear over the last century that the print content was growing rapidly and most libraries faced the so-called "space crunch". When it became more and more difficult to accommodate each and every book or to store the growing number of journals and periodicals, what could the librarian do? One method available to him/her today is to scan and digitise books whose contents are worth preserving. The computerised files will occupy negligible space and the book can be reproduced and printed if necessary.
In this connection the famous Cambridge mathematician G.H. Hardy has described an account in his book A Mathematician's Apology. The episode relates to a nightmare that the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell had. Russell dreamt that the year was 2100 AD and he was on the top floor of the Cambridge University Library, watching a member of the library staff sort out the books. As the Cambridge library is one of the select copyright libraries that receives a copy of every book published, its storage problem would naturally be acute. So the librarian was trying to select the books he considered worth keeping. Russell saw the staff member pick, look and discard in a bucket a number of well-known books, retaining only a few on the library shelf. Then he came to Russell's own magnum opus, the Principia Mathematica. Russell watched with bated breath as the library assistant picked up the book and started scrutinising it. Would he consign it to the short-listed few on the shelf or will it go down into the bucket of rejects? That was when the nightmare ended and he woke up sweating, not knowing what finally happened.
Well, he need not have worried in the present days of digital storage.

Jayant V. Narlikar is professor emiritus at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus, and a renowned astrophysicist






An increasing number of people and countries who are urging US President Barack Obama to use the Arab renaissance and the killing of Osama bin Laden to revive the peace process concerning Israel and the Palestinians are barking up the wrong tree. To begin with, for years there has been no peace component in the process; for another, the icy Israeli reaction

to the welcome development of a reconciliation process between the Fatah and Hamas factions, however tentative it is, tells its own story.

The problem is what it has been for decades, despite former US President Bill Clinton's belated attempt at an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation in 2000. The key to a genuine reconciliation between Israel on the one hand and Palestinians and the broader Arab world on the other does not lie in the region of West Asia. It is in Washington, and until the domestic power equations and the mood of the country undergoes a profound change, no American President can help bring about peace. President Jimmy Carter's success at Camp David in 1978 was determined by the Israeli realisation that making peace with Egypt at the cost of returning the Sinai peninsula would foreclose future wars and President Hosni Mubarak, who succeeded the assassinated Anwar Assad, was prepared to honour the bargain in which Egypt received a heavy US subvention every year in exchange for being the co-jailor of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after the Hamas triumph while keeping up the pretence of being a facilitator in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. Significantly, the new interim regime in power in Egypt after the toppling of Mr Mubarak has already announced a change in this policy.
The eight years of the George W. Bush presidency altered the scenario in West Asia because it gave Israel under Ariel Sharon a carte blanche to negate the tentative gains of the Oslo process, weighted against Palestinians as it was, destroying the European Union-financed budding infrastructure and making the tallest leader of the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat, a non-person in the old Soviet fashion. President Bush bought Netanyahu's narrative. Israel thereby destroyed chances of a peaceful resolution, and despite singing from the two-state solution hymn book, Mr Sharon and the present Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ensured that there would be no two states as far as they could help it. The Israeli leadership knows better than anyone else that their real power in a sea of Arab world lies not in their cutting-edge military might or the nuclear weapon cache it has developed through Western help and America turning the blind eye, but in the implacable support it receives from the US power structure. Sometimes, US Presidents go astray, but they are quickly brought back to sanity. The elder Bush, President George H.W. Bush, denied US guarantees to finance the building of new illegal settlements and lost his presidential election bid. Mr Obama required of Israel to stop all illegal settlement building activity before starting new talks with Palestinians and was compelled to eat his words.
Time and again, the United States has suffered the humiliation of being isolated in the United Nations, of being the only country, sometimes with states that are dots in the ocean, to vote against the overwhelming majority to save Israel. A new test is looming for the Obama administration in September when Palestinians will declare themselves as a nation in the United Nations General Assembly, a test Mr Obama is likely to fail because he cannot go against the power structure that keeps him in office.

It is no secret that Israel has swung to the Right in recent years and the once powerful peace movement speaks in whispers today. The Arab spring and the change in Egypt in particular have been greeted with much nervousness in Israel for the simple reason that it is easier to make compacts with autocrats, whatever their people might feel, than with more democratic rulers. And the news from Egypt is particularly distressing for Tel Aviv.
Will the new awakening in the Arab world give a new impetus to the peaceniks in Israel to build a revived movement to give voice to the only true basis for a Jewish state to live in peace? There are sane voices but they are still drowned by the vociferous Right and the cultivated culture of the founding of the state in which the sword rules the day.

Only a change in the Israeli mood can influence the American Jewish lobby to loosen its grip on the levers of US policy-making. There are beginnings of an alternative Jewish view in the US but its lobbies are weak, compared to the formidable Right-wing pro-Israeli establishments that compel politicians to bow before them under pain of losing their seats in the US Congress or Senate. Former President Carter remains a maverick; he even wrote a book describing present Israeli policies as amounting to being an apartheid regimen after the fashion of the old South Africa. It is not a recipe that appeals to ambitious American politicians.
Drawing up elaborate formulations on how Israelis and Palestinians can be reconciled is therefore a waste of time. The so-called peace process will continue to be promoted to keep up the charade of working for a solution, but nothing will change. Israelis will continue to build more "facts on the ground" with mild American reprobation; the European Union will continue to bear the burden of financing the Palestinians, fulfilling a role that belongs to the occupying power under international law, and the world will divert its attention to other matters.
The only hope the Palestinians have is that the revolutionary changes happening in the Arab world, with heads rolling and an upsurge that foretells a new polity, however painful the process, will compel Israel and ultimately the United States to give Palestinians a real state of their own. There are more heartbreaks in store for Palestinians but their day of deliverance is drawing near in the emerging era of the Arab renaissance.

S. Nihal Singh can be contacted at








Coinciding with the opening of the Secretariat in summer capital of Srinagar, the Chief Minister spoke in a press conference on current situation in the region and the state. The crux of his assertions was that the Osama bin Laden related events would have no impact on the ongoing Indo-Pak bilateral talks. There have been some dissonant voices, but that is not going to derail the process. The Chief Minister addressed the issues as a statesman and as a philosopher. We need to view the entire situation in objective terms. A harmonious relationship with Pakistan is not only desirable but eminently feasible. This requires so structuring the India-Pakistan dialogue as to make it both uninterrupted and uninterruptible. There is no Indo-Pak issue so intractable as to not be capable of yielding to sustained discussion, as was demonstrated on the back channel during the Musharraf regime, an emergent agreement that dealt even with Kashmir let alone lesser matters. It is disruption of dialogue that is the enemy of dispute resolution. Therefore, inuring the dialogue, insulating it, as it were, from the inevitable ups and downs of a relationship is of the essence for the dialogue to bear fruit. There are three reasons on the Pakistani and Indians sides respectively which make us believe that things augur well for a new relationship between the two neighbours. From an Indian perspective, first for the domestic reason a tension-free relationship with Pakistan would help us consolidate our nationhood, the bonding adhesive of which is secularism. Secondly for the regional reason that regional terrorism can be effectively tackled only in cooperation with Pakistan and not in confrontation with it. Thirdly, for the international reason that India will not be able to play its due role in international affairs so long as it is dragged down by its quarrels with Pakistan. Again it is in Pakistan's interest to seek accommodation with India for three counterpart reasons. First, the Indian bogey has harmed rather than helped consolidate the nationhood of Pakistan. Second, Pakistan is unable to become a full-fledged democracy and a sustained fast-growing economy owing to the disproportionate role assigned to alleged Indian hostility in the national affairs of the country. And, third, on the international stage, Pakistan is one of the biggest countries in the world and instead of being the front-line in someone else's war perhaps deserves to come into its own as a frontline state in the pursuit of its own interests. It could not be a coincidence that Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and senior Congress leader and former minister and diplomat would be there at Singapore, Paris and Washington D.C., respectively, where they would express almost identical views and advocate the need for a sustained dialogue with Pakistan. The need of the time is to dismiss out-of-hand the idea of engaging with Islamabad, which is involved neck-deep in the international terrorism.

India, which has been the worst victim of jihadi terrorism promoted by Pakistan as an instrument of its foreign policy, has already paid a very heavy price for pursuing a policy that has simply strengthened subversives and terrorist regimes in India and accorded international legitimacy to the Pakistan's communal stand on Jammu and Kashmir. Such a policy cannot go on forever. It has to be discarded here and now. It must be remembered that the willingness of the Government of India to continue dialogue with Pakistan despite the international outrage caused due to the latter's involvement in terrorist activities across the globe will further strengthen radical Islamists in India and jeopardize the Indian interests in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere. Chief Minister's words on Indo-Pak relations have to be understood in the background of this analysis. History of the world is replete with instances of bickering and differences among nations but that never deterred them from trying to come to terms at the end of the day and join the international fraternity in pursuit of peace and progress of their respective peoples.







It is noteworthy that Jammu Municipal Commissioner has ordered sanitation drive of a couple of wards of the city, and a team on inspection pointed out irregularities committed by shopkeepers. Sanitary drives are a ritual which the JMC carries out intermittently year after year. But on the ground, the results of these drives ultimately end up in a fiasco. Shopkeepers continue to encroach on footpaths and hamper flow of traffic. Water clogging during rains continues as usual. Manholes remain uncovered and thus hazards to pedestrians remain in place. Traffic congestion and jams have become everyday routine in the city while traffic police stands a silent spectator and so forth and so on. The question is whether Jammu city will never reach the standards of a modern city with municipality functioning effectively and preventing illegalities with strictness? JMC depends on dealing with defaulters with kid-gloves in the hope that civic sense will prevail. It forgets that it has to deal with human stuff, which, as the political pundits say is "nasty, selfish and brutish." We don't achieve goals through admonishments and persuasions but through strictly enforcing the law of the land. We don't mean to say that the JMC is inefficient or is behaving irresponsibly. It has the wherewithal to enforce the municipal law and code of conduct. The problem is that it is only handling the defaulters with kid-gloves. What is needed is reviewing the entire operative system of the JMC and dovetailing it to the situation on the ground. Jammu, with so many drawbacks haunting it, still has the potential to become a model city if the relevant authorities are determined to do so. It is the commercial hub of Northern India and also the communication hub. JMC should work out innovative schemes of raising income so that its dependence on budgetary allocations of the Government is substantially reduced. Imagine a city across which over ten million pilgrims to Mata Vaishno Devi shrine pass every year. Imagine it's potential. We need innovative minds to handle this boon in the larger interests of the city of Jammu.







As long as Pakistan remains a safe haven for terrorists, with even the world's sole super-power unable to dissuade it from pursuing a perilous path, the death of Osama Bin Laden will have little impact on international terrorism. The cover was finally blown off Pakistan Army's involvement in terrorism, when the world's wanted terrorist was gunned down inside an ISI "safe house" in Abbotabad, a military cantonment town not far from the capital, Islamabad and near Kakul Military Academy. To protect him, the ISI has been moving him from place to place, and even Peshawar and Rawalpindi were his earlier residences, because the CIA operatives were after him. He became a cash earner for the Army as the US paid enormous sums of money to Pakistan for cooperating in the fight against terrorism.

For Pakistan, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, who was supposed to have been hiding in inaccessible mountain areas along the Afghanistan border, deep inside its territory is a moment of truth, somewhat similar to the discovery that the 2008 Mumbai attackers had landed from its territory and had been trained and sent by the ISI. Islamabad's behavior has been unique, having perfected the technique of extorting money from the US under many pretexts being a long-time military ally it has been getting military hardware, missiles and even atomic materials and technology for making nuclear weapons from China also -- by projecting India as its enemy and an existential threat to it. The current phase of errangement with the US will also pass, attention will be diverted to Afghanistan, where Pakistan is trying to prevent Washington from reconciling with the Taliban on its own, and things will be back to normal. More economic and military aid will flow and other freebies will be available for cheating on the war on terror.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was right when he expressed the hope that Bin Laden's death would deal a decisive blow to Al Qaeda and other terrorist group. Yet, again, he urged Pakistan to work comprehensively to end the activities of the terror groups. External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna and Home Minister P. Chidambaram were more specific in pointing out that the incident proved that Pakistan was safe haven for terrorists, whose sanctuaries must be eliminated. They hoped that embarrassment would compel Islamabad to effectively prosecute those involved in the Mumbai terror attack. If past experience is any guide, this may remain a pious wish because the Pakistan Army, which has nurtured and patronized several extremist organizations over the years for use against, India is not going to liquidate them just to please us.
As President Obama pointed out, the death of Osama Bin Laden did not mark the end of his efforts. There was little doubt that Al Qaeda would continue to pursue attacks against the US and "we will remain vigilant at home and abroad". Even during Osama's life-time Al Qaeda had ceased to function as an organization with a centralized control and command. Since 9/11, the network has expanded, spread, morphed and broken off into what came to be known as "Al Qaeda franchises" round the world. Ably led, these franchises displayed an extraordinary ability to plan and carry out attacks against set targets in their areas of operation independently. It even warned recently that it would unleash a "nuclear hell storm" in Europe, giving rise to fears that it may even have acquired a nuclear bomb. These regional organizations have established their own networks with training camps and arrange to raise money for their "cause".

The US operatives, on their own, managed to hunt down several important Al Qaeda operatives inside Pakistan and took them out of the country for which Pakistan realized cash compensation. Though the US is fighting Taliban in Afghanistan, it is made to believe that they are reconcilable and could be brought round to participate in any future dispensation in Afghanistan, including sharing political power.
Osama Bin Laden had made his particular interpretation of radical Islamism globally known. There were several strands of militant thinking and strategy around in the late 1990s, but 20 years of active pursuit of an ideology made it the dominant one, with an international spread and a thriving jihadi subculture. It is important that Osama's death removes the figure at the centre of this construct. Many factors have led to growth of radical militancy in the past two decades, particularly in the context of Islamic world's relationship with the West and fears were generated of anti-Islamism of mainly Christian countries. But, in recent years Al Qaeda got marginalized as it was being hunted down relentlessly by the West and its subsidiary outfits, with local appeals, took over. Its capacity to mount any major attacks against the West was also reduced. Though fighters were recruited through camps in Pakistan, the number was only enough to replenish the losses and ensure the survival of the core group.

Osama was only a symbol of their defiance against the US, which is expected to continue unabated. But since the dead leader did not provide operational leadership, but only conducted periodical review of the functioning of his men and affiliated oranisations, with his number two Ayman al-Zawahiri communicating his instructions and giving advice, Al Qaeda may cease to be an effective outfit in course of time.

However, CIA Director Leon Penetta feels that from the mountains of the Afghan-Pakistan border to the ungoverned regions of Yemen at the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula, to the deserts of North Africa, to the feared bands of sympathizers inside the US and Europe, Al Qaeda still flourishes. Bin Laden's death would be a psychological blow but not that foments retribution. In the Muslim world the US is still trying to undo the perception that America is at war with Islam. As Obama put it, Bin Laden was "not a Muslim leader, he was a mass murderer of Muslims". This may not change the thinking among a section of Muslims who were confirmed holy warriors before 9/11 and who have been converted to jihad and even become suicide bombers.
Osama will most likely be succeeded by his number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian surgeon, considered to be the real mastermind of the global terror franchise. With the resources at his command, he should be able to keep the organization going for a while. But he is also a most wanted man and the possibility of him too being eliminated is not ruled out because CIA operatives must have been tracing his movements.
As for India, the situation is unlikely to change and it will continue to be the target of Pakistan-based terror outfits controlled by the Army and its ISI. Al Qaeda did not operate in India and did not have an India "chapter". The dreaded outfits, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami and Jaish-e-Mohammad remain very India centric and continue to pose a threat.

Thus, the present estrangement between the US and Pakistan over Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, US drone strikes inside Pakistan and refusal to share vital intelligence is no consolation for India because the threat to it remains very much alive. It will be business as usual between US and Pakistan but India will have to be always on alert against the terror outfits, nurtured, armed and financed by the State. This does not concern America. (NPA)








The success of democracy and implementation of developmental programs largely depend on the public personnel engaged in building the future of the country. If the public servants, the back-bone of the Government are undermined by corruption, it will lead the administrative machinery to collapse. There is no denying the fact that corruption has prevailed upon most of the departments in India. Corruption has indeed become a way of life.K.Santhanam,Chairman of the Committee on Prevention of Corruption declared,' any action or failure to take action in the performance of duty by a government servant for some advantage is corruption'.
India ranks 87 out of 178 countries on Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index. A 2010 report from Global Financial Integrity, a Washington based think tank blames India's poor governance for tax evasion and corruption which result in illegal financial flows from the country of at least $ 462 billion. Rampant corruption is an issue which needs to be tackled because it not only reduces social acceptability of whatever growth we achieve but actually reduces it. Corruption is also harming poverty-alleviation efforts in India.
We are all aware of the fact that a politician or a person of influence not only indulge in amassing wealth dishonestly but also give favors to their relatives or their supporters by conferring special privileges or kickbacks to them. This is nothing but the misuse of the power and position of the office, a misappropriation of public funds and abuse of power as the root-cause of rampant corruption has become so noticeable throughout India.

Though Indian economy is growing at over 9 per cent yet every second child in India is malnourished. Less than one-fourth of the rural population has access to proper toilets. 80 per cent of India's population lives on less than $2 a day and what is most shameful is the fact that only four out of every ten girls who enroll for schooling complete eight years of formal education. Is that real progress or real growth?

Corruption in India is a result of the nexus between bureaucracy, politicians and criminals. Today the number of politicians with a clean image can easily be counted on fingers. At one time, bribe was paid for getting wrong things done but now bribe is being paid for getting right things done at right time.

Corruption is caused as well as increased because of the change in the value system and ethical qualities of those who administer. The centuries old ideals of morality, service and honesty are no longer prevalent in the country. Tolerance of people towards corruption, lack of intense public outcry against corruption and absence of strong public forum to oppose corruption allows corruption to reign over people.

Large size of population coupled with wide spread illiteracy and poor economic infrastructure is leading to corruption in public domain. In a highly inflationary economy like ours, low salaries of government officials compel them to resort to corrupt practices. For instance, a simple graduate from an IIM with no experience at all draws more salary than what a government Secretary draws.

Corruption is at its peak during the time of election whether Parliamentary or State Assembly. Big industrial houses fund politicians to meet high costs of election. Bribery to politicians buys influence and bribery by politicians buys votes. During the Parliamentary elections of 2009, it is estimated that a total of 13000 crore rupees were spent. Out of this, 1300 crore rupees spent by Election Commission of India, 700 crore rupees by the state governments and staggering 10000 crore rupees by political parties donated by big industrialists.
New faces in politics when come into power declare their determination to root out corruption but soon they themselves become corrupt. There are many prevailing myths about corruption which have to be dealt with strongly if we seriously want to eradicate it.

Corruption is a way of life and nothing can be done about it. It is believed that only people from underdeveloped or developing countries are more prone to corruption. We will have to guard against this mindset while planning measures to corruption. Foolproof laws should be made so that there is no room for manipulation for politicians and bureaucrats.

Cooperation of the people has to be obtained for successfully containing corruption. People should have right to recall the elected representatives if they see them becoming indifferent to the electorate.

Responsiveness, accountability and transparency are necessary for a corruption -free system. Bureaucracy, the back-bone of good governance should be made citizen-friendly, accountable and transparent. More and more courts should be opened for speedy and less expensive justice so that cases do not linger in courts for years and justice is delivered on time. We should socially boycott those who have amassed wealth through corrupt means. We must stop inviting them to public seminars, conferences and functions or even to our weddings. The press has a very important role to play in this regard. It should black out such people except to expose their misdeeds.
All of us must recognize that corruption is a crime of which each and every one of us is victim as well as responsible for the same. It is this crime that ensures that only 13 Paisa of every rupee reaches the target. And that is why more than six decades after independence, a large section of the people in India does not have access to the basic amenities of life, while our leaders are busy stashing money in Swiss Bank Lockers.

Corruption is like diabetes which can only be controlled what not totally eliminated. It may not be possible to uproot corruption completely at all levels in one go, but it is possible to contain it within tolerable limits. Even Social-Activist, Anna Hazare who is leading India's crusade against corruption has rightly pointed out that with the passing of Jan Lok Pal Bill in the Parliament, we can limit corruption up to 90 per cent.

The common people are actually solution for eradicating corruption from India because we are the only reason why corruption is prevalent in India. We are the ones who are motivating corruption to be successful. We support corruption that is why it exists. The moment we stop supporting corruption collectively, it will cease to exist sooner rather than later.


(The Writer teaches Political Science at Govt. Degree College Rajouri).








There is a saying that it is better to have an intelligent enemy than have a foolish friend. Kashmiris have always looked upon Pakistan as a good friend who could help them in getting a position of dignity in the whole world and in India in particular. However, the behaviour of Pakistan has always been such that they have put Kashmiris into embarrasment besides putting themselves to great shame and embarrasment.
Perhaps the civilian government in Pakistan is an innocent helpless spectator and they donot know anything about the activities of the ISI which is an important wing of the military government. Perhaps they are not so innocent --- they only pretend to be so. In November 2008 when ISI despatched 20 young well trained boys to Bombay by boat to cause the famous 26/11 massacre the Prime Minister and President of Pakistan were as shocked as anyone else and promised to get an enquiry done by Mr. Shuja Pasha by sending him to Bombay immediately. Within a few days time the Director ISI's visit to Bombay was cancelled and the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, who was touring Delhi at that time, returned to Pakistan hastily. People wondered why---and people in India suspected that Zardari and the P.M. of Pakistan perhaps have now come to know the truth. What followed after that is known to everyone. A deeply embarrased Pakistan tried to defend itself in a most stupid way by denying everything that had happened. Their misfortune was that one of the 20 boys was caught alive and in Indian custody he started singing. He disclosed anything and everything about the conspiracy hatched by Pakistan's ISI. He named all those people who had trained the terrorists in Pakistan and related the whole story about the 26/11 conspiracy. Pakistan first denied that the attackers were Pakistanis suggesting that they could have descended on Bombay from some other planet, perhaps. But it is very difficult to hide the truth---and it triumphs ultimately. GEO TV of Pakistan showed Kasab's village and his native house in Pakistan. His neighbours were caught on camera saying that they knew the boy. I distinctly heard an old neighbour saying on the TV "oda peo itthey kasai da kaam karda si." (His father was working as a butcher here) After that Kasab's family members were bundled out and his house was locked by the authorities. The Home Minister of Pakistan said on TV -----I checked up from the records of the District Administration and there was no shanakhti card (identity card) by the name of Kasab. Ultimately in the face of mounting evidence Pakistan had to admit that all the 20 terrorists were Pakistanis. Under international pressure they had to initiate wishy washy legal action against the plotters. Isn't this a big shame and embarrasment for a nation? What did they gain really by sending these 20 boys to Bombay and killing 300 innocent people? What do they gain by sheltering hard core terrorists in their territory? The master minds of the Kandahar hijack, Dawood Ibrahim and even Osama Bin Laden, chief of Al qaeda, were hiding in Pakistan-----obviosly with official patronage. The Osama episode has fully exposed Pakistan to the whole world. Pakistan today is a disgraced country.
Pakistan had misguided the Kashmiris and put them on a path of violent 'Jehad' manned by armed terrorists. The demands of the Kashmiris could have been achieved through a peaceful three way dialogue between Pakistan, Kashmir and India.
If Pakistan ceases to take a hostile position towards India everything good can happen. If Pakistan, in a very friendly way, hands over to India the deadly terrorists they are harbouring this miracle can happen overnight. It is in the interest of all Kashmiris to ensure that Pakistan and India become friendly. After all, they are real brothers who lived in the same family 64 years ago.
(The author is former Financial Commissioner of J&K).









The contentious issue of the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit has become wide open once again, with the Supreme Court staying the September 30, 2010, judgement of the Allahabad High Court which had divided the disputed site into three parts, without any of the litigants having asked for such relief. The apex court found this partition "strange and surprising". Interestingly, the Supreme Court asked at the beginning of the proceedings if any of the appellants – the Sunni Wakf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla Virajman — favoured the High Court verdict. All of them said no. That kind of "unanimity" showed that the "compromise" judgement, which was supposed to please all, had not won favour with anyone. Though the appeals were only about 2.77 acres of the disputed land, the Supreme Court has restrained any religious activity on the 67 acres adjacent to it that had been acquired by the Centre. However, prayers will continue to be held at Ram Lalla's makeshift temple.


Apparently, the legal wrangle will now start all over again. More than the trifurcation, the High Court judgement had been criticised for accepting mythology as court evidence. The "leap of faith" is set to be discussed threadbare in the highest court. The issue is highly volatile and sensitive and a practical way out of the impasse is not going to be easy to find.


When the matter was before the High Court, many opportunities were given to the contesting parties to come to an amicable settlement. None of them worked. The protracted situation can still be defused if the parties decide to come to an understanding. But if the task is left to the Supreme Court, each one of them should undertake to accept the judgement in the right spirit without disturbing peace and arousing religious passions. Enough blood has already been shed on the matter. The nation cannot afford to ruin its future over a controversy which lies buried in the past.









The recent across-the-board hike of an average of about nine per cent in Punjab power tariff is a chilling reminder that the unbundling of the State Electricity Board has not made a discernible difference to the efficiency of power generation in the State. With the Government failing to boost generation of power, it is purchase from other states which is keeping the power situation from seeming grim and unmanageable. The chairperson of the State Electricity Regulatory Commission, Ms Romila Dubey, admitted to reporters while announcing the tariff hike that there was no prospect of increase in generation in 2011-12 and that it was only the following year that there could be some hope of augmenting the supply from within. Punjab gets about one-sixth of its supply from other states and that entails high cost. With elections in the State only a few months away, any attempt to reduce the revenue gap by increasing power rates must, however, be commended as a worthy move, however qualified the welcome may be.


Significantly, while Punjab's revenue from power generation is dipping and is sought to be now augmented, the State's power subsidy bill is increasing. The Punjab government will have to shell out Rs 4,188 crore to power companies in 2011-12 for providing free power to farmers and another Rs 378 crore of subsidy to scheduled caste domestic consumers. It is unfortunate that successive governments squander limited resources on pandering to vote banks while they should be spending on building up power generation capacity. Another area of deep concern is the high transmission and distribution losses which hover around 25 per cent despite the commission having set a target of 19.5 per cent. Pilferage of power goes on under the very nose of political bosses who tend to look the other way.


Punjab must indeed get its priorities right. New capacity for power generation needs to be created post haste. At the same time, subsidies must be reduced substantially. Losses in transmission and distribution too need to be reined in for which politicians must act with a greater sense of responsibility.











The killing of Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden by US forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan's garrison town, has thrown Islamabad into a quagmire from which it is unlikely to come out unscathed. Pakistan is under considerable pressure from the US to reveal the names of the ISI operatives who must have helped Osama to live comfortably in a palatial building at Abbottabad, not far away from Islamabad. No one in the international community is prepared to take Pakistan's explanation seriously that it had no knowledge of the Al-Qaida mastermind's whereabouts. It was practically not possible for him to survive in a town having a major military academy without Pakistan officially shielding him. In fact, those who decided to take the grievous risk of allowing Osama to continue his operations from Abbottabad worked against the interests of their own country. They deserve to be punished first by the people of Pakistan for jeopardising the interests of their country. The role of the international community comes later for making the Pakistani rulers pay for their follies.


Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani says that Osama remained alive and active on Pakistani soil because of the failure of international intelligence agencies (read the CIA of the US) to gather concrete information about him since 9/11. In his opinion, it is the US which is responsible for Osama's emergence as the most dreaded terrorist of the world. Osama, as Mr Gilani wants the world to believe, was the product of short-sighted US policies, which worked well till the Soviet Union as a super power remained entangled in Afghanistan. But the same policies proved disastrous in the post-Soviet Union era that began in the early nineties.


Yes, no one can deny that Osama was a product of flawed US policies. But Pakistan, too, worked against the global cause of peace by providing a safe haven to the world's top terrorist. The rulers in Islamabad are even now not wiser, as they are allowing another dreaded terrorist, Dawood Ibrahim, to live as a free man in Pakistan. The world must take a serious view of the adventurous policies of Pakistan.









High-speed train corridors have been talked about by Railway Ministers for over a decade. However, Ms Mamata Banerjee for the first time was honest enough to admit in her last Railway Budget speech that nothing much had come out of the past 


She now proposes to hire a Japanese consultant to carry out a pre-feasibility study of a 160-250 kmph high-speed corridor on the Delhi-Mumbai leg of the golden quadrilateral, to be later on extended to other sections — Delhi-Kolkata, Kolkata-Chennai and Mumbai-Chennai. After all, the Japanese were the first to conceive and implement the high-speed "Shinkansens" almost half a century back, in 1964!


"Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination. Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America."


With these famous words in a speech delivered on April 16 last year, President Obama announced a new vision for a high-speed and inter-city passenger rail service in the US. It was also a part of the extensive packages put together by his administration to revive the economy, develop infrastructure, start new manufacturing activities and create jobs. At the same time, it promised to reduce overcrowding of roads and resultant carbon emissions.


However, the high speed (over 250 kmph) concept is useful only when it helps to connect cities within a 500-km radius. It helps to slow down, sometimes even halt and reverse migration from the Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities to major urban centres such as metros.


Thus, it has been highly successful in countries such as Spain where all major cities are located within a 500-km radius of the nation's capital — Madrid. It could be ideal for linking cities such as Ludhiana-Delhi, Chandigarh-Delhi, Delhi-Gwalior, Chennai-Madurai, Mumbai-Ahmedabad and Kolkata-Dhanbad.


China's very own bullet trains — a pair of "D" trains, capable of a maximum speed of 250 kmph — leave Shanghai and Beijing everyday at the same time, at 10.50 hrs, reaching their respective destinations 1,463 km away at exactly 20.49 hrs or just under 10 hours, maintaining an average speed of 146 kpmh!


Back home, the superfast Rajdhani Express, the pride of the Indian Railways, covers 1,389 km from Mumbai to Delhi in 17 hours, clocking an average speed of just 82 kmph!


However, think-tanks in China have now realised that high-speed (250 kmph and above) corridors on long distances such as between Beijing and Kowloon in the south end up being too costly with no appreciable benefits.


ln India, too, a slightly higher average speed of 160 kmph, for which the Railways also would not have to shell out mega bucks for upgradation, would be quite adequate for the Delhi-Kolkata journey to be completed in just over nine hours, and the Delhi-Mumbai run under nine hours, giving a business traveller enough time not only to complete his work but also save on hotel bills!


Of course, trains running at an average speed of 250 kmph, completing a journey from city-centre to city-centre in just under two hours, would also save a traveller hassles of a long travel to and from the airport, security checks and the uncertainty created during those foggy days. Trains may be delayed, but you don't have to cool your heels in the passenger lounge waiting for the announcements, and, last but not the least, they will always take you to the intended destination and in one piece!


British Rail, in an attempt to recover from its disastrous experiment with privatisation that saw its safety record plummet, decided to go high-speed and a couple of years back opened up a 109-km stretch from London's St. Pancras station to Folkeston, to join up with the European Railway, which has been running trains at over 200 kmph for almost a decade now.


However, such upgrades do not come cheap. The London-Folkeston high-speed line cost about £5.8 billion, and took almost 22 years to plan and build while St. Pancras station alone cost another £800 million for the upgrade.


Given the hassles of air travel, a harried businessman may prefer to make the journey from Paris to Zurich in just four-and-a-half hours by train. In fact, the TGV recently established a record of 574 kpmh on test runs, heralding the arrival of an era of high-speed inter-city trains which give the airlines a run for their money.


Modelled on the Tokyo-Osaka high-speed line, built in the 1960s, the French introduced Tre Gande Vitesse (TGV) in 1981 between Paris and Lyon, and now the recently commissioned TGV Est promises to cut down the transit time between Paris and Strasbourg by half, from four to just two hours, and between Paris and Luxembourg from over three-and-a-half hours to just over two hours.


Spain's ambitious project to develop high-speed rail links connecting every major city would soon be connecting the urban dots along the coast by 2020. This would place almost 90 per cent of the population within a few dozen kms of a high-speed rail line, elevating Spain to the world's top ranks in terms of high-speed rail transport.


Already, its Alta Velocidad Espanola (Ave) trains, with an optimum speed of about 300 kmph, provide transit times of one-and-a-half hours from Madrid to Cordoba and Zaragossa, while to Seville they take two-and-a-half hours.


The proposed new Madrid-Barcelona high-speed link, covering a distance of 504 km, about the same as Delhi to Lalitpur near Jhansi, would cut the existing transit time of five hours to almost half.


In Japan, the land of the Bullet train, a tilting Shinkansen is now being tested to enter service soon to run at 320 kpmh while Germany's Deutche Bahn has recently introduced a Sprinter service which reduces the Cologne-Frankfurt transit time to under three hours, and Cologne-Munich to just under four hours, enabling businessmen to finish their work and get back home in time for supper!


The writer is a former member, Railway Board.









Dhoni hits a six, reaches the target and wins the world. One cannot do so while one is playing life's cricket. One moves ahead run by run.


Today I have completed the 75th run and am still batting. I may warn those who have just started playing life's cricket and are between the 13th and the 35th run (adolescence and youth) that the 11 fielders that surround the batters are – lust, gluttony, greed, depression, anger, envy, pride, intoxication, laziness, procrastination and falsehood. They are eagerly waiting for an irresponsible shot from the batter so as to end his innings.


I am happy that I played cautiously then and now live with George Burns' quote: "You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old". It is not that the birds of sorrow never flew over my head during the past 75 years but I have prevented them for building a nest in my hair. And when Ram Kumar, superannuated broadcaster, interviewing me for Shimla Doordarshan introduced me to the audience as a person "volunteering time and money for the causes that his heart believes in" and read an Urdu couplet, "Ajeeb shakhsh hai, manzil pe nahin rukta/ Safar tamaam hua phir bhi woh safar mein hai", I felt humbled but pepped up.


Ratan Tata, who would be completing 75th year in December, had recently announced his wish to be 20 years younger than his actual age not because he wanted to be glued to the chair but to see India 'really shining' because he felt that the country was passing through an extraordinary transitional phase and would peak in the coming two decades. I feel differently because no one can go back and make a brand new start but anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.


I do not know where will I end but when I was taking the 75th run, tsunami hit Japan and I, in front of my TV, spilled out tears for those who lost their lives, loves and living. The institute of geophysics announced that the Japan quake was so powerful that it shifted the axis around which the earth rotated and that the length of each day would be reduced by 1.8 microseconds. Amidst the pictures of agonising tragedy, I felt optimistic that my next runs in the playing field are going to take slightly lesser time.









Remember the old adage -a camel is a horse designed by a committee! Add to that- a government committee led by bureaucracy reaching beyond their administrative mandate, injecting an ill conceived prescription of aesthetics and design sensitivity ! The heady recipe can only be cooked to unpalatable potions of creative experiments gone seriously unsavoury.


One does not have to look far. The City Beautiful- Chandigarh, while bestowed with great lineage and above- average planning, is in critical need for an aesthetic make-over. At the very basic levels; broken pavements, haphazard parking nightmares, chaotic roundabouts, electrical wiring hanging like disastrous spaghetti jumbled atop dirty shopping centres, crumbling concrete with plants and trees- engaged in splitting mortar, near absence of evocative public sculpture or art and poorly designed signage, street names and building graphics- often hand-painted devoid of visual vibrancy and creative thought. As though, this was not enough, even the landmark buildings of this city disappoint; the dilapidated Panjab Engineering College campus far removed from engineering prowess of the 21st century, depressingly lack-lustre museums in sector- 10, semi-neglected Le Corbusier Centre which should've been the beacon of inspiration transporting visitors and a new generation of urban designers and planners to the great expectations and opportunity in a newly independent India. Interiors repel with discordant curtains and mismatched furniture at the Secretariat offices, broken windows and leaky roofs, corners of the buildings used as dumping areas for broken furniture offer just a glimpse of what lies in store of this all pervasive syndrome. These sensibilities went further down the drain and completely vanished from the radars of town-planners of newer colonies and satellite towns around Chandigarh, in later years- shockingly lacking in design, aesthetic sensibilities and devoid of public art that often offers visual vantage to communities. The planners and those who execute the plans have little or no exposure to quality, which adds significantly to the apathy and a sense of complacency with mediocrity.

Few quality institutions to harness creative aspirations of over a billion

 NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) has over a dozen branches at Rae Bareli, New Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Gandhinagar,Mumbai , Hyderabad, Kolkata, Patna, Bhopal, Mohali and Shillong.
 Jewellery Design and Technology Institute, Noida, UP
 Shristi School of Art, Design, Technology, Banglore
 IICD-Indian Institute of Craft and Design, Jaipur
 Centre For Environmental Planning Technology, Ahmedabad
 SRFTI (Satyaji Ray Films and Television Institute), Kolkata
 FTII-Film and Television Institute of India, Pune
 NID ( National Institute of Design) Ahmedabad

Creativity is a mindset, a mental muscle that atrophies if not adequately  exercised to jog a different path. The ebb is as important as the flow. The  artistry of design is as necessary as depravity of discord.

Last November, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Advisor on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations, Sam Pitroda, declared that most educational institutes in India are obsolete and offer no Asia-centric solutions. Design as an inventive academic discipline has never been taken seriously by policy makers and planners. The appalling lack of design sense in government run programmes and institutions permeates beyond the city infrastructure to the shoddy school and university text books, government forms, stationary and is glaringly obvious just about everywhere one looks. Public spaces have persevered long enough in their ugliness. Urban landscape needs to have a critical dosage of design dynamics.

While many politicians, policy-makers, administrators and bureaucrats live in beautiful bungalows and are chauffeured in luxury limos, the sense of design and aesthetics evaporates almost immediately outside their abodes of opulence...only to surface in full-force at gaudy marriage halls and gilded theatre sets that offer colourful backdrops to memorable moments of joy.


We live in a design-driven economy. From watches, clothes, accessories, cars, designer ware, mobile phones, laptops to shoes, everything is propelled by how it is styled, designed, branded and enhanced. From graphic design to green design- its omnipotent power is visible everywhere. Design is a vocabulary and an induced expression that spreads on subtle cues and triggers. While the common denominator raises the bar of acceptability, the seasonal variations keep the trendy tempted and tickled to loosen their purse strings. When design moves from personal domains to the public, it offers a catalytic chemistry that breeds more ingeniousness.


The design-charged ambience attracts energy and confluence of talent that turns cities like New York, Chicago, Vienna, London and Paris into Meccas of creativity, a reflection of intelligent productivity.

Why is it that a country rich with finest artists, sculptors, craftsmen and makers of stunning landmarks like the Taj, Ajanta & Ellora, Red Fort, Palitana, Konark, Jantar- Mantar, and the Baha'i Temple, has difficulty in aligning switch-boards and plug points at right-angles or creating living environments that rise above mediocrity and glide upon the wings of excellence? Why is design disregarded as a viable commercial, ergonomic and aesthetic investment? Why can't a civilisation that draws its roots from the well-planned layouts of Mohenjo- Daro and Harappa, produce a single charming city that epitomizes beauty, cleanliness, public amenities and culture that one marvels at every little hamlet, town, city and metropolis in Europe and elsewhere?







It was to break the monotony of all pervasive eyesores with a fresh line or a speck of colour that the National Institute of Design (NID) was founded in Ahmedabad during Nehru's time on recommendations made by American designers Charles and Ray Eames in the late 1950s. Sixty years later, India is yet to find its foothold in the world of design, be it revolutionary, path-breaking or universally aesthetic. Western influences and design sensibilities have taken root in consumer and luxury goods while indigenous initiatives are confined to the ethnic pockets of hi-design, far from the millions who live in our cities, work in shabby government offices, commute in awful train compartments and struggle with design- depraved environmental trappings. Imagine an India with traditional ornamentation and design influences adorning urban landscape- making each state a unique poem in the architectural vernacular- a la Santa Fe...from Bali to Barcelona, from Tashkent to Tokyo - among others- edifying an idea of tradition with a cosmopolitan outlook.


Though there are 21 areas of design specializations offered at the NID, the litmus test of its performance metric lies in the visual appeal of the city of Ahmedabad itself and in the cluttered cacophony of spatial illiteracy just outside the NID campus, far removed from the realm of design sensibilities as echoed by Nobel Laureate Sir V.S. Naipaul in his writings.


The marriage of Form and Function has reached dizzying heights of innovation in many developing and advanced countries. From iconic architecture to material ecology to bio-mimicry, design has spurred growth, cross-over applications, macro- media and mind-boggling nano-technology at sub-atomic levels. From the myth of cosmetic design based exterior enhancements, design and innovation are now widely acknowledged as the key drivers of long-term growth in all sectors. As each invention, service or product reaches maturity and saturation, the next phase of growth can only come from a radical paradigm shift in perception, functionality and revolutionary form. How did they power this movement? By encouraging effective design competitions to solve functional problems while progressively raising standards of excellence. By isolating issues frame by frame and integrating it into a larger cohesive whole has resulted in creating environments and devices that are greater than its parts.


Design is also about processes as much as it is about the oft- extolled preoccupation with form. It needs to begin with fundamental shifts to 'Curriculum Design' that makes us intuitively curious and creative. Process design, visual modelling algorithms, tools, techniques and materials are all integral to intrinsic transformative creativity.


The magic mix of these ingredients has produced social phenomena of revolutionary proportions as unleashed by Apple Mac, Sony Walkman, Facebook, YouTube and Virgin Galactic and countless others riding the crest of creativity. It is time


India offers design solutions that could be life changing- a tidal tsunami of excellence that sweeps us off our risk-averse feet. Memorable marvels akin to the Konarks, the Jantar Mantars and the Ashoka Pillars of yester era instead of reverse engineering that exists elsewhere.


In February 2007, the Union Cabinet approved the National Design Policy that called for the establishment of design hubs, training centres, collaborations and establishment of 4 more NID campuses across India as well as encouraging schools of architecture, engineering and sciences to set up design courses and vocational training skills. What is missing from the policy discourse is a serious analysis of what spurs creativity and what needs to be done at the national level to recognize the significance of this issue and make it part of our lifestyle and ethos. Its implementation is in need of a sense of urgency.


We must pause to take stock. If not, it may take another 60 years to step back and review the urban chaos that defines our sense of environment and discern the easy import of western design driven solutions, before indigenous thought takes leading edge.


India cannot afford this luxury of time. Design has the power to change mindsets and influence change itself.


(The writer is a well known museologist, whose work spans eleven countries.)




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It was to break the monotony of all pervasive eyesores with a fresh line or a speck of colour that the National Institute of Design (NID) was founded in Ahmedabad during Nehru's time on recommendations made by American designers Charles and Ray Eames in the late 1950s. Sixty years later, India is yet to find its foothold in the world of design, be it revolutionary, path-breaking or universally aesthetic. Western influences and design sensibilities have taken root in consumer and luxury goods while indigenous initiatives are confined to the ethnic pockets of hi-design, far from the millions who live in our cities, work in shabby government offices, commute in awful train compartments and struggle with design- depraved environmental trappings. Imagine an India with traditional ornamentation and design influences adorning urban landscape- making each state a unique poem in the architectural vernacular- a la Santa Fe...from Bali to Barcelona, from Tashkent to Tokyo - among others- edifying an idea of tradition with a cosmopolitan outlook.


Though there are 21 areas of design specializations offered at the NID, the litmus test of its performance metric lies in the visual appeal of the city of Ahmedabad itself and in the cluttered cacophony of spatial illiteracy just outside the NID campus, far removed from the realm of design sensibilities as echoed by Nobel Laureate Sir V.S. Naipaul in his writings.


The marriage of Form and Function has reached dizzying heights of innovation in many developing and advanced countries. From iconic architecture to material ecology to bio-mimicry, design has spurred growth, cross-over applications, macro- media and mind-boggling nano-technology at sub-atomic levels. From the myth of cosmetic design based exterior enhancements, design and innovation are now widely acknowledged as the key drivers of long-term growth in all sectors. As each invention, service or product reaches maturity and saturation, the next phase of growth can only come from a radical paradigm shift in perception, functionality and revolutionary form. How did they power this movement? By encouraging effective design competitions to solve functional problems while progressively raising standards of excellence. By isolating issues frame by frame and integrating it into a larger cohesive whole has resulted in creating environments and devices that are greater than its parts.


Design is also about processes as much as it is about the oft- extolled preoccupation with form. It needs to begin with fundamental shifts to 'Curriculum Design' that makes us intuitively curious and creative. Process design, visual modelling algorithms, tools, techniques and materials are all integral to intrinsic transformative creativity.


The magic mix of these ingredients has produced social phenomena of revolutionary proportions as unleashed by Apple Mac, Sony Walkman, Facebook, YouTube and Virgin Galactic and countless others riding the crest of creativity. It is time

India offers design solutions that could be life changing- a tidal tsunami of excellence that sweeps us off our risk-averse feet. Memorable marvels akin to the Konarks, the Jantar Mantars and the Ashoka Pillars of yester era instead of reverse engineering that exists elsewhere.


In February 2007, the Union Cabinet approved the National Design Policy that called for the establishment of design hubs, training centres, collaborations and establishment of 4 more NID campuses across India as well as encouraging schools of architecture, engineering and sciences to set up design courses and vocational training skills. What is missing from the policy discourse is a serious analysis of what spurs creativity and what needs to be done at the national level to recognize the significance of this issue and make it part of our lifestyle and ethos. Its implementation is in need of a sense of urgency.


We must pause to take stock. If not, it may take another 60 years to step back and review the urban chaos that defines our sense of environment and discern the easy import of western design driven solutions, before indigenous thought takes leading edge.


India cannot afford this luxury of time. Design has the power to change mindsets and influence change itself.


(The writer is a well known museologist, whose work spans eleven countries.)







The government finally appears to be in sync with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on the broader macro management. Fiscal dynamics have been a key factor in making the aggressive tightening in the current cycle less effective. The solution to that is not necessarily even more tightening – which may still be needed – but greater fiscal responsibility, as the long overdue increases in local fuel prices will finally show. Still, more fiscal adjustment is needed.

Indian policy makers have been a unique breed until this policy in saying that monetary tightening will check inflation without affecting growth. Now, the very idea of monetary tightening is to affect growth in order to check inflation. That understanding seemed to be missing when the Budget was announced — it was based on a 9 per cent GDP growth. The assumption seemed to be from la-la land and few bought it. Growth is also a casualty of the lack of sufficient actions by the government to ease the chronic supply constraints.


Navigating the Indian economy must be like manoeuvring a super tanker with inadequate and faulty instruments. For an economy that will hit $2 trillion in size in the current fiscal year, policy makers do not appear to have a good handle on, for example, the shifting trends in the industrial sector, labour market, and, most importantly, inflation dynamics.

That inflation is high and an important issue is not new. But the relevant inflation rate and what the central bank is targeting for the effectiveness of its monetary stance cannot be mere academic discussions. The answers to these questions have an important bearing on how effectively the central bank can check inflation and manage inflationary expectations.

At the very outset, the RBI's unique focus on wholesale price index (WPI) inflation, which captures mainly input prices, is also one of the contributors to higher inflation expectations. That in no way takes away the impact of higher global commodity prices and the too-loose-for-too-long fiscal policy that also boosted consumer spending.

In 2010, for example, inflation rates in Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia according to the producer price index (PPI) were well above consumer price index (CPI) inflation rates, despite the reliance on currency appreciation as well in some cases. It is nobody's case that the gap will be similar in India's case — we just don't know since there is no reliable CPI measure. But central banks in these countries did not get everyone to focus on the higher PPI inflation. Doing that would have undermined their policy, but that is precisely what is happening in India.

The RBI concludes that higher WPI-based core (non-food manufactured goods) inflation reflects that aggregate demand is strong enough to allow firms to pass on higher input costs. But that is similar to what is seen in these other economies, but their central banks reach a different conclusion for monetary policy purposes due to their focus on the CPI.

It is more than likely that the pass- through of higher input prices into final consumer prices in India is not of the same magnitude as indicated by WPI-based core inflation. But we do not have a good grasp of that, and that potentially raises the risk of over-tightening.

The two charts show that WPI-based core inflation appears to be strongly correlated with global crude oil prices but, surprisingly, it is not affected by changes in non-agriculture GDP growth. This was true even in the last tightening cycle; the only time WPI-based core inflation fell in recent years was when commodity prices collapsed in the post-Lehman global financial crisis. It had nothing to do with the tightening by the RBI.

In fact, the tightening by the RBI has delivered little check on WPI-based core inflation despite higher rates and slowing growth because its inflation measure is basically much more sensitive to global commodity prices than is typically the case with CPI inflation. A faulty thermometer gives incorrect readings irrespective of the bitterness of the medicine.

WPI-based core inflation has an important bearing on the RBI's policy rate decisions but, surprisingly, it doesn't offer any guidance or forecast to anchor expectations. The issue of the relevance of WPI-based core inflation becomes even more important as in a recent speech (after the policy review on 3 May), the RBI governor states, "The headline inflation index is the wholesale price index, and that does not, by definition, reflect the consumer price situation."

In the same speech, we are also told that targeting CPI-based core inflation rather than headline inflation is not a feasible solution since an inflation index, with half the basket of food excluded from it, hardly reflects the reality. Given the questions over the measurement of inflation, no one should be surprised if inflation expectations cannot be properly anchored.

Ironically, for a central bank that is trying to enhance its inflation-fighting credentials, the RBI is still indicating "upside risk" to its March 2012 inflation forecast, which is at a seven-year high. Forecasting is fraught with risks but inflation expectations cannot be well anchored when the RBI itself does not appear confident about its forecast and how it communicates it.

Unless global commodity prices are corrected, the most likely outcome will be lower growth and higher inflation. The RBI's approach raises the risk of a hard landing if it wants to be serious about checking inflation, while a soft landing will prompt an overshoot on inflation, again.

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






The government finally appears to be in sync with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on the broader macro management. Fiscal dynamics have been a key factor in making the aggressive tightening in the current cycle less effective. The solution to that is not necessarily even more tightening – which may still be needed – but greater fiscal responsibility, as the long overdue increases in local fuel prices will finally show. Still, more fiscal adjustment is needed.

Indian policy makers have been a unique breed until this policy in saying that monetary tightening will check inflation without affecting growth. Now, the very idea of monetary tightening is to affect growth in order to check inflation. That understanding seemed to be missing when the Budget was announced — it was based on a 9 per cent GDP growth. The assumption seemed to be from la-la land and few bought it. Growth is also a casualty of the lack of sufficient actions by the government to ease the chronic supply constraints.


Navigating the Indian economy must be like manoeuvring a super tanker with inadequate and faulty instruments. For an economy that will hit $2 trillion in size in the current fiscal year, policy makers do not appear to have a good handle on, for example, the shifting trends in the industrial sector, labour market, and, most importantly, inflation dynamics.

That inflation is high and an important issue is not new. But the relevant inflation rate and what the central bank is targeting for the effectiveness of its monetary stance cannot be mere academic discussions. The answers to these questions have an important bearing on how effectively the central bank can check inflation and manage inflationary expectations.

At the very outset, the RBI's unique focus on wholesale price index (WPI) inflation, which captures mainly input prices, is also one of the contributors to higher inflation expectations. That in no way takes away the impact of higher global commodity prices and the too-loose-for-too-long fiscal policy that also boosted consumer spending.

In 2010, for example, inflation rates in Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia according to the producer price index (PPI) were well above consumer price index (CPI) inflation rates, despite the reliance on currency appreciation as well in some cases. It is nobody's case that the gap will be similar in India's case — we just don't know since there is no reliable CPI measure. But central banks in these countries did not get everyone to focus on the higher PPI inflation. Doing that would have undermined their policy, but that is precisely what is happening in India.

The RBI concludes that higher WPI-based core (non-food manufactured goods) inflation reflects that aggregate demand is strong enough to allow firms to pass on higher input costs. But that is similar to what is seen in these other economies, but their central banks reach a different conclusion for monetary policy purposes due to their focus on the CPI.

It is more than likely that the pass- through of higher input prices into final consumer prices in India is not of the same magnitude as indicated by WPI-based core inflation. But we do not have a good grasp of that, and that potentially raises the risk of over-tightening.

The two charts show that WPI-based core inflation appears to be strongly correlated with global crude oil prices but, surprisingly, it is not affected by changes in non-agriculture GDP growth. This was true even in the last tightening cycle; the only time WPI-based core inflation fell in recent years was when commodity prices collapsed in the post-Lehman global financial crisis. It had nothing to do with the tightening by the RBI.

In fact, the tightening by the RBI has delivered little check on WPI-based core inflation despite higher rates and slowing growth because its inflation measure is basically much more sensitive to global commodity prices than is typically the case with CPI inflation. A faulty thermometer gives incorrect readings irrespective of the bitterness of the medicine.

WPI-based core inflation has an important bearing on the RBI's policy rate decisions but, surprisingly, it doesn't offer any guidance or forecast to anchor expectations. The issue of the relevance of WPI-based core inflation becomes even more important as in a recent speech (after the policy review on 3 May), the RBI governor states, "The headline inflation index is the wholesale price index, and that does not, by definition, reflect the consumer price situation."

In the same speech, we are also told that targeting CPI-based core inflation rather than headline inflation is not a feasible solution since an inflation index, with half the basket of food excluded from it, hardly reflects the reality. Given the questions over the measurement of inflation, no one should be surprised if inflation expectations cannot be properly anchored.

Ironically, for a central bank that is trying to enhance its inflation-fighting credentials, the RBI is still indicating "upside risk" to its March 2012 inflation forecast, which is at a seven-year high. Forecasting is fraught with risks but inflation expectations cannot be well anchored when the RBI itself does not appear confident about its forecast and how it communicates it.

Unless global commodity prices are corrected, the most likely outcome will be lower growth and higher inflation. The RBI's approach raises the risk of a hard landing if it wants to be serious about checking inflation, while a soft landing will prompt an overshoot on inflation, again.

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






If there is one special law on which the Supreme Court laboured most in the past quarter, it was the Land Acquisition Act. A variety of disputes continue to reach the court from across the country, especially villages around urban centres. Even as farmers and police fought on the streets in Gautam Budh Nagar near the capital last week, the court passed a lengthy judgment in a case arising from the same town.

The significance of the judgment in the case, Sri Radhy Shyam vs State of Uttar Pradesh, lies in the fact that the court traversed the nettlesome provisions of the colonial law and the court's interpretations in some past judgments to formulate nine principles. If the acquisition authorities want to avoid further confrontation with landowners, they should follow these guidelines.


The facts of the case are similar to what we have come to expect in such matters these days. The government declares that certain agricultural lands are "urgently" required for industrial development. Because of the purported urgency, the landowners' right to present their objections is done away with. Since landowners are usually not aware of their rights and cannot deftly assert them, they are offered compensation below the market value. The land is then transferred to industrialists. One can pick and choose the land selected for acquisition. Lands belonging to politicians are deftly avoided in the acquisition map. All these vicious elements converged in the present case.

When some of the affected farmers went to the Allahabad High Court protesting against the arbitrary and discriminatory action by the government, their petitions were dismissed at the threshold, in a cryptic judgment. The court did not even issue notice to the government to answer the charges pressed by the farmers. According to the high court, the farmers' petitions were not supported by records and the affidavits were faulty. The court did not find it fit to ask the authorities to produce the records for examination, though they were available.

The Supreme Court recorded its severe disapproval of the high court's conduct. It said when the property owners made grave allegations and "succeeded in making out a strong case for deeper examination of the issues, the high court committed a serious error by summarily dismissing them". It should have asked the government to produce the records, thus taking a liberal view of the matter and avoiding legal technicalities. In most cases, farmers "reconcile" with the deprivation of land and accept whatever compensation they get, "thinking that it is their fate and destiny determined by God".

Chastising the high court and the government, the Supreme Court said: "It is too much to expect from the rustic villagers, who are not conversant with the intricacies of law and functioning of the judicial system to first obtain relevant information and records from the state authorities and then present skilfully drafted petitions for enforcement of their rights." In such a situation, the judiciary must not act as a mere umpire but should become an active catalyst in the constitutional scheme, the judgment said.

In several cases, the Supreme Court has found that the urgency for acquisition claimed by the government was a sham, a device to skirt the rule for giving owners a hearing. The acquisition proceedings are preceded by careful planning over the years and it takes several years to implement projects. If the government wanted to respect the rights of the land losers, there would be enough time to hear them and give good value for their property. But in case after case, the extraordinary power of dispensing with fair procedure is invoked only to defeat the landowners' rights.

Considering these and many other dubious practices, the court laid down the nine guidelines for the acquisition authorities. These include, among others, the sovereign right of eminent domain should be used only in case of public exigency; laws for a compulsory takeover of property are of an expropriatory nature and should be interpreted strictly; when the landowners belong to weaker sections and would lose their livelihood, courts should scrutinise the state action with greater vigilance; merely citing "public purpose" would not entitle the state to use emergency provisions; and if the acquisition is for the benefit of private people the court should look at the deal with "suspicion".

Lawmakers in India have been tinkering with a new Bill to replace the existing 116-year-old Land Acquisition Act but the effort has gone off the radar screen amid the general miasma enveloping the polity now. Until a new law is put in place, courts alone can act as guardians of landed property. If they also fail, as in the present case at the high court level, disputes will be decided on the streets.






The initiative will neither help banks nor borrowers since the cost of funds will rise, but it will provide greater scope for product innovation and service excellence.

Managing Director, HDFC Bank


Banks will pass on the rate hike and borrowers will have to pay more. Savers will not gain either because account maintenance and other charges will rise

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has recently initiated a discussion on the deregulation of interest rates on savings deposits. The savings bank rate, which is decided by the central bank, is one of the few administered rates in the country right now. The discussion paper on savings rate deregulation examines both the pros and cons of such a move. The discussion paper points out that such deregulation will enhance the attractiveness of the savings deposit product. One of the biggest advantages of such a move, as mentioned in the discussion paper, is that it will improve monetary policy transmission. It is also argued that deregulation will lead to product innovation.

One must, however, remember that the savings account is not necessarily an instrument for the transmission of monetary policy actions. The primary objective of a savings bank account is to provide financial services to society. For the middle and lower-middle class, it is always better to have a good rate on the savings account because they do not have enough money to follow other investment options.

Does it mean that the deregulation of the savings bank rate will benefit the common man? One should understand that if the savings deposit rate goes up, maintenance and other charges will also move up. There is no such thing as a free lunch; every debit always has a credit. In our country, the account charges are among the lowest in the world. So, I don't think the common man will necessarily gain in a deregulated environment.

Banks have not really opposed the idea of deregulating the savings deposit rate. All that banks have said is don't deregulate when there is uncertainty over liquidity conditions in the system. Such a move should be undertaken in normal liquidity conditions. In a normalised environment, in my view, the savings deposit rate is never likely to cross 4 per cent. It is wrong to expect the savings bank rate to only go up if it is deregulated. Because once the savings rate goes up, the entire term structure of interest rate will change. I think overnight money with transaction costs to the bank will be at 4 per cent maximum in a normal environment.

Let me clarify, there is no fear among banks – at least in my bank – that margins will be squeezed if the savings deposit rate is deregulated because the cost of funds will rise. It is true we have a relatively high share of current account savings account (CASA) deposits. About 51 per cent of our total deposits are in this category. But if you look at the overall industry, HDFC Bank's share of total bank deposits is only 3 per cent. Our CASA is high because we offer the best services to our customers. So in a deregulated environment, based on service quality and charges, I will only gain.

But will it benefit society at large? The cost will go up since banks will pass on the rate hike and borrowers will have to pay more. Savers will not gain either because account maintenance and other charges will rise. The discussion paper of the central bank notes that one of the disadvantages of the deregulation is that small savers and pensioners – who depend on interest as a source of regular income – may be affected. The paper also says there could be occasions, especially in a surplus liquidity situation, when the savings deposit interest rate may decline even below the present level. These factors need to be considered before deregulating the rate.

Should the RBI decide to deregulate savings bank rate, as banks we will seek full deregulation. We cannot have half an international practice and half an Indian practice. In that case, the regulator should allow banks to offer differential rates on differential balances of savings accounts. Also, banks should be allowed to decide the charges on their own. In such a situation, I assure you it is good for the common man if we have a regulated savings account.

As told to Somasroy Chakraborty


Founder, Managing Director and CEO,YES BANK

A market-based savings interest rate will accelerate greater financial inclusion of the un-banked, and also augment a higher savings propensity

As a precursor to complete deregulation of the savings deposit rate, the only administered interest rate at present, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in its annual monetary policy 2011 announced a 50 basis point increase in the savings rate to align it closer to short-term market rates.

The trigger to resume the discussion on savings rate deregulation possibly comes from the stickiness in inflation resulting in a persistently negative real savings rate, which has impacted small savers the most. Also, the RBI may be drawing some comfort from Asian economies where deregulation of interest rates, coupled with credible monetary policy measures, not only led to enhancement and maintenance of positive real interest rates, but also contributed to an increase in financial savings.

In India, where a significant portion of household savings (particularly in semi-urban and rural areas) is still held in the form of cash, attractive interest rates on savings bank deposits will bring into the banking system a part of the Rs 9.5 lakh crore that households keep with themselves as cash. One can hardly argue against the merits of deregulation that facilitates efficiency and fairness in allocation of resources:

  • Empirical evidence suggests that certain population groups, such as small savers, pensioners and consumers in semi-urban and rural areas, use the savings account primarily for savings purpose and not actively for transaction purposes. They are also averse (and, at times, not savvy enough) to maximising their returns by placing their savings in fixed deposits or other investments. Since the savings deposit interest rate has not moved in sync with changing market conditions, it has been unfavourable to this depositor community. A market-based savings interest rate will accelerate greater financial inclusion of the un-banked, and also augment a higher savings propensity, thereby creating a multiplier effect. 
  • Savings deposits constitute a significant portion (22 per cent) of total deposits in the banking system. The fixed nature of savings deposit interest rates essentially limits the impact of changes in policy rates. By allowing the entire term structure of interest rates to move in tandem with the policy rate, the transmission mechanism of monetary policy becomes more effective and timely, as is corroborated by Hong Kong's experience.
  • Given the fixed-rate regime in savings deposits and the fact that urban customers are relatively insensitive to the savings bank rate, banks have resorted to "lazy banking", with little or no meaningful innovation around the savings account product and underlying services. Savings rate deregulation will provide greater scope for product innovation and service excellence and a better opportunity for banks to cross-sell. The rates would essentially be driven by relationship value, future potential and efficient transaction costs. Market forces will also ensure that banks make additional efforts to educate their customers on banking services and product features.

There are fears of unhealthy competition amongst banks, which may lead to a fall in profitability. These are unreasonable considering the positive experience of deregulation in term deposit rates and other interest rates including interest rates on loans over the past decade. Though there may be some immediate impact on the cost of deposits, resulting in a compression of net interest margins, in the long run the spin-offs of healthy operations and higher mobilisation of savings will surely benefit those banks that are service-oriented and provide tangible value to their small savings depositors. This is what happened in insurance, telecom and pharmaceuticals once they were aligned to free market principles. India is likely to emulate Hong Kong's phased deregulation of savings rate, which was followed by the launch of several new products, revised fee charges and minimum balance requirements, and the introduction of a tiered structure of interest rates.

Finally, savings rate deregulation will create a win-win situation for both the retail depositor and the banking system, and I look forward to the RBI taking this final step towards international best practices.






It is far cheaper to bail airlines out from time to time than to run them. The taxpayers will mind but not as much as they do now.

Seldom, as Winston Churchill might have said about Air India's never-ending tragedies, has so much been written by so few about so little. The Indian Railways (IR) has a 1,000 times more capital invested, carries a 100 times more passengers and is in a much bigger mess than Air India (AI). Yet, far more attention is devoted to the latter. The reason is well known: planes are sexy while trains are dreary. But surely Governments, especially those that claim to speak for the common man, should not be swayed by such considerations. Nor is it just their plights that the Railways and Air India have in common. They are both run by government departments although, nominally at least, AI has a corporate structure. But there are differences too, and two of these are critical. One is that while IR has a trained cadre to manage it, AI has only civil servants — mostly from the IAS but also sometimes from other services. Some have their hearts in the right place but alas, not the intellectual capacity to go with it; others have their brains in the right place but not their hearts; a small, but usually influential, minority has both in the wrong place. Second, the present dispensation notwithstanding, ministerial whimsy and discretion in IR are subject to considerable control. But for Air India, the ministers and the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Civil Aviation are all-powerful beings. So, if the Railways delivers value for less, it is clear where and what the problem is. To resolve this issue, the government must either abolish the Aviation Ministry, while empowering the DGCA and AERA, or it must staff the former with a cadre of aviation professionals, as the IR does. Whatever is decided, the present system must go.

It is also worth asking if the taxpayer must fund an industry whose average returns, globally, in any given span of 10 years, are around 1.5 per cent. The simple point is that, while aviation is physically non-risky, financially, it is worse than dog-racing. That is why the business requires so many risk-mitigating policies, such as non-compete guarantees (which is what 'bilaterals' are) and even officially sanctioned cartels (which is what IATA runs). Such policies are because of the high capital and skill intensity of the business. As market structures go, it is as close to perfect competition as one can get; in fact, however, the whole business is a cartelised oligopoly. Since the Indian government is short of the two main ingredients, should it be in this business at all? Therefore, along with staffing the Civil Aviation Ministry with professionals from the business, 74 per cent of Air India must be sold off, if necessary as a garage sale.

For the Government to stay on in the aviation business is like an indigent staying in a 5-star hotel. It is far cheaper to bail airlines out from time to time, as other countries do, than to run them. The taxpayers will mind but not as much as they do now.







Innovations in trading and finance need to benefit small farmers in particular. Warehouse-receipt financing and the introduction of options trading can help in this regard.

Agriculture incomes in India are volatile because of a number of unforeseen factors, such as weather, disease/pest infestations and/or market conditions. With 65 per cent of the population dependent on agriculture, it is essential to manage both production and price risks. The government has responded by encouraging the setting up of modern exchanges, with daily mark-to-market margins, a trade guarantee fund, back-end computerisation, on-line trading and demutualising of new exchanges.

However, to realise the benefits from such initiatives, the bulk of farmers, who are small and marginal, require access to finance immediately after harvest, though they possess limited collateral to obtain bank funding. Physical collateral such as land and agricultural implements are of little value in mitigating a financier's risks as the collateral is difficult to enforce and has a low resale value.

Liquidity problems

Agriculture is a seasonal business with high price uncertainty. During harvest, prices drop due to excess supply. But, if the harvest is lower than expected, the prices rise. Hedging against price fluctuation is possible through derivative contracts such as commodity futures, fixed price forward sales or purchase of put options.

With commodity futures, the farmer agrees to sell the commodity at a pre-determined price and date. While a fixed price forward sale agreement is possibly the simplest price hedging strategy, it is difficult to find the right counter-party unless the size of the expected crop is reasonably well known, prices are satisfactory and buyers have enough confidence in the seller to commit on a forward basis.

Since there are several variables, such contracts are better implemented with a put option for the farmer or a call option for the buyer. In India, proposals to allow options in commodities and provide for registration of brokers by suitably amending the Forward Contracts (Regulation) Act have been pending in Parliament for over five years.

Warehouse receipt financing

Small farmers need liquidity urgently and the crop is inevitably sold to traders/village-level aggregators immediately after harvest. The buyers hold the stock through the harvest season till prices rise. If farmers are enabled to hold their crop beyond harvest, this price benefit could accrue to them. Farmers face two major problems — lumpy cash flows and non-availability of intermediate finance.

Warehouse receipt finance, which can be used to extend the sales period beyond harvest season and secure collateral for obtaining finance, can play an important role in smoothening farmers' incomes by providing liquidity at times when cash-flows dry out.

The concept of warehouse receipt financing is not new in India. Banks have been extending these facilities to large aggregators, traders and bulk farmers, ignoring small and marginal farmers. Extending cheaper credit to small/marginal farmers is easily done through warehouse receipt financing if banks purchase suitable hedges on the price of commodities, assuming only a minimal credit risk.

In warehouse receipts financing, producers deposit goods of a certain quality, quantity and grade in accredited warehouses and receive a receipt for it. Since these receipts are now accepted as negotiable instruments (under the Warehouse Development and Regulation Act 2007), they can be traded, sold, swapped and used as collateral to support borrowing or accepted for delivery against a derivative instrument such as futures contract. This facilitates access to finance.

For the receipts to work effectively, it is essential to ensure infrastructure, and grading and collateral management systems which guarantee the quality and quantity of stored commodities. This will provide comfort to farmers — to store their produce, as well as to banks — to accept warehouse receipts as secure collateral to finance farmers.

Trading units on national-level commodity exchanges are large, preventing small and marginal farmers from participating individually; they depend on local mandis/middlemen. Also, the rather small number of delivery centres and the price difference across physical markets limit farmers from participating in trading.

There is a need to increase the reach, provide the services of an assayer and reduce transportation costs. Setting up local access to commodity exchanges and end-buyers, allowing them the kind of price discovery offered by national exchanges, and convenience of access, is a possible solution.

An example of a local exchange is the Agricultural Terminal Markets Network Enterprise, which works with castor farmers, allowing them to trade at local branches across Kadi Taluka, 65 km from Ahmedabad.

Price discovery

Small and marginal farmers are also inconvenienced by the inter-bank settlement time, preventing exchanges from making instantaneous payments to traders. Price discovery between international and domestic commodity markets can improve by allowing banks to offer commodity solutions as an intermediary between international counterparties and smaller Indian companies.

While domestic exchanges currently offer over 50 commodities across various segments, the number of contracts listed on the exchange for agricultural commodities continues to be low. As the number of listed contracts increases, price discovery will improve.

(The authors are with Agricultural Terminal Markets Network Enterprise,IFMR Trust.)






The Indian Air Force is set for rejuvenation with the deal for new fighters close to its logical conclusion.

When the Ministry of Defence or its Military Wings display a sense of purpose by robust decision-making, it comes as sweet music to those who are avid watchers and deeply concerned at the declining status of the defence preparedness of the country. In air power alone vis-a-vis Pakistan, as against a parity ratio of 3:1 in the 1980s, now it is reckoned barely above 2:1 In the last several years, Pakistan has received, in addition to the jets from the US , JF-17 and Y8 Electronic warfare platforms from China , Swedish SAAB2000 Jets with Erieye radars.

China has become, in the recent years a genuine aerospace power and by 2020 it is set to have an all fourth generation fleet. On the other hand, India has not been able to replace the obsolescent MiG 21s which are nothing more than interceptors with anything which can be called decently modern. Poor production figures from HAL of Sukhoi-30s and inordinate delay in the development of Tejas by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) — the earliest expected year of induction of the first sqaudron strength being 2016 - have further exasperated the situation.The MOD being unable to exorcise the ghost of Bofors looked as if it was run on the principle on "No Decision - No Corruption".

Objective selection

However now, it is heartening to see not only decision is being made, but also that the selection among the contenders for the introduction of MMRCA (Medium-Multi Role Combat Aircraft ) is based on an evaluation after putting the competing air planes to rafts of tests on as many as 600 technical parameters.

To make the process transparent, the results were made known to the losers providing them with a technical appraisal as to why their offers were rejected. This gives rise to the hope that objectivity and technical considerations based on IAF's needs are gaining supremacy over the diplomatic palaver on old style loyalties of the Soviet era or emerging strategic ties with the US. One of the reasons is, of course, the financial prowess of India with robust growth of economy. The proposal now is to buy 126 fighters (later it may increase to 200) which may cost $15.75 billion if Typhoon is chosen or $11 billion if Rafale is preferred.

In the field of choice were the formidable Boeing's F/A 18 Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin's F-16N Super Viper. Russian MiG 35, Swedish Gripen NG, European Typhoon and the French Rafale. It appears the test pilots of the IAF found the Typhoon's man-machine interface presenting data streams from dozens of sensors on a single screen was the best. Rafale demonstrated outstanding instantaneous turn capabilities. By the way, Rafale has greatly impressed the experts by its performance in the recent Libyan sorties. And now the choice is between the Typhoon and Rafale depending on price bids. According to the tender, 18 fighters are to be delivered in fly away condition in three years and the balance to be built in India with transfer of technology.

Should this be logically concluded by September 2011, as publicly promised by the Air Chief at the Aero India 2011, India should be applauded for asserting its independence in decision-making and for basing such a decision purely on the recommendations of our Air Force pilots. It is hoped that neither the minutiae of conditions set annually in the so called Defence Procurement Policy nor the perennial detractors who see corruption in every government purchase do not come in the way of this significant stride in rejuvenating our Air Force.

(The author is a former Member, Ordnance Factories Board)










Violence has once again bloodied the process of converting farmland into town, along the Yamuna Expressway linking Noida, on the outskirts of Delhi, to Agra. Farmers do not feel that the enhanced compensation package formulated by the UP government after earlier agitation, complete with annuity payments, is sufficient recompense for the land being taken away from them. The problem is likely to crop up again and again, as India inexorably urbanises and takes away land from farmers to build towns in which to locate factories and office complexes, to build roads, mines, power plants and such other pre-requisites and symbols of post-agrarian modernity. The solution is not to use force or keep increasing the quantum of upfront compensation to a point that could make many new projects unviable. Rather, the solution is to find a form of stakeholdership for those who stand to lose land that offers two things: certainty and fairness. In Singur, the average size of the holding protesting farmers stood to lose was one-twelfth an acre, which could only yield a meagre living. But these tiny patches of land were the only sources of livelihood for their owners and it made no sense for them to give these away without alternative, certain and better sources of livelihood being in place. A viable form of stakeholdership is to transfer ownership of the land in question to a special purpose vehicle (SPV) in which half the ownership is vested in the original owners of the land, while the other half vests with the project developer. The project could pay the SPV lease rentals that reflect the commercial value of the new activity coming up on the land, offering landlosers a steady, certain stream of income. The value of the SPV's shares would increase as the land rises in value over time and the erstwhile farmers would share in the upside. Further, the landlosers could be organised into production units that deliver assorted services to the new project, adding to their incomes. These should be an integral part of the project. There is no one ideal solution. But there must be a sincere effort to find models that hold out fairness and certainty to those who lose land and livelihood.







In an even more direct indictment of Pakistan's ISI spy service over its links with terrorist groups, federal prosecutors in the US are reportedly set to name five Pakistanis, including a serving ISI officer, in the trial of an accused in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Add to that the revelation that US authorities, in recommendations to interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, list the ISI alongside groups accused of terrorism, and it seems virtually an official declaration of what has been common knowledge. But the quandary is that there has been close collaboration between the CIA and the ISI in the past, and the US still needs the ISI and the Pakistan army as it deals with Afghanistan. The moot point now is whether a hitherto unprecedented level of pressure can be brought to bear on the Pakistan army to move against groups it has so far been sheltering, and whether sections in the ISI and the army who remain wedded to the policy of using terror groups for strategic objectives can be excised. The perverse logic of a militarised foreign and strategic policy has so pervaded the Pak army that it may not just be a case of a problematic section within its institutions. So entrenched is that policy that the Pakistan army is unwilling to move against terror groups without making any discriminations between them, despite some of these groups having unleashed a campaign that has taken the lives of over 30,000 Pakistanis in the last few years. It's a truism that we can't choose our neighbours. And things going from bad to worse in Pakistan will spell trouble for the region. There has to be a judicious mix of engagement and requisite pressure India and the wider international community must employ while dealing with the Pakistani establishment. The latter needs to realise the cynical search for 'strategic depth' means the inevitability of terror groups it has nurtured turning against it, and not just deeply distrustful neighbours. Changing that will take a multi-faceted effort on India's part. And it is also likely to be a long haul. But seeking long-term stability and peace in the region demands that India stay the course.








    KZiran Bedi won the 1994 Magsaysay Award for her commendable contribution to making Tihar Jail not just a secure prison but a rehabilitation centre. Some 17 years later, it could be said in the wake of the 2G-scam that never in the history of Tihar Jail have so many high-profile inmates been simultaneously accommodated in such a short span of time. With the prime accused A Raja being jailed along with senior government officials and top executives of telecom companies, that part of Tihar where they are housed could even be renamed the 2G block. There are even reports that the high-profile inmates can hire TV sets to watch the latest on their trials and tribulations, their favourite serials and the odd movie produced by Bollywood or its vernacular siblings. Perhaps the DMK, which announced a scheme for distributing free colour TV sets in its 2006 assembly election manifesto, could update its plan and now offer this facility to inmates of jails all over the country!
It could also be asked whether Raja and his co-accused should have access to 2G or 3G mobiles in Tihar. Every other serial or movie made in India shows even convicted underworld dons transacting their business on mobiles in jail and changing their sim-cards after each call so that they can't be traced. Those who have the time and the inclination could even write their prisondiaries. Even the world's most popular authors like Jeffrey Archer have written books narrating their real-life experiences in jail. There is plenty of scope for philosophical treatises on time and space in Tihar. Dramatic diaries could even be made into movies like the 1984 Tamil release O r u K a i d h i y i n D i a r y(A Prisoner's Diary), starring Kamal Haasan — the Hindi remake, A a k h r e e R a a s t a, starred Amitabh Bachchan








If people are totally free, the most talented (and lucky) will get far richer than the dullest and unluckiest. So, freedom will create inequality. Communist countries aimed for equality of outcome through totalitarian controls, but this was hypocrisy: there was no equality of power between those laying down the rules and those forced to obey.
To ease the tension between liberty and equality, countries typically aim for equality of opportunity, not outcome. Yet, inequality is almost everywhere measured by economists in terms of outcome, not of opportunity. This leads to paradoxical data and flawed analysis. The accompanying table lists the six most equal and unequal major states in terms of consumption, measured by the Gini coefficient, the standard statistical measure of equality ranging from 0 to 1. A high Gini of 1 means complete inequality, and a low of Gini of zero means complete equality.
The table shows, dramatically, that areas with the most consumption equality (i.e., with the lowest rural Ginis) are the poorest. Bihar and Assam are the most equal, with Ginis of just 0.17. But do they represent islands of great fairness and well-being? Not at all. They have suffered for decades from some of the worst poverty, misgovernance and slow growth. This inequality of governance — and hence of opportunity — is not captured by the data.
Recently, Bihar has enjoyed record growth and improved governance under Nitish Kumar. When the 2009-10 data is released, it will surely show that inequality of consumption has increased in Bihar. Analysts may condemn this as sign rising unfairness, but that will be nonsense. Incumbent chief ministers in poor states that suddenly grow fast (Bihar, Orissa, Chhattisgarh) typically get re-elected with large majorities despite worsening Ginis. In such states, opportunities of improvement have improved, and that matters more than the equality of outcome.
The most unequal states in rural Gini are the richer ones. Haryana leads with 0.31, followed by Kerala (0.29), Maharashtra (0.27) Tamil Nadu (0.26) Punjab (0.26) and Gujarat (0.25). Consumption equality in the poor states is almost invariably below (and in rich states almost invariably above) the all-India average of 0.25. Such equality is a sign of distress more than fairness or satisfaction.
People have long migrated from relatively equal but poor states to relatively unequal but richer states. People also migrate from villages (which are relatively equal) to towns (which are relatively unequal in terms of consumption). The greater the gap between the rich and poor areas, the greater are the gains from migration. So, what some analysts condemn as growing inequality between states translates to rising returns to migration, creating more opportunities for poor migrants.
For most people the biggest surprise in the table will be Kerala. It has long prided itself on its welfarist, socialist pattern of society, but has the second highest rural consumption inequality (0.29). By this measure, it is far worse off than Bihar or Uttar Pradesh! Kerala is substantially a remittance economy (a quarter of state GDP comes from remittances), and clearly those getting remittances gain over those without. Kerala has the best social indicators in India, which should mean the most equality of opportunity. But that does not translate to equality of outcome, and there is no reason why it should. Apparently unequal Kerala is a much better place to live in than apparently egalitarian Bihar and UP, because Kerala provides more opportunity for developing skills that fetch returns in the marketplace, and that is what really matters.
    Haryana has the highest rural consumption inequality. Its proximity to Delhi has driven up land prices to crores per acre, making plutocrats of all large farmers. But the same process has also converted some one-acre farmers into crorepatis, something Ginis fail to measure. These "unequal" one-acre farmers are, ironically, wealthier than many urban folk who earn one lakh a month but own no real estate. As the table shows, Ginis in urban areas are not very different in rich and poor states. The big difference is in rural Ginis. Most migration in India takes place within states, not between states. Poor villagers migrate to nearby towns to escape the tyranny and monopoly power of landed elites who have the local police station and revenue officials in their pocket and do not want villagers to rise.
Migration is often but wrongly seen as a sign of distress. In fact, it's a sign of newfound opportunity. In the last Bihar state election, Rahul Gandhi told election rallies that Bihar was badly off under Nitish Kumar since so many Biharis migrated. Voters rejected that thesis utterly by reducing the Congress to just four seats.
There are indeed countries (mainly in Africa) where consumption inequality can be a sign of terrible distress and injustice. But in India, both the best economic opportunities (in Maharashtra, Gujarat) and best social indicators (in Kerala) lead to unequal income outcomes.
It is easy to say that, other things equal, more income equality is better than less. But other things are not equal, since rising equality of opportunity leads to rising inequality of outcome. We need to abandon the Gini coefficient as a measure of fairness, and create another measure that captures equality of opportunity and the freedom to get richer than your neighbour on merit. Just as GDP is a very incomplete measure of well-being, so is income equality a very incomplete measure of fairness.










The RBI's move to exclude loans given to the non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) from the priority list is wrong and unjustified. The central bank had recognised the role of NBFCs in 2003-04, saying their relative organisational flexibility enabled them to provide tailor-made services relatively faster than banks.
The contribution of the sector was also acknowledged by a parliamentary standing committee. NBFCs have been instrumental in the development of various sectors ranging from agriculture, automobile and transportation to small enterprises. The drastic measure has dealt a blow to the complementary and supplementary relationship that has emerged over a period of time, courtesy the RBI's policy to channelise credit flow to the priority sector from banks through NBFCs. All rural and semi-urban areas where banks do not operate are likely to suffer. Priority sector borrowers — artisans, craftsmen, retail traders, farmers and tiny enterprises — will be hurt. The move will also impact the operations of NBFCs. Fund flow to these entities of hitherto priority sector loans will dry up. The cost of funds would go up for borrowers (even those falling within the definition of priority sector borrower) and business volumes will shrink.

An articulated view needs to be taken on the decision that affects both the borrowers and the systemically important intermediary. Competent intermediaries play a very important role in financial distribution. To have an efficient credit delivery system, controlling and creating an enabling situation is the right approach rather than eliminating intermediaries altogether. It is ironical that, on the one hand, we are struggling to reach to the millions of financially excluded citizens and on the other, we are putting an end to an already existing credit delivery system developed by NBFCs. Even on grounds of equality, why should NBFCs be singled out and denied participation in the national agenda of financial inclusion by choking the line of credit to them? The infrastructure and manpower deployed by NBFCs should not be rendered redundant by a single stroke without drawing a future course of action for smooth transition.



Five years ago, a 78-year-old educated person wanted to know how she could retrieve an overdue deposit of . 75,000 from a non-banking finance company (NBFC) that was in a mess. She has now turned 83 and is yet to get back her deposit. Such incidents of default notwithstanding, the NBFC sector in India has grown. Now, they have become large enough to pose systemic risks to the financial sector.
Figures published by the RBI at the end of March 2010 show that the total assets of the NBFC sector, at . 6,57,185 crore, forms 10.9% of the assets of the commercial banking system. NBFCs had borrowings of . 1,70,746 crore, mainly from the banking system. They had also issued debentures of . 1,38,722 crore and the investors include banks. Thus, a sizeable portion of the deposits of the banking system is lent by banks to NBFCs. Banks have been willing to lend to NBFCs at lower rate of interest against loans granted by the latter to agriculturists, with jewellery as security. The provision to classify such loans as priority sector credit was withdrawn by the RBI in February, 2011. The move by RBI is appropriate as reliable verification of the end use of funds by NBFCs for agricultural lending is not possible. Now banks will be forced to charge appropriate risk premium by way of higher rate of interest on loans to NBFCs. It is not only the pricing aspect that has to be addressed by the regulator. There are allegations of notice of jewellery auction not being actually sent to defaulters, benamis taking part in the auction, nexus between NBFCs and jewellery shops and amount realised in excess of loan outstanding being credited to a suspense account and later on taken into the income account of NBFCs.
The practice of NBFCs raising debentures as if they are deposits from retail investors on a continuous basis also needs to be regulated. Regulation of the NBFC sector must be strengthened to avoid not only systemic risk but also to save depositors and investors from undergoing the plight of the 83-year old lady who is still struggling to get back her investment from a failed NBFC.







 One of the best times to be in the national political Capital is on the eve of election results deemed to impact the centre of political gravity. That is the time when the rooted, battle-hardened political heavyweights return from the campaign trail with a feel of the churning at the grassroots and position themselves for post-results manoeuvres. This is also the time war-wary strategists unburden themselves of untested wisdom in TV studios, providing comic relief.

The results of this round of Assembly elections in four states and a Union territory — three in the south and two in the east — will come out just nine days ahead of the second Manmohan Singh government completing its second year in office, battling big-buck scams, persistent inflation and administrative hiccups.
The elections in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry cover a total of 824 assembly segments spanning a little less than one-fourth the total Lok Sabha seats. There will be a temptation to see in the results a pointer, however farfetched, to the emerging popular mood in the country since UPA-II retained power in 2009.

Since the Congress is heading the ruling coalition at the Centre, the results from the states would be projected at the national level vis-a-vis its impact on the Grand Old Party, its allies and on the ruling combine itself.
The BJP, the main national opposition, would be raring to declare "we-are-back-with-abang" against the "rejected, corrupt UPA" if the Congress and its allies suffer major reverses. By the same token, a presentable or impressive show by the UPA partners will make the BJP face cat calls. The national political parties live with this occupational hazard even if the elections in the states are, in the main, fought on local issues and regional political equations.

For the Congress/allies, the worst-case scenario (and the best for the NDA+) will be defeats in Tamil Nadu-Puducherry, Assam and Kerala. Victories in Kerala, West Bengal and Assam will prompt the Congress front to throw a party to dance away its 'national gloom' while the Opposition can work on a booklet on "the significance of the Tamil Nadu verdict". But, if Karunanidhi too springs the Amma of all surprises against Jayalalithaa, then the Opposition's only option would be to observe a relay maun vratat Jantar Mantar. Whichever way it swings, one can be reasonably sure about three things on the corruption front. The Congress high command and the PMO will have to continue to take more cleansing steps to redeem itself from the image/ credibility crisis. In victory, they can do it with a sense of moral high and in defeat in a state of panic. Secondly, a larger revamp of the Union Cabinet and administrative streamlining could form part of the exercise. Thirdly, the probe into 2G scam will remain unaffected courtesy the strict Supreme Court monitoring of the CBI.
Even in the worst defeat for the Congress front, or, in the best show by the Opposition, the stability of UPA-II will not be affected for two reasons; for every unhappy/bullying ally, the Congress has a Mulayam/ Mayawati/Ajit Singh/Lalu and even a Naveen Patnaik waiting to do a tango, of course for a price. And there is no credible alternative for political freelancers to try a toppling bid by risking a mid-term poll three long years ahead. Seasoned players, from both sides, will wait to see the results of 2012 battles in UP, Gujarat, Punjab, HP, Uttarakhand and Manipur before they start (re)positioning for the final bout.

In real terms, the results will be crucial for the Left and the DMK. For the BJP, its bid to bag Assam and open its Kerala account are at stake. Defeat in Bengal and Kerala will pose a huge crisis for the Left and spell national decline. Every Bengali communist less than 34 years of age will see, for the first time, what life is like in the Opposition, that too under a Didi. A relief victory in Kerala will be VS Achuthanandan's truimph against his own party leadership; a narrow defeat, his decent swan song.

A crisis, still, offers the CPIM-led Left a choice: to get more sectarian or reorient itself through some soul-searching, shedding dogmas. But the Left's 'alternative voice' will still have relevance, especially on areas of Congress-BJP convergence. The ramshackle 'Third Alternative' too will continue as a 'pre-poll talking shop' as long as the BJP's anti-Muslim stand makes it tricky for many anti-Congress regional formations to mingle with the saffron party pre-poll (the AGP in Assam and the BJP hope for a post-poll liaison against the Congress bid for a hat-trick).

A DMK defeat would mean an existential crisis for the faction-ridden Karunanidhi family, political hostility in 'Jaya-land' and so a docile life within the UPA. A DMK triumph, or anything less than its "crushing defeat", more than anything, will be a revenge of regional realities on the national discourse. So, over to Friday's music from the ground.









Summertime and I'm still touring peninsular India, where the Vindhyas meet the Satpuras and the undus meet the gundus. "Can you be at the hospital around 7.30-8 am?" asks the young medic. "Are you nuts?!" is my first reaction; "I couldn't make it that early even if Sridevi came to my doorstep dancing the hula in a grass skirt!" However, I'm somehow there by 8 am. The pioneers of medical tourism in India, corporate hospitals of the south have, for long, mixed commercial profitability with compassionate health care. The ruthlessly efficient machinery, the brilliantly articulate doctors, the courteous English-speaking staff; all create a model that Gujarat has never been able to exactly replicate.


To the south-west, Kodi (not 'Kodai' as is often wrongly said) nestles snugly in the Palani hills. By the time we reach, it's dark, so we'll have to wait till daylight to catch a glimpse. The time-share resort asks us to wait for a little while as the previous occupants are clearing their room. "A little while" soon stretches into several hours, by when the occupants have either killed each other or are engaged in some R&R (renovating and refurbishing).
    Finally, an aggressive "amma" marches in and threatens to change her clothes in the manager's office if her room is not vacated immediately — an improvised, innovative version of Draupadi's vastraharan (Darpana academy could work wonders with this). The manager flees in panic, leaving his assistants at her mercy; not that they were complaining. Just as we were settling down for some ringside seats, some killjoy steps in and postpones the show. (One can almost see the 'Inconvenience to spectators is regretted' sign). Madam also seems to have been persuaded to change her mind, not unlike a certain Poonam Pandey. This is definitely one for the text books — and our holiday hasn't even begun!

    The first glimpse of Kodi when the curtains are drawn the next morning, is quite startling, as the hotel is situated just above the lake, encircled by stately trees. Longmaned horses and their grooms can be seen around the periphery, offering rides. Later, at breakfast, the F&B manager can be seen fussing over Pritish Nandy at a table nearby — ah, the joys of celebdom. Less commercial and developed than its betterknown cousin, Ooty, Kodi is preferred by many. And while the lake in Ooty is situated in a corner of town, in Kodi, it's pretty much in the centre. Interestingly, parts of both towns could pass for each other, even to the trained eye. Also, unlike the rugged terrain of the northern hills, the southern ones appear much more gentle and placid; much like its people, manners and customs (with exceptions).

    Joe, a school buddy, has opened up a Chinese food joint called Lobsangs. On being asked the reason for choosing the name, he says he was inspired by the Lobsang Rampa occult series books of our school days. Good thing he wasn't inspired by Nancy Drew. Later, while we're looking around for hotel options, a clerk shows a pitch-dark room devoid of any light or ventilation that would make the black hole of Calcutta look like the Waldorf Astoria. The rates are quoted at a couple of hundred bucks. "Season time, saar," he offers by way of explanation. But of course; Indian tourism's national song.

    The town's finest hotel, the Carlton, looks pretty as a picture with its cobblestone path and eyecatching architecture. KIS, short for Kodaikanal International School, has now changed its marketing mix and admits a large number of Indian children; as do most formerly European schools in the country. Most interesting of all, during a round of its premises, is a sign that says, 'Gum-Free Zone'. Once a year, all the schools of the region have their inter-school sports meet in Wellington in the Nilgiris, which resembled a mini Olympics; with children of different races and nationalities participating. Time to move on; next stop Udhagamandalam?




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Supreme Court's stay order on the Allahabad high court's verdict last year in the Ayodhya title suit is a welcome relief as it removes one possible avenue of acrimony in what the court described as a "difficult situation" — one that created a "litany of litigations". In one sense we are back to square one — as the question of what is to be done with the disputed site remains open — and in search of an amicable solution. The high court had ordered a three-way division of the 2.77-acre site where the Babri Masjid once stood, between the Ram Lalla, the Nirmohi Akhara and the Sunni Central Waqf Board. Interestingly, the high court had thus recognised Lord Ram as a juridical personality — something which goes back to the history of British India. The British too had recognised Lord Ram as a juridical figure back in the 1900s, but they had tried to please both Hindus and Muslims while keeping them at loggerheads. The Allahabad high court might well have thought that its verdict last September would make all parties happy, but it actually had the opposite effect — no one was pleased, and all of them said so in the Supreme Court on Monday. The judges had asked representatives of all three sides if they were satisfied, to which all responded in the negative, prompting the Supreme Court to note in a lighter vein that at least there was unanimity on one point. The Supreme Court, while describing the Allahabad high court verdict as a "strange" one, noted that none of the parties to the dispute had sought partition of the site. It is normal practice for a court to hear the prayers of litigants, but in this case there were no such "prayers"; therefore the Supreme Court felt it was justified in quashing the high court's order. In doing so, it automatically restored the status quo at the site; thus the aarti and other rituals that were being performed at the makeshift Ram Lalla temple can now continue. The Supreme Court has now given all sides time and space to come to an amicable settlement of an age-old problem which is acceptable to all. Historical records show that a Hindu pandit had filed a petition in 1885 seeking permission to build a temple next to the 15th-century Babri Masjid, named after the Mughal emperor who had ordered the masjid built. It is difficult for the courts, in any case, to judicially determine what is a highly-emotive social and religious issue, especially one that can inflame passions across the land. If, for instance, the Supreme Court were to deliver a verdict which was found to be unacceptable by either community, the court as an institution would be put in a very difficult situation. It should also be noted that no single group can satisfactorily speak on behalf of an entire community spread all across the country, though there are many religion-based institutions and organisations which claim to do so. Is there a single entity which can speak for all Hindus or all Muslims? There are many people in both communities opposed to the bloodshed and acrimony over this disputed site at Ayodhya, that worsened over the years with politicians jumping on to the bandwagon to gain electoral advantage. One option is to allow the issue to continue meandering through a combination of riots and litigation for several decades. The other is to collect a rainbow committee comprising people of all viewpoints on both sides to thrash out a solution. But that, of course, is easier said than done, as events of the past few decades have shown.






An increasing number of people and countries who are urging US President Barack Obama to use the Arab renaissance and the killing of Osama bin Laden to revive the peace process concerning Israel and the Palestinians are barking up the wrong tree. To begin with, for years there has been no peace component in the process; for another, the icy Israeli reaction to the welcome development of a reconciliation process between the Fatah and Hamas factions, however tentative it is, tells its own story. The problem is what it has been for decades, despite former US President Bill Clinton's belated attempt at an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation in 2000. The key to a genuine reconciliation between Israel on the one hand and Palestinians and the broader Arab world on the other does not lie in the region of West Asia. It is in Washington, and until the domestic power equations and the mood of the country undergoes a profound change, no American President can help bring about peace. President Jimmy Carter's success at Camp David in 1978 was determined by the Israeli realisation that making peace with Egypt at the cost of returning the Sinai peninsula would foreclose future wars and President Hosni Mubarak, who succeeded the assassinated Anwar Assad, was prepared to honour the bargain in which Egypt received a heavy US subvention every year in exchange for being the co-jailor of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after the Hamas triumph while keeping up the pretence of being a facilitator in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. Significantly, the new interim regime in power in Egypt after the toppling of Mr Mubarak has already announced a change in this policy. The eight years of the George W. Bush presidency altered the scenario in West Asia because it gave Israel under Ariel Sharon a carte blanche to negate the tentative gains of the Oslo process, weighted against Palestinians as it was, destroying the European Union-financed budding infrastructure and making the tallest leader of the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat, a non-person in the old Soviet fashion. President Bush bought Netanyahu's narrative. Israel thereby destroyed chances of a peaceful resolution, and despite singing from the two-state solution hymn book, Mr Sharon and the present Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ensured that there would be no two states as far as they could help it. The Israeli leadership knows better than anyone else that their real power in a sea of Arab world lies not in their cutting-edge military might or the nuclear weapon cache it has developed through Western help and America turning the blind eye, but in the implacable support it receives from the US power structure. Sometimes, US Presidents go astray, but they are quickly brought back to sanity. The elder Bush, President George H.W. Bush, denied US guarantees to finance the building of new illegal settlements and lost his presidential election bid. Mr Obama required of Israel to stop all illegal settlement building activity before starting new talks with Palestinians and was compelled to eat his words. Time and again, the United States has suffered the humiliation of being isolated in the United Nations, of being the only country, sometimes with states that are dots in the ocean, to vote against the overwhelming majority to save Israel. A new test is looming for the Obama administration in September when Palestinians will declare themselves as a nation in the United Nations General Assembly, a test Mr Obama is likely to fail because he cannot go against the power structure that keeps him in office. It is no secret that Israel has swung to the Right in recent years and the once powerful peace movement speaks in whispers today. The Arab spring and the change in Egypt in particular have been greeted with much nervousness in Israel for the simple reason that it is easier to make compacts with autocrats, whatever their people might feel, than with more democratic rulers. And the news from Egypt is particularly distressing for Tel Aviv. Will the new awakening in the Arab world give a new impetus to the peaceniks in Israel to build a revived movement to give voice to the only true basis for a Jewish state to live in peace? There are sane voices but they are still drowned by the vociferous Right and the cultivated culture of the founding of the state in which the sword rules the day. Only a change in the Israeli mood can influence the American Jewish lobby to loosen its grip on the levers of US policy-making. There are beginnings of an alternative Jewish view in the US but its lobbies are weak, compared to the formidable Right-wing pro-Israeli establishments that compel politicians to bow before them under pain of losing their seats in the US Congress or Senate. Former President Carter remains a maverick; he even wrote a book describing present Israeli policies as amounting to being an apartheid regimen after the fashion of the old South Africa. It is not a recipe that appeals to ambitious American politicians. Drawing up elaborate formulations on how Israelis and Palestinians can be reconciled is therefore a waste of time. The so-called peace process will continue to be promoted to keep up the charade of working for a solution, but nothing will change. Israelis will continue to build more "facts on the ground" with mild American reprobation; the European Union will continue to bear the burden of financing the Palestinians, fulfilling a role that belongs to the occupying power under international law, and the world will divert its attention to other matters. The only hope the Palestinians have is that the revolutionary changes happening in the Arab world, with heads rolling and an upsurge that foretells a new polity, however painful the process, will compel Israel and ultimately the United States to give Palestinians a real state of their own. There are more heartbreaks in store for Palestinians but their day of deliverance is drawing near in the emerging era of the Arab renaissance. *S. Nihal Singh can be contacted at







NEW YORK Watching the talk shows, thinking about the tumultuous last American decade, reflecting on the death of Osama bin Laden, I feel grateful for many things but not least this: the invisibility of the heroes. For once it is the deed itself that speaks. The deed, so often lost in this age of celebrities and reality shows and Donald Trump's monumental ego, stands unadorned. In its daring, its professionalism and its effectiveness, the deed is there, making words look cheap. The deed was that of the 79 US commandos, who have met with their commander-in-chief, US President Barack Obama, and who are known to one another, but are unknown to us. For secrecy is their covenant. Dispatched from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, at night, into a triangular compound in the Pakistani military town of Abbottabad, they contrived, in 38 minutes, and despite the loss of one helicopter, to kill the charismatic face of Al Qaeda and gather the largest intelligence cache on this murderous organisation ever found. It was an extraordinary achievement that put to rest a gnawing American self-doubt. I am so grateful that the achievement is not being dissected and adorned in a feeding frenzy of interviews with the Navy Seal forces, that the deed stands whole, not broken down into its component human parts — the work of a team, indivisible and invisible. An America too often blinded by ego and sensation has much to rediscover about teamwork and silent, smart, hard work. So many times these past days, finding myself back in New York beneath the skies of a 9/11 blue, I have heard an internal voice saying, "Oh, please". It was responding to complaints from the chattering classes that this was "murder", that there was no "justice", that Bin Laden's burial in the north Arabian Sea was "disrespectful". As if turning four planes into missiles and killing almost 3,000 people were not an act of war. If there is greater fatuity than second-guessing the split-second decisions of commandos confronted by gunfire, knowing the compound may be wired to explode, and hunting a serial mass murderer unwilling to surrender, then I am unaware of it. Let post-modern, pacifist Germans agonise, and whoever else wishes to writhe on a pin. The rest of us can be satisfied. More than 1,000 bodies were so pulverised on 9/11 that no trace of them was found, leaving the downtown air filled with their souls. And we are supposed to worry that this killer — of many Muslims, too — may not have gotten appropriate Muslim rites before sliding to his watery grave. I am grateful for something else: that Bin Laden has been humanised. He thought he carried the Prophet's message and was able, through a charisma pornographic in its worship of death, to channel an immense Muslim frustration. In taking on America, and staging his own mega-production one September day, he turned himself into myth. Yet, here he is, hunched, grey-bearded, channel surfing with his remote in search of images of himself. And here he is, with his beard dyed black, betraying the very vanity of the black-haired Arab gerontocracy he professed to loath. Bin Laden is very human here — in his boredom, his ego, his foibles and his weariness. That is an important reminder. Bin Laden was not the devil. He was a human being. What happened to him, this gentle-eyed killer, can happen: His transformation into a demon is banal. That is why all of our collective vigilance is needed. Speaking of vigilance, I have to say one word on Pakistan's blindness. If the country were not nuclear-armed, America would not give it another dime. But it is and America must. Before then, however, Congress is right to demand an answer to this question: Why, of all the places on earth, would Bin Laden choose to live in the very town that houses the elite military academy that is Pakistan's West Point? His advisers must have told him that was not a problem. They must have had a reason for saying it was not a problem. Their reason is America's and the world's problem. Until it is resolved it will do harm. I must end with the deed. It was also Mr Obama's. He's the guy who said: "It's a go". In the duel of Mr Obama with Osama, there was something of fate. The President kept coming back to him. There is strength in humility. Sometimes you have to keep coming back. Rilke, in a far different context, had this to say of Cézanne's abiding obsession with apples and wine bottles: "And (like Van Gogh) he makes his 'saints' out of such things: and forces them — forces them — to be beautiful, to stand for the whole world and all joy and all glory, and he doesn't know whether he has succeeded in making them do it for him. And sits in the garden like an old dog, the dog of his work that is calling him again and that beats him and lets him starve". For America, long starved of the satisfaction sustained purpose brings, the decade-old work is done.








The word "dynamism" is such that the moment we hear it we feel kindled within. When we see a person who is overactive or hyperactive, we feel s/he is very dynamic. When someone walks very fast, we think his/her gait is suggestive of their inherent dynamism. Or sometimes, when someone speaks with force, we say that s/he is a dynamic person. It is said that when Ravan walked around and thundered at people, the earth trembled. Here actions are being considered as signs of dynamism. Can we say that this is true dynamism? No. Now the question arises as to what is dynamism. A life of dynamism is one where there is a combination of great vision and action, which comes from quietude, contemplation and inspiration. All great masters in various fields have gone through a period of introspection, and history is replete which such examples. Swami Vivekananda is usually considered dynamic, but what about his guru Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who sat in one place — a temple of Goddess Kali. Was the student more dynamic than the teacher? No. The teacher's dynamism was far too subtle for us mortals to see and behold. A true life of dynamism is a life of vision and inspiration. When these two are manifested in action, it becomes a source of inspiration for millions. A wise man once said, "You are born therefore you must die, but don't die while you are living. You must live on after you are dead". This is not just related with the spiritual field. In all other fields, too, such as science, art, music and literature, the lives of the great masters are steeped in contemplation and introspection and that is precisely why they continue to be an inspiration to people even after death. But what kind of life are we living today? The fact is that while living we seem to be dead and when we die, we are stone-like anyway. When we hear of a person's demise, we generally ask, "How did s/he die?" We never ask, "How did s/he live?" Our focus should be on whether s/he lived a life of inspiration or perspiration. There are two kinds of lives one can live. One is a life of values and the other a life of valuables. When people start giving too much importance to valuables, values are left aside. And once values are ignored, the person is devalued. A life of dynamism need not be full of feverish activities. In nature, too, we see how silently the Sun rises; it illumines and energises us so much that when we don't see the Sun for a few days we feel depressed. When a plant germinates from a seed, does it advertise its arrival? One fine morning we see a few green leaves, then a small flower blossoming and then the first sweet fruit; nature works silently. Do we visit the valley of flowers only on invitation? How quietly the flowers charm us, how elegantly the birds fly; how efficiently they work; we must observe nature and get inspired by its silent proficiency. Therein lies its beauty. When we show off too much or boast about our achievements, then nature show us our limitations in contrast to its power. A great vision, therefore, emerges from silent contemplation. And when noble vision and action combine in a human being it becomes a blessing for humanity. The absence of vision spells doom and destruction, both to a single soul and the society at large. Ravan appeared very dynamic in his nature and actions, but in the end destroyed himself and his city, Lanka, too. On the contrary, Ram appeared to be meek and gentle, but his was the life of inspiration, of vision, of dynamism and was a blessing to himself and others. This is called a real life of dynamism. May God bless us all with that vision and may that vision transform our lives. — Swami Tejomayananda, head of Chinmaya Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji, visit © Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.







Charlottesville, Virginia A MAN is shot in the head, and joyous celebrations break out 7,000 miles away. Although Americans are in full agreement that the demise of Osama bin Laden is a good thing, many are disturbed by the revelry. We should seek justice, not vengeance, they urge. Doesn't this lower us to "their" level? Didn't the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr say, "I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy?" (No, he did not, but the Twitter users who popularised that misattributed quotation last week found it inspiring nonetheless.) Why are so many Americans reluctant to join the party? As a social psychologist I believe that one major reason is that some people are thinking about this national event using the same moral intuitions they'd use for a standard criminal case. For example, they ask us to imagine whether it would be appropriate for two parents to celebrate the execution, by lethal injection, of the man who murdered their daughter. Of course the parents would be entitled to feel relief and perhaps even private joy. But if they threw a party at the prison gates, popping Champagne corks as the syringe went in, that would be a celebration of death and vengeance, not justice. And is that not what we saw on May 1 night when young revelers, some drinking beer, converged on Times Square and the White House? No, it is not. You can't just scale up your ideas about morality at the individual level and apply them to groups and nations. If you do, you'll miss all that was good, healthy and even altruistic about last week's celebrations. Here's why. For the last 50 years, many evolutionary biologists have told us that we are little different from other primates — we're selfish creatures, able to act altruistically only when it will benefit our kin or our future selves. But in the last few years there's been a growing recognition that humans, far more than other primates, were shaped by natural selection acting at two different levels simultaneously. There's the lower level at which individuals compete relentlessly with other individuals within their own groups. This competition rewards selfishness. But there's also a higher level at which groups compete with other groups. This competition favours groups that can best come together and act as one. Only a few species have found a way to do this. Bees, ants and termites are the best examples. Their brains and bodies are specialised for working as a team to accomplish nearly miraculous feats of cooperation like hive construction and group defence. Early humans found ways to come together as well, but for us unity is a fragile and temporary state. We have all the old selfish programming of other primates, but we also have a more recent overlay that makes us able to become, briefly, hive creatures like bees. Just think of the long lines to give blood after 9/11. Most of us wanted to do something — anything — to help. This two-layer psychology is the key to understanding religion, warfare, team sports and last week's celebrations. The great sociologist Émile Durkheim even went so far as to call our species homo duplex, or "two-level man." Durkheim was writing a century ago, as organised religion was weakening across Europe. He wanted to know how nations and civil institutions could bind people into moral communities without the aid of religion. He thought the most powerful glue came from the emotions. He contrasted two sets of "social sentiments," one for each level. At the lower level, sentiments like respect and affection help individuals forge relationships with other individuals. But Durkheim was most interested in the sentiments that bind people into groups — the collective emotions. These emotions dissolve the petty, small-minded self. They make people feel that they are a part of something larger and more important than themselves. One such emotion he called "collective effervescence": the passion and ecstasy that is found in tribal religious rituals when communities come together to sing, dance around a fire and dissolve the boundaries that separate them from each other. The spontaneous celebrations of last week were straight out of Durkheim. So is collective effervescence a good thing, or an ugly psychological relic from tribal times? Some of those who were disturbed by the celebrations fear that this kind of unity is dangerous because it makes America more warlike and prejudiced against outsiders. When celebrants chanted "USA! USA!" and sang God Bless America, were they not displaying a hateful "us versus them" mindset? Once again, no. Many social psychologists distinguish patriotism — a love of one's own country — from nationalism, which is the view that one's own country is superior to other countries and should therefore be dominant. Nationalism is generally found to be correlated with racism and with hostility toward other countries, but patriotism by itself is not. The psychologist Linda Skitka studied the psychological traits that predicted which people displayed American flags in the weeks after 9/11. She found that the urge to display the flag "reflected patriotism and a desire to show solidarity with fellow citizens, rather than a desire to express out-group hostility". This is why I believe that last week's celebrations were good and healthy. America achieved its goal — bravely and decisively — after 10 painful years. People who love their country sought out one another to share collective effervescence. They stepped out of their petty and partisan selves and became, briefly, just Americans rejoicing together. This hive-ish moment won't last long. But in the communal joy of last week, many of us felt, for an instant, that Americans might still be capable of working together to meet threats and challenges far greater than Osama bin Laden. *Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is the author of the forthcoming book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion










THE involvement of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate in the 26/11 attack on Mumbai will be publicly aired in Chicago on 16 May when the trial of Hussain Rana of Pakistani origin, owner of an immigration consulting firm, begins. Six Americans were among 166 people killed in the Mumbai attacks. Though the 33-page charge-sheet does not mention ISI, it names Major Iqbal of the Pakistan Army whose affiliation to the spy agency has been detailed in US and Indian case files. That ISI facilitated terrorists to cross the border to carry out strikes on Indian targets chosen by the Pakistan Army has been revealed by Guantanamo Bay detainees to US interrogators, according to a fresh set of diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. The revelations add to Pakistan's embarrassment after Al Qaida  chief, Osama bin Laden, was found living in a fortress-like compound surrounded by military establishments in the garrison town of Abbotabad. Those indicted in Chicago include Sajid Mir, Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba leader with ISI links, and mastermind of the Mumbai attacks whose voice was caught on tapes directing the three-day mayhem by phone from Pakistan.
Despite the unprecedented charges implicating a Pakistani Army officer, the USA has chosen to play it down and the prosecution documents in the Chicago court have not been made public.  However, a recent judge's ruling in the Rana case says  David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani American-turned militant, admitted to working for the ISI as well as for Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba and Al Qaida. His account has been corroborated through other testimony, communication intercepts, the contents of his computer and records of phone and e-mail contact with ISI officers. India's investigation agency, after interrogating Headley in Chicago last year, revealed that senior ISI officers served as handlers of Lashkar militants and provided a boat, funds and technical experts for the Mumbai attack. Headley was trained in Lashkar camps before being recruited by Major Samir Ali of the ISI who referred him to Major Iqbal in Lahore in 2006.

According to the guidelines prescribed by the UN Security Council committee concerning Al Qaida and the Taliban and associated individuals and entities (Resolution 1267), five conditions are necessary for any entity to be listed under the Sanctions List of Terrorist Entities.  i) Participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf of, or in support of Al Qaida, Osama bin Laden or the Taliban, or any cell, affiliate, splinter group or derivate thereof. ii) Supply, selling or transferring arms and related material. iii) Recruiting for Al Qaida, Bin Laden or the Taliban or any cell, affiliate etc. iv) Otherwise supporting acts or activities of Al Qaida, Bin Laden-Q, OBL, or the Taliban etc. v) Other acts and activity associated with Al Qaida, Bin Laden or the Taliban.
The direct role of the ISI and Pakistan in the Mumbai attacks of November 2008 and the July 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul are tantamount to "perpetrating of acts" in conjunction with Al Qaida, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. It is about time India moved the UN to list the ISI as a terrorist entity and initiated steps to extradite Major Iqbal to stand trial for the Mumbai massacres.




SHEILA Dikshit has long been a palace favourite. Indeed that was the propelling force behind her, an "outsider", attaining the top slot in the Delhi government despite the resentment of most local Congress stalwarts. She was also ~ the stress being on the use of the past tense ~ probably the most effective political head of all the administrative systems the Capital has experienced (suffered?). And duly rewarded by the voter with a third consecutive term at the Old Secretariat/Player's Building. But, even if we accept the Manmohan Singh theory that the ballot is the ultimate arbiter on corruption, efficiency etc, or that proximity to 10 Janpath constitutes sword and shield, does that render her government immune to the checks and balances integral to democratic governance? In what appears to be a case of "third time arrogance" her government has submitted a detailed refutation of the Lokayukta's findings against the PWD minister ~ just as it has done in regard to the Shunglu panel's multi-point indictment over financial irregularities and administrative lapses in CWG projects. And for small measure, it also summarily rejected questions from the technical wing the CVC  questions on the quality of some of the newer flyovers. Does that not add up to bucking monitoring/ correctional authority? Some may admire the chief minister for "standing up" for her subordinates and contending that everyone is entitled to self-defence: many more will suspect her of  protecting the inept and corrupt. Yet what are the larger signals being flashed? Until "civil society" pressured the government into re-thinking its apology for a Lokpal legislation, the Congress had gone all guns blazing against the BJP government in Karnataka for slighting the Lokayukta. Hasn't Mrs Dikshit done precisely the same? The Shunglu panel was a creation of the Prime Minister, the instrument for keeping his promise to nail those responsible for the CGW mess. Is Dr Manmohan Singh so spineless as to accept a chief minister of his own party making light of that panel's findings? Would that not impact on other action initiated on the basis of the Shunglu probe? This is not to endorse the BJP's demand for the CM to quit: only to suggest that it is time she accepted that the government she heads is not infallible, and like all other governments is accountable. Or does accountability to "Madame" supersede all else; and Race Course Road have no option but to swallow its words when 10 Janpath does not echo them?




AN untimely death in a helicopter crash denied late Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu (56) the opportunity of fulfilling several of his pet projects, significant among these being to make the state India's leading power house and to root out corruption. Despite protests from environmentalists and residents of Upper Assam, Khandu signed several memoranda of understanding with private power companies. A farmer's son from Tawang, he once admitted that from the time he became a panchayat leader he was interested in public welfare and he learnt the nuances of politics from his involvement with innocent peace-loving villagers of his area whom he regarded as "gurus" and who ultimately helped him occupy the coveted post. So impressed was the Congress central command with Khandu's performance that it decided not to disturb the leadership after the October 2009 Assembly elections in which the party won 42 seats in the 60-member House. Khandu's achievements include the reopening of 32 branches of the state-owned Apex Cooperative Bank that had been shut for two years following a Rs 200-crore scam and the construction of a Food Corporation of India godown in the state. Whether or not his successor, the 50-year-old Jarbon Gamlin, is equal to the task of carrying forward Khandu's ideals remains to be seen, but the state also has a troubled history of legislators revolting against a chief minister because every legislator aspires to become a minister, if not chief minister. Both the Apang and Khandu governments rooted for overall development but not all accept this at face value, not least the Arunachal Pradesh Students' Union's adviser, who told the Press last week that not a single district headquarter town was connected by an all-weather road and had this been so, the late Khandu need not have flown by helicopter.








A Bengali play, adapted from George Orwell's Animal Farm, was recently not allowed to be staged by the district administration of Hooghly in West Bengal. The decision, which of course was reversed at the intervention of the Chief Minister, is reminiscent of the colonial era and the protests organised by Raja Rammohun Roy and Rabindranath Tagore.

The British had tried to muffle the vernacular press and had curtailed the rights of Indians. Rammohun was the pioneer in starting the vernacular press. He had published two journals, one in Persian and the other in Bengali. In 1823, along with Chanda Kumar Tagore, Dwarkanath Tagore, Harchandra Ghose, Gauri Charan Banerji and Prasanna Kumar Tagore, the Raja sent a petition to the Court of Law demanding freedom of the press. It was a historic petition, one that Rammohun's biographer, Collet, described as "Areopagitica of Indian History". The petition's basic argument was that human excellence stemmed from the freedom to think and express oneself. A free press is extremely beneficial to society. It helps the government to enhance its public esteem and respect.
However, the petition was rejected by the court, and Rammohun appealed to the King. There was also a long debate with the Court of Directors. Even Bentinck, who had banned the barbarous practice of sati, did not remove this restriction on the press. It was withdrawn much later in 1835 by Governor- General Metcalfe.
Meanwhile, plague had assumed epidemic proportions in India. The British terrorised the locals of Bombay. Tilak and the Nathu brothers protested against the atrocities, but their effort was futile. On 23 June 1897, two members of the Plague Prevention Committee, MWC Rand and Lieutenant Hyerst, were assassinated by two Maharashtrian youth. Tilak was arrested on the charge that he had published a report on the Shivaji festival in his newspaper, Kesari, on 15 June 1897. And this had allegedly incited the people. The Nathu brothers were arrested and their property confiscated.

The British and the Anglo-Indian community wanted the curbs on the Press to be revived. In Pune, the cultural capital of Maharashtra, people were terrorised by the police. Surprisingly, the Congress didn't respond to these developments. The Bombay Congress had several noted lawyers; yet they never volunteered to defend Tilak. In Calcutta, Tagore along with Hirendranath Dutta, Sisir Kumar Ghose and other leaders started raising funds to defend Tilak in court. A sum of Rs 17,000 was raised and two eminent lawyers from Calcutta were sent to Bombay. The Indian Association also advanced assistance.

Hearing in the case began on 8 September and on 15 October ~ without any jury trial ~ Tilak was imprisoned for 18 months. Though he was sentenced in a political case, he was denied all the benefits that a political prisoner was entitled to and was confined as an ordinary prisoner. He was not even allowed to take the Gita with him. It was only at the  intervention of the famous Indologist, Max Mueller, that he was allowed to read the book in jail.

In the case relating to the assassination of Rand, the two brothers, Damodar and Balkrishna Chapekar, were hanged. The Nathu brothers were not acquitted and the government refused to disclose their whereabouts.
After a few months, the 1897 Amaravati Congress took place. Far from planning a course of action, the party made a feeble protest against the imprisonment of Tilak and the Nathu brothers, the punitive action of the police, the Press Act and the reform of the Criminal Act. The president of the Congress session, Shankaran Nair, called them "blunders and mistakes". At this juncture, the  government tried to enact the dreaded Vernacular Press Act, directed against the  Bengali press which was becoming increasingly critical of the British. To silence the vernacular press, the "sedition bill" was added to the Penal Procedure Code which transferred the power of punishment from the court and jury to the District Magistrate.

Tagore responded to these measures in his essay, Kanthrodh, by asserting  that the language of his essay was Bengali ~ the language of the weak and defeated. He added that the authorities were scared of this language because it was alien to them. The  darkness of ignorance leads to the fear of the unknown. The poet argued that legislation  to silence the press was suggestive of a critical time for the nation; there would be few to articulate the real feelings because of the fear of severe punishment. But the very fact that the government was compelled to take such draconian measures was an acknowledgement of the reality that it was scared of the increasing strength of the nationalists.

Referring to the Revolt of 1857, Tagore pointed out that the stifling of the people's voice had been counter-productive. He was equally critical of the "moderate" Congress leadership for its failure to oppose the crippling curbs. In his reckoning, the Congress was mindless; Tilak and the Nathu brothers were wrongly punished without any cognizable offence.

Tagore's reply, which he intentionally advanced in Bengali, was testament to his commitment to secure elementary civil and political rights. It was also a warning that stifling the voice of dissent was always counter-productive.

Both Raja Rammohun Roy and Rabindranath Tagore realised that if one had to reach out to the average Indian, one would have to communicate in Indian languages.

It is amusing that the adaptation of Animal Farm had raised no cavil when it was staged in Kolkata. But when the message of the play was sought to be conveyed in rural Bengal, it raised the hackles of the authorities. The attitude of our ruling elite is no different from the colonial masters. It was expected that after the Emergency elementary rights, such as free expression, would be observed all over the country. However, the tendency to stifle dissent through intimidation and terror  is still manifest. And this was reflected in the decision to ban the play.

The brave and principled protests of Rammohun and Tagore should strengthen our resolve to protest, condemn and compel the authorities not to introduce draconian measures that can stifle the right to dissent and free speech.]

The writer is former Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi







13 May will be a historic day for West Bengal by all accounts. By mid-day, some 80,000 EVMs, used in six phases of the three-week poll held between 18 April and 10 May, will cumulatively announce the winners and losers in the 14th Assembly poll. Its outcome will be historic, either way: if the Trinamul-Congress-SUCI (TMC+INC+SUCI) alliance wins, it will have ousted the world's longest elected government deemed "invincible" till 2009. If it fails and the nine-party Left coalition returns to form the eighth government, it will also create history by giving another mandate to a communist government in an Indian state.
These superlatives will also clinch the outcome of the poll to either of the two six-letter words ~ Change or Return (in Bengali, Paribartan or Pratyabartan, respectively) ~ which reverberated in every voter's mind. The resonance of the first was louder and more ubiquitous than of the second and the results will amply reflect it. Another slogan, coined by Trinamul supremo Miss Mamata Banerjee ~ Ma-Mati-Manush (The Mother, the Earth and the Man) also reverberated and its ridicule by Leftist leaders could not dim its mass appeal.
This crystal-gazing is based on analyses of voting patterns from the last Assembly poll in 2006 but the bottom-line was the outcome of the 2009 Lok Sabha poll in the state. It is based on certain assumptions. First, the electors' choices do not swing too often, they repeat them, unless their pet party, or leader, makes a Himalayan blunder and alienate them by an anti-people policy, or performance. The second is that the media's effect on the electorate is minimal, particularly on the unlettered and the fanatic. Third, the more the turnout, the more are the chances of anti-incumbent votes. The fourth is that youngsters tend to vote for "change", but elders prefer status quo.

If these are true, the outcome on the 13 May will be close to 203 seats for the TMC+INC+SUCI alliance, 80 for the nine-party alliance, Left Front, five for the BJP and six for dissident and Independent candidates. Thus, the "right alliance" may win by two-third majority and ironically, may be close to the Left Front's victory in 235 seats in 2006 poll, which the chief minister bragged about soon after.

Parliamentary and Assembly polls are usually contested on issues, national for the former and regional, local and even personal for the latter. Illiterate people, not much exposed to the media, are generally swayed by local and personal issues and expectations; only the educated and politically conscious weigh national and state issues. The poll that ended on 10 May was fought on a single issue which makes it a kind of referendum: it was, whether the majority of more than 50 million voters wanted a change in governance or the return of the Left Front to form a government for the eighth time in succession.

The record turnout in six phases of the poll hitherto ~ well above 80 per cent ~ can be due to wanting either, but if the mood of the electorate in polls since 2008 is any indication, the huge turnout was due to a majority desire for a change; it has been a vote against the establishment, an anti-incumbency mandate. The present-day youth, urban and rural, except the members of the SFI and DYFI, to most of whom the CPI-M is like "my mother sober or drunk", being beset with massive unemployment and other frustrations wants a change in governance. There was high turnout in the 2006 Assembly poll too but it involved a lot of fake voting with CPI-M cadres out to rig the poll ~ evident from nearly 100 per cent polling in some stations. But the superb arrangements by the EC did not let it happen in 2011. The manifestoes of the Trinamul and the Congress played their part in the swing to these Opposition parties too.

The tsunami on 13 May will submerge many political figures on both sides ~ the Left Front and the Trinamul-Congress alliance. More than a dozen ministers in the Left Front government will bite the dust. Industries minister Mr Nirupam Sen, finance minister Mr Asim Dasgupta, housing and PHE minister Mr Gautam Dev, fisheries minister Mr Kiranmoy Nanda and the minister for western region Mr Susanta Ghosh will be among probable losers. Fortune may also elude other ministers such as Mr Biswanath Choudhury (Balurghat), Mr Mohanta Chatterjee (Domjur), Mr Narayan Chandra Biswas (Harirampur) Mr Rabilal Moitra (Gopiballavpur), Dr Surya Kanta Mishra (Narayangarh), Mr Naren Dey (Chinsurah), Mr Pratim Chatterjee (Tarakeswar), Mr Sudarshan Roy Choudhury (Jangipara), Mr Abdus Sattar (Amdanga), Mr Murtaja Hossain (Deganga), Mr Anisur Rahaman (Domkal), Mr Sailen Sarkar (Ratua), Mr Srikumar Mukherjee (Itahar), Mr Dasarathi Tirkey (Jalpaiguri), Mr Ananta Roy (Mathabhanga) and Mr Anadi Sahu (Beleghata).

Despite extensive road-shows and door-to-door campaigns in his constituency, the chief minister faces a tough fight from his former chief secretary Mr Manish Gupta and the fate of the state Congress president Dr Manas Bhunia in Sabang hangs by a thread. Many Left Front candidates, seeking re-election in north Bengal, may lose their security deposits. The CPI-M will be in utter disarray ~ there will be a revolt by comrades and cadres against the top brass in the state and the Politburo, particularly chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the party's general secretary, Mr Prakash Karat. The latter's misjudgment leading to the decision to withdraw external support to the UPA-I and ally with the BJP was a Himalayan blunder. If that had not been done and the Left parties continued to support the UPA-II, the Congress would not have allied with the Trinamul for the Assembly poll. The party will be shaken to its roots by the
poll debacles.

The author is a retired Indian Information Service officer and held senior positions in All India Radio (News)







During my tenure as the Director of the National Police Academy, (NPA) Hyderabad, Surendra Nath, the then Governor of the Punjab, was a frequent visitor. Surendra Nath was an outstandingly successful officer of the Indian Police Service. In a glittering service career, spanning over four decades, he held many important offices with great distinction. Honour and recognition followed his footsteps. He was the youngest inspector-general of police of Jammu and Kashmir and also the first IPS chief secretary of Mizoram. Subsequently, he joined the Union Public Service Commission as a member and went on to become its chairman. The climax of his long professional career was his appointment as the Governor of Punjab, at a time, when the state was convulsed by terrorist attacks and violence. He made a noteworthy contribution to elimination of terrorist violence in the Punjab.
Surendra Nath often came to the NPA to address IPS probationers. He was charming, urbane and silver-tongued. He always felt that young IPS probationers, the police leaders of tomorrow, should be infused with correct values and ideas. Future of the police service in the country hinges largely on professional and moral leadership provided by the IPS officers. He, and his charming wife, endeared themselves to all by their unfailing courtesy and graciousness. During interaction with the probationers, he always emphasised, by quoting apt incidents and examples from his long professional career, the practical wisdom of eschewing extra legal methods and cultivating respect for human rights. I also sought his counsel in many matters and issues concerning police training in the country.

Unfortunately, while travelling by air from Chandigarh to a place in Himachal Pradesh, he died with all members of his family in a plane crash. It was a cruel stroke of malevolent destiny. It was a horrific and shattering blow to all of us, who knew, loved and admired him. Both my wife and I were left benumbed by shock and sorrow. I quoted to Gouri, the memorable lines of the Greek historian Herodotus: "Call no man happy until you hear the end of him". I also remembered poignant lines of Aesop describing the tragic elements of life. The joys in life, he says "are the beautiful things in nature, the earth, the sun, the stars, the wheeling of the moon and the sun". But so far the rest, there are fears and sorrows and if one enjoys a little happiness, nemesis, exacts recompense.

After demitting charge as the director of the National Police Academy, I joined as the director-general of the newly created National Human Rights Commission. This happened just before the tragic denouement. I received a letter from Surendra Nath dated 15 June, 1994 in which he congratulated me and wished all success in my new assignment. He said somewhat very generously "it was a deserving recognition of your outstanding merit and qualities of character". It was a posthumous letter.

Even now after more than two decades, whenever I recall my days in the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, the smart and trim figure of Surendra Nath, with his ever smiling face and brisk movements flashes before my mind's eyes. One cannot indeed fathom the mysterious ways of providence. A cruel stroke of malignant fate ended a bright and inspiring career of a stalwart of the Indian Police Service. But memories of association with him remain undimmed and imperishable.

The writer, a retired IPS officer, is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences







There was a violent clash on the outskirts of Delhi. Four people, including two policemen were killed. The enemy kidnapped two government officials and took them hostage. Who were the enemy? They were neither Maoists nor separatists nor any ideologue pursuing a political agenda. They were farmers demanding a fair price for their land forcibly acquired by the government. Their agitation is spreading across Agra, Aligarh and Mathura ~  across India 's heartland. Their grievances are genuine. Their grievances are ancient. The grievances have been voiced by different farmers across different states. The government has yet not formulated a policy for land acquisition that redresses grievances of the dispossessed. The government has no time to talk with the farmers, listen to them and calm their agitation. The government right now is busy thinking up ways to tackle Telangana protesters should they become violent after the Assembly poll results on 13 May. Even after decades, the government has no clue on how to tackle the Telangana agitation. The government is also busy right now deciding how to take advantage of the reprieve gained from pilots who had struck work to paralyse flight schedules…

The government has its hands full. Law and order is crumbling everywhere. But the most sinister aspect of the farmers' agitation is that they attempted to hold hostage government officials. How were their tactics different from those adopted by the Maoists? Their tactics were equally unjustified. But their despair was fully justified. Why did they adopt Maoist tactics? Because they must have seen how the Maoists succeeded in having their way after holding hostage government officials. This, then, is the significantly ominous sign of the farmers' agitation. The mainstream public is being driven by the government's conduct to adopt measures that favour violent revolution. Whether it is in the Red Corridor controlled by the Maoists, or along the railway tracks blocked by pro-reservationists, or in state after state where people who are denied democratic justice demand separation, there is a grave threat to the security of the nation.

What is the remedy? Article 352 of the Constitution states: "If the President is satisfied that a grave Emergency exists whereby the security of India or any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression or armed rebellion, he may by Proclamation, make a declaration to that effect in respect of the whole of India or of such part of the territory thereof as may be specified in the Proclamation." Do conditions in India or in certain parts of India justify the proclamation of Emergency? Even if justifiable conditions might prevail, either presently or in the future as governance continues to slide, Emergency is ruled out. Emergency has become a dirty word. It happened because Indira Gandhi lied, her party lied, and the hordes of sycophants among the ruling elite lied to rationalise the proclamation of a fraudulent Emergency when no justifiable conditions for its imposition existed. To avoid relinquishing office after an adverse court judgment, Indira Gandhi made false allegations against her political opponents to justify the imposition of Emergency. When out of power, she confessed that she had made a mistake by imposing Emergency.

Therefore, however grave the conditions in India are, or might soon become, Emergency is not an option that may be exercised. There is an even more compelling reason than Indira Gandhi's past folly to preclude the imposition of Emergency in India . If Emergency is imposed, it will be proclaimed and executed by the guilty group that has created the conditions which justify it. Clearly, that will suggest a remedy worse than the disease. There is therefore only one solution. The people of India must organise themselves to create a democratic alternative that can defeat the current crop of corrupt and criminal politicians through an election to reclaim governance and the rule of law in the nation. That sounds impossible? Perhaps. But when the instinct for survival asserts itself may not people rise to the challenge and achieve the impossible?

The writer is a veteran journalist

and cartoonist







Land is finite but its capacity to incite strong emotions appears to be infinite. The bonds that tie a person to his land, however small, seem almost primordial. Protests against the acquisition of agricultural land for industries have in the past stalled projects in West Bengal and Orissa. Now similar agitations have occurred in Uttar Pradesh — in Noida and Agra — and they threaten to spill over to Aligarh. One problem is that for the acquisition of land, the piece of legislation that is used by the State was enacted by a colonial administration and goes back to the late 19th century. It is not surprising that farmers who are victims of land acquisition refuse to accept the principles of compensation laid down in such an antiquated piece of legislation. Peasants and farmers thus rise in protest and this leads to a breakdown of law and order. The concerned administration then has no other alternative but to treat the entire episode as a law and order problem and then use the police to quell the protest. One consequence of this is that the fundamental issues never get addressed. It is made to appear as if the acquisition of land is essentially a law and order problem and there are no deeper socioeconomic and political issues involved. The incidents in UP and their handling by the Mayavati government only highlight this once more.

The value of land is never static. The way in which a piece of land is used can enhance its value manifold. For this reason, current market price cannot be the only basis of working out a compensation package for someone who is losing his land to the State, which can then sell the land at many times its original value. The loser of the land is actually parting with what is, more often than not, his principal, and perhaps only asset. Victims of the acquisition process are not entirely unjustified in demanding that not current prices but future value should form the basis of the compensation. This has a parallel with the situation faced by tribal people, who live in areas that are rich in underground natural resources. It is assumed that only paying them the land value is adequate and no provisions need be made for what is under the land. These are some of the anomalies that lie at the root of protests directed against land acquisition. Unless these are addressed, protests will always be sparked off and then treated as a law and order problem.







Sometimes a curse can become a blessing in disguise. The 10-day strike that battered the already drooping image of Air India has ended up resurrecting the national carrier in what seems to be a perverse irony. After suffering steep losses to the tune of Rs 200 crore and causing untold misery to passengers, the airline has jumped back into business by slashing ticket prices by 15 to 20 per cent. Passengers have evidently taken the bait, and bookings have increased with remarkable alacrity. But a decision that makes brilliant monetary sense does not necessarily make brilliant practical sense. The strike may be finally off, but Air India's services, in many sectors, are far from normal. News of cancellations, disruptions and delays continue to abound. It may have been easy for Air India to start off a price war by offering highly competitive fares, but such knee-jerk reactions to problems that are endemic to the existing system are not going to serve the company well in the long term. In order to win back its pride of place in the national market, Air India needs to first earn the trust of the passengers — something that can only be achieved by imbibing global standards of excellence.

Punctuality, passenger safety, in-flight hospitality and professionalism are some of the key areas in which Air India could upgrade its existing records. But more fundamentally, the airline needs to radically reform its mode of operation. The recent strike emphatically revealed the fault lines that run across the organization. For although the demand for pay parity, raised by the disgruntled members of the Indian Commercial Pilots' Association, was not without reason, the manner in which it was put forward was far from reasonable. Instead of seeking the opinion of a cross-section of the pilots through a secret ballot, as is the practice in such circumstances, the ICPA imposed the strike as a blanket order. In this form, it became a deeply undemocratic exercise, which put the justness of the cause at a great disadvantage. Instead of making a convincing case for pay parity, the ICPA's ham-handed agitation went on to undermine the gravity of the situation. Finally, the strike has been called off after the authorities promised to look into the question of pay parity. But so far, only assurances have been made. And pilots, as one knows well, are trained not to be deceived by silver linings.






It may be years, if not decades, before a true and complete account of the operation which killed Osama bin Laden is known to the public. But the price on bin Laden's head, not in monetary units, but in diplomatic and political terms, is not too difficult to calculate. The fallout of bin Laden's death on strategic equations in South Asia and the Arab world will only alter marginally, notwithstanding revelations on whether or how much Pakistan knew of the American operation and who, if anyone in the Pakistani State, enabled the world's most wanted terrorist to hide in plain sight and when the Americans were alerted to his presence in Abbottabad.

It is one of the more welcome features of official statements and fact sheets in the 21st century that governments are less and less willing to put out complete lies for fear of being caught out in an age when YouTube and Google are powerful instruments in the hands of ordinary people to challenge falsehoods spread by States. Therefore, Pakistan's government must be given the benefit of doubt when it claims, as it did two days after bin Laden's death, that "as far as the target compound (in Abbottabad) is concerned, (the) ISI had been sharing information with (the) CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009."

The crucial point is why did the Inter-Services Intelligence start sharing such information with the Central Intelligence Agency at all? And why did it start doing so only in 2009 and not earlier or later even though the conspicuous compound, a stone's throw from the Pakistan army's military academy, was built five years ago? Unmistakably, because 2009 was when the prospect of reintegrating the Taliban into the body politic of Afghanistan began to be looked upon favourably in several quarters involved in the Afghan conflict and became part of the agenda for any future set up in Kabul. That was the year when even those who were opposed to the idea of engaging the Taliban — including the "good" Taliban, as some referred to acceptable sections of the outfit — acknowledged that it could no longer be excluded as an item on the table.

Pakistan's whisky-drinking, dog-loving chiefs of army staff were seldom enamoured of the ideology of the Taliban or al Qaida as their taste for good whisky and love of Scottish Terriers, both anathema to Islam, testify. Even General Zia-ul-Haq, who was personally more conservative in his beliefs than either Generals Pervez Musharraf or Ashfaq Parvez Kayani — the latter a former head of the ISI — viewed the Muslims who flocked to his country, and brought with them extremist religious ideas to liberate Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, as no more than instruments to regain Pakistan's coveted "strategic depth" that would extend across Jalalabad, Kabul and all the way to Mazar-e-Sharif.

For the hard-nosed in Rawalpindi and Islamabad who draw up Pakistan's strategic balance sheets in their 'near abroad,' bin Laden has always been a trump card in his retirement: the latest in a string of trump cards that Pakistan has been blessed with throughout its short but turbulent history. But bin Laden's value was that he was also the priciest trump card the Pakistanis have ever had in their half- century-long games of diplomatic roulette. Bin Laden was Pakistan's best bet for gaining its objective of "strategic depth" in Afghanistan.

It is reasonable to assume that somewhere along the Barack Obama presidency, Islamabad calculated that the present White House was truly serious about ending the war in Afghanistan, declaring victory and then pulling out American troops. But not without creating a permanent presence of the United States of America and Nato in Afghanistan's neighbourhood that does not risk the lives of Western soldiers.

Pakistan saw in this scenario a golden chance of filling the vacuum created by a US pullout from active combat with its proxies, the Taliban and the so-called Haqqani network, the latter a mujahedin network owing allegiance to Jalaluddin Haqqani and, in turn, to Pakistan.

But in order to achieve this objective, it was imperative for Islamabad to worm its way into the confidence primarily of the Americans, but also of their Nato allies who are part of the international security assistance force fighting in Afghanistan. Pakistan had to first establish its credentials with the Western powers as an unimpeachable ally in a common fight against terrorism.

Bin Laden's use for Pakistan was that it thought that he could be turned over to the Americans at an appropriate time and this would prove that although the ISI may have been playing its little games, it could be trusted in the litmus test over catching or killing the world's most wanted terrorist.

Here again, it can be presumed that the Pakistani government is being truthful in its May 3 statement, which claims that while the tip off about bin Laden to the CIA came from the ISI, "it is important to highlight that taking advantage of much superior technological assets, (the) CIA exploited the intelligence leads given by us to identify and reach Osama bin Laden," culminating in the airborne raid that killed the al Qaida chief.

In the coming weeks and months, Pakistan's ability to cut the best deal for itself will depend on how effectively it can press home to Washington, London and other Western capitals its contention that the "CIA and some other friendly intelligence agencies have benefited a great deal from the intelligence provided by ISI." This thrust was evident in the speech of Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, in parliament on Monday. At the army general headquarters in Rawalpindi, however, many people may be wishing that Pakistan had used its bin Laden trump card a little better. But it is too early yet to conclude that all is lost for Islamabad.

Few capitals in the world are easier to manipulate than Washington. Deploying the right resources and strategy, Pakistan can yet gain the upper hand and achieve the objective of realizing its perennial ambition of a strategic depth in Afghanistan. That is the price it had put on bin Laden's head ever since the ISI created conditions during the battle of Tora Bora in 2001 which enabled bin Laden to escape the stranglehold of US forces in Afghanistan and, eventually, find his way into Abbottabad.

Meanwhile, the operation which killed bin Laden has spawned a slew of little firefights within America. Reporting bin Laden's death, The Washington Post wrote in its lead story that "Obama announced bin Laden's death eight years to the day after Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq, a war spawned in large part by the September 11 attacks, in front of a 'Mission Accomplished' banner on the deck of an aircraft carrier." The newspaper's reference to that banner, which was an object of ridicule that haunted George W. Bush during the remainder of his presidency, apparently came out of a "gaggle," a routine where a spokesman informally briefs the White House press corps but without a transcript subsequently being put out on that briefing.

Bill Shults, a reader of the Post in Maryland, angrily wrote to the editor: "What was the purpose of that completely unrelated piece of information, except to take yet another dig at a president you didn't like? Is there nothing you can report without using the occasion to insert your own political jab" at Bush? Some television talk shows during the week following bin Laden's killing have tried to transfer the credit for tracking the Saudi terrorist down to Bush.

Between the excessive exuberance of some of Obama's Democratic supporters and the fanciful claims of some Republicans in favour of the Bush legacy, Obama has, so far, conducted himself with statesman-like dignity in his hour of glory. Among other gestures, the president invited Bush last week to travel with him to New York's "Ground Zero", the site of the destroyed World Trade Center, an invitation which Bush turned down.

It is still too early to tell, but if the bottom does not drop out of the American economy in the next year-and-a-half, as it threatened to during the 2008 election season, Obama ought to be able to translate his May 1 victory over al Qaida into a second four-year term at the White House. At any rate, his Republican opponents have already lost the argument that he is weak in handling national security, an argument which was beginning to resonate with many Americans before bin Laden was killed.






Two weeks ago, I was writing on — more exactly, off — Britain's royal wedding. Bigger things have arisen since. Yet, oddly, I found myself a little more concerned by the execution of Osama bin Laden than I had been by the nuptials of a British prince.

Execution? Yes, indeed; let's not pretend. Just don't ask me therefore to condemn it. If you set out to massacre thousands of civilians, without even the pretence of military need, you deserve whatever you get. In World War II, German civilians knew the Allied bomber crews who killed some 650,000 of them as "terror-flyers". Rightly, though terror wasn't the only aim or effect. I'm impressed that any shot-down airman who reached the ground alive wasn't promptly lynched.

So bin Laden, to me, is history. But his influence plainly isn't. And, remarkably, it extends to language. Not his influence alone, of course, but that of the ideas he embodied. Clash of civilizations is a familiar phrase today. Yet it dates only to 1990, when its inventor specifically applied it to Muslim rage against the West, and it was that context which made it famous when an American historian, Samuel Huntington, used it more generally. In contrast, the word, crusade, once widespread in Western English as a metaphor (a crusade against vice, for instance) has become almost unusable, except in its historic sense.

Those are trivia. Not so is the way Islam and its related adjectives and nouns (imam, mosque, hijab, for example) have acquired a negative sense in everyday Anglo-American speech, to the point where Islamist had to be invented to describe the sort of Muslim who shares bin Laden's view of the world. How many everyday Anglo-Americans distinguish this from Islamic, I wonder.

Other than Muslim, mosque, minaret and perhaps haj, very few words specifically linked to Islam ever passed into ordinary English. Yet, thanks to the Muslim centuries in Spain, or via mediaeval French and Italian, many of our words have Arabic origins. Cotton is the commonest; in Spanish it's algodon. Note that give-away al-, as in algebra, alchemy or alcohol; I imagine the Indo-English almirah has the same origin. Less obvious is admiral; no kin of admirable, but from amir al-bahir, ruler of the seas. Some words came by roundabout ways. Adobe (at-tuba, the brick) was Spanish before reaching 19th-century American English from Mexico. Kaffir (kafir, infidel) came via South Africa. Some were borrowings themselves: ex-Arabic apricot began in Latin, talisman in ancient Greek.

There are hundreds more: arsenal (via Italian, a factory), magazine (a store) and tariff (notification); coffee, lemon, orange, saffron, sugar, from Arabic words with roughly those meanings; crimson, scarlet; gazelle and giraffe; jumper (as in a jersey) and sash; mattress, sofa; lute (al-oud) and guitar; harem, forbidden, as in the Arabic name for Jerusalem's Temple Mount; and of course scientific terms; azimuth, nadir and zenith, zero (sifr) and cipher. And, not the least, monsoon (from mawsim, a season).

With words like these, I'll happily do without the crusades. Though the list is also a reminder, needed these days, that those wars were not the start of the Islamic-Christian clash. It began with Muslim assaults on and then occupation of Byzantine West Asia and North Africa, of Sicily from the 7th to 10th centuries, Spain from 711 to the close of the Christian reconquest in 1492. The Turks were at the gates of Vienna in 1683, and having taken Constantinople in 1453, held most of Greece until 1827, and bits of Christian Europe until the 1900s.




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The supreme court's stay on the Allahabad high court's ruling in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case last year is more than a routine stay of a lower court decision. By terming the high court judgment strange and surprising, the apex court has substantively invalidated the earlier ruling. The high court had divided the disputed site among three parties to the title suit, the Sunni Wakf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and the representative of Ram Lalla. The high court decision was then seen as a compromise and was welcomed. But many of the arguments put forward by the judges and the assumptions behind them were questionable and the supreme court has made these questions clearer.

The apex court has, in effect, said the high court went beyond its jurisdiction in partitioning the disputed site. No party to the case had sought a division of property and so there was no reason for the court to issue a decree for that. The division seemed to follow a ratio which could not be explained or adequately justified. The property was divided equally among the three parties, when there was no legal basis for it. The court's conclusion that Lord Ram was born on the spot under the central dome of the demolished mosque was also not tenable. The importance that it gave to faith and religious belief in deciding the legal dispute could not have set good precedent.

While no party was completely happy with the judgment it was seen to endorse some positions of the Hindu groups without giving sound legal reasons or citing clear historical evidence in support of the conclusions.

If anybody had the notion that the Ramjanmabhoomi dispute is near a legal solution it has been disproved now. The apex court's decision has taken it back almost to square one. The status quo as ordered by the supreme court in 1994 and 2002 will be restored and the arguments may have to start all over again.

That makes a negotiated settlement a practical and desirable way out of the dispute. But Ayodhya is not a live issue now and it is doubtful if it can be revived any time soon. So the incentive for negotiations will also be low. It is likely that it will continue its tortuous legal course in the foreseeable future. But the merit of the supreme court stay is that it has foreclosed an option of dubious merit.







It is difficult to see who gained from the 10-day strike by Air India pilots. The pilots, who disrupted 90 per cent of Air India's flights and crippled the airlines, have only got a promise that their demands, including that for pay parity with those who fly on international routes, would be looked into by a committee. The committee was in any case seized of the demands. The reinstatement of the suspended and dismissed pilots and revocation of the de-recognition of the pilots' union will restore only status quo ante.

The settlement does not address the substantive issues of the dispute. Neither the government nor the airline management gained. The ministry, which had first taken a tough stand in the face of the strike, later climbed down.

The losers are easy to identify. The travelling public, who had to put up with flight disruptions and inconvenience for many days had to suffer. Air India as a company lost Rs 15 crore per day during the strike. The tax-paying public has to foot this bill. This is over and above the Rs 13,300 crore of the airline's accumulated losses.

The airline is weighed down heavily by debt, surplus staff and inefficient use of its resources. It has reached a stage where it is losing money every day even when it is working. It has to repay a Rs 40,000 crore loan which has not been put to good use. It is unable to use the large fleet of aircraft it has bought or ordered. Instead, services on profitable routes were curtailed, which obviously benefitted private airlines. All good businesses thrive by competition. But Air India only declined and was pushed to the fourth position from its number one perch.

Obviously this was because of mismanagement and corruption. Several reports have pointed out that political interference and lack of adherence to the best commercial norms have been the main reasons for Air India's decline. The political masters and the managers have never been made accountable for their faulty decisions. The credibility, reliability and image of the airline have suffered because of recurrent strikes and poor service.

It is difficult to see how it can be turned around any time in the future if the present management system, culture, and state of finances continue. The present agreement is only temporary. Unless the basic problems in the airline's working are addressed, it will continue to bleed.







We could align with America and the western nations on several issues that are common between them and us.
History could not have offered a better opportunity to India. Pakistan, our adversary, has been caught red-handed providing safe haven to the world's most wanted terrorist.

Osama bin Laden. Osama is dead, having lived for more than five years right opposite Pakistan's Military Academy in a military town near Islamabad. Pakistan — whether it is its government or ISI or its military establishment — is caught, literally naked, in an act we Indians always knew it was capable of doing. We had always been grumbling that it harboured terrorists. Now, the US action has proved it.

But, what was our government's reaction to this entire episode? It was as muted as it could ever have been. The nations of the world rejoiced that Osama was gone. They all said so without mincing any words. While, India's foreign ministry came out with a guarded statement and a very placid response.

This is not the first time that India's foreign policy has been spineless. For decades we have been basing our foreign policy supposedly on principles of equality, universal brotherhood (remember 'Hindi Cheeni bhai bhai?') and peaceful coexistence — all extremely noble principles but rarely followed within our own country. Food rots in our official granaries in millions of tonnes, but we do not give it to the poorest of our poor. We want to 'price' it and even the decision on such pricing is not taken for years on end.

Our forest-dwelling tribal folk are constantly being dispossessed of their home and livelihood in the name of some dam or power station or other project. Our governments like to give away good farmlands to one infrastructure project or other. The farmers are, consequently, driven out of their habitat for the sake of some project which we cannot be sure whether it sees the light of the day and, if it ever does, what it accomplishes in the end. Singur and Nandigram are repeated time and again.

Take for example, the present agitation by farmers in Uttar Pradesh. Whether at the centre or at the state level, our politicians do not really believe in all those nice principles we mouth at international forums. At home, weaker sections of our society are always treated shabbily. Weak abroad, atrocious at home. Why do our successive governments behave so?

The answer is: It is typically a weak man's response. A weak man possessing unworthy habits is more likely to beat up his children and wife, and at the same time kow-tow before other people outside of his house. We do not have real leaders — neither in politics, nor in bureaucracy. The whole system of politics and its supporting bureaucracy is based largely on supplicant behaviour, sycophancy, nepotism and bribery of all kinds. Corruption has eaten into our very souls.

Muslim vote

In order to support their terrible inadequacies at home, our political bosses look for props from outside. We are worried as to whether expressing our solidarity with the West will affect our relations with the Islamic nations. Our politicians' worry regarding Islamic nations is based mainly on their expediency of ensuring Muslim vote at home and not on any ideals or principles. Had it been so, it might have been worthy of admiration. By turning the heat on Pakistan at this juncture, would it hurt the Muslim sentiment and vote? That is the senseless worry. Thus, large national gains are sacrificed for narrow internal benefits.

Otherwise, this is the ideal time to turn the heat on Pakistan. Certainly not the physical adventure like that of Obama; but, a diplomatic offensive in various international forums.

We could align with Obama's America and the western nations in general on several issues that are common between them and us. We could sell our story-line to the entire world. There is no better time for it than the present. If we lose this opportunity, it will rarely ever present in the future. We can take an international leadership position in combating and preventing terror.

We could start many initiatives at the United Nations to find a lasting solution to the problem of terror that we face as much as the western nations, if not more. Even the unresolved Kashmir problem can be settled once and for all with diplomatic actions. With its complicity in international terror networks being clear to the world, Pakistan is now on a very weak foot. Even its allies like China will be wary of it for a while.

Many lasting international political deals that will ensure peace and safety to our citizens can be struck at this juncture. But, where are these initiatives from our government? The Union government seems paralysed by the corruption scandals and worries regarding its prospects in the state level elections and the next general election.

Opportunities to substantially enhance our presence in Afghanistan in contributing to its stability, peace and economic growth are immense, provided we want to take them. Likewise, there would be myriad opportunities in several other Asian, particularly South Asian countries, West Asia and the Arab world. India has always hankered after the UN Security Council seat. Actually, much bigger opportunities are knocking on its door now.

What a permanent seat at the UNSC could possibly do for India, can now be done through active and wise diplomacy.







I was witness to an overload of inexplicable rhetorical overdose.
How often does someone ask you a question for which the someone actually expects no answer? I recently read a friend's blog about rhetorical questions and, interestingly enough, the following day I was witness to an overload of the same, unfathomable and inexplicable rhetorical overdose.

It was a Wednesday morning and I stirred awake reluctantly. My roommate knew I had a crucial graded presentation for the 9.15 class and yet she asked me, "Are you going to sleep the entire day?" Rhetorical question exhibit A. It simply meant — don't be late. I reached the mess in time for breakfast and asked if breakfast was ready. Now that apparently was a rhetorical question to them. When are things ever ready on time?

Boiled egg in one hand and laptop in the other I clumsily trotted in to class. The professor called out our names and asked us, "Are you ready to present? Prepared well?" With 30 per cent of evaluation hinging on this one presentation, what did he expect for an answer? Post our presentation, my professor explained a mathematical model to the class half stressed out and fully perplexed by the cumbersome math and asked them — "Now, wasn't that simple?" Which meant — "This model is extremely simple for statisticians; work harder if you can't follow this".

Lunch time, I ordered paneer: The dish as always was floating in oil and just as I was about to start eating, a friend walked past, looked at my plate and said, "Hey aren't you watching your weight?" Now, notice that I did not ask her for her opinion. Yet she insisted in giving me her two cents — stop eating such oily food else you will bloat. The day was just getting better — it was as if I was in a crash course called "learn all the rhetorical questioning techniques in 24 hours".

That afternoon, perhaps a reaction to having got over the presentation, I had a two-hour nap. I woke up to a misty evening, typical of Kozhikode, with the valleys ever so pretty. I decided to take a walk and met my professor on the way down; she seemed happy too and asked me "Such lovely weather isn't it?" It might have been the umpteenth rhetorical question that day but this time I couldn't agree with her more.

Later that evening, my friends and I decided to go out for dinner to a friendly neighbourhood dhaba. Barely seated, I ordered every second dish on the verbal menu that bhaiyya offered and he could just about contain his laughter as I said "two of these, three of that, two of those too and a bunch of rotis". My friend looked at me and remarked, "how hungry are you?" And I obviously didn't have to answer that either. This was in keeping with the trend of the day.

And finally, beautiful start-studded night at the campus: My friend with star gazing as a hobby set up his terrestrial telescope with much precision and invited me to take a look. Spellbound, I cannot take my eyes off the Cassiopeia along with the bright Jupiter; I asked myself "Isn't that the prettiest sight? Can it get any prettier?" I didn't need an answer, nor was I searching for one.






The political tsunami of the last few months in this part of the world was largely carried out by the youth.
Was Al Jazeera the key factor in the fall of the governments in Egypt and Tunisia, in the protests in Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, Algeria, and Syria, and in the rebellion in Libya? I don't think you can make this claim: the changes arose not from communications but objective conditions, though communications played a powerful role.

After 15 years of activity, Al Jazeera now reaches an audience of 200 million viewers. Vast numbers of Arab families were glued to the network to follow the unfolding of events in the region. It was and is a factor in the proliferation of the messages and opinions of a largely muzzled public and of information about the events and accusations that the regimes of the region covered up or distorted.

In these years, it has already managed to broadcast a different message than the other television networks in the region, with the exception of a few, like Al Arabya. The director of Al Jazeera, Wadah Khanfar, defines this message as one that is identified with universal values and that might inspire a new culture, especially among the young generations. According to Khanfar, the political tsunami of the last few months was largely carried out by the youth, which make up 60 per cent of the Arab population and were completely marginalised.


Testimony from these countries has shown that the majority of citizens turned to Al Jazeera for news despite efforts to weaken or block its signal, interfere with its satellites, attack its journalists, and destroy its offices.

Khanfar tells how one night he was having dinner in Doha when he received a call from Tahrir Square in Cairo, epicentre of the Egyptian protests, asking him not to turn off the cameras then filming because the military was ready to attack but was holding off until reporters stopped broadcasting.

The full coverage of the protests would not have been possible if the protesters themselves hadn't sent out their images and footage in areas where reporters were not able to do so.

This, combined with social media like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and others, constitutes a formidable information-gathering system in the direst of conditions. The combination of these media with Al Jazeera, which is powerful and growing rapidly stronger, compounds their impact. It is clear from this that there is no incompatibility between traditional media and the new media, which can merge in what is called 'integrated communication'. This new form of communication quickly spread beyond the area of the protests, especially to neighbouring countries.

Egyptian activist Asma Mahfouz states that the social media were not discovered at the last minute as the protests exploded but had already been enlisted as alternative modes of communication given that the traditional media ignored the concerns of the people. She said that there was a jump in intensity after the clearly fraudulent September 2005 elections when President Hosni Mubarak was re-elected by a unprecedented 88.6 per cent majority.

The protests were led by the middle classes, which had access to the internet, the backbone of the communications media. Young protesters revealed how that Facebook made them more confident and gave them a feeling of strength.

Malek Khadroui, a Tunisian blogger, explained that many of his compatriots did not believe in these instruments, but "we learned to use them in a different way than previous generations". He said that the opposition had used the internet in the 90s, though  only to get information and not as a means of organisation and participation.

Khadroui also noted how in the final phase of the dictatorships of Tunisia and Egypt, the regimes tried to use the new media to counter the protesters "but failed because they didn't have confidence in them".

In recent months the management of Al Jazeera has given a lot of thought to the question of whether the changes in the region might allow for the building of a different future in which the newly-erupted digital culture will have a permanent presence and the social media will help define a new role for the community and a new identity, and perhaps spur change in the hands of a new generation that is better connected, better educated, and inspired by universal values.

Maybe Hillary Clinton was right when she said that we are in the middle of an information war in which the US is losing and players like Al Jazeera are winning.








A group of bereaved families is proposing that Memorial Day be separated from Independence Day on Israel's calendar of events. As Nir Hasson reported in Monday's Haaretz, the idea's sponsors wish to ease some of the dislocation and pain felt by families who have lost their loved ones and have trouble dealing with the abrupt switch from memorial services at military cemeteries and monuments to parties in the streets, public entertainments and the firework displays of Independence Day.

The proposal was discussed two and a half months ago by the Public Council for the Commemoration of Soldiers and met with strong opposition, but the discussion has not ended. The idea is worthy of thorough examination and wide public debate. Even national traditions that were instituted many years ago deserve renewed scrutiny now and again and can be adjusted to circumstances and the spirit of the times.

Separating Memorial Day from Independence Day would make it possible to mark each of these national events with the attention it deserves. It would also make it easier for bereaved families to participate in Independence Day events, by giving them a chance to recover from the ceremonies and events commemorating fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

Moreover, Independence Day would then be celebrated in a more civilian atmosphere: It would emphasize the state's achievements and be a day of hope instead of focusing on the memory of wars and terror attacks and reflecting the atmosphere of struggle, conflict and state of emergency in which Israel has found itself for decades.

Yet the arguments against the change are also very weighty. Linking Memorial Day to Independence Day was intended to remind Israelis about "the silver platter," as poet Natan Alterman termed it - the price paid by the Israel Defense Forces fighters who gave their lives to establish the state and preserve its security. Separating the two might be viewed as an insult to their memory and an attempt to repress and whitewash the loss. There is also symbolic value in sticking with a tradition that began in the state's early days and that links generations of Israelis.

The proposal's sponsors have offered a balanced formula under which Memorial Day would fall one day earlier, so that there would be one ordinary day between it and Independence Day. In this fashion, the connection between the fallen and the celebration of independence would be maintained, but the passage from one to the other would be less abrupt.

The Public Council for the Commemoration of Soldiers should reconsider separating Memorial Day from Independence Day. And this time, it should allow the general public input into its debates and considerations.








1. Barack Obama's achievement: From the day he assumed office, the president of the United States made preventing an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities a high priority. To prevent a strike, America tightened its supervision of the Israel Defense Forces. The Obama administration expanded aid to Israel for missile defense, but new offensive weapons were provided to Israel only in the form of "forward deployment" in emergency storehouses whose opening requires American approval. Hezbollah has a similar arrangement with its Iranian patrons; only the latter are authorized to allow the use of long-range missiles deployed in Lebanon. This tight supervision has contained Israel, for the time being.


2. Iran's deterrent works: Iran learned the lessons of the bombed nuclear reactors in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007: It dispersed its nuclear facilities to make an air strike more difficult. Even more importantly, it decided to take the war into enemy territory and build a strategic offensive arm against Israel.

The tens of thousands of missiles and rockets that Iran deployed in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, with the cooperation of Syria's missile corps, can sow destruction in the Dan region and paralyze the Israeli economy for a long time. The more Iran beefed up its missile threat, the louder the warnings grew inside Israel against a military adventure that would lead to a destructive war of attrition lasting for years. The Iranian deterrent exists in Tel Aviv, not in Natanz.

3. A dispute at the top: Over the past 10 days, a serious disagreement has emerged among Israel's leadership over the need for and wisdom of attacking Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who promised upon returning to power that he would do everything to prevent the Iranians from gaining nuclear weapons, is sticking to the view that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is Hitler. In his speech on Holocaust Memorial Day, he once again termed Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas "new villains working to destroy the Jewish state" and warned, "The entire world will learn that when Israel and the IDF say never again, we mean every word."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was always considered Netanyahu's partner in the activist line against Iran, has lately softened his approach. In an interview with Gidi Weitz in Haaretz, Barak asserted that Iran will not drop the bomb on Israel and rejected the prime minister's talk of a holocaust. Barak knows that action against Iran requires broad public support because of the great dangers it entails. If the threat is not that bad, there is no reason to strike.

Former Mossad head Meir Dagan was, as usual, much blunter, asserting that an air strike against Iran would be "stupid." Dagan speaks as one who knows: He was responsible for the Iranian file until recently, and his operational recommendations in the Second Lebanon War proved to be more accurate than anyone else's.


4. The Iranians are in trouble: Senior Israeli officials who consider a military operation a last resort - like Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon - are encouraged by the internal political struggles in Iran, which reflect the regime's weakness. Economic sanctions are pushing the business community toward the opposition Green Movement. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are also clashing: The religious leader is squeezing the president, who will apparently not be put forth for another term. Bashar Assad's regime in Syria, Iran's ally, is fighting for survival against demonstrators in several cities. Under such circumstances, it is best for Israel to remain quiet and not intervene, and to let the internal processes in Tehran and Damascus do their work.


5. Interim Conclusions: In his upcoming speech to the U.S. Congress, Netanyahu will reiterate his warning that Israel is being threatened with destruction, and as such, it should not be pressured to withdraw from essential territories of the West Bank and transfer them to the hands of the "villains." Hints that he will dispatch the air force on a "never again" mission to Iran if Israel is pushed into the corner are meant to deter Obama from imposing an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

But the threat sounds hollow. The internal disputes in Israel, concerns about a destructive war of attrition and uncertainty about how Egypt will respond are all serving as brakes on the aircrafts' wheels. Netanyahu waited two years, only to discover that now, it is much harder for him to strike.







These words were written on the eve of Memorial Day, the most painful and difficult day in our calendar. Anyone who lost the most good-hearted of their friends and hoped that those friends would be the last to die, anyone whose heart has been ripped apart by the military funerals of the most wonderful of their friends' children can only greet this day, year after year, with deep sorrow mixed with awe. In recent years, however, the ugly contempt that has spread to all areas of life in Israel threatens to poison this sphere, too.

This year's most noticeable expression of that contempt - public sing-alongs that charged entry fees - stirred up a tiny storm. Leading the distasteful pack was Zocherim, an organization that documents and commemorates Israeli terror attacks, which last week proudly announced "a unique, moving program in the organization's special style," in which participants would buy tickets to reflect on the memories of the dear departed from four families, the first of these being the Netanyahus. This event, which featured many performers, would not have aroused so much opposition had the symbols of the Education Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality not been on the advertisements for it.

And not just the Education Ministry, but its religious culture division. What in the world is the connection between religious culture and Memorial Day? Perhaps Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who enjoys basking in the light of officialdom, could have provided an objective answer - if only he hadn't been one of the speakers at the event. In the meantime, after Channel 10 exposed the disgrace and a few performers backed out, the organizers announced they would refund the cost of all the tickets purchased. The education minister, for his part, did not back out.

The tickets are a minor issue, actually; it was only a matter of time before the sentimental sing-alongs became a source of revenue. The fact that these sing-alongs exist at all points to the decline of the significance of Memorial Day as a national holiday during which the public ponders the memory of the war dead and pays them its respects. It's been a long time since the modest, official ceremonies of days gone by, when a local choir sang a song or two after the beautiful Yizkor memorial prayer and remarks by a representative of the bereaved families. It seems that event organizers now fear that this kind of ceremony would attract low ratings, so they go for professional singers and a famous host instead.

Perhaps the truth is even worse. Perhaps the anxiety of these sing-along organizers runs deeper and is based on the fact that they, like many others, are no longer certain that Memorial Day is capable of creating a common denominator among all the fragmented groups in Israeli society, and they are trying to get around it by using the popular and harmless medium of song. After all, beautiful Israeli songs sung by the country's finest singers do not confront anyone with difficult questions of war and peace, of who gave and who took, of who is deserving and who is not, of who then and who now, and only blur the fact that there is no such thing as national grieving, and that all that remains is private grief.

The privatization of memory was inevitable. In a society that has consciously relinquished the remnants of its solidarity and has privatized every area of life, far beyond the accepted boundaries of the old liberal democracies of the West, consciousness has also been privatized, and memory turned into an unruly market. All that is left now is to wheel and deal within that market.

Public sing-alongs - like today's kitschy interviews conducted by reporters who are constantly on the prowl for heartbreaking private stories, and like the public discourse that emphasizes bereaved families' right to privacy - become like commodities competing for market value.

Only in this kind of world could the prime minister look favorably on a demand to recognize the firefighters who died in December's Carmel fire disaster as "casualties of Israel's wars." Such a decision, if it is made by the committee appointed for this purpose, renders meaningless the terrible majesty of this phrase. The term was meant to remain a pure, exclusive expression of national solidarity, but if those who weren't killed in wartime are included, it will turns into just another hollow turn of phrase, a brand name this government is selling to its citizens every time it fears for its image.

It therefore would appear that in Israel's memorialization market, any kind of snake oil works, and that to make sure we don't realize we are being suckered, the sellers sing us sentimental songs of the first order.







Efforts by members of Israel's far right to forbid the country's Arab citizens from commemorating the Nakba are mean, foolish and destined to fail. But initiatives by the extreme left to turn Nakba Day into a joint memorial day for all of Israel's citizens are also doomed. Israel is not a binational state, and with all due liberalism and humanism, it is hard to treat victory and defeat in the same way.

What can be demanded of the Jewish majority is that it show respect for the mourning of the Palestinians. But this has been made difficult by the way the Palestinian narrative has until now presented the Nakba, and Israeli liberals must be intellectually honest enough to deal with that issue.

First, the very concept of Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe or disaster - as though the events of 1948 were a natural disaster rather than the result of human action - blurs the historical context of the events. The so-called Nakba was not a natural disaster. It was the outcome of military and political defeat resulting from political decisions for which specific people were responsible.

Second, in the Arab world in general, and among the Palestinians in particular, there is great reluctance to confront the Holocaust. Nevertheless, one sometimes hears comparisons between the Nakba and the Holocaust. But the very comparison is morally obtuse: What happened to the Palestinians from 1947 to 1948 was the result of a war in which they were defeated, while the Holocaust was the planned, methodical mass murder of civilians. The 6 million Jews of Europe who were killed in the Holocaust had not gone to war against Germany. German Jews were in fact good German patriots, and many of the Jews of Eastern Europe saw German culture as the apex of European civilization.

Third, and this is the most important point: The Palestinian discourse does not address the fact that Arab political decisions are what brought the terrible disaster down on the Palestinians. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles and books in Arabic about the war of 1948, and there are expert analyses of the reasons for the Arabs' military failure. But to this day there is no willingness to deal with a simple fact: The decision to go to war against the UN resolution to partition Mandatory Palestine was a terrible political and moral mistake on the part of the Arab world.

If the Palestinians and the Arab countries had accepted the partition plan, the Arab state of Falastin would have been established in 1948 and there would have been no refugee problem. It was not the establishment of the State of Israel that created the refugee problem, but rather the fact that the Arabs went to war against the establishment of a Jewish state in part of Palestine.

Israelis seeking reconciliation may be permitted to ask the Arab side to face these issues. Just as it is impossible to detach the deportation of 12 million ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe after 1945 from Germany's attack on Poland in 1939, so it is impossible to ignore the moral dimension of the Arab decision to go to war against the idea of partition. When you go to war and lose, there are consequences, even if the winners must still be held responsible for their own actions.

If we are indeed heading toward a two-state solution, some self-criticism should be expected from the Arab side, something like what S. Yizhar's book "The Story of Hirbet Hizah," about the expulsion of Arab villagers by an Israel Defense Forces unit acting under orders, symbolized for the Israeli discourse. That would make it much easier for Israelis to share Palestinian pain.

The democratic winds beginning to blow in the Arab world should raise the hope that one of the next steps after Tahrir Square will be the development of a critical discourse - the beginning of liberation, not only from autocratic regimes, but also from the inability to take a good hard look in the mirror.







Once again, Israel is showing everyone who the real man is here. It is busy carrying out (yet another ) robbery in broad daylight of $105 million from the Palestinians. And as usual, it is going off without a hitch.

The sum that is being stolen consists of customs duties on Palestinian imports that were collected at border crossings under Israeli control. According to the Oslo accords, this money must be transferred at the start of every month to the Palestinian Authority treasury, where it constitutes some two-thirds of the PA's revenues. The remainder is collected directly inside the West Bank.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz instructed Israeli treasury officials to freeze the transfer of the money because of the reconciliation agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas. Ostensibly, the goal is to ensure that the money does not reach terrorist hands. This is not merely robbery; it is also a false pretext.

First, the Palestinian unity government has not yet been established. Second, the money is mainly earmarked for paying the salaries of PA employees. These are the same employees who received their salaries when Fatah and Hamas were still publicly cursing each other.

Steinitz's order follows warnings against the reconciliation agreement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. I won't say those warnings constituted "blatant intervention" in another people's internal affairs, because what is Israeli domination of the Palestinian people if not blatant intervention, to put it mildly?

The sum of $105 million is peanuts compared to the value of the lands that Israel has stolen, and continues to steal, from the Palestinians. It is nothing compared to the economic and social damage that Israel causes by its policy of restricting freedom of movement. But confiscating this sum does create a series of immediate problems.

The PA, for all the talk about its institutions' preparedness for statehood, suffers from chronic financial crisis and is dependent on donations and charity in order to survive from year to year. Those who marvel at the prosperity in Ramallah ignore the fact that it is artificial, stemming mainly from international assistance. Owing to Israel's policy of closure and separation and its control over more than 60 percent of the area of the West Bank, the occupied Palestinian economy cannot increase its revenues from independent productive activity.

The head of the Ramallah government, Salam Fayyad, has decided that instead of paying only part of the salaries, he will wait until the entire confiscated sum is released - or for a miracle - in order to pay all of them. Now, at the end of the second week of May, 151,000 employees in the Palestinian public sector still do not know when their salaries will arrive in their bank accounts (a total of NIS 527 million ). Another NIS 193 million has not reached some 100,000 people who get monthly stipends (families of prisoners, families of the fallen, welfare recipients ).

With the PA's encouragement, tens of thousands of families have in recent years taken out bank loans to buy apartments. True, the Palestinian Monetary Authority has instructed the banks not to fine those who can't make their payments this month, but even without a fine, these families will find themselves with checks that bounce and accounts in overdraft.

Moreover, even when paid on time, PA salaries (NIS 2,000 for a teacher, for example, or NIS 3,400 for a department head in a government office ) have not kept up with the cost of living. Thus more families will now have to give up basic expenditures such as travel, medical care, cultural events and so forth.

We have been here before. As usual, the freeze has led to a rebuke from the UN secretary general, pleading from Quartet envoy Tony Blair and a statement that the move was premature on the part of the U.S. State Department. It would have been better if they had kept quiet.

We all know that the robber will not be punished. The robber will even get encouragement in the form of an emergency budget for the PA, put together by the United States and Europe. That budget will then enable them to make even more political demands of the Palestinians.




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





President Obama went to the border in El Paso on Tuesday and delivered a speech on immigration reform. He didn't present a bill or issue any executive orders or set deadlines for action. Aides say his goal was to "create a pathway" and "a sense of urgency" to "move forward." That is a start but not nearly enough.


The speech was right on its merits. The immigration system is a shambles. Millions live here outside the law. Visa policies are too restrictive, cruelly separating families and driving away talented university graduates to other countries. As Mr. Obama dryly noted, "We train them to create jobs for our competition."

He said our current laws stifle opportunity for exactly the people for whom this economy needs to recover: entrepreneurs, students and low-wage workers. Illegality feeds "a massive underground economy that exploits a cheap source of labor," Mr. Obama said. This isn't fair to American workers, or to the undocumented — "the overwhelming majority" of whom, he said, "are just trying to earn a living and provide for their families."


Mr. Obama was also right when he said that the country has heard "a lot of blame and a lot of politics and a lot of ugly rhetoric around immigration." After listing the many ways his administration has "gone above and beyond" what Republicans had demanded as their price for reform — flooding the border with troops and technology to seal it tighter than ever — he noted that the Republicans were still not satisfied. "Maybe they'll need a moat," he joked. "Maybe they'll want alligators in the moat."


Mr. Obama's description of the problem was accurate, and his prescription the right one: a "good-faith effort" by both parties to pass comprehensive measures that combine border security with assimilation, not mass expulsion, for illegal immigrants who qualify.


To move things forward, Mr. Obama will have to do a lot more. He needs to outline legislation, push Congressional leaders — including those in his own party — to back it and make the case repeatedly to Americans.


The president also needs to get his own policies in order. For all his talk of supporting the hopes of the undocumented, his administration has been doubling down on the failed strategy of mass expulsion. It is pressing state and local police to join in an ill-conceived program calledSecure Communities, which sends arrested people's fingerprints through federal immigration databases, turning all local officers and jails into arms of the Department of Homeland Security.


Many lawmakers and police agencies say it erodes public safety by making immigrants, especially victims of domestic violence, afraid to report crimes. They worry about giving rogue officers a convenient tool for racial profiling. And they feel betrayed because what the administration once billed as a transparent, voluntary program aimed only at dangerous convicted criminals turns out to be none of those things. The Homeland Security Department's own data show that more than half of those deported under the program have no criminal records or committed only minor crimes.


Mr. Obama and the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, should heed the growing calls by lawmakers in California, Illinois, New York and other places to abandon Secure Communities to preserve public safety.


As for the broader issue of immigration reform, Mr. Obama's aides insisted on Tuesday that he did, indeed, have a plan that interested Americans could read on the White House Web site. If Mr. Obama is really committed to this issue it's going to take a lot more than that.








A United Nations report on the cholera outbreak that has sickened 300,000 Haitians since last fall, killing nearly 5,000, finds evidence to suggest that the disease may have originated at a United Nations military camp north of the capital, which spilled raw sewage into a tributary of the Artibonite River. The epidemic was able to spread so far only because of the chronic and horrible deficiencies in Haiti's sanitation and health care systems, which long predate the 2010 earthquake.


The fact that the disease is still spreading is a reminder of how much more help Haiti needs and the consequences of continued neglect.


Technically, the challenge of containing the epidemic is simple enough. Haitians need clean water for drinking and washing. They need soap and bleach and access to medical care for rehydration when they fall ill. They need safe ways to dispose of sewage and shelter for when the rains worsen and cause streets and rivers to flood and cholera cases to spike.


For too many, the ingredients of tragedy remain stubbornly in place. Even as relief agencies are winding down their presence in Haiti, about 680,000 people are still living in camps and waiting for permanent shelter. Life in this setting is precarious, without adequate access to latrines and safe drinking water.


The United Nations' overall appeal to respond to the epidemic, for $175 million, is 48 percent financed. Haiti's continuing health emergency may have been overlooked in a crush of world events, but while the sick and dying are waiting for the world to respond, the disease is not.







Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey prides himself on his bluster and relishes the attention it garners in conservative circles beyond the state. He jumped the shark last month, suggesting he might defy the State Supreme Court if it orders him to make up a $1.6 billion shortfall of education financing that disproportionately punishes poorer districts and their students.


"In all seriousness, governor, what if the ruling comes down and they say 'you've got to spend' " the money, "and you just say no"? asked Eric Scott, a radio host. The governor replied, "Well, that's an option, too." He added, "Have I thought about that? Of course I have." Last week, New Jersey's attorney general, Paula Dow, also refused to rule out the option.


Political theater is never a substitute for responsible leadership. Gleefully threatening to defy the rule of law — the law he vowed to uphold as governor — is inexcusable. As a former United States attorney, one would think that Mr. Christie would get that. If he defied the court, he could be disbarred as a lawyer, held in contempt or impeached.

The comments are part of Governor Christie's wider campaign against the state court and what he calls its activism. That is a code word for his disapproval of the court's record of enforcing the New Jersey Constitution to mandate education reform, affordable housing and other solutions to serious problems.

In this case, the court's role has been particularly modest. In 2009, after decades of litigation, it accepted a state

proposal on how to improve the quality and fairness of the education system. The executive branch under former Gov. Jon Corzine set the education standards and decided how much money is needed to give each student the chance to meet them. The court's role now is to assess whether, by those measures, current financing is adequate. In March, Special Master Peter Doyne judged that it is not. He found that education cuts "fell more heavily upon our high-risk districts" and "at-risk students."


If the New Jersey Supreme Court calls for the state to finance education at the level required by its own formula, Mr. Christie will have to comply — unless he wants to defy the rule of law and the American system of government.










There were differences.


She had a dead chimp. He had a live water buffalo. She had an Isotta Fraschini with leopard-skin upholstery. He had a Suzuki van. She used tuberoses.


He used Avena syrup, an herbal Viagra. She liked Champagne and caviar.


He liked Coca-Cola and Pepsi. She had a script. He had a Koran. She had a white telephone. He had no telephone.


But the similarities were striking. The faded murderous glamour queen and faded murderous terror king relied on drivers to negotiate their relations with the world. Married multiple times, they were both ensconced with lovers half their age in high-priced villas that shut out the world, vainly looking at old videos of themselves and primping, hoping for spectacular comebacks that would wow their fans.


Instead, Justice pounded up the stairs.


Maybe it's because I watched the videos of Osama bin Laden released by the Obama administration while staying at the Sunset Tower Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. But seeing him holed up in his room, looking pathetic with white beard and blankie, gazing at himself on screen in his heyday, Osama was oh so Norma Desmond (with a dash of Woody Allen in "Bananas")."I am big," he might have sneered. "It's the thumb drives that got small."


The C.I.A. is playing mind games — both with Al Qaeda, trying to show its slain leader as a pitiable figure, and with Pakistan, sending a message that we may have even more information than we do, and that double-dealing Pakistanis had best cooperate because they could be embarrassed, too.


I don't think we need to worry about inflaming Al Qaeda. They come pre-inflamed. But the C.I.A.'s propaganda message is a bit mixed. On the one hand, Osama seems risible, an old man with a clicker trapped in a dorm room. On the other, intelligence sources have said that the cloistered, swaddled Bin Laden was still a threat, plotting more transportation cataclysms here. Pitiable or potent? Make up your minds.


When American officials wanted to scare the world about the Soviet threat, they would show surveillance shots of missiles. But now, in the age of technology and terror, the dire threats come from much more homely adversaries. They can emanate from the nondescript third floor of a house in a picturesque hamlet in Pakistan.


Just because Bin Laden didn't look like a Bond villain stalking around some elaborate lair didn't make him less of a threat.


The monster's myth-making and video-star turns are over. Now Hollywood will have its say. There's probably someone right this minute pitching Bravo on "The Real Housewives of Abbottabad."


The inside track goes to director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, the pair who won Oscars for "The Hurt Locker," a movie about a bomb-defusing team of soldiers in Iraq that was so tense you thought your head would explode.


Boal, who lived in New York and went to ground zero on 9/11, has covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a journalist. He and Bigelow began working on a movie about the hunt for Bin Laden in 2008 — at a time when President Bush and Hollywood suits had put the terrorist leader on the back burner.


"After the lack of appetite when we were raising money for 'The Hurt Locker,' Kathryn and I thought it was not a bad sign that we were doing something that people were not interested in," Boal said dryly.


Studios shy away from making movies about unpopular wars we're still stuck in, but Boal, who lives here now, disagrees. "Why wait?" he asked. "I might be retired by the time we get out of Afghanistan. Don't you want to live in a world where artists mix it up in the culture in a timely way?"


He knows, however, that mixing it up about Osama can be dangerous, and is conscious of "the security ramifications."


He and Bigelow optioned a book written anonymously by a Delta Force commander at Tora Bora, where Osama slipped away in 2001. And about a year ago, Boal learned that the hunt for Osama had intensified.


Then the Navy Seal Team 6 dropped from the Pakistan sky. And now the duo, planning for a 2012 release, have an exciting ending and excited financiers.


"We've certainly been getting more calls from studios," Boal says wryly. "We were charging ahead with a movie that ended in Tora Bora with Bin Laden still alive. Now we have a definitive ending."


He said he's been surprised by some of the reaction on the left against the Navy Seal unit taking out Bin Laden, noting: "The debate about whether there should have been a trial feels a little bit like looking a gift horse in the mouth."


Osama is ready for his close-up. But it's going to be less flattering — and more final — than he intended.








So Osama bin Laden was living in a specially built villa in Pakistan. I wonder where he got the money to buy it? Cashed in his Saudi 401(k)? A Pakistani subprime mortgage, perhaps? No. I suspect we will find that it all came from the same place most of Al Qaeda's funds come from: some combination of private Saudi donations spent under the watchful eye of the Pakistani Army.


Why should we care? Because this is the heart of the matter; that's why. It was both just and strategically vital that we killed Bin Laden, who inspired 9/11. I just wish it were as easy to eliminate the two bad bargains that really made that attack possible, funded it and provided the key plotters and foot soldiers who carried it out. We are talking about the ruling bargains in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which are alive and well.


The Saudi ruling bargain is an old partnership between the al-Saud tribe and the Wahhabi religious sect. The al-Saud tribe get to stay in power and live however they want behind their palace walls, and, in return, the followers of the Wahhabi sect get to control the country's religious mores, mosques and education system.


The Wahhabis bless the Saudi regime with legitimacy in the absence of any elections, and the regime blesses them with money and a free hand on religion. The only downside is that this system ensures a steady supply of "sitting around guys" — young Saudi males who have nothing other than religious education and no skills to compete — who then get recruited to become 9/11-style hijackers and suicide bombers in Iraq.


No one explains it better than the Saudi writer Mai Yamani, author of "Cradle of Islam" and the daughter of Saudi Arabia's former oil minister. "Despite the decade of the West's war on terror, and Saudi Arabia's longer-term alliance with the United States, the kingdom's Wahhabi religious establishment has continued to bankroll Islamic extremist ideologies around the world," wrote Yamani in The Daily Star of Beirut, Lebanon, this week.


"Bin Laden, born, raised and educated in Saudi Arabia, is a product of this pervasive ideology," Yamani added. "He was no religious innovator; he was a product of Wahhabism, and later was exported by the Wahhabi regime as a jihadist. During the 1980s, Saudi Arabia spent some $75 billion for the propagation of Wahhabism, funding schools, mosques, and charities throughout the Islamic world, from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Yemen, Algeria and beyond. ... Not surprisingly, the creation of a transnational Islamic political movement, boosted by thousands of underground jihadist Web sites, has blown back into the kingdom. Like the hijackers of 9/11, who were also Saudi-Wahhabi ideological exports ... Saudi Arabia's reserve army of potential terrorists remains, because the Wahhabi factory of fanatical ideas remains intact. So the real battle has not been with Bin Laden, but with that Saudi state-supported ideology factory."


Ditto Pakistan. The Pakistani ruling bargain is set by the Pakistani Army and says: "We let you civilians pretend to rule, but we will actually call all the key shots, we will consume nearly 25 percent of the state budget and we will justify all of this as necessary for Pakistan to confront its real security challenge: India and its occupation of Kashmir. Looking for Bin Laden became a side-business for Pakistan's military to generate U.S. aid.


As the Al Qaeda expert Lawrence Wright observed in The New Yorker this week: Pakistan's Army and intelligence service "were in the looking-for-Bin-Laden business, and if they found him they'd be out of business." Since 9/11, Wright added, "the U.S. had given $11 billion to Pakistan, the bulk of it in military aid, much of which was misappropriated to buy weapons to defend against India."


(President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan plays the same game. He's in the looking-for-stability-in-Afghanistan business. And as long as we keep paying him, he'll keep looking.)


What both countries need is shock therapy. For Pakistan, that would mean America converting the lion's share of its military aid to K-12 education programs, while also reducing the U.S. footprint in Afghanistan. Together, the message would be that we're ready to help Pakistan fight its real enemies and ours — ignorance, illiteracy, corrupt elites and religious obscurantism — but we have no interest in being dupes for the nonsense that Pakistan is threatened by India and therefore needs "strategic depth" in Afghanistan and allies among the Taliban.


Ditto Saudi Arabia. We are in a ménage à trois with the al-Sauds and the Wahhabis. We provide the al-Sauds security, and they provide us oil. The Wahhabis provide the al-Sauds with legitimacy and the al-Sauds provide them with money (from us). It works really well for the al-Sauds, but not too well for us. The only way out is a new U.S. energy policy, which neither party is proposing.


Hence, my conclusion: We are surely safer with Bin Laden dead, but no one will be safe — certainly not the many moderate Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan who deserve a decent future — without different ruling bargains in Islamabad and Riyadh.









Conway, Ark.

VIOLENT thunderstorms have sent the greatest floods since 1937 cascading down the Ohio and lower Mississippi River Valleys. Residents from Illinois to Arkansas have fled their homes as thousands of square miles of farmland have gone underwater.


But even if the river levels are nearly as high as anything seen in the 20th century, the extent of the damage probably won't come close to the losses of life and property seen in the historic flood of January 1937. Indeed, while individual stories of calamity abound, taken as a whole the event is a watershed in American history — proof that after nearly 75 years, the federal government has finally gained the upper hand on a river system once thought uncontrollable.


In the Great Flood of 1937 torrential rains pushed rivers up to 15 feet above flood stage and forced a million people from their homes. Entire towns disappeared. Flooding caused around $1 billion in damages. Several hundred people died, mostly from pneumonia or influenza.


Even though there had been calamitous flooding along the lower Mississippi a decade earlier, only a handful of states and cities along the rivers had flood-control systems, while the federal government, adhering to a narrow interpretation of its constitutional powers, had built few flood-control levees or walls, and then mostly along the lower Mississippi.


The government didn't sit still once the floods hit, though. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers, soldiers and employees of New Deal job-relief programs were deployed along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, building emergency levees and aiding displaced residents. On orders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Army was prepared to evacuate people from the entire Mississippi River Valley in the event of a catastrophic levee break.


Then, after the waters receded, the federal government assumed greater control over the nation's waterways, a move Roosevelt had been advocating for years. Not only would Washington oversee flood control, but it would pay for it, too: over the following decades, the Army Corps of Engineers spent billions of dollars on a vast system of reservoirs, local floodwalls and pumping stations. (Roosevelt initially opposed paying for everything for fear the Corps would neglect issues like conservation and pollution, but once he saw how popular the effort was, he embraced it as his own.)


As this year's flooding shows, the expense was worth it. In 1937 officials had to move tens of thousands of people from Louisville and Paducah, Ky., to refugee camps; today, despite the rise in the Ohio River, life along its banks goes on normally for almost everyone. Federal outlays after 1937 enabled Memphis to upgrade its floodwalls and pumps; as a result, for many Memphians the floodwaters are now nothing more than a curiosity.


At the same time, increased money for the Weather Bureau — today known as the National Weather Service — helped improve its flood-forecasting abilities, making evacuations more precise. Low confidence in meteorologists' predictions had sent thousands running in 1937 even though water never reached their doorsteps, while many others waited until it was too late to get out.


True, the system isn't perfect. The Army Corps of Engineers has relied too much on levees instead of retention reservoirs and less environmentally destructive means of flood reduction like reforestation or erosion control.


And, as the owners of farmland inundated by planned levee breaches can tell you, not everyone benefits from the government's flood-management efforts.


Nor should we let the success of this year's flooding response prevent us from making further improvements. In the wake of the 1937 disaster, some scientists and engineers suggested abandoning lowlands to the rivers, but lawmakers and most residents denounced the idea as defeatist and unpatriotic. It's an idea we should reconsider, at least in particularly flood-prone places.


Indeed, California and other states have already begun experimenting with so-called natural river defenses, in which lands best suited for swamps, marshes and forests have been left undeveloped and open to periodic flooding as a way of lessening the pressure on levees and pumping stations. This was a lesson some communities heeded after 1937; Louisville and other towns, for example, bought out flood victims and turned riverside areas into parks, while utilities moved power plants beyond the water's reach.


But in too many places, the pressure to develop lands along the river for residential or commercial use has led planners to forget what they learned, raising the risk of terrible losses should a levee break. Smarter engineering, not just higher levees, is needed to make sure the rivers stay under control.


Nevertheless, it's the spirit of 1937 that we must embrace: The great flood of 2011 would be truly cataclysmic had the Roosevelt administration not invested in public works and embraced the proposition that careful, centralized planning can produce enormous social and economic rewards.

David Welky, an associate professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas, is the author of the forthcoming book "The Thousand-Year Flood: The Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937."









Brookline, Mass.

AS a young psychiatrist, I worked with Vietnam War combat veterans and confronted the astonishing lack of resources to help these men and women who had sacrificed so much for their country. Three decades later, that situation has greatly improved. First, we named the problem — post-traumatic stress disorder — and then in 1989 Congress created the National Center for PTSD to help suffering veterans.


Their plight has also led to a greater recognition of the impact of violence on children. For every soldier returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with symptoms of depression or PTSD, there are around 10 children in the United States who are traumatized by exposure to family violence, sexual abuse, neglect and assault, with consequences comparable to those of adult exposure to war-zone violence. We have made progress in treating these children, but that progress is threatened by a drastic budget cut proposed by the White House.


Rather than being subjected to bullets and bombs, children are victimized by those who are meant to care for them. These are children like a 3-year-old girl in Anchorage who was found by a police officer in her crib, hungry, underweight and covered in her own feces; an 11-year-old boy in New York City who has had violent outbursts since he was sexually molested, and whose terror of being alone makes him a subject of ridicule by his classmates; or a 14-year-old girl in Boston who set fire to a church and repeatedly attempted suicide after being beaten at home. The Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that the annual cost of childhood maltreatment like this is $103.8 billion.


Inspired by the work of the National Center for PTSD, Congress authorized the establishment of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network in 2001 to evaluate and develop treatments for traumatized children nationwide, with a budget that is now $40 million — about the cost of keeping 40 soldiers fighting in Afghanistan for one year.


President Obama's 2012 budget has proposed a 70 percent reduction in financing for the network. That would be devastating for these children. The network has knitted together 130 clinics and universities in 38 states that specialize in helping traumatized children and adolescents. It has allowed the members to develop treatment programs and to hire and educate the staff to run them, enabling 322,000 children nationwide to get treatment from July 2002 to September 2009.


According to the latest figures available, 2.9 million children were mistreated in 2006, many of whom manifested serious behavioral and psychological problems. The network has started to document how trauma affects developing brains differently from those of adults exposed to wartime violence.


It has also been evaluating what interventions are most effective for different groups of children. Two have been

most thoroughly studied and found to be effective: cognitive behavioral therapy and treatments to help children regulate their emotions. Children who receive these treatments were shown to function substantially better afterward.


Most traumatized children now do not even receive a proper mental health assessment. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of them are numbed by powerful drugs that help control their "bad behavior," but that don't deal with the imprint of terror and helplessness on their minds and brains. Drugs can sedate, but they do not help children deal with trauma — in fact, they may prevent recovery by interfering with learning and the formation of relationships, essential preconditions for becoming functioning adults.


The proposed budget cut for the network would mean that it no longer can develop and test effective treatments for these children. This is unfortunate since we are just beginning to look at what treatments can produce the best outcomes, and to learn from the cases in which these treatments do not work.


Untreated, traumatized children become failing adults who populate our jails and overwhelm our human services agencies. Cutting the development of effective treatments will produce many years of increasing costs and unquantifiable human misery.


Bessel A. van der Kolk, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, is the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute.








Even before the White House and the Republicans began talks on the debt limit, John Boehner made clear that he was looking for a political fight, not a compromise.

Then, in a speech on Monday, the speaker of the House said that Republicans would insist on trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for votes to raise the debt limit. He did not mention a time frame, but even a fraction of "trillions" in the near term could do huge damage to the recovery. He also did not offer specifics on how he planned to make those cuts. After the beating Republicans took for their plan to slash Medicare, he clearly decided generalities were politically safer.


There is no way to solve the country's fiscal ills without an accurate diagnosis and rigorous prescriptions for a cure. Mr. Boehner's speech was devoid of both.


Among the "obstacles" to economic success he cited, he never mentioned the recession or the financial crisis, both Bush-era creations. Rather, he blamed Obama-era stimulus spending for harming the economy and job growth. Never mind that the Congressional Budget Office found that the stimulus staved off an even deeper disaster.


Mr. Boehner charged that President Obama's policies have "crowded out" the private sector and "increased uncertainty" for "job creators." That makes no economic sense. If the government were competing with business, interest rates would be on the rise, not at rock bottom. If employers were uncertain about making new hires, they would get work done by increasing the hours of current employees. The average workweek is stuck around 34 hours, indicating a lack of work, not uncertainty.


Mr. Boehner can't admit all that because private-sector slack and a dearth of jobs call for more federal aid, not less. And he is bent on less — far less — no matter the true state of the economy.


The president and his aides will have to do some deft negotiating, and politicking, to secure a timely increase in the debt limit, while rebutting Mr. Boehner's wrongheaded ideas. They should begin by setting new terms of the debate, explaining that the nation's serious fiscal problems require thoughtful solutions — with spending cuts and tax increases and with both sides giving to get.











"One Laden dies, a thousand Ladens are born," reads the cover story of the current issue of the magazine "Türk Solu," (Turkish Left.) A smiling photo of bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader who just got killed by American soldiers, covers the front page of the magazine. And its logo presents a sober photo of the all-secular Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, while defining the publication as "An Atatürkist, nationalist, leftist paper."

I know, it sounds weird. But it is actually not that weird when one gets to know the "anti-imperialist" strain within Kemalism (aka "Atatürkism"), and the political, rather than religious nature of al-Qaeda.

Enter 'Turkish Left'

First, let's get some background. Türk Solu is a monthly publication created in 2002 by a group of ultra-nationalist and ultra-secularist ideologues. It reflects a strongly anti-Western, anti-Islamic and anti-Kurdish line, and a curious blend of Kemalism, Marxism and Turkish racism. One of the magazine's oft-repeated arguments is that there is no "Kurdish issue" but a "Kurdish invasion" in Turkey, as these "primitive" people are reproducing like rabbits and invading the living spaces of enlightened Turks. "Do not eat kebabs and lahmacun, which are Kurdish food," once the magazine advised its Turkish readers. "That is a cultural imperialism similar to that of McDonalds."

Politically, Türk Solu supports the marginal National Party (Ulusal Parti in Turkish), which supports several independent candidates for the upcoming general elections. One of them is the Istanbul candidate Cafer Özsoy, who said, "Our way is the tested way; it is Atatürk's way."

Over the years, Türk Solu has routinely bashed the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, religious leader Fethullah Gülen, and Turkish liberals, while praising Kemal Atatürk, Charles Darwin or Che Guevara. And now it seems to have taken another great leap forward by adding Osama bin Laden to its hall of fame.

This is brilliantly articulated in the latest editorial of the magazine written by Gökçe Fırat, one of its prominent commentators. Mr. Fırat begins by denouncing mainstream Turkish media, which he calls "American lackeys," for welcoming the killing of bin Laden. He then heads on to condemn Turkish President Abdullah Gül, for expressing relief in the wake of the end of the al-Qaeda leader. "Abdullah Gül is a shariah supporter, and bin Laden is a shariah supporter," Mr. Fırat said, "so why can't they along?" The reason, the writer explains, is that Turkey's "Islamists" such as Gül or Prime Minister Erdoğan are "in the service of America," whereas bin Laden was fighting America.

"Bin Laden did," Mr. Fırat also notes, "what our shariah supporters could never do, and will never be able to do." In other words, although Mr. Fırat hates the shariah, and its perceived supporters, he still has a heart for the "shariah supporters" who dare to fight the United States. His piece ends as follows:

"Bin Laden was not our friend. If he lived, perhaps he would be our enemy. But at the end of the day, he was able to give America, our enemy, a response that we have not been able to give. And he left his comfort, and sacrificed his everything, to be able to give that response.

Well, may God forgive his sins. And let the Americans rejoice for no reason: For when one bin Laden dies, a thousand bin Ladens are born!"

Anti-imperialist union

Now, having met the powerful ideas of Türk Solu, let me tell you what my take on this is.

First, on Kemalism. This ideology is often referred to as a "Westernization" agenda, and that is not totally untrue, but the picture is much more complicated. Especially since the early 60's on, a left-wing interpretation of Kemalism grew, which defined Atatürk as an anti-imperialist hero that defeated the Western powers that wanted to destroy Turkey. In the 2000's, this anti-Western version of Kemalism had a rebirth under the new current called "ulusalcılık" (secular nationalism), which denounced the AKP, and "moderate Muslims" such as the Gülen Movement, for being "puppets" of the European Union and the U.S.

The magazine Türk Solu is one of the boldest expressions of this ideology, while it is slightly milder forms can be observed in more popular newspapers like daily Cumhuriyet. The main opposition, the Republican People's Party, or CHP, also has some members, and some rhetoric, which mirror the same ideology.

As for al-Qaeda, I have been arguing that it is a political movement rather than a religious one, and this peculiar example of Türk Solu seems to support that view. Of course, people like bin Laden are deeply religious, but their zeal against the West, and particularly the U.S., is rooted less in religious texts and more in the reaction to what they perceive as "imperialism" against the Muslim world. That's why some secular-minded "anti-imperialists" in the same part of the world can sympathize with al-Qaeda, while many theologically-minded Muslims see its terrorism as a deplorable stain on Islam.

The world, after all, is quite a complicated place. The world of Turkey is perhaps even more so.






Back in February, the Prime Ministry's Family and Social Research Directorate released the findings of a survey it had conducted in face-to-face interviews with 5,765 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18). According to the findings, half of the Turkish teenagers do not have friends from both sexes; 60 percent of them face violence from family members; and 22 percent think flirting is a bad thing.

A few weeks later the amusing news of the "sex bus" fell into the public domain. A city bus driver in Istanbul kicked off a young couple who, according to one account, had kissed during the journey, and, according to another, "had got too close to each other." The angry driver violently kicked them off the bus, shouting, "This is not a sex bus."

To protest the incident, a group of maverick youths, all couples, launched a discreet campaign to collectively take a bus on the same route and start kissing each other spontaneously. Fortunately, this time, they were not kicked off the bus because "this is not a group sex bus." The "sex bus" incident sparked smiles rather than anger, at least until very recently.

Two columnists from Hürriyet, Mehmet Y. Yılmaz and Ahmet Hakan, wrote at the weekend that the "collective kissing protest" on the bus sparked another protest campaign, this time from the conservative youth. A group of students from imam schools vowed a bizarre revenge: they will get together and, like their kissing peers, collectively take a bus, but, in protest, they will be "wearing their Islamic prayer caps." One such student wrote on an Internet forum that "we will not allow sex on the street." Another proposed a prayer-based Islamic cleansing/purification of the bus, in which the young couple had kissed.

The planned protest reminded me of an adult's complaint along similar lines. Recently, in an interview with Hürriyet, Mehmet Küçük, president of the regulatory board that oversees drinks and tobacco markets, lamented and said "it was quite difficult to find a fish restaurant on the Bosphorus that does not serve alcohol."

Mr Küçük is the same bureaucrat who banned spirits advertisements on the back pages of newspapers because "these ads could be seen by television viewers when anchormen read the front page news from newspapers on early morning broadcasts." Once again, "banning" was chosen to simply ordering TV stations not to show on the screen any spirit adverts.

The imam students' prayer cap protest and the senior bureaucrat's complaint about the lack (or, rather, fewness) of alcohol free restaurants on the Bosphorus reflect the sorrowful asymmetry and why less conservative Turks find it increasingly difficult to reconcile with the religiously conservative.

It is a simple fact that the less conservative, or non conservative, Turks do not force the conservatives into behaviors of their personal choice. In other words, there is no pressure on the conservatives to drink alcohol, not to fast during Ramadan, not to go to the mosque for Friday prayers, to kiss in public or not to wear prayer caps. These are individual choices and liberties, and their restriction by any means, social or state-incited, would amount to persecution of the conservative Turks by the others, which was the case when secularists (not seculars) witch-hunted the pious 10-15 years ago.

Unfortunately, the opposite is not true, as clearly evinced, among others, by the two cases narrated in this column. The first case, the "sex bus," tells us that a presumably conservative bus driver had got disturbed because of the personal choice of other people, the young couple kissing or getting physically too close to each other. In protest, a group of other youths kissed on another bus. Mind you, the protestors did not force others to do as they did i.e. to kiss on the bus. Similarly, the first couple was not kicked off the bus because they forced the others to kiss.

And finally, the younger conservatives are annoyed because some people were "having sex on the street (read: kissing on a city bus)." Soon, they will be out on the streets chasing people who do have sex on the street (again, read: kiss on a public bus). Again, it is the conservative Turk who gets annoyed because of other people's choices, which do not strictly fall into his worldview.

This is precisely why Mr Küçük, the president of the powerful regulatory board, simply does not go to a fish restaurant and enjoy his soft drink while others are enjoying their rakı or wine. The conservative Turk's personal abstinence from what his holy book commands him to abstain does not suffice. He must make sure the others too abstain from what should be abstained.

In both cases it is the "good Muslim" who gets offended because other people do not behave like a "good Muslim."

This is ridiculous, to put it mildly; and can be a killer of social peace if backed by state institutions. Turkey's conservatives must learn to mind their own business and not meddle with other people's lifestyles. And their "liberal" comrades should stop selling this genetically oppressive behavioral pattern as "freedom fighting" to a huge laughing crowd.







Writing in this column on July 19, 2007, just three days before the 2007 parliamentary elections, this writer said "It is no fortune telling to say that there will be a decrease in the number of Justice and Development Party, or AKP, deputies in the next parliament and there will be at least three parties in the new legislature."

Now, it is perhaps too early to come forward with such strong conviction and say besides the almost 30 independent deputies sponsored by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, at least there parties will be represented in the new parliament. Sex-tape scandals spread around by a United States-based web server haunting the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and claims in some public opinion polls that support for the nationalist party has been on a decline and approaching fast to the 10 percent national electoral threshold are clouding the political scene.

Election forecasts based on some so-called "reliable" public opinion polls and published in some media outlets have become really appalling. According to some public opinion polls and the "forecasts" of some of our friends in the media in allegiance relationship with the AKP, the ruling party has won the hearts and minds of well over 50 percent of the nation and in the upcoming June 12 elections it will tally around 51-54 percent of the vote. Some other polls place the AKP at a far modest below 50 percent, claiming that the ruling party would receive in between 45 percent and its 2007 election level of 46.7 percent. There is not one poll showing the AKP below 45 percent.

In regards to the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, it appears that despite the contention of the party's new leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu that his party would exceed the 40 percent landmark, the party getting a maximum of 33 percent vote in the June 12 election must be considered an outstanding success promising an even better future. Most of the pollsters, even those who have been traditionally considered closer to the CHP, and even the pro-CHP journalists and writers are predicting the CHP will receive around 27-30 percent of the vote. Yet, there is almost unanimity in the media, including the Islamist and allegiant spectrum that popularity of the CHP has been on an increase while the AKP has been trying to dig in its existing trenches.

One indicator of rising public interest in the CHP, which of course does not necessarily mean there will be such a high voter support for the main opposition party, was reflected in the ratings recorded for the online interviews the pro-government ATV private TV channel conducted with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and CHP's Kılıçdaroğlu with one week interval.

Apparently both two interviews received rather high rating even though they aired close to midnight. The program with Kılıçdaroğlu reportedly ranked seventh among 100 programs, while the program with Erdoğan ranked the 17th. Kılıçdaroğlu's interview rating was reported to be 3.4, while share rate was 14.7 percent, while Erdoğan interview rating was 2.8, and share 11.4. More, accordingly in the A and B group of spectators, the cream of society or intellectually and wallet wise higher groups, Kılıçdaroğlu had a rather higher rating compared to Erdoğan.

These results of course might be demonstrating, as well the urge of the society to learn about the "new CHP" and its new leader who indeed has been talking much differently compared to the previous CHP leader, yet another sex-tape victim Deniz Baykal.

MHP, most problematic

The most problematic party so far appears to be the MHP, which has been battling sex-tape scandals, losing four prominent parliamentary candidates, two of them deputy chairmen of the party, to the scandals. Unlike the AKP, which has a culture of covering up failures of comrades in arms, the MHP has been shooting down its members involved in scandals, yet the image of the party in the public has been eroding fast. Already there are claims that the party, which has been trailing around 13-15 percent level in public opinion polls, has dipped as low as 11 percent, just a percentage point above the 10 percent national threshold. Naturally, the MHP, as well as many political observers including this writer, consider the sex-tape scandals as a systematic effort by the ruling AKP or some criminal minds close to AKP leadership. There are claims that there were eight such tapes against senior MHP executives or parliamentary candidates. So far four tapes have been released. If some new tapes are released before the election, the MHP might suffer some serious problems in overcoming the 10 percent national electoral threshold.

The AKP and Erdoğan, on the other hand, have pinned their hopes of getting over 50 percent vote and over 3/5 majority of seats in parliament to a possible failure of MHP to overcome the electoral threshold.






Rumor has it that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is spending effort to steal the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP's cards and do everything to prevent the MHP from crossing the 10 percent national election threshold on the June 12 general elections.

This way Erdoğan will increase the number of deputies for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in parliament and thus make it possible for the "new constitution" to pass.

May be so, but in respect to equilibrium in Turkish politics, it is questionable how healthy this approach can be.

It is questionable to what extent the parliament has representative qualities without the MHP.

If nationalistic votes cannot enter parliament will MHP idealists be marginalized?

Young MHP idealists kept under control by MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli will have no choice anymore.

No matter how you perceive it the MHP must enter parliament.

Let's put an end to the tape scandal

No one can be successful hitting below the belt line in politics. Maybe some behead others but the target is far from being reached.

There are recordings that try to batter and bruise the MHP and it hurts to say that politicians and the media, instead of ignoring, insist on it. People try and hit this party at its heart. Private matters are revealed.

Let's say we can't control politicians being eager but don't the media have to be more ethical?

Hopes low for Assad

Ankara has trouble with two issues.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's attitude decreases hopes.

Of course, "It's easier said then done."

Erdoğan frequently gives rational advice.

"Don't fire at the folks. Exercise reforms as soon as possible. Meet the society's expectations."

Perhaps al-Assad listening to his advice may find his advice realistic but he probably thinks, "Good advice, but put yourself in my shoes and turn it into reality." He is surrounded by old weapons and isn't able to make a move.

On one hand, the Baath Party is all over the place.

On the other, the intelligence service, army, secret service and the Assad family.

It is difficult to get out. Benefits are intertwined, which would be lost in the case democracy resumes.

This is Assad's situation and Ankara is very uncomfortable about it. But there is nothing to be done other than waiting for doomsday.

Libya's situation is similar.

It is not for nothing that Erdoğan erased Moammar Gadhafi in his latest speech.

NATO is very indifferent and in case this persists Libya will be split in two. The Western part of the country will remain under Gadhafi's control and the Eastern part under control of opposition forces waiting for Gadhafi to give up.

And this does not befit Ankara at all. The prime minister may say, "We are not after money," but Turkey will only benefit when one of the two parties wins and $25 billion in investments resume work.

But Ankara has accepted in the short run these expectations won't come true.

A new Islamic world is created

The murder of Osama bin Laden will change the balance. Al-Qaeda will in the long run lose its power even if it may scare us with revenge attacks. There will definitely be a race for leadership and the one realizing the greatest massacre will sit in the leader chair.

But the Islamic world is changing. People are turning away from organizations cutting heads or forcing little children into suicide bombing, and especially from al-Qaeda. They draw attention to how much loss al-Qaeda has caused.

In the Islamic world al-Qaeda is out, democracy and more freedom is in.

The Islamic world is in the process of reacting against the United States and Europe, and fighting injustice in Palestine with politics instead of terror. 

Within this new equilibrium Turkey should seek a new place for itself. The Arab world progressively on its way to democracy is a benefit for Turkey. And this should be mainly of Israeli concern. Turkey will probably review its Israel politics.

Will we keep quiet about cyanide?

You are reading about the event in Kütahya. The pond, in which the solution containing cyanide is being collected, used to extricate silver is full and may leak anytime. The biggest one has been expanded as production grew. It is easy for a crack to happen soon because it is located right above the seismic belt.

"I am an expert and there is nothing to fear, there are no leaks," says Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu. But no one believes him. As silver prices rose, production rose carrying us to up this point.

What will happen next?

Will we be mere spectators?

For these ponds don't dry out, they continue for years and we may encounter a leak any time.

Do you know what that means?

It means water and vegetation structure will be spoiled, natural life will perish.






Rumor has it that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is spending effort to steal the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP's cards and do everything to prevent the MHP from crossing the 10 percent national election threshold on the June 12 general elections.

This way Erdoğan will increase the number of deputies for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in parliament and thus make it possible for the "new constitution" to pass.

May be so, but in respect to equilibrium in Turkish politics, it is questionable how healthy this approach can be.

It is questionable to what extent the parliament has representative qualities without the MHP.

If nationalistic votes cannot enter parliament will MHP idealists be marginalized?

Young MHP idealists kept under control by MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli will have no choice anymore.

No matter how you perceive it the MHP must enter parliament.

Let's put an end to the tape scandal

No one can be successful hitting below the belt line in politics. Maybe some behead others but the target is far from being reached.

There are recordings that try to batter and bruise the MHP and it hurts to say that politicians and the media, instead of ignoring, insist on it. People try and hit this party at its heart. Private matters are revealed.

Let's say we can't control politicians being eager but don't the media have to be more ethical?

Hopes low for Assad

Ankara has trouble with two issues.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's attitude decreases hopes.

Of course, "It's easier said then done."

Erdoğan frequently gives rational advice.

"Don't fire at the folks. Exercise reforms as soon as possible. Meet the society's expectations."

Perhaps al-Assad listening to his advice may find his advice realistic but he probably thinks, "Good advice, but put yourself in my shoes and turn it into reality." He is surrounded by old weapons and isn't able to make a move.

On one hand, the Baath Party is all over the place.

On the other, the intelligence service, army, secret service and the Assad family.

It is difficult to get out. Benefits are intertwined, which would be lost in the case democracy resumes.

This is Assad's situation and Ankara is very uncomfortable about it. But there is nothing to be done other than waiting for doomsday.

Libya's situation is similar.

It is not for nothing that Erdoğan erased Moammar Gadhafi in his latest speech.

NATO is very indifferent and in case this persists Libya will be split in two. The Western part of the country will remain under Gadhafi's control and the Eastern part under control of opposition forces waiting for Gadhafi to give up.

And this does not befit Ankara at all. The prime minister may say, "We are not after money," but Turkey will only benefit when one of the two parties wins and $25 billion in investments resume work.

But Ankara has accepted in the short run these expectations won't come true.

A new Islamic world is created

The murder of Osama bin Laden will change the balance. Al-Qaeda will in the long run lose its power even if it may scare us with revenge attacks. There will definitely be a race for leadership and the one realizing the greatest massacre will sit in the leader chair.

But the Islamic world is changing. People are turning away from organizations cutting heads or forcing little children into suicide bombing, and especially from al-Qaeda. They draw attention to how much loss al-Qaeda has caused.

In the Islamic world al-Qaeda is out, democracy and more freedom is in.

The Islamic world is in the process of reacting against the United States and Europe, and fighting injustice in Palestine with politics instead of terror. 

Within this new equilibrium Turkey should seek a new place for itself. The Arab world progressively on its way to democracy is a benefit for Turkey. And this should be mainly of Israeli concern. Turkey will probably review its Israel politics.

Will we keep quiet about cyanide?

You are reading about the event in Kütahya. The pond, in which the solution containing cyanide is being collected, used to extricate silver is full and may leak anytime. The biggest one has been expanded as production grew. It is easy for a crack to happen soon because it is located right above the seismic belt.

"I am an expert and there is nothing to fear, there are no leaks," says Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu. But no one believes him. As silver prices rose, production rose carrying us to up this point.

What will happen next?

Will we be mere spectators?

For these ponds don't dry out, they continue for years and we may encounter a leak any time.

Do you know what that means?

It means water and vegetation structure will be spoiled, natural life will perish.








I want your attention on a subject that I can't let be lost during the election period. That is the never-ending grudge of old leftists felt against the left!

The old leftists have gone through a strange transformation period since the 1980s. The first wave came immediately after the Sept. 12 military takeover. "Some of whom saved their lives" couldn't help themselves but to write about what a mischievous thing is being a leftist. But "no one should be offended by what they wrote." They "grew older for the sake of the cause." And why should they not "meet with individuality, vivid lives they discovered during the late President Turgut Özal"? The old leftists said all this, blaming leftist ideologies, movements and even "being political." After intellectual self-confrontation, many others have spun a cocoon, so to speak, and retreated inside claiming it to be "redefining the left." However, they have never stopped talking through their hats on behalf of the left.

Attitude of the old leftists

Perfectly understandable are the efforts to elaborate what has changed, why it has changed and to interpret politics in different ways. Moreover, if this is done rightfully, it would be very precious and critical. But, that was not the case most of the time. And self-explanations have turned into judging others and passing judgments on others.

In the 1990s, when pan-Islamism determined the political agenda, and the February 28 period happened, old leftists were naming themselves "liberals" or "democrats" as they did not want to be involved in debates of the period. The most liberal of them declared that they cannot be confined between the mosque and the military barracks as the most democratic of them tried to explain why "Muslims cannot build a democracy." Those who advocated headscarves in the public sphere except for those serving at public institutions were considered utmost liberals.

As the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, formed the government despite impositions and pressures in 2002, only a handful of leftist democrats supported democratic dynamism behind this phenomenon. Those who raised objections to election results for the sake of better democracy despite the people were speaking louder in that period. Something changed later and most liberal and democrat intellectuals passed through a "secret gate." They deemed the AKP as a "miracle" for Turkey. And the time to write the long and saddening story of this period has not arrived yet.

Akan's remarks

The summary of this chapter so far is that the old leftists have resumed explaining how terrible leftist politics were after gaining self-confidence and being recovered from the political-existential problem they faced in the aftermath of the Sept. 12 coup and partly overcome with the help of the "struggle against coups and the pro-coup" that the AKP had given a start.

Lastly, old movie star Tarık Akan's remarks, which should be of interest to entertainment media only, have become a reason for this so-called "reckoning" with leftist politics. Big fellows taking this opportunity embarked upon again via Akan that how the leftist politics in Turkey turned out to be pro-coup. No one asks, "Since when are leftist politics being represented by Akan" and no one remembers that in the highest days of the leftists, Akan was filming romantic drama together with actress Emel Sayın. But there is a man coming forward as a leftist, so the big fellows are taking a chance and putting all the blame on leftist politics for everything.

What an endless grudge that is held against the past! Can people not remember even a single good day of the cause that they set their heart on in the past?

All aside, what a low sprit that is drying up and overshadowing everything!

* Nuray Mert is a columnist of daily Milliyet, in which this piece originally appeared. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.







Two major health problems have been in focus over the last week – polio and thalassemia. A conference last Sunday on International Thalassemia Day heard that we have no clear idea of how many victims of this inherited form of anaemia there were in Pakistan, but a conservative estimate was 60,000 and the number of actual carriers was in the millions. Although the disease cannot be cured its spread can be mitigated and even prevented. The conference recommended statutory blood tests for all couples about to be married in order that the incidence of the disease be brought down; but given the lamentable track record of this and every other government in terms of tackling health care issues there seems little likelihood of the recommendation ever reaching the draft-bill stage.

There is better news in our decades-long battle against a disease that is also not curable but one which can be eradicated completely – polio. A three-day nation-wide polio eradication campaign kicked off on Monday and the aim is that 33 million children will receive the vaccine. There are 91,000 special teams across the country and it is hoped that the upwards trend in polio cases is being reversed. Progress has been made since the formulation of the Emergency Action Plan for Polio and thus far this year Punjab is polio-free. Also polio-free are the federal capital territory, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. This year a majority of the 36 reported cases of polio are from Fata – our polio hotspot for many years. The Fata administration is said to be making a 'big push' this year to increase rates of vaccination. We are probably not going to eradicate polio in 2011, but it is not inconceivable that we could do so in the next two years. We are never going to eradicate thalassemia however we could do a lot to mitigate its spread; but with public-health spending at an all-time low it will need a comprehensive summoning of political will if we are ever to be a healthier nation.







Some ambassadorial posts are tougher than others, and the job of American ambassador to Pakistan is unlikely ever to be viewed as a 'comfort posting'. It was therefore inevitable that the current incumbent Cameron Munter was going to be appearing in front of a camera having pointed questions lobbed at him, especially as his country had just committed a physical invasion of our airspace, landed troops and killed and wounded several people and perhaps kidnapped one or more others. He was speaking after a week in which the director of the CIA said that we were either 'culpable or incompetent' in our failure to detect and detain Osama bin Laden and whether the threat of further American unilateral action was on the table. The thrust was that 'we have to work together,' that we shared common values and that hunting down the numbers 2,3,4, or 5 figures in Al-Qaeda was in the interests of both of us. He seemed confident that we could both work together; but then equivocated when asked if America might make a similar strike against Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Al-Qaeda number two who has also been rumoured to be in Pakistan.

Similar equivocation and tortuous platitudes peppered the rest of the interview, and little of any specificity passed before us thus mirroring the decidedly lacklustre and content-free appearance of the prime minister before parliament earlier the same evening. Cameron Munter is a man paid a decent salary to say as little as possible in situations such as that he found himself in on Monday, and the same could perhaps be said of any ambassador or politician of national stature – these are men and women who do their business for the most part behind closed doors. We rarely hear anything from them beyond a soothing blandness, and most especially we never hear anything like the acceptance of responsibility for anything. Despite this apparent lack of anything of substance, the Americans in undertaking the Bin Laden raid have put down a marker. What Munter did not say was that if other opportunities arose they would always work with us; instead he talked of 'hoping' to work with us – a far cry from a clear commitment. There were reports in a British newspaper on Tuesday that the hunt was on for Mullah Omar, with Quetta the likely hunting ground. If this is true, will this be a joint operation or a race between us and the Americans? Ambassador Munter would surely know – but he will not be telling us about it.





The past weekend leading up to Prime Minister Gilani's address to the National Assembly was a hopeful one for many Pakistanis – come Monday, they thought, we will have answers to our questions about the killing of Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces and the breach of Pakistan's sovereignty. Adrenaline rushed and hopes surged when the PM said the truth "could not for long be submerged in falsehood." But ultimately, what transpired in parliament was mere damp squib. For a prime minister who stressed that "blame games serve no purpose," Gilani was quick to blame others, not least the media. The media had obscured reality, the PM said; media spin masters had tried to portray a divide between state institutions. The same day, addressing officers at the Rawalpindi, Kharian and Sialkot garrisons, COAS General Kayani too was quick to point to misreporting. The question is: whose fault is it that the media doesn't have complete information and technical details? And why shouldn't the media hold close to the fire the feet of our leaders, civilian and military, who say they have no clue how the US raid occurred and why Osama was in Abbottabad?

What was required was a categorical policy statement on the question of American incursions and a questioning of the US about the 'betrayals of trust' it keeps citing. A juxtaposition of Mr Gilani's ambiguity to Ambassador Munter's 'It can happen' in a Geo interview when he was asked if an Abbottabad-type operation could be repeated will show the poverty of our government's reaction to what has happened. Just weeks ago, the PM had reassured parliament that the ISI was working under the instructions and guidance of the government. Why then is he unwilling to concede that the intelligence failure on Osama is in essence a government failure? We also know now that Musharraf struck a deal 10 years ago allowing the US to go after Osama in Pakistan. What's most 'interesting,' however, are reports that the deal was renewed during 'the transition to democracy' – the period after February 2008 when the PPP government had come to power.









 Pakistan is trapped in a pincer movement: On the one hand we are under pressure from the US to fight its war against religious extremism and suffer brazen violations of our national sovereignty in the form of drone attacks and now even ground military operations, while bearing intolerable loss of lives and material damage. On the other hand we are under fierce attack from religious extremists for our complicity with the Americans and have to suffer terrorist attacks by them in which thousands of innocent citizens have died and the already beleaguered economy has ground to a halt. We find ourselves hopelessly unable to perform adequately on either front; there appears to be nothing our law enforcement agencies can do to stop terrorist attacks and there is nothing our government wants to do to stop drone attacks and breach of national sovereignty by our foreign masters before whom they have prostrated themselves for the sake of hanging on to power.

The origins of this fateful conundrum for Pakistan lie in former US Secretary of State Colin Powell's 'are you with us or against us?' ultimatum to Musharraf, in response to which he readily heaved Pakistan onto someone else's funeral pyre. The Musharraf administration was in serious trouble at that time. It stood isolated and shunted by the international community for having illegally seized power by usurping the democratically elected government of Nawaz Sharif in a military coup.

But just as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan threw open the flood gates of western, particularly American, largesse for Zia-ul-Haq and made him their blue-eyed boy, worthy of adorning the cover of Times Magazine despite having murdered an elected prime minister and subverted the constitution, the 9-11 attacks too pushed the Americans into instantaneously forgiving Musharraf his sins against democracy to use him as an instrument in their war on terror. But in time, Musharraf proved unable or unwilling to comply with the US wish-list in toto and was unceremoniously dumped.

Our foreign overlords needed to find a replacement in whose vocabulary the word 'no' did not exist. Enter Zardari. Drone attacks? Military operations against extremists? Resolving the Raymond Davis issue? Killing Osama bin Laden? No problem! Wikileaks has already revealed that Zardari made it very clear to the US authorities that they had carte blanche to do as they pleased in Pakistan and that they felt more concern for the loss of innocent lives in Pakistan in drone attacks than he did. It is because our so-called leaders are so eager to bend far before their foreign masters and invite them to breach our national sovereignty in order to secure their own hold on power with their support that Pakistan stands today between the devil and the deep blue sea.

But the ride is about to get rougher. Given the incompetence of our law enforcement agencies because of which our towns and cities are easy targets for terrorists, the nation is already bracing itself for reprisals in reaction to the killing of OBL. How many more hundreds or thousands will die in the coming days in such attacks just because our rulers' lust for power propped up by foreign masters knows no bounds?

The cakewalk this government has enjoyed for three years, during which time it has represented the interests of its foreign benefactors more than those of the people of Pakistan, might not last very long. Even before the November 2010 US Congressional elections in which the Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives and their majority in the Senate was slashed, President Obama, and to a lesser extent Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, were Pakistan's only friends in Washington DC. But if a trust deficit existed between Pakistan and the Pentagon, CIA and Congress before the US Navy SEALS raid in Abbottabad, it has now grown to full blown hostility. The Republicans are missing no opportunity to flex their muscle in Congress to make the going heavy for the Obama administration. Obama should be flying high after taking down America's enemy No. 1, but the Republicans already have him on the back foot, forcing him to answer awkward questions about the advantages accruing to the US after pumping tens of billions of dollars into Pakistan to fight extremists, only to find the most wanted man in the world hiding in plain sight, living in peace and comfort as a neighbour of the military establishment in Abbottabad for the last five years (according to his wife). They have tabled a bill in the House to suspend aid to Pakistan. The Obama administration is looking distinctly shaky in the run up to next year's presidential elections. If he goes, the incumbent dispensation in Pakistan will lose its only friend in Washington and will be in for the high jump. It is likely to dawn upon the next occupant of the White House that there is no need to deal with the useless monkey when you can deal directly with the organ grinder.

Where are our leaders when the nation needs leadership and direction? Why do they not step forward and use their much heralded 'genius' to pull us out of this mess? Another country invaded our air space and carried out a military operation on our soil and our rulers are acting like nothing has happened. Not only did the foreign secretary rule out any inquiry or action, but our government actually congratulated the US authorities on a successful military strike within our borders! As I write this, more than a week after the event, our rulers have yet to directly address the nation or give any explanation or reassurance to the people. The onslaught of accusations and slurs Pakistan is facing goes virtually unanswered as the prime minister continued his sojourn in a luxury hotel in France, as did Zardari when the country was drowning in the worst floods in almost a century last year.

They have left it to civil servants to provide the answers the whole nation and the whole world crave. Military dictators use civil servants to deal with prickly issues, but people expect better from their elected government. But, having been caught with their pants down after an intelligence and administrative failure of gargantuan magnitude and having shamed the nation yet again, what can they possibly say to the people? Hiding behind Benazir Bhutto's portrait will not help this time.

We have hit rock bottom and stand disgraced before the world. But providence has brought us to a fork in the road and given us a choice for the future; one path is that of least resistance and leads to further prostration before foreign vested interests and their indigenous stooges to seek salvation by trying to ingratiate ourselves with them, leading to even greater oppression and servitude. If we choose to follow this path, we can say goodbye to Pakistan as we know it. The other path leads to the restoration of national honour and pride and rebuilding of our country by cutting the fetters of slavery that bind us to foreign overlords and their shameless agents and wielding the reins of destiny in our own hands. This path leads to a brighter tomorrow.

To be or not to be? Is it nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of debasing servitude forever, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and to break free through struggle and sacrifice? But freedom comes at a price. Do we have the mettle to struggle and endure hardship for it, or are we a slave nation by nature, destined to live and die in chains in shameful silence? The hour has come for us to do some soul searching and take action as our conscience dictates.

The writer is vice-chairman of the Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.








I had repeatedly written and stated that that "Al-Qaeda is a reality and its leader Osama is alive." In the process I faced heavy odds and losses, which I am still ready to face for the truth. Virtually being a factory of conspiracy theories, Pakistan will be awash once again with numerous such theories on the killing of Bin Laden. Our leaders and their cohorts in journalism will continue to create confusions through motivated and doubtful ideas. Lies will be churned out with confidence and continuity to dwarf the truth again and compel its defenders to review their stances.

The fact remains that Operation Geronimo occurred with full knowledge, permission and glare of the Pakistani state. But the operation was exclusively conducted by the US navy SEALS without participation of Pakistani forces.

The conspiracy theorists question how Osama could live in hiding for the last 10 years. This depicts their lack of knowledge of the reality and organisational structure of Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is an organisation of people who prefer to live in caves and hills. But the leadership is made up of highly educated and experienced people. Osama was a highly educated and wealthy man belonging to a very powerful Saudi family. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, though he lived most of his life in fighting in battlefields, is a highly educated individual from a well known Egyptian family. People like Ahmad Yahya Gaddan also make up the leadership of this organisation.

In this region, Al-Qaeda was among the first organisations to possess the means and wherewithal of information technology. For example, Al-Qaeda men used the internet and email from the days when a limited number of people in Pakistan and Afghanistan had only heard of this technology. Al-Qaeda men had closely worked with ISI and CIA operatives during the Afghan war and therefore understood their limitations, capacity and tactics. Their knowledge of these spies is betrayed by Osama when he was asked about the secret of his survival despite threats from very powerful enemies: "I never trust any intelligence agency." His knowledge and sense of security is also manifested by revelations that the compound he lived in had no mobile, internet or landline communication facilities. He knew that such communication facilities make him vulnerable to exposure. I believe that before 9/11, the Americans were hardly interested in taking out Osama. But after that incident, the US was making every effort to get Osama dead or alive.

An "element of surprise" is an important tactic in Al-Qaeda's strategy. Usually it adopts a way or uses a technique hardly thought about by anybody. For example, Al-Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks when such attempts were expected on US interests in Asia and the Arab world. After the Nato attack, the allies were searching for Osama in southern Afghanistan, but he had slipped to Tora Bora from where he crossed over to Kunar province to evade search in Waziristan and Kurram Agencies. When he released the video shot in Kunar, he had already left for Pakistan. Similarly, Nato fixed the spotlight on Bajaur and eastern Afghanistan while Osama was secure in Waziristan. Osama was thought to be surrounded by bodyguard in caves and hills, but he surprised everyone once it occurred that he was living in Abbottabad.

Osama was Al-Qaeda's ideologue and founder. For the world he was a symbol of terror, but he was dear to his followers and friends for his sacrifices and tenderness. He was not a terror mastermind, but had attracted followings because of his commitment to the cause. He was a member of the richest family, but had left riches for a life in caves and hills. Such characteristics commanded respect in Al-Qaeda circles and affiliates throughout the world. In the above-mentioned context it would be hard to replace him as Al-Qaeda leader. But it is naive to assume that Al-Qaeda will vanish after his death. There are many reasons for that. One, if Obama's ratings skyrocketed after killing America's enemy, Osama's popularity has equally soared in the Muslim world.

Secondly, Al-Qaeda is an international organisation of highly committed ideologues. It was formed by a merger of more than a dozen jihadi organisations of the Muslim world. It has attracted dozens of other affiliates in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Arab world, East Asia and Europe after the 9/11 incident. These organisations, their leaderships, and their ability to inflict pain are still intact.

Third, Al-Qaeda was basically a reaction to the US policies in the Muslim world. Those policies are not only current, but have got impetus after unprovoked attacks on Iraq and Libya. The Muslim youth have got another instigating footage of Bin Laden as if Palestine, Kashmir, Abu Ghraib and Libya were not enough.

Fourth, an important factor behind the Al-Qaeda movement was feelings of "revenge." The Al-Qaeda members and the Taliban and other affiliates feel that after their use against the USSR in Afghanistan, they have been wronged in many instances and actually been belittled instead of their contributions being recognized. So "revenge" was also at work behind Al-Qaeda's creation. This feeling will grow stronger after the killing of Al-Qaeda. Lastly, those countries of the region that fear the US, or feel threatened by the US intentions, would indirectly support Al-Qaeda. For many years, the US, through its wrong policies, has created many enemies in the region and the Arab world. Those countries would continue to support organisations like Al-Qaeda against the US.

So if Obama and his allies want to make the world a safer place, they should focus attention on finding durable solutions to factors behind Al-Qaeda and other such organisations.

The writer works for Geo TV.









The discovery, killing and extraction of Bin Laden in Abbottabad under the noses of our military were both humiliating and shameful. We earned odium and ridicule abroad and at home people were flabbergasted. Regardless of whether we emerge as knaves or fools when we get to know more about the operation, it has already proved to be a major public relations disaster for the country and particularly the military. And if Pakistan's complicity is proved, it would amount to an indictment of a whole system and a way of thinking. But even if it is not, it would still reveal unparalleled incompetence.

No doubt an investigation will be held and just as surely, its findings will never see the light of day. The report on a much bigger disaster – the loss of East Pakistan – never made it to the public domain. Unless there is genuine soul searching and lessons are learnt, history will repeat itself and given the degree of hostility exuding from Washington and Delhi, the slightest suspicion that Pakistan is even unwittingly complicit in any future incident will be disastrous.

It's about time we realised that trying to lull the people into a false sense of security does little to improve the situation. Reminding them ad nauseam what the war has cost us in lives or money merely elicits the response that we should have acted much earlier to stem the rot that afflicts our society. At best, it evinces pity which, as we know, is almost akin to contempt. An outsider would rather hear what steps are being taken to end the suffering than to hear us repeatedly bleat about our suffering.

It's far better to start telling the truth and being honest about the problems we confront in all their complexities than to find momentary comfort in understatements, lies and deceit. Saying therefore that 'we have broken the back of terrorism' when terrorists can be seen jumping, running and going on a killing spree on a daily basis merely because that is what the audience want to hear, is absurd. Moreover, in the absence of any real substance or statistics to back them, such assurances just come across as barefaced lies. Similarly we should be forthright when an ally, partner or friend makes unreasonable or impossible demands on us such as the American insistence that we take the fight to the Afghan Taliban in North Waziristan. We should tell them frankly why that is not possible. It may invite brick bats but what it will not do is lead to misunderstanding or a depletion of trust that follows when the weaker side – in an inherently unequal relationship such as ours with the US – prevaricates or obfuscates, hoping that a patina of lies will make up for the truth.

That said let's see if we can tread our way through the jumble of facts that we have learnt thus far about the OBL operation and come to some, albeit, speculative conclusions based on the assumption that such monumental incompetence could not have occurred. Although it has occurred in the past – at the hands of the CIA twice, on 9/11, on the question of the presence of WMDs in Iraq and, of course, in the case of the Indian intelligence agency RAW in the case of the Mumbai attacks of 2007.

My guess is that we knew about Bin Laden's hideaway (it would be incredulous intelligence failure if we did not) but chose to keep it a secret in the hope of trading Bin Laden at some stage for a major concession from the US, as we appear to have done with some of OBL's deputies (examples include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and al-Libi).

According to a 'senior intelligence official,' we did know about that compound and it was raided by our intelligence at the time of its construction, about five years ago, on suspicion that al-Libi might be lodged there. The official further said that the raid did not yield anything and the house dropped off their radar screen after that. It is the latter part of this statement that many find hard to digest.

We now know that the oversized compound was commonly referred to by locals as Waziristan House where its inhabitants would keep to themselves and confine much of their comings and goings to the night time. We also know that Bin Laden was not leading a retired life there because computers and discs were found. You don't need an internet connection to use a computer disc (both for reading and writing into it) as it can be done directly from the hard drive.

If we knew he was there and wished to trade him in for some concessions why did we inform the Americans in 2009-2010, as claimed by the Foreign Secretary, that we suspected he may be present in the Abbottabad environs? That could be because we did not know for certain in 2009-10 that Bin Laden was there and only got to know about his precise location later. Or may be the idea of trading him came later.

Did we know what was being passed on to his deputies since he was busy communicating with them through the courier; and had we also penetrated his deputies? Probably not – because of the risk that they may alert him.

As it turned out, by earlier alerting the Americans to the presence of his couriers they had managed to get a fix on them and thereafter they were able to locate Bin Laden which we did not know.

Of course, once the Americans had managed to locate Bin Laden the leverage with which we could have traded him at a later stage was lost. But we could only have known that the Americans knew about Bin Laden's location when the Blackhawks were closing in on Abbottabad. So, it could be said that by the time we discovered that the Americans knew about Bin Laden's precise location, it was too late to do anything about it.

Interestingly, a former high ranking ISI official also felt that we knew the Americans had come, even though they came unannounced, because we had the military cordon off the area so that they could go about their business undisturbed. In that way the stigma of cooperating with the US in killing Bin Laden would not latch on to us. In other words, Bin Laden was too hot a potato for us to handle, so it was better that it looked as if we were caught by surprise rather than caught with his blood on our hands. Predictably, one analyst felt we should take this explanation with a pinch of salt while another said 'add a tonne to his 'pinch' on my behalf.'

The episode raises a lot of unanswered questions but the notion that we were stumped by US intelligence on Bin Laden's whereabouts is hard to digest. But if true, it raises a different set of disturbing questions about our intelligence agencies and frankly, suits our adversaries much better. They can now, with a much greater degree of plausibility, challenge our claim that our nuclear weapons are in safe hands which is presumably why a stern message to warn them off was needed.

Be that as it may, America should be pleased that they got Bin Laden with our cooperation, regardless of whether or not we have been playing games with them because they too, have been playing games with us. The fact is that the commando operation, however skillfully carried out, would have been far too risky to undertake without some cooperation from our side because failure would have been an utter disaster, especially for Obama who gave the final go ahead.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:








A PPP-PML-Q deal has happened. The deal is as worthwhile for democracy, good governance and economic recovery in the country as a deal between Ali Baba's forty colleagues and the Pirates of the Caribbean would be. The PML-Q sticking to the deal will hinge on the deal within the deal, to get Moonis Elahi off the hook. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has already hit the road on this by reportedly assigning FIA personnel of the Chaudhrys' pick on the case.

For the Chaudhrys, getting Moonis Elahi out of his corruption mess is more central than any political concern. If Moonis is convicted he could be in for a long time. If the Chaudhrys get to keep him out of jail, for which as last recourse a presidential pardon would do nicely, nothing could be a more fruitful outcome for them.

The Chaudhrys of Gujrat are a matter-of-fact lot. They understood that without Musharraf and the army to prop it, their party was headed towards nothingness. The deal with the PPP offers the Chaudhrys' party a lifeline. Many of its members who were readying to wing their way out, and many who have gone over to the 'unification' block favouring unification with the PML-N, or to the PML (likeminded), are beginning to drool at the prospect of power, even if shared, after the deal with the PPP. If enough of them return to the PML-Q fold, the Sharif's goose in Punjab would be about ready for the oven.

The PML-N and the PML-Q were in agonisingly tedious negotiations to unify, or to have a power-sharing deal. The negotiations were compounded by the PPP's bait laden enticements to the PML-Q, and further compounded by Pervez Elahi's son the much touted, by dad and uncle, 'Pride of Lahore,' Moonis Elahi, being in the clink. The Chaudhrys probably concluded that the most feasible way of getting Moonis off the hook would be in a deal with the PPP, which has a proven track record of getting all kinds of people in all kinds of trouble off the hook, if it served its purpose.

Hence the Chaudhrys opted to serve the PPP purpose. The PPP purpose is to keep the PML-Q alive and kicking, to counter the PML-N in Punjab, particularly after one of PPP's leading Punjab stalwarts, ex-foreign minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi jumped ship, and is hoping to pull a 'ZAB' on President Asif Ali Zardari, like the one pulled by the real ZAB, ex-foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, on President Field Marshal Mohammed Ayub Khan.

Makhdoom Qureshi claims the PPP has split into two. That may be, but the PPP already has an army of loyal but disgusted PPPites, who have been put aside in favour of loyalists such as Babar Awan, who distributed sweets at ZAB's hanging, and others, whose loyalty for what it is worth, is to the present highest level leadership of the party, not to the party itself. Makhdoom Qureshi may well have opened the door for the exit of genuine party loyalists out of the new-look, personalised PPP.

The Makhdooms appear restless. At least two of them, Makhdooms Shah Mahmood Qureshi of the PPP and Javed Hashmi of the PML-N, have broken ranks with their parties. The third, Prime Minster Makhdoom Raza Shah Gilani is said to be unhappy with the deal with the PML-Q. The fourth, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Minister of Commerce, is nowhere to be seen nor heard. Now, he will be required to share the 'senior' prefix to his ministerial rank with another and, as an added insult, with a non-party 'another'.

Makhdoom Javed Hashmi of the PML-N has clearly had enough of the Sharif's style of leadership. He has not quite split, but he has clearly displayed that there has to be reason for him not to do so. His comment 'one needs a doctorate to understand the PPP co-chairman's moves' is a backhanded compliment, which can be interpreted to mean whatever is the need of the time. It is more a snipe at the Sharifs' political acumen.

The Makhdoom is unhappy playing second fiddle to the Leader of the Opposition, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who in turn, is said to be unhappy at the top slots, both in Islamabad and Lahore, being blocked permanently, for others in the party by the two Sharif brothers. Such a situation in any progressive, professionally managed corporation would be cause of acute disgruntlement among the corporation's best managers.

The Makhdooms' behavioural pattern in the last few weeks, the disenchantment of many in the PPP with the deal with the Chaudhrys, the number of wings seen being exercised for possible take off in both parties, are signs that the PPP, and the PML-N, are both ripe for more breaking of ranks by their loyalists. But the PPP co-chairman holds a 'trump' card beyond the PML-Q and the MQM deal in hand.

Enter Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He is the 'trump' Bhutto card in the co-chairman's hand. If the review of the Bhutto hanging case does not prove an effectual attention-grabber, and if the deal with the PML-Q does not produce the desired results, this card, when played, would end all arguments, or so the diehard loyalists of co-chairman believe.

There is, however, the question of age and timing before the 'trump' card can be played to best advantage. Until then, time has to be bided with deals or whatever, with whoever.

The writer is a former corporate executive. Email:







The writer is a former foreign secretary

The killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad is being celebrated in the US as a great victory and a long-awaited accomplishment. In his late-night televised statement last Sunday, President Obama declared that "America can do whatever it is we set our mind to."

Once President Obama announced that the mission, codenamed "Geronimo," had been accomplished, the whole world watched the unfolding story in a minute-to-minute coverage of the related details on the electronic media. The only dumbfounded people anywhere in the world were those of Pakistan, who woke up to the news the morning after the event, puzzled and shocked and with no clue as to what had really happened in, and to, their country.

Violation of Pakistan's territorial integrity by the US is not new. This has been an accepted norm particularly since Gen Musharraf, the dictator who left a legacy of surrender and servitude. People are already accustomed to frequent drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas but they now found it difficult to digest a full-scale commando operation by the US Special Forces, undetected and unresisted, deep inside their country's mainland.

What shocked them even more was the revelation that Osama had been hiding in their country totally unnoticed for almost five years. They just could not believe that the world's most wanted man for nearly a decade could have found a convenient hideout in an urban residential area of one of the larger cities of their country. They were watching all sorts of details on how the US navy SEALS raided the compound and killed Osama bin Laden on their soil but there was no word from their government.

The silence of their graceless, incompetent rulers raised painful questions in their minds. Ironically, at the very time of the US commando operation just across Margalla Hills, the rulers in Islamabad were frolicking at the Presidency, over the formation of yet another unholy political alliance driven by greed and power. And exactly while the country's sovereign independence and territorial integrity were being trampled with impunity, our prime minister, the chief executive of the country, was busy finalising the list of his entourage for yet another purposeless foreign visit.

He did not even think for a moment that his visit to France at this time of grave national crisis was totally uncalled-for. No one advised him to call off this visit. He went ahead with the irresistible Paris journey, making a mockery of himself and of his country. Millions of rupees were squandered on this ill-timed visit.

For the moment, however, the question of foremost concern and anguish to the people of Pakistan is about the reality of Osama bin Laden's unobtrusive presence on our soil and the circumstances in which he was killed by US forces without our prior knowledge. Our people have limitless patience digesting even national tragedies in the past, but in this case they were anxious to know the facts underlying this whole sordid drama that had brought a humiliating focus on Pakistan with worldwide speculations on our "complicity" or "failure" in regard to Osama's presence on our soil.

In response to growing public outcry, the Foreign Office and the army came out with explanatory statements that to some extent clarified the official position. Both described the death of Osama bin Laden as an important milestone in the fight against terrorism in which Pakistan has been a pivotal player, but categorically denied any prior knowledge of or complicity in the Abbottabad operation.

Our official position, however, was somewhat self-contradictory, in that while claiming to have had nothing to do with the US raid, we also sought to take credit for the success of what we described "an intelligence-driven" operation. We said it could not have been possible without the help that we have been rendering over the years to the US through "an extremely effective intelligence-sharing arrangement."

Ironically, we also seemed to be lamenting the fact that "taking advantage of its much superior technological assets, the CIA had exploited the intelligence leads given by us to identify and reach Osama bin Laden." We were disappointed that "the CIA had developed intelligence based on initial information (about the Abbottabad compound) provided by the ISI." In other words, while seeking to distance ourselves from the US operation in Abbottabad, we were also keen to share the credit for its success, which our government considers a "major setback" to terrorist organisations around the world." Against this backdrop, our apologetic statements for damage-control in Pakistan seem to make no sense.

The fact is that Pakistan has been unabashedly used by the US as a fall guy, to be blamed for American failures in Afghanistan. We are the only country in the world today waging a full-scale war on its own soil and against its own people. As a battleground of this war, Pakistan is paying a heavy price in terms of its aggravating socio-economic environment as a result of the protracted violence, instability, displacement, trade and production slowdown, export stagnation, investor hesitation, and concomitant law and order situation.

Additionally, in Al-Qaeda's declared war on Pakistan, scores of Al-Qaeda-sponsored terrorist attacks have resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent Pakistani men, women, and children. Almost 30,000 Pakistani civilians have lost their lives in terrorist attacks in the last few years. More than 5,000 Pakistani security and armed forces officials have been martyred in Pakistan's campaign against Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organisations. Woefully, all our sacrifices seem to have gone in vain.

And yet, Pakistan today is the focus of the most humiliating global attention, with growing suspicion regarding our commitment to the war on terror. Questions are being asked as to how the world's most wanted man was able to live for five years in a residential compound in a garrison town, and so close to Pakistan's Military Academy. Those familiar with our Cantonment residential rules are surprised at the enormity of the intelligence failure in Abbottabad.

An investigation has since been ordered by the army into the circumstances that led to this intelligence breakdown. Hopefully, this will take care of whatever shortcomings are found in our intelligence apparatus to prevent their recurrence. But that is only one aspect of this whole fiasco. The magnitude of our intelligence failure warrants accountability at all levels, including the political leadership. Heads rolling after a fiasco is not our tradition. But at least those with any conscience should have the courage to resign gracefully.

We also need to address the larger issues redressing the imbalances in our relationship with the US to be treated not as a hapless victim but as a respected equal partner. In addition to the decision already taken by the army to reduce the number of US military personnel in the country to the "minimum essential," it is time now also to revisit the full whole spectrum of Gen Musharraf's formal and informal undertakings to the Bush Administration in the aftermath of the 9/11 monstrosity.

US territorial transgressions into Pakistan must be brought to an end. Any necessary operations on our soil must be carried out by our own forces. Any security cooperation arrangement with the US must be covered by a formal "status of forces agreement" laying down a mutually applicable framework of cooperation modalities. All existing written or unwritten arrangements being with the US since the Musharraf era must be brought into formal legal shape through parliamentary investigation and approval.








Last week, I wrote about the changing dynamics of Arab politics during the current turmoil. The outcome remains uncertain not only because of the internal dialectics but also because of perennial external intervention In Arab affairs. It varies from country to country, driven not by any moral principles but by Western realpolitik. A spontaneous Arab movement for reform is being turned into a Great Game of power and pelf.

Failure to pursue self-determination without outside interference has been a tragic aspect of Arab political struggle. The Arabs put their faith in the solemn promises made by the major European powers and revolted against the Ottomans. They ended up with British and French mandates and eventually with naqba – the catastrophic expulsion of nearly a million Palestinians from the land they had lived in for millennia and the creation of an expansionist Israel which has yet to determine its final borders. Arab efforts to exercise full sovereignty in sensitive strategic regions with vital western interests and establish complete control over their vast resources, especially oil and gas, have invariably invited aggression by Israel and diverse forms of western interventionism.

The West is now working overtime in the Middle East and North Africa to control the process of change. France offered assistance to Tunisia to help put down the unrest and then made a dramatic volte face to express solidarity with the masses demanding the overthrow of the regime. Washington dithered when it came to its old and trusted ally, Hosni Mubarak, and then readjusted its policy without the French histrionics but with no less opportunism to influence events in Egypt. It made a skilful transition from the white heat of the Tahrir Square to the cooler environment in which the Egyptian establishment, led by the armed forces, is trying to chart a middle path. It has a special focus on its own behalf and on behalf of Israel on the fortunes of Muslim Brotherhood. Aware of how the West destroyed the democratic triumph of Hamas in a free Palestinian election, the Muslim Brotherhood is positioning itself to participate in a cautious and calibrated manner in a future Egyptian democracy as a party that may borrow much from Turkey's A K (Justice and Development) party.

A former Pakistani diplomat, Ashraf Jahangir Qazi, has observed (The News, April 21) that "the Arab Spring essentially represents the potential triumph of the 'Arab street' over the Arab elite". I find the street vs elite frame particularly inadequate in Libya's case. The rapid transition to an armed insurrection, the instant support for it from France and the United Kingdom, the massive use of American air power in the initial phase of outside intervention under Security Council Resolution 1973, the air support to the rebels now upgraded to Predators to tilt the balance in the Libyan civil war, the establishment of a central bank in Ben Ghazi, and diversion of Libyan funds abroad to the rebels have shattered the street vs elite paradigm and revealed the true agenda as regime change, oil resources, and strategic control over Libya in the Mediterranean and African context. The assassination of Col Qaddafi's son, Saif al Arab and Qaddafi's three grand children should leave us in no doubt that the US and Nato will exceed Resolution 1973; the name of the game is not democracy but replacement of collapsing autocratic regimes by a new pro-west ruling elite that does not stray too far trying to escape the orbit laid down for the Arab states.

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: katanvir@








AS there is no end to questions being asked in the wake of Abbottabad operation by the United States, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, in his comprehensive policy statement on the floor of the National Assembly on Monday, came out with a convincing defence, trying to put at rest apprehensions of the people and misgivings about the incident. His speech covered all aspects of the episode and what strategy the Government intends to pursue in future.

Though some quarters including leader of the opposition Ch Nisar Ali Khan have objected to PM's preference for English language on the occasion, but one must appreciate that various questions irritate minds of not only Pakistanis but also people across the globe and it was a wise approach to convey the point of view in direct manner. For domestic audience, the Prime Minister also made some of the necessary assertions in Urdu language besides instant communication of the entire statement to the people by the national media. The most agitating question is that of presence of Osama in Abbottabad and hopefully the investigation already ordered into the incident would provide satisfactory answer. However, as pointed out by the PM, one thing is quite obvious that complicity of ISI or Pakistan Armed Forces was a false notion being hammered out by anti-Pakistani circles; otherwise how is it conceivable that those entrusted with the responsibility of defending national security and defence would harbour chief of an organisation that has killed not only 30,000 men, women and children but also over 5,000 personnel of armed forces and security agencies. Al-Qaeda and Taliban targeted GHQ, senior leadership of the army and premises of the ISI in different parts of the country. Then there were concerns about ability of our armed forces to safeguard interests of the country and it was in this backdrop that the Prime Minister emphatically stated that any attack on the country's strategic assets would receive matching response. He has also done well by rejecting the propaganda that there were differences among different state institutions on the issue and announced that all of them were on the same page and that the government has complete confidence in the army and the ISI. The issue is already being debated both in the Senate and the National Assembly and convening of the joint session on Friday would provide an opportunity to the parliamentarians to ask questions from the military leadership, which will help forge national consensus on how best to deal with the new challenge.







CHAIRMAN of Board of Investment (BOI) Saleem Mandviwalla has disclosed that Pakistan and Russia are likely to sign six MoUs during the visit of President Asif Ali Zardari to boost economic ties between the two countries. The visit taking place at the invitation of President Dmitry Medvedev will be a leap forward in Pakistan-Russia relations and help in promoting greater understanding to broaden and strengthen economic security and cultural ties.

As Pakistan is facing severe energy shortfall, ways and means would be explored for cooperation in energy sector and there are indications that Russia, being top energy supplier in the world, is ready to extend cooperation to Pakistan for overcoming energy crisis. Russia can also help in oil and gas exploration and in revival of dead wells as it has the required technology. Expansion of Pakistan Steel Mills would be another item on top of the agenda during the visit. Russia had financed and built the steel mills in the 70s which is now facing financial crunch and needs expansion in capacity to meet domestic requirements and get out of the crisis. From the Pakistani side, a great potential exists for businessmen to export rice, vegetables, fruits, pharmaceuticals, sports goods, leather, apparel, hosiery, home textiles and fabrics. In fact over one hundred thousand tons of potato alone were exported to Russia during the current year and that speaks volume of enhancing the trade ties. In the changing world scenario, Pakistan needs to diversify its trade and economic ties in addition to greater market access in the west. Though officials in Islamabad are confident that President Zardari's visit will help the two countries to boost bilateral cooperation to their mutual advantage yet we would emphasise that the Russian leadership should also look in the wider perspective towards South Asia. There is a perception in Pakistan that as Moscow does not want to annoy New Delhi, full potential of cooperation between Pakistan and Russia could not be exploited so far. We believe there is need for increasing the political and economic ties between the two countries by setting aside the misunderstandings of the past which would not only boost trade and economic relations but also contribute to peace and security in the region.







AT a time when tension was mounting and suspicions growing, India has opted to kick off war games involving thousands of troops in Thar Desert region bordering Pakistan. Being participated by over 20,000 combat troops, the exercise involves an array of weaponry that India has acquires as part of its ongoing military modernisation programme.

Though such exercises are routinely held to judge operational preparedness of the armed forces but it is timing of the war games that raise alarm bells in Pakistan. Pakistan is already under great pressure and its public opinion is disturbed because of the situation arising out of OBL issue. There is despondency and sense of insecurity prevails due to hostile environment and sudden announcement of war games by India and that too in the sensitive area of Thar is being seen as part of the tactical designs by New Delhi. The choice of the location makes it abundantly clear that the exercise is directed at Pakistan and it is obvious that the objective is to further put pressure on Pakistan and increase difficulties for the country. The development is particularly worrisome as it comes in the wake of threats being hurled by India that, like the United States, it too can go for hot pursuit to attack so-called hideouts of militants in Pakistan. It is also lamentable that India has chosen to conduct the offensive exercise at a time when the two countries had resumed the process of dialogue aimed at normalising their tense relations. This exposes the real designs and intentions of India vis-à-vis Pakistan and our authorities should exercise necessary vigilance to safeguard our interests.









Recent events in the region outline the imperative need to revisit the regional equation in the South Asia region and in particular the significant role of Sino-Pak relations in this context. It is of some importance for the planners of our Foreign Policy not to ignore this cornerstone of our relations. A measure of introspection here may not be out of place.

With the benefit of hindsight, one can safely surmise that matters took a serious turn in 1998 after India took the precipitate step of exploding a nuclear weapon. This had posed a direct and serious threat to the security of Pakistan, obliging it to follow suit not long afterwards. Bilateral threatening posturing aside, India also started to remove the veil from its hegemonic ambitions. India's defense Minister, George Fernandez, it may be recalled, had gone so far as to declare that India's nuclear programme was not merely to counter Pakistan but was actually meant to neutralize the power of China.

India has drawn considerable comfort from the thaw in the disputed Sino-Indian border region. Off and on, Indian government spokesmen have made somewhat bizarre attempts to draw a parallel between the Sino-India border problem and the Jammu and Kashmir dispute with Pakistan. This is hardly a rational approach since the two have little in common. The India-China border dispute is an issue purely of territorial adjustment. The Jammu and Kashmir dispute, on the other hand, relates basically to the denial of fundamental human rights, including the inalienable right of self-determination, of some ten million people – rights that were solemnly pledged to them by the governments of India and Pakistan as well as the international community as represented by the United Nations. Someone ought to point out that, while it may be possible to 'freeze' a disputed tract of territory, how can the fundamental rights of some ten million people be frozen?

Meanwhile, events have moved apace. The United States-India nuclear deal, for what it is worth, has brought about what can be seen as a fundamental change in the already precarious strategic balance in the region. The sentiments expressed at the signing ceremony are revealing. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was at his most effusive, when he declared, "We have made history today". He went on to add that the nuclear deal "makes me confident that there is no limit to Indo-US partnership". The formal conclusion of what the two leaders hailed as an "historic" deal can be seen as the bedrock of a "new strategic partnership". This is evidently the start of a new honeymoon! The question that presents itself begging for an answer is: Who is destined to be at the receiving end? An evident corollary of the aforementioned nuclear deal is that – in so far as the sole superpower is concerned - India would henceforth be detached from the South Asian nuclear equation, thereby catapulting it on to the international stage as a nascent regional power. The undeclared objective, of course, is the "containment" of China. This, then, would appear to be the principal objective of the much-vaunted "new strategic partnership". But there has to be a quid pro quo. In return, India has apparently agreed to shed the fig leaf of the "Panchshila" philosophy - or the five principles of peaceful co-existence in its relations with China.

By concluding this agreement, India has done no more – or no less – than to expose a lack of confidence in its own ability to stand on its own two feet. Borrowing a crutch from a big power by sacrificing its own freedom of maneuver has never yet benefited any country. India's experience will be no different. On their part, the American planners appear to have developed a linear vision in their approach to developments in the international arena. Over-obsession with the need to prop up India as a bulwark against China will not stand the test of time in the ultimate analysis. China-Pakistan relations have long been a consistent factor of stability in this otherwise volatile region. India's virtual policy somersault as a result of its new-found "strategic partnership" with the United States is bound to have a destabilizing effect on this part of Asia. This development should logically add to the importance of China-Pakistan friendship as a positive factor in the interest of peace and stability of the region. Should Pakistan allow this partnership to be jeopardized, e.g. due to the goading of the United States, it could upset the already precarious balance that (happily?) exists today. Another U-turn may well turn out to be one too many!

Considering that India has a history of broken pledges, its smaller neighbours cannot but feel threatened by India's posturing after adherence to the concept of strategic partnership with the United States. In particular, India may now be tempted to flex its muscles and feel free to experiment with the umbrella of the Doctrine of Preemption, as enunciated by former US President George W. Bush. Omens do not look at all reassuring. No wonder the region is bracing for a longish period of angst and tension. Needless to add, Pakistan has a major stake in the stability of South Asia. Its leaders would do well to study the portents very carefully before formulating policy.

While on this subject, it may be added that SAARC as a factor of stability and progress in the region has hardly lived up to its promise. The indecent haste with which decisions were taken about its expansion to encompass areas beyond the geographical frontiers of South Asia is bound to have a profound negative impact on its future progress. History has shown that such groupings give utmost priority to taking tangible measure to strengthen their moorings before venturing into the uncharted territory of expansion. SAARC has opted to put the relevant history on its head. By taking this course, it may well be inviting trouble. China-Pakistan relations represent the one constant in the regional equation that ensures equilibrium. Given this constant, other variables would automatically fall in place. It is imperative, therefore, to ensure that this is not disturbed.







Highly sensitive intelligence operation of mid night 1st and 2nd May 2011 brought an end to the former CIA agent and leader of Al-Qaeda "Osama bin Laden". Sharp 40 minutes targeted operation successfully culminated on hitting of famous character (Osama) of Global War on Terror (GWOT) who was present in a compound house located in Abbottabad (a hill station north of Islamabad). According to Obama, the operation was conducted with the assistance of Pakistan and all necessary details of the operation have been shared with his counterpart. He added that all relevant details of the operation have also been tied up and exchanged between the respective military and intelligence set up of both the countries too.

In this regard, U.S. Foreign Sectary of State has also acknowledged the support in the conduct of under discussion operation in addition to the sacrifices and co-operation of Pakistani security forces and intelligentsia in GWOT. But at the same time CIA Chief Leon Panetta gave an extremely irresponsible statement and tried to undermine the Pakistani intelligence and security forces capabilities. In this context, he said either Pakistan was involved in hiding Osama or lacked ability to trace Al-Qaeda leader in Abbottabad. In his first interview since commanding the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, Panetta told to "TIME" that U.S. officials feared that Pakistan could have undermined the operation by leaking word to its targets.

Panetta probably forgotten that the sole super power (U.S.) and its highly equipped nefarious intelligence agencies including CIA despite knowing the activities of Al-Qaeda network, failed to stop the occurrence of 9/11 and kill Osama since 1999 to 2010. Thus, the CIA Chief' statement is a mere try to damage the already tense relations between Washington and Islamabad. His statement after Osama's killing reflect that either he lacks vision in understanding the sensitivity of the issue or having some ill motives of his covert operation against Pakistan i.e. (1) To implement the hot pursuit policy of Obama while carrying out independent operation in Waziristan and other parts of the country, (2) To capture Pakistan strategic assets (nuclear installations) under the garb of protecting the installations from Al-Qaeda network. Actually, American intelligence Chief do not probably able to comprehend that major fall out of bin Laden killing would be faced by Pakistan. In this regard Therik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Al-Qaeda leadership have threatened that political, civilian and military would be targeted in response to the killing of their spiritual leader.

Number of speculations and quires are emerging after this operation like: (1) Whether the operation was conducted only by U.S. commandos? (2) Why Osama have not been traced out earlier since he was residing in highly sensitive area of Abbottabad? (3) What could be the reasons of supporting U.S. in elimination of Osama (4) Will U.S. pack up from Afghanistan now? (5)Can U.S. afford the continuity of war further with such depleting economy? (6) Has GWOT achieved its complete objectives after killing Osama (7) Are Pakistani strategic assets safe and sound? (8) Will U.S. and her ally India stop blame game against Pakistan and its security agencies? (9) Why CIA was unable to hit Osama till 2005 in Afghanistan? (10) Is U.S. going to use Osama's elimination as escape goat from Afghanistan? (11)Why U.S. cheated Islamabad despite receiving basic information from Pakistani Intelligentsia about Osama presence in Abbottabad?

According to the media reports number of residents of the Bilal Town, Abbottabad revealed that the operation was conducted with the help of Pakistani security and intelligence agencies. The inhabitants of the area of operation have also confirmed that troops participating in the operation were fluently speaking Pashto (official provincial language). On May 5, 2011 Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani chaired a meeting 138th Corps Commanders Conference. In addition to the military to military relation between U.S and Pakistan, the conference deliberated the presence and killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. The respective authorities have also admitted their shortfalls in this operation. The conference has highlighted that the achievements of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), against Al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates in Pakistan, have no parallel.

The participants of the conference were briefed that around 100 top level Al-Qaeda leaders / operators were killed / arrested by ISI, with or without support of CIA. However, in the case of Osama Bin Laden, while the CIA developed intelligence based on initial information provided by ISI, it did not share further development of intelligence on the case with ISI, contrary to the existing practice between the two services. At this occasion General Kayani assured that that any similar action, violating the sovereignty of Pakistan, will warrant a review on the level of military / intelligence cooperation with the United States. The Corps Commanders were informed about the decision to reduce the strength of US military personnel in Pakistan to the minimum essential. In response to Indian Interior Minister Statement, the conference made it clear that any "misadventure" by the Indian military will be responded to very strongly.

The conferences ruled out the possibility of similar hostile action against our strategic assets and reaffirmed that, unlike an undefended civilian compound, our strategic assets are well protected and an elaborate defensive mechanism is in place. According to the credible sources, ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha personally delivers threat to CIA Islamabad station Chief Mark Carlton: "We will declare we are out of your war on terror and ask you to move all your assets out of from Pakistan, CIA is penetrating Pakistan government". Moreover, Obama has openly announced that very categorically that the operation would have not been possible without the assistance of Pakistan. The residents of the targeted area have also revealed that ambulance and military troops have cordoned the compound during the operation. Thus, it is evident from the above discussion that intelligence about Osama was provided by Pakistan but final operation was carried out unilaterally by the U.S.

In this regard the Western media's propaganda regarding unawareness about Osama's whereabouts in Pakistan is totally baseless However, the unilateral U.S. action violating Pakistani sovereignty has greatly added to the heightened sense of anti-Americanism feelings in Pakistan which has eroded the sense of camaraderie that is essential for conducting a joint counter terrorism campaign against Al-Qaeda. The episode has further exacerbated the sense of mistrust which is primarily an outcome of such tirades emanating from the US side. Pakistan reserves the right to disengage from US if latter continues to behave the same way. Apart from material loses; Pakistan has lost over 30,000 lives in war against terror and suicidal attacks. In 2007, Pakistani renowned leader Benazir Bhutto has also been attacked and murdered Rawalpindi. Terik-e-Taliban of Pakistan (TTP) has claimed the murder of former Prime Minister. TTP also arrogated its connections with Al-Qaeda and supported her cause against Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus, it is not possible to provider shelter to leader of that network who is carrying out activities against the state.

Moreover, U.S., India, Israel, Iran and various Arab states are playing their games while using Pakistani territory. Thus under this adverse security environment Pakistani masses including security and intelligentsia have done wonder but on the other hand U.S. and her allies had paying their share far below than Pakistani contribution in GWOT. It is mentionable here that Pakistan is a fifth responsible nuclear power and very much capable to guard and protect her nuclear assets. Her forces has shown its full commitments in elimination of terrorism from the country and never compromised with terrorists. However, she is interested in permanent nature of peace in Afghanistan since instability and adverse security situation directly affect Pakistan.

It is true that Osama killing will prove a turning point in the global "war on terrorism" that has been waged since 9/11. His killing has provided a chance to U.S. for implementation of her Extrication Plan from Afghanistan. She should issue time frame of her final departure instead planning some others misadventures. For this purpose she should negotiate with Taliban, Pakistan and Afghanistan for restoring peace prior to her final departure from this region. Moreover, U.S. rolling back will assist in reviving her depleting economy. At the same, European countries and America must realize that at this stage Pakistan should not be left alone to face the repercussions of Osama's killing. Pakistan should be provided finical and technical assistance to fight extremists' elements who would try to cash Osama' killing. They would be stronger than earlier in case of leaving Pakistan alone to fight foreign sponsored war. India should be asked to resolve burning issue of Kashmir under UN Resolutions, since it has been observed that unsettlement of Kashmir issue is directly adding in promotion of extremism in Pakistan.

The major actors of GWOT should remember that Osama's death should not be taken as final success and killing of complete Al-Qaeda leadership. The ideology of Al-Qaeda is still prevailing in the masses and would prove fatal and irreversible incase mistrust between Washington and Islamabad keep on growing further. American leadership should realize that any such type of violation would be responded promptly by Pakistan. Pakistani political leadership should come out and take firm stand in the issue of Osama's killing. The leadership should prepare the nation to live without USAID and stand up to defend Pakistan sovereignty. U.S. should be asked to stop drone attacks. I think now time has come when political leadership should take the decision to task Pakistan Air Force and others security agencies to hit the drone and any hostile air craft if crossing our frontiers.

—The writer is a defence and international analyst.








Osama Bin Laden was killed in a million dollar mansion in Abbottabad in a Rambo style raid masterfully executed by the US naval SEALS. The operation was swift and executed with high level of precision. Americans say it was a feat that would erase embarrassing memories of the failed 1980 hostage rescue mission in Iran during the tenure of President Jimmy Carter. President Obama's stakes were very high and failure would have spelt disaster for his re-election for the second term. In a country where a controversy was created about the birth certificate of President Obama and under intense pressure Obama who being the president of the most powerful country and who also affects the policies of almost the whole globe had to produce a certificate that proved he was a born American. Imagine what political havoc the failure at mission Abbottabad would have brought in this country.

TheUS officials, congressmen, senators and experts on Pakistan say it is difficult to know whether the military was aware of Osama's hideout so near to the military academy and 100 kilo meters from the head quarters of the Pakistani army. White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said ," the location there raises questions." He has vowed to "get to the bottom" of whether the Pakistani government provided help to Osama bin Laden in his decade-long efforts to avoid detection by those who were hunting him. He said on National Public Radio that "it would be premature to rule out the possibility." and added that "we're not accusing anybody at this point, but we want to make sure we get to the bottom of this.". Senator Carl Levin questions as to how it was possible that Pakistani authorities did not know Osmaa was living there for five years. Interestingly Pakistan 's ambassador in Washington Hussain Haqqani in interviews here also asks the question as how Osama's presence in Abbottabad remained elusive .He has demand inquiry into failure of the intelligence apparatus of Pakistan ..

American officials have demanded information on what is known as the ISI's directorate, which has worked closely with militants since the days of the fight against the Soviet army in Afghanistan . The suspicion among United States intelligence and diplomatic officials is that someone in Pakistan 's secret intelligence agency knew of Osama's location, and helped shield him .Technical specialists are recovering phone numbers from several cellphones recovered at the compound." President Zardari, the supreme commander of the armed forces in an article in Washington Post claimed that Pakistani intelligence agencies gave CIA information about the activities of the courier who was serving Osama in Abbottabad. The question is if he knew all this then why his own security forces did not arrest the biggest terrorist of our time. Osama was not found living in rugged mountains or even residing in a remote village .So far the government and the media here find it difficult to swallow the fact how this murderer of thousands of people escaped the hawkish eyes of intelligence agencies of both the USA and Pakistan for several years about his final abode in the famous summer resort, Abbottabad.

Pakistani government from President to the foreign office is known for giving funny statements on national issues and the FO statement on the killing of Osama surpassed every thing when it said ,"This operation was conducted by the US forces in accordance with declared US policy", is the most ridiculous to say the least. Off course the US conducted this operation according to its policy which was to hunt down Osama but why our own security agencies failed to locate his presence in Pakistan and eliminate this evil from the face of earth? No body knew of ultimate abode of Osama in Abbottabad? is the question which would keep haunting for years to come? The size and design of the house where Osama was living shows must it have been specially built to cater security requirements of its occupants. Osama's death in Abbottabad gives credence to Gen Musharraf's statements that "Osama could not survive long since he needed dialysis and this could not be administered in the remote fastnesses of caves in the tribal areas". This poses another question as to how he was getting medical treatment.

Internal inquiry by the army would hardly restore the trust and confidence of people in political and military leadership of the country. The event is a mega embarrassment and in no way less than the surrender of 90000 Pakistani soldiers in Dhaka . The people in the country were stunned and felt humiliated to learn from the foreign media that the most wanted man in the world was killed in Abbottabad. Imagine the disconcert of the overseas Pakistanis who are living among different nations around the world. Lackluster inquires this time around would further erode whatever confidence of the people is left in the system. An inquest at a much bigger level preferably by the full bench of the Supreme Court and assisted by retired army generals would help restore the trust and confidence of the nation.

—The writer is a former diplomat








The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English Speaking world. Although the exact date of foundation remains unclear, there is evidence of teaching there as far back as the 11th century. Oxford is consistently ranked among the world's top 10 Universities with its unmatched standard of education. Oxford is a member of the Russell Group of research-led British Universities, the Coimbra Group, the G5, the League of European Research Universities, International Alliance of Research Universities and is also a core member of the organization of ten European Universities. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological research. The University was founded in 1861. MIT employs about 1,009 faculty members. 76 Nobel Laureates, 50 National Medal of Science recipients and 35 McArthur are affiliated with the university.

University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second oldest university in both England and the English-speaking world and the seventh-oldest globally. The university grew out of an association of scholars in 1209. Academically Cambridge ranks as one of the top universities in the world: it is ranked first in the world in the 2010 QS World University Rankings and fifth in the world (and first in Europe) in the 2010 Academic Ranking of World Universities. Graduates of the University have won a total of 61 Nobel Prizes, the most by any university. Affiliates of the University have won a total of 88 Nobel Prizes. Academic staff of the University won a total of 52 Nobel Prizes, second most of any academic institution (after Columbia University). Stanford University is a private research university with a strong emphasis on scientific, technological and social science research. The University was founded in 1891. More than 50 Stanford faculty, staff and alumni have won the Nobel Prize. Stanford also has the distinction of having the largest number of Turing Award winners for a single institution. Stanford faculty and alumni have founded many prominent technology companies, including Cisco Systems, Electronic Arts, Google, Hewlett-Packard, LinkedIn, Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

While the west made sound seats of learning, rulers on this part of the world were busy creating useless architectures. The Taj Mahal "crown of buildings" is a mausoleum located in Agra, India. It was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is widely considered as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and stands as a symbol of "eternal love". The construction began around 1632 and was completed around 1653, employing thousands of artisans and craftsmen. The Lahore Fort, locally referred to as Shahi Qila, is located in the city of Lahore. The trapezoidal composition is spread over 20 hectares. Origins of the fort go as far back as antiquity, however, the existing base structure was built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar and was regularly upgraded by subsequent rulers. Some of the sites inside the fort include Sheesh Mahal, Alamgiri Gate and Naulakha Pavilion.

Tomb of Jahangir is the mausoleum built for the Mughal Emperor Jahangir who ruled from 1605 to 1627. The mausoleum is located near the town of Shahdara Bagh in Lahore. His son Shah Jahan built the mausoleum 10 years after his father's death. And finally the Empress Noor Jahan lies buried in a tomb not far from that of her husband, Emperor Jahangir. Nur Jehan died in 1645 at age 68, and is buried at Shahdara Bagh in Lahore Pakistan, in a tomb, she had built herself, near the tomb of Jahangir. Fast forward. Our Government made the Jinnah Convention Center with millions of tax payers' money while the country was suffering extreme financial crunch. There was no need for building this center for the same objectives could have been achieved by utilizing the existing infrastructures. This was followed by the construction of Chaghi Monument (Nuclear Meltdown Monument) at Faizabad and the Missile Chowk in Islamabad. Then we went on to construct the Pakistan Monument in Islamabad as a National Monument representing the nation's four provinces and three territories. The blooming flower shape of the monument represents Pakistan's "progress" as a rapidly developing country. The Monument has been supposedly designed to reflect the culture and civilization of the country. And finally the last nail in the coffin is the project to construct Benazir Bhutto Monument at the estimated cost of Rs 1 Billion in Liaqat Bagh Rawalpindi, at the site of her assassination.

Things haven't changed for us over the years, nor has our mindset. Useless Architectures will lead us towards darkness, the lesson we fail to understand. Let's for a change pass on educational infrastructures to our future generations, not these cosmetic worthless monuments of shame.

—The writer is a Social Activist.







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.

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. 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.

In other words, both the private and public sectors have endeavoured 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 birth rate; (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. The writer is president of Shiga University, Japan. — Courtesy: The Japan Times ***************************************







THE Gillard government has ducked the challenge.

The Treasurer's claim to have delivered a tough budget looks hollow when he struggles to name anyone who will feel any pain

THE hidden pain in the Gillard government's first budget will be felt by working families. They will suffer most of the collateral damage from Wayne Swan's lax fiscal discipline, which makes it more likely that home loan interest rates will rise. And it is clear the Treasurer is calculating that more working Australians will be forced into higher tax brackets, where they will face a double hit: higher tax and lost benefits. Mr Swan has shirked the task required of him and left the heavy lifting to the board of the Reserve Bank.

To achieve his promised surplus by 2012-13, Mr Swan has speculated on the mining bonanza, gambling that the historic resources windfall, underpinned by record terms of trade, will continue. He has paid lip-service to the downside risks that could threaten this formula. Last night's budget did not do enough to insure us against the danger that China's growth might stall, triggering a collapse in demand and a fall in historically high mineral prices.

The Australian has repeatedly warned that the government needs to make substantial cuts to spending to build a structural surplus into the budget. We need a budget where the country earns as much as it spends, even when our export income is at normal levels. Otherwise we pin our nation's economic future inextricably to the fortunes of the resources boom and bust cycle, which history tells us is dangerous bet to place. Mr Swan has taken the path of least resistance; as a result, his budget fails the important test.

It takes a certain kind of audacity to frame a budget that realises a $49.3 billion deficit this year and forecasts one of $22.6bn next year around the phrase "back in the black". Yet this is where the Treasurer says the budget will take us. Mr Swan argues that he is setting up Australia for a $3.5bn surplus "on time" in 2012-13. This "on time" is, of course, the time of the government's own choosing, and we must all share the hope that he makes good on this pledge. However, it is impossible to assess these forecasts for two future budget outcomes without noting that this year's deficit is almost 20 per cent higher than was forecast, and next year's predicted shortfall is already almost double what the Treasurer forecast a year ago. It is in every sense the triumph of hope over experience. We are asked to take a leap of faith that this time the reality will match the forecasts. Even then, it is all predicated on the record resources boom continuing unabated. Given Treasury's record in crystal ball gazing, this is a significant gamble.

The government will fool no one with its boast of $22bn in cuts over the next three years. Behind this burst of self-congratulation, the stark reality is that these supposed savings are almost matched by new spending. There are swings and roundabouts, winners and losers, but the net effect of this massive budgetary churn is savings over the forward estimates of less than $1bn.

So the question remains: just how does Mr Swan plan to return the budget to surplus?

The answer is increased taxation. Over the next four years, almost $95bnn extra will be raised through income tax. This accounts for the vast bulk of government's increased revenues, greatly outweighing the growth in company tax collections or the revenue from the new mining tax. By not adjusting income tax thresholds, the government is relying on bracket-creep to push more Australians on to higher tax rates. Instead of some of the mining boom being returned to Australians through lower taxation or indexed adjustments to the thresholds, more of us will pay higher amounts of income tax. It is that simple. Rather than trimming its own sails, the government is planning to pocket more income from Australians in coming years.

With the top rate kicking in and a range of benefits and concessions disappearing at incomes of $150,000 a year, it is clear this is the income at which the Treasurer believes people are rich enough to pay extra. In Wayne's world, a family earning $150,000 and repaying a mortgage is sitting comfortably. This theory is likely to be tested at the ballot box by voters who can expect tough times over the next few years.

Most of the budget spending initiatives focus on workforce participation, health, education and taxation support for low-income families. Of these, the extra spending on mental health programs is most welcome. There is broad acceptance across the nation that this is a field that requires urgent attention. Programs to improve workforce skills, support the transition to work for the long-term unemployed, improve literacy and numeracy for potential workers, and provide more skilled migrants for regional areas are all welcome.

We are deeply sceptical about one savings measure dressed up as a workforce participation initiative -- the phasing out of the dependent spouse rebate. The government believes this is an anachronism designed to keep women at home and out of the workforce. The Australian believes the rebate was a small but important tax break increasing the opportunity for families without children to make their own lifestyle choices. It saves $755 million over four years, taking it directly from families' disposable incomes.

Other cuts are found in defence, an efficiency dividend across government, the previously announced abolition of the green car fund and carbon capture and storage program, deferral of some infrastructure spending and, of course, the extra fundraising of the flood levy.

The budget's jobs initiatives cover a comprehensive range of policy approaches, including more than $2bn for industry and vocational training initiatives. Mentoring for apprentices will help to increase completion rates, which are below 50 per cent, while disadvantaged jobseekers will be assisted with access to apprenticeships, and others will have their trade training accelerated if they meet certain proficiencies. Tougher assessments for disability pensioners will aim to nudge more of them into work, and as a quid pro quo they will be able to take on more work before losing their pension. An extra 6000 skilled migrant places will be made available for regional areas, a move we particularly support, although the intake could be even higher. Mr Swan's "jobs, jobs, jobs," pitch for the budget is bound to ease industry concerns about skills shortages.

Yet the budget numbers show unemployment will fall to 4.5 per cent next year before returning to more than 5 per cent in the out years, suggesting more is needed. If jobs are to be the government's prime focus, it must work harder to keep unemployment as low as possible. To that end, our economy is virtually begging for leadership bold enough to increase labour market flexibility and truly unlock the economy's potential.

In more benign times, this might have been seen as a traditional Labor budget because instead of handing back the proceeds of the boom to taxpayers, the government is spending the extra revenue. But these are not benevolent times and we have learned all too dramatically about the peaks and troughs of the modern global economy. Our current resources boom, eight times greater than the Howard government boom, presents a once in a generation opportunity to repair the budget. Instead, seemingly paralyzed by its reliance on the Greens and independents, the Gillard government has delivered a budget that ducks the challenge, and avoids the hard job of curtailing expenditure. Australians need to hope the resources boom and our stellar terms of trade last long enough to lift the burden of deficit from the economy, and that one day we get a treasurer who is up to the challenge of significant reform to reduce ongoing expenditure and put the budget into structural surplus.

Mr Swan's fourth budget, his first under Ms Gillard's leadership, is his most unconvincing to date. Finance Minister Penny Wong, new to the job, must also share the blame for this missed opportunity. It is finance ministers, after all, who are supposed to keep the governments spending instincts in check.

Mr Swan blames his woes on the lag in revenues post-GFC, yet this financial year he'll still be building school halls as part of the stimulus package from two years ago. He verbals the opposition, saying they would have done nothing to tackle the GFC. In the end, however, the Treasurer's claim to have delivered a tough budget looks hollow when he struggles to name anyone who will feel any pain and he has revealed a $300m scheme to deliver and install set top boxes for pensioners. The budget mentions, but does not include, Australia's largest public infrastructure project, the National Broadband Network. Mr Swan is pulling back on spending one moment and shoveling out the sugar with another. The reality is Malcolm Turnbull's 2009 prescription to spend at least $20bn less, more carefully, might have had us back in surplus this budget.





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.






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.







THIS fourth Wayne Swan budget is better than we have come to expect from a government that has proved surprisingly disappointing. It is a budget without fanfare, flim-flam or timidity; spending cuts are big but mostly soundly targeted, without the usual propensity for sweeping gestures that are grand but frequently empty. The budget acknowledges an unusual coincidence of economic pressures and seeks to address them with honesty and political maturity. A tough love budget, to be sure. But unlike many predecessors, the compassion end of the equation is genuine.

This is no mean feat given the government's strange predicament of having to prepare for extremely strong economic growth from record commodity prices and a remarkable expansion of the mining industry, involving many billions of dollars of new investment, while encountering an economy beset by temporary weakness.

Deterioration in the budget from late last year is due to factors largely beyond government control. Natural disasters at home and abroad - particularly Japan - have knocked three-quarters of a percentage point off national growth (the equivalent of about $100 billion), but growth still is expected to reach a healthy 4 per cent in the coming financial year. Business losses from the global financial crisis are bigger than expected, cutting $8 billion from company tax receipts over two years, and the high Australian dollar - a consequence of the China boom - hampers company profits.

So the government is pressed into finding fair dinkum savings of $22 billion if it is to reach its continued promise to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13. Indeed, cutting spending was its only option if this commendable deadline is to be met. The temptation of governments past - including this government - has been to promise cuts that snip at the nebulous, but last night's savings are not conjured. They reflect a genuine commitment to the government's self-imposed requirement of limiting spending growth to 2 per cent a year in real terms (in the event, budgeting for 1 per cent a year over five years), compared with the former government's average of 3.7 per cent. That is forgone spending of about $10 billion a year, a hole certain to provoke hostility among those who miss out or are dropped from the government's cheque mail-out. That the government knows several of its restraint measures - fringe benefits concessions, HECS discounts for upfront payment, family trusts, the further freezing of family tax payments for high-income earners - will prove unpopular is further confirmation of its fiscal sobriety.

So, too, is the government's willingness to annoy significant camps of voters when already it is so politically vulnerable. Whatever the verdict on this budget, it cannot realistically be said that this is a government running scared. An early return to surplus, however, is not enough to demand of this budget. It must also tackle looming labour shortages and the need to ensure this boom does not end without much to show for it.

Seeking to improve workplace participation by the disadvantaged - sole parents, disability pensioners and very long-term unemployed - the budget details assistance and tougher work tests. A participation package makes a lot of sense. In the past, the difficulty was in finding jobs for the unemployed; with unemployment below 5 per cent and still heading south, the challenge is in finding workers to fill the jobs.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was right to say work is ennobling. It helps the economy but it also spreads the benefits of booms and boosts self esteem. It is an illusion to think the problem is one of malingerers. The jobless too often are poorly educated, demoralised by years of welfare dependency, and many are afflicted with physical or mental disabilities. A part-time job is better than none at all. But you will not get these people working if the approach is all stick and motivated solely by cutting costs. Proof the budget effort is not some exercise in bashing the disadvantaged so as to appeal to a perverse envy among the haves, or simply to make a savings target, this package has a net cost.

The training package is for the more mainstream population. Again, it is timely and well targeted, the sort of initiative government should fix through budget policy. The streamlining of apprenticeships is welcome.

The budget has very little to say on the environment and nothing to say about putting a price on carbon. The opposition will have a field day. But details of the pricing scheme are yet to be negotiated with the parties whose support the scheme needs if it is to get the Parliament's nod. Its absence from the budget, therefore, is unsurprising.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, keeps talking up the great big new tax on everything, as if a carbon tax represents a massive windfall for government, with little compensation for lower-middle-income earners and affected businesses. If so, the budget would be in a lot better shape than presented last night. Abbott cannot have it both ways. The likelihood is the tax revenue will roughly be balanced by the cost of compensation. In this sense, it is a red herring in assessing this budget.

The budget gets a tick because the government has stuck to its commitment to quickly return to surplus as a means of reducing, though not eliminating, reliance on higher interest rates to control inflation and reduce upward pressure on the dollar. The government covered its election commitments and set an achievable course for Mr Swan's stated aim of spreading ''opportunity to every postcode''.





The boom continues, but its benefits do not yet flow to all.

THOSE seeking the hidden pain in Treasurer Wayne Swan's fourth budget would have been disappointed. There was only the predicted pain, and not a great deal of that.

In the weeks preceding delivery of the budget, Mr Swan spoke often about the need for spending cuts to attain the Gillard government's goal of restoring a fiscal surplus by 2013. He also anticipated criticism that this target reflects a political desire to avoid opposition accusations of mounting debt, rather than any economic necessity, by saying that in 2012-13 a surplus will be required to check inflation and cushion cost-of-living pressures resulting from strong but uneven growth.

Those arguments were heard again in his budget speech last night. The reality, however, continues to be that Australia's public debt is trivially small by global standards, and that, in the wake of natural disasters that have destroyed infrastructure and slowed the flow of major exports such as coal, a case can be made for staying in deficit a little longer.

But, no doubt mindful of the contribution that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's chanting of the ''debt, debt, debt'' mantra made to demolishing the government's majority in last August's election, Ms Gillard and Mr Swan were not prepared to take the risk.

So the Treasurer found $22 billion in spending cuts that are estimated to reduce the deficit from $49.4 billion this financial year to $22.6 billion in 2011-12, with a projected $3.5 billion surplus to follow in 2012-13. Other key indicators look rosy, too: an expected growth rate of 4 per cent in 2011-12, and unemployment rates below 5 per cent - nearly full employment - in that year and the year after.

Perhaps more contentiously, the budget papers also predict that the consumer price index will not rise above 3 per cent in this period. As Mr Abbott has not tired of pointing out lately, in the absence of estimates of the effect of the government's planned carbon tax, which are to be released later this year, the budget's projections may not be entirely reliable.

That does not mean, however, that they are without foundation. The strong overall growth, and the prospect of a relatively rapid return to surplus after the stimulatory deficits made necessary by the global financial crisis, derive from the largest mineral boom in Australia's history. The end of this boom is not in sight, and a carbon price is unlikely to dislodge it as the dominant economic reality.

Even the uneven growth that has been dubbed ''the patchwork economy'' derives from it, or is aggravated by it. The resource-rich states suffer from a shortage of skilled workers, while elsewhere manufacturing, tourism and education become less competitive with overseas rivals because of the high-value dollar. Australians who have not enjoyed the full benefits of the boom are spending less, making retailing less profitable. These patchwork problems are not easily overcome, but they are not harbingers of imminent

economic collapse, either.

The responses to them that Mr Swan set out yesterday are hardly draconian. Most are sensible, if modest, measures aimed at putting more cash in the wallets of those on low incomes or increasing workforce participation while still allowing the government to trim spending overall.

It may be doubted how successful the workforce-participation changes will be, given the fact that Australia has near-full employment anyway. It is not the case that payments to hordes of indigent teenage mothers and mildly disabled unemployed people pose an intolerable burden on the taxation system. There are no such hordes. But the tightening of eligibility for welfare payments has a positive aspect: people live happier lives if they are engaged in satisfying work, and encouraging them to do so is no bad thing. What matters is that they receive sufficient support while making the transition.

Training in job skills is the most essential part of such support, as is the extension of training opportunities for the population generally if Australia is not to be continually reliant on immigration to remedy its skills shortages. The $558 million the budget allocates to a National Workforce Development Fund and the $1.75 billion that will help the states and territories reform the vocational education system are a welcome start.

So too are the major infrastructure projects to which the government has committed itself over the forward estimates period, such as the building of Victoria's regional rail link and duplication of the Pacific Highway between Sydney and Brisbane. But most of the infrastructure spending is either for projects that were already under way, such as the National Broadband Network, or were expected (the rail link). A more ambitious set of announcements was unlikely, given the government's insistence on returning to surplus on schedule and the revenue losses deriving from the floods in Queensland and Victoria.

The government should recognise, however, that without sustained investment in new infrastructure the pattern of uneven growth will continue.

This budget is notably short on surprises. In keeping with the trend of recent years, its strategy and many of its measures had been revealed well before Mr Swan began speaking last night. And what he prophesied of last year's fiscal plan will probably be true of this one, too: ''This budget wasn't designed to shift opinion polls and I don't believe it will.''





Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has set up a new Popular Front political movement to unify his supporters, from celebrities to loyal pensioners, as he gears up for a possible presidential bid in 2012.

Mr Putin (right) has adopted a higher public profile in recent weeks, intensifying speculation he is considering a return to the presidency for a third stint.

The Prime Minister said he wanted the Popular Front to revitalise his ruling United Russia party ahead of a parliamentary election in December and a presidential poll next March.

Mr Putin said that the movement was about ''citizens who share common values, linked to love for the motherland, improving people's lives, and strengthening the might of the state''.







The way to sort out a country's economic problems is typically not to give it a whacking great loan at a high price and expect it to pay it back by making huge spending cuts

The clearest lesson to be drawn out of this week's back and forth in the eurozone is this: Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and the other single-currency heads of state have no intention of changing their tactics in tackling the gigantic problems facing Greece. Operation Muddle Through will continue – despite the trouble it causes the Greeks, despite the danger it poses to the rest of the eurozone and despite logic that argues to the contrary.

About this time last year, Ms Merkel and Mr Sarkozy led the eurozone and the IMF in a bailout of Greece. Well, it was generally called a bailout – but it did nothing to sort out the country's problems. Greece, struggling to service the huge debts its public sector had built up, was effectively loaned €110bn at a fairly punishing interest rate. It was a bridging loan intended to tide Athens over until it could borrow again from financial markets. As it has become clear that investors are still unwilling to lend to Greece, at any but the most punitive rates, Germany, France and the others are having to organise another loan. The smart money is on this one being worth around €30bn. There is also some talk that the repayment terms might be relaxed on last year's credit. None of this is exceptionable. None of this is daft. Trouble is, none of this will sort out the problems facing Greece or the eurozone.

The way to sort out a country's economic problems is typically not to give it a whacking great loan at a high price and expect it to pay it back by making huge spending cuts. That does not allow for the country to make extra money (through growth that leads to higher tax revenues). Only Tony Soprano would call this an economic policy. Certainly financial markets do not rate it much – which is why they are continuing to talk about the possibility of Athens defaulting on its debt. Those infamous credit-rating agencies don't think the plan amounts to much either, which is why they keep downgrading Greece's sovereign debt. Yet this is precisely what the single-currency club is doing to Greece – and Ireland and Portugal.

The sensible policy to pursue now would be for Greece to restructure its debt: write down the value of its loans, and offer to pay back the rest over a longer timeframe. The eurozone could help with this; meanwhile, Athens could work on upgrading its (negligible) tax-collection system. The obstacle to this is an obvious one: it would mean big losses for German banks, who have lent so much to Athens. But it is bizarrely circuitous for the German taxpayer to offer a bridging loan to Greece, purely to prop up its own banking system. Then again, ever since the financial crisis broke, the European way has been to kick the can down the road.





What was being floated might allow straight-A students who have tens of thousands of pounds to hand to buy their way into Oxbridge

Thin-end-of-the-wedge arguments are often lazy arguments, but glance back at the last quarter century in higher education you can see they have a place. When the very first loans began eating up maintenance grants, the spin was that whereas students could reasonably foot living costs, education itself would of course remain free. The line held for somewhat less than a decade, before the Dearing review proposed the first fees. New Labour implemented them, this time with the reassurance – repeated in its 2001 manifesto – that the sector was being put on a sustainable footing, so as to forever preclude university-specific charges, which would deter the poor from elite courses. By 2004, though, the argument had shifted on to the form that such top-up fees should take. Although backbenchers fitted a tight cap, Tony Blair forced the principle through. By now he regarded it as commonsensical for graduates of top courses to pay more, and he insisted top-ups were the inescapable corollary of the state investing in university for the half of the population who he hoped would attend.

Last year the coalition tripled the fees cap and snatched all subsidy from humanities teaching after the aim of getting half of all youngsters to university was quietly dropped. These fresh moves towards pay as you learn stirred anger on campuses and splitting headaches for the Lib Dems. But it closely followed a Browne report built on the firm logical footings of the now ubiquitous view of education as a financial investment. And the universities minister, David Willetts, a thoughtful and decent man, was proposing no more than another brick in the wall of the educational market when he told Monday's Guardian that he was looking at expanding "off-quota" places, which in plain English means places which could be auctioned off to the highest qualified bidder. As with private patients in NHS hospitals, the pragmatic case is easy enough to make – a public institution can cream in resources from the monied, and use them to service the broader community. But if Mr Willetts had cast his eyes up from the economics textbook, he would have spotted the obvious flaw. As educationalist Sir Peter Lampl, ordinarily no friend of the left, put it: "Students from privileged backgrounds are already way over-represented at our top universities and this will make matters worse."

A body swerve followed during the day. Having been on the BBC in the morning discussing how candidates who had made their grades but not been chosen for their course might harness private means, in the afternoon Mr Willetts headed for an emergency debate in the Commons, where he protested that his only aim was enabling charities to bypass the regular rationing of places by sponsoring students, as businesses already can. Between the two Willetts engagements, people clocked that what was being floated might allow those among the growing band of straight-A students who happened to have tens of thousands of pounds to hand to buy their way into Oxbridge. No matter whether this is efficient or might free up resources for the poorer, it is flatly unfair.

The business secretary, Vince Cable, had a hand in choreographing Mr Willetts's boomerang dance. The Lib Dems certainly cannot afford to slip further down the market road just now. But it was Dr Cable who sold the pass on the graduate tax he once wanted, and supported higher fees in return for important but obscure tweaks to loans and fees. There is no longer a line in the sand against colleges viewing themselves as commercial suppliers in a global market. Until that basic framework is challenged, the idea of places for sale will not be banished. Indeed, rich home students might start lobbying for the right to be treated like wealthy foreigners, who already buy their way in. Mr Willets was humiliated yesterday, but unless the drift of events is challenged, history will judge he was merely ahead of his time.






Anyone who dismisses Jenni Murray as the voice of Middle England is in for a rude awakening

All was set for it to be Year of the Lad at the Sony Radio Academy Awards on Monday night, with wins for Frank Skinner, Robbie Savage and (ahem) Ronnie Wood. Until, that is, Jenni Murray was summoned onstage. The Woman's Hour presenter who received the gold award for a career of exemplary broadcasting is everything that the Stones guitarist is not. She has many qualities, but blokeish is not one of them. Yet anyone who heard her interview a survivor of the 7/7 bombings last week could hear her qualities in surround-sound detail. For someone who recognises the balance between asking the questions everyone wants to hear and protecting their interviewee from descending into their own grief, Murray twice brought her eloquent witness to tears by drawing her back to the point in her narrative where she acknowledged the guilt she felt at having survived the blast. Forthright, maybe; direct, certainly. This was radio at its rawest – and yet everyone kept their dignity. Anyone who dismisses Murray as the voice of Middle England is in for a rude awakening. She has a deceptively warm radio voice which she uses both to entice the likes of Caroline Flint into the studio for the first time since she resigned from Gordon Brown's cabinet, and to cut through the flannel when her quarry is in the seat. Her achievement has been to make the programme she presented for more than two decades one of the flagship brands of Radio Four. She leaves the blokes of radio far behind.




            THE JAPAN TIMES




LONDON — U.S. President Barack Obama was justified in ordering the elimination of Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qaida group of jihadists and terrorists, who have caused such widespread suffering and mayhem not only in Western countries but also in Muslim states. But his death does not necessarily make the world any safer and raises as many problems as it solves.

The most serious problem is instability in Pakistan, which has almost certainly been heightened by the American incursion into the heart of a Pakistan city. The Americans having experienced Pakistani duplicity over Afghanistan were surely justified in concealing their plans for a raid on bin Laden's hide-out. He was living in a city not far from the Pakistani military academy. It has to be presumed that either the authorities had connived at bin Laden's presence or that the Pakistani intelligence were appallingly incompetent and were unaware of his presence in their midst.

In the military cantonment of Abbottabad the building of this fortified complex must surely have aroused suspicions. Whatever the truth, the Pakistani intelligence services should be deeply ashamed. It is not surprising that they and Pakistani generals and politicians are said to be furious with the Americans because they have been caught out.

There must be a strong temptation among American leaders to stop aid to Pakistan, but it would be dangerous to all our interests if the Americans succumbed to this temptation. The North-West Frontier of Pakistan is a wild and primitive region and provides sanctuary for the Taliban operating in Afghanistan. There are also separate Taliban groups which threaten Pakistan and have caused many bloody incidents in Pakistan. The Pakistani forces have suffered many casualties in trying to deal with this internal threat.

Pakistan is unfortunately a nuclear power and has been responsible in the past for leakage of nuclear warfare information to Iran and probably North Korea. It also confronts India in Kashmir. Whether we like it or not, we simply cannot afford to dump Pakistan and must try to mend fences with the regime. Pakistan is not a failed state like Somalia and the democratic elements that exist in Pakistan need help and encouragement.

It won't be easy for the Americans to re-establish good relations particularly at a time when allied forces in Afghanistan are threatened from hide-outs within Pakistan. The American military is unlikely to be deterred from attacks on such havens by the likelihood that it will further outrage the Pakistani authorities. The Pakistanis have threatened that further incursions such as that to Abbottabad will be forcibly dealt with.

If press reports are to be believed, the Americans managed to disrupt Pakistani radar on the night of the raid, but even so, Pakistani fighters were scrambled and there might have been fighting between American and Pakistan forces if the raid had taken longer to complete.

Pakistan would lose significant amounts of U.S. aid if Pakistan were so foolish as to challenge the Americans, but angry and ashamed as they are, the Pakistanis just might "cut off their nose to spite their face." All Western countries must try hard to cool the present Pakistani anger.

Inevitably there has been speculation about the implications of the death of bin Laden for the war in Afghanistan. It is not at all clear how much the Afghan Taliban were influenced by al-Qaida. Their main aim has been to rid Afghanistan of foreign forces and impose their intolerant form of Islamic government. How far does the fight against the Afghan Taliban help in defeating international terrorism?

The recent prison break of over 500 Taliban fighters, almost certainly with the connivance of some Afghan officials, suggests that it may be a long time before Afghanistan is peaceful. Pressure to withdraw NATO forces is likely to increase as a result of the death of bin Laden.

It has rightly been pointed out in Europe that the elimination of bin Laden should not draw attention away from the stirrings of democratic forces in the Middle East. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have not yet led to full democracy in these countries. Repression in Syria and Bahrain has got worse and there have been many killed and injured. There is sadly little that we can do to help the Syrians. In Libya Moammar Gadhafi continues to hold out and the country suffers.

The agreement between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian territories may in the long run make the achievement of a settlement of the Palestinian problems more rather than less likely as the Israeli prime minister has provocatively argued. But the Hamas leader who deplored the elimination of bin Laden harmed his cause.

There has been much discussion about the justification of the raid on bin Laden's compound. Why was he not captured alive instead of being shot when it seems that he was not armed? Those taking part in the raid had to make split-second decisions. We do not know all the facts or what it must have been like to be taking part in the raid.

If bin Laden had been captured alive it is difficult to see how he could have had a fair trial. The dangers and costs involved would have been huge. It is probably better to refer to bin Laden's death as a necessary casualty in war rather than as an execution which implies a judicial process which could not take place. American relief at his elimination is entirely understandable and justified, but triumphalism and euphoria are unwise.

Islamic extremism and intolerance have not been eliminated. There will inevitably be some followers of bin Laden intent on revenging his death.

Others will see this as a spur to jihad and as a call to martyrdom. We need to concentrate on combating religious intolerance and the absurd belief that jihad martyrs are destined for paradise.

Hugh Cortazzi, a career British diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from 1980-1984.






MANILA — An Asia producing over half of global GDP? Three billion Asians considered part of the "rich world" by 2050? A dream ... or a plausible reality?

It could happen if the region's economy keeps growing at its current rate and if new Asian generations grab the baton and run with it.

That baton, however, could be a very slippery one. There are several daunting multi-generational challenges and risks that must be overcome along the way.

It is true that developing Asia led the world out of its worst recession since World War II. And it is true that the center of economic gravity appears to be shifting toward Asia.

So an Asian century is certainly plausible. But Asia's rise is by no means preordained.

Asia's march toward prosperity and the freeing of the region from extreme poverty will require much more than simply high growth. Yawning inequalities must be narrowed. And as home to over half of the world's population, Asia must confront a massive wave of urbanization and grapple with changing demographic profiles.

Asia's long-term competitiveness will depend heavily on the intensity of its resource use, including resources such as water and food, and an ability to manage the region's carbon footprint. It is in Asia's best interest to encourage and invest in innovation and clean technology to maintain its impressive growth momentum.

These challenges are anything but mutually exclusive. Asians are addressing these challenges by continued improvements in productivity, taking steps to tackle climate change and impact of global warming and focusing on inclusive growth. But the list of challenges is long and if left unattended could deprive millions of Asians the opportunity to participate in the region's progress.

These risks not only reinforce one another but could exacerbate existing tensions or create new conflicts. If not managed intelligently, they could threaten the hard-earned gains of the past 40 years, and undermine the huge potential gains possible over the next 40 years.

Asia must learn from history. Perhaps the most important lesson is to avoid the mistakes that countries or regions in the past made after an unprecedented era of rapid growth and industrialization.

Fast-growing economies like China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam cannot afford falling into a middle income trap — moving from resource-driven growth with cheap labor and capital to growth with high productivity and innovation.

Then there is the great challenge of governance and institution-building — an Achilles heel for most Asian economies. Institutional quality must rise as much as corruption must be quashed.

The ultimate challenge is effective governance — governance that provides quality health care and education; the infrastructure to move goods and people; the creation of efficient, livable cities; stable banking and financial systems; and reliable, fair legal structures that protect citizens rights.

In short, Asia must modernize its governance systems and retool its institutions to ensure transparency, accountability and enforceability.

Globalization, embracing open-regionalism and better regional cooperation has helped bring us success thus far. If we strengthen this process further with innovation and entrepreneurship, focusing on greater inclusion within and across economies; if we pursue sustainable development and improve governance as the key building blocks for the future; then yes, an Asian century is both plausible and reachable.

It is time to look at ourselves in the mirror and learn from our mistakes as well as successes. Policies that worked when Asia was low-income and capital scarce are less likely to work today and unlikely to work in the future. Asia's leaders must devise bold and innovative national policies while pursuing regional and global cooperation.

I believe regional cooperation and integration are critical to Asia's march toward prosperity. Greater cooperation helps protect hard-won economic gains from external vulnerabilities. But it also cements the region's economic power and strengthens its voice in an ever-evolving global financial architecture. Regional cooperation is the bridge linking individual economies with the rest of humanity.

But even more important, Asians must learn to trust each other. Without trust little can be achieved in regional cooperation. Yes, Asians can learn from Europe's history. But we must also learn from our own history of transforming conflict to cooperation — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Greater Mekong Subregion are two cases in point.

Asia's future global footprint carries with it new responsibilities and obligations. Global public goods — such as free trade, financial system stability, climate change, and security — are responsibilities we must embrace and show the world our willingness to be constructive in advancing the global commons. As an emerging global leader, Asia should act and be seen as a responsible global citizen.

Let me stress that the Asian century is not Asia's century. It will be the century of shared global prosperity where Asians will take their place among the ranks of the affluent — on par with those in Europe and North America.

Our challenges remain formidable. Future prosperity must be earned. And as advanced economies know well, it is never preordained.

Haruhiko Kuroda is president of the Asian Development Bank.






Special to The Japan Times

Britain's rejection of a new electoral system in last Thursday's referendum comes as no surprise. Nor does the predictably low turnout of 42 percent. Alternative Vote (A.V.), the system proposed to replace the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) method of electing ministers of Parliament (MPs) to Westminster, was no one's first choice. Even the majority of those fronting the Yes campaign viewed the system, in the words of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, as a "miserable little compromise."

The promise of a referendum on electoral reform was a key condition for Clegg to agree to lead his Liberal Democrats into coalition with the Conservative Party, after last May's general election resulted in a hung parliament. Punished by the FPTP system for decades, the Liberal Democrats have long championed proportional representation. In the 2010 general election, for example, the Lib Dems received 23 percent of votes, but just 8.8 percent of parliamentary seats. Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives support the status quo; thanks to the peculiarities of FPTP, the Tories won large majorities throughout the 1980s, despite receiving only 40-odd percent of the vote. A.V., which requires the ranking of candidates to ensure that the winner receives support from at least 50 percent of voters, is the mid-point between the Conservatives' and Lib Dems' preferred systems. The choice of A.V. has more to do with coalition politics than good governance.

While there are passionate supporters of FPTP and passionate supporters of proportional representation, there are very few passionate supporters of A.V. Former Labour minister Ben Bradshaw, a leading campaigner for a yes vote in the referendum, last year stated: "The reason I've never supported A.V. is that it would have given us an even bigger majority in 1997, and it would have given the Tories an even bigger majority in 1983, and probably 1987 as well." With the Yes campaign itself lukewarm on A.V., it is no wonder that voters rejected the system.

The Yes campaign was further undermined by its failure to clearly explain the workings of A.V. and its association with the unpopular Liberal Democrats. Although Labour Party leader Ed Miliband urged a yes vote, his party split 50-50 on the referendum. Most of Labour's big beasts, including former Cabinet ministers David Blunkett, Margaret Beckett and Charlie Falconer joined the No campaign. And with the Conservatives almost unanimous in their opposition to electoral reform, the Yes campaign looked like a front for the political ambitions of the Liberal Democrats.

Since joining the Tory-led coalition government last May, support for the Lib Dems has more than halved. In government, the Liberal Democrats have acquiesced to the slashing of public spending, hikes in student tuition fees and the building of new nuclear power plants: all the opposite to what the Party pledged in its manifesto. Many former Lib Dem voters feel betrayed. As a consequence, they and others on the progressive left were loathe to support the introduction of an electoral system that would increase the likelihood of the Lib Dems holding the balance of power after future general elections.

Support for the Yes campaign declined alongside faith in the Liberal Democrats. In June 2010, a month after the formation of the coalition, A.V. had a 10-point lead over FPTP. In the referendum less than a year later, A.V. was defeated by a margin of 38 percent.

While voters do not see A.V. as the solution to the problems besetting Britain's politics, few deny that the country's democracy is in need of reform. The underhanded tactics used by both the Yes and No campaigns demonstrate this point. Supporters of FPTP falsely maintained that adopting A.V. would lead to electoral gains for extremist parties, such as the far-right British National Party (BNP). In fact, the BNP favors retaining FPTP. The No campaign also rather condescendingly claimed that A.V. was too complicated for the average voter to understand.

Voters could easily learn how the proposed A.V. system worked, but they may not have found it so easy to work the system. British voters know how to manipulate FPTP to suit their political preferences and prejudices. Many people vote tactically for their second or third choice to block the election of a less appealing candidate. A.V. would have made strategic voting more complicated. In marginal constituencies it would have been difficult for voters to maximize their preferences without knowing the second and third choices of supporters of other parties.

In Australia, the only major democracy to use A.V., political parties negotiate back-room deals to promote each other for second ranking. Parties spend vast sums telling voters how to rank candidates in their local race. Such practices transfer power from individual voters to parties and politicians. Furthermore, the party with the most money to spend on informing its supporters how to order candidates has the advantage. In Britain, this would favor the Conservative Party. In 2010, while the Tories spent the same amount as Labour during the three-week official election campaign, over the preceding five months the Conservatives outspent their nearest rivals by more than a third.

The No campaign disregarded many of the legitimate shortcomings of A.V., instead relying on scare stories to promote their cause. The Yes campaign also made misleading claims. In a speech supporting A.V., Clegg promised the new system would clean up politics: putting an end to cash for honors, ministers for hire, and the abuse of MPs' expenses. It is hard to see how A.V. would have ended such practices, which tarnish the reputation of Parliament and politicians. But these are issues that voters genuinely want to see addressed.

Britain's democracy is in need of renewal and reform. A.V. was not the answer. But after an expensive and ultimately abortive referendum, it will be a long time before British voters are offered another chance to change the way they are governed. In the meantime, public dissatisfaction, disinterest, and disengagement with politics will grow.

Tina Burrett is an assistant professor of international relations at Temple University, Japan Campus.







BANGKOK — The military skirmishes between Thailand and Cambodia that have claimed more than two dozen lives, caused scores of injuries, and displaced tens of thousands of people since February are primarily attributable to domestic politics in both countries. Rooted in ancient enmities and the legacy of the colonial era, the fighting is damaging the entire region. So virulent is the dispute that even a short-term settlement will require third-party mediation. A secure peace will depend mainly on how the endgame to Thailand's domestic political crisis plays out in the coming months — and on Cambodia's willingness to stay out of this process.

At issue in the conflict is 4.6 square kilometers that adjoin a millennium-old Hindu temple known as "Preah Vihear" to Cambodians and "Phra Viharn" to Thais. Cambodia insists that the disputed land has been under its territorial sovereignty since a landmark case decided by the International Court of Justice in 1962. In its 9-to-3 verdict, the ICJ ruled that Cambodia's map, drawn up by French surveyors in 1904-1907, put the temple area in Cambodia, and that Thailand (known as Siam before 1939) had not objected previously. During the hearings, Cambodia asked the ICJ to rule on the adjoining land, but the judges confined their decision only to the temple, as Cambodia originally requested.

The French-made map became the core of the dispute, because it manipulated natural geographic divisions. Thailand rejects the map, which contravenes a Franco-Siamese agreement in 1904 stipulating a demarcation along a watershed line separating the two countries. Moreover, the French mapping effort took place just a decade after Siam ceded a clutch of territories — much of today's western Cambodia — to France, which was then perched above Indochina as the colonial master At that time, a vulnerable Siam was compelled to sign a host of unequal treaties with European powers in exchange for maintaining its independence.

Until recently, the overlapping claims on the 4.6 square kilometers were not a serious issue. Villagers and merchants from both sides conducted a brisk business and border trade unfettered by the authorities. Bilateral tensions flared when Thai politics heated up after the September 2006 military coup that overthrew the democratically elected prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, on charges of corruption and disloyalty to the monarchy.

In 2008, after the self-exiled Thaksin's proxy force, the People's Power Party, took power following an election victory, the Thai government signed a joint communique agreeing to Cambodia's listing of Preah Vihear Temple as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The communique became a lightning rod for Thaksin's opponents at home, spearheaded by the People's Alliance for Democracy.

The PAD depicted the UNESCO registration of Preah Vihear as a sell-out of Thai sovereignty, and used it to destabilize the pro-Thaksin government. When the PAD seized control of Government House and Bangkok's airports, its leaders hectored Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and likened him to a hooligan. Exacerbating matters, the PAD progenitor of that insult became Thailand's foreign minister after Thaksin's opponents regained power in December 2008, led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and reinforced by the army.

At that point, tensions with Cambodia became inevitable. Hun Sen had scores to settle with the anti-Thaksin coalition of the Democrat Party, the PAD, and the army. In 2009, Hun Sen appointed Thaksin as economic adviser and invited him to deliver a high-profile public address in Phnom Penh. The bilateral relationship has been rocky ever since, alternating between periods of friction and conciliation.

The spate of armed clashes along the border this year stems from PAD provocations. Although some of its members entered the cabinet under Abhisit, PAD leaders felt betrayed and abandoned by Abhisit and some of his powerful backers. The PAD's yellow-clad supporters returned to the streets, this time under the banner of ultra-nationalism over Preah Vihear and a domestic anti-corruption campaign. The PAD has openly called for a military coup to clean up Thai politics.

The PAD initially found little traction. The Thai Army stayed out of the Preah Vihear controversy, and Abhisit's government shrugged off the PAD's machinations. But, as the anti-establishment, pro-Thaksin "red shirts" staged huge protests of their own against the army's suppression of their fellow demonstrators in April-May of last year, the army became agitated. A major tipping point may have been the red-shirt leaders' allusion to the conspicuous royal silence in response to the army's violent suppression, which heightened the army's fear of a clear and present danger to the monarchy.

The Thai Army abandoned its neutral posture and became increasingly belligerent. It unilaterally ruled out the presence of regional observers on the Thai-Cambodian border, a deal mediated by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa in February. The Abhisit government, congenitally beholden to the army, took its cue and effectively reneged on the Indonesia-brokered peace drive. It was a blow not only to Indonesia as the chair of Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, but also to ASEAN itself, particularly given the organization's quest to become an ASEAN Community by 2015.

If ASEAN is not allowed a mediating role, the Thai-Cambodian spat may wind its way back to the United Nations Security Council, which earlier delegated the issue to ASEAN amid heavy lobbying by Cambodia and Thailand. Cambodia wants to multilateralize the border conflict as much as Thailand tries to limit it to bilateral negotiations.

The dispute is unlikely to degenerate into large-scale warfare. The ASEAN framework acts as a safety net and mutual commercial interests should ultimately prevail. But sporadic shooting and verbal antagonism between the two sides will continue, as Thailand's powers-that-be close ranks in a right-wing turn towards the symbols and institutions of royalism, entangling Hun Sen, who should have stayed on the sidelines, in the endgame unfolding in Bangkok.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak is a professor and director of Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Security and International Studies in Bangkok. © Project Syndicate, 2011





Chubu Electric Power Co., which serves central Japan around Nagoya, decided Monday to suspend all operations at its Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture in response to Prime Minister Naoto Kan's call Friday for the suspension for safety reasons.

His call came about a week after Chubu had disclosed a plan to resume by July the operation of the power plant's No. 3 reactor, which has been undergoing regular checks since November 2010.

Mr. Kan acted rather quickly, apparently because the firm disclosed the plan while the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is still going on.

Because the Hamaoka plant sits inside a zone where a magnitude-8 earthquake — referred to as the Tokai Earthquake — is expected to occur with high probability, Chubu's decision appears reasonable. But the suspension of operations will continue only for about two or three years — until a bulwark 15 meters or more in height from sea level is erected behind a 10-to-15- meter-high dune facing the sea in front of the plant.

Although Chubu's decision will cause power shortage, serious discussions must be held over whether the construction of the bulwark can justify resumption of the Hamaoka plant operations. Hamaoka is Chubu's only nuclear power plant and has provided about 12 percent of the utility's total power supply.

The operation of its Nos. 1 and 2 reactors ended permanently in 2009. While the No. 3 reactor has been under regular checks, the operations of Nos. 4 and 5 reactors have continued. But their operations will end within several days. Chubu has a plan to start building the No. 6 reactor in 2016.

Chubu's decision will cause power shortages and may affect the whole Japanese economy. Still the power shortage problem should not distract attention from safety questions.

In 2005, Chubu started work to raise the Hamaoka's resistance to seismic shocks. It now can endure shocks with an acceleration of 1,000 gals (one gal is equal to an acceleration of one centimeter per second per second). Chubu reportedly assumes that the plant can withstand a magnitude-8.5 quake. The company appears to think that once the bulwark is completed, there will be no safety problems with Hamaoka.

But the possibility should not be ruled out that strong tremors may make insertion of control rods into reactor cores difficult or may break pipes that play important roles in cooling the reactors. Attention also must be paid to what Mr. Kiyoo Mogi, professor emeritus of seismology at the University of Tokyo and former chairman of the government's Coordination Committee for Earthquake Prediction, said in an interview with Tokyo Shimbun. His points include: (1) it is unpredictable what will happen if seismic forces concentrate on a structurally weak section of a reactor; (2) the possibility cannot be excluded that the Tokai Earthquake may occur together with two other expected major earthquakes (Tonankai and Nankai earthquakes); and (3) even a magnitude-7 earthquake, if it happens directly underneath the Hamaoka plant, could cause dreadful consequences.

Another seismologist, Mr. Katsuhiko Ishibashi, professor emeritus at Kobe University, says that the Tokai Earthquake will raise the site of the Hamaoka plant by one to two meters, making it uneven. This may destroy the planned bulwark.

There is also no guarantee that the bulwark can withstand strong tsunami. Also tsunami could hit the plant from two rivers flowing on either side of the plant.

It also must be remembered that backup power sources the power firms have newly installed to cope with a situation in which all the outside and emergency power sources have become out of use are not powerful enough to sufficiently cool reactors and put them in a stable condition. The Hamaoka plant is no exception.

Although Mr. Kan's call led Chubu to suspend the Hamaoka plant operations, he must be criticized for not presenting a clear grand policy on energy. After seeing the accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, no municipality will accept nuclear power plants in their areas. Japan will have no alternative but to push serious power-saving efforts across the nation and to gradually reduce dependence on nuclear power generation, which accounts for about 30 percent of Japan's power supply. Use of old reactors should be stopped and other reactors should be subjected to strict safety checks.

A logical path should be to increase utilization of renewable energy sources, including solar, geothermal, wind and tidal powers, and other energy sources whose carbon dioxide emissions are relatively small, although renewable energy sources currently account for a negligible portion of Japan's energy supply.

The current monopolistic electricity market should give way to the dispersal of small-sized energy generation and supply entities across the nation, which also means flexibility and a dispersion of risks. This path is not an easy one. But Mr. Kan should realize that political leadership with a vision can change the inertia and mindset of the power industry and electricity users.







Last Friday's assault on an arriving Chinese national by immigration officers at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport was not only a slap to our nation's face at a time when we were hosting an international event, but also interrupted the country's struggle to boost its economic growth – particularly through foreign investment and tourism.

The incident, which occurred in the country's foremost arrival point and at a time when foreign dignitaries were arriving for the weekend's 18th ASEAN Summit, was unbelievable and a vivid display that violence is still a major aspect of our state institutions, as in this case portrayed by our immigration officers. It has been 13 years since the country introduced reforms in all aspects of Indonesians' lives and such violence should not exist anymore, and should be only a dark memory.

Cheung Ho Chung, who arrived from Hong Kong on a China Airlines flight, said he was attacked by immigration officers after he refused to give two officers from the airport's Immigration Office HK$100 (US$13) that they had demanded. "He had a cut lip and a bruise on his neck after two immigration officers ganged up on him, hit him in the face and choked him," a police statement said.

The case has undoubtedly worsened the image of the immigration office, which has been perceived as one of the most corrupt government institutions in the country, with numerous officials implicated in graft cases.

The Immigration office has come up with its own version of the scuffle. Directorate general of immigration spokesman Bambang Catur Puspitowarno said Cheung had been out of line and had declined to follow the officers' orders.

Even if we accept officer Bambang's story as the truth, the fact that the Chinese national suffered serious injuries cannot hide the reality that violence was used. It is thus necessary that a thorough and fair investigation be launched into the case – a move that would help soothe its impact on Indonesia's image and economy in the long run.

It is hard to believe that the targets of 7.7 million tourist arrivals and a projected income of US$8.3 billion from the tourism sector this year can be met given Friday's incident. Let us all just hope that the figures will not be less than last year's 7 million arrivals. The potential losses in the foreign investment sector could be worse, especially considering that China, Ho Chung's country of origin, has been showing increased interest in investing in Indonesia.

And before everything is too late, action must be taken against such violent immigration officers. This should start with a thorough and honest investigation into the incident.




We don't see the sanctions imposed by the central bank on Citibank Indonesia last week — for the embezzlement of more than US$2 million from customers' accounts by a senior executive of its priority banking service department, and for its suspected role in the death of a credit-card debtor late in March — as a final solution to banking crime.

Indeed, Citibank Indonesia deserved the severe sanctions handed down — it was barred from issuing credit cards to new customers for two years, from signing up new customers for its premium wealth (priority) services for one year, from deploying third-party debt collectors for two years and from opening new branch offices until next year.

The management of Citibank Indonesia has pledged to strengthen its internal controls within its wealth-management department (Citigold) and reform its credit-card debt collection procedures. But such cases of banking fraud are not unique to Citibank Indonesia. The keen competition between the 23 major banks for big depositors seems to have often led to reckless sales practices and compromises in the enforcement of the know-your-customer rules of Bank Indonesia.

Only a few days ago, the state-owned PT Elnusa oil and gas service company was shocked to find out that Rp111 billion (US$12.85 million) was missing from its deposit account at Bank Mega, after it was allegedly embezzled by Mega financial director Santun Nainggolan in collusion with the manager of Mega's Jababeka Cikarang (West Java) branch.

Police investigations of the fraud and alleged laundering of Elnusa funds last week uncovered yet another banking crime: The Batubara regency administration in North Sumatra had lost Rp 80 billion from its own deposits at the same Bank Mega branch, which had allegedly been laundered by two senior treasury officials of the regency administration.

These banking crimes reflect an acutely inadequate internal control system that give banks an early warning of employee fraud related to policy violations, self dealing, embezzlement and the theft of customer and bank assets.

How could treasury officials from such a faraway regency in North Sumatra be allowed to open big accounts at a Bank Mega branch in a small town in West Java while Bank Mega has a big branch in the North Sumatra capital, Medan?

These crimes and previous fraud cases at several other banks should give the central bank a rude jolt that it needs to reassess the internal controls in place at big banks, especially within their wealth management services for rich clients. This would allow Bank Indonesia to investigate whether such controls are still sufficient to cope with mounting risks of employee fraud, given employees' ease of access to systems and knowledge of institutional practices.

Bank Indonesia, as supervisor of the banking industry, should see to it that the internal control system within banks has comprehensive capabilities to detect and prevent employee fraud incidents and to identify unusual employee activity within the mounting sophistication of banking crimes.







Many experts have forecast promising economic growth from member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). And there are several reasons for such expectations, including the region's advantageous location, global security, the global economy and its policies over the last two decades.

But history has also shown us evidence of the presence of great nations in the ASEAN region in the past. The golden age of Sriwijaya, Majapahit and many other kingdoms in Southeast Asia are in the remaking now, albeit under a different banner: ASEAN countries.

The most important reason for this is the location advantage of the region, which connects two economic giants, China and India, as well as the Middle East and Western nations.

The second most important factor is global security in the past and in the future. The formation of Singapore by Thomas Raffles and the "cooperation" between the British and Dutch in the early 19th century after the Napoleonic Wars in Europe provided security for an economic connection between some Southeast Asian countries and the rest of the world.

The rise of Singapore as the center of trade in Southeast Asia has also provided a better linkage among Southeast Asian nations. However, during the two world wars and the Cold War era, Southeast Asia was one of the centers of battles between great powers. Today, threats of terrorism have also affected this region, especially Indonesia.

The third most important factor is the global economy and its policies. In the past, before Arabs and Western influenced Indonesia, or when India and China became the poles of the global economy, the region was known as "the busy road", which allowed nations on both sides of the Malacca Strait and Java to enjoy a golden age of trade growth.

If both India and China reemerge as great economic powers, the golden age of this region will reemerge. The simplest explanation of this could be taken from the gravity model: The increasing economic size of both India and China and "the attraction of the economic force" of these giants will impact positively on the economy of this and the ASEAN region.

Economic policy is another important factor in the future of this region. There are at least three institutions helping this region remain on the right track in international trade relations — ASEAN, APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) and the WTO (World Trade Organization). Despite many criticisms, especially during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s and during the global financial crisis of 2008, these institutions have helped the world, particularly ASEAN, face the challenges.

ASEAN has ratified the AFTA (ASEAN Free Trade Agreement) and the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA). There also other forms of communication forums between ASEAN and other economies, especially with the European Union (EU).

The following facts will help us understand the big picture of economic relations between ASEAN and some major economies, particularly APEC member countries.

The dynamic economic relations between ASEAN founding members (ASEAN-5) and economic powers within APEC were manifested in their trade volume in 1999-2009. Trade between ASEAN-5 and China rose from 3.7 percent from the grouping's total trade volume in 1999 to 11.1 percent in 2009; ASEAN-5 and Japan trade dropped from 15.9 percent in 1999 to 10.36 percent in 2009; ASEAN-5 and the US' trade declined from 18.7 percent in 1999 to 9.66 percent in 2009; and trade between ASEAN-5 and APEC economies slumped from 75.1 percent to 72.8 percent in 2009.

The region's advantageous location, global security, global economy and its policies during the period explain the trade relations well.

First, the ASEAN-5 countries are located in a strategic and advantageous region. Among the ASEAN-5, Singapore booked the fastest average economic growth during 1989-2009 with 6.73 percent, with Malaysia 6.15 percent, Indonesia 5.16 percent, Thailand 5.02 percent and the Philippines 3.79 percent. The location of Singapore and Malaysia near the Malacca Strait (and supported by their seaport infrastructure) are better than the other three economies. However, overall, this region has a very good location in connection with international trade.

Second, during the last two decades (1989-2009), there were no important global conflicts that affected this region. The war on terrorism has hardly impacted the region's security either.

Third, during this period, the world economy grew by a positive 2.69 percent. APEC economies growth during the same period was 2.83 percent. In comparison economic growth of main APEC economic powers like Japan was 1.31 percent, the US 2.52 percent and China 9.98 percent.

Economic growth in simple average of ASEAN-5 (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand) during the last two decades stood at 5.37 percent. This shows that ASEAN-5 and China's economies are becoming more important in the world economy in APEC and the world.

ASEAN countries have a better choice in keeping their relations closer to each other. This strategy will give a better "power" because unilateral action will weaken individual nations in the face of great powers. As small open economies, ASEAN countries should be very responsive to the global events that build relations with the great economic and political powers.

ASEAN's advantageous location is a blessing, but it will turn into a curse if members of the group act individually and only serve the interests of great powers as happened in the past.

The writer is a researcher at the University of Indonesia's School of Economics and director of the university's APEC Study Center (ASC UI)







I had mixed feelings when Borders bookstore finally closed their outlet on the corner of L and 19th streets opposite my workplace a week ago. I had spent hours sitting in its café and between its shelves, browsing and reading from the huge collection.

But, in the four weeks before the closure, I visited the store every other day to take advantage of the fire sales with discounts of 20 percent that then rose to 40, 50, 60 and 80 percent in the last five days.

Longtime Washingtonians, however, said to shed no tears. They recalled that the arrival of Borders and Barnes & Noble, both giant American bookstore chains, on Washington's streets one or two decades ago led to the closure of many independent bookstores.

Borders has become victim to the fierce book market it helped to shape. It filed for bankruptcy in February and plans on closing 200 of its 600 outlets in the US and abroad.

More Americans buy their books online, from and Borders and Barnes & Noble's web sites. And, there is the growing migration to the digital world, with more people reading books on the Kindle, the iPad and other portable digital book readers.

One thing I learned since coming here early this year on a research program is that few people in the US pay full price for their books; only visitors or those who feel strongly about supporting their local independent bookstores do. For avid readers, there are many ways of getting your books aside from library loans.

For best-selling fiction and non-fiction, major department stores sell books at up to 60 percent off the cover price.

For more specialized or older books, check out Borders and Barnes & Noble. If you're a loyal customer, membership confers large discounts and point awards that entitle you to more discounts in the future.

Online stores, and don't forget the biggest one of all, Amazon, offer generous discounts like free shipping within the US and awards to build customer loyalty. Check out their used book section. I was amazed at the selection, including many out-of-print titles.

Most are reasonably priced as well. The listing indicates the book's condition and where it will be shipped from. Put the book in a virtual shopping cart, enter your credit card number and it will be delivered in just a few days.

Most books I need for my research (on Indonesia) were bought this way. For example, I bought a good-as-new copy of Robert Hefner's 2000 Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia online.

Check out the regular book sales at your local library. Early in April, the Arlington Public Library, down the corner from my rented apartment, had a sale that lasted three days. Secondhand books were going for 50 cents, US$1, $2 and $4 apiece. On the last day, they were half the marked prices.

These book sales, surprisingly, offer a wide selection. My wife and I bought over 30 titles, not so much because we needed them but more because they were too good to pass up.

At 50 cents or a dollar apiece, we see it as renting the books. We will donate most of them to the library before it holds its next sale. You're not just recycling books; you're recycling knowledge and the wisdom contained in those pages.

America is heaven for avid readers, writers and researchers. Not only does it have one of the widest selections, but books are accessible and affordable for most pockets through discount plans, used book sales and recycling arrangements.

It is no wonder the United States consistently ranks highest in the world in terms of the number of books published. The widespread usage of English globally helps its case and many of the books are exported as well as sold domestically.

The United States is strongly represented at the top of global university rankings. The Times Higher Education put four US universities in the top 5, and 13 in the top 20. The QS ranking puts two universities in the top 5, but 14 in the top 20.

What is puzzling, however, is the weak correlation between these achievements and the academic performance of American students globally. Survey after survey indicates that the US education system is rapidly falling behind many other countries.

A recent test of 15-year-olds worldwide conducted by the Program for International Students Association ranked Americans between 15th and 25th in science, reading and mathematics, hardly reflecting the US's global preeminence.

Mindful of the long-term implications of this decline, President Obama made education the centerpiece of his state of the union speech in January.

He made a passionate plea to Congress to spare investment in education, along with spending on health care, from the axe as the nation struggles to cut its huge federal budget deficit.

Obama invoked the "Sputnik Moment" in calling for more investment in education and technological innovation to restore America's supremacy, just as it did in beating the Soviet Union in the race to the moon.

Can the United States succeed in the future once again? It will take more than books to pull it off, but at least Americans, in this race, still have the easiest access to a wide range of great books compared with people in most other countries. Take it from this short-term visiting writer: It all starts with reading.

The writer is a fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C. and a senior editor at The Jakarta Post.






Finally Osama bin Laden's episode is over. We have seen mixed reactions across the world to the operation conducted by the US Navy SEALs in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad to kill Bin Laden.

From the US perspective, this operation means a lot for the Obama administration. At least he and his team fulfilled one of Obama's campaign promises.

Amid the rising price of gasoline and an increasing unemployment rate, Bin Laden's death shifted public attention from domestic issues and increased Obama's popularity as he embarks on his re-election campaign.

For Pakistan, on the contrary, the US military operation conducted inside its borders was an embarrassment and a slap in the face.

Pakistan's government should be held responsible for answering sovereignty question and for the possible reactions of Pakistanis who support al-Qaeda.

A series of US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks indicated that the Pakistani government repeatedly denied that Bin Laden was in Pakistan. One prominent local media outlet even said that the government was protecting Bin Laden as part of a deal to prolong the inflow of US aid.

As for al-Qaeda, the demise of Osama will not affect his influence on radical elements of the Muslim world in general. There are no doubt various radical groups across the globe that have been inspired by Bin Laden's thoughts even though they are not part of al-Qaeda's network.

Bin Laden, however, has left one task unaccomplished, namely establishing rule by the Muslim Ummah through the use of violence.

The central message that Osama sent to his followers was a rejection of the reform of existing political structures. Instead, he advocated radical change and justified the use of force to uphold Islamic law.

In response to Bin Laden's death, the Organization of Islamic Conference has condemned any acts of terrorism and further declared terrorism as running counter to the teachings of Islam. It considers terrorism as a serious crime for which Islam has severe sanctions.

Indonesia, as a Muslim-majority nation, has experienced a series of attacks within its territory in the name of religious radicals.

The recent suicide bombing of a mosque in Cirebon, the bomb discovered near a church in Serpong, Banten, and the discovery of several book bombs in Jakarta show that radical elements in some religious groups exist among us, threatening our plural society and national integrity.

At the same time, the issue of the Islamic State of Indonesia (NII) movement has come to fore and calls for vigilant attention from the police and the public to prevent the spread of radicalism and fear in society.

Tougher law enforcement is a must to show that Indonesia is not a safe haven for terror groups. Military operations, such as the one conducted by the US SEALs in Pakistan, will not happen in Indonesia if our police prove their capabilities in fighting terrorism, for which commitment and support from both the government and the political elites is imperative.

The spread of the NII's network seems to have caught the government's attention after many years of ignorance. A crisis center has been set up to facilitate gathering testimony from former NII followers against the organization.

On the other hand, new policies should be made to inculcate a feeling of state consciousness, particularly among the young generation. Waning nationalism has made it easy for the NII to win the confidence of new young recruits.

Indonesia came into being not on the basis of Islamic ideology but as the result of a process of acceptance and a vow to live together in diversity under one republic. Our founding fathers deliberately chose Pancasila over Islamic ideology to minimize the threat of disintegration.

The debate over whether Indonesia should embrace Islamic ideology ended when Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta proclaimed Indonesia's independence. Undoubtedly, however, the five pillars of Pancasila were inspired by values shared also by Muslims.

Both the police and intelligence agencies have to carry on their efforts to crack down on the NII. At the ideological level the government needs to promote and uphold Pancasila by example rather than by use of force as happened in the past. It may take more than a decade or generation to succeed.

Like Bin Laden, the NII's ideology will remain even if its physical manifestation vanishes. Educational institutions, religious groups such as Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, civil society groups, the media and the public need to build a mainstream consensus that rejects religious radicalization that might lead to violence and endanger our national ideology and integrity.

The write is a graduate student in politics and international relations at the International Islamic University in Islamabad and a researcher currently living in Tashkent.






As progress is being made to tackle other health concerns, the number one killer of people aged 15-29 years is no longer a deadly virus or disease, but a man-made hazard: road traffic crashes.

Few of the priority challenges facing the world today touch so many of us as we go about our daily lives. The mobility which allows us to do the most routine tasks — to go to work and school, shop, access health and other services, exercise and enjoy the public spaces of our communities — also puts us at personal risk.

And the risk to those in disadvantaged societies is growing. Worldwide vehicle ownership is forecast to double by 2020. Much of this growth will be in emerging markets. In evidence of this, 2010 marked the first year that the sale of cars and light trucks in these countries exceeded sales in mature economies.  

By 2020 it is predicted that road traffic crashes will take the lives of 1.9 million people annually, up from nearly 1.3 million today. Half of those killed are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists and more than 90 percent of fatalities occur in low-income and middle-income countries.

In Indonesia, according to the police report, number of road traffic collision increased 6.72 percent from 57,726 in 2009 up to 61,606 incidents or around 168 incidents per day in 2010.

Road traffic injuries are among the three leading causes of death for people between 5 and 44 years of age, killing more people each year than malaria. Unless immediate and effective action is taken, road traffic injuries are predicted to become the fifth leading cause of death in the world, resulting in an estimated 2.4 million deaths each year.

Based on above background, in 2011, WHO Indonesia supports the UN General Assembly Resolution no.64/255 dated May 10, 2010, mandate to improving global road safety by Global Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020.

 In implementing the  Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020, the government of Indonesia, collaborating with WHO, has started to roll out activities, from the launch of Road Safety Campaign last February, road safety week, to the launch of the Decade of Action for Road Safety in Indonesia by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. National plan and guidelines are being developed.

Yet we know how to prevent road traffic fatalities. In countries such as Australia, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, road traffic fatalities have declined by more than 50 percent in the past four decades. What these successes have had in common is a high level of political commitment, the implementation of good practices and the collaboration of many parts of society towards the creation of a culture of safety.

The Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020, officially launched today, will provide an opportunity for these best-performing countries to make further gains and for other countries to follow suit.

A Global Plan for the Decade outlines steps towards improving the safety of roads and vehicles; enhancing emergency services; and building up road safety management generally. It also calls for increased legislation and enforcement on using helmets, seat-belts and child restraints and avoiding drinking and driving and speeding. Today only 15 percent of countries have comprehensive laws which address all of these factors.

If all countries implement the Global Plan, 5 million lives could be saved and 50 million injuries averted across the ten-year period. Safer mobility will also yield other benefits to health. An increase in the use of public transport will lead to cleaner air in our cities. When provision is made for pedestrians and cyclists to move about safely, people will be more inclined to walk and cycle, therefore contributing to reductions in chronic disease.   

As countries are shaping their future transport policies, the Decade and its Global Plan provide a framework for action for many sectors of society: Transport, health, education, communications, and across many types of institutions.

Today, heads of state and prime ministers from dozens of countries, ranging from Cambodia to Sri Lanka and from Namibia to Indonesia are expressing their commitment and launching their national plans for the Decade. To symbolize the launch, a number of national monuments will be illuminated with the road safety "tag", the new symbol for the Decade. These include Times Square in New York City; Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro; Trafalgar Square in London; the Jet d'Eau in Geneva; and the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw.

In our work with road traffic victims these past few years, it is clear that for the families whose lives have been shattered by a road traffic crash, the pain and suffering is unimaginable. For those who experience these tragedies, the anguish lasts a lifetime.

We all have the right to go about the business of our ordinary lives in safety, and the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020 may bring us a step in this direction.

The Decade of Action for Road Safety is everyone's Decade. We all have a part to play, as citizens and road users ourselves. Let's commit to making this Decade a success.

The writer is WHO Representative for Indonesia.











The Indian troika comprising National Security Advisor Menon, Indian foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Defence  Secretary, Pradeep Kumar reckoned as India's policy making body are due to arrive in SL shortly. The Indian troika came to SL on an earlier occasion when the war was just about to be concluded. On that occasion, only Menon of the present delegation came with that troika. Menon was the Foreign Secretary at that time, while security advisor Narayanan wielded most power in the troika. He had a thorough knowledge not only of the SL war but also of Prabhakaran. After relinquishing his post as security advisor he is now made a Governor. Some say, he was obliged to resign his security advisor post in the wake of the terrorist attack that was launched on Mumbai, India. Speculations were rife then, that he was pressurized by the Congress Govt. to tender his resignation accepting responsibility for the inefficiency and inadequacies in the security divisions. Some charge him of trying to steer the Indian policies pertaining to the SL war according to his unilateral fancies whereby the Indian Govt. lost its grip and leverage over SL to accomplish a political solution for the SL Tamils. Specially, he lost focus on the China's ramifications into SL during  the process of providing aid to SL Govt. blindly to destroy the Tamil Tigers and Prabhakaran.

In any event, before the arrival of the Indian troika in the Island, the SL Govt. has sent a warm message to India – the Cabinet approved the handing over of the Kankesanturai harbour development to India which was long overdue, and for which the Indian Govt. had been making consistent  requests for a long time.

With the release of the UN panel report in SL, the Govt. began seeking India's support. In India's 'shopping list' it was this project which occupied the top slot prior to the approval, which the SL Govt. had to now necessarily give the green light. The next in priority in the 'shopping list' was the Sampur project which was languishing in the Attorney General's Dept. Sources within the Govt. say, that too will receive approval. CEPA is the project next down the list. However, it is surmised that just because the approvals were given to these projects, it does not mean that India will be able to support SL Govt. to defeat the UN panel report that easily. As the SL political parties are uniting against the panel report so have  the political parties in India begun to unite against Mahinda Rajapaksa by insisting that a trial shall be conducted against him on the war crimes. Already, the main political party Bharathiya Janatha party, the Communist party, Tamil Nadu  Chief Minister Karunanidhi and his Alliance party, the Tamil Nadu opposition leader Jayalalitha have expressed support for the panel report while various other parties in Tamil Nadu have also staged demonstrations  supporting it .Every party and civil Organization in India vociferously clamor that the Indian Congress Govt. ought to support the international investigation into SL war crimes.  Hence,in this climate it renders it impossible for India to support  SL Govt. against the stand taken by America and European countries . This is precisely why India is now seeking the political solution for the Tamil people via the SL Govt. It is India's fervent hope that if it succeeds in securing the 13 plus solution, it can please the parties in India as well as America and European countries. The SL Govt. was aware that India had already read the panel report before its release. The SL Govt. is also of the conviction that Nambiar, the Chief of staff of Ban Ki-moon had read this and may have apprised India of the facts contained therein. The Tamil Diaspora too is of the opinion that India during the final phase of the SL war used Nambiar to avert the ceasefire proposal through the UN.

The panel report was completed as far back as 31st of March. It is the view of some that there was a delay to hand over the report to the SL Govt. and its announcement   by Moon because of pressures exerted on him by India through Nambiar to postpone this release until the Indian Tamil Nadu State elections were over. Perhaps the Congress Govt. would have entertained the apprehension that in case the report is put out in the middle of the Tamil Nadu state elections, the Tamil Tiger sympathizers would exploit the report against Karunanidhi and the Congress govt.  If the question raised by Jayalalitha today,  whether the Congress Govt. was in a deep slumber until the war was over it was asked by her during the elections,  the Congress Govt. would have been subject to grave embarrassment. Some sources say,  now,  it is India's plan to block the panel report from being brought before the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC)  during the May –June sessions,  and have it postponed  until September,  in which event,  India will have sufficient time to complete its 'shopping list' requirements while also pressurize the SL Govt. to grant the political solution for the Tamil people.

The biggest challenge facing India right now is convincing America and European countries, Int. Human Rights Organization and the Tamil Diaspora with a view to accomplishing its objectives. It is well to recall that India used Prabhakaran and the Tamil armed groups to kindle the SL war in order to serve and secure its needs: it made SL to sign the Indo – Lanka pact and took the Trincomalee harbour under its control. After the war was concluded, India thought that it has lost its trump – the bargaining power. On the contrary, today India through the panel report has clinched a greater bargaining power than before. Meanwhile Mahinda nurses the notion that India is possessed by the fear that if it offends SL Govt. it can push the latter into the fold and open embrace of China, and at the same time it is also frightened of antagonizing America and the European countries by aligning with SL. The SL Govt. may be handling India's pressure viz a viz the precarious and perilous situation India is driven into.





 Americans are raging at "ally" Pakistan over the discovery of Osama bin Laden's lair in Abbottabad, smack under the nose of the military.

Furious US government officials and legislators accuse Pakistan of duplicity, treachery and betrayal. In a recent WikiLeaks, a US diplomat actually branded Pakistans intelligence service, ISI, "a terrorist organisation." Pakistan is truly in the hot seat. The Zardari government and Pakistan military face charges that they were either incompetent or duplicitous over Bin Laden. Take your pick.

The Americans dancing with joy in the streets at the news of Bin Laden's assassination seem unaware their almost decade-long jihad against him cost a staggering $1,283 trillion and left the US stuck in 2.5 wars. Bin Laden's vow in the 1990's to bankrupt the US has been partly achieved. His goal: overthrow the Muslim world's Western-backed dictatorships and drive the US from the region. Washington's triumph was quickly undermined by its false claims over the rubout of the unarmed Bin Laden, and by dumping his body in the sea, Mafia-style.     

It's hard to believe Pakistan didn't know the world's most wanted man was living in quiet retirement a short stroll from its military academy.    CIA certainly did. The failure of Pakistan's air defences to detect low-flying US helicopters in the hilly terrain raised two key questions: did Pakistans military give the US a green light to go after Bin Laden?  More important, could the US or India stage a similar lightening air assault to destroy Pakistan's nuclear arsenal? Though dispersed, it looks vulnerable after last week's daring US raid.

Khaleej Times

Washington claims it found Bin Laden by following one of his couriers. But there are also reports that Bin Laden's compound was actually located by Afghan intelligence, which remains dominated by Tajik agents of the old Communist KhAD intelligence service. Bin Laden, who killed their hero, secret Soviet "asset" Ahmad Shah Massoud, was their number one target for revenge.

As a long-time ISI watcher who received briefings by its director generals on my every visit to Pakistan, let me suggest another angle to this murky business.   

In late 2001-2002, according to then president Pervez Musharraf, the US threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the Stone Age" unless he bowed to a US ultimatum: hand over to the US key air bases and air space, port access, provide 120,000 troops for US use, put ISI under American control. Taleban, Pakistans anti-Communist proxy in Afghanistan, was to be attacked.   

Pakistans ISI and its military were purged of all senior officers that CIA and the Pentagon deemed too Islamic or unresponsive to US demands. ISI became in part an extension of CIA. Most Pakistanis think their nation was virtually occupied by the US after 9/11, and remains so today.





I am responding to Prof Rajiva Wijesinha's reply in the Daily Mirror edition of 21.04.11 to my Daily Mirror column of 19.04.11 and to his reply of 07.05.11 to my column of 05.05.11. I do not intend my column in this newspaper to be devoted to the antics of Prof Wijesinha. However there are issues that have been raised that are in the public interest. 

My comments about Prof Wijesinha arose from his revelation of a note passed to him by an official in the British High Commission containing serious allegations about the then Army Commander Sarath Fonseka.  My comments focused on Prof Wijesinha stating that he "chucked " the note away and did nothing about it, until now.  I used this as an example of the calibre of political appointees under this regime.   A number of points were raised by Prof Wijesinha in his response of 21.04.11.

Prof Wijesinha opines that "It would not have been correct for a Government official to have taken such rumours further……."   Isn't this what he is doing with his revelation of the "note"?  Why now?  Earlier on he says "Passing on such a note means that one takes responsibility for the communication, and implies that one believes it should be acted upon".  He also says that he is now willing to testify in a Court of Law "once the matter was publicized …"  Prof Wijesinha has publicized the note – it appears that he is the only one who knows about it.   Does this mean that he now takes responsibility for the "communication"?  Again I ask, how and why now?  What happened? 

Prof Wijesinha goes on to talk about power without responsibility.  It is of course his prerogative to talk about things he doesn't know.  My point is about the relationship between power and responsibility, exercised by Prof Wijesinha, as illustrated by the incident of the "note". He goes rather rancid over my not taking the British High Commission to task for failing to convey the "note" to the police, or to the Foreign Ministry.  I understand that the British High Commission has gone public saying that they do not know what the dear Professor is talking about!  Assume there was a "note". Clearly according to Prof Wijesinha they passed it on to him a "Government official".  The High Commission official obviously thought that it was the right thing to do.

Prof Wijesinha goes on to say that "it has been fondly assumed amongst some NGO activists that Dr Saravanamuttu had hopes of being appointed Foreign Minister if Ranil Wickremesinghe ever returned to power".   Let me inform Prof Wijesinha that I have never been offered or have ever sought nomination from any political party, a prerequisite for becoming Foreign Minister.  In the case of Prof Wijesinha and the position of Foreign Minister, I do not know whether Prof Wijesinha solicited UPFA nomination or was offered it, but that he accepted it certainly lent credence to the speculation that he was at least a teeny weeny bit interested.  As for his remark in his second response to me, that I welcome the "prominence and do not mind the moral disapproval the hacks evince" regarding my hopes of becoming Foreign Minister, let me assure him that I do not associate the 'moral" with the hacks and as for the "prominence" in this context, it is of little importance for the work I do.

 Prof Wijesinha makes much of his preference for Reconciliation.  I for one welcome this. The road to Damascus could not have been easy.  It may not have been straight but full of twists and turns and that he has arrived is indeed to be welcomed. Now that he has been appointed to the team talking to the TNA, no doubt Prof Wijesinha will expedite that small matter of the list of detainees.

In his final paragraph Prof Wijesinha pronounces that " Developing better policies with regard to accountability and responsibility, as well as promoting reconciliation in innovative ways, seems well worth doing, and to seek positions as Dr Saravanamuttu thinks essential has always seemed to me vulgar".  The incident of the "note", no doubt should be seen in this context.

In his reply of 07.05.11, Prof Wijesinha highlights my reference to not a cent being forked out to those who have taken on the role of my publicity agents.   I was drawing a comparison between the role they have assumed for themselves and the foreign publicity agents paid millions of dollars.   

Demonstrating his inimitable brand of self-righteous and sanctimonious, Prof Wijesinha goes on to pronounce that it is "typical" that I would introduce a "potential cash nexus". He goes on to say that the "enormous amounts of money his agencies have collected over the years, which help to fund his extravagant lifestyle, have coloured his view of why people act, and those who think and feel deeply without reward are beyond his comprehension".   The last allegation is reiterated in his conclusion.

What does Prof Wijesinha mean by my "extravagant lifestyle" and the "enormous amounts of money …." which "have helped to fund it?"  Would he care to clarify what exactly he means by this?  What exactly is he stating or is he alleging?  

Prof Wijesinha then goes on to make remarks about my association with the Liberal Party.  Perhaps he expects me to take umbrage over his remark about Chanaka Amaratunga introducing me to British style liberalism.  Chanaka and I knew each other from the age of five and our friendship lasted long after I resigned from the Liberal Party over its opportunistic alliance with the Premadasa regime, precisely because we shared certain values, albeit not in the same measure as the Premadasa alliance revealed.  The latter was supported by the likes of Prof Wijesinha and in this respect it is hardly surprising that he and his ilk would support the current regime and probably for the same reasons.  As for 1983, anyone who has read or heard what I have said including the current leadership and membership of the UNP, know full well what I think of that party's responsibility for that pogrom.  Perhaps, when he has the time, Prof Wijesinha will tell us why he enthusiastically support an alliance with the Premadasa regime, unless of course his position is that the members of that regime had nothing to do with 1983 and the subversion of democracy.

Prof Wijesinha also goes on to allege that most of the human rights organizations "refused" to take a strong stand on calling on the LTTE to release civilians. This is simply not true.  Prof Wijesinha and apologists of the regime were perhaps more occupied in making the case about zero civilian casualties and in castigating local human rights organizations as LTTE sympathisers to take heed of what local human rights organizations were saying in respect of the LTTE treatment of civilians.

It is indeed revealing that Prof Wijesinha now goes soft on Ambassador Butenis and focuses his attention on Dr Paul Carter an official in the US Embassy who he refers to as my "confidante".   Suffice it be said that Prof Wijesinha purports to know more about my interactions with Dr Carter than Dr Carter or I.  That of course is his stock in trade.  

Let me assure him too that the photograph of me at a private party dancing the baila with a former head of state does not anger me at all. I see absolutely no problem with it.  My liberalism and love of country does not exclude dancing the baila.  Presumably Prof Wijesinha and his diplomat friend are given to more ascetic pastimes that defy photographic record? This photograph was used repeatedly by the propaganda machine of the regime on state media in their campaign against me as a "traitor" and no doubt will be used in the future too.  Prof Wijesinha must surely have been aware of this.  Is he being disingenuous or just deceitful when he says about the photograph that he "simply took what was offered to me?"







The May 5 deadline for Sri Lanka's cricketers to comply with the demand by new Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage and cut short their stay with the money-spinning Indian Premier League and return to the country ahead of the important tour of England has passed. The players, apart from one or two who have not had a happy IPL and returned, are continuing their business across the Palk Straits.

So the new minister has been bowled for a duck in his first outing at the crease. But unlike players who are dropped when they fail, the minister will continue, for party politics in Sri Lanka is a different ball game.  On the other hand we cannot expect ministers in Sri Lanka to resign if they are unable to deliver because we have plunged into a disgraceful, degrading and deceitful era where the desire is for personal gain or glory instead of sincere service to the people and the country. They just bat on for there are plenty of replacements waiting to take their place if they dare uphold their principles and Minister Aluthgamage is the third sports minister in a few months, which means there are plenty of sports ministers to choose from than cricketers waiting for their break.

What sport the new minister has played or at least his background on such a subject is largely unknown to the country. Of course some may argue that ministers don't need to come from sporting stock to get on with their political batting or bowling. But while we admire the stand taken by the minister on the IPL, the problem is that the new sports minister is giving the impression he is just like a 12th man who has come for a short stay to make the most by hitting political sixes and fielding behind the political boundary.

First and foremost the minister should have realized, and he is no unqualified umpire, that all was not well at Sri Lanka Cricket which had been brought under government sponsored Interim Committees and have not been accountable for their actions. In short by not having to emphasize on accountability Sri Lanka Cricket had lost hold of its bat and thereby caused disarray, which the cricketers exploited to the maximum.

The Minister should have realised he was not dealing with a bunch of village "gudu" players but a band of tough nut professionals to whom money is high priority with each of them having their commercial agents to take care of matters. By not getting to the bottom of it, the minister has only displayed his ignorance and from now on he will need plenty of advice if he is to effectively tackle player-contract issues.

But this is not to say that the players were right. We do not subscribe to players getting their priorities mixed up and the saddest part is that not one player in his wisdom has the guts to stand out as a model sportsman and tell his IPL bosses that his country is more important than a private battle that has made him a mercenary.

Just who will be held accountable for any debacle on the tour of England which starts this week will be on top of the scoreboard. Will it be the minister, the hierarchy of Sri Lanka Cricket, the players or their so-called managers? In the aftermath of all this, the England tour will be seen as a make or break event for the Sri Lankan team under a new captain. We can only keep our fingers crossed and hope that new captain Tillekaratne Dilshan will make a happy debut at the top.

He and his team will not only carry the hopes and aspirations of adoring fans but also the key to the survival of a rotting set of administrators.








One of my close friends today is a gentleman I was introduced to at a dinner party four years ago. We hit it off straight away and after that one evening of witty conversation and endless laughter, we continued to keep in touch.

Over lunch, a few months after we first met, he told me he was gay and wanted to know how I felt about it. Initially, I was a little surprised, but on hindsight, if I had paid more attention, I would have figured it out.

It didn't bother me and like I told him, it did not impact our friendship in the least.

However, a few of my other friends made no bones about the fact that they were uncomfortable with this new-formed friendship.

Some of their remarks were downright offensive and it reached a point when I put my foot down and called them a bunch of hypocrites.

Seriously, we talk about 'live and let live', voice our disgust over discrimination and about being treated unfairly and then we turn around and single out someone because he is gay! Talk about double standards!

My friend did not consciously choose to be this way and neither can he choose to change and be attracted to women instead.

Like he says, pretending there was nothing amiss in his life was like ignoring a growing tumour. While growing up, he tried to abstain from homosexual behaviour, but realised that avoiding the problem could never really fix it.

He also realised that using will-power to control how he felt, was not a long-term solution and having struggled with it for years, he came out of the closet and told his family.

His parents were shocked, his mother was worried about what people will say. She hoped and prayed that things would change, that he would wake up one day and find his homosexual desires miraculously gone.

My friend is decent, responsible and caring. He has a respectable job, is ambitious and works hard, he isn't a burden on anyone, but yes, he has a male partner.

Shouldn't his personal life be his own business? Why should he be judged or side-lined because of how he chooses to live it?

We are so often influenced by society, by what others think, to the point that it blinds us to what is important.

Sadly, as in my friend's case, when his family is not supportive, what can he expect from anyone?

We all have this need for acceptance, this sense of belonging, whether within the family or society. We also want to fit into the so-called norms of society, but who makes up society? It is people like you and me.

As a human race, we are the same and still so different. We are vulnerable, we feel, we cringe and ache when fingers are pointed at us. Yet there will always be differences, some of which we can't comprehend.

We will constantly be challenged by situations we cannot change, but we don't always have to look the other way.

It wouldn't hurt to try and change our perception, our attitude, to deal with things out of our comfort zone.

We need to understand that acceptance and respect for each other is paramount.

Let us focus on living our lives and letting others live theirs. It is way overdue.







On May 2, AP writer Matt Apuzzo headlined, "U.S. Official: New Bin Laden tape, recorded shortly before death, expected to surface soon," saying:

"U.S. intelligence officials believe (he) made a propaganda recording shortly before his death and expect that tape to surface soon....A new recording (would) provide a final word from beyond the grave...."

On May 7, New York Times writer Elisabeth Bumiller headlined, "Videos From Bin Laden's Hide-Out Released," saying:

On May 7, the administration "released five videos recovered from" his alleged hideout, showing him "threatening the United States, condemning capitalism and at some points flubbing his lines and missing a cue."

Videos were released "without sound (allegedly) to avoid disseminating terrorist messages....The intelligence official who briefed reporters....took pains to point out that Bin Laden....had dyed his white beard black," suggesting vanity or a desire to look younger.

Unmentioned were earlier tapes, including a posthumous December 27, 2001 video showing his beard clearly gray and another in 2004 the same, unlike a 2007 one showing it black. Forensic evidence proved the latter two crude audio and video fakes. More on them below.

Moreover, it's unclear whether Islamic law or teachings prohibit dying hair black. An Islam Question & Answer site says:

"Dyeing hair with pure black dye is haram (punishable) because the Prophet....said: "Avoid black," as well as "the threat of punishment reported with regard to this matter. This ruling applies to both men and women."

However, if black dye "is mixed with another color, so that it is no longer black, there is nothing wrong with it."

True or false, other observers believe Bin Laden never dyed his hair or beard, a notion in their minds as absurd.

New and older videos

The most reported newly released tape shows him wrapped in a blanket in a dilapidated looking room, watching himself on what appears to be a small old TV placed on a broken desk.

Yet he allegedly was housed in a million dollar compound, unlikely to be poorly heated and furnished, as well as shabby-looking, requiring him to sit on the floor with a blanket for warmth. At the least, the image in his alleged surroundings is incongruous, suggesting a recording made elsewhere, not at a luxury Abbottabad, Pakistan estate.

Moreover, it shows his beard white, not black in other newly released videos, another inconsistency. In fact, he looks much younger than in 2001, suggesting images from the 1990s. Nonetheless, Bumiller cited an intelligence official saying Bin Laden "was intensely interested in the image he presented to his supporters," without saying why beard color mattered.

What does matter is a visibly older looking man in 2001, not the more youthful Bin Laden in four of the five newly released videos.

Apparently, Obama officials still can't get their story straight, acting much like Max Sennett's "Keystone Kops" and characters in the film and book by the same name titled, "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight."

It addressed a scenario sounding more like bad fiction than allegedly eliminating "Enemy Number One" with no photos, videos or body of a dead Bin Laden, as well as no independent proof and shifting stories. They're still not right, putting a lie to the entire account about a man who died earlier in mid-December 2001 of natural causes.

A decade ago, Bin Laden was very ill from kidney failure, diabetes, and by some accounts hepatitis C affecting his liver, requiring hospitalization in Pakistan and Dubai. Moreover, objective and testimonial evidence corroborated his mid-December 2001 death.

It also discussed past strategically released videos. Two examples are noteworthy -- on September 7, 2007 and October 29, 2004. Digital image forensics expert Neal Krawetz analyzed both films, concluding they were crude fakes full of low quality visual and audio splices.

Moreover, Bin Laden's beard was gray in the earlier video, black in the later one, and he was dressed in the same white hat, shirt and yellow sweater. In addition, the background, lighting, desk and camera angle were identical. Krawetz said "if you overlay the 2007 and 2004 videos, Bin Laden's face is the same (unaged)." Only his beard color changed.

Notably also, Bin Laden's December 2001 "confession" video admitting responsibility for 9/11 was fake. In February 2006, Duke University Bin Laden expert Professor Bruce Lawrence exposed it, calling it a bad hoax.

Citing U.S. intelligence informants, he said everyone knows it's fabricated. He also compared an overweight Bin Laden impostor to authentic images showing him much thinner. In fact, the difference between the real and fake Bin Laden is obvious, but was falsely used for years as his admission for an inside job crime.

Earlier, post-9/11, in three Al Jazeera interviews, he claimed no knowledge or responsibility for the event.

However, on May 3, 2011, Al Jazeera misreported him admitting "responsibility for planning the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington," an irresponsible lie with no corroborating evidence and their own 2001 interviews.

In addition, a May 25, 2010 Jeff Stein Washington Post article headlined, "CIA unit's wacky idea: Depict Saddam as gay" said:

It considered making fake videos, and:

"(t)he agency actually (made one) purporting to show Osama Bin Laden and his cronies sitting around a campfire swigging bottles of liquor and savoring their conquests with boys, one of the former CIA officers recalled, chuckling at the memory. The actors were drawn from 'some of us darker-skinned employees,' " he said.

The Pentagon took over the project, saying "(t)hey had assets in psy-war down at Ft. Bragg at the army's special warfare center."

Alleged DNA Evidence Confirming Bin Laden's Identity

On May 7, Michael Ruppert's article headlined, "Osama and the Ghosts of September 11: 'Proof that Obama is Lying,' " saying:

A noted molecular biologist and DNA expert told him the following on condition of anonymity:

He "built a lucrative career in human genetics. (He ran) one of the world's largest and most productive DNA genotyping facilities, (and is now) helping to build the global market for clinical whole human genome sequencing for the world's largest human genome sequencing facility."

He also worked with the best in his and other fields, saying:

"I know DNA. And, one thing I know about DNA is that you cannot, repeat CANNOT: take a tissue sample from a shot-in-the noggin-dead-guy in a north central Pakistan special forces op, extract the DNA, prepare the DNA for assay, test the DNA, curate the raw DNA sequence data, assemble the reads or QC the genotype, compare the tested DNA to a reference, and make a positive identity determination....all in 12 hours - let alone transport the tissue samples all the places they'd need to have gone in order to get this done."

"Any way you slice it, the real work would require days," and no nearby aircraft carrier or other ship is outfitted with a profession lab and experts on board to do it.

He concluded saying they may or may not have gotten Bin Laden, but there's no DNA proof confirming it before they allegedly dumped him at sea. In other words, they lied, one of many beginning with Obama's May day announcement.

A final comment

This and previous articles highlight a shameless Washington effort to compound one lie with others, endorsed by major media reports and pundits going along with what they should expose and denounce.

Instead, ad nauseam accounts continue, contributing to war on terror fear mongering that's changed America dramatically post-9/11 disturbingly. It suggests worse yet to come, including perhaps more war besides others now raging, while popular needs go begging.

Despite poll data showing opposition, they continue because people focus more on bread and circuses than activism, the only way to achieve constructive change. It's high time opinions became anger enough to significantly make a difference. It better because the alternative is too dire to imagine.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at Also visit his blog site at






There are growing signs that Israel is quite apprehensive about the revolutionary reforms taking place in the Arab world. Israeli officials and commentators are anxious about the prospects of these revolutions "turning Islamic." Political Islam has long become Israel's number-1 enemy, especially after the appearance of the Palestinian Islamic liberation group, Hamas, which refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Zionism. Hamas argues rather convincingly that Israel is a racist entity based on military might, ethnic cleansing and land theft and therefore has no moral legitimacy.

Israel has done very little to influence revolutions in both Tunis and Egypt. Israeli leaders and intelligence services, however, are reportedly to have alerted their counterparts in the West, particularly in the United States, that a prominent Islamist element was "at work" in these revolutions. For example, the Israeli media highlighted the "Victory Friday" on 18 February when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, lead by prominent scholar Yosef al Qaradawi, gathered for congregational prayers at Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square to mark the overthrow of long-time tyrant Hosni Mubarak a week earlier. One Israeli commentator remarked that "it is such huge rallies that Israel should fear most. This is the new Middle East, it is Islamist, and certainly anti-Israel."

We all know, of course, that the introduction of true democracy in the Arab world is the last thing in the world Israel really cares about. Israel knows quite well that its various interests in the Arab region can best be guaranteed by repressive tyrants such as Hosni Mubarak and Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali and that these interests would suffer immensely if not irreparably if democratically-elected leaders were to rule in Arab capitals.

Well, this is true to a very large extent. In the final analysis, it is hard to imagine that Arab and Muslim masses would harbor any consideration for a hopelessly criminal entity that has been slaughtering and is slaughtering fellow Muslims in Palestine and Lebanon for decades and is now trying rather vigorously to demolish the Aqsa Mosque, the Third holiest shrine in Islam.

I remember that when Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister in 1996, several months after the assassination of Isaac Rabin, he began prattling and babbling about the lack of democracy in the Arab region. His ranting in this regard was meant first and foremost as a pretext, or a red herring, to justify Israel's refusal to give up occupied Arab land. Soon, however, he was instructed by the Mossad intelligence service to "shut up" because "you don't know what you are talking about."

The Mossad told him that "the survival and prosperity of tyrannical regimes in the Arab region was a supreme strategic Israeli interest and that true democracy in the Arab world constituted a nearly mortal threat to the state of Israel."

But what Israel had always been dreading is already at its doorsteps. This is why Israeli leaders and propagandists no longer say openly they don't want to see democracy take place in the Arab world. Instead, they say openly they don't want to see Islam being incorporated into Arab democracy since Islam doesn't recognize Zionism and won't accommodate Zionist whims in the region.

Never mind that the current Israeli government itself includes Talmudic political parties with clear-cut fascist and even Nazi-like trends, as is evident in the adoption by the government of a new set of racist laws, asserting the "Jewish" nature of Israel, which means more racism and more discrimination against non-Jews. However, when Muslims insist on giving due respect to the tenets of their faith, then Zionism turns on their alarm sirens, warning the world against Islamic democracy.

Still, Zionism would like to see a deformed, soulless, and hedonistic "democracy" takes place in the Arab world, a democracy best characterized by the rampancy of western lifestyles such as promiscuity, sexual permissiveness, pornography, teen-age pregnancy and lack of spirituality. In a nutshell, Israel would like to see week Arab societies falling in the throes of lust, eviscerated of Islam, and indifferent to Israeli Nazism and whatever it does to Palestine and its people.

The manifestly fascist wing of Zionism, which is represented by the current Likud-led government, is worried that a stronger Arab world would complicate the Zionist goal of achieving the final liquidation of the Palestinian cause.

Hence, they are trying to de-legitimize as much as possible the ongoing revolutionary reforms in countries such as Egypt. Israel is unlikely to succeed to replicate the isolation of the elected Hamas government in the Gaza Strip with elected governments in Egypt. Egypt, after all, is not Gaza.

However, it is highly expected that Israel and Zionist circles in the U.S., especially those under whose tight control the American Congress reels, will start inciting against any new Egyptian regime with strong Islamic component. This incitement might culminate in the Congress deciding to sever all economic and military aid to Egypt.

This is why the new elected rulers in Egypt, whoever they may be, must seek effective ways and means to neutralize Zionist blackmail and interference in Egyptian internal affairs which we all know are aimed at keeping 80 million Egyptians in a state of enslavement and subservience to Israel.

In any case, the American aid to Egypt is too modest to warrant sacrificing Egyptian sovereignty and national dignity.

Israel simply wants to swallow all of Palestine, hook, line, and sinker, and not be disturbed by any outside force, Arab or otherwise. This is the real reason Zionist leaders are prattling about the recent changes in the Arab world.

(Source: Palestine Information Center)






Zyab Salim, 55, lives in Bait Lahya in northern Gaza, waiting to finally return to his property, where his house, which was destroyed in the Israeli war of December 2008-January 2009, was located. He dreams of a new life in a new house, where he hopes to finally taste the joy of freedom and independence.

This is the hopeful story of many residents of Gaza, whose houses were among the 4,800 buildings completely destroyed in the 22-day war. However, despite the reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, these people are still waiting for a response to their demands.

But Khan Younis resident Iyad Nasser, 34, is not so hopeful. He says, "Even if the national unity government is formed as quickly as possible, it takes at least six months to rebuild houses in Gaza, because reconstruction would not be the main priority for the new government."

According to Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip, of the 4,800 houses completely destroyed in the 22-day war, only 1,500 have been reconstructed.

At the time of the war, Gaza was under a complete siege and Hosni Mubarak, who was the president of Egypt at the time, refused to open the Rafah border crossing even for a few minutes. And this situation continued from the end of the war in January 2009 until the recent developments in the Middle East and Egypt.

Meanwhile, thousands of people have been homeless for over two years and Hamas was not able to provide the Gaza Strip's dilapidated construction industry with the necessary material.

The tunnels under Gaza's border with Egypt, which were used by Hamas and many ordinary Palestinians to get around the Israeli blockade, were heavily bombed during the war and afterwards and thus most were put out of commission.

After the war, Israel asked the United Nations and relief groups to provide a detailed list of goods, equipment, and personnel that they wanted to bring into the Gaza Strip for reconstruction work.

Israel told the relief groups it would consider expanding the list of materials authorized to enter the Gaza Strip. Before the war, the entry of most cement, steel, and cash was blocked, and the blockade was intensified after the war.

The damage to public infrastructure and private facilities is estimated to be over $3 billion.

In March 2009, Western countries participating in the international donors' conference that was held to provide funds for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip pledged $5.2 billion for the project, but very little of the money was delivered.

Also, the prospects for political unity were not so bright at the time, and Palestinians had little confidence in their leaders, whom they accused of putting party politics ahead of the urgent need to rebuild Gaza.

International organizations willing to assist in the reconstruction process felt discouraged from contributing funds and manpower.

So it can be said that political disunity was the main obstacle in the way of the people who sought to begin a large-scale reconstruction process in Gaza.

Now that Fatah and Hamas have set aside their differences based on their moral responsibility, hopefully they will quickly address the needs of the people of Gaza.






March 14, 2011, will go down in history as the infamous day when the House of Saud launched -- with full United States backing -- a vicious counter-revolution designed to smash the Persian Gulf chapter of the great 2011 Arab revolt.

This is the day Saudi troops -- with a token few from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- invaded Bahrain, theoretically at the request of the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty, to "help" in the crackdown on nationwide pro-democracy protests.

The word in Riyadh is that Saudi King Abdullah anyway is not running the (nasty) House of Saud show these days. That's essentially a Prince Nayef operation now. The sinister Nayef, 77, Abdullah's half-brother, is Saudi Arabia's second deputy prime minister -- apart from having being minister of interior for no less than 36 years. The first deputy prime minister -- and anointed successor to the throne -- is Crown Prince Sultan, an octogenarian who has been defense minister for 48 years.

If Sultan were to die and Abdullah immediately follow him -- a clear possibility -- Nayef the inquisitor-in-chief, with a stellar curriculum vitae of throwing any dissenters to rot in jail, censoring the press and regarding the rights of women and the Shia minority as non-existent, would be the next Saudi king. That only goes to show that the House of Saud counter-revolution has not even started.

Break their skulls, no one is watching Meanwhile, in Bahrain, state news agency BNA has announced, "The state of national safety is lifted across the kingdom of Bahrain from June 1, 2011." That's a decree by King Hamad al-Khalifa, who proves to be, in spite of himself, an admirer of English author George Orwell, as he characterizes a state of emergency as "a state of national safety".

"National safety" in this case includes the state razing to the ground -- with full Saudi input -- over 20 Shia mosques; the demolition of houses; the demolition of the Pearl roundabout -- the symbol of the mass protests; and beating and jailing hundreds of protesters. The House of Saud's Nayef best pal in Manama has got to be Bahrain's Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa ibn Salman al-Khalifa, 75, who has held the cozy job for no less than 40 years -- a world record.

In practice, what's going on in Bahrain is a monarchy trying to get rid of its people. The tactics are straight out of the collective punishment playbook -- as applied by the Americans in Fallujah in 2004 and the Israelis in Gaza for the past decades. The opposition to the al-Khalifas happens to be the absolute majority of Bahrain's population, and is not exclusively Shia, as the government insists on spinning.

No less than 24 Bahraini doctors and 23 nurses will have to face a military tribunal -- accused of plotting to bring down the regime by force. What they actually did was to care for protesters heavily beaten by police and the army. According to Physicians for Human Rights, these doctors and nurses are so subversive because they have proof of how the police and army behaved like beasts.

Western corporate media's thundering silence just goes to show how Washington and European capitals are complicit of the House of Saud/al-Khalifa dirty work. One can imagine the furor if this was happening in Syria; a United Nations regime change-enabling resolution would come quicker than a Nespresso.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) at least has had the decency to issue a report. Its deputy Middle East director Joe Stork too diplomatically has stressed the obvious; "the aims of this vicious full-scale crackdown seem to be to intimidate everyone into silence".

Bring on the tear gas

On Sunday, May 1, the day of the Osama bin Laden hit, Matar Ebrahim Ali Matar -- one of the 18 members of the al-Wefaq party who had resigned from parliament in protest -- was kidnapped by masked men after he was called for a fake meeting; a government spokesperson later said he "has been called in for investigation". The same thing happened the same day to another Wefaq former parliamentarian, Jawad Fairuz, who had his house surrounded by 30 masked men.

Twenty-one other opposition members were also put on trial by special courts (military prosecutors; one military and two civilian judges), including Shia dissident Hassan Mushaimaa, leader of the opposition group Haq who has called for the overthrow of the monarchy; and Ebrahim Shareef, the Sunni leader of the secular Waad group that called for a constitutional monarchy.

The accusation; an "attempt to overthrow the government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organization working for a foreign country" -- that is, Iran. Seven others are being tried in absentia. Rights activists stress they could be all facing the death penalty.

Then there's the new House of Saud/al-Khalifa sport of "smash the mosque". At least 27 mosques and scores of religious buildings have been destroyed -- including the 400-year-old Amir Mohammed Braighi mosque. Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs Sheikh Khalid bin Ali bin Abdulla al-Khalifa, has claimed, "These are not mosques. These are illegal buildings."

That's the al-Khalifa icing on the cake after they virtually destroyed the Bahraini health care system (run essentially by Shias); fired over a thousand Shia civil servants and canceled their pensions; jailed scores of students and teachers who took part in the protests; beat and arrested journalists; and closed down the only opposition newspaper.

As part of the U.S./Saudi deal, Bahrain -- and by extension the House of Saud -- can get away with anything; all praise for the al-Khalifas for hosting the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. No UN sanctions or even a slap on the wrist; no no-fly or no-drive zone approved by a UN resolution; no arming of the "rebels"; no North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing; no burning desire for regime change as in Libya; no Tomahawk diplomacy; and of course no target assassinations.

For the moment at least, sizable Anglo-American investments in Bahrain are "protected"; as for the British merchants of death who sell hand grenades, demolition charges, smoke canisters and thunder flashes to the al-Khalifa repression machine, business can only prosper.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

(Source: Asia Times Online)






Egypt has announced that it will open its border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, thereby reversing Egypt's collusion with Israel's blockade regime. The interim Foreign Minister, Nabil al-Arabi, has described support for the blockade by the previous Egyptian regime as "disgraceful". While Israeli officials have responded to this announcement with alarm, they have limited capacity to undermine the new Egyptian government's prerogative.

Since the capture of Israeli soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit in June 2006, the Rafah crossing has been closed to Palestinians in Gaza, except for "extraordinary humanitarian cases". In June 2007, after Hamas' ousting of Fatah, Israel imposed a naval blockade on Gaza and sealed its five border crossings with the territory. Egypt's closure of Rafah made the siege comprehensive, and effectively cut off the 360sq mile Strip from the rest of the world.

The devastating impact of the blockade on Gaza's 1.5million population, where food aid dependency has risen to 80 percent, has been defined as a humanitarian crisis by a broad range of international human rights and humanitarian aid organizations -- including Human Rights Watch, UNRWA, Amnesty International, and the World Health Organization.

Under the presidency of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt only opened the Rafah border in response to exceptional crises, including during Israel's Winter 2008/2009 offensive against Gaza and in the aftermath of Israel's fatal raid on the humanitarian flotilla in June 2010. Rafah's closure demonstrated Mubarak's shared interest with Israel in undermining Hamas' leadership.

Egypt's post-revolution government is eager to reverse this policy -- as evidenced by its successful brokering of a unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas and, shortly thereafter, its announcement that it will end its closure of Rafah. Egypt's decision comports with enduring border-crossing agreements that have been suspended since 2007.

Egypt's decision is a resumption of the status quo ante.

According to the Agreement on Movement and Access(AMA), brokered by the U.S. and the European Union to facilitate the transfer of authority for crossings from the Government of Israel to the Palestinian Authority following Israel's unilateral disengagement from Gaza, Egypt is authorized to control the Rafah crossing on its side of the border, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

Following internecine fighting in 2007, in which Hamas forces were routed from the West Bank but took control of the Gaza Strip, the border crossing agreement, along with Egyptian and EU participation was suspended -but not terminated.

The European Union's Border Assistance Mission to Rafah (EUBAM), deployed to support a smooth transfer of authority at the border, has conditioned its presence on cooperation with Mahmoud Abbas' Force 17, or the Presidential Guard. Since Fatah's ousting from the Strip the EUBAM has "maintained its operational capability and has remained on standby, awaiting a political solution and ready to re-engage".

The EUBAM has extended its mission four times since suspending it in 2007, indicating the EU's willingness to cooperate with the PA, should a political solution be reached between the rival Palestinian political parties. As recently as late March, the EUBAM Chief of Mission reaffirmed to Egypt's ambassador to Israel the mission's readiness to resume its tasks at Rafah.

Arguably, the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation removes impediments to EU and Egyptian cooperation at the Rafah crossing.

Vague though it may be, the agreement between Fatah and Hamas stipulates the rehabilitation of Palestinian security forces and a mandate to end the siege and blockade of Gaza. Although hostilities between the rival parties are ongoing, in theory, technical hurdles undermining the opening of the Rafah crossing have been overcome.

Accordingly, Egypt's decision to open the Rafah crossing is commensurate with existing agreements and signals a resumption of the status quo ante. Israel can do little to challenge this policy on legal grounds and it lacks the political credibility to maintain the comprehensive siege by force.

Israel lacks political credibility to maintain Gaza blockade.

While 29 Democratic Senators have urged President Barack Obama to suspend U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority should Hamas join the PA government, European and international support for the unity government is robust.

On May 6, the EU announced that it will provide an additional US$85million in aid to support the PA in light of Israel's withholding of $105million of tax revenue belonging to the Palestinian Authority. Similarly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon -- along with a coalition of donor nations -- have urged Israel to release the Palestinian funds. Meanwhile, the United Nations' envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, has described the unity government as "overdue", demonstrating general international support for the unity government that includes Hamas.

Similar international support exists for ending the siege on Gaza. Especially since Israel's raid on the Gaza flotilla in May 2010, support for the debilitating siege has steadily dwindled. In the aftermath of the fatal attack in international waters, even the U.S. described Israel's blockade as "untenable" and called on Israel to change its policy toward Gaza.

The White House not only supports an easing of the siege, but it also supports Egypt's post-revolution government. Shortly after Mubarak's departure, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt to congratulate the new government - and promised it diplomatic support as well as economic aid. Although not impossible, it is unlikely that the U.S. will challenge Egypt's decision, which reflects the US' blockade policy as well as the U.S.-brokered AMA, and risk undermining the government's nascent development.

Finally, within Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu lacks the political support necessary to take any significant risks. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni has accused Netanyahu of isolating Israel and stated that her Kadima party would not join a Netanyahu-led coalition even in the face of September's "political tsunami". Livni also opposes the Palestinian unity government, but explains "there is a difference between defending Israel and aiding the survival of a prime minister that only damages the country".

In light of broad support for the Palestinian unity government, frustration with the ongoing blockade, enthusiasm for Egypt's new government, and Netanyahu's tenuous domestic standing, it is neither likely that Israel can mobilize significant political opposition to Egypt's new policy, nor use force to respond to opening of the Rafah crossing.

Buoyed by impunity, the cover afforded by turmoil in the region, and the desire to establish its qualitative military edge in the region, Israel may nevertheless employ a military option to respond to the reopened crossing. Even if it does not use force at Rafah, it may brandish its military prowess by targeting the forthcoming Gaza flotilla, which will set sail for Gaza's shores in late June. In light of the political balance, Israel's choice to use force without a tangible military threat will exacerbate its already waning legitimacy.

Escaping this political trapping leaves Israel with little other choice than to urge the U.S. to act on its behalf. Although the U.S. Congress has already demonstrated its willingness, the Obama administration has yet to show whether it will again intervene in this part of the fast-transforming Middle East – a region where U.S. interests continue to hang in the balance.

Noura Erakat is a Palestinian human rights attorney and activist. She is currently an adjunct professor at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies in Georgetown University. She is also a co-editor of

(Source: Al Jazeera)





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