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Thursday, May 12, 2011

EDITORIAL 12.05.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month may 12, edition 000830, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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































































































The anticipated loaves and fishes of office can have an unsettling effect on the most seasoned of politicians and turn party colleagues into foes. As much is being witnessed in Kerala where even before the outcome of the Assembly election is known, top leaders in both the Congress and the CPI(M) are busy trying to position themselves at the head of the queue of those hopeful of becoming Chief Minister. In fact, factional rivalry that has been simmering in the Congress-led UDF and the CPI(M)-led LDF since the election was announced a couple of months ago have now erupted into astonishing public spats — some would say public wars. As the election was fought on the basis of no specific issues and in the absence of any wave, nobody quite knows which way will the results go; even opinion polls indicate that it is a cliff-hanger of a contest. In a sense, the exit poll surveys have only added to the confusion with their predictions differing widely from one another on the possible outcome. However, the confusion has in no way affected the machinations of the aspirants for the top post and Cabinet berths. The Congress, which is struggling to keep its allies in the UDF happy, is witnessing a bitter contest between its two senior-most State leaders for the Chief Minister's chair. In the CPI(M), the war is over how to deny the post to Mr VS Achuthanandan if the LDF were to win the election. Till three months ago, Congress leader Oommen Chandy was the UDF's chosen one for the top job, but the situation changed with the entry of State party president Ramesh Chennithala as a candidate in the election, obviously with the goal of becoming Chief Minister. Mr Chennithala is said to have been able to field his loyalists in many 'winnable' seats so that Mr Chandy is defeated if the legislators are asked to elect their leader. Both the camps are busy trying to win the support of the allies. If the UDF gets a majority, the Congress high command would have to step in to resolve the dispute.

If the struggle is over power in the Congress, in the CPI(M) it is more about which faction of the party gets to call the shots in the event of a victory for the LDF. Will the conservatives led by Mr Achuthanandan prevail? Or will the neo-liberalists led by his arch enemy and party State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, finally establish control over both party and Government? So determined is the Vijayan faction that it wants Mr Achuthanandan to be denied the Leader of Opposition's post if the UDF were to win the election, this making it clear as to which 'line' prevails in the party. Whether the neo-liberalists will succeed is a million-dollar question. After all, they had tried to keep Mr Achuthanandan out of the election but in the end his popularity ensured a ticket for him. Either way, interesting times lie ahead.







Given that it is an organisation that feeds off the notion of revenge, it is not entirely surprising that the world's most feared terror network has vowed to avenge the death of its most iconic leader with unprecedented levels of violence and bloodshed. Yet the blood-curdling statements of retribution issued by Nasir al-Wahishi, the leader of the powerful Yemeni franchise of Al Qaeda, serves as a chilling reminder of the fact that even after the death of Osama bin Laden, the war on terror is far from over. Nasir al-Wahishi, who heads Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, warned on Wednesday that global jihad is all set to become "more intense and harmful" as future attacks will be "greater and worse." As expected, the second generation of terror leaders has used the killing of Osama bin Laden as an excuse to call for a fresh wave of terror attacks. And let there be no doubt that such calls to avenge the killing of "the Sheikh of Jihad" that have been sent out to every mujahid will tragically be answered with equal amounts of gore and flesh as innocent civilians in America and across the world will be made to pay a heavy price for "a serious sin". Given this background, it is important to ensure that there is no slack in counter- terrorism operations worldwide. More specifically, the US must take Pakistan to task and ensure it provides a detailed explanation of how exactly Osama bin Laden managed to find refuge in a country that was supposedly an 'ally' of America in the war on terror. In the past decade, Washington, DC has given approximately $20 billion in aid to Islamabad, most of it for the express purpose of eliminating terror networks that have flourished within Pakistan's borders. Given the present situation, it is clearly time for Pakistan to provide a credible account of what it has done with all that money. Otherwise, it may not see much of it again.

Already there is increasing pressure on the Obama Administration to cut all aid to Pakistan which, many US law-makers believe, has now been exposed as a terror-sponsoring state. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who is a senior member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and an influential policy-maker, introduced a new Bill in the House of Representatives on Wednesday to stop all aid to Pakistan. Titled 'Defund United States Assistance to Pakistan Act of 2011', the Bill says that Pakistan-based terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba are responsible for several terrorist attacks, including the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai, and provides multiple examples of Pakistan's double-dealing such as recent attempts by its leadership to lobby the Afghan President against the US and in favour of China. Similarly, questions have also been raised about what happened to the missing debris of the specially-configured stealth helicopter that crashed during the mission in Abbottabad and was recovered by the Pakistanis. Americans fear a repeat of a similar 1998 incident when Pakistan facilitated the transfer of an unexploded American Tomahawk missile recovered by the Taliban to China. Clearly, the Americans and the Pakistanis are not on the same page as far as their roles in the war on terror is concerned; the US appears to be keeping up appearances by saying Pakistan has been a 'real asset' in the war on terror, but who is it trying to fool?









There's more to the Osama bin Laden episode than is being reported, and it deals with the future of Afghanistan after the exit of US and Nato troops.

With world attention focussed on the spectacular American special forces' action to eliminate Osama bin Laden, there has been a tendency to ignore developments in Pakistan that preceded this event. Angered by American snooping on his jihadi assets, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani launched a propaganda and diplomatic barrage to force the Americans to end their covert activities and drone attacks on the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. He claimed that the drone attacks were killing scores of innocent civilians. Cricketer-turned-politician and long-term Army and ISI protégé Imran Khan was commandeered to rent crowds to block American supply convoys to Afghanistan. Sadly for Gen Kayani, the GOC of Pakistan's 7th Division in North Waziristan, Major-General Ghayur Mehmud, debunked his chief's propaganda, revealing that "a majority of those killed by Drone strikes are Al Qaeda elements, especially foreigners, while civilian casualties are few".

Undeterred by this fiasco and unfazed by the dressing down that his ISI chief Lieutenant-General Shuja Pasha got from CIA director Leon Panetta during the former's visit to Washington, DC on April 11, Gen Kayani roped in the Army's favourite politician in the ruling PPP, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, to make some outrageous demands, when he, accompanied by Gen Kayani and Lt Gen Pasha, met President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on April 16. According to Mr Karzai's aides, privy to what transpired, Mr Gilani, whose intellectual abilities have not been known to match the sartorial elegance of his Saville Row suits, bluntly told the Afghan President that the Americans had let down both of them and that he should under no circumstances agree to a long-term American military presence in Afghanistan. For good measure, Mr Gilani added that rather than look to a strategic partnership with the US, Mr Karzai should look to Pakistan and its "all-weather friend" China and strike a deal with the Taliban.

Having witnessed his father being killed by the Taliban in Peshawar and having learnt to balance adeptly between external powers, the wily Hamid Karzai obviously has no intention of leaving his fate and that of his country to be determined by the ISI. The crude Kayani-led effort is to force the Afghans to accept an ISI-sponsored "reconciliation process" with the Taliban, which excludes the Americans. To demonstrate their clout, the Pakistanis have arrested the Number 2 Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who refused to accept Islamabad's tutelage and was prepared to talk directly to Mr Karzai who is a fellow Durrani Pashtun.

The Americans, in turn, initially insisted that the "reconciliation process" should be initiated only after the Taliban renounced violence, surrendered arms and agreed to abide by the Afghan Constitution. Recognising that this was unrealistic, the Americans now say that what they had earlier demanded should be the outcome of the "reconciliation process". In the meantime, busybodies like Turkey are working towards hosting an office of the Taliban, despite the outfit being banned as an international terrorist organisation.

The US and its Nato partners have announced that they will not further participate in active combat operations and hand over responsibilities to Afghan forces after the end of 2014. The million-dollar question is whether Afghan forces can prevent the Taliban, armed, trained and operating from secure bases in Pakistan, from taking over control of Pashtun-dominated southern Afghanistan. President Mohammed Najibullah held on to control his country till four years after the Soviets commenced their withdrawal. He was forced to capitulate only because the Soviet Union collapsed. In these circumstances, the crucial question is what happens after December 2014? Will the Americans withdraw fully after December 2014, leaving a power vacuum to be filled by the Taliban? There are no categorical answers to this question as yet.

President Barack Obama declared on May 1 that killing Osama bin Laden was a major objective, even as the US continued to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" his network. On its own Al Qaeda has not carried out a single significant terrorist attack after 9/11. The terrorist attacks in London, Madrid, Bali and in New York's Times Square were all largely by Pakistanis, motivated by groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami which are affiliated to Al Qaeda. It is also clear from the statements of David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana in Chicago that it was Pakistani terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri, operating from North Waziristan, who was the mastermind of efforts to stage a terrorist attack in Copenhagen.

The elimination of Al Qaeda is not going to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" terrorist networks bent on striking on cities in the US and its Nato allies. This would require relentless counter-terrorism action across the Durand Line. Given the heavy dependence of the Americans on the Pakistanis for logistical support to transport supplies through Pakistani territory, such action would be unthinkable just now. But, with an estimated 50 per cent of supplies now coming through Russia and Central Asia, this dependence on Pakistan will become much less important in coming years as American troop levels in Afghanistan are significantly reduced. In such a scenario, the US will be more open to effective counter-terrorism action across the Durand Line, as Vice-President Joe Biden and others like Ambassador Robert Blackwill have advocated. The US is negotiating a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan, which will enable a residual military presence even beyond 2014. Its provisions will be important in outlining long-term American objectives.

Mr Karzai's enthusiasm for 'reconciliation' with the Taliban is provoking a backlash in Northern Afghanistan, where non-Pashtun groups have noted that he no longer criticises Taliban excesses. There is scepticism about any possibility of the Taliban shedding its pernicious ideological beliefs. Given the composition of the Afghan Parliament, it would be difficult to get a consensus on any deal which Mr Karzai strikes with the Taliban. If the Taliban overruns southern Afghanistan as the Americans commence their troop reductions, they will face serious resistance all over the Amu Darya region. We may then have a de facto partition of Afghanistan into Pashtun and non-Pashtun areas.

It is not clear how the Pashtuns in Pakistan's tribal areas, who have been relentlessly bombed and displaced from their homes by Gen Kayani's actions, will respond to such a development. India will have to manoeuvre dexterously if it is to ensure that Afghanistan does not yet again become a haven for terrorism as it was in the days of the ISI-backed Taliban rule in Kabul and Kandahar.







Osama bin Laden may be dead but there is no change in Pakistan's support for the Taliban and other insurgent groups fighting American forces in Afghanistan. Unless the US fixes its relationship with Pakistan there appears little hope of bringing closure to its war in Afghanistan or ensuring that there will be no further attacks on the American homeland

It is reported that the Karachi Stock Exchange index fell by 285 points following apprehensions that the US might cut aid to Pakistan after the capture and death of Osama bin Laden a short distance from Pakistan's capital. It points as much to the leverage the US has on Pakistan as the need to exercise it to secure its unbridled cooperation against the Al Qaeda rank-and-file who are still holed up in that country. The US State Department has made it clear that considerations of national sovereignty are not going to ham-string American forces in undertaking other raids to take them out.

The statement from CIA chief Leon Panetta that Pakistani officials were kept in the dark because "any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardise the mission" tells its own story. Osama bin Laden's death has again fuelled strong misgivings about the viability of the troubled US-Pakistan relationship both within the Administration and on the Hill. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement, immediately after Osama bin Laden's killing, that Pakistan had contributed greatly to American efforts to dismantle Al Qaeda and "we are committed to this partnership" would have come only as a temporary respite to the powers in Pakistan notwithstanding Salman Bashir's rantings.

In the US Congress as elsewhere it is being reiterated that Pakistan is at best a slippery ally and at worst playing the US for suckers. American military and economic aid on which Pakistan survives is very much on the line. The fact that the top four Al Qaeda leaders were killed or captured in Pakistan can no longer be wished away. This still does not take account of the Pakistani Taliban who control their Afghan brethren, or the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Jaish-e-Mohammed which now have ambitions beyond India to target the US and Europe. Unless the US fixes its relationship with Pakistan there appears little hope of bringing closure to its war in Afghanistan or ensuring that there will be no repeat attacks on the US homeland originating from Pakistan-based terrorist outfits.

Pakistan has a good deal of explaining to do about how Osama bin Laden was hiding in plain sight in Abbottabad, a town not far from Islamabad home to Pakistan's Military Academy, since 2004. Satellite photos of the site show an empty field. Only last week the Pakistan Army chief speaking at the Academy stated that "we have broken the back of terrorism in the country (sic)". Was he being naïve or was it bravado?

Osama bin Laden may be dead but there is no change in Pakistan's support for the Taliban and other insurgent groups fighting American forces in Afghanistan like the Haqqani network or the Quetta Shura. Pakistan's conviction that without its active and unstinted cooperation on logistics, strategy, tactics and intelligence an early end to US military operations in Afghanistan is unlikely has spurred it to relentlessly pursue the conflicting objective of maintaining 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan. It has allowed Islamabad to capture and hand over lower ranked Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders while ensuring that the senior leaders eluded capture. In the streets of Kabul the commonly articulated belief is that the ISI runs the city.

The US needs to accept that Pakistan's goals in Afghanistan can only be understood when seen from the perspective of its many-sided implacable hostility to India. The ISI planned and financed the Mumbai terror attacks on multiple targets involving not only Indians but US, UK, Israeli and other Western citizens, evocatively bringing out the nature of its hostility. The naming of ISI chief Shuja Pasha as a defendant in the US lawsuit filed late last year by families of Americans killed in the attacks has brought a public focus on the relationship.

There is an imperative need for the US now to re-order its relations with Pakistan in general and its dysfunctional relationship with the ISI and Pakistani Army, in particular. With Osama bin Laden's death the original reason for US military involvement in Afghanistan has been removed although Al Qaeda is far from being eliminated.

At this stage, the US must distinguish its continuing involvement in Afghanistan into two separate goals: First, assuring of US homeland security; and, second, the stabilisation of Afghanistan. The first will require the exercise of its maximum leverage on Pakistan to secure compliance with its goal. The second will require the US to bring in Afghanistan's neighbours as well, particularly India.

Eliminating Al Qaeda remnants will require continued military operations to seize the momentum of the Osama killing with total cooperation from Pakistan. It will require the Pakistani Government to break its nexus with the Taliban-Al Qaeda, bring greater transparency with religion-based organisations and start building robust civilian institutions. Since 2001 Pakistan has received American aid of over $20 billion and will receive $3 billion for next five years in military aid. Finally, US Congressmen are demanding to know why Washington is paying $1 billion a year in other aid to Pakistan. The growing disillusionment and anger in the US Congress provides ample justification to secure strong compliances from Pakistan on changing its internal polity to strengthen the civilian Government. Pakistan has to give up its 'strategic depth' concept in Afghanistan for its own good and that of the region. The US possesses the leverage to make this happen.

The second and distinct goal of stabilising Afghanistan is a larger will that affects the entire South and Central Asia region — reason enough to emphasise the need for regional consultation with Afghanistan's neighbours, each with a different agenda. There is no reason for the US to assume this burden singly. Bringing in Afghanistan's neighbours will not only help to harmonise their differing goals but would be in Afghanistan's long-term interest. It would ensure that Pakistan changes its current perspective on that country.

-- Rajendra Abhyankar, a former senior diplomat, is currently visiting scholar at the Center for American and Global Security, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA.







There seems to be hardly any fundamental difference in the attitude of Stalinist Russia and contemporary India towards farmers as a category and industrial development as a goal. The dissimilarities are grossly superficial and pertain to the matter of beneficiaries

The Uttar Pradesh Government's war on farmers resisting the virtual expropriation of their land, deserves more than passing attention. The methods used — by other State Governments against similar agitations as well — are less savage than those Joseph Stalin adopted to collectivise Russian agriculture. That, however, is hardly a defence of what is happening here. It is very difficult to come even close to matching Stalin or Adolf Hitler when it comes to savagery and sheer malignant violence. Also, the repression let loose in India is savage enough to make one's stomach turn. Finally, there seems to be hardly any fundamental difference in the attitude of Stalinist Russia and contemporary India towards farmers as a category and development, which is primarily taken to mean industrialisation. The dissimilarities are grossly superficial and pertain to the matter of beneficiaries.

Collectivisation in the Soviet Union was meant to yield a surplus to finance industrialisation and ensure more rational and efficient farming to feed the cities. It did help in industrialisation to an extent but destroyed the country's agriculture which later reforms, particularly under Nikita Khrushchev, did little to undo. Land acquisition in India may enable a number of industrial units and townships to come up. But the continuing diversion of agricultural land to industry and urban habitats, and the decline in soil fertility thanks to over-exploitation, is bound to create critical food shortages at a none-too-distant future given an exploding population estimated to reach 1.70 billion in 2060! Food security, an important component of national security, will be severely eroded.

Besides, the benefits of even this utterly skewed pattern of growth strategy will elude not only the farmers but all categories of urban and rural poor who lack the skill, education and clout to engage with an increasingly criminalised system of Government that primarily serves the rich, the powerful and the consuming classes. If what Russia had under Stalin's and the successive pre-Gorbachev dispensations was State capitalism, India is now increasingly in the grip of crony capitalism. Industrialists are friends of bureaucrats and leaders whom they bribe and otherwise keep happy. The Government helps them in numerous ways including acquiring land from farmers at scandalously low rates and selling it to them at rates that are far less than what they would have had to pay if they had bought straight from the owners.

Market capitalism and the institutions and practices that sustain it have serious flaws that need not be laboured at a time when the world has yet to recover from the massive economic crisis that engulfed it towards the end of 2008. As universally recognised now, it was a result of corporate thuggery and greed and doctrine-driven undermining of the mechanism of checks and balances applicable to the financial market. What we are witnessing in India is, however, not even market capitalism. Under the latter, the farmers would have been free to negotiate sale prices of their land with industrialists and sell only if they thought it was in their interest to do so. Here the Government — representing a politician-bureaucrat-entrepreneur-mafia nexus — is not an impartial umpire that intervenes in rare cases, but an active partisan in favour of entrepreneurs.

The reason is money. Land has to be developed before being handed over to industrial units. Roads have to be built, power lines laid and drainage and sewerage systems provided, among other things. And, of course, bribes and kickbacks will be received and contractors will make money by using inferior construction material. There is another way. Land prices rise steeply in rural areas earmarked for the development of industrial plots and townships. While farmers whose lands are expropriated do not benefit from the continuing increase, bureaucrats and politicians buying up plots in their own name or in benami can make a killing by selling these when the price peaks. Not surprisingly, the politician-bureaucrat syndicate everywhere shows uncharacteristic alacrity in identifying areas for 'development' and murderous ruthlessness in ensuring that all opposition to their plans is summarily crushed!

Therefore, whether in Kerala or in Odisha, in Uttar Pradesh or in West Bengal, one sees a ruthlessly exploitative approach that is becoming the hallmark of the Indian state. What a consequence to flow from the county's tryst with destiny!






Hunger was such a constant companion in Yao Qizhong's childhood that even now, at age 40, he'll stoop down to salvage a single clove of garlic that falls from his table at the Beijing market where he hawks fresh produce.

Life is less harsh these days, but China's fast-rising food prices have hit his family hard, making it increasingly difficult to save for his three children's education — Yao's main goal.

Across town, Zhong Sheng rinses a still-twitching Mandarin fish and picks the stems from a handful of greens as he expounds on his philosophy of grocery shopping. Health and safety are his top concerns, ever since the architect became a father five years ago. Cost is a secondary consideration.

"You can buy cheap stuff," says Zhong as he and his wife cooked together and the smells of soy and scallion filled their cozy kitchen, "but if it makes you sick, you're going to end up paying more anyway in hospital fees."

The starkly contrasting fortunes of the Zhong and Yao families offer a glimpse into how soaring food prices are playing out in the developing world — home to more than three quarters of the globe's 6.9 billion people.

Prosperity and a fast-growing middle class have cultivated more sophisticated and exotic tastes. Such luxuries as blueberries, avocado, asparagus and endive, recently unattainable to all but the wealthiest, are now widely available in China's big cities.

But rising affluence has taxed the ability of farmers to meet growing demand while the rural labour pool dwindles. The result: Rising food prices hit every level of society, not just those who can afford imported South American bananas or pricey mushrooms and herbs from China's remote Yunnan province. People on low or fixed incomes feel the pinch most.

"We don't dare to try and eat good stuff because we can't afford it," says Yao, whose four grandparents starved to death during China's 1960 famine. He was so poor growing up in rural Anhui province that his neighbours assumed he would end up a beggar on the streets. "If I go to a supermarket," he says, "it's a novelty, like sightseeing."

In China, farm workers have flocked by the millions to factory and service jobs in coastal cities. Luring them back to till and weed by hand is proving a tough sell. The resulting supply pinch helped send food prices up 11.7 per cent in March from the year before, adding to months of steep increases.

"You can't find (farm) workers and they're expensive, over a dollar (7 yuan) an hour," said Liu Li, a wholesaler hawking Napa cabbage and coriander at Beijing's Xinfadi, north China's biggest agricultural distribution centre. People in the countryside want factory work or a job in the service industry, where they'd get to stay indoors and have a warm place to sleep, said Liu. Farm work, she said, is "too dirty and too hard".

Even with sharply higher food prices, Zhong, who runs his own business and has a master's degree from a prestigious Beijing University, can afford to be picky. Besides he sees good reason to favour more expensive organically grown and imported foods after infant formula tainted with an industrial chemical killed six children and sickened 300,000 in China in 2008.

Zhong, his wife and daughter sit down to a typical dinner of steamed fish, two types of greens, mushrooms, pork, rice and sliced apples. Total cost, about 80 yuan ($12). Each month the family spends some 2,000 yuan ($307) on food — about 10 per cent of their income.

Yao, who left the countryside more than two decades ago, still eats like a peasant, filling up on cheap steamed buns and noodles and pinching every penny so that he can put his kids through school. For him, meat is a once-a-week treat, though he tries to make sure his children eat it more often.

As a migrant laborer, Yao has been able to skirt China's strict birth limits, having three kids instead of the two most rural families are limited to. But his migrant status means he must pay school fees himself.

A recent and routine lunch for Yao and his wife and children was a bowl of simple noodles with greens. Yao's ginger and garlic stall earns him about 2,000 yuan ($307) a month, of which about 600 yuan ($92) goes on food for his five-person family.

"I need to save money but I feel like I am already scraping the bottom of the barrel," he said. "At the same time, I know we have to feed ourselves and eat enough, otherwise our health is going to be affected."

A host of other factors are also blamed for food prices hikes in China and elsewhere in Asia, including too much money sloshing about the economy after stimulus policies that warded off the global recession, rising oil prices and shrinking land for cultivation because of pollution and encroachment by industry.

The UN Food and Agriculture Office's index of global prices for meat, cereals and dairy foods has surged 37 per cent in the first three months of 2011. In many Asian countries, that has translated into a 10 per cent increase in local food prices, which the Asian Development Bank estimates is enough to drag another 64 million people below the $1.25 a day poverty line.

Yet the changes in food and work preferences aren't all bad because they reflect the human and economic development taking place in China, said Scott Rozelle, an agricultural economist at Stanford University and an expert on China's food markets.

Rozelle says that China's scattered and small scale farms are becoming more consolidated and mechanised, which could eventually raise productivity, but the changes probably won't stop food prices from rising. Economic development involves both increases in prices and incomes, he says.

Higher food prices have in fact lifted lagging rural incomes. The per capita net income for rural Chinese grew faster than urban incomes last year, jumping 10 per cent to 5,919 yuan ($902).

Rural Chinese are "going from grinding poor to poor," said Rozelle, describing villages he's seen with new brick homes and gravel roads, where all the girls go to school and every family has a mobile phone.

But the changes feel painful for many urban dwellers, particularly retirees, civil servants and migrants, like Yao, whose incomes haven't kept pace. And the discontent that a widening gap between privileged and poor can generate deeply worries China's Communist leaders, who are mindful that the anti-Government protests that toppled Egypt's Government earlier this year were triggered in part by discontent over climbing food costs.

Yao says he envies people who can eat what they like without concern for cost, but tries not to dwell on it. "Yes, it's unfair," he said. "But I know I just have to keep going. I have to work hard and it will get better." Even those benefiting from China's rising prosperity such as Zhong, the Beijing architect, are concerned.

"Their incomes are not rising as fast so for them this is difficult," he said. "I think the Government needs to find a way to help them raise that sector's incomes too, and take care of them."

-- AP









With the conclusion of the sixth phase of polling in West Bengal, the curtains came down on the staggered assembly elections spanning five states. That the elections were largely peaceful and orderly goes to the Election Commission's credit. Conducting polls in trouble-prone states like West Bengal and Assam were expected to be challenging. Bengal in particular has a bad reputation for political violence. Months preceding the elections had seen clashes between Trinamool Congress and CPM cadre. Combine this with the Maoist problem, and conduct of peaceful polling in the state was never going to be easy.

But the EC has yet again shown why it's a key institution for safeguarding democracy in the country. Helped by the commission's meticulous planning and elaborate security arrangements, Bengal witnessed record turnouts. Great pains were taken to instil confidence among voters to exercise their franchise without fear or inhibitions. The last phase of polling in 14 Maoist-affected constituencies of Jangalmahal saw around one lakh central and state security personnel pressed into service. Armed with force multipliers like anti-landmine vehicles and surveillance equipment, including helicopters, vulnerable hamlets were identified and provisions for escorting voters to polling stations made. That despite some calls for poll boycotts, the red zone in West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia witnessed a combined turnout of 84.8% is cause for celebration.

Over the years, conduct of elections in India has undergone a sea change. Thanks to adoption of technology like EVMs and superior logistical management, the EC has turned elections into a fine art. The way it oversaw the latest assembly polls and the multi-pronged plans it still has to ensure foolproof counting of ballots are proof. That no political party can take the ballot for granted by strength of muscle power bears testimony to the power of our electoral process to bring about political change. Not surprisingly, in the aftermath of the pro-democracy movement in the Arab world, there's been talk in the West about seeking inputs from India's EC to help conduct elections in Egypt and Tunisia.

There is, of course, another side to the story. It's unfortunate that certain parts of the country have to be turned into security fortresses - virtual war zones - for voters to freely cast their votes. Whether it's Maoists in Bengal or insurgents in Kashmir, that such groups hold sway over certain sections and can therefore threaten elections point to a developmental and governance deficit in these areas. Meantime, political violence and distribution of cash and other material goods for votes raise questions about our democratic functioning. All of this necessitates introspection and further electoral reform. It also demands that elected politicians live up to voters' expectations by delivering good governance. Democracy, after all, is more than an electoral exercise, however well-conducted it may be.






Almost half of India's women are married before the age of 18. This startling statistic comes to light with the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau's recent study showing that 47% of Indian women between 20 and 24 years had been married off by that age. India's performance in preventing early marriages for girls is abysmal. Despite the legal marriageable age for women being 18, we fare worse than sub-Saharan Africa in this respect. Neighbouring countries show better records: only 24% of Pakistani women are married by 18 while the figure is 43% for war-torn Afghanistan. Like elsewhere, the predicament of women in India is rooted in cultural attitudes. Girls are seen both as liabilities, whose freedom could 'besmirch' family honour, and as burdens whose dowries must be paid early on. This is a self-perpetuating cycle. The more girls are herded into early domesticity, with few options to study, work or engage with the world independently, the more they're seen as weak and taxing beings whose 'place' in patriarchy must be settled fast.

There are ways to break this cycle. There must be extremely stringent implementation of laws against child marriage, with administration, police and NGOs working together to ensure this. Marriage registrations must be the norm. Efforts must be made to alter attitudes within families and communities by providing incentives to keep girls in school, as is being done in Nitish Kumar's Bihar. Study and vocational training options should be tailor-made for girl children, who typically perform considerable domestic labour even before marriage. Protecting girls from early marriages will help reduce maternal and infant mortality while enabling them to lead fulfilling lives. It will also create a strong new generation with educated, grown-up mothers prioritising literacy and health for their own daughters.








Exit polls have predicted a close finish in the Tamil Nadu assembly elections and the outcomes differ from poll to poll. The confusion regarding the winner is likely to be over by Friday noon, and the contours of the new government in the state will be revealed soon after. But the close contest, which is rare in Tamil Nadu, is an indication that there isn't much that distinguishes the two alliances in the fray. There has been a convergence of agendas offered by the two parties leading the coalitions, which reflects a political culture that is unhealthy for democracy in the state.

Clearly, the days of any single political party dominating the electoral landscape of the state seems to be over. Tamil Nadu has seen rapid economic growth in recent times and its impact is felt in social, economic and political relations. Old forms of overarching political loyalties built around regional identity or linguistic pride are crumbling. New platforms centred on more narrowly-defined identities like sub-castes, communities and even region are emerging.

The numerous single caste-centric parties and fringe outfits like Kongu Nadu Munnetra Kazhagam, which claims to represent the interests of peasant castes of western Tamil Nadu, are an indication of this political churning. The established political parties recognise the rapid fracturing of their vote base and have sought to coopt these outfits by striking seat deals with them. The alliances so built are merely coalitions of convenience and there is no ideological glue that binds these parties. That explains the ease with which political parties cross over from one alliance to another in the state.

The absence of any big political idea that appeals to a large cross-section of the population has yielded to a new politics of competitive welfarism. The manifestos of the two major parties, the DMK and the AIADMK, offered a slew of free goods ranging from cheap rice to laptops, mixer-grinders and fans to voters in the event of gaining office. Free or cheap rice has always been a part of political manifestos and helped many a party win elections. So has been the promise of free/cheap electricity and education. But the promise of free consumer items is a new trend, which seeks to subvert the relationship between the government and the citizen.

In the "welfare state" vision of TN parties, voters are seen more as consumers than as citizens during the poll season. These parties approach elections as a business transaction where the voter needs to be wooed like a customer during a festival sale. So, they promise to spend public funds not just on essentials like food, education and other physical infrastructure, but also on a variety of consumer goods. There is, of course, a case for the state to subsidise food, public education and transport. And it's the right of the citizen to expect the government to provide certain welfare measures, at least for the poorest of the poor.

A freebie is not a right but a largesse provided by a benevolent ruler. The freebies politics also reinforces a feudal culture, which maintains a vertical hierarchy between the ruler and the ruled. The ruler, no doubt, gets to spend public resources at his discretion to promote himself. This only perpetuates the cult of the leader, which has been the bane of Tamil Nadu politics since the 1970s. The result is a subtle subversion of election as an occasion to discuss citizen's rights and the record of the government in addressing them, to an opportunity to "bribe" voters. The cash-for-vote trend reported during the election is just an extension of the logic of treating voters as consumers. Needless to say, it undermines the idea of democracy.

This disturbing trend of bribing voters - with cash to consumer goods - is an outcome of the ideological stalemate in Tamil Nadu politics. Both the DMK and the AIADMK are offshoots of a political mobilisation that had a radical social agenda. The Dravidian movement drastically altered power relations within the state and forced even its opponents to take note of the social upsurge and change. However, the radical social agenda of the Dravidian movement didn't run its full course. Influential non-Brahmin castes benefited from the political churning, but the condition of many backward caste groups, especially Dalits, didn't improve much. There is, of course, a micro politics reflected, for example, in the mobilisation of Dalits in political and cultural arenas. The political mainstream has been working hard to suppress, subsume or coopt these radical upsurges.

The freebies culture is a manifestation of the political mainstream's attempt to cover up its failings in making democracy an inclusive experience. It helps avoid a debate on the politics of the rights of individuals and marginalised groups and rides the wave of a culture of consumption to preserve the current conservative agendas. A politics that will confront the freebies culture and expose it for what it is alone can claim to represent the oppositional space in the state. Unfortunately, none of the major political parties seems willing or has the imagination to force a radical shift in state politics. In the absence of that, the state will have a government and an opposition that may derive legitimacy from having participated in the electoral process, but with little understanding of democratic values.







Hindi words like keema and aloo aren't the only new terminology that'll now be kosher for Scrabble players. Among the 3,000 or so words added to the list of those permissible in the game are some spawned by the internet - grrl and myspace, for instance - and others from languages such as Hawaiian. No doubt the wailing and gnashing of teeth have already started among language purists. They will cite a dilution of the game's essence, a weakening of its ability to inculcate English language skills. Ironically, they will be lamenting the loss of something that never truly existed.

Most languages are hybrid creations to some extent: words lopped off here with the passage of centuries, others added there to encompass something created by new technology. Not to forget half-breed words and phrases born of the mating of one language with another new one entirely. That's how any language - and by extension, society and culture - evolves. To remain static is to become stagnant. And all of this is particularly true of English. As the one truly global language, it has found within it - as it must, to have relevance in the many societies in which it is used - the scope for adopting words from those cultures. From Latin and French roots through the numerous subcontinental words woven into the language over centuries of Empire, to the jargon spawned by the internet today - English has come a long way.

So when Scrabble adds, say, Hindi words, it isn't debasing the English language. It is staying true to its essence, which is its ability to grow. Perhaps these words aren't yet in English dictionaries. What of it? Dictionaries follow popular culture and the evolution of language, not the other way around. So go ahead, place 'gobi' on the board and rack up the points.








Inclusion of newfangled words - which have never been part of English - into the official reference for Scrabble players lays open the possibility of any random sequence of letters being sanctified as English. The move undermines the very language Scrabble is played in, and the implications are disheartening.

Scrabble is more than a game. Nearly four million games are sold around the world annually. Of these, parents encourage children to play Scrabble because it helps them learn or improve their English. Adults too play the game to refine their own language skills. Scrabble's success lies in making learning fun. But that educative function, so engaging to young and old alike, is being sacrificed. Some words included are not just slang, but also misspellings. Besides sowing confusion, this trend will lead to pointless duplication of perfectly adequate words. What's wrong with 'girl'? Why must there also be 'grrl'?

That Indian words like gobi and aloo can also be used shouldn't be celebrated as a sign of our soft power. Rather, it signifies the undermining of the English language, which has perfectly good equivalents for the terms borrowed from us. Relying on Hindi words can make people not learn or use the English variants. That's counterproductive for Indians especially. The most productive sectors of our economy depend on our being able to speak English, and Scrabble is a good, fun way to hone our skills. Grammar too goes out in the expanded lexicon. Words like 'myspace' and 'wiki' are proper nouns, yet find a place in Scrabble. English is a means of communication between diverse peoples the world over. The more it's debased, stretched beyond recognition to include alien words, the less it will be able to serve this function.






The BMW is labelled 'the ultimate driving machine'. The 1931 Bugatti Royale Kellner Coupe fetched the highest price ever for a car, $8.7 million, in 1987. At $1.7 million, the Bugatti Veyron tops the list of the world's most expensive legally available street cars. James Bond immortalised the Aston Martin without needing a licence to bill anybody. Our own Abhishek got a birthday Bentley from Pa; the Big B's fleet has Range Rovers and Rollses, though strangely there's no Lamboo-ghini.

All these boy-toys pale compared to what Subhash Shrihora has landed. At Rs 6 crore (including delivery, taxes and duties), it may cost loose change, but this NRI is the first Indian to buy the world's first commercial flying car. He had booked it in 2009, shortly after this techno marvel completed its first successful flight.

The US-made coupe with foldable wings is called Transition. Aptly. "By pressing just one button, the car turns into an aircraft. I have started taking flying lessons," said the Gujarati businessman with an excitement that rivalled the rush he must have felt when he slurped on his first malai-kesar-pista smoothie at Chills, Frills, Thrills on Ahmedabad's CG road. Our Subhash-bhai has travelled far since then, owning a farmhouse on SG road, and a major stake in the UK-based Urok consultancy firm.

As in many instances, historic events are born in a fit of rage. In 2008, Mrs Shrihora and their 6-month-old 'babo' were stopped from boarding a Delhi-Ahmedabad flight due to a technical glitch. Furious, Suresh-bhai sued the airline for Rs 21crore. Then, he looked back in hangar, and booked the flying car so that they would never be short-changed on short-haul flights. The rest is headlines.

Till the Shahs catch up, Shri Shrihora will be the envy of other rich Gujaratis. It sure beats Penthouse Patel inviting Dupleix Dinesh-bhai for a spin in his red convertible, saying expansively, "Chaalo, maari Ferrari ma farva jajiye."

'Chalti ka naam gaadi' has now become 'Udti ka naam gaadi', but it won't end Shri Shrihora's commuting headaches. Stuck in peak-hour gridlock, he can't 'press just one button' and fly off above the common fray. Even if such a stunt were possible with the Transition, can you imagine the maze of government, quasi-government and backdoor channels which would have to be involved to gain the permissions for such cars to do so?

A Murthy's Law operates in India by which every techno advance is defeated by the environment in which it operates. Think of a super-specialty hospital, and then think of the clerk at its case-processing counter. Shri Shrihora can build a helipad at his farmhouse, but he can never dream of driving his fancy car just outside his ornate gates. The traffic on SG road is a nightmare because, like so many of our highways, this one is not a route, but has become a destination thanks to its mall-to-mall blandishments. Urbane Amdavadis drive up in Toyotas. Funds-flushed farmers from the surrounding villages do so in their tractor-trailers. To adapt the rueful axiom, 'What you gain on your swing through in the skies, you lose at the roundabouts.'

Still, it's good to think of the future possibilities. Once the technology and the rules are in place, you can jump signals at whim, and fly off, waving a cheery ta-ta to the cop sauntering up with outstretched challan and palm. The day will also come when ordinary Citizen Jai can own an amphibious car; again 'press just one button', and it will turn into a speedboat skimming over the monsoon-drowned roads.

Rejoice, the end of our woes is near. Welcome to the world of flying cars and grounded planes.

* * *

Alec Smart said: "The war ends. Bengal celebrates Didi-Day."







The trial of Tahawwur Hussain Rana, the Canadian businessman who used his Chicago immigration business to provide cover for 26/11 scout David Headley, attempted an unusual defence for his actions. He claimed Headley had told him he needed cover for espionage work he was doing on behalf of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

If Rana had known Headley was actually preparing the ground for a Lashkar-e-Tayyeba assault on Mumbai, his defence argues, his actions would have been different. The presiding judge has already rejected the argument: under US law, what Rana did was illegal irrespective of whom he thought he was doing it for. However, a second chargesheet implicates a mysterious "Major Iqbal" as a co-conspirator in the 26/11 case.

This distinction, however, is of great interest to the Indian authorities. New Delhi has sought high and low for evidence to show conclusively that the ISI, or at least elements of the same, were involved in planning or preparing the ground for the 26/11 attack.

This would complete the forensic circle show that the ISI has actively helped the Lashkar and that the 26/11 was, thus, a proven act of State-sponsored terrorism. Rana is still expected to testify about the ISI information he was fed.

And the second chargesheet could generate more heat against the Pakistani military.

This matters because India does not really expect Pakistan to take action, let alone investigate thoroughly, the links between the ISI and 26/11. What it can hope is that this will be exposed in a court in a third country.

This would add credibility to the Indian charge and make it more difficult for Pakistan to maintain the myth of its terror relationship. Perhaps more tangibly it would strengthen another, related case being taken up by the relatives of America's victims of 26/11. They are seeking legal redress from anyone behind the attack, including the ISI and Lashkar.

This is important. A similar case in the Lockerbie terror attack, led a US judge to force Washington to sanction and then force Libya to cough up the bombers. The judge involved also forced the US intelligence agencies to provide all the evidence they had against Libya.

The executive was trapped by the court judgement and the Lockerbie victims were the beneficiaries. A similar gambit could be played out with regard to 26/11 if the Rana case goes in the right direction and the 26/11 class action suit follows in its wake.

It remains, however, a matter of sadness that New Delhi continues to depend on the systems and processes of third countries to bring to justice those who perpetrated terror against India.




Would you rather be blind than be fat? Apparently, there are many among us who would rather lose their sight than be seen with a few kilos about them, according to a report on how obesity is actually contagious.

This will be a source of terror to the adipose-challenged. We know that we cannot chose our relatives, but what happens when one of our colleagues is a little on the portly side? We certainly don't want the fat genes leaping on to us, so should we shun the said individual?

Now it may transpire that you yourself have a little more weight about you than warrants good health. So, how would you like it if people ran helter-skelter when you get into the lift? Or your spouse was to take off to another room fearing that your fat may become his or her fat?

Before the fat really gets into the fire, let us tell you that it is quite fine to have a bit of lining on you. There are also studies which show that women with a bit of fat on them are more likely to survive in harsh conditions like a famine.

Now such an eventuality is not likely to occur in most of our lives, so it would be better to hit the treadmill or cross-trainer without delay. But, heaven forbid, the person heaving next to you may be a little on the healthy side, as we Indians so love saying.

Should you then shun any weight-reducing exercise for fear of contagion? This would perhaps lead to an outbreak of obesity all around. So let us not make any excuses for allowing ourselves a few inches more, and blame it one the man or woman next door.

What we really need is another study to tell us that we are as fat as we feel. All right, on the ground, hup, two, three, four…





So the Supreme Court has stayed the earlier Allahabad high court decision on the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi case. You think it's the right step?

What's Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi?

Don't tell me you're unaware of one of independent India's biggest communal quarrel?

Does this have something to do with Gujarat?

Er, well, not directly but...

Oh, this is that old Ayodhya incident!

Yes! That's right.

Well, I'll be honest. I don't think on his return from exile Ram should have tested Sita with that agni pariksha.

Dimwit, I'm talking about the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 by Hindu fundamentalist mobs claiming that a temple be built on this site that they consider the birthplace of Ram.

Must have been very strange and surprising to fight over something so old?

That's exactly the words used by the Supreme Court to describe the high court's verdict in September 2010 to divide the site up into three among the disputing parties considering that no one asked for a trifurcation.

Hindus, Muslims... Who was the third party?

Er, the god Ram, I believe.

Do say: Was the BJP involved?
Don't say: What's the BJP?





The autopsy report revealed that Manoj Kumar Gupta died a slow, painful death. There were 32 injuries on his body. One of his arms was fractured. He had been administered electric shocks and his hair had been violently pulled out in clumps.

And in a display of particular brazenness, Gupta's assailants took him, barely alive, to a police station at 5 am, demanding the police charge him with "hooliganism". Only two hours later did the police take Gupta to hospital, where he was declared as already dead.

A graduate of the elite Institute of Technology, Benares Hindu University (IT-BHU), class of 1979, Gupta was an Uttar Pradesh government engineer who refused a "donation" towards the annual birthday celebrations of chief minister Mayawati.

His murder could have easily become a statistic irrelevant to the India beyond Auraiya, 200 km southwest of state capital Lucknow. The man who dumped Gupta's body at the police station was ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) legislator Shekhar Tiwari, who knew Dibiyar Singh, the station house officer.

But last week, a trial judge in Lucknow convicted ten men, including Tiwari and Singh, to life imprisonment for Gupta's murder. The story behind it must be told now because it reveals three important things to emerging India.

One, the system we frequently criticise and abandon, can work. Two, we must make it work. Three, if it works once, it will again.

So, what worked? Old-fashioned determination, courage and networks of citizens emboldened by previous success and united by a desire to see justice done.

A lawyer in Lucknow braved death threats to bring the case to trial. Another lawyer in Delhi defended the case in the Supreme Court for free. Two IIM graduates in Mysore — who once did not know the difference between an FIR and a chargesheet — helped the family get legal help.

"I am just so happy right now," said Anjali Mullati, alumni of IIM (Lucknow), batch of 1993, when I called her in Mysore, where she runs a finance-education company with her husband H Jaishankar (IIM Bangalore, 1991).

Anjali and Jaishankar connected Gupta's grieving but resolute family to Indra Bhushan Singh, a combative Lucknow lawyer known for defending those who can't access legal services. When the case reached the Supreme Court on four occasions, Kamani Jaiswal, one of India's top lawyers, appeared for the Guptas gratis.

"This has been one of the most difficult cases of my life," Singh, a lawyer for 35 years, told me. "Intense pressure was brought on witnesses, counsel and they (the accused) challenged everything; we had to fight simultaneously on many fronts. Every order passed by the trial judge in Lucknow was challenged in the Allahabad High Court and Supreme Court."

Initially, BSP supremo Mayawati backed Tiwari, terming the allegation that her MLA was extorting money "an opposition slander campaign to malign me and my party". India often jeers at the opportunism of politicians, but mass action by opposition parties helped. There was rioting in Auriya, trains were stopped in many UP districts and more than 1,000 protestors arrested across the state.

Gupta's family was not wanting in fortitude. Son Prateesh, a software engineer with Hewlett Packard in Bangalore, resigned his job and moved to Lucknow to pursue the case. Gupta's wife Shashi, locked up by the killers in a room while her husband was tortured at their Auriya home, was equally determined. Her husband's engineering-school batchmates asked Anjali to suggest a lawyer. When she recommended Singh, the Gupta family forwarded his name to the UP government, which hired him as public prosecutor. By now, Mayawati had lost her bravado.

Singh was closely involved with Anjali and Jaishankar through their public-service initiative, the Manjunath Shanmugham Trust, set up after the murder of Manjunath Shanmugham, an IIM Lucknow alumni and Indian Oil Corporation officer killed on November 19, 2005, by a petrol pump owner adulterating fuel in the remote northern UP district of Lakhimpur-Kheri.

Backed by a swell of nationwide support, Singh ensured the first conviction in Shanmugham's murder within nine months. An appeal by the accused was dismissed in the Allahabad High Court. It is now in the Supreme Court, where Jaiswal will represent the Shanmughams.

"They (the trust) have done a fabulous job," said Jaiswal. "They also help build the commitment of the lawyers in such cases, otherwise it becomes just another brief. After a while, you just give up."

Jaiswal said the commitment of Anjali and Jaishankar and numerous other IIM alumni was critical to the Shanmugham case. "Think about it, the parents live in south India, the murder was in Lakhimpuri Kheri," she said. "It's only with the backing of this group that the Manjunath case has come this far."

Singh has a record of defending those who cannot get legal representation. In 1994, he won the release of 36 women languishing in UP jails for between 20 and 26 years. This legal struggle became the subject of a film, Barred for Life, made by the British Council in 1995 and still played at human-rights courses held by the council worldwide.

As Singh was preparing to fight the case in January 2009, Gupta's IT-BHU batchmates, doubtful if justice could be done, started an online petition addressed to the prime minister, requesting "an independent CBI inquiry, free from any undue political influence".

They said: "We are the common men and women of India, who believe in the idea of India as a superpower of the future, a moral and spiritual benchmark for nations, a land where truth and justice always prevail. We are confident you will restore our faith…"

That faith was indeed restored — not by the prime minister, but by the people themselves.  






Spring has come early this year to the Arab world. A change of climate has awakened West Asia from the stupor of singular leaderships. A new dawn of democracy and freedom is sprouting from Morocco to Oman. Or so we are told.

Weather forecasting is a tricky business. Future projections can be inaccurate.  Fortune telling in West Asia is no less illusory than a mirage in the Arabian desert.

Democratic pluralism is never a foregone conclusion. Challenges to the old order can't guarantee linear outcomes. Although Hosni Mubarak is gone in Egypt, the state apparatus he built has certainly not. Yemeni and Libyan tribalism will not disappear with regime change. Sunni-Shia sectarianism will remain a defining feature of Bahrain, Iraq and Lebanon. Religious minorities will fret about governance by Islamist parties, moderate or otherwise. Factionalism will continue tearing Palestinian unity apart.

Free and fair elections alone won't erase the steep divisions in Arab societies. Indeed, they will probably exacerbate them. Shorn of feelings of national solidarity, narrow sectional interests may dictate voting patterns. A crucial piece of the puzzle is missing. Without it, the Arab countries will have the edifice of democracy but not genuine representative institutions.

That crucial piece is secularism, a principle which girds most vibrant democracies; the belief that the State should exist separately from religion or religious beliefs. That governments shouldn't privilege one religion over another nor derive policy from a particular religious source. They should be effectively blind to someone's religious persuasion.

Secularism is a misunderstood concept in much of West Asia. Arabs confuse secularism with atheism, understanding it to mean freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion. More damaging is secularism's association with the past regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, both known for their containment of Islamist movements.

Egypt is debating the role of religion in society, as it considers a new constitution. Article 2 of the current constitution, introduced in 1980, defines Islam as the state religion. While Coptic Christians demand its abrogation, the overwhelming Muslim opinion support its retention.

The sectarian-rooted democracy of Lebanon and Iraq reserves the highest offices for representatives from certain religious communities. They have achieved a fragile social peace at the expense of nationhood. In the words of Kahlil Gibran: "Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation."

Pew Research Center provides ample evidence of the benefits of separation of religion and state. It showed in a 2009 survey that liberal secular democracies exhibited the least government restrictions and public hostility to minority religions. Arab countries, (as well as?) Iran and Turkey demonstrated the diametric opposite. Secularism protected minority beliefs; integration of religion and government is a harbinger of civil strife.

This study also revealed that many types of secular democracies preserved religious diversity. Take France. It traditionally opposes any state religion or overt displays of religious symbols. Yet, religious minorities are allowed to flourish. Or England. Even though the Church of England is the established church, a wide array of faiths enjoy near unlimited freedom. There is no single model of democratic secularism provided tolerance is respected.

Flexible or not, nurturing secularism in the Arab world is a tall order. Like democracy, it is a process, not an event. Secular democracy requires a transformation of cultures and mentalities. This will not be easy even in the best of times. Yet, it is the only ideal that can prevent the onset of a severe Arab winter.

(Fadi Hakura is is an associate fellow with the British think tank Chatham House. The views expressed by the author are personal. This is part of the Religion and Public Space series, in collaboration with the UN Alliance of Civilisations and its Global Experts project.)



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






Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's forthcoming trip to China is not just another visit from Islamabad to Beijing. It foregrounds the shift in the post-bin laden discourse engineered by Beijing to help Pakistan withstand the blows against its reputation and conduct. At a time when the international community is scrutinising Pakistan and raising unpleasant questions after Osama bin Laden's safe house was discovered in the genteel environs of Abbottabad, the one country that has come out overtly in Islamabad's (and Rawalpindi's) defence is China. China has declared not only its sympathy for Pakistan but also its displeasure with the US raid that killed bin Laden and purportedly violated Pakistan's sovereignty. Pakistan, Beijing specified, has sacrificed and suffered a lot in its efforts against terror.

Therefore, when Gilani begins his four-day China visit on May 17, behind the conspicuous economic agreements and cooperation on civilian nuclear energy, the strategic implications of the trip are evident. For, this is not just another turn in the Sino-Pak relationship, but the solidification of a new strategic alliance, pushing it beyond a longstanding "all-weather" friendship. It may be far-fetched — and premature — to suggest that Pakistan is in strategic defiance of the US, that it is betting on China long-term in the belief that US power in the region is on the wane. Nonetheless, the leaked contents of a meeting in Kabul in late April are revealing: during a visit to Afghanistan, Gilani offered Afghan President Hamid Karzai the choice between the US and the West on one hand and itself and China on the other. Gilani's choice is believed to reflect the views of his army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Even before the circumstances of bin Laden's death raised questions about Pakistan's commitment to regional security, Kayani made little secret that he has prioritised groundwork to increase Pakistan's dominance in Afghanistan's affairs, as the US prepares to lighten its military footprint in that country.

None of this should surprise. What does surprise is the drift in the Indian government on national security. The new great game pivoted over Afghanistan has serious security implications for India. It demands from New Delhi a more focused response — in addressing defence capabilities and in building international partnerships to bring stability, prosperity and equilibrium to the Af-Pak region. Hopefully, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Afghanistan will galvanise more creative diplomacy.






Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who scrapped the MLA Local Area Development Fund (MLALAD), has now asked the Centre to make alternative arrangements to implement projects for its parliamentary variant — the MPLAD — in the state. Kumar says the reasons are technical. The MLALAD has been replaced by the Chief Minister's Local Area Development Scheme, under which a body of engineers will be in charge of executing development works. Thereby the Rural Works Department — earlier in charge of carrying out projects proposed under the MLALAD and MPLAD — has been absolved of such duties.

Kumar's proposal hardly suggests a game of political one-upmanship, of the 40 MPs in Bihar 32 are from the ruling NDA. Instead of turning this into a limiting controversy of an NDA-ruled state government resisting a Central scheme, this should be seen as an opportunity to open a much-needed dialogue on these contentious schemes. The local area development schemes were both introduced in 1993 to give legislators a stake in their constituencies and to enable them to directly and urgently respond to some of their needs. But from the beginning they invited concern whether an elected representative should be participating in such executive tasks. Also, the schemes have been wracked by allegations of corruption, irregularity and indiscretion. The criticism notwithstanding, the Centre recently decided to more than double the MPLAD corpus to Rs 5 crore per year for an MP — in a clear indication that it is not keen on revoking it.

However, Bihar has started a debate by doing away with the MLALAD and substituting it with a restructured development fund. And now that Kumar has brought the status of the MPLAD within the purview of this debate, Parliament and the Centre must respond in a forward-looking way.






Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has constituted a group of ministers as part of an exercise to better communicate his government's policies and actions to the public. The members all belong to the Congress party and the group will be chaired by Home Minister P. Chidambaram. They will meet every afternoon, so that a better and presumably current brief will be prepared as an aid for officials. More importantly, a member of the GoM will brief the media every day. This is the closest the UPA, in its first and now second government, has come to possessing a spokesperson. If this signals an end to the extraordinary reticence the UPA government imposed on itself, it's a welcome development.

If a perception of drift has settled over the UPA government —and the national security implications of that are discussed above — it's in large part because it has made no effort to stay on the message. It has failed not just to engage with the daily news cycle, but also to articulate real-time what the thinking and planning in the government is, and thereby shape political discourse. Instead, it has been left to Congress spokespersons to go into combat daily, an obviously inadequate substitute as the party and government cannot overlap completely in a single-party regime, let alone a coalition, and to ministers in their individual capacity. The arrangement, which has been of the UPA's own choosing, has handicapped it from taking credit where it has been due and also from fire-fighting its way out of controversy — whether it be to provide clarity on the 2G investigations, or lower temperatures over the Telangana agitation. And given the UPA's unique party-government relations, this arrangement has also provided fodder for political speculation.

In any case, governments need to be articulate not just to feed the media cycle and to be better equipped to go into combat with television anchors. Regularly accounting for their plans and actions is a democratic transaction governments conduct with the people. It keeps them more transparent and accountable, and in turn it imposes on them more exacting standards for performance. A daily briefing is a good start.








The perceived value of land remains the most contentious issue in India's political economy today. The farmers' agitation in western Uttar Pradesh seeking higher compensation for land surrendered for urban clusters along the Yamuna Expressway project is but a small manifestation of this. Humans have a primordial emotional connect with land and property. So it is not surprising that a sense of collective grievance and resentment builds up from time to time as rural folk agitate over the perceived future value of land surrendered for industrial and urban use. This process has got further complicated in the past decade as global money, invested generously in India, has inflated land values, thus creating an illusion of ever growing wealth from land use. Everyone wants to partake of this breathtaking explosion in dividends from land. This will remain a big political economy challenge in the years to come.

Of course, the political class has also realised over time that farmers will have to be given a long-term stake when agricultural land is converted for urban/ industrial use. Not surprisingly, the states which are proactively pushing for rapid development are the ones which have so far come up with a strong policy framework to compensate farmers on a long-term basis.

In this regard, both UP and Haryana have evolved reasonably good land acquisition policies which many other states are keen to emulate. A closer study of the Haryana land acquisition policy shows how the state government learnt very quickly to pre-empt potential resentment among farmers over selling land to either the public sector or private companies.

The minimum floor price for acquiring land was a mere Rs 2.5 lakh per acre in Haryana until 2005. Later, when private companies began acquiring land for special economic zones and other purposes, the minimum floor price went up to Rs 22 lakh per acre in 2007 and increased further to Rs 35 lakh per acre last year. This just shows how the value of land is going up in negotiated settlements between farmers and private companies. Even the public sector company Nuclear Power Corporation of India has offered a floor price of Rs 45 lakh per acre for land it wants to acquire for a nuclear power plant in Haryana's Fatehabad district.

The Yamuna Expressway project from Greater Noida to Agra is also the first major attempt by any state government at creating new urban dwellings along the highway. Land along the way has been acquired from farmers through negotiated settlements at prices ranging from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 80 lakh per acre. The UP government has also emulated Haryana's policy of giving farmers an annual payment of Rs 20,000 per acre for 33 years, besides a one-time settlement price for land surrendered. Also, a small portion of the developed land is to go back to the farmer's family for housing purposes.

These packages, in some ways, reflect the manner in which land acquisition policy is evolving within a democratic framework to drive India's capitalist development. The political class has well understood that land is a very emotive issue which has the potential to overthrow governments in elections.

In this regard, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been extremely candid in admitting the lessons he had learnt from his experience in Singur where the farmers' agitation led to the Tatas abandoning their small-car project. Singed by that experience, he now says it is important to avoid acquiring fertile multi-crop land, and to have a full consensus amongst landowners over the compensation and rehabilitation package.

Mamata Banerjee perhaps understood this better than Buddhadeb when she invoked the fears of the farmers in Singur and Nandigram during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections which gave the shivers to the Left Front for the first time in more than 30 years. It is not without reason that the politically wily leader of the Trinamool Congress kept insisting that the amendments to the primitive Land Acquisition Act of 1894, which was on top of the agenda for UPA 2, be put off till the current Bengal assembly elections.

That meant putting on hold a vastly improved land acquisition legislation which takes away government discretion to acquire land and mandates that industry directly negotiate prices with farmers who must be adequately compensated for giving up their agriculture land. Even the improved land acquisition legislation had left scope for compulsory government acquisition for at least 30 per cent of the landmass to ensure contiguity. The Centre was willing to bring this down to 20 per cent so that at least 80 per cent of the land is acquired by direct negotiation between industry and farmers.

Mamata's opposition stemmed from the fact that the Singur agitation was led by owners of less than 15 per cent of the total land. The rest had been acquired through negotiated settlements. It was Mamata's implicit commitment to the minority Singur farmers, who led the agitation, that the amended law would not be weighed against minority farmers' interests in any way.

Assuming she comes to power with a significant majority, Mamata will have to take a stand on how the land acquisition legislation should be amended. The Land Acquisition Act cannot remain hostage to electoral politics for ever. For if 90 per cent of the people want a negotiated settlement and only a few insist on not going along, there must be some democratic way of resolving this. The political class must show vision in this regard. Mamata would do well to make her stand clear on the land acquisition legislation after the Bengal elections results are out.

Another critical aspect of the new land acquisition bill that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is looking at is how narrowly should acquisition for "public purpose" be defined. The current legislation of 1894 vintage defines "public purpose" very broadly. Almost everything can come under the ambit of public purpose, even if the government acquires land to hand over to industry.

However, the proposed amendment seeks to define "public purpose" very narrowly, only to include land acquired to provide public goods such as roads, transport infrastructure, schools, colleges, etc. But what if these facilities are being built under a public-private partnership framework? (The Yamuna Expressway, for instance, is a PPP project.) These are tricky questions and must be finessed into the new legislation.

The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'







The American incursion into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden has created a terrible dilemma for Islamabad. Should it react to the incursion in relation to bin Laden's death, congratulating the US for taking him out, or also agitate the grave violation of Pakistan's sovereignty by an ally that chose to act deliberately unilaterally?

It took Pakistan more than a week to come up with a response that cannot be walked. The first Foreign Office statement welcomed bin Laden's death and called the incursion a stated policy of the US to take out the al-Qaeda chief whenever and wherever he was found. There was no word about Pakistan's stated policy.

The second FO statement focused more on the American intrusion than the killing of bin Laden. But it came only after President Asif Zardari had written an op-ed in The Washington Post praising the American operation without a word about its illegality. In focusing on the American intrusion, the second FO statement followed by the presser by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and the military's statement after the corps commanders' meeting were in deep contrast to Zardari's May 3 article.

While the op-ed, fast-tracked since it appeared right on the heels of the May 2 incursion, was embarrassing, appearing as it did under the byline of the supreme commander of the armed forces, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani stood up in Parliament eight days after the incursion and, speaking in English, warned external actors against undertaking any such action in the future.

The speech was in keeping with the FO/ military line but gave no specifics in terms of what military and non-military responses were being formulated. The leader of the opposition, the PMLN's Chaudhry Nisar Khan, tore Gilani asunder. The PMLN is now in the process of formulating its own response to the incursion and what it thinks the government should do. At the minimum it has rejected the military's inquiry committee and called for a judicial commission.

The MQM has come up with 17 questions and wants a national referendum to get the answers. The questionnaire implicitly and explicitly hits out at the government and the military, and yet the party has also rejoined the government. The day Gilani spoke in Parliament, the mood was far from sombre and it did not appear like a House facing a major national crisis.

Nor does it seem like the civilian government has much to go on beyond the speech prepared for the PM. In fact, instead of calling for a commission of inquiry to look into the intelligence lapse as also the incursion, the PM tried to put the blame on the media for creating an artificial divide between the civil and military sides of the power configuration.

Well, that divide is real and it is the primary reason for Pakistan's inability to make its responses not just known but credible. The inability to do so is a most dangerous abdication of responsibility, one that could cost the state dearly.

This crisis was a good opportunity for the civilian enclave to right the civil-military imbalance but the opportunity has already been lost. It was, and remains, important for Pakistan to agitate the incursion. The civilian government, by not doing that, has allowed the military to get into the driver's seat again. There is still time to do that because the military itself has failed to do anything beyond issuing rhetorical warnings against any future incursion.

There is always space between the two extremes of quitting and maximum response. Pakistan's sovereignty has been twice violated: once by bin Laden, a foreigner hiding in Pakistan and with his affiliates waging war against the Pakistani state, and then by the US, supposedly an ally. But while Pakistan is fighting al-Qaeda and its affiliates to re-establish its sovereignty, it has failed to do that vis-a-vis the US. There is an urgent need to ensure that the issue of bin Laden's presence does not get conflated with the incursion in a way as to deflect the attention completely from the illegality of the US action.

It is important for Pakistan's civilian principals to take the issue to the United Nations and place this incursion on the agenda. Far from an increase, diplomatic and other cooperation with the US needs to be reduced. There are a number of non-military responses that can, and must, be generated. The operation, if conducted jointly, would have been more acceptable as has happened in many other cases involving al-Qaeda members. But the US chose to cross many red lines and the onus of re-establishing the lines lies squarely on Pakistan. If this is not done, and Zardari's op-ed in the Post has already reduced space for generating the correct response, Pakistan could find itself at the short end of the American stick again. At the same time it is crucial to find out if there was any secret agreement between Washington and Islamabad that allowed the former unilateral action inside Pakistan in case it located bin Laden.

But a well thought-out response would only come if the government can (a) establish its control over the military and (b) generate national consensus on the issue. Neither has happened, nor is likely to.

The writer is a contributing editor with 'The Friday Times', Lahore. The views are his own







Some conclusions look obvious after travelling through West Bengal in the last week of the election campaign. One, that we are guilty of exaggerating the Left's brutalities and understating its intellectual failure to comprehend a modernising society's hunger for upward mobility. Two, that by presuming that the people of this state would be grateful for blessing them with filled bellies, the Left Front has also been guilty of greatly undermining the entrepreneurship of Bengali people and thereby strengthening the terrible stereotyping of them as lazy, unambitious, non-entrepreneurial. Nothing could be more unfair to an intelligent, politically aware people who, just like the Malayalis and Punjabis, both considered more entrepreneurial, do very well when they go out to work in other parts of the country, and indeed the world. Just look at how Bengalis dominate the world of media, both news and entertainment, marketing and advertising, IT and banking. The Left's most fatal blunder lies in underestimating this aspirational yearning, in spite of the fact that the remarkable mandate they got in 2006 (defying 29 years of anti-incumbency) emanated from a new promise of growth and industrialisation.

You would expect leaders of the Left to disagree vehemently with this. But it is surprising when that disagreement comes from Gautam Deb, the Left Front's minister for housing and its rising star and showman. Surprising also because among all the Left Front leaders you meet, with the exception of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, he, the builder of Rajarhat township in Kolkata, is the most candid and realistic. Just an hour earlier, we saw him ask a rally of the faithful that filled the main square in Purulia a telling question: in 2009, if five of our seven voters left us, who do we blame except ourselves? He feeds our very hungry group Monaco and Bourbon biscuits with tea at Purulia's newly built PWD circuit house and elaborates on this soul-searching. "In the 2009 elections," he says, "there were three slogans: defeat the Congress, keep the BJP out and set up a third front government and some particular leader's name was also mentioned as its prime minister." Then, his eyes taking the entire audience in its grave sweep through his MaxMara glasses, he tells you what bombed: "The third slogan failed entirely. We were not able to convince people anywhere that we had an alternative." That is why, he still thinks, an assembly vote may be different though the Left has to "make very deep introspection. Aberrations have come in. Communists have to again learn to behave like Communists." But that is where his ideological immune system strikes back. You offer to him your basic hypothesis, the Left's inability to move on from subsistence to aspiration, and he makes philosophically the most stunning claim you have heard in a political campaign, and ironical that it happens to be spoken in Bengal, supposedly the fount of all intellect in India. The reason his party continued to get re-elected and is now on the ropes, he says, is that "for 34 years, the heightened political consciousness of the Bengali people was not adulterated by materialistic temptations". Now, has anybody ever heard a more convoluted, cynical and outdated definition of an innocent, virtuous and basic human instinct called aspiration?

Purulia is in fact a fascinating place for us to start a discussion on hope and aspiration. Lack of rain and groundwater (because of laterite bedrock, as Deb explains) renders farming a part-time avocation. The few coal mines are hopelessly rundown. The percentage of BPL population is 55, compared to the state average of 22 and neighbouring Durgapur's 17. Almost equally poor Bankura, next-door, would still have some recall because of its terracotta art, but Purulia would have remained for ever out of sight, out of mind, but for mercenary thugs like Peter Bleach and Kim Davy choosing its wastelands to make a mysterious arms drop in 1995. The only thing you can say is that they would not have found the district very different from what it is now.

The main square where Deb speaks is ringed by four photo studios. In most cities of this size you'd struggle to find one as that business has more or less gone out of fashion with the advent of phone cameras and film-less, darkroom-less technologies. Not in Purulia. Studio Style does not seem to have had much business but its very verbose signboard is like an abridged CV of its owner Mahadeo Barai, with an award from Rashtrapati and "Diploma de Honour" from "Espain". Next door, we walk around the district collector's office searching for a PC, but fail to locate one, underlining the Left's old suspicion of computers. Finding a toilet wasn't such a problem. You could smell it from 20 yards. And this, you can see, is a valued possession of this office. Read the foundation stone laid by a senior IAS officer, a poor fellow called Kathiresan. Poor fellow, only because he may not have read the inscription on that stone, or I doubt if he would have put his name, etched in stone, to something that lists, among facilities consecrated by him, a cycle stand, a women's toilet, five men's urinals (including one that is "new") and so on. But not all writings on the wall here are silly, or non-existent, or merely political. In the main market, the Purulia equivalent of a high street, you do see a spanking new signboard of one of India's largest broking firms, India Infoline.

If Deb is looking for aspiration, however, he has to see his own cadres. On the narrow but decent road running from Bankura through Purulia, we find a long, orderly CPM procession. There are chants with the familiar Bengali intonation of zind'bad zind'bad and vote-din vote-din, but what strikes you is how much better these partymen look compared to the rest. Not rich, but just much less poor. They all sport new, red, nylon T-shirts with CPM symbols, and caps that many wear front-to-back, the usual baseball dude-style. But the more striking thing is their relaxed, un-self-conscious, confident demeanour. Scores pull out their phones and take pictures of our group as we walk around. It is the only time I have seen marchers in a procession taking more pictures of journalists than the other way around: if a gaggle of Japanese tourists had arrived in Purulia, they would have been completely thrown by this reversal. And if a tech upgrade is not aspirational, what is Comrade Gautam Deb up to? Ask him if Communists are capable of changing, modernising, and he asks, why not? "I use iPad," he says, and explains triumphantly how he heard about the Anandabazar Patrika carrying a story on Mamata's shadow cabinet while boarding a plane, and immediately downloaded it so he could respond. "I also use GPS in my vehicle," he says. "Google helps me take shorter routes, and to also avoid Maoist areas."

But I am not sure somebody has invented a GPS yet to enable you to avoid Maoist areas in the southern Purulia-Bankura-Midnapore triangle, loosely described as Jungle Mahal. And why should you even wish to do that if your idea is to understand the new stirrings of change in Bengal?

You know the political landscape has changed as you drive past newly laid out armed police camps, with their multi-layered barbed wire fences, sentry posts, machine-gun nests. Even the odd, mine-resistant troop carrier with its ugly but life-saving elevated chassis and oversized wheels. Lalgarh was a "revolutionary" battle zone like no other since Naxalbari, because this was "liberated" territory for months, and it caught the nostalgic fancy of Kolkata's genteel, old, creative classes who set up an overground organisation and imaginatively named it the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA). Initially, they were partners with the Trinamool against the CPM as their common enemy, but now there is a falling out. Particularly as the PCAPA's local star, Chhatradhar Mahato, is contesting from the local constituency Jhargram from jail. His brother Sashadhar, a prominent Maoist fighter, was killed in an encounter recently. Under the leadership of its district secretary Dipak Sarkar (more about him later), the CPM has wrested Lalgarh back from the Maoists. But the PCAPA's articulate, angry and determined support base in intellectual Kolkata is intact.

You find some of them sitting in one neat row under a tree in the village of Barapelia, which has seen intense fighting and killings, along with Chhatradhar's wife and his party spokesman just out on parole. Much of the talking is done by documentary filmmaker Sumit Chowdhury in his smooth, measured baritone to match his platinum locks tied neatly at the back. Chhatradhar, he says, has expressed total faith in the Indian Constitution and has nothing to do with the Maoists. But what about the Maoist cause? He won't elaborate, other than to say that there is a problem here. India is governed by an upper crust, upper-caste elite which does not care about tribal people. There is some merit in that, though you could argue about how best to redress that — through armed insurgency, or by deepening democracy. But you can't help noting that even in that small gathering of spokespersons and ideologues, there isn't a single tribal. Not even Chhatradhar Mahato. Mahatos are OBCs, the local equivalent of the Yadavs. This fits in entirely with the pattern of the larger Maoist leadership in central India. This revolution will be led by non-tribals, and fought, if they had their way, to the last tribal.

The man who won the first round against the Maoists and restored "normalcy" in Lalgarh would hardly fit that description. Dipak Sarkar, 73, used to teach political science in a Midnapore college until he joined politics full-time. A man of slight build and gentle speech and demeanour, he hardly looks like the one who is said to have led the partymen who threw the Maoists out of Jungle Mahal. His critics say he has been the inspiration behind many massacres. His supporters see him as a saviour. He is a man of a few, carefully chosen words as he chats with us in his district party office in Midnapore, and softly but contemptuously takes apart the Maoists, all the time under the benign gaze of the portraits of the great stalwarts of the Communist movement in India and elsewhere: Lenin, Stalin, Marx, Engels, Ho Chi Minh and, indeed, Chairman Mao. You try to ambush him by reminding him that he was cursing the Maoists under the portrait of Mao, but he is prepared: "That Mao, we follow. We are his Maoists. These people are not Maoists, they are Left degenerates." Has he led a counter attack on them by putting local against local, tribal against tribal? "I am a Communist," he says. "It is my basic duty to organise the people." Mao, I suppose, would have a tough choice deciding which side he would be on.

A nightly postprandial stroll in Midnapore tells you how the notion of rural decay in West Bengal is a bit inaccurate. The cities, in fact, are in a much more rotten state. Garbage heaps brush your shoulder, desperate insects keep pace even as you break into a panicky trot, and you have no place to hide, from the sights, smells, potholes and puddles of an urban disaster. Then you walk into the railway station, lured by its bright lights. It was declared a model station by Mamata in her earlier NDA innings as rail minister. It is a presentable building, a nice platform with LCD displays and three new ATMs of government banks, underlining the new bonhomie between the railway and finance ministries. But just in front scores of people sleep in the open, sharing the floor with dogs, cockroaches, mosquitoes. Nobody remembered to build a basic shelter for them. And if you turn around, you spot a telling writing on the wall: "Sam Higginbotan institute" that was "formerly Allahabad agriculture institute". Now, under a faux English-sounding avatar, it offers all kinds of technical degrees and people will beg and borrow to send their children there. Read this wall to understand the desperation of aspiration in a land of no opportunity.

Sadly, you find the emptiest walls not in the faraway fighting zones of Jungle Mahal, but in Singur, just 50 km from Kolkata and along the newly four-laned NH 6. The Nano factory never came, but its shell stands, along with the boundary wall around the land acquired for it. Each villager in the zone has his own story: Manoranjan Mullick, in Singur, whose daughter Taposhi was allegedly gang-raped and killed by CPM goons, has his, and so does Bibeko Santra, a Dalit of nearby Joimollah who has no regret having lost his land, all of 40 square metres, for which he got only Rs 4,000, because the factory had employed him in the housekeeping department. The political divisions in the region are vicious. But there is one thing on which they all agree: that the factory should come back here. "Look at this baby," says Santra, pointing somewhat dramatically at the six-month-old daughter on the shoulder of his neighbour, with three kohl finger smudges on her forehead to ward off the evil eye and a stone amulet, hanging by a black thread, resting on her bloated, malnourished belly. "If she could speak, she would have said the same thing, I want the factory." Singur is where Mamata Banerjee began her resurgence. This is where she will face her first test. Because without industry, this is a zone of utter hopelessness. Yes, the land is fertile, and can yield three crops. But how can you romanticise a farming lifestyle where a joint family of 10 might have to survive on a farm the size of a kitchen garden in a Lutyens' zone bungalow in New Delhi? There are no jobs, no money in the pocket, no economics. You come to Singur to discover a sight you left behind with your small-town childhood: a watch repairer's shop, and you thought the business had disappeared with the arrival of quartz watches. It really has. This shop survives because its owner has nothing else to do. You see many old clocks adorn his walls. But these are all empty shells, frozen in time, as much of rural Bengal has been under the Left for some time now.

But why talk about just the villages? In Kolkata, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee speaks to us in his Alimuddin Street party office, his welcome remarks interrupted by the noon-time azaan from the neighbouring mosque. Once again, he sits under the portraits of the great Communist visionaries, but that's not news. What's interesting is the big map of the world in Mercator projection that forms the backdrop. It was printed in 1987. Got the point? It still shows the Soviet Union as one, giant, intact nation-state, dwarfing the rest of the world. Do you still need to go to Purulia's Studio Style or the watch-repair shop in Singur with empty shells of old clocks on its walls to believe that time has stood still here?

Buddha babu smiles philosophically as his attention is drawn to the map. Is this one more evidence that Communists are incapable of accepting change, and reality? Of course, we are capable of changing, and we are changing, he says. "I always say, I am not here to create a socialist state. I function in our constitutional system and, let's admit, it is capitalism now." But, of all the political leaders you meet on this trip, Buddha indeed seems and sounds the most serene, the most at peace with himself, some times even, in an unwitting display of realism, slipping into the past tense, and accepting the coming change with the equanimity of the great spiritual master he was named after.

For earlier columns by Shekhar Gupta in the 'Writings on the Wall' series, go to








 regime change after three decades, and so convincingly if the exit polls have got it right, is no small achievement. But with the burden of hope Mamata Banerjee carries, the soon-to-be-former Railway minister has to cut the celebrations short, and will find Writers Building quite different from her previous stint even though, at R106,000 crore, the Railways budget is a fourth more than West Bengal's. Apart from the fact that Indian Railways' (IR) fortunes have plunged under Mamata, she inherited a healthy IR—besides, it has enough of a steel frame and one in reasonable shape. The one lesson Lalu taught us is that IR does better when the minister is hands off.

The West Bengal Mamata inherits tomorrow is bust, and it can't run on auto-pilot. Three decades of Left rule have transformed India's second-most industrial state to a largely agrarian one. A debt of over R2 lakh crore means the R17,500 crore of annual interest outgo eats up a fifth of the state's budget. Mamata's strategy as IR minister, getting Pranabda to permit her to not pay the Centre its dues, or not provide for pensions,is not an option here, nor is a debt writeoff for India's basket-case state. Kolkata, to use the most visible sign of Bengal's progress, was the first city with a metro, but it has yet to take off nearly three decades later. The West Bengal SEB, to cite another example, is one of the few that makes money as FE's front-page story points out—but Kolkata had the longest spells of power cuts last summer as the state doesn't have the money to buy power to supply it at subsidised rates.

Putting back Bengal, piece by piece, will take time and if Nitish's Bihar is anything to go by, the electorate will likely give her the time she needs. Like Nitish, she needs visible low-hanging fruit—law and order, getting doctors to man clinics, teachers to teach, bicycles for girls—to keep the masses going, but the fact that most such services are manned by Left supporters and party cadre will make the going tough. Having an industry-friendly Amit Mitra is a plus, but no one invests money on the strength of a friendly face—getting industry to forget Singur will be a long haul, so Mamata's best bet is to concentrate on governance, and it helps that her ally in the UPA has a huge social sector programme. Putting all of this together needs a new anti-agitational Mamata, one that understands there is no free lunch—how do you run state bus corporations with so many workers, how can you have new roads without tolls, how do you get industry or even roads if the state doesn't acquire land for them … Mamata and her merry men have a lot of learning ahead. Before that, they have a lot of unlearning.





Satyam's foreign investors received $25.5 mn as compensation for losses due to the auditor PwC's negligence. PwC agreed to pay settlement to end the suit brought against it by the US SEC, which charged PwC with "failing to comply with some of the most elementary auditing standards and procedures". Out of court settlement is routine practice for US firms. Think Worldcom's accounting fraud and the resultant $6.8 bn payout to investors in 2002. What's galling is that while the scam took place in India, local investors have got nothing thus far. Although Sebi filed a case in the Bombay High Court, which is still pending, legal experts are of the opinion that in the absence of a provision for class action suits, even a favourable judgement will not yield compensation for Indian investors.

The first step towards protecting investors' interest would be to create a provision for class action suits in the Companies Act. This was first recommended by the JPC on the Securities Scam, 2001, followed by recommendations by the Irani Committee on Company Law, 2004, that the law should provide for class action on behalf of shareholders, recommendations routinely ignored. In contrast, most countries with developed equities markets have provisions for compensating shareholders, in addition to strong consumer protection forums that press regulators into action—also missing in India.

The efficacy of regulators in enforcing transparency in financial markets is exemplified by the UK's FSA's exercise in 'mystery shopping' to discover whether the payment protection insurance (PPI) banks were selling were misleading consumers. Finding this was the case, FSA took Lloyds, HSBC, Barclays and RBS to court—the banks set aside £3.2 bn, £270 mn, £1 bn and £850 mn, respectively, to compensate for wrongly selling PPI. There are many reasons why such an exercise in India is laughable—weak independent directors, loopy laws that make it difficult to focus responsibility and target entry-level employees and/or 'front men' instead of the management. Also, the fines imposed, usually in lakhs, barely dent companies' profits that run into hundreds of crores. Given how rampant insurance mis-selling is in India, Irda should take a page out of FSA's book and employ similar methods to prevent schemes from being misrepresented to consumers.








Vodafone Essar's recent letter to telecom minister Kapil Sibal has really set the cat among the pigeons. It's not too often that you see a regulated company taking on the regulator so openly, and in this case the company is a foreigner to boot. So how real are the charges of flip flops, policy gaffes and favouritism?

There is little doubt even the regulator's recommendations depend upon who the regulator is. When Nripendra Misra was the head of Trai, to cite one instance, he was of the view that a one-time fee could not be charged from telcos who'd been given more than 6.2 MHz of spectrum as this was part of policy and these firms had been paying a higher annual usage charge; in May 2010, JS Sarma reversed this recommendation.

If regulations change this dramatically as regulators change, that's a serious problem. Apart from the fact that there are several instances of Trai inconsistency that favour the firms Raja was favouring, examining various Trai recommendations throws up several other hilarious facts.

l So, as telecom secretary in 2005 and 2006, JS Sarma gave several firms such as MTNL, Aircel, BSNL, Bharti, Idea, Vodafone and so on spectrum beyond 6.2 MHz based on a subscriber-linked criterion—as a telco got more subscribers, it got more spectrum. Dr Sarma even notified a criterion for giving firms spectrum up to 15 MHz—to get this in Delhi and Mumbai, you had to have 21 lakh subscribers. Yet, when Dr Sarma became Trai chief, Trai recommended in May 2010 that any spectrum beyond 6.2 MHz be considered 'extra' and firms be asked to pay a one-time fee for this!

l In November 2010, the CAG's report said Raja had caused a loss of R1.76 lakh crore, most of which came from giving away 157 licences for a song in January 2008. Just six months prior to this, Trai's view was "it must be noted that the decision to award licences at R1,659 crore (for an all-India licence consisting of 22 circles) is essentially a policy decision. While revenue generation is no doubt significant, NTP-99 underlines the need for providing Telecom services at affordable rates." Since Trai thought Raja had done no wrong, it also recommended that the Raja firms be given another 1.8 MHz of spectrum free, apart from the 4.4 MHz Raja had given them for a song!

l It wasn't just Trai, in March 2009 the Tdsat had also okayed part of Raja's policies. While upholding the issuing of 35 'dual technology' licences (which CAG later said were underpriced by R37,154 crore) and issuing licences to some firms a day before the policy was announced, the Tdsat, of which Dr Sarma was a member, termed this 'early completion of formalities' and said this 'is not a matter that would require intervention at our

level'! Wonder how the members of the Tdsat at that point feel about their judgement now?

So far, you can still argue it is a matter of perception, of different people having different opinions. After all, even today, the government does not believe there was a scam or any under-pricing of licences. It's after this that things get a bit more difficult to explain away. In May 2010, when Trai said the maximum spectrum the government had committed to give telcos was 6.2 MHz, it said firms would have to pay 1.3 times the rate paid in the 3G auction for spectrum between 6.2 and 8 MHz; if this spectrum was in the 800 MHz band, the amount would be 1.5 times. For spectrum up to 6.2 MHz, Trai said 2G and 3G were to be priced similarly.

By January 2011, however, in order to demolish the CAG estimates of losses, Kapil Sibal was saying 2G and 3G were like chalk and cheese, that 2G was about a third as efficient as 3G—the R1.76 lakh crore figure was based on using the 3G auction bids to get a per MHz price for 2G spectrum. A month later, when the Trai report on this came out, it said that 2G spectrum up to 6.2 MHz was worth 53% of what 3G spectrum cost, beyond this it was worth 136% what 3G cost. Pretty much what the boss wanted, you'd say!

Turns out the government has played a bit of a googly here. The Trai recommendations were based on what a group of technical experts had come up with. This is not the place to give the various flaws many have said the report is full of, but for what it's worth, the experts said spectrum up to 6.2 MHz was worth R1,769.8 crore per MHz and at R4,844 crore per MHz beyond that. In other words, 6.2 MHz was worth R10,972 crore. Except, since the government is applying the Trai recommendations for spectrum above 4.4 MHz, this means the Raja licencees will be able to get 6.2 MHz for just R4,844 crore (they'd got 4.4 MHz for the R1,658 crore they paid for the initial licence). So, if a Bharti is to get its licence renewed in 2014 (that's when the first lot of licences, for the metros, start coming up for renewal), it would have to pay R10,972 crore (assuming it has 6.2 MHz of spectrum) while a Raja legatee would have paid less than half this! For reasons best known to it, Trai hasn't protested about how its recommendations are being distorted; indeed, it has not changed its May 2010 recommendations about giving the Raja licencees an additional 1.8 MHz of spectrum for free even now. 

It will also be interesting to see whether Trai protests about how the government has treated its licence cancellation recommendations. While Trai said 69 licences had to be cancelled for not rolling out their networks, the government has issued notices to just 12-13 of these (since it refuses to make the names public, you can't even know if it is playing favourites). If Trai doesn't object to this, it means it either got it wrong the first time, or it doesn't think its recommendations are that important.

If the Supreme Court strikes down the Raja licences as illegal, and all 157 are cancelled, it's possible the spectrum-pricing distortion won't arise. But surely there has to be some way to ensure policy isn't so whimsical in the future? And it would help if the Supreme Court would quickly decide on the appeal against the Tdsat judgement. After all, it is linked to the case the Court is hearing right now. One bench of the Court has asked the CBI to probe the dual technology licences, but another is yet to take a call on whether dual-technology licences were legal— why not at least get the legality/illegality bit out of the way first?







Most countries, except the OPEC, were rejoicing last week on two counts. First, the killing of Osama bin Laden. Second, the nose-diving of oil prices. The price of crude oil plunged 15% last week, its steepest drop in two and a half years. Never before had crude oil plummeted so deeply during the course of a week. In commodities markets, oil is a superstar, and its daily contract turnover, typically around $200 billion, is usually able to absorb even large inflows or outflows of investment, without much price change.

Extraordinary price changes, like that of a 15% move last week, are usually set off by dramatic events. The last time such a large change in oil price happened, albeit an increase, was during the outbreak of the first Gulf war in 1991. Of course, the news of the killing of bin Laden was pretty dramatic and like an antithesis of the Gulf war. But, irrespective of what Obama says, it is too far-fetched to believe that the world has become so safe that oil prices have started falling.

So, what caused this sudden decline in oil price? The culprit seems to be algorithmic trading. First, the evidence. Data from commodity exchanges shows that the total number of open positions in the oil market—a number that should typically fall in a selloff—instead increased big time. Normally, panicky investors selling oil en-masse would cause total open interest numbers to shrink, as exited investors close out contracts. However, in this case, it has been the opposite. The long positions have indeed decreased but there has been such a large volume of short positions that the net open positions have swelled rather than shrunk. The reason seems to be programme trading.

Computer programmes are used by large banks and funds to trade. For instance, if I am a trader in a bank and a client gives me instructions to close out a trade if a particular price point is reached before the next morning, I don't have to keep watching the screen all night. Instead, I can input the information into a software and the trade would get automatically executed if the desired price condition is met. Similarly, if I have a long position on a WTI crude futures contract and I think that it will fall even further if the price goes below $100, I can instruct my computer to square my long position, the moment the price goes below $100. In this case, $100 is my stop loss limit, meaning my loss threshold is reached when the price touches $100. It is only fair to assume that similar machines at other firms, from New York and London to Geneva, Tokyo and Singapore, would be automatically selling in much the same manner, causing prices to decrease even more. I can instruct my machine to not only dump long positions but also build short positions if prices plummet, because when prices go down, short positions make money.

From a trading perspective, one of the good things about algorithmic trading is that as a trader I may not be comfortable changing my view so quickly. For instance, if I had a long position in crude oil, I was probably expecting prices to increase rather than decrease. It may take some time for me to change my view diametrically. However, with algorithmic trading, instead of breeding hesitation, abrupt price drops can quickly and unemotionally prompt these machines to unload a bullish long position in oil, and build a bearish short one instead. Also, potential human error involved in actively trading a volatile market can be avoided. Such algorithmic and high frequency trading accounts for about half of all the volume in oil markets. What stands out in the tumble of oil price last week was the way computers turned readjustment of positions in a huge and deep market, into a stunningly large jolt of a 15% change.

That said, some of the seeds for the drop in oil prices were sown earlier. Last month, Goldman Sachs issued two notes to clients in rapid succession, recommending they pare back positions. In one, the bank called for a nearly $20 dollar near-term correction in Brent crude. The main reason being that the recent rise in oil prices had been fuelled, in part, by the Fed pumping cash into the markets by purchasing $600 billion in bonds. This programme had pushed interest rates extraordinarily low, making borrowing essentially free once adjusted for inflation. Investors have been using the super-cheap money to invest in oil markets. But the Fed's programme is slated to end in June. It is natural to expect that investors would likely take profits before June and were eyeballing each other to see who would take profits first. This, in turn, led to a closing out of long positions, while the algorithms ensured a build up of large short positions on the back of falling prices.

In the space of just hours, the drop in the price of crude oil had shaved nearly $1 billion off the cost of supplying the world's daily oil needs. That is terrific news for all countries except OPEC. For a change, traders and algorithms are being given a left-handed complement for doing something that is beneficial for the real economy.

The author, formerly with JP MorganChase, is CEO, Quantum Phinance







Land acquisition for development entails striking a tough balance between accommodating the galloping demands of urbanisation and assuaging the often acute sense of deprivation that loss of land engenders. Land acquisition has tended to be particularly problematic in States with large tracts of fertile agricultural land — as in the case of Uttar Pradesh where the abundantly yielding Yamuna-Ganga plains have repeatedly erupted in protest. In the vortex of the current storm are two ambitious projects of Chief Minister Mayawati. When completed, the 1,047 km long, access-controlled, eight-lane Ganga Expressway will connect Noida in the National Capital Region with Ballia in the eastern end of U.P. On the other hand, the 165-km, six-lane, Yamuna Expressway between Greater Noida and Agra is a re-incarnation of the Taj Expressway originally conceived as an adjunct to the infamous Taj corridor project. Both projects require the acquisition of tens of thousands of hectares of fertile land along the meandering courses of the two mighty rivers. No government can embark on construction on this gargantuan scale without expecting to encounter opposition. Fair and just compensation is one aspect of the problem. There are also serious environmental concerns arising from the threatened degradation of the ecology of river basins.

The injection of politics compounds issues around land acquisition. The Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Samajwadi Party, and the Rashtriya Lok Dal have ganged up against the U.P. Chief Minister with a political opportunism that is impossible to miss. Not surprisingly, truth has become the biggest casualty in the war of words between the State government and the opposition. The Mayawati government's case is that acquisition is not an issue at all and that compensation amounting to Rs.300 crore for 450 hectares of land has already been paid and accepted. The all-in opposition insists that land has been forcibly acquired from unwilling farmers. The agitating farmers seem not so much against acquisition as they are against inadequate sums paid as compensation; they point, for example, to the exceptionally high prices at which the acquired land has been sold to builders and developers. That there is a government-builder nexus profiting from such sales has been proven over and over. With just a year left for the Assembly election, the opposition obviously wants to trip up Chief Minister Mayawati on the farmers' issue, denting her image as a champion of social justice. The Chief Minister, who dramatically seized power four years ago, has her job cut out.





The Supreme Court of India's decision to stay the majority judgment of the Allahabad High Court in the Ayodhya dispute will be welcomed widely. The High Court verdict discomfited not just jurists and constitutional experts but also a broad swath of citizenry who had reason to question the prioritisation of faith over fact. Indeed, the Supreme Court has described the September 2010 judgment as "strange" — a term that will resonate widely, given the extra-legal liberties seen to have been taken by the High Court judges. Broadly, there are two problematical aspects to the Ayodhya judgment. First, the three-way division of property among the Hindu litigants, the Sunni Central Wakf Board, and the Nirmohi Akhara. And, more troublingly, the use of faith as a legitimate argument for awarding the space under the central dome of the Babri Masjid (where the idols of Ram Lalla are placed) to the Hindu plaintiffs. As Justice R.M. Lodha tellingly observed: "A new dimension has been given by the High Court as the decree of partition was not sought by the parties. It [the judgment] has to be stayed."

It was admittedly a difficult judgment to pronounce for High Court judges S.U. Khan, Sudhir Agarwal, and D.V. Sharma. They had to decide the title suit in a volatile case with an antiquity dating back to 1885 and marked by do-or-die conflicts between two highly emotive religious groups. The three judges gave separate judgments, with Justice Sharma entirely upholding the Hindu claim and the other two striving to be more even-handed. The partition ordered by Mr. Khan and Mr. Agarwal appears to have stemmed from a desire to avoid communal ill-feelings and tensions should the award be seen as one-sided — and indeed the judgment seemed to have a fortuitous calming effect. Unfortunately, the two judges achieved the balance not by resort to reason and constitutional law but by placing "faith" and "belief" over and above the constitutional principle. This ignored the overtly political, and at times the incendiary, nature of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The 1949 placement of idols of Ram Lalla under the central dome and the 1992 demolition of the Babri structure were both diabolical political acts. The majority judgment accepted that the idols had been placed by human hands. Nonetheless, Justice Agarwal held this fact to be of no material significance, ruling that Lord Ram's birthplace was itself a deity with all juridical rights. To be fair, the judge did take note of the "abominable manner" of the 1992 demolition. Yet in an unbeatable irony, he delivered a judgment that had the effect of legitimising the cataclysmic climax.







Since the death of Osama bin Laden there have been calls, mostly from abroad, to make an outcast of Pakistan. I would like to suggest we take the opposite route.

That Osama was eliminated by the very nation that once sponsored his cause should surprise nobody. The Americans, like any power, have a beady eye and a blank menu. The states of the region, waiters all, must look on and hope to snaffle a chop. But what's in it for the man peering through the plate glass? I share my glimpse of the least practical way forward.

When the news broke I was at my mechanic's garage here in Dehra Dun. The man is a Muslim: he is a good mechanic who operates by instinct, a shrewd businessman who runs a tight if jerrybuilt ship, and a hopeful family man who does online surveys at night for extra money. Just another dweller in the subcontinent making his way. Good, he said. Good he's gone. Such people make, have made life difficult for every Muslim. He meant in this country and in Pakistan and throughout the world.

Kill him, my good friend of the dagar veena, master musician and another Muslim, felt obliged to say of another man whose fate we were discussing last year. He was speaking of Ajmal Kasab and the stay on the execution awaiting him for his part in the Mumbai attack.

What do these men from different walks of life share apart from their Muslim faith? A wish to get on with their lives wherever they happen to live so nobody can impute to them loyalties to the other side. Because they understand in a way that politicians and rabble-rousers alike do not that there is no other side.

Isolating Pakistan would simply harden the border and heighten the tension that complicates these two men's lives. And the lives of all of us who live here. By making those sides colourfast. Yes, we must uncover the terror links, the facilitation, but no, we must not sharpen the paranoia or confuse the state with the people, the great majority of the people. And we must not give up on dialogue by other means. Dialogue of any kind will be harder if al-Qaeda ever replace the present rulers of Pakistan. Time is short, and there's enough wounded pride about at the moment to sink a ship of state. Even in Chanakyan terms that's not what we want next door.

But I'm not here to be practical. Why not instead take a leaf out of my friend the musician's book? (Except he plays by ear, by tradition, by history, by instinct, by each moment of his being.) Push out an alap. Extemporize. Make overtures — and rebuffed, make more overtures — a whole barrage of them. Political overtures, of course, but equally I mean the hand of common friendship. A cultural barrage. Not just an arts offensive but a rapprochement in the widest sense of culture, everyday life. To be made now, at this difficult, at this impossible time.

Music, certainly. I have only to write the word and all our commonalities leap to my defence. Our defence, theirs and ours. These cross-border traditions are so well known I will say no more on the subject, and let my friend of the veena simply begin to play. When I heard him in Beijing last year I wept in my seat. Embarrassing, but what can you do? A Pakistani in my shoes would have done the same.

But also movies, television — theirs, ours, which both sides watch — theatre, all the performing arts. They wanted Madhuri in exchange for Kashmir, remember? Nice story, but it represents a real wish for something much more, something always unstated because it's in the realm of fantasy. Our tendency is to leave it there because we don't want to sound infantile, we're big boys now.

I wrote a little nursery rhyme once for a regional magazine on the Indo-Pak lesson. The editor didn't pay me, or paid me in kind, a year's subscription, while the other contributors would have got the usual fee for learned disquisitions on the border. I understand the poor man's plight. (I see a hasty editorial board consultation, a scratching of heads, and this compromise.) But the decision spells out an old prejudice against the mixing of poetry and politics.

Yet common people speak poetry, more poetry than they think, or perhaps they think more poetry than they speak. And they have their own notions of politics. They would be happy at the thought that the song and dance they love could bring about a change at this time, simply a juncture, like any other, but a moment fraught all the same with possibility. So, let there be Madhuri. (Where is she when they need her?) More Bollywood tie-ups, music festivals, film festivals, festivals of every kind, not more isolation. The very language of dialogue, of diplomacy, locked into the reigning discourse of the day, could do with some evolution, some freeing up. At any rate men and women in power (Madame Rao for example, addressing the French with a cool head yesterday) can surely be persuaded to smuggle some of these goods through in plain covers. And then there is the simple matter of information.

There is an immense hunger for knowledge of life across the border out there, and here is something newspapers can satisfy. Features on everyday life in a small Pak town would catch a reader's eye far more readily than your standard reportage on the latest skirmish. When my wife and daughter travelled by train and bus through Pakistan on their New Zealand passports they were besieged with questioners at every turn: what was India like, but really what was it like? With my Indian passport I would simply have hobbled them on their journey. But I have not forgotten the thrill of standing on Pak soil when conducted through the fence for a brief minute in the Rann of Kutch. After a half century lived in medieval ignorance of life across the border, I stood there not as a conqueror but as a marvelling citizen of undivided India. The ritual bluster of patriotism, the firecrackers in the street when a cricket match is won, drown out another voice, the voice of persistent and unassuaged curiosity. What are they like? Is it possible that the belligerence we assume on either side is overstated? More likely the majority are indifferent, and indifference is not impermeable. A single paragraph will do the job, a cunningly crafted column inch can breach the wall of mistrust.

Once curiosity is piqued it knows no limits. As in the lab so in the world. Look at recent redrawings of the political map. Imagine the no-longer-indifferent, the now-curious, the sick-of-hostility, the newly-awakened raising their voice in a growing chant, over against the growl of military menace and orchestrated distrust. A voice getting louder and harder to ignore every day till it becomes a presence massing at the sham border, a border made real by blood, the blood of real men and women from both sides, sent to their deaths in obedience to another music. Sometimes in my head I can hear this crescendo and see another outcome altogether to the history we're obliged to repeat.

Is it possible that rusty fence on that border can come down, the border itself disappear? (Who would have thought that of the Berlin Wall?) There is life after Osama. There will also be death, deaths. But what the hell. There could equally be union.

Really! Do I really believe that? I truly couldn't say. But there are other futures far more unthinkable.

It's all very well for outsiders to plot our fate. The masters of war I can understand. Quite as keen but with no clearer mandate are opinion makers and fellow travellers in the diaspora. I remember the American Irish in the seventies, more Irish than the Irish in their support for the IRA, sending guns and money for the cause, flying the flag. Indian Americans will be up in arms too after Osama, and proxy warriors of every nation. But exiles never have to face the bullets. We are the ones who stand to gain or lose, everything in the case of a nuclear exchange, much in the case of another conventional war.

I will now shut up and hand over to the member from Realpolitik. But I have conquered my fear of naïveté. Trapped by this fear we surrender not just to the ISI and al- Qaeda but to the NATO whose jihad killed 600,000 in Iraq alone on the way to Abbottabad. Six hundred thousand. No, we should not be ashamed to speak our fantasies.

It's all talk. So let's ground it, airily. But air it on this ground.

Put your body where your mouth is.

Talk from here.

(Irwin Allan Sealy is the author of The Trotter-nama and other novels. He lives in Dehra Dun.)








Osama bin Laden, who was killed by a team of U.S Navy SEALs in a compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan on the night of May 1, was possibly living in Pakistan from 2002, going by the accounts of hundreds of Guantanamo detainees.

The accounts, contained in the Guantanamo files recently released by the WikiLeaks, produce a rich, if not always reliable, travelogue of the al-Qaeda leader's journey to Pakistan — there are as many 3,900 references to him spread over the files of 765 of the detainees. The WikiLeaks Web site has properly warned that the information contained in the files may not be credible as U.S officials used brutal and coercive techniques to extract confessions from the detainees.

But as they are, the accounts portray a man who, while zealously preaching jihad and suffering from bad kidneys, was very mobile, followed a diet of three meals a day, and travelled with Islamic scholars, including one who could interpret dreams.

Interestingly, it does appear that his life inside the Abbottabad compound was an extension of his life in other similar compounds he owned and lived in for two decades or more.

Between 1992 and 1995, bin Laden was operating from his compound in Khartoum till the U.S. government put pressure on the Sudan government to expel him. As Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker Mahjoub (Gitmo file: 695), said to be a long-time bin Laden associate and currently a detainee in Guantanamo, related it, bin Laden used two aircraft to move his family and bodyguards to Afghanistan. The al-Qaeda leader, his two sons, Saad and Umar, and confidants travelled in one plane. Mahjoub said he was in the other plane accompanying "the family members of the first plane of people" — Gitmo officials interpreted that to mean bin Laden's wives and children — along with "unspecified goods and equipment."

In Afghanistan, bin Laden built and owned numerous guest houses and compounds. While the guest houses were used mostly by al-Qaeda fighters in transit, the compounds with their multiple houses were the places where bin Laden lived with his retinue. The Nejim al Jihad compound in Jalalabad, in the accounts of several Guantanamo detainees, appears to have been bin Laden's favourite residence where he lived with his wives and trusted bodyguards under less precarious circumstances. He was there in 1998, according to one reference in the Gitmo files. The compound was also known as the "airport house" due to its proximity to the airport.

It is not clear when bin Laden moved out of Jalalabad but his next destination was Kandahar, where he set up his best-known compound called Mall Six. From various detainees' accounts, it is possible to make out that bin Laden lived there between 1999 until a few weeks before the 9/11 attacks.

Many detainees at Guantanamo Bay are recorded as recalling their visits to Mall Six, also known as Mujamma Sitta (Compound Number Six); some of them said they had met bin Laden there. Some had even attended the wedding of Muhammed bin Laden, bin Laden's son, in the compound.

Mall Six had multiple buildings, a mosque, and a horse stable. The bin Laden wives — the number is unclear — lived in the rear block and the front was used for meetings. Up to 15 security personnel also lived in the compound with their families. Only known people were allowed inside, and even they had to pass through security checks before reaching other blocks within. Bodyguards often played multiple roles; some worked as drivers while others cooked at times.

Like the Jalalabad compound, Mall Six was near the airport. The regular use of aircraft by bin Laden and al-Qaeda's links with the Ariana Airlines that was used for transporting money and weapons are well known. Hamidallah, (Gitmo file: 953), the former president of Ariana Airlines, was a detainee in the U.S. till he was transferred to Afghanistan on April 18, 2005.

It appears that bin Laden anticipated the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks. He reportedly started preparing to move to the Tora Bora mountains two months before the attacks.

Mohammed Ahmad Rabbani, "who had the full trust and confidence of al-Qaida leadership" (Gitmo file : 1461), told interrogators that two months before September 11, 2001, bin Laden directed him to collect materials from Karachi for the construction of the Tora Bora cave complex. The al-Qaeda supremo also had engineers who worked in his construction company to build the cave complex, Mohammed Basardah, (Gitmo file: 252) told his interrogators. In Tora Bora, bin Laden lived with three wives, 25 bodyguards, and many other al-Qaeda operatives. He was also accompanied by Faez Mohammed Ahmed al-Kandari (Gitmo file: 552), his consultant and a senior cleric who could interpret dreams.

The coalition forces started bombing Afghanistan in October 2001; on December 14, 2001, as the Joint Task Force assessment report of Muhammad Abd al-Rahman al-Kurash (Gitmo file: 214), an al-Qaeda operative, noted, bin Laden left Tora Bora. His three wives were safely escorted to the Pakistan border by Muataz, a son-in-law, with the help of a few security guards.

Awal Gul (Gitmo file: 782), a detainee who died in the prison three months ago, escorted bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri to Konar province in Afghanistan through the mountainous area of Khwar. Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri stayed in Konar for ten months. Although Awal Gul did not disclose where bin Laden went from there, his interrogators were certain he knew the route bin Laden and his entourage took to Pakistan.

Saed bin Laden, bin Laden's son, with his wife and son, managed to reach Karachi and lived there between January and June 2002.

Bin Laden had been in touch with a Pakistani businessman, Saifullah Paracha, since 1999. However, the key person in Pakistan was Abu al Libi (Gitmo file: 10017), the operational chief of al-Qaeda. Al Libi allegedly "provided safe havens for bin Laden and senior al-Qaeda leader Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri in 2001 and 2003." In July 2003, bin Laden instructed al Libi through Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan, the designated courier, to collect donations, organise travel, and distribute funds to families in Pakistan. Al Libi was also made the official messenger between bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.

Significantly, in the middle of 2003, al Libi moved his family to Abbottabad and worked between that city and Peshawar. When he was captured in 2005, his operations were taken over by Shaykh Mustafa Abu al-Yazid. In 2008, Yazid was killed in Afghanistan.

As details about the Abbottabad compound stream in, it appears that bin Laden tried to maintain a continuity in his lifestyle despite the frequent changes in location. A key difference was that in contrast to the sprawling complexes his previous compounds were, the living space at Abbottabad was stacked. But the hierarchical structure continued. While the wives lived in the upper floors, his confidants lived in the lower floors. There was an airport too, less than 150 km away, at Rawalpindi, although it is not known if bin Laden ever used it.

The Gitmo files also suggest that bin Laden, who is independently reported to have lived in the Abbottabad compound from at least 2005 until he was killed, was quite active and continued to use couriers to administer affairs as far away as Mogadishu. For example, Abdul Malik (Gitmo file: 10025), currently a detainee at Guantanmo, told his interrogators that in 2006, bin Laden sent Halima Fazul, wife of a senior al-Qaeda operative Harun Fazul, from Pakistan to convey the information that he was angry with the EAAQ (East Africa al-Qaeda) and wanted them to focus on terrorist operations — not fight Mogadishu-based warlords.







A year after the International Monetary Fund and the European Union imposed their now infamous austerity memorandum on Greece, life here has changed radically. If you are between 18 and 24 years old, the chances are that you are unemployed, like 40 per cent of your generation. If you are in your 30s and do have a job, it is likely to be part-time and flexible; you probably cannot imagine it being secure, and you have no idea how much longer it is going to last. Your wages are gradually getting lower, you cannot go on strike, you cannot organise collectively, you cannot even demand to get paid. Holidays are out of the question, getting sick is too much of a risk, and you cannot afford an apartment of your own.

Young people in Greece can no longer make ordinary life choices: they cannot plan for the present, let alone for the future. But they are told — and many of them feel — that they can't complain. They belong, after all, to a doomed generation.

Many ordinary Greeks have stopped watching the news or thinking about why all this is happening. But everybody talks with one another about what is going on: friends, children and parents, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, teachers — everyone says this austerity is unfair and unjust, but everyone also feels insecure and fearful, there is nothing we can do about it, after all. This new reality feels as if it has been cast upon us — almost like a supernatural phenomenon. We are told that we bear the blame of the crisis because "we all partied and spent beyond our means" — but those suffering the most know we had nothing to do with it.

It has been less than 12 months since this crisis began, but little stories that illustrate the change keep bubbling up: homeless people looking for food in dustbins; friends fired without compensation, or accepting wage cuts; police officers beating up citizens who protest; schools and hospitals shutting; teachers and doctors losing their jobs; journalists censored; trade unionists persecuted; racist attacks downtown. Legality, majority, democracy and equality start to seem like odd little words.

All of a sudden, things that only a year ago happened in remote, underdeveloped places — as if to prove how lucky we were to belong in civilised Europe — are now happening here in Greece. But Greeks cannot complain, cannot react, because they are told that the crisis is their fault — even if everyone knows it cannot be just their fault.

But beyond the mainstream media coverage and the declarations of the elites and the politicians, more and more people experience the lack of meaning, rationality, justice and freedom in their everyday lives. Some refuse to pay transport and hospital fees, tolls and debts, and others create tiny local networks of solidarity, alternative commerce or self-education in their districts. Some read blogs and narrate different stories reconfirming their dignity with humble, daily acts of resistance because they feel the difference between "us" and "them" that no media or state narrative can obscure.

A whole people cannot live in isolation, fear and guilt for much longer, facing a future full of problems that cannot be resolved.

What the IMF and Greek politicians know and are fearful of is that an oppressed people can learn to communicate without speaking, to step forward without appearing to move, to resist without resisting — they will gradually find each other and make sense of what is going on, and who is really to blame. And, then, as happened in December 2008, there may be a mass reaction here in Greece, one that may be violent, and that will once again be said to be unpredictable and irrational. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

(Hara Kouki is a researcher in Athens)






The dispute over access for U.S. officials to Osama bin Laden's three widows, who were taken into Pakistani custody after the raid that killed the leader of al-Qaeda, has become the latest test in the adversarial relationship between the CIA and its Pakistani counterpart, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

Pakistan has not yet allowed U.S. investigators access to the widows, nor shared their own interrogation report, a Pakistani security official said on Tuesday. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with the rules of his organisation.

The Obama administration demanded access to the women, who appear to have been in hiding with bin Laden for years, and a U.S. official said that Pakistan had promised to comply. Yet the women may not prove to be the mine of information that some suppose because they led such cloistered lives, officials and analysts say. In line with the strict code of Islam followed by bin Laden, they never met men outside their immediate family and were not informed by bin Laden of any of his business or operational dealings.

The widows, along with the Pakistani wife of bin Laden's trusted courier, and a number of children detained at the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad remain in the hands of the Pakistani security forces, which have controlled the flow of information about them.

There are conflicting reports as to how many there are and who they are. Initial reports indicated that 12 women and children were in the compound; it now appears that there were as many as 17.

Some information given by intelligence officials appears intended to cast doubt on the account of the raid as presented by U.S. officials; none has been independently verified.

Pakistani security officials, asking to remain anonymous, say that along with the widows — two from Saudi Arabia and one from Yemen — there were 13 children, eight of them related to bin Laden.

The fourth woman, a Pakistani who was wounded in the raid, indicated to officials who first arrived at the compound that her husband had been killed, said Asad Munir, a retired Brigadier and former intelligence service official. Her husband appears to have been Arshad Khan, bin Laden's trusted courier, who owned the compound and protected him for more than five years.

Bin Laden's widows have been identified as Um Hamza, or Mother of Hamza, whose real name is Khairiah Sabar and is from Jidda in Saudi Arabia; Um Khalid, or Mother of Khalid, whose name is Siham and is from Medina in Saudi Arabia; and the youngest, a Yemeni, Amal al-Saddah, 29. Her passport names her as Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah.

Bin Laden's daughter with al-Saddah, Safia, who is 12 or 13 years old, is also reported to have been present and even to have witnessed the shooting of her father. Officials have also said that there is a five-year-old son of bin Laden and that four of the children are his grandchildren by a daughter killed in an airstrike in Pakistan's tribal areas.

One of his sons was killed in the raid, but reports have named him variously as Hamza or Khalid, both of whom were born in the same year from different wives and would be 22 years old.

U.S. officials have emphasised that Pakistani cooperation on access to the women would help ease the tense relations between the CIA and the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. Pakistani journalists who received a briefing from the Director-General of the ISI, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, this week said he expressed anger at being kept out of the loop with the operation.

The anger and hurt within the Pakistani military and intelligence service over America's action against bin Laden will leave cooperation bumpy for some time, foreign diplomats and analysts predicted.

The U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, was placatory in comments he made at a dinner in the business city of Karachi on Monday. Mr. Munter called on the Pakistani government to engage in a conversation about the way forward.

"We have common goals, and we need to work closely to articulate these common goals clearly," he said in comments reported by the government news agency, The Associated Press of Pakistan.

"The road ahead will be based on the choices made by Pakistan," he added. "Those choices involved the answers to questions that are raised by Pakistanis and Americans alike." — New York Times News Service

(Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Scott Shane from Washington.)



$7-billion dam in the Patagonian wilderness

Rory Carroll

Chilean authorities have approved a £1.8-billion plan to dam two rivers in Patagonia for hydroelectricity, triggering angry protests and claims that swaths of pristine wilderness will be destroyed.

The HidroAysen project envisages five dams to tap the Baker and Pascua rivers, an isolated area of fjords and valleys, and generate 2.75 Giga Watts of power for Chile's booming economy.

The government has championed the dams as vital to poverty alleviation and growth, but public opinion has split, with many saying the project is unnecessary and will devastate an ecological haven.

Police arrested dozens of protesters, pictured, and clashed with hundreds more in Coihaique, a Patagonian city where on Monday a government-appointed commission voted 11 to 1 in favour of the dams after a three-year environmental review.

The commissioners were kept indoors for their own safety as people threw rocks and battled police with water cannon and tear gas. Similar scenes unfolded in the capital, Santiago.

The Patagonia Without Dams advocacy group accused the commissioners of conflicts of interest and said the project was "destructive and illegal".

It said the dams would flood at least 5,600 hectares of rare forest ecosystems, river valleys and farmland.

An Ipsos poll found 61 per cent of Chileans opposed the dams. The polarisation offered a sharp contrast to the nation's feel-good glow after last year's rescue of 31 trapped miners, which boosted President Sebastian Pinera's ratings.

Some analysts say Chile will need to triple its energy capacity in the next 15 years to feed fast-growing industries and cities.

The council of ministers is expected to nod through the proposed dams but activists hope to win concessions in the environmental impact assessment for the next phase of the project: 1,920-km transmission lines, estimated to cost £2.3 billion, to bring electricity Santiago.

Much of the controversy hinges on whether Chile has viable alternative means to boost power capacity. With nuclear power widely considered anathema, some tout the Atacama desert as a source of immense solar thermal production, given its relative proximity to mines and industry. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011








Well done, Election Commission! Three momentous elections can be recalled from the recent past, and the set of Assembly polls which have just ended (with the results expected Friday) sit right up there with those as fine examples of free, fair and transparent voting. Some time back T.N. Seshan, as chief election commissioner, showed us how proper elections can be conducted in India

even in situations regarded by most as extremely challenging. It was widely noted that under his stewardship elections in Bihar came through shiningly. The EC basically ensured that rules were scrupulously followed, with no quarter given to even the most powerful politicians who had grown used to having their way. The people of Bihar still recall that particular election. Next in chronology come the state elections conducted in Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir under the leadership of James Michael Lyngdoh. Mr Lyngdoh did not flinch from laying down the law even for the clever and powerful Narendra Modi, routinely drawing barbs for the pains he was taking in the cause of democracy. This Gujarat experience served Mr Lyngdoh well in Kashmir and his no-nonsense reputation put the fear of the law into the hearts of separatists and terrorists. Really, for the first time, Jammu and Kashmir had a squeaky clean election, comparable with any good poll anywhere in the world that might be worthy of emulation. The world applauded the 2002 polls in the state, in which public participation was overwhelming, tearing a hole through the separatist propaganda that ordinary Kashmiris were not ready to cast their ballot in an election conducted under the Indian Constitution. It is clear that under the leadership of current chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, the EC has absorbed the lessons learnt in the days of Mr Seshan and Mr Lyngdoh, and made more innovations. The recent Assembly polls in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry went off like a dream, with extraordinarily high voter participation. Seven months ago, the EC had also conducted a similar election in Bihar, which is always ready to give weak, silly, or non-impartial administrators a run for their money.
In the just-concluded exercise the EC choked the flow of suspect money into the election process — first by ensuring that all candidates opened bank accounts to receive contributions for poll expenses, and then posting sleuths at key places like airports to screen crooked elements carrying tainted funds for elections. A few discoveries worked as warning shots. The law and order machinery too went like clockwork, seeing that the EC would not tolerate any phoney answers. Anxious senior politicians — Tamil Nadu government leaders come to mind here — protested that the EC was enforcing the model code of conduct in a "dictatorial" way, but the EC held its ground, and citizens were not complaining! The EC correctly maintained that since laws were made for a purpose, it would make sure these were properly implemented.
Given the nation's current political situation, the recent polls were fiercely contested. The results could have a bearing on the future of major parties, and also on the distribution of power at the Centre, besides the states which went to the polls. There was widespread fear of violence in West Bengal and Assam, with Maoists and other militants expected to cause severe disruptions. In West Bengal, a common complaint used to be that votes were cast on behalf of people by toughs quite routinely. This time such evildoers were put to flight, and voter turnout was inordinately high in all the states. Indeed, the experience of the recent polling can go into a primer on how to conduct clean elections that encourage voter participation and deepen the democratic process.






The one thing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh instinctively gets right every time is what next to do with Pakistan. The execution of Osama bin Laden, the iconic Al Qaeda leader, has strung out Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and his corps commanders between charges of incompetence and non-involvement cruelly hurled at them

by Leon Panetta, director, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and US secretary of defence-designate. In the circumstances, the Indian government's policy of saying and doing nothing that a hyper-sensitive Islamabad finds hurtful will surely help calm the situation.
Gen. Kayani is treading water because, politically, incompetence is a far less onerous charge for the Pakistan Army to bear than non-involvement, which a former head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani (Retd), has dismissed as "inconceivable". Politically, "non-involvement" sets up the Pakistan Army as an American collaborator, as much responsible for the killing of Bin Laden as the "Seal Team Six" and, hence, the enemy, ironically, of the extremist Islamic outfits the ISI has carefully husbanded as a valuable resource since 1979 when, prompted by the CIA, these groups were germinated primarily to discomfit the Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan.
That the Pakistan Army was deep in this operation is not in doubt. A most intriguing aspect of its complicity revolves around Gen. Kayani's seemingly great interest in Abbottabad and his senior appointments in this area. He headed the ISI when Osama was settling down in the vicinity. After becoming Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Kayani posted Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj as his successor at ISI and, a short time later, moved him as general officer commanding 11 Corps with responsibility for the Pakistan Military Academy situated less than a mile from Bin Laden's residence. And then, not too long before the Seals' raid, Gen. Kayani was at the passing-out parade, his first visit to the academy in some four years, perhaps to ensure that all was in readiness for Operation Geronimo. The early reports correctly reported the Seal flight, especially the massive and noisy Chinook heavy-lift helicopter despatched as backup for the modified stealth Black Hawk helicopter that crashed, taking off from the Tarbela-Ghazni satellite airfield, not distant Jalalabad in Afghanistan. Neither the Black Hawk nor the Chinook has the range to fly from and to Jalalabad un-refuelled.
But the US as much as the Pakistan Army has a stake in maintaining the fiction that the Special Forces' action was prosecuted entirely unbeknownst to Gen. Kayani and his cohort because to confirm the Pakistan Army's complicity would be to grievously undermine its stature and standing in Pakistani society and expose it to public anger and ridicule it last experienced after the 1971 Bangladesh War, except now as an American stooge. A weakened Pakistan Army will make it difficult for the US to sustain its policy of pounding the Afghan Taliban into joining a coalition government with Hamid Karzai in Kabul — the only way for US President Barack Obama to withdraw from Afghanistan claiming victory, incidentally just around the time of the next Presidential elections in 2012. Making a scapegoat of the current ISI boss, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, would be tantamount to admitting either a screw-up or involvement in the Bin Laden mission, depending on how Pakistanis see the situation. It will not, however, prevent the erosion of the legitimacy of the premier role the generals have arrogated to themselves in national affairs.
This last may not be such a good thing from India's national interest point of view. While it is all very well to talk fancifully of encouraging democracy and changing the civil-military equation, civilian governments in Pakistan have been as notably hostile, if not more, towards India as military regimes. When the generals are directly running the show in Islamabad, there is less artifice and greater possibility of Delhi cutting a deal that will stick (like the one almost realised on Kashmir with Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2006). With civilian governments there's the uncertainty of not knowing when General Headquarters, Rawalpindi, will pull the rug from under them. It is not in the Pakistan Army's interest to allow civilians to set policy direction, make peace with India, burnish their reputation, and buttress their hold on power.
In this regard, it is interesting to note the moves by the Pakistan Army politically to build up Imran Khan, the erstwhile cricketer and leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (TIP), as an alternative to the Pakistan Peoples Party which has a bad record of governance, and the equally tainted Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). Gen. Kayani may have decided to forego a coup, choosing instead to back Mr Khan as a new, hopefully more pliable, figure whose political ambitions can be made to serve the Army's purposes. The TIP's biggest success to date was the recent bandh called by Mr Khan in the Bagh-e-Naran Square area of Hayatabad, on the outskirts of Peshawar, to protest the continuing American drone attacks on Pakistani territory. Over 30,000 people joined in the agitation, courtesy no doubt of his meeting prior to the bandh with Lt. Gen. Pasha. The large turnout will be used as proof of the popular resistance to the US' AfPak policy and to bolster Gen. Kayani's demand that American presence in Pakistan be thinned out.
The opportunity for India is afforded by Mr Khan, a moderate nationalist and now the general's poster boy, being hoisted to power. He can facilitate a rapprochement. It is an outcome Gen. Kayani may not be averse to, considering Pakistan needs some space for manoeuvre. The US will persist with the drone-targeting of Al Qaeda-inspired Afghan Taliban and pressure Gen. Kayani into wiping out the Pakistani Taliban and their Lashkar offshoots. Exterminating the extremists is a hard choice, because the Lashkars do provide Pakistan with asymmetric war assets, and fighting them will impose huge costs. It will seed domestic turmoil but also fetch the country the rewards of peace. One hopes Gen. Kayani will take the latter, more difficult, path. It's not much but, for India, it is still a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

bharat karnad is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi









THE Supreme Court's firm warning that those convicted of "honour killings" would be awarded the death sentence stems from extreme disgust over the barbaric and feudal practice. Despite widespread condemnation, the horrifying practice has continued in Punjab, Haryana and many other states. Apparently, those who still think on the lines of eliminating those who love or marry without the approval of family or society deserve exemplary punishment. As said time and again, there is no honour in honour killings. Those who refuse to understand this must know that gallows await them. Perhaps the fear of the ultimate punishment will keep them on the right side of the law.


Not quite unexpectedly, the khap panchayats have opposed the decision. They have come up with a laughable argument that even Rama had killed Ravana for honour. Nor does their argument that most such murders are committed in a fit of rage stand to logic. In fact, in a majority of instances these killings are premeditated and well-thought out, falling in the category of the rarest of rare cases. Since these kangaroo courts have been denying any hand in honour killings, why should they have anything to fear?


However, the most vital prerequisite for sending any killer to the gallows is his conviction. Unfortunately, so strong are the societal prejudices that it is very difficult to proceed against honour killers. Eyewitnesses are almost impossible to come by. Even complainants turn hostile due to community pressure. The lower constabulary too is none too keen to take action against these self-styled keepers of family honour, for reasons social or political. Besides meting out exemplary punishment, there is need for starting a campaign against the inhuman evil. Initially, there was strong resistance to the equally prevalent "sati" custom. Gradually, that monstrosity has been greatly curbed, even if not totally eliminated. 









THE western UP farmers' violent agitation has renewed interest in the Bill to amend the 1894 Land Acquisition Act. It was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2010 but a stubborn Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress stalled it in the Rajya Sabha. The 1894 Act empowers the government to forcibly acquire land for public purpose. Farmers' protests, first in Nandigram-Singur and then in western Uttar Pradesh, exerted pressure to make the land acquisition law farmer-friendly. Starting with the NDA regime in 2003, Bills moved to pacify farmers have collapsed in the absence of a political consensus.


Things have changed slightly. With her electoral ambitions in West Bengal nearing fulfilment, Mamata may no longer insist on having her way on the land Bill. The pending Bill allows the Centre to use force, if need be, to take over 30 per cent of the land after private parties have secured 70 per cent of it from the owners in a direct deal. Mamata wants the ratio to be 90:10. Rashtriya Lok Dal president Ajit Singh has also introduced a private Bill proposing a ban on government land acquisition for commercial purposes and profit-making.


Depriving a farmer of his land, which may be his only asset and source of livelihood, is an emotive issue, fraught with dangers. Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have passed laws, widely hailed as farmer-friendly. The UP law, passed after farmer protests first erupted over land takeover for the Delhi-Agra Expressway, has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Both UP and Haryana offer liberal rehabilitation terms, including annuity, to farmers. Disputes often arise over rates offered to land owners. Haryana provides the minimum floor rate, while critics of its policy seek market rates. In UP farmers down the road demand land rates offered in Greater Noida. Police brutality and politics have further complicated the issue. Hopefully, the amended Central law would take care of all ticklish issues with help from Mamata, lately on a political high, eyeing West Bengal's chief ministership. 











A day after US Special Forces clandestinely flew into Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden, the Indian Army Chief, General VK Singh, declared that the three services were competent to carry out a similar operation. Although the Army chief's remark was in response to a question asked by journalists and was devoid of any mention of Pakistan, it was enough to evoke an excited reaction from the western neighbour which lost no time in warning India of a 'catastrophic' response against any such 'misadventure'.


But the incident raises the question of whether the Army chief needed to make such a comment in the first place and whether he could have handled it more diplomatically. Few Army chiefs would like to admit that their forces do not possess such a capability, especially when it comes to India vis-a-vis Pakistan and, equally, vice versa. But more importantly, should a service chief be commenting on such capabilities considering that such operations require stealth, surprise and will forever be fraught with risk? For, if the US did record a spectacular success in taking out Osama bin Laden, then there have also been cases of abject failure. On April 24, 1981, almost 30 years ago, an attempt by a US Special Forces team to rescue 52 Americans held hostage in the US Embassy in Teheran resulted in a humiliating failure and contributed significantly to Jimmy Carter's defeat in the presidential elections held later that same year.


The Indian armed forces would do well to study the success of Operation Geronimo, work to understand and acquire the required technology to make such operations successful and develop capabilities to conduct both covert and special operations. India's security concerns are complex and not just confined to Pakistan. Considering that launching a war is neither easy nor a first option, the armed forces may be called upon to engage in similar operations in the future. 









WITH world attention focused on the spectacular American action to eliminate Osama bin Laden, there has been a tendency to forget the developments in Pakistan that preceded this event. Angered by American snooping on his jihadi assets, General Kayani launched a propaganda and diplomatic barrage to force the Americans to end their covert activities and drone attacks on the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. He claimed that the drone attacks were killing scores of innocent civilians. Cricketer-turned-politician and long-term Army and ISI protégé Imran Khan was commandeered to rent crowds and block US supply convoys to Afghanistan. Sadly for General Kayani, the GOC of Pakistan's 7th Division in North Waziristan, Major-General Ghayur Mehmud, debunked his Chief's strident propaganda, revealing that "a majority of those killed by drone strikes are Al-Qaida elements, especially foreigners, while civilian casualties are few".


Undeterred by this fiasco and unfazed by the dressing down that his ISI chief Lieut-Gen Shuja Pasha got from CIA Director Leon Panetta during General Pasha's visit to Washington on April 11, General Kayani roped in the army's favourite politician in the ruling PPP, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, to make some outrageous demands when Mr Gilani, accompanied by General Kayani and General Pasha, met President Karzai in Kabul on April 16.


According to Mr Karzai's aides, privy to what transpired, Mr Gilani, whose intellectual abilities have not been known to match the sartorial elegance of his Saville Row suits, bluntly told President Karzai that the Americans had let down both of them and that Mr Karzai should under no circumstances agree to a long-term American military presence in Afghanistan. For good measure, Mr Gilani added that rather than look to a strategic partnership with the US, Mr Karzai should look to Pakistan and its "all-weather friend" China and strike a deal with the Taliban.


Having witnessed his father being killed by the Taliban in Peshawar and having learnt to balance adeptly between external powers, the wily Mr Karzai obviously has no intention of leaving his fate and that of his country to be determined by the ISI.  The crude Kayani-led effort is to force the Afghans to accept an ISI-sponsored "reconciliation process" with the Taliban, which excludes the Americans. To demonstrate their clout, the Pakistanis have arrested the number 2 Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who refused to accept Pakistani tutelage and was prepared to talk directly to President Karzai, who is a fellow Durrani Pashtun. The Americans, in turn, initially insisted that the "reconciliation process" should be initiated only after the Taliban renounced violence, surrendered arms and agreed to abide by the Afghan constitution.


Recognising that this was unrealistic, the Americans now say that what they had earlier demanded should be the outcome of the "reconciliation process". In the meantime, busybodies like Turkey are working towards hosting an office of the Taliban despite the organization being banned as an international terrorist organisation.


The US and its NATO partners have announced that they will not further participate in active combat operations and hand over responsibilities to Afghan forces at the end of 2014. The million-dollar question is whether Afghan forces can take on the Taliban, armed, trained and operating from secure bases in Pakistan, from taking over the control of Pashtun-dominated Southern Afghanistan. President Najibullah held on to control his country till four years after the then Soviet Union commenced its withdrawal. He was forced to capitulate only because the Soviet Union collapsed. In these circumstances, the crucial question is what happens after December 2014. Will the Americans withdraw fully after December 2014, leaving a power vacuum to be filled up by the Taliban? There are no clear answers to this query, as yet.


President Obama declared on May 1 that killing Osama was a major objective, even as the US continued to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" his network. The Al-Qaida, on its own, has not carried out a single significant terrorist attack after 9/11. The terrorist attacks in London, Madrid, Bali and New York's Times Square were all largely by Pakistanis motivated by groups like the Lashkar, Jaish and HUJI, which are affiliated to Al-Qaida. It is also clear from the statements of Headley and Rana that it was Pakistani terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri, operating from North Waziristan, who was the mastermind of the efforts to stage a terrorist attack in Copenhagen.  This makes it clear that despite the elimination of Osama bin Laden, the infrastructure of terrorism, established along the AfPak border areas, still remains intact, posing a threat to global security.


The elimination of Al-Qaida is not going to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" terrorist networks bent on striking at cities in the US and its NATO allies. This would require relentless counter- terrorism action across the Durand Line. Given the heavy dependence of the Americans on Pakistan for logistical supplies through Pakistani territory, such action would be unthinkable just now. But with an estimated 50 per cent of supplies even now coming through Russia and Central Asia, this dependence on Pakistan will become much less important in the coming years, as American troop levels in Afghanistan are significantly reduced. In such a scenario, the US will be more open to effective counter-terrorism across the Durand Line, as US Vice-President Biden and others like Ambassador Robert Blackwill have advocated.


The US is negotiating a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan, which will enable a residual military presence even beyond 2014. Its provisions will be important in outlining long-term American objectives.


President Karzai's enthusiasm for "reconciliation" with the Taliban is provoking  a backlash in Northern Afghanistan, where non-Pashtun groups have noted that he no longer criticises Taliban excesses. There is scepticism about any possibility of the Taliban shedding its pernicious ideological beliefs. Given the composition of the Afghan Parliament, it would be difficult to get a consensus on any deal which Mr Karzai strikes with the Taliban.


If the Taliban overruns Southern Afghanistan, as the Americans commence their troop reduction, they will face serious resistance all over the Amu Darya region. We may then have a de facto partition of Afghanistan into Pashtun and non-Pashtun areas. It is not clear how the Pashtuns in Pakistan's tribal areas, who have been relentlessly bombed and displaced from their homes by General Kayani's actions, will respond to such a development. India will have to manoeuvre dexterously if it is to ensure that Afghanistan does not yet again become a haven for terrorism, threatening its security, as it did during the days of the ISI-backed Taliban rule in Kabul and Kandahar.









One fine day my teenage daughter announced that she wanted to learn the violin. Considering no one in our family had ever attempted such a feat I was naturally taken aback. All my attempts to disabuse her were firmly rebuffed.


So began my odyssey for a violin teacher. We found the first violin teacher with surprising ease but alas he turned out to be nothing but a covetous fraud who took advance fee and disappeared after two classes. Somewhat disgruntled, I started to look around for another teacher. I soon found one who seemed sincere and devoted but unfortunately his repertoire was limited to the basic notes on the violin.


I was disheartened and ready to give up the search but decided to make a last-ditch effort. A music lover recommended a teacher but warned that he was a 'fakir'. My imagination conjured a man with tangled locks and a 'choga'. The reality, however, was shockingly different. I found a frail, lonely, old man living in near penury in an attic on the third floor of an old house.


He had an old pedestal fan in one corner of a bare room which he turned on only to provide me some respite from the heat of a scorching May afternoon. I almost fled the place but the sight of a beautiful violin in one corner lovingly polished to a fine patina gave me pause. So began the saga of the violin teacher.


Come rain or shine he would arrive with a smile on his face and a new melody he would lovingly play on the violin. Any offer of tea or eatables would invariably be met with a dignified "Nothing for me". My hesitant offers of financial or material help were met with a steady "I have enough". Soliciting help in any form seemed anathema to him.


I slowly learnt that he had been a music director in Bombay. He had directed music for several songs sung by Rafi but had left to create and play music on his own terms. In the pursuit of music he became a recluse and was able to earn only enough to keep body and soul together.  


Today his vision is failing, his hearing is deteriorating, he has a cyst, the size of a cricket ball on his neck (malignant or not is anybody's guess) and he is all alone in the autumn of his life. Yet, he soldiers on with a smile and the violin firmly tucked in the crook of his arm, an inspiration to the world. Such devotion to music is admirable and yet one sadly wonders at the exorbitant cost paid for such devotion.











This year the theme of International Nurses Day is "Closing the Gap: Increasing Access and Equity". The theme primarily focuses on the contributions of the nurses towards efficient delivery of health care services even to the far-flung remote areas, including vulnerable communities, marginalized communities, rural communities and economically weaker sections of society with a view to promoting the utilisation of health services and health care resources by the people. However, India has been neglecting the education and training of nurses badly.


The country has 2,178 nursing diploma schools, 1373 nursing degree schools and 401 MSc nursing colleges and annually, the country produces around 60,000 nurses. According to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) statistics the nurse-population ratio in India is 1:2,950 and hence among 133 developing nations we stand 75th in the nurse-population ratio even though we remain the biggest supplier of doctors and nurses to the developed world.


According to WHO, India will need 2.4 million nurses by 2012 to achieve the government's aim of a nurse-patient ratio of 1:500. More than mere setting up of buildings and infrastructure or even complying with the norms set up to establish a new college as per the guidelines of the Indian Nursing Council (INC), the need of the hour is to give evidence-based and competent practical training to our new nursing graduates and also motivating them to build/develop interest and passion for patient care. Practices need to be highly skillful and competent based on a lot of practice to deliver holistic care to clients.


There are 150 nursing institutes in Punjab with more than 25 colleges offering MSc nursing course. Not even one MSc nursing college in the state has been able to comply with even basic norms and rules set out by Ithe ndian Nursing Council, New Delhi, and Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, Faridkot. Mainly there is lack of experienced MSC nursing faculty, lack of publications and independent published research work of high quality by MSC Nursing faculty, lack of independent research and development projects by college along with lack of resources and infrastructure for MSc Nursing course.


Furthermore, on the day of inspection especially by the INC, everything is shown on papers i.e. rented buildings, lab equipment and library books. So much so, even MSc and BSc nursing faculty is hired for just 1-2 days. After that nothing is there. Imparting nursing education is a mere business for the private businessman of Punjab. The relaxations given by the INC in opening /setting up BSc nursing and MSc nursing colleges have been grossly misused by the latter.


Teaching shops


In the race to be one-up on each other, these colleges indulge in all types of unscrupulous activities ranging from assisting students in cheating in examinations to allowing students to do non-attending MSc nursing course which is totally illegal, unprofessional and unethical. Teachers are made to work by making them kill their conscience and are left on the whims and fancies of their respective managements.

Student nurses while pursing their training often lament inappropriate practical training. Nursing procedures ought to be practiced by students many times on dummies before being administered independently on patients. Yet, a majority of nursing institutes do not even have dummies. Even if a dummy is present, a student hardly gets a chance to practice on it as student-dummy ratio is 50:1 or even 75:1.

Students are forced to try out procedures directly on poor patients, making the latter guinea pigs for carrying out simple to complex nursing procedures. Often nursing students end up harming the client in one way or the other.

Nurses are always caught in a dilemma between their accountability to patients in terms of nursing care and professional duty to doctors and other health care professionals in terms of obeying their orders and hence assisting the latter by all means. So much so, while assisting physicians in clinical trials they never question the doctor regarding the authenticity of these trials in terms of the bioethics involved.

Lack of ethics

They rather blindly follow physician's orders and hence equally contribute to unscrupulous medical practices which make poor patients guinea pigs in pharmaceutical company-sponsored clinical trials. The good reason is that there are no defined nursing ethics in our country.


The difference in the care rendered to a patient by a locally trained illiterate girl/quack nurse and a diploma/degree holder or postgraduate nurse is not appreciated. Hence there is no motivation for increasing one's qualifications.


The modus operandi of private nursing homes and hospitals is to train local illiterate young girls and boys in basic nursing care which primarily includes changing IV bottles and administering medications, including injectables, and subsequently making the latter don nurses' dress and hence giving a vague and fraudulent picture of nurses to the entire society.


In the government sector, till date there is no post of Professor or Assistant Professor/Reader. Nurses in all the private nursing institutes, including mission hospitals such as CMC Ludhiana, and CMC Vellore, use self-proclaimed designations of Professor and Assistant Professor/Reader, which is totally unprofessional! Till date nurses have not been able to create a separate directorate of nursing and still are governed by Director Health services at the state level and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare at the central level. With the population of our country exceeding one billion, it is shocking that we have only one nursing advisor at the Centre.


Need of the hour


The need of the hour is to strengthen the inspection criteria of the INC and the university. It has two main components: one, checking of credentials of MSc nursing teachers in terms of published papers of high quality, conducting independent research projects or involvement in ongoing/current research project of government or any other international UN body or NGO, and secondly evaluating the academic performance of a college in terms of conducting national level workshops and organising conferences on an annual basis along with taking research grants from national bodies like the ICMR, the MOHFW, NACO and WHO, UNDP Geneva etc at the international level.


More rigorous evaluation criteria for practical and theory examinations of students, along with starting a common exit exam for all nursing passouts, thorough investigation of Masters and Bachelors nursing students' dissertation thesis, recruitment of special nurse researchers by the university are a few things needed urgently. Above all, nursing students must be continuously motivated for "selfless service" and "significance of empathy" while caring for patients.


Nurses of India need effective training and ought to acquire skills necessary for effective implementation of the government's programmes and policies, especially in relation to the Reproductive and Child health Programme (RCH-II), Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP), Adolescent Health programme and Geriatric Health Programme run by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare at the Central level and the Directorate of Health and Family Welfare Programme at the state level. Both these programmes are being run under the auspices of the Director-General Health Services (DGHS).


The writer is Vice-Principal, Rayat-Bahra College of Nursing, Distt Mohali







* No MSc nursing college in Punjab has been able to comply with even basic norms and rules set out by the Indian Nursing Council, New Delhi, and Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, Faridkot.


* There is lack of experienced MSc nursing faculty, lack of publications and independent published research work of high quality by the faculty, lack of independent research and development projects by college along with lack of resources and infrastructure.


* On the day of inspection, especially by the INC, everything is shown on paper i.e. rented buildings, lab equipment and library books. So much so, MSc and BSc nursing faculty is hired for 1-2 days. After that, nothing is there.


* Students are forced to try out procedures directly on poor patients, making the latter guinea pigs. Often nursing students end up harming the clients in one way or the other.


* The difference in the care rendered to a patient by a locally trained illiterate girl/quack nurse and a diploma/degree holder or postgraduate nurse is not appreciated. Hence there is no motivation for increasing one's qualifications.




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




While sharp political differences between the two main national political parties, the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are understandable and quite natural, both are obliged to ensure that India's federal structure is not weakened and day-to-day governance is not harmed by their political rivalry and the egos of their leadership. The BJP's anger against the Congress, as reflected in the proceedings of the BJP chief ministers' conclave this week, should not cross the point where the relationship between the Centre and the states of the Union is damaged. As India's two major national parties, which are also leaders of the two contending coalitions, the United Progressive Alliance and the National Democratic Alliance, both the Congress and the BJP owe it to the nation that they learn to manage their differences in a reasonable manner. The BJP's decision to stall important economic legislation – including the goods and services tax (GST) – on the grounds that the central government is harassing its chief ministers, especially Narendra Modi, is an unfortunate move to politicise policy making in a federal system. Equally, the Congress cannot treat Mr Modi as if he were a criminal since no charges have been proved against him in court. The BJP has every right to demand fair treatment for the state governments run by it and for its chief ministers, just as the Congress has every right to expect the BJP to behave as a responsible opposition party at the Centre. If each tries to paralyse the working of the governments they control, and if each adopts tactics in opposition that they criticised when in government, the nation would be worse off for it, as it indeed seems to be, given the impasse on critical policy issues.

At the bottom of this impasse lies not just distrust of each other but a more worrying impatience within the leadership of each side with the rival's ability to regain power. If the Congress is frustrated by Mr Modi's popularity and success as chief minister, the BJP is frustrated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's longevity and Teflon personality. No shortcut will allow either party to get to the destination they seek to reach. If the Congress wants Mr Modi defeated, it must do that fair and square in the electoral arena, and not by any sleight of hand. No elected politician in a democracy can be treated as a political untouchable. Equally, if the BJP has not yet been able to come to terms with Dr Singh's return to power there is nothing it can do about it till 2014. Therefore, the BJP must allow him to function effectively until such time as it can challenge the Congress at the hustings. The BJP's deliberate targeting of the prime minister, seeking to render him ineffective, is not in the national interest. While the central government must allow state governments to function effectively, irrespective of the ideology of the political party in power in the state, the state governments and major opposition parties must allow the government in Delhi to discharge its duties. This is the essence of "cooperative federalism".






The recent arrangement reached by India and Iran, under which India would pay for oil imports from Iran in rupees, concludes the effort to find an alternative mode of payment, following the termination of the mechanism using the Asian Clearing Union as a conduit late last year, following pressure from the United States. Subsequent efforts to route payments through German banks and the United Arab Emirates also did not fructify for much the same reason. It would be interesting to see how durable the present arrangement is, given the United States' determination to bring Iran to its knees, by choking off its main source of revenue — petroleum exports. The oil-for-rupee deal struck by the two countries is reminiscent of a similar arrangement between India and the erstwhile Soviet Union, which allowed India to pay for Soviet imports (mostly defence equipment and crude oil) in rupees, an arrangement that continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The motivations for doing so are vastly different, though. With a war chest of over $300 billion, India today has no dearth of forex reserves as it then did. The arrangement will allow Iran to buy Indian products, but not invest in India. The list of items that Iran can import is still being worked out to ensure that there are no items classified as "dual use".

Ensuring the flow of oil is of vital strategic importance for India. In 2010, India was the fifth-largest oil importer globally and sourced 70 per cent of its oil from West Asia. Saudi Arabia is the largest supplier with 18 per cent, with Iran a close second at 16 per cent. By volume, India imported 22 million tonnes of oil in 2009-10, valued at $14 billion. On the other hand, Iran has been leveraging India's extensive refining capacities to import large volumes of petroleum products to supplement limited domestic production. Economic relations between the two countries, though admittedly dominated by the energy trade, go well beyond. ONGC-Videsh Limited (OVL) and Essar Oil have extensive interests in Iran's oil and gas space. In particular, OVL has been aggressively seeking (and obtaining) exploration and drilling rights in both oil and gas in Iran, after a sedate start. Given the sheer size of the reserves, this could positively impact India's bid for energy security as the projects come on stream. In addition, India and Iran have a number of joint ventures in iron and steel, aluminium and industrial products. The port at Chabahar and the Chabahar-Faraj-Bam railway project, both being constructed by India, will provide India access to Afghanistan and central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. While India should generally take note of the sensitivities of an important country like the United States, which has objected to certain aspects of the India-Iran relationship, it cannot afford to set aside its national interests in order to address such sensitivities. India has a lot at stake in preserving its relations with Iran, even as it openly questions Iran's track record and intent with respect to both the Iranian nuclear programme and the rise of Islamic extremism and jihadi terrorism.





Some correspondents are in a state of sulphurous anger:
* Why the Americans are not helping the Syrian protesters in ousting their president? the president of Syria a s*n of b***h have killed thousands of its own people and its continuing [asterisks inserted].

Some are desperate to make money:
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…okay, and these people are plain nuts:
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* i have found the PM to be very effeminate from the way he talks and his daily dealings with other ministers. A PM should be strong and effective and not meek and submissive which actually in turn helps the other ministers to loot the nation. he … have a womanly nature. [bold in original]

The url, for those who may not read our opinion pages, is the email address for readers who want to comment on the paper's content (or lack thereof) or air an opinion about current affairs or issues. A trawl through the daily haul – a small sampler of which is reproduced above – suggests that not everyone understands that purpose and some interpret it liberally.

So, in addition to regular correspondents is an assortment of writers who want to kill or annihilate the corrupt, other religious groups or anybody they consider deviant (including some of our columnists and writers), composers of near thesis-length opinions that they just want out there in the ether and a variety of research houses who unilaterally advise us on the stock markets.

None of this correspondence is junk or bulk mail and it forms at least a third of the daily mailbag to this address.

For consumer product companies – which a newspaper essentially is – the received wisdom about the worldwide web is that it is a hugely useful tool for real-time user feedback. That is why most of the world's large brands have facilities on their websites for customer responses and a growing number of CEOs write periodic blogs for customers and other external stakeholders (most of them are deadly boring, though). Indeed, given the number of irate customers who've copied us in on complaints to sundry banks, finance companies, airlines and appliance makers, the power of www is immense and far-reaching.

For instance, the Net has enabled us to react to reader comments and suggestions far more quickly. Today, we've instituted alterations to content within days of reader demand. By contrast, a reader from Manipur and one in Lucknow demanded a Hindi edition in 1986. Our Hindi edition was launched in February 2008 and the farthest east it reaches at present is Kolkata.

But the remarkable point about web-enabled letter writing is that, apart from the speed and sheer bulk this immediacy enables, letter-writing behaviour hasn't altered significantly. With the exception of people hoping to interest Business Standard in a variety of goods and services and the lonely hearts, we continue to enjoy the regulars who comment thoughtfully and seriously on a range of subjects and those who constructively admonish us for errors of omission and commission. In the days before the Net, these letters typically arrived, sometimes three or four at a time, carefully and surprisingly legibly handwritten, in those trademark blue-green Inland Letters of the Indian Postal Service.

The nutters didn't take so much trouble: they sent their feverishly inscribed diatribes, taking wide liberties with grammar, punctuation, spelling and abuse, on thick yellow postcards with illegible signatures and no forwarding address. Their 21st century equivalents are those who spew similar invective and bear email addresses such as, purely as an example, rajesh123 or abhishek678.

All of this makes the job of the letters editor interesting and entertaining. But it also suggests that corporations that rely on the net as a proxy for consumer behaviour can easily be misled.







In the mid-1970s I spent a few years working on sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries and concluded in a review paper (World Development, February 1981) that their prospects for robust economic development were problematic. Thirty years later, is there any reason to change that judgement? The overwhelming majority of non-African observers (and many Africans) would say no. After all, median real income in SSA has changed little since the mid-1970s. In the world outside, SSA is mostly associated with widespread AIDS, autocratic (and corrupt) rulers, undiversified economies and perennial civil strife, which have continued to blight the lives of many million Africans.


A fortnight back, I had an opportunity to revisit the issue at a conference convened by the Ghana-based African Centre for Economic Transformation in the beautiful environment of the Rockefeller Centre at Bellagio, Italy. While there were different points of view (as always), the big takeaway was that things were really changing for the better in many SSA countries. The single most persuasive presentation was made by Steve Radelet (currently chief economist of US AID), based on his recent book, Emerging Africa, written during his years with the Centre for Global Development in Washington DC. Let me convey the gist of his analysis.

Mr Radelet divides the 48 SSA nations into four groups: 17 "Emerging Countries" which have averaged over 2 per cent per capita GDP growth since 1995; another six on the "Threshold" of sustained growth; nine "Oil Exporters" (dominated by Nigeria and Sudan) whose fortunes fluctuate with oil prices and the remaining 16 "Other SSA" where average income has actually declined since 1995. The table presents the details of the country groupings and average per capita growth rates from 1996 to 2008. If the trend in average per capita incomes of the three main groups is shown on a graph, it can be seen that per capita income has risen by 60 per cent since 1995 in the "Emerging Countries", while they have stagnated in the other SSAs and have risen by only about 30 per cent in the oil exporters. It clearly demonstrates the strong performance of the "Emerging Countries" since the mid-1990s, relative to the other groups. What is particularly encouraging is that these nations account for 344 million of SSA's total 2010 population of 875 million. Indeed, adding the "Threshold" countries' 89 million would mean that about half of SSA's population resides in countries doing reasonably well without the benefit of oil riches.

In a series of inter-temporal comparisons of "Emerging Countries" (EC) versus "Other SSA" (OSSA), Mr Radelet proceeds to flesh out the markedly superior performance of the former group. Thus, by 2007, the level of gross investment in EC had nearly tripled since the mid-1990s as compared to rising only about 70 per cent in OSSA. There had been a similar tripling of total trade of the EC during this period as compared to a hardly 50 per cent increase in OSSA. Estimates indicate that total factor productivity growth in EC averaged close to 2 per cent a year, as compared to minus 1 per cent in OSSA. Agricultural production in EC was 50 higher over the period compared to a 30-per cent increase in OSSA. Infant mortality in both groups fell steadily, though from a significantly lower level in EC. By 2007, infant mortality in EC was below 70 per thousand live births. Between 1999 and 2007, net primary school enrolment increased from 65 to 80 per cent in EC, while in OSSA the rise was more gradual from 57 to 67 per cent.

So what explains the substantially superior performance of the 17 "Emerging Countries" of sub-Saharan Africa? Mr Radelet attributes this to five fundamental factors: the rise of democracy and improved governance; much better economic policies; the end of the African debt crisis and improved donor relations; the rise of new technologies (especially mobile telephony); and the emergence of a new generation of leaders and voters. The first two merit elaboration.

In the late 1980s, there were only three democracies in SSA: Botswana, Gambia and Mauritius. By 1994, the number had risen to 20 and by 2005 to 26. Interestingly, by the end of the millennium nearly all the 17 "Emerging Countries" could be characterised as democracies. Using Freedom House indices, political and civil liberties improved markedly in the EC group from 1990 onwards, while they remained at a low level in the OSSA group. Similarly, the incidence of domestic conflict fell sharply (comparing 1996-2008 to the previous 15 years) in the EC group, while remaining high and unchanged in OSSA. On each of the World Bank governance indicators (rule of law, corruption control, political stability, regulatory quality, government effectiveness and voice/accountability) the EC recorded improvement between 1996 and 2008, while in OSSA all indicators worsened.

Turning to economic policy, Mr Radelet draws on the seminal study of "anti-growth syndromes" done by African Economic Research Consortium and published in 2007: Benno Ndulu et al, The Political Economy of Economic Growth in Africa, 1960-2000, (Cambridge University Press). The four identified anti-growth syndromes included three economic ones: heavy-handed control regimes; redistribution systems that rewarded political allies and ethnic groups at the expense of efficiency and growth; and heavy borrowing and asset stripping. Mr Radelet shows that these syndromes declined sharply in the EC group from the mid-1980s and had virtually disappeared by 1995. In contrast, the syndromes retained their stifling hold in OSSA right through to 2004 (the end point of the underlying data series).

Threshold countries

(89 million)



Kenya 2003-08


Liberia 2005-08






Sierra Leone 2003-08
















Burkina Faso


Central African




Cape Verde








Congo, Dem. Rep.


Congo, Rep.




Cote d'Ivoire


Eq. Guinea
















Gambia, The






















Sao Tome and Principe












South Africa
























Note: Figures in parentheses refer to population in 2010.
Source: Steven Radelet, Emerging Africa, Brookings Institution Press, 2010.

The "Emerging Countries" of Africa clearly refute the gloom about African economic development that was almost universally pervasive until quite recently. At the same time, Africa's development is by no means on auto-pilot. For one thing, the 16 countries of OSSA (with 180 million people) are still going the wrong way. They include nearly 70 million citizens in strife-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (still the Conradian "heart of darkness") and substantial numbers in Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Niger, Zimbabwe, Guinea and Somalia. For another, the fate of 261 million people living in the Oil Exporters (nearly 160 million in Nigeria) depends not just on the price of oil but also on necessary improvements in economic policy and governance of the kind seen in Emerging Africa. Finally, even in the 17 "Emerging Countries" (and the six "Threshold" ones) a great deal remains to be done to ensure sustained, broad-based and diversified growth and development.

However, at the very least, the last 15 years or so have yielded a strong, positive and hopeful development story coming out of Africa.

The author is honorary professor at ICRIER and former chief economic adviser to the Government of India. The views expressed are personal





Developing countries are worried that the focus of the Doha Round is once again shifting from development to market access in favour of the developed world.

The month of May 2011 is going to be busy for the followers of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). After the release of the documents by the Negotiating Chairs in April, there has been a flurry of activity in Geneva. As has been the case after every hiatus, developing countries are once again under pressure to accept some market access proposals advanced by the developed world.


 However, despite the frequent meetings in Geneva, member countries are still far from any breakthrough in the negotiations. A WTO analyst amplified this and said, "Let us not again mistake activity for any movement." Some WTO regulars also indicate the possibility of the draft text of an agreement emerging from the Director General of the WTO, Pascal Lamy. However, such a text at this time could have ramifications. One, if it is imbalanced and lacks a genuine development dimension, it could stall the Round for a long time. And two, the contents may strain Mr Lamy's self-projected image as a neutral player in the negotiations.

There have been texts from WTO chiefs in the past but the current environment may not be conducive to such a text. In the overall interest of the Round, Mr Lamy will need to ensure that the text is member-driven and not authored by the WTO secretariat.

Over the next few weeks, political pressure will build to take the Round forward. To begin with, some trade ministers would meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade ministers' meeting in Montana. Then some of them will meet again in Paris on the sidelines of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development meeting. Also, the WTO's Trade Negotiations Committee will meet again at the end of this month to chart a course of action over the next two months to take the Doha process forward.

A cause for concern for the developing world is that the focus of the negotiations has put developing countries like India, China and Brazil in the limelight again. The focal point of discussions over the next few weeks would be the reduction of tariffs on industrial goods. Rajeev Kher, the chief WTO negotiator for India, at a recent industry meeting stated that the issue now was the emergence of a perceptible paradigm shift in the negotiations. He was referring to the current discussion in Geneva, where some member countries are reiterating that the developed world has already unilaterally brought down tariffs and now the developing world will have to reciprocate by agreeing to participate in negotiations that could even eliminate tariffs in certain identified sectors like chemicals, industrial machinery and electronics and electrical.

The paradigm shift that Mr Kher is pointing to is that the current discussions in Geneva have moved away from the core of the Doha negotiations of making the Round development-oriented rather than market access-oriented.

This reflects a question raised by the CEO of a Malaysian company at a recent conference in Kuala Lumpur. He asked whether fast-growing developing countries need the WTO to improve their presence in global markets or whether the developed countries that are hit by the economic crisis need the multilateral trade organisation to meet their aspirations.

His question was based on the fact that there are currently over 500 bilateral and regional agreements either under negotiations or concluded in the Asia-Pacific region. Nearly 280 of these agreements have been concluded. Many of these are South-South agreements which help build value chains across the region. The India-Malaysia Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, for instance, along with the India-Asean agreement on goods, can provide some key sectors an important platform to build value chains across the region. These agreements, the Malaysian entrepreneur said, provide a win-win solution to the countries in the South and help them in the inclusive growth process.

The WTO cannot be replaced by regional and bilateral trade agreements. Such agreements can only supplement the WTO, which, still, remains the best platform to negotiate agreements that provide a larger access to global markets. However, there is an urgent need for member countries to understand that they should not undermine the sanctity of the Development Round currently under negotiation. Over the next three months member countries may decide the possible outcome of the Doha Round.

The author is principal adviser with APJ-SLG Law Offices






The past few decades have seen the share of agriculture decline in the Indian economy to be overtaken by services. Over the last six decades, the share of the service sector has increased from one-third of GDP in 1950-51 to more than half in the last decade, rising steadily over the years, with a marked acceleration in growth in the eighties and nineties. The service sector comprises four main categories: trade, hotels and restaurants; transport, storage and communication; financing, insurance, real estate and business services; and community, social and personal services. With varying growth paths in these categories, the composition of the service sector has undergone changes over time. Financing, insurance, real estate and business services constituted the largest category in the fifties, with more than one-third share, followed by community, social and personal services (which include public administration). The sector with highest growth that now accounts for the largest share in the service sector income is trade, hotels and restaurants, comprising close to a third of the service sector. However, of all the sub-categories, communication has recorded consistent double-digit annual growth since 1992, passing 20 per cent rates annually in the 2000s.

The sectoral estimates of income at the state level draw attention to the unequal growth across the country. According to the latest Central Statistical Organisation estimates for the period 2004-05 to 2009-10, compound annual growth in the service sector varies across states from 6.51 per cent in Meghalaya to 14.57 per cent in Uttarakhand. Uttarakhand has seen the fastest growth in public administration and banking and insurance, with sub-sectors of trade, hotels and restaurants and transport, storage and communication also turning in 15 per cent-plus levels of annual growth. There are 14 states with double-digit growth in this period in the service sector and three states – Meghalaya, Tripura and Jammu and Kashmir – grew at less than 8 per cent annually. Bihar is among the top five states, trailing Haryana and Puducherry and recording a better performance than Maharashtra.


Encouragingly, the leading sub-sectors have been trade, hotels and restaurants and banking and insurance, with more than 15 per cent annual growth in this period.(Click here for STATE OF SERVICE)



Sectoral share of
the service sector to
total GDP (%)















advance estimates

On the other hand, low growth in Meghalaya is accompanied by poor performance in all the components. The state ranks among the bottom two in growth in banking and insurance and real estate, ownership of dwellings and business services. In Tripura, while transport, storage and communication and banking and insurance have recorded good growth, the laggard has been the category of trade, hotels and restaurants. For Jammu and Kashmir, the leading sector has been transport, storage and communication. However, trade, hotels and restaurants turned in 2 per cent annual growth, a reflection of turbulent years in a state that has the potential to be India's leading tourist destination.

The high growth of the service sector has been particularly important because this has enabled the absorption of workforce shifting out of agriculture, providing earning opportunities even for those with low education and skills. The variation across states underlines the diversity within the country and regional inequalities in opportunities.

Indian States Development Scorecard, a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics, focuses on the progress in India and across the states across various socio-economic parameters.  







With practically all but the State Bank of India, among listed banks, having announced their results for the quarter ending March 2011, the financial performance is on expected lines. The publicly-owned banks accounted for two-thirds of the reported profits while those in the private sector accounted for the rest. Public sector banks are four times as big as their counterparts in the private sector in terms of the quantum of deposits but still manage only three times as much profits. The gap may not, as yet, be large. But there is no question that there is an increasing divergence between the private and public sector banks on the sources of their incomes and profitability.

True, some of these PSU banks have leveraged their core strength of a wide branch network to enlarge their pool of low-cost deposits and increase the net interest margin (the difference between cost of funds and income earned on loans). Thus Andhra Bank and Union Bank of India, among others, have managed good net interest margins of above 3 per cent, a figure comparable to many private sector banks. On the other hand, for private banks, fee-based incomes proved to be the winning ticket. While public sector banks have been content with increasing the spread between cost of deposits and yield on advances, the private banks have been stressing on services. The PSU banks can and ought to do more in shoring up their service revenue streams. But this calls for entering aggressively into wealth management services, stock trading, and so on with its implications on higher investments in technology and a reorienting of its work culture.

The situation raises a more fundamental question: Is the officially imposed model of financial intermediation fast reaching its limits of effectiveness from the perspective of securing an acceptable return on shareholder funds? The public-policy-dictated model of intermediation requires that these banks expand their geographical reach beyond that dictated by business considerations. Further, public sector banks must reach out to those sections who may never quite generate profits commensurate with the infrastructure created to service them, as they have been anointed with the role of implementing the Government policy of 'financial inclusion'. Whatever management pundits may say about profits being available at the bottom of the pyramid, the harsh reality is that the base isn't all that large. To top it all, public sector banks must also be model employers, demonstrating a heightened degree of sensitivity towards employing socially-disadvantaged groups. The question is no longer an academic one, as there is a vast pool of private investors who have legitimate expectations of a return on their investments.






With world attention focused on the taking out of Osama bin Laden, there has been a tendency to ignore developments in Pakistan that preceded this event. The Osama operation was an outcome of a certain trajectory of events that had made it clear that Pakistan was not an "ally" of the US in the fight against terror.

This, for instance, was apparent when Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, General Ashraf Pervez Kayani, launched a diplomatic offensive to force the US to end its covert activities and drone attacks on the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. He claimed that the drone attacks were killing scores of innocent civilians.

Cricketer-turned-politician and long term Army and ISI protégé, Imran Khan, was commandeered to rent crowds to block US supply convoys to Afghanistan. Sadly for Kayani, the GOC of Pakistan's 7th Division in North Waziristan, Major General Ghayur Mehmud, debunked his Chief's propaganda outburst, revealing that "a majority of those killed by drone strikes are al Qaeda elements, especially foreigners, while civilian casualties are few".

Meanwhile, Kayani's ISI's General Shuja Pasha got a dressing down from CIA Director Leon Panetta, during Pasha's visit Washington on April 11. After that, Kayani roped in the army's favourite politician in the ruling PPP, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, to make outrageous demands when Gilani, accompanied by Kayani and Pasha, met President Karzai in Kabul on April 16.


According to Mr Karzai's aides, Gilani bluntly told Mr Karzai that the US had let down both of them and that Mr Karzai should under no circumstances agree to a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan.

Gilani added that rather than look to a strategic partnership with the US, Mr Karzai should look to Pakistan and its "all weather friend" China and strike a deal with the Taliban.

Mr Karzai had no intention of leaving his fate to be determined by the ISI. The Kayani-led effort is meant to force the Afghans to accept an ISI-sponsored "reconciliation process" with the Taliban, which excludes the Americans. To demonstrate their clout, the Pakistanis have arrested the Taliban's second-in-command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who refused to accept Pakistani tutelage and was prepared to talk directly to Mr Karzai, a fellow Durrani Pashtun.


The US and its NATO partners have announced that they will not further participate in active combat operations and hand over responsibilities to Afghan Forces at the end of 2014.

The million-dollar question is whether Afghan forces stop the Taliban, armed, trained and operating from secure bases in Pakistan, from taking over control of Pashtun-dominated Southern Afghanistan. Will the Americans withdraw fully after December 2014, leaving a power vacuum to be filled up by the Taliban?

President Obama declared on May 1 that killing Osama was a major objective, even as the US continued to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" his network. The Al Qaeda, on its own, has not carried out a single significant terrorist attack after 9/11. The terrorist attacks in London, Madrid, Bali and in New York's Times Square, were all largely by Pakistanis motivated by groups like the Lashkar, Jaish and HUJI, which are affiliated to al Qaeda. It is also clear from the statements of Headley and Rana in Chicago that it was Pakistani terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri, operating from North Waziristan, who was the mastermind of efforts to stage a terrorist attack in Copenhagen.

The elimination of Al Qaeda is not going to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" terrorist networks bent on striking at cities in the US and its NATO allies. This would require relentless counter terrorism action across the Durand Line.

Given the heavy dependence of the Americans on Pakistan for logistical supplies through Pakistani territory, such action would be unthinkable just now.


But, with an estimated 50 per cent of supplies even now coming through Russia and Central Asia, this dependence on Pakistan will become much less important in coming years, as American troop levels in Afghanistan are significantly reduced. The US will be more open to effective counterterrorism across the Durand Line as Vice President Joe Biden and others like Ambassador Robert Blackwill have advocated. The US is negotiating a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan, which will enable a residual military presence even beyond 2014.Mr Karzai's enthusiasm for "reconciliation" with the Taliban is provoking a backlash in Northern Afghanistan is giving rise to some reservations. Given the composition of the Afghan Parliament, it would be difficult to get a consensus on any deal which Mr Karzai strikes with the Taliban.

If the Taliban overruns Southern Afghanistan, as the Americans commence their troop reductions, we may see a de facto partition of Afghanistan, into Pashtun and non-Pashtun areas. India will have to manoeuvre dexterously, if it is to ensure that Afghanistan does not yet again become a haven for terrorism, as it was in the days of ISI backed Taliban rule in Kabul and Kandahar.






The many reform proposals made after the East Asian crisis were not implemented, setting the stage for the global crisis. The Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) of the IMF has pointed to "groupthink" for preventing action on pre-crisis financial risks. It is just as well that the G-20 has more diversity now. But the onus is on it to prevent history repeating itself. It is important that countries such as India be willing to bring different points of view to the debate.

G-20 worked well in coordinating the macroeconomic stimulus and in working out the direction of financial reform after the crisis. But the two-speed recovery has made macroeconomic issues divisive. The focus on imbalances is leading to a repeat of the pre-crisis scenario when many predictions of a dollar crisis were made, but financial risks were ignored. The French presidency of G-20 is an opportunity to bring better regulation back to the forefront. This is an area with more common interests, and greater possibility of moving ahead together.


In some respects, emerging markets (EMs) are closer to international regulatory standards and more keen to follow them. They are willing to change their regulations towards those of developed countries but the latter need to show more movement toward some of the conservative practices EMs are already following. Else, it will be the same East Asian crisis pattern where EMs reformed, but regulation of systematically important financial institutions (SIFIs) was not improved. Standards such as Basel II actually reduced the stability of the financial system.

EM financial institutions are distant from mature markets in terms of scale, and have to catch-up in many ways. Development is therefore their priority. But development has to be redefined. It is not just doing what advanced countries do, but moving them, even while catching up, towards a more stable system.

Minimal global standards can be consistent with the space to adjust to context and to local issues — more insular aspects of domestic financial sectors can vary across countries. But to prevent arbitrage and restrain SIFIs, taxes or prudential regulations are required at the level of asset-backed securities or transactions, not only on banks. Then short-term leverage will be constrained for all investors taking a position in credit assets.


Two major continuing failures in proposed regulatory systems are too much discretion in addressing macro-prudential concerns or potential systemic failures, and continuing leeway for SIFIs and cross-border liquidity creation.

Rules have been strengthened but actual implementation is too dependent on individual regulators. Coordination boards have been created but their efficacy is unproven. Again, EMs seem to have more specific countercyclical rules in place. Proposed Basel III changes are largely micro prudential. The loss-absorbing role of capital buffers is emphasised, not reducing risky activities or changing behaviour.

Macro-prudential policies increase the long-term cost of giving credit during booms and reduce these costs during busts. Credit cycles arise since agents tend to underprice risk in an upswing and become too risk-averse in a downswing.

They do not internalise the spillovers they create for others and for the financial network. Hence, micro-prudential policy alone does not address systemic risk. Monetary policy is also inadequate since the frequency and amplitude of business and credit cycles is quite different.

Because of the shadow-banking sector and banks' liabilities to foreign creditors, deposit liabilities or broad money alone underestimates the aggregate size of leveraged balance-sheets. Even in countries with traditional banking, US liquidity creation affects balance-sheets through portfolio flows, foreign liabilities of the banking sector, and other types of dollar carry trade. So, macro-prudential policies require international regulatory co-operation and information sharing, to reduce credit externalities.


The explanation for high foreign exchange reserves may itself lie in the nature of financial integration combined with rising capital flows, so that tax or other reforms reducing cross border volatility could reduce reserve imbalances.

From the nineties onwards, reserves show a rising threshold, except for countries in an inner financial circle. They rise but rarely fall. Countries without reliable access to crisis liquidity are probably afraid of market interpretations of a fall in reserves, which may set off a downward spiral. Since rating agencies give too much weight to measurable aspects, they tend to downgrade a country whose reserves fall. If reserves are regarded as a signal of strength, they cannot be allowed to fall. Their precautionary use is limited then only to the signal.

There are other psychological pressures such as bettering one's own past record and keeping up with the Joneses (namely China).

Thus, taxes may be a useful complement to regulation in order to increase financial stability. Upfront costs are lower for taxes compared to capital charges; compared to controls an activity continues to be available, only its costs rise; compared to regulation taxes are non-discretionary, non-discriminatory and based on hard information.










Microsoft's acquisition of Skype, an online videochat service accessible from computers and mobile phones, is important for multiple reasons beyond the boost to deal-making and business sentiment it provides through its size, $8.5 billion, all in cash. The stock market's initial reaction was negative, MS investors deeming the acquisition too pricey. Not a surprising judgment, considering that Skype had been valued, not too long ago, at about a quarter of that price. However, it probably makes a lot of sense for MS to buy and integrate Skype into its core Windows ecosystem. At a time when a whole new computing form factor, the tablet, is growing rapidly almost without a Windows presence, it makes eminent sense for MS to offer a compelling reason to have Windows on tablets, complete with an integrated video chat function already used by some 700 million people. That apart, Skype will enhance Windows' communication features, making the operating system even more useful for geographically distributed enterprises. Another reason to welcome the deal is the testimony it offers to the still amazing possibilities for wealth creation in tech entrepreneurship and in its funding. eBay, which acquired Skype for $3.1 billion in 2005, two years after its founding, did not know what to do with it and sold majority stake to an investor group, which has now made good. For India, the clear implication is in terms of what the deal says about the nature of future communications. It will be based on packets of data whizzing around broadband networks with people seeing who they speak to, more often than not. The current restriction on net telephony is wholly obsolete and must be scrapped immediately. Telecom policy and spectrum usage must aim for universal high-speed broadband access, on which pure voice calls are just one functionality. Equipment manufacture, both network and customer-premise, is key for affordable ubiquity of next-generation communications. A publicly-funded national fibre optic network that can be used by service providers is imperative. India cannot afford to lag behind on this vital infrastructure of a modern economy.








The successful completion of the polling process in West Bengal, which was the last phase of assembly elections in four states and Puducherry, is significant due to the relatively smaller scale of violence witnessed during the process. Given West Bengal's history of political violence, and with projections of a defeat for the decades-old Left regime, there was a real fear of the polls being particularly bloody. Add to that the Maoist factor, with the last phase of polls being held in districts with significant Maoist presence, and the fact of the polls by and large passing off peacefully in Bengal is heartening. It would be logical to give most of the credit for that to the Election Commission (EC), with its effective use of the governmental machinery at its disposal as well as the security forces. But another factor which worked to prevent fears of intense violence from materialising highlights, in a sort of perversion, the nature of the problem in WB. And that is the Trinamool's use of political violence to counter the violence that has long been deployed by CPM cadres in WB against opponents. The Trinamool, in short, has used the Left's own methods against it. The peaceful end of the poll process is, thus, only cause for relief in the immediate context. There are very real fears that the state will witness acute post-results violence.

Tackling that will, of course, be a matter of enforcing law and order. The continued deployment of security forces for some more days post-polls will help, but what is called for, essentially, is a change in political culture, which, apart from patronage and pelf, has meant reliance on muscle power. The EC might, during polls, do a good job of keeping parties and candidates on a leash to end the prevalence of practices like sops-for-votes or plain intimidation, but changing the wider political praxis calls for a re-envisaging of how politics is conceived of, and practiced. In the short-term, the challenge and first key test for Mamata Banerjee — in the event of a widely-predicted win — will be whether she is able to initiate a change in Bengal's political culture by now enforcing a break with the violence paradigm.









Agreat leap forward it is, in time and mindspace if not in distance. Luckily for Samoa, of course, the great divide between today and tomorrow, International Date Line, is only 20 miles away from its the western-most island, so it can easily time-travel whenever the situation demands. Not that geography has stopped others from tinkering with time: in 2007 President Hugo Chavez shifted Venezuela back 30 minutes, and India's own neighbours maintain a time gap that is due more to political than longitudinal positions. Samoa skipping to the right of the line 119 years ago was understandable: it wanted to be closer in every way to the US, its main trading partner at the time — and celebrate Fourth of July twice that year too. This time around, its efforts to align itself with its new important business partner — Australasia — has already seen the government mandating a changeover to driving on the left in 2009, signalling a tremendous mental shift. The next little realignment, will only see Samoa leapfrogging over December 28, 2011. That move is unlikely to unsettle anyone except those with birthdays falling on that day. Those born in leap years feel that way three years out of four, and are none the worse for it so it should not cause undue concern. More importantly, though, Samoa's tourism strategy will have to change lanes, as it was based on the premise that it is the last place on Earth to see the sunset. Since it is better to be a sunrise economy than a sunset one, a neat repackaging should make everyone happy even if it means a drop in the sales of sundowners. And then there is the added attraction of the US-controlled eastern Samoan islands, a short ride away, remaining on the other side of the timeline, giving visitors the option of getting two days for the time (if not the price) of one.







The RBI's decision to clamp down on inflation through a 50 basis point increase in the repo rate has gone down surprisingly well in most quarters. In a different period, the RBI would have been roundly criticised for spoiling the Indian growth story so soon after the rebound from the financial crisis.

Not this time. Most people think that strong action was warranted given that the rate of inflation has remained high for over two years now — 10.2% in 2009-10 and 9.0% in 2010-11. Looking ahead, the upside risks from the two principal sources of inflation, oil and food prices, remain strong.

The RBI has felt the need to clamp down on the demand side even if inflation is primarily caused by supply-side factors. The RBI governor was quoted as saying, "We need to bring inflation down in order to sustain medium term growth even if that means sacrificing some growth in the short-term."

The RBI's move raises two important questions. One, what precisely is the growth potential of the economy in the medium-term? Two, what rate of inflation would be consistent with that growth rate? There are indications of late that some of the euphoria about the emergence of an "Asian century" is fading. The president of the Asian Development Bank, Haruhiko Kuroda, warned recently that it was not "pre-ordained" that Asia would come to dominate the global economy. Asian economies could well fall into the "middle-income trap". This refers to countries that have grown out of poverty and can no longer compete with low-cost producers, but cannot also make the leap to an advanced economy.

Last September, the ADB's chief economist created a stir by suggesting that China's growth rate could fall to 5.5% in the next 20 years. Here in India, optimism about growth accelerating to 9% in the next couple of years and moving thereafter to 10% has waned. The Planning Commission believes that growth in the Twelfth Plan will be 9-9.5%, not 10%, as thought earlier. The RBI projects growth for 2011-12 at 8-8.5%.
But the reasons for the downward revisions in forecasts differ. The ADB sees governance as a big hurdle — things such as corruption, poor access to justice, income inequality. The Planning Commission thinks global uncertainties as well as inflation will drag down the growth rate. For the RBI, it is the persistence of high inflation that is the bugbear.

Tighter monetary policy in the current period is not a response to over-heating in the economy, as was the case in the run-up to the financial crisis. When the RBI says it will sacrifice growth in order to lower inflation, it is talking of the Phillips curve trade-off. The potential growth rate is higher but the RBI will deliberately keep growth below that level. This would imply that, in the RBI's view, the potential growth rate is closer to 9%.
The chairman of the PM's Council of Economic Advisors, C Rangarajan, thinks likewise. Rangarajan has pointed out that the investment rate currently exceeds 36% and should be expected to rise to 38% under favourable conditions. Assuming a capital-output ratio of 4:1, the growth rate should be in the range of 9-9.5%. It follows that any slowing down of the growth rate must arise from deliberate compression of demand, aimed at lowering the inflation rate.

Is this an appropriate response? In a recent paper, Mihir Rakshit finds that in 2006-10, inflation was driven primarily by oil prices and agricultural GDP. More crucially, excess demand or the output gap was irrelevant to inflation. (EPW, April 16-22). This is because, in the nonagricultural sector, prices of variable inputs do not respond to changes in demand.

   Rakshit provides an explanation. Of the two variable inputs, oil and labour, oil price is autonomous and is determined by international prices. Wages don't respond to a rise in output, thanks to jobless growth and the rise of employment in the unorganised sector. For the same reasons, even food inflation does not cause an increase in wages and a wage-price spiral in the manufacturing sector. Rakshit concludes that "orthodox monetary (or fiscal) measures would be of little avail as non-inflationary devices". The RBI's monetary policy statement clearly does not believe that this holds true in the present situation. It sees high input prices as translating into non-food manufacturing inflation on account of "strong underlying demand pressures". Why so now if it did not happen in 2006-10? Are we seeing this in a few sectors where capacity is fully utilised or is it a broader phenomenon? This needs explaining.

A more critical policy issue is the rate of inflation the RBI is now comfortable with. The RBI has said it expects inflation to moderate to 6% by the end of the year. What if it doesn't and ends up at 7-8%? Will we see a further compression of demand and a further lowering of the growth rate?

In other words, we need clarity as to whether the RBI is committed to its previous comfort level of inflation of 3-4% or whether there is to be a 'new normal' for inflation. The Economic Survey thinks the latter — for structural reasons, inflation will be of a higher order than in the past. If we simply accept that a higher level of oil prices is here to stay and that deregulation of oil prices will continue, a 'new normal' for inflation may become inevitable. Inflation expectations must be anchored accordingly. High levels of inflation do impose costs on the economy but so does lower growth. It is imperative to get the mediumrun trade-off right.









The Abbottabad operation and the killing of Osama bin Laden could be seen as a blow to pacifism.
The US was exacting vengeance, not administering justice. Seemingly, they had every right to, of course. No other man had succeeded like Osama did to inflict humiliating and mind-altering trauma on the US and its people in full view of the world. Not even Hitler could bomb New York or the Pentagon. Osama did more. He turned Afghanistan into an interminable nightmare for the West, and trapped the US clueless within its hills. Perhaps, most damaging of all, he created a fear psychosis in the ordinary US citizen, arguably the most freedom loving individual in the world, who now willingly strips in most public spaces in the name of security. Osama changed the idea of privacy as the US was given to believe, he changed the way people traveled, behaved. He altered a famed life-style. In short, Osama had done enough to invite vengeance. Forget the fact that the operation was tantamount to declaring a unilateral war: the virtual annexation of Abbottabad. You wouldn't like it if China carried out a similar operation in Dharamsala and cleaned out the Tibetan chiefs. You could, of course, say Osama was a terrorist. But nowhere is it written that a terrorist be deprived of his human rights; that he has a right to stand trial and defend himself.

This writer is not defending Osama or his actions. But he is certainly saying that the US has set a precedent in South Asia, and from now on, the concept of national sovereignty, a suspect concept in the best of times, is emphatically subservient to the national security of the US. Or China. Or Pakistan. Or, for that matter, India. It all depends on how successfully you can carry out a strike.

Indeed, if India carried out a similar attack on Karachi to ferret out or kill Dawood Ibrahim or the LeT chief Hafiz Saeed — people figuring prominently on India's wanted list — what can a selfstyled peace-arbiter like the US say? That the two countries are nuclear neighbours and therefore must not fight? That only the US knows when to strike and what to strike? Barack Obama may have bought himself a second lease to his presidency, but that country's moral stature — such as it is -- has taken a blow with this rather expedient, war-like act.

The pacifist must also worry that if indeed the extermination of a top-of-the-mind recall brand in terrorism justifies beastly concepts like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. The personal courier of Osama, who the CIA tracked to the doorstep of the Abbottabad residence of the al-Qaeda chief, was identified on the basis of the Guantanamo interrogations.

When these dark houses of US vengeance were set up and were in full cry, peaceniks across the world assailed the then US president George W. Bush, whose administration had sanctioned torture practices including water boarding, sleep deprivation, white noise and stress positions to elicit information from detainees. Obama, wearing a more civilised veneer, said he would shut down the prisons. A naïve world celebrated that too, just as it is celebrating the invasive Abbottabad operation.

Equally ironically, it is Bush's practices that paved the way for Obama's triumph. Should we then conclude that prison houses that practise primitive methods of interrogation are justified? More specifically, was Bush correct in saying that Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo helped save innocent lives? If he is, then the pacifist comes across as a bit of a fool.

The philosophical question that Abbottabad raises is precisely one of justice. Justice in terms of a fair trial for the accused, justice in terms of the methods adopted to elicit information, justice in terms of respect for the sovereignty of space and soil of another country.

We cannot make rules of war and peace and break them at will, because the man in question bombed New York. Or crashed a jet into the Pentagon. By the same token, what was the need for the Nuremberg trials of the Nazis? Or closer home, why give the 26/11 accused Ajmal Kasab a fair hearing?
Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war. Vengeance is its own justice. Or, so Barack Obama tells us. And he is a democrat.







The most interesting moment at a recent conference held in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire — site of the 1945 conference that created today's global economic architecture — came when Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf quizzed former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, President Barack Obama's ex-assistant for economic policy. "[Doesn't] what has happened in the past few years," Wolf asked, "simply suggest that [academic] economists did not understand what was going on?"

Here is the most interesting part of Summers' long answer: "There is a lot in [Walter] Bagehot that is about the crisis we just went through. There is more in [Hyman] Minsky, and perhaps more still in [Charles] Kindleberger." That may sound obscure to a non-economist, but it was a devastating indictment.
Bagehot (1826-1877) was a mid-19th-century editor of The Economist who published a book about financial markets, Lombard Street, in 1873. Summers is certainly right: there is an awful lot in Lombard Street that is about the crisis from which we are now recovering.

Minsky (1919-1996) is best approached not through his collected essays, entitled Can "It" Happen Again?, but rather through the use Kindleberger (1910-2003) made of his work in his 1978 book Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises. Asked to name where to turn to understand what was going on in 2008, Summers cited three dead men, a book written 33 years ago, and another written the century before last. Summers then enlarged his answer to include living economists: "Eichengreen, Akerlof, Shiller, many, many others." He talked about "the revolution in finance as it was realised that asset prices show large volatility that does not reflect anything about fundamentals," but added that "macroeconomics [did not] keep up with [this] revolution." As a result, "to the great detriment of contemporary macroeconomics," his fellow economists did not understand asset prices, manias, panics, and liquidity.

For Summers, the problem is that there is so much that is "distracting, confusing, and problem-denying in…the firstyear course in most PhD programmes." As a result, even though "economics knows a fair amount," it "has forgotten a fair amount that is relevant, and it has been distracted by an enormous amount."

I think that Summers' judgments are fair and correct. And I count myself among those who had forgotten and been distracted, even though I have always assigned Lombard Street to my economic history courses and Manias, Panics, and Crashes to my macroeconomics classes, and have always paid close and respectful attention to Eichengreen, Akerlof, and Shiller.

But I was shocked by how large a panic was produced by what seemed to me relatively small losses (in terms of the size of the global economy) in subprime mortgages; by the weakness of risk controls at the major highlyleveraged banks; by how deep the decline in demand was; by how ineffective the market's equilibrium-restoring forces have been at rebalancing labour-market supply and demand; and by how much core-country governments have been able to borrow to support demand without triggering any runup in interest rates.
The fact is that we need fewer efficient-markets theorists and more people who work on microstructure, limits to arbitrage, and cognitive biases. We need fewer equilibrium business-cycle theorists and more old-fashioned Keynesians and monetarists. We need more monetary historians and historians of economic thought and fewer model-builders. We need more Eichengreens, Shillers, Akerlofs, Reinharts, and Rogoffs — not to mention a Kindleberger, Minsky, or Bagehot. Yet that is not what economics departments are saying nowadays.
Perhaps I am missing what is really going on. Perhaps economics departments are reorienting themselves after the Great Recession in a way similar to how they reoriented themselves in a monetarist direction after the inflation of the 1970s. But if I am missing some big change that is taking place, I would like somebody to show it to me. Perhaps academic economics departments will lose mindshare and influence to others — from business schools and public-policy programmes to political science, psychology, and sociology departments. As university chancellors and students demand relevance and utility, perhaps these colleagues will take over teaching how the economy works and leave academic economists in a rump discipline that merely teaches the theory of logical choice. Or perhaps economics will remain a discipline that forgets most of what it once knew and allows itself to be continually distracted, confused, and in denial. If that were that to happen, we would all be worse off.

(The authoris Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley)
©Project Syndicate, 2011









Lorenza Foschini, journalist and author of Proust's Overcoat (Portobello Books 2010, tr from the Italian by Eric Karpeles) says, "It all started when I interviewed Piero Tosi for a television program. Tosi is the celebrated costume designer who worked…with Luchino Visconti, the esteemed Italian film and theatre director…I couldn't resist the temptation to ask him about Proust. I knew that in the early sixties, Tosi had been delegated by Visconti to oversee plans for shooting a film adaptation of In Search of Lost Time in Paris, plans that were soon abandoned."


But Tosi remembered that among the people he had met was a gentleman who, he was told, was a collector of Proust manuscripts. Tosi went to meet him. "As he sat behind his desk," he says, "the image I had of him was of a large nocturnal bird, black and fantastic. He spoke an old-fashioned French—marvellous, sublime." Jacques Guerin, the collector and perfume magnate told him the extraordinary story of "how a growing passion for the writings of Marcel Proust had overlapped with a serious medical condition. One summer, as a young man in Paris, he suffered what seemed to be a bout of appendicitis." The surgeon who operated turned out to be Robert Proust, the writer's brother.


When Guerin went to his home to thank him and pay his fee, the doctor "pointed to the tall stacks of manuscript notebooks. Arranged in no particular order, these were the complete works of Marcel Proust, written in his own hand. He strained to decipher the irregular, brittle, jerky handwriting that filled every available space, page after page…As described by his housekeeper Celeste, Proust would write in bed…Pages would scatter upon the bed and fall upon the rug…" He had been dead only seven years when Guerin visited Robert.


In yet another coincidence, Guerin, in 1935, noticed a bookshop he hadn't seen before. To the owner's surprise Guerin mentioned that he was particularly interested in Baudelaire and Proust: Only a few minutes earlier he had bought some proofs corrected by Proust. The seller had just left, but would be returning for the cheque.
    And so he met Monsieur Werner, an "insolent young man…, his hat tilted to one side." To his horror, Werner told him that Marthe, Robert's wife was so disgusted by the writer's homosexuality and his dandyish ways, that she had already made a bonfire of many of his papers. Guerin had the feeling "of being somehow singled out to make amends, to intervene in an act of salvation, to make reparations for injustices committed. He experienced this powerfully, as an obligation, one he could not ignore."


And so, like all good collectors, Guerin obsessed, pleaded, cajoled, hounded, bribed. It was only when Marthe learned that money was to be made from selling the manuscripts, that she stopped the burning. It was Werner who handled the deals, providing Guerin with stacks of letters, photographs, sketches, some of which are reproduced in the book. Through Werner he acquired Proust's desk and bed, and finally, the overcoat which Proust wore in all seasons, even to aristocratic social occasions and which he used to cover himself in bed.


Werner confessed that Marthe had given him Proust's old overcoat to wear on his fishing trips. He could not understand Guerin's pleading to be given the overcoat. It was old and threadbare. "In the face of Guerin's insistence, he wound up bringing the old coat to him. He wouldn't take a cent for it."


If, for Lorenza Foschini it all began with Tosi, and with Guerin's friend, the writer Carlo Jansiti, another major source for the story, Proust's seven-volume masterpiece began, famously, when he dipped a petite madeleine, "a plump little cake," according to Proust, into his tea, and the fragrance set off "involuntary memory".




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Well done, Election Commission! Three momentous elections can be recalled from the recent past, and the set of Assembly polls, which have just ended (with the results expected on Friday) sit right up there with those as fine examples of free, fair and transparent voting. Some time back T.N. Seshan, as chief election commissioner, showed us how proper elections can be conducted in India even in situations regarded by most as extremely challenging. It was widely noted that under his stewardship elections in Bihar came through shiningly. The EC basically ensured that rules were scrupulously followed, with no quarter given to even the most powerful politicians who had grown used to having their way. Next in chronology come the state elections conducted in Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir under the leadership of James Michael Lyngdoh. Mr Lyngdoh did not flinch from laying down the law even for the powerful Narendra Modi, routinely drawing barbs for the pains he was taking in the cause of democracy. This Gujarat experience served Mr Lyngdoh well in Kashmir and his no-nonsense reputation put the fear of the law into the hearts of separatists and terrorists. Really, for the first time, Jammu and Kashmir had a squeaky clean election, comparable with any good poll anywhere in the world that might be worthy of emulation. The world applauded the 2002 polls in the state, in which public participation was overwhelming, tearing a hole through the separatist propaganda that Kashmiris were not ready to cast their ballot in an election conducted under the Indian Constitution. It is clear that under the leadership of current chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, the EC has absorbed the lessons learnt in the days of Mr Seshan and Mr Lyngdoh, and made more innovations. The recent Assembly polls in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry went off like a dream, with extraordinarily high voter participation. Seven months ago, the EC had also conducted a similar election in Bihar, which is always ready to give weak, silly, or non-impartial administrators a run for their money. In the just-concluded exercise the EC choked the flow of suspect money into the election process — first by ensuring that all candidates opened bank accounts to receive contributions for poll expenses, and then posting sleuths at key places like airports to screen crooked elements carrying tainted funds for elections. A few discoveries worked as warning shots. The law and order machinery too went like clockwork. Anxious senior politicians — Tamil Nadu government leaders come to mind here — protested that the EC was enforcing the model code of conduct in a "dictatorial" way, but the EC held its ground, and citizens were not complaining! The EC maintained that since laws were made for a purpose, it would make sure these were properly implemented. Given the nation's current political situation, the recent polls were fiercely contested. The results could have a bearing on the future of major parties, and also on the distribution of power at the Centre. There was widespread fear of violence in West Bengal and Assam, with Maoists and other militants expected to cause severe disruptions. In West Bengal, a common complaint used to be that votes were cast on behalf of people by toughs quite routinely. This time such evildoers were put to flight, and voter turnout was inordinately high in all the states. Indeed, the experience of the recent polling can go into a primer on how to conduct clean elections.






The one thing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh instinctively gets right every time is what next to do with Pakistan. The execution of Osama bin Laden, the iconic Al Qaeda leader, has strung out Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and his corps commanders between charges of incompetence and non-involvement cruelly hurled at them by Leon Panetta, director, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and US secretary of defence-designate. In the circumstances, the Indian government's policy of saying and doing nothing that a hyper-sensitive Islamabad finds hurtful will surely help calm the situation. Gen. Kayani is treading water because, politically, incompetence is a far less onerous charge for the Pakistan Army to bear than non-involvement, which a former head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani (Retd), has dismissed as "inconceivable". Politically, "non-involvement" sets up the Pakistan Army as an American collaborator, as much responsible for the killing of Bin Laden as the "Seal Team Six" and, hence, the enemy, ironically, of the extremist Islamic outfits the ISI has carefully husbanded as a valuable resource since 1979 when, prompted by the CIA, these groups were germinated primarily to discomfit the Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan. That the Pakistan Army was deep in this operation is not in doubt. A most intriguing aspect of its complicity revolves around Gen. Kayani's seemingly great interest in Abbottabad and his senior appointments in this area. He headed the ISI when Osama was settling down in the vicinity. After becoming Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Kayani posted Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj as his successor at ISI and, a short time later, moved him as general officer commanding 11 Corps with responsibility for the Pakistan Military Academy situated less than a mile from Bin Laden's residence. And then, not too long before the Seals' raid, Gen. Kayani was at the passing-out parade, his first visit to the academy in some four years, perhaps to ensure that all was in readiness for Operation Geronimo. The early reports correctly reported the Seal flight, especially the massive and noisy Chinook heavy-lift helicopter despatched as backup for the modified stealth Black Hawk helicopter that crashed, taking off from the Tarbela-Ghazni satellite airfield, not distant Jalalabad in Afghanistan. Neither the Black Hawk nor the Chinook has the range to fly from and to Jalalabad un-refuelled. But the US as much as the Pakistan Army has a stake in maintaining the fiction that the Special Forces' action was prosecuted entirely unbeknownst to Gen. Kayani and his cohort because to confirm the Pakistan Army's complicity would be to grievously undermine its stature and standing in Pakistani society and expose it to public anger and ridicule it last experienced after the 1971 Bangladesh War, except now as an American stooge. A weakened Pakistan Army will make it difficult for the US to sustain its policy of pounding the Afghan Taliban into joining a coalition government with Hamid Karzai in Kabul — the only way for US President Barack Obama to withdraw from Afghanistan claiming victory, incidentally just around the time of the next Presidential elections in 2012. Making a scapegoat of the current ISI boss, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, would be tantamount to admitting either a screw-up or involvement in the Bin Laden mission, depending on how Pakistanis see the situation. It will not, however, prevent the erosion of the legitimacy of the premier role the generals have arrogated to themselves in national affairs. This last may not be such a good thing from India's national interest point of view. While it is all very well to talk fancifully of encouraging democracy and changing the civil-military equation, civilian governments in Pakistan have been as notably hostile, if not more, towards India as military regimes. When the generals are directly running the show in Islamabad, there is less artifice and greater possibility of Delhi cutting a deal that will stick (like the one almost realised on Kashmir with Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2006). With civilian governments there's the uncertainty of not knowing when General Headquarters, Rawalpindi, will pull the rug from under them. It is not in the Pakistan Army's interest to allow civilians to set policy direction, make peace with India, burnish their reputation, and buttress their hold on power. In this regard, it is interesting to note the moves by the Pakistan Army politically to build up Imran Khan, the erstwhile cricketer and leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (TIP), as an alternative to the Pakistan Peoples Party which has a bad record of governance, and the equally tainted Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). Gen. Kayani may have decided to forego a coup, choosing instead to back Mr Khan as a new, hopefully more pliable, figure whose political ambitions can be made to serve the Army's purposes. The TIP's biggest success to date was the recent bandh called by Mr Khan in the Bagh-e-Naran Square area of Hayatabad, on the outskirts of Peshawar, to protest the continuing American drone attacks on Pakistani territory. Over 30,000 people joined in the agitation, courtesy no doubt of his meeting prior to the bandh with Lt. Gen. Pasha. The large turnout will be used as proof of the popular resistance to the US' AfPak policy and to bolster Gen. Kayani's demand that American presence in Pakistan be thinned out. The opportunity for India is afforded by Mr Khan, a moderate nationalist and now the general's poster boy, being hoisted to power. He can facilitate a rapprochement. It is an outcome Gen. Kayani may not be averse to, considering Pakistan needs some space for manoeuvre. The US will persist with the drone-targeting of Al Qaeda-inspired Afghan Taliban and pressure Gen. Kayani into wiping out the Pakistani Taliban and their Lashkar offshoots. Exterminating the extremists is a hard choice, because the Lashkars do provide Pakistan with asymmetric war assets, and fighting them will impose huge costs. It will seed domestic turmoil but also fetch the country the rewards of peace. One hopes Gen. Kayani will take the latter, more difficult, path. It's not much but, for India, it is still a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Bharat Karnad is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi







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 Wahabi 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 Wahabi sect get to control the country's religious mores, mosques and education system. The Wahabis bless the Saudi regime with legitimacy in the absence of any election, 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 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 long-term alliance with the United States, the kingdom's Wahabi 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 Wahabism, and later was exported by the Wahabi regime as a jihadist. During the 1980s, Saudi Arabia spent some $75 billion for the propagation of Wahabism, 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 websites, has blown back into the kingdom. Like the hijackers of 9/11, who were also Saudi-Wahabi ideological exports... Saudi Arabia's reserve army of potential terrorists remains, because the Wahabi 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 per cent 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 US aid. As 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 US 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 programmes, while also reducing the US 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 Wahabis. We provide the al-Sauds security, and they provide us oil. The Wahabis 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 US 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.








Government has no other option By Kapil Kaul Given the history of Air India and its current dismal state, I feel there is no alternative to privatisation. Government comes in to rescue public sector undertakings only when losses reach thousands of crores and these companies are nearing bankruptcy. Typically, the government's response is to dole out massive cash but not address core issues like performance and accountability. Air India's current state is largely due to the continuous neglect by the government for the last 20 years, and some extraordinary management failures for the most part. The management lacked subject matter expertise.  The government response to failure was to look for options like disinvestment and merger but never to fundamentally strengthen Air India in terms of restructuring and recapitalising it, modernising the fleet and investing in people. However, privatising under the existing circumstances could be a difficult proposition because of the labour problem. Besides, the airline has a loss of Rs 20,000 crore till now, Rs 40,000 crore debt incurred on the purchase of aircraft/working capital, and a further borrowing programme of approximately Rs 20,000 crores to fund the B787 induction programme. Privatisation would take a minimum of 18-24 months (this timeframe is subject to a quick decision regarding privatisation), and further losses of Rs 12,000-Rs 15,000 crore would have to be absorbed. Therefore, I would suggest that in the interim Air India should be placed under a special administration — as in the Satyam case — with a group of very eminent professionals like Deepak Parekh. This special administration should be given a decisive mandate to decide the future of Air India. The group should be mandated to explore all options, including closure. While this group decides on the future of Air India, a broad and rigorous financial and organisational restructuring effort needs to be simultaneously initiated. It is vital that Air India should be in better financial health than at present at the time of privatisation. Recommendations of the specialist group should be discussed and approved quickly by all the political parties and consensus about the future of Air India be evolved. Indian aviation needs Air India but a strong, viable and competitive Air India. We cannot create a 150- aircraft airline overnight. It is clear, however, that the only way Air India can survive is through privatisation. But we need to decide now. This option might not be feasible later.  * Kapil Kaul, CEO, South Asia, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation * * * AI can be bailed out and revived By Jitender Bhargava There can't be any difference of opinion on the issue that the country's once iconic brand, Air India, has fallen on bad times. Still, there is no strong case for privatisation. The huge losses, declining market share, poor perception of the airline, mismanagement, and virtually no prospect of it being turned around, have led to a vociferous demand for its privatisation. There can also be little doubt that if Air India keeps functioning the way it has, the end is not far. It is, therefore, imperative that the government, in its capacity as the owner, take a call on the airline's future. Air India has been a national institution which has served the country admirably, in good times and bad; connected remote parts of the country; and evacuated Indian nationals when in distress in any part of the world. The private carriers have been loathe to fulfil national commitments. Even today not all private airlines are fulfilling their quota of flights in the Northeast. Like in any other sector, a government organisation also provides stability, and a check against unfair pricing. Remember last Diwali and the havoc that the commercially driven private airlines caused by charging ridiculously high fares. Air India is made to serve both commercial and social objectives. With social objectives outweighing commercial aspects, the airline is bound to suffer financially to a significant extent. The mismanagement and flawed decisions in the recent past have only aggravated the position. The government, besides being answerable for these acts of omission, also needs to define the precise role of Air India. While allowing it to compete with the private airlines on commercial terms, it should — as a matter of policy — compensate Air India for the losses it suffers on performing its social roles. Extending financial bailout to Air India will not be unique. Many countries have provided one-time financial assistance to put their national carriers back on track. Likewise, Air India can be offered the requisite help after ensuring that the airline will deliver. Air India certainly deserves one last opportunity before any other option is pursued. The politicians and bureaucrats, so used to misusing the airline in very many ways, also ought to stop treating Air India as their personal asset, and allow the employees — under an able leadership and in a congenial environment — to ensure Air India's revival. Else, the writing is on the wall — shutting down or privatisation. n Jitender Bhargava, former executive director, Air India







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 Quran. 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 CIA 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 CIA'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. By arrangement with the New York Times







On His deathbed, surrounded by despondent disciples, a Guru asked: "Don't you see that death gives loveliness to life?" A disciple replied, "No! We would rather think that you never die". Smiling, the Guru said, "Whatever is truly alive must die. Look at the flowers, only plastic flowers don't die". Likewise, before his death Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit". Jesus' death bore fruit in his resurrection; and, his Easter message is: "Arise, I am making everything new!" Not everyone is comfortable with newness. I often meet people who are afraid of new ways of thinking and acting. Clinging onto the past, they mask their fears with: "We've been doing this for ages" or "this is the way things have always been" excuses. However, the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus is that we discover a totally new way of the divine action; encountering the Risen Christ means to be so totally transformed by the experience that we go around proclaiming that God transforms self-sacrificing deaths into life and that truth, ultimately, will triumph. The Bible has many words connected to Jesus' resurrection, like joy, peace, life, light, praise and glory. However, a lovely word that often escapes our attention is "new". Even before the narratives of Jesus' birth, there are many Biblical passages that speak of God acting in a "new" way. For instance, to those in exile God promises, "I am doing a new thing" and "I shall make a new covenant". God also promises to give people a kind of heart-transplant: "I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you". Prophet Ezekiel also has a vision of God raising to new life a people who are dead and whose bones lie in a valley. Jesus' resurrection is unprecedented in the history of humankind for the new meaning it gives to life and death. It is the historical promise that God will not allow evil to go unpunished and good, unrewarded, even if things might temporarily appear to be so. The Risen Jesus appears time and again to his disciples who fail to recognise him since his body is in the glorified state; yet, bearing the marks of his passion. The effect of Jesus' apparitions on the lives of his disciples is striking — they are transformed and they hurry to proclaim the good news: "Fear not! Christ is risen!" With this message they set out to make everything new. Jesus' resurrection shows us the value of history and of our material existence, though it is transformed. Salvation, therefore, is not the ultimate freedom of some spiritual soul that emerges from our material bodies after death. It is, however, the final fulfilment of who and what we are — fully embodied human beings, not spiritual angels. Years ago, after discussing Jesus' resurrection with a group of young students, we decided to spend some time in prayer. Each of the students mentioned how they felt about Jesus' resurrection and what they wanted to do as fruit of it. A young student, Priya, had taken off her shoes which were lying near the door of the chapel. She said, "I've bought new shoes for Easter; my new shoes will remind me that I have to walk a new path". Another youth, Ashish, said: "Jesus' resurrection teaches me to do something new. So, I will teach you all a new song!" With this, he began to teach the group a beautiful song. "Sing a new song unto the Lord!" says the psalmist. Jesus' resurrection invites us to sing new songs, write new poems, tread unbeaten paths, tell fresh stories, fashion innovative plans, explore uncharted territories, design new possibilities for encountering people and resolving problems. Paul, Jesus' disciple, was radically transformed by his encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus. He reminds us that we are "a new creation; the old order is gone and a new being is there". — Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He is involved in interfaith dialogue and peoples' initiatives for fostering justice, harmony and peace. He can be contacted at









THE expression is a hideous misnomer, a contradiction in terms that recalls the social barbarism of the 19th century. Faced with inaction, if not tacit condonation, by the executive and the legislature, the Supreme Court's ruling carries a resounding message for the two other organs of governance ~ "All persons who are planning to perpetuate honour killings should know that the gallows await them". The Bench (coram: Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra, JJ) has exposed the sanctimonious cant inherent in the expression "honour killing", a form of societal barbarity that has studiously been overlooked by governments in Haryana, western UP, Rajasthan and the national Capital. Nay more, a section of Congress MPs has even defended the outrage.
  Crime, let alone murder, lends no scope for semantic quibbling, still less a contrived distinction between murder and honour killing. This decidedly is the fineprint of the ruling: "Such killings fall within the rarest of rare cases, deserving death." If khap panchayats can't be abolished because the Constitution permits an assembly of people, there is no constraint to "stamp out these barbaric, feudal practices which are a slur on our nation". They have thrived in part because of calculated malevolence and in part on account of antediluvian prejudices. Just as sati, female infanticide and a bar on widow remarriage were encouraged in another age till Governor-General Lord Bentinck and social reformers, pre-eminently Raja Rammohun Roy, enforced the crackdown with a raft of reforms. It is a paradox of Incredible India's development that a decade into the 21st century, the Supreme Court has had to crack the whip on social barbarism.

It is a commentary too on the compelling urgency that the Bench has directed its order to be intimated to the High Courts through their Registrars-General. Deterrent action will of course hinge on the earnestness of the executive, strengthened with suitable legislation enacted by the national legislature. The Supreme Court has set the groundrules as it does on a range of issues. It devolves on the other two arms of governance to act; irrelevant must be the sensitivities of MPs from the cow belt. The sense of honour is murderously skewed.




ON the eve of what are expected to be momentous election results the outcome of one panchayat poll in the Kashmir Valley ought to have gone unnoticed, like a firecracker during an artillery barrage. But it did make some waves in the northern part of the country. A woman from the beleaguered Pandit community was the victor from the Muslim-dominated Wussan village in the ever volatile Baramulla division. Obviously some local or personal factors did come into play: she was from one of the few Pandit families that did not flee the Valley (some insist a panic-struck administration persuaded them to leave) when militancy erupted in the late 1980s. The 52-year-old Aasha Bhatt has the reputation of being an energetic worker for the welfare of the village, her co-residents were hopeful she would help bring some relief to their woes caused by the scarcity of water and electricity.

While the local revenue official, Abdul Hamid Wani, who encouraged Aasha to contest and campaigned for her insisted it had not been anyone's intention to "make a statement", he and all those up the chain of command, the chief minister among them, have hailed the victory as a pointer. A pointer to that singular 'Kashmiriyat' surviving the trauma of militancy and separatism, even if not exactly a green flag for the Pandits to return to where they belong. It is true that "one swallow does not a summer make", yet equally true is the other adage that "little drops of water make the mighty ocean". Only the times ahead will tell if what is sought to be projected as a "message from Aasha" will actually be heeded by her fellow Pandits ~ but it is critical that the message "registers" in New Delhi. Once again, as in 2005-06, there are signs that violence has left the populace disgusted, that a window for restoring normality has been opened.

 A failure of the central government to exploit that will be criminal. Not just law and order and development issues need attention, the autonomy question cannot be shelved indefinitely. Opinions are divided over the efficacy of the interlocutors, but all would agree that their essays must not be written off as "time pass". Sadly, UPA-II inspires little confidence it has the steel for doing what the situation demands.




Suicide by farmers in Bengal may not be endemic as in Maharashtra's Vidarbha or Andhra Pradesh. Yet it would be decidedly deceptive to view last Saturday's tragedy in Murshidabad as an isolated incident. Deeply indebted Kartik Bagdi, a 35-year-old sharecropper, consumed pesticide when he realised that he would scarcely be able to repay the loan after his boro crop was devastated by a hailstorm. The loan burden killed a farmer during the harvesting season, a testament to the stranglehold of money-lenders despite the bank loan-waiver announced with suitable fanfare in Mr P Chidambaram's budget for 2007-08. Even if the government asserts that the loan-waiver has been enforced, it cannot be said to have curbed the spate of suicides by the peasantry, notably the cotton-growers of Vidarbha. In Bengal, for instance, there is little or no data on the extent to which the loan-waiver has benefited sharecroppers. Cooperative banking has not been particularly effective; at least one bank folded up a couple of years ago over a scam. And in the heat and dust over industrialisation and compensation ~ the latter a second thought ~ the sharecropper's ability to repay the loan, that he feels compelled to borrow from rapacious lenders, has never been assessed. The benefits of agricultural banking have been very marginal, if at all.

Bagdi's suicide highlights the standard form of agricultural borrowing in the rural segment. He is reported to have pawned his wife's jewellery for Rs 20,000 and borrowed Rs 10,000 from a moneylender at a whopping monthly interest rate of 30 per cent. The lending rate is almost unaffordably higher than the interest spin-off offered by chit funds. It is a form of exploitation that is rooted in the absence of Centre-state coordination in agricultural banking. The farmer has been impoverished between the virtual absence of effective welfare banking and the near-total failure of the Centre's loan-waiver. In the net, moneylenders thrive across the country and governments, whether at the Centre or in West Bengal, have been remarkably insensitive to suicides. Stringent application of the bank-loan waiver can alone neutralise the operations of  moneylenders. No less critical is mandatory crop insurance against nature's fury. The life of the farmer can't consciously be at stake. 








A proposal to privatise the pension scheme is now before Parliament. The plan is to invest a large portion of the pension fund in the stock market to prop up certain favoured companies. The fate of the pension will thus depend on stock market fluctuations. The employees may gain, but may also lose heavily as happened in the wake of the crash in Unit Trust of India about 10 years ago.

The scheme was proposed by the World Bank after it was implemented in Chile while executing the economic reform plan in the late Seventies. The basic features of what the World Bank called the "Chilean Pension Revolution" are: (a) Employers do not contribute at all towards the employees' pensions; (b) Employees are required to contribute 10 per cent of their income; (c) The self-employed are also required to contribute according to their declared income; (d) All contributions are to be invested in the stock market.
In effect, the stock market gets a boost, and employers are relieved of their fiscal responsibilities. The scheme was hailed by the IMF and World Bank as a "miracle plan". We need to examine the implications.
In Chile, the retirement scheme has been successful only for those companies that are earning huge profits. It has been a disaster for the working class. According to the government agency which regulates  private pensions, 96 per cent of the workers were enrolled in the private pension scheme; but 43.4 per cent of the account-holders were not adding to their funds. An estimated 60 per cent cannot afford to contribute regularly.
Poverty is increasing in Chile. Regular contributions are essential to be entitled to  full benefits. As it turns out, only 20 per cent of the contributors will actually receive decent pensions.

Much of the plan's supposedly higher benefits are projected on the basis of the surging economic growth rates of the late Eighties. Since then Chile has been on the verge of bankruptcy, on occasion bailed out by the IMF. The economy is slowing down. The pensions are not going to be as profitable as the IMF and World Bank had claimed.

The Chilean authorities have realised that given the 21 per cent rate of poverty, some workers would never be able to save much.  The government subsidises the difference between what workers receive from their mutual funds and the guaranteed minimum. That minimum pension, although indexed for inflation, is now $110 per month, compared to a minimum wage of $156. Thus, the pensioners do not get even the minimum required for their survival.

By 2010, 60 per cent of  retired people had qualified for the minimum pension, which is 15 to 18 per cent of the average pension. An estimated 42 per cent of the workforce isn't covered by any pension system, according to government statistics.

Unfortunately both India and the rest of the developing countries have been prodded by the IMF and the World Bank to adopt the Chilean system. Freed of the dead hand of bureaucracy, taxes and union rules, Chile took a giant leap forward ... into bankruptcy and depression. Yet Ronald Reagan's State Department issued a report saying "Chile is a casebook study in sound economic management." Milton Friedman coined the expression, "The Miracle of Chile." His follower, economist Art Laffer, remarked that Pinochet's Chile was "a showcase of what supply-side economics can do." The Western advisers persuaded Chile to remove restrictions on banks so that they would be free to attract foreign capital to fund industrial expansion. Warren Buffet visited India recently on a similar mission ~ to remove all restrictions on banks and insurance companies and invite foreign partners.
Chile sold off the state banks ~ at a 40 per cent  discount from book value ~ and they quickly fell into the hands of two Chilean business families, those of Javier Vial and Manuel Cruzat. From their captive banks, Vial and Cruzat siphoned off cash to buy up manufacturers ~ then leveraged these assets with loans from foreign investors.

This is exactly what Anil Agarwal, Tata, Mittal and the Ambanis are doing today in India.
Is India trying to emulate Chile? The government recently reduced the tariff on imported silk, machinery and equipment but imposed higher taxes on home-grown cloth. India appears to follow Chile where a total overhaul of the labour law system was effected. It was intended to create a perfect labour market, do away with collective bargaining, allow dismissal of workers, increase the daily working hours up to 12  and scrap the labour courts. This "favourable climate for business operations" resulted in generous lending by international finance institutions. The IMF and the World Bank are also insisting on labour reforms in India.

One major consequence of Chile's Pension Resolution was a contraction of demand. It reduced the purchasing power of workers. The reduction in the market further threatened the business community, which started producing more goods for export and less for home consumption. This posed yet another obstacle to economic growth and led to increased concentration of income and wealth in the hands of a small segment.
Indeed, the "miracle of Chile" signified the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the elite. The relatively high economic growth did not "trickle down" to the working class. India, which has a large number of billionaires, has had the same experience over the past 20 years and the situation can only get worse.
Economic reforms in India were initiated  in 1991, but robust privatization is a recent phenomenon. The proposal to reform the pension and labour laws was introduced recently. Thus we are not in a position to assess the success or failure of this "reform-programme" from our own experience.
The IMF and the World Bank are trying to promote in India exactly the same policies that were applied to Chile after the coup of General Pinochet in 1973. A social and economic disaster is waiting to happen in India. The basic instrument is privatisation.
Transferring the organisation from a public to private ownership cannot enhance its level of efficiency. If a public sector organisation does not  perform well, it is essential to examine the reason. This can be due to lack of continuous investments, innovations, new product development, corruption, militant trade unionism or theft. A private sector organisation can suffer from the same defects and can decline or go bankrupt. The recent experiences of Enron and World Com illustrate that the private sector can be no less corrupt. A change in the ownership is no substitute for a thorough analysis of the factors responsible for the inefficiency.
The argument is that investment of the pension fund in public sector projects does not yield substantial returns. However, this doesn't  mean that the government must privatise the pension funds. And invest the amount in the ever so uncertain stock market. Only a mentally lethargic doctor will take the option to kill the patient in a desperate effort to cure the disease. It is unfortunate that India has taken that easy option.
The writer is Professor in International Economics, Nagasaki University, Japan.







According to the National Crime Records Bureau, as many as 17,368 farmers killed themselves in 2009. This is an increase of 1,172 over the 2008 count

kuldip nayar

It is the same story of a farmer and his land. The government acquired green fields at Greater Noida, in the suburbs of Delhi, for "public purpose" to develop the Yamuna Expressway for allotment to the highest bidder in the private sector. The payment for acquisition was nowhere near the market price of Rs 3,200 per square meter. In fact, farmers got only one fourth of it ~ Rs 800 per square meter. Developers are selling it at Rs 11,000 a square meter.
The agitated farmers "detained" two officials to put pressure. This led to a clash between farmers and police. Four people died, two from each side. UP chief minister Miss Mayavati aggravated the situation by letting loose police and driving out villagers from their homes. The tragedy raises a familiar policy question: how far can development go to devour the fields which grow foodgrains and that too for a pittance by way of compensation? I thought that the government had changed its policy to allow a farmer to retain his land if he did not want to part with it. Apparently, this has not happened. Either the Centre or the states have their own agenda which supersedes assurances.
New Delhi seems to have woken up finally! Rural development minister Mr Vilasrao Deshmuk has said that the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 is being amended. By doing that, public purpose will be redefined and sellers will be assured market price. While redrafting the Bill, the government should also provide for allotment of  shares to land owners in the industrial unit for which the land is being acquired.
The Greater Noida episode, should not, however, end with a mere inquiry into the killings. The malady is deeper, relating not only to the acquisition of land but to the depletion of the income of farmers. Indeed, the performance of the agrarian sector is woeful. In other words, 70 per cent of India's population lives miserably in the countryside. New Delhi's statements on rural development are many but the scene has changed very little since Independence. Even Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's promise in last October to amend the Land Acquisition Act would not have yielded much result had not the farmers taken to agitation.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, as many as 17,368 farmers killed themselves in 2009. This is an increase of 1,172 over the 2008 count and comes to roughly 50 people per day. Farmers were in the forefront of the freedom movement. Today, they commit suicide while toiling to earn a meagre living. They sacrificed their hearth and home to oust the British so that free India would attend to their plight. New Delhi should realise that the countryside is simmering with agitation and the lava beneath can erupt at any time.
Poignant is the comment of a farmer who committed suicide. On 24 March, 2008, Shrikant Kalam, a 50-year-old farmer possessing five acres of land in Akola, Maharashtra, hanged himself to death. He left behind a poem: "My life is different/My life will be like untimely rain/The cotton in black soil is like a poem to me/Its roots are sweet as sugarcane…"
A study on the agrarian crisis conducted by the Joshi-Adhikari Institute of Social Studies in New Delhi says that farm income, even if supplemented by earnings from livestock, is "insufficient to meet cultivation cost and consumption needs". Whatever additional income may come from selling labour is nugatory too because of exploitation. I recall talking once to Punjab chief minister Mr Parkash Singh Badal, a landowner. He said that any survey among farmers in the country will reveal that each of them is in debt.
As against an average seven per cent growth of the Indian economy in the past decade, agriculture registered only 1.6 per cent. In fact, farm sector growth has now stagnated for more than 15 years. In the 80s, it was 3.3 per cent, in the 90s it came down to 2 per cent and now stands at 0.4 per cent. The steering committee on agriculture for the formulation of 11th Five Year Plan has admitted that such a drop in agricultural output has been "witnessed for the first time" since Independence. Spurts of growth in foodgrain production should not delude either the Planning Commission or the government.
The result of the decline is that per capita availability of foodgrain in 2011 stands at the 50s level. Calories intake has gone down from 2,153 in 1993-94 to 2,047 in 2004-05 in rural India and from 2,071 in 1993-94 to 2,026 in 2004-05 in urban India. The magnitude of food insecurity manifests itself in starvation deaths and stunted growth.
The Indian economy is mired in a deep and intractable crisis. The government's response to the situation has been to introduce populist measures such as debt waivers, a proposed food security Bill, among other things, and continue with the neo-liberal thrust of opening up our agriculture sector to global market forces and to the corporate sector. This has exacerbated the crisis and created the impression that agrarian crisis is the result of the government's globalisation policies and that a reversal of these policies would correct the situation.
Of course, it is necessary to resist the neo-liberal policy frame and also to reverse it. However, the crisis has a much longer history. Its root is deep. Just reversing the policies of the past two decades cannot redress the injustice meted out to majority of the farm population over centuries. The roots of agrarian crisis have to be traced in the distorted capitalist development trajectory that we inherited from our colonial past. Jawaharlal Nehru, a socialist by conviction, could have done something about it since he was at the helm of affairs for 17 years after Independence. But he got enamoured by industrialisation.
I concede that industrialisation is necessary to lessen our dependence on agriculture which is very much vulnerable to the vagaries of weather. But there has to be a balance. Nehru realised this but late. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, an economist by training, is yet to and the consequences of the lapse are there for all to see. Farmers are committing suicide because they earn far less than they borrow and this should make every Indian hang his head in shame. Land reforms may be a revolutionary step for the type of economy that Dr Manmohan Singh thinks is right for the country. But he can at least do something to overcome the stagnation in agrarian growth.

The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator 








Gangadhar Deb, one of my closest friends and great great grandson of the legendary Chhatubabu-Latubabu of north Kolkata called me one February morning years ago to propose a trip with his family to Benaras. Though my work pressure was immense, I gave in to my wife's insistence and we planned to reach Benaras with Gangadhar's family on the day of Shivaratri ~ one of the holiest Hindu festivals. Though Gangadhar invited us to stay at a guest house owned by the family located in a serpentine lane opposite the famous Vishwanath Gali, we chose Benares Lodge which was very near Dashashwamedh Ghat. Relaxing on the balcony facing our room, we allowed the trademark ambience of Benaras to sink in ~ processions of indigenous pilgrims and foreign enthusiasts ~ mostly Europeans and many American hippies ~ making their way down the road either to Vishwanath Temple or to the ghats.  

On the day we reached Benaras, we visited Vishwanath and Maa Annapurna temples in the evening and walked down the ghats. Candles lit by devotees floated down the Ganges, water lapping at them to the tune of bhajans sung by locals. We also visited the temple founded by Gangadhar's ancestors to pay obeisance to Lord  Ramdulaleswar. It was an excellent example of eighteenth century architecture. A soiree was on there too with Gangadhar's elder brother playing the impresario and the host. Next day, we planned to visit Sarnath and Ramnagar Fort.
The journey to Sarnath ~ about 15 km from Benaras ~ over a bumpy road took us an hour. We spent another hour in surroundings designed to inspire calm and teachings of Gautam Buddha. We stopped for lunch at a roadside eatery before leaving for Ramnagar.

The fort was on the bank of the Ganges opposite to Benaras. Many tourist vehicles were parked in the lot near the main entrance to the fort. We had to walk some distance before arriving at an immense gate that could allow at least 10 elephants to saunter in in a row. I thought it must take scores of people to manoeuvre the iron gates and the courtyard was as big as a football field. Huge stone buildings on the three sides of the courtyard ~ once vibrant with regal activities ~ had been converted into museums. We hired the first guide who came our way. He took us on a tour of exhibits dating back to the eighteenth century. From headgear to footwear and regal apparel in all forms of princely fabrics were ensconced in showcases as were royal accessories. There was also a great collection of vintage swords, shields, armours, shotguns, rifles, pistols as well as cannons. Few dozens of early twentieth century cars were parked in spacious garages. While touring the blocks, the guide motioned at the direction of a separate block to the west of the museums. "Sir, that's the living quarters of the current King." Thrilled, I exclaimed: "Do you mean the descendant of Balwant Singh?" He nodded. I had never seen a king in flesh and blood and kept glancing at the three-storey palatial structure. "Doesn't he ever make public appearances?" "Once a year or so," replied the guide.

Tour of the museums complete, as we were about to leave, the guide grasped my hand and asked me to look up. "That's the King. Over there, the top balcony." I looked up and though the distance was more than a 100 metres, I saw him. He looked down and in the mellow rays of the setting sun, I like to think, our eyes met. I called out: "Look, look, that's the King!" But even before my companions could react, he had retreated into the building. I still retain a picture of the King in my head ~ a round face which wore a calm expression and framed by long hair.

Not much different from another ordinary, middle-aged man. 







In the fifth volume of the series of its history, the Congress party has made available to a contemporary daily an advanced copy of the book. The volume carries an article by veteran journalist Inder Malhotra who was earlier the political editor of The Statesman and later a resident editor of the Times of India. Departing from traditional Congress sycophancy, Malhotra has authenticated the widely-held belief that the late Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had been promoted by former President Zail Singh and Sanjay Gandhi with the consent of Indira Gandhi. At that time, while the Congress headed by Indira Gandhi ruled the Centre, the Akali party governed Punjab. Bhindranwale was promoted by the Congress in order to divide moderate Sikhs led by the Akalis from the fundamentalist fringe encouraged to support Bhindranwale. Thereby, Indira Gandhi sought to weaken and oust from Punjab the Akalis. It may stun people that in the pursuit of a short term political goal, Gandhi could sink to such a low political level.

In fact, she did much worse. She actually gave the go ahead to the demand for a Khalistan state in order to further her political design. This scribe was privy to sufficient circumstantial evidence to conclude this. At that time, before the formal demand for Khalistan had been made, the late Jagjit Singh Chauhan accompanied by Mr Balbir Singh Sandhu visited my residence to acquaint me with their proposal. They said that they intended to formally announce the formation of Khalistan from the precincts of the Golden Temple. They asked me for my views. I told them that it was a daft idea. Demographic distribution and geography rendered the idea impractical and irrational. Instead, I said, a stronger case could be made to unify entire Punjab extending from Peshawar to Ambala! The discussion ended and the two left. If memory serves me right, I referred to this meeting in a column written subsequently for the Sunday Observer published from Bombay.

Later, Chauhan again contacted me. He said he was going to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with whom he wanted to discuss his proposal. He wanted to consult me before he met her. On the evening of his meeting with Gandhi, he fixed an appointment with me. He said he would be outside the gate of the Taj Man Singh hotel where he was scheduled to meet someone else later. I drove to the hotel and found him waiting outside the gate. This was at the exit gate of the hotel adjacent to Kapurthala House which was then being used as a guest house by the Punjab government. We sat in the car and talked briefly. He said he could persuade Gandhi to support him. I listened with polite disbelief and we parted. I reversed my car to return the way I had come. He started walking very slowly, hesitantly, towards the Taj Hotel. His slow, halting gait intrigued me. After driving some distance I pulled my car to the side and looked back. He was entering Kapurthala House where possibly he was staying as a guest!

A short while later, Chauhan and Balbir Singh Sandhu had stated announced the formation of Khalistan from the precincts of the Golden Temple. They distributed at that time either printed currency notes of independent Khalistan or a postage stamp, I forget which. The media covered the event. I had no reason to disbelieve Chauhan's meeting with Gandhi. Despite the announcement of a sovereign Khalistan, the Central government headed by Indira Gandhi was curiously constrained from taking appropriate action.

There is overwhelming evidence that contrary to her popular image, Gandhi took decisions betraying a total lack of political sense. There is much evidence to prove this. Her disastrous handling of the aftermath of the Bangladesh War, her restoration of diplomatic ties with China after Beijing had rejected the Colombo proposals, her stupid promotion of the LTTE to embarrass Sri Lanka, and other political events testify to her political mediocrity or worse.

Whether her political follies arose from a mediocre mind or from some other unknown external political factor, history has yet to determine. But it is important for a new generation of Indians operating in the information era to acquaint themselves with the truth of their post-Independence history. They deserve to know the truth about India's iconic leaders, warts and all. Today, as the nation sinks in graft, totters with insecurity and helplessly sees governance and the political system crumbling, knowing the truth about our recent past could be the first step to reclaim our future.

The writer is a veteran journalist

and cartoonist








Having noted late last month that honour killings are "shameful and barbaric", the Supreme Court has taken its condemnation of the practice a step further by directing the trial and high courts to award death sentence to those convicted of the crime. Certain points are laid bare by its repeated observations about the unacceptability of the practice which has assumed frightening proportions in several regions of the country, particularly in North India. One, the urgency with which crimes committed in the name of saving the "honour" of the family, clan or caste need to be dealt with, and the importance of upholding the rule of law. In the absence of a pro-active role of the political leadership, which has failed to condemn the crimes or the khap panchayats that decree them in order to preserve what is presumed to be local law and custom, the court's strictures come as the necessary first step to deal with crimes that are going unchallenged and unpunished for the fear of upsetting convention. Two, the importance of discouraging such crimes by putting in place a strong deterrent. It is obvious that the apex court wants to establish the killings prompted by false notions of honour as a separate body of crime that deserves special treatment. In keeping with this idea, it has directed the lower courts to treat such murders in the "rarest of rare" category that are awarded death sentence. But the threat of punishment, however severe, cannot assure the prevention of a crime. Besides, it is doubtful if these murders can be treated collectively as different from other killings where an innocent loses his or her life because of another's unreasonable behaviour. By committing itself to awarding a death sentence to a proven case of "honour killing", which is still to be defined by the law of the country, the judiciary, with the best of intentions, is perhaps taking on an unnecessary responsibility.

The crimes that are committed in the name of honour are not merely restricted to the dastardly act of taking the life of another. Their gamut include lesser, but equally condemnable, crimes committed by a wide variety of people. In many instances, the murderer who carries out the killing to preserve honour is himself a victim of social cruelty. Social education, together with a comprehensive review of the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act and Special Marriage Act, is needed to discourage and prevent such crimes.






It may be exasperating for Indians that health is intimately connected to the body. Women are not supposed to speak about their bodies, especially about occurrences linked to reproduction, or, put in embarrassingly everyday terms, sex. Suppression means shame, fear, guilt and, most dangerously, ignorance, all of which became associated with menstruation and the urgently whispered instructions and warnings that traditionally accompanied a girl's experience of entering puberty. Times may have changed, but old habits die hard. Besides, for the huge proportion of the underprivileged, times have not changed that much, even with access to television. Such a culture would produce a government that naturally forgot about women's needs, or even about the essential hygiene that would protect them during their vulnerable period. There were sanitary napkins in the market for those who could afford them, although buyers could be made to feel deeply uncomfortable — ashamed — when these were first being sold. And those who could not afford them could make do with whatever came to hand, as long as these, and the condition of the women, remained hidden from the public eye. And if they suffered from infections, that was one more thing to keep silent about till the suffering abated or, sometimes, it got too late.

So the Union health ministry's programme to make sanitary napkins available to 1.5 crore girls in 20 states at one rupee each is truly welcome. Seventy per cent of Indian women cannot afford to buy napkins, and over 88 per cent use unhygienic alternatives. The study which gives these findings also shows how poor protection during menstruation causes girls to drop out of school, presumably in a state of vulnerability and fear, or leads more often to monthly absences going up to five days, to loss of working days for older women and to rampant infections. The government is at last making a start; it is hoped that this programme will be widened to include below-poverty-line girls and then women in every corner of the country. Since it did not have any problem selling a very affordable condom all over the country, there is no reason for the programme for sanitary napkins to fail. But what will remain an area of concern is quality: the government is expected to show its newfound concern for women by the materials and technology it uses.






Some time before the Manmohan Singh regime imploded in the mass of corruption scandals that are currently regaling television audiences, Manish Tiwari, the Congress member of parliament and spokesperson, was participating in a televised programme on political parties and their attitudes to corruption. Someone asked why the Congress had given a parliamentary ticket to Mohammed Azharuddin, the former Indian cricket captain found guilty of match-fixing and banned for life from the game by the Board of Control for Cricket in India. "We have only given him a ticket," said Tiwari with a smirk, turning to the audience, "but you have elected him." Indeed, this has been the general refrain of political parties caught with their hands in the honey pot — "The electorate has mandated this." And so it has.

Azharuddin's case is typical. He was the party nominee for Moradabad, a constituency with a very heavy Muslim presence: though a complete outsider, he was offered as a possible Muslim icon — and indeed the electorate identified with him as such and easily elected him in a state where the Congress had a very limited base. Just as illustrative are the cases of the Yadav twins, Lalu and Mulayam, and their prolonged honeymoon with the other backward classes electorate and of Mayavati, and her status as a symbol of the political ascent of the scheduled castes, all despite their unsavoury reputations. In Tamil Nadu, individuals are even prepared to immolate themselves for the electoral success of those two champions of political integrity, M. Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa. Indeed, criminals as a class are perhaps better represented in our legislatures than any other profession. In the 2004 general elections, the first in which candidates were required to disclose their criminal histories, almost a quarter of the elected MPs had criminal records. What is more, a criminal was three times as likely to win as a candidate without such glamorous qualifications. Certain parties distinguished themselves in the race to elect criminals: the 16 Bahujan Samaj Party MPs had 66 criminal charges pending against them.

Why does the Indian electorate persistently reward crime? Why do we elect and repeatedly re-elect to seats of power those whose rightful place is in prison cells meditating on their sins in mournful solitude? Are we a basically corrupt and criminalized society which regards honesty as folly and idolizes thieves, cheats and murderers? Curiously, the one empirical test of this proposition suggests otherwise. Some years ago, Reader's Digest organized an experiment in which wallets stuffed with money (the local equivalent of $50) and identification were left on the streets of cities the world over. Amazingly, 65 per cent of these wallets were returned intact in India. Cities like Mumbai, home of the Slumdog Millionaire and the commercial capital of this impoverished and inequitable country, ranked among the top five world-wide in honesty.

Why is a society of predominantly honest people so profoundly pervaded by dishonesty? Why do we, regardless of our personal ethics, tolerate, and indeed reward and lionize, corruption and crime among our representatives? Obviously, the problem lies not in our genes, but in the systems we have produced and nurtured, systems that create what the economist calls 'moral hazard', rules that generate incentives for cheating and corruption. The main feature of these rules is the discretionary power they vest in particular individuals to control the economic destinies of others. Discretion implies an irreplaceable element of personal judgment which others can question only within very narrow limits. If bureaucrats or politicians are empowered to use their judgment in punishing or rewarding people, in awarding or denying them contracts, in licensing them for, or barring them from, specific activities, the temptation to use this authority for personal enrichment becomes intense. If even a handful of those tempted succumb and offer favourable decisions in return for bribes, the beneficiaries of such decisions acquire a competitive edge over honest rivals. The latter must then emulate the former or be driven out of the market which then becomes the exclusive domain of the dishonest. Either way, the proportion of bribe offers to decisions increases. And though one may not agree with Henry Ford that "every man has his price", many of them undoubtedly do, so that more and more decisionmakers are lured away from the straight and narrow path. Venality becomes all-pervading.

Yet discretion is not something that can ever be eliminated. Reality changes rapidly in unexpected and unpredictable ways: the external and internal environment, technology, market conditions, non-economic variables that affect economic decisions are in a constant flux to which one's responses must be calibrated. To formulate in advance a set of mechanically implementable rules covering all possible contingencies calls for superhuman foresight Indeed, since most key decisions have consequences extending into the distant future, they — and the rules governing them — must be based not only on present circumstances (which at least we can observe) but on guesses about what may happen in the years to come. Personal judgment is an inescapable part of decisionmaking. If it were not, we could have left economic administration to computers and dispensed with the bureaucracy, with corporate management and — yes — with politicians as well. Perhaps, that is a consummation devoutly to be wished, but unfortunately impossible without divine intervention.

This of course is not a specifically Indian problem. Neither is corruption. What accounts for the sheer size and pervasiveness of our problem is the complexity of our regulatory frameworks and the proliferation of regulatory authorities. In part, this is a reflection of the infinite diversity of sectional interests, of castes, creeds, sects, languages, clans, tribes, extended families, income classes, occupational categories that our pluralistic society accommodates — each with its own particularistic agenda. Each interest group organizes and bargains with the State for benefits for its members, generally, if not always, at the expense of others. The injured groups then launch their counter-claims. Subsidies for one group lead to subsidies for another, quotas for one caste or sect spawn quotas for another. Indian democracy is sustained by compromise and concession in an equilibrium determined by the relative bargaining power of different organized interests. Identity politics is an essential part of this process, with politicians donning the mantle of champions of specific organized groups in the hope that this may catapult them into the roles of king-makers (or perhaps even kings). This has two consequences.

First, along with the supposed role of government in creating infrastructure, its role as a benefactor of, and mediator between, an infinite variety of organized interests implies vast decision-making powers. The State (or rather the bureaucrats and politicians who act in its name) allocates scarce resources (spectrum, mining rights, land, roads, air and railway routes, electricity, water), it awards contracts and licences and manipulates the terms and procedure for applying for these, it offers employment, it taxes and subsidizes specific groups and certifies whether any individual belongs to these target groups or not. The babu bestrides the economy like a colossus. And astride the babu is his political master. Vast opportunities for extortion and bribery thus open up — and are inevitably exploited.

Second, elections become primarily an exercise in the assertion of group identities. Where everyone steals, why shouldn't I prefer my favourite thief to yours? Indeed, a separate morality evolves in which group loyalties and kinship ties trump all else. A story, possibly apocryphal, is current in Haryana folklore. When the late-lamented patriarch, Devi Lal — the former deputy prime minister and intense rival of Bansi Lal — was asked about his many official actions favouring his son, he reportedly erupted with paternal indignation: "Whose son should I have favoured? Bansi Lal's?"

Large-scale corruption is the price we pay for democracy in a deeply divided society. Until we develop a sense of nationhood that transcends our many and diverse loyalties, we cannot hope to rid ourselves of this albatross — quite regardless of the lok pal bill.

The author is professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University







Macau was the getaway from the oppressive mainland during Mao's time. A generation has grown up since, but the former Portuguese colony continues to be a getaway for mainlanders. In those days, Chinese wanting to get away from Big Brother, and the uniform poverty that characterized village communes, swam across the bay, braving armed Chinese guards. Today's mainlanders aren't running away; it's just that the mainland's glitter is nothing compared to the garish lights of Macau's casinos.

Macau has beaten Las Vegas as the world's gaming capital. This year, revenues in the 33 casinos of this tiny city are expected to be five times that of recession-hit Vegas, with 70 per cent of the gamblers coming from the mainland. Like Hong Kong, Macau is a Special Administrative Region with its own laws; the only Chinese city where gambling is legal.

The surge in casinos — including the world's largest, the Venetian, venue of many Bollywood bashes — has seen another kind of mainlander rush to Macau. Jobless in South China? You don't need to have more than the minimum education to get a job in the casinos or the many establishments that have grown around them. Plus, the salaries are higher. But life isn't any easier, as Zheng found out.

When his expat boss left China, Zheng, his driver, was laid off. A couple of failed ventures later, Zheng, whose father had swum to Macao when Mao was alive, and then settled there, decided to follow in his footsteps. A job as an electrician or driver wouldn't be difficult to find, he thought; but first, he had to wait a year to become a Macau citizen, and then another year for his driving licence. He tried to work as a cook in an international chain, but they didn't want someone fresh off the mainland. So he took the first job he got, that of a road worker. This was a man who'd taught himself English, and whose taste in clothes was so good that after driving his boss's wife to shops selling cheap readymades, he would discreetly disappear.

Take a chance

The dust and the back-breaking grind of road repair outweighed the pay — Rs 5,000 a day — and Zheng soon became a security guard. Standing still for four hours before being allowed the first break, unable to drink water to avoid going to the loo, Zheng didn't last long there either. The thought of his wife and son on the mainland took him to the one place he had been avoiding — the casino. He's now a dealer at the gaming tables. For 11,000 patacas (Rs 61,000) a month, he stands at the tables 90 minutes at a time, all senses alert, then a 20-minute break, away from the smoke and noise of the gambling hall, and occasionally, the ashtrays and glasses hurled at him in private gambling rooms by frustrated millionaires. But, not allowed to use the lift (or the casino bus), half his break goes in climbing up and down the stairs to the basement rest-room.

However, this doesn't bother Zheng, though on the more egalitarian mainland, he routinely ate with his boss, even invited him out to the finest restaurants. What gets to him is the condition of the gamblers, who survive on the free snacks given by the casino to avoid spending money, and hang around even after having lost it all, hoping to borrow from those luckier. Zheng knows what this means — he's seen his wife's brother reduced to a wreck by the goons sent by Macau's new class of moneylenders. That's when the family discovered that he'd gambled away not just his savings, but even the 50,000 yuan loaned by them to start a business.

In a few months, Zheng will get his driving license. Manoeuvring Macau's narrow streets will be a far cry from driving on the mainland's broad roads. But at least he will be out of the casino.






Apur Sansar made me a household name but it came at a cost. I was asked to leave my school as the principal of my Bengali-medium school felt I would be a bad influence on the other girls. My father tried to reason, but when nothing worked, he told the principal he would rather I act than stay on in this particular school. I also had to leave Calcutta, the home of my grandparents where I grew up, and went to live with my parents and my sister. Compared to the life in a joint family, always bustling with life, this was so different. Also, I had to go to a new school, this time an English-medium one. It was quite traumatic, so many changes all at once. It was scary, almost humiliating, having to get used to a new language. I was so good in Bengali. I used to dread going to school because I had to converse in English. But with the help of my class teacher, who made me her mission, I managed to learn the language and caught up with the class within the year.

It was during the school vacations the next year that Manikda called me again to act in Devi.

Devi is set in the second half of the 19th century, when in Bengal the confrontation between Hindu orthodoxy and rational reformism was at its most intense. The characters in Devi embody this conflict between obsessive blind superstition and the emergence of rational thinking. Devi is the story of a feudal patriarch's obsessive conviction that his daughter-in-law is the goddess incarnate. The opening shots of the film set the tone by revealing the fervid religiosity of Kalikinkar Roy as he watches goddess Durga being worshipped. The scene evokes a sense of unease and the audience is aware that they are watching one who is intoxicated by faith. I play the role of Dayamoyee who becomes a victim of feudal patriarchy and religious orthodoxy. She is too young and too conditioned by the existing traditions and environment to question what is asked of her. But even as she is garlanded and worshipped, Daya is wracked by doubts. It is not long before the relentless assault of being worshipped and her gradual disconnect from all things familiar disturb her sense of reality, as Ray proceeds to unfold the doom that is now Daya's fate. Daya is treated in big close-ups, which continue to haunt long after the film is over.

When I read the script this time, I realized this film offered a greater opportunity for performance. Somehow, the film's set-up and character probably impacted me even during the shoot. Unlike Apur Sansar, where I felt energized on the sets, here I was constantly beset by a feeling of heaviness as though I was carrying a massive weight on my chest. The claustrophobia was inescapable. It was as though the oppression of Daya had reached out to infect me. This worked very well for the character.

I am immensely proud of this film and it remains my favourite performance. In fact, Manikda often said that Devi and Charulata were his favourite films because he felt that he had made fewer mistakes in these. When I see this film today, I do not find a single superfluous shot. The film stirred a controversy when it was released. Ray was a Brahmo, and it was being suggested that he had chosen the subject to attack Hinduism, which, of course, was an absurd allegation. If anything, the subject remains relevant even now. In the name of tradition, family and honour, women continue to be oppressed and exploited. We continue to witness how, all over the world and in all religions, women become the first targets of religious orthodoxy.

Aranyer Din Ratri

I returned to work with Satyajit Ray seven years later, after moving to Hindi cinema in the early 1960s. In the meantime, he had wanted to cast me in Kanchenjunga, but I had my exams at the time and missed out on the film. When he offered me the role of the female protagonist in Nayak, I was thrilled.

My next film with Ray, Aranyer Din Ratri, marked a distinct shift in the film-maker's repertoire. By this time, Ray was being attacked and derided for being apolitical at an intensely turbulent moment in West Bengal's history. The film critic and Ray's one-time close friend, Chidananda Dasgupta, wrote: "The Calcutta of the burning trams, communal riots, refugees, unemployment, rising prices and food shortages does not exist in Ray's films." But this was not true. No one was unaffected by the political turmoil, least of all Ray. A number of his films addressed the political situation but in ways that were reflective and introspective.

Aranyer Din Ratri, based on a novel by the acclaimed author and poet, Sunil Ganguly, was the beginning of Ray's effort to understand the youth of the time. At one level, the film could be seen as a romantic comedy about four educated young men escaping into a forest resort for a reprieve from city strife. How their "days and nights" in the forest transform the young men is the central theme of the film.

Ray's script made a few departures from the novel which met with disapproval from the author. For instance, he changed the class character of the protagonists. The unemployed youth who travelled ticketless in trains in Ganguly's novel were, in the film, changed into four well-heeled middle-class men, three of whom held jobs while one even had a car. Perhaps it was the educated middle-class (to which he belonged and understood well) that Ray held guilty of becoming "nowhere people"; of being divorced from their environment and of being oblivious to the impact of their actions on those who they considered their intellectual and cultural inferior — in this case, the tribals of the region. There is a delightful irony — Ray seems to say in the film — that those who cannot appreciate a forest or a sunset without the crutch of Western literary tropes should somehow consider themselves culturally superior!

The women in Aranyer Din Ratri provide a strong moral contrast to the men. Aparna reveals the hollowness of the men, particularly Ashim, who is attracted to her. Stuart Byron in Film Quarterly (1972) sees the film as a "deeper statement on male chauvinism". The one aspect of Ray's cinema that I have missed while working in Bombay films has been his deep insights into women's psyche. Bombay films, notwithstanding their scale and circulation, rarely offer 'strong', author-backed roles to women.

My tryst with Bombay cinema

Even as I signed on for Aranyer Din Ratri, I was already committed to shooting for the Hindi film, Aradhana, to be directed by Shakti Samanta. He was responsible for my break in Hindi films with Kashmir ki Kali, which was a runaway hit. My second film with him, An Evening in Paris, was also a huge hit. He now wanted 40 days at a stretch to shoot for his new film, Aradhana. At the same time, the offer to act in Ray's film arrived. I had no intention of missing the opportunity of working with Ray notwithstanding my fondness for, and personal loyalty to, Shaktida. Shaktida understood my predicament and readjusted his schedules to fit my requirements. I ended up having the best of both worlds. Aradhana became a monster hit — arguably the biggest of my career. And I had the privilege of being a part of Aranayer Din Ratri, which was, in the words of Stuart Byron, "apart from Charulata, the greatest film to date by a great director".

This anecdote well sums up my career, which straddled the world of Bengali films on the one hand and Bombay films on the other. Between 1963 and 1989, I had a film release every single year without a break, during which time I acted in over a 100 films with an average release of four films a year. It goes without saying that Bombay cinema gave me a visibility that no other cinema could have. I remember an interaction with people of Indian origin in South Africa whose passports did not allow them to enter India during the apartheid regime. They shared with me how, every Sunday, they dressed in their finest clothes and went to see my popular song and dance movies. This, they said, was their only link to India, and how I through my films had brought them closer to India. What better tribute to the reach and contribution of Bombay films. But throughout my career, I continued to work in Bengali films, which exposed me to a different world of acting, films that stood the test of time and are remembered even today. Being an insider in two different industries within the same country allowed me to understand Indian cinema from a very unique vantage point.

Having said all this, I have to acknowledge that my life was never circumscribed by the trappings of stardom. I am an intensely private person and despite the 'publicness' of my persona, I never liked the intrusion into my privacy and, consequently, did not like the limelight to be constantly on me. My work was central to my existence but I always knew a world beyond the studios. Perhaps this is what allowed me to make unconventional career choices, like playing mother to the star sensation of the era in Aradhana at the age of 25, or playing the deglamourized prostitute in Mausam.

Similarly, I made unconventional life choices regardless of what impact they would have on my career. I made no secret of my courtship and subsequent marriage to cricketer Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi at the peak of my career at a time when a woman star getting married was considered professional hara-kiri. To make matters complicated, my husband was Muslim and I was Hindu. There were disapproving murmurs but we never let them bother us. Then, once again, as a top heroine in the industry, I opted to have a child which was akin to professional hara-kiri twice over! But I was determined to have a family and didn't mind if it came at the cost of stardom. I think it was a classic example of having my cake and eating it too. I wanted it all.

Despite the inevitable and usual ups and downs, I have never regretted the choices that I have made in life or in films. I wanted a career in films that gave me wings and I wanted a family that kept me rooted. But often the demands from both were more than I could handle, but somehow, despite the many struggles, moments of despair and exasperation, with the help of friends, family, luck, chance and determination, I have managed so far to live life the way I have wanted to, on my own terms. It hasn't been easy but it has been worth it.







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




The joint drafting committee on the Lokpal bill, comprising representatives of the government and civil society, has made welcome progress in evolving proposals on the scope of the proposed legislation for creation of the anti-corruption body. The committee has had three sittings so far and it was decided at last week's meeting that ministers, MPs and senior government servants like IAS, IPS and other civil services officers would be brought under the ambit of the bill.

There was a welcome consensus in the committee on the proposal. At present,  initiation of investigations and prosecution of ministers, MPs and senior bureaucrats could be done only with prior permission from the government. In the case of a minister the sanction has to come from the prime minister and for an MP the sanctioning authority is the Lok Sabha Speaker or the Rajya Sabha chairman. The procedures are cumbersome and usually have the effect of shielding corruption.


The existing procedures for prosecution of senior bureaucrats are also ineffective. The provision for government sanction for prosecution of an officer above the rank of a joint secretary was intended to protect them from harassment but this has been misused to protect corrupt officials by scuttling or delaying action against them. Bureaucrats are also involved, along with politicians, in all the major corruption scandals in the country. To make the administration corruption-free the present system of protection should end.

Provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, which governs the CBI, have to be amended for this. If the proposal to remove the badly implemented protection regime becomes a reality the prosecution of about 300 senior bureaucrats who are facing serious corruption charges can be fast-tracked. This will help to clean up the administration and serve as a warning to officials in future.

The drafting committee has not taken a decision on inclusion of the prime minister and the judiciary within the jurisdiction of the Lokpal. There were differences over these proposals and a decision is expected in the coming meetings.  Even the government's draft Lokpal bill had provided for inclusion of the prime minister within its scope. The present reservations may have arisen because the proposed office of the Lokpal is stronger than that envisaged under the government's bill. But there is no case for leaving the prime minister out of the ambit of the bill.






The decisive rejection of the Alternative Vote (AV) system by the British electorate in a referendum held on May 5 has set back any possibility of electoral reforms there by many years. The overwhelming support of 69 per cent for those who said no to change, as against 31 per cent for those who wanted it, was a surprise.  The flaws of the first-past-the post (FPTP) system which exists in many countries, including India, are well-known. Most elected representatives win seats even when they secure only a minority of votes.

The system therefore is not adequately representative. The AV system is considered an improvement. Under it the voters would rank all candidates in their order of preference. If no candidate gets more than 50 per cent votes in the first round, the second preference votes of the candidate who comes last would be redistributed. The redistribution process would continue till someone gets 50 per cent.

The referendum was held because the Liberal Democrats who are partners in a coalition with the Tories had made it a condition for their support last year. The Tories are against the AV system because they would lose seats under it. The Labour is divided on the issue. Lib Dems had for long demanded a proportional system because they have suffered under the  present system. In the last election they won about 25 per cent of votes but got only 10 per cent of the seats.

The present system favours parties whose support is geographically concentrated and ensures that MPs continue to hold 'safe' seats. Its one advantage is that it tends to avoid political instability. But AV would have made the system more representative and in fact truly democratic by making smaller parties more relevant. It might even have persuaded the MPs to work harder to secure wider support from the constituents. It has worked well in countries like Australia.

The idea was rejected by the voters perhaps because it sounded more complex than the FPTP system. The voters probably punished the Lib Dems for their association with the Tories and in the process the AV idea which they championed was also rejected.   Liberal Democrats will take a long time to recover from their electoral disaster and the idea of electoral reforms will also have to wait.







India will soon place orders worth $5 billion to various US companies. Besides, India shares a wide range of interests with the US.
Finally, the Indian government seems to have convinced its domestic detractors that it is indeed 'non-aligned' and that its foreign policy is not being crafted in Washington. Nothing works better in New Delhi than a put-down to the US. And what a snub this has been. Despite extensive lobbying by the US military-industrial complex, supported by president Barack Obama himself, India rejected bids by Lockheed Martin and Boeing for a $10 billion-plus contract for 126 medium multi-role combat aircrafts (MMRCA). Instead, New Delhi has short-listed Dassault Aviation's Rafale and the Eurofighter Consortium's Typhoon.

There were extensive field trials and technical considerations ostensibly which drove the final decision. But the dismay in Washington is widespread and to some extent understandable given the investment that the US has made in cultivating India in recent years. As if to underscore the importance of this development, the US ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, also decided to announce his resignation at the same time when the decision on MMRCA was being made public though he has insisted that this resignation is related to 'personal, professional and family considerations.'

At one level, the seeming transparency of the process should indeed be heartening to those who have been puzzled by India's inability to get its defence modernisation programme on track for some time now. In mature democracies, the policy and process of defence contracts should be above board. For a usually lackadaisical Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) this is a welcome change.

After years of returning unspent money, the MoD last year not only managed to spend its entire budget but also asked for money to spend on capital procurement. And now with movement on MMRCA bids, it is clear that the ministry wants to move swiftly on new defence procurement, relegating its ultra cautious approach to the sidelines. But major defence purchases are a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.

At a time when the political dispensation in New Delhi is embroiled in a whole host of corruption scandals, it has used this decision to insulate itself from charges of favouritism towards America. In a way it's a masterstroke. To its domestic policy critics, the government has signalled that despite all the heft of the US military-industrial complex, India refused to budge. To its foreign policy critics, there was a signal that New Delhi remains in thrall to no one, not even the US.

The present government has been viewed as being too cozy with the US and there were signs of discontent within the ruling Congress party itself on this score. Some of the recent revelations by WikiLeaks about the pressure on New Delhi during the negotiations over the US-India civilian nuclear energy pact had put the government in a difficult position. The decision on MMRCA allows the government to make a case that it is its own master.

Drifting apart

The danger is in the process New Delhi may have dealt a severe blow to its burgeoning ties with the US. Despite Obama's visit to New Delhi in November 2010, during which he endorsed India's candidacy to the United Nations Security Council, there is a growing sense in New Delhi and Washington that bilateral ties are drifting. Both governments have other priorities. The Obama administration is too consumed with its domestic economic troubles and the Indian government has been battling charges of incompetence and corruption at a number of levels.

New Delhi has also made some overtures to other power centres in recent months. At the United Nations, India scuttled attempts by the western powers to strongly condemn the Syrian government for its attacks on protestors, merely asking the UNSC to urge all sides to abjure violence and seek a peaceful resolution. And before this there was India's abstention on Libya at the UNSC as well as the much touted BRICS summit in China at which the joint statement underscored the need for a realignment of the post-World War
II global order that was based on the untrammelled supremacy of the US.

The decision on MMRCA will only reinforce the perception in Washington that the much-touted strategic partnership between the US and India is more hype than substance. But one defence deal doesn't a relationship make. India will soon be announcing a $5 billion deal for 10 Boeing C-7 heavy-lift transport aircraft with an additional order for a further six as well as more orders for Lockheed's C-130J Hercules transport aircraft. Aside from defence, India shares a wide ranging set of interests with the US, most significant of which is to confront a rising China.

At a time when China's rapid rise is upending the extant balance of power in Asia-Pacific, both need each other. The US faces the prospect of an emerging power transition in Asia and it needs new partners to provide strategic stability to a region where the centre of gravity of global politics and economics is rapidly moving. India, for its part, is trying to come to grips with an ever more assertive China in its vicinity and needs US support if it is to protect and enhance its vital national interests. It would indeed be a pity if a defence deal ends up becoming a benchmark in defining the future trajectory of this very important bilateral relationship.

(The writer teaches at King's College, London)***************************************






The West Asia suddenly seems like a much more uncertain place than it has for decades.
There is a satirical TV show in Israel which portrays Benjamin Netanyahu as an operatic baritone, stretching and bending every note he sings in a desperate effort to play for time as the chorus plagues him with awkward questions.

What is to be done about the Palestinians and their plans to ask the UN to recognise their statehood in September they ask; what will the Israeli prime minister say in the speech to Congress in which he will have to ensure that the US at least remains bound to Israel in the face of a rising tide of support for the Palestinians.

In the programme — Wonderful Country or Eretz Nehedorot — the Netanyahu character responds by suggesting he'll throw in the odd low note, interspersed with high notes. By way of variation he suggests he might thump the podium for emphasis.

The impression is that Netanyahu is at best a tactician rather than a strategist — a man whose skills run more to artfully creating an impression of diplomatic activity rather than taking history by the scruff of the neck.

In normal times when Israel was doing well economically in West Asia which was marooned in a kind of ice age of autocracy the strategy worked perfectly well for Netanyahu. Trouble is, these are not normal times in West Asia.


Half-completed revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia still offer the hope of a kind of Arab Spring even as the Assad regime in Syria follows the pattern of the Gadhafi administration in Libya. The pressure for change is felt in Yemen too, and in Bahrain.

All around Israel fundamental things are changing and changing fast. The editor of the 'Jerusalem Post', David Horowitz put it like this: "We are on the western edge of a largely hostile landmass so when drastic and dramatic things happen in our region and our intelligence, security and political leaders didn't tell us we're disturbed." "Our existence depends on us being smart and here, like everyone else, we were taken by surprise."

It is not just the Arab Spring, either. In pressing for the United Nations to recognise their statehood — with or without a peace treaty with Israel — the Palestinians appear finally to have hit upon a strategy with which the Israeli government is struggling to cope.

In visits to London and Paris, Netanyahu did what he could to make sure that Britain and France do not vote for the Palestinian motion — they might, depending on what it says.
In Washington later this month, where he will speak to the House of Representatives, he will be under pressure to come up with something that feels at least like he is answering the summons of history.

The foundation of modern Israel's security and stability is the peace treaty signed with Egypt in 1979. It allowed the Israelis to slash defence spending (which once ran at more than 25 per cent of GDP) and thus it could be argued laid the foundations for modern prosperity here too.

Popular sentiment in Egypt appears to run strongly against Israel and sooner or later if the largest country in the Arab world is to become a democracy, then it seems reasonable to assume that will be reflected in the attitudes of future parliaments and governments.

Even if that does not result in a revision of the peace treaty itself — something that would horrify Washington too — it is going to make the relationship a more awkward one for Israel to manage. It is something of a paradox for Israel which likes to remind its friends (and its enemies) that it is the only democracy in West Asia that it may have been more secure when Egypt was an autocracy.

In the long-run, Israelis argue they would be better off if democracy were to spread to places like Egypt and ultimately even Syria on the general principle that open societies with free elections and free media are likely to take a less hostile view of Israel's existence.

The West Asia suddenly seems like a much more uncertain place than it has for decades. Pent-up anger at incompetent and corrupt governments presiding over squalor and mass-unemployment will provoke further and deeper change — and where governments resists may well lead to more violence and unrest.

It is a time of spreading opportunity and although the changing landscape as viewed from Israel may seem like a more threatening place it now falls to Netanyahu to come up with an Israeli vision which is grand enough to match the magnitude of the moment.

When I asked a retired senior intelligence officer if this was an exhilarating time for Israel or a frightening one, he said simply: "Both." If the producers of Wonderful Country are right his instinct might be to prevaricate. But he knows the times may call for something a little grander in scale.






The news of burglary at our locked house in native place was indeed shocking.
Strange are the ways some thieves execute their modus operandi. Horrible stories apart, comic series of events involving them, like falling prey to the temptation of sleeping, being caught while 'bribing' barking pet dogs or jumping into the well while on the run, are enough to tickle one's funny bones. Imagine, the minnows in the field sent for the 'assignment,' this one must have tested not only the aptitude of the men in the line of duty, but their appetite as well.

The news of burglary at our locked house in native place was indeed shocking. But, the details followed turned out to be a piece worth retelling. For my mom, retired, lonely with her children perched in various cities for occupation, life was a tedious existence, with enthusiasm and hopes fast ebbing away. Like most of the elderly people, her days began and ended with numerous reality shows and news stories steeped in sentimentality. An ardent fan of cookery shows, she kept experimenting in kitchen, testing the incorrigible loyalty of the doggy.

Thieves broke the door open and raided the house a week after she was brought to the city. Broken almirahs, boxes, scattered books and clothes. It was a herculean task for the police and the relatives, who reached the spot only in the morning, to exactly verify what was taken away.

We get phone calls from the spot. "Their target was money and gold." We heave a sigh of relief. Gratitude to those who invented bank lockers! But, washing machine, TV, computer, fridge, bronze and silver utensils, even the decorative items could catch the fancy of any thief who is planning a house warming ceremony in the near future. Unwashed dishes stand testimony to their encroachment into the kitchen. One wonders, what's there to eat in a locked house.

"There was popcorn soup and carrot halwa in fridge. I made it for the first time watching a cookery show and forgot to take it while coming," mom breaks into tears. Despair writ large on her face. I could imagine, after hours of futile search, the quintessentially macho-faced men swallowing the exotic dishes in vengeance and vanishing in thin air.

Notwithstanding the cold and abandoned days in fridge, the halwa had achieved salvation. The news of the outlandish act of 'hungry' thieves was music to mom's ears, and with regained enthusiasm and ebullience she tunes into watch 'MasterChef.'







Minister Yisrael Katz is considered to be one of the leaders of Likud's intermediate generation. In terms of personal ambition, he ranks with others in the party who dream of reaching the top spot - that is, of vying to become prime minister when the Benjamin Netanyahu era draws to a close. On his way there, he has to prove himself in the government ministry he heads, a ministry that influences every citizen in Israel and every foreigner who visits the country: the transportation ministry. His record so far is fairly lackluster.

Last year Katz's face was plastered on billboards calling on him to increase budget allocations for the campaign to limit road accidents. Focusing on him personally was harsh and exaggerated; people are not hurt in traffic accidents because of Katz. Yet still unresolved is the question of responsibility for areas that are under the purview of the transportation ministry. More precisely, is this strictly ministerial responsibility of a bureaucratic nature - the kind Moshe Dayan invoked to profess his innocence regarding the blunders of the 1973 Yom Kippur War - or is it direct personal and professional responsibility?

Katz is the government figure responsible for Israel's railroad system, which appears to be stuck on the tracks due to a number of problems, among them, a failure to acquire equipment and the workers committee's opposition to necessary changes. During his term as minister, Katz has overtly refrained from visiting the railroad, as though his non-appearance on the tracks exempts him from responsibility.

In contrast, he adopted just the opposite position regarding the contamination of airplane fuel at Ben-Gurion Airport. Katz rushed to appear at the airport, planted himself in front of the cameras during peak viewing hours for the nightly news, delivered his message to the people, and appointed the director-general of his ministry to head an investigation committee. Other than climbing up to the control tower and directing the landing and departure of planes with his own hands, Katz appeared to do everything to project an image of personal control of the situation.

Yet the glory which redounds to those who prevent aviation disasters comes with a price: Katz is also responsible for the ongoing twists in the saga. On the eve of Independence Day, he decided that the crisis was behind us, and ordered the refueling of the planes with regular fuel before the fuel pipes had been cleaned. Just four hours later it became clear that this order was impetuous. Three planes were found to have polluted fuel; the gas pumping was stopped, and additional flights were delayed. The argument between different laboratories analyzing the contaminated fuel has yet to be resolved.

Katz's response to the Ben-Gurion Airport affair proves yet again that television appearances are no substitute for the transportation minister assuming responsibility for the bodies under his authority.







The international community is tensely waiting to hear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's words to the U.S. Congress in 12 days' time. Yet it will not be words that determine how the speech is received, but rather a number. If Netanyahu does not specifically mention the number 1967, the world will reject his speech from the outset. Israel's future hangs today on the prime minister's ability to utter the four digits he has not yet uttered - one, nine, six, seven: 1967.

Netanyahu? 1967? Not a chance - unless he realizes the seriousness of the situation. Unless he realizes that our backs are to the wall and we must change direction. Unless he rises above himself and becomes a statesman and a leader.

The prime minister is a persecuted, pursued and controversial man. But he is a patriot, committed to Israel's future.

Netanyahu believes that to ensure Israel's future, the Palestinians must recognize it as a Jewish state and agree to a demilitarized Palestine. Netanyahu believes that to ensure Israel's future, Israel must control security in the Jordan Valley. Netanyahu believes that to ensure Israel's future, Israel must include the large settlement blocs.

Netanyahu believes that creative solutions must be found for the setters, the holy places and Jerusalem. Netanyahu believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be brought to an end without dealing with the regional and strategic challenges threatening the West and Israel.

All well and good. But Netanyahu should also understand that he cannot attain his just claims without giving something in exchange. That something is a known quantity: Israeli agreement that at the end of the day, the border between Israel and Palestine will be based on the 1967 lines. An exchange of territory - yes; security arrangements - yes; complete demilitarization - yes; rejection of the Palestinian demand for the refugees' return - yes; international guarantees - yes. But in exchange for all these, Israel must agree that in the end, the area of the Palestinian state will be equivalent to the area conquered in June 1967.

As of now, the Palestinians are not the partner; the world is the partner. And the deal with the world is simple: Israel gives a pledge about how the game will end and receives in return a pledge about the game's rules, character and duration.

The withdrawal will be phased, with implementation based on the Palestinians' fulfillment of their obligations. The international community will assist and support the withdrawal, which will be dependent on the world stopping Iran. But at the end of the process, the withdrawal will be comprehensive. The withdrawal will end the occupation, divide the country and create a new situation of two nation-states between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

Can Netanyahu do it? That is unclear. Years ago, his slogan was "if they don't give, they won't get." Unfortunately, that slogan applies to us as well. If we don't give, we won't get.

Netanyahu does not like to pay. But he must understand that people who do not pay do not acquire anything. People who do not compromise do not survive. Political parsimony is not political greatness.

Even Ehud Olmert understood this. He waged two wars and built settlements wildly, but in accepting the principle of 1967, he gave Israel a political shield. Although he never actually evacuated a single settlement or withdrew from a single centimeter, Olmert enjoyed political credit that allowed him to strike at Israel's enemies. He shifted the onus of responsibility for the lack of peace from Israel to the Palestinians.

When Netanyahu decided to go to Washington, he took a huge risk. Some people think he was wrong; others believe he was right. But the importance of Netanyahu's speech to Congress is that he is creating a moment of truth. This moment obliges the prime minister to show his true self.

If Netanyahu finds a way to say "1967" in Washington, he will earn a new lease on life. He will give hope to his country and himself. But if he hesitates, if he hems and haws, he will be done for. A vague, miserly speech to Congress will be the beginning of his downfall.








I want to add one more suggestion to the assortment of conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of Osama bin Laden: Bin Laden was assassinated in order to break those readers of The New York Times who refused to start paying for the Internet edition of the newspaper.

About two weeks ago something important happened in the worldwide content industry. The New York Times stopped giving surfers unlimited access to the online edition of the newspaper, and announced that it would be possible to read only about 20 articles a month free of charge. Many people who had become accustomed to living in the digital utopia that enables free access to any content were shocked at the newspaper's insistence on this revolutionary business model, which in the non-so-distant past was called a "subscription."

Opponents offered many relevant objections, and hastened to point out uncomplicated ways of bypassing the barrier that the editorial board had erected between readers and content. Even the editor of this page called me a "sucker" when I admitted that I was considering a subscription. For 10 days I withstood the pressure, but bin Laden's murder broke me, and I found myself pulling out my credit card. But after I had calmed down from the many questions surrounding the fantastic disappearance from the world of the legendary villain, I was left with another tough question: How did I, who for years have been "drinking" music, films and television through a straw free of charge via the Internet, break down and order a paid subscription to The New York Times?

The first answer that came to mind was that the 12 years I lived in the United States had left their impression on me. The Americans, as a new and astute friend explained to me, live with a religious viewpoint that typifies the period preceding the biblical Job. In other words, they reject the fatalistic perspective that the good sometimes suffer, and that unfortunately there are quite a number of wicked people who do well. The package of American naivete includes, along with a rejection of fatalism, a rejection of cynicism, one of whose faithful representatives is the pejorative epithet "sucker." In other words, my friend explained, it is possible that the fact that I pulled out my credit card attests to the fact that during my years in the United States my Israeli fear of "being a sucker" subsided.

Another possibility that came to mind is that it's simply a status symbol. The moment that not everyone can afford a subscription to The New York Times, the small gray-black logo on my iPhone screen assumes a prestige that it didn't have before.

But the third possibility, as another fellow "sucker" claimed, is that I'm proud to be one of the handful of people for whom high-quality content continues to be created in our fast-yellowing journalistic world. In other words, that payment for the newspaper is not a subscription but a donation to a group whose activity - original and critical reporting about important world events - I want to encourage. I think he's right.

Seven years ago, when I returned to Israel from that long stay in the United States, my father asked me to subscribe to Haaretz. He said to me, "It's not cheap, but I'm asking you to invest this money in a subscription, even if you put the paper aside and don't read it." "But why?" I asked. "It's a lot of money, and I can read it on the Internet."

My father suggested to me at the time that I think of it as a political act, in the democratic sense. In his own unique way he told me: "Pay those 200 shekels, Amalia. We can't allow ourselves to be left without alternatives."







Amram Mitzna announced last week that if he wins the race for Labor's leadership, "A day after I win, I will start a revolution. Not a change. A revolution. After I am elected, I will start managing the party and won't let it scatter in every direction" (Haaretz, May 5 ).

Mitzna appears to think that now, after having recovered from his loss the last time he led the party, he could be a "strong leader" capable of doing what he likes. Mitzna evidently believes he will sweep the party and the voters, and then the government and the entire state, and lead them wherever he desires.

But in fact, Mitzna is chiefly imitating Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who has no need to fear his party's primaries, constitution or institutions and does whatever he feels like, both in the party and in the cabinet.

Mitzna is not the only candidate for Labor's leadership who pretends to be a strong leader. The other candidates have also declared, in one way or another, that they are already strong leaders, or will be strong leaders if elected.

Nor are they the only ones in Israeli politics to do so. All the current party heads pose as strong leaders. But in reality, they merely act like aggressive politicians.

This is true of Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud ), Lieberman, Ehud Barak (Aztma'ut ) and Eli Yishai (Shas ). In Kadima, where Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz are vying for the party leadership, each seeks to present himself, and to run the party, as a strong leader. The main criticism aimed at Meretz's Haim Oron over his failure was that he wasn't a strong leader.

In addition to all these politicians, academics and media pundits write about the need for a strong leader who will lead the state forcefully, and they suggest changing the system of government to a presidential or quasi-presidential one. These people look back nostalgically at figures like David Ben-Gurion, Ariel Sharon and even Yitzhak Rabin, saying they made historic decisions and never sank into the political mire. But this is inaccurate. These leaders took care of their positions and their personal affairs first, not the state and all its citizens.

Both those who are acting like aggressive politicians and those who want what they call "strong leaders" have damaged and are continuing to damage Israeli democracy, which today is quite flawed. Those who see themselves as strong leaders are merely mediocre politicians, during whose terms Israel's rating as a democracy has plunged by any international standard.

But that is not the most important problem in this regard. What is truly important is that these politicians are completely ignoring the needs of Israel's public, both Jewish and Arab. They are mostly concerned with their own interests and with those of the junior politicians they hand-picked and brought into the Knesset, the cabinet and the civil service, while the public has no say on this matter - or on their policies and conduct. In this spirit, Mitzna is also seeking to pick a sizable portion of Labor's Knesset representatives by himself.

A leader must first and foremost be an honest person who does not zigzag, an intelligent person who doesn't rant and rave and doesn't react without due thought, and someone attentive to the will of the people, who are sovereign. And above all, a leader must tend to the welfare and advancement of Israel's damaged society rather than to his own survival and that of those around him, or to sectorial interests at the expense of other groups. But it appears that most Israeli politicians who see themselves as leaders are not familiar with democracy's rules, or have forgotten them.

The people must awaken from their current state of political indifference and their concern for satisfying their own personal needs. It is vital to oppose the existing approach to politics, in order to create a democracy that is effective rather than imaginary.




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





The jury in the illegal insider trading case against Raj Rajaratnam, the billionaire founder of the Galleon Group hedge fund, did what the government has largely failed to do: hold a major Wall Street figure accountable for his reckless behavior. It is an important step toward restoring trust as a prerequisite of America's financial markets.


Mr. Rajaratnam is by far the most prominent of the 36 found guilty in an extensive crackdown led by Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. (In all, 47 have been charged.) He was convicted on all 14 counts against him, of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit it, and he could face up to 19 1/2 years in prison and tens of millions of dollars in fines.


Insider trading is especially odious because of the kind of swindle it turns on: an insider learns something he shouldn't through a breach of trust; basing an investment decision on the ill-gotten information, he makes a profit that is really a fraud.


It is sometimes said insider trading is a victimless crime. It is not. Was it good for Goldman Sachs's reputation to have wiretaps played in court of a director leaking confidential information to Mr. Rajaratnam? Or for Intel, I.B.M., McKinsey or other companies to have illegal inside tips about them passed to him and his cronies?


More fundamentally, everyone affected by markets distorted by such illicit trading is a victim. The prosecution of Mr. Rajaratnam was a test of whether this kind of fraud is still offensive to an American jury.


The classic insider case involves one person tipping another in individual transactions. Mr. Rajaratnam created a network of tipping networks that seemed cynically designed to go to the edges of the law on obtaining insider information without breaking it. By providing him with a mosaic of information from many sources, his defense contended, no single source or piece of information was material to a decision to invest even though, added up, they gave him a vital edge as an investor.


The prosecution countered that by focusing on five of his many sources, relying primarily on testimony of three and wiretaps of four and their gossipy, shameless and illicit phone calls with Mr. Rajaratnam. A prosecutor summed up, "Cheating became part of his business model."


The crimes he was tried for began in 2003 and ended in 2009, a period when markets were out of control. Had he been acquitted, Americans might have concluded that it was O.K. for an insider to play the markets as dishonestly as he did because they are basically rigged.


Thirty years ago, America's financial markets weren't perfect, but the exposure of market manipulation by Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken and others was shocking because their insider trading was so unexpected. The corruption felt like an anomaly in the world's best markets.


Now our markets remain opaque and of disputed trustworthiness. It's common to sniff illegal insider trading, but hard to prove it in court because it requires proof of intentional or knowing wrongdoing. Prosecutors must show that trades were based on material, nonpublic information knowingly used.


Mr. Rajaratnam tried to disguise those tips, but the government showed that he got illegal, material, nonpublic information by illegal means, and used it to make tens of millions in criminal gains.








Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and latest entrant in the Republican presidential field, has money, experience and name recognition. His introductory video is all serenity and hope, a deceptively calm way for many voters to meet a splenetic politician with a long history of slashing divisiveness and intolerance.


He refers to himself as a historian, but apparently his personal study of history has primarily taught him about the effectiveness of demagogy. Donald Trump, fiddling with birth certificates, is an amateur compared with Mr. Gingrich at sliming the Obama administration — as well as Democrats, Muslims, blacks and gay men and lesbians.


The Democrats who won in 2008, including President Obama, are "left-wing radicals" who lead a "secular socialist machine," he wrote in his 2010 book, "To Save America." He accused them of producing "the greatest political corruption ever seen in modern America." And then the inevitable historical coup de grâce: "The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did."


The slurs don't stop there. He compared the Muslims who wanted to open an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan to the German Reich,saying it "would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum." He is promoting the fringe idea that "jihadis" are intent on imposing Islamic law on every American village and farm.


Last year, he called for a federal law to stop the (nonexistent) onslaught of Sharia on American jurisprudence and accused the left of refusing to acknowledge its "mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it." This nuanced grasp of world affairs was reinforced when he said that Mr. Obama displayed "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior."


In his world, advocates for gay rights are imposing a "gay and secular fascism" using violence and harassment, blacks have little entrepreneurial tradition, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the Supreme Court is a "Latina woman racist." (He kind of took back that last slur.)


Despite all this, not to mention the ethics violation when he was speaker, Mr. Gingrich's real liability among the conservative and fundamentalist groups that dominate the Republican primaries is his personal history of infidelity that led to two sordid divorces. (Much of which took place while he was denouncing President Bill Clinton for moral transgressions.) That may explain his endless calls to restore Judeo-Christian values.


It is sometimes difficult to know what some Republican candidates stand for, as they pander to the far right without alienating the center. It is not difficult to know what Newt Gingrich stands for, and to find it repellent.







The for-profit education industry complained of excessive regulation last fall when the Obama administration issued new rules intended to curb abuses at profit-making colleges and trade schools. But lawsuits brought by whistle-blowers with firsthand knowledge of the industry make a strong case for why tough rules are needed.


Earlier this month, the Justice Department took the unusual step of joining a lawsuit brought by former employees of the Education Management Corporation, one of the largest for-profit college companies in the country. The employees charged that the company knowingly defrauded the government by illegally paying recruiters based on the number of students they enroll.


The court papers describe a "boiler room" atmosphere in which recruiters enrolled students who stood no chance of graduating and saddled them with debt they were unlikely to be able to pay off. They say the academic requirements laid out in Education Management's advertisements were a sham and that the company accepted all students who completed applications and submitted 150-word essays.


The former employees also charge that students who declined to enroll because their financial aid packages were too small were sometimes pressed to convert to part-time studies. They were then given refunds but were not told that the proceeds were from loans that they were obligated to repay. The plaintiffs claim large numbers of students who enrolled in Education Management schools dropped out, probably after incurring debt from loans.


Despite these claims, and other revelations, the industry is continuing to press Congress to roll back government regulation. It is pushing particularly hard against a new rule that would cut off federal education aid to programs whose graduates end up saddled with debt that they have little hope of ever repaying.


Instead of protecting the industry, lawmakers should be looking out for constituents who have been ripped off by unscrupulous schools and for the taxpayers who foot the bills for both student aid and loan defaults.








The remarkable political story in Britain is the dizzying decline of the third party, the Liberal Democrats, from kingmakers to helpless dependents on a Conservative coalition partner whose core beliefs could not be more different from their own. The result has been an economic disaster for Britain and an electoral disaster for the Liberal Democrats in this month's local elections.


British national elections last year produced no parliamentary majority. After being wooed by the Conservative and Labour parties, the Liberal Democrats, led by the telegenic Nick Clegg, chose to form a coalition with the Conservatives, swayed by their promise of a referendum on switching to a more proportional voting system.


On most other issues, the Conservatives, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, ended up calling the shots. By far the most consequential of these has been the coalition's radical budget slashing, which has pushed the recovering British economy back toward recession. The Liberal Democrats were also forced to backtrack on campaign promises, like holding down college tuition.


The Liberal Democrats staked their future on electoral reform. But, after watching the party contort its policies and its principles, voters concluded that the new voting system, which would produce more frequent coalitions, was not such a good idea. Liberal Democratic voters were particularly dissatisfied. The party's local candidates were heavily defeated, and voting reform went down 2 to 1.


Conservative voters generally stuck with their party, which was delivering on its promises.

That may be the real lesson: Compromising principle is not only bad for the soul, it can be bad at the ballot box. Voters may notice.







American education is going to be reformed until it rolls over and begs for mercy. Vouchers! Guns on campus! Just the other day, the Florida State Legislature took a giant step toward ending the scourge of droopy drawers in high school by upping the penalties for underwear-exposing pants.


Today, let's take a look at the privatization craze and the conviction that there is nothing about molding young minds that can't be improved by the profit motive.


Enrollment in for-profit colleges has ballooned to almost two million, propelled by more than $25 billion in federal student loans, many of which are apparently never going to be repaid. More than 700 public K-12 schools around the country are now managed by for-profit companies. Last week, in Ohio, the State House went for the whole hog and approved legislation that would allow for-profit businesses to open up their own taxpayer-financed charter schools.


"It takes the public out of public education," complained Bill Sims of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


This exciting new plan, which seemed to have been inserted into the state budget bill by a magical invisible hand, would also reduce oversight. It got a rave review in The Columbus Dispatch from an op-ed contributor named Thomas Needles, who cheered legislators for trying to end the "drip-drop of wrongheaded regulation" of charter schools.


Needles is a consultant for White Hat Management, the largest company currently managing charter schools in Ohio — and with none too great a record, according to the National Education Policy Center, which said that only 2 percent of the schools White Hat runs have scored well on yearly progress tests. The owner of White Hat is a gynormous donor to the state Republican Party. Not that that would make any difference. Just saying.


So that's the pathbreaking privatization news in Ohio. Now let's take a look at Texas, which has been leading the way in putting for-profit companies in charge of certifying teachers.


"Very interesting and very disturbing," said Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford who studies teacher certification issues. Darling-Hammond says that when the federal government began demanding certified teachers in every classroom, Texas was among the states that responded by creating alternative certification programs, some of which have requirements slightly less rigorous than those for the trainers at neighborhood gyms. Most of the new teachers in Texas — particularly at schools in poor neighborhoods — come from alternative certification programs.


Then, the Legislature invited for-profit businesses into the game. "Ever since then, the innovation and competition has been phenomenal," claimed Vernon Reaser, the president of Texas Teachers, the largest of the state's alt-cert companies.


Here is one indicator of how innovative things are getting. Texas is currently considering — although not with any great intensity — a bill that would require that people who go through these programs spend a couple of days practice teaching before they are turned loose in their own classrooms.


The sponsor is Representative Mike Villarreal of San Antonio. Villarreal first came to my attention as the legislator who proposed requiring that the course content in public school sex education classes be medically accurate. The man is a positive genius for coming up with bills to make the Texas education system do something we really had assumed it had been doing all along. None of which make it out of committee.

At a public hearing on Villarreal's bill, Reaser vigorously denounced the idea of requiring would-be teachers to actually get classroom experience as part of their training: "Practice teachers in front of kids that aren't practice learning!"


To get an alternative teaching certificate in Texas you need to take coursework and have 30 hours of "field-based" experience, 15 of which can be spent watching videos. Villarreal says some programs fill up the other 15 with things like chaperoning field trips.


It's not clear how many people get hired as full-time teachers without ever having stood in front of a classroom for a single hour. The $4,195 Texas Teachers program (its ubiquitous billboards read: "Want to Teach? When Can You Start?") is a little opaque. For instance, Reaser assured me in a phone conversation that his students were required to have a variety of in-person interactions with their instructors even though the Web site says you can opt for "fully online instruction."


"On our Web site, we intentionally don't say everything," Reaser explained. "It's basically to get you to call us and ask us."


When we all started clamoring for more investment in education, I don't think we envisioned it going into corporate profits. We have seen the future, and the good news is that the kids in Florida will be wearing belts.









HARGEISA, Somaliland

People usually torture those whom they fear or despise. But one of the most common forms of torture in the modern world, incomparably more widespread than waterboarding or electric shocks, is inflicted by mothers on daughters they love.


It's female genital mutilation — sometimes called female circumcision — and it is prevalent across a broad swath of Africa and chunks of Asia as well. Mothers take their daughters at about age 10 to cutters like Maryan Hirsi Ibrahim, a middle-aged Somali woman who says she wields her razor blade on up to a dozen girls a day.


"This tradition is for keeping our girls chaste, for lowering the sex drive of our daughters," Ms. Ibrahim told me. "This is our culture."


Ms. Ibrahim prefers the most extreme form of genital mutilation, called infibulation or Pharaonic circumcision. And let's not be dainty or euphemistic. This is a grotesque human rights abuse that doesn't get much attention because it involves private parts and is awkward to talk about. So pardon the bluntness about what infibulation entails.


The girls' genitals are carved out, including the clitoris and labia, often with no anesthetic. What's left of the flesh is sewn together with three to six stitches — wild thorns in rural areas, or needle and thread in the cities. The cutter leaves a tiny opening to permit urination and menstruation. Then the girls' legs are tied together, and she is kept immobile for 10 days until the flesh fuses together.


When the girl is married and ready for sex, she must be cut open by her husband or by a respected woman in the community.


All this is, of course, excruciating. It also leads to infections and urinary difficulties, and scar tissue can make childbirth more dangerous, increasing maternal mortality and injuries such as fistulas.


This is one of the most pervasive human rights abuses worldwide, with three million girls mutilated each year in Africa alone, according to United Nations estimates. A hospital here in Somaliland found that 96 percent of women it surveyed had undergone infibulation. The challenge is that this is a form of oppression that women themselves embrace and perpetuate.


"A young girl herself will want to be cut," Ms. Ibrahim told me, vigorously defending the practice. "If a girl is not cut, it would be hard for her to live in the community. She would be stigmatized."


Kalthoun Hassan, a young mother in an Ethiopian village near Somaliland, told me that she would insist on her daughters being cut and her sons marrying only girls who had been. She added: "It is God's will for girls to be circumcised."


For four decades, Westerners have campaigned against genital cutting, without much effect. Indeed, the Western term "female genital mutilation" has antagonized some African women because it assumes that they have been "mutilated." Aid groups are now moving to add the more neutral term "female genital cutting" to their lexicon.


Is it cultural imperialism for Westerners to oppose genital mutilation? Yes, perhaps, but it's also justified. Some cultural practices such as genital mutilation — or foot-binding or bride-burning — are too brutish to defer to.


But it is clear that the most effective efforts against genital mutilation are grass-roots initiatives by local women working for change from within a culture. In Senegal, Ghana, Egypt and other countries, such efforts have made headway.


Here among Somalis, reformers are trying a new tack: Instead of telling women to stop cutting their daughters altogether, they encourage them to turn to a milder form of genital mutilation (often involving just excision of part or all of the clitoris). They say that that would be a step forward and is much easier to achieve.


Although some Christians cut their daughters, it is more common among Muslims, who often assume that the tradition is Islamic. So a crucial step has been to get a growing number of Muslim leaders to denounce the practice as contrary to Islam, for their voices carry particular weight.


At one mosque in the remote town of Baligubadle, I met an imam named Abdelahi Adan, who bluntly denounces infibulation: "From a religious point of view, it is forbidden. It is against Islam."


Maybe the tide is beginning to turn, ever so slowly, against infibulation, and at least we're seeing some embarrassment about the practice. In Baligubadle, a traditional cutter named Mariam Ahmed told me that she had stopped cutting girls — apparently because she knows that foreigners disapprove. Then a nurse in the local health clinic told me that she had treated Ms. Ahmed's own daughter recently for a horrific pelvic infection and urinary blockage after the girl was infibulated by her mother.


I confronted Ms. Ahmed. She grudgingly acknowledged cutting her daughter but quickly added that she had intended only a milder form of circumcision. She added quickly: "It was an accident."









SINCE the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan has behaved toward the United States as both friend and adversary — and gotten away with it. The latest evidence of its duplicity is the revelation that Osama bin Laden lived for years in a house near Pakistan's national military academy and a local branch of its intelligence service without any evident interference.


Even before the American raid last week on Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan had a huge credibility problem. It provides arms and safe haven for Afghan insurgent groups and pays their commanders to carry out attacks, but denies doing so.


In the broader war on terrorism, Pakistan says it is completely on our side. In fact, its record is very uneven. It has been helpful in arresting some high-value Qaeda operatives and has allowed the United States to wage Predator drone attacks. But it has refused to move decisively against groups that Washington regards as terrorists and has put limits on American unilateral operations. It is not surprising, then, that no one took seriously Pakistan's protestations of innocence after the discovery of Bin Laden.


The killing of Bin Laden only 60 miles from Islamabad, its capital, has put Pakistan on the defensive, and the nature of our strike capability is not lost on Pakistani leaders and their terrorist and insurgent clients. With American influence now at its peak and our troops still at full strength in Afghanistan, we have the leverage to force Pakistan to reconsider.


The United States should pursue a two-stage strategy. First, we should formally present any information about Pakistani complicity in shielding Bin Laden to Pakistan's leaders.


Then we should follow up with demands that Pakistan break the backbone of Al Qaeda in Pakistan by moving against figures like Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri; remove limits on the Predator drone campaign; uproot insurgent sanctuaries and shut down factories that produce bombs for use against American and Afghan soldiers; and support a reasonable political settlement in Afghanistan.


Such a settlement would ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a haven for terrorists, allay Pakistan's legitimate security concerns and provide amnesty — and allow political participation — for insurgents who lay down their arms and accept the Afghan constitution.


In pursuing these goals, the United States should undertake a major diplomatic campaign, involving regional players like China and Saudi Arabia.


If Pakistan fulfills these demands, the United States should reward it with long-term commitments of assistance, through trade benefits, programs run by the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development and similar efforts to promote development and education. But if Pakistan refuses to cooperate, the United States must put an end to its duplicity.


First, the United States should reduce its dependence on supply lines running through Pakistan to Afghanistan. We should expand alternative supply routes through Azerbaijan and other countries in Central Asia. Also, as we draw down forces in Afghanistan, our logistical requirements will diminish; this will give the United States more leeway to consider unilateral attacks against terrorists and insurgents in Pakistan.


Second, the United States should stay on the course set by President Obama to build, train and support Afghan security forces and reduce our own military presence while retaining the capacity to provide air support, intelligence collection and other capabilities that the Afghans currently lack. Such a posture can strengthen Afghanistan against Pakistani interference and help persuade Pakistan to embrace a settlement.


Third, the United States should conclude a longer-term agreement with Afghanistan to maintain a small, enduring military presence that would give us the capability to conduct counterterrorism operations and respond to possibilities like Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the hands of extremists.


Fourth, the United States could consider seeking a United Nations Security Council resolution to authorize an investigation into how Bin Laden managed to hide in plain view. The inquiry should examine the presence of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in Pakistan.


This strategy requires an improvement in the troubled relationship between the United States and Afghanistan. The impending arrivals of a new American ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, and commander, Lt. Gen. John R. Allen of the Marine Corps, provide an opportunity to make progress. The challenge for the Afghan leadership and the new team is to achieve a partnership in which the United States sustains its commitment at much lower cost over time, while Afghanistan does its part by improving governance and the rule of law.


It is in neither America's interest nor Pakistan's for relations to become more adversarial. But Pakistan's strategy of being both friend and adversary is no longer acceptable.


While the killing of Bin Laden was an important success, a greater achievement would be to transform United States-Pakistani relations into a true partnership that fights terrorism, advances a reasonable Afghan settlement and helps stabilize the region.


Zalmay Khalilzad, a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was an ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration.











IF we are to believe the latest round of political wife coverage, Callista Gingrich is the new face of her husband's presidential campaign, and Maria Shriver is a former first lady lost in transition.


Neither of these story lines pass the straight-face test, but they fit the traditional narrative that casts such wives as either props or problems. Some habits die hard, no matter how many times Michelle Obama expresses an independent thought.


The Question of the Week hovers over Callista Bisek Gingrich, who, we are told, broke up Newt Gingrich's second marriage to become Wife No. 3. Is she — problem! — a reminder of her husband's philandering past, or is she — prop! — his new secret weapon that will propel him into the White House?


Let us put to rest, please, the notion of the husband-robbing harlot. Mrs. Gingrich III didn't break up Mr. Gingrich's second marriage. He did, and in an impeachable fashion, if he meant what he said about Bill Clinton at the time.


We really don't know what Mrs. Gingrich thinks of her husband's candidacy, or her role in it, because she isn't talking. This frees up everybody to speculate on the secret codes embedded in her appearance. There have been observations about her frozen smile, stiff hair and the string of pearls around her neck. Her old college chum, Tim Peter, is all over that one.


As he explained to The Times, "That's a role she has had to assume because that one morning you go out for the paper without your makeup on, that's the day you wind up on the front page."


Yikes. I'm married to a senator, Sherrod Brown, and I never wear so much as lip gloss to pick up the papers. Not once has this sacrilege landed me on the front page of anything. But then again, I know a lot of senators' wives — and Congressional wives, too, who do the same thing. I suspect this stubborn strain of common sense also afflicts Mrs. Gingrich. I don't know what it's like to be described as perfectly coiffed, but I understand that it's an impossible standard and a cliché.


Which brings me to the new standard, as personified by women like Maria Shriver. Ms. Shriver and her husband, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, have separated. News articles depict Mr. Schwarzenegger as infused with a bright new brio, cutting movie deals and flitting about the globe. Ms. Shriver, on the other hand, is coming off as a female Eeyore, described as "adrift" and "somewhat at sea."


In less than two years she lost her mother, father and uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Now her marriage is unraveling, and she is trying to figure out what comes next — for her and her family. Drawing on her reporting impulses, she posted a YouTube video in March asking viewers to share tips on how they handled big transitions in their lives.


Politically speaking, she is way off script. Thank God. And I'm cheering her from the sidelines, just as she did for me four years ago.


In January 2007, I had just returned to my job as a newspaper columnist after a year's leave of absence during my husband's race.


That morning, The Plain Dealer ran an article noting that combining the roles of wife and columnist "could be complicated," but that I would be ever vigilant in avoiding conflicts. I appreciated the word "complicated," rather than "impossible." It reflected an editor's faith in me, and one I knew was not universally shared in my profession.


After I sat down at my desk in the newsroom, readers, mostly women, started calling to welcome me back. One of them was Maria Shriver.


We had met only once, and briefly, at a crowded event years before. She had no reason to remember me, but I certainly knew who she was. As a columnist married to an elected official, I was keenly aware that Ms. Shriver put her career on the back burner after her husband became governor.


She introduced herself over the phone, told me she had read the article and welcomed me back. Then she got to the point of her call.


"Please don't leave the profession," she said. "Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do this job."


We talked for about a half-hour, and in that time I got an inkling of what Ms. Shriver had sacrificed for love. She never once complained, but she talked at length about her days as a reporter, and why she missed them. And she made it clear that I should follow a different course.


There have been times since that call when I've felt the weight of responsibility, and the sting of unkind speculation about my marriage. At such moments, I pinch myself that I'm so lucky to have such problems, and think of that call from Ms. Shriver.


I'm not worried about Maria Shriver. She'll continue to write her own script as most of us women have come to expect. That applause you hear is ours.


Connie Schultz, a columnist for The Plain Dealer, is the author of "... And His Lovely Wife: A Memoir From the Woman Beside the Man."











Hydroelectric dams and heart transplants have a lot in common. Both aim to improve on nature. Benefits come with both, but both also have unhappy side-effects. They present a toss-up, choices between changes one needs and consequences one may come to regret. Before deciding on either, the recipient, the person getting the transplant or the state getting the dam, had better be sure it's what they want.

Turkey has been unsure about going ahead with the Ilısu Dam, the country's latest hydroelectric project, which is to be sited on the Tigris River downstream from the ancient settlement of Hasankeyf. Controversy has swirled around the project for more than a decade, government developers and contractors on one side and environmentalists on the other, in a classic example of what has happened in the preludes to almost all of the world's big-dam undertakings since environmental impact laws came into general effect three decades ago. The go-ahead decision for the Ilısu has fallen to a court in Diyarbakır.

There are some 45,000 hydroelectric dams around the world, and a host more on the drawing board. The Ilısu is one of the three that have attracted global attention recently. The other two, the Kayaburi Dam on the Mekong River and the Grand Millennium Dam on the Nile, have so far stirred up far more protest than the Ilısu, because each could inflict heavy economic damage on downstream countries. As these two dams are built, they will become political instruments, strategic assets capable of shifting power from otherwise dominant nations, Vietnam in one case, Egypt in the other.

The main benefit, and justification, of a hydroelectric dam is the energy it will produce. Hydropower and nuclear power are the two main global sources of renewable, that is to say clean, energy today. Clean energy matters on a planet threatened by climate change. Dams now harness half of the earth's rivers, and Turkey, China, and India have been the main dam-builders for the past 15 years.

Dams do more than generate electricity. They control floods of the kind that have regularly devastated countries such as China throughout history. They make agriculture less of a gamble, assuring farmers of reliable irrigation. And as they bolster agriculture and therefore food production, dams can bring economic transformation in the regions they serve, spurring the growth of rural towns and slowing migration to the big cities. Dams are potent political symbols, signaling a country's developmental arrival. Gamal Abel Nasser hitched his political star to the Aswan High Dam on the Nile.

The high political visibility of the world's many dams, however, has thrown a light on their far-from-perfect performance record. Alongside the benefits are a cluster of severe environmental and human damages. Here are some of them:

1. Since dams cut off a river's flow, they slowly but surely kill off the river's ecosystem. The fish species, native to the cooler river without the dam, die off. As the flow of the river slows and stops, it warms, attracting malarial mosquitoes and other disease vectors that are absent in naturally flowing rivers. One can argue that a new ecosystem can gradually develop around a dammed river, but to counter that one needs only to look at the destruction of fisheries and other environmental woes brought by the Aswan Dam.

2. Dams drive people out of their homes. Upstream communities have to be abandoned. The scale of human displacement varies with the dam, but not many years ago two million Chinese had to move to make way for the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. The number to be uprooted and hopefully resettled from Ilısu and several scores of other settlements will be far smaller than in China, but many lives will be disrupted. People displaced by hydroelectric projects do not always find new work. Some 40 percent of those displaced by the damming of the Yangtze did not.

3. Dams always cost more than promised. They are high-risk investments. According to the World Commission on Dams, large dams go over budget by 56 percent on average. The projected cost of the Ilısu Dam has been put at $1.5 billion.

4. Dams have a short working life when their costs are considered. They fill up as the particulate material, or silt, which is carried downstream into the reservoir, steadily accumulates and finally deepens to the point of finally choking off spillway and turbine functions. On average a dam has a 50-year lifespan before it silts up. That would give the Aswan Dam, completed by the Soviets in 1971, another ten years, give or take, before it fills with silt.

5. Dams wipe away irreplaceable historic sites. It's true that world outcry caused ancient temples to be raised before the Aswan Dam reservoir was flooded, and that priceless mosaics were saved here when another Southeastern Anatolia Project, or GAP, dam inundated the Roman provincial town of Zeugma, but who is to say what will be preserved at Hasankeyf when the sites of cultures going back almost 2,000 years are submerged there?

6. Hydroelectric dams lay mammoth stresses on the subsoil beneath and around them, areas that may have vulnerable fault fractures. The several hundred million tons of water that pile up behind a large dam can activate a fault zone and trigger an earthquake, such as the one that killed 90,000 people in Sichuan, China in 2008. Studies have traced that quake, and its "reservoir-induced seismic activity," to the Zipingpu Dam. Scientists cite 100 instances of reservoirs causing earthquakes around the world.

On balance dams, like heart transplants, are both invasive and curative. Neither flinches from tampering with nature. Either can fail. The human and environmental costs of dam-building can be large, but it can be argued that those costs are cancelled out by future human gains. It's not a debate that will be settled soon, whatever the outcome at Ilısu.






Last Friday in Brussels, the European Commission held a conference titled "Speak Up," to bring problems in freedom of expression and freedom of the press in the West Balkan states and Turkey to the table. How should we read this?

Which factors play a role in the European Union's raising its voice suddenly when it comes to press freedom?

The picture of chaos in the Balkans

 Let's start with the Balkans. The West Balkan countries, most of which are in the process of building or institutionalizing mechanisms related to democratic institutions and free market economy, have been facing serious problems in the media sector and in the area of press freedom. A significant part of these issues are quite similar with those Turkey has struggled since the privatization of TV channels in the early 1990s, such as businessmen getting into visual media sector simply to have more influence in a total anomaly, nontransparent ownership, black money circulating as part of the press capital, and ethics being hung in the air.

This dark picture makes the European Commission sit on egg because a group of these countries, Macedonia, Montenegro and Croatia, are officially EU candidates. Another group, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, though not officially candidates, are considered being part of the enlargement perspective of the block in the next 10-15 years.

With media structures with irregularities being the norm, it is impossible for most of the Balkan states to be prepared for full membership process, let alone being full member to the EU. Chaos environment dominating the media sector prevents reforms in these countries.

The EU process has failed to protect the press

And Turkey is included in this picture in a different way due to direct suspension of the press freedom with court cases filed against media members and journalists in prison.

Turkey has created an image of a country drifting away from democracy, one that gives the European Commission a headache. The reason is simple. Turkey holds full membership candidate status for exactly 11 years and has been in negotiation process for six years. So, it's a country that is supposed to make progress in the area of press freedom, yet proceeds in the opposite direction.

A quite obvious conclusion could be drawn out of this picture; meaning, the full membership bid has failed to create a strong enough protective shield and deterrence on account of freedom of expression for journalists.

In the end, the European Commission has happened to seek ways to prevent and stop all these negative course of line in the Balkans and in Turkey, both being within the block's circle of enlargement.

One of the priorities of EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stephen Fule, who has completed his first year in office, is to correct this picture of the press. Fule took his first step with the "Speak Up" conference, giving a message to both European public opinion and member governments that the EU can no longer remain indifferent.

New steps from the EU

 Fule's second step is to send a letter to prime ministers of participating countries, including Turkey, in which he will note expectations raised during the conference.

A third step will be a change in nature of annual progress reports prepared by the European Commission.

In the past, the commission was satisfied by pointing out only problematic issues in the press area. But in the new term, reports will reflect relevant sections in detail and include demands about how issues are expected to be ironed out.

Yet another critical change is that the European Commission in the new term will have closer contacts and institutional dialogues with press organizations. EU representative offices in candidate countries will shift into a more open line of dialogue with journalists who are sensitive towards problems of media.

Equally important is that the EU has already laid on the table concrete expectations from the future government following the June 12 general elections in Turkey. The most critical expectation is radical changes in the Turkish Penal Code and Counter-Terrorism Law. Similarly, in the expectation package the EU would include elimination of the Code of Criminal Procedure articles that allow hiding evidence from defendants in specially authorized courts.

The initiative led by Fule shows that freedom of the press would be one of the most critical headings in the dialogue between the EU and Turkey after the elections.

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







Some like hidden camera recordings very much. Violating the private sphere of others gives them pleasure. They indulge in saying, "See what bad deeds he did. Presented him differently." And if sex is involved it is even more exiting. They shake with enthusiasm when they drag people through the mud.

But what those people don't realize is that this might happen to them too.

Let's not forget that these tape recordings are not limited to sex, voice recordings may also destroy a person's life. A dialogue with your friend may be distorted in such a way that even you may become suspicious of your own voice.

Once we rise up and react against this obscenity people will shy away from recordings.

Let us protest. Let's not applaud, on the contrary, let us curse them.

One other thing that upsets us is that in society all of a sudden a chastity police turned up out of the blue. Even the ones we thought are rational started to play chastity police.

What's it to you?

I do what I want and I am the one accountable for it.

Mind your own business.

If we leave it up to the military to deal with Kurdish politics

I'm not sure if you follow the WikiLeaks documents published by the daily Taraf. Especially interesting are the telegraphs about "the military view of the Kurdish issue" sent by American ambassadors to Washington.

Ambassadors consult with chiefs of staff or other authority. They argue about how to solve the Kurdish issue. In fact, they are doing what they should not, but it was a reality in the period from 1990 to 2000 that the military was in charge of the Kurdish issue.

What really interests me is the attitude of the military, its views. It becomes obvious why this issue has been an issue for so long.

The military has a different view when it comes to compromise required by politics and understanding the other party. That is why it is wrong to blame the military. It's their job to be thorough, handle weapons and gun powder. If politicians don't take responsibility, leave it up to the general staff we don't get anything solved, shed blood and kill people.

These are new times.

That is why I attach much importance to the period after elections. I think "this is our last chance."

I think this time they'll make it.

The rich does not understand the poor

A magnificent conference is in progress in Istanbul: the Conference of Least Developed Countries.

Some 192 countries member to the United Nations have been represented by 11 delegations. 50 state and government heads, 94 ministers and 47 presidents of international organizations have joined the conference. The conference, held every 10 years, aroused only the appetite of those "poor guys." That's it.

As usually, accustomed words and promises. You'll see, 10 years from now they'll get together to find that those who made the promise won't be there.

Turkey is the one that best understands the poor. But we don't have the power to change their course.

If you listened carefully to the speeches you'll notice that there is nothing but statements of the situation and advice. But the number of countries, in which the folks try to survive with $1, has risen to 48. The total number of population in these countries amounts to one billion, which means that one out of seven people in the world live under these poor conditions. As President Abdullah Gül stated in his speech during the conference, "The number of those countries can't be lowered but if the living standard of these people is not bettered the world will face great dangers with respect to political and security issues."

But no one teaches these countries "how to fish." They only give a loan, issue a credit or offer grants. As I said, no one wants the other to be wealthy.

Delegates from poor countries enjoyed Istanbul but heard out-dated words over and over again.

As you see the conference was very entertaining.

The rich continue to become wealthier and the poor are abandoned to their fate.






I have been writing about negativities in technology polices in Turkey. The followers of this column know very well that I don't really share the same state of mind when it comes to censorship with the current government. However the very same government has some very progressive plans as well. The steps taken in the military research and development is exactly what our country needs. Turkey invests heavily on arms and we unable to produce high technology weaponry in our own country. Thus Turkey is totally depended on other countries when it comes to high end militaristic technologies. Hopefully the agreements with Skorsky and the national drone project and other programs will enable Turkey to finally have a more productive national arms industry so that we can save billions of dollars.

The second important technological project that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government has is about education. On May 9, Erdoğan said they will distribute e-book readers to every student. He said the government will provide the hardware and all the e-books necessary for every level of education. This is a perfect project. It is both educational and green. The pupils will not have to worry about carrying many books in their bags and millions of trees will be saved. The students will be able to take notes and share with their peers instantly and be able to take their work with them where ever they are. Also it is possible to team up via the Internet and collaborate more frequently with their fellow classmates.

It is very hard to believe that the same government who has a great vision on some of the technology policies can be so bluntly wrong on all the issues about content management, software and censorship. I believe that the reason is, as I have written before, this government like all the others before it sees development only in hardware terms. A Skorsky is hardware just like an e-book reader. The government thinks that if you have a Skorsky in your army than you are advanced and if you have an e-book at your educational system you are developed.

This is a very narrow approach to technology. In our century it is not about the hardware but the software and the content. If the government will ban the entire progressive thinking books on the e-book readers that you will distribute than they should not start with this project.

Recently "Yeşilay" (Turkish Association Combating Drug Abuse) made a public statement saying that Internet is lethal after a 16 year old girl committed suicide because her parents didn't want her to spend time on Internet. Yeşilay said the filtering proposed by the Information and Communication Technologies Authority, or BTK, is a must to save our children. According to our government, BTK and Yeşilay, free Internet is a very negative force. 

If a country is ruled by hardware minded people just like Turkey is being ruled, than you have a very nice country with many great technological products but no free will to use them as you wish. Hopefully the government and all the other institutions related with it will stop this brutal censorship and let us be proud with our government on every aspect of technology polices. 






A critical step in the struggle against the pro-laic front is to bring into question those expressions and practices that are considered "natural." If one proceeds in this manner and detects the contradictions and dilemmas in the power structures that divide the world into laic versus Muslim, we become aware of how problematic the desire to define the general is. We know who is excluded or oppressed by such claims as, "Turkey is laic and will remain laic." Evidently, the claim does not reflect "reality," but is a discourse of sovereignty that tries to erase the traces of its own history.

There is however a counter-claim that seems equally incapable of questioning its own reflexes of power: that these are Muslim lands and that the people actually hold Islamic values. Often voiced by Muslim intellectuals during debates over the headscarf issue, such claims not only re-establish the opposition between laic and Muslim, but also categorize one as real and the other as artificial. In terms of defining the general, they are no different from Kemalist claims. The expression "the people are Muslim" also draws not-so-innocent boundaries between what belongs "here" and to "us" and what doesn't. The discourse that says laicism cannot take hold "here" or in "our culture" since it is an imported ideology is a way of establishing power. It is one of the faces of "otherization" and the history that it tries to render invisible is not unproblematic. If the slogan "Turkey belongs to Turks" effaces the traces of the history of Turkification wrought with massacres and oppression, the slogan "Turkey is Muslim" is equally guilty since it hides the conditions of its own possibility. The Islamization of this society has been as politically driven as the history of its Turkification.

If we are to define ourselves as "belonging here or not" – a feat which I certainly do not espouse – shouldn't we also accept that Islam has also been imported in the past? Islam is an "imported" faith that has been forced "with the sword" onto the Turkic tribes and onto the peoples of Anatolia by the powerful; it is a belief that established its hegemony over other religions in the territories it conquered. Forgetting this is tantamount to denying the fact that this land was also Christian or polytheist until the Turkic tribes invaded it. You would then have to also deny the fact that numerous symbols and practices from the non-Muslim cultures are still being kept alive today. After all, the Hittites, the Hellenic civilizations, the Romans and the great Byzantine did not evaporate into thin air without leaving any traces. The word "mosaic" would no longer remain a slogan, lest the "culture of our people" were not purely Muslim but composed of mosaic-like elements and faiths.

If you had claimed at the beginning of the 20th century that 99 percent of the people in Anatolia were Muslims, you would have been an outright liar because non-Muslims, i.e. Armenians, the Greek Orthodox, Jews, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Yezidis, had considerable weight among the population. In order for the overwhelming majority of us to become Muslims, these lands had to be "cleansed" of non-Muslim populations through genocide, forced exile, population exchange, lynching, looting, oppression and cruelty. No matter where you start the history of Islamization, you cannot talk about "Islam's belonging to this land as a matter of course" until the mass exile of the last Assyrians in the 1980s. Remember also the Alevi and Bektaşi blood that was shed for centuries under the hegemony of the Sunni so that the following claim could hold: "We are a society in which the majority practices daily prayers."

Those who claim that this society has unproblematic ties with Islam have to ignore the processes through which the hegemony of Islam was established. According to them, what comes from the East cannot have been imposed, while what comes from the West will have to remain alien forever. But our being Eastern is also interwoven with interest politics. In Ancient Greece, the name given to these territories was "anatolike," meaning "the place where the Sun rises." Later, part of Christianity became "eastern" under the Eastern Roman Empire. When a Muslim state was established in these lands, the mental border between East and West became fixed in terms of religious difference. The boundary between the East and the West has been determined through such fluctuations that corresponded to the interests of those in power. Quite tellingly, the expression "Rumi" had nothing to do with the Greek Orthodox at the time of its emergence, but was a geographic term introduced by the Ottoman elite in order to distinguish themselves from the commoners and from the Orient. This is a point that is constantly being neglected. The Ottoman elite had established the imaginary the supremacy of the Balkans over Anatolia (or, in today's term, of Western supremacy over the East) long before the Republic.

Despite all this, according to those intellectuals who identify themselves as Muslims, the founding of the Republic is the milestone of alienation "from the people and from popular values." They too regard Westernization through prism of the historic role that the Republic has attributed to itself; in other words, they too speak like the Republic. Muslim intellectuals who have adopted surprisingly well the official fantasy according to which we were underdeveloped in the Ottoman period because of Islam, but have attained the level of Western civilization by being laic, modern and contemporary thanks to Atatürk, repeat the very same sentences in the reverse logical order to say: "We were more developed in the past because Islam was predominant. We were estranged from our roots because of Atatürk and became a copy of the West." Muslims who adopt the official fantasy as is, only to change the emphasis on what is "good" and "bad," are simply replacing one fantasy with another instead of resisting reductionism by narrating a more complex history. They keep intact the turning point that Kemalists have adopted for their own history: the Republic is the beginning of everything!

What is most ironic in this inversion is that the "people" whom Kemalists believe they have saved and the "people" whose real values the Muslims believe they represent are one and the same. Republicans attributed real values to the people and stamped Ottoman values as "elitist." They pushed nationalism to the fore rather than religion because language and race were the key elements needed for the establishment of their own power. Muslim intellectuals, on the other hand, change the content, but repeat the same gesture. According to them, real values also rest with "the people," but this time the value stressed is Islam. The values of the people that were saved by Republicans from the clutches of the Ottomans are to be saved, this time by the Muslims, from the clutches of the Republic. The people who are to be saved from imported values and structures such as modernism, laicism and republicanism are to return to their roots.

It is perplexing to see to what extent that part of society that has suffered under Kemalism can reproduce the very same sovereign language when expressing its own victimization. The problem here is not in which part of history we will dig out the "essential" characteristics that presumably belong to a place or a society. According to nationalists, our race goes back to Central Asia, but such discomforting details as the fact that not all of us have slanted eyes are conveniently looked over. Kemalism draws a thick line between the Ottoman Empire and the Republic to deny the fact that the struggle for democracy, and even the notion of laicism, is a legacy of previous periods. Every ideology feels the urge to invent a milestone for itself. In my opinion, the real problem at hand is in the motives lying behind such an urge. The desire to homogenize the whole, to deny plurality and difference, and to conceal hybridization prompts a search for an "essence." One would need to bury one's head in the sand, in order not to see how dangerous this is. What is being ignored is that today in Anatolia secular reflexes are as strong as Muslim ones, since the two-centuries-old history of "modernization" has inevitably affected the "people" and thus "getting rid of this" would mean that the people would have to be oppressed once again.

But don't intellectuals carry the responsibility of acknowledging that trying to prove the validity of fantasies such as real Islam, real people, and real laicism will not bring about peace and justice? Shouldn't we move away from discourses that homogenize people and concede that secularism, non-Muslim faiths, Alevism, Yezidism, Islam carrying traces of Shamanism (practices that are conveniently stamped as "popular Islam" and are claimed to have diverged from "real Islam"), and even atheism and lack of belief have a place and cultural existence in these lands as much as the headscarf?

* Zeynep Gambetti is an associate professor of political science and international relations at Boğaziçi University. This piece originally appeared in the daily Taraf. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff and re-published with a special permission.









With the swearing in of two new MQM ministers and a minister of state from the party in addition to the PML-Q men who entered cabinet ranks days ago, the federal cabinet has swollen to 45 – threatening to reach the mammoth proportions of the decision-making entity which was cut down in size amidst considerable rhetoric only months ago. With the new ministers claiming their share of the substantial perks and privileges that go with cabinet posts, the government's 'austerity drive' seems to have gone profoundly off-track. Clearly, the desire to keep the government intact at all costs overrides the need to provide the resources desperately needed by the people. With the MQM back on board and the PML-Q climbing on as a new passenger, the future of the current setup clearly seems secure. This will please many who are part of it and the huge grins on the faces of the Chaudhry clan do nothing to disguise their delight at suddenly finding themselves catapulted back to power. The real question though is whether Prime Minister Gilani and his team can succeed in holding this growing body together and in creating a sense of cohesion within it. The PM's score on this count has not been very good in the past, with differences consistently emerging amongst cabinet members and all kinds of discordant statements heard from time to time from the large number of ministers who have served since the coalition – in a very different form – took over the reins of power in early 2008.

Many countries have found that a small, well-knit cabinet does the best job as far as administration goes. We will need to see if things can be proved different in Islamabad this time round. What people seek most of all is an improvement in the quality of governance. To many, this is the most urgent requirement of all. Though with the latest developments the PPP may have secured a firm hold on power, it must remember that the true test of success will be based around the issue of how far it succeeds in resolving the multiple issues we face and the increasingly complex foreign relations we must deal with. We must hope that despite the differences of opinion on many issues, the cabinet can move towards this goal and demonstrate that it is capable of working together as a unit that puts the interests of the nation ahead of the interests of any single political party or group.







The government plans to introduce an "equitable" tax system in the coming 2011/12 (July-June) budget in an attempt to boost revenues without increasing the tax-rate. On the surface, this policy statement, made by Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh over the weekend, appears commendable. He also disclosed the government's revenue collection target of 1,850 to 1,900 billion rupees for the next financial year from the current revised target of 1,530 billion rupees. This ambitious target also appears to be a healthy sign. But if mere statements could do the trick, Pakistan's battered economy would have been long out of the woods rather than stuck in the vicious cycle of low growth and high inflation for the last three years. The Pakistan People's Party-led government's record has undoubtedly remained dismal when it comes to managing the economy, implementing the promised reforms, and giving confidence to local and foreign investors. There has been a lot of talk of expanding the tax-base, but this politically fragile government has either remained unable to take tough decisions or wasted too much time. This has not only cost the government its credibility but also complicated Pakistan's economic woes including double-digit inflation, a record rise in foreign and domestic debt and an increasingly unmanageable budget deficit. Despite promises made to the International Monetary Fund, the government first scrapped the idea of Value-Added Tax in favour of a diluted Reformed General Sales Tax. But then, it even failed to implement this all through the current fiscal year. This tragedy of delay led to IMF holding the disbursement of the remaining two tranches worth more than three billion dollars of its $11.3 billion standby loan arrangement since May last year.

However, the global lending agencies and world powers have mounted pressure on Pakistan to go for reforms and increase the tax-to-GDP ratio – hovering at a slim under 10 percent – to bridge its yawning budget deficit. This time round, the government is unlikely to get relief, easy loans and money as global donors and lenders appear to be in no mood to oblige until Pakistan puts its house in order first. Therefore, the finance minister, after a long silence, has at least starting giving the right signals ahead of the crucial pre-budget talks with the IMF. An equitable and fair tax system has been a long-pending IMF demand in a country where the burden of direct taxation has remained on the salaried class and organised corporate and industrial sectors. The IMF justifiably wants agriculture, services and retail sectors to be brought under the net of direct taxation. While the government has given the right signals regarding the issue, the real test would be getting these proposals approved from parliament in the next budget. Will Dr Shaikh be able to convince the mighty feudal lords, tribal leaders, and interest groups of urban representatives of the need to expand the tax base? This will prove a make-or-break test for the government, which it has to pass in the month of June.








Bin Laden's hideout in a mainly garrison town seriously compromised the credibility of our intelligence agencies and our armed forces. That he was not in some cave was no surprise. The embarrassing security lapse in the failure to locate him within days and weeks, let alone nearly six years, was shocking. The terrorist's presence close to the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) defiled what is "hallowed ground" for all army officers who have graduated from Kakul. The intelligence treasure trove of computer hard discs, storage devices, documents, etc., recovered by the US is perhaps the only silver lining for us in this sorry episode.

Pakistani accessories complicit in the murder of nearly 3,500 of our soldiers, over 2,000 policemen, and more than ten times that of innocent Pakistani civilians can now be positively identified. These scoundrels deserve vengeance with the same vehemence as the Americans very rightly sought for the 9/11 atrocity. Has the "support system" "nothing official about it"? If there was any official connivance, it must be exposed. However, if no "smoking gun" is found, one expects the US will correct the prevailing perception about official culpability with terrorism.

The US repeatedly told us bluntly that they would go after Bin Laden wherever he was. While it is demeaning to our self-respect that they did not trust us enough to take our consent, President Obama told ABC's "60 Minutes" that for security reasons he did not tell even some close associates in the White House or his family. The US navy Seals needed that blanket of silence for "mission accomplished." When the Pakistani government's response to security and PR disaster finally materialised, it was patently awful. For the record, it was the Americans who flew Bin Laden into our lives in the 80s, so it is fitting that they flew his dead body out a quarter century later.

Stealth helicopters notwithstanding, gaping holes were exposed in our air defence system. Modified Blackhawks and Chinooks with main rotors increased from four to six to slow down rotor speed to reduce the thumping noise, covering of the main rotor and tail motor hubs, use of special paint, etc., or not, three hours in Pakistan airspace is almost forever for such a strike mission. The PAF must not fool itself behind PR rhetoric and insist the radars were working. Even the Indian COAS got the occasion to become bellicose. An enquiry to find out criminal negligence and/or dereliction of duty should not be used as a "cover-up." Let's fix the system and procedures that failed us when it is meant to work to perfection. When Musharraf allowed foreign combat aircraft and drones to not only operate from our airfields but roam Pakistani airspace with impunity, with their own traffic control, he set in motion the disintegration of our aviation security. Abbottabad was simply a security compromise waiting to happen.

Without the nexus of corruption with organised crime feeding our democracy, it would be impossible for terrorism to proliferate. Yet for political expediency a dedicated Counter Terrorism Force (CTF) at the "ground zero" of terrorism is non-existent, allowing terrorism's evil roots to spread without check within our heartland. Why is the army complacent and reconciled to its men dying in the field, while civilians, uniformed personnel and their families are increasingly being targeted? Why is the government reluctant to accept that without a CTF there is no hope of combating terrorism? Could Bin Laden have escaped a CTF dragnet as easily as he escaped the attention of our law-enforcement agencies?

Economically speaking, one can paraphrase "sixteen tons and what do you get, another day old and deeper in debt" into "over forty thousand dead and what do you get, more and more blame and deeper in debt." Zardari is a fairly stubborn person. It must have cost him some measure of pride to have the badly split PML-Q as uncomfortable bedfellows to have Abdul Hafeez Shaikh get the federal budget passed in June. While it is important to correct the injustice done to the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Pakistanis living today deserve some priority by having the Supreme Court judgment on the NRO implemented and/or the Supreme Court tackle related issues that have made our present governance a farce. One really admires the present superior judiciary, one can only respectfully request that they must not let the constitutional oath become a convenient camouflage for chicanery and fraud. The rule of law is being flouted at will under the cover of democracy. Where do you think terrorism gets the ingredients to flourish? Prime Minister Gilani's belated attempt at damage control in the National Assembly notwithstanding, the faith in our armed forces has been badly shaken by Abbottabad. Our tremendous counterinsurgency operations, which inflicted many times more casualties on the terrorists than all the coalition forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere combined, have been brought to zero. While this faith must be restored, we cannot afford to lose our newfound one in the superior judiciary.

Unlike his predecessor, Kayani put a premium on merit over loyalty in the promotions to the upper echelons, particularly to the rank of lieutenant general. Even though some who really deserved promotion more than others were not promoted, Kayani has not promoted anyone who should not have been. He would have made a good chairman of the JCSC, making the JCSC operationally effective as it should be. He opted instead for three years' extension as COAS. This was two years too much. This was grudgingly accepted within (and outside) the army because of the adverse security situation. By next October the last of "Musharraf's Mohicans" remaining in service would have retired. The turnaround in professionalism and morale effected by Kayani through the broad spectrum of the Pakistani army from soldiers to officers is truly admirable. It is always good to go out when you are ahead. He should seriously consider an honourable exit on a "high" one year into his three-year extension on Nov 27, 2011.

By the time the first day of May 2011 was barely over, we can be excused for sending out the internationally recognised distress signal "mayday, mayday." Without drastic measures taken immediately, the very existence of the country as a sovereign state governed by the rule of law will come into a question. Even for an incurable optimist like me, the loss of hope has been devastating, but the successful US raid to get Bin Laden was shock therapy, a moment of truth that can be used to turn challenge into opportunity. Terrorism not only gives us a bad name but causes us considerable pain and grief. Removing its dregs from our soil is a must. Do we slide further down into the abyss or have the courage to use this defining moment to seize the opportunity to redefine our values?

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9. com








 Pakistan today stands isolated with its international credibility in tatters at our alleged inability or unwillingness to capture Osama bin Laden and because of our leadership's strenuous denials over the years about the likelihood of his presence in Pakistan. The accusations were initially met with a deafening silence from the Pakistani government and from the pillars of our establishment. Our normally silver-tongued diplomats are tying themselves up in knots trying to put a spin on this entire episode. The narrative has been shaped and designed almost exclusively by the US government and a cacophony of American media voices and without exception the blame has been directed at Pakistan with no international body or foreign agency questioning the Americans' right to conduct the operation deep inside Pakistani territory. It is quite clear that the organs of the Pakistani state and its agencies have been totally blindsided and are still in a state of acute embarrassment and shock while the domestic media flails about searching for answers.

One aspect of this whole event is quite clear. President Obama intends to follow through on his campaign promise of a muscular security policy vis-a-vis Pakistan. So if we continue with the present "good freedom fighter, bad terrorist" policy which has brought nothing but immense suffering and ignominy to the people of this country, we are bound to invite incursions of the type witnessed in Abbottabad or even worse.

On the other hand, we could decide that Pakistan will no longer tolerate the presence of jihadis of any stripe on its soil and henceforward round them up to be sent back to their countries of origin or for re-education and/or trial here. The quandary is that we may be too late and the internal dynamics of our armed forces and intelligence agencies may not allow any rational policy to be implemented at the grassroots level. The worst possible outcome would be that of an internal rupture in the armed forces along ideological lines – the most deadly of the scenarios depicted in Andrew Krepinevich's 'Seven Deadly Scenarios,' a must read for all who engage in military planning.

So as we lurch along buffeted by both external and internal forces, let us remind ourselves that those who would suffer most as a consequence of defying international opinion are not the elite of this country who already have their nest eggs feathered and their visas stamped for more hospitable climes but the vast majority of Pakistanis. As it is, most of us are already in dire economic straits with no lifeline in sight while our leaders strut around the world in their expensive designer suits as if to thumb their noses in a show of contempt for those they rule over. (Incidentally, sartorial excess is not without its own consequences as a recent Harvard Business School study of business executives points to the existence of a strong link between exposure to luxury goods and the extent of self-interested decision making at the expense of others.)

The Pakistani media and particularly our shrill television anchors should also keep in mind one facet of this whole affair before they start pulling their hair out about the Pakistan armed forces' inability to counter the Americans. It behooves one to remember that we are talking here about a military behemoth, a country whose annual military expenditure is greater than the annual military expenditure of all the other countries in the world combined. To keep things in perspective and in context, the political parties and media hawks should recognise that our armed forces are geared not for confrontation with a superpower that could only lead to an unmitigated disaster for this country but for maintaining the regional balance of power. However, the danger arising from this event is that our neighbour may draw the wrong conclusions and do something foolish to upset the status quo forgetting that what is possible for an imperial power is probably folly for one not so well-positioned.

It appears that the Americans used stealth technology to evade radar detection. The defence establishment may have to devise alternative technologies to serve as a trip-wire and this would require thinking out of the box. It would have been unlikely that someone in the armed forces was monitoring social media networks but as it happened the entire event was being live blogged from the get go by an Abbottabad resident on his Twitter account. But there are other possibilities that could be examined to counter low-flying helicopters such as positioning low-frequency microphones at strategic locations that are rigged to high-wattage amplifiers. (This is the kind of technology that those who watch "Ghost Hunters" on television would recognise.) And since cell phones could easily be jammed, one may have to rely on the use of flares that could provide help in both signalling and illumination.








As Pakistan comes under strong global criticism for either complicity or incompetence regarding the matter of Osama bin Laden, the appeal for a calm reaction towards Pakistan by Sen John Kerry is a welcome development. The chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee said it is vital for the US to preserve cooperation with Pakistan as America needed this country's assistance against extremists and to supply the 100,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Sen Kerry will have a tough time prevailing over his colleagues. Among others, Sen Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has publicly expressed his belief that "high levels" of the Pakistani government knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding and must also know where Mullah Omar is. Sen Levin, who was speaking without waiting for the outcome of either the Pakistani probe or the preliminary investigations by his own committee into Pakistan's alleged involvement, acknowledged that he cannot produce any evidence for his charge.

The public anger is understandable. The incident has raised a plethora of issues which must be addressed. It all began when we permitted US drones to operate in our airspace.

Once the US chose not to inform Pakistan, its ally and frontline partner in the war on terror, and entered our territorial limits, it was perhaps just as well that the PAF or the army stayed out of the way. The F-16 scramble, in any case, was for public consumption if, as reports suggest, we were informed of the operation after the intruders had exited. If the raiders were still inside, the interceptors could hardly have been vectored due to the stealth features of the target which reduce detection ranges by ground radars. But crucially, if out of sheer luck, the interceptor had somehow been successful in making contact and the pilot asked permission to shoot down the helicopter with Osama bin Laden's corpse on board, who on the ground would have wished to take that call?

Another aspect we must not lose sight of is that an operation as important as this could not possibly have been packaged into just three helicopters which were the only visible elements at the compound. Supervising the operation with his aides, President Obama must have been ready with responses for a number of variants in case the situation took a turn for the worse. The participants of the operation have been administered an oath of secrecy against divulging details to anyone. The political and military fallout from any direct engagement between Pakistani and US forces would have been far more difficult to contain than the present crisis.

It is not intended to suggest inaction against such gross violations of our sovereignty but only to point to age-old wisdom: on land, a lion can kill a crocodile, but in water, a crocodile can kill a lion. The place where the battle takes place is important. This is where the sit-in in Peshawar by a political party last month and another planned in Karachi later this month will begin to make sense, just as Mahatma Gandhi's non-cooperation during the Quit India Movement eroded the authority of the colonial British.

The ISI is too overstretched in less important pursuits and losing focus on its primary functions. The investigations launched by the military establishment will have to look exhaustively into the entire fiasco. The ministry of defence must take firm action to avoid any recurrence since the war against extremists is far from over. At the same time, it should make any findings public,

While we may have our own gripes against the ISI, the case of missing persons being just one of them, it would nevertheless be in our national interest at this crucial juncture to close ranks against external snaring and allow the agency an opportunity for some genuine introspection and course corrections. People are aware of the ISI's tremendous services to the cause of Pakistan's defence in times of crisis in the last decade and would not like it to be weakened in any manner. The fact that its prowess in operational matters cannot be discussed publicly makes the task of its defence that much more difficult. In the prevailing situation the ISI cannot be left to the hounds closing in from all directions.

President Zardari could have done better and spoken to the people of Pakistan instead of getting an op-ed inserted in The Washington Post under his name. Obviously he considers his readers in the United States more important than his constituents here in his own country. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's taking parliament into confidence is a joke when his government was not taken into confidence by the US administration.

We must ride out this storm with steely determination and avoid the brewing of a Kargil-like civil-military rift at all cost. Pakistani will find it difficult to live down the charge of complicity. From the latest signals emanating from the United States, the Americans seem to acknowledge that Pakistan was not in the know about Osama bin Laden's presence on its soil. But this would hardly help the Pakistan-US alliance which, after these allegations, is without a soul or a moving spirit. Countries around the globe cosying up to the US would do well to study this as a case study in foreign relations.

On the diplomatic front, relations between Pakistan and the United States are in free fall after this territorial transgression. It will take a long time for the trust to be restored, if it is restored at all. The people of Pakistan are very apprehensive of this brazen masquerading of an established international order by the US, which is fast losing a distinction between justice and revenge. It has rubbished our huge sacrifices in the last decade and is further pushing the country against the wall. These are not good signs for a region badly in need of some stability.

The motto of the Seal Team Six unit which killed Osama bin Laden is: "The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday." Sadly, it may also be true for Pakistan, and May 2, 2011, may have been a relatively easy day for us. We should brace ourselves for far more challenging days ahead as the US tightens the screw on us and makes demands which will never be easy to meet.

Tailpiece: Commenting on why Osama bin Laden was not taken alive, a senior US official told ABC News that Bin Laden was unarmed and resisted capture, and that "his wife rushed a Navy SEAL, and there was no way the SEALs could have known in that split-second whether Bin Laden or the room was booby-trapped in any way." Imagine, Osama bin Laden living with many children under 12 years of age in a booby-trapped room for five years. How incredible can it get, I ask of you?

The writer is a retired vice admiral. Email:







It's strongly felt that the opportune moment has arrived when Islamabad should be asking Washington: "Are you with us, or against us?" eyeball to eyeball.

Since 9/11 Pakistan has been a key front-line ally in the US-led war against terrorism. Apart from a decade of "close co-operation" in counterterrorism activities, the ISI has delivered decisive blows to the militants by arresting over 500 remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban that sought refuge along the Pak-Afghan border, without CIA support. The ISI was also instrumental in providing information that ultimately led to the Abbottabad raid. A senior US intelligence official told reporters: "The Pakistanis, you know, did not know of our interest in the compound, but they did provide us information that helped us develop a clearer focus on this compound over time."

But when it came to the "climactic finale" (joint operation to arrest the target) the US decided not to "share the accomplishment" with its counterpart and took a "solo flight" for obvious reasons (read next year's election). The blame (read failure of the US in Afghanistan) for not being able to defeat the insurgency was conveniently dropped on Pakistan's military and the ISI, its "partners in progress against terrorism". Not only were they embarrassed by Washington but also portrayed as incompetent and in cahoots with Al-Qaeda.

Let's assume for a moment that the raid in Abbottabad had been carried out by the Pakistani authorities and they apprehended Osama. What a comforting prospect it would have been! The critics would have been silenced forever, the blame game would have clogged and the world's opinion about Pakistan would have changed. It would have been a win-win situation for Pakistan's military and the ISI but not for Washington for they would have no one to hold accountable for US-led failures in Afghanistan and their old maxim to 'do more' would have lost relevance.

If Pakistan is burning today – courtesy supporting USA – if it has suffered immensely in terms of collateral damage, loss of lives, economic collapse, political instability, social upheaval, frequent bomb blasts, let's get one thing straight, they don't give a damn. Everyone looks out for their "own best interests". The assertion that Pakistan was in league with Osama may just be a well-thought tactic to isolate Pakistan and expand the theater of war into the country.

If the US forces have now captured Osama after failing to capture him in December 2001 in the Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan, "kudos to the US" they have prevailed, at last! Let's also keep in mind that it took them years of intelligence surveillance to find their long-sought target and literally months to plan the "recent operation" which according to an article in the Washington Post "employed Predator drones, sophisticated signal interception equipment, networks of informants, and teams of analysts who scrutinised every video and audio recording from the Al-Qaeda leader for inadvertent clues." In comparison, our intelligence agencies do not possess sophisticated equipment or supporting capability. The US has always kept the "master key" in its pocket but has expected the Pakistani military and the ISI to perform miracles.

Even if the ISI "missed out on the opportunity," that doesn't mean it provided sanctuary to a man who declared war on Pakistan and was instrumental in flooding Pakistani streets with blood and bodies. If the US media and officials want to blow the bugle of capturing Osama to smooth the progress of next years' election, they should by all means do so, but not at the cost of running Pakistan down. I hope Osama is dead and buried and the "bogeyman" of the 21st century doesn't resurface. But in the absence of news footage and photographs of the raid, Bin Laden's capture and his burial at sea will continue to be viewed with a sceptical eye.

It's time to ask our government the same question: "Are you with us, or against us?" In a meeting with journalists, Pasha and Kayani reportedly complained that Zardari and Gilani had not discussed the nation's counterterrorism operations "even once during the last three years".

Our over enthusiastic PM stunned the nation by declaring that the operation was in accordance with US policy which stated that the American forces will take direct action to kill Bin Laden, if found anywhere in the world. In other words, he gave Washington "authoritative permission" to conduct unilateral raids inside Pakistan. Earlier according to Wiki Leaks our PM allowed drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan, saying they would protest the attacks in the National Assembly and otherwise ignore them.

We are told by the foreign media that only after the commandos slipped out of Pakistani airspace did President Obama call President Zardari to inform him of the US military raid in the wee hours of April 2. President Zardari had no time to address the nation but surprisingly found time to write an article in the Washington Post which appeared on April 3, reaching out to the international community, expressing satisfaction over Osama's death, admitting that it was not a joint operation, endorsing the words of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and uttering not a single word of annoyance over the violation of his country's air space.

Did the president give another green light to the CIA? The first was revealed in Bob Woodward's book "Obama's wars" – "Kill the seniors," Zardari had said. "Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me." Reporting the astonishing statement, Woodward said: "Zardari had just given the CIA an important green light."

The write is an MNA. Email: nosheensaeed








The writer is a freelance columnist

and former newspaper editor

What does the death of Osama bin Laden really mean and what impact will it have on the future of militancy in Pakistan?

For days, there has been a frenzy following the news from Abbottabad. The jubilation of the US has been echoed in a few places at home; others have refused to believe that he is dead; there have predictably enough been a few protests – but a vast majority of people remains largely indifferent to the affair, despite the hype built up over TV channels and the open demonstration of grief by some comperes.

Perhaps the conspiracy theories based around the issues of whether or not Osama is truly dead, and whether it was really his body that was rather ignominiously dumped into the sea by the Americans, will begin to fade as more videos of the dramatic events at the house he occupied close to the military academy at Kakul are released.

Washington has indicated that the gory nature of the footage makes it reluctant to make it public. The images released so far show a man focused on his own self-image while the CIA states it has in its hands compelling evidence that Bin Laden remained effectively in control of his organisation.

It is impossible to know what the absolute truth is. Other accounts have spoken of an enfeebled man, who had little role to play as leader. The CIA is not the best source of authentic information. Beyond the top command of Al-Qaeda, within which a fierce power struggle is now said to be on and not all factions are behind Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri and his quest to seize power, perhaps no one is really in a position to say – though we must wonder how much our intelligence agencies know and the degree to which they have infiltrated the world's best-known terrorist outfit. It is hard to believe this has not happened at all.

The manner in which Pakistan has been left in the lurch by the recent course of events, has, of course its comic side. We are told there were desperate post-midnight conversations between baffled military leaders trying to work out whose helicopter had crashed in Abbottabad soon after the US action; no statement was issued from Islamabad hours after the saga as political leaders presumably tried to work out what to say and Pakistan has now been left wondering what to do with the wives and some 14 to 16 children of Bin Laden left in the country. No other nation seems to want them, and for now, a troupe of little Bin Ladens seems to be here to stay.

There are of course, other issues that are far more pressing. Will the death of Osama have any impact on militancy in the country? Will it make Pakistan a safer place and will it mean the training camps where candidates arrived from around the world to master skills such as how to hide bombs in their footwear or blow up buildings, will close down? It is perhaps too early to say.

We can assume that a hunt is on for other key targets – such as Zawahiri or Mullah Omar. Pakistan would be wise to do all it can to detect them itself – now that it knows failing to do so could lead to more raids of the kind that ended the life of Bin Laden.

Despite the threats made of action in case any further incursions of a similar nature take place, it is unclear what exactly the strategy would be if more US aircraft were to arrive – especially in a situation where we are unable to detect them in the first place, either due to the technology used by them or defects in our own radar monitoring systems.

For some time though, it has been clear that perhaps the biggest threat to Pakistan itself comes not from Al-Qaeda but from other groups that existed long before the Arabs began to arrive in the villages in the north. Some of the most brutal bombings seen over the last year have been carried out by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a group that developed in Punjab in the 1990s as a splinter faction of the fiercely sectarian Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. Its links with the Taliban, and possibly with Al-Qaeda, give it new strength and greater skill.

Other groups based in both Punjab and the tribal areas remain active. Now is undoubtedly the time to go after them in the hope that Bin Laden's death has created some degree of disarray and demoralisation. There is as yet no evidence of any such plan – or in fact any real indication of how we intend to act in the post-Osama scenario.

It is important to keep in mind, for all the US propaganda, that he was not a fount of evil from which all wickedness stemmed. The questions we need to ask ourselves are: Why was Pakistan chosen as the base of Al-Qaeda operations anyway? What were the factors that made its terrain seem especially suitable – and it would be foolish to focus of topography alone as we look at these matters. The answers could play a crucial role in determining our future as a nation and of militancy on our soil.

We have a Herculean task on our hands. The 'Great Victory' that our prime minister has spoken of in the aftermath of the Osama killing has not come. It will come only when we tackle the issue of madressahs run across the country, the bigotry that has invaded minds and warped souls, and the factors which make it possible for militant groups to recruit thousands of young men, even children, to their cause.

It is only when we succeed in tackling these issues that we can claim any kind of victory at all and secure for ourselves a more dignified future as a nation able to defend itself from threats that come both from within our borders and beyond them.








On May 5, 2011, CNN World News asked whether killing Osama bin Laden was legal under international law. Other news commentary has questioned whether it would have been both possible and advantageous to bring Osama bin Laden to trial rather than kill him.

World attention has been focused, however briefly, on questions of legality regarding the killing of Osama bin Laden. But, with the increasing use of Predator drones to kill suspected "high value targets" in Pakistan and Afghanistan, extrajudicial killings by US military forces have become the new norm.

Just three days after Osama bin Laden was killed, an attack employing remote-control aerial drones killed 15 people in Pakistan and wounded four. Last month, a drone attack killed 44 people in Pakistan's tribal region. CNN reports that their Islamabad bureau has counted four drone strikes over the last month and a half. Friday's suspected drone strike was the 21st this year. There were 111 strikes in 2010. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that 957 innocent civilians were killed in 2010.

Only a handful of US officials have broached the issue of whether or not it is right for the US to use unmanned aerial vehicles to function as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner in the decision to assassinate anyone designated as a "high value target" in faraway Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Would we want unmanned aerial vehicles piloted by another country to fly over the US, targeting individuals deemed to be a threat to the safety of their people?

Worldwide, 49 companies make over 150 different drone aircraft. Drone merchants expect that drone sales will earn $20.2 billion over the next 10 years for aerospace war manufacturers, with 20.6 billion spent on Research and Development. Who knows? One day drone missiles may be aimed at us.

Also worth noting is the observation that drones will make it politically convenient for any country to order military actions without risking their soldiers' lives, thereby making it easier, and more tempting, to start wars which may eventually escalate to result in massive loss of life, both military and civilian.

In October and again in December of 2010, while in Afghanistan, I met with a large family living in a wretched refugee camp. They had fled their homes in the San Gin district of the Helmand Province after a drone attack killed a mother there and her five children. His niece, Juma Gul, age 9, had survived the attack. Juma Gul's father stooped in front of us and gently unzipped her jacket, showing me that his daughter's arm had been amputated by shrapnel when the U.S. missile hit their home in San Gin.

Next to Juma Gul was her brother, whose leg had been mangled in the attack. He apparently has no access to adequate medical care and experiences constant pain.

It's impossible to conjecture what would have happened had Osama bin Laden been apprehended and brought to appear before a court of law, charged with crimes against humanity because of his alleged role in masterminding the 9/11 attacks. But, I feel certain beyond doubt that Juma Gul posed no threat whatsoever to the US, and if she were brought before a court of law and witnesses were helped to understand that she was attacked by a US unmanned aerial vehicle for no reason other than that she happened to live in proximity to a potential high value target, she would be vindicated of any suspicion that she committed a crime. The same might not be true for those who attacked her.

The writer co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Email:








AS widely apprehended, the USA is using Abbottabad operation to put more pressure on Pakistan and this evident from statements of House Speaker John Boehner who said Pakistan must decide whether they were 'real allies' of the US and American Ambassador Munter, conducting diplomacy through media these days, who warned Pakistan to opt between joint operations or unilateral American action inside the country.

All this, seen with latest leaks that the US was ready for military confrontation with Pakistan during operation to get Osama and reports by a British newspaper that there will be a huge military action in Quetta very soon, transmit ominous signals across the country where tempers are already high due to violation of Pakistan's sovereignty in Abbottabad operation. It is also evident that the justified concerns and protests by people of Pakistan over American intransigence are falling on deaf ears and Washington was bent upon humiliating its so-called ally further. Already, there are reports that Pakistan was under tremendous pressure to hunt down Mulla Omar and investigate 'support network' for OBL in the country, as if the huge efforts and sacrifices made by Pakistan so far in the war against terror were not real but sham. As has been pointed out by analysts, there could be intelligence failure and this happens elsewhere in the world including the United States, which failed to prevent 9/11 attacks despite availability of advance credible information about such a possibility in the American system. But this doesn't mean that Pakistan has officially any complicity in the presence of OBL in Abbottabad or Mulla Omar or other Taliban elements in the country. There is strong possibility that Americans, encouraged by their success in Abbottabad, would repeat the exercise to get Mulla Omar. But it is obvious that repetition of such drama would not be digested by people of Pakistan and any unilateral action could have far reaching consequences not only for Pakistan's alliance with the United States but also for the Government of Pakistan as well. This is because it would be seen as yet another attempt to destabilize and weaken Pakistan and create image problems for armed forces and security apparatus of the country. The Government has already convened joint session of the parliament on Friday where concerned military personnel would brief the parliamentarians on Abbottabad incident but we would urge them to brief the lawmakers on what the authorities intend to do to prevent recurrence of such incidents. A consensus strategy should be formulated to safeguard national interests, dignity and honour.






AFTER four months, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) rejoined the federal cabinet with its three members taking oath as Ministers. It is understood that certain circles may call the move as opportunistic but in our view it is aimed at stabilizing the government and the democracy at the critical juncture in the history of the country.

MQM had been a major partner since the present government took over but left the Federal Cabinet in protest against hike in oil prices and differences on some political issues. Since then series of talks had been held between the MQM leadership and President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to persuade the major political party in Urban Sindh to rejoin the Government ranks. Other issues over which the MQM was not seeing eye to eye with the Government included the restoration of the local government system and the target killings in Karachi. It is learnt that MQM Chief Altaf Hussain gave the go ahead after most of the concerns of the party were addressed by the Government. We believe that the rejoining of the MQM and alliance between the PPP and the PML-Q have stabilized the political situation. There are many serious challenges and top among them are the US raid in Abbottabad, economy, law and order, price hike and unemployment which no single political party can address. In these difficult times, the need is that all political parties join hands to steam the ship of the state out of troubled waters. The law and order situation in Karachi is aggravating and one hopes that the PPP-MQM reunion will help evolve a strategy to deal with the criminals with iron hand irrespective of their political affiliations and influence and that would serve as a deterrence to those who indulge in daily target killings. With ANP already in the Federal Government, one hopes now it is time that they should work collectively to restore order in Karachi which is key to stimulate the economy as the mega city is the hub of economic activities. As the MQM represents the middle class and the PPP being the major political force in the country, we would urge them to concentrate now on jointly confronting the challenges at the national and provincial level and resolve the problems of the masses single-mindedly.







IN flagrant violation of the UN mandate, NATO is carrying out intensive bombing in Libya with clear designs to destroy its infrastructure, kill people and eliminate its leader Col. Moammer Qaddafi. After deliberate bombing of the residence of Qaddafi recently killing his family members, NATO jets heavily bombed Tripoli on Tuesday in an apparent bid to increase pressure on the Libyan leader to quit, who has not bowed down against expectations of the United States and NATO.

This is indeed modern day colonization of the weaker states, otherwise there was absolutely no justification to target infrastructure of a sovereign country built over decades and kill its people. The UN mandate was just for imposition of no-fly zone so that Qaddafi regime is not able to use air power to kill people, which are seen by it as rebels. It is an open secret that turmoil in the Arab world is being supported and funded by the West in accordance with its policy to changing regimes and redrawing map of the Middle-East. Realizing that their strategy was not working equally throughout the region, they are now applying force to change regimes. It is exactly such policies that fuel extremism and terrorism and there can be no solution to the problem until and unless the West shuns imperialistic approach. It is equally regrettable that the United Nations, which is there to promote peace and security, is being misused by the West and Ban Ki Moon and his organization have adopted criminal silence over carnage in Libya. The conduct of Arab League and African Union is also questionable, as they too are silent spectators to the naked Western aggression in Libya. They must wake up to the danger as today it is Libya and tomorrow it will be some other country of the region.








Since May 2, this year when top Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was killed in a nighttime helicopters operation by the US covert forces in Pakistan's city, Abbottabad, Indian high officials and media have started a deliberate propaganda campaign against Pakistan. In this regard, on the same day, while maligning Islamabad, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram said that the killing of Bin Laden, "deep inside Pakistan" show that world's terrorists "belonging to different organisations find sanctuary in that country." Without naming Pakistan, Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna stated that the world "must not let down" its united effort to eliminate the safe havens that have been provided to terrorists in its neighbourhood. New Delhi, while urging the Pakistan government to arrest the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, also accused Pakistan's spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of supporting the militants.

By following the blame game of the US-led some western countries, India has left no stone unturned in distorting the image of Pakistan in connection with terrorism. In this respect, on May 3, India Today wrote, "can India too think of a US-type operation?... in order to kill the 26/11 masterminds of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed who lives in Lahore and gangster-turned-terrorist Dawood Ibrahim who has been a resident of Karachi." While Islamabad has repeatedly made it clear that its government and intelligence agencies did not know anything about Bin Laden's whereabouts including any official involvement regarding the 26/11 Mumbai catastrophe, but besides the previous false allegations, even New Delhi has adopted a threatening posture against Islamabad. This aggressive style could be judged from the statement of Indian Army Chief General VK Singh who claimed on May 4, 2011 that if situation arose, the Indian defence forces were competent to undertake an US-like operation inside Pakistan, which killed Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Indian army's Northern Command chief also expressed similar thoughts.

On the other side, on May 5, while addressing the 138th Corps Commanders' Conference, Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has made a categorical announcement. While reiterating the resolve to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan, Gen. Kayani warned both India and the US, saying that any "action similar to American raid in Abbottabad, violating the sovereignty of Pakistan...will warrant a review on the level of military and intelligence cooperation with the United States."

Nevertheless, it is wishful thinking especially of India that it can conduct a US-type military operation or surgical strikes inside Pakistan because of the fact that the latter has capabilities to give a matching response. While both the neighbouring adversaries are nuclear powers, Indians should not ignore the principles of deterrence, popularly known as balance of terror. In 1945, America dropped atomic bombs on Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as Tokyo had no such devices to retaliate. After the World War 11, nuclear weapons were never used. These were only employed as a strategic threat. During the heightened days of the Cold War, many crises arose in Suez Canal, Korea, Cuba and Vietnam when the US and the former Soviet Union were willing to use atomic weapons, but they stopped because of the fear of nuclear war which could culminate in the elimination of both the super powers. It was due to the concept of 'mutually assured destruction' that the two rivals preferred to resolve their differences through diplomacy.

Similarly many occasions came between Pakistan and India, during Kargil crisis of 1998, and Indian parliament's attack by the militants in 2001 when New Delhi acted upon a hot pursuit policy against Islamabad. There seems to be every possibility of war between the two countries, but the same was averted owing to the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear country. Particularly in 2008, in the post-Mumbai carnage, Indian highly provocative actions such as mobilization of troops and tightening security at airports and violation of Pakistan's air space had created an alarming situation in the region as Islamabad had also taken defensive steps in response to meet any prospective aggression or surgical strikes by New Delhi. Situation was so critical that Pakistan started moving thousands of military troops from the Afghan border and the tribal areas to its border with India. But India failed in implementing its plans of any military action or aerial strikes on Pakistan owing to the fact that the latter also possesses nuclear weapons and missiles which could destroy whole of India.

Political strategists agree that deterrence is a psychological concept that aims to affect an opponent's perceptions. In nuclear deterrence weapons are less usable as their threat is enough in deterring an enemy that intends to use its armed might. In this context, a renowned scholar, Hotzendorf remarks that nuclear force best serves the interests of a state when it deters an attack. In the present circumstances, India is badly mistaken if it overestimates its own power and underestimates Pakistan's power. As our country lacks conventional forces and weapons vis-à-vis India, so it will have to use atomic devices during a prolonged conflict. Indian rulers should also keep it in mind that no war is limited, entailing surgical strikes. When started, course of war is expanded by the circumstances just like the water of flood. For example, in the beginning, World War 1 was a local conflict between the two tiny states of Balkan, but within a few days, it involved the major countries. It is also clarified that although during the Mumbai mayhem, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari had stated that Pakistan would not be the first to use atomic weapons against India, but it is not possible as every thing is fair in war and Islamabad will have to depend upon nuclear arms when survival of the state is likely to be at stake.

It is notable that 'nuclearized' India may apply its coercive diplomacy on the non-nuclear states of South Asia in exerting psychological pressure, but it is useless in case of Pakistan whose deterrence is credible. While taking lesson from the recent history, the best way for New Delhi is that instead of raising war hysteria, the issue of Mumbai terror attack could be resolved through joint investigation which Pakistan has repeatedly offered. And India must better pay attention to its home-grown Hindu terrorists by abandoning irrational allegations against Pakistan and its intelligence agency ISI.

It is mentionable that while showing realistic approach on May 8, in another statement, Indian External Affairs Minister Krishna disfavoured the idea of disengaging Pakistan in talks because of "bin Laden's episode in Pakistan", saying that "it certainly would not be a very wise move." Nonetheless, Pakistan's deterrence is credible, making its defence invincible as Pakistan possesses a variety of nuclear weapons and missiles which could be used against India as the last option in case of war or surgical strikes. So it is wishful thinking of India and especially, its army chief that a US-like operation can be conducted inside Pakistan.








The history of US-Pakistani relations is a story of betrayals and lies. Right from the beginning in the 1950ies they were built upon expediency rather than on converging values, ideologies or even interests. While on the Pakistani side the first and foremost expectation was that of keeping in place an outside support for an instable and wavering government and political system which was western, post-colonial and had no roots in the soil of the land of Pakistan, the US on the other hand from the very beginning had its own eggs to grind, while never caring for Pakistani interests, used our strategically situated country as a launching pad for espionage and extending their influence into Middle, South and Southeast Asia in an effort to take the place of a super power vacated by Great Britain after WW II and as a stronghold against the evolving rival super power Soviet Union.

This constellation of mismatching ideas, interests and expectations can be traced throughout the following decades. Pakistani governments under General Ayub Khan and later under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did make an effort although not successful or sustained- to define what the national interest of Pakistan would have been; Ayub Khan tried to avoid US base at Badebair close to Peshawer in Khyber Pakhtonkhwa, in complete negligence of the national interest of Pakistan on the orders of Ghulam Mohammad, when the so-called Communication Agreement was signed in 50ies with the Americans ceding away territory where they could install their spying station, during one of his trip to Peshawar Mr. Bhutto as foreign minister wished to visit this base, he was told he can not enter the compound for inspection however he was welcome to their cafeteria for taking coffee and sandwiches. When American U2 was shot down by Russians. Pakistan was given an ultimatum by USSR Premier Niktia Khuroshev to revoke this agreement within 3 days or be prepared to face the consequences. It is one remarkable achievement of President Ayub Khan that he in a bid to safeguard our national interest revoked this agreement unilaterally and resisted all pressure and blackmailing from US to review his decision, even President Johnson had to fall on his knees to send a letter to Pakistan President but he stood by his decision, and tried to cultivate new era of going forward and founded a lasting relationship and even friendship with China based on common interests and values, which was followed by arranging a secret tour for US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to China, which Americans have forgotten now, and the same Mr. Kissinger, 88, had cheek to tell Fox News that Pakistan was thus in a bind while some time later Mr. Bhutto sought an alternative alignment for his country with the Islamic countries and in developing nukes in order to be able to sustain an independent course. The same Mr. Kissinger was also the man who threatened Mr. Bhutto of dire consequences of developing nukes.

The death knell for all this came with a Western propaganda of Renaissance of Islam, linked to the Islamic revolution in neighbouring Iran a little difficult in the beginning to digest for a Sunni majority country like Pakistan under a pseudo fundamentalist Ziaul Haq - and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which threatened the power equation of the cold war world and initiated a fierce anti-communist war in Afghanistan based on Jihadi ideology for which the US conveniently used blackmailed and manipulated the neighbouring Pakistan which by that time had not been able to evolve into a self-confident nation aware of its own worth and national interests, when Osama was launched by US and Zia had to facilitate Israel in transporting their supplies to these Islami Mujahideens in Afghanistan. The reason for this inferiority complex was and is in the unsolved problem of Kashmir state according to agreed formula of British partition plan and the resulting rivalry with India, Pakistan's nemesis. As a result of new US-Pakistani partnership in the war in Afghanistan the Pakistani state and political system was militarized, the jihadi ideology took hold of large parts of the Pakistani society and the uncontrolled spread of weapons in Pakistan resulted in the militarization of the population, which then suited very well to the American plan. One great disadvantage Pakistan received to its anyway unevenly developed economy, which was upset by an uncontrolled influx of up to three million Afghan refugees who had to be fed and adjusted without any external help. When after the Soviets had left Afghanistan the US declared mission accomplished and went away.

The following history of democratic elections and governments was nothing more than a farce and it took only 11 years until the army was taking over what was a basically corrupt, incompetent government with so-called Islamist leanings. But it was not in the interest of and beyond the comprehension of the West and the US that democracy in Pakistan should fail because in their understanding a western democracy, which is Off the people, Far from the people to Buy the people is the only viable and acceptable way towards what they perceive as progress. That is why the latest military rule under Gen. Musharraf was shunned internationally until 9/11 when Pakistan became an important partner again in the so-called war on terror. Military rule did not matter any more; on the contrary, it came in handy because there was only one single person to be pressurized and bribed instead of several which made the US overtures much handier. Pakistan's soil, infrastructure and its population was ruthlessly used for the US proxy war effort regardless of any damage involved. When as a result of ruthless bombing and warfare the war and its Islamist fighters together with their ideology spilt over into Pakistan through a long and porous border which had never been an obstacle to cross-border movements the regime in Islamabad was unable to deal with this situation of growing militancy inside Pakistan and growing demands for democracy from the outside. The need to take on a democratic image was the death knell to this phase of Pak-US relations and the US shifted its support to a seemingly democratic party never caring about the fact that they would install a corrupt regime and sanction corruption by installing and supporting it.

The war on terror now in its tenth year has from the very beginning deeply divided Pakistani society. The catch for the Musharraf regime to go into it was gaining legitimacy for a formerly pariah government, getting an edge over the intimate enemy India and US and Western money for modernizing the Pakistan army with modern technology and the lingering economy. That model worked for a while militarily and economically under the previous government but the new democratically elected dispensation installed with an infamous NRO, could never make it work. The reasons may be several, among them first and foremost the unpopular and corrupt posture of the ruling elite, but partly the economic crisis and of course the fact that this government went back to the IMF and World Bank with the begging bowl in their both hands, in order to get hold of more money to be misappropriated and the mistaken policies of IMF have deepened if not caused another economic crisis in Pakistan. The US-Pakistani relationship under a corrupt, incompetent government which above all other was in place because of the good offices of the US was from the very beginning a one-sided and from the Pakistani side subservient one. Mistaking personal interests for national ones this regime's first and foremost aim was to stay in power in order to plunder and make up for the long time they had been out of power before. In order to achieve this they allowed Pakistani sovereignty to be compromised by drone attacks, frequents incursions of foreign aircrafts into Pakistani territory and by allowing US uncontrolled access to Pakistan by issuing visas in bulk that allowed the CIA to come in droves and move around as if at home and build up an independent CIA spy network without the Pakistani authorities knowing or caring. We know what the outcome was with the Raymond Davis and the Osama Bin Laden gimmick not far away. One is surprised to see the pictures of two august ladies witnessing the live video at the situation room, showing utter shock and displeasure, were got removed as an after thought. Why?

Only one day after US special forces had again violated Pakistan's sovereignty-without of course any Pakistani institution to know about it or being able or willing to do anything about it- now Senior US Congressional leaders urged the Obama administration to reconsider America's relationship with Pakistan and also threatened to suspend $1.3 billion of annual aid to the country if it's established that Pakistani intelligence officials helped lodge Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. This is a typical and expected reaction from an ally who is acting according to the here described principles of using a country for its own interests and throwing it away after there is no more need for that. We have been arguing many a time that there is no and can be no friendship or partnership between US and Pakistan because our values, ideas and national interests are different if not antipodal. We do not need foreign money if not to foster corruption in our country, to build our economy we have to do what is needed ourselves without foreign aid. In any case there has been no aid coming in from the US, maximum what has been coming is money for reimbursement of 15 to 20 per cent of our unavoidable expenses while fighting their proxy war not to talk even about the damage done to our non-military infrastructure like roads and others. US presence in Pakistan is detrimental to whatever interests we may have. It is therefore high time to disband this unholy relationship and do away with any illusions about American designs or capacities to aid us leading to bondage.








It is now an established fact that Hamid Karzai was party to the gory game plan chalked out by USA-India-Israel-UK in late 2001 to destabilize, denuclearize and balkanize Pakistan. Balkanization plan involved making Balochistan and FATA independent and then integrating Pashtun regions with Afghanistan in line with bogey of Greater Pakhtunistan. When he assumed power with the US assistance in 2004, he had given a blank cheque to the four foreign agencies based in Kabul to continue making full use of Afghan soil for the accomplishment of stated objectives.

His ministry of interior, ministry of defence and RAAM helped RAW in establishing training centres. Under the garb of road project, arms, ammunition, explosives and instructors were brought in from India to train, arm and launch saboteurs into contiguous FATA and Balochistan and later into Swat. India was given full facilities to establish Pak specific consulates in southern and eastern Afghanistan as well as cultural centres to poison the minds of Afghan youth against Pakistan. The Afghan government has still not restrained India from its cross border terrorism nor has it put checks on RAW infested Indian consulates focused on Pakistan . It is humanly impossible for RAW to continue with its nefarious activities unnoticed by Afghan government and US military. This practice is going on despite the fact that USA , Afghanistan and India are singing peace songs and Karzai is giving assurances that under no circumstance he would allow Afghan soil to be used for terrorism against Pakistan . Some bad hats in his regime are on the quiet playing the Indian game.

Karzai would never have extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan if he had been in control of affairs. Because of his all round poor performance, he is unpopular among Pashtuns who regard him as a puppet of USA as well as non-Pashtuns who suspect him of promoting cause of the Pashtuns. He won last election by the skin of his teeth. The US too is not happy with him since he could neither help in taming the Taliban nor in winning over moderate Pashtuns. The Taliban do not trust him and have rejected his offers of truce, reconciliation and power sharing. They hold him responsible for the bloodshed of Pashtuns. Despite Karazi's friendly overtures to Taliban, his non-Pashtun ministers and officials are still at odds with Taliban and at ease with India and welcome US efforts to make India a key country in Afghan affairs after the departure of ISAF.

Exit from Afghanistan is dependent upon blunting Taliban's striking capability and bringing them to the negotiating table on US terms and upon visible improvement of operational preparedness of ANA comprising 97% non-Pashtuns, which at the moment is not fit enough to take on Taliban independently. Time has started to tick and security situation is out of control of Karzai as well as US-NATO despite troop surges. The US is no taking him into confidence about its future plans. It is under such worrying conditions that Karzai had been compelled to seek assistance from Pakistan . He knows that out of all the players, Pakistan is the only country which still exerts better influence over Taliban. Presence of Haqqani network under Siraj in North Waziristan and some members of Taliban Shura in Quetta region together with friendly terms with Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir have helped in maintaining this link.

Had Pakistan not been in contact with Taliban, today there would have been none to approach them. Without taking Taliban on board, Afghan imbroglio cannot be solved. It is only when Taliban agree to some sort of political settlement that foreign troops can hope to depart. This linkage with Taliban has enhanced the importance of Pakistan in the eyes of both USA and Karzai regime, which till April 2009 was seen as a liability and part of the problem. The scenario changed after Pak Army dismantled fortified bases of militants in Bajaur, Swat and SW in 2009 and turned the tide.

The next big change occurred in January 2010 when heavily attended London conference agreed upon Afghan-Pakistan plan to negotiate and recon ciliate with Taliban. Saudi Arabia , Turkey , Iran , Russia and India are also in contact with Taliban, each jockeying for influence in Afghanistan in post America era.

China has already generated substantial economic activity in Afghanistan and because of its geographical contiguity and economic resurgence; it is better poised to win the economic race in the future. Had the US played a straight game and not come out with impractical conditions, and had refrained from using force, by now some sort of breakthrough could have been found. US-India double dealing and effort to keep Pakistan out backfired. Petraeus and Panetta's scheme to work out a three-tier scheme of drawing a cleavage between Taliban and al-Qaeda, dividing Taliban and isolating hard line Taliban has proved counter productive. This strategy is making things difficult for Karzai.

Karzai is now desperately trying to find a way out with the help of Pakistan . He once whispered into the ears of Zardari and later Kayani that since the US were not interested in making Afghanistan peaceful in the near future and had plans to make permanent military bases; it would be in common interest of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together for an early solution. He lamented America 's imperial designs against both Afghanistan and Pakistan . This heart-to-heart talk leaked out and when PM Gilani along with Gen Kayani and Lt Gen Pasha made a return call to Kabul on 16 April at a time when Pak-US relations had hit rock bottom. The visit removed chill in relations. Disturbed by this sudden development, a story was hurriedly invented by Wall Street Journal that Gilani tried to convince Karzai to break off ties with Washington and forge a new alignment with Pakistan and China to solve Afghan tangle and rebuild Afghan economy. China factor was purposely added since it pinches USA the most. Spin doctors white washed the actual part of the story about Gen Pasha producing hard evidence of RAW and CIA's involvement in Balochistan.

Matter doesn't end here. Exasperated Mike Mullen caught in a blind alley has come out with a brilliant revelation that ISI's link with Haqqani network is age-old. Clueless about his next move and how to pullout 152000 ISAF troops from the quagmire, he and Petraeus have found an easy way to hide their bungling by making Pakistan a scapegoat. List of their blunders is very long and is not hidden from the world. Magnitude of their slip-ups is so huge that it is not possible to conceal them and put the entire blame on Pakistan whose performance is extraordinary. Geographically contiguous Pakistan-Afghanistan share centuries old history, and are culturally, religiously and ethnically linked. Despite the hiccups in relations, they are natural allies and their destinies are tied to each other. Pakistan staked its security for the sake of freeing Afghanistan from the clutches of former Soviet Union.

It is still hosting 2.7 Afghan refugees and despite hostility of the current regime, Pakistan has not retaliated to harm Afghanistan 's interests. On the other hand, both America and India are unnatural allies of Afghanistan since they have vested interests and have imposed their cultural and economic influence after occupying the country. Hence their influence in Afghanistan is a passing phenomenon and will fade away after occupation forces quit. It is for sure that no leader in Pakistan is deceiving Karzai. Latter will sink if he tries to hoodwink Pakistan to regain confidence of USA. Rather than trusting unreliable and waning empire which has ill intentions against both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the two Muslim neighbors should chalk out their independent strategy suiting them and not USA.

—The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.









Ever since Osama Bin Laden was killed by the US commandos in Abbottabad, the story of his murder is still commanding lead space in US papers and TV channels. New information is trickling out every day. Some highlights in the Media on May 5th are: 1) President Obama has decided not to release the pictures of Osama's dead body. He thinks that gruesome images will pose a national security risk. 2) It has now been revealed that US commandos, who raided his bedroom, saw an AK- 47 rifle and a pistol within arms-reach of Bin Laden. However he did not have time to pickup any weapon as he was shot in the head.

3) Meanwhile a desire for visual proof of Bin Laden's death is getting more intense every day. Fake Photos are however circulating on the worldwide internet.President Obama took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan on 5/5/11 and met with the relatives of the attack victims.

US newspapers have reported that the glow of national Pride has risen above Partisan Politics among both Republicans and Independents. In all 57% said that they approved the Presidents Job performance which has risen from 46% last month. But euphoria was tempered by the sense of foreboding: More than 6 out of 10 Americans has said that the killing of Bin Laden is likely to increase the threat of terrorism against the US in the short term. A large majority also said that Al-Qaeda Leader's death does not make them feel any safer. Only 10% said that they personally felt safer now. According to latest NY Times/CBS news poll the following information has been revealed:

According to NY Times the reputation of the Pakistan Army, the most powerful and privileged force in Pakistan has been severely under mined by the American raid that killed Osama Bin Laden raising serious questions about its credibility from people at home and abroad including the US. That American helicopters could fly into Pakistan, kill the world's most wanted terrorist and then fly out undetected, has produced stunned silence from the Army and its intelligence service since last Monday. Some interpret it as an overwhelming embarrassment, even humiliation. There is no doubt that the raid has provoked a crisis of confidence about an institution which has long held together a nation dangerously beset by militancy and the weak civilian governments.

Some in the US have called for an independent inquiry, focused on the fact that the world's most wanted terrorist was discovered in their midst in the backyard of Islamabad and adjacent to the Military Academy in Kakul. It seems that various controversies generated by the killing of Osama Bin Laden on Pakistan soil where he was living for four year will continue to reverberate endlessly for quite some time.








The Pakistani town of Abbottabad seems to have been the perfect place to "hide in plain sight." Not only did officers at the Pakistani military academy there apparently miss spotting Osama bin Laden so did a team of US Special Forces trainers that, according to Pakistani officials, was based there from September to December 2008. The "Where's Waldo?" aspect of the hunt for bin Laden — who turns out to have been living since 2005 just a few hours' drive north of Islamabad — has worsened the mistrust between America and Pakistan. Pakistani anger over the unilateral US attack is indicated by the fact that someone just "outed" the CIA station chief in Islamabad for the second time in a year.

More than a week after the Abbottabad raid, the nagging question remains: How could the Pakistanis not have known that the world's leading terrorist was hiding in what some analysts have argued was practically a gated community for their military? It's a puzzle that embarrasses Pakistani officials just as much as it angers Americans. Surely someone must have known, and in Pakistan, that someone would likely have had connections to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence. But that doesn't necessarily mean ISI's titular leaders knew about the support network, and therein lies part of the problem.

The ISI is, in the biblical phrase, a house with many mansions. What was known in one wing was not always shared with others. Indeed, if the ISI had transmitted information about sheltering bin Laden, US intelligence almost certainly would have picked it up through surveillance.

Pakistani officials reject the allegation — rapidly becoming conventional wisdom in Washington — that they didn't adequately pursue al-Qaeda. In interviews, they disclosed some new details that support their account. A US official responded: "The Pakistanis indeed provided information that was useful to the US government as it collected intelligence on the bin Laden compound. That information helped fill in some gaps."

The Pakistani dossier starts with a joint CIA-ISI raid in the Abbottabad area in 2004, pursuing Abu Faraj al-Libi, often described as al-Qaeda's No. 3 official. He was captured the next year in another joint operation in Mardan, west of Abbottabad.

The Pakistanis argue their telephone intercepts may have helped CIA analysts identify the courier who was sheltering bin Laden and trace him to the compound in Abbottabad. ISI officials, in particular, cite several calls in Arabic in 2009 that may have been crucial, including at least one from the general vicinity of Abbottabad.

Communications intercepts have always been crucial to US operations against al-Qaeda. In some instances, such as wireless calls, the United States can collect signals unilaterally. But in intercepting some landline and Internet communications, the United States had secret official cooperation, according to a Pakistani source. The source says this led to the sharing of many hundreds of useful calls and numbers. As another sign of anti-terrorist operations in the region, a Pakistani official cites the Jan. 25 capture in Abbottabad of Umar Patek, a leader of the Indonesian affiliate of al-Qaeda that planned the 2002 Bali bombing.

The final irony was the presence in Abbottabad of Special Forces in late 2008. They were part of a clandestine mission to train members of the Pakistani Frontier Corps. The training camp was later moved to Warsak, northwest of Peshawar, but for a few months American warriors apparently were living and working less than two miles from bin Laden.

What angers US officials is that the ISI may be helpful with one hand, but with the other assists groups that threaten Americans. One example is the Haqqani network, the deadliest Taliban faction in eastern Afghanistan; another is Lashkar-i-Taiba, a Kashmiri group whose alleged links with the ISI will be explored in a trial scheduled to open next week in Chicago. The fact that bin Laden lived for so long under the military's nose, as it were, has prompted some stinging commentary in Pakistan, such as this riposte in the newspaper Dawn last week from columnist Cyril Almeida: "If we didn't know, we are a failed state; if we did know, we are a rogue state. But does anybody really believe they didn't know?"

And what happens next, as the United States begins to exploit the "treasure trove" of information found in bin Laden's compound? Among other things, that cache may reveal what, if anything, Pakistani officials knew, and when they knew it.—Courtesy: The Washington Post










The good news from Tuesday's budget is that the Gillard government recognises the challenges it faces. The bad news is that it only goes halfway to meeting them. Wayne Swan knows returning the budget to surplus is imperative, and his rhetoric about a tough budget and spending restraint shows that he knows that curtailing government expenditure must be part of the solution. Yet his budget savings are almost matched by new spending and he continues with the expensive and expansive NBN project. Instead of delivering real cuts, the Treasurer takes the easy but risky option of banking on a revenue bonanza.

Mr Swan's budget centrepiece of "jobs, jobs, jobs" suggests he is well aware of the labour market pressures building in the economy. He explicitly outlines how mounting investment and falling unemployment will "inevitably see capacity and price pressures in our economy". Filling the demand for skilled workers to fuel our economic growth without creating a wages break-out is central to the budget strategy. And the government has unveiled a range of commendable initiatives that fall into two broad categories: skills programs that provide additional training and apprenticeships, largely in partnership with industry; and participation initiatives to encourage and nudge more people into the workforce, such as tighter assessments for the disability pension and incentives to employ the long-term jobless. This is a sensible policy agenda bolstered by increasing the number of skilled migrants recruited into regional areas.

But once again the government dodges the more difficult half of the equation -- the need to make the labour market more flexible. It demonstrates that the Gillard government favours bureaucratic, process-driven solutions requiring public sector intervention. It fails to understand that the best response is often the opposite: withdrawing the dead hand of government. Increased workplace flexibility would help workers negotiate suitable employment arrangements, allowing for more jobs and increased productivity without adding to cost pressures. This is particularly important given the government is already forecasting wages growth to outstrip inflation in coming years. As Dennis Shanahan reveals in our pages today, the government's reregulation of the labour market under the Fair Work Act is already reducing productivity and increasing costs in the economy. This represents a significant risk to the budget over time.

Unfair dismissal laws should also be revisited because for relevant companies (any firm employing 15 people or more) they discourage job offers to people who have been unemployed for long periods. The long-term unemployed are just the people we need companies to take a chance on but the unfair dismissal laws can make the risk unacceptable for employers.

Political expedience suggests Julia Gillard will be unwilling to risk a barney with the union movement over workplace reform. This is disappointing and worrying because the political inactivity will increase the economic risk. For these reasons, the opposition should show some policy character and lead this debate. Tony Abbott has already promised a new industrial relations policy before the next election so he should not waste any more time. There could be no better time for the economy, or for the Opposition Leader's prime ministerial aspirations, to show some policy courage. He should open the batting in tonight's budget reply.

Mr Swan gets full marks, however, for starting to scale back middle-class welfare, a cause The Australian has been fighting since the 1980s. It is a measure of the prosperity we now enjoy that some newspapers yesterday portrayed families on incomes of $150,000 a year as the new poor mired in "mortgage poverty" in Sydney's western suburbs. While cost of living pressures are real, and are felt disproportionately in the outer suburbs, there is no justification for doling out welfare to those on this level of income. Even in Sydney, this is an income most families only aspire towards. If the government wishes to support families, it should do so by lowering taxes. It is far preferable for income taxes to be kept low and for thresholds to be regularly adjusted upwards so that individuals can keep more of their own wages and make their own decisions about how to spend their hard-earned money.

Once again, however, Mr Swan stops half way. He has curtailed access to payments such as the Family Tax Benefits A and B, the baby bonus and paid parental leave to 40,000 families with household incomes above $150,000, but there are no commensurate tax adjustments to entrench incentive and self-reliance in the system. In fact, the opposite is the case, with the Treasurer relying on his tax thresholds being left rigid so that as family incomes increase over time, they will be pushed into higher tax brackets and pay a higher percentage of income tax. The tax take is increased and the churn continues.

For too long, governments on both sides of politics have encouraged the entitlement mentality and discouraged people from looking after themselves. The lost benefits should be offset with lower, flatter tax rates that provide added incentive for taxpayers to increase their personal wealth by becoming more productive. Much greater administrative savings and a higher efficiency dividend would come from eventually eliminating family payments altogether, keeping marginal tax rates low and compensating low-income earners through the tax system rather than the welfare system.

Rather than leaving more money in Australians' pockets as an incentive for people to work harder, be more enterprising and grow the economy, goals that Paul Keating and Peter Costello consistently strove to achieve, much of Mr Swan's fourth budget was an exercise in top-down distribution. It paid little heed to the efficiency of market mechanisms and was riddled with "central government knows best" paternalism.

The Treasurer talks up the limited growth in spending over the next three years but conveniently ignores the extremely high starting point after 22 per cent growth in Labor's spending over its first three years. The evidence suggests the most successful aspect of the Rudd government's stimulus to ward off the global financial crisis was the $900 cheques that allowed families to determine their own spending or saving priorities. Unfortunately, Mr Swan's budget showed little inclination to respect individuals' and families' market choices.

After the pink batts debacle, it is almost incomprehensible that the Treasurer has allowed government to encroach into people's living rooms with the unwelcome decision to hand out free set-top boxes to eligible pensioners. Busybody social workers might applaud, but however many photo opportunities are created in independent MP Rob Oakeshott's Lyne electorate on the NSW north coast, the decision is government stupidity writ large. It remains to be seen whether opposition estimates of $400 to supply and install the boxes, which can cost as little as $30 each, prove accurate, but with brand new mid-sized flat screen televisions available for $399, with an optional $60 to $90 delivery fee, it's a dud deal. The limited take-up rate in Victoria, where the program has been rolled out, suggests that pensioners know it. If something must be done for the digital switchover, and we doubt that, vouchers would work better.

Mr Swan, whose interest in redistributing wealth underpinned his 2005 book Postcode: the splintering of a nation, underestimates the ability of people to generate their own wealth. Many people, especially in small business, just want the government to stay out of the way as they seek to achieve better lives for themselves.

Unfortunately, Ms Gillard's first budget as Prime Minister provides conclusive evidence her government is showing the same weaknesses and making many of the same mistakes as the Rudd government. Both have seemed hopelessly addicted to big-government solutions to every dilemma they confront. This means their aims are often correct but their methods for achieving them are mistaken. Faster broadband becomes an expensive government monopoly, the response to climate change is a comprehensive new tax, health reform leads to an additional layer of bureaucracy, and yes, even upgrading our televisions becomes a matter for state intervention. It is all of a piece with Mr Swan's jobs plan providing major government training programs but ignoring the need to free up the private sector. The Prime Minister and Treasurer need to understand that sometimes government is the problem, not the solution.






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.






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.







IT TOOK much too long to avert a perverse injustice, but the Indonesian Supreme Court has shown good sense in sparing the Australian drug mule Scott Rush from death by firing squad. Apart from the powerful moral and legal arguments against the death penalty in any circumstances, Rush was a notably inappropriate candidate for it. Had he been shot, the Indonesian justice system would rightly have been accused of wilful inconsistency in singling him out over others convicted of similar roles in the same crime.

Rush is the youngest of the so-called Bali nine - he was 19 when arrested by the Indonesians in 2005 after being caught with heroin strapped to his leg. The former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty told the Supreme Court judges who conducted the final review of Rush's death sentence that he had played a minimal part in the drug-smuggling plot. Even so, Rush faces life behind bars.

There were two other reasons, apart from his youth and bit-player status, why it never made sense that Rush alone among the seven second-tier couriers faced death row, along with the two convicted ringleaders of the scheme, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who still await reviews of their death sentences.

One was that Rush was originally given a life sentence. It was only when he appealed for that sentence to be reduced that a court instead decided, not at the prosecution's request, to impose the death penalty. The other exceptional factor in his case was the earlier problematic role of the Australian Federal Police. Having reached a painfully brave decision to do what they considered the right thing for their son and society, his parents tipped off the AFP who - instead of dealing with him here, as they had hoped - passed the information on to the Indonesians.

None of this excuses the ruthless wickedness of drug-smuggling gangsters, or the folly of their mules. It is no bad thing that the fate of the ''Bali nine'' has provided a graphic reminder to potential couriers that Indonesia, like other Asian nations, takes an extremely hard line against this evil trade.

Meanwhile, we welcome the federal government's recent instruction to our police to consider, when co-operating with other countries, a suspect's age and whether capital punishment is likely.



THERE is perhaps no greater measure of the extraordinary potential of online education than the case of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Every year tens of thousands of elite students vie for about 1600 places there, and those who make the grade pay more than $US50,000 ($46,300) a year for the privilege of studying at the world's third-highest-ranking university. Yet last month MIT also celebrated reaching about 100 million virtual students worldwide since it opened free online access to its courses - complete with lecture notes, exams, videos and study groups - a decade ago. MIT's next goal is to expand online education opportunities to 1 billion minds worldwide, and in doing so to unlock knowledge previously only accessible to the privileged few. In cyberspace, the walls of the ivory towers of academia are undoubtedly crumbling.

The capability to broadcast lectures and other support material on the internet is profoundly disruptive to conventional teaching methods, and it is still unclear where it will take us. In Australia and around the world, universities are facing unprecedented challenges. Student demand for online video and audio of lectures is growing, attendance at lectures is falling and many students who do turn up use their laptops and phones for socialising, gaming and catching up on other homework. The recent campaign by students at Monash University in Melbourne to make the recording of lectures mandatory has understandably spooked some academics. Once a lecture is online it is in the public domain, so new issues of defamation, copyright and even the potential manipulation of its content for other uses, such as lampooning via social media, arise.

However, the momentum towards online teaching, learning and collaboration is unstoppable. That

will not necessarily undermine the value of, or demand for, face-to-face teaching and classroom interaction. Nor will free, open-access online courses replace the qualifications, grades and accreditation only universities can confer through rigorous assessment. But it does mean the blending of face-to-face teaching with extraordinary new digital tools, such as immersive 3D ''learning environments'', as well as the ability of motivated students to explore far beyond the courses they

are enrolled in. The traditional lecture could, in fact, become an online multimedia package to be viewed at home or on a smart phone on the bus before class, so students can use their time on campus better to make sense of its contents.

With a world of knowledge now just a click away, the future meaning of literacy may well become the ability to sift rapidly through information online, to critically assess its credibility and value and to understand how to apply it.





THE Baillieu government's decision to abandon its predecessor's policy to phase out the brown coal power plant at Hazelwood in the Latrobe Valley is regrettable, and the way it was announced is cynical. It calls into question the sincerity of the state Coalition's claims to want to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Victoria.

A little after 4pm on Tuesday - that is, on federal budget day - the Victorian Minister for Energy and Resources, Michael O'Brien, issued a media statement announcing that the government had discontinued discussions with Hazelwood's owner, International Power, on the staged closure of the high-polluting power station. The timing of the announcement suggests the state government is embarrassed by the move, as it should be, and exposes Mr O'Brien as a hypocrite.

Two years ago, when the then Labor state government used federal budget day to announce approval for Crown casino to expand its gambling facilities, Mr O'Brien accused it of trying to bury a bad decision. Last year, when former police chief Christine Nixon announced her resignation as head of Victoria's Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority on the day the federal election was called, Mr O'Brien said an embarrassment for the state government had been revealed ''under the cover of a federal election''.

But Mr O'Brien's cynicism is not the worst of it. The Hazelwood decision blows a gaping hole in Victoria's prospects of reducing emissions by 20 per cent on year 2000 levels by 2020. When that target was set by former premier John Brumby last year, The Age welcomed his national leadership on climate change policy, identified the phased closure of Hazelwood as a vital part of the plan, but noted that the state government had not fully explained how such an ambitious goal would be funded and achieved.

Now, under Premier Ted Baillieu, Victoria is regressing. Mr Baillieu is reluctant to put his name to Mr Brumby's target for emission cuts, saying only that he regards the 20 per cent by 2020 figure as ''aspirational''. Setting a target does not guarantee the desired result, but it sends an important signal. If the state government is now content for Hazelwood to continue operating as normal, pending any agreement by the federal parliament to impose a price on carbon, then it is incumbent on Mr Baillieu to detail serious alternative abatement policies.

Mr O'Brien says of the 20 per cent by 2020 target, ''We would like to achieve that.''

The question for Mr Baillieu and Mr O'Brien is, how?







TEN years ago, The Age noted a key constraint on public funding of research: ''It is fair to say that a synchrotron is not at the top of most voters' wish lists - if indeed they have ever heard of such a thing.'' The $200 million Australian Synchrotron has had huge benefits for research in its five years of operation, but could shut down next year after the Baillieu government failed to fund it in last week's budget. While the facility may be seen as politically dispensable, allowing it to close would be unforgivably short-sighted.

The plight of the synchrotron is part of a wider problem. The Gillard government's scrapping of Parliament's standing committee on industry, science and innovation spoke volumes. Tuesday's federal budget spared medical research after public protests, but cut funding for government research activities by 2 per cent in 2011-12.

Despite budget estimates offering four-year funding of $3 billion, the CSIRO takes a cut - its first in a decade - in 2011-12, as do other research centres. Environmental and climate science suffer strategically scattered cuts. Agricultural research funding falls 8.3 per cent, hitting core areas such as grains, meat, dairy and horticulture. Australia suffers from ignorance of how research generates the knowledge and innovation on which our well-being and wealth depend. Pure research isn't valued unless it offers almost immediate commercial returns, which is rare.

At least 2500 researchers who use the synchrotron have no doubt about its value. The facility is in Melbourne because of its concentration of industries and research institutes that use it. Australia has nothing else like it - without it, researchers would go overseas. Monash University professor James Whisstock, who used the synchrotron to reveal the workings of a key molecule in the body's defences against disease, summed up the case for its funding: ''We should be accepting it as a very important part of the national infrastructure.''

The synchrotron is an extraordinarily powerful tool. Its intense particle beams can be used as a super-microscope to discern the structure and properties of matter at sub-molecular levels, or used in the design and manufacture of drugs and materials. Analysis that once took months or years, consuming funding all the while, can be done in weeks. The fields of research are diverse, including proteins and other biological molecules; material analysis and microfabrication (such as tiny computer chips); chemical and mineral analyses; and medical imaging.

Recent advances include ways to double the strength of sheepskin leather for use in shoes (an estimated $100 million benefit) and analysis of cereal micro-nutrients to improve food crops. It may be possible to starve malaria parasites to death by disabling an enzyme after its structure was revealed by the synchrotron. This could save 1 million lives a year and deliver huge returns, as malaria cripples economies.

So why isn't funding secure? The buck passing has begun. Federal Innovation Minister Kim Carr blames his state counterpart's tardy response for the budget being ''closed off'' to the project. Past administrative controversies also did not help its cause. Nor is its status as former premier John Brumby's ''pet project'' helpful in securing $156 million over five years to keep running or $294 million to run all 30 beam lines. Last week, Innovation Minister Louise Asher described these funding needs as more Labor ''black holes''. She claimed to understand the synchrotron's scientific value, yet won't guarantee its future.

The synchrotron could yet be lost to the black hole of political and public ignorance of science. Ironically, one of our greatest scientists, Sir Mark Oliphant, was the first to design a synchrotron and returned home with a dream of building one here. His attempts of half a century ago foundered. Sir Mark's vision was vindicated only long after his dream machine had been scorned as a ''white Oliphant''.

It would be a scientific and economic tragedy if Australia repeated that history.







Tepco may apologise profusely, but the nuclear industry has lost the stranglehold it once had over the energy debate

It took 10 years to rebuild Kobe after the earthquake in 1995, but that timeframe is now looking optimistic for the reconstruction needed along the north-eastern coastline of Japan. Two months ago, the black wave of the tsunami engulfed 16 towns, 95,000 buildings, 23 railway stations, hundreds of miles of road, railway tracks and sea walls. Over 60,000 acres of agricultural land were contaminated. It will take three years just to clear the debris.

In spite of the enormity of the task ahead, there are signs that Japan is moving away from disaster management. It may not be, however, politics as usual. Hauled over the coals, not least by his own party, for the way his government dealt with the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the embattled prime minister, Naoto Kan, has begun to make decisions which are political in nature. He ordered the temporary closure of Hamaoka – the nuclear plant which sits on an active faultline – while a new tsunami wall is built, and he has abandoned plans to build 14 reactors over the next 20 years, opting instead for a 20% increase in renewables.

This contrasts with the recommendation of Britain's climate change committee this week to increase reliance on nuclear energy. The Department of Energy and Climate Change is also considering a proposal that would cut the subsidy, through feed-in tariffs for generators of solar power. Disaster-stricken Japan is moving in the opposite direction, and it is brutally clear why. Over 80,000 people living within 12 miles of Fukushima have been forced out of their homes and it is far from clear when they will be able to return. Farmers have been forced to abandon their cows, or dump their milk. The compensation bill alone for the 50,000 families forced to leave the exclusion zone could be astronomical. Tepco may apologise deeply and profusely, but Japan's nuclear industry has lost the stranglehold it once had over the energy debate. There are no votes in trying to defend it now.

Stabilising Fukushima and building 70,000 temporary homes are immediate problems. But long-term answers will be just as significant. These are being sought by an ambitious team of philosophers and architects led by Makoto Iokibe, a former professor at Kobe university and someone determined not to repeat the same mistakes. Seeking higher ground for the new communities of the north-east is the least of their ideas. He talks of creative reconstruction – decentralising power away from Tokyo, a reconstruction tax, decreasing the wealth gap between urban and rural areas, creating a springboard for green energy. A truly radical approach will be resisted, but the debate itself has to be had.





Beginning his second term as first minister the SNP leader is a political wizard, weaving the spell of national destiny

The end of Britain? Don't believe it, or at least don't believe it quite yet. True, a week after Scotland voted in a majority SNP government, the result looks no less extraordinary. Dozens of first-time MSPs were sworn in at Holyrood yesterday and three opposition parties are looking for new leaders. A referendum on independence of some sort, at some time, is a certainty. Scotland, and Britain, will be profoundly changed by what has happened. Alex Salmond, beginning his second term as Scotland's first minister, is nothing short of a political wizard, weaving the spell of national destiny. But none of this means the union with England is necessarily at its end, or that its future will even be the main issue to confront Scots over the new parliament's five-year term.

What matters in Scotland, as elsewhere in Britain, are the economy, the deficit and the provision of good public services. These are the things the majority SNP government must confront, now without the excuse of minority rule or a Labour predecessor to explain away any failings. Mr Salmond knows this. He will not be so silly as to stage an immediate constitutional fight he would lose – Scottish independence still being more popular in England than Scotland. He needs to show (as it is doubtful he can do) how the universal free provision of services such as university education is affordable without making them worse. He needs to reduce spending by 12% in real terms by 2015, while preparing for the much greater degree of fiscal autonomy now passing through Westminster in the Scotland bill. Most of all he needs to prove that the different path taken in Scotland can lead to a better, rather than a spendthrift and unproductive public sector. There is, Westminster's Scottish Affairs committee (Labour chaired and with a single SNP MP among its 11 members) concluded in a recent report, "a strong element of both a grievance and a dependency culture in Scottish politics". It noted that while state spending in Scotland shot up from £13.2bn in 2000 to £24.1bn in 2008-09, "it is not clear that an ever larger flow of money has resulted in better or more efficient spending".

None of this is to diminish Mr Salmond's brilliant political success. Although, in total, only a quarter of Scottish voters turned out for his party (and many might not do the same in a Westminster election), the result was a personal and party triumph. Mr Salmond was clearly Scotland's choice, winning 69 seats in all parts of the nation. He set out a positive vision, as Labour, obsessed with coalition government in London, did not. The Scottish Lib Dems have lost their role, while the Scottish Tories did not live up to what seemed the promise of their likable former leader. The SNP also succeeded in winning much middle class and business support. As Douglas Alexander points out in an interview in Progress magazine, Labour, north of the border, did not. Unionist parties can no longer take for granted the support of people who once feared nationalism would leave Scotland poorer and more isolated. Instead, Mr Salmond has succeeded in making the opposite case.

Even without an SNP government, Scotland would have remained on course to gain greater powers. The Scotland bill vastly extends Scotland's existing right to vary income tax rates and allows some borrowing rights. Mr Salmond wants more than this, including a possible cut in corporation tax. London politicians will have to judge their response carefully, as Mr Salmond himself did in the last parliament. He showed then that the SNP could run a competent administration and has been rewarded for it. For all the excitement of last week's election, Scotland's future will once again be decided by the slow, boring work of government. Only if they judge the SNP to have succeeded in that, should Scotland's voters be prepared to consider their national constitutional future.






A journey marks the 60th anniversary of Dolgoch pulling the first passenger train on the newly reopened Talyllyn railway in 1951

On Saturday, a bright red tank engine called Dolgoch will pull a narrow-gauge passenger train from the Welsh coast at Tywyn up into the hills. The journey marks the 60th anniversary of Dolgoch pulling the first passenger train on the newly reopened Talyllyn railway in 1951. Run largely by volunteers, this was the world's first preserved railway, the start of a much loved and still growing global industry. Now lovingly restored, Dolgoch also headed the Talyllyn's very first train 145 years ago. This weekend's event, however, is also a celebration of those who made such enchanting journeys possible in an era of austerity when the preservation of an obscure and archaic railway in north Wales was, at best, an eccentric diversion from the need to build a modern postwar Britain. The driving force behind both the Talyllyn revival and the railway preservation movement was the engineer and writer Lionel Thomas Caswall Rolt. From the age of 16, LTC – Tom – Rolt worked with steam ploughs and locomotives. With a quiet passion for narrow boats, he founded the Inland Waterways Association; he was also joint founder of the Vintage Sports Car Club. He was the acclaimed biographer of IK Brunel. His love of the countryside was captured in a collection of lyrical essays, The Clouded Mirror, published in 1955. An early environmentalist, Rolt did much to make enthusiasm for a gentler and slower world popular. And he proved that you and I, with a sufficient head of enthusiasm and steam, could even run a railway.




            THE JAPAN TIMES



On April 30, foreign ministers from 10 nonnuclear weapons states — Japan, Australia, Germany, Canada, Chile, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates — gathered in Berlin and issued a statement reaffirming their joint intention to "work toward achieving nuclear disarmament and a stronger international nonproliferation regime." Their first meeting had been held in New York in September 2010 at Japan and Australia's initiative.

In Berlin, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said "we have seen very little practical work done" one year after the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in New York. Nuclear weapons states should positively respond to the foreign ministers' call for full-scale negotiations for a treaty to ban the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons and to have the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty take effect.

The foreign ministers applied the concept of reducing nuclear risks to both nuclear weapons problems and problems in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

In view of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, they called for "elevating the safety of nuclear power plants to the highest level and strengthening nuclear safety measures worldwide."

It is highly regrettable that Japan has caused nuclear accidents rated at the highest severity level on the International Nuclear Event Scale. Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said that Japan has now entered a stage where it aims to end the nuclear crisis methodically.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the use of nuclear energy requires transparency and the development of safety standards.

Japan has the international obligation to thoroughly examine why the Fukushima accidents occurred, what went wrong in handling them and whether there were errors in reactor designs. It must establish a strong, independent investigatory commission and keep safe all raw information and documents. It then must disclose all relevant information.





Two months since the March 11 earthquake-tsunami hit Tohoku, the nearly 120,000 evacuees still living in temporary shelters are more likely to suffer a deterioration in health. Therefore, help from the medical professionals on the scene has become more important than ever, as the tsunami swept away numerous medical facilities, and killed many local doctors and nurses.

After the 1995 Kobe quake, some 500 survivors died within 48 hours because of inadequate medical treatment. In total, more than 900 people died for similar reasons. The lesson from the Kobe quake gave rise to the establishment of disaster medical assistance teams (DMATs). After the March 11 disasters, some 340 DMATs from around Japan arrived in the impacted areas.

Meanwhile, the Japan Medical Association, a nationwide organization of doctors, for the first time, organized the Japan Medical Assistance Teams (JMATs). It has sent some 700 JMATs from across the country to the devastated region.

In addition to these teams, groups from university and Red Cross hospitals and nonprofit medical organizations went to the disaster area. Eighteen helicopters carrying doctors transported patients from isolated hospitals in the tsunami-hit region to places where better medical and other treatment were available.

Usually medical professionals who go to the devastated areas do a week's stint before being relieved by other medical professionals. Ways should be considered to enable long-term support for the disaster areas. There were not many hospital doctors in the coastal region of northeastern Japan to begin with.

Doctors and other medical professionals working in these areas are exhausted. Evacuees need to be protected against illnesses such as hypertension, "economy-class syndrome" (from lack of activity), pneumonia and other infectious diseases. Some of them need psychiatric care.

The JMA, the national associations of nurses, pharmacists and dentists, medical school deans, university hospital heads, and the central and local governments must cooperate to ensure long-term medical support to disaster victims.






Special to The Japan Times

HONG KONG — Osama bin Laden is dead, but the troubling questions continue. It's far too early to declare an end of the war against terror. Bin Laden was only the ugly face of a hydra-headed terror monster that has been spreading tentacles in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Europe and America. But governments should remember that it is a monster best defeated by brains, not brute force.

The most difficult questions concern Muslim, nuclear-armed Pakistan and its relationship with the United States, Afghanistan and the world. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani gave a robust speech in defense of Pakistan, its armed forces and intelligence services without answering the questions: How could the world's most wanted terrorist have lived for six or seven years within a bullet shot of Pakistan's military academy and the headquarters of its controversial spy agency without them knowing he was there?

How in a country supposedly on constant alert against terrorists could no one ask questions about who occupied the virtual fortress in Abbottabad? Was it complicity or incompetence?

Americans, including Leon Panetta, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, have asked whether Pakistan can be trusted. Pakistanis say the same about the U.S., with some questioning whether, especially in the absence of a photograph, bin Laden is really dead or whether he was in the raided compound. Former feared chief spymaster Gen. Hamid Gul claimed that the U.S. raid was a fake trying to bring closure, even though al-Qaida admitted that bin Laden had been killed

Commentators have raised questions about the future of Pakistan — will it become a failed state or hard-line Islamic or perhaps even collapse? There are few signs of an "Arab spring" of reformists rising in Pakistan as they have done through the Middle East and North Africa to offer another option instead of dictatorship or al-Qaida's brand of Islam.

The complete collapse of Pakistan seems unthinkable not merely because of questions of who would pick up the pieces. This is not a rag-tag of tribes, though tribal influences are strong, and Pakistan's abiding problem is that it was a rag-tag creation out of British India. It is a large chunk of territory strategically located between the Himalayas and the Arabian Sea with 180 million people, half of whom are under 20, and with a powerful military that possesses nuclear weapons.

Although its economy is in a mess, unemployment is rising and the state structures seem incapable of responding to the challenges of the economy or demography, Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is growing, as if immune to economic and budgetary constraints.

It is possible to imagine parts of Pakistan being parceled off, with the North West Frontier added to Afghanistan to form Paktoonistan or Pakhtunland. If Baluchistan were included, that would give the new creation access to the sea, though Iran might claim Pakistan's Baluch territory. Pakistani Punjab plus Sindh would certainly be a viable state and one that India might accept as not threatening to its own existence, except for the troubling nuclear weapons.

The wider problem is that Pakistan is intricately wrapped round a bigger great power equation involving not only Afghanistan, Iran and India but also the U.S., China and Russia. All the major players have dirty hands.

For decades, successive U.S. administrations gave billions of dollars of "aid" to Pakistan, much of which was wasted on building up the military to counterbalance Soviet economic and military assistance to India. The most cynical U.S. support came when "Dr. Realpolitik" Henry Kissinger was running foreign policy under President Richard Nixon and favored Pakistan's military regime even when it was slaughtering East Bengalis who had voted in the fairest elections the country had seen for greater autonomy from Pakistan.

"Kill three million of them and the rest will fall into our hands," declared Pakistan President Gen. Yahya Khan in launching his crackdown on East Bengal civilians who had the temerity to vote against rule from 1,600 km away in Islamabad. Ten million refugees fled to squalid camps in India. Kissinger wanted to keep Pakistan sweet so that he could use it as his secret launching point for talks to resume relations with Mao Zedong's China.

Beijing has used its relationship with Pakistan equally cynically to ply regimes with weapons and nuclear know-how and has become Islamabad's main sponsor now that Washington's conscience has belatedly stirred about what has been gained from tens of millions of dollars of aid to Pakistan.

A report last month in the Wall Street Journal claimed that Pakistan's Prime Minister Gilani had suggested to Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai that they cut America out and form an alliance with China to do a deal with the Taliban and give both favored access to the whole AfPak region. Fear of such a deal will surely keep Washington talking and sending vast sums of aid to Islamabad, even though some of that aid is being passed by the Pakistan military to the Taliban for use against Americans.

Then there is India. Brahma Chellaney wrote on this page in his May 7 article, "The heartland of bin Laden," that "demilitarizing and deradicalizing Pakistan" is essential for winning the fight against international terror — easier said than done as the military is the main pan-Pakistan force. The statement ignores India's failures in Kashmir, which have helped to radicalize generations of Muslims on both sides of the borders. India has to be part of a solution, but there seems to be no interest in the U.S., China or Pakistan in letting India play a role, and little imagination in India to suggest a constructive path for some of the poorest people in the world to live in peace.

The death of bin Laden is not a story with a happy ending. It would have a better chance if there were a United Nations or any nations with the guts to stand up to the U.S., China and Russia and urge policies based on right and rights, not might. Pakistanis might meanwhile reflect that 34,000 of them have paid the price in terror attacks since 9/11, 12 times as many as died in the Twin Towers.

Kevin Rafferty's reporting on Asia started with the East Pakistan cyclone and elections in 1970.







ROME — Lack of food is rarely the reason that people go hungry. The world today produces enough food to feed everyone. The problem is that more and more people simply cannot afford to buy the food they need. Even before the recent food-price increases, a billion people were suffering from chronic hunger, while another 2 billion were experiencing malnutrition, bringing the total number of food-insecure people to around 3 billion, or almost half the world's population.

Global food prices are at the highest level since the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization started monitoring them in 1990. The World Bank estimates that recent food-price increases have driven an additional 44 million people in developing countries into poverty.

The rapid rise in world prices for all basic food crops — corn, wheat, soybeans, and rice — along with other foods like cooking oils, has been devastating for poor households all over the world. But almost everybody's standard of living has been reduced. Middle-class people are increasingly careful about their food purchases; the near-poor are losing headway and falling below, rather than staying above, the poverty line; and the poor and vulnerable, not surprisingly, are suffering even more. Food production increased greatly with the quest for food security and the Green Revolution from the 1960s to the 1980s, owing to considerable government and international not-for-profit support. But agricultural experts have warned of the risks of the flagging efforts to boost food output since the 1980s.

As food-supply growth has slowed, demand has continued to rise, owing not only to population increase, but also for reasons such as growing use of food crops to sustain livestock.

The problem is exacerbated by the significant drop in official development assistance for agricultural development in developing countries.

Aid for agriculture fell by more than half in the quarter-century after 1980, as the World Bank cut agricultural lending from $7.7 billion in 1980 to $2 billion in 2004. With cuts continuing, agricultural research and development — needed to improve crop productivity — has fallen for all crops in all developing countries.

Meanwhile, in the private sector, agribusinesses spend much more on research than all public agricultural research institutes together. Developing-country governments also stopped subsidizing farmers or being involved in food marketing, storage, transportation, or credit provision. Meanwhile, rich countries continue to subsidize and protect their farmers, thereby undermining food production in developing countries.

The World Bank and the World Trade Organization still insist that further agricultural trade liberalization is the best medium-term solution. Since the 1980s, governments have been pressed to promote exports to earn foreign exchange and import food. As a result, many poor countries have turned to the world market to buy cheap rice and wheat, instead of growing their own.

Some countries and regions that were previously self-sufficient in food now import large quantities of it. This drives up food prices, causing even more anguish for the world's poorest people.

Other factors have contributed to the food crisis. Climate changes resulting from greenhouse-gas emissions exacerbate water-supply problems, accelerate desertification and water stress, and worsen the unpredictability and severity of weather events, all of which adversely affect agriculture in much of the world. Deforestation, growing population pressure, urbanization, soil erosion, over-fishing, and the impact of foreign domination over marketing, inputs, processing and farming also play a role.

Increased oil prices are also affecting the price of food. Commercial agriculture uses petroleum, oil and gas to operate machinery, transport goods, and produce agro-chemicals needed for fertilizers and pesticides. Moreover, food crops are being grown to produce bio-fuels, reducing their availability for human consumption. Rich countries have provided generous subsidies and other incentives for increased bio-fuel production, while poorer countries encouraging bio-fuel production have provided far fewer market-distorting incentives to farmers.

Certainly, some bio-fuels are far more cost-effective and energy-efficient than others, while different bio-fuel stocks have different opportunity costs (for example, sugar has not experienced any significant price increase). Hence, the debate over bio-fuels needs to be far more nuanced.

Speculation and hoarding have also been contributing to food-price spikes. More securitization, easier online trading, and other financial-market developments in recent years have facilitated greater speculative investments, especially in commodity futures and options markets. As the financial crisis deepened and spread from late 2007, speculators began investing in commodities, and the dollar's decline relative to other currencies has also induced such investments.

Indeed, this may explain recent food-price surges better than the factors underlying longer-term gradual upward price trends. In that case, the problem that many people around the world are facing today is one of food security, not a lack of food. Of course, if you are hungry or undernourished today as a result of food-price increases, that is a distinction without a difference.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram is U.N. assistant secretary general for economic development. © Project-Syndicate, 2011






JERUSALEM — During the turmoil of the French Revolution, a popular saying arose: "How beautiful was the republic — under the monarchy." The revolution aimed at achieving liberty, equality and fraternity. Instead, it wrought for France Jacobin terror, rightwing counterterror, decades of war and then Napoleonic tyranny.

A similar challenge now faces North Africa and the Middle East, where most Arab countries are experiencing massive upheavals. Historically speaking, what is now happening is without precedent in the Arab world. For the first time, Arab authoritarian regimes have been toppled, and others are threatened, by demonstrations calling for freedom and democracy. Previously, Arab regimes changed through military coups and other putsches, never through popular revolutions.

During the great democratic wave of the 1990s, which brought down dictatorships in Eastern Europe, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, nothing similar happened in Arab North Africa and the Middle East. Now, however, the region's political inertia has been disrupted. Cairo's Tahrir Square has become a symbol for both hope and "people power." Yet, while most Arab regimes now appear threatened, only two authoritarian rulers — Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt — have been actually deposed so far.

Theirs were relatively "soft" autocracies. Much more oppressive and ruthless rulers — Col. Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, Bashar Assad in Syria and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen — though seriously threatened, have proven far more resilient in suppressing popular opposition. Even in tiny Bahrain, the Sunni minority has, for now, succeeded in maintaining its rule over the Shiite majority, albeit with military help from neighboring Sunni-led countries.

As always, it is easier to bring down an autocracy than to construct and consolidate a democratic regime. When communism in Eastern Europe collapsed, their old systems, despite some obvious differences, had the same characteristics: they were one-party dictatorships, with state control over the economy, education, and the media.

Today, they are very different from each other. Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary, for example, navigated a successful transition to democracy and a functioning market economy. Russia reverted to a neo-authoritarian system. The ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia have all developed "sultanistic" forms of government.

The reason for these differences is simple: democratic transition requires not only elections, but also several pre-conditions — a vibrant civil society; previous traditions, whether actual or remembered, of representation, pluralism, tolerance, and individualism; a limited role of religion; and an effective institutional framework for a multi-party system. Where these conditions exist, a transition to democracy can succeed; where they are missing, the chances — as in Russia — for a transition to a consolidated democracy are slim.

Developments in Egypt will be crucial, not only because it is the largest Arab country, but also because some of the necessary pre-conditions appear to have a stronger presence there than elsewhere in the region.

Yet, even in Egypt, the challenges are enormous. With early elections called for September, there is serious doubt as to whether opposition groups will have the time, means and experience to organize effective political parties. Now, only the army — which has effectively ruled the country since 1952 — and the Muslim Brotherhood, which has the widest social networks, appear to be serious players.

Will the army be willing to give up the enormous political and economic clout that it has amassed over decades? One hears about a possible modus vivendi between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, some activists are already back in Tahrir Square demonstrating against such an incongruous yet possible alliance.

In Libya, if Gadhafi falls, can such a highly tribalized country possess the building blocks needed for a functioning democracy?

The issue, one should emphasize, is not Islam as such: In Europe, the Catholic Church was for a long time the greatest enemy of democracy and liberalism. Yet Christian Democratic parties today are one of the pillars of European democracy.

Like Christianity, Islam can also change, and Indonesia and Turkey could well be examples for such a possibility. But a context in which a fundamentalist Islamic group like the Muslim Brotherhood is the strongest organization in society, with very little effective countervailing powers, creates a serious challenge.

How will all of this influence the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which appears stuck? It may be difficult to know, especially as the fundamentalist Hamas, now in control of Gaza, might be encouraged by the rising power of its parent organization in Egypt. The recent escalation of violence along Gaza's border with Israel does suggest that events are developing in a dangerous direction.

As for Israel, it initially responded to the Arab revolts in a confused way. Now its leaders maintain that they would welcome democratic changes in the region as a guarantor of peace and common values, though they express skepticism about whether such developments are imminent.

Skepticism is in order also with respect to the unknown consequences of Western military intervention in Libya: It may have been asked for by the Arab League and legitimized by the U.N. Security Council, yet the outcome is far from certain.

Whatever happens in Libya will have repercussions across the region. The road to democracy has always been rocky — look at a century of upheavals in Europe. It is to be hoped that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel in the Arab Middle East as well, but the tunnel may be long.

Shlomo Avineri, former director general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, is a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. © Project Syndicate, 2011








The two-day international conference on combating graft in international business transactions, which concluded in Bali on Wednesday, has heightened the momentum in the fight against all forms of graft.

For Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), as the co-organizer of the event, the gathering was the right forum to learn best practices in combating business graft because the other co-organizer, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has made many notable achievements through the enforcement of its own Anti-Bribery Convention.

It was also a useful forum for the 400-plus delegates from 55 countries who took part in the event — to review international and national legal frameworks for fighting foreign graft; to share experiences and best practices in the fight against foreign bribery and corruption; and to foster cooperation in foreign bribery cases.

More governments and businesses around the world have begun to realize that bribery — whether committed by foreign or domestic businesses — has serious consequences because it distorts markets and undermines sustainable development and good governance.

The 1997-1998 economic crisis in Indonesia jolted many businesspeople into realizing that corruption and bribery create an environment of uncertainty in business operations. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that after one bribe is paid, a demand for another will usually follow. Also, if a customer doesn't get what they bribe for they are in no position to complain since they have also broken the law. This vicious circle rolls on as bribing businesspeople are vulnerable to blackmail and threats from groups who profit from them.

The 1997 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, which has so far been enforced by 38 countries, has been quite an effective weapon in making the fight against foreign bribery gain global momentum.

A few years ago, writing off bribes against tax was still allowed in several developed countries, but not any more.

OECD members and six other partner countries have made it a criminal offense for their companies to bribe foreign officials in commercial transactions anywhere in the world. But bribery in international business deals remains rampant outside OECD countries.

However, attacking the supply side of bribery is still a major boon.

In November the Group of 20 (G20) major economies, of which Indonesia is also a member, joined the global fight against bribery by adopting an anticorruption action plan that calls on all of its member states to adopt and enforce laws and other measures against international corruption, such as the criminalization of the bribery of foreign public officials.

G20 countries also are required to begin in 2012 a more active engagement within the OECD Working Group on Bribery and to eventually ratify the Convention.

The Bali conference provided an impetus for making foreign bribery truly at the forefront of the global agenda on combating corruption, in efforts to help to ensure the full participation of relevant stakeholders.

The results of Indonesia's domestic anticorruption campaign are still far below expectations because the problems here have become so complex that corruption has long been perceived as endemic, systemic and deeply institutionalized, involving the entire system of government, and notably the judiciary and police.

Indonesia nevertheless deserved to host such an international gathering because fighting graft was one of the top priorities of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration and the achievements it has made so far, though seen by many as poor, should be commended.





Many celebrated Osama bin Laden's death. This was absolutely true in the US, especially for relatives of people, the firefighters and police officers who died as the Twin Towers collapsed in the 9/11 attack in 2001.

Following the death of Bin Laden, US President Barack Obama said the US would take extra precautions against possible anti-American sentiments or threats to US facilities and citizens both in America and around the world.

A different reaction toward Bin Laden's death was seen in other countries, such as Pakistan and Indonesia.

Hundreds of people took to the streets in the Pakistani city of Quetta on Friday last week to pay tribute to Bin Laden and to call for a holy war against America.

In Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country, scores of youths rallied last Friday to seek revenge for Bin Laden's death in the Central Java town of Surakarta.

Such celebrations have more to do with conflicting versions from US officials about the way the al-Qaeda leader was killed. At first, the White House said Bin Laden was armed, but later spokesman Jay Carney corrected that account. Things got worse as the sea burial of Bin Laden ended up enraging Muslims.

Killing and not capturing Bin Laden, followed by a burial at sea, which is not considered a proper Islamic burial, was counterproductive in the war against terrorism.

Many Muslims, not simply hard-line groups, believe the US does not now really show a friendly attitude toward Islam and Muslims, or even might be at war with Islam.

In Indonesia, with terrorism in the air, the death of Bin Laden may cause an escalation in terrorism.

Bin Laden's death might consolidate terrorist groups in the country. Since the Bali bombing, the police and its counterterrorism unit, Detachment 88, have arrested hundreds of people for their alleged link to al-Qaeda-affiliated Jamaah Islamiyah.

Some were executed, while others were shot to death or put in prison. Massive arrests and disclosures of terrorists are believed to have lessened the strength of terrorists in this country.

However, the death of Bin Laden might be a rallying point for reviving terrorist groups and cells in Indonesia.

Retaliation may become a jihad project against the Indonesian government and military, which are considered as having sided with the US in its war on terrorism.

Rather than putting increasing pressure on the terrorist groups, Bin Laden's death is source of encouragement to follow the path of martyrdom for the jihad warrior.

It is important to note that the phrase "be like Osama or try to be like Osama" reflects Indonesian terrorists' dream in their attempts to achieve the dignity of Islam and Muslims.

Psychologically speaking, it is very likely that a schism within the terrorist groups will create support for acts of terror against the Indonesian government, liberal Muslims, the police and US interests in this country.

There seems to be a rise in lone jihadists. The suicide bombing of the mosque in Cirebon was done by a free radical or lone wolf who planned and carried out his attack without the support or backing of major networks.

The so-called lone jihadists rely upon individuals for interpreting Islamic messages conveyed by fundamentalist Muslim scholars, including Osama bin Laden. They absorbed the teaching from books and the Internet rather than from the leader of an institutionalized terrorist group in this country.

In his speeches and writing, Bin Laden urged Muslims to advocate individual jihad (jihad fardiyah), besides upholding organized jihad (jihad tanzim). Bin Laden's demise encourages individual jihad since many lone jihadists appear to have a nasty habit (isti'jal) to make any change.

Therefore, individual jihad is deemed as speeding up their wish to avenge Bin Laden's death, retaliate against the US and its allies and spread fear among the public by force.

Fighting terrorism in Indonesia remains a long-run struggle. The war on terror is perhaps larger than that the war in Afghanistan and, in the long run, is not governed by Bin Laden.

Bin Laden was just an icon, a powerful face and a capable speaker for its cause. Terrorism is a mind-set and no one can destroy mind-sets through wars.

Indonesia's terrorist masterminds and perpetrators inspired by Bin Laden should realize they are facing the same problem.

Even if they destroy 10 more landmarks of Western civilization, they will be unable to defeat the very spirit of the materialist, entrepreneurial, assertive and splendid West that is so abominable to them.

With no apparent objective in this struggle, the two parties in the conflict are like an angry tiger and a nasty alley cat fighting in a pitch-black cave.

Indeed, Bin Laden's death has not led to the end of terrorism at home or at the international level. For Indonesia, it may pave the way for building up more reconciliation between moderate and fundamentalist Muslims.

Reduced tensions among the groups greatly creates peace in the country and security based on a smart balance between freedom and responsibility, between openness and control.

The writer is a lecturer at Andalas University, Padang, and a graduate of the University of Canberra in Australia.







On May 4, 2011, the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO), an independent surveillance and regional monitoring office, was officially established during the 14th ASEAN+3 Finance Ministers' Meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, which was held during the 44th annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank.

Wei Benhua from China was appointed as the director of AMRO.

AMRO is crucial to the operation of the Chiang Mai Initiatives Multilateralization (CMIM). This is a positive development after the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis. However, technical coordination with multilateral institutions, especially the IMF, is needed so that regionalism will not be in conflict with nor irrelevant to multilateralism.

After the Asian financial crisis, ASEAN+3 economists, some of whom were disappointed with the management of the crisis under the IMF, realized the need to establish an economic institution to safeguard the ASEAN+3 countries from another financial crisis and exchange rate speculation attack, as well as to facilitate regional economic cooperation.

Thirteen countries consisting of the 10 ASEAN countries plus China, Japan and Korea, now termed the ASEAN+3 countries, gathered together in December 1997 in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the establishment of a regional economic institution. This was the first summit to begin the Asian regional economic cooperation after the 1997-1998 financial crisis.

On May 6, 2000, the Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI) Bilateral Swap was initiated to protect member countries from short-term liquidity crises by borrowing from reserves of partner countries.

By 2004, the ASEAN+3 countries had managed to agree on five main pillars of regional financial arrangements, namely the CMI, the Asian Bond Market Initiatives, the Economic Review and Policy Dialogue or ERPD, as well as the ASEAN+3 Research groups.

In 2008, the CMI was transformed into a much stronger CMIM, and a self-managed reserve pool amounting to US$80 billion based on the CMIM was created.

On Feb. 19, 2009, the ASEAN+3 countries met in Phuket, Thailand, to advance the agreement on expanding the reserve pool to $120 billion in order to better safeguard member countries against liquidity crisis. Commitment for more integration was reiterated as Asian exports slumped.

On May 3, 2009, the 12th meeting of the ASEAN+3 Finance Ministers concluded with significant steps toward institutionalizing ASEAN+3 regional financial integration and activating the regional reserve pool.

Three main agreements were reached. The first agreement was on the proportion of the regional reserve pool that based the voting rights. China and Japan would hold the highest, co-equal proportion of the reserve pool.

Japan and China, including Hong Kong, would each contribute $38.4 billion, or 32 percent of the total. South Korea would provide $19.2 billion, or 16 percent. South Korea, Japan and China contribute a combined 80 percent of the money, while ASEAN will contribute 20 percent of the money.

There was also a split in the decision-making process: Fundamental issues would be based on consensus while lending issues would be based on majority voting. The second agreement was on the maximum amount of lending for each member. The third agreement was on the creation of an independent regional surveillance unit that was later called AMRO.

The establishment of AMRO was crucial to the functioning of the CMIM and set a precedent for the regional financial integration. Despite the bilateral and multilateral swap agreements, none of the swap agreements has been activated since 2000.

One of the reasons is that only 20 percent of the CMI credit lines can be disbursed without the potential borrower having a lending program with the IMF. Because of bad experiences with the IMF for some of the ASEAN+3 countries during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, they are reluctant to deal with the IMF surveillance program. One of the goals of a more transparent and meaningful AMRO is therefore to increase the CMI credit lines that can be de-linked from the IMF surveillance process.

Indeed, regional and multilateral institutions need coordination. Recently, the IMF overhauled its lending and conditionality framework, including the new Flexible Credit Line (FCL) and High Access Precautionary Arrangement (HAPA), to help with global liquidity issues.

The IMF has also boosted its funding resources to lend to its members for crisis resolution through a 10-fold expansion of the New Arrangement to Borrow (NAB) — a set of credit arrangements between the IMF and 26 old plus 13 new members — that took effect on March 11, 2011.

The reforms increase the NAB from about $53 billion to $576 billion. All these reforms will boost the IMF lending and borrowing instruments both in terms of the size and speed of bailouts.

With the newly operating AMRO, technical coordination between the AMRO and the IMF's surveillance programs is demanded. Otherwise, they can either be overlapping, making either the regional or global financial mechanism redundant or contradictory, making policy conditionality for financial supports conflicting. AMRO has advantages over IMF surveillance programs in terms of the speed of updates and regional ownership (and therefore trust), while IMF has more technical experiences.

Already 80 percent of CMIM is linked to the IMF surveillance program, which should be an incentive to streamline IMF (including FCR and HAPA conditionality) and AMRO surveillance processes (and conditionality for bailouts). The recent joint EU-IMF rescue packages for the PIG economies (Portugal, Ireland, Greece) have shown that joint regional-multilateral collaborations for troubled economies were imperative, especially that $120 billion is relatively small for a size of a bailout.

The writer is a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and a lecturer at the University of Indonesia.






Indonesia's initiation of democratic reforms in May 1998 did not portend well for Chinese-Indonesians. Constituting less than 5 percent of Indonesia's 240 million people and concentrated in urban areas, Chinese-Indonesians were, at that point, still reeling from the anti-Chinese riots that had occurred just before Soeharto's fall.

Scarred by years of discrimination and forced assimilation under Soeharto, many Chinese-Indonesians were uncertain — once again — about what the "new" Indonesia had in store for them.

Yet, the transition to an open Indonesia has also resulted in greater space to be Chinese-Indonesian. Laws and regulations discriminating against Chinese-Indonesians have been repealed.

Chinese culture has grown visible in Indonesia. Mandarin Chinese, rarely the language of this minority in the past, evolved into a novel emblem of Chinese-Indonesians' public identity.

Notwithstanding the considerably expanded tolerance post-Soeharto Indonesia has shown Chinese-Indonesians, their delicate integration into Indonesian society is a work in progress.

Failure to foster full integration would condemn Chinese-Indonesians to a continued precarious existence in Indonesia and leave them vulnerable to violence at the next treacherous turning point in Indonesian politics.

This undermines Indonesia's ideals that celebrate the ethnic, religious and cultural pluralism of all its citizens.

Moreover, Chinese-Indonesians' journey of integration would remain incomplete, unless Indonesians — Chinese-Indonesians included — restart a civil conversation that examines how this minority fits in Indonesia's ongoing state- and nation-building project. In the process, this conversation will have to reconsider Chinese-Indonesians' locus in the nation.

In the social structure of the Dutch East Indies, sojourners, and later migrants, from China occupied the middleman position that served as a buffer between the few Dutch colonials and the many indigenous peoples of the East Indies.

However, political adherence of East Indies Chinese was arrayed along a wide spectrum: from devotion to Chinese nationalism in its Nationalist or Communist variants, to encouraging the preservation of the colonial status quo, to unambiguous support for the Indonesian nationalists.

Indonesia's botched coup of 1965 and the ensuing anti-Communist purges left Indonesian-Chinese in an increasingly untenable position. Alleged links between China, Indonesian Communists, and ethnic Chinese communities behind the failed coup emphasized the paranoia that Indonesian-Chinese are unchangingly committed to China and thus disloyal to Indonesia.

The Soeharto-era obsession with the so-called "triangular threats" laid the foundation for anti-Chinese discrimination because, as an Indonesian expression has it, "once Chinese, always Chinese."

But a funny thing happened on the way to Reformasi. While the ethnic Chinese had always been under the process of acculturation in the East Indies and later Indonesia, Soeharto's policy of forced assimilation — for better or worse — decisively sped up the process that transformed Indonesian-Chinese into Chinese-Indonesians. Generations of young ethnic Chinese in Indonesia grew up with no real or imagined bonds with China.

They spoke Indonesian or the local regional language. They embraced one of the five officially sanctioned religions of Indonesia, most likely Christianity or Buddhism. (Reform-era Indonesia eventually recognized the sixth official religion, Confucianism, in 2000.) From Olympian badminton player Susi Susanti to singer Agnes Monica, they shared in Indonesia's national life. They came to identify Indonesia as their homeland and themselves as Indonesians.

Indigenous and Chinese-Indonesians are not that different. Their dysfunctions are Indonesian, their challenges parallel, and their histories tightly intertwined. Consider, for example, the charge that Chinese Indonesians encourage corruption in Indonesia.

In an echo of the old colonial social structure, the Soeharto years were infamous for the corrupt Ali-Baba partnership, which describes a nexus between the crooked indigenous official, Ali, and his greedy Chinese businessman, Baba. The ill effects of these inequitable partnerships were, however, rarely blamed on Ali, who brought political cover to the partnership, but always on Baba, who faced the heat.

Or take the accusation that Chinese-Indonesians arrogantly refuse to integrate into local society. In fact, palpable animosity and anti-Chinese prejudice are what leads many Chinese-Indonesians to keep to themselves.

As illustrated in the cases of the Javanese in Aceh, the Madurese in Central Kalimantan, or the Buginese on Tarakan — all cases of severe social conflict between newly arrived and local indigenous Indonesians — the perils of failed social integration confront all Indonesians.

In addition, Chinese-Indonesians are not, and should not be, a substantive issue in Sino-Indonesian relations. This is underlined in China's muted and belated response to Indonesia's anti-Chinese riots in 1998, and the relative lack of its mention during Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's recent visit to Indonesia in April.

After all, the existence of ethnic kin across international borders has aroused little suspicion of disloyalty toward, say, Malay Indonesians, despite the long and continuing history of tension between Indonesia and Malaysia.

Most importantly, Chinese-Indonesians' greatest contribution to the Indonesian nation-building project might have lain in their unwitting role as Indonesia's internal Other. Constructing a common national identity among the many and evidently dissimilar indigenous peoples of Indonesia would have been much more challenging without
an Other.

Indonesia's external Other clearly exists beyond the national borders. Chinese Indonesians' role as an internal Other is, nevertheless, evident in their ascribed standing as the perennially "foreign" group against whom "real" indigenous Indonesians could coalesce and be contrasted.

Indonesia has moved on from the Soeharto-era preoccupation with Communism and ethnic Chinese links to Communist China, and Chinese-Indonesians continue to converge with the Indonesian mainstream.

Furthermore, the issue of economic inequality in Indonesia is evolving from one that carries a stigma for Chinese-Indonesians to one that all Indonesians must face, as more and more indigenous Indonesians steadily enter the middle classes. Indigenous and Chinese Indonesians have much more in common than they realize.

It is now time to restart the conversation.

The writer is project assistant at the East-West Center in Washington and works on Southeast Asian affairs. The opinions expressed are his own.








Having carefully considered the seriousness of the present situation in the country and without rushing to the press with a hastily prepared statement, I decided to write to you, breaking my long silence that I had been maintaining since the defeat of the LTTE on 19th May 2009. It is not my intention, to enter into the controversy and aggravate the situation further but only to see whether I can help to defuse the situation. I feel that I am matured enough to advice you on any matter. I hope you will take my advice seriously and save the country from facing grave crisis either in the near or distant future. I am stepping in only to do my duty to the country and its people I love most, in the best way possible without adding fuel to fire.

My sincere advice to you at this juncture, is primarily to prevent organizing demonstrations at random, all over the country and engaging in such other violent activities by enthusiastic people. Also please welcome publication of the report and face it. The ordinary people instigated by others, without understanding the consequences can do more damage by overdoing things. Even if the UN withholds the report from being published, it will somehow or other find its way to the press and in such a situation all the efforts taken will prove counterproductive.

Your Excellency,  Ban Ki-moon is just an individual, but the position he holds as Secretary General of the United Nations Organization is a very high and prestigious office at a World Organization, founded after the 2nd World War, mainly for the purpose of promoting international peace security and co-operation and having a membership of over 150 countries. The UN through its various branch organizations had always been very helpful to every country. Not only we, almost all countries depend on the UN for a variety of assistances in fields, such as Health, Education, Culture and many such others. The member countries also help each other directly. Ban Ki-moon is an individual but all his actions will be taken as that of the Secretary General of the United Nations, as long as he holds that office. Even though all member countries are friendly with us and had helped us in many ways, with a few exceptions, all countries will back the Secretary General of the UN and his actions and not that of Ban Ki-moon's. 

No one can deny that there were several thousands of causalities during the war. Very many factors contributed for this situation. How or why did this happen? All these must come to light. You are aware that I am neither a flatterer nor a stooge of the overnment or of the LTTE and had, off and on, not failed to criticize even some of your actions with which I did not agree as I did to the LTTE. In my opinion some people close to you or pretending to be close to you, merely to please you even though they themselves did not agree with you, over-played the "Mahinda Chinthanaya" tune without realizing the damage they were causing to your name and to your reputation. As a result there is a view among some people that some actions of the Government are not of the Mahinda Chinthanaya but in fact a diluted or polluted form of "Mahinda Chinthanaya". Please pardon me for saying so. This is how some people sell their ideas by smuggling their own ideas in to the Mahinda Chinthanaya. There are some who rushed to the press with statements and caused much embarrassment to you on certain issues, thereby compelling you to endorse their views as that of yours, when in fact you would or should have expressed entirely a different opinion. The people of this country elected you and only you as the Executive President of Sri Lanka, the highest position one could achieve, hence your powers should not be usurped by any one or encroached into even by persons very near and dear to you. You are the Sovereign Head of the State and hold this Country on trust.

Your Excellency, some who hold responsible positions say one thing today and another the next day subjected to severe criticism by the International Community in particular. The country has earned the displeasure of a fair section of the International Community due to the unwarranted interference and utterances of certain over enthusiastic individuals. The present crisis can be attributed to bad handling of the situation.

What the country needs today is absolute peace for all, for which a solution to the ethnic problem, acceptable to the minorities, is in-dispensable. I am sure that no reasonable person in this country will ever object to people's desire to live in the country as equals. All patriotic citizens will fully endorse my views. Although the country as a whole had suffered immensely the loss of life and property of the Tamils of the North and the East are far beyond ones imagination. I am sure you will agree that I never misled you or anybody else on any matter. The stand I took in relation to the LTTE was most honourable but the Tamil People got easily swayed by false propaganda and put an end to my political carrier. My only regret is that I would have saved several thousand lives and billions worth of property and even Prabhakaran and his cadre, if only he had listened to me. It was never my intention to have him destroyed but only wanted him to give up violence and turn to the Democratic Process.

It is now no use of talking about the past. A good opportunity came on your way with the Tsunami when people got united with full of sympathy for each other. I feel that confrontation with the SG – UN is unfortunate but this is a God sent opportunity for the country to get united and to work out a solution acceptable to all. Please consider accepting and implementing the recommendations of the expert committee headed by Professor R.K.W.Gunasekara. You can take it as one coming from a Bench of Judges of great repute.

In the alternative adopt the Indian model that I had been campaigning for since 2004. I had done a lot of lobbying both inside and outside the country. A number of ministers of your cabinet and a few UNP members with whom I had discussion were agreeable to my suggestion. I am sure you would not have forgotten your telling me, not to harp of the Federal System but to use the Indian model in all my statements appeals and such other writings. I want to know, Your Excellency, as to what you had in mind when you said that. If you take prompt action in this matter the biggest advantages would be, half a century old problem will find a solution, the heat generated locally and internationally will come down saving the country from the embarrassment caused by foreign intervention and permanent peace achieved.                       

V. Anandasangaree





I am writing in response to the article in your columns today by Dr Saravanamuttu. This is devoted entirely to me, as opposed to his previous practice of taking running pot shots. I shall reply in brief, since I am out of Colombo, but this is perhaps just as well, since it does not seem necessary to deal with each and every specific charge, passing innuendo and vigorous if imprecise self-defence in which he indulges.

With regard to the charges there seem to be just two of consequence. The first relates to his claim that I should have taken action on the note passed on to me at the British High Commission regarding Sarath Fonseka. I have explained at length why it would have been inappropriate to take formal cognizance of something given to me in the course of a visit made for quite different purposes. Taking official action was the business of the British High Commission if they believed their source was serious and credible.

He may recall the manner in which Vijaya Kumaranatunga was arrested in 1982, and kept in jail during the 1982 referendum because, as the police report finally put it, someone had told someone else who mentioned it at a dinner party that Mr Kumaranatunga had claimed there would be blood in President's House if Mr Kobbekaduwa won the 1982 Presidential election.

Dr Saravanamuttu claims that the British High Commission is not to be blamed for taking action because they replied to a journalist that they did not know what note I was talking about. Since I have now made clear the date on which the incident took place, it is surprising that no journalist has approached them again. If Dr Saravanamuttu believes that I have made up the incident, there is nothing I can do to convince him, but perhaps he could check with his friends in the High Commission again, and then confirm that they have no recollection at all of receiving such a note in January 2009.

As for the question of why the matter was mentioned now, I have already responded to that in explaining that my point was the double standards with regard to Sarath Fonseka that the West seemed to me to have adopted. My answer was in relation to questions on the 2010 US Human Rights Report, which seemed to me very different in tone from previous Reports, such as for instance the Report presented to government towards the end of 2009.

His second main criticism is that my concern with Reconciliation is new. This is absurd. He will remember that, when I took over the Peace Secretariat in 2007, I was worried at the lack of communication between government and NGOs, which I then thought were largely genuine in their concerns. I had meetings to encourage discussion and ideas for implementation, and one reason for my continuing high regard for Jehan Perera is that he always attended. I was very sorry that Dr Saravanamuttu refrained from coming, even though I asked him personally more than once, only to be told, 'We'll see'. Amongst the consequences of those meetings were measures to increase Tamils and Tamil speakers in the police, and I am happy to say that those years saw dedicated advertisements for the purpose. These bore some fruit, though much more after the end of the LTTE.

Dr Saravanamuttu's defences are equally vague. Some of the funds CPA receives have been documented, and he can surely provide a declaration of his assets and income as is required from public officials if he wishes to claim that he enjoys only a modest income and a modest lifestyle. I believe government should check on whether the employees of institutions such as CPA pay income tax, but sadly government does not seem able to follow up on such matters, nor indeed to ensure that foreign funded projects are duly registered and approved as required by law. I should add that sometimes strange methods of accounting take place, as was obvious when the answer in the British Parliament to a question from the Hon Liam Fox, about British aid, omitted agencies such as CPA which the then High Commissioner told me had been a principal recipient of British funding. I think Dr Saravanamuttu's obsession with money and payment for whatever one does is obvious not only from his previous articles but this particular one too.  

He also claims, in his defence for not having contributed positively at Ambassador Ruth Flint's efforts to produce a joint statement requesting the LTTE to free civilians, that I was too occupied doing other things and did not take heed of what human rights organizations 'were saying in respect of the LTTE treatment of civilians'. This is again typical, in that he ignores the particular charge. With regard to general statements, which I was not talking about, I have elsewhere made the point that some (the so-called humanitarian agencies) kept sedulously quiet , while others were equivocal, attributing blame to both sides, when the need of the hour was a straightforward demand to let the civilians go.

In this regard, again, it would be helpful if Dr Saravanamuttu reproduced any statement in which he made without hedging a demand that the civilians be freed. Similarly, if he objects to my characterization of his relationship with Dr Carter, he has only to deny that the meeting at the American Ambassador's house was initiated by him with Dr Carter's assistance.

Innuendo is of course his best suit, and this ranges from attacks on my decision to go along with the Liberal Party decision to support President Premadasa (I was not present at the meeting where that decision was taken, though previously I had held the balance between Chanaka and Asitha Perera on the one hand, and Dr Saravanamuttu and Rohan Edrisinha on the other) to references to ascetic practices on the part of myself and a diplomat friend that defy photographic record. That last must surely be the best effort to date to justify Rama Mani's characterization of him as Sri Lanka's leading wordsmith.

The most serious innuendo however has to do with his claim that I was making a case about zero civilian casualties and castigating local human rights organizations as LTTE sympathizers. This is outrageous. Had he read what I wrote without preconceptions, he would have realized that I have accepted that there were civilian casualties, and have indeed mentioned the different ways in which civilians fell victim to the conflict, ranging from forced conscription to deliberate firing at close range by the LTTE to deliberate endangering by the LTTE to collateral damage. What I have contested is the claim that the Sri Lankan forces deliberately targeted civilians. Indeed, I have been criticized by otherwise well balanced supporters of government for the position I took up, on the grounds that it might be used by those who want to hold government guilty of deliberate killing of civilians.

Secondly, I challenge him to produce one document in which I have castigated local human rights organizations as LTTE sympathizers. I have certainly pointed out that some things they said have been used by the LTTE, but I have objected to claims that they support the LTTE. I made it very clear for instance, when some in government seemed to think the poor doctors working under the LTTE were traitors, that they were nothing of the sort, only dedicated workers doing their best under pressure. I said as much on the radio in spite of efforts during the interview to get me to criticize them. Similarly, I recall once in a meeting strenuously defending Radhika Coomaraswamy and asserting that she was definitely not pro-LTTE, which met with the riposte of one of my colleagues that she was only pro-Radhika. I suspect the same is true of Dr Saravanamuttu.

There is a difference between those who have given up position and public favour for their commitment to ideals, and those who consistently benefit, financially and in terms of prestige, through their criticism of government from what seems an idealistic standpoint. That perspective which I continue to believe a useful tool explains my continuing publicly expressed admiration for institutions such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights.





Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's statement in the National Assembly in response to the burning questions about Osama bin Laden's life and death on Pakistani territory was a useful history refresher on the first Afghan war and the role of the United States, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency, in the creation of an army of mujahideen to take on the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The man who later became the leader of al-Qaeda was undeniably a product of this jihad. As Mr. Gilani noted, there is little about it that is not documented. Even 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.The Hindu







Indian National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, External Affairs Ministry Secretary Nirupama Rao and Defence Ministry Secretary Pradeep Kumar are due in Sri Lanka tomorrow, Friday 13th May. They are due for meetings with their counterparts and also with President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The team that is coming are the senior most Indian officials who effectively make Indian foreign policy. India is being countered on by the Sri Lankan government to be its bulwark against what is perceives as western interference in Sri Lankan affairs. The Sri Lankan government will need India's support in the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva if the Expert Panel's recommendation that the pro government resolution of 2009 is not to be revisited.

The Indian role on the world stage is changing. Its billion strong population, with a growing middle class is a consumer market that is increasingly important to the West. Its pursuit of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, its strategic relationship with the United States, including the nuclear treaty and its historic close relations with Russia and rivalry with China all contribute to India having an increasingly wider and more serious role in the world. Accordingly its own Sri Lanka policy has to be more than the parochial self interest of a regional power to a more serious and responsible position on issues based on their merits. However India has some deeply entrenched and abiding interests in Sri Lanka and we are well advised to seek to address them. Here are some recommendations to the government, about policy changes to accommodate some though not all Indian concerns.

 1.Start the Northern Housing Reconstruction Scheme

The Indians are keen for work to commence on the fifty thousand (50,000) housing scheme for the war affected IDP's in the North for which they are donating the funds. Frankly so are the poor Tamil IDPs. The delay in commencing this are increasingly hard to justify as months drag on to years. This is not a urban development policy issue, it's a humanitarian reconstruction issue of resettling war affected civilians of the North who had their homes and all they owned destroyed in the conflict.

 2. Don't let the LLRC die like the APRC

The APRC led by the Hon. Professor Tissa Vitharana was Sri Lanka's answer to the politics of ethnic conflict when the war was on. The good professor's sterling efforts were regular, and specially to the Indians, trotted out as our bona fide attempts at a political solution. It has died a convenient natural death. Its near namesake is the LLRC, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, touted now as Sri Lanka's answer to all her post war reconciliation needs. However the interim recommendations of the LLRC are yet to be implemented and the inter agency committee tasked with implementing the same have not made any discernable progress. The LLRC must not be allowed to share the same fate as the APRC.

3.Re-establish democracy in the North – Hold the Northern Provincial Council election.

In any post war environment, re-establishing democracy is a crucial first step in normalizing the situation. Presidential, parliamentary and some local elections have now been held in the North. However the most important election as far as the people of the North are concerned would be the Northern Provincial Council elections and having their own elected chief minister. This facility which has been afforded to the people of the Eastern province and indeed to every other province in the country, has been denied to the Northern Tamils. Interestingly holding the Northern Provincial Council elections at the earliest is a promise in the Mahinda Chinthanya – Way Forward ©2010 (p 57 English version).

4.Demonstrate some progress on talks with the TNA

The much hyped structured dialogue with the TNA proceeds at a snail's pace with no progress. Some substantive progress on the issues, either humanitarian (detainees, high security zones) or political (devolution, language policy) would be both welcome and required. 

5.Operate joint patrolling to prevent fisherman crossing maritime boundaries

Heavy handed treatment of Indian fishermen have caused tensions in Tamil Nadu and political problems for the Indian government at the Centre. Joint patrolling with the Indian coast guard and activating the joint committee with India on the maritime areas would certainly remove the irritant of illegal poaching in Sri Lankan waters.

(The writer served as Presidential Spokesman from 2001-2005. )





Private bus owners said they would increase bus fares by 15 per cent even if they did not get the approval of the National Transport Commission (NTC) adding that bus owners "had the legal authority" to do so although the NTC had stated otherwise.

Did anyone notice a different trend here?

Earlier the bus owners used to "strike," but looks like they have dumped the idea and resorted to anarchy.

Fare increases are decided by the NTC with the agreement of bus owners and other relevant transport authorities.

However, Private Bus Owners' Association (PBOA) President, Gemunu Wijeyratne claims that neither the provisions of the National Transport Commission Act nor the Provincial Transport Authorities Act states that the NTC has the authority in deciding bus fare amendments.

The underlying issue is financial, in other words it is 'business' and investment.

When there were only CTB buses in the 70s the CTB used to strike. When there were many private vans still they resorted to strikes. But things have changed a lot.

A strike action keeps the beneficiaries-here the general public-to ransom to achieve their demands. That is how venerable doctors too achieve their demands.

But have anyone heard about doctors strike their private practices?

The bus owners have now invested much more capital than ever before and they simply can't park their buses and wait.

Worse still now people are more and more shifting towards alternative transports, like staff vans, motor bikes and perhaps three wheelers. Already a stabilizing economy has shown signs of improvement and there are more cars on the road. Many opting to go for entry-level cars. If all the family members travel daily  it would be cheaper for them to go for a car.

And so are the three wheelers.

There is too much of competition to move a person from point A to point B.

The PBOA also should know pushing the fares too high would ultimately boomerang on them.

At one point a commuter might be spending more to travel by bus than owning a two wheeler! And that point does not seem far away;  the commuter would bear the rental, fuel and still be spending fare less than to travel by bus.

What more, with the additional comfort of independence and time.

So like the business equilibrium would bring all people concerned to their senses.

For that to happen, the financial regulators and the State should let the operators be at the mercy of market forces.

With the bettering economy the pressure on the transport service like bus is getting less and a fare hike would only precipitate the inevitable.

So let the association go ahead and do its acid test.

The SLTB and season tickets are there for the needy. Keep that intact.









The West is very proud of its many virtuous institutions which claim to protect ordinary people's rights.

Yet when we closely monitor the behaviour, attitude and statements of such righteous organisations, like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others, they are often found wanting. Many of us are surprised and disappointed that they seem to make little effort to check and re-check facts on the ground, before distinguishing between blatant propaganda and truth.

These institutions allow themselves to be infiltrated by malicious elements - to such an extent that it is no longer a secret.

I have a story, or more precisely a report received yesterday from a group of young Bahraini ladies attending the Oslo Freedom Forum, organised this week in Norway by the Human Rights Foundation - a self-described non-partisan outfit devoted to defending human rights globally.

This year's event, held at the Christiania Theatre, was called 'The Spark of Change', and included a session on 'The Dawn of the Arab World'.

Speakers were from Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Sudan.

Representing Bahrain was Mariam Al Khawajah, well-known for her fanatical one-sided viewpoint. No opportunity was given to any other Bahraini with a neutral mind.

Before walking to the podium, she recognised a Bahraini girl in the audience and immediately called an organiser, whispering something in her ear. This person then looked across at the young Bahraini lady. Minutes later a male member of the forum approached and beckoned her outside, where he questioned her about her nationality and their concerns about her agenda and how it might 'ruin and disturb the session'.

He further accused her of trying to heckle and attack Mariam Al Khawajah, ordering her not to ask any questions after the speeches.

She innocently then asked: "Is this a freedom forum? I have travelled a long way to express my concerns as well." The man walked away without even considering a reply.

The session, moderated by BBC presenter Philippa Thomas, spotlighted the influence of social media, women's empowerment, foreign policies and youth movements. However, no question and answer session took place despite the fact that more than 100 tweets were directed at Mariam Al Khawajah alone!

When the young Bahraini lady complained to organiser Mrs Sara Wasserman, senior vice-president of the Oslo Freedom Forum, and also confirmed she would file an official complaint that her right to speak freely had been denied, only a lip-service apology was forthcoming.

Worth noting is that earlier Philippa Thomas raised the issue of women's empowerment. Mariam Al Khawajah responded only by describing how "a brave Bahraini woman had defied police and continued to protest".

After the session, while leaving the theatre, another young Bahraini asked Philippa Thomas for her comments on Bahrain's opposition party rejecting the Family Law, which gives rights and power to women. She callously answered : "I have no comment".

All this is a classic indictment of the superficiality of such organisations. If this represents the behaviour of so-called moral human rights groups, what chance does a person or nation have of filing any report that will be taken seriously?

Surely the time has come for the many countries wrongly branded 'human rights violators' to make a stand and seek litigation at the International Court of Justice?

Our newspaper will not rest, but will e-mail this article to Oslo Freedom Forum organisers, and demand an explanation of their callous disregard for other's views. Furthermore I appeal to every reader who feels strongly about this issue to also e-mail them. The address is :






THERE are yawning gaps in our knowledge of yawning. Why we do it at all, and why it seems to be contagious, have long been contentious questions but thanks to some recent research, we may be getting to grips with the problem.

Three recent papers all contribute to our understanding of yawns.

The first I should like to mention is a paper called Dogs Catch Human Yawns (by R M Joly-Mascheroni et al in Biology Letters, 2008) which reported an experiment in which 29 dogs watched a human yawning at them and the experiments counted how many of them yawned back.

In fact, 21 of the dogs did so, which is a higher percentage than had been recorded in similar experiments with humans or chimpanzees.

So whatever the reason is for human yawnings when other humans do so, it seems likely that it applies even more so to dogs.

The second paper in my collection is Yawning As A Brain-Cooling Mechanism (by AC Gallup and GC Gallup, Evolutionary Psychology, 2007) which reports an experiment to test a theory that part of the function of yawning may be to take in cold air to cool the brain, which is known to work better at cold temperatures.

After an initial experiment in which they discovered that people are less likely to catch a yawn from someone else if they are breathing through their noses, the researchers again tested yawn-contagion on subjects with either cooling packs or warming packs applied to their foreheads.

Their results showed that when participants held a warm pack (at 46C) or a pack at room temperature to their heads while watching someone else yawn, then 41 per cent of them yawned back, but when it was a cold pack at 4C, the rate of contagious yawning dropped to 9pc.

You are probably yawning now, for even reading about it has been shown to induce that behaviour but do try to stay awake, for my final item is the best of all.

In 2009, the Animal Behaviour journal published a paper, Yawning And Thermoregulation In Budgerigars by AC Gallup, M L Miller and A B Clark, extending our knowledge of yawning to the avian world.

What they did was to see the effect of changing the room temperature on the yawning behaviour of 20 budgerigars as temperatures varied between 22C and 38C.

"Yawning was recognised as a wide opening of the beak with slight closing of the eyes, followed by a brief interruption ... with stretching of the neck."

Much like a human yawn, in fact, and the yawns were found to be more frequent in a warm room than in a cold one but most frequent of all during periods when the temperature was rising.

This added support to the theory that yawning plays a part in some sort of cooling mechanism.

One ought not to jump to any conclusions, however, until experiments have been performed to see whether budgerigars with cold packs on their foreheads yawn back at dogs which have been yawning at them, and whether it makes a difference if the yawning dogs are breathing through their snouts.









Nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks, the United States has finally killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the hope of winning the so-called "war on terror". 


But closing this chapter on terrorism has raised a myriad of questions about the most effective ways to deal with looming problems ahead. What will the Obama administration make of this event? Will it intensify its military involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or will it reduce that presence in the wake of Bin Laden's killing? How will the complex U.S.-Pakistan relations proceed from here? Is Pakistan a sanctuary for terrorists and their network affiliates? Is the Obama administration determined to avoid any rupture in relations that could endanger the counterterrorism network that it has so painstakingly constructed in Pakistan over the last few years? There can be no doubt that the killing of Bin Laden is a major setback for Al-Qaeda. This transnational, decentralized, and ideological terrorist network, however, is likely to continue striking Western targets in the future. While Bin Laden and his terror network provided the much needed alibi for the Bush administration to launch its costly and counterproductive military incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq—wars from which Al-Qaeda and its leaders benefited immensely by recruiting their foot soldiers -- his demise could and should open a new dialogue about the way forward. 

Perhaps the most crucial question relates to the extent to which Pakistan has been a sanctuary for members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. If Pakistan's involvement has been extensive, then the center of gravity of terrorism has clearly shifted away from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Since 9/11, the U.S. government has given $10 billion worth of military aid to Pakistan. The fact that Osama bin Laden lived in a compound near a well-known military academy, not too far from Islamabad, has raised questions about whether the Pakistani army or intelligence is incompetent or under a more sinister assessment whether they have been in cahoots with the terrorists. Both the Pakistani army and intelligence officials deny any knowledge of Bin Laden's location -- a claim impossible to verify or repudiate at the moment. Given the multiple centers of power in Pakistan and the complexity of Pakistani politics, U.S.-Pakistan relations remain strained. What accounts for the problematic nature of these relations is the schizophrenic frame of mind in which they treat each other: There is no trust between them, and yet they cannot abandon each other. Pakistan needs cash and arms from the United States, and Washington needs Islamabad's assistance in bringing about some modicum of stability to Afghanistan by creating a reconciliation of sorts with the Taliban. It is worth noting that the recent Arab revolts in North Africa and the Middle East have already undermined Al-Qaeda's narrative of violent change. To restore their sense of lost dignity, the vast majority of the people in the Middle East have chosen the counter-narrative of peaceful democratic change, as evidenced by the 2011 uprisings. Victory in the so-called "war on terror" will be only attainable if the United States and the rest of the Western world support pro-democracy movements and uprisings in the region, rather than supporting despotic regimes under the rubric of "stability" and "security." Support for corrupt, autocratic, and oppressive regimes in the name of the "war on terror" will almost always foster more and more extremism, forcing the American people to bear hefty costs of fighting ongoing wars. Addressing the political and economic grievances of the people in the region is the most effective tool in the counterterrorism arsenal. Let us not get confused in the fog surrounding the killing of the leader of a terrorist organization, whose narrative has already collapsed into irrelevance. 

Mahmood Monshipouri is professor of International Relations at San Francisco State University. He is working at a book entitled Terrorism, Security, and Human Rights (forthcoming) 








Recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa have become a sociopolitical tsunami which is rapidly engulfing the geographic area of the Islamic civilization. 

And there are a number of common points in these developments in the Middle East and North Africa. 

The most important common point is the fact that all these nations are experiencing an Islamic awakening, which is manifesting itself in demonstrations after Friday prayers and widespread protests at mosques and Islamic centers. 

Almost as important is the presence of a new generation of youth at the heart of these Islamic liberation movements. 

And then there is the participation of Arab and Muslim women wearing hijab, whose social role in many Arab countries was severely restricted in the past. 

Another interesting phenomenon is the symmetry between the Islamic resistance of these societies and their democratic demands. 

The aforementioned developments have led to the dawn of a new paradigm in the Middle East, which is clearly evident in various areas. 

In a commentary recently published in The New York Times, Martin Indyk expresses deep concern over the critical situation the Saudi government is in. The former U.S. ambassador to Tel Aviv, who was one of the architects of the United States' dual containment policy toward Iran and Iraq, warns that Saudi Arabia's neighboring countries, especially Yemen, Bahrain, and Jordan, are facing serious challenges from popular uprisings. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who was the Saudi ally in the region, can longer help Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, once the backyard of the Saudis in the region, now has a democratic government with proportional representation of the Shia majority. 

Indyk expresses approval of U.S. President Barack Obama's strategy of balancing oil prices by supporting the House of Saud and turning a blind eye toward the crackdown on the Shias of Bahrain. However, he is concerned that neither Obama's remedy nor the Saudi king's multibillion dollar package for the country's citizens can solve the problem. 

He believes that the popular uprisings in the Middle East have reached a critical mass and are unstoppable, and thus supporting efforts to establish systems of constitutional monarchy would be the best strategy for the U.S. and its allies in the Persian Gulf. 

Many Muslim commentators say that Western officials have been unable to properly analyze recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa because they do not have a correct understanding of the nature and essence of the Islamic awakening in the region. 

The United States and other Western countries have always ignored the people for the past few decades because they had absolute trust in the power of the Arab rulers. 

As a result, regional leaders are in confusion about how to deal with these revolutions, which is best exemplified in the Bahraini government's crackdown on the opposition. The government in Bahrain is directly implementing the Westerners' plans, in a manner similar to what Israel has been doing for many years. The firing of workers who dare to protest, night raids on the homes of Shias, arrests, torture, sometimes resulting in grotesque deaths, inquisitions, the rape of women and young girls, and the desecration and destruction of mosques and other religious sites are some of the manifestations of the implementation of the U.S. and British instructions. 

The new paradigm of the Islamic awakening is already institutionalized, and if the government of the Al Khalifa ruling family in Bahrain wants to regain its lost legitimacy, they must respond to the peaceful demands of their people. 

Any government that follows the Westerners' orders will not have a place in the new Middle East. 

Hossein Amir Abdollahian is the director general of the Persian Gulf and Middle East Affairs Department of the Iranian Foreign Ministry. 







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) 

Photo: Palestinians protest at the Rafah border crossing between the southern Gaza Strip and Egypt. 








Nader al-Masri is an inspiration. The 31-year-old Gaza athlete seems completely oblivious to challenges that would seem insurmountable to most. On May 5th, he led a small pack of nine runners into the finish line of Gaza's first marathon. Behind them, 1,300 children ran various distances. 


Many of the children who participated in the UN-sponsored marathon probably pointed and cheered at Nader as he sped by them. Some might even have tried to momentarily hustle to remain at equal footing with Palestine's favorite runner. Despite the scorching heat and numerous obstacles, Nader finished in 2 hours, 47 minutes and 47 seconds, falling short of his goal by over 17 minutes. 

Nader has run prestigious events outside Gaza. He took part in the 5,000 meters race at the Beijing Olympics, and is currently undertaking vigorous training in preparation for the 2012 London Games. I am certain that his partaking in the London event will be used as an opportunity to celebrate Gaza and Palestine. 

According to the Associated Press, Nader declared, 'It is a day of joy,' as he reached the finish line in Rafah, near the Gaza-Egypt border. 'This is a very happy day for me because it is the first-ever marathon in Gaza.' The Rarah border has been closed for a large part of the last five years, making the Israeli siege and protracted war on Gaza complete, as well as unbearable. The post-revolution government in Egypt, however, is planning to divest from any further political participation in the Israeli siege on Gaza. Egypt's new Foreign Minister Nabil Al-'Arabi has promised to open -- and keep open -- the border point. 

Nader's last name, 'al-Masri', means 'the Egyptian'. Many Palestinians also carry the same name. The bond between the two countries is remarkable and historic, and it long preceded former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's decision to become 'moderate' and effectively suffocate the already confined population of the Gaza Strip. 

The race started from Gaza's most northern point, Beit Hanoun. The small town was previously center stage in Israel's so-called Operation Cast lead. In a period of three weeks between December 2008 and January 2009, over 1,400 Palestinians were killed and 5,000 more were wounded, according to UN and other international reports. Israel argued that it had the right, if not duty, to act as it did. 

Nader is from Beit Hanoun. Considering the very high ratio of Israel's victims that come from this small town, one can imagine that Nader has lost neighbors, friends, and family members. Many in Beit Hanoun, like thousands of other Palestinians in Gaza, will carry the scars of Israel's war to the end. Many will not be able to walk for the rest of their lives. But Nader is still running. 

The war on Gaza took place merely four months after Nader's participation in the Beijing Olympics in August 2008. I had, at the time, written about him and three other Palestinian athletes who took part in the games: 

'When four Palestinian athletes marched with the Palestinian flag into the Olympic Games in Beijing it was a statement, a declaration of sorts, that Palestinians insist on their right to exist on equal footing with the rest of the world, to raise their flag without fear and wear their country's name spelled out the way it should be, not as a Palestinian Authority but as Palestine. The 1.5 million Palestinians living in besieged Gaza must have savored that moment more than anyone else. One from amongst them, Nader Al-Masri, had a big smile on his face as he marched, nervously but proudly. Gaza lived a moment of freedom that day, one that even Israel couldn't take away.' 

Since then, much has plighted Gaza, Cast Lead notwithstanding. The Gaza population has grown in size to 1.6 million. Thousands of international peace activists have marched to Gaza, crossing continents and braving high seas to stand in solidarity with the besieged population. Some were brutally murdered. Nine Turkish activists died abroad the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010, at the hands of Israeli soldiers in international waters. On May 5, 2011, nine athletes finished the first Gaza Marathon, including a few internationals. Solidarity is a unifying value in Gaza. 

A marathon is an approximately 42 kilometers long (26.2 miles). The length of Gaza in its entirety is 41 kilometers. The difference must have been managed somehow, through side roads or other means. Israeli army watchtowers dot the Gaza-Israel border. Israel removed its illegal colonies from Gaza in 2005, but remained in complete control over the Strip, gunning people down inside the big cage whenever any of its inhabitants resembled a 'security threat'. Luckily the children of the Gaza Marathon escaped such classification. 

As a result of the Gaza Marathon, UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) raised over a million dollars, thanks to the generosity of many people. The amount is enough for UNRWA to deliver on its promise to 250,000 Gaza children to attend summer camps. 

Marathons carry different meanings and values, and each participant has his own unique reasons for participating. In Gaza, it was the spirit of freedom that compelled Nader to run, and to keep on running. 

'When given the opportunity, the children of Gaza can be the best in the world,' UNRWA media advisor Adnan Abu Hassna said. They can also inspire us all -- not for the two Guinness Records they broke in recent years -- but because they are determined to hope under the most terrible and challenging of circumstances. 

As for Nader, this Gaza man will simply keep running as long as his legs will carry him. Gazans are known for being stubborn, and perseverance is our gift. 

Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of 

Photo: A UN vehicle escorts Palestinian and foreign participants running in Rafah town in the southern Gaza Strip on May 5, 2011 as they compete in the Gaza Strip's first-ever marathon which runs the entire length of the coastal enclave. (Getty Images) 




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