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Friday, May 13, 2011

EDITORIAL 13.05.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month may 13, edition 000831, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




  7. 1982 revolt reverberates in Syria
































































The Supreme Court's verdict regarding the Omkareshwar Dam that has effectively settled all disputes relating to the relief and rehabilitation measures undertaken by the Government of Madhya Pradesh for those ousted by the aforementioned project must be welcomed wholeheartedly. On Wednesday, the apex court decided not to meddle with the compensation packages that had been allotted to the oustees of the Omkareshwar Project by the State Government under the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy. In the process, it set aside an earlier decision by the Madhya Pradesh High Court that entitled oustees who had already been compensated for their land (that the State had acquired for the project) to claim additional compensatory land. Based on this High Court order of February 21, 2008, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, led by social activist Medha Patkar, had argued that even the adult sons and unmarried daughters of the oustees should receive similar benefits! Thankfully a three-judge Bench saw through the folly of such an argument and decided instead that the children of oustees are "not entitled" to any more land as it was not part of the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy. The Judges also clarified that "the oustees who have already accepted compensation... cannot claim the land." The apex court's decision provides a major boost to the Government of Madhya Pradesh which has been struggling to carry out development work in the villages that it had already acquired for the project, thanks to the antics of so called social activists such as Medha Patkar. The verdict also clears the path for additional land acquisition for the project. Most importantly, it significantly reduces the State's financial burden. In other words, the Supreme Court decision has served to clear some of the biggest roadblocks that have up until now continued to obstruct the way of development in the State.

Let there be no doubt that the Omkareshwar Project, and indeed similar such projects across the country, are desperately needed for the overall growth and development of the nation. Of course there is no denying that in the process of setting up such projects, some people lose their ancestral home while others their traditional means of livelihood and sometimes, an entire village might have to be uprooted. But as long as these people receive fair compensation for their loss, we must accept the rest as the price we must all pay for development. Take the Omkareshwar Project for example: It includes a dam, a powerhouse with an installed capacity of 520 MW and a canal system for irrigating 1.47 lakh hectares of land. Essentially, the project will provide hydel power, electricity and an extensive irrigation. As a nation, we simply cannot afford to turn our back on such projects.







Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's cheerleaders and admirers are welcome to believe that his 'daring' caper on Wednesday when he sneaked into the village that has witnessed bloody violence during the ongoing farmers agitation against land acquisition in Greater Noida was a political masterstroke. But the reality is that it was a frightfully silly thing to do, not the least because Mr Gandhi violated, though not for the first time, the security norms he is supposed — and expected — to scrupulously follow. Like other members of the Congress's first family, Mr Gandhi is provided with round-the-clock security cover by the elite SPG; we must, therefore, presume that the nature of threat he faces is extremely serious and not to be trifled with. It is as much the State's duty to ensure his safety and security as it is his responsibility not to place himself in a situation that can be considered even remotely life-threatening or provide malcontents on the hunt for a high profile target the opportunity they are looking for. Mr Gandhi cannot seek shelter behind the claim that, as a politician and a citizen, he is free to choose where to go, how to go and when to go. That's not how it works for those who are under the highest possible security cover at par with that provided to the Prime Minister of India. He cannot just drive into a village and decide to camp there for the night or jump into a commuter train for a joyride without informing local authorities and giving them adequate time to make appropriate security arrangements. Yet this is precisely what he has been doing and since he has shown no signs of curbing his enthusiasm for television-friendly adventures despite State Governments, especially the Government of Uttar Pradesh, lodging several protests with the Ministry of Home Affairs, two assumptions can be safely made. First, nobody in the Union Government has the gumption to tell Mr Gandhi that he cannot continue to throw caution to the wind. Second, Mr Gandhi has been told to be careful and stick to the security regime prescribed by the Blue Book but he just doesn't care.

Whatever the truth, it is a shame that those who are expected to know better should behave in such a reckless manner. Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh, who is the chosen minder of Mr Gandhi, should have advised his ward against the theatrical 'dharna' staged by him in the violence-hit Greater Noida village to demonstrate his solidarity with the agitating farmers. That he did not do so is as much a comment on what critics would call Mr Singh's increasing insanity as reflected in his constant rant on every contentious issue as on the Congress's desperation to mark presence and grab headlines any which way. This is not politics, not even cynical politics of crass opportunism, but cheap tamasha. More than anybody else, it is Mr Singh who is to blame for such juvenile antics with potentially dangerous consequences to which Mr Gandhi is being exposed while leaving local authorities clueless. In sharp contrast, it must said, Ms Mayawati has dealt with the situation with remarkable maturity. Perhaps the time has come for State Governments to force the Home Ministry into reading out the riot act to Mr Gandhi. If that fails, let the Congress be held responsible for such irresponsible deeds of its leaders.









The Pakistani street rages against the American infidel, but this stems from impotence. The country would be lost without American aid that keeps it afloat.

Osama bin Laden lived and died by the sword, the Monster perishing at the hands of its American Dr Frankenstein. US Navy SEALs shot him dead in his mansion hideout in the Pakistan garrison of Abbottabad within a stone's throw of the country's prestigious military training academy.

The irresistible force had prevailed over the elusive quarry. It will now be up to Hollywood to provide the script, select the actors and market the product for screens across the globe. There are fistfuls of dollars to be made as Rambo, like his previous incarnation, Zorro, rides again. The narrative, in keeping with the package, will be a manifestation of soft power with hard power lurking menacingly in the background.

America, for whom Osama bin Laden was once a heroic cold war jihadist, reduced him to a corpse to be fed to the denizens of the Arabian Sea. It was payback time for the humiliation and pain of 9/11.

The anger sweeping America at perceived Pakistani perfidy is broad and deep. Television anchors, radio talk show hosts and their guests join the print media in ritual excoriation of the country's Pakistani ally. The same is true of Britain. The Times Parliamentary sketch writer, Ann Treneman, was scornfully dismissive of Prime Minister David Cameron's prevarications on Pakistan in the Commons. However, scribes given to denouncing Islamabad's double-tongued tactics were equally convinced that the West's support for Pakistan was a vital Western interest. Senior US Senators Kerry and Lugar are similarly persuaded of Pakistan's continuing importance as a strategic ally, however fraught the present state of US-Pakistan relations.

The Pakistani street rages and fulminates against the American infidel, but this stems from impotence. The country's governing military-political-bureaucratic nexus would be lost without the infusions of financial aid that keep the nation afloat, and is the primary source of their own self-enrichment. The marriage is set to continue regardless.

Pakistani interests in Afghanistan, say dissembling Anglo-American advocates, must be secured against Indian influence. A retired Pakistan-born Anglican bishop Michael Nazir Ali, in an article in The Times, writes of the need to force India to the negotiating table on Kashmir since this was no longer a bilateral issue but a matter of international concern. The self-effacing spirit of Indian diplomacy is a facilitator to casual insolence. India should not be afraid of its own shadow, warned VP Menon, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's close aide many moons ago. Mr Mukul Deva appeared to rediscover this no-nonsense approach in his TV presentation on Indian security and best practice — which is to exercise restraint when the occasion demanded but to be boldly resolute in the application of force in the national interest. It is more effective to be respected than liked since statecraft is not about popularity stakes in the hand-wringing, breast-beating fraternity.

It carries the scent of Munich 1938 when Britain and France connived in the surrender of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany, calculating, no doubt, that Hitler would turn his legions in Russia's direction. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Far from Pakistan-controlling-Pakistan, Pashtun nationalists including the Taliban may undo the sanctity of the Durand Line and reclaim Afghanistan's pre-British territory to the Attock, which is now part of Pakistan.

The ebb and flow of imperial need drives US policy worldwide. Today's favoured client may become tomorrow's implacable foe. Osama bin Laden orbited this karmic cycle, as did Saddam Hussein and Panama's General Noriega. Saddam helped the CIA hunt down Iraqi communists and eliminate them. His armies engaged in a bloody conflict with Iran with much encouragement from his American handlers.

But the Iraqi dictator got above himself by invading oil-rich Kuwait prior to which he had expressed an interest in making his country's reserve currency the Euro instead of the US dollar. He was soon brought to heel and executed, the ghoulish preliminaries to his hanging duly televised for international consumption. Muammar Gaddafi tried to drum up support for an Arab-African economic coalition based on the gold dinar as replacement for the American dollar. That Iraq and Libya are oil-rich states compound their problems. As banana producers their troubles might have been less potent.

International politics refract Lord Wellesley's system of Subsidiary Alliances with Indian powers, at the close of the 18th century, in pursuit of British supremacy in the Subcontinent, while Lord Dalhousie's Doctrine of Lapse, half a century later, when local clients were replaced by British representatives in an enforced arrangement, was redolent of the Sicilian mafia. Today, human rights and democracy are for breast-fed infants. Time to get real. The Arab Awakening in Egypt has recorded the burning of two Christian Coptic churches in Cairo. As in US-liberated, Iraq it is back to basics.

May 9 marked the 66th anniversary of the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany, the most complete victory in the greatest war ever fought on planet earth. One was privileged to watch the celebrations in Moscow on Russian TV and hear Prof Geoffrey Roberts' assessment of Joseph Stalin's leadership, without which, he averred (along with others before him like Averell Harriman, President Franklin Roosevelt's wartime envoy to the USSR), that the Soviets would surely have collapsed, with the entire world fair game for Nazi barbarism.

"...the guts of the German army have been largely torn out by Russian valour and generalship. The people of all the Russias have been fortunate in finding in their supreme ordeal of agony a warrior leader, Marshal Stalin, whose authority enabled him to combine and control the movements of armies numbered by many millions upon a front of nearly 2,000 miles" said Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, in a memorable eulogy to Parliament in 1944.

AJP Taylor, the eminent English historian, wrote: "Every line of policy ran, had to run, through Stalin's study. Stalin alone made every great decision throughout the war and many of the small ones, too.... Simply from the physical point of view, it is amazing that one man could have accomplished the things he did. Unlike any other commander ever known, Stalin literally ran every front himself."

His warts like Oliver Cromwell's — cruelty and ruthless repression — have disfigured his historical image, but as Shakespeare said of Julius Caesar, "he bestrode the narrow world/Like a Colossus...".

It is time India held a "Russia Day" to commemorate the heroism of a much valued strategic partner. It will educate Indian youth and their elders to better understand contemporary realities.







During three decades of their rule, Marxists in Bengal did everything that was non-Marxist. People of Bengal, keeping aside their Communist instinct, have voted for paribartan once again with a lot of hope and faith. Still it's not the end of the road for the CPI(M) as they are supposed to play a strong Opposition by not allowing the ruling party to become complacent

A huge and significant chapter in Indian politics would have come to an end today. Yes, I am talking about the rule of CPI(M) in West Bengal. As far as all exit polls are concerned — except for those by some ludicrous pro-CPI(M) channels — it's Ms Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress which is all set to sweep the poll in Bengal. In fact, if the leading channel is to be believed, then the current Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is expected to lose too. So I think I can safely say it's the end of the CPI(M) in Bengal. Or should I say the end of Stalinism in Bengal?

Well, the truth is that it is with a feeling of great betrayal that I write this article. All Bengalis have a Communist instinct hidden somewhere inside. It's in our culture. The more you read Bengali literature, the more you feel for those marginalised in the society; the more you feel for them, the more communism appeals to you. And Bengal's greatest pride, Rabindranath Tagore's thoughts on village employment, self-reliance and actual work at Shanti Niketan, all have a huge similarity with the Marxist thought process, apart from Tagore's poems and writings oozing with feelings for the downtrodden.

So if you are a Bengali, Marxist thoughts have a natural appeal. It's thanks to this appeal that CPI(M) came to power more than three decades back. That was historic in many ways. It was virtually the first time a Communist party came to power through a democratic process in such a big manner. In a lot of ways, the people of Bengal had come out and voted for paribartan with a lot of hope and faith. And the truth is that they delivered and worked with a lot of sincerity in the first 10 years of their now infamous rule. It is after the first decade that the great betrayal of Bengal started. The last 24 years undid everything. Rigging, killing, muscle power, police manipulation, dictatorship at the grassroots level, name a shame that dictatorships all over the world have done and CPI(M) did that and worse to stay in power. In the name of Marxism, everything that was non-Marxist was done; and the poor who are at the centre of Marxist thinking were the people being terrorised and exploited the most.

It is that precise reason why despite my and our magazines' very open leanings towards socialistic thoughts, as a magazine we were the first and perhaps the only one to take an aggressive and bold stance against the CPI(M) rule in Bengal. We called the rule Stalinist — at the cost of going through endless trouble, especially when the UPA Government was dependent on CPI(M), and CPI(M) could pull strings in all of Union Government's harassment departments — and we put Bengal and its fascist face on our magazine's cover time and time again over the last four-and-a-half years. We did this because we genuinely believed that while Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav and the likes were being branded as hooligans of Indian politics, the reality was that the so-called bhadraloks of Bengal politics were the real inhuman rodents who were ruling Bengal for over two decades by muscle power and rigging alone.

Village after village, families were being broken down due to party politics, and rigging was being arranged scientifically; the local police was being used to spread fear and informal torture houses were set up in the close vicinity to police stations to keep a tight leash on those who dared to speak out against the ruling mafia. The rule of muscle was systematised like no other State of India had ever seen, since CPI(M) is a cadre-based party. Democracy and all its virtues were issues that the leaders didn't give two hoots about while they wore white dhotis, read literature, appreciated plays and promoted art and culture. It's only perhaps fittingly ironic that it's the literary brigade that formed a group, put up hoardings all around Calcutta and Bengal asking for paribortan — change — and came out openly in support of the fearlessly committed lady who is creating history — Ms Mamata Banerjee. With her total commitment to freeing Bengal of the Stalinist rule, she went from village to village of Bengal tirelessly to make the 'change' possible and create this historical moment in Indian politics. After crusading for this moment, we sure are celebrating. Yet, I am very sure it's not the end of the road for CPI(M) in Bengal.

This is the beginning of their training period in the art of appreciating the process of democracy and learning to abide by laws and respecting the people in a democracy. Five to 10 years in the Opposition is the least punishment they deserve and a must. However, the need for them to provide a strong Opposition party is a must, since there are widespread fears that the Trinamool Congress — which out of lack of any choice, had to take the support of muscle power to come to power — might just end up continuing the same. And even if it does not, it's important in a democracy that there is a strong Opposition party which doesn't let the ruling party become complacent.

More importantly, once the CPI(M) in Bengal learns to become democratic like CPI(M) in Kerala and Tripura, they might again remember the act of doing good for the poorest of poor, something that never fails to keep a party in power in an impoverished nation like India. But till they get their lessons over the next five to 10 years in the Opposition, here is wishing a great future to Ms Mamata Banerjee, arguably the most fearless, honest and committed leader in India today. Hope she never forgets the poor, doesn't let her party leaders become dishonest and corrupt, and above all never allows them to bring back another reign of terror in Bengal. People of Bengal deserve peace now after two decades of a virtually non-reported (in national media) reign of terror.

Before I end, I must say hats-off to Mr SY Quraishi, our current chief election commissioner. He is not too loud, but what a man he is to have made a real rigging-free election possible in Bengal. This was the support that people of Bengal and Ms Mamata needed so that those huge numbers could come out freely to vote for paribartan. It's the end of the Marxism in Bengal. Long live paribartan!

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







State testifies to the fact that great cities grow around loci of power

Going back, revisiting places, associated with a significant period of one's life, is an edifying experience. It could be weighed down by sadness, or alleviated by happy memories. Revisiting a city such as Mumbai is more likely to evoke a sense of hope, sheer joie de vivre. It may be more run down than before; longer, too, stretching on interminably through suburban outshoots; and more congested and ridden with slums. A great, sprawling metropolis, linear in growth, at once plebeian and sophisticated, Mumbai testifies to the fact that great cities, as much as empires, grow around loci of power. Bombay became Mumbai in November 1995 after the Shiv Sena changed its name. The party, which had won the state elections, chose to reinforce Marathi roots, culture and language by restoring an older name of the city, deriving from goddess Mumba. The combination of 'Mumba' and 'ai' (mother in Marathi) became Mumbai.

The change in name was also a way to pay tribute to the city's presiding deity, who, legend recounts, vanquished a demon called Mumbarka in the remote past. The goddess consequently came to be known as Mumba Devi. The story approximates to other goddess legends, with Durga deriving her name from the demonic Durg, whom she vanquished in a great battle; and the name Chamunda being used for Devi after she killed the demons Chanda and Munda. Interestingly, just as Mumba Devi is believed to preside over Mumbai, goddess Kali guards over Kolkata, which, in historical annals, was Kalishetra, territory of Kali, long before Job Charnock set foot in the villages of Kalikata, Sutanuti and Gobindabur on the banks of the Hooghly, and the British bought them in 1690 to set up a trading post. Similarly, Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, was also a place of power, the fabled Dhakeshwari Devi temple harbouring a sacred portion of one among Sati's 51 body parts, scattered throughout the Indian subcontinent. Wherever a portion fell became hallowed.

These three cities, with ancient origins, proved crucial to the expansion of British trade and power. The Portuguese first took possession of the islands that comprise Mumbai but in 1661, gifted them to the English King Charles II, as part of the dowry given to him for marrying Catherine de Braganza, sister of the Portuguese monarch. King Charles II leased them to the East India Company in 1668. The company turned them into a great trading post, and fortified the place. This laid the foundation of modern Bombay. In the course of time, Parsi, Sindhi, Gujarati and Marwari merchants and businessmen came to settle here. By the 20th century, Mumbai was one of the great commercial centres of the world, as much as the centre of the Indian film and glamour industry.

In 1960, after the formation of Maharashtra, Mumbai became the capital of the State. The huge influx of migrants from other parts — the Hindi belt, regions south of the Vindhyas, Bengal and elsewhere — has not ceased. The surge in Marathi parochialism is ascribed to the perceived swamping of natives by outsiders. Yet, all the Shiv Sena's muscle-flexing and insular rhetoric has not really changed the city's cosmopolitan character. Up-scale neighbourhoods remain westernised. The names Cuffe Parade, Kemp's Corner, Fort, Warden Road, Churchgate, Flora Fountain, Victoria Terminus, Crawford Market indicate Mumbai's colonial past. It would be silly to disown it. Other names — Ghatkopar, Goregaon, Nagpada, Chembur, Nariman Point, Juhu, Dharavi, Borivili, Andheri, Dadar, Vasai, Bhuleshwar — in their sweep encompass the Mumbai, of migrants, showbiz people, traders, businessmen, strugglers, et al. The city's vast underbelly contains criminals, pimps, prostitutes, fixers and lotos-eaters.

Bhuleshwar, a maze of congested lanes, currently houses the Mumba Devi shrine, which was originally elsewhere. This is also the place where the Ambanis lived, before they moved out to sophisticated locations. The area marked the beginning of their tremendous journey. Television news channels now unerringly air footage of tycoons and film stars flocking to Siddhi Vinayak Ganesh temple, a more recent evolute than the goddess shrine. Sports stars, tycoons, cine stars and politicos walking bare-foot to Siddhi Vinayak is big news. There are other places of power, less in the public eye.

The circumstances of return, a re-visit, determine one's reaction. Sometimes, the second visit to a place is better than the first one, as the poet Wordsworth realised in Yarrow re-visited. The disenchantment felt by the poet on first seeing the river Yarrow is mirrored in Yarrow Visited, written 17 years before in 1814. His state of mind was then projected into his impression of the river. "And is this Yarrow?/ — this the stream/Of which my fancy cherish'd", he wondered sadly. The re-appraisal of Yarrow, after the passage of time, when he was older, is more congenial. And, there is Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, a book that poignantly portrays the passing of an era as the protagonist, an artist, revisits an aristocratic estate in Britain, now used as a military base, during World War II. The erstwhile residents, once his friends, are all gone, some dead, and it is faith alone that burns bright as a flame in the family chapel.

As Mumbai, the city's past meshes with its present. It is old but alive. But a traditional belief affirms that if the presiding deity withdraws her protection, the city will be devoured by the sea.







Irrespective of the Assembly poll results in five States, the widely anticipated victory of Jaganmohan Reddy from the Kadapa Lok Sabha by-election in Andhra Pradesh may rewind old troubles for the Congress

Once the Assembly Poll results are announced, Andhra Pradesh should brace itself for some troublesome days ahead as it is likely to face political instability and law and orders problems emanating mostly from the revival of the Telangana issue. Additionally, if Mr Jaganmohan Reddy and his mother Rajyalakshmi are voted to power, the duo would probably prove to be a political nuisance for the Congress.

The Telangana issue, however, remains the main source of concern as the various stakeholders are getting ready to revive the agitation immediately. They had pushed the issue to the backburner after New Delhi had announced that it would take up the matter only after the polls. Consequently, the agitation had been put off for the time being but now it is all set to be brought back under the limelight.

Already, five months have passed since the Sri Krishna Commission submitted its report, which included six different solutions, to the Centre. After the report was received, the Union Minister for Home Affairs had convened one single all-party meeting wherein he distributed copies of the report to all participants. After that, there was no second meeting and even the political parties were not interested in attending another one because they had decided where they stand on the issue. Clearly, it is now time for the Union Government to focus its attention on the Telangana issue.

But this might be easier said than done for the Congress remains divided on the issue. The party leadership had requested its MPs and MLAs to restrain themselves until after the Assembly polls but they are all getting restless now. Overall it seems like the Union Government favours a united State of Andhra Pradesh but is willing to confer some sort of special status on the Telangana region. However for that to happen, Congress legislators need to come to a consensus regarding the issue but seems too seems like a long shot since the members are towing the regional line regarding whether they are for or against a separate State for Telangana.

The threat of political instability also looms large as the legislators may withdraw their support to the fragile Kiran Reddy-led Government, if their demands on the issue are ignored. Worse still, the law and order situation in the State may go out of control with escalating levels of violence if Mr Kiran Reddy does not undertake effective measures and instead functions merely as a dummy of the Union Government.

Stung by the success of the 'Telangana nagara' convened by TDP Telangana Forum Convener Nagam Janardhan Reddy, the TRS has put its plans for the next phase of the agitation in top gear. Towards that end, TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao has convened a meeting of the party State executive to intensify their struggle for a separate state of Telangana from May 15.

Let there be no doubt that once the agitation is revived it will be under nobody's control. Other mischievous elements may also jump into the fray to make matters worse. Thankfully, the Centre is planning to have additional security forces in the State even after their poll duties come to an end. However, there must be an acknowledgement of the fact that this is a very serious problem and the use of brute force alone will not help. There has to be a multi pronged effort that will also address the political aspects of the Telangana issue especially since problems of that nature are expected to create trouble for the Congress in the days ahead.

For example: The Kadappa Lok Sabha constituency and the Pulivendla Assembly constituency, which went to by-elections due the resignation of Mr Jaganmohan Reddy and his mother Rajya Lakshmi, have been loyal to the YSR family for decades now — first it was YSR himself, then his brother Vivekananda Reddy and finally his son Jaganmohan Reddy has now voted to power by that electorate.

However after Mr Jaganmohan Reddy left the Congress, both he and the party have been fighting for YSR's legacy. Of course, Mr Jaganmohan Reddy already has access to his father's monetary legacy but must now claim his political legacy to well establish himself in State politics. He has five MLAs openly supporting him in his campaign and another 30 Congress MLAs supporting him clandestinely.

The Congress high command is yet to figure out how best to deal with the five MLAs, who rebelled against the bye-elections. As for Mr Jaganmohan Reddy, he is in no hurry to destabilise the Kiran Reddy led-Government but can easily become a nuisance for the Congress in the Assembly. The Congress may have the support of Mr Chiranjeevi and his Praja Rajyam party but still its position remains precarious.





1982 revolt reverberates in Syria

To curb the echo of earlier uprising in the central city of Hama, Syrian Army cracks down brutally on the regime opponents, says Bassem Mroue

Syrian soldiers and tanks executing a nationwide crackdown on regime opponents surrounded the city of Hama on Thursday, which President Bashar al-Assad's father laid waste to in 1982 to stamp out an earlier uprising, an activist said. Forces also used clubs to disperse 2,000 demonstrators on a northern university campus.

Mr Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, is trying to crush an uprising that exploded nearly two months ago and is now posing the gravest threat to his family's 40-year ruling dynasty. The level of violence is intensifying as forces move into more volatile areas, and the United States called the crackdown "barbaric".

Human rights activist Mustafa Osso said troops backed by tanks have deployed around the central city of Hama, known for the bloody 1982 revolt crushed by the regime, and security forces were detaining people.

In another echo of that earlier uprising, the Syrian Army shelled residential areas in central and southern Syria on Wednesday, killing 18 people, a human rights group said.

The shelling of neighbourhoods evoked memories of Mr Assad's father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad, whose most notorious act was shelling Hama in 1982.

He leveled the city to crush a Sunni uprising there, killing 10,000 to 25,000 people, according to Amnesty International estimates. Conflicting figures exist and Syria has made no official estimate.

Other activists said security forces used clubs to disperse about 2,000 demonstrators late Wednesday at the university campus in Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

The intensifying military operation and arrest raids seemed to be an effort to pre-empt another day of expected protests throughout the country on Friday.

More than 750 people have been killed and thousands detained since the uprising against President Assad's autocratic rule began in mid-March. The revolt was touched off by the arrest of teenagers, inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall.

Syria's private Al-Watannewspaper reported Thursday that Mr Assad met for four hours with a delegation of Sunni clerics from Hama. It said the clerics asked the President to solve some problems pending since 1982, such as people who have been living in exile since then.

"President Assad accepted to study the case as long as it includes people who are known to be loyal to the nation," the paper said.

Since the uprising began, authorities have been making announcements about reforms on Thursdays in an attempt to head off protests on Friday, the main day for demonstrations in the Arab world.

This week was no different: The state-run news agency, SANA, said Prime Minister Adel Safar introduced a new programme to employ 10,000 university graduates annually at Government institutions.

Unemployment in Syria stands at about 20 per cent.

Mr Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Thursday that arrests are continuing throughout the country before expected protests on Friday.

"Authorities are detaining any person who might demonstrate," he said. In the northern city of Deir el-Zor, authorities placed cameras inside and outside the Osman bin Afan mosque, where many worshippers were demonstrating after the Friday prayers, he said.

Mr Abdul-Rahman added that many former detainees were forced to sign documents reading that they were not subjected to torture and that they will not take part in future 'riots'.

Mr Assad is determined to crush the uprising despite international pressure and sanctions from Europe and the United States.

In Washington, White House Press secretary Jay Carney condemned the violence. "The Syrian Government continues to follow the lead of its Iranian ally in resorting to brute force and flagrant violations of human rights and suppressing peaceful protests," he said, "and history is not on the side of this kind of action".

State Department spokesman Mark Toner called the Syrian attacks "barbaric", adding, "We don't throw the word 'barbaric' around here very often."

Officials in the Obama Administration, which had sought to engage Syria after it was shunned under former President George W Bush, said Tuesday the US is edging closer to calling for an end to the long rule of the Assad family.

The officials said the first step would be to say for the first time that Mr Assad has forfeited his legitimacy to rule, a major policy shift.










Five assembly polls over, the Congress was always going to shift sights to UP, poll-bound in 2012. As if on cue, the state's seen high drama, Rahul Gandhi playing pro-farmers protagonist. He couldn't have asked for a bigger favour from jittery chief minister Mayawati than to get arrested for joining farmers in a land acquisition-related protest. In the subsequent free-for-all, the Congress staged anti-Maya demonstrations, while some senior BJP leaders tried to ensure their party wasn't outdone in the championship of the kisan by also courting trouble. If land-related strife everywhere is giving politicians scope for photo ops, there's blame to go around in all directions.

Mayawati had a point in lobbing the land acquisition ball back into the Centre's court. That doesn't mean her use of sledgehammer tactics against opponents isn't condemnably out of sync with democratic functioning. Whether Congress biggies are genuinely friends of farmers, tribals, Dalits, et al, or are staging stunts with an eye on elections isn't the point. In a democracy, they can take up any political activity they choose, and Mayawati will just have to accept that the Gandhis have huge political stakes in a state she happens to rule. Strong-arm methods like hampering the movements of political rivals, banning their rallies, scuttling their projects and even resorting to arrests under the pretext of keeping law and order will only make her opponents look good for being martyred.

On its part, the Congress must ask itself if parachute-dropping Rahul into trouble spots every other day to back readymade causes is good - or even convincing - policy. People would rather hear what the youth leader has to say on finding effective institutional solutions to land acquisition-linked turmoil. That counts far more than a random visit to Orissa's Niyamgiri to pledge support to tribals one day, and slipping into UP's Bhatta Parsaul village to back farmers on another.

It is just as well that the home minister has now announced that the Land Acquisition Bill will be introduced in Parliament soon. Ultimately, there's no skirting the need for policy revamp. Not just in UP, people everywhere are demanding market-linked prices for land. Old forms of acquisition by government are increasingly being seen as land grabs and resource theft, and generating resistance. Yet the new market-oriented blueprint - making ample room for direct seller-buyer negotiations - has gathered dust courtesy the UPA's political compulsions. Industry, mining, rural and urban development - all of this is being blocked, scaring off investors. Eventually, the Congress-led UPA would have to answer for not delivering quick industrial and infrastructural growth and its concomitant of economic opportunities across the social board. Do our politicians want to do a Singur everywhere to serve their own ends? Or will they push reform that'll actually help wrest fair recompense/relief for land even while projects get off the ground? That's the real question.







There's been good news for adventure sports aficionados. Take Tina Mene who's become the first woman from the northeast to scale Mount Everest - on half a plate of noodles at that, and after her tent had been blown away by howling winds. On the other side of the world, Swiss 'Jetman' Yves Rossy completed a trifecta of pants-wettingly terrifying feats - from jumping out of a helicopter over Arizona's Grand Canyon to flying across it using a jetpack and finally deploying a parachute to float down to the canyon floor. Of course, there's also Rahul Gandhi with his latest exploit on the back of a motorbike en route to UP, carrying on the fine tradition upheld by daredevil Indian politicians - from George Fernandes and Mulayam Singh traipsing across Siachen to Pratibha Patil strapping herself into a Sukhoi 30-MkI.

Why do otherwise sane men and women subject themselves to danger for fun? There's the immediate adrenaline rush, for one - something increasingly difficult to come by in a tamed world where desk-jockeying from nine to five is the preferred sport. Or maybe it's to do with rites of passage. Many societies down history have had such rituals, markers on the path to adulthood. A boy would undergo a test and come out a man in the eyes of his society, propelled to adult status by the ordeal. Perhaps atavistic tendencies still linger beneath our civilised veneers. Buried impulses meet slick marketing which, in turn, meets reality TV - and voila! A sporting industry is born. As modern society creates cocoons of home and hearth for people, there'll always be those who'll pay to risk it all, including life and limb. It's less about living dangerously than pushing limits, breaking boundaries, defying gravity. Evel Knievel, iconic daredevil biker, would've probably said: It's the thrill, stupid.







Reflecting on the reports of various committees, public demonstrations and media commentary on corruption over the past months, several contradictory thoughts course through my head and i wonder about the nature of our representative democracy.

Public opinion does matter but media can quickly convert the grain of a systemic movement into the chaff of petty politics and individual one-upmanship. Formal power does flow from the institutions, organisations, rules and laws defined by the Constitution. But actual power resides in the hands of powerful individuals and shifts amongst them as political context and particular circumstance alter. The narrative of policy is all about the transparency of governance and public interest but the substance appears to be to protect the few and powerful.

There is no doubt that the crowds that gathered sometime ago at Jantar Mantar and across the country in spontaneous response to Anna Hazare's call for action persuaded the government to dust off the files on the Lokpal Bill. Public pressure is what broke a multi-year logjam. But in the weeks since Anna broke his fast and media attention riveted on the CD containing information about property transactions of the Bhushans; who leaked it and why; the criteria for the composition of the Lokpal committee; the din over the draft PAC report etc, conversations shifted from 'what matters most to tackle corruption' to 'how to settle individual agendas and score political points'.

This is not surprising. It is never easy to sustain interest on public issues especially when our 'Gotcha' journalists are focussed on uncovering the personal misdemeanours and political gaffes of public figures. But it is revealing to see how easily through the medium of the media a wedge can be driven between public sentiment and public action.

Media does not of course "cause" the wedge. That is the result of a shift in the balance of power between institutions and individuals. Formally, power resides in the institutions of the legislature, judiciary and executive. The Constitution has set out the checks and balances that protect the citizen from capricious governance. But in reality power is located in the hands of powerful individuals - some with constitutional authority and others without. There are several reasons for this shift.

First, the institutions of governance have been severely hollowed. Who can, for instance, forget the sight of MPs waving wads of cash in the Lok Sabha? Who cannot but be dismayed by the allegations of corruption against chief justices and the suggestion that the judiciary is not above the temptations of monetary inducement? Who can deny that the steel frame of the bureaucracy has not acquired some rust and that an increasing proportion of civil servants have abdicated their responsibility to proffer objective advice to their political masters? The fact is that, just as nature abhors a vacuum, the hollowing out of these institutions has created space for individuals to step in and this the ambitious have done.

Second, it is becoming increasingly difficult to disentangle public policy from election campaigns. The latter is now an almost permanent feature of the political landscape. Public policy decisions are, therefore, all too often taken with an eye on its electoral impact. One would not be surprised if, for instance, the drivers behind the cabinet decision to accept Hazare's demands had more to do with the elections in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala than any great desire to engage in a dialogue with the civil society activists.

In such a political context and given the compulsions of coalition governance, there is an inevitable shift of power from the institutions formally vested with authority towards those few in control of the political organisation and funds. There is finally the burgeoning influence of money. In the not too distant past, business leaders were supplicants of officialdom. Now many are partners in the formulation of policy. This is not an inevitably unhealthy trend. In fact, it is good that businesses are part of the public policy dialogue. But as the revelations of the 2G scam have highlighted, this access has been misused. Business has exploited the weakness of our institutions and the fact that politicians are continually in an election mode to manipulate the rules to acquire extra constitutional authority for their private gain.

Corruption is a systemic malaise. It cannot be removed by simply jailing miscreants or reshuffling the cabinet. What the past months have revealed is that the power to effect change is now centred on individuals and not institutions. These could be elected representatives, journalists, businessmen or civil society activists. Some may be motivated to use this power for promoting the public interest, others for pushing their private agendas. It is clear that a fundamental principle of representative democracy that all citizens are equal and that governance will be open and transparent appears to have got eroded.

To restore faith in this principle, the priority of the anti-corruption movement should be to restore the loci of power in the institutions within whose interstices the Constitution had vested formal authority. It is by reinvigorating them that the average citizen will regain the confidence that governance has been placed firmly back onto the rails of propriety and integrity.

The writer is chairman, Shell Companies in India. Views are personal.







Dola Mohapatra is the executive director of the NGO ChildFund India International, a part of the larger global agency ChildFund Alliance. He has been entrusted with the responsibility of ChildFund India, which recently completed 60 years. He spoke to Kim Arora about the challenges faced today by children in India and more:

How have children's problems changed over the 18 years you've been in the voluntary sector?

Trafficking wasn't rampant, but did exist under the shadow of extended family care. There used to be little or no access to vaccination, the reach of which has greatly increased. On health, there's been great progress. But we've suffered on the education front. More children are out of school. The quality of education has deteriorated. Once when our team was in Karnataka, we found that in smaller schools in the interiors, fifth standard children did not even have the literacy level of children from the third standard.

What would you attribute that to?

There is a desire amongst children to go to school, but the schools often lack teachers or have absentee teachers. According to RTE norms of the teacher-student ratio, we need about four lakh primary teachers. A lot of teachers have side jobs they prefer attending to, or don't wish to travel long or difficult distances. Because there aren't enough teachers, they end up holding multiple classes together. Quality of education suffers because of this.

Do you think the Right to Education Act has been implemented properly?

I wouldn't criticise the RTE. I think it's important that the government has guaranteed education. We have to figure out how to make it work. It's not an issue of resources but that of prioritisation and of political will. If we can give away crores to our cricketers, we can surely deploy some resources for education.

Where is the problem of trafficking most rampant in India?

Along the Bihar-UP and
Nepal border and also in Rajasthan and Gujarat where they are trafficked for picking Bt cotton. This requires nimble fingers and hence young children are picked up. They end up as slaves and are often sexually abused. What's problematic is that parents send them away, thinking they'll be able to earn better but, more often than not, that's not the case. To weed this out, one has to work both at the source and the demand point. From our fieldwork we have seen that peer awareness helps. We have young children, often those who have been through all this, who tell other children how the grass on the other side is not as green as it seems. These kids have also helped us nab potential traffickers.

What support do children in disaster-struck areas need?

Often, children are not the priority. It's important to create safe places where children have an adult to talk to at all times, and where basic necessities are taken care of. It's important to get them into some sort of routine as soon as possible, to help them remain psychologically stable.

How has your experience been in other countries?

The community in
Afghanistan is very amenable and resilient. Parents participate in children's welfare programmes. In Kosovo, even the warring factions respect children's issues. The children's sector is very developed in the Philippines. In fact, they have a 14-year-old representative in the cabinet.

What are your future plans with ChildFund India?

We've functioned in a very silent manner so far. Now we want to participate in a larger civil society movement, and promote local volunteering so that our programmes are locally sustainable.








Movements are the buzzword today. Is Anna Hazare's Lokpal movement a valid adjunct to democracy, or is such ethical vigilantism a danger to democracy in that it subverts the role of the elected representatives of the people? What about other famous movements, like Gandhi's Quit India movement during the British raj, Jayaprakash Narayan's anti-Indira movement in the 1970s, Vinobha Bhave's bhoodan movement, and Sunder Lal Bahuguna's tree-hugging chipko movement? Did they have anything at all in common?

Among all this talk of movements, i'm reminded of my childhood in the Calcutta of the 1950s. As i recall, there was a lot of talk of movements then too, not only in my own family but in virtually all the families we knew. It wasn't that we were a particularly politically aware or socially committed lot, in the sense that the participants in Anna's movement are today. No, the movements that so preoccupied us were of a different kind.

In those days in Calcutta, my family - and all the other families that we knew - had a family GP, a general practitioner who paid regular home visits for a monthly retainer. Our GP was Dr Pratapbabu, a tall, distinguished-looking man with a rich and resonant voice which he used to excellent effect imitating the dialogues of Utpal Dutt and other famous stage actors of Bengal.

Pratapbabu would visit our home every Sunday morning. After he'd been offered a cup of tea - the better to lubricate his voice so as to render Shah Jahan's famous speech, 'Jahanara, shontan chai na!' - he would enquire after the health of all the family members. Had anyone been feeling poorly over the course of the past week? Any colds and coughs? Fever? Headaches? Tummy aches?

Like most children of that age, i was susceptible to minor maladies - sniffles, a slight temperature caused by running around in the summer sun all day, a grazed knee - and was the most frequent subject of Pratapbabu's ministrations. Having listened to my complaint with grave attention, he would open the small black leather bag he always carried and from it take out the tools of his profession: a metal spatula, a thermometer and a stethoscope. Say Ah!, Pratapbabu would say. I'd say Ah! And he'd use the spatula to depress my tongue to see if the back of it was clean or coated with telltale fuzz. Then the thermometer would be administered and its recording solemnly scrutinised. After that the stethoscope would be applied to chest and back, its metal disc icy against the skin. But all these were just preliminaries to the most important of all diagnostic examinations. All that guff with the spatula, and the thermometer and stethoscope was like a conjurer waving his wand about to get his audience's attention before he gets to his star act and saws the lady in the box in half. How are your movements? Pratapbabu would ask me.

In those days in Cal we didn't have CAT scans or MRI machines to figure out what was wrong with us. We didn't need them. All that we needed was information about our movements, the more accurate and intimate the better. It didn't matter if what you had was measles, a sprained ankle or a stuffed nose. What Pratapbabu - what all Cal doctors - wanted to know about were your movements: the regularity of their occurrence, the frequency with which they took place, and any other pertinent details regarding them that you could supply. As Hamlet might have said: movements are all; the rest is silence.

Yup, movements were an important topic of conversation during my childhood. Of course, as i've said, they were a very different kind of movements from today's. Or, come to think of it, were they? Today's movements are political. Yesteryear's movements were physiological. But they had one end in common: to purge ourselves of the shit within.







Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Afghanistan and the announcement of another multi-million dollar aid package cannot hide the truth that Indian influence in that country's future is on the wane.

Even as Mr Singh arrived in Kabul, the Afghan foreign minister was on his way to Beijing to get a feel of what the latest and newest player of the Great Game has in mind. The overriding foreign policy concern of President Hamid Karzai is how drastic and how permanent will be the coming troop withdrawal by the United States.

His primary domestic political concern is the nature and scope of negotiations between his regime and at least sections of the Taliban. New Delhi's influence in either policy area is negligible. The US withdrawal will not be determined by Indian concerns.

And India's belated support for the Taliban talks is largely at Mr Karzai's insistence.

At the heart of this state of affairs is that India has little or no hard-nosed influence on events in Afghanistan. This reflects geographical reality, the greater stakes of players like Pakistan but also the fact that, in a war situation, what determines influence is the amount of military power a country exercises.

India has made much of its billion-dollar aid programme. And, to be fair, its aid programme has won it much praise.

However, not having troops on the ground is what matters there. With the US's role looking uncertain, Mr Karzai is leaning towards some sort of accommodation with the Taliban.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has begun dealing with China. Beijing, goes the message Pakistan has been sending to Mr Karzai, can fill the vacuum the US is about to leave. Kabul has to tack in the direction of Islamabad as a consequence.

While India continues to produce rhetorical support for Afghanistan, it declines to put bullets where its mouth is.

There is an argument that Afghanistan is a subset of India's larger policies with Pakistan and China. India, therefore, should focus its energies in stabilising its relationship with these two countries. There is sound reasoning behind this stance.

But it is safe to say that the ebbing of Indian influence in Afghanistan from the high watermark it reached when the Northern Alliance captured Kabul will probably not strengthen New Delhi's negotiating hand with its two main rivals.

India's struggling Afghan policy is a lesson in the political and military limits of India's emergence as a regional power, even for a people and government who are arguably among the most Indophilic in the world.




Digvijaya Singh isn't quite an Alberto Granado and Rahul Gandhi doesn't chomp on a cigar. But if Breaking News was a T-shirt, our young radical lot would all be wearing Rahul Gandhi on their chests by now and going radical chic Tauji-India-style.

Okay, so Mr Singh, unlike Ernesto 'Che' Guevara's pal Granado, wasn't there when Mr Gandhi charged off to Bhatta-Parsaul village in Greater Noida as part of a one-man Lite Brigade.

But Mr Gandhi has been deemed a hero, a man with a cardiovascular muscle beating for the Jat community in the western Uttar Pradesh village moaning about their land being sold at a pittance by the uncaring Mayawati government to real estate merchants.

The fact that the UP authorities picked up Mr Gandhi in the late evening and deported him to the country of his origin, Lutyens' Delhi, only boosted the iconic image of the Congress mass leader-to-be by several notches.

We have heard tut-tuts from some quarters about his reaching Ground Zero at Bhatta-Parsaul not by leaning into the wind, but by riding pillion while someone else rode the mobike. These are just canards thrown at the only person who seems to understand the weight of the words of that unnamed Jat Zen master: to reach the heart of the people you must take the bumpy road (and not the smooth DND Flyway with cops waiting).

So does this mean that the battle of Uttar Pradesh, officially slated for the summer of 2012, has already started in earnest? Going by our 'Che's' grit and chutzpah, it would seem that a Congress government is finally returning to the plains of Uttar Pradesh.

We would suggest that the next move be of Mr Gandhi taking the wheel of a tractor and moving his way to another zone, another issue in the sprawling state under the rule of Mayawati. She can't ride a motorcycle. So the advantage is clear as the duplicity of the Batista regime.

A tractor-ride would just bring about a long-awaited revolution.







Two years ago, a ministry of defence (MoD) report had stated that "the possibility of China and Pakistan joining forces in India's farthest frontiers, illegally occupied by the two neighbours, would have direct military implications for India". That possibility is now a reality. Last week, the Nort

hern Army Commander (NAC) confirmed that Chin-ese troops are present on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control (LoC). Though the Chinese army would not point guns towards our posts on the LoC, the fact that they are there reflects their 'joint' interest and enhancement of strategic and operational preparedness on the LoC along with Pakistan.

What the NAC has stated is not new. The Chinese military presence in the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK), purportedly to improve infrastructure became visible last year.

It is also known that China plans to construct a railway line and oil pipelines from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar port in Pakistan.

Another development needs to be linked to this issue. The MoD notes that the Sino-Indian border is 4,056-km long and includes the whole of the western sector including Aksai Chin, PoK and the Shaqsgam Valley (ceded by Pakistan to China in an India-disputed agreement in March 1963).

But in a statement a Chinese newspaper in 2010, the Indian ambassador to China put the border length to be 3,488 km. The Chinese newspaper added its own comment along with the interview: "There is no settled length of the common border. The Chinese government often refers to the border length as being about 2,000 km."

Now, the Chinese has made this figure (2,000 km) the new norm in the official characterisation of the border with India. It appears to have knocked off almost the whole of the western sector boundary and has questioned Indian sovereignty over J&K.

With an assertive China, the dispute over accession of J&K to India is no longer a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan but a trilateral issue among India, Pakistan and China. It has thus ensured integrity, authority, and security over Aksai Chin and the Shaqsgam Valley held by China.

While planning for the north-western sector, the Indian armed forces have no alternative but to factor in the two-pronged threat. It is now obvious that as China develops, it will become more aggressive and create new pressures on the border issue.

China is known to be assertive in its diplomacy on security and military issues. It will attempt to exploit our diplomatic appeasement postures and defence weaknesses on the ground to its advantage.

India cannot afford to let the latest developments go uncontested diplomatically. In the interest of its own security and Asian stability, it must build a sympathetic international lobby.

In the coming financial year, China plans to spend $91.6 billion on defence and this does not include its budget for internal security. India's approved defence budget this year is $34 billion.

India must pay greater attention to its defence preparedness, particularly on the northwestern borders. There's an urgent need to build defence infrastructure along the northern border.

According to media reports, our border road-building programmes in the north are three years behind schedule. Beside making up shortages and replacing obsolescent weapon systems with newer ones at the earliest, we must build rapid reactive military capability for all under-developed areas in the Himalayas.

India must not become complacent as we did before 1962.

(VP Malik is former Chief of Army Staff. The views expressed by the author are personal)






What is the most over-rated virtue of life? After much deliberation and first-hand experience, perhaps I got the answer:Truth Some of you might ridicule me, but I have strong reasons to believe this way. It is undeniable that we crave for 'truth' in every domain of our lives without looking at ourse

lves how 'truthful' lives we have been pursuing.

Truth is a relative term. If something is an 'absolute truth' for somebody, it may be an 'absolute lie' for some others. Never forget that a 'half filled glass' is always 'half empty' too.

There is nothing in this world like 'absolute truth'. One has to fix the wheels of lies to move it forward. For example, if one has to give a true opinion about a dark complexioned woman, he would say that she carries 'sharp features' which don't suit fair complexioned people. Can anybody say that it is a 'truthful' statement? No, because the 'truth' was given the 'crutches of lie' to stand. 

Let us take two recent examples. One of Manu Sharma, whom one court finds totally innocent and the other finds him guilty of the 'rarest of the rare' crime. That too on the same grounds and on the basis of the testimony of the same witnesses. In the second case, when Geelani is acquitted in the case of 'attack on Parliament', it was said that 'truth' prevailed.

But when Mohammad Afzal was slapped with death sentence in the same case, the judicial system was called 'biased'.

Defining 'truth' is thus very simple. 'Truth' is a 'sugar-coated candy' that is liked till it reaches the 'sour' core of it. We accept a statement as 'truth' until it suits us, and after that we dump it citing various and hilarious reasons.

Whosoever in this world is in the search of 'truth' in any form, should first assess himself whether he is capable of vetting the 'hidden truth' behind the 'surfaced' one.

Except for death, there is no "absolute truth" in this world. It is a matter of perception only. A million of truths get defeated by a single lie!  






In a state where the Dravidian rational credo says the gods must be crazy, it is predicted that the Maker will shower blessings on a believer like AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa. Or so we will know by tomorrow when the results of the 14th Tamil Nadu assembly elections in 234 constituencies polled

by 3.66 crore electors are announced.

The Tamil Nadu assembly verdict should follow a familiar pattern. When political masters indulge in bribery and nepotism and the leading families endorse and facilitate corruption, the people of Tamil Nadu have always expressed their censure through votes.

And so Jayalalithaa emerged from a political hibernation from the mists of Kodanadu Hills to the plains this summer to witness the crumbling of the DMK. Apart from perfunctory remarks about Karunanidhi's family's corruption charges, her campaign has been lacklustre.

With a climate of public revulsion to Karunanidhi's corrupt family members, Jayalalithaa had to merely fan the flames of opposition against the DMK or use star campaigners and new ploys to highlight the repulsive nature of the DMK's nepotism.

Jayalalithaa has not made use of the groundswell of resentment against the Karunanidhi family that would have helped give her a larger lead for her party in the zero sum game of Tamil politics. 

With pollsters and pundits predicting her comeback, she simply offered one post-election bite to the cameras: "We will see a landslide victory and sweeping victory for us. We are confident that we will get a clear majority to rule this state."

Jayalalithaa has been used to enjoying elections on sympathy or goodwill since her mentor MG Ramachandran's death in 1987. The AIADMK had publicly humiliated Jayalalithaa and propped up MGR's widow Janaki as chief minister.

That action was quickly rejected by the people, paving the way for Jayalalithaa's first tenure as CM in 1991, riding as she did on a sympathy wave under the shadow of MGR's death.

She was rejected by the Tamil voters following the corruption charges levelled against her during her tenure, especially against the caste-based battles that erupted from the 'foster family' of her long-time companion N Sasikala. Jayalalithaa suffered a crushing defeat and arrest in the subsequent DMK regime.

In 2001, she again gained the sympathy of the electorate after displaying her agony at being punished by the DMK government with her arrest and with the courts disqualifying her from contesting elections since the charges against her held. She had her throne warmed by a party loyal O Paneerselvam, and in a landmark judgement had the charges against her dropped.

Her rout in the 2007 elections was seen more as an electorate tiring of her political caprices and petulance.

Tamil Nadu remains a state where a certain degree of progress has been achieved in social welfare schemes since the early days of AIADMK rule under MGR. The DMK government has enjoyed the distinction of offering good governance, a fact endorsed by many polls before.

The success of the public distribution system, sops including medical insurance, colour TVs, free rice and the reach of services to rural interiors have been a bonus for the DMK. Jayalalithaa's tenure had also much to showcase in terms of attracting investment to the state.

However, it is to be seen whether the institutionalised corruption of the Karunanidhi family, compounded by the 2G scam, have overshadowed the good work done by the DMK government.

As for Jayalalithaa playing the role of opposition leader, she hardly did so this election. She merely stands to benefit from the voter's wrath against her opponents — if that wrath is, at all, palpable.

(Sudha G Tilak is a Delhi-based writer on south Indian politics and culture. The views expressed by the author are personal.)






In Blink, American author Malcolm Gladwell's popular book on snap judgement — "the power of thinking without thinking"— there is the curious case of Warren Harding. In the 'Warren Harding error', the Republicans got carried away by his irresistibly distinguished look — his biographer compared him

to Julius Caesar — and pushed him all the way to the White House in 1920.

As President, he was an unmitigated disaster and when he abruptly died midway through his term, the nation was not particularly sincere in its mourning.

In Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who replaced Jyoti Basu as chief minister of West Bengal in 2000, his party, the CPI(M), found a man who, they thought, would not only pass off as 'cultured', but also reflect the generational shift in the concept of 'bhadralok', the Bengali word denoting a class with multiple shades.

In other words, a home grown 'bhadralok' was wanted, as Basu was at times too subtle, if not foreign, for the comprehension of the rather thuggish men who filled the CPI(M)'s ranks. They got a Harding instead.

Of course that does not mean that Bhattacharjee is the sole author of his party's debacle, or rather he's some kind of a dhoti-clad Gorbachev.

Maybe the CPI(M) would have trooped out of the exit door a decade ago if the Election Commission (EC) were as non-partisan then as it now is.

Or if LK Advani, the then home minister, in his typical convoluted thinking that makes him think of Muhammad Ali Jinnah as secular and CPI(M) a gentlemen's club, hadn't been so reluctant to release enough central paramilitary forces to help the EC prevent the CPI(M) brigands from hijacking voting machines.

The party would then have been over long ago, and correctly so. Instead, it stayed on and put Bhattacharjee in the saddle, and the man, by his monumental incompetence, made the party a hate object in its exit.

Under the CPI(M), there was never a distinction between the party and the government. But in Bhattacharjee's tenure, the state party virtually disintegrated in a few years, with power slipping into the hands of a clutch of local goons.

While he as chief minister held on to the additional charge of the home department, the police superintendents were taking orders not from him but the local party toughs. The police would not entertain a complaint without a nod from the local party.

Lawlessness bred a fresh eruption of Maoist violence. The CPI(M) hired killers in its own backyards to keep the opposition on a short leash. Bhattacharjee was too much of a wimp to stop all that.

Besides, he lacked the practical sense of Basu, his predecessor, who, never ventured to acquire land for industrialisation by coercing the farmer. In fact, the CPI(M) earned its popularity initially by distributing surplus land among the landless. In other words, it created a propertied class.

But Bhattacharjee dug his own (and his party's) grave by ordering forcible acquisition of land at Singur near Kolkata for the Tatas' Nano factory. It made his antagonist Mamata Banerjee smell blood. Her successful campaign to block the Nano project was the beginning of the CPIM)'s end.

Bhattacharjee, 67, had grown in a Calcutta of too many problems and too much ambition, which had made leftism a sort of popular religion of the city. But he became his party's face in a different Calcutta — Kolkata rather — where ideology didn't matter anymore and the place was reconciled to its mediocre status in post-Independence India.

He thought his chair gave him the power to wish history away.

So, dreaming up a Bengal that would be part Guangdong and part Silicon Valley, he chirpily called Ratan Tata by his first name and signed away land to him. In a blink!

If Stalin was his boss, instead of Jyoti Basu, he would have long since been sent to the Gulag for being a bourgeois windbag or, well, a 'thought-criminal'.

(Sumit Mitra is a Kolkata-based political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal.)




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

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

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

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






With Rahul Gandhi's midnight "arrest" from Bhatta Parsaul on May 11, the stakes have been dramatically raised in the politics over land agitation in Greater Noida. The Congress pledged solidarity with the farmers, levelling a slew of allegations against the Mayawati government on the method of acquisition and on the police action against protesters; party workers elsewhere in the country demonstrated against the detention of the Congress general secretary. BJP leaders, including Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh, courted arrest. Indeed, there was no let-up in the scramble this week to be taken into custody as a certificate of allegiance with protesting masses. And even as her government reimposed prohibitory orders in the area, Chief Minister Mayawati joined the war of words by charging her political opponents with manoeuvres to disturb law and order in the state.

There is no doubt that our politics needs to actively — and responsibly — engage with issues of land. And what the agitation in Greater Noida has highlighted is a key aspect: as land is acquired in a booming real estate economy, what is the best way of arriving at an appropriate package that takes into consideration the benefits that could accrue from its eventual use? Experience is little guide, as the legal framework draws from the vastly outdated Land Acquisition Act, whose amendment has been hanging fire in Parliament — it had been blockaded for electoral reasons by Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool, but that absolves no political party for allowing the stalemate to continue. In the absence of a national consensus, and after Singur obviously mindful of the political blowback that could be provoked, state governments have been improvising on the run. Haryana, for instance, came up with a progressive way of compensating farmers; and to her credit, Mayawati's government has enhanced the compensatory mechanism to benefit erstwhile owners from the development on acquired land. Yet, understandably, land owners can be anxious that they have not pushed the envelope enough. That is, in fact, the anxiety fuelling the current protests.

The looming assembly elections in UP, that must be held by next summer, are clearly an incentive for political parties to hop into the thick of these protests. But if each party thinks it can beneficially ride the rage without demonstrably offering its way of arriving at a fair and just compensation package, it will cut little ice with the voters.






Even when it was the government that owed you something, you would have to approach it as a supplicant. The most obvious such case, of course, was your income-tax refund. So hard was it to get the income tax department to disgorge your money without greasing a few palms on the way that many people chose to simply forgo their refunds. And the impossibility of getting a refund had its own effect on how we viewed our tax-paying responsibilities, becoming a major contributor to the us-against-them mentality that has given India its unnecessarily high rates of direct tax evasion — and the entrenched corruption in turn has fuelled so much rage against the system.

So it will not just be those that have already got a refund who will welcome the news that the finance ministry has fast-tracked income-tax reform, and started with the speed and ease with which refunds are delivered to taxpayers. Refunds of Rs 27,800 crore have already been issued, in just the first 40 days of the financial year. That amount is three times the equivalent figure for last year; almost all of those who filed an income-tax return before March 31 have already received a refund, as detailed in a report in this newspaper on Thursday. This is part of the larger reform of the taxpaying process, and follows on from the efficiency gains possible through the adoption of electronic filing and processing of tax returns, which became fully operational last year.

India's citizens, as has become evident of late, have tired of tolerating corruption. And, for most of us, it is the petty corruption of everyday issues, in which you have to pay officials to get things done that should be done anyway, that has begun to particularly grate. Driving licences, passports, house-modification agreements — all these remain places where basic services are rarely available, or efficient, unless cash is on the table, too. Amidst this anger over petty corruption, therefore, it is a hopeful sign to see that, in one such area, the combination of technical upgrade and political will has allowed a change to happen. There are many such low-hanging fruits waiting to be plucked, and the best way for the government to change the political mood is to start plucking them. Right away.






Clinical trials are an indispensable part of medical R&D to test the safety and efficacy of a new drug, treatment or a diagnostic technique in humans. While these are essential in the fight for better health, India has been shockingly lax in enforcing strict guidelines, and indeed even in evolving a stringent protocol for the same. Serious questions were raised about rules and regulations related to clinical trials when four girls died in Andhra Pradesh last year, after being administered a vaccine for human papiloma virus to prevent cervical cancer. While a committee has concluded that the deaths were most likely unrelated to the vaccine, it nonetheless put into sharp focus the existing protocol and safeguards for volunteers.

The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has finally come out with new draft guidelines that make it mandatory for all companies conducting critical trials to take the written consent of the volunteer. This provision has been arbitrary until now, leading to allegations that "informed consent" is a fallacy since volunteers are seldom given a full picture of the trial or of the risks involved. The socio-economic status of the volunteer too has to be mentioned: this could set the alarm bells ringing if there's any widespread exploitation of any particular section of society. Equally importantly, the guidelines require the companies to report to the DCGI any serious adverse effect during the conduct of the trial, the reasons for that and details of compensation given.

These are essential first steps to ensure the protection of subjects in a clinical trial. And needless to say, guidelines can only be as good as their compliance and enforcement.








His 76th movie script, Ponnar Shankar, is a dud. Released a few weeks ago, the pseudo-historical film has bombed. Compared with this, his first 25 film scripts, including Parasakthi (1952), were masterful parables of the Dravidian ideology, almost manifestos-in-the-making of the movement that was to turn social hierarchies in Tamil Nadu upside down over the past half-century and install "dialogue" as king in Tamil cinema.

His youngest daughter, a poet and Rajya Sabha MP, is compelled to make haaziris at the Patiala House court in Delhi and might even end up behind bars. She was being promoted as a cultural czarina of a party that puts a premium on cultural politics and was backing her as a possible occupant of the chair of the minister for culture at the Centre.

The TV channel named after him, Kalaignar, is under threat of closure or seizure. His 79-year-old senior wife, the majority shareholder in the channel, too is likely to be hauled over the coals. The advertising strapline for this channel used to be "Non-stop kondattam (celebration)!"

His elder son, a Union minister, has just been cleared of a murder charge, but is under fire and seems poised to lose some political muscle in south Tamil Nadu.

His younger son, so long and carefully groomed to be the next chief minister of Tamil Nadu, might never make it to the gaddi.

His younger grandnephew is a Union minister, and his elder grandnephew runs a multi-billion-dollar media empire that now has saturation control of the Tamil film industry. But the Sun Group hardly gives space to this master of political propaganda who had virtually internalised the Goebbelsian dictum that "propaganda has absolutely nothing to do with truth".

His party might once again concede Tamil Nadu to his archrival — J. Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK — who might then set about on a political vendetta of unprecedented venom, making many supporters of the party run for cover, leading to internal tensions in its top echelons.

He himself might win the election to the assembly for a twelfth time on the trot, but the countdown for Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi has begun.

Seldom has a man, ripening in a few weeks into his 87th birthday, stared so comprehensively into the abyss, as the craftily constructed universe of power, wealth and mesmeric appeal around him unpacks itself in slow motion. Shortly before C.N. Annadurai, Mu.Ka.'s (Karunanidhi) mentor passed away in 1969, he had warned his ward, "Thambi, let it be known that the crown on our head is full of thorns."

Tranquillity of age does not seem destined for this most versatile activist and architect of the past 44 years of unbroken rule by Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu — a longevity never acknowledged by upcountry media pundits habituated to gushing at the Left Front's longevity in West Bengal.

After a momentous political career spanning seven decades — building the fortunes of the party now analogous with the symbol of the Rising Sun, with 57 of those years in the legislature of which 19 years he has been chief minister — the patriarch seems to have hit Sunset Boulevard on his home stretch. One bemoans the lack of a Cervantes or a Márquez to do justice to the narrative of this general in his labyrinth. He might well find solace in Gloucester's lament from King Lear: "...'tis most ignobly done/ To pluck me by the beard."

But political setbacks and corruption charges have never really fazed this warhorse. There has virtually been no time during his tenure at the top in Tamil Nadu when he was not facing corruption charges. His friend-turned-foe M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) split from the parent DMK after levelling charges of corruption on 18 counts. The Sarkaria Commission indicted him even. Indira Gandhi dismissed his ministry. Jayalalithaa punched him where it hurt. But Mu.Ka., like Sisyphus, always rolled the stone back.

This is true also of charges of nepotism against him. He has played the dynasty card for long. Initially it was by successfully pulling in nephew Murasoli Maran to be his lieutenant. Then he unsuccessfully tried promoting his eldest son M.K. Muthu as a filmstar to rival MGR. Even though he had rhetorically claimed that the party was "a collective enterprise in which the cadres represented the betel leaf, the senior leaders the supari and he himself the lime — all of which mix together to form a consolidated red colour", Mu.Ka. was for ever beset with suspicions about the loyalty of those around him. Recruiting the human resources available in his extended family was merely a way of engineering and ensuring personal loyalty.

Individual political longevity is one of the anathemas of true democracy. It is the original corruption that converts the idea of representation into a monarchical right, leading to many perversions in the system and legitimising nepotistic succession rituals and other symbols of power-retention. Mu.Ka. has been around too long holding on to power. He could have withdrawn a couple of decades ago and remained an ideologue and Bhishma-like figure in the party, constantly reviewing its aims, achievements and directions. He could have remained the catalyst that turns the paan red. Instead, by all accounts, he has presided over the comprehensive depoliticisation of Tamil society which has systematically corrupted the electorate, demeaned the bureaucracy, hijacked the judiciary, banalised the media and singularly stunted the Tamil language. It is a tenure that can be described in the words of Eric Hobsbawm, "A combination of intellectual nullity with strong, desperate mass emotion."

Significant negative fallouts from successive Dravidian regimes presided over by Mu.Ka. and others include a reversal of its earlier rationalist programme to be replaced by mass mysticism and a critical distortion of everyday politics in the state by privileging "identity politics" and denying space to people's movements and legitimate dissent. This administrative hardness has metamorphosed into an ugly police-state where the "lawlessness of law" has become the rule.

The only radical result Mu.Ka. can legitimately claim to have achieved is the cunning inversion of the original Dravidian ideal. The movement and the party began as secessionists, denying any space for "the North" or a "Northern language". It took almost a decade for them to abjure secession to enter parliamentary politics (1957) and another decade to come to power. All the while, there was a cordon sanitaire, a chasm between the Centre and the state. Tamil Nadu was both physically and metaphorically in the margins.

Today, the periphery almost runs the Centre. It has wrested enormous package deals and leveraged itself as indispensable to the health of any ruling party at the Centre. In a sense, it has demonstrated the benefits of the "black-marketing of power", a lesson Indian bourgeois democracy is unlikely to abandon in a hurry. Perhaps, Mu.Ka. need not feel despondent after all.

The writer is a Chennai-based cultural critic







On paper, Thai Prime Minister Vejjajiva is the kind of man you could take home to your parents.

Bashful yet self-restrained, charming, cocky and intelligent, he is also the sort of man Bangkok could, and has, fallen in love with. And why not? As the youngest PM in Thailand's history, he has in his three-year rule kickstarted Thailand's economy, endured, survived and appeased warring factions on the Bangkok street and promised 15 years of free education for all.

There's just one glitch in the "golden" boy's rosy story: he wasn't elected to power by the people; his was an accession by parliamentary vote. His political fate has never rested in the hands of the average Thai but that's about to change. Vejjajiva has called for early elections, slotted for July 3 and approved in a royal decree by the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej — and Thailand's fractious politics may well experience yet another perilous test.

But Vejjajiva has been quick in action. An 11-member election commission has been appointed, campaign routes have been drawn up and Vejjajiva, it seems, is determined to win the hearts and minds of all Thais; thus his publicly stated policy to woo the north.

This when there's a joke in Thailand about Vejjajiva, that he needs a passport to travel to the north of his country and media reports document his speedy visits to the north done only by his chopper. It is said that the young premier is wary of the northerners, the supporters of his arch-foe, Thaksin Shinawatra.

The battle for Thailand continues to be shadowed by the presence of its ex-premier, Shinawatra. A self-made billionaire charged with fraud, he continues to rouse support in Thailand, from Dubai, where he is in self-imposed exile. It is the north, impoverished and politically distant, that accounts for 52 per cent of Thailand's 67 million people and it is they who can tilt the vote. The northerners have traditionally viewed the south and Bangkok, and the Democrats, as agents of the elite, thus their support for Thaksin and his proxies. Note that since Thaksin's ouster in a bloodless coup and before Vejjajiva's administration, four governments run by Thaksin proxies came and went. Now, as he speaks to his supporters, the Red Shirts, over Skype, he has flouted a new name: Yingluck Shinawatra.

In a bizarre twist in the Thai political saga, Yingluck, Thaksin's younger sister, is to head the opposition. Criticism has flooded in from Vejjajiva's quarters: that the beautiful, wide-eyed, Chanel wearing heiress has no political training. Yingluck and her team have retorted that she'll be briefed on political and economic matters and a think-tank has been offering her extensive coaching on Thai politics.

The numbers are tilted in the Shinawatra camp's favour. The premier's party — the Democrats — hasn't won an election at the ballot box since 1986. Polls carried out indicate a Pheu Thai lead of 3.36 per cent, and pundits predict a close race.

Strangely enough, Thailand has warmed to Vejjajiva. His cabinet has pushed through a $2.2 billion budget with populist projects, is offering a zero-interest mortgage scheme and has made populism its campaigning mantra.

The Shinawatras have followed suit: they promise to issue free government-issued credit cards to farmers and taxi drivers, a doubling of the daily minimum wage and slashing corporate taxes and a policy to battle the burgeoning drug scene from the "first day in office".

But Thailand's politics has for the past few years been punctuated and deflated by the people on the Bangkok street, by their whims. Avenues, shopping malls, government offices and the international airport have been brought to a grinding halt by the squabbles between the Red and Yellow Shirt contingents. Both Red and Yellow Shirts have announced street battles should their candidate not win.

Yet one can hope that the election will take the battle away from the streets into the political arena, but there's another hiccup in the system.

Politics in Thailand has always been subservient to the king. It is the country's political elite's influence over the king and their reluctance to make peace with the popular mandate that has allowed for and fuelled the divisions on the street. A Thaksin victory will be unacceptable to the Bangkok elite.

With the Bangkok elite's irritation with the one-person-one-vote system and a politically involved king, should he or the Bangkok elite wish, the entire system can be rewritten and remodelled. For this entrenchment of power, there is no quick fix. With Thaksin's sister in the running, the next couple of months are likely to keep on edge a country that once was a shiny example of Southeast Asian success.







It is natural, particularly for the youth, to be part of a revolution. Just witness the outpouring of support for what was considered to be India's Tahrir Square — the Hazare-led anti-corruption movement. Very likely, it was our anxiety to be part of a movement, any movement, so that we could show solidarity with the jasmine revolution in the Middle East.

Most likely, the real revolution in India will be happening as you read this forecast. After 34 years of undiluted power, the last of the Communists are going to resign themselves to their worldwide fate of extinction. They should get less than 60 seats in an assembly of 294 seats. That is elimination. Perhaps I exaggerate — at last count there was a Communist party in Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela.

Hints of this forthcoming doom are contained in the Communist manifesto, sorry, the CPM Election Manifesto for the 2011 state elections. Of the three main objectives stated in the manifesto, number one is the following, and it bears quotation in full: "Our main objective is to improve (the) living standard of families below the poverty line and to create opportunities of employment" (emphasis added). Further, if the poor are the base of support for the CPM, then they have lots to worry about. By their own admission, poverty is down to only 20-odd per cent according to the old official poverty line. Which means there are less and less supporters for those whose only slogan is "for the benefit of the poor". This is a key point and suggests that the CPM has been caught in a time warp of its own making.

There are other indicators of this myopia. The manifesto starts off with how capitalism is dying under the burden of the great 2008 recession — remember, we are in 2011, but never fear. These are the opening lines: "The... election is being held against the backdrop of an unprecedented worldwide economic crisis... the hegemonistic western capitalist countries led by US imperialists have been shifting the onus of the crisis onto the Indian people."

Perhaps the CPM can say what it wants because it has won for so long — since 1977, perhaps a world record. The CPM leaders, from Kolkata to Purulia, have the same answer to their superior success — we introduced land reforms. But weren't the land reforms mostly completed in the early 1980s? Yes, but... The next refrain of the leaders is that poverty has been reduced. According to the new Tendulkar poverty line, poverty in West Bengal was some 6 percentage points above the national average in 1983 — 65 per cent vs 59 per cent. By 2007-08, poverty in West Bengal was below the national average of 39 per cent by 4 percentage points. So perhaps the CPM does have an ace up the sleeve; but that will be a hasty conclusion. Several states (e.g. Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu) have virtually the same record in reduction of poverty as West Bengal, but they neither had land reforms nor a CPM government. Most importantly, they had several regime changes since the late 1970s. This suggests that poverty reduction cannot be the explanation for the CPM's past success at the polls.

Let us look at another indicator of performance for the poor and the population at large — education, especially of young girls aged 8 to 24. In 1983, the average attainment level of this population nationwide was 2.8 years and in West Bengal it was a bit higher at 3.1 years. Twenty-four years later, and a year after their historic win of 233 seats, the nationwide average had more than doubled to 6 years; West Bengal was now below the national average at 5.7 years.

There are very few statistics which would indicate that the performance of the state of West Bengal under the Communists has been better than the national average. Which raises an additional question — if the performance of the West Bengal government has been no better than average, then why did they win time and again? I don't know, but I suspect starting Friday, May 13, historians will begin to answer this important question. There are various hypotheses floating around for their persistence in power, but none of them pertains to love for the CPM — or even worse, because they "performed". What remains firm is the desire of the Bengali voter to change the government.

In a word, there is revulsion against the present regime. We know that familiarity breeds contempt, and the voter is just very familiar with the Communists. But in all this there is a lesson for the red dragon slayer, Mamata Banerjee. What she will achieve is what no one has been able to do for three decades. Perhaps a dogged, persistent and obsessive pursuit of the Communists is what was needed to push them over the cliff. Most likely, yes.

But if one's travels and anecdotal evidence are anything to go by, Mamata is forewarned. Very few people seem to want to vote for her — but everyone wants to vote against the CPM. Which means that Bengal does not love Mamata less, but that it hates the CPM more. Which means that performance will be key to Mamata's survival, perhaps more so than any chief minister in recent memory. Which means that West Bengal will be wide open for political competition. If Mamata does not deliver, and deliver fast, she will find it difficult to win another term. Who will replace her is unknown, but it is extremely unlikely to be the CPM. So as you watch the returns, remember that India's jasmine revolution and Tahrir Square is "poribartan" (change) in West Bengal.

This is not a middle-aged hippie revolution — this is the real thing. Savour it.

The author is Chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm.







Sweet and Sour

The third round of US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue concluded on a mixed note in Washington on Tuesday. While there was no big breakthrough, the two sides reaffirmed their commitment to address their differences and effectively manage their increasingly complex relationship. While there has been some movement on economic issues, human-rights issues have begun to cast a shadow over bilateral relations.

The Obama Administration has moved away from its initial enthusiasm on building a comprehensive bilateral partnership — the so-called Group of Two — to the reality of addressing the growing divergence between the two sides on a range of issues.

In Beijing, there is a new assertiveness based on the awareness that China is rising on the world stage and the conviction that the United States is in relative decline. Unlike in the past, when Beijing tried hard to demonstrate progress in every round of bilateral talks, it is no longer in a mood to stand down on issues to please the United States. It is Washington that now works hard to signal progress.

The Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which has emerged as the principle vehicle for the management of bilateral relationship, is co-chaired by Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, State Councillor Dai Bingo and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

On the economic side, the US's emphasis was on market access to American products, protection of intellectual property rights and high value of the yuan. Washington has been objecting to the Chinese policy of shutting out foreign firms in the purchase of computers, telecom gear and other high-end manufactured goods. Beijing had justified this in the name of promoting domestic technology innovation.

During his visit to Washington in January, President Hu Jintao had promised to break the link between innovation and procurement, and the Chinese delegation had apparently reinforced that promise. American sceptics say Beijing has the habit of selling the same bill of goods more than once. Cynics would add that most Chinese promises don't get implemented. Even when Beijing puts new laws on books, they add, the provinces never enforce them.

For its part, Beijing has been pressing against Washington's many regulations that prevent Chinese foreign direct investment in US companies, especially in the so-called sensitive areas. Beijing also wants a liberalisation of US controls on high-technology exports to China.

At the end of the talks, Geithner said he is "very confident that if you look over the next several years, you're going to see Chinese investment in the United States continue to expand very, very rapidly".

Internet freedom

As Washington and Beijing chip away at their economic tensions, human-rights issues have returned to the agenda. As China intensifies its crackdown on dissidents at home, Washington has begun to speak up a little more forcefully.

In an interview to the Atlantic, Hillary Clinton called China's human-rights record "deplorable" and criticised Beijing for "trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand". While China is likely to dismiss Clinton's comments, it will surely pay more attention to the new Internet initiative launched by the Obama Administration. On Tuesday, US State Department officials said they would give $19 million to efforts that can short-circuit Internet controls in China, Iran and other countries that block online access to politically sensitive material.

Michael Posner, the assistant secretary of state in charge of human rights, said funding would support cutting-edge technology that acts as a "slingshot" — identifying material that countries are censoring and throwing it back at them. "We're responding with new tools. This is a cat-and-mouse game. We're trying to stay one step ahead of the cat," Posner added.

Asian security

If last year saw an open verbal confrontation between China and the United States at the ASEAN Regional Forum, this week's discussions saw a deliberate effort to cool the rhetoric and establish a forum for bilateral talks on security in East Asia and the Pacific.

At the end of the talks, State Councillor Dai said, "We agreed that Asia Pacific is broad enough to accommodate the interests of China and of the United States. We must work together in this region, work together with other countries in this region to uphold peace, stability in the Asia-Pacific."

"It would be inappropriate for China and the US to talk about cooperation at the global level without cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region," the People's Daily said in an approving commentary.

President Barack Obama will participate in the East Asian Summit this year after the United States was accepted as a member last year. The bet is that the new bilateral framework will help Washington and Beijing to limit their potential conflict in East Asia and the Pacific.

Amid speculation that China and Pakistan are trying to nudge America out of Afghanistan, the two sides underlined this week the importance of cooperation on Af-Pak issues. "We agreed on the importance of cooperating in Afghanistan to advance common goals of political stability and economic renewal," Clinton said.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi)







Love thy neighbour?

An editorial in the RSS weekly Organiser hits out at the prime minister and asks, "Why is Manmohan so fond of Pakistan?" Osama bin Laden getting killed in Abbottabad, it says, has thoroughly exposed Pakistan. The article expresses incredulity in Manmohan Singh's intention to talk with Pakistan, even after the bin Laden episode. "Last week's developments have once again exposed Singh's naivety," it says. "Because the US wants India to talk to Pakistan, he will keep talking. Because the US wants Pakistan as a frontline ally in its war on terror, and in Afghanistan, Manmohan Singh has to respond positively, irrespective of what the people of India think." The editorial says talks can wait. It says since there are many state and non-state handlers of power in Pakistan, "is there anybody whom India can trust or for that matter settle anything with which other players will not violate and torpedo?" "If even the US could not trust Pakistan with its pursuit of Osama because of the duplicity of power centres there, how can India, a confirmed adversary of Pakistan in their eyes, hope to talk for any lasting solution?" it asks.

Take notes

The current issue of Panchjanya says Osama's elimination is a blow to jihadi forces and asks the Indian government to deal with terror elements with renewed strength. Another article, on the Purulia arms drop case, says, "Whenever the Congress has been in power at the Centre, it has misused RAW, IB, CBI and other intelligence agencies for its political ends." It says the Purulia case was not the only instance when intelligence agencies were misused during Narasimha Rao's tenure, as these agencies were behind the hawala scandal as well.

Scamsters all

An article in Organiser doubts the role of investigative agencies in the 2G scam and other cases of corruption. It says they are "clearly under pressure to protect the powerful rather than obey the Supreme Court and go after the guilty". It says a "culture of immunity has spread across India and VVIPs feel that there is no chance that they will be held to account for the multiple crimes that they commit against the national interest".

The article does not absolve even the opposition: "While the CBI, the ED, the Income Tax and other agencies of the government go after the lesser levels of the administrative, business and sometimes even the political apparatus, almost never is someone high up bothered... Indeed, a new doctrine is being propounded by some prominent opposition leaders, which is the Nehru family ought to be given immunity from criticism. In exchange, presumably, their own shenanigans will be kept covered and unpunished." It adds: "It is only with the arrival of CJI Kapadia on the scene that this culture of immunity seems to have been affected."






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 the US killed bin Laden, who inspired 9/11. I just wish it were as easy to eliminate the two bad bargains that really made that attack possible, funded it and provided the key plotters and foot soldiers who carried it out. We are talking about the ruling bargains in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which are alive and well.

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

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

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

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

Ditto Pakistan. The Pakistani ruling bargain is set by the Pakistani Army and says: We let you civilians pretend to rule, but we will actually call all the key shots, we will consume nearly 25 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 al-Sauds and the Wahhabis. We provide al-Sauds security, and they provide us oil. The Wahhabis provide al-Sauds with legitimacy and al-Sauds provide them with money (from us). It works really well for 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.THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN








Given that it took under 18 months from the time the SEC formally charged Raj Rajaratnam of insider trading to convicting him, it's not surprising the case has got the kind of press it has. But what's important to keep in mind, as WSJ notes, is that in the past 18 months alone, the SEC has charged 47 hedge-fund managers and others of insider trading, and Rajaratnam is the 35th person who has either been convicted or has pleaded guilty. It appears the next lot of work will be on what are called expert-networking firms, firms whose job is to get key personnel from firms to meet hedge-fund managers to offer tips, of the type Rajarathnam got regularly—"Ah Raj, eBay is gonna do massive layoff on Monday", was one such he got from Anil Kumar, a McKinsey partner who pleaded guilty (three days later, eBay announced it was laying off 1,600 people).

Cut to India, and though Sebi has been able to crack insider trading cases from time to time—think Wockhardt and HDFC Mutual Fund—these are few and far between, and certainly there are no really high-profile cases. While some blame political pressure, the problem appears more deep-seated. Leave alone getting the power to do wiretaps of the sort that did Rajaratnam in, Sebi has been asking for call records but hasn't been given them so far—just simple who-spoke-to-whom-when stuff. It did get call transcripts in the case of some mutual funds, but that's because mutual funds tape their dealers as a matter of course. In the absence of strict privacy laws and a strong culture of enforcing them, the power to tap phones can lead to more trouble, of the type seen with leaks of phonetaps in recent months. What Sebi needs more than phone taps is a quantum jump in its forensics. Indian promoters tend to have hundreds of finance firms and subsidiaries who own subsidiaries—once these names are fed into computers on a 24x7 basis, tracking of their share activity is possible. The other solution is to reduce the 'layering' that firms do on a routine basis— just see the details of some of the firms accused in the 2G scam to understand this. Such lists with registrars of companies are typically incomplete and very often not digital. Similar family trees, as it were, are needed of business affiliates and, indeed, families—the definition of what comprises insiders has been whittled down over the years, from around 70 to 22 now. Above all, insider trading needs to be made a criminal offence—a R5 lakh fine for the Wockhardt CFO found guilty of insider trading (plus not allowing him to work as a compliance officer for 18 months) is akin to a traffic ticket.





It wasn't just lethal MIC gas that leaked from the Union Carbide storage tanks at Bhopal on the night of December 2, 1984, it was sleeping gas. Sleeping gas that kept those in power, at New Delhi and Bhopal, asleep for 14 long years. That, in a nutshell, is one of the major reasons cited by a 5-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice on Wednesday for rejecting the CBI's curative petition in the Bhopal disaster case. After a public outcry over the two-year sentence given by the Bhopal court, usually reserved for negligent driving, given to those in charge of the plant, the government's solution was to set up a Bhopal Group of Ministers and to offer to file a curative petition in the Supreme Court—a curative petition is one that says substantive justice has not been done. The government's argument was that, in 1996, while the original case had been filed under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder, with a 10-year sentence), the Supreme Court reduced this to Section 304A where the maximum penalty is two years—this, the government said is what tied the local court's hands. So, a review of this, it felt, would fix things—this is what the Court dismissed.

The Court ruling has angered most, and not surprisingly given that, to cite the Court's judgment, 5,295 people died and another 5,68,292 were injured, including some with total disablement. The Court makes an important point here. One, even if the government felt the original ruling was incorrect, why didn't the CBI or the Madhya Pradesh government file an appeal the way two NGOs did—this appeal, however, was dismissed by the Court. Indeed, when the NGOs filed another review petition in April last year—when the defence finished its arguments in the Bhopal court—the CBI still didn't join in. It is a bit difficult to believe, as the Supreme Court does, that the lower court could try the accused under Section 304 since it had evidence the Supreme Court didn't have, but the fact of the government's lack of interest in Bhopal is well established. When the tragedy took place, the government didn't give out compensation till Carbide paid up—a large part of the compensation hadn't been paid out till recently. The plan to clean up the toxic waste happened only when a suit was filed in the MP high court in 2004, and that case is stuck in the court as Gujarat is no longer keen to allow the toxic waste to be burnt in an incinerator there. The government thought the Supreme Court would help it cover up its complete apathy, but the Court has refused to do so. As for Bhopal's victims, they've got another long journey ahead as the case gets retried in Bhopal and then finds its way to the Supreme Court, eventually.






It is natural, particularly for the youth, to be a part of a revolution. Just witness the outpouring of support for what was considered to be India's Tahrir Square—the Hazare led anti-corruption movement. Very likely, it was our anxiety to be part of a movement, any movement, so that we could show solidarity with the Jasmine Revolution in the Middle East.

Most likely, the real revolution in India will be happening as you read this forecast. After 34 years in undiluted power, the last of the Communists are going to resign themselves to their worldwide fate of extinction. They should get less than 60 seats in an assembly of 294 seats. That is elimination. Perhaps I exaggerate—at last count there was a Communist party in Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela.

Hints of this forthcoming doom are contained in the Communist manifesto, sorry, the CPM Election Manifesto for the 2011 state elections. Of the three main objectives stated in the manifesto, number one is the following, and it bears quotation in full: "Our main objective is to improve [the] living standard of families below the poverty line and to create opportunities of employment." Further, if the poor are the base of support for the CPM, then they have lots to worry about. By their own admission, poverty is down to only about 20%, according to the old official poverty line. Which means there are less and less supporters for those whose only slogan is "for the benefit of the poor". This is a key point and suggests that the CPM has been caught in a time-warp of its own making.

There are other indicators of this myopia. The manifesto starts off with how capitalism is dying under the burden of the great 2008 recession—remember, we are in 2011, but never fear. These are the opening lines: "The ..election is being held against the backdrop of an unprecedented worldwide economic crisis… the hegemonistic western capitalist countries led by US imperialists have been shifting the onus of the crisis on to the Indian people."

Perhaps the CPM can say what it wants because it has won for so long— since 1977, perhaps a world record. The CPM leaders, from Kolkata to Purulia, have the same answer to their superior success—we introduced land reforms. But weren't the land reforms mostly completed in the early 1980s? Yes, but … The next refrain of the leaders is that poverty has been reduced. According to the new Tendulkar poverty line, poverty in West Bengal was some 6 percentage points above the national average in 1983—65% vs 59%. In 2007-08, poverty in West Bengal was below the national average of 39% by 4 percentage points. So, perhaps, the CPM does have an ace up the sleeve; but that will be a hasty conclusion. Several states (for example, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu) have virtually the same record in reduction of poverty as West Bengal, but they neither had land reforms, nor a CPM government. Most importantly, they had several regime changes since the late 1970s. This suggests that poverty reduction cannot be the explanation behind the CPM's past success at the polls.

Let us look at another indicator of performance for the poor and the population—education, and education especially of young girls aged 8 to 24. In 1983, the average attainment level of this population nationwide was 2.8 years and in West Bengal it was a bit higher at 3.1 years. Twenty four years later, and a year after their historic win of 233 seats, the nationwide average had more than doubled to 6 years; West Bengal was now below the national average at 5.7 years.

There are very few statistics which would indicate that the performance of the state of West Bengal under the Communists has been better than the national average. Which raises an additional question—if the performance of the West Bengal government has been no better than average, then why did they win time and again? I don't know, but I suspect starting Friday May 13, historians will begin to answer this important question. There are various hypotheses floating around for their persistence in power but none of them pertain to love for the CPM—or even worse, because they "performed". What remains firm is the desire of the Bengali voter to change the government.

In a word, there is revulsion against the present regime. We know that familiarity breeds contempt, and the voter is just very familiar with the Communists. But in all this there is a lesson for the red dragon slayer, Ms Mamata Banerjee. What she will achieve is what no one (especially man!) has been able to do for three decades. Perhaps a dogged, persistent and obsessive pursuit of the Communists is what was needed to push them over the cliff. Most likely, yes.

But if one's travels and anecdotal evidence are anything to go by, Ms Mamata is forewarned. Very few people seem to want to vote for her—but everyone wants to vote against the CPM. Which means that Bengal does not love Mamata less, but that it hates the CPM more. Which means that performance will be key to Mamata's survival, perhaps more so than any chief minister in recent memory. Which means that West Bengal will be wide open for political competition. If Ms Mamata does not deliver, and deliver fast, she will find it difficult to win another term. Who will replace her is unknown, but it is extremely unlikely to be the CPM. So as you watch the returns, remember that India's Jasmine Revolution and Tahrir Square is poribartan (change) in West Bengal. This is not a middle-aged hippie revolution—this is the real thing. Savour it.

The author is Chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm





It looks like the change West Bengal is craving for is only a few hours away. But how fundamental will it be? Just a change of personalities and banners with more of the same political culture or a fundamental shift in governance for the better? Here, Didi can certainly look at neighbouring Bihar and Nitish Kumar's first term for a few clues.

For sure, Bengal 2011 is not Bihar 2005. Then, Nitish Kumar ended Lalu-Rabri's 15 years of rule that had descended into 'jungle raj'. Mamata will be heaving a boulder that has been there for more than twice as long. Lalu's governance was execrable but Bihar was a basket-case even before him. In the case of Bengal, the Left has gradually taken a leading state downhill. But there are undeniable similarities. Even Lalu's misrule had empowered the lower castes, given a voice to the Musahars and Harijans, not to speak of the Yadavs. In Bengal, the Left has undoubtedly empowered the poorer segments. In both places, the police systems have been heavily politicised. While caste ruled supreme in Bihar, and still does, the 'party' is no less a divider in neighbouring Bengal.

The question is, what next? In the five years of Nitish rule, two major developments stand out—law and order, and roads. Education and healthcare come next, while hardly much has happened to industry. On closer scrutiny, even in law and order, it is really one particular crime—kidnapping for ransom—that has shown a dramatic decline. And yet, this singular achievement has revolutionised people's perception of law and order in Bihar, and has created new optimism and goodwill. As for roads, no qualifications are necessary. One can reach virtually any part of the state from Patna today in less than eight hours—undreamable in 2005. In healthcare, just resuming free medicine supplies in village health centres has brought both villagers as well as the missing doctors back. In education, the much heralded 'bicycle for girls' and such initiatives have paid off significantly, though the benefits are likely to be visible in the longer-run.

What are the lessons for Mamata? Many, really. Create a development environment that does not discriminate. Asphalt does not choose between CPM and Trinamool or prefer Bhumihars over Yadavs. Law and order should not be about vengeance. The speedy trial experiment in Bihar that just hastened conviction, particularly in cases of illegal firearms possession, had a startling effect on crimes of all kinds. And that within the same police and judicial apparatus as before. Nitish Kumar brought an end to Lalu's 'Yadavisation', but without replacing it with his own 'Kurmis'. Political interference in police work has ceased. Period.

Create improvements in delivery mechanisms. Much of Bihar's progress under the NDA regime has been funded by the UPA government at the Centre. Schemes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, National Rural Health Mission, Indira Awaas Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, have benefited Bihar massively. But Nitish's credit lies in being able to actually spend a large part of the funds that came to the state in a manner, which—while far from free of charges of leakage and corruption—made a visible difference to the state.

The problem with any 'parivartan' government is that it can wilt under its own pressure. The voters who want change expect the world from their new leaders. To survive and thrive, Mamata should understand the basics of the Nitish principle—that "quick wins" do not come from industry. Capitalists are too circumspect and will not embrace a new order before a lot of dilly-dallying. Regardless of the entire hullabaloo about economic development, people still view governance as the delivery of things under government control rather than the creation of jobs through private investment. Less than a tenth of the workforce works in the formal sector anyway. That's why the Nano exit had a nanometric electoral effect. Deliver on visibles—roads, electricity and a functioning police system. Bust local mafiadoms—regardless of party leanings —to bring real law and order. And Bengal will be Mamata's for keeps.

Mamata comes to power with the same advantage of a spotless image that Nitish has. Like Nitish, she also has a single person brand. Given her aversion to seeing any other power-centre in the TMC, one would hardly be surprised if her governance style would be similar to Nitish's—working directly with the secretaries, paying little heed to the ministers. The thing to watch is if she will graduate from headline-grabbing symbolism to actual execution-oriented governance. For, if it has worked for polls in Bihar, there is little doubt it will be the key differentiator in Bengal.

The author teaches finance at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad







The conviction of Raj Rajaratnam, a billionaire financier and founder of the Galleon Group, one of the world's largest hedge fund management firms, by a New York federal court jury on five counts of securities fraud and nine of conspiracy to commit fraud between 2003 and 2009 sends a clear message to the financial markets. It is that they are not above the law and that white-collar crime is still crime. The New York jury, which deliberated for 12 days, rejected Mr. Rajaratnam's defence that the detailed "mosaic" of information given him by high-level contacts within companies amounted to a legitimate strategy. Mr. Rajaratnam faces a minimum of 15 years and a half in prison; he will appeal, but under a $100 million bail arrangement he is electronically tagged and remains under house arrest until his sentencing on July 29. Out of 47 people charged with insider trading in the last 18 months, he is the 35th to be convicted. In Galleon-related cases, 21 out of 26 defendants have pleaded guilty, including Danielle Chiesi, formerly of Bear Stearns, Intel's ex-staffer Rajiv Goel, and IBM's former executive Robert Moffat. The question is whether prosecutors will now go after other big fish who went to the edge of the law in dealing with Mr. Rajaratnam.

As for insider trading, it is significant that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has used anti-mafia techniques like wiretaps to good effect. Corporate lawyers may be right that the biggest successful Wall Street prosecution since the Milken and Boesky scandals of the 1980s will have a "chilling" effect on the way financial trading is done but that by itself will not address the wider issues. The fact that many of those convicted were, at the time of their crimes, working in some of the world's most powerful financial companies will only serve to deepen public distrust of the financial sector. Suspicion is already widespread as a result of the 2007-08 global crash and the failure of the massive state-funded bank bailouts to deliver the promised economic revival. Furthermore, criminal investigation, by its very nature, takes place ex post facto, and its deterrent effects are uncertain, depending on the perceptions of risk under the circumstances. That, together with the complexity of the financial sector, means that the moral effects of high-profile convictions may fade under the relentless pressure to make big bucks quickly. Criminal prosecutions in this area cannot replace well-designed and resolutely implemented regulatory legislation. That, however, will require political will of a kind few countries seem to have in the current climate, however much the public supports such action.





The Supreme Court's decision to reject as "wrong and fallacious" the curative plea filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the Bhopal case has led to a lot of unnecessary hand-wringing by NGOs and activists. The government sought to enhance the culpability of those responsible for the December 1984 gas disaster from mere "criminal negligence" — for which they were convicted last year — to "culpable homicide not amounting to murder." In dismissing the government's petition, the Supreme Court concluded that its 1996 verdict, which threw out the culpable homicide accusation, was the product of evidence presented at the time charges were framed. But it also told the CBI that if there were additional facts to conclude that a more serious offence had been committed, nothing would stand in the way of the sessions court framing graver charges. Should the sessions judge have reservations, especially given the passage of time, the Supreme Court has indicated that its 1996 verdict would not be a "fetter" against delivering justice to the victims of the calamitous gas leak. If the Chief Judicial Magistrate misread its earlier judgment as constraining, the revisional court "can certainly correct" that error, the highest court in the land has noted.

The CBI's inability to credibly explain why it moved the Supreme Court so many years after 1996 – or after 2002, when the instrumentality of curative petitions was created – hides an open secret that continues to shock all partisans of justice round the world. The truth is that successive administrations at the Centre, whether headed by the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party or the United Front, have not been interested in the guilty being punished. Equally damningly, they have cared little about justice being done to the victims. Once again, the ball is back in the government's hands. It is too early to say whether the beginning of the end to a long wait for justice has been set in motion for the victims of the Bhopal tragedy through the Supreme Court's verdict. All eyes will now be on the CBI: will it push for enhanced charges at the sessions court now that the legal picture has become clearer? It is up to the Madhya Pradesh and central governments to ensure that this matter is argued expeditiously and that any appeals which follow are fast-tracked. Later this summer, the petition seeking enhancement of compensation for the victims will be heard. Although the Supreme Court cannot easily conjure up a remedy for the manifest failure of the executive to protect the rights of the gas victims, it needs to remain engaged with the case until justice is finally delivered.







The ongoing invasion of Libya by the armed forces of three permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) — the U.S., the U.K. and France — with the support of some other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) members, with a view to getting rid of Muammar Qadhafi, and the developments in Côte d'Ivoire, where French military intervention led to the arrest and removal from office of President Laurent Gbagbo (and his replacement by Alassane Ouattara, leader of the opposition who won a UN supervised election in November last) raise important questions about the limits of national sovereignty, an idea that does not seem applicable to powerful nation states like the members of the UNSC.

The invasion of Libya was sanctioned by a UNSC resolution (No. 1973), adopted on March 17. Though five of the 15 UNSC members, Russia, China, Brazil, Germany and India, abstained, none voted against it. Two days later, Libya was invaded. Six weeks into the invasion, Qadhafi remains in power despite the massive use of land, sea and air power, and the imposition of no-fly zones in Libyan airspace for Libyan aircraft. In contrast, the French intervention in Côte d'Ivoire attained its objective swiftly.

However, Côte d'Ivoire may yet pose other challenges, and may even revert to a state of civil war, as was prevalent for several years before the elections. The killing of Ibrahim (IB) Coulibaly, a 'former' warlord who had become a supporter of President Ouattara, by government forces on April 27 could be a pointer to the shape of things to come, and a possible realigning of forces. Referring to himself in the third person in a recent interview to AP, he had said: "IB came to solve the problems, not create problems. IB wants this country to be unified. I don't understand why people say IB wants to take power from Ouattara. What lies!"

With such a deviously ambiguous denial of political ambition in the affirmative, it is no wonder that he has been killed. The examples of Liberia and Sierra Leone, where other actors were active in the 1990s, were relevant in Côte d'Ivoire even before the internal troubles took a serious turn in 2002. As in West Africa, the geographical and cultural disconnect in Côte d'Ivoire, between the north and the south, and the coastal regions and the 'interior,' persists. The periodic crises and the inability of political parties contesting elections to accept their outcome reflect this disconnect. Even in Nigeria, economically and politically one of the most advanced in the continent, these divides pushed the country into a three-year long civil war in the late 1960s. It was eventually resolved by the political leadership, though international 'humanitarian' organisations closely linked to mercenaries who were materially supported by former colonial powers, tried their best to split the country into ruinous self-destructing fiefdoms. Even now, these contradictions occasionally flare up, thanks to the very same forces that tried to destroy the federal republic.

Libya is, however, proving to be a tougher nut to crack. Though the invading forces initially said their objective was not the removal of Muammar Qadhafi from power but only to ensure security to the 'Libyan people opposed to Qadhafi,' meaning those fighting against him located in and around Benghazi, this was qualified quite early during the invasion by the commander of the invading forces that 'regime change' was not their objective at present. After a sustained reporting of the impending humanitarian tragedy of vast proportions in Misrata, there has been a strategic change in the objective, with the bombing of the compound where Muammar Qadhafi lives in. Qadhafi is yet to be removed, despite the sustained campaign against his government by the Western 'liberal' media. Dissenting voices questioning this diminishing of national sovereignty by big powers are countered on the ground that the military intervention has been authorised by a UNSC resolution, and is perfectly legitimate.

The argument is that 'popular' resentment in the form of 'a mass uprising' against the governments of Qadhafi and Gbagbo was being violently repressed. So, foreign armed intervention to save the people from their own governments and leaders became inevitable. The question who decides that there is indeed a mass uprising that is being repressed with such violence by the very state that is supposed to protect its people becomes irrelevant in an environment where the media and 'civil society' exert enormous influence in moulding national and international opinion, and something else called R2P.

And thereby hangs a tale. This new and evolving doctrine that has legitimised foreign intervention to remove leaders like Qadhafi on the ground that they have become 'enemies of the people' was crafted through an 'international consensus' during the 2005 UN World Summit and has come to be known as the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P, in the jargon of the new language order). This consensus was manufactured by NGOs networking with the United Nations and other national and international human rights organisations. The website,, provides details of the manufacturing of this consensus, as well as of the NGOs and that strange animal, the 'international community,' somewhat analogous to the 'civil society' that is making waves in India, that are fronting and driving this process. Indeed, at some points the 'international community' becomes a euphemism for the UNSC, as in Paragraph 3 of the R2P preamble cited below.

The Preamble drips with moral commitment to protect the 'people' against their own governments, even if these were to be elected governments. It also raises many questions. For instance, the mechanisms built in democratic polities to remove elected governments that have become oppressive are not even taken into consideration because the state and its elected representatives have become corrupt beyond redemption, unlike the 'civil society' that is axiomatically seen as immaculate, unstained.

Recognising the failure to adequately respond to the most heinous crimes known to humankind, world leaders made a historic commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity at the United Nations (UN) 2005 World Summit. This commitment, entitled the Responsibility to Protect, stipulates that:

1. The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.

3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.

Above all, this very 'international community' now entrusted with the 'responsibility to assist the states in fulfilling this responsibility,' to protect their population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, has itself waged war against their own people, committed genocides. The leading member of this 'international community' readily fits the bill. This is not the first attempt by the ''international community' of this ilk to flout the national sovereignty of less powerful countries.

Following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in July 1956, Egypt was invaded by a transnational coalition of France, Britain and Israel on the ground that the Canal was an international waterway, and Egyptian sovereignty did not extend to the Canal. Patrice Lumumba in Belgian Congo (July 1961) and Mohammad Najeebullah in Afghanistan (September 1996) were abducted and murdered while they were under the 'protective custody' of the UN.

Put simply, instrumentalities such as the R2P devised by the 'international community,' like the ongoing demeaning of the democratic political process in India by positing against it 'non-political politics,' are yet another weapon being crafted to assist the relentless process of recolonisation under way in many formerly colonised countries.








Mandwa is still trying to recover from the Prime Minister's relief package. This Adivasi village (population: 550) got 36 hybrid cows under Manmohan Singh's 2006 programme to help Vidarbha's struggling farmers at the height of their crisis. The cows (and sometimes buffaloes) did not come free. "We paid Rs.4,500 and the government Rs.13,500 for each cow [a 75-per-cent subsidy]," says Devidas Kishtareddy Gangulwar in the village. "Most of the members of our [all-male] self-help groups got two cows. Meaning each paid Rs.9,000"

Four years after the hybrids (cutely called aadha Jerseys, or half-Jerseys) came to Mandwa, the village has paid the price. Of the 36, 20 have died, 12 were sold off at huge losses to the "owner-beneficiaries" and four remain, ornaments providing little or no milk at all. But not before twenty poor Kolam and Gond Adivasis had lost close to Rs.3,00,000 on them by way of their share of the purchase cost, transportation and maintenance.

It's a story replicated across the crisis districts of a region plagued by large numbers of farm suicides. In a modestly titled section, "Unfruitful subsidy under Prime minister's Package", a Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) notes that a scrutiny in just three of the six crisis districts proved startling. It showed that "509 animals were dead, 473 were sold and 1867 could not be verified" as still being with the stated owner. That's nearly 28 per cent of "10,210 animals distributed during the package period" of 2006-07 to 2009-10.

Then there's the "unfruitful subsidy" on the same count arising from the "Chief Minister's Package." That, too, saw a distribution of over 6,000 milch animals in the same districts. The score: 466 animals dead, 517 sold and 1266 "non-traceable."

The Chief Minister's package was merged in November 2006 with the Prime Minister's. Many warned at the time against giving costly cattle to poor farmers who had neither fodder nor water. Nor was there training for people who had never been cattle breeders, as in Mandwa's case. Yet, over Rs.50 crore was splurged on the purchase of livestock.

There is not one working hand pump in Mandwa. "We fetch our water from more than a kilometre away," says Mr. Gangulwar, just as a cart rolls in with a big drum of it. "Fodder? Just go out and try buying some."

"While the cows lasted, we spent far more on them than we could afford," says Ayya Baheru Atram. Breeders say looking after such animals properly takes between Rs.150 and Rs.200 a day. "Which one of us could spend more than Rs.40?" asks Sonerao Meshram, another beneficiary. "And that, only for a few months till we went bankrupt." Mr. Sonerao is the proud owner of one of the four survivors and all gather round it for a group photograph.

Frequent ailments plagued the hybrid animals (a few were " aadha Holsteins") which simply could not cope with conditions in this hillside village. "They were shaking in the 45 Celsius heat," says Devidas Gangulwar. "We had to take them often to the veterinary doctor," say a chorus of voices. Ultimately, "the vet's income went up, ours went down."

But surely, there were benefits from the sale of milk? There are rueful smiles. "The milk was very thin and there were no takers," says Shyamrao Ramulu Akulwar. "The first month, the cows actually gave eight litres a day. But there were no buyers and the market is pretty far off, too. So we had a brief glut of milk here." Most had really hoped they would get sturdy bullocks from the offspring. This is a rough terrain to plough. The manure would also have helped. "As we ran out of money and stopped feeding them even that Rs.40 worth, they stopped giving us even that thin milk," says Mr. Shyamrao.

Ayya Atram "held on to the cow for two years but the milk lasted four months." Its required diet missing, the cow shrank and the one calf it produced died. We could have, the Adivasis say, "handled local breeds. These animals were aliens to us." They could also have handled poultry well, but were never told of the option. Somebody had cows to sell.

There's a drama behind the Prime Minister's missing cows, and the ones that were sold-off. One the CAG report obviously cannot enter. And not restricted to Mandwa. The beneficiaries did not profit from what turned out to be high-eating low-yielding cows. "We sold when the damn things drove us bankrupt," complains one villager. Those who sold, got a fraction of the Rs.9,000 they had spent. Others failed to sell before the animals died, losing out totally. In several villages, people simply gave the animal away, unable to feed it, unwilling to kill it. And, says one activist in the region, "a few were consumed in one or two hungry villages."

There is also a less recorded drama of where the cows came from and how the programmes set the cash registers ringing somewhere. Some of the aadha Jerseys and half-Holsteins, insist activists, were from Ahmednagar district. A couple of dealers in Vidarbha also seem to have made a killing. Mandwa's beneficiaries were taken to a cattle sale in Wardha and asked to choose from a specific dealer there. They also paid all the considerable transportation costs themselves.

Meanwhile, the package has wound up. Mandwa now seeks relief from the package's effects.







It took Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev more than a week to offer his first public comment on the killing of Osama bin Laden. Even then it was little more than a passing remark at a government meeting he called on May 11 to discuss the need to strengthen security at Russian embassies against terrorist and other threats.

"The liquidation of terrorists, even as high-profile as the recently killed bin Laden, is directly related to the level of security in our country," Mr. Medvedev said adding that Russian security services have killed a number of al-Qaeda emissaries in the insurgency-hit southern regions of Russia.

"That is why this interconnection between… actions taken by foreign states… and our domestic developments must also be in the focus of heightened attention."

Mr. Medvedev's remarks hardly qualify for applause. Russia's powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has not commended the U.S. on its Abbottabad operation. Russia's official reaction was limited to two brief communiqués issued by the Kremlin and the Foreign Ministry on May 2.

The Kremlin press service welcomed "serious success" of the U.S. in the fight against international terrorism and called for stepping up "joint coordinated battle" against this evil. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the U.S. blow to al-Qaeda had "universal significance" showing that "terrorism is doomed" and retribution strikes terrorists sooner or later.

The silence of the Kremlin leaders looks strange at first glance given the fact that bin Laden had caused Russia a lot of trouble. The world terrorist No.1 fought Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s and even took credit for destroying the Soviet Union before targeting the U.S.

"We conducted a war of attrition against Russia for 10 years until they went bankrupt," bin Laden famously declared years after the Soviet Union collapsed. "We are continuing in the same policy — to make America bleed profusely to the point of bankruptcy."

In the 1990s bin Laden did a lot to foment Islamist rebellion in Russia, recruiting volunteers to fight on the side of Chechen separatists and helping fund their movement. His right-hand man and likely successor, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, travelled to the North Caucasus in 1996 in search of a new home base for the al-Qaeda after it was expelled from Egypt and Saudi Arabia and before it moved its headquarters to Afghanistan. Several foreign insurgents belonging to the global terror group have been killed in the North Caucasus over the past 15 years. One of them was Ibn al-Khattab, an Arab veteran of the Afghan war against the Soviet army, who became a top warlord in Chechnya accused of masterminding a spate of apartment bombings that killed close to 300 Russians in 1999. Other prominent Arab militants killed in Chechnya include Abu Sayyaf, Abu Khavs, and Abu al Walid. A few days after bin Laden's death, Russian security forces killed another member of the so-called "Arab brigade" by the name of Abdullah Kurd.

However, in recent years Russian Islamists have become less dependent on al-Qaeda, either for expert guidance or financial support.

"Russian terrorists have links with al-Qaeda, but get funding and other assistance from other sources — some respectable Islamic charities based in Saudi Arabia and other countries," said Sergei Rogov, Director of the Moscow-based Institute for U.S. and Canada Studies.

Moscow does not believe that the removal of the al-Qaeda leader will help scale back terrorist activity in Russia's North Caucasus.

In fact, experts fear bin Laden's death will lead to a spike in terrorist acts in the North Caucasus and worldwide.

"The liquidation of bin Laden will have no impact on terrorism in the world and still less in the North Caucasus; on the contrary it will open a Pandora's box of extremism," said Ruslan Ghereyev of the North Caucasus Centre of Islamic Studies.

Arguably Moscow did not want to be too effusive about the killing of bin Laden because America's spectacular success in hunting down and eliminating the world's Number 1 terrorist, while protecting its own territory from any terrorist attacks for the past 10 years, made striking contrast with the failure of Russian security services to prevent a long series of bloody terrorist attacks in Moscow over the same period and root out terrorism in Russia's southern provinces.

Moscow was also careful not to alienate Muslims, both in Russia and in the world, as many among them did not share the West's exhilaration over the killing of bin Laden.

But the main reason for the Kremlin's reserved reaction is that the killing of bin Laden posed more questions than it answered. Moscow saw a wider U.S. game plan behind the liquidation of bin Laden and is deeply concerned about U.S.' further strategies in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

"I think that the death of the leader of al-Qaeda is the result of a deal between American and Pakistani intelligence," academician Mr. Rogov pointed out.

The deal paves the way for a power sharing arrangement with the Taliban and should facilitate U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Moscow has good reason to fear that Washington will not factor in Russia's interests in the future Afghan settlement, just as it has consistently ignored the Kremlin's calls to combat the soaring drug production in Afghanistan and rejected Russian protests against the deployment of missile defences in Europe.

The Kremlin is further worried about the fallout of the proposed deal with the Taliban for former Soviet Central Asia. A Taliban comeback threatens to destabilise the region, which has recently been rocked by new waves of violence. Security forces in Tajikistan repeatedly clashed with Islamist groups in the past winter, and Kyrgyzstan is still reeling from a violent regime change last year followed by bloody ethnic clashes.

Three days after bin Laden's death Russia's anti-narcotics chief Viktor Ivanov called for the return of Russian border guards to Tajikistan, which they left in 2005.

Russia suspects that even as the U.S. prepares to pull out of Afghanistan it will dig in in Central Asia. A top Russian military analyst warned that the U.S. and NATO will now work to upgrade their military outposts in the region and extend their Afghanistan-centred mandates.

"Central Asia is the scene of growing geopolitical rivalry between the leading regional and global power centres," said Sergei Chekinov, head of the Centre for Military Strategy Research of the Russian General Staff. "The West seeks wider access to energy resources in Central Asia and a foothold to advance its interests beyond the region."

Speaking after bin Laden's death Mr. Chekinov called for strengthening the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Russia-dominated defence pact of former Soviet states.

"The CSTO is the main structure capable of providing security for Central Asia and it must develop a defence strategy to boost stability in the region," the General Staff expert said in an interview.

Russia is also apprehensive that the killing of bin Laden may strengthen the hand of a rising interventionist lobby in the White House that reportedly persuaded a reluctant President Barack Obama to launch military action in Libya, which within a month escalated to a full-fledged covert war against the Qadhafi government. Moscow said it saw it as a dangerous tendency.

"When so-called civilized world is attacking a small country with all its power, destroying the infrastructures created for generations… I do not like this," Mr. Putin said on a recent visit to Denmark. "Why should we intervene in this conflict? Don't we have other weird regimes in the world? Should we intervene in internal conflicts everywhere? [...] Should we bomb all these countries?" he asked rhetorically.

Moscow has wisely concluded that before it receives answers to these questions it has little reason to cheer bin Laden's killing.






For those working in human rights, the events of the last week have led to some interesting but challenging debates. We have heard government officials and pundits argue that torture led to the discovery of Osama bin Laden. Somewhere, they claim, in a secret detention centre in Poland or Lithuania, or in an interrogation room in Guantánamo Bay or Bagram, someone gave the critical clue that led to this outcome.

As justifications for the legitimacy of torture hit the headlines, Amnesty International has been preparing to release its annual report into the state of the world's human rights. With the benefit of 50 years of working to prevent torture and promote justice, Amnesty International has found itself re-affirming the centrality of human rights in the key challenges we face today — including the absolute ban on torture.

Some claim that torture works. They argue that last week's events in Pakistan prove that torture played a role in bringing what they would call justice to the thousands of victims of al- Qaeda around the world. So how, they ask, can self-righteous human rights activists criticise torture?

But let's look at detention centres. Detention centres in Tunis, Cairo, Tehran, Damascus, Manama and Sana'a. Detention centres where for decades people fighting to promote human rights and democracy have been tortured by what are now being publicly acknowledged as brutal and repressive governments. And the justification is always virtually the same. These people are a threat. In fact they are terrorists.

This is not about one person's terrorist being another person's freedom fighter. This is about states abusing their power both against those whose actions themselves are criminal and abusive and those who challenge criminal and abusive behaviour by governments. The reality is that, to achieve their ends, states often torture human rights defenders and end up protecting the terrorist. Too often the system fails and violators reign while defenders are imprisoned. And this is one clear reason why torture can never be justified.

Those who are promoting human rights and defending the marginalised, the excluded, the demonised must be protected from any abuse of power — not just from states but also from the drug lords in Mexico, the Lords Resistance Army in Uganda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it is the states, which have an explicit and visible commitment to human rights, that are key in preventing attacks on those who are marginalised, regardless of who is the perpetrator.

And that can only happen if torture is absolutely prohibited. There are no exceptions.

There is no question that those who threaten, kill, kidnap or maim must be brought to justice. But that rule should apply equally whether they are individuals harming others or government officials seeking to quell dissent.

In the panic that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001 the U.S. and other western countries were quick to outsource torture to states that were experts in the practice. They could claim that their hands were clean, even as they increased support for governments they knew to be repressive, brutal and corrupt. It is the people of these countries who have paid dearly. The western governments have a debt to pay.

Which brings us back to West Asia.

Throughout the region we are seeing courageous men and women who are tired of repression, corruption and discrimination saying enough is enough and taking to the streets to demand change. They face batons, bullets, brutality and death. But their demands are clear. Like all of us, they want to live in dignity. Free from fear of violence by security forces and paid thugs. They want to live free from corrupt officials and businesses, to be empowered to influence the way their government acts.

For the women who have been so critical in these protests, their participation is an act of faith. They are engaged in an ongoing struggle to survive the dual scourge of repressive governments and entrenched discrimination against women. They are gambling that, after risking their lives, they too will have a place at the table — not in the kitchen — as the new order is drawn up. Too often the odds have seemed to be stacked against them, making their courage all the more remarkable.

The human rights revolution in West Asia is at a critical juncture. For years Amnesty International has documented the repressiveness, brutality and corruption of these governments which recent events have laid bare in a way that no one can deny. The callow complicity of governments that claim to champion human rights is equally exposed. People living under repressive governments from Myanmar to Cuba, from Uzbekistan to Zimbabwe, are watching to see which, if any, governments will truly champion human rights and an end to repression, brutality and corruption.

If crisis can also bring about opportunity, we are living in a world of vast possibilities. This is a time for leadership. A time to move beyond the moral failure of governments all over the world and show support of human rights in practice, not just as a politically expedient sound bite.

At Amnesty International we have fifty years' experience of working with the human rights movement to stand up to dictators. But the ordinary people acting with extraordinary courage taking to the streets in the Arab Spring are a living testament to our dream. They are defying the risk of torture and brutality to demand their human rights.

Let us — ordinary individuals working together — recommit to the vision of Peter Benenson, the man who founded Amnesty International, and remember that individuals can make a difference. Individuals can act in solidarity — across borders, across class, across beliefs, across all the differences exploited by those seeking to maintain power — to demand that governments end repression, weed out corruption and promote human rights.

(The writer is Secretary-General, Amnesty International.)





When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan it famously eschewed most modern technology, including television and music players.

But in the latest sign of the hardline movement's rapprochement with at least some bits of the modern world, the Taliban has embraced microblogging.

Its Twitter feed, @alemarahweb, pumps out several messages each day, keeping 224 followers up to date with often highly exaggerated reports of strikes against the "infidel forces" and the "Karzai puppet regime".

Most messages by the increasingly media-savvy movement are in Pashtu, with links to news stories on the elaborate and multilingual website of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Taliban's shadow government likes to style itself.

On Thursday the feed broke into English for the first time, with a tweet about an attack on the police in Farah province. "Enemy attacked in Khak-e-Safid, 6 dead," read the message.

There is not much lively banter between the "emirate" and its Twitter followers, save for a cheerful " asalam alekum" sent last week to the Kavkaz Centre, a militant news site covering jihad in the Caucasus.

Presumably operating on the grounds that it is best to know one's enemies — 140 characters at a time — the first feed the Taliban signed to follow was that of @Afghantim, who describes himself as a U.S. Air Force logistics officer working as a combat advisor to the Afghan Army. The Taliban is also following @AfghanHeroesUK, a charity supporting British troops in Afghanistan. Many of the story links are broken as the Taliban's official website, regularly evicted from servers or shut down by authorities, is constantly on the move.

The Taliban's embrace of social media is just one part of an impressive public relations capability that runs rings around the efforts of NATO to communicate with Afghans. The movement puts out a constant stream of information through text messages and email. Edited video clips of fights against coalition forces, "martyrdom operations" and Taliban songs are circulated through Bluetooth-enabled smartphones. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011








India's decision on Wednesday to release a list of 50 terrorists — "India's most wanted" — who are enjoying safe haven in Pakistan is a welcome move. It lends some spine to this country's diplomatic interaction with Islamabad, although it would be unrealistic to think that the artful dodgers in Pakistan would serve up the fugitives to New Delhi any time soon. What it would no doubt do, however, is to keep up the pressure on the Pakistan government, and keep the Indian contention in play that Islamabad has much to answer for in keeping relations strained between the two countries through the expedient of using terrorism as an instrument of policy against India persistently for over a quarter of a century.

There was a lot of commotion in the world after American special forces killed Al Qaeda's founder-chief Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan earlier this month, but New Delhi's official reaction had been underwhelming. There was no comment on what this historic moment meant for international terrorism, for the spread of extremism in our region, and more specifically if there was any meaning in this for terrorism directed against India from Pakistani soil. Broadly, the first Indian response amounted to an appeal to Islamabad to effectively deal with terrorists who were out to destabilise the region — a statement that could have been made by any country in the world at any time in the last 25 years. There was not the least effort on New Delhi's part to contextualise its response. This was perhaps in deference to international political sensitivities. At a time when Pakistan was making silly noises at the official level against the Americans in the aftermath of Bin Laden's killing amid accusations of official Pakistani complicity, New Delhi probably felt it prudent not to give cause to Islamabad to seize on even an imagined hint of bullishness on India's part to divert significant troop strength to the Indian border. Force diversion from the Afghan border to the Indian would worry Washington too. Indeed, almost immediately after the initial Indian reaction, it was also given out that the peace process, revivified recently at the behest of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, would remain on track. Obviously this was further meant to reassure Pakistan that India had not the least belligerence on its mind. In the event Pakistan foreign secretary Salman Bashir's rant against this country, and warning that Indian troops must not engage in any misadventure, could not have been worse timed. However, India could live with this as it was evidently meant for home consumption. What followed, however, took one's breath away. In a display of serious diplomatic misjudgment, Mr Bashir described India's long-standing demand of bringing the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks to book as "outdated", and implied that the latterly revived peace process should continue as though 26/11 had not happened. Releasing the list of the 50 terrorists thus signifies the first seriously political Indian reaction to the issue of terrorism after the killing of Bin Laden. The implication is that Pakistan has been hiding these criminals exactly as it had the Al Qaeda leader. It is noteworthy that Dawood Ibrahim, who had been designated as the world's most sought-after terrorist after Osama, no longer occupies the top slot in India's rogues gallery. In Indian reckoning, he has ceded that dubious distinction to Hafiz Saeed, who inspires the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba which was responsible for the Mumbai attacks. In the list of 50, there are some 20 Pakistani nationals, including serving and retired military officers. India must continue to focus on this aspect. We can only hope that the publicising of the names of criminals will lead India to a strategy of mounting further international pressure on the Pakistani security establishment that shields anti-India desperadoes with a smile.






If there is one assumption taken for granted by all of us familiar with Chinese sensitivities, it is that of "One China" — the inflexible policy adhered to by Beijing that requires the world to accept the unity and indivisibility of the Chinese nation, including not only Tibet but also Hong Kong (despite its autonomy, separate administration and currency) and Taiwan (despite its de facto, but not de jure, independence).
Taiwan has tended to go along with the assertion of One China: it still officially calls itself the Republic of China (ROC), claiming descent from the regime established in Beijing by Sun Yat-Sen when he overthrew the last Emperor of the Q'ing dynasty in 1911. Still, it has been a while since the world took seriously the Taipei government's pretence of speaking for the whole country. Once seen by a majority of members of the United Nations in the 1950s as the legitimate government of China temporarily displaced by Communist usurpers, Taiwan has been marginalised for decades: it was forced to surrender its UN seat to the People's Republic of China (PRC) by an overwhelming vote in 1971, and has been largely ostracised from the global political community since.
At the same time, no one pretends that Beijing speaks for this island nation of 23 million, with its GDP of $460 billion (a per-capita income of over $20,000) and its robust democracy. Taiwan has not been ruled from the mainland since 1949, and for all practical purposes it conducts itself as a separate country. Not only is it a major trade powerhouse, out of all proportion to its size, but a significant source of foreign investment. It also has a robust defence establishment, designed to ward off threats from the mainland, and a pro-active foreign policy. But it is recognised as a sovereign state by only 23 of the 192 member states of the United Nations. As a result, the other 169 nations must deal with it by subterfuge. So the US, India and other countries maintain quasi-diplomatic relations with Taiwan by assigning foreign office personnel to Taipei in nominally trade-related jobs. The Indian "ambassador" in Taiwan is officially the director-general of the India-Taipei Association; his Taiwanese counterpart in India rejoices in the designation of director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre in New Delhi.
Seems fair enough. There's only one catch: deal with Taiwan more formally, and China goes ballistic. Any contact that implies official recognition of a "state" or a government of Taiwan provokes furious outrage and protests on Beijing's part. Thus the President of Taiwan could not set foot on US soil as long as he was President; ministers of countries recognising Beijing are forbidden from meeting ministers from Taiwan. Taiwanese officials are, of course, banned at the United Nations, where the PRC's sway is confirmed by a General Assembly resolution. I remember, in my UN days, apoplectic Chinese diplomats prompting successive Secretaries-General to bar entry to Taiwanese representatives who had been invited to address the UN Correspondents' Association. The resultant standoff at the UN gates usually got the Taiwanese diplomats more publicity than if China had simply ignored them altogether, but the bad press was less important to Chinese officialdom than insisting on their rights to prevent the "pretenders" from sullying the UN's precincts.
The strange thing, as I discovered during a recent visit to Taipei, is that these rules don't apply to China itself. Behind the formal rejection, a thriving and almost incestuous level of contact flourishes. There are 370 flights a week between the mainland and Taiwan; some three million Chinese tourists came to the ROC last year. Taiwanese businesses are China's largest investors, with an estimated $300 million pumped into their economy, and one of the largest trading partners, to the tune of over $110 billion. Some one million Taiwanese are either living, working or studying in China at any given time. Chinese officials, up to and including governors and ministers, travel happily to Taiwan, and are quite pleased to welcome high-ranking Taiwanese visitors in return; when I was there, the Mayor of Taipei (a crucial post, since the last two mayors became the country's Presidents) was planning a holiday in China. Obviously, Beijing does not recognise the Taiwanese passport, but it is quite pragmatic and flexible when it wants to be: travel by the two sets of citizens uses informal documentation that implies no recognition of separate sovereignty by either side.
Some think this implies an extended willingness to co-exist: rather than the "One China, Two Systems" formula that applies to Hong Kong, this is almost "One China, Two Entities". Others, more cynically, think that what Beijing is doing is to envelop Taiwan in a smothering economic embrace while continuing to isolate it politically, so that Taipei's dependence will inevitably oblige it to submit to a Hong Kong-type merger with the PRC. And then there are the optimists, who think the increased contact will instead change China, making the PRC more like the ROC. "You know what these Chinese tourists do?" a senior official asked. "They enjoy a day's tourism, have dinner and then sit in their hotel rooms in front of the TV for hours, watching Taiwanese talk shows. They can't get enough of the cut-and-thrust of our democracy. 'Imagine,' a mainlander said to me, 'my taxi driver had an opinion on nuclear policy, as if it had anything to do with him.'" But in Taiwan, unlike in China, the taxi-driver gets to vote on who makes the policy, so it has everything to do with him. Chinese citizens are learning that, and going back to the mainland infected with the taste of freedom. Soon, the optimists aver, "they will want to be like us. Then Taiwan will have conquered China".
It's a pity that Indians can't engage more formally with this vibrant land, because China demands that we be more purist than they are. There's a lot we can do to attract more investment (a measly $1 billion in India so far), tourism (just 25,000 Taiwanese a year, from a country that sends 1.8 million to Hokkaido alone!) and educational and scientific exchange. But that means greater and higher-level contact in our dealings with Taiwan, not holding its leadership at arm's length. Given the PRC's penchant for needling us on Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir, isn't it time we picked up a Taiwanese thimble of our own? More on how, in my next column.

The second part of this column will appear on May 27

Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency






The killing of Osama bin Laden comes at a time when India-US relations are at a low point of the roller coaster ride to which they have often been compared. After the visit of US President Barack Obama, which kindled hopes of raising relations to a higher level, it appeared as though India was distancing itself from Washington to assert its independence. The US too had other preoccupations, particularly the "Arab Spring".
The postponement of the strategic dialogue, India's vote on Libya in the United Nations Security Council, India's overtures to Iran and its role in the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit were seen as straws in the wind.
To crown it all, India announced that it had shortlisted two European fighter aircraft, ignoring American demarches at the highest level that acquisition of US fighters would contribute to the strategic relationship between the two countries.
While India has maintained that the choice of the fighters was motivated solely by the technical specifications, many strategic thinkers in the US and India felt that India had missed an opportunity to cement the strategic relationship.
But an Indian-American executive of one of the firms, which unsuccessfully bid for the Indian contract for 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA), was surprisingly unperturbed by the news of the Indian decision to go for one of the European fighters. He said that the US had known for some time that India was apprehensive about the US fighters because of the US involvement with Pakistan. In the event of a war with Pakistan, India would be disadvantaged by the superior capability that Pakistan might have already obtained from the US.
The joint ventures between the two countries and proposals for Indian investments would balance the loss in the aircraft deal, he said.
On the contrary, the resignation of the US ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, was clearly linked to the strenuous efforts he had put in to persuade India to purchase the planes from his country. His parting message that he was satisfied with the state of relations between the two countries did not carry conviction.
The full story of the postponement of US secretary of state Hillary Clinton's visit to India for continuing the strategic dialogue has not yet come to light. Some speculate that it was the fear of direct pressure on the MCRA deal that prompted India to seek a postponement. The visit is now scheduled to take place in July 2011.
The Nuclear Liability Bill was also a big blow to the US businesses, which were poised to get a captive contract worth $10 billion as a direct outcome of the nuclear deal. Promises given to find a way around the liability of suppliers by elaborating rules on the bill have remained unfulfilled. The Fukushima disaster has also cast its shadow on the use of nuclear power.
For the US, "the unkindest cut of all" must be the role played by India at the Brics Summit in China. The summit sought to undermine the role of the dollar and also embraced the Chinese economic and financial agenda. India's abstention on the vote on Libya in the Security Council was a meaningless gesture when the Arabs and the Africans had no qualms about supporting the west. The Brics rubbed the point in, much to the chagrin of the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
The fact that India gained little in the summit and the subsequent bilateral talks with China gave India no alibi for taking these positions. China diluted the position of the other four in Brics on Security Council reform, making it even less supportive than the US position.
India's overtures to Iran, leading to a possible visit to Tehran by the Prime Minister must also be of concern to the US. The revival of the pipeline must be anathema to the Americans.
The US too has contributed to the decline in the relationship by seemingly unintended acts of omission and commission. Airport officials did not mean any offence to India, when in two separate and unconnected incidents, they were discourteous to two Indian envoys, but the Indian media played them up as deliberate anti-Indian moves. The treatment meted out to the Indian students, who became the victims of an education scam did not help either.
Mr Obama's remark that the Americans will not need to go to India for cheap healthcare was not taken kindly in India. The cumulative effect was far from favourable to the atmospherics.
In actual fact, however, the two countries are quietly working on many issues of vital concern. India has more to gain from the US than from any other country at this time. Frittering away the gains of the Bush era and the early days of Obama may hurt our interests
The killing of Bin Laden is an opportunity and a challenge for India-US relations, though its importance should not be exaggerated. Though the Indian Prime Minister was not on the list of the world leaders whom Mr Obama called soon after his success in bringing a closure to 9/11, Dr Manmohan Singh reached out to him in a matter of days and presumably congratulated him.
The perceived deterioration in the relations between the US and Pakistan may have no impact on India-US relations, essentially because the present phase will be temporary, if not imaginary. US-Pakistan relations will return to normal in a very short time.
A thought has also arisen that India should rush to normalise relations with Pakistan and be supportive to Pakistan at this difficult juncture. But I feel that any effort to befriend Pakistan at this point in misplaced sympathy will be dangerous. If anything, India should go slow in its engagement with Pakistan till it sets its house in order after the trauma of Abbottabad.
The best hope is that the present phase is the inevitable descent of the roller coaster before it gains momentum again to climb even higher. The imperatives of cooperation are much stronger than the impulse to appear distant from the Dhritarashtra's embrace that the US connection is considered to be.

T.P. Sreenivasan is a former ambassador of India and governor in the IAEA






A friend recently gifted me a Moleskine notebook. It has a Ferrari red cover; the pages are ruled and the paper has a nice smooth feel to it. "So what will you write in it", asked my friend as he gave me the notebook. "A journal?"
Legend has it that Hemingway, Picasso and Oscar Wilde would write and sketch in pocket-sized notebooks of similar design that they would buy from a stationer in Paris. When the French bookbinder shut shop, an Italian company started making these diaries, notebooks and sketchbooks and named them Moleskine. That was in 1997. Over the years the hand-made, minimalist Moleskines have become an iconic brand and acquired a cult following: nearly 10 million were sold in 2009.
As a hack I have carried a notebook all my working life but I have never kept a personal journal. But off and on I have jotted down a few lines or quotes that I stumbled upon while reading a book, watching a movie or trawling the Net. Like the one in the movie Minority Report: "Sometimes, in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark". Or this by the celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain that I have shared with many friends: "I have long believed that it is only right and appropriate that before one sleeps with someone, one should be able — if called upon to do so — to make them a proper Omelette in the morning".
I cannot explain why I made these notes. Perhaps they meant something to me when I read them first, or have a certain resonance that I can relate to. I don't ever go back to them. They are there at the back of the Filofax, just two or three pages that I carry forward year after year.
I've used the same Filofax for the last 17 years. Every New Year's Day I remove the previous year's diary and replace it with a new set that I order online in November to avoid the Christmas rush. I enjoy the annual ritual — open the six rings, remove old pages, flip through them for any important notes, and insert the fresh set of cream-coloured sheets. And then, with a pencil I write down the first entry of the year. Invariably, it is a reminder for an anniversary or a birthday, a list of things to do (I'm a compulsive list-maker), and the names of books and music CDs I should take a look at.
These days I keep all my contacts, the few appointments that I have (mostly of a social nature), the things I need to do in the course of a day or week, and reminders about birthdays and anniversaries, in my iPhone and synch it periodically with my Mac. In fact I would often make two entries — one in my iPhone and another with a pencil in my Filofax — but finally realised the futility of it and succumbed to the convenience of technology. Last year I did not order a refill for the Filofax.
And now I have this red Moleskine notebook lying on my desk. To keep it blank would be a waste of a beautiful thing. It's tempting me to scribble something, pick up a pencil and doodle, but I don't know where to start, what to write in it — a thought, a line, a word, anything…
I have spent hours reading The Guardian's "Writer's room", an online section about the spaces where authors create and how they get their inspiration, and other blogs and websites on how to beat writer's block, but have emerged without an idea for my Moleskine.
Last month I read a few pages of a book called The Malay Archipelago by the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. It's travel-cum-natural history book, a chronicle of his scientific exploration in what was then known as the Dutch East Indies, the land of the orangutan and the bird of paradise. It has beautiful sketches of animals and nature. I thought I should perhaps keep my Moleskine for that day when I visit some interesting place where, like Wallace and many other travel writers after him, I will make notes about the people and wildlife. But that may never happen.
When novelist Ian McEwan was asked how the germ of an idea evolves into a novel for him, he said, "Sometimes I experimentally write out a first paragraph — or middle paragraph, even — of a novel which I feel no obligation to write". His green, ring-bound A4 notebook, he said, is "full of paragraphs from novels I will never complete, or hardly start. But sooner or later, one of those paragraphs will snag my attention, and I'll come back to it…"
So to begin with, I have taken a line by Margaret Atwood, "In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt", and written it on the opening page of my Moleskine. I don't know the name of the book it's from, or the reference to context, but I read it somewhere, and I like it, and it makes me want to whistle.

Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at








From ancient times the migratory populations of Jammu And Kashmir Mountains that tends flocks of sheep and herds of cattle have been an interesting segment of our society, for too long they remained neglected just because of physical remoteness and the nature of their earning a livelihood. As we have vast green and fresh pastures over the hills and mountains extending from the lower Himalayan ranges in North Kashmir across the Pir Panchal ranges to Jammu region, these migratory tribes called Gujjars and Bakarwals are seen migrating from pasture to pasture knowing no boundaries and then migrating with the change of season. This is a population far from the madding crowds. They live a life of their own, and the nature and their herds are their closest companions.

But with the onset of popular rule, the first ray of political awareness for this community dawned upon them when they were told that they could take part in elections and thus contribute to the democratic dispensation of the State. Including them into national democratic mainstream also meant that their life style needed to be improved and basic facilities such as education, medical assistance, and protection against natural or man made calamities provided to them. Thus the arms of civil administration began reaching them. The most important step was taken by the late Shiekh Abdullah when during his tenure as chief minister he devised the scheme of mobile schools for this segment of migratory population of the State. Under that scheme schools were opened at clusters with teaching staff mostly drawn from within the community. These schools also migrated along with the migratory population. This first step went a long way in bringing modern vision of education to the migratory community and some of their youth having completed early stages of education, were encouraged through scholarships and other incentives to seek admission in colleges and universities. In this way by and by the light of education reached the otherwise deprived community. Today the Gujjar and Bakarwal youth are given a number of facilities and incentives to develop and be part and parcel of national mainstream.
Pursuing further the vision of the late leader, the present government has moved a step further. In a recent cabinet meeting, the Chief Minister ordered opening of one hundred more primary schools for the Gujjar and Bakarwal population so that education reaches almost every family. It is satisfying to note that even the girl children of the community are also aspiring to learn three Rs. Not only that, the Chief Minister has gone a step further and outlined an improved medical scheme for them also. Omar also directed for a comprehensive proposal for Mobile Medical Centres (MMCs) for these communities to ensure their health cover during migration from one place to another. He asked the Health Department to move forward in this direction early and work out a befitting strategy in this regard. The Central government is also deeply interested in the development of this community in the state and has floated many progressive schemes of how their life can be improved. It has to be remembered that these people were badly affected by the rise of militancy in the state in 1990. As the militants from the neighbouring country usually moved through unknown mountain passes and paths to avoid detection by the security forces, they often came into clash with these Gujjars and Bakarwals who accosted them suddenly as they crossed the mountain passes. Some of the Gujjars and Bakarwals also met with physical violence at the hands of the militants. Nevertheless, they braved the hard times and continued with their pasturing activities. As such it is befitting that the government has moved in to render them assistance enabling them to continue with their pastoral life style and activities. It is hoped that a hundred more migratory schools proposed to be opened for them will be equipped far better than what it was in the beginning and that the teaching staff for these schools will be better qualified and able to cater to all branches of learning. The concept needs to be improvised in terms of teaching staff, laboratories, libraries, and extra-curricular activities, participation of students in All India Tours, games and sports, in seminars and symposia and other academic activities. May be further reinforcement of Gujjar and Bakarwal hostels at district headquarters could become a part of the new effort of improving the lot of this community.








In March last when the Home Secretaries of India and Pakistan met for a scheduled meeting, the Indian side handed over a list of fifty Pakistani nationals who were identified as involved in terrorist activities against India at various places and various incidents. Full details of their involvement were passed on. Now a list of about 50 such terrorism-linked persons, all staying in Pakistan, has been made public. Incidentally some of the names from among this list also figure in the criminal case against Pakistani terrorists being pursued in a court of law in Chicago in the US. These criminals are not only those who were directly involved in Mumbai blasts but in bomb blasts in other cities of India also. India has demanded that Pakistan handover these persons so that they are tried in a court of low. Included among them is Dawood Ibrahim, a super criminal about whom the Pakistani home minister Rahman Malik said he was not residing in Pakistan. Denial is the cheap instrument Pakistan has been using while dealing with terror related incidents. Now after the decapitation of Osama bin Laden, the world is convinced that Pakistan is the homeland of international terrorism and has been shielding terrorists in one way or the other while telling the Americans and the world community that it is a victim of terrorist attacks. All terrorist related attacks that happen in Pakistan are of its own creation because in doing so the Army and the ISI want to pull down the civilian government with which it cannot see eye to eye. India's demand of handing these terrorists to her comes at a time when Pakistan is struggling with back to the wall to convince the world albeit without success that it does not have to do anything with terrorism. The fact of the matter is that the world community now fully endorses India's stand that terrorist training camps still exist on Pakistani soil and terrorists still continue to disrupt peace in Kashmir.









Let me begin with an old but relevant anecdote. The first call I received after it became clear on September 11, 2001 that the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington were under jihadi terrorist attack was from a film maker in Bollywood. He was overjoyed. I remember that I was watching with deepening horror the images of the twin towers collapsing on my television screen when he called and it was only because what he said was so appalling that I listened. He said, 'This is a wonderful thing that has happened. Things like this will continue to happen until there is more justice in the world.' He continued in this vein for several minutes and I listened mesmerized as he vomited out his hatred of the United States. The film maker shall remain nameless, only because our conversation was a private one, but suffice it to say that he is a famous liberal and always comes out in defense of Muslims and Islam when he thinks they are being attacked. I bring up my conversation with him this week because since the American operation in Abbottabad I have heard the views of many lndian liberals of similar ilk who appear to be more outraged by the death of Osama than they were by 9/11.
Some have gone on national television to mourn the murder of 'a frail, unarmed, old man' and to condemn the United States for violating the 'sovereignty' of Pakistan. Others have written long articles in national newspapers expressing their solidarity with Pakistan. What I have found most interesting about this outpouring of grief from our liberals and leftists is that even conservative newspapers in Pakistan have been brutally clear in spelling out the reasons why Osama was killed in the way that he was. They have attacked their own government and, that holiest of holy cows, the Pakistani army for following policies that bred terrorist groups and turned Pakistan into a pariah state. Some brave Pakistani politicians, like Imran Khan, have not hesitated to admit openly that this is Pakistan's worst moment ever and that it is time that the people of that unfortunate country were given some answers by those who rule in their name.

In India, though, we have a small army of liberals who on account of their pathological anti-Americanism (except when they send their children to American universities) have evolved a worldview that is peculiarly aligned with the worst kind of Islamists. It is a worldview that cannot be ignored because some of the people who express it are very close to the Congress Party's most important leaders. More worryingly it is a worldview that has a powerful influence on public opinion because it is expressed often and openly on national television not just by politicians but by media stars. These are people who rarely hesitate to see the 'evil' in all things Hindu but when it comes to defending religious fanaticism in Islam they are passionate in their support. Surely religious fanaticism is bad no matter which religion breeds it? But, there are other questions, many other questions.

Since I am proud to be neither leftist, liberal or anti-American I consider it my duty to try and counter some of the nonsense I have heard and read since Osama bin Laden was shot dead in that high-walled house in Abbotabad. It is time to call a spade a spade. Osama bin Laden was a mass murderer who committed horrible crimes against humanity. His death was an execution and should be celebrated not mourned. The Navy Seals who killed him showed extraordinary courage and competence and are heroes in the eyes of those of us who do not share the violent, insane ideology that Osama and his fellow travelers believe in.

On account of this ideology the world has been forced for the past decade to fight an enemy with whom there can be no peace or dialogue. How do you talk to people who believe that the killing of innocent people is justified because in their view Islam is in danger and Americans, Jews and Hindus are evil? On what basis can dialogue begin? For us in India the danger is even greater because Osama's ideology unfortunately influenced a large section of religious and aggrieved Muslims in India to become believers in the radical Islam he preached. From this was spawned groups of violent fanatics across the country who believe in chopping people's hands off for imagined crimes against Islam, who believe that women should be veiled and subjugated and who believe in destroying Hindu temples to avenge Islam. There can be no dialogue with these groups.
After 26/11 the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, realized that there could be no dialogue with Pakistan either until it stopped supporting groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and evil men like Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed and Maulana Azhar Masood. It turns out that the Pakistani government could not withdraw its support for these leaders of jihadi terrorism for the simple reason that these were children of the Pakistani army. Now that the Americans have understood more clearly the duplicity of the Pakistani army when it comes to the jihad we need to lend our weight to the United States in its efforts to force Pakistan into ending its dangerous foreign policy.
Pakistan has got away with its double game under the false pretense that it is forced to play it because of its fear that India will swallow it up. It is time we spelled out clearly that India is not in the least interested in swallowing Pakistan or breaking it up. India is interested in a peaceful, prosperous Pakistan and to this end has not responded with war despite Pakistan having waged war against us in the form of terrorism for the past two decades. If the Indian sub-continent has become the headquarters of global terror it is because of Pakistan's jihadi foreign policy and not, as our liberals would have us believe, because the Babri Masjid was torn down or because Kashmir remains an unresolved problem.

The American Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, said Osama bin Laden's death could be a 'game changer'. It could be but only if he can persuade Pakistan's Generals that their cover is conclusively blown and they have to change their game. And, it is in India's national interest that we remain firmly on the same side as the United States no matter what our liberals say.








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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooperation of the people has to be obtained for successfully containing corruption. People should have right to recall the elected representatives if they see them becoming indifferent to the electorate.
Responsiveness, accountability and transparency are necessary for a corruption -free system. Bureaucracy, the back-bone of good governance should be made citizen-friendly, accountable and transparent. More and more courts should be opened for speedy and less expensive justice so that cases do not linger in courts for years and justice is delivered on time. We should socially boycott those who have amassed wealth through corrupt means. We must stop inviting them to public seminars, conferences and functions or even to our weddings. The press has a very important role to play in this regard. It should black out such people except to expose their misdeeds.
All of us must recognize that corruption is a crime of which each and every one of us is victim as well as responsible for the same. It is this crime that ensures that only 13 Paisa of every rupee reaches the target. And that is why more than six decades after independence, a large section of the people in India does not have access to the basic amenities of life, while our leaders are busy stashing money in Swiss Bank Lockers.
Corruption is like diabetes which can only be controlled what not totally eliminated. It may not be possible to uproot corruption completely at all levels in one go, but it is possible to contain it within tolerable limits. Even Social-Activist, Anna Hazare who is leading India's crusade against corruption has rightly pointed out that with the passing of Jan Lok Pal Bill in the Parliament, we can limit corruption up to 90 per cent.
The common people are actually solution for eradicating corruption from India because we are the only reason why corruption is prevalent in India. We are the ones who are motivating corruption to be successful. We support corruption that is why it exists. The moment we stop supporting corruption collectively, it will cease to exist sooner rather than later.


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









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

Pakistan had misguided the Kashmiris and put them on a path of violent 'Jehad' manned by armed terrorists. The demands of the Kashmiris could have been achieved through a peaceful three way dialogue between Pakistan, Kashmir and India.

If Pakistan ceases to take a hostile position towards India everything good can happen. If Pakistan, in a very friendly way, hands over to India the deadly terrorists they are harbouring this miracle can happen overnight. It is in the interest of all Kashmiris to ensure that Pakistan and India become friendly. After all, they are real brothers who lived in the same family 64 years ago.

(The author is former Financial Commissioner of J&K).









FOR years, India has been telling Pakistan to hand over the most wanted criminals that have been hiding there, but the latter has been conveniently ignoring all such requests. The list has swelled from 20 in 2001 to 50 now, with no action in sight. Islamabad claims that they never entered its territory, although it is widely known that they have been provided sanctuary. The most blatant is the case of 1993 Mumbai blast mastermind Dawood Ibrahim, whose presence in Karachi is common knowledge. But even he is an invisible man for the Pakistani government. So are 26/11 perpetrator and Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Saeed and dreaded terrorist Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi.


Now that its cover has been blown, thanks to the US military operation killing Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, India has released the list of 50 of its most wanted persons, including terrorists, hijackers, fugitives and even Pakistani army officers, asking Pakistan to hand them over for the heinous crimes that they committed, but since these requests are not backed by any "or else" clause, Islamabad is unlikely to yield. This is despite the fact that many of them have Interpol Red Corner notices against them. Pakistan has conveniently ignored even these international lookouts.


India's diplomacy with its neighbour has not yet yielded any results. Nor is it in a position to take any direct action. Perhaps it can get better results by making common cause with the rest of the world. What it needs to impress upon the international community is that by cocooning such highly dangerous militants, Pakistan is not just harming India but plotting against the entire comity of nations. For instance, Illyas Kashmiri, who figures in the Indian list, is not only behind various terror acts in India, but is also tipped to become the new Al-Qaida chief. The demand is growing in the US to cut aid to it because of its providing refuge to militants. If this clamour grows, Pakistan may be forced to become more amenable to reason.









The Supreme Court's dismissal of a PIL filed by former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh seeking to stop publication of his phone conversations intercepted illegally in 2005 is dictated essentially by the peculiar circumstances of that case. It does not amount to a carte blanche to illegal phone interceptors to go to the media with taped conversations. In the case in point Amar Singh had alleged that his telephone calls were being monitored by the Union Home Ministry through the Delhi Police at the instance of the Congress party. Later, he recanted his allegation against the Congress absolving that party of all blame evidently because his political preferences had undergone a change. It was this "shifting of stand to suit his convenience" that provoked the Supreme Court bench to reprimand Amar Singh for filing a 'frivolous' and 'speculative' petition. Consequently, the court decided to vacate the stay on publication of the taped conversations. Its observation that litigants must come to court with "clean hands" and must not file writ petitions as a "game of chess" clearly reflected its understandable anger at Amar Singh's shifting stand and of the fact that he had wasted the court's time.


The court's rebuke of Reliance Infocomm which tapped Amar Singh's phones on the basis of a forged authorisation letter for failing to verify the interception order shows that there is no question of any softening of the court's stand against illegal phone tapping. Its direction to the Central Government to frame statutory guidelines to prevent interception of phone conversations on unauthorised communication as was done in the Amar Singh case is apt and must be acted upon by the government.


Politicians who are guided by crass opportunism need to be unmasked for what they are. The phone conversations whose publication the court had stayed earlier will now, predictably, be out in the open. While the individual's right to privacy needs to be protected per se, in the Amar Singh case he forfeited that right by basing his whole case on allegations that he subsequently went back on.











Microsoft has bet big by paying $8.5 billion for the world's most popular Internet calling service, the Luxembourg-based Skype. It has paid almost 39 per cent more than what Skype itself says it is worth. In return, Microsoft gets a service used by 660 million people, out of which 23 million Skype each other at peak times. Indeed, Skype is a verb, as Microsoft's chief executive Steven A. Ballmer pointed out, like Google, which he did not point out.


Besides expanding into the communication space, where Skype rules, competition from the likes of Google which were also courting Skype probably prompted Microsoft to pay a record sum for a company which has lost money in four of the past five years. However, its sales have quadrupled. Skype is by far the market leader in Internet communications, both with its free service, as well as the paid services that have a growing clientele, including in the corporate space. Microsoft would do well by integrating Skype with its Office productivity programs and the Xbox video game consoles. The well-reviewed but sparsely adopted Windows for smart phones has recently got a fillip with the Microsoft-Nokia alliance, and adding Skype to it would definitely help in making the programme attractive. About 40 per cent of Skype users call using video, and integrating such capabilities with Microsoft applications would definitely enhance their value.


All this depends on Microsoft successfully integrating its acquisition. In fact, the company's record in this has been a bit patchy. However, given that this is the largest acquisition that Microsoft has ever made, we can surely expect the company to focus hard on making it a success. Millions of users worldwide expect that their favourite service will continue as before, providing free or cheap telephony through Internet. The tie-up with Microsoft is expected to provide more stability to the product that had experienced some outages a few years ago. Microsoft, which has bought a golden goose, should ensure that it does not get strangled in any way, so that it continues to lay its golden eggs.









TWO parallel events in recent days underscore the reasons why ceaseless land-grab on a scandalous scale is causing so much anger and violence in the countryside and why the Indian political class, irrespective of its party affiliations, has a vested interest in doing nothing to stem the terrible tide that could render the entire country to something like the Naxal-infested Red Corridor.


The first and infinitely tragic incident is the virulently violent agitation by farmers in Noida — at New Delhi's doorstep, indeed a part of the National Capital Region (NCR) — against the acquisition of their land at low prices, which spread fast to Agra and Aligarh. On the face of it, the cycle of violence and repression along the "UP Expressway" is reminiscent of what happened at Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal two years ago when the Tatas had to abandon their Nano project. However, there are also some differences between the two situations.


For, in Noida, the agitating farmers that include many ex-servicemen were heavily armed with licensed and unlicensed weapons. Consequently, not only were there firefights between them and the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), with casualties on both sides, but also the agitators started kidnapping government officials. For its part, the PAC went berserk. The rapid politicisation of the agitation — the Mayawati government blaming the Opposition for "instigating" the farmers for electoral purposes, and all opposition parties, arrayed on the protesters' side, condemning her for "insensitivity" — only obscured the real issue.


That is where the second depressing episode that took place in Punjab comes in. For, it provides the clue to why ceaseless land-grab seems practically unstoppable. Over the weekend, at Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, the CBI arrested the BJP MLA and Chief Parliamentary Secretary (Finance) in the Akali-BJP state government, Mr Raj Khurana, for allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 1.5 crore for "clearing" a highly questionable land deal in connection with which two men were being prosecuted. Interestingly, it was one of them who alerted the CBI that raided Mr Khurana's house and recovered the amount before taking him into custody. The CBI has now begun investigations against two BJP ministers, Mr Manoranjan Kalia and Swarna Ram, on suspicion of collusion with Mr Khurana. According to the CBI, the bribe originally demanded amounted to Rs 2.5 crore! Remarkably, the day on which Mr Khurana was arrested a Punjab court had convicted another Chief Parliamentary Secretary, Mr Sohan Singh Thandal (Akali), on charges of corruption.


This astoundingly squalid event has two clear implications that cannot escape even the meanest intelligence. First, no one would pay such heavy bribes for owning or transferring a piece of land if he or she weren't sure of making at least a dozen times more money. Secondly, only the mentally deficient would believe that the Chandigarh shame is a stray aberration, confined to a corner of the country. Sadly, this is, like the proverbial visible tip of the iceberg, just a pointer to the established and flourishing pattern across the Indian landmass.


In fact, real estate and mining, which also requires acquisition of land, have replaced other traditional sources of loot. The land mafia, rapacious builders and their politico-bureaucratic collaborators, who recognise a potential goldmine when they see it, have apparently left even the corporate crooks and grasping middlemen flat on the doormat. According to a well-informed source, the loot from land in Delhi, the NCR, Gurgaon and other Haryana cities alone would put to shade the 2-G and CWG mega scams put together. No one talks about the Special Economic Zones these days because acquisition of 400,000 acre of land for these and an investment of Rs 100,000 crore have created only five lakh jobs. The reason is clear: much of the land has been passed off to land sharks and unspeakable builders.


It is against this bleak backdrop that land acquisition has become such a burning issue and the source of nationwide discontent. The root cause of this is that nearly 64 years after Independence an archaic law passed by the British in 1894 governs land acquisition. A Bill to overhaul this law has been gathering dust in parliamentary archives since 2007 but a government sworn to serve the aam aadmi doesn't have the courage or the will to pass it. Why?


In all fairness, the opposite side of the case must also be stated dispassionately. Unless this country decides to say goodbye to all development — building of infrastructure, schools, hospitals, industries, roads, metros and so on — there is no escape from acquisition of agricultural land though the fertile land should be excluded to the extent possible. The trouble is that the manner in which agricultural land is being acquired and the prices at which this is being done is most unfair, indeed cruel, to the farmers. This is a recipe for disaster, not development.


Ironically, even the colonial government had the decency to provide in its 19th century law that land acquisition should be confined to public purposes only. In 1984, independent India extended the government's acquisition powers to the needs of private industry. Why shouldn't tycoons, preening themselves as dollar billionaires, buy land from farmers on agreed prices and terms? Governments should acquire land only for legitimate public purposes. Most importantly, the land thus acquired or a part of it must not be given away to land sharks and unscrupulous builders. Farmers along the UP Expressway are alleging that this is happening all the time.


By now the solution to the pricing problem is manifest. Land must be acquired only at the prevailing market prices. What is happening instead is best illustrated by a curious drama in Karnataka. Remember the plane crash at Mangalore some years ago because the runway built there on tableland is not long enough. Acquisition of neighbouring lands is, therefore, imperative. Thankfully, owners of these lands are willing to sell. The difficulty is that the authorities are offering only Rs 4,000 a cent while the market price is Rs. 50,000. The airport's expansion is, therefore, hostage to prolonged litigation.


Finally, a one-time payment even at market prices is not enough. Since nothing is soaring faster than land prices, those whose farms are taken over must be given a stake in the colossal fortunes made from them subsequently. Ironically, the Mayawati government has agreed to do so but only with effect from 2010. Those whose lands were taken over in recent years at a pittance are up in arms.









NOT too long ago you could serenade the stars at Sukhna. A wondrous gaze at the resplendent heavens above, and you let out a sigh of gratitude to the founding fathers of Chandigarh. The concept of its architect-planner Le Corbusier "to see the stars in the sky and the stars in the mountains too, in the water and all in absolute silence" came true.


The distant lights of Kasauli twinkling through the mists beckoned you to flee the plains and yearn for the magical mountain lights. The mysterious glimmer floating above the horizon looked as if the hills were all dressed up and bejewelled for a Christmas night. You could look at the night sky like a child, and spot the various constellations or locate a Jupiter, Venus, Sirius or whatever shone brightly on the sky dome.


The commune with the cosmos was complete.


In the sultry stillness of a hot summer night, sometimes, you could see the fiery spectacle of orange flames devouring the dark forests. When the monsoons came, the dark clouds along with the clap of thunder doused them all, casting flashes of lightening on the star-spangled sky. And between their silences, one could hear the passionate cry of peacocks preening their magnificent plumes. Nature's showtime never stops at Sukhna.


Corbusier respected all this and gifted the lake to the citizens of Chandigarh, so that they could escape the mundane and find their peace in the eternal. He therefore designed the lights along the necklace-like promenade, in a manner that they cast no glare, yet illuminated the walkway with the gentleness of a thousand glow-worms at work. The cove lighting, shaped like coy shells, lets its light out discreetly. The poetics of the lake were not to be polluted.


Now, I can still see the stars and the Kasauli lights — but very flickeringly and faintly. The blaze of halogens all around stares at you blindingly. Like harsh eyesores they ring the lake and wound its inky black shores. They make you wince and half close the eyes in despair. But they come from all directions, from the shiny, new glossy IT Park, from the malls; and even from the sculptural silhouettes of the Capitol Complex lit up in the piercing, orange tint of 'security lighting'. The multi-colour fountain sprouting from the lake island — a cooling spray during daytime — turns into a theatrical phantasmagoria at night. The razzmatazz would perhaps befit a city centre more and not a sublime lake.


The lake is Chandigarh's quiet moment with itself. Let's not put it under the spotlight.










The much-acclaimed growth model of Punjab was essentially a single sector project. Its epicentre was the national programme of agriculture development for making the country self-sufficient in food grains. The state government enthusiastically participated in making the national programme a success. In the process the state and the farming community both became prosperous. Unfortunately, since the mid-1960s neither the Centre nor the state have given a thought to the basic issue: After agriculture, what?


The implicit assumption was perhaps that agriculture would be a perennial source of growth. Agriculture is limited by the physical environment, a shrinking export base and its inability to absorb an expanding labour force. Therefore, as the economy grows, the share of agriculture both in income and employment declines. Unfortunately, it did not happen adequately in Punjab. We at present have a very disturbing sectoral combination comprising a deteriorating agriculture and a very weak industrial base.


For sustainable development the state's New Industrial Policy should encourage industries having locational advantages such as agro-based, footloose and knowledge-based industries


Agro-based industries


At present wheat, paddy and cotton are three principal crops. In Punjab the lion's share of production of these crops is exported to other states. In 2009-10, out of total wheat arrivals of 110 lakh tonnes the state contributed 107 lakh tonnes to the Central pool which was 97 per cent of the total market arrivals. In other words, almost the entire wheat procured in the state is exported in raw form. Similarly, 65 per cent of the total paddy arrivals in the market is exported to other states. The case of cotton is no different.


The state exports its food grains, and in return, imports most of agro-based industrial products from other states. For example, the branded products of wheat, rice, cotton and juices are imported by Punjab from other states. The state, therefore, should encourage the processing of agricultural produce. This will generate employment, mitigate the problem of safe storage of food grains and raise revenue through the value added tax (VAT) on finished products.


Agriculture uses inputs like chemical fertilisers, pesticides, machinery — tractors, diesel engines, harvest combines, implements and irrigation pumps. Most of these are imported from other states. The government, therefore, should encourage industries which supply inputs to the agriculture sector. Some of the agricultural inputs, machinery and implements are produced in the state, but the scale of production is very low. Further, the state does not have testing facilities for agriculture machinery and implements. The existing units have to send implements for testing outside the state. The state, therefore, must have machinery and implements testing laboratory facilities.


Thus, we have two types of ago-based industries: Those that use agricultural produce as raw material and those that supply inputs to the agricultural and allied sectors.


Footloose industries


Punjab has around 10 lakh unemployed youth. A large number of them are technically trained. In 2009-10 Punjab had 45,723 professionally qualified, technical and related workers on the live registers of the employment exchanges in the state. As these exchanges are not very effective in helping the unemployed to get suitable jobs, the actual number of technically trained professionals in search of jobs must be higher. The need of the hour is to exploit this goldmine.


This can be done by setting up footloose and knowledge-based industries in the state. Footloose industries are those which use very light weight raw material, require less land, involve low transport cost, make high value addition and employ skilled manpower. These industries are normally non-polluting and can be located near residential areas.


Punjab has many locational advantages for these industries. The state should prepare a time-bound roadmap for developing these industries. These will yield manifold dividends to the state. Along with industrialisation these will also solve the problem of unemployment, will not encroach much upon fertile land and also would not pose a threat to the environmental resources.


Knowledge-based industries are essentially those in which the generation, management and application of knowledge is the core activity. These employ highly skilled manpower which is actively engaged in R & D activities. Developing new technologies, processes, patents, intellectual property rights and management of knowledge are some of the outcomes of knowledge-based industries.


The potential for knowledge industries in Punjab is high as the state has a large number of engineering, medical, pharmaceutical, management and law colleges and universities. Knowledge-based industries work very closely with educational institutions. Thus, these industries should be located near universities, research centres, engineering and medical colleges. In Punjab the contiguous belt between Zirakpur and Patiala, the area around Chandigarh and SAS Nagar are most suitable for the development of knowledge-based industries as these areas have a high concentration of educational institutions.


Footloose and knowledge-based industries should be the major thrust of the New Industrial Policy. For this to happen the state should encourage the educated unemployed youth to form cooperatives for setting up industries. They should be trained in ITIs, polytechnics, engineering. medical, pharmaceutical, management and law colleges for entering areas such as registering patents, financial management, marketing management, record keeping and net working . The lending institutions and government agencies should join hands to provide loans and subsidies to co-operatives of young entrepreneurs by following simple, time-bound and transparent procedures.


Punjab has predominantly small units. In the era of liberalisation and globalisation these units have been

marginalized as the market is swamped with products coming from large units in other states or abroad. For example, cheap Chinese products are posing a big threat to small-scale units in the state.


For overcoming the problem of marketing, the state should develop an integrated model of industrialisation. Under this model, small industries act as ancillary units, supplying semi-processed inputs or parts to large or parent units. Their products, after final touches, are marketed by large units, which also provide cutting-edge technology, skill development, finances, etc. This model is successfully used in Japan.


Punjab is a land-locked state and is away from big national markets. For overcoming market constraints, an improvement in Indo- Pak trade holds the key. All political parties of the state should join hands and meet as a delegation to the Prime Minister for using his goodwill with his Pakistani counterpart for opening new avenues of Indo-Pak trade through the land-route. In case both India and Pakistan agree to promote trade through the land route on a larger scale, Punjab's industry, including in the border districts, would emerge as the principal gainer.


The writer is an economist and Dean, Faculty of Arts, Panjab University, Chandigarh 


Reasons for slow industrial growth


 Costly land


 Inadequate availability of power


 Shortage of skilled manpower; and


 Cumbersome and time-consuming process of getting clearances for change in land use


Remedial measures


 Set up multiple product special economic zones


 Uninterrupted power supply


 Direct industry- ITI linkages


 Cut the red tape


 Strengthen agriculture-industry linkages for growth in ago-processing, dairying and textiles; and


 Establish industrial clusters along the dedicated rail freight corridor.


Industrial policy


Punjab's new industrial policy must specifically promote the following agro-based industries:


 Wheat crop-based industries: Floor mills, porridge, bakery units, pasta, semolina, noodles, macaroni, glucose,

syrup, vermicelli, dextrose, beer, wine, cattle feed;


 Paddy crop based industries: rice shellers, noodles, rice bran oil, rice husk, rice glue, beer, wine;


 Paper industry based on wheat husk and rice straw;


 Cotton crop based industries: Cotton processing, textile, rugs, cushions, mattresses, surgical cotton, oil, cattle feed;


 Canned vegetables industries;


 Juice processing units;


 Biomass-based power generation units;


 Milk-based industries;


 Livestock-based industries: meat and meat products, leather and leather products


 Chemical fertilizers industry


 Pesticides and other chemical manufacturing units


 Units producing agricultural machinery, including tractors, threshers, combine harvesters


 Agricultural implements making units, including automatic disc plough, seed-cum-fertilizer drill, cultivator, paddy harrow, rotary tiller, land leveller, chaff cutter, reaper, ridger, offset disc harrow, and bund maker


 Electric motors


 Diesel engines


 PVC pipes


Knowledge-based industries


Given the availability of highly skilled manpower, limited land and scope for value addition, the following types of footloose / knowledge-based institutions are recommended in Punjab:


(i) Electronics; (ii) Computers and peripherals, software development (iii) semi-conductors (iv) Telecommunication and information technology (v) Pharmaceuticals (vi) Biotechnology (vii) Surgical and medical instruments; (viii) Optical instruments and lenses (ix) Engineering and scientific equipment (x) Consultancy services for insurance, share market, financial matters, real estate (xi) Career counselling, guidance and job/placement services (xii) International business, immigration and study abroad services; (xiii) tourism (xiv) Hotel management and catering services; and (xv) Event management services.



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The subdued response to the merger and acquisitions (M&A) rules notified on Wednesday shows that the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has paid some regard to India Inc and the legal fraternity's concerns. By softening the rules from the somewhat stringent guidelines issued earlier this year, the CCI has clearly acted within the parameters of extant political economy and sent clear signals to the domestic and international investing community that the M&A regulation regime would, on the whole, be relatively benign. For example, the exemption of M&As that take place before June 1 from the purview of the new rules has calmed investor anxieties considerably, especially for Vedanta, which is struggling with a raft of other issues over its acquisition of Cairn India. By slashing filing fees from a steep Rs 40 lakh to a nominal Rs 50,000, the CCI has certainly lowered transaction costs. The exemption of several routine transactions from the rules and exempting venture capital and financial institutions from paying fees are realistic. In the latter case, it marks a recognition of a flexible source of financing for India Inc, especially start-ups for which bank funding is both expensive and hard to access. CCI Chairman Dhanendra Kumar has also suggested that the rule-setting process is dynamic and will be changed if required.

Though the signals are sensible and non-threatening, the qualified approval from India Inc suggests that grey areas remain. The mAajor one is the lack of synchronicity with the Securities and Exchange Board of India's Takeover Code, raising the possibility of possible conflicts of interest that could delay clearances and approvals. Some chambers have also pointed out that the omission of pre-merger consultations – a standard practice in other regulatory regimes from the US to Brazil – weakens the CCI's claims to being an investor-friendly regime. But it is also possible that this is a sensible omission for now since the CCI currently has neither the capabilities nor the resources to provide for the kind of specialist "case handlers" that, say, Europe provides for this purpose. Big question marks have also been raised on the issue of extraterritorial jurisdiction inasmuch as the definition for CCI approval is a little vague. On what basis will the CCI gauge whether an international M&A has "no significant" nexus with or effect on the Indian market? The CCI could, perhaps, have kept this provision in abeyance till it had built up the capacity to deal with it intellectually.


 Indeed, it is the CCI's capacity to handle complex legal and economic issues that generates the most anxiety among Indian business. Being a behavioural law rather than a structural law, the CCI will need to build up inter-disciplinary capabilities that require the skills of economists, financial experts, lawyers and so on to function effectively. At the moment, however, it is significantly staffed by income tax department personnel who by the very nature of their profession are wont to mistrust rather than trust. The government should choose a new CCI chairman, due to be selected soon, with great care given that the institution is just beginning to make an impact and needs sterling and credible leadership to carry conviction with all stakeholders.







Six months of investigation, mostly through telephone-tapping, 12 months of analysis of evidence and prosecution, 11 days of deliberation and, finally, a conviction. Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam's journey from being suspected of fraud to being punished and jailed would have taken less than two years by the time the saga ends next month. In Hyderabad, Satyam's founder Ramalinga Raju is still an undertrial and remains in custody for more than two years since he confessed to financial fraud. No one can guarantee how long Mr Raju will remain in jail and when he can expect to get bail. The entire investigation and prosecution process is going on and on and on and on and, like so many undertrials around the country, he may well spend more time in jail as an undertrial than serving out his sentence, if and when that is finally delivered!

In the past six months, several high- profile politicians, business persons and government officials have been picked up by investigation agencies and no one can offer any timeline on how long they will be refused bail and how long after that they will remain undertrials before a verdict is reached. Meanwhile, a rough justice of sorts has already been delivered in terms of reputations, incomes and livelihoods lost. Justice delayed is justice denied. Consider the case of former central vigilance commissioner P J Thomas. It was the inordinate delay in the judicial process that eventually hurt him when there was no reason for him to have been hurt at all.


 The Raj Rajaratnam trial is a reminder that in the case of a white-collar crime, India's judicial process condemns the suspect even before the evidence is gathered. But after the initial damage is done, it can take years for the verdict to be delivered, by which time the "accused" may have paid a huge price in terms of reputation and income. On the other hand, the Rajaratnam trial is also a reminder of the weak investigation system in India. In large part, as in the Ramalinga Raju case, investigative agencies are unable to gather enough evidence to proceed with prosecution. If a person cannot be proved guilty, he cannot be assumed to be so. Finally, consider the manner in which US authorities have first arrested a suspect, gathered evidence and then granted bail till the prosecution and the judiciary have done their work. In India, arrest comes months after a suspect has been warned that an investigation is being conducted. But once arrested, bail is rarely granted even if investigative agencies are unable to complete their work and the judiciary is unable to find time to hear the petition and arrive at a verdict. It is not enough to blame government agencies alone. The judiciary is equally, if not more, guilty of delaying justice. With white-collar crimes on the rise, it is necessary for the judiciary and police to distinguish between white-collar crimes, petty crimes and acts of homicide and violence. Sending everyone to the same jail is also unfair. India needs different detention centres for different kinds of criminal misconduct.








Getting China right is one of the most important calls investors have to make. The importance of China is driven by its impact on global growth, incremental consumption of commodities and its emergence as the second-largest economy in the world. If the economic boom in China persists, global economic growth will continue, emerging markets should continue to outperform and global commodity prices will be robust. However, if the bears are right, and we see a huge over-investment-related bust, industrial commodities will collapse, global growth will get a shock and all risk assets may encounter turbulence.


Both sides of the debate seem to agree that China will slow in 2011, and even 2012. Nobody expects China to continue growing at 10 per cent-plus, with expectations converging around 7 to 8 per cent in the foreseeable future. It is being agreed that domestic consumption will increasingly drive this growth. The Chinese government has introduced a slew of measures to raise consumption, such as lowering taxes, improving the social safety net and boosting workers' disposable incomes.

The bulls believe that China will have a soft landing , exports will hold up and domestic consumption will accelerate — all this will compensate for some weakness in capital spending.

The bears are calling for a hard landing, with a sharp slowdown in capital spending led by real estate and construction in particular. This is the crucial point of difference. China bears are convinced that there has been huge over-investment, poor capital allocation and an asset bubble, while the bulls are far more sanguine. There was a fascinating article on this subject recently in the BCA, some points from which I have tried to encapsulate below.

The bearish case is based on the following:

  • China's investment rate is too high, and has been at elevated levels for far too long. Investment in China is running at 47 per cent of GDP, and has been over 40 per cent since 2005. In both Japan and South Korea, the investment rate peaked at about 38 or 39 per cent. It is hard to believe that there has not been a significant misallocation of capital in a country that has been investing so much and where local governments and state-controlled banks are heavily involved in capital allocation decisions. This poor capital allocation will eventually lead to the creation of non-performing assets in the banking system, poor profitability, stranded assets and falling returns on capital. 
  • The second point deals with property prices and the imminent bust in construction activity. Various commentators have pointed out that in real terms, property prices in China are one standard deviation above the mean, even assuming that this mean value is rising over time as incomes increase. The average property price-to-income ratio is already about 10 across China and over 15 in the larger cities. The US housing bubble peaked with this ratio at six. Obviously, the ratio will be higher in China since incomes are rising much faster, but the gap remains excessive. The problem is that people who need to buy cannot afford to do that since first-time buyers are priced out of the market. As far as over-building is concerned, residential floor space under construction in urban China has surged seven-fold in the past decade to over 3 billion square metres. The number of new housing units constructed as a percentage of the number of households in China (over the last 15 years) is much higher than in Japan or the US at any point in their history. China also consumes 50 per cent of the world's cement. Also, per capita cement consumption in China is now higher than any other nation, despite half of the country's population living in rural areas. Such cement intensity hints at massive over-building in the cities. Data from BCA also show that investment in residential construction as a share of GDP in China exceeds that of Japan and Korea at the peak of their construction booms.

The bears make the case that as the government is tightening monetary conditions and putting in curbs on speculative property purchases, demand for housing at current price points will drop, just as a huge slug of new supply comes to market. This will force property prices to correct, and private construction activity will contract significantly, hitting growth and commodity prices. Many real estate firms will get into serious trouble and banks will be stuck with dud collateral and assets.

The bulls obviously disagree and make the following case:

  • As regards over-investment, the incremental capital output ratio (ICOR) in China is not much higher than its Asian peers and does not indicate any gross inefficiency in capital spends. China has also been the biggest recipient of foreign direct investment over the years, indicating that global multinationals are able to earn reasonable returns on capital, unless you assume all these companies have been, and continue to be, irrational. The return on equity in China is reasonable and stable, with no collapse in return ratios. The improvements in infrastructure brought about by this investment are also noticeable and are enhancing productivity in the economy. Just because China invests so much does not imply that it is inefficient. 
  • On the over-build in the housing sector and the imminent bust in construction activity, the bulls totally disagree. They think that data on excess housing units, constructed or under-construction, do not take into account the removal of poor quality housing stock from the system. Even if one assumes that only 1 per cent of the existing housing stock is replaced, the net increase in housing stock over the past decade has barely kept up with household formation. Data on housing prices on a national basis also show that since 1998 – when China implemented housing reforms and privatisation – home prices have lagged household incomes, implying no deterioration in affordability on a nationwide basis. China is still in the middle of its urbanisation process, with half the country's population still residing in rural areas. All other major economies that rapidly underwent urbanisation experienced a massive boom in residential construction, much like China today. While private construction activity may slow, as rising rates crimp demand in the short term, the government's desire to build 36 million units of low-cost housing should cushion construction and investment activity. The froth largely exists in the top-end of the market, and is not large enough to impact the broad economy.

It seems if China has a problem it will be short-term and cyclical. Given the type of productivity growth still available to an economy that has 670 million people living in the countryside even today, most of whom will move to manufacturing or service jobs in the cities, it is difficult to see China go into any type of an extended slowdown. The government has enough fiscal levers available to cushion the economy, and domestic consumption still has a long growth runway left. China's global competitiveness as a production base is still unquestioned.

One hopes that China will slow to cool off commodity prices, which will bring India great relief. But do not bet on any slowdown being significant in either duration or depth.

The author is fund manager and chief executive officer of Amansa Capital






The topic much in debate these days is what will happen to Hero Honda now that Honda is out of the venture. Will the Munjals, patriarch Brijmohan Lall and sons Pawan Kant and Sunil, hold on to their dominance of the motorcycle market? Or is this just what the opening rivals like Bajaj Auto, Suzuki and TVS were looking for? Whatever be the outcome, one thing is certain — new realities in the motorcycle market will unravel over the next quarters and years. If the Munjals pull it off, it will undoubtedly be their finest hour.

Even as father and sons debate scenarios and plan survival strategies, another Munjal has made some bold moves. Pankaj Munjal, the son of Brijmohan Lall's brother, O P Munjal, will soon supply gear boxes to BMW for its bikes. BMW has actually placed the order with Canadian company Bombardier Recreational Products which, in turn, has decided to source it from Mr Munjal's Hero Motors.


India exports equipment worth $5 billion every year; so what's the big deal about the BMW order? Till now, the exports from India have been at the bottom end of the spectrum — low-tech products in which labour is the primary cost. Never before has an Indian company sold a gear box in mature markets. The gear box is crucial to the functioning of the automobile. So, most automobile makers like to do it in house. This order could be the leap of faith the Indian component industry was looking for. According to Mr Munjal, his men have been working on the gear box for almost seven years now.

Mr Munjal and BMW are no strangers. The two had joined hands in the 1990s to sell BMW's big motorcycles in the country. The idea was perhaps ahead of its time. Sales were abysmal and the partnership was called off. The new alliance with BMW, though routed through the Canadian company, has resurfaced after more than a decade. About those days, Mr Munjal says the all-important Foreign Investment Promotion Board had ruled that Hero Motors would have to offset the foreign exchange spent on the import of the BMW bikes with equivalent exports, and Hero Motors found it difficult to do those exports. Hence the venture failed.

For Mr Munjal, more importantly, this could be a springboard for even bigger things. The 1,300 cc and 1,400 cc gear boxes that will be sold to BMW, he argues, are not very different from the ones used in cars in India. With BMW's seal of approval, he feels, it won't be difficult to sell similar transmission equipment to car makers in India. Mr Munjal feels Hero Motors has the wherewithal to produce the transmission equipment that is used by up to 85 per cent of the cars that get sold in India — a large market indeed.

Hero Motors had started life in 1987, as a division of Majestic Auto, to produce Hero Puch mini-motorcycles. The technology came from Steyr Daimler Puch of Austria, and the mini-motorcycles, in the 50 cc to 65 cc range, were launched in 1988. After initial success, the company was faced with dwindling sales as consumers, aided by the easy availability of finance, began to choose bigger, 100 cc and 125 cc, motorcycles. In 2004, the division was spun off as a separate company to focus on automotive components. The Munjals recently sorted out their cross-holdings, which resulted in Munjal gaining full control of Hero Motors and Hero Cycles.

Hero Cycles is the world's largest maker of bicycles. It sells over 5 million bicycles in a year and its share of the Indian market is around 50 per cent. Mr Munjal was recently spotted in Patna in confabulation with senior Bihar officers over a cycle plant in the state. He says Hero Cycles sells 4,000 bicycles in Bihar every day; so a factory in the state makes sense. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has launched a scheme to hand out bicycles to boys and girls who go to schools. This should keep the Bihar market for bicycles buzzing for a while.

Here the challenge Mr Munjal finds himself up against is that the bicycle market faces a stiff challenge from motorcycles. With easy finance available from banks and non-banking financial institutions, anybody with Rs 3,000 in his pocket can buy a motorcycle. Such schemes are not available for bicycles — one needs Rs 4,000 in one's pocket to buy a bicycle. So, Mr Munjal is in talks with microfinance institutions that will help people with monthly household incomes less than Rs 2,800 to buy bicycles on installments of Rs 100 a week. That could help him expand the market. He is also agitated at the 1 per cent excise duty imposed on bicycles in this year's Budget. For an aam admi product, he feels, the impact could be substantial. To move up the value chain, he plans to launch urban bicycles under a new brand name. The plan is under wraps and the product and the brand will be shortly unveiled.

There could be more. Mr Munjal discloses that he is sitting on liquid cash worth Rs 1,000 crore and plans to use it for a new venture soon. That will be the third leg of his business after automotive components and bicycles.






The global economic crisis of 2008-09 has triggered much soul searching in the economics profession. How come only a few economists saw it coming? Was it because the profession was blind to the very possibility of catastrophic failures in a market economy, as Nobel laureate Paul Krugman put it? Such thoughts naturally warrant a more relevant theory. Or was it largely a predictive failure? The response here has been to work towards improving the measurement of the build-up of systemic risk so that decision makers can fashion a timely policy response.

In this regard, a comparison was drawn to the Great Depression of the 1930s, a response to which was the development of national income accounting. Very few economists saw this coming. And when it struck, policy makers had limited data on stock indices, freight car loadings and incomplete indices of industrial production to respond to the catastrophe. However, with the development of national income accounting later on, they could better understand the ups and downs of macroeconomy and work towards lessening their frequency and severity over time.


The 2008-09 crisis marks another inflexion point of sorts. The policy makers appeared clueless about how and why events like the US sub-prime mortgage defaults in early 2007 led to a deep global synchronised economic downturn. Relevant information about the financial sector and its linkages to the real economy were conspicuous by their absence for policy makers to act in time. Researchers like Professor Arvind Krishnamurthy of Northwestern University and National Bureau of Economics Research (NBER) have attempted to better understand the financial amplification mechanisms in liquidity crises.

A more ambitious effort at better measurement is his collaboration with Markus Brunnermeier of Princeton University and NBER and Gary Gorton of Yale University and NBER in their recent paper on "risk topography" that outlines a data acquisition and dissemination process that informs policy makers about systemic risk in an improved manner. Existing measures were woefully inadequate for this task — leverage, for instance, has little meaning in a world of derivatives and off-balance sheet vehicles. Similarly, liquidity has not been clearly defined, let alone measured.

What is systemic risk? According to these researchers, it is "the risk that shocks affects the financial sector and trigger an endogenous adverse feedback significantly amplifying these shocks, causing further deterioration in the financial sector, and leading to significant output losses." Such a risk typically builds up in a low-volatility period and only materialises when it becomes apparent to a sufficient number of players that accumulating imbalances is not sustainable. The subsequent fallout involves amplification mechanisms with spillover effects across the financial sector and the real economy.

The three authors, accordingly, outline a proposal for an improved measuring of risks and liquidity in the financial sector. Their basic idea is to elicit from market participants, like financial firms, their sensitivity to a number of specified factors and scenarios on a regular basis: "Essentially, we ask firms to report their 'deltas' with respect to the specified factors, that is the dollar gain or loss that occurs when the specified factor changes by a specified amount, as well as increase or decrease in liquidity as defined by a liquidity index, the liquidity mismatch index."

For example, they ask firms what their capital gain or loss is when house prices fall by 5, 10, 15 and 20 per cent and what if they rise by similar increments. In addition, financial institutions would also have to report how their liquidity position changes. The focus on these two dimensions is largely owing to the fact that capital and liquidity are considered the most significant factors underlying the behaviour of financial firms during crises. The upshot is a better basis to gauge the risk as well as liquidity sensitivities of market participants with respect to major risk factors and liquidity scenarios.

With such measures, policy makers and regulators would be in a better position to understand the vulnerability of the economy to systemic risk and incorporate the financial sector more realistically in a macroeconomics model. The general equilibrium responses and economy-wide system effects of financial shocks can be better understood and calibrated with such data. Thus, if real estate prices crash by 20 per cent, it is possible to go beyond the losses to the commercial banking sector and compute the general equilibrium response of the real economy to such a financial shock.

The global economic crisis of 2008-09 has clearly shown that existing measurement systems in the financial sector are outmoded and need to be overhauled if policy makers are to have any chance of tracking the build-up of systemic risk that usually takes place in the background. With better data on finance, the macroeconomic models can do a better job of tracking and perhaps predicting the onset of crises in the economy triggered by financial shocks. The big question is: will better data enable economists to see the next big crisis coming?

From the Ivory Tower makes research from the academic world accessible to all our readers






Consider a product, the price of which hasn't been revised for over eight years, and suddenly, one fine day, all controls are lifted. Well, that is roughly what has taken place in fertilisers. From March 2002 to March 2010, the maximum retail price (MRP) of urea stayed fixed at Rs 4,830 a tonne, while that of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and muriate of potash (MOP) remained at Rs 9,350 and Rs 4,455 a tonne respectively. Then came the decision that, starting from April 1, 2010, the prices of all fertilisers, barring urea, would stand decontrolled, with firms technically free to set their own MRPs.

In any normal product, this kind of situation would have prompted huge 'catch-up' price corrections by manufacturers — the ones still in business. But in fertilisers, the difference was that firms continued to receive subsidies, now linked to the nutrient composition of the product. In return for these, they were informally told to keep price increases within 'reasonable' limits and facilitate a smooth transition to an open pricing regime. The deal worked well initially, as the MRP of DAP, for example, was raised by Rs 600 during kharif 2010 and by another Rs 800 to Rs 10,750 a tonne the following rabi season. For the new 2011 kharif season, however, the hike has been to the tune of Rs 1,125, taking the MRP to Rs 12,000 a tonne, after adding the 1.03 per cent excise levied in the latest Budget. A not-so-pleased Department of Fertilisers has responded through a circular, stating that "companies have the freedom (sic) to increase the MRP of DAP by Rs 600" and even in other complex fertilisers, only "proportionate increases…would be admissible". The industry obviously sees this as a return of price controls, even while it cites surging import costs of fertilisers and inputs as the reason for increasing MRPs beyond what the Centre deems appropriate.

All this should, nonetheless, not detract from the real issue, which is of inefficient and excessive fertiliser use. Between 2001-02 and 2009-10 — the period when MRPs were frozen — consumption of urea, DAP and MOP rose by 34 per cent, 70 per cent and 133 per cent respectively, whereas the corresponding growth in the country's three-year-average foodgrain output was just above 10 per cent. This clearly points to inefficient use — a result of distorted pricing that does not also factor in India's poor resource endowments for manufacturing fertilisers. While it is neither feasible nor desirable to eliminate these distortions at one go, the strategy of raising MRPs by a fixed amount every season may be worth persisting with. It would send the right signals, both to farmers (not to apply fertilisers arbitrarily) and the industry (to introduce customised, value-for-money nutrient products). Whether this happens through 'perfect' or 'dirty' decontrol — as seems to be the case now — matters the least.






Thanks to what took place on May 1, the mass media in the US has dropped Libya and Syria like hot potatoes, but it does not mean that the goings-on in that part of the world can be forgotten. The future of the al- Qaeda, post-Osama, is being discussed and debated but few are of the view that the al-Qaeda has struck roots in the pro-democracy movement in West Asia.

The al-Qaeda may not be able to fish in the troubled waters of West Asia, but sooner or later, the Obama administration will have to take decisive steps in a region that is critical to American and Western interests, over and beyond the oil factor. The impression thus far is that Washington has been limping around trying to find coherence to a policy that will send a clear signal to allies and adversaries.

"Are the peoples of West Asia somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom and never even to have a choice in the matter?"

That was President George W. Bush eight years ago.

Waking up to reality

"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in West Asia did nothing to make us safe — because, in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty…As long as West Asia remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export" he remarked at the National Endowment for Democracy.

At that time, people within the foreign policy establishment and outside thought that the President could even be crazy or "nuts" to take his democracy and freedom agenda to West Asia. But, today, the US is waking up to the reality of the ground situation in many parts of West Asia where the momentum may have been lost.

targeted sanctions

On the one hand, Official Washington will have to see the implications of not getting behind the democracy movement in parts of West Asia. It runs the risk of attracting the disenchantment of pro-democracy groups in these countries that could have an impact on the credibility front down the line. And, on the other hand, in realising what actually could be done.

Take the case of Syria where the Obama administration is looking at targeted sanctions against the regime in Damascus — how much more can the screws be tightened against a country that is already heavily weighed down by sanctions by the United Nations and by some in the West?

The issue in West Asia would appear to go much farther than what is billed as "targeted sanctions".

At the heart of a coherent policy of pushing the so-called freedom agenda lies the difficult decision between going after values, protecting interests and maintaining credibility, the last of which would seem critical for the Obama administration and the US.

Strategic and economic interests would seem to weigh heavily within the Obama administration as it gropes to find a way out of the mess. Hardliners are not just calling for tightening the economic screws; some of them like Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are calling for the US to "cut the head of the snake" in Libya and making Muammar Gaddaffi's inner circle to wonder if they are going to live through the day when they wake up in the morning.

And, then, there are those who are apprehensive of a protracted unrest in West Asia impacting the price of oil. Already, California is seeing oil prices go past $5 per gallon and the rest of the country is catching up slowly.

What would happen if the unrest spreads to other areas of the region and threaten, say, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

As it is, the US media has pointed to a growing apprehension in the Kingdom to Washington's lack of support to its staunch ally in Egypt, the former President, Mr Hosni Mubarak.

And some in the foreign policy establishment are apprehensive of the President of Yemen deciding to step down shortly — seen as a staunch ally in the war against terror.

But the bottomline in pushing the so-called democracy and freedom agenda is also maintaining the credibility of the US. Can Washington afford to make a distinction between pushing for freedom in Syria and Libya and looking the other way when it comes to more pliable allies in West Asia?

Using different yardsticks to measure the same problem is nothing new in the foreign policy scheme of things.






It is a pity that the seminar arranged on May 10 by the Tamil Chamber of Commerce (TCC), focusing on the ever-broadening vistas for expanding business with China and international markets by making Hong Kong the springboard, went unnoticed in the media and was thus denied the wide recognition it deserved.

It was truly an eye-opener for those who attended it and listened to the very lucid expositions by the Regional Director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) for South East Asia and India, Ms Loretta Wan, and the Council's India Consultant, Mr Rajesh Bhagat.

The TCC has done a first-of-its-kind public service by creating awareness of the tremendous advantages for economic players in India in using Hong Kong as a leveraging platform for fast-track promotion of trade, commerce and industry with China and the rest of the world.

Irresistibly tempting

What is surprising is that even though Hong Kong was handed back by Britain to China in 1997, and became its Special Administrative Region (SAR), it was only in October 2010 — after a lapse of 14 years — that the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Mr Donald Tsang, paid a visit to India. Hong Kong has largely remained a dot on the world map for economic decision-makers in India in both the dovecotes of government and corporate board-rooms.

There has, of course, been some $9 billion worth of bilateral exports and imports between India and Hong Kong, with more than half of it both ways made up of pearls, precious and semi-precious stones, and with leather and cotton goods, electric machinery, optical photographics and plastics coming far behind. India's share in Hong Kong's total trade profile is a minuscule 2.3 per cent. Only nine Indian nationalised banks are operating in the island.

Whereas with 1,500 Indian companies based in Hong Kong in services, investment finance, banking, industries, transportation, and information technology, and a flourishing Indian community of 45,000 with trade and cultural links of 150 years with Hong Kong, it could have been converted into a flywheel of India's economy, opening up markets of immense potential in South and South-East Asia.

Just to mention some irresistibly tempting facts that Ms Wan placed before the TCC seminar: It is the gateway located within five hours of more than half the world's population, with a low and simple tax regime, and no tax on off-shore income, capital gains, dividends, estate or sales. It is a trade and financial hub, familiar with the latest international best practices. Indian companies can make full use of the concessions offered for raising IPOs, private equity and venture capital.

Virgin territory

Because of its Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with China, all goods of Hong Kong origin have tariff-free preferential access to China. This facility is reinforced by the renminbi having been recognised as the official currency for trade and commerce.

Indian companies can now buy from third-party Chinese factories and sell to customers worldwide. They can also partner with, invest in, or acquire outright, CEPA-qualified firms within the SAR. Hong Kong is still virgin territory for India. Indian companies have surprisingly shown scant interest in listing themselves on the Hong Kong stock exchange. They should now do so, in large numbers, to catch up with their counterparts from other countries. They should start a drive to diversify their trade and business with and through Hong Kong. And they should make their presence felt at the Asian Financial Forum slated for January 2012.

The Government, for its part, should make sure that the Investment Promotion and Trade Agreement with Hong Kong, which has been in the works for far too long, gets going before the start of the Forum. What is urgently needed is a proactive strategy to benefit from the hitherto unexploited opportunities Hong Kong provides. Setting up a multi-disciplinary government-industry joint task force will be of great help in this direction.







Health foods, or nutraceuticals have, in recent years, evoked interest among increasingly health-conscious consumers. A nutraceutical is in the nature of a food, fortified food or dietary supplement that provides health benefits.

If the manufacturer claims it has a medicinal benefit, the product will have to comply with the regulatory requirements for medicinal products, in respect of safety, efficacy and quality testing, apart from marketing authorisation procedures.

Nutraceuticals cover a wide range of products from novel food to probiotics and energy drinks to fat-free products. The Indian nutraceuticals market is dominated primarily by fast-moving consumer goods and the pharmaceutical industry.

Although India has no guidelines or regulations for the nutraceutical segment, a framework is being put in place. In order to achieve global acceptance, the Union Government is working on standards to regulate the manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import of such foods, to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption.


The Food Safety Standards Authority (FSSAI) is the apex body for food and nutrition and is responsible for framing rules and regulations to govern the nutraceuticals market in India.

In 2006, the Indian government passed Food Safety and Standards Act to integrate and streamline the many regulations covering nutraceuticals, foods and dietary supplements. There were multiple laws and regulations covering the foods in India, but there was no single law that could have significantly regulate nutraceutical and functional foods.

Further, the food safety administration is understaffed and the 250 food sample testing labs are insufficient. India should gear up to increase number of testing labs and staff and enforce the upcoming regulation. With time, there will be a need to develop clinical documentation and establish a scientific basis to support health claims of safety and efficacy. In fact, the term 'nutraceutical' may go out of usage.

The draft Bill will cover safety issues with regard to information provided to the consumers on products such as dietary supplements, functional foods, fortified food and infant food. Products will be labelled differently.

A special medical category will be labelled 'on medical advice', while novel food would have to undergo risk analysis and marketing approvals. Special foods with a claim that they cure diseases will fall under the purview of drugs and not food. Proprietary food will not be included in a large way. The Indian nutra sector is driven by functional food and beverages. There is a latent market in India as concept of nutraceuticals is still infant and untapped and there is no regulatory framework in place.


India and China are considered as fastest growing markets as the products are gaining acceptance for their ability to address health issues. As per report, vitamins, minerals and nutrients constitute about 85 per cent of the total nutra market while antioxidants and anti-agents account for 10 per cent, while the herbal extracts segment occupies 5 per cent of the market globally.

The proposed legislation aims to establish a single window for all matters relating to food safety and standards, by moving from multi-level, multi-departmental control to a single line of command. It incorporates the salient provisions of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954 and is based on international legislations, Instrumentalities and Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Nutraceuticals potentially offer health benefits but they are not magic bullets for health problems. The passing of the legislation will be a significant step. Further, nutraceuticals need to be categorised based on their natural ingredients as in tUS, Europe and Japan. With the Indian regulatory body becoming more stringent the market will grow in a much organised way.







Corporate houses are going to have an exceptionally hard time pushing ahead with large projects, especially infrastructure-related ones, in the face of increasing public indignation. Last weekend saw an agitation over land acquisition that was not the first of its kind, but significant for the way it spread across the State.

What started in Greater Noida as an ostensibly isolated skirmish between farmers of one village and the administration, in a span of just over 48 hours spread across Uttar Pradesh. It was an eruption of acute angst in rural society that was no longer willing to take things lying down.

Going forward, protests such as these will only escalate, be it on the land issue or that of the environment. They are far more tangible as issues than, say, the 2G scam, where spectrum takes on a conceptual space.


Besides, the nature of protests on such concerns has undergone a transformation. Unlike at the time of the Narmada dam or Bhopal agitation, when the impacted community used lawful means of protest, such as dharnas and marches, giving vent to violence is increasingly seen as the most effective tool. In the weekend agitation in UP, this was the common thread — the belief that resorting to violence would keep the administration at bay, something that the Singur and Nandigram incidents in West Bengal have helped legitimise.

The beating back of the mighty Tatas in West Bengal and forcing Tata Motors to go elsewhere to manufacture the Nano car — a project that had considerable national resonance — was in a sense the cut-off point for corporates. It was then that they realised the tsunami effect of people's power.

Today, there seems to be a palpable tension among corporates about the negative publicity due to such situations. After the incident in Greater Noida, the Jaypee Group (which has a considerable presence in the area) was quick to respond to select media coverage on the incident. It categorically stated that land for projects such as the Yamuna Expressway and the Formula One Motor Racing track at Dankaur near Greater Noida "had been acquired and mutually agreed compensation paid to the farmers and there is no land acquisition going on for any project of Jaypee Group in the area".

In the case of Posco's proposed $12-billion project in the coastal district of Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, a similar story is panning out. After a delay of five years and the Orissa government virtually pushing the Centre for environment clearances, the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) has already sounded a warning to the State Government against resumption of the land acquisition process on May 18.

The Greater Noida incident, where farmers resorted to protests, holds out at least three lessons for companies . One, that people's power matters, post Singur and Nandigram. Two, the belief that violence helps give the protests a bloodier and hence, more forceful, hue. And three, you can count on politicians to jump in to fan the fire the minute they hear there has been a casualty.

In Chhattisgarh's Janjgir Champa district too, there have been flare-ups on the same issues and by the same people — the farmers. The farmers have been agitating against the State government forcibly acquiring their land for a 3600 MW power plant being built by Hyderabad-based firm KSK Energy Ventures Ltd. Then too there had been violence, leading to lathi charges and arrests.


India should rethink its policies on industrial development. It cannot afford to alienate farmers.

We need to realise the importance of involving people from the initial stages of a project and benchmarking compensation to market rates. State governments will have to make sure that the land being taken over for industry or infrastructure is of little or no use to its people. Last, but not the least, it is necessary to convince people that safety and environment concerns have been dealt with adequately in the project's vicinity.

If all this does not happen, then inevitably people's power will dislodge projects. And not just private projects, but also public sector projects, be it on grounds of compensation or other factors. The state-owned Nuclear Power Corporation is said to be considering the possibility of shifting its proposed project at the chosen Haripur site in West Bengal in the wake of protests from residents.

NPC's Jaitapur project in Maharashtra is already under a cloud after residents and political activists have stepped up their agitation against the proposed project. The casualties also include NTPC Ltd's 600-MW Loharinag Pala hydel project on the Bhagirathi river in Uttarakhand, which was scrapped after protests from people in and around the area citing religious and environmental concerns. The company had invested nearly Rs 700 crore on the project before it was scrapped. The list is sure to grow.






Andhra Pradesh (AP) is one of India's promising states. It has made large strides in many areas, notably in the information technology sector. However, the literacy rate in AP has been one of the lowest over six decades, and the gap seems to have worsened between 2001 and 2011 as per literacy data released in the Census 2011 report.


Compared with the southern and central states, AP recorded the poorest improvement in literacy levels over the decade 2001-2011.

AP's overall literacy rate at 67.7 per cent is much lower than the national average of 74.1 per cent. This trend is reflected in both male and female literacy rates. AP's male literacy rate at 75.6 per cent is lower than the 80 per cent plus in all other states, and lower than the national average of 82.1 per cent.

The female literacy rate at 59.7 per cent is also lower than 60 per cent plus in other states, and is significantly lower than the national average of 65.5 per cent.


The literacy status in AP is not in keeping with certain other related indicators. The annual average growth in state domestic product between 1999-2000 and 2008-09 was 7.72 per cent compared with the all-states average of only 7.2 per cent. The growth rate was much higher than states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The rural poverty ratio in 2004-05 as per Planning Commission data was remarkably low at 11.2 per cent and significantly lower than the other states, though urban poverty was not as low. Does the proportion of scheduled castes and tribes population at 22.8 per cent explain the low literacy status? It is observed that some of the other states with significantly higher SC/ST population — Madhya Pradesh (35.3 per cent), Chhattisgarh (43.4 per cent), Orissa (38.6 per cent) — fared much better in literacy compared with AP.

In AP, the percentage of child population had significantly declined from 13.4 per cent in 2001 to 10.2 per cent in 2011. The trend in effective literacy rate in AP would seem worse if this is factored in.

In terms of Education Development index computed in 2009-10, AP ranked 17 in the primary level and 12 in the upper primary level, which had markedly declined from the respective rankings of 12 and 11 in 2007-08.

This implies a fast deterioration in primary education relative to other states. The National Sample Survey Organisation's education survey of 2007-08 shows that children not enrolled in schools at 498 per thousand in AP was much higher than 465 at the national level. The number attending primary school at 213 per thousand was also lower than 250 at the national level.


Two major factors seem to offer an explanation for the malady. The first is the legacy of initial conditions while carving out the linguistic state of AP in 1956.

Mr B. P. R. Vithal in his monograph A State in Periodic Crises- Andhra Pradesh indicates that the reorganisation of states in 1956 brought into the new state less developed areas of the states of Madras and Hyderabad and this that shows up in all inter-state comparisons of AP since then.

Second, despite educational development being low, the state chose to accord greater priority to the irrigation and power sectors. While in 1982, Vithal adds that while the need for social sector expenditure was recognised, priority was given to social welfare schemes over education and health.

While these strategies helped in reducing poverty in rural areas, the literacy rate took a hit. This is amply supported by a detailed study on primary education in AP by Ratna Reddy and Nageswara Rao ( Economic and Political Weekly, March 22- 29, 2003).

The state's neglect of education is borne out by the low ratio of expenditure on education in AP compared with all other states and to the all-India level over the last decade. While at the all-India level, the ratio of state expenditure on education came down from 17.4 per cent to 15.4 per cent between 2000-01 and 2009-10, in AP the ratio, after touching a low of 9.0 per cent in 2008-09 from 13.3 per cent in 2000-01, improved only marginally to 10.4 per cent in 2009-10.

In the compared states, the expenditure on education was significantly higher.

The country has been rightly spearheading the implementation of right to education, particularly at the primary level. The Economic Survey 2010-11 has covered in depth the status of human development, equity and environment as part of analysing the inclusive growth process.

The case of AP should particularly be singled out for much deeper examination, since any neglect of education at this stage, may result in the state's retrogression.

This is also crucial in the context of resolving grievances arising out of inter-regional disparities within the State.






Unlike the British who preserve their letters and publish them eventually to serve the latent Peeping Tom in all of us while making some money, Indians in public life have tended not to do so. Our history has been poorer for that, because valuable source material has not come into public domain.

Thankfully, there has been a gradual change in this preference for privacy over the last decade and half. Indians who held high public office have begun publishing their memoirs. Much of it is dross but, inevitably, a few grams of gold do emerge from the sand.

But not many have opted for publishing their correspondences which are always more revealing.

It is just as well, therefore, that Dr Karan Singh, former 'Maharaja' of Kashmir, former Union Cabinet Minister, Sanskrit scholar and, at one time, a political confidante of Indira Gandhi, has made bold to do so.

The volume has been edited by Professor Jawaid Alam of Jamia Milia University in Delhi. His footnoting is perfect but — unconsciously perhaps — he has got the title the wrong way around. It should have been select correspondence between Karan Singh and Indira Gandhi, and not the other way. After all, it is his letters that have been published, not hers.

This reversal of the order is indicative of the culture that Indira Gandhi fostered in the Congress. It still persists, as we saw when the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, said last year that Mr Rahul Gandhi would make a fine cabinet minister, quite forgetting that Mr Gandhi has not done much to demonstrate his skills and abilities so far.

Cold shoulder

This set of correspondence also reveals Indira Gandhi's attitude to people. You could not tell her she was wrong. If you did, then no matter what the earlier relationship was, she would give you the cold shoulder.

Dr Singh says she was actually quite a nice person. Well, de mortuis, nil nisi bonum (of the dead, nothing but good should be said). But you have to read this book to see what a change there was when a day after the Allahabad High Court held her election void on June 12, 1975, he made the mistake of writing to her, telling her she should resign.

This earned him her annoyance. Earlier, when he wrote to her, she would reply warmly, even to the extent of calling him by his nickname Tiger; after that, the letters became mere official acknowledgements.

More often than not, they went unanswered, as when he protested in August 1975 about a report in the Indian Express that he, Karan Singh, had instigated a massacre of Muslims in 1948.

I was only 16 then, wrote Dr Singh to Indira Gandhi; I was in New York; I was in hospital; I will sue the paper; how dare one of your Cabinet Ministers spread such things about me when censorship is in force; please guide me, madam.

No guidance was forthcoming. Instead, two months later, on October 22, he got a rap on the knuckles in the matter of some out-of-turn promotions of some doctors. Watch it, said Indira Gandhi.

Dr Singh replied, in a rather plaintive tone, a week later on October 29, that she had been misinformed. That is the last letter until March 1980. Earlier, in January 1980, she had been re-elected as Prime Minister after the defeat of 1977.

So, did he not write to her at all between November 1975 and March 1980? Indira Gandhi does not seem to have replied to his letter of March 1980 which was about Auroville.

He kept writing, she sometimes replied, always curtly. The last letter from him is dated October 23, 1984, eight days before she was assassinated. It was about setting up a tourism institute. She didn't get around to replying.

The Maharaja's fortunes

Dr Singh has included a large number of letters he wrote to her about Indian Airlines and Air India. He used to be minister for civil aviation and faced the same problems as his successors, confirming the old adage that you can't straighten a dog's tail.

He wrote on October 7, 1972, that, of the many solutions being suggested, merger was one and setting up a holding company another. It was a long letter full of ideas — and Indira Gandhi ignored it completely.

At least, no reply has been included in this book. Instead she wrote on November 5, 1972:

  Dear Tiger,

I should have been delighted to come and hear Amjad Ali, but, as you know, the first days of Parliament are extremely rushed and I am normally in Parliament till very late.

Yours sincerely,

Indira Gandhi.








The Competition Commission of India's (CCI) move to dilute some of its original proposals to regulate corporate mergers and acquisitions is welcome, but more needs to be done, particularly with regard to the duration of the regulatory process. Indian business operates in a globalised environment and M&A regulation in India cannot be dilatory, if Indian companies are not to be at a competitive disadvantage. The commission has said that it would attempt to pass an order or issue direction within 180 days of filing of the merger notice. But six months are far too long a period in the life cycle of a transaction, particularly after companies reach a definitive agreement to go ahead with an M&A plan. Most developed country merger control regimes give their firststage decision within 30 days, clearing the way for most transactions to go ahead with closure. The European and the US competition authorities normally pronounce their final decisions even for complex transactions within 90 days. The regulations notified on Wednesday, to be effective from June 1, too have built in two-stage clearance for forming an opinion on combinations; prima facie opinion on possible adverse effect on competition is to be made within 30 days of the commission being informed of the merger or acquisition plan. Ideally, CCI should be able to give a clear indication on a transaction within that period. And only complicated transactions should go into the second stage of review.

Agreements that have already been entered into will not now be subject to scrutiny. Filing fees have been lowered to a more reasonable . 50,000 –10 lakh from the earlier . 10-40 lakh. Transactions that are in the ordinary course of business such as acquisition of stock-in-trade, raw materials, bonus issues, stock splits, combinations with insignificant nexus with markets in India will not require prenotification. These relaxations notwithstanding, sections of industry may continue to protest merger notification. The purpose of competition laws is to protect the welfare of consumers, shareholders and other stakeholders in a business. And that purpose should reign supreme, in the interest of the economy.








Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati is spot on when she says that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi should focus his energies on a central law on land acquisition that addresses farmers' concerns. But she gets it completely wrong when she suggests that Rahul Gandhi's role should be limited to framing a law at the Centre and that he has no business to be supporting farmers agitating against acquisition of their land on terms they find unfair. Maintaining law and order is a government's duty but to interpret that to mean that any political protest would be disallowed and politicians would be denied entry to a locality where an agitation is on goes beyond maintaining law and order: it amounts to using the state machinery to suppress democratic rights. And that is not acceptable. Agitation that is violent can be stopped but why should a sit-in disturb the district administration's or the chief minister's peace? The Congress, the BJP, the Samajwadi Party, everyone has a right to have their say on a vital issue in which state policy and action drastically alter the lives of citizens.
With unerring political insight, Ms Mayawati puts her finger on the nub of the problem when she asks what Rahul Gandhi and the Congress have done to create a policy that effectively resolves the tensions attending on diversion of farmland for commercial use. India needs to urbanise, and some disturbance of lives and livelihoods is inevitable in the process. But lives and livelihood need to be restructured, not destroyed. For this, the policy that takes land away from farmers must offer them certainty about future income and fairness in compensation. There are no unique ways to achieve this but the required principle is clear: those who lose land must have continued stakeholdership in the development that comes up on their erstwhile land. The Congress and its heir apparent must lend their might to evolving such a policy package, apart from joining farmers' protest in states ruled by other parties. They should set an example in a state where the Congress heads the government, to enable India's harmonious transition to a post-agrarian economy.







Whenever there is a red alert or a so-called security lockdown, the authorities only choke off arterial roads. As if terrorists and even garden variety fugitives obligingly shun mud tracks and other less clampdownfriendly avenues of egress. After decades of such predictable actions, there is little likelihood of anyone desiring a secret or unauthorised entry into an area using such conventional and easy access routes. The only people who get caught in such operations are harried commuters (by a curious coincidence, usually young men on two-wheelers) but the authorities appear to be unaware of this. Rahul Gandhi slipping through the Mayawati government's blockade of the village of Bhatta Parsaul this week by riding pillion on a motorcycle across fields without his omnipresent bodyguards — a mode of transport used to great effect by Mamata Banerjee to storm Red bastions in the past — convincingly demonstrates the fallacy of this stratagem. Rather than barricading major roads and causing traffic jams, security agencies should consider devising a way to monitor the roads less travelled. Then maybe goons on the run may actually turn to the major avenues again, making life easier for their pursuers. Unfortunately, the a a m a a d m iwould not escape traffic jams either way. Of course, the fact that the UP police did not recognise the Gandhi scion sans his entourage highlights a second erroneous establishment presumption: that very important people never travel without claques of very unimportant people, so that no one is left in any doubt about their pre-eminence. Given the police force's unquestioning deference to pomp, it is surprising that desperados do not simply breeze through security cordons in a flash of white vehicles with red beacon lights. Or do they?







It is the 10th anniversary of the terrorist outrage of September 11, 2001. The kingpin, Sheikh Osama bin Laden, was terminated. If media reports are correct, the late Sheikh himself was planning to mark the anniversary with fireworks in the American railway system. As dawn was to break on May 2, six helicopter-loads of US Special Forces blasted holes into the Sheikh's hideout, shot him, confirmed the marital status of three women, the parentage of sundry children and decamped with diverse computers and the dead Sheikh. The garrison commander of Abbottabad and his colleagues-in-valour slept soundly through the mayhem 800 yards down the road. Just as 10 years back as Al-Qaida operatives flitted busily through Pakistan setting up 9/11, Musharraf 's brave generals and the eagle-eyed ISI slumbered peacefully.

Now, is also the first anniversary of the severe jitters about the eurozone debt crisis and the run on that currency. The euro had plunged from 1.35 to the US dollar in end-March 2010 to 1.24 in mid-May and then to 1.19 in the first week of June 2010. It was not till September 2010 that the euro was once again over 1.30. This time round, the increase in rates in the euro region and the expectation that more may follow had taken the euro to a recent high of 1.48-1.49 in the closing days of April and early May 2011. Something had to happen or the anniversary would go abegging. So something curious did transpire. In the late afternoon of Friday, May 6, the online version of the German paper Der Spiegel reported that Greek government documents suggested that Greece was going to opt out of the euro and that eurozone finance ministers were to discuss the matter at an unscheduled emergency meeting, described by the media as "secret". The meeting did indeed take place, but the first part was vehemently denied.

The timeline of events is curious. It was on the previous day, that is, Thursday, May 5 that the euro had plunged from an intra-day high of 1.50 to 1.45 and then went on to fall further to 1.43 on Friday — much of it before the story was posted online. What, one wonders, was the cause and what the effect? Since effect — at least normally — follows upon cause, the Der Spiegel story could not have caused the crash on the previous day. Could the story have been inspired by the previous day's crash? Maybe. Or did someone know that the story would break the next day? Perhaps.

The material point here is that everyone is wide-aware of the debt-laden countries of the eurozone and their problems. It frightens them and the tortuous negotiations for bailouts between member-countries carry no conviction of permanence, but only the impression of a postponement. There is widespread public unease, nay anger, amongst the electorate in those countries who are doing the bailing out. Likewise, the public in the countries that are being bailed out are even more outraged about the perception that their governments are being forced to sign on to harsh and humiliating conditions. It is a "lose-lose" situation for the political leadership for both sets of countries. The indomitable pan-Europeanists are in active denial and they still have the advantage of inertia being on their side. They have two main arguments — aside from the ideological one of persisting with the original strategy to push a political union through the backdoor via a monetary union.


First, that just a few years more of some pain and the problem would be resolved. Second, that the principal lenders to the affected countries are German and French banks. So if Greece, Portugal and others default, the losses on German and French banks will be staggeringly large and their governments will need vast fiscal resources to support their banks. Hence, they — or actually the Germans — were better-off simply paying up now, than later. And of course, Germany was doing quite nicely out of the common market and currency — so guess who had the most to lose from a major crisis in the eurozone? It is indeed a strange basis for cooperation. That is why the regular pronouncements of official agreements lack conviction — except for the assurance of a few more months of respite. Markets understand this perfectly well and it is reflected in the hugely disparate credit default swap (CDS) spreads — a yawning chasm — from 29 basis points (bps) for Finland and 39 for Germany to some 1,300 for Greece. Shooting the messenger is a time-honoured custom whenever the challenge overshadows both ruler and advisor. So unsurprisingly the media reported that official circles discussed banning CDS products.


Subsequently, a more limited decision to ban short-selling of bonds was apparently taken with caveats to lift the bans if required. Short-sellers create liquidity for bonds and improve price discovery and price stability. That is, provided the bond is a sound one. When it is not, it badly exposes the bond and the issuer. So member-countries with sound finances are not enthusiastic about imposing a ban, fearing the consequences on the market for their high-quality bonds. One supposes that at the same time, passing a decree that short-selling of Greek, Portugese and whatever bonds were banned, but German, French and others were not, would be in the nature of an admission that the member-governments are not prepared to make. At least, not yet. But you may ask why then do investors still want to hang on the Euro at 40% premium over the US dollar. Therein roameth the fearsome dragon of the horrific US fiscal deficit and the present malady: Of a woeful lack of choice, which story must, however, await another column.









Since the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan has behaved toward the US 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 Qaida operatives and has allowed the US 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 US should pursue a twostage 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-Qaida in Pakistan by moving against figures like 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 US should undertake a major diplomatic campaign, involving regional players like China and Saudi Arabia. If Pakistan fulfills these demands, the US should reward it with long-term commitments of assistance, through trade benefits, programmes run by the World Bank and USAID and similar efforts to promote development and education. But if Pakistan refuses to cooperate, the US must put an end to its duplicity.

First, the US 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 US more leeway to consider unilateral attacks against terrorists and insurgents in Pakistan.

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

Fourth, the US could consider seeking a UNSC resolution to authorise an investigation into how Bin Laden managed to hide in plain view. The inquiry should examine the presence of Al-Qaida and other terrorist organisations in Pakistan. This strategy requires an improvement in the troubled relationship between the US 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 US 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 US-Pakistani relations into a true partnership that fights terrorism, advances a reasonable Afghan settlement and helps stabilise the region.
(The author was an ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations during the George W Bush administration) © 2011 The New York Times









The issue of the US dollar as a reserve currency is once again to the fore. In the last meeting of the G20, China resisted any call to let the yuan appreciate against the dollar (and hence other world currencies). In an article in these columns last year (ET, November 12, 2010), I had discussed in detail China's internal political compulsions in this regard. I had suggested that the Chinese government could not allow any dramatic fall in the yuan/dollar rate as this could impact exports and endanger domestic economic and political stability. Since November, the yuan has moved from 6.7 per dollar to about 6.5 today — an appreciation of about 3%. The US has responded with a loose money policy and is flooding the world with cheap dollars. This easy money policy is reflected in the federal funds rate (at which US banks lend to each other), which, at 0.25% today, is about the same as a year ago. This, of course, is a problem for the Chinese whose currency assets are denominated largely in dollars. So the cat-and-mouse game goes on.

The cat-and-mouse game continued in a recent meeting of the G20. Last month, China again took the game forward at a meeting of the Brics countries. In an attempt to make the dollar less relevant, it called for the Brics countries to switch to trade in local currencies. This is equivalent to barter trade as most of the Brics nations do not have hard currencies freely convertible in world markets. However, it is not yet clear if the proposal suggests bilateral barter trade or trade in currencies of any of the Brics countries. The latter is also a feasible option as countries could build up foreign currency reserves in any or all of the currencies of the five countries, reduce dollar reserves and hence demand for the dollar. This is reminiscent of the demand for an Asian Clearing Union (ACU) which even our PM had thought was a great idea. Are all these moves mere politics or do they constitute some solution to the "dollar problem"?

To understand this, it is first necessary to understand what determines the status of world currencies. It is obvious, even without a discourse on the properties of money, that a world reserve currency is one in which world transactions are valued (example price of oil), which traders are willing to hold and whose value does not fall dramatically over any period of time.

So how did the dollar become the principal world reserve currency? Remember that till the mid-1930s, the principal world reserve was the pound sterling, which was the dominant currency in world transactions. What led to a shift to the dollar? Hitler had a lot to do with this. Devastated after the Second World War, the UK and other European countries turned to the US for reconstruction financed by the US-sponsored Marshall Plan. This led to a large demand for American goods and services and the emergence of the dollar as the "principal reserve currency". No meeting or conclave was necessary to ensure the demise of the pound sterling. Note that by 1954, the US share in world GDP was around 54%. Its share in world services would have given it even greater dominance in world markets.

Today the US share of world GDP is down to about 22%, western Europe is at 21% and China and India at 12% and 5%, respectively. The natural successor to the dollar as the principal world reserve would thus seem to be the euro. This has not happened as the EU is, by many accounts, itself an endangered species. Unwilling to adjust to economic changes after the last recession, most countries are heading towards bankruptcy. Who would then like to hold the euro as a long-term reserve asset?

What about the Brics proposal? As of today, the Brics countries account for about 14% of India's imports and 10% of its exports. Surprisingly, the corresponding figure for China are even lower: 7% and 6%.Thus, even the widest definition of barter trade among the Brics countries would make little difference to world demand for the dollar. Nor is it likely that Russia would be willing to accept local currencies for its main exports, oil and defence equipment. So, the Chinese proposal is just so much hot air.

The bottomline? Political rhetoric will not find a substitute for the dollar as a world currency. An embattled EU is not willing to take the steps necessary for the euro to emerge as an alternative. Neither is China: it has the most opaque monetary system in the world. If the Brics countries want to back their rhetoric with action, they need to dramatically increase their trade with each other. Why is that not happening? That is a whole new story still to be told.

(The author is faculty at JNU)









In the official narrative of the United States on the killing of Osama bin Laden, there has been a notable, and welcome, absence of triumphalism. As Barack Obama put it, "We don't need to spike the football". But the outward sobriety might be hiding something less savoury. A smug, self-congratulatory note appears to have been smuggled in through the back door. Right now, one of the key phrases floating around among the American commentariat is "self-inflicted wounds".

    The phrase can be interpreted in two ways. It can mean vulnerability, a feeling that you agonise too much over scruples while fighting the enemy, or a situation where you do very little of that and thereby increasingly resemble the enemy you fight. When the former interpretation gains ground it leads to the latter. The reverse doesn't always happen.

    The US's refusal to brag over bin Laden's killing is ostensibly based on the realisation that America has, in many ways, already become a mirror image of its enemies, and it was high time that ended. In reality, however, it was just being self-righteous. For instance, the main argument that Obama sought to highlight through his decision not to release the photos of bin Laden's corpse was that 'seeing is not believing', that the US doesn't need to show manifest proof of what it believes to be true.

    America has the evidence and they could unleash it any time, yet they have chosen to withhold it. Of course, the photos could be released any time now or might be deferred till the 'right moment', but by not releasing it in the immediate aftermath of Operation Geronimo, the US has already made the point it wants to. Thus, in one fell swoop, Obama is trying to undo all the lies and untruths – from WMD in Iraq to Guantanamo – that the US has become tangled in over the years it has committed itself to the War on Terror. This is as morally fraught as it is impractical. The implicit morality of such an attitude is that the end justifies the means, that one grand hard-earned result vindicates all past misdemeanours.

    The withholding of the photos is similar in this respect to the conspicuous absence of the word 'revenge' in Obama's address on the night of May 1 announcing the killing of bin Laden. He said "justice has been done", an attempt to keep the high moral ground, when 'revenge' would have been closer to the truth and brought closure to the al-Qaeda's innumerable victims. In both instances, the American establishment, or at least its designated leadership, refused to stare back at its own battle-scarred face.

    The US apprehension that it increasingly resembles its enemies thus fails to find its logical, cathartic release. The release of the photos of bin Laden's corpse right after his killing, however gruesome they may be, would have arguably provided a handle to his followers and, by potentially inflaming passions, increased the chances of a backlash. But that's par for the course in any ongoing war. By introducing a seemingly moral element into a scenario where it will only be construed as propaganda, or, worse, weakness, the US has shot itself in its foot. More alarmingly, it has missed a chance to be honest with itself, which alone in the long run will guarantee a successful and thorough prosecution of its enemies.

    Gautam Patel's column will be back next week.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




India's decision on Wednesday to release a list of 50 terrorists — "India's most wanted" — who are enjoying safe haven in Pakistan is a welcome move. It lends some spine to this country's diplomatic interaction with Islamabad, although it would be unrealistic to think that the artful dodgers in Pakistan would serve up the fugitives to New Delhi any time soon. What it would no doubt do, however, is to keep up the pressure on the Pakistan government, and keep the Indian contention in play that Islamabad has much to answer for in keeping relations strained between the two countries through the expedient of using terrorism as an instrument of policy against India persistently for over a quarter of a century. There was a lot of commotion in the world after American special forces killed Al Qaeda's founder-chief Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan earlier this month, but New Delhi's official reaction had been underwhelming. There was no comment on what this historic moment meant for international terrorism, for the spread of extremism in our region, and more specifically if there was any meaning in this for terrorism directed against India from Pakistani soil. Broadly, the first Indian response amounted to an appeal to Islamabad to effectively deal with terrorists who were out to destabilise the region — a statement that could have been made by any country in the world at any time in the last 25 years. There was not the least effort on New Delhi's part to contextualise its response. This was perhaps in deference to international political sensitivities. At a time when Pakistan was making silly noises at the official level against the Americans in the aftermath of Bin Laden's killing amid accusations of official Pakistani complicity, New Delhi probably felt it prudent not to give cause to Islamabad to seize on even an imagined hint of bullishness on India's part to divert significant troop strength to the Indian border. Force diversion from the Afghan border to the Indian would worry Washington too. Indeed, almost immediately after the initial Indian reaction, it was also given out that the peace process, revivified recently at the behest of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, would remain on track. Obviously this was further meant to reassure Pakistan that India had not the least belligerence on its mind. In the event Pakistan foreign secretary, Mr Salman Bashir's rant against this country, and warning that Indian troops must not engage in any misadventure, could not have been worse timed. However, India could live with this as it was evidently meant for home consumption. What followed, however, took one's breath away. In a display of serious diplomatic misjudgment, Mr Bashir described India's long-standing demand of bringing the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks to book as "outdated", and implied that the latterly revived peace process should continue as though 26/11 had not happened. Releasing the list of the 50 terrorists thus signifies the first seriously political Indian reaction to the issue of terrorism after the killing of Bin Laden. The implication is that Pakistan has been hiding these criminals exactly as it had the Al Qaeda leader. It is noteworthy that Dawood Ibrahim, who had been designated as the world's most sought-after terrorist after Osama, no longer occupies the top slot in India's rogues gallery. In Indian reckoning, he has ceded that dubious distinction to Hafiz Saeed, who inspires the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba which was responsible for the Mumbai attacks.






SINCE the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan has behaved towards 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 US 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 US 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-Zawahiri; 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 US should undertake a major diplomatic campaign, involving regional players like China and Saudi Arabia. If Pakistan fulfils these demands, the US should reward it with long-term commitments of assistance, through trade benefits, programmes run by the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development and similar efforts to promote development and education. But if Pakistan refuses to cooperate, the US must put an end to its duplicity. First, the US 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 US more leeway to consider unilateral attacks against terrorists and insurgents in Pakistan. Second, the US should stay on the course set by President Barack 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 US 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 US could consider seeking a United Nations Security Council resolution to authorise an investigation into how Bin Laden managed to hide in plain view. The inquiry should examine the presence of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations in Pakistan. This strategy requires an improvement in the troubled relationship between the US 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 US 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 US-Pakistani relations into a true partnership that fights terrorism, advances a reasonable Afghan settlement and helps stabilise the region. * Zalmay Khalilzad, a counsellor at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, was an ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration. By arrangement with the New York Times







The killing of Osama bin Laden comes at a time when India-US relations are at a low point of the roller coaster ride to which they have often been compared. After the visit of US President Barack Obama, which kindled hopes of raising relations to a higher level, it appeared as though India was distancing itself from Washington to assert its independence. The US too had other preoccupations, particularly the "Arab Spring". The postponement of the strategic dialogue, India's vote on Libya in the United Nations Security Council, India's overtures to Iran and its role in the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit were seen as straws in the wind. To crown it all, India announced that it had shortlisted two European fighter aircraft, ignoring American demarches at the highest level that acquisition of US fighters would contribute to the strategic relationship between the two countries. While India has maintained that the choice of the fighters was motivated solely by the technical specifications, many strategic thinkers in the US and India felt that India had missed an opportunity to cement the strategic relationship. But an Indian-American executive of one of the firms, which unsuccessfully bid for the Indian contract for 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA), was surprisingly unperturbed by the news of the Indian decision to go for one of the European fighters. He said that the US had known for some time that India was apprehensive about the US fighters because of the US involvement with Pakistan. In the event of a war with Pakistan, India would be disadvantaged by the superior capability that Pakistan might have already obtained from the US. The joint ventures between the two countries and proposals for Indian investments would balance the loss in the aircraft deal, he said. On the contrary, the resignation of the US ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, was clearly linked to the strenuous efforts he had put in to persuade India to purchase the planes from his country. His parting message that he was satisfied with the state of relations between the two countries did not carry conviction. The full story of the postponement of US secretary of state Hillary Clinton's visit to India for continuing the strategic dialogue has not yet come to light. Some speculate that it was the fear of direct pressure on the MCRA deal that prompted India to seek a postponement. The visit is now scheduled to take place in July 2011. The Nuclear Liability Bill was also a big blow to the US businesses, which were poised to get a captive contract worth $10 billion as a direct outcome of the nuclear deal. Promises given to find a way around the liability of suppliers by elaborating rules on the bill have remained unfulfilled. The Fukushima disaster has also cast its shadow on the use of nuclear power. For the US, "the unkindest cut of all" must be the role played by India at the Brics Summit in China. The summit sought to undermine the role of the dollar and also embraced the Chinese economic and financial agenda. India's abstention on the vote on Libya in the Security Council was a meaningless gesture when the Arabs and the Africans had no qualms about supporting the west. The fact that India gained little in the summit and the subsequent bilateral talks with China gave India no alibi for taking these positions. China diluted the position of the other four in Brics on Security Council reform, making it even less supportive than the US position. India's overtures to Iran, leading to a possible visit to Tehran by the Prime Minister must also be of concern to the US. The revival of the pipeline must be anathema to the Americans. The US too has contributed to the decline in the relationship by seemingly unintended acts of omission and commission. Airport officials did not mean any offence to India, when in two separate and unconnected incidents, they were discourteous to two Indian envoys, but the Indian media played them up as deliberate anti-Indian moves. The treatment meted out to the Indian students, who became the victims of an education scam did not help either. Mr Obama's remark that the Americans will not need to go to India for cheap healthcare was not taken kindly in India. In actual fact, however, the two countries are quietly working on many issues of vital concern. India has more to gain from the US than from any other country at this time. Frittering away the gains of the Bush era and the early days of Obama may hurt our interests The killing of Bin Laden is an opportunity and a challenge for India-US relations, though its importance should not be exaggerated. The perceived deterioration in the relations between the US and Pakistan may have no impact on India-US relations, essentially because the present phase will be temporary, if not imaginary. US-Pakistan relations will return to normal in a very short time. * T.P. Sreenivasan is a former ambassador of India and governor in the IAEA







The basic virtue for any human being, whether it is a man or a woman, is to be true to oneself. When somebody is really true to themselves, functioning in the world becomes just a question of adjustment. One has to adjust to the situations that one has chosen to live with. What is a virtue? Only when you are truly empty are you virtuous. Your idea of virtue is that if you do a particular thing then that is virtue and if you do not then it is something else. This is not life virtue, this is social virtue. Society's virtues are different as they are meant to serve the society, whereas virtues of life serve life. I am somebody who serves life, not society, so my virtues are of life. Virtue is a thing that takes you beyond in a certain way. You can go beyond only if you are no more a limited being. If you have are a vast emptiness within you, every thought that you get, every emotion that you get, every feeling that you have, if you are not really associated with it, that is virtue. If you are identified with your sensations, thoughts, opinions or emotions, then you cannot be virtuous because you will be biased with life. If you are truly virtuous, you must be beyond all bias. When you are identified with something, either body or mind or emotions, there cannot be any virtue. In Tamil Nadu, one of the greatest titles that used to be conferred upon great heroes was "One who has slayed thousand elephants", like the Param Vir Chakra, which is the highest gallantary award. Late forest brigand Veerappan had slayed almost 500 to 600 elephants, so was he close to becoming the greatest Tamilian ever? No. Our values and virtues have changed. Today, if you kill thousand elephants you are a criminal who has to be punished. But a thousand years ago, if you killed thousand elephants, you were the hero of the highest order. So society's virtues are biased against life. When you are not identified with anything, you will be absolutely virtuous, and be truly capable of compassion. When you are compassionate, you are always virtuous. People being sympathetic to certain causes, to certain people, is not compassion. When you are passionate about everything, when your passion has become all encompassing, then you are compassionate. It is not about having a little pity or sympathy for something. Compassion is the highest virtue, and it is not possible if you are identified with this or that. Only when you are able to look at life as life, only then can you be compassionate and to be compassionate is the highest virtue. — Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a prominent spiritual leader, is a visionary, humanitarian, an author, poet and internationally-renowned speaker. He can be contacted at








ONLY recently did the apex court banish child-artistes from the circus arena. Childishness, however, is not just age-related. What description other than "stunt" can be applied to Rahul Gandhi's latest playing to the gallery (cheapest seats in the house), by riding pillion on a motorcycle at 4 a.m. to elude a security cordon ~ a la Osama bin Laden  ~ to reach Bhatta Parsaul village in Noida where land acquisition issues have triggered wanton violence, and political turmoil? So to the subsequent arrest/release tamasha. There can be no undermining the basic issue, or the police going berserk (though not entirely unprovoked this time) and terrorising the protesting people. But having been slow off the blocks, the RLD and BJP leaders beat him to it, Rahul had to inject an element of puerile, trivialising drama that is now so characteristic of his headline-hunting. Outwitting cops, nothing terribly difficult about that, is his trademark; the exercise was abetted by the fact that UP cops are not terribly difficult to outwit. But do those pot-shots hit the real target ~ Mayawati? She is too brazen to be embarrassed. Rahul conveniently forgets that on more than one occasion has the BSP batted for the UPA on a sticky wicket, the latest being its joining the bid to scuttle the PAC report on the 2G Spectrum scam. He also forgets that the land-grab methods adopted by Mayawati were perfected by a succession of Congress CMs in Gurgaon, Haryana, where his brother-in-law has recently joined hands with a beneficiary. Of course the several sycophants in the party ~ Uncle Sanjay's family-limitation phobia never extended to chamchas ~ went into raptures; some created an impression they were witness to another Gandhi's salt march. To digress a trifle, TV pictures of the not-so-youthful Congress leader on the motorcycle indicated that neither of the bikers wore crash-helmets ~ some example that!

This is not the first time that Gandhi Jr has got involved in disputes over land acquisition. It is a national problem and requires resolution so that "development" does not get derailed. But Rahul's action is limited to UP, and as is customary with him, never goes beyond a one-night stand. The dharna against police excesses in Noida was valid, equally valid would be a dharna at Race Course Road (better still at the true power centre, 10 Janpath) in favour of improved land acquisition law and policy. Some reports quoted Rahul as saying the events in Noida made him "ashamed" to be an Indian. Many would share that view, but extend it to the 2G Spectrum allocation, the CWG swindles, skewed appointment of the CVC etc. Was it not a national shame that it required massive public protest to pressure UPA-II into anti-corruption legislation? A final thought; it makes us shudder to think that this man hopes one day to be Prime Minister.




THE Planning Commission is admittedly entitled to an opinion on the cut-off mark for the Below Poverty Line segment. But it has been utterly tactless ~ arguably even contemptuous ~ to proffer unsolicited advice to the Supreme Court. The judiciary has been urged not to "interfere with the methodology developed over the years to estimate the incidence of poverty". The primary cavil must be that even that "methodology" is dated; the figures have not been revised since 2004-05, a testament to the impervious attitude of the Food ministry and Yojana Bhavan. In the interim, the burgeoning population has been matched by ballooning inflation. The saccharine pledge to introduce the Food Security Bill has been the victim of governmental indecision since the summer of 2009 when UPA-II assumed office. The targeted group remains an indeterminate entity. Neither the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) nor that embroidery called the Group of Ministers nor for that matter the Planning Commission have been able to reach a consensus on the number of people who are entitled to the benefits of the legislation, let alone the quantity of foodgrain the poor have the right to consume. Clearly, the Planning Commission has been stung by the Supreme Court's recent observation on "two Indias" ~ one represented by the perdurably poor and the other by the super affluent. After two years, the governmental exercise ~ in the realm of present indefinite ~ would have seemed ridiculous were it not for the profound implications on the basic rights of those in the BPL category. The Supreme Court is in favour of a rise in the number of beneficiaries, so too is the NAC. However, the Food ministry, the GoM and the Planning Commission are reluctant, prompting the court to ask the plan body to "explain the cap". Rotting wheat in Punjab is reported to have been set on fire in the absence of storage space. The grain that couldn't  be stored could well have been distributed to the poor when fit for consumption. The need to address malnourishment ranks rather low in the scale of priorities. It is distressing to reflect that food security has triggered a bout of discord within the administration. The Supreme Court and also, of course, the poor can do without the homilies of the Planning Commission.




EVEN at the mildest estimation, the West Bengal government's handling of land rights in the forests has been grossly chaotic. On the face of it, the effort was halfbaked to the extent that the groundrules may not have been sufficiently explained to the unlettered inhabitants of the forest areas of what is collectively referred to as Junglemahal ~ the poverty basket of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura. Equally, the forest dwellers may not be in  possession of the documents that are essential to claim entitlement under the Forest Rights Act. A not dissimilar confusion had impeded Orissa's acquisition of land for Posco, the South Korean steel giant. If no fewer than 28,000 applications are pending in Bengal, it illustrates the sluggishness of the administration in a crucial segment of public policy, one that has placed the area in ferment. And if 78,000 applications for forest pattas were rejected for technical reasons, it is clear that the fundamentals were not complied with by the claimants. Indeed, the government's calibration of Scheduled Tribes has been less than thorough. The list may well be incomplete as 48 per cent of tribal applications were not considered as their tribes had not been incorporated. Not that the subalterns were attempting to hoodwink the state; it is plain enough that the list has not been updated as close to half the class group remains unlisted even 34 years after Left rule. Clearly, the fundamentals are not in place;  a demographic update is a prerequisite for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act. A communication gap alone explains why all non-tribal applications were rejected in the absence of proof of residence ~ 75 years according to the provisions of the Forest Rights Act. It is a bitter irony that the benefits of the legislation have been elusive in almost every state on account of administrative ineptitude and the overwhelming ignorance of the prospective beneficiaries. It is amazing that it called for a video conference between the Cabinet Secretary in Delhi and the Bengal administration to expose the reality. And should the Bureau of Applied Economics and Statistics conduct a survey after the next dispensation takes office, the data may turn out to be still more shocking. Small wonder that the forest dwellers are a permanently disaffected segment of the populace.








IT IS just a few months ago that the Arab world was wrapped in revolution. Starting from Tunisia, the demand for change spread to Egypt, to Palestine, to Jordan, to virtually all the Arab states, and spilt over even into places like Iran. It looked like an unstoppable tide: the educated new middle classes had taken over, organizing themselves through the power of the internet to mount an irresistible challenge to corrupt ruling elites that had lorded over them for decades. It was a heady achievement of the young, and an inspiring portent for the future. The day of the autocrat was over, it seemed, and future leaders would have to obtain the consent of their people. And for further encouragement, the first few victories were cheaply bought: Ben Ali of Tunisia fled, and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak put up little resistance before the throngs on the streets of Cairo. What was witnessed in these places bid fair to be the model elsewhere as comparable groups of young protesters came out to demand change.

But it did not turn out that way. In Tunis and Cairo, the security forces had distanced themselves from the regimes, which made change inevitable and relatively bloodless. Elsewhere, the regimes under siege by their own people hit back and did not shy away from using violent means. The rulers were able to call out the police and the army, and could continue to count on their support. The rulers responded differently to the pressures exerted on them, for reasons that vary from place to place. In Bahrain, for instance, where the rulers are Sunni and the bulk of the population Shia, there is a sectarian differentiation that had its own consequences. Sectarian questions of a different sort have complicated matters in Yemen where the President remains in awkward suspension, under pressure to leave but still clinging on. Elsewhere, too, a number of localized complications have served to stem the flow of revolutionary ardour and take the freshness away from the Arab spring that had so inspired the world.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Libya. Straddled by the first two successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, with a restive population of its own and ruled by a famously eccentric despot, Libya seemed next in line for decisive change. But that is not what happened. Libya is dominated by its tribal structure, and the most populous and active of the tribes is that of Muammar Gaddafi; its unshaken loyalty has enabled him to stay in power and to fight back strongly against those who have risen in rebellion. For months now there has been a dingdong struggle between the rebels in the east and the Gaddafi supporters in the central part of the country. NATO has been drawn in to support the rebels, who were facing rout at the hands of the pro-Gaddafi forces. France and Britain have taken the lead, with the USA less prominent, in helping stem the tide and enabling the rebels to fight back. Purportedly, foreign intervention is intended to head off threatened genocide at the hands of the pro-Gaddafi forces, though there has been no sign of this, and the aim seems to be to remove Gaddafi, by direct aerial attack or through rebel action. What is to be seen now is a far cry from the idealistic initial vision of the Arab spring.

Elsewhere, too, there have been setbacks, none more unfortunate than that in Egypt. This is the most substantial of the Arab countries, the historic trend setter, and its liberation from tyranny promised much. Unfortunately, its energies seem to have turned inwards to settle scores with Hosni Mubarak, and the great square where masses of people congregated for liberty has become the setting for fierce internal battles. Transition from a closed, dictatorial system to something more democratic is no easy matter, it would seem, and no successor regime could be shaped before the previous one fell. In Tunisia, too, there were similar problems, though not so acute. Such internecine struggles raise questions about the durability and direction of the 'Arab Spring'.
What has been happening in Syria adds to the concerns about the region. Like so many others, activists in Syria came out in large numbers in quest of liberalization of the harsh regime in that country. For a while it looked as if they might prevail and their demonstrations became an uprising which kept going for seven weeks. But the government moved in with great force, and there has been much loss of life. There have also been mass arrests, very reminiscent of what happened some years ago when a similar massive outburst was suppressed by tanks and planes. It is only now, after the strong action it took, that Bashar al Assad's government feels confident that it has gained the upper hand over the widespread resistance it faced in the outskirts of the capital Damascus and in three other towns. The Syrian ruling group seems adamant on holding on to power and projects the fear that its removal could have disastrous international consequences: the confrontation with Israel could become sharper, and the impact on Lebanon could be damaging. So in Syria, too, the liberal expectations of the 'Arab Spring' have come up against harsh local realities.

In earlier days, when the seeds of revolt spread from country to country, it was sometimes argued that the monarchies might survive better than the presidential governments, being better integrated with the conservative societies they governed. However, on the whole, presidents and kings have both resisted calls for democratic reform with equal fervour and have done all they could to retain the old order. What comes next is difficult to predict. The reform wave is not yet spent, and the armed confrontations it has provoked suggest that difficult times still lie ahead. What is taking place now does not look so much like a surge in democratic demands that transcends borders. The demand for a new deal for the Arab world as a whole has run into a number of national and sectarian problems that are of long standing and had been forcibly suppressed by authoritarian governments ~ questions of minority rights, sectarian issues, ethnic demands, among others. The great churning of the last few months has given fresh life to formerly hidden demands.

The immediate need, before underlying issues come into renewed focus, is to restore peace and put an end to the large scale fighting in the Middle East. Foreign intervention in the form of NATO attacks in Libya has only added complications and should be brought to an end. Only subsequently will the process of reform and restoration begin to appear possible.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary








The failure of the Indian government to take a position to protect its minorities from US-inspired targeting is both shameful and condemnable


The first phone call I made after hearing of Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's assassination was to my brother, a top corporate honcho. "At least the Mustafas should now be off the hook," I said to which the response was a hearty laugh and yet a fervent: "I hope so." Both of us were referring to the harassment the family has faced, nugatory of course in comparison to the systematic targeting and demonisation of Muslims across the world and in India. The failure of the Indian government to take a position to protect its minorities from US-inspired targeting is both shameful and condemnable.

Not so long ago, police visited the posh Mumbai residence of this Mustafa brother, asking the chowkidars and the staff about his movements and activities. This Mustafa was connected enough to raise a hue and cry, with his multinational company supporting him through the din. Police said they were tracking him because of his regular travels abroad (being a top executive of a multinational was this not but natural?) and wanted his passport details and the reasons for such extensive travelling. Following high-level intervention and media reports, the cops backed off but several Muslim executives spoke of facing similar harassment. "Why didn't you protest," I asked one who is known to have excellent political and official connections. He shrugged: "It's humiliating, I did not even want to admit it, let alone talk about it."

Again the same Mustafa brother, who has lived abroad, has been travelling since his teens, was told by a dour-faced US official that his visa could not be renewed as his name had flashed on their screens. So? "So nothing," said the official. "We will get back to you." In his case they did that after more than a month of checking him out and finally coming to the conclusion that he was not a terrorist or someone associated with the Al Qaida despite being a Muslim. A Mustafa nephew, with the same surname, who has been working abroad and has been travelling to and fro, is now waiting for his visa to come through as his name too has flashed on American screens.
More recently, a US bank refused to open a bank account for a Mustafa family member because it wanted certain questions to be answered first. The cover letter was of course polite, saying that the bank conducted a "name screening process of all the important personal (sic)" but the list included only Muslim names. This particular Mustafa was asked to let the bank know if he was related to some stock trader with a strange PAN number or to the Beirut Governorate. After all, all Muslims are related, and the one working in India must have something to do with those in Beirut? He was asked to clarify whether he had any connection in Bronx, New York or Mardan, North West Frontier Province or Tehrik Nefaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi of Swat North West Frontier Province ~ the last two places in Pakistan ~ or to the son of Syed Nazeem-uz-Zama. This was in April this year, in the 21st century.

More recently, a Mustafa nephew was prevented from boarding a flight out of India to the USA because his name too had flashed on the screens. No one really tells you anything, just a suspicious look at the person concerned and he is condemned. The targeting is designed to humiliate and harass innocent Muslims across the world in every conceivable way. Sophisticated US Intelligence is not able to discriminate between the profiles of terrorists and the common Muslim at a time when we are told that the USA has the technology to ensure that its President can talk directly to a US foot soldier serving in any part of the world! I am definitely one of those who have great admiration for US technology and intelligence-gathering capability and therefore know that when people are singled out for severe humiliation, it is not because of lack of information but as a result of a well thought-out design. The intention is to let the world know that Muslims cannot be trusted, and ensure that the Muslims themselves realise that.

The Indian government, always helpful and willing, has not hesitated to comply with the American diktat and target and profile its citizens all over the country. Instead of protecting its citizens, the UPA government has helped the USA target individuals and spread the "watch out for the Muslim" message with police cracking down on innocent young people even in big cities like Mumbai and Hyderabad. Many have been arrested, detained, tortured on suspicion of being terrorists and many have also been released after their health and their lives were destroyed. There has been no compensation, no apology, no attempt by the Central and state governments to help them pick up the pieces and rehabilitate themselves. Nothing, just stony silence strengthening the message that as a Muslim, you should be prepared to pay for your identity at all levels.
A great scholar and an international figure could not find a house in Delhi to live in. He spent months searching for accommodation in all kinds of colonies and while houses were available in places like Zakir Bagh which have been turned into Muslim ghettos as a result, he could not get rented accommodation in south Delhi. Property dealers told him as much but he refused to succumb to the pressure of moving into a "Muslim" locality and finally found a small apartment to live in. The catch: the landlord is a Muslim, and did not mind renting the house to him. In cosmopolitan Mumbai, a Muslim cannot even buy a house in a residential colony with the associations making it very clear that they do not want a Muslim moving in in the neighbourhood.
And strangely enough, we accept all this as we do not want to rock the boat, and we do not want to offend genteel sensibilities by raising issues of identity politics. But this has nothing to do with identity politics, it has to do with secularism, and the fact that the atmosphere of unity and harmony is being vitiated at an amazingly fast pace. The Americans are creating the global environment for it which half-witted governments and right wing forces in India are cashing in on to what they think is their political advantage. But they must understand that what undermines the people is what undermines the nation.

So, the observation made in the first paragraph of this column was not without reason. Osama bin Laden might be dead but his legacy and that of the Americans who nurtured it and of Pakistan that gave him life far beyond his years and of India which has learnt to exploit the backlash against its own minorities, will live on. None of the players seem to have realised that their complicity is making the world a difficult ~ and for some an impossible ~ place to live in for millions of people. Osama bin Laden can be killed a million times over without even a miniscule change being made on the ground.

The writer is Consulting Editor, The Statesman 







007 picked up his mobile as it blinked. It was Miss Moneypaisa. "007, you're wanted in office. M wants to see you this afternoon."

"Right," said 007 and switched off the phone. There were still a couple of hours to kill. 007 leisurely shaved and bathed and walked down the stairs to the street. He sauntered towards the bus stand. With a faint smile he recalled M telling him: "007, you are among the half dozen RAW operatives with the double-0 prefix. You know what that means. You have the license to kill time. I'm not giving you any car allowance. You can travel by bus."

There was a crowd at the bus stand. People refused to queue up. 007's thin somewhat cruel lips curled in a smile. His karate training would be put to good use, he thought. When the bus lumbered to a stop there was a mad rush. 007 adroitly elbowed his way to the front. An old man was in the way. 007 struck the back of his neck with a clean karate chop. The old man gurgled and sank to the ground. 007 stepped over him and leapt as the bus started to move.

After loafing around the street to kill time 007 entered the RAW building. There was a new security guard at the gate.

"Your name?" barked the guard.

"Bondopadhya, Jamshed Bondopadhya," 007 said curtly. The guard's eyes widened. He gave a smart salute. 007 was a legend among RAW employees. As he entered M's office complex Miss Moneypaisa was waiting.   "The Chief is waiting," she said archly. "You're late."

He knocked and went into M's room. M looked up from a newspaper in his hand. He looked worried. "Sit down 007," he said. "There is a most unusual assignment come our way. The enemy has asked for our assistance!"
007 narrowed his eyes. "Which enemy, Sir ~ China or Pakistan ?"

M sighed. "Neither, 007. The CBI wants our help!"

For a moment there was a stunned silence. "What on earth can we do for them, Sir?" 007 exclaimed.

M pushed forward the paper in his hand. "Read that 007." Jamshed looked down and saw a report pencilled in red. It said that the PMO had pleaded that on the basis of the Shunglu committee report, the CBI be ordered to probe the CWG scam. "Don't you get it, 007? The CBI is directly under the PM. The CBI wants to know whose permission the PM is seeking! They want you to clear this mystery."

007 frowned. "I'll see what I can do, Sir!" He had a contact in the PMO. He had done favours for the head peon. He contacted him on his mobile and they met on a park bench. 007 explained the problem. "CBI wants to know whose permission the PM seeks."

The peon looked furtively to the right and left. He leaned forward and said hoarsely, "I can tell you it is not Mrs Sonia Gandhi. Before PMO opened its mouth she must have cleared it in advance. "

"Exactly," said 007 impatiently. "Then who can be the PM's new secret boss, man? Advani, Karat, Pranab? CBI is worried stiff!"

The peon sat back with a satisfied smirk. "It is Rahul!" he said. "The PM now wants clearance from both Soniaji and Rahul!"


007's head started to swim. "You mean Mrs Gandhi and Rahul do not see eye to eye any more?"

"Of course they do," the peon said crossly. "But the PM is very farsighted. He has started to butter up Rahul right now, much before he becomes the PM! When that happens Rahul may retain him as a minister in his Cabinet…" 






People of West Bengal are anxiously waiting for a new government. The unprecedented turnout rate indicates high political awareness and a desire for change for the better. Therefore, it will be the responsibility of the newly-elected government to ensure the wellbeing of the state in every possible way and also to take utmost care of people who brought them to power. May the freshly-elected legislators, when they take oath,  regard the ceremony as a ritual to formally acknowledge the challenges ahead of them and not treat it as a mundane democratic exercise.

West Bengal once used to be the most developed state of India. Also, it churned out some of the most visionary politicians who could rise above the political divide to do the state a lot of good. It is also believed that successive dispensations, whatever their failings, had been able to post some progress. But that had been nugatory and Bengal has been sliding down in almost every ranking compiled to gauge the development and fiscal health of Indian states.

While a lot of that could be attributed to the morass churned out by decades-long, unbroken stint of a single coalition, focus post 13 May should be on moving on. Instead of dissecting the past, both the electorate and the new government should think of ways to undo the previous ills. Unless we know how to look forward and not remain held back by shadows of the past, the next generations will never forgive us. Civil society must stop being selectively active and the political leadership should eschew prejudice and its infamous tunnel vision.
The concept of gradual benefit of the underprivileged through development and assets creation no longer holds good because in these days of increasing awareness, the electorate is less inclined to leave everything in the hands of fate. It must have results during its lifetime, the sooner the better, with the scheme of things assuring it that even the next generation would continue to reap the benefits of qualitative governance. The rate of growth posted by India in the recent years has fuelled aspirations for better standards of living, rightly so, and widespread agitations across the state and the nation is sending a message to the government about the need for equitable distributions of the gains from such economic progress. The government that comes to power after 13 May must keep in mind that with changing times, the aspirations of the electorate have changed as well. The employment scenario in Bengal has been abysmal in recent years primarily owing to the global recession affecting mainly the industrial sector and consequent low rate of absorption of the labour force into other sectors. Inclusive growth should be the mantra of the new government, irrespective of its ideological orientation.
West Bengal is one of the most thickly-inhabited states in India with farm and allied sectors being the largest employer. But employment in these sectors is not very remunerative. At the same time, the value of land as security during dire economic times is increasing. With rapid industrialisation, the pressure on land is rising, making farmers reluctant to part with their only source of subsistence. This is because land is regarded not only as an income-generating asset but also as an "insurance policy-cum-pension plan".
There should be a clear initiative to do way with the culture of politically-motivated sops. This helps no one. Development policies should be framed with a clear objective to bring about a discernable change in the quality of life of the people. Law and order should be preserved without fear or favour and efforts must be made first to restore the people's faith in health care and education offered by the government.
Concerns of any nature and degree can be addressed if it is known what to do and where to start from. The new government would do well by beginning with making a list of the processes and perceptions that no longer work, discard them and then work out a roadmap. The electorate should do its bit by suspending the habitual it mistrust it harbours against all ruling dispensations while at the same time, making it clear that flagrant corruption and abdication of responsibility will not be tolerated any more.
Whichever combine comes to power in Bengal must be ready to acknowledge that radical measures will be needed to bring about the much-hyped changes. There is no reason why Bengal can't do better ~ there is distinct potential for prosperity and progress. The state is blessed with strategic location, ports, mineral resources and a large skill pool ~ arguably the best in the country. Also, being located in a deltaic region, Bengal enjoys fertile soil and an abundant supply of water. What it needs is effective policies and the political will to extract the maximum benefit from them. And, to do that, the new government needs to rise above partisan politics and practise a lot of forward-thinking.

The writer is former DGM, India International Centre, New Delhi








It would have been unrealistic to expect that the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute would reach a quick solution. Now that the Supreme Court has stayed the judgment of the Allahabad High Court passed in September 2010, the court case is likely to spin out for a few more years. The Allahabad High Court had divided the disputed area within the site among the three main contending parties: Hindu litigants, the Sunni Central Waqf Board and the Nirmohi Akhara. Its verdict achieved a fragile balance in a situation that constantly threatened to become inflammable as though the violence in its history had not been enough. But, as the Supreme Court has pointed out in its recent stay order, the Allahabad High Court did parcel out the area when none of the contenders had asked for a partition.

The Supreme Court's stay order is accompanied by a direction to maintain status quo at the site. That would mean, with reference to judgments made in 1994 and 2002, no religious activity in the extensive area acquired by the government while worship in the disputed area can continue as before. The Supreme Court must have its own reasons to stay the lower court's verdict. At the same time, the Supreme Court has also called the Allahabad High Court's decision to divide up, unasked, the disputed area among the three disputants "strange". The Supreme Court has not paused at "strange", but has also said that the lower court's verdict has opened the way to a "litany of litigation". It has made the situation "difficult". The Supreme Court's comments, however, are likely to have the unfortunate effect of undermining the credibility of a lower court. The Allahabad High Court had an unenviable case to handle: it chose the way that threatened the least violence. Not that it has achieved unanimity; else there would not be so many appeals pending in the Supreme Court already. The Supreme Court intends to peruse them after the summer recess, and it is to be hoped it will reach its own verdict. Meanwhile, its directions should be enough to convince even the most serious believers that the Allahabad High Court's judgment has to be looked at again. Calling it strange and various sorts of other names, directly or by implication, rather reduces the dignity of the Supreme Court and demolishes the trust people must feel if they are to make best use of their institutions.

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In that unmatched textbook on British politics, Yes Minister, it is said that the highest accolade that the British Empire bestowed on its subjects was the letters JB after the proper name. The letters were meant as an abbreviation for "jailed by the British''. In India, the names of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, among innumerable other political leaders, come readily to mind. In Indian political life, going to prison for a noble cause has a special cachet. It becomes a sign of tyag or sacrifice and thus an investment the dividends of which are enormous. Rahul Gandhi, whose entry into and rise in politics are both products of the accident of his birth into the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, has now filled a gap in his curriculum vitae. He can now claim that he has been to jail because he stood up for a cause. What dividends this very brief spell in prison will bring remains to be seen, but it will not be too cynical to suggest that the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Ms Mayavati, may have done Mr Gandhi a service.

Mr Gandhi's arrest, however, draws attention to a number of important issues. His decision to be part of the dharna being staged by those farmers who have lost their land is a direct intervention in the highly charged politics of land acquisition. The politics of UP, since the emergence of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, have been dominated by caste-identity. Mobilization — for agitation and elections — in UP is largely along caste lines. The issue of land and its loss, because it is so emotive, has the potential to cut across caste lines. Thus, as a representative of the Congress — a party which does not appeal only to one particular group or caste — Mr Gandhi's intervention is well thought out. Further, Mr Gandhi's association with the movement will help to focus attention on the many problems involved in the State's acquisition of agricultural land and the manner in which the compensation package is calculated. In fact, Mr Gandhi, as a parliamentarian, should pay special attention to this aspect, especially as a new land acquisition bill is waiting to be tabled in the Lok Sabha. As a postscript it needs to be added that the state government in UP did not hesitate to arrest Mr Gandhi because he was perceived by the administration to be a threat to law and order. This is not what some other state governments did when other political leaders disrupted life and law and order.






My friend, Mani Shankar Aiyar, has been in a self-congratulatory mood (at least on television) ever since a post-poll survey suggested last week that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led alliance would be a nose ahead of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led front in Tamil Nadu. So resounding was his faith in a survey that went against the grain of Madras chatterati wisdom that he belligerently accused me of assaulting Tamil asmita by daring to suggest that a booster dose of money power had marked the final days of an already extravagant campaign.

Since Aiyar's take on politics is decidedly eccentric — he feels the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is losing in West Bengal because it abandoned Marxism and embraced Manmohan Singh-ism — it is often difficult to separate his conviction from posturing. Yet, if, by the afternoon of Friday the 13th, the Congress member of parliament who was also a founding member of the Trinamul Congress looks silly, he will be just another statistic in the long list of politicians who equated exit polls with the final results and lived to regret it.

This is not to endorse the smug complacency of communist apparatchiks in Alimuddin Street who sincerely believe that an eighth Left Front government in Calcutta is pre-ordained. The suggestions of a pro-Mamata tsunami, they have repeatedly asserted, is a media conspiracy. Last Tuesday evening, after a clutch of exit polls also indicated that the Left Front was certain to lose power quite decisively — the only debate centres on the Left Front's ability to touch 100 seats in the 294-member assembly — the CPI(M) reaffirmed its condescending disbelief in the results. In a pro-Left Bengali channel, a CPI(M) functionary recounted in graphic detail how the polls got it all wrong in 2001 and would again get it wrong in 2011.

The Left genuinely believes it is winning in both West Bengal and Kerala. This optimism which, quite remarkably, has also been internalized by its cadres, is based on field reports that are held to be a more reliable guide to public opinion than surveys conducted by market research organizations and pollsters.

The faith in internal assessments isn't confined to the Left alone. During the 2009 general elections, a lot of importance was attached to internal reports by full-timers, suggesting that the Bharatiya Janata Party was in a winning position in some 32 of the 80 Lok Sabha constituencies in Uttar Pradesh. This was reinforced by some self-serving polls conducted by in-house pollsters. When the votes were counted, the BJP won just 10 seats in the largest state.

Political functionaries don't invariably exaggerate a party's popularity. After his decisive re-election last year, the Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, told me that his bid to galvanize his political workers prior to the polls had not been a grand success. At the state political convention of the Janata Dal (United) shortly before the campaign kicked off, an open session on the performance of the state government became the occasion for venomous outpourings of disgust. An outside observer would have concluded that the JD(U)-BJP alliance would suffer from the indifference and hostility of its own activists.

In 2007, I witnessed a similar alienation of the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, from his own party functionaries. Many apparatchiks told me "in strict confidence" that Modi would be lucky to win with a narrow majority. The results indicated otherwise.

Both Nitish and Modi reposed greater faith in independent pre-election surveys than in internal feedback. Realizing their potential vulnerability on the organizational front, both mounted spirited presidential-style campaigns aimed at galvanizing voters over the heads of sullen activists. Confronted by a sharply divided party, Kerala's indefatigable CPI(M) warhorse, V.S. Achuthanandan, appears to have adopted a similar approach in this election. The results of his late surge is awaited.

Unlike the West, where political parties employ experienced professionals to dissect poll data, Indian politicians tend to be rather casual in their approach. Some of the wariness is understandable. Although the methodology for political polls has been fine-tuned since Prannoy Roy and Ashok Lahiri first employed the index of Opposition unity to gauge the quantum of Congress vulnerability in 1982, there is no infallible mathematical model to forecast the conversion of popular votes into seats in India. The multiplicity of parties, some with very narrow territorial presence, the continuing relevance of caste, class and religion and the understandable wariness of people to reveal their voting preferences to total strangers have posed problems for pollsters.

Bob Worcester, a pioneer of the MORI polls in post-war Britain, used to say that opinion polls are 95 per cent skill and five per cent luck. In the case of Indian elections, the luck factor is at least 25 per cent. In last year's Bihar assembly election, for example, a National Democratic Alliance victory was the common conclusion of all the major pollsters. However, there was a wide difference in estimating the quantum of victory.

If Bihar's unequivocal verdict could produce such vastly different estimates, it is not difficult to gauge why today's counting will be marked by the uncertainty of verdicts in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam. West Bengal is the only state where there is no dispute about an unequivocal mandate for Mamata Banerjee. Even in the case of Kerala, a state where there is a stable two-party system in operation, there is no unanimity on the likely winner.

Assam poses a typically Indian challenge to the pollsters. On the face of it, the Congress is facing a badly splintered Opposition and should be the biggest beneficiary of the first-past-the-post system. Yet, the fragmented opposition space is not as fragmented as it appears since the sub-regional pattern suggests two- or at best three-cornered contests. The Congress is the common factor throughout the state but its challenger changes from region to region and even shifts according to community. A pan-Assam extrapolation of data could therefore produce results markedly different from a conclusion centred on ethnically-defined sub-regions.

But there is an associated complication. Experience suggests that pollsters are more likely to forecast a correct result for the entire state than they are for a single assembly segment. The larger the area the greater the scope for accuracy since errors cancel out each other. The implication is obvious: the projected results for single assembly seats should be viewed with the scepticism reserved for both the mythical "BBC predictions" that resonated in North Indian small towns till the mid-1990s and the Intelligence Bureau assessments that formed the staple diet of 'informed' media speculation.

Finally, there is the issue of the credibility of the polling agency. Most of the reputed ones attempt an honest exercise, even if some of their sampling is suspect. However, over the past decade the market has witnessed the arrival of quite dubious pollsters and pseudo-psephologists. The cleverest of the dodgy brigade base their conclusions on random tea-stall conversations with villagers on the highway and blend these with assessments culled from local journalists and police. The more brazen ones speak to a few politicians and then arrive at their conclusions. Occasionally, they even get their conclusions right.

The most unscrupulous ones undertake 'paid polls' where the results are pre-determined and aimed at countering the negative impact of other, well-intentioned polls. The bespoke pollsters are most in demand in northern India where the ferocity of competitive politics has nurtured a local media dedicated to extortion and blackmail. The criminalization of psephology is a uniquely Indian invention.

This is why it pays to still wait for the votes to be counted.







Finally, we see the start of a serious political intervention from Rahul Gandhi in Uttar Pradesh, where he is taking on issues that farmers face across India in this phase of change, development and growth. Therefore, he is seen to have moved out of the contained Youth Congress and student initiatives onto the larger national political stage. Many believe it is about time he orchestrates a substantive and proactive role that can lead a moribund party — beset with 'leaders' who indulge in politicking and manoeuvring without a counterpoint that is real or essential — into a period of reinvention, if it is to play a dominant national role in the future.

India needs its new leadership to return to the realities on the ground and abandon their comfort zones in New Delhi or in other state capitals that have been saturated with half-truths, political misinformation, personal agendas and the granting of illegitimate favours. Manipulative politics alone, without the more important imperative of addressing the true concerns of the citizens through policies and administration, is playing a destructive role in today's world. An aggressive attempt to get out there and try comprehend the changing socio-economic transition that India is struggling with is bound to rekindle hope and generate the much-needed trust in the leadership. There is no other solution. Old hands, who have isolated those in power with tactics, need to be purged and used only for negotiations, not to deliver to a civil society.

The agriculture sector has been misused, exploited and allowed to rot. This abject neglect has affected the backbone of this country and its democracy. People have been subjected to a life that is unacceptable. Large numbers have risen in armed revolt because their plea was ignored for more than five decades. A corrective has to be administered if India is to restore dignity in the lives of its people — rich or poor, rural or urban.

New narrative

The dynamics of our new age demand multi-pronged solutions to the complex infrastructural needs of a democracy, existing at many socio-economic levels. If the leaders do not commit themselves to India and Bharat, they will be responsible for the escalation of a militant anarchy, alongside the rise of political, economic and social discord.

In the same vein, the management and operation of the political system need to be radically reformed. The 'this-too-shall-pass' attitude cannot be put into play any more. A trickling down of the much-touted rate of growth should be the only bonus attached to a planned delivery of goods and services to the 50 per cent of India that has been left behind in the great opening-up of the economy. We need a concerted effort to overhaul the machine that worked for a few and disrespected the majority. Imagine the babu and the politician having to live on their 'bonus' without their salaries!

Stringent rules must apply everywhere — from income-tax issues to no-objection certificates. These rules should be simple and clear to one and all, with no space for 'interpretation', by using the endless addenda that are attached to the primary documents. In the service sector that generates more than 50 per cent of the gross domestic product, one-window clearances should replace the unhealthy use of paper, bribery and corruption. That is the first job of any government. A fresh blueprint needs to be drawn with transparency and accountability.

If Rahul Gandhi is the lead actor on the stage and makes it his crusade and commitment to lead India onto a new trajectory compelling a change of course, a new generation could be energized. Constant public political engagement is the only tool that can change the present, insular narrative.



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




Pakistan prime minister Yusaf Raza Gilani has used his speech before parliament to curry favour with the military and the ISI, rather than provide the world and especially the Pakistani people answers to how slain al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was able to stay in some luxury in the heart of Pakistan for so many years.

In his speech Gilani repeatedly sought to distance Pakistan from the al-Qaeda. Indeed, the role of the CIA in nurturing Osama and other jihadis during the 1980s is well documented. Still in shifting the blame for the Osama phenomenon onto the Americans alone and in pointing out that Pakistan did not invite al-Qaeda to Afghanistan or Pakistan, he was being more than parsimonious with the truth. After all, did not the government choose to co-operate with the CIA in the nurturing of religious extremism?

And what prevented successive governments — military and civilian — from correcting the flawed policy of using terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy? Gilani claimed that no other country has done as much as Pakistan to fight the al-Qaeda. He was full of praise for the military and the ISI, even describing the latter as a 'national asset.'

That the civilian government is not anxious to lay bare who in the ISI/military provided Osama with a safe house for six years in Abbottabad is evident from the fact that the only investigation into this question will be done by the military. What the military will reveal is a foregone conclusion; its dirty role and responsibility in sheltering Osama will be whitewashed.

Perhaps a few middle-rung officers will be purged and nothing beyond that. Those who were hoping that Gilani would announce a separate civilian probe into the ISI's role and use this as a starting point to reform the functioning of the intelligence agency will be disappointed.

In the context of the US' anger with the ISI's role in sheltering Osama, Pakistan's political leaders had two choices — distance themselves from the ISI or fly to its defence. They chose the latter. Nobody expected Gilani to reprimand the ISI in public. But fearing a coup, he chose to ingratiate himself with the generals. In seeking to buy peace with them, Gilani threw away an opportunity to reform the ISI.







The rejection by the supreme court of the CBI's curative petition against the court's 1996 ruling which had diluted the charges against the accused in the Bhopal gas tragedy case is a setback for the cause of justice for the gas leak victims.

The dilution of charges from Section 304 (II) of the IPC for culpable homicide not amounting to murder to Section 304 (A) for criminal negligence had led to a light punishment of two years' imprisonment for the seven accused Union Carbide officials, including the company's chairman, Keshub Chandra Mahindra, last year. The punishment had no relation to the gravity of the world's worst industrial disaster in which over 5,000 people died and lakhs of people suffered lasting damage to their health. It was the national outrage created by the judgment that forced the government and the CBI to file a curative petition which has now been dismissed.

It is the Madhya Pradesh government and the CBI which should be faulted for the rejection of the petition because they could not explain the delay of 14 years in filing it. The court felt that the curative petition was based on a wrong and fallacious plea and no material was produced before the court to support it. The delay had no rational or legal explanation  and reflected only the apathy and callousness the gas leak victims were used to ever since the tragedy occurred in December 1984. They have not received justice from the courts or the authorities all these years.

Though the curative petition has been dismissed the supreme court has left a window of justice open by stating that there is no bar on the trial court framing charges under more stringent provisions of the IPC. The CBI can seek enhancement of the charges in the appellate court which can take stock of the evidence afresh and decide whether Section 304 (II) can be invoked against the accused.

With the supreme court clearing the legal position there is some hope that justice may yet be done. But the quantum of punishment for the accused is not the only issue of justice. A Group of Ministers formed last year had decided to take steps to make the then Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson and the successor company Dow Chemicals liable for the damage. No progress has been made on this, nor on the promise of higher compensation for the victims.







The malady is deeper, relating not only to the acquisition of land but to the depletion of income of farmers.
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 was nowhere near the market price. In fact, it was one fourth of what was worth — Rs 800 per square metre against Rs 3,200. Developers are selling it at Rs 11,000 per square metre.

The agitated farmers 'detained' two officers to put pressure. This led to a clash between farmers and the police. Four people died, two from each side. UP chief minister Mayawati aggravated the situation by letting loose the police and driving out villagers from their homes.

The tragedy raises familiar policy question: how far the development can go to devour the fields which grow foodgrains and that too for a pittance 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 the assurances.

New Delhi seems to have woken up finally. Rural development minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has said that the 1894 Acquisition Act is being amended. I must say it should be done pretty soon. The public purpose will be redefined and the market price assured.

While redrafting the bill, the government should also be providing allotting shares to the land owners in some sort of partnership in the industrial unit for which the land is acquired.

The Greater Noida matter should not, however, end with an inquiry into the killings. The malady is deeper, relating not only to the acquisition of land but to the depletion of income of farmers. Indeed, the performance in the agrarian sector is woeful. In other words, 70 per cent of India's population living in the countryside is in miserable condition.

New Delhi's statements on rural development are many but the scene has changed very little. Even prime minister Manmohan Singh's promise last October to amend the Act would not have moved further if the farmers had not 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. Further divided, it comes to roughly 50 persons per day. I do not have to remind that the farmers were in the forefront of freedom movement. Today they commit suicide while toiling for their meagre livelihood. They sacrificed their hearth and home to oust the British so that the free India would attend to their plight. New Delhi should realise that the countryside is simmering with agitation and the lava beneath can erupt any time.


A study on the agrarian crisis, conducted by the Joshi-Adhikari Institute of Social Studies at New Delhi, says that farm income, even if the earnings from the livestock were added, is "insufficient to meet cultivation cost and consumption needs". What they add for their labour in market is too small because of exploitation. I recall talking once to Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, a landlord. He said that you can hold a survey in the country and you will find every farmer being under debt.

As against an average 7 per cent growth of India's economy in the last decade agriculture registered only 1.6 per cent. In fact, the agriculture growth in the country 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 it has slipped down further to 0.4 per cent. The steering committee on agriculture for the formulation of 11th Five Years Plan has admitted that after independence such a drop in the agriculture output has been "witnessed for the first time".

The Indian economy is engulfed in a deep and intractable crisis. The government's response to the situation has been to introduce populist measures like debt waivers, the proposed food security bill, etc, and continue with the neo-liberal thrust of opening up our agriculture to world market forces and to the corporate sector. This has exacerbated the crisis and created an impression that the agrarian crisis is the result of the policies of globalisation, and a reversal of these policies will 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 the majority of the agricultural population over the centuries.

The roots of agrarian crisis have to be traced in the distorted capitalist development trajectory that we inherited from our colonial past. Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a socialist by conviction, could have done something since he ruled the country for 17 years. But he got enamoured by industrialisation.

I concede that the industry is necessary to lessen dependence on agriculture because of vagaries of weather. But there has to be a balance. Nehru realised this but late. Prime minister Manmohan Singh, the top economist, has not done even now. One can see the consequences within 7 years of his rule. That farmers are committing suicide because they earn far less than they borrow should make every Indian to hang his head in shame.








In contrast to the disaster at Chernobyl, this catastrophe took place at the hypertechnological centre.
Fukushima marks the end of the era of atomic energy illusions and the beginning of the post-nuclear age. Now classified at level 7 on the international scale of nuclear accidents (INES), the Japanese disaster is comparable to the Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine 1986 in terms of its "considerable radioactive effects on the human health and on the environment".

The magnitude 9 earthquake and the giant tsunami that blasted the northeast of Japan on March 11 with unprecedented brutality not only caused the Fukushima disaster but also destroyed all of certainties of proponents of the civil nuclear programmes.

Before Fukushima the nuclear industry found itself in a curiously idyllic period, with the construction of tens of nuclear plants planned in a range of countries. There were two reasons for this: first, the fear that oil reserves will be exhausted by the end of this century and the exponential growth of demand for energy in the giant emerging countries (China, India, and Brazil) made nuclear power appear like the ultimate substitute energy source.

Clean alternative

Second, the soul-searching provoked by climate change caused by global warming led many, paradoxically, to opt for nuclear energy as a 'clean' — non-CO2-producing — alternative.

These two arguments were accompanied by other familiar ones: the desire for energy sovereignty and less dependence on imported hydrocarbons; the low cost of nuclear energy; and, though it may seem paradoxical at this period, safety, given that the world's 441 nuclear plants (half of them in western Europe) have experienced only three major accidents in 50 years.

All of these arguments, none patently absurd, were shattered by the scope of the Fukushima catastrophe. The new panic now spreading around the world is based on certain observations.

In the first place, and in contrast to the disaster at Chernobyl — which was blamed partly, for ideological reasons, on the backwards state of Soviet technology — this catastrophe took place in the world's hypertechnological centre, where one would suppose that Japan's authorities and technicians would take every conceivable precaution to avoid a civil nuclear disaster, especially considering that it was the only country to experience an atomic attack and the hell it caused, in 1945.

If the world's most competent scientific culture was unable to avoid this, does it make sense to allow others to continue playing with atomic fire?

In second place, the temporal and spacial consequences of the Fukushima disaster are terrifying. Because of elevated levels of radioactivity, the area around the plant will be uninhabitable for millennia, and the area around that for centuries. Millions of people will have no choice but to move their home and their work, whether industry, fishing or farming, to less contaminated areas.

Beyond the most contaminated areas, the radioactivity released will effect the health of tens of million of Japanese, as well as large numbers of their Korean, Russian, and Chinese neighbours, and perhaps other inhabitants of the northern hemisphere. There could be no clearer demonstration of the fact that a nuclear accident is never local, but always planetary.

Third, Fukushima has shown that so-called 'energy sovereignty' is very relative matter. The production of nuclear energy presupposes a new form of reliance: 'technological dependence.' Despite its immense technological advancement, Japan had to draw on the assistance of experts from the US, Russia, and France, as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to try and control the situation. Moreover, the planet's supply of the uranium that powers nuclear plants is very limited and, at the present rate of use, will be exhausted in 80 years — in other words, at about the same time oil gives out.

For these and other reasons, defenders of the nuclear option must admit that Fukushima has radically changed the energy equation. There are now four demands: to stop building new nuclear plants; dismantle those more than 30 years old; greatly increase energy conservation; and shift usage to renewable sources as much as possible. Only in this way can the planet, and humanity, be saved.






The clues to Osama's hiding were all there in his name, folks!

The US government spent years and years and millions of dollars to nab Osama, but if only they had asked me for help! I had some definite clues long ago how the end would come about. And I would have given this information to the CIA for free, in the cause of world peace. Now in all the time when US presidents were taking a good, sharp look out for this terrorist, I was instead taking a good sharp look at his name. And look what I found:

Rearrange the letters of 'Osama Bin Laden' and what's the anagram you get? Obama Nails Den! Rearrange it once more, and you'll see exactly what happens next: A Bad Omen, Slain. Wait! Let's do it again. And we'll get what they did with his body: Bad Ol'Man In Sea.

See? Well, we know how frustrated the US has been, right from the time when George Bush was hoping that a quick capture of the dreaded terrorist would get him re-elected as president. But then along came a determined new candidate, and that too a Black, named Barack Hussein Obama. Right then the world should've known he would succeed where Bush would fail: as a re-arrangement of the letters of that unusual name read:
'Bush, I can break Osama'. (Now we know exactly what he meant with his campaign slogan, Yes, We Can.)

And so the hunt began, based on a vast data of intelligence reports. However, if I may add (at the risk of sending all clairvoyants, psychics, astrologers and soothsayers permanently out of business…) I had clues where the US should look for him, in the first place.

Is Osama hiding in Pakistan? Or in Afghanistan? These questions plagued us for years. Ah ha. Now why didn't someone ask me! Because I had once seen this headline in a magazine: Is Osama Bin Laden Yet Alive? The letters swam about — and neatly re-arranged themselves for a clue where his hiding place could be (even if one had to excuse the bad English). 'Yes. It In One Islamabad Vale.

With this valuable clue, all the US intelligence had to do was, look at suspicious places in a valley near Islamabad. And they'd have got to Abbottabad in a jiffy. Of course, Osama's parents themselves should have known better right at the time when they named him as a baby. Osama bin Laden is also 'I, A Damnable Son.' Or when he went past his teens, his name showed up as 'A Bad Man, No Lies.' And a bit later, when his career path was fully established, The Terrorist Osama bin Laden anagrammed itself into 'Arab Monster Is No Idle Threat.'

And I know there are some amateur anagramists out there who also arrived at conclusions about Osama bin Laden, like: Is a Lone Bad Man.' But if there's anyone out there looking for a pro at decoding names, don't go looking for Dan Brown. Just get in touch with me!









1. It's not so terrible that the protest by Yoel Shalit and his girlfriend took place in full view of the dignitaries at Independence Day's main ceremony. Everyone around the country understands the Shalit family's pain.

How is it possible, people wonder, that this country, which tracked down Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Qatar, Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and "the Engineer" in Gaza, which avenged suicide bombings in restaurants and buses in Israel, as well as the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, can't figure out where Gilad Shalit is being held? Where is our cunning audacity? Where are our intelligence experts? Outgoing Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin openly admits this intelligence failure.

True, mighty America, which invested millions of dollars in work with stool pigeons and captives, needed 10 years to find Osama bin Laden. And the real reason they killed him immediately, without a trial and burial, was the fear that Al-Qaida would kidnap Americans and demand an "exchange," turning the success into a failure. The bitter experience of the failed military attempt in 1994 to free captive Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman continues to haunt us. Human life remains sacred to us − wouldn't it be best to stay patient and get back Gilad Shalit alive?

2. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan has spoken out twice against attacking Iranian nuclear sites. Once he said Iran wouldn't attain a nuclear-weapons capability before 2015, three years after the official Israeli estimate. Then, after he stepped down, he declared that the idea of an attack on Iran was fundamentally foolish because "we're not the world's policemen."

It's interesting that two tough warriors, Ariel Sharon and Rafael Eitan, both ministers in Benjamin Netanyahu's first government, ruled out the prime minister's idea of using doomsday weapons in the event of a second attack on Iraq. At the time, Sharon told me personally that precisely these two tough-as-nails soldiers even opposed proposals to "review the subject," fearing that America would punish us.

The question is, why did Dagan voice his opposition right now? Does he know something we don't? Or maybe he doesn't trust the judgment of the people in power? Dagan is a brave soldier, but also a prudent man, and the very fact that he made these statements is a cause for worry. Even the most modest middle-of-the-roader has believed for some time that the "Khomeinis," the real leaders of Iran, will clip the wings of crazed little Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if his fingers reach for the missile button.

3. After a long period in which Defense Minister Ehud Barak has kept mum, doing nothing more than whispering in Bibi's ear in the Knesset while covering his mouth so nobody could read his lips, he has suddenly given a stream of interviews on radio, television and in the print media. And he has indulged himself with a few background discussions with the country's top pundits. He reassures us that Israel faces no major impending threat, despite everything that's happening around us.

Yet, "there are also certain dangers, and we must remain alert." Just a few days before the riots erupted in Syria, Barak told Yaron Dekel that Syria's president was willing to consider a diplomatic agreement. In a radio interview with Aryeh Golan, he warned that a tsunami was approaching, and that we had to be strong.

How would opposition leader Tzipi Livni respond to this? "Wonderful," she would say. Barak told Channel 1's Ayala Hasson that Israel needs to respond "from its head, not its stomach" ‏(thereby shamelessly stealing a headline from me‏).

When all his interviews, including a fascinating one in Haaretz, are put together, the question arises, what happened? Well, the tsunami is what happened − a tsunami of polls in which Barak doesn't draw enough support to make it to the Knesset.

4. We don't like to deal with the wives of presidents and prime ministers, even though one of them publicly branded me "phlegmatic," another canceled a subscription to Haaretz because of an article she didn't like, and a president's wife responded angrily to criticism I hazarded about an expensive fur hat she bought in New York. There are more stories like that.

I've never dealt with "his wife Sara." Not even when during one of her first trips to London, she demanded that it be written on invitations, alongside her husband's name, "Madam Prime Minister."

A British official in charge of protocol said that "with us in Britain there was only one Madam Prime Minister, and that was the 'Iron Lady,' Margaret Thatcher."

The truth is that we also have an iron lady, but the whole world doesn't need to know about it.







In those days, there was no prime minister in Israel and the defense minister did what he felt was right. For the first time, one of the close aides has admitted his guilt: "[Begin aide Yehiel] Kadishai, [former cabinet minister Yaakov] Meridor and I spoke a great deal about it.

It is impossible to act as if there is a prime minister when there is not," said the former military aide, Azriel Nevo, in an interview with Ben Caspit this week. "We should have been put on trial for hiding [Menachem] Begin's condition and the public didn't know that."

Perhaps I have already recounted how one time another Begin aide came to me, locked the door, and confessed that Begin was ill and not functioning, Arik [Sharon] was going berserk, and the state was in danger. You are the only one who can break the conspiracy of silence, he said.

I did not. Were I to have raised the curtain then the other players would have acted dumb and recited: What do you mean sick and depressed? That's just a wicked fabrication by someone opposed to the prime minister and his war.

nd the feelings of the public would have gone out to the tortured Begin, who was being forced to wage two wars at once, an internal and an external one. Who would have believed me?

This is the first time that a central insider has described the conspiracy. How Sharon was "purposely exhausting and killing Begin," how "ministers and officers were dead scared of him," how "information was hidden from the prime minister and the government," and how the border of the war was being stealthily expanded. Even 29 years later, I was filled with dread and fury when I read this.

In those days of the shadow of death, I was a member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. We too were taken for a ride. Arik did not lie, he merely spun misleading cobwebs around us. He left the dirty work of deception to people who were less sophisticated than he was, like Raful [former chief of staff Rafael Eitan], who lied without being aware of it. Nevo also testified to this.

Anyone with eyes in his head could see that they were planning to attack the Syrians despite the official denials. From the way things were presented, it was possible to learn about the plot in advance. I begged "our colleagues" to run to Begin and warn him, but they were already carried away by the winds of war. "How the heroes have fallen," people sob on Memorial Day. This is how they fell, in no-man's land.

"Today this couldn't happen," the interviewee consoled himself, as if we were talking about matters that took place many ages ago.

It is true that today it is more difficult to hide a prime minister inside a closet with ghosts or a medicine chest. And the leaders are healthier, younger and wealthier. What do they lack, and what do we lack?

What is lacking is trust and respect. True, the best of the surgeons reported two years ago that there had been a successful operation and that there had been a transformation, but birds of a feather flock together and no change is evident − it is the same hedonism, the same covetousness, the same "I don't know what they want from me." It is true that they are present but nevertheless they are absentees, they are there and they are not, their head is in other places and so is their heart.

They ride and sing, insolent and off-tune, in the residence of presidents, those disgusting people.

When will they be able to sing about Gilad? After going down to the people during the [Moroccan Jewish] Mimouna festival, they recover from the mofletta [honey-drenched crepes] and look for gourmet. Once again they eat at an expensive restaurant above a fancy casino in the middle of an important state visit. Will he who stops watches and bends teaspoons be the one to bend hostile missiles fired at us and stop them in their tracks? Or perhaps they promised Madam Sara a meeting in London with the magician so that she would not be disappointed and begin shouting?

It is we, not they, who have to change, as Ehud Barak demands of us: "Get over your mental blocks," he protests to Gidi Weitz. "Get over the feeling that Barak drinks good cognac and smokes a cigar," and he adds a new flavor to the expression, "after me!" − apres moi le deluge.

In another few years, another person who knows what is going on will be interviewed and will admit mistakes. We got a hint this week from the outgoing head of the Shin Bet security service. "I have doubts about fateful decisions that are taken in this country," he said as he glanced toward the east. When someone who is party to a secret says "doubts," then there is no doubt.







Having all Palestinian political factions come together for national reconciliation was an emotional experience for all Palestinians who witnessed the events taking place in Cairo. The Arab Spring has finally reached Palestine. The left, the religious right, and the nationalist camp − across the Palestinian political spectrum − with the support of the new Egyptian government, reached an agreement to establish a technocratic administration in order to hold elections within one year and rebuild the Gaza Strip. This is a critical step in our path toward freedom and independence.

This ceremony was a representation of the will of our people. After the reconciliation ceremony, a young boy from Gaza was reported to have said, "I call on Fatah, Hamas and the rest of the factions to march hand in hand toward independence, to open and build our country." From the mouths of babes come the most simple and powerful sentiments. In this case, that sentiment represents those of Palestinians everywhere, from Chile to Lebanon.

As President Mahmoud Abbas said in Cairo, with the establishment of a government of national unity, we will have closed one of the darkest periods in the history of our people.

Palestinians are looking forward now. We will continue to work hard on gaining international recognition for the State of Palestine in the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Today, we have received such recognition from 112 countries. The latest vote in the UN Security Council calling for an end to settlement expansion ‏(14 countries voting in favor and the United States against‏) shows unprecedented support for the Palestinian position: The Israeli occupation of Palestinian land must end.

Under the leadership of President Abbas, we are concluding the process of building Palestinian institutional capacities. According to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the European Union, Palestine has reached a point where it is ready to take the reins of state. Only the Israeli occupation stands in the way of our progress.

In September 2011, a united Palestinian people will go to the United Nations to request that the State of Palestine be admitted as a full member of the UN. It is time for Israel to stop denying freedom to the Palestinian people. We deserve to live free just like all other peoples in the world. Our message is very simple: The Palestinian people will not remain hostage to Israeli intransigence and unilateralism; settler violence and expansion are not going to stop us.

National reconciliation will also re-energize and empower our nonviolent struggle for justice and peace. We have been inspired by the determination shown weekly by young Palestinians and Israelis, Europeans and Americans, demonstrating together every Friday against the Israeli occupation policies in dozens of places, from Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan to Bil'in and Nabi Saleh.

So as we continue our efforts at uniting our people and building our state, we call on Israel not to interfere in domestic Palestinian politics. Israelis are free to elect whomever they choose to represent them, whether they be from the peace or the anti-peace camp. We have respected their choice by negotiating with every single Israeli government since 1991, including with the current Israeli coalition government, not a single member of which recognizes Palestinian national rights.

The choice is not between Hamas and Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested. The choice is between settlement-colonies or states: between accepting two states with the 1967 border outlining the shape of the future for Israelis and Palestinians where real peace is possible, or maintaining an apartheid regime that will define our relationship with Israelis as one of oppressor and oppressed. We have clearly made our choice; we are waiting for Israel to do the same.

Only days before our national reconciliation, Prime Minister Netanyahu complained to the international community regarding the lack of a unified Palestinian government. He asked, "Shall I make peace with Gaza or with the West Bank?" To Netanyahu we can now reply, "You shall make peace with the State of Palestine." Netanyahu may persist to find excuses why he will not negotiate in good faith with us, and we will persist to take our case to the United Nations.

Gaza is not to be regained by bullets but by the ballot box. The way to peace is through reconciliation and democracy. I hope that Israelis and the international community will stand shoulder to shoulder with us in order to support peace and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis by ending the Israeli occupation and consolidating a sovereign Palestinian state in the 1967 border.

The writer is the chief Palestinian negotiator.







Having all Palestinian political factions come together for national reconciliation was an emotional experience for all Palestinians who witnessed the events taking place in Cairo. The Arab Spring has finally reached Palestine. The left, the religious right, and the nationalist camp − across the Palestinian political spectrum − with the support of the new Egyptian government, reached an agreement to establish a technocratic administration in order to hold elections within one year and rebuild the Gaza Strip. This is a critical step in our path toward freedom and independence.

This ceremony was a representation of the will of our people. After the reconciliation ceremony, a young boy from Gaza was reported to have said, "I call on Fatah, Hamas and the rest of the factions to march hand in hand toward independence, to open and build our country." From the mouths of babes come the most simple and powerful sentiments. In this case, that sentiment represents those of Palestinians everywhere, from Chile to Lebanon.

As President Mahmoud Abbas said in Cairo, with the establishment of a government of national unity, we will have closed one of the darkest periods in the history of our people.

Palestinians are looking forward now. We will continue to work hard on gaining international recognition for the State of Palestine in the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Today, we have received such recognition from 112 countries. The latest vote in the UN Security Council calling for an end to settlement expansion ‏(14 countries voting in favor and the United States against‏) shows unprecedented support for the Palestinian position: The Israeli occupation of Palestinian land must end.

Under the leadership of President Abbas, we are concluding the process of building Palestinian institutional capacities. According to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the European Union, Palestine has reached a point where it is ready to take the reins of state. Only the Israeli occupation stands in the way of our progress.

In September 2011, a united Palestinian people will go to the United Nations to request that the State of Palestine be admitted as a full member of the UN. It is time for Israel to stop denying freedom to the Palestinian people. We deserve to live free just like all other peoples in the world. Our message is very simple: The Palestinian people will not remain hostage to Israeli intransigence and unilateralism; settler violence and expansion are not going to stop us.

National reconciliation will also re-energize and empower our nonviolent struggle for justice and peace. We have been inspired by the determination shown weekly by young Palestinians and Israelis, Europeans and Americans, demonstrating together every Friday against the Israeli occupation policies in dozens of places, from Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan to Bil'in and Nabi Saleh.

So as we continue our efforts at uniting our people and building our state, we call on Israel not to interfere in domestic Palestinian politics. Israelis are free to elect whomever they choose to represent them, whether they be from the peace or the anti-peace camp. We have respected their choice by negotiating with every single Israeli government since 1991, including with the current Israeli coalition government, not a single member of which recognizes Palestinian national rights.

The choice is not between Hamas and Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested. The choice is between settlement-colonies or states: between accepting two states with the 1967 border outlining the shape of the future for Israelis and Palestinians where real peace is possible, or maintaining an apartheid regime that will define our relationship with Israelis as one of oppressor and oppressed. We have clearly made our choice; we are waiting for Israel to do the same.

Only days before our national reconciliation, Prime Minister Netanyahu complained to the international community regarding the lack of a unified Palestinian government. He asked, "Shall I make peace with Gaza or with the West Bank?" To Netanyahu we can now reply, "You shall make peace with the State of Palestine." Netanyahu may persist to find excuses why he will not negotiate in good faith with us, and we will persist to take our case to the United Nations.

Gaza is not to be regained by bullets but by the ballot box. The way to peace is through reconciliation and democracy. I hope that Israelis and the international community will stand shoulder to shoulder with us in order to support peace and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis by ending the Israeli occupation and consolidating a sovereign Palestinian state in the 1967 border.

The writer is the chief Palestinian negotiator.






From the occupation beginning in 1967 to the day after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1994, Israel used a covert procedure to banish Palestinians by stripping them of their residency rights. This was revealed in an official document drawn up by the Israel Defense Forces' West Bank headquarters, published by Haaretz on Wednesday.

A letter sent to the Center for the Defense of the Individual says the procedure, enforced on Palestinian West Bank residents who traveled abroad, led to the stripping of 140,000 of them of their residency rights. Israel registered these people as NLRs − no longer residents − a special status that does not allow them to return to their homes. The document makes no mention of the number of Gaza Strip residents who traveled abroad for studies or work and were permanently banished from the region by the same procedure.

The sweeping denial of residency status from tens of thousands of Palestinians and deporting them from their homeland in this way cannot be anything but an illegitimate demographic policy and a grave violation of international law. It's a policy whose sole purpose is to thin out the Palestinian population in the territories.

It would be reasonable to assume that many family members of the Palestinians uprooted between 1967 and 1994 joined their relatives in exile and became homeless refugees themselves. The gates of the West Bank and Gaza Strip were also locked to the NLR's children and descendants who were born outside the territories. After the Oslo Accords, Israel allowed a relatively small number of NLRs to return to the territories. Since the second intifada broke out, the people exiled between 1967 and 1994 have been prohibited from visiting their homes, even as tourists.

The covert deportation of West Bank residents in order to increase the number of Jews in the West Bank, like the declaration of land as "state land" to build settlements on it, is an example of the occupation's rotten fruit. Israel opens its gates to people from all over the world, who have the right of return. It lets them settle in Hebron and at the entrance to Nablus. It must immediately rectify the ongoing injustice caused to tens of thousands of Palestinians who were born in Hebron and raised children in Nablus.

The government would do well to remove the NLR stigma from these people, restore their residency status as quickly as possible and permit them to return home and unite with their families.







Holidays grant an opportunity to ponder "what if" questions. Independence Day this week was, for me, a time to consider the wisdom of establishing Israel where we did − in proximity to hostile neighbors; in a place where water would be in such short supply; where hundreds of thousands of freeloaders would eventually refrain from working in the name of religion; with inferior public transportation infrastructure, ugly modern architecture and horrible Mediterranean pop music. Wouldn't it have made more sense to establish Israel, instead, in a civilized location offering an efficient rail system, beautiful baroque buildings, and citizens for whom hard work is a destiny? Wouldn't it be nice to have a country situated somewhere between Germany and Estonia?

I am not the first to come up with the idea of having a Jewish state someplace else. I was preceded by pretty smart fellows, including playwright Israel Zangwill, who early in the 20th century attempted to establish a Jewish republic in Canada, among other venues; by a former Russian minister of justice, Isaac Steinberg, who − throughout the 1930s, '40s and even '50s − pushed the idea of a Jewish state in northwestern Australia; and of course by Theodor Herzl himself, who did his best ‏(and failed‏) to persuade us to make Uganda our home.

These attempts can be summed up as historical curiosities. However, when we undo the ties that bind us to the status quo, the inevitable conclusion is that at least some of the locations suggested for a Jewish state seem more attractive than the place we ended up in.

Furthermore, several additional alternatives were never even considered. I can only lament the irrationality that brought my grandparents to prefer western Palestine to southern Lapland.

The long lines of young Israelis who now flock to the embassies of such European B-class nations as Lithuania, Latvia or Bulgaria, pleading for recognition of their grandparents' 70-year-old passports so they can become EU residents, attest to the mistake of the grandparents. Just as Europe was finally setting itself free from old rivalries and adopting a good-life-for-all a la European Union policy, we Jews were leaving the continent for good, rejoining only for the Eurovision Song Contest as an annual kitschy souvenir and to play soccer and basketball with limited success.

This is not to say that the Jews don't deserve a state of their own: If there is something that the experience of the Holocaust teaches, it is that we need one. But if there were justice, we should have built our country in Europe − where we lived for ages and where our most esteemed cultural achievements, from the writings of Maimonides' philosophy, through Mendelssohn's music and up to Freud's psychoanalysis, were created. Might that have been possible?

I believe it was. After World War II, Germany was forced to surrender huge chunks of land to its neighbors and former victims: Poland received Silesia; Russia took Kaliningrad; the Czechs kicked the Germans out of the Sudetenland. We could have asked for a small territorial scrap as compensation for the genocide, but we didn't. Instead, we asked for money; the Germans were, of course, thrilled to close the Holocaust bill with pocket gelt ‏(the "shilumim"‏). We were dumb enough to take their offer and open a new account with the Palestinians that won't be closed until the two nations part ways. It is unbelievable that we pushed ourselves willfully into a nonfunctional Israeli-Arab coexistence ‏(and even invited the Arabs to take part in building the country!‏), when we could have made our home in peaceful Europe.

Now, my cohort is in the midst of clandestine comeback there: We collect foreign passports; we search for relocation; we limit our service in the Israel Defense Forces to the legal minimum. We do that because, for us, a homeland can be switched if it does not function properly. Patriotic sentiments are not a good enough reason to live where the standard of living is barely acceptable by Western standards; where a significant portion of the population refuses to work and abuses the welfare system; where a new car costs almost as much as a new house; and where the chances of being victim to a missile or a terror attack are more realistic than winning the lottery.

If after 63 years of independence, the best excuse we can come up with for staying here is that our parents fought and died for this land, then, Houston, we have a big problem, because our parents also used to drive unsafe cars and watch TV in black and white.

This brings me back to my initial question: What if we had established our country between Vilna and Kaliningrad, and not between Ramallah and Hadera? We would have spared ourselves six and a half wars, saved the lives of more than 20,000 Israeli war victims, and conserved huge sums of money that are currently swallowed up by a gigantic state security budget to keep the villa in the jungle safe.

Is it possible to turn back the clock? Possibly not, but it is high time to see the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a new angle, which is neither the "Jews wanted peace but the Arabs wanted war" Zionist perspective, nor the "Palestinians were living here for ages, when the Zionists came, bought their land and deported those who refused to sell" post-Zionist narrative. Instead, the fight over this land might be just the outcome of two awful relocation decisions: our emigration from European heaven to Middle Eastern hell and the Palestinians' move from the rich oil fields of the Arab peninsula to the badlands of Palestine.

Amir Hetsroni is a professor in the school of communication at Ariel University Center. The opinions expressed in this article are his alone.







On January 23, 2007, I was one of the speakers at the annual memorial service in the Serbian city of Novi Sad for the victims of the January 23, 1942, mass murder of at least 1,246 residents, mostly Jewish, Serb or Roma, by the Hungarian military and gendarmerie. I was invited because I had recently tracked down one of the officers responsible for organizing the murders and exposed him as living in Budapest. Thus it was only natural for most of my remarks to focus on Dr. Sandor Kepiro and the importance of bringing him to justice, despite his advanced age and the 65 years that had passed since the crime. Given the fact that he had already been convicted in connection with this atrocity by a Hungarian court in January 1944 ‏(and had never served his sentence‏), it seemed a foregone conclusion that if Kepiro remained reasonably healthy he would be held accountable for his crimes.

More than four years were to pass, however, between my public call on the Hungarian authorities to bring him to justice, and last week, when his trial finally opened in Budapest on May 5. In the interim, it had become increasingly clear that what for me was self-evident, was seen very differently by those authorities.

It began with the fact that the 1944 verdict against Kepiro could not be found in the local archives. Luckily, I was able to obtain a copy in Belgrade, initially of a Serbian translation and later of a Hungarian original. Then came the decision to deny our request to implement his original sentence of 10 years in prison, since it had been cancelled by a Hungarian court, shortly after the German invasion of Hungary. Our argument that the court had been forced to do so by the Nazis was rejected. Instead, a criminal investigation was started, on March 7, 2007, and the race against time intensified.

Months went by with little progress, a fact attributed to delays in the receipt of critical evidence from the Serbs, who insisted they had already sent the material. Awarding Hungary a failing grade in the Wiesenthal Center's annual report on the investigation and prosecution of Nazi war criminals − specifically, for the failure to prosecute Kepiro − also did not produce the desired result.

In the meantime, about a year ago, the case became even more complicated for me personally, when Kepiro initiated a libel suit against me for publicly labeling him a Nazi war criminal and putting him on our annual "Most Wanted" list. It would be hard to describe my sense of disgust and utter frustration at this development, but the situation also had a possible silver lining: If Kepiro was not going to be put on trial, the libel suit against me might be the only opportunity to expose his crimes in a Hungarian courtroom.

The cases that immediately came to mind were those in which defendants have been able, to some extent, to turn the tables on their accusers, and highlight their crimes. Granted that, in view of the alarming rise of right-wing extremism in Hungary, this might be a very dangerous gamble, especially given the fact that the libel case was a criminal one and the punishment might be incarceration for up to two years. But I did not have many options and the threat of a European arrest warrant can also be persuasive when it comes to showing up to face trial.

All of this came to a head in early May, ironically during the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Not only was Kepiro to be finally put on trial this past Thursday, but two days earlier, the verdict was going to be rendered in the libel case against me. Although I felt on fairly solid legal ground, there was always the danger of falling victim to the new political winds blowing in Hungary, following the 2010 victory by a huge margin of the conservative Fidesz party and the shocking gains made by the right-wing Jobbik extremists. In fact, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps I would be acquitted, so that Kepiro as well could be spared conviction or at least punishment.

That might indeed ultimately be the case, but at least I was acquitted to my great relief and to the consternation of Kepiro's attorney, who already announced his intention to appeal the verdict. A prominent figure in right-wing political circles, attorney Zsolt Zetenyi has on at least one occasion spoken disparagingly of "the Jews" and clearly views his defense of Kepiro as a mission.

The libel case, to be honest, was merely a sideshow, compared to Kepiro's trial, whose opening last week drew dozens of representatives of the foreign and local electronic and print media. For me, it was a bittersweet event, with great satisfaction and joy, mingled with the sad memory of the victims, whom no legal proceeding can ever bring back to life.

The fact that Kepiro was being prosecuted at age 97 poses an obvious problem, but his alert and strong answers in court and his determination to try and clear his name will hopefully make this trial much more understandable to the broader public than that of John Demjanjuk, for example, who did his best to undermine the totally justified effort to hold him accountable. Before the trial began, several dozen young adults, members of Hungary's Faith Church, which has staunchly supported our efforts to bring local Nazi war criminals to justice, demonstrated against Kepiro wearing yellow stars, a heartwarming gesture which underscored the educational significance of such trials.

As I sat in the courtroom and listened to the reading of the indictment, I breathed a deep sigh of relief at the end of an emotionally wrenching week, grateful for having been able to help make this event take place at long last.

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and author, most recently, of "Operation Last Chance: One Man's Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice" ‏(Palgrave/Macmillan‏).





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





The Supreme Court's 5-to-4 vote in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion is a devastating blow to consumer rights. By upholding the arbitration clause in AT&T's customer agreement requiring the signer to waive the right to take part in a class action, the court provided other corporations with a model of how they can avoid class actions. It gave companies even more power when it also ruled out class-based arbitrations.


These are major setbacks for individuals who may not have the resources to challenge big companies in court or through arbitration.


When Vincent and Liza Concepcion signed a two-year contract for AT&T cellphone service, they received what they were told were two free phones. AT&T then charged them $30.22 in sales tax for the phones. They sued the company for fraud in federal court and their case and another were consolidated as a class action.


AT&T argued that the contract required the Concepcions to submit their claim to individual arbitration. A federal trial court, upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, struck down the AT&T arbitration clause as unconscionable under California law and allowed the plaintiffs to move forward against the company in a class action in federal court.


With Justice Antonin Scalia writing for the majority, the Supreme Court reversed that decision and, in a dramatic example of judicial activism, ruled that class-based arbitrations also would not be permitted.


Justice Scalia argued that "class arbitration sacrifices the principal advantage of arbitration — its informality — and makes the process slower, more costly, and more likely to generate procedural morass than final judgment."


In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer highlights the damage to consumers: "What rational lawyer would have signed on to represent the Concepcions in litigation for the possibility of fees stemming from a $30.22 claim?" And he made clear that many rational couples would not press their own case for that amount if it meant "filling out many forms that require technical legal knowledge or waiting at great length while a call is placed on hold."


In 2005, the California Supreme Court defined a rule of "unconscionability" for consumer contracts: when they "deliberately cheat large numbers of consumers out of individually small sums of money." The federal trial court and the Ninth Circuit applied the rule in this case.


Writing about why the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 pre-empts the California law in question, Justice Scalia demonstrates both his pro-business bias and the selective nature of his brand of originalism.


Contrary to what he suggests, when the law favoring arbitration was enacted, arbitration's purpose was to resolve disputes between businesses — not businesses and consumers. He doesn't try to trace his view on class arbitration to the 1925 law because it is mute on the subject. Instead, he provides his own definition of what arbitration should and should not be — with "no meaningful support," as Justice Breyer writes, in Supreme Court precedent.


In a welcome effort to protect consumers, employees and others, Senators Al Franken and Richard Blumenthal and Representative Hank Johnson have just introduced the Arbitration Fairness Act. It would make required arbitration clauses unenforceable, although its chances aren't great in the current political environment.


Unless Congress fixes the problem, the Supreme Court's decision will bar many Americans from enforcing their rights in court and, in many cases like this one, bar them from enforcing rights at all.









There was something almost quaint about Mitt Romney's speech on health care Thursday, as if we were watching early sound footage of Theodore Roosevelt.


Republicans no longer talk about the virtues of government social programs, especially if they intend to run for president in a party that now considers Medicare the first cousin of socialism. Yet there was Mr. Romney defending a mandate to buy health insurance as passionately as in any similar speech by President Obama.


When he was governor of Massachusetts, of course, Mr. Romney created a health care system very similar to the one championed by the president. He could have walked away from it, as he did in the 2008 presidential race, or fecklessly repudiated it, as Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, did in the Republican debate last week regarding his earlier support for a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gases.


This time, to his credit, Mr. Romney is standing by his record, perhaps hoping there might still be a few primary voters who appreciate candor — assuming he doesn't pivot again in the heat of the right-dominated primaries.


Tearing it down might help him politically, he said, but "it wouldn't be honest." He said he did what he "thought would be right for the people of my state." A mandate to buy insurance, he said, makes sense to prevent people from becoming free riders, getting emergency care at enormous cost to everyone else.


Where he went off the rails, however, was in not acknowledging that that same logic applies to the nation. Mr. Romney tried desperately to pivot from praising his handiwork in Massachusetts to trashing the very same idea as adapted by Mr. Obama. His was an efficient and effective state policy; Mr. Obama's was "a power grab by the federal government."


He tried to justify this with a history lesson on federalism and state experimentation, but, in fact, he said nothing about what makes Massachusetts different from its neighbors or any other state. And why would he immediately repeal the Obama mandate if elected president? Because Mr. Obama wants a "government takeover of health care," while all he wanted was to insure the uninsured.


That distinction makes no sense, and the disconnect undermines the foundation of Mr. Romney's candidacy. At heart, he is still the kind of old-fashioned northeastern Republican who believes in government's role while trying to conceal it under a thin, inauthentic coating of conservative outrage. But in its blind abhorrence of President Obama, the party has also left behind former centrists like Mr. Romney, and it is unlikely that any amount of frantic pandering about the free market will change that. He is trapped not only between the poles of his party but between eras, a candidate caught in an electoral time warp.








Meredith Attwell Baker, one of two Republicans on the Federal Communications Commission, was not on Comcast's payroll when she voted to approve its controversial acquisition of NBC Universal, the television powerhouse. But she soon will be. Four months after she endorsed the deal — chastising the F.C.C. for delaying its approval and imposing too many conditions on the merger — she has been hired to be NBC's top Washington lobbyist.


Ms. Baker's swift shift from regulator to lobbyist for the regulated will only add to Americans' cynicism about their government. The fact that it is legal and that she is just one of many doesn't make it better. Over a third of the 120 lawmakers who left Congress after the last election have taken lobbying jobs, according to a report by the Center for Responsive Politics. Former F.C.C. Chairman Kevin Martin joined the lobbying firm Patton Boggs soon after he stepped down in 2009.


President Obama was right to bar from his administration anyone who had lobbied an executive agency in the preceding two years, though he handed out far too many waivers. He is right to bar departing members from lobbying the executive branch so long as he is in office. But such cooling-off periods — like those barring former lawmakers from immediately lobbying their former colleagues — are easily evaded. In the case of Ms. Baker, she can still lobby Congress, and there is no ban on her overseeing a shop of lobbyists working the F.C.C.


Congress should expand the definition of lobbying beyond face-to-face encounters to any effort to influence government decisions for their clients. It should also set tight caps on what former officials, including former lawmakers, can earn from lobbying before they must register as lobbyists. Americans don't need any more reasons to mistrust Washington.








Children's books and other educational materials produced by the publisher Scholastic reach about 90 percent of the nation's classrooms. With this enormous access to what amounts to a captive audience of children, the company has a special obligation to adhere to high educational standards.


It fell short of that when it produced a fourth-grade lesson packet called "The United States of Energy," a treatise on coal that was paid for by the American Coal Foundation, a nonprofit group. As Tamar Lewin noted in The Times on Thursday, the lessons talked about the benefits of coal and the pervasiveness of power plants fueled by it — and omitted mention of minor things like toxic waste, mountain-top removal and greenhouse gases.


The issue came to light recently when children's advocacy groups hammered Scholastic for giving a one-sided view of coal usage. This is not the first time that the company had come under fire. Last year, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood attacked Scholastic for encouraging schools to have classroom parties with, and to collect labels from, the sugary juice drink SunnyD as a way of winning free books.


A Scholastic representative said that the company had no intention of repeating the energy project but noted that it was never meant to serve as a comprehensive curriculum. That's beside the point given that the lessons carried the company's imprimatur and were misleadingly touted as complying with national fourth-grade learning standards.


If Scholastic really wants to avoid repeating this mistake, it should choose more carefully its partners in producing course materials.








Bisbee, Ariz.

THIS week President Obama toured the Southwest, in part to promote what he claims are federal advances in border security. But he has said little about the lawsuits by his administration and the American Civil Liberties Union against Arizona's immigration law, passed just over a year ago but still unenforced, thanks to a federal injunction.


The law requires law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for a crime if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is in this country illegally; it also allows them to cite illegal immigrants for failing to carry documents required under federal law, whether they've committed a crime or not.


As the fight over the law, Senate Bill 1070, carries on — Gov. Jan Brewer has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case — violent crime rooted in unchecked illegal immigration continues to spread here in southern Arizona. It makes me wonder if the lawyers, judges and politicians involved grasp what it is like to be a law enforcement officer on the Mexican border.


As sheriff of Cochise County I am responsible, along with my 86 deputies, for patrolling 83.5 miles of that border, as well as the 6,200 square miles of my county to the north of it — an area more than four times the size of Long Island.



There is no river between Arizona and Mexico to create a natural obstacle to illegal immigration, drug trafficking and human smuggling, and our county is a major corridor for all these. At best, illegal aliens and smugglers trespass, damage ranchers' land, steal water and food and start fires. At worst, people who have come here hoping for freedom and opportunity are raped or abandoned by smugglers and left to die in the desert.


Nor are the migrants the only victims. Just over a year ago, while officials at the Department of Homeland

Security were declaring they had secured "operational control" of most of the southern Arizona border, my friend Robert N. Krentz Jr., a local rancher, was murdered, most likely by drug smugglers.


The people of Cochise County support the state's immigration law because we want this violence to end. Understandably, we get frustrated and disheartened when the White House, which has failed to secure the border for generations, sues us for trying to fill the legal vacuum.


The administration's suit makes several claims. For one, it argues that only the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration. But that's a strange argument, given that federal agencies regularly work with

state and local governments on cross-border crimes.


Senior officials at the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have also argued that state and local law enforcement officers are able to make arrests only for criminal, rather than civil, violations of immigration law. Criminal violations include aiding illegal immigration or re-entering the country after deportation; civil violations include overstaying a visa or simply being here illegally.


But this places an absurd burden on my deputies and me. Under the law, if I see people I suspect of being in the United States illegally, I already have to decide whether there is probable cause that they are here illegally. (Contrary to what its critics say, the law doesn't allow me to question anyone I want, and I have no desire to do so.)


Whether illegal aliens committed a crime to enter this country, or a civil offense to remain unlawfully, they are still breaking the law, and S.B. 1070 is Arizona's solution to help the federal government hold them accountable without becoming embroiled in confusion that enables individuals to fall through the cracks. At the same time, it assures the standards of probable cause and reasonable suspicion are applied throughout the process.


Of course, the law's critics prefer to think that any state-level effort to control illegal immigration is racially motivated, and that the law is just an invitation for us to racially profile Americans and legal residents of Hispanic descent.


For example, I've had more than one person ask me, sneeringly, "What do illegal immigrants look like?" In response, I tell them it's not really what they look like as much as what they do that concerns me. Among other things, they generally run off into the desert when they see our officers approach. Citizens and legal residents don't normally do that.

What's more, such critics have a strange impression of what law enforcement officers along the border actually do. In Cochise County, my deputies and I often have to travel many miles to respond to a resident's call for assistance. The last thing we have time to do is harass law-abiding people.


Indeed, these days we have even less time, as the law has opened up a wave of suits against my office and other sheriff's offices along the border from immigrant advocacy groups — so many that other sheriffs and I formed a legal defense fund, the Border Sheriffs Association, to help our departments counter them.


Neither my fellow sheriffs nor I believe the law is a silver bullet, but we do believe it is an important tool. It's up to the Supreme Court to decide whether we can use it.


Larry A. Dever is the sheriff of Cochise County, Ariz.









This has to be one of the funniest political stories of recent weeks: On Tuesday, 42 freshmen Republican members of Congress sent a letter urging President Obama to stop Democrats from engaging in "Mediscare" tactics — that is, to stop saying that the Republican budget plan released early last month, which would end Medicare as we know it, is a plan to end Medicare as we know it.


Now, you may recall that the people who signed that letter got their current jobs largely by engaging in "Mediscare" tactics of their own. And bear in mind that what Democrats are saying now is entirely true, while what Republicans were saying last year was completely false. Death panels!


Well, it's time, said the signatories, to "wipe the slate clean." How very convenient — and how very pathetic.



Anyway, the truth is that older Americans really should fear Republican budget ideas — and not just because of that plan to dismantle Medicare. Given the realities of the federal budget, a party insisting that tax increases of any kind are off the table — as John Boehner, the speaker of the House, says they are — is, necessarily, a party demanding savage cuts in programs that serve older Americans.


To explain why, let me answer a rhetorical question posed by Professor John Taylor of Stanford University in a recent op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal. He asked, "If government agencies and programs functioned with 19% to 20% of G.D.P. in 2007" — that is, just before the Great Recession — "why is it so hard for them to function with that percentage in 2021?"


Mr. Taylor thought he was making the case for not increasing spending. But if you know anything about the federal budget, you know that there's a very good answer to his question — an answer that clearly demonstrates just how extremist that no-tax-increase pledge really is. For here's the quick-and-dirty summary of what the federal government does: It's a giant insurance company, mainly serving older people, that also has an army.


The great bulk of federal spending that isn't either defense-related or interest on the debt goes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The first two programs specifically serve seniors. And while Medicaid is often thought of as a poverty program, these days it's largely about providing nursing care, with about two-thirds of its spending now going to the elderly and/or disabled. By my rough count, in 2007, seniors accounted, one way or another, for about half of federal spending.


And in case you hadn't noticed, there will soon be a lot more seniors around because the baby boomers have started reaching retirement age.


Here are the numbers: In 2007, there were 20.9 Americans 65 and older for every 100 Americans between the ages of 20 and 64 — that is, the people of normal working age who essentially provide the tax base that supports federal spending. The Social Security Administration expects that number to rise to 27.5 by 2020, and 31.7 by 2025. That's a lot more people relying on federal social insurance programs.


Nor is demography the whole story. Over the long term, health care spending has consistently grown faster than the economy, raising the costs of Medicare and Medicaid as a share of G.D.P. Cost-control measures — the very kind of measures Republicans demonized last year, with their cries of death panels — can help slow the rise, but few experts believe that we can avoid some "excess cost growth" over the next decade.


Between an aging population and rising health costs, then, preserving anything like the programs for seniors we now have will require a significant increase in spending on these programs as a percentage of G.D.P. And unless we offset that rise with drastic cuts in defense spending — which Republicans, needless to say, oppose — this means a substantial rise in overall spending, which we can afford only if taxes rise.


So when people like Mr. Boehner reject out of hand any increase in taxes, they are, in effect, declaring that they won't preserve programs benefiting older Americans in anything like their current form. It's just a matter of arithmetic.


Which brings me back to those Republican freshmen. Last year, older voters, who split their vote almost evenly between the parties in 2008, swung overwhelmingly to the G.O.P., as Republicans posed successfully as defenders of Medicare. Now Democrats are pointing out that the G.O.P., far from defending Medicare, is actually trying to dismantle the program. So you can see why those Republican freshmen are nervous.


But the Democrats aren't engaging in scare tactics, they're simply telling the truth. Policy details aside, the G.O.P.'s rigid anti-tax position also makes it, necessarily, the enemy of the senior-oriented programs that account for much of federal spending. And that's something voters ought to know.








I'm fiscally bipolar. Most of the time I think there's no way the two parties will do anything to address the nation's ruinous debt problem.


But some weeks there are rays of hope. This is one of those weeks. There is a lot going on behind the scenes of the debate over how to raise the federal debt-ceiling limit. Something good might happen.


Events are being driven by the Republican leaders. The playing field on the debt-ceiling fight is tilted in their direction, so they want to make this fight as consequential as possible. They want to use this occasion to reshape fiscal policy for decades.


They have the advantage, first, because raising the limit is extremely unpopular. According to a poll commissioned by The Hill newspaper in Washington, only 27 percent of Americans want to raise the debt ceiling while 62 percent oppose it. The only time you can get voters, especially independent voters, to tolerate a debt-ceiling increase is if you tie it to a broad array of spending cuts.


Moreover, the debt limit absolutely has to pass. The Republican Party leaders are convinced that if the debt limit isn't raised and there's an economic catastrophe, all politicians will suffer, but, as president, Barack Obama will suffer most. He has a powerful incentive to do a deal.


Because they have leverage, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are aggressively pushing their case. Boehner, the House speaker, gave a speech this week laying out a maximalist position, pulling the whole frame of the debate in his direction. But the real import of the speech was this: He's going to organize the debt-ceiling debate just as he organized the debate over the 2011 budget a few weeks ago. He's tying the debt-ceiling limit to compensatory spending cuts. That puts the focus of attention on what kind of cuts everybody can come up with. This is natural Republican turf.


Congress won't be able to produce specific program cuts and policy reforms in the next few weeks, but it can come up with structural rules that will obligate future Congresses to make cuts and reforms for years ahead. The important argument now is over what kind of restrictions to impose on future Congresses. (This by itself is a sign of just how far rightward the debate has shifted).



Republicans and a few moderate Democrats are rallying behind a spending cap plan, co-sponsored in the Senate by the Republican Bob Corker and the Democrat Claire McCaskill. In its simplest form, the bill would cap federal spending at 20.6 percent of gross domestic product, the recent historic average. If spending rose above that, automatic cuts would ensue.


Democrats like Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, support a deficit cap plan. If deficits got bigger than, say, 3 percent of G.D.P., then a mixture of spending cuts and tax increases would ensue.


Liberal Democrats hate the spending cap. As the population ages, it would force future Congresses to transform Medicare. Conservative Republicans hate the deficit cap. It would force big tax increases in years ahead to go along with big spending cuts.


This battle of the caps would seem to take us back to the same old gridlock. But, remember, the debt-ceiling limit has to pass. If it doesn't, there will be ruination for all involved. Moreover, if the two parties do come up with a compromise, the rewards would be enormous. President Obama would have averted a national catastrophe, put the government on a sustainable path and transformed the atmosphere in Washington. He'd surely win re-election in a walk. Boehner and McConnell would go down in history as the men who tamed the federal leviathan. The forces of fear and hope push powerfully toward a deal.


So in the standoff between the spending cap and the deficit cap, how might the two parties come together? Well, for the past few months the Senate's "Gang of Six" has been working to put some version of the Simpson-Bowles report into legislative form. These senators — liberal, moderate and conservative — are expected to announce their results soon. Their plan will presumably include some serious spending restraint, reaching many of the goals envisioned by Corker's spending caps.


Once there is a serious spending reduction on the table, that changes the whole psychology. There are many Republicans who, in those circumstances, would support a tax reform package that didn't raise tax rates but that did, when scored dynamically, raise a lot of tax revenue. That would make Democrats happy.


The whole thing could be enforced by adopting a version of the Bipartisan Policy Center's save-as-you-go idea. This is like the pay-as-you-go rules that restrained spending and debt in the 1990s, only it is much tougher. If Corker's spending caps and Reid's deficit caps got together, the save-as-you-go plan would be their love child.


The circumstances of the debt-ceiling fight make compromise more likely than at any other time. I wouldn't say a grand bargain is likely, just more likely than it has been.








NEW YORK — Every few years along comes a brilliant Jewish writer called Tony with challenging views on Israel, and this great city — on all other matters the most open in the world — gets tied in knots over what can or cannot be said. After "L'Affaire Judt" we have "L'Affaire Kushner," but with different outcomes that suggest a shifting American Jewish discourse.


The late Tony Judt, author of the brilliant study of late 20th-century Europe called "Postwar," saw his New York persona changed with the appearance in 2003 in The New York Review of Books of an article called "Israel: The Alternative." It posited the creation of a single binational state of Jews and Palestinians and suggested a Jewish state was anachronistic.


The calls to his office began — "Tell Tony Judt this is Hitler calling and he says, 'Congratulations."' Years later, an event featuring Judt at the Polish Consulate got canceled at the last minute after its organizers apparently came under pressure from prominent New York Jewish groups.


To this day, in the city this British-born Jew came to love for its clamorous diversity, Judt's luminous oeuvre sometimes seems overshadowed by a single polemical piece.


I disagreed with Judt: No alternative binational state of Palestinians and Jews is imaginable in the Holy Land, at least not this side of utopia. History demonstrates that Jews need a homeland called Israel. Amos Oz, the Israeli author, has noted that, "When my father was a young man in Vilna, every wall in Europe said, 'Jews go home to Palestine.' Fifty years later when he went back to Europe on a visit, the walls all screamed, 'Jews get out of Palestine."' A Jewish refuge is just and necessary.


But the imperative, inescapable accompaniment to Israel is Palestine. A two-state solution is the only strategic and moral answer to the wars since 1948 that have left countless Palestinians bereft of home and dignity, living under an Israeli dominion as corrosive of its masters as it is punishing to its victims.


Judt, who later suggested the binational idea was utopian, penned a provocation. Its spark was that the current impasse is untenable: Israel cannot be at once Jewish and democratic if it permanently disenfranchises millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.


While I disagreed with his proposed resolution, I agree that the occupation is untenable and I found the hounding of Judt, who died last year of Lou Gehrig's disease, an appalling instance of the methods of the relentless Israel-right-or-wrong bullies.


Enter the second Tony of this saga, Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer-prize winning author of "Angels in America." His honorary degree from the City University of New York gets blocked on May 2 after a trustee called Jeffrey Wiesenfeld — like Judt from a family of Holocaust survivors — suggests Kushner is an "extremist" opponent of Israel.



Wiesenfeld, by the way, is not sure Palestinians are human given that they "worship death for their children."



For anyone familiar with the Judt saga, Kushner's travails have a familiar ring. He's interested in historical facts, which include Palestinians being driven from their homes in 1948; he's appalled by the ongoing Israeli settlement policy and is a board member of an organization that has supported boycotting West Bank settlements (although Kushner told me he's against a boycott); he's mused about one state.

That's heresy enough for Wiesenfeld. This time, however, the counter-wave was powerful. J Street, an organization not around in 2003 that supports Israel but opposes the settlements, issued a statement calling CUNY's action "unacceptable." Former mayor Ed Koch, of impeccable pro-Israel credentials, weighed in. Within days CUNY reversed itself and approved Kushner's degree.


Now Wiesenfeld is under pressure to resign. He should: No university is well served by a trustee who values taboo over debate and doubts an entire people's humanity.


Kushner told me he believes "there is a very significant change underway." Americans are realizing there is "a terrible need for a dose of debate" on Israel and that "silent acquiescence" to those "whose politics are based substantially on fantasy and theological wishes" is dangerous.


Criticism of Israel is not betrayal of Israel. The Kushner affair, like the Judt affair before it, is important in that

Israel's political compass is guided to some degree by its sense of the American mood. That mood, beginning in

the White House, is of growing impatience.


Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, will address Congress this month. He has responded to

tumultuous events in the Middle East with vapid tactical sound bites. The speech to Congress is his chance to lay out a strategy for two states. I doubt he'll ever locate his inner statesman — in which case the world's irritation and futile Palestinian unilateralism will harden.


Yitzhak Rabin did not stand on the White House lawn with Yasser Arafat for a photo-op. The Israeli warrior understood the necessity of a two-state peace. To get there at last, "It's essential that we become more sophisticated and braver in what we're willing to say and think," Kushner said.


Amen to that — and Tony Judt, great man, requiescat in pace.


You can follow Roger Cohen on Twitter at .











Talking to Charlie Rose, the renowned American presenter of 60 Minutes, as well as other high profile current affairs shows on US TV, earlier this week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stood up once again for Hamas and said he did not consider it a terrorist organization.

"Let me give you a very clear message, I do not see Hamas as a terror organization. Hamas is a political party, it emerged as a political party that appeared as a political party. It is a resistance movement trying to protect its country under occupation," Erdoğan was quoted by the international media as telling Rose.

Erdoğan reportedly went on to add, "The world should not mix terrorist organizations with such an organization" indicating that that Hamas "won the elections, they had ministers, and they had parliament speakers who were imprisoned by Israel." He also indicated that it would be disrespectful towards the will of the Palestinian people to call Hamas a "terrorist organization."

None of this is news of course Erdoğan has said it before. All it shows is that he is determined to stick to his guns on this organization, as well as Israel. Come what may.

Looked at from an "absolute" perspective, it is clear there is something to his argument, which will carry the day as far as many people around the world are concerned, and particularly among rabidly anti-Israeli and anti-western Islamists.

President Reagan reportedly said during the Sandinista-Contra debate, when America was supporting what many in the world saw as extreme right wing killers, "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

There is truth in this remark too, and it must be recalled that some of Israel's founding fathers were "Irgun" or "Stern Gang" terrorists, and labeled as such by the power ruling Palestine at the time, namely the United Kingdom. This did not stop them from serving at the highest levels of the Israeli state in later years.

The fact is however, people who live in glass houses have to be more careful. What we are referring to here is of course the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, an organization that claims to be fighting for Kurdish rights and freedoms, but which is considered to be a terrorist organization by the Turkish state and government.

The simple fact is Erdoğan's remarks are an open invitation to those inside and outside Turkey to say that labeling the PKK as a terrorist organization, which by any reasonable count it is, represents "a great disrespect to the will of the Kurdish people."

The way this organization's sympathizers come out in their tens of thousands to support it in total defiance of the authorities, on the other hand, shows that it has a popular base among the masses in Southeast Anatolia and elsewhere in Turkey.

Put another way, it is a dead certainty that if the PKK were to hypothetically be allowed to run in the elections on June 12, as Hamas was in 2006, then the bet is that it would sweep up the Kurdish vote in Turkey, and thus show it represents the will of the Kurdish people.

It must be recalled here that the pro-PKK Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, also considers Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed head of the PKK, as the natural leader of the Kurdish movement for rights and freedoms, even though the United States and European Union consider him the head of a terrorist organization.

Erdoğan's remarks also come at a sensitive time in Turkish-U.S. ties. In Washington, where I am presently as the guest of the Wilson Center and the Turkish Policy Quarterly, it is more than clear that his Hamas remarks have grated on nerves once again. Especially coming immediately after he accused Washington, among others, of not supporting Ankara sufficiently against the PKK, a remark, to which U.S. Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardione was quick to respond to as "meaningless."

The U.S. are currently in a bullish mood having taken out "their public enemy number one," Osama bin Laden, and clearly do not have much appetite for Mr. Erdoğan's remarks. They also note that while President Abdullah Gül expressed great satisfaction over the killing of Bin Laden, Erdogan has not remarked once on the matter since the U.S. operation.

Naturally enough this is being interpreted as a "loaded silence," which it is suggested, reveals some kind of dissatisfaction over the killing of bin Laden due to a sense of Islamic solidarity.

Other things being noted here in Washington, judging by the remarks of some of my interlocutors, is that the same Erdoğan who is quick to castigate Israel for brutalizing the Palestinians, is treading incredibly cautiously when it comes to Syria's Bashar al-Assad, even though he is targeting civilians at the present time and brutalizing the leaders of the opposition he has in prison.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu recently explained Ankara's muted approach to the events in Syria as "realpolitik," which is totally understandable in international relations. But this immediately begs the question why Ankara does not have a similar "realpolitik" approach to Israel given that these relations meant something of value to both sides in the past.

The answer must be that what the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is engaged in here is not "political realism" but simple "politicking" given that there is an acrimonious election campaign under way, during which Islamist masses have to be pandered to.

But this is what makes the AKP's selective approach to terrorism much more dangerous for Turkey where some politicians still have not understood that you can not have your cake and eat it as well.






Just when I thought that the electronic clipping of amusing news a Greek friend had sent me meant that our neighbors were trying hard to match the craziness on this side of the Aegean, another crazy Turk spoke up and put the Greeks under pressure until or if, they can match the new Turkish effort.

The news, which narrates "those crazy Greeks," concerned a provocative piece of journalism by the German newsmagazine "Focus," whose Feb. 22 cover showed the goddess Aphrodite making an obscure gesture probably to express German concerns about the European Union bailout for debt-ridden Greece.

And it naturally went unnoticed in Turkey, the biggest jailer of journalists in the world, when the president of the Greek parliament summoned the German ambassador to Athens to complain about German media coverage of his country.

But the story took a new turn when six Greek citizens who felt particularly offended by the Focus cover acted to take legal action against the German journalists involved in this "crime," including the newsmagazine's founder. According to reports in German newspapers, 10 Focus employees are due to appear in an Athens court on June 29 as a Greek public prosecutor is looking into accusations of "defamation, libel and the denigration of Greek national symbols."

Reading the news, I felt I owe a big apology to the Turkish prosecutors and the political ideology, which often motivates them. Instead, I smiled and felt oddly content with the feeling that "we are not alone in this part of the world." The Turkish coverage of news in Greek daily Elefterotipia added to that feeling: Seven retired Greek admirals had warned Prime Minister George Papandreau that he should maintain defense spending to counter the "eastern threat."

Sorry, honorable admirals, but that's shallow thinking. Weapons may have been a way to counter the "eastern threat," but no longer so. Lost in thought and wondering how the Greeks were unable to see the nature of the "real eastern threat," I found my answer in an article detailing the prosecution of German journalists because "they had denigrated Greek national symbols."

But those crazy Turks do not leave you with peace of mind, even when you are bogged down with those crazy Greeks. A big spread page article on Hürriyet on Sunday showed the elegant photo of an aircraft carrier with a huge Turkish flag on its flight deck. Initially I blamed the phantasm on generous doses of ouzo from the night before, especially when I read the big upper headline that said: Great news!

But I stopped blaming hallucinations on ouzo when I finally discovered a microscopic photo caption that read: Photoshop on USS Theodore Roosevelt. Trying to understand the joke, I read a quote from Murad Bayar, Turkey's top defense procurement official, heralding that, "Turkey's local industry was now almost capable of manufacturing an aircraft carrier." I felt relieved when I discovered in-between the lines that Mr. Bayar, all the same, cautioned, "perhaps Turkey did not need carriers." Perhaps?

And in a moment of depression I cursed on my habit of tragically inspiring Turkish politicians and bureaucrats. I dogpiled and found this in this column's archive:

"Politicians in Ankara and Athens should have a look at the scraps of metal, in which they have buried many billions of dollars in the past years but, thank God, never have had to use. What's next? A fleet of Turkish and Greek aircraft carriers on the Aegean Sea?" Published on Apr. 30, 2002 – and, no typo here; yes, nine years ago.

"The Turkish [security] threat-procurement mechanism is built on the idea of unquestioningly buying the same weapons systems the countries 'to our attention' buy… Let's hope the Greeks will not buy a dozen aircraft carriers or 5,000 new tanks or 100 new frigates or a zeppelin." Published Nov. 14, 2008.

From my New Year wishes for everyone: "But our Aegean neighbors should not be deprived of my good wishes: I wish the Greek top brass a merry reciprocation in buying the same aircraft carriers, spaceships and Martian weaponry."  Published Dec. 25, 2008.

My naive curiosity over the news of a deal for the acquisition of six submarines at $3 billion to counter Greek naval threat: "What would be the democratic means to stop the theoretical possibility that a government, not necessarily the current government, views Chile or New Zealand as a major security threat and therefore justifies the purchase of a dozen aircraft carriers with a price tag of tens of billions of dollars?" Published Feb. 2, 2010.

"Defense spending must be coherent with an established security concept. If Turkey's security policy predicted an armed conflict with Argentina, its sanity could have been questioned, but acquisition of aircraft carriers based on this security policy would have been rational. Similarly, spending billions of dollars on weapons systems targeting threats that, according to the security concept, do not exist is ridiculous." Published Oct. 26, 2010.

In the past, there used to be at least a silly arms race across the most beautiful sea in the world. Now that the Turks and Greeks warmed to each other, the competition is about stupidity, oops, sorry, craziness…

Meanwhile, a neighborly tip to Greek prosecutors and finance ministry: Why not fine every insulting German journalist with $1 billion each to finance an aircraft carrier program to match the "eastern threat"?







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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Many people with heart, mind and some awareness of what the case indeed represented for this country and the overall rights and liberties of Turkish women, one of the strongest pillars of democratic governance, were of course attaching far bigger importance to the court case regarding the cold blooded murder of Ayşe Paşalı by her former husband.

The case was very important. Society expected a quick and resolved response from the Turkish justice to such a dastard and indeed heinous crime.

It did not take much. The court did not allow women groups to stage solidarity demonstrations or what was described as women "on duty to prevent murder of women."

The court announced its verdict yesterday. İstikbal Yetkin, the murderer, the former husband of Ayşe Paçalı, was sentenced to an enforced life term for premeditated murder.

Efforts of the former husband and his defense attorneys to reduce the sentence, if not totally escape punishment all together on grounds of mental disorder, with some absurd claims, such as attributing the heinous crime to the strong love the former husband felt for Ayşe, were all rejected by the court and no reduction was accepted was made in the maximum sentence laws allowed for such crimes and the man was sentenced to a n enforced life term.

Enforced life term means even if some opportunist political administration decides to declare an amnesty or if one day for example the separatist terrorist problem comes to an end, bloodshed stops and Turkey decides to heal the wounds, overcome the trauma of the decades of terrorism and declares an amnesty as part of such an effort, Ayşe's murderer will not benefit from it and will continue serving his life term behind bars.

Enforced life term is the heaviest sentence introduced in the Turkish penal code as a substitute to death penalty which, thank God, has become history in this country.

Not because the convention was indeed unimportant but as it demonstrated the resolve to act on such primitive mental fatigue regarding the rights of women as well as their place in the Turkish society, the sentence in the Ayşe Paşalı murder case was of course far more important than Turkey becoming the first country in signing the convention on violence against women.

Real criminal not sentenced

Yet, the sentence was deficient. The court did not sentence the real criminal in the Ayşe Paşalı case. Was it İstikbal Yetkin who killed Ayşe? Or did İstikbal Yetkin act alone in the Ayşe Paşalı murder?

Come on. İstikbal Yetkin was the brute, the dastard, the tool used in the murder of Paşalı. He was the knife that stabbed the body of Paşalı, but there were some others holding that knife and they were not punished in this case. They escaped with the heinous crime they committed, as they escaping every the time.

The real murderer was the Turkish state who insisted on not hearing the repeated pleas of Ayşe for protection. In a country where so many hundreds of women are murdered every year by their husbands, former husbands, brothers or fathers either to save the "honor and pride" of the family or to "punish" disloyalty and set a deterrent example for the rest of the "women folk," can the state have the luxury of turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to a woman requesting protection? If it does, and if the woman is killed like in Ayşe's case, who is the real killer? The former husband who stabbed her? Or the state who failed to defend her?

The real murderer of Ayşe was the police network. The police station of the neighborhood that shunned Ayşe's repeated appeals must be held responsible and from the highest ranking to the lowest ranking policemen serving there must be punished. Perhaps, in order to set a "deterrent example" against such heinous ignorance on such an important issue to the rest of police, the policemen who ignored pleas of Ayşe and allowed her former husband to kill her must be expelled from the police force on grounds of gross negligence of duty.

Ayşe Paşalı case is of course a landmark. Husbands, former husbands, brothers and fathers will probably see that Ayşe is not alone and the time of hurting them and escaping with it might no longer be so easy. Yet, as pessimistic as it might appear, it is a fact that there are innumerable İstikbal Yetkins in this society and unless not only the judges but the entire state apparatus and society dumps the old male-chauvinism tainted and rather primitive stereotypes regarding rights and liberties and roles of women and men and the honor perception in this society, the pain of Ayşes will continue.






Election frenzy has been gripping southern Cyprus. Greek Cypriots will go to the booths on May 22, three Sundays before Turks go to booths on June 12. The May 22 poll in southern Cyprus and the June 12 polls in Turkey, besides local importance, will have some results as regards the efforts aimed at providing a resolution of the Cyprus problem. Cyprus has been defiant to all settlement efforts since the March 1964 collapse of the joint Greek Cypriot, Turkish Cypriot administration on the island months after the so-called Bloody Christmas attacks in December 1963 all over the island by Greek Cypriot hordes to annihilate the Turkish Cypriot population.

According to latest public opinion polls, "Anorthotikon Komma Ergazomenou Laou" (Progressive Party of Working People), or AKEL, of President Demetris Christofias is heading to a humiliating electoral defeat while the main opposition, "Dimokratikos Sinagermos" (Democratic Rally), or DS, is tipped to become the winner of the poll. The DS is claimed to be ahead of AKEL by at least two percentage points and exceed 33 percent, while AKEL is tipped to be in between 29-31 percent. Still, the DS will not have the clear majority in the 56-seat House of Representatives where the AKEL and the SP each are now represented with 18 deputies.

After the Greek Cypriot election the current troubled coalition of AKEL of Christofias with the conservative Democratic Party, or DK, and the Movement for Social Democracy, or EDEK, is expected to be a further political lightweight as opposed to a strengthened DS. Comic enough, such a change, though not expected to be big enough to force Christofias search for a new coalition, might bring about some promising prospects for the future of the Cyprus talks.

While it would be probably very difficult to think the political advancement of DS, which has been the party of the former members of the EOKA terrorist gang that traumatized the island and held responsible by Turkish Cypriots for most of their sufferings from 1955 till 1974, might be good for a resolution of the Cyprus talks. I would buy the argument that hardliners can bring peace much easily than the "hawks" disguised as "doves."

It would be great, of course, should AKEL consider a grand coalition after the elections and form a government with the DS. Such a government might walk that bitter road of reconciliation with Turkish Cypriots and compromise for a common future. At that point, unfortunately, the absence of a strong government in northern Cyprus might be an impediment, but Ankara's firm commitment for peace on Cyprus and its strong and persuasive "stick and carrot" capability on Turkish Cypriots might help.

Trilateral Cyprus summit after polls

In the meantime, Alexander Downer, the special Cyprus advisor of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon, disclosed that the next trilateral Cyprus summit will be held in late June or early July, after the May elections in the Greek Cypriot section of divided Cyprus and the June parliamentary elections in Turkey were held.

Indeed, what was disclosed by Downer in remarks to the media after a meeting with the Greek Cypriot leader is just a confirmation of what has been whispered around since the end of the second trilateral meeting last January.

During the Annan Plan process of 2002-2004, neither elections in Turkey, Greece or on either side of the divided island and even the health situation of the key actors were considered as sufficient reasons to postpone the process. For example, the process itself was launched at a time when former Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktaş was having a serious heart ailment and underwent an operation in the United States. At a time when Denktaş was hospitalized at the military medical academy hospital, or GATA, in Ankara, Turkish Cypriots were compelled to send their "yes" or "no" reply to the EU regarding the Annan Plan. The U.N., EU and other key international game setters were deathly serious on the U.N.-sponsored peace plan at the time.

Now, because of the May elections in southern Cyprus and the June elections in Turkey for almost five months the third trilateral Cyrus summit, which is hoped for to help an acceleration of the process that has been dragging on at a rather turtle-speed pace because Greek Cypriot leader dragging his feet, could not be held. Would it make much difference whether the third, fourth or fifth trilateral meeting were held over the past five months?

For those who expect something to eventually come out of the Cyprus process, I have some sad and rather sure prediction based on almost 32 years of reporting on Cyprus developments: Sorry, not this time or the next time. There will never ever be a Cyprus settlement as long as the fundamentals of the game remain the same. As long as Greek Cypriots do not decide to walk that painful road of reconciliation with Turkish Cypriots and compromise to create a new partnership state on the basis of equal sovereign partnership, there will never ever be a settlement.







A project regarding two new cities near Istanbul has been raised and again we have started to fight about it.

"We are devastated, green areas will be destroyed"

No one is asking the question, "What will happen if nobody does a thing?"

Do you know what will happen?

Istanbul will grow all by itself and the region subject to this project will be full of ugly, prone to collapse by the slightest earthquake half-building half-shanty houses.

If nobody does a thing the population will reach 22 million by the year 2023. And beside, the slightest earthquake will destroy 70 percent of the domiciles.

Now, does it make more sense to build two new cities outside Istanbul, decrease population and produce stronger domiciles or not touch anything at all?

The Western world creates a balance by building satellite towns around mega cities. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Let's look at the implementation not the project

Let us focus on the implementation of the project not the destruction.

Will we really lose our water reserves?

It's easy to build a town but what are the effects on transportation and environment?

Will we suffocate Istanbul further instead of easing it?

There are no answers to these questions as of yet.

Let us ask for answers. Let us monitor the implementation carefully so the new cities won't have a similar fate as Istanbul.

Seems Ali Demir is leaving after elections

President Abdullah Gül gave the good news in Kayseri. While talking to journalists he said the Student Selection and Placement Center, or ÖSYM, head Ali Demir will leave after elections.

I just can't think of any other interpretation of his words, "Don't change horses while crossing the river."

Ok but I wish the president hadn't said "I'm satisfied" in the first place. Many who believe in him have been stunned. For, the president was satisfied by the same ÖSYM president who appeased the prime minister and whose face turned red. He dropped many bricks and put himself in a situation, which poses an obstacle for him to remain in his present position.

Who is responsible? The administration or the Higher Education Board, or YÖK, I wouldn't know but this has become a drag. Even the departure of Demir won't bring back the trust in the ÖSYM.

Not making it to the contest is not the end of the world

After so many years we finally understood that the Eurovision song contest is not a Dardanelles' campaign declared against Europe and that there is no need for mourning.

Just remember how in the past we used to take this contest very seriously and would carry countries that gave points on our shoulders, while dragging those through the mud that did not.

Artists who did not score well would almost be executed. And through the media we would watch them being beaten up. While in truth the Eurovision song contest intended to be an entertaining program to generate new songs for the commercial market.

This time the band Yüksek Sadakat participated doing its best but did not succeed.

It's OK.

Next year someone else will try while we will sit back and enjoy watching them.









Troubles come in many different ways for leaders who have erred in either their ethical conduct or other issues affecting their duties. President Asif Ali Zardari has confronted such challenges before. He now faces one in a new form with the Lahore High Court barring him from performing political activities. In a 33-page judgement a full bench of the LHC has ruled that the presidency cannot be used to conduct activities of this nature, and that it expects the president to immediately give up his office as co-chairperson of the PPP. Objections to his holding of dual office have existed since he took over the presidency in late 2008, and the court was hearing several petitions tabled before it in 2009. The Federation's lawyers, after initially appearing before the court, had been boycotting proceedings in objection to the court's conduct.

It will be fascinating to see how the president reacts. By tradition, presidents have been expected to keep aloof from politics and treat all parties as equal. However, among legal experts there appears to be some ambiguity as to what the Constitution says specifically on the matter. Article 43 of the Constitution bars anyone holding the office of president from also holding a post that brings monetary benefit, but is not absolutely clear as to positions that do not bring remuneration. Just as important is the matter of how the verdict can be enforced. Much of what happens at the top echelons of leadership is dependent on personal integrity and a willingness to follow broad principles. When this will is missing, it becomes extremely hard to implement rules against a man who sits in the place occupied today by Mr Zardari. That is why so many people ask so often if he should indeed be occupying the top office in the land at all.

The sense of uncertainty which may now follow is something we could do without, especially at this time. Not many people can hope the president will do the honourable thing and quit as head of the PPP. Past record suggests he may also opt for underhand means to get around the verdict, by appointing a 'figurehead' co-chairperson, while covertly continuing to handle party affairs. Much can be done without making official announcements and it is not easy to monitor what happens at the presidency. An appeal against the verdict may also be on the cards – but regardless of what happens we see a new scene open in our ongoing political drama with all heads turned now towards Islamabad as a response from Mr Zardari is awaited.







While the government apparently wrings its hands in indecision over the Abbottabad raid by US forces, PML-N Chief Mian Nawaz Sharif, at a press conference in Islamabad, has demanded that an inquiry into the affair be set up under a commission headed by the chief justice of Pakistan and comprising the judges of all the high courts. He has expressed dissatisfaction with the inquiry ordered by the army, asked that a judicial inquiry be set up within three days and the report on the matter be submitted within 21 days. Mr Sharif has also asked why the government is reluctant to set up such a probe. Certainly the questions raised by the PML-N chief are highly relevant. The US action on our soil has had an impact on all of us. As citizens, we all want to know what happened and find out about the security lapses involved, and considering the nature of the fiasco it may be difficult to expect an inquiry conducted only by the army to have a satisfactory degree of credibility.

We must not attempt to push things under the rug and try to eradicate troubling thoughts from our collective memory. This has happened before in our history; the Ojhri Camp disaster of 1988 referred to by Mr Sharif is a case in point. Even today, we do not know for sure what happened there or who was responsible. It is also obvious that there are elements who don't want an independent inquiry at all. The demonstration staged in Islamabad to coincide with the press conference seems to be a part of this effort. At this crucial point in time, it is vital that the government acts as a strong body capable of putting national interest ahead of all other considerations. The suggestion from the top PML-N leadership is a wise one. There have already been warnings, by former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi among others, that the US is considering more such action within our borders. We must do all that we can to ensure that we are in a position to defend our territory and sovereignty. The government must act to ensure that this happens; closed door briefings to the cabinet are insufficient under the circumstances.







Despite what the promoters of the newly-surging shisha culture would have us believe, there is no such thing as a harmless tobacco product. Shisha smoking is on the increase across the world, including the West where smoking of cigarettes, pipes, and cigars is now banned from just about everywhere except the home of the individual who wishes to smoke. As smoking bans become ever-tighter, the makers of tobacco products are looking for fresh outlets, and shisha smoking appears to have attracted the youth of our country to such an extent that questions are now being asked about it in legislative assemblies and leading doctors are beginning to organise an anti-shisha lobby. Shisha cafes have grown in many of our towns and cities, and up-market hotels and restaurants offer shisha pipes to their diners after they have eaten. Mobile shisha units can be seen most nights in places. According to Power Minister Shazia Marri, children as young as 10 have been seen smoking shisha in our five-star hotels.

Smoking shisha is not only dangerous but even more dangerous than cigarettes. The World Health Organisation estimates that an hour spent smoking a shisha is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes. Unfortunately 70 percent of parents believe that smoking shisha is not harmful and therefore do nothing to dissuade their children from acquiring the habit. Interestingly, just 15 percent of those same parents view smoking cigarettes as acceptable. The Sindh Assembly has now passed a resolution calling for a ban on shisha smoking in public places. Whilst we would not usually endorse further restraints on a society starved of recreational pursuits, this resolution has our support. We as a people have reluctantly and belatedly woken up to the dangers of cigarette smoking, and the dangers associated with using paan and ghutka, and it is right and proper that the smoking of shisha be similarly regulated or, if possible, curtailed.









We should be grateful to the Sheikh, our benefactor in death. For the trail leading to him has forced upon us, citizens of perhaps the most confused republic on earth, the soul-searching we would never have succumbed to on our own.

Masters of living in denial, champions of a creative fiction that could have flourished in no other land or clime, only an earthquake of the magnitude of Abbottabad could have opened our eyes and led us to examine some of the tenets of our strange national security beliefs.

Yet the guardians of these beliefs are still trying to fight a rearguard action, hoping to deflect the harsh winds of criticism blowing in their direction. Addressing officers in various garrisons, the previously lionised but now out-of-luck army chief, Gen Kayani, came up with this explanation: "Incomplete information and lack of technical details have resulted in speculations and misreporting."

So it's all down to incomplete information. What's incomplete about Osama bin Laden being discovered in Abbottabad and an American attack team, in the darkness of a moonless night, making it to his compound and flying back to Afghanistan undetected?

Consider also this plaintive wail: "Public dismay and despondency has (sic) also been aggravated due to an insufficient formal response." Which amounts to saying that better spin could have softened the impact of this disaster. When the mountains quiver and shake still an attempt to clutch at straws.

Why don't we try honesty for a change? Why don't we stop howling about violated honour and breached sovereignty when we, with our own virginal hands, mortgaged our sovereignty in the first Afghan 'jihad'? The Americans did not force themselves upon us? Gen Ziaul Haq invited them, indeed asked for better terms in order to make the whole of Pakistan the staging post, the launching pad, for an enterprise which, as the years went by, was to bring us so much misery.

The Bin Ladens and other Arabs, and Chechens and Uzbeks, were equipped and launched into Afghanistan by us. The US and the Saudis may have funded that 'jihad' and the CIA may have provided the weapons. But we were the distributors and the liaison merchants, fired by the glory of what we never stopped claiming was a holy war.

Long after the Americans departed, when the entire dynamics of the game had changed we kept playing it. And, drawing the wrong conclusions, for good measure opened another 'jihadi' front in Indian-held Kashmir.

Kashmir was not liberated but an indigenous movement of resistance was corrupted and destroyed. Furthermore, the militias raised and trained for Kashmir over time turned into domestic problems. The spectre of terrorism haunting Pakistan has many dimensions but through them all runs the common thread of the culture of 'jihad' sponsored and promoted by Pakistan's official agencies. And even after the world has changed, and so much of conventional wisdom lies atop the trashcans of history, we haven't been able to rid our minds of such strange notions as of good and bad 'jihadis'.

The world has moved on. Times have changed. We remain stuck in the past, none more so than our military guardians. In a country like Pakistan the military should be a repository of enlightened ideas, secular and progressive in its thinking. Yet what we see is the phenomenon of the army's worldview having much in common with the thinking of the most reactionary sections of Pakistani society, as represented by the cohorts of the far right.

If this were just an ideological aberration it could be dismissed as something peculiar to the military with no other consequences. But when such notions begin to affect state policies and become the underpinning of strange strategic doctrines, and when these same notions encourage extra-territorial adventures as in Kashmir or India or Afghanistan, then the consequences become more substantive and, as in our case, fatal with the passage of time.

Without getting into the discussion whether anyone in Pakistan's security hierarchy knew anything of Osama's whereabouts or not, the sobering point for us to consider is that of all the countries in the world Osama could hide only in Pakistan, not because anyone was complicit in his hiding but because of the kind of society we have managed to create.

After 30 years of pro-jihadi policies, from one end of the country to the other, from Peshawar to Karachi, we have created a support network for 'jihadi' sympathisers. And the entire thrust of our foreign policy, with its emphasis on influence in Afghanistan and undying hostility towards India, has lent philosophical support to this network. This is a physical network and a network of the mind and both supplement each other.

The US may have violated our physical sovereignty and we are right to be outraged by it. But physical sovereignty is a passing concept, rooted in geography which can change. Our geography changed in 1971 but the concept of Pakistan remained unaltered in our minds. Germany's geography changed in 1945 but the idea of Germany, quite apart from any change in frontiers, remained alive. Even after German reunification this idea remained the same.

Our inner sovereignty, our true sovereignty, was violated by our misguided and false notions of jihadism. When we saw nothing wrong in hosting elements who were extra-territorial players, intervening in Afghanistan and Kashmir, did the thought not cross our minds that this effort might boomerang on us and expose us to someone else's definition of sovereignty?

The Israelis kidnapped Adolf Eichmann, a wanted war criminal, from Argentina. They laid a honey trap for their nuclear whistleblower, Mordechai Vinunu, in Rome. It stretches the imagination to think that the Americans would come to know of Osama's presence somewhere in Pakistan and not move heaven and earth to nab him.

We should have intercepted their helicopter intrusion into Abbottabad. But perhaps it was all for the best that the gods of the night were kind and we were able to see and intercept nothing. What if, as those shouting the loudest about sovereignty would have wanted, our Shaheens had scrambled and shot down one or two helicopters? How would America have reacted if, as daylight broke, it was revealed that Osama had been discovered in Pakistan? It is mind-boggling to contemplate what then might have happened.

Let us condemn the US by all means but let us also look within ourselves to see as to how with our bizarre ideological preoccupations we have disfigured a once beautiful country, with so much promise in it, and made it the butt of international slander and derision. Headquarters of global 'jihad', home to so many of Al Qaeda's leading figures, the footprints of so many terrorist acts originating from or leading to Pakistan. Is this a legacy and a reputation to be proud of? Which world are we living in?

If it be not too cruel to say so, we have been living a lie for too long and, if at all we are interested in what we like to call national honour, we must return to the paths of truth, concentrating on setting our house in order, working to make Pakistan a civilised country, an example for the rest of the Muslim world to follow, instead of becoming a bastion of everything that can be classified as backward and reactionary.

The Abbottabad affair is thus less a tragedy over which we should tear our hair and mourn endlessly and more an opportunity to re-examine some of our more cherished concepts and turn a new leaf in our life as a nation. But if we don't change even after this wakeup call, then heaven alone help us. Our nukes, alas, would be of little use.








Nobody is bad all the time, even the worst of us. Neither are any of us always good – we have our faults and this is true of everybody; even of those we consider to be the epitome of evil. I recall that there was an attempt to quantify 'badness' a couple of years ago and it came up with a not-very-credible sliding scale and concluded that an objective measurement of 'badness' was extremely difficult. It also concluded that even the very worst of us was not actively engaged in downright wickedness all the time, but some were thus engaged for far longer than others.

Having spent over a week immersed in the ins and outs of the Osama bin Laden killing, who was responsible, who knew what and where the world might go as a result of it I was suddenly struck not so much by his badness – and he was clearly a very bad man – as by the ordinariness of his domestic life. The world's media have been crawling all over the Bin Laden family looking for details of a life they had imagined themselves into believing was somehow exotic. Exotic it most certainly was not. Unusual yes, but not at all exotic.

He was 54 when he died, had been married five times that we know about and had three of his wives with him when he died, and a number of his children. There is nothing unusual about this. Men from wealthy Arab families are as polygamous as their faith allows, and he was no different. The house he lived in had been described as a 'mansion' – but it was far from that. Despite the way in which it was talked-up mostly by western observers and commentators it was fairly typical of the walled residences that are commonplace across the tribal areas. It is not unusual, as was suggested, to see barbed wire atop high thick walls. Travel the road from Peshawar to Torkham – and I have, many times – and you will see any number of places like this. Nor is it unusual to see high 'privacy walls' within compounds – this is a purdah culture where women are kept in seclusion and that includes seclusion inside some areas of their own households.

The life the family led inside their compound was utterly unremarkable as well. They kept rabbits, had a few goats and grew some of their own vegetables. They did not go in for ostentatious furnishings and led a life more simple than luxurious. The children were mostly home educated it is said because of fears for their and Bin Laden's security – but again it is not at all unusual for very conservative families to home-educate like this – and at least one of the wives seems capable of providing the basics of an education.

In his very ordinariness Bin Laden was no different to his terrorist contemporaries. Some of the men who bombed the London underground had families. The man who unsuccessfully tried to bomb Times Square was outwardly a model citizen complete with wife and child. Look to history...Hitler loved his dog. Stalin doted on children – but he was also the man who said that 'one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic'. Ivan the Terrible was famously good to his domestic staff – but is also said to have eaten one who displeased him.

There sits within all of us the capacity to do good or ill. Most of us sit on the 'good' side of the scale for most of our lives, and regret our ills when we reflect on them. Most of us are ordinary in the sense that we have not risen above the common weal, living lives that are inconspicuous and a mix of good deeds and bad. Osama bin Laden will have believed to the last moment that he was leading a righteous life, and that his mission was just. He believed he was right. He rose above the ordinary to become a personification of evil for many, perhaps a majority, but certainly not for all. There are ordinary men and women who pray today for him. It is for the rest of us ordinary people to make sure that our minds are not led down dark paths, paths where we find ordinariness in butchery carnage and destruction, based on what we are sure are the rightness of our beliefs.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan.Email: manticore73@gmail .com







Many employees at the OBL Industries, Inc would soon be looking for other jobs, but those who wrote the main script still have a lot of work ahead of them and hence they can take comfort in their secure jobs, even though they produced a botched blueprint when they started out. The script was still-born on September 12, 2001, the day after the horrific events of 9/11. It was still-born by design, as the intent was to impose an interminable war on the entire Muslim world, which was then seen as the next frontier after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Soviets had only offered an ideological challenge; the Muslim world had both an ideological challenge as well as the vast oil resources of the Middle East; hence the script writers had a bright future. The botched script, however, had to begin in Afghanistan for reasons which remain elusive to this day.

Still born it may have been, but the first grand opening did not lack lustre, awe, and shock. The initial shocking power was built into the script itself: the world was forced into knowing all about Osama bin Laden, his terror network, his plot against Americans, his recruits, his financial resources, the long trail of hijackers, and the training camps in Afghanistan within an amazingly short period of 48 hours! That was the shock, more subtle and certainly longer lasting than the shock of that terrible day on which some 3000 Americans died and which gave birth to a mass-hatred against Islam and Muslims in the western world that has remained to this day a potent force across Europe and North America. Even after a decade it ensures election victories for war mongers and, in some cases, for outright racists who would outshine Nazis any day of the week.

It was the speed with which a co-opted media disseminated this script, which increased its shocking impact. The result was astonishing; even a million Noam Chomskys could not make a dent in the official narrative. No one would even pay attention to the few officials who had the moral courage to say in public what Robert Mueller, the head of the FBI, said in April 2002: "After the most intensive investigation in history, the FBI could say no more than that it 'believed' that the [9/11] plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though implemented in the UAE and Germany." Chomsky added: "What they only believed in April 2002, they obviously didn't know eight months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know, because they were instantly dismissed) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence – which, as we soon learned, Washington didn't have. Nothing serious has been provided since. There is much talk of Bin Laden's 'confession', but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement."

For the script writers as well as their pay masters, these are mere footnotes which, they knew, were not going to make a difference in a world where all channels were broadcasting His Excellency's script. They knew it well and hence they were not bothered about taking Noam Chomskys. In any case, it was not the job of the script writers; it was the headache of their masters; the script writers were only required to keep churning out text at a pace that would not allow any gap for any alternate narrative to emerge and this is what they have done with great success for ten long years.

There have been Osama bin Laden tapes and videos and Al-Qaeda websites, but the amazing thing is that no one has ever asked: since all websites need host servers, a traceable IP address, a physical computer which can be easily located even by commercial software, how has it been possible for a terrorist organisation to operate stable websites for so long?

Since this is a slightly technical question, let us investigate it more closely. The latest story by one of the Osama script writers provides a much easier way to understand the dilemma of the monochromatic narrative. It is a fantastic script that throws mud on the face of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's much touted magical realism. The first long sentence reads: "Three women, 12 children, cows, rabbits and chickens all hidden behind the high wall where Osama bin Laden carved out a family life, set to the gentle rhythm of changing seasonal crops outside his house gate at Abbottabad Pakistan." This is immediately backed up by an eye-witness account: "On Tuesday [a] Pakistani soldier took mobile phone video footage which offered a final glimpse into a rustic simple life. A dozen eggs sitting in the kitchen sink, a few dishes on the side large wooden cupboards bare and open."

Anyone who has ever lived on a farm or dealt with animals or who has seen a chicken coop will immediately ask: who took care of these animals? Cows cannot be left without milking, who milked these cows? Chickens and cows produce a great deal of refuge, where did that go, especially when not many people were ever seen going in and out of those gates? Likewise, cows and chicken need to eat; who brought their fodder when we are told that there were only two brothers who lived with Bin Laden, who himself never left the compound? For this kind of farm, there needs to be a lot of traffic in and out of that compound.

These and other similar operational details make the script a mere figment of the imagination of a city person, who has never stepped into a Pakistani village. But never mind, this, and similar narratives will continue to appear in the western media and the faithful servants of the west in the Muslim world will continue to reproduce them. No one has the courage, moral honesty and even basic human decency to say: Enough; the man is dead now, let us at least respect the dead, pack up this OBL industry and find something else; after all, there is the living horror of Libya and further afield, those of Syria and Yemen and the entire Middle East.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:








Poet and soldier Sir Philip Sidney said: "Malice, in its false witness, promotes its tale with so cunning a confusion; so mingles truths with falsehoods, surmises with certainties causes of no moment with matters capital; that the accused can neither grant nor deny; plead innocence nor confess guilt."

It is ironic that in life the timely appearance of Osama bin Laden's video in 2004 helped the unpopular George W Bush secure a second term. Similarly, Bin Laden may have delivered President Obama great political advantage. Above all else, it appears to have freed him from the need of producing his original birth certificate, apart from boosting his chances in next year's presidential election.

History is being written by victors, as Aesop noted it is. Since Bin Laden's death is being presented as justification for the United States' wars across the globe, it could herald further atrocities, and lead to the murder of hundreds of thousands more in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.

Bin Laden was presented as evil incarnate bent on bringing about Armageddon. In reality, he was a mere symbol, a figurehead, and one who was secluded and in hiding. The CIA set up a safe house at Abbottabad with multimillion-dollar surveillance equipment to keep tabs on Osama bin Laden. On the other hand, Bin Laden had an old television set atop a rickety table. How was he able, without any communication devices, to remote-control Al-Qaeda and mastermind terrorist attacks worldwide? The truth has been the greatest causality in the United States' War on Terror.

Global peace now depends on how the US fills the void created by Bin Laden's death. Now that he is gone, America's occupation of Afghanistan and drone attacks inside Pakistani territory ought to come to an end. However, Hillary Clinton has announced that "the fight continues, and we will never waiver." And in his triumphal speech following Bin Laden's death, President Obama declared: "We are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to."

With the removal of the bogeyman after a 15-year, three trillion dollar manhunt (counting the costs of related wars too), Mr Obama should now set his mind to becoming a more deserving recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, not "taking out" more of Qaddafi's sons and grandchildren.

The recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East were leaderless revolutions started by young unarmed people. Mohammad Bouaziz's self-immolation sparked the Tunisian upheaval; Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, used his computer expertise to ignite the revolution in Ayman al-Zawahiri's Egypt. Today it is they, not Osama bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri, who are symbols of struggles against US-propped autocrats and American policies.

Prime Minister Gilani's all-smiles visit to Paris with a fifty-strong delegation in tow signifies the all-is-well mindset in Islamabad despite the embarrassing Abbottabad episode. President Zardari plans to grace Kuwait and Russia with his presence now. At this crucial juncture, the clueless National Assembly is meeting, but with Speaker Fehmida Mirza in the United States. After the departure of Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the foreign minister's slot remains vacant. Meanwhile, things are not helped by the statements of our ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, not to mention the celebratory messages by President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani after the Abbottabad operation.

The best way forward would be an honest appraisal of the situation, which is absolutely imperative. The key is accountability. If there is no accountability there will be more debacles of this kind to come. We all make mistakes, but the biggest mistake will be made if we refuse to recognise and fix our errors at the earliest. It would be futile for us to harp on about past successes, which do not justify present failures, and those too of the magnitude of the Abbottabad episode.

In the days to come the "treasure trove of information" in the CDs and other material said to have been found in Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad will spring far more surprises than any information Bin Laden's captured family can provide us.

A principled and firm stand is needed to counter the US propaganda salvoes, not reactions of panicked apologies and appeasement. We may hear of Pakistan's "uranium cakes," the kind that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was accused of having imported from Niger. Who knows, even rumours could be started and disseminated about meetings between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban at some Ilyasi Masjid in Pakistan. We may also get to hear about terrorist "contacts" within the armed forces and a supposed nexus between Al-Qaeda and Hafiz Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Dawah, and goodness knows what else – all in preparation for a move against the "Quetta Shura" and Jallaluddin Haqqani.

In the heat of the triumphant moment, the Americans have forgotten Pakistan's sacrifices in the War on Terror. Just two nights before the operation which killed Osama bin Laden, Gen Kayani was chief guest at a sombre Yaum-e-Shuhada (Martyr's Day) ceremony at the GHQ. Not an eye was dry. Even the sky above sent down a drizzle that night. The Americans couldn't have been expected to share our sorrow anyway, but of course, they were busy planning "Operation Geronimo."

All said and done, the greatest "intelligence failure" may not have occurred in the shadows of Thandiani. The ultimate failure was for Pakistan not to have gauged the United States' malice unlimited, which led to our being dragged into an alien war.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:







Beyond the public anger and political point-scoring lies a wasteland of expectations. We did not expect to find Osama in our heartland. We did not expect our agencies to be so clueless about his presence, if he was here. And, we did not expect that the Americans would be able to come in, carry out an operation, and leave without our knowledge.

This noise about finding out who is responsible is a form of national catharsis. We want to know who is responsible for shattering our make-believe world, who has dashed our illusions. The problem is that even if we do, it would end up in another bout of national self-flagellation.

Nations go through difficult times, survive, and later prosper because they know where they are going. When there is confusion about objectives or no clear appreciation of reality, the crisis is deep and coming out of it, difficult.

Take the debate about what inquiry is the best means of finding out what happened. The government has appointed a serving Lt General to do the job but the PML-N is not happy. It wants a judicial commission. Nawaz Sharif is right that the inquiry should be independent and should look into all aspects of what the nation considers a terrible tragedy. The difficult parts are the method and the outcome of such an inquiry.

If it were a public inquiry, would it expose to the world our internal shortcomings? Would this be in our national interest? And, if it is secret, would we ever know what really happened? Again, what is the objective? Is it to make some heads roll, as Haqqani has promised? Or is it to make our institutions more effective, as Nawaz Sharif says?

All these issues need careful handling. There is little doubt that events in Abbottabad must lead to soul-searching. But, we have to handle the process with care. Even if the government accedes to the PML-N request for a judicial commission – which it is unlikely to – the terms of reference, the operational methodology and public exposure of the outcome need to be thought through.

It would serve no purpose to throw the baby out with the bath water. Yes, we need to change the way we operate. Any impression in the wider world that our intelligence agencies or at least some underlings are in cahoots with terrorists is terribly damaging. We may go blue in the face arguing that this is not true but when evidence such as Osama's presence near our premier military academy surfaces, it is awfully hard to plead ignorance.

Also, the suspicion that our defence preparedness is not up to the mark needs to be addressed. It is true that the US with a defence budget greater than all the military budgets put together in the world, is a formidable power. It is not easy, in fact, it would be suicidal, for a small third world country to take on a superpower.

But, it is still difficult to believe that none our systems, however technically inferior they may be, were able to detect an alien presence for over two hours on our soil. There is a growing suspicion among many who are well informed that we knew about the operation but chose to pretend otherwise because of fears of a domestic backlash.

If there is an iota of truth in this, we have committed a terrible mistake. It would have been much better to face a public outcry at home, or further targeting by Al-Qaeda, then face international censure. If it is not, than we need to look again at our preparedness. In any case, these questions need to be resolved.

The particular analogy of baby and bathwater also applies to our political leadership. Its shortcomings are obvious. When leadership was required to handle the fallout of Abbottabad, our leadership carried on as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The prime minister went on tour of France, the president to Kuwait and when last heard of, was in Russia.

Institutional mechanisms to handle such emergencies were nowhere visible. There was no plausible media response and the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) has only been called 10 days later. If it is deliberate – the purpose being to let the military face the public ire – it is unforgivable. If it is incompetence then our top office holders need a crash course in leadership, otherwise we are doomed.

The important point is, what alternatives to this political leadership do we have? Military rule has been a terrible disaster in the past, and this is recognised by its current leadership. A non-political technocratic type of setup, even if it comes about through some form of quasi-constitutional arrangement, would find it impossible to function without political support.

There is no choice but to struggle through the failings of the current political leadership and hope that another election will bring about a better dispensation. This dilemma is in some ways similar to the one we face in handling the aftermath of Abbottabad. We are short of options and the only viable possibility is to learn from our mistakes and hope for better times to come.

Another issue that we have to work through in these difficult times is the future of our relationship with the United States. Some voices are beginning to be heard that we must review this relationship and seek out new strategic partnerships, with China and Russia. One TV report has claimed that this decision has already been made.

Again, like the other two issues discussed above, there is a need to think through our options carefully. It would be foolhardy to imagine that we can build a strategic partnership with Russia. People who say this have no clue about the history of our relationship with this country for the last 50 years or more.

China is a very good friend and is perhaps the only country in the world that gave a supporting statement after the Abbottabad incident. However, it would be unwise to test this relationship too much. China is focused on its economic development. Whether it would be willing to get into a strategic partnership with us that has anti-US overtones, is difficult to see.

It is not particularly wise to jump into an adversarial position with the US from being in one of close partnership. Yes, there is a need to re-configure this partnership and the best way to do so is to think more about our economic dependence on it. If we can do without US aid, we must do so. It is galling to hear American politicians and commentators repeat that we take their money and then have the audacity to question them.

But, while doing this, we don't have to get into an adversarial position with the US. There are many areas where our interests converge and others where they do not. We have to develop a new relationship where our interests are appreciated. Not seeking aid from the US would make this easier.

To stand on our proverbial feet, we will have to change. The Abbottabad incident is both a challenge and an opportunity. If we learn from it, nothing can stop us from going forward.








The sovereignty of Pakistan is jeopardised. We must strike back if this happens again. It is an intelligence failure. This amounts to sheer incompetence of the civilian and military leadership.

We have given into the wish and will of the Americans at the cost of our dignity and interest. We are backstabbed by the so-called strategic ally. As if the drone strikes on our territory were not enough to jolt our national integrity and pride. The Abbottabad incursion of the US forces without taking us into confidence or involving us in its execution crosses all limits. Our tremendous sacrifices over the last decade confirm that we were more committed to the war on terror than any other country.

Independent inquiry is needed. A high powered judicial commission must be established. Heads must roll. Heads may roll. Heads will roll. The president and the prime minister should resign. The army chief and the director general of the prime intelligence agency must quit. The interior minister should go. Our television screens, newspaper columns and coffee table chats echo all these voices coming from different politicians, members of the intelligentsia and a number of journalists.

What is needed at this stage is not for them who call the shots to resign from offices they hold but resign from the ideas they espouse. This surely is an arduous task but far easier when compared to seeing the country collapse totally, state failing irrevocably and the already fragmenting society break into smithereens.

It was neither operational incompetence nor an intelligence failure. It was the failure of how we view ourselves, how we see the world, the means we have employed to achieve what we wish, our perception of what our real threats are and consequently the solutions we seek to quash these perceived threats.

While the swearing in ceremony of PML-Q ministers into the PPP-led federal government on the very next day of Osama Bin Laden's death on our soil at the hands of Americans is being seen by some as an evidence of sheer indifference and deplorable apathy on the part of the politicians, to me it simply confirms the extrication of the civilian government and parliament from the war on the western front that is also being waged within our borders. It reflects on the all encompassing role of the military when it comes to making decisions concerning both our foreign and defence policies and then translating those decisions into action.

Remember, after taking charge of the political government, the prime minister announced that he is happy with the military taking a lead role in defining the course of action in the war being fought against terrorism. And it goes without saying that the military leadership and the part of bureaucratic machine hand in glove with them wouldn't have let the political government assume the full decision making role anyway, even if the prime minister had said something otherwise.

But Abbottabad brings him an opportunity. It is now incumbent upon the political government to take charge of matters pertaining to our internal and external security with parliamentary oversight rather than bailing out the institutions responsible for disastrous policy choices in the past.

It is time for the military establishment to humbly listen to the alternative voices it has detested for so long. It is time to proactively dismantle all terrorist outfits. It is time to work in the interest of Pakistan rather than working against the interest of some other country. It is time to submit to the role assigned in the constitution.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor. Email: harris.khalique@









IN line with incomprehensible and enigmatic stance of PML (N) vis-a-vis Pakistan's defence forces, party chief Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif in a thunderous tone at his news conference on Wednesday took more hardened position expressing almost complete distrust in the army. After a two day deliberations by central leadership of the party on the issue, he rejected US raid probe by military and instead proposed formation of a judicial commission headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan to go into different aspects of the episode. He also added that neither the army nor the government came out with satisfactory response to the Abbottabad operation.

The tone and tenor of the PML (N) leader and his pronouncements were really shocking as they came at a critical juncture of our history when the armed forces and the premier intelligence agency ISI were under tremendous pressure because of acrimonious campaign launched by some outside and inside forces. The objective of the foreign circles is quite understandable as they want to destabilize Pakistan in every respect and it is apparent that ISI and Armed Forces of the country are working as a solid rock to foil such conspiracies. If at all there is any failure then it is on the part of the civil administration and political leadership at the helm of governmental affairs and not the armed forces. It is worth mentioning that even now the Government of Pakistan and the Foreign Office have not lodged any formal protest with the United States over flagrant violation of country's sovereignty over which, like other proud people of Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif also feels hurt. The Abbottabad incident should be seen in the backdrop of overall policy of the Government on the issue of terrorism. The Army is following the policy devised and owned by the democratically elected Government that has repeatedly expressed determination to eliminate the threat of terrorism and extremism which is stumbling block to the peace and progress of the country. The approach and policy of the Government was further elaborated in the statements issued by the President and the Prime Minister in the aftermath of Abbottabad operation. May we then ask Mian Sahib whether he wanted the armed forces to have acted on their own risking grave dangers for the country? We would, therefore, ask PML (N) leader that political expediencies notwithstanding, it is not time to talk in divisive terms and instead we should adopt a unified position to take the country out of the turbulent situation.







CHINA, on Wednesday, once again reiterated that it would do everything needed to make Pakistan strong, stable and prosperous nation by promoting cooperation in every field including trade. Speaking to members of the business community, visiting Deputy DG of Standing Committee of the People's Congress of Xinjiang Yugur Autonomous Region Muhametmin Yashen said there was no limit to China's unconditional support to Pakistan.

The visit of the Chinese delegation to Pakistan and unequivocal expression of solidarity by its head assumes greater significance because of the peculiar circumstances that the country finds itself in these days. There is a flurry of anti-Pakistan propaganda following American operation in Abbottabad in which Osama bin Laden was killed. The intensive campaign unleashed by some circles is aimed at isolating Pakistan and demoralize its people. Apart from Western media and statements of leaders of some Western countries, India too is fully active to take advantage of the anti-Pakistan atmosphere and only on Wednesday it released its own list of 50 so-called most wanted men, which it wants Pakistan to apprehend. It is in this backdrop that China has issued repeated statements to demonstrate its complete faith in Pakistan's sincere efforts to fight terrorism. It has even warned the international community not to engage in a blame game and instead increase cooperation with Pakistan for the sake of regional and global peace. China's steadfast posture has given new depth to the friendship between the two countries and enhanced prestige of the all-weather friend in the eyes of people of Pakistan. It is also important to note remarks of the head of Chinese delegation that his country would continue 'unconditional' cooperation with Pakistan as we believe this is not a mere slogan because China is the only country of the world that is willingly cooperating with Pakistan in civilian nuclear technology.







THE Local Government system proved to be very useful in Pakistan as the elected representatives implemented small schemes that brought fruits of development at the Union Council and village level. However for political considerations, the Federal and Provincial Governments are shy of holding LG elections and each Province is delaying them under the pretext of bringing in further improvement in the system.

The delay in the restoration of LG system has created dismay and anxiety not only among those who held the positions at the District, Tehsil and Union Council levels but also among the people as they suffer due to apathy of the bureaucracy which is least concerned to their problems. LG system proved to be very useful as it helped resolve people's problems at local level, allowed public participation in decision-making and resolution of small disputes at the Union Council level. The essence of this system was that the Local Governments would be accountable to the citizens for all their decisions. It enabled the proactive elements of society to participate in community work, development related activities and removed rural-urban divide to a certain extent. The system also efficiently addressed the specific needs and problems of large cities. The District Government was responsible to the people and the Provincial Government for improvement of governance and delivery of services. Now the body formed under the name of Local Council Associations (LCA) of the four Provinces has come out with a demand for the acceptance of the importance of Local Governments and holding of elections under LG Ordinance 2001immediately. The Chairman of the Association Daniyal Aziz and other office bearers at a press conference in Islamabad emphasised for uniformity in the system as different types of systems would create more problems and open the door for corrupt practices. Already people are expressing their displeasure over the devolution plan which has gone to the extreme leaving no authority with the Federation on vital subjects to the country. After the PPP-MQM accord on restoration of LG system, we think the Federal Government should open talks with other Provincial Governments and persuade them that the elections at the local level be held as early as possible under a uniformed system for its smooth functioning.









Both the Indian as well as the Pakistani elites have yet to get over their feelings of inadequacy in confronting international challenges. This lack of self-confidence is what leads both to cling to outside players, rather than activate their own strengths. However, the reality is that either country has the size and capability to ensure that its own interests are protected, although of course, the local elites refuse to acknowledge this.

An example is the way the Pakistan elite has swung into a reactive mode when confronted by daily accusations of complicity in the harbouring of Osama bin Laden since 2002. Rather than wring one's hands and plead innocence, what is needed is for the Pakistan establishment to come out with a comprehensive White Paper on Afghanistan, that would detail the way in which the CIA and other agencies used the Pakistan establishment for their own purposes. This columnist well remembers the 1990s, a period when US (and EU, and Chinese, and GCC) diplomats in Delhi ceaselessly urged Indian policymakers to concede to the demands being made by the jihadis battling Indian security forces in Kashmir. It was no secret that these elements were in even closer touch with US and EU diplomats in Delhi than they were with the intensely-monitored Pakistan mission. Not only diplomats but media-persons from the US and the EU routinely took the side of the jihadis in their reporting, as did outlets such as CNN and the BBC. It took 9/11 for that to change, some what. The Clinton administration followed the line of oil giant Unocal in seeing the Taliban as a friendly force capable of providing access to Central Asian petro-products via territory controlled by it. Senior US diplomats made several visits to cities in Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to liase with the Taliban, even as they lectured Delhi against giving assistance to the Northern Alliance, help that was meagre and intermittent, thanks to US-EU-GCC-China pressure on the side of the Taliban. Pakistan has a treasure trove of documents that show the manner in which the US and other countries helped the Taliban, including details of the cash and other payments made by the incoming Bush administration in the weeks preceding the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre by teams formed by "Al-Qaeda". What is needed is for these documents to get released in the form of annexures to a White Paper that would show the extent to which the US (and other countries) have been complicit in building up the Taliban.

If Mullah Omar was enabled to take control of 85% of Afghanistan by 1996, the reasons for that did not stop in Pakistan, but extended to several other countries. There was a steady flow of cash and technical assistance to the Taliban from countries as diverse as Turkey, the UAE and China. None of these countries acted the way they did because of any pressure from Pakistan. They were simply following the Unocal script of giving assistance to the Taliban in preference to the Northern Alliance. Indeed, Pakistan has numerous documents showing the way several of those still prominent in the US facilitated the Taliban. What is needed is for such information to enter the public domain, so that the world will understand that the Taliban was neither created by Pakistan nor majority sustained by it. Rather, the growth of the militia represented a collaborative effort that spanned the globe. Until Pakistan releases the facts that it has in its possession on the Afghanistan situation in the 1990s, the perception that it alone is responsible for the nightmare in that country will persist.

The publication of a White Paper by Pakistan on the support to the Taliban during the Clinton administration and till 9/11 would be a crucial correction of the narrative that is being widely disseminated internationally, which is that Islamabad is solely responsible for the growth of the Taliban. Of course, this presumes that the Pakistan establishment will find the courage to confront the US side with the truth in such a manner. Let it be admitted that the Indian establishment would never dare to go down the route of transparency, if the same would entail annoying US policymakers with disclosures about their complicity in decisions that adversely affected both regional as well as international security. An example is the pathetic response of the Vajpayee government towards the hijackers of the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Delhi at the close of the last millennium.

Thus far, the Indian side has refrained from exposing the numerous pressures for a soft line on extremists that come from the US and from other countries that in public take a hard line on international terrorism. The UAE allowed the hijacked aircraft to land in its territory and safely take off, only after it was privately requested to do so by the US administration of Bill Clinton, who may be described as the true parent of the Taliban for the manner in which his team created and sustained that militia. Whether it was the December 24,1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 814 or events such as the interception of a North Korean vessel by India a decade ago that was carrying missile parts, but which was released after secret parleys with the US, there has been a pattern of Washington saying one thing in public and another in private, a behaviour pattern than needs to be made public by its victims. Just as Pakistan needs to make public the manner in which the Taliban was created and sustained by other powers, so too India needs to make known the way in which jihadis have been supported by the US and by other powers that claim to be fighting a War on Terror, but who are complicit in shielding perpetrators who do not directly challenge their own interests.

Even the 2008 Mumbai attack attracted the attention that it did only because nationals of the US and Israel were directly targetted. Had those killed been merely Indian nationals, there would have been no international action and little uproar about the incident.

It is time that elites in India and in Pakistan moved away from the Winston Churchill theorem that the native people of both countries lack the wisdom to understand the truth. For too long have the Indian and the Pakistani establishments concealed the facts from their own people. In the case of India, even the Henderson-Brooks report on the 1962 debacle with China is kept secret, as are numerous other tomes that show the incompetence and worse, culpabilty, of several policymakers in India in events that cost many lives. In the process of protecting themselves, the local elite also protect their foreign patrons, by keeping from their own people the truth. It is time that such veils got removed, and the facts got presented. A beginning can be made by transparency over the events in Afghanistan from 1993 to September 10, 2011. Both India and Pakistan can issue White Papers that give the facts about the policies followed by both countries towards that country during that period. India can further give details of the pressure applied in the 1990s by the US, the UK and other powers for it to go easy on the Taliban and on outfits backed by the Taliban. This columnist has had the privilege of knowing well the Prime Ministers of that period, and has been made personally aware of the gap between what certain countries professed in public and what they urged India to do in private.

The people of India and Pakistan deserve to be told the truth. In view of the regional significance of Afghanistan and the centrality of the 1993-2001 period to what is taking place in that country now, there is need for a White Paper from both India and Pakistan that exposes the facts about Afghan policy during that period. Knowledge of the truth, and of errors made, is the best defense against future policy disasters. " Hammaam mai sab nanga hai". All are naked in the bath. The naked truth must be told, and now, during a time when a single country is being excoriated as the sole mischief-maker in the battle against extremism.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








Operation Geronimo resulted in the successful elimination of Osama bin Laden, which is being claimed as a major victory by the US. It has revived the popularity of President Obama, which was waning rapidly and provided a closure to the families of the victims of 9/11. The world is ultimately rid of one of the biggest masterminds of terrorism and has concluded one of the costliest and most extensive manhunts in history. Whereas, it is a matter of jubilation for all peace loving citizens of the world, yet the way the US executed unilateral action in operation Geronimo without sharing information has added to the existing environment of mistrust. The unilateral US action violating Pakistani sovereignty has greatly added to the heightened sense of anti-Americanism feelings in Pakistan which has eroded the sense of camaraderie that is essential for conducting a joint counter terrorism campaign against al Qaeda. The episode has further exacerbated the sense of mistrust which is primarily an outcome of such tirades emanating from the US side. Pakistan reserves the right to disengage from US if latter continues to behave in the same boorish and jingoistic manner.

Another negative aspect of the operation is that it has strengthened the stance of hardliners, who abhor cooperating with the US. The US actions have strengthened the position of hardliners who oppose cooperation with US on the basis that this unequal relationship is going to leave Pakistan in a lurch as the US plans to withdraw from Afghanistan. There is a strong possibility that such hawks and extremists bear pressure upon the government to part company with the US, which is indulging in using derogatory terms for Pakistan and also threatening to conduct further adventurism within Pakistan.

The Air Chief has come out boldly in explaining that the operation Geronimo succeeded in ingressing as well as egressing unscathed because it avoided radar coverage by following the nape of the earth, flying below the ridgeline. US AWACs operating within Afghan boundary continuously provided real-time information and guidance to the US Navy Seals flying in the special Blackhawk helicopters. PAF did scramble its fighters to intercept the intruders and missed them by minutes.

The US should realize that Pakistan has taken concrete steps to ensure another violation of Pakistan's sovereignty does not occur and next time it will not be a cakewalk as the defenders of Pakistan will be ready to deter any adventurism. US violation of Pakistan's sovereignty has set a very dangerous precedence which hostile powers, particularly India can try to emulate. India needs to understand that such a transgression will be treated as an act of war by Pakistan. US needs to ensure that India gets this message loud and clear and doesn't embark on an adventure which may plunge the region into the specter of a nuclear standoff.

It is in extreme bad taste that Leon Panetta, the outgoing CIA Director continues to taunt ISI, which had scored major victories against al-Qaeda and any future successes can only be achieved if there is a close and meaningful cooperation between CIA and ISI. CIA's efforts to go alone at the cost of exclusion of the ISI, in the long run, is a recipe for failure. Failure to unearth Osama's presence at Abottabad should not be allowed to tarnish a sterling performance by the Agency in the past nor be made a measure of its performance in the future. After all the CIA is to bear blame for the lapse of not being able to detect Osama's presence in the location he is alleged to have been killed. He was their most wanted criminal. 9/11 by itself is a major lapse on the part of CIA. Feeding the US incorrect information regarding the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction is a lapse of culpable neglect and deliberate misrepresentation of facts, which led to the invasion of Iraq and resulted in the death and destruction of 50,000 Iraqis, 4,700 US Service personnel and caused a loss of trillions of dollars to the US taxpayer. US grandiloquent claims and derogatory comments towards Pakistan are humiliating the tremendous sacrifices of 30,000 civilian lives and 5000 security personnel, which widely surpass those made by US/NATO. There is no reason to doubt our national resolve/commitment in the war against terror. The US is basing its verbal attack on Pakistan's security and intelligence agencies on a factor that no attention was paid to the unusually heavily guarded compound in Abbottabad.

The fact is that whereas it is an intelligence failure but compound and structure is a norm rather than exception in KPK. People in KPK are exceptionally paranoid about their privacy and as such any body with any amount of money will have a similar residence so it is not out of the extra ordinary. The US has itself admitted that ultimately, it was the ISI that had provided exclusive leads, which ultimately led them to reach Osama. Even if the US has eliminated Osama, it needs a reality check, since it has not even dented the ideology of Al-Qaeda; unless it eradicates that ideology, the world will not be safe. Al-Qaeda offshoots have sprung all over the globe and are capable of inflicting untold damage to the world, as we have seen in attacks independently conducted by the Bali bomber and likes.

It has now been brought to light that the US troops conducting operation Geronimo were under instructions to fight their way out if Pakistani armed forces had retaliated. This shows that the US had termed Pakistan as a foe rather than the ally. Thus while the US rejoices the death of Osama bin Laden, which even as I write this piece, is being challenged by independent jurists and appellate bodies as extra judicial killing and breach of sovereignty of an independent nation and frontline ally Pakistan, the US should pause and ponder what should be the next steps to rid the world of terrorism rather than make it even more unsafe as a consequence.









Iman means "to know", "to believe" and "to be convinced beyond the least shadow of doubt". Faith, thus, is firm belief arising out of knowledge and conviction. And the man who knows and reposes unshakable belief in the unity of God, in His Attributes, in His Law and the Revealed Guidance, and in the Divine code of Reward and punishment is called Mo'min (faithful).

The word Iman is based on word peace which means tranquillity. A truthful person is satisfied with his news while a liar is not. Truth is tranquillity while lie is suspicion. Hence, a Mo'min attains tranquillity by believing in true faith and by putting his trust in Allah (swt). This faith on true deen invariably leads man to be completely obedient to Allah (swt) and submit to His will. Iman is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, the Last Day, and to believe in divine destiny, both the good and the evil thereof. This level is more theoretical than the first level of Islam.

The definition of Iman is that to testify all the news brought by the Messenger (PBUM) about the unseen God (Allah) and His attributes, and complete obedience to the Shariah the Holy Prophet (PBUM) brought. The word Iman and Islam are often interchanged. The salaf agreed that if words Islam and Iman are mentioned together, then Iman carries the meaning of internal beliefs of heart and Islam is outwardly actions. However, if they are mentioned independently, they carry meaning of both. Hence, if word Islam is mentioned independently, it carries meaning of both Islam and Iman. This is proved from vast numbers of verses of Quran and Hadith. Narrated Abu Huraira: One day while the Prophet was sitting in the company of some people, (The angel) Gabriel came and asked, "What is faith?" Allah's Apostle replied, 'Faith is to believe in Allah, His angels, (the) meeting with Him, His Apostles, and to believe in Resurrection." Then he further asked, "What is Islam?" Allah's Apostle replied, "To worship Allah Alone and none else, to offer prayers perfectly to pay the compulsory charity (Zakat) and to observe fasts during the month of Ramadan."Then he further asked, "What is Ihsan (perfection)?" Allah's Apostle replied, "To worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you cannot achieve this state of devotion then you must consider that He is looking at you..." (Sahih Bukhari).

Iman increases by doing good deeds and following commands of Allah (swt), while decreases by doing bad deeds or sins. The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts become fearful, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord they rely. The Prophet (PBUH) said: "He who amongst you sees something abominable should modify it with the help of his hand; and if he has not strength enough to do it, then he should do it with his tongue, and if he has not strength enough to do it, (even) then he should (abhor it) from his heart, and that is the least of faith." (Sahih Muslim). What is more important that we pay attention to what causes Iman to decrease and avoid it, and learn what increases the Iman and adopt it. The main reason for understanding the increase and decrease in Iman is to identify the minimum level of Iman that is needed to protect ourselves from hellfire. The Iman will increase with the good deeds. As the certainty grows towards the understanding of Deen his faith also grows stronger that leads him to increase his good deeds. He may do more charity, or additional prayers. He may start to educate himself in matter of deen to the next level. Similarly, on the downside a person may join company of bad friends; they may influence him to do bad deeds, waste his time in wasteful activities, do gambling, or drink alcolol, hence reducing his Iman by committing to bad deeds.

As every Muslim knows or should know, Iman is the foremost and essential requirement of Islam. Without proper Iman, one cannot become a Muslim even if one is born in a Muslim family. In fact, Iman is something which has to be self consciously acquired in order to become a Muslim, constantly maintained in order to remain a Muslim, and continually reinforced and fortified in order to begin the next life as a Muslim. Therefore, Iman is something which cannot and should not be taken for granted. Unfortunately, many of us take it for granted. If Iman is so important that it is the gist of life here and a savior in the hereafter, then it becomes necessary for each of us to find out what Iman really is. It is not right to say that I am a Muslim and therefore I have Iman because I was born in a Muslim family. As we will see shortly, the Quran and that means Allah Almighty does not accept this as a valid argument. What is Iman and what is its definition in the context of Islam?

Our Iman is not always as sound and strong as we want it to be as it often fluctuates according to life circumstances. There are several causes for weakening Iman such as deficiencies in our prayers or the insinuating whispers from the Shaytan. Regardless of the cause, it is crucial for all of us to keep a check on our Iman and if we feel it is faltering in any way then we should take measures to restore it. It is our responsibility to know which things decrease our Iman and how to avoid them and those that increase our Iman and how to embrace them.







So far seven top personalities of world have claimed that Osama had died around 2004. Just on Sunday (May 8, 2011) Iran's intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi told reporters after a cabinet meeting that "We have accurate information that bin Laden died of illness some time ago." He questioned, "If the US military and intelligence apparatus have really arrested or killed bin Laden, why don't they show his dead body, why have they thrown his corpse into the sea?...When we apprehended (Jundullah's ringleader Abdul Malik) Rigi, we showed him and also aired his interview." Back in 2004, the then President of Pakistan, Gen Musharraf claimed that "Osama is dead", on which President Bush taunted him and asked him to withdraw his claim. Before that US Secretary of State Collin Powell and US envoy to UN, Madeline Albright had announced that Osama was dead. Besides them, various Afghan officials and independent sources confirmed that Osama was dead.

Question is if the Americans knew it, why didn't they announce it? If anybody else tried to disclose it, why did they admonish him or her? It means they had some design in mind to implement later. What was the plan in fact? Even now when they have formally "killed" OBL, they have left ambiguities after ambiguities multiplied by hundreds. That's why Iran's intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi asks, "If the US military and intelligence apparatus have really arrested or killed bin Laden, why don't they show his dead body, why have they thrown his corpse into the sea? He said US officials resort to such PR campaigns to divert attention from their domestic problems as well as their "fragile" economic situation. An English daily reported that there is possibility of Osama being there on the time of the raid, but he was neither shot at in the head nor did his close bodyguard kill him, rather he quite possibly might have blown him up. This sounds logical because if they say Osama was unarmed at that time, so was his Yemeni wife, why did the Seals chose to kill him, if at all it was necessary to hit him for fear of his reaction, he could have been shot in the legs, like they did to Aman. And the blood shown on the floor, the bed and other things show that blood didn't gush out of body that was shot in the head, rather it was as if sprinkled or a result of minor blow-up. But then if the video released by the CIA is believed to be of Osama in which he is seen watching TV, the news ticker in Arabic running in the bottom reveals that Osama was watching that TV on 24th January 2011. But the big question is as if the man shown in the grab was really Osama? And why his body was disposed of in a hurry that too in the sea, without undergoing Islamic rituals?

Burial at sea is not an Islamic practice and Islam does not have a timeframe for burial. The US officials also claimed their decision for a sea burial was made because no country would accept bin Laden's remains, without elaborating on which countries were actually contacted on the matter. Analysts, however, have raised serious questions as to why US officials did not allow for the application of a DNA test to officially confirm the identity of the corpse before its hasty burial. Obviously there seems some sinister and highly dangerous designs, which lead us to conclude that certainly there are very serious threats to Pakistan's security, its nuclear arsenal and even its existence, because on one Gen Petraeus has announced "Osama's death doesn't mean America is winding up from Afghanistan", and on the other hand the CIA chief says America is ready to conduct another such strike if and when necessary. Pentagon and Washington have asked Pakistan to identify and interrogate those ISI officials who were in the know of Osama's presence in Abbottabd. President Obama has asked that Pakistan did nothing to check the "Support Network of Osama", which means the pressure will recede even if Osama is killed, though the US national security adviser has said America has no credible information whether Pakistan knew about Osama's presence in the region.

Indian Express said in its May 9 comment that the world's attention is riveted on the intriguing "back story" of Osama – his evasion of a massive and prolonged US manhunt by hiding under the very nose of the Pakistan army. Looking a little ahead, the political after-effects of the bold American raid on Abbottabad could be equally gripping. As the pressure mounts on Rawalpindi to explain itself and act against US enemies on Pakistan and Afghan soil, the internal political arrangements across our western frontiers are unlikely to survive in the present form. The Abbottabad raid, however, has moved Pakistan's tectonic plates. The shock waves travelling through Pakistan will produce some wreckage, if not structural change, in the nation's political and policy universe. India's former RAW official B. Raman points out that when Osama took refuge in Abbottabad, at that time Gen. Kayani was the Chief of Army Staff.

Times of India said in a May 6 report from New Delhi that deeply embarrassed by the US raid that killed Osama under its nose, the Pakistan army might be tempted to ratchet up hostility towards India and even encourage the terror proxies it controls to stage strikes on the Indian mainland, the Indian security establishment feels. The Pakistan army is having to deal with not just the disbelief of foreign governments over its claims of being unaware of Osama being in Abbottabad, but some hostile questioning at home as well. Its claims of being able to thwart any intrusion – protecting sovereignty being the army's USP – have been dealth a hard blow by the US action. There is a view, the paper says, that the Pakistan military may look to recover lost prestige by diverting popular attention towards India and army chief Ashfaq Kiyani's aggressive response to Indian Army chief V K Singh's claim that India could stage an Abbottabad-type operation indicates as much. In a statement, the Pakistan army said it would respond strongly to any Indian "misadventure". Eminent Defense Analyst Noam Chomsky has pointed finger at the American "drama" of Osama's killing and similarly Hajira Mumtaz, a renowned writer in her column in a leading English newspaper on May 9 said: "what actually happened? We don't know. We only know what the US is saying and it is saying conflicting things." The situation clearly indicates that the death of Osama is being used as a ploy to target Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal. Better we watch out.







Conspiracy theorists assure us that Osama bin Laden was killed in December 2001 and his body put on ice in, of course, an undisclosed location. If the recent killing of bin Laden was a lie, who were the liars? All 79 members of SEAL Team 6, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. State Department, the White House and 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. All conspired to have us believe that he was killed in Pakistan. "Who you gonna believe," the theorists ask, "me or your lyin' eyes?" The killing or capture of Osama bin Laden was a strategic imperative of the Obama presidency.

His death on Pakistani soil now presents a challenge to the strategic depth required for security and stability in the region. How, under these circumstances, does the U.S. collaborate with a nation given $20 billion since 911? To date, the clash between the U.S. and Pakistan has been the focus of mainstream news. Little has been said about the loss of 30,000 Pakistani lives to the war on terrorism. That human toll includes a sharp upswing in deadly attacks since the November 2008 assault in India where Islamic extremists, trained in Pakistan, left 174 dead in Mumbai. Pakistan was portrayed as guilty, by association.

Savvy national security analysts are monitoring who uses bin Laden's death to tout The Clash of Civilizations. The continued plausibility of this narrative requires a series of plausible Evil Doers, a role that bin Laden played to perfection. With his death in Abbottabad, home to Pakistan's elite military academy, Islamabad looks guilty, by association. Mainstream media immediately proposed a no-win proposition for Pakistan: it was either complicit or incompetent. No other option was offered. When deploying agenda-advancing narratives to induce wars, the power of association is critical. Should a nuclear device be used in the U.S., the U.K. or the E.U., here is the plausible storyline: "How could Pakistan's nuclear arsenal be secure if their military could not locate bin Laden's lair in a military town in Pakistan?" Is Pakistan Next for Regime Change? Is the power of association again being deployed to start a war by inducing an internalized narrative that displaces facts with false beliefs? Is Islamabad a new cast in a new movie featuring the same old plot? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Americans know they were induced to invade Iraq on false intelligence. That deceit could not have succeeded absent pre-staging that changed our perception of Iraq from ally to Evil Doer. Is a similar shift in perspective being promoted to rebrand Pakistan? Plausibility is key. Yet Tom Donilon, Obama's National Security Adviser, was quick to concede there is no evidence of foreknowledge by Pakistan of bin Laden's whereabouts.

Progress is best sustained when cooperation is based on mutual interests. Why Not Try a Prescription That Matches the Malady? Women in the Pashtun region bordering Afghanistan report that their lives would be vastly improved if they had the electricity to run four light bulbs, charge their cell phones and power their TVs. This is 2011 after all. Equipping an off-the-grid home with just two high efficiency thin film solar panels would do the job. Another four panels would allow them to refrigerate their food. Imagine raising and educating your children without access to affordable electricity. Approximately 70% of Pakistani tax revenues are used to service external debt. Much of the balance funds their 1.5 million-strong military, leaving few resources for education or other services for Pakistan's 185 million citizens. It's no wonder that Pakistani children educated in 40,000 Islamic seminaries (Madaris) fail to learn useful job skills.

Or that the average Pakistani is skeptical of Islamabad. The missing component is not trust but a shared vision of what both nations require to restore and sustain their national security. As the largest contributor of personnel to UN peacekeeping missions, Pakistan is well positioned to become a global force for positive change. At this key juncture in an essential relationship, should Americans kill more Muslims, further advancing The Clash storyline? Or should Pakistan and the US join forces to create a new narrative founded on peace through human dignity and solar-powered prosperity? The missing ingredients are leadership, imagination and the confidence that success is possible.—The CG News









DUPLICITOUS behaviour in the war on terror is intolerable.

British Prime Minister David Cameron seriously ruffled feathers recently when, casting aside diplomatic niceties on his first visit to Pakistan, he bluntly warned that the country could no longer look both ways on terrorism. Pakistan's leaders claimed to be deeply affronted, a feigned response that was as bogus as their claims of innocence following the revelation that Osama bin Laden lived untroubled in the lee of the Pakistan Military Academy. Governments everywhere, including Australia's, must take up Mr Cameron's unequivocal refrain and leave the rulers in Islamabad in no doubt about what is expected of them.

Since the memorable exchange immediately after 9/11 when then US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage told a senior Pakistani official the country would be bombed back to the Stone Age if it did not co-operate in the war on terror, the Western world, led by Washington, has cut Islamabad more than its fair share of slack. The US has pumped some $20 billion into the country, much of it going to the army and its notorious ISI spy agency, despite constant indications that it was duplicitously in cahoots with al-Qa'ida, the Taliban and other jihadist movements. The excuses that have emerged from Islamabad since bin Laden's killing show the investment was not well spent and suggest that Pakistan has worked closely with jihadist forces since the late 70s when, under the hardline Islamist dictator Zia ul-Haq, the ISI was the conduit for US aid to the mujahideen in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is a complex political and diplomatic conundrum. The country's civilian government, led by the hugely unpopular president Ali Asif Zardari, has little authority over the army, led by General Ashfaq Kayani, which is where real power lies. General Kayani, who controls the ISI, run by his close ally General Shuja Pasha, is preoccupied with the notion that Pakistan is under threat from India and wants to ensure that New Delhi does not gain influence over Afghanistan. He sees supporting the Taliban and other jihadist groups there and in Kashmir as a way of ensuring this. There is also huge public support in Pakistan for jihadist groups and overwhelming hostility to the US. The challenge for the West is to persuade General Kayani that it is in Pakistan's interests to do far more to defeat terrorism. He must be left in no doubt that the double-dealing or incompetence that allowed bin Laden to live in Pakistan will not be tolerated.





IT is not the government's job to be an electronics superstore.

At a time of budget austerity, Wayne Swan's decision to hand out free set-top boxes shows the government has learned nothing from its past mistakes. Like the defunct Fuel Watch, Grocery Choice and pink batts programs, the $308 million allocated to help pensioners make the transition to digital television is a waste of money and betrays an arrogant assumption that government knows best, even when it comes to wiring your television. But as taxpayers have found to their cost, bureaucratic intrusion into the private domain always ends in tears. Every day will be Groundhog Day for this government while it pursues unseemly retail politics.

Thousands of pensioners have ventured into the major electronic retailers, bought their own set-top boxes for less than $50 and installed them without Canberra's assistance. Some have bought flat-screen televisions for less than the average $350 mooted as the average cost of the boxes and their installation, a figure that includes new antennas and satellite dishes for some people in areas of poor reception, a 12-month warranty for faulty workmanship and a free hotline for technical assistance.

The Treasurer spruiks the program as one of "integrity" designed to save pensioners from being "left in the dark". His patronising words will not impress our senior citizens raised in an era of self-reliance who reject the growing entitlement culture. The government is mistaken if it thinks it will rebuild electoral support in Queensland sunbelt seats, which are next in line to have their television services switched to digital.

At a time complex decisions need to be made about such issues as tax reform, locking in the proceeds of the mining boom to build enduring wealth and federal-state relations, Mr Swan and his colleagues should lift their focus above low-grade retail politics.

Market economies flourish best when individuals decide how to spend their own money, which is why Labor's $900 bonus cheques sent out early in the financial crisis worked well. Compensation is not warranted to subsidise the transition to digital television as the costs are modest. This scheme fails the test of common sense. The fact that the minister responsible is also in charge of the National Broadband Network makes us more than a little nervous.





ABBOTT offers some good ideas but more reform is needed.

For the second year in a row, Tony Abbott has treated his budget in reply speech as a political manifesto rather than an economic statement. Last night he spoke over the heads of the parliamentary gallery, echoing Robert Menzies with his appeal to Australia's "forgotten" families. He also claimed the mantle of Menzies' nemesis Ben Chifley, claiming the Coalition, not Labor, was now the workers' party. The pattern of polling in recent elections, state and federal, shows there is more than a little truth to his boast.

Menzies would have appreciated the irony, but we hope that in commandeering the Light on the Hill, Mr Abbott is not falling for the seduction of big government. The Opposition Leader's reluctance to engage with the detail of Wayne Swan's budget leaves that question begging. Mr Abbott's rhetoric about intrusive government would have been given more substance if he had matched Julia Gillard's plans to start winding back middle-class welfare and then trumped her by pledging to reduce taxation. The wasteful churn of taking money out of people's pockets and giving it back in middle-class welfare was one of the less attractive features of the last Coalition government, and Mr Abbott's credentials as an alternative prime minister would be enhanced by turning the page on this and ending Australia's growing culture of entitlement.

Mr Abbott's proposals to use both carrots and sticks to encourage the long-term unemployed back to work deserve support. The $6000 relocation allowance to help unemployed young people move to where the jobs are available will increase flexibility. Freeing up the labour market by revisiting Ms Gillard's flawed workplace legislation should be the logical next step, and we look forward to hearing Mr Abbott's thoughts on the subject.

After the debacle of pink batts, Fuel Watch and Grocery Choice, we rejoice at Mr Abbott's statement that governments should enable people to make the most of their own lives, rather than live them for them. In our book, this means smaller government doing fewer things better. Let's hope Mr Abbott is on the same page.

Debates about middle-class welfare and expanding the workforce are all well and good, as far as they go, but they underscore what little progress governments of all persuasions have made in this crucial area. Following the taxation review by former Treasury chief Ken Henry there was hope for progress in a tax summit. But with that forum forestalled and downgraded, expectations have faded. Tax and welfare reform remain two of the great economic challenges of our era. We sense the government was a little shy about its decision to not raise the income cut-off point for family benefits above $150,000, perhaps fearing the kind of populist criticism it has received this week. It should hold its nerve knowing that common sense is on its side and that the tide of public opinion is turning against middle-class welfare. If Mr Abbott can deliver with his promise last night of giving value for tax spending, he should in time be able to reduce tax levels. Taking less from workers' pay packets is the most efficient way for governments to assist with cost of living pressures. Mr Abbott should explain and outline how smaller government can be better government.







ONCE bitten, twice shy is the behaviour pattern voters would expect in politics, as in other areas of life. The Gillard government, though, is not afraid of straying from that norm. It is apparently willing to ignore experience and tempt fate a second time. That is the only conclusion to be drawn from its budget decision to give digital set-top boxes to age pensioners.


The government's motives are easily understood. The changeover from analog to digital television broadcasting has been proceeding steadily since 2001. As part of the change, analog signals will stop being broadcast so the broadcasting spectrum thus cleared may be used for other purposes. The cut-off date varies from region to region. In some regions it has already arrived; in others - notably the big metropolitan centres - it is months or weeks away. Yet the take-up of digital television has been relatively tardy in parts of the community. Despite a publicity campaign, some people still do not know the change is coming. The government would have a problem if large groups of people - particularly the elderly who may not be technically savvy - suddenly had television broadcasts switched off. Hence the budget giveaway.


Even assuming, though, that taxpayers' funds should be used to update pensioners' televisions - a moot point itself - the mechanism the government is using holds substantial political dangers of another kind. The government is both supplying the set-top boxes and arranging installation. The program thus differs little in essence from the disastrous home insulation scheme that so tarnished the Rudd government.


It does not take much imagination to see how things can go wrong. As with home insulation, despite attempts to guarantee installers are qualified, the program risks becoming a tempting target for the unscrupulous. Already there are reports of pensioners whose equipment has been installed but does not work. And the Prime Minister is already defending the price of the set-top boxes while the retailer Gerry Harvey is claiming he could have supplied them much more cheaply. Whatever the rights and wrongs, the row is an unseemly and unnecessary distraction for a government that already has too much on its plate.


What would have been wrong - if the policy was indeed necessary - with giving pensioners a voucher to be redeemed at whatever retailer they chose, on whatever equipment they chose, and installed perhaps at a fixed rate? The Gillard government seems strangely reluctant to concede that individuals may be able to decide what is best for themselves.



RATHER late in the day the Greens have recognised the virtues of pragmatism. The party has decided to soft-pedal the demand in its platform for a substantial cut to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.


We believe that in fact the large cut its platform requires - a 40 per cent reduction on 1990 emission levels - may well have to be contemplated if the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is to be stabilised at a manageable level given present political circumstances. The radical cuts the Greens advocate aim to stabilise the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 350 parts a million. The Garnaut report sees a higher concentration, 450 ppm, as an ambitious target - the best that can be managed. However, as time ticks away and Australia does nothing to mitigate greenhouse pollution, more extreme measures such as proposed by the Greens may well be necessary. Australia's effort alone would be meaningless; but other countries are already acting, and together such cuts represent the world's best chance of stabilising global warming at a habitable temperature.


But if deep cuts are the long-term target, the short-term aim must be to make any cuts at all - to place any price at all, however apparently low, on carbon pollution, and to gradually increase it with time. The current state of the debate on a carbon tax shows how hard it will be to achieve even that. It is difficult to remember a public discussion conducted with less good will and more deliberate obfuscation. As we have argued before, the federal government has not helped its cause by announcing a carbon tax without offering any detail - and leaving it open to the opposition, and the tax's many opponents in the mining and resources sector, to scare the public away from its initial support of action against climate change with exaggerated claims about the tax's effects. We believe the opposition will come to regret its stance; it will be no consolation for it to have proposed an absurd alternative that would divert taxpayers' money towards big polluters in return for cuts to greenhouse emissions.


But more culpable in this unedifying story are the Greens themselves. When Kevin Rudd was in power they could have supported his government's emissions trading scheme. They chose not to - because the scheme was not perfect, in their eyes. The green movement's rigid perfectionism served only to deprive this country of its best chance at a workable greenhouse emissions policy. The party's change of heart shows it is capable of learning from mistakes. Let us hope it is not too late.





Product safety studies must be made transparent.

THE phrase ''scientifically tested'' is ubiquitous in marketing because it implies consumers can trust the product. Australians would expect regulators to demand credible evidence that products are safe and effective before approving their release. This is the public's main line of defence against harmful products - whether these be appliances, foods or drugs. Yet, as The Age reported yesterday, the research is under a cloud in one of the most regulated of markets, healthcare.

A feature of recent research scandals involving false claims or undisclosed safety concerns is that the results were published in reputable journals without the fraud or bias of industry-funded researchers being detected. A key factor in this trend is increasing reliance on industry funding as the proportion of public research activity declines. Medicines Australia estimates the pharmaceutical industry funds about 65 per cent of clinical trials. Some researchers will be reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them by producing findings that show their sponsors' products may be unsafe.

The problem is not confined to medicines. Wherever corporations dominate markets, and the introduction of products to them, the risk exists that research can be compromised by their commercial interests. Indeed, under pressure not to bog down the wheels of commerce and unwilling to fund all necessary independent research, governments and regulators often rely on research sponsored, and sometimes directed, by industry. Companies then treat the data as commercial property to be kept secret. This strikes at the heart of the scientific principles of making data available for peer review so that other researchers can replicate tests and independently verify results.

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Instead, research journals and regulators rely on researchers to act in the interests of scientific integrity and public safety. Many researchers do feel bound to act ethically, to the extent that some blow the whistle on dubious research. Yet, because the stakes are so high, some corporations respond to legitimate questions about their products with intimidatory tactics that include attacks on people's reputations and funding sources, as well as potentially ruinous litigation.

Australian National University professor Thomas Faunce and others have proposed in the Medical Journal of Australia that whistleblowers who provide important evidence of research fraud be rewarded with 15 to 30 per cent of proceeds won in government lawsuits against the company - as provided for under US law. Many of the companies prosecuted in the US operate in Australia, he said. Australians have, for instance, suffered the consequences of undisclosed adverse effects of the arthritis drug Vioxx and of research falsely linking autism to vaccines.

The government spends billions on healthcare, which means the potential costs of medical fraud - in addition to the health impacts - are huge. In most cases, companies' potential profits greatly exceed likely penalties. In an ideal world, governments and regulators would rely solely on independent research that is divorced from commercial interests. The strains on government budgets, however, limit the scope for this. The focus will have to be on demanding greater transparency about researchers' interests in companies and products, and about their research data.

Journals ought to heed Melbourne oncologist Ian Haines's suggestion that they should publish industry-sponsored trials only if the abstract and editorials about the findings are written by independent reviewers with access to all raw data. ''Otherwise, industry data should be published in a separate industry marketing medical journal,'' he says. Similarly, regulators should have access, in strict confidence, to primary data if they are to approve any product as safe. Only by compelling companies to provide enough information for independent verification of their claims can public trust in scientific testing be restored.

 You're not the judge or juror, Senator

THE point of parliamentary privilege, which allows the free flow of speech and opinion without defamatory constraint, is that it is precisely a privilege, not a right. It should, therefore, be used with care, and in matters of genuine public interest, not private concern or personal opinions.

This appears to have been lost on Victorian senator Julian McGauran, who, on Wednesday, used parliamentary privilege to criticise the testimony of an expert psychiatric witness in the trial of Arthur Freeman. Freeman, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of his daughter, Darcey, whom he threw off the West Gate Bridge, yesterday lodged leave to appeal.

Senator McGauran accused Graham Burrows, the sole defence witness in Freeman's trial, of giving concocted evidence, and called on Melbourne University vice-chancellor Glyn Davis to sack Professor Burrows (a spokesman for Professor Davis has correctly said that expert evidence provided to a court is not a matter for a vice-chancellor).

Indeed, Senator McGauran went further, describing defence lawyers as having used Professor Burrows as a ''gun for hire'' and ''psychiatrist of last resort and one who will sing whatever song the defence wants''. The senator also suggested the professor's high academic standing might have caused the jury to take five days to reach a verdict. Who says? A lately-Liberal politician in the Senate, not anyone involved in any way with a murder trial in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

The nub of this matter is not Senator McGauran's opinions of Professor Burrows - a witness who, it should be mentioned, was criticised by Justice Paul Coghlan to Freeman's defence lawyer after the jury left the courtroom. Of far greater concern is that the senator chose Parliament, and therefore the immunity it offers, to express his points of view on a judicial matter that has already been determined by proper process of the law. The senator has crossed the line in suggesting that giving evidence in court should render someone liable to dismissal, a flagrant interference in the process of justice. It is also a clear breach of the principal of separation of powers that underwrites our democracy.

In truth, expert witnesses are not ''guns for hire'', but are there to offer opinions to help determine the case for or against the accused. Such testimony, as part of the justice system, represents fairness, not bias. That Senator McGauran believes otherwise is, of course, for him to say. But not under the mantle of parliamentary protection.


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THE point of parliamentary privilege, which allows the free flow of speech and opinion without defamatory constraint, is that it is precisely a privilege, not a right. It should, therefore, be used with care, and in matters of genuine public interest, not private concern or personal opinions.


This appears to have been lost on Victorian senator Julian McGauran, who, on Wednesday, used parliamentary privilege to criticise the testimony of an expert psychiatric witness in the trial of Arthur Freeman. Freeman, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of his daughter, Darcey, whom he threw off the West Gate Bridge, yesterday lodged leave to appeal.


Senator McGauran accused Graham Burrows, the sole defence witness in Freeman's trial, of giving concocted evidence, and called on Melbourne University vice-chancellor Glyn Davis to sack Professor Burrows (a spokesman for Professor Davis has correctly said that expert evidence provided to a court is not a matter for a vice-chancellor).


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Indeed, Senator McGauran went further, describing defence lawyers as having used Professor Burrows as a ''gun for hire'' and ''psychiatrist of last resort and one who will sing whatever song the defence wants''. The senator also suggested the professor's high academic standing might have caused the jury to take five days to reach a verdict. Who says? A lately-Liberal politician in the Senate, not anyone involved in any way with a murder trial in the Supreme Court of Victoria.


The nub of this matter is not Senator McGauran's opinions of Professor Burrows - a witness who, it should be mentioned, was criticised by Justice Paul Coghlan to Freeman's defence lawyer after the jury left the courtroom. Of far greater concern is that the senator chose Parliament, and therefore the immunity it offers, to express his points of view on a judicial matter that has already been determined by proper process of the law. The senator has crossed the line in suggesting that giving evidence in court should render someone liable to dismissal, a flagrant interference in the process of justice. It is also a clear breach of the principal of separation of powers that underwrites our democracy.


In truth, expert witnesses are not ''guns for hire'', but are there to offer opinions to help determine the case for or against the accused. Such testimony, as part of the justice system, represents fairness, not bias. That Senator McGauran believes otherwise is, of course, for him to say. But not under the mantle of parliamentary protection.








The voters do deserve more of a say over the reforms, but the checks and balances must be got right

Rarely have two letters made such a big difference. By striking the e and r out of "commissioners" on Wednesday night, the House of Lords voted to do away with all talk of elected sheriffs, and to hand back the reins of policing to collective commissions, which is of course what the existing police authorities are. The assault was led by the redoubtable Lady Harris, ordinarily a most loyal Lib Dem.

The most immediate questions, therefore, were for Nick Clegg. Had the newly muscular liberalism he is proclaiming stirred a mutinous spirit which will not merely smooth harsh Conservative edges, but scupper the government programme? Injecting direct democracy into the force was, after all, the centrepiece of the whole police reform bill, and an idea David Cameron has pushed ever since it was dreamed up by his favourite thinktank. Moreover, quite unlike those troubled health service reforms, this was all clearly flagged in the coalition agreement.

The truth, however, is that the defeat had less to do with big picture politics, than the specific proposal at hand. Lady Harris rallied an ermine-trimmed army of former police chiefs and bishops to her cause, and moved some Tories to sit on their hands. All of them fear the proposed form of elections could sacrifice the venerable tradition of keeping the uniformed arm of the law clear of the partisan fray.

Experience in the US is littered with cautionary tales, such as the resignation of the highly rated New York police chief Bill Bratton after he appeared a little too successful for the taste of his mayor on the cover of Time magazine. And in London, where city hall exerts a distinctive governance role, Boris Johnson's shunting aside of the Metropolitan commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, was a scarcely happier affair. If individuals with the right to hire and fire top cops were voted on strict partisan lines all over the country, then we could be set on a road where would-be commissioners would end up flashing party membership cards around.

To acknowledge this danger is not to deny that there is an accountability problem. The Home Office might have fared better in the Lords if it had acknowledged the progress that has been made both through neighbourhood policing and the growing role of independents on the authorities. Even so there is some justice in the caricature of the last great unreformed public service. The Labour proposal to elect authority chairs grapples with the exact same problems as the jeopardised Home Office plans, which may now take years to implement.

The voters do deserve more of a say, but the checks and balances must be got right. The government treated them as an afterthought, and it is paying a heavy political price.





If the press would rather people used self-regulation than the courts then it has to make sure that the PCC is a credible regulator

Parliament is currently, for the first time in 15 years, debating proposals to reform the libel laws. These laws, to our shame, have made London the forum of choice for the laundering of reputations, and in repudiation of them the American Congress has passed its own. You would never guess this from monitoring the British media, which is presently obsessed with a different threat altogether – the torrent of superinjunctions gagging journalists' ability to report on matters of high public interest.

This is a curious state of affairs, not least because it's not clear that a single superinjunction has been ordered against the media so far this year. A superinjunction is one whose existence cannot be reported – as happened when the oil traders, Trafigura, succeeded in gagging the Guardian in 2009 over the existence of a confidential report about toxic waste. It is easy to deplore those. The current bone of contention is actually anonymised privacy injunctions, in which the bare bones of the cases are published – but not the identities of those involved. This is a more difficult area.

The courts are doing what parliament asked them to do in passing the Human Rights Act. Judges balance article 8 (respect for privacy) with article 10 (free expression), paying special reference to the British media's codes of practice. The Press Complaints Commission code on privacy is virtually identical to the wording of the HRA, though it allows exceptions in cases of strong public interest, such as the exposing of crime. These cases often involve very difficult balancing acts. In a recent case, OPQ v BJM and CJM, the media dropped objections to a privacy order after hearing: a) that the parties involved had all agreed to one; b) that it involved "straightforward and blatant blackmail"; and c) that there was "solid medical evidence" about the dangers to the health of family members of the claimant that might result from publication. Few people would argue that making some sort of privacy order in these circumstances was totally irrational.

Some alleged details of some of these privacy orders surfaced this week on Twitter, which led to a startling dawn chorus of demands for urgent action. Some argued for a privacy law; others simply urged parliament to discuss privacy (in reality, hoping for an anti-privacy law); others wanted the regulation of Twitter; another variant was to urge "parliament, not judges" to decide the issues; others wanted to see a statutory regulator for the press.

Some of these are absurd. Who on earth, for instance, believes the British courts or parliament could regulate Twitter? What could a parliament-endorsed privacy law possibly say that would be more permissive than the PCC's own code while also being compatible with the balancing act required by the European convention on human rights? Can we really imagining renouncing the ECHR (and thus leaving the EU itself) over the right to spill the bedroom secrets of celebrities and sportsmen? Why do we imagine that parliament would wish to pass such a measure given the ongoing criminal and civil inquiries into the mass hacking of phones by elements of the press, and the feeble response to date of the industry's own regulator? By all means clamour for MPs to consider privacy, but be careful what you wish for.

Whatever the law, someone – either judges or the PCC, but not parliament – will end up making decisions on a case-by-case basis. If the press would rather people used self-regulation than the courts then it has to make sure that the PCC is a credible regulator. Failing that, it's difficult to object to the courts continuing to making case law on the basis of the facts and of the law as it stands. Editors can certainly object to the secrecy: if so, they must then play their part in demonstrating how to reconcile openness with privacy. Meanwhile there is rather more urgency about lobbying to improve the current proposals to reform our discredited libel laws.






Hyman does not support all aspects of free schools, but he is not retreating from the challenge of making one work

"At least Thatcher was attempting to change things," Peter Hyman told the Guardian a couple of years ago, defending the radical cause against the frequent conservatism of party politics. "It angers me that political debate is so constrained that no adult dialogue can really happen." He knows about that, as a former Downing Street aide to Tony Blair, who unlike many people on the political inside decided not to search for the predictable winnable Labour seat and subsequent frontbench job but instead trained as a teacher. Hyman hasn't ducked out of politics entirely: he turns up on Newsnight and he has written a book about his experiences. But his immersion in a world beyond Westminster has been sustained. He's risen from teaching assistant in a London comprehensive to a deputy head. This week, he's announced plans for a new free school, to open in Newham, east London, using powers established by the coalition government. No doubt some will see this as a Blairite sell-out, a breach of the defences some teachers want to erect against Michael Gove's plans. This would be to make the very mistake Hyman identified in that Guardian interview: to put rigid, uncreative partisanship against the needs of radical policy. If free schools are to exist, it is right that they do more than allow middle-class parents in smart areas to escape the state system. Hyman does not support all aspects of free schools. But to his credit he is not retreating from the challenge of making one work.




            THE JAPAN TIMES



More than two months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, construction of temporary housing for disaster victims and the restoration of lifelines such as electricity, gas, city water and sewerage have become urgent tasks. Close attention also must be paid to employment of disaster survivors.

Before March 11, more than 840,000 people were working in the coastal areas of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. Jobs included processing of fishery products, tourism, construction and electronic appliances and machinery manufacturing. It is reasonable to assume that many people, including farmers and fishermen, were put out out of work although an accurate number is hard to ascertain.

In areas around the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, a town office moved to another prefecture and a large number of people have had to leave their homes. Several tens of thousands of people in the areas may have been forced to close down their businesses or have lost their jobs at least temporarily.

The government has announced policies to give priority to local enterprises in the impacted areas for public works projects such as construction of temporary housing and removal of debris as well as to the hiring of disaster survivors to care for children at temporary shelters and to visit elderly people in these areas.

The government also has decided to subsidize companies that employ disaster victims. Firms in the impacted areas that had to withdraw decisions to hire new graduates have been asked to go ahead and hire them then treat them as absent from work. These firms will be eligible for subsidies to be given to the newly hired.

It is clear that government measures will not create enough employment. The government should have companies across the country devise ways to increase employment in the disaster-hit areas. Tax and other incentives should be used.

The government also should strengthen vocational training in those areas, and public employment security offices should offer detailed information so that middle-aged and elderly people from the affected areas can find suitable jobs.






LOS ANGELES — It may be quintessentially American to believe that elections are good things and their absence inherently bad — in theory. In reality, everyone knows that elections sometimes seem more trouble than they are worth and can produce unwanted results. This is what happened in the tiny city-state of Singapore last weekend.

First, don't say anything negative about elections to most Americans — at least out loud. In private, you might quickly mention a few uncomfortable examples to flesh out your point:

• In 1992 the Islamic party won elections in Algeria and when the scared army intervened and coup-ed the winners out, the lack of protest from "democratic Europe" was all but deafening.

• About 10 years ago, in Thailand, the ruling party of gifted but controversial politician Thaksin Shinawatra was elected twice — overwhelmingly. But the powers that be in Bangkok didn't like that and since 2006 Thaksin has been cooling his heels in exile.

• In 2006, Palestinian parliamentary elections were held, in large part due to U.S. urging, and when — shock of all shocks! — Hamas won the majority of the seats, the reaction from Washington was that the United States would not recognize the winning government!

And so it is with the context of the stunning national elections in Singapore last weekend. The results are both bad and good. It was a bit of an election whopper — at least by Singapore standards. Like many countries in Asia, Singapore has been long ruled by one dominant political party. The good news is the People's Action Party has produced some of the best governance and highest living standard in the world. The bad news is that PAP's near-monopoly apparently left many of the otherwise satisfied and sated people restless.

That restlessness has found its outlet in recent years with the pervasive penetration of social networking. To its credit, the PAP government accepted the economic and social value of this technological and social revolution, instead of fighting it like the frightened authorities in China and Vietnam.

But a price has been exacted. Largely in consequence, the ruling party has just been returned to power with "only" 60 percent of the vote. This was the lowest vote for PAP since 1963. In 2001, by contrast, the government's party won 75 percent of the vote. As a result, the opposition will now hold six of the 87 seats in Parliament — a lame shock almost anywhere else, but a near-tsunami in tightly run Singapore. For the paranoid PAP politician, the trend seems clear.

Consider the symbolism: One of the outgoing members of Parliament is none other than the country's foreign minister. George Yeo had to run for re-election in one of those oddball group-candidate constituencies that exist in some political systems, though blessedly not in the U.S. (our own system has enough anomalies of its own). When the multiple-candidate PAP team lost, all were suddenly out, including two other ministers besides Yeo.

With his seat in Parliament gone to the opposition, Yeo can no longer serve as foreign minister. The PAP-dominated government will find a suitable replacement, of course. Cosmopolitan Singapore has plenty of talent to choose from. But Yeo was special and his departure from that position will be noted.

Like many successful Singaporeans, Yeo was delightfully over-educated. His professional degree came from Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker scholar; at Cambridge he won the hard-to-get "double first" honor. He was known to be brilliant. In international forums his fast-paced analytical mind was a resource for all parties at many complicated late-night negotiations, and his sudden wit could hit people with the quick flick of an unexpected desert wind.

A practicing Catholic, Yeo often added to policy discussions a dollop of rare historic and philosophical perspectives. His much-noted labors for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — as his country's foreign minister and ASEAN's chairman — helped raise its international profile and enhance its credibility.

Exceptional diplomatic talent is not that common on the world stage. Yeo was one of the reasons that tiny Singapore, with something like 5 million people, is often described as a country that tends to punch well above its weight. A key reason is the keen intellect of many of its top people.

To be sure, George Yeo will wind up with some important position. Worry not about him. Even so, his many admirers around the world will wonder why it is so often the case that bad things happen to good people. The truth is elections cannot be trusted to always produce optimal results. But we hold them anyway.

Tom Plate is the distinguished scholar of Asian and Pacific studies at Loyola Marymount University. His book series "Giants of Asia" has covered Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad. © 2011 Pacific Perspectives Media Center







BOSTON — International student mobility is big business. Approximately 2.8 million students study abroad, distributing at least $50 billion around the globe annually.

Most international students come from developing or middle-income countries, the majority from East and South Asia, and most are self-financed. They contribute major revenues to the institutions and countries where they study and represent a key part of internationalization.

The number of students pursuing opportunities abroad is no longer limited to individuals from elite backgrounds. This larger pool has less international exposure and fewer personal sources of information than earlier generations of mobile students. This group is looking for help and willing to pay for it. Universities see these students as important sources of revenue and contributors to diversity; competition for them has soared.

As a result, new enterprises have appeared to address the demands of this growing market. Recruitment agents are not new operators, and their participation in the university admissions process has always been controversial. No data are available on how many companies or individuals there are, but their presence is growing and an increasing number of universities are using these services.

Recruitment agents typically serve as local salespeople, but they are not university employees. Their presence ensures that the institutions that hire them are more accessible to students interested in going abroad. They act as local promoters and a conduit of international applications for their university clients. They are typically paid a commission that ranges from 10 to 25 percent of the first year's tuition. The agents may, but do not necessarily, receive professional training from their university clients. There are generally no formal mechanisms for keeping them current on programs

Agents may guide students through the overwhelming amount of information available on the Internet, but their motivation does not consist of providing impartial information. Instead, it's steering students to specific institutions.

The primary client for agents is the institution that hires them. In order to be successful, they must deliver an acceptable number of students to their sponsoring institutions. Of concern is their activities, source of their fees, propriety of their services and transparency, particularly to students. Many universities suspect that agents sometimes complete applications and write essays for their student clients.

The dynamic among an intermediary, an institution and a student is inevitably influenced by incentives and rewards. A recruitment agent's income depends on directing students to specific institutions. While this action may result in a good match for the student, the incentives do not ensure the best match for the student.

Agents are entrepreneurs who earn their income from providing a service to two entities whose best interests may not be the same. The rewards arise from the relationship between the agent and an institution — not from service provided to the student. This presents a potential conflict of interest that professional standards cannot eliminate. As long as incentives favor the interests of the institution and agent over the interests of the student, professional standards will have limited effect.

Most of the arguments in defense of overseas agents appear somewhat hollow: Students cannot be expected to sort through vast amounts of data on opportunities abroad on their own; small institutions do not have staff or resources for effective international marketing campaigns; since agents are not going to disappear, standards should be set for their behavior; and the market will weed out unscrupulous recruiters.

Given the investment and consequences, students must participate actively in researching overseas options. It is too risky to have someone else make their decisions or influence them.

International students enrich every campus, but hosting them is a responsibility. When institutions work through agents, they sacrifice the benefits that result from the direct engagement in recruitment and the flow of information about foreign cultures, education systems and international student needs.

Alternatives exist. Universities can travel with companies that organize international recruitment trips or participate in overseas fairs. Institutions with limited budgets have found creative ways to increase their visibility overseas including recruiting through students on study-abroad programs, faculty who travel, Web-based events or by combining efforts (and budgets) of the admissions, alumni relations and development offices. They may make use of nonprofit advising centers maintained by the U.S. State Department, British Council, Canadian Education Centers and other agencies.

Not knowing what agents actually tell their clients leaves students (and universities) vulnerable. It is unrealistic to expect "the market" to regulate quality or unethical agents to be unsuccessful.

The "market model" assumes that students (as consumers) have the knowledge and experience necessary to distinguish quality service; that is unrealistic. Adequate oversight is impossible, and professional certification will only provide "ethical cover" and a false sense of security to the institutions and students alike.

The use of recruitment agents by universities and colleges is clouded by many factors. Their activities cannot be adequately monitored to guarantee that student interests are protected. No international standards can guarantee local activity or that the relationship between an agent and a university will be entirely transparent to the student. Furthermore, the incentives and rewards do not depend on ethical behavior.

Some universities are participating in a process to certify agents who adhere to ethical standards. Yet ethical behavior is interpreted differently in various cultures. Who will provide the necessary oversight to insure compliance with standards? By "outsourcing" recruitment, institutions are trusting their reputation and vital communication with students to a third party — this is a serious mistake.

Prospective students must ask good questions and make informed decisions about where to study. Alumni of foreign universities can help them. The Internet is a good tool, visits to education information centers or fairs can help and contact with university staff is essential. Paid recruiters are simply not necessary and work to the detriment of the process by standing between the exchange of information between students and institutions.

Liz Reisberg, a research associate at the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College, has 30 years of experience in international admissions. Philip G. Altbach is Monan professor of higher education and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.






The match-fixing scandal that came to light this year has cost the Japan Sumo Association a lot in several ways. Seven wrestlers in the makuuchi division and 10 in the juryo division have been driven out of the sumo world. The JSA was forced to give up on holding the Spring and Summer Grand Sumo Tournaments scheduled for March and May. It is said to have lost more than ¥1 billion in revenues.

In place of the summer tournament, JSA started the Technical Examination Tournament on May 8 at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan. Tickets are free. There are no live TV broadcasts. No prize money from sponsors is provided for individual matches.

At the outset of the tournament, JSA head Hanaregoma said he will do his best to eradicate the problem and to restore the public's trust in sumo. All wrestlers and other JSA members should keep in mind what he said and earnestly do their part in support of what he intends to achieve.

With the start of the current event, the JSA adopted measures designed to prevent bout rigging. Wrestlers in the juryo and higher divisions and their attendants are prohibited from bringing mobile phones into the Kokugikan. Stable masters are stationed in the wrestlers' retiring room to watch for anything suggestive of match fixing.

If members of the supervision committee or the judging department detect a lack of fighting spirit in a particular match, they will meet to determine if it was rigged. The fact that these steps have to be taken is sad, but they represent the JSA's determination to seriously tackle the problem of bout rigging. This is progress compared with the JSA's past insistence that bout rigging did not exist. But it is clear that these steps are secondary.

The most important thing is that each wrestler psychologically come out of the closed sumo world and become keen on living up to what is expected of him. Wrestlers should be encouraged to have contact with ordinary people and communities through volunteer and other activities. This will help them nurture common sense and noble ambitions. The role of stable masters will be crucial in the proper orientation of wrestlers.






The ruling Democratic Party has become embroiled in its toughest test of commitment to anticorruption yet since its treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin was named by two suspects in a bribery case related to a tender worth nearly Rp 200 billion (US$2,344,528.5) to construct an athlete's dormitory for the upcoming SEA Games in Palembang, South Sumatra.

An investigative report published by Tempo magazine on Monday added insult to injury as another Democratic Party lawmaker, Angelina Sondakh, as well as Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician Wayan Koster, was said to have negotiated fees for members of House Commission X on sports for their support for the budget allocated for the construction project.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Democratic Party's chief patron, asserted Wednesday his support for indiscriminative enforcement of law against anyone found to be involved in the case. Yudhoyono's statement that politics must not interfere with law enforcement has been crystal clear. There is no question about it, except for how the commitment is translated into action.

The ball is now in the hands of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which cannot waste time in unveiling all individuals linked to the case that revolves around a Rp3.2 billion kickback allegedly paid to Wafid Muharram, the secretary to the youth and sports affairs minister, who allegedly helped general contractor PT Duta Graha Indah (DGI) win the tender for the athlete's dorm construction project.

Any failure to act quickly will cost the antigraft body solid evidence on the case. So far, the commission has arrested Wafid, Muhammad El Idris, PT DGI's director and Mindo Rosa Manullang, the marketing director of broker company PT Anak Negeri that was founded by Nazaruddin.

While Nazaruddin has repeatedly denied his knowledge of Wafid (whose boss, Andi Mallarangeng, is also a Democratic Party leader), the latter confirmed, through his lawyer, that he had met Nazaruddin several times last year.

During interrogation, Mindo said Nazaruddin had been her employer. A document issued by the Directorate General for Legal Administration says Nazaruddin was the biggest shareholder in the company, but his name disappeared following the firm's reshuffle in 2009.

The findings, however, remain too superficial to implicate Nazaruddin or Angelina. The KPK will need not only moral support from the public but also extra courage as it deals with the ruling party. Despite the President's voicing of commitment to support a thorough and transparent investigation, the KPK may face a different playing field when it comes to implementation.

A number of Democratic Party leaders were quick to jump to the defense of their two fellow politicians, and it makes sense for them to do so in the name of its esprit de corps, or for any other reasons, given that rival parties will no doubt be quick to take advantage of any weaknesses this creates.

Only if all parties, including the Democratic Party, respect the due process of law by letting the KPK carry out whatever measures it deems necessary to investigate and resolve this case properly, will the commission be able to ensure that justice is served.




The wave of democracy that swept across the Arab world beginning in January appears to have dissipated. Most countries in the Middle East and North Africa remain under the rule of governments that are anything but democratic.

In Tunisia and Egypt, where revolutions succeeded in removing long-time despotic leaders, there are uncertainties about whether liberal constitutional democracy can actually take hold.

Whatever happened to the "Arab Spring" that surprised the world at the start of the year? It was a spring of discontent that defied the notion or even the myth that Arab people do not crave freedom, democracy, justice and the right to demand accountability from their governments.

While the two successful uprisings inspired young people in the rest of the region to seize the opportunity to take the future into their own hands, earlier predictions of a domino effect that would collapse other regimes never materialized.

Instead, Libya, Syria and Bahrain have turned into bloodbaths as governments deployed their militaries to put down the uprisings by the use of violence. Defections in the Libyan army meant that the revolution turned into a civil war with the young people taking up arms and are now in control of parts of the country. In Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, it is still a case of the government military taking on mostly peaceful and certainly unarmed demonstrators.

The United Nations response to the turn of events in the Arab world has been inconsistent, at times even smacking of double standards that reflect the (oil) interests of the big powers rather than standing up for the principles of human rights and dignity that it stands for.

The silence on the part of the club of nations, which was enacted upon the ashes of World War II, raises questions about its ability to maintain peace and security. Between its responsibility to respect the sovereignty of governments and to protect the lives of people in the face of a clear and present danger, the UN has clearly opted for the first.

The early spring now looks as if it will be succeeded by a long, hot summer of infernos and killings in the Arab world. Governments might be reluctant to help, but there is no doubt that our prayers are with the safety, well-being and prosperity of the Arab people who wish to lead decent lives.






"Why do you work among the radicals?" a colleague asked me after I told him that since August 2011 I had been working for an Islamic school which is said to be "managed by radical Muslims".

But I answered, "What's wrong with being radical? A liberal is also a radical since he stands on an extreme position of the continuum."

And many of the teachers I work with are supporters of a leading Islamic party called "radical" by those who are not members. They know that I graduated from an Islamic state university where many reformists have been born, such as the late Nurcholish Madjid, Musdah Mulia etcetera.

To my surprise, I haven't found any problems. They even can accept the way I express some things, which is more open and straightforward than others usually are.

If I lead a congregational prayer, they join the religious service without reservations. If I read the Koran loudly, they listen to me and smile. We can hold a debate in which we sharply criticize one another about certain Islamic teachings but we then sit at a round table having lunch and laugh.

I can without a doubt tell you that they are kind, warm and highly respectful people with knowledge and skills (ahl al-'ilm). They are well-educated and can be categorized as a part of the Indonesian middle class.

Most of them are hard-workers, and, for in performing religious-related activities they are extraordinary. One more thing, they are able to live simply; a rare quality amid today's living styles, as something taken consciously and with perseverance.

Perhaps, that's why the late Nurcholish frankly admitted that Islamic party PKS was a party with great potential.

Unfortunately, however, there are ideologues too, a small number of people with practically no ability to make decisions and disseminate selective religious teachings.

They are the masters of the puppets but not the target of critical edicts. Theirs is a world of commoditizing followers and engineering stories.

To explain this phenomenon, let's start with the ma'sum concept, that a religious leader, with his presumed knowledge and qualities is convinced he is protected from making mistakes or doing bad deeds.

Ma'sum itself is usually used to refer to the prophets or God's angels, and is something conceived as unreachable by any ordinary person.

With this more or less superiority in their hands, religious leaders of an Islamic party, who are usually positioned on the shari'a (religious advisory) board or are top executives, possess abundant power to orchestrate most things.

Fortunately for them this assumed legitimacy might make it easier for them to make applicative decisions on all levels as well as advance their individual agendas.

This structure then potentially creates a great wall of anti-criticism and, to a significant extent, allows the process of making a cult icon out of a religious leader.

At this juncture, despite claims of democratic decision-making within a party, democratization might only become a commoditized symbol with all of its derivatives and features.

Meanwhile, Islamic parties' ideologues cannot be separated from what we might call the Middle East mind-set — that there are links of ideological thought and influence (or at least inspiration).

Beside many of Indonesian potential youths who study there from time to time, these links are also cemented by donations in the form of zakat, Islamic obligatory alms, or in any other kind of gifts derived from the abundance of petrodollars in the Middle East's rich countries.

There are possibly no special direct "ideological offers" following the alms. But such cash-flow means so much for an imaging process and the possibility of copying and pasting what is enacted there, in the dominant countries in the Middle East.

An Islamic party activist told me that his party routinely received this kind of cash flow. That money might not be spent on the party itself since something like zakat in Islamic teachings must be used properly for the needy or social aims.

Yet, for instance, the petrodollars left-over can build schools and mosques, which nevertheless contribute to the way that party is comprehended by many Muslims, and therefore is included in its religious teachings which at times are harmful for democracy or social harmony.

For the ideologues themselves, in their reasoning process in the orchestra, there is a melee based on the feeling that Muslims are being suppressed or alienated by the current Indonesian political system.

Muslims as the majority, therefore, must be able to obtain the biggest portion of the pie, including the right to ratify something like shari'a law more symbolically.

However, the incessant fraud in the Middle East have not encouraged them to reassess their ideological reasoning models both on social and political utopia.

There is still a strong tendency to indulge in the glorification of many things that originate from the Middle East, and promote them as better than the more harmonious local traditions.

This situation makes my fellow teachers look so inopportune given that they never change their opinions despite their right to choose what they desire.

The writer is an associate researcher at Paramadina Foundation.






Terrorists are also celebrities. The media popularizes them. Through TV we witness how the "hunted" and the "hunter" often sit side by side in talk shows.

This fact reminds us of Erving Goffman's book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, in which he says life is a sort of theater. Goffman uses the dramaturgical metaphor
of the stage and details how this could be achieved in social life on a daily basis.

Goffman's basic thesis hinges on the assumption that everybody in his social circle tries to oppose a certain figure within him and plays it like an actor, because he knows he is being watched.

Does Goffman's thesis apply to this terrorism phenomenon? Broadcasts on terrorism now pervade our family rooms through different packages of TV programs. Terrorists we once knew only from traces of their violence, become so close, like characters in a TV drama.

We even no longer feel scared of their appearances and sometimes accept their reasons for acts of cruelty. This is the risk of giving the floor to perpetrators of violence to explain their acts.

Why do the media give the impression of ambivalence and apply double standards in reporting on terrorism?

How should we "read" the indirect mutual symbiosis between terrorists and the media? What should we criticize in reading the media culture, especially television?

I'm sure the first question of what terrorists and terrorism mean constitutes a challenge of its own. Terrorism has very broad and diverse definitions.

Does terrorism mean a group of resistance to the state, certain communities or ideologies? Or does it imply a group of resistance maintained by part of a country? I have no pretension to define it.

I use the term to refer to an organization that uses of terror and
violence and threatens the peace and order of other people in achieving its objective. It is something
we have agreed to oppose from the beginning.

The media have a distinctive culture in which images, sounds and lenses help produce patterns of daily life. In the view of Douglas Kellner, an expert in media philosophy, the media not only dominate spare time but also shape political opinions and social attitudes while providing the material for the building of one's personal identity.

As a target of terrorism and with its industrial culture, the media become a strategic means of communicating ideas, ideologies and justification of acts of violence committed.

At first, many believed that the media serve as a battlefield of terrorism when the Black Septem-ber terrorist group kidnapped and killed Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972.

This group in fact didn't attack Israel or cause military damage in Israel. They just wanted to tell the world that they existed and could terrorize anybody, even disrupting the process of the Olympic Games.

But after Sept. 11, 2001 there has been a shift in the goal, method and field implementation. The media no longer constitute a battlefield but rather a target of terrorism. The aims of terrorism are no longer merely individuals but also infrastructure, world institutions, mostly Western and especially American establishments.

And they need media as one of their targets to announce it all. It's not just terrorism remains, but the presence has consequences for their ideological adversaries to bear.

The shift and difficulty in facing this problem is interesting to examine, notably with the widespread terrorist acts in Jakarta and other Indonesian cities.

In this context, the interests of both sides meet. On the one hand the media not only need to offer
accurate and important reports to society, but also to be engaged in competition among media channels to boost the "sale value" of their news.

Rating is one of their reasons. Anyway, we should understand that media culture amounts to industrial culture.

In terms of industrial culture, violence remains appealing and has a high sale value, especially due to detailed descriptions of organizational mystery, operational networks and field strategies. It's this "detail and difference" that prompts the media to compete in presenting terrorism in diverse packages.

On the other hand, terrorists need the media as one of their instruments of struggle. And they know the media's character and operation well. Violence becomes a meeting point between the two.

The media's concrete problem is perhaps the tendency to adopt an objective, neutral and impartial position, even when it pits the interests of our society on one side against those of terrorists on the other. The cover-both-sides code becomes interesting to weigh up.

In my opinion, covering both sides is not the bottom line of news coverage. The growing threat of transnational crime makes it necessary for us to view the code from a different perspective and in a different context. Terrorism, heavily laden with violence in its operation, naturally is not something to be granted tolerance.

Besides, the media at the same time accidentally make use of terrorists' violence to criticize the government for its failure and inability to overcome terrorism.

Actually it is crucial to consolidate cooperation between the government and the media in fighting terrorism. The media should not be trapped by "whatever is said" by terrorists, while ignoring "what will result from" their violence against human safety.

It may be necessary to ask: Can we accept not only the reality that we are now at war with terrorism, but also the need to understand that there are always two sides, we and terrorists?

If their side prevails, our freedom will be gone, and the first freedom to be lost is that of the press. Is it too much, in the current war on terrorism, for us to ask the media to side with us?

Communication between the government and the media is an important element in the strategy designed to prevent terrorism, also in the preservation of democracy.

But it should also be understood that terrorism and democracy are not a combination of stable elements.

If terrorism is self-supporting or growing, the freedom of citizens will be reduced, while in a society under an authoritarian ideology, thuggery system or radical religious extremism, the free press is one of the first institutions to be victimized.

Indeed, this seems to be a dilemma that cannot be fully resolved. The keyword is that we must never tolerate violence.

We are often ambivalent toward many things. On the one hand we suggest the application of justice, honesty and compassion. But on the other hand the media frequently bombard us with pictures and texts depicting death, poverty, destruction and blood, without presenting their whole conditions.

Propaganda may be alluring, but it should be realized that "the best propaganda is truth". And we need to be always alert that the media as one of the pillars of democracy should never be lost, as this pillar may unobtrusively be get out of our hands, only to be felt when completely gone.

The writer is a researcher with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences and The Indonesian Institute.






Nearing to the end of his first term, President Susilo Bambang Yudoyono launched a bureaucratic reform program for three central agencies: the Ministry of Finance, the Supreme Audit Agency and the Supreme Court. The initiative was designed to boost public trust in these organizations and the government in general.

These agencies drew up their reform plans, which contained "quick win" activities and proposed innovative actions for simplification of business processes, improved accountability, organizational modification and changes of personnel. As an incentive the agencies were eligible for special remuneration packages that ranged from four to nine times the prevailing public service base salaries.

When he won his second term with an outright majority, the President heralded bureaucratic reform as among the top-priority programs of his new administration.

The Grand Design for Bureaucratic Reform (GDRB) 2010-2025 and Road Map for Bureaucratic Reform (RMBR) 2010-2014 were enacted under Presidential Regulation No. 81/2010.

As a high-profile policy making body, the National Steering Committee for Bureaucratic Reform (NSCBR) was formed with Vice President Boediono as chairman. NSCBR formulates strategic policies for bureaucratic reform. The committee also selects the ministries or non-ministerial agencies that would be designated as pilot agencies for reform.

The selection was conducted by an executive body, the National Taskforce for Bureaucratic Reform (NTBR), chaired by the minister of Administrative Reforms. The day-to-day operation of the national program is run by the National Bureaucratic Reform Implementation Unit (NBRIU), coordinated by a deputy minister at the Ministry of Administrative Reforms.

GDBR 2010-2025 is very ambitious, as it states the ultimate goal of the bureaucratic reform is to intensify public confidence in the government.

The final goal can be achieved through the following intermediate goals: to realize good and corruption-free governance; to meet the needs of citizens and companies for quality of public services; and to improve institutional capacity and accountability of the civil service.

Eight areas for modification are identified in the GDRB: improving public service delivery; organizational refitting; business process reengineering; regulatory trimming; selection and appointment of "agents of reform"; monitoring and evaluation; accountability; and implanting a culture of results.

The reform program was expanded to 14 ministries and agencies in 2009-2011. Some sub-national governments also started to reform their public service, although their number was less than 2 percent of the total number of provinces, regencies and municipalities.

The overall objective of the reform program was quite ambitious: by 2015 all national agencies, 35 ministries, 28 non-ministerial agencies and approximately 50 statutory agencies are expected to complete implementing bureaucratic reform.

All sub-national levels, including 33 provinces and 497 regencies and municipalities, are expected to implement bureaucratic reforms by 2025.

Indonesian bureaucratic reform was ready for a massive transformation resulting from internally led reform initiated by ministries and agencies and an externally led reform program directed by national policy.

But the daunting obstacles to bureaucratic reform persisted and prevented objectives from generating significant improvements in public service performance.

Enthusiastic support for bureaucratic reform was not driven by sincere belief in efficiency and high-performance civil service, but because most leaders and staff at government agencies wrongly perceived the reform as "remunerative reform."

The intermediate impacts of this "remunerative reform" were found in the 2011 state budget and regional budgets. Management and personnel expenses accounted for approximately 38 percent of total national expenditure for 2011, compared to 29.1 percent in the 2010 state budget.

The impact of this misperceived reform would be catastrophic if local governments followed suit. Management and personnel expenses of local governments have averaged between 70 and 82.5 percent of their budgets. Local governments would have no motivation to support bureaucratic reform without additional transfers from the central government.

The paths Indonesia can follow in its bureaucratic reform program were discussed in a stakeholders' forum conducted by the NSCBR Policy Advisory Team in April, attended by the Swedish ambassador and senior officers from donor agencies. The main message from this series of stakeholder forums is straightforward — Indonesia needs to learn from other countries, avoid their mistakes and adopt their success stories.

In short, Indonesia should better focus its reform program on limited services much needed by citizens and the business sector, identify quick wins leading to longer-term solutions and start from there.

Strong commitment and political support from top leadership is key to successful implementation of bureaucratic reform.

This commitment must be shown to the people, the business community and especially to members of the civil service.

The present GDBR also needs a total review, as it gives too much emphasis on processes and less on outcomes. Even worse, according to University of Indonesia professor of public administration Prasojo, these processes are based on functional structures at the ministry in charge of the reform effort rather than relevant processes that affect performance of bureaucratic reform.

Continuing development of the transformers shall also become the center of Indonesian bureaucratic reform programs as they are ultimately the actual "force" for successful reform.

A national training program designed to produce a cadre of transformation leaders at operational, managerial and policy making levels is urgently needed. More effective instructional methodologies must be employed to instill these "gene of outcomes" expected by citizens and businesses in selected civil service personnel, internships in successful business, civil society and public organizations, and of course, appropriate incentives.

Indonesia can learn from other countries about how to best motivate 4.7 million members of its civil service to support this massive but important program of reform. Relying solely on remunerations as incentives for fostering reform would make the already inefficient government too expensive and become a major roadblock for sustainable bureaucratic reform.

Indonesia can learn from French President Sarkozy, who launched a major bureaucratic reform program in 2007 to improve efficiency in his government and use part of the money that an agency can save as incentives for the employees.

The writer is a professor of public policy at Gadjah Mada University and a senior UNDP-Indonesia decentralization advisor.








The training and operational capability of the Afghan forces has been held in doubt by many independent observers and organisations.

Skeptical and critical of their readiness to assume security control, reports from these quarters have expressed concern over the transfer of responsibility to the Afghan forces in 2014.  The latest such report issued by the British charitable organisation Oxfam is on the same lines.

Highly critical of the Afghan police's professionalism and accountability, it also notes deficiencies in the training (or lack of in some cases) provided. More significant is the listing of human right abuses at the hands of these security forces that are meant to ensure civilians' security. The report also notes civilians abuse and intimidation including that of children. Lack of sufficient trainers is a reason for the state of affairs as is corruption, nepotism, lack of accountability and monitoring of the officers. The overall trend denotes emphasis on recruiting and swelling the numbers of the security personnel rather than providing quality training and bolstering capability. This does offer a bleak glimpse into an area that was regarded a top priority both for Kabul and Washington.

With the start of withdrawal of US forces scheduled in mid July, the pressure is on especially after the successful US covert operation that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The voices demanding the wrapping up of the war in Afghanistan, post Osama are getting louder by the day. While this does give the US an opportunity to expedite withdrawal, a more sizeable exit may not be on the cards. The war against the Taleban-led insurgency is far from over even if Bin Laden is no more. However, in case the hunt for Taleban leader Mullah Omer is successful, it will deal a blow to the insurgency and give the International Security Assistance Forces a big boost.

In any case the war has now entered a decisive phase and the goal for Kabul should be to have its national security forces ready to start assuming more responsibility. While outsiders can only help with the training and equipping of these forces, it is the responsibility of the Afghan government to keep a strict eye on the monitoring of the behaviour and activities of these personnel and strictly rule out any illegal behaviour. Not only will this impact the war efforts adversely it will turn the people away from the government whose security custodians cannot be trusted. This is highly important and deserves immediate attention.

 Khaleej times





The democracy-heralding Arab Spring has turned violent in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, but in the Palestinian territory, the people are witnessing a different spring where a rare unity blooms.

What was only a month ago an impossible dream came true in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, which has become a source of Arab hope. Yes, the two main rival Palestinian factions — Fatah and Hamas – have buried the guns and embraced each other for a greater cause.

For years, peace activists have made umpteen efforts to bring the two factions together. But the gap between them only widened and sometimes led to armed conflicts to the delight of Israel, the usurper of the Palestinian land and their dignity.

Many wondered whether both Palestinian Authority President M