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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

EDITORIAL 17.05.11

    Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month may 17, edition 000834, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. AGENDA FOR BENGAL
  2. 'VS FACTOR' TO THE RESCUE
  3. MOST WANTED AT LARGE - JOGINDER SINGH
  4. AT 87, VS PROVES A POINT - VR JAYARAJ
  5. ARAB SPRING THREATENS SCHENGEN NATIONS - DMITRY BABICH
  6. SCOTS SAY NO TO INDEPENDENCE - GWYNNE DYER

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. BITTER SWEET
  2. THINK DECONTROL
  3. REGIONAL, THE NEW NATIONAL - TUHIN A SINHA
  4. THE FESTIVAL OFFERS SERIOUS BUSINESS
  5. NO RELEVANCE FOR INDIAN CINEMA - ANIL THAKKAR
  6. THE FUSS ABOUT CUSS - VIVEK ATRAY

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. FUEL WILL TOP UP INFLATION
  2. TARGET PRACTICE
  3. IN A CLASS APART
  4. SITARAM YECHURY
  5. 'I SAVED MY COUNTRY FROM NUCLEAR BLACKMAIL'

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. RECALL BHARDWAJ
  2. PASHA UNPLUGGED
  3. AFTER DSK
  4. READING AMMA'S MIND - A.R. VENKATACHALAPATHY
  5. NET CHECK - RAHUL MATTHAN
  6. 'ULTIMATELY IT IS THE PEOPLE OF THE REGION WHO MUST TAKE CHARGE OF THEIR OWN FUTURE' - MANMOHAN SINGH
  7. THE CONGRESS'S ASSETS IN ASSAM - SANDHYA GOSWAMI
  8. DON'T LEAVE ALONE

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. SOME HOPE FOR LANDLORDS
  2. POWERFUL RATINGS
  3. BUILDING INDIA INNOVATION INC - ARINDAM BHATTACHARYA
  4. CRACKS IN THE CITADEL - MADAN SABNAVIS

THE HINDU

  1. BIG BROTHER RULES
  2. A DARK DAY FOR EUROPE
  3. HERO FOR SOME, HATE FIGURE FOR MANY  - ATUL ANEJA
  4. POST-ABBOTTABAD, A FAILURE TO SEE THE FAULT-LINES  - ANITA JOSHUA
  5. RECORDERS FROM CRASHED AIR FRANCE JET READABLE

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. HELP AFGHANS, IT WILL HELP US TOO
  2. QUICK-FIX: RAHUL AS CM? - ASHOK MALIK
  3. SAY HELLO TO CPI(MAMATA) - SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. KASHMIR NORMALCY MANTRA
  2. THE PASHA BHASHA
  3. MESSAGE FROM CHARSADDA - BY M RAMA RAO
  4. NO CHECKS ON KILLING OF GIRL CHILD - BY ORCHIE BANDYOPADHYAY
  5. UNSAFE DRINKING WATER IN HOSPITALS - BY: DR MASARAT IQBAL WANI

THE TRIBUNE

  1. NO MORE ON BLACKLIST
  2. THE NEW TEA-MATES
  3. WHY PETROL PRICE HIKE
  4. HANDLING THE AGRARIAN CRISIS - BY KULDIP NAYAR
  5. THE PLEASURE OF GIVING - BY JUPINDERJIT SINGH
  6. THE MYTH AND REALITY ABOUT THE GLOBAL INDIAN

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. PRICE OF DELAY
  2. MANUFACTURING GROWTH
  3. DEBT AND TAXES IN THE EUROZONE - DANIEL GROS
  4. A FRIEND CALLED KP... - SIDDHARTH SHRIRAM
  5. INDIA'S BEE2BEE ADVANTAGE - SURINDER SUD
  6. BADAL SIRCAR - THE CONSCIENCE KEEPER - NILANJANA S ROY

BUSINESS LINE

  1. GROUND REALITIES
  2. FROM EUPHORIA TO GOVERNANCE - RASHEEDA BHAGAT
  3. IMPEDIMENTS TO CHANGE IN BENGAL  - RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. IN GOOD HEALTH
  2. THINK GLOBAL
  3. PLATINUM-CAST VOTE
  4. PEOPLE = PARTY = POWER
  5. THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
  6. UNDERNUTRITION, POVERTY & NREGS  - RAGHBENDRA JHA, RAGHAV GAIHA & MANOJ K PANDEY

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. STUCK IN TOP GEAR

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. HELP AFGHANS, IT WILL HELP US TOO
  2. QUICK-FIX: RAHUL AS CM?
  3. MR OBAMA, TIME TO SAY, 'IT'S A NO GO'
  4. SAY HELLO TO CPI(MAMATA)
  5. BUDDHA & THE BODHI TREE
  6. D, WE WON'T BE COMING

THE STATESMAN

  1. COWARDLY, CYNICAL
  2. HONOUR RESTORED
  3. PHYSICIANS & POLITICS
  4. RAPE OF THE CONSTITUTION! - RAJINDER PURI
  5. 2014: It's make or break for Myanmar  0 kavi chongkittavorn
  6. LICHHOO, MY PET - SUDESHNA CHAKRABORTY
  7. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. NO MOURNING
  2. ONCE AGAIN
  3. REVIVING WEST BENGAL  - ASHOK. V. DESAI
  4. LET ORDER PREVAIL  - MALVIKA SINGH
  5. AFTER THE TRIUMPH COMES THE TEST
  6. AN EYE FOR AN EYE, A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH

DECCAN HERALD

  1. UNTENABLE ACTION
  2. SHOW OF SUPPORT
  3. NEW BEGINNINGS  - BY B G VERGHESE
  4. WHY SYRIAN REBELS CAN'T REPLICATE EGYPT -  BY MICHAEL JANSEN
  5. TESTING A THEORY  - BY LEELA RAMASWAMY

HAARETZ

  1. THE SYRIAN FLOTILLA
  2. THE LEBANESE MISSILE CRISIS  - BY MOSHE ARENS
  3. THEY CROSSED NO BORDERS  - BY GIDEON BIGER
  4. THE SHOW IS OVER  - BY AMIR OREN
  5. WHO WILL BE THE TRAIN DRIVER?  - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. A CONFLICT WITHOUT END
  2. THE VALUE OF COMPARISON
  3. ANOTHER MISGUIDED IDEA FROM THE GUN LOBBY
  4. THE GATESES AS 'LIVING SITTERS'
  5. NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST - BY DAVID BROOKS
  6. THE NEED FOR GREED - BY TIMOTHY EGAN
  7. THE LONG OVERDUE PALESTINIAN STATE - BY MAHMOUD ABBAS

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. WE ARE UNAWARE OF A STORM BREWING IN THE SOUTHEAST - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  2. CONGRATS BAKU: USE THIS OCCASION TO OPEN UP REGIME - BARÇIN YİNANÇ
  3. GREEKS SEE STRAUSS-KAHN'S PROMISCUITY WITH CONCERN - ARIANA FERENTINOU
  4. US, TURKEY BACK SUNNI REGIMES - SEMİH İDİZ
  5. CRIME AGAINST WOMEN - YUSUF KANLI
  6. IS INFLATION FEAR A PHOBIA? - ERDOĞAN ALKİN

THE NEWS

  1. FEEL THE PAIN
  2. KILLING OF DIPLOMAT
  3. THE COMMISSION: DEFINING THE TERMS  - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
  4. RETURN OF FOOD, FUEL CRISES  - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
  5. GUL KHAN IS FALLING DOWN  - NASSER YOUSAF
  6. RESOLUTIONS AND HOLY COWS  - AMEER BHUTTO
  7. EXTRACTING 'REVENGE'  - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
  8. POWER STRUGGLE  - CHRIS CORK

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. OBAMA TO SAVE PAK N-ASSETS!
  2. PREMIER'S TIMELY ODYSSEY TO CHINA
  3. FAKE TEACHERS IN THE CAPITAL
  4. WHERE ART THOU, CHARLIE BROWN? - KHALID SALEEM
  5. TROUBLING QUESTIONS ABOUT OBL DEATH - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  6. DUMP PETTY POLITICS - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  7. AFTER BIN LADEN'S SECOND DEATH? - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
  8. SEIZE DAY IN PAKISTAN & AFGHANISTAN - PETER PRESTON

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. SYRIA PLAYING DANGEROUS GAME
  2. NBN COULD HIT TAXPAYERS TWICE
  3. GENDER EQUALITY RULING INCREASES WAGES PRESSURE

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

1.      THE SOLAR SWITCH GETS A DIMMER

2.      STATE JUSTICE SYSTEM NEEDS CHANGES AT THE TOP

3.      PEACE BRINGS THE QUEEN TO IRELAND

 

THE GUARDIAN

  1. HEALTH REFORMS: LOVE BUT NOT LOGIC
  2. IN PRAISE OF … THE PEOPLE'S PORT
  3. LIBYA: CAUGHT IN A VICE

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. ACQUITTAL IN ATAGO COLLISION CASE
  2. RECONSTRUCTION LEGISLATION
  3. SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE CLOSER AFTER ELECTION - BY IAIN ROBERTSON
  4. WAS KILLING HIM A MISTAKE? - BY OMAR ASHOUR
  5. RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM AFTER THE UPRISINGS - BY HANY BESADA AND KAROLINA WERNER

DAILY MIRROR

  1. BEYOND THE PANDALS, LET US PRACTISE THE DHAMMA
  2. THE WONDER OF ASIA AMIDST THE PRIVILEGES OF THE FEW
  3. FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS- THE ESSENCE OF BUDDHA'S TEACHING  - BY GAMINI JAYASINGHE
  4. ALLIES FALLOUT OVER LIBYA  
  5. EXODUS THREATENS SYRIAN POLITY
  6. A RETURN TO THE BUDDHA VACANA IS CALLED FOR IN THIS 2600TH - SAMBUDDHATVA JAYANTHI

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. SCOTTISH 'NEVERENDUM'?   - BY GWYNNE DYER

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. PALESTINIAN NAKBA: FOREVER A MEMORY @= BY BEN WHITE
  2. WAR SHOULD NEVER BE THE DEFAULT STANCE - BY GARY YOUNGE
  3. COULD THE ARAB REVOLT HIT 'PIPELINEISTAN'? - BY PEPE ESCOBAR
  4. DID PAKISTAN HAVE ADVANCE KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE BIN LADEN ATTACK? - BY NOZAR SHAFIE
  5. OBAMA PLAYS CATCH-UP IN THE MIDDLE EAST - BY MASOUD IDRISI

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

AGENDA FOR BENGAL

KEY AREAS CALL FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION


It's unthinkable that a party should be in power longer than the Berlin Wall existed, that too in a parliamentary democracy. Yet, the Left Front, led by the CPI(M), was in power in West Bengal for close to 35 years, perhaps more by default in the absence of a viable alternative and a robust Opposition party than by design. The same logic would apply to the Congress winning election after election at the national level, barring the few occasions when the people of India had an alternative choice which they considered to be viable and hence to be taken seriously. To that extent, it is the responsibility of both voters and the political opposition to prevent stagnation on account of the same party or alliance remaining in power for too long, or longer than is good for a State or the nation.


This is best exemplified by the situation in West Bengal where the Left Front took remarkable initiatives towards governance reforms during its first two terms in power, implementing extensive land reforms and introducing a structured and elected panchayati raj system that was to later become a model for the rest of the country. It would also be instructive to remember that when the CPI(M) came to power in 1977, the administration was in a shambles after the wasted years of the Congress regime headed by Siddhartha Shankar Ray. Pulling the State out of that morass was by itself a gigantic task. The decay that set in during the subsequent years was only to be expected: Unchallenged authority can, and does, lead to lethargy and absolute power is known to pave the path to arrogance and worse. All this and more was seen in ample measure in West Bengal. After this summer's Assembly election, hopefully a new start and a fresh beginning will be made with the CPI(M) and its allies trounced, and decisively so, by the Trinamool Congress.


As Chief Minister of a State that is in desperate need of good governance, Ms Mamata Banerjee has her task cut out. If her various statements and her party manifesto are any indication, she has an ambitious agenda, which by itself is good. However, she would be well-advised to focus on three fronts where success can cause a dramatic turnaround for West Bengal. First, the financial mess in which the State finds itself needs to be sorted out. Estimates of West Bengal's debt burden vary between Rs 2 lakh crore and Rs 5 lakh crore; whatever the real figure, it's humongous and no State can survive the burden of such a debt. Ms Banerjee should work towards reducing the collective debt by adopting measures that may appear to be harsh in the short-term but will be beneficial in the medium and long-term. In brief, West Bengal can no longer afford a populist or wasteful Government. Second, she should work towards attracting big ticket investments in the manufacturing sector. This is easier said than done, but entirely possible. West Bengal needs factories; to deny this fact is to repudiate the reality. Third, there is no reason to disbelieve Ms Banerjee when she says her party believes in 'change' and not 'vendetta'.


The State has suffered tremendously on account of political violence for far too long and the cycle of killings followed by revenge killings must be broken, now. She should enforce peace, if necessary with an iron fist.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

'VS FACTOR' TO THE RESCUE

OR ELSE CPM WOULD BE TROUNCED IN KERALA TOO


The Congress-led UDF in Kerala has managed to wrest power from the CPI(M)-led LDF but the victory is absolutely lackluster. It could win only 72 seats in the 140-member Assembly, just two seats above the half-way mark. There is not much for the Congress to cheer even in this victory because its own tally stands at just 38 though it contested in 82 seats. The credit for this unconvincing UDF victory goes to the Muslim League which won 20 of the 24 seats it contested through an unscrupulously executed strategy of community consolidation. The defeat in Kerala, along with the devastation in West Bengal, has led to the confinement of Left's governmental presence to tiny Tripura, but comrades in Kerala can at least feel relieved that they have been able to avoid a huge humiliation. The LDF bagged a total of 68 seats in a photo-finish race, keeping the Congress on the tip of anxiety till the result for the last seat was declared. The Congress has won the election but it is the CPI(M) which has emerged as the single largest party by winning 47 of the 93 seats it contested. However, there is nothing for the Marxist party to be proud of in this achievement as the entire credit goes to 87-year-old hardliner leader VS Achuthanandan, whom the official reformist leadership has been trying to cut to size on every available opportunity. They even tried to deny him a ticket in the election but were forced to revise that decision and request him to lead the Left's campaign in the face of State-wide protests. Despite all those efforts of his detractors, Mr Achuthanandan led the Left in a vigorous campaign, creating what pundits now call the 'VS factor' which pushed the Congress and its allies into the defensive where they could not get an upper hand at any point of time during electioneering.


The Kerala BJP would now have to do some serious introspection on why its dream of opening its account in the State Assembly did not be materialise in this election also. At the same time, four small parties in the State lost their electoral significance by failing to win even a single seat. However, the biggest challenge ahead is for the Congress as it prepares to form a Government in which all its allies with representatives in the House will have to be accommodated. Major UDF partners have already started staking claims for important Cabinet berths. The Left has said that it is not interested in grabbing power through unethical means but the Congress cannot bank on that, given its narrow margin of majority. Also, the road ahead for the Congress and its allies will not be smooth as an Opposition almost as big as the ruling side will be waiting to take on the Government at every wrong step.

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 THE PIONEER

OPED

MOST WANTED AT LARGE

JOGINDER SINGH

 

Given India's archaic laws and ageing leadership, it is unlikely that even if we can extradite terrorists from Pakistan, we will be able to convict them in a court of law.

Given below is a list of India's 10 most-wanted criminals, all of whom are living in Pakistan, alongwith a description of the crimes they have committed.

·  Maulana Azhar Masood: Leader of Jaish-i-Mohammad, he is held responsible for the 2001 attack on Parliament. He is also wanted for an attack on the Jammu & Kashmir legislature that was carried out on October 1, 2001, in which 38 people were killed.

·  Hafiz Mohammad Saeed: Co-founder of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, he is also wanted for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack. Currently, he operates from Muridke town, near Lahore.

·  Dawood Ibrahim: An underworld don, he is accused of planning and financing 13 explosions in Mumbai in 1993 in which almost 300 people died. He is also wanted in several other cases relating to illegal arms supply, counterfeiting, drug trade, funding alleged criminals, smuggling and murder. He lives in Karachi.

·  Chhota Shakeel: A key associate of Dawood Ibrahim, he is wanted for murder, extortion, abduction and for blackmailing top businessmen and film stars. He is believed to a spy for the ISI. He now lives in Karachi.

·  "Tiger" Ibrahim Memon: Along with Dawood Ibrahim, he is the other prime accused in the 1993 Mumbai blasts. He is also wanted for murder, extortion, kidnapping, terrorism and smuggling arms and explosives. He lives in Karachi and travels frequently to Dubai.

·  Ayub Memon: Brother of Ibrahim Memon, he is also an accused in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case. He alleged helped Ibrahim Memon carry out the blasts. He is wanted in cases of terrorism and smuggling. He also lives in Karachi.

·  Abdul Razzak: Accused of involvement in the Mumbai blasts. He is wanted in cases of terrorism and arms smuggling. He lives in Karachi.

·  Syed Salahuddin: Head of Hizbul Mujahideen, he has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks on Indian forces in Kashmir. He lives in Muzaffarabad.

·  Ibrahim Athar: An associate of Maulana Azhar Masood, he was one of those who hijacked the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in 1999. He lives in Bahawalpur.

·  Zahoor Ibrahim Mistri: A member of Harkat-ul-Ansar, which later became Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, he is also wanted in connection with the hijacking of IC-814. He lives in Karachi.

Now, the big question is can India bring these terrorists across the border so that they may be tried under Indian laws? Pakistan is clearly following a policy wherein its neighbour's enemy is its friend. How else can one explain the free reign enjoyed by so many of these terrorists in that country?

India may cry itself hoarse demanding that the aforementioned fugitives be handed over to the Government, but as we well know Pakistan's standard response will either be that the wanted individual is not a Pakistani citizen or that he/she does not live in Pakistan. Indeed, this was exactly their stand when Ajmal Kasab was arrested after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan's perverse policies towards India notwithstanding, it is also important to ensure that our own case files on these terror suspects remain up to date. Without impeccable records and strong, creditworthy evidence we will never be able to bring these terrorists to justice. The fact that India's criminal laws themselves are outdated, only makes matters worse. Proof of that lies in the multiple acquittals of several suspects who were charged for their roles in the 1998 Mumbai blasts as well as the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Our laws were framed around 1863 when terrorism, as we know it today, did not exist. Using archaic laws to try modern day crimes is like pitting a bullock cart against an automobile.

Apart from an outdated criminal justice system, the other factor that plays against us as in the fight against terrorism, is our pseudo commitment to human rights, in the name of which the Indian judiciary has acquitted some more terrorists. I am certain that even if India manages to extradite some of the terrorists from Pakistan, they will possibly not be convicted as we attempt to make a show of human rights in the country.

Yet, in every other country national security trumps human rights concerns everyday. Take the US for example: The Guantánamo, Bay detention centre is still very much functioning despite a huge hue and cry from human rights defenders and other rights groups who have claimed that those held in that centre have been subject to human rights violations.

Located inside the US Naval Base on Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, the detention centre was was established in 2002 by former US President George W Bush to hold detainees from the war in Afghanistan and later Iraq. The detainment areas consist of three camps: Camp Delta (which includes Camp Echo), Camp Iguana, and Camp X-Ray, the last of which has been closed. Despite widespread condemnation for perpetrating human rights abuses, the detention camp currently holds at least 172 detainees. Even President Barack Obama who had promised to shut down the facility during his 2008 election campaign has since changed his mind.

India, however, continues to be a state that is perennially soft on terror. There is no point bringing the wanted fugitives back from Pakistan if we cannot have expedited trials for them. Take the Batla House incident for example: The 'encounter' happened in 2008 but it was not until this year that we were able to frame charges. Similarly, it took 13 years for the trial of the1993 Mumbai blasts case to be completed. Unfortunately, our Government remains incapable of taking strong preemptive action to prevent terror attacks. We only indulge in big talk and our leaders including those from the military like to make grandiose statements but rarely to do they care to follow up.

It does not require great analytical skills to understand that our western neighbour is a rogue state. Official US documents from the Guantánamo bay detention centre, published by WikiLeaks, have revealed that US anti-terror experts were aware that Pakistani officials gave orders to terror operatives in India while at least one Lashkar-e-Tayyeba militant detained at Guantánamo was a direct ISI agent.

Yet, India has done nothing about any of this. This is because we are governed by ancient worthies, many of whom are in their seventies and eighties with literally one foot in the grave. Not a whole lot can be expected from them in terms of initiative or youthful motivation.

Little wonder then that countries with younger leaders, such as the US, the UK and France have taken greater political strides. Even in India, when we had younger leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi, bold decisions were taken and implemented. This is no longer the case. Even if Pakistan does hand over the terrorists, do we have a clear policy of how to deal with them? Apart from condemning them or calling them cowards, our leaders must do a lot more to ensure that the terrorists are brought to justice. That is their job and they have to get it done.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

AT 87, VS PROVES A POINT

VR JAYARAJ


The CPI(M) has fared better in Kerala than in West Bengal despite the LDF losing the Assembly election, although by a very narrow margin. In fact, the CPI(M) has won more seats than the Congress. But the credit for this startling performance goes to VS Achuthanandan and not his party which tried to pull him down till the last moment

The role of big-capital investment — or rather the need of it — in the era of globalisation was one of the main topics that had dominated the discussions at the 19th congress of the CPI(M) held in Coimbatore in March-April, 2008. It is now almost certain that the anti-thesis of this might in the focus at the 20th congress to be held next year. This perspective inversion is being necessitated by the Left's electoral devastation in West Bengal and its 'victory-in-defeat' in the Kerala election. In the 19th congress, general secretary Prakash Karat had led those discussions enthusiastically — with the pride emanating from the shadow partnership in the rule in Centre — but in 2012, he will be facing some tough questions.


On Friday, the CPI(M)-led LDF in Kerala made history. It lost the election to the 13th Assembly but with the narrowest margin ever in the electoral history of the State — the Left won 68 seats in the 140-member Assembly while the tally of the Congress-led UDF was limited to 72, just one seat more than what it needed for absolute majority. Again, the Congress won the election but the CPI(M) emerged as the single largest party in the House with 47 seats whereas the Congress could win only 38 seats.


The Kerala Left had made this achievement mainly because of the efforts of one man: Octogenarian VS Achuthanandan. His whirlwind campaign across the State generated a 'VS effect' in the electorate, attracting thousands of people to each of his election meeting while even Ms Sonia Gandhi, Mr Rahul Gandhi and Mr Manmohan Singh had to be satisfied with thin crowds of listeners. His efforts had immediate impact among the grassroots comrades and supporters in districts where he was not popular. He instilled a new vigour in them.

Mr Achuthanandan's campaign focussing on the corruption in the UPA, the Congress and its allies in Kerala — which coincide with Mr Anna Hazare's agitation — pushed the Congress into the defensive and erased the remainders of anti-incumbency factor. This was perhaps the first election in Kerala where the ruling party had gone on the offensive and the Opposition had to defend itself. His emphasis on corruption could win sympathies even from the so-called apolitical middle class that generally refused to go with the Left. That made the battle even tougher for the Congress.


The 87-year-old Marxist, with more than seven decades of political experience, did all this for his party and the LDF despite the unscrupulous efforts of his detractors within the party — the neo-liberalist official leadership headed by State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan — to finish him off politically. They denied him ticket in the election (but the party now denies this). Mr Karat, who was to report at the Kerala State committee the Politbureau's decision to field Mr Achuthanandan in the polls, allegedly failed to — knowingly or otherwise — do that. The reason for denying ticket was his advanced age and health problems associated with it.

The working class comrades took the streets demanding reversal of the decision and this was done. The party also requested him to lead the campaign for the Left. Even after that Mr Pinarayi went on making veiled remarks against Mr Achuthanandan which could be read as messages about the necessity of voting against the LDF. But nothing worked, and Mr Achuthanandan's efforts got their intended result when the Congress and its allies stood on the tip of anxiety till the result in the last seat was declared.

Mr Achuthanandan's victory was not just in ensuring the defeat of the Left in Kerala to be 'decent' but he also saved the entire Left of India from total decimation. Had the result been a repeat of the 2001 election, where the UDF stormed to power with a 100-seat victory, Mr Karat would have been heading a non-entity by now. But this was not the first time Mr Karat had sided with the neo-liberalists in moves against Mr Achuthanandan. He had reportedly done it on the occasion of the demotion of Mr Achuthanandan from Politbureau to the central committee after he demanded action against Mr Pinarayi, when the CBI named him as an accused in the `374.5-crore SNC Lavalin corruption case.


Sitting in New Delhi, Mr Karat is thus facing pressures from the south and east simultaneously. The West Bengal unit of the CPI(M) had stopped listening to him long back. Now it is proved that he had failed to recognise the ground reality in Kerala, where his neo-liberalist comrades were eager to prepare ground for suspicious economic forces like lottery gamblers and real estate players in the name of the need of attracting big-capital investment. Through the victory the Left achieved under Mr Achuthanandan's leadership, the Kerala voters have proved that their conscience is not mystified by the 'capital-intensive' talks.


The West Bengal CPI(M) secretary had in a recent interview talked at length about how the party leadership there was not corrupt and how the leaders were adhering to austerity they had chosen for themselves. Reports from West Bengal show that the lower level leaders of the Left, however, were mired in corruption. In Kerala CPI(M), the situation is diametrically opposite. Here the leadership — the neo-liberal leadership — is alleged to be neck-deep in corruption and money lust while the grass roots leaders and cadre still want to remain puritans. The election result in Kerala is a true reflection of this sentiment.


All these issues would come up for discussions in the meetings at all levels in the party — from the branch committees to the State secretariat. The party cannot avoid considering these questions at the branch, local, area, district and State conferences and the party congress, where Mr Karat would be required to offer a lot of explanations. Rumours are rife that Mr Pinarayi might not be there in the chair of State secretary by the time of the next congress. In short, the new-age Marxist leaders of the Karat kind will have to listen intently to people like Mr Achuthanandan, the protector of the Indian Left's izzat in these elections.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

ARAB SPRING THREATENS SCHENGEN NATIONS

MEMBER STATES OF THE EU IN THE SCHENGEN ZONE MAY ADOPT NEW RULES TO REINFORCE BORDER CHECKS IN THE WAKE OF HEAVY IMMIGRATION FROM WEST ASIA, WRITES DMITRY BABICH


The Schengen area, which guarantees free movement across and between 22 European Union members and three non-EU countries, has encountered unexpected difficulties in the wake of the protests that have swept West Asia and North Africa, and gained the moniker Arab Spring.


Furthermore, new rules may soon be adopted to allow member states to reinstate border checks.


France created a precedent when more than 25,000 Tunisians, who had fled to Italy to escape the 'democratic revolution' that Europe welcomed so cheerfully, decided to cross into France. Since they are illegal immigrants without money or documents necessary to reside in the EU, this left the Italian Government with something of a conundrum. Granting them refugee status involves committing to provide them with some form of support, however basic, whereas deporting them to their home country would be inhumane.


Eventually, the Italian Government found a solution: It issued them with temporary residence permits which allow the holders to move freely around the EU (excluding Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus), as well as through Schengen member states such as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.


Since Tunisia is a former French colony and most Tunisians speak French, they logically decided to cross into France.

However, the French authorities intercepted them on trains and sent them back to Italy, outraging the Italians. This created a trilateral conflict, with France and Italy trading accusations and also complaining to the European Commission in Brussels.


Twenty-five thousand immigrants is a drop in the ocean for Europe, which has a combined population of 400 million people. Furthermore, European leaders were lightning-fast to praise the Arab Spring, the very event that these Tunisians are fleeing.


"It is unacceptable that the arrival of a few tens of thousands of immigrants at the borders of countries which are among the largest in Europe and are founder members of European integration should serve as an excuse to question Schengen, the free movement of people and our common policy of freedom, security and justice. It is also unacceptable that this is so obviously happening as a result of highly populist anti-European pressures. All this sends a discouraging message, one which is deeply negative and contrary to the Europe that we need," said Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, chairman of the EU Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

But French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have sent a discouraging message, thereby showing once again that modern Europe is not prepared to back up its rhetoric with either action or funds.


As if to confirm this, the European Commission has now taken France's side in its quarrel with Italy, saying that under Article 25 of the Schengen Borders Code each member state "may exceptionally and immediately reintroduce border control at internal borders... when there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security."

It looks like the European Commission has yielded to Mr Sarkozy's pressure. He was acting from a purely populist standpoint. Back as France's Interior Minister, he forged his political career in his fight against illegal immigration.

In Italy, Umberto Bossi, who leads the Northern League party which calls for autonomy or independence for Northern Italy and is one of Mr Berlusconi's allies in the ruling coalition, said that Italy has become a French colony.

Bossi made his career by demanding the deportation of immigrants from Italy, in particular from its industrialised northern regions.


All this amounts to a serious potential for conflict that weighs heavily on Schengen countries ahead of June's EU Council meeting, where they are to consider admitting Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen area.


France and Britain have long insisted that Romania must tighten control over its border with Moldova, while Sarkozy deported Roma Gypsies to Romania.


If Romania and Bulgaria are admitted to the Schengen zone, the decision is likely to be accompanied by numerous amendments to the Schengen Agreement that would seriously undermine the idea of the freedom of movement.

At the same time, the idea of reuniting Romania and Moldova, which is so popular in Bucharest, may well be denounced as a nationalist utopia.


The writer is a Moscow-based political affairs columnist.

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THE PIONEER

OPED

SCOTS SAY NO TO INDEPENDENCE

GWYNNE DYER


The Scots have voted the Scottish National Party to power but are unlikely to endorse its call for independence. They know that an independent Scotland would be too vulnerable to the harsh financial and strategic realities of the world


I'd grown up with the assumption that Scotland was a poor, wee, deprived place that had never had a fair kick of the ball and could certainly never stand on its own two feet," said Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, whose goal is an independent Scotland. He certainly doesn't believe that now — and the SNP finally won a majority in the Scottish Parliament in the election on May 5.


Mr Salmond first formed a Government four years ago, but that was a weak coalition in which the SNP had to bargain and compromise with the other parties. This time, with 69 out of 129 seats, Mr Salmond doesn't have to haggle. He can carry out his election promises, which include a referendum on Scottish independence.


If the voters said yes, that would be the end of the United Kingdom, the 300-year-old union of Scotland and England. Other things being equal, a majority of Scots might well vote for independence, but other things never are equal.


In the real world, many Scots are afraid that their small country, with only one-tenth of England's population, would be too vulnerable to the financial and strategic storms that shake the world. Opinion polls consistently show that no more than a quarter to a third of Scottish voters would vote yes in an independence referendum. Yet they voted the SNP into power. Why?


The main reason is that the Liberal Democratic vote collapsed in Scotland in this election. Quite a lot of those Scottish Lib Dems gave their votes to the SNP instead, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they support independence.

Since Mr Salmond has been canny enough to promise a referendum, they knew that they could vote yes to an SNP Government, and then say no to independence. He delivered sound Government in difficult circumstances over the past four years; why not give him another go?


The reality is that Salmond is unlikely to persuade the Scots to vote yes in his promised referendum, even if he postpones it until near the end of his term in the hope that he can cajole or manipulate more of them into backing independence. (The smart money is betting on 2015.) So there shouldn't be any big changes in Scotland as a result of this election — and yet it may hurt the country a lot, in the end.


Scottish separatists hate the analogy with Ireland, which they once held up as an example of how a small European country with few natural resources and a big but undercapitalised banking sector could do very well in the world. Now they just try to change the subject when Ireland comes up, but that's not the worst thing that could happen to Scotland.


The real danger is what would happen to Scotland if the separatists lose the forthcoming referendum but keep on trying. That's what happened in Quebec, where the separatists first came to the fore politically in the 1960s. They held and lost two referendums, in 1980 and 1995, but for half-a-century the prospect that there would eventually be a referendum (or yet another referendum) on separation from Canada was there every year.

"Planning blight" is what happens when the word gets out that they may be running a freeway through the neighbourhood, and property values and new investment collapse. Quebec had it on a province-wide scale for half-a-century. It's impossible to calculate the financial cost directly, but the population numbers are a good indication of what happened.


For the first half of the 20th Century, Quebec and Ontario, the two biggest Canadian provinces, had about the same population and grew at about the same rate. In 1960, Quebec was only slightly smaller than Ontario, with 5.2 million people compared to Ontario's 6.2 million people. By 2010, Quebec had only grown to 7.8 million, while Ontario had 13 million people.


The contrast is equally dramatic for the big cities. Montreal, the metropolis of Quebec, had always been Canada's biggest city. In 1960, Montreal had 2.2 million people, and Toronto, the capital of Ontario, had only 1.7 million. Now Toronto has six million people, while Montreal has only 3.8 million.

It's as if Chicago had started growing fast in the 1960s, and was now half again as big as New York City. It was the planning blight of the ever-looming next referendum on independence — the 'neverendum', as English-speaking Quebecers sometimes call it — that did this to Quebec. The same thing could happen to Scotland.


Independence for Scotland would not necessarily be a financial and demographic disaster, but the permanent expectation of another independence referendum certainly would be.


The Scots are unlikely ever to vote yes for independence, because the world has become a much harsher place economically for small Western countries with declining traditional industries and big debts. (An independent Scotland would presumably inherit about at tenth of Britain's national debt.)


Yet Mr Salmond has now put an independence referendum firmly on the Scottish political agenda, and it is unlikely to go away again in the foreseeable future even if he loses this one. Neverendum.


Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

BITTER SWEET

 

If the Congress had high expectations from the recent round of assembly elections, they have clearly been dashed. The only real joy for the principal party in the UPA coalition came from Assam, where it exceeded expectations by scooping up 78 of the 126 assembly seats. Not even the staunchest Congress supporter would deny that the party's 42 seats in West Bengal - and a probable stake in the next state government - were courtesy the Trinamool wave. In Kerala, a state where the electorate is not known to be sympathetic to the incumbent regime, the Congress-led UDF formulation barely scraped through with a majority of two seats.


As for the Tamil Nadu polls, they were a downright disaster for the Congress. While its ally the DMK was decimated and ended up with a paltry 23 seats out of 234, the Congress fared even worse with just five seats - down from 48 in 2006. This despite the fact that the latter was contesting more seats than five years ago. Tamil Nadu is crucial for the Congress. The Congress-DMK combine in the state provides 26 MPs to the UPA at the Centre. Notwithstanding the fact that the DMK has been a demanding ally - as well as an embarrassing one given alleged involvement of the DMK first family in the 2G spectrum scam - the Congress needs the numbers come Lok Sabha elections in 2014.


It is in this context that rumoured Congress overtures towards the AIADMK need to be seen. Though speculation is rife of a possible tie-up in the wake of Sonia Gandhi's personal congratulations to J Jayalalithaa for her victory, it may well be nothing more than a courtesy call. The AIADMK supremo simply can't make up the DMK numbers at the Centre. In the short term, sticking with the DMK will be the Congress's best bet. It could perhaps take comfort in the fact that the DMK is likely to be a less cumbersome ally from here on. This should, in theory, offset Mamata Banerjee's expected increase in demands, thanks to her strengthened hand in Bengal. In practice, Mamata too may have her compulsions as she will have to rely on central aid if she is to turn West Bengal around.


Another source of concern is the rumblings in Andhra Pradesh where Jaganmohan Reddy has openly challenged the Congress leadership. His emphatic victory in the Kadapa Lok Sabha by-poll is ominous. Taken together, it is clear that Congress suffers from a dearth of effective local leaders as well as effective policies at the national level. It needs to get its act together, fast.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

THINK DECONTROL

 

Petrol price deregulation is clearly no insulation against political meddling. That state-owned oil marketing companies okayed a Rs 5 per litre hike immediately after the announcement of the assembly poll results is proof. Evidently, the UPA's electoral considerations had tied their hands during the poll process. As a result, we have the anomaly of prices heading north even as international crude prices are southbound. Flanked by opposition parties professing to be their champions, ordinary people protest fuel price hikes precisely owing to such political manipulation. If fuel prices were allowed to truly reflect global trends, oil marketing firms would not have reason to whine about losses. Nor would people resent markups in fuel costs, seeing them instead as part of an impersonal process of market-linked price adjustment.


Said to be coming up next, diesel, LPG and kerosene price increases will further reflect government's penchant for price tinkering. What diesel and kerosene prices need is freeing up, not least because artificially suppressed prices benefit aam admi less than a thriving crime syndicate comprising adulterators and black marketers. Price differences also encourage the rich to buy cheaper diesel despite being able to afford petrol. Wasteful diesel use results, to the detriment of the less privileged as well as the environment. It's equally myopic to hype deregulation's feared fallout on inflation. Minus diesel price decontrol, greater fiscal strain - and deficits - owing to heavier fuel subsidy will have an inflationary effect anyway. Besides, if inflation is the headache, shouldn't we let market-indexed prices curb demand? Instead of fiddling with prices, government should trim their tax component, which - customs and excise combined - totals half the shop price of motor fuel. Finally, a decontrolled fuel sector will attract private retailers. As telecom and aviation have shown, the best way to keep prices consumer-friendly is to push competition.

 

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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

REGIONAL, THE NEW NATIONAL

TUHIN A SINHA

 

Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala - states where assembly election results have just been announced - account for 115 of India's 543 Lok Sabha seats. Add Bihar, where elections took place just six months ago, to this list and the total number of Lok Sabha seats thus covered goes up to 155, a bit less than 30% of the total seats. These elections carry some interesting trends, which any party aiming to succeed in the UP assembly elections of 2012 or the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 can ill afford to ignore.

First of all, the results reiterate what is now a growing perception: Indian voters have become discerning and cannot be easily swayed or fooled like, say, 10 years ago. Moreover, the mandate underlines the nation's angst against the corrupt. The best example of this is Tamil Nadu. Political parties have often used the 'faith reposed by election verdicts' to wash away their sins. The DMK had hoped to do the same in Tamil Nadu.

Thus, despite charges of the complicity of DMK bosses in the 2G scam, one was shocked by the cocksureness displayed by the party during the polls. The party, it appeared, somehow believed it would redeem itself by distributing the 'loot' among the voters. Such was the DMK's confidence that even veteran observers didn't write it off. Had the DMK won, it would have set an ugly precedent. Parties could orchestrate even bigger scams and then use the money to buy out voters.

The election results seem a mandate against the corrupt. Thus, in neighbouring Kerala, where it was sure of a landslide win until six months ago, the Congress-led UDF barely had the luck to remain ahead of the LDF. The message was once again amply clear: we might as well choose the mediocre over the corrupt.

Secondly, it's pretty much evident now that, if you want to win a state, you empower state leaders instead of depending on
national leaders. With the win in Assam, Tarun Gogoi has joined the illustrious list of 'empowered chief ministers' who have been re-elected more than once. Had the CPM shown greater faith in the octogenarian Achuthanandan, the LDF would perhaps have won Kerala with ease. Mamata Banerjee, on her part, has proved how individual charisma can uproot a regime of 34 years. Meanwhile, Jaganmohan Reddy looks set to single-handedly decimate the Congress in Andhra Pradesh. On a slightly smaller scale, Babulal Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha is likely to become a force to reckon with in Jharkhand in future.

The situation throws up an interesting challenge for both the Congress and the BJP for the UP elections: they have to each identify a state leader who can unseat Mayawati. Neither Rahul Gandhi nor Narendra Modi will have any impact on the UP results, other than generating sound bytes. Can
Rajnath Singh or Rita Bahuguna instead effectively take on Mayawati? Well, the latter does not have the political persona - the reason why Rahul has had to work extra hard. So far as Rajnath Singh is concerned, he can. But for that, he will have to dump the comfort of national politics and reclaim the old zest that had him outsmart both Mayawati and Mulayam Singh in state politics in the late 1990s.

Thirdly, these election results open up the possibility of a political realignment of forces ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. With the CPM in absolute doldrums, perennial talk of the oft-invisible Third Front is likely to become history. Thus, the situation seems to be gearing up towards a bipolar contest. With the 80 seats of UP unlikely to throw up a clear winner, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh - which together account for as many seats - might well decide the outcome of the next Lok Sabha polls.

What is particularly interesting are Jagan Reddy's recent feelers to the BJP. Of course, there's a precondition attached: committing to 10% reservations for Muslims, which even the Congress hasn't espoused thus far. That apart, in a bipolar situation and given his animosity towards the Congress, it is not difficult to predict which side Jagan will be on. Jayalalithaa's case is different. All said and done, one can't conclusively rule out her realigning with the Congress in future, an idea she was open to as recently as six months ago.

Finally, the biggest lesson is that the
regional is indeed the new national. With large alliances likely on both sides, the individual fate of the bigger regional coalition partners will directly impact the coalition's ability to form the government at the Centre. At the same time, the ever-growing clout of regional parties is bound to shrink the two national parties, leaving them in a catch-22 situation.

The BJP's hopes of leading the next government at the Centre are contingent upon two factors. One, putting up a tough fight in the UP elections so that the BSP and the
Samajwadi Party stop taking the state for granted. Two, it will quickly have to identify a leader with the least baggage and the best networking skills to lead it into the 2014 elections. In the present situation, the party will have to look beyond Modi, for sure.

The writer is an author, script-writer and columnist.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

THE FESTIVAL OFFERS SERIOUS BUSINESS

 

Located in a seafront town in southern France, the annual Cannes Film Festival's attracting numerous Bollywood personalities. From Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to Shekhar Kapur, Saif Ali Khan and Mallika Sherawat, Cannes is proving a magnet for a rainbow of Bollywood talent. While critics may sneer that most Bollywood stars do little at Cannes except display gowns and party in yachts, the fact is, their presence there gives Hindi cinema a powerful boost.


Cannes is about frocks, photographers and glamour, but that's just part of its fun. It brings together the world's most serious and intense cinematic talent. In addition, it's also one of the world's largest film hubs, a great cinema bazaar where filmmakers come into direct contact with buyers from around the globe. At Cannes, Hindi filmmakers get access to distributors and exhibitors from remote Uzbekistan, urban Kinshasa or urbane Berlin. A platform like Cannes helped the producers of Lagaan make contact with exhibitors around the world. Similarly, after Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Sanjay Leela Bhansali screened Devdas at Cannes, even travelling down its famed waterfront in a horse-drawn chariot, world audiences could see the heady melodrama of an Indian man caught between changing times and two beautiful women. For the world's largest producer of films, this is a unique - and vital - event.


It isn't just big-budget blockbusters though that grab attention at Cannes. In recent years, smaller independent movies, such as Udaan, have generated enthusiastic support from an audience accustomed to polished cinema. For those who insist Cannes favours the old song-and-dance stereotypes of Indian cinema, it's worth remembering that Satyajit Ray won the Grand Prix for Pather Panchali right here in 1956. Critics may question Bollywood personalities stepping onto that historic red carpet today but the fact is, their doing so makes a difference.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

NO RELEVANCE FOR INDIAN CINEMA

ANIL THAKKAR

 

Another year, another grand show in sunny Cannes for our Bollywood stars. And yet again, it's a pointless exercise. If the Oscars are about mass appeal and popular entertainment, the Cannes Film Festival is the acme of thoughtful filmmaking. It's a celebration of creativity rather than box-office numbers. And that means, of course, that it is quite antithetical to the vast majority of Bollywood films as they are now. And so when our stars go there year after year, it has little to do with their profession. They are there as little more than mannequins, walking the red carpet because the brands with which they have tie-ups have finagled a place on it for them.

 

Consider the fact that of the 20 films that are in competition for the Palme d'Or award - the festival's most prestigious, with top films chosen from across the world - not a single one is Indian. This is not an anomaly. The last time an Indian film featured in the competition was two decades ago when the likes of Mrinal Sen were still active and regularly featured - a sad comedown for a country that won the best film award with Chetan Anand's Neecha Nagar at the festival's first edition in 1946.


The reality of this is made clear by Indian actors and filmmakers themselves. Saif Ali Khan, for instance, has made no bones about the fact that Bollywood films are not meant for Cannes. Likewise, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, whose documentary will be filmed at Cannes this year, says that this is a lean patch for Indian films at the festival. Damning indictments from those who would know best. Which begs the question - what exactly are our stars there for? Hobnobbing with the Hollywood elite and showing off risque designerwear, as Mallika Sherawat did? In the larger scheme of things, the festival, sadly, has no relevance or meaning for Indian cinema.


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THE TIMES OF INDIA

THE FUSS ABOUT CUSS

VIVEK ATRAY

 

Among the varied forms of entertainment that human interaction provides to interested onlookers, an important component is the spicy shock-value of swear words. The same sort of language could, of course, be sacrilegious for most of us.


One could be watching a film with the family, or dining at a restaurant with friends, or even working in one's office with the window open - cuss words are liable to drift to our ears any time, unannounced and uninvited. Boys will be boys of course, and they are more likely to use and hear f-words, b-words, c-words and even z-words more often than humans of other categories. But it is clear that each one of us has to accept the entry of one or more of such intrusive words into our sphere of cognisance at times.


What really shocked me as a boy though was when i heard a venerable old relative, one whom i really admired, mouthing a typical Hindi swear word when upset with a few neighbourhood boys who had trespassed into his garden. I was an impressionable tween at the time, and it was quite a jolt for me to hear him use a word that only the naughtiest boys would at school.


More recently, a young man and his date went out for their first dinner together and started off by making polite conversation. A friend and i were at an adjacent table and we noticed that the couple appeared to be the innocent type. Their composure, and ours, was shattered rudely by a youngster seated across the hall who shouted aloud a really filthy word. He was evidently excited by some breaking news that a classmate had just delivered to him.


The effect that that particular expletive had upon the occupants of the hall was quite palpable. Most people blushed. Some even covered their faces. The above-mentioned young man on his first date glared at the perpetrator of verbal violence who in turn glared back and told him to buzz off. It could have ended at this point but the foul-mouthed boy decided to use an even worse adjective for the lover boy, to round off his response to the glare.


The character of men does change dramatically at times, but what followed in this case was total transformation. Disregarding the presence of his pretty girlfriend, and of course ours as well, the young suitor reeled off a barrage of Punjabi swear words in retaliation. Needless to say, utter mayhem broke out at the place and most people fled. The young girl was totally inconsolable and utterly annoyed with her chameleon-like guy friend. The fact that my friend and i had to drop her home was just a side effect.


That today's youngsters tend to pick up cuss words at school or college is well documented. What is less known is the influence that modern-day heroes have upon them. Our champion cricketers, for example - some of them use expletives each time they get hit for boundaries. What is worse is that they repeat them when they pick up wickets! Young boys watching them obviously feel that it is the done thing to swear all the time, if national heroes can do it live on TV.


Our filmy heroes are even more skilled at the use of cuss words. These days the heroines have also joined them. The censor board tends to be lenient nowadays and many a new film offers to the public the full repertoire of foul words that the Hindi language possesses.


Fortunately enough, dinner table conversation at most homes is still decent and does not involve such profanities. One can only hope that things stay that way, for eating one's meal is not an enjoyable experience when graphically meaningful cuss words are floating around!

 


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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

FUEL WILL TOP UP INFLATION

Last week's increase in the price of petrol by Rs 5 a litre reaffirms the government's abiding temptation to decide when and by how much fuel prices should increase. A year after petrol prices were freed from  bureaucratic oversight they have been raised nine times, the last one timed till after critical state elections. The immediate impact of the latest hike is likely to be less than a tenth of a percentage point move up in wholesale inflation. The  bigger inflationary impact will follow from the government's decision likely later this week on raising the administered prices of diesel and gas. If the entire surge in international energy prices is passed on to Indian consumers, wholesale inflation could shoot up by over 3 percentage points. But if petrol prices are any indication, the government could settle for shifting half the extra burden on to buyers and shouldering the other half with oil producers.

Before petrol prices were freed, diesel, kerosene and cooking gas made up for nine in every ten rupees Indian oil companies and the government lost on account of selling fuel below its market price. In the 12 months to March 2011, the government picked up a tab of Rs 38,386 crore of the Rs 78,000 crore under-recoveries of the oil companies.  This loss was sharply higher than the Rs 46,000 crore a year earlier, but a lot less than the Rs 100,000 crore lost in 2008-09 when crude oil touched $147 a barrel. With crude back above $120 now, there are legitimate fears the losses this year could balloon. If the government  hikes prices by 10% each, the oil companies would still be losing R6 on every litre of diesel  they sell and over R300 on every cylinder of cooking gas. Unfortunately, the government-appointed Kirit Parikh Committee's recommendations for deeper reform remain on paper. Freeing up diesel prices alone would have whittled the losses substantially. Steeper hikes in the prices of cooking fuels likewise. The subsidy-sharing mechanism between oil companies and the government will shape the fisc. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has budgeted for an ambitious reduction in the fiscal deficit this year to 4.6% on a supposition that the government fuel subsidy is limited to Rs 23,640 crore. Slippage on this score will exert its pressure on the price line.

Free fuel prices are a precondition to reducing the tax burden petroleum carries in India. Although the government does not put out numbers, conservative estimates suggest half the excise duty collection in the country is from petroleum products. Even with a subsidy in place, petrol used to cost thrice as much at an Indian gas station as it did in the US. As domestic petrol prices rise this gap opens up. Part of the reason for India's relative lack of competitiveness among Asian manufacturing exporters is its expensive energy. Dismantling its high-cost energy economy is a crusade India has shied away from for too long.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

TARGET PRACTICE

There are some lines from a Tom Lehrer song called The Wild West is where I want to be which go: Mid the yuccas and the thistles/I'll watch the guided missiles/While the old FBI watches me. This could have been sung by our old friend and neighbour, the Inter-Services Intelligence chief Shuja Pasha after the Americans took out his chief asset Osama bin Laden. The only difference is that Pasha is now watching India, specifying targets which he and his loony toons have apparently rehearsed hitting if we were ever to drop in without a gilt-edged invitation.

We admire his efforts to demonstrate his vigilance though the Indians have shown no inclination to carry out Operation Galauti Kabab. We are sure that he was scanning the skies with night vision equipment when the Americans swooped down. Now poor Pasha must not be blamed for having mistaken these night time visitors for some friendly arms dealers bearing some uranium or centrifuges with which he could frighten the Indians. Indeed, it's possible that he set up the landing lights only to find them changing course and heading for Abbottabad. Clearly, he can't say that he will target the Statue of Liberty or the Pentagon for fear that his fate will be sealed by another bunch of Seals. He also has to make sure that other visitors who are there on his invitation like the amiable Mullah Omar and the gentle Hafiz Sayeed are not inconvenienced by any midnight knocks on the noggin.

So, he has decided to play it safe and tell the Indians off. But we would like to know how he is carrying out the rehearsals. Is he bobbing up in a dinghy as his minions did on 26/11 across the waters? Has he sent in goats and camels laden with explosives creating a new breed of suicide bombers? Has he sent nuclear nutcase AQ Khan disguised as President Asif Zardari? Let us hope, for his sake, the Americans are not rehearsing their own script while he is about to stage his play in India.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

IN A CLASS APART

SITARAM YECHURY

The 'celebrations' over the defeat of the Left in the recent assembly elections was rudely jolted by the substantial hike in the price of petrol. This, ironically, underscores the need for a strong Left in India, not only as the moral conscience-keeper of the nation but also as the crusader to protect the aam aadmi from such growing imposition of economic burdens.

In a democracy, elections always throw up a winner and a loser. Hence, the great hype over the defeat of the Left in West Bengal only highlights the significance of the unprecedented 34 years of continuously heading the state government, having won a record seven consecutive elections.

In Kerala, where incumbents have been replaced successively in every election during the last four decades, the victory of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) has been by the slenderest of margins in recent history. This can, at best, be described as pyrrhic because of the inherent instability that a coalition of ten parties can cause to a majority of two. With no anti-incumbency, the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala has garnered more than 45% of the popular vote, just under less than 1% of what the UDF got. In absolute terms the difference between the two fronts across the state was just 1.55 lakh votes.

In Bengal, given the oddities of the 'first past the post' system, the Left Front with a vote-share of nearly 41% has recorded its lowest tally of seats. In fact, in these elections, more than 11 lakh additional people actually came out to vote for the Left than in 2009. Compared to 1 crore 98 lakh votes the Left received in the 2006 assembly elections where it won 235 of the 294 seats, this time it polled nearly 1 crore 96 lakh votes and yet ended up with 61 seats.

One of the reasons for this anomaly is the fact that in 2006, the opposition was divided. This permitted such gains for the Left. In 2011, the index of opposition unity was very strong, where despite an equal amount of votes, the number of seats got drastically reduced. Further, according to Election Commission estimates, between 2009 and 2011 nearly 48 lakh additional voters were enrolled in the state with 37 lakh new young voters. Of these increased number of voters, all of whom were born after the Left Front government came into existence in Bengal, over ten lakh voted for the Left Front, while over 34 lakh voted for the combined Opposition. This explains these results.

With a 41% vote share, the Left Front in Bengal commands a larger support base than what the governments in many states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra or even Bihar under the new posterboy Nitish Kumar currently command.

Leaving aside the congenital detractors of the Left, there is a genuine concern among very well-meaning people about the Left's future. Such concern is understandable. In electoral terms, it is a fact that compared to the first elections that the CPI(M) faced after its formation in 1967, its current position is worrisome. In 1967, the CPI(M) had 19 members in the Lok Sabha as against 16 today. In the state assemblies in Kerala and West Bengal, it had 52 and 43 MLAs respectively — as against 45 and 40 respectively today.

But the Left's influence on the evolution of modern India has neither been confined nor can it be measured by its electoral presence alone. Three visions contended in the nationalist discourse during the freedom struggle: the Congress vision of a secular democratic India; the Left vision that extended beyond this to convert political independence of the country into its economic independence, ie socialism; these together combated the twin expression of the third vision of Hindu and Muslim fundamentalisms that feed on each other. The Left played a very important role in the evolution of the modern India we know today, through the moulding of people's consciousness, beyond its electoral presence.

Second, the various militant peasant struggles launched across the country against feudal oppression by the communists brought onto the central agenda the question of abolition of zamindari and other forms of landlordism. This, as a consequence, drew the vast mass of rural India into India's democratic mainstream.

Third, the struggle for the linguistic reorganisation of states in independent India, pioneered and led by the communists, for Vishala Andhra, Samyukta Maharashtra and Aikya Kerala drew up the contours of the political map of modern India.

Further, in modern times, the implementation of land reforms in Kerala and West Bengal and the deepening of democracy to the grassroots through decentralisation of power preceded by a decade the panchayati raj amendment to the Constitution. This succeeded in bringing into our democratic mainstream hitherto dispossessed and marginalised people.

In today's conditions, with the neo-liberal reforms creating two Indias that continue to be detached from each other and mega-corruption that robs India as a country and as a people of its true potential, it is the Left that steadfastly and consistently has kept a straight bat. The Left has traversed a long way and during the course of the journey there have been mistakes. It is important to recognise, correct and ensure that these are not repeated. This continues to be the Left's motto. This is an intense battle, a class battle that in Bengal has already claimed three lives of our comrades in the past 48 hours.

It is a long and arduous journey ahead for the creation of a better India that would help all of us realise our true worth as a civilisation and a people. This is a journey that cannot be completed without the Left.

( Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP )

The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

'I SAVED MY COUNTRY FROM NUCLEAR BLACKMAIL'

Pakistan's nuclear programme has always been a target for western propaganda and false accusations. I would like to make it clear that it was an Indian nuclear explosion in May 1974 that prompted our nuclear programme, motivating me to return to Pakistan to help create a credible nuclear deterrent and save my country from Indian nuclear blackmail.

After 15 years in Europe with invaluable experience in enrichment technology, I came to Pakistan in December 1975 and was given the task of producing nuclear weapons by then prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. On December 10, 1984, I informed General Zia-ul-Haq that we could explode a device at a week's notice, whenever he so desired. We achieved credible nuclear capacity by the second half of the 80s, and the delivery system was perfected in the early 90s. For a country that couldn't produce bicycle chains to have become a nuclear and missile power within a short span — and in the teeth of western opposition — was quite a feat.

The question of how many weapons are required for credible deterrence against India is purely academic. India is engaged in a massive programme to cope with the non-existent threat posed by China and to become a superpower. India doesn't need more than five weapons to hurt us badly, and we wouldn't need more than 10 to return the favour. That's why there's been no war between us for the past 40 years.

I have little knowledge of the present status of our programme, as I left Kahuta, Pakistan's main nuclear facility, 10 years ago. As the pioneer of the programme, my guess is that our efforts have been to perfect the design, reduce the size of the weapons to fit on the warheads of our missile systems, and ensure a fail-safe system for their storage. A country needs sufficient weapons to be stored at different places in order to have a second-strike capability. But there is a limit to these requirements.

Don't overlook the fact that no nuclear-capable country has been subjected to aggression or occupied, or had its borders redrawn. Had Iraq and Libya been nuclear powers, they wouldn't have been destroyed in the way we have seen recently. If we had had nuclear capability before 1971, we would not have lost half of our country — present-day Bangladesh — after a disgraceful defeat.

There is a total misconception about the money spent on our nuclear programme. When we started, our budget was just $10 million per year, increasing to $20 million per year when at full capacity, including all salaries, transport, medical care, housing, utilities, and purchases of technical equipment and materials. This is but half the cost of a modern fighter aircraft. The propaganda about spending exorbitant sums on the programme circulated by ignorant, often foreign-paid, Pakistanis has no substance.

India and Pakistan understand the old principle that ensured peace in the Cold War: mutually assured destruction. The two can't afford a nuclear war, and despite our sabre-rattling, there is no chance of a nuclear war that would send us both back to the Stone Age. What pains me is that we gave Pakistan nuclear capability for its self-esteem and deterrence. With our sovereignty thus secure, I urged various governments to concentrate on development to raise the people's standard of living. Unfortunately, successive incompetent rulers never bothered to work on the greater national interest. We're worse off now than we were 20 or even 40 years ago when we were subjected to embargoes.

Our nuclear weapons programme has given us an impregnable defence, and we are forced to maintain this deterrence until our differences with India are resolved. That would lead to a new era of peace for both countries. I hope I live to see Pakistan and India living harmoniously in the same way as the once bitter enemies Germany and France live today.


( AQ Khan served as the Director-General of the Kahuta Research Laboratories, Pakistan, from 1976 to 2001. He is considered the 'Father of the Pakistani nuclear programme' )

The views expressed by the author are personal

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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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

RECALL BHARDWAJ

 

When you thought the political atmosphere in Karnataka couldn't be further vitiated, and Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa's credibility was at rock-bottom, Governor H.R. Bhardwaj has managed to make everyone else look better. He seems to think his brief as governor is to create constitutional crises out of thin air, and devise ways to shake the state government. The Supreme Court recently restored the membership of the 11 rebel BJP MLAs, who had been disqualified by the assembly speaker, thus saving the Yeddyurappa government's skin. The governor declares himself vindicated by the Supreme Court's action, and has now recommended president's rule for Karnataka, based on his gut sense that the council of ministers had lost legitimacy.

Bhardwaj has chosen to ignore the clear limits laid down in the Bommai judgment — "in all cases where the support of the ministry is claimed to have been withdrawn by some legislators, the proper course for testing the strength of the ministry is on the floor of the house... (and) not a matter of private opinion of any individual, be he the governor or the president." Bhardwaj has knocked down this elementary tenet of federal fairplay, and, rather incredibly, by comparison made Yeddyurappa's to be the correct democratic fight. President's rule applies only when the government is in a minority, which is patently not the case in Karnataka right now. What's more, Bhardwaj has even blocked the possibility of a legislative session to assess the government's strength.

Certainly, there may have been breaches of propriety in the Karnataka legislature, and the question of corruption and mining cited by the governor are all pressing issues — but those have to be addressed by statutory procedure, by the patient processes of law, as the Supreme Court now has. Bhardwaj's swagger and disregard for delicate constitutional arrangements are a separate problem altogether. He has consistently used his Raj Bhavan perch to undercut the government, just as he previously interpreted his official role as furthering of the Congress's ends. There is no place in India for these sudden swipes and attempted midnight coups. By invoking president's rule as a scorched-earth strategy to undermine Karnataka's elected government, Bhardwaj has debased the office of governor. The Centre must recall him before he inflicts further damage.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PASHA UNPLUGGED

 

The conditions in Islamabad's Parliament House were clearly trying. As reports in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper detailed on the days after, no one had been prepared for Friday's in-camera session of the two Houses with the military top brass to last for 12 hours. With an injunction against anybody or anything being imported into the premises after 3 pm, the subsequent shortage of food and, in Army Chief Ashraf Kayani's now celebrated case, cigarettes tested everybody's stamina. Nonetheless, eventually the agenda for the day was accomplished: in a resolution, Pakistan's Parliament reposed its confidence in the defence forces and said there would be "dire consequences" if an Abbottabad-style unilateral operation was attempted again.

If the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, was struck by the glaring unpreparedness of civilian cafeterias, he probably kept it to himself. But the trial, with parliamentarians questioning him on the Abbottabad strike and with his offer to resign for the intelligence failure still up for grabs, must have taken its toll. Why else would the chief of one of the most formidable, feared and inscrutable intelligence agencies use the occasion in the manner he did to warn India against carrying out a strike within Pakistan. Tough talk is loose change amongst soldiers, but Pasha went further. According to reports in Pakistani newspapers, he said that targets had been identified in Indian territory and that a "rehearsal" had also been carried out.

Pasha has obviously not inherited his predecessor Kayani's quality of reticence, so advocating it could be pointless. What are these "rehearsals" he referred to? Are they dry-runs or operations formulated on the drawing board? Given that the shadowy role of the ISI in incidents in India is likely to be scrutinised in the trial in Chicago beginning this week of Tahawwur Rana for his involvement in 26/11, perhaps he could talk on.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

AFTER DSK

 

Dominique Strauss-Kahn might have been envied. He headed the International Monetary Fund at a crucial point in its evolution, and as it dealt with its most severe challenges since its foundation. In his early 60s, silver-haired and striking, he was expected to return in triumph to Paris in the next few months, claim the presidential nomination of the Socialist Party as his by right, and trounce incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's elections. But now, as pictures of him being led around in handcuffs by the New York Police Department — following his identification in a police line-up by a hotel chambermaid who had accused him of sexual assault — hit the front pages in France and the world, that perfect career has come crashing down. The question is: what has Strauss-Kahn brought down with him?

He was already under fire from some parts of the French press for a lavish, "un-socialist" lifestyle, and because rumours were swirling about a dubious sexual history. In 2008, the IMF investigated accusations that he had abused his position while conducting an affair with a staff-member, eventually clearing him of wrongdoing other than a "serious error of judgment". This new accusation — featuring a naked run after a chambermaid in his $3000-a-night hotel room — will cement his reputation, even if he is cleared of criminal charges. The Socialist Party will have to look elsewhere for their Sarkozy giant-killer.

And what of the IMF? As it modifies long-held shibboleths, it is time to consider whether the outdated, restrictive old-boys-club "tradition" that the World Bank be headed by an American and the IMF by a European too be re-examined. The IMF needs a firm hand at the top; its most crucial task involves looking hard at Europe's balance sheets; some of the strongest, most secure economies in terms of international transactions are in Asia; and emerging economies, including Brazil, have demonstrated their responsibility in multilateral organisations and their ability to innovate policy. The time has come for the World Bank and the IMF to increase their stability, by broadening their leadership search. Strauss-Kahn's replacement need not be from Europe.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

READING AMMA'S MIND

A.R. VENKATACHALAPATHY

 

Penguin had timed the release of a biography of J. Jayalalithaa to coincide with the declaration of election results. Publishers are not psephologists. Nor are Indian biographers the most insightful on public figures. That Jayalalithaa went to the Chennai high court just before it went on vacation, effectively scuttling its publication, probably tells us more about her than what the biography itself could have.

Jayalalithaa's public career has been long and chequered and, to put it mildly, an eventful roller-coaster ride. From her unsure beginnings in the film world, she became a star, the most successful of MGR's heroines. In the early 1980s, as a prelude to her investiture in politics, and a Rajya Sabha membership, she projected herself as an intellectual in the print media through columns and serials. In the post-MGR period, physically pushed out of his hearse, Jayalalithaa emerged as a street-fighter, battling for the mantle of MGR, to be the inheritor of his legacy and vote bank.

The tragic assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 on Tamil soil proved a windfall, with the AIADMK-Congress sweeping the elections and leaving only a clutch of seats for the opposition. Jayalalithaa became the youngest ever chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Floral cape, the attire that she chose to appear in in public, barely concealed the many sins of commission and omission. The 1991-96 misrule turned out to be a nightmare that was eclipsed only by the DMK rule that has just now been booted out.

In what can be termed a reverse sweep, in 1996, the DMK alliance swept away the AIADMK-Congress combine, with Jayalalithaa herself losing to a greenhorn. The five years that followed were probably the most difficult, as she battled court cases and imprisonment. Following the appearance of photographs of her bedecked with jewels, she swore to eschew adornments, and only recently is she seen wearing a watch.

The fragmentation of the national polity since 1989 provided much elbow room to regional parties, with national parties at their mercy. Jayalalithaa seized the opportunity to arm-twist the BJP-led NDA government, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee would not easily forget those times. This pushed the DMK to align with the BJP, thus eroding its secular image, effectively making the DMK and the AIADMK the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Tamil Nadu politics.

In the seesaw battle at the hustings, the trajectory of which has again been confirmed, Jayalalithaa won in 2001. Within weeks of this victory came the dramatic midnight arrest of M. Karunanidhi. This overreaching had the paradoxical effect of putting a full stop to vendetta politics. The 10 years since have been quiet on this front. The noises after this victory notwithstanding, this quietude may continue, with Jayalalithaa trusting the CBI and the Supreme Court to pursue the 2G scam cases to its logical end.

Jayalalithaa's second ministry was in marked contrast to the first. Gone were the ostentation and hubris. Never mind the dismissal of lakhs of striking government employees overnight, and her ill-advised move to push through an anti-conversion law. This was the time that prime-ministerial ambitions flickered in the horizon. The drubbing in the 2004 parliamentary elections — defeated in all 39 seats — imposed the need for course correction. But the losses continued. The 2006 state elections and the 2009 parliamentary elections were decided more by electoral arithmetic than by a swayed electorate.

What, then, explains this landslide? Unprecedented and brazen corruption. Nepotism. Necessary conditions? Yes. Sufficient? No. Unmindful of reverses and debacles, Jayalalithaa has projected herself as the only alternative to the DMK. Long periods of political hibernation have been punctuated by spikes of spectacular activity. When all the opposition members were evicted from the assembly, Jayalalithaa, in her only appearance in the last assembly, flung the sling at the Goliath. Barely weeks after the massive tamasha of the World Classical Tamil Conference in Coimbatore last year, she organised a mammoth public meeting in the same city. And followed it up with equally impressive meetings in Madurai and Tiruchy. Chills ran down the DMK spine. At Madurai, when she promised liberation from Alagiri, crowds went rapturous. The untapped anger of the electorate at the betrayal of the Sri Lankan Tamils accentuated the groundswell of resentment against the DMK-Congress.

Sensing a winning combination in allying with Vijayakanth's DMDK, she contested 160 seats to DMK's 119 — thus projecting the AIADMK as the only party which could form a government of its own. In this, she risked letting down the trusted Vaiko. This also effectively made her the sole campaigner, a mantle she donned well, covering every micro region in the state.

What can one expect in the coming five years? District secretaryship and ministerial positions being analogous in the DMK party structure, administration was a casualty. District collectors are a happier lot under Amma. The stranglehold of the DMK family could well be dismantled in various spheres. There has already been a change of guard in the Tamil film producers' association. The media is already heaving a sigh of relief. But on larger issues — the alarming power situation, illegal sand quarrying — one will have to wait and watch.

Ironically, the real opposition will perhaps be from within her own alliance. As the DMK fights a rearguard action, Vijayakanth may overshadow it to become Jayalalithaa's rival.

In an exclusive interview to Jaya TV barely hours after the election results, Jayalalithaa called it "my victory", but immediately corrected it to "our victory". One hopes this is a good augury. At the press conference she further declared that this was not just a mandate against the DMK, but a positive mandate in her favour. The Tamil Nadu electorate is hoping that this would be borne out, if not in the promised year-and-a-half, at least in the next five years.

A.R. Venkatachalapathy is a Chennai-based historian and Tamil writer

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

NET CHECK

RAHUL MATTHAN

 

The recently notified Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011, have set the cat among the pigeons. The Rules contain everything one would expect to find in a full-blown privacy legislation, with separate provisions covering the manner in which companies collect, disclose and transfer personal data. There is widespread concern that the Rules will disrupt the way in which companies do business in India and dampen the enthusiasm of overseas corporations seeking to invest in the country.

But will these Rules have the impact that everyone fears?

In 2008, Section 43A was introduced into the IT Act. The section applied specifically to "bodies corporate" that either possessed, dealt with or handled sensitive personal data or information in a computer resource that they owned, controlled or operated. It stated that if, as a result of any negligence in the implementation or maintenance of reasonable security practices and procedures, any person suffered wrongful loss or gain, the body corporate responsible would be liable to pay damages by way of compensation to the person affected.

Some of the terms used in Section 43A such as "sensitive personal data or information" and "reasonable security practices and procedures" were left to be defined later by the Centre. In April 2011, the Central government enacted the Rules under Section 87(2)(ob) — a provision that empowers it to make rules relating to "reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information under Section 43A". The language of the section makes it clear that the rule-making power of the Centre is limited to two matters: (a) reasonable security practices and procedures and (b) sensitive personal data or information. Even a cursory glance on the provisions of the Rules indicates that they go much further and articulate a privacy framework way beyond the mandate available under Section 87(2)(ob).

In this context, there is an argument to be made that the Rules should be struck down as being in excess of the rule-making power of the Centre. Such an argument will doubtless be successful should it be brought before the courts. However, if the Rules can be read harmoniously with the provisions of Section 43A, it may be possible to present an interpretation that is consistent. Let us take another look at the provisions of Section 43A. The explanation relating to the term "reasonable security practices and procedures" has been reproduced below:

"Reasonable security practices and procedures means those practices and procedures designed to protect such information from unauthorised access, damage, use, modification, disclosure or impairment, as may be specified in an agreement between the parties or as may be specified in any law for the time being in force and in the absence of such agreement or any law, such reasonable security practices and procedures as may be prescribed by the Central government in consultation with such professional bodies or associations as it may deem fit."

The explanation makes it clear that the Central government has been authorised to prescribe reasonable security practices and procedures. If we can treat the Rules as a set of security practices and procedures in relation to collection, disclosure and transfer of sensitive personal data or information, it may be possible for us to harmoniously construe these Rules with the provisions of Section 43A to ensure that they both remain enforceable. What this means, however, is that the Rules would occupy a slightly less central position in the general scheme of data protection provisions.

If in fact the Rules are just a set of practices and procedures, Section 43A states that the practices and procedures prescribed by the Central government would only apply in the absence of an agreement or a law. If the parties have agreed on the security practices and procedures that would govern the treatment of sensitive personal data or information, this agreement will prevail over the Rules.

From this analysis it is clear that the Rules are not the all-encompassing privacy legislation that they appear to be. At worst they constitute an executive act in excess of the Central government's administrative power to enact. At best they are no more than government-prescribed practices and procedures that bodies corporate could choose to follow in order to avoid the consequences set out in Section 43A.

The government of India is in the process of preparing a draft Privacy Bill that will set out the legal framework for the country's data protection regime. Once enacted, the principles established under that legislation would form the benchmark against which privacy provisions of all laws in the country will be tested. As is evidenced by the strong reaction to the Rules, there is a crying need for some clarity on the subject. The sooner the law is passed, the better.

The writer is a Bangalore-based lawyer

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'ULTIMATELY IT IS THE PEOPLE OF THE REGION WHO MUST TAKE CHARGE OF THEIR OWN FUTURE'

MANMOHAN SINGH

 

Afghanistan is a country richly endowed in culture, heritage, architecture and natural resources. Afghanistan has been a centre of civilisation. It has given to the region and the world the richness of Dari and Pashto literature, the Sufi traditions of the Chishtis, the legacy of the Buddha and Buddhist art in Bamiyan, the Gandhara School of art and much more.

Afghanistan has been the junction between South and Central Asia and a gateway to India. Our ties of history and culture go back many millennia. The founder of the Mughal Empire, Emperor Babar, lies interred here in his favourite garden in Kabul. In his brilliant reign of five years, Sher Shah Suri built the Grand Trunk Road from Kabul to Delhi. This facilitated the traditional exchange of religious ideas, the carriage of goods, travellers, kings and commoners. Kagazi badams and Kandahari anars are well known delicacies in India.

Bacha Khan, who was known as the Frontier Gandhi because of his friendship with Mahatma Gandhi, was laid to rest in Jalalabad according to his wishes.

Our forefathers have bequeathed to us a rich heritage of social, cultural and political ties. These civilisational connections have tied together our traditions and faiths and our terrain and temperament. As leaders and representatives, we have the sacred duty to strengthen and enrich these bonds forged by our people over centuries. I have come to Afghanistan to renew these ties of friendship, solidarity and fraternity. This is the only agenda that I have come with. This is the only agenda that the people of India have in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has undergone great trials and tribulations. But we know that the Afghan people are proud, brave and fiercely independent. We know that they are strong and resilient in the face of adversity. These are qualities widely admired in India.

In the 10 years since it decided to turn its back on the past and face the future, Afghanistan has made significant progress in many areas. There are undoubtedly many challenges ahead. The process of nation-building is long and full of hurdles. National reconstruction needs sustained hard work and sacrifice and is a process of learning.

Our two countries face similar development challenges. India is ready to partner the Afghan people as they rebuild their country in accordance with their own priorities and national circumstances.

Many of Afghanistan's priorities are also our priorities. Many of your problems are also our problems.

We fully support the vision of a secure, prosperous and democratic future for Afghanistan outlined in the National Priority Programmes initiated by the government of Afghanistan.

Our experience of policy implementation in India has been that participative democracy is a vital agent of social and economic empowerment at the grassroots. It has brought in more transparent and accountable governance. The Afghan parliament already has reservation for women. We have found that similar reservation in local bodies in India is creating a new dynamic of development with a human face.

School enrolment in your country has increased from 1 million to 7 million since 2002 and enrolment of girls has doubled over the past four years.

I know that it is your topmost priority to put every child in school and keep him or her there. In India the mid-day meal scheme has been very successful in our schools. We have been supplying fortified biscuits to Afghan school children for the last few years.

But what we teach our children is equally important. In India we have recently overhauled the school curriculum. What children learn in school should be related to their lives outside it. They should imbibe a sense of nationhood and values of tolerance and respect for others. They should be taught about the importance of the environment. Education should stimulate and open their minds to creative thought and imagination.

The hopes and dreams of our nations rest on the little shoulders of our children. So we need to teach them well.

I know that Afghanistan has made strides in providing health care to its people over the past decade. We would be happy to strengthen the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health and the work of our medical missions in different provinces.

Building infrastructure is another challenge. We have tried to provide such assistance as we could to provide electricity and roads in Afghanistan. I am happy that the transmission line built from Pul-e-Khumri is now bringing a steady supply of electricity to the capital. I am happy that the sacrifices made in building the Zaranj-Delaram highway have not gone in vain. The population of Zaranj has increased. Trade is thriving and customs revenues have grown.

The people of India feel privileged to see their development cooperation receive such a warm welcome in Afghanistan. Nothing would give us greater satisfaction than to see Indian resources being utilised for more roads, more electricity, more schools, more hospitals or more community projects — activities that directly benefit the common Afghan people.

We will increase development outlays towards capacity building and skill development. This will include more scholarships for Afghan students for studying in India, institution-building efforts, social development and higher investment in the health sector by way of a medical package. We will provide buses for Kabul and other municipalities.

We propose to upgrade the agricultural department at the Kabul University to an agricultural university, donate tractors to farmers and give scholarships for the study of agricultural sciences. We will significantly enhance our commitment for the Small Development Projects Scheme across provinces to further facilitate development at the grassroots with the involvement of local communities.

We will help in the preservation and revival of Afghanistan's archeological and cultural heritage and restoration of the historic Stor Palace in Kabul.

The total outlay on these and other additional initiatives that we will take in consultation with the government of Afghanistan in the next few years will amount to $500 million. This will take our total commitment of assistance to around $2 billion.

Our ambitions and aspirations for growth and prosperity cannot be realised unless there is peace and tranquillity that will allow our people to live and work in honour and dignity.

I pay tribute to all those innocent men, women and children who have lost their lives in the search for a better tomorrow. The people of India feel and share the pain and suffering of their Afghan brothers and sisters.

Terrorism and extremism are alien ideas to our people. They bring only death and destruction in their wake. They provide no answers to the problems of poverty, illiteracy, hunger and disease. They have no place in a civilised society. Eventually, our centuries old traditions of peaceful co-existence, of living in peace and harmony with each other and with nature will prevail over these deviant ideologies. We cannot and must not allow the flames of extremism and terrorism to be fanned once again.

Afghanistan has embarked upon a process of national reconciliation. We wish you well in this enterprise. It is up to you, as the peoples' representatives, to make decisions about your country's future without outside interference or coercion. This is your sovereign right. India will respect the choices you make and the decisions you take.

Our only interest is to see a stable, peaceful and independent Afghanistan living in peace with its neighbours.

We hope that Afghanistan will be able to build a framework of regional cooperation that will help its nation building efforts. As Afghanistan moves towards assuming full responsibility for its security, we stand ready to widen our cooperation in this area.

The people of this region have lived together for centuries. This is our region and we have to survive together and flourish together.

While the international community can help, ultimately it is the people of the region who must take charge of their own future. We have to learn to solve our problems ourselves. This is the lesson of history.

Afghanistan's entry into the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation was a historic step. We must invest and work together for our common future. The countries of South Asia have been most prosperous and stable when they have been well-connected to each other and the world. Geography and history make it imperative that we cooperate to realise our common destiny.

If we are to build a common regional identity, we need to learn more about each other. I have often said that we know more about the countries of the West than we do about each other. That is why it is very important to multiply our people-to-people contacts.

Yesterday, President Karzai and I agreed on a declaration of strategic partnership.

We have agreed to reinvigorate our relationship in all sectors on the basis of mutual respect and mutual equality.

This will be a long-term partnership. Its main pillars will be greater political interaction, a comprehensive economic partnership, a trade development strategy, a social development strategy, an agricultural outreach strategy, a cultural development strategy, and a civil society strategy. A partnership council will be set up under the two foreign ministers.

I would especially like to underline the decision to enhance people-to-people exchanges, including between intellectuals, youth, women and the media.

Parliamentary exchanges are extremely useful and helpful. I would suggest for your consideration the formation of an India-Afghanistan parliamentary friendship forum.

We will revitalise links between our business and trading communities so that Afghanistan's economy can fully benefit from India's economic growth.

I am happy that the people of Afghanistan are emerging from the ravages of war and rebuilding the country as a peaceful home for the confluence of cultures, for commerce and development and where the countries of the region cooperate rather than compete with each other.

As an abiding friend, India will always stand by you in this noble task. We have always stood by our Afghan friends and I want to reaffirm that we will do so in future as well.

Excerpted from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's address at the joint session of the parliament of Afghanistan on May 13

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE CONGRESS'S ASSETS IN ASSAM

SANDHYA GOSWAMI

 

In Assam, the Congress has notched an impressive victory and Tarun Gogoi, like his predecessor Bimala Prasad Chaliha, is all set to become CM for the third consecutive term. The Congress secured this unambiguous verdict in spite of allegations of corruption by the opposition parties, sections of the media and civil society. Meanwhile, the main opposition party, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), suffered a humiliation at the hustings, as did the BJP, with several of their bigwigs, including both party chiefs, biting the dust. The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the Bodoland People's Front (BPF) have improved their tally and the Trinamool Congress has managed to open its account by winning one seat. But the big puzzle is: how did the Congress manage to get such a massive victory? Is the troubled state really on the road to recovery?

What has worked in the Congress's favour is its focus on peace, development and identity questions. There seems a real possibility of a political solution to the vexed problem of militancy in the state. By engaging with dominant militant groups across the negotiation table and initiating a much-awaited peace process without any preconditions on the issue of sovereignty after 30 long years, the Gogoi government has won the confidence of the state's peace-loving people who have greatly suffered from the violence and insecurity generated by insurgent activities. The emergence of the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) did cost the Congress a portion of immigrant Muslim votes, but the Congress regained its lost strength reasonably well by wooing Assamese-speaking Muslims and some Assamese-speaking Hindus who had earlier allied with the AGP and the BJP respectively. Thus the gains of the Congress were across all sections, making it a catch-all party in Assam.

Further, the major indices of development such as education, health, law and order, roads, electricity, drinking water, etc, indicate that the party has done better in the last five years than in its previous terms. Gogoi's image also helped his party considerably. The high rating of the chief minister as well as the satisfaction of the people on the performance of the government have translated into votes that helped the party retain its stronghold.

The AGP, once in power for two terms, meanwhile, suffers from organisational weakness and internal factionalism. Its agenda, to unite people to form a cohesive Assamese nationality, has failed to take off. The party put up a united front in this election, after a period of painful separation from its incongruous faction, the AGP (Progressive). Still, it failed to capitalise on the failure of the government to adequately address issues like floods, erosion, the impact of big dams, population growth, etc. The AGP's sole mobilisation plank revolved around the institutionalisation of corruption. But in reality, corruption did not seem to have been a big issue for the people, beyond a few urban locations. Besides, the AGP's seat adjustments did not improve its tally, as those parties are influential only in small pockets.

However, it is to be remembered that the structural reasons that produced regional parties in Assam have not totally disappeared; they may be present in some areas in a dormant state. The future of the AGP lies not in short-term political alliances to occupy a few seats in the elections but in working to fulfil that dormant political desire of hitherto unrepresented social forces to come under a large federal political umbrella.

For the Congress, it will be helpful in their own long-term interest and for the progress and prosperity of the state to focus on some of the pertinent issues raised during the election, like corruption, rising prices and shadow areas of development which, if left unattended, could snowball into major irritants in the future.

The writer is professor of political science at Gauhati University

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

DON'T LEAVE ALONE

 

Osama bin Laden drew America into Afghanistan; his death will be seen by many as the strategic rationale to depart. Already, talk in DC and other capitals was focusing on troop withdrawals, political settlements and negotiations with the Taliban.

For many in the region, however, bin Laden's demise is seen as a harbinger: of a vacuum created by the pullout of Western forces, the intensification of long-established regional rivalries, and a subsequent rise in instability inside Afghanistan. It is this "back-to-the-future" scenario that they most fear.

To date, efforts to achieve a political settlement have been devoted mainly to building support for the so-called reconciliation process: reaching out to the Taliban and other disaffected Afghans to come to some political accommodation with the current government. Whether bin Laden's elimination will increase the prospects for this remains to be seen. Some top insurgent leaders may be more willing to make a deal, with an eye toward self-preservation; others may conclude that with bin Laden gone, the US and NATO won't be far behind. But even if successful, a new internal political settlement will not be sufficient to assure long-term stability. What is required is a new external political settlement, one that brings the country's neighbours and near neighbours into the process.

Historically, Afghanistan's troubles have been, for the most part, caused by external interference and intervention, as well as by Afghan parties inviting foreign elements to take part in their internecine conflicts.

The importance of minimising, if not totally eliminating, interference from outside parties was recognised by Afghan and other international participants at the Bonn Conference in December 2001, soon after the Taliban were ousted. The declaration adopted by the conference included a request that "the UN and the international community take the necessary measures to guarantee the national sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Afghanistan as well as the non-interference by foreign countries in Afghanistan's internal affairs."

Over the past decade, there have been numerous calls for "regional cooperation" at international gatherings but there has been little action.

Since the UN secretary-general already has the mandate in the Bonn Declaration, he should appoint a person of high political stature and experience to focus exclusively on an external political settlement for Afghanistan, one that leads to a regional compact on non-interference and non-intervention. A similar UN special envoy was appointed for the 1988 Geneva Accord, a move that led to the Soviet withdrawal.

It must be an inclusive process, including all states in the region and beyond that will play a critical role in stabilising Afghanistan's future, especially those that have suspicions and rivalries with one another. Pakistan and India come to mind, as do the United States and Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The regional agreement must provide for a mechanism to monitor its implementation. It should also address matters that have critical regional importance and opportunities for cooperation: combating drug trafficking and production; assisting refugee populations; and facilitating commerce, transit and energy flows throughout the region. The latter would underscore the potential benefits for all in the region of a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.

Clearly, negotiating such an external political agreement will take considerable time and high-level effort. In the meantime, should the US want to be more proactive, it may want to consider a proposal recently offered by former Secretary of State James Baker: "Why don't we pull together a conference of China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Iran — Iran helped us when we first went into Afghanistan — and the United States and say... you guys have every bit as much of an interest in a stable Afghanistan as we do... We might get some help."

Help from all quarters will be essential as the beginning of the endgame commences.

Inderfurth was US assistant secretary of state for South Asia. Gharekhan was India's special envoy for the Middle East and is a former UN undersecretary-general

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SOME HOPE FOR LANDLORDS

Being a landlord in most cities can be quite traumatic if you can't get the tenant to vacate, more so if you gave your property out several decades ago when rentals were very low. Most of the older commercial/residential areas in Indian cities fall in this category, and shopkeepers/offices give a few hundred rupees as rent for properties worth crores. To add salt to injury, local authorities often demand higher property tax rates in keeping with the escalating property values, never mind if the property yields just a few hundred rupees in rent. Landlords also need to ensure the properties are not allowed to fall into disrepair and, to the extent there is damage to anyone's life, they are held responsible. To top it all, such tenancies are often inheritable. Landlords in the capital's central Connaught Place (CP) shopping district were offered a ray of hope in the mid-1990s when Parliament passed amendments to the Delhi Rent Act, which made tenancies non-inheritable. The President even gave his assent but a last-minute push by the tenants' lobby, the shopkeepers primarily, ensured this never got 'notified' into law.

Around 15 years later, while deciding a landlord-tenant dispute, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court offers a fresh ray of hope to landlords across the country. According to the judges, most cases are filed because landlords don't get a reasonable return, so the judges have come up with some guidelines. The judges recommend tenants hike rentals every 3 years and in cases where the rents have been fixed decades ago, "the present market rate should be worked out either on the basis of valuation report or reliable estimates of building rentals in the surrounding areas, let out on rent recently". Property taxes and other charges (including when they are enhanced), the Court has said, should ideally be paid by the tenants so the landlord gets the full rent. Once market rentals are paid, tenants should be allowed to stay for at least 5 years. For an existing old lease, landlords can now theoretically send out notices to tenants asking for market rentals immediately, and demand termination should this not be accepted. Expect tenants to flock to the courts immediately. Unlike in the case of the amendments to the Delhi Rent Act, this time around the political class may not have as much of a role to play. The "guidelines and norms" that the Court has suggested are not a firm order that states have to implement; that the lower judiciary will be influenced by the judgment is stating the obvious.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

POWERFUL RATINGS

The plan to introduce a mandatory rating system for power distribution companies is a welcome step. Such a move would help power companies access the markets for meeting their capital needs and reduce the burden of state governments. But the task is complex and requires determined efforts, as is indicated by the previous efforts to introduce such ratings. One reason is the availability and quality of data to developing meaningful rating indicators and the considerable lag in such data. For instance, the data that is now available for the aggregate technical and commercial losses of the state power utilities is restricted to 2008-09, as indicated by the data provided by the power ministry to Parliament. In fact, at the start of the decade, both Crisil and ICRA had been mandated by the Power Finance Corporation, at the insistence of the ministry of power, to carry out a performance rating of the power sector across states. The first report was released in 2003, was reviewed thrice and could be finalised only in 2006, based on the feedback from the power utilities and the ministry of power. But the efforts lost steam as the power sector reforms took a backstage in the later period.

With the losses of the distribution companies once again surging, even after the limited entry of the private sector, after the privatisation of the distribution network in Orissa in 1999 and in Delhi in 2002, the performance of the sector has once again gained the attention of the central government. Although the most recent numbers are yet to be collated, the Thirteenth Finance Commission has pegged the aggregate loss of the state transmission and distribution utilities at R68,643 crore in 2010-11, after excluding the subsidies provided by the state government and after assuming a reasonable reduction in T&D losses. The cash-strapped states will find it especially difficult to meet such a large burden, given that almost 70% of the power distribution is still with the state utilities, and the large capex requirements. In fact, the Planning Commission, in its mid-term review of the Eleventh Plan, has vouched for the need to institute an independent study of the balance sheet of the public sector discoms to ascertain their real financial situation. The mandatory ratings will also help improve transparency in the working of state utilities.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

BUILDING INDIA INNOVATION INC

ARINDAM BHATTACHARYA

 

The Nano was a revolutionary product not just for Tata Motors but also for the global automotive industry. The 'bottom of the pyramid' customer needs to be addressed through cutting-edge innovation. It highlighted the 'frugal engineering' capability of Indian engineers and has been lauded in the international press, as well as by global leaders like Carlos Ghosn and Jeff Immelt, and made Indians proud, and rightly so.

Despite President Obama's reported comments on the need to improve the US education system and innovation capacity to prevent being overtaken by China and India, innovations like Nano remain an exception rather than the rule. India's total filing of patents is less than 0.5% of the total number of patents filed in the world, which is led by Japan, followed by the US. Of these patents, two-thirds are filed by foreign firms with R&D centres in India—clearly foreigners are leveraging Indian talent more than the Indians themselves. This state of affairs is driven by the fact that, like many other key areas, innovation does not get enough investment as India spends less than 1% of its GDP on R&D compared to 2-4% for the developed countries.

The challenges in improving the R&D environment in India are well understood by the different stakeholders, and many reports have been prepared on this subject by the government and its bodies like the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). These reports mention, among many areas, the need to enhance both public and private investment in R&D, improving the research capability in our universities, improving collaboration between research institutes and industry, and strengthening and evolving the IP regime to reward risk-taking. While the government has taken many steps to address some of these challenges, there are some strategic issues and choices that we face as a nation that have not been adequately answered.

First and foremost is a fundamental question. Given the stage of India's industrial development, how important is the strengthening of R&D capability for our nation? I ask this as a somewhat rhetorical question as I remember my father, who retired as a senior scientist in a CSIR laboratory, lamenting about the response of Indian businesses to indigenous research—they preferred to buy old technology and second-hand plants from abroad rather than new technology developed by research centres in India.

If we believe that this is a critical objective for India, is the government then willing to use 'terms of trade' to fully leverage the growing demand in the Indian market and mandate the import and localisation of technology, at the very least, in areas considered strategic for the country, like defence and different types of industrial equipment? While many do not view China as the best benchmark on this topic, the fact remains that they have the highest growth among all nations on filing patents and, if they maintain this rate, they will become the most innovative nation in the world. They have imported and assimilated technology faster than any nation in recent history. A great example is their path to a global position in high speed trains (HST). For their first HST project between Beijing and Tianjin, they contracted and imported German technology. Their second project was built with the help of Japanese technology, and their third and fourth projects were built with indigenous technology based on imported and assimilated foreign technologies. Today, they are bidding for tenders for HSTs across the world. For China, developing global standards of technology in Railway Rolling Stock was an important national objective and they orchestrated all their policies to achieve it.

The second issue is posed by the complex nature of the environment required to foster innovation. It is not just one or two policy areas that have to be addressed, but an entire ecosystem that has to be built and strengthened. The most well-known parts of this ecosystem are the research capabilities of Indian universities and R&D capabilities of Indian businesses, and the linkages between the two. It also includes science parks that support R&D communities and fiscal incentives given to promote R&D. However, the role of technical standards and testing organisations is less recognised in India, whereas global experience shows that they play an equally important role. For example, can India set its own standards for the proposed National Broadband Programme to be tested at local testing centres? This will put pressure on potential telecom technology suppliers, both local and foreign, to innovate for and in India.

My final point is on the potential for the innovation culture to become a transformative force for the development of Indian industry. It is accepted by all that the level of investments in R&D has to increase very significantly if we want to go up the global innovation ladder. Can we not think big, as we did in the case of NREGA and UID, and create a multi-billion dollar 'innovation fund' that is managed by experts? Such a fund would be the executing arm of government policies to promote innovation, and could have a mandate to support the development of specific strategic technologies, foster university-industry research projects or consortium research, provide fellowships and budget for returning NRIs, and even support the acquisition and development of critical technologies. Of course, the modalities will have to be worked out in detail, but such a policy measure will go a long way in showing commitment to this important national objective.

The ability to learn, change and innovate faster is the most sustainable of competitive advantages. As a nation, we have a long way to go to become an innovation-driven society. But, as an emerging economic powerhouse aiming to become a leading manufacturing country in the world, now is the time to bring these issues and potential solutions to the front and centre of our policy making. This will go a long way in building a strong R&D environment and innovation culture in the country.

The author is managing director, the Boston Consulting Group, India. These are his personal views

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

CRACKS IN THE CITADEL

MADAN SABNAVIS

 

The mood in the economy after the presentation of the monetary policy is quite a contrast to that when the Union Budget was announced. There is a hint of despondency as we discuss economic numbers today compared with March and the mood has shifted from optimism to caution. How serious is this loss of confidence?

GDP growth expectations for the year have been rolled back from 9% to 7.5-8%. This means that the three sectors will not be able to measure up to expectations. Agricultural production peaked in FY11 and retaining the momentum of 5%-plus in the coming year will be a challenge, considering that we have, so far, not had two successive high growth rates in this sector in the last decade. Therefore, moderate growth can be expected, provided the monsoon is normal and well-distributed across geographies and crops, besides its normal 'arrival and departure'.

Industrial growth for the year has been lower in FY11, at 7.8% (10.5% in FY10), which can be partly explained by the high base year effect. Can this number be bettered in FY12? High interest rates have been fairly neutral for most of FY11 but may impact growth in the coming year. RBI is willing to sacrifice growth for inflation control, which may be interpreted as the possibility of there being further increases in interest rates that, in turn, will impact investment decisions. Interest rates have a bearing not just on investment and cost of working capital but also on retail loans in the housing and consumer goods segments. This would have a bearing on the production of capital goods, metals, construction, etc. Therefore, a number of 8% or so in the coming year would be an optimistic call, aided partly by the relatively low base year effect.

Next, government balances looked well under control in February. Lower growth in industry will have a bearing on production as well as imports, thus posing a potential loss of revenue in indirect tax collections that will pressurise the deficit. The government has to take a call on taxes/duties on oil products, given the volatile nature of crude prices globally. Therefore, the number of 4.6% for the fiscal deficit will have an upward bias if any of the assumptions made at the time of its drafting change. Also, in this environment, a decision that has to be taken is on government expenditure, as it is the only entity that can provide demand stimulus as higher interest rates do not impact them significantly. But, it has withdrawn this stimulus quite drastically in FY12 with overall expenditure to grow by just 3.4%. With lower spending, the component of services sector, i.e., community and social services, will show a modest increase.

Inflation is a phenomenon that no one has been able to grasp. It appears that we have entered a high cost economy, which is hard to reverse and at best can be stabilised at these levels. MSPs have risen, as has the cost of cultivation. Protection of farm incomes has meant that prices have to increase to preserve real consumption levels. Prices have become sticky in the downward direction. Global prices have provided cues to domestic prices and this linkage is becoming stronger. They, in turn, have been driven of late by speculative forces and may be expected to remain volatile. While a high base should bring down prices, the same did not happen last year, notwithstanding the high base.

The stock market has been largely stable in the 18,000 to 20,000 region, reflecting caution. FII funds have not exactly given the thumbs down signal but have been vacillating in the last few months. June to November 2010 was a boom phase after which flows ebbed for 3 months before turning positive again. FDI has also slowed down for several reasons. Besides, the global economy would be recovering and interest rates could move up, thus re-diverting funds to the developed economies. All this means that there could be pressure on the balance of payments.

The exports story has been impressive in FY11 even if looked at in absolute terms and not just growth rates. Surpassing the mark of $200 billion was an achievement but maintaining this tempo will receive a shoulder shrug, as growing exports by even 20% over a base of $245 billion is a challenge. Imports growth will be linked to industrial production and would tend to slow down if industrial growth is lukewarm. However, higher commodity prices, in particular oil, can spoil the party. While we have been talking of a manageable current account deficit at 2.5% of GDP for FY11, the FY12 outcome could be different.

While it may not be proper to predict doomsday, there is definitely a circle of apprehension over all the economic numbers that defied global gravity in FY10 and only stumbled a bit in FY11. FY12 may still be better than what is happening in the rest of the world, but certainly the inflation impact has distorted images that were constructed at the beginning of the year. The 10% terminal year growth target is obviously ruled out and the five-year average will now be lower than 9%, as was envisaged by the Planning Commission.

The author is chief economist, CARE Ratings. These are his personal views

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

BIG BROTHER RULES

Whatever the intention behind them, the new rules framed last month under the Information Technology Act, 2000 are likely to have a chilling effect on the development of the Internet as a medium of communication and information in India. Apart from the unreasonable restrictions on free speech they envisage, the rules raise serious concerns about the privacy of a citizen's personal information, including medical profile, financial position, and sexual orientation. The problem lies with three sets of rules that create guidelines on "intermediaries" and cyber cafes and on the manner in which "sensitive personal data or information" can be shared, especially with government agencies. Intermediaries, defined as those who store, transmit, or provide services related to electronic messages, will henceforth be obligated to block content or information that "threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order or causes incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence or prevents investigation of any offence…" This description is so vague and open-ended that it is likely to lead Internet Service Providers, webmasters, and others to play it safe and shut off access to views and opinions that they consider controversial. The rules specify a mechanism for appeal but the permissible time frame of one month is far too long to offer any meaningful redressal of grievances.

The rules on privacy represent an advance in one respect: they prohibit companies with whom an individual has shared her or his sensitive personal information from disclosing it to any third party without prior permission from that individual. But an exception is made for government agencies; they will be entitled to access that information without a court warrant simply on the basis of a written request that states that the information is required for the investigation of a crime. Although these agencies are, in turn, obligated not to share that information with anyone else, this 'safeguard' is of little value to citizens who value their privacy vis-à-vis the state. The fact that officially sanctioned telephone intercepts have made their way into the public domain points to the danger of giving officials access to personal information. Nor is it clear how crime can be fought by police officers gathering details about a potential suspect's "physical, physiological and mental health condition; sexual orientation; and medical records and history," as the rules partially define "sensitive personal data or information." Such rules have no place on the statute book of a democracy that values the rights of its citizens. Parliament should insist that the government take another look.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

A DARK DAY FOR EUROPE

France and Italy are revealing the contradictions in the attitudes of European Union countries towards the popular rebellions in North Africa. In the latest episode, 61 out of 72 mainly Libyan citizens who fled Tripoli died of hunger and thirst after 16 days adrift in one of busiest areas of the Mediterranean. According to credible reports, a military helicopter dropped water and biscuits, presumably in response to a phone call they made to Eritrean priest Moses Zerai's refugee-rights NGO in Rome; and the helicopter crew gestured to the passengers to hold their position and await help — which never came. The survivors say that at one point they were very close to a French aircraft carrier, from which two jets flew low over the boat; the refugees held babies overhead for the pilots to see but were ignored. International maritime law requires all vessels to answer distress calls and offer help. With phones dead and without food or fuel, the survivors drifted back to Libya, where they were arrested and then released. This is one of many such incidents; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy cites those who reached Italian territory as saying they watched ships sinking in front of them.

In the last month alone, some 800 people fleeing the region have perished, but the two national leaders involved are showing limitless cynicism and political self-interest. President Nicolas Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) has taken a drubbing from the left in the recent cantonal elections; Mr. Sarkozy's own ratings are at a dismal 21 per cent, and his hawkish advocacy of the U.N.-Nato intervention in Libya was widely criticised for being a re-election gambit. Italy's President Silvio Berlusconi, who faces sex-related criminal charges, was equally hawkish; but his complaints about taking 25,000 refugees are histrionic gestures in comparison with the actions of Sweden, which took 80,000 Iraqis, and Germany, which in the 1990s took 400,000 Bosnians. Sweden's population is nine million and Italy's is 60 million. The EU itself, however, has longstanding repatriation deals with despots and dictators in North Africa and West Asia; now some of its major members are trying to evade the consequences of pro-democracy uprisings they themselves have aided. The entirely separate Council of Europe, which predates the EU and is the custodian of the European Convention on Human Rights, is right in calling the abandonment of Libya's boat people a "dark day" for its own continent.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

HERO FOR SOME, HATE FIGURE FOR MANY

WHILE WEST ASIA HAS OFFICIALLY CONDEMNED OSAMA BIN LADEN AFTER HIS KILLING, HIS SUPPORTERS AND SYMPATHISERS HAVE PAID RICH TRIBUTES TO HIM PUBLICLY.

ATUL ANEJA

The killing of Osama bin Laden by the American Special Forces at a safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, has predictably evoked an array of emotions. In his death, bin Laden, the best known face of global jihad, has been either profanely condemned or hysterically eulogised. Even those who vouch that the al-Qaeda leader had become ideologically irrelevant have found it hard to remain emotionally detached from his persona. For those who lost their loved ones in the September 11 attacks or in the Shia mosques of Iraq or other terror attacks attributed to his network, bin Laden is a hate figure. But for his followers he is a hero, martyred during the course of a struggle between good and evil. For them, he is a new cult figure, extending the legacy of Islamic icons such as Ibn Taimiya, 14th century religious scholar.

A blot

In Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, bin Laden is seen as a blot which needs to be expunged from national consciousness as quickly as possible. A statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency said his death is a "step that supports the international efforts against terrorism." It added that the Saudi people in particular were targeted by "this terrorist organisation" — referring to the al-Qaeda, which was once active in the Kingdom, but later merged with its Yemeni branch to form the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Shortly after his summary condemnation at the official level, sections of the religious establishment in Saudi Arabia pitched in to reinforce the rejection of bin Laden, and all that he stood for. Appearing before Al-Arabiya during a programme aired on May 2, Saudi cleric and author Sheik Muhammad Al-Jazlani declared that bin Laden's death was an occasion worthy of celebration. "Osama bin Laden is the spiritual father of al-Qaeda, and he continued to play a central role in that terrorist group, which has transgressed Islam. We can only say that rejoicing at the death of this tyrant is required by Islamic law. This is rejoicing at the grace granted by Allah."

The Saudi establishment's fury towards bin Laden is understandable. He hugely embarrassed the House of Saud after his name cropped up in 1998 as the kingpin of the terror strikes on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. While profiling bin Laden, the Saudi intelligence's role in funding and funnelling recruits for the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan came into sharper focus.

It was in Afghanistan and Pakistan that bin Laden acquired stature in the company of ideologues and activists such as Abdullah Azam, Ayman al Zawahiri and Mohammed Atif. He also demonstrated his organisational skills there by mobilising resources from his country and deploying them for combat or establishing training camps in the Hindu Kush mountain ranges.

Security threat to Saudi Arabia

After the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden emerged as a national security threat to Saudi Arabia. And the Saudi-U.S. ties hit rock bottom, amid growing calls in Washington for a regime change in Riyadh and democratisation of the Kingdom.

By 2003, their hatred for each other reached a new level, when the Kingdom witnessed horrendous acts of terrorism attributed to the al-Qaeda network. "Since the terrorist attacks began in May 2003, the Kingdom suffered 12 terrorist explosions and 70 random shooting incidents, resulting in the death of 350 people including security officers, ordinary citizens and foreigners, and injuring 770 others," Saudi newspaper Arab News noted.

In Iraq too, where Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, an al-Qaeda heavyweight, led a spate of attacks on Shia mosques, including the iconic Al Askari mosque in Samarra, the reaction to bin Laden was emotive and condemnatory. "Iraqis suffered a great deal at the hands of this man and his terrorist organisation. Thousands of Iraqis were murdered and killed because of his ideology," said Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister. "We, like many people in the world, are delighted to see an end to his mentality and his devious ideology."

'Iraq welcomes news of death'

Ali Mussawi, media adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, slammed the al- Qaeda's ideologically driven sectarianism. He said Iraq "welcomes the death of Osama bin Laden," and hoped it "will mark the beginning of the end of the sectarian way of thinking."

In sharp contrast to his detractors, bin Laden's supporters and sympathisers have paid rich tributes to him publicly. Among them is a preacher at the Al Aqsa mosque, Islam's third most important religious site. In his brief videotaped outcry on May 2, the preacher shifts between unbridled praise for bin Laden and expressions of gut-wrenching hatred for Americans.

'Reviver of Islam'

In London, cleric Hani Al-Siba'I, described bin Laden as a historic figure as he was "the reviver of Islam in our times." The cleric then attributed bin Laden's appeal to his natural affinity for the cause of the underdog. In an interview aired by Al Jazeera (Arabic) he said: "Sheikh Osama is loved by millions of Muslims. Sheikh Osama is a hymn in the hearts of the downtrodden — from Jakarta to the Hindu Kush mountains, to the villages and rural areas of Egypt …"

Commenting on terrorism post-bin Laden, some prominent clerics point to Israeli polices as the root cause of Islamic extremism. Among them is Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the head of Al Azhar. He says the "real reasons for terror are to be found in the West, not the East." He adds: "The existence of Israel as an unjust, oppressive, and colonialist power, which controls the entire region, is the number one reason for terror. Bin Laden is dead but the double standards on the part of the United States, the European Union, and the West live on, and if Israel continues to do whatever it wants in the region, there will be many more bin Ladens."

Without commenting on bin Laden's relevance in history or theology, Iran has turned his death into an opportunity to fulfil its core political aspiration — the exit of American forces from neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan.

This view is amplified in Shia Post, a website which describes itself as the "Shiite leading news portal." A commentary posted on the website says terrorism "cannot be buried with bin Laden and his accomplices. But hopefully his death will provide justifiable reasons for the foreign forces present in the region to leave in large enough numbers to allow peace to return."

Ideologically irrelevant

For those basking in the "Arab Spring," the pro-democracy revolts flaring in large parts of West Asia and North Africa, global jihad as an ideological force has become irrelevant. Blogger Iyad El-Baghdadi says "Bin Laden was made irrelevant in December 2010, when Muslim people discovered that they can achieve regime change through peaceful means, contradicting al-Qaeda's message that violence was the only solution." Mr. Baghdadi was referring to the self-immolation by a Tunisian youth, which triggered pro-democracy revolts in Tunisia that later engulfed Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. However, he added that bin Laden had left behind a mixed legacy. "Never did we support him when he advocated the killing of innocents, and yet never did we complain when he called for picking up arms against aggressors and occupiers."

The jury is still out on whether with Osama bin Laden's passing, political Islam as a violent millenarian project has suffered a fatal blow or has only gone into hibernation to remerge at a more opportune moment in time. But, for the moment, many among a new generation of Arabs with an Islamist background, are looking at the still evolving "Turkish model" — where Islam as a cultural force can creatively cohabit with nationalism, democracy and secularism — as an alternative.

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THE HINDU

OPED

POST-ABBOTTABAD, A FAILURE TO SEE THE FAULT-LINES

THE DISARRAY WITHIN THE POLITICAL CLASS IN PAKISTAN HAS ALLOWED THE MILITARY TO CONTROL THE NARRATIVE AFTER THE INITIAL LOSS OF WORDS.

ANITA JOSHUA

Much has been made of the marathon in-camera briefing that the military and intelligence leadership gave Pakistan's Parliament on May 13 regarding the unilateral U.S. action in Abbottabad on May 2 in which al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in the heart of the country.

But, apart from the headline-making offer by Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Shuja Pasha to submit himself to Parliament and face the consequences if there was any "negligence or intentional failure," there was none of the soul-searching that many an analyst had hoped for.

All that is in public domain of what transpired inside is by way of un-attributable quotes. Besides the ISI DG's offer, there were four salient points in the limited account provided by the Government: Lt. Gen. Pasha said provincial government, local police and related agencies should share responsibility in intelligence failure; criticism of the Army and ISI at this juncture is not in national interest as it strengthens the enemy; the ISI had paralysed al-Qaeda by shattering its network; and the U.S. had fighter aircraft waiting in Afghanistan to react to any Pakistani bid to counter the helicopters.

Similarly, the resolution that was thrashed out in the wee hours on May 14 focuses almost entirely on the violation of Pakistani sovereignty by the U.S. — not just in this operation but also the drone attacks — and raises no questions about bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad in the vicinity of the Pakistan Military Academy. At best the call for setting up an independent commission on the Abbottabad operation to fix responsibility and recommend necessary measures to ensure against such a recurrence can be said to include the issue of how bin Laden managed to get into Pakistan and apparently live go undetected for five years.

Newspaper editorial

"The joint resolution suggests no reform in the military's India-centric outlook and suggests no change or review of the overall national security doctrine/strategy either. In fact, the status quo seems to have been endorsed…it can only lead to international isolation and a reinforcement of a mindset, common among many of us, which blames the rest of the world for our ills and refuses to even see inward, let alone take corrective action," said The Express Tribune in its editorial titled "Our failure to see our own faults."

The newspaper, in short, articulated the disappointment and exasperation many felt with the evident futility of the joint session. Instead of acknowledging that the national security doctrine had boomeranged on Pakistan and pushing for a course correction, the legislators ended up subscribing to the military establishment's narrative and tilting at the windmills.

A 1971-like moment

Here was an opportunity to right the civil-military balance that despite a democratically elected government is hugely tilted in favour of the armed forces. Never in recent memory had the military in general and the ISI in particular come in for such criticism at home as both institutions did in the wake of the Abbottabad operation. Complicity, duplicity and incompetence were just some of the charges that have been levelled against the military and the ISI. So much so that a week after the U.S. raid, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was visiting garrisons to address officers in what was described as "town hall style" meetings to salvage the dented image of the seldom-questioned institution.

To some, the military establishment was facing a 1971-like moment when its morale had reached an all-time low following the loss of East Pakistan. But instead of being held to account for evident failure to detect the U.S. incursion — never mind core issues like complicity or even incompetence of the relatively well-funded security establishment in tracking bin Laden — what the military top brass managed in Parliament was to get a resolution passed that expressed full confidence in the defence forces.

Though the security establishment was visibly caught "red-handed" or "napping" — depending on which narrative one subscribes to — the disarray within the political class, led by the more-than-once-bitten-and-several-times-shy Pakistan People's Party, allowed the military to control the narrative after the initial loss of words.

That the democratically elected dispensation has little say on security matters and foreign policy — particularly vis-à-vis the U.S., India and Afghanistan — is no secret but it was the civilian set-up which was made to state Pakistan's case and face the brunt of searing questions over and over again. The first admission of "shortcomings" from the Army came on May 5 and the military establishment also made it known that the suggestion of a joint session was made by the COAS.

According to the Inter Services Public Relations, the COAS also requested that the "strength of democracy must be put into effect to develop a consensus on important security issues including war on terror." And, as the joint session approached, demonstrations began to be staged in Islamabad and elsewhere in support of the Army; setting the tone of the proceedings inside Parliament.

There were limits

So, even before the session, it became amply clear that there was only so much the political class would push. And, with good reason, insist analysts. Over the past 25 years, two elected governments were removed after the political set-up ordered an enquiry into major disasters involving the Army: The Ojhri camp blast in Rawalpindi in 1988 led to the ouster of the Junejo Government four weeks after it ordered an enquiry into the incident, and then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was removed in an Army takeover after he decided to enquire into the Kargil war. Scared of a similar fate, the PPP allowed the investigation into the Abbottabad operation to be conducted by the Adjutant General of the Army and it was only after considerable arm-twisting by the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) that the Government agreed to an independent commission of enquiry.

Going by the source-based reporting of the in-camera session, the focus remained on the wrong done by the U.S. in not taking Pakistan into confidence on an operation conducted on the basis of initial leads provided by the ISI and little attention was paid to what bin Laden — the world's most wanted terrorist and someone who by the federal government's own admission had declared war on the country — was doing in Pakistan.

'Stop meddling in politics'

And, where reference was made to bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad, the ISI DG sought to apportion blame by saying the local police and provincial government must share responsibility. But, the Awami National Party leader Haji Adil was quoted a week earlier as stating that some parts of the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa province were beyond the control of the provincial police and the area in Abbottabad where bin Laden was killed was one such area.

This may well be true given that the ANP is practically the only other political party in Pakistan that does not owe its genesis to the establishment. All other parties have at some point or the other served as hand-maidens of the establishment and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif minced no words when he said intelligence agencies should stop meddling in politics which the ISI — technically the intelligence wing of the Army — has been doing since the days of Pakistan's first dictator Ayub Khan.

But, Mr. Sharif's call for introspection and similar hopes for using this milestone in Pakistan's history as an opportunity to move away from its chosen path to apparent self-destruction in the quest for strategic depth have come to naught as the weekend saw the powers that be return to 'business as usual.' And, the ones to recognise this first as always were the Americans. U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry went to meet Gen. Kayani first during his mend-fences-with-Pakistan visit. Gone was even the normal pretence of meeting with the civilian government first and then dropping in at GHQ.

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THE HINDU

OPED

RECORDERS FROM CRASHED AIR FRANCE JET READABLE

French investigators say that flight recorders from an Air France jet found in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean nearly two years after it crashed are readable.

The French air accident investigation agency BEA has said that international investigators downloaded the material from the "black box" voice and data recorders over the weekend.

It says all data and recordings was retrievable.

The BEA says investigators will now analyse the material, which will take several weeks.

The recorders were located by underwater robots and hoisted up from depths of nearly 4,000 metres earlier this month, in one of the most expensive and complicated air crash investigations in history.

Meanwhile, forensics experts from France's police force will be examining tissue samples from two bodies that were raised from the plane's site earlier this month. All 228 people aboard Air France Flight 447 were killed when it crashed in the Atlantic on June 1, 2009, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

Automatic messages sent by the Airbus 330's computers showed the aircraft was receiving false airspeed readings. Investigators have said the crash was likely caused by a series of problems and not just a sensor error.

AP

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

HELP AFGHANS, IT WILL HELP US TOO

The outcome of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's summit meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai last week, and the invitation to Dr Singh to address the Afghan Parliament — a first for any foreign leader — mark a point of departure in Indo-Afghan relations, and presage a qualitative jump in ties. This should be seen in the backdrop of the seeming success that reportedly attended the heavy wooing of the Afghans by the Pakistanis in recent months with several visits to Kabul by the Pakistani military and civilian leadership — all aimed at instigating Kabul to snuff out the benign Indian presence in Afghanistan and hasten the departure of American and Nato troops from the country. The timetable of the withdrawal of the bulk of US forces from Afghanistan — beginning July this year and culminating in 2014 — had given rise to speculation, internationally, that Pakistan will be permitted to be in control of the "endgame" in Afghanistan. However, the dividend flowing from the Prime Minister's recent Kabul visit raises the expectation that India can still remain a meaningful factor in ensuring stability in a post-US Afghanistan. This, of course, will critically depend on New Delhi moving sufficiently quickly to give effect to the terms of the India-Afghanistan joint statement of May 12. It is not enough for this country to raise its development assistance commitment by as much as $500 million, taking the total of pledged aid to $2 billion.

The defining feature of the Prime Minister's Kabul visit is the agreement between the two nations to enhance India's presence in all sectors of the Afghan security matrix, though India is not about to paradrop troops into Afghanistan. But it is amply clear that Kabul desires New Delhi's assistance "in the fight against international terrorism, organised crime, illegal trafficking in narcotics and money laundering". All these are to do with the activities of the Taliban and other militant outfits nurtured by Pakistan to bring the Karzai government to its knees so that Islamabad can re-establish its sway over Kabul — which it commanded when the Taliban were in power in 1996-2001.

It is evident that the broad outlines of the agreement that fructified in Kabul last week had been under discussion since Mr Karzai's February trip to New Delhi. And yet there are enough indications that the Indian establishment is not yet poised to render Afghanistan the security assistance the latter seeks. The deal that has been worked out between Dr Singh and Mr Karzai requires this country to go well beyond training the Afghan Army and police. This capacity-building commitment is doubtless of considerable value, but the time has come for Indian specialists across security disciplines to be at hand to provide effective aid to Afghanistan in countering international terrorism in all its regional guises. If a sense of timing is not on display here, and a tardiness becomes visible in meeting Afghan concerns, New Delhi might find a perfect opportunity for a meaningful role in Afghanistan's security vector slip away. That would be advantage Pakistan, and even China if Islamabad were to have its way in Kabul.

It cannot be stressed enough that finessing Pakistan in Kabul is critical for India's own security. Once the Nato powers leave Kabul and Pakistan is permitted to play its games in Afghanistan through its extremist proxies, we are bound to see greater pressure being exerted on Kashmir and other parts of India by Pakistan, as was the case earlier. This is a key reason, among others, why India must not give up on Afghanistan. Helping democratic stability to prevail in Kabul, and insulating Afghanistan from coercive influences emanating from Islamabad, can be said to be among this country's principal concerns.

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

QUICK-FIX: RAHUL AS CM?

ASHOK MALIK

Corruption emerged as a key election issue — though admittedly not the only election issue — in Tamil Nadu. It hurt the Congress in Kerala as well — where a local anti-incumbency against the outgoing Left government competed with anti-incumbency against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre.

Given this, the UPA government has to take urgent measures to change the public discourse in the coming months. Its third year in power, which begins this week, offers it a last chance. As the third year concludes, in the summer of 2012, elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh will beckon. This will further constrict the political space for the Manmohan Singh government.

As such the six odd months from now till the end of the year are a make-or-break period for the UPA. If it allows the drift to continue, it is headed for failure in the run-up to the 2014 national election, and will go back to the people defending a patchy record and a wasted mandate. It doesn't matter what sort of Opposition combine gains, but the fact is the Congress will lose credibility and votes.

In the coming weeks, the Congress leadership will need to focus on three areas. First is image management. The government has acquired a reputation of being indifferent to corruption, acting only when pushed and creating a situation in which the Supreme Court, rather than the Executive, is monitoring the 2G spectrum scandal investigation. More than that, the Congress has given the impression of falling back on its dirty-tricks reserves.
Take examples. It is now established that the Shanti Bhushan CD — seeking to present a discussion between Mr Bhushan, who is among the Lokpal Bill activists, and two politicians, Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav, on the possible bribing of judges — was a fake. Yet senior ministers from the UPA government were inviting friendly mediapersons for private briefings and sharing reports from allegedly credible state-run laboratories to paint Mr Bhushan as a fixer.

On another note, take the first major post-May 13 political drama. It has come not in a state that had a full-fledged Assembly election but in one that had three byelections, Karnataka. In October 2010, in a somewhat irregular ruling, the Karnataka Assembly Speaker had disqualified a set of Independent and ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) before a confidence vote. A week ago, the Supreme Court nullified this disqualification. However, many of the concerned MLAs have now made their peace with the BJP.

True, it is all very dubious. Nevertheless, instead of clarifying matters and playing elder statesman, the Karnataka governor, a Congress veteran, has recommended the state government's dismissal. He has refused it permission to prove its majority in the House. His crude approach has turned the focus from the embarrassment the Speaker would otherwise have faced following the Supreme Court verdict.
It is unlikely the UPA government will actually impose President's Rule in Karnataka, but the role of the patently biased governor is not going to help. It will add to suspicions that the Congress is uncomfortable with a federalised polity, and will leave regional allies and would-be allies worried.
Second, there is the issue of the government's economic agenda. For all the knocking he has taken, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remains the UPA's most potent mascot. If he is allowed the space to push ahead with economic policy decisions — particularly in infrastructure and in addressing supply-side issues and agricultural restructuring to tackle long-term food inflation — it can still change the conversation around the government.
Unfortunately, there are enough in the Congress who are philosophically hostile to such policy changes and politically unwilling to allow the Prime Minister the credit he would get for potentially game-changing decisions. They would rather allow him to sink. However, as he sinks, so will the rest of the government. The sullen mood in Indian business, with high cost of finance and low optimism leading to slowing capacity accretion and job creation, is not helping anybody. If Dr Singh is not given the space to start fixing it now, by early 2012 it will be too late.

Third, the party's inability or unwillingness to allow regional leaders to grow under its broad umbrella has ceased to be a cliché; it has become a crisis. The new chief ministers of Puducherry and West Bengal are former Congress politicians, turfed out of the mother party by conspirators and armchair "leaders". In the case of Mamata Banerjee it is ironical that Somen Mitra, the state unit president who announced her expulsion from the Congress, now serves as a member of Parliament in her party. This year, his wife was elected as a Trinamul Congress MLA.

These examples are not unique. Provincial politicians and Congress workers know a strong mass leader from a distant figure in New Delhi, who may visit occasionally. Even the Kadapa (Andhra Pradesh) byelection, where loyalty to Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy's family scored over any institutional association with the Congress, illustrated this phenomenon.
In Tamil Nadu, the Congress has national-level faces, stalwart ministers in New Delhi, but is missing as a factor in local politics. If Kerala's election had been presidential, V.S. Achuthanandan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) would have trounced Oomen Chandy of the Congress.

The biggest test will be in Uttar Pradesh. Rahul Gandhi's foray into land acquisition politics in the western parts of the state was not his first attempt at such direct contact. He has attempted it in desperately-poor Bundelkhand and in flood-hit Gorakhpur and eastern Uttar Pradesh. In each case there has been absence of effective follow up by a robust enough local leader. Beyond a point, Mr Gandhi cannot seek votes for the Congress and promise only tired has-beens — say a Rita Bahuguna or a Pramod Tiwari — as prospective chief ministers.
This will cost the party dear in the Uttar Pradesh election. The "Mayawati versus Who?" question will come back to haunt it. Of course, there is one audacious step Mr Gandhi can take. He can announce himself as the chief ministerial candidate and say Uttar Pradesh will be his training ground before he moves to New Delhi. It's a high-risk, high-gain strategy. One suspects the Congress doesn't have the gumption for it.

Ashok Malik can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

SAY HELLO TO CPI(MAMATA)

SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY

It's difficult to believe that Mamata Banerjee's demolition of the world's longest-serving democratically-elected Communist government also means the end of history for West Bengal. I don't mean the Communist Party of India-Marxist's (CPI-M) structure and strategy which are being discussed threadbare over endless cups of tea in its Alimuddin Street office, as it was at Monday's politburo meeting in New Delhi. I mean Communism as an idea to which millions of young Bengalis responded.

Having spent my adolescent years abroad, I was spared the temptation. But there were Communists in the family and I remember childish excitement and mystification when a fugitive Indrajit Gupta, "Sonnymama", went to live with my grandmother because he was "underground". How could her airy first-floor flat be underground, I wondered. Like former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, Sonnymama came to the Communist Party of India (CPI) via the Communist Party of Great Britain — revolutionary equivalents of the corporate world's "covenanted hands", meaning Indians recruited in Britain and entitled to British pay and perks. But whereas Basu took full advantage of the privilege and sailed in at the top, Sonnymama chose to work his way up from the bottom. He found his stint as the Union home minister a burden while Basu never ceased to regret the prime ministership that never was.

Basu and Sonnymama were the elite. The home-grown cadres attracted Nirad C. Chaudhuri's derision. He dismissed a Communist as a "young Bengali in a Red shirt and khaki trousers, trying to speak Hindi" (why Hindi, I can't imagine, unless early recruits wanted to be cosmopolitan and Hindi was the only other language they knew), but others recognised the frustration underlying their commitment to a brave new world. Ideology symbolised escape and opportunity.

That faith was incompatible with the tortuous manipulations of parliamentary governance. Institutionalising it because the leaders craved power led to the arrogance and abuses that accounted for West Bengal's debacle.
The CPI(M) is blamed for doing very little to meet the revolution of rising expectations that its own actions generated. Operation Barga gave the peasantry land. Panchayati Raj gave it a voice. But where were the jobs that would entitle them to rise above the station in which they were born?

The sons of Britain's Labour peers vote Tory. The sons of our peasantry aspire to white-collar respectability. Not Bengalis alone. Visiting the Punjab Agricultural University at Ludhiana, set up to impart new skills to farmers' sons so that they could go back to the land with improved agricultural practices, I found that the students hoped university education would lead to clerical jobs.

Secure in their own middle-class identity, Left Front leaders paid scant attention to the seething social ambitions of those they had empowered. Gautam Deb, one of the 26 defeated ministers, fatuously argued that a Bengali's "heightened political consciousness prevents him from being distracted by material discomforts". He and his colleagues would do well to read George Orwell's Animal Farm to understand that the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie ends only when the former becomes the latter.

Marx's theory that class shapes thinking and outlook is one reason why this reality is ignored. Apart from Basu and one or two others, the original Left Front worthies came from society's lower echelons. It was hilarious watching them in 1977 being sworn in by polished Indian Civil Service governor Anthony Lancelot Dias. Dias spoke only English, most ministers spoke only Bengali. But many of them are now said to be millionaires with no time for the hoi polloi. They wouldn't otherwise have failed to note the god was failing.

The courtiers — academics, artists, writers and actors — who surrounded them kept up the illusion of a radical Elysium even while angling for American visas or "green cards". The joke at one time was that a prominent Kolkata editor with Leftist pretensions (but not averse to accepting American invitations) had proved that the road to Washington lay through Beijing. This was a play on the fond but uncorroborated Bengali belief that Lenin had predicted that the road to world revolution lay through Kolkata. Many other Bengali Marxist intellectuals (tautology?) were disposed to take that editor's route.

Now, Bengali voters have come out of the closet en masse and rejected the tired prophets of a make-believe revolution for a relatively young woman whose cyclonic sweep through the state greatly impressed US consul-general Beth A. Payne. According to WikiLeaks, she cabled her bosses about the need to "cultivate" Ms Banerjee who could not only save West Bengal but was "pro-American". Once that would have been the kiss of death for any Bengali politician. Not any longer. Today's Bengalis are pragmatists. Riches matter more than romance or revolution.

That's why Didi, who led the fiery opposition to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's plans for Nandigram and Singur, cannot afford to forget how savagely voters dealt with the Left Front for not creating prosperity. They will give her short shrift if she, too, can't attract investors. Agriculture and industry are not mutually exclusive. But, first, she must slay the vicious anti-industry genie she released, and convince peasants that factories don't float in thin air. They need land. A 107-year-old Land Acquisition Act just won't do.

Otherwise, we can expect more ructions. "We are a special people, a mix of Aryans, Muslims, Mongols and Huns", a Bengali once told Trevor Fishlock of the Times, London. "When the Aryan blood comes to the top you see our intellectual side. But when the Mongol blood gets to the top we might assassinate and demonstrate violently." The Mongol blood must be kept in check.

Didi's supporters call her a true Leftist. Perhaps she is. Perhaps a CPI(M) does remain in power, though with the Communist Party of India (Mamata) replacing the Communist Party of India (Marwari), as the old ruling party was dubbed. But the Communism that inspired generations of Bengalis is dead. Didi only exposed the corpse.


That doesn't mean Communists won't always be with us. They will, like Nirad Chaudhuri's "passionate" Communist friend who, when asked to prove his revolutionary credentials, replied, "My wife says that I growl in my sleep".

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray is a senior journalist who contributes to several top international publications

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

KASHMIR NORMALCY MANTRA

 

These days Kashmir leadership, particularly the ruling group, claims that normalcy has returned to Kashmir. They castigate those who still think that the valley is far from being normal. Everybody wants that normalcy should return to the valley as early as possible and life should flow smoothly without hassles. This is what the Chief Minster has said and this is what is repeated by the patron of NC. The contention can neither be confirmed nor rejected. The reason is that the word normalcy is interpreted subjectively. What may appear normal to one beholder may appear something very unusual to another person. No one group, no matter whatever line of thinking he tows, has the final word on normalcy in Kashmir. For example, the Army Commanders think that concentration of hundreds of youth along the LoC, armed by and trained at the terrorist camps in PoK for infiltration into Kashmir belies the contention that normalcy has returned to the valley. Intermittent firefights between the security forces and the armed militants at various places inside Kashmir do not endorse that normalcy has returned to the valley. Of course, there are some pockets in the city and other parts of the valley where militancy has come down considerably and no major attacks have been reported. But there are other parts still infested with militancy. The frequency with which the militant outfits used to strike has come down. There are many reasons for that. Fresh recruitment has dried up considerably mostly because the Kashmiri youth have now understood more than before that they are being misled by ISI and that Kashmiris do not fare that bad as is being profiled by the separatists.


Normalcy should not be judged by reduction either in the number of attacks by the militants or in their bids for infiltration. That is only one aspect. It has also to be adjudged by how far alienation of the valley population from the Indian state has come down. How far has the element of anti-India hatred been neutralized and through what means? If neutralization has taken place, will it be sustainable as permanent feature of relationship with India? We are not able to gauge the level of progress in this area. Return of normalcy means when the Indian tri-colour flag proudly flutters on all government buildings, public institution complexes, private houses and offices. Normalcy means when our MLAs and ministers --- the elected representatives of the people---are able to move among the crowds without Z security. That is not the case as yet. This type of mindset can be reconstructed only by the elected representatives of the people who are in regular touch with the masses especially those belonging to their respective constituencies. So far we have not heard of any leader, minister or party stalwart from the valley undertaking a massive assignment of mass contact for establishing understanding among people that Kashmir shall remain an integral part of the Indian Union. If the elected representatives of the people are unable to speak that much in public and on the platform, does it not disprove the claim that normalcy has returned to Kashmir. We do recognize that the government is making all out efforts to see that normalcy returns to Kashmir and no strikes and shut downs are announced by the separatist leaders because it is damaging to the economic health of the state. Such efforts do have some impact and more should be expected in days to come. But to claim that total normalcy has returned to the sate is still a far off cry. Yes, the markets in the valley remain open for longer time in the evening and people move about much more freely without encountering any harassment either by the security forces or the militants. These are healthy signs and surely indicate that conditions will further improve in due course of time and as such the Chief Minister deserves appreciation. But on the ground, there still remains lot to be done by the elected representatives of the people. The first thing for them to do would be to abandon the double speaks and be clear in mind about the accession of the state to the Indian Union. The second thing to do is to banish anti-India hatred from their minds and educate the youth also along these lines of new thinking. Kashmir separatist leadership need not dole out pieces of advice or guarantees of protecting the minority; more than that it needs to issue appeals to the militants to lay down the arms, return to the fold and take active part in building the future of the State and her people. These are the real signs of return of normalcy

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

THE PASHA BHASHA

 

After Pakistani foreign secretary's uncalled for invective, now it is the turn of its ISI Chief Pasha to launch anti-India tirade will the power in his guts. Because he has to stabilize his rickety position in the wake of Abbotabad episode, his diatribe against India was not unexpected. But the people of Pakistan and more particularly the hardliner rightists like TTP need not be educated that Pasha has been the main architect of Osama decimation plan which he scripted in close and secret consultations with CIA. Amusingly, a day after the decapitation of Osama by the SEAL, Pasha went underground giving rise to speculations that he feared a backlash from the extremists and had offered to resign and live in ignominy somewhere outside Pakistan. Pakistan Army came under pressure to declare that he had not resigned and the rumours of his going into hiding were not true. Now that Pakistan rulers think they have been able to control the fallout of Abbotabad episode, Pasha has come out of hiding and has delivered his first anti-India bhasha(n) adding that his organization had already conducted the test exercise of attacking identified Indian targets. He has confirmed what India has been saying about Pakistan- run state terror against her. While Pasha found it easy and rewarding to unleash venom against India, he did not say anything to the bomb attack that killed 80 and injured more than 100 in the TTP retaliatory action of taking revenge for the killing of Osama. Again, Pasha has nothing to say about President Obama declaring with all his confidence that the Americans are planning Osama-like blitzkrieg against Mulla Omar if he is hiding anywhere in Pakistan. Where does the ISI chief and the Army chief stand in view of these warning of the US? Will anti-India diatribe convince the people of Pakistan that their government and the Army are the right persons to lead the country? What Pasha has said about India are the words that usually come out of the mouths of leaders who are close to the exit door of power.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

MESSAGE FROM CHARSADDA

BY M RAMA RAO

 

The Al Kuwaiti brothers, Bin Laden's trusted couriers in Abbottabad are said to be from Charsadda, in the NWFP. So the two deadly bombings at Charsadda on Friday, which claimed 80 lives, are most likely a revenge attack carried out by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, TTP, to avenge Operation Geronimo at the Abbottabad. On its part, the Taliban has set any lingering doubts at rest by quickly claiming responsibility for the twin blasts. Its target was the Frontier Constabulary soldiers, who were about to leave their training centre on a 10-day leave. They were in civilian clothes and were about to board buses. The FC training centre is located in the Shabqadar Tehsil of Charsadda. Between 8-10kg of explosives were reportedly used in the attacks and upto 12 vehicles were destroyed in the explosions.
Not surprisingly, a Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan telephoned a news agency, AFP, and held out the prospect of more attacks. "This was the first revenge for Osama's martyrdom. Wait for bigger attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan", he reportedly stated from an undisclosed location.
In this age and day, more so after the way Osama scent was picked up, it should not be a problem for the agencies in Peshawar to trace the call and pin point its location. Yes, the call could have come from a public telephone booth. Even that nugget would help in spreading the net properly to catch the Islamist brigands.
Charsadda blasts signal that the Taliban and its several factions will be the new al-Qaeda for the Af-Pak region, while the 'real' al-Qaeda will shift its focus to West Asia particularly Yemen and possibly Iraq. Yemen-based al Qaeda franchise, AQAP is active in the Arabian Peninsula. It has reportedly eclipsed the al-Qaeda when Osama bin Laden was alive both ideologically and operational strategies -wise. Nasir al-Wahayshi, who is also known as Abu Basir, is its leader. An ethnic Yemeni, he worked closely with Osama bin Laden on the Afghan theatre, and according to some analysts, he was for a while bin Laden's personal secretary,
This focus shift by Al Qaeda and Taliban will be felt in Kabul, and Kandahar besides Delhi and Washington. For a variety of reasons. Firstly because Pakistan has been engaged in giving respectability to the TTP and make the US to enter into dialogue with them. Washington, on its part, appears to go along with the 'talks' process, in the absence of any other viable alternative proposal on the table as of now. Secondly because Pakistan army will be more than happy to outsource to TTP its enterprise in the troubled Waziristan and shift its gaze towards the border with India. Such a focus shift on the part of the army will serve an immediate requirement of dousing the Abbottabad flames, and reenergising the Zia drill of bleeding India with a thousand cuts. If nothing works, fallback upon the India bogey has been the time tested practice for the Pakistan army and the Pakistani right wing politicians.
What trajectory Pakistan-United States relations will take in the days ahead remains unclear. On the one hand, the Kayani army is threatening to limit its support for the U.S. activities against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It has cancelled the visit to Washington of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Khalid Shameem Wynne. He was scheduled to meet his U.S. counterpart, Adm. Mike Mullen, during his five day stay from May 22. Officially the reason given for the cancellation was 'prevailing environment', which in essence means the public display of mistrust by Americans in the wake of Osama operation. .
On the other hand, Washington appears to let bygones be bygones and bring back the cordiality, if not the warmth, that has characterised the US-Pak military and intelligence cooperation. While President Obama downward, who ever matters in the US hierarchy, have rolled back their harsh indictment of Pakistan and have begun to give a benefit of doubt to the Kayani - Pasha combine for the Osama rendezvous in Abbottabad apparently as the price for the help on the Afghan theatre. Coalition Support Fund (CSF) has just announced a $300 million dollar package for Pakistan and the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, led by Democrat John Kerry, wants to give Pakistan a larger role in Afghanistan as a result of its relations with the Taliban. \
All this raises the question: When will Washington learn to look beyond the immediate? The argument advanced by some western analysts that the US is stretched to the limit doing what it is doing in Afghanistan and that opening a new front in Pakistan, a country of 180 million people, is well beyond the capabilities of either forces in Afghanistan or forces in the U.S. reserves, is frankly no argument at all. The US must make its choice. Accepting half-hearted support and duplicity neither serves American interests nor does crying 'foul' enhance its global stature. (Syndicate Features)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

NO CHECKS ON KILLING OF GIRL CHILD

BY ORCHIE BANDYOPADHYAY

 

Meena (name changed), a resident of Kaithal in Haryana, had her third child last week and it is a girl. Contrary to what usually happens in Jatland when a girl is born, her family, including her in-laws, seemed very happy and even organized celebrations at home. "Lakshmi ko to aakhir aana hi thha," beamed her mother-in-law, Shakuntala, (name changed) as she prayed for the long life of her newborn grand daughter.
Radiant with joy, Meena had a ready explanation as to why everyone in her family was celebrating the birth of a girl child. "My two other children are boys. So it did not really matter this time to the family."
However, she articulates, there was a huge difference in her family's attitude when she was expecting her first child nine years ago. "My family almost dragged me to a sex determination clinic, but somehow we could not get it done as there was something wrong with the machine and after that my husband met with an accident. But through out my first two pregnancies, I was haunted by this constant fear 'what if it is a girl?" Meena was scared because she knew what happened to newborn girls in her village. "Their survival is never certain." The second time around too she was asked to get a pre natal sex determination done, but again there was a major family crisis and it was put in the back burner.


But now Meena, who belongs to a community that has a strong preference for the male child, said that her daughter is fortunate that she was born after her two brothers.


While Meena and her family are happy about the third child in the family, there are others in nearby villages such as Karora where the bias against the girl child is rather ugly. According to the latest Census figures, Karora village has a shocking sex ratio of a mere 590 females per 1,000 males. But that does not rattle anybody, as the villagers continue to take great pride in the fact that most households have no girl child. "Sex determination techniques are available in cities and female foeticide is rampant," said a Karora resident, who did not want to be identified.


The 2011 Census figures substantiates the fact that technology has made sex determination easy and guilt-free. The child sex ratio i. e the number of girls per thousand boys in the 0-6 age group in the country has touched its lowest levels since Independence. In 2001 it was 927 females per 1000 males born; in 2011 it declined to 914 females per 1000 males.


But is it that easy to eliminate the unborn girl child. Apparently, yes. "All one needs to do is to find an unscrupulous physician, get an ultrasound done, understand the unsaid message and decide," said a health activist. Ranjana Kumari, Centre for Social Research, an institution for women, added, "One does not even have to look hard for such physicians as there are mobile clinics equipped with ultrasound machines, which do pre natal sex determination. Such mobile clinics are run by medicos who travel to villages on their motorcycles carrying the ultra sound machine behind them."


The National Commission for Women too said there were several "gaps" in the law for curbing pre-natal sex determination and the government should take steps to check them.


Former NCW chairperson Girija Vyas said, "The conviction rate under the PC& PNDT Act ((Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994) is very low." She added there should be a provision for complaint by a third party to achieve convictions in cases of sex determination.


Also, the poor records of machines sold, poor compliance of the PC&PNDT Act requirements by the clinics, and dismal performance of authorities in regulating these machines have added to the growing problem of discrimination against the girl child.


Women activists agree that the government should focus on cracking the business of illegal sex determination clinics and lodge legal cases against all clinics flouting the PCPNDT act. "The government needs a mechanism in place to track such offenders," say health activists.


Though a month has passed since the data was released, activists say the Government has yet to take any concrete action. Ranjana Kumari, who runs awareness campaigns against female feoticide in Kurukshetra, Ambala and Delhi, points out that the last government supported meeting of the PC& PNDT committee (of which she is a member) took place two years ago.


Some health activists even point out that it is a shame that there are some medicos who continue to trivialise sex determination by calling it a social evil. "It is a social evil but doctors are responsible to a large extent and should share the blame," said another health activist.


An earlier study in the Lancet by researchers from the University of Toronto and the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education, Chandigarh, estimated that about 10 million female fetuses had been aborted in India over the past 20 years.


"It is time that all those who value the rights of the women come forward and lodge their protest," said Ranjana Kumari. [NPA]

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

UNSAFE DRINKING WATER IN HOSPITALS

BY: DR MASARAT IQBAL WANI

 

Water is used in hospitals for many different uses. The purpose for which the water is to be used determines the criteria for water quality. The criteria for drinking water are usually not adequate for the medical uses of water. Drinking water should be safe for oral intake. The water supply system should ensure the provision of safe water. The overhead storage tanks should be cleaned regularly and the quality of water should be sampled periodically to check for fecal contamination. But unfortunately our hospitals in Jammu and Kashmir are not providing safe drinking water to patients and attendants. As per the survey report of IDSP unit Kupwara and Baramulla only 41% of hospitals have tap water. In Kupwara District there is no filter plant in whole district. When corers of rupees are being spent on safe drinking water every year till date the PHE department has not been able to provide safe drinking water. IDSP unit Kupwara has done water quality tests in district public health laboratory for 20 hospitals among them 12 were found unsafe for drinking. Also one of the main objectives of NRHM is to provide safe drinking water, but nothing has been done till today, even simple water filter has not been installed in the hospitals .Some micro-organisms in the hospital have caused infection of wounds, respiratory tract and other areas where equipment such as endoscopes were rinsed with tap water after disinfection. Infection control teams should have written valid policies for water quality to minimize risk of infections due to water in hospitals. Ensuring safe food is an important service in health care facilities - inappropriate food handling practices permit contamination, survival and growth of infecting bacteria. The threat of harmful contaminants in drinking water can no longer be reasonably ignored. The correlation between contaminated drinking water and many significant diseases and health problems is far too strong to discount. Of course, municipal water treatment facilities have lowered the presence of many of the more harmful contaminants, and the EPA has set maximum contaminant levels, below which it is assumed that contaminants may be safely ingested into the body. Municipal treatments facilities are not infallible, and EPA levels do not represent a safety level for every person. Children, the elderly, and those individuals who already have weakened immune systems, are particularly at risk to drinking water contaminants. Two of the most volatile drinking water contaminants, chlorine and fluoride, are actually treatment additives. Also, lead, another of the more harmful contaminants, enters drinking water after treatment and cannot be regulated by municipal water systems. Therefore, municipal water systems cannot and should not be trusted to provide healthy, clean drinking water.

 

Microbiologically contaminated drinking water is a cause of community-acquired infection, and guidelines for prevention of such infections have been established. Microbes in hospital water can also cause nosocomial infection, yet guidelines for preventing such infections do not exist. The purpose of this review is to assess the magnitude of the problem caused by waterborne infections and to plea for immediate action for their prevention. Therefore, infection control teams must work closely with hospital engineering and technical services departments and hospital management, as well as ensuring that physicians and others have a heightened awareness of hospital-acquired legionellosis. Where safe water is not available, water should be boiled for five minutes to render it safe. Alternatively, water purification units can also be used. The storage of water should be as hygienic as possible. Hands should not enter the storage container. Water should be dispensed from the storage container by an outlet fitted with a closure device or tap. Storage containers and water coolers should be cleaned regularly. The safe drinking water objective can be achieved by: inspecting public water supplies, monitoring sample results and following up on unsatisfactory results according to established protocols, offering advice and education to the public and to private water supply owners, issuing water advisories when necessary.

 

Because of the seriousness of these nosocomial waterborne infections and the availability, low cost, and proven effectiveness of sterile water, we recommend that hospitalized patients at high risk for infection avoid exposure to hospital water and use sterile water instead. More over Health department should come with a clear cut policy for safe drinking water in the hospitals in the State.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

NO MORE ON BLACKLIST

GREEN SIGNAL TO EX-MILITANTS

 

THE Centre has removed the names of 142 Sikhs abroad from a blacklist of 169, providing relief to non-resident Indians some of whom have been needlessly harassed at airports. The blacklist as reported in the media had names of some persons long dead and others never on the wrong side of the law. On the one hand, India keeps asking for the extradition of those wanted for blasts and such other crimes, on the other, some of them keen on returning home are denied visas. This contradiction now stands almost resolved. Whosoever has valid documents should be allowed to enter the country after careful screening and the law-breakers should be made to face the law.

 

The memory of bloodshed in Punjab is still vivid. Many militants were forced to flee the state as police pressure mounted. They had sought and secured political asylum in Western countries and Pakistan. The pruning of the Central blacklist has cleared the way for their return home. However, the return of pro-Khalistan militants is bound to create apprehensions in public mind. Those who have lost their loved ones at the hands of terrorists would like to see them punished. The police will have to be vigilant.

 

Some of the former militants have mellowed with age and rejoined the mainstream after going through the legal process. They are leading a quiet life in oblivion. There may be trouble-makers who are still engaged in disruptive activities abroad. The security agencies will have to keep a watch on such elements so that they do not again try to disturb the hard-won peace in the state. There may be problems in the trial of wanted men. Evidence may not be available. Witnesses might have died or become too old to testify. The government has to study the situation carefully and prepare its response in the best interests of all. There is no room for fresh politics over militants.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

THE NEW TEA-MATES

SONIA-AMMA MEET SET TO BREAK THE ICE

 

Congress President Sonia Gandhi's invite to AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa for tea soon after electoral results heralded the rout of the DMK-Congress alliance in Tamil Nadu at the hands of the AIADMK could be the precursor to a realignment of political forces in the country. It brings back memories of the 1999 tea hosted by the irrepressible Jayalalithaa for Sonia Gandhi and Janata Party leader Subramaniam Swamy in New Delhi that proved to be the nemesis of the then NDA government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee. Jayalalithaa was then in her second stint as chief minister.This year's tea party may not lead to an immediate dumping of the DMK by the Congress but it could well sow the seeds for an eventual break with the 2G scam-tainted party anytime before the Lok Sabha elections in 2014.

 

Sonia Gandhi's phone call to Jayalalithaa on Saturday was the first direct contact between the two powerful women after the AIADMK leader mounted a bitter attack on the Congress chief in August 2002, in reference to Sonia's foreign origin. About six months ago a desperate Jayalalithaa had sent feelers to the Congress to dump the DMK in the wake of the 2G spectrum scam and had offered to prop up the UPA government with her nine MPs and other eight-nine MPs from the RLD and JDS, but the Congress had then rejected the proposal. With the Congress having had to bite dust in the assembly elections evidently due to close association with the discredited DMK and the latter sinking deeper and deeper into the 2G quicksand, it is hardly surprising that the Congress chief is looking for new options. She knows only too well that being a political pariah now, the DMK would not be able to hit back if the Congress decides to switch partners.

 

While Sonia needs Jayalalithaa's support both in next year's presidential elections and then as an electoral ally in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Jayalalithaa needs Central indulgence to fulfill some of the promises that she made to the Tamil Nadu electorate this time around. The marriage of convenience between the Congress and the AIADMK could therefore work out before long.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

WHY PETROL PRICE HIKE

NEED TO UNDERSTAND OIL POLITICS

 

Despite the decontrol in June last, petrol prices have not been allowed to move with the market. The UPA government did not want to annoy consumers in the run-up to the just-concluded assembly elections. The global crude prices had soared above $120 a barrel due to the turmoil in the Middle East. Oil, of late, is on a downtrend and hovered around $113 a barrel on Monday. The Rs 5 a litre post-election hike in the petrol prices coincides with a crash in global commodity prices and a cut in the jet fuel prices. The UPA's hefty hike is meant to recoup losses suffered in the recent past. A Cabinet committee will meet later this week to consider raising the diesel and LPG prices.

 

The double whammy is expected to raise a political storm. The Opposition parties do not let go any chance to draw political mileage out of public anger and organise street protests. Public resentment may soften if oil politics is understood. India's 80 per cent energy needs are met with imports. Global prices thus impact Indian rates. Petrol, diesel, LPG and kerosene are sold by government firms at below-cost prices. Diesel is kept cheaper because it is used for mass transport by trucks, buses and trains. A costlier diesel raises prices across the board. LPG is subsidised to humour the middle-class housewife. Kerosene is largely used by the poor. Cheap kerosene also comes handy for petrol adulteration.

 

If the government does not push up petrol prices, the oil firms' losses shoot up, which are then absorbed by the government with the taxpayer's money. A petrol price increase hits only the users and may drive them to be economical. High prices bring down demand, and subsequently, oil prices. Thus the market forces correct the imbalance. Experts suggest the decontrol of diesel too. This will invite private companies in the domestic oil sector, encourage competition and help cut operational costs and retail prices.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

HANDLING THE AGRARIAN CRISIS

MERELY REVERSING POLICIES WON'T DO

BY KULDIP NAYAR

 

IT is the same story of a farmer and his land. The government acquired green fields at Greater Noida, in the suburbs of Delhi, for "public purpose" to develop 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 the farmers got — Rs 800 per square metre against Rs 3,200. Developers are selling it at Rs 11,000 an acre.

 

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 the familiar policy question: how far the development can go to devour the fields which grow foodgrains and that too on 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's 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 also 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 a 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 people per day. I do not have to remind that the farmers were in the forefront of the freedom movement. Today they commit suicide while toiling for their meager livelihood. They sacrificed their hearth and home to oust the British so that free India would attend to their plight. New Delhi should realise that the countryside is simmering with agitation and the lava beneath can erupt any time.

 

Poignant is the comment of a farmer who committed suicide. On March 24, 2008, Shrikant Kalam, a 50-year-old farmer possessing five acres of land in Akola, Maharashtra, hanged himself to death, leaving the following poem: My life is different/My life will be like untimely rain/The cotton in black soil is like a poem to me/Its roots are sweet as sugarcane…

 

A study on the agrarian crisis, conducted by the Joshi-Adhikari Institute of Social Studies, New Delhi, says that the farm income, even if the earnings from the livestock were added, is "insufficient to meet the cultivation cost and consumption needs." What they add from their labour in the 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 a 1.6 per cent rise. In fact, agricultural 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 two per cent and now it has slipped down further to 0.4 per cent. The steering committee on agriculture for the formulation of the 11th Five-Year Plan has admitted that after independence such a drop in the agricultural output has been "witnessed for the first time." Spurts in growth in the production of foodgrains should not delude either the Planning Commission or the government.

 

The result of the decline is that the per capita availability of foodgrains in 2011 is to the level attained in the 50s. The Calories intake has gone down from 2153 (1993-94) to 2047 (2004-05) in rural India and from 2071 (1993-94) to 2026 (2004-05) in urban India. The threatening magnitude of food insecurity manifests itself in starvation deaths.

 

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 unrest 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 has gone deeper. Just reversing the policies of the past two decades cannot undo the injustice meted out to the majority of the agricultural population over the centuries. The roots of the agrarian crisis have to be traced to 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 of industrialisation.

 

I concede that industry is necessary to lessen the country's dependence on agriculture because of vagaries of weather. But there has to be a balance. Nehru realised this but late. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a well-known economist, has not even now. One can see the consequences within the seven years of his rule. That farmers are committing suicide because they earn far less than they borrow should make every Indian hang his head in shame. Land reforms may be a revolutionary step for the type of economy Dr Manmohan Singh is imposing on the country. But he can at least do something to overcome the stagnation in agrarian growth.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

THE PLEASURE OF GIVING

BY JUPINDERJIT SINGH

 

RICH hearts do not need money. For, even the poorest, who beg or pull rickshaws to arrange for two square meals, take joy in giving.

 

I hate begging. For the better part of my life, I was one of those people who just told beggars to "go, find some work." But I could never refuse one alms seeker.

 

This boy was about 10, often spotted at Bharat Nagar Chowk in Ludhiana. He was a little fairer than others and always had a mischievous smile on his face, with overgrown hair falling on his eyes. I always gave him some money but with the customary advice.

 

"Not a single rupee today," I told him one late evening. My voice was dying down in the sound of growling tummies of me and my wife, both returning home after a hard day's work. "We forgot the money at home and I am so hungry," added my wife pitifully.

 

Before I could notice, the boy disappeared as we waited at the busy chowk, only to reappear on the other side of the car, carrying four bananas in his hands, which he offered to my wife. The spark in his eyes said all about the pleasure he had to be able to help. "Give me money tomorrow," he said.

 

We could not deprive him of the pleasure he was feeling at that time by saying no to him. It is immaterial how we thanked him later. The look of joy he had when we took the fruit is permanently etched in my mind.

 

A rickshaw puller touched a close NRI friend's heart similarly. As a child, she protested with elder women bargaining with boney rickshawallahs. On her recent visit, she hired a rickshaw, offered double the price for a said distance on the condition that she would stop for shopping here and there.

 

The puller was a young Punjabi, whose family owned a small piece of land, which did not provide much. On the way he narrated to her that he was forced to double up as a farm labourer and a rickshaw puller to attend to an ailing wife and the education of his children. She gave him Rs 100. "Didi, you are the kindest person I have ever met," he could only say.

 

"You have been looted," was what her elderly women relatives told her.

 

A few weeks later, the youth reached her house again. Eyebrows were raised as all thought he had came to seek more money.

 

"Didi, today is Raksha Bandhan. I brought a rakhi for you," he said showing a colorful string. As she tied him the rakhi, he slipped a Rs 100 note and Rs 50 each for the two kids. "My wife is well. We both work now and had a good crop also. Brothers don't take from sisters," he said.

 

The woman could not refuse. She looked in triumph at other women showing them the sight of humanity in front of them.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

THE MYTH AND REALITY ABOUT THE GLOBAL INDIAN

 

With the adoption of New Economic Policy in 1991, India moved towards globalisation in economic sphere. However, does the concept of a Global Indian hold any water when we see the existing social conventions and biases? This debate between modernity and tradition has raged since decades and answers still remain elusive, especially as far as the youngsters are concerned

 

BEFORE Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi set out on the path to become the Bapu or Mahatma, he was an ordinary man who went to London to secure his life by pursuing a career in law. He candidly admits in his autobiography, 'The Story of My Experiments with Truth' that he even made an attempt to emulate the 'English Gentleman' by changing his wardrobe to suit the English society and took lessons in playing violin, dancing as well as elocution. However, despite this new endeavor, this Gujarati baniya could not forsake the vow given to his apprehensive mother that he won't give up vegetarianism even in that foreign land.

 

I won't be exaggerating, if I claim that more than a century hence, when India is becoming more and more global, there still remains this Gandhi in all of us, making an attempt to bridge the gap between modernity and tradition.

 

Shashi Tharoor in his best-seller, 'India: From Midnight to Millennium' has made an apt observation, "Any truism about India can be immediately contradicted by another truism about India."

 

Nothing can better describe this observation than the example of Saurabh Damle (name changed), a Nasik-based blogger who is very vocal about personal choice and modern thinking. He was in a live-in relationship for a few months in Mumbai before he was forced to return to his home-town because of his mother's deteriorating health. Presently, he is preparing to get married to a girl of his mother's choice, while vehemently opposing arranged marriages on his blog. An outsider might call it hypocrisy but only an Indian can empathise with his situation.

 

The mother's choice might still be a democratic one in many cases but in the state of Haryana, we have instances of the whole community deciding as to whom one can marry and whom one can't. To the unknown, it might seem as something that is only happening in the far-flung rural parts but the fact remains that the khap panchayats extend their influence even on educationally and economically sound community members living in the cities.

 

Priya Ahlawat (name changed) belongs to an educated Jat family of Karnal whose members have even joined civil services. However, when it came to marriage, she had a tough time convincing her parents as her beau, despite being the son of close family friends, belonged to a different community, something that could have led to the ostracising of the whole family. Finally, after years of unfruitful convincing, she married him against her father's wishes and has since moved to Canada.

 

Be it social, political or economic structures in India, everywhere our modern thinking and individual reasoning is making a desperate effort to catch up with the deeply ingrained traditional values and societal conventions.

 

Take the example of the conventional careers in India where sciences have completely eclipsed humanities and other fields of study and have facilitated globalsation. It is an irony that scientific temper literally means an attitude which involves the application of logic and the avoidance of bias and preconceived notions. However, while opting for science subjects for their wards after high school, majority of the parents stick to the conventions without making an effort to analyse the individual aptitude and calling of their children.

 

Rashi Gupta, a 17-year-old student from Chandigarh, who is appearing for law entrance examinations this year is actually a non-medical student. Somehow, into the preparation for the IITs, she realised this was not her cup of tea and at the last moment decided to look for alternative careers. Unlike her, there are many students who despite lacking the aptitude, end up in sub-standard engineering colleges and after four years find themselves stranded, without a job.

 

In India, certain customs have become such an integral part of our collective subconsciousness that we don't even treat them as anti-modern anymore. For example, dowry is treated as dowry only when vocally demanded by the groom's side. There exists a tacit understanding between the two families that results in the dowry being passed on as customary gifts. Similarly, asking our relatives and friends for references while visiting some government official known to them in order to expedite our work is considered a social obligation and not something synonymous to corruption.

 

However, a peculiar mistake many Indians tend to make is to mistake westernisation for modernization. Just by uploading western music on their mobile phones or wearing western branded apparels, some youth tend to believe that they are being modern. Anything stemming out of Indian tradition for them seems to be anti-modern. One must not forget that one of the most cherished traditions of India happens to be that whichever height a person reaches in his career, he doesn't mind to bow down in order to touch the feet of elders out of respect.

 

So while the modern Indian chases the traditional Indian, it's important that our collective consciousness makes the right decisions as to which facets needs to be changed and reformed and which needs to remain ingrained in our psyche to make the Global Indian, an Indian first.

 

The author is a blogger and the center manager of a reputed coaching institute based in Chandigarh

We might have imbibed the sartorial ways and manners but are we really globalised when it comes to the female infanticide and the skewed sex ratio in the country? Modern education hasn't been able to eradicate the gender bias. When my son was born, the same people who had wry faces at the birth of my daughter glorified me to the hilt.
— Debarati Mitra Handa, 35,
Academic Instructor at Bulls Eye, Chandigarh

The Global Indian is becoming a reality as India is producing more and more entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks and have full support and backing of their families. This in fact stems out from the financial security of the rising middle class, a by-product of globalisation itself.
— Amit Sharma, 25,
pursuing MBA from Narsee Monjee
Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai

Traditions have developed and passed on through centuries. Modernity comes with its objectivity and reasoning and gets mingled with set traditions. We still need our culture as a backup, while continuously evolving into a Global Indian.
— Rachana Shakyawar, 27,
Hospitality Industry, Bengaluru


India is a land where the Blackberry Boys coexist with the social and radical fanatics. In the last couple of decades this friction between the forward-looking mindset and the backward-looking tendencies has resulted in many problems. However, despite all its ironies, the Global Indian has surely arrived and for the good.
— Saurabh Goyal,
Sales manager, Citibank, Chennai

In a democratic se- up, in spite of the social biases, there's a belief that every Indian carries that he can exercise his right to contribute to the growth of India. Globalisation has provided the much required impetus and it will surely bring about changes in other spheres of social life too.
— Rachna Baweja,
Consultant, Sparta Consulting, KPIT Cummins, Noida

For most of the Indians, their religion and caste are their identity. We Indians might be getting open-minded about many issues; we still need to become more secular. Our lifetimes are nothing but wink of an eye in culture and tradition. It seems as if culture & tradition will prevail over globalised mindset of Indians.
— Sunil Gobbannavar, 24,
Engineer, Hubli (Karnataka)

Being Global is a very relative term. I know so many people who have not visited a single country and still know about 100 countries in so much detail that it surprises you! To be really global, our worldview has to expand beyond theoretical sphere. Only when we practically adopt and adapt to universal cultures, we may call ourselves global.
— Neha Thakkar, 28,
Legal Consultant, Mumbai

Before we take the next step towards becoming a Global Indian, we should first mull over our social and cultural values. Why don't we emerge as trendsetters instead of adopting others? If we can emerge as trendsetters considering our traditional flavour, then we can surely have our cake and eat it too.
— Saravana Kumar Murugan, 24,
IT Professional, Wipro Technologies, Bengaluru

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

EDITORIAL

PRICE OF DELAY

INDIA'S FUEL PRICING SYSTEM IS DANGEROUSLY DATED

Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was being economical with the truth when he said that last Saturday's petrol price hike decision was entirely that of oil marketing companies (OMCs). True, the government correctly but belatedly deregulated petrol pricing several months ago, but it is clear that despite a sharp increase in global crude oil prices in the past six months, the OMCs restrained themselves from increasing domestic fuel prices owing to political sensitivities on account of elections to state assemblies. To that extent the delayed hike in petrol prices, despite their surge globally, was owing to political interference rather than corporate inertia. Brent crude oil price has in fact come down to less than US$110 per barrel in the past few weeks after the sustained rise from less than US$80 per barrel six months ago to almost US$125 a barrel a month ago. Thus, while last Saturday's petrol price hike was dictated by global market trends, the delay in the hike was due to domestic political factors and, indeed, the quantum of hike was also a product of domestic politics, given that the consumer of petrol is subsidising the consumer of diesel, kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) purely for political reasons.

None of this is news, even if India's politicians and many in the media imagine it to be so. India's energy prices have been below world prices for a long time. As an importer of petroleum, India cannot afford this luxury. The government of India's Integrated Energy Policy, adopted in 2009, endorsed the principle that prices of imported energy inputs must be aligned with world prices. Yet, this objective has not been met. Even after deregulating petrol prices, the government continues to control the price of diesel, which is heavily subsidised. This has encouraged the growth of diesel-fuelled vehicles, including that of diesel-fuelled luxury cars. This is wholly unacceptable and antithetical to any rational energy pricing and energy security strategy. Kerosene and LPG remain highly subsidised. Kerosene subsidy in the name of the poor has fuelled a mafia that adulterates petrol and diesel with impunity. There is politics in this too.

 

While legitimate social considerations may hold back politicians from cutting back subsidies in diesel, kerosene and LPG, such social objectives are better served through targeted subsidy rather than the existing system. While administrative systems are being put in place to facilitate better targeting of fuel subsidies, the fact remains that India's domestic energy prices can not be out of line with global trends. Long term imbalance in energy pricing constitutes a threat to energy security and, thereby, national security. Thus, India's energy pricing system is dangerously out of date and out of synch with international reality and India's national security.

For its part, the government must understand that long delays in adjusting prices naturally leaves it no other option but to go in for one time steep hikes, like last Saturday. Such one time hikes attract public attention and help mobilise consumer resistance. Rather, weekly changes in petrol prices, with the price going both up and down depending on global trends, would help depoliticise the issue. Just as the price of onions may go up and down, so too the price of petrol. Only when fuel pricing becomes a normal market phenomenon will its politicisation end.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

MANUFACTURING GROWTH

NOT MUCH TO CHEER FROM INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION DATA

The industrial output roller-coaster that India has been on, reflected by the volatile index of industrial production (IIP), is still going up and down. Thankfully, though in March 2011 it went up by 7.3 per cent. This compares unfavourably with the 15.5 per cent year-on-year growth registered in March 2010, but offers some cheer. Clearly, Indian manufacturing (that constitutes 80 per cent of the IIP) is facing a structural constraint, with the year-on-year growth at 7.9 per cent in March 2011 compared to 16.4 per cent in March 2010. Corresponding figures for mining and power were 0.2 (12.3 per cent in March 2010) and 7.2 per cent (8.3 per cent in March 2010), respectively. The capital goods industry was largely responsible for the year-on-year increase in the IIP during March 2011. For the current financial year as a whole, industrial output rose by 7.8 per cent, compared to 10.5 per cent in FY10. It is disappointing that growth in manufacturing reached double digits in only four months of FY2010-11. The manufacturing sector is confronted with constraints that are deeply structural and include inadequate infrastructure, the absence of a critical mass of secondary school graduates, a rigid labour market, the persistent discouragement of foreign direct investment (and even domestic investment), the inability to establish viable agglomeration economies (though some notable exceptions do exist), among others. In light of these deeply embedded problems, it is hard to relate to the government's optimism about setting in motion an extended period of double digit growth in manufacturing a' la China. The new manufacturing policy is still to be implemented, despite promises galore.

The sharp decline in the mining sector's performance (it did not even grow by 1 per cent year-on-year!) has much to do with the restrictions on mining, especially of coal, which is the single largest contributor to the sub-index. The confusion over 'go' and 'no-go' zones and, in general, the populism of the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) is impeding investment in this sector. This is bound to have adverse downstream effects, especially in power generation, given that thermal power contributes close to two-thirds of all electricity generated in India. The power transmission and distribution industry has expressed deep concern about its prospects, given how generating capacity is falling way short of targets (though the absence of secure fuel linkages is only one of many reasons for this).

 

 If this continues, the industrial sector could well be caught in a vicious circle, not entirely of its own making. With inflation remaining stubbornly high, the industrial sector has had to absorb an increase in the cost of capital through higher rates of interest. This may dampen investor sentiment unless their 'animal spirits' are revived by concerted action, now that the season of politics is yielding to a season of policy. Jury is still out on whether the latest upturn is just part of a still declining trend or if it represents a turnaround after months of declining output growth.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

DEBT AND TAXES IN THE EUROZONE

PRUDENT FISCAL POLICY CAN INSULATE A COUNTRY AGAINST OVERDEPENDENCE ON FOREIGN INVESTMENT

DANIEL GROS

The current crisis in the eurozone is known around the world as the "euro sovereign-debt crisis." But the crisis is really about foreign debt, not sovereign debt.

The importance of foreign debt is well illustrated by the case of Portugal: although the country's public-debt and deficit ratios are broadly similar to those of France, the risk premium on its public debt increased continuously, until it was forced to turn to the European rescue fund. The key problem confronting Portugal is thus not fiscal policy, but the high (foreign) debt of its private sector — its banks and enterprises.

 

 The limited importance of public debt alone is also evident in Italy and Belgium. Both countries have much higher debt-to-GDP ratios than Portugal, but both are paying a much smaller risk premium. The key reason is that they both have very little foreign debt (Belgium is actually running a current-account surplus). Indeed, although Belgium's debt ratio is above the euro area average (at around 100 per cent of GDP), the country still pays a risk premium of less than 100 basis points — despite being without a government for more than a year.

Why are markets focusing on foreign debt? One reason, of course, is that in a crisis, private debt tends to become public debt. Financial markets thus look at the overall indebtedness of a country. But it matters to whom this debt is owed.

The key point is that eurozone states retain their full taxing powers, which yields a simple corollary for a country with high public debt but no external debt: its public debt is held by residents, and the government can always service its debt by some form of lump-sum taxation (say, a wealth tax).

For example, the government of such a country could simply pass a law that forces every holder of a government bond to pay a tax equivalent to 50 per cent of the face value of the bond. The value of public debt would thus be halved, much in the same way as it would be if the government ordered the central bank to double the money supply, which would presumably lead to a doubling of prices.

The nature of the tax needed to pay off public debt might be different if banks held public debt, because in this case the government would have to tax the holders of bank deposits. But the key point remains: as long as a government retains its full taxing powers, it can always service its domestic debt, even without the ability to print money. But this is not the case if the debt is owed to foreigners, because the government cannot tax them.

It is thus foreign debt that constitutes the underlying problem for a sovereign with solvency issues. (The exception to this rule is the US, which enjoys what Charles de Gaulle called its "exorbitant privilege" of having its foreign debt denominated in its own currency.)

Things get more complicated if foreign residents hold a large part of a country's public debt, but its residents also have large foreign assets. In this case, the government faces the temptation to default on its foreign debt, while its citizens can still enjoy the returns from their foreign assets. The more difficult it is for the government to tax its residents' foreign assets, the greater this temptation will become. Yet, even in this case, the government should be able to service its debt if it can somehow induce its citizens to sell their foreign assets and buy domestic government bonds instead.

The importance of this point was illustrated in 2001 by Argentina, which did not have a large net foreign debt. The private sector had large foreign assets, while the government had about the same amount of foreign liabilities. Even so, Argentina went bankrupt, because wealthy Argentines had spirited their assets out of the country, and thus out of the reach of the government, while poor Argentines refused to pay the taxes needed to satisfy foreign creditors' claims.

On the other hand, when the foreign assets of the country are held not by households, but by institutions, such as pension funds, they can be identified and taxed. This is mostly the case in Europe.

This analysis suggests that the "excessive [current-account] imbalances" procedure that is to be introduced under the ongoing reform of eurozone governance goes in the right direction. But it also implies that the single-minded concentration of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund on fiscal adjustment in the EU periphery is misguided.

For Greece, fiscal adjustment is, of course, the key issue. For Portugal, however, the key problem is the private sector's continuing external deficit. Ireland is different again, as it has very little foreign debt and will soon run a current-account surplus. Its government should then no longer need external financing, provided it can mobilise its own citizens' savings. As shown by the experience of Latvia, risk premia can then come down very quickly.

In short, fiscal adjustment is necessary but insufficient to escape a debt crisis. Fostering domestic savings, and getting citizens to buy bonds of their own government instead of keeping their money abroad, is just as important.  

Daniel Gros is Director of the Centre for European Policy Studies. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.
www.project-syndicate.org 

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

A FRIEND CALLED KP...

THE RECENTLY DECEASED KP SINGH OF MAWANA SUGARS WAS ONE OF MOST RESPECTED CORPORATE AFFAIRS DIRECTOR IN DELHI

SIDDHARTH SHRIRAM

The recently deceased KP Singh of Mawana Sugars combined a ready wit with extraordinary relationship building, based on integrity, openness and logic, to become the most respected Corporate Affairs Director in Delhi. He had uncomplicated, easy and comfortable access to politicians, bureaucrats and media. He had worked extensively with the Birlas, ITC and Mawana Sugars.

About 40 years ago, the all powerful Congress party had no need of any, leave aside the present twenty or so, coalition partners to form a Government. Even then, Uma Shankar Dikshit, the then Home Minister and some time Treasurer of the party, discussing an abstruse political economy issue prefaced his remarks with "I have a friend called KP…"

 

This was the claim that many of his friends ranging from political bosses of all hues, civil servants at various levels of seniority, businessmen, rajas and nawabs, newspaper editors and journalists, film actors and family and others often made because they had received useful advice, guidance or solace in their personal or public domain. So, how come?

Character, which is basically moulded in the crucible of family upbringing and early schooling, coupled with a basic intellect and a deeply inquiring mind, enabled him to harness the opportunity provided to him by working closely with the Birla family (including the late GD Birla, BM Birla, and KK Birla), which was one of the two most influential business houses in India through the second half of the 20th century. His work in dealing with politicians and officers of the Indian Administrative Service at every level honed his political skills and antennae while being able to critically observe and analyse human nature at its worst and best. This, added to his natural endowment of wisdom and made him kind of unique.

He knew he was good but he carried his talents lightly. Owing to his complete lack of political or business ambition, he could cock a snook at opportunities and oversized egos with complete facility and without causing hurt.

Over the years, a loose bunch of IAS officers, journalists,occasional ministers, economists of note, businessmen and others started regularly meeting at KP's house. This group morphed into what came to be called the "Politburo". Each one of these eminent persons was better than KP in their own way (economics/history/politics/business/media/human relations, etc), but as a composite of all of these and as a balancer of various facets of life and society, he was unmatched. He could puncture any overly specious argument by throwing out a seemingly innocuous barb to have the Politburo subsequently reconstruct the thesis. Some of these arguments no doubt influenced policy at the highest level as some members of the Politburo held critical positions in the Government. All the members of the Politburo became his best friends to whom he could reach out and who could reach out to him in times of need.

He virtually single handedly carried his ancestral family from rural zamindari into the modern and international world. Did some of his family suffer? One must presume that they must have as when the leader is shared by many, some times one's own family suffers (think Gandhi!)

He resided mainly in Delhi's Golf Links and Jor Bagh within the comfortable distance from the Government of India offices. His hospitality was always cheerful with no pretensions. Small or large problems were treated with the same acute analysis duly seasoned with a sense of humour, a cheesy grin and an abiding belief that this too will pass.

In the end, the ravages of an incurable sickness laid him low. He could no longer participate in his beloved sport of riding and his social interactions gradually dwindled to virtually nil; still the loyal Politburo met at his house. They will surely miss him, as will his other friends and family, and with his passing so will an era since the mould in which he was cast is broken. Here is hoping that these guys chat more often.

The author is chairman, Honda Siel Cars India and Usha International

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BUSINESS STANDARD

INDIA'S BEE2BEE ADVANTAGE

MIGRATORY BEEKEEPING CAN PLAY A USEFUL ROLE IN CROP ECOLOGY

SURINDER SUD

Honeybees, dreaded for their sting but valued for their honey, should be treasured more as pollinators. They transmit pollen from male to female flowers for fertilisation, which is essential for plants to bear seeds and fruit. The commercial importance of bees as pollinating agents is, thus, far greater than that of the products extracted from beehives such as honey and bee's wax. Much of the grains, oilseeds, pulses, fruit and vegetables that we consume would not be there if honeybees and other pollinators were missing.

In the wild, these pollinators have traditionally played a vital role in increasing plant biodiversity through crossbreeding and the admixing of genes. Bees have also helped preserve some useful species of cross-pollinated plants, including some rare types of orchids that now enjoy good export demand.

 

Globally, nearly 70 per cent of plants need pollinators. Nearly half of them are commercial crops. In India, more than 80 per cent of crop plants either rely wholly on insects for fertilisation or benefit from these pollinating agents. As pollinators, the contribution of honeybees to agricultural gross domestic product by way of incremental production is incalculable. Studies conducted in India and abroad have indicated a crop productivity increase of between 10 per cent and over 200 per cent owing to pollination by honeybees. Oilseeds and fruit, notably litchi, are among the biggest beneficiaries of the honeybee-induced spurt in output. Some studies have even pointed to an improvement in the quality of the produce due to better pollination and fertilisation.

This has led to the emergence of "migratory bee-keeping," in which entrepreneurs maintain mobile bee colonies that can be carried from one place to another to pollinate the crops and farmers are charged a fee for this service. The farmers do not mind paying for it as they reap larger crop harvests of better quality produce, which fetch higher prices.

Honeybees originated in the Indian subcontinent and spread to different parts of the world where some of them have evolved further into useful species. A European honeybee species, Apis mellifera, has been introduced into India from Italy because it is suitable for captive rearing. This is now among the eight most predominant honeybee species in the country. However, India still retains the maximum biodiversity in honeybees.

It is a pity this biodiversity is now in jeopardy, largely due to habitat destruction and growing use of pesticides. There must be a conscious effort to save honeybees. They are indispensable not only for raising the potential yields of cross-pollinated crops but, more so, for crops grown under controlled environments in poly-houses.

"There is a need to document the biodiversity of honeybees and other pollinators. The enumeration of honeybee species and recording of their characteristics have not received the same priority as the documentation of several other insects. The Western Ghats and eastern Himalayas are, in particular, biodiversity-rich regions," notes Dr S Ramani, chief of an all-India crops research project on honeybees and pollinators. This project, being implemented in 16 centres across the country, is developing technologies for conservation, augmentation and use of insect pollinators. The honeybee genome has already been sequenced and mapped.

India also has several species of honeybees that are devoid of the scary sting, particularly in the north-east. Such bees could be handy for pollination of crops under controlled conditions. These species are also export-worthy.

One of the indigenous stingless species of honeybees, Trigona iridipennis, is a good pollinator as well. Its conservation, multiplication and gainful exploitation can help enhance yields of oilseeds, vegetables, fruit and pulses. All these are items that have contributed to high food inflation in recent months because of inadequate production.

Thus, it is imperative to not only promote beekeeping but also to preserve its biodiversity. Since beekeeping does not need land or heavy investment, it is an ideal commercial activity for landless farmers. Higher crop yields will be the bonus.

surinder.sud@gmail.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

BADAL SIRCAR - THE CONSCIENCE KEEPER

NILANJANA S ROY

What can I write? I am no writer of essays. I am a theatre man. I wrote some plays because I am a man of the theatre, not because I am a writer." Badal Sircar, letter to The Drama Review, November 1981.

There were few headlines; the death of Badal Sircar this Friday at the age of 86 in Calcutta, as it was called, was tucked away, eclipsed by the toppling of the Left Front. It had been years since homage had been truly paid to the playwright, but it is almost certain that he would not have cared. For Sircar, immersed in writing and reading (Sukumar Ray's Abol Tabol) right up to the end of his days, tributes were unnecessary.

 

I did wonder, though, whether the office-goers of Calcutta knew what they had lost. So many of them must have remembered the late 1960s and the 1970s, when Badal Sircar, unable to afford the fees of a proper proscenium theatre, began to hold performances in the open air — at Nandan, in the maidans, often timing the shows for the lunch hour, making a ritual of the Saturday performances.

Sircar has often been called the most middle class of playwrights, and he was that; but he was so much more than that. He was a town planner, who became an actor, influenced by his memories of the London stage, in the 1950s. Perhaps that's where his empathy for the ordinary Calcuttan came from; he wrote of Satabdi, his theatre troupe: "None of the Satabdi members are paid anything. They work in banks, schools, offices, factories: they assemble in evenings exhausted by loveless work and sardine-packed public transport." They were, in effect, just the same as the audience he attracted when he came up with the idea of the Third Theatre, which eschewed the props and formal paraphernalia of the stage and pulled the audience in as participant.

Sircar's plays had a way of surviving and moving far beyond the confines of Bengal — college theatre troupes across India have had Evam Indrajit and Michchil in their repertoire for decades, but his reach was greater than that. His plays travelled often to villages, the script sometimes transforming to meet the needs of that set of local players; every street theatre group in India paid homage to either the plays themselves or to Sircar's stagecraft.

In so many ways, he is still a playwright of our times — especially these times, when the middle class is discovering its conscience at Jantar Mantar, or attempting to make sense of the Maoist insurgency. Evam Indrajit, written in 1963 and first performed in 1965, introduced a writer, a cast of "normal" characters, Amal, Bimal and Kamal, whose lives were sedate, ordinary and not appropriate fodder for theatre — and Indrajit. In an exchange between Indrajit and the writer, Indrajit asks: "Then how shall we live?"

The Writer replies: Walk! Be on the road! For us there is only the road. We shall walk. I now have nothing to write about — still I have to write. You have nothing to say — still you have to talk. For us there is only the road — so walk on."

This exchange, which could have come from Brecht or Beckett, was pure Sircar, written in a clipped, colloquial Bangla few playwrights had mastered before him. His plays, from Michchil to Baki Itihas and Pagla Ghoda were timely and disquieting; the attempt was to stir up the dormant middle-class conscience, and in the maidan crowds of Calcutta, he had the audience he needed.

Bashi Khabar took Sircar's growing obsession with the Santhal revolt — the unsung war of the tribals against the state — and made it as deathless as Mahasweta Debi's Birsa Munda would; Michchil, written in 1972 against the background of Naxalism about the state-sponsored disappearance of young men finds just as many echoes today. About Bashi Khabar, which featured a murdered man who wandered silently among the chorus and among the audience, his existence denied by another young male protagonist, Sircar wrote: "Each of us was that young man, trying our best to deny the existence of the 'killed man' in our midst and yet not wholly succeeding."

But of all of Sircar's plays, the much-performed, the almost-forgotten, the adaptations he did so skillfully from Brecht, the original plays that passed into the alphabet of the country's theatre performers, what stays with me most are the figures of Kena and Becha (Bought and Sold), the two thieves who appear in Hattamala. This was one of Badal Sircar's most light-hearted, if most political, plays, and children have been amused for decades by this story of two thieves set down in a land where money and possessions have no meaning.

In Sircar's world, though, Kena and Becha loomed large; if we didn't learn how to live, how to speak or write the things that mattered, we would give over our lives to thieves who only understood a world where everything could be bought and sold. Every one of his plays, and his performances, militated for a better world than this.

nilanjanasroy@gmail.com

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

GROUND REALITIES

With land acquisition for projects becoming a point of contention, legislation to enable industrial expansion cannot be delayed any longer.

No one will deny the necessity of linking the national capital to neighbouring States through expressways that provide speedy and efficient connectivity to various urban centres. Quite apart from the obvious advantages of time saved and external economies accruing from such connectivity in terms of employment and revenues for the States, in India's case there could be other gains in the easing of pressure on certain urban conglomerates in terms of office and housing spaces. One of the benefits of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, for instance, is that with travel made so much speedier, economic connectivity between the two cities now means cost savings: for firms, a business trip can be quick and need not involve overnight stays or, in some cases, even office spaces. All round, the expressway between two economic hubs pays rich dividends.

Against this backdrop, the proposal for an expressway between New Delhi and Chandigarh that is being considered favourably by the Centre is worth consideration. But before pledging any of its precious funds the Centre would do well to reflect on the on-going troubles over the 185-km Yamuna Expressway in Uttar Pradesh. Whatever be the politics motivating the Congress and other Opposition parties in the farmers' agitation, land acquisition has become a point of extreme contention. The problem is not unique to the Yamuna Expressway and has been prevalent across India as farmers oppose the sale of their lands, either because of the terms of compensation or because they simply do not want to part with the lands, as was seen in Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal. While the role of political opportunism in fanning discontent cannot be denied, what is evident is that such discontent exists, however inchoate, and that is something the Centre needs to take into account. Ever since the Special Economic Zone Act was passed in 2005, the Centre has blithely assumed lands would be available for infrastructure and industrial projects. Despite growing evidence that the extant legislation on land acquisition and compensation leaves much to be desired, the Centre has been rather lackadaisical in its efforts to make the land transfer process more amicable. The latest consequence of that foot-dragging is the farmers' agitation in western UP and the sorry fact that in some States, such as Goa, approved SEZs had to be de-notified because of popular resistance.

Perhaps the proposed expressway to Chandigarh will not face opposition; perhaps, by then, the Home Minister's recent statements on providing a spanking new land acquisition legislation will bear fruit. It better, because at stake is not just a road here or highway there but the future of industrial expansion itself.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

FROM EUPHORIA TO GOVERNANCE

RASHEEDA BHAGAT

Winning big can go straight to the head. Ms J. Jayalalithaa and Ms Mamata Banerjee have shown that they can be impetuous and temperamental. Now, they will have to be different in order to meet the massive expectations of the people.

In 1996, immediately after the AIADMK got a drubbing in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections and its General Secretary, Ms J. Jayalalithaa lost both the constituencies she contested, I had asked her, in a long and wide-ranging interview, if she expected the DMK chief, Mr M. Karunanidhi, to be vindictive. "Yes, I do. A leopard does not change its spots," she had said, with a smile.

Smiles, though, were rare in that interview and Ms Jayalalithaa, obviously in a sour mood, had lashed out at many people, particularly the media, for hounding her, launching personal attacks and writing only "negative" stories about her five-year rule (1991-1996). As she had predicted, a plethora of corruption cases was filed against her; she was arrested and, worse, her personal belongings such as jewellery, clothes and accessories were bandied about ad nauseam across TV channels. Across the political fence, the DMK's argument was: What about the midnight arrest of Mr Karunanidhi during her regime in 1991? Thankfully, in 2001, when she returned to power, and 2006, when the DMK won, we did not witness similar arrest dramas.

As had been mentioned in this column in the last two months, the pendulum has swung back to the AIADMK, but the sweep has stunned everybody. In these elections, the solid thrashing of the opponents by both Ms Jayalalithaa and Ms Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal has caught the attention of the entire nation. But when the celebrations abate and it is time for governance, the two new Chief Ministers will have to prove their mettle. There is a striking difference in the personalities of the two prima donnas; the convent-educated Ms Jayalalithaa is suave and articulate, has a touch of class and is used to living the good life — as far back as 1992, water and lime juice at her Poes Garden residence were served in expensive, crystal glasses — and speaks flawless English. A mention of the last in a mid-1990s article of mine had triggered a cartoon in the DMK mouthpiece Murasoli, where Mr Karunanidhi expressed regret that he could not speak good English as he had never been to a convent school!

And she is a voracious reader too. Articulate, intelligent, well-informed and sharp, her administrative skills have been tested in the past — both during 1991-1996, and 2001-2006, and not found wanting. A satisfactory functioning of the law and order machinery has been the highlight of her reign.

Essential difference

Ms Mamata, on the other hand, is like a rough, uncut diamond. Born in a lower middle-class family, she lost her father as a teenager and took on the responsibility, along with elder brother, Ajit, of taking care of the family. Unlike women politicians such as Ms Sonia Gandhi, Ms Jayalalithaa or Ms Mayawati, she had no male political mentors and her political career has been a roller-coaster ride. With an austere lifestyle, white cotton saris, unpretentious footwear, no cosmetics, no jewellery and a cotton jhola slung across the shoulder, she is the exact opposite of Tamil Nadu's Jaya. And unlike Ms Jayalalithaa, who has had to spend a chunk of her political career fighting corruption cases, Mamata has a clean image. Here is a recent comment by eminent writer and social activist Mahasweta Devi: "No one can question her struggles or the transparent honesty with which she has fought her battles. But more than a politician, I admire and accept her as someone who feels for the people and works for their well-being."

But her administrative abilities remain untested and that will be her biggest test. Integrity and clean image, and the ability to feel people's pain and suffering are big positives, but without astute administrative skills, any political leader can be taken for a big ride by bureaucrats and her own party colleagues.

Women politicians

Both women have been voted to power with huge mandates and this is the scariest part of this election. Winning big can, and often does, go straight to the head. We have seen enough tantrums from both in the past; except for Delhi Chief Minister, Ms Sheila Dikshit, all other prominent women politicians, be it Ms Mayawati, Ms Jayalalithaa, Ms Mamata or Ms Uma Bharati, have proved to be highly temperamental, impetuous and autocratic in their dealings.

Every victory is an opportunity; a landslide victory is an even bigger opportunity because people tend to give you a substantial honeymoon period. Ms Jayalalithaa experienced this in 1991, when she stormed to power in an alliance with the Congress in the aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi's killing. She began with good governance, justifying people's faith in her, but along the way frittered away all goodwill, ending her reign with the disastrous and gaudy celebration of the foster son's wedding in 1996. Her 2001-2006 reign was more sober but fell prey to the anti-incumbency factor in 2006.

Massive expectations

This time around, the leopard will have to change its spots if the massive expectations of the people have to be met on so many fronts. Corruption and good governance are, of course, two important counts. But an even more important task today for any chief minister is the formation of an enabling, empowering environment in which the poor, oppressed and marginalised sections of society get the long-overdue opportunity to improve their lives through better nutrition, education and healthcare.

If the dirty paws of politicians and babus can be kept out of the system and the Indian taxpayers generate enough money to build solid institutions, programmes and partnerships can be developed to guarantee the less privileged a life of dignity and reasonable means.

It is the wrath of the wronged and the deprived, rather than support of the chattering classes, that has given this huge mandate to the two women. One hopes this thought was uppermost in Amma's mind as she was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on Monday. She looked sober enough; as of now, there is no gloating over her stupendous comeback.

The coming days will call for a judicious mix of introspection, tough decisions, putting the right people at the helm of ministries and departments and, above all, the heart and the mind to feel the pain and desperation of the masses who have spoken out so loudly against the tainted DMK regime. If she, Ms Mamata, or any other leader gets this right, they would have cracked the anti-incumbency scourge of elections.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

IMPEDIMENTS TO CHANGE IN BENGAL

RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY

The ouster of the Left Front in West Bengal is expected to bring about a dramatic turnaround in the economic fortunes of the state. But this could be a pipedream. After all, nothing much has changed in the State, save the political direction of its Government.

Some might argue that "political direction" is everything, which can bring in its wake a difference in economic performance. But is a turnaround as simple as this? Certainly, politicians of a different ilk will enunciate different policies, which is probably what a change in "political direction" means. But will the Trinamool-Congress combine make any dent in the existing "process" by which policies are implemented?

WORK CULTURE IN GOVT

Work culture is the key to any transformation in the economic profile of West Bengal. Has this culture also changed with the arrival of the new set of political leaders, which will make the prospects of a better-run West Bengal brighter?

Clearly, the answer is "no", for no other reason than the elementary fact that "work culture", or culture generally, does not change with a change in political direction. In West Bengal, it will probably be more difficult to engender such a change, because of the decades that have gone into cultivating a destructive work-ethos, courtesy the Left Front.

Indeed, the chances are that those among the Government staff who voted for the Trinamool-Congress combine will resent every effort made by Ms Mamata Banerjee to improve the work culture, which, to begin with, should comprise implementation of the practice of coming to office on time and putting in the necessary hours of work. There are, of course, other aspects of "work culture" which need to be improved, but the honouring of office hours and working diligently for one's salary should clearly form the foundation of any major transformation.

Sadly, what will make the effort of the new Government to improve matters far more problematic is the still-impressive presence of the Left Front in employees' organisations. They will leave no stone unturned to oppose any new office rules and regulations which the new political masters may introduce.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS

It is not "work culture" alone which will be a major stumbling block in the State's economic transformation. The political expectations of the people concerned, not to speak of the politicians themselves who have been coached for years in the wrong school of political action, will be far from conducive to ushering in rapid change for the better. New industries will require land on which they will set up shop, and it is clear that every such instance will become a flashpoint in the "new" West Bengal, not merely because of the specifics of each case but also because of a premeditated policy decision on the part of the Left Front to make a Singur, and even a Nandigram, of every single land-acquisition issue.

So what is the economic outlook, basically? Mr Amit Mitra, former secretary-general of Ficci who is tipped to take over an important economic portfolio in the new West Bengal Government, said in a recent interview: "The massive mandate that Mamata Bandyopadhyay and Trinamool have earned from the people of Bengal for change, stability and growth will itself spur the interest of investors within the State, from other parts of India and abroad."

Will the new state Government be able to set the conditions right within the State to take advantage of this flush of interest? Mr Mitra also speaks of "tectonic change" — evidence for which is provided by his (a newcomer's) massive victory over the former State Finance Minister Asim Das Gupta as also that of a former State Chief Secretary over the former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — which he argues will make things move "in geometric progression through the forces of the multiplier and accelerator".

One hopes the former Ficci chief is right, but he will do well to keep in mind that a "wave" must recede at some time or the other. That could begin in six months' time when people realise that not much has changed apart from the colour of the party's flag in power.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IN GOOD HEALTH

INDIAN BUSINESSES HAVE WEATHERED RISING COSTS TO MAINTAIN PROFITABILITY


ET's annual health check on India Inc is encouraging. Indian companies cut costs and maintained healthy profits last fiscal year despite a rise in input costs, implying productivity gains. These companies should improve their efficiency even further to grow and compete in a high-cost environment, especially if they are unable to pass on higher costs fully to the consumer. Prices of many industrial raw materials, such as minerals, fibres, rubber, coal and crude oil, have seen sharp increases globally and fuelled inflation. Interest rates are also likely to head north, with the Central Bank expected to raise key policy rates in the coming months to tame inflation. Both higher input costs and interest rates will put pressure on the bottom-lines of Indian companies. The bad news is that industrial activity slackened in the second half of FY 2011, with a slowdown in capital goods production and investment spending. And most business confidence surveys conducted by various agencies have shown a decline in business confidence. Clearly, the operating environment for local firms will be more challenging over the next few quarters as consumer spending could dampen with inflation, besides higher raw material and interest costs. However, Indian companies should learn to live with high interest rates and input costs. The only way these companies can sustain robust growth is to make sharp improvements in productivity.


Companies should cut costs and use resources more efficiently. The results were evident last fiscal year when companies successfully trimmed staff and other costs to post healthy profits. Revenues of 1,150 companies (excluding banking and finance) grew by 22% in the fourth quarter of 2010-11. Higher consumer demand spurred revenue growth as the economy showed distinct signs of recovery. Net profits were up 15.4% despite a steep increase in input costs. Data shows that 43.7% of India Inc's March quarter revenue was spent on buying raw material. Operating profit margins were only a tad lower than the previous year's level, no mean feat given the rise in raw material costs. Lean production will yield real dividends once the commodity cycle cools and costs fall.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THINK GLOBAL

INDIAN COMPANIES NEED TO BUILD GLOBAL BRANDS TO GET AND RETAIN CUSTOMERS


The power of global branding eludes the grasp of Indian firms. This year's Brandz Top 100 list of the world's most valuable brands had only one Indian name, ICICI Bank, that ranked 53rd and was worth $14.9 billion. The dearth of Indian companies, compared to the rise of Chinese companies, in this list is striking. It reflects our poor culture of brand-building. A brand is a symbol of trust with the customer. And brand valuations are indeed a powerful measure of a company's ability to create value for its shareholders. Indian companies should get real and make brand-building an important activity if they aspire to become global players. These companies should make the cut, given the growing presence from BRICs in this global ranking — 19 brands came from emerging markets compared to two in 2006. China Mobile has surged ahead to occupy the ninth place with an estimated brand value of $57 billion. But home-grown Airtel has not featured in this list (dominated by technology companies including Apple, Google, IBM, Microsoft and AT&T) despite outsourcing all core activities and focusing only on branding and acquiring new customers. This is untenable. Indian companies should leverage on the growing size of local customer base to build their brands. This was what China's largest search engine Baidu did to make it to the 29th place with a brand value of $22.5 billion.


Apple has overtaken Google to become the world's most valuable brand — with an estimated brand value of more than $153 billion — by nurturing its brand and constantly innovating. The company creates most of its value by selling stylish products signalling a lifestyle message for users. Its iPod and the iPad combine smart technology with cutting-edge design. But that's not the only reason they sell well. These gadgets seem to epitomise cool for people who use them. And that is the essence of branding. Surely, other brands can take a page from Apple's global business success story. Indian companies need to pack value into their products through innovation, style and branding to win — and retain — customers.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PLATINUM-CAST VOTE

GURGAON'S GRANDEES RISE ABOVE PETTY POLITICS, AT THEIR OWN PERIL

 

 Going out to vote is a shorter exercise than, say, sitting on d h a r n awith Anna Hazare and civil socialites — or watching them do so. Therefore, it is quite mystifying why those at the pinnacle of Gurgaon society did not step out of their condominiums to participate in the coveted city's first-ever municipal elections last weekend. Voting would have entailed but a brief car ride, even though it was the driver's day off. And the stint thereafter in a line about as long as the one at the immigration counters at New York's JFK Airport or a Sunday morning show at a cinema hall somewhere in the Mall Mile, would not have upset any scheduled brunches or golf rounds. Even if, at a pinch, it meant the hoity-toity sharing space with the very hoi polloi whose existence they assiduously try to forget once ensconced in their glass-fronted offices in the millennium city, it would have been time well spent. Not only because without these denizens of another India, their cars would not get washed, their plants watered, apartments cleaned or marble polished but because crumbling or non-existent civic amenities, law & order problems and traffic snarls affect them both, albeit in different ways.
It is indeed hard to drum up enthusiasm for something not quite as participant-friendly as a candlelight vigil at a scenic spot, or even as satisfying as levelling a few well-chosen epithets at a 'corrupt' political class on social media sites or over a glass of wine with like-minded friends at the country club. Since the result is a majority for 'independents' anyway — who can now leverage their free-floating positions to make the best of that same loathsome political system — it merely reinforces their disdain for the only system in India that has no fast-track option or special offers for platinum cardholders.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PEOPLE = PARTY = POWER

HOW ONE PARTY CAN RUIN A STATE, YET WIN ELECTIONS FOR 34 YEARS: A STALINIST PRIMER


 The Left is finally out of Bengal, leaving behind a riddle: how could one party, the CPM, rule a state for 34 years, while presiding over its overall decline?


In that time, industry fled the state, farm growth tapered off, and Bengal's poor became worse off than poor folks in most other states. Healthcare and education were ruined, graft mushroomed and political violence became endemic. Was the Bengali voter blind? Or did something force them to vote the way they did?
During the campaign we asked Gautam Deb, the CPM's ex-housing minister, for his take on this riddle. "The Left Front's success," he said, "is due to the heightened political consciousness of the people of Bengal, utterly devoid of material considerations." In other words, people could starve, but they'd vote for the Left anyway.
By the time results were out on Friday the 13th, Deb and about a dozen other Left ministers had lost. But in one respect, Deb was correct. In the last years of Left rule, more people were starving in Bengal than in any other Indian state. In 2007, the National Sample Survey (NSS) found that nearly 11% of families in Bengal faced starvation during several months of the year, the highest among any state in India. Orissa was a distant second, with less than 5% of families in such dire straits. For many, Bengal's problems came out into the open when the Left tried to capture land from farmers by force, sparking violence in Singur and Nandigram. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. In only one area, Jangalmahal which stretches to the border of Jharkhand west from Medinipur town, over 1,500 villagers have been jailed, mostly on trumped up charges, from 2008. In that time, nearly 40 people were killed by policemen and security forces and over 500 people — mostly share croppers — slaughtered in running territorial battles. This strategy of territorial control, called elaka dokhol in Bangla, was one of the Left's most potent political weapons. Most Indian parties campaign for votes in an area, but are ultimately at the mercy of people who exercise their franchise on polling day. Not so the CPM, which took over entire areas — villages, panchayats, sometimes entire districts — with its cadre and workers.
In true Stalinist fashion, people were recruited to spy on their neighbours and report every conversation, opinion or chance remark back to the dreaded local committee. People loyal to the party were encouraged to vote, those whose loyalties were suspect asked to stay away. Loyalists were given powers and privileges in local administrative bodies, their relatives got sarkari jobs as teachers or health workers, or contracts for public works. There's a village called Bonkanta in the waterless, redearth district of Bankura. When I get there during the pre-poll campaign it's evening, and pitch dark. People say the nearest hospital is 15 km away, there's no work — and worse, no water. Of course, a few years earlier the whole village had got together to dig a pond, which I'm taken to see. By torchlight, I see that the pond is full, brimming over after a recent shower.
But then they point to a manhigh bamboo fence that runs all the way round the pond, a fence capped with a red CPM flag. "After many of us voted against the Party in the panchayat elections, they came and put up this fence. Now only Party people can draw water from the pond, the rest of us have to walk 4 km to fetch water," says a villager. The rule is ironclad; violation will mean beatings, or worse, from local committee goons.
    This is the Bengal CPM's second poll-winning mantra: goodies for loyalists, the stick for everyone else. This also explains why the poor, largely agricultural areas of Burdwan, Bankura, Purulia and Medinipur were Red fortresses for so long: poor people need the help of government much more than well-heeled folks; so the CPM's carrot-and-stick policy worked here like magic.
Till recently, many people used to get misty eyed while recalling the CPM's early land and tenancy reforms during Operation Barga. Well, that is history. Till it lost elections last week, gangs of heavily armed cadre used to roam western and southern Bengal, seizing land from sharecroppers and small farmers and enforcing elaka dokhol. The harmad, the Bangla word for 'armada', was the CPM's dreaded arm of organised violence. Over the last decade or so, the Left unleashed the harmads on Bengal's hapless poor in running battles for territory and political control. The first of these attacks was probably in Nanoor, in Birbhum in 2000 when 11 sharecroppers were killed by the harmads; the latest was in Netai in West Medinipur, in January this year, which claimed nine landless farmers. In the May polls, the Election Commission decided to shield the voting machines with a low cardboard barrier from prying eyes. This was a big thing, because it exorcised Bengal's jute bhoot.


Earlier, a jute sackcloth was used to curtain the voter and voting machine from other eyes. In Bengal, a sinister presence, called the jute bhoot used to stand behind the jute curtain. The bhoot was a loyalist who'd simply watch who you were voting for in booths where the Party had influence. No words would be exchanged, but the presence of the bhoot would be enough for most locals to press the Party button. So, the CPM ruled and ran Bengal to the ground for 34 years. But that was not because the Bengali voter was a fool, or suffered from a "higher political consciousness" than her counterpart elsewhere. It ruled because it managed to enforce a ruthless Stalinist equation where the Party was the center around which people and power would revolve in tight orbits.

 

ABHEEK BARMAN

           

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

THROUGH THE THIRD EYE


Didi Matters
As Mamata Banerjee gets ready to take command of Writers Building, there could some impact on the delicate distribution of ministerial berths at the Centre. Trinamool Congress, the secondlargest ally in UPA-II with 19 LS members, is actually entitled to three cabinet berths. But Didi had preferred one cabinet berth for herself and five MoS slots. Now homebound as CM, she could seek three cabinet ranks and lesser MoSs for TMC in Delhi. There are hints that the Congress, through an influential non-politician in Kolkata, is trying to convince Didi to exchange the railway portfolio with the Congress for two or three cabinet slots as compensation. But with her trusted Mukul Roy widely seen to be the Rail Bhavan replacement, Didi is keeping the Congress guessing ahead of the expansion of the Manmohan Singh cabinet.
Think of a Lunch
Congress president Sonia Gandhi's prompt post-results political flirting with the triumphant Amma may have caused the helpless DMK much tension. But larger discomfort is being felt in the BJP as Jayalalithaa and Sonia Gandhi (re)establishing a good chemistry means bad news for saffron hopes of co-opting the AIADMK into the BJP-led NDA. Now, Narendra Modi is typically trying to make a song and dance via twitter about he being invited (along with other leaders of the Left, TDP, etc) to Jaya's Chennai bash. The fact that a potential Sonia-Jaya political tango can also have an impact on the 2012 Presidential poll number-game is adding to the BJP's dismay. Perhaps Lal Krishna Advani should try and host a lunch for Amma at 30, Prithviraj Road, which can include the bynow mandatory `home-production' documentary screening.
Pack-up Time
Hopefully, Surjeet Singh Barnala, the 85-year-old occupant of Chennai Raj Bhavan since 2004, will emotionally cope with his troubles in 'the Jaya-bhoomi'. An old friend of Karunanidhi, Barnala got a second stint as Tamil Nadu governor soon after the UPA-I and DMK won Delhi and Chennai. It was the DMK chief 's thanksgiving for Barnala who, during his first gubernatorial stint in 1991, refused to recommend the then DMK regime's sacking as wanted by the Chadrashekhar regime. When the Centre eventually sacked the DMK regime and shunted Barnala to Bihar, he quit. With Amma now sure to seek the removal of her rival's friend, Barnala can perhaps work on his breakaway Akali outfit for the 2012 Punjab polls. Maybe, he can try to humour the Congress leadership by offering a helping hand in his home state.
Tough Task
Among the CPI-M's founding fathers, the two leaders who have inspired Prakash Karat the most, he says, are former general secretaries P Sundaraiah (PS) and E M S Namboodirippad. In fact, Karat says he was so inspired by Sundaraiah that he even decided to not have any children, just like the Telangana hero. Incidentally, PS was the youngest ever CPI-M boss at 51 and Karat the second youngest at 56. At 63, PS quit the top post to protest against "revisionist attitude" while at 62, Karat faces his biggest challenge in leadership. While EMS quit the top post at the age of 83, H K S Surjeet continued in the top post till the age of 88. It will need the cadre-building specialisation of PS, the theoretical-polemic expertise of EMS, managerial tactics of Surjeet and organisationbuilding skills of Pramod Dasgupta for Karat and his colleagues to steer the CPI-M out of the present crisis. Quite a tall order.
Deafening Silence
Before the poll results, the BJP was buzzing with talk of how the party and the AGP have had a "smart secret pact" and how both are set to form the government in Assam. Since Arun Jaitley was the party's Assam in-charge, nobody asked where the spin was coming from. After the BJP ended with just 4 seats, the joke is that Assam BJP leaders and AGP war-horse P K Mahanta had only just escaped from being projected as 'the boys' who were taught how to win by 'the strategist'. Taking the cue from the film on the Jessica Lal murder, one can perhaps say: "nobody killed BJP's Assam poll chances".

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

UNDERNUTRITION, POVERTY & NREGS

RAGHBENDRA JHA, RAGHAV GAIHA & MANOJ K PANDEY

 

In the hue and cry over minimum wages under NREGS, battle lines have been drawn between those who favour central government hiking minimum wage rates to the state minimum, and others asserting that the two must be delinked. While the former invoke 'a right to livelihood', the latter point to the NREGS being 'the employer of the last resort and the imperative of better targeting'. While these views have some merit, both sides seem to gloss over why benefits to the poor remain so low despite frequent wage hikes. Our analysis, for example, shows that (net) transfer benefits under NREGS (net of opportunity cost of time)/household income were barely over 7% in Maharashtra, about 10% in Rajasthan and under 17% in Andhra Pradesh. The roots of the malady lie in its design and implementation aberrations. Undernutrition is not just an effect of poverty but also its cause. In an agrarian economy with surplus labour and efficiency wages, nutrition-poverty traps tend to exclude the undernourished from remunerative employment and perpetuate their poverty. Rationing of employment favours those with physical dexterity and stamina. NSS and NCAER agricultural wage and employment data over 1993-94 to 2004-05 reveal a grim story of pervasiveness of nutritionpoverty traps that foreclose an easy exit from poverty.


Does this reasoning apply to NREGS? Our research (including that with Shylashri Shankar of CPR, Delhi) confirms that the undernourished were less likely to participate in it, work for long spells and earn substantial amounts. These findings are based on a survey of about 500 households in Rajasthan in 2009-10. As the work under this scheme is physically strenuous and (mostly) a piecerate system — analogous to efficiency wages — is used to determine wages, those endowed with greater stamina and dexterity have a clear advantage. Using the body mass index (BMI) as a nutritional criterion, the individuals are classified into underweight, normal and overweight. Cross-classifying them by poverty status — acutely poor, moderately poor, moderately non-poor and others — the proportion of underweight fell while that of normal rose across these groups. More generally, the BMI rose with income/expenditure but at a diminishing rate.


Over 81% of the male and about 71% of the female participants in NREGS were normal while most of the remaining were underweight. Our analysis shows that the higher the NREGS wage relative to agricultural wage rate at the village level, the higher was the participation rate and correspondingly the share of normal participants. Two distortions showed up consistently: one was exclusion of the poor and, related to that, of the underweight/undernourished. If these findings have general validity —similar findings of unsatisfactory targeting are obtained from surveys in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh —the NREG minimum of .100 per day is already much too high, relative to slack period market wage rate. Far too many poor and undernourished are 'crowded out'.


The number of days worked in a year was considerably higher among normal participants compared to the underweight. Not just the mean number of days worked was higher among the former but also significantly higher proportions worked for 50 days or more.


In a piece-rate system, the earnings are likely to be much higher for normal participants even if the days worked do not vary much. The mean earnings were, in fact, substantially higher (about . 3,100 per normal participant, compared with about . 2,700 per underweight participant). Besides, the proportions of normal participants in the upper ranges of earnings (> . 5,200 per annum) were considerably higher.


A policy insight is that to the extent that acutely poor overlap with the underweight, as they do, their prospects of climbing out of poverty are bleak.


While the piece-rate system allows flexibility to female participants, and is meant to ensure more productive employment, assessment of work is fraught with corruption and delays. Non-existent worksites and large-scale embezzlement of wages were rife in our surveys. Although a time-rate system has its own difficulties — especially high supervision costs — it is not self-evident that it would be necessarily far worse. Indeed, if supervision capacity exists, a more flexible mode of wage payments may work better.


The current debate on wage hikes seems misplaced, especially when the benefits to the poor and undernourished are so small. Legislating higher wages risks greater distortions. Whatever the verdict of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, careful attention to enhancing awareness of some components of NREGS (e.g., wage payments), proper maintenance of muster rolls, and social audits may do more to transform the lives of the poor than misguided social activism.


(Jha is Rajiv Gandhi Chair Professor, Australian National University (ANU); Gaiha is Professor of Public Policy, Faculty Of Management Studies, University of Delhi; and Pandey is Research
Scholar, ANU)

 

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

STUCK IN TOP GEAR

DJOKOVIC IS TRYING TO PAINT A MASTERPIECE WITH EVERY SHOT. THE QUESTION IS FOR HOW LONG CAN HE SUSTAIN IT

 

The 1997 film Gattaca is set in a time when genetic engineering has evolved to a point where children are produced in test tubes, with each offspring the perfect combination of what their parents have to offer. In such a world, love-child Vincent is considered weaker and less intelligent than his laboratory-created brother Anton. Every few days, the siblings swim into the sea, going deeper and deeper into the water until one of them gives up. Each time, Vincent loses.

 

But one day, tired of being discriminated against, Vincent swims out to the sea harder and faster than ever before, and beats his brother, turning the whole philosophy of optimum conception on its head. As Anton is giving up, he asks: "Vincent, how are you doing this! You're going to drown us both. How have you done any of this?" Vincent, played by Ethan Hawke, replies, "You want to know how I did it? I never saved anything for the swim back."

 

Last night in Rome, if Rafael Nadal had asked Novak Djokovic the secret behind his astonishing 37-0 run, he would've perhaps got a similar answer. This year, the Serbian has saved nothing for the swim back.
    Unlike other individual sports, tennis is not so much a game of numbers as it is of impressions. Statistics are important up to a point but don't fully explain why certain people win and others don't. Every time Roger Federer hits a lashing backhand, for example, the winners go up by one on his stats counter. The impact of the shot, however, is sometimes worth three points, sometimes a game, and sometimes the entire match.
    The reason for this is not so much the wow factor as it is the ease of execution. Boris Becker's lunging volley, Steffi Graf's inside-out forehand, John McEnroe's looping serve: they were all natural expressions rather than the players pushing themselves to a point of no return. There was always a chance that these shots could get even better, that there was a more incredible angle to be found the next time around.
    Djokovic, in contrast, is hitting every ball like it's his last. There is no question of striking it better the next time, or changing gears at four-all to close out a set. Each point is played in top gear: the margin of error minuscule, the danger of missing enormous. A few joules too much, a few centimetres too low, and all will be lost. But he doesn't care; what Marat Safin did for two weeks during the 2000 US Open, and Juan Martin del Potro in 2009, Djokovic has done for five whole months.

 

One example of this devil-may-care approach is the frequency with which he is playing the drop shot, used by other players with extreme caution, especially against runners such as Nadal and Andy Murray. Another is the way he's changing the parabola of the shots, switching between higher and flatter depending on what he's up against. In the Madrid final, he was hitting 36 inches above the net on average, as opposed to Nadal's 31. In Rome the following week, when Nadal went up to 40 inches in search of more top spin, Djokovic countered by bringing his own strokes within two feet of the net.

 

When you play such a dangerous game, there are bound to be pitfalls. The gap between a winning shot and an unforced error becomes so small that it's easy for things to go wrong; for a series of victories to soon become a string of defeats.

 

It's often said about creative arts that each practitioner has a basic level he either rises a little above or dips a little below. The key is to raise this bar over time rather than begin each project with the idea of creating your magnum opus. Djokovic is trying to paint a masterpiece with every shot, pushing himself to the limit, combining what he knows with what he wants, and pulling it off through sheer self-belief.
    He is the best player in the world now, no matter what the rankings say. Still, the real question isn't 'how has he done it' but 'for how long can he sustain it'.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HELP AFGHANS, IT WILL HELP US TOO

 

The outcome of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh's summit meeting with the Afghan President, Mr Hamid Karzai, last week, and the invitation to Dr Singh to address the Afghan Parliament — a first for any foreign leader — mark a point of departure in the Indo-Afghan relations, and presage a qualitative jump in ties. This should be seen in the backdrop of the seeming success that reportedly attended the heavy wooing of the Afghans by the Pakistanis in recent months with several visits to Kabul by the Pakistani military and civilian leadership — all aimed at instigating Kabul to snuff out the benign Indian presence in Afghanistan and hasten the departure of American and Nato troops from the country. The timetable of the withdrawal of the bulk of US forces from Afghanistan — beginning July this year and culminating in 2014 — had given rise to speculation, internationally, that Pakistan will be permitted to be in control of the "endgame" in Afghanistan. However, the dividend flowing from the Prime Minister's recent Kabul visit raises the expectation that India can still remain a meaningful factor in ensuring stability in a post-US Afghanistan. This, of course, will critically depend on New Delhi moving sufficiently quickly to give effect to the terms of the India-Afghanistan joint statement of May 12. It is not enough for this country to raise its development assistance commitment by as much as $500 million, taking the total of pledged aid to $2 billion. The defining feature of the Prime Minister's Kabul visit is the agreement between the two nations to enhance India's presence in all sectors of the Afghan security matrix, though India is not about to paradrop troops into Afghanistan. But it is amply clear that Kabul desires New Delhi's assistance "in the fight against international terrorism, organised crime, illegal trafficking in narcotics and money laundering". All these are to do with the activities of the Taliban and other militant outfits nurtured by Pakistan to bring the Karzai government to its knees so that Islamabad can re-establish its sway over Kabul — which it commanded when the Taliban were in power in 1996-2001. It is evident that the broad outlines of the agreement that fructified in Kabul last week had been under discussion since Mr Karzai's February trip to New Delhi. And yet there are enough indications that the Indian establishment is not yet poised to render Afghanistan the security assistance the latter seeks. The deal that has been worked out between Dr Singh and Mr Karzai requires this country to go well beyond training the Afghan Army and police. This capacity-building commitment is doubtless of considerable value, but the time has come for Indian specialists across security disciplines to be at hand to provide effective aid to Afghanistan. If a sense of timing is not on display here, and a tardiness becomes visible in meeting Afghan concerns, New Delhi might find a perfect opportunity for a meaningful role in Afghanistan's security vector slip away. That would be advantage Pakistan, and even China if Islamabad were to have its way in Kabul. It cannot be stressed enough that finessing Pakistan in Kabul is critical for India's own security. Once the Nato powers leave Kabul and Pakistan is permitted to play its games in Afghanistan through its extremist proxies, we are bound to see greater pressure being exerted on Kashmir and other parts of India by Pakistan, as was the case earlier. This is a key reason, among others, why India must not give up on Afghanistan.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

QUICK-FIX: RAHUL AS CM?

 

Corruption emerged as a key election issue — though admittedly not the only election issue — in Tamil Nadu. It hurt the Congress in Kerala as well — where a local anti-incumbency against the outgoing Left government competed with anti-incumbency against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre. Given this, the UPA government has to take urgent measures to change the public discourse in the coming months. Its third year in power, which begins this week, offers it a last chance. As the third year concludes, in the summer of 2012, elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh will beckon. This will further constrict the political space for the Manmohan Singh government. As such the six odd months from now till the end of the year are a make-or-break period for the UPA. If it allows the drift to continue, it is headed for failure in the run-up to the 2014 national election, and will go back to the people defending a patchy record and a wasted mandate. It doesn't matter what sort of Opposition combine gains, but the fact is the Congress will lose credibility and votes. In the coming weeks, the Congress leadership will need to focus on three areas. First is image management. The government has acquired a reputation of being indifferent to corruption, acting only when pushed and creating a situation in which the Supreme Court, rather than the Executive, is monitoring the 2G spectrum scandal investigation. More than that, the Congress has given the impression of falling back on its dirty-tricks reserves. Take examples. It is now established that the Shanti Bhushan CD — seeking to present a discussion between Mr Bhushan, who is among the Lokpal Bill activists, and two politicians, Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav, on the possible bribing of judges — was a fake. Yet senior ministers from the UPA government were inviting friendly mediapersons for private briefings and sharing reports from allegedly credible state-run laboratories to paint Mr Bhushan as a fixer. On another note, take the first major post-May 13 political drama. It has come not in a state that had a full-fledged Assembly election but in one that had three byelections, Karnataka. In October 2010, in a somewhat irregular ruling, the Karnataka Assembly Speaker had disqualified a set of Independent and ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) before a confidence vote. A week ago, the Supreme Court nullified this disqualification. However, many of the concerned MLAs have now made their peace with the BJP. True, it is all very dubious. Nevertheless, instead of clarifying matters and playing elder statesman, the Karnataka governor, a Congress veteran, has recommended the state government's dismissal. He has refused it permission to prove its majority in the House. His crude approach has turned the focus from the embarrassment the Speaker would otherwise have faced following the Supreme Court verdict. It is unlikely the UPA government will actually impose President's Rule in Karnataka, but the role of the patently biased governor is not going to help. It will add to suspicions that the Congress is uncomfortable with a federalised polity, and will leave regional allies and would-be allies worried. Second, there is the issue of the government's economic agenda. For all the knocking he has taken, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remains the UPA's most potent mascot. If he is allowed the space to push ahead with economic policy decisions — particularly in infrastructure and in addressing supply-side issues and agricultural restructuring to tackle long-term food inflation — it can still change the conversation around the government. Unfortunately, there are enough in the Congress who are philosophically hostile to such policy changes and politically unwilling to allow the Prime Minister the credit he would get for potentially game-changing decisions. They would rather allow him to sink. However, as he sinks, so will the rest of the government. The sullen mood in Indian business, with high cost of finance and low optimism leading to slowing capacity accretion and job creation, is not helping anybody. If Dr Singh is not given the space to start fixing it now, by early 2012 it will be too late. Third, the party's inability or unwillingness to allow regional leaders to grow under its broad umbrella has ceased to be a cliché; it has become a crisis. The new chief ministers of Puducherry and West Bengal are former Congress politicians, turfed out of the mother party by conspirators and armchair "leaders". In the case of Mamata Banerjee it is ironical that Somen Mitra, the state unit president who announced her expulsion from the Congress, now serves as a member of Parliament in her party. This year, his wife was elected as a Trinamul Congress MLA. These examples are not unique. Provincial politicians and Congress workers know a strong mass leader from a distant figure in New Delhi, who may visit occasionally. Even the Kadapa (Andhra Pradesh) byelection, where loyalty to Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy's family scored over any institutional association with the Congress, illustrated this phenomenon. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress has national-level faces, stalwart ministers in New Delhi, but is missing as a factor in local politics. If Kerala's election had been presidential, V.S. Achuthanandan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) would have trounced Oomen Chandy of the Congress. The biggest test will be in Uttar Pradesh. Rahul Gandhi's foray into land acquisition politics in the western parts of the state was not his first attempt at such direct contact. He has attempted it in desperately-poor Bundelkhand and in flood-hit Gorakhpur and eastern Uttar Pradesh. In each case there has been absence of effective follow up by a robust enough local leader. Beyond a point, Mr Gandhi cannot seek votes for the Congress and promise only tired has-beens — say a Rita Bahuguna or a Pramod Tiwari — as prospective chief ministers. This will cost the party dear in the Uttar Pradesh election. The "Mayawati versus Who?" question will come back to haunt it. Of course, there is one audacious step Mr Gandhi can take. He can announce himself as the chief ministerial candidate and say Uttar Pradesh will be his training ground before he moves to New Delhi. It's a high-risk, high-gain strategy. One suspects the Congress doesn't have the gumption for it. * Ashok Malik can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

MR OBAMA, TIME TO SAY, 'IT'S A NO GO'

 

Six months ago US President Barack Obama faced a hostage situation. Republicans threatened to block an extension of middle-class tax cuts unless Mr Obama gave in and extended tax cuts for the rich too. And the President essentially folded, giving the Grand Old Party (GOP) everything it wanted. Now, predictably, the hostage-takers are back: blackmail worked well last December, so why not try it again? This time House Republicans say they will refuse to raise the debt ceiling — a step that could inflict major economic damage — unless Mr Obama agrees to large spending cuts, even as they rule out any tax increase whatsoever. And the question becomes what, if anything, will get the President to say no. The debt ceiling itself is a strange feature of US law: since Congress must vote to authorise spending and choose tax rates, why have a second vote on whether to allow the borrowing that these spending and taxation policies imply? In practice, however, legislators have historically been willing to raise the debt ceiling as necessary, so this quirk in our system hasn't mattered very much — until now. What has changed? The answer is the radicalisation of the Republican Party. Normally, a party controlling neither the White House nor the Senate would acknowledge that it isn't in a position to impose its agenda on the nation. But the modern GOP doesn't believe in following normal rules. So what will happen if the ceiling isn't raised? It has become fashionable on the Right to assert that it would be no big deal. On Saturday the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal ridiculed those worried about the consequences of hitting the ceiling as the "Armageddon lobby". It's hard to know whether the "what, us worry?" types believe what they're saying, or whether they're just staking out a bargaining position. But in any case, they're almost surely wrong: seriously bad consequences will follow if the debt ceiling isn't raised. For if we hit the debt ceiling, the government will be forced to stop paying roughly a third of its bills, because that's the share of spending currently financed by borrowing. So will it stop sending out Social Security cheques? Will it stop paying doctors and hospitals that treat Medicare patients? Will it stop paying the contractors supplying fuel and munitions to our military? Or will it stop paying interest on the debt? Don't say "none of the above". As I've written before, the federal government is basically an insurance company with an Army, so I've just described all the major components of federal spending. At least one, and probably several, of these components will face payment stoppages if federal borrowing is cut off. And what would such payment stops do to the economy? Nothing good. Consumer spending would probably crash, as nervous seniors start wondering how to pay for rent and food. Businesses that depend on government purchases would slash payrolls and cancel investments. Furthermore, markets might well panic, especially if interest payments are missed. And the consequences of undermining faith in US debt might be especially severe because that debt plays a crucial role in many financial transactions. So hitting the debt ceiling would be a very bad thing. Unfortunately, it may be unavoidable. Why? Because this is a hostage situation. If the President and his allies operate on the principle that failure to raise the debt ceiling is an unthinkable outcome, to be avoided at all cost, then they have ceded all power to those willing to bring that outcome about. In effect, they will have ripped up the Constitution and given control over America's government to a party that only controls one House of Congress, but claims to be willing to bring down the economy unless it gets what it wants. Now, there are good reasons to believe that the GOP isn't nearly as willing to burn the house down as it claims. Business interests have made it clear that they're horrified at the prospect of hitting the debt ceiling. Even the virulently anti-Obama US Chamber of Commerce has urged Congress to raise the ceiling "as expeditiously as possible". And a confrontation over spending would only highlight the fact that Republicans won big last year largely by promising to protect Medicare, then promptly voted to dismantle the programme. But the President can't call the extortionists' bluff unless he's willing to confront them, and accept the associated risks. According to Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, Mr Obama has told Democrats not to draw any "line in the sand" in debt negotiations. Well, count me among those who find this strategy completely baffling. At some point — and sooner rather than later — the President has to draw a line. Otherwise, he might as well move out of the White House, and hand the keys over to the Tea Party.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

SAY HELLO TO CPI(MAMATA)

 

It's difficult to believe that Mamata Banerjee's demolition of the world's longest-serving democratically-elected Communist government also means the end of history for West Bengal. I don't mean the Communist Party of India-Marxist's (CPI-M) structure and strategy which are being discussed threadbare over endless cups of tea in its Alimuddin Street office, as it was at Monday's politburo meeting in New Delhi. I mean Communism as an idea to which millions of young Bengalis responded. Having spent my adolescent years abroad, I was spared the temptation. But there were Communists in the family and I remember childish excitement and mystification when a fugitive Indrajit Gupta, "Sonnymama", went to live with my grandmother because he was "underground". How could her airy first-floor flat be underground, I wondered. Like former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, Sonnymama came to the Communist Party of India (CPI) via the Communist Party of Great Britain — revolutionary equivalents of the corporate world's "covenanted hands", meaning Indians recruited in Britain and entitled to British pay and perks. But whereas Basu took full advantage of the privilege and sailed in at the top, Sonnymama chose to work his way up from the bottom. He found his stint as the Union home minister a burden while Basu never ceased to regret the prime ministership that never was. Basu and Sonnymama were the elite. The home-grown cadres attracted Nirad C. Chaudhuri's derision. He dismissed a Communist as a "young Bengali in a Red shirt and khaki trousers, trying to speak Hindi" (why Hindi, I can't imagine, unless early recruits wanted to be cosmopolitan and Hindi was the only other language they knew), but others recognised the frustration underlying their commitment to a brave new world. Ideology symbolised escape and opportunity. That faith was incompatible with the tortuous manipulations of parliamentary governance. Institutionalising it because the leaders craved power led to the arrogance and abuses that accounted for West Bengal's debacle. The CPI(M) is blamed for doing very little to meet the revolution of rising expectations that its own actions generated. Operation Barga gave the peasantry land. Panchayati Raj gave it a voice. But where were the jobs that would entitle them to rise above the station in which they were born? The sons of Britain's Labour peers vote Tory. The sons of our peasantry aspire to white-collar respectability. Not Bengalis alone. Visiting the Punjab Agricultural University at Ludhiana, set up to impart new skills to farmers' sons so that they could go back to the land with improved agricultural practices, I found that the students hoped university education would lead to clerical jobs. Secure in their own middle-class identity, Left Front leaders paid scant attention to the seething social ambitions of those they had empowered. Gautam Deb, one of the 26 defeated ministers, fatuously argued that a Bengali's "heightened political consciousness prevents him from being distracted by material discomforts". He and his colleagues would do well to read George Orwell's Animal Farm to understand that the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie ends only when the former becomes the latter. Marx's theory that class shapes thinking and outlook is one reason why this reality is ignored. Apart from Basu and one or two others, the original Left Front worthies came from society's lower echelons. It was hilarious watching them in 1977 being sworn in by polished Indian Civil Service governor Anthony Lancelot Dias. Dias spoke only English, most ministers spoke only Bengali. But many of them are now said to be millionaires with no time for the hoi polloi. They wouldn't otherwise have failed to note the god was failing. The courtiers — academics, artists, writers and actors — who surrounded them kept up the illusion of a radical Elysium even while angling for American visas or "green cards". The joke at one time was that a prominent Kolkata editor with Leftist pretensions (but not averse to accepting American invitations) had proved that the road to Washington lay through Beijing. This was a play on the fond but uncorroborated Bengali belief that Lenin had predicted that the road to world revolution lay through Kolkata. Many other Bengali Marxist intellectuals (tautology?) were disposed to take that editor's route. Now, Bengali voters have come out of the closet en masse and rejected the tired prophets of a make-believe revolution for a relatively young woman whose cyclonic sweep through the state greatly impressed US consul-general Beth A. Payne. According to WikiLeaks, she cabled her bosses about the need to "cultivate" Ms Banerjee who could not only save West Bengal but was "pro-American". Once that would have been the kiss of death for any Bengali politician. Not any longer. Today's Bengalis are pragmatists. Riches matter more than romance or revolution. That's why Didi, who led the fiery opposition to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's plans for Nandigram and Singur, cannot afford to forget how savagely voters dealt with the Left Front for not creating prosperity. They will give her short shrift if she, too, can't attract investors. Agriculture and industry are not mutually exclusive. But, first, she must slay the vicious anti-industry genie she released, and convince peasants that factories don't float in thin air. They need land. A 107-year-old Land Acquisition Act just won't do. Otherwise, we can expect more ructions. "We are a special people, a mix of Aryans, Muslims, Mongols and Huns", a Bengali once told Trevor Fishlock of the Times, London. "When the Aryan blood comes to the top you see our intellectual side. But when the Mongol blood gets to the top we might assassinate and demonstrate violently." The Mongol blood must be kept in check. Didi's supporters call her a true Leftist. Perhaps she is. Perhaps a CPI(M) does remain in power, though with the Communist Party of India (Mamata) replacing the Communist Party of India (Marwari), as the old ruling party was dubbed. But the Communism that inspired generations of Bengalis is dead. Didi only exposed the corpse. That doesn't mean Communists won't always be with us. They will, like Nirad Chaudhuri's "passionate" Communist friend who, when asked to prove his revolutionary credentials, replied, "My wife says that I growl in my sleep". * Sunanda K. Datta-Ray is a senior journalist who contributes to several top international publications

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

BUDDHA & THE BODHI TREE

 

Buddha Purnima is celebrated on a full moon in the month of Vaisakh, according to the lunar calendar, and commemorates the enlightenment of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. Because there has never been a consensus on the exact date of his birth or his passing into mahaparinirvana (final extinguishment), both these occasions are tagged onto this day. One can say that Buddha Purnima is "Buddha's Day", and honours his extraordinary quality of wholeness, indicated by the fullness of the moon. The symbolism of the moon is quite appropriate, for isn't a "Buddha" a human being who has maximised his or her innate potential for goodness, kindness, compassion and equanimity? Isn't Buddha someone who is radiant with clarity and completely, unshakeably poised in an integrated balance? How the Buddha became the Buddha — the "fully enlightened one" — is a story that must be retold on this day, not just in remembrance of that momentous event, but because it holds out to us a promise of inspiration. It all started when Siddhartha, an accomplished young prince accustomed to the "good life", felt the stirrings of dissatisfaction. By material standards, young Siddhartha had it all. And then… what? By the time he was 29, he began to wonder whether this was all there was in life. Some sort of an awakening might have occurred that brought him to the realisation of the untapped potential that lay within him. Expected to live a princely life, Siddhartha acknowledged his own need to move beyond it. This was also the point when Siddhartha began considering issues he had not given much thought to earlier. For instance, "the Four Great Sights" that Buddhist scriptures credit with changing the course of his life — an old man, a sick man, a corpse and an ascetic — are perhaps symbolic of Siddhartha's thought process. The time had come to renounce his identity as Siddhartha Gautama. Leaving his wife and newborn son asleep one night, he chopped off his long hair with his sword and donned the yellow robes of an ascetic. Then, he probably inspected the spiritual scene for a teacher and settled upon Alara Kalama. He quickly mastered what Kalama had to teach — disciplining the mind to enter the "sphere of nothingness". Then finding his teacher had nothing else to offer, Siddhartha left. However, the quietened mind is not necessarily a mind that has understood, or is fulfilled. Hence, his need to move on. Next, he went to Uddaka Ramaputta from whom he learnt the Upanishadic concept of "the one absolute that manifests in everything", which he would refute post-nirvana. He decided to embark upon a rigorous ascetic practice on his own. For the next six years, Siddhartha remained immersed in deep concentration. It was a harsh, merciless practice. To subjugate his body, he would eat almost nothing, at times only a single grain of rice. He denied himself protection against the scorching summers and the harsh winters. Soon, he was more dead than alive. Six years into this asceticism, Siddhartha knew he was doing something wrong. He was no closer to realisation than he had been at the beginning. With the question, "Might there not be another way to awakening?", he ended his penance by accepting a bowl of kheer from Sujata, a young woman who mistook the hollow-eyed ascetic to be a spirit. A revived Siddhartha then went to sit under a Bodhi tree. "I will not get up until I find what I am seeking", he vowed. Six days later, over the four watches of night, it is said that Siddhartha realised his true nature and that of Reality. Although the actual character of what happened is mysterious, we do know that there was a sense of conclusion and of a supreme connection. This he expressed through a simple gesture, touching the earth, when asked for proof of his enlightenment. That gesture conveyed that through his awakening, he had realised his connection with everything everywhere. Siddhartha the prince had ceased to exist. As had the student and the ascetic. From under the Bodhi tree rose one who had awakened to his true, enlightened nature. It is this Buddha that we remember and celebrate on this day. — Swati Chopra is the author of Women Awakened: Stories of Contemporary Spirituality in India, Buddhism: On the Path to Nirvana and Dharamsala Diaries. She can be contacted at www.swatichopra.com

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

D, WE WON'T BE COMING

 

"Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord." Romans 12:19 The Holy Bible (King James Version) Scriptural injunctions together with America's early frontier philosophy might well have inspired the official policy which culminated in Operation Geronimo. In this, special forces of the United States Navy Seal (Sea, Air and Land) Team Six finally killed Osama bin Laden "with extreme prejudice" on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad, deep in the heartland of Pakistan. The operation had commenced almost 10 years earlier. Immediately after the fall of the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, the then US President George W. Bush, publicly stated his determination "to bring the murderers to justice or bring justice to the murderers". And US President Barack Obama finished what his predecessor had started. For countries like India facing similar problems, the unilateral exercise of American capability might have been deprecated in public, but was undoubtedly admired in private. No other country could have done it and very few would dare emulate it even now. Judging by its overall public impact, Operation Geronimo can certainly stake its claim to be the "mother of all special operations" (to paraphrase Saddam Hussein, another likely target had he been alive). In this context it is important to differentiate between "special" and "covert" operations. The former are essentially high-visibility military operations, carried out by specially-trained and equipped military forces on critical, high-value targets. The latter are low-visibility human intelligence operations conducted by intelligence agencies separate from the military, but possibly incorporating some military manpower in individual capacities and based on underground networks of agents, operatives and informers, patiently cultivated and established over time. Though covert operations largely focus on gathering intelligence, under certain circumstances they can be extended to ultra-clandestine "black operations" for sabotage and physical elimination of specific targets as well. Both categories can and often do form part of the same overall undertaking, as the Bin Laden episode illustrates perfectly. A 10-year preliminary covert operation — the little known Cannonball — was conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to establish networks throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan for gathering intelligence on targeted individual. It was followed by the blitzkrieg heliborne "special" operation called Geronimo, which was conducted to eliminate Bin Laden, collect intelligence material including his body and exit the scene. Later, the Navy Seals were to board aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in north Arabian Sea. Indeed, as more details emerge it is clear that without the preliminary Cannonball, the Geronimo strike could not have taken place. Interestingly, even with such intensive preparation, and notwithstanding the vast resources at CIA's disposal, the final intelligence still remained imperfect and incomplete. Mr Obama had to take final decision without assured confirmation of Bin Laden's exact location. The chances of success — internally assessed — was between a high of 80 per cent and a low of an astonishing 40 per cent. Three operational options for the Bin Laden compound are said to have been presented: an airstrike with precision weapons, a heliborne special operation with exclusively American forces, and a joint special operation with Pakistan' Special Forces. The air attack option, though safest, was discarded because proof of success would not be conclusive. Also, there are no prizes for guessing why the joint US-Pakistani option did not get off the ground. Geronimo is being hailed in the US as a great American victory, which has, in all probability, ensured Mr Obama's success in the 2012 presidential elections. It could just as easily have been a resounding American defeat like the disastrous failure of Operation Eagle Claw in 1980. The American Delta Force had failed to rescue US embassy staff held hostage in Tehran. This proved politically fatal for President Jimmy Carter who had launched the operation. India must never forget its own public enemies enjoying sanctuary in neighbouring countries. The rising flood of information from both open and confidential sources about the Bin Laden operation has to be professionally studied and analysed in detail. We need to evolve practicable politico-military options available to this country to bring our own Bin Ladens to justice namely Dawood Ibrahim, Ilyas Kashmiri, Hafiz Saeed and others who have harmed the Indian state and caused grievous hurt to its people. The American model may not be feasible with Indian capabilities and in the geopolitical environment of "no-war, no-peace" with a perennially intransigent neighbour. Therefore, India has to develop its own operational options possibly based more on covert rather than special operations alternatives. Granted that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it would appear to be politically more expedient for India to take a leaf out of the Inter-Services Intelligence book and adopt the low-profile option of covert operations if it is serious about bringing its own "most wanted" to book. Meanwhile, India's honorary Pakistanis in New Delhi are frothing at the mouth, indignant in media and cyberspace that the Chiefs of the Indian Army and Air Force should have reiterated, briefly and cryptically, the capabilities of their own respective services in this regard. It is a statement of fact that all three Indian defence services have their own extremely well-trained and highly-motivated special forces. It is no bad thing to convey this to the intended recipients in some appropriate manner. But special operations skills are as cutting edge as space technology, and just as perishable unless kept under constant review and upgradation, both technological as well as in special terms of service for these elite forces. So, can India do it too? And indeed, does it at all want to? These are emotive but entirely natural questions. Even though they are irrelevant in the Indian context where the government has rejected all proactive measures and put its complete faith in the persuasive powers of dialogue even with a dismissive and often obdurate Pakistani establishment. India's message to the country's own mixed bag of absconding public enemies is soothing. Dawood Ibrahim, Ilyas Kashmiri, Hafeez Saeed and others can all sleep in peace wherever they are — the Indians will not be coming. * Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament

change in the social sector. She can be contacted at m4moment@gmail.com

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

COWARDLY, CYNICAL

PETROL PRICE RISE TIMING


ADDRESSING his maiden media interaction as finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh had declared "too much politics has been played with the economy" ~ the opening lines of an essay which earned him much respect because he was seen as "different". If that was not a sinisterly-crafted façade, those words should now echo to haunt and shame him. For the timing of the latest petrol price hike was graphic portrayal of how UPA-II, headed by the same Dr Manmohan Singh (at least notionally), backed off from a hard economic decision lest it adversely impact on electoral prospects. The very essence of what he had so forthrightly condemned way back in 1990. Yes, in 21 years he has "come of age". Valid may be the "inevitable, unavoidable" argument of officials that oil marketing companies are buckling under the burden of the mismatch between international and domestic prices: were the same arguments not valid in February and March as the jasmine revolution threw oil prices into an upward helix? Would not part of that burden have been reduced had the oil companies been permitted (in reality, despite de-regulation it is the government that actually calls the shots) to raise prices some months earlier? Was that not craven cowardice in face of the polls to five state assemblies? Would that not have averted a hike of as much as five rupees in a litre in one go? And we are being warned of another hike ~ this time round there will be no electoral cushion for aam aadmi.


There are conflicting views on whether petrol prices need be as high as they are, a substantial portion being taxes that accrue to the central and state exchequers. In fact even as ministers publicly join the common man in lamenting the increase in international prices of crude/products they cynically salivate at the prospects of their revenue also increasing with each domestic price hike. Was scrapping the administered price mechanism only intended to mislead the people into believing that the government no longer fixes prices ~ the announcement of the hike a day after poll results were declared explodes that myth. A passing thought, the model code of conduct which the Election Commission diligently enforces, prohibits the announcements of sops. Should it not also work the other way ~ compel governments to fulfill responsibilities even if that means disappointing the voter?

Shame on you, Dr Singh.

 

HONOUR RESTORED

DEFAULT VICTORY FOR THE AIADMK

THE DMK relied on its ill gotten money power and the Congress on its capacity to fool the people all the time to try and win the election to the Tamil Nadu Assembly.  Both came a cropper.  The people did not vote for the AIADMK or the alliance led by Jayalalitha, whose record is no better than that of DMK patriarch, Muthuvel Karunanidhi, as the various charges and cases pending against her show. Nevertheless, the AIADMK won a landslide victory by default. The results hold a lesson for all the political parties. The DMK, credited with the "Thirumangalam formula" of winning elections, hoped to repeat it this time also. In a by-election in Thirumangalam, not a stronghold of the DMK, it demonstrated a convincing win by distributing Rs. 5,000 to each voter and boasted about it.  With no dearth of cash, the DMK was counted on a repeat. The Election Commission tried to stop it to the extent it could. Still cash flowed. SY Qureishi, chief election commissioner, confessed publicly that he was having sleepless nights on account of the grotesque display of corrupt poll practices in Tamil Nadu. The 28 ministers in the Karunanidhi government had declared their total assets in 2006 as Rs.72.73 crore; by 2011, they had grown to Rs.190.27 crore,  an increase of 262 per cent. Most of them were defeated. Twenty-five years before independence, C Rajagopalachari wrote: "We all ought to know that Swaraj will not at once or even for a long time to come be better government or greater happiness for the people.  Elections and their corruption, injustice, and the power of tyranny of wealth, and inefficiency of administration will make a hell of life as soon as freedom is given to us…The only thing gained will be that as a race we will be saved from dishonour and subordination."  The DMK government, by raining freebies and cash at election time rendered the poor into beggars and deprived them of honour.


If Jayalalitha thinks that the vote is a positive mandate for the AIADMK, she is wrong. What her party offered in its election manifesto was not much different. Just as the electorate showed their pent-up anger against the family rule of Karunanidhi in the last five years and appropriation of the State's wealth and resources by its various members, the AIADMK had earlier been voted out for the loot carried out during the 2001-2006 period by the Mannargudi family sharing Chennai's Poes Garden home with Jayalalitha. People will not tolerate the kind of corruption they saw during her earlier terms in office, or her intolerance of a free media. She must also understand that freebies and cash doles do not make good governance. Jayalalitha should remember the 2G spectrum scandal was the single most important issue that swept the DMK and its alliance partners into the dust bin just as Bofors was responsible for the rout of the Congress in 1989. Jayalalitha's cosying up to Sonia Gandhi even before the swearing-in suggests she hasn't understood why she is in power.


PHYSICIANS & POLITICS

NEW GOVT MUST END THE NONSENSE

THE politicisation of doctors is one of the worst developments that could have afflicted the public health segment in West Bengal. The increasing tendency to accord a relatively minor rating to their primary duty ~ to put in place an efficient system of medicare ~ becomes still more damaging with the express decision to play politics in the immediate aftermath of the assembly election results. It was irresponsible and shockingly unprofessional to neglect the patient in state hospitals and sign up with the CPM-affiliated Association of Health Service Doctors, obviously to buttress their career prospects. Professionalism and devotion to duty are further trashed with no fewer than 115 government doctors ~ hitherto with the CPI-M ~ reducing themselves to turncoats and teaming up with the Trinamul-backed Progressive Service Doctors' Association. Political preferences since the afternoon of 13 May are wholly irrelevant when one reflects that doctors are bound to the Hippocratic oath which now appears to be of lesser moment than consciously playing footsie with the parties. With the change of dispensation, one would have imagined that the most compelling objective of state government doctors would be to effect a dramatic revamp of the decrepit health service.

 

The task may be seemingly difficult after three decades, yet a beginning has to be made. Not to ensure plum postings in Kolkata by kowtowing to the new set of political masters. It is a legacy of the past 34 years that even the government physician has turned to be a politician of sorts, more interested in the loaves and fishes of office rather than caring for the sick and the dying. The years between 1962 ~ the year of Dr BC Roy's death ~ and 2011 signify the distance the state has reversed and most tragically in the public health sector. It is fervently to be hoped that the ruling Trinamul Congress will be firm enough to halt the politicisation of the state's doctors. There are no political stakes involved, no brownie points to score over a CPI-M in the dumps. Politicisation of the police was bad enough; that of physicians quite simply can't be allowed

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

RAPE OF THE CONSTITUTION!

KARNATAKA GOVERNOR A COURIER OF THE CENTRE'S WISHES

RAJINDER PURI


DESPITE the Karnataka Chief Minister claiming a majority and willing to prove it on the floor of the House, Governor HR Bhardwaj remained unmoved. He refused audience to BJP MLAs, reinstated by the Supreme Court, who are backing the government. He has instead written to the Union government recommending dissolution of the Assembly and imposition of President's Rule. There is no need to repeat that the Governor is grossly violating the spirit of the Constitution while dealing with the crisis in the state. Eminent jurists have already lambasted his conduct. Mr. Soli Sorabjee has described him as behaving like the leader of the Opposition rather than a Governor discharging his constitutional duties.


Consider this gem spoken by the Governor as he justified refusal to convene the Assembly and ranted about preserving the Constitution: "Floor tests in the Assembly have not helped Karnataka. These have led to manipulation." By manipulation he presumably means political persuasion which is part and parcel of democratic functioning. If there have been used any illegal methods of persuasion he must specify them instead of talking vaguely about "horse-trading". He should know that the reinstated BJP MLAs have good reason to revise their attitude towards the government. Offered a reprieve by the Supreme Court, they have decided to continue in the House rather than invite repeat expulsion by voting against their party whip and attracting the anti-defection law.


If in the Governor's view floor tests in the Assembly do not help Karnataka, what is the alternative? The arbitrary will of the Governor to decide what is good for Karnataka? Clearly, the Governor deserves to be sacked. He is as Governor no more a blind Congress party loyalist than he was as Law Minister helping Ottavio Quattrocchi in the Bofors case. But who can sack the Governor?


According to the SC ruling in the Dr Raghulal Tilak case (1979), in no manner is the Governor "subordinate or subservient" to the Union cabinet. The Governor, therefore, is accountable to the President who appoints him. Alas, according to the ruling in the Shamsher Singh versus the State of Punjab case the President is a titular head and must follow the advice of the cabinet! Where does this self-contradictory verbal juggling by the SC in two different rulings leave us? It makes confusion worse confounded!


There was no rationale for the SC to specify the President as a titular head except the irrational interpretation of the Constitution bequeathed by Pandit Nehru against the correct view of Dr. Rajendra Prasad. Nehru's view was blindly accepted by a whole bunch of sycophantic legal luminaries down the decades. Even Dr. Ambedkar against his own instincts lamely bowed down before the majority view to accept the President as a mere constitutional head on the strength of Article 74 (1) of the Constitution. That Article stated: "There shall be a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President." Did not our great legal luminaries know the English language? "Aid and advise" does not mean to order and to compel.
To cover this fraud the 43rd Amendment was introduced later. It added that the President must act in accordance with the advice of the cabinet. But despite this amendment the President must conform to the cabinet's advice only with regard to subjects that come under the cabinet's purview. The SC ruling in the Dr Raghulal Tilak case clearly states that the Governor in no way comes under the purview of the cabinet. So what prevents the President from taking unilateral decision?


As far as the present incumbent is concerned there is plenty to inhibit the President. Arguably the Election Commission (EC) was remiss in its duty by failing to debar Mrs Pratibha Patil from being a candidate for the Presidency. In the case of MPs and MLAs ongoing court cases or investigations do not debar candidature unless there is conviction. However in the case of Presidential candidates there is a difference. Mrs. Patil was facing a CBI investigation of alleged misuse of her office as Governor to help cover up a murder case against her kin. But the moment she was elected President she was above questioning and above being probed by any investigative agency. In the event should her candidature have been allowed? Earlier Dr Venkataraman also became President despite the ongoing probe in the HDW submarine investigation ordered when he was Defence Minister and his relative was representing the HDW Submarine firm.


The Constitution is violated and the system is not working because the President cannot exercise the powers that it grants to the office. Instead of an honest reappraisal of the way in which the Constitution is being implemented the nation is engaged in a fierce debate related to the fruitless proposal of establishing a Lokpal. History will severely judge our legal luminaries who through moral cowardice are afraid to speak the truth about the Constitution for fear of overturning a flawed national consensus. Meanwhile, the Constitution continues to be raped. Our democratic system continues to crumble.

 

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

 

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THE STATESMAN

2014: It's make or break for Myanmar

While Myanmar is raring to assume the chairmanship of Asean in 2014, a lot will depend on its ability to improve its rights and development records before the final call is taken, writes kavi chongkittavorn

A day before the 18th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit began in Jakarta, the USA sent an urgent message to Indonesia ~ the Asean chair ~ and to Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines saying that it was the time to push for real progress on Myanmar otherwise it would be difficult to envisage any US President attending the East Asia Summit in 2014 there. The message was a reminder to Asean that reforms in Myanmar and the choice of the Asean chair would impact the overall dynamics of US-Asean relations which have been strengthened all the more since Washington acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.
Interestingly, US concern helped Asean leaders refocus and subsequently delay their decision regarding Nayphidaw's request to head the grouping it joined in 1997. At the end of the summit, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a statement saying that Asean had agreed in principle to consider giving Myanmar the chair based on its firm commitment to the principle of regional grouping. It was a wait-and-see attitude even though the whole summit was overshadowed by the Thai-Cambodian border dispute. There are a few things that the new government under President Thein Sein needs to do between now and the Asean foreign ministerial meeting later in July to convince Asean that Myanmar, if it were the 2014 chair, would not harm the grouping's credibility.

In its message to Asean, Washington also pressed for progress on key issues, including the release of political prisoners, nuclear non-proliferation effort and political dialogue with ethnic groups and Ms Aung San Suu Kyi. Obviously, these are conditions that that have been highlighted and used as justifications to continue with current sanctions on Myanmar. Now, it is incumbent on Indonesia's foreign minister Mr Marty Natalegawa, who has agreed to visit Myanmar in coming weeks, to discuss and find out what future reforms are in Nayphidaw's pipeline. His visit is important as it would prove decisive in the matter of greenlighting Myanmar's lead role at the July foreign ministerial meeting. Most importantly, the Asean chair also wants to share updates and assessments with their dialogue partners to provide the raison d'tre for Myanmar assuming the chairmanship of Asean in 2014.

Earlier, Asean secretary-general Dr Surin Pitsuwan iterated that views from dialogue partners must be taken into consideration because it would impact on their future participation in several Asean activities. Since the USA and the EU are highly-valued dialogue partners of Asean, their concerns cannot be taken for granted and must be met this time. Otherwise, it would be hard to ensure committed cooperation. Other than calling for an end to sanctions and other restrictions following the setting up of a new civilian government last March, Western countries as well as the United Nations have urged Myanmar to improve its human rights records and propose further reforms.

For the time being, the participation of Western leaders at the inaugural expanded East Asia Summit (EAS) in October in Bali have been secured. President Barack Obama has promised to come to Indonesia to take part in it after the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Honolulu. That much is clear. But what will influence the choice of an incoming Asean chair is the level of participation that it will guarantee of Western and US leaders in Asean summits and fora.  For instance, at next year's EAS in Cambodia, which will be held almost at the same time as the US Presidential election in November, it remains to be seen who will represent the US president. In other words, who is coming to tow

Therefore, the prospect of having Myanmar as the 2014 chair poses a dilemma for Asean. Laos was first to express its support for Myanmar during a meeting of senior officials ahead of the summit. Singapore and Malaysia, which voiced reservations earlier at a special ministerial meeting in Bangkok in early April did not voice their positions in subsequent ministerial meetings in Jakarta.

In view of the rotation of the Asean chair in alphabetical order, Laos should be chairing Asean in 2015 and Malaysia in 2016. But Malaysia is firm on chairing Asean in 2015 because that will be the pivotal year to shape the future of the Asean community beyond 2015. It will be problematic if Myanmar is not fitted in in 2014.
After the 2004 swap, Indonesia switched its turn with Brunei two years ago. During the 16th Asean summit in Hanoi in April 2010, the leaders stressed that such swaps should not set any precedence because the alphabetical rotation of Asean chairmanship ~ as enjoined upon by Article 31, paragraph 1 of the grouping's charter ~ should be honoured. Looks like the nitty-gritty of procedural politics would eventually play out for the benefit of Nayphidaw. After all, Asean is an organisation that follows rules.

As the Thien Sien government enters its sixth week, Asean, along with the international community are watching closely for concrete reforms that would promote national unity and reconciliation, good governance and transparency, among other things. Can Myanmar deliver? That will clinch the leadership issue.

the nation/ann

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THE STATESMAN

NOW & AGAIN

LICHHOO, MY PET

SUDESHNA CHAKRABORTY


It all happened a good decade and a half ago. I was not even a teenager then. My mother harboured a pathological dislike for reptiles and amphibians while my fascination for them continued to be fanned by Jurassic Park and National Geographic. My Lichhoo was a gecko or the house lizard. While chameleons are usually sedentary, geckos are very active. Geckos have a lot in common with tuataras of New Zealand, who sport a third eye, and are good at presaging. Once an American woman visited us. She had come to see her father's birthplace in Kharagpur where we live. She ran a publishing house called Chipkali Publications which brought out her father's memoirs. They contained references to the ticking sound made by geckos which signalled they were thinking aloud! It so happened that thanks to Lichhoo, my mother once hit the jackpot.
I named my pet gecko Lichhoo because I thought its skin resembled that of a lychee. I knew it was a female when it appeared very protective of the eggs she had laid. Lichhoo and her eggs used to live happily in a drawer. One day, my mother discovered them while looking for a pen and began screaming in panic. I got an immediate order to clear the drawer of the "pests". As I begun shifting the family elsewhere, one egg broke accidentally. The reddish-yellow liquid that oozed from the broken shell made me despondent. I realised that I had just committed foeticide.

Feeling very guilty, I made sure that Lichhoo and her eggs got a safe haven away from the prying eyes of my mother. Sometime later, a lottery ticket seller made a house call. My mother used to be his loyal customer till she realised that windfall was as much rare as cool wind during scorching summer months. Being a homemaker, she believed only lotteries could deliver her dream to achieve occasional economic independence. But that day, she remained ambivalent even though the ticket seller persisted. "Do I really need to buy a ticket?" she mused aloud as a preface to a polite but firm decline. At that very instant, Lichhoo ticked-ticked her approval from her hiding place. My mother being a superstitious woman, the pest instantly became a soothsayer for her and she promptly bought a Rs 10 ticket. A week later, the lottery vendor stopped by to tell my mother that she had won Rs 20,000.


Lichhoo was immediately retrieved from her hiding place and much praise was showered on her. My mother also rained kisses on me. The reptile instantly became the apple of her eye and Lichhoo and her family members gained legal residency in our house. They would tick at will and when the cockroaches began disappearing from the kitchen and insects stopped invading my room in the evening, my mother's joy knew no bound. 

 

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THE STATESMAN

100 YEARS AGO TODAY


CALCUTTA POISONING TRAGEDY

On the morning of the 11th instant the dead body of one Joykissen Pal, residing at 7 Gullof Street, was found on the taktaposh of his room, with some marks of violence on the body, especially on the neck. Joykissen was the gomasta of a grain firm at Chitpore, and lived in the house alone, his family being up-country. The door of his room was seen open, and there were indications to show that it had been kept ajar on the previous night. The deceased was last seen alive at 11 o'clock at night. The underlip of the deceased was swollen and inside of it there was a sore, believed to be caused by some strong poison. Blood of a very dark colour was oozing from the right corner of his mouth. An ironsafe in the room was found open, but what it contained has not yet transpired. There were some footprints on the bedsheet, which indicate the possibility of there having been a struggle. It is said that the deceased was a rich man and always had money in his possession. No arrest has so far been made, but the police are making inquiries.


INDIAN TEA ASSOCIATION

The Assam Valley Branch, Indian Tea Association, were asked to favour the Lieutenant-Governor of Eastern Bengal and Assam with their advice on the amendment of the regulations for the election of members to the Council of the  Governor-General and of the Lieutenant-Governor on any points on which the Association considered them to be defective.


The Chairman, Assam Branch, Indian Tea Association, replied as follows:- I have  the honour to say that with regard to the question of "electoral machinery" my Committee respectfully submit that Government has not given due consideration to the importance of the tea industry to the Province in comparison with the other interests amongst which the 18 elected members are made up.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

NO MOURNING

Wisdom is by definition always retrospective, after the event. For communists, however, wisdom may be late in coming. One reason for this is their refusal to learn and to accept the reality staring them in the face. A.B. Bardhan, the veteran leader of the Communist Party of India, has ascribed the defeat of the Left in West Bengal to arrogance. It did not occur to him, or, for that matter, to any other Left leader or ideologue, to say that the Left was routed at the hustings because it had pursued wrong policies and had harboured incompetent ministers. The long list of wrong policies begins with the abolition of English at the primary level and carries on to taking over the wage bill of school and college teachers in the state. At every possible level and in every sphere, the Left Front, especially the Communist Party of India (Marxist), worked to promote its own interest or the interests of its cadre instead of the betterment of West Bengal. This spelt disaster for the state and, at long last, the utter humiliation of the ruling dispensation. As for incompetent ministers, one has to look no further than the man who held the finance portfolio for more than two decades. He failed to take a single decision that did justice to his training as an economist. In fact, he used his training to juggle figures and to spread misinformation. Yet he was not only tolerated but also kept in office.

Even before the complex legacy of the Left is analysed, what has to be immediately acknowledged is the fact that the outgoing administration leaves behind a bankrupt state. For this alone, there can be no requiem composed for the Left in West Bengal. Left rule in West Bengal will suffer a love-less funeral. For over 30 years, it made promises it did not keep, even to those whom it claimed to represent — the poor. Apart from the parlous condition of the fisc that the Left has made West Bengal heir to, there are other scars it leaves behind. The most damaging of these is the manner in which it removed the distinction between the party and the administration. It made every department subservient to the orders originating from the headquarters of the CPI(M). This was the handiwork of an apparatchik called Anil Biswas, and subsequently of his successor. The Left will have to reflect on how to rid itself of this attitude, which prompts it to dominate and control everything. Arrogance is only a very small part of the problem.

One reason why men like Mr Bardhan and others of a similar ilk fail to address the main issues is that they are accomplices. As a member of the Left Front, the CPI never opposed the wrong policies and never asked for the removal of incompetent ministers. Every comrade is a signatory to the receipt for deceit that the Left has bequeathed to the people of West Bengal.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

ONCE AGAIN

In the continuing saga of violence and anarchy in the Middle East, a firing on Palestinians by Israeli soldiers has become a routine affair. But the recent killing of Palestinian protesters by the Israeli military in the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights has assumed an exceptional significance for several reasons. First, the demonstrators had assembled there to commemorate the annual Nakba Day (May 15), which marks the anniversary of the 1948 war in which thousands of Palestinians became refugees. Second, the present scene of devastation is located on Israel's highly sensitive borders with Syria and Lebanon. In fact, Majdal Shams happens to be one of the villages Israel had seized from Syria in the 1967 war. And third, in the aftermath of the Jasmine Revolution, which saw the collapse of a number of entrenched autocracies throughout the Arab World, the overall mood in the Middle East has become more volatile than ever before. Palestinians are simply not willing to brook Israel's intransigence any longer.

Ironically, it appears that the change in the air has not been fully registered by Israel. Its army continues to believe that the best way to tame a stone-throwing mob is by gunning it down. Israel also seems to be in denial of the gradual shift of sympathy among a section of the current Democratic dispensation in the United States of America. Over the last one year, Israel has compromised its credibility by repeatedly dishonouring promises it had made to the Barack Obama administration. The result has been a steady erosion of US-Israel goodwill, alongside an steady escalation of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Since the Arab Spring, Palestine has also been mobilizing its own forces with renewed steam. There is reportedly a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada. But more killing is certainly not the way for a stable, let alone a peaceful, Middle East. After all, the most important legacy of the Arab revolts is, ultimately, the triumph of non-violent protest.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

REVIVING WEST BENGAL

WHAT THE STATE ALREADY HAS AND WHAT IT CAN DEVELOP WRITING ON THE WALL - ASHOK. V. DESAI

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) had a big fall. Although it had a highly competent set of public relations people in the Karats and Sitaram Yechury, it got a bad press. Their techniques of attacking without ever listening to contrary arguments, their undentable self-righteousness, put an end to their persuasiveness. The party's penchant for beating up opponents got it into PR trouble in West Bengal. Its woes were compounded when Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee decided to make up for lost time and invite big industry back. Industry needs land. When he chose Singur and Nandigram as locations, villagers protested. And when the party collected its members to intimidate them, it gave the press a perfect demonstration of what a nasty party it was. That would not have been enough to dislodge it; it only gave it a bad press, and the press never won elections. But after years of practice against an accomplished adversary, the Trinamul Congress got even better at street violence and intimidation. It ended the street control of the CPI(M). The people of West Bengal did the rest. So for now, West Bengal has an anti-communist government.

Mamata Banerjee's public relations are not much better than the communists'. Her habit of lecturing everyone tires out people who are not her undying admirers. Like many self-centred people, she keeps churning the same arguments; this can be very boring. But she has been changing recently; she is so outré that people have not yet noticed that. Although she still avoids eye contact on principle, she does stop talking and lets her interlocutors get a word in sometimes. She has started taking in facts and arguments; in other words, she has become susceptible to reason. Most of my friends are so prejudiced against her that they are not prepared to concede this. But since I am not a Bengali, and she speaks mainly in Bengali, I can take her in small doses, and I can attest that her historically narrow intellectual horizon has widened. Some months — perhaps longer — ago she took in the possibility that she would get into power, and started worrying about how she would deal with this never-before experience, and how she could avoid making as big a mess as the CPI(M). Hooliganism is not all that was imbibed; she also noted how insularity made the CPI(M) incapable of learning from the environment.

She also became conscious that she was surrounded by politically and intellectually insignificant sycophants. This is not unusual in politics. The greatest political virtue is loyalty, and the way of proving loyalty is to repeat unceasingly the party's line, so intellect can be a handicap in politics. That does not mean that intelligent people do not get into politics; they use their intelligence to plot against and defeat their opponents. But even such plotting was impossible in a party like the Trinamul Congress, where a single leader decided all. So the party was singularly devoid of clever people. Mamata roped in Amit Mitra to reduce the deficit. It was an intriguing move. Amit Mitra in his younger days used to be a Hindutwit. That is quite inconsistent with Mamata's own inclinations, and unhelpful in the West Bengal context. But this phase of Amit's career has now been overwritten by his long stint as a servant of industry. That was not a very glorious phase either; it mainly involved flattering politicians in power and getting favours out of them without worrying about rights and wrongs. Industry lobbyists normally do very well; they end up too well off to think of going into politics. But something clicked between Mamata and Amit. Cohabitation with industry can also make one entrepreneurial; politics is Amit's start-up.

Trinamul Congress suffers from such a dearth of talent that Amit is sure to become finance minister. He will come in with extremely high expectations; nothing less will be expected of him by his party than that he should reverse West Bengal's industrial decline and restore its ascendancy of pre-communist days. He knows every big industrialist of India. He would know the Marwaris and north Indians who dominate the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry better; he would not be so familiar with the industrialists from the west and the south who are more at home in the Confederation of Indian Industry. But this dichotomy itself is a bit outdated. Industry ceased to dominate the non-agricultural economy in the 1980s; after that, services began their spectacular rise, and took south India to its current prosperity. The old schisms of east vs west, old industry vs new industry, Marwaris vs Gujaratis are all passé. A new dichotomy of south vs the rest, and of services vs the rest emerged in the last two decades. But that too may be passing. Infosys is in deep trouble; growth rates of other IT firms have fallen drastically. The Indian economy is entering a new phase; it is not clear what economic activities will lead in this phase.

The south Indian model is in any case not reproducible in West Bengal. It is based on a row of excellent ports — Visakhapatnam, Chennai, Coimbatore, Cochin, Calicut, Goa and many smaller harbours. Its leading industries are engineering, vehicles and textiles. West Bengal has no good ports; Haldia, for all the hype, is a non-starter. West Bengal is close to steel plants, and still has considerable engineering skills; it should certainly try to revive and attract the engineering industry. But its links will have to be more with the rest of India than abroad.

The information technology industry has probably passed its peak. But the Indian economy has been increasingly dominated by services, and will continue in this direction; the question is which services West Bengal may have a chance in. It has been, and continues to be, my view that it has a tremendous potential for tourism. Anyone who comes from the arid west of India would be struck by how green West Bengal is, and how beautiful its combination of forest and water can be. They can be made more beautiful; there can be any number of resorts in the countryside. The climate is a bit of a problem. But in most of India, tourism flourishes in winter. It need not be any different in West Bengal; and air conditioning will help. Luckily, the communists have left a good power supply system behind.

Apart from resorts, what West Bengal needs to become a tourism centre is good transport. Calcutta is a nightmare for visitors. It has more road space than Mumbai, but traffic is slow, noisy and nerve-racking. It has improved greatly after pedal rickshaws were sent off main roads; but even then, it is a nightmare. It would perhaps be better to develop the tourism industry outside Calcutta, especially in the north and the east. Importing more tourists will have another advantage. It will force Bengalis to speak other languages, and break their habit of breaking into unstoppable floods of Bengali at the slightest provocation. They will have a chance of observing non-Bengalis, and thinking about what made them successful. Maybe they will then work out their own formula for success.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

LET ORDER PREVAIL

MALVIKA SINGH

A salute to the power of women! Mamata Banerjee romped through West Bengal in the east and J. Jayalalithaa demolished the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in the south. Analysts may argue that Tamil Nadu always swings to and fro between the dominant political parties, but in this election, the writing was clear months ago that no trick in the book would work to return an exclusive family back to power. Neither the alliance with the Congress nor the 'good work' on the ground — rice at one rupee per kilogram, television sets, cash 'gifts' and all else — delivered the vote to the ruling dispensation. Citizens believe, and rightly so, that governments are anointed to do what they are mandated to do. Therefore, the delivery of goods and services is not necessarily what swings the vote. This time, the Tamil voter cringed when the leadership in the state as well as at the Centre was caught with its pants down in a larger-than-life corruption scandal. It eroded their belief in the government. The gains were not for the state but instead, for a set of wives, sons and daughters. This blatant 'rape' of what was, however, a 'loose and amoral' system, brought down the DMK.

In Bengal, once the home of great sensibilities, cultural energy, thought, debate and discourse, the government led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) stayed growth and stayed in power for the last 34 years. Opinions that did not toe the 'Party line' and language that did not fit into the ideological jargon were ignored and treated with scorn. Those in the exalted politburo knew it all, knew what was good for the people, even knew what the people wanted, and in their political scheme, that is what mattered. Any attempt to demand liberation from this dictatorial hold was seen as being anti-Left. Freedom of thought within the Party fora as well as out-of-the-box thinking and action in the public domain were unacceptable. Engagement with a changing India seemed non-existent, with the top leaders operating in an insular manner, isolated up there on their pedestals.

Green movement

What these Left leaders have bequeathed to Banerjee is a bankrupt state with an empty exchequer, infrastructure that does not meet even the average standards of the same elsewhere in India, partisan civil and police services, and a disillusioned citizenry.

Can the Prakash Karats of this world step out of their comfort zones in the CPI(M) diwan-e- khas and walk the talk? Do they have the discipline to return to the ground, to join the padayatras that will show them the truth? They mouthed the slogans of socio-economic equality and fraternity, but were unable to lift Bengal out of the mire of abject poverty in areas of health, education and more.

Banerjee has fought for three decades to get to where she is today. She well understands the plight of Bengal — its many realities that have grown out of proportion and, therefore, will be tough for her to alter in order to start a renewal. Having understood 'opposition' and 'street politics' —being a leader of great experience in that realm — she will try her best to ensure that her cadre remains peaceful and non-confrontational, to let law and order prevail. She is bound to address the burning issues of both land acquisition and investment in the state, bringing poorer areas of West Bengal into the stream of development; she will be sensible in her relationship with the United Progressive Alliance and work towards the restoration of economic buoyancy; and hopefully, given her background, Banerjee will not disengage herself from the people as her predecessors did. Her 'green' party should take the lead in the real green movement that India so desperately needs.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

AFTER THE TRIUMPH COMES THE TEST

THE DAYS OF GRAND RHETORIC ARE OVER. NOW IS THE TIME TO MAKE GOOD OF THE PROMISES. ASHOK BASU SUGGESTS AN ACTION PLAN FOR THE NEW GOVERNMENT

A few days ago, an unfancied state of the Indian Union, known more for its legacy of chaos, violence and resistance to change, made political history. The Trinamul Congress-Congress combine, riding on the crest of Mamata Banerjee's undeniable charisma, reduced the Left to a marginal and irrelevant political player with only 62 seats in an assembly of 294. With 227 seats, the TMC-Congress combine ousted the Left after 34 years of uninterrupted rule in office. Banerjee's comfortable majority would enable her to push through her agenda of change and reform while the Opposition's numbers would ensure the requisite checks and balances that are so vital to a democracy.

The common man would not be overtly enthused at this prospect. There is a general feeling that Banerjee would have considerable difficulty in implementing her policies, since the Opposition would be in no mood to oblige her. Engaging the Left in consultations would not work, and retaliatory politics may be the order of the day. As the new government goes about overhauling the institutions, and administrative and advisory bodies of the previous regime at all levels, conflicts would be inevitable. The regime of chaos, bloodshed and uncertainty may linger on.

The TMC chief would doubtless be aware of such a possibility and would have fined-tuned her strategy. The common man does not expect miracles, and would be quite happy to have his roti, kapda aur makaan, plus a life of peace and dignity. Her priority, therefore, should be to push through a series of 'maximum impact, minimum time' programmes to establish the credibility of her government. The programmes have to be chosen with care, based on the premise that not all that the previous regime did was bad.

The foremost priority of the new government should be to improve the delivery mechanism for policies and programmes, and to ensure convergence to reach the target groups. This should begin with a wake-up call to the staff in government, municipal and local bodies to stand up and deliver. Barring a handful who carry their political beliefs to their work table, the vast majority of public servants would be more than willing to go along with the government of the day. If work culture has been a casualty today, much of it is due to poor and unhygienic working conditions, an inadequate public transport system to ensure timely attendance, and a smugness borne out of working under the same regime for years. Small gestures like a pat on the back, a public pronouncement that efficiency will be rewarded and there would be no unwarranted victimization while taking urgent steps to make the office a better place, will help restore the confidence and morale of the work force. This should be supplemented by setting up effective fast-track single-window systems to cut out red-tape and ensure quick delivery of essential services such as food and rationing, electricity, civic amenities, healthcare and so on.

The new government should address the issue of restoration of law and order on an emergency basis. Banerjee's public pronouncement that her party will not resort to bandhs nor disrupt public life is a widely welcomed statement of intent. A much bigger bane is the culture of political violence and needless killings, a malaise that runs across the political spectrum. Law and order is a state subject under the Constitution, and the state government cannot abdicate its responsibility in this regard. Engagement in dialogue and consultation in order to defuse a volatile situation is welcome, but the government should not hesitate to take firm action to prevent escalation of violence and establish the rule of law. Ensuring probity and transparency, together with weeding out corruption in public life, should be another priority, with the political leadership showing the way. Punishment for corruption should be swift and exemplary. Watchdog public bodies may be set up to monitor the functioning of 'soft' institutions.

The new government should implement a crash programme for generating the maximum employment in the minimum time. Existing schemes of the government of India can be streamlined, innovative state programmes can be started for self-employment through bank financing, in addition to improvement of formal employment opportunities. Employment potential in information technology and small industry sectors have to be harnessed.

Rural healthcare, water supply, roads and other infrastructure schemes have to be quickly implemented. The scheme for distribution of essential items at controlled prices has to be strictly enforced, with special focus on below poverty line and other disadvantaged groups. Special programmes for the welfare of women have to be devised. These measures would help ameliorate the frustration of the youth and the poorer strata of the society.

Urban reconstruction is another priority area. The Centre's urban renewal programmes need to be vigorously implemented. Public-Private partnership projects are functioning successfully in Delhi, Mumbai and other cities in areas like traffic and transportation, solid-waste management and decongestion. Similar models can be adopted for West Bengal.

The state coffers are reportedly so empty that even the payment of salaries is uncertain. The TMC chief's proximity to the Centre will no doubt ensure adequate devolution of funds from both the Planning Commission and the Finance Commission. Simultaneously, her government has to take strict measures to restore the health of the economy by cutting out wasteful and avoidable expenditure, and ensuring the collection of taxes and other dues. Her statement that the new regime will have a small, compact council of ministers is a significant step towards reducing government spending.

A comprehensive land acquisition and land use policy has to be announced quickly. The TMC's election manifesto clearly states that there would be no forcible acquisition, that special economic zones would not be permitted, and that a land bank would be created. The land policy should spell out whether land acquired for private industry would qualify as land for 'public purpose', and how the government would safeguard the interest of landlosers otherwise. There should be a time-bound action plan for completing the huge backlog of mutation, especially in rural areas.

Successful implementation of these and other 'maximum impact, minimum time' programmes would strike a chord with the masses and establish the credibility of the new regime as a government that cares. The government should then be ready for the tougher battles ahead, in areas such as industrialization, education, labour reforms, hill affairs, and so on, where no quarter can be asked for or be given. To the extent that these schemes falter, life would be difficult. A multi-layered comprehensive monitoring machinery should ensure that the programmes are delivered within the prescribed time frame.

The road ahead for the new government would not be smooth. Banerjee, no doubt, has her short- and medium-term priorities in place for all eventualities. She would need to choose her ministers and advisors with care. A chief minister's office on the lines of the prime minister's office may be a good idea, to ensure speedy implementation of programmes, harmonization of decision-making processes, and transparent flow of information. As in the case of successful chief ministers like Naveen Patnaik, A.K. Anthony and Nitish Kumar, Banerjee's long stints in the Union government should enable her to take a broader and more pragmatic view of governance. Nobody more than her would be aware that the days of promises and rhetoric are over. It will soon be time to brace up and deliver. India and the world will watch.

The author is a retired IAS officer who held a number of important secretariat posts

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

AN EYE FOR AN EYE, A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH

THIS ABOVE ALL

It is an elementary principle of jurisprudence that the punishment should fit the crime committed. Sending a rapist to jail for many years does not conform to this principle — depriving him of his manhood by castrating him does. The criminal will never be able to repeat his crime.

The Delhi High Court has made the suggestion that such legislation would be salutary in dealing with cases of rape. It is now for any member of parliament to introduce a bill to this effect in the next session. There is not likely to be any opposition to the bill and it will get unanimous support from all parties. Better still, if the Union law minister, M. Veerappa Moily — who is an able and forward-looking man — takes the initiative. Such legislation will earn the government much credit.

You can take it from me that if such a bill is passed, there will be rapid decline in the incidence of rape. Next is being hanged for murder. Men dread being robbed of their manhood. So why not try it out?

Different tastes

Many of our countrymen believe that drinking the milk and urine of a cow is good for one's health. Likewise, some Arabs believe that drinking camel's milk and urine wards off diseases. I came across this information, which was published in the latest edition of Private Eye. I quote:

'"I have been studying camel urine for seven years", Dr Faten Abdel-Rahman Khorshid told a press conference at the King Fahd Medical Research Center in Jeddah, "and am convinced of its effectiveness in fighting cancer. The medicine we have developed is a mixture of camel's milk and camel's urine, and the active ingredient is PM701. It has been tested successfully on experimental mice with leukemia, and is now being tested on human beings. As well as fighting cancer, it can treat vitiligo, eczema and psoriasis. Nano particles of the urine attack cancer cells with success, and we can provide it in various forms — syrup, capsules, ointment, soap, or gel.

'Out clinical trials indicate that camel's urine does not possess any harmful side effects, and can halve the size of a tumour within a month. This treatment is not a new invention, but is taken from the Prophet's legacy. The Prophet Muhammad told his followers to combine camel's milk with camel urine, and to drink it when they fell ill, after which they recovered."

'After conducting separate experiments on camel's urine, Sabah Jassim of ABC (Arab Biotechnology Company) declared that "The camel's immune system is one of the strongest of all animal immune systems. This new medicine has been registered with the UK Patents Office (Newzglobe, January 12).'"

Morarji Desai believed that one's own urine was better than any other urine and helped a person remain physically and mentally alert to the last. He had many followers around the world.

Personally, I think that drinking any kind of urine is nauseating. It brings vomit to my throat.

Whole new word

My friend, O.P. Sharma, ex-additional collector, Bhopal, told me a funny thing. He said, "JP, if we add a Hindi letter (A) before some Hindi words, their meaning becomes negative. For instance:

Vishwas —avishwas
Shanti— ashanti
Kushal— akushal
Gyan — agyan
Shikhit— ashikshit

But when we add 'A' before the word, sardar, the new word becomes positive and powerful too:

Sardar— asardar

(Contributed by J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)

KHUSHWANT SINGH

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

EDITORIAL

UNTENABLE ACTION

''THE UPA SHOULD WORK TO RESTORE LEGISLATURE'S DIGNITY.''


The volatility and fickle mindedness of a handful of BJP legislators who have put the B S Yeddyurappa government on tenterhooks for months now, is only matched by governor H R Bhardwaj, who seems to operate on a one-point agenda of seeing the back of a democratically elected chief minister.


The Supreme Court's decision to restore the membership of 16 Karnataka MLAs — 11 belonging to the BJP and five independents — who were disqualified by the Speaker under the Anti Defection Act last October, has triggered a fresh round of political crisis in the state. There was no denying that the BJP MLAs invited disqualification for defying the party, but the court held the view that the Speaker had acted in a 'hasty' manner and had not given the members a fair opportunity to defend themselves.


Whatever the merits of the court's ruling, all that the governor could have done under the Constitution was to ask Yeddyurappa to once again take a confidence vote on the floor of the Assembly, in view of the prevailing uncertainties.

The rebel MLAs have not distinguished themselves by changing their stance once too often, but they clearly — at the behest of the ruling party — outsmarted the governor by writing a letter to the Raj Bhavan pledging their support to the government led by Yeddyurappa and withdrawing their October 2010 letter expressing lack of confidence in the chief minister. It is a completely bizarre situation, but there is no constitutional bar on their action, especially after the Supreme Court declared that they continue to be BJP members.


Bhardwaj's wholly undemocratic action in ignoring the rebel MLAs' second letter and recommending to the Centre to dismiss the Yeddyurappa government and keep the state Assembly under 'suspended animation,' reeks of partisan politics at its worst. The ruling BJP in Karnataka is being accused of encouraging horse-trading on an unprecedented scale and dangling cabinet berths and money to stay in power, but the remedy lies in electoral reforms and constitutional changes.


Bhardwaj's earlier letter in October 2010 recommending dismissal of the Yeddyurappa ministry had been ignored by the Centre and the chief minister had managed to prove his majority on the floor of the Assembly.

If the UPA government decides to accept Bhardwaj's advice this time, it will clearly be in violation of the Constitution and the UPA will have to pay a price for it. Instead, the UPA government should on priority work towards a constitutional reform that will restore the dignity of the legislative functioning and respect for the people's mandate.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

SHOW OF SUPPORT

''INDIA'S RELATIONS WITH KABUL IS NOT AIMED AT THE OTHERS.''

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's emphatic show of support for Afghanistan during his recent visit to that country is heartening. In the context of the growing insurgency and looming uncertainty there, many countries, including the US, have been looking for ways to cut and run. In sharp contrast, the Afghans were assured that India will remain engaged with their country and its commitment is for the long haul.


India and Afghanistan have now entered into a strategic partnership. Singh has said that India is keen on deepening co-operation with Afghanistan and has stepped up its aid  over the next two years to $2 billion. The announcement of a strategic partnership is bound to have stirred anxieties in Pakistan.

India was right to clarify that this relationship with Kabul is not aimed at third countries. Although India and Afghanistan are sure to have discussed in private Osama bin Laden's death, the two countries did well not to publicly point fingers at Pakistan's political and military elite for providing him with that sanctuary. That would have only raised hackles in Pakistan without nudging it to mend its ways.


India has been anxious about President Hamid Karzai's reconciliation process as this involves engaging the Taliban and allowing them into a future government. For India this is fraught with problems as it could result in a sharp increase in Pakistan's influence in Kabul. Notwithstanding its own anxieties India has graciously extended support for Karzai's effort, even as it has quietly stress that 'outsiders' should not be determining the future of Afghans.


India has contributed enormously to Afghanistan's reconstruction, working in such key areas as health, education, infrastructure and so on. This has won it much public goodwill. But this might not be enough to protect its interests in Afghanistan should Kabul fall into hostile hands. This makes it imperative for India to build a broad coalition of countries that are committed to securing peace and democracy in Afghanistan. It is not enough for Delhi to extend support for an inclusive peace process. It must ensure that the region backs this too.

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

NEW BEGINNINGS

BY B G VERGHESE


Mamata Banerjee must now show both magnani-mity and wisdom in taking West Bengal forward after years of slumber.


The mini general elections just concluded come as a salutary reminder of the health of India's raucous democracy. It works. This is a huge and precious certificate at a time and when so much of the world around us is full of troubles. We tend to be blasé about this asset and some take too many liberties with it for personal gain, breeding unwarranted cynicism and gloom. This negativism about ourselves and faith in our future keeps us from realising our full potential sooner.


The latest results have delivered a body blow to the Left, especially in West Bengal where 34 years of rule and latter-day misrule has been justly punished. This is more than mere anti-incumbency. The ideological rigidity of the Marxists and local aggrandizement, with the gradual conflation of party and state, have brought nemesis. The feisty Mamata Banerjee met fire with fire and must now show both magnanimity and wisdom in taking the state forward after years of slumber. Nor should she seek a pound of flesh at the Centre as that could prove counterproductive.

In Tamil Nadu, blatant corruption and naked family rule have earned popular disgust. The Congress has fared badly for keeping company with the DMK and being willing to be blackmailed by it. Kerala has seen the usual see-saw with the UDF squeaking in narrowly. It too needs positive government and development.


The one triumph of the Congress has been in Assam where terror and mindless agitation have been rejected. This is now a time for reconciliation and bold development, strides in cooperation with its northeastern partners and in fostering wider regional cooperation. Assam is the sheet anchor of and dynamo that can charge the entire Northeast. It has to perform that function for its own progress.


Like the Left, the BJP, barring some by-election victories, has done poorly. Its overweening rhetoric has not found favour with the people. Both the Left and the Parivar are a house divided and need to introspect. Over the next few years it is entirely possible that the political spectrum will undergo change. Extremist elements at both ends are likely to move to the lunatic fringe, advocating fanaticism and violence, leaving the moderate elements to become nuclei of social democrat and liberal conservative parties.


They will gain adherents from the Congress which could morph into a centrist liberal democratic party. Underpinning this would be a host of regional parties formed as a result of the constant upwelling of the underclass from below. This process could take another 20-30 years to play out even as these new formations form alliances and coalitions with the national players. This may seem an idealistic hope, but is more likely to occur than not.


Procrastinate tendency

Meanwhile, the Congress has the opportunity to learn and reform and get over a tendency to procrastinate (promising jam tomorrow). Over 125 years after its foundation, it must renew itself as the leading party of reform, fraternity and strategic leadership in a fast changing world. It is well placed as a centrist party to build a grand coalition for the future. Social reform is going to be even more important than economic reform though both obviously must march hand in hand.

A great opportunity for external leadership comes with the ludicrous farce played out in Abbottabad over the taking out of Osama bin Laden. Pakistan outdid itself in double speak with the punch line coming from its foreign secretary who declaimed within days of the event that Osama's death was now history and it was time to 'move on' — but from what to where? Pakistan's inability to confront reality from the day of its birth has caused it to 'move on' from one fantasy to another at the cost of its soul.


"Who was responsible for the birth of al-Qaeda?", asks Raza Yusuf Gilani. Pakistan's double speak is closely matched by that of the US and other western mentors, who funded Pakistan to create and recreate the Qaeda and Taliban monster and build a nuclear arsenal through global pilferage and proliferation.


The earlier and more recent Kerry-Lugar Amendments against nuclearisation and misuse of American military assistance by Pakistan have been observed in the breach only to be rewarded. The enormous 'collateral damage' to India — far greater than anything the US has suffered — has been glossed over with gratuitous homilies urging it to make further 'concessions' on Kashmir, Afghanistan and otherwise to Pakistan, which 'ideologically' regards India as a hate object and prime enemy.


Gilani protests too much. Yet this is no time to gloat over Pakistan's misfortunes but once more to hold out a hand of friendship and solidarity by promoting the recently resumed peace process through frank dialogue, cross-border interactions, commerce. Any breakdown or, worse, break up of Pakistan would not be in India's interest.

The US can assist by cutting military aid to Pakistan with the warning that a rogue army and the ISI must be firmly placed under civilian control. Further, if Islamabad objects, it should know that it will lose part or all of its civil aid as well. The Pakistan economy is on the drip and military blackmail by a 'frontline' ally-that-is-not-an-ally would soon be shown up as an empty threat. Would this be humane? Yes, more humane than allowing Pakistan's military-mullah-feudal combine to operate lethally behind the equivalent of a national human shield to stifle both civil society and democracy.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

WHY SYRIAN REBELS CAN'T REPLICATE EGYPT

 BY MICHAEL JANSEN


The absence of foreign media has allowed Damascus to crackdown on protestors hard.


The Syrian government is determined to crush the protests that have erupted across the country over the past eight weeks. The Assad regime, in power for 40 years, is not prepared to resign as did Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak when faced with rebellion.


Rami Makhlouf, a cousin and boyhood friend of Syria's president Bashar al-Assad, revealed the regime's attitude in an interview with a 'New York Times' journalist invited to Damascus for six hours to meet key figures. Other journalists have been either deported or denied visas.


Makhlouf stated, "We will not go out. We will sit here. We call it a fight until the end." Furthermore, the government believes it is winning the contest of wills with protesters. Presidential political adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said, "I hope we are witnessing the end of the story." But she also indicated that the regime is prepared to change: "We want to use what happened to Syria as an opportunity... to try to move forward on many levels, especially the political level." Her statement suggests that the government will follow up its use of the stick of military action with carrots of political reform demanded by most Syrians.


Uprising and revolt

Assad feels himself to be in a stronger position than Mubarak. The Egyptian faced a popular uprising while the Syrian regime is engaged in suppressing a revolt. There are many reasons why the Egyptian protests became an uprising and Syrian protests should be regarded as a revolt.


The Egyptian protests were launched on January 25 by educated young people who provided some organisation and asserted a certain amount of control over rallies. The protests that erupted in Syria on March 15 were spontaneous and no domestic national leadership has emerged since then. Instead, activists based abroad have tried to provide guidance and coordination but they cannot substitute for organisers on the ground in Syria.

Egyptians had a clear objective: Mubarak's resignation. Syrian protesters do not agree on a goal. Radicals call for an end to the regime; moderates prefer reform. The epicentre of Egypt's protests was Cairo's Tahrir Square, where nationalists proclaimed independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1919 and revered president Gamal Abdel Nasser addressed vast throngs after the ouster of the British-backed king in 1952. Deraa, the hub of Syrian protests, is a poor tribal backwater near the Jordanian border.


Egypt's major cities joined the protests while in Syria there have been only small demonstrations in Damascus, the capital and Aleppo. The army has done its utmost to make certain that the two main population centres remain calm while it has clamped down hard on Homs, the third city.


Millions of Egyptians joined the demonstrations which blanketed the country. In Syria, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in restive pockets. Syrian centres of discontent are cities and towns inhabited by poor farmers suffering from drought, unemployed labourers, and people subsisting on low wages. The substantial Syrian middle class is not yet engaged.


Egypt's internal security forces and police were withdrawn by Mubarak on January 28, the fourth day of demonstrations, and the army did not deploy until February 2 when thugs hired by the regime were unleashed on protesters in Tahrir Square. Tanks and troops separated the sides and the army assumed the task of protecting the protesters. Eventually the generals toppled Mubarak.


Syria's loyal internal security operatives and soldiers have been involved in the suppression of the protests since they began. It is claimed that some soldiers have rebelled but they are very few.


Egyptian demonstrators were peaceful. Violence was perpetrated against them by pro-regime police commandos and thugs. Syria's protesters have attacked security personnel and public buildings.



In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood played a marginal role in the protests and radical fundamentalists did not take part. Both the outlawed Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and radicals are involved, alarming Christians, secularists, Alawites and others who fear a fundamentalist rebellion comparable to that crushed in 1982 by the president's father.

Finally, the world media gave massive coverage to the Egyptian uprising but has been banned from Syria. The absence of media has allowed Damascus to crackdown hard while the Egyptian security forces were constrained by fear of bad publicity — which does not worry the Syrian regime

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

TESTING A THEORY

BY LEELA RAMASWAMY


All you have to do is to join or watch a queue to find out how well it works.


It is a question that I have often asked myself. To the IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and the EQ (Emotional Quotient) tests, why not add the QQ test? But what on earth is that, you may well ask. It is what I call the Queue Quotient test, a process that efficiently assesses the personality traits of people.


Admittedly, there is no scientific data to support this, but it is an idea that merits consideration. All you have to do is to join or watch a queue to find out how well it works. What you will see is the ancient Hippocratic Humorism theory taking life and shape right before you. Let me try and explain.


Simply summed up, the Hippocratic theory divides human personality into four classes — Choleric, Melancholic, Phlegmatic and Sanguine. The queues that you see around you succeed admirably in bringing out these very qualities.


The Choleric are the bumptious. This kind of person is a law unto himself. He disregards with impunity the human snake stretching before him, marches his way to its head and gets his work done with aplomb and callousness. He brushes aside all protests with a 'dare-me-if-you-can' look. There is none to match his derring-do.

Meanwhile his opposite, the Melancholic, does nothing but watch and ponder over the goings-on. Still and silent, his mind as always is occupied with the tragedy, the cruelty and the unfairness that pervades the world. Standing for hours together in a slow-moving queue is but one of the agonies that the fate has thrust upon him.


The third kind, the Phlegmatic, is much like this companion. Though not glum, he is unwilling to do anything out of the way. He inches forward uncomplainingly, as he values stability and is averse to change.


Last but not least, is the Sanguine personality. He is cheerful and a people's person. Slow progress does not perturb him and he whiles away his time chatting to anyone willing to listen to him.


Hippocrates' classification ends here, but, as many have pointed out, there are several other personality types as well. The one I appreciate the most is what I call the Genial type. They are the ones who are cheery and kind. They do not hesitate to give way to the infirm, are ready to enlighten the ignorant and extend a helping hand to the elderly. The welcome sunshine behind our daily clouds, they are, you will agree, in a class of their own!

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE SYRIAN FLOTILLA

NAKBA DAY EVENTS SIMPLY EXPRESSED IN A DIFFERENT FORM THE DEMANDS THE PALESTINIAN LEADERSHIP HAS BEEN PUTTING FORTH FOR YEARS.

The defense minister was right to say he refuses to get excited over the fact that "a few dozen" Palestinians succeeded in entering Israel from Syria and thereby "violated Israel's sovereignty."

Ehud Barak was also right to say that the Israel Defense Forces cannot station thousands of soldiers along the border to prevent such a "violation of sovereignty."

But it's a pity this approach was lacking when Israel decided to attack a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza, that it vanishes when Israel uses dogs to chase off Palestinian laborers seeking to "violate its sovereignty" by entering the country to work, and that it's the exact opposite of the manner in which the IDF maintains its meticulous closure of the Gaza Strip.

It turns out that according to Barak, a "violation of sovereignty" is not an existential threat, or even a strategic one. At most, this was an intelligence failure that was partially compensated for by wise judgment on the part of commanders in the field.

And in fact, this is the appropriate attitude for a country that is making little effort to delineate its borders, instead relying on an empty policy that assumes Israel can continue to exist in flexible, unrecognized borders that trespass on territory belonging to other nations.

As a result of this policy, the state's sovereignty has also become flexible rather than absolute. It's no surprise that statements about the events of Nakba Day made much use of words and phrases such as "terror," "threat," "the IDF's deployment," "the number of dead and wounded," "a third intifada" and "the threat we can expect in September."

This is the standard lexicon that the government pulls out whenever it is faced with the need to present real solutions to fundamental problems.

The government all too easily assigns the IDF the job of "being ready for any scenario" and making diplomatic decisions in its stead.

The events of Nakba Day are neither a "reminder" nor a "threat," and they certainly aren't an attempt to destroy the State of Israel. Rather, they reflect the Palestinians' fundamental historical demand for an independent state with recognized sovereignty, within whose framework the refugee problem, too, can be solved.

The Nakba Day events simply expressed in a different form the demands the Palestinian leadership has been putting forth for years, and that Israel has evaded. It is not the IDF that is supposed to provide solutions for these "incidents," but the government.

Yet the latter still has trouble understanding that the next stage is not another intifada, but international pressure and a battle against the great powers.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE LEBANESE MISSILE CRISIS

AS LONG AS AN ESTIMATED 50,000 ROCKETS ARE IN HEZBOLLAH'S HANDS, ALL LEBANON IS SITTING ON A POWDER KEG.

BY MOSHE ARENS

The riots in Syria have focused attention in Israel on our neighbors to the north - Syria and Lebanon - and especially on Hezbollah, which has deployed around 50,000 rockets in Lebanon that can reach every corner of Israel and threaten its entire civilian population. If these rockets are launched they could cause incalculable damage.

This constant threat hanging over Israel's civilian population decisively affects Israel's strategic position; it's a tiebreaker. For many years, a fundamental element of Israel's defense doctrine was that the civilian population's safety would be assured in time of war. With the deployment of these rockets in Lebanon, this has ceased to be the case.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy faced a similar situation in September 1962, when American U-2 reconnaissance planes discovered that Soviet ballistic missiles had been deployed in Cuba. It was clear to Kennedy that the strategic balance between the United States and Soviet Union would be substantially altered if Soviet missiles were pointed at the United States from Cuba. In what has come to be known as the Cuban missile crisis, U.S. threats to act forcefully resolved the crisis, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ordered the missiles shipped back to the Soviet Union.

The Lebanese missile crisis, with missiles continually increasing in number and quality, has developed gradually and has been repeatedly ignored by Israel's leaders. But now this intolerable situation must be faced. It's a threat that will have to be removed. The threat to Israel's civilian population has grown, and the missiles are an escalation of the terror war against Israel. There is a great danger to Israel.

This situation should also be of concern to the Lebanese people. Israeli military action to destroy Hezbollah's missiles - something that seems bound to happen sooner or later - would bring considerable destruction to Lebanon. In other words, as long as these rockets are in Hezbollah's hands, all Lebanon is sitting on a powder keg. Hezbollah, while posing as Lebanon's defender, is actually creating a grave danger for that country and its people.

Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister who was recently deposed by Hezbollah's political maneuvers, said last week in Beirut that "Hezbollah's weapons have become a national problem that needs a national solution."

Obviously, he was voicing the concern that Hezbollah is using its weapons to bolster its political position in Lebanon and to murder its political opponents. In this way it is subverting the Lebanese political system.

But he should realize that the danger of these weapons goes far beyond that. Since the rockets are a danger to Israel's civilian population and must be removed, they create a physical danger for Lebanon and the Lebanese people. It is important that the people of Lebanon understand this and bring about the removal of the rockets deployed by Hezbollah all over Lebanon.

To this end, Lebanon needs international political support. One might expect the UN Security Council to pass the necessary resolution to achieve this. But Lebanon, controlled by Hezbollah, is now a member of the Security Council. Hopefully, U.S. President Barack Obama is giving thought to this explosive situation.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THEY CROSSED NO BORDERS

THE SYRIANS PENETRATED AN AREA HELD BY THE STATE OF ISRAEL, BUT THEY DID NOT CROSS THE ISRAELI BORDER. NOR DID PALESTINIANS FROM THE GAZA STRIP ATTEMPT TO CROSS THE ISRAELI BORDER IN THE SOUTH.

BY GIDEON BIGER

On Sunday, May 15, which the Arabs call Nakba Day, the media reported that Syrian civilians had crossed over the Israeli border on the Golan Heights. The prime minister even issued a dramatic announcement of the fact and promising that Israel will protect its borders.

The incident raises the question of whether Israel has a border with Syria on the Golan Heights. The answer seems obvious, but in fact it is not. An international border is one reached by agreement between the two political entities on either side. Sometimes the line is the result of direct negotiations, but not always. Europe's post-World War II borders were drawn by the victors, while in the 19th century Africa was divided up by and among the great powers of Europe. Some of the states whose borders were drawn in that manner protested their location, but in the end they accepted the demarcation and it became an international border.

There are still some localized conflicts over the precise delimitation of borders still occur. Recent examples include those in Central America, between Nicaragua and Costa Rica; and in Southeast Asia, between Cambodia and Thailand. In both cases the argument is over the precise location of the border, not its very existence.

Israel is an atypical state in that it does not have agreed international borders with all of its neighbors. That is especially true in the case of Lebanon and Syria. Israel and Lebanon are currently separated by the so-called Line of Withdrawal of Israeli Forces from Lebanon, agreed in 2000 between Israel and the United Nations and also known as the Blue Line. It corresponds in part with the international border demarcated by the English and French governments in 1923. In practice, there is currently no border between Israel and Lebanon.

The situation on the border with Syria is more complex. In 1923 an international border was drawn between Mandatory Palestine and Syria, which was under French control. It persisted until Israel's War of Independence. As part of the armistice agreement, the so-called Green Line was created. Part of it runs west of the 1923 Mandate Line. The areas under Israeli control between the armistice line and the Mandate Line were demilitarized. The Six-Day War eliminated these boundaries, and a cease-fire line was created.

In 1974, after the Yom Kippur War, the United Nations brokered the Separation of Forces Agreement between Israel in Syria. It specified the creation of two lines delineating the areas of military control of each side. Several years after the demarcation of this line, known as the Purple Line, the Israeli cabinet approved a resolution unilaterally annexing the area held by the Israel Defense Forces to Israel and making the line on the Golan Heights Israel's border.

It was this line that Syrian citizens crossed this week. By any international criterion, this is not the border between Israel and Syria. There is still a need for an official agreement between the two countries to create an international border, just as the borders between Israel and Egypt and between Israel and Jordan were created as part of the peace agreements between the countries.

Therefore, on Sunday the Syrians penetrated an area held by the State of Israel, but they did not cross the Israeli border. Nor did Palestinians from the Gaza Strip attempt to cross the Israeli border in the south. They crossed the cease-fire line that was ratified in the Oslo Accords but never demarcated as a border between Israel and any neighbor in the south of the country.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE SHOW IS OVER

NETANYAHU'S HOLLYWOOD, HE IS THE 'COMMANDER AND LEADER,' AS HE CALLS IT, THE ONE WHO 'MUST IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM, THE PIVOTAL POINT THAT TURNS THE SYSTEM AND ENABLES TO SOLVE IT.'

BY AMIR OREN

"The problem is this," said Yitzhak Rabin. "The starting point is that we cannot be Nazi-like in terms of the drastic measures we take as an occupying power."

Chief of Staff Rabin spoke in a staff discussion, a few weeks after the Six-Day War and the inclusion of the Palestinians in Israel's dominion. "The determined policy, I'm not saying my opinion, is not to build a leadership but to try to neutralize it," he said skeptically. "Some people think mass arrests of their leaders will build it up. Some of the experts suggested arresting the small ones, but not to touch Anwar Khatib [Jordan's governor of Jerusalem], in order to cast suspicion on him. [They suggest] doing the opposite, visiting him at home frequently and having coffee."

"The desire is to crumble the leadership. To neutralize [it] by banishment and detention and influence what we can with a reward and punishment system, economic pressure. We don't know a lot about what is happening in the Arab street. We haven't penetrated its depth. All kinds of people started looking for an Arab leadership we can cooperate with. You can't even bring Arabs together. You invite them all at once, each one is afraid of the other."

One of the generals with sharp political instincts, Ariel Sharon, asked the chief of staff, "Does the army have a role in setting leadership?"

"On the whole I would say it does not," Rabin replied.

The decades went by, Rabin (twice ) and Sharon have been prime minister and there is still no real progress toward an agreed peace. Israel wasted the capital it had accumulated in its wanton gambling bouts, plunged into the gray market of international diplomacy and will find itself not only with its knees broken, but paying back the debt with exorbitant interest.

By alienating Jordan, Israel chose to deal with the Palestinians in two ways - as individuals with a status of subjects denied all rights, or as a group represented by a sub-state organization. This situation was tolerable only as long as the world order was based on countries that agreed among themselves not to intervene in each other's internal interests, including the violent oppression of rebellion.

As a community the Palestinians can demand independence, but are stuck in the issue of marking the borders, which means breaching the familiar borders (the cease-fire lines ) of an existing state, or alternatively, a declared renunciation of their vision of wiping it out. As individuals, they make do with raising an earlier demand, to achieve their democratic rights while under Israel's rule.

Barack Obama is ashamed of the American constitution's legacy, which set the price of a black slave as three-fifths of a free white man. (That was an achievement for the slave owners, who increased by this means the power of the southern states in Congress, while in the north they didn't want to count the slaves at all ).

Obama can understand bargaining over borders, security, refugees; but not over seeing a Palestinian as three-fifths of an Israeli and not over shooting demonstrators who demand civil rights. Those who rejected King Hussein will get Martin Luther King.

Benjamin Netanyahu's world of images is taken from Ronald Reagan's heritage. "I asked the prime minister of Australia to bounce over some planes," he boasted in a discussion on fire fighting.

"She said, 'are you sure? It could take a week.' I said, 'bounce them over,' like those Bouncing Betties in old Steven Spielberg movies."

In Netanyahu's Hollywood, he is the "commander and leader," as he calls it, the one who "must identify the problem, the pivotal point that turns the system and enables to solve it. This is not easy. We have recently experienced situations, for example war (in Lebanon ), in which the leadership did not identify the pivotal point and went round and round."

Not him. Netanyahu knows how "to pinpoint the solution, the decisive move that will win the battle," and then "to go and bring the power."

Armed with such hollow swashbuckling, so surreal as to be dangerous, Netanyahu is leaving for Washington. The presenter is an actor, who does not realize the show is over, the curtain is coming down and he must choose where to go from here.

***************************************


HAARETZ

OPINION

WHO WILL BE THE TRAIN DRIVER?

DESPITE THE PROBLEMATIC INCIDENTS THAT OCCURRED RECENTLY, TRANSPORTATION MINISTER YISRAEL KATZ PREFERRED NOT TO MAKE WAVES. HE WANTED QUIET.

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

It's hard to understand Yitzhak (Haki ) Harel, the director general of Israel Railways. What does he want from the workers? How does he fail to understand that these are devoted workers who want only the good of the railway and the public? Why is he accusing them of personal interests, nepotism, sabotage, endangering human life, an increase in the number of malfunctions and the many delays? Doesn't he know that a government monopoly, like the railway, is the best business structure possible?

Look how the railway has improved since the new workers' committee, headed by Gila Edri, was elected in August 2010. The level of punctuality declined from 90 percent to 82 percent; this means more delays and abuse of passengers waiting in vain at the stations. And this week, after the workers' committee crudely violated the court order and didn't return to work on time, the employees continued with their sit-down strike.

On Sunday, at the Beit Yehoshua station, two morning trains were unexpectedly canceled. The third arrived extremely crowded, to the point where it couldn't be boarded. The passengers were so furious that they stood at the train doorways and preventing the doors from closing. But nothing helped. They once again arrived two hours late for work.

The railway employees were not impressed; none of them will be investigated, neither their salaries nor their tenure will suffer. But Edri didn't hesitate to say yesterday in court: "We're with the public, we understand it, we don't cause the disruptions."

Edri is so devoted to the public that she is unwilling to allow any handling of the safety issue. She is opposed to activating the safety inspection department, which was supposed to begin operating in January. She is not satisfied with the appointments made in the department, without her approval and without "her people." The school for railroad professions was also closed by Edri because Harel recently dared to carry out two appointments not to her liking. In her opinion, Harel is nothing more than a conditional director, and the condition is that she will direct along with him.

Let there be no mistake here: The lives of train passengers are in danger. See the 2006 State Comptroller's report and the frightening series of accidents that occurred recently. In December 2010 cars caught fire in the Beit Yehoshua area. Afterward there was a problem with the brakes in the Be'er Yaakov area, in early 2011 there was a diesel fuel leak at the Rishonim station. Later there were brake problems at Shavei Zion and at the Ben-Gurion International Airport station. The climax was the train collision south of Netanya on April 7, in which 50 people were injured.

Edri wants to take the railway backward, to the pre-Harel era. During those happy days no action was taken without the approval of the workers' committee. Most of the new employees who were hired were family members. Promotion depended on connections with the workers' committee, and it was impossible to hire managers under personal contracts. The corporation was in effect run by the workers' committee rather than the director general, and the railway was the least efficient organization in the world.

A report prepared by the TASC consulting firm revealed that there is a large manpower surplus at Israel Railways, an inefficient maintenance system, high maintenance costs and a low availability rate of trains. The number of employees is triple the international average. In other words, hundreds of the 2,200 employees are superfluous. The public is maintaining them at its expense, against its will.

Despite the problematic incidents that occurred recently, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz preferred not to make waves. He wanted quiet. But the accident in Netanya shocked him. Katz understood that when the next accident occurs the blame will fall mainly on him, and because he doesn't want to go down as a failure he is now determined to do everything possible to improve the level of safety on the railway, in spite of Edri.

For that purpose he must establish an external supervising authority, like the one for civil aviation, because the present situation is absurd - with more supervision and regulation for a bus driver than for a locomotive engineer who transports 20 times as many passengers.

The big question now is: Will the government withstand the pressures and vilifications of Edri and Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini? Will it back Harel so that he can work to improve service and safety? It depends on Katz. It also depends on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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

EDITORIAL

A CONFLICT WITHOUT END

Osama bin Laden had been dead only a few days when House Republicans began their efforts to expand, rather than contract, the war on terror. Not content with the president's wide-ranging powers to pursue the archcriminals of Sept. 11, 2001, Republicans want to authorize the military to pursue virtually anyone suspected of terrorism, anywhere on earth, from now to the end of time.

This wildly expansive authorization would, in essence, make the war on terror a permanent and limitless aspect of life on earth, along with its huge potential for abuse.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force, approved by Congress a week after Sept. 11, 2001, gives the president the power to go after anyone who committed or aided in the 9/11 attacks, or who harbored such people, to prevent acts of terrorism. It was this document that authorized the war in Afghanistan and the raid on Bin Laden's compound.

A new bill, approved last week by the House Armed Services Committee and heading for the floor this month, would go much further. It would allow military attacks against not just Al Qaeda and the Taliban but also any "associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States." That deliberately vague phrase could include anyone who doesn't like America, even if they are not connected in any way with the 2001 attacks. It could even apply to domestic threats.

It allows the president to detain "belligerents" until the "termination of hostilities," presumably at a camp like the one in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Since it does not give a plausible scenario of how those hostilities could be considered over, it raises the possibility of endless detention for anyone who gets on the wrong side of a future administration.

The bill, part of the National Defense Authorization Act, was introduced by the committee chairman, Howard McKeon of California, who said it simply aligns old legal authorities with current threats. We've heard that before, about wiretapping and torture, and it was always untrue.

These powers are not needed, for current threats, or any other threat. President Obama has not asked for them (though, unfortunately, the administration has used a similar definition of the enemy in legal papers). Under the existing powers, or perhaps ignoring them, President George W. Bush abused his authority for many years with excessive detentions and illegal wiretapping. Those kinds of abuses could range even more widely with this open-ended authorization.

As more than 30 House Democrats protested to Mr. McKeon, a declaration of "global war against nameless individuals, organizations, and nations" could "grant the president near unfettered authority to initiate military action around the world without further Congressional approval." If a future administration wanted to attack Iran unilaterally, it could do so without having to consult with Congress.

This measure is unnecessary. The Bush administration demonstrated how dangerous it could be. The Democrats were right to demand the House conduct hearings on the measure, which was approved with little scrutiny. If it passes, the Senate should amend it out of existence, and President Obama should make clear he will veto it.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE VALUE OF COMPARISON

Before you take a drug or undergo a medical procedure, wouldn't you want to be sure it is the most effective and, if possible, the least costly available?

That is the idea behind so-called comparative effective research that is part of the health care reform law. Unfortunately, in the effort to win Republican support (support that never materialized), the bill's sponsors agreed to bar Medicare from using comparative studies to determine which treatments to pay for. Critics charged it would mean more bureaucratic interference and a step toward socialized medicine.

The shortsightedness of that thinking was made clear last month when results were released of a government-sponsored study comparing two drug treatments for macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in older Americans.

Both drugs are made by Genentech. Even so, there is a vast difference in their cost and, until now, uncertainty about their relative effectiveness.

Avastin was developed first to treat advanced cancer by blocking the formation of blood vessels that feed tumors. Genentech went on to develop Lucentis to block the blood vessel growth that is responsible for age-related macular degeneration.

Clinical trials sponsored by Genentech showed that Lucentis is highly effective in preserving and improving vision. The cost per monthly dose, however, was set by the company at $2,000. Enterprising eye doctors quickly realized they could get similar results by using Avastin in small doses. Avastin can cost thousands of dollars a month for the quantities used to treat cancer, but the doses suitable for injection into the eye cost about $50 a month.

Genentech did its best to head off the threat to its profitability by offering rebates to doctors who prescribed Lucentis in large quantities and by engaging in various tactics to thwart the use of low-dose Avastin. It had only limited success. In 2008, Medicare paid for 480,000 injections of Avastin to treat macular degeneration — at a cost of $20 million. And it paid for 337,000 injections of Lucentis, at a cost of $537 million.

Until now, however, there was no scientific proof about whether Avastin was as effective as Lucentis. The National Eye Institute sponsored a two-year clinical trial whose first-year results were published in late April. It suggests that the cheaper Avastin is just as effective as Lucentis at preventing vision loss. More people taking Avastin were hospitalized, an adverse effect that needs further exploration, but there were no significant differences in the rate of deaths, heart attacks and strokes.

If these findings and the drug's safety are confirmed in the second year, Medicare could save hundreds of millions of dollars annually if doctors used Avastin. But, as the system now works, Medicare cannot push doctors to switch. That means that taxpayers will likely continue to pay a lot more for a treatment that is no more effective. That makes no sense for anybody, except the drug maker.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

ANOTHER MISGUIDED IDEA FROM THE GUN LOBBY

The Environmental Protection Agency declined to block the use of lead in hunting and fishing last year. It was the wrong call. To ensure that the agency doesn't come to its senses, the National Rifle Association — assisted, as usual, by Congress — is pushing legislation that would bar the E.P.A. from restricting the sale of lead shot and bullets or lead sinkers.

The Senate bill's name — the Hunting, Fishing, and Recreational Shooting Protection Act — is a sign of how backward the Senate gets it. What needs protecting is wildlife that ingests the lead, including migratory waterfowl and birds of prey, notably California condors. Humans need protection, too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people show higher levels of lead in their blood after eating game killed with lead shot or bullets.

There are perfectly acceptable, nontoxic substitutes. Fishermen and hunters have been voluntarily adopting bismuth shot, copper bullets, and nonlead sinkers. Several states have set up exchange programs to encourage hunters to turn in lead-based shells for nonlead shells. In the past few years, 25 states have proposed bills to eliminate lead shot. They have regularly gone down to defeat thanks to deceptive campaigns that portray the effort as anti-gun, anti-hunting or anti-fishing.

Banning lead poses no threat to hunters or fishermen. It is a way of making sure they kill only the prey they seek without inadvertently killing other creatures as well. Congress should ignore the N.R.A.'s importunings and reject this latest misguided legislation. And the E.P.A. should issue the ban.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE GATESES AS 'LIVING SITTERS'

The new portrait of Bill and Melinda Gates commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington depicts the leaders of the giant foundation bearing their name, and its work, with a respectful familiarity. Sitting on the arm of a chair with his arms crossed, Bill Gates appears supremely self-assured. Sitting slightly in front, Melinda looks confident. Over her shoulder is a video monitor showing two African girls and displaying "ALL LIVES HAVE EQUAL VALUE." That is the credo of their foundation that addresses huge problems in American education, global health and other areas.

Until 2001, the gallery's policy was to acquire a portrait of someone not a president only after the person had been dead for 10 years. Then-Director Marc Pachter decided portraits of prominent "living sitters" would interest the public. The gallery has since acquired many, but the new portrait of the Gateses, to be unveiled on Tuesday, is one of the first to be commissioned and completed.

The painting is the first the gallery has commissioned from Jon Friedman, who has won acclaim for his superb portraits hanging elsewhere of accomplished scientists like the Nobel laureates David Baltimore and Harold Varmus, of whom preliminary sketches hang at the gallery.

His work is so sharply realistic that it's remarkable how little time he is usually allowed to spend with his subjects. In the past, artists counted on months of posing. Almost no one is that available today.

With the Gateses, he was granted just an hour. They chatted about dilemmas of education reform and the malarial parasite. While they spoke, Mr. Friedman took digital photos. Using tools of the Microsoft era (a computer, visual-processing software), he later cut and pasted photos of his subjects in different poses, creating a digital collage. After filling in the background with the two girls, he made a final digital composition to use as his model. Then he began to paint, capturing the Gateses as if he had worked with them for months. The result is quietly inspiring and surprisingly affecting.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST

BY DAVID BROOKS

The story of evolution, we have been told, is the story of the survival of the fittest. The strong eat the weak. The creatures that adapt to the environment pass on their selfish genes. Those that do not become extinct.

In this telling, we humans are like all other animals — deeply and thoroughly selfish. We spend our time trying to maximize our outcomes — competing for status, wealth and mating opportunities. Behavior that seems altruistic is really self-interest in disguise. Charity and fellowship are the cultural drapery atop the iron logic of nature.

All this is partially true, of course. Yet every day, it seems, a book crosses my desk, emphasizing a different side of the story. These are books about sympathy, empathy, cooperation and collaboration, written by scientists, evolutionary psychologists, neuroscientists and others. It seems there's been a shift among those who study this ground, yielding a more nuanced, and often gentler picture of our nature.

The most modest of these is "SuperCooperators" by Martin Nowak with Roger Highfield. Nowak uses higher math to demonstrate that "cooperation and competition are forever entwined in a tight embrace."

In pursuing our self-interested goals, we often have an incentive to repay kindness with kindness, so others will do us favors when we're in need. We have an incentive to establish a reputation for niceness, so people will want to work with us. We have an incentive to work in teams, even against our short-term self-interest because cohesive groups thrive. Cooperation is as central to evolution as mutation and selection, Nowak argues.

But much of the new work moves beyond incentives, narrowly understood. Michael Tomasello, the author of "Why We Cooperate," devised a series of tests that he could give to chimps and toddlers in nearly identical form. He found that at an astonishingly early age kids begin to help others, and to share information, in ways that adult chimps hardly ever do.

An infant of 12 months will inform others about something by pointing. Chimpanzees and other apes do not helpfully inform each other about things. Infants share food readily with strangers. Chimpanzees rarely even offer food to their own offspring. If a 14-month-old child sees an adult having difficulty — like being unable to open a door because her hands are full — the child will try to help.

Tomasello's point is that the human mind veered away from that of the other primates. We are born ready to cooperate, and then we build cultures to magnify this trait.

In "Born to Be Good," Dacher Keltner describes the work he and others are doing on the mechanisms of empathy and connection, involving things like smiles, blushes, laughter and touch. When friends laugh together, their laughs start out as separate vocalizations, but they merge and become intertwined sounds. It now seems as though laughter evolved millions of years ago, long before vowels and consonants, as a mechanism to build cooperation. It is one of the many tools in our inborn toolbox of collaboration.

In one essay, Keltner cites the work of the Emory University neuroscientists James Rilling and Gregory Berns. They found that the act of helping another person triggers activity in the caudate nucleus and anterior cingulate cortex regions of the brain, the parts involved in pleasure and reward. That is, serving others may produce the same sort of pleasure as gratifying a personal desire.

In his book, "The Righteous Mind," to be published early next year, Jonathan Haidt joins Edward O. Wilson, David Sloan Wilson, and others who argue that natural selection takes place not only when individuals compete with other individuals, but also when groups compete with other groups. Both competitions are examples of the survival of the fittest, but when groups compete, it's the cohesive, cooperative, internally altruistic groups that win and pass on their genes. The idea of "group selection" was heresy a few years ago, but there is momentum behind it now.

Human beings, Haidt argues, are "the giraffes of altruism." Just as giraffes got long necks to help them survive, humans developed moral minds that help them and their groups succeed. Humans build moral communities out of shared norms, habits, emotions and gods, and then will fight and even sometimes die to defend their communities.

Different interpretations of evolution produce different ways of analyzing the world. The selfish-competitor model fostered the utility-maximizing model that is so prevalent in the social sciences, particularly economics. The new, more cooperative view will complicate all that.

But the big upshot is this: For decades, people tried to devise a rigorous "scientific" system to analyze behavior that would be divorced from morality. But if cooperation permeates our nature, then so does morality, and there is no escaping ethics, emotion and religion in our quest to understand who we are and how we got this way.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE NEED FOR GREED

BY TIMOTHY EGAN

The bet was audacious from the beginning, and given the miserable, low-down tenor of contemporary politics, not unfathomable: Could you divide the country between greedy geezers and everyone else as a way to radically alter the social contract?

But in order for the Republican plan to turn Medicare, one of most popular government programs in history, into a much-diminished voucher system, the greed card had to work.

The plan's architect, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, drew a line in the actuarial sand: Anyone born before 1957 would not be affected. They could enjoy the single-payer, socialized medical care program that has allowed millions of people to live extended lives of dignity and decent health care.

And their kids and grandkids? Sorry, they would have to take their little voucher and pay some private insurer nearly twice as much as a senior pays for basic government coverage today. In essence, Republicans would break up the population between an I've Got Mine segment and The Left Behinds.

Again, not a bad political calculation. Altruism is a squishy notion, hard to sustain in an election. Ryan himself has made a naked play for greed in defending the plan. "Seniors, as soon as they realize this doesn't affect them, they are not so opposed," he has said.

Well, the early verdict is in, and it looks as though the better angels have prevailed: seniors are opposed. Republicans: Meet the Fockers. Already, there is considerable anxiety — and some guilt — among older folks about leaving their children worse off financially than they are. To burden them with a much costlier, privatized elderly health insurance program is a lead weight for the golden years.

This plan is toast. Newt Gingrich is in deep trouble with the Republican base for stating the obvious on Sunday, when he called the signature Medicare proposal of his party "right-wing social engineering." But that's exactly what it is: a blueprint for downward mobility.

Look at the special Congressional election of next Tuesday. What was supposed to be a shoo-in for Republicans in a very safe district of upstate New York is now a tossup. For that, you can blame the Medicare radicals now running the House.

And a raft of recent polls show that seniors, who voted overwhelmingly Republican in the 2010 elections, are retreating in droves. Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin says the Ryan plan is a "watershed event," putting older voters in play for next year's presidential election.

Beyond the political calculations, all of this is encouraging news because it shows that people are starting to think much harder about what kind of country they want to live in. Give the Republicans credit for honesty and showing their true colors. And their plan is at least a starting point compared with those Tea Party political illiterates who waved signs urging government to keep its hands off their government health care.

When the House of Representatives voted to end Medicare as we know it last month, it was sold as a way to save the program. Medicare now covers 47.5 million Americans, but it won't have sufficient funds to pay full benefits by 2024, according to the most recent trustee report. Something has to be done.

Many Republicans want to kill it. They hate Medicare because it represents everything they are philosophically opposed to: a government-run program that works and is popular across the political board. It's tough to shout about the dangers of universal health care when the two greatest protectors (if not creators) of the elderly middle class are those pillars of 20th-century progressive change, Social Security and Medicare.

For next year's election, all but a handful of Republicans in the House are stuck with the Scarlet Letter of the Ryan Plan on their record. Soon, there will be a similar vote in the Senate. It will not pass, but it will show which side of the argument politicians are on.

There is a very simple way to make Medicare whole through the end of this century, far less complicated, and more of a bargain in the long run than the bizarre Ryan plan. Raise taxes. It hasn't sunk in yet, but most American pay less taxes now than anytime in the last 50 years, according to a number of measurements. And a majority of the public now seems willing to pay a little extra (or force somebody else to pay a little extra) to keep a good thing going. Both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush raised taxes, by the way.

Given a choice between self-interest and the greater good, voters will usually watch out for themselves — unless that greater good is their own family. For Republicans intent on killing Medicare, it was a monumental miscalculation to miss that logical leap.

This column appeared in print on May 17, 2011.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE LONG OVERDUE PALESTINIAN STATE

BY MAHMOUD ABBAS

Ramallah, West Bank

SIXTY-THREE years ago, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was forced to leave his home in the Galilean city of Safed and flee with his family to Syria. He took up shelter in a canvas tent provided to all the arriving refugees. Though he and his family wished for decades to return to their home and homeland, they were denied that most basic of human rights. That child's story, like that of so many other Palestinians, is mine.

This month, however, as we commemorate another year of our expulsion — which we call the nakba, or catastrophe — the Palestinian people have cause for hope: this September, at the United Nations General Assembly, we will request international recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and that our state be admitted as a full member of the United Nations.

Many are questioning what value there is to such recognition while the Israeli occupation continues. Others have accused us of imperiling the peace process. We believe, however, that there is tremendous value for all Palestinians — those living in the homeland, in exile and under occupation.

It is important to note that the last time the question of Palestinian statehood took center stage at the General Assembly, the question posed to the international community was whether our homeland should be partitioned into two states. In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued. Indeed, it was the descendants of these expelled Palestinians who were shot and wounded by Israeli forces on Sunday as they tried to symbolically exercise their right to return to their families' homes.

Minutes after the State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948, the United States granted it recognition. Our Palestinian state, however, remains a promise unfulfilled.

Palestine's admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.

Our quest for recognition as a state should not be seen as a stunt; too many of our men and women have been lost for us to engage in such political theater. We go to the United Nations now to secure the right to live free in the remaining 22 percent of our historic homeland because we have been negotiating with the State of Israel for 20 years without coming any closer to realizing a state of our own. We cannot wait indefinitely while Israel continues to send more settlers to the occupied West Bank and denies Palestinians access to most of our land and holy places, particularly in Jerusalem. Neither political pressure nor promises of rewards by the United States have stopped Israel's settlement program.

Negotiations remain our first option, but due to their failure we are now compelled to turn to the international community to assist us in preserving the opportunity for a peaceful and just end to the conflict. Palestinian national unity is a key step in this regard. Contrary to what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel asserts, and can be expected to repeat this week during his visit to Washington, the choice is not between Palestinian unity or peace with Israel; it is between a two-state solution or settlement-colonies.

Despite Israel's attempt to deny us our long-awaited membership in the community of nations, we have met all prerequisites to statehood listed in the Montevideo Convention, the 1933 treaty that sets out the rights and duties of states. The permanent population of our land is the Palestinian people, whose right to self-determination has been repeatedly recognized by the United Nations, and by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Our territory is recognized as the lands framed by the 1967 border, though it is occupied by Israel.

We have the capacity to enter into relations with other states and have embassies and missions in more than 100 countries. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union have indicated that our institutions are developed to the level where we are now prepared for statehood. Only the occupation of our land hinders us from reaching our full national potential; it does not impede United Nations recognition.

The State of Palestine intends to be a peace-loving nation, committed to human rights, democracy, the rule of law and the principles of the United Nations Charter. Once admitted to the United Nations, our state stands ready to negotiate all core issues of the conflict with Israel. A key focus of negotiations will be reaching a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on Resolution 194, which the General Assembly passed in 1948.

Palestine would be negotiating from the position of one United Nations member whose territory is militarily occupied by another, however, and not as a vanquished people ready to accept whatever terms are put in front of us.

We call on all friendly, peace-loving nations to join us in realizing our national aspirations by recognizing the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and by supporting its admission to the United Nations. Only if the international community keeps the promise it made to us six decades ago, and ensures that a just resolution for Palestinian refugees is put into effect, can there be a future of hope and dignity for our people.

Mahmoud Abbas is the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the president of the Palestinian National Authority.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE LONG OVERDUE PALESTINIAN STATE

BY MAHMOUD ABBAS

Ramallah, West Bank

SIXTY-THREE years ago, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was forced to leave his home in the Galilean city of Safed and flee with his family to Syria. He took up shelter in a canvas tent provided to all the arriving refugees. Though he and his family wished for decades to return to their home and homeland, they were denied that most basic of human rights. That child's story, like that of so many other Palestinians, is mine.

This month, however, as we commemorate another year of our expulsion — which we call the nakba, or catastrophe — the Palestinian people have cause for hope: this September, at the United Nations General Assembly, we will request international recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and that our state be admitted as a full member of the United Nations.

Many are questioning what value there is to such recognition while the Israeli occupation continues. Others have accused us of imperiling the peace process. We believe, however, that there is tremendous value for all Palestinians — those living in the homeland, in exile and under occupation.

It is important to note that the last time the question of Palestinian statehood took center stage at the General Assembly, the question posed to the international community was whether our homeland should be partitioned into two states. In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued. Indeed, it was the descendants of these expelled Palestinians who were shot and wounded by Israeli forces on Sunday as they tried to symbolically exercise their right to return to their families' homes.

Minutes after the State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948, the United States granted it recognition. Our Palestinian state, however, remains a promise unfulfilled.

Palestine's admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.

Our quest for recognition as a state should not be seen as a stunt; too many of our men and women have been lost for us to engage in such political theater. We go to the United Nations now to secure the right to live free in the remaining 22 percent of our historic homeland because we have been negotiating with the State of Israel for 20 years without coming any closer to realizing a state of our own. We cannot wait indefinitely while Israel continues to send more settlers to the occupied West Bank and denies Palestinians access to most of our land and holy places, particularly in Jerusalem. Neither political pressure nor promises of rewards by the United States have stopped Israel's settlement program.

Negotiations remain our first option, but due to their failure we are now compelled to turn to the international community to assist us in preserving the opportunity for a peaceful and just end to the conflict. Palestinian national unity is a key step in this regard. Contrary to what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel asserts, and can be expected to repeat this week during his visit to Washington, the choice is not between Palestinian unity or peace with Israel; it is between a two-state solution or settlement-colonies.

Despite Israel's attempt to deny us our long-awaited membership in the community of nations, we have met all prerequisites to statehood listed in the Montevideo Convention, the 1933 treaty that sets out the rights and duties of states. The permanent population of our land is the Palestinian people, whose right to self-determination has been repeatedly recognized by the United Nations, and by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Our territory is recognized as the lands framed by the 1967 border, though it is occupied by Israel.

We have the capacity to enter into relations with other states and have embassies and missions in more than 100 countries. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union have indicated that our institutions are developed to the level where we are now prepared for statehood. Only the occupation of our land hinders us from reaching our full national potential; it does not impede United Nations recognition.

The State of Palestine intends to be a peace-loving nation, committed to human rights, democracy, the rule of law and the principles of the United Nations Charter. Once admitted to the United Nations, our state stands ready to negotiate all core issues of the conflict with Israel. A key focus of negotiations will be reaching a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on Resolution 194, which the General Assembly passed in 1948.

Palestine would be negotiating from the position of one United Nations member whose territory is militarily occupied by another, however, and not as a vanquished people ready to accept whatever terms are put in front of us.

We call on all friendly, peace-loving nations to join us in realizing our national aspirations by recognizing the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and by supporting its admission to the United Nations. Only if the international community keeps the promise it made to us six decades ago, and ensures that a just resolution for Palestinian refugees is put into effect, can there be a future of hope and dignity for our people.

Mahmoud Abbas is the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the president of the Palestinian National Authority.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WE ARE UNAWARE OF A STORM BREWING IN THE SOUTHEAST

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

This is probably the "dirtiest election campaign so far."

There has never been such a low level election before.

I'm sure our political parties will regret their present approach later but it will be too late.

What bothers me more though is what's going on in the Southeast.

We are so occupied with our daily routine that we can't take notice of what's happening there.

And beside, we don't really reflect it well; we are unable to do so. There are of course reasons for that.

But tension is increasing.

Operations continue. Is the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, triggering operations or are operations triggering the PKK?

What is known though is that a storm is brewing in the region and daily lives are much influenced by it. Life came to a halt as 12 PKK members died. People stopped working and went out on the streets.

When looked upon this scene it becomes clear that prior to elections negotiations are made.

The PKK signals what might happen if no serious steps are taken for a solution. Even if solutions are considered, security forces signal to shoot PKK members whenever they come their way.

The flames of tension are fanned by both sides.

They act in a way to say, "Whoever is in favor of me should vote for me."

Will this general approach overshadow a possible solution after elections?

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, is very pessimistic and they reflect it in every speech. They may be right because they are the ones to live through these events.

But I don't think so. Having come this far, I keep my hopes high for the time after elections.

What happened has happened in the past and we will start over again as long as there is a cease-fire until elections and tension is eased in the region.

Aysal takes over wreckage

The expected happened.

Istanbul sports club Galatasaray recovered, I dare say.

Forces worked hard behind the scenes to prevent more than 1,500-2,000 voters participate but despite the nice whether 4,017 delegates came sacrificing their pleasure to duty.

This is a very vital self-devotion for Galatasaray fans, for we are men of leisure. But they must have realized the seriousness of the situation when they came to vote and filled the school.

Ünal Aysal received 2,996 out of 3,965 valid votes.

And that is very important.

From now on he will act more bravely and comfortably. Now that he has the trust of the delegates he will have more self-confidence.

Aysal never mentioned taking over wreckage but that's what he exactly did. The club's safe deposit is empty but millions of dollars in debt are waiting to be paid.

From now on there is a duty to be fulfilled by fans of the Galatasaray team.

If they voted for Aysal then they should immediately support him.

In general, we vote and start complaining afterwards.

Because we are impatient we expect the team to come up with the money and make the team the champion. But neither the delegation nor fans should expect a championship in the near future.

What we expect though is a team that is not defeated by everybody coming its way, a team that instead of being unable to attract fans to the stadium because of a bad performance may come in second or third but plays a proud and good game, a team that instead of going bankrupt reorganizes the Galatasaray club.

Galatasaray delegation and fans can't just treat Aysal like observers of the United Nations, watching from a distance and writing criticism.

Now it's time to support Aysal.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

CONGRATS BAKU: USE THIS OCCASION TO OPEN UP REGIME

BARÇIN YİNANÇ

When Hikmet Çetin visited Baku in the early 1990's as a foreign minister, I was one of the press members covering his talks, with Azerbaijan's late President Heydar Aliyev. During the press conference, the members of the Turkish press directed questions to Aliyev, which were critical of his undemocratic treatment of the opposition. "Why aren't you giving opposition a bit of room to breath," we asked him insistently.

I learned only years after about a conversation between Çetin and Aliyev following the press conference. "Azerbaijani press did not address any critical questions to me," said Çetin. Aliyev's answer was, "They have got the communist discipline."

Nothing much changed since those days. Correction. It did change, but for the worse.

If in the 1990s the form of government in Azerbaijan was described as semi-authoritarian, by the early 2000s the regime moved in the authoritarian direction.

İlham Aliyev was around 40 when he was elected president in 2003, succeeding his late father. He disappointed those who were hopeful that this young leader would not be taken hostage by the old guards but take steps even if modes towards a democratic regime, just as the case was with Bashar al-Assad. Luck or fate whatever you call it, was on his side. The high oil-price environment of 2003–2008 brought an enormous increase in revenues from oil exports. This could have given him the self confidence to open up the regime. He had two ways in front of him: be the Norway of Caucasus or the Nigeria of Caucasus. He had the chance to prove that oil revenues are not a curse when it comes to democratization, a conviction strengthened by the oil-rich Arab regimes.

Yet he fall victim to the establishment, just like Bashar al-Assad, and decided to use oil revenues to finance his oppressive rule.

Since about 2005–06, the government did not even care to maintain the façade of democracy.

In 2008, as Aliyev was elected president again, despite allegations of heavy fraud, he again skipped the occasion for a change. Two months after the elections, Azerbaijani authorities turned off BBC, Radio Liberty and Voice of America broadcasting services.

As Aliyev seems to be preparing for a third term in 2013, he has not shown any sign of change. On the contrary recent small antigovernment demonstrations inspired by the Arab revolutions were met with harsh response.

While a member of Council of Europe, since 2001, Aliyev disregarded criticism from Western circles.  In reverse, Aliyev was never successful to get the attention of the world to the Nagorno Karabakh issue. It was not able to mobilize international support against Armenia, which is occupying 20 of its territories.

Yet, Azerbaijan got a new chance to have international spotlights.

As Azerbaijan won the Eurovision song contest last Saturday, the victory ensures, for one week in 2012 at least, the capital city of Baku will be in the minds of the 125 million to 150 million viewers who tuned into the competition.

Wining Eurovision certainly pumps up a nation's self confidence. We know it from Turkey. Aliyev should use this occasion to show that his country can also qualify to be in the first league of democratic nations.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

GREEKS SEE STRAUSS-KAHN'S PROMISCUITY WITH CONCERN

ARIANA FERENTINOU

"Stros'e to stroma sou gia dyo" (lay down your bed for two) says an old love song by Mikis Theodorakis the lyrics of which were written by the playwright Iakovos Kampanelis. Kampanellis died only two months ago, before seeing his almost half-a-century-old lyrics becoming an ingenious pun for the Greek Eleftherotypia daily. The phonetic similarity of the word for "lay" and the first part of the double-barrel name of the former head of IMF, "Strauss," fitted perfectly.

For Greece, the weakest link in the zone of Euro, the image of a handcuffed somber Dominic Strauss-Kahn being taken from his Paris-bound plane to a Manhattan police station was an extremely unpleasant coincidence, which was added to an already overcast political and economic landscape. Socialist Strauss-Kahn was considered a "friend of Greece" who had supported Greece in getting substantial help for its huge public debt. As the first European at the head of IMF, he was also considered to be someone who understood best the particular problems of the Eurozone, hence he was also considered a friend of the Irish, Portuguese and the Spanish. His assessment that "The Greek economy is in deep sh*t"scooped only a few days ago during a program of political satire on Greek TV, was probably very unpleasant for the ears of the Greek prime minister as it showed that Mr. Papandreou was talking about getting help from the IMF long before he actually did so. But in general, against the insistently tough stance of Angela Merkel, who refuses "any more money to Greece," Strauss Kahn remained, until the end, a hope for support for the Greek government.

Of course everybody was aware of the former head of IMF's promiscuity, especially in France. But France is a country where the protection of private life of public figures allowed president Mitterand to keep a second family and an illegitimate daughter in the presidential palace without this ever reaching the press. Not to mention other "erratic figures" like Giscard D'Estaing, Segolene Royal and even Sarkozy. But Strauss's misfortune was that his extreme sexual pursuits took place in a land where this is considered a crime. In a land where in spite of our serious objections over their policies, a cleaner and a head of one the biggest financial organizations in the world have equal treatment with ordinary citizens against the law. This difference of political culture perhaps is the reason of the flood of conspiracy theories, which sprang out of France as soon as the news came out. After all, Strauss-Kahn is the unofficial but likely future president of France.

Greece's misfortune was that he was arrested one day before he was due to fly to Europe for a meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday in Berlin and then on Monday to an European Union finance ministers' meeting in Brussels on bailout plans for Portugal and Greece. He did not make it.

Is his likely disappearance from the scene a crucial matter for Europe? Yes and no. Economic circles in Greece and in other parts of Europe accept that the absence of Strauss-Kahn from the helm of IMF may imply that Greece and the rest of Eurogroup economies will lose an understanding supporter of their problems as opposed to the approach, by the Americans, that other parts of the world should be given priority by the IMF. But they also put forward the opinion that Strauss-Kahn was just the 'tail" and not the "horse" of a deep systemic problem of managing the economic affairs of the EU. This, they say, leads to the internal political balances in the biggest economy of the EU, Germany. There is, they say, an apparent rift between Angela Merkel and her minister of economy, Wolfgang Schauble, on how to deal with the economic crisis in the periphery of the Eurozone, where Greece is just the beginning. These circles believe "lending expensive loans to countries already deep in debt" can never be a solution and there will have to be a serious decision of "debt restructuring of the peripheral, or problematic, countries of the Eurozone while dealing at the same time with the banking crisis in the whole of the Eurozone." Until a serious decision is taken, the crisis will continue to grow.

With a subject like the Strauss-Khan sex-romping, I cannot resist the temptation of finishing with one among the flood of satirical comments circulating in Greek social media about the former head of IMF.

"The problem of Dominic was that he first lays the girls and then asks them to pay him."

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

US, TURKEY BACK SUNNI REGIMES

SEMİH İDİZ

Talking to Al Jazeera over the past few days members of Bahrain's Shi'ite majority have been decrying Washington's soft approach to the Sunni-led regime of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, which is currently oppressing them violently. They have been wondering why the Obama administration, which is always so keen to highlight human rights in the case of some regional countries, is not applying any pressure to stop the violence against Bahrain's Shi'ites.

Also being questioned is Washington's tolerance of the incursion of Saudi troops, ostensibly under the banner of the Gulf Cooperation Council, into Bahrain where they were used to help the Sunni regime quell Shi'ite demonstrations under the guise of bringing stability to the country. These questions are naive of course and those asking them are undoubtedly aware of it. They are obviously merely trying to make a point by means of such rhetorical questions.

The answer to their questions can in fact be summarized in a nutshell. Washington has always backed Sunni regimes in the region, starting with the most undemocratic and repressive of them all, Saudi Arabia, despite the fact this country spawned al-Qaeda that went on to perpetrate the Sept. 11 atrocity.

The fact Washington's archenemy Iran is a major Shi'ite power, which claims protective rights over the regions Shi'ites, and now has nuclear ambitions, is clearly a main source of concern for the United States administration. It was noteworthy in this respect that Iran did not waste time in criticizing the oppression of the Shi'ites in Bahrain and was quick to condemn the Saudi incursion into that country.

Neither has the U.S. experience with Iraqi's majority Shi'ites been a happy one. Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has links to Iran, and his Mahdi Army have ambushed and killed U.S. troops in Sadr City and elsewhere in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003. In 2008 the group had fierce clashes with the U.S. backed and trained Iraqi army and tensions persist today making the task of unifying Iraq that much more difficult.

On a side note it must be mentioned that relatively moderate Shi'ite groups such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution have chosen to cooperate with the U.S. in Iraq up to a point, but this is clearly more out of expediency than love. The bottom line here is that while one can not discount the fact that al-Qaeda is a Sunni group, and that Sunni militia has caused a lot of headaches for Washington in Iraq, almost all of Washington's strategic military alliances in the region are with Sunni regimes.

This makes it inevitable that the U.S.'s main military presence in the Gulf, which has been increasing noticeably and not declining since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, are in Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait, all of them under Sunni regimes. These bases are of increasing strategic value to the U.S. and it was telling that the U.S. military did not have to use the İncirlik Airbase or other facilities in Turkey in the pullout from Iraq.

Because of the sensitivity of radical Muslims in Saudi Arabia the presence of the U.S. military in that country has been reduced significantly over these past few years. But this has not stopped the two countries from signing an agreement in 2010 for the transfer of U.S. military hardware to the tune of $60 billion to the Saudi Kingdom over a period of 10 years.

As matters stand almost all of the weapons used by Saudi forces in Bahrain have "Made in America" stamped on them. All of this goes to show clearly that while the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia may have been reduced; the strategic alliance continues strong and is set to do so for many years to come.

Against all of this is a backdrop of increased tensions between Sunni's and Shi'ites in the whole of the Middle East. Arab diplomats in Ankara openly express their concern over this growing divide, which risks turning the regional cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran into a hot confrontation if these divisions continue to grow and fester.

Given it is becoming increasingly apparent that the "Arab Spring" does not appear set to bloom anytime soon, even in Egypt where it was thought most likely to do so, it is unlikely that Washington will push its strategic and military concerns to the background, and come to bear strongly on government's in the Persian Gulf that are oppressing their Shi'ite minorities or majorities, as both cases exist.

The U.S. will of course appear to be exhorting these governments to do much more in line with democratic and humane values, since it has to do this as a minimum to save face, but it will hardly burn any bridges over these issues. If anything what we do know about the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf goes to show that the U.S. is hunkering down for the long haul, and has no plans to evacuate the region militarily anytime soon.

Turkey is of course another predominantly Sunni country that is increasingly important for Washington in the face of developments in the Middle East and North Africa. While it can not be said the two countries have "excellent relations," as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said to U.S. TV journalist Charlie Rose during his interview last week, it is clear that the two countries need each other.

Therefore ties between Washington and Ankara do not have to be "excellent" but "functional," which to all intents and purposes how they appear to be today. There is also the fact that Turkey is also uneasy about the growing tensions between Sunni's and Shi'ites in the region.

It is a fact that Turkey maintains good ties with Shi'ite Iran today, but it is still noteworthy that Ankara too has said little of substance over the oppression of the Shi'ites in Bahrain. While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan initially made some negative remarks about the Saudi incursion into Bahrain it is very noticeable that he did not follow up on this in any way.

Put another way Turkey seems very much in league with the U.S. in its selective expressions of dissatisfaction aimed at oppressive regimes in the region, depending on how "user friendly" these regimes are, and the extent of the Turkish material interest in the countries involved.

Neither is it a certainty that the very Sunni Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government can maintain the close ties it has with Teheran in the long run if the Sunni-Shi'ite divide grows and takes on dangerous proportions; especially if this divide appears to be splitting Syria, a scary thought to even consider for Turkish officials.

The problem here, however, is that this kind of selectivity in the approach to different repressive regimes in the region is bound to result in just the opposite of what Washington and Ankara would like to see in the long run.

In other words Shi'ites who feel they are abandoned by the world will have little choice in the end but to deliver themselves into the arms of an enthusiastically waiting Iran, especially if the violence against them by Sunni regimes and armed gangs continues to escalate.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

CRIME AGAINST WOMEN

YUSUF KANLI

The day an Ankara court sentenced a former husband İstikbal Yetkin to an enforced life term in the murder of Ayşe Paşalı, hundreds of kilometers away, in the Kırklareli province in Western Turkey, a  Büşra, 21, from the central Anatolian Sivas province was laying dead-cold after she being stabbed ten times, allegedly, by Hasan Akbulut, also from Sivas.

Violence against women has always been a fundamental social problem in this country the political and religious leaders of which love declaring at every occasion that heaven is under the feet of mothers. I do not want to be sarcastic but how is it possible that in a society where religion as well as the political culture, of which underline the high place of women in such clarity families, still search honor in between the legs of women?

Rape is definitely a crime not just against the woman, or girls or boys, the passion of the wild beast directed at, but against the entire humanity as such a crime cannot be excused under any condition. Yet, victims of rape, until very recently, were condemned to an even worse sentence in this country because if the rapist agreed to marry the raped young girl or women, he could escape with what he did, while the woman or girl was condemned to spend the rest of her life with the beast.

Though in laws the "tradition" of giving reduced sentences to men raping "easy women" or women who might have "incited" men to such a crime because of how she dressed, the color of her hair, her profession or simply how she spoke has long come to an end, as we witnessed during the recent discussion after such a deplorable statement was made by a theology professor from central Anatolian Konya Selçuk University, the problem still persists in the social reality of this country.

The gazelle is murdered

The surname of Büşra was Ceylan, the Turkish for gazelle. In the photograph carried by her schoolmates at her funeral she was like a gazelle looking with two black beautiful eyes screaming her protest of felling pray to such a beast.

She was probably the gazelle of her daddy and mom. The gazelle was murdered in cold blood and the murderer hoping to get a reduced sentence is now saying that he was not carrying the long kitchen knife to murder Büşra, he bought it a while ago and that day just so happened to be carrying it.

Would the court accept such an odd reasoning and reduce his sentence? Hopefully not. But, the problem is not an exceptional one as many people would like to describe it. Turkey needs to focus on educating its entire population, young and old, on women-men relationships, the place of women in society and eradicating taboos in sex education.

Turkey must understand that gender equality is not just a detail in the so-called Copenhagen Criteria that this country must conform to remain on the European Union accession track.

"No," of course should be perceived as "No." A 21-year-old girl saying "No" to a 21-year-old boy cannot be a sufficient reason for such a heinous crime that girl was subjected to. In his testimony to police Ahmet Akbulut has reportedly said in their hometown Sivas as well as Kırklareli where he and Büşra were attending university he tried become friends with Büşra several times but she rejected him each time. On the evening of the murder he approached Büşra once again, requested her friendship but when the young girl rejected him again he was so angry he pulled the kitchen knife [Why he was carrying it with him if this was not a premeditated murder?] out of his jacket and stabbed the young girl repeatedly [ten times] until she fell motionless.

Reading through the bitter story of Büşra I shivered remembering how desperate I felt years ago, when an oppressed young boy was placing threatening notes on the wipers of my beloved daughter's car my calls to police for protection, for the university to take measures were all left unanswered and eventually I sold out our apartment moved to a new address, hired security guards until, thank God, the family of the boy eventually intervened and the ordeal came to an end.

Despite her repeated plea for the protection of the state, Ayşe Paşalı was unlucky, like other hundreds of women killed by husbands, former husbands, elders of the family or juveniles incited to murder by the family elders. The state was deaf and blind to such domestic violence issues that according to the tradition ought to stay domestic. Büşra could not dare to report that she was receiving threats from a boy she refused. The consequences would be serious as most likely the family would not accuse the beast but would say "If female dogs didn't wag their tail, male dogs wouldn't run after them."

According to statistical data, how sad it is for any woman to become a detail in statistics data, over the past 12-month period in this country of some 73 million people there were over 500 recorded acts of violence against women and unfortunately this figure is a fraction of the actual number of violence against women because of the "tradition" to "keep everything within the family."

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

 

IS INFLATION FEAR A PHOBIA?

ERDOĞAN ALKİN

If the majority of the educated people such as important politicians, well-known central bankers and prominent scholars never give up talking about the inflation risk in the middle of a recession, can fear of inflation be called a phobia?

When bitter past experiences are remembered and new inflationary tendencies in some key economies are observed, even if it might be called a phobia, this recently-awakened fear of inflation can easily be justified.

First, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a signal that the Fed will implement anti-inflationary policies whenever it is necessary. Moreover, he said monetary easing would end in the near future. Then, the World Bank raised its forecast of China's annual average consumer price increase rate for early 2011 from 4.7 percent to 5.4 percent. The International Monetary Fund, or IMF, warned that in the overheated Asian region, in spite of the disaster in Japan, robust growth will continue but the average inflation rate will rise to 4.5 percent

To fight against recession and unemployment, most of the Western governments preferred to use massive monetary and fiscal stimulus packages that in turn created serious deficit and debt problems. When some austerity measures began to be implemented in some countries to at least partially solve those problems, a global slowdown began during the second quarter of 2010, which was the main reason of the rumors about a "double-dip" recession. However, in spite of the global slowdown and weak aggregate demand, consumer price indices in most countries began to move upward.

Upward movement of indices is explained by the ongoing rise in the prices of foodstuff, important raw materials and energy. This created another concern among policy makers who remember the days of the first oil crisis, the days when inflation and recession used to walk hand in hand. This peculiar situation, which had never occurred in modern history before, presented a new term to the literature of economics: stagflation, a combination of stagnation and inflation.

Stagflation confused minds and governments were mistaken several times as they looked for the most efficient policy package to fight against this new and unexpected malady. When they preferred to use fiscal and monetary stimulus in order to stop deflation and halt the increase in unemployment, inflation jumped before any improvement was seen in production and employment.

Then, because of the inflation fear, when they began to implement this time anti-inflationary policies, production and employment fell further before any slowdown began in consumer prices. Nowadays, these are the main concerns of governments in key countries, as it must be remembered that the victory in the fight against stagflation took almost a quarter of a century.

 Like in those days, governments are running out of tools today. On the one hand, monetary and fiscal easing can only make little difference on aggregate demand in advanced economies. On the other hand, austerity measures implemented in some troubled countries seem ineffective on both deficits and inflation. In those countries, in Japan and even in some leading countries in Europe such as the United Kingdom, avoiding a double-dip recession might be very difficult.

It is understood that the new management of the Central Bank of Turkey is aware of all these problems as the previous one and is ready to take additional decisions even if the latest ones were criticized strongly by business circles and the banking sector representatives. This unlovable attitude of the Bank can easily be understood as the year-end consumer price inflation estimate was revised to 6.9 from 5.9 percent and the average foodstuff price increase was expected as 7.5 percent this year.

The new governor of the Central Bank, Erdem Başçı, during his first press conference explained the reasoning behind the new measures was to decelerate bank credit growth and the inflow of short-term capital. He also mentioned that accelerated loan growth and short-term capital inflows were risky. This means that the bank might take the same kinds of measures whenever it is necessary. However, it must be accepted that there are some problems limiting the implementation of those measures. First of all, the effects of some measures might contradict with others' expected influences. The most obvious example is interest rate policy. If interest rates, which are used widely to control demand for credits, is raised to decelerate the increase in bank loans, this will accelerate short-term capital inflows. For that reason, after the elections, the cooperation between the new government and the new management of the Central Bank must continue to overcome difficult economic problems, which could emerge unexpectedly in the near future.

 ealkin@iticu.edu.tr

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

FEEL THE PAIN

 

Anybody looking at some of the images of Prime Minister Gilani and his meeting with the American delegation led by Senator John Kerry would have immediately been struck by the look of profound discomfort on his face and the awkwardness of his body language. We can only guess at the reasons for his discomfiture, but Kerry had dropped some broad hints whilst still in Kabul on Sunday that hard questions would be asked about the circumstances which surrounded the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. And then there was the stick of aid – rumblings of discontent with Pakistan by American senators and congressmen who felt that they were not getting as many bangs for their bucks out of Pakistan as they would wish. But at the end there was the statement that cooperation between the US and Pakistan was going to continue, albeit under difficult circumstances, and any further unilateral action by America would further damage the relationship – so said the PM and COAS General Kayani. The press briefing that Kerry made in the evening was largely placatory and told us little of substance in terms of what has passed between his team and our government. He said that he understood Pakistan's feelings of wounded pride and violated sovereignty, but took the position that Bin Laden had done as much to violate it. He spoke of the secrecy around the Bin Laden mission, glossing over it by saying that this was not a matter of trust but operational security. We learned that two senior American officials are to visit late this week to put flesh on the bones of whatever has been agreed in the last 24 hours; and that a 'series of steps' had been put in place with 'immediate effect' which would get the relationship between the two countries back on track. He spoke of the need for realistic expectations and of mutual needs, and that the bonds that tie us together were strong enough to weather this storm. Kerry said he was not going to make any apologies, and he did not say that America would not act unilaterally again.

Pakistan may have drawn its own lines in the sand as well, and the tension is being managed rather than mitigated. Meanwhile in Lahore, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said Pakistan should reject aid from the US, as a means of asserting its sovereignty and breaking free of the shackles that tie it to Washington. He said that the Punjab cabinet had decided to set the precedent by rejecting foreign funding. More than the exchanges with leaders in Islamabad, the stand taken by Mian Shahbaz Sharif should help drive home to Mr Kerry and the US how sentiment is shaping up in Pakistan. The views of Mr Sharif are shared by many. The fact that the federal government apparently made only a lacklustre attempt to make Mr Kerry realise this during detailed meetings with him will be noted by people who continue to ask precisely how Pakistan intends to deal with the situation that has arisen after the Abbottabad operation.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

KILLING OF DIPLOMAT

 

The gunning down of a Saudi diplomat yesterday in Karachi was the second attack on targets from that country in days. Explosives had been lobbed at the Saudi consulate in Defence previously but fortunately, they had caused no significant damage. Matters took a deadly turn yesterday morning when a junior diplomat at the consulate was shot and killed as he drove to work from his home. This was no casual ride-by killing. Two motorcycles were involved, and according to witnesses, the gunman on the first motorbike missed the target who was then shot by the backup team on the second motorbike. The hit had been carefully planned and ruthlessly executed. It was reported that security had been tightened at the consulate after a 'cracker' incident but was still not particularly tight; and the murder raises wider questions about the safety of diplomatic staff across the country. It is perhaps time for embassies to review the security plans for their staffers; and for our own diplomatic protection squads to make sure that they are on the ball themselves.

Fingers have been pointed in the direction of Al-Qaeda, and it has been alleged that the murder is in revenge for the killing of Osama bin Laden. This is of course, a possibility. Another possibility is that there is a sectarian linkage, and that events elsewhere, both in Saudi Arabia itself and in recent months in Bahrain, may have something to do with a diplomatic death on the streets of our largest city. There are strong sectarian undercurrents to much of what is happening across the Middle East and the Arab world generally, and it is impossible to ignore the possibility of that spilling over into other places – like Pakistan. Modern conflicts do not recognise borders and are fought out globally rather than in a tight geographic area and involving only the soldiers or either side. The uncomfortable possibility is that yet another war has found itself a battlefield within our borders. The Saudis have, rather graciously, expressed confidence in the ability of Pakistani investigators to get to the bottom of the attack. We must hope their confidence is well-placed. Pakistan needs to demonstrate that it is able to defend its allies in the country, especially one as important as the Saudis. The security situation is a perilous one. The authorities need to find a way to re-gain control and ensure people are safe on the streets.

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE COMMISSION: DEFINING THE TERMS

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI

 

The proposal for an independent "Pakistan Commission on National Security" has been proposed by countless other Pakistanis, and endorsed by a broad range of the political spectrum. The need for such a commission has become even more urgent, given the events of the past week. The most important of these was not the "in-camera" session of parliament that ostensibly grilled the military leadership. The most important "event" over the course of the last week was in fact, the steady and unrelenting beating that Pakistan is taking globally.

The Pakistani state has never been shy of exposing its callousness and carelessness to its own people – this is why there are 40 million children out of school today, why rabid extremists can announce death sentences with impunity, and why tap water, in many locations in Pakistan, might kill you. The Bin Laden episode however, has exposed this callous Pakistani approach to governance to the rest of the world.

There are two reasons why Pakistan matters to the rest of the world. The first is security, and the second is money. Pakistan scares people, because some of the world's most dangerous terrorists make their homes in this country. Pakistan irritates people, because the Pakistani military and government are dependent on other countries' taxpayers for their sustenance.

It is one thing to be dangerous and broke. It is quite another to be dangerous and broke, and to demonstrate a haughty callousness about the situation. Pakistanis can continue to claim, quite rightly, that this country has sacrificed more than any other, in the struggle against extremist violence. But nobody seems to have any sympathy for the more than 30,000 Pakistanis that have died in terror-related violence since 2001.

Pakistanis can also continue to claim, quite rightly, that this society has been transformed into a mangled caricature of itself, by this conflict. But other countries seem to constantly be obsessed with Pakistan needing to do more, and more.

There is, on one hand, a very real sense of loss, grief, indignity and sacrifice among Pakistanis, and on the other, a very real sense of outrage in the US and other parts of the world, that Pakistan is not doing enough, either because it cannot, or because it does not want to. This disparity is so stark, and the distance between the two realities, so deep and wide, that ignoring it is no longer an option. Any national commission that is put together in the aftermath of what happened in Abbottabad, must necessarily address this disparity. It must answer the simplest of all questions: Why has the Pakistani state failed both its own people, and the international community, so spectacularly?

Asking this question is not a license for dishonouring the sacrifices of Pakistan's indomitably brave men and women in uniform. Instead, it lies at the heart of ensuring the integrity of the Pakistani state and its vital organs – its parliament, its judiciary, its executive, and its military. More than any other, the honour of the Pakistani soldier is a symbol of the state of the nation. Without addressing the desperate internal bleeding Pakistan is suffering, and the white-hot anger of the international community, Pakistan cannot honour its soldiers in a manner that is in keeping with their sacrifices.

The bottom-line therefore, is that an honest and forthright appraisal of Pakistan's intelligence and military performance is a necessary bitter pill, required to sustain and enhance the dignity and pride with which Pakistanis see their uniformed men and women.

A simple, two-pronged framework for making this assessment is helpful in considering what the Terms of Reference (ToR) for an independent "Pakistan Commission on National Security" would be. Failure, in the context of Abbottabad, is either a product of a lack of competence, or a product of deliberate dereliction of duty – or some combination of both.

In plain English, Pakistan's intelligence, military, and civilian law and order structures either don't know how to do their jobs, or know how to do them, but choose not to – or both.

Any commission that is formed to examine the state of national security needs to have three distinct areas of focus. The first is the counterterrorism failure – the presence and vitality of the terrorist enterprise in Pakistan – this includes the fact that people like Bin Laden are in Pakistan, and the fact that their comrades in the TTP can conduct operations like the Charsadda massacre of Friday, May 13.

The second is the national security failure – the ability of other countries to conduct operations in Pakistani airspace and on Pakistani territory. The question may begin with the Abbottabad incident, in which another country raided or invaded Pakistan with virtually no military response. But the issue goes much further. For example, for years we have been told that India is stoking an insurgency in Balochistan (even though India had nothing to do with the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti). The question has to be asked: What is Pakistan doing to protect Balochistan and its people from the insidious international conspiracies that the Pakistani security establishment claims are afoot?

The third area of focus has to be the diplomatic failure – or how Pakistan responds to international crises. The collective response of the foreign office, the ministry of information, the prime minister, the ISPR, and everyone else involved following the Abbottabad incident, leaves a lot to be desired.

The two lenses through which these questions need to be answered are capacity and will. The commission will need to distinguish between how much of the collective failure of the Pakistani state – intelligence, military and civilian administration – can be attributed to a lack of capacity, and how much of it can be attributed to a lack of will. Whatever the findings of the commission, it will need to exercise a radical departure from customary hand-wringing and intellectual takalluf.

The instances in which counterterrorism failures, national security failures, or diplomatic failures are a product of capacity will need to be addressed with aggressive and immediate measures to fill the gaps. This will invariably mean a structural set of changes to the way in which talent is recruited, employed, and retained by the ISI, the Pakistan armed forces, and the civil service.

It will also mean that fiscal priorities will need to be revisited to ensure that money spent is being spent on the things that matter. In the current environment, it seems rather ridiculous for Pakistan to spend millions of dollars on hardware dedicated to wars of the 1960s and 1970s. This country needs to suit up for the wars of the 2010s, the 2020s and the 2030s.

Of course, these ideas are far from revolutionary. We know that there are capacity gaps, and we know, generically, what is required to fix them. Politics is slower to reach the destinations that technocratic problem solvers get to relatively quickly. But without political backing, technocratic solutions will simply never transpire. The Abbottabad incident may perhaps have served to add to the quantum of political backing for the kinds of reforms desperately required. But what we can say with much more certainty is that the problem of capacity is far more tangible than the other problem – the problem of a lack of will.

More than any other single aspect of the challenges faced by Pakistan, an independent "Pakistan Commission on National Security" must tackle this problem of will head-on and without equivocation. The commission will fail the people of Pakistan and this glorious opportunity to shape the future of this country, if it fails to frontally challenge the terrible reality of extremism in the state and society of Pakistan.



The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. www.mosharrafzaidi.com

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

RETURN OF FOOD, FUEL CRISES

DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN


 The recent surge in global food and fuel prices has emerged as an issue of serious concern for the Asia-Pacific region in a manner reminiscent of the 2007-2008 periods. The global food and fuel prices have been on the rise in a sustained and synchronised manner since early 2010. Such developments are highly detrimental for the poor and vulnerable sections of the population in the region.


In its 2011 survey, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific (ESCAP) has estimated that as a result of higher food and fuel prices, up to 42 million additional people may slip below the poverty line, in addition to the 19 million who experienced a similar fate in 2010. The survey also reports that in a worst-case scenario in which food price inflation doubles in 2011 and the average price of oil rises to $130 a barrel, the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals with respect to poverty may be delayed by up to five years.

What are the factors responsible for the resurgence of food and fuel prices? How should we address these issues? Will domestic policy alone be enough or would we require policy coordination at the global level? What should Pakistan be doing to handle the resurgence of food and fuel crises?


Food prices are up to the extent of 35 percent in various countries within the region. Various factors are responsible for the recent surge in food prices. These include supply shocks as a result of adverse weather conditions, conversion of food into bio-fuels, export bans, hoarding and heightened speculative activity related to food commodities.


Numerous disruptions due to adverse weather conditions have affected key cereals production, especially wheat. Furthermore, one of the leading exporters of wheat, the Russian Federation, announced an export ban in August 2010, thereby pushing the wheat price further up. Rising oil prices are putting greater pressure on food prices through the channel of bio-fuels. Such fuels have begun to emerge as competing utilisation of grain crops, as one-third of the United States' corn production has been diverted to ethanol production.

The recent surge in food prices is also the result of financial speculation. In fact, the ESCAP survey suggests that some $300 billion has entered in the commodity markets for speculative purposes. This level of investment was not seen even before the start of the 2007-08 financial crises. The massive liquidity injected by the United States and other advanced economies in the aftermath of the global financial crisis is finding its way into tangible assets markets such as commodities, including gold.


There are increasing concerns about the negative impact of the recent surge in oil prices for developing countries in the region. A gradual recovery in global economy, the weakening of US dollar vis-a-vis major currencies, financial speculators entering into the oil markets and the recent instability in the Middle East have been the main contributing factors to pushing the oil prices upward.


How to address the issue of rising costs of food and fuel at the national and international levels is an important challenge for the region. Higher food and fuel prices are contributing to the inflationary build-up in the region. At the national level, the authorities are pursuing a tight monetary policy to address the issue of inflation.

Monetary policy as a way to address the issue of inflation caused by supply-side shocks is constrained by its own limitations. The world has seen the inability of monetary policy to contain inflation in the 1970s when inflationary build-up was caused by supply-side shocks. Tight monetary policy plunged the global economy into stagflation (stagnation plus inflation).



What is required at the national level is to avoid the aspirin approach to monetary policy. Instead of tightening the monetary policy, the authorities must address the supply-side causes of food price increases. The prices of food and fuel can also be reduced by lowering tariff and/or taxes.


The issue of rising price of food and fuel cannot be addressed effectively at the national level alone. International efforts are required to address such issues. In this connection, G-20, a major forum for global policy coordination on economic issues, will have to play an important role. The G-20 must act decisively to deal with the volatility of oil and food prices.


In the area of oil price volatility, the G-20 being the group of all major consumers can match the power exercised over the oil markets by the cartel of producers, that is, OPEC. OPEC, representing the interest of oil producers, and the G-20, which represents the interest of its consumers, can work out a benchmark "fair" price of oil and agree to restrict the oil price movement within a band. Additionally, the G-20 can create a global strategic reserve for oil and release it when it is high in demand.


In the case of food-price volatility, the G-20 may act to regulate the speculative activity in food commodities in financial markets, and discipline the conversion of cereals into bio-fuels. The G-20 can enhance its credibility and effectiveness by evolving a mechanism for consultation with the non-member countries through ESCAP. It was arranged by the former prior to the Seoul Summit.


Pakistan must take the resurgence of food and fuel crises seriously. It is not imprudent to suggest that the persistence of food inflation at a high double-digit level for the last 40 months in a row has been devastating for the poor in Pakistan. Such a high rate of food inflation is the likely cause of pushing millions of people below the poverty line in the last three years. Pakistan must freeze the wheat support price at the current level for the next three years. On the fuel side, Pakistan must review its taxation policy on petroleum products as currently it is a highly taxed sector. The domestic price of petroleum products has gone out of the reach of even the middle class.

The writer is principal and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ahkhan@ nbs.edu.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

GUL KHAN IS FALLING DOWN

NASSER YOUSAF

 

One of the first things the present Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government did after assuming power on April 1, 2008 was to write a letter to the federal minister for information. The subject matter was lucid and convincing: Please help put a stop to the continuous portrayal of Pakhtuns as stupid-looking domestic servants and ill-bred watchmen.

The missive also found its way to the newspapers but unfortunately, it did not have the desired impact. With the inimitable journalist turned politician, Sherry Rehman, then sanguinely settled as the minister for information, greater respect had been expected to be accorded to the written word. Three years later, Pakhtuns continue to be the favourite idiots of drama directors on radio, television, stage and now, Pakhtuns, together with Sikhs, are the butt of every second joke circulated via SMS.


It is perhaps owing to the great sense of humour that prevails in the Pakhtun milieu that the jokes are not only enjoyed by the victims but the same are forwarded further down the line. This also goes to show that the Pakhtun culture is vibrant enough to withstand pun bandied about in good taste.

 

However, in numerous cases these days, pun directed against the Pakhtuns seems to be crossing the line that divides humour from vulgarity. Some of the jokes previously attributed to other communities have been retailored in such a manner so as to hit the Pakhtuns below the belt.


One such joke doing the rounds is to the effect that a Pakhtun lost in a reverie suddenly gets livid and jumps from his fifteen-storey apartment after an acquaintance alarms him by saying, 'Gul Khan, your daughter has run away.' During his downward journey, the Pathan, as Pakhtuns are generally called, recollects that he doesn't have a daughter, that he is not even married, and finally, just before hitting the ground, he realises that his name is not Gul Khan. The main character in the original joke was a Sikh.


In scores of other cases that present examples of grotesque tempering, Gul Khan replaces fellows from other communities. The editors, however, must be pitied for their poor knowledge of the Pakhtun way of life and customs as these are poles apart from the perceived settings or designs in which Gul Khan finds himself in these jokes.

Humour is an essential part of a Pakhtun's way of life, particularly in the rural areas. Pakhtun folklore across the province is full of both brief and long anecdotes that have been passed down generations and are narrated with unrestrained relish. When in a cheerful or particularly satirical mood, Pakhtuns, notably elderly folks, spare neither the village khan, nor the mullah, and not even their artisans. Pashto-speaking Hindus who inhabit Charsadda, Peshawar, and Buner and Swat areas in fairly reasonable number, have also been the subjects of numerous jokes.


The mere fact that the mullah figures in so many of those oft-repeated jokes points to the former's position in the traditional Pakhtun society where it once prevailed, and in no small measure to the present friction where the clergy is seen to be vying to rise to the ruling or decision-making stratum.

In his former role, a mullah could still be seen trying to curry the favours of the village khan by singing the latter's praises at his hujra whenever the situation so warranted, and especially on the occasion of funeral prayers. In his newer and unremittingly gruesome role, the mullah in his variously defined hierarchical positions as qari and mufti, could be observed engaged in an internecine struggle to assert his authority.

In the post-9/11 fracas, seeds of which had been planted in the mid 90s, the image of the Pakhtun as a decent, fun-loving member of the world community has been grossly distorted by equating him with the Taliban. Nothing could be further from the truth than to call every Pakhtun a member of the Taliban. A Pakhtun is so fundamentally cheerful that his whole being is surrounded with entertainment. In which other culture is there the concept of a guesthouse in the shape of a hujra for men, that is open to guests round the clock and where evenings are invariably spent to the soft nostalgic music of the rabab?


Again, which other primitive or contemporary culture has a waltz like 'attan,' primarily a Pashtun male dance but equally popular among women folk? 'The first thing I am going to do after my knee surgery is to attend to my attan,' Ziaul Qamar, the flamboyant old Edwardian professor of English could be heard telling his admirers.

There are no few braggadocios among the Pakhtuns. These fellows could provide enough substance to the present-day stand up comedians to last them a full tenure. One such former parliamentarian from the tribal area of Bara recently announced that he had the necessary technology to manufacture unmanned drone aircraft and was only awaiting government sanction to proceed further. A tribal gentleman caring for the niceties of a license is something that one could laugh about for an indefinite period of time.

But keeping the world in good humour alone will not stop Gul Khan's imminent fall. Gul Khan is implacably trapped. This week's Time magazine carried a two-page picture of a demonstration in Quetta against Osama's killing. The protesters are all Pashtun, and perhaps all seminary recruits. God! So much needs to be done to turn the tide – imparting education, skills, providing rehabilitation, and so on. One can only hope that this is done before the already poor differentiation between the Pashtuns and the Taliban that captivates popular imagination here and abroad, blurs still further.

 

The writer is a Peshawar based freelancer. Email: nasseryousaf@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

RESOLUTIONS AND HOLY COWS

AMEER BHUTTO

 

 The resolution passed unanimously by the joint session of parliament on May 14, 2011 produces some ray of hope in view of the united front adopted by all political stakeholders against the breach of national sovereignty in the US Navy SEALs raid on May 2 and the incessant drone attacks. If it is implemented in letter and spirit it will be a significant move in the right direction.


But one recalls a similar resolution passed in the same House on the same issue in October 2008 and the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security in April 2009, which were never implemented, and one's optimism is tempered with doubt and scepticism. The latest resolution even begs for the implementation of the prior resolution, exposing how ineffective and powerless parliament has been rendered, even though the 18th Amendment was supposed to have restored it to its intended majesty.


One further recalls revelations by not just WikiLeaks but a number of US senators, including Senators Diane Feinstein and Carl Levine, that privately the Zardari administration gives free rein to US authorities to do as they please in Pakistan, but makes noise for public consumption, and one begins to wonder whether this latest parliamentary resolution too could be another whitewash, a dilatory tactic to buy time and deflect pressure till the dust settles, as has been this government's modus operandi since its first day in office.


If the government was serious about a meaningful change of direction from prostration before their foreign overlords to an independent and honourable line of action, then why present this issue in a the form of a parliamentary resolution which carries no legal force and is neither binding on the government nor a declaration of government policy, but rather a mere recommendation to the government from parliament?


The prime minister could have made a policy statement and implemented it through cabinet, or if the government wished to give the parliamentarians a sense of 'doing something', why not present it in the form of a bill or act of parliament, which could later be adopted by cabinet as government policy? This would carry more weight and would be binding on the government.


Since this latest parliamentary resolution recognises that the May 2, US Navy Seals' raid in Abbottabad was a violation of our national sovereignty, then how can mere verbal condemnation of such an act of aggression suffice? And if the government sees it fit to now condemn the SEALs' action, then why did they congratulate the US authorities initially and call it a great victory?


The resolution goes on to demand that drone attacks must stop or else the transit facility for Nato supplies will be discontinued. This government has done nothing so far in its three year tenure to give us any reason to believe that it possesses the resolve or nerve to block Nato supply lines. But even if it does block Nato supplies and the drone attacks continue nevertheless, how much further is this government prepared to go to defend national sovereignty and the lives of innocent citizens? Will they authorise the Pakistan Air Force to shoot down the drones?

The explanation provided for not doing so is that if the PAF were to shoot down a few drones, then there is likelihood that subsequent drones would be escorted by US or Nato fighter jets, which would bring the PAF into direct engagement with them and lead to outright war. What this effectively means is that we are unable to defend our frontiers and innocent citizens from Nato aggression, in which case the whole raison d' etre of the parliamentary resolution is lost. Then, instead of swallowing the violation of national sovereignty and murder of innocent citizens in humiliating silence, we should at least raise the issue of military aggression against us by US or Nato forces in the United Nations or other appropriate international forums. Does our government have the strength to do so? Can they bite the hand that sustains them in power?


Parliament, or the government to be more specific, balked at the idea of constituting a judicial commission as recommended by the PML-N and instead chose to form an independent inquiry commission. But there are many loose ends in this, in keeping with the government's three year old strategy of procrastinating and prolonging matters. No clear perimeters or powers of the proposed commission have been demarcated nor has its frame of reference been outlined. If it lacks the powers to conduct the requisite deep-rooted inquiry and summon anyone it pleases for questioning, or if the frame of reference is as vague and meaningless as that of the UN Inquiry Commission into the Benazir Bhutto murder, then no tangible results can be expected.


Also, no time frame has been specified for the commission to submit its report, meaning it could go on deliberating for years. Furthermore, there is no mention of any form of accountability in the resolution. The Director General of ISI was man enough to present himself for scrutiny and offered his resignation. If only those in positions of high authority in government would exhibit the same modicum of honour.


If the commission finds evidence of culpability or negligence, such facts can not be swept under the rug. There can be no rectification without the required and warranted blood-letting. A precedent must be set to let freelance cowboys and adventurers know that they are not above the law and will be held accountable. But alas, there are far too many holy cows roaming our land that feel they are beyond reproach. This must change if meaningful change is to be instituted.


It is now emerging that the Shamsi Airbase was leased out to the UAE and is being used by the US and that drone flights, reportedly, are originating from this airbase, even though successive governments have repeatedly denied for years that drone flights originate from Pakistani soil. Did it not prick anyone's curiosity why a country like the UAE would need an airbase in Pakistan and what they would use it for? Does the UAE have authority to lease land from the government of Pakistan and then pass it on to another country to use as they will? Why did Pakistani authorities not take notice of this handover? And the take-off and landing of all drone flights from Shamsi Airbase in the last decade have gone totally undetected? Not only are we unable to detect incoming flights from across our frontiers but cannot even account for flights within our territory? The high and mighty in Islamabad must think that the rest of the 180 million Pakistanis must be very stupid if they expect us to believe any of this.


It seems rather strange for the parliamentary resolution to call for a "review" of government policy and our relations with the United States of America. By doing so, the government has unwittingly admitted that it has been its policy to allow a breach of national sovereignty and that our relations with the United States have thus far been based on subservience to their whims and desires, which now needs "reviewing" after our noses have been rubbed in dirt.


Pakistan stands at the crossroads of destiny. We have but a fleeting moment to decide whether we will bow even further in obeisance to our foreign overlords or stand tall as an independent, sovereign and progressive nation. The decision we take today in this regard will define the future for several generations.


The writer is vice-chairman of the Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

EXTRACTING 'REVENGE'

RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI

 

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar.


The recent suicide bombings at the training centre of the Frontier Constabulary at Shabqadar in Charsadda district is the kind of "revenge" that the Pakistani Taliban and their allies are capable of taking to avenge Osama bin Laden's assassination in Abbottabad. They are unlikely to cause any real harm to the Americans who killed the Al-Qaeda leader, but will continue to cause bloodshed in Pakistan and kill and maim fellow-Pakistanis and fellow-Muslims.

The death toll in the Shabqadar bombings rose as the injured men succumbed to their injuries and at the last count it was 98. Initially the wounded were 140 and some are still fighting for lives. Eighteen of the dead were civilians and the rest were all Frontier Constabulary men, including 73 recruits and seven other personnel of the force who were in Shabqadar to do some courses.


The outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the bombings. It was carried out by the TTP's Mohmand Agency chapter and its spokesman said the attack was a revenge for Bin Laden's killing. There was no reason to doubt the claim because this unit of the TTP, led by the young militant Abdul Wali, also known as Omar Khalid, has in the past carried out suicide bombings killing dozens of people, including government officials and pro-government tribesmen, in Ekkaghund and Ghallanai in Mohmand Agency. The TTP Mohmand Agency chapter has been ruthless in tracking down and eliminating its opponents even in places like Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Karachi. It is unforgiving in killing militants who abandon the TTP and also members of the peace committees and lashkars formed at the behest of the government to fight the Taliban. As Shabqadar is located close to Mohmand Agency and is inhabited by a large number of Mohmand tribespeople, it is an easy target for Omar Khalid's men.


The victims of the senseless suicide bombings were made to pay the price for someone else's sins. America's "war on terror" wasn't our war but was thrust on us. The US was attacked and it sought revenge against Al-Qaeda and also the Taliban who were harbouring Bin Laden. It arm-twisted Pakistan into joining the American war effort in Afghanistan and exposed it to the kind of mayhem that the Pakistanis have been experiencing for the last 10 years. It is an open-ended war and the Pakistani ruling elite, while committed to being a US ally, failed to specify the limits of Pakistan's participation in it.


The US after the 9/11 terrorist attacks used its vast resources and wisdom to secure itself against further harm, but Pakistan and Afghanistan had never been so insecure. The Afghan communist Saur Revolution of April 1978, the subsequent Afghan jihad and the Taliban uprising have brought immense suffering on the Afghans and also Pakistanis. The jihad declared by Bin Laden against the US and Israel destabilised the world, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are killings followed by revenge attacks, and the death and destruction goes on.


All those slain and injured in the Shabqadar bombings had no role in the assassination of the Saudi-born Bin Laden by the US Special Forces. Those who decided to join America's "war on terror" or used militants as strategic assets live in secure places and employ state resources to stay safe. The common people bear the brunt of the military operations and the suicide bombings.


The young recruits embodied the hopes of their poor families. Getting a job in the Frontier Constabulary isn't easy in these times of high employment and many recruits must have bribed someone or been recommended by somebody influential to enlist in this paramilitary force. It is an unattractive and risky job, but jobless people are nowadays willing to take up any employment. The Frontier Constabulary is a kind of police force that was originally deployed on the boundary between the districts and the tribal areas, but is now used for different functions, including the guarding of embassies and diplomats' homes. The officers come from the police force and the rest of the employees belong to the various Pakhtun tribes.


The shalwar-kameez-wearing Frontier Constabulary personnel have accompanied the police to take action against the militants and criminals, but the FC's role in the fight against militancy and terrorism has been insignificant compared to that of the regular armed forces. The Frontier Corps, also drawn overwhelmingly from the Pakhtun tribes with officers belonging to the Pakistani army, has played a major role in this fight because it is deployed in the tribal areas and on the border with Afghanistan. Still, the Frontier Constabulary has offered its share of sacrifices in the battle and its previous commandant, Safwat Ghayyur, died in the line of duty in a suicide bombing in Peshawar last year. He was a celebrated and fearless police officer.


The pair of suicide bombings at Shabqadar was a serious security lapse, which unfortunately happens all the time in Pakistan, without much accountability. The attackers had done their homework and obtained good intelligence from inside the Frontier Constabulary Training Centre about the day and timing of departure of the recruits for home. They executed their murderous assault with precision, leaving nothing to chance and ensuring that everyone at the spot got killed or wounded. The vehicles taking the recruits to their villages and towns were all parked outside the gates of the training centre and were easily targeted. With little bit of imagination, the vehicles could have been driven inside the centre instead of being parked at the gates and made to leave at intervals instead of all starting the journey at the same time. These are unusual and dangerous times, but even those in uniform refuse to adopt measures keeping in view the risks they face.


The two bombers wanted to kill as many Frontier Constabulary personnel as possible and there could have been no better opportunity to do so than the day when recruits, after the completion of their training, were scheduled to go home on leave before joining duty. It was a happy occasion for these young men in their late teens and early 20s and their families, but it was to turn into a big tragedy. Families waiting to welcome their young sons and brothers received their mutilated bodies instead. The militants glorify each of their suicide bombers as "fidayee" and "shaheed" but they cannot close their eyes to the pain and suffering they have caused to fellow-Pakhtuns and other Muslims. In fact, Pakistan made no real contribution as both Washington and Islamabad are claiming credit for Bin Laden's assassination, but the 100 people, including the two suicide bombers who died in Shabqadar, were all Pakistanis. For the US it is a win-win situation as the militants, by resorting to such attacks, will further lose whatever little public support they may have and Pakistan will come under even more pressure to take a tougher military action against the TTP.


Avenging Bin Laden's assassination would make sense if the US were attacked or its interests damaged elsewhere in the world. However, this appears to be beyond the capacity of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates as no attack could be launched in the US since 9/11. It is obvious that Al-Qaeda and likeminded groups have the ambition to attack the US, but lack the capability to do so. Instead they would attack targets in Pakistan and possibly Afghanistan, because the two countries are accessible and vulnerable. In fact, the Afghan Taliban gave a measured response to Bin Laden's killing and have yet to claim any attack against the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan as revenge for the Al-Qaeda founder's death. Bin Laden was their guest and ally and for his sake the Afghan Taliban sacrificed everything, including their rule, in refusing to deliver him to the US. But they have shown pragmatism, unlike the Pakistani Taliban who mistakenly believe they can avenge Bin Laden's death by killing innocent Pakistanis.

Email: rahimyusufzai@yahoo.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

POWER STRUGGLE

CHRIS CORK

 

Down here at the bottom of the power game things are hotting up. As the temperature climbs into the mid-forties so does the outflow from the bank account, because it is money that bridges the gap between the power supply that comes into my home via the national supplier; and that which I generate for myself. And it is quite a lot of money.


Back in the days when we still had power for most of the time the man who looks after my computers said that I really ought to get a UPS – a backup power supply for my essential electricals. Enter the first of the three systems I have had since. It cost me about 15,000 rupees for a switching unit and a monster battery and I assumed it was going to be little used. Wrong again.


Within months of the UPS being installed on its own little plinth in the corner of the lounge the power started to drop more regularly. By January 2010 and looking carefully at the power indices it was clear that the power shortfall was going to be even worse than in 2009 – so it was time to buy a generator.


The generator arrived at the beginning of February. It cost about 30,000 rupees – they are more expensive now – and it hammers away for hours at a time recharging the UPS which cannot fully charge from the main's supply because it is rarely on long enough to get fully topped up.


Genny is a thirsty girl, and she drinks petrol at roughly the rate of 1000 rupees every 2.5 days, and on a heavy week she will get through 3,000 rupees-worth of the stuff, or 12,000 a month. Multiply that by six (the six months of the year that are the heaviest use) and you get 72,000 and then stretch to a full year and I would guess I spend about 110,000 on petrol for Miss Genny.


When Genny is not doing her stuff early in the day before it gets too hot to work without a fan, the UPS ticks things over – but it needs a new battery every nine months. A good branded battery will cost 8-10,000 rupees. And it is not powerful enough to run the fans or the fridge.


'You need a bigger generator' says the man who knows about these things. How much? About 60,000 says he, but you will be able to run your fridge and the air conditioner. But only one air conditioner. 'I can get a good price for your old generator' – which is something of a comfort.


Then, sailing over the gate on blue and white wings, comes the electricity bill. In the year March 2010 to February 2011 the bill came to 86,135 rupees. I pay on the date the bill is delivered to take benefit from the 'prompt payment' discount and have never in all the years I have lived here missed a month. A good customer.

So there we have it Dear Reader. To keep my little house powered up costs me well over 200,000 rupees a year. And rising. I am not a profligate user, switch off fans and lights that are unnecessarily on and keep doors shut and windows covered in the daytime to minimise heat in the house.


My guess is that my household is typical of middle-income middle-class families, and we are feeling the pinch as the saying goes. Without electricity I cannot work. I need an income to feed my family. I have no choice but to pay the bill and keep buying Miss Genny regular drinks.



The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail.com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

OBAMA TO SAVE PAK N-ASSETS!

 

LATEST developments convey a vivid impression that the United States was in no mood to address sensitivities of Pakistani people and is instead applying all tactics at its disposal to malign, harass, intimidate and pressurize Pakistan into toeing its agenda that clearly runs parallel to our national interests. The objective is quite obvious — to destabilize Pakistan to such an extent to create justification for its de-nuclearization.


While reports suggest that US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, during her late night phone call to President Asif Ali Zardari, indicated her desire to normalize strained relations, the decision to cancel her visit scheduled for May 27 in connection with the next round of Strategic Dialogue between the two countries is manifestation of the duplicity. This is further corroborated by extraordinarily harsh stance adopted by Senator John Kerry, supposed to be a friend of Pakistan, who not only made unusually haughty anti-Pakistan statement while in Kabul but also arrived in Islamabad reportedly with long stick. But the report deliberately leaked to London-based Sunday Express was most shocking, unbelievable and reflective of total mental bankruptcy in which it has been revealed that President Obama has given green signal to a plan envisaging parachuting of American troops at nuclear sites of Pakistan to, what has been claimed, protect them from falling into the hands of extremists. The timing of the report is highly mischievous as it comes at a time when Pakistan's Parliament expressed its unequivocal resolve to safeguard strategic assets and give a matching response to any misadventure. This is also in sharp contrast to public statements repeatedly made by American leadership and military authorities that Pakistan's nuclear assets were as safe as those of any other nuclear power and that the United States has no intention of getting hold of them. But publication of the report by Sunday Express proves that such apprehensions were not misplaced and the cat is now out of bag. The nation has always thrown its full weight behind the Government and the valiant armed forces in their efforts to boost defence and security of Pakistan and it is understood that the nuclear programme is leading element of those efforts. We have no doubt in assurances given by the relevant authorities that foolproof system was in place to guard against any misadventure directed at our strategic assets and the nation is ready to offer any sacrifice if need arises. There is no need to be panicky and instead, while trying to maintain friendly relations with the United States, we should make concerted efforts to make the country economically strong, which is the only guarantee against violation of political sovereignty.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PREMIER'S TIMELY ODYSSEY TO CHINA

 

WHILE Pakistan is under tremendous pressure as its security is being challenged and threatened, it has to look at friends who can back it through thick and thin. It is but natural that the country that first comes to one's mind is Peoples Republic of China which stood by Pakistan in difficult times and after the Abbottabad raid by the US, it was the first that issued categorical statements supporting Pakistan's position and called for upholding its sovereignty and territorial integrity.


It is certainly in this context that despite pressing domestic engagements, Prime Minister Gilani will be undertaking four-day visit to China from today which in our view is very timely. China has extended full support to Pakistan's sovereignty, security and political integrity besides extending strong support in enhancing defence capability, cooperation in economic areas and the space programme. Pak-China strategic partnership is a big factor in maintaining peace in the region. This relationship has been described by President Hu Jintao "higher than the mountains and deeper than oceans". Close relations with China have been a pillar of Pakistan's foreign policy. The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, during his visit to Pakistan last December assured that China would expand pragmatic cooperation with Pakistan to bring about tangible benefits to the Pakistani people and increase country's self-development capability. While addressing the Pakistani Parliament the Chinese Premier recognised Pakistan's pivotal role in war against terrorism and stated that the international community should affirm that and give great support as well as respect the path of development chosen by Pakistan. We believe that Prime Minister Gilani who has acquired a unique quality of gelling the Pakistani political leadership and the people on key issues has developed expertise of holding talks with foreign leaders with confidence and in a relaxed manner to put across his message. We are confident that during his interaction the Prime Minister in his usually soft and confident manner will take the Chinese leadership into confidence about the overall security situation including the post Abbottabad raid developments. We hope that Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani's visit to China would not only help further increase understanding of Pakistan's contributions in the war on terror but also lead to signing of cooperation agreements in the fields of economy, energy, building of water storages, infrastructure, trade and finance and enable Pakistan to get out of the difficult times.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

FAKE TEACHERS IN THE CAPITAL

 

THE stoppage of salaries of rehired staff by the Accountant-General of Pakistan Revenue (AGPR) is indicative of the malaise that afflicts the Federal Director of Education, which was once considered to be a neat, clean and transparent entity, serving as model for corruption-ridden provincial departments. The AGPR has frozen salaries of between 600 to 700 teaching or non-teaching staff on the plea that their documents (on the basis of which they were reinstated) were forged and fake.


Legitimate concerns were expressed by the opposition parties and people-at-large over move of the PPP Government to reinstate thousands of employees who were hired during second tenure of the PPP in 1993-1996 but sacked by the subsequent PML Government. Despite serious and legitimate objections to the decision, the PPP Government went ahead to benefit its Jiyalas and the instance of FDE shows how flawed the move was. Teaching is a sacred mission and only highly qualified and motivated people can deliver but one shudder to imagine presence of such a huge number of fake teachers in the Federal Capital and its impact on quality of education. Earlier, there were also reports that about more than four hundred male and female candidates were issued fake appointment orders through palm-greasing and holders of such letters were running from pillars to posts to join their duties as there were no posts available to accommodate them. Insiders claim that all this is happening because a weak and spineless librarian who is held responsible for turning the National Library into a haunted building had been given dual charge of DG, FDE and that is why many accusing fingers were raised against him. In our views some heads must role and a full-time, qualified and good administrator may be appointed who could resist illegal pressures.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

WHERE ART THOU, CHARLIE BROWN?

FRIENDLY FIRE

KHALID SALEEM

 

With the Pak-US relations down where they are, one feels an irresistible urge to re-visit the "Peanuts" cartoon strip. Is there a séance that could help get in touch with cartoon strip characters? Charlie Brown, with his inimitable style, would certainly have come up with a solution to the imbroglio. The problem is that both our American strategic partners and we ourselves are, for obvious reasons, a wee bit short on sense of humour these days. As it is, the first thing that gives in such situations is the capacity to laugh at oneself.

This is why one so misses Charlie Brown! When Charles Shultz decided to discontinue drawing the "Peanuts" comic strip sometime before his tragic death in February 2000, one could hardly help the feeling that an era in the history of cartoon strip humour had passed away. A generation and more, young and old, in the USA and around the world had got used to opening the morning paper to be greeted by Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang: not to forget Charlie Brown's lovable dog, Snoopy. It was some consolation that the strip that Shultz drew with such loving care for half a century remains alive so far through the process of recycling. Though, one must add in parentheses, it is not quite the same thing.


Charlie Brown was not just a cartoon strip character. He had a personality that was way greater than any character in or out of the cartoon strip. One outstanding quality of Shultz was undoubtedly his uncanny understanding, and appreciation, of human nature. This he brought to bear on the little characters in his strip. Each of the Peanuts characters stands out as a distinct and characteristic individual, with his or her peculiar traits painstakingly etched out as in an old master's painting.


Charlie Brown - 'the little round-headed kid' - along with his pet beagle Snoopy have become a institutions of sorts. The rest of the gang – Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, 'the little red-haired girl' and others – are all thoroughly lovable characters each with an image distinct and unmistakable. Over the years, one had learnt to empathize with the members of the 'peanuts gang' in their ups and downs. There were times when one actually identified oneself with one of them. This was the greatness of Charles Shultz.


Charles Shultz was something of a pioneer in a world teeming with professional gag writers and hired artists. He possessed a profound sense of humanity: few can match the humanism that he infused in his characters. Regrettably, he was also one of the last of a dying breed. As it is, humour is fast losing its rugged homespun character; falling prey to expediency in a world addicted to mass production. One has witnessed in horror Haute Cuisine being afflicted by the virus of fast food. The comic strips too are suffering a similar fate. Both are fast losing their wholesome character.


If one looks at things in a broader perspective, one cannot help noticing that the world at large is fast losing its sense of humour. Humour, that once provided a cushion against the rigors of life, is being systematically drained out of our lives. This is perhaps a necessary corollary of the technological revolution. It may sound strange but the more one is technologically advanced the less one is prone to laughter. With the technological advance that the American boast of these days, no wonder their sense of humour has gone out the window.

The so-called modern humour hardly measures up. It is, in effect, laced with a melancholy of sorts. Laughter, too, lacks the spontaneity that was once its raison d'etre. One may be forgiven for being appalled at the thought of a world devoid of the likes of Charles Shultz. And yet it may well come about and there is nothing that one can do about it. Now that one has the chance to look at it this way, man is perhaps the sole creature on earth endowed with the capacity to laugh. This, then, is the singular quality that sets man apart from the animal world; a quality that man would be well advised to hold on to. The consequences of a world shorn of humour are simply too horrible to contemplate.


Man's ability to laugh at himself is perhaps the one attribute that helps keep him sane. It is an insurance of sorts against one going round the bend, given the crazy world one is condemned to live in. Sense of humour, then, is the key to a sane future. It is the same sense of humour that can see a person through the darkest of days. The same is true of nations. When a people lose their collective sense of humour, they also lose the will to survive. Nations begin to die when apathy sets in. History is witness that the world has survived the severest calamities, both natural and man-made. The loss of the capacity to laugh is one calamity that humankind may not survive.

The world owes a debt of gratitude, therefore, to the Charles Shultzs of this world. They have taught mankind to laugh through its tears. Charlie Brown - not Superman - is the real hero the American nation should be looking up to. It takes little courage to stand up to evil if you possess superpower. It is the Charlie Browns of this world - who refuse to give up through emotional ups and downs despite their evident shortcomings - that remain the real heroes of the times. If only society would give them due recognition! Living through troubled time, we of the Land of the Pure could benefit a lot from the philosophy of the likes of Charlie Brown! If only our 'strategic partner' had the capacity to understand and appreciate this. Things would surely have been better all around. But there are things that are not destined to be! As Charlie Brown would have said, "Oh, Good Grief!"

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

TROUBLING QUESTIONS ABOUT OBL DEATH

ASIF HAROON RAJA

 

Hardly a week has lapsed since the shattering news of helicopter assault by US SEALs leading to Osama bin Laden's death and already several branches have sprouted from the trunk of the original story. Too many doubts are being expressed about the authenticity of the claims made by rejoicing US leaders. As the clouds of skepticism are getting thicker, euphoria of US leadership is correspondingly getting deflated.


The big question which troubles ones mind is as to why the US decided to keep Pakistan outside the loop and went for a solo action. Why did it not want to share victory with Pakistan ? Did it not contemplate the negative fallout effect of its unilateralism? Did it not chew over the possibility that Pakistan might dissociate itself from war on terror at this critical stage and gains made over Osama might get jeopardized? If so, why was it so sure that Pakistan would ignore it as it had ignored drone attacks? Kayani, Pasha and Rao Qamar couldn't have possibly given the guarantee since the axe fell upon them. Were it the Zardari-Gilani-Malik-Haqqani combine who stood as guarantors that Pakistan will play down the act of violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and let it pass? Could it be that Zardari and Gilani prevailed upon Kayani and Pasha that one-time action may be allowed to save the relationship with USA from sinking? Or that Pakistan after learning about Osama's location considered it too risky to catch him because of militant's backlash and passed on the baby to USA ? Or Pakistan ceded to US request to enable it to justify its early withdrawal from Afghanistan on a winning note? Is it that the US was cash strapped and couldn't afford payment of head money in case of a joint action with Pakistan which had provided the initial breakthrough? Or was the US political and military leadership too starved for some sort of victory having an element of glory that it wanted to stand alone on the victory stand? Or was it personal vendetta of Leon Panetta against Shuja Pasha and he wanted to teach him a lesson and satiate his hurt ego? Or the US wanted to embarrass Pakistan by putting it in a tight corner so that it was in no position to disobey its dictates or show defiance in future? Or the US wanted to fire a testing round to test Pakistan 's early warning and air defence capabilities and judge its response action? Or it was a hoax to cash upon the ghost of Osama? Or was it to stir up uprising in Pakistan similar to the ones in Arab countries and then make it a pretext to take actions as in case of Libya ? Or it wanted to provoke Pakistan to react and then make it a pretext to go to war and seize Pakistan 's nukes?


Knowing the psychology of American troops who resort to the option of boots on ground as a last resort only, they make doubly sure that there is not even 1% risk of casualties before undertaking any adventure. Operation 'Get Geronimo' in military garrison of Abbottabad and that too noisy was like landing plum in the middle of dense minefield with too many risks. Did it not amount to a suicide attack with 60-40% success rate? Besides the casualty factor, in case of an aborted mission, it would have had crippling effects on the political future of Obama and the Democrats. Joint action with Pakistan would have nullified the negative prospects to quite an extent and major blame would have come on Pakistan .


Even if we blindly accept the one-sided US story, how come Osama being a trained fighter with no dearth of chivalry chose to live in a house which had no protection? Like the minefield being of no value unless covered with fire, high walls of the house are of no consequence without inner protective shield. Going by the lifestyle of Osama, he was not the man to get caught and killed so easily. Why didn't Osama convert his house into a mini fortress to give a last battle and dig a secret tunnel to hide or to escape? No heavy weapons, explosives, hand grenades, ammunition belts, suicide jackets were found. Since the house was devoid of arsenal and he had not put up token resistance even with his personal weapon, it means Osama had given up militancy and was leading a quiet and peaceful life with his family. Was it fair to kill an unarmed man?

The US has yet to furnish proofs that Osama was killed. No photograph of his dead body within the Abbottabad house or before and during his burial at sea has been displayed. Pretext of his burial at sea is unconvincing since the Afghans are not inclined to the idea of shrines. Osama was wanted since 2001 dead or alive. How come, when the golden trophy was seized, it was disposed off in indecent haste rather than displaying it in all the 50 states of USA ?


All these are troubling conjectures mainly because of jumbled responses of our leaders. The fact that our top leadership remained mum for one week speaks volumes about its possible complicity. President has yet to utter a word on this tragic incident. Exposure made by Wikileaks about our leaders on the issue of drones is still fresh in our minds. It disgusted the people to find our leaders busy making new political alliances to preserve their hold on power at a time when country's sovereignty lay in tatters. Suspicions of the public were further reinforced when the PM in his belated speech in the National Assembly on 9 May failed to chastise USA for stabbing Pakistan in the back. He was expected to denunciate the US intrusion in a firm tone. There was an element of bellicosity and rhetoric but his speech lacked the desired punch. He didn't deem it fit to say that the US act constituted a breach of country's sovereignty and was violation of international laws, and that not only the matter will be referred to the UN but any future adventure of this sort will be retaliated with full force.

How could Gilani jump to the conclusion that it was an intelligence failure when no inquiry had been conducted? He could say that it was failure of political leadership since till then it had remained in a state of limbo. While delivering his insipid speech, he neither looked ashamed or indignant. He performed the ritual to stave off mounting pressure and to buy time and not to assuage the hurt feelings of the people. Instead of removing the clouds of despair and hopelessness, he further disheartened the nation. Why he couldn't behave like Fidel Castro, Ahmedanijad, Chavez or Qaddafi in these testing times to cheer up the people suffering from wounded pride and sense of extreme insecurity?


The nation would have felt heartened if he had boldly confessed that it was his mistake to liberalize the visa policy which enabled 7000 undesirable elements from USA to sneak into Pakistan and enabled CIA to establish a full-fledged network with resources far greater than ISI. He should have candidly admitted that it was because of policy of appeasement of his government and that of Musharraf's government that enabled the US to micro manage Pakistan's domestic affairs and encouraged it to first target FATA with drones and then carryout this brazen attack deep inside Pakistan. He should have sacked the two US pawns Malik and Haqqani and then tendered his own resignation. Nothing of the sort happened. Despite being stabbed in the back, our leaders do not want to free Pakistan from the suffocating embrace of USA since it is still breathing.

—The writer is a defence analyst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

DUMP PETTY POLITICS

NEWS & VIEWS

MOHAMMAD JAMIL

 

The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, accompanied by US officials called on PML-N Leader Nawaz Sharif at his Raiwind residence on Saturday and discussed the situation arising out of the US operation in Abbottabad. During the meeting which lasted for about two hours, various matters pertaining to Pak-US relations and unanimous resolution adopted by the Parliament came under discussion. The PML-N leader said that Pakistan's concerns were conveyed to the US diplomat and he was informed that our sovereignty had been violated, which was not acceptable. However, addressing a press conference after the meeting with American ambassador, Mian Nawaz Sharif was critical of the role of security and intelligence agencies of Pakistan, which was perhaps done to appease America. He insisted: "They must stop subverting the Constitution, toppling governments, running parallel administrations and strengthening one political party at the cost of others…Foreign policy and determining bilateral relations with other states is the prerogative of elected governments, not of the agencies."


During his second stint as prime minister, he was backed by the heavy mandate (more than 2/3rd majority), he should have restructured and reformed the system. But the problem was that the heavy mandate had gone to his head, and he had row with heads of all the institutions of the country. When Mian Sahib is asked as to why had problems with every body ie from political parties to resignation of two presidents, three army chiefs and at least one chief justice, he blames them for having problem with him. Writers and journalists should objectively analyse the events and the situation, and should not act as embedded journalists or succumb to temptations of those who try to corrupt others. It is true that some PPP leaders have image problem, but there are leaders in the PML-N who had amassed wealth through unfair means using their official position. And there are cases pending in the courts waiting their reopening.


Pakistani leaders have been talking to the US ambassadors as if they were their family members. They have been talking about their personal matters as well as political issues, but in public they take stance as if they are opposed to American policies. According to a WikiLeaks cable US Ambassador Anne Patterson had sent a memo to the state office comprising ten points after she had a meeting with Mian Nawaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of Pakistan Muslim League on 31st January 2008. In a 10-point memo she had informed the US state office about the details of her discussions with them. Under point 8 (C), Ann Patterson quoting Mian Nawaz Sharif wrote: "The best thing America has done recently, said Nawaz, was arrange to have General Kayani named as Chief of Army Staff". Of course, General Kayani deserved the office of COAS as he was the senior most on the list, and nobody has done any favour. The point being made here is that this remark was given by Mian Nawaz Sharif when was trying to convince American Ambassador to sideline Pervez Musharrf. However, it is not difficult to reach the conclusion from his statement that Mian Nawaz Sharif in principle accepted the American interference.


Under point 9 (C) she wrote: "Mian Nawaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan both repeatedly said that the PML-N was pro-American. Nawaz recounted his decision to override his Chief of Army Staff and deploy Pakistani troops to Saudi Arabia in support of the U.S. coalition in the first Gulf War. Meanwhile, Nisar Ali Khan noted, the PPP and its leaders were organizing street demonstrations against Pakistan joining with the U.S. coalition. Now, Nawaz said, he was hurt that the U.S. did not remember". Deceit and deception is the hallmark of Pakistan's politics, which is obvious from the above complaints lodged with American ambassador against the PPP. In that meeting, Mian Nawaz Sharif had even remarked that the PPP and PML-N government coalition after the elections could be the best thing to happen. However, there has been a lot of pressure on both the parties from outside and from 'within' that they should join hands to eliminate terrorism from the country. Both leaders reiterated their commitment to the Charter of Democracy and expressed determination to implement the document which was according to them a big achievement of late Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif.


There was unanimity of views over addressing the internal and external challenges being faced by the country, and they asseverated that in the greater national interest both major political parties of the country would continue to respect each other's mandate, strengthen democratic institutions, institutionalize good governance and work together for the smooth and effective functioning of the parliamentary process. But in practice they had reinvented politics of 1990, when PPP and PML-N governments instituted cases against each other's leaders. When they were in exile, they admitted that cases were politically motivated, but now they are again at loggerheads, and are willing to go up to any extent to enter the corridors of power. In a democracy there is always difference of opinion between the political parties but the differences are narrowed down through negotiations. But in Pakistan, the politicians have the tendency to take extreme position or rigid stand that takes them to the cull de sac. The conduct of the PPP and PML-N leaders during 1990s was reflective of such phenomenon, which culminated in their self-exile and exile through intervention of foreign friends.

Anyhow, both major political parties should realize that the country is faced with threats to its internal and external security apart from economic challenges. At this critical juncture, wisdom demands that leaders of ruling and opposition parties take a united stand on various issues, as confrontation could cast ominous shadows on them as well as on the country. It is vital that both major parties rise above political exigencies and strive in unison to address the grave challenges faced by the country on account of security and stability. Our media should also wean off from the habit of putting one party against another and pitching one institution against another. After briefing by the military and the ISI, the doubts about their intervention and dabbling in politics should end, and both the civil and military leadership and of course the judiciary should work within the parameters provided in the Constitution. It is true that elected government should frame policies and provide policy guidelines, and bureaucracy and other institutions including military are supposed to implement those policies. Of course, in matters of security, military top brass would advise the civil leadership, as is done in other democracies.


—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

AFTER BIN LADEN'S SECOND DEATH?

ALI ASHRAF KHAN

 

Regardless of the question of how and who was killed on 2nd May in that Abbottabad compound and if the US was conducting that operation with the help of SEALS or Xe Pakistan should not avoid seeing the political game plan of the US behind this move, which emerged through an immediate statement by Indian army chief that India can also follow suit. Pakistan will have to review its commitment even with Afghanistan, where from American troops will start leaving later this year modalities of which will be announced by Gen. Patreuas.

Enhanced Indian role in future dispensation of Afghanistan is worrisome because of using third degree methods against the freedom fighters in Kashmir as a result of India+Israel+US nexus that threatens our national security and solidarity. Apart from serving as an election campaign booster for Obama this is the next step of the US in waging war against Pakistan and the main purpose of that being getting hold of the Pakistani nukes, which remains a bone of contention from 1986-7 onward, when rumours about possible Israeli covered operation was suspected.

It is very unfortunate that Pakistani media is also dancing to the foreign tunes in a bid to mislead the Pakistani nation who are facing great pain and agony since Abbottabad drama of May 2nd leading to second death of Osama bin Laden. The chorus of US politicians and media is insisting that Pakistan could not have but known about Osama bin Laden hiding in their country and the government or parts of it must have actively collaborated with him and the forces he represented if he was still alive otherwise it is apparently nothing more then a part of great blame game being played with the consent of their local counterparts. That is why the US has refused to apologize for the Abbottabad raid and has actually told us in quite clear terms that they are ready to repeat such action any time they get a chance to do so, while Pakistan's top intelligence agency has accepted the lapse in this case on their shoulders, while they had no prior knowledge about Osama bin Laden living in Abbottabad and offered to take responsibility during a closed door parliamentary briefing on Friday.

However the parliament unanimously passed another resolution demanding stoppage of US drone attacks on Pakistani territory. As a result of this emerging distrust between the two allies, the US Congress Armed Services Committee will be taking up a new defence authorization bill that according to New York Times would include a new authorization for the US government to use military force in the war on terrorism. According to this newspaper report, the provision in that new legislation states that Congress "affirms" that "the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces," and that the president is authorized to use military force — including detention without trial — of members and substantial supporters of those forces. That is the way the members of the US civil society see it who wrote a joint letter to the Congress contending that that this proposal amounted to an open-ended grant of authority to the executive branch, legitimizing an unending war from Yemen to Somalia and beyond.

Now, who are 'associated forces'? It is exactly what the US is trying to proof that it is Pakistan that is in association with Osama bin Laden, a fugitive planted by US to wage Jihad against USSR in 1980 and reported dead since many years, linked with al Qaeda and the Taliban, which makes us the next target in this American war. And that will include not an attack against a single compound somewhere in Pakistan but it will be a hit against the power center of Pakistan which is the GHQ in order to open the way towards taking control of our nuclear installations. The army command seems not to see this possibility; otherwise it would have taken more serious steps to prevent such foreign invasion and unauthorized operation in our country. While India is practicing 'cold start' strategy across the border in Rajasthan our Pakistani army should consider this as an option for dealing with military situation like the one on 2nd May, which the parliament has denounced strongly.

But in the first place the political and military leadership of Pakistan has to reconsider its alignment with the US. General Mascara went overboard in 2001 when put in front of the decision to join the US or be bombed back into Stone Age. The enormity of the so-called 9/11 attack whosoever caused it may serve as an explanation for his jumping head over into this adventure. Since then ten years have passed and it is time to assess Pakistani experiences with this alignment in the light of our national interest. What have we gained? Americans have very intriguingly shifted the war of terror into Pakistani territory and the two suicide bombers attack on the passing out recruits of Frontier Constabulary killing around 83 young men on Friday morning is beginning of vengeance against the recent US commando operation. Instead of containing extremism as an ideology it has grown wild into an anti-western attitude among the poor and thus un-westernized part of our population – they are in a majority in Pakistan. Besides, it has resulted in spreading of terrorist attacks all over Pakistan reaching all major cities and not leaving out military and other government installations.

Our economy is faltering and the millions of dollars which the US claims to have invested in Pakistan seem to have reached the military and the pockets of our politicians only. The proof for this is the sky-high rise of corruption under the present government recorded by Transparency International and others. Though this can not be blamed on the US fully it should make us think about the real value of money coming in from outside without people working for it: this only fosters corruption. Nobody –individual or country- should get money for 'aid'. It fosters corruption only.


In the light of such a re-assessment of what actually we need and who are the countries with whom we really share common interests we should revise our alignment with the US and we should do it now in the wake of greater national reconciliation shown by our parliamentarians on Friday.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

SEIZE DAY IN PAKISTAN & AFGHANISTAN

PETER PRESTON

 

The first thing that happened in Washington after Operation Geronimo, once the whooping and hollering faded, was a whole spectrum of politicians telling President Obama to quit Afghanistan ahead of his 2014 exit plan. After all, Osama bin Laden was dead: surely this was mission accomplished? The second thing that happened was a sustained attack on Pakistan, its leaders and its top military brass, as "faithless allies" (a New York Times coinage). Surely they deserved a good kicking with the money tap turned off? Now, though, put one thing with another.

If you ask the people of Afghanistan (via regular polling for the International Council on Security and Development) what they think, their answers echo bleakly. Maybe the north of the country is a touch more optimistic, but it's Helmand province that absorbs most effort and sheds most blood. Did Marjah district there think Bin Laden's death good or bad news? Bad news, said 71%. And right around Helmand, 63% of Afghans concluded that Nato couldn't protect them, surge or no surge, with 56% more disillusioned than this time last year. Only one policy for the future commands consistent majority support: 61% want negotiations with the Taliban. In short, jaw-jaw rather than more war.


But, just over the border in Pakistan, any such prospect seems far, far away. A berserk Bin Laden revenge attack left at least 80 young soldiers dead. Many MPs rail against the west and threaten to cut military supply lines to Afghanistan. Other MPs – and TV pundits – hammer the frailty (or duplicity) of army intelligence chiefs who couldn't see Bin Laden living in a villa down the road, and then couldn't catch three Navy Seal choppers doing the retribution job for them.


It's a bubbling brew of violence, despair, humiliation and rage; much of it directed inwards on those who have helped make a failing state but much of it directed against a US and a CIA, whose interventions stoke constant resentment. What does Washington want us to do next? Root out Mullah Omar, the original Taliban leader, and hand him over. The pressures to comply (for cash) and to scheme or grandstand (for domestic purposes) are cruel and irreconcilable. But if they can't be reconciled pretty soon, Pakistan could be a far greater problem than Afghanistan ever was. What happens when a nation of 178 million souls slides into chaos?


If Nato got out of Afghanistan fast, there would be no need to bend, bully and bribe Pakistan politics this way and that. If there were less outside pressure on Islamabad then President Zardari – whose wife, remember, was a victim of murderous zealotry – would be forced to address the state of his own nation. Wouldn't the generals who reckon they always call the shots get in his way? Not in their current depleted, almost disgraced, position. The democrats would be strengthened by settlement in Kabul, not weakened. And if Washington wanted to do something really helpful, think back to the cricket world cup: India and Pakistan's prime ministers sitting side by side.


Of course, glowing scenarios are always one suicide blast away from destruction. Of course, calling on Pakistan's elected politicians to take the high road of statesmanship, rather than the low road of cowardice and corruption, comes with incredulity attached. But even florid "wars on terror" have to end sometime. Bush invaded Afghanistan to "get" Bin Laden. Both of them are history now, but any chance of a settled, stable Pakistan will be history too, unless the calamitous chain of events along the Khyber is broken. When you're not winning in Helmand, stop digging: when you're losing in Islamabad, throw away the spade: when there's a chance of something better at last, seize it. — Courtesy: The Guardian

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

SYRIA PLAYING DANGEROUS GAME

ONLY the naive believe the deadly clashes along Israel's borders on so-called Nakba Day (in the Palestinian lexicon Catastrophe Day, the day Israel was founded) are a signal that the spirit of defiance and confrontation that has challenged regimes across the Arab world is now inspiring Palestinians to greater militancy.

There is some of that, to be sure. Palestinians desperate to advance their cause could hardly remain untouched by the images of demonstrators boldly rising up to achieve change in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere. But the choreography of what happened on Sunday suggests a more complex dimension to the clashes that occurred as Israeli soldiers opened fire on thousands of Palestinians marching from Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.

Central to that choreography is Syria and the Baathist regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which is seriously under threat from demonstrators, together with its close ally Iran and Hezbollah, the catspaw they jointly created to control South Lebanon. For 37 years, the truce between Israel and Syria, where about 500,000 Palestinians live, has kept the border between the two countries remarkably quiet. The Syrian army has placed the border off limits to outsiders. Similarly, nothing in South Lebanon -- where there are another 500,000 Palestinian refugees -- moves without the permission of Hezbollah. That these two borders should suddenly be the scene of the co-ordinated demonstrations and violence witnessed on Sunday suggests Mr Assad, as he brutally seeks to survive, is now playing his long-anticipated Israeli card. He is cynically telling countries pressuring him to reform his odious regime that if they persist in trying to force change, he can cause serious problems for Israel.

The extent of his manipulation is shown by the fact there were no demonstrations across the border with Jordan, where two million Palestinians live. Jordanian authorities intervened to stop marches towards the border.

Mr Assad is playing a dangerous game. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understandably has made it clear he will do whatever it takes to protect the country's borders.

The Syrian dictator should be left in no doubt that his diversionary tactics will not work. There is no alternative for him but to negotiate with those seeking change in Syria. The sooner he realises that and stops his nefarious activities, the better.

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    THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

NBN COULD HIT TAXPAYERS TWICE

EVIDENCE at a federal parliamentary committee in Sydney yesterday highlighted a growing crisis enveloping the $36 billion NBN project.

The committee shed light on two failures in oversight by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. The Australian previously has revealed that NBN Co chief Michael Quigley held a senior role at French communications giant Alcatel during a period it was found to have been involved in corrupt practices. Despite this being on the public record, the minister was not aware of it at the time of Mr Quigley's NBN appointment. Mr Quigley is not accused of acting improperly and we have reported his explanation that the corruption investigators did not see a need to interview him. However, our investigations exposed blatant factual errors in his claim that the corruption occurred in areas of Alcatel outside of his responsibility. Yesterday, Mr Quigley admitted he had in fact had oversight of the operations in at least one of the South American nations where the bribery occurred. He corrected the record and "unreservedly" apologised for his error.

The committee also took up the revelations from opposition spokesman Malcolm Turnbull, reported in our pages at the weekend. Despite planning to pay Telstra $9 billion compensation for decommissioning its copper wire phone network, NBN Co has not insisted on maintaining rights to that network. In other words, if a future government, Liberal or Labor, sees sense in switching from fibre-to-the-home to fibre-to-the-node technology in some areas, it will have to negotiate with Telstra to regain access to the copper wire network. In the likely event this occurs, taxpayers will pay Telstra to decommission the network and pay again to recommission it. Mr Quigley agreed that FTTN would be cheaper in some situations, with the potential to save billions of dollars. But NBN Co had not made any allowances for this possibility because the government demanded an FTTH model. Mr Quigley said he would not investigate the potential cost savings of a hybrid-model unless instructed by his shareholder, the government. Taxpayers are entitled to be angry that none of this was considered at the start of the nation's largest infrastructure project. The lack of a rigorous cost-benefit analysis is more troubling by the day.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

GENDER EQUALITY RULING INCREASES WAGES PRESSURE

YESTERDAY'S Fair Work Australia decision is a significant and potentially worrisome landmark in Australia's equal pay history.

The Australian, of course, supports equal pay between men and women for work of equal value but until yesterday most Australians had every right to think that is what we already enjoyed in this country. This decision appears to give unions a significant victory in widening the equal pay agenda. It certainly will add to wage costs in the community services sector but could also lead to more widespread wage pressures.

Younger Australians might find it hard to comprehend how only a generation or two ago women were paid considerably less than men for doing exactly the same work and were forced to resign their public service jobs when they married. Landmark wage cases in the late 1960s and early 70s, together with the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984, consigned this form of discrimination to history.

But the import of yesterday's case arguing for pay equality between social and community services (SACS) workers and their counterparts in the public service is that it finds a whole sector of the workforce has missed out on pay equality because the majority of its workers are female. SACS workers typically work for government-funded community organisations providing such services as childcare, disability support, women's refuges and employment training. On average, they are paid significantly less than their public service counterparts. The Fair Work tribunal found: "We consider gender has been important in creating the gap between pay in the SACS industry and pay in comparable state and local government employment." Rather than looking at individual jobs and ensuring men and women receive equal pay for their work of equal value, this case examined a whole female-dominated sector and sought equality with comparable sectors where, presumably, gender was not an issue. There was no attempt to make comparisons with similar male-dominated sectors.

The decision rejected the unions' claim to immediately make up the pay gap but nonetheless found the gap must be narrowed. It has instructed unions and employers to negotiate options for addressing the differential and it will further consider progress in August. The cost impacts on governments and government-funded organisations could be quite serious, depending on the degree to which the pay gap is closed and over what time. The tribunal noted these cost pressures could jeopardise employment and compromise services but it was also critical of governments for failing to provide estimates of likely overall costs.

Unions, predictably, are welcoming the decision as a historic victory, but some employer groups are warning it could create major problems even if applied only in the community services sector. The broader implications, if this ruling sets a precedent across other gender-biased sectors such as retail or hospitality, could be more significant. This occurs at a difficult time for the economy when state and federal budgets need to be trimmed and there are already strong wage and inflationary pressures. Unions and employers should continue to be mindful of equality but they must also not lose sight of preserving jobs.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE SOLAR SWITCH GETS A DIMMER

HOW quickly the sun sets on today's political honeymoons. Barely seven weeks after the Coalition nearly wiped Labor from the NSW Parliament, the harsh reality of government begins to sour the champagne. Opposition no longer is an end in itself. In government, doing the right thing and doing the wrong thing share a common consequence - actions and inactions upset many people.

Take the announcement by the Minister for Energy, Chris Hartcher, to slash by a third the price paid by the state to those households contracted to sell into the power grid electricity generated by solar panels on their homes. On one level, the reneging unquestionably is a breach of faith and would be a breach of contract if the Parliament was unable to recast retrospectively the state's contractual obligation.

Most of the estimated 110,000 households which signed on to the previous government's deal were motivated, at least in part, by a sense of community good, the very rationale for the original program. By loading renewable energy into the grid, the state would be less reliant on power generated by burning hydrocarbons. That, at least, was the theory.

The contract price of 60¢ a kilowatt hour, however, was clearly too generous. Many more households signed on than the then government anticipated. Clearly, many saw the opportunity not just to recoup the cost of solar panels and their installation but to profit from the scheme. The blame here sits squarely with the previous government for seemingly plucking a price from midair. The result, says Hartcher, is the scheme being underfunded by

$750 million - money that otherwise would have to be paid from Treasury coffers or higher electricity tariffs.

Households that joined the scheme and invested sometimes tens of thousands of dollars on solar energy were entitled to weigh their expenditure against expected income. Many will now be left out of pocket, not because of their flawed calculations but because of the previous government's.

Their loss, however, must be weighed against the potential public loss from a scheme the public should not have been required to underwrite so generously in the first place. Whichever cause is more deserving will depend on the values of the observer.

Our purpose in highlighting this collision of competing priorities, however, goes beyond the question of whether Hartcher should have cut the solar price to 40¢ a megawatt hour. He is one of two government frontbenchers with previous ministerial experience and probably was well acquainted with the reality that you cannot please everyone all the time. It's a lesson others are quickly learning.

 SHADOW BOXING WITH ISLAMABAD

THE aftershocks continue from the earthquake that was the killing of Osama bin Laden two weeks ago. On Sunday Pakistan, responding apparently to growing domestic anger at the raid in which the

al-Qaeda leader died, demanded a halt to all strikes from United States drone aircraft and threatened to end the arrangement through which NATO forces in Afghanistan are supplied through Pakistani territory. Meanwhile, the US has been making exasperated noises ever since bin Laden's death about its suspicion that he had help within Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment which enabled him to evade detection for almost 10 years.

The seriousness of all this posturing has been rather undermined, though, by the London Guardian newspaper's revelation a week ago that then US president George W. Bush and Pakistan's former leader Pervez Musharraf came to a deal soon after the start of the Afghanistan conflict covering precisely this eventuality. Under the deal, if US forces found bin Laden or other senior al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan,

they would be allowed to enter its territory to pursue and kill them. Pakistan would not oppose their entry, though it might protest loudly afterwards. That 10-year-old script seems still to be governing relations between Islamabad and Washington. Given that Abbottabad, where bin Laden was living, is a sensitive military and intelligence centre, it is extraordinary he was not found earlier. It is equally extraordinary though that Pakistan's defence forces did not notice a US raid there until it was over.

If the script is being followed, as it appears, what weight should be given to the various expressions of wounded national pride and exasperation from either side? Certainly they do represent genuine feelings - that is the point of them. But the agreement suggests that in the absence of extraneous shocks or provocations, they will not be allowed to get out of hand or seriously damage the relationship. Pakistan needs the US and its aid, but the US needs Pakistan, too, if it is to prosecute its war in Afghanistan and reduce the potential for the lawless border regions to foster new bin Ladens and al-Qaedas.

The US Congress may indeed express its displeasure at Pakistan by reducing aid. But it will not abandon it. In his speech on the raid to the Pakistan parliament, the Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, hinted at one reason why. Pakistan's foremost priority is its own development, he said, and for that, while its strategic partnership with the US may be useful, there is always Pakistan's "all-weather friend", China, to fall back on.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

STATE JUSTICE SYSTEM NEEDS CHANGES AT THE TOP

THE REPORT OF THE INQUIRY INTO THE OPP SHOULD BE RELEASED.

WHEN the Coalition returned to office promising a new approach to law and order in Victoria, they probably did not expect to have to undertake so drastic a task as that which now confronts the Baillieu government. Increasing police numbers, placing armed guards on railway stations and legislating for tougher sentencing were grist for the mill in a populist election campaign; but overhauling the prosecutions system and police command are more fundamental challenges, and the administration of justice in this state may be defective for many years if the government does not choose wisely.

Decisions about senior police appointments must necessarily be deferred until the government receives the report of the inquiry into police command being conducted by Jack Rush QC, whose investigations may overlap with those being undertaken by the Ombudsman into the death of Carl Williams in Barwon jail and the release of incomplete crime statistics in the lead-up to the state election. But Attorney-General Robert Clark has indicated that the government will act on its own in restructuring the Office of Public Prosecutions, whose controversial director, Jeremy Rapke, QC, resigned at the weekend. Since the government has received retired justice Frank Vincent's report of his inquiry into Mr Rapke's administration of the OPP, there should be no need for further investigation. It is disturbing, however, that Mr Clark has not released the report.

In January, when the government appointed Justice Vincent to inquire into the OPP, this newspaper commented that it was hard to see how a private report could restore public confidence. That difficulty remains. The inquiry dealt with sensitive personal matters, particularly accusations by members of the legal profession that Mr Rapke had promoted three relatively inexperienced young lawyers to senior jobs, and that he had had an inappropriate relationship with one of the three, Diana Karamicov. That may be Mr Clark's reason for not divulging the contents of the report, especially since in his resignation letter Mr Rapke noted that Justice Vincent had found that he had not engaged in any ''conscious wrongdoing, illegality or impropriety''. But he conceded that report had also found that he had committed an error of judgment in recommending the three solicitors for appointment as assistant Crown prosecutors, and that ''some people may have perceived'' that he had a conflict of interest in making ''some of the recommendations''. He agreed with the government that his position was untenable, and that he should therefore resign.

Mr Rapke has certainly acted correctly in resigning, but while the report remains private speculation will continue about whether his position had become untenable because of the ''error of judgment'' identified by Justice Vincent, or because his continuing as director might have denied the government a free hand in restructuring the OPP. That speculation is not in the best interests of Mr Rapke, his colleagues or the justice system.

Although the government has not explained its intentions with regard to the OPP in detail, a spokesman for the Attorney-General has said that Mr Clark and Justice Vincent had both identified the same structural problems in the office that have also been identified by Mr Rapke. In other words, the government is likely to give the Director of Public Prosecutions greater authority.

At present Victoria's OPP, alone in Australia, is hampered by a structure inherited from the Kennett government, under which the director, the solicitor for public prosecutions and Chief Crown Prosecutor all report to the Attorney-General separately. That has produced an unwieldy, inefficient bureaucracy that ill-serves the delivery of justice, and which seems to have exacerbated conflict between Mr Rapke and some of his colleagues. The structure should be abandoned, and the director's authority enhanced.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

PEACE BRINGS THE QUEEN TO IRELAND

THE Queen has travelled the world during her 59-year reign, the second-longest in British history, but until today had never visited the Irish Republic, the only nation to border Britain. The Queen's visits to other countries, 129 in all, involved more travel, but no other visit has traversed such historical and emotional distance. The monarch's four-day tour is the first since the visit by King George V a century ago.

Few conflicts have endured longer than the eight-century Irish struggle against English invaders. Ireland was placed under English dominion more than 400 years ago and became part of the United Kingdom in 1801 once a nationalist rebellion was crushed. Yet Britain never succeeded in quelling the nationalist revival through the 19th century and early 20th century.

The 1916 Easter uprising and its brutal suppression was a turning point. The 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty concluded the Irish War of Independence by conceding home rule - although the requirement of an oath of allegiance to the British crown rankled for another two decades. Religious divides were entrenched further as civil war broke out after the Protestant-dominated north broke from the largely Catholic south.

Following the declaration of the Republic of Ireland in 1949, the north became the focus of an increasingly violent struggle between Catholic nationalists and Protestant loyalists. The Troubles, three decades of civil unrest and terrorism, flared with the arrival of the British military in the late 1960s. Not until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement did a political solution seem possible. Troops were withdrawn only in 2007.

Even now, the Queen's visit to Ireland is seen by some as a provocation and requires a massive security operation. Yet what critics of the visit overlook is the extent of the Queen's acknowledgement of Irish suffering at British hands. It will be truly a remarkable moment when the British monarch lays a wreath at Dublin's Garden of Remembrance, which honours all those who died fighting for Irish independence through centuries of British rule, and visits Croke Park, scene of the 1920 Bloody Sunday massacre by British forces. Such acts of reconciliation are essential for the two countries to establish a normal relationship.

This rapprochement offers a broader lesson: no conflict, however old the enmities and brutal the struggle, should be regarded as too hard to resolve. Ireland and Britain have overcome daunting differences, despite repeated challenges to their progress. The work of the peacemakers remains unfinished, but what has already been achieved is an example of hope for all the world.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

HEALTH REFORMS: LOVE BUT NOT LOGIC

The decision to press pause was right but, unless a stronger argument is found, it will be time to press stop and start afresh

Six weeks after pressing the pause button on health reform, David Cameron yesterday hinted where he was heading with a Beatlian ring. To sweeten Andrew Lansley's medicine, the prime minister seemed to be saying, all you need is love. At a London hospital, he poured praise on medics, and said the whole nation was besotted with a "precious" three letter ideal, before reaffirming his own NHS devotion.

The health secretary's passionless presentation frustrates No 10, and this seemed a good moment for the love drug. After all, Mark Britnell, one of the wise men Mr Cameron had unwisely summoned to Downing Street, has been revealed to have been telling corporates they will have "big opportunities" in the new-look NHS, and has also been arguing for forcing patients to pay. Ruling out such new charges, which were never in the pre-pause legislation, was one of several straw men the prime minister felled. As he wafted purple prose about the health service brand over every specific dilemma that must be faced before the play button can be pressed again, it almost sounded as if Mr Cameron had reverted to his past career in public relations. But expert listeners spotted a few informative patterns in the haze.

Even if "choice for patients, not competition for its own sake" sounds like empty rhetoric, the phrase suggests the duties of the regulator will be qualified in law, to make plain that it is not obliged to punt treatment away from public hospitals, a potentially important concession. Fears of privatisation, however, will not be assuaged until the reckless idea of outsourcing commissioning itself is laid to rest. The prime ministerial promise to integrate health and social care more effectively was also new, although how he hopes to achieve this within the current package of reforms when the Dilnot commission into financing care has not even reported is unclear to say the least. Then there are the purse strings. Mr Cameron now suggests they should not be stuffed into the hands of GPs alone, as Mr Lansley had first proposed, but instead held by some mix of family doctors, nurses and consultants.

The last point, in particular, confirms that this is a new political strategy, as opposed to re-engineering of the reforms on the basis of principled argument. Keeping the doctors close to him, by giving them all a piece of the financial power, will no doubt reduce the volume of the reporting on the evening news. However, asking medics on hospital payrolls to be both purchasers and providers at the same time muddies the water of the new healthcare market. There is a coherent case for reverting to integrated central control, as there is also for imposing a strict purchaser/provider split. But giving hospitals back the power they traditionally had, and sometimes used to block worthwhile change, makes no sense in the new world of autonomous foundation trusts run on semi-commercial lines.

The root confusion is that the half-rewritten health and social care bill is now a solution in search of a problem. There are of course desperately serious challenges in nursing an ageing society, but these are inherently long-term. By talking up overlaying problems such as obesity which are getting worse, while ignoring things like smoking which are improving, the prime minister whipped up a more immediate crisis. But if there is a crisis, it is one of funding, and whatever benefits the right reform may ultimately bring, instability will aggravate this at first. Likewise, if Mr Cameron's shaky statistics about cancer and stroke deaths underlined anything, it is that there is already too much variation in care. Neutering Nice and leaving individual consortia to decide what treatments they fancy footing is hardly going to help.

Pressing pause was right, but unless a stronger argument is developed, it will soon be time to press stop. And then start again on an entirely new bill on a saner timetable.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … THE PEOPLE'S PORT

In Dover, a Tory MP and the Unite union are working together to fight the sell-off of the port originally proposed by the last Labour government

Politics can produce odd bedfellows. In Dover, a Tory MP and the Unite union are working together to fight the sell-off of the port originally proposed by the last Labour government. Yesterday, they came a step closer when the transport secretary, Philip Hammond, re-opened consultation on the future of Britain's nine trust ports. Dover, the largest and most famous, the gateway to England beneath the white cliffs, has been run by a harbour board since 1606, but needs investment. The Treasury would like to sell it, probably to a foreign owner. The people of Dover are backing a plan for a "people's port" instead, owned in part by the town. This scheme, which won 97.5% local support in a recent referendum, ticks many fashionable boxes: it is a mutual, localist, self-financing, small state exemplar of the "big society" and a test bed for the coalition's claim that it doesn't think the market is the best answer to everything. The challenge is that simply privatising the port would almost certainly raise more money in the short term for the Treasury, and the community scheme will anyway need to raise around £200m of private investment. The transport secretary now says any successful bid will have to show an "ongoing and significant level of community participation" – a success for Dover MP Charlie Elphicke, who has been pushing the scheme. Next, on Mr Hammond's list perhaps, could be mutual, not-for-profit railways – or British Rail, as they used to be called.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

LIBYA: CAUGHT IN A VICE

Airstrikes and arrest warrants may suggest the jaws are closing around Gaddafi - but they could just as easily be losing their grip

If a vice is indeed closing in around Muammar Gaddafi, as General Sir David Richards, the chief of defence staff claimed, then its jaws have some way to travel before they meet. They could just as easily be losing their grip. In two months the general has swung from justified caution about the aims – clashing with Downing Street over whether the object of the mission was regime change – to the opposite stance of pressurising other Nato countries to escalate the bombing and widen the target list. Why the change? It could be that after 2,000 strikes, 300 of them British, the general realises that the mission is no closer to its achieving its aims and that the performances of his forces in Libya could be subject to the same sort of critical scrutiny that Basra and Helmand attracted, particularly from the Americans. Or his planes could be running out of targets.

The rhetorical vice was given a further twist yesterday by the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court who named Gaddafi, his son Saif and his brother-in-law and intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi as war crimes suspects. In both the targetting of airstrikes and in Luis Moreno-Ocampo's presentation of requests for arrest warrants, a theme has emerged: the west is letting it be known that it is getting help from insiders, either recently emerged, such as Moussa Koussa, who is telling Nato where the bunkers are, or serving officials contacting the prosecutor's office from Tripoli. The subtext of this is that rents are emerging in the tent of Gaddafi loyalists. Let us hope they are. But what if they are not?

Mr Moreno-Ocampo said his investigation into war crimes was continuing, and this could have a deterrent effect on those in Tripoli contemplating life after regime change. But the chief prosecutor is not requesting the intervention of international forces to implement the arrest warrants . He said that the Libyan authorities – whoever they now are – have the primary responsibilty to arrest the three. This means that nothing will happen until either the regime falls or a deal is brokered and the warrants are not enforced – the Sudan model. Either way, we are no further forward in breaking the stalemate.

The third option, expounded by the International Crisis Group, is to sue for a ceasefire. As they rightly argue, Nato's strategy is confused. To insist that Gaddafi must go in a new democratic order, is one thing. But to insist he must go as a precondition for any negotiation is to render a ceasefire all but impossible. To insist he leaves the country and stands trial in the ICC is to ensure he will go down fighting. That leaves only a military option, and with it the prospect many, many more civilian casualties.

 

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            THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ACQUITTAL IN ATAGO COLLISION CASE

The Yokohama District Court on May 11 acquitted two Maritime Self-Defense Force officers formerly stationed aboard the 7,750-ton Aegis destroyer Atago in connection with the Atago's collision with the 7.3-ton trawler Seitoku Maru off Chiba Prefecure on Feb. 19, 2008. The collision killed the two fishermen aboard the trawler.

The ruling contradicts the January 2009 judgment by the Yokohama Maritime Accident Tribunal and the Defense Ministry's May 2009 final report. The tribunal and the ministry blamed the Atago for the collision, saying that because it saw the trawler to its right, it had a duty to avoid a collision under the Law for Prevention of Collision at Sea.

For the trial, the prosecution prepared a chart of the trawler's track ostensibly based on testimony by another fishing boat captain, saying that he claimed that shortly before the collision, the Seitoku Maru was three nautical miles and seven degrees to the left from his boat. But the captain told the court that he had never testified in such concrete terms.

The court decided that the prosecution had bent his testimony to make it fit the chart it had drawn beforehand. The prosecution's failure to first scrutinize its assumption that the Atago was responsible for the collision led it to err in building a case.

Based on its own chart of the trawler's track, the court said it was the trawler's responsibility to avoid the collision. The court stated that the trawler's sharp turn to the right shortly before the collision caused the accident and that had it not been for this turn, the trawler would have passed 200 to 500 meters behind the Atago's stern.

But the ruling cannot explain why the trawler made the sharp right turn to put it in a dangerous position. It should not be overlooked that the ruling stated that the chief night-duty officer on duty aboard the Atago before the collision wrongly thought that many fishing boats near the destroyer were not operating and that his colleague at the time of the collision had failed to keep a sufficient watch. The Atago's continuation at a speed of about 10 knots on autopilot into an area where many fishing boats were operating until just before the collision defies common sense.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

RECONSTRUCTION LEGISLATION

The government on Friday submitted to the Diet a bill containing the basic outline for the reconstruction of northeastern Japan, which was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and another bill to increase the number of Cabinet members from the current 17 to 20 to help hasten reconstruction. The former includes a rider calling for the establishment of a reconstruction agency, as proposed by the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.

In the case of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama appointed Mr. Sadatoshi Ozato as minister in charge of matters related to the quake four days after the disaster. A basic law to establish a reconstruction headquarters was enacted slightly more than a month after the quake. Compared with these cases, the reconstruction efforts of Prime Minister Naoto Kan have lagged, even taking into account the Fukushima No. 1 power plant issue and the extent of the devastation

The Kan administration will have a tough time in the Diet because the Upper House is controlled by the opposition. The situation will likely only worsen for the administration as June 22, the last day of the current Diet session, approaches

The administration plans to submit a second supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 to fund full-scale reconstruction to an extraordinary Diet session that will start during or after summer. It has no plan to extend the current Diet session.

Mr. Kan will likely face strong criticism from the opposition parties and the public. Although the rider mentions the establishment of a reconstruction agency, the government and the LDP-Komeito opposition bloc disagree on the issue. The administration plans to pass legislation to establish it within one year after the reconstruction law goes into effect. The LDP and Komeito call for the immediate establishment of an agency empowered not only to devise plans but also to carry them out.

To speed up reconstruction efforts the Kan administration should reach a compromise with the opposition. The administration should also devise ways to most efficiently meet the diverse requirements of the disaster-struck areas.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE CLOSER AFTER ELECTION

BY IAIN ROBERTSON

Special to The Japan Times

WEST, Lothian Scotland — The 700th anniversary of Scotland's most famous victory could mark the date it reaffirms independence from England.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) secured an historic result in the May 5 election to the devolved Holyrood Parliament in Edinburgh. It was the extent of the landslide that caused widespread surprise. The party won a majority within a legislature designed, due to its proportional voting system, to never produce such a result.

Commentators ran out of superlatives to describe the scope of the nationalists' victory, while many members of the winning party seemed astounded by what had happened.

Of 129 elected members of the Scottish Parliament, 69 are from the SNP — that's 23 more than the party won in 2007, a result that allowed it to run a minority government.

So, is independence — the SNP's raison d'etre — now inevitable?

Well, no. Polls indicate support for Scottish independence stands at around 30 percent of the electorate, but it's definitely all to play for. The SNP stated before the election that, if re-elected, it would hold a referendum on independence in the second half of the five-year parliamentary term.

Opposition parties have called for that to be brought forward and have challenged First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond to "bring it on" in light of the majority it has won. Some unionist politicians have even suggested that London could take the lead and hold a referendum. There is little chance of this however, as it would be viewed poorly by the Scottish electorate and would more likely to lead to a yes vote.

The U.K.'s Westminster coalition government is led by Conservative party leader David Cameron — his party has very little support north of the border. Cameron said: "I will campaign to keep our United Kingdom together with every single fiber that I have."

Salmond phoned Prime Minister Cameron just hours after securing victory to demand that the "Scotland Bill" currently going through the London Parliament to hand additional powers to Holyrood be beefed up to give more financial powers to his new majority administration. This chimes with the SNP's gradualist approach of moving the country one step at a time toward its ultimate goal of independence.

The Scots' chance to vote on independence could arrive in 2014 — 700 years after they defeated England at the Battle of Bannockburn, a pivotal moment in the wars of independence that led to the country winning its freedom. It was the later 1707 Act of Union between the two countries that led to the formation of the United Kingdom.

I said four years ago — before the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary elections — that a marriage with so many problems and complications could not survive long term, and I believe that still holds true. The days when Scottish voters were too scared to even consider going it alone are over; their endorsement May 5 of a party founded for the sole purpose of restoring Scotland to full independence is proof of that.

There is little doubt that Scotland's citizens, at the very least, want what some have labeled "devolution max" or more powers — the "teeth" to make the big decisions that matter to Scots.

Under the current constitutional settlement in the U.K., Westminster gives Edinburgh's Holyrood parliamentarians a block grant to spend on devolved matters. Many see this as a rather pathetic way for a country to operate.

Formed in the early part of the 20th century, the SNP came to prominence in the 1970s when oil was discovered off the coast of Scotland. The party's "It's Scotland's Oil" campaign grabbed the public's attention. An increase in its support then led to the 1979 referendum for a Scottish Assembly — which the people voted narrowly in favor of, but due to the conditions of the vote, not in sufficient numbers to make it a reality.

In 1997 the country was asked a similar question: Did it want a devolved Scottish Parliament? An unequivocal yes was the answer.

The big question on full independence may now come on the anniversary of Bannockburn. And after May 5's staggering result, there is every chance the people might continue on the path to restoring the Scottish state.

Iain Robertson is editor of Enterprising Scotland magazine.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WAS KILLING HIM A MISTAKE?

BY OMAR ASHOUR

LONDON — "He lived a hero, he died a martyr. . .if they killed one Osama, a thousand others will be born," says a comment on a Facebook group called "We are all Osama bin Laden." The group formed one hour after U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement of the al-Qaida leader's death. The group already has around 30,000 "likes." Moreover, there are more than 50 similar groups on Facebook.

Reaction to bin Laden's death on Al Jazeera and other Arabic news outlets has been mixed. Some view the man as an icon, and that his death and burial at sea at the hands of American forces will not undermine that perception in the eyes of his sympathizers.

Egypt's former Mufti, Sheik Nasr Farid Wasil, has declared bin Laden a martyr, "because he was killed by the hands of the enemy." (Sheik Wasil, it should be made known, has no links or known sympathies for al-Qaida and he represents a very different Islamic school of thought.)

Aside from the mixed signals online, in the virtual world, the critical question is whether eliminating bin Laden marks the beginning of al-Qaida's demise in reality. Some terrorist organizations have, of course, collapsed following the death of their charismatic leader. The case of Shoko Asahara, the founder of Aum Shinrikyo (the Japanese group that organized the Sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subway in 1995), comes to mind here.

But capturing and trying violent leaders is probably a better marker of the end of such organizations — the chances of such an outcome being higher when such leaders recant their views and call on their followers to lay down their arms. Abimael Guzmán, the leader of the Maoist Shining Path in Peru, and Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey, are notable examples.

By contrast, far from causing the demise of an armed movement, the killing of a charismatic leader at the hands of his enemies can transform such a figure into a martyr. Che Guevera was far more valuable to leftist militancy after his death than he was while alive.

Armed Islamism has its particularities, of course, but it also shares important characteristics with some of these groups, including the relationship between the physical elimination of a leader and organizational survival. Decentralized organizations with relevant ideologies, operating in contexts full of conditions conducive to armed action, usually survive leadership losses, whereas hierarchical, cult-like organizations often do not.

Since 9/11, al-Qaida has been far from a hierarchical, cult-like organization. Abu Musab al-Zaraqawi's al-Qaida offshoot in Iraq demonstrates this well: The group was called al-Qaida in Mesopotamia for recruitment and propaganda purposes, but it was quite autonomous organizationally and operationally. When Bin Laden's close collaborator Ayman al-Zawahiri asked al-Zaraqawi to avoid targeting Shiites, al-Zaraqawi instead escalated the violence against them.

Al-Qaida's franchise model applies to Algeria, Yemen, North Mali, and Somalia as well. Like guerrilla movements of yore, al-Qaida partakes of "ideological front" tactics: small urban cells and/or vulnerable individuals subscribe to the ideology and self-recruit or self-start an affiliated cell. In all of its decentralized modes of operation, bin Laden mainly played the role of inspirational guide and iconic figurehead — a role better played when dead than hiding from U.S. guns.

Consider Sayyid Qutb, the Islamist intellectual who influenced bin Laden and others. Qutb was executed by Gamel Abdel Nasser's dictatorship in Egypt in August 1966, in an attempt to reduce his influence. That tactic backfired badly. Of the 98 fellow Muslim Brotherhood prisoners with whom Qutb discussed his new confrontational ideology in 1964, 35 were strongly supportive, 23 strongly opposed, and 50 hesitant. Despite his status and prestige, Qutb had failed to persuade most like-minded inmates.

But no sooner was Qutb the intellectual executed than Qutb the grand martyr was born. His supporters soon numbered in the thousands, rather than the dozens, and he came to inspire generations, not just individual inmates. Moreover, Qutb was executed by an Arab Nationalist Muslim leader, whereas bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs. That makes a significant difference in the Muslim world.

Imprisonment, followed by recantation of violence, has become almost a trend in several jihadist groups, notably the 20,000-strong Egyptian Islamic Group, factions of the al-Jihad Organization in Egypt, and smaller groups like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Leading figures in armed Islamist movements have not only abandoned political violence, but have also de-legitimized it as a means for social and political change after time in prison.

For example, Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (aka Dr. Fadl), an al-Qaida ideologue for a decade, published several books denouncing armed activism, both theologically and on tactical grounds, after spending several years in prison.

The same applies to the Islamic Group, a movement implicated in violent acts in almost a dozen countries throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including armed insurgency in Egypt, bombings in the United States and Croatia, assassination attempts in Ethiopia, and training camps in Afghanistan. In the 2000s, the imprisoned leadership of the Group produced more than 25 books aimed at de-legitimizing political violence.

Eliminating the "spiritual guide" (as opposed to the organizational leaders) of a militant group might be perceived as a political victory for a government in the short term, but it probably makes a comprehensive de-radicalization process less likely, and it will not necessarily mean the end of the organization in question. For long-term results, capture is almost always more effective than killing.

Omar Ashour is lecturer in politics and director of the Middle East Studies Program at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter (U.K.), and the author of "The De-Radicalization of Jihadists: Transforming Armed Islamist Movements." © 2011 Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM AFTER THE UPRISINGS

BY HANY BESADA AND KAROLINA WERNER

Special to The Japan Times

WATERLOO, Ontario — Most analysts would agree that al-Qaida has not played a significant role in the revolutions sweeping the Arab world today, while remaining largely silent about the remarkable political transformation that is taking place.

As analysts speculate on the effect of Osama bin Laden's death on the group, there is no question that while al-Qaida may wane without its leader, religious fundamentalists will remain.

The domino effect of the recent uprisings, which had its origins in Tunisia, has toppled autocratic Western-backed secular regimes, ignited civil wars and exposed tyrants to international scrutiny, but has failed to identify new leaders or take clear strides toward new political systems. Even the international actors involved are baffled as to what comes after the immediate dangers have been taken care of. With Iraq still fresh in everyone's mind, establishing a democracy is no longer romanticized.

The initial protests across North Africa and the Middle East were largely free of religious undercurrents. However, as the situation evolves in the various states, signs of Islamic parties are becoming more pronounced. Although in Western states religion is rarely a dominating factor in government, for many of those in the region, Islam is closely linked with politics.

In Libya, the international community is wary of signs that homegrown jihadists have become part of the council acting as a transitional government. For years, Moammar Gadhafi's policies and authority were increasingly being challenged by both moderate and radical opposition groups. Nevertheless, religious extremism was not tolerated to any extent. Recent security reports show a return of exiled Islamist Libyan leaders to eastern Libya in recent weeks, with the objective of taking part in the country's revolution.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an organization established by Hassan al Banna in 1928, is a prominent opposition group — both in Egypt and, to a lesser extent, in Libya. The Brotherhood claims to have a nonviolent approach to politics and is dealing with its own internal pressure to open itself to a more modern, tolerant approach. The uprisings allowed the Brotherhood to enter the political stage as a legitimate political group. In Egypt, a faction comprising the younger generation is intent on forming its own political party, namely Al Nahda. The question is whether both groups will participate in the democratic process or whether they will revert to more questionable tactics.

Another fundamentalist group, the Salafists, stands accused of various recent extremist activities against the Egyptian Copts. Like the Brotherhood, they represent a diverse group, although more extreme than the Brotherhood, with some of its members professing the need for peace in politics, while others choosing a more violent approach. The group argues that the Muslim Brotherhood is becoming too focused on politics at the expense of religion. The Salafists have a strict interpretation of the Quran and believe in an Islamic state under Shariah law.

Recently Salafist-led attacks on Coptic Christian churches ended in the death of 12 people. Officially the Salafist leadership denied any involvement, while the Brotherhood condemned the violence. Although the transitional government in Egypt has vowed to use an "iron fist" to deal with anyone that threatens the security of the nation, this increase in sectarian violence is further proof of the rise of Islamic groups, and the potential they see in the current power vacuum.

It has yet to be seen how Egypt and Tunisia will cope with the changes in government. Based on the Tunisian example, there seems to be hope for a return to normality. While the various political parties, registered for the election in Tunisia, revealed very little of their agenda for the future, focusing primarily on opposing the Ben Ali regime, the mood is cautiously optimistic. But difficulties are already emerging. Debates on constitutional changes, political systems, the timing of elections and the role of religion in government, among others, are under way. As long as these debates are open and democratic, there is hope.

The situation in Libya and Syria is more complicated as leaders of both fight to stay in power. Even more complex is the situation in Arab monarchies, such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, reflecting the Sunni-Shiite divide.

There is a delicate balance between fighting oppressive regimes to facilitate a peaceful transition to a more democratic political state, and falling into a spiral of lawlessness and long-term civil war. Both create a vacuum in which new parties are able to enter the political stage.

In the throes of an uprising or war, emotions and loyalties are easily manipulated and leaders often make promises that are seldom realized. The question is whether young protesters bringing about changes can accomplish everything they set out to do.

In the meantime, analysts warn that al-Qaida and other Islamists could seize the opportunity to fill the vacuum in countries such as Yemen and Libya, if their leaders stifle peaceful, democratic change.

Hany Besada is senior researcher and program head at the North-South Institute in Ottawa. Karolina Werner is project manager at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo.

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

 

BEYOND THE PANDALS, LET US PRACTISE THE DHAMMA

The ringing of bells in tens of thousands of temples with Buddha Dhamma sermons and pirith broadcast on loudspeakers, a new dawn broke in Sri Lanka today to mark the thrice-blessed day of Vesak along with the added significance of this day being the 2600th anniversary of the enlightenment of the Lord Buddha. Vesak ceremonies and celebrations this year were more devout intense and enthusiastic than in previous years with huge pandals, lanterns and dansals all over the country.  While the externals do have some meaning and purpose, Vesak this year needs to be a time of deep reflection when the people – especially the political leaders and decision makers – turn the search-light inwards, examine their conscience and honestly assess whether we are practising the precepts and principles of the Dhamma or only having head knowledge of it and occasionally practising pieces of it. 

The core of the Buddha Dhamma is, "May all beings be happy". We need to take some time to reflect today on the deep meaning of this. We all are born for some reason with a self-centered nature that makes us selfish and gives priority to self-interest, the desire for personal gain or glory and the desire for power, popularity and prestige. Until and unless we are liberated from our slavery to this self-centeredness we will be hypocrites pretending to be helpful and caring for others while deep within our motive is to seek something for our own benefit, comfort or convenience. When the Dhamma says may all beings be happy, it really means that we will have lasting happiness only when we make other people and all beings happy. If we are trying to make ourselves happy and fulfil ourselves, we are putting up a deceptive act. Tragically most people are doing that and it prompted Shakespeare to say that the world is a stage and we are actors. He was not referring to Ceasar or Romeo and Juliet but to all the people especially the political leaders and other decision makers.  They are pretending or acting. We also are pretending or acting. We know they are acting and they know we are acting and so the drama or the devilry goes on putting all in one hell of a mess. In a quiet time of Vesak, we need to seek the inner spiritual power to be liberated gradually from self-centeredness and selfishness because otherwise we are on a self destructive course where we will destroy ourselves and destroy others through a life of double standards and deception.

 Another important principle in the Buddha Dhamma is the attitude of detachment. A deep study of the Dhamma will show us that detachment means not so much giving up what we have although that is also good. The deeper and more important meaning of detachment is the awareness that all things including absolute or executive power and highly powerful positions are transient and impermanent. They change and decay. It is only when we are aware and convinced that every thing passes away that we will give and give and forgive with a generous and magnanimous heart without expecting anything in return.

In the aftermath of the war we also need to reflect on the Lord Buddha's important message given by the Lord Jesus and other religious leaders also that violence and hatred will not cease through counter violence and hatred but by forgiveness and mercy, accommodation and dialogue. The war and terrorism may have ended but the conflict has not been addressed, instead it appears to have worsened with Sri Lanka facing its biggest international crisis in the light of the UN panel report. We hope that at least now our decision makers will act sincerely and selflessly for the common good of the country and begin a dialogue not only with the international community but also the minority parties to meet their grievances and aspirations on the hallowed middle path.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

THE WONDER OF ASIA AMIDST THE PRIVILEGES OF THE FEW

Our little paradise island will certainly be the wonder of Asia not only for its inherent beauty but for the various privileges certain sectors of society receive. A news item recently reported that the Chairmen of Corporations would receive emoluments of Rs. 90,000 in addition to the other privileges that accrue to them for all the hard work they do (Ofcourse a proviso was added that the Chairmen entitled to this amount would be those of profit making corporations). It is doubtful that any Corporation will make a loss considering that they are so quick to increase prices with little or no consideration for the consumers' escalating cost of living. After all why worry when they know that whatever protest the trade unions make or the distress of the marginalized and the poverty stricken, no one is really bothered and they remain a voiceless majority. Hence we should be concerned  about them when one's entrenched rights are safeguarded and the spiraling effect of increased payments to Corporation management is also passed down to the Directors who now get Rs, 10,000 per sitting. One sadly recalls a time when the payment of Rs 250 was made to the Directors and often not regularly since it was considered by the governments of that time that a Director was privileged by obtaining such a prestigious position!

While Corporation-heads , Ministers, deputies and a whole host of advisors, consultants and all manner of so called essential folk who run the country's government system are paid such exorbitant amounts, those who cast their vote are being ignored,  accused of non-patriotism or placated with the promise of a utopia that has yet to be realized!

The CEB raised the rates of a unit of electricity, and the water board followed suit and fuel prices were increased after all the Middle East confusion which was a good enough excuse and the poor man's fuel for lighting now costs Rs. 61 a litre. The price of wheat flour  has risen and so too did bread.  The recent floods affected the harvest and the Minister of Internal Trade has come up with a novel method of requesting that almost 40% rice flour be used for the production of bread.  One wonders whether he hopes that by such method he can reduce the price of bread or wheat products! After all most of our politicians thrive on the hopes they dangle before us their voters!

When one compares the prices of essential consumer goods last year and in this year (Graph 1) one can find realize how difficult it is for a fixed income earner to get his essential food items. In addition very soon there is bound to be a hike in transport prices and that will further affect the workers who have to travel to work and also use public transport to send their children to school.

Already there are rumblings of trade union action by way of the strikes in the offing. Already the increase in prices of wheat flour and kerosene oil has severely inconvenienced estate workers who receive only a daily pay of Rs.285 says the President of All Ceylon Estate Workers Union Ramalingam Chandrasekar and very soon they will demand a daily wage of Rs, 500 as per various news reports. In addition  the University Don's strike does not seem to be in sight of a settlement and the leadership in various other trade unions too are getting agitated since their members hearing of the various salary perks of Corporation heads, ministers and deputies question as to when the promised salary increase has not been yet given.

With the purchasing power of the rupee decreasing and inflation increasing it is no wonder that the workers are wondering when their rights to a sustainable wage will be recognised and granted.

It is certainly true that infrastructural development has taken pride of place in governmental priorities but it is necessary that more attention be paid to the essential economic needs of the people who voted in this government on the promise of providing them with a better future.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS- THE ESSENCE OF BUDDHA'S TEACHING

BY GAMINI JAYASINGHE

Gauthama Buddha in His very first sermon to the five Brahamin ascetics, Kondanna, Vappa, Baddhiya, Mahanama and Assaji at Isipatana near Benaris expounded the four Noble Truths which are regarded as the essence of Buddhism. In my view it is very useful for every one of us, whether Buddhist or non Buddhist to gain a clear insight of these Noble Truths on the eve of the Sambuddhatva Jayanthi, 2600.

These four Noble Truths are explained in the original texts of Buddhism. In these early Buddhist scriptures four Noble Truths are explained in different ways. Hence, the 2600 Sambuddhatva Jayanthi can be made an opportunity to understand the essence of the Blessed One's teachings according to the original texts.

The four Noble Truths are:

  • Dukkha
  • Samudaya, the arising or origin of dukkha
  • Nirodha, the cessation of dukkha and
  • Magga, the way leading to the cessation of dukkha

The Noble Truth Dukkha or Dukkha Aiya Sacca has been translated into English as suffering or pain. Often words like sorrow and misery are used to mean the Pali word "dukkha". This has resulted in the misunderstanding by ordinary people who have misinterpreted the word to presume that Buddhism is pessimistic. In actual fact Buddhism is neither optimistic nor pessimistic but it is realistic. It looks at things objectively. The Enlightened One did not want to sooth, lull or pacify His followers or to frighten or antagonize them with imaginary fears and sins. In Buddhism all things are looked at objectively. It tells you exactly and objectively in different ways. In order to understand this point let us consider the attitudes and the ways of action of various medical practitioners. The first kind of physician gravely aggravates illnesses and even tells the patient and relatives that the illness is serious to the extent that all of them get frustrated. Another physician says that there is no illness and that no treatment is necessary. Both of them cause harm to the patient: the first one being pessimistic and the other optimistic. There can be another physician who diagnoses the symptoms correctly, understands the cause and nature of the illness and administers a course of treatment. The Blessed One is like the last physician and is a wise and scientific doctor (Bhasisajja guru) for the universe. In Anguttara Nikaya a mention is made about some happiness such as happiness of family life, happiness of the life of a recluse, happiness of renunciation, happiness of attachment, physical happiness and mental happiness. With regard to life and the enjoyment of such pleasures one should clearly understand (1) attraction or enjoyment (assada) (2) evil consequences or danger (adinawa) and (3) freedom or liberation (nissarana).When you see a pleasant person or a thing the satisfaction or the pleasure you enjoy is assada and when you cannot see such a person or a thing the sadness caused to you is adnawa. When you are completely detached the freedom or liberation you get is nissarana.

Understanding the life completely and objectively

There is no question of optimism or pessimism but this is the understanding of life completely and objectively. The conception of dukkha may be viewed from three aspects (1) Dukkha as the ordinary suffering (dukkha-dukkha) (2) Dukkha as produced by change (viparinamadukkha) and (3) Dukkha as conditioned states (sankhara dukkha). The most important philosophical aspect of the first Noble Truth is sankhara dukkha or dukkha as conditioned states. According to Buddhist philosophy a being or an "individual" or "1" is only a combination of ever changing physical and mental forces or energies which may be divided into five groups or aggregates (Pancaskhanda). First is the aggregate of matter (Rupaskhanda). Second is the aggregate of sensations (Vedanaskhanda). The third is the aggregate of perception (Sannakhandha). The fourth is the aggregate of mental formation (Sankharakhanda) and the fifth is the aggregate of consciousness (Vinnanakkhanda). Thus according to the Buddhist philosophy there is no permanent, unchanging spirit which can be considered as "self" or "soul" or "ego". All these five aggregates are impermanent, all constantly changing. Whatever is impermanent is dukkha (Yam aniccan tam dhukkhan). This is the first Noble Truth known as dukkha.

Arising of dukkha (Dukkhasamudaya Ariya Sacca)

The second Noble Truth that is arising or the origin of dukkha is (Dukkha samudaya Ariya Sacca). This is defined as follows. It is this thirst (Tanha-craving) which produces re-existence and re-becoming (Punobbhava) and which is bound up with passionate greed (Nandi raga sahagatha) and which finds fresh desire now here and there (tatratatrabhinandini) namely (1) thirst for sense-pleasures (kama tanha) (2) thirst for existence and becoming (bhava-tanha) and (3) thirst for nonexistence, self annihilation (Vibhava tanha)

Thanha - the root cause of suffering

This thanha, thirst, desire, greed or craving is the root cause of suffering and continuity of beings. However, Thanha is dependent on other things which are relative and interdependent. Thanha which is considered as the cause or origin of dukkha depends for its arising (smudaya) on something else which is sensation (vedana) and sensation arises depending on contact (passa) and so on and so forth goes on the circle which is known as conditioned genesis (Paticca samuppada)

Philosophical side of samudaya - origin of dukkha

To realize the philosophical side of the origin of dukkha one should possess some idea about the theory of karma and rebirth. There are four Nutriments (ahara) in the sense of "cause" or "condition" necessary for the existence and continuity of beings ie. (1) Ordinary material food (Kabalinkarahara), (2) contact or our sense organs (including mind) with the external world (phassahara) (3) consciousness (vinnanahara) and (4) mental volition or will (manosancetanahara). Of these four, the last mentioned mental volition is the will to live, to exist, to re-exist to continue to become more and more important. It creates the root of existence and continuity, striving forward by way of good and bad actions (kusala kusala kamma). Thirst, volition and mental volition and "karma" denotes the desire, the will to be, to exist, to re-exist, to become more and more, to grow more and more, to accumulate more and more.

Volitional action after death

According to the theory of karma volitional action continues to manifest in a life after death.

A being is a combination of physical and mental forces. Mental forces or the will, volition, will and thirst to exist continues producing re-existence which is called rebirth. This goes on until the attainment of "Nibbana."

Nirodha- the cessation of dukkha

The third Noble Truth is that there is emancipation, liberation, freedom from suffering, from the continuity of dukkha (Dukkhanirodha ariya sacca) which is Nibbana. However, it is extremely difficult to define the term Nibbana which is supramundane. The absolute Truth or ultimate reality is generally expressed in negative terms such as "Tanhakkhaya" :extinction of thirst, (asamkhatha) "uncompounded" "unconditioned" "Ragakkhaya" extinction of desire, "dosakkhaya" extinction of hatred and "mohakkhaya" extinction of illusion. Some parties tend to believe that Nibbana is self annihilation. However, Nibbana is not self annihilation because there is no "self' or "I" to annihilate. If there is any annihilation it is the annihilation of the illusion, of the false idea of self. It is not correct to believe that Nirvana is negative or positive. Terms negative and positive cannot be applied to Nibbana. It is absolute Truth and is beyond duality and relativity. Nibbana is to be realized by the wise within themselves (Paccattam veditabbo vinnohi).

The Fourth Noble Truth - Magga- the Path

The fourth Noble Truth is the way leading to the cessation of dukkha (Dukkhanirodhagaminipatipada ariya sacca). This is called the Middle path (Majjimapatipada) This is so called because it avoids two extremes: one extreme being the search for ultimate happiness through sensual pleasures. The other is the search for emancipation through self mortification. Bodhisatva Siddhartha Gauthama was provided with all possible comforts by his father, King Suddhodhana. All these comforts were in vain for the prince as they did not pave his way to final emancipation. His contemplative nature and boundless compassion did not permit him to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of the Royal household. Realizing that he renounced the world in search of Truth and peace He practised asceticism with great teachers like Alaarakalama and Uddaka Ramaputra. Through asceticism with them, it did not pave way for him to achieve his quest of l. At last he practised all sorts of austerity with the five Brahamin monks but these prolonged and Painful austerities proved utterly futile. Hence he abandoned both Attakilamatanuyogaya and Kamasukhalyukanuyogaya and found the Middle Path which is generally known as the Noble Eight Fold Path (Ariya Attangika Magga ) which led him to Calm, Insight, Enlighternment, Nirvana. This is composed of eight categories or divisions namely Right understanding (Sammaditti),Right Thoughts (Samma Sankappa), Right Speech (Samma Vaca), Right Action (Samma Kammantha),Right Effort(Samma Vayama),Right Mindfulness (Samma Sati)( and Right Concentration (Samma Samadhi).

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

 

ALLIES FALLOUT OVER LIBYA

History will remember the Libya war by how it ends, not how it began. And it's far too early to declare success or failure. The manner in which the war started though, allows us to draw three broad conclusions: Barack Obama successfully delegated the burden of global policing.

Europe, for all its self-flagellation, has been found both willing and capable of leading a campaign that prevented bloodshed in Benghazi. And lastly, NATO continues to be the go-to platform for Europe and the US to fight wars. The alliance, however, has become a more transactional place in which individual countries pick and choose which missions to support.

The key lesson of the war is that Obama has accomplished one of his top foreign-policy goals: convincing the allies to take greater responsibility for their own affairs. The administration has made clear that the US, exhausted from fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and economic crisis at home, will be less keen than before to enter new conflicts. "The nation that I am most interested in building is my own," Obama said in 2009. By implication in a complete role reversal from the 1990s, when the United States led the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo the allies in Europe must take primary responsibility for military operations.

Some in Europe particularly the continent's eastern parts charged the US with abandoning its traditional allies. This is wildly inaccurate: Obama pushed NATO to draft contingency plans for the defence of the Baltic countries. The US, the message says, will not hesitate to lead "wars of necessity," those in defence of Europe. However, the US will not necessarily lead "wars of choice" in and around Europe, such as those fought in the name of human rights. This burden rests now with the Europeans.

Libya is the first test case for the US policy. True to its word, the US military turned over the conduct of the war to the Europeans once the conflict's initial stage for which US missiles and airplanes were indispensable concluded. While the United States "will not allow the operation to fail" as a senior US official responsible for Europe said recently it will only step in when and if its allies lack the necessary means to win. In practice, this has meant that the US provides niche weapons, such as unmanned Predator drones, and has more forces on standby, but on a day-to-day basis Europeans and Arabs fly the vast majority of bombing missions.

Presumably, there will be future exceptions to this new policy: Should the US feel endangered by terrorists or other threats coming from Europe's periphery, it would probably lead the military response. However and this is the main lesson of the war so far for Europe America's allies must prepare to fight some wars on their borders with the US playing only a supporting role. This is not the end of the transatlantic alliance, but it does amount to a dramatic new redistribution of roles. The second key lesson of Libya is that Obama's policy has had the desired effect on Europe: it energised it. European allies grumbled about US inattention to Libya in the run-up to the war, but eventually responded by taking the political lead.

President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister David Cameron spearheaded the campaign for a UN Security Council resolution on Libya. European militaries performed the brunt of the bombing raids since the US military destroyed Libya's air defences and withdrew most of its planes.

There are those who argue that Europe has failed because its main institution, the European Union, has not taken lead in Libya, largely because Germany opposed the war. But surely, a flag is less important than the substance of the action itself. Europe acted by definition because France and the UK, the continent's largest military powers, have between them provided about half the force flying over Libya. The downside to the EU's inability to agree on Libya is that countries not members of NATO, such as Austria or Finland have no say on the conduct of the war. But most do, by virtue of their NATO membership. In a sense, Libya is the anti-Bosnia: When bloodshed in Bosnia broke out in the 1990s, many in the EU proclaimed that the "hour of Europe" the time when it turned into a proper military power had arrived. But then key European capitals hesitated, and the US led the NATO intervention that ended the civil war. In Libya, European powers acted quickly, almost certainly preventing a massacre in Benghazi. And though they did not fight under the EU flag, this has been a good few weeks for Europe.

And while the operation exposes some military weaknesses on their part, it has on balance demonstrated that Europe can fight relatively big wars with limited US support.

The third key lesson of the war concerns NATO. Rumours of its demise because of difficulties in Libya are premature. The war has highlighted divisions among NATO allies Germany's refusal to vote for the UN Security Council resolution on Libya in particular was grating. But these divisions are not dramatically different from those exposed by the wars in Kosovo or Afghanistan. This sounds messy but the allies have made it work. Both Afghanistan and now Libya have been fought on such transactional terms, with many allies joining because they wanted to preserve alliance solidarity. NATO members remain bound by common values and the realisation that collective defence is cheaper and more convincing than managing security alone. Failure to win convincingly in either Afghanistan or Libya would also make allies more reluctant to enter operations not deemed central to their national interest. How the war in Libya ends could yet undermine the transactional principle at the heart of the new NATO.

Tomas Valasek is director of foreign policy and defence for the European Centre for Reform. He is also a senior advisor to the Brussels office of the World Security Institute

Khaleej Times

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

EXODUS THREATENS SYRIAN POLITY

Syrians are in a catch-22 situation. The two-month long uprising that has claimed more than 700 lives is now exploding into an international issue of displacement and refugees.

Hundreds of Syrians, who are struggling to crossover into Lebanon, in order to escape terror and persecution at the hands of government forces, are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. The reported killing of civilians at the border with Lebanon, and the evolving mass exodus is disturbing. This speaks at length the nervousness of the regime in Damascus, and the very premise that it is loosening its power and authority. President Bashar Al Asad seems to lack the tact to deal with the situation, and is apparently content with the doctored make-believe assessments of his vices and the bureaucracy. Had it not been so, the opening of fire on peaceful and apolitical countrymen wouldn't have occurred. Surprisingly, it occurred in the wake of his pronouncements to withdraw troops and tanks from some cities and offering a national dialogue.

The authorities obsession to use indiscriminate force has further jeopardised the entire situation. The International Committee of the Red Cross fears that thousands might have been detained or made to disappear, as the country is firmly in the grip of terror. The spread of unrest from Deraa to Baniyas, Homs and Aleppo is testimony to the fact that this uprising is conscious of its agenda, and is no vested movement on the part of thugs and criminals as the government wants the world to believe. This is why the world community and especially the civil society had been advocating constraint and to enter into a meaningful relationship with the men on the street.

The phenomenon of migration could prove very costly to the geopolitical entity of Syria, as its immediate neighbours Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq cannot withstand to accommodate the fleeing millions. Not only will this diaspora bring in renewed socio-economic crunch, but will also mount pressure on Damascus to take in dictates from foreign powers. Syria, which has lived under the shadows of aggression with Israel, will sooner than later find itself in a quagmire of its own, infringing its sovereignty and security.

This ball game of vigil and defiance on the part of people and the regime is too deadly. It has damaged whatever goodwill, which was there as Assad in the initial days of uprising called for caution and consideration. Now for most of the people promises and offers for reconciliation and dialogue fall short of legitimacy. Assad is sitting at the apex of a tree whose trunks are decaying with the passage of every single day. The exodus, coupled with severe lawless, could prove to be the last nail in the coffin.

Khaleej Times

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

A RETURN TO THE BUDDHA VACANA IS CALLED FOR IN THIS 2600TH SAMBUDDHATVA JAYANTHI

A friend of mine, a Christian, asked me a couple of years ago what 'Sri Lankan culture' was.  'Culture', like 'love' is not easily defined. They can only be recognized by those who live it or experience it.  My response was something like the following: 'There is, naturally, diversity embedded in the overall 'Sri Lankan' when it comes to culture, but to the extent that anything can be claimed to be the core of our overall culture, or has contributed overwhelmingly in terms of customs, traditions, art, literature and way of life, it is Buddhism.'

I have observed on occasion that while this does not and should not accord Buddhists any or affirmation when those who cannot allude to as extensive a history on this island speak of multi-religious as though all religions contributed equally or are an equal part of what is conveniently called 'Sri Lanka' and/or 'Sri Lankan Culture'.  It is in fact political, and speaks of a politics that is not benign in orientation, practice and intention, especially in cases where the particular religion's history (as evidenced by how its adherents/advocates have responded to the above cultural and religious reality) is not acknowledged or pooh-poohed by way of the easy and convenient 'in the past'.  Such ignorance, arrogance and deliberate silence rebel the basic tenets of humility and acknowledgment of truth taught inherent in all religious doctrines, and this itself speaks of pernicious intent.

Buddhism does not belong to this country or to any particular person or entity.  'Belonging' is a term that can be associated with a doctrine only to the extent that the particular individual inhabits or is inhabited by or lives the fundamental tenets associated with it.  'Belonging' in any other sense has nothing to do with teaching, but relates to self-identification with doctrine and requisites, as perceived by the keepers of the word or institution.  These 'keepers' are either self-appointed or made to inhabit posts or live with titles on the basis of particular interpretations of the word.

This country was not born Buddhist.  Buddhists make the overwhelming majority of the population. Buddhism has influenced the arts, crafts, literature, governance culture and way of life of more people across the centuries and across the length and breadth of the island than any other religion or philosophy. It is only in a political sense that these realities are asserted, challenged, disputed and sought to be changed.  On the other hand, if 'nation' is about people and about culture, then attempts to unsettle the foundational elements of who we are have to be seen as deliberate designs to make us vulnerable to forces that seek to destroy us, even if such malicious and hate-filled agents do so under cover of constitutional guarantees about 'religious freedom'.

Today marks the 2600th Sambuddhatva Jayanthi, or the 2600th anniversary of that life-changing, civilization-giving moment when the ascetic Siddhartha Gauthama attained enlightenment, achieved ultimate comprehension of the Four Noble Truths and vanquished the kleshas.  The entire country is decked with signs that acknowledge this moment.  It is not unnatural for the pruthgjanas to seek refuge in frill rather than substance. It is not unnatural either for those who are unable to engage substance but have some emotional association with trappings, to affirm the same by decoration and cheer.  Understandable, also on account of the violence unleashed upon all things and persons associated with 'Buddhism' by those who do a lot of injustice to the doctrines they subscribe to, for example the word of Jesus Christ, all the way from the Vatican to the self-proclaimed god's-work-doers.

Buddhism is a way of life and 'Buddhist politics' is essentially about subscribing to tenets that shape action and word, thought and comprehension; in other words all engagements, personal and public, individual and collective.

When I read this book I was surprised by the fact that there are still Buddhists in this country and that the dhamma is still alive, both in word and deed.  I realized that the reason for this has less to do with Buddhists getting mobilized than about Buddhists living the dhamma in accordance with their relative karmic strengths.  This is not to say, however, that Buddhists should not think 'collective', for the Buddha's discourses did accord considerable value to things 'social' and reflect a deep consideration of interactions among people and groups.  Still, it was not 'organization' that saw this land fight back the wicked and ignorant.  If there was 'Buddhist Politics' that helped us get to where we were, it is because of individuals such as the Most Venerable Velivita Sri Saranankara Sangha Raja Thero, who were committed to relevant scholarship, deep reflection and had the knowledge, skill and will to teach.

Listening to bana on the radio or associating with scholar bikkhus, attending discussions on the dhamma, following the five precepts, being aware of and reflecting deeply on how best to associate with different categories of people (e.g. in the Singalovada Sutta), abiding by the sathara brahma viharana (Loving kindness, compassion, equanimity and rejoicing in another's joy) etc., is what will preserve Buddhism, and to the extent that preserving Buddhism preserves 'Sri Lanka culture' or 'Sri Lankanness, if you will), protect this land.

The Word of the Buddha or the Buddhavacana, was valid yesterday.  Today we celebrate the 2600th Sambuddhatva Jayanthi. Tomorrow too, the Buddhavacana will be valid.  It will empower.  Not on account of frill, but substance.

We have seen signs, recommending that this celebration be a matter of returning to and inhabiting the tenets of Buddhism, viz 'pilivethin pelagesemu'. Inherent in this call is the recommendation for a collective effort.  It is the 'pilivetha' (practice) that makes celebration meaningful. It is the 'pilivetha' that makes a meaningful collective that is wholesome, not just to Buddhists but everyone else, all other communities and indeed even those individuals and collectives that are anti-Buddhist or believe that asserting faith necessarily involves vilification of and/or destroying of other faiths, by burning books, unethically converting and seeking legislative cover to carry out such operations.

Of all the Buddhist assertions I've seen in the recent past, one stands out: those who abide by the dhamma is protected by the dhamma.  Valid for the Buddhist and valid for this country, not because this is a 'Buddhist Country' (a meaningless proposition), but Buddhism contains the understanding, logic and practices that make for protection.

Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukhitatta!  May all beings be happy.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

SCOTTISH 'NEVERENDUM'? 

BY GWYNNE DYER

I'd grown up with the assumption that Scotland was a poor, wee, deprived place that had never had a fair kick of the ball and could certainly never stand on its own two feet," said Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), whose goal is an independent Scotland.

He doesn't believe that now - and the SNP won a majority in the parliament in the election on May 5.

Salmond first formed a government four years ago, but that was a weak coalition in which the SNP had to bargain and compromise with the other parties. This time, with 69 out of 129 seats, he doesn't have to haggle. He can carry out his election promises, which include a referendum on independence.

If the voters said yes, that would be the end of the UK, the 300-year-old union of Scotland and England. Other things being equal, a majority of Scots might well vote for independence, but other things never are equal.

In the real world, many Scots are afraid that their small country, with only one-tenth of England's population, would be too vulnerable to the financial and strategic storms that shake the world. Opinion polls consistently show that no more than a quarter to a third of Scottish voters would say yes in an independence referendum. Yet they voted the SNP into power. Why?

Since Salmond has been canny enough to promise a referendum, they knew that they could vote yes to an SNP government, and then say no to independence. He delivered sound government in difficult circumstances; why not give him another go?

The reality is that Salmond is unlikely to persuade the Scots to vote yes in his referendum, even if he postpones it until near the end of his term in the hope that he can cajole or manipulate more of them into backing independence. (The smart money is betting on 2015.) So there shouldn't be any big changes in Scotland as a result of this election - and yet it may hurt the country a lot, in the end.

The real danger is what would happen to Scotland if the separatists lose the referendum but keep on trying. That's what happened in Quebec, where the separatists first came to the fore politically in the 1960s. They held and lost two referendums, in 1980 and 1995, but for half a century the prospect that there would eventually be a referendum (or yet another referendum) on separation from Canada was there every year.

"Planning blight" is what happens when the word gets out that they may be running a freeway through the neighbourhood, and property values and new investment collapse. Quebec had it on a province-wide scale for half a century. It's impossible to calculate the financial cost directly, but the population numbers are a good indication of what happened.

For the first half of the 20th century, Quebec and Ontario, the two biggest Canadian provinces, had about the same population and grew at about the same rate. In 1960, Quebec was only slightly smaller than Ontario, with 5.2 million people compared with Ontario's 6.2m. By 2010, Quebec had only grown to 7.8m, while Ontario had 13m.

The contrast is equally dramatic for the big cities. Montreal, the metropolis of Quebec, had always been Canada's biggest city. In 1960, it had 2.2m people, and Toronto, the capital of Ontario, had only 1.7m. Now Toronto has 6m, while Montreal has only 3.8m.

It's as if Chicago had started growing fast in the 1960s, and was now half again as big as New York City. It was the planning blight of the ever-looming next referendum on independence - the "neverendum", as English-speaking Quebecers sometimes call it - that did this to Quebec. The same thing could happen to Scotland.

Independence for Scotland would not necessarily be a financial and demographic disaster, but the permanent expectation of another independence referendum would be.

Yet Salmond has put an independence referendum firmly on the Scottish political agenda, and it is unlikely to go away again in the foreseeable future even if he loses this one. Neverendum.

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PALESTINIAN NAKBA: FOREVER A MEMORY @= BY BEN WHITE

 

On 63rd anniversary of Israel's foundation, the Palestinians' "catastrophe", the occupying state dashes hope of justice.

Palestinians around the world are marking the anniversary of the Nakba, the catastrophe that occurred when the state of Israel was established in 1948.

The scale of the devastation was overwhelming: four in five Palestinian villages inside the borders of the new state were ethnically cleansed, an act of mass dispossession accompanied by atrocities. Around 95 per cent of new Jewish communities built between 1948 and 1953 were established on the land of expelled, denationalized Palestinians.

Referring to these refugees, Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion famously said that "the old will die and the young will forget". In fact, rather than "forgetting", the Nakba has become one of the central foundations for activism by Palestinians -- and their supporters -- around the world.

Why is the Nakba such a strong framework of analysis and action? Because rather than being an isolated historical event, it is an ongoing process of dispossession and colonial settlement. Over 60 years ago, actions taken by Israel's military and policies adopted by the legislature were designed to effect the transfer of land from Palestinian to Jewish ownership, removing as many of the former as possible.

Since then, right up to today, this is the same logic at work in Israel's regime over Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Just recently it was revealed that Israel had denied residency rights to 140,000 Palestinians in the West Bank, in what Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz described as a "demographic policy" whose "sole purpose is to thin out the Palestinian population".

One of the mechanisms Israel used to expropriate Palestinian land was the British Mandate-era "Land (Acquisition for Public Purposes) Ordinance". In 2010, the Knesset passed an amendment to this law that "confirms state ownership of land confiscated under this law, even where it has not been used to serve the original confiscation purpose". The Nakba is not finished.

The Nakba continues as Bedouin Palestinian citizens watch their homes demolished to make way for Jewish settlement and forests, and as Palestinians are kept off 77.5 per cent of the Jordan Valley, part of what Human Rights Watch has called a "a two-tier system for the two populations". This continuation of policies informed by the "spirit" of 1948 (in the words of Gideon Levy) is how Palestinians understand what is happening to a fragmented population, from al-Arakib to the hills of the West Bank.

A Nakba-shaped analysis is a corrective to the discourse promoted through the official peace process, a framework of "negotiations" between "two parties" over a territorial "conflict". Liberal Zionists too, ignore the Nakba -- beyond patronizing displays of "empathy"; they need the Green Line of 1967 "so as to render all that lies beyond it as temporary conquest", exempting them from having to confront "the historic legacy" of the ethnic cleansing in 1948.

The centrality of 1948 is being embraced as part of a language and mode of resistance by Palestinians around the world. The fight of Palestinian citizens of Israel as a discriminated, segregated minority has evolved over the years - from emphasizing "rights" to challenging the very legitimacy of a Jewish state. The BDS call, endorsed and driven by Palestinians under military occupation, aims to bring an end to the injustices that began with the Nakba.

This is what makes the Israeli government, and its apologists, so nervous: they know that 63 years on, contrary to Ben-Gurion's prediction, not only have subsequent generations of Palestinians remembered the Nakba, but their ongoing struggle for justice and equality is now understood and supported by growing numbers around the world.

Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer, specializing in Palestine and Israel. His first book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide, was published by Pluto Press in 2009, receiving praise from the likes of Desmond Tutu, Nur Masalha and Ghada Karmi.

(Source: Al Jazeera)

Photo: Many Palestinians fled their homes in 1948, taking only their door key with them. It has since become a powerful symbol of refugees' right to return, even though most of the buildings have long since been destroyed - or had Israeli families move in. (Getty Images)

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WAR SHOULD NEVER BE THE DEFAULT STANCE

BY GARY YOUNGE

 

Despite the enormous power of the American government," argued the renowned Trinidadian intellectual and activist CLR James in 1950, "its spokesman, the man on whom it depends and has depended for years to give some dignity and color to its international politics, is an Englishman, Winston Churchill."

So it was with former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and former U.S. president Ronald Reagan as well as former British prime minister Tony Blair and former U.S. president George Bush. But when it comes to Libya, the tables seem to have turned. For the clearest explanation of the war aims has emanated not from Britain, or indeed Europe, but the White House. While Britain has blundered (foreign minister William Hague suggested at one point that Muammar Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela) and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has blustered (starting the bombing without telling his allies), U.S. President Barack Obama has offered the most lucid justification for military intervention.

The trouble is that at each moment the goal of the intervention not only changes, but also contradicts any justification given earlier. Shortly before the no-fly zone was imposed, Obama assured a bipartisan group in Congress that the action would take 'days not weeks'. More than a week after the bombing had started he told the nation the aim was limited to purely humanitarian ends. "I refuse to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action," he said.

He also stood steadfastly against regime change. "If we tried to overthrow Gaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter." Two weeks later, in a joint letter signed by British Prime Minister David Cameron and Sarkozy, he brazenly conceded it is about regime change. "It is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power."

Legal disaster

Assassination is now, apparently, the foreign policy du jour. On May 8, the British defense minister, Liam Fox, insisted: "NATO does not target individuals." Instead they go for families. Just over a week ago, they killed Gaddafi's son and three of his grandchildren.

So here we are with a conflict that was supposed to last days and was not about regime change that has gone on for six weeks and won't end until the regime has changed. Even as the west prepares to negotiate a truce with the Taliban, Gaddafi's offer of a ceasefire has been rejected summarily. In the name of humanitarianism, the war must be prolonged. The problem is not mission creep, it's the mission.

UN support makes the bombing legal, it does not make it legitimate. This is no mere semantic matter. Just because something is within the law does not make it a good idea. International law should be a prerequisite for action, not the basis for it. The Iraq war would still have been a disaster even if the UN had endorsed it. It would just have been a legal disaster. The international support also changes the character of the war. Americans do not have a monopoly on arrogance or hubris. It was the French who led the charge to war.

Britain was also gung ho. But it rapidly became apparent, as they both begged the U.S. to step up its involvement, that they started a fight they could not finish.

The Libyan rebels' demands are important. But solidarity does not involve unquestioningly forfeiting responsibility for one's own actions to another, but rather it is a process of mutual engagement demanding an assessment of what is both prudent and possible. It is now clear that the Libyan uprising, like other revolutions in the region, could not succeed militarily.

Revolutions and civil wars have no guarantees of a happy ending, and foreign intervention is rarely the answer. We've seen from elsewhere that the most successful way to build democracy in the region is by ordinary, local people from below, not by foreign precision bombs from 50,000 feet above. Either way, what was clear from the outset was that such an intervention was not sustainable without regime change and then occupation. The mission had to creep, because as it stood it wasn't going anywhere.

Sometimes there are no good answers. But that doesn't mean war should be the default position. Because some answers are worse than others. And this is shaping up to be predictably bad.

(Source: The Guardian)

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

COULD THE ARAB REVOLT HIT 'PIPELINEISTAN'?

BY PEP