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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

EDITORIAL 31.05.11

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Editorial

month may 31, edition 000846, 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. YET ANOTHER EXTENSION
  2. TOO TIRED FOR WINDIES
  3. WRECKING THE CONSTITUTION - A SURYA PRAKASH
  4. DALAI LAMA'S HISTORIC MOVE - VIJAY KRANTI
  5. RUNNING OUT OF OPTIONS IN LIBYA - GWYNNE DYER
  6. APOCALYPSE STANDS POSTPONED - ANDREI FEDYASHIN

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. THE LOTUS EATERS
  2. CRICKET BLUES
  3. CITIES ARE INDIA'S FUTURE - AXEL C HEITMANNAXEL C HEITMANN
  4. IT'S CAPITALISM WITH A SOCIAL FACE
  5. WON'T HELP COMMUNITY AT LARGE - JAY KUMARJAY KUMAR

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. SEEING RED ON BLACK MONEY
  2. YOU ARE NOT SCUM
  3. A FLING WITH FLAMBOYANCE - KK PAUL
  4. IT'S TWO STEPS BACK - SITARAM YECHURY

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. SHADOW LINES
  2. THE BARE NECESSITIES
  3. THREE TO GO
  4. THE PLAY OF THE LAND - SEEMA CHISHTI
  5. ALL FOR A FEW MONTHS MORE - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
  6. 'THERE IS NO COMPETITION WITH ANNA HAZARE. THESE ARE TWO COMPLEMENTARY MOVEMENTS' - SHEKHAR GUPTA

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. TAXING TANGLE
  2. POWERING UP
  3. TEN REASONS WHY CHINA IS DIFFERENT - STEPHEN S ROACH
  4. WATCH OUT FOR COLLECTIVE ABUSE - PRADEEP S MEHTA

THE HINDU

  1. ANOTHER CHANCE IN NEPAL
  2. DRUGS NEED NEW THINKING
  3. FOR DRAFTING AN IDEAL LOKPAL BILL -  ARUN KUMAR
  4. STATE DEPARTMENT CABLE CITED ISI LINKS WITH MILITANTS  - MUKUND PADMANABHAN
  5. SAJID MIR'S WAR AGAINST THE WORLD - PRAVEEN SWAMI
  6. THE WAR RUGS FROM AFGHANISTAN
  7. SUU KYI PLANS TOUR OF RURAL MYANMAR IN JUNE

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. HOPES HIGH FOR A GOOD MONSOON
  2. FOR THE LOVE OF TERROR - SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
  3. NO COUNTDOWN TO CASTE YET - SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. TREATING JAMMU SLUMS
  2. PERILS OF ROAD TRAFFIC
  3. COMPOSITE CULTURE – A PANACEA - BY K K KHOSA
  4. EXPLORING RENEWABLE ENERGY - BY AMIT BHALLA
  5. FALLING FOOD PRICES IS NOT GOOD FOR AGRICULTURE - BY DR ASHWANI MAHAJAN
  6. FALLING FOOD PRICES IS NOT GOOD FOR AGRICULTURE - BY DR ASHWANI MAHAJAN

THE TRIBUNE

  1. POLLUTING WATERS
  2. MAYA TESTS THE PITCH
  3. NEPAL'S PEACE PROCESS SAVED
  4. ARAB SPRING HELPING PALESTINIANS - BY S. NIHAL SINGH
  5. AGELESS MIND - BY JAGVIR GOYAL
  6. LOSS OF INHERITANCE  - AMITA BAIG

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. MR MUKHERJEE'S HOMEWORK
  2. LET MARKETS WORK
  3. AFTER THE GREEK DEBT DEFAULT  - MARTIN FELDSTEIN
  4. INDIGENISING DEFENCE - THE 70:30 FALLACY - AJAI SHUKLA
  5. ENGINEERED BAN - SURINDER SUD
  6. INSIDE THE MIND OF GOD'S LITTLE SOLDIER - NILANJANA S ROY

BUSINESS LINE

  1. CRICKET OVERDOSE
  2. PULSES NEED MORE FILLIP - G. CHANDRASHEKHAR

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. THE WILL TO ACT
  2. SHOCK AND AWE!
  3. SWEEPING CLAIMS
  4. A SPOILER CALLED INFLATION
  5. THROUGH THE THIRD EYE

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. WHY WE MUST THANK TEAM INDIA

DECCAN CHRONICLE

  1. HOPES HIGH FOR A GOOD MONSOON
  2. FOR THE LOVE OF TERROR
  3. LET'S NOT GIVE IN TO LEARNED HELPLESSNESS
  4. NO COUNTDOWN TO CASTE YET
  5. THE AURA OF ENERGY

THE STATESMAN

  1. HELP AT HAND?
  2. ARMY EFFICIENCY?
  3. THE BREATHER ASIDE
  4. BACK TO CASTE COUNT  - BY SAM RAJAPPA
  5. SUSHMA SWARAJ VS. ARUN JAITLEY!  - RAJINDER PURI
  6. PLUMBING DESPAIR  - NIVEDITA CHOUDHURI
  7. BAN TELLS NEPAL TO HURRY UP
  8. FROM THE UN

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. POOR LINE
  2. FRIEND IN DEED
  3. MISAPPROPRIATION GALORE  - WALL - ASHOK V. DESAI
  4. JUSTICE UNDER A CLOUD  - MALA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
  5. FREE FROM THE RED COILS THAT BIND
  6. FISH, FOOTBALL AND COMMUNISM

HAARETZ

  1. THE PROSPECT FOR CHANGE IN EDUCATION
  2. IT'S BEEN A LONG TIME  - BY MOSHE ARENS
  3. A FEMALE GENERAL WITHOUT FEMALE SOLDIERS  - BY YAGIL LEVY
  4. TIME TO BE A NORMAL STATE  - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
  5. OBAMA IS PREVENTING A SOLUTION  - BY GIDI GRINSTEIN

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. THE NUMBERS ARE GRIM
  2. MAKING DATA ROAM
  3. CROSSING THE CHURCH-STATE DIVIDE BY ARK
  4. THE RIGHT WAY TO SHRINK PRISONS - BY SHIMA BARADARAN
  5. DSK AND CONSPIRACY THEORY - BY ROGER COHEN
  6. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU - BY DAVID BROOKS
  7. THE GOOD BANKER - BY JOE NOCERA
  8. SUDAN'S PEACEFUL PARTITION, AT RISK - BY DOUGLAS H. JOHNSON

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. A COUNTER PILGRIMAGE TO A FERAL DOMAIN - DAVID JUDSON
  2. CHP SAYS WE DON'T WANT DEMOCRACY A LA TURCA - BARÇIN YİNANÇ
  3. A DANGEROUS BREW - SEMİH İDİZ
  4. POLLS IN THE COUNTRY OF RABBITS - YUSUF KANLI
  5. WILL PM REGAIN THE KURDISH FLAG FROM CHP IN DIYARBAKIR? - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
  6. ON ZERO INTEREST RATES AND THE CURRENT ACCOUNT DEFICIT - ERDOĞAN ALKİN

THE NEWS

  1. NWA OPERATION
  2. HEART, MIND, DEATH
  3. HUNGER
  4. THE ROT WITHIN  - AMEER BHUTTO
  5. REVISITING MONETARY POLICY  - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
  6. IN THE DAYS TO COME  - MUNIR AHMED BALOCH
  7. THE ROAD TO KALAM  - ZUBAIR TORWALI
  8. WILL SUFFERING CONTINUE?  - DR MUHAMMAD YAQUB
  9. WAR CRIMINALS  - RIZWAN ASGHAR

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

1.      GILANI'S ASSURANCE ON N-ASSETS' SAFETY

2.      PLEASE REMEMBER WE ARE AT WAR

3.      THESE FRIENDS WITH FRIENDLY FIRE

4.      NATIONAL UNITY IS IMPERATIVE - MOHAMMAD JAMIL

5.      NEW US POLICY & PAKISTAN - RIZWAN GHANI

6.      PHILOSOPHY AND SCIENCE - KHALID SALEEM

7.      PAK-US RELATIONS ON FINAL TRACK? - SHUMAILA RAJA

8.      PALESTINIAN MOMENT

 

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. DEFENDING HOMEGROWN COSTS
  2. G8 HELPS ARAB SPRING BLOOM
  3. VOTERS CAN'T SAY YES UNLESS THEY KNOW THE QUESTION

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. MINISTER FAILS TO TELL IT AS IT IS
  2. SERBIA HOPES FOR A NEW ERA
  3. TAKING THE RIGHT TRACK TO ROWVILLE?
  4. VICTORIA LIKELY TO REGRET RUSH TO LOCK 'EM UP

THE GUARDIAN

  1. ASTEROIDS: IN SEARCH OF STARDUST
  2. MPS AND THE JUDICIARY: JUDGING THE JUDGES
  3. IN PRAISE OF … TEAPOTS

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. A G8 VOTE OF SUPPORT FOR JAPAN
  2. BUSINESS BENT DEFLATES THE SAILS OF INDIA'S LEFT - BY GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. ALL THOSE LARGE NUMBERS
  2. THE NEW ERA OF INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS REGULATIONS - EDI SUHARDI
  3. CHINESE AND PROUD OF NATION'S CULTURAL DIVERSITY - SONDANG GRACE SIRAIT
  4. INDONESIA: A SUCCESS STORY IN ASIA AND THE PACIFIC? (PART 2 OF 2) - IMRON COTAN
  5. BRINGING PEACE AND RECONCILIATION TO ASEAN - LINA A. ALEXANDRA
  6. POLITICAL TRANSITION IN MYANMAR: THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX - BALADAS GHOSHAL

DAILY MIRROR

  1. AND CIVIL SOCIETY (REAL) FLOORS CIVIL SOCIETY (IMAGINED)
  2. INDIA'S PERCEIVED RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT SRI LANKA
  3. URGENT NEED FOR CITY AND SUBURBAN ROAD MAINTENANCE
  4. MOULDING SRI LANKA'S GRADUATES INTO LEADERS  - BY SHENALI  WADUGE
  5. UNTIL THE NEXT VICTORY DAY...  
  6. AN ARREST IN SERBIA
  7. MORE HONOURABLE TO FAIL THAN TO CHEAT

 GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. THE DEVIL'S LOGIC...    - BY ANWAR ABDULRAHMAN

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. WHY NO MENTION OF A CEASEFIRE FOR LIBYA, OBAMA? - BY JONATHAN STEELE
  2. DEMOCROPHOBIA IN ARABIA    -  BY HAMID GOLPIRA
  3. ARAB NATIONS: NEW GOVERNMENTS, SAME STORY - BY SOUMAYA GHANNOUSHI
  4. ZIONIST REGIME ON VERGE OF COLLAPSE - BY MAJID SAFATAJ

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

YET ANOTHER EXTENSION

NEPAL'S CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY EXTENDS ITS LIFE


Nobody quite expected Nepal's fractious parties perpetually daggers drawn at each other and struggling to put out fires within would complete the process of drafting and adopting a Constitution by May 2011, which remains the primary task of the Constituent Assembly. Last year, the interim Constitution was amended to extend the deadline for drafting and adopting a Constitution by one year; but even while the extension was being debated and approved by the Constituent Assembly, everybody knew that the task would remain incomplete. For good reason too. Ever since the Constituent Assembly began its proceedings, much, if not all, energy has gone into propping up Governments or bringing them down, with the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) playing the role of a wrecker. The Maoists did not allow the Government to function even when their leader, Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better know by his nom de guerre 'Prachanda', was the Prime Minister, nor did they let subsequent Governments get along with framing the Constitution and getting it adopted. Indeed, the Maoists have constantly sought to derail the Constitution-making process on some ground or the other. This has served to strengthen the perception that they do not really want a Republic of Nepal but are keen to see the emergence of a People's Republic of Nepal where Maoist doctrine will substitute for a Constitution. The impasse over electing a Prime Minister saw the better part of last year and the early months of this year wasted; Maoist intransigence had to be pandered to in the end.


Predictably, with the extended deadline of May 2011 going by without a Constitution being put in place, the main parties — the Maoists, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) — have now forged yet another agreement based on yet another five-point compromise formula to give the Constituent Assembly another three months to finish its task. The incumbent Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal will step down, a 'national unity' Government will take over, the Army will be made 'more inclusive', and the peace process completed. If there is any positive aspect to the latest development it is the Madhesis successfully pushing through their demand for recruitment to the Army from Madhes. This would provide the much-required balance in the composition of Nepal's military as well as give the Madhesis a stake in one of the most important institutions of the country. But all this and more is no guarantee that the Constituent Assembly will provide Nepal with a Constitution within three months, thus facilitating the holding of an already overdue parliamentary election. There is a tendency among Nepal's politicians, especially the Maoists, to blame everybody else but themselves for the mess in which they have landed their country. Clearly, this won't help sort out matters. Nor will any purpose be served by indulging in mutual recrimination or mud-slinging. It is for Nepal's sake that the three main political formations should bury their differences, get their act together and complete the task of drafting and adopting a Constitution that reflects the aspirations of that country's people and allows the transition from being a sort of democracy into a full republic. Hopefully, the next three months will not be wasted.

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

TOO TIRED FOR WINDIES

BUT IN FORM FOR CASH-RICH IPL TOURNAMENT!


The decision of some senior cricketers to drop out of the West Indies tour on grounds of fitness and fatigue has expectedly stirred a hornet's nest since no such reason came in the way of their participating in the month-long demanding IPL tournament. Critics like legendary former cricketer Sunil Gavaskar have been especially harsh in their reaction, demanding that such players should be dropped from the national squad for good. On the other hand, there are those like the formidable Kapil Dev who believe the players have the right to decide on the games they wish to play. These sound like two extremes, because players can neither be barred for ever on merely such grounds nor can they dictate to the cricket board when and where they will play. It must not be forgotten that cricketers who have worn the Indian cap are national assets and derive all of their professional success from being part of the national squad. At all times, the national team should remain priority for them. They cannot opt out simply because they are tired after playing a highly commercialised — and non-serious — form of club cricket. Itineraries are fixed well in advance, and if the senior players could well have opted out of some of the IPL games to remain in form for the West Indies tour. But that would have meant writing off tempting incomes. Besides, they would have risked not being part of future IPL auctions. Clearly, then, national interest took a back seat. While the positive fallout is that new players have now got an opportunity to demonstrate their talent, they will most likely have to make way for the seniors when the latter return after rest and recreation. That is unfortunate, because the senior players cannot have the cake and eat it too. If the seniors choose to return, they should find place in the team only if others have failed. They cannot be part of the squad by some divine right. And, what sort of an example are they setting for the newcomers, many of whom idolise them?

But while the players are responsible for becoming cricket mercenaries, the fact remains that the BCCI, which governs the lucrative game in the country, has often been less than fair to the players in deciding schedules. After all, the more the number of games here and abroad, the greater the collections for the BCCI which is arguably the country's richest sports body. Players, tired in body and spirit, have had to go through the grind for fear of being overlooked the next time around if they did not cooperate. The IPL tournament is a BCCI by-product and a money-spinner for the cricketing board, which is why it is reluctant to take too hard a stand against the players who happily performed in the limited-overs tournament but suddenly found themselves tired when the time came to play for the country.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

WRECKING THE CONSTITUTION

A SURYA PRAKASH


The UPA will be making a gross miscalculation if it considers the goodness of Kannadigas as a weakness and persists with HR Bhardwaj as Governor.


Going by the conduct of Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj over the last one year, there should be no doubt that the present occupant of the Raj Bhawan in Bangalore has turned it into a den of intrigue and mischief and has become the biggest destabiliSer of the Constitutional arrangement and the democratic process in the State. The Governor's intimidatory tactics, more akin to rude cross-examination techniques employed by rookie lawyers in Tees Hazari Courts where Mr Bhardwaj began his legal and political journey, and his frequent somersaults when such tactics fail, have only brought infamy to the office he holds.


If one considers the number of times he has been made to eat crow, he is certainly the 'Somersault Man' among Governors in the country. Just look at his track record: Last October, when 11 BJP MLAs revolted against Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa and announced withdrawal of support to the Government, no one could fault him for his first response which was to ask the Chief Minister to prove his majority in the State Assembly. However, he had no authority to issue orders to the Assembly Speaker on what he should do and how he should treat the MLAs vis-à-vis the complaint made against them by the BJP Legislative Party. Apart from this constitutional impropriety, he described the vote on the motion of confidence as a "farce" and recommended the imposition of President's rule in the State.


Even at that stage it was known that the Speaker's decision to expel the 16 MLAs would get embroiled in a major legal battle, first in the High Court and later in the Supreme Court. Though the Speaker's orders were upheld by the High Court, it was also well-known that the fate of these 16 MLAs would eventually be decided by the Supreme Court. The recent judgement of the Supreme Court indicting the Karnataka Assembly Speaker for expelling the 11 BJP MLAs and five Independent MLAs shows the Speaker erred in not following due process while disqualifying the rebel legislators. As regards the five Independent MLAs, the Supreme Court has held that their withdrawal of support to the Government did not amount to defection. Both these judgements will have long-term implications in so far as the implementation of the anti-defection law is concerned, but neither of them gives Governors any power to destabilise constitutionally-elected Governments.


Last October, when the Governor took the foolhardy step of recommending President's rule in the State on the ground that the Yeddyurappa Government had lost majority support, people with even a nodding acquaintance of constitutional law wondered how the Union Government could take charge of a State when the Supreme Court had clearly declared that Governors are not to resort to arbitrary head counts. If, as Mr Bhardwaj claimed, the head count was vitiated, he should have awaited the opinion of the courts in the matter rather than take the law in his own hands.


The first and basic principle laid down by the Supreme Court in the Bommai Case is that the issue of majority or minority is not to be determined by Governors. This is a matter to be settled entirely within the four walls of the legislature. Fortunately, those who man the Union Government have a better sense of the law in the post-Bommai phase than most Governors. That is why the Union Government rejected Mr Bhardwaj's advice and forced him to eat his words. Rapped on the knuckles, Mr Bhardwaj did a neat volte face, pretended as if all was well, and directed Mr Yeddyurappa to face a trust vote on October14. The Chief Minister acted on this advice and won the confidence motion.

But the respite lasted just three months. In early-2011, the Governor was back to his old ways. This time, some allegations of nepotism made against the Chief Minister became the excuse for Mr Bharadwaj to once again dabble in active politics and step up the campaign against the Chief Minister and the Government. The Governor's conduct at that time smacked of collusion with Opposition leaders in the State Assembly and yet again emphasised the partisan role played by him, and led to fresh protests against him.


Since Mr Bhardwaj had objected to the expulsion of MLAs last October, the two recent judgements of the Supreme Court vis-à-vis the 16 MLAs has certainly come as a morale booster for him in so far as it vindicated his stand that the vote on the motion of confidence passed last October stood vitiated in the light of the hurried expulsion of the legislators. But as is his wont, Mr Bhardwaj has grossly misread the judgement and ventured into un-constitutional terrain by once again recommending the sacking of the State Government and imposition of President's rule.


And, as in the past, the Union Government has found no merit in his advice because it knows that such a course is constitutionally untenable. The Government is aware that after the Bommai judgement, the Supreme Court reserves the right to see the material sent by the Governor to the President. In that scenario the Union Government is obviously unsure of the material at hand. Therefore, yet again the Government has felt compelled to nudge Mr Bhardwaj to back-track and honourably make peace with the Chief Minister. Mr Bhardwaj has complied with this advice post-haste. However laughable it may seem, the very Governor who had recommended imposition of President's rule in the State has now publicly declared that Mr Yeddrurappa enjoys a "massive majority" in the Assembly and that the Chief Minister is his "friend". Forget about constitutional instability, the conduct of the Karnataka Governor clearly points to instability of the mind in respect of the present incumbent.


The Union Government is playing with fire by continuing with Mr Bhardwaj as the Governor of Karnataka. The people of this State are probably the most democratic and peace loving in the country. The Union Government will be making a gross miscalculation if it considers the goodness of Kannadigas as a weakness and persists with Mr Bhardwaj who is wrecking the Constitution and the democratic process from within Raj Bhawan. If the Union Government fails to act, it will expose itself to the charge of weakening the constitutional edifice. As regards the Congress, it will pay the price politically for allowing a partisan party man like Mr Bhardwaj to harass a duly elected Chief Minister.


The visual accompanying this article shows a BJP supporter shouting slogans from inside police van after she was arrested during a protest against Governor HR Bhardwaj for trying to destabilise the Government. Courtesy: Faheem Hussain.

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THE PIONEER

OPED

DALAI LAMA'S HISTORIC MOVE

VIJAY KRANTI


By giving up his political and executive powers to elected representatives of the Tibetan 'Government-in-Exile', the Dalai Lama has struck a blow to China's hopes of using a puppet as his successor to assume temporal authority over the people of Tibet. That Beijing is both nervous and frustrated is demonstrated by the statements that have followed the Dalai Lama's twin decisions


The Dalai Lama has finally succeeded in introducing changes in the Tibetan Constitution for which he has been working for over 50 years. Last Sunday morning he appended his signature to these changes, bringing to an end a 469-year-long chapter of theocracy in world history. Now he is neither the Head of State nor the Chief Executive of the Gaden Phodrang — the Tibetan Government.


Ironically, after giving up his political and executive powers to elected representatives, the 76-year-old 'Humble Monk' has emerged as a far stronger match for his Communist detractors in China than he used to be until a week ago. The Tibetan 'Government-in-Exile' now has a much more powerful Prime Minister and Parliament to take Beijing head on.


The Communist rulers of China cannot but be frustrated and miserable to find that in one stroke this monk-statesman has knocked out their hopes of finding a 'permanent solution' to their Tibetan problem by installing a puppet as the successor to the Dalai Lama. That move would be meaningless now.


The Dalai Lama's colleagues in the 'Government-in-Exile', who are used to taking commands from him and have been pleading with him since March 14 not to give up his temporal powers, will take their own time to understand the real impact of his decision. From Monday, May 30, onwards, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, will have only an advisory role as far as the 'Government-in-Exile' is concerned and much more time for international travel and meetings.


The Gaden Phodrang has been in place since 1642 when the second Dalai Lama was made the spiritual and temporal head of Tibet. Under this system the Dalai Lamas enjoyed enormous powers, collectively equivalent to those of the British Monarch, the US President, the Prime Minister of India, the Pope and the North Korean Communist President in their respective systems.


The latest reform concludes the first of the two historic tasks the Dalai Lama had set for himself in 1959 when he fled his occupied country and became its exiled ruler. His next task will be replacing the current reincarnation-based selection process for his successor as Dalai Lama to one by nomination.


As per his plans, his successor will be nominated during his own lifetime and will be an acknowledged scholar and an enlightened monk. This means that unlike the previous 14 Dalai Lamas, the 15th Dalai Lama will not be a child discovered through a traditional religious process and certified by a team of designated senior lamas as the reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama.


In the amended Constitution the provision of the traditional all-mighty 'Council of Regents' — a group of senior monks, Ministers and bureaucrats that takes over all powers of the Dalai Lama in the event of his death — also stands abolished. This change will automatically protect the 'Government-in-Exile' from any possible machinations by the Chinese during the 20-year-long 'bardo' — the period between the death and rebirth of a person. There are instances when China interfered in Tibet's affairs using its influence on individual members of the 'Council of Regents'.


The real significance of these developments would be better understood from China's reaction since the Dalai Lama announced the changes on March 10 and 14. Angry and almost abusive statements emanating from Beijing reflect the level of the Chinese leadership's nervousness and helplessness. China has been hitting at the Dalai Lama, the 'Government-in-Exile' and the Prime Minister to vent its anger.


On the Dalai Lama's plan to change the system of selecting future Dalai Lamas, Beijing used its most prominent Tibetan collaborator, Pema Choeling, Governor of Tibet Autonomous Region, to talk to the international media during the National Congress. Pema Choeling chose to give the Dalai Lama a lesson in Tibetan culture and tradition.


Advising the Dalai Lama to honour "Tibetan traditions and rituals", he said, "We must respect the historical institutions and religious rituals of Tibetan Buddhism... Tibetan Buddhism has a history of more than 1,000 years, and the reincarnation institutions of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama have been carried on for several hundred years... I am afraid it is not up to anyone whether to abolish the reincarnation institution or not."


Reacting to the Dalai Lama's decision to hand over his political and administrative powers to elected representatives, a Chinese spokesperson declared the 'Tibetan Government-in-Exile' an "illegal entity which was formed only to split China..." Commenting on the election process among exiled Tibetans and the prospects of Lobsang Sangay becoming the new 'Prime Minister', the spokesperson branded him a "terrorist" as he was an active leader of the Tibetan Youth Congress during his days in Delhi University.


These reactions reflect China's anger and frustration over the Dalai Lama preempting and jeopardising their future plans on Tibet. Following the 1989 Tibetan uprising in Lhasa and their subsequent strategy meeting on Tibet in 1991, Beijing has been pursuing a dual policy on religion in Tibet. In addition to maintaining controls in Tibet, it has been promoting China's "pro-Buddhism" image abroad by presenting Tibet as an international tourist destination; aggressively sponsoring and participation in international Buddhist conferences; sponsoring Buddhist events in Buddhist countries; winning over as many as possible Tibetan 'living Buddhas' (incarnate lamas) inside Tibet; and, making inroads among the Tibetan religious institutions set up in foreign countries.


As part of this strategy, Beijing has already undertaken an exercise to select two prominent Tibetan incarnate lamas – the Karmapa (1993) and the Panchen Lama (1995) in Tsurphu and Shigatse respectively. Although the Karmapa has since sought shelter in India, five-year-old Gedhun Choeky Nyima is till under arrest. Tibetans have refused to accept the Chinese sponsored Panchen Lama. But that has not deterred Beijing from undertaking a similar exercise to find a successor to the present Dalai Lama.


Beijing today enjoys the privilege of having two Panchen Lamas under its physical control. It is in a position to parade dozens of 'living Buddhas' in front of Chinese and international TV from Tibet. It can also secure the services of senior Buddhist scholars and leaders from client countries who would happily endorse any Chinese sponsored 'reincarnation' of the Dalai Lama whenever the necessity arises.


But by giving up his temporal powers and proposing to change the succession system, the Dalai Lama has demolished the hopes of Beijing.


-- The writer is a commentator on Tibetan affairs and the author of several books on Tibet.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

RUNNING OUT OF OPTIONS IN LIBYA

GWYNNE DYER


The frontlines between Col Gaddafi's forces and the rebels are still approximately where they were two months ago, except around the city of Misrata where the insurgents have pushed the loyalist troops back by some kilometers


They swore blind that there would never be foreign "boots on the ground" in Libya, but as Nato's campaign against Col Muammar Gaddafi's regime enters its third month it is getting a lot closer to the ground. It started with Tomahawk missiles fired from over the horizon; then it was fighter-bombers firing guided weapons from a safe height; now it's helicopter gunships skimming the ground at zero altitude. They're getting desperate.

In London on 25 May, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that "the President and I agree we should be turning up the heat on Libya." Standing beside him, President Barack Obama declared that, "given the progress that has been made over the last several weeks," there will be no "let-up in the pressure that we are applying."

And you have to ask, what progress? The front lines between Col Gaddafi's forces and the rebels are still approximately where they were two months ago, except around the city of Misrata, where the insurgents have pushed the besieging troops back some kilometres (miles).


Tripoli, the capital, is still firmly under Col Gaddafi's control. There has been no overt defiance of the regime there for many weeks, and the city is not even suffering significant shortages except for fuel. Are Mr Obama and Mr Cameron deluding themselves, or are they just trying to fool everybody else?


Maybe both — and meanwhile they are cranking up the aerial campaign against Col Gaddafi in the hope that enough bombs may make their claims come true. They must have been told a dozen times by their military advisers that bombing alone almost never wins a war, but they have waded into the quagmire too far to turn back now, and they have no other military options that the United Nations resolution would allow them to use.


They are already acting beyond the limits set by UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which on 17 March authorised the use of limited force to protect Libyan civilians. It has become a campaign to overthrow Col Gaddafi, and they hardly even bother to deny it any more.


"I believe that we have built enough momentum that, as long as we sustain the course we are on, (Gaddafi) will step down," said Mr Obama in London. "Ultimately this is going to be a slow, steady process in which we are able to wear down the regime forces." Well maybe so, and maybe not, but in either case that's not what Resolution 1973 said. No wonder Russia condemned the latest air raids as a "gross violation" of the resolution.

Russia did not want to stand by and let Col Gaddafi massacre innocent civilians, which seemed imminent when the defences of the rebels in eastern Libya were collapsing in mid-March, so it let the resolution pass. So did China, India and Brazil, which would normally oppose any military intervention by western powers in a Third World country. But it was all decided in a weekend, and they did not think it through.


Neither did France, Britain, the United States, Canada and a few other Nato countries, which immediately committed their air forces to the task of saving the rebels. They destroyed Col Gaddafi's tanks and saved the city of Benghazi, but then what? There was no plan, no "exit strategy", and so they have ended up with a very unpleasant choice.

Either they stop the war and leave Col Gaddafi in control of the larger part of a partitioned Libya, or they escalate further in the hope that at some point Col Gaddafi's supporters abandon him. The US Air Force had a name for this strategy during the Vietnam War: They were trying to find the North Vietnamese regime's "threshold of pain". They never did find it in Vietnam, but Nato is still looking for it in Libya.


Let us give Nato Governments credit for letting their hearts overrule their heads. Let's also acknowledge that they have been meticulous and largely successful in avoiding civilian casualties in their bombing campaign. But it isn't working.


So what do they do now? They can escalate for a few more weeks, and hope that the strategy that has failed for the last two months will finally succeed. That might happen, but it's not likely to. In which case the only remaining option will be to accept a cease-fire, and the partition of Libya between the Gaddafi regime and the "Transitional National Council" in Benghazi.


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

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

APOCALYPSE STANDS POSTPONED

ANDREI FEDYASHIN


Waiting for the end of the world is common to many religions. Expectations of what it will be like differ between Catholics, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses. But all predictions of the world coming to an end have been proved incorrect till now. We still live on!


It was nice to survive Saturday, May 21 and not evaporate at 6 pm in the blazing inferno as predicted by Harold Camping, American preacher and guru of the Apocalypse. But it was less pleasant to learn three days later that the Apocalypse has not, after all, been cancelled, simply postponed until the same time of day on October 21, 2011. This is Pastor Camping's third attempt at predicting the Apocalypse. First he promised the Second Coming on September 6, 1994 — and, it now seems clear, he's not going to stop there.


Armageddon as commodity

Why give up when there is such profit to be gained from striking so amorphous but rich a seam as faith? Or rather, as credulity and simplicity. No consumer protection law covers the 'defective' Apocalypse, or Armageddon, or offers compensation for the fact that it malfunctioned 'before the expiration date'.


Nor is there any need to worry about lawsuits arising along these lines. By the time he reached the ripe old age of 89, Camping, a former engineer, had created a solid religious company, Family Radio, which broadcasts in 48 languages in many countries — including Russia — and owns 66 radio stations in the US. The annual turnover of just one of his radio networks, founded in the mid-1950s, is estimated at $120 million. Camping himself has amassed a similar amount in personal wealth.


On the evening of the 21st, when it became clear that the end wasn't coming, the Pastor even took refuge in a motel with his wife — some believers sold their homes (some sacrificed up to $140,000) and waited for the Rapture. They could even have beaten him up. That's also something that happens in America. But when morning came, he had a new revelation, and he notified his loyal flock that he had merely erred in calculating the second part of the phenomenon — the universal cataclysm. But its 'spiritual aspect' fell squarely within the predicted period — on May 21 all the righteous souls were selected, counted, numbered, and the way to heaven paved for them. Even the approximate number of people to be saved is given a mention — about 200 million people. And we are 'reassured' that the world will certainly end on October 21. Camping announced that he will not limit himself to this date, and his radio networks will exclusively broadcast psalms, hymns and prayers in order to strengthen and guide the faithful and comfort all those who are destined for slaughter.


Waiting for the end of the world is common to many religions and belief systems, not to mention mythologies. Christianity has no monopoly over it. True, expectations of what it will be like differ between Catholics, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses. Mainstream Protestantism generally believes that the Antichrist is already here and lives in the Vatican.


The Orthodox Church, incidentally, has its own sound and honest approach to all such calculations of exact dates for the end of the world, the Second Coming, the Rapture when all the righteous and pious souls will be taken into the worlds of Light and all the rest will descend into that place from which no soul can escape.

The Gospels do indeed tell of the end of the world and its coming. But in the first part of the prediction it says that people will know "neither the day nor the hour". And Jesus uttered this phrase: "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Mark 13:32). Therefore, no one can calculate or predict anything.


American preachers are a different subspecies


Still, the United States of America is an amazing country. A country devoid of greatness simply could not have produced such a phenomenon as Camping. And he's not the only one; there's a whole army of them.


On the one hand, there is enormous technical, technological, scientific progress — in all fields of knowledge without exception — and applied research is implemented at an incredible pace. Innovation advances in leaps and bounds, so fast that all sorts of electronic 'gadgets' become out of date when people are only just starting to get used to them. Or even earlier.


But on the other hand, there is the indestructible, irrational institution of the preachers. Nothing like this is to be found anywhere else in the world — at least, not on a comparable scale to what is seen in America, in terms of quality and quantity, with that kind of money, and with such an incredibly blasphemous attitude toward Holy Scripture, its interpretation, the interpretation of the Gospels, epistles of the apostles and the rest.


American preachers are a very special subspecies endemic to the American church fringe. They are pseudo-religious, arrogant, pushy, impudent and display enterprising ignorance.


Virtually none of them have ever had any religious education. They did not graduate from theological institutions or universities, and the closest they have come to the basic teachings of Christ was in their village schools. But having once thumped a Bible and mastered its basics by learning the terminology by rote, these conmen are pumping gullible believers for every cent they're worth. It is highly profitable. In the days of Mark Twain, these shysters were tarred, feathered and dragged through the main streets of the unhappy locality that fell for their lies. Apparently the Americans used to be much more demanding in matters of faith.

Where it all began

However, religion is mostly a matter of taste. It does not particularly need proof, since faith, by definition, is something that should not be proven. That is provided, of course, that it is true faith, and not some ersatz entity cobbled together by preachers using a mixture of 'whatever was at hand' and what sells well.


In Christianity, waiting for the End of Days, Judgment Day and the Rapture is a specific dogma. It's a sort of special, auxiliary instrument for salvation and simultaneously an incentive for it, an incentive for people to change their lives, absolve themselves of sin and change the world while they still can.


In Christianity, the exact arithmetic of Judgment Day is a relatively late addition. The concept of an accurate calculation of when people would have to finally take stock of all things only emerged in the mid-17th century.

The conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism is reflected in all these exercises, and it all began in earnest during the Reformation. Protestants, as stated above, believed that the Antichrist is already present, presiding over the Vatican. This latter of course found this view unacceptable, and in the 17th century the Spanish Jesuit monk Francisco Ribera created the doctrine of the Rapture, in which first the faithful ascended into heaven, and only then would the floods, fires, earthquakes and total darkness come. This suited Vatican well because everything was referred to as being yet to come, and therefore there could not be any Antichrist in the Vatican.

The Protestants were hoodwinked by this dogma. The Jesuits re-worked it and published under the signature of a rabbi. It was farther away from Christianity, but closer to the Promised Land and Protestants fell for it. Calculations were disseminated first in Scotland, then in England, and doomsday was predicted for 1843, 1844, and 1914. The idea migrated from Britain to America and it took fruitful root there.


Incidentally, it is this very legend that is responsible for the emergence of the ever popular breakfast cereal corn flakes. They were developed by an Adventist who claimed he could tame human passions such as lust with his vegetarian 'medicines' and make them pure for Judgment Day. His name was Mr Kellogg.

 

The writer is a Moscow-based political affairs columnist.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

THE LOTUS EATERS

 

As the mercury rises, the BJP is breaking out in prickly heat. Its Lok Sabha leader, Sushma Swaraj, has accused its Rajya Sabha chief, Arun Jaitley, of being responsible for handing the heavily tainted Reddy brothers their political reign of glory - with two ministerial berths in the B S Yeddyurappa government. While former BJP president Rajnath Singh's rushed to 'accept responsibility' for the Reddys' induction, thereby attempting to deflect the heat from Jaitley, Yeddyurappa himself supported Swaraj's statement. And party president Nitin Gadkari has issued a widely-perceived snub to Swaraj, saying such debates were 'totally unnecessary'.



Gadkari has a point. The arguments aren't remotely about ideology or ethics. In all the blame-shifting over the Reddys, not one leader has called for their removal from government. Instead, the party seems happy to have the brothers comfortably occupy office even as their presence rips the BJP's credibility to shreds. Fierce squabbles are instead emanating from power struggles, each chieftain trying to assume a dominating role, satraps jostling over who steps into L K Advani's sandals.


The BJP's situation is tragicomic. For a party that claims to be inspired by 'history', it appears blissfully unaware of standing at a historical crossroads. The platter of political opportunities before it today is heaven-sent. With record-breaking scams to answer for, UPA-2 has hit rock-bottom in popular standing. Public anger over sky-high prices and never-ending inflation is palpable and growing. The middle class is more politically charged than in decades, evident from the groundswell of support Anna Hazare's movement against corruption has received. These circumstances could be immensely rewarding for a national-level opposition party making the right moves. Hackneyed tactics such as stirring communal riots won't yield much dividend for the BJP in today's India, but here's a great opportunity for the party to reinvent itself. With major elections coming - Uttar Pradesh in 2012, national balloting in 2014 - the BJP should've been out there campaigning against corruption, agitating against inflation, strategising and sloganeering across India.


Instead, the party's in a shambles, slugging it out in its own headquarters, rich in accusations, poverty-struck on policy, increasingly defunct in the public's eyes. The irony's thick - while the party carps on about the Congress's dynastic rule, it hasn't been able to decide a clear leader after Advani, its confusion leading to tense tirades between rivals. By appointing a chief through internal democracy and lending a firm shoulder to major public concerns - corruption and inflation - the BJP could have emerged as a modern, dynamic, fully-engaged party. Instead it's clawing itself to bits. So much for this Hindu undivided family.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

CRICKET BLUES

 

The absence of several key cricketers in the Indian squad for the forthcoming bilateral series against West Indies has ratcheted up the club versus country debate. Our cricketers have played a massive amount of cricket over the last three months. After a gruelling and emotionally draining World Cup campaign, they were immediately plunged into the high-octane IPL. It is not uncommon for such intensive scheduling to lead to injuries and fatigue. But to work retrospectively and accuse the players of choosing IPL over national duty is harsh. The IPL has redefined the commercial equations of cricket and greatly boosted interest in the sport. Had star players like Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan and M S Dhoni opted out of the IPL, the marquee tournament would have taken a hit, leading to substantial financial losses.


On the other hand, given the current stature of the West Indian team, India's tour of the Caribbean was always going to be a relatively low-key affair. By resting certain senior players there are opportunities now for fresh talents to gain international experience. In the long run this is bound to hold Indian cricket in good stead and shore up its bench strength. However, with Team India in great demand for future tours, scheduling needs to be looked at closely to allow our cricketers time to recharge their batteries. Prioritising certain tours over others is one way out. Creating a window around IPL is another option. But enticing players to play in a lucrative league and then accusing them of not honouring their national caps is hypocrisy. They would like to play for both club and country - there's no reason why both can't go hand in hand.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

CITIES ARE INDIA'S FUTURE

AXEL C HEITMANNAXEL C HEITMANN

 

The wave of urbanisation that is sweeping across India represents one of the country's greatest opportunities as well as one of its most serious challenges.


According to the report on 'India's Urban Awakening' by McKinsey Global Institute, in the next 20 years, India will have 68 cities with a population over one million - up from 42 today. That is nearly twice as many cities as all of Europe. India's urban population will increase from 340 million to 590 million. To put it in global terms, about 10% of humanity will reside in Indian cities.


There is room for this sort of demographic change. Only 30% of Indians live in cities, in comparison with 74% of Germans and 82% of Americans.


And the change holds great promise for India. The McKinsey study predicts that Indian cities could generate 70% of net new employment, produce more than 70% of Indian GDP, and quadruple the national per capita income. Best of all, these new, modern cities could create an enormous increase in the number of middle-class households. It is estimated that 91 million urban households will be middle class by 2030, up from 22 million today.

Without question, successful urban development represents India's best opportunity to maintain its current economic momentum and to achieve a prosperous, dynamic future.


But urbanisation in India poses an urgent and difficult challenge, too often characterised by widespread poverty, poor urban infrastructure and environmental degradation.


India's existing megacities are already suffering from a lack of sufficient infrastructure investment. Where China is spending Rs 5,132 per capita on infrastructure annually, India is spending just Rs 752. A developed country like Germany has the capacity to produce roughly 1.7 kilowatts of electricity per person; India's capacity is about 0.15 kilowatts.


India must address the current problems of urban decay, traffic gridlock and a deteriorating quality of life for many of its citizens. It must also address the enormous capital investment of roughly five trillion (or five lakh crore rupees) required over the next 20 years to meet the projected infrastructure demands of creating the more viable, more livable cities of tomorrow.


Those demands include creating billions of square metres of roads, over 7,000 kilometres of subways and metros, endless sewage and water systems and so much residential and commercial space that it is equivalent to building two cities the size of Mumbai every year.


It is an enormous challenge - yet it is a challenge that can be met with adequate resolve. Well-conceived cities will not only improve the quality of life for India's citizens, they will attract investment, grow the tax base, unlock new growth markets, create a much larger, stronger middle class, boost India's GDP and generate a huge increase in average national income.


Recently, chairman of the Association of Municipalities and Development Authorities Noor Mohammed said, "The chances of success in developing efficient and sustainable cities in India are much higher when synergistic partnerships are evolved to deal with these challenges."


This is true. Many industrialised nations have trod this path before and could play an active role in helping to meet India's urbanisation challenge - through investments, trade, economic partnerships, new industrial development. Germany hopes to be one of those synergistic partner nations.


That is because Germany and India are natural partners, with shared interests, strong commercial and strategic ties and a long history of cultural and economic relations.

 

Today that partnership is stronger than ever. Germany is India's largest trading partner in Europe and fifth largest customer and exporter to India. Trade volume between the two countries exceeded Rs 1.9 lakh crore in 2010. That number is expected to climb by 70% over the next two decades. And together the countries are engaged in fruitful partnerships in many areas of research and development in science and technology. The most recent example is the Indo-German Max Planck Centre at IIT Delhi, which was inaugurated last February by former German federal president Kohler.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now in New Delhi to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in advance of the 'Year of Germany' that will begin in India in September, marking 60 years of good relations between the two nations. Next year, a 'Year of India' will be held in Germany.


Trade will clearly occupy a good deal of the meetings between the two heads of state. That is good news for everyone involved. Only by maintaining high rates of economic growth, trade and technology transfer can India ensure that the urbanisation of its vast population will take place smoothly and successfully. And Germany's more developed, if somewhat smaller, cities will only maintain their vitality by continuing to participate in the global marketplace for goods, ideas and culture.


The strong business relationship and friendship between India and Germany will provide one of the synergistic partnerships that will help India seize the opportunity to create the good, clean, livable cities of tomorrow - cities that will allow its citizens to live happier, more prosperous lives and that will enable India to fully realise its enormous economic potential.


The writer is the CEO of LANXESS AG, a specialty chemicals company headquartered in Germany.

 

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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

IT'S CAPITALISM WITH A SOCIAL FACE

 

Capitalism with a social face took a step forward and in a uniquely Indian way that deserves both recognition and emulation. Dalits have opened the Mumbai chapter of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Dicci). While Dicci was formed in 2005, establishing itself in India's financial capital shows both a welcome self-confidence amongst dalits and a commendable social consciousness expressed in a willingness to help their own.

That help is needed in a country where the dice are loaded against dalits trying to become successful entrepreneurs - through, for example, the difficulty they experience in accessing capital and credit. The main instrument to end caste discrimination now is positive discrimination in government jobs. But there are very few such jobs - relative to population - making this a very limited technique for raising a community. Moreover reserved jobs may carry a stigma, perpetuating instead of abolishing caste. Dicci seeks a very different way of improving the lives of the downtrodden. It focusses on instilling the spirit of entrepreneurship among dalit youth. While the first generation of dalit entrepreneurs is thriving Ashok Khade, managing director of a company with 4,500 employees, still writes 'K Ashok' on his card to hide his caste. Meanwhile, the National Commission for Enterprises in unorganised sectors notes that 88% of dalits and adivasis spent less than Rs 20 per day in 2007. It indicates that much more needs to be done. Dicci members, knowing how difficult it was for them, are now trying to ease matters for others from their community.


One surefire way of fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem is to foster dalit vendors for government and big business contracts. The idea is already in place in the US where 'supplier-diversity' means large companies seek out and support - in terms of technology and management - and then eventually buy from underprivileged and minority suppliers. Recreating this in India is undoubtedly a challenge, but the Mumbai chapter's a start.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

WON'T HELP COMMUNITY AT LARGE

JAY KUMARJAY KUMAR

 

In a country where celebration of birth and death anniversaries of dalit icons takes precedence over the real issues affecting the community, it isn't surprising that the launch of Dicci's Mumbai chapter is being hailed as another milestone in the community's rising consciousness. The coming together of a handful of dalit entrepreneurs is being heralded as the arrival of dalit capitalism. But the launch of a separate caste-based chamber of commerce portends no good for the community both as a business strategy as well as in its struggle for socio-economic justice. Rather it will create another power elite cut off from reality, diverting focus from the core issue of dalit empowerment.


The strategy of dalit entrepreneurs to form Dicci is short-sightedness. Instead of creating and rallying behind a caste-based entity, they should have joined mainstream chambers of commerce. That would have enlarged the scope of their business opportunities without carrying the appendage of caste. More importantly, it would have allowed them to engage with other players on an equal footing. They should garner business on the basis of the comparative advantage they offer and not on the basis of their caste. This would not only expand their choice but also the spirit of enterprise within the community.

 

Equally serious is the risk that the success of a few individuals will be portrayed as a marker of progress for the entire community, when a majority of dalits still lives in rural areas as landless labourers or at best as small and marginal farmers. Among those who live in urban areas, the majority are slum-dwellers. Therefore, it's too facile to interpret the success of a few rich entrepreneurs as the arrival of dalit capitalism. It's unclear why they should prove to be different from other elites of their community, who have reaped the benefits of the government's affirmative action policy without passing them on.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

SEEING RED ON BLACK MONEY

Getting a handle on the size of India's black economy is deucedly difficult. And it doesn't get easier if the government takes on the job. A joint study commissioned to come up with an estimate of how much of Indians' income goes unreported and where it ends up must devise a hypothesis and test it on data that is just not there.

The human desire to evade taxes or legal scrutiny doesn't lend itself to mathematical modelling, which is why no serious academic effort has gone into what is anecdotally a pervasive phenomenon in India. This is also the reason for estimates of unaccounted wealth stashed at home or abroad varying bizarrely.

If the government wanted to be seen to be doing something about black money, it could have chosen the more practical approach of addressing its causes rather than announcing a census.

Two obvious questions arise from the announcement though. One, if estimation of black money is smoke-and-mirror economics, isn't there a bias in any government-sponsored study to underestimate the problem? Two, if the "independent" think tanks do manage to put out an estimation method 18 months from now that stands up to scrutiny, why haven't we thought of doing it before now?

For their part, the think tanks will most probably come up with something that pits two sets of claims against each other and work on the discrepancies.

For example, what India says it trades with the world and what the world says India trades with it, or what sellers say they have sold and what buyers say they have bought. Even if economists get hold of two sets of conflicting data, they're still clueless about the frankly illegal activities that do not show up in official databases anywhere.

However, if we do get a fix on the black money generated from legitimate economic activity a large chunk of the underground economy will be exposed. Then again, if Indian economists fail to come up with a reasonable estimate — one that stands up to scrutiny by peers — they can draw comfort from the fact that nobody else has succeeded.

A government facing questions on what it is doing about black money — including from the Supreme Court — is understandably touchy about the issue.

First, why should a black market exist? Second, what makes money go underground? And third, what are the chances that a person plying his trade in the parallel economy will be caught?

The answer to all three is governance, or the lack of it. Joining a global crusade against funny money is not enough for a country that has too much of it. India must lead the crusade.

As a beginning, it needs to introspect on the shortages that create black markets in the first place, the regulatory mechanism that nudges resources underground, and the lack of policing that allows the parallel economy unfettered growth.Seeing red on black money

Our Take

We need a robust regulatory mechanism to police the markets with greater rigour.

Getting a handle on the size of India's black economy is deucedly difficult. And it doesn't get easier if the government takes on the job. A joint study commissioned to come up with an estimate of how much of Indians' income goes unreported and where it ends up must devise a hypothesis and test it on data that is just not there.

The human desire to evade taxes or legal scrutiny doesn't lend itself to mathematical modelling, which is why no serious academic effort has gone into what is anecdotally a pervasive phenomenon in India. This is also the reason for estimates of unaccounted wealth stashed at home or abroad varying bizarrely.

If the government wanted to be seen to be doing something about black money, it could have chosen the more practical approach of addressing its causes rather than announcing a census.

Two obvious questions arise from the announcement though. One, if estimation of black money is smoke-and-mirror economics, isn't there a bias in any government-sponsored study to underestimate the problem? Two, if the "independent" think tanks do manage to put out an estimation method 18 months from now that stands up to scrutiny, why haven't we thought of doing it before now?

For their part, the think tanks will most probably come up with something that pits two sets of claims against each other and work on the discrepancies.

For example, what India says it trades with the world and what the world says India trades with it, or what sellers say they have sold and what buyers say they have bought. Even if economists get hold of two sets of conflicting data, they're still clueless about the frankly illegal activities that do not show up in official databases anywhere.

However, if we do get a fix on the black money generated from legitimate economic activity a large chunk of the underground economy will be exposed. Then again, if Indian economists fail to come up with a reasonable estimate — one that stands up to scrutiny by peers — they can draw comfort from the fact that nobody else has succeeded.

A government facing questions on what it is doing about black money — including from the Supreme Court — is understandably touchy about the issue.

First, why should a black market exist? Second, what makes money go underground? And third, what are the chances that a person plying his trade in the parallel economy will be caught?

The answer to all three is governance, or the lack of it. Joining a global crusade against funny money is not enough for a country that has too much of it. India must lead the crusade.

As a beginning, it needs to introspect on the shortages that create black markets in the first place, the regulatory mechanism that nudges resources underground, and the lack of policing that allows the parallel economy unfettered growth.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

YOU ARE NOT SCUM

Dear smokers. First the good news. The number of women smokers in India has doubled over the last five years. But the bad news: more and more people are not smoking at all.

Keeping a balanced view of smoking as a lifestyle choice and as a harbinger of bodily doom, we bring you, beloved smoker, some words of comfort today when you may be woken up, rounded up, stacked against a wall and shot through the head.

Yes, it's World Anti-Tobacco Day and you are scum today.

The world was not always so fumiphobic. The tribes of North America, the home of tobacco, were traditional chewers of the Nicotiana leaf. They would smoke the stuff on sacred and special occasions. Exhaled tobacco smoke was thought to carry one's thoughts to heaven — a poetic way, perhaps, of describing how nicotine helps concentration by affecting the transmission of bio-electrical currents in synapses, those spaces lying between neurons, the core components of the nervous system.

More recently, of course, the Eurocentric image of a cigarette dangling from the lips of a man or perched between the fingers of a woman were archetypal images of the alpha male and female across cultures.

But even if the film hero (or the anti-hero) lights up a cig in cinematographed light, in the real world, the fate of the smoker is now akin to that of a leper in mediaeval Europe, of a pariah.

So while the Venezuelan Yellow Frog and the Great Indian Bustard get all the love, affection and concerned attention, the extinction of the Homo Fumicus has become public and social policy. W

hich is why on World Anti-Tobacco Day today, braving much opprobrium, we reach out to you, despised, abused smoker standing outside in the heat. We give you the love and comfort that you really crave for so much more than that hit of nasty nicotine.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

A FLING WITH FLAMBOYANCE

KK PAUL

In recognising Salim Durrani for the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award today, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is taking the 'better late than never' route. Seen as the architect of India's first Test victory over England in 1961-62, the 76-year-old former all-rounder's contribution to Indian cricket is immeasurable.

The irony of him receiving the BCCI award, however, is keen, considering that Durrani never had smooth relations with the Indian cricketing body during his playing career.

Eyebrows were raised even when the first Arjuna Awards were announced on Republic Day 1962, when, along with the likes of tennis player Ramanathan Krishnan, footballer PK Banerjee, shooter Karni Singh and badminton player Nandu Natekar, the handsome and a flamboyant young cricketer Salim Durrani was nominated for the award.

He had then made a debut only two seasons ago with seven Test caps and without a tour abroad. But as events would play out, the selectors had spotted the right talent.

For some, Durrani was an arrogant figure. Despite no television in those days, it was surprising indeed for him to have such a countrywide fan-following in such a short time, especially among women. A flashing left-hander, Durrani had developed a style of his own. He was known to have obliged the crowds each time they wanted a six.

Aptly, he wrote a book after his retirement titled Asking For A Six.

After he left the field of cricket, Durrani also dabbled in films (some maintaining that the latter may have hastened his retirement). Parveen Babi made her debut in the film Charitra with Durrani in the lead role.

Durrani played only 29 Test matches in a career spanning 15 years from 1959 to 1974, as he was regularly in and out of the team for reasons other than cricket. Some of India's most memorable Test victories, rare in those days, have his name etched on them.

After encountering a 0-5 whitewash in England in 1959, India were hosting Ted Dexter's team in 1961-62.

The rock-like defence of Ken Barrington had become impregnable for Indian bowlers. Ultimately, Durrani's slow left-arm turners paved the way for two historic wins at Eden Gardens, Calcutta, and at the then Corporation Stadium in Madras.

Durrani's figures of 8 for 113 at Calcutta and 10 for 177 at Madras, along with useful contributions from Chandu Borde led to the series win.

When the Indian team visited the West Indies under Nari Contractor in early 1962, although India lost the Test, Durrani scored a century off the great pacemen Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith. With a tally of 18 wickets in the series, his was a fine all-round performance.

Ten years later, he was again picked up for the West Indies tour under the captaincy of Ajit Wadekar in 1971. India smelt victory in the second Test at Port of Spain where Sunil Gavaskar made his debut.

It was at the team meeting on the night of the fourth day that Durrani chipped in with the claim that Gary Sobers and Clive Lloyd, who were going great guns, "should be left to him". Durrani went on to create history with two inspired deliveries, scalping both Sobers and Lloyd within a span of ten overs.

India went on to win their first series in West Indies.

After retirement, Durrani remained associated with CHAMPS (Caring, Healing, Assisting, Motivating and Promoting Sportspersons), a foundation established by Gavaskar. Such was the charisma of Durrani that in 1971, when Gavaskar and he were travelling by train, members of the railway staff went out of their way to provide him with an extra blanket.

Durrani quickly passed it on to the young Gavaskar who was shivering in the north Indian winter.

(KK Paul is a former police commissioner of Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal)

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

IT'S TWO STEPS BACK

SITARAM YECHURY

The photo opportunity on the occasion of the second anniversary of the UPA 2 government showed the striking contrast with UPA 1. From the original UPA 1 constituents and outside support by Left parties, only the NCP and a beleaguered DMK are in the government.

The contrast, however, goes beyond the 'photo-op'.

The UPA 1 government was formed in response to the needs of the country and people at that time; to protect the secular fabric of India and secular democratic content of our public institutions that were being eroded and undermined by the BJP-led NDA alliance, then in power for six continuous years.

The UPA 1 adopted a pledge which stated: The United Progressive Alliance pledges to provide a corruption free, transparent and accountable government and a responsible and responsive administration." It adopted a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) that formed the basis for the outside support by the Left parties.

The UPA 2 now appears all set to systematically demolish the spirit and the declared content of UPA 1. It is abandoning even the pretext of the concern for the aam aadmi in order to facilitate the unbridled implementation of neo-liberal economic reforms, promoting crony capitalism and mega corruption.

The prime minister, expectedly, highlighted the economic achievements of the last two years — annual growth rate of 8.5% — terming it as a "historic performance".

"We have pursued a strategy of seeking 'inclusive growth' at home and 'inclusive globalisation' internationally that benefits the have-nots and reduces disparities of income and wealth."

There could not have been a more cruel joke. Over the last two years, the number of US dollar billionaires in India has increased from 26 to 52; now standing at 69. Their combined asset worth is equivalent of a third of India's GDP. On the other hand, 77%, or more than 80 crore, of our people survive on less than R20 a day. 

The vulgar disparities of income and wealth are sharply widening.

The PM's blueprint for the future is more worrisome. He says: "Our most immediate challenge is to sustain the growth process, while keeping inflation under check." In order to do this, he speaks of various dimensions of sustainable economic growth. The most important dimension that he highlights, however, is the "fiscal challenge".

Stating that the massive fiscal stimulus programmes that his government undertook during the last two years have helped maintain reasonable economic growth, the PM now speaks of the urgency to reduce "fiscal and revenue deficits". Simply put, this means that the government must reduce its expenditures while increasing its revenues.

The former means that whatever little that is being spent in the social sectors towards improving people's welfare will sharply decline. The latter means that greater burdens would be put on the majority of our people through higher prices.

This is, clearly, a replication of how global capitalism is seeking to emerge from the global recession. The huge stimulus packages in developed countries have succeeded in bailing out those very financial corporates which caused the current crisis in the first place. The governments have borrowed heavily to finance these stimulus packages.

Now, in order to meet the costs of such borrowings, they are sharply reducing governmental expenditures by imposing unprecedented burdens on the workers. Capitalism's logic for emerging from the crisis is by converting corporate insolvencies into sovereign insolvencies.

The net result is a sharp rise in the burdens on people against which widespread popular protests are erupting all over Europe.

The PM seems to be preparing us in India to go through a similar process. The current discussions on long-promised food security highlights this eloquently.

In the ongoing proceedings on a public interest litigation before the Supreme Court, the Planning Commission has impleaded itself and claimed that an expenditure of R20 per day on essential requirements for those living in urban areas and R15 for those living in rural India was enough to keep them out of poverty.

This poverty line of R20 per day for people living in the cities is worked out from the Planning Commission's opinion that anybody with R578 per month is not poor!

As per its report, this amount includes a monthly expenditure of R31 on rent and conveyance, R18 on education, R25 on medicines and R36.5 on vegetables. The ridiculousness of these figures can be gauged from the fact that the Commission itself prescribes a minimum in-take of 2,400 calories daily to sustain oneself.

This requires, at current prices, an expenditure of at least R44 per day. This, of course, doesn't include any expenditure on shelter, clothing, education, transportation etc.

The Commission, on the basis of flawed reasoning, takes the poverty ratio at 33% of our population. These are the people who alone should be provided some food security. The National Advisory Council has suggested a ratio of 46%.

Both estimations fall woefully short of the late Arjun Sengupta's estimation that 77% of our population is currently surviving on less than R20 a day.

Any meaningful food security in our country can come about only through a universal public distribution system that ensures every household (both BPL and APL) receives 35 kg of foodgrains a month at R2 per kg.

The argument that India doesn't have sufficient resources to do this is equally fraudulent. The monies looted through the 2G spectrum scam alone (leave alone all other scams and recovering the humongous amount of black money stashed abroad) would be more than enough to provide meaningful food security to our people.

Is UPA 2 listening?

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

SHADOW LINES

 

India, displaying no sense of irony, has censored an issue of The Economist with a cover story on "The World's Most Dangerous Border". The magazine was forced to cover the Kashmir map with a blank white sticker in over 30,000 copies, because it was shown as divided between India, Pakistan and China. International news publications are often delayed because a special Customs cell has to stamp each such map with the disclaimer that these are "neither accurate nor authentic". Though The Economist has explained that using the Line of Control in the absence of an agreed international frontier is merely to state the status quo, not endorse it, the government will have none of it.

Despite the fact that the technology has rendered such strictures irrelevant, the Indian state remains inordinately panicky about how its boundaries are represented. Publishing inaccurate external boundaries and coastlines is a cognisable offence, and amounts to questioning the territorial integrity of India. Anyone who wants to publish a map has to approach the famously tardy Survey of India for permission. We know that maps are not perfect, objective miniatures of a territory; they are authored documents, and instruments of control. The more insecure a region, the more it pores over maps and legends. Nazi Germany was obsessed with cartography. In the pre-glasnost era, the Soviet Union regularly falsified its maps, using cartography as a tool for propaganda and military needs. They were made to thwart and disinform military rivals — for instance, the town of Logashkino was shown at six different spots near the East Siberian Sea. In eastern Europe, nationalism and ethnic assertiveness were played out in struggles over these representations.

But India is a world away from these situations, in psychological terms. We, the citizens, appreciate the distinctions between the border, the line of control, the line of actual control, etc, and to merely setting our eyes on a map that does not follow official lines will not vaporise the idea of India. What's more, we need to square with reality — talks on borders have figured in India's engagement with Pakistan and China. Withholding the ground situation from the people is surely a doubtful way to go about that diplomatic challenge. After all, our self-image is large and robust enough not to be threatened by a few lines on a page — when we can freely refute the depiction if they happen to be questionable.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE BARE NECESSITIES

 

What precisely counts as "used personal effects required for satisfying daily necessities of life"? Toothbrushes, certainly. But some of us depend on laptops; others use designer handbags daily. Is it the place of the Indian Customs service — the source of the "daily necessities" phrase — to fit us into a neat, austere, pre-liberalisation box? Yet, the confusing rules for Customs declaration at India's airports remain as they were a relic of a bygone era, with only the numbers changed — and those too have remained static for a decade. The rules, as they stand, say that "used personal effects" are free — perhaps the reason that actor Bipasha Basu walked through the green channel happily a few days ago, expecting that her sandals, purse and sunglasses qualified.

If that was her supposition, it wasn't an unreasonable one; but it isn't a supposition shared by the Customs officials at Mumbai airport, always ready to grab the headlines by fining or detaining a celebrity or two.

Basu was eventually fined Rs 12,000, and sent on her way. Why? Because her sunglasses and handbag and sandals were top-of-the-line brands; their face value took them over Rs 25,000, the duty-free allowance for things that are not "used personal effects". (A Gucci Sukey tote bag, for the record, costs $1,000, putting you well over the quota with one purchase alone.) The Customs service clearly expects you to be able to prove that everything you own or travel with was not bought on this trip, even if it is something you use or wear daily. The Rs 25,000 limit has not been changed since 2001, either, when it was not particularly generous to start off with.

There needs to be some basic reform of these regulations to take into account the changing profile of the Indian traveller. We no longer travel abroad to greedily buy things that are unavailable here; but nor is it the case that the lure of shopping overseas is likely to die out. The regulations should be able to discern between those that are bought for personal use and those that are being brought in for resale, not a hard thing to do.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THREE TO GO

 

A hasty, eleventh-hour deal between the three major political parties has staved off a major political crisis in Nepal. When the deadline of May 28 passed, again with no draft of a new constitution, what was left uncertain was the fate of the Constituent Assembly. The squabbling Maoists and the Nepali Congress, along with Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal's Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), came together at a midnight meeting to amend the interim constitution and extend the term of the Constituent Assembly by three more months. The five-point deal also includes the drafting of a constitution within that period, formation of a new national government and completion of the peace process with the disarmament and integration of Maoist insurgents.

What happened on Sunday night was a replay of events that had taken place a year ago when Nepal faced a deadline and stared at a similar crisis. While the parties succeeded in wrenching the country from a constitutional vacuum, what is doubtful is how far this salvaging can go. The Constituent Assembly was formed in 2008 with a two-year mandate to draft the constitution and oversee the peace process. Can the Constituent Assembly finally pull it off in these three months? Already there is dissonance on the terms of agreement. While the opposition party, the Nepali Congress, has called for an immediate resignation of Khanal, the prime minister has said that he would do so only when an alternative is in place for the proposed national government. This underlines the potential pitfalls of what seems to be a very uneasy compromise.

India must stay engaged and keep persuading the political parties to move forward. Nepal's quest for a new constitution and its people's aspiration for a stable peace deal after years of political violence and uncertainty should reach its rightful conclusion.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE PLAY OF THE LAND

SEEMA CHISHTI

 

One of the most fascinating files in the National Archives traces how Gandhi changed his attire and his world view. They contain thousands of stories of impoverished farmers in Champaran. They are based on the notes Gandhi made, as farmers told him their stories — of trying to balance life, livelihoods and a compulsion to grow the blue dye. Indigo left a lasting imprint on how Gandhi shaped his politics and his sense of the ones who really needed protection.

Farmers since then, at least as symbols and totems of commitments made to the last man in the queue, have been central to politics and policy. But between then and the current politics over Bhatta-Parsaul, much has changed.

The fight to abolish zamindari was waged soon after Independence. Several peasant movements to establish rights and wages and overturn existing oppressive social relations that characterised agriculture were waged across states. The Communists, Socialists, the Praja Socialist party all backed peasant movements that made agrarian reform (and the peasant vote) central to the politics of the times.

Using farmers (mostly wronged farmers) has been something Indian politics has played upon since. A lot of the concern has been genuine, through movements espoused to fight for rights and better wages and to ensure better conditions for tillers. Lal Bahadur Shastri immortalised the concern for farmers by elevating the notion to that of national security in "Jai Jawan Jai Kisan". The Green Revolution, for all the critiques now brought forth against it, brought with it a changed political economy with slogans of "self-sufficiency" in foodgrains and creating a whole new class of farmers.

However, what politics had been missing from the mid-1990s was any new articulation of what the pitch on agriculture was to be. Newly emerging parties such as the SP and the RJD had a rural and landed base but argued for better representation, making government jobs the prize — for the BSP too. The Congress and the BJP, late to recover under pressure from the new political forces emerging in north India in the '90s, also ran after the same groups, while focusing on the large and fast urbanising population. In fact, in 2004, the Congress recast its core voter from the 1971 "gharib" to the "aam aadmi", hoping to become the voice of the new urbanising forces.

Now, as questions of how to monetise and acquire agricultural land come up, the "farmer" is once again at the centre of our politics.

Shortly after the Singur crisis in West Bengal in 2006, which dramatically enabled a successful coalition to develop against the ruling Left Front, similar models have been sought to be created. Jaitapur in Maharashtra, Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh, Niyamgiri and Posco in Orissa or Bhatta-Parsaul in UP are all attempts at creating a forest fire around the idea of "taking land away" from the farmer. The farmer or the landowner in each of these trouble spots has probably been keen on a better price or a sense of his betterment even as the price of his land goes up. This has been cynically distorted to create a new and hypocritical sense of distaste around the need to change land use, if required for public good, a model that had so far held ever since the first railway track was laid down in the 19th century and the archaic land acquisition act was drafted.

Much of the restiveness has been fostered as the Centre put the new draft bill, set to displace the 19th century version, on hold instead of at least starting a robust debate — a lack of consensus and unwilling allies were cited for the post-2007 drift. Drafted in 2006-07, it was passed by the previous Lok Sabha but lapsed as general elections were held before it could be passed by the Rajya Sabha. It contained innovative elements to create a bond between the farmer whose land was being alienated and the project proposed on the land — for instance, giving 20 per cent of "shares and debentures" issued to the original holders. However, by allowing all this to not be pressed in Parliament, the Congress acquired extraordinary leverage to try and ambush its way to "causes" in states where it was not in power.

The fact of the matter is that agricultural lobbies in India have counted for a lot, and predictably so, with about 60 per cent of the population in some way reliant on farm sector. Several of these people are just landless peasants or those with small holdings, all tied to the land as there are no other options. All this signals underemployment, low levels of agricultural wages and, overall, a very poor quality of life, reflecting the scant emphasis on infrastructure in non-metros. There is considerable elasticity in the sector, especially to tackle rural poverty, but after early investment in irrigation, it has been largely ignored. The impact of higher public spends on agricultural R&D on reducing poverty, for instance, has been found to be second only to that of building roads.

There are, however, no insta-solutions and, as highlighted in the Bhatta-Parsaul case, our politics has yet to acquire the nuance needed to articulate the crisis. There is no articulation of a bigger debate on the route agriculture needs to take to get out of the "crisis" — not only in terms of technology, class relations, or its interface with industry, but even on the basics: how to get the farmer better access to information, more investment in agriculture or a greater voice in the debate on the "export" of goods that is allowed suddenly and capped just as dramatically.

Coming back to the (now East and West) Champaran farmers, it is unclear if successors of those who spoke to Gandhi are still farming there, but one can safely predict that those who have not left farming must be puzzled at how little they actually matter to political parties, whereas conversation about their "plight" appears to dominate populist discourse. Now, if only those who make it their business to win popular support could stand and hear them, patiently, the results would yield much more than simply sightings and quick radicalism have done in either Paradip, Jaitapur, or even Bhatta-Parsaul, so far. As Gandhiji showed a century ago, politics has a duty by the farmer.

seema.chishti@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

ALL FOR A FEW MONTHS MORE

YUBARAJ GHIMIRE

 

No one expected Nepal's Constituent Assembly (CA) to deliver a new constitution by the deadline of May 28. What was uncertain till the last moment was whether the CA, which missed two deadlines, would get another lease of life. In a midnight exercise, a deal between the three big political parties — the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) — saw the term of the assembly extended for three more months.

The deal is being seen as an abject surrender by the Nepali Congress before the Maoists after the former had raised demands that put the Maoists in a spot. The deal says Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal will resign to pave the way for the formation of a national government, that "fundamental issues" of the peace process will be finalised in three months and the first draft of the constitution will be prepared simultaneously. It also commits to making the Nepal army more inclusive with wider representation, including from the Madhesh area. On fulfilment of these promises, the parties will go to the House to seek an extension of another three months for finalising the constitution.

No one would have shed tears for the demise of the House. Nor does one believe that the coming three months would be smooth sailing for the drafting of the constitution.

Meanwhile, the political parties stand discredited. They have chosen not to be accountable for the past failures, nor have they tried to convince the people that they would act differently in the future. The U-turn taken by the Nepali Congress and the anti-Khanal faction in the CPN (UML) proved that political tactics took precedence over commitments to "principles". As the deadline approached, they found the usual excuse to retreat from a confrontation: that the "only elected" body in the country should not be allowed to lapse as that would lead to a constitutional and political vacuum.

The European Union, Norway and Switzerland instantly hailed the wisdom of the big three parties. So did UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. However, the people's confidence in the House and leaders has been shaken.

The signatories soon came out with conflicting interpretations of the new deal. The chairman of the Nepali Congress, Sushil Koirala, said Khanal must resign immediately and make way for the formation of the national government. Khanal, meanwhile, insisted that he would resign the moment a situation is created for a national government. Similarly, differences are bound to come up while interpreting what the "fundamental issues" of the peace process are.

The Nepali Congress was under pressure from an overwhelming number of parliamentarians to save the House at any cost. In his list of demands, Koirala had earlier insisted that the Maoists hand over the key of their arms containers to the government and return property they had seized during the years of conflict. He also wanted the annulment of the seven-point agreement signed by Khanal and Prachanda on February 3 to set up a separate state security outfit for the Maoist combatants. Koirala, however, pressed for none in the crucial stages.

The Nepali Congress has shown that it has neither the will nor the capability to confront the Maoists beyond a point — even when the latter defies the letter and spirit of the peace accord. All along, the Maoists have exploited this predicament of the Nepali Congress. It has demonstrated that it will be part of the peace and democratic process only on its own terms. As a "revolutionary party", it needs to create a radical space and environment in Nepal politics and develop its support base. If the Maoists had handed over the key of arms containers to the state, it would have demoralised its combatants and been seen as a compromise.

To keep up the revolutionary tempo, a section of the party leadership keeps appealing to its cadres to be ready for a "people's revolt" whenever serious political developments are in the offing. Prachanda plays that card at critical moments very well. It happened this time too. Barely 48 hours before the deadline, he said his party would not surrender weapons that "are bartered with the blood of martyrs".

Like in the past four years after the peace accord, the Maoists will again use their propaganda machinery to tell the people what ultimately constitutes the fundamentals of peace process, leaving parties like the Nepali Congress with limited options: either to assert themselves or surrender to the Maoists and eventually fade out of Nepal's political scene.

According to a recent judgment by the supreme court, the House term can be extended only by six months beyond the first two years in case a state of emergency is declared. This is enough reason to believe that the course and fate of the Constituent Assembly will be affected by several factors. Clearly, its moral and constitutional status will come under greater scrutiny in the coming three months and Maoists will continue to face tougher challenges.

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'THERE IS NO COMPETITION WITH ANNA HAZARE. THESE ARE TWO COMPLEMENTARY MOVEMENTS'

SHEKHAR GUPTA

 

My guest today is the rockstar of yoga, Baba Ramdev. Only you could have got me up this early. You wake up very early—3 o'clock in the morning?

I wake up at 3 a.m. and sleep by 10 in the night. On an average, I sleep for 4-5 hours. My aim is to use my time, strength, knowledge and the wealth that crores of people have given me, for the nation.

But people are suspicious—no one knows how much wealth you have gathered. Digivijay Singh says you don't give the details of it to anyone.

About 10 crore people took part in my programmes and they helped me. They are not dishonest people. Some are poor, some are middle-class people. What these ten crore people gave me, I used it to help another hundred crore people. I don't need a certificate from anyone.

But how much wealth do you have at present?

From the time my Trust was set up in 1995 to now, our turnover has been around Rs 1,100 crore. What we have been able to do with this money, the government has not been able to do with lakhs of crores of rupees. We have succeeded in curing crores of people.

It's a good investment.

It's not investment, it's seva. Investment is done to benefit a few people or a company. I am doing seva. It is not for the benefit of one person, but for the benefit of all. Today, I still sleep on the floor. At 11 in the morning and at 7 in the evening, I eat a small meal. I don't eat any foodgrain. I just have a glass of milk and some green vegetables and seasonal fruits.

Swamiji, tell us about your childhood.

I was born in a small village of Haryana in Mahendragarh district. My parents were illiterate farmers. I too have done farming, from sowing to harvesting the crops, from lifting cowdung—everything that an aam aadmi of Hindustan does.

We have heard that you overcame some disease.

When I was a child, I was ill. My left side was paralysed. I had boils on my legs and I couldn't walk. Since I read Rishi Dayanand and autobiographies of many great people, my life changed.

And you started yoga.

I learnt yoga when I was nine. But I never thought I will become so popular one day. I am just a fakir.

But you are a performer.

I don't know what a performer is. Till a few years ago, I did not know that crores of people would trust me. I never believed that so many people would love me. Now I know they do. Hundred of crores of people have reposed their faith in me and I'll try not to ever break that trust.

Since crores of people have faith in you, why don't you contest elections, come to power and bring out the reforms that you want?

Politics is not everything in life. There are two ways to bring change. One is satygraha, which I have chosen, the second is to come to power and bring in changes. In a democracy, the biggest power is people's power. If I have the support of the masses, then I can bring in changes even without coming to power.

But in politics, the trust of the people is evaluated through votes.

My dream is not to become the Prime Minister. My dream is that corruption should end in my country. This corrupt political system has to go. According to my calculation, around Rs 400 lakh crore black money is stashed outside the country. Our country should get the money back. This is no small amount.

Rs 400 lakh crore is a huge amount. Even the country's GDP is not that much.

It's not just my opinion, it's also the opinion of those who study the economy. Our country's economy is around Rs 69 lakh crore and our black (money) economy is much bigger that our white (money) economy.

But swamiji, people also laugh at your claims.

See, whenever people adopt the path of truth, others call them mad. At least people are not calling me mad. And what I'm saying will be proved right. You'll see in the coming days that people who have committed these sins and have betrayed the nation will be exposed. Till now, people felt corruption will not end, black money will not be brought back. But I'm telling you black money will be brought back. You'll see a time-bound, result-oriented action in this direction.

You also say that currency notes of Rs 100, Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 should be banned.

Yes, this is also an issue. On black money, I have raised some issues and the government has said they agree with me. First, the government should declare black money stashed offshore as a national asset. Second, the money deposited illegally outside should be considered a crime against the nation and not just a civil offence. This will put fear in people's minds. To bring back the black money, the government should ratify the UN convention.

Tell me about the currency note issue.

What we want is that black money should be brought back by 'physical and technical investigation'. I am of the opinion that we should withdraw big currency notes. Those who have clean money will get their money back in smaller denominations, and those who have black money, they will not deposit it at all. So we can print notes of smaller denominations of that amount.

I have seen this in Afghanistan at one time when people used to carry suitcases full of money. Anarth ho jayega desh mein. So you want only notes of Rs 10 and Rs 50 in the country?

The nation's work can be done with 50 rupee notes. There are 84 crore people in this country who earn Rs 20 daily and those who have more money, they use credit cards, ATM cards, cheques and drafts.

So, what did the government say on scrapping the higher currency notes?

I don't want to comment on this because the government is looking into it seriously. I spoke to the PM on this issue. See, the issue is not about big notes, it's about black money. We don't have problem with the notes. It's the generation of black money through the movement of cash. Big notes are easily transported and thus they are used for bribing people, evading tax.

I read the letter in which you wrote that if this (black money is brought back), then one rupee would be equal to 50 dollars.

When the black money is brought back, our economy will be so huge, our currency will be so strong that our one rupee will be equal to 50 dollars. It will take some time but it will happen.

How long will it take?

You wait till 2020. There will be such a huge change in this country. We can't deny the fact that the US today has an external debt of Rs 647 lakh crore, UK 404, Germany 211. Spain, Luxembourg, Norway, Italy all have external debt of lakhs of crore of rupees. This is all running on black money.

Are you in agreement with Anna Hazare's movement for the Lokpal Bill?

I'm in complete agreement that a competent Lokpal has to be instituted. The important thing is that there should be a mechanism to recover the money from the person who has carried out the loot. Economic offence is a big offence. According to The Global Hunger Report, every year in our country, 70 lakh people die of hunger and malnutrition. Who is responsible for this? This is not a small thing. I said that in the Lokpal Bill, either life imprisonment or death penalty should be given to those who commit economic offences.

In China, hundreds of people are given death sentences on corruption charges and as per Transparency International, China is more corrupt than India. Goli maarne se bhrashtachaar khatam nahin hota hai (Corruption doesn't end by killing a person).

China has a very different problem. It has a different setup. The law has to be very strong so that when people see someone getting the death penalty, they won't think of committing such an act.

If you are in such agreement with Anna Hazare, then why are you not sitting with him on a hunger strike? Why are you sitting separately?

Lokpal is one way to stop corruption but black money is a separate issue. In all my talks with the government, I have focused on how to bring black money back to the country and how to change the political system that generates black money. The education system too needs to be changed. Those who committed these financial crimes are all well educated people. Educated people have committed these crimes because in our education, spiritual, moral and cultural values have been eliminated.

So how can you change the education system?

The education system has to assimilate moral, spiritual and cultural values. Till it is not changed, we will not be able to shape people's characters. In the same way we have to bring changes in the Land Acquisition Bill, GM crops...

So are you competing with Anna Hazare?

We supported him and we are now taking the movement forward. Anna Hazare works in Maharashtra. So there is no competition between us. Our movement started with the Lokpal issue, but it does not end there. I said this at Jantar Mantar too.

Are you in complete agreement with the committee that has been formed or do you want your own nominee?

There is no question of nominee at all. I never said I want to be a part of the committee. This is not the issue. The issue is black money, corruption, an honest political system.

What will happen after June 4 in this country (Ramdev has announced he will go on a fast-unto-death from June 4 to demand black money stashed abroad be brought back)?

There has been an agreement with the government on some issues. The government has promised to work in a time-bound and credible manner.

Do you consider the Prime Minister honest?

Yes, I have always said that. The government seems to be taking these issues very seriously. Otherwise why would they talk to me? I told Pranab Mukherjee this and he agreed that officers and people holding constitutional posts have many rights but the common people too should have some rights. If someone goes to an office for some work, his work should be completed within a given time frame—seven days, 15 days or a month. If the work is not completed within the time-frame, then a penalty of Rs 250 should be charged on the officer for each lapsed day. That will be deducted from his salary. If the officer continues to repeat such delays, he should be suspended. I gave this suggestion and he said they will try to fully implement it. So, a big change will be coming.

So, your talks with the government are progressing?

There is a lot of progress. The June 4 satyagraha will bring two things to the country. First, black money will start coming in and a mechanism will be in place so that in future, no such black money is generated.

So your movement will be much bigger than Anna Hazare's?

It doesn't matter whether Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev is bigger. The country is bigger.

But why did you choose a different platform and not Anna Hazare's?

Anna Hazare and my agenda is not different but the issues are different. Therefore, I had to raise the issue separately. The issue first was of the Lokpal, now it is black money and reforms in the system.

What is your relationship with the RSS and what do you think of it?

Till the country's law and justice system doesn't consider anyone a deshdrohi (traitor) or an apradhi (culprit), I will speak to that person or organisation. But the moment the country's legal system says the person is a criminal, I will not talk to him.

You have defended the RSS on many platforms, even on Anna Hazare's platform. You said, 'Sangh ke virduh koi kuch nahin bolega (nobody will say anything against the sangh)'.

When someone said the Sangh is a terrorist outfit, I said that from the first sarsanghchalak to the present sarsanghchalak, I have not seen anyone who is involved in any terror activity.

But they have been against the minorities, particularly against Muslims.

You can ask these questions to them. I'm not their spokesperson.

Some people say that when the popularity of Anna Hazare increased, you jumped on to the stage. Aapne kaha, main bhi hoon.

Whatever I have done in my life, I have done in front of everyone. I have not done anything in secret. From November 14 to February 27, we brought Anna Hazare to various platforms in North India. He is still with us.

But in North India, you have the support.

What I'm saying is that we brought him to north India because there is no competition between us. And he is still standing with us. On November 14, we assembled at Jantar Mantar. Ninety-nine per cent of the people there were our workers. Today in this country, a troop of 10 crore people are directly connected with me. They are connected not because of any religious leaning but because I have made them aware of the reality. I have been fighting against this corruption for the last five years. I have come here after walking one lakh kilometres. Ramdev has not dropped suddenly from the sky. He lives on the ground and has worked his way up from the grassroots level. From where do these people churn out such stories about a collision with Anna Hazare?

Not collision but competition.

There is no competition, there is no collision. These are two complementary movements.

This is not a single movement?

Ramdev and Anna Hazare are two persons but the country is one and we are both working for the country. The country is big and it needs to be saved. Corruption has to be weeded out.

The PM is there. He is also working for the country. He is also an honest person.

Yes, that's why I never criticised him. I want a political system to be formed in the country that is a responsible one to which those who have committed crimes are answerable. This is our political view.

Swamiji, at one point you formed a party.

I never got any party registered.

But you announced it. It seems that you got nervous.

I never formed a party and I am not forming one. We are building the country. First, I made my countrymen healthy, now I'll make them richer. A rich country is a good thing.

This is what we are waiting for swamiji, the day when one rupee will be equal to 50 dollars.

That day we'll say with pride that our people will not go to Canada or the UK for a job, they'll come here. We are waiting for the day when people from other countries will say that to earn money, we have to go to India.

Transcribed by Priyanka Sengupta
For full text, visit www.indianexpress.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TAXING TANGLE

 

With three think tanks—NIPFP, NCAER and NIFM (National Institute of Financial Management)—in the race to estimate the size of India's black economy, various figures are once again doing the rounds. There's NIPFP's original 21% of GDP estimate of 1985, Arun Kumar's 35% in 1991 and Global Financial Integrity's (GFI) 50% in 2008—as compared to this estimated annual generation of black economy, GFI estimated the total stash of illicit assets held abroad is $462 billion. It's a bit like the estimates of the 2G scam, three or four by the CAG itself in one report and another by the CBI!

You need to be careful about the estimates, it is natural to confuse tax exemptions with tax evasion. India's tax-to-GDP ratio hasn't gone up as dramatically as it should have after the 1991 reforms; as compared to 15.4% in 1990-91, it was just 16% in 2009-10, after rising to 17.6% in 2007-08. That is poor, but doesn't necessarily mean tax evasion—add the tax-exemptions of 7.2% of GDP that the budget papers give, and that's a tax-GDP ratio of 23.2%. Many think the tax-exemption number is overestimated. If you assume a figure of half, that's still a tax-GDP ratio of 19.6%. Keeping in mind agriculture income (16% of GDP) is not taxed, nor is the small scale sector (10% of GDP), that's an effective tax-GDP rate of 26.5%. Once you take into account the exemptions given for various services, railways and so on, the effective tax is much higher—this would suggest the 50% black economy estimates include large parts of the tax-exempt economy as well. The average tax-GDP ratio for China is 17% and 35% for OECD—generally, the richer a country, the greater the formal sector, and the easier it is to tax it.

If you look at the individual components of taxation, corporate tax-GDP is up dramatically, from 1.7% of GDP in 2000-01 to an estimated 4% in 2011-12; excise duties are down from 3.3% to 1.8; service tax levies are just 0.9% of GDP, suggesting good potential, given that the sector accounts for 60% of GDP.

Amnesty schemes, the usual way to catch black money, are never quite the silver bullet they appear. The most successful amnesty, VDIS 1997, unearthed R33,697 crore (2.2% of that year's GDP) of black money and gathered R9,729 crore of tax but the tax-GDP ratio fell after that year. The rise in corporate tax-GDP ratio suggests the way to tackle black money is to encourage formalisation of the economy (organised retail and radio-cabs, for instance, to replace kiranas and black-and-yellow taxicabs that don't pay taxes) as this is how tax-GDP ratios rise—raising the tax-GDP ratio by just 0.1, from 16 right now, will fetch the R10,000 crore got from VDIS 1997, underscoring the point that raising tax-GDP ratios is a lot more critical in the fight against black money.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

POWERING UP

 

With power sector losses sharply escalating, from R26,400 crore in 2008-09 to an estimated R70,000 crore in 2010-11 and a projected R1,16,089 crore in 2014-15 (13th Finance Commission), the government is in over-drive. The power secretary, FE has reported, has asked the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity (Aptel is the highest body for all disputes in the sector) to get information on whether state electricity regulatory commissions (SERCs) have done their job in revising tariffs at least once a year—under Section 121 of the Electricity Act 2003, Aptel has the power to issue directions to SERCs. The VK Shunglu panel, appointed to find ways to improve the finances of power utilities, has even suggested that these non-performing regulators be asked to go. The Tamil Nadu electricity board, for instance, has just filed for a tariff revision in 2010-11, after eight years. Meanwhile losses in the SEB have skyrocketed to an estimated R30,000 crore.

The immediate casualty could be bank loans, and the Shunglu Committee is concerned that working capital funds could be at risk. While the situation is a far cry from that in 2000-01 when power sector overdues touched 2% of GDP, things have started going bad again. In 2008-09, the Power Finance Corporation reported that of the R29,665 crore the state governments had to give various power utilities for selling power below cost to farmers, they paid just R18,388 crore, In states like Maharashtra and West Bengal, no payments were made in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

The principle of appointing electricity regulators, as in other sectors, was to insulate power utilities from the political process. The way things were envisaged, the SERC would ensure that genuine hikes in tariffs were passed on to consumers; the SERC would also ensure that frivolous costs were not entertained. Sadly, SERCs have proved completely unequal to the task.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

TEN REASONS WHY CHINA IS DIFFERENT
STEPHEN S ROACH

The China doubters are back in force. They seem to come in waves—every few years, or so. Yet, year in and year out, China has defied the naysayers and stayed the course, perpetuating the most spectacular development miracle of modern times. That seems likely to continue.

Today's feverish hand-wringing reflects a confluence of worries—especially concerns about inflation, excess investment, soaring wages and bad bank loans. Prominent academics warn that China could fall victim to the dreaded "middle-income trap", which has derailed many a developing nation.

There is a kernel of truth to many of the concerns cited above, especially with respect to the current inflation problem. But they stem largely from misplaced generalisations. Here are ten reasons why it doesn't pay to diagnose the Chinese economy by drawing inferences from the experiences of others:

Strategy. Since 1953, China has framed its macro objectives in the context of five-year plans, with clearly defined targets and policy initiatives designed to hit those targets. The recently enacted 12th Five-Year Plan could well be a strategic turning point—ushering in a shift from the highly successful producer model of the past 30 years to a flourishing consumer society.

Commitment. Seared by memories of turmoil, reinforced by the Cultural Revolution of the 1970's, China's leadership places the highest priority on stability. Such a commitment served China extremely well in avoiding collateral damage from the crisis of 2008-09. It stands to play an equally important role in driving the fight against inflation, asset bubbles and deteriorating loan quality.

Wherewithal to deliver. China's commitment to stability has teeth. More than 30 years of reform have unlocked its economic dynamism. Enterprise and financial-market reforms have been key, and many more reforms are coming. Moreover, China has shown itself to be a good learner from past crises, and shifts course when necessary.

Saving. A domestic saving rate in excess of 50% has served China well. It funded the investment imperatives of economic development and boosted the cushion of foreign-exchange reserves that has shielded China from external shocks. China now stands ready to absorb some of that surplus saving to promote a shift towards internal demand.

Rural-urban migration. Over the past 30 years, the urban share of the Chinese population has risen from 20% to 46%. According to OECD estimates, another 316 million people should move from the countryside to China's cities over the next 20 years. Such an unprecedented wave of urbanisation provides solid support for infrastructure investment and commercial and residential construction activity. Fears of excess investment and "ghost cities" fixate on the supply side, without giving due weight to burgeoning demand.

Low-hanging fruit—Consumption. Private consumption accounts for only about 37% of China's GDP—the smallest share of any major economy. By focusing on job creation, wage increases and the social safety net, the 12th Five-Year Plan could spark a major increase in discretionary consumer purchasing power. That could lead to as much as a five-percentage-point increase in China's consumption share by 2015.

Low-hanging fruit—Services. Services account for just 43% of Chinese GDP—well below global norms. Services are an important piece of China's pro-consumption strategy—especially large-scale transactions-based industries such as distribution (wholesale and retail), domestic transportation, supply-chain logistics, and hospitality and leisure. Over the next five years, the services share of Chinese GDP could rise above the currently targeted four-percentage-point increase. This is a labour-intensive, resource-efficient, environmentally-friendly growth recipe—precisely what China needs in the next phase of its development.

Foreign direct investment. Modern China has long been a magnet for global multinational corporations seeking both efficiency and a toehold in the world's most populous market. Such investments provide China with access to modern technologies and management systems—a catalyst to economic development. China's upcoming pro-consumption rebalancing implies a potential shift in FDI—away from manufacturing towards services—that could propel growth further.

Education. China has taken enormous strides in building human capital. The adult literacy rate is now almost 95%, and secondary school enrolment rates are up to 80%. Shanghai's 15-year-old students were recently ranked first globally in maths and reading as per the standardised PISA metric. Chinese universities now graduate more than 1.5 million engineers and scientists annually. The country is well on its way to a knowledge-based economy.

Innovation. In 2009, about 280,000 domestic patent applications were filed in China, placing it third globally, behind Japan and the US. China is fourth and rising in terms of international patent applications. At the same time, China is targeting a research-and-development share of GDP of 2.2% by 2015—double the ratio in 2002. This fits with the 12th Five-Year Plan's new focus on innovation-based "strategic emerging industries"—energy conservation, new-generation information technology, biotechnology, high-end equipment manufacturing, renewable energy, alternative materials, and autos running on alternative fuels. Currently, these seven industries account for 3% of Chinese GDP; the government is targeting a 15% share by 2020, a significant move up the value chain.

Yale historian Jonathan Spence has long cautioned that the West tends to view China through the same lens as it sees itself. Today's cottage industry of China doubters is a case in point. Yes, by our standards, China's imbalances are unstable and unsustainable. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has, in fact, gone public with a similar critique.

But that's why China is so different. It actually takes these concerns seriously. Unlike the West, where the very concept of strategy has become an oxymoron, China has embraced a transitional framework aimed at resolving its sustainability constraints. Moreover, unlike the West, which is trapped in a dysfunctional political quagmire, China has both the commitment and the wherewithal to deliver on that strategy. This is not a time to bet against China.

The author, a member of the faculty at Yale University, is non-executive chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and author of "The Next Asia".

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011

www.project-syndicate.org

For a podcast of this commentary in English, please use this link:

http://media.blubrry.com/ps/media.

libsyn.com/media/ps/roach5.mp3

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WATCH OUT FOR COLLECTIVE ABUSE

PRADEEP S MEHTA

 

The basic parameters for healthy competition in the market requires large number of players and large number of buyers to promote the necessary rivalry. Alas, rivals also know how to defeat the purpose by colluding through an implicit or an explicit cartel or by abusing their dominance singly or jointly. Tackling the abuse of dominance needs clear guidelines, so as to capture the conduct of the whole sector that may be prevailing in the market place.

The CCI judgement of December 2, on the issue of charges towards the prepayment of home loans, resulted in an important issue being raised: the possibility of collective abuse of dominance among some banks was not explored. Collective abuse of dominance is a method when unscrupulous business operators might decide to descend on the consumers, who are not in a position to bargain for fair terms, taking advantage of the gobbledygook in the agreement.

Just like India, concerns have been raised on the ease with which collective abuse of dominance can escape the purview of competition laws across many jurisdictions. This refers to abusive conducts that firms, particularly those in oligopolistic markets, may engage in without an explicit agreement. There is a need to ensure that the competition law captures such conducts. Just like the home loan case, the individual firms would all escape punishment under abuse of dominance as individually they would not be dominant. They would also escape action for cartelisation as they may not have sat down and agreed on the joint action. Thus, collective abuse of dominance can be considered a punishable offence, somewhere between a cartel and abuse of dominance.

Although the rationale behind the prosecution of collectively abusive firms has been accepted in competition enforcement circles, there are still a lot of grey areas in the enforcement, given that there is no consensus on the type of behaviour required for finding of joint dominance. It is also not clearly defined in laws across several jurisdictions, including those that have successfully prosecuted firms for such conduct. It is the same situation in India, where the Competition Act, 2002, has not included a precise definition on collective abuse of dominance. Generally, the conduct is punished using inferences from the laws governing abuse of dominance.

For example, although Canada now has a history of more than 20 years of implementing abuse of dominance, there are no separate provisions in handling collective abuse of dominance. But, Canada's Competition Bureau, through the 'Abuse of Dominance Guidelines' of 2001, has tried to provide some clarity on how it deals with the issue of joint dominance. According to the guidelines, the abuse of dominance provisions would also capture a group of firms that coordinate their actions, although something more than simply conscious parallelism has to be established before the Bureau could reach a conclusion that firms are participating in some form of joint dominance. In June 2009, the Bureau intervened by alleging collective abuse of dominance against two unaffiliated waste removal firms on Vancouver Island that collectively held a market share exceeding 80%. They jointly engaged in abuse of dominance by using similar long-term contracts and restrictive terms to lock in customers and exclude competitors.

Collective abuse of dominance at least has an explicit legal backing in the EU as Article 82 (now 102) of the EC Treaty has been used by European and national competition authorities to address collective abuse of dominance. The wording of the Article, which talks about 'abuse by one or more undertakings of a dominant position', allowed the interpretation that collective dominance may also be addressed. However, the application to collective abuse has proved complex, as the first case on Italian Flat Glass, which the European Commission had handled, was rejected by the Court of First Instance (CFI). The CFI ruled that collective dominance could not be established solely by the existence of economic links, but additional evidence was needed in order to positively prove that the undertakings concerned were 'presented on the market as a single entity'. However, many subsequent cases were successfully prosecuted.

The concept of collective dominance was also adopted by a regulatory authority, the Irish telecommunications regulator, ComReg. In December 2004, the regulator concluded that although neither of the two major Irish operators, Vodafone and O2, individually held a position of dominance in the Irish mobile market, Vodafone and O2 held a collective dominant position in the market and had significant market power. As a remedy, ComReg proposed that Vodafone and O2 should open up their networks to alternative providers on non-discriminatory terms to allow operators without a mobile network of their own to enter the market.

This also brings an important lesson to CCI. In its rushed decision on the home loan case, it appears as if the possibility of collective abuse of dominance was never considered. Like other jurisdictions, the Indian competition law provisions on abuse of dominance were framed with a single firm in mind, and although section 4 of the Competition Act also prohibits acts of misconduct by an enterprise or group, the definition of 'group' covers firms that are related in terms of voting rights. It is, thus, important that clear guidelines be established on how collective abuse of dominance would be addressed using the same provisions on single firm conduct. Unless this is done, more firms will continue to escape the purview of the Act, with sad consequences for consumers.

The author is secretary general, CUTS International. Cornelius Dube of CUTS contributed to this article

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

ANOTHER CHANCE IN NEPAL

The last minute deal struck by Nepal's political parties on Sunday will extend the life of the Constituent Assembly (CA) by another three months but whether this will be enough to finalise a new constitution depends on the extent to which the young republic's political parties are willing to show flexibility. Under the terms of the five-point deal, the parties have agreed to conclude the major tasks of the peace process and prepare a first draft of the new constitution within the CA's extended tenure. They have also decided to effectively implement past agreements, including with the Madhesi front, to make the Nepali Army inclusive. Finally, Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal of the Unified Marxists-Leninists (UML) has undertaken to clear the way for the formation of a national unity government by tendering his resignation. A dispute of sorts has already arisen over the last point, with the Nepali Congress (NC) contesting Mr. Khanal's reasonable stand that he can only resign when a viable alternative is ready. At the heart of the continuing stalemate, of course, is the unresolved question of when and how to integrate former combatants from the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in the Nepal Army. The parties have made some progress since the last time the CA was extended, in May 2010, but a final settlement seems to be proving elusive. There are also major differences among the UCPN(M), the UML, and the NC on key constitutional questions such as the form of government and federalism.

The fundamental problem in Nepal is two-fold. The NC and, to a lesser extent, the UML continue to act as if the Maoists still pose a military threat — which they do not — and have made forward movement on constitution-drafting conditional on the formal disbanding of the Peoples' Liberation Army. The Maoists, on the other hand, play on this fear by trying to use the PLA's interim existence as a lever to extract concessions from the NC and UML on the constitutional front. In doing so, the Maoists underestimate their actual strength, which springs from their impressive electoral support. The PLA is no longer a fighting force and the longer its former combatants languish in limbo, the greater is the likelihood that they will become undisciplined and even lumpenised. With Maoist leader Prachanda broadly endorsing the Nepal Army's proposal for integration, a serious push should be made by all sides to take the peace process to its logical conclusion. India can help by abandoning its negativism and sending a clear signal to all parties that it supports the speedy integration of the PLA as part of the wider process of making the NA more professional and inclusive.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

DRUGS NEED NEW THINKING

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group that includes former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and several former Latin American presidents, is expected to announce soon that the "war on drugs" has been a failure. The Mexican government states that since President Felipe Calderón took office in 2006 and implemented a crackdown, trafficking has been a factor in 35,000 deaths, and drug-related corruption is out of control. In the United States, which has the world's highest levels of use, the NGO Drug Policy Alliance estimates that official bodies spend $51 billion a year fighting drugs. The political context is also significant. In India, regions like the Northeast reveal connections between conflict and opportunities for trafficking, as also between injected drugs and HIV/AIDS transmission. Furthermore, law and policy are no deterrents; research on cannabis use has found that the most important factor is the social context. With illegal drugs now a major source of income for organised crime, governments cannot curb the trade and often resort to torture and extra-judicial killings. State agencies also seem to deal in deadly drugs. The crashes in Latin America of two aircraft used by the CIA for the rendition of terrorism suspects for torture elsewhere revealed cargoes totalling four tonnes of cocaine.

The human cost of the failed war on drugs is incalculable, and the need for radical new approaches can no longer be denied. The main international instrument, the 1961 U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, has no enforcement mechanism and is almost toothless. Legalisation is controversial, with few politicians ready to support it publicly. Fortunately, a broad consensus across ideological lines is emerging in the form of decriminalisation, which makes drug use an administrative violation but treats trafficking as a criminal offence. In Portugal, the only European Union state to legislate to this effect, it has been assessed as an undisputed success. Drug use and drug-related deaths and diseases have declined over the last decade, and the use of harm-reduction services has increased greatly. Several Latin American countries — which have been ravaged by the drug trade — as well as some EU states and a few regional governments elsewhere have got good results from de facto decriminalisation. The strategy may, however, encounter resistance from powerful vested interests, including police and other security forces, politicians fearful of public disapproval, and drug cartels. The Global Commission's statement will be awaited with interest, as it could signal an overdue change in the world's attitude to drugs.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

FOR DRAFTING AN IDEAL LOKPAL BILL

THE SUCCESS OF THE INSTITUTION OF LOKPAL WILL DEPEND ON LIMITING ITS SCOPE TO THE VERY TOP OF THE HIERARCHY. THAT WILL MAKE IT MANAGEABLE AND LEAD TO ACCOUNTABILITY DOWN THE LINE.

ARUN KUMAR

The drafting of the Lokpal bill is back in the news after the round of Assembly elections. The co-chairperson of the high-power committee involved in the drafting has said that progress is slow and that the June 30 deadline is likely to be missed. Some civil society groups made suggestions on what the Bill should contain. The chairperson of the drafting committee responded with alacrity, sensing an opportunity to let the government have its way by claiming divisions in civil society.

Apparently, important differences remain between the representatives of civil society and the government, especially with regard to bringing the Prime Minister and the members of the higher judiciary under the purview of the Lokpal. Two issues arise: how important is their inclusion; and will missing the June 30 deadline by a few months to get a good Bill in place make a big difference, given that the Bill has been pending for 42 years?

If it is indeed the magic wand that will eliminate corruption rightaway, then it is urgently needed. Those in favour of the Lokpal suggest that it will check the vested interests that are spreading corruption in society. But they are not able to convince the doubting Thomases who argue that it can neither be the panacea for all ills nor can it root out the endemic corruption in society in one go. The sceptics, who have often been in the forefront of the fight against corruption, need to be differentiated from the vested interests which have been stalling the Bill for their narrow ends. The sceptics are not for needless delay but want prioritisation of the steps to fight corruption.

The Lokpal is presented as a watchdog for the corrupt system. What has the experience been with the many watchdogs that are already in place? There is the Central Vigilance Commission to oversee the functioning of the investigative agencies, but we know that it has been largely ineffective. We have the Election Commission to see that elections are conducted in a fair manner, and it is seen to be successful. But the political system as a whole seems to be only getting more corrupt than before. There are the legislatures, which are meant to be accountable to the citizens and oversee the nation's functioning. But the country is witness to the growing criminalisation and the penetration by money power among their members. The judiciary is supposed to see that justice is done — which is but another form of accountability. But increasingly, judges at different levels have been accused of corruption. There are the lesser watchdogs, like the intelligence agencies and the regulatory bodies, but they too have been accused of a growing degree of corruption. Given all this, can there be a perfect Bill that will somehow insulate the Lokpal against the corruption in society?

Today, illegality is widespread in society. It affects almost all social, political and economic aspects of life. Tackling illegality is the most urgent task. Thus, while the Lokpal may not be the one thing on which all attention needs to be focussed, it is perhaps the most important step in the drive against corruption.

It is not that the nation does not know what should be done to deal with the black economy and the associated illegality. Since the 1950s, there have been dozens of committees and commissions that have gone into aspects of it. They include the Kaldor Report (1956), the Santhanam Committee (1964), the Wanchoo Committee (1971), the Dagli Committee (1979), the NIPFP Report (1985), and the Kelkar Committee (2002). Then there are the reports of Estimates Committees, the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committees.

The reports contain thousands of suggestions — and hundreds of them have been implemented. These include the reduction of income tax rates (from 97.5 per cent in the highest bracket in 1971 to the present 30 per cent), elimination of many controls (relating to monopolies and restrictive trade practices, foreign exchange regulation, licensing, trade controls, and so on), demonetisation of currency, voluntary disclosure of income, issue of bearer bonds, acquisition of undervalued property, introduction of value added tax, and so on. Yet, the size of the black economy has grown.

Various movements against corruption (such as the 'Nav Nirman' in 1972) or changes in laws (such as the introduction of the Right to Information) and the corresponding steps to fight corruption have been thwarted or diluted by the corrupt. People have often been disappointed by these failures and have become cynical. Yet, they have periodically reacted with positive outcomes. The subversion of steps to curb the black economy and the associated corruption is engineered by the ruling elite consisting of the triad of corrupt politicians, businessmen and the executive. Since they make huge incomes through the black economy, they have little incentive to curb their own illegality by checking that economy.

Can there be a perfect law that cannot be subverted? No such legislation has fully solved the problem it set out to resolve. The Indian Constitution is often praised, but it has had to be repeatedly amended and there have been problems. In practice, a law has seldom turned out to be as it was drafted on paper. Human ingenuity is such that it finds loopholes to subvert the law, for the spirit is not willing. Will the same fate meet the Lokpal Bill?

Take the law which is meant to prevent the crooked from deliberately letting their cheques bounce. Or the one that allows for the summary trial of cases where a signed lease exists and where the tenant does not vacate the property automatically when the lease ends. Today, lakhs of cases relating to these provisions are pending in courts because the courts allow delays. The crooked then cock a snook at the law while the honest go on the back foot. This happens because there is lack of accountability among judges — if a case drags on, who are they answerable to? The party that suffers due to delays cannot take a tough stance for fear of antagonising the judge.

How can accountability be built into the system? The judges can be accountable to either their conscience or to a higher authority. Today, greed and decline of morals have made the former a rare commodity. In the case of the latter, the chain ends with the Chief Justice. If he demands accountability, it would percolate down. Similarly, if the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister demand accountability, the entire administration will follow suit.

Conversely, even if the Prime Minister or the Chief Justice is honest but practises non-accountability and arbitrariness, that spreads downward and corruption grows. Information about wrongdoings in high places is collected by the intelligence agencies, but is not acted upon. Such inaction will no more be feasible if the Lokpal Bill brings the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India under its ambit.

But can it bring about accountability in the political process, something elections have failed to do? Some doubt it, since the appointment of other constitutional authorities has run into controversies and that could happen in the case of the Lokpal too. How can the honest get to the top when corruption is endemic, except by accident?

Be that as it may, the surest way to subvert the Lokpal is to make the institution widely applicable to all manner of corruption. It will get embroiled in all kinds of wrangling and become like the courts, choked with cases. India has enough laws that can curb corruption at various levels, provided there is implementation; only accountability can ensure that. Thus, it is critical that those higher up in the hierarchy demand accountability from those under them. The buck would only stop end at the top — with the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India at the Centre and the Chief Minister and the Chief Justices of High Courts in the States. That is what the focus of the Lokpal (and the Lokayukta) should be. Even then, without pressure exerted through public movements, the Lokpal can get subverted.

In brief, in the last six decades, many steps have been taken to curb the growing illegality but these have not delivered results due to lack of accountability in the system and the decline of self-regulation since greed has been placed on a new high pedestal. It is argued that the setting up of a Lokpal is not a magic wand to eliminate corruption but an important step towards that end. However, its success will depend on limiting its scope to the very top: that will make it manageable and lead to accountability down the line. Then only will laws be followed both in letter and spirit and become meaningful.

(The author is with the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University. E-mail: arunkumar1000@hotmail.com)

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

STATE DEPARTMENT CABLE CITED ISI LINKS WITH MILITANTS

MUKUND PADMANABHAN

CHENNAI: A diplomatic cable sent under the name of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton states that despite public disavowals, "some officials of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations," in particular the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The cable, dated December 30, 2009 (242073: secret), was sent to five U.S. Embassies, including that of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It says these organisations exploit Pakistan's network of charities, non-governmental organisations and madrassas, which provide them with "recruits, funding and infrastructure to plan new attacks."

Ms. Clinton accuses Pakistan of seeking to block the listing of Pakistan-based terrorists as well as "affiliated" terrorists nominated for blocking by India under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267. Under this resolution, countries are obliged to impose an economic sanctions regime against listed individuals and entities. She notes that Pakistan tries to block listings by requesting China, a member of the UNSC, to place a hold on such nominations. However, the cable notes that Beijing did not prevent the most recent Pakistan-related terrorist nomination made by the U.S.

Ms. Clinton's action request cable urges the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad to engage the Pakistan government on a number of specific "talking points." These include urging Islamabad to:

Strictly enforce existing sanctions against all individuals and entities on the UNSCR 1267 consolidated list;

View listing requests under UNSCR 1267 on merit and not on the basis on politics;

Enforce sanctions on UN-proscribed NGOs that funnel money and other forms of support to the Taliban and the LeT;

Act against the Haqqani network, "which is funneling weapons and fighters across the border to fight U.S. and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan."

The cable, the larger focus of which was to check illegal finance flows into Pakistan and Afghanistan from some Gulf countries, was also marked to American Embassies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. It states that "donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide." The country is described as a "critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups, including Hamas, which probably raises millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources, often during Hajj and Ramadan."

At the same time, it acknowledges that Saudi Arabia has enacted important reforms to criminalise terrorist financing and restrict the overseas flow of funds from Saudi-based charities.

The Pakistan Cables are being shared by The Hindu with NDTV in India and Dawn in Pakistan

     

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THE HINDU

OPED

SAJID MIR'S WAR AGAINST THE WORLD

THE INSIDE STORY OF THE LASHKAR-E-TAIBA COMMANDER WHO BUILT THE LASHKAR'S INTERNATIONAL NETWORKS.

PRAVEEN SWAMI


In the summer of 2005, Sajid Mir had been at the Feroze Shah Kotla stadium in New Delhi, packed amidst the hundreds of ecstatic Pakistani cricket fans who cheered their team as it powered its way to a record 159-run victory over India.

Mir, though, was in India for a game of his own.

The top Lashkar-e-Taiba commander's undercover visit was the first of a series of surveillance missions which culminated in the November, 2008, attacks on Mumbai. The Lashkar intelligence operative whose reconnaissance enabled the attack, Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley, reported to Mir. From a safehouse in Karachi, Mir guided the assault team using a voice-over-internet line, personally ordering the execution of several hostages.

Now, western intelligence sources have told The Hindu, Mir is being held in a safehouse run by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, along with the man who travelled with him to New Delhi — a former Pakistani military officer and military trainer called Abdur Rehman Hashim.

Focussed on securing counter-terrorism cooperation against terrorist groups operating against the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, the United States has refrained from pushing Pakistan to put figures like Mir on trial, even though its intelligence services have sharply escalated operations targeting the Lashkar.

But unless Pakistan can be compelled to begin dismantling the Lashkar, the ISI's oldest and most trusted jihadist ally, India will not be the only country at risk. Mir's story helps understand why.

Sajid Mir's war

Little is known about Mir — and much of what is available comes from Headley's custodial testimony to India's National Investigations Agency. Born in 1976, according to documents filed to obtain his Indian visa, Mir grew up in a middle-class ethnic Punjabi home.

Mir's father, according to Indian intelligence officials, earned enough working in Saudi Arabia to build a comfortable family home near Lahore airport, set up a small textile business, and put his sons through college. In time, Mir married the daughter of a retired Pakistan army chaplain; the couple are thought to have two sons.

Like the Lashkar's supreme leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Mir's father, Abdul Majid, was a Partition refugee; more likely than not, he nursed hatreds shared by many on both sides of the border.

But Mir was among a new generation of Lashkar leaders who believed the organisation needed to move beyond Saeed's obsessive focus on India, and, following the vision of his co-founder, Osama bin Laden's mentor Abdullah Azzam, participate in the global jihadist project.

Lashkar cadre fought alongside Islamist groups in Tajikistan from 1992-1997, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In a 1993 interview to the Lashkar-affiliated magazine al-Dawa, a commander called Abu Abdul Aziz argued that the Bosnia campaign would help "Islam enter Europe through jihad."

In December 1998, the Pakistani newspaper Jang reported that jihadists from more than 50 countries had attended a convention organised by the Lashkar's parent organisation, then called the Markaz Dawat wal'Irshad.

The invitation left little to the imagination: "You can go to any jihadi frontline in the world and you will find Markaz Dawat wal' Irshad mujahideen crushing the infidels and destroying the fortresses of the devil."

"Mir understood," says an Indian intelligence official familiar with the Mumbai investigation, "that the Lashkar was competing for resources and support with organisations like al-Qaeda and the Taliban — and that simply pursuing its old, anti-India agenda would lead to its marginalisation."

No-one knows for certain just how Mir rose up the Lashkar's ranks: unlike his contemporaries, notably the military commander responsible for training the Mumbai assault team, Muzammil Butt, he never served in Kashmir.

In the aftermath of 9/11, though, he was made responsible for training the growing number of western jihadists knocking on the Lashkar's doors.


French national Willie Brigitte, a Guadeloupe-born convert who was awn to the Islamist movement in Paris, was among Mir's first finds. In the wake of 9/11, Brigitte travelled to the Lashkar's headquarters in Muridke. Later, he was assigned to a combat training camp in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Brigitte later told French intelligence his instructor was a man with long black hair and a thick beard who wore a Russian-made automatic pistol on his hip, and swaggered through the camp with two bodyguards

Fluent in English, Urdu and Arabic, he was known to the foreign jihadists as "Uncle Bill"—a reference to Mir's affable manner.

The evidence, the French judge who invested the Brigitte case, Jean Louis Bruguiére, later recorded, showed "that Sajid Mir was a high-ranking officer in the Pakistani Army and apparently also was in the ISI."

In 2003, Brigitte arrived in Australia, carrying instructions from Mir to tie up with Fahim Lodhi, a Pakistan-born architect. He married a former Australian intelligence officer who had converted to Islam, who is alleged to have passed him maps and photos of potential targets. Before the two men could realise their plans, though, they were arrested in a joint French-Australian intelligence effort.

Mir's recruits also included four jihadists from the suburbs of Washington DC, who were inspired to fight against ISAF troops in Afghanistan by a local cleric, Ali al-Tamimi. The men travelled to Pakistan, arriving at a Lashkar office in Lahore which was adorned with the slogan: "yesterday we saw Russia disintegrate, India will be next, and then America and Israel will burn."

In the event, intense pressure by the United States led the Lashkar to shut down its camps to foreigners. It continued to flirt, though, with global jihadist causes. In 2004, British troops in Basra held Danish Ahmad, a Lashkar commander who had earlier served in Kashmir. He, and another Lashkar operative who sought to fight in Iraq, are now believed to be held in the Bagram prison in Kabul.

Lashkar networks overseas also expanded east, with Mir setting up a restaurant in Bangkok and a textile business in Bangladesh to serve as cover businesses. Ever mindful of secrecy, Mir even underwent plastic surgery in 2005 after his visit to India — though Headley observed it did little to alter his appearance.

Headley had arrived at Mir's camp just after the foreigners were evicted under ISI pressure — and was used to target India alone. Later, though, he broke with the Lashkar after Mir refused to go forward on an agreed operation targeting the Jyllands Posten newspaper in Denmark, which had angered many Muslims by publishing cartoons purported to be blasphemous.

In an intercepted September 17, 2009 phone conversation with Hashim, Headley railed against Mir who, he asserted, had "rotten guts." "I am just telling you," he lectured Hashim "that the companies in your competition have started handling themselves in a far better way."

The competing company belonged to Muhammad Illyas Kashmiri — the head of the al-Qaeda affiliated Harkat ul-Jihad Islami. Having visited Kashmiri's headquarters in 2009, and securing his support, he wrote approvingly that the area was "bustling with Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, Bosnians, some from European Union countries and, of course, our Arab brothers."

Educated in jihadist institutions born of the Pakistan army's anti-India covert war, trained at facilities set up to execute it, Headley ended up being a threat to the west. In recent years, numbers of Lashkar-trained cadre have fought alongside Taliban units in Afghanistan Kunar province; others have defected to jihadists fighting the Pakistani state, which Saeed has been careful never to target.

From his safehouse in Pakistan, Mir has likely been following the course of the Headley case, and contemplating its lessons. The world needs to do so, too: the products made in Pakistan's jihad factor, after all, are not just a threat to India.

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THE HINDU

THE WAR RUGS FROM AFGHANISTAN

From afar, the ornate rug looks like a blur of colour and nondescript geometric patterns. But a closer look reveals the unmistakable shapes of helicopters, tanks and weapons.

The Oriental carpet from war-torn Afghanistan exemplifies a traditional craft with a modern twist. It's one of more than 60 on display at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia through July ("Battleground — War Rugs from Afghanistan" and at www.penn.museum).

U.S. and Canadian soldiers buy many of the rugs as souvenirs, and the textiles show the intersection of art, commerce, tourism and war, experts say.

"People who are in pretty severe circumstances will make what sells," exhibit curator Max Allen said.

For centuries, rug-makers have woven colourful threads to depict flowers, animals and other elements of nature. Carpets are a major Afghan export as well as a staple in local homes, where they are considered furniture, Allen said.

Customary designs are still prevalent, but a subset with battle themes began to emerge during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, he said. It continued when American soldiers invaded after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Some rugs incorporate subtle imagery visible only upon close inspection- trapezoidal shapes come into focus as tanks and irregular geometric outlines become rows of assault rifles or aircraft. The dimensions of those pieces, combined with their delicate patterns and high quality, lead Allen to believe they were made for natives.

Other rugs are flashier, with crude maps of the country labelled in English, huge fighter jets, soldiers, even planes flying into the World Trade Center. Many are doormat size, woven of cheaper material and made to appeal to foreigners. Still, Allen described the carpets as "important cultural documents." He first noticed one at a rug store in Toronto about 10 years ago, and has since bought hundreds.

The collection in the Philadelphia exhibit, first displayed at the Textile Museum of Canada, was mostly acquired on eBay, he said. "Like any textile tradition, I knew they would come and go," Allen told The Associated Press. "I thought, 'I better start accumulating them.'" Thomas Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, owns a 160-year-old traditional carpet and two small war rugs given to him by Afghan colleagues. He described them as bearing the American and Afghan flags and some kind of battle equipment.

Post-9/11 rugs are more about pleasing buyers than protesting conflict, but now-hard-to-find Soviet-era carpets were genuine expressions of suffering, he said. Many were made and sold in Pakistan, where Afghan refugees lived in camps; the market niche for war rugs developed soon after, said Gouttierre. Eventually, the battle imagery may recede, he said.

Brian Spooner, a professor of anthropology at Penn, said the rugs "are a product of the vastly increased rate of social change Afghans have experienced" since the Soviets invaded in late 1979. — AP

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THE HINDU

SUU KYI PLANS TOUR OF RURAL MYANMAR IN JUNE

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi plans to tour the countryside next month in her first trip into the provinces since a 2003 political tour ended in her house arrest.

Suu Kyi said she hoped to travel outside of Yangon in June but didn't provide further details. She spoke on May 30 via videolink to an audience at Hong Kong University. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate drew large crowds when she toured northern Myanmar, and her popularity rattled the military government. Exactly eight years ago this day, supporters of the ruling junta ambushed her entourage. Several of her followers were killed, but she escaped, only to be arrested. — AP

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THE ASIAN AGE

HOPES HIGH FOR A GOOD MONSOON

It is that time of the year when heavy dark clouds are particularly welcome as they spell the onset of the monsoon across India. This country's $1.2-trillion economy remains substantially dependent on a good monsoon, with barely 14 per cent of arable land under irrigation on an average. While the rains in June are important, those in July are even more vital as several major crops depend on these, and will otherwise fail.

The good news so far this year is that the rains have arrived a couple of days ahead of schedule in Kerala, Lakshadweep, South Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, heralding the onset of the southwest monsoon. This is the so-called Arabian Sea branch of the southwest monsoon; the other one — the Bay of Bengal branch — provides rainfall to areas east of the western ghats. The southwest monsoon determines the fate of the nation's kharif crop — foodgrain, cotton, oilseeds, etc. — in the main cropping season.
If, as forecast by the India Metereological Department, this year's rains are normal and the sowing can be done on time, the prospects for a good crop are bright. But it is also not that simple. A lot of groundwork needs to be done — loans have to be disbursed in time so that farmers can buy agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertiliser, before it is too late. Complaints are already coming in from Maharashtra's Vidarbha region, from where the maximum number of farmer suicide deaths are reported, that the banks are going very slow on loan disbursements, and since the government delayed fixing the price of seeds, there is a delay in distribution of seeds as well, and these are openly being sold in the black market. It is learnt that just 10 per cent of farmers have received Kisan Credit Cards, which makes them eligible for loans automatically when they pay off their earlier loans. But even in such cases, the banks work less efficiently than they should. If these hurdles can be overcome, the agriculture scenario should be positive, and the economy in general will benefit.
Agriculture accounts for just 28 per cent of India's GDP and has grown by 2-4 per cent in recent years. But 70 per cent of India still depends on agriculture, and therefore if the monsoon is not good the results can be devastating. Millions of poor people are driven into further impoverishment. From industry's perspective, a good monsoon is an instant bonanza for certain sectors, such as fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and two-wheeler and tractor manufacturers as rural India has more purchasing power in its hands. It could also help tame food inflation, though last year, even though there was a good monsoon, food prices actually soared. One reason behind that was Russia stopping grain exports after it had a bad season. India is heavily dependent on the import of pulses, so if countries like Burma have a bad crop the prices soar in the international markets. Also, the domestic onion crop was destroyed due to unseasonal rains and floods. If food inflation falls, the overall inflation rate could come down too and lead to a softening of interest rates. The Reserve Bank will at least not be under pressure to raise interest rates. Ironically, a good monsoon will have little positive impact on the stock markets (as just a few fertiliser stocks and an irrigation company are listed); unlike the huge negative impact that a bad monsoon has on market sentiment. The country will, of course, pray as usual to the rain god Indra that he shower his blessings on India and its people.

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THE ASIAN AGE

FOR THE LOVE OF TERROR

SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY

"There is an increasing belief that Pakistanis walk both sides of the road".
US senate intelligencecommittee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, as reported in the Wall Street Journal
Rumblings of discontent in the United States are growing louder post-Osama bin Laden and Abbottabad. The US is a dissatisfied paymaster, because its huge financial investments in Pakistan by way of military

and civil aid are simply not paying off, with little value to show for American tax payers' money expended. The US remains the most reviled hate figure in Pakistani public opinion, rivalling and sometimes even exceeding India. Pakistanis, both in the Army as well as civil society, are happy to bite the hand that feeds them, because misuse and misappropriation of American funds is now considered almost an article of faith and part of the anti-America jihad in that country.

There is really nothing much the Americans can do except fume about their admittedly unenviable situation, because there is only so much influence the US can exert on its dubious "ally", particularly on the taboo subject of accounting for funds received. Pakistan can almost imperiously brush aside inconvenient American importunities, because it holds two trump cards — first, potential hostages in the 150,000 US troops who have "surged" into Afghanistan and are now locked into that country, dependent solely on a single route of maintenance (and, who knows, withdrawal) running entirely through Pakistan, from Karachi to Kabul via the Khyber Pass, and to Kandahar via Chaman. Pakistan's intransigencies can easily shut down this surface lifeline whenever Pakistan needs to make a point about who is really in charge, and indeed sometimes does so just to give a turn of the screw to its American "partners". The other high card is Pakistan's feverishly expanding stockpile of nuclear weapons and enriched plutonium likely to soon exceed that of France. Here, too, Pakistan blackmails its reluctant American benefactors by holding a gun to its own head with dire prognostications of a nuclear implosion if America withdraws aid. Pakistan's indispensability is further rubbed in by ostentatious visits to China just to remind the benighted Americans that the US is not the only donor around!
Meanwhile, the financial aspects of the US-Pakistan joint venture in AfPak, as depicted in some foreign media, make for interesting — and ominous — reading. Amongst them is the Kerry-Lugar Bill, legislatively codified by US in 2009 as "The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act" with the stated aim of "the development of an enhanced strategic partnership with Pakistan and its people". The act provides for economic and military aid to Pakistan by the US to the extent of $7.5 billion over five financial years (2009-2013) to be utilised for economic and social development, as well as military assistance and arms transfers for counterinsurgency and counterterrorism as part of the war on terror.

In addition, former US President George W. Bush also created the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) after 9/11, under which Washington has provided $8.87 billion to Islamabad as running expenses for undertaking the war on terror against the Taliban in AfPak on behalf of the US. These funds are deposited directly into the Pakistan treasury, with very little American control over its expenditure thereafter, even though there are provisions for American oversight, including annual certification by the US secretary of state that such funds are being spent in accordance with the prescribed pre-conditions. Nothing much is heard thereafter, presumably because of an escape hatch clause that dispenses with such certification "if in the national interest". However, authorities within the American government freely comment that only 30 per cent of CSF resources for Pakistan are being expended for their intended purpose, while the remainder 70 per cent of funds are apparently unaccounted for, and might well have been expended for "anything from F16 fighter aircraft to a new house for an Army general". In Islamabad, the Pakistan government submits monthly bills for an average $80 million to the US embassy on account of ongoing but unspecified military operations for which no receipts are given.
The US and Pakistan are said to be actively sparring behind closed doors in Washington and Islamabad over this unending Niagara of American funds on account of services contracted for but not rendered. The Pakistan Army submits requests for funds which are either unsubstantiated, exaggerated, or not pertaining to the war on terror, while reports in influential sections of American media indicate that more than 40 per cent of such claims against alleged logistical expenditure on military equipment, food, water and military accommodation are almost routinely rejected in Washington as being inflated. On one check, these amounted to about $3.2 million between January 2009 to June 2010. Some examples are hilarious — the US paid millions of dollars to refurbish four Pakistani helicopters for operational deployment of troops against the Taliban and other militants. The Pakistan Army diverted three of the refurbished helicopters to the Pakistani UN peacekeeping force in Sudan, for which Pakistan receives compensation from the United Nations! In another instance, in 2006, the Pakistan Army claimed almost $70 million for maintenance of air defence radar sets, presumably against the Taliban air threat!

These are, of course, the lighter sides of the financial chicanery institutionalised by the Pakistan Army, but there are darker, more serious implications for India of financial assistance by the US to our rogue neighbour. The refurbished helicopters diverted to Sudan might well have been sent to Kashmir, while radar coverage against air strikes by the Taliban is undoubtedly deployed along Pakistan's eastern borders facing India.
The Pakistan military, as always, is undoubtedly doing well out of America's war on terror. But as election year approaches in the US, and the country remains convalescent after its near-death economic meltdown, America will have to find answers to the dilemma of funding its demanding and unscrupulous ally.

Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament

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THE ASIAN AGE

NO COUNTDOWN TO CASTE YET

SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY

Deep turned round to stare at me when Rahul Gandhi popped the question, "What's your caste?" It's not that my son didn't know. But he was thrown because he didn't think of himself in terms of caste… which is precisely what Mr Gandhi intended to highlight as emblematic of the emerging secular, non-sectarian India of his and Deep's generation.

Their interaction makes me wonder if a caste census won't set back the trend towards modernisation.
The past is another country. I remember paying a courtesy call many years before Deep was born at the Hindu newspaper's office in what was then Madras, as instructed by my own editor, an Englishman who started his Indian career on the long-defunct Madras Mail. A barefoot Hindu editor with sandalwood marks on his forehead and wrapped in what Bengalis call a lungyi but is a dhoti in the south asked me how many Brahmins were members of West Bengal's Legislative Assembly. Just back from England, I replied stoutly that caste didn't matter in Bengal. "Not in the circles you move in!" he replied shortly, and pleaded an important meeting to end the conversation. Today's Hindu is a different world.

But the man was right. I have had several brushes since then with caste lobbies. One tried to sue me but the magistrate threw out the petition. Another dragged me to the Press Council in the shabbiness to which the Faridkot House dining room has been reduced. The council ruled in my favour but subjected me to a homily on not hurting people's sentiments. As B.P. Mandal said, "If Karl Marx were born in Calcutta, he would have realised that caste plays an equally important factor in denying people their rights".

Bal Thackeray put it brilliantly: Indians don't cast their vote, they vote their caste. Even Mahatma Gandhi baulked at a frontal attack on caste. He attacked untouchability instead, hoping that its removal would destroy the underpinnings of the caste system. What Gandhi doesn't seem to have considered is the relevance of caste to identity and self-image. Perhaps we will get a glimpse of that in the proposed census to chart out the entire population's economic, caste and religious affiliations. E.M.S. Namboodiripad tried something similar in 1968 but his purpose in assessing inequality was to mobilise lower caste voters.

Undoubtedly, the all-India exercise will also be exploited for political gain by not only the three Yadavs — Lalu Prasad, Sharad and Mulayam Singh — but also the BJP, Akali Dal, Shiv Sena and AIADMK. They have all been clamouring for a caste census.

Some good may yet come of it if the findings help the Centre to reject affirmative action as a blanket reward for everyone born in particular groups and evolve a rational policy to enable the genuinely disadvantaged to overcome social and educational drawbacks. But enumerators will have to tread warily through the minefield of "creamy layers" and "Brahminised" dalits.

The Harchand Singh Committee noted that when Punjab's evacuee estates were being distributed among the underprivileged, "influential scheduled caste bureaucrats and public men" grabbed properties for a song to sell "at exorbitant prices to non-scheduled caste persons". Certain Karnataka Brahmins pestered Mandal to be designated backward. He must have realised elsewhere — even if he didn't record it — that conversion to Islam or Christianity needn't mean escaping caste. Indeed, some Goan Catholics boast of their Brahmin origin.
There are many other complexities for, in some respects, India is a state of many nations rather than a nation of many states. It's as confused as Indonesia whose Dutch rulers overlooked the high percentage of Chinese because they described themselves by dialect, as Hakka, Teochew or whatever. Caste names and practices aren't uniform. Sub-castes and sects vary from region to region.

In fact, nomenclature was another reason for Deep's discomfiture at Mr Gandhi's question. I had to turn to H.H. Risley's Tribes and Castes of Bengal, Volume I, to find confirmation of the mixed origin of our little-known Baidya (Vaidya in Sanskrit) caste. It's "found only in Bengal Proper" and apparently ranks socially "next to Brahmins and above Kayasthas". Since respondents were suspected of self-promotion when caste information was last gathered in 1931, I hasten to add that is Risley's view, not mine. Today, if you mention Vaidya to someone from the cow belt, he will probably hear "Vaishya"!

Downgrading carries handsome educational, employment and other benefits, as borne out by the ever-lengthening list of eligible castes. Given this "vested interest in backwardness", equating caste with socio-economic class is by no means as simple as the late Kanshi Ram's pencil analogy. He held up a pencil when I went to see him in his Karol Bagh office, saying it represented the vertical caste hierarchy. His aim, he explained in his mild soft-spoken way, was to make it horizontal.

That's what we were discussing in the context of Uttar Pradesh under the woman who claims to wear Kanshi Ram's mantle (albeit, a fashionable designer version) when Mr Gandhi stumped Deep. We thought he was making the healthy point that since caste is no longer the major determinant in emerging India, it is regressive to keep harping on the so-called bahujan as if it's a minority in dire need of care and protection.
No wonder the Centre hesitated to sanction a caste census. What many will see as affirmation and legitimisation of sectarian identities hammers yet another nail in the coffin of Macaulay's famous or infamous dream of creating "a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect". It sounds arrogantly Anglo-Saxon but meant no more than the rational, scientifically-oriented, English-speaking, superstition-free society Jawaharlal Nehru envisioned. As does his great-grandson. A caste census might mean goodbye to that.

POSTSCRIPT: An apocryphal story has it that P.C. Sen, West Bengal's former Congress chief minister, told inquirers who were surprised at his turning up when Promode Dasgupta, the Marxist general secretary died, that he always attended events connected with fellow Baidyas. Caste before ideology!

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

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

TREATING JAMMU SLUMS

 

It is encouraging that Revenue, Relief and Rehabilitation Minister has taken note of the need of treating slum areas of Jammu and improving the quality of life of those condemned by destiny to live in slums. He visited just one ward (No. 20) of Balmiki Colony, and found it necessary for him to react to the living conditions in the slum area. Generally the denizens of these slum areas are the poorest of the poor who are deprived of most of the amenities of a normal life. They are the economically weakest segment of society, and remain deprived of education and employment. Theirs is a human problem and the popular government is bound by the constitution of the country to lift them up to proper standard of living. As we take a round of Jammu city and its peripheries, we find that slum areas are mushrooming rapidly and thus the ugliness of the city, once known for its cleanliness and sanitary upkeep is gradually turning into a loathsome slum.


Jammu is now essentially a city of migrants. There is large influx of labour force from UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, seeking employment in rapidly growing industrial units sprawling in the outskirts of the city. The employers exploit the poverty of these migratory labourers and engage them on cheap wages. Most of them come with their families and children who also find some daily waging work along with their men folk. With the passage of time some of them have settled down almost in a quasi-permanent state of habitation. Apart from them, there is large scale rural to urban population migration in Jammu. This is because of widespread unemployment among the rural youth and minimum chances of their employment. As they are incapable of renting a livable room within the accessible limits of the city, they prefer to build jhuggis which gives rise to obnoxious slums. Entire industrial and constructional area of Jammu is now turning into a slum with no facilities of drinking water, electricity, sanitation and healthcare. It has to be remembered that migratory labourers are fully protected by the international law and human rights charter that stipulate providing them the basic facilities and requirements of life. Therefore if the Minister has sanctioned some money for the development of Balmiki Colony, he has not done any special favour to them or to the entire body of slum dwellers. As citizens of India they have the right to facilities like water, electricity, healthcare, education etc.

 

Furthermore, the issue of slum dwellers needs to be dealt with in a holistic manner and not by piecemeal treatment. The Government will have to chalk out a uniform policy of improving environmental and living conditions of these slums, and provide relief to the affected people. They are what has usually been conceptualized and people below poverty line. All facilities and concessions sanctioned by the Government at state and central levels should accrue to them especially facilities like subsidized food and medical assistance. As the slum dwellers are mostly labourers, there should be a mechanism with the Government that ensures that they are paid no less than minimum of prescribed wages by their employers. Other facilities like subsidized electric power connection, supply of drinking water, low interest loans for purchase of essential household goods like fans, water coolers, mosquito nets etc. should also accrue to them in order to raise the quality of life. Most important of all is that their children should receive education and illiteracy should be banished. Perhaps NGOs engaged in bringing social awareness to the weaker sections of society have a big responsibility in making education popular among the young kids of slum dwellers. That is the reason why we say that treating the question of expanding slums is not a single phase phenomenon. It has numerous aspects and real conversion of slums into habitable quarters is possible only when all relevant matters connected with the issue are addressed properly. The time has come when the Government should take the entire issue into consideration and invite expert opinion on how to deal with it from the point of view of long terms environmental improvement of Jammu city.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

PERILS OF ROAD TRAFFIC

 

Is Jammu road traffic really incurable or is it the lackadaisical attitude of road traffic authorities that has become the nightmare? Jammu citizens are at a loss to understand what the future of road traffic in the city will be. With streets without scope for widening, with motor vehicles rapidly increasing and with traffic police becoming slack in enforcing traffic rules, it appears a sort of traffic chaos waits the city day in and day out. There is hardly any road and street in the city that is not overcrowded with traffic ending up in long jams. True, a viable solution to the traffic congestion is not the isolated concern of the traffic department only and that several other departments must join heads to find a solution. But deferring a planned solution to the problem is not desirable. Precious lives are lost or maimed as a result of rash driving and road accidents which perhaps could be avoided if the traffic police performed its duty efficiently. There is annual traffic week celebrated by the department but once the celebrations are over, the entire system returns to its original shape. What then is the good of celebrating traffic. At the same time, as the number of vehicles plying on the roads increases manifold within a short time, it become necessary for the traffic police to ensure that only proper and genuine driving licenses are issued to the applicants. Driving after drinking is usually strictly punished in metropolitan cities but one wonders if our traffic police take this into account when enquiring into an accident. The Government should also begin to think of alternative traffic means like tramways that leave no pollution, are less prone to accidents, require minimum maintenance and carry larger number of commuters with more safety and sanitary conditions. A day will come when the state has sufficient electric power to think of shifting to better and more modern means of transportation. 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

COMPOSITE CULTURE – A PANACEA

BY K K KHOSA

 

The litmus test for existence of normalcy in the strife ridden valley is the lasting restoration of a pluralistic society where people belonging to different sections of society and following different religions start living as a composite populace once again. Kashmir, the abode of Rishis and Peers has always been a living example of communal harmony and brotherhood where its people not only had respect for every faith and religion but also celebrated various festivals together with traditional bonhomie.


The last couple of decades have proved beyond doubt that the sufferings of the people belonging to the valley got compounded due to the breakdown of its composite culture which had been in existence for centuries in stark contrast to some other parts of India where communal clashes have been a routine.
The bonhomie that existed in the valley has been a natural consequence of the strong age old rich culture which developed over more than five thousand years. It is quite natural that any civilization having such a long standing will be mature, stable and everlasting having the depth to assimilate within itself strains of other younger cultures without compromising on its inherent identity.


The unfortunate developments over the last two and a half decades can be attributed to many factors which may include the growth of fundamentalist tendencies in certain sections of society, the introduction of terrorism at the global level as a means to achieve ends, the hegemonistic designs of great powers to control large parts of the globe for material gains, the gradual but steady breakdown of bridges between different communities living in the valley, the general degradation of moral values witnessed among all societies, the pressure of achieving political goals in a democratic setup, the lack of opportunities to earn a decent living, the sense of injustice among some sections of society, the insensitivity towards the fundamentals of our rich culture within certain sections of our leadership and a few more ones of lesser significance. Going by the common perception that a low intensity war has been foisted on the nation by our estranged neighbor for the last more than two decades one thing that stands out in bold relief is that although there have been no winners and yet the losers include Pakistan, India and worst of all the people of J & K who despite being Indian Nationals have suffered more than their other counterparts.


Coming to the state of J&K the sufferings have been galore. The quantum of deaths, destruction of property and incidences of homelessness has perhaps few parallels in world history. Not even a single home in the valley has remained unscathed. As a consequence a large section of its inhabitants both, presently living in the valley or living outside of it, have contracted serious ailments, physical as well as mental. On the growth and development front the state has retarded by at least twenty years if not more and cannot hope to match the other states of the nation in the near future. As a corollary the unemployment amongst the youth has reached alarming proportions. In such a milieu they have become easy prey for poachers who lead them astray and initiate them on the path of extremism whose only consequence is untimely death and destruction.


The economy of the state which is heavily dependent on the funds provided by the central govt. has suffered badly. The strangulation of the tourism sector has resulted in an income loss to many who have been dependent on it for decades. The Hoteliers and Shikarawalas, the Cabbies and the travel agents have had to bear the brunt. The local artisans have also got affected due to the turmoil. The turmoil in the valley has affected the trade and commerce of the other regions of the state as well thereby wrecking the economy of the state. With this kind of milieu obtaining, it is high time the people of the state wake up and try to reverse the trend and put the state back on the path of peace and progress so that we leave a healthy legacy otherwise the blame for the complete destruction of this beautiful state will lie squarely on our shoulders. Let us resolve to keep aside the intractable issues that have been agitating us for the last six decades for the time being and first put our house in order to check this holocaust.


The importance of a composite culture in the valley can be gauged from the fact that even centuries ago, saints of the genre of Lal Ded and Sheikh- ul- Alam propagated the concept of equality of religions and religious tolerance since the basic tenets of all religions preach more or less the same thing. They propagated that one should not think in terms of Hindus and Muslims but only in terms of human beings. More recent is the example of the Dogra rulers in the state where large jagirs were allotted to many Rajput Hindus for settling down in the valley which already had a substantial number of Pandits and Sikhs residing in peaceful coexistence with the Muslims. Even the tallest of the political leaders Kashmir has produced after the Maharajas rule gave way to a democratic polity also visualized the importance of a pluralistic society in Kashmir in order to serve its long term interests. Sheikh Mohamed Abdullah not only converted his Muslim Conference into National Conference but at the time of the tribal raids in 1948 organised the timely defense of the valley. He also ensured the security of the small minority of Pandits living there. Notwithstanding the fact that years later in his book Aatish-e-Chinar he described the Pandits as fifth columnists yet during his time the composite culture of the valley remained intact.


The unfortunate happenings of the last two decades have come as a rude shock. The once bright image of the valley in the eyes of the Indian nation needs to be restored. The interests of Kashmiris of all hues who have suffered immense hardships during this period need to be safeguarded. Maej Kasheer has enough resources and capacity to look after her children so none should have any anxiety in this regard. No one should have any fears that if composite culture is restored there will be dearth of opportunities for the youth. Yet all this is achievable only if the leadership of the state inculcates such a vision in its functioning and if the spirit of forgiveness permeates every individual who has undergone suffering during this period. There have to be no questions asked and no answers required to be given.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

EXPLORING RENEWABLE ENERGY

BY AMIT BHALLA

 

It has been said that the only people who can change the world are those who want to. The world needs to move from its current non-renewable energy paradigm to a future powered by entirely renewable energy supply. It is only by making such a transition that we will be in a position to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change. A large number of leaders across the world from within the policy arena, business, media and civil society are questioning the views of conventional experts on the world's energy future and their business as usual scenarios, embarking on a serious search for realistic alternatives. The world has reached peak conventional oil and gas consumption, meaning thereby oil and gas companies are digging deeper and deeper into unconventional sources, with disastrous environmental and social consequences. Coal is still relatively readily available but catastrophic in terms of climate changing emissions. The world can no longer afford to hang on its old energy paradigm and its dangerous dependence on fossil fuels.

The Energy Report, produced through a joint effort of WWF and Ecofys, breaks new ground in the energy debate; a possible system in which all of the world's energy supply is provided by renewable sources by 2050. The Energy Report shows that this future is within our reach and provides a vital insight into how it can be achieved. The report puts together strategies and technology options that have already been put in practice to create a feasible global scenario. WWF wants to help change the old paradigm for the energy and articulate a new pathway for the future.

 

Renewables will play a greater role than either nuclear or carbon capture and storage by 2050. About 13 per cent of the world's energy come from renewable sources in 2008, a proportion likely to have risen as countries have built their capacity since then, with china leading the investment surge, particularly in wind energy. But by far the greatest source of renewable energy used globally at present is burning biomass- about 10 per cent of the global energy supply which is problematic because it can cause deforestation, leads to deposit of soot that accelerate global warming and cooking fires cause indoor air pollution that harm health. Wind power by contrast met about 2 per cent of global electricity demand in 2009, and could increase to more than 20 per cent by 2050.

 

Renewable energy is already growing fast- of the 300-giga watts (remember one gigawatt is equivalent to 1000 megawatts) of new electricity generation capacity added globally between 2008 and 2009; about 140 GW came from renewable sources such as wind and solar power. The investment that will be needed to meet the greenhouse gas emissions targets is likely to amount to about $ 5 trillion in the next decade, rising to $ 7 trillion from 2021 to 2030. Developing countries have an important stake in the future- this is where most of the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity live yet also where some of the best conditions exist for renewable energy deployment. Renewable energy can also meet the growing demand of developing countries where over 2 billion people lack access to basic energy services and can also do so at a more cost-competitive and faster rate than conventional energy sources.

 

Today, we do not use energy in a judicious manner. More than half the heats we pump into our homes disappear through walls, windows and roofs- yet we know how to construct buildings that require virtually no energy for heating or cooling. We favor big, powerful private cars over far more efficient forms of transport. Energy-hungry appliances clog the market, even though there is a wide range of efficient alternatives available. Manufacturers could use far less energy by reassessing their materials and processes. Energy conservation is something every one can embrace. We simply require to start making wise choices today. Nuclear meltdown in Japan after powerful earthquake in March 2011 clearly reveals why society should no longer bear the risks of nuclear disaster. And that is why it is clear now than ever before that the energy of future for the safer, more prudent society will come from renewable energy. The more we use renewable energy, the more we benefit the environment, strengthen our energy security, create jobs locally and help improve our economy. Here we can explore ways to use renewable energy.


Using Biomass Energy

Ever since humans started burning wood to keep warm and to cook food, we have been using biomass energy. Today we can also use biomass to fuel vehicles, generate electricity and developed bio-based products. Here we can explore the different ways to use biomass energy. For instance, by using fuel for vehicle with ethanol or biodiesel, using clean electricity generated from biomass, using products like plastics made from biomass.


Using Hydrogen

Hydrogen- a colorless and odorless gas is the most abundant element in the universe. However, because it combines easily with other elements, it is rarely found by itself in nature. Hydrogen usually combines with other elements, forming organic compounds called hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons include plant material and fossil fuels such as petroleum, natural gas and coal. Water is produced during the burning of any hydrocarbon. Hydrogen can be separated from hydrocarbon through the burning of heat- a process known as reforming. Currently, most hydrogen is made this way from natural gas. An electric current can also be used to separate water into its components of oxygen and hydrogen. This process is known as electrolysis. Currently, hydrogen has great potential as a power source for fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells can provide heat for homes and buildings, generate electricity and power vehicles.


Using Hydropower

Flowing water creates energy that can be tapped and turned into electricity. This is called hydropower or hydroelectric power. If we have access to flowing water on our property, we can use a micro hydropower system to generate our own electricity. Micro hydropower system usually generate up to 100 Kilowatt (KW) of electricity.


Using Solar Energy

If we step outside on a hot, sunny day, and we will experience the power of sun's heat and the light. We can use solar energy to heat our homes through passive solar design or an active solar heating system. We can also use it to generate our own electricity. We can use it to heat water in our home or swimming pool. We can use it to light our home both indoors and outdoors.


Using Wind Energy

We have harnessed the wind's energy for hundreds of years- from windmills that pump water or grind grain to today's wind turbines that generate electricity. If you live on at least one acre of land with an ample wind resource, you can generate your own electricity using a small wind electric system. You can also use a small wind turbine for pumping water. You may have the opportunity now or in the future to buy clean electricity from a wind power plant.


One thing that looks imminent is the fact that the future belongs to renewable energy. Scientists and industry expert may disagree over how long the world's supply of oil and natural gas will last, but one thing is for sure that it will rather sooner or later exhaust.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

FALLING FOOD PRICES IS NOT GOOD FOR AGRICULTURE

BY DR ASHWANI MAHAJAN


It has been said that the only people who can change the world are those who want to. The world needs to move from its current non-renewable energy paradigm to a future powered by entirely renewable energy supply. It is only by making such a transition that we will be in a position to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change. A large number of leaders across the world from within the policy arena, business, media and civil society are questioning the views of conventional experts on the world's energy future and their business as usual scenarios, embarking on a serious search for realistic alternatives. The world has reached peak conventional oil and gas consumption, meaning thereby oil and gas companies are digging deeper and deeper into unconventional sources, with disastrous environmental and social consequences. Coal is still relatively readily available but catastrophic in terms of climate changing emissions. The world can no longer afford to hang on its old energy paradigm and its dangerous dependence on fossil fuels.


The Energy Report, produced through a joint effort of WWF and Ecofys, breaks new ground in the energy debate; a possible system in which all of the world's energy supply is provided by renewable sources by 2050. The Energy Report shows that this future is within our reach and provides a vital insight into how it can be achieved. The report puts together strategies and technology options that have already been put in practice to create a feasible global scenario. WWF wants to help change the old paradigm for the energy and articulate a new pathway for the future.


Renewables will play a greater role than either nuclear or carbon capture and storage by 2050. About 13 per cent of the world's energy come from renewable sources in 2008, a proportion likely to have risen as countries have built their capacity since then, with china leading the investment surge, particularly in wind energy. But by far the greatest source of renewable energy used globally at present is burning biomass- about 10 per cent of the global energy supply which is problematic because it can cause deforestation, leads to deposit of soot that accelerate global warming and cooking fires cause indoor air pollution that harm health. Wind power by contrast met about 2 per cent of global electricity demand in 2009, and could increase to more than 20 per cent by 2050.


Renewable energy is already growing fast- of the 300-giga watts (remember one gigawatt is equivalent to 1000 megawatts) of new electricity generation capacity added globally between 2008 and 2009; about 140 GW came from renewable sources such as wind and solar power. The investment that will be needed to meet the greenhouse gas emissions targets is likely to amount to about $ 5 trillion in the next decade, rising to $ 7 trillion from 2021 to 2030. Developing countries have an important stake in the future- this is where most of the 1.4 billion people without access to electricity live yet also where some of the best conditions exist for renewable energy deployment. Renewable energy can also meet the growing demand of developing countries where over 2 billion people lack access to basic energy services and can also do so at a more cost-competitive and faster rate than conventional energy sources.


Today, we do not use energy in a judicious manner. More than half the heats we pump into our homes disappear through walls, windows and roofs- yet we know how to construct buildings that require virtually no energy for heating or cooling. We favor big, powerful private cars over far more efficient forms of transport. Energy-hungry appliances clog the market, even though there is a wide range of efficient alternatives available. Manufacturers could use far less energy by reassessing their materials and processes. Energy conservation is something every one can embrace. We simply require to start making wise choices today. Nuclear meltdown in Japan after powerful earthquake in March 2011 clearly reveals why society should no longer bear the risks of nuclear disaster. And that is why it is clear now than ever before that the energy of future for the safer, more prudent society will come from renewable energy. The more we use renewable energy, the more we benefit the environment, strengthen our energy security, create jobs locally and help improve our economy. Here we can explore ways to use renewable energy.


Using Biomass Energy

Ever since humans started burning wood to keep warm and to cook food, we have been using biomass energy. Today we can also use biomass to fuel vehicles, generate electricity and developed bio-based products. Here we can explore the different ways to use biomass energy. For instance, by using fuel for vehicle with ethanol or biodiesel, using clean electricity generated from biomass, using products like plastics made from biomass.


Using Hydrogen

Hydrogen- a colorless and odorless gas is the most abundant element in the universe. However, because it combines easily with other elements, it is rarely found by itself in nature. Hydrogen usually combines with other elements, forming organic compounds called hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons include plant material and fossil fuels such as petroleum, natural gas and coal. Water is produced during the burning of any hydrocarbon. Hydrogen can be separated from hydrocarbon through the burning of heat- a process known as reforming. Currently, most hydrogen is made this way from natural gas. An electric current can also be used to separate water into its components of oxygen and hydrogen. This process is known as electrolysis. Currently, hydrogen has great potential as a power source for fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells can provide heat for homes and buildings, generate electricity and power vehicles.


Using Hydropower

Flowing water creates energy that can be tapped and turned into electricity. This is called hydropower or hydroelectric power. If we have access to flowing water on our property, we can use a micro hydropower system to generate our own electricity. Micro hydropower system usually generate up to 100 Kilowatt (KW) of electricity.


Using Solar Energy

If we step outside on a hot, sunny day, and we will experience the power of sun's heat and the light. We can use solar energy to heat our homes through passive solar design or an active solar heating system. We can also use it to generate our own electricity. We can use it to heat water in our home or swimming pool. We can use it to light our home both indoors and outdoors.


Using Wind Energy

We have harnessed the wind's energy for hundreds of years- from windmills that pump water or grind grain to today's wind turbines that generate electricity. If you live on at least one acre of land with an ample wind resource, you can generate your own electricity using a small wind electric system. You can also use a small wind turbine for pumping water. You may have the opportunity now or in the future to buy clean electricity from a wind power plant.


One thing that looks imminent is the fact that the future belongs to renewable energy. Scientists and industry expert may disagree over how long the world's supply of oil and natural gas will last, but one thing is for sure that it will rather sooner or later exhaust.

 

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


DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

FALLING FOOD PRICES IS NOT GOOD FOR AGRICULTURE

BY DR ASHWANI MAHAJAN

 

In the era of rising inflation even a small reduction in prices sounds a big relief to the general public. In the last about 3 years a steady increase in prices of essential commodities has made the life of the common man most miserable. The steady rise in food prices have made the diet vanish from poor man's plate. In week ending April 30, rate of food inflation has come down to 7.7 percent compared to 8.63 percent a week earlier and 21 percent a year back.

 

How food inflation came down?

Last year in 2009-10 Rabi crop was extremely poor, due to which wheat production to only 89 million tonnes and pulses production to only 14.6 million tonnes. Wheat production was less by10 percent in the year 2009-10, as compared to 2008-09, while pulses production was also less than before. Growing demand on the one hand and declining production on the other naturally lead to high rate of food inflation. Bad monsoon may be cited as the main cause of decline in production during 2009-10, but data clearly reveals that the production of food in Country now has almost subsided a bit. Per capita availability of food grains which was 510 grams per person per day, in 1990-91, has now come down to only 436 grams. Continued neglect of agriculture by the Government and declining availability of agricultural land due to diversion of cultivable land in the name urbanisation or industrialistion have been the major causes for ailing agriculture. Food grains production has increased due to good monsoon this year, but future is not very bright for agriculture, in view of declining food prices due to unsupportive attitude of the Government in terms procurements and resulting slump in agricultural prices.


Need for Remunerative Prices of Agricultural Products

Last year better procurement of food grains and higher prices of fruit, vegetables and pulses last year encouraged farmers to grow more crops. Today, agriculture is no longer a beneficial business. In a country where average productivity per hectare in case of wheat is 29 quintals and 22 quintals in case of rice and hardly 6 quintals in case of pulses, given continuously increasing cost of cultivation, one hardly finds this profession lucrative any more. Today the farmer is getting hardly Rs. 1000 to 1100 per quintal of wheat from the market. Even we get Rs. 1200 per quintal from the market, per hectare total revenue for the wheat farmer would be only Rs. 34800. If we take account of the costs in the form of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation and wages, he would be hardly left with any positive return. It is true that in a dynamic economic changes keep on taking place and some professions lose their attraction and some other trades take their place. But such can not be the case with agriculture. This profession can not be left to the operations of the market forces and be allowed to die. Today food security of the nation primarily depends upon agriculture. We are not a small country like Somalia or Botswana. With a total population of more than 121 crores, food cannot be provided by imports. No country of the world is in position to our continuously increasing population. If history is any guide we learn that when ever we have thought of importing wheat from abroad, price of wheat had increased heavily internationally. Therefore we need to save this profession of agriculture at any cost, including all types of incentives including remunerative prices.


Last year prices of food grains, fruits, vegetables and pulses increased manifold, taking price of onion to Rs. 60 to 70 per kg, some pulses to Rs. 100 per kg. Similar was the situation with regard to other vegetables, fruits and food grains. In fact this kind of increase in the prices can not be justified, as they come as a heavy burden for general public. But the benefit of increased prices of these items could not benefit the farmers as they lacked holding capacity and ware housing and cold storage facilities. Benefit of this inflation was in fact reaped by the traders and hoarders. But this is also true that increase in prices of agricultural produce, definitely encouraged farmers to produce more. But good crop this year in fact is becoming instrumental to the miseries of the farmers, as they are forced to sell their wheat at less than even support price of the Government and potatoes at Rs. 2 to Rs. 3 per kg in absence of any support price for potatoes. If this year good crop does not benefit the farmers, how can we expect better produce next year (in absence of any incentive).


Decline in agricultural prices - a threat

Whether due to market forces or neglect of the government, decline in price of food products recently is not a good sign for agriculture in future. Today in our Country more than about 50 percent population directly depends on agriculture. But the share of agriculture in national income is only 14.6 percent. This share of agriculture in national income was 45 percent in 1970-71. This means that non-remunerative prices of agricultural produce have been eroding the income of those engaged in agriculture. Today the prices at which farmers are forced to sell their produce do not even cover their cost.There is no doubt that agricultural business is still the most risky business than any other business. Excess of rain or less rain or hail showers for all types of natural disasters affect agriculture. As farmers tend to get non remunerative prices, they remain poor. Today farmers are committing suicides in large number due to rising farm costs and crop failures due to natural disasters. So far more than the two lakh farmers have committed suicide.


Today it is imperative to keep agriculture in good health at any cost. For this it is essential to make agriculture a profitable business. It is the responsibility of Government to make sure that farmers get remunerative prices as and when they bring agri- produce to the market. The current system of agricultural prices does not serve the purpose. Decline in food prices may give a very temporary relief from inflation but it may endanger food security of the nation. We need a permanent arrangement of pricing of agriculture produce whereby the Government ensures that farmer gets remunerative price for his crop.

 

(The author is Associate Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi)

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

POLLUTING WATERS

INDUSTRIALISTS' PROTEST MISPLACED

 

It is rare to see the Punjab Pollution Control Board get tough on water contamination. It has not yielded to pressure from Jalandhar industrialists, who have threatened to shut down their units if raids on them are not stopped. Some public-spirited citizens led by Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal are trying to stop canal and river water pollution with help from the board. A word of support from Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has encouraged them. However, Mr Manoranjan Kalia, who has lost his job as the state Industries Minister, has come to the support of the agitated industrialists with the promise of relief from the Chief Minister. Industrialists had earlier protested against Mr Kalia to demand VAT refunds.

 

If Mr Badal yields to pressure, the campaign of the environment activists backed by the pollution board would suffer a setback. For decades political interference and corruption had tied the board's hands reducing it to a mute spectator to the ongoing poisoning of Punjab's canal, river and ground waters. Industries discharge untreated waste into water resources with impunity to avoid the burden of installing a treatment plant. Industrialists not only in Jalandhar and Ludhiana but elsewhere in the state have escaped punitive action by buying political support. The toxic Budha Nullah in Ludhiana has spread disease and stink all around for years and remains filthy despite the Punjab and Haryana High Court monitoring the clean-up efforts. The reason: the unholy nexus of business and politics.

 

However, it is unfair to single out industries. Municipalities also let toxic waste into water bodies. Farmers too cannot escape responsibility as chemical-laden water flows from the fields have added to the problem. Public awareness coupled with reasonable punitive action should target the polluters regardless of their status and occupation. Clean air and water are the basics for the healthy growth of human, animal and plant life. It is in the interests of all to protect them.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MAYA TESTS THE PITCH

CLEAR BID TO FISH IN REGIONAL POLITICS

 

Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati's visit to Chandigarh and her public meeting in which supporters from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Terrritory of Chandigarh were mobilized was clearly an attempt to test the waters in this region with an eye on the impending assembly elections in Punjab early next year. The irrepressible Dalit leader and U.P. Chief Minister is acutely aware that at 29 per cent, Punjab has the highest Scheduled Caste population in the country and that at its peak in the 1992 assembly elections which were boycotted by the mainstream Akali Dal, the BSP had won nine of the 105 seats it contested, polling 17.59 per cent of the total vote. In the last elections, the party failed to win a single seat of the 115 it contested in a total House strength of 117 and its vote share fell to 4.17 per cent. Mayawati apparently sees the potential to bounce back and though she asserted in her speech that the BSP would go it alone, there is more to her visit than meets the eye.

 

Significantly, in her speech to a mass gathering, Mayawati trained her guns at the Centre, whether it was for fuelling protests in Bhatta and Parsaul villages of Greater Noida or for various scams plaguing the country. She clearly perceives a new threat from Rahul Gandhi on her home turf and is pro-active in countering it. The BSP leader also had veiled digs at the BJP when it was in power at the Centre. But she did not take on the Akalis in Punjab. Evidently, the wily leader is keeping her options open for an informal understanding with the Akalis with the common goal of checkmating the Congress in Punjab.

 

If Mayawati is to fulfil her dream of becoming a force to reckon with nationally, she cannot but be acutely aware that she will have to spread her influence in the northern belt. The Chandigarh visit is a timely reminder that she means business. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

NEPAL'S PEACE PROCESS SAVED

POLITICAL PARTIES COME TO TERMS WITH REALITY

 

Nepal's political parties realised the gravity of the situation and finally agreed on Sunday to extend the term of the Constituent Assembly by three months so that the on-going constitution-making process could be completed. A failure to reach the agreement could have plunged the Himalayan nation into a fresh crisis, as the Assembly had failed to accomplish the task of constitution making by May 28, the deadline fixed some time ago. There was tension in every political camp till Saturday evening as no major party was showing signs of leaving the rigid path they had adopted for getting their viewpoint accepted. The Nepali Congress party's 10-point charter of demands included the Jhal Nath Khanal government's immediate resignation and handing over of the weapons of the Maoists to the authorities in the army cantonments. The Maoists were unrelenting from their stand that they would not accept anything less than a commitment in principle that their armed combatants would be inducted into the regular army.

 

The Maoists had made it clear that they would prefer to save their party instead of giving a new lease of life to the Constituent Assembly. The Madhesi parties' declaration that they were in favour of fresh negotiations between the Nepali Congress and the Maoists led to all the camps leaving their rigid positions in the larger interest of Nepal. This was how the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) reached a five-point agreement that led to the consensus emerging on extending the term of the Constituent Assembly.

 

The accord signed by the major political parties also has it that Prime Minister Khanal will resign to pave the way for the formation of a national unity government and the new constitution would be ready within three months to complete the fundamentals of the peace process like the holding of fresh elections. Now no more time should be wasted to normalise the situation in Nepal. The constitution writing process should be completed on a priority basis, as this is the key to all that has to be done to establish peace in the Himalayan nation. The issue of the entry of the Maoists' armed cadres into the Nepal Army should be handled with much care. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

ARAB SPRING HELPING PALESTINIANS

BUT ISRAEL UNWILLING TO CHANGE ITS POLICY

BY S. NIHAL SINGH

 

Who is afraid of Palestinians going to the United Nations General Assembly in September to seek international recognition for a Palestinian state? President Barack Obama, for one; Israel, for another. The Palestinian Authority has won the approval of the Arab League for its "Plan B" in the face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's intransigence in continuing to build illegal settlements on occupied land, contemptuously rebuffing President Obama's call for a return to the 1967 borders with adjustments. And he got rolling standing ovations from a joint session of the US Congress in Washington for thumbing his nose at the US President.

There lies the rub, and the continuing tragedy of decades of Palestinian deprivation as Israel has been assiduously changing the "facts on the ground" by building more homes for Jews on the occupied West Bank and changing the demography of occupied East Jerusalem. President Obama, as his predecessors, remains a prisoner of powerful American Jewish interests who have traditionally shown their clout by supporting or opposing Congressional candidates in elections and challenging presidential candidates seeking election or re-election.

 

With candidates and parties already manoeuvring for the next presidential election, Mr Obama remains more in hock to the American Jewish lobby. He can only flap his wings ineffectively as he pretends to try to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, with Mr Netanyahu mocking him in public on American turf. While the Palestinians will win almost universal approval for a Palestinian state in the UN General Assembly, the United States will be in the company of very few countries other than Israel voting 'no', powerless as Washington is in the face of an American power structure that revolves round the interests of the Jewish state, however outlandish the latter's conduct might be. Even the persistent quintessential American mediator of disputes, Mr George Mitchell, has given up on continuing his peace bid.

 

The tallest leader of the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat, had unilaterally declared an independent Palestinian state in 1988 winning recognition from 100 countries. But despite the Oslo accords and the partial transfer of authority on the West Bank and bursts of hope, Ariel Sharon took back governance of transferred territory and smashed Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah. Arafat was airlifted to a Paris hospital to die there. Sharon, before his stroke and permanent hospitalisation, was supreme, shedding the Gaza Strip in the process because it was not worth the trouble and imprisoning 1.5 million Palestinians there on land, in the air and on sea in collusion with Mr Hosni Mubarak's Egypt.

 

President Obama began his presidency with brave words starting a peace process which held out no hope for peace and demanding Israel stop illegal building activity on occupied Palestinian land, only to eat his words. Mr Netanyahu, knowing his clout with the US Congress, said a blunt 'no', and the US President was left with no leg to stand on. Yet the future holds some hope for the Palestinians because the intransigence of Israel will further isolate it in the world and win the Palestinians more friends. Among the favourable factors for the Palestinians are the Arab Spring that has elevated the spirit of all Arabs, the successful Egyptian bringing together of the opposing Fatah and Hamas factions and the decision of the new interim Egyptian regime to ease the opening of the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt at Rafah.

 

Not bound by the compulsions of a powerful Jewish lobby (although Germany still suffers from its past Nazi complex, Europe is more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and the European Union has given a new gift of 31 million euros for building institutions of state. The World Bank has already declared that if present progress continued on the West Bank, it was well positioned to make the transition to "the establishment of a state at any point in the near future".

 

The passage of a resolution in the UN General Assembly recognizing the state of Palestine will not immediately change the position on the ground. Mr Netanyahu has drawn his own red lines: no return to the 1967 borders, no return of East Jerusalem to Palestine and no entry to the estimated five million Palestinian refugees spread among Arab countries and the world. President Obama offered his own compromise: the 1967 border "with swaps", pushing to the future the prickly issues of Jerusalem and refugees, a sure recipe for failure, if there was any.

 

The Palestinians will certainly strengthen their hand by the passage of a new resolution for a Palestinian state with full UN membership within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. That even a meek and patient Palestinian leader of the ilk of Mr Mahmoud Abbas has been forced to give up on the sterile and make-believe peace process speaks volumes for his disillusionment with an American-led process leading nowhere. The Palestinians are asking for nothing new, as former President Jimmy Carter succinctly brought out in a recent article in the New York Times. These parameters are well enshrined in UN resolutions.

 

We live in a less than perfect world and UN resolutions are often not fully implemented or not at all, but the brazenness with which Israeli leaders – Labour and Conservatives alike – have flouted the will of the international majority, thanks to the unstinted support it has received from the United States, has set a new benchmark in going against all canons of international justice and civilizational norms in the modern post-colonial world.

 

Many Israelis, particularly on the right, believe that they have got away with a lot. More than 500,000 Jews have been settled on colonised land. Arabs in occupied East Jerusalem are being evicted on one pretext or another to change the demographics of the future projected Palestinian land. The dream of a Greater Israel is closer to fulfilment that ever. But events over which Israel and the United States have no control are catching up with Tel Aviv.

 

The Arab Spring is giving Israelis sleepless nights. Egypt is refusing to be a co-jailor of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and, as recent incursions on occupied territory appropriated by Israel revealed on the day of catastrophe (Naqba), when Palestinians were chased from or had to flee their homes in 1948, it will be far from smooth sailing for Israel in its quest for Greater Israel. The tragedy is that the United States seems incapable of playing the role in should in bringing about an independent Palestinian state.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

AGELESS MIND

BY JAGVIR GOYAL

 

Thirtytwo years back, when I was in the engineering institute, I eulogised Dharmendra. To me, he not only had a perfect personality but an ideal character also. Not only mine, he ruled the hearts of millions. He was always portrayed as an absolute gentleman who stuck to values, never hurt anybody, true at heart and a sober but passionate lover. Movies like Satyakaam, Aadmi aur Insaan, Aankhen, Lalkaar, Mera Gaon Mera Desh left a deep impact on my mind.

 

It never occurred to me that Dharmendra was not tall. Those were the times when height was not an attribute. Amitabh Bachchan was rejected by film industry as too tall to be a hero and had to struggle a lot. You don't find flaws in a personality you admire and adore. Dharmendra always looked perfect to me and I would often try to follow his roles.

 

Another handsome actor who had caught my fancy was Dev Anand. He had an inimitable style of laughing, walking, talking and running. I would don a muffler in Dev Anand style and talk like him to my friends. My mould today imbibes a lot of what Dev Anand and Dharmendra presented on the silver screen during those days. Their images are frozen in my heart. During my visit to Leh last year, I stood over a snowclad mountain, wrapped a red muffler around my neck, leaned to my left in Dev Anand style and got myself photographed!

 

With the passage of time, the physical personalities of Dharmendra and Dev Anand have wilted. Their drooping faces, flaccid bodies, shrinking heights and stammering speeches, whenever they appear on the TV, make me sad. The frozen images, that my heart carries of them, are shattered every time I watch them trying to play young and act young.

 

With age, the body withers and you can't hide your age. Why don't the two, once so great actors, understand this simple truth and phenomenon? Why don't they simply bask in the glory of their peak days and the charisma they once carried and live the balance years of life gracefully and peacefully? These questions have always intrigued me whenever I have watched Dharmendra or Dev Anand on the screen these days.

 

I got the answer to these questions when I read 'Absolute Khushwant', recently written and released by the author. Khushwant is unequivocal and blunt in the book and has revealed many a truth in an explicit manner. Even at 95, he has many a desire left and lives in fantasies! He has earned so much name and fame yet there are unfulfilled yearnings left in him!

 

Man never grows with age, I find. Watching himself in the mirror every day, he fails to notice the gradual alteration in his face, the new wrinkles and crinkles that the age adds to it, converting its vigorous and healthy look to a sagging and drooping mug. He lives under an illusion that he still carries a magnetic physique. As people acknowledge him, owing to his past achievements, his self-conviction is reinforced further.

 

The bodies retire, the brains don't.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

LOSS OF INHERITANCE 

THE 13TH FINANCE COMMISSION MADE A HISTORIC BUDGET ALLOCATION TO STATE GOVERNMENTS FOR THE RESTORATION OF THEIR HERITAGE. WITH AN ALLOCATION OF ` 100 CRORE, CAN PUNJAB RESTORE THE GLORY OF QUILA MUBARAK, WITH ITS NOTORIOUS HISTORY OF BUREAUCRATIC SOLUTIONS FOR MATTERS RELATED TO CULTURE AND CONSERVATION?

AMITA BAIG

 

It's only in the last few years the Government of India has finally woken up to the realisation that post independence the heritage of India has been gravely neglected. While the Archaeological Survey of India had its budget substantially increased in 2002, thus ensuring that the national heritage would never lack funds; state government budgets for culture remain pitiful, its limited resources largely allocated to paying salaries of administration and staff. Last year the 13th Finance Commission made a historic budget allocation to state governments for the restoration of their heritage. Ranging from Rs 175 crore to Madhya Pradesh, 10 crore to Tripura, and Rs 100 crore assigned to Punjab; these allocations were made against rapidly cobbled together ill conceived estimates. One only has to consider that the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir has an allocation of Rs 50 crore for just one site, Mubarak Mandi in Jammu.

 

Missing: Money, manpower 

 

While this significant injection of funds for heritage must be welcomed and it's not a minute too soon; the tragedy facing cultural institutions in India is that apart from meagre budget allocations, there has been absolutely no human resource development in the last decades. Systems established in the colonial era still prevail and recruitment policies are fossilised in the 19th century. Institutions, monuments and sites are in danger, not just for want of money but simply because there has been no investment in developing manpower to protect them. With no emphasis on skills upgrading or professionalisation, our culture and heritage remain at risk.

 

The heritage sites at the state level are most critically endangered as they face a total vacuum in professional manpower. The lack of emphasis in the development of expertise, the predominance of bureaucrats in making technical decisions and the absence of commitment to build a cadre of professional and technical skills in culture and heritage management is a crisis we face across the country. Funds are languishing, or worse, misused in the absence of suitable skills. The conservation and preservation of our heritage is a highly professional task and we need to recognise this gap. Visiting protected sites in various states one cannot help but be profoundly disturbed by the awareness of local people about not only the misuse of funds, but more critically, the damage caused by unimaginative use of funds for the monuments. Ironically, departments of culture remain unable or unwilling to grasp the gravity of the damage being inflicted as vast swathes of original fabric are replaced.

 

Quick fix conservation

 

So, back to the 13th Finance Commission; what will become of these resources? Will local caretakers turn into conservationists so that heritage sites not merely languish, but get further damaged as ad- hoc repairs, shortcuts and kickbacks vitiate the windfall of funding? In the rush to spend the money before it "lapses", will cement replace lime mortar as a quick and easy option, and will the finely crafted pillars be substituted with crass machine cut stones? Are we always going to get it wrong?

 

While privatisation is the mantra of the time and public- private partnership the call to arms, there is one thing we need to be clear on: the cultural heritage of the nation or the state is the custodial responsibility of the government. Their mandate is to safeguard the heritage for future generations. And, in today's climate of public information, governments can and must be called to account on its ability to safeguard our heritage for future generations.

 

Even the Archaeological Survey of India with its hugely increased budget has been unable or unwilling to restructure and upgrade its systems, update professional skills and invest in management. In this scenario can the states transform their approach? In the crossed wires which define Indian administration, and as fiats against recruitment prevail, the culture sector epitomises diminishing standards and failure to deliver; an area where the responsibility of the government is non negotiable. It is essential that structural reform in the culture sector must be undertaken at every level.

 

The precarious Quila

 

The problems are manifold. Quila Mubarak or the Sheesh Mahal in Patiala are alarming examples of the failure of government to recognise the magnitude of damage done through neglect and paucity of competent decision making. Over the last 20 years I have watched many initiatives to preserve Quila Mubarak flounder. This iconic heritage of Punjab was acquired by the state as "our" heritage and efforts to preserve it have continuously been vitiated by political compulsions or a bureaucracy mired in mediocrity. In the years that I have followed its fate, many reports have been generated, the only difference being that each condition assessment has further highlighted the gravity facing the building; funds have been allocated and lapsed, more than once. About ten years ago under immense pressure from conservationists, government offices were removed from the complex. Lying vacant and uncared for ever since, the building today is in a desperate state of decay.

 

Now under the 13th Finance Commission perhaps it will receive some funding, probably wholly inadequate to its needs. But what is far worse and must give us cause for concern, is, that Punjab's finest heritage will be restored at the lowest tender bidding.

 

Today with this huge amount of money being injected we need to stop and consider very carefully how best to minimise waste, or indeed optimise the opportunity. Given the manpower void, professional consultants must step up and fill the gap until state departments get their act together and divert a significant amount of money towards developing technical training institutions and augment their capacities. The need of the hour clearly is setting up institutes for cultural resource training and management which will serve existing institutions, transforming not just how we preserve, but also nurture and manage our cultural resources. Perhaps, states should join forces and collaborate on technical training and thus manage their heritage in a more collaborative way. Until then government must have the humility to acknowledge that professional skills in India require to be engaged and that they are the most competent in the present scenario to undertake this task.

 

A live-in with heritage

 

States such as Punjab which are being guided by agencies like Infrastructure Leasing Finance& Services, the Asian Development Bank and a battery of consultants are attempting to moderate a paradigm shift to manage the often competing objectives of development and preservation. Here preservation is finally on the table with infrastructure and development and this is a huge transformation in perception. In planning documents and as a one- off for execution, this would appear to be a perfect model for others to emulate. A simultaneous thrust in education, training and building skills is critical, without which it cannot work. In realistic terms serious reform will mean restructuring state archaeology departments; changing recruitment rules and battling the many vested interests and turf wars to establish more result oriented organisations.

 

Equally, in the long term, the preservation of sites like Quila Mubarak will best be realised if we can give it a role and relevance in society. Will Quila Mubarak house a Cultural Resource Training Institute - an opportunity to study and work in a historic site? With this tranche of funding can we imbue these sites with energy and capture the imagination of generation next? Clearly the opportunity given to the states is rich with challenge to evaluate and restructure how we mediate the future of our heritage. We must have the courage to step out of the box and debate new solutions. While the Punjab Government has seen the merit of investing in a cultural policy document which should in due course address these lacunae and provide a balanced and professional foundation for the future of Punjab's heritage, what will happen in the interim? It must have the vision and the integrity to shift the decision making process to professional advisors who will assess the work, guide decisions, monitor implementation and ensure that funds are optimally utilised not just for the finance commission, but for the future of our heritage.

 

Author of Forts and Palaces of India, Amita Baig is Heritage Management Consultant to the World Monuments Fund in India.

 

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

EDITORIAL

MR MUKHERJEE'S HOMEWORK

THE FINANCE MINISTER MUST FOCUS ON THE FISCAL CHALLENGE

Now that the United Progressive Alliance has trounced the Left Front in Kolkata and the Union government is back to work, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee must devote his energies to improving fiscal management if his budgetary arithmetic has to be prevented from going awry. The danger signals are all up. His ministry has now acknowledged the Reserve Bank of India's earlier warning that economic growth in fiscal 2011-12 is likely to be lower than budgeted originally. A sharp deceleration in the denominator will mean a sharp increase in the fiscal deficit-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio. The timely arrival of the monsoon augurs well for the economy, which may surprise the markets and policy makers. But this cannot be taken for granted. Moreover, reports of investment deceleration suggest that some kind of a crowding-out of private investment may already be happening as a result of persistently high government borrowing. The most worrisome aspect of recent fiscal trends is the sharp increase in the government's subsidy bill. Total subsidies – food, fertilisers and petroleum – have been persistently high and as a percentage of GDP went up from less than 1.5 per cent till 2007 to close to 2.5 per cent in 2008-09 and above 2.0 per cent in 2009-10. While Mr Mukherjee has budgeted for a lower ratio this fiscal, there is little evidence so far that he will be able to meet his budgetary targets — not with the continued foot-dragging on petroleum and fertiliser subsidies and pressures to increase food subsidy.

The only thing that has saved the Union government's fiscal strategy so far, especially in the face of sluggish revenue receipts, is the less-than-budgeted defence expenditure. Mr Mukherjee must thank Defence Minister A K Antony for helping him on the expenditure front, though it is not clear with what consequences for defence preparedness and national security. It was widely expected that immediately after the state Assembly elections were wrapped up the government would attend to the extant fiscal challenge. Apart from the heroic increase in petrol prices, no other action has been taken. On the other hand, it appears that the finance ministry may not be able to meet the disinvestment target it had set. While no one expects last year's bonanza to be repeated this year, even budgeted amounts may not be forthcoming if the overall approach to macroeconomic management remains lacklustre.

 

 The delay in tax reform – with the introduction of a Goods and Services Tax still on hold and the apparent inability of major political parties to focus attention on issues pertaining to revenue mobilisation and revival of growth – is raising fresh concerns about the sustainability of even 8.0 per cent economic growth. With the international economic environment remaining precarious and far from stable and with regional security re-emerging as a major policy concern, the gathering clouds do not bode well for growth, revenue generation and fiscal correction. It is not our intention to sound needlessly alarmist, but the time has come to ring a warning bell. India's macroeconomic authorities must focus on fiscal stabilisation and Mr Mukherjee has to provide the leadership as finance minister.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

LET MARKETS WORK

FOOD INFLATION IS BEST FOUGHT WITH MORE EFFICIENT MARKETS

The news that the south-west monsoon has hit the Kerala coast on time augurs well for the management of inflationary expectations. However, the monsoon alone cannot douse inflationary fires. Apart from much-needed fiscal stabilisation, mentioned above, the government needs urgent policy reform. The task at hand has to be handled by both the central and state governments, as correctly emphasised by the Reserve Bank of India in its meeting with state finance secretaries. Till 2008 state governments were on track for fiscal correction, and were, in fact, doing better than the Centre. However, the recent trend towards populism in many states – made worse by the pre-election promises of chief ministers Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee – and the likelihood of such populism in states that go to the polls in early 2012, including Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, do not bode well for fiscal correction and inflation management.

Against this background, the Union food ministry has proposed an action plan to reduce inflationary pressures and improve food management. The plan is, however, a mishmash of various ideas that have been floating around for some time. There is strong advocacy of organised retail entering the food chain with backward linkages with farmers, and the integration of the spot and futures markets for better price discovery and price stability. On the other hand, it has been suggested that the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) be amended to reintroduce compulsory licensing and registration of commodity traders. This will bring back the licence and inspector raj and contribute to corruption. On the positive side, the proposed linkage between commodity growers and organised retail trade can potentially reduce margins with fewer intermediaries between farmers and consumers. Organised retailing can also bring greater efficiency into the marketing of agricultural products, benefiting all stakeholders — farmers, retailers and consumers. On the downside, however, the food ministry's plea for an amendment to the ECA to bring all essential goods under regulation and licensing regime seems weird. So does the ministry's suggestion for creating centralised authorities at the state level for registration of dealers and traders with turnover in excess of prescribed quantities and issuing them licences for carrying out their business. The ECA, enacted originally in 1955 and amended on several occasions, is a retrograde measure that has outlived its utility and is wholly irrelevant today. It is worth recalling that the National Democratic Alliance government realised the irrelevance of the ECA and, therefore, substantially diluted the statute in 2002. However, this amendment was practically undone in 2006 by the United Progressive Alliance government. This was done to control prices, but it has, in fact, failed to do that. The curbs on stockholding, movement and internal and external trade of several key agri-commodities have proved counterproductive and limit the potential of competitive forces in keeping the price line under check. The ministry's suggestion that the spot market be integrated with the futures market automatically becomes unworkable under such regimented conditions.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

AFTER THE GREEK DEBT DEFAULT

FISCAL SUSTAINABILITY IS NO CURE FOR GREECE'S CHRONICALLY LARGE TRADE DEFICIT A TEMPORARY LEAVE OF ABSENCE FROM THE EUROZONE IS

MARTIN FELDSTEIN

 

The Greek government, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are all denying what markets perceive clearly: Greece will eventually default on its debts to its private and public creditors. The politicians prefer to postpone the inevitable by putting public money where private money will no longer go, because doing so allows creditors to maintain the fiction that the accounting value of the Greek bonds that they hold need not be reduced. That, in turn, avoids triggering requirements of more bank capital.

 

But, even though the additional loans that Greece will soon receive from the European Union and the IMF carry low interest rates, the level of Greek debt will rise rapidly to unsustainable levels. That's why market interest rates on privately held Greek bonds and prices for credit default swaps indicate that a massive default is coming.

And a massive default, together with a very large sustained cut in the annual budget deficit, is, in fact, needed to restore Greek's fiscal sustainability. More specifically, even if a default brings the country's debt down to 60 per cent of GDP, Greece would still have to reduce its annual budget deficit from the current 10 per cent of GDP to about 3 per cent if it is to prevent the debt ratio from rising again. In that case, Greece should be able to finance its future annual government deficits from domestic sources alone.

But fiscal sustainability is no cure for Greece's chronically large trade deficit. Greece's imports now exceed its exports by more than 4 per cent of its GDP, the largest trade deficit among eurozone member countries. If that trade gap persists, Greece will have to borrow the full amount from foreign lenders every year in the future, even if the post-default budget deficits could be financed by borrowing at home.

Eliminating or reducing this trade gap without depressing economic activity and employment in Greece requires that the country export more and import less. That, in turn, requires making Greek goods and services more competitive compared with those of the country's trading partners. A country with a flexible currency can achieve that by allowing the exchange rate to depreciate. But Greece's membership in the eurozone makes that impossible.

So Greece faces the difficult task of lowering the prices of its goods and services relative to those in other countries by other means, namely a large cut in the wages and salaries of Greek private-sector employees.

But, even if that could be achieved, it would close the trade gap only for as long as Greek prices remained competitive. To maintain price competitiveness, the gap between Greek wage growth and the rise in Greek productivity – that is, output per employee hour – must not be greater than the gap in other eurozone countries.

That will not be easy. Greece's trade deficit developed over the past decade because Greek prices have been rising faster than those of its trading partners. And that has happened precisely because wages have been rising faster in Greece, relative to productivity growth, than in other eurozone countries.

To see why it will be difficult for Greece to remain competitive, assume that the rest of the eurozone experiences annual productivity gains of 2 per cent, while monetary policy limits annual price inflation to 2 per cent. In that case, wages in the rest of the eurozone can rise by 4 per cent a year. But if productivity in Greece rises at just 1 per cent, Greek wages can increase at only 3 per cent. Any higher rate would cause Greek prices to rise more rapidly than those of its eurozone trading partners.

So Greece faces a triple challenge: the fiscal challenge of cutting its government debt and future deficits; the price-level challenge of reducing its prices enough to wipe out the current trade gap; and the wage-productivity challenge of keeping future wage growth below the eurozone average or raising its productivity growth rate.

Ever since the Greek crisis began, the country has shown that it cannot solve its problems as the IMF and the European Commission had hoped. The countries that faced similar problems in other parts of the world always combined fiscal contractions with currency devaluations, which membership in a monetary union rules out.

A temporary leave of absence from the eurozone would allow Greece to achieve a price-level decline relative to other eurozone countries, and would make it easier to adjust the relative price level if Greek wages cannot be limited. The Maastricht treaty explicitly prohibits a eurozone country from leaving the euro, but says nothing about a temporary leave of absence (and, therefore, doesn't prohibit one). It is time for Greece, other eurozone members, and the European Commission to start thinking seriously about that option.

The author is professor of Economics at Harvard, was chairman of President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers and is former president of the National Bureau for Economic Research

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

INDIGENISING DEFENCE - THE 70:30 FALLACY

AJAI SHUKLA

Defence indigenisation has long been more a Ministry of Defence (MoD) slogan than reality. Defence Minister A K Antony pays regular lip service to reversing the 70:30 ratio: reducing the foreign component of Indian defence from 70 per cent to 30 per cent. In practice, indigenisation has been, with apologies to Greta Garbo, an illusion, wrapped in a fallacy, cloaked in deception.

The empirical reality of "indigenisation" is evident in the Indian Navy, the only service that pursues indigenisation systematically (the Indian Air Force and the Army talk the talk but oppose indigenisation in practice, demanding aircraft, tanks and guns now, not ten years down the line). The navy takes justifiable pride in building most of its warships in Indian shipyards, but a closer examination reveals that indigenisation is only skin-deep. Defence shipyards have developed the crucial skills needed for designing and constructing sophisticated warships, and for harmonising myriad sensors and weapons into an integrated battle management system. But there is little headway in indigenising the multiplicity of components and systems that are the vital innards of a battleship.

 

Consequently, India's four defence shipyards – the flagship Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL); Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE); Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL); and the newly acquired Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL) – must necessarily look overseas for the engines, gas turbines, propulsion systems, gearboxes, generators, hydraulic systems, air-conditioning and countless other systems, which add up to the bulk of the cost of modern warships.

These are all lost opportunities for India's private sector companies, which could be building these systems as their route into the lucrative business of defence production. Examine the figures. From the navy's budget of Rs 21,000 crore this year (all figures rounded off), almost 60 per cent, or Rs 12,000 crore, is earmarked for capital expenditure. Of this, Rs 4,000 crore will be disbursed directly to foreign shipyards that are constructing Indian warships, while Rs 8,000 crore will be paid to Indian shipyards. On the face of it, that would appear like a healthy 66 per cent indigenisation rate, close to Mr Antony's target.

Unfortunately, only a small share of this goes to the Indian shipbuilder. MDL retains just 25 per cent of the cost of each warship it produces, with 75 per cent being paid to foreign suppliers for the systems mentioned above. GRSE pays out 65 per cent and GSL remits 55 per cent abroad, not because they are better at indigenising but because their vessels use lower-end technology that is available in India.

The shocking statistic is that India has a 100 per cent indigenisation rate in jungle boots, blankets and similar low-tech equipment. But in critical technologies, we import 85 per cent of our needs. And in warship-grade and aerospace-grade components, we have indigenised just 5 per cent of our requirement; 95 per cent still comes from abroad. An example is Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd's Dhruv helicopter, designed and integrated in India, but 90 per cent foreign in physical content.

This regrettable situation exists largely because the MoD, particularly its Department of Defence Production (DDP), has failed to coordinate and sponsor the development of indigenous capability. Warship builders still import even warship- grade steel, the toughened alloy that comprises the basic structure of a modern battleship. This is not because the technology is beyond us. Years ago, India's public sector metallurgical establishments – the Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory; Mishra Dhatu Nigam; and Steel Authority of India Ltd – developed and manufactured warship-grade steel (termed D 40S), which has been used in the navy's reputed Shivalik class frigates. But cross-ministerial coordination is needed to produce the relatively small volumes required for warship programmes while remaining profitable for both steel makers and shipyards. Essar Steel had offered to produce warship steel, subject to some conditions. But the MoD has preferred to continue reliance on import.

In 2003 the navy addressed the lack of depth in indigenisation with a "15 Year Indigenisation Plan", which was subsequently revised up to 2022. This forecasts the warship programme's requirement of equipment and systems, hoping for import substitution by bringing in the private sector. A similar initiative last year, broadened to all three services, was the DRDO's "Technology Perspective & Capability Roadmap", which details the technologies that the military requires and urges the private sector "to offer firm commitments in partnering the MoD in developing contemporary and future technologies as well as productionalising [sic] equipment required by the Armed Forces".

But these useful baseline documents are only a starting point for an indigenisation thrust. Private sector corporations that are interested in defence production would still require handholding and funding for their initially non-productive R&D. The funding is available – each year the MoD has been earmarking some Rs 2,000 crore for "Make" procedure projects, without a single rupee having ever been paid out – but nobody in the MoD has taken clear ownership of such an initiative.

It is time for the defence ministry to step up to the plate. They have already identified 61 critical technologies – especially materials and components that can be used across a broad range of sub-systems and systems – that India badly needs for developing higher technological capabilities. A nationally synergised effort is needed, which must also explore obtaining specific technologies through the offset route.

We have learnt how to swim at the deep end of the pool, developing the complex abilities needed to design and integrate warships, aircraft and tanks, without developing the broader research and industrial ecosystem that sustains a defence industrial base. It is time to deepen and broaden indigenisation, by developing the materials, components and sub-systems that will not only substitute defence imports, but also provide technological "trickle down" to energise the national industrial base.

ajaishukla.blogspot.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

ENGINEERED BAN

IT IS UNFORTUNATE THAT POLICY MAKERS ARE DISREGARDING PEER-REVIEWED SCIENTIFIC OPINION ON GM CROPS

SURINDER SUD

Indian plant biotechnologists feel demoralised and displeased at the recent developments concerning genetically modified (GM) crops. Their dismay is chiefly because the indefinite moratorium on the release of genetically engineered Bt-brinjal has clouded the prospects for several other GM crops that are in the pipeline.

Intensive scientific effort and heavy investments have gone into the development of these crops. Their displeasure is largely because the present opposition to the GM technology is based chiefly on misconceived apprehensions and not on proven facts. A good deal of disinformation has been doled out to the unwary public on GM crops by detractors of biotech products. By thwarting the gainful application of biotechnology, these activists are curtailing the technology options available to farm scientists to ensure that agricultural growth keeps pace with increasing demand. Failure on this front will result in widespread shortages of farm goods, high prices and public distress.

 

It is unfortunate that a section of politicians holding policy-making positions are disregarding peer-reviewed scientific opinion on GM crops and are, instead, falling for disputable dissenting viewpoints. Moreover, the logic-based explanations offered by the scientific community on GM technology and its potential to empower agriculture to meet the future needs of food, fuel and fibre are invariably drowned by the anti-GM din raised by environment and health activists.

Realising this, some local and transnational agricultural research promotion bodies have come forward to disseminate accurate and unbiased information on GM technology. As a first step, a "stakeholders interface on GM food crops" was organised in Delhi last week by the Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology (APCoAB) and the Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS). This meet was attended by several well-regarded agricultural scientists, biotechnologists, policy makers, biosafety experts, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), representatives of the seed sector and, most importantly, farmers who have already used transgenic Bt-cotton hybrids with spectacular results.

The consensus among the stakeholders was that clearing misconceptions on this count was necessary to safeguard farmers' interests and to prepare for the formidable challenge of ensuring sustainable food security.

The green revolution of the 1960s became possible because of unflinching public and political support and policy backing for the new technology. Had that technology faced this kind of resistance from the activists, the green revolution would never have materialised. Unless similar public, political and policy support is forthcoming again for the promotion of the contemporary state-of-the-art technology, the much-needed second green revolution may remain elusive.

It may be recalled that when approval to Bt-brinjal was withheld, an impression was created that the noted farm expert, M S Swaminathan, was opposed to GM technology. This is far from true, as is clear from the message he sent for circulation at the stakeholders' conference. He wrote: "Bt-brinjal need not be banned, but there should be caution that one or two hybrids do not replace hundreds of native varieties which all have distinct quality characters." Besides, he suggested that studies should be carried out on the chronic effects of consuming Bt brinjal throughout one's life. He also argued for putting in place a system of testing environmental and health aspects of the GM products of the kind that exists in the US. That country has three different public agencies to examine transgenic crops against any adverse impact on human health, biodiversity and the environment.

Surprisingly, instead of revamping the GM crop-testing infrastructure and procedure, the government has chosen to thwart the very evolution of GM seeds. The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, which seeks to set up a competent and autonomous regulator for safety assessment and approval of biotech products, has for long been awaiting Parliamentary approval, for lack of any initiative by the government to expedite it. Worse, even the existing Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has been made redundant with the environment minister usurping the power for approval of such crops, overruling GEAC decisions. This is truly bizarre.

surinder.sud@gmail.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

INSIDE THE MIND OF GOD'S LITTLE SOLDIER

NILANJANA S ROY

Writing in the shadow of the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001, Salman Rushdie commented: "The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women's rights, pluralism, secularism, short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex."

There's a reason why most literary attempts to enter into the mind of the fundamentalist fail. Writers live by their ability to imagine their way into the lives, minds and souls of strangers; to be a writer is to admit at least a curiosity about ways of thinking different from your own. It is hard to imagine what the closed mind of a fundamentalist might be like, and for most writers, this is truly alien territory. Most literary portraits of the true believer are either risible – John Updike's cartoon terrorist – or not entirely convincing, as with Mohsin Hamid's Reluctant Fundamentalist, where so much of the book is spent trying to persuade us that the narrator's shift into fundamentalist thinking is plausible.

 

This may be Tahmima Anam's great achievement; to create a fundamentalist who is entirely plausible because she makes him so empathetic. Her second novel, The Good Muslim, is set in Bangladesh — a "broken wishbone of a country", which in 13 years has seen war, cannibalised its ancient forests and murdered two presidents. "A fast-acting country: quick to anger, quick to self-destruct."The Good Muslim is a sequel to The Golden Age, Ms Anam's first novel, which followed the life of the widowed Rehana Haque, in the wake of the 1971 war. The protagonists are Rehana's children, Maya and Sohail, who both carry deep scars from 1971.

Maya, a doctor, has worked with the "birangonas", the women who were dubbed heroines and left to survive the abuse, violence and rape of the war; Sohail has his own memories of his revolutionary days and his time in the army. His transformation into the good Muslim of the title, a preacher whose growing faith in religion elbows out all else – his family, his old friends, his son – is gradual and inexorable. He had been, his sister thinks at one point, the opposite of a religious man. "He had laughed and joked about it, and he had been angry at a religion that could be so easily turned to cruelty."

Ms Anam's deft retelling of history, as she moves between the 1970s and the 1980s, is based on a threefold understanding: she draws on her own memories as a child born after the '71 War whose family was unmistakably marked by it, by her skills as a researcher and the years she spent listening to the testimony of survivors, and she draws on her writer's ability to slip inside the skin of her characters. She explains just as much of Bangladesh's history as required, producing almost a journalistic account of a country's slow slipping into religious fundamentalism through Maya and Sohail's story.

For Maya, watching her brother pick up the mantle of a respected preacher who will use his powers as a man and a religious leader in disastrous ways, the shift in Sohail leaves her helpless. "The future was suddenly clear: he was going somewhere, somewhere remote and out of reach, somewhere that had nothing to do with her, and that even if he didn't disappear altogether, she would, from now on, be left behind." The Good Muslim is one of the most engaging and disquieting novels to come out of Bangladesh in years, in either English or Bengali.

TAILPIECE
Delhi's close-knit publishing world has gone through a version of a Cabinet reshuffle. Former Penguin Canada CEO David Davidar announced his plans to start a new publishing house, Aleph, in collaboration with Rupa & Co, amid speculation that two – and possibly three – of Penguin India's key players had quit to join him. Random House's flamboyant editor, Chiki Sarkar, takes over the chief editor's mantle from the very capable Ravi Singh at Penguin India; Mr Singh quit a month after Mr Davidar's return to India.

Mr Davidar, once seen as a front runner for the top job at Penguin USA, quit as CEO, Penguin Canada after his colleague Lisa Rundle filed a sexual harassment suit against him. Mr Davidar maintained the relationship was consensual. In India, everyone's watching to see if Aleph will allow him to replicate the kind of success he had when he set up Penguin India in 1987.

It's a crowded field today. With at least seven major players in the English language trade publishing scene in Delhi, the question is whether the market is big enough to support all of them. The numbers, in terms of readership, distribution and market share, suggest that at least two publishing houses will go under in the next five years.

The bigger question for readers is whether any of them, from Aleph to HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin, Rupa or Westland, has developed a distinct identity. With houses sharing authors, and with editors switching frequently from one house to another, it's only the independent publishing houses, not the mainstream players, who have much in the way of individuality any more. The challenge for Mr Davidar, Ms Sarkar and the rest won't be profitability — it will really lie in whether they can create distinctive brands for their respective publishing houses.

nilanjanasroy@gmail.com

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

CRICKET OVERDOSE

Though the BCCI made money and the sponsors were happy if a few millions watched, the game itself has suffered because of the overdose.

One of the oldest and best known laws of economics is called the law of diminishing marginal utility. It says that the more you have of something, the less likely you are to want some more of it. Obvious though it may sound, it is extraordinary how often businessmen fail to grasp its validity. The latest example of such incomprehension can be seen in the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League. It came after the World Cup, and it had too many matches, 74 in all. As a result, even cricket-crazy Indians, when they tuned on the TV, tuned off the game. Except for the final, the rest of the games were indistinguishable from one another. Also, because of the reshuffle of the players, loyalty to the team became diluted. The wickets were too slow, so the T-20 format did not yield the singular thrill it was intended for: high-scoring matches. There were only a handful of high points and the weather was too hot. All in all, even though the BCCI made money by collecting upfront and the sponsors were happy if a couple of millions watched even for 15 minutes, the game itself has suffered a blow because of the overdose. The BCCI should, if it has the long-term interest of the game at heart, review its policy, not least because many top players have also taken a severe knock in the form of injuries and over-work.

Indeed, the latter has led to half a dozen of the top players choosing to rest rather than represent India in the tour to the West Indies. This has led to a debate dubbed as 'club or country', and some extreme views have been proffered. One is that of Sunil Gavaskar, who says these players should be dropped from all future tours. The other is that of Kapil Dev, who says players are entitled to choose. Mr Gavaskar's anger is shared by many Indians who feel that cricket is unique, for several reasons. One of these is the fact that it is the only game in which international tournaments are held on a regular basis, thus keeping the nationalist element fresh and sharp. No other game sees such regular engagements between countries. For South Asians, cricket is war by other means and it is not at all like European football or American baseball. Fan loyalties are national — and only national here. This does not mean cricket of the Twenty20 kind should not be encouraged; but it does mean that for players who represent the national team, a clear set of priorities must be established so that they do not enter into contracts that put the national part at a disadvantage.

But here we run into the Barber's Paradox. It says that if there is a village in which the barber shaves only those who don't shave themselves, who shaves the barber when he performs the service on himself? It ought to be the barber. But then it can't be because by definition he is a barber only when he doesn't shave himself. The BCCI is in a similar situation. It is at once the custodian of cricket in India and also a plain corporate entity, mindful of the need to maximise revenues. The BCCI alone can take corrective action but, in doing so, will lose a lot of money. So, what can force the BCCI to take corrective action? Until this is answered, cricket fans will continue to be slighted by the BCCI and the players alike.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

PULSES NEED MORE FILLIP

G. CHANDRASHEKHAR

The minimum support price alone is not enough to ensure productivity gains in pulses. Policymakers have to think of government procurement to boost growers' confidence.

India's successes in space technology, prowess in information technology and research capability in biotechnology are all known and documented. India is known to have the world's largest pool of scientists.

Yet, agriculture is one area in which the country has remained relatively backward in comparison with several industrially advanced countries or even other emerging economies.

India has all it takes to achieve remarkable advances in agriculture. How many countries are endowed with 270 days of sunshine, 900 millimetres of annual rainfall, varied agro-climatic conditions with hundreds of rivers crisscrossing the country, about 150 million hectares of cultivable land, excellent biodiversity and about 130 million farm families at work.

No doubt, there have been successes in recent years. The country is the world's second largest producer and exporter of cotton. Maize/corn production this year has crossed 20 million tonnes.

Low growth rate

Despite these achievements, the overall agricultural situation is far from satisfactory. The annual average growth rate of the sector over the last 10 years is a paltry 2.5 per cent. Demand for agricultural commodities, especially food products, has been rising in the wake of robust GDP growth and population pressure. However, output growth has lagged, resulting in shortages and increasing dependence on the world market for imports.

Oilseeds and pulses are two commercial crops whose internal demand far exceeds domestic output. With large imports, the domestic market becomes subject to global influences.

2010-11 has become a watershed year for pulses which provide the cheapest vegetable protein. Acreage has expanded to a record high of about 26 million hectares and the output is an unprecedented 17.3 million tonnes, from the previous year's 14.7 m.t.

The biggest suspense now is whether in 2011-12, the terminal year of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan, pulses will retain the same acreage and crop size. Theoretically it is possible; but in practice one needs to wait and watch.

The suspense over pulses production should be broken and there has to be reasonable assurance of quantum of output.

Currently, the yield is woefully low, at 600-620 kg a hectare. This is less than half the world average and a third of the yield Canada obtains.

Admittedly, in India, pulses are grown under challenging conditions. It is largely rain-fed cultivation on marginal lands and with susceptibility to pest and disease attacks. There has been no genetic breakthrough in seed technology.

In the face of these challenges, it would be foolhardy to believe that yields can double or cross 1,000 kg/ha in the near future, without an integrated approach to finding end-to-end solutions.

Target for pulses

The first target for pulses should be to raise the yield from the present around 600 kg/ha to 700 kg/ha, an increase of a mere 100 kg/ha. An average harvest of 700 kg/ha on an area of, say, 25 ml ha would produce 17.5 m.t. In other words, an average increase of even 100 kg/ha would produce an additional 2.5 m.t. This will reduce import dependence substantially and push global prices down to levels that are friendlier to consumers than now.

Procurement for PDS

Pulses growers do not enjoy the ready marketability that rice and wheat growers do, because of the procurement policy. If the Centre can procure and supply rice, wheat and sugar through the public distribution system, why not pulses? For human health and welfare, pulses surely are more essential than sugar.

So, what should be done to raise pulses yields to 700 kg ha from the present level? The minimum support price alone is incapable of delivering productivity gains. Policymakers have to think of non-price and non-trade initiatives to boost growers' confidence; and procurement is one sure way to send out a message loud and clear.

Those in Krishi Bhawan have to address themselves to the issue of raising pulses yields. Yield increases of a mere 100 kg/ha does not need rocket science. It is eminently doable; but requires growth-oriented policies and committed implementation. It is time for policymakers to create a favourable policy environment, for farm scientists to build capacity among growers to benefit from supportive policies, and for the peasants to perform.

India has all these years exercised the easy option of resorting to imports to meet domestic shortfall.

Import dependence on pulses can surely be reduced substantially if we act with due urgency and responsibility. Otherwise, pulses will soon go the edible oil way — imports will keep ballooning and the market will remain painfully volatile.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE WILL TO ACT

THE POINT IS TO TAKE DECISIONS AND ACT, NOT DITHER OVER PLEASING EVERYONE


The monsoon has started early and is expected to perform well, removing most of the uncertainty over what may be called a known unknown among the determinants of how the nation will fare. The political leadership needs to do the same to the most significant of such known unknowns: its own ability to decide rather than dither. It is imperative that the leadership break the sense of drift that wafts down from Raisina Hill and into all the nearby Bhawans that house the ministries of the central government, enervating anyone that comes in its way. It must begin with the Cabinet reshuffle the Prime Minister had promised in January. It must extend to radically changing the way the ruling Congress mobilises its funds. A thoroughgoing attack on systemic corruption in India has to start with cleaning up political funding, almost all of which is garnered through corruption of one kind or another. Legal reforms to clean up political funding, and make political party accounts transparent are overdue and must be initiated. But the most credible reform of all would be a move by the biggest party of them all to initiate the process of acquiring transparency in collection of funds and in expenditure. The government must find the courage to move on things it knows to be imperative, but has been putting off for fear of offending some interest group or the other. It must decide on export of farm produce, to ensure that farmers get a decent price and will continue to produce bumper harvests in the years ahead. It must create a separate state of Telangana and start work on a modern new capital for Andhra Pradesh, triggering massive new construction and planned urbanisation. It must decontrol diesel prices, rationalise taxes on petro fuels and allow independent retail of fuel, paving the way for a competitive market. It must initiate appointment of tens of thousands of new district-level judges, to speed up the judicial process. It must pass pending legislation.


The government must, in other words, take the initiative and act to take the nation forward. Action will silence critics, not protestations from inert postures of rectitude. And there is no time to waste.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SHOCK AND AWE!

GORY PICTURES ARE BUT ONE PART OF THE MULTI-PRONGED ATTACK TOBACCO CALLS FOR


The government's decision to replace the present ineffective pictorial warnings with more gory images on cigarette packs is welcome. Graphic warnings have been used to good effect in several countries, including Australia, Belgium, Chile and Hong Kong. In Australia, warnings were introduced in 1973 but were text-only till March 2006, when a new system of pictorial health warnings came into effect. Studies have shown a decline in tobacco consumption after the switchover. Despite this, thanks to the lobbying power and clout of cigarette majors, and of course the fact that tobacco products are a ready source of tax revenue, successive governments have dragged their feet, ignoring the huge toll that tobacco consumption takes, both on human lives and the exchequer. It is estimated that about 250 million people across the country use tobacco products like gutkha, cigarettes and bidis and more than 38.4 million bidi and 13.2 million cigarette smokers will die prematurely. Paradoxically, there has been an increase in tobacco consumption in developing countries, as faced with the prospect of declining consumption in more advanced countries, tobacco majors have redoubled their efforts to entice lessaware consumers in poorer countries. The latter are least able to cope with the adverse effects of tobacco use and where the public is far less informed and, therefore, much more susceptible to aggressive marketing.


India first introduced pictorial health warnings on tobacco products on May 31, 2009. However,the warnings — ineffective in both form and content — seem to have had little impact on consumers. Hence, the need to replace the present pictures with others that shock and awe. However, gory pictorial warnings can, at best, be only one part of a multi-pronged attack that includes sin taxes on all tobacco-related products, a ban on foreign direct investment in tobacco (done in 2010) and on all forms of advertising including surrogate and stealth advertising and weaning farmers away from tobacco farming to alternative crops. Only then will we be able to make a meaningful dent in tobacco consumption.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SWEEPING CLAIMS

DUST SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO SETTLE ON THE BROOM SHORTAGE


The Municipal Corporation of Delhi will obviously rubbish any accusations that it has run out of brooms, but the contention of residents welfare associations can't be brushed aside that easily. Beset as it is by constant complaints about its deplorable track record when it comes to provision and upkeep of civic amenities, it isn't surprising the MCD sees this broom barb as a witch-hunt, particularly when seen against the backdrop of the CWG contract scams. But refusing any suggestion of wrongdoing will not remedy matters. More so when the UPA is making an effort to show that it is serious about cleaning up the system, sweeping aside the Opposition's claims that misdeeds of some high functionaries are being brushed under the carpet . As it is well-known that new brooms sweep clean, the MCD's disinclination to provide its cleaning staff with the requisite equipment could be construed as part of a wider stonewalling measure by at least a section of the government. Two months ago, when Nigeria was also swept by rumours of a broom shortage, it was ascribed to the pre-poll machinations of a certain political party whose symbol it was. Some Nigerians, however, saw it as a dark plot to create an artificial shortage in order to import cheaper brooms from China, thereby killing a thriving local industry. Therefore, with some sweepers here alleging that the new consignment has got held up over size and pricing issues — portending a CWG-type tendering scam — the best recourse for the MCD would be to come clean on the real reason for the shortage. The civic body should speedily mop up resources from elsewhere to make the necessary payments for the new brooms, because waiting for the dust to settle on this controversy could prove counterproductive.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

A SPOILER CALLED INFLATION

ACROSS ASIA, INFLATION AND RELATED EXPECTATIONS WILL PUSH DOWN GROWTH AND STOCK MARKET PERFORMANCE

 

Headline inflation in Asia ex Japan has been rising rapidly since the second half of 2010, reaching a 29-month high of 5.8% in March 2011. While food inflation has been driving headline inflation higher, core inflation pressures have also been elevated, tracking at a high of 3.9% in March 2011. Morgan Stanley's macro team has been arguing for some time that risks are skewed to the upside for inflation. We also have pointed out that the process of taming inflation will ultimately be damaging to growth. This is particularly the case in India and China, and to a lesser extent, Indonesia. Our India GDP forecast for this year has been cut twice in the last six months and now stands at 7.7%.


As the global recession unfolded, policymakers in the region implemented aggressive fiscal and monetary policies to offset the collapse in external demand. Indexed total Asia ex-Japan exports declined from the pre-crisis peak of 100 in July 2008 to a trough of 70 in February 2009. In response, weighted average policy rates in the region ex-India were cut from a peak of 6.6% in August 2008 to 4.4% in August 2009, while India's rates were cut from 9.0% in August 2008 to 4.8% in April 2009. Correspondingly, fiscal deficits for the region (on a weighted-average basis) expanded from the trough of -0.3% of GDP in 2007 to -2.1% in 2008 and -4.4% in 2009. These policies played a key role in stimulating domestic demand across the region, with China, India and Indonesia recovering the fastest because of their strong structural growth dynamics.


Just as domestic demand was rising sharply, external demand recovery also emerged faster than expected. The recovery to the pre-crisis peak for exports took almost the same number of months as it did during the Asian crisis and the 2001 technology crisis. As policymakers remained concerned on the outlook for growth in the developed world, however, they were slow to take away the support of loose fiscal and monetary policy.
The European Union sovereign debt concerns that broke out in the middle of 2010 resulted in a brief downtick in exports for the region and reaffirmed the slow policy exit approach adopted by policymakers in the region. With hindsight, this weakness in external demand was shortlived. Exports recovered sharply and grew by a strong 24.5% (seasonally adjusted, not annualised) from October 2010 to March 2011. In our view, this strong rebound in exports has only added to the inflation pressure in the region, given that domestic demand has been strong.


Apart from stronger domestic and external demand that resulted in inflation pressures, back-to-back crop failures across many of the large food-exporting and food-consuming countries also pushed food inflation up sharply. The Commodity Research Bureau (CRB) food index has risen by 33% since June 2010 and is now 9% above its previous peak in July 2008. In recent months, Brent oil prices have also spiked up to $115/bbl due to prolonged supply disruptions. Together with other metals and input price inflation, this has led to a surge in producer price inflation, which on average is running at 3% higher than consumer price inflation in the region currently. This is generating a significant negative margin impact on manufacturing firms in Asia.
Policymakers in the region have partially reversed their aggressive fiscal and monetary policy with an acceleration in tightening most notable recently in India. Weighted-average policy rates in the region ex India have risen from the trough of 4.4% in August 2009 to 5.4% in April 2011, while India's rates have risen to 7.25% currently from 4.75% in April 2009. However, policy rates are still below the levels seen in mid-2008, when the region was also facing strong inflation pressures. Similarly, fiscal deficits for the region (on a weighted-average basis) have also been reduced from -4.4% in 2009 to -3.4% in 2010 and are expected to narrow slightly to -3.1% this year. In comparison, in 2007 (the year before the peak in inflation) the region's fiscal balance was close to zero.

In March, our AlphaWise team surveyed 5,270 households in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Taiwan to see how their behaviour was adjusting to inflation. We found that 71% describe themselves as worried about inflation, and 21% as very worried. The majority are expecting inflation rates of 6-10% over the next 12 months, with Indian respondents having the highest inflation expectations. Moreover, 59% of our respondents expected inflation rates to be higher than their wage increases, implying a loss to future purchasing power. We also found that respondents on average indicated an intention to cut back on spending, in particular on discretionary and bigticket items such as automobiles and property purchases. Hence, as policymakers deal with inflation and consumers adjust, we have been expecting to see both top line and margin compression issues appearing for Asian firms, particularly those in the consumer discretionary and domestically-oriented manufacturing segments through the remainder of this year. Our regional earnings growth forecast of 13% as well as our equity index target prices for 2011 are below consensus as a result. By mid-April and continuing into May, overly bullish consensus earnings estimates have begun to be reduced in line with our expectations. Hopefully, the situation will improve towards the end of the year, but we suspect that for 2011 as a whole Asian stock market returns will be poor compared to 2009 and 2010.


(The article was co-authored with Jonathan Garner, Chief Asian & Emerging Market Equity Strategist, Morgan Stanley)

 

CHETAN AHYA
ASIA-PACIFIC ECONOMIST & MD, MORGAN STANLEY, SINGAPORE

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

THROUGH THE THIRD EYE


No Shootout

The promised post-West Bengal rout introspection and the process of fixing responsibility, if any, within the CPI-M leadership could prove to be a longdrawn process. It is unlikely the party central committee meeting in June will reach a conclusion on the reasons for the electoral debacle and the remedial methods needed. It can take a few months for the party to compile reports from the lower rungs on their take on these issues. The party will begin the process of organisational elections from local to state committees that will culminate in the 'election' of the party central committee, polit bureau and general secretary at the party congress. The CPI is holding its own party congress in Patna some time early next year. Given that the CPI-M and CPI hold their respective party congresses within a couple of weeks for the convenience of the visiting fraternal delegates, one can safely assume the CPI-M party congress too might happen around the same time. So, there will be at least a sixmonth period to see whether there will be a serious internal churning over the party line. Remember, in a communist party, it is the party line that makes and unmakes leaders and their positions.


Southern Blues

Karnataka is fast becoming a case of Hobson's choice for both the BJP and Congress. If the saffron party is truly stuck with its scam-hit B S Yeddyurappa given his potential to blackmail his party by flaunting his Lingayat caste base, the Congress is equally stuck with the ways of Governor H R Bharadwaj. The joke in Congress circles is that the UPA has no option of risking a mid-term poll in Karnataka given the total disarray in the state Congress. In fact, many consider Bharadwaj the sole opposition in the state. Given the poor health of the PCCs, many have started dubbing Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as Congress' 'southern Bihar and UP'. With the problems-hit AP Congress too joining the list of troubled states, the Congress' onceimpregnable south Indian fort is now an area of deep concern.


Uneasy Trio

As the AICC is trying hard to make the fast-advancing Uttar Pradesh assembly elections 'a battle between the BSP and Congress', the utility of the party's Muslim and upper caste leaders has gone up dramatically. While party managers are hoping a meaningful section of Muslim voters will desert the declining SP to come back to the Congress fold, what is key to the party's revival bid is to revive its rainbow base by wooing back Brahmin and other upper caste voters. Here lies the tactical importance of PCC chief Rita Bahuguna, more importantly, the daughter of late H N Bahuguna. Incidentally, there is increasing talk in party circles that two more Congress Brahmin leaders — CLP leader Pramod Tiwari and Union minister Jitin Prasada — are also exploring the possibility of emerging as the pre-poll 'Brahmin face' of the state Congress. Time for Madam Bahuguna to watch out?


Getting it Right

One of the addictive dreams of the Kerala CPI-M has always been to acquire the kind of political clout that will help it rule the state all alone. With this desire to 'replicate the Bengal model', the Kerala CPI-M has been poaching the traditional seats of all its allies in the LDF except the CPI. But after the Mamata tsunami, the last thing a Kerala Marxist wants to dream of these days is the 'Bengal model'. And the narrow defeat in the Kerala assembly polls, where LDF fought after driving out many traditional allies, has also taught the Kerala CPI-M about the need to have more allies to take on the UDF. Some enlightenment!

 

Casting Blunder

As the Congress is coming to terms with its rebel N Rangasamy smashing its Puducherry fort, many party leaders are wondering what prompted Sonia Gandhi's managers to replace him with the lacklustre V Vaidyalingam as party CM in 2008. Imagine, in a Union territory with over 70% of the population belonging to the Vaniyar caste, the Congress chose to replace Rangasamy, the tallest leader of the community, with V Vaidyalingam, who belongs to the Reddy caste that accounts for less than 2% of the population! And Union minister V Narayanasamy, the man who worked on Delhi connections to unsettle Rangasamy and crown Vaidyalingam, belongs to the Gramini-Nadar community that accounts for less 5% of the population. No wonder Rangasamy's rebel outfit won a comfortable majority even without his AIADMK ally! Wonder what that 'all-powerful Congress manager' who even refused to meet Rangasamy for a week when he came to Delhi seeking a patch-up, now feels about this fatal folly? Maybe his chelaNarayansamy can tell…

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

WHY WE MUST THANK TEAM INDIA

CRICKET IS A THRILLING SPORT COMPLETE WITH A 'HERO', 'VILLAIN' AND 'ITEM NUMBER'. NO WONDER, THEN, IT LURES


There was a time when I would look askance at colleagues and friends who would heatedly debate on whether or not Dhoni asking Tendulkar to bowl a couple of overs was a good decision. While they would plaster their arguments with the technicalities of the game, I often wondered how they planned to pass on their valuable feedback to the Indian team for further necessary action at their end. That was the time when cricket for me simply meant cheering the guys in blue as long as they were winning, and switching off the TV when they were losing. Of late, more often than not, my TV remains in the "on" mode. That itself is scientific evidence of the fact that the Indian cricket team is making it a habit to play a good game and the IPL matches are not too boring either. Also, being glued to the TV has deepened my understanding of the game to the extent that I am now seriously considering an alternate career as Mandira Bedi.

 

My insights into the game are clearly divided into two phases loosely called "before enlightenment" and "after profound enlightenment". Before enlightenment phase was certainly mundane. "Hey, aren't you watching India play against Timbuktu today? We are on the verge of winning the match!" A phone call like this would be the only cue for me to switch on TV, watch our guys play and lead India to a onewicket/one-run victory in a match which could have gone either way.

 

Then, I met Dhoni. A tremendously humble sportsperson, so earthy, and extremely affable. When I mentioned to him that I had next-to-nothing knowledge of cricket, he just smiled and said, "Ma'am after meeting me most people who are like you get converted into cricket commentators". There was this innocent conviction in his voice that day which urged me subsequently to prove him right. Thus began my "profound" phase and entry into the world of misleading vocabulary!

 

I learnt that you don't fall in cricket, when you stand on a "slip". Whereas in real life there is "ishq di gully vich no entry", in cricket good batsmen find an entry in the gully through a gap. Your legs are not equal in cricket- they are either "short", "long", "square" or "glance". You don't dive for cover, but you drive at the "covers". "Deep" in cricket is not "profound" but "somewhere far on the ground". Want to tread the mid-path in life? Well, you could choose between a short mid-off and a long mid-on in cricket. "Bouncers" don't protect you, but may end up knocking you off. You don't gape open-mouth-tongue-tied at someone who has managed to "Hook", you cheer for him. Getting "clean bowled" has nothing to do with your love life. In fact, it is a dishonorable form of exit for a batsman. When you bowl a "maiden", your wife does not claw your eyes out. On the other hand, she is genuinely proud of you.

 

Terminology notwithstanding, I have discovered that cricket is a thrilling sport. There is a sense of hero (Indian team), villain (any other team) and item number (cheer leaders and Bollywood style-imitators in the audience) about it which is so gripping to a Hindi movie addict like me. I had this vivid dream recently in which I am overhearing a conversation between the losing team of another country and the sadistic Head of that country after they were unable to get the opening batsmen of the Indian side out in a match:

 

Head: Kitney aadmi thhe? Team: Sarkar, do. Head: Aur tum, poorey gyaarah. Phir bhi haar gaye. Team: Lekin Sarkar unkey paas do dandey thhe, hamarey paas iklauti gaind thi. Head: Khaamosh! Ab tumhara kya hoga Gyarah! Team: Sarkar aapkey saath kitney endorsements kiye hain aur kitney dinner khaaye hain. Head: Toh jao, phir se Dhoni (ki) Khao! Team: Naheeee!

 

Even my dreams have become so colourful — thank you team India!

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

HOPES HIGH FOR A GOOD MONSOON

 

It is that time of the year when heavy dark clouds are particularly welcome as they spell the onset of the monsoon across India. This country's $1.2-trillion economy remains substantially dependent on a good monsoon, with barely 14 per cent of arable land under irrigation on an average. While the rains in June are important, those in July are even more vital as several major crops depend on these, and will otherwise fail. The good news so far this year is that the rains have arrived a couple of days ahead of schedule in Kerala, Lakshadweep, South Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, heralding the onset of the southwest monsoon. This is the so-called Arabian Sea branch of the southwest monsoon; the other one — the Bay of Bengal branch — provides rainfall to areas east of the western ghats. The southwest monsoon determines the fate of the nation's kharif crop — foodgrain, cotton, oilseeds, etc. — in the main cropping season. If, as forecast by the India Metereological Department, this year's rains are normal and the sowing can be done on time, the prospects for a good crop are bright. But it is also not that simple. A lot of groundwork needs to be done — loans have to be disbursed in time so that farmers can buy agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertiliser, before it is too late. Complaints are already coming in from Maharashtra's Vidarbha region, from where the maximum number of farmer suicide deaths are reported, that the banks are going very slow on loan disbursements, and since the government delayed fixing the price of seeds, there is a delay in distribution of seeds as well, and these are openly being sold in the black market. It is learnt that just 10 per cent of farmers have received Kisan Credit Cards, which makes them eligible for loans automatically when they pay off their earlier loans. But even in such cases, the banks work less efficiently than they should. If these hurdles can be overcome, the agriculture scenario should be positive, and the economy in general will benefit. Agriculture accounts for just 28 per cent of India's GDP and has grown by 2-4 per cent in recent years. But 70 per cent of India still depends on agriculture, and therefore if the monsoon is not good the results can be devastating. Millions of poor people are driven into further impoverishment. From industry's perspective, a good monsoon is an instant bonanza for certain sectors, such as fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and two-wheeler and tractor manufacturers as rural India has more purchasing power in its hands. It could also help tame food inflation, though last year, even though there was a good monsoon, food prices actually soared. One reason behind that was Russia stopping grain exports after it had a bad season. India is heavily dependent on the import of pulses, so if countries like Burma have a bad crop the prices soar in the international markets. Also, the domestic onion crop was destroyed due to unseasonal rains and floods. If food inflation falls, the overall inflation rate could come down too and lead to a softening of interest rates. The Reserve Bank will at least not be under pressure to raise interest rates. Ironically, a good monsoon will have little positive impact on the stock markets (as just a few fertiliser stocks and an irrigation company are listed); unlike the huge negative impact that a bad monsoon has on market sentiment. The country will, of course, pray as usual to the rain god Indra that he shower his blessings on India and its people.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

FOR THE LOVE OF TERROR

 

"There is an increasing belief that Pakistanis walk both sides of the road". US senate intelligence committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, as reported in the Wall Street Journal Rumblings of discontent in the United States are growing louder post-Osama bin Laden and Abbottabad. The US is a dissatisfied paymaster, because its huge financial investments in Pakistan by way of military and civil aid are simply not paying off, with little value to show for American tax payers' money expended. The US remains the most reviled hate figure in Pakistani public opinion, rivalling and sometimes even exceeding India. Pakistanis, both in the Army as well as civil society, are happy to bite the hand that feeds them, because misuse and misappropriation of American funds is now considered almost an article of faith and part of the anti-America jihad in that country. There is really nothing much the Americans can do except fume about their admittedly unenviable situation, because there is only so much influence the US can exert on its dubious "ally", particularly on the taboo subject of accounting for funds received. Pakistan can almost imperiously brush aside inconvenient American importunities, because it holds two trump cards — first, potential hostages in the 150,000 US troops who have "surged" into Afghanistan and are now locked into that country, dependent solely on a single route of maintenance (and, who knows, withdrawal) running entirely through Pakistan, from Karachi to Kabul via the Khyber Pass, and to Kandahar via Chaman. Pakistan's intransigencies can easily shut down this surface lifeline whenever Pakistan needs to make a point about who is really in charge, and indeed sometimes does so just to give a turn of the screw to its American "partners". The other high card is Pakistan's feverishly expanding stockpile of nuclear weapons and enriched plutonium likely to soon exceed that of France. Here, too, Pakistan blackmails its reluctant American benefactors by holding a gun to its own head with dire prognostications of a nuclear implosion if America withdraws aid. Pakistan's indispensability is further rubbed in by ostentatious visits to China just to remind the benighted Americans that the US is not the only donor around! Meanwhile, the financial aspects of the US-Pakistan joint venture in AfPak, as depicted in some foreign media, make for interesting — and ominous — reading. Amongst them is the Kerry-Lugar Bill, legislatively codified by US in 2009 as "The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act" with the stated aim of "the development of an enhanced strategic partnership with Pakistan and its people". The act provides for economic and military aid to Pakistan by the US to the extent of $7.5 billion over five financial years (2009-2013) to be utilised for economic and social development, as well as military assistance and arms transfers for counterinsurgency and counterterrorism as part of the war on terror. In addition, former US President George W. Bush also created the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) after 9/11, under which Washington has provided $8.87 billion to Islamabad as running expenses for undertaking the war on terror against the Taliban in AfPak on behalf of the US. These funds are deposited directly into the Pakistan treasury, with very little American control over its expenditure thereafter, even though there are provisions for American oversight, including annual certification by the US secretary of state that such funds are being spent in accordance with the prescribed pre-conditions. Nothing much is heard thereafter, presumably because of an escape hatch clause that dispenses with such certification "if in the national interest". However, authorities within the American government freely comment that only 30 per cent of CSF resources for Pakistan are being expended for their intended purpose, while the remainder 70 per cent of funds are apparently unaccounted for, and might well have been expended for "anything from F16 fighter aircraft to a new house for an Army general". In Islamabad, the Pakistan government submits monthly bills for an average $80 million to the US embassy on account of ongoing but unspecified military operations for which no receipts are given. The US and Pakistan are said to be actively sparring behind closed doors in Washington and Islamabad over this unending Niagara of American funds on account of services contracted for but not rendered. The Pakistan Army submits requests for funds which are either unsubstantiated, exaggerated, or not pertaining to the war on terror, while reports in influential sections of American media indicate that more than 40 per cent of such claims against alleged logistical expenditure on military equipment, food, water and military accommodation are almost routinely rejected in Washington as being inflated. On one check, these amounted to about $3.2 million between January 2009 to June 2010. Some examples are hilarious — the US paid millions of dollars to refurbish four Pakistani helicopters for operational deployment of troops against the Taliban and other militants. The Pakistan Army diverted three of the refurbished helicopters to the Pakistani UN peacekeeping force in Sudan, for which Pakistan receives compensation from the United Nations! In another instance, in 2006, the Pakistan Army claimed almost $70 million for maintenance of air defence radar sets, presumably against the Taliban air threat! These are, of course, the lighter sides of the financial chicanery institutionalised by the Pakistan Army, but there are darker, more serious implications for India of financial assistance by the US to our rogue neighbour. The refurbished helicopters diverted to Sudan might well have been sent to Kashmir, while radar coverage against air strikes by the Taliban is undoubtedly deployed along Pakistan's eastern borders facing India. The Pakistan military, as always, is undoubtedly doing well out of America's war on terror. But as election year approaches in the US, and the country remains convalescent after its near-death economic meltdown, America will have to find answers to the dilemma of funding its demanding and unscrupulous ally. * Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LET'S NOT GIVE IN TO LEARNED HELPLESSNESS

 

Unemployment is a terrible scourge across much of the Western world. Almost 14 million Americans are jobless, and millions more are stuck with part-time work or jobs that fail to use their skills. Some European countries have it even worse: 21 per cent of Spanish workers are unemployed. Nor is the situation showing rapid improvement. This is a continuing tragedy, and in a rational world bringing an end to this tragedy would be our top economic priority. Yet a strange thing has happened to policy discussion: on both sides of the Atlantic, a consensus has emerged among movers and shakers that nothing can or should be done about jobs. Instead of a determination to do something about the ongoing suffering and economic waste, one sees a proliferation of excuses for inaction, garbed in the language of wisdom and responsibility. So someone needs to say the obvious: inventing reasons not to put the unemployed back to work is neither wise nor responsible. It is, instead, a grotesque abdication of responsibility. What kinds of excuses am I talking about? Well, consider last week's release of the latest report on the economic outlook by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD. The OECD is basically an intergovernmental think tank; while it has no direct ability to set policy, what it says reflects the conventional wisdom of Europe's policy elite. So what did the OECD have to say about high unemployment in its member countries? "The room for macroeconomic policies to address these complex challenges is largely exhausted", declared the organisation's secretary general, who called on countries instead to "go structural" — that is, to focus on long-run reforms that would have little impact on the current employment situation. And how do we know that there's no room for policies to put the unemployed back to work? The secretary general did not say — and the report itself never even suggests possible solutions to the employment crisis. All it does is highlight the risks, as it sees them, of any departure from orthodox policy. But then, who is talking seriously about job creation these days? Not the Republican Party, unless you count its ritual calls for tax cuts and deregulation. Not the Obama administration, which more or less dropped the subject a year-and-a-half ago. The fact that nobody in power is talking about jobs does not mean, however, that nothing could be done. Bear in mind that the unemployed aren't jobless because they don't want to work, or because they lack the necessary skills. There's nothing wrong with our workers — remember, just four years ago the unemployment rate was below five per cent. The core of our economic problem is, instead, the debt — mainly mortgage debt — that households ran up during the bubble years of the last decade. Now that the bubble has burst, that debt is acting as a persistent drag on the economy, preventing any real recovery in employment. And once you realise that the overhang of private debt is the problem, you realise that there are a number of things that could be done about it. For example, we could have Work Projects Administration-type programmes putting the unemployed to work doing useful things like repairing roads — which would also, by raising incomes, make it easier for households to pay down debt. We could have a serious programme of mortgage modification, reducing the debts of troubled homeowners. We could try to get inflation back up to the four per cent rate that prevailed during Ronald Reagan's second term, which would help to reduce the real burden of debt. So there are policies we could be pursuing to bring unemployment down. These policies would be unorthodox — but so are the economic problems we face. And those who warn about the risks of action must explain why these risks should worry us more than the certainty of continued mass suffering if we do nothing. In pointing out that we could be doing much more about unemployment, I recognise, of course, the political obstacles to actually pursuing any of the policies that might work. In the United States, in particular, any effort to tackle unemployment will run into a stone wall of Republican opposition. Yet that's not a reason to stop talking about the issue. In fact, looking back at my own writings over the past year or so, it's clear that I too have sinned: political realism is all very well, but I have said far too little about what we really should be doing to deal with our most important problem. As I see it, policymakers are sinking into a condition of learned helplessness on the jobs issue: the more they fail to do anything about the problem, the more they convince themselves that there's nothing they could do. And those of us who know better should be doing all we can to break that vicious circle.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

NO COUNTDOWN TO CASTE YET

 

Deep turned round to stare at me when Mr Rahul Gandhi popped the question, "What's your caste?" It's not that my son didn't know. But he was thrown because he didn't think of himself in terms of caste… which is precisely what Mr Gandhi intended to highlight as emblematic of the emerging secular, non-sectarian India of his and Deep's generation. Their interaction makes me wonder if a caste census won't set back the trend towards modernisation. The past is another country. I remember paying a courtesy call many years before Deep was born at the Hindu newspaper's office in what was then Madras, as instructed by my own editor, an Englishman who started his Indian career on the long-defunct Madras Mail. A barefoot Hindu editor with sandalwood marks on his forehead and wrapped in what Bengalis call a lungyi but is a dhoti in the south asked me how many Brahmins were members of West Bengal's Legislative Assembly. Just back from England, I replied stoutly that caste didn't matter in Bengal. "Not in the circles you move in!" he replied shortly, and pleaded an important meeting to end the conversation. Today's Hindu is a different world. But the man was right. I have had several brushes since then with caste lobbies. One tried to sue me but the magistrate threw out the petition. Another dragged me to the Press Council in the shabbiness to which the Faridkot House dining room has been reduced. The council ruled in my favour but subjected me to a homily on not hurting people's sentiments. As B.P. Mandal said, "If Karl Marx were born in Calcutta, he would have realised that caste plays an equally important factor in denying people their rights". Mr Bal Thackeray put it brilliantly: Indians don't cast their vote, they vote their caste. Even Mahatma Gandhi baulked at a frontal attack on caste. He attacked untouchability instead, hoping that its removal would destroy the underpinnings of the caste system. What Gandhi doesn't seem to have considered is the relevance of caste to identity and self-image. Perhaps we will get a glimpse of that in the proposed census to chart out the entire population's economic, caste and religious affiliations. E.M.S. Namboodiripad tried something similar in 1968 but his purpose in assessing inequality was to mobilise lower caste voters. Undoubtedly, the all-India exercise will also be exploited for political gain by not only the three Yadavs — Mr Lalu Prasad, Mr Sharad and Mr Mulayam Singh — but also the BJP, Akali Dal, Shiv Sena and AIADMK. They have all been clamouring for a caste census. Some good may yet come of it if the findings help the Centre to reject affirmative action as a blanket reward for everyone born in particular groups and evolve a rational policy to enable the genuinely disadvantaged to overcome social and educational drawbacks. But enumerators will have to tread warily through the minefield of "creamy layers" and "Brahminised" dalits. The Harchand Singh Committee noted that when Punjab's evacuee estates were being distributed among the underprivileged, "influential scheduled caste bureaucrats and public men" grabbed properties for a song to sell "at exorbitant prices to non-scheduled caste persons". Certain Karnataka Brahmins pestered Mandal to be designated backward. He must have realised elsewhere — even if he didn't record it — that conversion to Islam or Christianity needn't mean escaping caste. Indeed, some Goan Catholics boast of their Brahmin origin. There are many other complexities for, in some respects, India is a state of many nations rather than a nation of many states. It's as confused as Indonesia whose Dutch rulers overlooked the high percentage of Chinese because they described themselves by dialect, as Hakka, Teochew or whatever. Caste names and practices aren't uniform. Sub-castes and sects vary from region to region. In fact, nomenclature was another reason for Deep's discomfiture at Mr Gandhi's question. I had to turn to H.H. Risley's Tribes and Castes of Bengal, Volume I, to find confirmation of the mixed origin of our little-known Baidya (Vaidya in Sanskrit) caste. It's "found only in Bengal Proper" and apparently ranks socially "next to Brahmins and above Kayasthas". Since respondents were suspected of self-promotion when caste information was last gathered in 1931, I hasten to add that is Risley's view, not mine. Today, if you mention Vaidya to someone from the cow belt, he will probably hear "Vaishya"! Downgrading carries handsome educational, employment and other benefits, as borne out by the ever-lengthening list of eligible castes. Given this "vested interest in backwardness", equating caste with socio-economic class is by no means as simple as the late Kanshi Ram's pencil analogy. He held up a pencil when I went to see him in his Karol Bagh office, saying it represented the vertical caste hierarchy. His aim, he explained in his mild soft-spoken way, was to make it horizontal. That's what we were discussing in the context of Uttar Pradesh under the woman who claims to wear Kanshi Ram's mantle (albeit, a fashionable designer version) when Mr Gandhi stumped Deep. We thought he was making the healthy point that since caste is no longer the major determinant in emerging India, it is regressive to keep harping on the so-called bahujan as if it's a minority in dire need of care and protection. No wonder the Centre hesitated to sanction a caste census. What many will see as affirmation and legitimisation of sectarian identities hammers yet another nail in the coffin of Macaulay's famous or infamous dream of creating "a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect". It sounds arrogantly Anglo-Saxon but meant no more than the rational, scientifically-oriented, English-speaking, superstition-free society Jawaharlal Nehru envisioned. As does his great-grandson. A caste census might mean goodbye to that. POSTSCRIPT: An apocryphal story has it that P.C. Sen, West Bengal's former Congress chief minister, told inquirers who were surprised at his turning up when Promode Dasgupta, the Marxist general secretary died, that he always attended events connected with fellow Baidyas. Caste before ideology! * Sunanda K. Datta-Ray is a senior journalist who contributes to several top international publications

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE AURA OF ENERGY

 

Every thing is energy. Living is receiving and directing energy. Energy is a very fine channelling of a delicate thought process through disciplined human application on a regular basis. It could be drawing, painting, karate, dance, yoga, almost anything. Energy can become anything — from aura to product, from power to wealth. Once realised and manifested it can be transferred into any form. Energy manages human beings and resources. Human existence is the alignment of opposite energies, the Yin and the Yang. It is an effort with an effect, effect with a purpose. Energy takes you into a virtual world, you become someone you are not, you bring people to life. Energies are of various kinds but all are interconnected. The physical and the physiological; the metaphysical and the spiritual. On the spiritual plane, energy that is born out of submission charges you beyond human conception and comprehension. It is the only form of energy that is accessible to all, the energy that comes free of cost. It comes from a deep inner peace. You see peace in everything. On the physiological plane, each day dawns with the hangover of day before, which in most cases is heavy. Driving home late, pressure of work, finances and commitments, deadlines and relationships, pollution and air conditioning, particularly, the negative ion depletion. Each day starts as an idea, and this idea is energy, with large wings and propellers. Without wings nothing lives, nothing flies. Being positive is the key to unlimited joy. To receive energy at this moment you need to meditate. The purpose of meditation is to peel away layers of illusions, passion and conceptual thought so that the spirit can fill our consciousness with the lustrous light of cosmic insight. Deep meditation in the wee hours helps discover this joy each day and sustains you till the next. The biggest gift of nature to the human being is the connect between the mind, body and soul. By waking early you connect with everything and everything connects with you. — Muzaffar Ali is a filmmaker and painter. He is the executive director and secretary of the Rumi Foundation and can be contacted at www.rumifoundation.in

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

HELP AT HAND?

TINKERING IN PLACE OF ASSERTION

 

IN Mamata Banerjee's reckoning, West Bengal's fiscal crisis demands intervention greater than Cyclone Aila in 2009. The difference is much too obvious ~ while the second was a murderous natural phenomenon, the first is essentially man-made, the creation of the previous Left dispensation. The Treasury has been all but closed for the past six months, which itself ought to have wiped off the collective smile that marked the photo-opportunity at the close of Sunday's meeting. While a sense of urgency is evident from discussions having taken place on a holiday, there is little to suggest that the Union finance minister got down to brasstacks, or to the specifics of what can be done to effect resource generation. Mr Pranab Mukherjee has made little more than a statement of intent; it doesn't quite address the core of the crisis that very nearly held up April salaries till he helped out his friend, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. And post the electoral alliance with Trinamul, the finance minister had withheld the bailout to the Left government for as long as he could. As such, Sunday's meeting merely tinkered with the crisis. And even as a quick-fix formula, it scarcely inspires hope. Mr Mukherjee has spoken of assistance ~ short, medium and long term.


  The short point must be that the state can't be run on borrowing and lending. Numerical jugglery by the previous regime has resulted in a situation that is beyond hope, beyond despair. It calls for the intervention of economists and planners, cutting across political inclinations. And post swearing-in, Miss Banerjee isn't particularly averse to cooperation with the other side. This isn't the moment for a political statement in the manner of Mr Mukherjee ~ a promise of "all assistance to meet the people's mandate".


Indeed, the degree to which the government will be able to deliver ~ chiefly in the segments of health and education ~ will hinge on the financial resurgence. As a first major initiative towards revenue generation, the Centre must provide Bengal with its share of coal royalty. The next round of talks in Delhi will hopefully be substantive and not superficial. Miss Banerjee once again will have to rush in where Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Asim Dasgupta had feared to tread or had failed to make headway. Bengal will have to be rescued from its parlous state. The new Chief Minister owes it to the electorate.

 

ARMY EFFICIENCY?

OR GETTING TIED IN LEGAL KNOTS

A HEALTHY scorn for red tape and legal nit-picking, decisiveness and a determination to get the job done were key elements of the "military efficiency" that used to be held up as a yardstick. Hence it must be a sign of changing times that the opinion of the Attorney-General was sought on the (still unresolved) controversy pertaining to the age of the army chief, and now a proposed change in promotion policy has been referred to the Solicitor-General for evaluation of potential legal fallout. True in times gone by senior officers were less prone to rushing to court ~ more recently the Armed Force Tribunal ~ to seek redress of grievances; true also that the army of yesteryear had greater faith in the propriety and sense of fair play of the most senior officers. Thus most of such issues were resolved in-house, even if not to everyone's complete satisfaction: "putting in my papers" was the ultimate protest. This is not for a moment to join issue with the reported opinion of the Solicitor-General that there could be no ad hoc changes to the promotion policy for two and three star generals. The key words are "ad hoc": in fact it does the reputation of army headquarters no credit that it did not come up with a comprehensive alternative to the two-stream policy ~ command and staff ~ that was introduced during the tenure of the previous chief. If that system is as discriminatory as is now being projected (not without reason given the "class consciousness" of the uniformed community), why were no serious objections raised at the time of its introduction? Is the Army a dictatorship or a banana republic, or has chamchagiri taken root in that section of South Block?


The Army is increasingly being enfeebled, not by the tardy pace of modernisation and re-equipment as it would have the ordinary Indian believe, but by personnel-related issues. Widespread is the feeling that promotion boards are not above board, that annual confidential reports are influenced by the level of "polish" applied to the senior officer (or his wife): mercifully political affiliation has not become a factor thus far, at least not overtly. Corruption was not the sole shortcoming on the "internal health" front the present chief had highlighted when he assumed that high office. Regretfully there have been few signs of the malaise being contained. Weaponry can be bought: honour, dignity and uprightness stem from within.

 

THE BREATHER ASIDE

NEPAL SITUATION STILL BLURRED

ON the face of things, Nepal's politicians have averted a serious constitutional crisis by compromising on an extension of the constituent assembly's term by three months. The ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), the Maoists and the opposition Nepali Congress signed a five-point deal in the wee hours of Sunday, well past the 28 May midnight deadline, but this technicality has apparently been ignored. Last year, when it became clear that the constituent assembly was lagging behind in its task of drafting a Constitution, it was given a year's breather. Now the three parties have agreed to complete the peace process ~ as envisaged in the landmark November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Treaty that ended 11 years of Maoist rebellion ~ within three months and cooperate in the completion of a draft Constitution, also within the same period. The Nepal army is to be made an inclusive institution, all Madhesi grievances will be addressed, and Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal is to resign. Peace prospects depend entirely on how the Maoists complete the integration and rehabilitation of more than 19,000 of their former combatants whose weapons are locked up in seven cantonments. This apart, they have to return seized property to the rightful owners and dismantle the Youth Communist League.


The deal now carries an unspoken warning that political leaders can no longer fool around with deadlines and they must revise their respective strategies, cooperate and get down to the serious business of putting the country on the path to progress. However, it has not been clearly stated when Khanal will quit but, if the past is any indication, he will not do so unless ensured of modalities for a national consensus government. This has been a sticky point ever since Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal resigned as Prime Minister in May 2009. All in all, some progress is expected, but Nepal still remains far from solvent.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

BACK TO CASTE COUNT

WHAT PURPOSE DOES IT SERVE?

BY SAM RAJAPPA


SRI Aurobindo, in his essay Un-Hindu Spirit of Caste Rigidity, wrote: "The baser ideas underlying the degenerate perversions of the caste system, the mental attitude which bases them on superiority, depending on the accident of birth of a fixed and intolerant inequality, are inconsistent with the supreme teaching, the basic spirit of Hinduism which sees the one invariable and indivisible divinity in every individual being." 
Enumeration of castes in the census is bound to eat into the unifying threads carefully nurtured by our national leaders during the freedom struggle.  The demand for caste enumeration came up during the National Democratic Alliance government also but Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Kishen Advani did not allow coalition dharma to make any compromises on national unity. Unfortunately, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, ignoring the stand taken by eminent leaders like Motilal Nehru and Jawaharlal Nehru, CR Das, Gokhale, Patel and  others in transforming India from a society of caste and communities into a nation of citizens of equal rights, caved in to the demand of some of its coalition partners. 


 The colonial regime had toyed with the idea of a permanent divide among the Hindu community by creating separate electorates for the depressed classes. The scheme was abandoned only when Mahatma Gandhi went on an indefinite fast and reached an understanding with Ambedkar under the Poona Pact. Ambedkar said: "How can a people divided into several thousands of castes be a nation?" Whatever India may have been in the past, the endeavour of the democratically elected government should be to strive for a nation of citizens and not succumb to divisions of caste and community.  The politicians who demand caste census data are not interested in the social and economic uplift of the traditionally disadvantaged sections but only in enlisting them as vote banks for electoral advantage. Reviving the colonial practice of caste census could only help the divisive agenda of self-serving politicians. Any caste enumeration that relies on self-certification will find a scramble to inflate numbers for political advantage and a precise headcount of a particular caste may ultimately prove as elusive as the projections made from the 1931 census.  


The Directive Principles in the Constitution states the State shall strive to minimise the inequalities in income and endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations. In order to enable this, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have been given 15 and 7 per cent reservation respectively in government jobs and admission to educational institutions. Article 340 of the Constitution mandates the government to promote the welfare of Other Backward Classes. The first Backward Classes Commission headed by Kaka Kalelkar identified 2,399 castes as backward and 837 among them as the most backward. His recommendation, however, was that backwardness should be determined on criterion other than caste. The second Backward Classes Commission headed by Mandal declared 52 per cent of the population as OBC. Since the Supreme Court had put a ceiling of 50 per cent on reservations, the OBCs received 27 per cent, except in Tamil Nadu which already had 69 per cent reservation and was allowed to continue it. OBC enumeration should have begun in 2001, in the first census after OBC reservation came into effect as national policy in the 1990s.
 Suppose the caste census discovers that 90 per cent of the population opt for OBC status, and the Supreme Court is firm on its 50 per cent ceiling on reservation, how would the government tackle the reservation policy? Will the government agree to proportional quotas of reservation? Strange as it may seem, the post-Mandal era saw a race for the backward tag and at one stage in Karnataka, 95 per cent of its people were declared OBC. There was a mad rush among the high and intermediate castes for going down the ladder. Official enumeration of any category tends to erect walls against its boundaries.


The Congress cannot shirk responsibility for communalising politics in the country. To keep the undivided CPI out of power in Kerala, the Congress teamed up with the Muslim League which till then remained dormant since Partition, in the 1960 Assembly election. Ever since, the two parties have become inseparable partners. The partnership helped the League grow leaps and bounds while it reduced the Congress to a subservient role. In the recent Assembly election in the State, the Muslim League won 20 seats in the 140-member House and was in a position to dictate terms to the Congress on the ministry formation. Encouraged by the growth and influence of the League, the Nair community launched the National Democratic Party and the numerically strong Ezhavas launched the Socialist Republican Party, but neither could build vote-banks of their respective communities, unlike the League. The two caste-based parties withered away gradually. There is a lesson in it for those clamouring for caste census.


A comprehensive caste census is not only impractical but also against the spirit of the Constitution. It would reduce India from a democracy of citizens to an oligarchy of communities. If the government thinks it can reduce inequality by integrating socio-economic data of the entire population with the caste count to enable it to take administrative measures, it can be achieved without classifying the 'Below Poverty Line' groups by caste. Caste identity is not only associated with inequalities but can also be attributed to those inequalities. Inequalities exist among all castes and communities. The better way to tackle the problem would be to address the root cause of the inequality. It is a travesty to imagine caste census is a necessary instrument to empower the disempowered.  The UPA wants us to believe that there is no alternative to caste-based reservation, and to achieve that, caste census is a must.  With the vast majority of the people of the country in the informal sector, reservation can hardly be the solution to achieve greater equality.


An important element of census operation of the British colonial rulers was enumeration and classification of castes to reinforce the divisions in society and strengthen their hold on India.  It was the realisation of the divisive uses of caste census that made the first government of independent India to do away with caste from the 1951 census onwards.  At one stroke, the UPA government has set the clock back by 80 years.  Caste census helps to enforce the tyranny of identities over which we have no control. Our identities are not something we can choose. This compulsory group identity is a way of diminishing our freedom and dignity. It will severely undermine social and cultural identification of people with non-caste socio-economic and cultural categories who constitute the growing number of the middle class. It is difficult to understand why caste data should be restricted to those calling themselves Hindus. Barring the Parsis, caste divisions exist in all the major religious groups in the country. 


In due course of time, this will lead to demand for reservations on the basis of caste without reference to religion. At present, a Scheduled caste Christian, for instance, is denied the benefits of reservation. By identifying him by caste, he becomes eligible for reservation. Certainly this was not the intention of the government.  The way to transcend caste is not by reinforcing its identity, but by stressing citizenship of the nation.

The writer is a veteran journalist and former Director, Statesman Print Journalism School

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THE STATESMAN

SUSHMA SWARAJ VS. ARUN JAITLEY!

BY DENYING A RIFT IN THE BJP, PARTY LEADERS DO NOT DECEIVE THE WORLD. THEY ONLY DECEIVE THEMSELVES, WRITES RAJINDER PURI

After Mrs. Sushma Swaraj gave an interview to Outlook weekly, the BJP went on an overdrive to claim that there were no differences in the highest echelons of its parliamentary party. The party blamed the media for assuming a non-existent rift within the party. To assess the BJP claim, let us recall what happened and what it indicated. In the Outlook interview, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, was asked: "What about your links with the Reddy brothers of Bellary?"

It was a simple question that merited a simple answer. She could have said that she had cordial relations with them as a party colleague. If questioned further, she could have denied having any other political or business links with them. Instead she gave a very long reply saying: "There can't be a bigger lie. Let me tell you the truth. I have no hand in the political making of the Bellary brothers. I had nothing to do in making them ministers or in building up their stature as political leaders. When the Bellary brothers were made ministers, Jaitelyji was in charge, Yedyyurappa was the chief minister, Venkaiahji and Ananth Kumar were there as senior leaders. Whatever discussion happened, happened between these people. I had nothing to do with it… after being told by Rajnathji and Jaitleyji, I spoke to the brothers. My photograph with them is from that time. It has been printed everywhere and people have been saying I am the protector of the Bellary brothers. I have nothing to do with them, whether in their business or their political rise… there's a huge campaign of misinformation and disinformation against me… I haven't even played a zero percent role in the political making of the Bellary brothers. Whatever they got wealth wise was the doing of the Congress… What the Bellary brothers gained politically was because of Yedyyurappa and … Arun Jaitley…"

Does one sense a touch of panic in this response? She was spouting information that was not being sought. Nobody asked her how the Reddy brothers became ministers. Her answer should be contrasted with what she told a radio interviewer over a year ago. In that interview, she acknowledged good relations with the Reddy brothers. At that time the brothers were a political asset. Radio archival records would bear this out. By raking up the issue of the Reddy brothers, she has helped the Congress divert public attention from the corruption scams bedevilling their government to the Karnataka corruption and the BJP.

More significantly, this is the third time that Mrs. Swaraj has served the interests of the Congress party. Earlier, during the controversy surrounding the appointment of Mr. PJ Thomas as the Central vigilance commissioner (CVC), she had exposed the lie spoken by home minister Mr P Chidambaram. She threatened to file an affidavit in court to expose the government's perjury. Mr Chidambaram somersaulted to admit the truth. She conveniently decided against filing the affidavit. After the Supreme Court nailed the PMO in the CVC affair, the BJP announced its intention to introduce a privilege motion against the PM for misleading Parliament. The PM publicly apologised and accepted responsibility for the CVC goof-up. Again, Mrs. Swaraj ignored her party to protect the Congress by unilaterally stating that after the PM's statement, the issue should be considered settled.

Most significantly, Mrs Swaraj's conduct should be seen in the larger context.  Her mentor, Mr LK Advani, was no less sympathetic to protecting the interests of the Congress party. Mr Advani had charged Mrs Sonia Gandhi with having a foreign bank account. He had a very good reason to do so. There were very credible allegations to that effect made by official and reputed foreign sources. Mrs Gandhi wrote to Mr Advani assuring him that she had no foreign bank account. That was sufficient to convince Mr. Advani! He promptly apologised to Mrs Gandhi. That led me to write: "What touching faith between the two most senior leaders respectively of the Congress and the BJP. Is this the prelude to an openly declared partnership between them?"  
In the light of all this, the BJP cannot blame the media for concluding that not only is there a rift within the BJP,  there also seem to be covert cross-party alliances between different sections within the Congress and the BJP that are opposed to each other. This kind of Byzantine intrigue and conspiracy suggests vulnerable politicians who are open to blackmail and coercion. The RSS is reputed to have the final say in matters related to the BJP. Both the RSS and the BJP president are doing their best to play down the controversy ignited by the press interview given by Mrs Swaraj. By denying a rift after Mrs Swaraj's outburst, BJP leaders do not deceive the world. They only deceive themselves. It is a typical and predictable reaction. The BJP top brass dare not make any move to rock the boat. They should know that the boat is sinking.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

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THE STATESMAN

PLUMBING DESPAIR

NOW & AGAIN

NIVEDITA CHOUDHURI

Bathroom renovation is a challenging task. But no one told me it could be stressful and nerveracking as well. My husband and I purchased a house in the UK, where he works, last year and moved in shortly before Christmas. Though our home was comfortable, the bathroom lacked modern conveniences.

"Having the latest in bathrooms is good if you want to sell your house later. In terms of adding value, it could be as much as five per cent," a friend told us soon after we moved in. Visions of a sleek sanctuary with a heated floor and matching towels on a warming rail began to float in front of us. In January, my husband and I approached a leading "bathroom specialist" to have our bathroom redone. A pushy salesman arrived soon after. He quoted an astronomical figure for the job but reduced it by a third when we told him we couldn't afford to pay so much. But even with the discount, the amount was quite high. We agreed to sign the contract because we thought it would guarantee value for money and peace of mind. I began smirking at the thought of the plumbers back in my hometown, Kolkata, who give my parents a tough time every month. "Well, that wouldn't happen to me," I told myself happily.

We paid 50 per cent of the figure agreed to upfront and the remaining sum, according to the contract, would be payable monthly on an interest-free basis for the next three years. In March, the new tiles and fixtures arrived and were deposited forthwith in our garage. In early April, two bathroom fitters arrive and promised to finish the work within eight to 10 days. And, that's when the trouble began.

The fitters were late for work every day. I remembered praising British punctuality sky-high on my visits to India and winced every time the fitters would turn up for work at 2 p.m. instead of the scheduled 8 a.m. A couple of days after they had started work, their van broke down. The trauma likely rendered the duo so distraught that they missed work for two days. A few days later, they abandoned the job altogether after failing to accomplish even 10 per cent of it. Our bathroom was no more than a shell with all tiles and fixtures having been ripped out.

I made a number of calls to the customer service agents who continued to make false assurances before admitting after an extended harangue that the duo had indeed decamped. They promised to find a new fitter in a "couple of days". "Leave it to us," one told me confidently.

The days turned into weeks but no bathroom fitter turned up on our doorstep. Left without a functioning bathroom in the house, we are now forced to visit the gym every day for a shower. I have borrowed books on consumer law from the local library and have written to the company concerned, threatening to complain to the ombudsman if the contract is not honoured.

Now, the firm tells me it has located a bathroom fitter in my vicinity and will be sending him over shortly. I really don't know what shortly means ~ next week, next month or perhaps, even next year! My father says I should have retained a Kolkata plumber instead for the job ~ even after paying his airfare and other expenses, it would have worked out cheaper.

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THE STATESMAN

BAN TELLS NEPAL TO HURRY UP

FROM THE UN

United Nations Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon is concerned that though the deadline for Nepal's Constituent Assembly to fulfil its mandate ends on 28 May, there has been no agreement on the important issues that divide the country's political parties. The contentious issues include integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants and key aspects of Nepal's Constitution, according to a statement issued by UN spokesman Mr Martin Nesirky in New York.

Mr Ban discussed the situation with Prime Minister Mr Jhalanath Khanal and the UN's under secretary-general for political affairs, Mr B Lynn Pascoe who spoke over the telephone with the leaders of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist and the Nepali Congress and urged them to act decisively at this critical juncture, the statement noted. Mr Ban underlined that it was more than ever incumbent upon the key political actors to show leadership and carry out the necessary compromises to preserve the peace process and complete the drafting of the new Constitution. The parties have since agreed on a three-month extension.  

Digital divide

Mr Ban Ki-moon has called on the Asian media to bridge the digital divide that can "separate rich and poor depending on their access to modern telecommunications". "Let us work together to bridge the digital divide, so that all people can benefit," he said in a video message to 600 delegates to the 8th Asia Media Summit meeting in Hanoi.
"Let us promote multiple languages in new media," he said, "And let us ensure free access to the internet and social media tools everywhere." "Freedom of expression, information and association are not abstract principles; they are bedrock rights that states have an obligation to fulfil. All of this is essential to make the most of the power of digital media to transform lives and societies for good."
An annual meeting is organised by the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development and provides a forum for media agencies in the region to share their experiences and ideas on radio and television broadcasting and technology. Mr Ban's remarks echoed his comments made on World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. He urged policy-makers to do more to ensure rural communities are able to take advantage of the latest technologies and not fall victim to the digital divide. "As we bridge the digital divide, we narrow the chasm that separates those with and without access to information and knowledge, thereby broadening opportunities for a better life," he said.


Ratko Mladic's arrest praised

Mr Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the arrest of Ratko Mladic, former commander of the army of Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In a statement issued by UN spokesman Mr Martin Nesirky in New York, Mr Ban commended President Boris Tadic and the Serbian authorities for the significant step to end impunity for those indicted for serious violations of international humanitarian law during the conflict in former Yugoslavia. Mr Nesirky told reporters that Mr Ban's thoughts were first and foremost with the victims and their families, who had waited almost 16 years for Mladic to be brought to justice for crimes including those committed at Srebrenica.
The statement noted that the arrest sent a powerful message to those who are alleged to have committed crimes against humanity and may try to evade justice. Mr Ban added that this important arrest will enable the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to move closer to completing its mandate. He also said ending impunity is essential for reconciliation, sustainable peace and justice in the region.
The ICTY announced the arrest of the Serbian war crimes fugitive for his role in atrocities committed during the Balkan conflicts. Mladic, the leader of the Bosnian Serb forces, was arrested in Serbia after evading capture for 16 years, the court said in a press release issued in New York. He will be transferred to The Hague for trial.
The tribunal said that he faced numerous charges, including genocide, extermination, murder, persecutions, deportation, taking of hostages and inflicting terror on civilians and in connection with massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the supposedly "safe haven" of Srebrenica in July 1995, in one of the most notorious events of the Balkan wars. "Ratko Mladic's arrest clearly signals that the commitment to international criminal justice is entrenched. Today's events show that people responsible for grave violations of international humanitarian law can no longer count on impunity," the tribunal said in a statement. "With the news of the arrest, we think first and foremost of the victims of the crimes committed during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. These victims have endured unimaginable horrors including the genocide in Srebrenica and redress for their suffering is long overdue."
"Ratko Mladic's arrest is also significant for all people in the former Yugoslavia. We believe that it can have a positive impact on reconciliation in the region," Mr. Serge Brammertz, deputy prosecutor of the tribunal, said.
The ICTY is trying those responsible for the worst war crimes and other breaches of international humanitarian law committed during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. "The arrest of Mladic is a milestone in the Tribunal's history and brings the institution closer to the successful completion of its mandate, with 160 out of 161 indicted persons having now been arrested," the tribunal stated in a news release. It stated that one indictee, Goran Hadžic remained at large.

anjali sharma

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THE TELEGRAPH

POOR LINE

According to the new definition of poverty, based on the recommendations of the Suresh Tendulkar committee, a family of five spending Rs 4,350 per month in an urban area does not fall under the below-poverty-line category. The figure was decided after taking into account per head expenditure on food, health, education and the earlier criteria of defining poverty, based on calorie consumption. The Planning Commission has argued that a person living in a city should be able to live decently on Rs 870 per month (the amount is Rs 675 for those living in rural areas). This estimate works out to Rs 25-30 per day per person. Given the current rate of inflation, this amount can barely buy one two square meals a day (which are unlikely to be rich in nutrients). But the poor also need shelter, means to educate their children, and to take care of ailing family members. None of the above can be done with such paltry resources. The stipulated sum can just about keep the poor from dying out of starvation, without doing much to improve the sub-human conditions in which they live.

The conception of a new poverty line also ends up perpetuating the old problem of how to identify the poor with some degree of fairness. The criteria for automatic exclusion and inclusion remain confused. Although families owning mechanized farm equipment, motorized boats and vehicles merit disqualification, none of these possessions is a marker of a better life. Depending on their size, such families may be no less needy than any other. A farmer who tills his land with a tractor or a person who drives a taxi is not necessarily better off, or less deserving of benefits and subsidies, than those who are perceived as 'poor' by the State. Similarly, the 'deprivation parameters' set for automatic inclusion do not factor in context-specific realities. By automatically turning members of 'primitive tribal groups', scheduled castes and scheduled tribes 'poor', the new indices seem to give more priority to entrenched social divisions than to evaluation of felt need on a case-by-case basis. Beyond errors of judgment lie larger systemic evils: misinformation (government benefits often elude the needy because they are unaware of their basic rights), pilfering of the public distribution system, and so on. Without nuanced strategies that address socio-political realities, India's poverty eradication plan will remain just a paper tiger.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

FRIEND IN DEED

The surprise visit of Hillary Clinton to Pakistan has, unsurprisingly, lent itself to two widely varying interpretations. The Pakistan foreign office is keen to portray it as a "course correction" exercise, one largely undertaken by the United States of America on its own initiative after being hit by the sudden realization about Pakistan's innocence regarding Osama bin Laden and its worth as an ally in the war on terror. The US is wont to see the visit as a "turning point" in bilateral relations — an occasion in which it has acted from a position of strength and remorselessly forced its partner on the course of self-correction. The grim-faced demeanour of the visiting American dignitaries in Pakistan was supposed to convey the US's sense of purpose. The truth, however, slips the grasp of both versions of the visit. The US has not given Pakistan a clean chit. It has given Pakistan the benefit of doubt. The US's munificence, however, has more to do with its worries about what Pakistan may become once it is out of the coalition than about what Pakistan is now. The US, it is evident, can still think of working with a duplicitous Pakistan than risk it turning into a sworn enemy, its nuclear assets in the control of the trigger-happy Taliban or the Chinese. It is this compulsion that robs the US of its advantage and its ability to make this moment a "turning point" in its relations with Pakistan.

There is actually little reason to mark Ms Clinton's visit to Pakistan as any different from the others made before Abbottabad. Notwithstanding its stolidity, the visit managed to secure from Pakistan no more than a token assurance that it would go after specific targets and allow the US to retain some of its intelligence operations on Pakistani soil. Pakistan, in fact, has gained substantially. The visit has reinstated it to a position of equality with its ally. The agreement of "joint operations" against high-value targets frees it of worries of another Abbottabad. Pakistan has also managed to raise the "threat-to-sovereignty" banner high enough to threaten the US with the suspension of drone strikes. From now on, Pakistan could be working from a position of greater strength in the coalition than the US — forcing the latter to limit its operations on Afghanistan-Pakistan border and ceding Pakistan more ground in the political solution worked out in Afghanistan.

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THE TELEGRAPH

MISAPPROPRIATION GALORE

A REVIEW OF THE GOVERNMENT'S MOST VAUNTED SOCIAL SERVICES WRITING ON THE WALL - ASHOK V. DESAI

The World Bank was poor India's rich aunt for many decades. Though her wealth has become less impressive as India has prospered, it is not uncommon for people in the Indian government to call her up and ask her to pick up the bill for something they want. In 2004, the chief of the Planning Commission asked the World Bank to hold a conference in Delhi on social welfare programmes. More than a dozen papers were presented over two days. They were intended for publication; but for that the World Bank needed the permission of the government of India. Formally, this meant the finance ministry; but since the papers were on social issues, it would not give permission unless the concerned ministries agreed. They took their time. The last permission was coaxed out of the labour ministry in October 2010, six years after the conference. The publication of the papers must wait till some indeterminate future date. Meanwhile, the report has already been dismissed as outdated and irrelevant by Abhijit Sen, a member of the Planning Commission whose chief asked for it in the first place. The way our government works, analyses of the state of the country will always be outdated. But we have no reason to think that the reality has changed all that much, so it is still relevant.

Using the data from the 2005 National Sample Survey, the World Bank established that the poorer the state, the less was the Central government's expenditure in it per poor household. Richer states were better at getting money out of the Central government and spending it. That does not mean that more Central money went to the poor of rich states, just that their governments managed to extract more money from the Centre.

To illustrate, getting foodgrains from the Centre for distributing to the poor and diverting it instead to the market and pocketing the profits was a flourishing business; about 60 per cent of the foodgrains obtained from the Centre were thus converted into profit by politicians and bureaucrats. The highest proportion of diversion — close to 90 per cent — was in Bihar; the proportion in Punjab was nearly as high. There were hardly any poor in Punjab. But the Punjab government invented poor people, collected cheap grains in their name from the Centre, and sold them off. Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana and Tamil Nadu also diverted a lot of grain. West Bengal and Maharashtra diverted the least.

The Centre allocates resources to states according to the number of poor people estimated in them from the NSS. If they divert the resources to those who are not poor, then their poor must not be getting the intended benefits. They did so by excluding the really poor from their lists. Punjab and Andhra Pradesh excluded about three-quarters of their poor. Bihar, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh misclassified only about a third of their poor.

The government thinks of poverty as an indelible quality of some people, like the colour of their skin. But people move out of poverty; they also fall into poverty. They are vulnerable to misfortunes such as bad harvests, death or illness of income-earners, livestock epidemics, etc. How do they cope with bad luck? They take help from the family, they sell off assets such as land and animals, they borrow or they migrate for work. Only those who have assets can sell them; it is unusual for the poor to have assets. But borrowing was very common; so was migrating in search of work.

In 2004-05, 83 per cent of all households were supposed to have ration cards, but only 23 per cent drew rations. The difference between the two figures gives us an idea of foodgrain diversion. It was less than 30 per cent in Andhra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It was over 80 per cent in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and West Bengal, states bordering Pakistan and Bangladesh; in Assam it was 76 per cent. It was 77 per cent in UP, and 50-70 per cent in the remaining states. Thus the rationing system functioned more or less in the south (including Kerala; 60 per cent of the poorest quintile there took rations), and failed in the rest of the country. Amongst the reasons people gave for not taking rations, unavailability was the major one; in other words, the grain meant for the public distribution system was diverted. Lack of money was mentioned only in the poor states of central India. Although the World Bank does not say it, the border states in the east and west specialized in smuggling grains to Pakistan and Bangladesh. The rest just made a good business out of diversion to the open market. The Planning Commission made estimates of diversion, which were much smaller than ours.

The World Bank made its own estimates of diversion by comparing what the government claimed to have supplied the states with households' consumption of PDS grains according to NSS; its estimate is 41 per cent, compared to our 60 per cent. Its geographical variation was similar to ours. Interestingly, diversion was much greater for rice than for wheat. Over 90 per cent of rice supplied to Assam, Orissa, West Bengal and Punjab never reached ration card holders — a confirmation of smuggling to Bangladesh and Pakistan. For wheat, the pattern was the same, but the proportion diverted was lower.

I shall call the Mahatma Gandhi national rural employment guarantee scheme the work-on-demand scheme. Under it, any villager can go to a district collector and ask for a hundred days' work in a year. The World Bank asked workers on 100 sites; almost all wanted to work for 100 days, and only 13 per cent had in the previous year. Many did not know about their entitlement; some had been told that work was not available. If it is not, those who ask for work must be given unemployment allowance; virtually no one was. It is the states that are supposed to give the allowance out of their own budgets, and they did not feel like it. The World Bank did not look into corruption the way it did with PDS, but cited a study which said that 50 per cent of the money was siphoned off. Poor Mahatma Gandhi deserved better.

The use of contractors on work-on-demand schemes is banned; but they are commonly employed. Their advantage is that they can underpay workers and invent fake workers; that creates considerable scope for their profits, and for bribes to organizers of work-on-demand.

There is much more to the World Bank's study, but enough has been said to show that it has performed an extremely useful service — that it has made a candid review of the government's most vaunted social services. Its findings are damning; if the government were honest and if it could not contest the findings, it would wind up PDS and MGNREGS. If it did, the poor would not be worse off; but many politicians, contractors, bureaucrats and businessmen would be. That is precisely why it will not wind up these and other schemes. But it can surely ask whether the objectives it aims at cannot be achieved more efficiently.

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THE TELEGRAPH

JUSTICE UNDER A CLOUD

MALA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH

This business of denying bail to people suspected of having indulged in fraud and of breaking the laws of this land before they are proven guilty through a legitimate trial can set the wrong precedent for the future. It could lead to misuse of the tenets of jurisprudence enshrined in statute books. Vendettas could take precedence over real truths, and the authority in power could make a mockery of justice. Surely, the national enforcement agencies can operate in a water-tight, efficient manner and ensure that those on bail do not tamper with evidence. If they cannot, then they need to undergo retraining in their jobs.

On the basis of word-of-mouth reports that emanate from the 2G court room in New Delhi, it is being alleged that the high-profile inmates run their businesses each morning from the court. The discomfort of a life in jail does not seem to have had an impact on their businesses that continue unchecked. Their clout within the political, administrative and enforcement establishments keeps them buoyant. The fact that they have all the dope on key individuals in the system who meticulously facilitated their corrupt and illegal operations protects them. Will the noose be thrown over the heads of those in the bureaucracy and the political class who are involved in this process?

India has been in the throes of corruption and maladministration for decades. In 1975, with the declaration of Emergency, this country went through contortions that left it maimed. The coalition that came to power in 1977, one that had promised to undo the illegalities of governance, did not restore civil society and the rule of law. Like its predecessor, it utilized the illegalities to its own advantage. The crumbling of the edifice began with that grave inability to undo injustice. Thereafter, it has been convenient and lucrative for every political dispensation to manipulate the system.

Many doubts

The courts having to take over the role of the executive is a frightening reality. It is comparable to martial-law ruling within a democratic framework that will further corrode Indian democracy, leading it towards an implosion that could completely destabilize South Asia. Institutional checks and balances are imperative in liberal societies, devolved upon through processes that respect honesty and integrity.

The 2G spectrum scam has become symbolic of many 'changes'. The fact that a Central cabinet minister went to jail had a salutary impact on the capital city where those in power are seen to be running amok. Corporate executives followed the minister to jail, but those who ordered them to do the wrong roam free. This is being questioned only because the arrested employees did not get bail.

The question being asked is this: why arrest and deny bail to men who were following the orders of their bosses while the latter continue to conduct their businesses and could well be destroying evidence? The other demand that is becoming more vociferous is this: why have the bureaucrats and politicos who facilitated the fraud, and without whom none of this could have happened, gone unpunished? The question raises other possibilities. Are some individuals being made scapegoats? Is another 'fraud' being enacted on the public? Why are some people being protected and others being denied bail? Is the government serious about the cleansing process, or are these token measures to assuage public anger?

We must bring correctness into play if we are to hold our heads high in this climate of scams. We must be proud that our system allows for correctives. To have doubts that there is a 'scam' happening within the process of cleansing could be more shameful than the scam itself.

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THE TELEGRAPH

FREE FROM THE RED COILS THAT BIND

UDDALAK MUKHERJEE WONDERS WHETHER THE LEFT FRONT'S INTERFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF CITIZENS ON THE PERIPHERY OF CIVIL SOCIETY LED TO ITS ELECTORAL ROUT

At a press conference in March this year, journalists stumbled upon a contemplative Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee reflecting on the Left Front's growing list of 'errors'. Of the many mistakes, the former chief minister dwelt at length on the Party's "unnecessary interference" in the life and functioning of civil society.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist)'s perverse grip on critical institutions of the State — health, education, industry — has been well-documented. During my travels in rural West Bengal, to villages in Burdwan, Murshidabad, the Sundarbans, Malda and the Dooars, I had witnessed how the Party meddled in the private lives of the citizenry, using agencies such as panchayats, the pliant bureaucracy or the police and, when all else failed, the vengeful cadre, to decide on matters relating to both life and death — marriages and marital disputes, the purchase and sale of land and other forms of property, dowry and even funeral expenses. In an urban space like Calcutta — where such meddling was likely to be met with resistance from the intelligentsia and an educated middle class — the Party took care to make its intrusions less perceptible. But it retained its vice-like grip nonetheless, especially on citizens who remain on the periphery of civil society.

Bhattacharjee's comment spurred me to explore the template of control that the Party had put in place among the less privileged in civil society. My investigation was limited to a people who, over three decades, had formed the Party's urban vanguard — rickshawpullers, autorickshaw drivers, taxi drivers, domestic help, and the owners of small enterprises, such as newspaper vendors. Most of the respondents I interviewed live and work in areas such as Tollygunge, Behala and Garia. The samples of my investigation may not be truly representative but the stories, when woven together, provide compelling evidence of the existence of a regimented, and often brutal, power structure that dominated a democratic polity for over three decades.

A domestic worker, who still lacks the courage to disclose her name, recalled the Party forcibly taking over her small plot of land in Sonarpur to set up its office. She had bought the plot after saving a little over Rs 10,000, setting aside a paltry sum of money each day for the last 15 years. A newspaper-delivery boy, 20 years old with dreams of setting up his own magazine stall, recounted how a vendor, under pressure from the Party's local committee, had asked him to deliver newspapers to not more than 20 houses. His meagre earning meant an early end to his dream. Alam Sheikh, a rickshawpuller, complained bitterly about how leaders of Citu — the dominant union in the transport sector even until a few days back—would never share information about the expenses of the fund that was maintained with the help of daily subscriptions. Chitto Samanta, an autorickshaw driver, cannot forget that he was served a seven-day suspension notice for refusing to go to the Brigade Parade for a Left Front meeting. Samanta, who makes a little over Rs 150 each day after plying his vehicles for 10 hours, could not afford to lose a day's earnings. His colleague, Anirban, was penalized after he alleged that the union had connived with the motor vehicles department and flooded Calcutta's shrinking roads with unlicensed autorickshaws (There are now 1,700 autorickshaws running between Tollygunge and Garia). Another irate taxi-driver argued that the funds for the Left Front's social welfare schemes — pension, health insurance, stipends — were disbursed predominantly among Party members.

What strengthened the Party's hold on these people's lives was West Bengal's corresponding slide in industry, accompanied by the steady rise in unemployment.West Bengal's share in the total number of factories in India fell from 7.60 per cent in 1976-77 to 4 per cent in 2008-09. In 2004-05, unemployment in West Bengal's cities stood at 6.2 per cent, higher than the all-India figure of 4.5 percent. None of the people I interviewed had completed their graduation. Three of them had dropped out of school. Minimal education and the impediments fostered by low income had made it impossible for them to migrate to other states in search of a better life.

When asked about his views on such matters, a senior functionary of the Kolkata Autorickshaw Operators' Union declared he has no time for statistics or stories. Sitting in his deserted office a few days after the election results, he was busy plotting ways to stem the tide of transport operators switching over to the Trinamul-Congress-controlled INTTUC. The trickle that had started after the Lok Sabha elections has now turned into a deluge. In the Tollygunge-Sakherbazar route, for instance, Citu has been left with 65 autorickshaw drivers while INTTUC has 198. Other routes such as Sinthimore, Ultadanga, Chandni Chowk-Burrabazar, Park Circus-Dharmatala have been lost. Bus and mini-bus unions — those of 34B, 230, 234, 21, 12C as well as those that operate the Jodhpur Park-B.B.D. Bag, Shyambazar-Metiabruz and Jadavpur-B.B.D. Bag services — have also brought down the red flag. I heard, incredulously, the man describe the desertion in the ranks as a temporary victory of the forces of capitalism over the Socialist ethics espoused by Citu. Autorickshaw drivers, he explained, were being tempted with money to join the INTTUC, which was only interested in union funds. The unpopularity of the former government and its labour union may be attributed to anti-incumbency, crumbling discipline among workers and complex ideological challenges. But the political debacle — the Left Front has secured 62 of the 294 assembly seats in West Bengal — he was adamant, was not a product of either corruption among unions or the Left Front's obsession with controlling proletarian lives.

The health of a democracy is indicated neither by a change in government, nor by voter turn-out, but by a new dispensation's willingness and ability to bring tangible change. The biggest challenge for the new government lies in dismantling both the legacy and the structures that strengthened the processes of Party intervention and control in public and private spaces. But the goings-on at present — the forcible extraction of penalties from Left supporters, the shutting down of Party offices and the violence against Left workers in places such as Keshpur, Garbeta, Goghat and some other areas in Bengal's countryside — raise the fearful possibility of the replication of an old, destructive political ethic by a party new to power.

Perhaps this is the reason why some of the men and women I spoke to continue to oscillate between despair and hope. While admitting that she did not know if her plot will be returned, the domestic worker confided that she is now able to speak about her dreams and disappointments freely. Others, leading equally difficult lives, echoed their happiness at reclaiming their voice and vowed not to lose it again. The message cannot be any less explicit for rulers, both old and new.

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THE TELEGRAPH

FISH, FOOTBALL AND COMMUNISM

REMAINS OF THE DAY THE NEW GOVERNMENT INHERITS A STATE THAT DEPENDS HEAVILY ON THE RULING PARTY

At some point in the last 34 years, West Bengal became synonymous with the Left Front, especially with the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The hammer-and-sickle was etched into the landscape. The dhuti-clad, umbrella-toting Bengali babu now liked his communism along with his fish and his football. Nobody could even imagine another government. How is it that a party took such deep root in a state that it passed into cultural cliché, that it came to be identified with the state itself?

A State, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is "a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government." Within India, West Bengal is the regional unit of such a polity. A party in a democratic system, any tattered political science textbook will tell you, is a conduit between the people and the government. It mobilizes public opinion, integrates and articulates a certain set of popular demands, and, once voted into power, implements its agenda through public policy. During the CPI(M)'s long tenure in government, the party diligently, almost exclusively, implemented its agenda. It became difficult, sometimes, to distinguish the State from the party.

Perhaps this was also because the CPI(M) had begun to change the nature of the polity that it belonged to — both its rules and its practices. The party had seeped into all institutions of the State, even those that are supposed to remain politically neutral; West Bengal's police force was no exception. The Left introduced a system of trade unions and appointments determined by party loyalty. On May 27, 1980, it abolished the existing code of conduct for state government employees, replacing it with new "service conduct rules". A notification to the audit branch of the finance department of the government of West Bengal, dated June 4, 1980, gives employees "the right to form associations/ unions/ federative bodies". Moreover, every employee is given "full trade union rights including the right to strike". Strikes would become a regular feature of life in Bengal. It would not be long before a robust tradition of Bangla bandhs was born, and followed with alacrity by other political parties in the state. Governance seemed to have became subordinate to the party agenda.

The Left in Bengal appeared to have forgotten that it governed those who had voted it into power as well as those who had not. Maybe this oversight was natural, given the massive majorities it had won in successive state legislative assemblies. Maybe it was because, for years, West Bengal lacked an effective Opposition that could be a check on the ruling party. Or maybe the communist dream of the State withering away had really come true.

The CPI(M) certainly seems to have taken the word 'State' back to its root meaning — to 'state' as 'condition'. Over the last few decades, West Bengal has been reduced to a 'condition', a nervous ailment with a difficult and complicated cure, a flawed body politic with a heavy dependence on the ruling party. Perhaps that is why Bengal has swung from the enormous majority of one party to that of another. Any new dispensation that comes into power inherits this diseased system, characterized by a weak State and a strong party. A new government with such an overwhelming mandate runs the danger of going down the same road as the old one.

IPSITA CHAKRAVARTY

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE PROSPECT FOR CHANGE IN EDUCATION

IF THE NEW REFORM PLAN IS TO SUCCEED, THE EDUCATION MINISTRY AND THE TEACHERS' UNION MUST RECRUIT THE TEACHERS THEMSELVES IN SUPPORT FOR THE CHANGES.

The agreement signed Sunday in Jerusalem by the government and the Secondary School Teachers Association on a comprehensive reform of the high school education system is a first step in improving the state of education in Israel. Even on such a momentous occasion, it is unfortunate that it took the government about 10 years, dealing with a reform program implemented on a limited basis in a few schools, to understand that spending on education is an investment for the future.

The understanding that the education and finance ministries reached with the teachers' union, which will soon be contained in a new collective bargaining agreement, improves the pay scale of teaching staff through a generous increase of about 50 percent and special grants to outstanding teachers. Another component, which is no less essential, is that it provides teachers the opportunity to work with students, whether weak or strong, in small groups. This component is of particular significance in large high schools, where many students don't get personal attention.

The "Oz Letmura" ("Courage to Change" ) reform was a Secondary School Teachers Association initiative. It is not self-evident that a labor union would seek to expand the scope of the work its members perform. Following an initial pilot implementation of the reform program and its assessment by outside evaluators, it was found that the program led to an improvement in student performance and in the atmosphere at school.

The pilot was stopped due to education budget cuts and was followed by negotiations riddled with obstacles between the union and the government. The talks were marked by the adamancy of union chairman Ran Erez on various provisions, until the current agreement was reached.

If the new reform plan is to succeed, the Education Ministry and the teachers' union must recruit the teachers themselves in support for the changes. To actually enlist the teachers' support in this effort, they must be offered the chance to enhance their professional development and expand the educational autonomy that they enjoy in schools. In Finland, these elements were among the factors that led to the success of that country's school system on international test scores.

At this week's signing ceremony on the reform plan, politicians proclaimed that the Israeli education system was entering a new era. Changes in education take time, however, and are implemented gradually. The politicians would do well to let educators fully implement the reform plan over time and free of outside pressure.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

IT'S BEEN A LONG TIME

OBAMA PROBABLY REALIZES BY NOW THAT HE MADE A MISTAKE WHEN HE SAID THE '1967 LINES' SHOULD SERVE AS THE BASELINE FOR TERRITORIAL NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS.

BY MOSHE ARENS

It's been a long time since these words were spoken by an Israeli prime minister. "In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers," Benjamin Netanyahu said in his address to both houses of the U.S. Congress, and the representatives of the American people rose and cheered. Former Israeli prime ministers passively accepted the slurs hurled at Israel over the years at home and abroad that Israel was an "occupier" in the areas beyond the 1949 armistice lines. Even Ariel Sharon in his last years in office began referring to the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria as the "occupation."

This false role that Israeli prime ministers regretfully assumed in the name of the people of Israel, causing inestimable damage to Israel's image throughout the world, helped embed the concept that this "occupation" was an evil that had to be eliminated. It was no mean feat that Netanyahu had the courage to deny the falsehood of the "occupation" in speaking to Congress, a falsehood that had been adopted by his predecessors in recent years.

The many disappointed Israeli commentators who had hoped that Netanyahu would herald the end of the "occupation" had no difficulty finding excuses for the rousing reception his words received in Washington. One went so far as to write that even if Netanyahu had been reading from the telephone book he would have received standing ovations. Others remarked that no significance should be attached to the enthusiastic reception his words received in Congress, reminding the reader that all Israeli prime ministers had been greeted by standing ovations when addressing Congress.

But they just forgot to mention that those former Israeli prime ministers addressed Congress on occasions when their policy was completely coordinated with the White House. This time it was different. Netanyahu spoke to Congress after he had made it clear that he did not agree with Barack Obama's call for Israel to withdraw to the "1967 lines," and he reiterated that position in his speech.

So now come the self-anointed Israeli experts on the American system of government and explain to their readers that in the United States, foreign policy is made by the president and Congress plays no part. So it really doesn't matter if the present Congress is especially friendly and supportive of Israel and the positions of the democratically elected government of Israel if it has no voice in making foreign policy.

But these "experts" are only displaying their ignorance of the checks and balances in the United States between the president and Congress, a system that extends to foreign policy. While executive authority rests with the president, he is limited in pursuing a foreign policy that runs counter to the position of the majority in Congress.

In any case, even these "experts" must understand that Netanyahu's reception in Congress was an impressive demonstration of the strong bond between the people of America and the people of Israel. They might also take a look at the Washington Post headline the day after Netanyahu's appearance in Congress, which stated that senior Democrats had criticized the president. When a few days later Obama took part in the G8 meeting in Europe, he was probably surprised when the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, objected to the inclusion of the "1967 lines" in the G8's resolution on the Middle East. North of the U.S. border there is another great friend of Israel who seems to agree with Netanyahu.

Obama probably realizes by now that he made a mistake when he said the "1967 lines" should serve as the baseline for territorial negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Somebody should have told him that for most Israelis the "1967 lines," those that Abba Eban in his famous UN speech referred to as the "Auschwitz borders," are like a red rag to a bull.

Another person probably made a mistake on this occasion. The leader of the Israeli opposition, Tzipi Livni, without giving it a moment's thought, used the opportunity to criticize the prime minister, announcing that Netanyahu should have accepted Obama's proposal. She is likely to discover that withdrawal to the "1967 lines" is going to make for an unpopular Kadima platform in the next election.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

A FEMALE GENERAL WITHOUT FEMALE SOLDIERS

THE EXCLUSION OF WOMEN FROM FIELD UNITS SERVES THE INTERESTS OF CONSERVATIVE FORCES WITHIN THE ARMY WHO SEE THE INTEGRATION OF WOMEN AS A THREAT TO THE ARMY'S CAPABILITIES.

BY YAGIL LEVY

The precedent-setting appointment of the first female major general to serve on the Israel Defense Forces General Staff has generated great excitement, as it is a major milestone in advancing gender equality in the army, the organization that epitomizes masculine superiority. Yet those tendering their congratulations - both men and, especially, women - have chosen to focus on this achievement rather than on the question of to what degree it indeed symbolizes a change in the army's character, or whether it may actually hinder this change.

It should be stated clearly that the status of women in the IDF has been in retreat in recent years. And the blame for this lies with the staff of the Ground Forces headquarters and of the Human Resources Branch, both bodies in which Orna Barbivay held senior positions.

The organizing framework for the status of women in the army today is a regime of "appropriate integration," which was established due to pressure from religious groups. Ostensibly, this regime is meant to enable religiously observant Jewish men to serve together with women by laying down rules for separating the sexes that nevertheless do not exclude the women.

In practice, several factors have combined to lead to women in fact being excluded: the expansion of this regime; its application in practice to all men and women who serve together, rather than only to religious men; and its strict enforcement, with the help of rabbis in uniform and religious field commanders, whose numbers in the army have been growing.

When army regulations permit religious men to object to serving together with women in the same combat unit, and when at the same time the number of religious soldiers has increased, it result in substantial barriers to the equal integration of women, particularly into field units. These barriers extend not only to combat roles, which in practice are barred to women in units with a significant percentage of religious soldiers, but also as instructors.

In the discourse that has developed over "appropriate integration," women are frequently presented as a hazard to modesty, to which harm reduction must be applied. In a rare public statement, the chief of staff's advisor on women recently admitted that "'appropriate integration' has, over time, become the main - if not the only - perspective through which joint service by men and women is implemented in practice," and that the way the rules are interpreted "is mandated by religious extremism." Nevertheless, these dangerous developments are not even on the agenda of Israeli feminist organizations.

At the same time, the recommendations of a committee headed by Maj. Gen. (res. ) Yehuda Segev that the army itself appointed in 2008 - namely, to adopt a model of full equal opportunity for women - is being advanced only at the margins. The barrier stems from the same source: the high command's tendency to avoid clashes with the religious leadership, which it sees as having its hand on the tap from which high-quality personnel flows into combat units.

Moreover, the exclusion of women from field units serves the interests of conservative forces within the army - including secular officers - who see the integration of women as a threat to the army's capabilities, as the religious rationale grants them a convenient legitimization.

Under these circumstances, the question arises as to what exactly is intended by the appointment of a female major general to head the Human Resources Branch, of all things. It is not inconceivable that the army's leaders sought to reduce pressure from feminists, which has mistakenly focused on female representation at the highest levels of the army rather than on the conditions on the ground that perpetuate their marginal status there. It could also be that by appointing a woman to the position that determines the status of gender groups within the army they expect to ensure that she will accept the rules of the game instead of placing herself at the forefront of the feminist struggle, at the price of clashing with some of the field officers.

This is the test now facing the first female major general. And it is no less important than the fact of her appointment.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

 

TIME TO BE A NORMAL STATE

SETTLING ISRAEL'S DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME WOULD MEAN IT WOULD NOT BE LIKE IRAN, WHICH SETS ITS DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME ACCORDING TO THE RAMADAN FAST.

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

After numerous delays the Kehat committee has submitted its findings on daylight saving time, and Interior Minister Eli Yishai is expected to announce his decision on the matter next Monday.

A few weeks ago the committee's chairman, Dov Kehat, asked me to present my opinion to the committee. I appeared before the panel, and realized from their questions that its members do not intend to make a significant change. They are not about to turn Israel into a normal state. The committee is going in the opposite, complicated, convoluted direction - the way government committees like to do. As the saying goes, a camel is a horse designed by a government committee.

Appearing before the committee was depressing. Its members did not want to hear about the many studies proving daylight saving time saves energy; contributes to public health; and reduces the number of traffic accidents. They said there was no single opinion on the subject and that other studies reached different conclusions. Of course, there are always "other studies." Those who want to prevent extending daylight saving time for religious reasons, but disguise their purpose with all kinds of "studies" will always reach the opposite conclusion.

When I understood that scientific arguments were futile, I used simple common sense. If the people of the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand practice a long, significant daylight saving time, perhaps they have caught onto something, even though they're only goyim.

Daylight saving, I said, was practiced back in ancient times to enable farmers to till the land in daylight. Since then, throughout history, a flexible daylight saving time was set for various cities, to save lighting. But only when they were short of coal, during World War I, did the fighting parties decide to employ daylight saving to save energy - and Europe continues to do so.

There is no need for research to understand that daylight saving time improves the quality of life. It is better to be awake when it is light outside, and we sleep better when it is dark outside. Also, everyone prefers one more hour of light in the summer, when returning from work in the evening. This allows parents to spend quality time with the family.

The committee members were not that impressed by my arguments. Some of them are religious and know very well why the minister appointed them to the committee. They know Yishai sees himself as the protector of "the elderly, pregnant women and children," who find it difficult, he says, to fast on Yom Kippur. This is why he wants daylight saving to end before the Day of Atonement, even though this does not shorten the fast. The result is daylight saving a month or two shorter than in the rest of the Western states.

Hence the committee has decided on a complicated mechanism, which will examine daylight saving in the next 20 years and expand it in certain years but not in others. So, in some cases, Yom Kippur will take place with daylight saving time and in others, on winter time. In other words, every year we will have a different daylight saving time, which is a bureaucratic complication and a confusion, the kind government committees love so much.

Committee members at that meeting made another wacky argument - that extending daylight saving time will not enable religious Jews to attend morning prayers, eat breakfast and get to work on time. I asked them, how come the Jews of Brooklyn, Paris and Rome manage to say their morning prayers and work as well? For this they had no answer.

Meanwhile, public pressure has grown, and online petitions are calling on Yishai to establish a normal daylight saving time. After all, Yishai is not obliged to accept the committee's recommendations. He can turn the tables upside down and make a brave decision - Israel will adopt the European Union's daylight saving time, implementing it between the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.

This way we will not be like Iran, which sets its daylight saving time according to the Ramadan fast. This will make us part of the Western world. A normal state. But who here wants to be normal?

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

OBAMA IS PREVENTING A SOLUTION

OBAMA IS TRAPPED IN A WORLDVIEW THAT HAS BECOME OBSOLETE. HE BELIEVES THAT ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS MUST AND CAN REACH A FINAL-STATUS AGREEMENT THAT WILL SOLVE ALL THE ISSUES.

BY GIDI GRINSTEIN

President Barack Obama is unable to succeed. He tries and misses. He wants to bless the peace process and ends up cursing it. Another chapter in this sad story was written last week when the president once again channeled the sides into the dead end of a final-status agreement, while standing in the way of the establishment of a Palestinian state - the only chance for diplomatic progress between Israel and the Palestinians.

His intentions were good: to anchor the principle of two states for two peoples, which ostensibly is acceptable to both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships. Obama shared his goodwill: He gave the Palestinians 1967 and the Israelis recognition of Israel's Jewishness. He called on both sides to return to negotiations on a final-status agreement, while stating his opposition to the declaration of a Palestinian state at the United Nations in September.

But there's a catch. Since the Hamas victory in the January 2006 elections, there is not and cannot be a Palestinian partner to such a diplomatic process. On the one hand, a Palestine that includes Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel and existing agreements, cannot be a partner to negotiations on a final-status agreement. On the other hand, without Hamas, the Palestinian system lacks internal legitimacy, which prevents a historic concession. That's why all the calls out of Washington, Brussels and Jerusalem for a renewal of talks between Israel and the Palestinians are hollow, and the negotiations that were conducted during the Annapolis process had no chance of success in the first place.

Only one format is likely to enable progress to a permanent situation based on the principle of two states for two peoples: coordinated unilateral steps based on understanding and quiet cooperation. That's how the Palestinian Authority's institutions were established in recent years, with security achieved in Judea and Samaria and economic growth in the West Bank. Despite this significant progress, the array of possible agreements and cooperation among Israel, the PA in the West Bank and the United States is far from exhausted. The upcoming declaration of a Palestinian state at the United Nations in September should be seen in this context.

But Obama is trapped in a worldview that has become obsolete. He believes that Israel and the Palestinians must and can reach a final-status agreement that will solve all the issues, establish a Palestinian state and end the conflict. That's why he repeatedly tries to create the conditions that will get the two sides to the negotiating table, ending in the inevitable and desired final-status agreement. Like an athlete in a fixed match who improves his performance without realizing that the outcome is known in advance, Obama keeps squandering diplomatic assets: freezing settlement construction, Saudi gestures and recognition of the 1967 lines.

And that's why Obama is missing the opportunity under his nose; a declaration of a Palestinian state in September includes the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough as well as significant advantages for Israel. The establishment of such a state will help anchor the principle of two states for two peoples, shape the permanent situation with Israel controlling the security assets and the new state's surroundings, and diminish the refugee problem by marginalizing UNRWA and limiting refugee status.

Despite Obama's speeches, the diplomatic process will remain at a dead end as the moment of decision in September approaches. Then the United States will have another opportunity to do the right thing: to ensure that the establishment of a Palestinian state conforms to Israel's needs.

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

EDITORIAL

 

THE NUMBERS ARE GRIM

A month ago, when an initial gauge of first-quarter economic growth came in surprisingly weak, many policy makers and economists expected the bad news to prove fleeting. But when revised data were released last week, the growth estimate remained stuck at an annual rate of 1.8 percent, compared with 3.1 percent at the end of last year.

More troubling in the latest figures, consumer spending — the largest component of the economy — was especially slow. Stagnant wages and higher prices for gas and food are squeezing family budgets, while falling home equity hurts consumer confidence. That suggests more bad news to come.

When consumers are constrained, so is hiring, because without customers, employers are hard pressed to retain workers or make new hires. A recent Labor Department report showed a greater-than-expected rise in the number of people claiming jobless benefits even as private-sector economic forecasts are being revised downward — both very bad omens for continued job growth.

Republican lawmakers have responded to renewed signs of weakness with a jobs plan that prescribes more of the same "fixes" that Republicans always recommend no matter the problem: mainly high-end tax cuts, deregulation, more domestic oil drilling and federal spending cuts.

The White House has offered sounder ideas, including job retraining, plans to boost educational achievement and tax increases to help cover needed spending. But its economic team is mainly focused on negotiations to raise the debt limit, presumably parrying Republican demands for deep spending cuts that could weaken the economy further while still reaching an agreement on the necessary increase.

The grim numbers tell an unavoidable truth: The economy is not growing nearly fast enough to dent unemployment. Unfortunately, no one in Washington is pushing policies to promote stronger growth now.

The sinkholes in the economy should be obvious. Most prominently, the housing market is still awful, and state and local government budgets are still a mess. Conditions apparently have to get worse before deficit-obsessed policy makers will be ready to address them, including with bolstered foreclosure relief and more fiscal aid to states. More delay would only imperil the recovery, such as it is. And without a strong recovery, it will be even harder to repair the budget. Continued hard times means low tax revenues and high safety-net spending.

If Washington won't do what is needed to make things better, there are still things that can be done to try to keep the economy from getting worse.

The administration could work to ease the rules for refinancing mortgages owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-run mortgage giants. Easier refinancings would lower monthly payments for potentially hundreds of thousands of borrowers in good standing, and in that way, free up spending money to boost the economy.

The Federal Reserve, for its part, must be prepared to continue measures to bolster the economy as needed, even if that means looser policy for longer than it originally planned. Democrats in Congress must lay the groundwork for an inevitable fight over extending federal unemployment benefits, which expire at the end of this year.

There's a long way to go before the economy will thrive without government help.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

MAKING DATA ROAM

Verizon Wireless, which provides wireless broadband access across the country, has sued to block a federal rule requiring wireless broadband providers to offer data roaming on commercially reasonable terms. Verizon is entitled to its day in court, but this suit must not prevail.

With text messages, e-mail and other forms of data overtaking voice as the main form of wireless communication, the rule issued in April will preserve competition in a vital communications network.

There are more than 100 wireless providers around the country, mostly tiny carriers with a network limited to a small area. They depend on roaming agreements to stitch together a bigger footprint, which is essential to compete successfully. If Verizon were to prevail — AT&T has, so far, not joined the lawsuit but has criticized the rule — the two dominant players could refuse to deal.

The Federal Communications Commission says AT&T signed its first 3G roaming agreement in March, six years after establishing the 3G network. In April 2010, Verizon had only three roaming agreements, according to the F.C.C. But it hurried up after the F.C.C. started the rule-making process a year ago. Now it has 40, including 10 on its most advanced 4G network. In a letter to the F.C.C. last year, a coalition of wireless carriers complained that the big broadband carriers often refused to negotiate deals, or demanded rates of 30 cents or even $1 per megabyte, which would make watching a movie or downloading a song prohibitively expensive.

The F.C.C. requires wireless carriers to offer voice roaming at reasonable rates, but data providers are not classified as common carriers, which must offer their services to everyone on standard terms. Verizon argues that the F.C.C. thus does not have the authority to impose standardized roaming rules on data.

The argument is weak. The F.C.C. doesn't impose a standard pricing structure. It expects firms to negotiate their own deals and provides an arbitration procedure in case they cannot reach an agreement.

The wireless market has been growing increasingly concentrated over the last decade. If cleared by antitrust regulators, AT&T plans to buy the No. 4 carrier, T-Mobile. Against this backdrop, data roaming rules are essential.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

CROSSING THE CHURCH-STATE DIVIDE BY ARK

The American landscape is dotted with tourist attractions created with the help of government subsidies bestowed in the name of economic development. Think of the cheese museum in Rome, N.Y. A project just approved in Kentucky pushes the constitutional envelope.

The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority granted more than $40 million in tax incentives for a planned $172 million Bible-based theme park, featuring a full-size replica of Noah's ark, complete with live animals.

Conceived by the Christian ministry that built the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., the Ark Encounter park aims to promote a literal interpretation of the Bible by "proving" that Noah had room on his vessel to fit two of every kind of animal. Ark Encounter is owned by a profit-making company, of which the ministry is a part owner.

The project enjoys strong support from Kentucky's Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, who says it is an opportunity to create an estimated 900 jobs. We suspect he is also eager to please an important political constituency.

Under current Supreme Court doctrine, Kentucky's support of the proselytizing theme park seems likely to withstand a possible church-state legal challenge, assuming state officials were scrupulous in applying the neutral financial criteria in the state's economic development law. It is not even clear that the court's conservative majority would find taxpayers have standing to sue.

But granting tax incentives to the explicitly Christian enterprise clearly clashes with the First Amendment's prohibition on government establishment of religion. Public money is not supposed to pay to advance religion. Kentucky's citizens should certainly ask themselves if this is really the best use of taxpayer dollars.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE RIGHT WAY TO SHRINK PRISONS

BY SHIMA BARADARAN

Provo, Utah

LAST week the Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its prison population after finding that the state's penal system was so overcrowded that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. What the court didn't do, however, was provide any guidance about how to do it, giving rise to fears of violent convicts being set free and increasing crime rates.

Rather than seek major criminal justice reforms to reduce the prisoner numbers, including scrapping California's harsh "three strikes" sentencing laws, Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed simply moving the surplus state prisoners to county jails. This does nothing to reduce California's disproportionately high incarceration rates and could just transfer the overcrowding to local jails.

Fortunately, there is a more lasting solution to overcrowding, one that gets to the heart of exploding inmate populations nationwide: reform the rules governing pretrial detention, in part by using formulas to help judges better determine which defendants are unlikely to commit crimes while on bail. Doing so not only would make the system more fair, but also would significantly reduce the number of people who are unnecessarily jailed and even reduce crime rates.

Every year America spends close to $66 billion to keep people behind bars. But almost 500,000 of the 2.3 million prisoners aren't convicts; rather, they are accused individuals awaiting trial.

While some defendants are able to pay their bail and go free, most cannot, because many judges, lacking firm insight into what types of prisoners are too dangerous to release, set high bail amounts knowing the accused can't afford them. Though some of these defendants will eventually be found not guilty and go free, keeping them incarcerated before their trials creates a burden on the prison system.

What's more, detention begets more detention. Defendants detained before trial are more likely to be convicted if they go to trial, more likely to receive prison sentences rather than probation when sentenced, and, given their weak bargaining power with prosecutors while locked up, are more likely to have longer sentences.

A few jurisdictions, however, have begun to think outside the prison cell. In line with recommendations endorsed by the American Bar Association, Miami-Dade County cut costs associated with detention by supervising defendants outside jail at a total cost of around $400 per defendant per year, compared with $20,000 for incarcerated defendants. In Iowa, alternatives to pretrial detention saved the state's Southern District $1.7 million in 2009.

These and other jurisdictions have also cut costs using technology, like G.P.S. trackers and ankle bracelets, that allow defendants to remain at home — with supervision — while awaiting trial.

True, while these solutions may make sense from a budgetary standpoint, critics worry that increasing pretrial releases will present a threat to public safety, especially since judges are typically left to make bail decisions based simply on a gut feeling.

The risk of release can be largely reduced by arming judges with more data to inform their decisions. Frank McIntyre, an economist, and I recently examined data from over 100,000 felony defendants over a 15-year period, and we found very clear trends regarding which defendants are more likely to commit crimes while free on bail.

For example, judges often detain too many older defendants (people over 30), defendants with clean records and defendants charged with fraud or public order offenses — in other words, people who are less likely to commit crimes while out on bail. On the other hand, judges release too many young defendants with extensive records, people who are more likely to break the law while awaiting trial.

This data could be used to create a set of guidelines that would give judges a better sense of which defendants to release. Of course, judges must use individual discretion and carefully consider local data with pretrial detention decisions. However, our models indicate that such guidelines could safely lead to the release of up to 25 percent more defendants — and a significant reduction in prison costs and crime rates.

Given eye-popping local, state and federal deficits, it's unlikely that California will be the only state to face the tough choices involved in reducing its prison population. With the right data on pretrial defendants, though, judges can help make that task a lot easier.

Shima Baradaran is an associate professor of law at Brigham Young University and the chairwoman of the American Bar Association Pretrial Release Task Force.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

DSK AND CONSPIRACY THEORY

BY ROGER COHEN

LONDON — After Osama bin Laden was killed, a prominent French radio station called me for an interview. It turned into a mildly hallucinogenic experience. Everybody from the president of the United States to Al Qaeda itself was saying Bin Laden was dead, but my interviewer kept pressing me for "the proof."

I talked about DNA samples, the word of the American president, the accumulated intelligence, but it was clear that a Gallic conspiracy reflex — especially active with regard to France's sometime American savior — had kicked in. The view that this might all be some U.S. plot or hoax had taken mysterious hold.

I was put in mind of an unpleasant Paris dinner when a France Télécom manager with international experience began to expound on the theory — more than plausible to his mind — that Jews had not turned up to work at the twin towers on 9/11 because Israel and the Mossad were behind the planes-turned-missiles that turned lower Manhattan into an inferno.

And now we have the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case, viewed, it seems, by close to 60 percent of French society as a conspiracy against the putative Socialist presidential candidate — a sting operation that somehow placed a West African immigrant maid in a $3,000 a night Sofitel suite whose number, 2806, corresponds to the date of the opening of the Socialist party primaries in France (06-28).

Oh, s'il vous please!

A rough rule goes like this: The freer a society the less inclined it is to conspiracy theories, while the greater its culture of dependency the more it will tend to see hidden hands at work everywhere.

France remains a nation of Napoleonic centralism where the functionary's mentality holds sway. The ingrained reflex of that mind-set is to look to the state for salvation, to believe in some all-orchestrating higher power.

The nation's world-class private sector, believers in agency rather than dependency, follows the old principle of "vivre heureux, vivre caché" — to live happily, live hidden — and thereby allows the functionary's order to prevail as reference point. In this view, personal responsibility does not loom large.

Countless Franco-American differences of culture have been highlighted by the DSK case — in the judicial system, the press, attitudes to public figures' private lives, sex and the gravity of a rape charge — but a very fundamental one lies in the relation to authority. French deference to power — with the accompanying conspiracy theories — has encountered the hard-knuckled application of U.S. law as applied equally to anyone accused of a serious crime.

The response has been a gathering French outrage. I interviewed Strauss-Kahn long ago. He struck me as charming and very smart. Most impressive to me was that he seemed determined to modernize French socialism, a process too long delayed with the result that the French Socialist Party is a European dinosaur.

None of this, however, has anything to do with whether he attempted rape and forcibly imprisoned a 32-year-old chambermaid. Nor, of course, does his distinguished stewardship of the International Monetary Fund. The talent of Strauss-Kahn, 62, is not the issue.

Yet his French cohorts — men just as charming and smart as Strauss-Kahn — have made it their business to say, in essence, that he could not have done what he is accused of doing because he is one of us. He is, in effect, innocent by association. They include Bernard-Henri Lévy and Jean Daniel and Jack Lang.

Perhaps Lévy's defense was the most extraordinary, for its cavalier dismissal of the African woman at the heart of the drama when African victims have been a focus of his various campaigns, but even more so for its language on Strauss-Kahn: "Charming, seductive, yes, certainly; a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman, naturally; but this brutal and violent individual, this wild animal, this primate, obviously no, it's absurd."

I'll let the Paris deconstructionist school do the brunt of the work on that sentence, but will observe that absurdity is no defense, "obviously" reeks of too much protest, and "a friend to women" is a super-freighted phrase in this context.

As David Rieff has observed, Strauss-Kahn's proclivities were so well known that a French comedian had a skit years ago about him coming to a radio station for an interview and all women being ordered into a safe room. Jean Quatremer of the French daily Libération noted in 2007 that "The only real problem with Strauss-Kahn is his attitude to women. He is too insistent. ... The I.M.F. is an international institution with Anglo-Saxon morals. One inappropriate gesture, one unfortunate comment, and there will be a media hue and cry."

And here we are. There are plenty of facts, incidents and complaints — never fully investigated by the French press — to suggest that the serious charges against Strauss-Kahn are not "absurd" and that a young African woman's voice raised against violent abuse by the powerful should have its day in court.

Bin Laden is dead. The Jews went to work. Suite 2806 is just a number. Facts count. Conspiracy theories are the refuge of the disempowered.

You can follow Roger Cohen on Twitter at twitter.com/nytimescohen .

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU

BY DAVID BROOKS

Over the past few weeks, America's colleges have sent another class of graduates off into the world. These graduates possess something of inestimable value. Nearly every sensible middle-aged person would give away all their money to be able to go back to age 22 and begin adulthood anew.

But, especially this year, one is conscious of the many ways in which this year's graduating class has been ill served by their elders. They enter a bad job market, the hangover from decades of excessive borrowing. They inherit a ruinous federal debt.

More important, their lives have been perversely structured. This year's graduates are members of the most supervised generation in American history. Through their childhoods and teenage years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree.

Yet upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured. Most of them will not quickly get married, buy a home and have kids, as previous generations did. Instead, they will confront amazingly diverse job markets, social landscapes and lifestyle niches. Most will spend a decade wandering from job to job and clique to clique, searching for a role.

No one would design a system of extreme supervision to prepare people for a decade of extreme openness. But this is exactly what has emerged in modern America. College students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills, and they are then cast out into a different environment requiring a different set of skills, which they have to figure out on their own.

Worst of all, they are sent off into this world with the whole baby-boomer theology ringing in their ears. If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse, a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy.

Today's graduates are also told to find their passion and then pursue their dreams. The implication is that they should find themselves first and then go off and live their quest. But, of course, very few people at age 22 or 24 can take an inward journey and come out having discovered a developed self.

Most successful young people don't look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer's and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn't in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.

Most people don't form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.

The graduates are also told to pursue happiness and joy. But, of course, when you read a biography of someone you admire, it's rarely the things that made them happy that compel your admiration. It's the things they did to court unhappiness — the things they did that were arduous and miserable, which sometimes cost them friends and aroused hatred. It's excellence, not happiness, that we admire most.

Finally, graduates are told to be independent-minded and to express their inner spirit. But, of course, doing your job well often means suppressing yourself. As Atul Gawande mentioned during his countercultural address last week at Harvard Medical School, being a good doctor often means being part of a team, following the rules of an institution, going down a regimented checklist.

Today's grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, they'll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can't be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it's nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It's to lose yourself.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE GOOD BANKER

BY JOE NOCERA

Not long ago, as I was leaving a business lunch, my luncheon companion handed me a thin manila envelope. He didn't tell me what was in it or why he had given it to me, but as soon as I opened it up, I immediately understood.

It contained a copy of the 2010 annual report to shareholders by a bank executive I'd never met: Robert G. Wilmers. For nearly 30 years, Wilmers has run the M&T Bank, based in Buffalo. When he took it over, M&T had $2 billion in assets; today, its assets exceed $68 billion, and it's one of the most highly regarded regional bank holding companies. It has also been one of the best performing stocks in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index; indeed, M&T was one of only two banks in the S.& P. 500 that didn't cut its dividend during the financial crisis.

Wilmers's report, however, was less about the company's numbers than about the dismal state of his beloved profession. Wilmers, it turns out, is that rarest of birds: a banker willing to tell harsh truths about banking. That, for instance, much of the money the big banks earn comes from trading profits "rather than the prudent extension of credit that furthers commerce." That derivatives had helped bring about the crisis and needed to be regulated. That bank executives were wildly overpaid. That the biggest banks — the Too Big to Fail Banks — were operating, as he put it, an "unsafe business model."

My first thought upon finishing the report was: I need to meet this guy. So, a few weeks ago, I did.

In person, Wilmers does not immediately strike one as a rabble-rouser. At 77, he is soft-spoken, a bit reticent, and almost excessively polite. "I personally believe that there isn't a more honorable profession than the banking industry," he began. "Most bankers are very involved in their communities, and they can stand up and be counted. I saw a poll recently," he continued, "that showed we are now considered the third worst profession. That bothers me."

On the other hand, it didn't exactly surprise him. In the run-up to the financial crisis, the giant national banks — which he viewed as a distinct species from the typical American bank — had done things that deserved condemnation. And, he added, "They are still doing things that I don't think are very good."

Such as? "It has become a virtual casino," he replied. "To me, banks exist for people to keep their liquid income, and also to finance trade and commerce." Yet the six largest holding companies, which made a combined $75 billion last year, had $56 billion in trading revenues. "If you assume, as I do, that trading revenues go straight to the bottom line, that means that trading, not lending, is how they make most of their money," he said.

This was a problem for several reasons. First, it meant that banks were taking excessive risks that were never really envisioned when the government began insuring deposits — and became, in effect, the backstop for the banking industry. Second, bank C.E.O.'s were being compensated in no small part on their trading profits — which gave them every incentive to keep taking those excessive risks. Indeed, in 2007, the chief executives of the Too Big to Fail Banks made, on average, $26 million, according to Wilmers — more than double the compensation of the top nonbank Fortune 500 executives. (Wilmers made around $2 million last year.)

Finally — and this is what particularly galled him — trading derivatives and other securities really had nothing to do with the underlying purpose of banking. He told me that he thought the Glass-Steagall Act — the Depression-era law that separated commercial and investment banks — should never have been abolished and that derivates need to be brought under government control. "It doesn't need to be studied for two years," he said. "I would put derivative trading in a subsidiary and tax it at a higher rate. If they fail, they fail."

As Wilmers continued on in this vein, I found myself nodding in agreement. I also couldn't help thinking back on remarks I'd heard Jamie Dimon give at a recent Chamber of Commerce event. Dimon, who made more than $20 million last year at JPMorgan Chase, is widely viewed as the best of the big bank chief executives. But he's also become the most vocal defender of the status quo. "To people who say the system would be safer with smaller banks doing traditional banking, well, the system would be safer if we also went back to horse and buggies," he told the Chamber audience. "That is a quaint notion that won't work in the real world."

At the M&T annual meeting earlier this year, Wilmers told the company's shareholders that the bank's mission was to "find ways to continue to attract deposits, make sound loans and grow in accordance with our historic credit quality standards."

How quaint, indeed. And how refreshing.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

SUDAN'S PEACEFUL PARTITION, AT RISK

BY DOUGLAS H. JOHNSON

Oxford, England

SUDAN, for now the vastest country in Africa, is once again on the verge of civil war. A 2005 peace agreement, brokered with American assistance, was supposed to resolve the issues that led to 22 years of fighting between the Arab-dominated North and secessionists in the South. But it has not.

In a January referendum, the South Sudanese overwhelmingly voted for independence. But the North's occupation of the contested border region of Abyei this month could reignite the conflict between North and South — unless foreign powers, especially China, use their leverage to stop it.

The international community — particularly the United Nations and the United States — have been spectacularly ineffective in getting the Sudanese government to honor its own agreements. United Nations peacekeeping forces in Abyei have failed to protect civilians from attacks and keep the two sides apart. After 2005, the Bush administration concentrated mostly on the western region of Darfur and ignored the South. The Obama administration refocused its attention on the North-South conflict, but put all its energy into the independence referendum, at the expense of Abyei.

Abyei's fertile grazing lands are used by both the Ngok Dinka people, the area's permanent residents, and Misseriya Arabs, seasonal migrants from the North. A referendum held simultaneously with South Sudan's independence vote was supposed to resolve the status of Abyei. But Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, has obstructed a resolution: first by refusing to accept the borders recommended by the Abyei Boundaries Commission, on which I served; then by blocking the enforcement of a ruling issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague; and finally by preventing the Abyei referendum.

Mr. Bashir believes that transferring Abyei to the South would set a dangerous precedent for other disaffected areas, including Darfur, that are already seeking greater autonomy from Khartoum. American officials have unwittingly encouraged the Bashir regime to take a hard line by supporting successive compromise proposals rather than insisting that Khartoum adhere to the peace agreement and abide by the court ruling. Confident that it would face no concerted opposition, the North has now made the final, violent, push.

The Abyei occupation comes in the wake of Khartoum's military build-up elsewhere along the border, as well as its recent escalation of fighting in Darfur. There is a real risk that the North will now simply occupy all contested border areas — and possibly the oil fields inside South Sudan — and refuse to leave unless pushed out. In the short term, this will unite public opinion in the North behind Mr. Bashir at a time when many there are assailing him for losing the South. But in the long term it will likely spread instability and violence to other parts of Sudan.

To prevent the Abyei crisis from igniting other conflicts, the international community must stop pretending that both sides are equally at fault. Carrots haven't worked. Washington will need to wield sticks, such as canceling debt relief talks or suspending normalization of diplomatic relations, if Sudan does not withdraw its forces quickly. But ultimately, Washington has limited leverage over the Sudanese government, having reduced both its diplomatic and economic ties during the civil war.

The key player will be China. Beijing has considerable economic and political clout in Khartoum; at the same time, it is trying to build good relations with the Southern leadership in Juba. The occupation of Abyei is threatening Chinese oil operations along the border and inside South Sudan. The Chinese Foreign Ministry recently urged the two sides "to adhere to peace and restrain themselves" by fulfilling the provisions of the peace agreement.

This may sound like anodyne diplomatic jargon, but it is a sharp break from China's usual silence about the domestic behavior of the Sudanese regime, and a departure from the support it gave Sudan in 2008 after the International Criminal Court indicted Mr. Bashir on genocide charges. This presents a rare opportunity for the United States and China to work together in pushing for a resolution in Abyei before the South formally declares independence on July 9.

First, Washington and Beijing must insist that Khartoum withdraw its forces and restore Abyei's deposed civil administration. Second, they must stress that there will be no more compromises over agreements already reached. All Sudanese armed groups should leave Abyei and the surrounding territory, and be replaced by international troops with a more robust commitment to protect civilians.

A referendum is still the best way to confirm the will of Abyei's permanent residents, but a fair vote is impossible today, given Mr. Bashir's efforts to tip the region's demographic balance by driving out Ngok Dinka and replacing them with Northerners. The international community could and should oversee a future vote, but only after ensuring the return of Abyei's original inhabitants and guaranteeing the free and fair exercise of their democratic rights.

Douglas H. Johnson is the author of "The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars."

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

A COUNTER PILGRIMAGE TO A FERAL DOMAIN

DAVID JUDSON

YASSIADA - In ancient China, so I am told, dogs were not allowed within the city gates. Thus the custom evolved that waste, trash and other discards were tossed over the city walls. The result is the English expression, "gone to the dogs."

The reverse seems to have happened here, on this one-time prison island that for many holds the long-ruling doctrine of Turkey in a decrepit slumber. The last time the military sought to impose itself on civilian rule was four years ago, a futile warning against the election of a new president from the ranks of the ruling party. The high command was ignored, as we all know. But 51 years ago, things were different. Made a naval facility in 1950, Yassıada became a prison after the May 27, 1960 coup and has gone into history for its trial of the ousted civilian government. Now also are confined to history any lingering pretensions of the army brass. Effectively ending those are the unending "Ergenekon" and "Sledgehammer" investigations and trials that have, this time, put the officers in the dock.

As one who came of age when May 27 was still a national holiday and high school texts referred to the date as a "revolution," I have long wanted to visit the place where the results of the foundational coup became legend. After the tanks rolled, ousting Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, he and some 500 others were put on trial here. In 1961, Menderes, along with his foreign and finance ministers, was sent to the gallows on the larger prison island not far away İmralı, which now houses the infamous convict Abdullah Öcalan. The fact the gallows for Menderes were constructed before his trial was complete, tells us what we need to know about its fairness. It can hardly be said, however, that such score-settling has been eliminated from Turkish jurisprudence a half century on.

Just a few days ago, a plane returning me to Istanbul chose a runway approach that carried me directly over the island. Privileged ghosts, I thought, staring at the uninhabited island just 12 kilometers off the coast of teeming Istanbul.

The ghosts beckoned on Friday morning, through a colleague inviting me to join him as a guest of a pro-democracy activist group, "70 Milyon Adım Koalisyonu" (The 70 million Step Coalition), about to visit the island. I don't share the coalition's confidence about the democratic motivations of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer prosecutors and judges. But no right-thinking person could fail to join their condemnation of what happened here in the trials of 1960.

Aside from the ghosts, the only residents of the island today are the feral dogs whose bark greets visitors from inside their lair. Evidence of the dogs spot the cracked and overgrown footpath that leads up the island's gymnasium converted in 1960 to the infamous courtroom.

In every iconic photo from the era, the semi-circular girders that frame judges in the 1950s-era gym stand out above the slogan: "Adalet mülkün temelidir" (Justice is the foundation of the domain). Today, the girders frame water-stained and cracked walls filled with graffiti. The earlier slogan has been replaced today by meter-high letters that spell out the anthem of Spain's anti-fascist civil war republicans: "No Pasaran" – "They Shall Not Pass."

Roughly where Menderes sat in the dock, my hosts arranged a podium Friday for their own communion. "Bir daha asla!" (Never again!) it read, below a blow-up of the condemned Menderes being led to death. As the succession of speakers decried the military culture, the mentality, even the "system" that came to dominate Turkish politics for half a century, the kültürkampf partisans added a new giant slogan to one wall.

Interrupting the speakers periodically with the shaking of their aerosol cans, the artists rendered the new aspiration in sprayed tones of orange and gold, "Yassıada Demokrasi Adası Olsun," (Let Yassıada be the Island of Democracy). I and the other visitors listened to the speeches as we sat on newspaper to protect us from the filth that now covers what was the spectators' gallery during the trial. Today's gallery applauded the hopes for a democracy museum.

I broke from the group to tour the vandalized cells with million-dollar views of nearby Büyükada. I crawled around the wild licorice, past gangly cacti, weeds and the odd plum and fig tree, which have combined to cover signs of humans with a kind of feral garden out of which poke the odd bits of residue: A tabletop, a toilet seat, rusting steel tanks. Lazing amid the open spaces between the purple-blossomed ice plant that has spread throughout the island, there are lizards. Lots of lizards.

The south side of the island includes a sharply faced cliff, an inadvertent nature preserve of nesting grey herons, as angry as the dogs when I invaded their abode. I circled back through the undergrowth, slipping a few times and repeatedly losing my way on the footpaths that nature has almost entirely reclaimed. I descended toward the dogs' lair from where I was greeted at arrival. Their chorus discouraged me from entering; I found a longer way back to the boat.

Maybe Yassıada should be a museum. It's not my place to say. In the interim, however, the island seems to be more than just a place of abandoned buildings. It is the resting place of abandoned ideas, discarded notions of justice, bankrupt ideologies, a silenced martial dirge.

Today it is the dogs that rule. The destination of the counter-pilgrimage has gone to them.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

CHP SAYS WE DON'T WANT DEMOCRACY A LA TURCA

BARÇIN YİNANÇ

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of main opposition party, revealed his party's democracy report in company of two academics. While meeting a group of journalists for a Sunday breakfast, on his right was Professor Sencer Ayata, who is a prominent academic and currently one of his deputies. On his left, was a young academic Mehmet Karlı, from the law department of Galatasaray University. Karlı, not only contributed to the preparation of the report, but was also tasked to give a summary of the report, showed the  Republican People's Party, or CHP leader's pledge that the party cadres will become younger will not remain as rhetoric.

In my view, Karlı best summarized the gist of the report: "While preparing the report, we did not say, Turkey has special conditions. This report is based on universal principles."

I had a flashback after I heard this statement. In 1990's, when Europeans used to tell Turkey, that it needed to implement comprehensive reforms to eradicate human rights violations and strengthen democracy, the Turkish side used to say: "Yes but Turkey is not Sweden or Switzerland. Turkey has special conditions. We just can't do all the reforms you want."

Once, a member of Turkish parliament, talking at the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, was delivering a speech based on the same rhetoric: "We can't do this, we can't do that. We are different," which prompted the reaction of a European parliamentarian: "But we are here not because we are different. We are here because we share the same values."

Democratic principles are universal. There is no democracy "a la Turca."

It is comforting to see the CHP aware of this fact. In fact, while preparing the report, I can even say Ayata and his team took the easy way out. All they did was take international standards as the main reference. Obviously, Ayata and is team are aware they don't have to rediscover America for a more democratic system in Turkey. The road maps are there, in the documents of United Nations and European institutions.

Let's take CHP's stance on the fight against torture for instance. The report first of all underlines that torture cases are still not eradicated as the culture of impunity continues. One of the proposals of the CHP is to approve the optional protocol of the U.N.'s Convention Against Torture. Countries party to the optional protocol, are bound to accept visits to detention centers, from international experts. In addition it obliges states to set up, at domestic level, national preventive mechanisms. Additional protocols were signed in 2005 during the rule of Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which called for zero tolerance against torture. But since then, the protocol could not find its way to the parliament for ratification. Now the CHP says, it will ratify the optional protocol and establish the national preventive mechanism. Examples show how CHP is taking international standards as a reference to strengthen democracy can be multiplied.

Another point worth mentioning about the report is the fact the democratization program is comprehensive and detailed.

Take a look at this striking example: CHP wants the judiciary to proceed not with the reflex of "defending the state," but defending the rights of individuals. But this requires a mentality change. Here is what CHP proposes in the report to secure mentality change:

"One of the reasons for judges and prosecutors are to endorse a mentality in favor of the state rather than human rights are the social environment they find themselves in the early years of their career. Judges and prosecutors step in the courts at an early age, they are appointed to small villages and under these conditions the only possibility to get socialized is limited to other state officials. This is more so especially in places with intense security problems. One way to tackle the problem is to accept applications to become judges and prosecutors only after a certain age limit. This way, the future judges and prosecutors can work as a lawyer at the beginning of their career, can show more empathy with lawyers' problem and become socialized in a more pluralistic environments."

I have to say, I am impressed by their detailed proposals.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

A DANGEROUS BREW

SEMİH İDİZ

Turkey and, in particular the Justice and Development Party, or AKP – with special focus on Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu – is receiving accolade after accolade in the international media these days, both East and West. The references are mainly due to the country's rising regional role, with the hope often being expressed that it can play a moderating role by providing an example based on its own democratic and economic successes, which are far in advance of what we see in the Middle East.

It is not my intention here to debate whether these accolades are realistic or stem more out of wishful thinking in the face of developments whose direction no one can predict. I intend instead to ask whether those who are following Turkey these days have a proper idea of what is happening in Turkey itself where a brew of secularism, Islamism, and nationalism – both Turkish and Kurdish – are providing a dangerous mix that is dividing the country such as it has never been since the Republic was founded in 1923.

An EU ambassador asked over lunch last week why it was that there was no party in Turkey that represented the "middle ground" politically and which could therefore pay a bridging role between the opposing strains that we witness in Turkish politics. Our simple answer was that there is no middle ground in Turkey, a fact that has led to the vitriolic infighting we see now, which is driven by a desire to subjectively define this middle ground based on ideological orientation.

While one party wants to retain the Kemalist nature of this middle ground, with secularism more than democracy being its principle concern, another party wants to place Islam at the core and does not shy from using the trappings of democracy to try and achieve this. In the meantime there are parties that are more interested in making ethnicity the main object and are more than happy to relegate democracy and religion to the background for this purpose.

So who is to blame? Given that Turkey features high on the "intolerance index," one can easily say that all political parties and their followers must take a portion of the blame.

It is clear that all the parties contesting the upcoming elections on June 12 consider the stakes to be so high from their point of view that they are prepared to rely on everything, from illegally obtained video images of the "private improprieties" of politicians, to terrorism.

Some supposedly respectful politicians from the ruling party are even prepared to go so far as to twist the whole current debate on freedom of expression by declaring – as a justification for supporting curbs on the Internet – that those who are so keen on these freedoms could promote pornography if and when they are elected.

The clear inference to be drawn from the unprecedented ugly and below-the-belt campaigning that is currently under way is that Turkey's "post-modern civil war" over gaining control of the middle ground mentioned above is only going to get worse after the elections. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not following developments in this country properly and seeing things for what they are.

If we revisit the "who is to blame" question, while it is clear the blame must be shared, the finger has to be pointed more at the AKP since it is the ruling party after all. Under normal circumstances, it should not be the job of an elected government in any democracy to further divide an already divided country, but to try instead and find the means to unify it in a way that serves the interests of the whole. At least if one's prime considerations is for one's country and not merely for one's political interests.

Following the AKP's resounding victory in the general elections that were held on July 22, 2007, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed not just his supporters, but also the nation from the balcony of his party headquarters in Ankara. He said in his conciliatory remarks that he would be prime minister to everyone, and not just his followers, and contribute to the welfare of the country to the benefit of all.

Four years on there is little to suggest that he has kept his promise. He has acted instead as the spearhead of his own ideological outlook in the battle for the middle ground. During these past four years the country may have become more prosperous, and may be mentioned much abroad in a manner that has not been seen before, but as already mentioned it is more divided than ever.

During this period, Erdoğan himself has gone from being "a friend to the Kurds" to becoming not just an Islamist but also an ultranationalist in his desperate bid to steal votes from the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP.

The general assumption is that he is aiming for a victory that will enable his party to change the Constitution by itself and elevate him to the presidency under a newly introduced presidential system. He has in fact done little to dispel this assumption.

This means he has not just totally alienated the Kurds, but has also deepened the divide between secularist and Islamists in this country. If he and his followers somehow think that these divisions will eventually disappear in Turkey and that everyone will one day unite under the AKP banner, they are being naïve.

With all due respect to those who are uncritically showering Turkey, and by implication the AKP, with accolades from outside the country these days, the fact is that unless they see what is going on in the country, and try and understand the dangers the deepening divisions represent, they too are being naïve.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

POLLS IN THE COUNTRY OF RABBITS

YUSUF KANLI

Less than two weeks before the June 12 parliamentary elections, there is a glossy public opinion poll on my desk. Like many people, I do have an allergy against public opinion polls because of the bad reputation that whoever pays for them is presented with the results that would most please them. Of course that does not mean all the public opinion polls are crooked or faulty. Definitely there are companies in Turkey doing public opinion polls through scientific means and indeed objectively.

Another problem is, of course, the sudden increase in the number of eligible registered voters. This issue, which somehow escaped attention of all of us, was brought to the forefront by Bülent Tanla, a former politician and a pioneer of public opinion polls in Turkey. Only last year at the Sept. 12 referendum, the number of eligible registered voters was around 49 million and in 2007 it was 42 million and in 2002 it was 41.4 million. In 2010 and 2011, it all of a sudden reached 49 and 52 million, respectively. How? Are Turks multiplying like rabbits? Particularly, how have Turks multiplied by three additional million since September 2010, resulting in the number of eligible voters increasing from 49 million to 52 million? What has happened? Or, has someone placed in his pocket in advance some 10 percent of the vote in case of any emergency? It smells bad, does it not?

My problem with the public opinion polls is that so far I could not come up with a public opinion research company in this country who successfully and accurately forecasted three consecutive general or local elections. For every election there is generally a public opinion company, which came very close in its reports to the actual outcome of the poll. And, of course there is nothing surprising in that as there are companies suggesting that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, will have an electoral support as low as 36 percent in the June 12 election, while there are companies claiming the ruling party will do very well and get support of some 52 percent of the electorate. If the AKP receives between 35 and 54 percent of the vote, then there will be companies declaring victory and celebrating their accurate forecast on the June 12 evening. For God sake, there is almost 20 percentage points between the lowest and the highest forecasts, how scientific can such forecasts be?

Or, the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, is tipped to receive around as low as 23 percent and as high as 35 percent in various public opinion polls. The fluctuation between the lowest and the highest forecasts as regards the CHP vote, thank God, is a "more reasonable" 12 percentage points.

Well, if in this country there are 52 million registered voters, every single percentage point of support for a party means around 520,000 votes cast for that party. How popular support for a political party fluctuates, if we take the estimates for AKP vote as an example, with a margin of almost 10 million people. Or we are to take the estimations for the CHP vote, the main opposition party may at least get vote of some 12 million people, but may as well receive the support of 18 million people. These companies must have been joking with the intellect of the Turkish society. With such huge margins, of course at least one company will have the probability of declaring success once the vote count is completed on June 12 evening.

The poll on my desk is somewhat different from other public opinion polls as it was not sponsored by any Turkish political party. It was done for the International Republican Institute by the Infakto Research Workshop in collaboration with Harris Interactive.

According to the poll, the AKP has popular support of around 40 percent while the support for the main opposition CHP is around 21 percent, or just slightly more than the half of the support for the AKP. The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, which for the past few weeks has been battling to save its reputation from a series of sex-tape scandals, appears to have the support of just 10 percent of the respondents of the poll, just enough to beat the anti-democratic 10 percent national electoral threshold required to be considered eligible to send deputies to parliament.

The Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, or the political wing of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, terrorist gang, comes next in the popularity list with 5 percent support. The BDP, anyhow, like what it did in 2007 elections, is not participating in the June 12 elections as a political party either. Instead it is participating in the election with a foray of independent candidates seeking election to Parliament from many southeastern, mainly Kurdish-populated, cities as well as some other cities elsewhere in the country, including Istanbul. Last time the independents supported by the political wing of the PKK produced 23 deputies. In this election their target is to send Parliament at least 35 deputies and many political analysts believe they have the probability of winning at least 30 parliamentary seats.

The IRI poll was conducted in the second half of April, before the series of sex-tapes scandals, which killed the political prospects of some 10 leading candidates of the nationalist MHP. Thus neither probable image erosion, nor a possible backlash in the form of boost in the electoral support of the party could be seen in those forecasts.

Yet, since the IRI poll did not distribute the around 23 percent "undecided" or "did not know" vote to the parties, it might be said, according to this poll, the AKP vote might be around 45 percent, the CHP vote around 26 percent and the MHP with a clear 12-13 percent, which would put them over the threshold.

As they say for fortune tellers, don't believe it, but it is nice having it.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WILL PM REGAIN THE KURDISH FLAG FROM CHP IN DIYARBAKIR?

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

The prime minister will give the most important speech of the election campaign in Diyarbakır. He may regain the votes he has lost in the southeast for a while, but this depends on the pledges he will make. The ruling party needs to be careful as the flag of the Kurdish issue has passed to the main opposition.

The most significant change Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has brought to the Republican People's Party, or CHP, is renewing the party's approach to the Kurdish issue.

I do not want to go into details of the steps he has taken in the Kurdish issue. They have been announced recently and all details are not completed. They might be adequate or inadequate; they might satisfy the Kurds or not. Let us leave aside that aspect for the moment. The factor I want to draw attention to is Kılıçdaroğlu has changed CHP's general discourse and approach on this topic to a great extent. Actually CHP was the first party to address the Kurdish problem but it adopted such a nationalistic discourse in recent years, and it emerged with such strict neo-nationalistic approaches that were never suitable for a social democrat party, it let the flag be fetched by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Until the election period, I think, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demonstrated such courage no leader had shown before and he increased hopes with the Kurdish Initiative. He was the only leader capable of solving the problem that was the cause of such bloodshed. 

Erdoğan was the bravest, but he has changed

As elections got closer, the prime minister's discourse changed.  

It was not understood whether or not he was targeting for Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, votes and thus pushing the party's leader Devlet Bahçeli below the election threshold. 

Or was he back to the defense line against CHP's onsets on the same subject?

He put pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, BDP, right at the middle of the target area and he started punching them so fiercely that question marks in people's minds increased. 

Will he be able to, especially one week after hitting so hard on BDP, to reach out his hand and say, "Let us forget whatever has happened and reconcile"? Will he be able to do such a U-turn?

CHP is raising hopes for a solution

Abdullah Öcalan, jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and BDP persistently said that where the Kurdish issue is heading will be determined on the June 15.

Either a new search process for talks or reconciliation will start or the PKK will burn and destroy. Actually there lies beneath this message an intimidation or blackmail indeed but we have come to this point collectively.

Facing such an outlook, even though the prime minister's tough discourse diminishes hopes, general approach of Kılıçdaroğlu increases hopes. 

I believe, despite all, that Erdoğan will change after elections and he will not turn his back to such a historic opportunity for a solution, which can inscribe his name in history. 

Those steps that AKP and CHP take together will open up the future of this country. Right there then, we will erect the statues of both leaders. 

If this is football then we are playing something else

I was, just like you, among the 330 million people watching the Barcelona-Manchester United game. My only difference was that I was at the Wembley.

It is no longer a shrine where you can watch games but it is a center where you can pass time from noon until the evening with its pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues. It has cost a billion dollars but it is worth it.

From the moment you enter it, an incredible view, a fantastic ambiance embraces you. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I say I have experienced the most interesting evening of my life there. 

Its most expensive seats are private boxes of $7,500 per person. 

The rest is for you to imagine. 

Istanbul follows suit in showing up for finals and filled up London 

Outstanding names of Istanbul were all there.

It is "in" now to watch the finals. 

We came across them frequently in our "match break" during the three-day weekend in London. Where would you say? Of course we met them at shopping centers such as Harrods or Harvey Nichols.

On the topic of football games, I am neither technically sufficient as Ergun Baban, a football analyst as Hasan Cemal nor a sociological observer as Ertuğrul Özkök. But as far as I can see, Barcelona literally ripped apart Manchester United. At the end of the 90 minutes, I told myself, "If it is football they are playing, then we must be playing something different."

 I am sure you had a similar reaction. 

It was an unforgettable, awesome show.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

ON ZERO INTEREST RATES AND THE CURRENT ACCOUNT DEFICIT

ERDOĞAN ALKİN

It is not wise to make a delayed comment and repeat the same words about an important issue, but sometimes it becomes necessary. George Bernard Shaw once said to quit smoking was so easy that he could quit more than hundred times. His aim of course was to tease nonsmokers who tried every way to change smokers' minds. Unfortunately most of the smokers, who change their minds and promise not to smoke again, break their promise after a short while. The same is true for politicians' adventures with interest rate policies. When they decide to use interest rates for many aims i.e. to control the monetary expansion for the sake of price, or/and financial, stability or on the contrary to give a stimulus to economic activity, they generally promise that this is the last time for a long while. However after a short, and not a long, time they generally forget their promise.

However, as written in every macroeconomic textbook, it is not possible to use a single macroeconomic policy tool for many purposes. It means interest rates can be used to control inflation or to stimulate the economic activity or as recently practiced to control hot money inflow; but never for all of them. The reason is obvious: The results of all these practices contradict each other. To avoid these contradictions it is better to use a policy tool only for a single aim.

A short while ago, after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan talked about the possible advantages of a zero interest rate, a new discussion began in Turkey whether a zero interest rate was possible, feasible and useful for the economy. First of all, it must be understood that even interest rates have some serious influences on markets, the level of interest rate is an outcome, not the main reason of movements on those markets. It means when authorities decide to use interest rates as an economic policy tool, they first must take into consideration what the markets indicate.

A majority of the business people, economists and politicians are uneasy about the hot money inflow, which makes Turkish Liras overvalued. As a result, imports increase rapidly, exports rise slowly and foreign trade, current account deficits both continue to widen. The recent data on Turkey's current account deficit caused pessimistic comments on the vulnerability of the economy. Many emerging economies are trying to solve this problem by levying new taxes on foreign transactions, by raising reserve requirements and even by intervening directly in foreign exchange markets. However, all these attempts still seem unsuccessful in stopping the hot money inflow into their financial markets. Why? As explained several times, these countries, whatever they try, are still attractive for short-term speculative capital movements.

Then it might be considered that a zero interest rate will easily end this attractiveness and as a result put a brake on short-term capital inflow and stop the overvaluation of the national currency. This will encourage exports and discourage imports; so both foreign trade and current account deficits will be narrowed. At the same time zero interest rate will give a new stimulus to investments, which will result as higher growth rates for the future. Possibly, the prime minister's priority is this second alternative and the positive effects on the current account deficit are a byproduct.

However, there are other aspects of the problem. When hot money inflow is financing a large part of the current account deficit, it also finances a considerable part of the economic activity. For any attempt, if it is successful, to stop the hot money inflow means scarifying from targeted rapid growth aimed to be realized by the help of the zero interest rate. On the other hand, it must be considered that the zero interest rate will not encourage only investments, but also consumption and the rapid increases in both expenditures might give a push to inflation.

It is not easy to deal with all these dilemmas for both the Central Bank and the government, especially after the elections. The recent acts of the Central Bank to control increases in bank credits, hot money inflow, the current account deficit and inflation seems to be a very difficult task. It might be accepted that there are some logical reasons to force the wise men of the bank to take those decisions. After the elections, at least the new government must not challenge but support the bank's decisions. This will be vital to prevent the emergence of both expected and unexpected economic problems.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

NWA OPERATION

 

The visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week may well have been the turning point that it was described as. A number of things appear to be happening in quick succession. The CIA has had a sniff around the Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, a large piece of very bent and very secret helicopter has been returned to the Americans, and now there is talk of an operation in North Waziristan. There has never been any shortage of talk about such an operation but it has hitherto been accompanied, on Pakistan's side at least, by minimal activity. It must be noted that the Pakistani authorities have never directly refused to conduct such an operation, and have consistently said that, if they ever did, it would be on their terms and according to their own agenda. It could now be that there is a convergence of interests – Pakistan's and those of the US – that would make an NWA operation to our advantage.


Reports speak of a 'careful and meticulous' operation in the NWA, with the air force going in first to soften up targets which will already have been identified, followed by a boots-on-the-ground operation. Intriguingly, the reports speak of the possibility of a joint operation with allies as having been discussed during the Clinton-Mullen visit. Such an eventuality would be fraught with a range of complexities. If these were joint operations with the Americans (the only likely ally with whom such an operation would be conducted) they could ignite a political and social explosion. With the collateral damage inflicted by the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan regularly outraging public opinion, imagine the effect of Americans on Pakistani soil 'mistakenly' killing a group of civilians including women and children. Quite apart from what might blow up on the civil front, issues of command and control and intelligence-sharing may make this a step too far and too soon considering the fractured state of relations between Pakistan and the US. From its own perspective, Pakistan's forces have good reason to go after Hakimullah Mehsud who is believed to have headquartered himself in the NWA after he was driven out of his previous base in South Waziristan. He has spread death and destruction across the country, not just in his homeland of the tribal areas. He has terrorised large parts of the population and those acting on his behalf have killed many hundreds of innocent civilians. It remains to be seen if the talk turns to reality and the mountains of the NWA are cleansed.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

HEART, MIND, DEATH

 

The tragic sight of the bodies of small children wrapped in blood-stained sheets brings home the full horror of the war being fought in Afghanistan. The incident which took place in the southern Helmand province of Afghanistan is one of the worst of its kind. Twelve children and two women were killed in a strike by the US-Nato forces. There is no evidence of any militants in the area and grief-torn locals say the Taliban were in fact far away from the site. We have seen such "errors" made before, but this ranks as one of the worst. In response to this incident, President Hamid Karzai has said that, in the future, sensitive operations would be carried out by the Afghan forces themselves. We do not know if this will happen.


The excuse of "civilian shields" being used by militants carries no credibility. These deaths simply cannot be dismissed as collateral damage. Each of the victims had family members who mourn their deaths, for whom such deaths are too heavy a price to pay for the war against militancy. It is incidents such as these which, for obvious reasons, turn people against the US and create support for Taliban actions against it and its allies. The strikes over the homes of civilians are thus counterproductive. We have seen far too many of them since 2002 and they mean that the US 'quest' to win over hearts and minds is doomed to fail. Recent surveys by US think tanks indicate opinion favourable to the US is at an all-time low across the Muslim world, including Pakistan. No doubt this holds true for Afghanistan as well; the images we have seen from Helmand can only fuel anger and fury. The US must rethink its strategy. Such actions cannot be allowed to continue. Only a handful of militants have been killed as a result of such attacks. In most cases, it is civilians who have suffered for no fault of their own. As a result, more support has been created for the Taliban. There is a need to bring this cycle to an end and by doing so safeguard the lives of the innocent who have been the main victims of atrocities of the kind we see from time to time on both sides of the Durand Line. The one at Helmand has been among the worst of these.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

HUNGER

 

Even as we approach the one-year mark after the floods of 2010, and begin to think about the next monsoon season which now lies just over a month away, it is easy to forget that recovery from that disaster is not yet complete. There are many who still have to recover from the impact of this disaster, with numerous homes as yet only partially restored and countless livelihoods lost. This has also had a disastrous impact on the nutritional status of the people. Some NGO reports as well as a Unicef survey found high levels of nutritional deprivation, especially among the children of Sindh. More anecdotal information speaks of a similar situation in other areas. There is also evidence that this is not the result of the floods alone but of rising poverty and deprivation that prevent families from obtaining sufficient food to feed their children. Acute malnourishment has been reported among children and international organisations have reported that levels of hunger in the country are at par with those in sub-Saharan Africa. The situation needs to be tackled on an urgent basis. We wonder if our leaders have given any thought to this matter, or considered the needs of our people whose plight was worsened by the floods. There is little evidence that this has happened, and therefore little hope of improvement in the condition of the people.

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

THE ROT WITHIN

AMEER BHUTTO

 

 The present situation in Pakistan has gone beyond tolerance. There is only decay and decomposition all around us and the sinews and tendons that bind states and nations together are being consumed by the rot from within. This country is sliding down a slippery slope to a comprehensive collapse. A free-for-all prevails and government objectives seem confined exclusively to somehow getting through the day while milking the state out of as much personal benefits as possible under the sponsorship of their foreign masters, who have their own agenda in return for the pursuit of which they have given this government free hand to run the country into the ground.

The incumbent set up is based entirely on lies, deception, procrastinating to buy time and deflect pressure rather than confronting and fixing problems, corruption for self-gratification as well as keeping partners sated under the veil of mufahimat and an unabashed sell out of national sovereignty and public interests for the sake of retaining hold on power. In their probe into the Kharotabad incident, even the Supreme Court has been constrained to observe that the government appears to have failed.


The painstaking and arduous process of reconstruction cannot even begin until the reins of our national destiny are placed in the hands of those who are sincere to the national and public cause and untainted by the stigma of corruption. The truth has to be allowed to surface and failures have to be admitted. Flaws and weaknesses have to be identified and rectified. Terrorist attacks on our armed forces, intelligence and law-enforcement installations, such as the attack on the GHQ in Rawalpindi in October 2009, the attack on the police training academy in Lahore in March 2009 and most recently the attack on the Mehran naval base in Karachi have exposed woeful shortcomings that need to be fixed.


Lack of appropriate response by the Pakistani authorities to the US Navy SEALs' operation in Abbottabad on May 2 and the presence of Osama bin Laden there have jolted public confidence which needs to be restored post haste not by hollow words but through meaningful and effective action. The prime minister has blamed the whole world for failing to detect Bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad, as if instead of being found less than a kilometre from the elite Kakul Military Academy he had instead been apprehended in the shadow of Westpoint or Sandhurst. We were first told that US helicopters entered Pakistani airspace undetected because the radars on the western front are not always switched on since they are very expensive to operate and no threat is anticipated from the west. Then the story was changed within a couple of days and it was announced that the helicopters were using advanced stealth technology that made it impossible for our radars to pick them up.

Similarly, authorities were quick to issue denials that the attack on the Mehran naval base was the result of an intelligence failure, assuring the nation that the navy was on high alert. Is this supposed to make us feel better, knowing that under a state of high alert, not only did a handful of heavily armed terrorists managed to infiltrate a naval base, via an air force base no less, and kept 1500 naval personnel, who were aided by police, army and rangers, at bay for over 15 hours. But then despite a heavy cordon being thrown around the area, two terrorist even managed to escape?


There can be no question about the respect and place of honour the nation reserves for its armed forces. These are men who have volunteered to lay down their lives for the defence of the country and we all owe them a debt of gratitude. But this does not exempt them from accountability and the truth. It is claimed by some that the independent inquiry commission proposed by the unanimous resolution passed by the joint session of parliament on May 14 is aimed at humiliating the armed forces. Did the 9-11 Commission in America humiliate the US armed forces? Did the inquiry conducted in the UK in the wake of the 7-7 attacks disgrace the British armed forces? Did the Indian inquiry after the Mumbai attacks dishonour the Indian armed forces? What these inquiries did was identify flaws in the system and fix them, as a consequence of which there have been no recurrences of similar tragedies there. Why would an inquiry in Pakistan sully those who are ready to die for us? Such an inquiry is essential to determine the truth and identify the fault lines which must be filled in and cemented shut. Will such an inquiry ever see light of day? I for one am not going to hold my breath. This is not America, Britain or even India. This is Pakistan, where sovereignty is sold and vested interests prevail over national interests.


Naval authorities have voiced concerns about the Mehran naval base being located in a densely populated area in Karachi and want it to be relocated. There is something seriously wrong when your own people, instead of being a source of strength for you, are regarded as a security threat. How can any government, state institution or even the armed forces be effective without the support of its own people? It was, and in parts still is, an age old custom in rural areas that the havelis of influential zamindars or respected elders are located in the middle of the village with the homes of other villagers built adjacent to the boundary walls all around as an added layer of security against outsiders. But this presupposes the goodwill and support of the villagers.


If the government and state institutions represented the genuine will of the people, then being surrounded by populated areas would be a source of safety for them. But how can a set up that turns its back on the people, flies in the face of the collective national will and serves foreign interests rather than national interests and sovereignty expect any support from the people? If you do not enjoy the support of the people, there are no areas deserted enough, no walls high enough to isolate you from the public.


The parliamentary resolution of May 14 was a complete waste of time, as was the one passed before it in October 2008, because parliamentary resolutions are mere recommendations that are not binding on government and are unlikely to produce the desired consequences or actions. If the government is serious about blocking Nato supplies in the event of another drone attack and all else mentioned in the resolution, they should adopt the resolution in cabinet as government policy. To the contrary, after all the chest beating and false bravado in parliament on May 14, the government reverted to its usual business of paying obeisance on bended knees to foreign masters the next day when Senator John Kerry landed in Islamabad.


What a poignantly sharp contrast we as a nation present to our counterparts in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab nations where the spirit of freedom burns so bright. We have given a free run to those who are destroying the country and chase after them for personal favours instead of holding them accountable. Though there is no dearth of moaning and gnashing of teeth from roadside truck stops to plush drawing rooms, the government finds itself unimpeded in serving their foreign masters and surviving in power with their support. The people are Pakistan's last and most formidable line of defence against the rot from within. If they too sell out for a quick buck or remain silent, this country is doomed.


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

REVISITING MONETARY POLICY

DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN

 

For three consecutive years Pakistan's economy has been experiencing low economic growth and high double-digit inflation – a phenomenon known as stagflation (stagnation plus inflation). Economic growth has slowed to an average of 2.6 percent and inflation has persisted at an average of 15.5 percent per annum during this period. Such a situation has worsened unemployment and poverty.


A large group of economists have raised questions about the efficacy of the current monetary policy stance of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). They are of the view that the pursuit of a tight monetary policy for such a long period of time has failed to bring inflation down to single-digit level and led to the collapse of investment and economic growth with concomitant rise in unemployment and poverty.


Pakistan witnessed serious macroeconomic imbalances owing to a variety of factors, including the unprecedented rise in fuel and food prices in 2007-08. The inadequate policy response to this rise further aggravated the situation. In 2007-08, fiscal and current-account deficits stood at 7.4 percent and 8.4 percent of GDP, respectively. Effective policies were needed for the restoration of macroeconomic imbalance. In other words, policies were needed to bring aggregate demand closer to aggregate supply in the short run.


Tight monetary and fiscal policies were pursued in 2008-09. The former succeeded in improving current account balance while the latter helped in reducing the revenue-expenditure gap. Both policies were in the right direction and yielded handsome results in 2008-09 by lessening macroeconomic imbalances. The government continued to pursue the same policies in 2009-10 to consolidate the gains made in the previous year. However, while the current-account balance registered improvement, the fiscal situation deteriorated and inflation continued to be at a high double-digit level in 2009-10.


The SBP continued to pursue its tight monetary policy in a rather aggressive manner in 2010-11 and continued to raise its discount rate. This policy has succeeded in destroying aggregate demand, as reflected by the surplus in current-account balance. Destruction of demand was also visible from the fact that sales tax collected at the domestic stage registered marginal increase, despite the increase in the sales tax rate by one percentage point.

However, such an aggressive tightening of monetary policy for a prolonged period failed to bring inflation down to single-digit level. In fact, it persisted in the range of 12.3 percent to 15.5 percent during the current fiscal year. A high double-digit has persisted for over 44 months in a row despite the pursuit of a tight monetary policy with varying intensities during the period. The tight monetary policy, reflected in the rising discount rate, coexisted with rising inflationary pressure. Persistently high double-digit inflation continued to provide a justification for the SBP to pursue the tight monetary policy.


What have been the cost and the benefits of this policy over a prolonged period of time? As far as the benefit is concerned, the policy has destroyed aggregate demand and improved current account balance (one may disagree with my assertion). As to the cost, the policy has failed to curb inflationary pressures and the high discount rate contributed to the rise in the entire term structure of the interest rate. A higher interest rate badly affected investment, which is down to a 40-year low and contributed effectively to slowing down economic growth to an average of 2.6 percent per annum. The slower economic growth gave rise to unemployment and poverty. It has brought misery to the millions belonging to poor and fixed-income groups whose limited purchasing power continued to erode because of higher inflation.

A tight monetary policy has also contributed to the worsening of the country's fiscal balance. Persistence of a higher interest rate has increased interest payment manifold. Interest payment, Rs360 billion in 2006-07, rose to over Rs800 billion in 2010-11 and is likely to approach Rs1,000 billion in 2011-12. Over 50 percent of the FBR revenue is being consumed for interest payment alone, which is eroding fiscal space for development programmes. Higher interest payment contributed to the increase in the budget deficit, leading to more borrowing to finance this gap and a greater hike in interest rate to discourage the government from borrowing more. Is this the right policy to pursue? The cure itself has become the source of the problem.


Failure to control inflation in the midst of tight monetary policy has raised questions about the efficacy of such a policy. Is inflation in Pakistan the result of excessive demand, or is it due to a supply-side shock? Is monetary policy a right instrument to deal with inflation caused by supply-side shocks?


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. A tight monetary policy plunged the global economy into stagflation.

What is required at this stage is to revisit the current monetary policy stance. We need to find out the root cause of the persistence of inflation. The aspirin approach to monetary policy has not worked and will not work for the future. Instead of tightening monetary policy, the government needs to address supply-side causes of food and fuel price increases. The government must freeze support price of wheat at current level for the next two-to-three years, improve governance and distribution network, reduce tariff and/or taxes to bring stability in food and fuel prices.


One thing is absolutely clear: tight monetary policy alone has failed to curb inflationary pressure. It has given birth to stagflation. There is a need to revisit monetary policy stance to promote investment and growth.

The writer is principal and dean at NUST Business School in Islamabad. Email: ahkhan @nbs.edu.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

IN THE DAYS TO COME

MUNIR AHMED BALOCH

 

The United States' unilateral actions in Pakistan are in total disregard of this country's sovereignty, as well as of international norms.


American duplicity in its relations with Pakistan is a matter of history. The US arms embargo in the 1965 war and the United States' questionable role in the 1971 war, when Pakistanis expected American support the most, had indicated the kind of relations that the US wanted with Pakistan. Events like these are a clear sign of the impaired Pakistan-US relationship, which has repeatedly nosedived. The Afghan war again brought the two together, although in a relationship marked by a trust deficit.


CIA chief Leon Panetta openly expressed American distrust of Pakistan after American incursion in Abbottabad. Despite the crucial lead provided by Pakistan that led to the slaying of Osama bin Laden, the Americans are unwilling to give up their deeply embedded misconceptions about Pakistan.


The CIA has never disclosed what it says is information gathered its agents in Pakistan, or that said to have been obtained from interrogation of Khaled Sheikh Mohammad, the supposed mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks. Nor has any information obtained from Abu Faraj Al-Libi. Incidentally, both men were captured by Pakistan and handed over to the US.


The United States' unilateral action in Abbottabad was a classic example of a stronger ally violating the sovereignty of the weaker one. Worse, the incident is being effectively exploited by Washington to demonise Pakistan – particularly its armed forces and its intelligence agencies. The US actions, together with the continuing Pakistan-bashing by the American media, look like a prelude to the United States making still more demands of Pakistan, some of which will definitely go against the country's national interests – including expansion of the Pakistani army's anti-terror combat role into North Waziristan. Others could relate to the crisis in the Persian Gulf, especially the Saudi and Iranian elements to the new situation.


With the "treasure trove" of information contained in the computers said to have been seized at bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, the coming days and weeks are likely to see intensified pressure on Pakistan. It would be no surprise if, at some point of time, the "treasure trove" is exploited to implicate Pakistan, by through allegations that this country had known about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts – something which Islamabad has consistently denied. All Pakistanis can do is to keep our fingers crossed over what is to follow.


It is not only that, amid Pakistan's long-existing deep grievances about US policy towards it, the American incursion in Abbottabad has sharpened bilateral differences. The attack has rendered the Pakistan-US alliance irrelevant.

It is yet another betrayal of whatever had remained of Pakistanis' trust in the Americans. Pakistanis feel cheated and humiliated after having sacrificed so much in lives, money and material, in a war that was never ours but in which we were dragged nevertheless. Despite all this, and regardless of its meagre resources, Pakistan continues to fight terror and extremism actively and effectively.


The in-camera briefings of the the parliamentarians by the Pakistani army and the ISI delved into details of the Abbottabad raid, and both institutions owned up to the loopholes that facilitated the attack. ISI chief Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha even offered to resign. Those who wanted to see the army and the ISI leadership removed from their positions as a consequence of the American incursion were deeply disappointed by the military hierarchy at the briefing. The generals displayed real guts in resisting American designs on Pakistan.

The resolution adopted by the people's representatives in the National Assembly, asking for a redefinition of our relationship with United States, speaks of Pakistanis' resilience and their willingness to face all odds and challenges. In other words, Pakistan's relations with the United States will continue to be a very difficult in future.

On his first visit to Pakistan after the Abbottabad attack, Sen John Kerry, the chairman of the US Foreign Relations Committee, must have felt the negative impact of American arrogance towards Pakistan and the anger and the hurt that the American incursion caused among Pakistanis. Nevertheless, another drone strike took place while he was still in Pakistan, trying to pacify Pakistanis over the negative bilateral fallouts of the Abbottabad operation.

The joint statement issued after Sen Kerry's visit said the two partners recognised and respected each other's national interests and intended to intensify bilateral engagement. Nevertheless, the fact that his visit coincided with another drone attack would make it look like as if the CIA is following an agenda independent of the policies of the administration Washington, and as if America's premier intelligence agency had assumed the proportions of a state within a state.


The American raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad has rattled Pakistan's defence infrastructure and pointed out its shortcomings. A thorough analysis of the incursion will identify the loopholes in the existing defence system and Pakistan will have to work overtime to make sure there is no repeat of such incidents.

On the one hand, the United States is gearing up for an exit from Afghanistan in accordance with their declared timetable. On the other, there has been a surge its military campaign against the Taliban in the south. At the same time, there has been an increased interaction with the Taliban as a prelude to the US exit. Reports say the Americans have recently had interactions in Qatar and Germany with the Afghan Taliban, including close friends of Mullah Omar. The surge in US military and political activities indicates that the exit from Afghanistan was an option it should have taken a long time ago.

But the Americans are yet to take Pakistan into confidence regarding their dialogue with the Taliban, a failure which is unlikely to increase Pakistan's faith in its relationship with the United States. Notwithstanding their importance, Pakistan's relations with the United States will remain complicated in the absence of mutual trust.

Pakistan has done everything to strengthen cooperation with the Americans, going to the extent of fighting on its own soil a war that was launched by the United States. Pakistan actively assisted the US in providing leads to Osama bin Laden, a fact that was acknowledged by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Serious differences had always marked the Pakistan-US relationship, but the two counties always repaired their relationship. The relationship had been tested many times before.


Once the dust settles over after the slaying of Osama bin Laden's, we Pakistanis expect to see a different American approach, one that would be more cooperative rather than adversarial, especially since the United States' Afghan venture is hopefully winding up.


How long will the United States continue to exploit Pakistan on the basis of its aid – which is increasingly seen as a curse by Pakistanis?

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE ROAD TO KALAM

ZUBAIR TORWALI

 

It would not be naïve to write about the plight of a neglected people even as there is no dearth of national fiascos facing us. Other issues are significant enough to engage us but I found equally, if not more, shocking what I discovered when I managed to travel, no, dragged myself on the road, from Bahrain to Kalam the other day with a friend on a jeep.


The distance from Bahrain to Kalam – the most beautiful valley in Swat due to which the whole of Swat is rightly called paradise on earth – is only 35 kilometres but it took us nine hours to travel this distance. This is because the road was devoured by the floods in July 2010; and 10 months after the disaster, is still mostly rubble.

Both civilian and military officials announced various times that the road would be opened for all kinds of traffic before the tourist season began in June. A few weeks back 140 million rupees were allocated for the reconstruction of the road. Twice before that, funds were allocated for restoring the damaged road from Chikri to Kalam. While different parts of the road from Chikri to Bahrain have somehow been restored but beyond Bahrain it seems the process will take another year.


Kalam is the most beautiful tourist resort in Swat. There are more than 200 hotels here. Before the floods and the insurgency all these hotels used to be packed with guests but there is no hope of any guest coming to Kalam this summer. On May 25 we found only a single hotel open and that too, was basically for those who had come a long way from the plains of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab after spending the winter there; and would be going on to the villages beyond Kalam. Only lunatics like us can risk travelling this thoroughfare that looks less like a road, much more like a path leading to death.


Along the deadly route I came across shocking scenes which tempted me for a few minutes to go to the capital and self-immolate in protest against the amount of time that the responsible authorities have wasted. After July last year there was drought in the area that lasted over five months. Therefore no restoration work was carried out; and now when the Swat River is full again, the construction work cannot be carried out at the speed needed. The poor wonder why favourable conditions were not availed while it was still possible.


The so called road zigzags, and is narrow, steep, dusty, and muddy. Moving forward is practically impossible. The plight of those who have no choice but to use this road, particularly of the women and children, is indescribable. Only open four wheeler pick-up trucks can travel this road.


Families returning to their villages along with pale-faced women and children can be seen sitting in the open on pick-up trucks. A few days back two children fell off the laps of their mothers into the river due to the jolts suffered by the vehicles they were onboard. It is also reported that a number of pregnant women travelling this route experienced early deliveries owing to the jolts along the way. Elderly women are said to have died of fear-induced heart attacks while travelling down what has come to be regarded as a road to death.

Despite the heart-wrenching stories associated with this road and those who are forced to suffer it, the issue remains ignored or forgotten. The government's apathy aside, human rights groups have also ignored these areas. I witnessed no serious tangible rehabilitation work being undertaken in Kalam that would hold the promise of bringing relief to its people in the long run.


The poor people of Kalam thought that the government would realise the urgency of the situation owing to the presence of the military in the area but the former has virtually handed the area over to the latter which is not accountable to any authority on earth, it seems. In September 2010 the military rushed to make tracks uphill in the places where the road was broken. Now it has started work along the riverbank. The road could have been restored last autumn when there was less water in the river, and saved valuable time and money.


Moving on from past mistakes, the authorities should immediately begin providing free helicopter services to locals who need to travel to Kalam; and reconstruction work on the road must be conducted on an urgent basis. The government and the military should ensure there is transparency in the use of funds received for the purpose of reconstruction. Above all, no false promises should be made regarding the construction of this road and the rehabilitation of locals. Empty promises divert international attention from vital issues and only add to the sense of disillusionment felt by the people here.

 

The writer is a freelance contributor who heads IBT, an independent organisation dealing with education and development in Swat. Email: ztorwali@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

WILL SUFFERING CONTINUE?

DR MUHAMMAD YAQUB

 

 The writer is a former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan

A new beginning can be made in budget formulation by breaking with a past of fake statistics and window dressing. It would be much better to take the public into confidence about the real state of the economy, present the hard policy choices that need to be made in the interest of long term economic survival and promotion of national sovereignty.

At the macro level, the single most important economic problem is that the national saving rate is about one half of the investment requirements of the country to generate a rate of growth of six to seven percent that is required to make a meaningful improvement in the living standards of the people. While the private saving rate is also low in relation to national requirements and in comparison with other developing countries, the main reason for the low national saving rate is an increasingly negative rate of saving in the public sector.

The public sector saving-expenditure gap is being filled by internal and external borrowing that adds to the debt burden, increases prices and contributes to the long run vulnerability of the balance of payments. Continuous reliance on excessive borrowings to meet rising government expenditure would be taking the country towards an external debt default and internal runaway inflation, thereby further undermining national security and may even take the country close to the stage of a failing state.

The government should make a break from past budgetary practices and tell parliament and the public the truth about the state of the economy. A confession of weaknesses would prove less costly for the government than concealing the truth. Moreover, it is better to lay before the nation the hard policy choices it has to face rather than to dodge the issues and accentuate the problems by administering sugar-coated policy pills.

All the outwardly positive developments in the economy in the recent past were attributable to exogenous factors and had nothing to do with the government policy framework. Exports rose sharply simply because the sharp rise in world commodity prices led to higher foreign exchange earnings even with the dwindling volume of exports. Foreign remittances continued to rise due to increased diversion of transfers from the free market to official channels reflecting fear of surveillance of such transfers by foreign countries, channelling of a growing part of export proceeds in the form of remittances, and transfer of a part of the stock of black money as remittances to "whiten" it. In addition, unrest in the Middle East and the more hostile environment in the West forced Pakistanis to transfer their savings held abroad to Pakistan.

The country has accumulated foreign exchange reserves mainly by much high borrowing from abroad, particularly from the IMF, and a slowdown in investment demand for imports in an environment of uncertainty and insecurity prevailing in the country reinforced by increasing breakdown of the supply of electricity and gas to industries. The increasing burden of foreign debt and declining rate of domestic private investment do not auger well for the long term prospects of the economy. The bumper wheat crop this year is the natural outcome of floods that added to temporary fertility of the land and favourable weather, and is reversible.

On the negative side, excessive government borrowing from the State Bank of Pakistan was mainly responsible for the high rate of inflation. The rising burden of foreign debt accumulated over the years was responsible for pressure on the balance of payment and the exchange rate. Inflation is the worst form of taxation as it taxes the poor and savers and subsidises the rich and borrowers. The apparent stability of the nominal rupee-dollar rate covers up the reality. The continuous depreciation of the US dollar in world markets concealed the devaluation of the rupee because the rupee is pegged with the US dollar, and it depreciated vis-à-vis non-dollar currencies along with the US dollar.

The domestic tax revenue was about one half of total government expenditure and the rest of our spending was financed by the printing of notes by the State Bank of Pakistan and the generosity of foreign bilateral and multilateral lenders. The former fuelled inflation and the latter increased long run balance of payment vulnerability, undermining national sovereignty.

Inflation will not come under control without a sharp reduction in government borrowing from the banking system, and national sovereignty and honour cannot be restored without reduced dependence on foreign borrowing. If the government recognises this fundamental weakness in its budget policy and lays down viable options to address this problem, the public is likely to accept the gravity of the situation and may be prepared to give it breathing space and cooperation to address it.

Accordingly, the most critical requirements for putting the budget on the right path are a sharp reduction in borrowing from the banking system by both the federal and the provincial governments and substantial lowering of government borrowing from abroad.

The reforms to achieve the objective of lowering of internal and external borrowing to finance the budget must start from the curtailment of government expenditure. The current expenditure, other than debt servicing, should face the largest cut. The leadership must start by cutting its own wasteful expenditure. The cabinet size, both at the federal and provincial levels, must be reduced significantly. The expenditure of the presidency, PM house and of parliament should be kept to a minimum and foreign trips of all types should be curtailed.

Expenditure on entertainment, perks and privileges at all levels of the government should be brought down. A freeze may be put on all current expenditure on buildings, cars and furniture and other nonessential items. A stringent accountability system may be legislated to reduce pilferage and punish those who engage in corruption. A substantial reduction in civilian current expenditure can be used to negotiate with the army a reduction in its expenditure without compromising the defence of the country.

All public sector development expenditure should be put on hold and made subject to a professional and objective scrutiny. Whatever development expenditure is permitted by the availability of real resources must be prioritised towards electricity generation, irrigation water development and education. Prestige projects or consumption-promoting public expenditures should be completely shelved.

The financial losses of public enterprise must be taken care of either by their privatisation or running them on a commercial basis. The provinces should be mandated to incur no budget deficit and they must match their expenditure with real resources, either transferred from the federation or generated at provincial and local levels.

Government commitment to curtail its wasteful expenditures would generate enough goodwill among the people to accept a major revenue generation effort which must start by better collection, elimination of corruption in the revenue departments and plugging of loopholes that promote tax evasion and tax avoidance. All incomes at a given level must be taxed equally regardless of their origin. Hence the need to bring the service sector and agricultural sector under the income tax regime either at the provincial or federal level. An expansion in income tax base should be accompanied by a reduction in high tax rates, a move that will be more revenue generating than additional surcharges on those who are already heavily taxed.

All domestic consumption taxes should be consolidated into a generalised low rate value added tax. Luxury consumption should be taxed more than essential items of daily use by ordinary people. In the matter of custom duties, transit trade tax should be increased and smuggling of goods should be stopped. Exports should be exempted from any taxation, but luxury imports should be subjected to a higher tax rate. The aim of all the tax reforms should be to raise the tax-GDP ratio significantly based on the principle of horizontal and vertical equity and keeping in view the need to promote economic growth by encouraging investment in the private sector.

If the budget does not contain hard measures and instead engages in jugglery of statistics and relies heavily on external and internal borrowing, then nothing has changed and people will continue to suffer.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

WAR CRIMINALS

RIZWAN ASGHAR

 

A famous saying goes "man is a threat to mankind". In various epochs of history, man's savage, brutal, and selfish nature has inflicted unspeakable damage upon humanity. Even modern civilisation has failed in its efforts to rein in his unbridled wishes and liberate him from the prison of his regenerated self. The lust for power and glory has often led him to act with base motives. The war crimes of the 20th century aptly depict man's apathetic attitude towards the future of mankind. Gen Ratko Mladic, the butcher of Srebrenica, has recently been arrested, and his arrest has brought the issue of war crimes in focus once again.

Mladic, the Bosnian Serb ex-general, is one of the four evil characters who played a big role in the wholesale killing of the Muslims of Serbia. Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian president, died in 2006 under mysterious circumstances after he decided to disclose the dubious role of the US in one of the bloodiest crimes of the twentieth century. Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb ruler, is on trial in The Hague on charges of genocide. The fourth, Goran Hadzic, is still at large.

Ratko Mladic had nicknamed himself "god," and was known for telling his soldiers: "When I give you guarantees, it's as if they are given by God." Obsessed with his nation's 'history', Mladic saw Bosnia's war as a chance for revenge against 500 years of Turkish-Ottoman occupation of Serbia.

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) comprised six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia plus two autonomous regions – Kosovo and Vojvodina. The only factor that had kept these various ethnic groups together was the towering political dominance of president Tito. His death in 1980 resulted in a lack of political leadership and control, and over the next decade began the process of dissolution of the SFRY.

A vicious war began in which Serbs besieged Sarajevo for 43 months shelling Bosnian forces and terrorising the civilian population with heavy bombardment. In 1995 Bosnian Serb troops led by General Mladic captured the eastern part of Srebrenica and slaughtered about 8,000 Muslim men within a week.

According to the UN, 200,000 Bosnian Muslims were murdered and 20,000 Muslim women and girls raped by Serb fascist paramilitary gangs and regular soldiers. This was the worst crime against humanity since the Second World War and, according to the UN, an 'unquestioned act of genocide'. But the whole of Europe remained a silent spectator and the Dutch troops were sent as fighters ran away. What was heart-rending was the inability of Muslims to take any concerted action to save their brothers' lives.

Ratko Mladic is likely to face trial on genocide charges which fall under the category of offences against the law of nations. The idea to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes gained currency in international law after 1945 when the allied nations had to decide how to deal with high-ranking Nazis. On August 8, 1945, as per the London Agreement, the International Military Tribunal was established at Nuremberg to punish the biggest Nazi war criminals.

There is no denying the fact that war criminals must be brought to justice in order to ensure justice is delivered to the victims of their atrocities, and above all, to humanity. What is more significant is that these rules must be applied across-the-board and no one should go scot-free.

Gross violations of human rights were also committed during the US invasion in Vietnam and by Israel during the six-day war of 1967. Likewise, millions have been driven homeless and thousands of innocent people have been killed in the wake of the US attack on Iraq and Afghanistan. Who is responsible for this? Will George W Bush and Tony Blair ever face prosecution before the International Criminal Court for their war crimes?



Email: rizwanasghar7@yahoo. com

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

GILANI'S ASSURANCE ON N-ASSETS' SAFETY

 

IT is a known reality that Pakistan has an elaborate and one of the most effective and robust nuclear command and control system in place to ensure safety and security of its strategic assets. However, even then Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani did well when he told reporters in Lahore that the country's nuclear assets were in safe hands and that no one should make mistake of any misadventure in this regard.


In fact, Pakistan's track record shows that it did not pursue nuclear programme for aggressive designs, rather it was aimed at self-defence. The genesis of its programme becomes crystal clear from the historical reality that from 1947 to 1974 the country did not move an inch towards the path of nuclear weapons. But the situation changed in May 1974 when India detonated its first nuclear device at Pokhran, raising a specter for the safety and survival of Pakistan and the then leadership decided to take steps to counter the threat. But even after achieving nuclear capability, Pakistan restrained from testing its device and it was again India which forced Islamabad to go for nuclear option following tests by New Delhi in 1998. Record also bears testimony to the fact that Pakistan has been offering a number of proposals to eliminate or reduce nuclear race/threat in South Asia and one of them was to declare the region as nuclear free zone. Pakistan has also never resorted to nuclear blackmail as did India after carrying out nuclear tests of 1998 when it started hurling threats on Pakistan. But the same forces that had been involved in venomous propaganda campaign against Pakistan's nuclear programme labelling it an Islamic bomb, are now engaged in a sustained campaign to create doubts about Pakistan's capability to secure its nuclear assets. This is despite the fact that on various occasions even Americans have been acknowledging that the country has a multi-layered foolproof system in place to ensure safety of its strategic assets. In this backdrop, we hope that the assurance of the Prime Minister would not only help allay fears of the international community but also infuse confidence among people of Pakistan who stood demoralised following American raid in Abbottabad and subsequent terrorist attack on Mehran Naval Base.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PLEASE REMEMBER WE ARE AT WAR

 

IT is noteworthy and quite encouraging that with the passage of time there is greater realisation at various levels and among different segments of the society about the kind of threats facing the country. Rallies held in different parts of the country during the last few weeks highlighted the need for national unity and solidarity at this critical juncture of our history.


This realisation is need of the hour as some quarters – both internal and external — have started a vicious campaign against armed forces of Pakistan and the premier intelligence agency of the country, the ISI. The intensity of the attack has unnerved people of Pakistan and that is why saner circles are taking steps to counter moves of our enemies who want to destabilise the country. It was in this backdrop that Ulema and Mashaikh representing different religious organisations of Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir as well as eminent scholars and representatives of the civil society gathered at a solidarity conference in Mirpur on Sunday. The conference sent a loud a clear message to anti-Pakistan forces that people are fully at the back of their valiant armed forces and ISI and they would foil designs of the enemy to weaken Pakistan by targeting institutions that represent its security and strength. It is understood that the armed forces and ISI were the only solid rock against nefarious designs of the conspirators and that is why they are now trying to attack and demoralise them. We welcome declaration of Ulema and Mashaikh because Pakistan is under multidirectional attack — undermining of its economy, creating sense of insecurity, launching of psychological war, harbouring separatist movements and pitting of one section of the society against the other. It seems Pakistan is virtually under siege and therefore, there is dire need to forge unity among our ranks and express complete solidarity with those who are defending the homeland against hosts of challenges.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

THESE FRIENDS WITH FRIENDLY FIRE

 

IN yet another tragic incident, fifty-three Afghans including women and children were killed on Sunday when NATO aircraft hit two civilian homes in the volatile south western Province of Helmand. Ridiculous was that a NATO spokesman described the killing as a result of friendly fire.


It is history of the United States that it killed hundreds of people in airstrikes and later described it as friendly fire and this is being done in Afghanistan since it attacked the country after 9/11. Many innocent Afghans have lost their lives as continuous strikes by US aircraft hit suspected Taliban hideouts across the country. In this perspective a furious President Hamid Karzai said his government had repeatedly asked the US to stop raids which end up killing Afghan civilians and this, he said, was his "last warning". The issue would cause intense friction between Mr Karzai and NATO commanders who accuse him of stirring up resentment as a populist ploy and one is certain that his last warning would serve no purpose as the Afghan President has no leverage over military operations conducted by NATO. The relatives of some of the killed children actually took the bodies to the provincial capital Lashkar Gah and put them on display outside the compound so that local officials and the media could see the atrocities being committed by the occupation forces. The killing of civilians a very sensitive political issue and these incidents are on the increase in the middle of the spring offensive, as fighting is escalating in many parts of the country. Earlier in February and mid May NATO aircraft and troops killed civilians in Kunar and Takhar provinces which led to strong protests. Despite these killings, there is no expression of sorrow on the part of the Americans as they do not value for human lives in occupied country and treat the killings as a fun fair. We are convinced that the incident of large number of killings of civilians would further arouse anti-American sentiments. It is tragic that in the rugged mountain country, where life is very difficult, the cities have been turned into rubbles and no place is safe for the ordinary Afghans. We wish UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the international community and particularly the Human Rights Watch must take notice of these attacks in order to prevent recurrence of such incidents in the future.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

NATIONAL UNITY IS IMPERATIVE

NEWS & VIEWS

MOHAMMAD JAMIL

 

Addressing a gathering at Aiwan-e-Iqbal to mark Youm-e-Takbeer, Pakistan Muslim League-N Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif expressed serious concern over the breach of country's sovereignty by the US and stressed for a "revolt" against the rulers. He said that the people would have to assert themselves in safeguarding the sovereignty, integrity and independence of the country. He vowed: "I would be among the people if they rise to change the status quo." It is true that great majority of the people are living in abject poverty - without jobs, without adequate education and health facilities. They indeed want change, as they wish to see end of corruption and crave for good governance. It has to be mentioned that only that leader can lead the movement against the status quo who does not belong to the status quo. The rhetoric of the PML-N leaders including Mian Nawaz Sharif besides, they are no revolutionaries and in fact represent the status quo.


Our sixty per cent of the people are living in rural areas that are being exploited by jagirdars, vaderas, so-called pirs and their sidekicks. This hapless and neglected community is living in miserable conditions. How can one imagine having a democratic polity in a society where majority of the people is living below the poverty line? To bring about the basic change in the system, remnants of feudalism and the present system of exploitation have to be done away with; democratic culture has to be introduced in the political parties with a view to inculcating the spirit of tolerance and establishing democratic traditions. But who will take the initiative to get rid of this predicament? The face remains that the world of our experiences seems chaotic, disconnected and confusing, and there appear to be no integrating forces, no unified meaning and no vision to lead us out of the blind alley.


It is time like this that the role of the leaders assumes great importance. Unless the leaders are endowed with vision, wisdom and courage they cannot see the intense conflict between the dynamic reality and static forms to keep pace with the rapidity of the history.


At this point in time when Pakistan faces threats to its internal security and sinister is being played around Pakistan by the US, the West and India; when efforts are being made to put Pakistan on the mat through ruses and lies about Pakistan ensconcing Al Qaeda leaders, Quetta Shura, propaganda about insecurity of Pak nukes; and when America is exerting pressure to extend military operation to North Waziristan, unity of all the sections and organs of the state is needed most. It is, indeed, the responsibility of the leadership to ensure socio-economic justice in the society, which in turn would unite the nation and eliminate the threat to internal security. It has the responsibility to take measures to revive and strengthen the economy, as strong economy is the precondition to strong defence that can counter any threat to the external security.

 

Unfortunately, barring a few honourable exceptions, most leaders lacked leadership qualities and are devoid of vision, statesmanship and prescience. In turbulent period of 1930s and 1940s, Quaid-i-Azam happened to be there at the right time. He, with the support of the people, created a homeland for the Muslims of the sub-continent. It was however the incompetence and ineptness of the politicians that they could not deliver and forge unity in the nation by establishing socio-economic justice. It would, however, be absurd to say that all rulers of the past were dishonest or they did nothing worthwhile. Some of them had taken good decisions, and of course some controversial decisions as well. For example, one has to acknowledge Ayub Khan's contribution to industrialize the country. But due to the lopsided policies of his government, only a few regions were developed to the neglect of others, the gap between the rich and the poor widened, contradictions became irreconcilable, and as a result of a popular movement, President Ayub Khan was forced to resign.

However, instead of handing over the power to the speaker of the national assembly, he handed over the power to General Yahya Khan, who held elections but did not transfer the power to the majority party with the result there was uprising in former East Pakistan.


The country was disintegrated due to lust for power and ineptness of the then political and military leadership, and power was transferred to the Pakistan Peoples Party, being the leading party in West Pakistan headed by its chairman late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He was a charismatic leader but he nationalized important sectors of industry including banking and insurance, which adversely impacted investment climate. He however deserves accolades for taking steps to develop nuclear technology, which deterred India from her designs to further disintegrate Pakistan. But the rightist parties had formed an alliance against Bhutto government, which was reportedly funded and aided by the US and the West. And late Zia-ul-Haq overthrew Bhutto government and promulgated Martial Law.


But it has to be said that it was intolerance on the part of political leaders and internecine conflicts that provided opportunity to the military dictators. The problem is that even today, political parties are being run as political dynasties and personal fiefdoms. The top leaderships of major parties remain within the families of the founders of the parties with the result that capable leadership could not emerge. Political analysts were of the opinion that if the political process were allowed to take its course, democracy would have taken roots in Pakistan. From 1985 to 1999, five elections were held, but none of the governments could complete its term, again due to intolerance and undemocratic attitude of the so-called democratic leaders. During this period, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto never accepted the results of four elections held during 1988 to 1997. In 1988, when the PPP was a single majority party and formed a coalition government, efforts were made to get that government removed.

In 1999, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who had to his credit unceremonious ouster of two presidents, differences with three chiefs of army staff, and pushing one COAS to resign, was overthrown while trying to sack the second one - General Pervez Musharraf. One should not hold brief for military dictators, but when there is no difference between the elected and military ruler, the people are least bothered as to who rules them. Today, once again the PPP and the PML-N are on collision course. It is true that the PPP leaders have image problem and cases of corruption pending in the courts. But it is also true that the PML-N leaders are no saints and have stigma of corruption, cases about Hudabiya Paper Mills and a petition filed by Asghar Khan regarding funding of political parties including the PML-N when IJI was cobbled together. If they try to create chaos in the name of democracy, they will cause irreparable loss to the country. At this point in time, when the country is facing existential threat, national unity is imperative. Therefore, irresponsible talk like revolt should be avoided as this could lead to anarchy.


—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

NEW US POLICY & PAKISTAN

RIZWAN GHANI

 

Obama used his UK visit to announce new US foreign policy. It will focus on east of Suez, which has been interpreted as China centric. UK will lead the war in Libya, and Palestine issue must be settled outside UN. Obama cherry picked while talking about "Arab Spring". The use of words "slow and steady" and "patience and persistence" by Obama and Cameron show that Libya war is going to be long. However, Obama did not reject political solution to end Libya's standoff which in fact is the spirit of 1973 UN Resolution. Cameron-Obama "burger diplomacy" has been termed as part 2 of Bush-Blair "poodle" relationship. The Joint National Security Board (NSB) of UK-US will not fly because UK has no public plans to challenge emerging states of Asia. NSB is only meant for day-to-day cooperation on Iran and global terror. Moreover, extradition treaty between both countries will not work because US is not honoring its end of the obligations.

Pakistan is at the center of America's eastward shift to counter China's influence in the region. Accordingly, Washington expects Islamabad to stand with America or return to Stone Age. There is a consensus in the world that after the death of Osama America's post 9/11 security doctrine based on so-called war against terrorism (SWAT) has ended but Washington is adamant to continue using SWAT to protect its pre-9/11 "Absolute Security Doctrine". Islamabad therefore has to review its post 9/11 Pak-US policy to protect Pakistan's economic, energy and security interests and region's stability. Even, UK does not share America's "Counter China policy". Cameron made UK's position clear during Lancaster House press conference by saying that political dialogue is the way forward in Afghanistan.

In his book "Cables from Kabul",Coper-Coles, former British Ambassador to Afghanistan has highlighted scorched earth policy by the US lead NATO forces in Afghanistan. American military leaders defended their tactics of raids and increase in violence against Taliban to bring them to agree to a deal on terms of Kabul and the west. It is a gross violation of UN Charter, which recognizes nation's right of self-determination or the free choice of one's own acts without external compulsion http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination. The use of force is being met with vigorous indigenous retaliation and ending of illegal Afghan occupation by US led NATO forces. Washington however is blaming Islamabad to cover its failures and war crimes in Afghanistan.

The enemies of Pakistan are using the gaps between public and the government to peddle their agendas. History shows that even civil war couldn't disintegrate America. On the contrary, it made America stronger, prosperous and transparent. Armed forces are the foundation of Pakistan's unity therefore it is moral, legal and constitutional obligation of each one of us to protect, support and strengthen country's foundations. Pakistan is being subject to "beggar my neighbor policy" in which country's economy is destroyed systematically. It will be clear to an observant eye how country's energy, communication, banking, law and order sectors have been destroyed. The return of police under magistracy system will be more cost effective, efficient and productive as compared to establishment of national counter terrorism authority (NCTA). The city policing system has failed in UK and USA.

The idea of less government may sound good for business but it undermines writ of the state when it comes to managing law and order, security of a state and individual rights. Pakistan cannot pass laws on line US Patriot Act to usurp basic human rights and individual constitutional protections indefinitely. The hundreds of anti-terror laws have already changed Pakistan into a police state and failure to bring Sialkot tragedy culprits to book is its proof. Reportedly, despite passing more than 4000 anti-terror laws after 9/11, the number of those punished under such laws in UK has been negligible. Pakistan can improve law and order by returning police under district magistrate, reduce police-public ratio to 1:600 (from 1:113) and deploy them on traditional duties. It will restore writ of constitution, penal code, and departmental accountability. NCTA, city policing and anti-terror laws facilitates globalization and undermine state, its institutions and individual rights and freedoms. US Congress has never been able to hold American presidents accountable for waging wars without its approval. US constitution is silent on Congress role on country's foreign policy.

Beijing upholds non-interference policy in terms of state policies. Pakistan however is being singled out for protecting its sovereignty, national and regional interests. There are no two opinions that America and Europe are more responsible for the creation of anti-state actors in war against USSR they have turned against Pakistan. China has to play its role to end blackmailing of Pakistan by helping Islamabad to bring America and its allies to book at UN and through trade, travel and diplomatic blockades. It took west sixteen years to capture Mladic from his relative's house just 50 miles north of Belgrade and no questions are being asked for a man who is responsible for massacre of 18,000 lives. Whereas Washington has killed millions in the name of 9/11 and there is no end to Pakistan's persecution in the name of fake Osama drama to protect its interests in the region. West's double standards are evident from the fact that it has refused to honor Russia's demand to bring NATO commanders to book who abandoned UN safe haven, which allowed Mladic's men to commit crimes against humanity and Serbia is being rewarded with EU membership. Like Obama, Boris Tadic, the Serb president is using Mladic to secure his political future.

The change in US foreign policy will bring changes in the politics of India and Russia. Washington has put its eggs in Indian basket in the region. The growing poverty and corporatization has widened the gap between rich and poor India. Therefore, realpolitik (not ideology) will determine the fate of two-Indias. The rich will side with the corporate west to protect their interests and the poor would defy authority for food, home, water, justice, education, healthcare and jobs. The struggle of Pakistan is a against rich and the west is going to be the story of tomorrow's India unless it changes its pro-west course and returns to path that Gandhi and Nehru's followed to win dignity, land, peace, freedom and individual rights from the west. Similarly, the return of Putin as president in 2012 will promote nationalism and regionalism. Pakistan therefore will not be isolated in the region if it decides to protect its national and public interests.

Finally, Islamabad needs to review its post 9/11 foreign policy to free itself from being client state of America in the region. Police should be returned under district magistrate to improve law and order instead of forming NCTA, which will be counterproductive due to lack of laws. Islamabad should complete its road, rail, sea links with China and adopt renewable energy secure its national objectives. India instead of becoming west's client state should resolve Kashmir and water issues with Pakistan so that both states can sign long term no war pact on line UK and France to use funds for public welfare and bring a permanent end to west's interference in the region. Beijing can help UN to help Pakistan defend its national interests and the interests of the region.

The world should demand end of illegal Afghan occupation and allow Kabul to run its country under the UN right to self-determination. The political and military leadership of NATO involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, Iraq and Serbia must be brought to ICC. The world should support Palestine in UN and allow Libya to settle its differences through dialogue to protect its independence and integrity.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

PHILOSOPHY AND SCIENCE

FRIENDLY FIRE

KHALID SALEEM

Let us start with fundamental question: What happens to a modern country that has more philosophers than scientists? Before one can attempt a cogent answer to this question it may perhaps be in order to go to the basics and attempt a definition of the two species in question. It is not going to be easy but why baulk? So here goes. How about another trick question: what do two plus two make? Please do not dismiss it as a gag, dear reader. The point one is trying to make is that the answer is not as simple as it would appear at first glance. The response, in effect, would differ depending on whom one is posing the question to. To the person in the street, the answer should be obvious enough. "Four", he or she might well hasten to answer. The scientist, too, might quickly proffer the same answer and consider the matter as closed. Not so, if the respondent happens to be a philosopher or even an ardent student of what are loosely referred to as the liberal arts! Before one is accused of jumping to unwarranted conclusions, it may be of the essence to delve a bit deeper into the affair.


The scientist, let it be said, is pragmatic. He would rather go straight to the heart of the matter, avoiding all distractions. In crude terms, he would rather shoot from the hip, as it were. Vulgar it may appear to his detractors, but his approach is direct and to the point. For the scientist, let's face it, the aspect that is of primary importance is not the process but the ultimate conclusion that it leads to. Not 'how it got there', but 'what it proves'. In the view of the scientist, therefore, the whole exercise would have been futile – i.e. less than worthwhile – had no tangible conclusion been arrived at. The philosopher – if one may be excused for using American slang - is an entirely different kettle of fish. For him (or her) the thrill and excitement of the chase is more satisfying than the quarry itself. The philosopher would rather lose himself in the maze of reasoning and/or counter-argument than reach a quick conclusion, however remarkable that may be.


For the scientist, no argument is worthwhile unless it converges towards a definite goal; and one that is tangible enough to latch on to. The philosopher, on the contrary, would gladly expend his entire efforts following two parallel lines, ad infinitum, without the minimal desire to coax the two to converge at some point. This said; one had better take heed. Before one gets totally lost in the maze of verbiage, it would be just as well to hark back to the res, as lawyers would put it. What do two and two make; that is the question?


The scientist's response is bound to be terse and mundane – hardly exciting enough to produce a flutter of excitement. One would be better advised, therefore, to concentrate on the output of the philosopher. The latter would eschew shortcuts and logic, preferring, instead, to go to the very depth of the issue. He would begin by analyzing each element thoroughly, stripping it to the bare essentials, so to speak. He would then proceed warily to consider the various ways of co-relating the divers elements, without, at the same time, neglecting the important issue of the weightage to be assigned to each of these elements. Having thus tied himself up in knots, the philosopher would then proceed to probe the several possible approaches to the problem in an effort to arrive at a short list of priorities. His conclusion, if any, would thus be clothed in generalities and obscure verbiage, requiring a highly trained mind to unravel. Keeping the foregoing in mind, one can now attempt to pen down the 'conclusion' the philosopher would eventually arrive at. More often than not, his view would be as follows, or words to that effect: "The answer tends towards four, but then other, and by no means unimportant, variables come into play. These variables cannot be overlooked and may, thereby, sway the result one way or the other". It would be a rash philosopher, indeed, who would deign to commit himself unconditionally to an unequivocal conclusion one way or the other!


Here, one would hasten to correct the impression - if the reader has formed one - that one is biased against philosophers, or that science holds greater attraction for one. The fact is that one lives in the hope that at some stage or the other, some sage would venture to reconcile the philosophical approach with the scientific attitude. Philosophers have, over the ages, gone about their intellectual pursuits without caring a whit about the scientific approach to issues. By the same token, scientists have refused to be influenced by the views of the philosophers. Bringing the two onto a common platform is a task that would defy imagination. If - as appears highly likely - the rather trite discussion in the preceding paragraphs has left the reader gasping for breath, permit one to plead that one's intentions are entirely honorable. And to make up for it, one should wish to end up with a rather amusing story. It so happened – so the story goes – that, in the Europe of the Middle Ages there lived a well-regarded philosopher who once presented a learned thesis on what he described as "a strange natural phenomenon". His observation – that formed the center-piece of his dissertation - was that the introduction of a LIVE goldfish into a bowl of water does not add to the weight and volume of the liquid; whereas, should the goldfish in question happen to be DEAD, both the weight and the volume would register an increase. The philosopher's treatise, that dwelt on this somewhat bizarre phenomenon at some length and in some depth, was studied with great interest by diverse other philosophers for decades on end. The latter, in their turn, made valuable contributions to the theory through several equally learned treatises.


This intellectual exercise went on for some two hundred years, without reaching any definite conclusion. During the course of this exciting period several reputations were made and unmade in the vast field of philosophy. Then, through a quirk of fate, the matter came to the attention of a scientist. This spoilsport promptly procured a bowl of water, a sensitive scale as well as a live gold fish and its dead counterpart. Carrying out the experiment, first using the live goldfish and then the dead one, he found that the weight of the bowl increased by the weight of the goldfish irrespective of its state! For the two centuries that the debate raged no one had, it appears, ever thought of physically verifying the theory. One admits this is an interesting tale but certainly not one the authenticity of which can be vouched for. And now coming back to what one started with, does not the aforesaid touch a raw nerve? And does it not come uncomfortably close to the conditions in our blessed land? Or is one just 'philosophysing'?

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

PAK-US RELATIONS ON FINAL TRACK?

SHUMAILA RAJA

 

Senator Kerry took the Pakistani leadership to task after the May 2 Abbottabad operation and in the press conference assured "I am ready to write with my blood that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is not the US target". Hillary Clinton came, gathered the Pakistani leadership at one place, took them to task in the aftermath of the PNS Mehran attack, and assured that "good times are coming ahead for Pakistan.


Pakistan has been a country in the universe which played an instrumental role in one's descent into disintegration and other's ascent into being super power. Though a 60-year-old love-hate relation shows Pakistan and America happens to be two banks of a stream, American attitude towards Pakistan has never been reciprocal. We may say that Pak-US relations are no less than a comedy of manners and as the time passes the United Sates is emerging as a usurper and coercer while Pakistan is emerging as an oppressed and a cast down. The sophistication albeit wit applied by the Americans in this bilateral relations usually confirms that they all care about is their interest and what all left for Pakistan is sweet soothing words and compromise on, what we call is, national interest.


As far as fable of Pak-US relations is concerned, there is nothing of the sort which could be melted into a pleasant symphony or a master piece. There are stories of betrayals, double standards, hypocrisy, U-turns on the part of America. On the other hand, we have always given a lot of value to the US. Our representatives base their importance for Washington on their opinions that we were and we are a 'Frontline' and 'non-NATO' ally. To our utter dismay, the US never shares the same sort of warmth. All the time, when our leaders paid courtesy visits to Washington, the US President described us as 'the most important pillar of their foreign policy'. It was obviously nothing but rhetoric meant to inflate our cheap ego. At the fall of each new decade there are events and developments which made Americans to take a 360 degree U-turn and the incumbent regimes were newly baptized and adopted by the US very now and then. We were named sometimes as the 'most allied ally', 'Front Line state and 'Non-NATO' ally at other. We provided the world's best intelligence, man-power, strategic bases and security to the Americans. But the moment Americans feel there is no good in staying in the region, she turned her back like an angry child.


America's recent crush on Pakistan started as back as 1999 when two American Airliners allegedly hit the World Trade Centre and divided the world's history into 'Pre' and 'Post' 9/11 phase. Now there are clear signs that Pak-America romance once again is about to fade away as there are clear indications in American's tone that there temper is running short towards Pakistan. At this juncture we Pakistani have recently been inflicted with a cold-blooded murder of three innocent Pakistanis by a covert CIA operative, what they called him, Raymond Davis and his accomplices in a Pakistani city Lahore.


Being a good ally and being aware of sensitivities of Pakistan Americans should have assisted Pakistani Govt and administration to deal with the issue as a sovereign state so that the popular emotions could have been placated. Sadly, Americans were not ready to accept that Raymond Davis' case is the result of violating and disrespecting the sensitivity of the host country.


This time we are lucky enough to have a military command who is fully aware of the popular emotions and capable of dealing with issues plaguing Pakistan. Though there was a lot of hue and cry against the reported release of Raymond Davis, the reality is far more pleasant and is a source of comfort when one knows that Raymond Davis was released after ensuring that many CIA operatives and other unpleasant guests have been sent packing.

At the same time this incident should be a lesson for our Govt that a love with America is an unrequited love. Before we find that she leaves us we should take initiative and divorce her. Moreover, we should start a national drive in which our leaders initiate an austerity campaign and declare a boycott of any foreign aid and grants as they inject only corruption and nothing else. There are nations who survived without American aids and inked a new history of self-sufficiency after following the same course.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

PALESTINIAN MOMENT

 

Palestinian statehood is apparently out of the mirage complexion. It is now more of a debate about the possible route to attain that objective. It is good that the Arab League has mustered enough courage to put its foot down. Its decision to seek full United Nations membership for a Palestinian state in September is most welcome. While the move coincides with the roadmap of the United States in which President Barack Obama had called for a solution as per the 1967 borders, this has just furthered the objective of statehood. There shouldn't be any misgivings or reconsideration of strategy beyond this point, as it will only come at the expense of the Palestinians who have been stateless and dispossessed for long. The Palestinian leadership, as rightly stated by President Mahmoud Abbas, should not waste its time, energy and resources in banking on a futile dialogue process with Israel, and should go on to claim its universal right of nationhood under the international law.

Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already missed the bus. His stunt to resist Washington's plan of action in calling for a settlement as of 1967 borders is politically myopic in essence. In fact, the 1967 decorum at least brings de jure recognition from the Muslim and the Arab world. Netanyahu, who is fond of playing divisionary tactics when it comes to pitching the Americans with the Jewish vote bank, has resorted to such a tactic keeping in view the limitations of the incumbent US administration as it gets nearer to the presidential duel. This is politics of brinkmanship, and neither the White House nor the Palestinian leadership should take it as an impediment on the path of brokering a permanent solution in the region.


The Arab League's Doha decision will, however, come under pressure from the powers-that-be for obvious reasons. Irrespective of how their moves are countered at the world body, the 22-member organisation should make it a point by tabling the resolution of independent statehood, putting Israel in a vulnerable position on the diplomatic front. The European Union, South American countries who had off late endorsed Palestinian statehood resolution, and a host of other member states have already voiced for a two-state solution, and it's high the initiative sees the light of the day. At times when the Arab Spring has disturbed the geopolitical semblance of the region, and the desire for freedom and democracy is in the air, Palestinians cannot afford to sit on the wrong side of the fence. It's time to make Tel Aviv trade land for peace. — The Khaleej Times

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

DEFENDING HOMEGROWN COSTS

THERE are plausible strategic and economic reasons for encouraging, and even subsidising, the domestic manufacture of significant Australian defence equipment.

Certainly there are benefits in cultivating homegrown technical expertise, and the job creation opportunities are obvious. Of course, there are political reasons, too; governments of all colours have often been fond of cloaking themselves in khaki and announcing the local benefits that flow from major projects such as the Collins-class submarines or the air warfare destroyers. But building expensive and sophisticated defence equipment at home must not come with an open chequebook, or with compromises in capability.

A series of recent exclusive reports by Associate Editor Cameron Stewart has underscored this point. In a comical insight into the mistakes of the past, The Australian revealed how the Navy News trumpeted the war games exploits of HMAS Dechaineux even though it actually failed to turn up because of propulsion problems. The Dechaineux is one of the troubled, Australian-built Collins-class vessels that struggle to fulfill their role despite public investments of more than $10 billion. And then last week, with an eye to the future, we revealed more problems with the $8bn AWD project that have already pushed back the delivery date by up to two years and are certain to lead to cost overruns. Contractors are in dispute over design and construction mistakes, but what matters to taxpayers is the extra cost, the delay in delivery and, given the experience with the submarines, the gnawing doubt about whether the required capability will be met.

Efforts to get the project back on track involve some of the work being reallocated to Spain, so already some of the local benefits are being lost through poor implementation. Successive governments have faced similar problems and failed to manage them adequately. In the end, some hard decisions need to be made about the comparative benefits of buying tried and tested equipment off-the-shelf from overseas, especially with more projects on the books, including the $36bn plan for 12 next-generation submarines.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith should concentrate on rigorous consideration of these issues, instead of resorting to unfortunate media-management ploys to try to stifle our stories and minimise public scrutiny.

 

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    THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

G8 HELPS ARAB SPRING BLOOM

ENSURING that the Arab Spring does not become an Arab winter of discontent is a vital next stage in buttressing the thirst for democracy and freedom across the Middle East and North Africa and in confronting this, the G8 group of the world's most advanced economies has shown commendable perspicacity and foresight.

The G8 is not without critics, who maintain that with China, India and Brazil excluded from membership, it is not as relevant as it should be. There is something to that. But at their summit in Deauville, France, the G8's leaders have demonstrated their unique capacity to act decisively and on a massive scale, leading the way on the Arab uprisings with ambitious plans for a $40 billion aid package for the nascent democracies that, while not yet a defined Marshall Plan for the Middle East, should go a long way towards bolstering the democratic cause.

Comparisons between the uprisings across Eastern Europe 20 years ago and the Arab Spring are relevant. For democratic advances in Tunis, Cairo and elsewhere to be secured and extremism defeated, there is a similar need for institutional transformation. The G8 package, if it is carefully targeted and not corrupted by the usual suspects, should provide the means to achieve these vital goals.

End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.

Similarly, the G8 leaders have united -- importantly with the agreement of Russia, which, by being ambivalent, was giving him cause for hope -- to declare that Muammar Gaddafi's is no longer the legitimate government of Libya, leaving him marooned apart from support from fellow despots Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez, a grim reality that will hopefully persuade him he is doomed and that the game is up. The G8 wields unique authority but these decisions, critical to democracy in the Arab world, would have gained an added dimension had they been taken within the context of the larger G20 forum that includes China, India and Brazil. That is something Australia should work towards. By agreeing so swiftly to such potentially far-reaching measures in support of the Arab Spring, the G8 has, nonetheless, provided commendable leadership. Building functioning democracies in countries that have known only dictatorship is one of the great challenges of our times. The G8's aid package should go a long way towards achieving that goal. It deserves global support.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

VOTERS CAN'T SAY YES UNLESS THEY KNOW THE QUESTION

IF JULIA Gillard is familiar with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy she might understand some of the frustration voters feel over her carbon tax proposal.

Douglas Adams's cult classic tells us that the answer to "life the universe and everything" is 42 -- but we are left in a hopeless state of flux because, while we know the answer, we don't know the ultimate question. And so it is now, with supporters of Ms Gillard's carbon tax running television commercials exhorting us to "Say Yes". No price has been set, no details outlined on household compensation, no numbers issued on industry compensation or exemptions, and no ruling has been made on whether or not petrol is included, so it is asking a lot of Australians to say yes when they don't know the question.

This knowledge vacuum is a critical problem and the government will seek to fill in the details as soon as they can be negotiated with the Greens and independent MPs. Those talks won't be easy but, even then, neither will the task of convincing the public that a carbon tax is necessary, because another point unwittingly highlighted by the "Say Yes" mantra is that Ms Gillard went to the election saying "No" to a carbon tax. This breach of promise is a substantial hurdle for her as she follows a path mapped out not by the government, but by the Greens.

The Australian accepts the science of climate change and the need for carbon-emission reductions to be made through a market mechanism. Only a market can ensure abatement occurs at the cheapest price, encouraging innovation and, ideally, leading to the elimination of a range of other subsidies. That said, we have always argued, as has official advice to the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments, that it would be irresponsible for Australia to move too far ahead of the world. It would be an economic own-goal to impose a heavy cost on our industries if the emissions saved, and jobs lost, are simply exported to countries less committed than we are to climate action.

Rather than showing an uncaring selfishness on cost-of-living pressures, this newspaper believes mainstream Australians are demonstrating a sensible trepidation about moving too far, too quickly. Far from rejecting the urgings of governments, voters have listened over many years to both major parties issue that important proviso. It is up to Ms Gillard to finalise and outline her plan, and to explain that it does not take Australia unnecessarily ahead of the world. This has become even more difficult after the weekend developments at the G8 summit in Deauville, France. Japan, Canada and France announced they would not join a second round of carbon cuts under the Kyoto Protocols, and the US confirmed it would remain outside the process.

As for Cate Blanchett and the "Say Yes" campaign, this prominent and successful Australian has every right to support whatever cause she chooses. However, taking a leading role in such an overtly political campaign will naturally mean her views will become part of the debate. Celebrity endorsements have met with mixed success in politics and it is too early to assess this initiative. But before they say yes, The Australian believes most voters will want to know the exact question, and what the rest of the world is doing.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

MINISTER FAILS TO TELL IT AS IT IS

KATRINA HODGKINSON and Robyn Parker, the state's primary industries and environment ministers respectively, may be preparing for a comedy festival. Last week they issued a joint statement to the media intended to present their credentials and motives as purer than driven snow. They laughably titled it: "NSW government takes the politics out of marine parks." An Orwellian ministry of truth tick for that one.

The media statement detailed Hodgkinson's decision to revoke further environmental protection in marine parks at Jervis Bay and Solitary Islands. It followed her telling Parliament last week that the now disallowed zones were approved "without proper community consultation" by a Labor government desperate to woo Greens' support.

Another big laugh. Hodgkinson's attribution of base political motive to a Labor government may have been as deserved as the hiding that awaited that administration. But her claim about insufficient community consultation was demonstrable nonsense, and she lacked the wit to see it.

A rebuttal email promptly arrived at the Hodgkinson office. The minister, it said, was "incorrect and seriously misguided" and the new zones were "based on extensive community consultation processes that included more than 70 stakeholder meetings attended by hundreds of people as well as review of almost 10,000 submissions from the broad community".

The email's author was Dr Melanie Bishop, NSW president of the Australian Marine Sciences Association. She was protesting on behalf of more than 100 scientists.

If the consultation that preceded the extension of environmental protection was improper or insufficient, let the minister tell us the standards that must be met. Rather than the minister standing up for "proper community consultation", we suspect the intemperate haste of her action demonstrated a contempt for such a process. Hers was the lazy, feeble obfuscation ministers employ when they do not have the bottle to articulate their thoughts and actions honestly and unambiguously.

Hodgkinson is from the National Party. The Nationals have a record of opposing marine parks because their voters do not like protection zones that inhibit recreational and commercial fishing and because enough of them think the measures are based on voodoo science.

That is fair enough. Individuals need to judge for themselves whether the likes of the Roads Minister, Duncan Gay – a Nationals' spear carrier against marine parks – is likely to know more of the science than those who have engaged their working lives in the field. That is not the issue here.

This is about government telling it as it is. If ministers cannot tell the truth, better they move aside and give a go to someone else in the Coalition's swollen ranks who can.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

SERBIA HOPES FOR A NEW ERA

THE arrest of Ratko Mladic ends one era. The government of Serbia hopes it will open another one, too. That would see Serbia, with the demons of its recent past exorcised, admitted to the European Union.

Mladic is accused of ordering the massacre of more than 7000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. The massacre, carried out under the nose of NATO peacekeepers, is one of the darkest episodes in Europe's history since the end of World War II.

Shadowed by the same darkness, though, is the time it has taken to bring Mladic to justice. The reason becomes clearer when we contemplate the demonstrations in Belgrade since his arrest. Thousands of ultra-nationalist Serbs for whom Mladic is a hero have protested against his extradition to The Hague to stand trial before the United Nations war crimes tribunal. The currents of nationalist fervour that have poisoned relationships between the various ethnic and religious groups for centuries still run strongly in the Balkans. They lifted to power Slobodan Milosevic, the man who promoted Mladic and protected him after the war was over. His Serbian defenders argue that Mladic did nothing wrong, because whatever he may be accused of was no worse than Croatians and Muslims had done to Serbs in the past. Unfortunately the second half of their argument may well be right – not that that excuses anything.

Serbia's President, Boris Tadic, is being accused of treason for the arrest. Unlike the ultra-nationalists, Tadic hopes to get over Serbia's past by improving its future. Tadic and his pro-Western government want Serbia to join the EU and handing over Mladic to the International Court of Justice will remove a big obstacle to that process. Tadic is certainly right that economic development that in all likelihood will follow entry to Europe's free market would help nullify the poison from the Balkans' ancient hatreds. Growth and prosperity are essentially what eased another similarly vicious and ancient religious conflict – in Northern Ireland. But that assumes the nations of the EU will welcome Serbia. Despite Europe's dubious record in the Yugoslav conflict, the Mladic experience may give them pause. Mladic was indicted for genocide in 1995. Serbia had to be prodded for 16 years before it finally coughed him up. He was receiving a Serbian military pension until 2004. Those do not sound like the actions of a country willing to play according to ideals of openness, transparency and the rule of law.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

TAKING THE RIGHT TRACK TO ROWVILLE?

IN THE 42 years since a rail line to Rowville in Melbourne's south-east was proposed by the then Bolte government, the idea has got precisely nowhere.

Somehow, somewhere, over the decades, a straightforward scheme of linking the city with one of the metropolitan area's most densely populated regions now resembles a model railway: a circle line whose starting point and terminus are one and the same. Rowville, Rowville, Rowville has been the mantra of successive oppositions that, when in government, all too quickly amend it to Noville, Noville, Noville. For example, Labor, which promised to consider building the line when it was elected in 1999, swiftly abandoned the project — too expensive, and, besides, improved bus services would more than do.

But cars and buses co-exist on increasingly clogged roads, and rail is now the only answer. As the former Brumby government discovered to its cost at last November's election, public transport has become a fundamental public issue capable of swaying popular support. In opposition, Victorian Liberals made public transport a key election policy. Among their promises, which included the armed-guards-on-stations proposal and the formation of a single public transport authority, was a feasibility study into a Rowville rail link. On Sunday, the Baillieu government kept its word, announcing a two-stage $2 million study, to be completed by mid-2013.

Transport planner William McDougall, who was in charge of a preliminary study into the unbuilt $5 billion trail tunnel from Footscray to Caulfield, commissioned by the former Labor government, will lead a team of engineers from Sinclair Knight Merz.

Although this appears to augur well, there lingers an uneasy sense of deja vu. After all, since there have been so many discussions of a Rowville line, will this one really make any difference? Perhaps so. There are encouraging signs that the government is taking things more seriously, indeed pragmatically. Transport minister Terry Mulder has already indicated likely stations along the 12-kilometre line, and has said there will be a "strong emphasis" throughout the study on community involvement.

In the end, time and circumstance have caught up with reality. There have been too many studies, too many excuses (almost as many as those routinely offered for not proceeding with the rail link to Melbourne Airport) and reasons have become almost as exhausted as public patience. Rowville must happen; the sooner, the better.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

VICTORIA LIKELY TO REGRET RUSH TO LOCK 'EM UP

Rehabilitation is the public's best long-term protection.

THE simplistic vow to be "tough on crime" was a defining element of the state Coalition campaign to win office. As Premier, Ted Baillieu immediately began putting that agenda into legislative form, starting with the removal of judges' power to suspend sentences for serious crimes by adults. The next step is mandatory minimum jail terms for 16 and 17-year-olds convicted of offences involving gross violence.

Once again, the importance of judicial discretion and rehabilitation are dismissed, which serves neither the interests of justice nor public safety. Attorney-General Robert Clark has confirmed the government's plans to abolish suspended sentences for all crimes within its first term. "We are determined to make clear that jail means jail," he said.

This is especially problematic when teenagers are jailed. The priority should be their rehabilitation. The Children, Youth and Families Act discounts punishment and general deterrence as relevant factors. Yet Mr Clark has asked the Sentencing Advisory Council for advice on sentencing 16 and 17-year-olds who recklessly or intentionally cause serious injury in acts of "gross violence". Coalition policy is a mandatory minimum term of two years in youth detention. As The Age reports, the disregard for the facts of each case creates real risks of injustice.

The focus on punishment above all else could come at a high cost for young offenders and society by hindering rehabilitation without serving as an effective deterrent. As the Children's Court president, Judge Paul Grant, has stated, there is "no simple connection between 'locking them up' and stopping offending behaviour". New South Wales detains more youths than Victoria yet cannot boast a lower crime rate.

Juveniles can be hardened by the experience of life behind bars. Self-evidently, as 16 and 17-year-olds have their lives ahead of them, failure to rehabilitate them results in society bearing the costs not only of jailing them (more than $80,000 a year) but also of subsequent lives of crime. This is no less true of an 18 or 19-year-old who faces a mandatory four years' jail. The "lock 'em up" brigade need to understand that rehabilitation is the public's best long-term protection.

Victoria's custodial capacity is already stretched. Building and running prisons and detention facilities is costly — each extra prison bed in this month's budget has a capital cost of about $324,000. Yet Mr Clarke flatly rejected a report released last month by the Sentencing Advisory Council that found three-quarters of respondents supported cheaper alternatives "such as supervision, treatment and community work". More than 90 per cent said mentally ill offenders should be treated in health facilities and 83 per cent said drug-addicted offenders should be counselled and rehabilitated rather than jailed. The survey's failing was supposedly that respondents were informed of the facts, including jail costs, actual crime trends and the weak link, if any, between imprisonment and crime rates.

The tough-on-crime mantra feeds off confected tabloid outrage. More informed opinion draws on the insights and experience of judges, lawyers, criminologists and juries, who must assess actual evidence. A responsible government would respect the research that consistently shows that the more the public knows about sentencing considerations in a case, the more they agree with the judge's decision. The recently released Tasmanian Jury Sentencing Study researched the responses of 698 jurors in 138 criminal trials. Knowing the facts of their cases, 90 per cent of jurors agreed the judge's sentence was very or fairly appropriate, and 52 per cent leant towards greater leniency.

Informed opinion makes all the difference in assessing sentences. That is why moves to eliminate the courts' discretion are so ill-considered. Mandatory sentencing guarantees injustices, ruins hopes of rehabilitation and, sadly for all Victorians, takes us further down the path of being a needlessly harsh and fearful society.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

ASTEROIDS: IN SEARCH OF STARDUST

Nasa has announced the ultimate smash-and-grab raid: the first attempt to collect a handful of asteroid rock and bring it back to Earth

The US space agency Nasa has announced the ultimate smash-and-grab raid: the first attempt to collect a handful of asteroid rock and bring it back to Earth. There are three reasons why astronomers and space buffs should cheer the seven-year, $800m robot mission and one reason why they should sob.

Asteroids and comets are the rubble left over from the making of the solar system: this pristine stardust, unchanged for 4.5bn years, is of immense scientific interest. Asteroids and comets are packed with an astonishing array of organic chemicals, including amino acids, the building blocks of proteins: there is an enduring suspicion that they may have played a role in triggering life on Earth. And the target asteroid, 1999 RQ36, is an enormous lump of rock that crosses the Earth's orbit and could in theory smash into us, with calamitous consequences – it would help to know more about it, in case evasive action is necessary. But the Osiris-Rex mission (the acronym stands for Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer) is also a wistful reminder of abandoned dreams.

Four decades ago, the Star Trek and Avatar future seemed not just possible, but almost inevitable. Science had embarked on a course lit by science fiction – the space odyssey would continue. By 2001, the visionaries promised, there would be human settlements on the moon and Mars. And in high orbit around Earth, or balanced at points in space where solar and terrestrial gravity were equal, there would be artificial housing estates, orbiting homes to 10,000 people, and industrial centres: the conversion of captive asteroids into wealth on an astronomical scale.

Space scientists calculated that a nickel-iron asteroid of one cubic kilometre would contain 7bn tons of iron, 1bn tons of nickel and enough cobalt to supply the planet for thousands of years. Carbon-rich asteroids would be sources of water, butane, ethane, methane and other organic chemicals that would keep space colonies in food, fertilisers, building materials and even booze, while the citizens exploited solar energy in its most direct form. Space was the high frontier, and in the euphoria generated by the moon landings, prophets like Arthur C Clarke and Gerard K O'Neill were perceived not as daydreamers but as the new realists.

In the next 40 years, commercial investment in space grew exponentially, but only to make fortunes on Earth. There have been 10 missions to fly by, photograph and even touch these maverick lumps of celestial debris. But Osiris-Rex will be the first to pick up a whole pocketful of stardust, and bring it back for assay. A small step, but it keeps an old dream alive.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

MPS AND THE JUDICIARY: JUDGING THE JUDGES

In the crude calculus of who is up and who is down, judges are scoring better than MPs these days. Not surprisingly, MPs are resentful

In the crude calculus of who is up and who is down, judges are scoring better than MPs these days. Not surprisingly, MPs are resentful. The customarily robust assertion from the former home secretary Michael Howard that "the power of the judges, as opposed to the power of elected politicians, has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished" resonates with all political parties. The judges' defence, that they do no more than interpret the law as parliament has made it, is true, though not the whole story. Politicians are wrong to moan that judicial decisions threaten the sovereignty of parliament, even when – as the court of appeal did last Friday in the Shoesmith ruling – upholding the rule of law checks governmental action. But it is also true that judges make choices, and unless MPs subsequently change the law, those choices determine what the law is.

The set of standoffs between the legislators and what used to be called the least-dangerous branch of government are triggering fresh attacks on the independence of judges, based on the argument that "political" law-making demands political accountability. This is particularly challenging for the supreme court, which briefly appeared on a list of redundant quangos last year. Relations between government and the judges are mostly mutually respectful, but it is not hard to see how they could erode. What might be done to prevent such a situation?

One way the legal profession could pre-empt sometimes justifiable public criticism is by greater transparency about who sits in the supreme court. Some MPs are calling for US-style hearings where the quality, legal thinking and broader sympathies of candidates can be tested. Confirmatory hearings of other senior public appointments, like the governor of the Bank of England, have proved valuable. But many who are demanding greater accountability for judges dream of a judiciary that reflects the moral bearings of the Daily Mail.

The problem is not that our judges are or should be partisan. Nor would anyone question the intellectual merit of the 12 supreme court justices. But in spite of some good intentions to diversify the bench, the 12 are all white, male (with the exception of Baroness Hale) and middle class. Some of this is hard to change, but this is a body that, in its own words, shapes our society and directly affects our lives, a body that unavoidably takes decisions that raise questions of social values. The court is in a weaker position than it could be to see off attempts to undermine its legitimacy. A broader approach to appointments would help do the job better.

It is common for judges to lament the supreme court's lack of diversity and at the same time to insist candidates can only be chosen from the ranks of the most senior judges. Yet it was disappointing that when, in March, an appointment was finally made from outside the appeal court for the first time, it went to Jonathan Sumption QC – an undeniably brainy barrister, but as white, male and middle class as the rest, and thus hardly an inspiration to less orthodox candidates. From the bottom rung of the judiciary to the top, only a fifth of judges are women, and less than a 20th come from black and minority ethnic groups; in the high court and court of appeal – the gene pool for the supreme court – just 20 of 153 judges are women.

The judges are allowed to consider diversity when appointments are made. Yet they do not appear willing enough to rise to the challenge of venturing beyond the tried and tested. It should be possible, once the high standard of merit is passed, to find candidates from more diverse backgrounds. It would be desirable to set targets as milestones against which progress could be judged. Otherwise the senior courts risk fulfilling the gloomy prediction of a former attorney general, and becoming a self-appointing oligarchy – and thus ultimately one that is less able to challenge parliament and defend itself effectively against parliamentary retribution.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … TEAPOTS

The British are notorious cultural thieves, a habit of pilfering strikingly shown in the country's most iconic drink, tea

The British are notorious cultural thieves, a habit of pilfering strikingly shown in the country's most iconic drink, tea, which had nothing to do with our Atlantic island until commerce and adventure took Britons to the middle and far east. Milk, sugar, strainers, spoons and bags then followed in homely succession, along with that glorious vessel, the teapot. Britain did not invent even this, but we can certainly claim to have adapted and varied it to an extent unusual even in crockery. Cottages, fire engines, cats and Gladstone's head; there was nothing which could not contain and celebrate the source of cuppas. There is an enjoyable reminder of this at the V&A's fine current exhibition on the Victorian aesthetic movement, The Cult of Beauty, which resurrects the "Living up to our Teapots" fad of the 1880s. Based on a sally by Oscar Wilde at the mania for blue china, the quip led to plays, songs and cartoons at the aesthetes' expense; and, of course, to commemorative teapots. The V&A has an excellent one from Royal Worcester, a greenery-yallery couple back-to-back, their arms precisely forming the handle and spout. One has a sunflower to contemplate, the other an arum lily, and their delicate features are distinguishable only by the man's artistic moustache. A conversation-stopper in some circles, the piece must also have sustained many thousands of polite afternoon teas. If an angel passes, a bright compliment about the shape, pouring ability or originality of the teapot seldom fails to get things going again.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

A G8 VOTE OF SUPPORT FOR JAPAN

The Group of Eight summit, the annual meeting of the world's leading industrialized economies, has lost some of its shine in recent years, eclipsed as well by the rise of the G20 as a forum for global economic decision making. Nonetheless, the G8 still serves important purposes, two of which were on display last week at the meeting hosted by French President Nikolas Sarkozy in the French town of Deauville.

First, it offered a vote of confidence in and support for Japan in the aftermath of the tragic events of March 11. Second, it showed that it remains relevant when tackling the most critical and sensitive political issues: The assembled leaders promised support for the Arab Spring, but conditioned that aid on progress toward genuine democracy.

In their final declaration, the leaders said they "are fully confident in the ability of the Japanese authorities to respond to the challenge and build a speedy and lasting recovery, and we stand ready to assist as needed." That vote of confidence came after Prime Minister Naoto Kan, in his first overseas visit since the disaster, assured his fellow summiteers that Japan would learn the lessons of the March 11 nuclear disaster and fully recover.

In remarks to the group, Mr. Kan explained developments in Japan — the nuclear situation is "gradually stabilizing" — declaring that it was "our historic responsibility to transmit the lessons to people around the world and to future generations." He announced plans to host a global meeting on nuclear safety in 2012, in conjunction with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). That meeting would be part of a broader effort to set international standards to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants. Mr. Kan put forth a five-point plan centered on the IAEA to do just that.

In addition, Mr. Kan promised to boost the share of green energy in Japan's total power supply to 20 percent by 2020. That is a sharp contrast with previous plans: As of last year, nuclear power was forecast to produce 50 percent of Japanese energy needs by 2030 and renewable energy would account for just 1 percent. In practical terms, Mr. Kan's plan means bringing down the cost of solar power generation to one-third of its present level by 2020 and one-sixth by 2030; the government aims to install solar panels in 10 million households. In their declaration, the G8 leaders said that they "recognize the importance of learning from the Fukushima accident and its aftermath."

Mr. Kan's plan offers them the chance to turn those lessons into concrete actions. There is another benefit that could flow from this proposal: a chance for enhanced cooperation between Japan and South Korea. Next year, Seoul will host the second Nuclear Security Summit. Our two countries should work closely together to ensure that the meeting and the one that Mr. Kan has proposed are complementary. Coordination between the two governments can help demonstrate the common interests the two countries share and their ability to work together to make real progress on global concerns.

While the G8 declaration also rolled out the usual policy points — condemning North Korea and Iran for their nuclear ambitions and refusal to heed international demands for transparency and compliance with previous commitments; faith in the recovery of the global economy and the need for G8 economies to get their fiscal houses in order; recommitting to action on climate change and biodiversity; pledging to get the Doha trade round restarted, along with other points — the focus of much of their discussion was the political transitions underway in the Middle East, a phenomenon often referred to as "the Arab Spring."

The G8 leaders condemned the governments in Iran, Libya and Syria for their harsh repression of democratic voices. In one surprising development, Russia offered to mediate the departure of Libyan strongman Moamar Ghadaffi. Moscow's shift is important as many autocrats count on Russian support to fend off demands from the West. China has partnered with Russia to shield those leaders from democratic demands; when Moscow "defects" to Western positions, Beijing is uncomfortably exposed and frequently shifts its position as well. This bodes well for democrats throughout the world.

In their declaration, the G8 promised $20 billion in aid and debt relief to Egypt and Tunisia through multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund — if those countries continue down the path of democratic reform. Bilateral aid to the two countries was also promised. To signal that the G8's focus is not just on those evolving countries and that democratic aspirations should be nurtured worldwide, leaders from three sub-Saharan countries that recently held elections — Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire and Niger — were invited to the meeting. The G8 leaders said they will continue to help those nations that continue down the democratic path, fight corruption and strengthen the rule of law.

We have heard these declarations before. The test, as always, is following those fine sentiments with actions. Historically, the G8 has fallen short of its pledges: The leaders' statement acknowledged that they did not deliver on their 2005 promise to increase aid by $19 billion. Continuing failure to do so will further marginalize the G8; Japan's recent tragedy should make plain that action can ensure that this forum stays relevant well into the future.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

BUSINESS BENT DEFLATES THE SAILS OF INDIA'S LEFT

BY GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN

CHENNAI, India — A common joke used to make the rounds in Kolkata, where I grew up and found my footing in journalism. The joke was that West Bengal, whose capital city is Kolkata, was more Marxist than China — this in the heyday of communism. While China retained its Marxist model of governance, it was shrewd enough to open its market along capitalist lines.

On the other hand, West Bengal, the eastern Indian state, stubbornly refused to industrialize, scaring away potential investors, both from home and abroad.

The story of the southwestern state of Kerala has not been very different either. In 1957, it voted communists into power, the first parliamentary state (apart from San Marino) anywhere in the world to have taken this extraordinarily bold step in a global scenario where the Reds were treated like outcasts and viewed with deep suspicion.

Now with important legislative elections in West Bengal and Kerala over, their Marxist governments have gone. The red flags and the placards of hammers and sickles that have been an integral part of these two extremely literate and culturally vibrant regions have disappeared once the poll results were out in May. Even those who have been loyal to the philosophies of Karl Marx had seriously doubted that the communists would be back in office in either West Bengal or Kerala.

This mood was apparent at one such election meeting in Kerala that was reported in the media. Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, struggled to keep the attention of the audience during an election rally he addressed. Those gathered there to listen to his speech appeared bored with what he was saying. His comments on food inflation, corruption and the other misdemeanors of the Congress in particular — whose coalition at the federal level in New Delhi not long ago included Karat's party — produced a big yawn.

The people of Kerala have been benefiting from globalization. It is commonly believed that one of every four households in the state has at least one member working in the Persian Gulf, though with the region's recent economic crash (especially Dubai, which has a large number of expatriates from Kerala), the picture may not be as rosy right now.

It was, therefore, quite likely that the communists would be shown the door. For, in the April elections, Kerala's Christians and Muslims, who form roughly half of the state's population, had reportedly discarded the Marxists. The people were angry about, among other issues, the attempt to cap fees at privately run religious schools, and Keralites are very sensitive about education.

The question of whether the ruling Marxist government would be defeated in Kerala appeared as a foregone conclusion. It had administered the state for 28 years out of the 54 that Kerala had been in existence. The state, which was part of the Madras presidency till 1957, has been otherwise run by the Congress for the remaining 26 years.

What may be all the more distressing for the communists was their defeat in West Bengal. The state is larger than Germany with 91 million people, and the Marxists had been at the helm of affairs there since 1977 — a whopping unbroken 34-year stint in which the Communist Party of India leader, the late Jyoti Basu, served as the chief minister for 23 years, the longest such record in India.

The communists in West Bengal must have by now understood that the electorate was thirsting for change. Admittedly, the Marxists, while neglecting cities and towns, took good care of villages. Farmers were delighted at the radical land reforms the government implemented in the late 1970s. But neglect of the urban areas, marked by an official apathy and hostility to business that led to the flight of capital from the state and collapse of textile mills, angered the elite, job-seekers and industrial houses.

In 2008, Tata's small-car factory could not operate in West Bengal because that might have displaced many from their farms. The Tatas were willing to handsomely compensate the affected, and it is a fact that the farmers were more than happy to take the money and move on.

When the Tatas shifted to the western state of Gujarat, where the chief minister, Narendra Modi, infamous for spearheading riots in early 2000 that left, according to one estimate, some 10,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead — quickly grabbed his chance. He wanted to be seen as a suave executive doing every bit to make Gujarat the epitome of prosperity.

Such follies ruined the Marxists' prospects in West Bengal, and an electoral pact between the Congress and the Trinamul Congress (whose leader, Mamata Banerjee, is now the chief minister of the state) looked strong enough to end Red rule in the state.

All said and done, the communists have probably been the only politicians with no money in Swiss banks. But their thinking has been somewhat dated.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a freelance journalist in Chennai, India.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

ALL THOSE LARGE NUMBERS

We cannot help but feel skeptical about the 17 large infrastructure development projects worth US$21.5 billion launched by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono with major fanfare at a ceremony attended by his ministers, provincial governors and business leaders at the Jakarta Convention Center on Friday.

There is simply no new evidence to show that the government really feels a sense of urgency and is determined to execute all the projects that are part of the government's goals under its 2011-2025 Economic Master Plan to increase the nation's per capita income to over $16,000 from about $3,000 at present.

The President mentioned big numbers, projecting $465 billion in new investments during the plan's 14-year period to develop Indonesia to become one of the world's 10 largest economies, with a gross domestic product of $4.5 trillion.

But, set against all the huge constraints the economy is now encountering, all these numbers seem to be a dream.

The government has always been quite slow in disbursing its investment (development) budget. For example, during the first five months of this year, the Public Works Ministry has spent only about 11 percent of the budget for its infrastructure projects due to land acquisition problems and bureaucratic inertia.

It was a strategic decision to begin the realization of the master plan with the President's launching of the infrastructure projects in provinces in Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Bali, Nusa Tenggara and Maluku because infrastructure deficiency has been the biggest barrier to economic expansion.

But, none of the projects will materialize if the procedures for land acquisition remain as arduous and punitively costly as they are now.

In fact, the problem of land acquisition has now become the main obstacle to infrastructure development. More than two dozen toll road and bridge projects have stalled for years due to land appropriation problems.

Land problems have also made the completion of the new international airport in Medan, North Sumatra, two years behind schedule.

Likewise, the traffic gridlock on the Jakarta toll road has been blamed on the long delay of the completion of the capital city's outer ring road, which forces trucks and trailers to pass through the city's freeways.

The government has been fully aware of this land acquisition problem, as can be seen in the President's plan during the first 100 days of his second-term beginning in October 2009 to issue a regulation in lieu of a law designed to expedite land acquisition for public interests, notably basic infrastructure.

But, nothing happened.

The government finally proposed a land-acquisition bill a few months ago to the House of Representatives. But, we haven't seen any significant progress in the legislative deliberation of the draft legislation.

Even if the bill is approved later this year, its enforcement may only begin later in 2012 given the time needed to prepare all the regulations for its implementation and the bureaucratic coordination with regional administrations.

So, when the land acquisition law and its supporting regulations are in place for full-fledged enforcement in 2012 or early 2013, there is really not much time anymore to complete the 17 infrastructure projects because the political parties that are members of the coalition government will be focusing their attention on the 2014 election.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

THE NEW ERA OF INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS REGULATIONS

EDI SUHARDI

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last week signed a decree suspending new concession permits and improving good governance on primary forest and carbon-rich peatland in Indonesia as part of the Indonesia-Norway agreement on the climate change program.

This decree, along with agreements inked during the ASEAN Summit earlier, showed Indonesia's progressive move to integrate itself in the international community.

While ASEAN's soft institutional approach to establish one community may differ from the EU, which is more institutionalized, we can see globalization drives social, economic and political actions of nation-states that to some extent erode national regulations.

In the globalized context, first, we are not speaking as Indonesian citizens, but as ASEAN society, and even, following the Bali Conference of UNFCC in 2007, world society.

Second, the political power is not vested solely by the state, particularly the executive and House of Representatives. We are now witnessing significant influence of business actors, local and international NGOs.

Third, global regulations do not regulate national states only, but also can reach multinational companies, domestic companies and the general public.

Not so long ago, most regulations were enforced by state institutions. However, since the advent of the sustainability development movement in the 1980s, many have acknowledged the importance of a softer form of regulations, such as codes or standards.

We can see the Indonesian example as far back as early 2000, such as the Indonesian Code on Good Corporate Governance issued by the National Commission on Corporate Governance.

This commission is a multi-stakeholder commission, chaired by a respected figure from the business sector, with members from various government institutions, business actors, academics and respected human rights and anticorruption activists.

The commission started as a private sector initiative, but later was formalized through a coordinating minister for the economy's decree. This kind of regulation will be more common in the near future.

So, is law related to business in the global context still relevant?

Yes, some national laws remain relevant, especially when they are limited in areas where companies lack international exposure.

In fact, some international regulations require endorsement by national governments, such as the Kyoto Protocol or the UN convention against corruption.

However, the multipartite regulation is becoming a norm and export oriented Indonesian companies should carefully look at international business regulations, particularly social and environmental ones.

There are five regulatory actors in a globalized context as defined by Crane and Matten. First, the international imperative regulation, which results from the intergovernmental process such as GATT and ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA).

Statistics show that after ACFTA implementation, Indonesia's export of commodities, especially minerals and palm oil, has significantly increased but the manufacturing industry suffered.

Second, global industry codes of conduct, which are voluntary, are produced by business, such as the International Council on Mining and Metals' (ICMM) Sustainable Development Framework.

Third, global industry codes are negotiated with government institutions, such as the European environmental management system and standard and Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

Fourth, global industry codes of conduct are negotiated with civil society organisations, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Since early 2000, Indonesia has also seen more practices of ecolabelling, especially for the European market.

And last, global industry multipartite projects codes, such as the UN Global Compact, Global Reporting Initiative, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Roundtable on Responsible Soya (RTRS) and Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB).

It is interesting to note that while Indonesia relies heavily on mining-minerals and palm oil exports, the international market and community see the two sectors differently.

Both of them are operating in a logged-over forest area and have faced local and regional resistance, especially from environmental and indigenous groups.

However, the international market and community do not need any substantial efforts from Indonesian companies to adopt the ICMM Framework.

On the other hand, palm oil companies face an international campaign led by international NGOs, demanding more sustainable practices.

While some parties believe that the negative campaign is ignited from trade wars from countries exporting other vegetable oils, we still need to take some precautionary and risk forward mitigating strategies by acknowledging that there has been a shift of power and authority in industry standards setting.

Government regulations have been progressively seen by international actors as inadequate to the changing environment. Consumers, market and civil society groups demand for more prudent and credible regulations with more stringent parameters and conditions.

There are some evolving regulations, such as the UN Global Compact, GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, ISO, RSPO, ICMM' Sustainable Development Framework and also FSC.

By applying those voluntary standards, either through the certifying process and products or labelling, we can expect that our exports can further strengthen the Indonesian economy and distribute wealth to all parts of the country.

Further, the voluntary nature does not prevent the market from imposing the standards as new platforms or requirements.

Some European countries, initiated by the Netherlands, have pledged to only buy certified sustainable palm oil by 2015. It is expected that such commitments will snowball and attract other countries to follow suit.

It is believed that the demand for a sustainable commodity will also go beyond palm oil, to the mining and metal industry.

To sustain economic growth and promote the added value of commodity industries the government has to take lead in advocating the industries to adhere to the global business standards.

The Indonesian industry needs to proactively engage in the formulation of international business regulations within multipartite and roundtable forums, such as the FSC, RSPO, RTRS and RSB. We need to use the forums to promote more realistic and acceptable standards.

The government needs to encourage the industry to embrace the global standards or international business regulations on top of national laws. The industry, on the other hand, must be able to adapt and mitigate the changing market behavior and standard setting.

The writer is head of sustainability at an agribusiness company. The views expressed are his own.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

CHINESE AND PROUD OF NATION'S CULTURAL DIVERSITY

SONDANG GRACE SIRAIT

Until recently, I never thought it was too much to expect smart comments or sound moves from our beloved representatives in Senayan.

They are, after all, the chosen ones out of almost 240 million people in this country. Partisan attacks understandably come as part of the package and are still more tolerable than porn-watching during the plenary sessions. But racial slurs, that is beyond the limit.

Crossing the line is when a supposedly respected legislator attacks a well-performing, two-time government minister on racial charges.

In attacking Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu, Bambang Soesatyo of the Golkar Party may have forgotten that in most court of law lies the presumption of innocence, which in Indonesia is in place based on Law No. 48/2009, concerning judicial powers.

Ironically, it is the same presumption of innocence that his own party chief has repeatedly called for when addressing legal problems faced by Golkar politicians.

So when a lawmaker ironically chooses to break free of the tenets guarding the law, don't blame others for raising an eyebrow.

It also seems Bambang needs a refresher course on pluralism.

Though once an unfamiliar dictum, the word pluralism has now made its way into our daily walk of life. In recognizing the richness of this nation's cultural diversity, politicians and activists alike are increasingly making it a point to promote the concept of tolerance in the corridors of religion, politics and cultures. And so it should be in these converging times.

As President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told the crowd of last year's World Movement for Democracy, "the future belongs to those who are willing to responsibly embrace pluralism, openness and freedom."

I don't know about others, but I do know I want to live in the future, and I want to carry with me a good legacy of the past.

Growing up in the late 1950s, my mother and her sisters got a chance to attend a Chinese language school … well, until it got closed down in the 1960s.

Childhood memories aside, she still maintains the ability to speak Mandarin thanks to the rigorous curriculum in those days.

Later on, to the surprise of many at that time, she chose as her life partner, a Batak man.

My father, born and bred in North Sumatra, is a proud Batak man to this day, who insists that all his children can memorize verses of the Bible in Bataknese and would proudly give them a Batak-Indonesian dictionary as a birthday present.

From their union came my three siblings and me, all our lives living in an odd bicultural society, one my parents proudly call the Indonesian society.

This concept got even more interesting when I married a Javanese man, and with whom I am now expecting our child, who will be a mix of Javanese-Bataknese-Chinese descendants.

A bit complicated, but I believe such pluralism portrays the real Indonesia, and I pray my child grows up to recognize her heritage and be respectful of others. The same hope I carries for my fellow Indonesians. Choose progress, not regress.

Progressing means learning from the mistakes of the past and acknowledging how it was maimed by interracial disharmony even beyond 1998. But progressing also carries the will to reform; and that starts with a good will, not hatred.

If anything, I thank Bambang for helping me narrow down my choices come 2014.

The writer is a former journalist, and is currently serving as assistant to the President's spokesman. The opinions expressed are personal.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

INDONESIA: A SUCCESS STORY IN ASIA AND THE PACIFIC? (PART 2 OF 2)

IMRON COTAN

If we take a look at the historical perspective, the ties between Indonesia and China date back to ancient times.

Some pundits even mentioned that the two countries had actually started their relations since the fifth century.

But one thing is sure; history vividly record the voyage by Admiral Zheng He to Indonesia, which left a strong cultural imprint in Indonesia. He constructed, among other things, the famous Sam Po Kong Temple in Semarang, Central Java. Nowadays, the temple continues to serve followers of different religions and faiths.

The historical closeness of our two nations is also seen by the existence of nine saints (wali songo) who preached
Islam throughout the Java Island, in which, eight are believed to be of Chinese ancestral background.

It is therefore not surprising to learn that Indonesia was among the first to recognize and establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China once it came into being.

Indonesia and China have ever since been cooperating to help establish regional and global order, in particular in combating colonialism — one of the noble causes emanating from the Asian-African Conference, organized in Bandung in 1955.

It is to be admitted though that for historical reasons the bilateral ties were once briefly disrupted. But immediately after the two countries decided to resume diplomatic relations in 1990 the relationship has only grown from strength to strength.

There is also an overarching consensus across all political spectrums in Indonesia on the importance of having good, cooperative and friendly ties with China. And, I can confidently say that it is in the vital national interest of Indonesia to see China prosperous, united, and stablly governed.

Indeed, with the two prosperous, stablly governed, and united giants cooperating well, the security, stability and prosperity of the region will be fully guaranteed.

Meanwhile, with the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) kicked off last year; a new niche of business opportunity opens wide. Amidst concerns voiced by several industrial sectors at home, our business communities need to make full use of the preferential policies contained therein in order to expand our export products to China and vice-versa.

ACFTA also offers the increased capital flows from China into our country. It also contributes to the sharp increase of our two-way trade volume from US$28.3 billion (2009) to $42.7 billion (2010) in less than a year. Much needs to be done, but it is indeed a good start.

In other words, China has recently provided Indonesia with huge opportunities.

Indeed, with the world's largest population, two-digit economic growth, and more than $3 trillion in national reserves, China has become one of the global powers whose cooperation is prerequisite in order to establish a world that is stable, peaceful and prosperous.

We will not be surprised if in less than a decade China becomes the largest economy in the world.

It is against this promising backdrop that Indonesia and China need to harness all of their potentials to the fullest in order to continue to provide stability and prosperity not only for their peoples, but also to all in the region, for without the cooperation of these two big countries, regional stability and prosperity will be absolutely elusive.

The mushrooming of bilateral ties between the two countries is therefore in the interests of all countries in the region.

Discussing regional security and dynamism could not be separated from the role of Indonesia. In this regard, Indonesia has always been open to new ideas as far as new regional architecture is concerned.

And, in line with the tagline of "one thousand friends, zero enemies" introduced by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, we are committed to actively promoting the existing order to a higher level while championing constructive political and people-to-people contacts and focusing on economic development.

Against this backdrop, the ASEAN Community, ASEAN+ processes, ARF, APEC and East Asia Summit constitute a multi-pronged avenue towards the formation of an East Asia community with ASEAN playing a central role. As the current chair of ASEAN, Indonesia will ensure that ASEAN continues to be the driving force in any new regional architecture.

In our view, there are at least three main priorities to be achieved during Indonesia's tenure as the chair of ASEAN.

First, to ensure that in 2011, there will be significant progress of the ASEAN Community which is based on three pillars: an ASEAN Security Community (ASC), an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and an ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC). Second, Indonesia will ensure that the regional architecture and regional environment remain conducive to development.

Third, Indonesia will also start the deliberations on post-2015 vision for ASEAN, namely ASEAN Community in a global community of nations.

For me this is a confirmation of the inevitable — that Indonesia will keep playing a crucial role in promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the region.

This is partly shown by Indonesia's tireless efforts to mediate the border conflicts between Thailand and Cambodia, as hoped by countries around the world and the United Nations.

The writer is a Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy graduate and currently serves as Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to the People's Republic of China and concurrently accredited to the Republic of Mongolia. The article is an excerpt of his speech presented before the Diplomatic Briefings Series organized by the Asia Society Hong Kong, on May 18, 2011.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

BRINGING PEACE AND RECONCILIATION TO ASEAN

LINA A. ALEXANDRA

As the deadline for achieving the ASEAN Community by 2015 approaches, it is unfortunate to see how the oldest regional organization in Southeast Asia is still struggling with "classical" problems, such as conflicts over territorial issues.

While some disputes have been settled, most of them were referred to the International Court of Justice rather than regional dispute settlement mechanisms.

On the other hand, many are still being "managed" so as not to lead to military clashes, while in fact those issues are burning coals swept under the carpet.

The ongoing series of armed conflicts between Cambodia's and Thailand's militaries are a crucial test for ASEAN's credibility and commitment to become a more integrated and rule-based community and to play a significant role in the global community post-2015.

At the same time it also challenges the success of Indonesia's chairmanship this year. While Indonesia's initiative to mediate the two parties has so far ended in deadlock, it has come up with a proposal to establish an ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR).

This commitment has been stated in the ASEAN Leaders' Joint Statement on the Establishment of an ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation released on May 8, 2011, that tasks ASEAN's foreign ministers to submit recommendations to the 19th ASEAN Summit in November 2011 for consideration.

Until now, ASEAN member states relied more on informal mechanisms, i.e., self-restraint, practices of musyawarah and mufakat (consultation and consensus), third-party mediation and "agreeing to disagree" for later settlement.

The member states also believe that the extensive number of meetings held by ASEAN will lead to closer interaction that will smooth the consultation process toward achieving consensus.

ASEAN member countries are still until now very much reluctant to utilize the formal mechanism, which is the High Council as mandated in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC).

The reason is still unchanging: The concern over potential violations of the non-interference principle upheld by all ASEAN member states.

Any intervention in the form of mediation or other third-party involvement from any ASEAN member state is unlikely to be welcomed since there is always fear that the mediator will not be neutral.

This idea of an AIPR was invoked in the APSC Blueprint in 2010, which called for the consideration of the establishment of the AIPR.

There was no time limit added to this statement; thus Indonesia's proposal to follow up on this proposal is actually fast.

In this early stage, descriptions of this institute can only be gained from the comments made by high-ranking officials from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said that the institute would comprise think-tanks or second-track institutions across the Southeast Asia region.

According to Marty, not all issues can be solved at the governmental level. Therefore, the institute will allow a process where any conflict can be responded to through non-state mechanisms. The institute will not involve a military element and limit participation to institutions from ASEAN member states.

Regarding its functions, there is still a question as to whether this institute will provide consultation for countries seeking peaceful solutions only for inter-state or also intra-state conflicts.

It is emphasized that the implementation of the recommendations would depend on individual countries since those recommendations would not be legally binding with the disputing parties, while they might be applied at the global level.

In terms of work, it is expected from the institute that the think-tanks would share their experiences based on best practices and lessons learned and based on that knowledge issue recommendations in accordance with their respective countries' experience and characteristics.

Through these practices, according to Marty, the role of the AIPR would not be perceived as challenging the non-interference principle embraced by ASEAN; in fact, the mention of this idea in the APSC blueprint has supported such an argument.

First of all, the idea to establish the AIPR, while still far from providing an immediate solution to managing conflicts among ASEAN members, should be welcomed and supported. The establishment of the AIPR should be seen as another entry point for engagement and participation from non-governmental elements in ASEAN mechanisms.

At the ideal level, the AIPR is best to develop both research and practical and "direct-result" activities (mediation, training, etc.) due to the high intensity of conflicts in the region.

However, looking at the evolutionary process which has become a common practice in ASEAN and also considering the strict adherence to non-interference principles, a first step to establish a more research-oriented institution is appreciated.

Yet, it should also be scrutinized further whether the result will be provided only to the relevant parties (those which are directly involve in conflict) or is open for public access.

Furthermore, it is important that the institute is given the authority to collect necessary and accurate information related to the conflict.

In this regard, the non-interference principle should be somehow modified.

While the members of the AIPR will be limited to non-governmental institutions from ASEAN member states only, networking as well as cooperation from outside the region should be welcomed, especially to learn from similiar,
but more advanced and experienced institutions.

Finally, the issue of funding might be a challenging one since ASEAN is still struggling with its limited budget.

While it is fully aware that this idea is not a panacea to provide a direct solution to the ongoing conflicts in Southeast Asia, nevertheless, the institution is very much expected to play a significant role in preventing disputes turning into armed conflicts and to build national and regional capacities to address conflicts in a constructive manner.

The writer is a researcher in the Department of Politics and International Relations, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

POLITICAL TRANSITION IN MYANMAR: THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX

BALADAS GHOSHAL

On March 30 this year, Myanmar dissolved its ruling military government and sworn in a new president.

Former prime minister U Thein Sein, who shed his Army uniform to contest elections last year, was inaugurated as President of the newly elected government. Than Shwe, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1992, was referred to only as "chairman of the SPDC" in the inauguration report, even though he is expected to remain a dominant force despite Thein Sein as president.

The inauguration of the new cabinet is the latest step in Myanmar's so-called transition to democracy, which critics have called a sham designed to cement military rule. The road map could be viewed as an initial step toward a gradual and incremental transition, but needs to be broadened by the inclusion of NLD and other political groups that the junta has barred.

The vote has occurred under a constitution that has inevitably guaranteed an unfair result. It reserves many government posts and 25 percent of parliamentary seats for military officers, and allows the president to hand over power to the military in emergencies. It also effectively bars Aung San Suu Kyi from seeking elected office because her two sons are foreign citizens.

Critics scarcely recognize the significance of the 2010 election being conducted at all, even though 30 million voters were registered (of which perhaps 50 percent turned out), 37 parties and numerous independent candidates competed, and at least 180 anti-government representatives were elected to the first parliamentary assemblies seen in Myanmar for 20 years.

Also for the first time, representatives of minority groups were elected to national and regional. While the military regime may derive some comfort from their victory, they have not won greater legitimacy but have rather alienated people even further. Widespread grievances notwithstanding, the ground realities in the country go against the grain of hope for any political change in Myanmar in the near future. There is a need for thinking outside the box to break the deadlock.

There are structural difficulties in the democratic transformation in Myanmar. Apart from an unending civil war for 60 years, there are two difficult factors, legacies of Myanmarese history. The first is the long history of failed state and institutional building, and the second is a lack of a long-term vision of the future state. Today the military machine is all there, with only the shadow of other institutions remaining.

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India and Indonesia must use their influence with the junta to nudge them to gradually liberalize the polity.

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The civil society has been completely debilitated. A vibrant civil society is a must for restoration of democratic political development. The problem lies in creating state institutions from the scratch that can replace the military state that exists, not just in governance and administration, but also in the economy of the country.

Thus, to restore democracy in Myanmar, it will require not only creation of political institutions but also overhauling the existing bureaucracy and establishing new ones with values, norms, rules and an orientation that ensures civilian supremacy over the military.

The significance of the elections has never been dependent on their free and fair conduct. The opportunities lay elsewhere, with the resumption of legal political activity and discussion, something that has been impossible for most of the last half-century; with the generational transition within the military; with the separation between military and government; and with the introduction of regional legislatures and a limited devolution of governance. Some of these developments are tentative, not all may prove positive, but they do represent change and opportunity in a situation that has been frozen for many years.

Suu Kyi's release is also a highly emotional moment for the country. It seems clear that the regime had taken the decision on her release from a position of strength and confidence, having completed the election process on their terms.

Political parties in Myanmar are taking a forward-looking approach, determined to make the best strategic use of the small opportunities that are available. They are challenging the election results, but are not defining their strategy for the future on that basis. A dramatically new political landscape is taking shape in Myanmar, although it may take a while for some of the protagonists to recognize this.

The institutions of government and the government itself are changing; the opposition is in flux, with a host of new players and perspectives, into which Suu Kyi has been thrust; and the ethnic issue has been further complicated, with some ethnic parties doing reasonably well in the polls, others being excluded from them, and heightened military tensions in some areas.

India and Indonesia, as two large democracies in the world and experienced in nation-building in a multi-cultural and multi-racial society, must use their influence with the junta to nudge them to gradually liberalize the polity. India's low profile help in cyclone relief in 2008 has surely endeared her in the eyes of the regime that might offer some leverage in its back-room diplomacy to seek change in Myanmar.

Indonesia, which itself has transformed from a military regime to a vibrant democracy, can show its own experience to the Myanmarese regime to be as inclusive as possible in its transition bid. Myanmar's chairmanship of ASEAN could be an attractive carrot for change that will require compromises, and will be slow at best. Bargaining for gradual and incremental change over a period of time, rather than gaining nothing could be a realistic option.

Integration of Myanmar's economy with its neighbors — India, China, Thailand and Indo-China countries of the Mekong region — is a necessary condition for economic interdependence and breaking Myanmar's isolation.

The success of Myanmar's transitions to democracy hinges to a large extent on viable economic development that can create a growing middle class, which can then seek greater reform and political change in the country.

This has happened in the case of Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea in the last decade. To realize such a goal, assistance should be extended for human resource development and the construction of the Asian Highway by extending the north-east and east-west corridors from Bangkok to India via Myanmar, measures that will in the long run facilitate socioeconomic and political change in Myanmar.

Lifting of sanctions by the West for a limited period could be tried to persuade the regime to give some matching concessions in the form of release of all political prisoners. There is need for concessions from Suu Kyi's side as well.

It has to be acknowledged that such an approach will not generate immediate political reform but worth trying given the fact that sanctions and international pressure has not brought about desired results of crippling the regime.

The writer is visiting senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research and distinguished fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi.

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

 

AND CIVIL SOCIETY (REAL) FLOORS CIVIL SOCIETY (IMAGINED)

NGOs are made of workshops, seminars, project proposals, reports, double-billing and overheads that make up more than two thirds of annual budgets.  They are also made of claims, chief among which is that of representational lie.  'We are civil society,' NGO personnel like to think and state.  They are an incestuous bunch, these NGOs.  They form consortiums and forums which are made of the same groups and led by the same people.  They appoint each other to each other's boards. They applaud one another and occasionally give each other awards for this and that. They quote one another. They scratch each other's backs.

NGOs frequently organize workshops, attended naturally by like-minded people, where comments are carefully recorded. These are carefully screened, and selected comments quoted and marketed as 'the common view'.  Many of the attendees are paid a 'participation' fee or gifted in kind.

NGOs have a huge problem.  For all the democracy-loving rhetoric, they are patently unable to deal with the fact that they lack transparency and accountability, and moreover that representational claims are scandalously hollow.  They say they represent 'civil society', but don't say 'well, no one elected us, and to be honest, our views are marginal or less and more seriously are based on assumptions that reality rebels against'.  Ask them to organize a demonstration or announce a public seminar and less than a hundred turn up.  Indeed, most of their operations are of the behind-closed-doors kind.  And yet, they bat on.  Courtesy of friends in big-name diplomatic missions and big-name countries whose political agendas vis-à-vis Sri Lanka coincide with theirs.   

I don't think it is worth talking ethics to crooks.  What is more useful is to try and ascertain what the real (and not dollar-padded) civil society thinks about the issues that NGO pundits wax eloquent on and make grand pronouncements about.  Elections tell us a lot about public sentiment, even imperfect ones.  The electorate has overwhelmingly applauded the measures taken by this regime to eradicate terrorism from Sri Lanka.  The electorate has overwhelmingly, and repeatedly, saluted the measures taken by the Government in terms of reconciliation and the regaining of normalcy.

On the other hand, it can be argued that specific questions were not put to the electorate, and that sentiments expressed via vote could very well imply general approval on a wide range of subjects or indicate the absence of a credible alternative, rather than endorsement of policies regarding issues such as the ethnic divide (sic).  We haven't had a referendum on these things and politicians, especially the victors, are wont to weigh convenience into interpretation.

We do have what are called 'opinion polls' but none of these are robust enough to stand the most basic requirements of credibility when it comes to reliability and representational worth for example.  The report submitted by three persons of questionable integrity to a man of questionable integrity who appointed them, and whose content sorely suffers on account of contradiction, hearsay, lack of source-reliability and so on, is an interesting case in point.  People have rejected on account of all these things and on the issue of legality and demonstrated malice in intent as well.   Others have applauded, without once responding to the above concerns, treating conjecture as fact.  Jehan Perera, one of the several 'I-am-Civil-Society' types, has quoted some unidentified persons who had expressed opinions in a for-invitees-only gathering and extrapolated the sentiments expressed as the general view of a particular segment of people.

A couple of weeks ago, however, a significant section of the real 'civil society' expressed their views on this report.  These were not 'invitees'.  Neither were they paid to participate.  They did not belong to a small circle who hobnob with the high and mighty in diplomatic circles or sip cocktails in elegantly crafted lawns in Colombo 7.  They came from all parts of the country, represented all communities and all religious faiths. Some were old, some were young. Half were men and half were women.  They came together as elected representatives with considerable social standing and sway in their communities.  They were asked what they made of the above report. They unanimously rejected it. I am, by the way, a member of one of these societies and have personal shares too (comparatively abysmal, I might add). I wasn't present at the AGM and had no idea that such a resolution would be tabled.

Let's check the numbers.  This was, ladies and gentlemen, the Annual General Meeting of the SANASA Development Bank.  Now this bank grew out of the largest and most widespread thrift and credit movement in the country, one with a history that goes back to 1906 and which anticipated and practised 'microfinance' decades before it became a development buzz word.

From a movement which counts over 8000 primary societies or groups devoted to the subject of thrift and credit, with social, cultural and moral upliftment embedded into agenda, SANASA counts more than 5000 entities that are active and hundreds with assets and business that easily are the  best branches of well-established commercial banks.   A total exceeding 3800 own shares in the SANASA Development Bank. Each of these societies has 100-2000 members, with the average exceeding 400.  Even at an average membership of 200, this acounts for 740,000 people being represented at the AGM.  Throw in an average of 3 adults per family and you get over 2 million people being represented, for, typically, SANASA membership and operations are associated with households and communities.

That's as accurate as one can get in ascertaining the sentiments of civil society this side of a national referendum, I contend.  These people, let me repeat, are elected representatives of grassroots organizations.  I am willing to wager that if all such elected organizations were brought together and their views on such issues obtained through secret ballot, the result would not be any different.

There are lessons here.  This should indicate for anyone interested in using the report as an instrument to affect regime-change the kinds of cost this country would have to incur. It should tell people  that this report cannot be used to further the cause of 'reconciliation' because it is considered a piece of garbage by vast sections of the population.  Thirdly, it is time that the real civil society stood up and got counted in ways broader than a vote on a resolution at a corporate entity's AGM.

It tells something to the regime too.  The recommendations of the report's backers, namely and principally 'devolution based on the 13th Amendment', should be summarily dismissed as politically untenable.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S PERCEIVED RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT SRI LANKA

The statement released by Sri Lanka's Ministry of External Affairs on the recent meeting of Sri Lanka and India in New Delhi unfortunately re-establishes the fact that India persists with its one dimensional and unethical policy platform on Sri Lanka in spite of the shattered, short sighted, destructively emotional legacy of many Indian prescriptive initiatives.

India being a major player in Asia and the giant neighbour of sovereign Sri Lanka, geo politically is expected to play an active role and also use its strong influence on SL-India relationship based on mutually accepted principles. However, India should stand and weigh the pros and cons of her perceived priorities even at this stage as many of India's prescriptions have been lethal to Sri Lankans. If the Indian Foreign Policy formulators are humble enough to re-visit their unenviable prescriptions including the ones thrust upon Sri Lanka without giving any considerations to democratic institutions including the Parliament of Sri Lanka, India should be able to have a more balanced approach and also to have a good, strong and stable friend at her Southern tip.

Similar to the proverbial white man's burden in guiding the destiny of the coloured in the world, India illogically has taken upon herself the role of care taker of Sri Lankan Tamils who are an integral part of Sri Lankan populace. The services provided to Sri Lankan Tamils by the Sri Lankan Government is no different to that provided to other ethnic groups such as the Sinhalese, the Muslims etc. Apart from the racist demands of the LTTE terrorists and some Tamil politicians in claiming an exclusive Eelam to fulfill their separatist dreams, the majority of Tamils have accepted that fact that their future depends on the peace and prosperity of the Sri Lankan nation. Hence, India should review its stand on post-War Sri Lanka emerging from the ruins of post-Vaddukodai Tamil politics.

When India urges Lanka to adopt 'genuine (sic) reconciliation 'investigate allegations of "human rights" violations, including early return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP's) to their respective homes, early withdrawal of emergency regulations, restoration of normalcy in affected areas and redress of humanitarian concerns of affected families one is compelled to go back to 70s and 80s when the Indian mediation was the most potent force in Sri Lankan politics. The Indian Minister Chidambaram articulated the Indian position by backing the TULF going against the political realities, history and demography insisting that Sri Lanka MUST take political as well as legal and administrative steps to meet the Tamil grievances.

 We are now in 2011 and history has proved beyond any doubt that India's direct interference resulted in the near destruction of Sri Lanka and that the Indian solution took us into deeper trouble.

Recognizing the fact that India should act as a genuine friend without any malice, the current Sri Lankan situation provides an excellent opportunity to exchange constructive ideas and plans for strengthening of relationship and bringing stability to the region in keeping with SAARC principles.

The burden of providing space to all Sri Lankans including the Sri Lankan Tamils should be the sacred task of Sri Lankans who have faced immense vicissitudes arising from short sighted polices both internal as well as foreign.

Meantime, we consider it very important that Sri Lanka utilises the services of experienced learned specialists rather than depending on raw politicians to formulate her regional diplomatic relationships.

Ranjith Soysa
Spokesperson
Society for Peace, Unity and Human Rights for Sri Lanka( SPUR)

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

URGENT NEED FOR CITY AND SUBURBAN ROAD MAINTENANCE

A recent news item stated that India would soon insist that a proper political solution should be found for the East and the North. In fact the article said that a time limit of six months had been given , in the same news paper it was also recorded that the Diaspora would try to influence Russia and China to also be influenced to take a stand in support of the recent much talked of Darusman report . Given that often news reporting tends to be sensational yet maybe there is some truth in what the reports state considering that our diplomats are apparently not that versed in the niceties of diplomacy. Many are political appointees and have little or no training in the nuances of diplomacy perhaps the authorities should consider leadership training in diplomacy for all those who are not career diplomats. But whatever the actual situation be regarding international issues there are so many issues in the country that would need greater attention especially since we have so many ministers handling so few a number of subjects, in fact very often their functions overlap so much so that one does not know which Minister is really responsible.

While a great deal of expenditure is spent on infra-structural development in preparation for the much hoped for tourist boom, yet it also appears that funds have been obtained for the infrastructural development of Colombo and its immediate suburbs.

The Kottawa-Maharagama road is yet in disrepair while the magnificent highway is being built, and when that will be completed is anybody's guess! Then the road leading to the Sri Jayewardene hospital is no better, in fact a patient taken by ambulance with sirens blaring along that road risks injuring another limb on that journey for the road is not smooth but full of ruts and damaged in many places. (After all I have the personal experience in traveling on that road in an ambulance and excruciating pain I suffered by that journey is yet fresh in my mind). In Colombo itself the roads leading to the private hospitals car park are in such bad condition that it is no wonder many opt to park their vehicles outside and risk getting charged by the ever vigilant traffic police. If those by ways are used to get to a hospital to get a bone x-ray, chances are that another bone will be broken!

Then haphazardly roads are damaged to give water lines to new houses that are being built in many area and neither the Road authority or the connected local authority is concerned about filling up the road that has been dug up, each says its not their responsibility or that there is no machinery available to attend to the work and so vehicles crawl along to avoid falling into the ridges. This situation occurred recently on Kirimandala road and it took the authorities quite some time to fill up the drain that had been cut across the road. Again if one travels to the Jatika Pola or the byways behind it leading to Maitland Crescent one will find innumerable bumpers stretching across the roads ostensibly to prevent fast driving , and these unlit bumpers can cause immeasurable damage to vehicles that traverse these roads especially at night.

Perhaps it might be of greater help to the commuters who have to traverse these roads if those responsible for their  maintenance does a walk around without travelling in high speed Prados and official vehicles and attends to these repairs so that at least a person can travel for work or to a hospital without jeopardy to his health and peace of mind.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

MOULDING SRI LANKA'S GRADUATES INTO LEADERS

BY SHENALI  WADUGE

As customary there is much hue and cry over the grand initiative to provide a phased out 3-week leadership training for 22,000 undergraduates with food, lodging (separate for males and females) and attire that will include 171 periods of learning. So when a Government in a country that has been enslaved by numerous aid packages given often with agreement to structurally adjust state services continues to provide free education upto tertiary level and is presently allocating Rs.200million for an exercise that would really change the mindset of university entrants for the better through a series of well-planned and designed programmes why would anyone choose to complain and on what grounds? In reality all Sri Lankans should show gratitude to the State and a programme of National Service as done in many parts of the world would be perfect and timely.

The Government spends 2.8% of GDP on education which covers free school uniforms, free breakfast for students in underprivileged schools, free textbooks from grade 1 to grade 11. Yet youth unemployment is high and poses a major problem. Less than 6% gain admission to one of 15 universities in Sri Lanka. Graduates are unemployed because there is little demand for the degrees they have completed. They need to then have a set of skills that would help them absorb themselves in to industries and sectors that they could find employment in and with time be able to qualify further as well. Even though the degrees may not match market requirements, undergraduates need to at least learn the soft skills needed to eventually fit into the corporate world.

Politically motivated student unions would like students to be failures, for it would mean strength to their numbers and their demands. Frustrated unemployed graduates would help to inflate their political will amongst the masses and against a government that is the major reason why the present students unions are opposing the leadership training. The seniors of these student unions most of whom have been consistently failing their exams yet hold these portfolios on the strength of their ability to push their weight amongst the freshers and with the backing they receive from political parties. Moreover, given the mental torture most university entrants are subject to no sooner they enter university straight from the innocence of their homes, the 3 weeks of training would be a welcome departure! This initiative is obviously a subtle way of overcoming the ragging problem and the commitment of university authorities to end ragging.

Purely because the residential training is located throughout 28 military facilities (18 army, 2 naval, 2 air force, 4 cadet and police camps) around Sri Lanka is a very lame and unfair argument to use by those who are presently opposing the initiative. We should instead think positively since we are in agreement that present day graduates do not make the mark of suitability for corporate employment and the corporate sector is what steers the engine of economic growth.

Can any of these university entrants be able to obtain training in leadership skills, conceptual skills, strategic management skills, conflict resolution skills, human skills, psychology, social etiquettes, time management, sports, laws pertaining to the country and personal hygiene, without paying for it if they wanted to learn these to further enhance their ability to gain employment? How much would a private institute charge for these subject matter?

What's more, the Ministry of Higher Education has plans to offer laptops on a pay later basis, WiFi facility in university premises and dongles to students while special programmes in English and IT is also expected to be conducted for the freshers. Therefore, why would anyone want to deny these youth the chance to learn something that would be of benefit to moulding their personalities on the one hand and eventually using these to uplift the status of service once in employment?

The general objection is that the training is in military camps and thus the assumption that the training given is military training. This is certainly an unfair and unjust assumption and the course syllabus itself will reveal how customized the course is to suit university entrants with nothing close to the training a military recruit will receive.

With the military often maintaining a distance from civil life it is naturally for anyone to feel a sense of fear nevertheless we have seen for ourselves the manner in which the military today stands transformed from how it had been perceived and how it had functioned previously. Anyone stopped by the military at a security post will immediately see the difference in the courtesies shown by military personnel as against police personnel! Holding the training in these military centres makes logistical sense as these centres are all well equipped, they have the necessary facilities and expertise. The programme is very similar to that which is commercially conducted through outbound training though there is very limited physical effort in the present programme and certainly not what military personnel have to undergo. A similar exercise had been conducted for the Sri Jayawardenapura university with the collaboration of the army with much success.

Everyone needs to accept that this is a remarkable move, it is timely and farsighted and should be considered to extend beyond the proposed 3 weeks.

It is not difficult to comprehend that apart from the soft skills training through the personality and leadership development programme many other changes need to take place in the university system. Curriculums need to match the contemporary world, resources to enable new technology, practical experiences combined to theoretical study, departing from the trend to memorize and write answers as encouraged by most lecturers who insist their tutorials are repeated word for word, lecturers need to continuously upgrade their own knowledge, assessment system must give more weight to application, medium of instruction where possible needs to be in English, library services and IT access need to be made available to all and text books should include home-examples are just a few that is vocalized by most university students.

It is perhaps now opportune to create a system whereby Sri Lankans can show gratitude to the State for providing free education. Compulsory or Voluntary National Service (different name tags will be used in different countries) are very much in vogue and provide those serving the nation a means to show their gratitude as well as feel they too have done their share for the nation. In a time where much is being spoken about reconciliation and reform, it would be prudent for policy makers to think about drafting a scheme that would entail all graduates and non-graduates to serve the Nation either voluntarily or through a compulsory scheme (for a year with a stipend) and divide the national service in to categories that would cover the following areas: health, education, environment, entrepreneurship, national security, administration, transportation…so that key areas are covered and the youth will be able to provide excellent leadership in these areas.

Such an initiative would create a National Service Obligation because it is wrong to believe that living in a free society entails little or no obligations. Whatever rights we have should not predate our social contract, our rights are only a privilege of living society and not an entitlement, which means we need to contribute to society and creating a national service system would be another way to change the mindset of the people and start building up our nation towards prosperity.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

 

UNTIL THE NEXT VICTORY DAY...

Another Victory Day is over. Work in the capital city ground to a halt for one day. People tolerated the endless traffic jams with the familiar pinch of bitterness. School children got a bonus holiday!

Apart from that, the rain sodden Galle Face Green saw another state function, graced by many dignitaries. The President's address to the nation carried its usual tone of triumph, and the assurance that life in the isle would get better day by day.While life is getting harder and the simple comforts are turning out to be too-much-to- ask for, people are at a loss as to what is really there to celebrate apart from the memory of eating kiri buth with a hope that in the years to come, it would become a frequent plate on the table. Leave alone, Kiri buth, the days that succeeded only made things hard for them, that finding something solid to prod down their mouths became a daily struggle. Two years have passed since the victorious conclusion of the war against terrorism, but the government that walked away with all the credit, have not got into the battle of healing the minds of those who were tormented by war nor have they realized the vitality of having a fearless diplomatic mission to defeat worldwide forces of the LTTE.

Every time people brought forward their grievances, it was the curtain of war victory they were dropping in front of them. Enjoying the two-year-old peace, people are wise enough take a peep behind the curtain to see through the vanities and insensitivities of the so-called people's representatives.

A real victory celebration would be when the IDP status is removed from all the citizens of the north and east and their lives and livelihoods are restored. A victory cannot be complete until the assurance is given to them that the peace that was won is sustainable and this land is safe enough for them to live in. However, enigmatic abductions reported from the North will leave very little room for such assurances.They do not ask for flyovers or skyscrapers, they only ask for clean water and hygienic living to put back the pieces of their once shattered lives, together again. 

After all, how much can pomp and pageantry symbolize a war victory that came at the expense of so many lives that were laid down in the name of the nation. No doubt, it was a commendable move to get the representation of the disabled soldiers in the victory parade, but their welfare is more important than making them showpieces.

A victory day or a poppy day only can remind us of the widows of the soldiers who died in the war, the children who lost their fathers and the parents who lost their children.

There are daughters who are waiting for their fathers to come home; some of them have never seen their fathers. The welfare of the families of war heroes, both living and expired, should be on the top priority lists of those who spend public money lavishly to celebrate something whose value they know very little of.

The second year of the war victory is already celebrated and digested. The armories have gone back to sleep. But the struggle to live continues and the prices of goods and services keep heading skyward. The fear of getting yourself blown in an explosion has become a remote worry. One way of dying was removed from the list; it is time to define a way of living!

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

AN ARREST IN SERBIA

Another long manhunt has ended with the arrest of Ratko Mladic, the "butcher of Bosnia." Unlike Osama bin Laden, the former chief of the Bosnian Serb army was not behind incidents of global scale. But he is held responsible for an incident known as the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II — the slaughter of 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebernica in 1995. For this, he has been indicted by The Hague tribunal, an international court set up in 1993 to prosecute crimes committed during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. A key member of the Serbian leadership during those years, Mladic had evaded arrest since 1995, apparently with ease, especially after slipping into Serbia during the reign of his friend, President Slobodan Milosevic. The 2000 ouster of Milosevic and his subsequent extradition to The Hague laid the ground for Serbia's agreement with the tribunal to hand over war crimes suspects. But the real game-changer in its co-operation with the tribunal was the country's growing desire to join the European Union. Of the constituents of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia was admitted in 2004, while Croatia, Macedonia, and Montenegro are on the road to membership. A year after the 2008 arrest of the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Serbia applied for EU membership in 2009. But its failure to hand over Mladic was a stumbling block. Even though the unresolved Kosovo question could still trip up its European dream, and one last Serbian fugitive still remains at large, the Mladic arrest will incline the EU to take a positive view of Serbia's candidacy when it meets to discuss the membership later this year. The elements of Serbia's struggle to transform itself from an outlier in order to be accepted as part of the modern European community have striking parallels with another country — an entrenched military; a powerful intelligence agency; a network of officials with delusions of ethnic supremacy; an economic crisis; ultra-nationalist public attitudes dominated by the sentiment that the country is being made a whipping boy by the West; and, to top it all, a weak political class. A Prime Minister was assassinated in 2003 for promising to hand over war crimes suspects. The difference between Serbia and Pakistan — aside from the smallness of one and the global implications of the crisis in the other, not to mention its nuclear arsenal — is that since 2008, one of them has had a leader unafraid to challenge the military and the nationalist forces, and is credited with thus bringing a change in public opinion. Were it that it was Pakistan.

The Hindu

 

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

MORE HONOURABLE TO FAIL THAN TO CHEAT

Philosophers have told us that an educational system isn't worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but does not teach them how to make a life. The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think – rather to improve our minds so as to enable us to think for ourselves and transform ourselves rather than to load the memory with negative thoughts about other people.                           One of history's greatest scientists Albert Einstein has told us that education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. 

Next to healthcare, education is widely seen as the most important factor in life. Enlightened or liberative education according to its highest principles and values produces young men and women, who would contribute their wisdom and knowledge, their creative and imaginative skills to make a better world for the common good of all. Otherwise education could turn out to be a vice if it is only oriented towards passing examinations or gaining degrees by fair means or foul or for personal gain or glory with self-centred or selfish objectives. 

 It is unfortunate that higher education or the seats of higher learning have been dragged into a confrontational course or crisis. Amid allegations by opposition parties that the government or Minister S.B. Dissanayake is trying in a subtle way to turn higher education into hire education – meaning privatisation – university lecturers are continuing their strike on salary issues while military style training is being given at army camps to about 10,000 new entrants before they go to campus. In both these crises there appears to be an attitude of arrogance that is aggravating the situation and arrogance is certainly not a part of the enlightened education that philosophers speak about. 

At talks last week with the Federation of University Teachers Associations, the dons were reportedly outnumbered and overwhelmed by officials. Reports say about 10 dons who came for talks at Temple Trees were confronted by more than 50 government leaders and top officials while the President left after some time telling the others to thrash out the issues if they can. As for the training courses at military camps, the decision was taken suddenly and arbitrarily without consulting the students or parents raising fears and questions as to what was going on and what the aim or agenda might be.  Mr. Dissanayake with some degree of arrogance said over the weekend that those who objected to the military style training programme were those who feared anything new or good. Primary and secondary education in Sri Lanka is also facing conflict after conflict mainly after the self-interest factors of the globalised, capitalist market economic system crept into schools and text books.

In such a scenario some important lessons could be learnt from the letter written by former United States President Abraham Lincoln widely respected as the father of democracy, to the headmaster of his son's school.

President Lincoln said: "Teach my son to learn to lose and also to enjoy winning. He will have to learn, that all people are not just and not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a selfless hero; that for every selfish politician, there is a dedicated and other centred leader. Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend. It will take time, I know; but teach him if you can, that a dollar earned is of far more value than five found. Steer him away from envy. In school, teach him it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat."

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

THE DEVIL'S LOGIC...  

BY ANWAR ABDULRAHMAN

Yesterday morning I attended the Prime Minister's majlis, where he spoke to a large cross-section of society members about the aftermath of recent events - particularly its misreporting by western journalists.

"Morality, not politics regulates the acts of Man as an ordinary private individual," he observed. "This can be described as commitment. Whether a banker, teacher, businessman or technocrat, he or she can play a role far more vital than that of officialdom.

"Right now we are being attacked daily by western media, especially the printed word, and in particular The Independent newspaper of London. Its harmful propaganda includes comments and stories that are totally baseless.

"Officials are doing their best to try to counter and correct this wrong depiction, but ultimately only the man or woman in the street can change negative perceptions.

"The 'public relations' of a nation will always remain in the hands of the nation itself, because ordinary people are the right ones to communicate with those who peddle misinformation. Their participation in changing the picture is enormous."

His Highness emphasised the paradoxical situation where western media representatives respect their own government's decisions when implementing laws, no matter how harsh, "but when we try to do the same, we are accused of violating human rights!"

"The laws of any land are drafted by supreme judicial bodies, and no government can break them. Unfortunately, the western media seems blindfolded when writing news or comment about Bahrain".

In fact as an example, we in the national Press were shocked that not a single word was published by British newspaper journalists or broadcast by the BBC about last week's Wikileaks revelations, which proved beyond doubt that Bahrain's so-called opposition party Al Wefaq, had been colluding clandestinely with a foreign embassy. By any political traditions or standards prevailing in the western hemisphere, passing classified information to foreign embassies is an act of treason. We wonder why no word was uttered about these disturbing facts.

A man like Robert Fisk for instance, wouldn't hesitate to accept even a rumour and convert it into an article accompanied by harsh analysis staining Bahrain's name, yet when confronted with damning Wikileaks documents describing the number of Bahraini Al Wefaq MPs in daily contact with the US Embassy, political pundits like him stay silent! Papers like The Independent and Washington Post totally ignored them as if nothing had happened.

This forces us to question what has happened to the honesty and integrity of such publications. Are we to believe that sanctimonious behaviour like this is only wrong in the West, but right in the East? For example, if such relations were with the Embassy of China, what would have been their reaction?

I hope Mr Fisk has an answer! Do he and his colleagues at The Independent not read our 'Letters to the Editor' pages? Hundreds have written in - mostly English speaking residents representing different nationalities from Britons to Americans, Arabs, Asians and others - condemning their misinformed assumptions.

The Prime Minister said: "I wish we were able to ignore completely such blasphemy, but our sense of duty compels us to fight back".

He concluded that blinkered 'scribes' are "trying to colour and distort our realities by claiming ethnical disputes. But no society in this part of the world has given so much education and opportunity to its people, irrespective of sect or creed, like Bahrain. The number of physicians, nurses, pilots, teachers, bankers, civil servants and technocrats that form our community emanate from a melting pot of different ethnic groups. Why does the western media disregard this and other facts?"

At such times we as Press men try to find answers. Let me borrow from the Devil's Dictionary, which defines logic as "the art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding".

That's what most media people in the west seem to be suffering from!

 

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHY NO MENTION OF A CEASEFIRE FOR LIBYA, OBAMA?

BY JONATHAN STEELE

 

Beware ministers' claims that a military campaign is making slow but steady progress. It nearly always means the opposite. If "progress" was really being made in Libya, why would it be necessary for Britain and France to send attack helicopters? Why would General Sir David Richards, the chief of the defense staff, call for NATO to bomb infrastructure in Tripoli?

 

Above all, why has Barack Obama used his European tour this week to abandon his public caution and make it clear that regime change is now the western objective in Libya? The more NATO escalates in word and deed, the clearer it is that the campaign has stalled. What is going on in Libya is civil war but one that is stalemated, and has been so for at least a month. Gaddafi's forces will not be able to recapture Benghazi and the other major cities of eastern Libya just as the rebels will not be able to capture Tripoli. In light of this, NATO is doing all it can to assassinate Gaddafi in the fragile hope his death will lead to his regime's implosion and rebel victory by a different route.

It is true Gaddafi and his family have done their best to suppress the building of independent political and administrative institutions during their decades in power. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, where the army was able to break from supporting the dictator and real political parties existed, the Gaddafis have kept the state in their pocket. But even in this vacuum it does not follow that Gaddafi's death would suddenly bring peace and end the many conflicts in Libyan society.

The word absent from Obama's remarks last week, as well as from Sarkozy and Cameron, is "ceasefire". An "immediate ceasefire" was one of the main demands of the UN Security Council resolution, which also authorized a no-fly zone at the start of the crisis, but it has been consistently ignored by NATO. On Thursday, almost unreported anywhere, an African Union summit called for a halt to NATO's airstrikes as well as a ceasefire and negotiations on transforming Libya into a democracy. The same evening the Libyan prime minister, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, said for the first time that his government was ready to talk to rebel leaders to prepare a new constitution. Meanwhile, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, the UN secretary general's special envoy on Libya, has been quietly shuttling between Tripoli and Benghazi, trying to broker a ceasefire and talks.

The obstacles are mainly on the rebels' side. Flushed with military support from NATO, they insist that Gaddafi must leave power before any ceasefire. Sending Apache helicopters and escalating NATO's offensive role only hardens the rebels' intransigence and further delays a political resolution.

A ceasefire will have to be accompanied by an independent monitoring mission on the ground, preferably from the UN or the African Union, though NATO will no doubt keep up surveillance from the air. There has to be full access for humanitarian aid to civilians, as al-Khatib has been insisting. Close to a million people have fled the country. Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes and are in dire need.

NATO officials promptly kicked the Libyan government's offer of a ceasefire into the long grass, insisting it is "not credible". How can they know that? They claim previous ceasefire offers were shams since Gaddafi's forces never acted on them. But if they are to stick, ceasefires have to be mutual and the rebel side has never offered one. First, they wanted to be saved from defeat, and the initial NATO strikes achieved this for them. Then they thought NATO would help them win so they saw no value in stopping fighting.

The time has come to test the latest ceasefire offer by accepting it in principle and working out a monitoring mechanism. The best way to protect Libya's desperate civilians is for NATO to reverse its mistaken policy of taking sides. It should declare support for the talks on transition that the Libyan government now says it favors.

Jonathan Steele is a Guardian columnist, roving foreign correspondent and author.

(Source: The Guardian)

 

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

DEMOCROPHOBIA IN ARABIA  

 BY HAMID GOLPIRA

 

Why did Saudi Arabia invade Bahrain?

Does the House of Saud have some great affection for the Al Khalifa royal family of Bahrain?

Of course they don't.

They are just afraid that their own citizens might get some ideas.

The fact that the absolute monarchy system in Bahrain is in danger and may be abolished very soon and replaced by a constitutional monarchy or a republic has scared the daylights out of the House of Saud.

They are terrified that these ideas are contagious.

And thus the invasion of Bahrain is an attempt to nip things in the bud.

Saudi Arabia invaded Bahrain out of fear of democracy.

And this democrophobia is a serious problem in Saudi Arabia and the entire Arab world.

It even goes beyond this, since it could also be said that the Arab rulers are also suffering from demophobia, which means fear of the people.

Indeed, democrophobia and demophobia are pandemic in the governments of the Arab world.

And as a matter of fact, most of the Westerners who claim to be promoting democracy in the Arab world are themselves suffering from democrophobia and demophobia.

After all, there is no real democracy in the Western world. The Western countries are run by the global ruling class, and they organize sham elections from time to time to create the illusion of democracy. They even pick the candidates and the winners ahead of time.

And it is this fake democracy that the West wants to import to the Islamic world, not real democracy.

The so-called Western liberal democracies are neither liberal nor are they democracies.

And then they have the nerve to say that Islamic civilization and democracy are incompatible.

Yet, from the advent of Islam, Muslims have believed in the concept of establishing governments through shura, which means consultation or council.

It is true that the Islamic world has rarely had Islamic shura democracy governments, but the concept exists in Islamic ideology and it is a lie to say that Islam and democracy are incompatible.

Islamic shura democracy will eventually come to the Arab world and the entire Islamic world. It is only a matter of time.

The rulers of the countries of the Arab world must understand that the Arab spring has arrived and will soon be in full bloom and there is no turning back the clock. You can't hold back the tide of history, no matter how hard you try.

 

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ARAB NATIONS: NEW GOVERNMENTS, SAME STORY

BY SOUMAYA GHANNOUSHI

 

The first wave of Arab revolutions is entering its second phase. Along with dismantling the structures of political despotism, they have embarked on the arduous journey toward genuine change and democratization.

On the opposite side, the U.S. is seeking to recover from the initial state of disarray and confusion generated by its loss of key allies, and to define a roadmap for the new age of Arab revolutions. It had been thrust aside by a roaring Arab street that struck a deadly blow to its doctrine of stability. After watching the pitch helplessly, it is now determined to force its way back in to dictate its course and outcome. Finally, Washington has come to swallow the bitter fact that the world has changed, and that its old friends and partners are no more. What had been a challenge to its power and authority is now "an historic opportunity", as Obama put it in his speech last week.

Yet this is not an opportunity for the people who have risen up, but for the force that has aided and abetted their jailers, and ensured they were kept in shackles for decades in the name of political realism. It is its "opportunity", the chance for its decision makers and bureaucrats sitting in their Washington boardrooms to fashion the region's present and future, just as they did its past. In Obama's words, "to pursue the world as it should be" -- not according to the yearnings and aspirations of its people -- but to America's cold calculations.

U.S. interests

And how is this new world to be built? The guiding model is to be found in Eastern Europe and the color revolutions. In short, by using American soft power and public diplomacy to reshape the socio-political scene in the region, the aim is to transform the people's revolutions into America's revolutions.

The center of gravity has shifted from the streets -- with its uncontrollable, unpredictable, and dangerous rhythm -- to the hands of the powerful elites. So, back we are to the old game of engineered elites: docile, domesticated, at the service of U.S. strategies (consciously and sub-consciously).

But, this is being stretched to new fronts: the strategy is to not only confined to the classical friends left over from the old era, but to also contain new forces produced by the revolution, which had long been marginalized and rejected by the U.S.

"We must... broaden our engagement... so that we reach the people who will shape the future -- particularly young people... (and) provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned," said President Obama. To this end the U.S. has doubled its fund aimed at "protecting civil society groups", raising its budget from $1.5m, to 3.4m.

The targets are not only the usual neoliberal elements, but include the activists who spearheaded the protest movements, and mainstream Islamists. For example, the last few months have seen an escalation of American public diplomacy efforts in Egypt and Tunisia by the U.S. government and institutions close to it. This has included programs aimed at Arab youth leaders such as the Leaders for Arab Democracy program sponsored by the Middle East Partnership Initiative, as well as many conferences and seminars such as the one hosted by the Project on Middle East Democracy at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington last month.

A number of Arab activists were invited to the Project, including prominent Egyptian democracy and human rights activist Esraa Abdel Fattah. Meetings have also been held between high ranking U.S. officials and the Muslim Brotherhood last month in Cairo, while Ennahda's deputy chairman has recently returned from a visit to Washington to "discuss democratic transition in Tunisia".

Washington hopes that these rising forces may be stripped of their ideological opposition to American hegemony and turned into pragmatists fully integrated into the existing U.S.-led international order. Dogma is not a problem, as long as they agree to operate within parameters delineated for them, if they play the game without questioning its rules.

Economic containment

But containment and integration are not only political but economic, too. They are to be pursued through free markets and trade partnerships in the name of economic reform. Plans "to stabilize and modernize" the Tunisian and Egyptian economies were announced at this week's G8 summit. These include a $40 billion dollar aid package that would drown these economies deeper in debt, a two million dollar facility to support private investment "modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall", the "Deauville Partnership" to expand political and economic ties with North Africa and the Middle East, and an extension of the mandate of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to cover the nations of the southern Mediterranean. As usual, investment and aid are conditional on adoption of the American neoliberal economic model in the name of reform and modernization, and on further binding economies to U.S. and European markets under the banner of "trade integration".

One wonders what would be left of the Arab revolutions amidst infiltrated civil societies, domesticated political parties, and dependent economies. That is precisely the post-revolution Middle East being concocted by the White House today, carved up with the chisel of the economy, money, and public diplomacy -- not to mention its firepower and military bases scattered across the region and at its borders.

The Obama administration may succeed in infiltrating Arab organizations, but its bid to reproduce the Eastern European scenario in the region is little more than wishful thinking. While Prague and Warsaw looked to the U.S. for inspiration in its liberation struggle, Cairo, Tunis, and Sana'a see the U.S. as the problem and chief impediment to their emancipation and progress. To Arabs, the U.S. is a force of occupation draped in a thin cloak of democracy and human rights.

No one could have offered stronger evidence of such a view than Obama himself. He began his Middle East speech with eulogies to freedom and the equality of all men, and ended it with talk of the "Jewishness of Israel". Effectively, Israel has been denying the citizenship rights of 20 percent of its Arab inhabitants and right of return of six million Palestinian refugees.

In vain, the U.S. tries to reconcile the irreconcilable and preach democracy, while occupying and aiding in occupation. But in a region that forms one interconnected geographic, cultural, and political sphere, you cannot liberate Egyptians, or Tunisians, without liberating Palestinians.

Soumaya Ghannoushi is a freelance writer specializing in the history of European Perceptions of Islam. Her work has appeared in a number of leading British papers including the Guardian and the Independent.

(Source: Al Jazeera)

Photo: A banner bearing pictures of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and members of his former regime hangs above thousands of Egyptian protesters during a demonstration in Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on May 27, 2011 against the ruling military council's handling of the post-revolt phase. (Getty Images)

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ZIONIST REGIME ON VERGE OF COLLAPSE

BY MAJID SAFATAJ

 

Over the past three decades, Egypt always supported the idea of compromise with the Zionist regime and it was always against the liberation of Palestine.

Even during Israel's 22-day war on Gaza, the regime of Hosni Mubarak closed the Rafah border crossing, which is the Gaza Strip's only connection to the outside world, and prevented defenseless Palestinians from escaping to Egypt. In fact, Mubarak was a leading anti-Palestinian force in the region. Despite the fact that he was supposed to be a mediator, Mubarak did a great favor for Israel and the United States by blocking the national reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas.

Hosni Mubarak was finally removed by the popular uprising in the country, and in the new political reality, the people's opposition to Israel's domination of occupied Palestine and aggression toward other Arab countries is finally receiving a voice.

The anti-Israeli movement has a very long history in Egypt. From the very beginning of the establishment of Israel, parties like the Muslim Brotherhood were opposed to Israel and its influence on Egyptian governments, and the current leadership of the party has not changed its position. Figures such as Kamal el-Halbawi, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, have always emphasized that resistance to Israel is the only way forward to realize the liberation of Palestine. This stance is in line with the position adopted by Iran after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which many analysts say is the main model for Egypt's popular uprising.

In an interview with BBC Persian TV, el-Halbawi explicitly described the linkage with the Iranian revolution as an undeniable fact.

The Egyptian revolution is far from complete, but at the very beginning of the revolution there were calls for the closure of the Israeli embassy and anti-Israeli slogans were chanted. The people of Egypt want their government to officially cut off diplomatic ties with Israel and to begin supporting the Palestinians and their resistance movements.

The opening of the Rafah border crossing on May 28 was another manifestation of the Egyptian revolutionaries' popular demand for the liberation of Palestine.

Many Israeli analysts, and especially those working for the strategic institutes of the Zionist regime, are frightened by the accelerating rate of change produced by the revolution. They believe that the popular uprising in Egypt is on exactly the same path as Iran's Islamic Revolution of 1979, and sooner or later Egypt will stand beside countries like Turkey and Syria in the resistance front under the leadership of Iran.

And if developments continue to move in this direction, Israel will eventually be surrounded. Moreover, if the wave of revolutions reaches Jordan, it will overthrow the country's monarchist system and Israel will have no more allies in the region.

The popular uprising in Egypt cannot be described as a revolution, because it has not created fundamental changes in the country. But given the fact that the Egyptian people are asserting themselves and expressing their support for the Palestinian resistance movement, it can be said that the Zionist regime is on the verge of collapse.

Majid Safataj is a professor of international relations. He has conducted extensive research on the issues of Palestine and Zionism.

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