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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

EDITORIAL 07.06.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month may 07, edition 000852, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



































































When Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad became the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare in the UPA2 regime, he promised the revival of three closed vaccine manufacturing public sector units. These plants were shut down by his predecessor, Mr Anbumani Ramadoss, on the ground that they had not been following internationally accepted manufacturing practices. The controversial decision had been flayed by critics as a deliberate attempt by Mr Ramadoss to benefit private manufacturers who now have the vast vaccine market in the country all to themselves. So, one had expected Mr Azad to move fast on his assurances. Unfortunately, two years have gone by since this Government came to power and yet the units remain closed, with the possibility that they may open only sometime during the following year. This is an unacceptably long delay, especially when the Health Minister had announced the revival of these units as one of the key tasks of his Ministry's in the first 100 days after he took charge. He had also set up a panel to study the 2008 closure and had even said that he suspected foul play in Mr Ramadoss's decision to shut down the three PSUs which are located at Coonoor, Guindy and Kasauli respectively. He had also repeatedly spoken of the Government's commitment to revive the units. The issue prominently figured in the President's address to Parliament soon after the present Government came in. Still there has been no progress in demanding accountability for that dubious decision. No one has been brought to book for the decision to shut down the vaccine plants. Simply put, Mr Azad has failed to honour his promise. Since there has been neither an indictment of Mr Ramadoss nor any indication that his role in the closure is being seriously investigated, should we assume that he is in the clear and that the decision to shut the Government vaccine factories was made on genuine grounds? If that is indeed so, Mr Azad needs to explain what exactly did he find that prompted him to suspect foul play so early in his tenure. As things stand it appears that, while at some later date the three PSUs will reopen for business, the people behind the closure will quietly get away. If that were to happen, the cause of justice would remain unserved.

While there is no disputing that private players have fully exploited the situation, the material that has come to light out of a Right to Information initiative is shocking: The number of deaths under the various immunisation programmes in the country have shot up since the closure of the PSUs. In 2007, when the PSUs were operational, the figure was 32. It rose rapidly to 118 in 2008, the year they were closed. Over the next two years when there was no output from the three PSUs, the number of deaths increased to 166 (2009) and 218 (2010). The figures may lend themselves to different interpretations but the co-relation between the dominance of privately manufactured vaccines in the market and the increased number of child deaths through immunisation programmes is hard to miss. Surely, it can be argued away as a mere coincidence but nevertheless it is dreadful enough to be probed thoroughly. If the three PSUs could be shut down for breaching manufacturing standards, one needs to know for sure that the child deaths since 2008 are not the result of potentially defective vaccines manufactured by the private sector.







The World Bank's approval a $1 billion credit and loan as part of its long-term support to the Union Government's new initiative to clean up Ganga is surely a boost to authorities as they embark on an ambitious plan to save the now highly polluted and near-toxic river. But let there be no doubt that without proper monitoring and close scrutiny, the bank's generous loan is bound to be squandered and the project will be set for failure. After a quarter century of trying, and constantly failing, to clean up the river, the UPA Government in the recent past wiped clean the old slate and decided to start afresh. The result was the establishment of the National Ganga River Basin Authority in February 2009 which is responsible for cleaning and conserving Ganga through a multi-sector programme. Populated by several top leaders, including the Chief Ministers of States which comprise the sprawling Ganga River Basin as well as the Prime Minister who as its chairman, the high-powered NGRBA has a specific midd-term goal: To stop untreated municipal or industrial wastewater from being drained into the river by 2020. This programme is known as Mission Clean Ganga and it is towards this end that the World Bank has sanctioned its billion-dollar loan. On paper, Mission Clean Ganga looks like a well-researched, well-planned programme with achievable goals. Unlike previous efforts which focussed only on those towns and industrial centres that were considered to be highly polluting and thus failed to take a holistic view of what really is a multi-dimensional problem, Mission Clean Ganga seems to have built on lessons from the past as it moves away from the earlier town-centric approach and instead takes into consideration the entire Gangetic basin while planning project investments. The World Bank funded— National Ganga River Basin Project will also help build the capacity of the NGRBA's new operational institutions as well as the capacity of existing agencies which are currently responsible for managing wastewater, sewage treatment plants, city sewer networks, etc.


While all of this sounds fabulous on paper, and both the Government and the bank deserve praise for their efforts to save Ganga, there is still much that can happen between the cup and lip. Let us not forget that cleaning and conserving a river is not an easy task that can be completed in a a year or two. As World Bank authorties have pointed out, cleaning Rhine took almost two decaded and costed more than 40 billion euros while a similar effort for Danube is ongoing, years after it was initiated. A programme of this nature thus requires long-term commitment and must be strictly monitored for it to achieve its goals. Given our past experience with similar efforts, cynicism would not be entirely out of place.









The meltdown at Fukushima showcases the horrors of a disaster-hit nuclear plant. This can happen anywhere in the world. Do we really need nuclear power?

The real crisis of Japan's earthquake-tsunami-driven disaster at Fukushima concerns the disposal of radioactive, partially melted, uranium fuel rods, before the six reactors can be decommissioned. Some rods contain plutonium (one millionth of a gram, inhaled, can cause cancer; each reactor has 250 kg of plutonium). Over seven tonnes of nuclear debris (spent rods and fissile fuel inside the reactors) need a permanent storage site before the facility can be entombed under concrete, Chernobyl-style.

Tokyo now admits the rods cannot be kept in Japan because the new waste storage centres at Honshu stand on unsuitable land. The Fukushima complex cannot be entombed as it is because the landfill cannot support the weight of the fuel rods, reactors and cooling water. The massive earthquakes that often hit the area will erode the foundations and push radioactive wastewater into Pacific ocean, and irretrievably into the food chain. This is the incorrigible truth about nuclear energy — it is neither clean nor green, and not cost effective either. In fact, there is little difference in lethality between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.

Currently, Japan and America are secretly negotiating with Mongolia, a poor country between Russia, China and Kazakhstan, to quietly accept the radioactive waste and bury it somewhere, for $12 billion, according to Yoichi Shimatsu, former editor, Japan Times Weekly. This $12 billion spread over the half-life of uranium, 700 million years, is $17 per annum, and does not cover the cost of the requisite cooling system.

The reason for the haste and secrecy is that under the Non-Proliferation Treaty which Japan signed in 1970, the US specified that the used fuel from Japanese reactors would be shipped to America for storage or reprocessing to ensure that Japan did not develop an atomic bomb. But Washington, DC could not pick up the waste because of public protests against the planned Yucca Mountain storage facility. America's nuclear energy industry has already amassed over 60,000 tonnes of spent fuel (not counting waste from military and research reactors), so Fukushima rods are not a priority.

Areva, the French nuclear firm keen to install a 10,000 MW nuclear power plant at Jaitapur in Maharashtra, has joined hands with the Tokyo Electric Power Company, better known as Tepco, to find a nuclear dumping site. They have contacted Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia. But Beijing dares not take the risk as Fukushima has triggered phobia among the people about nuclear contamination through food and drink. Australia and Canada, which supply uranium ore to Japan, have refused to accept responsibility for storage of nuclear waste under the legal principle of industrial recovery.

The naked truth about nuclear power is that in the absence of truly safe disposal mechanisms, nuclear energy lacks technological viability. There is a case for de-licensing nuclear plants and de-recognising the industry. When municipal authorities do not allow a house to be built without appropriate toilet and kitchen plumbing, how can growing piles of nuclear waste be allowed anywhere in the world?

Why has the International Atomic Energy Commission, which agitates if a nation with a legal nuclear energy programme is diverting uranium to military purposes, not insisted that the industry resolve the issue of nuclear waste disposal? The US alone has 200,000 metric tonnes of nuclear waste at 453 civilian nuclear-energy plants worldwide, but no permanent storage site!

Only Berlin has drawn the right lessons from Fukushima and moved towards total nuclear exit, with all nuclear plants to shut down by 2022. In India, the Congress-led coalition in Mumbai and New Delhi remains committed to expansion of nuclear power, despite rising local opposition in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and other sites of proposed nuclear power plants. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chose the occasion of the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to insist on pushing ahead with nuclear energy. He should know that the global safety standards he endorses have already been exposed — live — at Fukushima.

Interestingly, Dr Helen Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, at a Press conference in Montreal on May 12, lambasted a report on Chernobyl by the New York Academy of Sciences as "one of the most monstrous cover-ups in the history of medicine". She said almost a million people have died due to Chernobyl, despite the claims of the World Health Organisation and International Atomic Energy Agency.

Japan is far worse than Chernobyl, with six nuclear reactors at risk. In 1976, engineers Gregory C Minor, Richard B Hubbard, and Dale G Bridenbaugh, who helped design these Mark I GE reactors, resigned because they were dangerous. Yet Japan built Fukushima on an earthquake fault. Though the reactors partially withstood the earthquake, the external electricity supply was cut off; this caused dangerous heating to the cooling water in the six reactors and caused the rods to melt, as at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

The emergency diesel generators were destroyed by the tsunami, so there was no way to keep the water circulating in the reactors. Then, there were the cooling pools on the roofs of the reactors. Every year, about 30 tonnes of the most radioactive rods are removed; each 12 ft x 0.5 inch. These spent fuel rods are so thermally hot that they need continuous cooling; Fukushima saw the breakdown of cooling.

Then, hydrogen explosions have blown off the roof of the building and exposed the cooling pool. Two of these pools are dry, which means the rods are covered with a material called zirconium which, when exposed to air, ignites. Two cooling pools are thus burning. Even otherwise, the cooling pools have several times the radiation of the reactor core, and each reactor core has radiation equivalent to a thousand Hiroshima-sized bombs. This is truly "diabolical energy", avers Dr Caldicott. Albert Einstein rightly called nuclear power a hell of a way to boil water. Because that is exactly what it does — boil water through massive heat, turn it into steam which turns a turbine that generates electricity.

Finally, there is the issue of the poisoning of the world's air, water and populations, through weapons with depleted uranium (from spent fuel rods). America has used DU weapons in Iraq, Afghanistan, even Pakistan, and now Libya. In Fallujah, 80 per cent babies are born grossly deformed, without brains, single eyes, no arms; doctors now advise women not to have babies. Childhood cancer has increased 12 fold. This is an undeclared nuclear war. The uranium will last more than 4.5 billion years; will humankind outlive this grim lethality?

-- The visual accompanying this article shows an artist's impression of a meltdown in the core of a nuclear power plant.






After the elimination of Osama bin Laden, the death of Ilyas Kashmiri could prove to be a major setback for the world's most dreaded terrorist organisation, Al Qaeda, which he was to take over. As head of the notorious '313 Brigade', Ilyas Kashmiri was planning to unleash mayhem across the world. India figured on his list of proposed targets in the coming days

With the confirmation of the news of the death of Ilyas Muhammad Kashmiri in a drone attack in Wana in South Waziristan by the spokesperson of the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, one should recall similar reports in September 2009, in North Waziristan. Born in Mirpur in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Ilyas Muhammad Kashmiri became one of the most dreaded terror leaders of the world. He was wanted in India and the United States in connection with terrorist attacks or planned terrorist attacks. The US Administration had announced a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. Pakistan had also announced a Rs 50 million reward for his arrest. What are the implications of the death of Kashmiri for India, Pakistan, the United States, and the Al Qaeda network?

David Coleman Headley (Dawood Gilani) was working closely with Ilyas Kashmiri to identify more targets for terrorist attacks in India, and for targeting the office of Jyllands Posten, a Danish newspaper, for publishing cartoons of Prophet Mohammad. His interview with Pakistani journalist, the late Syed Saleem Shahzad, gives an insight into his thinking about India, the United States and Pakistan.

Though Ilyas Kashmiri started his militant career during the anti-Soviet jihad, where he lost one eye and an index finger, his militant activities in the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami became India-centric. His operations in India were daring; one known operation was to abduct foreigners in Delhi, along with the now infamous Omar Sheikh who India had to release in December 1999, and Masood Azhar and Mustaq Ahmed Zargar, to secure the release of passengers of IC-814.

Ilyas Kashmiri escaped from their hideout in Ghaziabad in 1994, when the Indian Police arrested Omar Sheikh. We are also aware of one of his operations in which he is reported to have taken the head of an Indian Army officer to Pakistan as a trophy. There are unconfirmed reports of a successful operation in the Indian Akhnoor sector after the Gujarat riots of 2002, in which Kashmiri claimed to have killed Brigadiers and Lieutenant Colonels. These reports are grossly exaggerated.

David Headley has disclosed to Indian investigators that Ilyas Kashmiri was interested in operations in India and that he had conducted surveillance of several potential targets after the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. David Headley's disclosures also indicate Kashmiri's intention to target Europe, and that he had supporters in European cities for this purpose. This makes it clear that had Ilyas Kashmiri taken over the leadership of the Al Qaeda, India would have strongly figured on their radar because of Kashmiri's focus on Jammu & Kashmir.

His death may reduce the focus of Al Qaeda on India, though Kashmiri's interview with Shahzad, given in late 2009, claims that the network of the 313 Brigade, Ilyas Kashmiri's creation within the HUJI, is widespread across Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh, something not borne by any evidence, though HUJI itself is known to operate in these countries.

Ilyas Kashmiri was arrested in Pakistan a couple of times, once for an attempted assassination on Gen Pervez Musharraf, though he was subsequently released for lack of evidence. He then shifted his operations to FATA and became close to the Al Qaeda. According to Shahzad, Kashmiri's 313 Brigade became the catalyst for operations like the one in Mumbai, and in other parts of the world, including Iraq and Somalia. Kashmiri told Shahzad that he shifted his base from Kashmir to the Afghan border because he believed it was the great 'Satan' US that decided matters in the world and therefore it was necessary to target it.

While there are credible reports that Kashmiri was a one time member of the SSG Commandos of the Pakistan Army, Shahzad said that Kashmiri was not a member of the SSG. He gained his experience on the ground in the Afghan jihad. This is yet to be confirmed. This battle-scarred veteran was known to be the operational commander of the Al Qaeda, though a low key one. In the words of Shahzad, "If today Al Qaeda is divided into three spheres, Osama bin Laden is undoubtedly the symbol of the movement and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri defines Al Qaeda's ideology and broader strategic vision. Ilyas, with his unmatched guerrilla expertise, turns the strategic vision into reality, provides the resources and gets targets achieved, but he chooses to remain in the background and very low key."

In a recent list given by the US Administration to Pakistan of the five most wanted terrorists, the name of Ilyas Kashmiri figured prominently. Despite the Pakistan Parliament resolution against the US Drone attacks, the fact that the United States continued with their determined attacks inside Pakistan and was successful in eliminating someone like Ilyas Kashmiri would send a strong message to the Al Qaeda and its supporters inside Pakistan and elsewhere that the Americans mean business. It is also a signal that the intelligence gathering capabilities of the United States, and its strike power, are matchless.

For the Government of Pakistan, there would be mixed feelings — their sovereignty is being repeatedly violated by their strategic partner, but can they complain when someone like Ilyas Kashmiri is targeted after his 313 Brigade's attack on the Mehran base of the Navy in Karachi a few days earlier, and the previous one on the GHQ itself?

-- The writer is a former Director=General, National Investigation Agency. Currently, Distinguished Fellow, IPCS.






The CIA has certainly scored another high value success by eliminating Ilyas Kashmiri, which will add to the disruption in the command and control structure of Al Qaeda. But it remains to be seen whether his death affects the ability of jihadis to carry out attacks

The US's Central Intelligence Agency has not allowed the death of Osama bin Laden in a raid by US naval commandos at his hideout at Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, to slow down its hunt for other high-value targets of Al Qaeda and its affiliates in the Pashtun tribal belt of Pakistan.

Its relentless search for them through newly-created human sources and Drone (pilotless plane) strikes has been kept up. The successful commando raid at Abbottabad has added to the already existing disruption in the command and control of Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Their remaining leaders are on the run re-locating themselves in new sanctuaries due to a fear that their old sanctuaries might already be within the knowledge of the CIA as a result of its scrutiny of the documents and computer material seized from Osama bin Laden's hideout.

Their hurried efforts towards re-location have provided the CIA and its Drones new opportunities to run them down and eliminate them. Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of the so-called 313 Brigade of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami — one of the constituent units of Al Qaeda's International Islamic Front For Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People — appears to have been successfully hunted down and eliminated along with some associates, all Pakistanis, in a Drone strike near Wana in South Waziristan on the night of June 3.

Though their bodies are reported to have been mutilated beyond recognition and quickly buried by the locals thereby making physical or forensic identification impossible, the admission by a self-proclaimed representative of the HUJI in fax messages sent to the local media of the fact of Ilyas's death in a Drone strike has added strength to the widely-held belief in the South Waziristan area that Ilyas is no more.

While one cannot rule out the possibility of the HUJI or its 313 Brigade deliberately disseminating a false claim of his death in order to protect him from the relentless hunt by the CIA, one has to note that there has been no instance in the past of Al Qaeda or its affiliates disseminating false claims of death in order to protect their leaders.

There had been instances in the past of Pakistani agencies claiming to have killed high-value targets, with the claims subsequently proving to be false. A report in September 2009 disseminated by Pakistani sources regarding the death of Ilyas in a Drone strike subsequently proved to be false. At that time, no claim or admission of his death had been made by the 313 Brigade or the HUJI.

Thus, one can be reasonably — though not totally — certain that the CIA has scored another high-value success in eliminating Ilyas. This will further add to the disruption in the command and control of Al Qaeda and its affiliates. After Rashid Rauf, a Mirpuri from Birmingham, who was reportedly killed in a Drone strike some months ago in the FATA region, Ilyas is the second jihadi terrorist of Kashmiri origin associated with Al Qaeda to have been killed by the CIA. He hailed from the Bhimber area of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

Ilyas was often compared to Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US homeland, but he was not of the same class as KSM in conceiving and executing spectacular terrorist strikes.

His value to Al Qaeda arose from the fact that he had a wide network of contacts not only in the Pakistani Armed Forces and intelligence agencies, but also in the diaspora of Pakistani origin in the West. This enabled him to find new non-Arab volunteers for Al Qaeda's operations on foreign soil.

However, it has to be noted that his spectacular successes were mostly in the AfPak and Indian regions. None of his planned operations in the West — including the plan to blow up the offices of the Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet in 1995, reached a successful culmination.

Ilyas did not have a technical bent of mind like KSM, but he developed an expertise in organising complex swarm attacks using the commando tactics of special forces. The increasing number of such successful swarm attacks by the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Haqqani network in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan bore his signature and signs of his expertise and training. It remains to be seen whether his death will have any impact on the ability of Al Qaeda and its affiliates to carry out such swarm attacks in future.

-- The writer, a former senior officer of R&AW, is a strategic affairs commentator.







The Palestinians on Saturday accepted a French invitation to attend a conference in Paris aimed at reviving peace talks with Israel, as their strategy to bypass negotiations and seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state appeared to be unravelling.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians were prepared to go to Paris and were waiting for Israeli and American responses.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe extended the invitation earlier this week in a visit to the region, saying the conference could take place later this month and would use Israel's boundaries prior to the 1967 war as a starting point for talks on borders. Israel would be loath to accept such a proposal and has not replied to Mr Juppe's invitation. Israel had no comment on Saturday on the Palestinian acceptance, which came with no conditions attached.

The Palestinians have refused to return to the bargaining table for months because Israel has rejected their demand to halt all settlement construction on lands they claim for a future state. At the same time, they have been preparing to ask the UN General Assembly in September to recognise a Palestinian state, with or without a peace deal.

Palestinian officials said they had no high hopes for a French-led conference but would attend in an effort to restart talks that broke down in late 2008 and revived only briefly this past September before collapsing over Israeli settlement construction.

Historically, the US, not Europe, has taken the lead in trying to wrest an agreement from Israel and the Palestinians, and the Obama Administration has been cool to the French proposal.

US officials say they have privately discouraged it, but the Administration has not taken a public position on the conference. State Department spokesman Mark Toner noted on Friday that Mr Juppe would meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday in Washington. "The secretary looks forward to meeting with him and they'll discuss ways forward," Toner said.

Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama tried to entice the Palestinians to resume talks by asserting in a high-profile policy speech that Israel's boundaries before the 1967 Mideast war should be the starting point for negotiations on future borders, with mutually agreed land swaps that would let Israel hold on to major West Bank settlement blocs.

The Palestinians had long sought an explicit statement to this effect from Washington. But they were disappointed by the peace blueprint Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined later in a speech before the US Congress, dismissing it as a non-starter because it disregards many of their key demands.

Mr Juppe has said the boundaries that existed before Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war would also be the starting point at the Paris talks, a condition Israel is loathe to accept.

Under the French proposal, thornier issues would be left for a year later, including the status of contested Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees from the war surrounding Israel's 1948 creation.

The proposal does not call on Israel to freeze settlement construction, a longtime Palestinian condition for resuming talks. But a deal on borders would get around the issue since Israel could resume construction on territory it expects to keep.


Tactically, acceptance of the French overture could shield the Palestinians from criticism that they are standing in the way of efforts to revive talks. Their willingness to attend also comes as their strategy for bypassing talks appears to be falling apart.

The Palestinians had hoped to count on growing international support for gaining statehood recognition at the UN outside of the framework of peace negotiations.

But a top UN official undercut that strategy last week when he said there was no way a Palestinian state could become a member of the UN without a recommendation from the Security Council. That is unlikely because Mr Obama has hinted strongly that the US would exercise its veto power on the council to block such a move.

On Saturday, a senior Palestinian official said Mr Abbas has concluded that a statehood push at the UN would not advance the Palestinians' cause.

Mr Abbas' initiative, he said, will be compromised by the fact that the Palestinians first have to seek support from the Security Council before going to the General Assembly, where the Palestinians are more confident of obtaining majority support.

The Palestinian leadership has concluded that the most they could wrest from the UN General Assembly would be a non-binding affirmation of previous resolutions stating that the Palestinians have the right to a state, he added.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which Mr Abbas heads, intends to go ahead with its plan to approach the UN, in order to save face among the Palestinian people, he said.

Another senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement on Saturday calling on the international community "to support the admission of Palestine as a member state in the United Nations".

In Tel Aviv, thousands of Israelis gathered to urge the Government to embrace Mr Obama's proposal to base negotiations on Israel's prewar lines. Some marchers hoisted signs reading, "A Palestinian state is in Israel's interest."

-- AP







The sudden crackdown on Baba Ramdev's campaign against black money and corruption has been a giant government misstep. If it indeed believed, as senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh stated, that the Baba was an inconsequential 'thug', why did the government dispatch four ministers to meet him at Delhi airport? If uneasy about the Baba's saffron links, why did it entertain him for hours at a Delhi hotel? When Baba Ramdev appeared ambiguous about the prime minister's inclusion under the proposed Lokpal's purview, he was a respectable enough force for the administration to report 'differences' amongst civil society leaders. Soon however, he and his followers had to be contained using riot-like measures including lathicharging and teargas shells.

Things are moving quickly since Anna Hazare's fast against corruption, calling for a revised Lokpal Bill. Since then Baba Ramdev has jumped on to the bandwagon, conducting an inchoate campaign against black money and initiating an air-conditioned fast to push his demands. In contrast to the anti-politician stance of the Hazare campaign, Ramdev has also shared his platform with hard-right politicians such as Sadhvi Rithambara, acquired the full-throated backing of the BJP and RSS, and left the Hazare camp uneasy. If the government had let things be, sooner or later the differences within the civil society camp would have come to the fore. Hazare's left-wing backers would have forced him to mark out separate territory from the right-leaning Baba Ramdev, whose vocation in any case is yoga rather than politics. Instead, through its jumpiness and ham-handed actions, the government has managed to unite the opposition.

If extra-parliamentary forces command so much public attention today, that's because of the ground that has been steadily ceded to them by the political class. The UPA, in particular, has hardly covered itself in glory. Its tolerance for corruption is badly out of sync with the standards of governance that Indians today expect from their government. And even now, it looks as if the message hasn't really sunk in. Instead, the UPA favours a carrot-and-stick policy, managing the uproar around corruption through a mix of placating, vacillating and punishing, evident from its handling of Baba Ramdev.

There's still, however, a chance for the government to salvage this situation. It could complete negotiations on the Lokpal Bill and present it in Parliament urgently. After ratifying the UN convention against corruption it signed six years ago, it could follow European nations' lead in adopting mechanisms to check black money. Righting the overwhelming impression of drift won't be easy. But these measures would help. And may even redeem UPA-II somewhat.







The pace of events in Afghanistan and Pakistan is accelerating. The killing of Ilyas Kashmiri just about a month after Osama bin Laden has deprived al-Qaida of both its talisman and one of its deadliest commanders. It's the beginning of the degradation of the terror infrastructure based in Pakistan. Kashmiri's death may well be a result of the Pakistani military's cleaning house. Although initially an ISI protege, Kashmiri fell foul of it in later years. He attempted to assassinate then president Pervez Musharraf and, more recently, was suspected of being involved in the Mehran attack. Given that his name was on the list of five top terror targets believed to have been handed over by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to Islamabad in previous weeks, his death should ease some of the tensions in the US-Pakistani relationship.

However, given the extent to which the Pakistani military has been penetrated by jihadi sympathisers, this isn't the time for the US to relent. It must press for results on the other terror bosses on the list, as well as a Pakistani assault against the Haqqani network based in north Waziristan. Washington's eagerness to denude the insurgents of key leaders as swiftly as possible has also to do with the beginning of the reassessment and drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan beginning July. In that context, Kashmiri's death is a significant step forward. It's also a major positive for New Delhi. Kashmiri is suspected to have been behind 26/11 and was heavily focussed on Kashmir. New Delhi needs to watch carefully the signals coming out of Pakistan, to see if the latter is willing to move away from decades of India-centricity in order to confront its home-grown terror threat.









For many non-Congress politicians, the Emergency has become the default expression of outrage. Throughout last Sunday, as the country digested the drama surrounding Baba Ramdev's protest in Delhi's Ramlila Ground, the allusions to the 21-month Emergency competed with references to the massacre in Amritsar's Jallianwala Bagh. In this battle over history, Indira Gandhi's coup clearly prevailed over Lt-General Reginald Dyer's trigger-happiness.

India's political class is naturally prone to hyperbole. If BJP's L K Advani detected "naked fascism" in the police action against Baba Ramdev and prophesied that June would be the UPA government's cruellest month, Congress's Digvijay Singh dubbed the flamboyant yoga guru a "maha thug" that Delhi was well rid of. Predictably, throughout the crisis, neither the prime minister nor the Congress president were seen or heard.

The live weekend drama did resemble a B-grade Bollywood thriller - a helpful BJP even provided the dance numbers during its Rajghat fast. Yet, underneath the apparent farce, there is a grim story that is beginning to unfold, and whose impact may yet be far-reaching.

The ever-increasing role of non-political 'civil society' players in public protests over corruption isn't merely the contribution of a new made-in-media culture. The unearthing of one spectacular scam after another and the utter inability of the Manmohan Singh government to overcome a resulting paralysis of decision-making has unsettled the moral foundations on which any political system rests. The cracks have given the opening for a variety of plants - both stinging nettles and aromatic flowers - to sprout.

Pressure groups, the archaic term for civil society activism, have always existed in India. In 1966, the Jagatguru Shankaracharya of Puri went on an indefinite fast demanding an immediate end to cow slaughter and sadhus went on the rampage before Parliament. Mahendra Singh Tikait's fortnight-long occupation of the India Gate lawns in 1988 was a spectacular irritant to both the Congress and the Delhi middle class. And Medha Patkar has long championed every imaginable cause and delayed every conceivable development project.

However, none of these civil society movements succeeded in unnerving the political authority in the same way as the fasts by Anna Hazare and Ramdev have. The idea of inviting the four shankaracharyas to sit with ministers to draft anti-cow slaughter legislation would have been anathema in 1966. And while officials did maintain contact with Tikait and other single-issue protest movements, there was no case of the number 2 in the cabinet and the cabinet secretary rushing to the airport to placate an angry "rock star of yoga".

Leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley has attacked the government for losing sight of the principles of statecraft. He may be right but the headless chicken behaviour is merely the symptom of the disease. The genesis of the problem can be located in two factors: the image of political venality in an age of prosperity and, equally important, the crisis of political institutions.

The importance of moral outrage against corruption shouldn't be underestimated. For long, the political class smugly believed that the exasperation of voters with sarkari venality and ineptitude could be subsumed by the politics of identity (caste or religion) and patronage (keeping local notables happy). This assumption was valid as long as India was information-deficient and economic aspirations were tempered by a socialism built on shoddiness and shortages. The media explosion has produced an information overload and the growth in prosperity (plus the rise in education) has redefined aspirations dramatically. There is a growing sense of right and wrong which manifests itself more virulently - and without the need for sustained mobilisation and public education - than was the case earlier. India has become less inclined to passive fatalism. Indians believe they have the right to a better India.

The moral uneasiness has been coupled with the dysfunctionality of political institutions. The opposition's mindless disruption of Parliament as a matter of habit has eroded popular faith, not in democracy, but in a non-functioning system. This in turn has fuelled the quest for quick-fix solutions.

The impatience for results has also contributed to popular detachment from political parties that spout abstruse ideology but where a culture of cronyism and non-accountability prevail. The DMK personified the rot in Tamil Nadu and arrogance doused any lingering revolutionary fire in the belly of the West Bengal CPM. In both the states, the principal opposition party was the main beneficiary of the public anger against the incumbent.

The BJP believes it too will be the principal gainer from the Congress's inability to respond to the 2009 mandate. That may be. Yet, it should reflect over why civil society movements are acquiring momentum in precisely those regions where BJP is the natural alternative to the Congress. Even if the Facebook crowd is aesthetically inclined towards the 'non-party' activism of the NGOs and the likes of Anna Hazare, why is the non-cosmopolitan middle class acquiescing to the opposition mantle being passed on to a baba rather than to a political party espousing the same values?

For India's politicians, the need to subsume banality and dubious history in reflection was never more pressing. The Ramdev crisis has burnt the Congress but it has also singed the opposition.

The writer is a political commentator.








There's nothing wrong with fielding an Indian squad without some top players for the ongoing bilateral cricket series against the West Indies, despite what some are saying. The BCCI is well within its rights to rest senior players for the tour. Given the amount of cricket Team India plays - there is a beeline of foreign cricket boards wanting to schedule future tournaments with India - it is only natural for fatigue to set in. Then there is the constant fear of injuries. In such a scenario, resting senior members of the squad - either to recuperate from niggles or simply to recharge their batteries - is a good strategy.

The volume of cricket in a calendar year demands there must be a strategy to prevent player burnout. Prioritising tournaments is inevitable if balance is to be achieved between quality and revenues. For Team India, a tour of the Caribbean is the perfect opportunity to test its bench strength. It is a great platform for youngsters to showcase their talent and gain international experience. The tour will also gauge Suresh Raina's leadership skills as he holds the fort down till M S Dhoni returns for the Tests.

If Team India is to retain its potency in all formats of the game, there needs to be flexibility in team selection. Recently-appointed coach Duncan Fletcher is an advocate of the rotation policy. This will ensure that no player takes his position in the team for granted and fresh blood can come through. A relatively younger team for the West Indies tour is part of a healthy process. It's not a good idea playing the same 11 players on all of India's engagements. Giving match experience to a larger number of players will prevent stagnation and injuries, while allowing fresh talent to come up from the grassroots.








Despite the absence of key players, the young Indian team has still managed to beat West Indies by 16 runs in a Twenty20 match in Trinidad. For the time being, the favourable result may also dispel fears that India's second-string side would be uncompetitive in the Caribbean. But, by not sending a full strength team under its inspiring captain M S Dhoni, the BCCI has lost the opportunity to silence its critics and show that it treats all boards on an equal footing.

While one can understand that injuries are part and parcel of the game, the decision to rest senior players of the World Cup winning team from the West Indies tour is baffling. It becomes more so, when players seem to pick the tours they will go on with the board's full support. For instance, a below par performance by the West Indies cricket team in recent years means it is a less important tour for our players than a tour to England or Australia. Can such a distinction be allowed to shape team selection? Let's not forget that a place in Team India is a call for national duty. Where is the sense of national duty of our players?

The BCCI will do well to ensure that in future all tours are taken seriously and treated on an equal footing. Not so very long ago, other powerful boards used to send second-string teams to the subcontinent. That led to a lot of heartburn here. A 'payback' mentality will only hinder the growth of cricket across the world. Being the most powerful board, the BCCI must not forget that cricket is also about image-building for a nation. Our players are not just cricketers; they are our nation's emissaries.








My morning walk partner, Sunil, and i are both retired from the army. As a result our topics of discussion mostly relate to our common friends, old versus new trends in the army and the problems of our society. At times, we do venture out to discuss matters of national and international importance. One morning, Sunil came up with a bright idea. He must have mulled it overnight during a power outage when one can't sleep. Generation of bright ideas could be counted as one indirect benefit of power shortages in this international city.

Sunil said, ''I have an idea on how to eliminate black money and corruption altogether. The government has been talking about unique IDs for every citizen. Why not link UID with an individual's bank account? That way, we can make all transactions cashless. Imagine a situation wherein everyone has a bank account and debit card. All financial transactions are completed just by swiping!''

Spotting a boy cleaning a car, i expressed my reservations: ''Look at that boy, do you think he will have a bank account and debit card to carry out transactions? Consider the size of the country's population and the numbers who don't even have a bank account. If we start opening bank accounts and making debit cards for everyone, the whole government machinery will be busy for a few years just doing that. Besides, there are so many people in this world with better brains and ideas than you and me. I am sure this idea must have been examined and found impossible to implement, otherwise, some advanced country would have done it by now!''

Sunil seemed undeterred: ''Sir, it may not be easy but see the results! There will be no black money, no corruption and the countries that find it more interesting to print our currency notes than their own won't be able to! Even a single rupee transaction will be recorded. Besides, providing bank accounts and debit cards to everyone is not such a big deal.''

By now, i too was getting serious about the idea and tried to refine it further: ''Well, i agree provided it's only a question of covering the existing population. For yet-to-be-born citizens, we'll need an automated system at the time of compulsory birth registration. We can have an online system in which a bank account gets opened automatically as soon as the birth certificate is generated. I am sure that can be managed by upgraded e-governance systems. And instead of a debit card, everyone could be given a biometric reader the size of a mobile phone. It could even be a mobile phone-cum-biometric reader. In a financial transaction, both parties just put their fingers on the biometric reader and the job is done.''

Now both of us spoke simultaneously: ''What an idea! We agree on it in principle. The details can be worked out by the experts.'' Before parting ways, Sunil asked me to pen down what we'd discussed about ''the bright idea''. I accepted the assignment and moved on.

On my way home, i remembered a story told to us by an instructor during our senior command course. During a war game exercise, a student officer appointed corps commander was giving out his attack plan. On his route of advance there was a huge lake, a major obstacle for his tanks. Various methods of going around the lake weren't considered feasible by the directing staff given the enemy deployment. Finally, the gallant but frustrated corps commander declared, ''Sir, i will get the lake dried up.'' ''But how?'' asked the directing staff. Pat came the reply: ''Sir, as a commander i have taken a decision in principle. Details will be worked out by my technical advisors and the staff officers.'' ''OK, we agree in principle.'' Those were the last words of the directing staff.







Few eyebrows were arched when Google announced that the Gmail accounts of foreign officials and political dissidents were hacked by a source somewhere deep inside China. Or that Chinese-based cyberattacks topped an electronic break-in into the systems of sensitive US defence contractors. While there is no major country in world that does not attempt to pry open the electronic communications of other nations as part of the normal game of espionage, there are two reasons why China tends to raise greater concern than most.

One is the sheer size and intensity of China-origin cyberattacks. These attacks do not so much as pry into systems as try and crush them with enormous tidal waves of bytes. There is no serious attempt at anonymity or discretion. Most analysts argue that Beijing wants its cyberwar capabilities to be known and respected. This is partly because China sees such warfighting ability as an asymmetric counter to the conventional and technological superiority it still faces in military rivals like the US. But no other country seems to feel the need to show its e-hand so prominently. The other, and more sinister, is how China uses electronic measures to intimidate, track and spy on political opponents. These include not only overseas groups like Tibetan exiles but also domestic dissidents, who range from artists to microbloggers. Beijing sees its cyber capacities as an instrument of domestic repression as well as a standard military capability. The argument will be made that, again, all developed nations do so. This is a crude generalisation. Democratic nations provide far more political space to their civil societies. Indians would find many of the impositions imposed by Beijing on its people the past few months — including limits on the sale of jasmine flowers because of their link to the recent popular Arab uprisings — baffling. In addition, cybersnooping is determined by a due process in most liberal societies and not by the fiat of a one-party dictatorship.

But as public debate moves increasingly into the electronic sphere, there is a greater cause for liberal societies to seek to defend it from unfriendly intrusions. The US is to be applauded for committing itself to defending internet and electronic freedom — even if security and commercial interests may have partly motivated this move. India should also take a closer look at this issue by looking, first, at how it is functioning at home. Many of the present anti-terrorism proposals such as a national security grid or the expansion of phone-tapping authority are being left to the decision of a few bureaucrats and ministers. At the very least, some sort of judicial oversight, and possibly even parliamentary oversight, is needed. While there are reasons for India to admire what China has done economically, this should not apply to the realm of electronic freedom.




On Saturday, as Li Na triumphed on the sanguinary 'China-red' clay courts of the Roland Garros in Paris, she managed to weave multiple strands of inspiration into one spectacular narrative. At 29, she became the first individual player — woman or man — from a nation of more than a billion people to win a Grand Slam singles title. Even as the rest of Asia rushed ahead to embrace the Chinese success story at the French Open (no other Asian has ever managed that feat either), compelling details emerged of her triumph over adversities, including the death of her father, a badminton player when she was 14 and her free-spirited disposition that made her pull out of the government-run sports training system in 2008.

Li's victory — no flash in the pan, if one remembers that she ended as the runner-up at the Australian Open earlier this year — also allowed peeks into what is otherwise an iron-clad system. That around 95 million viewers (according to Xinhua) had tuned in to watch the match was an impressive achievement in itself, in a country where basketball, football and badminton enjoy far greater popularity. This was no assembly-line, terra cotta warrior-like sportsperson churned out by the State system. Rather she's a flesh-and-blood person who would bargain to reduce the prize money she was supposed to share with the government.

The only discordant note seemed to have been struck at the post-match press conference, when Li was asked about the significance of winning the title on June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. While Li chose to evade that volley, one wonders if her opponent Italian Francesca Schiavone would have had to tackle questions on Berlusconian excesses in case she had won. As the pecking order in the world of tennis gradually changes, the proclivity to turn moments of hard-won victory into situations of awkwardness perhaps need to be reined in.






Better never than late?

There were more things that happened in heaven and earth, Horatio, this week than all the drama that took place at the Ramlila Maidan and beyond. Take the plight of our poor Union environment minister. 

Jairam Ramesh missed an important ministerial-level meeting on climate change in Durban, South Africa, because of a two-hour delay in a connecting flight between Delhi and Mumbai. Ramesh was flying in a Kingfisher plane and was scheduled to switch to an Air India Mumbai-Durban flight. Frantic efforts by his office went in vain as most flights to Mumbai were running behind schedule.

Ramesh returned home late at night and deputed special secretary in his ministry JM Mauskar to fill in for him. "Even T3 [Terminal 3] can't change Indian airports!" he was overheard saying before tearing clumps of his long 'carefully careless' hair.

Potaytoes, potahtoes, CM, PM

Compared to the drubbing the Left Front received, this probably doesn't even count as an embarrassing slip-up. But the newly elected speaker of the West Bengal assembly Biman Bandopadhyay addressed chief minister Mamata Banerjee as the "prime minister". With some MLAs urging him to correct his statement, Bandopadhyay did so immediately. But Mamata fans think that Biman has set into motion something that could be well worth another 'paribartan'.

Strong and silent

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi adopted a low profile at the BJP national executive conclave in Lucknow last week. He chose to sit in the last row and exchanged only a few words with other leaders. He went up to the stage only when he was asked to speak on the Communal Violence Bill. One leader who appeared to be avoiding him was Sushma Swaraj, who preferred to stay close to LK Advani. But does this mean anything at all about a party that seems to have been in the news over the last few weeks for the wrong reasons?

Unruly about rural things

The launch of the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) in Banswara, Rajasthan, last week saw two senior ministers of the UPA government throw barbs at each other right in the presence of their boss, UPA chair Sonia Gandhi. In an oblique reference to his displeasure over the ambitious self-employment programme being launched from Rajasthan instead of his home state Maharashtra, rural development minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, in his speech, stated that the place "was decided long before and at the insistence of the state". The man from Rajasthan CP Joshi, under whose tenure as rural minister the NRLM was devised, gave an "unsolicited advice" to his successor: "Let Sonia Gandhi decide the policies and leave their operation to the government." The National Advisory Council (NAC) recently sent a new set of proposals different from what the rural development ministry under Deshmukh decided in the land bill. Gandhi, who spoke after the two Congressmen, left things hanging in the thick Rajasthan air.

Who's driving the train?

Trinamool leader Mukul Roy is acting as the minister of state (MoS) for railways. But it's still unclear whether the party will claim the full Cabinet berth vacated by Mamata Banerjee. The buzz is that a rail minister from Trinamool may deflect attention from Didi. The new formula being floated is to let the prime minister keep the railways portfolio with Roy as the sole MoS running it. In railway terms they may be calling this laying 'parallel tracks'.





There is a photograph of the Second Round Table Conference in London, which shows every person in the room looking at the camera except for Mohandas K Gandhi. The maharajas, the leaders of the Depressed Classes and the Muslim League, the officers of His Majesty's Government — all have their face turned at the photographer come to capture them. Not Gandhi, who sits in his chair, wrapped in a shawl, looking downwards at the table, waiting for the tamasha to end and the discussion on India's political future to resume.

Gandhi's critics complained that he was a saint who was trying to become a politician. He answered that he was a politician who was trying to become a saint. In that self-deprecatory remark lay a solid core of truth. Gandhi's main work, in the public domain, was to fight for India's freedom, for justice for women and low castes, and for harmony between religions. But to him the moral and spiritual life was equally important, this conducted privately, in his ashram, and often against the frailties and imperfections of his own self.

In the Christian, Buddhist, Jain, and Sufi traditions, there is a close connection between spirituality and solitude. So too in Hinduism, and even, modern Hinduism. Fleeing the colonial police, Aurobindo retreated to the French enclave of Pondicherry where he pursued, more vigorously than it had been possible when he was a revolutionary, the spiritual life. He read, meditated, and wrote. As his search focused further inwards, he gave fewer discourses and met fewer and fewer disciples.

A near contemporary of Aurobindo was a Tamil named Venkatraman. He ran away from home and spent his youth sitting in contemplation in caves, hillsides, and recesses of temples. His mother sent emissaries to ask him to come back. His answer was to intensify his own, inward search. He was well into adulthood when he resumed contact with the workaday world. This contact, for the rest of his life, was limited to discourses with disciples, who knew him as Ramana Maharishi, and built him a small ashram on a hillside outside Tiruvannamalai. 

On the other hand, a hunger for publicity is the hallmark of some of the best-known spiritual leaders of contemporary India. They spend as much time on making themselves known, and praised, as on seeking the truth. Consider a guru in my home town, Bangalore, who, like Ramana, is a Tamil, indeed from the same Iyer sub-caste. In other ways he is emphatically different; in his careful attention to his dress and appearance, for example, or in his not-so-careful cultivation of the rich, the powerful, and the influential.

Or consider the holy man who, these past days and weeks, has been much in the news. Those who heard, in part or in full, Baba Ramdev's recent day-long discourse at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, would have heard the words 'kala dhanda' and 'bhrashtachaar' (black money and corruption) as well as the words 'dharm' and 'imandaari' (morality and honesty). I heard them too, but I also heard words that were more telling. These were 'mein apne media ke bhaiyyon se kehna chahta hoon', a phrase that recurred often, perhaps half-a-dozen times an hour. It was characteristic that Ramdev sought to address the media above all (and characteristic also that his social imagination excluded the possibility of women reporters).

The crossroads where spirituality and politics meet are redolent with moral (and financial) corruption. There have, in living memory, been two sterling exceptions to this trend — Gandhi and the Dalai Lama. Exiled from his homeland, the Tibetan leader had perforce to assume a political role if he was to save the honour of his people. This he has done for five decades now, and without any manifest anger towards his persecutors, the Communists in China, or any manifest ambition either (the honours that he has acquired having come to him without any desire or effort on his part).

Like many others of my class and gender, my mind is ever in turmoil. Solitude and contemplation do not come easily to me. Even when I am alone I must converse, often intensely, with a book or a computer. The two occasions I can remember on which I have felt an inner peace are when I visited the Ramana ashram in Tiruvannamalai and when I was in a gathering that had come to hear, and see, the Dalai Lama.

Solitude and spirituality — the link between them is intimate and indissoluble. In between satyagrahas, Gandhi spent months at a stretch in Sabarmati or Sevagram, thinking, searching, spinning. Ramana and Aurobindo did not leave their ashrams for decades on end. Yet our contemporary gurus can't be by themselves for a single day. When the police forced him out of Delhi, Ramdev said he would resume his 'satyagraha' (sic) at his ashram in Haridwar. But within 24 hours he left Haridwar, in search of closer proximity to his brothers in the media. Externed from Delhi, Ramdev knew that many television channels were headquartered in Noida. So he would go to them, since he knew that, despite their national pretensions, these channels would not send their reporters, still less their anchors, to the benighted state of Uttarakhand. He set off for Noida but was stopped en route at Muzaffarnagar on the orders of the UP chief minister.

The desire to leave his ashram for the arc lights was entirely in character. For Ramdev occupies an important place in the history of publicity, rather than in the history of spirituality. To be fair, this can also be said of the other babas and gurus whom one meets nowadays in newspapers or on television, the Dalai Lama only excepted.

Ramachandra Guha is the author of India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy The views expressed by the author are personal.






On May 23, Muzaffarabad became a metaphor for imagining a reunited Jammu and Kashmir, as Kashmiris from both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) met at an international conference on 'Kashmir in Emerging Global Perspectives', hosted by the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). Was Islamabad restoring agency to the Pakistan-controlled institutions of its Kashmir, or was it translating into substance its rhetoric of shaping a just solution in accordance with peoples' aspirations?

With 'state subjects' from the two Kashmirs, Jammu, Ladakh, Mirpur, Kotli, the Kashmiri diaspora and us, from Delhi and Islamabad, jostling ideas and memories, it didn't seem incredible when former chief justice of Mirpur High Court, Majeed Mallick asserted that now was the opportunity to reassert the voices of the marginalised in Kashmir as key parties to the so-called bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan. The prime minister of the AJK, Sardar Attique Khan, visualised joint development of the hydro-electric resources of the two Kashmirs and LoC becoming the Line of Commerce. President of AJK, Raja Zulqarnain Khan, spoke about a smart identity card valid for all crossings in J&K.

The Pakistan government's support for the conference initiative was clear from the outset. Indeed, the ante was upped when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani flew in to inaugurate the conference even while the terror attack at the Mehran naval base in Karachi was underway. He was expected to make some positive policy demarche from Muzaffarabad. Instead, the references made were a hawkish throwback on the 'unfinished business of Partition' and an emphatic reiteration of the UN resolutions and plebiscite as the framework.

The timing was influenced by local considerations of the impending June elections in Kashmir. Both prime ministers, Gilani and Sardar Attique emphasised on free and fair elections. Attique's voicing the slogan 'Kashmir banega Pakistan' came as a jolt, especially because Pakistan's 'AJK' was integrated.

Ghulam Nabi Fai of the Kashmiri-America Council, appealing for Kashmiri's right to self-determination, emphasised on 'flexibility'. It could mean integration with India or with Pakistan, but no top-down deals like the Musharraf formula. Prime ministers of India and Pakistan can sign a deal but it can't be implemented unless Kashmiris are part of the process. Echoing through the corridors of the conference was the message that Kashmiris had made too many 'sacrifices in the name of India and Pakistan'.

Appeals to the international community prompted Britain-based Murtaza Shibley to propose China's name as the mediator, especially since it has a stake in the Kashmir dispute. When the demand for a plebiscite was reiterated as per rote, journalist Shujaat Bukhari was impelled to introduce a reality check — a referendum, today, could lead to a further 'partition' of the state in view of the fault lines between the Valley and Jammu or Ladakh.

The focus on human rights violations, as expected, was at the core of discussions. The outpouring of grievance, anger and frustration that made the youth pelt stones at the security forces, which, in turn, fired back at the youngsters, was located in the context of continuing human rights atrocities and the culture of impunity symbolised by Machil encounters and the Shopian alleged rape and murders.

At the conference, no conversation on human rights or the quality of democracy and freedom in POK was encouraged. What did the university students and faculty who heard us speak, think? "Oh, they are even more radical than us." Justice Mallick said. "No question of accepting the status quo." This left us wondering if it was another of Muzaffarabad's puzzling contradictions.

Rita Manchanda is a Delhi-based commentator on strategic affairs. The views expressed by the author are personal.



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

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

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

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






The "joint" drafting committee for the Lokpal bill — joint because it is composed half of representatives of the duly constituted government, and half of individuals nominated by Anna Hazare, a social activist from Maharashtra — was due to meet on Monday. However, the five "civil society" members of the committee didn't turn up to work. This was, they said, in protest against the breakup of yoga guru Ramdev's public meeting at the Ramlila grounds in Delhi, although they are, of course, members of Team Anna and not Team Baba. Missing a day of work, even if you had to fast to get the job, is not the most terrible of crimes; but the statements that accompanied the announcement of their decision not to attend were considerably more worrying.

One worries about the commitment of these committee members when one of them claims that the prime minister should "resign immediately" and form a "caretaker government" and others call for yet more fasts. They are, as yet, merely members of an unfortunately formed committee of dubious legitimacy; yet it has done little but swell their desire to arrogate to themselves the right to speak for society at large. It is far from certain whether the combative, politicians-are-already-wrong approach they have refused to forego once they won their notification-enabled victory will allow them to make a constructive contribution to hammering out the final details of a strong, effective Lokpal bill that Parliament will pass. That some of them, who have a stated commitment to civil liberties, felt it was necessary to comment adversely on the government's use of Section 144 to clear the Ramlila Maidan is not unsurprising; and participation in a drafting committee does not take away a citizen's right to express herself about such issues. But the tone and tenor of the remarks, as well as the willingness to try and piggyback on the numbers that Ramdev brings to the table, do not encourage one to think that these members will sit down to work with the government's nominees in good faith.

Such concern, of course, should have been anticipated by the government. Who, after all, are such nominees accountable to? If it is merely the court of public opinion as they see it, will they not have to raise their pitch every second so as to prove their relevance? Will there not be, always, someone outside the committee room, on the streets, who would otherwise supplant them in noisiness? The error was accepting the joint drafting committee in the first place, an error which it is not too late to correct.






Last Saturday, Darjeeling paid homage to its founder — Lt General George W. Aylmer Lloyd — for the first time, in an effort to excavate and preserve its history. The all-round optimism a new administration ushers in after unseating a regime in power for too long could not have left the Darjeeling Hills untouched. Such was the animosity between Kolkata and Darjeeling under the erstwhile Left Front government that the problem of "Gorkhaland" seemed intractable. Former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) did talk once in a while. However, these talks were almost always still-born, undertaken with deep distrust and even downright hostility. Now, there's a new administration at the Writers' Buildings and, notwithstanding the criminal allegations, the GJM has overwhelmingly secured the people's mandate in the Hills, winning all four assembly seats.

With Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee making explicit her interest in solving the problem, the first meeting between GJM chief Bimal Gurung and the new CM went off cordially last week. Banerjee has been unequivocal about not dividing Bengal, but the atmospherics were very positive. On both sides, the message was to be "optimistic" and "positive" about the future. The Hills however need much more than the CM's promised visit. The area needs development and upgrade of infrastructure, such as roads and drinking water. The government plans to go on a job drive in the Hills, such as recruiting police personnel. More urgently, there must be progress on the new interim council. The Hills have been without governance since the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council expired three years ago. Banerjee's real task in the Hills, apart from the right words and gestures, has not even begun.

Meanwhile, the GJM has to handle the challenge from other Gorkha political outfits closely watching the goings-on, particularly their already vocal criticism of Gurung allegedly relegating the demand for a separate "Gorkhaland" to the backroom. The Trinamool-Congress government and the GJM will have a lot of ground to cover while this optimism born of novelty lasts. Honeymoons are short; marriages are long and need working on to last.






A match between the greatest player ever and the greatest player of the moment," was how Rafael Nadal chose to bill the French Open semi-final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. A couple of days later, Nadal levelled that other great, Bjorn Borg's haul of six French Open titles. The conditions were best suited to Nadal, yet the largeheartedness that informed his appraisal of his peers' challenge is a reminder of the civility and dignity with which the greatest rivalry in men's tennis has transformed their careers into the sport's golden age.

Professionally, Federer and Nadal need each other. They consolidate each other's positions in a way few others can. Federer's shot-making forces others to run themselves ragged and tired; yet Nadal traverses from side to side of the court. Nadal's aggressive and powerful baseline game and use of record-breaking top spin overwhelm other opponents. But Federer withstands, even if he couldn't on Sunday, with precision positioning and devastating use of drop shots. If the adage the better your opponent the better your game holds, this is surely the example. Yet, for all the professional tussle, the mutual respect that both have displayed is not just commendable but inspiring.

After the 2008 Wimbledon final, for example, Nadal's words of comfort (that Federer was still the apex player) showed a humility lagging in the ego-fuelled world of professional sport. Moreover, Federer has treated Nadal as an equal, despite Nadal holding Federer as a role model. He even publicly congratulated Nadal, on overtaking him in the rankings as world number one. The tennis masters have a valuable lesson for other sportsmen: sport comes first, but not to the detriment of sportsmanship.








The UPA government continues to defy all norms of rationality, morality, commonsense and good judgement. These days it is difficult to make sense of what the government is thinking, if it is thinking at all. But on every measure, the midnight raid on Baba Ramdev and his supporters was an act of wilful perversity. The government may have thought its raid was a show of authority. Instead it made the state look like a set of thuggish weaklings: conducting raids on peaceful congregations in the middle of the night. A peaceful protest that had no indications of turning violent led to prohibitory orders for the whole of Delhi.

Rahul Gandhi had recently asked of Mayawati: why was Section 144 imposed in Bhatta-Parsaul if she had nothing to hide? He would do better to direct this question at his own government. Such a premature use of prohibitory orders only exposes the weakness of the Congress government; it does nothing to project its authority. The problem is not that the Congress has "encouraged" civil society by caving in. The problem is that the party itself tries to act as if it were some kind of NGO, distant from government. The Congress started with cravenness, then descended to impunity. Then it made the mistake of treating citizens like idiots. Instead of presenting a clear, firm authoritative explanation that was half plausible, it let loose on the airwaves Digvijaya Singh, who went on making one unbelievable claim after the other. One can dismiss his rantings. But they have become symptomatic of the way the Congress functions. They reveal how it continues to undermine the state.

First, no one claims responsibility for anything ("the party had nothing to do with it").

Second, there is the consistent threat to use state power to intimidate opponents. Whatever may be the realities of Baba Ramdev's organisation, threats of investigation at this point smack of nothing short of post-facto political arbitrariness. It undermines the credibility of the state even further.

Third, there is constant dissimulation. Ramdev is a legitimate interlocutor one minute, he is Satan the next. There is a refusal to make fine distinctions: a fast-unto-death can be a form of political blackmail in a democratic society; peaceful assembly and protest are not. There was something comically chilling about the technical argument used to justify externment. The claim is that the baba was given permission for a yoga camp, not political protest. Embedded in that is a truth. In India, protest, more than anything else, is subject to a licence permit raj, with the same arbitrariness and corruption involved.

Fourth, there is the old RSS canard. The Congress's use of the RSS card reveals its own bankruptcy. For, in a way it is admitting that it now has nothing to offer by way of an agenda, programme, argument. All it can draw upon is the hope that residual fears of the RSS will somehow mobilise support. It is also dangerously misreading the national mood. Sure, the vacuum in politics has given room for all kinds of elements. But at this moment it is the Congress that seems to be itching to play the communal card: taint the anti-corruption movement with the politics of Hindutva. To its credit, much of civil society has seen through this patent nonsense. The Congress also seems to be forgetting that it has always been the RSS's best friend. Like in the 1970s, the fatal combination of a moral vacuum, arbitrary use of state power and the free publicity that Congress leaders give to the RSS will do more to legitimise it than anything that Baba Ramdev does. Just as civil society was beginning to overreach, the Congress made them look so good again.

Fifth, the Congress simply does not get it. Its core problem is a crisis of credibility. Nothing it says sounds believable or credible. The more it speaks the more holes it digs for itself. The middle class, still clinging on to vestiges of hope in their man Manmohan Singh, needs to ask this question: At this point will anything that the Congress says be believable? It will take an act of great political imagination and daring to restore even minimal credibility. But there is no evidence that it is capable of taking any initiative. If the party had any imagination (or even sense of humour), it would have got its major leaders to do a counter-fast of introspection, instead of letting their words get ahead of their thinking. It would have tried to keep Parliament in session, use the JPC to project credibility instead of turning it into a slugfest on the CAG.

Where do we stand now? The crisis will only deepen. Let us not forget that there are still enough open trails in various scams that could further undermine the government. The government, and perhaps the larger political class, are also in a Catch-22 situation. Since they have no moral authority, they will not be able to resist demands for all kinds of bad legislation. If they resist, they will be accused of "going soft" on corruption; if they go along with it they will condemn the country to bad legislation. Either way, there are real dangers. Whether Baba Ramdev himself gains momentum is an open question. But he has, thanks to the government, manifestly created a mood in the country that the government needs to be taught a lesson. The BJP base has, with good reason, been energised. Unfortunately, its own crisis of credibility means that it cannot assume that the rage against the government will translate into support for it. But the Congress would be foolish to underestimate the negativism. It may win a short-term reprieve. But the undercurrents of rage will translate into more tumult. A government that is arbitrary in nature will produce a citizenry that is insolent.

Unfortunately, the crisis in the Congress is structural. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi seem to be wilfully oblivious to the responsibilities that come with power; the prime minister thinks silence is a substitute for duty. Some of its smart ministers are too arrogantly clever by half to project any credibility. A large section of the party is too submissive to ask the nasty questions that should be asked of the leadership. And those who take up the cudgels of public argument have no sense of proportion or judgement about what to say, when. What is it about the Congress party that repeatedly produces an intellectual culture that turns intelligent people into self-destructive political animals? It has performed the miracle of turning a moment of great hope for India into a moment of political despair.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi







On June 4, Pakistani sources announced the death of one of the most deadly terrorists in the region, Ilyas Kashmiri of the 313 Brigade of the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI). He was accused of numerous terrorist attacks, including the Mumbai attacks and the recent one at PNS Mehran, Karachi, and the assassination of Major General Faisal Alavi. Many in the South Asian region would want to see him dead. But the question is: is he really dead? And, more important, would the situation in the tribal areas change due to his death?

Despite Interior Minister Rehman Malik's vociferous assurance on Kashmiri's death, there are many who find it implausible simply because of the manner in which the 313 Brigade announced it. Informed observers are still doubtful about what is being claimed. In this case, there is a possibility that he may surface at some future date, possibly after doing some damage. After all, there was news of his death in a drone attack almost a year ago, which he was quick to contradict.

But even if he is actually dead, the real question is, would this have an effect on the security conditions in the tribal areas and Pakistan? There is much more happening in Waziristan than the 313 Brigade. Ilyas Kashmiri, allegedly, was one of the unfriendly jihadis to attack the Pakistani state. He had developed some friction with the agencies after he was picked up and tortured for his supposed involvement in one of the assassination attempts on General Pervez Musharraf. However, as the late journalist Saleem Shahzad had claimed, Kashmiri had mended some fences with the Pakistani authorities and was willing to attend to what was considered the Indian threat.

North Waziristan, at the moment, is infested with all kinds of friendly and unfriendly jihadi elements. While the unfriendly ones include Maulana Fazlullah, the friendly ones include Sirajuddin Haqqani and his network. Recently, on June 2, Fazlullah's forces had attacked Dir, killing more than 60 people including those from the security forces. But the army denied the news. Later, a counter-attack against the Taliban was claimed, which many in the area doubt.

More critical is the Haqqani network as it has clout in the area, which is one of the reasons for the Pakistani military wanting to forge relations with it. There seems to be continued support for the network despite recent claims that the army will launch an operation in North Waziristan. Many observers see in this the US pressure finally working on Pakistan. However, the claim was soon to be refuted by the Corps Commander, Peshawar, which means that the military seems to be reacting to public opinion in its urban centres, which is against such an operation. It is not certain as to how genuine this public pressure is, since a lot of it seems to be stage-managed through Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). Khan is believed to be close to General (retd) Hameed Gul and similar people who support Taliban operations against the US under the pretext of safeguarding national sovereignty.

The military, as it is obvious from the writings of some former military personnel such as Brigadier (retd) Shaukat Qadir, is not keen to launch an operation. They see Siraj Haqqani as a friendly force who has held back Hakeemullah Mehsud from attacking Pakistan and providing space to the armed forces when they launched an operation in South Waziristan. The cooperation between the Haqqani network and the army is most obvious to the local people in the region, including those from Parachinar. Reportedly, the dead bodies of members of the Haqqani network and seven other Taliban were instantly taken away by security forces after they died in a fight with the local Turi tribesmen who are Shias. There is great fear amongst many people in the area, especially the Parachinaris, who have been under siege for the last four years with little hope of help from the security forces.

Neither the Parachinaris nor a lot of other people expect that there will be a major operation in North Waziristan. A responsible member of the government claimed that there was little hope of a meaningful operation against the Taliban or jihadis in the region. This means the area will continue to play host to numerous forces that, when combined, can have a devastating effect on peace and stability in the region. It is quite clear that there will be no change to the script, which means Ilyas Kashmiri's death may not even count as a significant milestone in the war on terror. What it is that will change the mind of the Pakistan army is a million-dollar question to which no one has an answer yet.

The writer is an Islamabad-based defence analyst







On June 4, Pakistani sources announced the death of one of the most deadly terrorists in the region, Ilyas Kashmiri of the 313 Brigade of the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI). He was accused of numerous terrorist attacks, including the Mumbai attacks and the recent one at PNS Mehran, Karachi, and the assassination of Major General Faisal Alavi. Many in the South Asian region would want to see him dead. But the question is: is he really dead? And, more important, would the situation in the tribal areas change due to his death?

Despite Interior Minister Rehman Malik's vociferous assurance on Kashmiri's death, there are many who find it implausible simply because of the manner in which the 313 Brigade announced it. Informed observers are still doubtful about what is being claimed. In this case, there is a possibility that he may surface at some future date, possibly after doing some damage. After all, there was news of his death in a drone attack almost a year ago, which he was quick to contradict.

But even if he is actually dead, the real question is, would this have an effect on the security conditions in the tribal areas and Pakistan? There is much more happening in Waziristan than the 313 Brigade. Ilyas Kashmiri, allegedly, was one of the unfriendly jihadis to attack the Pakistani state. He had developed some friction with the agencies after he was picked up and tortured for his supposed involvement in one of the assassination attempts on General Pervez Musharraf. However, as the late journalist Saleem Shahzad had claimed, Kashmiri had mended some fences with the Pakistani authorities and was willing to attend to what was considered the Indian threat.

North Waziristan, at the moment, is infested with all kinds of friendly and unfriendly jihadi elements. While the unfriendly ones include Maulana Fazlullah, the friendly ones include Sirajuddin Haqqani and his network. Recently, on June 2, Fazlullah's forces had attacked Dir, killing more than 60 people including those from the security forces. But the army denied the news. Later, a counter-attack against the Taliban was claimed, which many in the area doubt.

More critical is the Haqqani network as it has clout in the area, which is one of the reasons for the Pakistani military wanting to forge relations with it. There seems to be continued support for the network despite recent claims that the army will launch an operation in North Waziristan. Many observers see in this the US pressure finally working on Pakistan. However, the claim was soon to be refuted by the Corps Commander, Peshawar, which means that the military seems to be reacting to public opinion in its urban centres, which is against such an operation. It is not certain as to how genuine this public pressure is, since a lot of it seems to be stage-managed through Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). Khan is believed to be close to General (retd) Hameed Gul and similar people who support Taliban operations against the US under the pretext of safeguarding national sovereignty.

The military, as it is obvious from the writings of some former military personnel such as Brigadier (retd) Shaukat Qadir, is not keen to launch an operation. They see Siraj Haqqani as a friendly force who has held back Hakeemullah Mehsud from attacking Pakistan and providing space to the armed forces when they launched an operation in South Waziristan. The cooperation between the Haqqani network and the army is most obvious to the local people in the region, including those from Parachinar. Reportedly, the dead bodies of members of the Haqqani network and seven other Taliban were instantly taken away by security forces after they died in a fight with the local Turi tribesmen who are Shias. There is great fear amongst many people in the area, especially the Parachinaris, who have been under siege for the last four years with little hope of help from the security forces.

Neither the Parachinaris nor a lot of other people expect that there will be a major operation in North Waziristan. A responsible member of the government claimed that there was little hope of a meaningful operation against the Taliban or jihadis in the region. This means the area will continue to play host to numerous forces that, when combined, can have a devastating effect on peace and stability in the region. It is quite clear that there will be no change to the script, which means Ilyas Kashmiri's death may not even count as a significant milestone in the war on terror. What it is that will change the mind of the Pakistan army is a million-dollar question to which no one has an answer yet.

The writer is an Islamabad-based defence analyst








Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's comments have, this time, stirred up a debate on the Indian Institutes of Technology. Our established IITs are around 50 years old. Everyone would agree that IIT graduates have a high brand value globally. In that sense IITs have in fact fulfilled the mandate with which they were started. Research at IITs started becoming a significant component a little later and there is no denying that among the technological research and educational institutions in the country, IITs stand tall. Even in terms of global ranking among institutions in its class, IITs rank fairly high. Running such institutions down in fact serves no purpose except demotivating the system.

Having said that, it is important to look at the role of the IITs in the national context and search for avenues to take these institutions to even higher levels. I had an opportunity to chair a committee to do precisely that. A report on this work is available on the website of the ministry of human resource development.

A country of India's size, on a rapid economic growth path, would require in today's context a significant emphasis on large-scale technology-oriented research at the highest levels of excellence. This is necessary to push the frontiers of knowledge and create new cutting-edge technologies and thereby sustain India's progress as a leading country in today's competitive global environment. We need to nurture a large science and technology-based innovation ecosystem that creates solutions for India's inclusive development and economic growth. The creation of a large pool of researchers (with PhDs), commensurate with the size of our population and economy as well as our aspirations, is a key necessity for the realisation of these objectives. At present our PhD output in engineering and technology is an order of magnitude smaller than both the US's and China's. The IITs, being the largest system for high-quality human resource development in an ambience of high-level engineering R&D, have thus to take on the challenge of creating an advanced research-based technology and innovation ecosystem that, on a national scale, is large enough to make a significant positive difference.

Such a scale-up, apart from addressing the quality issue through high-calibre faculty in adequate numbers, should also provide for a large enough and comprehensive research infrastructure; funding support to identified groups that have the potential to be among the best in the world; innovation ecosystems in partnership with industry present on the campus; laboratories to create technologies for the socio-economic development of the nation; and address some grand challenges of national importance in a coordinated effort involving a number of faculty groups working together. It is expected that this would create a considerably enriched and holistic knowledge environment for IIT faculty and students with useful linkages between them and the external world and make research at the IITs more meaningful. To create an impact and not lose out on account of sub-critical efforts, we need systems larger than what they are at present.

The quality of research would also depend on high-quality engineering graduates taking up research and teaching as a career at the IITs in large numbers. Apart from meeting needs of the growing IIT system, this is the key to enhance quality in our higher-level technological enterprises. This would require engaging with the undergraduate students at IITs as well as at other institutions to initiate them into research right in the third year. A distinctive feature of BTech at IIT is the learning opportunity in an ambience of large-scale high-level research, a feature that needs to be emulated in other institutions.

The general engineering education scene in the country is characterised by a massive augmentation of the capacity with declining quality. This has led to difficulties in recruiting quality engineers needed for nation-building and at the same time frustration among a large number of graduating engineers. Engagement of the IITs with some of the better-performing institutions could contribute to their further upgrade while creating a feeder of requisite size and quality to support scaled-up research at the IITs.

World-class institutions are characterised by the existence of a large high-quality talent pool (faculty, students and visiting researchers), vibrant academic and research linkages with external better-quality institutions, availability of liberal resources and a flexible and conducive governance system that can recognise and selectively support credible new ideas in a hassle-free manner. Funding and autonomy of the IITs are thus key areas that need serious attention. Inherent in encouraging quality research and innovation is the ability to facilitate rapid movement in new and uncharted territories following case-specific pathways. This is not possible without full autonomy for the IITs. Rigid rule-based approaches can hardly respond to such needs in a timely manner.

A possible way to create financial autonomy in government-funded institutions is to make them operationally independent while taking care of capital investment needs on the basis that R&D leads to building knowledge assets. Accountability of the institutions can be through key deliverables like number and quality of students graduating in different disciplines, quality of research as adjudged by peers, technologies and enterprise created, impact on national development and other such parameters. The operational cost of education can be recovered by the government fully supporting students for their fees and living on the campus except those undergraduate students who are in a position to pay. A hassle-free loan facility without any collateral should be available for all those who may need it. A detailed analysis shows that such an approach is feasible. In any case, full autonomy is a must for the IITs to become world-class.

The writer is former chairman, Atomic Energy Commission of India. He chaired the Kakodkar Commmittee on reforms in IITs






Last October, I won the Nobel Prize in economics for my work on unemployment and the labour market. But I am unqualified to serve on the board of the Federal Reserve — at least according to the Republican senators who have blocked my nomination. How can this be?

The easy answer is to point to shortcomings in our confirmation process and to partisan polarisation in Washington. The more troubling answer, though, points to a fundamental misunderstanding: a failure to recognise that analysis of unemployment is crucial to conducting monetary policy.

In April 2010, President Obama nominated me to be one of the seven governors of the Fed. He renominated me in September, and again in January, after Senate Republicans blocked a floor vote on my confirmation. When the Senate Banking Committee took up my nomination for the third time, the Republicans on the committee voted in lockstep against my appointment, making it extremely unlikely that the opposition to a full Senate vote can be overcome. It is time for me to withdraw, as I plan to inform the White House.

The leading opponent to my appointment, Republican Richard C. Shelby, has questioned the relevance of my expertise. "Does Dr Diamond have any experience in conducting monetary policy? No," he said in March. "His academic work has been on pensions and labour market theory."

But understanding the labour market — and the process by which workers and jobs come together and separate — is critical to devising an effective monetary policy. The financial crisis has led to continuing high unemployment. The Fed has to properly assess the nature of that unemployment to be able to lower it as much as possible while avoiding inflation. If much of the unemployment is related to the business cycle — caused by a lack of adequate demand — the Fed can act to reduce it without touching off inflation. If instead the unemployment is primarily structural — caused by mismatches between the skills that companies need and the skills that workers have — aggressive Fed action to reduce it could be misguided.

In my Nobel acceptance speech in December, I discussed in detail the patterns of hiring in the American economy, and concluded that structural unemployment and issues of mismatch were not big factors, and thus not a reason against keeping short-term interest rates low and buying Treasury securities to keep long-term rates down. Analysis of the labour market is in fact central to monetary policy.

Instead of going to the Fed, however, I will go about my congenial professional existence as a professor at MIT and I will take advantage of some of the many opportunities that come to a Nobel laureate. So don't worry about me.

But we should all worry about how little understanding of monetary policy there is among some those responsible. We need to preserve the independence of the Fed from efforts to politicise monetary policy and to limit the Fed's ability to regulate financial firms. Concern about the (seemingly low) current risk of future inflation should not erase concern about the large costs of continuing high unemployment. Concern about the distant risk of a genuine inability to handle our national debt should not erase concern about the risk to the economy from too much short-run fiscal tightening.

To the public, the political debate is often about more versus less — in both spending and regulation. There is too little public awareness of the real consequences of some of these decisions. In reality, we need more spending on some programs and less spending on others, and we need more good regulations and fewer bad ones.

Analytical expertise is needed to accomplish this, to make government more effective and efficient. Skilled analytical thinking should not be drowned out by mistaken, ideologically driven views that more is always better or less is always better. I had hoped to bring some of my own expertise and experience to the Fed. Now I hope someone else can.

The writer won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2010









India has R400 lakh crore of black money, most of it overseas, and the government is doing precious little about it. That's more than five times India's current GDP of R78.8 lakh crore. Put it that way, it's enough to make your blood boil, and that's precisely what yoga guru Ramdev who has put out these numbers is trying to do. That there is something seriously wrong with the number is obvious when you see the quantum jump in the black money numbers. In 1985, NIPFP estimated that around 21% of the country's GDP was black; by 1991, Arun Kumar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University reckoned this was around 35%; by 2006, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), the organisation that BJP leader LK Advani swears by, estimated India's black economy at 50% of GDP; in 2011, yoga-guru Ramdev's estimate is black money has grown to five times the size of the economy—that's an annual growth of 240% if you plug in the actual numbers put in by GFI ($640 bn) in 2008 and Ramdev in 2011!

What's surprising is that while top members of the FM's team, including the CBDT chief, briefed Ramdev on black money, not one of them is out there telling the public just how ridiculous the numbers are. The physical amount of black money rising is one thing, but it takes a huge leap of faith to believe the proportion of the economy that is black is rising, and so fast, at a time when tax rates have fallen to near international levels; when the government has so many more sources of information to tackle tax fraud. The point here is a simple one: the GFI will have us believe the black economy was 27.4% of GDP in the pre-reforms period and this rose to 42.4% in the post-reforms period; Ramdev thinks it's still higher. In which case, why even bother to lower tax rates from an average of 47% for imports in 1991 to 7-8% today, from 45% as the top rate for corporate tax to 32.45% today—surely the chief economic advisor must have a view on this?

Of course it's true that, at around 17%, India's tax-to-GDP ratio is lower than the OECD average of 35%—aha! that's where the Ramdev numbers are coming from. But while looking at this number, keep in mind that over half the GDP (agriculture, SSI, government, the list goes on) is not even taxed—this is not tax evasion, it is mandated by law. Were Ramdev a student of economics, he'd have asked for exemptions to be removed (7.2% of GDP according to the budget) and for the tax net to be widened. Much has also been written about the Mauritius treaty and how it is routinely abused, but two issues must be kept in mind. One, if the idea is to bring back black money, and assuming all money from Mauritius is black, the treaty is helping since 40% of FDI in India comes from Mauritius. Two, given India no longer has long-term capital gains tax, the treaty only helps investors avoid short-term taxes—plugging this is a good idea, but too much is being made of it. Someone in the finance ministry needs to be out there explaining all this.





Last year, according to a WEF report on green investing 2011, global clean energy investment surged 30% to a new record of $243 billion. In India, which is now the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases but where per capita emissions still remain pretty low, both industry and policymakers see an opportunity to demonstrate how a country can transition into a low carbon economy even from a developing stage. On the government front, we have seen announcements like the world's first national market-based energy efficiency trading mechanism and the National Solar Mission. On the industry front, the trend is confirmed by data gathered by the third edition of the FE-EVI green business survey. The survey of a group of companies that averaged a revenue growth rate of 30% over 2007-10 shows that energy intensities decreased by 11% over the period. While the trend is promising, much more will need to be accomplished along these lines since the national target is carbon intensity reduction of 20-25% by 2020. As a first step towards robust carbon management, it is good that 78.57% of the respondents are measuring their carbon footprint. As a second step, 59% of the respondents have set targets to reduce either their absolute emissions or emissions intensity. Projects involving improvements in energy efficiency are less controversial than renewables as improvements are easier to verify. Said improvements must be accompanied by innovations in clean technology to truly deliver a game-changing shift.

Investments are one benchmark for measuring innovation. India has emerged as one of the top 10 clean energy destinations in the world, securing $4 bn in private investments in 2010. This puts us at an inflection point. We see promises and we see challenges. Read the Suzlon story, which survived the global meltdown but only by taking some hits from the financial headwinds. It's now looking at stiffer competition from Chinese companies, which are also buttressed by stronger subsidies.







The serious shortage of domestic coal supplies, becoming graver by the day, is being directly attributed to the ministry of environment and forests's (MoEF) green activism; particularly that of its minister. The standoff between the ministry of coal and MoEF is only partially resolved, but this time the minister has hit the nail on the head. At the last Group of Ministers meeting, the minister pointed out that Coal India Ltd (CIL) wants to bring in more and more new areas under mining without fully exhausting the production potential of existing areas.

Is CIL left with any other option?

It is now clear that CIL has reached a stage where it is unable to further increase coal production either from the existing mines or by starting new mines. CIL had already stretched its capacity to limits when in December 2005, Public Investment Board (PIB), under the chairmanship of then-expenditure secretary, cleared 16 proposals in one shot for enhancing the capacities of several large opencast mines by an additional 100 million tonnes (mt) of annual coal production (read government approval for over-exploitation of existing mines). CIL's total annual production in the year 2004-05 was only 323 mt, which, thus, grew to 431 mt in 2009-10—an increase of over 100 mt in 5 years. Then, CIL registered zero growth next year in 2010-11.

CIL is also unable to quickly projectise virgin coal blocks, not only because of the recent go/no-go controversy but also because of the skewed government policy of the past. CIL had reported that it can produce 500 mt annually starting 2011-12 until 2036-37 if it was allowed to retain 289 virgin coal blocks (known as CIL blocks) out of the total kitty of 499 virgin coal blocks for meeting its long-term requirement. These 289 virgin coal blocks were better explored, had largely proven reserves with developed infrastructure viz rail, road, power, etc, compared to the blocks being offered for captive mining (174 in number) to private parties and others, which were largely unexplored or were away from developed infrastructure. But this was not to be. The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) supported the recommendation of the Ratan Tata-headed Investment Commission (2006), which recommended that 'CIL blocks' should be de-reserved. Since CIL was planning to projectise only 150 blocks until 2011-12, the balance 79 fully explored virgin CIL blocks were de-reserved, thus seriously limiting CIL's capacity to manoeuvre against the go/no-go embargo in 2010. Now, many of the CIL's virgin blocks to be projectised by 2011-12 got stuck with the go/no-go controversy as many of these blocks lie deep in unbroken forests in newer coalfields or in existing coalfields with already high levels of pollution. Understandably, CIL now desperately needs all these shallow virgin coal blocks to be cleared for opening new mines as it is hardly left with any other option.

In spite of many constraints, out of 40 blocks allotted prior to 2003, 14 blocks (out of 26 today) were operating in 2009 and more were ready to follow. On the other hand, the de-reserved good CIL coal blocks allotted to private parties or governments for fast tracking coal production have failed to produce any coal so far.

In the long-term, CIL's production is going to decline very sharply as the older mines get depleted faster due to over-exploitation and it would not have any virgin coal blocks to projectise after finishing the current lot due to the release of 'CIL blocks' to private parties and others.

The problem of shortage of coal to the power sector had become so acute that the PMO intervened and got some of the blocks cleared that were initially under no-go, including one coalfield in Orissa, which was high on Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index.

The pressure from the ministry of power has also been increasing because many of the existing power plants are forced to back down due to a shortage of coal, and there is a clear possibility that the shortage will result in the stranded capacity of almost 24,000 MW of the current Plan period's likely capacity addition of 55,000 MW; lowered down from the ambitious plan of 78,000 MW to start with.

It is obvious that CIL, a maharatna company, is left with no contingency plan to fall back upon and, therefore, it is now coercing the government to clear all the leftover virgin coal blocks; be it a case of diversion of deep forest land or be it a case of ignoring the high degree of pollution in the coalfields. Now the Prime Minister himself has decided to intervene by scheduling a high power meeting of concerned ministers and the deputy chairman of Planning Commission.

It is going to be a tough call but the outcome of the meeting is a foregone conclusion.

The author is senior fellow, The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi






In the long-standing feverish celebrity culture of the US, pop singer Lady Gaga has scaled new heights. She recently displaced Oprah Winfrey at the top of Forbes magazine's Celebrity 100 list, and used her latest album as a 99 cent promotion, designed to challenge Apple's dominant iTunes and its looming iCloud music services. The Amazon promotion garnered a Wall Street Journal headline, "Lady Gaga Wars."

Now Lady Gaga plans to extend her fame to South Asia. In an interview with the, she said, "The reason I'm going to India now is because I can. I didn't have the money or the resources before to travel and bring all of my things with me and reach an entire new territory of fans." The entry strategy includes several Bollywood-style remixes of her songs, and employment of a firm that specialises in producing and distributing entertainment content aimed at South Asians all over the world.

Points to note about the Lady Gaga foray: she is already global (being popular in Europe, Australia and so on), and this new effort is explicitly aimed at an "emerging market" (as the WSJ interviewer put it); another facet of globalisation is the focus on South Asians wherever they are, so that South Asia is a state of mind rather than a location; and the real purchasing power, at least for now, may be with South Asian migrants rather than those in their native lands.

According to Lady Gaga herself, though, it's not all about money. The 25-year-old spoke of taking a message of "liberation", of being courageous and fighting for one's identity. Clearly, she is not thinking of the complexities of religion, language, caste and class, or of the economic inequalities that mark India, Pakistan and other countries in the region. Lady Gaga was a Catholic schoolgirl who discovered herself in the cultural frontier of lower Manhattan. Liberation here is mostly about individualism, about choosing to reject certain societal constraints and norms. Not surprisingly, this is a youth message, one that appeals to a broad cross-section of young people, at least those above a certain income level. And Lady Gaga is sincere in her views, expressing them deliberately in her lyrics, a sincerity that endears her to her fans.

Put Lady Gaga, with her bisexuality, frank lyrics and outrageous dress and moves (much of this a great match for Bollywood), next to the Taliban, and one can visualise quite starkly some of the largest ideological conflicts that have been waged and will continue to be waged as globalisation evolves. Of course, Lady Gaga is not going to Pakistan—South Asia in its fullest ability to respond to her can only be the South Asia that is outside the region. But it was not long ago that India's film censors kept a close eye on the dress and physical proximity of movie stars, before Bombay gave way to Bollywood. It is hard to say where this will end, but India's women, its lower castes, its gays and lesbians (their rights being one of the pop star's main causes) are all still well short of liberation, even if that doesn't mean joining Lady Gaga on stage in similar outfits.

Perhaps situating Lady Gaga in a global culture clash is too portentous. There are other aspects of her meteoric rise that are less ominous but hold important lessons. First, she has perfected a cutting-edge, mass-appeal form of performance art, combining "music, fashion, art and technology", according to a reviewer in the Sunday Times. She herself says she sees colours when she composes music, and simultaneously envisages the clothes she will wear performing what she is writing. She is delivering the product as complete experience that many marketers dream of as their Holy Grail. Second, she has epitomised the creation of a personal brand and the use of online social media. With over 30 million people who "like" her on Facebook and close to 10 million followers on Twitter, in just a few years she has established a fan base that would also be the envy of marketers.

The richness and reach of Internet-based social media are perhaps the really new element in all of this. The Beatles were once so popular that John Lennon ironically said they were "bigger than Jesus". The Beatles also went to India, not to expand their fan base, but to seek higher truths. India was not much of a market then, in any case. Lady Gaga may want to offer some higher truths of her own to India, as she seeks to conquer a major emerging market, and rack up a few million more Facebook "likes" and Twitter followers. She may even inspire a few Indians to follow in her footsteps, in a form of knowledge transfer different from merely imparting technologies and business methods. Globalisation marches on.

The author is professor of economics, University of California, Santa Cruz







Considered by many to be the greatest clay-court tennis player of all time, Rafael Nadal strengthened his case after winning his sixth French Open and tying Bjorn Borg, his only rival for the title. The two champions share several traits. Much like Borg did during his aborted career (he played his last major at 25), Nadal has dominated the red dirt utilising a style based on incredible athleticism and furious topspin. But while Borg's and Nadal's formidable physical prowess cannot be understated — clay, like grass but in a different way, rewards the superior athlete — it's their tremendous mental resolve that set them apart. It's this attribute that was most discernible at Paris this year. The 25-year-old's sixth Roland Garros title didn't feature the overwhelming form that characterised his previous successes. He even admitted to not feeling his best, which the locker-room immediately picked up on. But though he played more cautiously, trying to compensate for the sort of inconsistency he hasn't had to overcome in the past, he found a way to win. Roger Federer did him a favour in stopping Novak Djokovic, who during an astonishing 41-match streak in 2011 had defeated Nadal in two clay-court finals. Djokovic would have known, however, that beating Nadal in a best-of-three-sets match is markedly different from conquering him over five sets.

Federer's renaissance was the other story of the men's event. The Swiss master produced passages of transcendental brilliance in making the final, his victory over Djokovic an exhibition of judicious, sparkling attack. Federer began similarly against Nadal, getting to within a point of winning the first set; his fight-back to win the third set had even Rafa admitting that when Roger was in that touch, no one had a chance. But Federer couldn't sustain those levels, and the contest broke down into the familiar pattern of clay-court matches between the two great champions. The Spaniard's victory was his sixth in eight Grand Slam finals against Federer. It took Nadal's record at Roland Garros to 45-1 and his winning percentage on clay to 92.65. The corresponding numbers for Borg are 49-2 and 86.27. There isn't much between the two. But the world number one has the opportunity to settle the debate if he can stay fit over the next five years. While Rafa's triumph was an occurrence the French crowd has grown accustomed to, they had the delight of a surprise winner the previous day. China's Li Na became the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam singles title. Breaking through demands both independent thought and indomitable spirit, and 29-year-old Li proved she has reserves of both.





The Uttar Pradesh government's new land acquisition policy, announced in the face of farmers' protests and impending elections, is a significant improvement over existing practices. It is sounder than the amendments to the central Act proposed by the UPA government, which have been awaiting enactment since 2007. Poor compensation calculated on rates based on the pre-development phase, a lack of consultation, and cumbersome procedures have marred the whole business of land acquisition across India. Unlike land acquired for public projects such as construction of roads, the state-enabled forcible takeover of farmland to promote private development has been strongly and rightfully challenged. The Mayawati government has commendably attempted to address some of these issues. First, the government will henceforth not directly involve itself in acquiring land for private developers. Secondly, the acquisition will not proceed without 70 per cent of the farmers consenting to the project. Thirdly, on top of the cash compensation, 16 per cent of the developed land will be given to them. In the case of land acquired for roads and canals, each affected family will be provided with a job, along with shares in the development company. These new measures are to be implemented prospectively. This means, the farmers of Bhatta-Parsaul villages who started the agitation will, unfortunately, not benefit from them.

The new policy, which sensitively integrates compensation with rehabilitation, paves the way for consensus-building. However, there is scope for improvement. For instance, the percentage of allotment of developed land need not be a fixed figure; it can be related to the extent of the impact of a project and the scale of acquisition involved. Small farmers may find it difficult to handle complicated share transactions, so simplified procedures must be put in place. Alternatives to land acquisition also need to be encouraged. For example, a study of international land acquisition practices has shown that land readjustment followed in countries such as Japan and South Korea is an alternative worth considering. This system encourages landowners to collectively negotiate land transfers and seek either land-for-land exchange or other forms of stake-holding and compensation. In India, land and development are State subjects but acquisition of land falls under the Concurrent List. The central Land Acquisition Act, 1894 is the legal instrument that is widely used by many State governments. The Mayawati government's change of course is a reminder to the UPA that the central Act needs comprehensive and urgent change — placing equity and justice at the centre of the process.







If the first quarter of the year laid bare the extent of intolerance in Pakistani society following two high-profile assassinations over the blasphemy law, the month of May forced the nation to look at itself. Many have turned away from the reflection — blaming the mirror for what it shows up — but some have redoubled their efforts to question the choices that Pakistan has made over the past several decades, bringing the nation to the point where its very existence as a functional state has come into question.

No doubt, Pakistan has had more than its fair share of upheavals since 1947. But no one can recall a time when the system seemed so shaky as it is today with terrorism, sectarianism, rising intolerance, an economy that grew at 2.4 per cent in the outgoing fiscal, widespread and increasing poverty amid pockets of plenty bordering on profligacy, power and gas shortages, crippling inflation, little or no investment, high unemployment levels, flight of capital — ironically, enough, in some cases to Bangladesh — a fledgling democracy plagued with a hand-to-mouth existence… And, now, a security establishment exposed to the core by the events of May 2011.

It was as if the last façade had crumbled. Not so much by the biggest news of the decade — the quiet finale of the most extensive manhunt of history on May 2 in Abbottabad — but by the attack on the naval airbase, PNS Mehran, 20 days later. Six terrorists penetrated a high-security facility of the Pakistan Navy, destroyed two aircraft and held out against the elite forces of the armed services for well over 12 hours with two of them even managing to escape, ripping apart the painstakingly cultivated legend of the invincibility of Pakistan's men in uniform.

While the U.S. use of superior stealth technology was cited as a reason for its helicopters flying in and out of the country unnoticed to take out al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the armed forces had no explanation for how such a high-security facility housing crucial assets of the Navy could have been breached so easily. They were left fumbling for answers, issuing clarifications stating that someone as senior as the Chief of Naval Staff had been misquoted by the media — a rarity in a country where the media are not known to take too many liberties with the armed forces. And, again, it was the civilian government which had to come up to do the fire-fighting vis-à-vis the public perception for something which has always been so out of its domain.

Though the budget of the military and intelligence agencies is beyond parliamentary scrutiny — a point flagged repeatedly by the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif — Parliament and the Defence Committee of the Cabinet were invoked to reiterate confidence in the capacity of the armed services and intelligence agencies to meet all threats to national security at a time when they were coming in for considerable ridicule. They were the butt of post-Abbottabad jokes — again a first — and the sarcasm got sharper after the PNS Mehran attack with people taking digs galore at the "specialized businesses" that the armed services have diversified into over the years including property, cement, fertilizers, bakeries and cornflakes; the message being these preoccupations leave them with little time to defend themselves, let alone the country!

But these jokes and caustic remarks like that of leading rights activist Asma Jehangir — who called the generals ``duffers'' and urged them to return to their barracks with whatever they have amassed and let people decide the destiny of this country — do not take away the reality that Pakistan has some hard choices to make. Some of this open criticism may tone down following the chilling murder of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad — widely believed to have met his death at the hands of intelligence agencies for knowing too much — but the hard choices staring Pakistan in the face will not go away. And, even if addressed, they will take a long time to show some results as the need of the hour is to "re-engineer Pakistan" that has been built into a security state driven by a systematically manufactured hatred for India.

According to former Chief of Naval Staff Fasih Bokhari, Pakistan has interpreted the word "security" only in military terms. And "strategic depth" has always meant getting more territory while it should have essentially meant expansion of the economy. Stating that the blame game will not get the nation anywhere, he observed at a public discourse that Pakistan needs to review its national identity, figure out its national purpose — take it away from hatred for India — and identify vital national interests.

Pointing out that Pakistan opted to be an Islamic Republic, his question was "does that make us first Pakistani or Islamic?" More critically this, in his opinion and that of lawyer Basharat Qadir, constitutionally sanctioned religious discrimination in Pakistan and created two categories of citizens; one category more equal than the other.

Drawing attention to the muddle that has been created in the Constitution, columnist Adnan Rehmat says: "For starters, Article 25 in its Part II titled 'Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy' guarantees equality of citizens while Article 20 guarantees the freedom to profess and practise a religion of your choice. Article 17 guarantees the freedom of association and Article 26 promises non-discrimination. And yet in the Constitution's Part I, titled 'Preamble,' Article 2 declares only one faith, Islam, to be the state religion while Articles 42 and 91(3) dealing with the oaths of the offices of President and Prime Minister mandate them to be only Muslims. This despite Article 8 guaranteeing that laws inconsistent with or in derogation of fundamental rights to be void."

Now this is a fundamental question that is unlikely to be addressed in the near future. Truth be told, it is way too much of a hot potato to be even touched at the moment. Why, even speaking about it publicly has become a life-threatening issue, so much so that the Jinnah Institute — an Islamabad-based think tank — kept the Pakistani media out of a function organised this week to launch its report on the status of religious minorities in Pakistan.

In fact, the PNS Mehran attack has shown how deep and widespread the malaise is. It is now no longer a matter of speculation that the terrorists had inside help. Such an attack would not have been possible without it. As a reaction, the armed services have apparently banned the activities of 'Tableeghi jamats' (Islamic preaching groups) in cantonments. But, even if cantonments are insulated from their influence, they are deeply entrenched in Pakistani society and the rank and file of the services are exposed to them everywhere. Then there is the use of what security analyst Imtiaz Gul describes as "Islamic motivation" within the forces. "What are we preparing the Army for? To defend Islam or Pakistan?" And, this conditioning runs through entire society; brought up as it is on a curriculum of doctored history, a never-ending search for strategic depth in Afghanistan and the "obsession" with "Enemy No. 1" India.

Given the ground realities in Pakistan, voices of reason — which say abandon Kashmir, give up dreams of making Afghanistan a Pakistani protectorate, let's rebuild Pakistan brick-by-brick — can at best flag these issues but taking on a radical ideology popularised by the state is not something civil society can do alone. This transformation has to be led by the state but, from all indications, it is still unwilling to make that course correction.

India remains the 'Enemy No. 1;' providing the rationale for Pakistan having the fastest-growing nuclear programme in the world even as global concerns of it falling into the hands of terrorists is used by the propaganda machinery to whip up the spectre of the Hindu-Christian-Zionist axis tightening the screws on the country to take away the lone 'Muslim bomb.'

According to Pervez Hoodbhoy, professor of nuclear physics, Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme has become the ultimate weapon of blackmail. Even if Pakistan is at the tipping point, there are far too many weapons for even the U.S. to take out. "It can do very little to take them out because that would mean a full scale war with a nuclear power. Pakistan knows this and is using its nuclear weapons as an instrument of blackmail. Pakistan knows that other countries will rush in to pump money into this country to prevent it from collapsing for fear of its nuclear weapons." And, terrorists — of varied hue and nationality — know this, too, as they seek safe havens in Pakistan.








CHENNAI: Why did China place a "technical hold" on an Indian request to impose sanctions of three high-ranking Pakistan-based operatives of the Laskhar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed?

A confidential cable ( 221726) dated August 21, 2009 sent by the American Embassy in Beijing to Washington quotes a Chinese Foreign Ministry official as saying this was because India had failed to provide sufficient information to merit such action.

The U.S. State Department was of the view that China's hold on listing the three terrorists was done at the behest of Pakistan.

Listing of suspected terrorists and terrorist organisations under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 obliges countries to impose sanctions against them. And China, which wields a veto in the UNSC, is empowered to block listings.

Chinese Foreign Ministry official, Shen Yinyin, Deputy Director of the United Nations Affairs Division, told a U.S. Embassy official that Beijing would not lift its hold on the listing of Abdul Rahman Makki, Azham Cheema and Mohammad Masood Azhar Alvi in the absence of adequate information. The cable quotes him as adding that Beijing "is very serious" about its commitment to the UNSC Resolution 1267.

Abdul Rahman Makki is the LeT/Jud leader Hafiz Saeed's brother-in-law and is considered the number two man in the organisation.

He heads the LeT/Jud political affairs department and is a fund raiser. His name was listed in the diary of David Headley, the main prosecution witness in the 26/11 trial in a U.S. federal court in Chicago.

Azam Cheema was the LeT intelligence chief and a key advisor of its senior leader Zaki-ur-Rahman. He is seen as the mastermind behind the July 2007 Mumbai train bombings.

Mohammad Masood Azhar Alvi is the founder of the Jaish-e-Mohammed and one of those released in 1999 by the Indian government in exchange for passengers on the hijacked Indian Airlines flight 814.

Both the LeT and the JeM are listed as terrorist outfits under the UNSCR 1267.

Mr. Shen explained that Chinese officials had approached the Indian government for more information on the cases soon after placing the technical hold. However, he said the Indian government had maintained that the information it had presented was sufficient to justify their listing.

Another confidential cable ( 244326) dated January 20, 2010 sent by the American Embassy in Beijing makes note about additional information provided to China in October 2009 about these three individuals and the United States' intention of placing this information before the UNSC 1267 Committee.

It says a political officer of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing requested Mr. Shen to see that China does not place a new technical hold on listing the three terrorists. The Chinese official is said to have acknowledged that China had not "provided a definitive response to the additional information provided" and promised to do so as soon as possible.

Designated before Obama visit

The U.S. Treasury designated the three individuals in November 2010, ahead of President Barack Obama's visit to India.

The U.S. State Department viewed China as acting at the behest of Pakistan in holding the designations. A confidential cable ( 242073) dated December 30, 2009 sent in the name of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had alleged that "on the international stage, Pakistan has sought to block the UNSCR 1267 listings of Pakistan-based or affiliated terrorists by requesting that China places a hold on the nominations."

The cable, the contents of which were published in The Hindu recently ('State Department cable cited ISI links with militants,' dated May 31, 2011), notes that China did not block the most recent Pakistan-related terrorist nomination made by the U.S.

One cable ( 213853: confidential) dated June 25, 2009 records the U.S. appreciation for Chinese support for the designation of Arif Qasmani, Muhammad Yahya Mujahid, and Fazeel-a-Tul Shaykh Abu Muhammad Ameen al-Peshawari to the UNSC 1267 Committee. The first two were LeT operatives with links to al-Qaeda and the third was said to provide assistance and funding to both the Taliban and al-Qaeda networks.

Also, China supported the December 2008 designation of JuD, Hafiz Saeed, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and two others, days after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

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








Universities have always had roles that transcend national boundaries, but there is an ugly side to internationalisation.

Like widening participation, internationalisation is a "good thing." But while widening participation is more observed in the breach than in the observance, bar the efforts of a dozen big urban "post-1992" universities, internationalisation is for everyone. In a word search of university strategic plans, "internationalisation" would probably top the poll. Examples abound. For instance, University College London proudly proclaims it is "London's Global University."

But what does internationalisation mean? The experts, of course, define it as the highest stage of international relations among universities. It is not just a fancy word to justify packing in more (high-fee) international students, or even a label to describe exotic partnerships (which inevitably demand much travelling by senior managers). The whole institution — its courses and curriculum, all its students, its research reach — has become infused with an international spirit.

I prefer a simpler distinction — the good, the bad and the ugly. Internationalisation is a clumsy word used to describe a wide range of activities, some of which we should be very proud of, and others best left in the shadows. But first, we need to dispose of the rhetoric. The overwhelming majority of universities were established as national institutions — for example, the big civic universities here in Britain and the land-grant universities in the U.S. They were not spontaneously created somewhere in the international ether.

Of course, universities have always had roles that transcend their national boundaries. Students and scholars have always been "mobile." International research collaboration has always flourished. Scientific communities have always been global. But all of this happened without any need for managerial-bureaucratic initiatives to "internationalise" the university. Internationalisation is a neologism, dating back to the 1980s at the earliest — and, disconcertingly, aligned with neo-liberalism.

Good and bad aspects

So back to the good, the bad and the ugly. The good aspects of internationalisation are things such as its potential to transform the lives of international students; its role in sustaining, and growing, science and scholarship through vigorous academic exchanges; and its potential to build social and economic capacity (especially, but not exclusively, in developing countries). The first of these will always endure. But the second nowadays often seems a contingent effect of other, less wholesome, objectives; while the third, I fear, is dwindling into insignificance.

The bad aspects, sadly, are the mainstream drivers of internationalisation. First is the pressure to recruit international students, almost entirely because they can be charged higher fees. Maybe the post-Browne ability to charge English students much higher fees will curb that appetite.

Second is the drive for geopolitical and commercial advantage. In the eyes of government, this is what it is all about. For institutions it has the advantage of gold-plating, and future-proofing, international student recruitment. Either way, ethical considerations count for little. The recent London School of Economics imbroglio with Qadhafi was a modestly venial example. Of greater concern is the way British universities have piled into China, human rights record be damned.

Third is global positioning. UCL's "global" claim in its strapline is an assertion of status. The same applies to membership of global alliances of research-intensive universities or just of "top" universities. Maybe as national hierarchies have become more open, as they have in Britain with the abandonment of the binary distinction between universities and polytechnics and the unpredictable effect of league tables, newly constructed global hierarchies offer a comforting refuge.

Finally, the ugly: "international flight." Universities that struggle to recruit students at home have targeted less discerning international students to fill their places. Others have attempted to overcome chronic threats to their sustainability, perhaps because they are too small or too specialised, by engaging in what can only be described as foreign adventures, fraught with financial and reputational risks. Both strategies subvert their core responsibilities as U.K. institutions founded and funded with national purposes in mind.

There is an urgent need to reset the compass of internationalisation, to steer towards the good and away from the ugly. Not only is this morally right, it is also probably in the best long-term interests of the sector. At the very least, it provides firm ground on which to stand against the rising wind of anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner, anti-"other" populism. ( Peter Scott is professor of higher education studies at the Institute of Education.) — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011




Dozens of dirt-poor children in a Philippine mangrove village no longer have to swim to school, straining to hold their books above the water.

A blogger who learned how children from Layag-layag village struggled to reach school raised money through Facebook to provide boats to the community in the southern Philippines. A bright-yellow, donated motorboat carried the children to their elementary school off the bustling Zamboanga city on June 6 when the country's more than 25 million students returned to school after a two-month break. The new school year refocuses attention on the ills of Philippines's educational system — congested classrooms, dilapidated buildings and a huge number of dropouts. For years, the youngsters had to swim and wade through about a mile of mostly chest-deep water and cross sandbars to reach school. A teacher said the children arrived in her class with their clothes dripping wet in the past when they could not hitch a ride on fishing boats. Many often came late but a few excelled in school.

"The children were jumping with joy holding their new bags and slippers," said a charity worker. "They did not appear as excited with the new boat. They've been so used to being in the water."






S. Gurumurthy writes with reference to the news report "Creating Baba Ramdev" by Smita Gupta published in The Hindu, issue dated June 6, 2011:

It is true that Baba Ramdev had sought my help and advice on the issue of fighting corruption and bringing back monies stashed away abroad. But that was because of my domain expertise as a chartered accountant and also my experience as an investigator into corruption at high places. I have been giving him help to the extent he seeks it.

I am very keen that Baba Ramdev should succeed in his campaign, and should play the role that JP played once to fight this menace of corruption which has infected the highest offices of government and political parties.

But there is absolutely no truth in the spin in the story in regard to any other factor in my relation with Baba Ramdev. In sum, I am associated with Baba's cause but not in his process.

I am sending this clarification in the interest of the readers of The Hindu getting the facts right.






Ilyas Kashmiri, who was reportedly killed in a drone attack near Wana in South Waziristan Friday night, was arguably the most important jihadist militant of Pakistani provenance after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — an architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks — to have hit the headlines in about a decade. As he was a former member of the Pakistani Special Forces, the Special Services Group, his case underlines, as none other does, the embryonic link between the Pakistan military

and the citizenship of Islamist jihad whose ambition embraces the subcontinent, Western Europe and North America, and many Islamic lands, including, of course, Afghanistan. In this respect, Kashmiri represents a deeper-rooted phenomenon — which implicates Pakistan's governance system and its descent into chaos and unpredictability — than the dreaded Khalid Mohammed who is in American custody and has been an inmate at Guantanamo. His death appears to have been "confirmed" through a fax sent to the media in Pakistan by the Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami (HuJI), the dangerous terrorist outfit Kashmiri led. As HuJi's "amir", Kashmiri was once looked upon by experts as Al Qaeda's operations chief in Pakistan, and many speculated he could have the credentials to lead Al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden. He was Al Qaeda's own James Bond figure — planning attacks in India, Europe and the United States. He was engaged in some derring-do, and trained two generations of Islamist fighters, beginning with the Afghan mujahideen in their fight against Soviet forces in the 1980s. Kashmiri was closely involved with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, giving the final clearance to it on behalf of Al Qaeda when the go-ahead was sought by ISI operatives and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. Most recently, the HuJI chief was associated with the attack on Mehran, the Pakistan naval air station in Karachi. He had also worked out plans to kill personnel of the Danish newspaper that had published cartoons on the Prophet. Only a week ago, according to David Coleman Headley's testimony in the Tahawwur Rana case before a Chicago court, Kashmiri was said to be scheming the murder of the CEO of Lockheed Martin, which makes the drones which have been used with deadly success in Pakistan's Waziristan region. In a sense Kashmiri was Headley's spiritual guru. Headley believed the HuJI boss represented true, religious jihad, unlike the ISI.
The Pakistan government has not officially confirmed Kashmiri's death, though interior minister Rehman Malik says he is "98 per cent" certain that the HuJI and Al Qaeda leader has indeed perished. Whether as a red herring or not, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan denies it. Officially, in Pakistan's case, there appears to be an eagerness to believe the report of Kashmiri's killing. The reason is that Islamabad is keen to claim it had a hand in passing on crucial intelligence to the US on Kashmiri's whereabouts in South Waziristan, where he had moved recently from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province simply in order to evade drones.
After Islamabad's complicity in sheltering Osama bin Laden was exposed, causing its relations with Washington to dramatically deteriorate, the Pakistani military has been encouraged with some urgency by US leaders — most notably secretary of state Hillary Clinton during a visit to Pakistan just 10 days ago — to offer vital intelligence in respect of high-value terrorist targets to make amends. Even if Pakistan's role in hitting Kashmiri was not of special relevance, we may expect the Americans to go along with the pretence that it was. This is because the US does not wish its ties with Pakistan to get derailed. In India, we need to be more level-headed and look at the bigger picture. The key questions are: Does any of this mean change in Pakistan's stance against this country on terrorism? Does it mean a lessening of Pakistan's hostility against India in Afghanistan?





It is fairly obvious the Baba Ramdev affair has been a public relations disaster for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. In facing a challenge of this nature — thousands of people congregating under the mesmeric influence of a preacher, making moralistic but ultimately impracticable demands — how should a government respond?

In cold-blooded, value-neutral terms, there could be three alternative responses. First, the government could be muscular and bring to bear what used to be called the "majesty and might" of the state. In plain English, this means using strong-arm tactics from moment one, not in some farcical, anti-climactic finale. Actively prevent crowds from gathering; keep Ramdev followers from crossing into Delhi — however anti-democratic, these are tactics governments have used in the past.
Second, the government could simply surrender and succumb. It could sign a peace deal and mimic the late Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Neville Chamberlain, at Munich — which in any case seems to the UPA government's precedent of choice in domestic and foreign policy alike. This would allow Baba Ramdev to declare victory.
Third, the government could play subtle and crafty politics. It could run a propaganda offensive against its opponent, whittle away at his credibility, spread facts and factoids — and often an artful mix of the two — about Ramdev's sources of funding, political associations and ambitions and attempt to get neutral people to question his credentials.
However immoral at least the first and third may be, all three approaches are fair game in politics. The key is to adopt one of them and stick with it, showing consistency and drive. The UPA's blunder in the past week was that it tried all three approaches in parallel. As such, while Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh was vilifying Baba Ramdev and finally labelling him a "thug", his party colleagues — ministers such as Kapil Sibal and Subodh Kant Sahai — were inviting Baba Ramdev for intimate negotiations in a five-star hotel suite. They were treating him as some sort of Pope.
Indeed, in sending four Cabinet ministers — led by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee — and the Cabinet Secretary to the airport to receive, cajole and "explain the black money issue" to Baba Ramdev, the UPA was signalling unconditional surrender. This indicated the government had lost its nerve. That gesture rightly encouraged Baba Ramdev to play hardball and take a maximalist position.
Most people don't have an opinion on Baba Ramdev. His followers and disciples clearly revere him, but there is a broader India that, till a few days ago, was undecided on him. It identified broadly with his crusade against corruption, though it had some misgivings about his wish list. Others were uneasy about a figure like Baba Ramdev leading an anti-corruption struggle but still decidedly neutral on the man himself.
By attacking a sleeping throng — men, women and children who may have been naïve, stupid, angry, disgusted or merely in thrall of a yoga guru and televangelist, but certainly constituted no immediate threat to law and order and to public peace — the UPA and its police force have only ended up garnering sympathy for Baba Ramdev even among the hitherto uncommitted.
What Ramdev demonstrated in Delhi this past week was that he has a network and a mobilisation capacity that runs across at least urban and small-town northern India. He believes this is only the vanguard of a much larger silent majority that is upset and disappointed with the serial scandals the Manmohan Singh government has presided over. That perception may or may not be true; we don't know yet.
Yet the fact is in using abusive language against Baba Ramdev — calling him a thug, calling anybody a thug, on national television is not guaranteed to win you admiration and hand-claps from most normal people — resorting to tear gas and truncheons against his supporters and throwing him out of the capital is going to push the neutrals, those who had no strong position so far, into the other camp.
Even if they don't suddenly become devotees of Baba Ramdev, their distrust of and hostility towards the UPA can only grow. The government may have nudged this segment into the non-Congress corner for the foreseeable future. If electoral politics is about assiduously putting together social coalitions, the Congress is doing quite the opposite in the build-up to 2012-14 — a period that will see elections across northern India, followed by the Lok Sabha election.
We live in an age driven by audio-visual images. Courtesy camera phones and YouTube, visuals can go viral in next to no time. The power of the visual image and the frequency of transmission can combine to give the action against Baba Ramdev's adherents a far greater meaning than it perhaps deserves.
An example would help. India has had bloody religious riots for decades. The Gujarat violence of 2002 was certainly not the worst. Even so it was the first set of riots to be recorded in real time, to be captured by television cameras. That is why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) still pays a price for it. Images from Gujarat 2002 — sometimes suitably edited to heighten the "action" — have been used in a series of elections, most tellingly in the 2004 general election, to damage the BJP.
The Ramdev images are likely to be put to work in a similar manner. In some states, they will be given a Hindu spin. In other states, they will be given a Yadav spin — Baba Ramdev is an OBC Yadav and that is why Mulayam Singh Yadav, who faces elections in Uttar Pradesh in 12 months, has backed him. In all states, they will be used to paint the Congress as anti-democratic and somehow trying to shield the corrupt.
Populist movements and crowd management may seem overwhelming but they confront governments in India on a daily basis. How a government tackles these is a test of its administrative deftness and political finesse. The UPA, unfortunately, swings between panic and craven submission on the one hand and brutal violence on the other.
It took one "fast unto death" by an electorally weakened regional leader for the Union home minister to throw up his hands and announce that a separate state of Telangana would be created. Juxtapose that with the Ramdev business. It leaves the UPA administration looking decidedly amateur.

Ashok Malik can be contacted at





There is no getting away from Baba Ramdev. Even in a Thai island, one is kept informed about the life and times of the fasting and furious yoga guru, a 46-year-old man with a flowing black beard in trademark saffron, who not only has a mass following — some 20 million-plus viewers in India tuning in to his early morning television show

— but also wields control over a yoga and meditation network reportedly worth several billion rupees. The local newspaper carries a six column report, with photograph, about how the Baba is making Indian politicians tremble. The report was written a few hours before the midnight crackdown on the Baba and his supporters at Delhi's Ramlila Grounds — the "ground zero" of the yoga guru's mass hunger strike against corruption. With that act, the situation has only become more dramatic and charges of government high-handedness are flying thick and fast on cyberspace.
Sitting one space removed from the breathless saturation coverage of the Baba Ramdev saga in our media, two immediate questions come to mind. One, why are recent anti-corruption movements — first led by Anna Hazare and now by Baba Ramdev — getting so much traction? Two, why is the government seemingly unable to gauge the level of support such movements will get? The second question sprang up when the authorities came up with this gem of a reason for the crackdown on Baba Ramdev's long-publicised hunger strike and rally against corruption — apparently, the police had permitted a rally of up to 5,000 people, but thousands more turned up, so the rally had to be stopped for "law and order" reasons.
Since Mr Hazare's hunger strike against corruption earlier this year, many media pundits have spent hours of television time and reams of newsprint telling us why such movements are a bad idea, how the civil society leaders are unrepresentative of the people, how giving in to hunger strike is like giving in to blackmail and so on and so forth. So why is there so much popular resonance the moment a similar agitation is started by the yoga guru? And why can't the government figure out beforehand the level of support such a movement will get, so that it can take pre-emptive action?
In opinion poll after opinion poll in recent years, corruption has consistently been mentioned as one of the top issues of concern to Indians. So it should not really surprise anyone that any charismatic leader can raise this issue and expect huge support. With rising petrol prices and high inflation, especially in food, the sheen of emerging India is failing to rub off on much of middle India any more, not to speak of the millions below that highly controversial poverty line. On top of that, there are daily reports of huge graft in high places, be it the 2G scam or over the Commonwealth Games 2010 contracts. The impression that some people are having a very good time through unfair means while the rest are suffering is one that is bound to lead to resentment.
That is the feeling coming through in these movements, and there is little point in rationally establishing that some aspects of these movements — or their leaders — are irrational. There is a trust deficit. Growing numbers of people, from middle India to those struggling in the margins, are desperately looking for a messiah. What matters is not how such a person or persons come across to the pundits but how they are able to reach out to the increasing numbers of people who have lost faith in the current crop of leaders. The efforts by the Centre to talk to the Baba, many of whose views send a frisson down liberal spines, before his planned rally showed that the government was at least starting to understand this feeling. But whatever goodwill had been generated by those meetings — and the earlier agreement with Mr Hazare's supporters to set up an independent panel over the Lokpal Bill — has now largely been dissipated by the midnight swoop on Baba Ramdev and his followers. Who ordered the swoop is unclear, but it is clear that various arms of the government are working at cross purposes.
What suffers in the process is the government's image — the image of being decisive and more important, of being against corruption. Now there may be protracted negotiations between the Baba and various ministers before some sort of a settlement is declared, but the image that will probably remain uppermost in the popular mind is of a government that acts against corruption only grudgingly and when pushed to the wall. It is an unfair image of a government that is right now prosecuting a former minister and other senior leaders of its own party and coalition partners on various corruption charges. But getting a fairer image will require faster and more visible action not only against corruption but also vis-a-vis movements such as those led by Mr Hazare and Baba Ramdev. It will also require more empathy from the powers that be when people groan about high prices. In politics, EQ (emotional quotient) is usually more important than IQ (intelligence quotient). Someone who has just found out that his favourite food is now beyond his means will not be comforted by being told it is part of a global trend.

The importance of perception is all too obvious in Thailand also. The Thai election campaign is now in full swing for the July 3 national polls. Like India, Thailand is witnessing an unsettling price pressure amid robust economic growth. Prices of food, fuel, electricity and daily consumer goods are up.
There is palpable disenchantment with reigning politicians, and a desperate yearning for change. A group which broke away from the ruling Democratic Party has put up posters carrying images of dogs, monkeys, lizards, with the controversial slogan "Don't Let Animals Enter Parliament" — a reference to corruption in Thai politics. In these despondent times, there is a crackle and a buzz about a telegenic 43-year-old businesswoman, with almost no previous political experience. No doubt, there is delicious irony in the fact that she is Yingluck Shinawatra, youngest sister of the famously controversial Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's former Premier, accused of corruption, and currently in self-imposed exile. Yingluck, widely believed to be a proxy for her brother, relies not only on her brother's "pro-poor" credentials, but equally her freshness, charisma, ability to "connect" with ordinary people and energy.
There are lessons here for Indian politicians.

Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at





When, in February 2008, the first United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government announced a more than `70,000 crores farm loan waiver scheme, it was hailed as a path-breaking move that would go a long way towards alleviating an important problem afflicting Indian agriculture, that is, rural indebtedness. What is more, the decision to writeoff bank loans

given for agriculture was perceived as a masterstroke on the part of the political leadership that helped it return to power with a stronger mandate from voters in the April-May 1999 Lok Sabha elections.
At the time the loan waiver scheme was announced, the government's critics complained that the decision would discourage honest borrowers from repaying their loans in the future in the hope that there would be more loan waiver schemes, a phenomenon that is somewhat esoterically described as a "moral hazard". The loan waiver scheme was also criticised on the ground that its benefits would accrue mainly to the relatively well-off sections of the farming community and not to small and marginal farmers, nor to landless agricultural workers, who do not borrow from banks but tend to be indebted to local moneylenders or mahajans who disburse loans quickly without paperwork but also charge borrowers usurious rates of interest that make them fall into a debt trap.
It now transpires that there is a huge scam behind the farm loan waiver scheme and also on account of the more recently announced concessional interest rate and interest rate subvention schemes on agricultural loans. The scandal does not pertain to a few unscrupulous individuals nor is it a case of a small section of smart borrowers exploiting loopholes in the system. There is growing evidence to indicate that the scandal is a gigantic one and that the amounts involved are substantial. All of which calls for a detailed inquiry.
Facts about the geographical dispersion of agricultural loans are startling, to say the least. Two small parts of the country, the national capital of Delhi and the Union territory of Chandigarh, had hogged the lion's share of inexpensive farm loans during the financial year 2009-10. Borrowers in Delhi and Chandigarh had obtained agricultural loans worth more than `32,000 crores that year, although there is hardly any farm land in these two urban areas. The scale of the scam becomes evident when one realises that in the same year, a smaller amount of money was borrowed in the four states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand. These four states received concessional agricultural loans worth less than `31,000 crores that year.
The politics of the scheme is apparent. The highest disbursement of farm loans in 2009-10 was to Tamil Nadu (then ruled by the coalition of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Congress) amounting to `41,100 crores. Two Congress-ruled states, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, together received concessional loans worth `61,000 crores that year. More than half (52 per cent) of the farm loans disbursed in 2009-10 went to six states or Union territories that were ruled by the Congress or the UPA. These were Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Chandigarh.
Between 2007-08 and 2010-11, Delhi received loans in excess of `57,000 crores while the figure for Tamil Nadu was `61,000 crores. Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh together received a total of `15,400 crores worth of loans in these three years. The total budgetary allocation for subsidised agricultural loans has jumped in the recent past: from `86,000 crores in 2004-05 to a budgeted `4,75,000 crores during the current financial year.
The story does not end here. In February this year, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee reduced the effective rate of interest on farm loans to four per cent per year. How did this happen?
The rate of interest on short-term agricultural loans of up to `3 lakhs had stood at seven per cent but what the finance minister did in his Budget for the current year is to announce an interest rate subvention of three per cent to those who repaid their loans on time. Thus, the effective interest rate came down to four per cent.
What happens thereafter is that after obtaining a loan at an annual interest rate of four per cent, the concerned "farmer" does not use the money for agricultural purposes. Instead, the funds are parked in various fixed deposit schemes of banks that earn the depositor annual interest rates ranging between seven per cent and 8.5 per cent.
In other words, by illegally diverting agricultural loans, the so-called farmer earns an annual interest income varying between three per cent and 4.5 per cent for doing next to nothing, by exercising what in technical parlance is called an "arbitrage opportunity".
Banks are keen on meeting their "priority sector" lending targets stipulated by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and often fail to ensure due diligence in seeing that the funds loaned at low rates of interest are being used for the purpose these have been disbursed, namely, for agriculture. In certain parts of India, banks easily extend agricultural loans at concessional interest rates against deposits of gold jewellery. Working in collusion with corrupt individuals, the loans meant for farming end up financing various other commercial and business activities, including real estate development.
It is not as if the managements of banks, the RBI and the ministry of finance are not aware of these malpractices that have become widespread over the last few years. This is hardly the first time the corruption in the manner in which farm loans are being disbursed is being discussed in the print media. But the authorities do not seem to have taken action against those responsible for perpetrating this scandal.
In this season of corruption, is the government waiting for one more major scam to blow up in its face?

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator










Many years ago, and at proper time, the United Nations rose to the importance of environment to healthy human living. It embarked on a massive programme of bringing awareness to the world community of the need to preserve healthy environment if life was to be protected against disaster. The need arose because of unbridled use of technology that entailed emission of pollutants and chemicals much injurious to human health. Western countries, being highly sensitive to the environmental ecology, took quick steps to ensure that the air remained without pollution and environments were kept clean. This needed research-based advanced technology and a clear policy of preserving the environment. The result is that despite having most modern and sophisticated industrial establishments, factories and workshops, western countries remain the most pollution-free countries of the world.
But the situation in Third World countries has not been encouraging, especially in over-populated countries in South Asia or in the African continent. Environmental degradation has taken place on a wide scale because of fast growing demands of population for basic necessities of life meaning food, shelter and work. All these had an impact on the environment which gradually got depleted of its good aspects. Water bodies began to shrink, forests began to get depleted, dry zones and deserts fanned their fangs, slums grew and emission of carbon and smoke polluted the air. The humanity was faced with a new and serious threat to health and happiness.
Nearer home, our state, too, has had its share of environmental degradation. Our rich forests met with deforestation and our water bodies met with disaster. In Kashmir valley, the lakes showed signs of shrinking fast besides getting polluted by weed that grows faster when garbage is deposited in the lakes. In Jammu, we have the unfortunate example of great pollution of River Tawi. Despite the directive from the High Court, garbage continues to be dumped in this river which is fast drying up except during the rainy season. The people in Jammu venerate Tawi as a holy river, the Tuhi of Nilamatapurana, and Suryaputri of local tradition. Older generation recollects how people of Jammu meditated at its banks and prayed to Sun God. Tawi was considered a source of blessing for the people. But alas today owing to the negligence of the government and lack of civic sense in the people, this river has turned into a garbage dumping ground. The JMC, which is responsible for maintaining its purity and cleanliness, seems to be totally indifferent to the worsening condition of the riverbed. At one time the government made tall claims of beautifying the banks of the river by creating a walkway for joy walks for the nature lovers. That remained only on paper and was never translated into practice. There was also a loud noise about creating an artificial lake in the Tawi. The noise was so loud that Pakistan raised an objection of calling it violation of water treaty between India and Pakistan. Only sometime back a delegation from Pakistan visited the Tawi on spot to report about what the State government planned to do. But this also remains an exercise restricted to papers and files and nothing is being done on the ground. How then can we claim that our country, a signatory to the World Environment Day obligations, is really doing things that go in line with the stipulations of the United Nations in this behalf? The State government should be urged to restore the pristine purity of River Tawi for environmental, historical and emotional reasons. Strict action under law should be taken against those who are deliberately dumping garbage and litter in Tawi. This must stop forthwith.







Since long, there has been a feeling with judicial establishment and the government circles that justice is becoming too expensive and too cumbersome for ordinary and poor people of the state. They cannot afford the cost and the time it takes to receive justice. And denial of justice is a big failure of democratic dispensation. As such it was agreed at responsible circles that some mechanism needs to be evolved that would bring some relief to the poor people embroiled in litigation. One method thus thought of is to provide legal aid to the deserving cases. It was in the background of this situation that Justice Altamas Kabir of the Supreme Court inaugurated Legal Aid Clinic in Srinagar. Highlighting the role of Legal Aid Clinics, said the main objective of these clinics was to provide immediate relief to the disputed parties without wasting money and time. He said the opening of these clinics was intended to provide legal relief easily and accessible to the weaker and backward sections of society. He said these clinics were like the Primary Health Centers where a doctor and other auxiliary medical staff provide immediate medical care to the patients. It is encouraging that the legal services rendered at the legal aid clinics shall be wide ranging in nature. Besides, legal advice, other services like preparing applications for job cards under the MGNREGA scheme, liaison with Government offices, and helping the common people who come to the clinic for solving their problems with officials and Institutions. Legal aid clinics shall work a single-window facility for helping the disadvantaged people to solve their problems where the operation of law comes into picture.

This is indeed a good step that the judicial establishment has taken and hopefully it will prove a success. However, it needs to be said that this is not the first instance when some concern has been expressed for the deserving people. The essential question is whether law knowing segment of our society is really alive to social responsibilities and obligations because the clinics that will be opened essentially become part of voluntary service. Unless there is dedication to the cause, just constituting clinics may not be of much good result. Just look at government run polyclinics. Seldom do patients or ailing persons come out satisfied with the treatment at these clinics. That speaks a lot about the lack of a sense of social obligation. This should not happen in the case of the law clinics which are going to be opened now to render legal assistance to the needy. We hope this experiment will succeed.







Jammu and Kashmir State being mountainous in nature, has been divided into three distinct regions. These are (i) The vale of Kashmir, known as paradise on earth; (ii) The Ladakh, centre for Buddhist culture with a unique geographical setup; and (iii) The Jammu region, well known for its plains, submountain area known as Kandi vis-a-vis Siwaliks of Himalayas.

Unfortunately after independence, with the increase in human and livestock population accompanied with varius developmental activities like building of roads, railway tracks, hydel projects, etc. a lot of damage has been caused to whole of the ecological system of the State.

Deforestation and Environment

The environment is a reflection of a green cover of the earth. But it is unfortunate that among the North-Western Himalayan States, the forests of Jammu and Kashmir are the worst affected by deforestation having only about 10 per actual forest cover as per the satellite imageries.

(a) Soil Erosion : Deforestation is a major culprit to the soil erosion. Loss of soil is a direct threat to food production and human life, especially in the hilly remote areas including the Karewas of Kashmir and Kandi belt of Jammu. Serious soil erosion has occurred in soils of all regions of Jammu and Kashmir, both in arable and non-arable lands. In unprotected land, more than 100 tonnes of loss of top soil per hectare per year has been found even in a slope of about 2-3 per cent. The foothills of the Pir Panjal Himalayas, the Great Himalayas and North Kashmir ranges have been eroded to such an extent that their top rich soil that supports crop growth/vegetation has already been lost since long and what is left behind is the unproductive mass of gravels, stones and pebbles (Gupta, 2005). There is heavy formation of rills and gullies in these areas. In Ladakh region, one can come across "U''-shaped gullies here and there. Rill and glacial kinds of erosion are also very common in this area. The problems of regeneration of forests are the problems created by the soil erosion. Gool, Gulabgarh and Sanasar areas are the glaring examples where large forest belts have totally become treeless which have eroded massively.

(b) Landslides : In Jammu and Kashmir, landslide is one of the serious environmental crisis in the National Highway No. IA and National Highway No. IB. The most vulnerable areas in this respect lie between Udhampur to Ramban and Ramban to Banihal. The other areas posing this environmental problem are Batote to Kishtwar, Doda to Bhaderwah and Kandi belt of Jammu.

(c) Vanishing Wildlife and Plants : Tiger or Cheeta, locally called chitra (Panthera pardus) once a pride for the forests of Siwaliks, is now no more in this area. Common fox (Vulpes vulpes) that used to be very common, was once listed under Schedule V of J&K State Wildlife Protection Act, 1978 has now become as a threatened species. Rhesus monkey, peacock, vulture, crow, wild quail locally called bataira, have very much declined in their number. Chiru (Pantholops hodsoni), morkhor (Capra falconeri) and hangul (Cervus elaphushanglu), snow leopard (Panthera indica) and Himalayan brown bear (Ursus arcots) are the most endangered wild animals which require for their conservation vis-a-vis musk deer (Moscus chrysogaster).
The submountain tract of Jammu Siwaliks hithero harboured a number of local fruit trees like phalsa (Grewia asiatica), jamun (Syzygium cumini), amla (Phyllanthus indica), karonda (Carissa carandes), girna (Carissa spinarum) and Lasoora (Cordia dichotoma) which now have become rare species. Similar is the fate of dhiu (Atrocarpus lakoocha), gwaalmanda (Telosma cardata), sohanjana (Moringa oleifera), kachnar or kallarh (Bauhinia variegata) as well as harar (Terminalia chebula) and bahera (Terminalia belerica), safed bach (Acorus calamus), horse chestunut (Aescushus indica), kuth (Sassurea costus), dhoop (Jurinea amacrocephala), etc are the other plant/tree species which stand endangered.

ii. Changed Environment and Waterbodies

The status and the condition of the once beautiful Dal and Wular lakes reached such a critical stage that any further decline in their aesthetic and sanitary conditions may result in lot of contamination and severe pollution. Both these lakes are losing their beauty year after year. Thank God, recently some control measures to conserve the lakes had been taken by the Government. The flow of houseboat wastes, direct sewrage, vegetable waste, garbage and other wastes from the surroundings of Dal lake has somewhat stopped.
The Dal lake of Kashmir has shrunk to nearly one-third of the original size over the 100 years because of heavy siltation. Siltation of the lake has not only reduced the area of the lake but has also deteriorated its flora and fauna. Massive sedimentation and siltation have damaged the geometry of the Mansar and Surinsar lakes of Jammu. The rivers of Jammu and Kashmir are fast silting up. The quality of water of the rivers like Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, Tawi , Ujh and Basantar is deteriorating rapidly.

Ground water resources of Jammu and Kashmir have also depleted considerably. The water table has gone down in many areas of Jammu like Chatha, Ranbirsingh Pura, Bishnah, Marh etc. The growth of crops, especially of rice-wheat cropping sequence has affected badly.

iii. Overgrazing of the Pastures

The productivity of grazing lands of Jammu and Kashmir has reduced due to grazing by the increased population of livestock far excess of land's carrying capacity. The intensive biotic activity of the nomads has dwindled the grassland resources at alarming rate. All pastures of cold arid zone of Ladakh are decreasing in genetic potential of their grasses (Gupta, 2009) due to their overgrazing by the livestock of the momads as well as low rate of nutrient recycling, heavy soil and water losses.

The green fields in the hills/mountains of Jammu and Kashmir during rainy and spring seasons which once served as pastures have now become deteriorated due to their overgrazing. Similarly, the grasslands above tree line in Paddar once used to be grazed by livestock shepherds, locally called "Shepherds Mountains'', have now been greatly damaged due to their ruthless extraction of timber and flora/fauna.
iv. Global, Warming and its effect on agriculture

Like other Himalayan States, global warming (GW) has also been observed in J&K State. Its pronounced effect was seen during 1998-99, when whole of the Kashmir valley suffered from a severe drought. During this drought, there was unpreceedented water scarcity in almost every village. The rainfall in premonsoon (March to May) dropped by 55 per cent of the normal (about 300 mm). Acute shortage of water affected both fruit and crop production.

Nowadays, the climate of Kashmir valley has so much changed that many of the farmers are now reluctant to grow paddy or rice. They are shifting towards horticulture. It is point to mention that about 2-3 decades back the peasants of Kashmir used to get about 40 q of paddy or more per hectare. Like Kashmir valley, the effect of climate has been evinced in the Kandi belt of Siwaliks as well as in the Ladakh region.
Hitherto, a number of areas of Kandi belt of Jammu were great producer of kulth, moth, green gram, black gram, gram and lentil, etc as well as bajra, jowar, cowpea, barley and oats.
Incessant rains in cold arid zone of Ladakh and Lahual Spiti and Kinnaur during 2006 made the life of the people miserable. Cloud burst during August 2010 is unforgetable when a large number of casualities took place. There was widespread damage to the crops and buildings.
Conservation measures
(i) Overexploitation of the forests/grasslands for timber, fuel wood, fruits and fodder, medicinal plants should be stopped for their regeneration and improvement of the environment.

(ii) All kinds of soil conservation measures like agronomic, mechanical or engineering and biological ones need to be followed to check the soil erosion.

(iii) Protective measures like turfing and afforestation on largescale and reafforestation of degraded forests are required to be undertaken in the landslide areas. Reduction of the hill slope, adoption of engineering structures for stabilising of rills and gullies, check dams and engineering structures are the other control measures to be followed.
(iv) Adopt diversified type of agriculture, which means the farmers should not only grow foodgrain crops but also take up horticulture, olericulture, floriculture, etc.

(v) Shifting from inorganic to organic agriculture is the need of the hour.








Extending a red carpet welcome and a VVIP treatment right at the airport with a galaxy of senior cabinet Ministers accompanied by Principal secretary to the Prime Minister as well as the cabinet secretary forming the entourage and within less than 48 hours , a crack down in the cover of darkness resulting in forcible eviction of this very "VVIP", speaks about the characteristics of two C's of confusion and contradiction which seems to have engulfed the ruling UPA. The incident of the night of June 5 at New Delhi's Ram Lila Ground by any account, cannot be justified , endorsed or even condoned, looking to those present there, being completely innocent , peaceful and almost all in sleep . Live visuals of the mid night swoop on Yog Guru Ram Dev's led peaceful Satyagrah not only accumulates in one's psyche an added sympathy for the Guru's conviction and action programme, guaranteed by our constitution but generates enough disliking of the way, dissent expressed democratically against the inaction of the present dispensation , is treated . It goes without saying that the police action was in utter violation of not only the fundamental right of the Indian citizens to gather peacefully and to demonstrate but also is violating the basic human right as lathis were rained on unsuspecting peacefully sleeping people who were taken unawares and neither woken up nor given any time to disperse, preceded by informing and even giving warning. The men, women and children were chased out in the dead of night without thinking where they could flee at that time of the night as no arrangements of transport were made for them. It is reported that women and children were beaten up , clothes of a few ladies torn , more than 60 injured, out of which 4 are reported to be in IC units of hospitals, 3 with head injuries while one is reported to be critical. This does not sound well for the government, least for the Congress party, the latter claiming to swear by democracy and democratic values.
We may not totally agree with the Yog Guru's contention and demands but his concern for unbridled corruption , scams and black money is genuine and beyond any doubt. As a citizen of this country, he has every right to voice concern about any wrong going on which he thinks could be set right and he has been almost for the last two years, vociferously calling for evolving a formidable action plan by which black money running in estimated hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees, stashed in foreign banks, could be retrieved home and the guilty punished. In the expose by the Wikileaks , the highest number of such black money account holders in Swiss banks, was of Indians which vindicates the stand of Swami Ram Dev. There could be some variation in the amount but there is no scope of its negation and any dubious and wavering stand taken by the government in resolving the issue, could put it in the dock and make people smell a rat. In its own interests, the government could have taken steps to come clean and remove the allegations that in dilly dallying and deferring tactics, it was hiding more than revealing. Baba Ram Dev, to reach somewhere near a concrete solution with the government, had even climbed down from some of his demands like demonetizing of high value currency notes and the extreme death penalty for fraudsters involving huge financial bungling and causing losses to the exchequers. In this, he had shared the difficulties of the government and wanted a written assurance on his demands mainly on bringing back ill gotten black money, stashed abroad and acting against the guilty of this national theft.
Was the government jittery and scared of the ramifications of the Yog Guru's stir ? Did it have the feeling of the rattling of exposure of some of the suspected political leaders, bureaucrats and all influencing corporate magnets that had close proximity to the corridors of power, once the process of the stashed money was brought back? Did the government go in for the prior analysis of the balance sheet of the resolution of this problem in its prospects of electoral gains getting under severe uncertainty and even the fear of drawing a flank in UP elections next year for which Bhatta Parsaul like political exercises were undertaken and some tears attempted to be shed which all powerful Mayawati government there, reduced to a naught? She has condemned the police attack on the innocent people and sought for the judicial probe. Was the bogey of the backing of RSS and BJP and other frontal organizations to the movement, extensively raised to discredit the very cause or the terminology of 5 star fast, the hidden agenda to destabilize the government, the source of funding the event and similar other hypothetical, unfounded and avoidable charges and accusations to spread dissatisfaction among the followers of the Baba? There are similar various questions which the government has to answer.
To the charges that it was the Congress crack down, Digvijay Singh, the Congress General Secretary said that it was all done by the administration and Congress had nothing to do with it. Kapil Sibel , on the other hand, refuted and said that the Congress and the government were united in taking this action and that " this will be a lesson for every body " H e further said , " Baba was another face of RSS." Digvijay Singh not surprisingly used derogatory words like "Thug" for the Baba when Mr. Singh had used the suffix of Ji to Osama Bin Laden. SP Chief Mulayam Singh said that "If the Baba is thug, then this government is "Maha Thug". Lallu Yadav who got a severe drubbing in Bihar elections, leading him feel alienated from the UPA, found an opportunity to get close to UPA combine by criticizing the Baba by calling him the most dangerous link between the Sangh Parivar organizations and advising him not to indulge in politics as he was known as "corporate Baba". He suggested to him to have white clothes rather than saffron. The team of Anna Hazare slammed eviction and wondered as to how could during the night, police swoop on the innocents? L. K. Advani sought for President's intervention as according to him the incident had wider ramifications.
If all the accusations against Ram Dev in the eyes of the government were true, why did the government sleep all these 24 months when he was mustering and galvanizing the support of the people? How can those very Ministers who unrolled a red carpet for him call him a cheat within a few hours? How can the government's defending the uncalled for eviction, not be termed as a farce and not an escapist behavioral pattern? How can the government not claim it panicked both at the start (at the airport) and later on the night of June 5, 2011 at the Ram Lila Ground? How can the government now order the congress ruled Chief Ministers go in for a "massive" probe into the "affairs" of the Baba and why not those which are not Congress ruled? How can the government not call it an attack on democracy as peaceful protesters on Bapu's taught Satyagrah, were beaten up and smoked with tear gases? How can the government not be accused of crushing the anti corruption movement?
UPA government has unwittingly made a hero at the national level of Ram Dev and made his stance hardened. People are fed up and want result oriented changes. The government can go in for damage control measures by taking effective practical steps in the right direction to eradicate corruption and bring back black money stashed abroad before it is too late.
(The views of the author are personal)






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.








Vasant Sathe is a veteran and is not afraid to speak out in his own inimitable way. A loyalist to the core, he knows the pulse of the Congress and Congressmen.
That is why his advocacy for Priyanka Vadra's entry into active politics should not be dismissed lightly, whatever might be the vibes from the Congress establishment.
It needs to be understood that the 86-year old senior leader has made a strong pitch for Priyanka when the UPA-II has completed two years in office but has still to get its act together, bruised and battered by a series of scams and scandals. It has come at a time when Rahul Gandhi, who is being projected the future leader and potential Prime Minister, has completed seven long years in politics and has not exactly set Ganga-Yamuna on fire despite being eulogized as 'youth icon' by the party.
Sathe's suggestion which has been lapped up quietly by many a party faithful and not so quietly by seniors like C K Jaffer Sharief has struck a chord in the grand old party.
This is because the feeling in the party is that the road ahead is less than rosy and the Lok Sabha elections, though three years away in 2014, is not a cakewalk.
The results in the Assembly elections in five states as also byelections in several states especially Andhra Pradesh have seen the Congress in a precarious position. The spectacular victory for the third time in succession in Assam is the only silver lining.
A section in the party feels that Priyanka's entry into active politics was the need of the hour as regional leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalithaa and Nitish Kumar were growing and "national parties are proving to be weak including Congress".
Sathe's remarks come at a time when there has been an unease in the UPA with allies like DMK coming under the shadow of the 2G spectrum scam and a section of the Congress feeling that it was time to "think out of the box" for the future elections.
Congress leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, have generally made light of queries whether the UPA experiment will be repeated in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections maintaining that the polls were far away.
Being a veteran, Sathe knows how to put across such suggestions like pleading for Priyanka becoming active in politics without antagonsing any powers that be in the grand old party and at the same time getting his message to the rank and file.
The Congress' "first family" -- Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka –should embark on a vigorous mass contact drive in the months and years to come and if this happens, the party could restore the past glory of single party rule in the next Lok Sabha polls, is the refrain of Sathe.
"I tell you with guarantee that if Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka go out all over the country, then you will see a revival of the Congress with the emergence of a vibrant organisation. There are no short cuts. It is time to throw the crutches," he has said an interview that has sent ripples in the party.
His contention that after Sonia, Priyanka is the one who has more mass appeal as compared to Rahul but she is not coming forward in active politics as she apparently feels her brother will be "sidelined" is shared by many in the party, albeit privately.
People who've watched the Congress under Indira Gandhi say Priyanka is a splitting image of her grandmother. While she easily connects with the masses, she is still untainted by the electoral failure. They feel that it's not only Indira Gandhi's mannerisms that Priyanka has inherited, but also her magnetic charm that can attract people and votes for the party.
Leaders like Jaffer Sharief feel that Priyanka is already active in politics in a limited way as she campaigns for her mother and brother in the Lok Sabha elections and manages the campaign in Amethi and Raebareli. The only thing needed is that she should now be active all over the country, is their contention. The 'bring Priyanka' debate is being raised at a time when Rahul is facing an acid test in Uttar Pradesh where the Assembly elections are scheduled next year and the Congress is leaving no stone unturned to come to power in Lucknow buoyed by its success in the last Lok Sabha elections where it won 22 of the 80 seats.
A section in the party is not happy with the way Rahul has been going about and an indication to this effect was available with senior leader R K Dhawan only recently cautioning him about his advisors.
Congressmen have generally believed that Priyanka is the "fixed desposit" of the Congress which could be encashed in times of crisis.
The AICC's stock line on the demands for Priyanka to get active in politics has been that it was for her to decide her future course of action.
While Priyanka herself has not indicated in any way her keenness to join active politics, Congresmen in the know say there is no move to bring the 39 year old daughter of Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi in the rough and tumble.
At present, the demands of leaders like Sathe are being seen by the party establishment as their attempt to grab headlines and nothing much. The debate has,however, shown that there is an unease in the party about the future and the leadership needed to deliver.
The outcome of the Mission Uttar Pradesh 2012 is expected to make the Congressman think about the way ahead as the political clock will start ticking for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections- mother of all poll battles. (PTI)











US drone attacks on Pakistan's tribal areas led to the death of a dreaded terrorist, Iliyas Kashmiri, on Friday. Kashmiri, whose name figures prominently on the list of those wanted by India from Pakistan for their role in the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack, was one of the top Al-Qaida operatives. His name was being mentioned as a possible successor to Osama bin Laden, killed by US forces at Abbottabad, near Islamabad. There is no confirmation directly from Al-Qaida, but one of its associates, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, has denied Kashmiri's demise. However, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik has stated that Kashmiri was one of the persons killed by US drones in the compound of a building owned by a tribesman linked to the Mullah Nazir group of militants, sympathetic to Islamabad. His body was charred beyond recognition, yet the Pakistan government seems to have gathered authentic information from the Nazir group. The US and other Western countries have not contradicted the claim made by the Pakistan Interior Minister.


Had Kashmiri been alive and had he taken over as the Al-Qaida chief, India would have been one of the principal targets of the men under his command. He came from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and had an India-centric approach. Otherwise Al-Qaida's operations have been focussed on Pakistan, Afghanistan, West Asia, the US and Europe. Al-Qaida seems to have been exploiting the anti-US sentiment to find new recruits. Despite the US-led international campaign to wipe out the global terrorist outfit, it continues to maintain its presence in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and certain West Asian countries. Al-Qaida has had a major role to play in the insurgency in post-Saddam Iraq and the unrest in Yemen, where anti-government protests have led to its dictator, President Abdullah Saleh, having taken shelter in Saudi Arabia on the pretext of getting treatment for the injuries he has suffered in rebel attacks.


Despite all this, India has to maintain the strongest vigil possible to prevent any terrorist strike in the country from Al-Qaida associates like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, which have their strong bases in Pakistan. Terrorists of any kind are known for springing a surprise. India also has to ensure that the international pressure on Pakistan for destroying the terrorist outfits' bases in that country remains undiminished.









Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh raised a pertinent issue while releasing a UN report on World Environment Day in Delhi. He wondered why the government should subsidise diesel for mobile firms. There are some 4,50,000 mobile towers in the country. Telecom companies use subsidised diesel to provide power at these towers, causing a loss of Rs 2,600 crore annually to the government.


The minister caused a sensation the other day when he observed that it was "criminal" to use diesel-guzzling sport utility vehicles (SUVs) in India. He had asked, again very validly: Why should luxury cars get subsidised diesel? Instead of subsidising the telecom firms and luxury car makers, suggests the minister, the money should be used to provide cheap cooking gas to the poor living in the forest areas so that they are not forced to cut trees for fuel. Few would dispute the argument.


While petrol has been decontrolled – at least on paper – the diesel prices are fixed by the government since much of the economy runs on diesel. After the recent price hikes, the gap between the petrol and diesel pricing has widened, spurring demand for diesel cars. To better target the diesel subsidy, the government can levy green taxes on commercial diesel users. The Kirit Parikh committee suggests that the government should set minimum fuel efficiency standards and rate all vehicles as well as charge the diesel car and SUV owners higher taxes. Experts also favour market-linked diesel prices, which would, after initial hiccups, stabilise and ease the government's subsidy burden.











When two of the greatest tennis players that the world has ever seen engage in a title clash, and give off their very best, the match ends up being an all-time classic. That is what the French Open final on Sunday proved to be, spellbinding the viewers completely. Rafael Nadal of Spain pipped his great rival Roger Federer in four sets, coming level with Swede Bjorn Borg for Rolland Garros men's singles triumphs. Borg had done the "impossible" of claiming the title six times from 1974 to 1981 and now Nadal seems set to go even further, given that he has a lot of top-class tennis in him yet. What exhilarating rallies and winners the duo came up with! It was an edge of the seat final all the way where Federer prevailed in the beginning but Nadal gained as the match progressed.


The way reigning champion Nadal was outplayed for seven games in the first set as he fell 2-5 behind, only to reel off five games in a row, including a set point, was an object lesson for any budding player that one should never ever give up. He won even more hearts by being effusive in praising Federer, whom he described as "certainly the best in the world, the best in history…."


What is heartening is that such intense rivalry is raising the standard of tennis day by day. This triumph ensures that Nadal would stay as world's number one ahead of Serbia's Novak Djokovic, whom Federer had despatched earlier, but the Serb is coming up fast as the next best thing. Father Time catches up with even the greatest players but fortunately, the baton is passed on to highly deserving successors. Borg would have been very pleased to see Nadal come level with his outstanding record. So what is next? 









Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit to Kabul and India's initiative to develop long-term strategic partnership will redefine New Delhi's relations with Afghanistan by giving it leverage in Kabul that it had not enjoyed in the past years. The announcement of a fresh commitment of $ 500 million worth aid along with the acceptance of the political reconciliation programme will take India's relations with Afghanistan to an altogether new level. Given the changing equations in the so-called Af-Pak region, India is using its political and diplomatic resources to reinforce its importance in Afghanistan.


Interestingly, the timing has also been perfect — the US is looking for an end to the Afghan quagmire and planning to reduce its troop presence by 2014, Osama bin Laden got killed recently, US-Pakistan relations are undergoing a fresh low, the Pakistan Army has been bidding for more leverage in the post-settlement scenario and pushing for China's increased involvement in the reconstruction process (by sidelining the US), and there is a pressing need for regional actors to show the initiative for a stable Afghanistan.


India has enjoyed close cultural and political ties with Afghanistan historically. Having signed the Treaty of Friendship with the Royal Government of Afghanistan in 1950, India went on to becoming the first democratic country in the world to recognise the communist government that was installed in Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979. India supported successive governments in Kabul till the rise of the Afghan Taliban in 1996, during whose rule it cut diplomatic relations with Afghanistan. Relations between the two countries improved tremendously after the US-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Since then, although India has intensively supported Afghanistan's reconstruction efforts and provided millions of dollars in aid, it remained politically aloof. Whereas India won the hearts and minds of the local Afghan people on the one hand, it lost out on the political front and could never utilise the clout that it once had in Kabul. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Kabul provides India an opportunity to regain political ground in Afghanistan that New Delhi allowed to erode all these years.


Firstly, the announcement of the strategic framework indicates India's "political intent" to depart from the narrow engagement with Afghanistan, often shaped by India-Pakistan rivalry. Regardless of an admirable beginning during the post-2001 period when it enjoyed tremendous goodwill among the Afghans and the Northern Alliance, India failed to capitalise on its leverage. It decided to further lower its profile in the war-torn country after the deadly attacks on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008. Although a prudent decision, given the security concerns of the Indians in Afghanistan, it did little to consolidate India's political clout.


Moreover, India's silence on the High Peace Council that has been given the responsibility to push the reconciliation process and the Peace Jirga has raised concerns among the Afghans. Framing a strategic initiative will provide a possibility to make up for past failures and allow India to fill the political vacuum that is emerging due to a limited political engagement by regional actors.


Secondly, New Delhi has shown commendable diplomatic maturity by taking a definite stand on the issue of reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban. By making it very clear that if reconciliation is what the people of Afghanistan want, then it shall support it, and that this should be an "Afghan-led" process, India has aligned its stance with the Afghan thought process. This is a departure from India's strong stance against the return of the Afghan Taliban to power in any shape or form. Also, the strategic framework does not require Afghanistan to undermine its relations with any other country. This gives a signal that India understands that President Hamid Karzai cannot do without the support of the Pakistani establishment to successfully carry out the reconciliation process. This decision is important not only because it will help India build strong ties with Afghanistan but also because it will help New Delhi in improving its relations with Pakistan.


By endorsing the reconciliation programme devised by President Karzai, India will help in dispelling suspicions in Pakistan's power corridors about India's intent in Afghanistan. It is fairly well known that Pakistan Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani wants to call the shots in Kabul. He wants to gain "strategic depth" against India by treating Afghanistan as exclusive Pakistani backwoods free of Indian or outside presence. If the Taliban ends up getting small zones of influence in Afghanistan in a power-sharing set-up, Pakistan does intend to hone its relations with it for such objectives. In such a scenario, supporting the reconciliation programme without political qualms will ease the Pakistani establishment's understanding of the role India is hoping to play in Afghanistan in the long run. This is a major psychological barrier that India has successfully overcome. Though it will not completely pacify India's security concerns and Pakistan's mistrust of India, it reflects that India does not view the two neighbours as being caught in a competition in Afghanistan.


Thirdly, Dr Manmohan Singh has said very categorically that the Indian military will not get involved in Afghanistan at all. Not only does this symbolises respect for sovereignty of the fledgling democracy but also strengthens the benign image of India among the Afghans.


India can further intensify its aid and economic engagement with Afghanistan and help Kabul in capacity-building measures. It has already promised to train the Afghan police that is expected to play a very important role in the post-settlement scenario. Furthermore, as mentioned in the Joint Declaration, the two sides have decided to enter into a strategic economic partnership for greater cooperation in sectors such as mining, metallurgy, fuel and energy, information technology, communications and transport. The two countries have also agreed on the importance of regional projects such as TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan- Pakistan-India oil pipeline) in promoting regional integration.


Therefore, with the joint declaration of strategic partnership, India has built the base to consolidate its engagement with Afghanistan and has signalled towards changing its political attitude in its neighbourhood. What still needs to be seen is whether it actually capitalises on this opportunity and keeps up to its promise of playing the role of a major partner — something that was long sought of it.


The writer is a Research Scholar with the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.









Every human act, we all understand, is actuated, inspired and provoked by some circumstance. Love begets love. Hate invites a similar sentiment.


'Ignited' by the alleged brutalities committed by the policing quarters (with due regards to the larger, competent and conscientious segment of the force), the inimitable Gulzar presented "Maachis".



Likewise, possibly uncomfortable at the state of women hockey receding into the background (repetitive expression used to achieve stress effect), Chopra scion Yash produced and directed "Chak de India".


Its effect is for all to see. Hope it persists and percolates to other games too. The "chivalrous" men have already acted and conquered the World Cup.


Lest the prompting event gets subsided in the mass of 'inspirational' tales, I come to the topic. There was a newspaper report the other day that a female car driver gave a teeth bite to a same-sex traffic police official when the latter tried to book the former for a traffic offence. The report said the situation reached the 'biting' point when the alleged traffic offender declined to part with the required documentation and also resisted the endeavour made by the official to get her out of the vehicle.


As the act of biting is (usually and universally too) attributed to the kennel club, I am not very clear about who should we turn to: Maneka Gandhi – the eternal obsessive protagonist of the prevention of cruelty to animals – or the Indian Penal Code which is executed by the law-enforcement agency.


If the parties to the episode were from different genders, the situation could be explosively chaotic. The various commissions (did we ever hear of a dispensation to protect the male too?), charged with the 'pious' responsibility of protecting the race of a particular hue, would have surfaced to announce their presence on the scene. Luckily (for whom?), it was a case of intra-race controversy.


The episode provides a meaningful cause to the establishment concerned to apply for enlargement of the budgetary allocation to enable the purchase of 'protective' gloves. Further, media mughals could be appeased to restrain the published 'reiteration' of the episode and its after-effects to avoid the multiplication of the 'infectious' exercise.









To be upstaged by US Navy SEALs and stealth helicopters in Abbottabad was one thing, perhaps even pardonable, but to be outsmarted by a small group of terrorists who held out for almost a day against the much more superior combat capability and equipment of an elite force was stunning and far more mortifying. Similar attacks have proved that no branch of the military is out of the terrorists' reach.


While the minutiae of the event — and of countless other previous ambushes on strategic targets — continue to unravel, highlighted by the mysterious death of a prominent journalist investigating the possible infiltration of the base by Al-Qaida, it is becoming clear that such incidents cannot be treated in isolation. We need to look for systemic factors that give rise to the recurrence of such disasters that erode the state's capacity and the public's morale. The recent (in camera) debate in parliament and the remarkably candid confessional statements of the military and intelligence representatives made therein, have brought home the somberness of the issues facing the nation.


Unfortunately, the discourse so far has remained confined to blame games and turf wars and there has been little introspective effort to understand the Pakistani predicament or an attempt to work towards a pragmatic and sustainable solution. It is indeed puzzling that despite the clear and present existentialist threat to the state from strident terrorist elements, its leading institutions and guardians are at best in denial and at worst in deep somnolence showing a cavalier indifference. Business as usual is the pervading norm in all institutions at all levels from the President and Prime Minister to the SHO, in the hope that the storm will die down, as in the past.


The Pakistani state and its institutions have acquired the reputation — if exaggeratedly — of serial negligence, culpability, complicity and incompetence through the inculcation of a 'culture of impunity', attributed by the US State Department to its record on human rights, which in American parlance is restricted to women's and minorities' rights.


The notion has applicability to a much wider range of state responsibilities, including the alleviation of poverty, access to education and provision of other basic entitlements of the population through the mobilisation of domestic resources — and reduction of foreign dependence — in an equitable and efficient manner. The US has now suddenly become aware of the duplicitous behaviour of state elements, while having failed to bat an eyelid so long as such egregious behaviour served its own ends, e.g. during the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad and in the more recent Raymond Davis affair.


By supporting anti-democratic military regimes in the past and by becoming an accessory in the progressive withdrawal of the state from its social and economic responsibilities, the US has undermined the Pakistani state's capability to rise up to the political and economic challenges of a modern emerging nation. This culture of impunity is now so deeply rooted that no institution is subject to an independent accountability mechanism. The entire state structure, and to an extent other allied institutions, including the media and civil society organisations, as well as ordinary citizens, have become infected with greed, corruption and illegality.


Those culpable have become too big to fail or be held accountable. Calls for independent inquiry commissions are heeded with reluctance and even when constituted their reports are often consigned to the dustbin of history.


Hoping that the present series of security lapses will lead to better investigative and punitive results is unrealistic. As a result, mutual back-scratching and political quid pro quos help to bandage a creaky state structure and prevent it from collapsing, with the US and other allies, including China, providing a helping hand in pursuit of their own national interests.


However, if serious efforts are to be made to avoid the impending doom predicted by many, the present status quo will have to be changed in many ways. The public's impatience about the continued deterioration in the economic situation is likely to reach a climax after the announcement of the budget, which is unlikely to provide any relief to the poor and will bring harsher economic policies.


The events in Abbottabad and Karachi last month, like those in Dhaka four decades ago, beckon us to search for a new strategy for a radical adjustment between our civilian and military imperatives, especially in the fields of economics and foreign policy — which are crucially interlinked through our unexamined dependence on the US. They also highlight the need for a serious dialogue with India to normalise our relations on a fast-track basis. Ties had gained momentum just before Abbottabad. We have shied away too long from addressing these fundamental issues and must pull out our heads from the sand..


In the wake of its recent twin debacles, the military is increasingly being perceived as a white elephant that grazes well beyond the boundaries it is supposed to protect and is the most obvious candidate for institutional reforms. However, it is obvious that our political class is more likely to be trampled by rather than to rein in the roaming elephant.


— By arrangement with Dawn, Islamabad







WHILE the setting up of a commission to investigate the presence and killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan has been a welcome move, the government has run into hurdles of its own making. It is another instance of the government projecting itself as a disorganised unit. Well before the commission convenes, a committee is needed to find out just how the President-Prime Minister combine went about creating the latest controversy that surrounds it. To begin with, the proposed commission goes contrary to the argument that warned the government against involving sitting members of the judiciary in the affair. The opposition parties complain they were not consulted on the matter. The judge who has been asked to head the commission says he can only do so with the approval, that has yet to be obtained, of the chief justice. And a very respectable lawyer, Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, maintains he was not informed before his nomination to the commission. A few unidentified official sources have been heard telling the media that the opposition was consulted and it was the opposition leader in the National Assembly who had proposed Mr Ebrahim`s name. These explanations are, however, drowned in a chorus of protests and allegations at a time when, in the wake of the Osama bin Laden episode, people are sensing an opportunity to discover territory they have long been denied a view of.


There are accusations the Gilani set-up has deliberately made the commission controversial to delay the probe. If this is the problem, experience tells us the present government can be brought round to accepting a popular demand. While the opposition should be careful not to let it degenerate into a point-scoring match, what the government should realise for its own good is that it doesn`t quite have the time to indulge in a game of hide-and-seek. It may deride the opposition for its `blackmailing` tactics but the government should be careful not to isolate itself by appearing to block a genuine thrust by the people. The only course for it is to quickly reconstitute the Abbottabad commission and move ahead.

— An editorial in Dawn








The killing of well-known Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad is a great loss not only to journalism, but also to the cause of fighting terrorism. He was a storehouse of information about terrorist networks and how Pakistan's dreaded intelligence agency, the ISI, used them for achieving Islamabad's geopolitical objectives.


He found his survival threatened more from the ISI than the terrorist outfits, about whom he wrote extensively for Asia Times Online, the Hong Kong-based web newspaper, for which he worked. The ISI obviously has more resources to handle an inconvenient journalist than the terrorists. He brought this to the notice of certain key figures he knew. He had plans to shift to Britain, but that was not in his fate. Death was waiting to devour him and in a very cruel manner.


Despite the ISI's denial, the Human Rights Watch (HRW), Pakistan, is sure that the ISI was behind the 40-year-old scribe's daylight abduction and murder. The All-Pakistan Newspapers Society chairman and CEO of Dawn, Mr Hameed Haroon, has come out openly in support of the stand taken by the HRW. He has taken the ISI to task for questioning what it called the "baseless allegation" levelled by Mr Ali Dayan, the Lahore-based monitor of the HRW.


According to Mr Haroon, the late journalist confided in him and several others that he had "received death threats from various officers of the ISI on at least three occasions in the past five years…."


The last threat was issued to him during his meetings at ISI headquarters in Islamabad with the Director-General of the Media Wing (ISI), Rear-Admiral Adnan Nazir, when Deputy Director-General of the Media Wing, Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, was also present, as Mr Haroon says. Shahzad was asked to officially deny his well-received story, carried in Asia Times Online, about the release of senior Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Baradar, now in American custody. The journalist has paid with his life for his refusal to listen to the ISI's diktats.


Shahzad was a fearless journalist every inch. He brought before the reading public all that he knew through his reliable sources without fearing for his life. In his book, "Inside Al-Qaida and the Taliban --- Beyond bin Laden and 9/11", he nailed the ISI for its role in the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. The book says, as given in a Dawn report by Abbas, "He (Iliyas Kashmiri) presented the suggestion of conducting such a massive operation in India as would bring India and Pakistan to war and with that all the proposed operations against Al-Qaida would be brought to a grinding halt. Al-Qaida excitedly approved the attack-India proposal."



As the book says, the ISI already had such a plan for several months. When Iliyas Kashmiri "handed over the plan to a very able former army major, Haroon Ashik, who was also a former LeT commander", the latter "accepted" it happily.


Shahzad's last story that he wrote for his web newspaper had exposed how Al-Qaida had penetrated the Pakistan Navy. He revealed that the militant attack on PNS Mehran in Karachi occurred "after talks had failed between the navy and Al-Qaida over the release of naval officers arrested on suspicion of Al-Qaida links."


Dawn carried another report quoting Zohra Yusuf, head of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, saying that Shahzad had expressed concern about his safety after receiving threatening telephone calls from the ISI. According to Zohra, Shahzad's death came at a time when he was investigating "the alleged ties between militant groups and Pakistan's powerful security establishment".


Daily Times made a very apt comment in one of its editorials: "Syed Saleem Shahzad's brutal murder seems like a warning to Pakistan's journalist community that if they continue to report honestly, they can be killed. If the people of Pakistan, especially (those associated with) the media … , do not wake up and speak out against such brutalities, every sane voice in the country will die a silent death."






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Corporate results for the January-March quarter have been a disappointment, but there may be worse in store. For the 2,526 companies that have declared their results, quarterly sales were up a healthy 23 per cent, but net profits were up only 14.6 per cent, year-on-year. At a time of rising input costs, companies have either not been able to pass on the higher costs, or chosen not to do so in the interests of growing sales volume. The drop in profit growth is striking, when compared to the October-December quarter which saw profit growth of 24 per cent, and the quarter before that with 39 per cent. The squeeze on margins is evident, with operating profit margins and net profit margins shrinking by 44 basis points each, year-on-year. Indeed, the latest results have been made respectable by just five high-performance cases — Tata Steel, Sterlite Industries, Bajaj Auto, Bharat Heavy Electricals and NMDC. Without them, profit growth was just 9 per cent, or about the same level as inflation.

A Crisil Research report asks readers to expect more margin squeezes in the new financial year. The average Ebitda (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) margin for 17 sectors (excluding oil & gas and banking) is expected to fall by around a percentage point, to 19 per cent. Sectors such as cement, real estate, textiles and shipping are forecast to see a sharper drop in profitability. A more optimistic outlook is held out for upstream oil companies and integrated metals players with captive natural resources.


The sobering outlook finds reflection in the benchmark stock market indices. The Sensex and the Nifty have been among the worst performers among their Asian peers since the beginning of this financial year, slipping 4.84 and 4.69 per cent, respectively, by the end of May. Many brokerage houses have begun talking a bearish language. Motilal Oswal, for one, has downgraded the earning per share for the 30 Sensex stocks by 4 per cent in FY12. Only one Sensex stock, Hindustan Unilever, has received an upgrade while eight stocks have witnessed a downgrade.

It might be argued that the leading scrips, having dropped to an average price-earnings multiple of 17, are in fact more attractive now than at any other stage in the last year and more. But the accident-prone nature of the system (corruption charges, multiple arrests, an ineffective government and the prospect of a period of political instability) has raised risk perceptions and resulted in both foreign and domestic investors sitting on the sidelines and watching developments while they deploy their money elsewhere. Some have put their money in bullion or real estate; others have opted for fixed deposits which now offer somewhat better rates of interest. In other words, investors are using their wallets to pass on a message to company managements.






However much you may criticise the government's actions in disrupting "Baba" Ramdev's meeting in the Capital, the controversial step should result in lowering the decibel level of the yoga guru's relentlessly noisy campaign, ostensibly aimed at attacking corruption. Mr Ramdev is stuck in remote Haridwar, the Uttar Pradesh government has refused to let him enter the state, and Congress-ruled Haryana is certain to do likewise if asked. Delhi, therefore, is out of reach, and the garrulous guru is all dressed up in women's clothes but has nowhere to go. However much the Bharatiya Janata Party may try to make capital out of the episode, through absurd comparisons with Jallianwala Bagh and the Emergency of 1975, the temperature in Delhi is likely to drop. If all that has happened is that eight rounds of tear-gas shells were fired, and some three dozen people were injured in a lathi-charge, with less than a handful in hospital, the government should consider itself lucky because this was an operation that could have gone badly wrong.

Whether the government should, therefore, congratulate itself is a different matter altogether, given that it has faced uniform criticism from all political quarters and from civil society — and, therefore, stands in splendid isolation. Indeed, there seems to be a schism with the Congress leadership too. Admittedly with the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that the original mistake was to not act on the basis of reading Mr Ramdev's true intentions and of those backing him, namely elements of the Sangh Parivar. The permission sought for the gathering at the Ramlila grounds was for a yoga camp for 5,000 people. Since Mr Ramdev's "fast unto death" had already been announced, and he had promised much larger numbers than Anna Hazare had attracted, the yoga camp was a transparent fudge; permission for the gathering should have been refused on that count alone and he should have been sent packing when he landed in Delhi. Instead, the dispatching of four ministers to receive him at the airport sent the wrong signals, about an unnerved government. The subsequent negotiations should have been informed by the knowledge that Mr Ramdev would never call off the tamasha that he had taken pains to organise. Given that the true intent was to mount a political challenge to the government, and the crowd big enough to cause worries about possible violence or a simple accident, something had to be done; the fact that Saturday night's action has not caused serious bloodshed is a matter of relief.


 Both Mr Ramdev and the government are losers. The latter is on the back foot when it comes to charges of corruption and crony capitalism, and of tardiness in tracking down money stashed away abroad. Now it has been shown to be confused and even rudderless in its handling of a political challenge. Critics will argue, with some reason, that the police action was an assault on a peaceful gathering, and therefore a bad precedent to have set. If the government is lucky in any way, it is because the principal opposition is unable to exploit the political opportunities being handed to it, one after another.







What's in a name? A lot, the National Republican Congressional Committee obviously believes. Last week, the committee sent a letter demanding that a TV station stop running an ad declaring that the House Republican budget plan would "end Medicare." This, the letter insisted, was a false claim: the plan would simply install a "new, sustainable version of Medicare".

But Comcast, the station's owner, rejected the demand — and rightly so. For Republicans are indeed seeking to dismantle Medicare as we know it, replacing it with a much worse programme.


 I'm seeing many attempts to shout down anyone making this obvious point, and not just from Republican politicians. For some reason, many commentators seem to believe that accurately describing what the Grand Old Party (GOP) is actually proposing amounts to demagoguery. But there's nothing demagogic about telling the truth.

Start with the claim that the GOP plan simply reforms Medicare rather than ending it. I'll just quote the blogger Duncan Black, who summarises this as saying that "when we replace the Marines with a pizza, we'll call the pizza the Marines". The point is that you can name the new programme Medicare, but it's an entirely different programme — call it Vouchercare — that would offer nothing like the coverage that the elderly now receive. (Republicans get huffy when you call their plan a voucher scheme, but that's exactly what it is.)

Medicare is a government-run insurance system that directly pays health care providers. Vouchercare would cut cheques to insurance companies instead. Specifically, the programme would pay a fixed amount towards private health insurance — higher for the poor, lower for the rich, but not varying at all with the actual level of premiums. If you couldn't afford a policy adequate for your needs, even with the voucher, that would be your problem.

And most seniors wouldn't be able to afford adequate coverage. A Congressional Budget Office analysis found that to get coverage equivalent to what they have now, older Americans would have to pay vastly more out of pocket under the Paul Ryan plan than they would if Medicare as we know it was preserved. Based on the budget office estimates, the typical senior would end up paying around $6,000 more out of pocket in the plan's first year of operation.

By the way, defenders of the GOP plan often assert that it resembles other, less unpopular programmes. For a while they claimed, falsely, that Vouchercare would be just like the coverage federal employees get. More recently, I've been seeing claims that Vouchercare would be just like the system created for Americans under 65 by last year's health care reform — a fairly remarkable defence from a party that has denounced that reform as evil incarnate.

So let me make two points. First, Obamacare was very much a second-best plan, conditioned by perceived political realities. Most of the health reformers I know would have greatly preferred simply expanding Medicare to cover all Americans. Second, the Affordable Care Act is all about making health care, well, affordable, offering subsidies whose size is determined by the need to limit the share of their income that families spend on medical costs. Vouchercare, by contrast, would simply hand out vouchers of a fixed size, regardless of the actual cost of insurance. And these vouchers would be grossly inadequate.

But what about the claim that none of this matters, because Medicare as we know it is unsustainable? Nonsense.

Yes, Medicare has to get serious about cost control; it has to start saying no to expensive procedures with little or no medical benefits, it has to change the way it pays doctors and hospitals, and so on. And a number of reforms of that kind are, in fact, included in the Affordable Care Act. But with these changes it should be entirely possible to maintain a system that provides all older Americans with guaranteed essential health care.

Consider Canada, which has a national health insurance programme, actually called Medicare, that is similar to the programme we have for the elderly, but less open-ended and more cost-conscious. In 1970, Canada and the United States both spent about 7 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on health care. Since then, as United States health spending has soared to 16 per cent of GDP, Canadian spending has risen much more modestly, to only 10.5 per cent of GDP. And while Canadian health care isn't perfect, it's not bad.

Canadian Medicare, then, looks sustainable; why can't we do the same thing here? Well, you know the answer in the case of the Republicans: They don't want to make Medicare sustainable, they want to destroy it under the guise of saving it.

So in voting for the House budget plan, Republicans voted to end Medicare. Saying that isn't demagoguery, it's just pointing out the truth.

©2011 The New York

Times News Service





Sun TV's fall from grace is just one instance of the huge gaping hole in media regulation in India. It happened partly because there are no clearly defined cross-media caps. Nor is there anything that states whether politicians or their relatives can or cannot own media vehicles and under what conditions. In the UK, for instance, political parties and religious bodies are not allowed to own media.

India has dozens of examples that clearly show the need for an Ofcom (UK) or Federal Communications Commission (US) kind of autonomous media regulator that is independent of the government. The country needs a regulator that will create a policy framework for the $17 billion business of media and entertainment in India and arbitrate on issues with which neither the government nor the industry can be trusted.


 Take the huge mess in news broadcasting. More than half of the staggering 122 news channels in India are owned by politicians and builders. In films, an uneven entertainment tax and the terrible shortage of screens make life miserable, if not difficult, for serious investors who want to build a business. The cable industry is a structural mess with roughly half the networks in the hands of local politicians.

One could go on. The fact remains that the media is one of those industries that governments are too afraid to touch (the paid news scandal in newspapers) or love to meddle with (content and ratings regulation in TV). Either way, government intervention hurts the industry's growth. A ministry is always in a weaker position than a regulator because it is subject to the pulls and pressures of coalition partners, party members and other individuals.

A regulator, once it is formed and is truly independent like the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) or the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda), usually stands in a good place. It is backed by an Act of Parliament. It decides on a non-political basis and its decisions are usually harder to challenge, which leads to greater stability. Why then don't we see any discussion on setting up an FCC kind of regulator?

That depends on who you talk to. It is not a suggestion most people from the industry welcome. At the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry's FRAMES in March this year, I was berated by three major broadcast CEOs for bringing up the issue. The industry still enjoys the freedom to arm-twist cable operators or theatre owners, to form joint ventures that could end up being monopolistic in nature or to invest in distribution when they already own content aggregation.

Naturally, the government hates the idea of giving up control on an industry that influences its vote bank. It is very nice for the minister of information and broadcasting to be seen pushing back the time for Big Boss or pulling up news broadcasters over falling standards. But ask the ministry to deal with the structural issues that have led to this mess in content, newspapers charging for publicising a candidate editorially, politicians owning cable networks and so on and it is lost. Most politicians prefer to deal with things that cause a ruckus in Parliament, get them mileage among the electorate and keep them on the right side of media owners.

The only set of people who welcome the suggestion comprises investors, analysts and investment bankers. That is because most can see what the lack of decent regulation is doing to this business. It is evident from all the good "decisions" that the ministry of information and broadcasting has taken in the last few years.

For instance, within a decade of allowing tax-free multiplexes in just one state, the film business grew more than seven times in revenue. Just one decision – to move from licence fee to a revenue share – moved the whole game in radio from an industry whining about operational costs to one raring to bid for 850 more licences.

But many of these good decisions are frustratingly few and far between. They all sit in some dusty report or white paper that no one reads. The only time media regulation comes to the forefront of any discussion is when a show or a film offends someone's sensibilities.

Why should that be? Why can't an independent regulator just deal with all the issues of business including content on a routine basis. My friends in the news business tell me that an "independent regulator" is not possible in India. That is not entirely correct. Sebi and Irda have played the role of an arbitrator very well. So, there is a precedent and it can be done. The question is: Which government will show the will to outsource media regulation?  







Until even a few months ago, the media was abuzz with talks of inter-regulatory conflicts and differences of opinion. The finance minister's move to create a financial stability and development council (FSDC) had upset the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) was not too happy with the way the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority (Irda) was asserting its rights of supervision over certain investment schemes that straddled the worlds of both insurance and mutual funds. Even the ministry of corporate affairs and Sebi could not see eye to eye on many issues that concerned how companies should list themselves on the stock exchanges.

At a theoretical level, such differences could well have created the impression of a healthy functioning system where open debate and expression of dissent lead to more informed decisions and better governance. However, that was not how senior officials in the government or the regulatory bodies looked at such differences. Most of the officials saw in them the manifestation of a turf battle — a desire to gain more control and acquire a larger jurisdiction.


If the finance ministry gave the impression of trying to usurp the position of a super-regulator for the financial sector, the central bank through its carefully-worded statements resisted such moves. Even Sebi made no secret of its displeasure over Irda's attempt at expanding its regulatory jurisdiction.

The change in the last couple of months is that the financial and corporate sector regulators seem to be at peace with the government. So much so that when the RBI unveiled a few weeks ago its discussion paper on the proposed holding company structure for financial conglomerates, there were no murmurs of protest from any of the other regulators.

The discussion paper had mooted the idea that the central bank would regulate the entire holding company irrespective of the different subsidiaries and the different non-banking businesses they may undertake. The proposal should have caused some concern for the insurance or the capital market regulators. In fact, however, there was no such reaction from any one of these regulators.

Similarly, the corporate affairs ministry and Sebi appear to be at peace with each other. Gone are the days when there would be heated debates over the question of who should have the final say on guidelines for listing of companies on stock exchanges or the manner of raising capital from the market.

Close observers of the central ministries note that the absence of any acrimonious debate between the government and the regulator is largely due to a change in personalities. They point out that the finance ministry has seen new officials in charge of the capital markets division as well as the financial sector department.

Similarly, Sebi now has a new chairperson, who like his predecessor is also a former Indian Administrative Services officer, but he is far more cooperative and understanding of the current teams in the ministries of finance and corporate affairs.

It is this change in the personalities at the helm that seems to have made a big difference. Today, Corporate Affairs Secretary D K Mittal and Sebi Chairperson U K Sinha resolve their issues through mutual discussion before they can become a matter of public debate. The Irda chairperson is also more comfortable with the new regime in the finance ministry, when he has to deal with it for resolving policy issues confronting the insurance sector. The RBI governor has come to terms with his position vis-a-vis other financial sector regulators, which the government has now accepted and recognised. The RBI governor is not the same as other financial sector regulators. That is why he heads a sub-committee of the FSDC, while other regulators are only members.

While personalities do make a difference in resolving issues, their contribution and effectiveness are limited only up to a point. Often, problems in regulation and governance arise because of structural anomalies. For instance, there is no reason the markets regulator would be administratively linked more to the finance ministry and much less to the ministry of corporate affairs.

Sebi's links with the finance ministry are a legacy of the past. The office of the controller of capital issues was part of the finance ministry until the government abolished it soon after the formation of Sebi. Ideally, therefore, Sebi should have closer liaison with the corporate affairs ministry. However, in practice the finance ministry has always had a bigger say in Sebi matters, quite apart from maintaining a capital markets division.

For a year or so when Jaswant Singh became the finance minister in 2002, he went to the other extreme by transferring the entire company affairs department to the finance ministry. Once he left the ministry in 2004, the United Progressive Alliance government restored status quo ante, but the finance ministry's control over Sebi continued. It is perhaps now time to remove that anomaly. If there is any ministry that should look after Sebi, it should be the corporate affairs ministry.






1. The fact that I possess a womb should disqualify me from commenting on V S Naipaul's latest broadside. A writer who believes that no woman is his equal as a writer, that women suffer from a "sentimentality, a narrow vision of the world" and that women writers are "quite different" is not going to take the criticism of women readers seriously.

2. Which isn't going to stop me or other owners of wombs anyway.


3. Not that Mr Naipaul's criticisms should shock anyone, after all these years. A list of Sir Vidia's targets over the decades includes Africans, Muslim invaders in India, infies (inferior people) of all colours and races, Indian women writers, his wives, his lovers, his friends, his editors, including the nonagenarian Diana Athill, the issuers of worthless degrees (Oxbridge), foolish people, people who do not serve him his vegetables in separate dishes, people who have not read his writings, people who have read but not understood his writings, people who have read and understood his writings but have also read writers he disapproves of, which is most writers, regardless of whether they own wombs or not.

4. So the best way to approach this fracas is to repeat the apocryphal line Ved Mehta is supposed to have said after Mr Naipaul had a spat with the German ambassador's wife in Neemrana: "You'll never guess what that terrible old man has gone and done now." The spat, now forgotten, was over Mr Naipaul's dismissal of a certain woman intellectual, to which the German ambassador's wife is supposed to have said: "We all know what your views on women are, Sir Vidia, we don't have to take them seriously," which put the Nobel laureate in a towering rage.

5. There's a very old pattern at work here; the wide, and widening, gap between Mr Naipaul the public figure and Naipaul the writer. The bulk of the pronouncements made by Mr Naipaul the public figure are rubbish — cantankerous, peevish statements meant to provoke anger and irritation. Some commentators suggested that this was a version of the West Indian tradition of picong — the swift trading of insults and banter as a kind of conversational game — but the truth is that it's just spleen. The few interviews given by Mr Naipaul the writer, most notably his Paris Review interview, in 1998, are illuminated with insight and wisdom, despite all the bigotry and the petulance of the public man.

6. Read this sentence by Mr Naipaul: "I think the world is what you enter when you think – when you become educated, when you question – because you can be in the big world and be utterly provincial." And then this sentence by Jane Austen, whom he slammed for her "sentimental ambitions": "The literary world is inspiring, but it is not all there is. I let my daily life be my raw material, even if paintings, fiction and sonatas are the fire in my forge." They led such different lives; Mr Naipaul wrested for himself the freedom to travel, to learn and to explore. Ms Austen, trammelled by the twin lack of independence and income, wrote her novels from the observation of the limited world around here, but she shares with Mr Naipaul several things: the sense of humour, the detached accuracy and the lack of sentimentality. They had a similar, excoriating wit, though Ms Austen's was caustic, Mr Naipaul's splenetic.

7. There is little need to address Mr Naipaul's central grouse, with its implication that women cannot write, or that women writers are by definition sentimental. It displays his lack of reading — could anyone who had read Hilary Mantel, Lionel Shriver, Marilyne Robinson, Margaret Atwood, Mary Shelley, Susan Sontag and company actually believe this? You could, of course, if you were a fossil, a relic from another age.

8. I could go back to Mr Naipaul's work — not the disappointing late novels that show the waning vigour and drooping powers of a played-out novelist, or the feeble African travelogue, but the humour and sharp acuity that marked books like A House for Mr Biswas, or The Mimic Men, or A Bend in the River. Books from the time when Mr Naipaul's ability to see things clearly had not been overtaken by his arrogance and his choler. But instead, I find myself reaching for Pride and Prejudice. The novel's comedy is restorative, and nothing could be more appropriate to the present situation than the title.









Unless the regulators put together a comprehensive framework for IDRs, StanChart may remain the only global company to have used the IDR route to list in India.

When Standard Chartered Plc decided to list itself in India a year ago through a Indian Depository Receipt (IDR) issue it attracted much attention. That a company of StanChart's pedigree could seek local listing was seen as proof that the Indian capital market, with its large pool of investors, was becoming a big draw for global companies. However, a year hence, no other global company has taken the IDR route to list on the Indian bourses. And subscribers to the StanChart IDR are discovering the many regulatory pitfalls to investing in IDRs. The latest came last week when SEBI decreed that the IDRs could be redeemed into underlying shares only if they were infrequently traded in the Indian market. Infrequently traded is defined as when less than five per cent of the listed IDRs are transacted in six months. With the IDRs being actively traded, what this means is that holders can no longer look forward to arbitrage profits, from a narrowing of the gap between the price of the Indian IDR and the underlying shares in the UK or Hong Kong markets. Since listing, the Indian IDR has always traded at a discount to the shares abroad, with the discount swinging between a modest 2 per cent and a very significant 14 per cent.

Free two-way fungibility of IDRs, which would have allowed traders to arbitrage on the difference between the value of the IDR here and that of the underlying shares overseas, was forbidden from the outset by the Reserve Bank of India. Investors in StanChart's IDR were told at the time of the offer that the option of redeeming IDRs into underlying shares would be permitted on a "case-to-case" basis after a one-year lock in period that was to end this week. SEBI's clarification in effect moves the goal post well after the game has begun. Closure of the arbitrage window between markets will greatly impede price discovery. Not surprising then that the StanChart IDR fell by as much as 19 per cent within minutes of the market opening on Monday.

Indeed, this is not the only regulatory aspect which makes IDRs distinctly unfriendly to investors. From the time of the StanChart offer, clarity has been lacking on vital aspects such as the tax treatment of capital gains on the instrument and the eligibility of institutional investors (such as insurance companies) to buy them. Indian IDR holders were also denied the opportunity to participate in StanChart's recent rights offer as there was lack of clarity on the offer procedure. Unless the regulators clarify these issues and put together a comprehensive framework for IDRs, StanChart may remain the only global company to have used the IDR route to list in India.







Its strategic objectives could go way beyond India, to take on Israel and support Saudi Arabia. Besides, nuclear devices could fall into the hands of non-state actors.


Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme has expanded considerably in recent years, far beyond what could be considered a minimum credible deterrent against India.

Key indications are — the rapid expansion in fissile material production, especially plutonium; moving ahead with warhead miniaturisation; development of MIRVs (multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles); and medium range ballistic missiles (MRBM).

Pakistan has also blocked progress on the fissile materials cut-off treaty (FMCT) at the disarmament committee in Geneva, a clear sign that its drive to produce fissile material is in high gear. It benefits from technical and diplomatic support from China for its weapons programme, and has also been involved in smuggling of weapons technology and material to North Korea, Iran, and Libya.

Estimates of the number of nuclear warheads with Pakistan vary considerably, due to the secrecy of its nuclear programme. Some estimates put this figure at 100-120 warheads, probably larger than India, which has to manage a credible minimum deterrent against both China and Pakistan.

Pakistan has also developed and deployed the MRBM Shaheen II with a range of 2,500-3,500 km and payload of 1000 kg. A MIRV system is being developed for this missile.


Pakistan refuses to adopt a "no first use" policy on nuclear weapons, unlike India, thus clearly indicating that nuclear weapons would be used in case of defeat in a conventional war.

Fissile material production capability has been greatly expanded by a second heavy water reactor at Khushab, completed in 2010.

This enables Pakistan to produce enough plutonium for 40-50 warheads per year. In addition, the centrifuge plant at Kahuta has 10,000- 15,000 centrifuges and can produce highly enriched uranium. However, the mainstay of the weapons programme seems to be plutonium weapons (requiring only 2-4 kg of plutonium), miniaturised to fit on missiles and boosted with tritium to enhance yields by three to four times.

Given the size of Pakistan's nuclear and missile programme, experts have speculated that its strategic objectives could go way beyond India, to respond to perceived threats from Israel, Iran, and to include nuclear umbrella protection to other states such as Saudi Arabia, with which Pakistan has very close military, political, and religious linkages. In 2003, reports emerged about a secret nuclear cooperation agreement between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In 1986, Saudi Arabia acquired 36 CSS-2 intermediate range ballistic missiles from China, which could be used for delivering nuclear weapons.

Recently it was reported that Pakistan had sold two nuclear warheads to Saudi Arabia, kept separately under heavy guard in Pakistani bases for possible use in future, as well as Ghauri II Missiles with a range of 2300 km. These could provide Saudi Arabia with a deterrent against a nuclear Iran. Given the strong strategic, military, and political relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, this type of cooperation would be seen as mutually beneficial. Financial support from Saudi Arabia for Pakistan's nuclear programme would also be an added benefit.

Weapons transfer

There is a precedent for such weapons transfers. The US has deployed hundreds of nuclear warheads in Europe, despite having signed the NPT. The arguments advanced were that this averted a nuclear arms development by European states, and did not violate the NPT, since the weapons remained under control of US personnel. Pakistan could follow the same route with Saudi Arabia, keeping the weapons on its soil.

Israel's strong capability in nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and anti- missile defensive systems and space-based platforms, make it more than a match for Pakistan in terms of nuclear deterrent.

However, the development of miniature warheads makes it possible for these to be smuggled and delivered by unconventional means, including by hard core terrorist elements. Such action could be denied by the Pakistani state, as happened with the Mumbai attacks. Here is where the real menace of Pakistan's nuclear programme lies.

Extremist elements such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and supporters of Al Qaeda have steadily eaten into the vitals of the Pakistani state. They have also infiltrated the military establishment, and have spread out into Pakistan's heartland.

The recent brazen killings of moderate political figures, the violent reactions to Osama Bin Laden's killing, and the daring attack on PNS Mehran naval base near Karachi, are a stark warning of things to come.


However confident the Pakistan military might be over security of nuclear materials and warheads, there is a very strong motivation and incentive for non-state actors to acquire a few nuclear weapons. This can be prevented by increased security, or by storing the warheads in disassembled and dispersed form. But this does not seem possible given the tensions with India and the nuclear deterrent scenario existing between China, India and Pakistan.

Indian policy makers should look at possible scenarios involving use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan against Indian targets, and take steps to protect its civil population. Even very basic civil defence measures against nuclear attacks can reduce civilian casualties and suffering considerably. However, there is no sign of any concrete measures being taken by the government in this direction.

With the rapid increase and sophistication and build up of nuclear warheads with the military establishment in Pakistan, there is always a risk that such devices may fall into the hands of non-state actors, or renegade extremist actors working for their own agendas within the state organs.

The international community would do well to consider how to deal with such a threat.

(The author is a former Ambassador of India. He has served in West Asia and Africa, including three years in Syria.






The Baba Ramdev episode bares the idea of government in contemporary India. The average Indian household would be wondering why this man was thrust upon them as a campaigner against black money and corruption. He was fine as yoga instructor. But stepping out of the studio arc lights on to the rough and tumble of tackling corruption, an issue affecting millions of Indians, requires a different approach. It is not that Ramdev cannot address corruption or black money; rather, this subject impacting people irrespective of religion, caste and creed merits a comprehensive solution.

Ramdev has leveraged his media image to be the leader of a crusade. He has no prior experience or track record of such work. Having launched into it, he has played into the hands of the media. In the process, he has transformed an ongoing crusade against corruption founded on debate about legislation into a wishy-washy campaign that was predictably capitalised by political parties.

What the Anna Hazare, Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal put together, he has messed up overnight. One wonders who benefited from that separate gathering at Delhi's Ram Lila ground, when there was already a civil society team addressing the issue of corruption?

Power of media space

Needless to say, the BJP drummed up Ramdev's detention into a national issue, proving once again that India's main Opposition party lacks imagination. In a world of unequal wealth, prominence in the media favours those who acquire media space by whatever means. Which is why our national debates are increasingly between those who manage to grab media space, and not those directly connected with issues. Baba Ramdev is a fine example of this syndrome. Worse, the Ramdev incident has exposed the BJP as incapable of escaping the saffron pool and forever risking engagement with fringe elements for political mileage. Its leaders may compare Ramdev's sacking to the days before Emergency— but who remembers the Emergency now?

'Smart' game

The government has played its cards smartly, packing off Ramdev from Delhi in a midnight coup, although the moot question is– is this man is such a threat? When one looks at the impact of Ramdev's tryst with fighting black money – Anna Hazare's campaign was overshadowed by the Ram Lila ground incident; an unimaginative Opposition was comparing it to the days preceding Emergency, the government acquired the sheen of being tough – one wonders who the architect may have been.

These are the days of charges, counter charges and brinkmanship. What it does is add layers to perception, creating confusion. This is a tactic the UPA government will be remembered for. Consciously, and in seemingly unconscious ways, the government has distanced itself from the common man's India. The more this administration ignored the common man, the more it desisted from good old-fashioned communication with the electorate, the greater was the need of the voter to seek the support of larger-than-life actors. Visibility, not relevance, has become the name of the game. That's why in the final analysis, the responsibility for what happened at the Ram Lila ground, must lie with the government.






Over grinders or a pepperoni pie at the Harvard House of Pizza, we fantasised about our entrepreneurial future. One time I asked Bill "If everything went right, how big do you think our company could be?" He said, "I think we could get it up to 35 programmers." That sounded really ambitious to me.

Idea Man – A memoir by the Co-Founder of Microsoft, Mr Paul Allen (Penguin Group) is a fascinating and rare glimpse into the lives of not one, but two icons of digital era. The book traces the extraordinary journey of Microsoft co-founders — Mr Paul Allen and Mr Bill Gates and their unique but troubled partnership which set the foundation of what is today a global software giant with about 89,000 employees.

And it tells you where it all began - The Lakeside School (when they first met, Gates was in eighth grade, and Allen in tenth). It is a tale two equals whose dramatically opposite personalities were bound by shared passion and belief. The passion for programming and the belief that in the ever-shifting landscape of hardware market, "machines came and went – good software lived on".

The book has a good flow and rhythm. It contains interesting bits about Mr Gates. Mr Allen's first impression of Mr Gates is that of a "gangly, freckle-faced eighth grader" with a scruffy-preppy look and blonde hair that went all over the place. Mr Allen candidly talks of Mr Gates' nervous energy, his extreme competitiveness, his tough and unyielding management style, his breakneck driving and waterskiing.

His side of the story

But Idea Man is clearly Mr Allen's side of the story. And so it is not really surprising that the book has kicked-off a debate of sorts. The memoirs cite umpteen instances where Mr Allen's quick thinking pulled Microsoft out of tight spots. Some believe that Mr Allen's version understates the contribution of Mr Gates in Microsoft's success.

In the opening chapter, Mr Allen says "I was the idea man…Bill listened and challenged me, and then homed in on my best ideas to help make them a reality. Our collaboration had a natural tension, but mostly it worked productively and well."

At times, Mr Allen is generous in his praise for Mr Gates and his rare gift for programming. "If my tools gave us our first big edge, Bill's conceptual talent as a programmer kept us quickly moving ahead," he says.

But somewhere between the chapters, the partnership gives way to bitterness. Mr Allen speaks of how Mr Gates made repeated attempts to dilute his stake in the company over several years - and allegedly rebuffed any counter-move by Mr Allen to up the holding.

Riveting, no doubt

Chronicles on technology whiz kids teaming up to chase a common dream and making it big in life, is nothing new. And yet reading a blow-by-blow account of creation of one of the most storied software firm is riveting.

The book is a must read, even for Microsoft sceptics. Mr Allen has even gone to the extent of summing up all that ails Microsoft today.

Also, despite its potential to appeal to wider audiences – after all Microsoft is a household name and is bound to have readership beyond computer buffs and business tycoons – the technical overkill, at places, slows down the otherwise fluid narrative.








The finance ministry's move to subject high networth taxpayers (HNIs) to intense year-round scrutiny is simply absurd. It should stop harassing those who duly file their income tax returns. The government should drop the proposal to create a dedicated cell to monitor those who report earnings over . 1 crore per annum, spending more than . 10 crore a year or having assets in excess of . 100 crore. Instead of squeezing more from those who already file returns and pay taxes, the department should go after those who remain outside the tax net. This is eminently feasible with rigorous analysis of annual information returns (AIR) that identify potential taxpayers by examining expenditure patterns. Today, the department is behind the curve in mining information gathered through the tax information network (TIN). Audit trails break up as the permanent account number (PAN) is found missing in several large financial transactions gathered through TIN. This is untenable. Every transaction should be tagged by a PAN and the unique identifier should be made mandatory for all those who make high-value purchases. A fool-proof PAN and robust TIN, not a dedicated cell for HNIs, will enable the department to identify tax evaders. Selective focus on HNIs is a bad idea that would only duplicate work for the department that already has a system in place to scrutinise income tax returns, selecting cases through the computer assisted scrutiny system (CASS) that also captures information provided by banks, credit card companies, mutual funds through the AIR. A 360-degree profile of every taxpayer can be easily created with creative and intelligent use of information technology.

Last year, around 10,600 tax-filers reported annual incomes over . 1 crore. The number dropped to 1,257 for those with a yearly income of over . 5 crore. Hardly surprising, given that less than 3% of people file tax returns in India. The base of income tax should be widened to raise the level of tax collection to GDP. The best way to do that is to expand the coverage of AIR. Also, moderate income tax rates, simple and transparent tax laws will improve compliance and stop generation of black money.






The government should buy financial institutions IL&FS and IDFC out of the giant Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor (DMIC). IL&FS currently owns 41% and IDFC 10% of the company that will build the DMIC. The government owns the remaining 49%. The project, which will run through six states — UP, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra — besides connecting eastwards to Kolkata, is too 'public' to have private owners. It is publicly funded, produces public goods and enormous returns that should belong to society at large. There is no reason why private developers who could buy out either of the two institutions should profit from the project, when most of the financing will be put up by the government. The government should own what it funds. Today, luckily, the government is not strapped for cash and it can easily afford the billions of dollars that the project will require. The DMIC will create high-speed roads and railway lines between India's largest cities. DMIC will build three new ports, six airports and a 4,000 MW power plant. It will also create half a dozen new towns, each about 200 square kilometers in area, that will be manufacturing, services and trade hubs, where families can work and live.

Apart from profits, there are issues about allowing companies to build and own towns. The practice, borrowed from the Soviet model and transplanted into India as some of our early factory towns, has no place in a vibrant democracy, which has now percolated down into municipalities and even residents' welfare associations. Who will protect the rights of residents of the new corporate towns? What will be the method of redress? Will state authorities cede responsibility for things like water, sanitation and roads to private developers? What about security? These are disquieting questions that have not received adequate attention and clear answers. Nor is there a received body of law to judge these issues by. Given that, it's best to leave giant projects like the DMIC with Central and state administrations and get private players to work on specific project details on contract.









Those who have an aesthetic distaste for proverbial cheesy s a a s - b a h userials on TV (and the faux rural Rajasthani feudal sagas that currently dominate non-English language TRPs) are naturally quite taken aback by the constant bombardment of images of a flamboyantly flocculent man in a saffron d h o t iand little else . He has jumped into their consciousness via channels that are more the preserve of the suited than the hirsute, so a culture shock was inevitable. Moreover, he seems to be (h)airily unaware of the fact that shaven chests are so d e r i g e u e r these days for a cool quotient that even Bollywood's most profoundly pileous pecs have been totally defuzzed. It would seem that the shaggy sage truly exists on some other terrestrial plane — read, non-English TV channels as opposed to the relatively cosier worldspeak of social networking. That could have been tolerable, only he has also somehow ended up redefining the word jetsetter, that too in a not-altogether aspirational way. Worse still, his hordes of followers, all hailing from unknown, unsung, and best forgotten small town India, have snatched away the term B a b alo g as well. The privileged originals, obviously outnumbered and most probably unwilling to open their club to vernacular membership, may consider renaming themselves the BBMlog instead. It will take a while for that term to be commandeered by the masses.
If it does not come in the way of his yogic exercises, the unrepentantly bristly guru could consider a more comprehensive cover-up to win over the aesthetically sceptical, given his current predicament. After all, today's opinion-making, social-networked classes are as suspicious of men in loincloths (orange or otherwise) as Winston Churchill was in the previous century.







A piece on "soft power" — in summary, the use of means, other than force, to achieve one's goals — published in this newspaper (India: Soft State to Soft Power, ET, April 5, 2011) drew a great deal of response. Most were sceptical; the view was that what really matters — especially between nations — is military strength, and it is this alone which determines the power equation. There was an acknowledgement, even if grudgingly, of the growing influence of the various elements of soft power; but this was seen as marginal, at best.
Towards the end of the last century, many felt that the nation-state was in terminal decline. Globalisation — driven and, often, caused by technology — and technology-catalysed empowerment of individuals was effectively erasing national boundaries. This fed idealistic hopes about the birth of new trans-national global communities, and the demise of the nation-state. However, the scenario evolved rather differently. The new century, particularly post 9/11 concerns about terrorism, led to more intrusive and often oppressive measures by an increasingly "big brother" state. Patriotism transformed into jingoism, and hard power is back in fashion.
Yet, if one is looking for an example of the weight of soft power, it is right here, in India. The events of the last few months have brought home — figuratively and literally — the tremendous impact of soft power. What could be more demonstrative than the spectacle of ministers trooping to the airport to receive a yoga teachercum-businessman? Or a government cajoled into creating a new committee to draft a Lokpal Bill? The point is not whether these actions are right or wrong, good or bad, or even their outcome; rather, it is the reason behind these unprecedented moves. Clearly, governmental decision-makers felt pressured by the soft power implicit in the two cases.

Recent events around the world have thrown up interesting examples of the tension between soft and hard power. The undoubted effectiveness of the latter was seen in the US action against Osama. Violating all norms and riding roughshod over principles of sovereignty, it demonstrated how overwhelming military force has no answer in the short-run. Meanwhile, terrorists around the world continue to reinforce the force-of-arms doctrine through random strikes that have killed hundreds. On the other hand, the "Arab spring" — especially in Tunisia and Egypt — was an exhibition of the capabilities of soft power. However, it would be premature to claim its victory; for, the trend now — as seen in some of the other Arab countries — is to confront soft power with direct military force. It is far from clear as to which will finally prevail.

Irrespective of the outcome, there is little doubt about the growing role of soft power within a country, as witnessed in India, Tunisia and Egypt. The critical ingredients that power these "people's movements" are community organisations — NGOs or civil society organisations (CSOs) — and media. In the latter, social media — technology-driven networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter and blogs — as also SMS and MMS, are growing in importance. The technological capability for an individual to be a "broadcaster" (reaching out to thousands through text, audio, video clips and photos) has changed the power equation. No longer are large organised entities — corporations or the state — able to control or manipulate information, or be its sole purveyors.


Moreover, technology-facilitated networking can create, almost instantaneously, virtual organisations or mobilisation of thousands as seen in Tahrir Square or (physically and virtually) Jantar Mantar. TV, and particularly 24x7 news channels, have a voracious appetite for material, and a reach that is now near-universal in cities and extremely widespread even in rural areas. When it decides to focus on any item, its impact is multiplied manifold. It is this combination of technology-driven mass mobilisation (physical and virtual) and its coverage on TV that make for an explosive critical mass, further intensified by a positive feedback cycle between the two. It is not surprising, then, that the soft power implicit in this can put governments in a tizzy. Technology, through its ability to instantaneously mobilise mass movements, has given immense clout to CSOs. Governments have woken up to this, sometimes through a rude jolt. CSOs themselves have yet to realise this immense power and need to think about how best to use it. The corporate world too needs to comprehend this new force. For long, corporates have had a strange relationship with CSOs, varying between patronage and adversarial. Some have considered CSOs as merely the recipients of the largesse of their CSR budgets, an item to be included (with an appropriate photo) in the annual report. Others have looked at them with suspicion, as trouble-makers to be wary of. However, as the focus on inclusion and environment intensifies, as land and human rights become mainstream issues, corporates will need to include CSOs amongst their stakeholders. Companies have a senior-level professional to handle government affairs; now, they need one to interface with CSOs. This requires a change in mindset. In the new scenario, companies must evolve new strategies to look at CSOs not as appendages or adversaries, but as partners.

For some years, terror groups have been the major non-state force, using hard power as their means of exerting pressure on governments. Now, CSOs have emerged as another key player, using soft power to wield influence. In years to come, this is certainly going to mean a change in the balance of power between state, business and civil society.





Missing Antenna

'Operation Ramdev', which took off on a rather comical note with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's specially designed "responsive political management" translating into the government doing a 'surya namaskar' before the enterprising yoga guru, has, finally, resulted in what has been the periodical fantasy of out-of-the-loop doomsayers — a serious case of disconnect between the Congress high command and the government. This sort of political 'management' has resulted in the Baba — whose maiden anti-graft show at the same Ramlila Grounds a couple of months ago had failed to make a mark —becoming a TV star threatening the hitherto TRP monopoly of Anna Hazare. The subsequent eviction of Baba and his supporters from the venue and the decision, by braving 'political condemnation' of the police action, to henceforth "politically deal with a politically-engineered show in the run up to the all-important Uttar Pradesh assembly polls", marked the replacement of apolitical technocrats with real politicians in the area of political management. A little bird says this course-correction could go much beyond the Baba Ramdev issue and that the next reshuffle of the Union Cabinet could demonstrate the leadership's decision to finally bring the much-missing "political content and direction" into a government whose lack of a political antenna is the worst-kept secret in the country.

Calling Attention

One accidental beneficiary of the government-Ramdev standoff turned out to be Uma Bharti. The TV channels' 24X7 preoccupation with the Ramlila grounds episode has helped the once-fiery sanyasin to escape media focus on her listless 'indefinite fast' at Hardwar ostensibly for the grand cause of saving the Ganga. Though Uttrakhand's BJP chief minister has finally offered her a much-needed face-saver in the form of lime juice to end her listless show, Umaji had already demonstrated her dwindling mass appeal right when she was trying to get a re-admission into the BJP by pretending that she still has political heft among the 'core constituency'. But then, how long could she go on maintaining the maun vrat, hoping that Nitin Gadkari would finally be able to convince his colleagues to honour the word he had given to Umaji about her 'imminent home-coming'. After all, any politician on the margins has to find ways to show his/her relevance. Unlike Vasanth Sathe's clichéd appeal for Priyanka Gandhi's political entry, at least Ms Bharti had a 'noble idea' on the Ganga for moving a "calling attention motion" before the BJP's collective leadership even though her show failed to make a splash in political waters.

Tactical Makeover

It isn't surprising that Sangh outfits have started shifting their interests from the Anna Hazare camp to the Baba Ramdev plank since it is well known that the Sangh's favourite ideologue Govindacharya has been working behind the scenes to make the Baba show a success. And who can miss Hazare making an effort to hide his 'Narendra Modi slip'. Such is Hazare's eagerness for a political correction that he even lambasted "corruption" in Modi's Gujarat! The moment Ramdev raised Sonia Gandhi's "foreign origin", Hazare changed tack by blaming the PM even though Anna's chosen target till then was "the remote control behind the good man Manmohan Singh". In the tug-of-war with the saffron-clad Baba for the anti-corruption plank, the Anna camp knows it is crucial to acquire a politically different ring-tone.

Reality Check

As Dayanidhi Maran is getting sucked into the telecom scam, the emerging mood within the DMK is interesting. When Raja and Kanimozhi were getting into trouble, the DMK camp was tense and panicky. But as Maran is engaged in fire-fighting, many in the DMK are watching the textile minister's discomfiture with amusement. Not surprising as few in the DMK saw him as anything more than Karunanidhi's grand-nephew and the party's messenger boy in Delhi. Maran too never cared to establish a personal rapport with colleagues. As troubles started visiting him, one hears whispers about jokes in DMK circles.
Milind Deora is an engaged young parliamentarian, probably destined for high office. But Parliament's official profile jumps the gun and describes him as the Union minister for corporate affairs. That office, for the present, is occupied by his father, Murli Deora.







Telecom is not Dayanidhi Maran's only headache. Over the last few weeks, his textile policy has come back to bite him, too.

Sharad Pawar and Narendra Modi have accused him of short-changing farmers. Fifty MPs say the $65-billion Indian textiles industry, and country's largest employer after agriculture, is on its knees. As minister, the buck clearly stops with Maran. Only this time he is not wholly to blame. Good politics is often bad economics.
Maran's agenda is simple: maximise industry profits. That's always a teetertotter between yarn spinners and handloom/powerloom/garment mills.

In 2010-11, India had a good cotton crop in a year when world's garment factory China was short. China was desperate for both cotton and yarn. By April, it had nudged world prices to a 140-year high.
Excited cotton and yarn exporters wanted to clean out local godowns. But free trade would have meant expensive raw material for textile mills, especially the lakhs of powerloom weavers financially no better off than one-hectare farmers.

Pushed by their threats and approaching Tamil Nadu elections, Maran intervened with an export quota after calculating local demand and supply. It was a compromise formula to keep farmers, spinners and textile mills happy with blessings from the commerce ministry, agriculture ministry, finance ministry and the PM's advisory council.
The formula didn't deliver. The quota bunched exports in February-March, creating a temporary shortage. News also trickled in that the cotton crop was smaller than estimated due to rain damage. Panic gripped the market. Textiles ministry itself was convinced industry would pay . 1 lakh per candy of cotton by October.
Cloth mills desperately tried outbidding foreign buyers to retain precious yarn, raising input costs by a third. Garment companies and apparel brands raised retail prices. Spinners, meanwhile, relished these logic-defying parabolic prices.

Then the shortage bubble burst. The Tiruppur hosiery cluster has been discharging chemicals and dyes into the local water supply. With . 13,000-crore worth exports at stake, dyers invested . 320 crore in water treatment.
However, in March, while state poll preparations were on, Madras High Court dismissed an appeal by Tiruppur Exporters Association and ordered factories shut. The state pollution control board cut off their power and water connections. Chaos ensued.

Tiruppur consumes 1,000 million kg yarn annually. Now usage fell to 800 million kg. The surplus was suddenly on the market and Maran had shut the export window. Textile mills finally did the math and the oversupplied market crashed, taking cotton with it.

Today garment companies are off Maran's mind. Despite the smaller crop, cotton prices are down 20% from April. But spinners need attention. Half were shut last week because it is cheaper to idle factories.
Even if Maran allows export, it won't help. Overseas yarn buyers know India has a glut. China is now keen to dissolve its own stocks after expensive clothing killed American demand. All major cottongrowing nations, including India, are also likely to reap a bumper harvest this summer as more acreage gets attracted to the fibre.
Yet, if spinners don't recover fast, farmers will lose in October when another cotton crop pushes prices further down. To rescue spinners, Maran plans to set up a high level committee to kickstart Tiruppur. Yarn is back on the OGL list. Some export incentives could be restored.

Will these measures help? Only temporarily. The crux of the problem is that production of cotton, stimulated by BT seed technology, has overshot yarn demand. Production of yarn, stimulated by incentive schemes, has overshot cloth demand. Till the market is allowed to find equilibrium, some stakeholders will always be at a disadvantage.

This basic economics is bad politics. Maran knows a minister's success is judged by ability to encourage exceptional profits. And he did try. Unfortunately, artificial profits created through subsidies and quotas also generate volatility and disruption.

Market fundamentals eventually rip through the best laid plans of mice and men that stand in their way.









At the start of the French Open final on Sunday night, Roger Federer dug into his customised black, red and gold Wilson kit-bag. In it he had a change of clothes, a few racquets, some extra head bands, wrist bands, socks and shoes. But along with the usual fare, Federer was carrying something else: a kitchen sink.


The same kitchen sink that Andy Roddick had tried to hit him with in the 2004 Wimbledon final, prompting Federer to go into the bathroom and get his tub.


Back in the day, the only way you had a ghost of a chance to beat Federer was getting him early. Two quick sets; in and out, before he found his feet. Roddick knew it, Federer knew it, and the entire ATP tour knew it.


Not without reason, as illustrated by these stats from between 2002 and 2010, Federer won only 46.99 per cent of all three-set matches in which he lost the first set. If he won the first, on the other hand, he went on to win 92.64 per cent of the time. In Grand Slams, played over five sets, beating him was even more difficult. His win percentage went up to 54.55 if he couldn't take the first set, and swelled to a staggering 96.79 per cent if he did.


How Federer started the French final against Nadal, therefore, had a strange coming-full-circle undertone. He went for broke at every half-chance, pulling the trigger in the manner of Marat Safin, glaring angrily in the manner of John McEnroe, and not worrying about unforced errors in the manner of Novak Djokovic.


There was a sense of indignation in how Federer carried himself at the Roland Garros centre court; a desperation to start well that was reminiscent of opponents who entered matches determined to upstage him. Federer had transformed into a creature he'd so often seen from across the court.


It worked in the beginning. He served hard, caught the lines with his groundstrokes, and made some crazy angles with his lunging volleys. It was 2-0, 3-0, and then 4-1.


From the other side of the net, it became clear to Rafael Nadal that Federer's challenge was built around winning the first set. Without that, he would be lost. Sensing the opportunity, Nadal tightened his game, started taking a few risks of his own, and got the motor in his legs working at optimum capacity.


The battle for the first set soon became another Federer vs Nadal epic; the best shot-maker versus the finest defender, one trying to end points quickly, the other attempting to send everything sailing back.


A few centimetres here, a few points there, and it may have been a different story. But 62 minutes into the match, the moment Nadal closed out the set with a head-high forehand winner, both players knew it was over. There was a tie-break in the second, and Federer even won the third: no more than means to an end that had already been written.


It sounds odd to ask this about a man who's finished runner-up in the French Open, beating the invincible Novak Djokovic on the way, but the only question now is: Where does Federer go from here?


In a world divided between those who love him and those who grudgingly admire his genius but say they hate him, Roger Federer stands isolated these days. There was a time when his shock defeats to Nadal had started adding to his charm, making him appear more human, and softening the edges of his gold-piped coats and his shimmering blazers. When he cried after winning the Wimbledon final in 2009, it was reassuring to see that he, too, felt emotions such as joy and pain.


But as that run of defeats grows, Federer's 8-17 record against his only great rival has started to weigh too heavily on his legacy. The tag of 'greatest ever' is soon becoming an acknowledgement of his elegance, rather than his dominance.


On Sunday, Federer was runningand-gunning while Nadal stayed behind cover, waiting to pounce once he'd had run out of ammunition. Federer was hustled. He looked stylish, but it was the other guy who had substance.


Federer would've realised on Sunday that the kitchen sink is for pretenders looking for their 15 minutes of fame; it's not his road to redemption. But what is? Wimbledon, perhaps?






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Ilyas Kashmiri, who was reportedly killed in a drone attack near Wana in South Waziristan Friday night, was arguably the most important jihadist militant of Pakistani provenance after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — an architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks — to have hit the headlines in about a decade. As he was a former member of the Pakistani Special Forces, the Special Services Group, his case underlines, as none other does, the embryonic link between the Pakistan military and the citizenship of Islamist jihad whose ambition embraces the subcontinent, Western Europe and North America, and many Islamic lands, including, of course, Afghanistan. In this respect, Kashmiri represents a deeper-rooted phenomenon — which implicates Pakistan's governance system and its descent into chaos and unpredictability — than the dreaded Khalid Mohammed who is in American custody and has been an inmate at Guantanamo. His death appears to have been "confirmed" through a fax sent to the media in Pakistan by the Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami (HuJI), the dangerous terrorist outfit Kashmiri led. As HuJi's "amir", Kashmiri was once looked upon by experts as Al Qaeda's operations chief in Pakistan, and many speculated he could have the credentials to lead Al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden. He was Al Qaeda's own James Bond figure — planning attacks in India, Europe and the United States. He was engaged in some derring-do, and trained two generations of Islamist fighters, beginning with the Afghan mujahideen in their fight against Soviet forces in the 1980s. Kashmiri was closely involved with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, giving the final clearance to it on behalf of Al Qaeda when the go-ahead was sought by ISI operatives and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. Most recently, the HuJI chief was associated with the attack on Mehran, the Pakistan naval air station in Karachi. He had also worked out plans to kill personnel of the Danish newspaper that had published cartoons on the Prophet. Only a week ago, according to David Coleman Headley's testimony in the Tahawwur Rana case before a Chicago court, Kashmiri was said to be scheming the murder of the CEO of Lockheed Martin, which makes the drones which have been used with deadly success in Pakistan's Waziristan region. In a sense Kashmiri was Headley's spiritual guru. Headley believed the HuJI boss represented true, religious jihad, unlike the ISI. The Pakistan government has not officially confirmed Kashmiri's death, though interior minister Rehman Malik says he is "98 per cent" certain that the HuJI and Al Qaeda leader has indeed perished. Whether as a red herring or not, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan denies it. Officially, in Pakistan's case, there appears to be an eagerness to believe the report of Kashmiri's killing. The reason is that Islamabad is keen to claim it had a hand in passing on crucial intelligence to the US on Kashmiri's whereabouts in South Waziristan, where he had moved recently from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province simply in order to evade drones. After Islamabad's complicity in sheltering Osama bin Laden was exposed, causing its relations with Washington to dramatically deteriorate, the Pakistani military has been encouraged with some urgency by US leaders to offer vital intelligence in respect of high-value terrorist targets to make amends. Even if Pakistan's role in hitting Kashmiri was not of special relevance, we may expect the Americans to go along with the pretence that it was.






It is fairly obvious the Baba Ramdev affair has been a public relations disaster for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. In facing a challenge of this nature — thousands of people congregating under the mesmeric influence of a preacher, making moralistic but ultimately impracticable demands — how should a government respond? In cold-blooded, value-neutral terms, there could be three alternative responses. First, the government could be muscular and bring to bear what used to be called the "majesty and might" of the state. In plain English, this means using strong-arm tactics from moment one, not in some farcical, anti-climactic finale. Actively prevent crowds from gathering; keep Ramdev followers from crossing into Delhi — however anti-democratic, these are tactics governments have used in the past. Second, the government could simply surrender and succumb. It could sign a peace deal and mimic the late Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Neville Chamberlain, at Munich — which in any case seems to the UPA government's precedent of choice in domestic and foreign policy alike. This would allow Baba Ramdev to declare victory. Third, the government could play subtle and crafty politics. It could run a propaganda offensive against its opponent, whittle away at his credibility, spread facts and factoids — and often an artful mix of the two — about Ramdev's sources of funding, political associations and ambitions and attempt to get neutral people to question his credentials. However immoral at least the first and third may be, all three approaches are fair game in politics. The key is to adopt one of them and stick with it, showing consistency and drive. The UPA's blunder in the past week was that it tried all three approaches in parallel. As such, while Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh was vilifying Baba Ramdev and finally labelling him a "thug", his party colleagues — ministers such as Kapil Sibal and Subodh Kant Sahai — were inviting Baba Ramdev for intimate negotiations in a five-star hotel suite. They were treating him as some sort of Pope. Indeed, in sending four Cabinet ministers — led by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee — and the Cabinet Secretary to the airport to receive, cajole and "explain the black money issue" to Baba Ramdev, the UPA was signalling unconditional surrender. This indicated the government had lost its nerve. That gesture rightly encouraged Baba Ramdev to play hardball and take a maximalist position. Most people don't have an opinion on Baba Ramdev. His followers and disciples clearly revere him, but there is a broader India that, till a few days ago, was undecided on him. It identified broadly with his crusade against corruption, though it had some misgivings about his wish list. Others were uneasy about a figure like Baba Ramdev leading an anti-corruption struggle but still decidedly neutral on the man himself. By attacking a sleeping throng — men, women and children who may have been naïve, stupid, angry, disgusted or merely in thrall of a yoga guru and televangelist, but certainly constituted no immediate threat to law and order and to public peace — the UPA and its police force have only ended up garnering sympathy for Baba Ramdev even among the hitherto uncommitted. What Ramdev demonstrated in Delhi this past week was that he has a network and a mobilisation capacity that runs across at least urban and small-town northern India. He believes this is only the vanguard of a much larger silent majority that is upset and disappointed with the serial scandals the Manmohan Singh government has presided over. That perception may or may not be true; we don't know yet. Yet the fact is in using abusive language against Baba Ramdev — calling him a thug, calling anybody a thug, on national television is not guaranteed to win you admiration and hand-claps from most normal people — resorting to tear gas and truncheons against his supporters and throwing him out of the capital is going to push the neutrals, those who had no strong position so far, into the other camp. Even if they don't suddenly become devotees of Baba Ramdev, their distrust of and hostility towards the UPA can only grow. The government may have nudged this segment into the non-Congress corner for the foreseeable future. If electoral politics is about assiduously putting together social coalitions, the Congress is doing quite the opposite in the build-up to 2012-14 — a period that will see elections across northern India, followed by the Lok Sabha election. We live in an age driven by audio-visual images. Courtesy camera phones and YouTube, visuals can go viral in next to no time. The power of the visual image and the frequency of transmission can combine to give the action against Baba Ramdev's adherents a far greater meaning than it perhaps deserves. An example would help. India has had bloody religious riots for decades. The Gujarat violence of 2002 was certainly not the worst. Even so it was the first set of riots to be recorded in real time, to be captured by television cameras. That is why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) still pays a price for it. Images from Gujarat 2002 — sometimes suitably edited to heighten the "action" — have been used in a series of elections, most tellingly in the 2004 general election, to damage the BJP. The Ramdev images are likely to be put to work in a similar manner. In some states, they will be given a Hindu spin. In other states, they will be given a Yadav spin — Baba Ramdev is an OBC Yadav and that is why Mulayam Singh Yadav, who faces elections in Uttar Pradesh in 12 months, has backed him. In all states, they will be used to paint the Congress as anti-democratic and somehow trying to shield the corrupt. Populist movements and crowd management may seem overwhelming but they confront governments in India on a daily basis. How a government tackles these is a test of its administrative deftness and political finesse. The UPA, unfortunately, swings between panic and craven submission on the one hand and brutal violence on the other. It took one "fast unto death" by an electorally weakened regional leader for the Union home minister to throw up his hands and announce that a separate state of Telangana would be created. Juxtapose that with the Ramdev business. It leaves the UPA administration looking decidedly amateur. * Ashok Malik can be contacted at







What's in a name? A lot, the National Republican Congressional Committee obviously believes. Last week, the committee sent a letter demanding that a TV station stop running an ad declaring that the House Republican budget plan would "end Medicare". This, the letter insisted, was a false claim: the plan would simply install a "new, sustainable version of Medicare". But Comcast, the station's owner, rejected the demand — and rightly so. For Republicans are indeed seeking to dismantle Medicare as we know it, replacing it with a much worse programme. I'm seeing many attempts to shout down anyone making this obvious point, and not just from Republican politicians. For some reason, many commentators seem to believe that accurately describing what the Grand Old Party (GOP) is actually proposing amounts to demagoguery. But there's nothing demagogic about telling the truth. Start with the claim that the GOP plan simply reforms Medicare rather than ending it. I'll just quote the blogger, Duncan Black, who summarises this as saying that "when we replace the Marines with a pizza, we'll call the pizza the Marines". The point is that you can name the new programme Medicare, but it's an entirely different programme — call it Vouchercare — that would offer nothing like the coverage that the elderly now receive. (Republicans get huffy when you call their plan a voucher scheme, but that's exactly what it is.) Medicare is a government-run insurance system that directly pays healthcare providers. Vouchercare would cut cheques to insurance companies instead. Specifically, the programme would pay a fixed amount towards private health insurance — higher for the poor, lower for the rich, but not varying at all with the actual level of premiums. If you couldn't afford a policy adequate for your needs, even with the voucher, that would be your problem. And most seniors wouldn't be able to afford adequate coverage. A Congressional Budget Office analysis found that to get coverage equivalent to what they have now, older Americans would have to pay vastly more out of pocket under the Paul Ryan plan than they would if Medicare as we know it was preserved. Based on the budget office estimates, the typical senior would end up paying around $6,000 more out of pocket in the plan's first year of operation. By the way, defenders of the GOP plan often assert that it resembles other, less unpopular programmes. For a while they claimed, falsely, that Vouchercare would be just like the coverage federal employees get. More recently, I've been seeing claims that Vouchercare would be just like the system created for Americans under 65 by last year's healthcare reform — a fairly remarkable defence from a party that has denounced that reform as evil incarnate. So let me make two points. First, Obamacare was very much a second-best plan, conditioned by perceived political realities. Most of the health reformers I know would have greatly preferred simply expanding Medicare to cover all Americans. Second, the Affordable Care Act is all about making healthcare, well, affordable, offering subsidies whose size is determined by the need to limit the share of their income that families spend on medical costs. Vouchercare, by contrast, would simply hand out vouchers of a fixed size, regardless of the actual cost of insurance. And these vouchers would be grossly inadequate. But what about the claim that none of this matters, because Medicare as we know it is unsustainable? Nonsense. Yes, Medicare has to get serious about cost control; it has to start saying no to expensive procedures with little or no medical benefits, it has to change the way it pays doctors and hospitals, and so on. And a number of reforms of that kind are, in fact, included in the Affordable Care Act. But with these changes it should be entirely possible to maintain a system that provides all older Americans with guaranteed essential healthcare. Consider Canada, which has a national health insurance programme, actually called Medicare, that is similar to the programme we have for the elderly, but less open-ended and more cost-conscious. In 1970, Canada and the United States both spent about seven per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare. Since then, as United States health spending has soared to 16 per cent of GDP, Canadian spending has risen much more modestly, to only 10.5 per cent of GDP. And while Canadian healthcare isn't perfect, it's not bad. Canadian Medicare, then, looks sustainable; why can't we do the same thing here? Well, you know the answer in the case of the Republicans: They don't want to make Medicare sustainable, they want to destroy it under the guise of saving it. So in voting for the House budget plan, Republicans voted to end Medicare. Saying that isn't demagoguery, it's just pointing out the truth.







There is no getting away from Baba Ramdev. Even in a Thai island, one is kept informed about the life and times of the fasting and furious yoga guru, a 46-year-old man with a flowing black beard in trademark saffron, who not only has a mass following — some 20 million-plus viewers in India tuning in to his early morning television show — but also wields control over a yoga and meditation network reportedly worth several billion rupees. The local newspaper carries a six column report, with photograph, about how the Baba is making Indian politicians tremble. The report was written a few hours before the midnight crackdown on the Baba and his supporters at Delhi's Ramlila Grounds — the "ground zero" of the yoga guru's mass hunger strike against corruption. With that act, the situation has only become more dramatic and charges of government high-handedness are flying thick and fast on cyberspace. Sitting one space removed from the breathless saturation coverage of the Baba Ramdev saga in our media, two immediate questions come to mind. One, why are recent anti-corruption movements — first led by Mr Anna Hazare and now by Baba Ramdev — getting so much traction? Two, why is the government seemingly unable to gauge the level of support such movements will get? The second question sprang up when the authorities came up with this gem of a reason for the crackdown on Baba Ramdev's long-publicised hunger strike and rally against corruption — apparently, the police had permitted a rally of up to 5,000 people, but thousands more turned up, so the rally had to be stopped for "law and order" reasons. Since Mr Hazare's hunger strike against corruption earlier this year, many media pundits have spent hours of television time and reams of newsprint telling us why such movements are a bad idea, how the civil society leaders are unrepresentative of the people, how giving in to hunger strike is like giving in to blackmail and so on and so forth. So why is there so much popular resonance the moment a similar agitation is started by the yoga guru? And why can't the government figure out beforehand the level of support such a movement will get, so that it can take pre-emptive action? In opinion poll after opinion poll in recent years, corruption has consistently been mentioned as one of the top issues of concern to Indians. So it should not really surprise anyone that any charismatic leader can raise this issue and expect huge support. With rising petrol prices and high inflation, especially in food, the sheen of emerging India is failing to rub off on much of middle India any more, not to speak of the millions below that highly controversial poverty line. On top of that, there are daily reports of huge graft in high places, be it the 2G scam or over the Commonwealth Games 2010 contracts. The impression that some people are having a very good time through unfair means while the rest are suffering is one that is bound to lead to resentment. That is the feeling coming through in these movements, and there is little point in rationally establishing that some aspects of these movements — or their leaders — are irrational. There is a trust deficit. Growing numbers of people, from middle India to those struggling in the margins, are desperately looking for a messiah. What matters is not how such a person or persons come across to the pundits but how they are able to reach out to the increasing numbers of people who have lost faith in the current crop of leaders. The efforts by the Centre to talk to the Baba, many of whose views send a frisson down liberal spines, before his planned rally showed that the government was at least starting to understand this feeling. But whatever goodwill had been generated by those meetings — and the earlier agreement with Mr Hazare's supporters to set up an independent panel over the Lokpal Bill — has now largely been dissipated by the midnight swoop on Baba Ramdev and his followers. Who ordered the swoop is unclear, but it is clear that various arms of the government are working at cross purposes. What suffers in the process is the government's image — the image of being decisive and more important, of being against corruption. Now there may be protracted negotiations between the Baba and various ministers before some sort of a settlement is declared, but the image that will probably remain uppermost in the popular mind is of a government that acts against corruption only grudgingly and when pushed to the wall. It is an unfair image of a government that is right now prosecuting a former minister and other senior leaders of its own party and coalition partners on various corruption charges. But getting a fairer image will require faster and more visible action not only against corruption but also vis-a-vis movements such as those led by Mr Hazare and Baba Ramdev. It will also require more empathy from the powers that be when people groan about high prices. In politics, EQ (emotional quotient) is usually more important than IQ (intelligence quotient). Someone who has just found out that his favourite food is now beyond his means will not be comforted by being told it is part of a global trend. The importance of perception is all too obvious in Thailand also. The Thai election campaign is now in full swing for the July 3 national polls. Like India, Thailand is witnessing an unsettling price pressure amid robust economic growth. Prices of food, fuel, electricity and daily consumer goods are up. There is palpable disenchantment with reigning politicians, and a desperate yearning for change. A group which broke away from the ruling Democratic Party has put up posters carrying images of dogs, monkeys, lizards, with the controversial slogan "Don't Let Animals Enter Parliament" — a reference to corruption in Thai politics. In these despondent times, there is a crackle and a buzz about a telegenic 43-year-old businesswoman, with almost no previous political experience. No doubt, there is delicious irony in the fact that she is Ms Yingluck Shinawatra, youngest sister of the famously controversial Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's former premier, accused of corruption, and currently in self-imposed exile. Yingluck, widely believed to be a proxy for her brother, relies not only on her brother's "pro-poor" credentials, but equally her freshness, charisma, ability to "connect" with ordinary people and energy. There are lessons here for Indian politicians. * Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at







Question: Do I need to be spiritual because right now my life is going well? Answer: As long as you live within the limitations of your body and mind, you will suffer in some way. If suffering has not come to you yet, you will experience it one day. You see so many people around you and just by looking at their experience you should know that anything could happen to you also. For example, Gautam Buddha was the son of King Suddhodana, but when he saw one sick person, an old person and a dead body, he forsook his kingdom and his family and set off on a pursuit to know what the truth is. He realised that if this could happen to one person, it could happen to him as well. Buddha was an intelligent man. But in the present time, people move on with their lives as if nothing will ever happen to them. If you don't wake up by yourself, life will, anyway, wake you up. One morning, in the forest, a lion had a hearty breakfast and was feeling really good with a full stomach. So he caught hold of a rabbit that was passing by and asked him, "Hey rabbit, tell me, who is the king of the forest?" "Oh master you, of course you". The lion felt really good. Then he caught hold of a fox and the same thing happened. Similarly, he caught hold of a few little creatures and they all sang in the same tune. Now, he came across a huge tusker. He went to the tusker and said, "Hey tusker, tell me, who is the king of the jungle?" The tusker picked the lion up and smashed him to the ground, breaking the lion's back. With a painful back, the lion limped around and said, "Why didn't you just tell me". The tusker replied, "I had to make my point". The moral of the story is: If you don't get it by yourself, life will make the point in so many ways. Some people learn with a small knock; some learn only with huge knocks; some people never learn and get knocked around all the time. — Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a prominent spiritual leader, is a visionary, humanitarian, an author, poet and internationally-renowned speaker. He can be contacted at










REGARDLESS of whatever sophistry and spin UPA-II may now impart to the damage-containment endeavour, its virtual silence on Sunday over the outrage at Ramlila Grounds, indicated it has been rattled by a whirlwind of its own sowing. Apart from stray offerings from Kapil Sibal and Subodh Kant Sahay ~ essentially alibis for their goofed-up confabulations with godman Ramdev ~ little was done to address the core issue of the day. Sure the Delhi Police did try: but that was futile since it was widely perceived (perhaps incorrectly, for it would not move without North Block's sanction) as the guilty party. What happened to the ministerial group established to project the government's position to the media? Where were the Akbar Road loudmouths? Chicken? Janardhan Diwvedi's vague briefing (he took "briefing" literally) after the 10 Janpath conclave ducked the issue, only pointed accusing fingers at the saffron brigade. Admittedly the government and party are technically not answerable to the media; but on other occasions do those very same worthies not preen themselves before the TV cameras, flit from one studio to another? It was not just media "space" that was surrendered to the UPA's increasing detractors ~ almost all across the political and social spectrum it would appear ~ but an impression gained ground that sections of the Congress party were jittery over the fallout of a botched-up bid to wield the big stick: hence the declaration that the situation would be fought "politically". Administrative action obviously backfired. If highly coloured accounts of what took place were circulated, and extreme accusations levelled, some folk in the UPA might realise that was only an echo of Rahul Gandhi on Bhatta Parsaul. In any case, little by way of counter-argument was presented to aam aadmi.

It is true that neither Ramdev, nor the BJP now trying to ride piggy-back, have impressed. Nor has the Congress by its double-dealings, and subsequent BJP-bashing. The 'lathi'-line, drawn by the government not the cops, has united an array of otherwise divided groups ~ Mamata's "take" is awaited ~ and even a couple of members of the NAC have condemned the assault on the democratic right to protest. Will they dare to disassociate themselves from Sonia's cloistered cabal? Certainly there is need for the government to re-assert itself: that will be best done by restoring credibility and authority to Parliament as a whole ~ thereby denying "civil society" opportunity to dictate national affairs. The police 'danda' is no panacea.




A seemingly positive move has eventually been initiated to address the plight of teachers, a segment that had been neglected  in the manner of education as a whole. Quite the most critical facet of the West Bengal Chief Minister's welfare handout is to bring teachers of panchayat-run schools under the ambit of the school education department. On the face of it, the move might appear to be only very logical. It is, but unfortunately it wasn't. Decidedly political considerations had driven the previous dispensation to bring the Sishu Siksha Kendras and the Madhyamik Siksha Kendras under the control of the party-dominated panchayats in the twilight phase of Left Front rule. It was a decision of Alimuddin Street's education cell that could not be defended, let alone justified, on any ground. In effect, the two entities that showcase universal and compulsory education ~ SSKs and MSKs ~ were being run by the quangos, corrupt across the political divide. It bears recall that the Bill was rushed through in the Assembly last year despite the present Governor's initial rejection with cogent reasoning ~ panchayats ought to have nothing to do with education. They had failed in their primary responsibility of rural governance, and were set to make a mess of school education as well. It is fervently to be hoped that a grave injustice to learning, as deliberate as it was political, will be corrected with last Friday's announcement by Mamata Banerjee. Hopefully once more, the teacher will not be asked to double up as a party activist... Trinamul or CPI-M.

There is hope yet for primary teachers, whose careers had been jeopardised after the school education department had bungled in the training procedure, incurring a stricture from Calcutta High Court. Those who have passed out of de-recognised Primary Teachers Training Institutes are to be absorbed as para-teachers if they have completed the bridge course. To an extent, this will stave off the crisis that has been brewing for the past two years. Equally, a halfway house doesn't work out to a policy. Ad hocism is inherent in the arrangement to bail out the teachers in the make. What matters most of all is that a regularised arrangement is put in place with urgent despatch. And it is here that the present school education department has a major role to play. The assurance on pension and regular salaries, two other failings of the Left Front, will be generally welcomed. Indeed, feet-dragging on pension has been a problem long before the state was on the verge of bankruptcy. Not a few passed away before it was sanctioned. The forward movement in school education must now be followed by action.




THE Meghalaya government must of necessity display some sense of urgency and determination if it is to check the growing depredation caused by the Garo National Liberation Army headed by Champion Sangma, a dismissed former deputy superintendent of police. On 4 June its cadres ambushed a police team and killed three of them. In April, the outfit gunned down five coal labourers and over the past few weeks there have been reports of several cases of extortion, intimidation and harassment. Unlike in other states, insurgency in Meghalaya involves small hit-and-run brigands. In 1994, the police persuaded the A'chik Magrik Liberation Army, a lesser known Garo outfit, to surrender but others who refused to toe the line soon formed the A'chik National Volunteers Council and demanded a "greater Garoland". But after the Congress-led UPA government's peace accord with the ANVC in 2004, its cadres are now confined to designated camps (In the 2004 parliamentary elections, ANVC cadres were said to have canvassed for former Lok Sabha speaker and Nationalist Congress Party leader PA Sangma, who hails from the Garo Hills). The Centre's efforts to strike a similar deal with the Khasi-dominated Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council have come to naught. It occasionally shatters the uneasy calm in Shillong by targeting non-tribals, ostensibly to make its presence felt, but for some time now it has been maintaining a low profile.
Like Champion Sangma, HNLC chief Bobby Marwin is said to be hiding in Bangladesh. But drawing the two into the net should not prove a problem, given that country's friendly gesture of recently handing over Ulfa leaders which paved the way for peace talks.








India was born in communal violence, thanks to Partition of the country by the British colonial rulers. Since its nativity, communal divide was kept alive by vested interests, particularly with an eye on vote-bank politics. A study of voting trends since Independence shows the Muslims tend to vote as a bloc. The recently concluded State Assembly election is a good example. Muslims in Kerala constitute 25 per cent of the population, but they are spread across the 140 constituencies with a concentration in just three or four constituencies in Malappuram district.  But the Muslim League was able to win 20 out of the 24 seats it contested as a major partner in the Congress-led United Democratic Front. The ML has become an indispensable adjunct to the Congress in Kerala because it is able to deliver the community's votes en bloc to the UDF constituent party candidates in constituencies it is not contesting.

That the Congress has been aggressively wooing the Muslim community nationally is evident from leaders like Digvijay Singh referring reverentially to Osama bin Laden as "Osamaji" and bemoaning the terrorist leader was not given a proper burial.  It is in this context one should view the draft legislation titled "Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparation) Bill, 2011", put in the public domain last month. The real aim of the proposed legislation is to keep the minority communities on the side of the Congress led by Sonia Gandhi and arm the Union government with extraordinary powers to impose its will on the states.
The very fact that Parliament was bypassed and the undemocratic National Advisory Council, acting as a supra Parliament, was entrusted the task of drafting the most sensitive legislation, makes the UPA government a suspect. Harsh Mander and Farah Naqvi, conveners of the advisory group to prepare the draft Bill, are known for bashing Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, and do not enjoy the confidence of the public. The NAC is a conglomeration of NGO members handpicked by Sonia Gandhi for their faith in the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Most of these NGOs are foreign-funded and they act according to the wishes of donors.  It is indirect interference in the affairs of the nation by foreign countries. The NAC chairperson has become a supra Prime Minister and an instrument for maladministration.

The draft Bill proceeds on the presumption that communal violence is created only by the majority community and never by members of the minority communities. The most vital definition of the Bill is the term 'group'. A group means a religious or linguistic minority and in a given State may include the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. Hindus are considered a religious minority in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland, and in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Chapter II, Clause 6 clarifies that offences under this Bill are in addition to the offences under the SC and the ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.  It means a person can be punished twice for the same offence. How the Supreme Court is going to interpret this provision remains to be seen. While the mood of the nation is moving away from communal violence, the draft Bill's presumption that communal trouble is created only by members of the majority community and they alone are punishable is patently discriminatory. The fact that 4,000-odd clashes took place against the minority communities in the last decade does not indemnify the minority community indulging in violence from prosecution, as this Bill would have it. An offence is an offence irrespective of the community of the person committing it.

 Instead of reducing communal violence, the Bill gives a fillip to the defined 'groups' to commit such offences knowing that they would never be held culpable. Jihadi groups may be encouraged to commit communal riots as they will not be punished under this law. Implementation of this law will be done by a seven-member national authority for communal harmony, justice and reparation. Of these seven, at least four, including the chairman and vice-chairman, shall belong to a minority 'group'.  A similar body is intended to be created in the States. Membership of this body shall be on religious and caste grounds. The offenders are invariably presumed to be members of the majority community. 

 The special public prosecutor to conduct proceedings under this law shall act in the interest of the victim and not based on the facts of the case. The victim's statement shall be recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC and not under Section 161. If an offence of hate propaganda is alleged against a person, a presumption of guilt shall exist unless the offender proves to the contrary. Under Clause 67, public servants are liable to be proceeded against without any sanction from the State. The occurrence of organised communal and targeted violence shall amount to an internal disturbance in a State within the meaning of Article 355, entitling the Union government to impose President's Rule. Under the Bill, communal and targeted violence means disturbance which destroys the secular fabric of the nation.  In the event of any communal trouble, the majority community would be assumed to be guilty as the minority community shall not be held culpable.

Sources close to the NAC blamed the failure of Atal Behari Vajpayee's National Democratic Alliance government to act against the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat for indulging in anti-Muslim pogrom for this Bill with fiercely protective features of minority rights. The Constitution goes out of its way to protect the rights of the State in a federal structure.  Law and order is a State subject. But protecting the unity of the country is also a serious issue.  The statutory authority prescribed at the Central and the State level under the Bill would suffer from institutional bias because of its membership structure based on caste and community. It will create disharmony in inter-communal relations and is fraught with dangerous consequences. It defies the basic principles of equality before law.

 The implications of the Bill are grave. All that is needed for the Centre to destabilise an inconvenient State like Karnataka is to instigate a riot.  The population is already entrenched in divisive politics. People are divided under religion and caste. Even if five people assemble and create disturbance it can be called a riot between one community against the other because there will be three from one community and two from another, No government, however well-meaning and committed to communal harmony, can prevent a determined bid to engineer a riot.  Under the proposed legislation, the minor disturbance is enough for the Centre to use Article 355 to intervene and impose President's Rule in the State. The move is a deliberate attempt to weaken the federal structure of the country and concentrate all powers on the chairperson of the unelected National Advisory Council. 

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






Man, being a part of nature, is endowed with strong affinity for nature and natural resources. That is the natural order of things as is evident from the dawn of civilisation; from the cave paintings showing early man's dependence on nature. Being in harmony with nature is then not a matter of acquired learning but an essential expression of human instinct. Just as humans get instinctively hungry, they instinctively love nature. A Spirkin writes in Dialectical Materialism "The most intimate part of nature in relation to man is the biosphere, the thin envelope embracing the earth, its soil cover, and everything else that is alive. Our environment, although outside us, has within us not only its image, as something both actually and imaginatively reflected, but also its material energy and information channels and processes. This presence of nature in an ideal, materialised, energy and information form in man's Self is so organic that when these external natural principles disappear, man himself disappears from life. If we lose nature's image, we lose our life."
Can there be an erosion of this instinct? This question could not have failed to strike any regular visitor to the West Bengal countryside (possibly to other parts of the country as well), especially over the past three decades. Even in the relatively more impoverished neighbouring country, Bangladesh, one can travel along village routes and find the ponds all along almost crystal clean and looking well cared for. The people care for their ponds instinctively; not because of any regulatory farman (diktat).
Contrast this with the situation in West Bengal. It is difficult to find a clean pond. Over the past few decades, the naturally green villages have taken on an unkempt look. This lack of care is not just about the ponds; ponds here symbolise a cultural trait that seems to demonstrate a loss of the natural passion for nature and natural resources. Lack of care is writ large in village landscapes where litter is spread ubiquitously, agricultural waste is dumped randomly, there are few well looked after gardens and the tendency to encroach stealthily is ever so visible.
This deterioration is equally attributable to a callous administrative management of the countryside. The drinking water supply mission created a large number of tube wells almost throughout West Bengal but did not include any drainage system for the wastewater from these tube wells. Invariably, an ugly mess of wastewater and soil can be seen downstream of these wells. Just a touch of intelligent and creative labour could convert these eyesores into a beautiful garden. Wastewater from the tube wells can irrigate the garden throughout the year.
The bottomline is that the villagers are losing their love for nature and natural resources. The question is why is this society suffering from this social malaise? The search for an answer should start with an attempt to understand the state of the mind in which the villagers are living and how they are affected by a threat of agonising uncertainty that lies (not too well) hidden in the rural milieu of West Bengal. Not much, if anything at all, is being discussed about this phenomenon that haunts the minds of most of the villagers; it is like an eerie breeze that cannot easily be understood by an outsider.
Uncertainties, in any form, become particularly worrisome in rural settings where society derives stability and calm from the inherent with natural qualities: fertile terrain, amongst others. The infusion of uncertainty in such societies tends to be more damaging to normal human instincts. Starting with this premise, some of the major uncertainties that engulf present-day village life in West Bengal reveal themselves.

Uncertainties regularised
What are these uncertainties? Those familiar with West Bengal villages will find it easy to understand that they have grown around uncertainty of livelihood opportunity; uncertainty relating to water distribution and quality of water; uncertainty of health care; uncertainty of child education; and, most importantly, uncertainty of governance. To take the first uncertainty around livelihood, over the past decade, a new area of speciality service has emerged that finds boys and girls mostly from rural Bengal turning out to be excellent service providers as domestic help, especially in Delhi and Gurgaon. They are villagers who have migrated from their places of origin because of the absence of occupational space in their state. Bengalis were not exactly well known as reliable domestic help even two decades back. It is not that they are happy living and working in such alien conditions but that they have realised that they had no option.
Those that did not leave the state have no assurance of return from labour or sometimes labour and capital that they put in agriculture. The manner in which agriculture is managed in India is a matter of depressing uncertainty that is looming larger and larger for the poorer farmers. Farmers of West Bengal say that "a few years ago, a farmer spent Rs 10 and earned Rs 2 to grow an amount of food grain that now takes Rs 20 to grow and generates a profit of no more than a rupee. Farm animals, which were living for 20 years are now dying at 10. The hay used for roofing now wears out in two years. Earlier they could easily sustain for six years". These are but the tip of the ice-berg and all that the managers of village society expect is infinite resilience of farmers so that they can negotiate these uncertainties by themselves.
Uncertainty continues unabated for those who may have some cultivable land in West Bengal. Mr Anup Panda, a farmer from Asanmani village, Simlipal block, Bankura district lamented that he was completely powerless to stop any farmer, enjoying appropriate political support, from farming on a part of his land and taking away the produce without bothering to pay anything as rent. This is not an unusual event in West Bengal villages.
Then there is uncertainty around water quality, skewed distribution and social exclusion that has continued through all these years. This is in spite of whatever progressive policy, strategy, mission and such other commitments sprinkled liberally in solemn addresses. A tribal (Sabar) girl in village Kalyanpur, Barabazar block of Purulia district drinks canal water because she is not allowed to collect water from the dug well in the next village. "Untouchables" ~ the social verdict of exclusion continues even after 64 years of Independence.
More than half of the Kumari command area of more than 4,500 hectare does not receive any canal water when the farmers need it. Shamelessly, the villagers close to the dam at the upstream of the canal take as much water as they need, wasting more than 10 times their actual necessity. This they do simply by breaching the canal embankments close to their plot of land. One may argue that this is hardly a matter of uncertainty but one of certainty: the few farmers at the upstream could surely take as much water as they intend to and most farmers at the tail end know that there is no water for them. This example is fairly representative, particularly for the command areas of the small and medium dams of West Bengal.
The state has also been encountering one of the most serious problems of water quality because of arsenic and fluoride pollution. Arsenic in groundwater has been identified in six states of India: West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam and Manipur. In West Bengal, thanks to the benchmarking work of the School of Environmental Sciences, Jadavpur University, there is systematic information regarding arsenic pollution put in the public domain since 1983. In most other states, arsenic data was available only after the beginning of the present century. What has been monstrously irregular is that very few tangible steps were taken at least for the first 20 years since 1983. Around 37 per cent of the West Bengal population is unsure of the quality of water it is drinking as far as arsenic pollution is concerned. What could have been an example in setting standards for remedial measures for the whole country, has now become an example of neglect and sloppiness.

(To be concluded)

The writer is a UN Global 500 laureate is the regional chair for South Asia Commission on Ecosystem Management, International Union for Conservation of Nature





After President Pratibha Patil rejected the mercy petition of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar who was sentenced to death, conspiracy theories started swirling. It was speculated that this was done to clear the decks for rejecting the mercy petition of Afzal Guru who was involved in the attack on Parliament so that he may be hung. But then there was a demand by political parties against the hanging of Bhullar which was backed by the Congress too. Fresh conspiracy theories abounded, speculating that all this was being done to accept the mercy petition of Bhullar in order to justify the mercy petition of Afzal Guru. It was though that commuting the death sentence of Bhullar, who is a Sikh, and that of Afzal Guru, who is a Muslim, would help Congress win minority votes.
It is unfortunate if death sentences are actually being regarded in the light of electoral considerations. Many nations have done away with capital punishment. But if India were to do the same, there would be an outcry against allowing dreaded killers to escape the death sentence. Victims of terrorism would feel cheated. There is a simple solution to overcome this problem.

I propose that capital punishment be abolished but truly-dreaded criminals be administered a sentence worse than death. Why cannot prison authorities give hard labour accompanied by subjecting daily the hardened criminals to compulsory four-hour sessions of enforced exposure to speeches by political leaders such as Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Dr Manmohan Singh, Mr LK Advani, Mr Prakash Karat and the rest? A careful selection of the most deadly, boring political leaders could be made. A daily dose of this torture would be a fate worse than death. Prison authorities would have to step up security, of course, to ensure that prisoners subjected to this torture do not commit suicide.         

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist






Independent human rights expert Christof Heyns has called on Sri Lankan authorities to investigate the apparent execution of several men by government soldiers, saying that a disputed video of the incident seemed to be authentic. Heyns, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, described the killings shown on the video ~ whose authenticity has been contested by the Sri Lankan government ~ as "textbook examples of extrajudicial executions".

He said that in the video shown on British television, naked men were shown being ranged with their hands behind their backs. They were then shot through the head from behind. "Our findings are that these executions had indeed taken place and have to be investigated to establish who did it and what was the context," he said. "I do think a broader process is necessary to establish whether these are crimes against humanity or possible war crimes," he said.

He added it was important to determine if the killings were part of a wider pattern of systematic attacks against civilians or prisoners of war. Heyns said in his report to the Human Rights Council that "what is reflected in the extended video are crimes of the highest order, definitive war crimes," although he stressed that further investigations needed to be carried out.

He said experts in forensics, medicine, ballistics and video and audio had concluded that the executions depicted in the video had indeed taken place, reflecting the findings last year of his predecessor, Philip Alston. Sri Lanka representative Mohan Pieris said the country's government had been precluded from making a full assessment of the video because of its blurred quality.

He said it was important not to jump to conclusions and noted that the media, human rights defenders and NGOs were often quick to report on incidents during conflicts which resulted in the deaths of civilians without finding out the legal basis for military operations.

The UN human rights panel has found that there were credible reports that both Lankan forces and Tamil rebels had committed war crimes during the final stages of the civil war that ended in May 2009 and urged that investigations be carried out.

Nepal Constitution

UN secretary-general Mr Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the agreement reached by political parties in Nepal to extend the term of the Constituent Assembly and the reaffirmation of their commitment to complete the peace process. In a statement issued by the UN spokesman's office, Mr Ban said the Nepal lawmakers averted a Constitutional crisis by voting to amend the interim Constitution and extended the Constituent Assembly's tenure for three months.

"The Secretary-General urges the parties to bring the peace process to an early and successful conclusion on the basis of a clear timetable and plan of action and looks forward to further progress in the drafting of the new constitution," the statement reads. "The parties must take this opportunity afforded to them to live up to their commitments and responsibilities in the interests of peace and stability in Nepal," it reads.

Indian to lead key team

Mr Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of Mr Atul Khare, a senior diplomat and an Indian national to lead efforts to implement a reforms agenda to streamline and improve the efficiency of the Change Management Team at the UN.  

Assistant secretary-general Atul Khare will work with both departments and offices within the secretariat and with other bodies in the UN system and member states, according to a statement issued by UN spokesman Martin Nesirky. Mr Ban said the CMT will guide the implementation of a reforms agenda at the UN with a wide-ranging plan to streamline activities, increase accountability and ensure the organisation is more effective and efficient in delivering its many mandates.

He added that the CMT will work under the direction of deputy secretary-general Asha-Rose Migiro and its role would prove vital as the UN works to strengthen its performance at a time of budgetary constraints and rapid global change.

Tsunami hazard

The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Japan had underestimated potential tsunami hazards to its nuclear power plants before the March earthquake and tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daiichi facility. A team of international nuclear safety experts from 12 countries said in a preliminary assessment of the safety issues that "the tsunami hazard for several sites was underestimated". A press release issued by the IAEA quotes experts as saying: "Nuclear plant designers and operators should appropriately evaluate and protect against the risks of all natural hazards and should periodically update those assessments and assessment methodologies."

"Japan's response to the nuclear accident has been exemplary and that the country long-term response, including the evacuation of the area around stricken reactors, has been impressive and well organised… A suitable and timely follow-up programme on public and worker exposures and health monitoring would be beneficial," the statement reads.

The IAEA said the team held extensive discussions with officials from Japanese nuclear-related agencies and visited three nuclear sites, including the plant at Fukushima Daiichi. It enabled the team to experience first-hand the scale of devastation wreaked by the earthquake and tsunami and of the extraordinary efforts Japanese workers have been applying ever since to stabilise the situation, the IAEA said.

anjali sharma








Even the best of actions can flounder because of the way it is carried out. Those who thoroughly disapprove of Baba Ramdev and his antics will be forced to admit that the government acted ham-handedly not only when it broke up Ramdev's fast on Saturday night but also before he began the actual fast. The initial reaction of the government to Ramdev's fast was to give it undue importance. The prime minister appealed to him; four ministers rushed to persuade him to give up his fast; two more rushed to negotiate with him in a Delhi hotel. All this was in sharp contrast to the decision to send in the police on Saturday night to remove Ramdev from the Ramlila grounds and to dismantle his camp. With retrospective wisdom, the government might say that it was deliberately following a policy in which the carrot preceded the stick. Neither the dangling of the carrot nor the wielding of the stick seems to have been completely successful. The fast continues in another place and the government is faced with a barrage of criticism for its use of violence against a peaceful protest.

What this government refuses to acknowledge is that protests against corruption led by Ramdev, Anna Hazare and their ilk are possible and get the attention they do not deserve because of the government's prevarication on the issue of corruption. It is obvious to any observer that the actions taken so far by the government have not even touched the tip of the iceberg. What people cannot forget and overlook is the fact that the actions against corrupt officials and ministers were preceded by prolonged periods of silence and inactivity. It would appear that the government moved against certain individuals only when its hands were forced. The government could have taken the wind out of Ramdev's whiskers by announcing a slew of measures against corruption and against corrupt people. But that would have required more political courage than this government has displayed.

What will particularly concern the government is the response of the Supreme Court, which has taken suo motu notice of the police crackdown. It has sought an explanation of the government's action. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the Supreme Court has taken notice because it probably believes that the government has violated the basic right to protest in a democracy. While the apex court's alarm is not invalid, it is also true that its suo motu notice questions what was clearly an executive decision. The separation between the judiciary and the executive is critical in the functioning of a democracy. The court normally takes suo motu notice in matters relating to its own functioning. Here, too, the apex court, with the best possible motives, has enlarged its ambit.






With President Ali Abdullah Saleh being taken to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, half the battle for a reformed Yemen, waged by its citizens for over three months now, seems to have been won. At this stage, however, any celebration must be calibrated, as Mr Saleh has not yet formally stepped down from power, though it is unlikely that he will ever be able to enter the country again. The chief problem facing Yemen at the moment is the nature of the process of transition that will usher in a new government. The Gulf Cooperation Council, which exerts considerable influence on Yemen, had earlier framed a procedure wherein a relatively smooth transfer of power into the hands of the Opposition would have followed Mr Saleh's abdication of authority to the parliament. Although Mr Saleh's abrupt exit has removed a number of possible constitutional conundrums that could have jeopardized the GCC's plan, there is still enough reason for Yemenis to feel tense about the future of their beleaguered country.

Yemen is a desperately poor country of 23 million people that has been treated with kid gloves by both Saudi Arabia and the United States of America due to the small but strong al Qaida presence on its soil. While Saudi Arabia's covert design has been to keep Yemen weak, it has also tried not to meddle with the internal politics of the country too much. So, in spite of deploring the Arab Spring in general, the Saudis, worried about their own safety, could not afford to turn a blind eye to the popular insurgency in Yemen, its next-door neighbour. However, even if the Saudis succeed in persuading Mr Saleh to give up his vestigial claims to authority, the outcome is unlikely to solve many of Yemen's problems. Free from the 33-year-long tyranny of Mr Saleh's regime, Yemenis will now have to elect a new government from Opposition members who have been around for as long a time and are known to be no less corrupt that the outgoing president and his cronies.





Most agree that West Bengal's overall economic performance is not only far below its potential, but its contribution to India's high and sustained growth has also slipped significantly in the last growth decade. The people of West Bengal clearly wanted this to be changed so that they could enjoy the benefits of rapid growth that the rest of India enjoys. Hence the overwhelming verdict against the long-established Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led regime in May 2011. As the new chief minister has indicated soon after assuming power, this is not just a period for rejoicing, but for belting up to deliver the fruits of economic growth across the state. Put simply, her objective is to work steadily towards regaining West Bengal's top stature in India. It is an uphill, but achievable, task.

Scholars have already outlined a roadmap of reforms. What is underemphasized is the new direction of trade strategy that West Bengal must pursue, with major emphasis on trade and transportation facilitation or TTF reforms, in order to convert West Bengal into a trade hub linking India with the Northeast, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, and eventually with Southeast Asia, which is clearly the global growth centre. Understandably, this policy needs to be undertaken by the Central government, but given the West Bengal government's inherent link with the Congress, efforts should be made to take a clear lead in trade and transportation reforms. This article will focus mainly on the TTF reforms, especially in the sub-regional context of eastern India and Bangladesh or EIB.

Much of the recent trade literature points to the importance of trade costs as a determinant of the success of enterprises in penetrating export markets and their ability to grow by diversifying into new markets and new products. India still lags behind in TTF reforms. Cargo dwell times in ports and airports are still in days compared to hours in successful trading countries. In 2004, I was asked by the ministry of finance to chair a working group on trade facilitation. A large number of the recommendations of the WGTF report were implemented by the government. But the problems must still remain since the ministry of commerce and industry set up another task force on transaction costs for exports in late 2009. West Bengal is even behind the rest of India in TTF reforms.

According to the Reserve Bank of India Handbook of Statistics, the 10-year compound annual growth rate of the state gross domestic product for 1999-2000 to 2009-2010 is only 6.23 per cent, ranking the state 21. For the same period, the picture is as bad for per capita state GDP, placing it (at 5.03 per cent and rank 18) below the national CAGR of 5.4 per cent.

The picture is even more pathetic on the external trade front. According to the 2011 Economic Survey, the CAGR of exports from 2006-07 to 2009-10 is a meagre 1.52 per cent, far below the national average of 12.26 per cent. This places West Bengal practically at the bottom of the ranking. This is a far cry from the top position it enjoyed for decades. The situation is no better in terms of the proportion of the state's share to national exports. In 2006-07, West Bengal just contributed 3.2 per cent to national exports. Again, it is clear that West Bengal under CPI(M)-led rule steadily transformed itself into a closed economy.

The new government should immediately begin to reverse this decline. West Bengal has a tremendous geographical advantage in its ability to link with Nepal, Bhutan, the Northeast and Bangladesh, and in the clear gateway to the vast markets of East Asia. The state is endowed with natural and human resources and with a climate conducive to the exports of value-added minerals, biotechnology, information technology, agriculture, horticulture and fisheries. It is a state that has benefited tremendously in the past from early emphasis on education, including skill development (the first Indian institute of technology was set up in this state), and industrialization. The next section will focus on the new and renewed emphasis on trade strategy, especially on TTF.

Its natural endowments, strategic geographical location and its leading role in the early phase of India's industrialization and development make West Bengal a natural trade hub linked with its neighbouring northeastern states, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, and eventually with the burgeoning markets of Southeast Asia. This will greatly facilitate India's Look East policy.

Trade transaction costs are the key bottlenecks to the smooth flow of goods and services in the EIB region. The borders between India and Bangladesh are some of the worst managed in the world. The transaction costs are severe on account of long delays at the border crossings, resulting from congested single-lane roads, time-consuming inspection and documentation, rent-seeking activities of transporters, officials and middlemen, and a lack of warehousing facilities. A National Council of Applied Economic Research study showed that the average time taken for a consignment to cover the 95 kilometres overland distance from Calcutta to Benapole is 98 hours as against the average 21 hours at other borders for the same distance.

A major impediment to sub-regional cooperation in India is that the administrative responsibility for this rests with the federal government, with no role for the state. This has proved to be the main bottleneck in speedier sub-regional cooperation in the EIB. The new government, with its link to the Congress, can take care of this impasse with the chief minister playing a key role in furthering stronger ties with the Northeast and Bangladesh. It is a win-win for all. Exports of goods and services from both India (especially from West Bengal and the Northeast) and Bangladesh will grow exponentially, smuggling will be eliminated, and the cooperation may lead to energy security in India with West Bengal as the entry point and hub for energy supplies from Myanmar, Cambodia and Malaysia.

A top priority task for Mamata Banerjee is to set up a high-level committee on trade and transport facilitation to be chaired by her, which would include the finance minister, the commerce and industry minister, the transport minister, the commissioners of ports, the airports authority, and selected representatives from the private sector. She should also work closely with the relevant Central ministries to influence the national policy.

The following should be the major objectives of the committee.

One, efficient border crossings between Bangladesh and West Bengal, and, with the cooperation of the northeastern states, between their borders with Bangladesh (joint border customs posts). Lessons can be drawn from the Greater Mekong Subregion and Association of Southeast Asian Nations trade corridors. Two, the modernization of the Dumdum and Bagdogra airports to serve as hubs for exports of fruit and vegetables, fish, fresh flowers and orchids (air-conditioned storage facilities must be provided along with guaranteed speedy cargo clearance). Three, high-value exports of gems and jewellery and leather goods, and the modernization of Calcutta and Haldia ports to serve as efficient high-volume and container cargo ports.

Political will at the highest level and a clear assignment of responsibility and accountability are the prerequisites for any successful TTF reform. Singapore and Korea testify to that. Hence, I recommend the chief minister to head this pivotal committee. She should periodically monitor the progress against a few key assigned TTF goals, and warn the ministries and agencies responsible for slippages. This is what I have pressed for at the Centre. There are too many ministries and agencies still involved with TTF in India, with no leadership or accountability assigned. Perhaps Banerjee will set an example for the government of India to follow.

The author is a well known trade economist






To wake up in the pristine, graceful and hugely civilized kingdom of Bhutan, turn on the television set just to take a quick look at the news from India, and to find that all hell has broken loose in New Delhi with the government of India picking up Baba Ramdev in a 'dark' midnight 'swoop', after having put him up as some presiding deity in the fight against corruption by getting four ministers of the Union cabinet to greet him at the airport and confabulate with him there and later at Claridges, makes one squirm with embarrassment. Images of people being beaten with lathis and then lying in hospitals illustrated the typical ham-handedness of the police that was topped with the absurd claim that there was no physical assault on anyone at the site. The government has clearly bungled. Advisors have stumbled and failed. Superficiality and faulty 'management' have triumphed, forcing Indians to take unnatural 'sides'.

The bizarre saga carries on. Scene two saw the leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party in an all-night dharna at Gandhiji's resting place, Rajghat, trying desperately to revive memories of resistance against a reigning colonial power, usurping that 'symbol' from the ruling party which, in fact, spearheaded the liberation of India. The cause of fighting corruption has spread across the nation. It is a virulent virus that has eaten into the administrative and political systems, reducing governance to being anti-people in our democracy. Opposition parties have attached themselves to this 'trend' in an effort to destabilize the coalition in power. None of the political leaders, across party lines, is allocating required time and thought on how the system can be restored and rejuvenated from within.

Faulty strategy

The exercise has been theatrical instead of being thoughtful. All are to be blamed equally for this. It so happens that the United Progressive Alliance is in the saddle today, and so all guns are trained on it from the ranks of the Opposition. That might be reversed and the guns could change their target! The divided leadership of the BJP dharnawallahs at Rajghat appeared united on that long and tedious night, with Sushma Swaraj doing the bhangra in the early hours of the morning, alas not in a salwar kameez.

At the other corner of the stage, Sonia Gandhi held an emergency meeting with her senior party aides and general- secretaries, who have been responsible for much of the disorder. Chief ministers from opposition parties made strong statements on national television, but those from the ruling Congress were silent. With that, they established their disconnect and inability to come to the front, address India and present their position. This has done much damage to the party. Nobody from the Congress-led UPA government has made a measured and definite statement on this Baba Ramdev episode, in a concerted effort to explain the party's actions, often contradictory, to India.

Benign silence on all critical national issues is a faulty strategy in a world where communication and connectivity have become imperatives. This cannot work any longer. Elected representatives have to 'represent' the aspirations and values of their constituents. They have to keep the citizens in the loop if they want to be elected again. The 'no comment' syndrome only reinforces the perception that the government is in denial and, therefore, in rapid decline. Today, all those in the Congress who had internalized their opposition to the appointment of Manmohan Singh as the prime minister have got their 'knives' sharpened. Ironically, ambitions are flying high as the party suffers its worst crisis. Will Sonia Gandhi put in place the radical corrective for the urgent cleansing of the Congress?





Globalization is the buzzword today. It is used to explain why economic growth is taking place at the present rate as well as the growth of poverty elsewhere. It also explains the availability of hitherto unknown products in certain markets and the phenomenon of an enhanced knowledge of the world without travel.

It all began with the explosion in the field of connectivity, both physical and representative. Globalization had existed from the earliest days of mankind: Phoenician sailors used to buy products and sell them to distant lands; spices from Malacca and Timor Islands passed through several seas and countries to arrive at Rome; a few people sitting in London ruled over the destinies of millions across the world.

However, one has to move away from semantics in order to appreciate the realities of today's globalization. When we see it in terms of the movement of human beings and products across national boundaries, we are really looking at a change in terms of degree. Today's globalization is different because of the easy and seamless flow of information brought about by the revolution in the electronic world.

Against this wondrous reality that makes us committed devotees of globalization, there are some facts that have been overlooked. Pankaj Ghemawat explores some of them in his recent book, World 3.0. According to Ghemawat, a number of indicators of global integration are surprisingly low. Only 2 per cent of students are at universities outside their home countries and only 3 per cent of people live outside their country of birth. Seven per cent rice is traded across borders. Exports are equivalent to only 10 per cent of the global GDP. He goes on to add that contrary to popular perception, some of the most vital arteries of globalization are badly clogged: air travel is restricted by bilateral treaties and ocean shipping is dominated by cartels.

If movement of people is to be taken as a trend towards globalization, there has been nothing to match in recent years the massive emigration of the Irish and the Norwegians a century ago. There were no visas to worry about in those days. Today, the world spends $88 billion a year on processing travel documentation and in a tenth of the world's countries a passport costs more than a tenth of the average annual income.

It is true that capital moves across international borders far more voluminously and rapidly than it ever did before. Acquisition of assets by foreigners is certainly a sign of global integration as is the outsourcing of data processing. However, when it comes to manufacturing there is probably a check and reverse flow in the offing.

However, there can be no disagreement on the miraculous advances that have been made in the field of instant communication through the internet, satellite telephoning, digital photography and a host of such modern inventions. If by globalization we are to refer to these gadgets that have invaded our lives, then that would be quite appropriate. The ready availability of foreign or distantly grown items may be seen as globalization, but this is due to the advances in communication systems in accessing foreign markets with the help of new concepts in marketing. But this is only an extension of world trade, which existed from the days of sailing ships.

Christianity spread to all corners of the world; Buddhism had swept eastern and southeastern Asia and the vigour of Islam covered large parts of Asia and Africa. One wonders whether these too were aspects of globalization. The birth of socialism and its failed attempt to globalize is the last movement we have seen in the realm of ideas. We await the advent of a new messiah in tune with globalization as we see it today.











The IDF proved this week that it does a good job preparing for the previous war. It may only be an isolated incident, whose character was more civilian police-oriented than military, but anyone who found flaws in the intelligence and military systems on Nakba Day (May 15 ) must admit the lessons were learned, the forces were deployed and the mission was accomplished.

On Sunday, Naksa Day, the Israel Defense Forces succeeded in blocking hundreds of demonstrators who, surrounded by cameras, stormed the border fences in the Golan Heights, carrying flags, posters and loudspeakers.

The price, in fatalities from sniper fire, was perhaps overshadowed by frequent reports about the massacre of Syrian civilians by Bashar Assad's security forces. Israel may also have achieved the goal of showing determination to prevent penetration into territory it holds, to the extent of exercising lethal force. But the hope that this would also achieve deterrence from similar demonstrations in the coming days and weeks, in a stream that would peak simultaneously with the Palestinian Authority's move to gain statehood in September, seems like an illusion.

The Palestinians reckoned they would have casualties. They too have learned lessons from May 15. It did not deter them, and there are no grounds to assume it will deter others on other fronts, especially when the regimes or organizations holding the Arab side of the border have no interest in acting against the demonstrators. The incidents have also shown that 30 years of forced annexation and naturalization have not turned the Golan Druze into devoted Israeli citizens.

This has become routine in the Israeli-Arab conflict - the IDF scores a tactical victory, which shrinks in contrast to the strategic failure. Netanyahu's government wanted to sweep aside the existence of a yet-unsolved conflict between Israel and Syria. Previous governments bargained with Bashar and his father, Hafez Assad, about a formula enabling returning the Golan to Syria - entirely or almost entirely (a small difference, over which the main bargaining was held ) - in exchange for peace. Netanyahu has refrained from doing so in the past two years, despite the chance to break up the dangerous Iran-Syria-Hezbollah northern alliance.

The negotiations will not come to life in the twilight of the Damascus regime. But Israel will not be able to persist indefinitely in denying the need for openness to a peace process, both vis-a-vis the Palestinians and vis-a-vis Syria.







Go to your computer right now and watch the frightening video clip posted on YouTube as a memento of Jerusalem Day (it's called "Yom Yeru 2011" ). Not a handful, but hundreds of young people high on hard-core nationalism wave blue-and-white flags; may their eyes grow dim.

"Death to the Arabs, death to the leftists," they chanted. "The Temple will be rebuilt, the mosque will be destroyed." "Kahane lives, Mohammed is dead." "Itbach al-Arab" ("Death to the Arabs" in Arabic ). Thus they elevate Jerusalem as their chief sin: May their tongues cleave to their palates.

While I was roaming Jerusalem's streets, another mob was gathering at the city's Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, with rabbis Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed and Dov Lior of Hebron among the guests. The former demands Israel be purged of Arabs, while the latter endorses a book that justifies killing gentiles, urges soldiers to disobey orders and refuses to show up for questioning by the police.

Nowadays, every obscenity is treated as 'words of Torah.' A bill was even submitted for discussion to the cabinet that would permit incitement by rabbis, and rabbis only. And MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union ) was also among the guests.

The guest of honor was the prime minister; lift up your heads, O ye gates. "I see you as an elite Torah combat unit," the king of glory - and of shame - said fawningly. Now the Torah, too, has its own elite combat unit.

Jerusalem Day ends, and Shavuot arrives - the holiday I once loved above all others for its graciousness and compassion. This is the time of the giving of our Torah, "a Torah of life I gave to you." But this isn't the Torah we received. Since that time, Israel has been swallowed up by the Land of Israel and disappeared inside its maw.

Our education minister, Gideon Sa'ar, is also living in the Book of Joshua, as if the Torah had no other books - as if we had no children here, but only our distant forefathers. Of all the possible nationwide school trips, he chose to join the first visit by students to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, to support his new program, "Visits to the Land of Our Fathers." A few months ago, he threatened a principal with dismissal because he proposed teachers take a tour of army checkpoints. But what is permissible for an emperor is forbidden to the flea in his ear.

As a part-time civics teachers when he deems the occasion right, Sa'ar surely explained to the visiting students how the Jewish settlement was established in "Kiryat Arba, which is Hebron" as a plot against the government; how the settlers there beat up soldiers and policemen and spat on their neighbors; how the people who dwell by the Cave of the Patriarchs make pilgrimages to the grave of the Jewish murderer Baruch Goldstein, and sanctify his name in public; how the Torah handed down at Sinai authorized us to dispossess, deport and seal houses; and why a Hebron market street stands empty.

Shavuot is blessed with a beautiful megillah, the Book of Ruth. I sometimes wonder how Ruth managed to worm her way into the Book of Books; perhaps the Song of Songs paved the way for her. It could never happen today. The Education Ministry and Mercaz Harav would never consent, and the Culture and Sports Ministry would disqualify its candidacy for the Zionist Artwork Award.

That's all we need: For a complete goy - a Moabite, on top of all her other problems - to marry Mahlon, who, even though he has fallen low, is still a Jew. By what right did she cleave to Naomi - a healthy woman, after all, who doesn't need a Filipina in constant attendance - so that she could later seduce another wealthy Jewish man, thus enabling her to remain without a permit from the rabbis and without even a pro forma conversion? And how did it happen that "all the people" were happy and supportive, without a single opponent?

After all, even back then, they could have deported her as a foreign agricultural worker who had infiltrated into Israel by means of dubious paperwork.

And they would have left her great-grandson, David, without a chance of even being born, much less later being anointed as Israel's king.

As the holiday approached, I telephoned the Bialik-Rogozin School and asked to speak with Ruthie. She's an 11-year-old girl, a sixth-grader, with Ghanaian parents who work as cleaners. But don't think they - her mother and father - are innocents. For it's not by chance that they named their daughter Ruthie - Ruth, of all things - in order to remind us of, and make us mourn, what we have lost.







The Israeli suffers from envy that drives him crazy. Nothing makes him angrier than someone who succeeds. There is nothing that affects his health more than someone who becomes very wealthy. He hates him. He wants him to fail. He attaches the unflattering label "tycoon" to him in order to hurt him, humiliate him, cut him down to size, until he falls and suffers like him.

The death of Sammy Ofer, one of the richest people in Israel, forces all of us to do some soul-searching. Only a few days ago, when the Iran oil tanker affair exploded, Ofer was labeled nothing less than a traitor who was willing to trade with the Iranians for monetary gain. Even before anyone knew what had really happened there. After all, it's such fun to spill the blood of a "tycoon."

If you ask the average Israeli how Ofer acquired his fortune, he will tell you confidently that Ofer purchased the Israel Corporation from the government for a song, and thereby became a very rich man. Because everything is corrupt. Everything is wheeling and dealing. Everything is the government-business relationship.

But the truth is that Ofer made his fortune abroad, and only afterward returned to Israel in order to invest the profits here. He became very rich thanks to an international shipping business that has nothing at all to do with Israel. He left Israel in the late 1960s and went to live in London, where he founded a shipping company that was very successful. He took great risks, took out huge loans and purchased ships during times of crisis, when everyone was afraid to buy, and was therefore well prepared in times of prosperity. Only in the 1990s did Ofer return to Israel, with his billions, and purchased the Mizrahi Bank and then the Israel Corporation.

And there is another problem with the theory. The Ofer brothers did not purchase the Israel Corporation from the government but from a totally private entity. They didn't even purchase it cheaply because, at the time, a huge Canadian corporation that dealt in phosphates tried to buy the Israel Corporation (which owns Israel Chemicals and the Dead Sea Works ), to corner the global phosphate market for itself. Idan Ofer saw a notice about that in the newspaper, and convinced his father to offer a higher price - and that is how the Ofers purchased the Israel Corporation from the Eisenbergs.

Since then 12 years have passed, and the Ofers committed the greatest crime of all: They were successful. They developed the Israel Corporation and increased its turnover from $1 billion annually to about $10 billion. Their profits also increased accordingly, in the wake of the worldwide increase in demand and in the price of phosphates - and due to better management, daring and capturing markets all over the world.

What's wrong with that? After all, we need entrepreneurs who take risks, break through boundaries, create jobs and propel the economy forward.

All that doesn't mean the Ofer family is as pure as the driven snow. That is not the case. We can and should criticize them, but they can't be turned into robber barons who only try to get an increasing number of exemptions and benefits from the government. Because first of all it isn't true, and second it's a sure way to make life miserable here for every entrepreneur, every wealthy businessman, and anyone who wants to invest, build and develop.

And let there be no mistake, the Ofer family is not alone. Every wealthy businessman is a suitable object of profound hatred. The envious people would confiscate the property of Yitzhak Tshuva because he was able to find gas. They would eliminate Lev Leviev for not going bankrupt in the 2008 crisis, but managing instead to rescue Africa-Israel. And they pray to see the day when Nochi Dankner falls.

The popular saying that the country sells its assets cheaply is untrue. The truth is that the government doesn't know how to run a business. That's why when it owns the asset - the business loses money. The government suffers from a surplus of manpower, rule by committee and amateur political management. Only the moment that it is sold to private capitalists does the business undergo a process of streamlining and modernization, and then it starts earning a profit. So its value increases, and then the envious ones say: Look, it's a fact, he bought them cheaply.

Because our envious people are the most envious people in the world.







This summer, 1,000 rockets a day are expected to land on the inhabitants of central Israel for an undetermined period of time, with thousands of casualties on the cards. This is the reality that emerges from the assessments of the minister for the homefront, the real front, Matan Vilnai and from the recent warnings voiced by newly retired Mossad chief Meir Dagan.

The future of the citizens of the center of the country is being determined in a more secure center. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to devote so-called "Jerusalem Reunification Day," marking the 44th anniversary of the capital, under its current status, in which Jews are citizens and non-Jews are not, to the country's real center - Mercaz Harav Kook, a yeshiva and the center of religious settler messianic ideology.

On his perceived-as-victorious return from Washington, the Rome of today, Netanyahu was welcomed at the messianic core like an anointed king. Taking their seats with all the proper respect and giving their blessings were the police investigation refuseniks, the anointers - Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the ethnic cleansing rabbi from Safed, and Rabbi Dov Lior, the senior messianic rabbi, the rabbi of the first Jewish underground, mass murderer Baruch Goldstein's rabbi, the rabbi of the rulings declaring Yitzhak Rabin a "pursuer" and a "betrayer," and the rabbi behind the book of incitement to murder of non-Jews, "Torat Hemlekh."

In turn, Netanyahu addressed his anointers and their followers, declaring them to be his source of strength in his dealings with U.S. President Barack Obama. "You are the elite special ops unit that leads the nation."

The travel advisory vis-a-vis the east voiced by Dagan is being heard at a critical moment. A historical drama is underway in the target country. A real battle for power is raging between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his sect on the one side, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the traditional regime on the other. The Revolutionary Guard is accusing the president and his followers of blatant messianism; Ahmadinejad is accused of having crowned himself the Mahdi - the Islamic Messiah.

He and his circle believe in apocalyptic messianism. Their connection to nuclear weaponry is dangerous. Despite their extremism, Khamenei and the Iranian establishment are a different story. In Pakistan, too, there are dozens of atomic bombs and Islamic extremists, but the pragmatism in the established system creates stability.

The fact that Ahmadinejad's messianism looks to be on the losing side is crucial. Even those, like myself, who believe in considering dramatic measures to strike at the messiahs of the bomb must know that an Israeli attack would thwart the moves to remove the messianic faction from power. Moreover, as is the case with every messianic movement, Rabbi Akiva, a spiritual leader, is a problem; but the real apocalypse comes only when a Ben Koziva, an apocalyptic messiah, takes over as an anointed Bar Kochba, who led the doomsday rebellion (in his personal case, against the Romans one that brought tragedy upon his people.)

The change in Iran is not fortuitous. In 2003, the Iranian leadership suspended its nuclear program for two years, after assessing that the United States constituted a threat following its invasion of Iraq. Today, the sanctions and, even more so, the regional ferment against oppressive regimes are causing the establishments in the region, as in Iran, to distance apocalyptic messianic elements from power.

Only in Jerusalem is messianism growing stronger. The "crime and punishment" principle has a mythical role in all cultures. In messianic cultures, the upheaval of principles is the essence. When a crime and its punishment are reversed, a messianic sign is born. Netanyahu's rise to power came under such a sign.

After the incitement demonstrations he orchestrated to chants of, "With blood and fire, we will expel Rabin," led to the assassination of a hero and prime minister, the religious right expected punishment - of Netanyahu and of the settlement world. Instead, seven months after the incitement and the murder, the anointed of the right was elected.

And the drama is repeating itself: The modern-day Ben Koziva, Netanyahu, travels to Washington, enters the lion's den and slaps the "black Muslim," aka "president," in the face, and walks away unscathed. Instead of being punished, he wins applause from the elected of the empire. Like Mordechai the Jew in the Purim story whose audacity led to his crowning, our Bar Kochba mounted the horse of public support.

The head-spinning from the messianic victory over the "crime and punishment" gave rise to Dagan's warning. In his opinion, the repeated transition in messianism from the manic to the depressive will end in disaster. From Netanyahu's current sense that he has the ability to ignore U.S. opposition to a strike against Iran, as well as its demand for peace talks based on the 1967 border lines, the leadership, when faced with the price of September, will get spooked and, in the service of messianism and the settlements, the strike on Iran will come to stop the peace on the basis of 1967.

When it was exposed, the Netanyahu propaganda machine swung into full gear again and transformed a right-wing general into a "traitor," "saboteur," "nutcase" and "gang leader" who is "trying to topple an elected prime minister." However, the real gang leader can be seen sitting in the Prime Minister's Residence. Every citizen and every friend of Israel must act to remove his hands from the steering wheel. Never have the words "a matter of life and death" been more accurate.







The is the age of the sniper - Syrian snipers and Israeli snipers. Syrian snipers on the roofs of homes shoot at Syrian demonstrators protesting the regime, while the Israeli snipers on the border of the Golan Heights shoot at Syrian demonstrators sent by the regime.

It's an age in which diplomatic perspective has shrunk into the telescopic sight of a sophisticated rifle. What goes through the mind of a sniper when he looks through the scope, when he pulls the trigger? How does he decide at whom to aim, and at which part of the body?

The equation between the snipers on the two sides is a Syrian invention. It's easy to see that the Syrian regime, battling for its survival, is eager to replace pictures of the massacre in Hama and other Syrian cities with pictures of blue-and-white violence, albeit more moderate, near Majdal Shams and Quneitra. It's easy to identify the effort to divert attention from the lost legitimacy of Syria's minority Alawite government, and instead to try to undermine the legitimacy of Israel on the anniversary of the start of the Six-Day War, Naksa Day.

The troubling question is: Why did Israel cooperate with this Syrian equation so obediently, so unimaginatively?

The result, 20 Syrians killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli sniper fire, raises questions about the judgment of our political and military leadership, and about what lessons were learned from the events of Nakba Day three weeks earlier. After all, on Naksa Day, there were no surprises; there was enough time to prepare, maybe even to think for a change.

The Palestinian protests on Nakba Day, May 15, and on Naksa Day, June 5, were meant to acknowledge the Palestinian traumas of 1948 and 1967, and to demand a resolution of the resulting problems. But in the realm of nations, as in the realm of emotions, the hidden, unconscious goal of post-traumatic behavior in most cases is not to restore the situation to what it was (returning the refugees to their homes, for example ), but a ceremonial repeat of the trauma (for example, more killing and expulsion ).

From this perspective, the Israeli response, which included live fire on demonstrators trying to cross the border that was apparently not aimed just at their legs, played right into Palestinian hands, providing the world with the longed-for images of killing and expulsion. One might have expected the larger and better-prepared Israeli forces to have repelled the demonstrators by less violent means and without killing anyone. It isn't clear why weeks of preparation ended this way, and what the Israeli satisfaction with the results is all about.

True, unlike on Nakba Day, when there was a mass breach of the border on the Golan, on Naksa Day, only a few managed to get to the border fence and they were immediately arrested. With this result, the defense minister and the prime minister can indeed be pleased: The ritual of return failed, and the border wasn't breached. But other borders were breached - invisible moral borders.

On Naksa Day, even as the snipers were shooting and the ambulance sirens were wailing, the Israel Defense Forces spokesman proudly said that the army had learned its lessons from Nakba Day. If that's the level of Israeli lesson-learning, then we should all be worried.

What does this say about Israeli preparedness for the next Gaza-bound flotilla, which is readying to leave Turkey at the end of June? Where is the original, creative, out-of-the-box thinking? Will we always fall into the traps, even when they are known in advanced? Is the only message from our leaders with the analytical minds is that the brain is an obsolete organ, and if force doesn't work, use more force?



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




Greece has made it through its latest near-meltdown. But the solution patched together last week — more European bailout money for more Greek austerity — only buys some time without offering any realistic hope of recovery.

Athens agreed to impose a new $9 billion round of tax increases and spending cuts and speed up nearly $75 billion in promised privatizations. Europe and the International Monetary Fund, which had threatened to cut off financing after the government missed its deficit-reduction targets, will continue paying a $160 billion bailout package and likely provide as much as 60 billion euros (around $86 billion) more when that runs out.

Greece needs to reform its sputtering economy and bring discipline to its fiscal accounting. But a new round of tightening just now could deepen the recession and further shrink the tax base, making it even harder for the government to cut its deficit. Greece has no chance of reviving its economy — or paying off its bills — if it has to keep paying full interest and principal on a debt burden that is now more than 140 percent of gross domestic product and rising. Debt relief, or, to use the bankers' euphemism, restructuring, will be needed. Debts must be written down, payments deferred and interest rates reduced.

Prime Minister George Papandreou let political resistance and bureaucratic inertia stall promised privatization efforts. He has now committed to clearing away those obstacles. While Mr. Papandreou has begun telling his people unpopular truths about necessary sacrifices and painful reforms, other European leaders are failing to do the same about the need to restructure Greece's debt.

They are worried about a voter backlash and that other countries may demand similar relief. Denial won't make the problem go away, and delay will only make the required debt relief much larger.

Europe's central bank president, Jean-Claude Trichet, has been one of the most vocal opponents of writing down existing debt. Even he recognizes that bold actions are needed. Last week, he suggested creating a European finance ministry with power to supervise spending by all countries using the euro.

Euro-zone governments are protective of their sovereignty and fiscal illusions. But the European Union is fast reaching the point where it will have to choose between members yielding some fiscal sovereignty or seeing some countries forced out of the euro zone. The former would be hard. The latter would be catastrophic, and not just for debtor countries. Exporters and banks in Europe's most successful economies, Germany's included, would be gravely threatened by an unraveling of the euro zone.

Europe's leaders also need to tell the truth about their struggling banks, whacked by housing busts in Ireland and Spain and wobbly Greek loans. This is a continental problem demanding a continental solution — rigorous new stress tests followed by recapitalization of weak institutions. In exchange for help, banks must be required to accept write-downs of Greek and Irish debt so those economies can grow their way out of their crises.

It is past time for Europe's leaders to acknowledge the depth and breadth of the euro-zone crisis and the need for real solutions.







For more than a week, Representative Anthony Weiner, a New York City Democrat, baldly lied in denying that he sent a lewd photo of himself to a woman over Twitter, claiming that his account was hacked. When he finally and tearfully confessed the truth on Monday, it turned out to be worse than expected: He admitted to a longstanding pattern of sending inappropriate photos to women.

Over the last three years, Mr. Weiner said, he has conducted sexually charged Internet and telephone conversations with six women whom he has never met, sending similar photographs without even knowing the real identities — or ages — of the recipients. It was a profoundly squalid and offensive pattern of conduct, admitted only after some of the photographs began to emerge on the Web. It also raises serious questions about his judgment and character, considering that he was once considered one of the savvier members of the House.

Had it not occurred to him, in an era of unending sexual scandal, that repeatedly sending these kinds of photographs to strangers would eventually catch up with him? And that, if it did, his attempt to exploit his political celebrity for online sexual gratification would be considered reprehensible? This was a man who had hoped to lead the City of New York as mayor, a dream that now seems unimaginable.

Mr. Weiner says he will not to resign, and there is no evidence yet that he broke the law or abused the resources of his office. He said the computer and BlackBerry that he used were his own, not issued by the government. But Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, was right to call for an ethics investigation into whether he had broken any House rules, an investigation with which Mr. Weiner said he will cooperate. If it shows that he did abuse his office, he should resign.

But if he chooses to run for re-election next year, voters in Brooklyn and Queens will at least have a chance to decide whether they want a man like Mr. Weiner representing their interests in Congress.






Since the mid-1990s, the National Park Service has been trying to come up with a plan to regulate the use of snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park that would withstand legal rulings and political pressure. Protecting the environment has almost always come out last.

For a moment in 2000, the environment won and the Clinton administration proposed to ban all snowmobiles. Repeated studies have shown that they disturb animals and create air and noise pollution. A judge rejected it because of inadequate public participation in the decision process. The administration of George W. Bush then opened the park to as many as 720 snowmobiles a day, and a court said that that violated pollution standards. The number has varied almost every year since. Last winter, the Park Service settled on 318 a day.

The Obama administration's draft of a new winter use plan is only a slight improvement. It would admit from 110 to 330 per day according to a schedule that would be published a year in advance. If you want a quieter Yellowstone experience, says the plan, visit the park with skis or snowshoes on a low snowmobile day.

In the past decade, the Park Service has tried to make the presence of snowmobiles more palatable, mainly by requiring guides for snowmobilers and the use of lower emission, state-of-the-art four-stroke machines. That has improved conditions since the 1990s, when a noxious cloud often hung over the west entrance to the park.

Snowmobilers and the local businesses that depend on them will surely complain that the new numbers are too low. We are certain they're too high. Yellowstone needs more protection. Besides, there are miles of snowmobile trails in the national forests surrounding the park.





After years of scandal in Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and leaders in the Legislature have managed to reach agreement on an ethics bill that could help change how business is done in New York's chronically secretive and corrupt state capital.

For the first time, the state's part-time lawmakers would be required to reveal to the public how much they earn from outside business interests and the names of their clients and their customers doing any business with the state. Failing to disclose clients could result in a referral to a prosecutor with the potential for a $10,000 fine, enough to make even the Albany crowd take notice.

The bill would also establish a broad, searchable database of all firms and individuals with business before the state — a way to cross-check lawmakers' disclosures. It would set up a method for reducing or denying state pensions for future public officials convicted of crimes related to their public offices. And it would expand disclosure requirements for independent campaign contributions that have become the real political muscle in elections.

While these changes are commendable, the new 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics created to monitor elected officials, legislators and lobbyists is so deeply flawed in its structure as to be wholly ineffective.

There has long been a need for an independent commission to investigate ethical problems in Albany. But this version is so clearly driven by the aim of protecting those in office that it is certain to lead to more paralysis.

Under the bill, the six members would be appointed by the governor (three from each major party) and eight members appointed by the legislative leaders (four each from the two parties). No commission member could have served in a statewide or legislative office in the past three years, but that restriction would not ensure independence.

In fact, any investigation would require consent from at least eight members of the commission, with at least two yes votes by appointees from the same party and branch of government as the subject of the investigation. This provision would essentially give legislative leaders the ability to squelch any investigation or even any public release of the allegations.

The evisceration of the commission was part of a deal struck with Republicans who were said to be nervous that Democrats would use the new commission to go after them. But a toothless commission would only add to the cynicism about Albany's shameful state.

Finally, missing from this bill is a tightening of New York's loose campaign finance laws. The bill also does not address the need for an independent reapportionment commission to draw new districts fairly — a change that needs to be enacted swiftly. Governor Cuomo, who put ethics reform at the top of his campaign agenda last year, called the bill a good first step. Clearly, more are needed.






THE New York City Opera was born in 1943, a year after I graduated from the Mannes Music School. Laszlo Halasz, the company's first music director, hired me as a rehearsal pianist and vocal coach. I was 22 and had arrived in the United States five years earlier, after Hitler took over my native Austria.

That an opera company could be created while World War II raged spoke to America's best aspirations. Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia called it "the people's opera," in contrast to the older Metropolitan Opera, and from the beginning, it was. It brought opera to the masses, including immigrants like myself. It exposed audiences to innovative and challenging works. It showcased the talents of American singers and composers.

Today, City Opera, to which I devoted some of the best years of my conducting career, is fighting to survive. Last month, it revealed plans to leave Lincoln Center, its home for the last 45 years, and to perform at various, unspecified locations around New York. It slashed its $31 million budget and laid off nearly a quarter of its administrative staff members. And it declined to say what operas it will put on next season, where they will be performed or how they will be financed. The vague plans put forward would leave the company not even a shadow of what it was intended to be — and became.

Some have blamed the company's woes on its Lincoln Center location, citing the expense and the proximity to the Met. But I believe the location has become a scapegoat for the hardships of a company that has suffered from inconsistent leadership by its board and a failure to engage in the smart programming and strategic planning that companies need to survive in hard times. I cannot sit by and watch as the legacy that was built by a company, if not a family, of talented, dedicated people is cast aside.

In 1965, when we considered moving from our first home (New York City Center, on West 56th Street) to the New York State Theater (now the David H. Koch Theater) at Lincoln Center, I was apprehensive, fearing that we might be forced to abandon the qualities that had allowed us to grow. I was wrong.

From our first night in our new home — Feb. 22, 1966, the North American premiere of Alberto Ginastera's "Don Rodrigo," starring a 25-year-old Plácido Domingo — the benefits were apparent: the ambience, the proximity to other institutions (including, yes, the Met), and the attention the international music press lavished on the new arts complex. That attention helped us to attract, despite our low fees, top-flight singers, conductors and directors.

The new space and new technologies also allowed us to put on memorable productions of Arrigo Boito's "Mefistofele," Leos Janacek's "Makropulos Case" and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's "Tote Stadt," among others. We presented new works and reinterpreted old ones to sold-out houses. At its peak, we presented 200 performances a year in New York and undertook annual tours to Los Angeles and Washington.

We also developed teams of ensemble singers, many of whom went on to major international careers — Beverly Sills, Norman Treigle, Phyllis Curtin, Beverly Wolff, Samuel Ramey, Catherine Malfitano and many, many others — and helped establish the American opera singer as a force to be reckoned with. If we had become the traveling band that is currently being proposed, many of those careers might never have blossomed.

Indeed, Lincoln Center solidified the company's place not as New York's second opera company, but as New York's other opera company. We were never thought of, and never thought of ourselves, as a lesser Met.

Over 68 years, I have seen City Opera thrive and I've seen it struggle. I realize that today's economic climate and changing paradigms in the arts pose monumental challenges. Opera companies everywhere face the question of how to attract and retain audiences; keeping the opera experience fresh and meaningful, making certain that what is presented is first-class, and experimenting with innovative repertory and productions that steadily build audiences are vital to assure opera's survival.

Once before, in 1956, City Opera faced the threat of bankruptcy, but instead of retrenching and cutting, the board boldly moved forward, securing the financing we needed to stabilize the company and then grow. The current board must reconsider its decision and demonstrate the commitment and vision its predecessors had.

If the board and management of City Opera cannot finance, produce and support full seasons of new works and standard operas in interesting productions with first-rate casts as we once did, they should be replaced, so that 68 years from now no one will wonder what ever became of City Opera.

Julius Rudel was the general director and principal conductor of the New York City Opera from 1957 to 1979.







Sometimes life presents you with a basic philosophical choice. Americans are going to have to confront a giant one over the next several years.

It starts in the wonky world of Medicare. As presently constructed, Medicare is based on an open-ended fee-for-service system. The government pays providers each time they deliver a service. The more services they provide, the more money they get.

The fee-for-service system is incredibly popular. Recipients don't have to think about the costs of their treatment, and they get lots of free money. The average 56-year-old couple pays about $140,000 into the Medicare system over a lifetime and receives about $430,000 in benefits back. The program is also completely unaffordable. Medicare has unfinanced liabilities of more than $30 trillion. The Medicare trustees say the program is about a decade from insolvency.

Some Democrats simply want to do nothing as Medicare careens toward bankruptcy. Last Sunday on "Face the Nation," for example, Nancy Pelosi said, "I could never support any arrangement that reduced benefits for Medicare."

Fortunately, more responsible Democrats are looking for ways to save the system. This is where the philosophical issues come in. They involve questions like: Who should make the crucial decisions? Where does wisdom reside?

Democrats tend to be skeptical that dispersed consumers can get enough information to make smart decisions. Health care is phenomenally complicated. Providers have much more information than consumers. Insurance companies are rapacious and are not in the business of optimizing care.

Given these limitations, Democrats generally seek to concentrate decision-making and cost-control power in the hands of centralized experts. Under the Obama health care law, a team of 15 officials will be created to discover best practices and come up with cost-cutting measures. There will also be a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation in Washington to organize medical innovation. Centralized officials will decide how to set national reimbursement rates.

Republicans at their best are skeptical about top-down decision-making. They are skeptical that centralized experts can accurately predict costs. In 1967, the House Ways and Means Committee projected that Medicare would cost $12 billion by 1990. It actually cost $110 billion. They are skeptical that centralized experts can predict human behavior accurately enough to socially engineer new programs. Medicare's chief actuary predicted that 400,000 people would sign up for the new health care law's high-risk pools. In fact, only 18,000 have.

They are skeptical that political authorities can, in the long run, resist pressure to hand out free goodies. They are also skeptical that planners can control the unintended effects of their decisions.

Republicans point out that Medicare has tried to control costs centrally for decades with terrible results. They argue that a decentralized process of trial and error will work better, as long as the underlying incentives are right. They suggest replacing the fee-for-service with a premium support system. Seniors would select from a menu of insurance plans. Their consumer choices would drive a continual, bottom-up process of innovation. Providers could use local knowledge to meet specific circumstances.

Representative Paul Ryan's Republican plan is controversial because of the amount of public money he would dedicate to his premium support plan, but the basic architecture of the plan has been around for decades. In less rigidly ideological times, many Democrats supported variations of this basic approach.

Advocates, like Alain Enthoven of Stanford, point out that competition-based plans have improved outcomes in many places. Such plans cover employees of the University of California and state employees in California, Wisconsin and Minnesota. They also note that the Medicare prescription drug benefit also uses a competition model. Consumers have been adept at negotiating a complex marketplace, and costs are 41 percent below expectations.

The fact is, there is no dispositive empirical proof about which method is best — the centralized technocratic one or the decentralized market-based one. Politicians wave studies, but they're really just reflecting their overall worldviews. Democrats have much greater faith in centralized expertise. Republicans (at least the most honest among them) believe that the world is too complicated, knowledge is too imperfect. They have much greater faith in the decentralized discovery process of the market.

I'd only add two things. This basic debate will define the identities of the two parties for decades. In the age of the Internet and open-source technology, the Democrats are mad to define themselves as the party of top-down centralized planning. Moreover, if 15 Washington-based experts really can save a system as vast as Medicare through a process of top-down control, then this will be the only realm of human endeavor where that sort of engineering actually works.






The decision to pull the initial public offering was announced on the last Sunday in May, late at night. The company that had been planning to sell its shares to the public — hoping to raise somewhere between $700 million and $1 billion — was the Domodedovo airport, the biggest and best-run of Moscow's three airports, and the only one not owned by the state.

The airport's investment bankers blamed the problem on the usual suspect: "market conditions" — meaning that they weren't going to get the price that they had hoped for. And I suppose, in some literal sense, that was true. But it didn't begin to capture the real story.

A few days ago, I wrote about the human cost of Russia's lack of respect for the rule of law. There is also a business cost, one that hurts Russia on a daily basis. The decision by the owners of the Domodedovo airport to withdraw its I.P.O. is a perfect example — and helps explain why Russia simply cannot have a modern economy until it has a real rule of law.

It is no coincidence, of course, that the best airport in Moscow is the only one in private hands. The management company, East Line Group, took over Domodedovo in 1996 when it was "a small, rundown airport," according to The Moscow Times. It poured enormous sums into upgrades and new terminals, attracted new business — and forced the government-run airports to spend money just to keep pace. It was good for everyone — including Domodedovo, which had revenues of $1 billion a year. This is how the textbooks say capitalism is supposed to work.

In January, however, a suicide bomber got past the airport's security, killing 37 people and wounding 180. Russia's president, Dmitri Medvedev, ordered the prosecutor general to write a report. It seems fair to say that Russia's plutocrats saw this as their opening.

In mid-May, days before the airport announced its plans to go public, the prosecutor general lowered the boom. His report concluded that the airport's offshore ownership structure was "unacceptable," because it allowed Domodedovo, as he put it, "to hide the real owners and those making the management decisions at the airport."

As is always the case when the plutocrats are getting ready to pull a fast one, the charge has a surface plausibility. The East Line Group's ownership is byzantine, involving several companies registered in the Isle of Man. Yet somehow that never mattered while it was spending all that money to build a more profitable airport. Besides, offshore ownership is almost as common in Russia as the corporate structure is in America; even state-owned companies often use an offshore structure. Why do companies go this route? In part, at least, to keep assets away from the grasping hands of the plutocrats.

Sure enough, a few days after the report, the news leaked out that a man named Igor Yusufov was putting together a group that hoped to buy a $1 billion stake in Domodedovo. Who is Yusufov? He's a former energy minister who served under the Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. According to The Financial Times, until a few months ago, he was also a special deputy to Medvedev. The Russian business newspaper Vedomosti described him as a potential "peacemaker" between the government and the airport's owners.

Well, yes, that's one way of describing him. Here's another way, the way most foreign investors saw it. He was using the report to squeeze the airport's owners and get a piece of a thriving company at a shamefully low price. Is it any wonder the I.P.O. was soon called off? How can anyone invest in a Russian company that is being shaken down by the government? That threat, which looms over every private venture in Russia, had become all too real for the owners of the Domodedovo airport.

This same dynamic explains why Russia, despite its well-educated population, has so little innovation: As likely as not, innovators will be pushed aside by government thugs as soon as they achieve success and profits. It happens all the time. As The Moscow Times put it recently, "After seeing the way the authorities are strong-arming East Line, fewer investors will risk putting their time and resources into resuscitating a failing business or pumping money into a new one."

As it happens, Russia itself has been trying to raise badly needed revenue by selling off pieces of state-run companies in I.P.O.'s. So far, it hasn't been going very well. A handful have already been canceled. Every time, executives and officials have blamed "market conditions."

In truth, so long as the plutocrats thumb their noses at the rule of law and steal corporate assets with impunity, no Russian company is going to get the price their assets may deserve. That's the real market condition. It won't change until the practice ends.

For that to happen, though, the plutocrats would have to start caring about their country — and not just themselves.





VENICE — The United States is no longer interested in Europe per se. That's not a bad thing. It reflects the fact that Europe is whole, free and at peace.

But of course the deflection of American attention always prompts a measure of unease, as was evident at a meeting here of the Council for the United States and Italy. The question arises: Can some new galvanizing trans-Atlantic goal or institution be found?

I doubt it. The lesson of Venice is that history moves on. Great decisions affecting far-flung lands were once taken where the idle now gaze at roseate facades and wander over stones smoothed by centuries. After the doges came the dolce vita. After statecraft came style, Flaubert's "discharge from a deeper wound."

Trans-Atlantic relations are O.K. In the Obama administration's measured hands they have recovered from the Bush buffeting. They do not transfix. They function. In so far as the United States is interested in Europe it is interested in what can be done together in the rest of the world.

That's a fair reflection of priorities. Resources have to be allocated. Bad allocation gives you two wars at once, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and domestic financial meltdown.

America is now looking to the emergent powers, to its winding-down wars and to the places that affect national security as the Prussian plain once did. Europe is in an awkward phase, its integration on hold. The European bicycle was always unsustainable without forward motion. There is none.

Helmut Kohl, the former German chancellor, said something startling last month. Speaking at the American Academy in Berlin, he declared: "Germany's future is with its neighbors, our partners in the E.U. We will stand side by side with the Greek people. It is the most important thing."

It was startling because you don't hear Chancellor Angela Merkel saying much about Germany's European leadership. She has her finger to the wind. It tells her Germans are fed up with Greeks freeloading on their industry. A clear majority of Germans would much rather Greeks got a comeuppance for their profligacy than help. Europe, once its anchor, has become Germany's albatross. Merkel bears it with a grimace.

Combine German navel-gazing with an American president shaped not by Europe's drama but by the Pacific's allure and you find yourself in a trans-Atlantic relationship that has lost its emotional core.

Still there is work to be done. Perhaps Europe can help America make the right call in Afghanistan and America can repay the favor in North Africa.

The drawdown in U.S. troops in Afghanistan is about to begin. The question is: In what numbers? A cautious process maintaining maximum combat capability is being advocated by the outgoing secretary of defense, Robert Gates, as a "no-brainer." Others in the administration favor a more rapid exit.

Europeans are on the go-faster side of this debate. They are right. Osama bin Laden is dead, a grinding 10-year-old war is unwinnable in any conventional sense, and there may be no more than 100 Al Qaeda operatives left in Afghanistan. It's time to switch from counterinsurgency to a counter-terrorism approach that reflects finite resources and the need to build an exit strategy around talks with the Taliban.

Without a drawdown big enough to get the attention of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, there will be no pressure on him to get more of his own forces — military and police — ready for prime time.

He should also be made to see the need for a defense treaty with Western powers. As the former British defense secretary Malcolm Rifkind has written, this should "permit NATO, using air power and special forces, to be able, after 2015, to attack any new terrorist base or terrorist activity in any parts of the country not controlled by Kabul."

The United States in turn can help Europe ensure that decent societies emerge around the Mediterranean basin. The European strategic interest in the Arab Spring is overwhelming. It is political despotism and economic failure across North Africa that have fed instability, extremism and an immigrant tide northward. Yet Europe's response has been hesitant.

There are three priorities. End the war in Libya in short order with the departure of Muammar el-Qaddafi. Ensure democratic change equals opportunity for young societies: Europe needs to help create a regional investment bank similar to the one that helped fulfill the promise of the last spring — of 1989. And remember the Arab Spring's bumper sticker, "It's Egypt, stupid." Egypt is the pivot.

I'd argue that Egypt is now more important to America than Afghanistan. Its success in a democratic transition would be the best antidote to the frustrations in the Arab world that led to 9/11. Egypt's successful emergence from despotism is as delicate and critical as German unification within the West was two decades ago.

The Arab Spring reminds us of what does still bind the United States and Europe: values of human dignity and freedom. The trans-Atlantic relationship is an empty vessel if not used when the yearning of less fortunate peoples touches on what binds us most intimately.

You can follow Roger Cohen on Twitter at .








During the electoral campaign, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has been criticizing the opposition parties with favoring the status quo. This is only natural, since the status quo in today's Turkey happens to have a negative connotation. In 2002, the Turkish electorate punished all mainstream parties, leaving but one, the Republican People's Party, or CHP, in parliament, and carrying a newcomer, the AKP to the government. 

The tremendous popular support, AKP enjoyed stemmed largely from the fact the AKP meant change. It dared to change the "red lines" in Turkey. While most of the other parties dragged their feet to deliver on the reforms, the AKP did not waste time to pass the legal amendments from the parliament. It endorsed a different rhetoric as far the rights of the Kurds or Alevis are concerned. It endorsed creative thinking to solve problems with neighbors instead of sticking to old positions. The 47 percent of the votes it received in the last general elections showed that the Turkish electorate appreciated the change the AKP represented.

Yet when you listen to the AKP's leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it is impossible not to have a sense of deja vu. In contrast to the image the AKP preached for a democratic, pluralist and tolerant society, his intolerance to demonstrations, and his harsh criticism of the pro-Kurdish party is no different than the main rhetoric of mainstream parties in the 1990's. He kept underlining the Alevi identity of his main rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, during electoral campaigns, in total contradiction of his party's initial approach towards Alevis.

Those skeptics, who kept accusing the AKP of having a secret agenda, feel their suspicions to have been proved. I am still not convinced the AKP wants to impose on Turkey an Iran style regime. There might be some among the AKP and its supporters to dream an Iran style regime. Yet they are in the minority and the pragmatists have the upper hand in the party. 

We can explain the change in the AKP, with the resurgence of the antidemocratic reflexes, which are in the genetics of political parties in Turkey. The anti-Alevi, anti-Kurdish, in short antidemocratic reflexes, which exist in different degrees in the Turkish political system, is inherited by the AKP, which feels it no longer needs to suppress them, for the sake of appealing to national and international public as a consensus building party.

The AKP has thus started recently to create the image that it has become just like any mainstream party in Turkey, the very ones the AKP has been criticizing of favoring the status quo.

Under normal circumstances, the AKP, which gathered so much support, especially by saying it was different than the parties of the status quo, should be negatively affected from its recent image, which contradicts with this initial message. Will that cost the AKP the government? No it will not. But it will certainly cost a considerable amount of votes, leaving it short of the clear majority it seeks to change the constitution.






"The Economist" British magazine announced it was supporting the Republican People's Party, or CHP, on the upcoming June 12 elections. The magazine thinks a presidential system would push the Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, authoritarian trends to its peaks, and this is not good for the development of democracy in Turkey.

The Economist had this perception: "AKP will be in power again, at least, it should be balanced a bit with the CHP." In previous years the magazine was supporting AKP and Abdullah Gül in presidential elections.

Not only The Economist, also The New York Times has printed many articles supporting the AKP in the past nine years. At those times, Erdoğan had no objection to this exterior support. Of course, coming from a school, which dictates to him that "Rage is also an art of public speaking," the prime minister feels inadequate if he cannot "correct" any opposition he sees. For this reason, he roared at The Economist, as you know: "Hey, The Economist. You are too French for this country; you are French to the CHP."

First, he tried to imply, "The Economist does not know these things," but later he said the CHP was a project of a "global gang." In other words, a global gang has designed the CHP, and The Economist is supporting it for this reason.


How nice. Same things were being said for the AKP in past elections by anti-AKP. The fact that this approach of loving conspiracies expands to parties and leaders shows that as a country we do have some common denominators.

As we were expecting a defense line such as, "Oh, sir, we are really not French but British," The Economist only reacted to our prime minister's words as, "We do not give in to pressure."

One of our ministers Mehmet Şimşek, though, hit the damning finishing blow to the British Magazine: He said he stopped following the magazine on Twitter. With this decision, the Internet in the world had a serious impact. Minister Şimşek can be assured that from China to Romania, everybody is discussing the serious consequences of this decision.  

The Economist is at ease. It is publishing at a distance outside the range of the prime minister's slap. But, this, for example, is not valid for columnist Nuray Mert. At town square election campaign speeches, she is personally denounced as "despicable" by the prime minister through fifth-class word games with her surname, which means "dependable" in Turkish.

Kars breakfast 

Dilşat Aktaş who climbed on top of a police panzer to protest Hopa events, and was then beaten by police and given a broken hip, was not immune to election square rage.  

Erdoğan's expression is such: "Either a girl or a woman*, I cannot know, climbed on a police panzer." Why Erdoğan would want to know this; that we do not know naturally.  

Dilşat Aktaş, with a six-month doctor's report of being unable to work and a broken hip and a weird question asked about her; Nuray Mert with the accusation that she is despicable, The Economist and the CHP with the blame that they are members of a global gang, are all waiting for our prime minister's fury to pass.

But some things are going well, to say the truth. The "İnsanlık Anıtı" (Monument to Humanity) in Kars has been demolished. A statue of honey and kaşar cheese was to be erected in its place. A good Kars breakfast is good for blood sugar levels. Honey calms a person. It takes off the rage, it lowers the blood pressure.

What does the folk song say? "There is honey in the market, there is something in you."

* According to a part of Turkish society, the difference between a girl and a woman is her virginity. In this case, Erdoğan's comment sounded insulting.

Özgür Mumcu is a columnist of daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared Monday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.







We had a special 32. Gün show with the prime minister at Kanal D on Sunday evening.  I wonder if you were able to watch it. If you missed it, here is a summary and observations.

The previous episode of 32. Gün hosted the main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and a very interesting rating burst was experienced. I had thought this was because of interest shown to the Republican People's Party, or CHP. I was wondering what the rating of the talk with the prime minister would be because Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appears on TV channels almost daily, joins talk shows and organizes one rally after the other during the day. In other words, there was nothing left unknown he has not spoken about.

Results came out highly interesting.  

However much they speak or not, society is very interested in the elections and they watch the leaders with huge interest and attention.  

The breakdown of the rating of the prime minister's interview on Sunday between 11 p.m. and 0:30 a.m. was almost no different that Kılıçdaroğlu's rating.

(The reason Kılıçdaroğlu is a bit higher in the AB group must be the effect of a shorter program.)  

A smiling Erdoğan

The most interesting aspect, for me, was that I met a smiling Erdoğan who was even tolerant toward those thorny questions and answered them openly.

He was very content with his İzmir and Istanbul rallies, he was in high spirits and maybe for the first time, we had a pleasant conversation. Even though some do not like it, every question that needed to be asked was asked. What I did not like about the program was that it started at 11 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.. Unfortunately, our leaders cannot manage their timing well. They show up late for their rallies, and also for their appointments. Turgut Özal was like this, and so were Süleyman Demirel and Necmettin Erbakan. Maybe, who knows, this is the most problematic side of the Turkish system.

Disturbance with the phrase 'to pay back'

The prime minister did not openly say it but he did use the phrase for columnists Abbas Güçlü and Nuray Mert and others as a reaction and said, "They will pay for it." Now, he is disturbed by his words; this can be seen overtly from his speech style and body language.  He defended himself and explained why he showed this reaction, however he is also conscious how this phrase can be widely misinterpreted.  

I think he would refrain from now on, from this type of "threat" implying outputs, exceeding its purpose, or thinking twice.

Despite this, he was very tough on the issue of General Engin Alan. Obviously, it has created a very adverse effect on him that the general did not stand up.  

What will happen to presidency and the presidential palace?

We also talked about the presidential system.

However much he opposes, the presidential system lies at the heart of the prime minister. This way, he believes his dreams will come true quicker. On the other hand, he must know that even from his own party there exists resistance; he only says it should be discussed.

With a slight pressure, it is easily understood where his heart is leaning toward.  

Again, he is waiting for election results. He will decide according to the numbers. Either he would press it or will let go of it.  

Well, will he be able to escape the glitter of the presidential palace, or will he leave politics and ascend to the palace at the first opportunity?

Election results will also determine this.  

He looked very indecisive to me.

Pulling the brakes on the topic of the military  

The prime minister's approach to the topic of the military, however, is quite different compared to the past. For example, he does not agree with main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu who says the Chief of General Staff should be under the Defense Ministry.

He says, "It is not time yet."

He might be waiting for the speculations on the Turkish Armed Forces to cease and thinking "no more should be brought upon." His general approach is that, especially after elections, the military-civilian relations should then settle and should get back on track.

He only mentioned that this improvement will happen routinely within the framework of the European Union.

Disturbed by the duration of arrest

When the prime minister said Turkey will ascend to a top position on the democracy list, of course, I could not resist and reminded him of jailed journalists and especially those who break records while being tried under arrest. I drew attention to how Turkey's image abroad was being ruined and the ruling party was not doing the necessary legal amendments.

He pointed at after the elections. The disturbance the durations of arrests was creating is extremely obvious, but I was expecting a clearer attitude from the prime minister.

He does not ever accept it but instead of the former liberal-democrat Erdoğan, a more nationalist Erdoğan speaking in the voice of the state has come apparently.

Hopes are diminishing on the Kurdish issue

The Kurdish issue and, within that context, relations with the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, are causing my hopes to gradually diminish. I also paid attention during the show; he did not look like he had any intent to make a new start after the elections.

The prime minister said those who address the issue are enlarging their targets continuously and are not settling for individual rights as they use to, they are after a regional formation.

The same words are being heard from the top level of the state.

It is said, "The more you give to them, new demands emerge and a road to independence is being drawn." When the situation is like this, search for a solution narrows.

Election results, as with many other topics, will also show which direction the Kurdish issue is heading.

I am a bit concerned.







What some observers see as "Turkey's bloodless civil war" was perhaps best captured in the words of Bülent Arınç, then parliamentary speaker and today deputy prime minister, in the run-up to the presidential election in 2007, "They [secular Turks] don't want a Muslim president!" Yet Turkey's former presidents or potential rivals to Mr. Arınç's favorite candidate were neither Christians nor Jews, or anything but adherents to Islam. For Mr. Arınç, "Muslim" meant a "Muslim like me."

Turkey's bloodless civil war is between pious Muslims who want the public space to be dominated by their interpretation of religion and less dogmatic and secular Muslims who believe in strict separation of state and mosque. Mr. Arınç's Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has advocated greater religious freedoms since it came to power in 2002, but its favoritism toward a chosen practice of piety has deeply polarized Turkey. Turkey's "war of religion" is not between two religions, nor is it between the faithful and atheists; it is a contest between believers of the same faith with divergent interpretations of its strictures and/or different levels of observance.

The AKP's initial systematic attempt to inject piety into the Turkish society was to appoint and promote observant Muslims to influential positions in the state bureaucracy. In the meantime, strictly observant businessmen began to receive lucrative government contracts, as their piety became a powerful bond with the government-appointed decision-makers, and an unstated advantage in gaining official business.

After the AKP won a decisive election victory in 2007 and consolidated its power, it launched a legal campaign to remove a campus ban on the Islamic headscarf, which the party saw as a symbol for political Islam. The AKP's justification for the campaign looked reasonable: no one, including the State, should be able to tell university students how to dress. Despite a long legal battle, the headscarf ban was retained and further "legalized" by a verdict from the Constitutional Council in 2007, and it has since remained at least theoretically in effect. But an AKP-appointed chairman for the Higher Education Board, which oversees universities, advocated permitting the headscarf at universities, and issued regulations ignoring the Supreme Court's verdict.

Today, Turkish campuses properly enjoy freedom for the headscarf, but lack any other freedom the ruling party deems inappropriate "to our moral values." Many students who have protested against the policies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or his cabinet heavyweights have been subject to brutal police attacks, subsequent detention and prosecution.

Greater public space for certain practices of the majority sect of Turkey's majority religion also mean smaller space for less pious practices. Tighter alcohol restrictions by the government, public disapproval and sometimes physical attacks on drinkers, and a visible intolerance of those who eat pork or do not fast during Ramadan are new facts of life in Turkey. 

At the heart of the problem is strictly observant Muslims' self-granted authority to collectively define and combat evil and command good for all Turks, rather than just individually avoid evil and choose good. Recently, the head of the alcohol and tobacco watchdog, another AKP-appointee, complained that he "cannot easily find a fish restaurant, which does not serve alcohol on the Bosporus." Going to a fully-licensed restaurant and simply not drinking alcohol apparently would not satisfy his reading of Muslim law.

With systematic government backing and legislation in favor of broader requirements for piety in public space, strictly observant Muslims increasingly do not accept faith as a private matter, and often do not respect divergent degrees of observance, or no observance at all. The most dogmatic Turkish Muslims often ignore, for instance, that the Quran commands Muslims to avoid alcohol but nowhere commands them to attack those who consume it.

Selective advocacy of religious freedoms in Turkey, whose prime minister is the co-chairman of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative, is promoting an increasingly pious populace that is less tolerant of those different from them. A piercing question rises from the Turkish experience: How can those who seek to enforce, rather than only embrace, the strictest interpretation of their own faith ever be at peace with other faiths, or with agnostics or atheists?






Religion, that private balm for the soul, often enters the public space when politics forcibly pulls it through. The Federation of Malaysia is no exception. The Federal Constitution, crafted by our founding fathers at independence in 1957, attempted to accommodate our multicultural society by defining specifically who the main inhabitants of the country were. Article 160 defines a Malay as a person who professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks the Malay language and adheres to Malay customs. Article 153 defines the special position of Bumiputras (sons of the soil), which include Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia, but also ensures that the Yang di Pertuan Agong, or Paramount Ruler of the Federation, is bound to protect citizens from other communities and faiths.

The federal constitution also declares Islam as the official religion of the Federation while guaranteeing freedom of religion to others. The state Syariah Courts may only adjudicate on Muslims in specified areas, mostly personal laws, and were originally subservient to civil courts. However, recent years have seen greater assertiveness by the state Syariah Courts over more matters involving Muslims, while federal courts have been reluctant to insist on their right to adjudicate in areas designated to them, now increasingly pre-empted by the Syariah Courts.

This has major implications on public discourse on religion, particularly Islam. Religious sensitivities have risen. For instance, importations of Malay-language Bibles from Indonesia, primarily for Christians in East Malaysia, have been denounced as an attempt to proselytize to Malays. The Catholic newsletter The Herald was banned from using the word 'Allah' for God in their Malay-language version, even though Muslims and Christians in other countries including nearby Indonesia also use the word. Any attempt at discussion of Islam by non-Muslims is derided as interference.

Censorship is not limited to non-Muslims. Muslims who question the formal state expression of Islam in Malaysia, whether as individuals or in organizations, are subject to harassment in the form of police investigations and lawsuits. Sisters in Islam, or SIS, an organization dedicated to equality and justice for Muslim women, has operated in Malaysia for over 20 years, but recently experienced increasing pressure from both the state and non-state actors such as Islam-oriented political parties and nongovernmental organizations.

In 2009, SIS questioned the constitutionality and justice of a whipping sentence pronounced against Kartika Shukarno, a woman convicted of drinking beer in public, a crime under the Pahang State Syariah Criminal Offences Act. The Federal Constitution prohibits the whipping of any woman, but Kartika was given the maximum sentence for a first offence. Criticism by SIS resulted in 50 police complaints being made against it by various parties for allegedly insulting the court, the state ruler and Islam.

The Pahang State ruler eventually commuted Kartika's sentence to community service. But another state belatedly announced that they had already whipped three young women for having babies out of wedlock. Again SIS protested, resulting in at least another 10 police reports. As in the first round, SIS staff were obliged to report to the local police station for questioning, retain lawyers, and beef up security, all of which was costly and detracted from their customary work.

These state and non-state attempts to suppress different opinions on and within Islam is enforcing public conformity of thought on religion in Malaysia. But it also has a political dimension. Religious tolerance has diminished since the 2008 general elections, when the ruling party, the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, suffered its worst defeat since independence. The perceived need to compete with the opposition Islamist party to prove its Islamic credentials has caused the UMNO-dominated Federal government to shift rightward in almost all matters seen to be related to Islam.

A rightwing politician recently warned that he has a list of 15 people he deems have insulted Islam and the special rights of Malays. Although he has no power to charge anyone, his intention is to raise fears that stop discussion on crucial issues of special privileges and related restrictions regarding religion and ethnicity in Malaysian society. Unless Malaysia's government and courts act to protect free speech and other fundamental freedoms, he may well succeed. Malaysia's government should now take concrete actions to honor its pledges to uphold the rights of its people of all groups and religions.

* Marina Mahathir is Malaysian columnist, blogger and women's rights activist. This article is part of the series 'Religion, Politics & the Public Space' in collaboration with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and its Global Experts project, at The views expressed in these articles are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of the UNAOC or of the institutions to which the authors are affiliated.







G8 summits are becoming boring. First of all, the meaning of "most powerful countries" must be explained openly. Most powerful in what sense? Political, military, economic or cultural? If the names of the countries in this group are remembered, it is impossible to find common criteria.

First in the cultural sense, even if there are some angry objections, it is quite difficult to reject the Anglo-Saxon dominance. The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and maybe France can be defined as political powers, but not Canada, Japan and nowadays Italy. Using the same logic, the U.S. is still an economic power and also Germany and maybe France. The U.K., Italy and Japan have serious economic troubles nowadays. The Russian economy does not have such very serious problems, but it seems a little bit hesitant to play a big role in the international financial markets yet, but nobody can object to the reality that Russia is a military power. The same is true for the U.S..

The position of the countries in the European side in this sense is quite misty. Why are they trying hard to convince the U.S. administration to participate in the Libya mission? This was the main reason why the U.K. pronounced repeatedly during President Barack Obama's recent "state visit" to their country as the Queen's guest of honor. The relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. is "special and essential." Naturally, both sides have some political concerns.

President Obama from the beginning has been insisting that the turmoil in Libya is primarily a European problem to solve, knowing well that the U.S. population hates the idea of another military action in some other part of the world. The U.K. side realistically knows better that without direct American military participation, it is almost impossible to solve the Libya problem by only the strong but insufficient contribution of France.

The same conflict of interest was observed in the recent G8 summit. During that meeting, as they did several times in the past, member countries discussed serious international economic and political problems and tried to find solutions. There was not a common opinion and not a solid idea of cooperation as usual. There is an old saying in Turkish: "If the bald man had a cure for his problem, he would have first spread it on top of his head."

The natures of their problems are so different from each other and especially during the recent recession these differences widened significantly, it was already unrealistic to expect the emergence of common solutions at the end of the summit. They could not even agree on Internet regulations. Nevertheless, at least a good story emerged from the summit that a fund would be established similar to the Marshall program to help the troubled Arab countries. To mention that name for this fund is a good idea for the elderly people did not forget yet the support of the Marshall Fund which was established after WWII by General George Marshall, the famous head of the U.S. department for the reconstruction of the ruined economies of Europe.

However, before seeing the realization of this project, it would not be wise to become hopeful in haste. Such summits had offered many good ideas and bright projects, which never were realized.

As for the new head of the International Monetary Fund, in contrast with the widespread rumors, there is not any objection from the other side of the Atlantic for the nomination of France's Christine Lagarde, who is very suitable for U.S. interests. First of all, if the new management is not successful in helping end the worldwide recession by its contributions in a foreseeable future, the responsible person will not be an American. Secondly, if the new head is a European, especially the people in France might forgive the attitude of the American justice system, which is seen as being very cruel by Continental Europe standards, regarding the case of Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

To be fair, it must be accepted that Strauss-Kahn changed the IMF's perspectives a lot in a positive direction. He also changed the approach of the IMF towards emerging economies. Financial limits of the institution and also contributions to troubled countries increased considerably. Turkey benefited from this new approach during the crisis a decade ago. Although the policies implemented to stop that crisis are still being criticized, it is better to remember how they have been really useful to reestablish macroeconomic balances.

The floating exchange rate regime, which was implemented then to stop a full-size foreign exchange crisis, similar to those that were experienced several times after WWII, nowadays is being blamed as the main reason of the overvaluation of Turkish Liras, which is causing a rapidly widening current account deficit. It is hard now to convince the people that the floating exchange rate regime is not the main reason for these problems. However, the condemnation of the IMF is not a particularly-Turkish case. Almost in every country, which faces serious economic problems, the IMF generally is seen as the first culprit.

Now let us turn to our main concern. Can Ms. Lagarde, who already launched her campaign and is the frontrunner for the position, do the job? Her background, qualifications and performance as the finance minister of a leading country in Europe can lead to a swift approval. Recently, she mentioned that being European is neither a handicap nor an asset. However, she definitely must try hard to be an asset.







Another key militant leader, the widely feared Ilyas Kashmiri, has been confirmed by his organisation, the Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI), as having been killed along with some 13 other militants in a US drone strike at a village near Wana in South Waziristan. Clearly, impeccable intelligence had preceded the attack. But as another key terrorist figure dies as a consequence of US-directed action, just over a month after the death of Osama bin Laden, we must ask ourselves if the removal of these men from the scene makes our country a safer place. Certainly, in the shorter-term at least, the opposite seems true. The HUJI – which some media reports have suggested was behind the attack on PNS Mehran, though its own leaders say they are not involved in terrorism within Pakistan – has warned of fierce revenge. So too has the TTP, which remains at a pivotal position on the playing field where many militant outfits make their moves. It is hard to say if it has been damaged by the recent deaths of key leaders and, if so, how badly. Clearly, the process of revenge is on. A day after Kashmiri was killed, 24 people died in two separate attacks – in the towns of Nowshera and Matani, both located just a few kilometres away from Peshawar. A suicide bomber hit an army-run bakery in Nowshera, killing 17 people including the wife and two children of a major. The reason why the target was chosen is easy to decipher; there have been numerous attacks on military and paramilitary forces since the Abbottabad raid, and the killing of Kashmiri could lead to still more strikes. Certainly, the militants who also struck on Sunday at a bazaar in Matani, where a bomb blast led to seven deaths, have demonstrated that they retain the capacity to wreak revenge.

There are also indications that the militants may be gunning for higher-profile targets. Police in Islamabad say they were able to foil a Taliban plot to assassinate President Zardari. We can only wonder what other schemes are being thought up by the TTP and groups allied to its violent cause. It is quite possible that they will aim for VVIPs, as they strive to make their presence felt with greater force than ever before. Their determination to avenge the death of key leaders has already been written in stone as we face a new bombing or a new attack almost every day. But it is hard to say what the long-term repercussions of the killing of key militants will be. The US media has carried reports stating that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have been weakened. Only time will tell if this is true and if we are moving towards a situation where the violence we see now will finally end. For now it is clear that it is the people of Pakistan who suffer most.







There was jubilation in some sections of Yemeni society when it was announced that President Ali Abdullah Saleh, injured in an explosion last Friday, had been flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment. The assumption quickly arrived at on scanty evidence was that this was the end for Saleh, and he would never return. That might be a little premature. It is also premature to understand what is happening in Yemen as in some way a part of the 'Arab Awakening' that is seeing democratic regimes replace despots. The upheavals in Yemen may have started from the seeds planted by Tunisia and Egypt, but have turned into something very different and what we are seeing today is more of a coup internal to the government than a popular uprising – although the ouster of Saleh would have widespread popular support. As evidenced by Colonel Qaddafi in Libya and President Assad in Syria, despots can be hard to dislodge, and Saleh is not without support. Whether he returns or not is in the hands of the regional broker – Saudi Arabia, and for their own reasons the Saudis may not want to see an end to Saleh, and neither do the Americans.

America has bolstered the Saleh regime as a bulwark against Al-Qaeda, which is believed to have a strong and active presence in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has itself been unsettled by events in the Arab world in the last six months and although there is no sign that the Saudi regime is vulnerable, there is a fear of 'cross infection' from the restive states that surround it – including Yemen. If there is to be a transition then the Saudis and the Americans would want to carefully stage-manage it, and President Obama has already reportedly spoken to Yemini acting Vice-President Abed Rabbo Hadi and we may assume an exchange of words between the White House and Riyadh. Hadi is regarded as a lightweight by most in Yemen, and if he does become caretaker, his first job will be to ensure that a truce between tribes holds and that Saleh's son and his nephews, all of whom command substantial military forces, can be kept in check. The Yemen crisis is a mix of inter-elite rivalries, burgeoning secessionist movements in both north and south, turf-wars between tribes and an unfocused populist movement that lacks a leader but is picking up martyrs by the day. This is no Facebook or Twitter-driven uprising; this is an old-fashioned clash of arms, interests and rivalries. Spring may be far off blooming in Yemen.







We will never find out who killed Saleem Shahzad. From Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal to Mohammed Salahuddin of the right-wing magazine Takbeer – journalists in Pakistan have died before. There has been no real change in the vulnerability of intrepid reporters meeting with a sick and ghastly fate. Debates about whether the ISI was involved or not are largely fruitless. As with most murder mysteries we will point fingers at those that we are pre-disposed to distrust and be fearful of.

For every ten people that blame the ISI, there are twenty that raise the question of foreign intelligence services, trying to malign Pakistan. Neither side has incontrovertible evidence. This circus of unproven allegations flying around like mosquitoes near a swamp suits the elite of Pakistan just fine. As long as nobody has the right answer everybody can busy themselves quarrelling over the specific versions that suit specific narratives. While the mainstream bickers over the details, the incompetent, corrupt and myopic Pakistani elite – be they among the military, the politicians, the bureaucrats, the judiciary, or the religious right-wing – is allowed to enjoy a carte blanche.

The lack of accountability within the overarching national framework of Pakistan is deeply rooted, extremely well-constructed and even more vociferously defended. The military is at the apex of this Mt Zion of unaccountability, but it is not alone. It simply cannot be. The architecture of sustained unaccountability requires a feedback mechanism that necessarily involves acquiescent politicians, judges, federal and provincial secretaries, DIGs and IGs of police, and the vast majority of insidious right-wing leaders. The sum total of the Pakistani elite co-operates together, and co-opts challengers together. The national culture of a lack of accountability thus sustains. Press the button of accountability on one or more of these groups and the spectrum is threatened.

The problem will not be solved by vilifying one group or another among the elite. Politicians may be corrupt, but no other class of Pakistani puts as much at risk as constituency politicians do, to serve their constituents – ask Azeem Ahmed Tariq's family, ask the Sherpaos, and ask the Bhuttos. Similarly, though the military has been at the centre of most of the institutional morbidity in Pakistan, every individual soldier and officer has signed up to die to protect Pakistan. It is shameful and disgraceful that the decisions of a few men over the last 63 years have led us to the point where the national discourse is so acerbic about the role of the military in Pakistan. Vilifying either group is useless – we can't be rid of either, nor can we wave a magic wand to transform either. Both are indispensible to Pakistan, and both require sustained long-term change.

This change is impossible in the absence of a clear and linear social contract. Too often these prescriptions are amorphous and abstract, but Pakistan needs to invest in a reality check, or rather an economy check. Pakistan is a state and society operating without a modern social contract. The state exists and persists without a linear fiscal relationship with the people. In plain English, the state is unaccountable to the people of Pakistan because the people of Pakistan do not pay taxes. The state doesn't "owe" the people any services, or answers, and the people don't feel that they owe the state any money.

The total number of registered taxpayers in Pakistan is less than three million. Of this number, only roughly two million or 1.1 percent of all Pakistanis file returns every year. This is a woefully inadequate number. Don't let political propagandists tell you otherwise. Pakistan's tax potential is exponentially higher than what is being tapped. The reason is simple. Like their brethren in the American Tea Party and on the right-wing of the Republican Party, Pakistan's elite do not want to pay for the tea party that they are enjoying.

The poorest 10 percent earn less than Rs2,700 per month. Undoubtedly, this is social safety net territory. This may be a country of vast poverty, but this poverty in unequally distributed. This simply means that unlike what the elite would want you to believe, there is plenty of money that can be taxed without going anywhere near the mouths and wallets of the barely middle class, and the decidedly poor.

The richest one percent of Pakistanis, or what Shahid Javed Burki has called, Pakistan's super rich, earn almost Rs500,000 (or 5 lacs) per month. The top 10 percent of Pakistanis, or simply rich Pakistanis earn about Rs50,000 per month. The total direct taxes paid by Pakistanis come to about Rs529 billion. This means, even if we make the assumption that all 1.8 million of the richest Pakistanis are paying taxes, that each one of them pays less than Rs25,000 per month in taxes. This is less than five percent.

Now here's the thing. Pakistan's total tax to national income (or GDP) ratio, which includes not just income, but also sales taxes and excise and customs duties, and all other indirect taxes, hovers around 10 percent. This means that while the super rich, even if we make the generous assumption that they are paying taxes, only pay five percent of their own incomes, the country is generating twice as much, around 10 percent of its overall income of GDP.

So where does the balance get sorted? Simple. It gets sorted when you buy basic consumer goods – milk, rice, cereal, biscuits and a wide range of other fast moving, essential items. Sales tax is a cancer that was conceived of by rich people to ensure that the rich get to keep as much of their money as possible. Instead, sales tax and other indirect taxes are an instrument to get the widest possible net of people to contribute to the national exchequer. This is bad if you are interested in economic and distributive justice. It is certainly bad if you claim to be a party of roti, kapra and makaan. Most of all it is bad for democracy. Sales taxes and other indirect taxes are insidious because they hide the relationship between the state and the citizen, reducing it to a small percentage of each purchase. Citizens are not able to keep track of what they are putting into the national kitty, and since sales taxes are fungible, an ordinary citizen cannot even claim having paid his or her dues. The fungibility and inequality of sales taxes makes them a death blow for democracy and economic and distributive justice.

Of course, the reason successive governments in Pakistan are so enamoured by the sales tax is because imposing such a tax allows the elite to escape the net of income taxes. The truth is that undocumented wealth probably accounts for a substantial portion of national income. If the rich were to become documented, the tax to GDP ratio would shoot up. More importantly, as more and more people were included in the income tax net, a growing body of citizens would demand accountability for the funds that the government takes from them.

Right now, that relationship is non-existent. As the proportion of Pakistanis that drink mineral water, live in gated housing communities, hire private security guards, send their children to private schools and choose private hospitals and doctors for their healthcare grows, Pakistan's "statehood" shrinks. The answers to the big mysteries of Pakistan, like Saleem Shahzad's murder, are the same as the answers to the mundane realities, like why 40 million Pakistani kids are out of school. A state without a social contract, where the elite are unaccountable, will do the small things badly, and the big things even worse. Fixing it begins with taxing the rich.

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy.









It has been the cherished goal of every government in Pakistan to improve the living standards of its people. Every government has laid claim to working for higher economic growth, creation of employment opportunities, reduction of poverty, improvement of health and the education system, and strengthening of the country's infrastructure. At the end of the fiscal year, if it is found that nothing has improved in relation to these goals. It means that the nation has lost a precious year.

It is from this perspective that fiscal year 2010-11 has been a real disappointment. The outgoing year has seen economic growth stagnating at around the country's population growth rate, investment plummeting to a 40-year low, inflation, particularly food inflation, persisting at a high double-digit level, and the economy failing to create adequate employment opportunities, thereby causing an increase in the pool of the unemployed. It has also seen millions slipping below the poverty line, the education and health systems deteriorating, the country's infrastructure crumbling, fiscal indiscipline persisting, public-sector enterprises bleeding and the country's debt burden rising. Yet another year has been lost and yet another opportunity to reform and stabilise the economy has been wasted.

Fiscal year 2010-11 has seen key macroeconomic variables missing their targets by wide margins. Real GDP grew by 2.4 percent against the target of 4.5 percent and against the population growth of 2.1 percent, thus posting a real per-capita income growth of a negligible 0.3 percent. Real GDP has grown at an average rate of 2.6 percent per annum in the last three years, producing an average 0.5 percent increase in per-capita income. It simply suggests that the living standard of the people of Pakistan, on average, has not improved over the last three years. In fact, both unemployment and poverty must have worsened over the last this period.


Pakistan saw its economic growth averaging almost seven percent per annum from 2002-03 to 2006-07 and was one of the four fastest-growing economies in the Asian region, along with China, India and Vietnam. The same Pakistan has now fallen behind even in South Asia.

Something must have gone fundamentally wrong during the period, which has transformed a robust economy into the Sick Man of South Asia. It pains me to use such language but this is a fact of life. We have ruined this economy in such a short period of time. Lack of vision, direction, commitment, knowledge, understanding of Pakistan's economy, and hard work of successive economic managers over the last four years have been responsible for the destruction of the economy of Pakistan.

The three major components of GDP, agriculture, large-scale manufacturing, and services, have performed equally poorly over the last three years. Agriculture registered a growth of 1.2 percent in 2010-11 and posted an average growth of 1.9 percent – less than the country's population growth. Over the last three years. Large-scale manufacturing grew by one percent but contracted on average by 0.7 percent during the respective periods. The services sector registered a growth of 4.1 percent in 2010-11 and 2.9 percent on average, over the last three years.

Investment as a percentage of GDP (investment rate) has declined sharply from its peak of 22.5 percent in 2006-07 to 13.4 percent in 2010-11 – a decline of over 9 percentage points in just four years is a most serious development in recent times. Investment rate at 13.4 percent in 2010-11 has been the lowest in the last 40 years. Even more worrisome is the sharp decline in private-sector investment – down from 15.4 percent to 8.5 percent in the same period. Investment affects economic growth with a lag. With such a low and declining rate of investment, can we expect economic recovery on a sustained basis in the medium-term?

Another failure of the outgoing fiscal year has been the persistence of high double-digit inflation in the midst of a tight monetary policy. Inflation averaged 14.1 percent in 2010-11, against 11.5 percent in the same period last year. Food inflation on the other hand averaged 18.4 percent this year, against 12.0 percent last year. It is clear that inflation in Pakistan has largely been driven by food and fuel inflation. Together they have contributed over two-thirds to the current and past highs in inflation rates. Has tight monetary policy succeeded in bringing inflation to a single-digit level in the last 44 months?

Another disturbing development of the outgoing fiscal year has been the rise in public debt. In the first nine months of the fiscal year, the country added more than Rs1,085 billion in public debt, which rose to Rs10.5 trillion. It had taken 60 years to reach Rs4.8 trillion in public debt, but we added Rs5.7 trillion in just four years.

Public-sector enterprises continued to bleed in the outgoing fiscal year despite the promises made by the finance minister to restructure these rotten institutions. No effort was made to privatise these institutions to save several hundred billions of tax payers' money. Lack of capacity and absence of political will have continued to keep these rotten institutions in the government's fold. No credible effort has been made to reform the power sector. Raising the power tariff alone has not worked and will not work in the future either.

The country has lost yet another year with little or no improvement to look forward to in the foreseeable future. Many nations have moved forward but Pakistan continues to stagnate.

The writer is principal and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ahkhan@nbs.








Pundits aren't still done debating Netanyahu's little circus in the Congress last week. Which isn't surprising. Even though we have all been familiar with the long tradition of US politicians forever dancing to Israel's tunes and eating out of the hand of its lobby, Bibi's endless adulation in the Congress was nonetheless hard to digest.

And it's not just us, distant observers in the Middle East and sympathisers of the oppressed Palestinians who are outraged by the US lawmakers repeatedly throwing themselves at the Israeli premier's feet. Many a US commentator who still retains some semblance of conscience has been troubled by the craven sycophancy of US politicians. The lawmakers cheered even when the "guest," standing there in the highest representative body in the land, continually derided their president and rubbed his nose in.

Just as Obama was being mobbed like a rock star and welcomed like an emperor in Europe – Britain hosted a rare special session of parliament in the Westminster Hall for the "grandson of a Kenyan cook in the British Army," as Obama chose to remind his audience – Netanyahu demolished the president's "audacity of hope" and push for Mideast peace. Yet the lawmakers, including Vice President Joe Biden, clapped and clapped. It was a virtual love fest, a spectacular orgy, if you will. Not much different from the bloody antics of Roman gladiators with the mob lustily lapping up every minute of the action. There were 29 standing ovations and 41 "applause pauses" during the 50-minute speech.

As Israeli commentator Uri Avnery put it, Netanyahu's speech could be summed up in one word: "NO." No to peace. No giving up or sharing of Jerusalem. No right of return for Palestinian refugees. No peace talks as long as Fatah and Hamas are at peace with each other. More important, a resounding no to Obama's call for the Palestinian state on the land that Israel captured after the 1967 war. Yet they cheered Bibi on even as he heaped abuse on Palestinians, Arabs and even Islam, peddling lie after brazen lie with a straight face.

The whole show was disgusting and nauseating, making people around the world wonder for a zillionth time why the world's most powerful democracy turns putty in the hands of a tiny rogue state of seven million people.

And there are growing signs that Netanyahu's charade, especially his humiliation of their president didn't go down well with many thinking Americans and commentators, who are beginning to demand where the loyalties of their lawmakers lie – with the US constitution or with a foreign regime.

More and more Americans, especially the younger lot, appalled by the perpetual victimisation of the Palestinians, are increasingly uncomfortable with the blind US support to Israel. They couldn't have liked the abject obeisance of their representatives before His Majesty the King of Israel.

Many in the US establishment are beginning to question the logic of America throwing its weight behind Israel and its oppression, at the cost of its own security and relations with the Muslim world. Even Jewish Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with the belligerence of the Israeli leadership. According to a new poll this week, 57 percent of Israelis feel Israel should accept Obama's call for a Palestinian state and not alienate the US. This is a ray of hope – but just about it. We have a long way to go before the brave voices of peace activists and conscience-keepers of cyberspace turn into a proper chorus in the land of the free.

Even if Obama is sincere in his commitment to peace – and I believe he is – he is utterly helpless before the awesome, brute power of the Israeli lobby. This is why he had to rush to the AIPAC meet a day after Netanyahu snubbed him at the White House to eat his own words and reassure the almighty Lobby on the "ironclad" nature of the US-Israel equation. He wasn't alone.

As The Economist reports, 67 senators and 286 members of the House of Representatives joined 10,000 delegates at the AIPAC dinner, a powerful testament to the clout of the J Steet. And it's not just the Jewish votes, Jewish money and support of the largely Jewish-controlled US media that politicians covet. They are mortally afraid of the Israeli lobby's far-reaching power and its propensity to punish the slightest slight or defiance – real or imagined. No politician can defy the fiat of the lobby and live to tell the tale.

So even though what Obama said on Palestine was nothing new and only reflected the official US position, and even that of successive Israeli leaders from Begin to Olmert, as President Jimmy Carter, the author of the Arab-Israel peace treaty points out, he may end up paying for his "audacity" in the re-election battle next year. Unfortunately, Obama, like so many of his predecessors, is trapped in an iron cage, as Prof John J Mearsheimer, author of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, argues.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Jewish donors of the Democratic Party have already warned Obama's campaign that they could expect little support from them if there's no change in Obama's "stand on Israel." It's hardly a secret that the Israeli lobby is a major contributor of funds to both Republicans and Democrats, and more so in the Democrats' case, as Jewish voters have traditionally voted for the Democrats. No wonder every politician on both sides of the aisle is sucking up to J Street.

Which begs the question: Why can't the Arabs have their own lobby in the US to protect their interests and force the US establishment to pay attention to their genuine grievances? Almost every country and every major company has its lobby group or public-relations consultancy to look after its interests in the US. So, instead of constantly wailing over the Israeli stranglehold over US politics, why can't Arabs do something on this front when their vital interests are at take? Lobby culture is part of US politics and plays a crucial role in influencing the choices of decision-makers.

Instead of spending their precious resources – and time and energy – on pointless pursuits like camel racing and horseracing and buying expensive, useless junk like fighter jets and tanks, the Arabs would do well to divert some of those funds to present their side of the story. I am not suggesting buying the conscience and support of politicians, as the Israeli lobby has done all these years to perpetuate the tyranny of a ruthless, racist regime. Truth and justice are on the side of Palestinians and Arabs, and the whole world knows it. It's high time the notoriously uninformed and gullible Americans realised it.

The writer is based in Dubai.









A character in Bernard Shaw's play Man and Superman says there are two tragedies in life: one is not to get your heart's desire; the other is to get it. This paradoxical statement can aptly be applied to Pakistani politics, which has had two tragedies of its own – one is not to have democracy, the other is to have it.

During the last 63 years, Pakistan has oscillated between democracy and despotism and civilian and military rules but neither type of government has delivered the goods. Whenever the armed forces step into the political arena, they attribute their intervention to the serious threats posed to national security by an "incompetent" or "corrupt" civilian leadership. Here are some examples:

In October 1958, Gen Ayub Khan declared that the army was forced to impose military rule to prevent the "complete ruination of the country" by "self-seekers who, in the garb of political leaders, had ravaged the country or tried to barter it away for personal reasons." Then, on July 5, 1977, Gen Ziaul Haq, after he had toppled the government of Z A Bhutto, declared: "When the political leaders failed to steer the country out of a crisis, it is inexcusable for the Armed Forces to sit as silent spectators. It is primarily for this reason that the army perforce had to intervene to save the country."

On Oct 12, 1999, Gen Pervez Musharraf sought to justify his coup by saying that, faced with the choice of either saving the state or upholding the Constitution, he and his comrades adopted for the former option.

It follows that the rationale for the military coups has been more or less the same: to save the country from the mess created by the "corrupt" or "incompetent" politicians. The men in uniform believe that they can succeed where the civilians have failed, that is to say they can give the country a clean administration. That's why "across-the-board accountability" forms a key component of the initial policy agenda announced by every military ruler.

But soon the generals realise that, notwithstanding all their powers and clout, they need a political constituency of their own to get things moving. That explains why every military government in Pakistan hobnobs with political forces and tries to cobble together a political arrangement to further its interest. This also explains why military governments do not live up to their promises of across-the-board accountability. The very people who have to be made accountable for their acts of omission and commission are needed to provide political support to the regime.

The result is a marriage of convenience, sometimes also called controlled democracy, between the military rulers and their crony politicians, in which several prominent figures who deserve to be thrown into prison are rewarded with a place in the ministers' enclave. Here is an example. After coming into power, Gen Musharraf vowed to bring to book the politicians who had plundered national wealth. But political expediency made him put accountability on the backburner. Subsequently, he turned to the Muslim League for political support, the party known for serving military rulers. It was in exchange for that support that the regime ensured the party's victory in the 2001 elections. In return, the Leaguers served their master loyally, even accepting an outsider in the person of Shaukat Aziz as head of their government.

But, although an admirable quality, loyalty is not enough. Political influence also matters. The problem with the League was that in spite of all state support, it didn't command much political influence and was certainly no match for the PPP's popular credentials. In any test of political power, the League could hardly get the better of the PPP. This was amply brought out by the popular reaction to the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in March 2007, which forced Gen Musharraf to decisively turn to the PPP for an alliance, which culminated in the birth of the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). It's a sad commentary on our politics that while the PPP was running down the dictatorial Musharraf regime at home, its top leadership was negotiating a power sharing deal with the general's men abroad.

Every military regime ends up creating a mess of its own, forcing people to look to democracy for a turnaround in their fortunes. But the way they govern, popularly elected governments cut as sorry a figure as the despotic ones. As Aristotle once said, without rule of law, democracy degenerates into mob rule. However, the civilian leadership in Pakistan has by and large paid only a lip service to rule of law. They look upon political power as an instrument of extending patronage and are impatient of rules and regulations.

The capital reason for this undemocratic behaviour is that the reins of democracy are normally held by the leaders who were born of the military-politicians marriage of convenience. For instance, Z A Bhutto long served in the cabinet of Field Marshal Ayub Khan. Nawaz Sharif was brought to the political arena by Gen Ziaul Haq.

A democratic system should be tuned to serving the people, who must have high stakes in the continuation of the democratic process. Otherwise they will care little whether a civilian rules them or a khaki. Democracy in the end means empowerment of the people. Economic emancipation is an important component of the people's empowerment. Hence, in most democratic countries, such as those of Western Europe, pro-people economic growth has played an important role in the strengthening of democracy.

Unfortunately, the version of democracy that we have had is elitist democracy – which in fact is only democracy in name – rather than people's democracy, the real democracy. In our political system, the wealthier one is, the more votes he or she can hope to get; the more votes one gets, the more powerful will one become; the more powerful one is, the wealthier one will get and so on.

Although, on the whole, Pakistan's economy has grown at a healthy rate; the benefits of the economic growth have not trickled down to the ordinary people. That is why the increase in per capita income has been accompanied by widening income disparities. As one economist points out, if growth and prosperity exclude large sections of the population, the potential for social strife increases. Consequently, the faith in the political/democratic process fizzles out.

In principle, democracy is better than any other form of government. But in the end, the government has to be judged by its performance, and not by its form. A civilian set-up divorced from rule of law and insensitive to public problems is a failure.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email:








A series of events over the past few months have further reinforced the view that the war in Afghanistan has taken an unwelcome course and Obama's Afghan strategy is in tatters. In a show of desperation, General Petraeus appears to have adopted the "counter-Afghan strategy" after the complete failure of his so-called counter-insurgency strategy.

A recent ITV documentary shows US troops in Afghanistan forcing Afghan people from their homes and then destroying them, simply to provide access for vehicles or lines of sight. Inside reports also suggest that US troops in Afghanistan are so frustrated that children are being picked up one by one and killed ruthlessly.

On March 1, nine Afghan children were killed by Nato helicopters while they were gathering firewood which was no 'heat of the battle blunder'. A few days earlier, on February 17, Nato ground and air strikes had killed 64 civilians including 29 children in the Kunar province. The situation has worsened to the extent that President Karzai has openly turned against the Americans because of the latter's total disregard for the Afghan people's dignity.

Excessive reliance on aerial bombardments by Nato forces while the Taliban continue to use ordinary people as human shields have resulted in civilian deaths and subsequent rage among the Afghans.

Nowadays analysts hired by the CIA are writing in various international newspapers that the US surge is turning the tide against anti-occupation fighters in Afghanistan. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, General Petraeus has claimed that "the momentum achieved by the Taliban since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas." But in reality any gains secured so far are very fragile and problems continue to mount for the imperialist forces. More than 200 Nato troops have been killed in the first five months of 2011.

The Taliban in the south have shown resilience and exercise considerable influence over the bulk of the population, particularly outside urban areas. There has been no apparent diminution in their capacity to fight. In the coming days, the scale of insurgent activity is likely to rise again while the security situation across Afghanistan is fast deteriorating. Attempts to sign up ex-Taliban fighters to a peace and reconciliation programme have resulted in a very small number of recruits coming over to the side of foreign troops.

Special Forces operations, responsible for assassinations and night-time raids on homes, are a cause of alienation among Afghans. Yama Torabi of Integrity Watch has lately stated, "Villagers don't forgive the US army for killing their sons just because it has built a road or a bridge".

According to a recent poll, over 90 percent of the population wants the Nato countries to begin withdrawing their forces as soon as possible. Attacks by the anti-occupation forces have increased by 66 percent since last year and anti-occupation fighters have opened new fronts in the north and west of the country.

Although President Obama promised to begin repatriating US troops this July, it is already being said by some US officials that there will be no significant withdrawal. The Pentagon's proposal is to keep 98,000 US troops on Afghan soil along with 50,000 from other countries for the next year.

The pretext that Nato troops are training local forces to take over the security of the country is quite ridiculous. A report by the US Special Inspector-General for Afghan Reconstruction found that around 27,000 Afghan soldiers – a third of the total – were not present on duty at any given time. This policy has failed in Vietnam and Iraq and is doomed to fail in Afghanistan.

It is said that every time history repeats itself, the price goes up. The case of US madness in Afghanistan is no exception and failure in this war is inevitable.

Email: rizwanasghar7@yahoo. com








The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar.

There is never a dull moment in Pakistan, though. sadly enough. most of the happenings are tragic. As if bombings and killings on a large scale and and almost daily basis weren't enough, there are crises galore in politics and other walks of life.

May was particularly, bad with Osama bin Laden turning up in, of all places, peaceful and garrisoned Abbottabad and getting killed at the hands of the Americans. Almost 100 people, mostly young recruits, were killed in the double suicide bombings at the Frontier Constabulary Training Centre in Shabqadar in Charsadda district. But the subsequent assault on the Mehran navy airbase in Karachi obviously was still more alarming and significant despite its causing fewer casualties because this was an audacious attack on a supposedly well-protected defence installation.

There were several other revenge attacks by the militants in May as the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continued to hit targets in Pakistan to avenge Bin Laden's assassination. No American was killed and targets in the US were clearly beyond the reach of the TTP and Al-Qaeda at this point of time. Pakistan was being made to pay the price for its ill-fated alliance with superpower America. Islamabad has been placed in an unenviable position, as it is neither able to satisfy the US nor placate the militants. Both are in a vengeful mood as far as Pakistan is concerned and those who suffer eventually are the country's long suffering people.

The renewed wave of violence triggered by the May 2 assassination of the Al-Qaeda leader shows no signs of abating in June and beyond. There were further terrorist strikes by the TTP and its affiliates in both old and new target areas. The security forces also appear busy fighting the militants in Orakzai and Mohmand tribal agencies if one were to believe the claims being made every day about the losses inflicted on the Taliban insurgents. The case of Orakzai Agency is intriguing because the number of militants that the military is claiming to have killed far exceeds their estimated strength.

Then there are the CIA-operated drones sent in ever greater numbers to the two Waziristans to kill militants. Once in a while, someone known and wanted is eliminated as happened in the case of Ilyas Kashmiri on June 3 near Wana in South Waziristan. That is considered enough by the pro-US lobby to reinforce the efficacy of the drones and neutralise the negative effects resulting from civilian deaths in the strikes using the appropriately named Hellfire missiles. How could Pakistan's civil and military establishment object to the US drone strikes killing some of the most wanted Pakistanis such as Baitullah Mahsud, Nek Mohammad, Qari Hussain, Haji Omar and Ilyas Kashmiri? After every drone strike that kills a known Al-Qaeda or Taliban militant, the Americans get a new license to kill. The issue of sovereignty in such cases is pushed into the background, notwithstanding the faint protests that our rulers publicly make to assuage the feelings and pride of the Pakistani people.

Unfortunately, there are no clear goalposts in the never-ending "war on terror" that would signal the end of the sufferings Pakistani people and, by extension, of the Afghan people. Take, for example, the reported US demand that Pakistan extend its helping hand in the elimination of the five most wanted militants hiding within its borders. If the name of Ilyas Kashmiri, a man with a larger-than-life reputation, was indeed in that list, his death means it is one down with four more to go! But the search for the remaining four – Al-Qaeda figures Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri and Atiya Abdur Rahman and Afghan Taliban leaders Mulla Mohammad Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani – could take long or never bear fruit.

Besides, what is the guarantee that the US would not produce another list of wanted militants in case the five listed above are taken out? There have already been suggestions that Saif al-Adel, Abu Yahya al-Libi, Adam Gadahn (Azam the American) and certain other Al-Qaeda figures are also hiding in Pakistan and the US would be keen to capture or kill them with or without Pakistani cooperation. If Bin Laden, the most wanted man on earth and America's public enemy number one, was found in Pakistan and several others before him, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, were captured in Pakistani cities, it won't be far-fetched to believe that the remaining Al-Qaeda members too are hiding somewhere in this country. Adding the names of wanted Afghan Taliban to the list won't be difficult because many among them are believed to be in Pakistan or able to come here frequently because crossing the long and porous Durand Line border from and to Afghanistan isn't a big deal. With regard to the US warning that it would act unilaterally in case Pakistan failed to do so against top militants, as it did in the case of Bin Laden, the threat is meaningless because Washington has already undertaken such one-sided military missions not only through drone strikes but also carried out more provocative ones, those involving American boots on the ground. Also, when was the last time the Pakistani government and its military tried to stop the US violation of its borders, and what is there to make one confident that they would do so in future?

Islamabad would be willing to cooperate in getting the two Al-Qaeda men if they are hiding in Pakistan, but it is unlikely to facilitate the capture or elimination of the Afghan Taliban leaders who haven't harmed it and have rather assisted it in reining in some of the Pakistani militants. Eliminating Mulla Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani would make it much more difficult for the US and its allies to eventually conclude a political settlement of the Afghan conflict with powerful and credible Afghan Taliban figures. The US strategy is to employ enough military means to weaken the Taliban and force them to accept a political settlement on American terms. Its success is doubtful as the Taliban would continue fighting even if they are weakened. Instead of being dictated to by the US, Pakistan must decide whether its long-term interests would be served by taking on the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has many enemies and creating more at this stage doesn't make sense. Some of the most dangerous militants now fighting Pakistan not long ago were its allies, who turned against it when they felt betrayed and alienated. Taking one foe at a time is wise while pushing all of them into a corner to make an anti-Pakistan alliance could be suicidal.

The other US demand isn't new and it concerns a robust Pakistani military operation in North Waziristan. For the US the foremost target is the Haqqani network and Al-Qaeda remnants aligned to it. For Pakistan the real target is the Hakimullah Mahsud-led TTP and its affiliates that found refuge in North Waziristan after being evicted from South Waziristan and other militants' strongholds following military operations. In its own interest, Pakistan needs to act against militants using North Waziristan to launch attacks in the cities and targeting the military and the police. It could do so by undertaking a limited, intelligence-based military action. As the Haqqani Network in all likelihood won't be harmed and its operatives who may be hiding in North Waziristan would have relocated, the US objectives would remain unfulfilled and its demands won't end.

Another point worth remembering is that the TTP is no longer a disciplined organisation that controls all the militants. The two large-scale recent attacks on Pakistan's border security posts in Upper Dir and Lower Dir districts were carried out by militants belonging to Malakand division and the Bajaur operating from Afghan territory. The bombings in and around Peshawar are sponsored by the militants based in Darra Adamkhel, Khyber and Orakzai agencies. And the terrorist attacks in Charsadda, Mardan and even Peshawar are ordered by the militants entrenched in Mohmand Agency. The TTP has decentralised. It wasn't destroyed by the October 2009 action against it in South Waziristan and it would likely survive any military operation in North Waziristan. Sustained pressure instead of one big military operation would be needed to diminish its strength.









PRIME Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani has done well in squeezing time out of his busy schedule to pay a direly needed visit to Quetta where he had positive interaction with the authorities of the provincial government on how to improve the security situation and accelerate the pace of economic development. His visit assumes greater significance as he exploited the opportunity to extend yet another offer to the estranged Baloch leaders for dialogue, which, we think, is the only way out of the present quagmire.

It was all the more important that big boss of the security apparatus — Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who accompanied the Prime Minister to the provincial capital, made a very encouraging statement that the estranged Baloch leaders were returning from mountains. If true and we have no reasons to doubt his statement, as he might have concrete information with him, this effectively means signs of normalization in the province. We fully agree with the Interior Minister that an overwhelming majority of Baloch people are patriotic and peaceful and want progress and development in the otherwise backward province. It is understood that the entire Pushtoon belt of Balochistan feels comfortable with the federation and the present system as are the settlers who are being targeted by vested interests. Similarly, with the exception of a handful of elements, Baloch population itself has rendered tremendous sacrifices for the cause of Pakistan and they fully subscribe to constitution and law. However, there are no two opinions that the handful of misguided elements are being trained, funded and equipped by some foreign powers to advance their nefarious agenda vis-à-vis Pakistan. That is why we have been advocating in these columns that the Government should not lose more time and undertake peace offensive by associating those who genuinely believe in peace and progress. Genuine grievances should be addressed so that there is no justification for them to remain aloof from the mainstream of the province and the country. We would even go to the extent of proposing that a futuristic approach should be adopted and such people made stakeholders in the system. We are sure that Rehman Malik who undoubtedly played a role of trouble-shooter in ensuring continuous alliance between PPP and MQM by frequently visiting Karachi and London, has the capacity to deliver in Balochistan as well if tasked the responsibility by the leadership.








SINDH Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah has come up with somewhat alarming yet timely statement that there is a possibility that the country could face floods during the monsoon season and advance arrangements are essential to cope with the situation. The Chief Minister has done well by ringing the danger bell and that should serve as a wake-up call for all those who are responsible to check losses and provide relief to the affected people.

Though essentially it is difficult to judge the magnitude of the floods but the possibility of the calamity cannot be ruled out. Floods are almost annual events in Pakistan. Sindh, Kabul and Swat are three hazard prone rivers, and due to climatic and ecological condition Pakistan constantly received flooding every year yet it experienced severe floods in 1973, 1992, 2006 while 2010 flood broke all past records. A joint assessment by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank estimated the losses suffered by the floods at $9.7 billion. The damage needs assessment (DNA) found that agriculture and livestock sectors were the worst hit, followed by complete or partial damage to a large number of houses. Roads. Bridges and irrigation channels were hit hard particularly at the district and village level. One-fifth of the country was affected by the floods, with Sindh being worst affected. Significant amounts of the grain, sugarcane, cotton and rice harvests had been washed away. These were the nation's cash crops which severely affected the economy and as a result the development budget was slashed and the GDP growth came down to 2.4%. Keeping in view the massive losses suffered by the people and the country, it is of utmost importance that effective steps are devised to avoid the repetition of the disaster. Pakistan is already feeling the effects of climate change and one of the effects it brings is unexpected precipitation events. Though the Chief Minister Sindh was confident that repair work of all bunds across the province which were damaged during last year's flood would be completed by end of June but we stress that other shortcomings witnessed during 2010 floods must also be addressed. Population along the riverbeds must be shifted by the end of June as the monsoon rains are expected in the first week of July. Senior levels Government functionaries should develop clearly defined response policies and programmes in advance. In the absence of such policies, the response is often ad hoc, politically and emotionally motivated and sets precedents that are not wise in the longer run.






PUNJAB Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif was representing feelings of the people when he commented on Sunday that the country would neither experience budget deficit nor have to rely on outsiders if looted wealth was brought back from foreign banks. He pointed out that national resources were looted mercilessly in the name of development and the money stacked in foreign countries.

It is good that now there is greater awareness and realization about corruption and recovery of the looted money from those who plundered national resources by misusing their powers and authority. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is also seized with the issue and although progress so far is negligible yet the independent judiciary seems to be determined in the face of various odds to curb corruption and send the looters behind the bars. Unfortunately, when it comes to corruption only politicians are singled out whereas the fact remains that bureaucrats and businessmen too have amassed wealth through unfair means and transferred it to foreign banks. It is believed that over $100 billion have illegally been taken out of the country during different periods of our history. And if one takes into account the legally earned money like the one by overseas Pakistanis the amount goes up further significantly. Though there is rapid increase in home remittances by Pakistani workers abroad despite legal intricacies and steps taken by banks to ensure quick disbursal of money but still these Pakistanis have billions of dollars in banks overseas and they can be persuaded to bring them to the country for productive utilisation in different sectors of the national economy. As for looted money there are two options — either to nab the looters and sent them to jail or offer necessary incentives for whitening of the black money and we would recommend the second option, as it is more viable and has the potential to resolve many of the ills of the economy.








WikiLeaks' recently released cable, classified by former Deputy Chief of Mission Geoff Pyatt in 2006, stated that the failure to reach a solution on Siachen dispute was the result of Indian army's resistance, which did not like to lose strategic advantage over Pakistan and China. This speaks volumes about the influence of Indian military on decision-making by the elected government in regard to security matters and resultantly in the realm of foreign policy. The cable also exploded the myth of the largest democracy in the world where generals can not dare interfere in or influence decision making by the elected government.

The cable stated: "Every time India and Pakistan came very close to an agreement on the Siachen issue, the prime minister of the day would be forced to back out by the Indian defence establishment, the Congress Party hardliners and opposition leaders". The cable further stated that former Indian Ambassador Parthasarthy, who personally dissuaded Rajiv Gandhi from making a similar deal on Siachen in 1989, said this concession does not satisfy India's underlying concern and points be agreed to in advance so that the Pakistani Army would be unable to march back into the area.

It is matter of record that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had in principle agreed to withdraw from Siachen and agreement to that effect was about to be inked when the army prevailed upon the prime minister and convinced him that India would lose strategic advantage, and Indian forces would be vulnerable if India withdrew from Siachen. In 2006, the then Indian Army Chief of Army Staff, General JJ Singh had expressed concern stating: "We have conveyed our concerns and views to the government and we expect that the composite dialogue between the two countries will take care of all these concerns". Since 1984, at least dozen meetings have been held, and the position after the 12th round of talks over the Siachen Glaciers that ended last Tuesday without any agreement on the modalities of a proposed demilitarization and other key issues related to their standoff. However, both sides once agreed to continue dialogue on the issue, and Pakistan and India decided to meet again at a mutually convenient date in Islamabad. But one could question the rationale of the talks when both sides agree to continue dialogue, but nothing concrete comes of out it.

The then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had started composite dialogue with Pakistan in 2004, was also reported to have told in a private meeting with some of Indian journalists that he would never give any concession or credit to military dictator Pervez Musharraf. But it was a ruse, as India had never shown flexibility even during dialogue with the elected governments of Pakistan in 1990s or before. Later in 2006 when Congress government was at the helm, the then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee while commenting on the dialogue had reportedly said that Pakistan was not willing to agree to an Indian proposal on the methodology of demilitarization at Siachen. He said both sides agreed in principle to withdraw from their positions, India wanted the troop positions delineated and authenticated in document. The way the dialogue has been moving, only an incorrigible optimist would have remained unfazed from the outcome of various rounds of talks. During the second round of confidence building measures, India had rejected Pakistan's proposal to demilitarize Kashmir stating that it was its sovereign right to keep troop formations in the state.

The only significant achievement in that round was that Pakistan and India would not set up any new military posts along the heavily militarized Line of Control. In 2007, Pakistan and India had again started the two-day talks on demilitarization of Siachen glacier with two sides trying to evolve consensus on indicating troops' position on the world's highest battlefield. In view of the shrill assertiveness of India, no agreement could be reached. At 6300 metres (20800 feet), India controls the glaciers since 1984, and the analysts reckon that India is spending approximately $1 million a day. Here soldiers are left to stare and shoot each other across the line. The fact remains that the human body continuously deteriorates and with temperatures 70 degree below zero, the inhospitable climate and inclement weather have claimed more lives than the exchange of gunfire. It has to be mentioned that when the Simla Agreement was reached after 1971 war, the LoC over Kashmir was drawn, and the demarcation ended at the Siachen, as it was understood to be Pakistan's territory. International community had raised hullabaloo over Kargil issue, but deem it appropriate to keep mum over Siachen and Kashmir dispute.

After November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India stalled the dialogue, and after three years, only secretary level talks were held including Siachen. In 2009, India started preparing for a possible 'two-front war' with China and Pakistan. According to newspaper's report, Indian Army was revising its five-year-old doctrine to effectively meet the challenges of war with China and Pakistan, deal with asymmetric and fourth-generation warfare, and enhance strategic reach and joint operations with IAF and Navy. The then head of the command Lt General AS Lamba went so far as to say that a massive thrust in Rawalpindi to quiet Pakistanis within 48 hours of the start of the assault. Former India's then COAS General Deepak Kapoor had also said: "The armed forces have to substantially enhance their strategic reach and out-of-area capabilities to protect India's geo-political interests stretching from Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait. This would enable us to protect our island territories; as also give assistance to the littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region".

In November 2009, Pakistan's defence analysts had expressed concern over India's planning for so-called 'Cold Start' strategy and its preparations for a limited war against Pakistan. Then COAS, General Kapoor's statement on 23rd November 2009 confirmed the hegemonic thrust of India's nuclear doctrine. On 24th November he had indicated that India was setting the stage for a limited war against Pakistan since long. Of course, India thrice brought its forces on the borders, and Pakistan followed suit. However, India did not dare to start 'limited war', as it is not India's forte only and Pakistan is also capable of striking back immediately. Barring proper peace, India and Pakistan should be able to continue what Ashley Tellis, a research scholar, had described as "ugly stability". He had argued: "After India and Pakistan detonated their nuclear devices, neither country had a big enough conventional edge over the other to win reasonably short war. Therefore, there is little temptation for Pakistan to make a grab for Kashmir or for India to invade Pakistan. The fear of nuclear attack makes adventurism less appealing". In this backdrop, both countries should resolve the dispute to avert a major disaster, as both the countries have enough of nuclear arsenal and also delivery system.

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist. C







The Viceregal visit of Hillary Clinton and Admiral Mike Mullen has just ended with the rhetoric of "Do More" with a distinct change of "we do it together inside Pakistani territory" on one side they demanded reconsidering earlier decision of losing 3 US intelligence units, which were abandoned due to an uproar arising due to Abbottabad secret operation followed by increase in drones attacks killing innocent Pakistanis inside our territory, which brought the rulers of Pakistan to think twice before making any further mileage in the so-called partnership as a total loser. Today though America is also suffering on account of the bad policies of Obama administration, which they are trying to overcome by printing dollars 2 times more then the past, leading to sharp increase in their national debt from $ 10.627 trillion in 2009 to $ 14,052 trillion in 2011 because they are now intoxicated with power to build an American empire, cost what it may, they are bent upon destroying their own country along with the rest of the world and unfortunately Pakistan with its fragile economy is the direct victim due to its spineless ruling elite who are unable to defend the national interest of Pakistan in the on-going war against terror.

It has been reported in print media that no body from Pakistan side conveyed the public sentiments against US intrusions and Pakistan's parliamentary resolutions demanding an end to such acts immediately in their meetings with Ms. Hillary Clinton, while killing of civilians in Afghanistan by NATO bombing has resulted in strongly worded statement by Afghan President, which speaks in volumes as to where we stand now with US in the so-called partnership. So, this pressure is perhaps going to launching of operation in North Waziristan , which is bound to increase the gulf among its own citizens.

In Pakistan the word of a foreigner many a time has more creditability than that of a Pakistani even when many a time that foreigner happens to know much less about Pakistan than our own people living here. But sometimes an analysis of someone from abroad may be insightful also because a view from a distance can reveal things which are invisible from too close a position. This is the case with the analysis of Pakistan 's present situation and its unnatural relationship with the US made by Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus of the MIT in Cambridge , US . Noam Chomsky spoke to a packed audience of over 80 people in an empty room above Café Bol in Lahore via skype from his academic offices in the US .

There were two major topics in his speech which should be noted and cause some consideration. First is the relationship between Pakistan and the US which is uneasy to say the least. That we know without Prof. Chomsky telling us but the interesting part is the reason for this. He is quoted as having said that the reason the Pak-US relationship hasn't worked is because the concern of US planners is not the welfare of Pakistan , it's the welfare of the people in their own constituency. "But it's not the people of US either, it is just the powerful sectors within the US ," he said. "If the US policy towards Pakistan happens to benefit Pakistan it would be kind of accidental act. Maybe it will to some extent, but that is not the purpose and spirit." What he was saying is that other than in Pakistan where rulers usually mistake their personal interests as the national ones, on the other hand the US government has defined their national interest as that which secures and promotes the political, military and most prominently the economic hegemony of the US in the world. That would of course mean that the US big money is still serving its 'personal interest' but within a different, rather global framework. In the light of this it becomes quite clear that Pakistan is only needed for this very purpose by US as long as it is going to achieve those goals of the US and has no importance or standing 'in itself'. That is one reason why there can't be any 'friendship' – that would presume an altruistic, unselfish attitude which is as Chomsky rightly observes, missing all together. Given this there can be only one basis for Pakistani relationship with the US: that of 'national selfishness' as against personal selfishness meaning thereby that a meeting point of Pakistani interests with those of the US, and if there is one, where exactly it is located and how long it would last. A careful analysis of this question would reveal that there is hardly any such common interest given also the fact that the angle and the understanding of the problems facing Pakistan , and the region is very disparate. Chomsky calls common interests 'accidental' which describes the situation and its fragility quite well. Which we can not deny after seeing the non serious attitude towards implementation of these parliamentary resolutions demanding re-visit to our relationship with the US, which has pushed us in the present game of terror and the world will witness the results of US latest effort in opening Taliban offices in Turkey & Qatar as a repetition of history of Osama bin Laden & Jiadis launching by US in Afghanistan with Pakistani support.

A second problem Professor Chomsky was dealing with in his speech was Pakistan 's internal problems and how they may be connected with the situation. In this regard Chomsky believes Pakistan has serious internal problems but says also that there are solutions for those problems if the rulers were interested in their resolution. But, other than many here in Pakistan think these problems have to be solved from within Pakistan instead of from outside. This is what has been said by us for many years and by our own dedicated economists also. Pakistan can help itself and regain its respectable position in the comity of nations, if it is willing to do it in a dedicated way. We are not a poor country only we have problems in the energy sector because of donor's conditionality and with emergence of security problem due to our participation in the US proxy war in Afghanistan for last three decades, then the menace of corruption infected with the World Bank loans and so on. Nobody from the outside can therefore solve these problems and looking towards Kerry-Lugar Act in this regard is nothing more then a hoax. Money that is coming in nurtures corruption in the first place, not development as the state of our present health care system, educational system, industries and agriculture reveal they have drastically fallen short of our present day requirement as compared to availability in the past. Once the economy is revived many of the political problems will be easier to approach. That is our national interest and no foreign country can even be expected to share this if not for their own vested interest and selfish reasons.

That is why all aid or loans apart from the financial implications have a political price tag also which is usually overlooked. The political demands of foreign countries may be direct or indirect but they are there. It is high time we should realize this and draw our conclusions. Professor Chomsky also addressed many other interesting questions like the outdated military doctrine of Pakistan which regards Afghanistan as part of its territory or 'sphere of influence'. Surely not all questions and problems can possibly be solved immediately. But the two central ones about our foreign alliances and about our domestic situation need to be addressed at a 'war footing' if we want to lead Pakistan in the comity of nations as a more responsible country and not a banana republic.







Let Children be Children", the report commissioned by the Prime Minister on how to address the increasing sexualisation of the imagery, clothing and music aimed at children, is published tomorrow. Its contents have already been widely leaked, so we have a good idea of what will be in it. There will be proposals to encourage retailers to sign up to a voluntary code of practice to ensure that children's clothes are not, as the report puts it, "simply scaled-down versions of adult fashion". They will also be asked to agree to ensure that shop displays do not contain sexualised photography or images, and that children's clothes are marketed separately from those aimed at adult women. Billboards with provocative sexual imagery should be kept away from schools, the report will recommend, and broadcasters should avoid exposing children to sexual imagery by restricting such material to after the 9pm watershed. Parents should be given special software that enables them to restrict their children's access to adult websites.

All those suggestions are sensible. The question, however, is whether they can be made to work – and the precedents are not encouraging. This review is the fourth to address the issue of sexualised images and clothes aimed at children. Voluntary restrictions have been proposed before, but with no effect. Yet prohibitions enforced by law are even more problematic, since it is difficult to frame legislation so as to avoid producing silly prosecutions that discredit the whole project, as happened with laws prohibiting the sale of pornographic books.

The drive behind this project is of fundamental importance, and we profoundly hope that retailers and other commercial organisations agree to follow the report's recommendations. If nothing is done, the bombardment of our children with inappropriate and sexualised material will continue, to the detriment of their development, and our culture. — The Telegraph






Shrapnel has made the ultimate difference. With President Ali Abdullah Al Saleh safe and recovering in Saudi Arabia, Yemen political equation has taken a new turn. The spate of ambush attacks that left Saleh badly injured has proved to be the turning point forcing the embattled president to abandon Sanaa at this critical hour of real-politick. But there is a deafening silence as far as any firm word on the governance structure and apparatus is concerned in Yemen, and has left political pundits groping in the dark.


The very fact that Saleh agreed to fly to Riyadh for medical treatment without any fuss, as he had been hoodwinking efforts to sign on the power transfer agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council, is indicative of the water that has flown down the bridge, and hints at the possibility of bidding adieu to his three decades rule.The constitution, which entrusts the vice-president to take over the reigns of power in such a situation, is in need of being exercised in letter and spirit. Whatever may be Saleh's stand, as he hasn't publicly declared to step down, it is incumbent upon Vice-President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to make use of this pause to restore the writ of the government and workout a new power equilibrium with the opposition forces. It's high time the months old civil war and politics of factionalisation should come to an end, and the country revert back to reconstruction and reconciliation. Saleh's defiance has only compounded the situation on ground, as he hardly had any regard for regional congeniality and peace prospects at home.

The next few days and weeks will be important for Yemen, especially from the point of view of Saleh's future This is the time for the GCC to get pro-active and compel the ailing president to sign on the dotted line. Riyadh's influence, as it hosts the dictator, will be decisive in nature. He needs to be reminded and subsequently persuaded that he is in a much-weakened position, and had left the country deeply shattered in a state of turmoil. Moreover, with almost all of his neighbours quite eager to seek his exit from power decorum, and the international community nursing ill will against his prolonged rule, it's time to call it a day. Saleh's reason to go for medical treatment was logical. He should now also see a rationale in standing down. — The Khaleej Times









There is good news and bad news. The good news is that Hillary Clinton did pay her much-heralded visit to Pakistan, even though it was brief and sans her customary fetching smile. The bad news is that she brought with her a 'Set of Expectations from Pakistan'. This set of expectations she threw smack in the (already egg-covered) face of her affable hosts (both civil and military) without so much as a 'by your leave'. She did this with her customary aplomb and dexterity born of regular practice.

Of course, the hosts had their own 'set of expectations' that they presented to her and the accompanying Admiral in their customary stance of genuflection. It is a good thing that our leadership is in good nick (and practice); otherwise this posture is hardly to be recommended by good rheumatologists or whatever it is that these specialists are called. Let us not forget that, in severe cases, it can sometime lead to painful surgery, but one is digressing! Coming back to the good Hillary, just prior to her descent in this blessed land, she had this to say in Paris, inter alia, "We are ready and willing to support the people and government of Pakistan as they defend their own democracy (sic)". Please note that the stress here is on defense of 'democracy', not of the people or their independence or sovereignty. The lollipop was obviously intended for the regime, not the state. She went on to talk of the "set of expectations that we are looking for the Pakistani government to meet". She also pointedly made mention of "the times when we wanted to push harder; for various reasons they (Pakistanis) have not".

For quite a few years now, our 'strategic ally' has been urging Pakistan to 'do more'. From all accounts we have been trying our damnedest but obviously not enough to satisfy that urge. Now our American 'friends' appear to have decided to push the marker up another notch. What they now appear to be tasking this country is not to 'do more', as hitherto, but to 'do it all', its attendant - and terrifying - ramifications notwithstanding. Those who had rejoiced in the fact that the 'killing' of Osama would ease the pressure on this blessed land are in for a great disappointment. The Americans have conveniently moved the goal posts. The moot question is: can we deliver and, if so, at what cost? Pakistan has been assigned the daunting task of eliminating Al-Qaeda and its syndicate of terror that "remain a serious threat to us both".

Pakistan is also expected to eliminate "many of the world's most vicious terrorists, including Al-Qaeda's most important leaders", who, according to the Secretary of State, "have been living in Pakistan …for the past decade". Where does that leave this country that its leaders have already helped paint into a corner? Are we back to the – inevitable – (2001) square one?Now a word about our abject set of expectations that we have reportedly laid before the American duo! According to the Minister of Information, it had been communicated to Mrs. Clinton that "the government and parliament agree that drone attacks and breach of sovereignty (sic) are unacceptable. If such actions go on, relations between Islamabad and Washington may suffer". It should take no longer than the next few days to demonstrate the efficacy or otherwise of this statement. What happens then?

Let it be added that we are already at war with the Taliban at the behest of the United States of America. The War on Terror, it may be recalled, started with the prime objective of destroying the Al-Qaeda network as defined by our strategic ally. At some subsequent point in time, it suited the latter to add the additional objective of taking on the Taliban to the list. And now imminent danger looms that this list is being expanded further. The latest news datelined New Delhi has it that the US Homeland Security Chief has asserted that the banned Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba, in the US perspective, "is in the same ranks as al-Qaeda related groups".

What is to stop the United States from adding even newer targets to the list appended to the already never-ending WOT? And does our latest acceptance of American demands also connote our acquiescence to periodic expansion of the target list? Attention may also be drawn to the media report that the United States has ordered Pakistan to liquidate a couple of outfit leaders against a short deadline. It appears obvious that this is the first of several such orders to come. What happens if we do not or cannot comply within the set deadline?

Let us face it; the leadership of the Land of the Pure – having already painted itself into a corner - is now engaged in digging itself into a hole. Prudence demands that we draw a line and stop digging. The question begging for an answer is: do we have the gumption and the will to do so? The future of the country is inextricably linked to the correct answer to this question. The portents are hardly promising; horrific omens of doom are looming large over the horizon. Will someone read the writing on the wall before it is too late?








FOR more than two years, Australian politics has been close to an election footing.

In late 2009, the threat of a double-dissolution election forced the Coalition to negotiate over emissions trading legislation ahead of the Copenhagen Summit. That rushed timeline triggered Tony Abbott's leadership coup and then Kevin Rudd missed his best opportunity, and sealed the fate of his own leadership, by squibbing an early poll and walking away from carbon pricing. Julia Gillard seized the prime ministership and rushed to the polls to capitalise on her honeymoon. But she lost Labor's majority and entered testy and protracted post-election negotiations. As the independents and Greens flexed their muscles and openly threatened a return to the polls, our political editor, Dennis Shanahan, wrote a comment piece on August 26 last year suggesting if the independents persisted with such threats, the nation might, indeed, be better off with another election. Shanahan's piece was insightful and timely and, of course, Ms Gillard went on to forge her agreements and form government. The Australian has always accepted that because it can command a majority on the floor of the house, the Gillard government is legitimate. But Greens leader Bob Brown continues to assert otherwise, citing Shanahan's excellent commentary as evidence the "hate media" wants an election.

Poll fever continues because the Opposition Leader is demanding the government seek a mandate for its carbon tax, and surveys suggest some public support for that view. For the record, this newspaper believes the proper time for the next election should be, on schedule, in the second half of 2013. Despite its shortcomings and minority status, the Gillard government clearly has the right and the responsibility to seek to govern effectively for a standard term.

In order to do so, it should seek to govern for the nation rather than the MPs on whom it relies for power. Tony Windsor's regional NBN fetish, Andrew Wilkie's poker machine crusade and Adam Bandt's carbon tax push are not the priorities Ms Gillard focused on at the election.

She will win the faith of voters if she puts the government "back on track", as promised, by resolving the mining tax, securing our borders, running the economy prudently and delivering something of a vision for the nation.






IN different circumstances, the departure from Yemen of President Ali Abdullah Saleh would be seen as another major achievement for the Arab Spring, with the region's third despot forced to flee a democratic uprising against oppressive and corrupt rule.

Unfortunately, that is a far too simplistic a view of what is happening in this highly strategic country. Yemen has a major al-Qai'da presence and its location at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula is of vital significance to Western security because so much of the world's oil passes through the Red Sea.

Regrettably, in the turmoil that has overtaken Yemen because of Mr Saleh's obduracy and his refusal to cut a deal with the demonstrators, the noble goals of democracy and freedom espoused by the youthful protest movement have been swept aside by the country's always toxic mix of tribal politics and rivalries, and the machinations of al-Qai'da in the Arabian Peninsula, led by the American-born Anwar al-Awlaki.

Mr Saleh, in hospital in Riyadh, seems unlikely to return home. He appears to be out of the picture.

But all the other elements in the volatile mix remain, with members of the president's family, including his eldest son and heir, commanding the loyalty of major army units; the powerful al-Ahmar family's forces doing battle with them in Sanaa; Iran backing the Shia Houthi uprising in the north; a secessionist movement in the south; and al-Qai'da stealthily seeking to exploit the chaos and already claiming control of the town of Zinjibar.

In any circumstance this would be a nightmare scenario. Given Yemen has emerged as the base for several recent international terrorist attacks, including courier packages containing bombs sent to Chicago, the chaos that has overtaken the country could hardly be more portentous. This is the sort of environment in which al-Qai'da thrives.

Mr Saleh has paid the price for intransigence. In his fate lies a lesson for others in the Arab world who fail to deal sensibly with demands for change.

The challenges in Yemen could hardly be greater. Amid the deepening chaos, however, the original demands of the protest movement for democracy and freedom remain as valid now as they have been since the start of the Arab Spring. They must form the basis of a viable, new, post-Saleh political order.





DOUBLETHINK has infected the tortured debate about border protection, an issue that demands straight talking and clear thinking.

Both major political parties say they aim to stem the flow of unauthorised boat arrivals. The Coalition has been happy to champion a hard-headed approach, but the government has promised the same outcome through a "compassionate" policy. Labor promises secure borders, but seeks to appease the Left by distancing itself from the Coalition's previous tough policies.

So we're left with the Orwellian concept of Doublethink: Holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says he will not reactivate offshore processing on Nauru because it won't break the people-smugglers' business model: "If you go to Nauru you would end up in Australia, that's what happened before." Yet in the same breath he says it is too harsh: "There is plenty of evidence and research showing Nauru caused considerable mental damage to people who were there for long periods of time." So Nauru, apparently, is too easy and too harsh. As Orwell wrote: "To know and not to know."

This oxymoronic reasoning will only work on compliant members of the Canberra press gallery and refugee activists who refuse to apply common sense to this difficult issue. Most voters will see, correctly, that the reason the Gillard government won't reactivate Nauru is because it involves Labor admitting it was wrong to close it down.

Faced with increasing boat arrivals from 1999, the Howard government introduced the so-called Pacific Solution, which included offshore processing at Nauru. In 1999, 86 boats arrived carrying 3721 people. In 2000, there were 51 boats and 2939 arrivals. In 2001, there were 5516 people in 43 boats. But Howard's hardline polices worked: no boats arrived in 2002; one in 2003; and an annual average of less than half a dozen over the following five years. When the Rudd government softened the measures and scrapped offshore processing in late 2008, the people-smugglers started up again and we've had more than 220 boats carrying more than 11,000 people since.

Julia Gillard and her ministers have argued the surge in arrivals can be blamed on push factors rather than the softening of our laws, or pull factors. But global refugee numbers of about 10 million mean push factors are constantly high and the conflicts the government has sought to blame, in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq, have fluctuated for decades.

Anyway, the government has shown it doesn't believe its own spin on push factors because its recent attempts to pursue the abandoned East Timor and troubled Malaysian solutions are a tacit admission the lack of deterrence is the problem. Belatedly, it is trying to put the genie back in the bottle.

Which takes us back to Nauru and doublethink. Initially, Ms Gillard ruled out Nauru because it is not signed up to the UN Refugee Convention, yet it seeks a deal with Malaysia, which also is not a signatory. It is time for the government to be frank. Boat arrivals in Australia are clearly our problem, not Malaysia's, and we should accept responsibility rather than duck-shove the people and the issue.







THE personal stories of Iraqis who worked as interpreters for Australian troops operating in Iraq have shown serious shortcomings in the way this country treats its allies. Their experiences, as reported in our series Patriots and Traitors, also cast an unpleasant sidelight on the relationship between people of Iraqi descent in Australia and the Iraqi interpreters - who are viewed often enough as traitors to their own kind because they have helped Australian soldiers in Iraq. Other Australians will find that attitude baffling, even offensive. Nonetheless it is real enough, as the stories show, and it greatly complicates the lives of former interpreters who have been brought here after serving this country abroad.

The interpreters' rejection by their own former countrymen and women blocks the normal process by which newcomers are assimilated into mainstream Australia. Immigrants from non-English-speaking cultures naturally gravitate towards earlier arrivals from the same background in order to find a familiar foothold in Australian society, from which they may then engage with the broader society with some confidence. For the former interpreters that process is denied and successful integration into this society made extremely difficult. How difficult is shown by their readiness to return even to Iraq - where they still risk death or worse at the hands of extremists. Yet it is easy to understand why they might want to. The Iraqis recruited to work with Australian troops were often from their country's educated elite. They already speak English, and ought to be excellently placed to succeed in Australia. Yet only nine of the 223 former interpreters surveyed by the Herald - half of them with tertiary qualifications - had found work here. Only one had found it in his chosen profession.

The Australian government obviously cannot mend relationships or attitudes within the Iraqi community. But it can and should provide adequately for foreign nationals who have assisted Australian troops serving overseas and who have reason to fear persecution as a consequence. Their position is little different from that of immigrants from southern Europe after World War II who arrived in a country which had virtually no support networks to fall back on. Australia was tardy then in providing support, but it should not be now. And since the former interpreters helped our service personnel, they are the responsibility of Defence - which provides another parallel. Troops returning from active service have at times been helped to gain qualifications to assist their re-entry into the civilian workforce. Former interpreters with needed qualifications should also be helped to gain Australian qualifications in their chosen calling.





SOMETIMES it seems universities cannot take a trick. If curriculums are knee-deep in the liberal arts, they're failing vocational imperatives. If course work is limited to specialisation, universities must be producing automatons. A university that weans itself off the public teat by attracting full-fee-paying students has sold its soul to Mammon; a university that does not is a bludger. The right balance is somewhere in between. No answer will satisfy all judges but the questions will remain necessary.

Steven Schwartz's clarion call for an uprising of ethical self-appraisal by universities transcends this sweep, however. The vice-chancellor of Macquarie University challenges universities to set themselves apart from enterprises unashamedly motivated by financial profit. He makes clear in a paper published in Professional Educator that he believes universities have lost their way.

Schwartz illustrates this as finely as it can be, recalling the experience of Jonas Salk and the University of Pittsburgh in developing the international triumph of vaccine over polio. In 1950s New York, Schwartz was one of 2 million children tested with the Salk vaccine. One of the great triumphs of immunology beat a terrible scourge worldwide - but it did not make Salk or his university wealthy. Why? Because the vaccine was licensed to anyone who wanted to make it. "The ethical premise driving Salk's work was simple," wrote Schwartz. Simple and ennobling.

By contrast, he says, famous researchers today lend their names to articles written by drug companies. The researchers get the kudos and the drug companies get a boost to sales. This goes to the issue of how far universities are willing to compromise the pursuit of truth in return for a glimpse of financial security. Without the former, public trust is eroded, as is the moral core of universities as places worthy of guiding our best and brightest.

This is true of all learning institutions. They must forever evolve; the previous generation never has a mortgage on wisdom. But change must favour learners, as early indications suggest is happening for those Sydney Catholic primary schools emboldened enough to do away with single-tier classrooms. These Ecoles Sans Murs have opted for mega classrooms - the Herald visited one with 197 students - working in different-sized groups at different tasks. Teacher-student ratios are maintained, enabling enhancement of discipline because there are many more eyes and ears for supervision and because children are happier in the new environment.

Change isn't the enemy of good education. What matters is that it is change for good. And that is not always obvious.





The fate of the Assad regime will affect the entire Middle East.

SIX months ago, as mass protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square demanded the overthrow of then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, this newspaper noted that the stance of the country's armed forces would likely decide the outcome. If the army refused to side with the dictator, the revolt would become a revolution. And it has proved to be so across the Middle East, where the Arab spring of resistance to authoritarian rule continues, but with varying success.

In Egypt and Tunisia, hated regimes have fallen. In Yemen, protesters are exultant because President Ali Abdullah Saleh has departed the country to seek surgical treatment in Saudi Arabia. Mr Saleh, however, refuses to relinquish power. His Saudi benefactors have also propped up the

al-Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain, by an ''invited'' military intervention. And in Libya, the revolution has become a civil war, with the opponents of the Gaddafi regime dependent on NATO air support for survival. The struggle that may determine whether the Arab spring really does remake the politics of the Middle East, however, is taking place in Syria, where human-rights monitors estimate that since March the security forces of President Bashar al-Assad's Baathist regime have killed more than 1100 people, and jailed more than 10,000.

These figures are not easily verified, because foreign journalists are barred from Syria and the regime uses every measure to stem the flow of information, including, late last week, shutting down the internet in major cities. But neither the secrecy nor the brutality of Syria's governing clique have deterred the protesters, who keep turning out on the streets to demand an end to the Assad family's 41-year rule. On Friday, 60 people were killed in Hama, where, 29 years ago, the President's father, Hafez al-Assad, crushed an armed revolt by killing 30,000.

The earlier massacre is a reminder that there have been other Arab springs, which did not succeed. If the latest uprising shares the same fate, it will certainly not be because of a lack of courage among the protesters. Unlike their counterparts in Libya, however, they have had little help from abroad apart from sanctions imposed on the regime, which thus far have proved ineffectual. In his State Department speech on the Arab democracy movements, US President Barack Obama said that the Syrian people had demanded a transition to democracy, and ''President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way.'' It is a laudable sentiment, but it is not the same as ordering air strikes to protect the demonstrators, as has happened in Libya.

The political reality is that NATO, and the West generally, have neither the will nor the capacity for more than one intervention at a time, especially while also engaged in the protracted, inconclusive war in Afghanistan. That does not mean, however, that the people of Syria should be abandoned to their fate, or that all non-military measures have been exhausted. Australia's Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, has called for Bashar al-Assad to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for the crackdown on the protests. To dismiss this idea because an indictment cannot yet be acted upon is to miss the point: the international community should declare, in the strongest terms, that Syria is in the grip of an outlaw. And Australians, in particular, should not be distracted by speculation about whether Mr Rudd is trying to upstage Prime Minister Julia Gillard. What matters is that he is right.

Geography alone makes Syria of pivotal importance in the Middle East, as it has for millenniums. And the Assad regime's ties with Iran, its protection of terrorist groups and its refusal to negotiate with Israel are all pointers to what could change in the region if the regime falls. But support for Syria's protesters is not ultimately about realpolitik; it is about recognising that, like all who demand democracy, they should receive it.





IT'S a shame the Gillard government allowed populist myths and an opportunistic opposition to spook it into all but abandoning the rational approach to asylum seekers that the new Prime Minister insisted on 11 months ago.

Julia Gillard's speech to the Lowy Institute, Moving Australia Forward, began by observing that Frank Lowy was once a refugee ''in a crowded boat full of asylum seekers''. The numbers of boat arrivals had always been ''very very minor'' and ''the peaks and troughs in the numbers of boats trying to get to Australia has less to do with what we do here and more to do with the conditions people are escaping''.

Ms Gillard advocated a regional approach to managing asylum seeker flows in a safe and orderly manner. Labor's approach, though, has been anything but orderly.

The announcement of East Timor as a potential processing centre proved hasty. Now a deal is being sought with Malaysia to accept 800 boat arrivals, in return for Australia accepting 4000 confirmed refugees from Malaysian camps. Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and so does not recognise the rights of asylum seekers.

Australia risks failing in its responsibilities as a signatory if it transfers boat arrivals to Malaysia without transparent and enforceable guarantees.

A UNHCR threat to withdraw support for the deal forced Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to retreat from his hardline stance of no exceptions to agreeing to assess the fate of unaccompanied minors ''case by case''. The minister had seemed willing to disregard his status as legal guardian of unaccompanied minors in his department's care. He should feel obliged, legally and morally, to use his discretionary powers to ensure that all such children remain under his protection.

Many refugees in south-east Asian camps risked sea voyages to Australia because they had little prospect of resettlement, so the plan to accept 4000 refugees from Malaysia was an appropriate response. The Age sees UN-supervised regional processing and resettlement as part of the answer to people smuggling. A bilateral deal on its own is unsatisfactory.

For all the talk of policy disaster and crisis, even the opposition admits that boat arrivals have declined. Halfway into the year, they number less than a quarter of last year's total. The last peak, in 2001, coincided with a 20-year high globally. The experience of decades ought to have exposed the baselessness of the fears that boat arrivals inspire. It truly shames Australia that both sides of politics play with the lives of such vulnerable people.







David Cameron may have tried to intervene to rein in the sexualisation of children, but the real answer lies with parents

The explicit tastelessness of a section of the pre-teens clothes market is enough to bring out the prig in the most broad-minded. The sexualisation of children should be a warning to the adult world. Its real significance is as an indicator of a deeper cultural shift. Yesterday, as we reported on Saturday, the government revealed a plan of campaign against the former. But that cannot disguise its powerlessness against the latter.

Not many parents would buy a pair of knickers for their daughter advertising her as a future porn star, and most of them probably flinched if they caught their under-16s watching Sunday night's MTV movie awards where the latest episode of the teenflick Twilight scooped the pool again, prompting some of its stars to respond with the awards' hallmark bad behaviour. The commodification of childhood, of which sexualisation is a part, is indeed a depressing development. And however determined parents are to fight it, it can seem impossible to confront the power of the high-street chains and the superstores, which spend millions persuading children to want what they sell. But that does not necessarily mean government intervention will tackle the core problem.

The coalition, which commissioned Reg Bailey of the Mothers' Union to investigate, was merely picking up where the last Labour government left off. There is real public anxiety here, as the influential parenting website Mumsnet "Let girls be girls" campaign showed. And with good reason. In April, the thinktank Demos, analysing education department figures, found that more than a fifth of teenage girls said they felt worthless, lacked confidence or had low self-esteem. The poorer their families, the more acute the problem. Turning children into consumers distorts values just at the moment they are most vulnerable. It is one more damaging aspect of our unequal society.

David Cameron promised to act. But restricting advertising near schools and making it easier for parents' concerns to be heard doesn't add up to a revolution. In truth, there is no government-led revolution to be had. For what is happening to children is a reflection of what is happening across society. We have been seduced by easy credit, cheap consumer goods and the rise of the celebrity into a sex-and-shopping culture that we have now passed on to our children. If all the little girls who want so desperately and inappropriately to wear the same clothes as Miley Cyrus didn't also have mothers anxiously sourcing the Duchess of Cambridge's new frock or Tulisa Contostavlos's X-factor outfits, maybe they would still wear jeans and a t-shirt from choice. The real answer to what is influencing our children is ourselves, and it is up to us to do something about it.





The iron fist barely concealed in Dr Cable's velvet glove was a fresh attack on the right to strike

The words were warm, the tone was moderate and he even took the trouble to remind the brothers that he had once worked as an adviser within the Labour movement. But Vince Cable nonetheless ran into angry jeering at the GMB's conference yesterday. Anyone witnessing events without knowing the context might have concluded that the unions were recalcitrant dinosaurs with whom it had become impossible to reason.

Context, however, is everything. The iron fist barely concealed in Dr Cable's velvet glove was a fresh attack on the right to strike. Even while hailing that right as a "fundamental principle", he indicated that new laws to restrict it would become necessary if the workforce were to make more extensive use of it. The reasons that this is precisely the wrong time to be wielding this sort of a threat are legion. The most immediate of them were neatly summed up by the GMB general secretary, Paul Kenny. No "strike in our country could inflict the sort of economic damage which the banks and finance houses have".

Days lost to strikes are, as Dr Cable acknowledged, currently running at their lowest level since the Depression. Outside of London, with its peculiar dependence on rammed public transport, grumbling about stoppages is seldom heard. Covering half the share of the workforce that they once did, and already wrapped up in all sorts of laws, the unions are simply not in a condition to pose the sort of threat they may once have done, and the public well understands this. While very many people blame the banks for the cuts, concern about industrial strife barely registers. Ipsos Mori has been asking the same question about the most pressing problem facing the country since the 1970s, and whereas the unions were once named by 73%, that figure is less than 1% today. The country expects the state's workforce to take its share of the squeeze, but it is not in a mood to demand that dinner ladies and bin men should simply give up their pension rights without any fight.

The deeper worry is that the coalition imagines a pliant workforce is all that is required to walk Britain down the path to prosperity. Thus far the government's most substantial proposal for growth – as distinct from financial stability – involves taking a scalpel to protection, such as against unfair dismissal or in the event of company transfers. There are times when there is a kernel of truth in the old diatribe about a country that overpays and overprotects itself. But in the midst of the longest squeeze on pay since the 1920s, the disease afflicting our economy now is decidedly different. For all George Osborne's crowing about the IMF's soothing words on his cuts yesterday, the fund cut its forecast for the UK. It did so not because workers are too costly to hire, but because families are feeling too pinched to spend sufficiently.

Put to one side the horrendous dispersal of pay that the TUC revealed in a useful report yesterday, and a legitimate question about pay levels in general remains. Over 40 years now, the slice of the pie going to the workforce has been steadily squeezed, by about 5% of GDP. Some of that decline is the simple corollary of more pensioners and, counter to union claims, rising profits are a better predictor of recovery than rising pay. But running the ruler forward on the chart, using the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts – which show labour's share of the economy edging down by several more points by 2015 – suggests that if there is a developing imbalance in the economy it is an imbalance against the workforce.

The Resolution Foundation, a thinktank that speaks up for families of modest means, points to the precedent of the US, where the typical wage earner has enjoyed not a sniff of the vast growth seen since the mid-1970s. Obstinate as the unions can be, they are one of the few forces pushing back against this chilly Atlantic tide.






The reinvention of the Tyne's southern bank is a triumph for the smaller half of the famous Geordie partnership

The title of the Hippest Street in Britain sounds suspect in the media world of dodgy polls and tiny "public votes". But Gateshead's triumph in Google's Street View Awards is thoroughly deserved. The reinvention of the Tyne's southern bank as South Shore Road, the street that takes the crown, is a triumph for the smaller half of the famous Geordie partnership. Many talk of going to Newcastle to see the Angel of the North, the "winking bridge", the Baltic gallery or the Sage concert hall. They can indeed see all four from Newcastle, although the angel only on tiptoes, but all were commissioned by Gateshead. To say this is not to incite Geordie divisions, but to emphasise the regenerative reach of cultural projects right across the north-east. Far away in Venice, this year's biennale is a tribute to the flair of Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside; crowds are flocking to work contributed by Newcastle's Laing art gallery and Locus+ arts commissioning agency, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art and Sunderland's National Glass Centre. This is no flimsy successor to the engineering masterpieces associated with all three rivers: the history of pioneering art in northernmost England embraces the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Ashington painters, the engravings of Thomas Bewick and the wild, apocalyptic landscapes of John Martin. It is good to see Northumberland's little Alnwick in the Google awards, too, for Britain's best shopping street at Bondgate Within. After art, what better than a little retail therapy?






The Second Petit Bench of the Supreme Court on May 30 ruled in a 4-0 decision that a school principal's order telling teachers to stand and sing the "Kimigayo" national anthem in front of the "Hinomaru" national flag at a graduation ceremony is constitutional.

This represents the top court's first judgment on the constitutionality of such an order. In February 2007, the court had ruled that a principal's order telling a music teacher to play piano accompaniment for the singing of Kimigayo, usually translated as "Your Reign," at a school ceremony was constitutional.

The lawsuit had been filed by a former teacher of a high school run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government who received a disadvantageous treatment as a result of his refusal to obey the principal's order. The ruling in part says that the order "indirectly constrains" the freedom of thought and conscience.

But local education authorities may take the ruling's conclusion as a seal of approval for forcing teachers to stand up and sing Kimigayo at school ceremonies. Thus the feelings of a minority who have different opinions about Hinomaru and Kimigayo would be ignored and their freedom of thought and conscience infringed on.

In August 1999, the Diet enacted a law officially designating the rising sun flag as the national flag and the Kimigayo anthem as the national anthem. Then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said that the law would not impose a new duty on people and then Education Minister Akito Arima said that it would not impose a new duty on teachers. But in October 2003, the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education issued a notice telling principals of schools run by the metropolitan government to strictly enforce the hoisting of the flag and the singing of the anthem at school ceremonies.

The plaintiff, Mr. Yuji Saruya, did not obey the principal's order at a graduation ceremony for the night course at the metropolitan Katsushika High School in March 2004. He was later reprimanded. At school ceremonies in later years, he obeyed the order. But in January 2007, the metropolitan government notified him that it would not reemploy him after his mandatory retirement age, contrary to the usual practice. Mr. Saruya later filed a lawsuit asking for withdrawal of the decision not to reemploy him.

In January 2009, the Tokyo District Court ordered the metropolitan government to pay Mr. Saruya ¥2.1 million in compensation, although it rejected his argument that the principal's order is unconstitutional. But in October that year, the Tokyo High Court reversed the district court ruling on the compensation payment, saying that it is not unreasonable to reject reemployment less than three years after a reprimand occurs.

In its May 30 ruling, the Supreme Court said that the principal's order "indirectly constrains" the freedom of thought and conscience of people who do not want to express respect to Hinomaru and Kimigayo because it requires them to take an action not based on their view of history and their outlook on the world. Some people think that the rising sun flag and the anthem were used as a means of promoting Japan's militarism and imperialism. Mr. Saruya did not obey the order because his conscience did not allow him to do so in view of his Korean and Chinese students who studied the history of Japan's modern war, according to Tokyo Shimbun.

Then the ruling said that since the principal's order follows the prescriptions of the education ministry's official guidelines calling for hoisting of the flag and singing of the anthem at school ceremonies and the national flag and anthem law, takes into consideration the public nature of local public servants' duties and pays consideration to the feelings of students, it has enough necessity and rationality to make its indirect constraint on the freedom of thought and conscience acceptable. Thus the ruling said that the order does not violate Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of thought and conscience.

The decision that the principal's order is constitutional automatically led to upholding of the Tokyo High Court's ruling. It is regrettable that the top court failed to judge whether the metropolitan government's decision not to reemploy Mr. Saruya only because of his one-time refusal to obey the principal's order is equitable and justifiable.

After the ruling came out, a local party led by Gov. Toru Hashimoto of Osaka, which controls the prefectural assembly, on June 3 enacted an ordinance to make it mandatory for school teachers to stand and sing Kimigayo at school ceremonies.

Unfortunately, the governor and the party members neglected to consider the fact that the top court ruling said that the principal's order indirectly constrains the freedom of thought and conscience. Local authorities should pay attention to Presiding Judge Masahiko Sudo's supplementary opinion that if the coercive element contained in the principal's order causes unnecessary confusion and the withering of creative activities in the education scene, "the life of education could be lost."






MILAN — Led by Asia, the share of the global economy held by emerging markets has risen steadily over recent decades. For the countries of Asia — especially China and India — sustainable growth is no longer part of a global challenge. Instead, it has become a national growth-strategy issue.

Over the next few decades, almost all of the world's growth in energy consumption, urbanization, automobile usage, airline travel, and carbon emissions will come from emerging economies. By mid-century, the number of people living in what will be (by then) high-income economies will rise to 4.5 billion, from 1 billion today. Global GDP, which currently stands at about $60 trillion, will at least triple in the next 30 years.

If emerging economies try to reach advanced-country income levels by following roughly the same pattern as their predecessors, the impact on natural resources and the environment will be enormous and probably disastrous.

One or several tipping points would most likely bring the process to a screeching halt. Energy security and cost, water and air quality, climate, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, food security and much more would be threatened.

At present, almost any standard measure of the concentration of global economic power would show a declining trend. If that continues, the result will be a world in which each country's contributed pressure on natural resources and the environment will make sustainability a major global challenge. To change course, global agreements that impinge on growth would be needed, along with systems that ensure compliance.

The trend in concentration will reverse about a decade from now, owing to the size and growth rates of India and China, which together account for almost 40 percent of the world's population.

Although their combined GDP is a relatively small fraction of global output (about 15 percent), that share is rising rapidly. By mid-century, India and China will account for 2.5 billion of the 3.5 billion additional people with advanced-country incomes. By themselves, they will cause global GDP to at least double.

For India and China, sustainability is no longer mainly a global issue; it is a domestic challenge to long-term growth. Their growth patterns and strategies, and the tradeoffs and choices they make, with respect to lifestyle, urbanization, transportation, the environment and energy efficiency, will largely determine whether their economies can complete the long transition to advanced-income levels.

There is a growing awareness among policymakers, businesses and citizens in Asia that the historical growth paths that their predecessors followed simply won't work, because they don't "scale" to a world economy that is triple its current size.

As a result, these countries will have to invent new growth patterns to reach advanced-country levels of development. They are too big to be "free riders," so the incentives relating to sustainability are becoming internalized as national priorities. Perceptions are rapidly coming into line with the reality that sustainability must become a critical ingredient of growth. The old model won't work.

No one knows how to achieve sustainability at three (or more) times the size of the current global economy. That objective will be determined by a process of discovery, experimentation and creativity, with tradeoffs along the way. But the incentive to ignore these issues is gone.

The large, high-growth emerging economies have certain advantages. Integrating sustainability into growth strategies and policies is in their self-interest, and it is consistent with their long-term time horizons. The legacy assets that one finds in advanced countries — the way cities are configured, for example — don't have to be replaced to the same extent. China's 12th Five-Year Plan lowers the growth forecast (to 7 percent) to create "space" to deal with issues like equity, sustainability and the environment. A new growth path has been discovered.

The emergence of sustainability as a crucial element in growth strategies in the world's future largest economies is an extraordinarily positive development. But how could a tripling of global GDP and a fourfold expansion of the world's high-income population be good news?

Well, it depends on what one thinks the alternative is. Slow global growth would benefit natural resources and the environment, but that won't happen unless the world's resource supplies and environmental underpinnings collapse.

As Asians drive growth toward more sustainable patterns, they will increase the incentives for others to do so by generating new technology, lowering the environmental cost of growth and undercutting the argument that leadership incurs various costs but few benefits.

Michael Spence, a Nobel laureate in economics, is professor of economics at New York University's Stern School of Business and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. © 2011 Project Syndicate







It is the local people, notably the 200 workers and their families, and Indonesian and Australian investors who immediately suffered losses after the temporary closure of the PT Sorikmas Mining (SMM) gold exploration project in North Sumatra's Mandailing Natal regency on Sunday.

The Indonesia-Australian gold mining joint venture was forced to stop operations after hundreds of residents from the nearby village of Hutagodang Muda village attacked and burned an SMM camp on May 29, destroying buildings worth an estimated US$7 million and $20 million in mining samples.

We wonder why the local police and local administration failed to detect the dispute between the community and the mining firm. After all, it was not the first time SMM had been embroiled in a climate of hostility with the local people.

The mining company began exploration on a gold mining concession of 66,200 hectares in 1999, but had to stop operations in 2004 due to lack of support from the local administration. It resumed exploration in 2009 after winning a legal decision from the Supreme Court that further validated the legitimacy of its concession.

Whatever the reason behind the violence, the police should enforce the law against the perpetrators of the attacks.

Since SMM gained the concession during Soeharto's New Order, the company seemed to have suffered from the notorious perception that, like most other major mining firms before 1998, SMM also had obtained its mining contract through collusion and corrupt practices.

The Supreme Court ruling in 2009 should have resolved, once and for all, the controversy over the legitimacy of its concession. As the latest incidents have shown, the political and social environment in the Mandailing Natal regency remained unfavorable.

This is really a challenge for both the central government and local administration to thoroughly investigate because past experiences have shown that such protesters may have genuine causes and legitimate grievances, but several others may hide self-serving interests.

Certainly, business is not always right and those that are found guilty of violating the laws should be brought to justice. On the other hand, those not guilty and find themselves being harassed and subjected to spurious claims should be protected by the government.

If such protests are not handled properly, businesses will be at the mercy of lynch mobs and the law of the jungle.

Simply ordering the closure of a mine without due process of the law boils down to the government succumbing to mob ultimatums and would set a bad precedent that could threaten the fate of many other resource-based investment ventures. Only when there is legal certainty and consistency in law enforcement can the course of investment be reasonably predicted and big investors will become more interested in investing their capital in Indonesia.

It is often unpopular to defend large companies, especially foreign firms, but we should stand up in defense of all legitimate businesses, be they foreign or domestic, as long as they abide by the law.




An international security conference in Singapore over the weekend lent credence to Indonesia's vision of a "dynamic equilibrium" in the evolving geopolitical sphere of the Asia-Pacific region.

The Shangri-La Dialogue (named after the Singapore hotel at which it is held), an annual conference of defense ministers and experts, impressed upon participants and observers what this loosely defined idea might mean in terms of international relations.

In theory, a dynamic equilibrium would accommodate the roles and responsibilities of Asia's new powers (China and lately India), recognize the geopolitical interests of the US and define a role for "middle" powers, particularly for those nations within ASEAN.

As Indonesian Defense Minister PurnomoYusgiantoro told the forum, a new security arrangement "should be geared to avoid any domination by being inclusive and transparent. It should also ensure stability through cooperation and address common challenges instead of developing alignments that are directed at one another."

The emphasis was clearly on dialogue and cooperation. This approach takes into account the major geopolitical shifts that are taking place with the peaceful rise of China and India as economic and political powers, as well as assigning roles and places to medium and smaller states to promote peace and security in the region.

It is also clear from statements by defense leaders and experts that the US will continue to play a major role in Asia, not only because of its geopolitical interests, but more because it is a Pacific power, a geographic fact that no one can deny.

During the forum, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered a US$100 bet that America's presence in Asia "will remain strong if not stronger" in spite of its weakening economy.

His wager may be a moot point since he is retiring soon, but the message is clear that the US will be part of the emerging security architecture. In this context, we welcome the expanded dialogue that US and China defense officials are holding to overcome their mutual suspicions.

Indonesia in the meantime should look for any opportunity to help shape a regional security structure that best serves its national interests.

A dynamic equilibrium seems the way to go.







As a summary of cultural and political discussions I have attended, three problem areas have been identified.

The first issue is the fact that practically no good examples are set by our leaders, who should be the primus inter pares (first among equals) in national life.

The second is the prevalent despair after 13 years of political reform, which at first was expected to put our nation in a good democratic system with a division of power into three institutions based on mutual control.

But later, because of corruption, vote buying and geocentricism, political parties or politicians have been more involved in rows and money-making than in voicing people's aspirations and interests. As a result, their power struggle divides us as a nation.

The third concerns how easily we can resolve any national crisis or problem through the logic of technical management or by simplifying solutions without delving into their cultural roots.

This includes very instant solutions in the form of a law or regulations, as if the best outcome could be assured by this means.

Based on these three hypotheses, in the cultural domain actually lies a crisis of belief in each other or a great lack of trust among us. Why do we distrust others instead of thinking positively to believe in them?

This is a result of the obvious social and economic gap between the rich and the poor, as well as the abyss between those who have access to power and those who are marginalized.

There's also a gap between the macro-economic success story and micro-economic public misery.

Trust and distrust constitute a long-term process in cultural life where education in value and character play an important role.

Why? Because a cultural approach is a way of viewing the reality of a society in terms of the mentality and values of individuals and communities.

For example, the uniting value of respect for each other and tolerance toward our pluralistic nation has unified us as a nation, until now.

But this is not just a given. These factors must be maintained and reinforced as the national mindset through generations.

If the strategy of culture is clearly specified to achieve a prosperous and humane society, it implies the creation of a civilization.

What has happened in recent decades to our nation, culturally?

There has been a cultural disorientation or disorientation of values. We are in a state of disorientation in terms of doing what is good, right and beautiful in life.

There has been a shift from telling bedtime stories to internalize values in small families, to idolizing celebrities through the digital media to promote an easy life and instant success while forgetting that life is a process of struggle.

In the second phenomenon, our orientation of nation-building and character development — based on humanity, religious belief and social justice in democracy to achieve our national goals by practicing the values of the state philosophy, Pancasila, in our social and political life — has somehow been discouraged by verbalism, too much discourse and a serious lack of concrete examples.

Third, money has already substituted all immaterial and spiritual values, to serve as the only material value. As a consequence, materialism is above all other values and at its extreme everything intangible is now marginalized.

These phenomena lead to the logical conclusion that when we are disoriented in regards to values that are considered very important in social relationships among members of our nation, it is understandable that distrust becomes the main crisis.

How can we save our nation from this distrust? Is it enough to promote character and nation-building as is currently being promoted everywhere?

This is OK, but we should not forget that character education is a very long process. It is not just a matter of putting up posters, banners and slogans merely for show.

It is a matter of comprehension, practice and internalization, living out by trial and error in life, which is exempla trahunt verba docent (examples are more important in this kind of education than seminars and discourse).

If we view life in three spheres, character education is a cognitive process to gain knowledge (we have already done too much here), so it should be combined with religious and esthetic dimensions.

Since in human beings there is the potential of knowledge for science and the truth; the potential of religious belief for ethics and religion and potential of esthetics, the whole process cannot go all alone.

In revitalizing and enlivening the Pancasila values, the old regime was mistaken in methods of education by only memorizing the principles without the process of incorporating the ethical attitudes involved.

Remember that the peak historic achievement of our founding fathers, Pancasila, a deductive abstraction of the experience of pluralism or diversity of ethnic groups, religions and beliefs in inductive everyday life, eventually proclaimed as "Just and Civilized Humanity" in the founding of our new nation and state.

That is why the justice on the part of the state and us from this abstraction of humanity must be practiced inductively by all Indonesian ethnic group members as well as followers of religions and beliefs.

The problem is that we often forget this point: creating justice and prosperity for everybody by making good and just laws, realizing a democratic economic system and maintaining tolerance and respect for our pluralistic society.

If we recognize this deep crisis, then it's our common homework to start building trust among us, from our families, neighborhoods and places of work to our daily social activities, in our struggle for a democratic, just and prosperous state of Indonesia.

The writer, a Jesuit priest, teaches at the Driyarkara Institute of Philosophy.






The democratic transition in Indonesia is undoubtedly a complex and fragile process. It does not place the so-called reformists as a group that can easily take and affect the authority to create political change.

This happened because despite the fall of Soeharto there are still many powerful old groups that have hijacked and influenced the political transition process. The process is tainted by political negotiations between the old and new groups, blurring the line that divides them.

In this situation, the Indonesian Military's (TNI) reform agenda has been decided by power struggle between the reformist and status quo groups. One of the sticking issues in the negotiation is on acquisition of TNI businesses. Although it is part of the TNI's reform agenda, the process has remained slow if not stagnant until today, despite the fact that the 2004 TNI Law mandated the transfer of military assets by 2009.

As a part of the military reform agenda, the termination of TNI role in business is expected to help create a professional military institution that focuses on state defense. Samuel P. Huntington said that military professionalism is based on three things: expertise, or knowledge and capability; social responsibility and corporation, which includes awareness and loyalty to the group or institution and dignity for the standard competence.

The government has formed several teams to take over military businesss since the enactment of the TNI law, all of which have failed to accomplish their tasks.

The first team, the TNI Business Transfer Supervisory Team (TSTB) was established in 2005, involving the Defense Ministry, Finance
Ministry, Law and Human Rights Ministry and State-Owned Enterprises Ministry, to verify all TNI businesses.

Originally, the enterprises belonging to the TNI were to be handed over by the government and transformed into public companies, limited liability companies or holding companies.

From the beginning, the government's commitment to acquiring TNI business has sparked doubts as the President only passed a regulation as a legal umbrella for acquisition of military assets only in 2008. Under the presidential regulation, the National TNI Business Activity Acquisition Team was formed.

The belated issuance of the presidential regulation came under fire from civil society groups, who suspected the delay would only avoid takeover of TNI business. There were also concerns about the metamorphosis of the TNI business' into different corporations or the sales of the assets to a third party before the presidential regulation took effect.

Outside of this concern is the bizarre data on the number of businesses controlled by the TNI. In September 2005, the TNI inventoried 2,616 businesses, comprising 25 foundations, 916 business units and 1,071 cooperatives. In March 2006, the number fell to 1,502 units without clear documentation from the Defense Ministry.

In July 2006, the TSTB said the military's assets were worth Rp 1.5 trillion (US$136 million according to the 2006 exchange rate). The figure was much lower than the research conducted by the Ridep Institute in 2004, which valued the military business at Rp 5 trillion.

In 2008 the National TNI Business Activity Acquisition Team said the TNI owed 23 foundations that controlled 53 limited companies, operated 1,098 cooperatives that controlled two limited companies and used state assets that were managed by a third party. This team also found 1,618 plots of land covering an area of 16,544.54 hectares; 3,470 plots of land and buildings covering 8,435.81 hectares and 6,699 buildings covering 37.57 hectares.

The TNI's foundations as of 2007 controlled Rp 1.8 trillion in assets and its cooperatives controlled assets worth Rp 1.3 trillion. In total the TNI's assets were valued at Rp 3.2 trillion, with administrative obligations worth Rp 980 billion.

The team, however, did not disclose details of the companies and kinds of business owned by TNI.

The team recommended that the government take over all the TNI businesses and assets, reposition all TNI foundations, cooperatives and state property, except for its primary cooperatives. State property would be returned to the Finance Ministry and state property that was managed by third parties would be restructured so as to contribute to state revenue as non-tax revenues.

Another recommendation was to reposition the military business, joint foundation and cooperatives into quasi-businessed under the Defense Ministry. The next step was a legal and financial audit of the foundations and cooperatives. In the meantime, the TNI primary cooperatives would be transformed into working units under the Defense Ministry and dedicated to soldiers' welfare.

It is important for the Defense Ministry to explain to the public and provide details about the delayed process of TNI business transfer, including which businesses have been taken over and which assets have not. Such transparency will prevent fishy business in the process.

Furthermore, the House of Representatives needs to supervise the process. The arrangement and acquisition process of TNI business has to wind up this year, otherwise it will delay completion of the TNI reform agenda.

It is also important that profits from TNI businesses go to the state coffers and are spent on improvement of soldiers' welfare equally and fairly. Consequently, better welfare will enhance the TNI's performance.

The writer is program director of the Imparsial human rights group






The spectacular resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has led to heated speculation over the next director.

The IMF's near 70-year-old practice of appointing only a European is under question, with some suggesting that it is time for an emerging economy and perhaps Asia to take the place.

But while no final decision has been reached, another European seems more likely, given both the candidates and structure for voting. In Christine Lagarde, the French Minister of Finance, Europe has rallied around a credible name.

Collectively, Europe has almost 30 percent of the votes in the IMF, with the US holding a further 17 percent. The emerging economies have fewer votes and have not unified around a single person.

Does this mean things will not change? What should Asia do?

The fact is that in the new global economy, Asians and others now play a much larger role. This has been recognized with the creation of a G20, for dialog to foster cooperation amongst the largest economies. But reform in the IMF itself has been slower.

Its governance system, quotas, voting rights and procedures have changed little since its establishment in 1944.

Currently, the four largest Asian economies add up to only 13.8 percent of the vote, including Japan with some 6.28 percent. The promise is that from October 2012, Asia will total some 20 percent.

But votes and, even more, the attitude of Europeans lead to doubts the IMF can sufficiently evolve to reflect the dynamic realities of global rebalancing.

Within the next 30 years, some forecast that Asia will have largest share of world GDP. This shift in economic gravity has accelerated in the global financial crisis, and with on going problems in Europe.

Even now, it is estimated that Asia has US$3.5 trillion of foreign exchange reserves.

This is about two-thirds of the world's reserves and a stark contrast to the indebtedness in many developed Western economies.

If the IMF cannot change fast enough, Asians will need to look at the available alternatives. One possibility is to revisit the creation of an Asian Monetary Fund.

The proposal was originally made at the height of the Asian financial crisis in 1997-1998. This was quickly shot down by the IMF, the US Treasury and some Asians too.

Given the timing then, many questioned the wisdom and moral hazard of taking that step.

Times however are changing, and seeds of change are sprouting that can lead to a future AMF. While no AMF was created in the Asian crisis, the Finance Ministers of ASEAN, China, Japan and Korea (ASEAN+3) agreed to move ahead with the Chiang Mai Initiative. This started a network of bilateral swap arrangements to help members with liquidity problems and currency fluctuations in times of crisis

This has grown to a pool of Asian reserves of $120 billion, to be made available on a multilateral basis. A key component has also newly been added, with the establishment of a surveillance unit.

The ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO) was started in May and, housed in Singapore, is tasked to conduct due diligence on the region's economic and financial systems.

While still new, architecture is now in place that can greatly strengthen the region's capacity to prevent future financial crises and manage any that arise.

Other regions have taken similar steps with the Arab Monetary Fund and Latin America Reserve Fund. These initiatives cannot reform the internal workings of the IMF.

But they can lead to a more flexible, decentralized global monetary architecture, complimenting the IMF and also defusing its importance.

An Asian Monetary Fund will not be easy to establish. Even in the steps taken so far, Asians have struggled to find a formula for cooperation so that leadership is balanced, and acceptable to all.

But progress has been made and the overarching logic for AMRO has been accepted so that Asians are now better able to coordinate and head off potential crises.

If Asians and other emerging economies are insufficiently represented in the IMF, while Europeans continue to monopolize the institution even when the crises are in their own backyard, there is every reason for regional efforts to gather momentum.

Hank Lim is a senior research fellow and Simon Tay chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.








Amid Wednesday's tension, trauma and tragedy where Free Trade Zone workers lost a colleague; parents a son and siblings a brother, many analysts are of the view that the withdrawal of the private sector pension scheme last week was a triumph of people's power. Many ministers say the explosively controversial private sector pension scheme was a promise made in the Mahinda Chintanaya and outlined in the 2011 Budget. According to reports, the Bill, taken up for discussion at a meeting of the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) was quite different in tone and tenor to the one for which Cabinet approval was obtained. It had many grey areas that needed in-depth study and further clarification. It was even reported that at the NLAC meeting Labour Minister Gamini Lokuge had little idea as to the contents of the Bill and though another discussion with stakeholders was promised, the Bill was slipped into parliament with no opportunity for such discussions or proposals. It was then that all hell broke lose with islandwide protests by workers calling for its withdrawal. The protests launched by Free Trade Zone workers were unprecedented with women taking the vanguard in most of them. They accused the government of using various ruses to whittle away their hard-earned savings. Last Monday's protests by unarmed FTZ workers turned into a mini riot after police intervened to quell the Decisive No by workers with the use of what most independent observers saw as disproportionate methods such as the firing of tear gas canisters, water cannons and live bullets, which took the life of 21-year-old machine operator Roshane Chanaka. The last rites and burial at the Galoluwa Catholic Cemetery were held under the shadow and strict supervision of armed troops.

Millions who watched the live news telecasts would have seen how the police assaulted workers even when they were grounded and helpless. Another shocking scene from the heart of Colombo saw a government politician leading a motley crowd of supporters all armed with iron rods and wooden poles marching towards a JVP demonstration at Lipton's Circus. Saner counsel prevailed and the police turned them away before more mindless violence could have erupted.

The government last Friday officially withdrew the Bill but Minister Lokuge and Petroleum Minister Susil Premajayantha, who is also the General Secretary of the ruling UPFA said on Saturday that the government would go ahead with the Bill incorporating amendments and proposals made by stakeholders.

Could not the government have handled and resolved this contentious issue at the outset and in a win-win manner meaning that agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and mutually acceptable to all parties. The win-win process is not where conflicts are resolved in my way or your way but rather in a better way, a higher way where all parties feel good about the decision and feel committed to the action plan. If the government is sincerely committed to transparency and good governance and has a genuine and serious interest in introducing a scheme whereby the worker will be benefited, then why not listen to the workers and understand their point of view? It is the responsibility of the government to explain matters to the people and take them on board rather than accuse opposition political parties of conspiracies to destabilise the government.

British war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."

Now that the 30-year war has been won; the LTTE vanquished and this country no longer in pieces but united in peace; its time the Rajapaksa regime set itself the vital task of winning the hearts and minds of all Sri Lankans.  The road may be long and difficult but little or nothing will be achieved or accomplished if attempts are made to deceive the people or fool them.  





ri Lanka is never without some crisis or dull moment and last week's demonstration  by the FTZ workers against the private sector pension scheme which was being imposed without any reference to the people, the shooting of a youth who had just been four months in employment and any sensible person would have known that such a new worker would not have had even a proper inkling of what such a pension scheme would entail.

He apparently had not really been involved in the demonstration and the inability for anyone to take him to hospital for a few hours due to the gates being  closed is yet another situation in the rather confused state the country is in.

Paying compensation for the death to the family of the youth or the resignation of the IGP will not in any way bring an iota of comfort to a grieving family over the loss of a beloved child. In fact in recent times it appears that a peculiar system seems to be encroaching into the realms of law and order in the country. Recently we heard of persons protesting on the inaction of law enforcing officers placing the coffins of the dead on the road. A few months ago we  saw news headlines proclaimed the tragic death of a little boy travelling with his parents killed accidentally by law enforcing officers playing cowboy games of robbers and rogues on a main highway in Beruwala town.

We hear and read in news reports of certain politicians in government ranks stating that they too can form suicide squads and extending their power to request traders to close shops even when government instructs otherwise. Some others seem to use thugs to stop peaceful demonstrations! And all this in a country that has celebrated with immense and expensive pageantry the end of the war against terrorism and who seems determined to have such annual celebration!

Other sectors in government ranks blame opposition political parties for the demonstration unruly or otherwise that prevails in the country stating that they are inciting the people by giving wrong information to protest. Rather it would be of greater value if instead of passing the buck to some other groups or political parties the government members ask themselves whether they have been true to their election pledges. After all one remembers that election pledges were given to provide workers especially fixed income workers with an increase in salaries to enable them to at least have some type  of a sustainable livelihood but what the voters  hear and read in various news reports is that Corporation Chairmen have got increased salaries of Rs, 90,000  whereas  they who voted this government in and gave them the ability of obtaining a mandate of a three fourths membership in Parliament have yet to get any recognition of their problems in the face of the escalating cost of living. Most FTZ workers and those taken in as apprentices receive a pittance as they struggle hard to face a future that seems to get bleaker daily.

Plantation workers have   now been promised by their Minister that they would receive a higher daily wage but chances are that till they receive it the reality is far removed from the promise.

Soon the price of transport will rise and though the government sector now boasts about the reduction of the price of coconuts once again one wonders how long that euphoria will remain. And how will the transport cost increase impact on the cost of living?

Politicians continue to justify their various programmes. In fact the Minster who advocated leadership training for the new entrants to the university assumes to believe that entrants from affluent homes and those from rural homes using squatting pans for their toilet requirements is a plus mark in equalizing their social status. 

One wonders what benefit it will provide for leadership training!

Perhaps it is time that while a coterie of those who benefit from all the perks, salary increases and privileges they receive  and their function more often than not as a cheering squad the government should pause for a while and take to mind what was said. 'Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver.'

(Edmund Burke)






when the earth weeps with every natural disaster, she makes us join her in the weeping, of course for entirely different reasons. When we mourn the losses of our loved ones and homes, she mourns her loss of purity.

Celebrating yet another World Environment Day when the country is being attacked by the now-seasonal dengue epidemic, one wonders whether we are as eco-friendly as the 'Go green campaigns' and green investments shout at us to be. Preserving the environment is not getting a dignitary to plant a tree and deliver a speech to a bunch of kids, who all the while suck at pasteurized milk in polythene packets from their plastic straws; nor issuing a lengthy message to the media, which nobody is interested to read.

All large-scale environment conservation projects will serve no purpose if the public is not educated on the dangers of pollution. It is sad that, even after the torrential rains that took away so many lives and the severe landslides that were reported in the aftermath of the monsoons, people rock in the blissfulness of their short-term memory. For them, destruction is seasonal, as long as their habitats are safe and their cultivations bear good harvest. Tragedy is something that comes in news bulletins.

The government, diplomatic missions, civil society organizations, and schoolchildren, would have various programmes lined up to symbolize the way we preserve nature, but going green for a day or a week is not like going green forever.

It sounds luscious, when the tourist brochures on Sri Lanka depict the virgin rain-forests rich with bio-diversity and flora and fauna endemic to Ceylon. The sad reality is that, the fairy-tales in these brochures are fast changing into elegies and most of these endemic plants and animals have made their way into the Red Data Book. Some of them have long disappeared without trace.

When the forests are constantly cleared to make way for humans, the habitats of animals and plants are destroyed, leaving them no way but extinction. It is the same fate that might befall elephants who are brave enough to break into human territories in search of food, once their habitats are destroyed by the humans. It was not a matter of who was more important in a battle between the man and elephant. What is crucial is that, one party always has to pay with their lives, whether it is the man or the elephant, he is still part of nature.

The forgotten tourist brochure will also boast about the golden beaches that charmed hundreds of thousands of tourists throughout the decades. One thing the brochure will not tell you is, how the coral kingdoms have been shattered and washed ashore, and the colourful fish which used to dwell in the shallow blue waters have followed the fate of the rare creatures in the rain-forests. It will also not tell you about the houses in the coastal belt that were threatened with sea-erosion.  Seven years after the Indian Ocean tsunami, instead of thinking about controlling damage by way of conserving eco-systems, people have figured out where to run when the next tsunami hits.

When the air above the capital cities takes the shape of poisonous gas dispensers and the lungs that are supposed to purify it keep going to the axe, it is the hope of everyone that the day we have to walk outdoors with a tank of oxygen, is nowhere in the near future.

The changes man brought to the world are so immense that not only did he change his pattern of life, but by doing so, changed the patterns of life of so many beings. The things he burns cause the temperatures to rise and as a result, the ice caps melt. Animals changed their cycles of migration with the changes of nature.

The birth of earth has so many explanations; whether it was a gradual process or a divine creation, it doesn't make much difference. The death of earth will have only one explanation, that is we failed to look after her the way we ought to have done.

If anyone wonders why the Kohas keep singing long after Avurudu; it is not a song but a cry for survival. Only, going green for a day cannot tune its notes back to a song.





y say 13 is an unlucky number. Irrespective of numerology, 13th amendment [13th] to the Constitution was never rosy. Indo Sri Lanka Accord conceived the 13th- an Indian lasso to loop Sri Lanka off the saddle.

Genie of the 13th was released deceptively by an eerie spirit of India, at a ceremony the Defence Minister Lalit Athulathmudali declined to attend and in protest Mahinda Rajapaksa took to the streets.

The President learnt lessons on India and the 13th while in the opposition when High Commissioner Dixit at India House over reached his title with a regal show of arrogance in a stellar performance of an Ugly Indian, as the Indian Army held sway on our soil.

 The timing is of the essence-Indian/Sri Lankan relationships during the 13th were at their lowest ebb-we were administered an unjust spanking by the Big Brother in the Orwellian mould, with the induction of the Indian Peace Keeping Force [IPKF]. An un-solicited foreign intervention- India's next military visitation - after bifurcating East Pakistan into Bangladesh.

Mahinda Rajapaksa will not forget the events under the 13th that led the JVP to tunnel underground and commence a reign of terror. So much of unnecessary Sri Lankan blood was spilt in the South over the 13th associated with the Indian military invasion.

 In Vadamaratchchi, Prabhakaran was cornered but not captured, instead set foot loose under Indian pressure that prolonged the war by another 22 years watched in silent disgust by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, then a young officer at Vadamaratchchi. Defence Secretary learnt the importance of keeping India in a friendly neutral corner till the war ended and the designs India fabricates, with its on/off friendship.

Sri Lankan Armed Forces with their ego dented and shame inflicted, in dismay were compulsorily ferried from the North and East on Indian Air Force flights to be instantly replaced by the IPKF. It was a 24-hour red notice to quit after Sri Lankans helplessly watched with heads bowed the symbolic Indian airdrop of pulse and cereal in an un-erasable Indian diplomatic howler.

 Sri Lankan Forces may crawl on their  bellies but with heads held high. Indians shattered the pride of our Forces with a show of 'jawan arrogance'.  So many Indian soldiers lost their lives and were maimed for life in Sri Lanka to uphold the 13th. To the Indians, life is cheap. Sri Lankans know the true face of India with its warts and moles.

LTTE turned its guns on the IPKF and accused India of war crimes (none cared to make it an issue?) and in retaliation assassinated Rajiv Gandhi and Gamini Dissanayke co-authors of the Indo Sri Lanka Accord, the pace maker for the 13th. The 13th was piloted in Parliament by Lalit Athulatmudali and he was killed by the LTTE.


Its impact made Indians reverse their stance, as Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman stand accused of murder. If not for the Indo Sri Lanka accord/13th and the IPKF, Rajiv Gandhi would have been alive with Prabhakaran as the Indian whip to lash Sri Lanka.13th never achieved its purpose of taming the LTTE with a merged North/East Provincial Council. LTTE treated the 13th with such disdain; they did not bother to recognize its existence.

The fallout made India remain passive as the Sri Lankan Forces drove deep into the Wanni. Notwithstanding General Elections and Tamil Nadu's cousins concern expressly registered neither the voters nor the Central government bent to pressures.

 An unforgettable factor was the political writ of the white lady in an Indian sari playing a pivotal role in avenging the death of a husband. Prabhakaran by his inadequacies in understanding politics of the sub-continent eliminated Rajiv Gandhi.

Never has so much blood been spilt on a piece of legislation force fed on Sri Lanka by way of an Indian punishment for a disliked former President. The waste of public funds and proliferation of public office created by the 13th brought no ethnic harmony but instead created a further rift.

UNP will push the government to a 13 + situation hoping it will alienate its traditional Sinhala Buddhist base that lost so much of its blood to save the country from fragmentation. UNP has no plan B to achieve that result; their trump in hand being not  delegating police and land powers-forgetting their Minister G.L. Peris on the advice of Ranil Wckremasinghe conceded a federal structure in the Oslo Declaration.

 At the time it was thought a major victory for  Sri Lanka by the UNP government that LTTE rump were sent globe trotting to study forms of government. Such was the idiocy that prevailed.

The Indian strategy for Sri Lanka is formulated by the Foreign Office in New Delhi with insights from the High Commission in Colombo through their diplomatic and RAW agents. Frequent visitors to India House at Thurstan Road are sources with close connections to the NGO community agitating for internationalizing war crimes. The mood at the local High Commission can be gauged from the company they keep.

The supporters of the 13th are a handful outside the TULF presently doing the circuit with the begging bowl. The Indian Tamil leadership in the plantations does not want the Chief Ministers vested with Police powers. Those who are for the 13th are the fast disappearing tribe in the Old Left true to their principles, NGO community with foreign funding, backing lost causes on a command from abroad and the elite that live on calories picked on embassy crawls.

If the concurrent list is deleted all the power shared between the centre and periphery reverts to the provincial administration in addition to the land and police powers conceded by statute. Will Mahinda Rajapaksa a man with a sense of history with his hand on the pulse of the people; never known to sell but rather save the country, be dragged by the force of an Indian Indirect Intervention, to make him undo all the good done?

India is playing for pride with their brain (less) child, the 13th after spilling much Sri Lankan and Indian blood. Is the intent to wield the stick to extract concessions on trade or commerce? Is it to win over Tamil Nadu by being coy to the TULF? Is it to keep all its neighbours weakened with thorny domestic issues?

 India is living up to its true nature-is the box to tick. If so, do they want a friendly or angry nation at its border? In Sri Lanka there is no query on the sincerity of any other neighbour.







Forgetfulness, as I think I may have said before, though I can't quite remember where or when, is a greatly underestimated attribute. "Knowledge," Samuel Johnson once said, "is of two kinds.

We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it." It is that second type that I see as well-directed forgetfulness.

Just look at those poor people who appear on TV general knowledge contests and seem to know everything.

Their brains must be absolutely cluttered up with the stuff.

Names, dates, chemical elements, results of sporting encounters, kings, queens, Latin terms for flowering plants... the list is endless.

Yet the vast majority of such things can be looked up in seconds. Why fill your mind with it all and risk leaving no room for wisdom?

I have always been an advocate of FOM, the thinking person's answer to a computer's RAM, or Random Access Memory. FOM is Forget Only Memory.

It's a way of storing just a trace of anything that goes in one ear and out the other. Things you once knew, albeit briefly, and if pushed, you can work out where you saw them and find them again.

The brain is too important an organ to fill facts. Just put them away somewhere safe and keep a short mental note of where they are, leaving your mind free for higher things.

As far as I can see, this technique has only one disadvantage, which I discovered at the weekend.

I forget where I was at the time or what I was doing, but I had to fill in details of something or other on a form and add the date at the bottom.

I must confess to feeling a degree of embarrassment when, after filling in the day and the month, I could not remember what year it was.

I had a strong feeling it was 2010 or 2011, but was not sure which. Fortunately, thanks to my writing this column, I knew that I was 59 and cannot forget when it began, so I added one to the other and came up with 2011 for the year, which turned out to be spot-on.

Thinking about this lapse, I suddenly realised why it had happened: plastic money. In the days before credit cards and debit cards, we had to write cheques for everything and cheques had to have a date on them.

By the end of the first week in January, we had written the year so many times, there was no forgetting it. Nowadays, it's just the PIN and perhaps the three-digit doodah from the back of the card that anyone is interested in.

There are still many things that are worth remembering, such as the word for a point on a mammal's back that it cannot reach to scratch. It's 'acnestis' in case you have forgotten, and it's very difficult to look up if you ever do forget it.

Having delegated so many of our memories, such as telephone numbers and passwords, to our mobiles and computes, there must be a danger that we are all losing the ability to remember the vital acnestes in life.

Personally I can be confident. I have written '2011' on a piece of paper and put it security in my top pocket. I would strongly advise you all to do the same thing before it is too late or 2012, whichever comes sooner.









In recent weeks, Saudi Arabian officials have expressed interest in inviting Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to Riyadh for talks about recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa.


But before the Foreign Ministry made a decision on the trip, some members of Iran's parliament condemned the decision because of the Saudis' involvement in the killing of innocent people in Yemen and Bahrain. The trips made by the former Iranian foreign minister and other diplomatic officials to Saudi Arabia over the past six years have also been criticized by a number of MPs, who say they did not have any clear plans for their meetings with Saudi officials.

However, this time, since recent developments have strengthened Iran's position, Salehi's proposed trip could help resolve the crisis in Bahrain and reduce the current tension between the two regional powers. This view is based on an analysis of developments in Bahrain over the past four months.

Saudi forces arrived in Bahrain on March 14, with the goal of quelling the popular revolution on the tiny island nation. This caused an unprecedented rise in tension in Iran's relations with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC).

When the crisis began, the Bahraini government was divided over how to deal with the popular uprising and had two plans. Bahrain's prime minister wanted to call in the Saudis to help the government's efforts to suppress the uprising, but the king and the crown prince wanted to hold negotiations with the protesters in order to reach a consensus. In the end, the prime minister's plan was chosen.

After the Saudi forces were deployed in Bahrain, a three-month state of emergency was declared. But the political, social, and economic life of the country was paralyzed because of the military and security situation. Bahrain does not have so much oil and the country's economy depends heavily on the financial activities of international monetary institutions and tourism, which have both been hit hard by the unrest.

Finally, the king of Bahrain decided to lift the state of emergency on June 1, two weeks ahead of schedule.

The Saudis have apparently occupied Bahrain based on an unwise decision made by the PGCC, whose officials believed they could use the action to launch a regional propaganda campaign against Iran. However, the Iranian foreign minister's recent trip to PGCC member states Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman broke up the united front against Iran in the six-nation council.

The mainstream opposition in Bahrain is not calling for the complete overthrow of the Al Khalifa regime. Rather, their main demand is the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. And the crown prince of Bahrain and the opposition were on the verge of reaching such an agreement just before the Saudi invasion.

From the very beginning of the crisis, it was clear that there would be no military solution and the decision to invade Bahrain would only bring disgrace to Saudi officials. The failure of the Saudis' projects in Yemen has also proven that they have taken the wrong diplomatic course of action and has seriously weakened Riyadh's position.

Under such circumstances, a trip to Riyadh by the Iranian foreign minister could pave the way for the withdrawal of Saudi forces and the resumption of talks between the crown prince and the Bahraini opposition. In fact, it would be a great achievement for Iranian diplomacy and also for Bahrain's popular movement. But this valuable opportunity would be lost if Iran's political circles make an uncalculated decision to cancel the proposed trip. Thus, the Iranian Foreign Ministry should make every effort to convince skeptical MPs that such an important trip can bear fruit.

The king of Bahrain has said the national reconciliation negotiations will begin on the first day of July. If Saudi Arabia gives the green light to the Iranian foreign minister's trip, it would mean that Riyadh had acknowledged that the effort to suppress Bahrain's popular movement through military and political means has been a failure. Now that all sides involved in the crisis have come to the conclusion that the crisis can only be resolved through diplomacy, excluding Iran from the process makes no sense.

Mohammad Farazmand formerly served as the Iranian ambassador to Bahrain.







The departure of Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh along with five high-ranking officials from Sana'a has created an opportunity for the people to form a democratic establishment in their country.

The Yemeni dictator was transported to Saudi Arabia for treatment after sustaining injuries in a mortar attack on the presidential palace.

The explosion also severely wounded five other high-ranking officials including the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the head of the parliament, and the governor of Sana'a.

Relocating Saleh to Saudi Arabia does not mean his 33-year-old dictatorship has come to an end; the people of Yemen have a long and complicated path ahead of them for the formation of a democratic parliament and establishment.

The existence of a security and political vacuum, the threat of al-Qaeda elements in the Zanzibar region, who are vying for control over the Bab al-Mandeb Straight, and separatist movements of the tribes of the south are all important factors that are seriously threatening Yemen.

The fact that Yemeni Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has taken control of power currently in place of the Saleh has not helped the unstable situation of the country.

The tribal makeup of Yemen, the fact that the tribal leaders control a great deal of power, and Saudi Arabia's efforts to divide Yemen have all further complicated the country's situation.

The Hashed tribe lead by Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar has the highest degree of influence and power among the country's security and armed forces.

The leaders of this tribe, who've recently voiced their support of the people's revolution, have been a target of Ali Abdullah Saleh's presidential guards.

Saleh's reason for attacking the influential Hashed tribe was to create a divide among the tribes and to create a civil war which would lead to the division of the country.

Even at the end of his dictatorship Saleh has employed the tactic of chaos and has created an international problem out of the domestic problems of Yemen.

His efforts to create a tribal war in Yemen have been countered through the wisdom of the country's tribal leaders.

However, Saleh's escape to Saudi Arabia does not mean an end to the path and Yemen will face great domestic and foreign difficulties in resolving the problems.

From a domestic standpoint, the tension between the northern and southern tribes can pave the road for the partition of Yemen.

Southern Yemen, which was governed as an autonomous country up until 1990, suffers from deprivation in comparison to the north.

Therefore, the southern tribes are looking for an opportunity to go back to the era of self-rule.

On the other hand, the existence of light and semi-heavy arms in the hands of tribesmen has created a decentralized form of government in this severely impoverished Arab country.

So, desire for secession is heating up among tribes in South Yemen, which could trigger challenges in Yemen's new establishment in the future.

On the foreign front, Saudi Arabia's eying Yemeni soil and its efforts to influence Yemen's domestic developments have made the country run the risk of disintegration.

Riyadh is very sensitive about the north of Yemen due to the existence of the Houthi tribe along Saudi southwestern borders.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has serious misgivings over the formation of a democratic system in its southern neighbor as such a system will naturally leave its impact on the Saudi social fabric.

Saudi Arabia's fear of popular uprisings has led the country to use its two commando brigades to brutally crack down on popular protests in Bahrain.

Although Riyadh has spared no effort over the past two months to Keep Ali Abdullah Saleh in power, the swift popular movement has thwarted those attempts.

Saudi involvement in clamping down on protests staged by the Shia Houthi tribe in 2009 has had a negative impact on relations between the tribes of North Yemen and the Saudi regime.

That's why Riyadh is concerned lest the Houthi tribes opt to take out revenge against the Al Saud regime during the power transfer period.

Currently, a complex situation in playing out in Yemen, and if Yemeni people do not stick together, they will be in for violence.

Given that Yemen's vice president, who is currently at the helm of affairs, is outside the military, he might face a domestic military revolt.

Yemen's Armed Forces and Presidential Guards are mostly made up of Saleh's close associates who are opposed to any structural changes in the pyramid of power.

These factors delay the process of government formation in Yemen, and finally generals loyal to Saleh's regime will be encouraged to stage a military coup.

What guarantees the future of Yemen's political establishment is the prudence of tribal leaders and revolutionary youth in the country.

Yemeni people should not allow countries surrounding Yemen to meddle in their self-determination process during the power transition as the achievements of Yemenis could go to waste due to foreign interference.

(Source: Press TV)








President Ali Abdullah al-Saleh, in power in Yemen for the past 33 years and under siege for the past three months, left the country on Saturday night (June 4) with a large piece of shrapnel lodged just below his heart. He may not come back.

Accompanying Saleh to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment were the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the speakers of both houses of parliament, and Saleh's personal security adviser, all of whom were also wounded in the Friday explosion at the al-Nahdayn mosque in the presidential compound in Sanaa.

It's a pretty clean sweep, so the question is: who comes next?

Nobody even knows whether the explosion was caused by a bomb planted in the mosque, a shell, or a rocket. The situation is very complicated, so you'd better take notes. (There will be a brief test afterwards.)

The turmoil in Yemen is really two separate conflicts. One is a traditional power struggle between two elite factions. The other is a nonviolent, pro-democratic youth movement inspired by the popular revolutions elsewhere in the Arab world.

They were linked at the start (though most of the young idealists didn't realize it), but they will be disentangled by the finish.

One of the elite factions is dominated by President al-Saleh's own family: his son Ahmed Ali commands the Presidential Guard, and his nephews Tariq, Yahya and Ammar control other vital elements of the security and intelligence apparatus.

Sadeq al-Ahmar's brother Himyar was deputy speaker of parliament, and another brother, Hussein, was a member of Saleh's Governing People's Council, until the two men resigned three months ago in protest against the regime's brutal shooting of student demonstrators.

That was the signal that the long truce between the two factions was at an end.

The most important al-Ahmar brother is Hamid, a businessman and a leader of the opposition Islah party.

There is ample evidence that Hamid helped to get the student protests underway, making his Sabafon mobile network available to send out messages organizing the protests and then covering the demos lavishly on his Suhail TV network (whose head office was burned by Saleh's troops last week).

So far, so bad. What makes it worse is that the quarrel is among such a narrow and unrepresentative elite.

The Saleh family, like the Ahmar family, belongs to the Hashid tribal confederacy. They both therefore follow the Zaidi tradition of Shia Islam, whereas a majority of Yemenis are Sunnis. Eighty percent of Yemenis don't even have a dog in this fight.

But the young Yemeni protesters in the streets are not interested in a mere reshuffle of the elite, and the Ahmar family has never controlled them. They actually do want democracy, and they have already paid a high price for their idealism: about half of the 350 people killed since the first "Day of Rage" in January have been unarmed youths.

In terms of how Yemen has always been run in the past, the Ahmar family is now on the brink of victory. But the drama will not end there.

One of the student leaders, Hashem Nidal of the Independent Movement for Change, put it well in a recent interview with the BBC. "They wanted to push the revolution towards violence and we refuse this completely....We are coordinating with many protesters across the country to make sure they don't fall into the trap of violence.

"After three months of great efforts in raising awareness among people to avoid violence," he added, "we managed to reach a level of understanding that refuses violence. We are looking to topple this regime by peaceful means.""

By "regime", he means the tribal, sectarian, undemocratic way in which Yemen has always been run.

The departure of President Saleh won't be the end of the story. The Ahmar family's allies may take over the government, but they will face just the same demands from Yemeni youths who want a nonsectarian, democratic, nontribal state that offers them a decent future regardless of their tribe, their sect, or even their sex.

If they get the chance to build that state, they will face horrendous challenges. Yemen is the poorest Arab country, and its modest endowment of oil is running out. So is the underground water it depends on for irrigation, and the population is growing at 2.6 percent a year.

Half of the 24 million Yemenis are illiterate, and half the population is under 18.

The kids may fail, but who stands a better chance of surmounting these challenges? A democratic government run by the younger generation of Yemenis, or a regime controlled by the Salehs or the Ahmars?

It's all quite simple, really. So there will not be a test after all.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.








The massive outbreak of E coli O104 in Europe has infected more than 1,800 people and left more than 500 with the potentially deadly complication known as haemolytic-uremic syndrome. It has leapfrogged borders to at least 13 countries and killed about 20 of its victims. As health authorities try to trace the outbreak to a food that can be removed from the market, it has focused international attention on the complex paths that agricultural produce follows in an era of global trade.

One aspect of the epidemic, though, has received little notice: this aberrant strain is resistant to multiple classes of antibiotics. Among all the urgent issues raised by this outbreak, that drug resistance should ring the loudest warning bells – and prompt serious consideration of curbing the vast overuse of antibiotics that has created it.

O104's resistance profile has been briefly mentioned, but as a curiosity that distinguishes the strain rather than as a concern. That is largely because the safest way to treat infections caused by an E coli strain that also produces toxins, as this one does, is to refrain from using antibiotics – since when the drugs kill the bacteria, they cause the toxins to be released and bring on the illness's worst symptoms.

So since antibiotics are not being used against this E coli, whether they would work if tried has become just a matter of academic interest – one finding among many being posted on the internet by volunteer researchers performing rapid analyses all over the world.

But even though it may be irrelevant for the current victims, the significant antibiotic resistance in this E coli strain is worth a second look. That is partly because Shiga-toxin-producing E coli strains such as O104:H4, and its much better-known close relative, O157:H7, are rarely resistant – so at the least this represents the acquisition of new defenses by an already formidable foe.

But what is more important is that resistance factors forming O104's new protections have been burgeoning in Europe for at least a decade. Their movement into this strain demonstrates how freely resistance factors can leapfrog among organisms once they emerge. And that should underline how important it is to slow down the evolution of antibiotic resistance, by cutting back inappropriate use of antibiotics in everyday medicine and on farms.

According to Germany's Robert Koch Institute, O104 is resistant to more than a dozen antibiotics in eight classes: penicillins; streptomycin; tetracycline; the quinolone nalidixic acid; the sulfa drug combination trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazol; three generations of cephalosporins; and the combination drugs amoxicillin/clavulanic acid, piperacillin-sulbactam, and piperacillin-tazobactam. Indifference to so many drugs signals that O104 possesses what is called ESBL resistance – and in fact, according to the Koch analysis, the strain harbors two genes that confer that resistance, TEM-1 and CTX-M-15 – a property that has been making doctors shudder since the 1990s, when strains of ESBL-resistant Klebsiella, a bacterium that causes serious hospital-acquired infections, began pingponging through Europe.

Because they primarily affected patients in intensive care units, these strains caused little alarm in the outside world. But after about 2001 these resistance factors moved into everyday life and started causing havoc. In a kind of genetic hand-shaking maneuver that bacteria perform all the time, the resistance genes moved into some strains of E coli – not the food-borne, toxin-making form, but rather the common variety that causes urinary tract infections and other normally minor illnesses.

Suddenly hospitals in Birmingham and Shropshire began reporting significant outbreaks of ESBL E coli infections, and doctors who don't practice in hospitals began talking to each other about young women experiencing recurrent bladder infections that few drugs could affect. This wasn't only a phenomenon of the 2000s. In March 2010, the University Hospital of North Staffordshire experienced an outbreak of ESBL Klebsiella in which a patient died.

Where are these resistance factors coming from? The development of resistance is an inevitable biological process; it's what bacteria do to protect themselves against deadly compounds, whether the compounds were made naturally by other bacteria or artificially in a drug-development lab. But excessive exposure to antibiotics hastens the process and makes its results unpredictable.

That excessive exposure happens any time anyone takes antibiotics for a health problem for which they are inappropriate, such as colds or ear infections. It happens even more when low-dose antibiotics are deployed by the ton in large-scale agriculture, without any surveillance to report back what bugs are emerging. Researchers in Spain and the U.S. say there are links between large-scale agriculture and the emergence of ESBL: they have found bacteria harboring that resistance in the meat of supermarket chickens.

Even if investigators identify the vegetables from which this outbreak may have originated, they may never be able to say how the resistant bacteria found their way on to the produce. In 2006, the U.S. experienced a nationwide outbreak of E coli O157 in fresh spinach, and though investigators suspected manure from either livestock or feral pigs near the farms, they were never able to prove contamination occurred.

But we already know where the antibiotic resistance in this outbreak has come from – and given bacteria's promiscuous propensity to trade genetic material, we know that O104 is keeping that resistance going by harboring it and handing it off to yet another species. It's past time that governments and health authorities do what they can to slow down the evolution of drug resistance, by curbing the antibiotic misuse that brings it into the world.

(Source: The Guardian)


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