Google Analytics

Thursday, June 9, 2011

EDITORIAL 09.06.11

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month jun 09, edition 000854, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



























2        BHARTI'S UP

3        SANA'A SUMMER










2        WALK THE TALK
















































2        TOO SMALL























7        100 YEARS AGO TODAY



1        NEW DEAL

2        JUST SENSE














































































2        SO, WHERE'S THE BEEF?



























If the Congress and the morally-bankrupt regime it leads at the Centre had hoped that gross misuse of authority, as manifested in last Sunday night's outrageous brutalities committed by Delhi Police at Ramlila Ground, and loutish behaviour by its leaders, as witnessed in the unrestrained outpouring of vulgar abuse directed at critics, would together serve as a deterrent for Anna Hazare and his group of 'civil society' activists pushing for a radical Jan Lok Pal Bill to curb corruption at high places, those hopes lie shattered. Wednesday's day-long dharna by Anna Hazare and his team outside Rajghat was not only well-attended by citizens eager to see corruption being booted out of the system, but it also demonstrated that there is no flagging of popular rage against a Government that is seen to be collaborating and cohabiting with those guilty of plunder and worse to feather their nests. To that extent, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his Cabinet colleagues and the Congress's top leaders now stand isolated: It is evident that they neither enjoy popular support nor are people willing to believe them when they claim that they are serious about fighting corruption. If anything, the Congress's strong-arm tactics to frighten those protesting against corruption into silence have backfired and left the party looking more tarred than before. When the callous indifference of rulers turns into scornful arrogance, people tend to respond with greater vigour: The 'India Against Corruption' slogan has metamorphosed into an incipient mass movement which will continue to grow with each passing day: It can no longer be put down or rolled back, at least not by a regime that is seen to be bereft of morality and probity.

In a sense, Anna Hazare has stolen a march over the too-clever-by-half strategists of the Congress who convinced themselves into believing that bluff and bluster would help their party and Government overcome the crisis that stares them in the face. Not only has he made it clear that he will continue to participate in the discussions for drafting a Lok Pal Bill and pressing the demands of 'civil society' to bestow the Ombudsman with sweeping powers, but also that he would launch another round of agitation if the Bill is not approved by Parliament by Independence Day. That places the Government in a Catch-22 situation: It can neither dump the 'civil society' members from the Joint Drafting Committee nor bulldoze its way through the framing of the Bill by excluding those clauses which it does not approve of. As for the Congress, having declared its commitment to fight corruption, it cannot afford to be seen to be dragging its feet on the issue. More importantly, the Congress and the Government can never really get out of the jam in which they find themselves. Corruption has all along been the party's Achilles' heel — in the past, every time it has gone down in the popular perception, it has been on account of corruption charges. Hence, it is unrealistic to expect the Congress to sidestep similar disaster by doing what is morally and ethically right, not the least because in its present avatar the party stands denuded of all vestiges of honesty and integrity. Anna Hazare is fully aware of this fatal weakness of the Congress; it would be silly to expect him and his team to give up their campaign at this stage.







As Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh recovers from severe burn injuries in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, the country seems to have plunged deeper into the abyss of uncertainty and insecurity with the probability of civil war looming large on the horizon. Moreover, reports that emerged on Tuesday claiming that Mr Saleh had suffered burns far worse than what had been initially reported have only deepened the mystery surrounding Yemen's long serving President. Will he or will he not return to the country? This is the key question on which hinges the country's political future. And the bare fact of the matter is that at this point, apart from his doctors perhaps, nobody really knows the answer to that crucial question. Regime officials and Mr Saleh's supporters have said that his condition is stable and really, it is only a matter of days or weeks at best before he returns to the country. However those who do not want him back in Sanaa claim that his condition is a lot more serious — he is supposed to have suffered 40 per cent burns all over his body and is currently waiting to undergo cosmetic surgery — and it will take several months for him to recover. Either way the fact remains that Mr Saleh's sudden departure from the country has caused a power vacuum which must be dealt with immediately or else the Arab world's weakest, poorest nation, which is also home to Al Quaeda's most dangerous faction, is headed for civil war. Already, violence in the country has intensified since Sunday when news of Mr Saleh's departure for Riyadh was made public.

In Sanaa there is little agreement among leaders over how to proceed while Mr Saleh is still in hospital. Vice-President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi is currently in charge but he is under tremendous pressure to transfer power to a transitional Government that will arrange for nationwide elections to be held at a later date. Yemen has been under the rule of Mr Saleh since 1978 but for the last four months, anti-Government protesters, in the wake of protest movements across the Arab world, have been demanding his resignation. As things went from bad to worse with a stubborn President responding to the protests with a violent crackdown, close Yemeni allies — the US and Saudi Arabia — also called for his resignation. The Saudis even brokered a transition deal that would allow the President to leave with a tonne of money and a guarantee that he would not be tried for anything at all, but the beleaguered leader has repeatedly rejected such deals. Amidst all this, fighting has flared in the cities of Taiz and Zinjibar from where ghastly reports of dead bodies being found by their dozens have emerged. Clearly, it is time for the world to step in and seek a resolution to the crisis.









The US will pander to Pakistan till all American soldiers have left Afghanistan. And Islamabad has no option but to do Washington's bidding.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's assertion that "the US had absolutely no evidence" that "anyone in the highest levels of the Pakistani Government" knew that Osama bin Laden was hiding less than a kilometre away from the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad, is not surprising. Despite substantive evidence to the contrary, the Americans had asserted for over a decade that they had no evidence that General Zia-ul-Haq was acquiring nuclear weapons as they needed his support to "bleed" the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

The Americans are today adopting the same approach in addressing what the whole world knows is ISI complicity in global terrorism because they fondly hope that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha will cooperate in eliminating terrorism in Afghanistan. But, while this statement giving the Pakistani military some room to save face was welcomed with relief in Rawalpindi, there were also admonishments delivered, which Pakistan's military cannot ignore.

A grim-faced US Secretary of State reportedly warned her Pakistani interlocutors, including President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the ubiquitous Gen Kayani that "there can be no peace, no stability, no democracy, no future for Pakistan unless the violent extremists are removed". She averred that "in solving its problems, Pakistan should understand that anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories will not make Pakistan's problems disappear"

Ms Clinton also told the Pakistani leaders that they will have to take "very specific actions", warning that the US would act unilaterally if the Pakistanis balked. The "specific actions" she alluded to were immediate operations to eliminate Al Qaeda leaders Ayman al Zawahiri and its military commander, Libyan terrorist Afsya Abdel Rehman. The other two persons against whom "immediate action" was demanded were Taliban military commander Sirajuddin Haqqani and long -term ISI asset and terrorist leader Ilyas Kashmiri, since reportedly killed in South Waziristan in an American drone attack.

Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Omar, who has enjoyed Pakistani support while residing principally in ISI safe houses in Quetta, falls into a special category. He has been designated as being wanted in order to determine "whether he can be part of a political reconciliation in Afghanistan". Pakistan's assistance has been sought to facilitate this effort. The Americans have established direct and indirect contacts with Taliban leaders close to Mullah Omar and expect Pakistan to facilitate this process. But whether Mullah Omar will accept American wishes of his abiding by the Afghan Constitution and renouncing violence and links with Al Qaeda and its affiliates is doubtful.

Significantly, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba leader Hafiz Mohammed Saeed is evidently not on the list of high priority targets for the Americans. The omission of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed has serious implications for India as it sends a signal to the ISI that India-centric terrorist groups are not of primary importance to the US, despite the assertion by Ms Janet Napolitano in New Delhi, equating the dangers posed by Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.

Pakistan appears to have seriously miscalculated by believing that its advocacy of a closer alliance with China to undermine American strategies in its neighbourhood would be welcomed by Beijing. American annoyance on this score was evidently conveyed to the Chinese during the bilateral strategic dialogue in Washington, DC on May 9-10 when President Barack Obama received a highly publicised telephone call from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the Abbotabad operation.

The fallout was almost immediate, when Mr Gilani visited Beijing on May 16. While the Chinese were willing to pander to Pakistan's quest for 'parity' with India by agreeing to expedite the delivery of 50 JF-17 fighter aircraft and launch a satellite manufactured in Pakistan, they are also reported to have advised Mr Gilani to "remove irritants" in Islamabad's relations with Washington and New Delhi. At the same time a Pakistani proposal that China should induct the JF-17 in its own Air Force and agree to its export by Pakistan appears to have been rejected.

Perhaps the biggest setback for the Pakistanis in their efforts to demonstrate to the Americans that the Chinese would step in to bail them out in the face of American assertiveness, was Beijing's rejection of Islamabad's proposal that it should immediately take over the strategic Gwadar Port located near the entrance to the Persian Gulf. The Chinese made it clear that they could consider this offer only after Pakistan's existing contract (valid till 2047) with the Singapore Ports Authority expired.

In a more direct snub to Pakistan, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu categorically rejected an assertion by Pakistan's Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar that he had asked Beijing to build a naval base at Gwadar. Ms Jiang Yu stated that she had not heard of any such proposal being made during Mr Gilani's visit. Clearly, the Chinese are in no mood to give credence to American allegations that China's growing naval expansion is fuelling concerns across the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Regions.

Mr Zardari fared no better than his Prime Minister during his visit to Moscow on May 11-13. President Dmitry Medvedev and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed the American operation in Abbottabad as morally and internationally justifiable. What the Pakistanis seem to have failed to recognise is that while the Russians do have concerns about American presence in Central Asia, they are nevertheless providing logistical support for the US's presence in Afghanistan and making military supplies available to the embattled Karzai regime.

Interestingly, the Kazakhstan Parliament approved a proposal on May 19 to deploy armed forces in Afghanistan to join Nato forces there. Moreover, Mr Nikolai Bordyuzha, the Russian Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (comprising Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) stated that foreign troops needed to stay in Afghanistan. The point was reiterated by the editor of the influential Global Times who asserted that Russia and its neighbouring countries were not interested in a hasty withdrawal of American troops.

The elimination of Osama bin Laden has increased calls within the US for an early withdrawal from Afghanistan at a time when the Obama Administration is hoping, somewhat unrealistically, that it can get Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to lay down arms and embrace the virtues of democratic pluralism. We should realistically recognise that the Americans are not going to expend time and effort to eliminate India-centric groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. The American endgame in Afghanistan is just starting and we need to be proactive in anticipating forthcoming challenges, countering motivated propaganda, and seizing diplomatic opportunities.








While the Union Government's strong-arm actions are designed to frighten dissenters into submission, it is equally true that they are born of mounting panic. If the Government cracks down further, it could trigger a huge mass revolt that will be quietened only by the Congress's exit from power. On the other hand, if the Government allows the protests to grow bigger, the movement will force it become accountable and transparent which it can't afford

The gloves are off. The Union Government, backed by the Congress, has launched an open assault on dissent in the country. Leaders of 'civil society' movement against growing corruption in public office and hoarding of black money abroad by influential Indians are being systematically targeted to shut them up. It is not Emergency yet, but the Government's recent high-handed actions — and the Congress's vituperative statements — remind us of the blackest days of our democracy when the dictatorially-minded Indira Gandhi unleashed the state's might to intimidate the opposition physically and psychologically.

Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi seem to revel in being projected as acting 'tough' against 'blackmail' by the 'self-appointed' civil society leaders, but they would well to remember the fate their party and leader suffered in the post-Emergency election. The people cannot be suppressed forever.

The brutal police crackdown on Baba Ramdev and hundreds of his followers in the middle of the night at the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi is a good example of the growing arrogance of the Union Government. There was absolutely no provocation for the security personnel to burst tear gas shells, beat up the men and women who had gathered peacefully to be part of the yoga guru's protest against black money, deport the leader out of Delhi, and declare that he could not enter the capital for the next 15 days. The blatant act was powered by the belief — promoted by hawks like Union Minister Kapil Sibal — that strong measures such as these alone could rein in the growing protests. Unfortunately for the Government and the Congress, these actions tend to have just the opposite impact of strengthening the resolve of protesters and adding numbers to their rank.

Indeed, the Ramdev episode has galvanised public opinion cutting across ideological lines. Not only did political parties from the Right to the Left condemn the police action, but even 'civil society' leaders seen as apart bonded together after the incident. Anna Hazare, who is leading the drive for an effective Lok Pal Bill and who was supposedly not too enthusiastic over the manner in which the spiritual leader was conducting his campaign, came out in open support and lashed out at the Government for the atrocity. He questioned the intention of the UPA regime, skipped a meeting on the Bill and sat on a day's hunger strike at Rajghat. On his part, the Baba, barred from Delhi, extended his whole-hearted support to the Gandhian for the hunger strike.

While the Union Government's strong-arm actions — without doubt dictated or at least endorsed by the Congress high command — are designed to frighten the dissenters into submission, it is equally true that they are a result of panic. The Congress-led UPA regime is caught in a cleft-stick. If it cracks down further, it could trigger a huge mass revolt that will be quietened only with its exit. But if the Government allows the protests to grow bigger, the movement could well render fruitless its plans of keeping accountability and transparency in governance to a minimum. A mind that is in desperation cannot think clearly and latches on to even the most outrageous suggestion in the vain hope of emerging out of the mess.

Of course, despite the hard-sell by the hawks most sane elements within the Government and the Congress have realised that the gung-ho strategy has boomeranged. This has led to a scramble among some leaders to keep a distance from it. It goes without saying that the first to be protected should be Ms Gandhi. As the public outrage over the Baba's violent eviction from Delhi grew, Ms Gandhi's camp leaders let it be known to the media that Madam had not been kept entirely in the loop and that the party itself had had little to do with the eviction. Senior leaders like Mr Anil Shastri condemned the crackdown. There is a pattern to the clarification.

In the past too, whenever something went wrong, the Congress was quick to de-link Ms Gandhi with the decision, while it credited her 100 per cent for decisions that went well with the people. In the instant case, though, there is still confusion. While the party says it had nothing to do with the police action against Baba Ramdev, Mr Sibal has categorically stated that the party and the Government are on the same page on the issue and that there has been complete coordination between the two on the crackdown.

Having failed to douse the protests, the Congress-led Government's dirty tricks department is working overtime to dig up dirt on the 'civil society' leaders in a bid to discredit them. The Enforcement Directorate is reportedly investigating Baba Ramev's business empire, with an aim to somehow nail him. Suddenly the Government seems to have woken to the realisation that the yoga guru could be engaged in irregularities. In a replay of the present situation, senior Congress leaders had questioned Anna Hazare's integrity after he announced his movement for a strong Lok Pal Bill. They demanded to know the source of funds for his NGO, and insinuated that he had engaged in covert financial deals. None of it was, of course, substantiated, but it was never supposed to be. The purpose was to somehow divert attention from the crucial issues raised by the 'civil society' leader.

And, even if some of the charges finally stick, the credibility of the Union Government is so low today that, however much it may try it cannot redeem itself by dragging other reputations down. It promised concrete action against money hoarders but ended up cracking down on those who were demanding precisely such action. It assured to work closely with Anna Hazare's team for the creation of a strong Lok Pal Bill but is now determined to push through weak provisions that will keep nearly all of the senior functionaries in the Government including the Prime Minister, out of the proposed legislation's ambit. Enough is enough. The people cannot be fooled any more.






Previously, the Congress was able to brazen out scandalous truth through bullying, deceit, lying and political cunning. Now it hopes that by slandering Ramdev and the RSS, it will be able to put a lid on mounting allegations of corruption against the party and the Government

The world is a battlefield. All great gurus and avatars have incarnated themselves throughout the ages to help the forces of good, which in India are called 'dharmic', against forces which are inimical to the Evolution of Humanity and which are called 'adharmic', or even asuric.

The concept of the asura in India is very different from the West. There is no such thing here as the black and white renderings of American cartoons or the Christian idea of a benevolent god and a cruel devil. Keen observers of human history may have noticed that very often asuric forces take on the face of goodness and charity, or use half truths or semi-lies to appear good. But in the end, the harm they do should make them recognisable to all.

In this light, we can discard Mr Digvijay Singh: He incarnates the world of sycophancy, which is a perversion of the Indian bhakti tradition. Or even Mr Kapil Sibal, a more intelligent man, but who got so perverted by a lawyer's mind that lying has become a second nature to him. History will probably judge Mr Manmohan Singh as a weak man, who was ready to close his eyes on everything just to stay in power.

But what about Ms Sonia Gandhi? What are the forces which are using her, maybe even in spite of her? Let us discard all those evil avatars attributed to her, such as her being a KGB or a Vatican agent, rumours which has been floating around for a long time. We should not also look at her personality, what she projects, or what people say about her, not even at her deeds. No, it is the visible consequences of her overt and covert actions which should tell us a story. What are the consequences of her being the unelected supreme authority in India since many years, one whose one word or glance can have innocent people teargassed and beaten up?

Well the first sign is the increase in terrorist onslaughts since she came to power; the 26/11 terror attacks and the inability of the Government to respond to them — on the spot, and later — are the best symbols of her presence at the top. There has also been a tremendous increase in Christian conversions since she came to power, a radicalisation of Islam in India and a galloping Westernisation, which is fast eradicating Indian culture in cities and major towns.

But to my mind, it is the attack on Hindu gurus, which is the most representative sign of her adharmic reign. For in Ms Gandhi's India, Hindu gurus are not only mocked at, but they can also be imprisoned, attacked, killed one day. Nobody would dare touch an imam if he preaches secession, nor even a Christian bishop, but gurus are fair game today.

Now Swami Ramdev, who incarnates an old tradition of spirituality in India, of all these gurus who throughout the ages have come to teach and preserve this ancient knowledge which takes the form of hatha-yoga, pranayama, meditation or Ayurveda. Is he perfect? How to judge a guru, who is to grade them? Sri Aurobindo, in one of his aphorisms, said something like this: "Even if god were to manifest himself in front of thy very eyes, you would not recognise him." I am not able to judge Ramdev, but I can say with confidence that what he teaches is good, because it has benefited thousands of people.

Why then is he run down so much by the Congress whose leaders have gone as far as calling him a thug? Well it's an old British tradition which has been taken up by the Congress and part of the media. French historian Daniélou summed it up well in his History of India: "The British-controlled Congress utilised to the hilt its English-speaking Press to present the Hindu Mahashaba, which attempted to counterbalance the Muslim League's influence, or the even more maligned Ram Rajya Parishad, as barbaric, fanatical, ridiculous; and the British media in turn, took-up, as parrots, the cry of their Indian counterparts." (Histoire de l'Inde)

In the case of Swami Ramdev, there are also accusations of an 'empire' worth hundreds of crores and even an island. Well a guru has to decide: Either he stays in a cave and looks after his own salvation, or if he has come to help humanity, he will have first a few disciples, then a few hundreds, eventually thousands. He has to feed them, organise courses, satsangs, launch sewa projects. You need money for all that. Donations come, bigger and bigger, as the good work of this particular guru comes to be known. The funds have to be managed, more and more money is needed and gurus end up being like the head of a multinational corporation, with a hundred projects, all sewa-oriented, to manage. I have seen it at close hand.

The fact that Ramdev got manhandled is nothing new. Gurus come to save humanity, but men either mock them or even crucify them. That is also in the nature of things.

So who will win this battle of Kaliyuga? Sri Aurobindo came to announce the Supramental: He said that as there was man after the animal, so would there come a superman after man. Not the superman of the Hollywood series, but a man who is closer to beauty, love, compassion. One of the main attributes of the supermind, he stated, would be truth.

This is why at the moment in India, the magnifying glass of truth is put upon men and events and falsehood comes out in the form of the stupendous scams that have happened in the last few years.

Previously, the Congress was able to brazen it out, through bullying, deceit, lying and political cunning. Will it be able to do so this time? We have seen how it hopes that by slandering Ramdev and his very nice assistant, planting rumors, using the eternal scarecrow of the RSS (those old fuddy-fuddies, who most of the time could not harm a fly), it hopes to put a lid on all the suspicions which are hanging over their head.

For the first beneficiary of the 2G or the CWG scams, is not the DMK, but the Congress. They are the ones who have institutionalised political corruption, the bribing of parliamentarians and elections which cost hundred of crores to elect a single MP.

If truth does triumph, then Ms Gandhi's role will also come in the open, along with the truth about Italian middleman Ottavio Quattrocchi and the enormous covert funds the Congress is believed to be controlling. It may take time, but karma is inevitable. That is also an ancient Indian truth.







Britain's Conservative-led Government outlined a revised strategy on Tuesday to tackle home-grown terrorism, saying that tens of millions of pounds (dollars) spent on anti-extremism projects have failed to steer young Muslims away from violence.

Home Secretary Theresa May pledged the Government will spend more time on actively identifying extremist threats — naming prisons, universities and the health care system as possible areas of focus — to target individuals and areas most at risk of radicalisation.

"The last Government strategy was flawed and it is necessary to make changes," Ms May told law-makers.

The new approach comes after a lengthy review of Britain's anti-extremism policy, dubbed Prevent, which was launched following the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks on London's transport networks.

Prevent aimed to provide alternatives to militant Islamism by supporting mainstream groups through lecture tours by moderate clerics and by funding for outreach work by reformed extremists, but drew criticism from all sides — some Muslims said it involved spying on young people, while taxpayer groups questioned the merit of funding adventure holidays, rap lessons or team-building exercises.

Ms May told law-makers that the costly and controversial initiatives implemented by the previous Labour Government did not produce security benefits for Britain — and could even have helped fund groups that promote hardline beliefs.

"In trying to reach out to those at risk of radicalisation, funding sometimes even reached the very extremist organisations that Prevent should have been confronting," she said while outlining the findings of the review. "We will not make the same mistakes."

Rights groups welcomed her pledge to shake up how Britain fights extremism and avoid a repeat failure, but questioned how the new approach outlined in the review would be put into practice.

While the "major failings" of the previous Government's Prevent strategy were clearly identified, the review "is often too light on specifics," said The Henry Jackson Society, a British think-tank which studies extremism.

Ms May said the practice of funding groups advocating extremist ideologies "on the grounds that they were better able to deal with challenges posed by radicalisation" would no longer be acceptable.

"Neither Prevent funding nor support will be given to organisations that hold extremist views or support terrorist-related activity of any kind, in this country or overseas," she said.

British universities — long a focal point in the battle against extremism since suspects in several high-profile terrorism cases were reportedly radicalised while studying on British soil — will also draw greater scrutiny.

Ms May, who a day earlier accused universities of "complacency" in tackling radicalisation and Islamic extremism on campuses, said the Government would work "with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation".

The review stressed that universities will be closely watched and that the Government will look to prevent computers in schools, libraries and colleges from accessing unlawful material on the Internet.

It identified 40 English universities with 'particular risk of radicalisation or recruitment on campus' and said education professionals could identify and offer support to people who may be drawn into extremism and terrorism.

The report also suggested doctors could be trained to identify individuals vulnerable to radicalisation and said more must be done to reach the prison population from which convicted terrorists have until now often been released without their beliefs being challenged.

Asking doctors to help spot possible extremists could be seen as an attempt to fend off a similar infiltration of the health care system as that which occurred in 2007 when a British-Iraqi doctor was sentenced to life in prison for attempting to crash a burning Jeep through entrance doors to Glasgow airport.

Noting the power of the Internet in spreading radical messages, the Government will consider a list of blocked websites featuring illegal or unlawful material. Under the plan, computers in schools, libraries and colleges will also be barred from accessing unlawful material on the Internet — though Ms May did not get into the means for doing so.

Counter-terrorism experts welcomed the new plan as a step in the right direction, but said it was too early to determine its success.

Mr Maajid Nawaz, executive director of counter-terrorism think-tank Quilliam, said it was disappointing that the new strategy did not outline any practical measures to prevent the same mistakes — wasted spending, funding extremists — from happening again.

"The jury is out," he said. "The strategy in itself is just a piece of paper. The challenge now is to put it into practice."

-- AP






If you thought inflation was seriously pinching your pocket there's another threat on the horizon - verbal inflation. The sinking level of discourse around the corruption agitation is deplorable, if not diversionary. After the recent government assault on protesters at Baba Ramdev's camp, the BJP compared the crackdown to the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. There was an attack on civilian protest - which ironically, attempting feverishly to mollify the yoga guru, the government facilitated right up to the crackdown. However, comparing it to Jallianwala Bagh, wrought by a colonial government, resulting in over 350 deaths, was remarkable overstatement.

The BJP then announced a 'protest satyagraha' at Rajghat where cadres sang and danced, joined by Sushma Swaraj. The Congress expressed acidic criticism, including jibes about Swaraj dancing on Mahatma Gandhi's grave and the BJP becoming a 'party of dancers', the Hindi word 'nachaniya' used for maximum offence. The lack of reasoned discourse and vacuum of political leadership and governance has opened up the field to populist and charismatic demagogues, who advance unrealistic solutions to genuine problems. Baba Ramdev is keen black money offenders be awarded death. He's probably unaware that similar panaceas were offered half a century ago, when Jawaharlal Nehru threatened to hang hoarders and black-marketeers from the nearest lamp post. As experience shows, such threats have hardly solved the problem.

Currently, instead of radiating calm as a yoga guru should, the Baba's stating he'll raise an 'army' of followers to wage a 'war' on corruption - presumably involving more than yoga asanas. It's evident that while he claims to support Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev's learning little from the Gandhian also fighting corruption. By contrast, the Hazare group's return to negotiations with government over the Lokpal Bill is positive. It's vital that instead of petty barbs, focus is maintained on the big issue - corruption.

In addition, several concrete measures ought to be on the table to check the generation of black money. These include implementing a uniform goods and services tax across the country - which the BJP has been resisting tooth and nail. Lowering stamp duties to a reasonable rate of 1% or 2% would reduce the incentive for under-the-table transactions in real estate. Interestingly, amidst the melee, the government finally seems to be taking baby steps in the right direction - the prime minister's called for ministers to declare assets while Kapil Sibal's reiterated completion of the Lokpal draft by June 30. If the government pushes through a strong Lokpal Bill, it'll make history for the right reasons. Not just hit headlines for the wrong ones.







Another IT revolution is impending, which may make the personal computer go the way of the typewriter or the cassette tape recorder. This week Apple launched iCloud - its cloud-computing service. Transferring all data processing and storage capacity to the cloud - or remote server factories - has radical consequences for the PC market. Desktop computers could soon contract to basic input/output devices. Theoretically, smartphones or tablets would suffice to cater to all our computing needs. And these would be ubiquitous, rendering personal work files, music, pictures and data radically mobile. With Apple throwing down the gauntlet competitors are bound to join the fray, maturing the cloud-computing market. Instead of lugging our laptops around everywhere, we could afford to unchain ourselves from them.

Cloud computing has the potential to shrink our computing world, making hardware smaller and cheaper. Digital illiteracy is a serious impediment to empowerment in the 21st century, but allowing many people to share the same digital infrastructure could make the digital divide a thing of the past. Cloud-computing technology can have knock-on effects on education, as cheap and simple devices could enhance learning in schools and colleges. It will also boost small businesses as they harness the power of the cloud to avail of quality IT services with minimal investment. On the supply side, demand will be driven by the need for customisation. Security is a prime concern with cloud computing, and service providers that tackle this issue effectively will have the edge. The domestic cloud-computing industry is projected to grow into a Rs 2,434-crore market by 2014. Once hooked on, the cloud could redefine our digital lives.









Newspapers usually shy away from writing about themselves or their industry for many reasons, including the fact that they only try to report - and not make - news. So while the Press takes up cudgels on behalf of every freedom trampled upon or an illegal or unconstitutional act across our vast land, it rarely complains about the conditions that it itself faces in the discharge of these duties.

It is high time that we share our problems and concerns, if not the burden, with our readers. Media, particularly the newspaper industry, is not like any other industry as it is rightly described as the fourth estate in parliamentary democracy. The credibility of newspapers is most vital and is the essence of democracy. But the very existence of the industry is under threat. We have apprehensions that a 'divide and destroy' policy is at work. This apprehension is rooted in the recommendations of the wage board for the industry. Perhaps very few people would know that the salary structure for working journalists as well as non-working journalists is decided by the wage board appointed by the government.

It is only the newspaper industry in India - not TV or radio or cement or sugar or any other industry - which is singled out for this discriminatory treatment. This has imposed a heavy financial burden on the industry for years. It may yet force many newspapers to shut down if the latest astronomical wage rates proposed by the board are implemented. The Press is not - and should not be - immune from general laws relating to industrial relations or laws regulating payment of wages. But if it is singled out for imposition of prohibitive burdens, is it not violating the right to no discrimination guaranteed by Article 14 of our Constitution?

Most journalists in the country have opted out of the wage boards and hence the vast majority of the employees who remain are non-journalists. They, incidentally, are already in a high wage island, even before the yet to be accepted Justice Majithia recommendations (80-100% hike coming on top of an unprecedented 30% interim hike w.e.f. January, 2008) are implemented.

Justice Majithia's recommendations have gone beyond jurisdiction into management areas such as compulsory and time-bound promotions, pensions, etc which are, in any case, against accepted market-determined employment conditions. The wage board has also adopted the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations without justifying how this can apply to newspapers which, unlike PSUs, do not get government subsidies/budgetary support, and whose employees cannot be equated with government servants!

The very constitution of the wage board was purposely biased and its recommendations were based on data which was not representative of an industry cross-section. No studies for determining wages in comparable jobs in other industries or the capacity to pay by various newspaper organisations - or even the impact of the recommended additional burden on the industry - were carried out. No draft/tentative report was published/circulated for stakeholders' views, who were also not given any opportunity to calculate the financial burden of the recommendations and suggest corrections.

Honestly speaking, nobody would like to slaughter the golden goose. Certainly not the employers, nor the employees. The wage board should protect/safeguard the interests of both. Till today, most of the responsible newspaper groups have implemented the recommendations of all the five wage boards by mutual agreements and in true letter and spirit. It is only this time that the Justice Majithia recommendations have gone beyond their jurisdiction and also recommended exorbitant pay hikes. This has been done without studying or considering the capacity to pay for an industry where, in any case, the prices of various inputs/raw materials, newsprint, ink, etc have been rising uncontrollably.

Moreover, there is stiff competition in the industry. It is difficult to raise the cover price - incidentally, India has the cheapest newspapers with the largest number of pages - and at the same time, advertisement rates have become more competitive. Even the government agency DAVP has a policy which discriminates against small and medium papers. The rates are much lower than the normal commercial card rates and the share in business is also much less.

As stated earlier, the majority of the responsible newspaper groups have implemented the wage board recommendations in the past. Even the interim recommendations of 30% hike w.e.f. January, 2008 have been implemented. In any case, there is a provision for a periodic increase in the Variable Dearness Allowance. The VDA has increased by 394 points in the last eight years - which is on average more than Rs 600 per month even in the small category of newspapers.

In the final analysis, however, it seems that the entire report of the wage board was prepared by Justice Majithia in his individual capacity as there were no discussions with other members on the proposals which formed the final recommendations. None of the representatives of the employers' side voted or signed them, nor were they ever asked to do so. When the draft report was finally circulated in December 2010, members were given only a week to respond, which they pointed out would result in a serious miscarriage of justice. Of course, it did.

Long live the free Press!


The writer is President, The Indian Newspaper Society, and Managing Editor, Janmabhoomi Group of Newspapers.








Fifteen years after it was instituted, the rotation policy that decides the International Cricket Council's president is set to change. And it's about time. As things stand now, the policy has been implemented in two forms. From 1996 until 2007, the presidency rotated among the Test-playing nations. Starting 2007, the Test-playing nations were divided into five pairs with each pair - again on a rotation basis - nominating a candidate for the newly created post of vice-president, who would also be president-elect. The problems with both iterations of this system are obvious. When authority is earned without effort, and without merit being a consideration, there is a concurrent decrease in responsibility and performance.

That is why the shift to a voting system is so important for global cricket. For a decade and more now, players, administrators and commentators around the cricket-playing world have been bemoaning the ICC's ineffectiveness and lethargy - with good cause in many instances. Modern sport administration is no different from running a corporation. And in a successful corporation, senior administrative functions are filled on the basis of merit. Instituting a similar system could deliver just the kind of jolt the ICC needs. The competition for election and the possibility of re-election would provide administrators with incentives for performing well that are entirely lacking in the current system.

As for those who cavil that the Board of Control for Cricket in India ( BCCI) will dominate the electoral process, their fears are overblown. For one, the BCCI's dominance is perhaps greater now than it would be in a system where it would have to contest for votes on level playing ground. For another, financial clout is a reality. It cannot be wished away, but it can be tempered with merit-based criteria. And that is precisely what the proposed system can do.








If International Cricket Council (ICC) board members agree to the proposal to replace the rotation policy, it will be unfortunate in the extreme. What we are seeing is a classic power grab in the guise of administrative reform. A system that guaranteed time at the head of the table even for weaker boards such as Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Pakistan is set to be dismantled in favour of one that will inevitably relegate them to junior partner status.

The basic assumption that switching to a system where member boards vote to select a new president will result in increased efficiency and accountability is laughable. To achieve such an ideal, the first requisite is a level playing field. As matters stand, global cricket administration is anything but. Even with all the member cricket boards ostensibly having an equal say, countries like Australia and England dominate. And the colossus towering over them, of course, is the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), using sheer financial clout to bulldoze any opposition. Now imagine the situation if it were unfettered by the need to even pay lip service to the notion of equality. That is what switching to a voting system would do. The BCCI would simply buy power.

Far from increasing competition and thereby improving efficiency, such a system would create a monopoly. Global cricket administration would no longer be about what is best for the game, but about what is best for the BCCI. The effort should be to build on the already existing system which at least guarantees that weaker boards can't be ignored entirely. Their say in matters must be made greater and those of the more powerful boards reduced so that it is truly a body of equals. This proposal is an effort to do exactly the opposite.








No one has dared call it the new Lalbaug ka Raja, but in the week of its opening, Mumbai's latest flyover has been getting almost as much adulation as the area's legendary Ganapati idol. And almost as long a queue - this one of cars lining up to use it. So much so that, on the morning that it was fully opened to the public, peak hour traffic seemed to move faster below it than on it.

Flyovers are literally about one-upmanship, and first-day-first-show snobbery applies as much to blocked-traffic busters as to blockbusters. It had happened on June 30, 2009 when the iconic Bandra-Worli sealink opened, but that had the added advantage of sheer novelty and sea-nic splendour too. At 5.6 km it is also more than twice as long, but the Lalbaug's 2.48 km puts it at the top of the flyover league. It beats the reigning one by a whisker; the JJ viaduct can get as 'j' as it likes.

Time was when problems were swept under the carpet. Now we sweep them above it. Money-worshipping Mumbai has little use for underground movements of the Naxal or any other kind. Even much of its controversial Metro will zip on or above road level.

Flyovers are the unchallenged Brahmins of the commuter caste system. Those who use them are the privileged once-borne. Once you get into your vehicle, you get directly to your destination; you don't have to mess around with a bus or autorickshaw after emerging from your lowly, sweaty local train.

That they are increasingly chosen over more practical mass transit systems proves that elitism rules in a globalised age. Strange, then, that the exalted Pedder road residents should continue to insist that their perennially clogged stretch remain a no-flyover zone.

Baba Ramdev types may want us to go into reverse gear, but we are quite content, shukriya, with our new urban snobberies. With so many flyovers up and functioning or still under construction, the gap between the f-o haves and have-nots is being reduced as fast as commuting time. And if you are the great unwashed fated to languish under the over, you must simply accept the fact that such an elevated status is not in your car-ma. Or you can just F O.

For our babus, flyovers are also manna from heaven, or at least from contractors. Not only is it easier to build one than to manage traffic better, it is far more lucrative. In fact it's money for jam, or, actually, for no jam.

Still people will keep carping over flyovers. Mr Ratan Tata is unlikely to have to worry about these peeping Toms in addition to eavesdropping agencies, but the privacy of the residents of flanking buildings is undoubtedly and increasingly compromised by these zippers. Cars have been known to actually slow down for a quick dekko at the decor or interesting goings-on inside the eye-level flats.

But this surely is no big deal in a nation which sincerely believes in the tolerant mantra of 'live and let stare'. Indeed, our proprietary rights to the view, and even occupant, of the 'saamnewalli khidki' are established in culture and celebrated in song.

Like highways, flyovers are also disparaged for being cold, impersonal links between two points rather than a leisurely roll, drinking in the sights and sounds of the landscape. It is argued that they put you out of touch with messy ground reality, and create the illusion that life is a smooth passage unmarred by snarls and unjarred by honking. Look, i don't have a problem with that serene illusion. You do?







In this season of exaggerations and hyperboles, the BJP has suddenly found an opportunity to make itself visible again.

For the main national Opposition party to come out of its shell — from where only a fortnight ago, sounds of infighting were the only signs that the party was still around — it took a botched-up engagement between the UPA government and a motley crew of anti-government, extra-parliamentary force led by a yoga teacher with a religious scaffolding to provide the BJP an impetus.

Since the party did not directly get involved in the Ramdev tamasha, it would be interesting to see how long it will be able to ride on the tail of that episode. But in the meantime, it's quite clear that the BJP is tweaking its brand identity once again.

The re-entry of Uma Bharti into the fold certainly means that the BJP wants to push the Hindutva button once again as it goes into the battle mode for the 2012 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.

While Ms Bharti herself has stated that she wants to take the state "from Ram temple to Ram rajya" — a move away from the 'hard' Hindutva that first saw her and her party come into the centre stage some 20 years ago — her credentials as a mass leader of the religious right are being advertised by the BJP for the purpose of bringing the 'Ramdev followers' lot back in its kitty.

How far Ms Bharti is successful as a 'Hindu lightning rod' — 'bait' would be how critics of the BJP would call her — would also be determined by the internal dynamics of the party. Much of the top leadership in the BJP were instrumental in her expulsion in 2005 and remain sceptical about her abilities at a time when both Mandal and kamandal have become expired issues in UP.

The caste card of Bharti being an OBC Lodh leader will also be undercut by the fact that Mayawati's ruling BSP and Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party are better prepared at the caste calculations level.

The hovering figure of the other OBC Lodh leader, former BJP chief minister Kalyan Singh, could neutralise matters further.

The irony of two leaders from Madhya Pradesh, Uma Bharti and Digvijaya Singh, being given charge by the BJP and the Congress respectively to recover their party fortunes in UP is keen. As will be the tussle between the two arch rivals.

In the heat and dust that will lead up to UP assembly polls 2012, Bharti's 'Hindutva' image will be made to play a role against Singh's 'Muslim appeasement'. For both parties, overplaying both cards may prove to be politically dangerous.

Especially since the BSP has taken the political paradigm away from the old 'communal' hunting grounds. For the BJP fumbling to find an issue and make it stick, the challenge is more than the Congress.

For a return to full-bloated Hindutva under the charge of an anachronistic Bharti could mean playing to an empty gallery.




Our mindscapes, much of this year, have remained occupied with protest rallies and hungry bellies. The rallies, held across the world, helped uproot rulers who had otherwise dug their heels in.

Closer home, the empty stomachs have growled, not so much in search of nourishment, but in announcing their displeasure that those in positions of power might be feeding themselves fat on resources that are expressly not theirs. Against corruption, that is, to use that much-bandied word.

Nonetheless, the sweltering summer, coupled with our fascination for micro-dimensions, have helped evolve the protest fast into its latest, petite single-day avatar.

It is just as well, since the forebearers of the tradition of long fasts have set standards that are difficult to live up to, or die for. Mahatma Gandhi, the doyen of fasting as a means of non-violent protest, often fasted for weeks; an exact 30 years ago, Bobby Sands ended up dead after fasting for 66 days while demanding political status for IRA prisoners.

On an unending fast since November 2000, Irom Sharmila is another indefatigable protestor.

Obviously, it is far more attractive to fast according to fixed rules and strict schedules: religions, from Hinduism's karva chauth to the Judaic yom kippur, encourage such short abstentions, both as an act of self-discipline and as a means of spiritual connect with higher powers.

Our guess is that all these considerations had weighed on Anna Hazare's mind while he had been mulling on methods to help detox the human body along with the body politic.

Unless, of course, he has been poring over Franz Kafka's tale of A Hunger Artist who fasted in a cage to entertain others.






Both the ruling Congress and the main Opposition BJP have lost considerable political stature and credibility over the past week's street theatre in the capital. The two parties which had till now claimed the leadership of contending coalitions of smaller regional parties and groups can hardly afford to do so anymore.

Indeed, the real impact of the pathetic lack of leadership displayed by these so-called national parties is that various, far more virile, state-level chieftains may well seize the political initiative in the lead up to what now seems to be a not-so-distant mid-term poll.

The Congress, bolstered by two successive UPA victories in national elections, was hoping to become the predominant party it was once upon a time.

But thanks to a series of juvenile bungles ever since the season of scams erupted late last year, it clearly lacks the moral authority any longer to effectively lead a larger coalition, let alone enhance the party's reach and standing.

As a matter of fact, the muddle-headed approach by the top leadership of the government and the party — vacillating between guilty acquiescence to mavericks like Anna Hazare and charlatans like Ramdev and brash crackdowns on unarmed sleeping protesters — has ruthlessly exposed the hollowness within the Congress.

At the same time, the Opposition, the BJP, almost like a partner to the Congress in a Punch and Judy show, has further diminished its already fading image. Having ceded valuable public space in the battle against corruption in high places to sanctimonious busybodies openly hostile to the entire political class, the BJP's belated attempt to clamber on to the Ramdev bandwagon has turned out to be a farce.

In the absence of a towering figure like AB Vajpayee or at least a street-smart politician like Pramod Mahajan, we have been treated to needlessly excessive hyperbole conjuring up Jallianwala Bagh and Emergency as well as the ludicrous jig at Rajghat by a top leader like Sushma Swaraj.

The intrinsic weakness of the two parties is evident from the way they are preparing for their most immediate and crucial political test — assembly polls in the country's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh. Significantly, both the Congress and the BJP, instead of turning to credible local state leaders, have imported failed politicians from neighbouring Madhya Pradesh — Digvijaya Singh and Uma Bharti — to mastermind their election campaigns.

The fact that both leaders have more enemies in their own parties than outside underlines the disarray within the two parties.

In sharp contrast, state chief minister Mayawati has been swift to seize the advantage. Having countered Rahul Gandhi's foray into land battles in western UP through a radical new land acquisition law, the BSP supremo has further twisted the knife by promptly condemning the police action at Ramlila Maidan, which makes a mockery of Congress criticism of excesses by her own government at Bhatta-Parsaul.

Her simultaneous ban on Ramdev and his cohorts from entering UP to prevent any kind of law and order problem is a lesson for the UPA government on the approach it should have taken to the baba right from the outset.

Similarly, various strong regional leaders like Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik, while being quick to condemn the arbitrary crackdown at Ramlila Maidan, have pointedly refrained from the theatrics indulged in by the BJP leadership.

Others like Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee have virtually ignored the political drama in New Delhi with the latter for instance focussing on striking a rapprochement with the Gorkhaland separatists in northern West Bengal. All these leaders are proactive politicians who do not run away from the responsibilities of power unlike the timid and vacillating leaderships of the national parties.

As the minimalist politics of the Congress and the BJP with their obsolete bogeys of Hindu fascism and Emergency regimes plays out, the time may be coming for more relevant regional leaders to take charge of the emerging political scenario.

(Ajoy Bose is a Delhi-based political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal)





How did this happen?   

Baba Ramdev, the televangelist guru who flies private jets and hopes, through yoga, to reinstate the caste system and find a cure for Aids, cancer and homosexuality, sets the agenda for India — never mind that home minister P Chidambaram calls him 'a mask' for Hindu fundamentalists.

The democratically elected government of the world's second-fastest growing economy, instead of addressing growing anger and frustration over endemic corruption, cracks down on peaceful protests and finds the time to mock a 15-second jig by senior Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj at the shrine of Mahatma Gandhi.

And so the daily news buffet of India is presented, stuffed with drama and garnished with hyperbole. Indians are an emotional people. Like our laundry, we like to let our emotions hang out. Whether cricket match or political arena, we like to expend and express our passions. In itself, being emotional is no bad thing.

Life is more vibrant and the mass media more compelling. Emotions and the mass media feed on one other, propelling India's already high emotional quotient, or EQ.

A growing economy is well and good but the daily dramas that now rule public life in India are a major reason why the old media of television and print flourish, in turn making life's dramas more dramatic than they are or should be. There is no measure of emotion — at least not that I know of — as of intelligence.

But if such indices were to be established, I would be willing to wager that Indians have the world's top EQs.

India's politicians now deride competitive populism in the media, but they love to participate in these daily national dramas. Politicians play a substantial role in raising the nation's EQ, but they fail to recognise how rising EQ gives voice to, and raises, aspirations that they then spectacularly fail to address.

Don't blame politicians alone for being emotional fools. We, who rail and rant at them, miss the wood for the trees; we tilt at windmills; we let our formidable national EQ drown India's real priorities and concerns.

Corruption has indeed crippled the Indian dream and continues to mire too many hardworking, ambitious Indians in a bog of backwardness. The remarkable, sustained outpouring of emotion over corruption indicates India's growing deficit of governance and the increasing disconnect of Delhi with the country beyond.

But the high EQ rallying around Ramdev and former soldier Anna Hazare has hidden from national view the unsexy but important solutions to corruption and a slew of rising threats to the India story. The high-decibel public dramas also accord governments across India relief from stickier problems.

Unceasing pressure on the government in Delhi is not going to immediately change the nature of politicians across 28 states. For instance, over the past week, as Ramdev held the nation's attention, EQ-driven politics of things trivial and absurd continued as usual in two of India's most corrupt states: Maharashtra and Karnataka.

In Maharashtra, UPA ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), clashed with the right-wing opposition Shiv Sena after NCP leader and deputy chief minister Ajay Pawar remarked that Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had not done "any constructive work" in his career.

In other news, the Congress-NCP government raised the drinking age to 25 and armed police were deployed to guard the statue of Waghya, a canine companion to medieval warrior-king Shivaji after the extreme right-wing Sambhaji Brigade declared the dog a figment of Brahminical imagination.

In Karnataka, the government's Kannada Development Authority recommended that anyone who came to live in the state would have to pass a Kannada examination within 12 months.

As BJP chief minister BS Yeddyurappa said he favoured implementation "at the earliest", public advocacy group Janaagraha revealed how Bangalore sub-registrars — who issue everything from land records to marriage certificates — are now India's most corrupt.

Transparency and technology can greatly help the process of cleaning up governance systems. Citizen facilitation centres linked to computer networks in some Indian cities have eased lives, but the details of governance interest only some of us. For most, it's easier to take to the streets to demand an almost superhuman lokpal or an end to the emotive but amorphous concept of black money.

With Delhi's top ministers busy with political polemics, decision-making has slowed dramatically, if not stopped, in many ministries involved with critical reforms relating to land acquisition, foreign investment, food security, taxation, technology, education, labour laws, child sexual abuse and agriculture.

In any case, these are the boring issues that rarely register on India's EQ.

There couldn't be a worse time to ignore the details. The signs of a larger slowdown are growing. Food inflation is pushing many back into poverty and straining the middle class. Raw material prices are rising. Demand for many consumer goods, from cars to washing machines, is slowing. But emotions on the streets make better headlines, which in turn excite an already excitable people and pressure the government to be as excitable.

So central ministers join the thrust and parry of the daily drama instead of telling us what they will do about the economy's vast unreformed areas, which now threaten to drop India's growth rate below 8% after seven years of growth above that mark.

That may still seem like a lot (Germany, Europe's powerhouse, grows at 3%), but it won't be enough for India, where employment is already falling behind growth. At least 50 million Indians are unemployed, some 200 million are under-employed.

They, too, could get our attention if they went on hunger strike — but then they are already hungry.   





The BJP's decision to bring back Uma Bharti into its fold six years after she was unceremoniously expelled is a move that could very well boomerang on the saffron brigade.

Bharti is a Lodh Rajput from Madhya Pradesh who led her party to victory in the 2003 assembly polls, denying Congress chief minister Digvijaya Singh his third term in an election that was essentially a contest between the 'backwards' and the 'forwards'.

The BJP found her inconvenient subsequently and decided to replace her with Babulal Gour, who finally made way for Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the present chief minister. Her removal from the post was seen as a violation of the 2003 mandate, which was as much for her leadership as it was for her party.

So it was not surprising that Bharti was ultimately eased out of the party primarily because she was one of the two mass leaders of the BJP's 'Generation Next' — the other being Narendra Modi. She looked down upon her contemporaries such as Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu, Rajnath Singh and Anant Kumar, who all convinced LK Advani to oust her, citing her public spat with him in 2005 as a ground to expel her for indiscipline.

Ever since, she has been making inconsistent statements, at times against her former mentor Advani and sometimes in his favour. In the process, she seems to have lost a lot of her sheen and is viewed in BJP circles as a leader past her prime.

But by bringing her back, party president Nitin Gadkari has tried to appease the RSS-VHP elements in the Sangh parivar, as Bharti is seen as the face of Hindutva and a symbol of the Ram temple movement.

Gadkari, whose experience in national politics is very limited, wants to use Bharti to corner Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati. In the process, he has virtually admitted that the leadership abilities of his predecessor, Rajnath Singh (and that of senior leader Kalraj Mishra) were insufficient to help the BJP's fortunes in the state.

Gadkari has equally cast aspersions on the calibre of Vinay Katiyar, Santosh Gangwar and Om Prakash Singh, the three leading other backward classes (OBC) leaders of UP to garner the 'backward' votes.

Interestingly, Kalyan Singh, who was the face of the BJP's OBC votes in UP is also a Lodh Rajput and the unquestioned leader of the community as far as the state goes. Bharti will be pitted against his guile and experience to get the Lodhs to vote for the BJP. Political observers believe that the Lodhs in UP only vote for candidates from their own community.

In that sense, the BSP, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress will also field Lodh candidates in the community's strongholds to neutralise any impact of Uma Bharti.

The unstated dimension of her re-entry into the BJP is that she will emerge as a power-centre in her own home state Madhya Pradesh and cause problems for Chouhan. Bharti's trusted people are still holding important positions in the BJP. They were silent while she was out. Now, they will resurrect her in Madhya Pradesh.

It is being said that the BJP needed her and she needed the BJP. But her return now is bound to multiply the problems of her party, as she will find it hard to accept directions from leaders whose mass base is unproven.

The only two leaders she revered are Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani, and the only one she listened to was Govindacharya, who is one of the most vocal critics of the BJP today.   







In a letter to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, former law minister Shanti Bhushan, one of the "civil society" members of the drafting committee for the Lokpal bill, has tried to explain why examining the prime minister's actions should be part of any eventual Lokpal's powers. "The prime minister is privy to the entire security-related information of this country," Bhushan argues. "What if Mr Madhu Koda or A. Raja become prime minister of the country, which is quite likely in this era of coalition politics? What if he or she sold such crucial information?"

Let us leave aside, for now, the likelihood of the concerns so expressed, and what the nature of the concerns reveals about how those from the margins are viewed in Delhi. Instead, focus on the gaps it reveals in some readings of how crucial institution-building must be carried out. It should not matter to the plan of an institution, or to its design, who and what occupies the offices it is supposed to investigate or support. A basic democratic impulse is that everyone should submit, and be seen to submit, to the same requirements. So what if Manmohan Singh, known for his integrity, is currently prime minister? So what if someone else — whom you, but not necessarily those who democratically disagree with you, might think of as less reliable — become prime minister next year? These are considerations that should be alien to how you plan for what a final system of corruption control should look like. The effectiveness of that final system should depend on its design, not on character.

It is indeed sadly clear that this tendency to trust in the person rather than in the mechanisms of policy is endemic to Team Anna. It was a prominent feature of their preferred "Jan Lokpal" draft of the bill, which would give awesome powers to the Lokpal on the assumption that he or she would be a person of character, not like the Kodas and Rajas of the world. It reflects in their belief that only they deserve and need to be on the final drafting committee for the bill, regardless of what poor precedence that may set. In a democracy, we cannot imagine individuals as good or bad; only institutional structures can be. It seems that Bhushan, and Team Anna, have not quite understood that.






The sanyasin-street fighter of the Sangh Parivar has returned. Six years after she was thrown out of the BJP, Uma Bharti has been welcomed back to the fold. The induction comes a year before the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections and at a time when political parties are furtively signalling their strategies for the Hindi heartland. BJP President Nitin Gadkari lost no time in assigning Bharti her "operational area". For Bharti, who was in political wilderness in the years outside the BJP, unsuccessfully testing her independent political fortunes in Madhya Pradesh, a return to the BJP is necessary to retrieve for herself any kind of political weight in the national level and even a pale shadow of the clout that she enjoyed during and after the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. But Bharti, the OBC leader in saffron, has become essential for the BJP as well.

Before Bharti's return, the pre-poll narrative on Uttar Pradesh had centred on the three other contenders: the BSP, the Congress, the SP. The BJP, which finished a distant fourth in Uttar Pradesh in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, seemed almost written off. Bharti is presumably the BJP's trump card to mobilise OBC voters who had deserted them with Kalyan Singh, and who could not be galvanised by its upper-crust leaders like Kalraj Singh or Rajnath Singh. With Bharti, the BJP, like the Congress, is trying to exploit the perception of drift in the Samajwadi Party and pick apart Mulayam Singh Yadav's vote base. Bharti's arrival could point to two movements at the same time: an attempt to woo the OBCs and a return to the hardline Sangh basics, to the politics of the 1990s in Uttar Pradesh.

However, it is far from certain that political mobilisation can be successful on these formulas of the past, that slice and dice the electorate. In 2007, Mayawati's BSP exposed the limited utility of sectional appeals when she pulled off a grand social coalition on an agenda of stability and law and order, signalling the enrolment of the UP voter in the nationwide shift to the politics of aspiration. Her rivals will have to mount their challenges in this arena, not identity slogans of the past.






The protests in Yemen started off as they had done elsewhere in the Middle East: people called for the resignation of Ali Abdullah Saleh, an end to his 32-year presidency. Saleh has refused to budge and the complex mosaic of Yemeni politics has drawn in armed tribes and militias who now battle for power in Yemen's streets. Street battles reached fever pitch with a rebel attack on Saleh's presidential compound. The president and members of his cabinet have been injured and are undergoing medical treatment in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

The past four months have seen initiatives being launched by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Saleh was offered an immunity deal for a peaceful transition of power. The opposition, the Joint Meeting Party, signed the deal three times but Saleh buckled each time. Now with the president out of the country, demand for a formal takeover of power by the acting president, Abed Rabbo Hadi, has become loud. This would pave the way for Saleh's exit and for the GCC initiative to come into play. Calls have been sounded from Washington to Riyadh for Saleh to step down — mediators are currently in Yemen working on a deal. But the power vacuum he has left behind has allowed for armed tribes to derail the revolution.

Saleh once said, "Ruling Yemen is like dancing on snakes' heads." For much of his tenure, he has battled an insurgency in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and the looming spectre of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula franchise. Now in the absence of a leader, powerful tribes are vying for power. In a country where one in every six men possesses a firearm, the number of dead has steadily increased. A power vacuum in Yemen is a dangerous development.








Governments troubled at home, according to one of the many foreign policy myths, are tempted to make bold on foreign policy. There is nothing to suggest that anyone in the Congress party or the UPA coalition is promoting a national security adventure to move the conversation away from Baba Ramdev. If you are drifting on domestic policy, you are most likely to squander the opportunities on the diplomatic front.

Even if fortune smiles on an inept sovereign by giving him an unexpected victory abroad, it does not in anyway reduce the need to address the pressing challenges at home. For the reprieve from abroad can at best be temporary.

Recall how US President Barack Obama's ratings got a boost when he announced on May 1 that American forces had raided and killed Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan. Within a month though, Obama's ratings came down amidst the persistent high unemployment figures in the US.

In approving the raid on Abbottabad, Obama had to take considerable military and political risk. It is not clear at all if the UPA government is bold enough to gamble on foreign and national security policy.

But that was not how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh started out when he took charge of the government in mid-2004. Like the economic reforms he initiated in the 1990s, Dr Singh seemed quite eager to inject new thinking into the making of India's foreign policy in the 21st century.

During his first term as prime minister, Dr Singh sought to change the paradigm of India's engagement with three of its most important foreign policy accounts — the US, Pakistan and China.

The negotiation of the nuclear deal with the US that liberated India from three and a half decades of international atomic isolation got all the political attention at home.

But the initiatives of UPA 1 towards China and Pakistan were much bolder in conception than the nuclear deal. Dr Singh sought to negotiate on subjects that were long considered taboo by the foreign policy establishment — the dispute with Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir, and the boundary settlement with China.

While both these efforts have stalled, they allowed India to explore a terrain that it avoided for long. The results of these unfinished negotiations will stand India in good stead when opportunities present themselves to construct lasting peace settlements with Pakistan and China.

The political drift that saw UPA 2 waste its mandate in 2009 has been visible for a while on the external front. After striving so hard to break out of the nuclear embargo, Delhi made heavy weather out of the liability legislation that has complicated the plans to rapidly expand nuclear power and build a robust atomic industry at home.

If the nuclear liability legislation revealed the weakness of UPA 2's political management, India's economic growth story and its successful navigation of the global financial crisis made it attractive enough for outsiders.

Recall that all the leaders of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council visited India and competed with each other to win contracts for their companies and participate in India's economic boom.

But Delhi's reluctance or inability to initiate major reforms or remove the obstacles to growth is now reflected in the economic slowdown and the declining attractiveness of India as a partner.

Over the last decade, India's growth story has had one major strategic consequence — the prospect of rapid defence modernisation and the emergence of India as a power to reckon with.

The smaller countries in Asia and the Indian Ocean have been looking to Delhi as a potential provider of security. The major powers were beginning to see India as a swing state in the global balance of power.

The international strategic interest in India has been accentuated by the dramatic rise of China and the widely perceived decline of the US. But India has not demonstrated the will to power — either through internal defence modernisation or external coalition building.

At home, the government seems incapable of building roads on the border, let alone construct a modern defence industrial base. If UPA 1 showed imagination in crafting a new defence diplomacy, UPA 2 seemed to be drifting back to the isolationism of the past.

In the domestic arena, the costs of the current political drift will indeed be borne by the Congress party and its coalition partners. That is not of much consequence to the rest of the nation.

But the national security costs from the UPA's loss of political coherence could be at once incalculable and irreversible. Unlike on the domestic front, the opportunity costs of drift are much higher in foreign policy. It will take double the effort to achieve goals that were at hand but missed through inaction and indecisiveness.

Amidst its current self-absorption, Delhi will not find it easy to see the external consequences of the UPA's desultory performance in its second incarnation. But India's current weaknesses appear far more clearly to external observers.

Foreign investment bankers and diplomats from the rest of the world will be clinical in their judgment on India's downward slide and ruthless in their dealings with a rudderless Delhi.

If it continues to drift, India will be an embarrassment for its friends abroad, a less credible partner for countries large and small, and look quite vulnerable to its adversaries.

The UPA's second tenure might turn out to be more than a wasted moment when the nation had so much going for it. If it does not get its act together quickly, UPA 2 might also be remembered as the government that reversed India's rise on the world stage.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi







Hope, fostered by change, has brought Darjeeling back to Kolkata. If that euphoria sounds petty, it should also be mitigated by caution. For, hope, in West Bengal, is the proverbial rare animal. It is still more so in the hills of northern Bengal. But, if 18 days after assuming charge, Mamata Banerjee could deliver a bipartite agreement, signed between the West Bengal government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, there must be reason enough to feel good on the plains and in the hills.

The GJM, of course, was not as euphoric and effusive as the chief minister. But they seem to be happy enough for now. The CM hasn't "solved" the "Gorkhaland problem". And yet, a remarkable beginning has been made. What the GJM delegation didn't say in as many words, but gave more than one indication of, is that representatives of the hills have never felt this warm and welcome in Kolkata. Well, Banerjee in these early days has been a demonstration of the goodwill a personal touch and hint of interest and ownership can generate. It is this visible difference in chief ministerial style that was called for to bridge the gulf that had rapidly expanded between the people of the state and its former CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The GJM was attracted to and won over by this personal attribute of the new CM that is defining her public dealings.

But there was something bigger at work, tying together politics in the hills and on the plains. Far away from the Kolkata of paribartan, the Darjeeling Hills were witnessing a new dawn. The GJM — discredited due to its disruptive politics and violence, capped by the murder of Madan Tamang blamed on it — won resounding victories in each assembly constituency. Clearly, Darjeeling had chosen to repose its confidence in Bimal Gurung, at least for a while, and in the absence of a capable alternative. But despite its mandate, the GJM is on a tightrope, knowing there was no way to offer the hills jobs and development, to say nothing of "Gorkhaland", without the state government.

Voices of protest have framed the negotiations between the GJM and Banerjee's government. However, Darjeeling had invested almost as much in the hope of a Trinamool-Congress victory as had the plains. For, the erstwhile Left Front government had been given up on as a sincere party to the Gorkhaland problem long ago. So it is necessary to note that the cries of betrayal have come from political outfits, not so much from the people on the street. In fact, the people of the hills are a tired lot, despairing and demoralised, in the wake of Shubash Ghising, the expired Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council and the return of chaos under a GJM muscling out everybody else.

The GJM seems to have grasped that desperation, understanding how suicidal it would be to revert to the indefinite strikes that shut the hills down for weeks at a stretch and subject people to the privations of a choked economy. Darjeeling may smirk at the CM's call for putting the deprivations of the past behind and turning north Bengal into India's "Switzerland", but the cry for development — infrastructure (building and repairing roads), jobs, education, and the still unsolved problem of drinking water — is the people's own. In fact, the state's higher education minister should think beyond the grand scheme of an IIT or IIM for Darjeeling. There are very good schools in Darjeeling. But what is needed first is a complete overhaul of the North Bengal University and more quality colleges, not just one planned model college.

Without dismissing the emotional charge of "Gorkhaland" and the likelihood of the GJM once again jettisoning everything else to chase that convergence of identity and political boundary, these everyday necessities and promises of future affluence need foremost a climbing down from maximalist positions that push solutions over the horizon. Revolutions are fine; but what they almost always beget are political orphans. If the GJM has understood this, then it has matured. It will need to mature further as part of the board of administrators before elections to a new hill council are held. What it cannot degenerate into is the DGHC under the GNLF. The GNLF is the GJM's (and everybody else's) portrait of hell. With more money and more powers for the new authority, with the possibility of still more in future, Ghising's failure to account for almost Rs 80 crore will be on everyone's mind.

Mamata Banerjee will not grant Gorkhaland, and even the loss of the northern plains to the new hill council can generate a political backlash against her. But she will be much kinder to the hills than the Left Front was. Observing this nuance and hoping to capitalise on it, Gurung has postponed raising the demand for statehood. Whether or not the tripartite talks take place within a week, today is when Kolkata must begin to look at Darjeeling as more than a summer holiday. Then, maybe, one day Darjeeling will mean more than tea to the rest of the world.







A day before the Jallianwala Bagh massacre,Tagore warned Gandhi and through him the nation: "Power in all its forms is irrational." He was obviously aware of the great power of coercion and destruction that the modern state was and continues to remain capable of. But his warning was not about the repressive power of the state alone. He was more concerned with the supposedly moral power of the people. He knew that people were equally capable of resorting to violence and, more dangerously for him, capable also of claiming such violence to be just and desirable as an expression of widely felt moral indignation at the conduct of the ruler. His warning was against Satyagraha, which he regarded as not necessarily moral in itself.

If there was anyone in the country who was aware and alive to the deep moral significance of Gandhi's presence, it was Tagore, and despite this he remained suspicious and ambivalent towards the practice of mass politics. He, like Gandhi, was aware that Satyagraha was not and can never be a mere technique, an instrumentality. Both regarded instrumentality in politics and public life as amoral if not inherently immoral. Satyagraha as an exercise of Truth force was in essence soul-force as also force of love and pity. They were for Gandhi imbued with the Christian idea of love and the Buddhist notion of Karuna. Love and Karuna not only for the depressed and suppressed people with and for whom the Satyagraha was effected, but more importantly also for those against whom the struggle was waged. Satyagraha as a mode of dialogue about Truth was rooted in this idea and practice, in absence of which the struggling people were in danger of committing the same crime — that of denying humanity of others — against which they had waged their struggle. It is only when one recognises the humanity of others that a dialogue about Truth and virtue could take place, because it requires that both parties ought to be capable of recognition of the moral. It is only by affirming the humanity of the other that the struggle for self-affirmation could become possible. If one were to argue that truth inheres in one party and the other is not only devoid of all truth but also incapable of recognition of truth no conversation about truth and the moral can ever take place. Satyagraha has no place for the unmitigated evil, evil so complete that it has no imagination of the moral. Because, Satyagraha is an act of redemption, of freedom from oppression and tyranny of falsehood but also from the need to oppress the other. Tagore summed it up only as he could: "Our mission is to revive the dead with the fire of the soul." Hence, both Gandhi and Tagore saw India's struggle for Swaraj as a movement for double freedom, freedom for India but also for Europe from the machinery of the Empire.

Satyagraha for Gandhi was part of a much wider notion of transformative politics and search for a just society for all. It rested on the transformative self-practices which were experimented upon in the solitude of his ashrams and in conversation with the co-workers. It was this inward gaze which made the act of cleansing the self possible before one attempted to cleanse the society of its structural and institutional injustices and inequities of power. Satyagraha acquired legitimacy for the people and the rulers alike not only because of the personal conduct of the satyagrahis but also because of the wider moral ecology that it was a part of. Satyagraha devoid of constructive work, transparent lives of the ashram community and quest for equality could only be an instrumentality.

Fast as a practice was for Gandhi an essentially personal, spiritual practice of self-purification. It was not mortification of the body. It was the purifying nature of fasting that Gandhi wished to access. It is by cleansing oneself that one cleanses those around one. He was aware of the coercive nature of a "public fast" and constantly endeavoured to make his acts of fasting non-coercive. He knew that he came closest to the purest fast only in May 1933 when he fasted for self-purification for 21 days. It would not be idle moral speculation to suggest that the need for this self-purification occurred not only because of the conduct of the ashram community but his own conduct during the fast against the communal award where he was constantly reminded of his coercive power by Dr Ambedkar.

This is not to deny the legitimacy of the present protests by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, but to suggest that they may not be Satyagraha as Gandhi envisioned and practised them. They need not mirror Gandhi, it is not their burden to do so. It is necessary and legitimate to go beyond Gandhi in our relationship with those who govern us and in modes of reclaiming the public moral space because the nature of the state and the political realm has undergone large transformations in our times. But, the crucial question is that do they innovate upon the method and practice of public protest; do they add to the moral universe, do they help us reclaim the notion of virtue in public life? We must reflect on the fact that as a people so engaged with the political in our lives, we have shown remarkable lack of moral innovativeness. The responsibility to be moral and righteous does not rest only upon the rulers but the people in equal measure. Corruption, despite its corrosive nature is only one aspect of moral conduct, what we require is a wider idea good conduct. The movement has in some significant ways reclaimed the societal space in political life, which had become frayed. The country would be truly beholden to the leaders of the present movement if they could through their practice enlarge the space for the moral in our political life; because that would create possibilities of inclusive society and just politics of the people.

The writer is an Ahmedabad-based social scientist







Saturday morning: Manoj Tiwari, the Bhojpuri actor-singer, last in television news when he lost out to Shweta Tiwari (no relative) and that giant of a man, the Great Khali, on Bigg Boss, sang bhajans at the Baba Ramdev no-food festival. The fight against corruption was a religious experience but also a pop show. So when Sushma Swaraj danced in protest against the government's brutality, later, it should have come as no surprise.

Sunday (very early) morning: Baba Ramdev jumped off the stage when the police stopped the Ramlila show. Subsequently, he was carried on the shoulders of his supporters before he reappeared on stage, defying the policemen. They looked dazed; so would you if you had to beat people off the premises at 2 am. From yawn to dawn it carried on. The ineptness of the police intervention was all too painfully evident as was Baba Ramdev's elusiveness — a talent we would see again.

Sunday morning: A reporter from a channel whose name was blurred by the tear gas let loose by the police at the Ramlila Ground, ran after a "faster" being dragged or carried away, and thrust the microphone into the man's face, not to catch his ragged breath as much as his famous last words. This says everything about TV news: always run after the story, whatever it takes. The coverage was graphic and danced 360 degrees as the camera people were jostled, crushed and spun out of control, rather like the protesters and the police.

We had a rude awakening on Sunday morning. Operation Midnight Evacuation looked a mess. While it shed poor light on the government's panic reaction, it also highlighted the media's basic instincts, especially its annoying habit of replaying the same visual, ceaselessly, of people being lathi-charged, beaten up, manhandled. If you watch this repeatedly as you tend to during dramatic moments, it magnifies the incident in time and space. This creates a long-lasting impression, not always entirely accurate and incenses shocked viewers.

Compare this to CNN's or BBC's handling of the violent clashes in the Middle East: visuals are repeated but not in slow motion close-ups with banner headlines.

Honestly, while watching the coverage of the police action, followed by the immediate volatile reactions from BJP, Shanti Bhushan and everyone else who was willing to say that this was an "atrocity" that it reminded them of the "Emergency" —and no, that is not a new hospital show — you began to feel the country was on the brink of, if not in the middle of, a civil war, that the UPA government was about to fall any minute right before your eyes and be carried out, gasping into the microphone just like the man we saw a little earlier.

This sense of breathlessness, of being under siege is frightening, besides being really exhausting on an early Sunday morning. And, with 24x7 airtime devoted to the drama, where's the news from the rest of the country, the world?

Monday morning: News24 had footage of the BJP dharna at Rajghat: they described it as a "picnic spot": BJP leaders were seen eating ice cream, sleeping soundly while Sushma Swaraj danced. This can be interpreted in several ways: it helped her and others remain awake, it entertained the sleepy TV reporters, it made for a great visual report and finally, it begged the question: had the fast become just another song and dance reality show?

Monday afternoon: A shoe was thrown during a Congress press conference at spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi and the "shoeman" was assaulted by the mediapersons there. This reflected what most of us itch to do: throw a shoe, the book, anything at the government and at the media.

Tuesday evening: Baba Ramdev seen evading the police as he skulked out of Ramlila Grounds dressed in a salwar- kameez. CNN-IBN's exclusive footage of the yoga guru put the sequence of events into perspective. The entire episode had been marked by showmanship that had descended into farce and everyone came out looking the worse for it.







Foot the Bill

An article in the RSS' Organiser says the UPA's attempt to embrace transparency in drafting the Lokpal Bill is set to backfire. It argues this would force the government to disclose "crucial information it is still hiding" and would "further tarnish its image as a harbinger and protector of the corrupt in higher echelons of the government." The article says while the government has made public the drafts of all the eight Lokpal Bills framed between 1968 and 2001, the Lokpal Bill that was considered by the cabinet in October and December 2004 and then referred to a GoM headed by Pranab Mukherjee was missing. The UPA has neither made public this bill nor the minutes of EGoMs. It adds: "As the chairman of both the GoM and the present joint drafting committee is the same person, it is important for civil society to know what that GoM had recommended and why... The discussions within JDC might turn fruitful and move towards consensus if the government discloses as to whether the 2004 version of the Bill was the same that was approved by BJP-led NDA Government in June 2003, incorporating amendments proposed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs in February 2002. PSC had endorsed the 2001 Bill's provision to keep the PM under the proposed law."

It points out that the draft Lokpal Bills of 1989, 1996 and 1998 clearly included the PM in its ambit.

No mercy

Organiser's editorial revisits the Sangh Parivar's oft-repeated line on Afzal Guru's mercy plea. It says the callous attitude of the government can be gauged from the fact that the mercy petition of Afzal, whose death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2004 for the 2001 Parliament attack, is yet to be forwarded to the President by the home ministry, "a delay of seven years for no apparent reason."

It claims the case of Ajmal Kasab is equally, if not more, nauseating. "Keeping him alive in the prison has so far cost the government Rs 45 crore. The daily expenditure on him is Rs 9 lakh... Whose need is it to keep Kasab alive?"

The editorial adds that the Congress's "forked tongue" on the issue of fighting terrorism was exposed when it openly joined hands with the Shiromani Akali Dal in demanding the remittance of the death sentence of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, cleared by the president. "The Congress under Sonia Gandhi and the UPA government under Manmohan Singh have committed one of the worst crimes against the nation in communalising the anti-terror war," it says.

Referring to Afzal, the article adds: "It is as though the government is afraid of hanging a Muslim terrorist lest it loses its votebank... By linking the terrorists' punishment with the sentiment of the people, in one sweep the government has categorised the entire minority community as supporting terrorists, whereas the vast majority of Muslims, like the overwhelming majority of Hindus want to see the terrorists punished, hanged, for their inhuman, mindless violence and proxy war against the nation," it says.

Minority report

In another article, Organiser delves into the draft Communal Violence Bill that has been finalised by the National Advisory Council. "The draft bill is structured on the premise that the majority community could never be the victim of communal violence. It believes they would only be the perpetrators. Those who have drafted the bill have forgotten the recurrence of communal violence by the minority community in the 1960s in UP and Bihar. The states like Gujarat suffered recurrent minority violence till late 1980s. The Godhra burning of Ramsevaks in 2002 is too recent to be forgotten," the article says.

Another flaw in the draft bill according to the article is that it has no provision to deal with communal violence when two minority communities indulge in violence against each other. "So if there is a Shia-Sunni riot in Lucknow, the bill would not be applicable. It would also not be applicable if a Muslim group initiates violence against Christians, as witnessed recently in Kerala. No wonder it would give freedom to perpetrate crimes against Pandits and evict them from Kashmir for all times to come," it says.

Compiled by Manoj C.G.






You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we'll look back at the first decade of the 21st century - when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornadoes ploughed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all - and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we'd crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once?

"The only answer can be denial," argues Paul Gilding, the veteran Australian environmentalist-entrepreneur, who described this moment in a new book called The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World. "When you are surrounded by something so big that requires you to change everything about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the natural response. But the longer we wait, the bigger the response required."

Gilding cites the work of the Global Footprint Network, an alliance of scientists, which calculates how many "planet Earths" we need to sustain our current growth rates. GFN measures how much land and water area we need to produce the resources we consume and absorb our waste, using prevailing technology. On the whole, says GFN, we are currently growing at a rate that is using up the Earth's resources far faster than they can be sustainably replenished, so we are eating into the future. Right now, global growth is using about 1.5 Earths. "Having only one planet makes this a rather significant problem," says Gilding.

This is not science fiction. This is what happens when our system of growth and the system of nature hit the wall at once. "If you cut down more trees than you grow, you run out of trees," writes Gilding. "If you put additional nitrogen into a water system, you change the type and quantity of life that water can support. If you thicken the Earth's CO2 blanket, the Earth gets warmer. If you do all these and many more things at once, you change the way the whole system of planet Earth behaves, with social, economic, and life support impacts. This is not speculation; this is high school science."

It is also current affairs. "In China's thousands of years of civilisation, the conflict between humankind and nature has never been as serious as it is today," China's environment minister, Zhou Shengxian, said recently. "The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the worsening ecological environment have become bottlenecks and grave impediments to the nation's economic and social development." What China's minister is telling us, says Gilding, is that "the Earth is full. We are now using so many resources and putting out so much waste into the Earth that we have reached some kind of limit, given current technologies. The economy is going to have to get smaller in terms of physical impact."

We will not change systems, though, without a crisis. But don't worry, we're getting there.

We're currently caught in two loops: One is that more population growth and more global warming together are pushing up food prices; rising food prices cause political instability in the Middle East, which leads to higher oil prices, which leads to higher food prices, which leads to more instability. At the same time, improved productivity means fewer people are needed in every factory to produce more stuff. So if we want to have more jobs, we need more factories. More factories making more stuff make more global warming, and that is where the two loops meet.

But Gilding is actually an eco-optimist. As the impact of the imminent Great Disruption hits us, he says, "our response will be proportionally dramatic, mobilising as we do in war. We will change at a scale and speed we can barely imagine today, completely transforming our economy, including our energy and transport industries, in just a few short decades."

We will realise, he predicts, that the consumer-driven growth model is broken and we have to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on people working less and owning less. "How many people," Gilding asks, "lie on their death bed and say, 'I wish I had worked harder or built more shareholder value,' and how many say, 'I wish I had gone to more ballgames, read more books to my kids, taken more walks?' To do that, you need a growth model based on giving people more time to enjoy life, but with less stuff."

Sounds utopian? Gilding insists he is a realist.

"We are heading for a crisis-driven choice," he says. "We either allow collapse to overtake us or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter. We may be slow, but we're not stupid."









Small savings have always posed a big problem, for the government which had to bear the burden of higher-than-market interest rates on such savings, and for lenders and borrowers who found this distorted interest rate structures. As finance minister, Yashwant Sinha lowered rates and even appointed two committees to see how the rates could be freed up. Around a decade later, the Shyamala Gopinath committee has reiterated what both the YV Reddy and Rakesh Mohan committees had said: link the rates for small savings to those of government securities. If the government accepts the recommendations, it will be a big cleaning up of the distortions in the interest rate structure. Gopinath has kept enough sweeteners to make it attractive—a higher ceiling for Public Provident Fund, a higher interest rate of 0.5% on post office deposits; the current level of GSec rates also means deposit rates on small savings will go up immediately. The link with GSec rates means the government will no longer have to bear the burden of paying small savers a higher-than-market rate of interest, and also means the long gaps in fixing rates will be replaced by an automatic structure.

That said, the critical question is why we even need such schemes given the plethora of alternative schemes available for investors. The traditional argument is that such schemes are run by post offices, and that there are more post offices in India than there are banks. That's true, but why not look at post offices acting as agents for banks? The fact that all such schemes are open-ended, in the sense the government has to take the money whether it needs it or not, is problematic though the GSec link mitigates the problem for all practical purposes.

It is also not clear why there has to be a 25 bps difference between GSec and small savings rates—this goes up to 100 bps in the case of senior citizens—unless the idea is that some amount of tokenism has political value. If the idea is to cushion investors, and the older ones need more protection, why not then put in some inflation indexation? The decision to give the states a breather on borrowing from the National Small Savings Fund is, in principle, a good one. Under the current law, before borrowing from the market, states have to use the funds available in the National Small Savings Fund—for all states, this is cumulatively put at 80% of the inflows. This limit has now been reduced to 50%. This means the states can now borrow at lower rates; for states with poor finances, however the 80% proviso may have been helpful. The idea of abolishing/reducing commissions is a welcome one from the point of view of investors, but keep in mind the next-to-negligible response to the public provident fund where banks have no incentive to market the scheme. The same thing happened in mutual funds when commissions were abolished.





Funds would be committed (for more fuel subsidies) with least impact on the fiscal deficit", finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is reported to have told over 30 Indian and foreign institutional investors at a confidence-building meeting on Tuesday. What does that mean? The finance minister met the investors to reassure them about India's prospects, to convince them that investing in India (and perhaps in the PSUs whose paper will be out soon!) would be a wise decision, and all he did was to make them more jittery. It was always obvious that the Budget allocation for petroleum subsidies, R23,640 crore as compared to last year's expenditure of R38,386 crore, was a large under-provision. Investors were looking to the FM telling them he planned to raise petroleum prices, and instead he's telling them he may provide for more subsidies. That's supposed to convince them the government is serious about reform! And what hidden surpluses does the FM have that will prevent a huge overflow of oil subsidies (this year's under-recoveries which will be shared by the oil PSUs are estimated at R1 lakh crore unless sharp price hikes are made), indeed most are looking at tax collections growing slowly given the overall slowdown.

Similarly, at a time when the economy is so clearly trending down, the ministry isn't doing too much for its credibility by repeating the old 8.5% GDP growth story. Any revival in growth depends critically on the investment climate and interest rates. RBI is determined to keep hiking interest rates, and there's little to suggest a sharp improvement in the investment climate. Forget big reforms, the government hasn't even been able to clear something as easy as the Cairn-Vedanta deal for months—as this paper has been arguing for months, if ONGC is so convinced Cairn is treating it unfairly, it can go in for arbitration. There's a critical coal shortage that's crippling the power sector, so serious that the Prime Minister has called for a meeting with all concerned—the meeting has been postponed thrice over the last month. The Group of Ministers on petroleum prices hasn't met though the buzz was it would meet as soon as the election results came in. Between Ramdev and Anna Hazare, it seems the government has little time for constructive policy-making. Not surprisingly, investors came out of Tuesday's meeting as unconvinced as when they went in.






Tucked away in the government files is a strong indictment of India's record in tracking money laundering by the world body for financial intelligence, of which India also is a member. If we are to get a sense of why the debate on black money is climbing all the wrong trees, this report is worth examining.

The report by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which brings together the top 34 countries of the world and two multi-lateral bodies in a closed group, has noted that since 2006, when India passed its money laundering Act till now, not a single case has finally reached conviction.

The Act is in place, the prosecuting agencies are in place, the courts are ready, but only the villains are missing.

To get a sense of why this is a big problem, just remember India has one of the largest financial sectors in the world. But despite the size of our banking sector, the stock exchanges, the insurance sector et al, not one case has reached its logical outcome. This is also despite the setting up of a Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) meant to track fishy movements of money in and out of the economy around the same time.

The report says: "The FIU has been operational and receiving suspicious transactions reports since March 2006 ... the total number of (these reports) has been rising. (But) the filings appear to be extremely low in relation to the size of the financial system, the scale of economic activity and the reported levels of proceeds-generating crimes".

This means the government has the means and more to track the flow of finance from questionable sources. The issue is one of prosecution. The implication is if the Indian government agencies go about their duties, there would not be too much of a necessity to go around complaining about how the assorted banks abroad do not support us in tracking illegal income. Several commentators in this paper have said so, but it bears repeating that unless we can clearly develop evidence of illegality in tax cases here, no country will help us with a fishing expedition.

The weakness in the prosecution is also the reason why, the FATF in another place in the report says, often countries have reported problems in international co-operation via formal legal channels with India. "These problems relate to the delay in the Indian authorities' response when providing (information on) money laundering activities".

So our problem with the Swiss banks is they don't want to provide information and ours with the rest of the world is that we cannot provide information.

One disclaimer is in order here. Money laundering is not co-terminus with black money generation, but is a more severe offence, yet it is also easier to track.

How serious the problem on money laundering is can be gauged from another piece of evidence from the same Mutual Evaluation Report. By the way, the report is not secret and can be accessed by FE readers from the FATF site. The contents of the report are also something that the Indian government is aware of as there were wide ranging discussions with all concerned officials before it was published, the report notes.

The evidence I refer to is about the civil society. Noting that tax evasion problems impacts this sector too, the report says except under the Income Tax Act and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, the non-profit sector is subject to limited or no monitoring and supervision. Very few of these organisations are registered under these Acts. And then it says, "While Indian officials indicated that they believe the financial terrorism risk in (this) sector is small, it is difficult to understand how they can maintain this confidence, in light of the fact that they were unable to state the size, wealth and activities of the majority of non-profit organisations in India".

We, therefore, come to the conclusion that the problem of unaccounted money in India is essentially a domestic problem where the NGOs, too, may be culpable to some extent.

A few years ago, the NDA government planned to tax the charitable organisations based on a report issued by noted economist Parthasarathi Shome, who, in turn, used an estimate prepared by Hiranya Mukhopadhyay (then in NIPFP) and Arbind Modi (GOI). The report had made a conservative assessment that tax evasion by the sector was at least R7,000 crore, which meant about R25,000 crore of unaccounted money.

The report created such a furore that the government had to drop the plan and, despite impressive follow-on efforts by P Chidambaram, has got nowhere.

There are, therefore, two strands in the argument on black money generated in the Indian economy. At one level, the problem is of weak pursuit of existing laws and, at the other level, where there are vested interests, those have created impressive firewalls to block investigations. Another is the exemption that the trader class has extracted from the government in the value added tax. The tax exempts all establishments with a turnover of less than R50 lakh per year. Both small traders and the NGOs are radical supporters of the current anti-graft campaign.

So where does the black money trail lead us to. At one level, will it mean restoration of the income tax department's power to conduct search and seizure operations? Those powers were severely curtailed by recent governments as there were complaints of harassment by tax officials. Will this pass muster with a new restive population?

The other is the use of the government's new found clout vis-à-vis countries abroad. In Budget 2011-12, the finance ministry has written in a provision that allows it to classify all transactions with a country as suspicious, over-riding all tax treaties if it feels there are enough grounds to do so. The operative provision here is again the prosecuting efficiency of our revenue department to gather evidence to lead up to such a black list. We are back to where we began, i.e., the need to successfully conclude our first money laundering investigation.







When Steve Jobs stepped on to the podium on Monday, dressed in customary black sweater and jeans, to proclaim that he is about to shift the hub of one's digital life to the cloud, it was yet another 'A-ha' moment from the technology master. The iCloud is the latest buzzword and this time Jobs is targeting the humble personal computer, a device he himself popularised 30 years ago with the revered Mac. Sure, every product has a shelf-life but Jobs seems to be in a hurry to bury the PC. "Let's demote it," he says. He wants the PC to be something like an iPad or iPhone—just another device.

Let's examine what the iCloud can do for mankind. Primarily, it will help the various Apple devices harmonise stuff like your mail, contacts, calendar, songs, photos and various other apps. It will enable you to share files across a spectrum of the various Internet-linked devices. Apple can now store files in the cloud, which is essentially a remote data centre. The same content can be accessed from any Apple gadget, thus freeing up the consumer's hard drive. iCloud will automatically store on Apple's servers any new files that a person loads on to a Mac, iPad or iPhone. And the service is free.

A good chunk of Apple's effort has gone into eliminating the need for customers to plug in their devices into a computer for receiving updates. But with the advent of the iCloud the devices can synchronise wirelessly and can eliminate the need for a PC.

The service will pack in 5 gigabytes of free storage, and also plenty of space for purchased apps and photos. Quite obviously, this is a milestone in computing; a killer deal that can put the PC on the ventilator.

The development will also threaten Microsoft and its Windows software—not to mention HP, Dell and other PC makers. Jobs seems to be gaining more aggression with age. Already, Apple has given ample trouble to PC makers. The company has sold some 25 million iPad tablets since launch and PC sales have dropped consequently. "If you don't think we are serious about this, you are wrong," Jobs warns. Not that the industry needs any more warnings from Apple! Since the various Internet services that Apple has introduced will only work with its own mobile devices, consumers are now likely to buy multiple Apple devices.

Without a doubt, tablets, smart-phones and e-Readers have also affected PC growth, and Goldman Sachs believes tablets will displace one in three PC sales in 2011. While sales numbers for the iPad have always been encouraging, overall demand for both PCs and tablet computers has been on the decline. Research firm IDC has lowered its expectations for PC and tablet sales for this year and beyond. Consumer PC shipments declined by 4.4% during the first quarter of this year compared with last year, and the trend is likely to continue in the second quarter as well.

Sales of tablet computers, too, have declined by about 10% since early March, with only the iPad flying off the shelves. The Android-based Motorola Xoom tablet has had poor sales, and Samsung's Galaxy Tab and RIM's Playbook have not fired up the stores either, according to a JP Morgan report. PC growth is also being hampered by sluggish pace of growth in the commercial sector, with events like the Japanese earthquake and political uprisings in the Middle East disrupting the flow.

The fall in PC shipments is more pronounced in the advanced markets of Western Europe and the US, where it is projected that there will be a 10.3% decline in PC shipments. It is clear that the PC makers now have got to wake up to the threat. They need to think 'innovation'. Come next year, features like touchscreen options, longer battery life and thinner and lighter designs are scheduled to sweep into the market to inject some fresh bit of excitement. IDC projects the overall PC share of mature markets will increase to 7.8% in 2012, with emerging markets recording a 12.2% growth. But Steve Jobs has just thrown a new spanner in the works.







For much of the past year, the Bharatiya Janata Party gave the appearance of being in deep slumber — this even as the world all but crashed around the scam and scandal-hit United Progressive Alliance. With the principal Opposition party seemingly unable or unwilling to take on its chief adversary, the vacuum was being filled by a host of non-political actors. However, last week saw the BJP hit the political tarmac in a burst of iridescent energy. With Baba Ramdev's Ramlila maidan protest blowing up in the face of the Manmohan Singh government, Sushma Swaraj jived to celebratory music on the lawns of the Rajghat. Simultaneously, BJP spokespersons hauled the Congress over the coals and yesteryear's poster woman Uma Bharti returned with the mandate to re-ignite Uttar Pradesh. It is anybody's guess, however, if all of this adds up to a refurbished, battle-ready BJP. Indeed, there is a desperation evident in the way it has latched on to the yoga guru, hoping no doubt that when the time comes, Baba Ramdev will walk into the sunset, bequeathing his vast constituency of supporters to the BJP.

This is a serious miscalculation because what Baba Ramdev has done is to seize the oppositional space that, as matters stand in Parliament, rightfully belongs to the BJP. It was Lal Krishna Advani who first made a case for the repatriation of overseas black money. Yet in an unbeatable irony, the BJP allowed the issue to be hijacked by Ramdev. The party's national executive meeting in Lucknow did not throw up a single fresh or innovative idea; instead the party showcased Atal Bihari Vajpayee and recycled many of the old shibboleths. Surely, the BJP does not expect Ms Bharti to wrest U.P. by rabble-rousing on Ayodhya, an issue that no longer resonates with voters, young or old. Consider the BJP's electoral performance. It won only a total of five seats in the recent Assembly elections. It has had only one good showing in the two years since the UPA returned to power — in Bihar. But then, the party owed its phenomenal success there more to the political stock and charisma of Nitish Kumar than to any achievement of its own. The BJP has currently only three dependable allies — the Shiv Sena, the Shiromani Akali Dal, and the Janata Dal (United). The immediate challenge before the party is to expand its own base while striving to bring on board estranged alliance partners. None of this will be possible if it hitches its wagons to Baba Ramdev, who admittedly touched a chord when he spoke on black money. Yet he also thought nothing of inviting the infamous Sadhvi Rithambara to share the stage with him. The BJP has one of two options: either it reinvents itself to meet the aspirations of the new generation or it speaks in a bygone idiom and plods a lonely path.





India's ethanol blending programme (EBP) for petrol has remained in limbo for too long. The government mandated 5 per cent blending in September 2006; raised the level to 10 per cent in October 2007; and made such blending compulsory in October 2008. Further, in 2008, the Cabinet approved the National Policy on Biofuel, which envisaged blending of biofuels with petrol and diesel to a level of 20 per cent by 2017. Yet, owing to conflicting views among the Ministries of Chemicals and Fertilizers, Agriculture, and Petroleum and Natural Gas, and the reluctance of some State governments to require sugar units to make available adequate quantities of ethanol for the fuel industry — given the more lucrative options offered by the liquor industry — the oil marketing companies have failed to achieve even 5 per cent blending countrywide. Now, adding to the haze, the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council has reportedly questioned the rationale behind mandatory blending. Reopening the debate on ethanol blending will amount to undermining a progressive policy decision that conforms to the way much of the world is going as fossil fuel options shrink. That the EBP can improve the country's energy security and reduce its carbon footprint needs no restating. That there is enough ethanol to go round is also clear. The challenge is to manage and change the sectoral allocations of ethanol. The sugar industry should be encouraged to balance the needs of the fuel industry with those of the potable alcohol and chemical sectors.

The Economic Advisory Council seems to have concluded that the main advantage derived from the EBP would be to the sugar industry, and this could not be a credible objective for the government to push through the blending programme. In India, a large proportion of available ethanol comes as a byproduct from cane molasses during sugar production. But over the longer term, if ethanol derived from a cash crop such as sugarcane does not seem a viable option in terms of price and availability, other sources should be tapped. India's agri-diversity and wasteland availability offer several options. There have been worthwhile initiatives, including processes using jatropha, seaweed, and cellulose waste from agri-forestry; these should be supported by investment in R&D. If feedstock rationalisation is made possible, the blending programme will be a success. Rejecting retrogressive counsel from no-changers, the government must push ahead with a programme that has been found to be virtuous wherever it has been tried earnestly.







The BPL, or Below Poverty Line, Census 2011 for the rural areas will start in select States this month. In a country such as India with vast numbers of the poor, counting the poor often becomes an exercise in undercounting and dividing them, to suit the wholly inhuman policy of targeted provision of what should be universal rights. But since this is an intrinsic part of the present neoliberal framework, it is necessary to look at the actual design of the census. After the earlier questionnaires that were used to identify the poor faced widespread criticism, the government had promised a change. But except for the removal of a few absolutely objectionable questions that were in the 2002 questionnaire, the 2011 questionnaire remains problematic. The 2002 questionnaire included questions on the number of meals one ate each day and the number of saris owned: you got into the BPL category only if you ate a meal once a day, or owned one sari. These questions have now been removed.

The 2011 questionnaire includes an automatic exclusion category and an automatic inclusion category — new additions to the design. It, however, retains the ranking system for the rest, who will make up the majority of the rural population. The 2002 BPL questionnaire had 13 questions, each with a score of 0-4. The total score ranged from zero to 52, with zero denoting the most poor. The 2011 questionnaire has only seven questions. It has a 0-7 score, with seven denoting the most poor.


An easily verifiable exclusion category for the BPL Census would be unexceptionable, given the reality of social and economic inequalities in rural India. But the present criteria seem geared to stretching the 13 categories that would qualify for automatic exclusion to a much higher percentage of the total. There can be no objection to the exclusion of government employees, income tax payees, those who own tractors, or those who hold kisan credit cards with a credit provision for Rs. 50,000. But the list "automatically excludes peasants with 2.5 acres of irrigated land who own a tubewell." With hugely fluctuating incomes, large debt burdens on poor peasant households, vagaries of the weather, droughts or floods, such automatic exclusion would amount to meting out grave injustice to a large section of rural India.

Another questionable exclusion is that of a household with "a non-agricultural enterprise registered with the government." Even micro-enterprises run by women's self-help groups, for example, are registered with the government. So are many others, and why should they be automatically excluded? There are other such examples.

The experience in Tamil Nadu, for example, has shown that self-exclusion of those who do not require the subsidy benefit turns out be more accurate and fair than otherwise. Moreover, automatic exclusion criteria make sense when the rest of the population is automatically included. But this is not the case in the present BPL Census design.


On the contrary, the five-point automatic inclusion category is so absurdly narrow that it is unlikely to cover even 5 per cent of the rural poor. Destitute people have been defined as those living on alms: they will be in the automatic inclusion list. But if, for example, a family of two senior citizens who are forced to work, say, four or five days a month just to survive, they will not be included as destitute as they do not "beg." Others include "households without shelter, manual scavengers, primitive tribal groups, legally released bonded labourers." Presumably, if the worker has run away from bondage he or she is not legally released and therefore does not deserve automatic inclusion. Even social categories such as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the disabled, widows, and casual manual workers are not automatically included.


With such a narrow set of automatic inclusion criteria being applied, the large mass of the rural poor will be marked poor or non-poor through a ranking system. The questions are odd and have little connection with actual conditions. Suppose you are a tribal family of five members — Mina Usendi, aged 35, her mother aged 58, a 17-year-old boy and two polio-affected girls; owning half a bigha of agricultural land but doing manual work to survive. How would you be marked in the seven-point questionnaire that would make you eligible or ineligible for a BPL card?

Question 1: "Houses with one room with kutcha walls and roof." Since within the small plot of land that you own, you have erected a kutcha house with a kutcha roof with two small rooms (not one), on the first question you will score zero.

Question 2: "Household with no adult member between age 16 to 59." Since you are 35 years old and therefore an adult, on the second question also you score zero.

Question 3: "Female headed family with no adult male member between age 16 to 59." Although you are a woman, and you head your family, since your eldest child is a 17-year-old boy, you will get a zero rank.

Question 4: "Household with any disabled member and no able bodied member." You have two children who are disabled, affected by polio. But since you are able-bodied you get zero on this question.

Question 5: "SC/ST households." Since you are a tribal, you will get the score one on this marker.

Question 6: "Households with no literate adult above 25 years." Since you are 35 years old and have studied up to Class 4, you are literate and therefore will again get a zero.

Question 7: "Landless households deriving the major part of their income from manual casual labour." Since you own half a bigha of land, even if it is dry and unproductive, even though you work from morning to night as a casual manual worker, you will still get a zero.

Therefore, someone like Mina Usendi, a tribal woman heading a family, who depends on casual manual labour to survive, will get just one point on a score of seven.

This is just one example of how the method of ranking and also the questionnaire are bound to ensure that only a small percentage of the poor can score the highest or near-highest marks. It is like trying to distinguish between the 'poor,' 'very poor,' 'very very poor,' 'extremely poor,' and so on. This is the classic manner in which neoliberal policymakers make poverty "disappear." You are no longer poor, because you are not as poor as the poorest of the poor!

Terror of cut-off marks

The Ministry of Rural Development and related departments at the State level have the job of identifying the poor according to the seven-point questionnaire. But the number of people who will be recognised as being poor is determined by poverty estimates, and the "caps" on numbers of the poor as determined by the dubious methods and assessments of the Planning Commission.

Thus, for example, to get 42 per cent, which is the poverty "cap" set for West Bengal, the cut-off score may be four. Those who score below four will be deprived of the card. The cut-off for each State will differ. A person in Madhya Pradesh who has the same score of four may not get into the BPL category. This is because, in order to suit the "cap" of the Planning Commission, the cut-off score in Madhya Pradesh may be five as there may be many more families with a score of 5-7 than there are in West Bengal. This is the terror of cut-off lines.

In this scenario it is most unlikely that Mina Usendi, with a low score of one, will get a BPL card.

The BPL Census is designed to suit the wholly arbitrary and utterly unfair State-wise "caps" on poverty that have been set by the Planning Commission. It can be safely said that this entire census exercise is not meant to help the poor such as Mina Usendi, but on the contrary to further deny them a fair share in national resources.

(Brinda Karat is a Member of Parliament, and a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.)









When Dr. Manmohan Singh was the Secretary General of South Commission over two decades back, he worked with its chairman Julius Nyerere, a respected African leader and the former President of Tanzania. This relationship might have moulded Dr. Singh's perceptions on challenges facing Africa and how India should partner with it to secure a multi-dimensional partnership benefitting both sides. This explains, at least partly, why the second India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS-II), followed by the Prime Minister's bilateral visits to Ethiopia and Tanzania, represents the high water mark in India's engagement with Africa. The recent safari may owe much to the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. But, above all, it was a well-designed initiative by Dr. Singh's team to position India-Africa relations in the specific context of 21st century.


As Prime Minister, Dr. Singh travelled to South Africa in late 2006 to deepen bilateral relations and inaugurate the centenary celebrations of Satyagraha, the unique movement launched by Gandhiji in 1906. This was followed in 2007 by his rare bilateral visit to Nigeria and a brief sojourn in South Africa where he attended the India, Brazil, South Africa (IBSA) Summit. In November of that year he visited the continent again to attend the Commonwealth Summit in Kampala. In April 2008, he hosted the historic summit, IAFS-I, in Delhi that heralded the commencement of institutionalised interaction with Africa, injecting new momentum into an old relationship. Throughout 2010, India hosted numerous African dignitaries.

The political will and commitment to build ties afresh with Africa have thus been on display in abundance under Dr. Singh's leadership. This backdrop points to why he enjoys special empathy with African leaders. Echoing their sentiments, Kgalema Motlante, South Africa's Vice-President, articulated his belief in Addis Ababa that the India-Africa equation "is and should remain a mutually beneficial strategic partnership."

Key questions

Despite ample coverage of IAFS-II, several questions demand objective answers. Was the summit well organised? What are its key outcomes? Does Africa look at India in isolation or within a rapidly changing global context? What are the prospects of a timely implementation of Addis Ababa decisions? And, finally, how would the engagement look like in 2014 when the third summit takes place?

The first question is the easiest to answer. Thanks to careful preparations in recent months and notable synergy created between Indian and African Union officials, the second summit was managed adroitly. It was helped by the absence of controversial or divisive issues. What the planners did exceptionally well was to choreograph a series of productive interactions involving not just officials and political leaders but also other segments of the target constituency — entrepreneurs, CEOs, media figures, academics, civil society, artistes and craftsmen. While taking a leaf out of the first Summit, they managed to take the B-to-B and P-to-P exchanges to new heights.

As to the key outcomes, the Addis Ababa Declaration and the Framework for Enhanced Cooperation bring out clearly that a striking convergence of views exists between India and Africa not only on bilateral matters but also on a whole range of issues. These include U.N. reforms, Africa's place in world affairs, climate change, countering terrorism, the Doha Round and South-South cooperation.

What analysts were keen to know was whether the areas of cooperation identified in 2008 would now be modified substantially, and whether India would demonstrate further financial generosity to fund new programmes. The set of seven areas chosen in 2008 remains unchanged, but details of some of them have undergone a transformation. The Prime Minister's business-like announcement of new funding for additional commitments — $5 billion for lines of credit, $700 million for new institutions and training programmes, and $300 million for the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway line — was an apt response to African expectations.

India has made it clear that capacity building would receive priority in its endeavour to deepen links with Africa at the continental, regional and bilateral levels. However, the other two pillars of its strategy, namely trade and investment cooperation and infrastructure development too would be pushed hard. On trade, further clarity and a more targeted promotion are required. A duty-free tariff regime offered by India is yet to work optimally. Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) negotiations such as with Southern African Customs Union (SACU) seem to be moving slowly. However, the enhanced focus on infrastructure is significant. India is not leaving this field to others, engaged as it is in building roads, railways, ports and bridges. But Africa's appetite is huge: the World Bank has recently estimated that Africa needs $93 billion a year to address the infrastructure gap. For creating new opportunities for Indian companies, the government has no option but to find new methods to finance projects in future.

India-China competition?

As regards the next question, many diplomatic and scholarly voices have been heard on whether there is competition, race or rivalry between India and China for seeking a place under the African sun. Delhi's official view is unmistakable: there is no competition. Significantly, Beijing has not expressed any view. Within Africa, there are many who believe not only in the existence of competition, but also in its desirability. Western observers and scholars have, of course, been the main proponents of the theory that India-China competition in Africa has been heating up.

Whatever may be one's preferred conclusion, it can be asserted that healthy competition is generally good, not bad, and that even though the Indian and Chinese approaches are quite different, they exhibit a few similarities too. If at macro level the India-China relationship is widely seen to have three fundamental characteristics, i.e. competition, cooperation and conflict, it is hardly plausible to argue that these traits would not be unfolding in Africa.

Further, neither India nor China can afford to ignore monitoring each other's activities in Africa and drawing lessons from them. Given the fact that Africa, despite its intrinsic unity, is a diverse continent of 54 — soon to be 55 — nation-states, India and China as well as the Western and other powers would have a role to play on the African stage.

Future prospects

The last two questions pertaining to implementation are inter-related. The 19 institutions that India had proposed to establish in accordance with the 2008 Summit decisions are yet to see light of the day, but hopefully they will do so soon, probably within a year from now. The package of new institutions announced in Addis Ababa is no doubt impressive, but it will need a longer gestation period and a lot of hard work.

South Block would make a huge contribution to the India-Africa cooperation if it quickly crafts a tight calendar for fulfilling the Prime Minister's promises. Let 2014, the year of the third summit, be the final, non-negotiable deadline when all the proposed institutions become a reality. An essential pre-requisite: External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna should consider deploying an A-team of officers as the Africa desk undergoes important changes in the coming weeks. Should this happen and if promised funding is spent purposefully, the substance and profile of India's partnership with Africa are set to grow tremendously.

But, enhancing cooperation is a shared dream, working for it a joint responsibility. Leaders and other drivers on both sides of the Indian Ocean need to rise to the occasion.

( The author is a former Indian Ambassador with extensive experience of African affairs.)          







Little did Riyadh know that the most severe strategic blow to its regional influence would come not from Tehran, or Tehran's agents in Baghdad — but Cairo, its closest Arab friend. The ousting of Mubarak did not only mean the loss of a strong ally, but the collapse of the old balance of power. The region could no longer be divided on a Riyadh-Cairo v Tehran-Damascus axis. Revolutions have struck in both camps: in "moderate" Egypt and Tunisia, as in "hardline" Damascus and Tripoli. The principal challenge for the Saudi regime is no longer the influence of Syria, Iran or Hezbollah, but the contagion of revolutions.

The Saudis had dispatched troops to the small kingdom of Bahrain to suppress a revolt against the Sunni rule of the Khalifas. And when the Yemeni revolution erupted, they moved to bolster Ali Abdullah Saleh's reign, pumping millions into his coffers to buy off tribal allegiances, and providing his army with equipment, intelligence and logistical support. Although Riyadh's rulers despise Saleh for dragging them into a messy conflict with the Houthis at their southern border in 2009, they have stood by him. But as the revolution raged on, winning the support of most tribes and causing wide defections in the army, the Saudi regime had no choice but to let go of its man in Sana'a — as long as this is perceived not as the fruit of popular pressure, but a smooth power transition within the framework of its own Gulf Co-operation Council proposal. With Saleh's forced exit after Friday's (June 3) attack on his presidential compound, Riyadh is again seeking to wrest the initiative from the street and act as the chief powerbroker in Yemen.

Sparing no expense

Although it has striven for years to isolate Syria from Tehran, it is not too keen on seeing its old enemy collapse under the blows of protesters either — and is now working to protect the Assad regime. King Abdullah has even phoned President Assad to offer "solidarity with Syria against conspiracies targeting its stability and security."

Saudi Arabia is sparing no expense to contain existing revolutions and suppress potential ones. In spite of its fear of post-revolutionary Egypt, it has recently granted it $4bn in aid to appease its generals; $20bn has been lavished on Bahrain and Oman — another kingdom beset by popular unrest — with $400m donated to Jordan.

To Riyadh, Arab revolutions set a dangerous precedent for the subjects of monarchies, and must, therefore, be averted at all cost. This is the backdrop for Saudi Arabia's invitation to Jordan and Morocco to join the Gulf Co-operation Council, an organisation that ought to be rebranded as the Club of Arab Despotic Monarchies. Jordan, known for its powerful security apparatus, could act as a useful buffer against revolutionary penetration from Levantine Syria. As for Morocco — whose membership invitation has baffled many, located as it is at the far end of the Arab hemisphere — its principal virtue is its 35 million population, which may compensate for the loss of Riyadh's old heavyweight ally, Egypt.

Monarchy is one characteristic shared by Jordan and Morocco. Economic need is another. Their fragile economies, crippled by debt and corruption, constitute an advantage in the eyes of Saudi strategists, rendering them more amenable to bribery and manipulation.

Riyadh has been watching anxiously as demands for reform escalate. In Jordan, demonstrations have even spread into the tribal south, the regime's traditional support base. A broad alliance of Islamists and leftists has formed after the resignation of two ministers over a graft case. As the alliance's leader, Ahmad Obeidat, put it: "Tyranny and corruption are Jordan's main problems. Fighting corruption starts with reforming the regime itself." The same state of political mobilisation characterises Morocco — north Africa's only kingdom. The February 20 youth movement has held weekly demonstrations for constitutional reform. Human rights groups report a mass arrest campaign, and regular torture. Police brutality is such that Kamal al-Ammari, a pro-democracy activist, was beaten to death at a pro—democracy rally last week in the southern city of Safa.

By trying to fortify these monarchies, Saudi Arabia is seeking not only to protect them, but preserve itself. The domino effect — one republic after another consumed by revolution — must not be allowed to strike a monarchy. The message is clear: revolutions are a strictly republican phenomenon to which kingdoms are immune. But the goal is to keep reform at bay too. There can be no talk of constitutional monarchies.

Although the Saudi regime is preoccupied by the Iranian threat, its eye is now focused on Egypt and the Arab revolutions, existing and potential. There is nothing that it dreads more than a return to the 1950s and 60s scenario of Cairo spearheading a revolutionary Arab world against pro-American conservative kingdoms. Riyadh is in the process of reproducing the 1955 Baghdad pact, forged in confrontation with Nasser and his revolutionary officers and bringing together the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Jordan (both unofficially), Pahlavi Iran and royal Iraq, as well as Turkey and Pakistan. Some of the players have been replaced, and nationalism has made way for Islamism, but the structure of the strategic game is the same.

And so is its mightiest weapon: money. In a battle where internal fears coincide with external interests, Riyadh is resuming its old role as the vanguard of a cold war against change. ( Soumaya Ghannoushi is a researcher at the School of Oriental and African Studies, specialising in north Africa.)

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011


1        ***************************************






Deep below the workshops in Baghdad's cramped, run-down jewellery district, unemployed men spend their days scouring the city's sewer system for the one thing they say can bring them money: flakes of gold.

Several times a month, men desperate for an income descend as far as 15 feet into the dark in search of gold bits that have been washed down the drain by craftsmen cleaning up after a day of etching and moulding jewellery. With a flashlight in hand and a mask to help with the stench, they spend hours combing through the thick muck, reaching in with their bare hands to pluck out glints of gold. On a good day, the men say they collect enough to earn about $20 from a smelter, which sells reconstituted blocks of gold back to the same jewellers whose pipes seed the sewers.

"Because it's disgusting and dirty," said Ali Mohammad Freji, 30, "I do not tell my family what I do because I'm embarrassed."

Mr. Freji is among a group of about a dozen men who search for gold on a daily basis. Their plight illustrates the larger problems that still exist in Iraq's economy eight years after the American invasion. Despite the billions of dollars spent by the United States and other countries to try to rebuild the country's infrastructure and buoy its economy, there are still too few jobs, with as many as 40 per cent of the work force either unemployed or reliant on part-time work.

But the jewellery district is the one place where the wealth has trickled down, literally, from the jewellery shops to the sewers.

"Thank God for everything we got. It's a small thing that nobody cares about, but it means a lot to me," said Abbas Abdul-Razzaq, 30, who searches the sewers for gold.

The men search about eight sewers once a month. When they are not underground, they sweep the streets of the jewellery district in search of gold dust that has been created in the process of making the jewellery. The men accumulate cigarette butts, food wrappers and dirt from inside and outside the shops. Then, beside a rusty boat on the shores of the Tigris River, they use water to sift through the trash until their pans are full of gold dust and small pieces of the precious metal.

"The gold shop owners work with the gold and then clean up and wash their hands, and the little pieces flow down to the pipes here," Mr. Freji said. "The gold collects in the sewers, but the dust goes with the water into the river."

Although the price of gold has skyrocketed in recent years, the men here said they were making less money because of reverberations from the war and advances in technology in jewellery making.

After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and years of sectarian war ensued, many of the city's jewellers fled, leaving a void in jewellery production.

With few tariffs on imports, cheaper and better designed jewellery from the United Arab Emirates and Turkey flooded into Iraq, making it difficult for the remaining jewellers to compete with the imports.

"Before, we considered ourselves lucky because there are so many workshops," Mr. Freji said. "The government's policy of not having tariffs hurts us because there are no longer many gold shops."

Now the only workshops that remain do special requests, like engraving.

"I only sell imported jewellery because people would rather buy it, because it has the best designs," said Mohammad Hashim, 46, a shop owner. "There are catalogues for the imported jewellery and television ads for the companies producing it."

Those remaining goldsmiths rely on more efficient machinery, and fewer flecks are washing into the sewers. "Whenever there's a new technology for making jewellery we are hurt because modern tools don't create lots of dust," said Mr. Freji, who said he has been trying to get a job with the government since 2008. He said he even paid a bribe to a government official several years ago in the hopes of becoming a police officer, but nothing came of it.

The work of sifting through sewage is dirty, smelly, and not surprisingly the men said they hated it. Their feet and hands are irritated from spending so much time in water, and their legs ache from squatting on the shores of the river to sift through their pans. In the winter, the cold water makes them shiver.

"I wish I could find another job," said Mr. Abdul-Razzaq. "I'd take any job — anything, I just want a permanent job."

"Maybe when we get older it will affect our health," he said.

Ibrahim Youssef, 25, said he became envious when he saw ads for gold on television.

"In France and Germany there are these big factories of gold, and I think about how much money I could make there by just cleaning up," Mr. Youssef said. "Those people are not smart because they are not going through the garbage and dust. Nobody cares about their dust.

"I see reports in Brazil of people who go to natural gold mines and just take big pieces and don't take the small ones. I feel sad because we are looking for small ones. We could make so much money there."

© New York Times News Service





Swiss lawmakers have approved a government-backed proposal to phase out the use of nuclear power.

A majority of parliamentarians in Switzerland's lower house voted in favour of the plan to shut down the country's five nuclear power reactors in the medium term. The ballot passed the National Council on June 8 with 101 votes in favor, 54 against and 30 abstentions. It had the support of all except the pro-business Liberal Democrats and the nationalist Swiss People's Party.







There is not a little irony in the fact that the Cabinet Secretary should be writing to Union ministers asking them to do what they are required to under the rules, namely disclose their assets on an annual basis. Which essentially means that ministers have not bothered with the rules. (This would be true not only for the present government, but also for all the states.) The Cabinet Secretary, under the Prime Minister's instruction — has indicated the deadline of August 31 for declaring assets by the PM's colleagues.

The most prominent weakness of the missive sent at the behest of the PM a week ago is that it comes at an unfortunate moment for the government, when it is embroiled in a series of corruption-related court cases and controversies, some involving Cabinet ministers. The logical corollary of this is that were this not the case, a reminder to ministers may not have ensued. Considering the overall circumstances, then, it is hard to see the Prime Minister's assertion as the cracking of the whip, or the seizing of high moral ground in a season of scams that the Opposition parties and civil society activists are only too happy to exploit.
In the event, it is not difficult to visualise that at least some ministers may be inclined to disregard the Cabinet Secretary's note. They would reckon that the Prime Minister may be too weak at the moment to enforce the rule. If the government meant business, it might have taken the trouble to at least leak to the media names of ministers who have evaded or overlooked compliance in the recent past. (It may even be instructive for the public to know which ministers — say in the last 10 years — have actually filed an account of their assets on a routine and regular basis without being prompted; that indeed may be an instructive compilation both from the point of view of governance and for the morale of citizens.) Naming and shaming is an acceptable way of doing things in a democratic set-up.
In the coalition era, the authority of the PM comes chipped, and there are many examples over the years to demonstrate the point. If this weren't so, it is just conceivable that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might have asked the wrong ones among his ministerial colleagues tough questions, or even shown them the door. On the personal plane, he is quite rightly seen as an upright individual. Many would like to believe that he would not have stood for wrong-doing if his own position — and that of his party — did not so completely depend on the allies. This is a further reason that compliance with the Prime Minister's directive on the declaring of assets might be hard to come by. To that extent, the malady is systemic; it is symptomatic of the slow transformation occurring in our body politic.
But these impersonal forces of history cannot, in the final analysis, be allowed to become an alibi for inaction where public weal is concerned. If a Prime Minister running a coalition government decides to take his call, he can ask the supporting cast of alliance parties to change the ministers they have nominated from their unwritten or de facto quota. In the event any of them demurs, the Prime Minister always has the option to recommend fresh polls. However, in the context of the equations that obtain, Dr Singh would require the full backing of his party to envisage a step of such magnitude. In any event, before he can summon the moral energy to pull up an alliance party, he will have to deal with the relatively less observant elements from within his own ranks with the full backing of the party leadership. Should this become feasible, the UPA-2 government and the Congress will be well placed to cut though the moral dilemmas that have raised their head.





The combatants are firmly holding on to their views in the raging battle over the issue of corruption. Contortionist spokespersons of the United Progressive Alliance government have tried to justify indefensible actions. Civil society's self-appointed leaders have held forth as if they are latter day Gandhis.

The government caved in cravenly to unelected representatives one day, only to react like a brutal Banana republic authority the next. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have argued over the staggeringly important issue of dancing at protest sites. The tenor of this entire discussion has been stunning in its immaturity. Where are the adults?
Let us examine the civil society representatives first. They appear to be, uniformly, decent people with their hearts in the right place. But do they understand politics, economics and management? Leave aside the low opinion they appear to harbour about common Indian voters like me, the veracity of their ideas is suspect. Some of them claim, in all seriousness, that the black money stashed abroad by corrupt Indians is `400 lakh crores! That's approximately $9 trillion! This figure (more than six times the size of India's economy!) would make Indian black money the second largest economy in the world, next only to the United States. Really now! Black money is a serious problem. Quoting outlandish numbers makes the entire issue sound ludicrous.
Judging from interviews of civil society representatives, their proposed legislation for an important institution like the Lokpal also has childish ideas. Long-established judicial concepts like separation of powers have been given the go-by for an all-powerful institution which can play investigator, judge, jury and executioner. This institution would have the power to investigate and charge anyone suo motu, which would bring decision-making in our already snail-paced bureaucracy down to a halt. Most importantly, how do we ensure that this all-powerful Lokpal doesn't itself become a den of corruption? Aah, very simple. We'll have the Lokpal appointed by a committee of "wise elders", such as self-appointed civil society leaders, Magsaysay Award winners, Nobel laureates etc. So people recognised by a committee of elderly Scandinavians are to decide India's future? Come on. Are we serious? There's a difference between agitating as a bleeding heart (which serves a purpose, I admit) and running a country. A child wouldn't know the difference, but an adult should.
Now, let's turn our attention to the Central government. One would think that these people are mature. They have been elected to the highest offices in the land. They make decisions that affect one billion people. How they make decisions, though, is a mystery. An important civic legislation like the Lokpal is being decided by five self-appointed civil society leaders and some government ministers through a process of public brinkmanship and blackmail. Where is the legislative oversight in this? We are a parliamentary democracy. Our laws are supposed to be laid down by our elected members of Parliament (MPs). The real problem for this government, however, began earlier. In an immature disregard for our parliamentary system, the UPA decided to outsource legislations and policy-making to a civil-society dominated, Congress president Sonia Gandhi chaired, National Advisory Council (NAC). Obviously, other civil society members, like Anna Hazare and team, questioned why they should be any less important than the politically-connected non-government organisation types in the NAC. And they began a street agitation over their beliefs. It was a matter of time before Baba Ramdev, with a genuine mass base, decided that his views should also be taken seriously.
Once a government surrenders to one street agitation, it cannot decide that it will not listen to another. There is logic to the parliamentary method. It involves an ugly process of negotiation, a thrust and parry of debate amongst MPs, which decides policy and legislation. Messy it may be, but this process is far better for a country in the long term. Because the MPs making the decisions and conducting the negotiations have been elected by the people of India. They are representative of the collective opinion of the country. Once we short circuit the parliamentary process to make decisions through street agitations by NGOs and blackmail by activists, it is a slippery road to an ungovernable country like the Philippines. A government that does not realise this is nothing short of childish. And the way they reacted to Baba Ramdev's demonstration, with lathicharge and tear gas shells on peaceful protesters, made abundantly clear that mature, logical thinking is at a premium in our government. Sadly, the Opposition has not covered itself with glory either, coming with its own biases, cussedly stopping reforms like the GST (Goods & Services Tax) which would make indirect taxes a lot less cumbersome and corruption ridden. But that's another story.
The corruption issue is incredibly important. It needs serious solutions. Immature ideas like "shoot them all" or "we need a benevolent dictator" cannot be the basis for discussions. If we throw out all our politicians, who is going to govern our country? NGOs? There are enough practical ideas to combat corruption, and many have already been implemented in various states, like IT-enabling land transactions, open auction/bidding for all government contracts, complete transparency on all decisions through Right to Information. Some additional topics do need serious discussion, like a rational incentive and salary structure for the people who run our country. Also, campaign finance reform. Elections are expensive. If we don't find a legitimate way for politicians to fund their election campaigns, we are institutionalising corruption.
Most importantly, of course, we need a well thought through Lokpal, constitutionally as powerful as the Election Commission or the Comptroller and Auditor General, and independent of the Executive. It should carry out anti-corruption investigations and prosecutions. Any more powers to it, like a judicial role, and we will create a leviathan which will hurt us in the long run. Also, I see no reason why the Prime Minister should be kept out of its purview. Do you?

Amish Tripathi is the author of the bestselling novel The Immortals of Meluha





Historians cite American secretary of state John Foster Dulles inadvertently leaving out South Korea from the US defence perimeter in a seminal speech he delivered post-Second World War as one of the reasons for the Korean War in June 1950. This non-inclusion motivated the North Korean leader Kim Il-sung — aided and abetted

by Mao Zedong's China — to send his armies across the 38th Parallel into South Korea to unify the Korean peninsula. It is important for a big power to define its security perimeter broadly and, geographically, to talk expansively of its national interests. India is yet to do any such thing, so no Indian "sphere of influence" or of "responsibility" has ever been delineated. China is leaving nothing to chance.
In Singapore last week, at the 10th Asia Security Summit hosted by the London-based International Institute of Security Studies, the Chinese defence minister and member of the Chinese State Council and Central Military Commission, Gen. Liang Guanglie, authoritatively put down the geostrategic stakes in terms of China's "core interests", incidentally, in response, to ruling Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari's query. China's core interests, he said, include "anything that is related to sovereignty, stability, and form of government". Dilating on this last, sensitive, bit related to state ideology and authoritarian system Gen. Liang explained that "China is now pursuing socialism. If there is any attempt to reject the path, it will touch upon China's core interests related to our land, sea or air. Then anything that is related to China's national (economic and social) development also touches upon China's core interests". He thereby covered all the factors impacting that country's security, including separatist movements in Tibet and Xinjiang, an independent Taiwan, disputed territories in the South China Sea and the Senkaku Island chain (contested with Japan), safety of sea trade routes, Chinese interests in African and Latin American natural resources, the Doha Round of tariff negotiations, and even climate talks (Copenhagen followed by Cancun). Gen. Liang implied that China would develop capabilities to protect and safeguard these interests.
Unlike China, India has shied away from laying down markers in the belief that what is left unsaid cannot provoke a confrontation — exactly the opposite tack to that taken by Beijing, which is that what is not pinned down can be expropriated by others. In a dog-eat-dog world of international affairs — that Indian policymakers pigheadedly refuse to acknowledge — no prizes for guessing which attitude is a liability.
Further, having staked out China's perimeter and expansively elaborated its interests, Gen. Liang sought to lull his audience with the usual Pablum. Such assertiveness backed by China's manifest economic power and fast-paced military modernisation programme, he claimed, are of a defensive nature and should not be perceived as threatening, and added, reassuringly, that China abhors "power politics and a Cold War mentality" and "has not been and will never be a hegemon". Despite his considerable talents in this respect, Mr Tewari would have learned a lesson or two in dissimulation and about the art of effortlessly easing an iron fist into a silk glove. Whether he will be able to convey the right message to the Indian government, leave alone awaken it from its stupor, is less certain, considering that starting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and his national security adviser, the esteemable Shiv Shankar Menon, everybody up and down the government seems convinced that saying little about the growing differences and military tensions with China is the best way to resolve them.
A policy of playing the China threat in a low key makes sense if it is supplemented with a marked build-up of deterrent conventional military capability. But when India has no mountain divisions for offensive warfare on the Tibetan plateau worth the name and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) can marshal as many as 28-35 divisions inside of a month, courtesy the Qinghai-Lhasa railway connecting the Chinese mainland with its western periphery, then we have a problem. We need a minimum of nine offensive mountain divisions — stalwart commanders deem 13-14 such divisions as barely adequate for the mission of credibly fighting the Chinese PLA on their ground. According to the general officer commanding one of the two new Army divisions expressly raised for offensive operations in the mountains, his formation is at present reduced to "protecting newly built border roads". What is the guarantee that these minimal additions to the extant force, or even the full complement of 9-14 mountain divisions, equipped with light howtizers, light tanks (to debouch from the Demchok Triangle), and assault helicopters whenever these are obtained, will actually be deployed for aggressive action against China, rather than as a strong backup for the defensively arrayed formations along the border, given that the Indian armed services as a whole have, over the years, grown as passive-defensive and risk-averse as the Indian government?
Reorienting the Army to take on the PLA, however, involves much larger issues than merely raising new strike divisions for the mountains. It requires transformative ability which, in turn, depends upon organisational agility — something the Army — the senior service and a habitual laggard in these matters — is simply not good at, having undergone just two major restructurings in the last 60-odd years even as the methods and nature of war, and India's threat reality changed radically. The first transformation happened after the shock of the 1962 war with China; the second in the late-Eighties with Gen. K. Sundarji pushing to make the Army mobile warfare capable. Assuming the government cannot increase defence spending beyond 2.5 per cent of the gross domestic product level, the manpower and financial resources necessary for an offensive capability in the mountains will have to be freed up by finessing the Army's armoured might into a consolidated strike corps plus. There's no way to escape making hard choices. These and other issues were discussed at a June 3 seminar hosted by the HQ Central Command in Nainital with the Army Chief, Gen. V.K. Singh, present. One hopes Gen. Singh will initiate measures to make the Army relevant for tomorrow's contingencies, otherwise a bigger military humiliation awaits the nation in the Himalayas.

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








No dispassionate observer can deny the credit to the state government for successfully reviving and conducting Panchayat elections after a gap of over four decades. Barring a few incidents of violence mostly emanating from personal vendetta, the elections throughout the state have been peaceful so far. The Omar Abdullah government can take the credit of making a successful attempt of restoring the confidence of the people in his government. This is the reason why he is emboldened to address larger and larger public gatherings at different places in the state especially in the remote parts of the valley. The Chief Minister is very right in saying that establishment of Panchayati Raj should foster big social and economic change in the state which has been reeling under disturbed conditions for last two decades.
The essential objective behind the introduction of Panchayati Raj is to empower the people at grassroots level. There has been a recurring complaint from civil society that its participation in building the nation and in decision making system has been considerably reduced and there is no buffer between the government and the disgruntled segments of society. The youth of the state had begun to lose trust in traditional old guard politicians and they are restive to see a change that really impacts their life and future course of history of the state. Panchayati Raj has opened doors for a variety of new and energized segments of society like experienced persons, women folks, well-educated youth, professionals, lawyers and other functionaries. Most of this valuable fund, crucial to good governance and to all round economic and industrial development of the state usually remained sidelined. This is national loss and cannot be accepted any more. Panchayati Raj provides a valuable and rare opportunity to all those who find in themselves the potential of contributing to the development of the state to come forward and be part of the huge developmental programme. Panchayati Raj is inherently the name of passing power or decision making authority into the hands of the people. The Panchayats are best suited to identify the requirements and aspirations of the people of respective localities of how they want to address the developmental work and on what projects. Thus it will be found that the views of the Panches will have a big say in deciding what projects are to be taken at what place.
Apart from the main objective of empowering the people at grassroots level, another important purpose that the Panchayats will serve is eradication of corruption. Corruption in its various forms is the most detestable phenomenon with which people are not going to make any compromise. Recent anti-corruption movements that have sprung in the country are supported by millions of people. This shows that people want that corruption should be uprooted lock, stock and barrel. And we have intricate laws, intricate legal system and a strong lobby with vested interests that are proving great hurdle in removing the scourge of corruption. Even courts find that prosecution of cases of corruption becomes unwieldy at times. Therefore the best panacea to these social aberrations is to nip the evil in the bud meaning not to give any opportunity to anybody at the very outset that would snowball into a big scam. Not only would the Panchayats serve as the sharp watchdogs over cases of corruption and perfidy but these would also serve as preventive instruments.
But with all said and done, and feeling satisfied that Panchayati Raj movement has to be the panacea of many ills, the crux of the issue is to equip the Panchayats with reasonable legal, financial and administrative powers so that these are able to make the delivery. It is good that elections to Panchayats have been on a non-party basis, but one cannot ignore the role of political parties willy-nilly in influencing the Panchayats. Some sort of safeguard will be needed to ensure that the Panches are not intimidated to take partisan view of issues and decisions. This asks for close and regular interaction between the government and the Panchayats so that a message goes to the public that Panchayats are an institution that protects and promotes interests of the people of the state.







There is no doubt that the Indian Army preserves its golden traditions meticulously. In the case of Kashmir turmoil, anti-Indian elements would lose no opportunity of painting the Army in dark colours and demonizing it only to satisfy their instinct of hatred. They forget that while the Army functions under rules and in strict discipline, the ultras who have wrecked havoc in Kashmir are a law unto themselves. Where is the report of the inquiry committee appointed by the Hurriyat (M) to investigate the killing of JAH leader Maulana Showkat?
Two days back the police registered a case against a soldier in Pahalgam for allegedly assaulting a group of tourists from Rajasthan. The inebriated army man assaulted the tourists and beat up the locals who tried to save them. A case under various Sections of the RPC against Constable Jhankar Singh of the 3 Rashtriya Rifles is registered. But not waiting for the police process, the Army conducted its rapid enquiry and said it had taken disciplinary action against the erring soldier. Lt-Gen SA Hasnain, GOC, Chinar Corps, ordered an enquiry into the incident, which "found the jawan guilty of un-soldier-like conduct that has tarnished the image of the Army," Lt-Col JS Brar, Srinagar-based PRO of the Ministry of Defence said. He added that the GoC had passed directions for maintaining the highest standards of conduct and ensuring that such incidents, although an aberration, were not repeated, a defence spokesman said. This action was taken within 24 hours of the incident and that shows how much sensitive the Army is in not allowing the rank and file to fall into indiscipline. It will be desirable that the civil society in Kashmir takes into account the good things our Army is doing to win the hearts of the people. In particularly the 15th Corps has been pursuing the sadhbhavna yatra (goodwill tours) for the young students of the valley to different parts of the country as an effective instrument of restoring confidence and trust of the masses of people in the army. In many adversities, the Army has usually come to the rescue of the civilians. The day is not far off when the old good relations between the Army and the local population will be restored to strengthen peace in the state.









Quite often I have wondered as to why Kashmiri Muslims cannot identify themselves with India. I have posed this question to a number of Kashmiris but so far could not get a satisfactory answer. Some of them told me that when they were little children their parents and grandparents had hammered it into their minds that they were non Indians and now they cannot change their mindset easily. This logic does not convince me entirely. Kashmir was a very peaceful area till 1988 and the Kashmiris had hardly any problem with the Indian government. Promises made by Nehru in 1947 which remained unfulfilled---- were in the distant past and that could not be perhaps a strong reason for parents and grandparents to be anti Indian. Another frequently heard reply is that India had tyrannised and tortured the Kashmiris to such an extent that they became anti India. This argument also appears to be fallacious to me. In 1972-73 Kashmir was perhaps the most peaceful state in India and there was no tyranny or torture from the Indian troops. Even in those days Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had to be imprisoned for making so called anti- India demands and Mirza Afzal Beig was openly campaigning for 'raishumari' (plebicite). The Kashmiri Muslims appeared to be pained by the fact that J&K did not enjoy the same kind of extreme political autonomy which the Kashmiris enjoyed during the period 1948-53. They felt that since J&K was a princely state, prior to 1947, the same sort of autonomy should have continued even after 1953. This feeling ,however, was not nurtured by the non-Muslims of J&K. In other words one can notice easily that this desire to maintain a distance from India is something special for only the Muslims of J&K . That is why National Conference was earlier known as Muslim Conference.I have seen elderly people telling their children and grandchildren that if Kashmir ever became independent they should come to their graves and loudly announce three times ---- 'you are now lying in independent Kashmir'. The love for India was so thin among Muslims that in Dec. 1971 when India won the Bangladesh war, many people in Srinagar didn't cook and eat and switched off their lights! This shows, without doubt, that even without any tyranny and oppression the Kashmiris behaved like non Indians.
I have been asking everyone as to why it has been like this when crores and crores of Muslims lived in India with equal rights and they considered themselves as '24 carat Indians'! They are living in India with honour and dignity. Few communal riots used to occur from time to time and rare events like Babri demolition do occur sometimes, but that does not significantly change the high status enjoyed by the Muslims in India. True, Islam is not the official religion of this secular state whjch gives equal respect to all religions, and India is not a 'Dar-ul-Islam', but it is also equally true that India is neither 'Dar-ul-Harab' or 'Dar-ul-Kufr'. (Land of war or land of non-believers). Indian Muslims do not face any restriction on the peaceful practices of Islam. They can pray freely, fast freely, go on pilgrimage freely. There is no restriction on construction of mosques and Madarsas. I hear that in Israel there are some restrictions- but I am not very sure. In France and Germany Muslim women are not allowed to wear burqa - but not so in India. Muslims can marry four times , if they so wish. For all others it is a criminal offence. For divorce Muslim men have an easy 'Talaq' system. For all others divorce is a long legal battle in a civil court. In fact, Muslims enjoy greater freedom in India than in Islamic Bangladesh.
Since I could not get any cogent answer to my question from any quarters, I started searching for an answer myself. I have a feeling that all Muslims everywhere in the world have a deep desire in their mind to live in Dar-ul- Islam. However, if a Muslim subnation or nation is very far away from the boundaries of Dar-ul-Islam and is surrounded by non Muslim people---they reconcile themselves to the situation and donot crave for azaadi. However, if they are very close to the Dar-ul-Islam nations of the Middle East their craving for azaadi increases since they feel that living in Dar-ul-Islam is an achievable goal. This is ,perhaps, the situation in Chechnya, Sinkiang and Kashmir which are parts of Russia, China and India, being at the same time, very close, geographically , to Dar-ul-Islam nations. The situation in Bosnia (erstwhile Yugoslavia) could be quite similar.
(The author is former Financial Commissioner J&K)








After the initial bungling, the Congress may have earned a temporary reprieve with the anti-corruption campaign assuming a political colour. As long as it was being conducted by non-political actors, the party did not quite know how to deal with them. Hence, the sad and yet amusing spectacle of a 125-year-old party running around like a headless chicken when a maverick monk with weird ideas landed in Delhi in a chartered plane. And, as if to hide its own folly of such undignified behaviour, the government resorted to force to send Baba Ramdev packing from Ramlila maidan to Haridwar.

But, now that the BJP has jumped into the fray on the yoga guru's side, the Congress can breathe easy. Since the issue has become unambiguously political, the Congress's long experience of fending off corruption charges will come in handy. Two events have helped it. One was the unexpected appearance of Sadhvi Rithambara on Baba Ramdev's platform after a fairly long absence from the public scene. It at once divided the civil society activists with Prashant Bhushan lambasting the association of "communal" elements with the movement while the Karnataka Lokayukta and Prashant Bhushan's colleague on the drafting panel for the Lokpal bill, Santosh Hegde, seeing nothing wrong in the Sadhvi's appearance.

Since the RSS had earlier made known its intention to ask its volunteers to participate in Baba Ramdev's campaign, the reason for the Sadhvi's re-emergence can be discerned. For the RSS, the corruption issue provides an excellent opportunity to come out of the shadows of the terror charges which some of its sympathizers face. But, it isn't only the RSS which wants to climb on to Baba Ramdev's bandwagon to make its presence felt on the social and political scene. The BJP, too, wants to follow the same route.
Till now, the so-called civil society had been wary of associating with these elements since it might detract from its untainted Gandhian image. So, Anna Hazare had quickly withdrawn his earlier statement in praise of Narendra Modi. But, now that the saffron links have been well and truly established, the Anna Hazare camp will find it difficult to put up a united front. On his part, Baba Ramdev has come out with his political agenda without any dithering by referring, inter alia, to Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin - an issue of lasting importance to the Hindutva brigade.

For the BJP, however, how much the saffronization of the anti-graft movement will help its cause is unclear. True, it can bank on Baba Ramdev's support base and Anna Hazare's popular appeal to win a few converts. But the party will be aware that some of the yoga guru's outlandish ideas - against Western-style constitutionalism, favouring the primacy of Hindi, denigrating cricket - will detract from its efforts to reinvent itself as a moderate party of the present age. It will back once again to the heady days of the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation, which, the BJP now knows, was a mixed blessing.

There is no doubt, of course, that the party will be able in the short term to put considerable pressure on the Congress with a high-decibel agitprop programme - demanding a special session of Parliament, urging President Pratibha Patil to play a proactive role, returning to the old theme of calling Manmohan Singh a weak prime minister although it is doubtful whether L.K. Advani will reiterate his earlier comparison of what happened in the Ramlila grounds on the night of December 4-5 with Jallianwala Bagh.
But the constant targeting of its principal adversary will entail a toning down of the Sushma Swaraj-Arun Jaitley confrontation for a while although there is little doubt that the flurry of activity will rekindle Advani's prime ministerial ambitions. That even B.S. Yeddyurappa has been infected by the optimistic mood is evident from his promise to set things right in Karnataka because he knows that his "immoral" ways, to quote Nitin Gadkari, are an embarrassment for the BJP's anti-corruption platform.

The Congress, as always, has shown poor political judgment. If Baba Ramdev is indeed the fraud that Digvijay Singh says he is, then the party and the government shouldn't have had anything to do with him at all. But if the two wanted to set him up an alternative to the Anna Hazare camp, they should have acted with greater finesse. Either way, they have come a cropper. Now, the Government may go about trying to undermine the Baba's yogic empire, a task which it is expected to do much better than what the Atal Behari Vajpayee government did vis-à-vis Tehelka after its expose of the scandals involving Bangaru Laxman and George Fernandes.
The Lokpal bill will probably be another casualty. As it is, the last meeting of the joint committee comprising government and civil society representatives was described as "disastrous". Now, the committee itself may fall apart. (IPA)






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.








Two sets of data released during the current week, namely the GDP figures for 2010-11 followed by the figures for core sector growth in April this year, give fairly clear view of the state of the Indian economy. Two aspects will have to be distinguished in these data. First is the level of expansion of the Indian economy in 2010-11. The other is the rate at which this is happening. Confusing these two aspects should give rise to some confusion.
The Indian economy - measured by its gross domestic product or GDP -- expanded by 8.5% in 2010-11. Earlier, it was expected that the economy should grow by 6.5%. So the actual against the target is not much different. At this level of expansion, Indian GDP growth must be one of the fastest. Given the state of the major global players, this is commendable [performance. More so in the face of the rising inflation rate which has continued unabated for almost a year now. Because inflation has meant anti-inflationary package of measures which inevitably dampens the growth triggers.
Here comes the second aspect of the growth story. While we are growing fairly comfortably but our pace of growth is slowing down. And this is a cause for concern. Unless the pace is restored we might in all likelihood end up in another overall slow-down as happened just about three years back. It will become evident once we examine the quarterly growth figures why these fears are not altogether wild and misplaced.
From the second quarter of the current fiscal year (2010-11), the quarterly growth rates of the GDP are coming down. In the second quarter growth rate was 8.9%, in the third quarter 8.3% and now in the final quarter it dropped sharply to 7.8$. So virtually for last one year, we are seeing the economy is growing at a slower pace unabatedly. The nature of the slowdown also becomes clear as we look into the disaggregated figures of sectoral growth. It is clear, as we had pointed out earlier in these columns, that there is deceleration in the downstream industries following lack of fresh investment in these industries. Such developments can have long term impact.
The disaggregated quarterly figures clearly show that the mining sector, for example, has been slowing down and in the fourth quarter of the year it has reached rock bottom levels. In the second quarter of this year, mining grew by 8.2% and in the last this slipped to just 1.7%. This will mean that some of the vital raw materials for a variety of key industries will either run short or their prices should go up or worse, there will be shortages combined with higher prices. This has been happening to say coal. We have been hearing about reports of coal shortages hitting power generation and steel mills. At the same time, coal prices are said to be rising. So also was the story of the steel industry. The steel makers are threatening to jack up prices as raw materials costs are rising. The steel prices could go up by anything between Rs 600 and Rs 1,000 per tone, according to reports quoting steel industry top bosses. Coking coal and iron ore prices have firmed up by $50 compared to last year. Now, steel price increase means automobile price as well as a wide range of consumer durables like refrigerators or air-conditioners will also increase. Housing and construction prices should also be equally impacted. What we see is that neither coal, mining or iron ore mining industries have seen much investments for raising capacity which is leaving an impact on the upstream industries all the way to those which affect the consumer directly.
This trend of slower expansion in the basic and core industries - the foundations of an economy-is further confirmed by the figures released about core sector performance during April this year. Overall, the core sector has grown by 5.2% in April this year against 7.5% in April last year. The core industries include oil production and refinery output, coal production, electricity and gas generation and cement production. These are disturbing trends and should be reversed if the Indian economy is to maintain its high growth pitch as the Government had earlier planned for the twelfth plan period.
The reason for this is being cited is the increasing tightening of the credit policy. When the Reserve Bank raised its interest rates during its last meet on May 3 that was the ninth straight time that interest rates were raised. This inevitably will have impact on , first, consumer demand and more importantly on investment demand. There are indications that the progressive hikes in interest rates are leaving such an imprint. There are reports that automobile sales are slackening. Next we should hear that consumer durables demand is also falling. These are likely to spread across the sectors. Higher interest rates, transmitted to the housing sector, will drastically hurt housing demand because the relative impact of even a small rise in interest will have major impact on housing demand. These are importantly early indicators of a deeper slow down. On the other hand, investment demand is critically dependent on interest rates because of the financing costs. Many investment projects will become unviable if the financing costs increase so project proposals will have to be redone.
However, this is not the sole reason for a possible slow down in investments. What we are witnessing is increasing environmental and political stumbling bocks. Few mining projects are taking off as environmental clearance is not forthcoming. Similarly, political problems with land acquisition has stalled virtually all green field projects. Investments are the triggers for growth and development. If these are throttled for a variety of reasons - be that financial or environmental or political -- growth will become a victim. Are we seeing the early signs of that? (IPA)











Rattled by a series of scams and wrongdoings by his former Telecom ministers, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asked his Cabinet colleagues for details of their own and their family members' assets by August-end. The well-meaning directive is unlikely to prove effective unless misinformation or incomplete details invite immediate punitive action, including removal from the Council of Ministers or Parliament. It is well known that politicians accumulate wealth and tend to lie about it in mandatory official declarations and get away with it. In his last disclosure to the Prime Minister, Textile Minister Dayanidhi Maran did not mention his business interests.


Since the political class failed to address public concerns in Parliament, the debate on corruption has moved to TV channels, from an informed exchange of opinion to rabble-rousing, fasting and dancing. Public activists who have taken the fight against corruption in their own hands are bound to be scrutinised by the government, the media and the public. The BJP has faced embarrassing questions about its chief minister in Karnataka and the Reddy brothers in his Cabinet. Charges have been levelled against the Bhushans too. Baba Ramdev suffered the ignominy of dropping his saffron clothes and slipping into a woman's dress to escape the police fury. His commercial dealings and land allotments to him by the helpful BJP governments in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are being questioned.


The street is not the forum for debating serious issues. Institutions have to be strengthened to bring transparency and probity in public life. Instead of being proactive in the fight against corruption and acting swiftly against the black sheep, the UPA leadership wavers and resorts to reactive action – that too under court, media and public pressure. The Prime Minister has to be more assertive and quick in systemic cleanup efforts. Given the intelligence agencies at his beck and call, he need not depend on self-declarations by his colleagues to know who has made how much illegally. Political will for ensuring action against the corrupt is missing. Throwing out Dayanidhi Maran and working for a strong Lokpal can be a good beginning.









After months of speculation, Uma Bharati has finally returned to the BJP with her expulsion of December 2005 revoked by the party leadership. Seeing the hostility that she evokes in the present leadership of the BJP in her home state of Madhya Pradesh which she once led as chief minister, the firebrand leader who was in political wilderness for the last five and a half years has been assigned the onerous responsibility of helping to revive the party in Uttar Pradesh which is slated to go to polls in a year. That most of the top leaders of the BJP except party president Nitin Gadkari chose to keep away from her induction function is testimony to the poor acceptability she enjoys. Reviving a sleepy and ineffective state party unit in U.P. would have been no mean task for anybody but for Uma Bharati especially, it would be her life's biggest challenge.


Considering that Uma Bharati had been in the forefront of the movement that led to the demolition of Babri Masjid, her return signals the resurgence of the Ram Mandir issue. How wise this move is only time will tell but there is weight in the argument of some that the issue has lost its saleability for the voters. Another motivation for Uma Bharati's induction for the U.P. elections is to woo and bag the backward vote. A Lodh by caste, Uma Bharati fills the void left by the desertion of former chief minister and Mandir poster boy Kalyan Singh who had during his heydays managed to consolidate the backward castes. If Uma Bharati plays her cards well, she could also pander to the upper castes including Brahmins who may not mind a saffron-robed 'sanyasin.'


With the irrepressible Mayawati in full cry, Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party gearing up for a do-or-die battle and the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family Rahul Gandhi playing for high stakes, Uma Bharati will add a new dimension to the battle of the hustings. Clearly, there will not be a dull moment for the U.P. electorate.











Although West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is prone to taking a simplistic view of things and while her claim that the Darjeeling issue has been resolved needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, she does deserve credit for being earnest and for breaking the ice. She had promised that she would find a solution to the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland, which had simmering for the last 30 years. In the event, the less than three-week-old chief minister announced on Tuesday that she had clinched the deal. She added, for good measure, that when she visits Darjeeling next, she would go there with a 'wedding gift'. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which has been spearheading a violent agitation for the past few years, was far less exuberant. They had merely reached an agreement and not signed a pact, they pointed out. They also reiterated that the agreement in no way diluted their demand for a separate Gorkhaland.


To be fair to her, she has demonstrated both flexibility and sincerity that the previous administration seemed to lack. The Morcha leaders are clearly more comfortable dealing with her than with the previous government. They also humoured her by not pressing for the immediate bifurcation of the state. The chief minister in turn agreed to give more concessions than the previous government was willing to grant. She agreed to explore the possibility of giving the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council ( DGHC) more control and more territory besides regularising the services of casual employees of the Council after having completed ten years in the job. In return she persuaded the Morcha to participate in an election for the Council, which has not been held since 1999.


But while she should be commended for taking the initiative to normalise the situation in the Hills and reduce tension, the success of her new deal will depend largely on how her government goes about redressing age-old grievances. The Left Front had made the mistake of abdicating its responsibility for the Hills, leaving governance and development entirely to the DGHC. Ms Banerjee needs to ensure that the Council delivers on the promises it makes and functions under close supervision. 









American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's assertion that "the US had absolutely no evidence" that "anyone in the highest levels of the Pakistan government" knew that Osama bin Laden was hiding less than a kilometre away from the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad is not surprising. Despite substantive evidence to the contrary, the Americans had earlier asserted for over a decade that they had no evidence that Gen Zia-ul-Haq was acquiring nuclear weapons, as they needed his cooperation to "bleed" the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. They are today adopting the same approach in addressing what the whole world knows about the ISI complicity in global terrorism, because they fondly hope that General Kayani and General Shuja Pasha will cooperate in eliminating terrorism in Afghanistan. While this statement giving the Pakistani military some room to save its face was welcomed with relief in Rawalpindi, there were also admonishments delivered, which Pakistan's military cannot ignore.


A grim-faced Secretary of State reportedly warned her Pakistani interlocutors, including President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and General Kayani that "There can be no peace, no stability, no democracy, no future, for Pakistan, unless the violent extremists are removed." She warned that "in solving its problems, Pakistan should understand that anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories will not make Pakistan's problems disappear". She stated that she had told the Pakistani leadership that they will have to take "very specific actions", warning that the US would act unilaterally if the Pakistanis balked.


The "specific actions" she alluded to were immediate operations to eliminate Al-Qaida leaders Ayman al-Zawahiri and its military commander, Libyan terrorist Afsya Abdel Rehman. The other two against whom "immediate action" was demanded was Taliban military commander  Sirajuddin Haqqani and long-term ISI asset and terrorist leader Ilyas Kashmiri, since reportedly killed in South Waziristan in an American Drone attack.


Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar, who has enjoyed ISI support while residing principally in ISI safe houses in Quetta since he fled from Kandahar in 2001, falls into a special category. He has been designated as being wanted in order to determine "whether he can be part of a political reconciliation in Afghanistan". Pakistan's assistance has been sought to facilitate this effort. Mrs Clinton specifically alluded to a Pakistani role in carrying forward the process of "reconciliation" in Afghanistan.


The Americans have established direct and indirect contacts with Taliban leaders close to Mullah Omar and expect Pakistan to facilitate this process. But whether Mullah Omar will accept American requirements of his abiding by the Afghan constitution and renouncing violence and links with Al-Qaida and its affiliates is doubtful.   Significantly, Lashkar-e-Toiba leader Hafiz Mohammed Saeed is not a high priority target for the Americans. The omission of Hafiz Saeed has serious implications for India, as it sends a signal to the ISI that India-centric terrorist groups are not of primary importance to the US despite the assertion by Janet Napolitano in New Delhi, equating the dangers posed by Al-Qaida and the Lashkar.


Pakistan appears to have seriously miscalculated in its belief that advocacy of a closer Sino-Pakistan alliance to undermine US strategies in its neighbourhood will be welcomed by Beijing.  American annoyance on this score was evidently conveyed to the Chinese during the bilateral strategic dialogue in Washington on May 9-10 when President Obama received a highly publicised telephone call from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the Abbottabad operation. 


The fallout was almost immediate, when Prime Minister Gilani visited Beijing on May 16. While the Chinese were willing to pander to Pakistan's quest for "parity" with India, by agreeing to expedite the delivery of 50 JF-17 fighter aircraft and launch a satellite manufactured in Pakistan, they are also reported to have advised Gilani to "remove irritants" in relations with Washington and New Delhi. At the same time a Pakistani proposal that China should induct the JF-17 in its own air force and agree to its export by Pakistan appears to have been rejected.


Perhaps the biggest setback for Pakistan in its efforts to demonstrate to the Americans that China would step in to bail them out in the face of US assertiveness was China's rejection of Pakistan's proposal that it should immediately take over the management of the strategic Gwadar Port, located near the entrance to the Persian Gulf. The Chinese made it clear that they could consider this offer only after Pakistan's existing contract (valid till 2047) with the Singapore Ports Authority expired.


In a more direct snub to Pakistan, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu categorically rejected an assertion by Pakistan's Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar that he had asked China to build a naval base in Gwadar. Jiang stated that she had not heard of any such proposal being made during Gilani's visit. Clearly, the Chinese are in no mood to give credence to American allegations that China's growing naval expansion is fuelling concerns across the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.


President Zardari fared no better than his Prime Minister during his visit to Moscow on May 11-13. President Medvedev and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed and lauded the American operation in Abbottabad as morally and internationally justifiable. What the Pakistanis seem to have failed to recognise is that while the Russians do have concerns about a US presence in Central Asia, they are also providing logistical support for the American presence in Afghanistan and making military supplies available to the embattled Karzai regime.


Interestingly, despite its close relations with Moscow, the Kazakhstan Parliament approved a proposal on May 19 to deploy armed forces in Afghanistan to join NATO forces there. More importantly, Nikolai Bordyuzha, the Russian Secretary-General of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (comprising Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) stated that foreign troops needed to stay on, with the Editor of Russia's influential Global Times asserting that Russia and the neighbouring countries were not interested in a hasty withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.


The elimination of Osama bin Laden has increased calls within the US for an early withdrawal from Afghanistan at a time when the Obama Administration is hoping, somewhat unrealistically, that it can get Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to lay down arms and embrace the virtues of democratic pluralism! India should realistically recognise that the Americans are not going to use their time and effort to eliminate India-centric groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The American end-game in Afghanistan is just starting, and we need to be proactive in anticipating the forthcoming challenges, countering motivated propaganda and seizing diplomatic opportunities.









Way back in 1969, I met Bhajan Lal in Delhi for the first time. I was Director, Public Relations and Tourism and he was an MLA. He told me he was on the lookout for a good officer for the vacant post of SDM Fatehabad because Chief Minister Bansi Lal had given him a carte blanche in the matter and if I liked I could occupy that all-important post.


I thanked him profusely but said I had passed that stage and could only be posted as Deputy Commissioner. His face fell and he confessed that the CM had not authorised him for that. Later when he attended the first Assembly session of his long political career and saw me sitting close to the CM in press conferences, it dawned on him that the post I held wasn't unimportant although he hadn't heard of it and that I too enjoyed some measure of the CM's confidence.


From those simple beginnings, he rose to master the intricacies of statecraft and could teach a thing or two to Chanakya. He would claim openly in public meetings that he was a Ph. D. in realpolitik and others of his ilk were no match to him.


He did become Bansi Lal's close confidant who asked him to guard his flock of MLAs. The spectre of defection always haunted Bansi Lal during the mandatory bi-annual Assembly sessions. After one such dark and ominous session in 1971, Bhajan Lal told me that he was going up and down the corridors of the MLAs' Rest House the whole night, pistol in hand, lest someone escaped.


Bansi Lal rewarded him shortly afterwards and he became Agriculture Minister. I too had been appointed Director Agriculture some time earlier. The department used to grow quality seeds on the large state farm at Hansi. I found to my horror that enormous quantities of wheat seed had been sold but the cashbook hadn't been maintained for the last six months. Suspecting huge embezzlement, I placed the cashier on suspension.


When I returned from tour after three days, the minister's message to see him urgently was waiting. When I met him the next morning, he said 10 men had been camping at his house, eating at his table, since the cashier had been suspended and they won't budge till he was reinstated. The man belonged to his constituency and clan. I told him there was no way he could be reinstated until the accounts were squared. He said he had verified there was no embezzlement; the cashier had recorded all transactions separately but had not posted them in the cashbook. I made the man complete the accounts in a fortnight, got them verified and reinstated him with a stern warning.


On another occasion, he sat listening to the people from his constituency who flocked his house. One man had a grievance against the patwari who wouldn't give copies of revenue record of his land holdings. Bhajan Lal took out five hundred rupees from his wallet (a considerable sum those days) and gave to the man to give to the patwari, chiding him mildly for not taking care of important officials like a patwari.


Such a man was Bhajan Lal – worldly wise and amoral, with deep roots in the soil, determined to rise at all costs.









All eyes are set on the UN member states, currently engaged in hectic negotiations in New York to chart the future course of global response to the AIDS epidemic. The 2011 High Level Meeting (HLM) called by the UN to finalise the Draft of Commitment to HIV is vital as it will set targets for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and determine if the world will reverse the epidemic at all.


The HLM comes at a crucial time — when funding for HIV is on the decline; 10 million people, in need of treatment, don't have access and fears are growing of this being the last HLM on AIDS, as the developed world goes back on its funding commitments.


That makes these negotiations vital if fruits of the past (global rate of new HIV infections declined by 25 per cent between 2001 and 2009) are to be preserved. The UNAIDS has, in its publication "AIDS at 30: Nations at Crossroads", examining progress since the infection was reported on June 5, 1981, already warned the world: "Despite expanded access to antiretroviral therapy (ART), treatment gap remains. At the end of 2010, 9 million people eligible for treatment didn't have access."


The report identifies treatment gaps and declined global funding as major challenges, so does the "Zero Draft" the UN has extended for negotiations from June 8 to 10. The draft is so called after its objectives of zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. While the world awaits the declaration, documents in public domain don't present a heartening picture. They indicate the developed world's reluctance to set treatment targets; make funding commitments; and their urge to dilute proposals that lower treatment costs.


In the past, treatment targets have only helped the global response to AIDS, like the WHO's "3 by 5 call" (3 million people on treatment by 2005) which inspired efforts. But now, the European Union (EU) is reluctant to commit targets for getting people on treatment. Led by Thailand, many nations have sought treatment for 15 million people living with HIV (PLHIVs) by 2015. This represents 80 per cent of the 18.3 million PLHIVs who will need treatment by then. For developing countries like India that are scaling up treatment efforts and that need global funding, targets are vital to secure unhindered flow of money.


They must, therefore, fight for target setting. It would further serve India well to push for inclusion in the draft of treatment targets for Hepatitis C and TB-related mortality, considering Hepatitis C is a growing problem for drug users who are HIV positive and the government's ability to get funds to treat it would depend on how the infection features in the declaration.


 Meanwhile EU's reluctance with targets has health groups worried. Matthew Kavanagh of Health Global Access Project says, "The EU is not just refusing to commit to treatment targets, it's working with the US to dilute any language in the draft text related to increasing access to affordable generic medicines."


The latter is a huge concern, and PLHIVs and treatment activists have already called for an immediate moratorium on all Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Trade Related Measures of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) like data exclusivity that prevent access to generic medicines. 


In May, groups from Asia, Africa and Latin America adopted the "Bangkok Declaration on FTAs and Access to Medicines" to announce opposition to the rapid spread of FTAs that put the profits of MNC pharma firms ahead of people's health. The declaration said FTAs permanently undermined access to affordable new HIV/AIDS medicines, Hepatitis C treatments and life-saving medicines for chronic diseases were all under its threat. 


To address this concern, the UN, in the "Zero Draft", has sought to mitigate the impact of patent barriers on access to AIDS treatment by incorporating language which developing countries like Thailand, Brazil and Africa are backing. This language highlights the need for governments to use public health safeguards when faced with IP barriers in producing or purchasing affordable medicines for HIV/AIDS. Such safeguards are even recognised under the international law as TRIPS flexibilities. The developing nations have further inserted in the draft language to highlight the danger that FTAs pose to the sustainability of AIDS treatment and have prescribed that TRIPS-plus provisions be kept out of FTAs.

 But this text proposed by nations facilitating the UN process — Botswana and Australia on removal of TRIPS — plus measures from FTAs has been rejected by the EU, US and Japan. The latter has even said there's no evidence that greater patent enforcement in the developing countries is hindering access to medicines. Activists trash the claim.


"This is ludicrous," says Rose Kaberia of the East African Treatment Access Movement (EATAM), who has challenged an anti-counterfeit legislation in Kenya that increases enforcement of medicine patents, "The greater enforcement of medicine patents has resulted in the seizure of generic medicines, including ARVs, by the EU which were on their way from India to Africa and Latin America. We can't afford such laws in the fight for Universal Access to treatment."


Off-patent drugs


Recent evidence has clearly revealed that FTAs have undermined people's right to health — FTAs with the US resulted in 79 per cent of 103 off-patent medicines not having any generic equivalent in Jordan; and in price differences of up to 845,000 per cent in the same therapeutic segment in Guatemala.


The 2011 document, it is hoped, will reject FTAs, and India would support developing countries' proposals on the IP text. Some of these proposals read: "Recognise the critical importance of affordable generic medicines in scaling up access to affordable HIV treatment; express grave concern that the greater enforcement of medicine patents in middle and low-income countries significantly limits generic competition for newer generations of HIV treatments, including for opportunistic infections and note that trade barriers and bilateral and regional trade agreements that impose IP protections stricter than necessary under the TRIPS Agreement seriously limit access to affordable HIV treatment."


The EU, US, Switzerland and Japan are resisting this language, and pushing for insertions highlighting the importance of IP protection in developing new medicines and using them as an incentive for investment in R&D of newer generation of treatments. Several developing countries like India must oppose this and review the language from the 2001 and 2006 HIV/AIDS Declarations on IP which talked of using TRIPS flexibilities as a right.


Funding gaps


Now about funding gaps — the zero draft recognises this challenge and calls on governments, particularly of the developed world, to fulfill their funding commitments as the epidemic is far from over. Developing countries like India have just about managed to stabilise it and sapped funding could prove disastrous for HIV programmes.


That calls for Indian negotiators led by Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to support draft provisions on funding like the one India has itself proposed – on high costs of non-generic medicines and trade barriers to legal trade in generics. This is a crucial provision as the biggest drain on HIV resources will come for newer treatments that are patented in India resulting in lack of access to generic ARVs in India and across the world.


Every effort would have to be made to secure generic drugs. As Loon Gangte of the Delhi Network of Positive People points out, "In 2001 generic medicines made it possible for us to hope for healthier lives, to get back to work and watch our children grow. A decade later the EU, US and Japan want to take that hope away in the name of MNC pharmaceutical companies. Our lives are not for sale."





A recent study of 1763 couples of whom 97 per cent were heterosexual in 13 sites across different countries, including India, Africa and Brazil, has shown that treatment may in fact be the best form of prevention with a nearly 96 per cent reduction in HIV transmission between sero-discordant couples being reported if the HIV-positive partner was on treatment before their health declined. UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe is on record saying: "Antiretroviral therapy is a bigger game-changer than ever before — it not only stops people from dying, but also prevents transmission of HIV to women, men and children"



Between 2001 and 2009, investments in the HIV response in low and middle-income countries rose nearly 10-fold from $ 1.6 billion to US$ 15.9 billion, and new infections dropped by 25 per cent. But in 2010, resources declined even as in 56 countries, global donors account for 70 per cent HIV resources. UNAIDS has warned against this decline saying if the world does not invest now, it will have to pay several times more in the future." UNAIDS recently found that an investment of at least $ 22 billion is needed by 2015 — $ 6 billion more than is available today. The return on this investment would be 12 million new HIV infections averted; 7.4 million AIDS related deaths averted by 2020; new infections would decline from 2.5 million in 2009 to about 1 million in 2015. At present the world houses 34 million PLHIVs; India has 2.3 million.





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




The interesting discovery, if you trawl through the disclosures on their assets filed by politicians and now civil servants, is how little of their money is invested in the stock market — in stocks or in mutual funds. By far the most preferred investment turns out to be real estate. This, despite the innate problems of poor liquidity when you compare with stocks, the prevalence of unaccounted cash in most transactions, the chunkiness of each investment, and much higher transaction costs. What is true of people in public life would appear to be true of wealthy Indians as a whole. A study put out earlier this week said even the very richest Indians hold more of that wealth in the form of real estate than stocks. And the skew is likely to get worse, it would seem.

This isn't new; it has been known for a long time that only a tiny proportion of household savings finds its way to the stock market. Still, the lack of retail interest in the stock market has become increasingly obvious these last few months. Retail holdings in companies have dropped steadily from 19 per cent of the total to 16 per cent, in the last five years. The assets managed by mutual funds have sharply shrunk in size over the past year. Trading volumes on the market are determined more by day-traders who square off transactions at the end of the day, and by institutional players in the futures and options segment — ie, by purely speculative activity. Even foreign institutional investors have become cautious; there has been very little net inflow of funds in the first five months of 2011.


 Middle-class India's love affair with the stock market began in the 1970s, with ready takers for the under-priced public issues of leading international companies which were forced to offload stock at prices fixed by the government. It was a free lunch, and there were many takers. Even subsequently, initial public offers (IPOs) of shares were usually a sure-fire way to make money. Not any more; the majority of IPO stocks now quote below their offer price. As for the secondary market, most investors have lost money in the past three years, through the see-saw of a boom, bust and recovery. If you get singed, you are likely to stay away from the fire.

And yet, the market's key metrics don't look unhealthy. The price-earnings ratio of 17 is reasonable for an economy with nominal GDP growth of about 15 per cent and more, and with corporate profits growing at 14 per cent even in a period of slowdown. The overall value of all listed companies, or their combined market capitalisation, is about 75 per cent of GDP — which is in the mid range when compared with other emerging markets; South Korea has a higher ratio, Thailand a lower one. Even when compared with countries that have stronger corporate sectors and more developed stock markets, the Indian ratio is in the mid-range; France and Germany have lower ratios, Britain and the US higher except during the Great Recession. In fact, India's ratio of market cap to GDP is substantially higher now than America's was 20 years ago.

So the moribund state of the stock market could simply be reflecting the fact that by general consensus this is a phase when prices will move only "sideways" (to use analyst-speak). The funny thing about markets, though, is that just when everyone agrees on something, the unexpected happens.







India and Pakistan might be tracking different trajectories, from politics (democracy vs army rule, secularism vs theocracy) to economics (rapid growth vs mediocre growth), and from social trends to international postures (Security Council aspirant vs exporter of terrorism). Pakistan's GDP growth next year is slated to be only 4.2 per cent, about half India's; and inflation is expected to be much higher at 12 to 13 per cent. But beneath these obvious differences, there is a surprising similarity on the key issues. For instance, both countries had among the highest tariff levels in the world before both began their economic reform programmes at roughly the same time — launching tariff cuts, privatisation, fiscal correction and other familiar initiatives. Even Bangladesh had a contemporaneous switch in policy, and the adoption of similar economic reforms, sometimes with greater success than India.

So when it comes to the latest Pakistan budget, it is not surprising to see similar issues come to the fore. The fiscal deficit for the year beginning July is slated to be 4 per cent of GDP (India's is 4.6 per cent). Subsidies have overshot budgets, and tax revenue is to be 13 per cent of GDP (tracking India's 12.6 per cent). Like India, tight expenditure control is being tried (growth of just 4.6 per cent). Even more uncannily, the income tax exemption ceiling across the border is Rs 3.5 lakh, while it is Rs 1.8 lakh in India; if you adjust for exchange rate differences, the two levels are almost exactly the same. And if you allow also for the differences in the size of the two economies, the disinvestment targets are similar too.


 There is more. India made a killing on 3G licences last year, Pakistan hopes to do the same in its new year. Infrastructure investment (power and water) gets pride of place in both countries. Finally, if there is scepticism about Pranab Mukherjee achieving his broad targets, there is an equal scepticism in Pakistan about its new fiscal numbers. Commentators are frustrated by similar sets of issues: power sector reforms, proper electricity pricing, reducing the losses of state-owned enterprises, and controlling the subsidies on petroleum products. In one area, though, Pakistan is clearly ahead: it has already got a Goods and Services Tax. The other big difference is that India is bridging its deficit using local resources; Pakistan is depending to some extent on American money being made available. Still, you could summon a Hindi film scriptwriter; he'd give you a story about twins separated at birth!







For more than seven years the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has touted its distinctive brand (so claimed) of "Inclusive Growth". There is nothing wrong with the basic idea, which is that the fruits of rapid economic growth should be widely shared, particularly by the poor and marginalised segments of society. But the strategy deployed has been seriously flawed. It has emphasised massive expansion of anti-poverty expenditure programmes, including the flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and open-ended entitlement programmes for food and education. This approach has embedded large and continuing increases in government expenditures and subsidies in the Centre's budget. Without commensurate increases in tax revenues, this has led to a series of large fiscal deficits (since 2007/08), which have fuelled inflationary forces and rising interest rates.

Quite apart from its well-known deficiencies of corruption, mismanagement and poor targeting, this approach is simply unsustainable in the medium and long run. It contrasts sharply with the far more effective inclusion strategy followed in successful East Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. These nations made rapid and sustained expansion of labour-using manufacturing activities (especially for exports) the centrepiece of their inclusion strategy. The success of their approach is obvious. South Korea joined the ranks of advanced industrial nation some years ago. China, which had average living standards comparable to India's in the late 1970s, is now about three times better off and a rising super power. In essence, the East Asian approach banished (nearly) poverty by generating decades of double-digit industrial growth which sucked in their abundant resources of low-skilled labour (the poor) into factory employment.


This approach is echoed on page 297 of the government's Economic Survey for 2010-11: "The key strategy for achieving inclusive growth in the Eleventh Plan has been the generation of productive and gainful employment, with decent working conditions, on a sufficient scale to absorb the growing labour force". Nice thought but not followed up in actual policies and results, as the next sentences acknowledge: "The Eleventh Plan (2007-12) aims at generation of 58 million work opportunities… The 64th round (2007-08) of NSSO survey on employment-unemployment indicates creation of 4 million work opportunities between 2004-05 and 2007-08". An achievement of 4 million in three years versus the aspiration of 58 million in five!

If this disastrous record was not bad enough, the story gets worse in the official data on employment in the "organised sector" (meaning all public employees and non-agricultural private employment in units with 10 or more persons). Between 2003 and 2008 (latest year reported in the Economic Survey) this inched up by only half a million workers to attain a paltry total of 27.5 million (including nearly 10 million government employees) out of a total labour force of about 500 million. In sum, by 2008, according to government data, only 6 per cent of India's labour force were in "decent" organised sector jobs with high security, while 94 per cent toiled in casual, ill-paid and insecure (hire and fire) conditions. Indeed, the number of organised sector employees was unchanged from 27.5 million back in 1995, indicating the culpability of pre-UPA governments as well in failing to foster job growth in the organised sector.

As for the crucial East Asian transmission mechanism for inclusion, the expansion of factory employment in manufacturing, "decent" organised sector jobs in the public manufacturing sector actually fell in India from 1.8 million in 1995 to 1 million in 2008, while in private organised units employment stagnated at around 5 million. Manufacturing sector employment accounted for a mere 18 per cent of total organised sector employment in 2008. Put differently, there were only 6 million employees in organised manufacturing compared to over 9 million in government jobs!

As all businessmen – and most competent economists – know, the principal obstacle blocking job growth in Indian manufacturing factories has been our exceptionally restrictive labour laws, which ensure job security for the tiny minority of organised sector employees while almost completely discouraging fresh hiring from the vast pool of ill- paid workers in the unorganised/informal sector. That's why in India you see very few sizable factories in labour-using sectors like textiles, garments, leather products, low-end electronics, toys, etc, which formed the backbone of East Asia's employment-intensive growth with inclusion. As someone said, "In a desert (created by our labour policies) you don't expect to see hippopotamuses"! And now that wages have been rising fast in the successful East Asian nations (especially in the Chinese behemoth), these labour-using activities are shifting to places like Vietnam and Bangladesh rather than India, despite the availability of our hundreds of millions of low-skilled workers, desperately seeking factory jobs.

Apparently, successive governments (including UPA) have preferred to mouth pro-worker slogans, while perpetuating a policy regime that throttles growth of jobs very effectively. Rather than undertake labour reforms that encourage real job growth, the UPA has preferred to expand "make-work" doles (such as MGNREGS) and subsidies through government budgets to the many millions in casual, informal and part-time employment. Among the other unfortunate consequences of this very inferior approach to inclusion have been: the serious stunting of our manufacturing sector; enormous and rising population pressure on agriculture, for lack of other alternatives; the most "casualised" labour force in the world; the encouragement of a (unsustainable) subsidy culture; perennially stressed government budgets; a bias towards inflation; and growing schisms between haves/have-nots, organised/unorganised, urban/rural, skilled/unskilled, which are weakening the fabric of society and making governance ever more difficult. The political/ security problems of Naxalism and insurgencies in the north east and Kashmir are compounded, if not caused, by the fundamental failure to ensure rapid growth of decent, non-agricultural jobs.

A lament: If only all those well-meaning and dedicated social activists who campaigned so well and effectively for MGNREGS and other entitlement programmes would deploy their very considerable skills and commitment to the cause of reforming our job-stifling labour laws, we might actually achieve a successful strategy of inclusive growth.

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







Has liberalisation squeezed the personality out of India Inc's leaders? Think of the earlier generation. There were the Tata satraps — Russi Mody of Tisco (today's Tata Steel), Suman Moolgaokar of Telco (Tata Motors), Darbari Seth of Tata Chemicals or F C Kohli (TCS). Then you also had Dhirubhai Ambani, Rahul Bajaj, R P Goenka, Vijay Mallya, Nusli Wadia, Ajit Haksar, Manu Chhabria or even T Thomas. All of them were memorable personalities, displaying a unique style that isn't always evident in the managers who succeeded them or even in the current generation.


Consider Dhirubhai Ambani. Although he was less articulate (and, therefore, less quoted) than his peers, he caught the public imagination like few others did, being one of the first to spot the potential of a popular equity cult and developing a Kissinger-type realism about the licence-permit raj as his long-standing dispute with Bombay Dyeing's Nusli Wadia showed. His back story as a former petrol pump attendant naturally attracted popular approval in a corporate world peopled by the entitled.

True, his sons continue to make, if not dominate, the news, but mostly because of specific events — family disputes, acquisitions, corporate controversies and sometimes lifestyles ($2 billion homes and marathon running are bound to attract attention, after all). As personalities both are broadly considered chips of the old block — although the younger son occasionally displayed quite unexpected histrionic talents during the dispute with his older brother.

In the Tata group the contrast is even more striking. As group chairman J R D Tata opted to stay elegantly and discreetly in the background, giving the heads of his companies free rein on strategy and public pronouncements. It would be fair to say that none of them shrank from the offer, Mr Mody and Mr Seth being notable for their effortless ability to generate headlines, the former also for his predilection for loud Hawaiian shirts.

Today, no one can be in doubt that it is Ratan Tata who runs the Tata show. The corporate satraps are firmly a thing of the past; the executives who head the key group companies may be no less able than their eighties' predecessors but they are noticeably more low-profile in every possible way.

The boisterous Rahul Bajaj of Bajaj Auto could always be depended on for quotable quotes. He was always happy to engage with the broader public, delighted to be quoted on a variety of topics and as widely visible in domestic and international industry forums as on Raisina Hill. It was almost inevitable, therefore, that he should find himself a niche as member of the Upper House of Parliament. His sons, by contrast, are hard-working drones who don't exactly shun the limelight but don't invite it either.

But where the elder Bajaj has receded from the scene a little, Vijay Mallya, whose name is habitually prefaced with the adjective "flamboyant", remains as evergreen as he was in the eighties. Three decades ago, he fought arriviste Manu Chhabria in a rivetting battle for Shaw Wallace (he lost then but won later). The 2000s have seen him acquire Formula 1 teams and corporate debt with equal energy and relentlessly expand his liquor and airline empire. His son has, so far, attracted attention for his relations with an actress.

These examples have been drawn from family-owned corporate groups (though the Tata group can be called quasi-professional). But this is not to forget an earlier generation of professional managers, such as Ajit Haksar of ITC, who took the first steps towards hoteliering and paper. Or consider T Thomas, chairman of Hindustan Lever, whose blunt, direct managerial style provoked admiration and criticism in almost equal measure. His successors A S Ganguly and S M Datta may not have been quite so dominant but Levers' enduring success in those days made them sought-after speakers. Today, the chief of Hindustan Unilever, as it is now called, is less sought after, possibly because the company no longer enjoys the kind of dominance it did in its pre-liberalisation heyday.

That, in fact, may hold the clue to why corporate personalities have diminished. Corporate leaders of the earlier generation operated in a virgin field, so to speak, with wide opportunities to build and expand their businesses. Importantly, too, they operated in an environment of limited competition, if not outright protectionism, which allowed them the time and space to become Personages. They had no quarterly targets to meet; global challenges to fend off; serial M&As to consider; the overall pressures were far lighter. Today, with exceptions (such as A M Naik of Larsen & Toubro or Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani of Infosys), corporate chiefs tend to behave in an unremarkable manner — though their abilities may well be much more remarkable than their predecessors'.






The long-standing disagreement between the US and the European Union (EU) over the aircraft dispute at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) moved forward with the Appellate Body of the WTO ruling that not all of the subsidies provided by the EU are prohibited.

This dispute is important because it provides a significant direction to the policy space available to member countries of the WTO under the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures of the WTO. The dispute, that has been on since 2004, began with the US approaching the dispute settlement body of the WTO by nullifying the "Bilateral EU-US Agreement on Trade in Large Civil Aircraft" signed in 1992. The EU also filed a complaint on subsidies provided to Boeing by the US. The ruling on both cases is expected to set the stage for rival companies in other countries like Brazil and Canada to look at what is permissible to support the over $70 billion civil aviation industry.


The WTO body held that the Repayable Launch Investment for the A380 granted by Germany, Spain and the UK is not a prohibited export subsidy; all research and development programmes in the EU (European, national and regional) are fully compatible with WTO rules, especially relevant when compared to the findings on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and Department of Defence support in the Boeing case; and the French government's transfer of its interest in Dassault Aviation to Aerospatiale in 1998 was not a subsidy.

However, an important aspect of the ruling is that EU's practice of "launch aid" loans to develop new aircraft models provided Airbus with below-market-rate financing, giving it an unfair advantage over its US rival. This point has been welcomed by the US officials who stated that the WTO ruling shows that the EU was heavily subsidising its aircraft manufacturer.

Earlier in the dispute over Boeing the WTO's dispute panel report had stated that the American manufacturer received over $5 billion in subsidies that hurt the rival aircraft company of the EU- Airbus. The panel report on US subsidies is on appeal and under scrutiny by the Appellate Body that may, as in the case of EU, look at the subsidies in the US in a different light.

The dispute panel in the case of EU had also concluded that the EU subsidises Airbus to the tune of several billions of Euros thereby hurting the American company. The EU will have up to six months to roll back the subsidies. If the EU does not remove its subsidies then the US can go back to the WTO seeking to stop market access for EU products equivalent to the market that may be lost by the US due to the EU action.

State subsidies for high-technology industries have become a very important issue of discussion at the WTO as also the free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations among different countries. The WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures has clearly provided the various conditions for prohibited and acceptable subsidies. Developing countries have been looking closely at the various programmes in developed countries that provide an unfair advantage to domestic industry.

Beijing has been at the receiving end of most countries on the issue of subsidies. Countries have been of the view that China has been strongly subsidising several sectors, making it difficult for other countries to access global markets. The EU recently launched an anti-subsidy duty on China on high-end paper. Many analysts have been of the view that developed countries are worried that some large developing countries are rapidly catching up with the developed world in many products that the rich countries felt were their areas of expertise. They are, therefore, carefully scrutinising all elements of state support to industries.

The debate on state subsidies to the manufacturing sector is expected to become more intense with countries feeling that there is a need to provide adequate funding to keep industry competitive on the face of global competition. Developing countries, specifically want to understand the policy space available to countries to move up the value-chain in the manufacturing sector.

The EU-US case at the WTO provides enough data to look at what is permissible and what will be challenged under the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures.

The author is Principal Adviser with APJ-SLG Law Offices






Harnessing water resources for farming is critical for increasing agricultural productivity. Undivided India had among the largest irrigated areas in the world, but with Partition a large part of the major canal systems went to Pakistan. Recognising the importance of large-scale development of irrigation facilities, more than half of all public expenditure on agriculture has been spent on irrigation alone. The net irrigated area expanded from 20.85 million hectares in 1950-51 to 62.29 million hectares in 2007-08. And the net sown area increased from 17.5 per cent to 44.2 per cent over the period.

Expansion in irrigation had been most significant in the sixties, with an increase of about 2.3 per cent a year in net irrigated area. But this growth dropped significantly to 1.3 per cent a year in the nineties. Over the years, the dependence on groundwater for irrigation has increased. With little progress in new large-scale surface irrigation schemes, the increased availability of low-cost electric and diesel pumps and a lopsided power tariff policy, tube wells have been the dominant source of irrigation.


A comparative analysis of states reveals the striking differences in irrigation facilities across the country. Punjab tops the list with about 98 per cent of its sown area being irrigated, an outcome of the focus on irrigation in the green revolution. Next in importance among the big states is Haryana, with about 84 per cent of its net sown area being irrigated. Uttar Pradesh is not far behind, in fact it holds the largest share of 21 per cent of total net irrigated area in the country. In Bihar, more than 60 per cent of the net area sown is irrigated, while irrigation covers more than half the net area sown in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. (Click here for chart)

Pattern of land use by year
(million hectares)


Net area

Net irrigated



















2007-08 (p)



Source: Ministry of Agriculture

At the other end, the proportion of net irrigated area to net area sown is less than 10 per cent in Assam, Jharkhand, Sikkim and Mizoram. Most of the north-eastern states in India are ranked low in terms of net irrigated area as a proportion of net sown area. There are many reasons for this — prevalent subsistence economy, limited population, being one of the wettest regions in the world and so on. However, with the growth of commercial agriculture and horticulture in this region, the need for irrigation facilities is being increasingly felt. Maharashtra stands out as a large state with less than 20 per cent of its net sown area under irrigation; there is also a vast intrastate disparity that needs to be corrected urgently, with the Vidarbha region far behind western Maharashtra. Karnataka and Chhattisgarh are the other two large states where the net irrigated area is less than one-third of the net area sown.

Added to the problem of inadequate irrigation is the fact that the utilisation of irrigation potential has been dropping steadily in India with numerous problems afflicting the existing irrigation sources: poor maintenance to deal with wear and tear, depleting water table, inadequate power for lifting device, non-availability of water, diversion of water for non-agricultural purposes and so on. It goes without saying that an integrated approach to water management is crucial in ensuring optimal use of water for agricultural output.

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








Disaster preparedness on all counts should be accorded far more importance than it has received so far.

The onset of the monsoon once again raises questions about the level of disaster-preparedness in the face of floods. While global warming has raised the likelihood and severity of extreme weather occurrences everywhere, the loss to life and property is likely to be more pronounced in the developing world. Floods have wreaked unprecedented havoc in rural and urban India in recent years — be it the turbulent Kosi in Bihar in 2008, the floods in the Krishna basin in 2009 or the submergence of Mumbai in July 2005. An estimated 40 million hectares in India are prone to flooding. The Mumbai floods spurred the enactment of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, which spelt out the institutional framework to prepare for calamities, and respond to them.

In a welcome move, the apex policy-making body on disaster management, the National Disaster Management Authority, came out with a separate set of guidelines last September year to deal with urban flooding, a serious issue in its own right in view of the rapid urbanisation and unplanned development over the last decade. Since then, the Centre, the States and district administrations have held meetings on the implementation of the guidelines, involving 14 Central departments and Ministries, as well as the chiefs of the Defence forces. But for all the high-level commitment there is no perceptible change on the ground, perhaps because the government is not in the habit of taking pre-emptive measures.

Many of these measures do not cost much, but can play a critical role in minimising damage. For instance, large cities need many more rain gauges to provide timely information on the impact of heavy rainfall in a certain area; this is particularly in view of rainfall variations within a city. After the 2005 floods, Mumbai acquired 35-40 rain gauges, but even these may not be enough, given the global norm of one gauge for every four square kilometres. Other cities are worse off. A rain gauge costs about Rs 1 lakh, which is well worth the long-term savings it can bring. More rain gauges are required in the rural areas as well, as was brought out in the Krishna floods of 2009, when the authorities were unaware that a large area in Andhra Pradesh had received over 1,000 mm of rain in 24 hours. Each major city needs a Doppler radar, which, with its range of over 300 km, can provide three to six hours of lead time in the event of a flood. India has only seven such radars, whereas the disaster managers had planned for 55 some years back. At a cost of Rs 14-16 crore, there should have been more Doppler radars in place. With this basic equipment, educational institutes can be involved in capacity building at the community level. The IMD and the States can use the technology to map vulnerable areas. Disaster preparedness on all counts should be accorded far more importance than it has received so far.






The US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, recently asserted that "the US had absolutely no evidence" that "anyone in the highest levels of the Pakistan Government" knew that Osama bin Laden was hiding less than a kilometre away from the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad. This statement, however, does not come as a surprise.

The Americans had asserted for over a decade that they had no evidence that General Zia ul Haq was acquiring nuclear weapons, as they needed his support to "bleed" the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. They are today adopting the same approach towards ISI complicity in global terrorism, because they fondly hope that Generals Kayani and Shuja Pasha will cooperate in eliminating terrorism in Afghanistan.

That said, Ms Clinton's observations were not uncritical of Pakistan. She reportedly warned her Pakistani interlocutors, including President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and the ubiquitous Gen Kayani, that "there can be no peace, no stability, no democracy, no future for Pakistan unless the violent extremists are removed". She averred that "in solving its problems, Pakistan should understand that anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories will not make Pakistan's problems disappear".

Ms Clinton had told the Pakistani leadership that they would take "very specific actions", warning that the US would act unilaterally if the Pakistanis balked. The "specific actions" she alluded to were immediate operations to eliminate Al Qaeda leaders Ayman al Zawahiri and its military commander, Libyan terrorist Afsya Abdel Rehman. The other two persons against whom "immediate action" was demanded were Taliban military commander, Sirajuddin Haqqani and long-term ISI asset and terrorist leader Ilyas Kashmiri, who was finally killed by a US drone strike.


Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Omar falls in a special category. He has been designated as being wanted, in order to determine "whether he can be part of a political reconciliation in Afghanistan". Pakistan's assistance has been sought to facilitate this effort. The Americans have established direct and indirect contacts with Taliban leaders close to Mullah Omar and expect Pakistan to facilitate this process.

But it is doubtful whether Mullah Omar will accept the American position that he abide by the Afghan Constitution and renounce violence and links with the Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Significantly, Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafiz Mohammed Saeed is evidently not on the list of high-priority targets for the Americans.

The omission of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed has serious implications for India, as it sends a signal to the ISI that India-centric terrorist groups are not of primary importance to the US. Pakistan appears to have seriously miscalculated Beijing's response to its advocacy of a closer Sino-Pakistan alliance to undermine US strategies in its neighbourhood. American annoyance on this score was evidently conveyed to the Chinese during the bilateral strategic dialogue in Washington on May 9-10. The fallout was almost immediate, when Prime Minister Gilani visited Beijing on May 16.


While the Chinese were willing to pander to Pakistan's quest for "parity" with India, by agreeing to expedite the delivery of 50 JF-17 fighter aircraft and launch a satellite manufactured in Pakistan, they are also reported to have advised Gilani to "remove irritants" in relations with Washington and New Delhi. Perhaps the biggest setback for Pakistan in its efforts to demonstrate to the Americans that China would bail them out in the face of American assertiveness, was China's rejection of its proposal that it should immediately take over the strategic Gwadar Port located near the entrance to the Persian Gulf.

The Chinese made it clear that they could consider this offer only after Pakistan's existing contract (valid till 2047) with the Singapore Ports Authority expired.

In a more direct snub to Pakistan, China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Jiang Yu, categorically rejected an assertion by Pakistan's Defence Minister, Mr Ahmed Mukhtar, that he had asked China to build a naval base in Gwadar. Jiang stated that she had not heard of any such proposal being made during Mr Gilani's visit.

Clearly, the Chinese are in no mood to give credence to American allegations, that China's growing naval expansion is fuelling concerns across the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Regions. President Zardari fared no better than his Prime Minister, during his visit to Moscow on May 11-13. President Medvedev and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed the American operation in Abbottabad as morally and internationally justifiable.


What the Pakistanis fail to recognise is that while the Russians do have concerns about a US presence in Central Asia, they are nevertheless providing logistical support for the American presence in Afghanistan and making military supplies available to the embattled Karzai regime. Interestingly, the Kazakhstan Parliament approved a proposal on May 19 to deploy armed forces in Afghanistan, to join NATO forces there.

Moreover, Nikolai Bordyuzha, the Russian Secretary-General of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (comprising Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) stated that foreign troops needed to stay in Afghanistan, with the Editor of Russia's influential Global Times asserting that Russia and neighbouring countries were not interested in a hasty withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

India should realistically recognise that the Americans are not going to expend time and effort to eliminate India-centric groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The American end-game in Afghanistan is just starting and we need to be proactive in seizing diplomatic opportunities.






Osama bin Laden will at best be a minor issue in the November 2012 elections. The US economy is the overriding factor.

Obama "got" Osama, but will Osama "get" Obama the re-election next year? The gunning down of the al Qaeda leader in Abbottabad, Pakistan, may have won initial praise for the American President on his "decisiveness" in staying with Operation Geronimo that carried a lot of risk.

But the aftermath was something of a surprise: President Obama got a "bounce" of between six and eleven points; Wall Street remained flat, and so did the US currency. With all the so-called political lift for Obama, his rating on handling the economy went down by at least three points.

Osama bin Laden will be a factor — though a small one — in the November 2012 election, but in the shorter term perspective there are other things that the Obama administration will have to keep in mind. And these will include the outrage in Congress over Pakistan; the emerging framework of relations with that South Asian country; the war on terrorism and the future of American operations in Afghanistan. As it is the Democratic administration expects voices to emerge on the need to continue with the present state of play in Afghanistan, now that bin Laden is out of the way. But will all these weigh in heavily at the time of the electoral showdown?


It is not as though the President, his advisors and strategists for 2012 are missing the point: that when it comes to showdown time in November 2012, Americans are going to vote by their pocketbooks. Foreign policy has rarely mattered. And Obama does not have to look too far back in history.

At the end of the First Gulf War in 1991,the then President, George H. W. Bush, had an approval rating of about 90 per cent, but went on to lose the election next year to Bill Clinton.

"It's the economy, stupid" was a slogan coined by Clinton strategists, and used so effectively against the Republican incumbent in 1992, that it eventually carried the day. And this is precisely what the Democratic President is being reminded of today — that Osama bin Laden is not going to deliver him the White House for a second time; and if quick and determined efforts are not made to revitalise the economy, it could well turn out to be a one-term Presidency.

The stakes are not just for the President, it is also for the Democrats, especially in the United States Senate. Of the 33 seats that will be up for re-election in 2012, Democrats will be defending 23 of them; and at least six of the eight open seats. And with the Republicans having wrested control of the House of Representatives, the loss of the Senate by Democrats in the next election will be a major setback if President Obama comes back for a second term.

The debate on raising the debt ceiling is not the only issue that faces the Obama administration as it jostles with the Grand Old Party on Capitol Hill. It simply has to do with almost everything that concerns the economy.


The national debt of $14 trillion aside, it has to do with unemployment, which is pegged around 9 per cent; sluggish housing starts, with home-building at its lowest point in more than two decades; foreclosures continuing to be high; disposable income growing at less than 3 per cent per year; and questions on the real impact of the billions of dollars poured in by way of stimulus plans.

Republicans have been hammering away on the issue of raising the debt ceiling, stressing that this would have to come to terms with the larger aspects of spending programmes; and Democrats are arguing that the Grand Old Party is only looking for ways to get rid of Medicare and Medicaid.

In fact, the Obama White House is being pressured not to "negotiate" with the Republicans on anything that may have to do with Medicare and Medicaid; and are looking at the first signals of the administration as a sign of weakness.

It is about eight months away from the active primary season. It is unlikely that another Democrat is going to enter the fray to complicate matters for President Obama.

And it really is an open season within the Republican camp on who will challenge the Democratic incumbent. The Grand Old Party must have specific alternatives to be able to make a meaningful stand in 2012.

And President Obama knows full well that unless states like Ohio and Florida move up the economic ladder in the next 18 months or so, it is not going to be a repeat of 2008.

(The author is Head, School of Media Studies of the Faculty of Science and Humanities, SRM University, Chennai.)









In a reassuring sign of snapping out of the seeming paralysis that had taken hold of the government and the ruling coalition, a Congress spokesperson and the home minister spoke coherently to the people of the country, explaining why the government did what it did to the Baba Ramdev-led protest. The burden of the explanation was that there was a genuine security concern arising from the assembly of large numbers, in the background of the agitation against corruption being planned and orchestrated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. This has some credibility but fails to explain why four central ministers fawned on the RSS-inspired Baba in the first place. But this is not the main drawback with the government's response. The fact that the Sangh and its Parivar have chosen to make use of widespread popular resentment against corruption does not, in the least, discredit the campaign against corruption or popular disgust with corruption. It only goes to the credit of the Sangh that it shows the political acumen to choose the right issue on which to mobilise against the government and the constitutional order. In fact, the Sangh's choice of a voluntary body rather than its overt political arm, the BJP, whose president the Sangh appoints, to spearhead the campaign against corruption shows how well it understands the popular mood against politicians. What the ruling coalition's response lacks is a proactive agenda of its own to combat corruption. All it has done so far is to react, that, too, hamhandedly, to corruption charges or anti-corruption initiatives from someone else. This is what needs to change for the UPA to gain credibility and to politically counter the Sangh.

And there is little scope for waffle on the needed reform. India is ripe for a complete revamp of how politics is funded. It can no longer be funded through corruption, as it today undeniably is. Rather than wait for new laws, the Congress should take the lead to usher in complete transparency on fund mobilisation. Such a move would radically improve both the polity and the quality of governance, yielding manifold benefits. Including a firm rebuff to the Sangh and its plans.







A panel chaired by RBI's deputy governor Shyamala Gopinath has refrained from suggesting radical reform of small savings. Its suggestion to link the interest rate on these schemes to yields on government securities with similar maturity is spot on, but not novel. Administered interest rates are an anachronism when interest rates are market-determined. Small saving proceeds are lent to the state governments. There is no reason why states should borrow from small savings at a rate higher than what they have to pay when they borrow from the market. Today, states pay 9.5% for the money they get from small savings, admittedly for 25 years. But then, states might be able to minimise their interest outgo and borrowing requirement by opting for 10-year loans, going at 8.24% now. The entire scheme of small savings calls for radical reforms on the rate of interest, tax incentives and deployment. Ideally, savers should be encouraged to transit to the new pension system, set up to manage pension funds of civil servants joining after January 1, 2004 and later opened to private citizens. NPS subscribers are free to choose the manner in which their savings are deployed in different asset classes, depending on their risk appetite, and all of them enjoy secure, portable accounts and world-beating asset management fees. In addition to a pension account, each individual can have a voluntary tier-II account. The assets in this account are managed in the same manner as the pension account, but withdrawals are allowed at anytime. This would provide comfort to savers who invest in traditional schemes such as the public provident fund or post office time deposits that allow withdrawals.

Liberal tax incentives on small savings schemes might seem like a good thing. However, they cost the economy a pile. The rational thing to do is to exempt savings at the time of contribution and during accumulation and to tax them at the time of withdrawal. With a more evolved financial sector offering diverse and sophisticated saving options, there is little reason to persist with old-style small savings subsidised by society at large.









AUniversity of Ohio study claims yo-yo dieting is better than no diet at all. This offers all those resorting to hunger strikes here a personal goal in case their wider national concerns go unaddressed. While there is no empirical proof that a large number of high-profile hunger-strikers filling the TV screens these days could do with the loss of a few kilos, the contention of US scientists that obese people may benefit even from temporary (and marginal) slimming should give a fillip to this form of protest. That an enviably trim Baba Ramdev has shed an incredible three kg in five days, putting all famous diets like Dukan, Atkins and GM to shame, should be reason enough for the HS (Hunger-Strike) Diet to make it to the bestsellers list. Indeed, in case his yoga and ayurvedic empire shrivels in the glare of increased attention from investigating agencies, this idea may help him find an entirely different opportunity. Properly marketed, this diet could surely find resonance among many political biggies across the ideological spectrum, whose profiles bear a curious resemblance, at least in silhouette. They should realise that working out at the gym to shed those extra kilos simply would not have the same cachet as achieving that same goal while working for the greater good of the nation.
Consider the number of Bollywood and Hollywood stars, currently in the thrall of all manner of high-protein or low-carb diets, who would also jump at the chance to lose weight even as they gain fame as crusaders, thanks to the HS Diet. Shedding clothes for PETA campaigns has so far been the preserve of the slim, for instance. Now there is a chance for people of all weights to participate in social causes, a democratisation of the protest arena that has demonstrable fringe benefits.







The net interest margin (NIM) — the difference between interest income and income expense as a proportion of assets — is a key driver of bank profitability. The RBI thinks it is too high in India and has been trying hard to talk it down. Is the RBI right to be worried about the NIM? If yes, what is the appropriate response to high margins? Let us begin by looking at the trend in NIM of Indian banks as a whole and of public sector banks (PSBs). Two facts are clear from the accompanying table. One, the NIM remained steady for a long period after deregulation. Two, it fell to a lower level in 2007-08 and 2008-09. The decline in NIM for banks as a whole was the result of a decline in margins at PSBs which account for 70% of assets in the Indian banking system.
One would expect deregulation to result in a decline in bank margins. This has happened in other banking systems but not in India until recently. Why? Deregulation leads to greater competition amongst banks. It is also accompanied by disintermediation, that is, deposits and loans move out of the banking sector and into financial markets. As competition hots up, deposit rates rise and loan rates decline. Banks' NIMs get squeezed. India does not conform to this trend because, at the time of deregulation, we had a low level of bank penetration. In 1991-95, the credit to GDP ratio averaged 29%. The ratio has since risen to 60% but remains below that in many emerging markets. We are still an under-banked economy. Any economic system needs a minimum level of banking services. Only thereafter will savers and borrowers migrate in a big way to the financial markets. It will be a while before banks feel the full blast of disintermediation.

The decline in NIM in the recent past is good news for borrowers. However, it is not as if banks need to start worrying. Despite a decline in NIM in 2007-08 and 2008-09, PSBs' return on assets was around 1% in both the years. This was higher than in many of the previous years. PSBs seem to have made up for the decline in margin by an increase in fee income.

This highlights a second factor underlying the level of bank margins, namely, the proportion of fee income in relation to interest income. Banks with a high proportion of fees can afford a lower NIM; those with a lower proportion will need a higher NIM. A third factor driving the NIM is the bank's business model. In a branchintensive model, such as India's, operational costs will be high. The NIM needs to be commensurately higher.

The composition of loans and the risk profile of borrowers is another important factor determining the NIM. A bank that has a higher proportion of SMEs in its portfolio will require a higher NIM in order to offset risk. So will banks with more of certain retail loans, such as consumer loans, credit cards, two-wheeler and three-wheeler loans. Mandating a lower NIM across the board does not make sense.

We want banks to practise financial inclusion. That means investing in distribution, higher operational costs on low ticket loans and deposits and lending to riskier borrowers. All this will be reflected in higher lending rates and a higher NIM. If we want banks to be serious about financial inclusion, we must be willing to tolerate higher NIMs on that portion of their portfolio.


Comparing NIMs across countries is not meaningful either because the factors listed above will vary from one country to another. The NIM for US banks in 2008 was just under 3.8%; at its peak in 1993, it was close to 5%. In the period 1994-01, banks in Western Europe had an average margin of 2.7%, higher than what Indian banks enjoy today; the margin in banks in Eastern Europe in that period was twice that in Western Europe. No worthwhile conclusions can be drawn from cross-country comparisons. How do we respond to a situation where NIMs do not decline appreciably with deregulation? The regulator's job is to ensure adequate competition — and leave it at that. One way to measure competition is to look at the market share of the top five banks. The figure of 38% for India looks right; it places India somewhere in the middle of a range of developed and emerging markets.

The RBI is welcome to usher in greater competition by licensing new banks. However, in the present situation, a policy bias towards higher NIMs would be appropriate. Under Basel 3, capital requirements for banks will go up and banks' return on equity will come under pressure. Indian banks will need capital from abroad in order to finance an economy growing at the present rate. Higher NIMs will enable Indian banks to maintain their return on equity and attract capital.

For all these reasons, talking down NIMs is not correct policy. It is a matter of concern on another account. Since April 2009, the policy rate has gone up by 250 basis points. However, the prime lending rate of PSBs remained unchanged. The base rate, which came into effect from July 1, 2010, has increased only by 75-100 bps at PSBs.

It does appear that moral suasion on the part of the central bank has kept PSBs from increasing their lending rates. As a result, the pass-through of policy rates to borrowers has not happened. It cannot be that the RBI professes to be tough on inflation but does not allow the logic of its policy to work through the banking system.









The fragile global economy and increasingly fierce competition are putting enormous pressure on the value chains of many organisations across the world. Relatively dynamic industries like banking and insurance, healthcare, and retail, and even the more conservative ones, like manufacturing, are striving hard to change their status quo and looking beyond the four walls of the enterprise. They are finding organisational transformation key to create new and stronger connections with end-customers and other key stakeholders in their value chains. And interestingly, chief information officers (CIOs) are playing a growingly important role today in this transformation mandate of organisations.

Not so ago, the responsibility of CIOs was believed to be leading a function that was traditionally considered as a "support" unit. Today, IT is all-pervasive and is not restricted only to the smooth running of operations but goes far beyond into every aspect of the business — productivity, efficiency, revenue generation and cost control, among others. The trend of CIOs transforming their information technology (IT) infrastructure into a nimble, automated environment that can create a futuristic enterprise had in fact started a few years back. It was driven by the realisation that many organisations would find it difficult to support the enterprise of the future with their existing IT infrastructures, which typically include silos of data, applications and hardware that can slow change. However, the new transformation agenda for CIOs transcends the realms of IT.
Beyond the delivery of basic IT services and business process improvements, the transformation mandate of CIOs includes helping their public and private sector organisations fundamentally rethink the way they understand and interact with customers and partners alike. One key to extending the enterprise's reach is the use of "Big Data"— the vast volumes captured, for example, from instruments like sensors or RFID tags or data gleaned in real-time from millions of Web-based transactions. And it's not just the volume of data that's exploding, but the velocity as well. Analysing today's staggering volumes is beyond that of most traditional database management tools. To deal with them, real-time data collection and advanced analytics are a primary focus of organisations that have a transformation goal.

Over the next few years, CIOs need to put greater focus on customer analytics, product/service profitability analysis and master data management. This means moving beyond traditional relational database management systems into the next generation of integrated data warehouses and analytical tools. Simplifying business will be another key area for CIOs. Today, companies are operating in a world that is substantially more volatile, uncertain and complex.

Over the last decade, the impact of technology on organisations has risen significantly; contributing to complexity by creating a world that is massively interconnected. Not surprisingly, organisations that operate with the transformation mandate place substantial emphasis on simplification of both internal processes and interactions with citizens, clients and external partners. The most successful organisations co-create products and services with customers, and integrate customers into core processes. It is paramount that CIOs take a leadership role in creating this platform for co-creation through reducing organisational complexity and enhancing collaboration.

Finally, CIOs need to enable a faster and efficient decision-making process. Speed has never been more important, with response time — be it go-to-market or client delivery-reducing everyday. By providing sophisticated enterprise dashboards, CIOs can help the organisation get a more holistic view of their business and drive faster and more informed decision-making.

The role of CIOs has witnessed significant evolution in a relatively short span of time. They have moved closer to the centre of action and are now uniquely placed to drive transformation that will make organisations futureready. They are the new enterprise change-agents of today.

(The author is Chief Technologist, IBM India/South Asia)









Ahigh-level government panel recently pointed out that the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), tasked with land development, has become more like a 'finance company' and was earning huge money from bank deposits, instead of spending money on infrastructure.

In India's cities, urban development authorities (UDAs) hold substantial amounts of land. In new areas, these UDAs acquire land under public purpose regulation, develop them with infrastructure networks, and then sell to developers and end-users. Once the capital costs of the projects are recovered, the UDAs typically hand over the developed parcels to the municipal government for their operation and maintenance. There is an opportunity cost associated with UDAs not spending their revenues — since this is at the cost of the municipal authorities not being able to spend on infrastructure, despite being saddled with 18 responsibilities thrust upon them by the Twelfth Schedule of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, viz: urban planning including town planning; regulation of land-use and construction of buildings; planning for economic and social development; roads and bridges; water supply for domestic, industrial and commercial purposes; public health, sanitation conservancy and solid waste management; fire services; urban forestry, protection of the environment and promotion of ecological aspects; safeguarding the interests of weaker sections of society, including the handicapped and mentally retarded; slum improvement and upgradation; urban poverty alleviation; provision of urban amenities and facilities such as parks, gardens, playgrounds; promotion of cultural, educational and aesthetic aspects; burials and burial grounds; cremations, cremation grounds and electric crematoriums; cattle pounds; prevention of cruelty to animals; vital statistics including registration of births and deaths; public amenities including street lighting, parking lots, bus stops and public conveniences; and regulation of slaughter houses and tanneries. The UDAs do not have municipal functions in the same way that the cities have, and are required to provide only water supply, sewerage and roads in the areas which they develop. As an instance, the Bangalore Development Authority website summarises its planning and development functions: (a) preparation of development and scheme plans for the city; (b) approval of development plans and building plans for group housing and layouts; (c) other statutory functions under Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act of 1961; (d) planning and implementation of schemes to provide for residential, commercial and industrial sites, civic amenity sites, parks and playgrounds; (e) construction of commercial complexes and construction of houses for economically weaker sections, low, middle and high income groups; and (f) development of major infrastructure facilities.
The institutional arrangements pertaining to land use in India's cities are fragmented, with substantial land under the control of the UDAs, which are free to dispose of the land at will and make money. However, cities in India are not free to dispose of land at will or commercially lease them. Currently, in Indian cities, some land is held by municipal corporations, revenues from the sale or lease of which accrue to them (and is classified under their 'non-tax' revenues). However, a substantial amount of land is held by UDAs in cities and their revenues do not accrue to the ULBs, and hence is not accounted for in the ULB revenues reported by the various state finance commissions.

Given the distribution of revenues and expenditure responsibilities, is it reasonable to recommend that UDA revenues from land leasing and sales be transferred to cities? Stochastic frontier analysis was used to determine the efficiency of Indian cities and the Indian states, taking the case of roads, since that is a service offered by both Indian states and local governments. It was found that on average, the Indian cities have only about 1% of inefficiency, whereas the Indian states are only 65% efficient on average. This implies that, on average, the Indian states could offer the same coverage of roads with 35% fewer resources. A ranking of the states and cities based on their efficiencies in terms of road provision was done. At the citylevel, the top 191 ranks for citylevel efficiency are shared by towns in the southern Indian state, Tamil Nadu. The top states in terms of their efficiency ranks are Orissa (88% efficiency), Kerala and Nagaland (at 85% each efficiency), and the most inefficient ones are Jharkhand (only 20% efficiency), Jammu and Kashmir and Haryana (41% each efficiency.
City governments are more likely to be efficient and accountable to their residents as they understand local priorities and preferences much better than the distant state or national government. Hence transfer of finances from UDAs to cities in a phased manner is recommended, to enable them to carry out their municipal functions.
(The author is with Public Affairs Centre, Bangalore. The above research was completed when she
was visiting UNU-WIDER in Helsinki. Views are personal.)










One thinks of the First World War (1914-18) as far away and long ago, so it was somewhat disconcerting to read, a few weeks ago, about the death, at 110, of the last known combatant, Claude Stanley Choules. (A woman called Florence Green who was 110 in February, and served in the Royal Air Force canteens, is the only person left from that time.)


He joined the British Royal Navy when he was 14, and was present at some of the decisive events of that time: the surrender of the German fleet at the Firth of Forth in 1918, the scuttling of the German fleet by the Germans themselves in 1919 when, despite the terms of the Armistice signed in November 1918, they found themselves interned in Scapa Flow which was not neutral territory.


Interestingly, though Choules served in both world wars, and continued in service even after he migrated to Australia, he, like the British poets of the time, was an ardent pacifist, did not like to talk about the wars, and refused to take part in any memorial services. He did, however, publish his autobiography when he was 108.
    Paul Fussell writes, in The Great War and Modern Memory, "Every war constitutes an irony of situation because its means are so melodramatically disproportionate to its presumed ends. In the Great War eight million people were destroyed because two people, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his Consort, had been shot…The Great War was more ironic than any before or since… It reversed The Idea of Progress… which had dominated the public consciousness for a century."


The poet Wilfred Owen pointed to a poignant irony in his poem 'Strange Meeting'. The soldier speaking in the poem thinks he recognises someone in the vast underworld his spirit now inhabits. The other certainly recognises him. "I am the enemy you killed, my friend," he says. The idea is that it is not the young men on opposing sides who are enemies. War is the enemy, and the politicians who wage it for their own selfish reasons.


In Siegfried Sassoon's poems, 'Religion', the form of an Archbishop commends those going out to fight the "Anti-Christ" and Majors and Generals who give faulty orders who talk of a jolly good show and then "toddle off, to die safely home in bed".


Think of General Haig who ordered eleven divisions of British soldiers to climb out of their trenches and start walking forward. "Of the 120,000 who attacked," Fussell says, "60,000 were killed or wounded on this one day." Haig was elevated to the rank of Field Marshal.


British trenches in Flanders and Picardy, we are told, were dug where the water-table was the highest and the annual rainfall the most copious. Fussell quotes from a letter which Wilfred Owen wrote to his family, "In two and a half miles of trench which I waded yesterday there was not one inch of dry ground.


The soldiers were plagued by lice, and by rats that were "big and black, with wet, muddy hair". Ultimately, Fussell says, there was no defence against the water but humour. A soldier noted in his diary, "Water knee deep and up to the waist in places. Rumours of being relieved by the Grand Fleet."

 After such experiences, few used the words 'glory' and 'honour' without irony. Romantic words depicting war began to disappear: The blood of young men is no longer what Rupert Brooke called it, "the red/Sweet wine of youth".


Especially at the beginning of the War, it was a different world, with different values, so there is no reason to condemn Brooke as a patriotic romantic, or a jingoist for saying, in his most famous lines, "If I should die, think only this of me/that there is some corner of a foreign field/is forever England."






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




There is not a little irony in the fact that the Cabinet Secretary should be writing to Union ministers asking them to do what they are required to under the rules, namely disclose their assets on an annual basis. Which essentially means that ministers have not bothered with the rules. (This would be true not only for the present government, but also for all the states.) The Cabinet Secretary, under the Prime Minister's instruction — has indicated the deadline of August 31 for declaring assets by the PM's colleagues. The most prominent weakness of the missive sent at the behest of the PM a week ago is that it comes at an unfortunate moment for the government, when it is embroiled in a series of corruption-related court cases and controversies, some involving Cabinet ministers. The logical corollary of this is that were this not the case, a reminder to ministers may not have ensued. Considering the overall circumstances, then, it is hard to see the PM's assertion as the cracking of the whip, or the seizing of high moral ground in a season of scams that the Opposition parties and civil society activists are only too happy to exploit. In the event, it is not difficult to visualise that at least some ministers may be inclined to disregard the Cabinet Secretary's note. They would reckon that the PM may be too weak at the moment to enforce the rule. If the government meant business, it might have taken the trouble to at least leak to the media names of ministers who have evaded or overlooked compliance in the recent past. (It may even be instructive for the public to know which ministers — say in the last 10 years — have actually filed an account of their assets on a routine and regular basis without being prompted; that indeed may be an instructive compilation both from the point of view of governance and for the morale of citizens.) Naming and shaming is an acceptable way of doing things in a democratic set-up. In the coalition era, the authority of the PM comes chipped, and there are many examples over the years to demonstrate the point. If this weren't so, it is just conceivable that the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, might have asked the wrong ones among his ministerial colleagues tough questions, or even shown them the door. On the personal plane, he is quite rightly seen as an upright individual. Many would like to believe that he would not have stood for wrong-doing if his own position — and that of his party — did not so completely depend on the allies. This is a further reason that compliance with the Prime Minister's directive on the declaring of assets might be hard to come by. To that extent, the malady is systemic; it is symptomatic of the slow transformation occurring in our body politic. But these impersonal forces of history cannot, in the final analysis, be allowed to become an alibi for inaction where public weal is concerned. If a PM running a coalition government decides to take his call, he can ask the supporting cast of alliance parties to change the ministers they have nominated from their unwritten or de facto quota. In the event any of them demurs, the PM always has the option to recommend fresh polls. However, in the context of the equations that obtain, Dr Singh would require the full backing of his party to envisage a step of such magnitude. In any event, before he can summon the moral energy to pull up an alliance party, he will have to deal with the relatively less observant elements from within his own ranks with the full backing of the party leadership.







The combatants are firmly holding on to their views in the raging battle over the issue of corruption. Contortionist spokespersons of the United Progressive Alliance government have tried to justify indefensible actions. Civil society's self-appointed leaders have held forth as if they are latter day Gandhis. The government caved in cravenly to unelected representatives one day, only to react like a brutal Banana republic authority the next. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have argued over the staggeringly important issue of dancing at protest sites. The tenor of this entire discussion has been stunning in its immaturity. Where are the adults? Let us examine the civil society representatives first. They appear to be, uniformly, decent people with their hearts in the right place. But do they understand politics, economics and management? Leave aside the low opinion they appear to harbour about common Indian voters like me, the veracity of their ideas is suspect. Some of them claim, in all seriousness, that the black money stashed abroad by corrupt Indians is `400 lakh crores! That's approximately $9 trillion! This figure (more than six times the size of India's economy!) would make Indian black money the second largest economy in the world, next only to the United States. Really now! Black money is a serious problem. Quoting outlandish numbers makes the entire issue sound ludicrous. Judging from interviews of civil society representatives, their proposed legislation for an important institution like the Lokpal also has childish ideas. Long-established judicial concepts like separation of powers have been given the go-by for an all-powerful institution which can play investigator, judge, jury and executioner. This institution would have the power to investigate and charge anyone suo motu, which would bring decision-making in our already snail-paced bureaucracy down to a halt. Most importantly, how do we ensure that this all-powerful Lokpal doesn't itself become a den of corruption? Aah, very simple. We'll have the Lokpal appointed by a committee of "wise elders", such as self-appointed civil society leaders, Magsaysay Award winners, Nobel laureates etc. So people recognised by a committee of elderly Scandinavians are to decide India's future? Come on. Are we serious? There's a difference between agitating as a bleeding heart (which serves a purpose, I admit) and running a country. A child wouldn't know the difference, but an adult should. Now, let's turn our attention to the Central government. One would think that these people are mature. They have been elected to the highest offices in the land. They make decisions that affect one billion people. How they make decisions, though, is a mystery. An important civic legislation like the Lokpal is being decided by five self-appointed civil society leaders and some government ministers through a process of public brinkmanship and blackmail. Where is the legislative oversight in this? We are a parliamentary democracy. Our laws are supposed to be laid down by our elected members of Parliament (MPs). The real problem for this government, however, began earlier. In an immature disregard for our parliamentary system, the UPA decided to outsource legislations and policy-making to a civil-society dominated, Congress president Sonia Gandhi chaired, National Advisory Council (NAC). Obviously, other civil society members, like Anna Hazare and team, questioned why they should be any less important than the politically-connected non-government organisation types in the NAC. And they began a street agitation over their beliefs. It was a matter of time before Baba Ramdev, with a genuine mass base, decided that his views should also be taken seriously. Once a government surrenders to one street agitation, it cannot decide that it will not listen to another. There is logic to the parliamentary method. It involves an ugly process of negotiation, a thrust and parry of debate amongst MPs, which decides policy and legislation. Messy it may be, but this process is far better for a country in the long term. Because the MPs making the decisions and conducting the negotiations have been elected by the people of India. They are representative of the collective opinion of the country. Once we short circuit the parliamentary process to make decisions through street agitations by NGOs and blackmail by activists, it is a slippery road to an ungovernable country like the Philippines. A government that does not realise this is nothing short of childish. And the way they reacted to Baba Ramdev's demonstration, with lathicharge and tear gas shells on peaceful protesters, made abundantly clear that mature, logical thinking is at a premium in our government. Sadly, the Opposition has not covered itself with glory either, coming with its own biases, cussedly stopping reforms like the GST (Goods & Services Tax) which would make indirect taxes a lot less cumbersome and corruption ridden. But that's another story. The corruption issue is incredibly important. It needs serious solutions. Immature ideas like "shoot them all" or "we need a benevolent dictator" cannot be the basis for discussions. If we throw out all our politicians, who is going to govern our country? NGOs? There are enough practical ideas to combat corruption, and many have already been implemented in various states, like IT-enabling land transactions, open auction/bidding for all government contracts, complete transparency on all decisions through Right to Information. Some additional topics do need serious discussion, like a rational incentive and salary structure for the people who run our country. Also, campaign finance reform. Elections are expensive. If we don't find a legitimate way for politicians to fund their election campaigns, we are institutionalising corruption. Most importantly, of course, we need a well thought through Lokpal, constitutionally as powerful as the Election Commission or the Comptroller and Auditor General, and independent of the Executive. It should carry out anti-corruption investigations and prosecutions. Any more powers to it, like a judicial role, and we will create a leviathan which will hurt us in the long run. Also, I see no reason why the Prime Minister should be kept out of its purview. Do you? * Amish Tripathi is the author of the bestselling novel The Immortals of Meluha







DC DEBATE: RECALLING AYODHYA, BABA RAMDEV'S RAMLILA GATHERING POSED A RISK Ramdev had a communal agenda By J.P. Agarwal I strongly feel that such a massive gathering at Ramlila Grounds did pose a serious security risk. One should try to understand that Ramlila Grounds is surrounded by minority-dominated areas. In the vicinity of Ramlila Grounds, we have Turkman Gate, Fatehpuri Masjid, Ballimaran and the Jama Masjid. This makes Ramlila Grounds a very sensitive area, which can't be allowed to be used for the purposes of whipping up communal passions. It is pertinent that Right-wing Hindu leader Sadhvi Rithambhara shared the dais with Baba Ramdev in this sensitive place. Ms Rithambhara brings back the bitter memory of her role in fanning communal passions in the run-up to the demolition of the Babri mosque at Ayodhya. Her presence laid bare the communal agenda that Ramdev was all set to unleash at Ramlila Grounds. Further, it must be taken into account that the permission for the use of Ramlila Grounds was given to Ramdev for a "yoga shivir" or camp. But we all saw this undertaking being violated and Ramdev launching into political one-upmanship. Ramdev's camping at Ramlila Grounds was very much part of a hidden agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who clearly wanted to set off a bout of communal disharmony and had chosen their location accordingly. One should not forget that Ramdev was making provocative speeches instead of conducting a yoga jamboree. In fact, the permission for Ramlila Grounds was only for a few thousand people but Ramdev, using the RSS machinery, succeeded in bringing in many times more people. There was information that there were plans for even more people to be brought in from other states. All this would have posed an even bigger challenge to the already fragile security situation. What was the need for such a large gathering unless there was a hidden agenda? It should be recalled that Anna Hazare had conveyed his message to the government with a much smaller gathering at Jantar Mantar in April. It is pertinent to keep in view that in the run-up to Ramdev's Ramlila Maidan programme, the capital had seen a small-scale bomb blast near the Delhi High Court, apart from a bomb hoax at Gargi College. Such an atmosphere can get the security apparatus and the police force edgy. Delhi has seen terror blasts in the past and still remains high on the target of the terrorists. Therefore, the police was very much justified in taking the Ramlila gathering by surprise. It should be stated that it had shared specific intelligence inputs with Ramdev but the yoga teacher proved insensitive to the concerns of the administration. As told to Manish Anand * J.P. Agarwal, Lok Sabha MP and president, Delhi Congress * * * Barbaric act shows arrogance of power By Prakash Javadekar What happened on the night of June 4 at Ramlila Grounds was nothing but Ravanlila. Such excesses by police are unheard of in recent history. More than 25,000 people were resting, exhausted by day-long protests. Among them were thousands of women, senior citizens and hundreds of children. A couple of thousand were awake, chanting bhajans. Baba Ramdev himself had gone to sleep on the stage. There was nothing which was either provocative or threatening, or purporting to create any threat to the overall law and order situation. Suddenly, police in their thousands descended upon the pandal from all sides, gheraoed the stage, chased Baba and his followers, while hundreds jumped from the stage. As if carrying out the designs of the devil, in the wee hours of the night, was not enough, without any provocation, the police fired tear-gas shells. There was no warning, no announcement. The police mercilessly beat up men, women, children and senior citizens with lathis. All that happened is, fortunately, recorded. Thus, when the Supreme Court and the Human Rights Commission hear the case, police excesses would surely be established. But, the decision to swoop down was not of the police. It was taken at the highest levels of the Congress Party and the government, as testified on record by the human resource development minister, Mr Kapil Sibal. So, the onus is on the high command, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the home minister, Mr P. Chidambaran. They are guilty of committing excesses on peaceful protesters. I'm sure the Supreme Court will take this point into account because it will have to fix accountability of crushing a peaceful protest in order to protect the vested political interests of the Congress. There is a direct political message in this barbaric act: "If you protest, we will crush you". This is arrogance of power on brazen display. Dr Singh says that the episode was unfortunate but unavoidable. I say Dr Singh's statement itself was avoidable. If they wanted, the police could have waited till morning, they could have announced on the microphone that leaders were being arrested and would be taken away, and also announced the in situ release of all protesters after their arrest. They could have arranged buses and given them a reasonable time to leave. This is the civilised way of handling any such situation. There was absolutely no need for lathis and tear gas. There was no need for such barbaric actions. The main question of the legitimate right of the citizens to protest peacefully remains valid. * Prakash Javadekar, MP, BJP national spokesperson







Historians cite American secretary of state John Foster Dulles inadvertently leaving out South Korea from the US defence perimeter in a seminal speech he delivered post-Second World War as one of the reasons for the Korean War in June 1950. This non-inclusion motivated the North Korean leader Kim Il-sung — aided and abetted by Mao Zedong's China — to send his armies across the 38th Parallel into South Korea to unify the Korean peninsula. It is important for a big power to define its security perimeter broadly and, geographically, to talk expansively of its national interests. India is yet to do any such thing, so no Indian "sphere of influence" or of "responsibility" has ever been delineated. China is leaving nothing to chance. In Singapore last week, at the 10th Asia Security Summit hosted by the London-based International Institute of Security Studies, the Chinese defence minister and member of the Chinese State Council and Central Military Commission, Gen. Liang Guanglie, authoritatively put down the geostrategic stakes in terms of China's "core interests", incidentally, in response, to the ruling Congress party spokesman, Manish Tewari's query. China's core interests, he said, include "anything that is related to sovereignty, stability, and form of government". Dilating on this last, sensitive, bit related to state ideology and authoritarian system Gen. Liang explained that "China is now pursuing socialism. If there is any attempt to reject the path, it will touch upon China's core interests related to our land, sea or air. Then anything that is related to China's national (economic and social) development also touches upon China's core interests". He thereby covered all the factors impacting that country's security, including separatist movements in Tibet and Xinjiang, an independent Taiwan, disputed territories in the South China Sea and the Senkaku Island chain (contested with Japan), safety of sea trade routes, Chinese interests in African and Latin American natural resources, the Doha Round of tariff negotiations, and even climate talks (Copenhagen followed by Cancun). Gen. Liang implied that China would develop capabilities to protect and safeguard these interests. Unlike China, India has shied away from laying down markers in the belief that what is left unsaid cannot provoke a confrontation — exactly the opposite tack to that taken by Beijing, which is that what is not pinned down can be expropriated by others. In a dog-eat-dog world of international affairs — that Indian policymakers pigheadedly refuse to acknowledge — no prizes for guessing which attitude is a liability. Further, having staked out China's perimeter and expansively elaborated its interests, Gen. Liang sought to lull his audience with the usual Pablum. Such assertiveness backed by China's manifest economic power and fast-paced military modernisation programme, he claimed, are of a defensive nature and should not be perceived as threatening, and added, reassuringly, that China abhors "power politics and a Cold War mentality" and "has not been and will never be a hegemon". Despite his considerable talents in this respect, Mr Tewari would have learned a lesson or two in dissimulation and about the art of effortlessly easing an iron fist into a silk glove. Whether he will be able to convey the right message to the Indian government, leave alone awaken it from its stupor, is less certain, considering that starting with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and his national security adviser, the esteemable, Mr Shiv Shankar Menon, everybody up and down the government seems convinced that saying little about the growing differences and military tensions with China is the best way to resolve them. A policy of playing the China threat in a low key makes sense if it is supplemented with a marked build-up of deterrent conventional military capability. But when India has no mountain divisions for offensive warfare on the Tibetan plateau worth the name and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) can marshal as many as 28-35 divisions inside of a month, courtesy the Qinghai-Lhasa railway connecting the Chinese mainland with its western periphery, then we have a problem. We need a minimum of nine offensive mountain divisions — stalwart commanders deem 13-14 such divisions as barely adequate for the mission of credibly fighting the Chinese PLA on their ground. According to the general officer commanding one of the two new Army divisions expressly raised for offensive operations in the mountains, his formation is at present reduced to "protecting newly built border roads". What is the guarantee that these minimal additions to the extant force, or even the full complement of 9-14 mountain divisions, equipped with light howtizers, light tanks and assault helicopters whenever these are obtained, will actually be deployed for aggressive action against China, rather than as a strong backup for the defensively arrayed formations along the border, given that the Indian armed services as a whole have, over the years, grown as passive-defensive and risk-averse as the Indian government? Reorienting the Army to take on the PLA, however, involves much larger issues than merely raising new strike divisions for the mountains. It requires transformative ability which, in turn, depends upon organisational agility — something the Army — the senior service and a habitual laggard in these matters — is simply not good at, having undergone just two major restructurings in the last 60-odd years even as the methods and nature of war, and India's threat reality changed radically. The first transformation happened after the shock of the 1962 war with China; the second in the late-Eighties with Gen. K. Sundarji pushing to make the Army mobile warfare capable. Assuming the government cannot increase defence spending beyond 2.5 per cent of the gross domestic product level, the manpower and financial resources necessary for an offensive capability in the mountains will have to be freed up by finessing the Army's armoured might into a consolidated strike corps plus. There's no way to escape making hard choices. These and other issues were discussed at a June 3 seminar hosted by the HQ Central Command in Nainital with the Army Chief, Gen. V.K. Singh, present. One hopes Gen. Singh will initiate measures to make the Army relevant for tomorrow's contingencies, otherwise a bigger military humiliation awaits the nation in the Himalayas. Bharat Karnad is a professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi






Initiated in the Chishti Sufi order, I find Ajmer to be the kaabah of my heart. On the 6th of Rajab, June 9 (the seventh Islamic month), I look forward to participating in the 799th Urs festivities of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz. Along with hundreds of thousands of devotees, I queue for long hours to touch the threshold, usually getting my chance in the middle of the night. Musicians come to seek the blessings of Khwaja because the beginnings of Sufi music assemblies are attributed to him. Late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan attributed his success to Khwaja's benevolence and so does A.R. Rahman. Innumerable qawwal groups of the subcontinent arrive at the dargah to sing praises of Khwaja: "Baruti mehfil shahana mubarak bashad, saqia badao paimana mubarak basahad, ilahi ta abd astana-e-yar rahe, yeh asra hai gharibon ka barqarar rahe…" (Felicitation to thee for this blessed majestic assembly, O wine pourer, felicitations on your goblet of sacred wine. Oh God, may this threshold of the beloved exist for ever, may this refuge of the poor remain for ever…) The Chishti Sufi order derives its name from Chisht, a small town near Herat, Afghanistan. Khwaja Abu Ishaq Shami of Damascus established the Sufi order in Chisht where many of his spiritual successors lie buried. He mentored Khwaja Usman who came from Herwan, a town in Iran. On initiating him as a disciple, Hajji Sharif Zindani placed a four-edged cap on Khwaja Usman's head explaining, "First is the renunciation of the world, second the renunciation of the Hereafter. Third, renunciation of the self and lastly, the renunciation of all else other than God". Khwaja Usman lived in the company of his Master for 30 years and died in the holy city of Mecca. The Chishti order gained popularity through the teachings of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. An outstanding figure in the history of Islamic mysticism. Drawn to mystics from early childhood, the quest for knowledge took Khwaja to centres of learning in Samaqand and Bukhara. Khwaja was bestowed with the title of "Gharib Nawaz", Patron of the poor, in Medina. It was there that he received a spiritual inspiration to settle down in the Indian town of Ajmer. Khwaja laid down the founding principles for the Chishti order: "Develop river-like generosity, sun-like bounty and earth-like hospitality". Gharib Nawaz stressed renouncing wealth, encouraging self-discipline and prayer. He preached tolerance, advocating respect for all religions. Khwaja's inclusive message of peace and brotherhood brought hundreds of thousands to the fold of Islam. The Chishti order produced great Sufi masters, including Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, Baba Farid, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Naseeruddin Chiragh Dilli and Alauddin Sabir of Kaliyar. The Nizami and Sabri orders are among the numerous branches of the Chishti order. The Ajmer dargah, considered the most sacred in South Asia, attracts pilgrims from different religious and economic backgrounds in the quest of the Sufi master's blessings. — Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at








THE euphoria needs to be tempered. Tuesday's agreement on Darjeeling is doubtless a forward movement, in that both sides would appear to have reached a halfway house. Yet it would be premature to reflect in the manner of the Chief Minister that the Darjeeling issue has been "resolved". Suffice it to register that she has achieved a fair measure of progress and in a manner that neither Jyoti Basu nor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had the nerve to attempt. The snows have started melting after 25 years, to summon the language of the metaphor. But the success of the agreement, such as it is, will hinge substantially on the GJMM's consistency and the general acceptability in the Hills. The slightest backtracking, let alone expressions of dissent, will impede the essay towards a settlement. Truth to tell, the state was more vocal in its outpouring on Tuesday evening than the representatives of the GJMM, which has a local constituency to nurture. Doubts are likely to linger principally on two counts. First, the core demand for statehood ~ not wholly without reason ~ has been kept in suspended animation in an almost calculated attempt not to precipitate matters. Second, the demand for the inclusion of Terai and the Dooars, if not Siliguri, still remains a thorny issue. Rather routinely, this lethal cocktail of ethnicity, sub-regional jingoism and Adivasi opposition has been referred to a committee. The nub of the matter is that the issues of statehood and territorial jurisdiction are beyond the remit of the state; the Centre and Parliament are no less involved.  The Writers' understanding has skirted and kept in abeyance the two core issues. And this may not be quite agreeable to the hardcore elements in the Hills, if their immediate response is any indication. Short of statehood and territory, the striking feature of the agreement is the constitution of an elected entity to replace the Darjeeling Gorkha Autonomous Hill Council. By insisting on elections, Miss Banerjee has stuck to the Buddhadeb line, with one advantage. In parallel with the change of the political dispensation, the GJMM has come down from its rigid stance of nominations. It bears recall that Subhas Ghisingh had pursued a similarly undemocratic line, and with disastrous results. Hopefully, the rules of democratic engagement will be inherent in the new arrangement. Hopefully once more, the body will be accorded a fairly free hand in its functioning, chiefly in matters executive and fiscal. Short of statehood, a measure of autonomy, improved civic infrastructure and crucially, a share of the revenue from tea and tourism can yet placate the Hills people. Both sides have conceded ground in an effort to conclude an amicable solution. The agreement is to be welcomed and the Chief Minister deserves praise, but without a bout of ha-ha.




THESE are unprincipled times. What began as fervent debate over exorcising the cancer of corruption from Indian society has sunk to political discourse mired in vicious name-calling, headline hunting, vulgar dancing at a venue and event most inappropriate, and all-round slamming that has diverted attention from the initial "cause". Reflecting that ambience of filth is the so-called journalist jumping on the dais threatening to deliver what in Punjabi-English is dubbed a "shoebeat" to the Congress spokesman. This may not be a first, it is still condemnable. Even though caught in the thick of things, professionalism dictates that journalists maintain scrupulous neutrality and decorum in their official actions. What the man who claims to represent a Rajasthan publication (it has disowned him) betrayed was not just personal quirks, but the status of the fourth estate. How that will impact on "security" at press conferences etc cannot be immediately determined, impact it must. It is one thing for journalists to be "aggressive", another to be boorish or partisan. There is need for the media to look within. Has its mushroom growth facilitated infiltration of unsavoury elements anxious to exploit their journalistic status for a range of dubious ends? Who can deny an absence of guidance from professional peers, their injection of a strong dose of ethics into rookies even as they taught them the basics of reporting or editing? There is no dearth of journalism schools these days: their products are decidedly sub-standard, particularly on the finer points of "character". As sick as the misconduct on the rostrum was a section of journalists including two from reputed television channels joining in the beating of the miscreant: which incidentally earned praise from loose cannon Digvijay Singh. Was this a belated response to Indira Gandhi's call for "committed journalists"? It is a cardinal sin for reporters covering a political party to become its advocates, apologists. What can be said of the political reactions? With indecent haste Shahnawaz Hussain of the BJP interpreted that as a sign of "the people, media included" being angry with the government: no self-respecting journalist would feel elevated. Similarly, the Congress was quick to condemn the miscreant as a BJP plant. If haste was a factor, the speed of the Congress "identification" lent itself to the possibility of it having stage managed the affair in support of the BJP-bashing course on which it has now embarked. Maybe none of that is correct, the guy just "lost it".. But the suspicions that fill the air only underscore that these are unprincipled times.




THE indifferent condescension has boomeranged. Less than a month after the Assembly election results, the Forward Bloc and the CPI have placed the Left Front's dominant party on notice. Implicit is the message to the CPI-M that it direly needs to change its leadership, shore up its image and, no less crucially, restore the unity of the Left ~ the bedrock of the 34-year coalition. The demand for a change of leadership may not be easy for the CPI-M to digest. It has been articulated by the Forward Bloc leader, Ashok Ghosh. Well may the CPI-M cavil that at 87 he continues to lead his party, but age is not the point at issue. Mr Ghosh has stopped short of naming those he holds responsible for the rout of the Left. Nonetheless, the bare facts are an almost incalculable loss of face for the party. As the national leader of the CPI-M, Prakash Karat has led the party to the Left's "humiliating" defeat. So too has Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as Chief Minister. So too again has Biman Bose, the state CPI-M secretary and Left Front chairman. Hence the FB general secretary, Debabrata Biswas' assertion that "a change is needed in the CPI-M leadership at both the state and the central level". The coalition arrangement was in tatters in the period between the CPI-M's famous victory in 2006 and its denouement in 2011. And primarily because of the short shrift accorded to the partners while deciding crucial issues of economic development, pre-eminently land acquisition for industry and the opening up of the retail market to the corporate sector. The CPI has bared its angst in parallel with the Forward Bloc.

Buttressed by a brute majority in 2006, the CPI-M, including its Chief Minister, occasionally conveyed the impression that the junior partners didn't count. The condescending attitude was evident both at the meetings of the Left Front and the state cabinet. It would scarcely be an over-reaction to submit that between the tumultuous years of 2006 and 2011, the Left Front had a notional existence in West  Bengal.  Not  so,  however,  in  Kerala  and  Tripura.  It  was the CPI-M that called the shots in the pursuit of its Panglossian agenda.  The Left Front has ceased to be even notional; it is in ruins.









THE killing of Osama bin Laden was like a huge seismic tremor that gave rise to a number of aftershocks that still plague Pakistan. The fact that US attackers were able to penetrate deep into Pakistani territory without being challenged made the security apparatus look helpless and unworthy of the automatic public trust it has claimed and received. A mood of disenchantment with the army was induced, as a result of which this institution, hitherto more or less sacrosanct, has come under pressure and been forced to defend itself. In a bid to allay anxiety, the army chief has felt it necessary to reach out to the public through town hall-type meetings, and the head of the ISI has offered to quit in the face of hostile questioning by parliamentarians. Withering criticism in the media has added to the problem.

After the killing, terror groups claiming loyalty to Osama threatened retaliatory strikes, which they have undertaken, and the security agencies seem powerless to halt them. Indeed, the main targets have been the armed forces themselves and they have suffered a series of damaging attacks, leading critics to ask how they can claim to defend the country when they cannot even defend themselves. In a bid to stifle dissent, the ISI is accused of the death of a respected journalist who was a persistent and well informed critic: his killing has provoked such a sense of outrage that the Supreme Court has felt it necessary to intervene and inquire into the event. This is indeed a time of troubles in Pakistan.

These happenings are taking place in a deteriorating external situation. Relations with the USA have been under strain as a result of its intrusion in pursuit of Osama: Pakistan is indignant at the violation of its sovereign space but the USA is impenitent and has said it would so something similar again if need be. High level visits have been exchanged to stabilize the relationship and prevent further deterioration, and Secretary of State Clinton herself was a prominent visitor. It has been reported that in addition to various goodwill gestures, she pushed hard for augmented Pak action against insurgents on the Pak-Afghan border, and a deadline was established for the purpose.

Meanwhile, US drone attacks in the border area have been stepped up, aimed at targets in both Afghanistan and Pakistan: while the former has made heated protests about the killing of civilians in at least one of the attacks, Pakistan has not had much to say, though earlier it had protested when such attacks were made without its consent. Maybe this is because it does not wish to see further decline in its relations with the USA. It seems that, however indignant they may be about each other, neither can afford a serious breach at present. The Pakistan army would be in real difficulty if the aid it receives from the USA were to be suddenly terminated, and the USA too would find it impossible to provide for its large army in Afghanistan without access through Pakistan. So notwithstanding their mutual doubts and suspicions, they remain locked in their familiar 'deadly embrace', to borrow from the title of a recent book on Pak-US relations.

As relations with Washington began to go downhill, Pakistan's leaders turned, as they have so often done, to Beijing. Unlike the USA and its associates, China did not react in minatory fashion when Osama's hiding place in Pakistan was revealed. While US legislators called for cutting off aid, Chinese spokespersons remained largely supportive of Pakistan. Prime Minister Gillani was able to obtain enough support from Beijing to mitigate his country's isolation and to allay some of its sense of being hard done by. But while China can match the USA in some respects, it is no real alternative as an external prop for Pakistan, so it remained supportive without taking on fresh obligations that could complicate its relations with other regional and international partners. It is evident that Islamabad needs must repair relations with Washington as the only real source of support to keep its military and its economy afloat.

A fresh source of concern in the post-Osama setting comes from reported US plans to start reducing its presence in Afghanistan. Under the original scheme, this was to commence in July, a bare two months ahead. It is now feared that the reduction may be swifter and more substantial than initially planned, for a principal objective of the US presence, which was to eliminate Osama, has been achieved. Accelerated withdrawal could aggravate local problems, especially in Afghanistan, so regional apprehensions could be growing.

Hard times in Pakistan are bound to raise anxiety among neighbours, for they would like to see stability and good order there, not the repeated attacks that have raised fears about the future. Though uncomfortable with these developments, few in India will have much sympathy for their neighbour's plight, given the bitter history they share. Yet this is the time for statesmanlike initiatives from New Delhi to try to turn the situation in a positive direction. Tangible supportive gestures at this juncture would give substance to India's oft-repeated wish to develop friendship and to open a new chapter. There was a recent opportunity when officials of the two sides met for discussions on the Siachen dispute. It would have been appropriate and timely for them to go the extra mile in resolving the dispute, for that would be an important indication of a positive intention about the overall relationship. As it is, the outlines of what could be the final settlement were identified some two decades ago by officials of the two sides, and what is needed now is the political will to endorse what was agreed at that point. Such a result would have a salutary effect on bilateral relations.

The great challenge for India is to find a way of communicating its readiness to transcend old animosities and find a fresh basis of friendly association with its neighbour. The revived composite dialogue is a step in that direction but a stronger, more personal initiative is needed if we are to get out of the morass. Pakistan is in a mess, so there will be many to say that this is not the time for any such initiative. But it is never a good time, for there is always an impediment. Yet people on both sides of the divide are ready for change and for a better relationship. That is what the Prime Minister desires, as he has often shown, and one must hope he will find the key to decisive action in that direction.

The writer is India's former Foreign






"THE terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket." This was proved again in Delhi this week when a religious leader, Ramdev, was fasting before thousands of his followers. Policemen of different agencies belonging to the Centre and states descended like tonnes of bricks on his sleeping followers and dispersed them. They even used tear gas. Ramdev was physically removed, and the police action left many injured, some seriously.

All this happened at midnight ~ the time the British would usually choose to crack down on Indian dissidents. Ramdev and his followers' demand was that the government should promulgate an ordinance to declare black money stashed by Indians abroad as national asset and bring it back. The rough estimate of the black money roosting in foreign bank accounts amount to more than Rs 280 lakh crore. Repatriating it may prove somewhat difficult because foreign banks and the governments of the countries in which they are located  will have to be involved. President Barrack Obama had his job made easy by simply freezing the assets of Switzerland ~ a haven for unaccounted money ~ in the USA. Within 48 hours, he got the list of American nationals stashing away money in Swiss banks.

It is obvious that the ruling Congress would not go to that extent because some of its own top leaders as well as many who are part of the government are reportedly involved. But if the party has nothing to hide or fear, it can easily declare black money stashed abroad as national asset. The country still remembers how the Bofors gun deal kickbacks were never repatriated. Even the go-between ~ Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi ~ was allowed to leave India at a time when a number of charges were pending against him. Obviously, he had the protection of the Congress.

When all-pervasive corruption has come to the focus again, the government is found evading the issue. It feels as if political rhetoric or brutal force would suppress the people's demand for cleansing the system. With the midnight raid, what the government has achieved is help swing public opinion in favour of Ramdev. The yoga expert's credentials were already suspect and he appeared to be wearing communalism on his sleeve. When the BJP and its mentor, the RSS, threw their weight behind him, people began to distance themselves from Ramdev. But after the police action, doubts about Ramdev receded to the background and police methods became the topic of debate. The dutiful Prime Minister again came to the rescue of police by saying that the action was "unfortunate but inevitable". Since when lathicharging peaceful demonstration has become "inevitable"?  Why couldn't it be avoided?

A peaceful demonstration is guaranteed under the Constitution. We won Independence through satyagraha and similar other non-violent methods. Two, must police action be conducted furtively in the middle of the night? And should teas gas be used on sleeping women and children? Dr Manmohan Singh and major domo Mr Kapil Sibal are nice people. But why do they change when they come to occupy seats in the government? Why do they behave like rulers when the democratic system enjoins upon them to act as elected representatives?
Another thing which the police action has done is bring the agitation of Ramdev and Gandhian Mr Anna Hazare on the same page. The latter had to talks with the government on establishing a Lokpal (ombudsman) to supervise the machinery to eliminate corruption in high places. Again, Mr Sibal was indiscreet when remarking that the government would go ahead with the drafting of the Lokpal Bill even if the Anna Hazare team, representing civil society activists, did not participate. The activists never said they wouldn't. Why does the government behave so arrogantly? It is but the people's servant and not their master.

The CPI has woken up to the question of sanctioning talks between the government and civil society. The party cannot appreciate that there can be organised movements beyond trade unions and kisan sabhas (congregation of farmers). Civil society matters and the Left parties have ignored it at their peril. In fact, the CPI-M is reading the situation realistically because it has condemned police action.

When it comes to tackling anti-graft agitation, the government is clueless. The Congress becomes abusive and the government begins employing force.  Contrast this with the conduct of the Anna Hazare team. It asked for permission to go on a fast and when permission for one site was not given, it chose another with the approval of police. Thousands gathered in support of Mr Hazare. Had police lathicharged these peaceful participants as well, the authorities would have faced a situation similar to the one that had arisen when police cracked down on Ramdev and his followers at midnight.

However, what consumes the nation at the moment is corruption, neither Anna Hazare nor Baba Ramdev. They have only articulated the debate. It seems the government is clouding the real issue by resorting to diversionary tactics ~ there could well be a few more scams which it is trying to hide. It is difficult to say with certainty who among the ministers or the Congress leaders have not stashed away their "commissions" abroad. The Prime Minister, rather belatedly, asked his ministerial colleagues to declare their assets and business connections along with that of their spouses and near relations.

The anger against the government for not doing enough to tackle corruption and repatriate black money is so palpable that one can almost taste it. The Congress would lose heavily if elections were to be held in the next few months. Since a consensus on fighting corruption doesn't seem to be emerging, the country is veering towards fresh polls. Probably, there is no way out.

Had the Constitution been amended, as former Chief Justice M Hidyatullah had suggested, to provide for a referendum, the present crisis could have been averted. The matter could have been referred to the people and a decision arrived at one way or the other. But the Congress is behaving as if it does not owe any explanation to the nation. This attitude does not help.

The movement against corruption may assume such proportions that it could make the government find it difficult to cope with it. I believe the Prime Minister is fed up and keeps saying that he "has had enough of it". By threatening to resign, he may be able to jolt the party from its slumber. But the manner in which the Congress is distancing itself from the government makes me suspect that something ominous is afoot. Dr Manmohan Singh was not invited to a recent meeting of top Congress leaders and ministers to discuss the fallout of both fasts. Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi, who presided over the meeting, is mum. She has to take a stand. It is her party that stands to lose.

The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator





English being my favourite subject, I would devote much time to it. When I was in Class XI, I resolved to become an English teacher. Soumitra Maity, the English teacher, was my role model. I liked him and his manner of instructing so much that I nourished a desire to emulate him. I would eagerly wait for his classes as his method was student-friendly and effective. I closely followed his pronunciation and intonation and marvelled at his knowledge.


Soumitra babu, a teacher of Chakdaha Ramlal Academy, was a voracious reader and he kept abreast of the latest trends in teaching English as a second language. He would come to school with a small suitcase packed with a number of books, especially on English literature and language. He would read them in the staff room and would often refer to those while teaching us. He loved all students and all of us reciprocated his feelings sincerely. We would sit transfixed as he taught us and whenever we had doubts and expressed them, Soumitra babu would patiently explain it all to us.


Soumitra babu always demonstrated the easiest ways of learning English. While teaching Keats, he once asked us to answer a question from To One Who Has Been Long In City Pent. I was one of the very few students who submitted an answer and was rewarded with a 6 out of 10. What impelled me to learn English more sincerely was his remark: "A good effort." Another comment is still fresh in my memory. In the remarks column of the annual progress report of Class XI, he wrote: "Will do well in the long run." This really inspired me to do well.
A bearded man of middle age, Soumitra babu was dedicated to his work. One day, he was dictating and so absorbed was he that he continued even after the bell had rung. The entire class started humming. Eventually, one of my classmates piped in: "The bell has rung, sir." Our teacher looked up, regarded us carefully and then walked up to the blackboard on which he wrote: "I do not leave anything half-done."

He was at home with students, who found in him a friend, philosopher and guide. Outside the classroom, he took a leading role in organising extra-curricular activities for students. He convinced me to overcome my shyness and take an active part in the school's annual cultural function. It was under his affectionate guidance that I rehearsed to sing in chorus Tagore's Naba anande jago aaji naba rabi kirane and learnt to recite verses from the poet's Red Oleanders. He was always encouraging students to raise the bar.
Yes, I have become an English teacher now. I always try to give my best to my students in a school near Kolkata. And, I am trying to raise the bar all the time. I would have liked to know what Soumitra babu thought about my efforts. But, sadly, he is no more. The great teacher who inspired countless students to rise above their inadequacies, committed suicide sometime back. May his soul rest in peace.





We are glad to see that the Government of Bengal has given a specific denial to the report that the Calcutta Improvement Bill is again to be postponed, and has declared that it will be carried through during the coming session of the Legislative Council. It was, indeed, impossible to believe that because vested interests backed up by their subservient henchmen in the Press had offered factious and unscrupulous opposition to the measure the government would take the pusillanimous course of postponing it indefinitely. If the monopolies who are so strenuously fighting for their own pecuniary interests and against a scheme which is to bring improved sanitation and other valuable amenities to Calcutta imagined that their artifices would do more than delay the Bill they are undeceived. But it is deplorable that there has been no organised manifestation of the strong and influential public opinion which is in favour of the Improvement scheme. This, as we have on previous occasions pointed out, is no doubt partly due to the failure of the Government to put forward the project in an attractive and inspiring way. But it is certain that in any other city of the importance of Calcutta a great proposal having for its object the improvement of densely crowded areas in which disease is necessarily rife, and the creation of broad streets in place of dingy and insanitary thoroughfares, would have been received with acclamation. Here it has simply caused the forces of reaction to be marshalled against the public welfare. The landlords masquerading in the guise of ratepayers have denounced the Bill, and their fiddlers in the Press have loyally played the time called for by their masters. No more cynical demonstration of the lengths to which vested interests are prepared to go has ever been witnessed. In England there are public-spirited landed proprietors who have loyally cooperated in town-planning schemes. No such zeal for the common good has been witnessed in Calcutta.









Mamata Banerjee has proved yet again that she can do what she promises better than her political rivals. She had promised to resolve the political stalemate in Darjeeling within three months of coming to power. The best thing about the agreement signed between her government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha is that it has come much sooner than she had promised. She lost no time in creating the right conditions for the dialogue at her first meeting as the chief minister with the Morcha leaders. Once the right note was struck, it was necessary to build on it and take the process forward. The mutual confidence between the two sides has made it possible for both to be flexible on some of the more contentious issues. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government had similar views to those of the new regime on several of these. Yet if the earlier government had failed to reach an agreement with the Morcha, it was primarily because of an atmosphere of mistrust and a lack of mutual confidence. Even the agreement signed on Tuesday leaves some issues, including the one on the territory of the new administrative set-up for Darjeeling, unsettled. But the big picture is undoubtedly one of hope and a move forward. That this was achieved without any reference to the demand for Gorkhaland makes the agreement particularly laudable.

The challenge now is to give the people of Darjeeling a representative administration as soon as possible. The agreement proposes to initiate the process for the election to the new administrative set-up during the first session of the new legislature. Ms Banerjee has done the right thing in insisting on an elected, rather than a nominated, administrative set-up. A nominated body would not have reflected the popular will or ensured the people's participation in the administration. Also, it could have caused political and administrative complications in the future. The absence of any credible administration in Darjeeling has left most services and public utilities in the hills in tatters. This has long created a dangerous vacuum in the region. The people of Darjeeling have a legitimate aspiration for a distinctive political identity. But they also want the quality of their lives to improve. The ultimate test for Ms Banerjee is to restore among the people of Darjeeling hopes of a better future.






It is a sorry state of affairs when the plainest good sense from a politician is welcomed with overwhelming relief. The decision of the chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, to bring school education under a single umbrella, presumably under the auspices of the relevant government department, is such a mark of good sense, right thinking and aspiration to efficiency. The Left Front had excelled in creating deliberate messes in its drive to entrench itself ever deeper in the lives of the people of West Bengal, while simultaneously ensuring for itself — or hoping fruitlessly to ensure, as it turned out — a progressively larger pool of votes. In one of its dying gasps it had created a stream of rural schools wholly under the panchayats in order to accommodate as teachers followers of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Left Front had already honed its skills in destroying education at all levels; the future of Bengal's young was never its concern. The last scheme seemed set to produce an inferior set of rural schools, ensuring that the children of the rural poor would never be able to catch up with the mainstream.

Ms Banerjee has promised to change that, while also promising academically acceptable — not politically convenient — standards in the recruitment of teachers. This would be a necessary first step towards improvement in the quality of West Bengal's school education as a whole; it is abysmal in comparison to a large number of states if reports of achievement levels are to be believed. But cleansing the mess the Left Front has created will take a lot of determination and resources. Improving infrastructure in schools, training teachers as required, attracting trained personnel to teach in rural schools — through adequate pay, comfortable accommodation and at least passable surroundings — would mean a heavy recurring expenditure. Besides, a lot of red tape needs to be snipped. The government would have to look at pre-school anganwadi centres as well as bridge schools for child labourers; these are not under the school education department at present. A state left bankrupt and indebted may not be the best place for such promises, yet the right steps have to be taken, however difficult. The new government needs to restore balance, to ensure equal opportunities in education for the children of the poor, and to invest in the future of West Bengal.





A notable aspect of the recent visit of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to India was its cursory coverage by the media and the consequent lack of public awareness of its importance. The focus was indeed more on what happened on her way to Delhi — the delay in Iranian overflight clearance — than on what transpired during her visit. We have apparently yet to realize that Germany is Europe's biggest and most resilient economy, the world's second largest trading nation, known for its engineering excellence, technological innovation and exemplary work ethic. As the last ambassador to present my credentials in Bonn and India's first ambassador in Berlin as the capital of reunified Germany, I, as well as my colleagues, were aware that the move of the capital to its original location was not just of geographic but of geo-strategic significance in terms of power equations in Europe. The Germans realized this and, in various ways, sought to downplay this dimension. Thus, while most of my European colleagues privately commiserated with me on my transfer from Berlin to London, virtually everyone I knew in India regarded this as a promotion of sorts. It is ironic that while bemoaning the fact that most international organizations do not reflect current global realities, in some respects our world view still remains frozen in the past.

I was impressed by Angela Merkel since my first meeting with her when she was in the opposition as the chairperson of the Christian Democratic Union. Her long handwritten notes reflected not only her meticulous preparation for the meeting but her deep personal interest in India and the high priority she attached to Indo-German ties. From all accounts, the close personal rapport between Merkel and the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has played a positive role in the rapid improvement of Indo-German relations.

The holding of the first inter-governmental consultations between India and Germany during Merkel's visit was a major landmark in our relationship. Germany has been very selective in the setting up of such IGCs. Since the mid-1970s, IGCs were set up with France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Israel. After India, China may be the next. While our earlier exchanges were episodic and hastily prepared, the new forum is structured and broad-based, and amenable to integrated functioning and monitoring. Joint cabinet ministerial meetings covering external affairs, finance, home, defence, commerce, human resource development, transport, science and technology, and environment, would arrive at decisions and jointly convey these to senior officials of both countries on the same day.

Merkel was accompanied by a high-level delegation of corporate CEOs. There is concern in Germany, as elsewhere, about the virtual suspension of the economic reform process in recent years, including long-pending financial sector reforms and the opening of the retail sector. Germany, on its part, has to do more to relax its export control regulations.

After the Fukushima disaster, Merkel had to abandon her efforts to seek a 10- to 15-year extension of the legal deadline of closing all operating nuclear power plants in Germany by 2022. The decision to adhere to this deadline was announced just the day before her visit. This will pose a challenge to meeting the German commitment for a 40 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions by 2020. It may also involve adjustments in the German collaboration with the global nuclear industry. Merkel, however, understood India's need to determine its own energy portfolio mix, not only for our energy security but in the context of our national plan for environment protection. Merkel was the first Western leader to express understanding of reduction of global emissions on a per-capita basis.

In terms of foreign policy projection, Germans tend to be matter-of- fact and understated in their approach. For instance, the G8 summit held under German chairmanship in June 1999 had issued a positive and forthright statement reflecting our interests regarding Pakistan's violation of the line of control at Kargil. We had attributed this principally to the United States of America's good offices, without realizing that the final formulation was virtually identical to the initial German draft. Similarly, Germany, and Merkel personally, had played an important role while chairing the meeting of the Nuclear Supply Group, which approved the US proposal to exempt India from the application of NSG guidelines in 2008. Even within our establishment, few are aware of such instances owing to the general German reticence to seek any brownie points.

We also had a tendency to underestimate German resolve, especially in relation to the US. The Chinese knew better. For instance, in 2000 the former chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, telephoned the Chinese president to request support for a German to head the International Monetary Fund; China's support was promptly conveyed and announced the same day. A similar call to our then prime minister resulted in an ambiguous response, based on our informal consultations with the Americans. The German candidate, Horst Kohler, was elected the IMF managing director that year.

Germany has traditionally been a very strong proponent of nuclear non-proliferation and the non-proliferation treaty. It had opposed the US on the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and objected to the first use of nuclear weapons in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation doctrine. Thus Germany has still to resolve some internal constraints to enable it to support India's inclusion as a member of the NSG, Missile Technology Control Regime, and other groups.

On Afghanistan/Pakistan, our views may not be identical with all those of the Germans, but overlap on the most important objectives. Though 49 German soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, Merkel made it clear that Germany will remain for the long haul in that country. Unlike in Istanbul, India's presence will undoubtedly be welcomed and given due recognition at the next conference on Afghanistan in Germany this year.

The German abstention on the United Nations security council resolution on Libya had created both confusion and controversy. The decision was taken by Merkel and the foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, on the basis of inputs of a top Foreign Office official. In actual practice, however, German positions are not radically divergent from most provisions of the UNSC resolution. Germany, which remains a strong advocate of the right to protect victims of human rights violations, differs fundamentally with the Indian or African Union advocacy of non-interference.

The German approach to UNSC reforms is not identical to that of India. I feel that the Germans have a more realistic understanding than our multilateral experts of the prospects of the G4 as a group getting permanent membership of the UNSC in the next few years. I know that both the Bush and Obama administrations have been candid about their opposition to a third European seat in the UNSC. China has reservations on Japan and has not yet shown great enthusiasm about India. I am not aware of other P5 countries actively working in coordination with G4 countries in New York. We should not continue to squander too much political capital on this campaign. As I have said before, we should stop this unedifying spectacle of banging the door to get in. We should have the grace to wait till we are invited to join by consensus. India and Germany have much they could do together to their mutual benefit and for promoting peace and prosperity.

The author is the former Indian ambassador to the US






The shoe has finally arrived in China. Though not confirmed officially, it appears that a shoe was thrown at Fang Binxing, the creator and keeper of the Great Firewall that rules the internet here. Fang, the principal of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, was addressing students at Wuhan University. The incident came to light after the shoe-thrower tweeted about it. Reportedly, two students were also planning to throw eggs at Fang, but met the shoe-thrower and let him do it.

Under Fang's overall direction, certain phrases became inaccessible on the internet. Now his own name has joined the list of censored phrases. Interestingly, while official media have not reported the incident, the China Daily website mentions it as part of its Twitter forum. And it appears in the list of directives sent by propaganda authorities to the media and to internet portals. Naturally, the directive forbids references to the 'so-called' shoe-throwing incident.

The incident has inspired amusing responses from Chinese tweeters and bloggers. In one, Fang is shown asking his hosts why they didn't prevent the incident, which was being discussed on Twitter. The reply: "We could not open that website.'' Another is an adaptation of a poem by the Hungarian revolutionary, Petofi Sandor: "Life is dear, love is dearer. Both can be given up for freedom'' has been changed to "Egg is dear, shoes are dearer. Both can be given up for Binxing."

The propaganda directives sent out (leaked to a website) are revealing. There are many taboo topics: the June 4 anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, the serial bombings of government buildings in Fuzhou — set off by a man frustrated after 10 years of trying to get redressal for the illegal demolition of his new house — and the Han-Mongol clashes in Inner Mongolia which began when Mongols protested against a mine run by Hans. But what can one make of the directive to delete from the internet a page in a reputed newspaper dedicated to the memory of those who died in the Sichuan earthquake?

Alert eyes

Censorship isn't the only method of controlling the internet. The Party has its own netizens who intervene in and often guide internet discussions. Called '50-centers' (they started off getting half a yuan for every post they made), these anonymous propaganda soldiers are mostly recognizable for the way they defend the authorities. But an interview with one of them reveals a more subtle process at work in moulding public opinion.The interview was conducted by Ai Weiwei, the famous dissenter now under detention.

According to this anonymous 50-center, there's no rigid process to select them. He was told of this work by a friend; he accepted because he needed the money and was anyway online most of the time. As for qualifications, he reasons that a command over the language helps. The primary criterion that is expected of a 50-center is to "understand clearly what the guiding ideology of your superiors is". As part of his modus operandi, he can adopt different voices: the leader, the follower and the observer, the last representing "the masses ignorant of the facts''. The leader generally enters the discussion after the followers have argued among themselves. He speaks in a credible voice, has facts to back him, and succeeds in getting the rest to his side.

The topics of discussion are e-mailed to these 50-centers. The orientation is given — channelize netizens' ideas, blur their focus, or arouse their emotions. A lot of it is simply keeping rumours down. But it's made clear that "the public cannot be allowed to think this or that, we can't tolerate this or that kind of speech''. The latest media directives forbid discussions on the Fuzhou serial bombings if posts can't be "managed.''





In the Trinamul Congress manifesto before the assembly polls, Mamata Banerjee promised to transform Calcutta into a world-class city, like New York, London and Paris. To anyone who has visited Calcutta, to say nothing of those who live in the city, such an ambition not only sounds unattainable but also absurd. For, apart from the systemic failures that plague the civic administration, there are fundamental problems with the way Calcutta's image as a modern city has been imagined and shaped by generations of administrators since the colonial era. The staggering disparity in the rate of development in various parts of the city, and the way in which the authorities have dealt with overpopulation, poverty, decay and disrepair, reveal the nature of the State's engagement with the challenges posed by urban modernity.

In order to clarify my thesis, let me recall a journey I undertake along a small stretch of the city almost every day. Sometime ago, tired of being pulverized by the pride of Calcutta — the new, improved Metro Railway — I started taking the tram back home from work. For someone like me, who has lived all his life in South Calcutta, the hour-long ride proved to be an edifying experience every day.

If you board a tram from Esplanade and alight at Gariahat, your journey begins from a region of melancholy decay and ends in a part of the city where the entire project of modernity appears to have gone haywire. You leave behind the squalor of North/Central Calcutta and move towards the sedate respectability of the South. By the time you arrive at your destination — after passing through Lenin Sarani, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, Royd Street, Elliot Road, A.J.C. Bose Road, New Park Street and Syed Amir Ali Avenue — you have trespassed on an area that is remote from the cosmetic orderliness of uptown South Calcutta. It feels as though you have passed through a different city, bustling yet invisible, hidden away in the heart of another kind of Calcutta.

Removed from the prissier South, this part of the town has a pulse of its own, quickened by the press of humanity — jostling, shouting, watching, trying to eke out a living in a myriad curious ways. The corner shops have funny names, some of the road signs are written in unfamiliar languages, and the air feels permanently sultry. People here not only dress differently but they also have their idiosyncratic ways of negotiating with the flabbergasting filth that surrounds them. Viewed from the vantage point of the window of a moving tram — from a level and at a pace corresponding to the level and the pace of the life on the streets — the ambivalent flavour of this invisible city becomes apparent.

Although the dodo of the transport system, the tram is preferred by a great many people for a variety of reasons. Not only is it cheap, but it is also safer than most other vehicles. A tram may move at a snail's pace, but even a desultory ride has its own unexpected thrill. On one unforgettable occasion, the tram I was on came to a standstill every time it stopped on the way. And each time, it could only get going after being gently nudged by the tram trailing it, the degree of the impact between the two cars calibrated by high-pitched exchanges among the conductors of the respective vehicles. No one seemed to mind the inconvenience or to apprehend the danger involved in the proceedings. Instead, the urban lower-middle classes, as is their wont, accepted their plight with unconcealed glee.

Although amusing in themselves, and seamlessly melding with the anarchic spirit of this part of the town, such incidents help us piece together a larger story of urban neglect fostered by ingrained prejudices. The fact that such oddities do not seem dissonant or annoying in the ambience of the 'old city' is itself a comment on the way citizens and administrators continue to perceive certain aspects of urban life. For instance, although the tram is one of the few eco-friendly modes of transport left in the city, the administration has never seriously bothered to upgrade its infrastructure or increase its connectivity. A few trams were recently 'modernized', although apart from a new frame and bug-free seats, the technology appears to have remained as archaic as before. Gradually phased out from the streets to ease traffic movement, the tram is chiefly perceived as a poor man's transport, or else, as being suited to those who have a lot of time to spare. In fact, the routes along which the tram still plies say a good deal about the social profile of its intended passengers.

So, while being thoughtful about the needs of certain sections of society and about the importance of eco-friendly transport, the authorities ended up cementing some legacies of urban management that go back to the British raj. In Calcutta, a city burdened with the baggage of colonial modernity, the project of creating a post-colonial metropolis has always involved the creation of clearly designated ghettos. These areas have been largely inhabited by minority communities, the Anglo-Indians and Muslims in particular, to whom civic amenities have been apportioned unfairly compared with the better-developed Bengali neighbourhoods. The brief journey along a route connecting this dingy urban 'ghetto' to an upmarket region of shopping malls and multiplexes shows up the differences in the quality of life enjoyed by citizens living in these two corners of the city.

Calcutta's garbled modernity is chiefly an outcome of its nostalgia for its colonial past. For the imperial masters, a modern city did not necessarily mean a metropolis where poverty had been eradicated and the general standard of living improved. On the contrary, colonial cities were modernized by simply keeping the poor within well-defined spaces so that the indigenous 'black' town did not pollute the elite 'white' town. More than 60 years after Independence, Calcutta continues to play by these rules of inclusion and exclusion. People of certain religions find it difficult, if not impossible, to buy or rent houses in some neighbourhoods. So, instead of heterogeneous localities, one finds in Calcutta imagined communities tacitly abiding by entrenched norms of segregation.

There is a more complex dimension to Calcutta's jilted modernity. With its dying colonial splendour, the city is often perversely exalted for the aesthetic pleasure of underdevelopment that it generously offers. Generations of visitors have been attracted or repelled by Calcutta's aura of noble gloom and antique charm. Any holistic plan for urban renewal will have to factor in, and resist perpetuating, these blind spots and biases.





In 1997, when Bill Clinton, as the president of the United States of America, apologized for slavery, he — like the Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who apologized to his country's indigenous population in 2008 for past wrongs — believed that saying sorry is relevant even when the repentant is several generations removed from the abuses. This is true of intractable conflicts. Take the example of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, or the June 2008 apology offered by the Canadian prime minister to the indigenous people of his country for the generations of injustice done to them. Indeed, the past decade has seen a spate of apologies; a bursting of the floodgates, as it were, in voicing regret for past harms. The former British prime minister, Gordon Brown, apologized to child migrants sent to Commonwealth countries since the 1920s. The president of France apologized for the misdeeds of the Vichy regime in handing over Jews to the Nazi exterminators. The Czech government apologized to the Germans for the mass expulsion at the end of World War II. Germany apologized to the Jews for the horrifying crimes of the Holocaust, and even Israel made a feeble attempt to apologize for the discrimination against the Oriental Jews.

Closer home, apologies recently made headlines when the banned Ulfa went to Dhemaji in Assam, where it had triggered a blast on Independence Day seven years ago, killing 13 persons, including 10 schoolchildren, and sought pardon. Two days later, its chairman, Arabinda Rajkhowa, publicly apologized at Majuli for the killing of the social worker, Sanjoy Ghose, in 1997. While an apology is the key to healing wounds and injustices, what distinguishes the Ulfa's apologies from those of other leaders is the unavoidable question mark that looms over the genuineness of the gesture. Norman Schultz of the University of Colorado says, "Sometimes apologies are offered rather disingenuously, as mere placating or begrudging compliance to expectation." A large faction of the Ulfa is treading the path of peace after decades of violence. It realizes the need to assuage the sentiments of a people whose hearts have hardened against the banned outfit for past violence that has killed scores of innocent civilians.

The doubts about its intent swirl even more intensely because President Pratibha Patil has just rejected the mercy petition of a death-row convict from Assam, who is to be hanged for having killed a man 15 years ago. One cannot help but wonder, going by the extent of the brutality and the number of killings, where the Ulfa stands on a comparative scale. If an apology can guarantee forgiveness and restitution, should the convict, Mahendra Nath Das, not apologize to Hara Kanta Das's family and be pardoned by the same yardstick?

According to the Canadian restorative justice advocate, Margot van Sluytman, "Forgiveness is a very troublesome word in that it can be handed off to God. Who decides if an apology is authentic?" This is precisely what Sanjoy Ghose's widow, Sumita, once a student of conflict transformation, said when contacted: "Only the Almighty has the power to forgive. I am just a human being and I want justice to be done." Those who have lost children, parents, spouses, relatives, even friends to mindless violence know forgiveness is tied to healing and is excruciatingly difficult to cope with. This was the case with Padmeswar Borgohain, whose little daughter, Manashi, died in the Dhemaji blast. When Rajkhowa met him seeking pardon, what could a grieving father say? "Our loss is irreparable. We pardon them, but only under the condition that the peace process will continue… there should not be any more Dhemaji episodes in Assam." Would other victims be as magnanimous? The Ulfa ought to realize that it is doing no one but itself a favour by shunning the path of violence. A genuine apology requires that reparations be made to earn trust and acceptance. Despicable criminals in political garb may be spared the noose, but are just as deserving of our utter contempt.












Technologies of the 21st century - the cellular and Internet - make it easier for people to communicate, but at the same time, expose them much more to the threat of invasion of privacy.

Every use of the Internet is documented in digital data banks and is easy to trace and pull out. As interpersonal communications and entertainment consumption make the transition from traditional means like mail, telephone and television to online networks, larger segments of the everyday lives of their users are documented on the systems of cellular operators and Internet providers.

Computerized documentation make it easier for law enforcement authorities to gather information about people. It enables them to follow an individual's movements, the sites he surfed on, his e-mail correspondences and the text messages he sent and received, without carrying out an expensive physical surveillance or tapping his phone conversations for prolonged periods of time. All it takes is a court order, and the communication is exposed.

The growing ease of gathering information provides law enforcement authorities, first and foremost the police, with an incentive to increase digital surveillance of individuals, with the help of the sweeping powers conferred on them by the so-called "Big Brother law" enacted two years ago.

Figures pertaining to the implementation of the law that were submitted to the Knesset Constitution Committee this week show that from July 2009 to June 2010 police requested and received 14,133 court orders to hand over information from communications providers. These figures reflect a 47 percent jump from the previous year.

The police say digital surveillance is vital to fighting criminals who are growing increasingly sophisticated. But the dramatic increase in the number of court orders raises concerns of excessive infringement of privacy and validates the fears of those who had opposed the law. It appears that the police prefer investigations that can be undertaken easily to preserving privacy and that the courts easily grant requests for information from the cellular networks and the Internet.

The attorney general, the courts and the Knesset must make sure the surveillance of suspected criminals does not lead to wholesale infringement on privacy. The disturbing rise in the number of court warrants shows that the police cannot be trusted to show restraint on their own.







My gut feeling is that Meir Dagan is mistaken about Iran. The former Mossad chief recently said it would be stupid for Israel to attack Iran. For three years there was great tension in the international community over the possibility that Israel would launch a surprise attack. But then just last year, the tension subsided. The success of the clandestine struggle against Iran and of economic sanctions against the regime have put off the moment of truth. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are not as crazy as some tend to present them. Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Minister Benny Begin and Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor are on their guard. There is no real proof that a nuclear attack by Iran is imminent. We could be surprised - it is possible we are being misled. But as of now, the impression is that the time Dagan gained vis-a-vis Iran has not run out. It is very important to the Israeli leadership that the option of a real military deterrent be on the table, but Israel does not intend to make hasty use of that option.

My gut feeling is that Dagan was absolutely right about the Palestinian issue. What we see today is not only Israeli diplomatic paralysis. What we see is Israeli diplomatic failure. In the bunker in Jerusalem they still don't understand this. But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has roundly beaten Netanyahu. Abbas has corralled Israel's prime minister to the abyss. At first he took terror out of the Israel-Palestinian equation and thus garnered sweeping international support. Then he maneuvered Israel toward the settlement front, where it has no chance. Finally, he moved the battle from negotiations to the United Nations.

Thus, in three brilliant moves, Abbas forced a diplomatic checkmate on Netanyahu. He took advantage of Israel's lack of initiative to push it to the wall. As opposed to Netanyahu, Dagan reads the map well. He understands that Israel cannot reach comprehensive peace right away. He understands that it is impossible to conduct negotiations with a Fatah-Hamas government. It is clear to him that Israel must not compromise on refugees, and must not withdraw to the 1967 borders without peace. However, Dagan also understands that Israel cannot make itself an object of hatred by the United States, Europe and the moderate Arabs. Dagan understands that Israel must change its relationship with the Palestinians. Dagan believes that Israel must embark on a realistic Israeli peace initiative. When Dagan spoke at Tel Aviv University last week, he recalled the Saudi peace initiative and in so doing, the former Mossad chief drew fire. But the truth is that the Saudi plan no longer exists, because it has been replaced by the Arab peace initiative, which Dagan does not support. And so Dagan's creative diplomatic idea is different: Recognize a Palestinian state, as long as it is not within the 1967 borders.

Dagan believes that if the question of a state is separated from the issue of borders, a two-state situation will emerge that will serve both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Negotiations to be conducted between the two states, with the help of the Saudis, will eventually determine the borders. However, at the first stage, Israel will have to give the Palestinians large areas in the West Bank without uprooting settlements. That way the Palestinians can build their state in temporary borders without endangering Israel. That will prevent the outbreak in September of a diplomatic-security conflagration. It will ensure that we do not repeat the tragic mistakes we made before the Yom Kippur War.

The criticism over Dagan's remarks on the Iran issue is understandable. Dagan disrupted the policy of nuclear ambiguity, eroded deterrence and brought up matters that are better left unspoken. He did this because of his real concern for Israel's future and out of noble patriotic motives, but he did not act according to procedure. One can understand those who were infuriated by what he said.

In contrast, Dagan's remarks on the Palestinian issue were courageous and impeccably correct. They had to be said. On the diplomatic front, the former Mossad chief did not harm state security, but rather, he sought to wake us up. Dagan's alarm bell and his diplomatic idea must rouse us from slumber and generate an immediate change in direction.







Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime is slaughtering dozens of unarmed Syrian demonstrators every day. In Israel we cluck our tongues in shock and say he is "slaughtering his own people," but when the Israel Defense Forces killed 23 unarmed Syrian demonstrators in one day, we boasted that the IDF "acted with restraint."

Demonstrators in the Syrian city of Hama and protesters on the Golan border are similar not only in their nonlethal means, but also in their aims. Both are trying to change the established order. And the authorities' response in both places - live fire on demonstrators - is amazingly similar.

In Israel people will immediately explain that the IDF makes every effort not to kill the demonstrators, and indeed the number of fatalities in Syria is much higher, but the means are similar - live fire on unarmed demonstrators. And the fatality count might even prove to be comparable if, God forbid, the Golan demonstrators persist in their rebellion - and Israeli public opinion wouldn't have any problem with that, of course. Even if we resemble Syria, we don't appear that way to ourselves.

Along the border fence on the Golan Heights, Israel has set up an additional, even more sturdy security fence to protect itself, particularly to block its own awareness of the demonstrators' presence on the border. Through this fence, we have created our own world, the world of our dreams, the illusory contrarian lie we tell ourselves.

In Hama, they are freedom fighters. On the border with the Golan Heights, they are demonstrators for hire, incited mobs and terrorists. Crossing the border into the Golan Heights involves a threat to Israel's sovereignty, even if not one country in the world recognizes such sovereignty over the Golan. The demonstrators on the Golan border are young people lacking any political consciousness who have been goaded into it, while their counterparts demonstrating against the Syrian regime are educated young people with a sense of democracy, people of the enlightened Facebook and Twitter revolution.

In the Golan Heights, Assad leads them by bus to their deaths, and the fault is entirely their own. The IDF has found a way to prove that most of the victims have been responsible for their own deaths or injuries. The thought that those determined young people in the Golan are risking their lives due to precisely the same political and democratic consciousness, identical to what is motivating their colleagues in the Syrian cities in rebellion against Assad's regime, simply doesn't occur to us.

On our border they're rioters. In the Syrian towns, they're demonstrators. There it's admirable nonviolent protest, while that same battle when it's waged on our border is considered violent, its perpetrators having death coming to them.

We have invented a world for ourselves: Assad has trundled out these young Palestinians to distract attention. But truth be told, we're being distracted to no less an extent, distracted from the aims of those same young people we're not even willing to listen to.

Has anyone here thought about the Israeli heritage tour one Palestinian-Syrian young man took in crossing the border and making it to Jaffa to visit his family's ancestral home? Maybe we can try to remind the Israeli reader that these are children of refugees, some of whose ancestors fled or were expelled from Israel in 1948 and who were not allowed to return. And others were expelled or fled from the Golan Heights in 1967 and have also been deprived of the right to go back.

Maybe it's possible to mention that, to a great extent, Israel conquered the Golan in 1967 as a result of an Israeli initiative. Maybe it's possible to mention that for three generations these families of refugees have been living in inhumane conditions in their refugee camps. It's true that this is the Syrian regime's fault, but Israel, too, bears responsibility for their fate. Maybe it's also possible to say there is a degree of legitimacy in their struggle, just as their counterparts' struggle against the Syrian regime is legitimate. Both want a life of freedom and dignity. Neither has it.

In the new Arab world taking shape in front of our eyes, at some point these young people in both Syria and on the Golan border will have to be heard, and some of their demands will have to be addressed, particularly if they persist in their unarmed struggle.

But we have gotten beyond that. We will hide our heads in the sand. We'll build another border fence, and another. We'll call day night and night day, forever telling ourselves that we're acting with restraint - killing 23 young people who didn't fire a single shot, with live fire. We'll accuse them and their leaders of responsibility for their deaths. The important thing is that our hands are clean, our ears closed and our eyes shut.







Much of what he said was correct. Anyone with eyes in his head knows that. But former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, like a person obsessed, prattled himself to death and wasted most of his ammunition - his professional and personal prestige - with his unreasonable and unfocused statements. And they have left a question regarding his judgment and the sincerity of his motives.

Amram Mitzna and Danny Yatom (and many others ), dyed-in-the-wool leftists, were forced to reprimand Dagan. His statements, they said, are embarrassing and damaging to the strategic interests of the country. Also strange was the sharp transition from prolonged silence to obsessive and uncontrolled verbosity. Most of the public seems to be of the same opinion.

And while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak emerged almost unharmed (maybe even strengthened ), the country was definitely harmed by his outburst. And so was Meir Dagan himself. People are already begin to treat him forgivingly - the worst punishment for a person like him.

Quite a few ministers agree with his opinion of the Defense Minister. But the damaging way he spoke forced them to side with Barak. Certainly with Benjamin Netanyahu. It is impossible to operate all over the world (in operations attributed to Dagan as well ) against Iran, and afterwards to declare - while the halo of the deeds and the prestige of authority are still fresh and influential - that Israel is exaggerating in its description of the danger Iran poses to Israel and the world.

Even worse: The public fault-finding with the leaders of the government - adventurers who must be restrained - will from now on play into the hands of the Ahmadinejads. The average citizen is saying to himself that Dagan's words really are irresponsible. It is therefore a good thing that Dagan is in a hurry: Given his judgment and sense of responsibility it is just as well that the cat is already out of the bag at this early stage.

A prevailing opinion is that Dagan has a covert interest, as did his patron former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in positioning himself in the "correct" political place, by bringing the Saudi initiative, for example, back from the dead. If that is true, then the questions regarding his motives and his judgment assume an additional worrisome dimension. Because it is hard to believe that he has changed his stripes and deteriorated to the point of supporting the "right of return," a central aspect of the "initiative" (which even the Saudis, who brought it up as a public relations exercise immediately after the 9/11 terror attack against the United States - since many of the attackers were Saudis - have never promoted. Only Israelis, like Dagan, are currently trying to revive it ).

It is hard to recall when scattered and recycled words condemning the heads of the government caused such media hysteria. But those who created the uproar misjudged the maturity of the public, which understood that this was an artificial tempest, full of political and personal interests. And if there were worrisome elements in Dagan's words - and there were - the subjective, cheap and sensational way they were presented led to suspicious counter-reactions. And not, as those promoting the event (which also had elements of preaching for a putsch ) had hoped: mass chain reactions as in Tunisia and Tahrir Square, which would cause the downfall of the government.

And although Israeli citizens are living in a country whose leaders, as the warnings caution, are dangerous adventurers, the citizens did not stream to Rabin Square, did not join the Spring of the Middle Eastern nations and did not bring down the government. And the campaign, the work of Balaam, only strengthened those against whom the putsch was directed.

Apart from Dagan, Former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin were also mentioned as saviors. The two, we have to hope, won't be tempted and won't serve as a platform for impure interests as happened in the latest sad case. They don't deserve it. Neither does Dagan.







The education world is amazed at the exceptional achievements of the Finnish school system, which leads in international exams. These achievements stand out because this country is dealing with difficulties that characterize many Western countries, such as changes in youth culture and family structure, problems of discipline and violence, parental pressures on schools and a relatively low salary for teachers. A survey recently conducted by the Finnish teachers' association found that 40 percent of teachers are considering retiring from the profession. So what is the secret of Finland's success?

There are two opposite strategies in the world for promoting education. One dictates a uniform curriculum, considers competition among students and educational institutions as a means of improving achievements, uses comparative exams to rank students and institutions and, therefore, labels them as well.

A second, opposite strategy can be found in Finland. Finland abolished the supervision of educational institutions and transferred state and local budgets to schools' authority. The school is responsibility for developing, improving and renewing a compulsory curriculum. Every student has their own personal program for progress, and teachers use exams as a tool for planning students' path to success. Thirty percent of students receive additional help and support.

The concept of choice also takes on new meaning in Finland - not as an idea for motivating competition among educational institutions, but as a tool that enables students to choose among a tremendous variety of fields of interest and study. This is meant to enable development of the sum total of the child's abilities and preferences. Above all, the Finnish education policy has been able to build a culture of total confidence in teachers and principals.

As a result, the best young people in the country turn to teaching. There are 12 teachers applying for every available position, and only those with master's degrees in education are hired. Those who turn to teaching are imbued with a sense of mission and acquire the status of "builders of the nation." This is a society that is dedicated to the education of its children.

In an interview, a student of education explained that family, friends, the country's leaders and the media attach a halo of sanctity to the profession. When I asked how they did away with supervisors, one of the principals asked, "And does the doctor you use have a supervisor?" Regarding the purpose of the exams, Prof. Lea Kuusilehto of the University of Jyvaskyla explained, "We don't believe in standardized tests, which push toward mediocrity." Teaching study skills, critical thinking, judgment and creativity, while nurturing students' various abilities, is the essence of the pedagogical worldview in Finland.

Flexibility is also a key word in running the system. For example, in the secondary school that I visited, where there are 2,500 students, hundreds of students take courses that interest them from other schools in the area. There are no specific class groupings. Instead, students accumulate credits for the purpose of receiving a final certificate. The matriculation certificate is not an exclusive condition for acceptance at an academic institution, and a variety of tools make it possible for students to study higher education even without this certificate.


Although Finland represents a different administrative and social culture, the operating strategy it has chosen is relevant for Israel as well. Will Israel find the political courage to get rid of traditional centralizing patterns of education, to release the creative and innovative energy that characterizes Israeli society and to grant broad powers to teachers and schools?




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



Online piracy is a huge business. A recent study found that Web sites offering pirated digital content or counterfeit goods, like illicit movie downloads or bootleg software, record 53 billion hits per year. That robs the industries that create and sell intellectual products of hundreds of billions of dollars.

The problem is particularly hard to crack because the villains are often in faraway countries. Bad apples can be difficult to pin down in the sea of Web sites, and pirates can evade countervailing measures as easily as tweaking the name of a Web site.

Commendably, the Senate Judiciary Committee is trying to bolster the government's power to enforce intellectual property protections. Last month, the committee approved the Protect IP Act, which creates new tools to disrupt illegal online commerce.

The bill is not perfect. Its definition of wrongdoing is broad and could be abused by companies seeking to use the law to quickly hinder Web sites. Some proposed remedies could also unintentionally reduce the safety of the Internet. Senator Ron Wyden put a hold on the bill over these issues, which, he argued, could infringe on the right to free speech. The legislation is, therefore, in limbo, but it should be fixed, not discarded.

The bill defines infringing Web sites as those that have "no significant use other than engaging in, enabling, or facilitating" the illegal copying or distribution of copyrighted material in "substantially complete form" — entire movies or songs, not just snippets.

If the offender can't be found to answer the accusation (a likely occurrence given that most Web sites targeted will be overseas), the government or a private party can seek an injunction from a judge to compel advertising networks and payment systems like MasterCard or PayPal to stop doing business with the site.

The government — but not private parties — can use the injunction to compel Internet service providers to redirect traffic by not translating a Web address into the numerical language that computers understand. And they could force search engines to stop linking to them.

The broadness of the definition is particularly worrisome because private companies are given a right to take action under the bill. In one notorious case, a record label demanded that YouTube take down a home video of a toddler jiggling in the kitchen to a tune by Prince, claiming it violated copyright law. Allowing firms to go after a Web site that "facilitates" intellectual property theft might encourage that kind of overreaching — and allow the government to black out a site.

Some of the remedies are problematic. A group of Internet safety experts cautioned that the procedure to redirect Internet traffic from offending Web sites would mimic what hackers do when they take over a domain. If it occurred on a large enough scale it could impair efforts to enhance the safety of the domain name system.

This kind of blocking is unlikely to be very effective. Users could reach offending Web sites simply by writing the numerical I.P. address in the navigator box, rather than the URL. The Web sites could distribute free plug-ins to translate addresses into numbers automatically.

The bill before the Senate is an important step toward making piracy less profitable. But it shouldn't pass as is. If protecting intellectual property is important, so is protecting the Internet from overzealous enforcement.






The federal government should not have to be sued into giving veterans with mental illnesses and brain injuries the care they need so they don't end up living in the street. But it has come to that.

A lawsuit filed on Wednesday in Federal District Court in California seeks to force the Veterans Affairs Department to carry out a long-stalled plan to build permanent housing for disabled veterans on property it owns in Los Angeles, which is thought to have the nation's largest concentration of homeless veterans.

The class-action suit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California on behalf of disabled homeless veterans, makes a powerful claim of discrimination and dereliction of responsibility by the government.

It notes that the land, nearly 400 acres in a prime section of West Los Angeles, was deeded to the federal government in 1888 expressly for use as a home for disabled soldiers and sailors. Yet no such housing exists there now, though a large veterans hospital with short-term treatment beds occupies part of that land. A wide array of other features, like athletic fields, theater stages, hotel laundries, rental-car and bus storage, even oil wells and a dog park, has also been built on the sprawling campus — but no home for veterans with mental health problems.

The plaintiffs argue that the lack of housing discriminates against these veterans. The government is legally obliged to give them the same access to care as other sick veterans, the plaintiffs say, but effective care is impossible when the veterans have no homes.

Their argument is based on a well-established view among medical and social-service providers that the only sure way to give these vulnerable patients effective, consistent access to care is to house them first. Only later, with stability in their turbulent lives, can they benefit from mental health and addiction treatment, and job training and education to help them regain their independence.

No politician has ever failed to profess his or her allegiance to wounded warriors, and that includes President Obama; the veterans affairs secretary, Eric Shinseki; and California politicians like Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Henry Waxman. But there is a yawning gap between their earnest pledges and their continuing failure to provide a roof and beds for homeless veterans. This housing plan, long a cause of Bobby Shriver, a City Council member and former mayor of Santa Monica, would respond to a great need with an obvious solution.

The Los Angeles area has more than 8,000 homeless veterans, about 8 percent of the 107,000 or so across the country. It also has a huge government-owned property waiting to be built upon. It's simple, really.





Judge James Cacheris gave the impression last week that he was considering putting right what he got wrong when he ruled in May that corporations are free to make direct donations to federal candidates. That first judgment directly contravened last year's Citizens United case and the Supreme Court's earlier decision in Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont, which upholds a ban on corporate donations to candidates.

In reaffirming his ruling this week, Judge Cacheris appears not to have reconsidered his stance at all. He pays lip service to his duty as a lower court judge to apply Supreme Court precedent, but his reasoning and result brazenly flout it. The Justice Department must appeal this latest ruling.

Judge Cacheris fails to reckon with the Supreme Court's explicit language in Citizens United, when it said that "Citizens United has not made direct contributions to candidates, and it has not suggested that the court" should overturn the ban on campaign contributions, as it did not.

Likewise, he rejects the precedent set by the Beaumont case, claiming that it doesn't control his ruling either because it involves political spending by a nonprofit corporation. While Judge Cacheris extends the substantive holding of Citizens United, even more dangerously he mimics its model of extreme judicial activism. The conservative justices used and endorsed a dramatically unrestrained approach there. Refusing to be bound by precedent while pretending to respect it, this judge has outdone them.






Trackers of the artist Edward Hopper tirelessly pursue the true settings of his city tableaux, so tinged with Gotham loneliness. Was the night-shrouded "Drug Store" modeled from the Waverly Place shop in Greenwich Village currently occupied by a corner bookstore? The artist offered them little help. "What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house," was his typically terse clue about his work.

City searchers would be wise to go 20 miles up the Hudson River to Nyack, a rustic backwater when Hopper grew up there in the 1880s. His home on North Broadway has been preserved as the Edward Hopper House Art Center.

Its current exhibit about his earliest roots provides hype-free relief from Manhattan galleries and a prophetic glimpse through the young artist's eye. A simple sketch by the 9-year-old Hopper on a penny postcard shows the back view of a boy, alone and staring from a beach at an empty expanse of water. It is a calling card for all those loners who will come to haunt Hopper's paintings, from midnight diners to dark movie palaces and wispy Cape Cod evenings.

A few years after Hopper's death in 1967, I did my own searching at his Washington Square studio, where he painted alongside his wife, the artist Jo Nivison. It was special to stand under the skylight by his easel, amid sharp angles of shade and light that washed his paintings to near abstraction. It was rewarding to find a dusky staircase to the roof, where he painted sun-slashed cityscapes.

The stair runners had been covered with bright yellow paint. It turned out that his wife had eyesight problems late in life, and Hopper used brush and palette to shepherd her. Here was no new masterpiece, just a graphic detail from a quiet life — the sort that finds Hopper searchers wondering about that bookstore on Waverly Place.






Dear King Hamad of Bahrain,

Among those whom you're imprisoning in Bahrain is a friend of mine. He is an artist, one of the most gentle souls alive, and my deepest fear is that your government may be brutalizing him because of his friendship with me.

Your Majesty, I'm speaking of Hassan al-Sahaf. Now 57, he studied in Britain and then in Los Angeles, Boston and in Oregon, where my mother taught art history — and Hassan became one of my mother's all-time favorite students. That was 30 years ago, but we have remained in touch ever since.

King Hamad, you present the crackdown on the democracy movement as an effort to restore order. But Hassan is not some teenage firebrand hurling rocks; he's a slight, graying scholar committed to peace. That's the pattern: So many of the people in your jails are doctors and intellectuals whose only offense is to dream of democracy.

Hassan told me that his time in America changed him: Once you get used to living in freedom, he explained, it's hard to give it up. One of your burdens, Your Majesty, is that you educated so many of your people abroad that they no longer accept your despotism.

Yes, it's true that Hassan has a Shiite background — like most of Bahrain's people. You and the rest of the royal family are Sunnis, and you're scared to death of Shiite extremism and an Iranian-backed Shiite insurgency. You watched how Shiites took power in Iraq and in some cases unleashed death squads, and you're understandably fearful that democracy would lead to the unraveling of Bahrain and violence against your loved ones. Your brutality arises not from viciousness, I think, but from fear.

But Hassan doesn't have a chauvinist bone in his body. When he lived in the United States, he married a Jewish woman, although that marriage later fell apart. He has spoken to me warmly of Sunnis.

After his return to Bahrain from America, Hassan taught at Bahrain University. During clashes there, he told me, he protected students who were members of your royal family.

Yet somewhere along the line, your security forces became irritated with him. Hassan has a tremendous sense of dignity and refused to kowtow, so your government eventually sent him to prison and tortured him, he said. Twice. This is exactly the Kafkaesque world that the pro-democracy protesters were trying to abolish.

In February, during my last visit to Bahrain, your troops opened fire without warning on pro-democracy protesters as they chanted "peaceful, peaceful." Since then, we've seen a violent crackdown that has killed more people and filled the prisons. I just found out that your security forces attacked Hassan's house and arrested him again.

Your government tells me, with a straight face, that he has been sentenced to a month in prison for failing to pay a debt. We all know that the real reason is the campaign of terror that you have unleashed on Shiites: throwing them into prison, firing them from their jobs, destroying their mosques, dragging them out of hospital beds, cutting off their scholarships. You want them to know that they will pay an excruciating price if they ever dare push for democracy again. And those like Hassan who are linked to foreign journalists are targeted, to intimidate them into silence.

Is Hassan being tortured now? Well, Your Majesty, you would know better than I. But reports of beatings and rapes in your jails are legion, and at least four of your prisoners have died in custody recently — apparently tortured to death. I saw a doctor whom your forces had beaten into a coma because he had treated injured protesters. I've also been told by a released prisoner that wives or sisters have been dragged into prison so the prisoners could be warned that the women would be raped in front of them unless they "confess."

King Hamad, you have much to be proud of. You have overseen rising education rates, soaring living standards and exemplary opportunities for women. But it looks as if you are turning Bahrain into another Syria or Iran. Indeed, your country is much less democratic than Iran, and your crackdown has killed more people on a per capita basis than Iran's did. If we deplore Iran's brutality, shouldn't we also deplore yours?

President Obama met your son the Crown Prince at the White House on Tuesday, and the administration has largely averted its eyes from your brutality. But when you use American weapons on your people, you injure us, too. And a middle-class, well-educated nation like the one you've built cannot sustain arbitrary imprisonment and torture indefinitely. The only way forward is to release political prisoners and start a reconciliation process.

Your Majesty, let Hassan go!






Last weekend, like seemingly half the country, I took my son to see "X-Men: First Class," the latest, and best, big-screen incarnation of the popular comic book franchise.

My son and I represent two generations of X-fans. I came of age in the '80s and '90s and can still recall when Xavier's students were lords of the Underground, and the phrase "comic book movie" conjured absurd images of David Hasselhoff donning an eye patch. The boy is of the present era, where the geeks and nerds throne and Hollywood is compelled to seriously contemplate the cinematic potential of B-listers Namor, Luke Cage and Ant-Man. Still, we were united across the ages in our love for the X-Men — patron-saints of the persecuted and the champions of freaks and pariahs across the globe.

In print, the X-Men are an elite team culled from a superpowered species of human. The mutants, as they are dubbed, are generally handled roughly by the rest of humanity and singled out for everything from enslavement to internment camps to genocide. As if to ram the allegory home, the X-Men, for much of their history, have hailed from across the spectrum of human existence. Over the decades, there have been gay X-Men, patrician X-Men, Jewish X-Men, Aboriginal X-Men, black X-Men with silver mohawks, X-Men hailing from Russia, Kentucky coal country, orphanages and a nightmarish future.

But as "First Class" roars to its final climatic scene, it appeals to an insidious suspension of disbelief; the heroic mutants of America, bravely opposing bigotry and fear, are revealed as not so much a spectrum of humankind, but as Eagle Scouts from Mayfield. Thus, "First Class" proves itself not merely an incredible film, but an incredible work of American historical fiction. Here is a period piece for our postracial times — in the era of Ella Baker and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the most powerful adversaries of spectacular apartheid are a team of enlightened white dudes.

"First Class" is set in 1962. That was the year South Carolina marked the Civil War centennial by returning the Confederate Flag to the State Capitol; the year the University of Mississippi greeted its first black student, James Meredith, with a lethal race riot; the year George Wallace was elected governor of Alabama.

That was the year a small crowd of Americans gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and commemorated the 100th birthday of the Emancipation Proclamation. Only a single African-American was asked to speak (Thurgood Marshall, added under threat of boycott). In "First Class," 1962 finds our twin protagonists, Magneto and Professor X, also rallying before the Lincoln Memorial, not for protest or commemoration, but for a game of chess. "First Class" is not blind to societal evils, so much as it works to hold evil at an ocean's length. The film is rooted in its opposition to the comfortably foreign abomination of Nazism.

This is all about knowing your audience.

I am reminded of the House Republicans, opening the 112th Congress by reciting the Constitution, minus the slavery parts. I am reminded of the English professor last year who, responding to Huckleberry Finn's widespread banishment from public schools, was compelled to offer the Mark Twain classic, minus the nigger parts. I think of the Pentagon official, who this year justified the war in Afghanistan to soldiers by invoking the words of Dr. King, minus the "ultimate weakness of violence" parts. I am reminded of whole swaths of this country where historical fiction compels Americans to claim the Civil War was about states' rights, minus the "right to own people" part.

This is all about a convenient suspension of disbelief.

When we left the theater, my son and I knew we had experienced the most thrilling movie of the summer. "First Class" is narratively lean, beautifully acted and, at all the right moments, visually stunning. But I had experienced something else. My son is 10 and a romantic, as all 10-year-olds surely have the right to be. How then do I speak to him of this world's masterminds who render you a supporting actor in your own story? How do I speak of the Sentinels whose eyes melt history, until the world forgets that in 1962, the quintessential mutants of America were black?

Who do you think has the coolest power, Daddy?

His great caramel eyes were an amusement park.

You do, son.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at
The Atlantic, is a guest columnist.
Gail Collins is on book leave.





A FEUD over trade has erupted in Washington, and American workers are caught in the middle. Congressional Republicans (and some Democrats) are threatening to hold up approval of free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama if President Obama keeps insisting on renewing expanded benefits under Trade Adjustment Assistance, the main aid program for American workers harmed by foreign trade.

Supporters say the program — which offers retraining, relocation and other benefits to workers who lose their jobs due to competition from imports — offers vital protection. Opponents label it an unaffordable boondoggle. If our country fails to resolve this dispute, our economic future will be bleak.

As former advisers to presidents from different parties, we are coming together to urge a way out: rethinking how we help displaced workers in order to revive political support for the free trade our economy needs.

Three principles guide our proposal. First, trade is indeed worth it for America. Annual national income today is at least $1 trillion higher than it would have been absent decades of trade and investment liberalization. With unemployment at 9.1 percent and 24.6 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, we need to rebalance our economy away from the excessive consumption that helped bring about the global financial crisis, and create jobs linked to exports and international investment.

Second, trade is not worth it for every individual American. Trade creates unemployment for some and wage losses for others; its gains do not directly accrue to every worker and community. Indeed, there has been a steep drop in public support for trade; a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that only 17 percent of respondents said free-trade deals have helped America.

Third, Trade Adjustment Assistance, created in 1962 to supplement unemployment insurance, cannot adequately help displaced workers. Workers today face continual adjustment as new technologies and competitors, both domestic and foreign, render their talents and skills obsolete. Indeed, the premise that job losses can be attributed to precise causes is archaic, given the linkages among international trade and investment and technological change.

In recent years, less than half of workers certified as eligible for T.A.A. benefits have actually used them. Petitions filed with the Labor Department for T.A.A. benefits in 2007 covered just 93,903 workers — fewer than the number of jobs created or lost on an average day.

Our proposal to resolve the trade impasse: more trade and more aid. More trade means that President Obama should immediately submit, and Congress should immediately ratify, the pending free-trade agreements. Colombia and Panama already enjoy unfettered access to our market, and South Korea has negotiated free-trade deals with the European Union and India; we cannot afford to fall behind.

More aid means Congress and the president should replace T.A.A. with a broader safety net that helps workers regardless of why they lost their jobs. Unemployment insurance, introduced in the early 1930s, has not really changed since then; it should be merged with T.A.A. Today, unemployed workers face challenges far greater than T.A.A. or unemployment insurance alone can address: getting matched with a new employer, often in a new industry; upgrading or learning new skills, often at reduced wages; and coping with lost benefits, especially health coverage.

A new American Adjustment Program should combine the best elements of unemployment insurance, T.A.A., and training programs authorized by the Workforce Investment Act. This approach would include a wage-loss insurance program for workers 45 and older, to speed their rehiring by supplementing their income if they take work at lower pay; helping workers receiving unemployment insurance to pay for coverage under Cobra (which allows workers who lose their jobs to keep group health benefits for limited periods); and enabling unemployed workers to make penalty-free withdrawals from savings accounts like 401(k)'s and I.R.A.'s to finance costs like occupational retraining and relocation.

Our plan would cost about $20 billion per year. We would pay for this by scrapping the current unemployment insurance tax structure, which is extremely regressive, for a low flat tax on all worker earnings — a change that would cut taxes for tens of millions of lower-wage workers. The costs of our plan would decline in the long run as the economy recovers. Moreover, the cost of not better supporting workers will be far greater if a skeptical public pushes America into economic isolation and the result is slower growth, fewer jobs and lower tax receipts.

Voter support for engagement with the world economy is strongly linked to labor-market performance. If American workers continue to fear change, their support for free trade will not return.

Matthew J. Slaughter, a professor of management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and Robert Z. Lawrence, a professor of international trade and investment at the Harvard Kennedy School, were economic advisers to Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, respectively.








Since 1967, Israel has controlled the movement of individuals and goods in the Gaza Strip through force, military orders, and executive measures and policies. This "over-control" has only served the interests of Israel, connecting the Israeli economy to the Gaza Strip through its six crossings.

The Oslo accords signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Israeli government asserted the territorial unity of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but Israeli actions implemented the exact opposite. In the last 10 years, Israel has sought to push responsibility for the Gaza Strip towards Egypt, completely absolving itself. Indeed, the rule in the relationship between Israel and Gaza has been "closure" – and the exception has been its partial easing.

Since the take-over of Gaza by Hamas in June 2007, Israel, supported by the Quartet conditions, has imposed an unprecedented and complete blockade on the territory. It suspended the customs code of the Gaza Strip and prevented the entry of raw materials needed for industry.

This has turned the Gaza Strip issue, which is basically political, into a humanitarian one. The Israeli siege imposed on the Gaza Strip has led to a serious deterioration in humanitarian conditions. About 85 percent of Palestinian families in Gaza directly depend on aid, particularly that provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA. Because the international community refuses to deal with the de facto government in the Gaza Strip, the UNRWA has expanded its work, taking over that role. Meanwhile, the international community continues to "handle" the humanitarian crisis in Gaza without dealing with the root causes of that crisis.

Following last year's international condemnation of Israel's attack on the Freedom Flotilla fleet carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, criticism of Israel's actions has veered towards the demand to ease the siege. Israel subsequently allowed the entry of some commodities to Gaza, while preventing the entry of others, particularly construction materials, under the pretext of security. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, however, those commodities allowed into Gaza did not result in a significant improvement in people's livelihood, depleted over three years of tight blockade. The unemployment rate in Gaza decreased by less than two percentage points, from 39.3 to 37.4 percent, remaining one of the highest rates in the world. Coupled with a significant rise in food prices, this minor improvement in employment has had little or no impact on the high rates of food insecurity prevailing throughout Gaza, affecting 52 percent of the population. Despite the flow of some goods, the lack of Gazan purchasing power hinders utilizing them.

Moreover, tens of thousands of families whose houses were destroyed by Israeli forces continue to suffer from the lack of construction materials and the inability to rebuild. The Gaza Strip needs the construction of approximately 40,000 houses as over 21,000 people remain displaced after the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip codenamed "Operation Cast Lead." Two years later, tens of thousands of Gaza residents continue to live a life of displacement.

More than 25 jobs such as smithery, carpentry and so on are directly related to these absent construction materials. The entry of construction materials would mean a decline in unemployment.

Israel claims it prevents the entry of construction materials because it is afraid they will be used by armed groups to build tunnels and fortifications. By that rationale, Israel should prevent the entry of medicine, food, and milk because a "terrorist" might consume them.

The movement of individuals is still very limited. The travel of individuals from the Gaza Strip through Israeli crossings is subject to a tight system of permits that are issued to a very limited number of patients and businessmen. According to OCHA, an insignificant increase was recorded in the volume of people traveling through the Erez crossing in the second half of 2010 compared to the previous half, from 106 to 114 persons a day.

Thus, Israeli claims it has eased the siege on the Gaza Strip are false, as it has not mitigated the humanitarian crisis. The international community must intervene and take effective actions to bring about an end to this illegal blockade, exerting pressure on Israel to uphold its responsibilities under international law.

The Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt is a vital entry and exit route, but it is not more important than the other six crossings that connect the Gaza Strip with the State of Israel. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is created by the Israeli occupation through its siege and blockade. The Gaza Strip must be dealt with as a political issue, not a humanitarian one, and Israel must be made to uphold its responsibilities to it.

*Issam Younis is director of the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, based in Gaza City. This abridged article originally appeared on






Systems for education might be successful. They might be failing. Or, as I sought to argue a few days ago, perhaps they should not be systems of education at all but rather of "learning." But how to finance them is another matter altogether and one of growing urgency in Turkey.

With the advent of private "foundation" universities in Turkey, and the advent of "for profit" universities around the world, education credit is a new line of work for banks. And while the scope of student and family indebtedness to pay for education is not easy to establish in Turkey, it is unquestionably growing.

So a new wrinkle worth adding to Turkey's education/learning debate is the fact that options and ideas are far more nuanced than simply today's reality: state support vs. the private sector backed by consumer credit.

The argument that the consumer of higher education should primarily foot the bill is a powerful one. If only a small percentage of any country's population seeks a university degree, why should all the rest have to pay for it? It is particularly a powerful argument as other needs – from pension systems to housing to medical care – compete for the public purse. The counter argument is that society benefits with the presence of doctors in our midst. If a truck should strike me crossing the street, I will certainly be glad that my taxes enabled the training of a highly skilled emergency room physician nearby, not to mention a moderately skilled paramedic in the ambulance that scrapes me off the street. Which invites an examination of the concern that student indebtedness affects career paths and choices. Suppose that really good emergency physician is not there to greet me because he or she couldn't afford to work at a public hospital in light of student loans? What then?

Enter "Lumni,", a fledgling "financier of human capital" that is now involved with universities in Colombia, Chile, Mexico and the United States. It is the latest iteration of the concept of "human capital contracts," about which there is a great deal of debate. The notion goes back to the 1950s and was invented by the conservative economist Milton Friedman. But "Lumni" appears the innovator. Amid the explosion in recent years of private financing for education, Lumni's unique appeal is that it is, in a sense, "career path neutral."

Student loans are essentially an American invention. There, they are out of control. In the United States, the total indebtedness of students and recent graduate stands at $830 billion, roughly Turkey's annual GDP. Whether this is manageable (I think it is not) is another issue. More immediately critical is how this skews the choice of career paths. For if education is reduced to commercial transaction, forget the ER doc: Where will our philosophers and literature majors and anthropologists come from?

In Turkey, most banks now offer loans to pay for university education. The term is generally five years, with annualized interest ranging as high as 20 percent. The most innovative I could find was a package offered by the recently founded Özyeğin University (whose founder also conveniently owns a bank). It waives payments until after graduation and has interest rates far lower than anyone else.

But Lumni approaches the issue differently. Rather than calculate repayment against money borrowed, Lumni charges students a fix percentage of income upon graduation and employment, typically 14 percent, for a term of 10 years.

Let's plot this for a student as a hypothetical foundation university in Turkey who already gets a 50 percent break on tuition, which is fairly common for those in need. But even with that break, a shortfall of 5,000 to 10,000 Turkish Liras a year is also common – which sends families scrambling for money. Let's assume the high side, that Ayşe or Ahmet graduates with 40,000 liras in debt. Paying that off in five years, with accrued interest, is a burden to say the least. But under the Lumni system, the student would pay 14 percent of whatever income he or she earns. If the student wound up working for a bank at the relatively high starting salary of 5,000 liras, the ultimate payback would be about 100,000 liras plus interest. But let's say the graduate becomes a teacher, making 1,200 liras a month. Then the payback would be far less, about 20,000 liras plus interest. Assuming such a system is to operate in the absence of philanthropy, then this requires some actuarial work by a statistician to plot the odds of various income and employment scenarios across a population of graduates. Effectively, this would mean that higher income graduates subsidize those of lower income graduates.

Or, the "risk" of lower income paths could be assumed by some form of private or public grant. In the case of Lumni, at least a portion of its current endowment of $17 million is supported by groups including the Clinton Global Initiative which is seeding the fund to enable 10,000 new students to participate.

Australia has a version of a "human capital contract" that is underwritten by the government. There, students ultimately pay back their entire debt burden but the payments are based on a percentage of income with the term of repayment staggered accordingly.

In short, there are a lot of ways to configure an innovative approach. The important thing is that financing education, even private education, does not have to be a choice of individual or collective responsibility. It can be a combination, a hybrid. Turkey is good at synthesis. One for education finance might make sense.







Except for a few exceptional situations, foreign policy topics are not usually covered in election campaigns in Turkey.

Also in the June 12 elections, after the town square rallies and speeches started, political leaders and other candidates practically did not mention any foreign issue. Until two or three days ago when the Mavi Marmara incident and relations with Israel started being discussed.  

Actually, at the beginning of election campaigns, the election declarations of political parties do include a foreign policy section.

We previously examined in detail the foreign policy chapters of Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Republican People's Party, or CHP, and National Movement Party, or MHP, in their election declarations.  

The views presented to voters in these booklets are their road maps and at the same time their commitments in foreign policy, just as in other chapters. This time, the major foreign policy topics included in the election declarations were not very much reflected at the leaders' town square rally speeches. For example, the blocked European Union accession process, Cyprus talks that do not advance an inch, the problems in the relations with the United States, the situation in Northern Iraq, the dialog that is almost dead with Armenia and especially the people's movements in the Arab world and events in Syria, which could directly affect Turkey, were never carried to the agenda.  

Cross talk

It should not be considered inappropriate. Because the focus is always on internal issues during election campaigns and also this time, there stands several current topics that need to be discussed starting from economy to democratic rights and freedoms. But, unfortunately, it was personal strives, cross talk and even insults that dominated the speeches at election rallies. In recent days, the issue of Mavi Marmara and relations with Israel that are included in speeches are observed to be debated with the same accusatory and tough manner.

At the duel of words between the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, both sides accuse each other with serious words within the context of the Mavi Marmara crisis.  

Erdoğan reacted saying, "What do you understand from foreign policy?" against Kılıçdaroğlu's criticizing the government's stance at the Mavi Marmara incident during  statement he gave months ago. Also, he pointed out that Kılıçdaroğlu did not criticize the Israeli attack adequately, accused him of siding with Israel and used such an expression as, "If you have enough courage, instead of buttering up Israel, you should criticize the piracy in the Mediterranean." Responding to that, Kılıçdaroğlu claimed the government had stopped the AKP deputies from boarding the ship; and also in another speech he alleged that the prime minister sent one of his ministers to Israel to help out a businessman close to him. The CHP leader said the prime minister has also sent a minister to Europe after the Mavi Marmara attack to reconcile with Israel and he burst out, "Who is buttering up Israel, I will show it to him."

Populism competition

Actually, the issue of "Mavi Marmara," which should be handled with care because of new dangers it can cause soon, has become a topic of mutual accusations and slander in the middle of the tense election atmosphere at town squares. Several allegations on complex issues the details of which are unknown to those participants at rallies are brought up, "old accounts" are stirred and a race on heroism and populism starts.

It is indeed not the correct way to discuss foreign policy topics, even at election town square rallies. Actually not only foreign, but also internal issues.

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






In recent days, this is one of the most frequent sentences I have heard from the liberal democrat secular segment.

"I will vote for the [Republican People's Party] CHP this time. But I want the [Justice and Development Party] AKP to keep its power but with an erosion of votes, with less number of deputies."

You are surprised and you say, "Why? Is there a need for such a complex calculation? Vote for whoever you want to see in power."

The response is even more interesting.

"I want the AKP votes to stay around 40- 43 percent. This way, they will be getting a message. If they gain 50 percent or more, it would be very bad. I am afraid a CHP-MHP-BDP coalition would damage the stability and economy, that's why I don't want it."

When you ask why they don't want the AKP to increase their votes, there is a different explanation:

".. They will get dizzy, they will be blind. We are all people and we are Turks. For the third time, and this time with increased votes, it would make people crazy. Then, nobody would stand in front of them and that AKP would mold Turkey into any shape."

These reactions were not only from those I spoke to but they were also present in the messages sent through Twitter while I was interviewing the prime minister and I asked him that. Of course, he did not pay much attention and simplified by saying, "Empower me with your votes so I can do bigger deeds."

The AKP has changed a lot in eight years.

So has Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

There is no liberal, tolerant AKP that breaks the taboos facing us anymore. There is an AKP that uses the language of the state and puts the state at the forefront.

You can argue this is wrong, but that is the perception. However many AKP members reject this, the perception of society is very important and generally it is the truth.

Amazing, Erdoğan is still rough on the topic of media

This situation astonishes me greatly.

Even during his time as the mayor of Istanbul and at least during the first seven years of his eight year in power, Erdoğan managed his relations with the media very successfully and facilitated his works because of media support, unfortunately has lost this ability.

First he countered the opposition wing of the Turkish media.

He criticized them very harshly at town square rallies. He also gave their names and explained what kind of a price they would pay.

He did what he should never have done as prime minister. Those who know how tough he gets when he is furious were scared.

It is very natural they are scared. Because there is this perception in one segment of the public: When the prime minister is angry at a person, that person loses his job or his money.

Let us not fool each other; this fear is not only present at the media but also at business spheres, at universities. Moreover, we have seen those who lost their jobs. Some writers lost their jobs after becoming the target of the prime minister's fury.

The prime minister is reacting so harshly at some critics in the media. He responds and acts so roughly and creates an impression as if he has never met the media before. He cannot tolerate columnists and criticism in stories this way or another.

If a story is wrong, you explain it. If they don't print the explanations, you warn them. But however tough the criticism is, there is no need to take it so far.

If the Turkish media sees itself as stuck and under censorship, this perception will reflect to the outside world immediately.

This is like a lift and force pump.

When the national media is in trouble immediately the international media steps in. There is an invisible solidarity present. However much you may be right, again, you will be labeled with: There is no press freedom in Turkey.

Stories and articles change, Turkey get stuck in the middle of a vicious circle. Whatever it says, it cannot explain itself.

Look at these last examples.

There were evaluations in one of the most respectable magazines of the world, The Economist, which said for Turkey's interests, the CHP not the AKP should emerge stronger from the elections.

The prime minister was furious at The Economist. He accused the magazine for asking people to vote for the CHP "inconsiderately and openly." He even carried the subject to such levels as, "Kılıçdaroğlu, apparently, is a project of global gangs."

What happened next?

This time the Financial Times wrote that the AKP was showing disturbing authoritarian trends and that the idea of the presidential system was "alarming."

Meanwhile, again one of the most respected, the Wall Street Journal, evaluated The Economist's assessment as a "Godsend" for the AKP at the tense election atmosphere.

Referring to the idea that this was a country that's highly sensitive to the suggestion of manipulation or interference by foreigners of any stripe, it commented that, "With just days to go before elections on June 12, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, appears to have secured a last-minute boost from an unlikely corner - The Economist magazine."

As you see, they are all "interpretations."

They comment different from each other.

That is all.

Is there a need to search for "global conspiracies" behind them?

I am sure the prime minister is sorry that he reacted so harshly.

Because, you may remember The Economist in 2007 commented saying, "Turks should vote again for the AKP to counter a military intervention."

I have been seeing and watching the same scenario for years.

I have not seen any leader up until today win or survive without any injuries after fighting with the media.

You can realize it when you ask the prime minister why he does not tolerate criticism. He takes every criticism very personally.

And doing the biggest mistake.






Perhaps encouraged with the veteran journalist making "gaffes" about him delivering a balcony victory speech on June 12 evening, the prime minister made an abrupt U-turn from his earlier vow that irrespective of the parliamentary strength of his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, should a new constitution be written by the new parliament he would submit it to a national referendum.

Asked whether he would go to a referendum even if his AKP managed in the Sunday's election to produce at least 367 seats or 2/3 majority, required to legislate a new constitution without being compelled to submit it to a referendum, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan forgot his earlier pledges that irrespective of its parliamentary strength not only his party would seek to make a new constitution through forging the widest possible parliamentary consensus but since it would be the new national charter, the nation must be allowed to make its decision on it in a referendum.

"Well, these issues are very much related to the outcome of the elections. We shall look at our number [of seats] and decide accordingly. We may write a new constitution, or we may continue with the current one. We may submit the new constitution to a referendum, we may not do so if we have the required majority," the prime minister said.

So simple?

Life is sometimes so ironic. The pledge made in the election manifesto of the party, his repeated vows that irrespective what his party's number of seats in the new parliament will be he would want the nation to make the final decision on the new constitution, were placed aside by the prime minister who has made it a habit to ridicule his political adversaries of making frequent U-turns.

However, what the prime minister has been stressing so far was very much compatible with the notion of democracy as irrespective by what kind of a majority a constitutional text was approved in a parliament since that is expected to be considered as the new national charter of that society, the nation must have been given the chance and privilege of making the final decision on the issue in a referendum.

Even if parties established a consensus on the entirety or on most parts of a constitutional text and that text is adopted with a required qualified majority or even a bigger majority, it would be wiser to submit it to a national referendum and the people's consent to it is sought. Why? Because that is the way it is. So simple.

Particularly, if Erdoğan has an ambition to change the administrative system of the country from the current pluralist parliamentary democracy to a presidential governance; if he is aiming at changing the founding philosophy of the Turkish republic and thus replace the first three paragraphs of the current constitution with a new text at least for legitimacy the new text must be submitted to a national referendum.

Even if such a text is submitted to a national referendum and approved by the nation in that referendum, that would still not negate the unconstitutionality as the fourth article of the current constitution clearly underlines the first three articles, that define the Turkish state as a secular, democratic republic respecting the supremacy of law; the capital of which, is Ankara, and the official language, which is Turkish.

Even if a comma of the first four articles of the constitution is changed, that would mean violation of the principle that these articles should not be amended or amendment of them would not be proposed. Thus, even changing a comma in those four articles would mean a constitutional breach, a very serious crime.

Furthermore, even though with latest constitutional amendments its powers have been curtailed and for example closure of political parties has become very difficult and hopefully exceptional, the Constitutional Court would probably launch a judicial process against the parties that collaborated in such a clear breach of constitution. But, even this is based on the assumption that the new constitutional text was approved by the nation in the referendum, but somehow the articles, which could not be amended or their amendment could not even be suggested, were amended as well.

Probably, though it is awkward and there is indeed a clear breach of the constitution, rather than supremacy of law, view of the qualified majority would be considered as the wise and valid endgame.

But, if the proposal is killed at the parliamentary committee vote on it, what would happen then?

First of all since the new constitutional text is not approved and thus can not enter into force, the old constitutional text will remain in force. Under that old text, however, as the government would have openly supported the amendment of articles, the amendment of which were not only restricted but it is as well strictly banned to even suggest amendment of those first four articles, the government or ruling party deputies who sponsored or voted on it would have to appear in front of justice as accomplices of aging forged to make changes in the constitution and thus grab the governance of the country, on charges of plotting to change the constitutional order of the country.

Size does matter. Let's wait and see how big the AKP parliamentary group will be after the Sunday's election.






The death of "multiculturalism" has been proclaimed repeatedly recently, the idea pronounced with a big "M" as if we were talking of something tangible around which there is consensus. British Prime Minister David Cameron was the latest of many politicians to assert this in February. But his much-reported discourse in Germany offered nothing new about multiculturalism, European Islam, radicalization, or about British and European governments' understandings of these issues. And his message does not seem to have diverged much from how Britain's previous Labour government addressed the issue or what is being said in France and in Germany. In fact, while France never pursued the "multicultural" model but rather the "assimilationist" one, the tone of its lament is similar. Germany never had an official model, but its "crisis discourse" about multiculturalism is very similar to those in Britain and France. And for all the attention his speech received, Mr. Cameron did not propose fresh solutions to the multicultural riddle.

Multiculturalism is a human construction. The notion is associated with the liberal tradition and specific policy choices developed by countries like Canada, Great Britain, and the Netherlands as responses to national minorities or immigration. In 21st century Europe, multiculturalism takes on renewed meaning with three main components: a political theory, a policy practice, and a social reality. The possible understandings of the "fact" of multiculturalism are shaped primarily by the national histories, political cultures and social imaginaries of each country. International crises and events, from economic migration, to forced displacement due to natural disasters or civil wars; from debates around religious symbols to debates about freedom of expression bordering blasphemy, European Union laws and policies, and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights each add supranational layers of meaning to the understanding of multiculturalism.

As an attempt to protect people and to apply justice in diverse societies, multiculturalism entails a continuous tension between universal individual rights and group rights, providing security and guaranteeing equal and fair treatment to all inhabitants of Europe, whether citizens or immigrants. In today's Europe, pluralism engages a number of political and societal actors beyond state institutions, including citizens, long and short term immigrants, civil society, religious groups, and political parties and ideological groups. What many people do not seem to recognize is that religious-ethnic-cultural pluralism is no longer exogenous to European countries but is already part of their essence. The need for a collective answer and effort has become evident, and talking about multiculturalism requires reflecting not only on the meaning and modalities of "integration" of migrants and minorities into mainstream society, but considering the dynamics among and between minority and migrant groups.

What has clearly emerged from recent speeches and ensuing public national debates on multiculturalism is a sense of confusion, malaise and often contradictory messages. Policy makers and the general public alike appear to be in the midst of a thick fog that prevents them from understanding and tackling the challenges of individual and collective security within increasing religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity. And so we look for easy answers presented as simple choices – e.g., moderate vs. radical Islam, multiculturalism vs. assimilation, secularism vs. religious fundamentalism, etc. Yet such simplistic naming and categorizing further divides people and provokes animosities.

There is a path out of the fog of multicultural confusion. It passes through the appreciation of the nuances of identities, of the subjective and collective meanings of religion, the abandoning of dogmatisms (religious and secular), and a pragmatic approach focused on what we can do together as human beings. In an interconnected world facing complex global challenges, we must nourish an ethos of mutual responsibility towards the common good. This concept resonates with values espoused by the main religions of the world and are present in Europe, including Islam, which place considerable emphasis on ideas of social justice, solidarity, charity, and collective identity. From this perspective emerges a more positive and multicultural-friendly aspect of religion, rather than its intransigent, exclusivist, or violent face, which is often condemned for being incompatible with western and democratic secular values. 

* Professor Sara Silvestri is research associate at Cambridge University and a lecturer in religion and international politics at City University, UK. 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.






If an independence referendum were to split South Sudan from the North, I wrote last September, the two states would go to war by early spring this year. It's June now; I was off by a couple of months. However, the first heavy skirmishes between troops from the Arab-Muslim North and the Christian-animist South have now taken place, and war is clearly under way.

The point of conflict is Abyei, an ethnically southern town straddling the border and claimed by both sides. Over the past weeks South Sudanese forces have ambushed Northern troop columns near Abyei, and the Northern government in Khartoum has retaliated with tanks and fighter jets, burning sections of the town. Northern president Omar al-Bashir has refused a United Nations call to pull his forces back.

Abyei is a scruffy, rapidly built-up settlement, rows of huts, market stalls, and modular quarters set in the midst of a vast, parched-earth prairie. Who except for the Dinka and other native pastoralist tribesmen that live here could want this land? Why would anyone deploy tanks and jets to fight over it?

Oil is the answer, enough oil to have made China, India, and Malaysia sign long-term drilling leases with the Khartoum government over the years.

Almost all of Sudan's oil is in the south, much of it in the Abyei region. Khartoum no longer controls it, although it and the incipient southern government in Juba agreed last year to share revenues if the referendum brought independence. Mutual north-south distrust of the agreement has led to today's hostilities. Ironically, both Sudans will need each other to make any money, the South may have the oil, but the 1,500-mile pipeline that takes it to world markets is in the North. This natural symbiosis seems to have been lost on the war hawks of the two sides.

What difference does it make if war does continue to flare in Sudan? For the region or the world in general, so what? Some of the answers jump out at you.

1. This could grow into an outright religious war of the most inflammatory kind, a Muslim state versus a Christian one. Zealots of the two faiths across Africa and the Middle East would cite it as a reason to kill and burn. The fragile social-political renewals of countries like Egypt and Tunisia would be put at risk.

2. South Sudan will be headed for failed-state status even without war. It has almost no roads or infrastructure, and a population so under-educated that few of its officials in Juba have more than primary schooling. Its tribes and clans have killed each other at rates of up to 200 a month through May. After war, south Sudan would emerge as a permanent ward of the international donor agencies and an easy haven for terrorist groups.

3. China's economy, to which the rest of the world is indexed, will take a hit if war closes down the oil fields. Beijing's tankers would have to sail instead to Angola, its other African oil supplier, 5,000 miles farther, along sea routes infested with pirates. Chinese goods would become costlier. The Chinese economy is already cooling. The world is so interdependent today that output stoppage for oil or any other primary commodity will bring painful knock-on effects virtually everywhere.

There's a good chance that if Sudan and South Sudan go on fighting over Abyei, what can seem like minor regional oil spat could quickly widen into something viral. The specifics of the situation, however, could lend themselves to a ready-made solution, a joint American-Chinese peace intervention. Painstaking United States diplomacy brought the two sides to their two-state agreement in 2005. China has its own vital interest in peace in Sudan. Anything short of superpower pressure would probably fail.







Yesterday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared in the event of re-election of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, the party will change the current setup of ministries.

Eight state ministries will be abolished and six new ministries will be established. One of the six new ministries is the Science, Technology and Industry Ministry. Science and technology had been a gray area in between different ministries such as the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications. The establishment of a Technology Ministry is a topic of decades. Nongovernmental organizations have been pushing for it for sometime as they couldn't go far without a dedicated Ministry on Science and Technology. None of the previous ministries established technology management departments and Turkey did not have a clear technology investment plan. Therefore it is a wonderful new development that a Ministry of Science, Technology and Industry is going to be established.

Erdoğan also declared the ministry will be responsible of technology education and increasing innovation. World renowned economist Daron Acemoğlu said in order to become a developed country, institutionalization should be completed. Therefore the AKP's new move sounds really good. But I have a question in my mind. Can innovation and technology advances occur without tolerance? Faruk Eczacıbaşı who is the president of Turkish Informatics Foundation quotes from Richard Florida's 3T equation frequently. Florida states innovation occurs when technology, talent and tolerance come together.

Lately, Turkish people feel tolerance is not the best quality of the current government. Even the reckless hacker group Anonymous heard about the recent events in Turkey and declared they will take action if government filters the net on Aug. 22. Anonymous, used as a mass noun, is an Internet meme that originated in 2003, representing the concept of many online community users simultaneously existing as an anarchic, digitized global brain.

Anonymous is responsible of the protest against the Church of Scientology; 2009 Iranian election protests; attack on the websites of the government of Zimbabwe; attack on the website for the Irish political party Fine Gael; 2011 Wisconsin protests; 2011 Bank of America document release; Wikileaks defense and attack on credit card companies who stopped wiring donations to Wikileaks; and the last and their finest Operation Sony, which cost Sony billions of dollars.

A piece from their declaration is as follows "We, Anonymous, will not stand by and let this go unnoticed. We will fight together with the Turkish people against their government's rain of censorship." Immediately Turkish Hackers declared they already have plans to protest and they don't need Anonymous' help. I also know there are plans to trigger massive protests if the governments insist on censorship.

 Given the fact many journalists are in jail because of their thoughts, amazing plans to censor communication, prime minister's personal attacks on business people and journalists, warning them that there will be prices to pay if they are against his polices, and the fast track on being a police state, it is very hard to believe that innovation can foster in Turkey's current intolerant climate. Therefore I am afraid nothing will change with the new ministry.

The effects of government's intolerance can be seen by Turkey's e-readiness index very clearly. The index encompasses institutions, investments, current political climate, human resources and freedom of speech etc. Turkey was going forward from 2002 to 2006. We were in 50th place in 2003 and 48th in 2006. However after 2007 when we became the 52nd out of 122 countries, Turkey went backwards very fast. In 2008 we were 55th, in 2009 61st and in 2010, 69th. The listing coincides with our observations about the lack of tolerance.

Meanwhile the Republican Peoples' Party, or CHP, declared their vision on technology at their "Towards the Knowledge Society" report. It is too good to be true. The CHP said uncensored Internet is a human right and everyone will have access to it. The CHP promises to work on the digital divide and they promise to lower taxes, which are the highest in the world. Even though CHP's promises seem hard to keep, I believe the AKP will have a harder time to accept different voices in society. Therefore my vote will be for the CHP hoping that important figures like Emrehan Halıcı will be more vocal in defending our rights than showing off his skills on TV.







Tensions between the ruling party and its former ally, the PML-N, continue to rise. The chief of the country's main opposition party, Mian Nawaz Sharif, has once more lashed out at the government, warning that his party members may resign from the assemblies if the commission sought by parliament on the Abbottabad raid is not set up by June 30. The commission announced by the government - without consultation with the opposition - has already been rejected by the PML-N; the candidates approved by the former were not included in the commission members announced by the prime minister. There have also been fierce attacks on government performance by members of the PML-N during the ongoing debate on the budget - the shouts and slogans of protest amidst which the budget was announced reflect a growing loss of patience and tolerance. This is hardly surprising given that growing hostilities have been festering for some time and the level of public disenchantment with the government's performance only fuels angst.

Disturbing reports suggest that more trouble may be afoot, and that it could break out at a most inopportune time. According to a report in this newspaper, the presidency may be devising a plot to reopen cases again the Sharif brothers as elections come around. The cases are being deliberately held back, we are told, till what the government sees as the right time to inflict maximum damage on the PML-N, and thus create an uneven playing field around election time. What the government does not appear to realise is that in doing so, it would be weakening an already struggling system of democracy and inflicting greater damage on it. This is characteristic of the short-sightedness we have seen again and again from those who lead our country. Putting forward opposing views and criticising each other is a standard element of any democracy. The process helps bring before people the problems that exist and offers them more information based on which they can make informed choices. But adopting devious tactics to undermine leaders can serve no useful purpose. Strains of the kind we see now make it harder to keep the system working smoothly and thus add to the many problems we already face as a nation.







Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday accused Tehran's archrival Washington of having evil designs on Pakistan's nuclear facilities. According to him, America wants to sabotage Pakistan's nukes and would use the Security Council and other international bodies as levers to prepare the ground for a massive presence in Pakistan and to weaken the country's sovereignty. On the same day Prime Minister Gilani spoke at a dinner meeting of coalition partners and declared in categorical terms that Pakistan's nuclear assets were in safe hands and nobody should have any doubts about this. Both statements raise two important questions: What is the state of Pakistan's relationship with Iran and why is Ahmadinejad making these alarmist statements now? Pakistan is the only Muslim country with nuclear weapons and has close relations with Iran. A Shia country in a Sunni sea, Iran has always needed a bridge like Pakistan. Pakistan and Iran have just concluded the 7th Pakistan-Iran Joint Commission on Road Transportation which recommended opening many additional international crossing points for the promotion of trade, commerce, and people-to-people contact.

Importantly, Ahmadinejad's statement comes a day after the International Atomic Energy Agency said it had new evidence of a possible military dimension to Iran's nuclear work. In response, Ahmadinejad accused the UN atomic watchdog of doing Washington's bidding and in the same breath also talked about US plans to sabotage Pakistan's nukes. It seems the Iranian president's statement was less an accurate description of the safety of Pakistan's nuclear facilities and more a part of an attempt to make a larger point he has been making for some time now: that the US wants to undermine the sovereign rights of Muslim countries. Flagging that sanctions would not force Iran to give up what it considers its sovereign rights, the Iranian president cited the example of Pakistan to make his standard case about US unilateralism and arrogance, and to warn Pakistan against bending to US pressures. But Iran must remember that raising alarm about Pakistan's nukes will not serve Pakistan at this critical moment when the world's gaze is fixed on it. On its part, Pakistan must let the US and Iran figure out their problems between themselves and focus instead on its independent relationships with the two countries. However, it should be able to tell the US why it needs Iran to tackle an energy crisis that threatens to undermine the fight against militancy.







It seems like a case of a bad cop going after a flawed hero. And it's getting uglier by the day. The escalating dispute between Shahid Afridi and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has become a national issue with the former captain suing the Board in his search for 'justice'. The entire case is difficult to comprehend. Just two months back, Afridi was hailed as a national hero after he lifted a depleted Pakistan team and led it to the World Cup semifinals. In the process, Afridi also emerged as the most destructive bowler of the competition. Now, Afridi has retired from international cricket and is at loggerheads with the PCB after lashing out at its policies. In what appears to be a disproportionate response, the Board suspended Afridi's central contract besides blocking his participation in international leagues by revoking No Objection Certificates granted to him. It is also planning to impose strict sanctions on him including a lengthy ban and a hefty fine.


In retaliation, Afridi has obtained a stay order from the Sindh High Court and is hoping to get some relief following an SHC hearing in Karachi today. Whatever the outcome of the Afridi-PCB court battle, the dispute has once again made Pakistan a laughing stock in the cricketing world. As if last year's spot-fixing scandal wasn't enough, the PCB has once against shot itself in the foot by opening a front against the country's most popular cricketer. Not that Afridi is completely innocent — he is accused of disciplinary breaches and not without reason. But the PCB has lived up to its reputation of being one of the worst-run cricket boards in the world. Its decision to revoke the NOCs granted to Afridi without giving him a fair trial, smacks of personal vendetta. In the long run, this move is damaging for Pakistani cricketers as now the counties and franchises associated with international leagues will think twice before hiring players from our country. For Pakistan cricket, it's important that this issue is resolved immediately and amicably.









The murder of professor Saba Dashtiyari in Quetta last week, coming on the heels of the killing of investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad, is yet another sign of an ongoing 'genocide' of progressive Pakistani intellectuals and activists. 'Genocide' generally means the deliberate destruction of an ethnic group or tribe. In this context, it applies to the tribe of Pakistanis who have publically proclaimed or implicitly practiced the enlightenment agenda of freedom of conscience. They may have very different, even opposing, political views but they are people who are engaged knowingly or unknowingly in spreading 'enlightenment' values. Perceived to be out to undermine or eliminate members of this tribe are sections of state long engaged in establishing Pakistan's "Islamic" identity and determining the "national interest". They decide who is a patriot or a Muslim. Most of those killed in mysterious circumstances over the years were critics of this sate of affairs.

Let's list some of them (a complete list is not possible here), starting with the former governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, murdered by an official bodyguard. Contrary to standard operating procedures, the other guards did not open fire on the assailant - who had been assigned to this duty despite his "extremist views" due to which the Special Branch had earlier dismissed him. Barely two months later, two human rights defenders were gunned down — former federal minister for minority affairs Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad, and Naeem Sabir, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan's former coordinator in Khuzdar, Balochistan.

The assassins "may perhaps belong to different groups," said the HRCP, but the murders were "the work of militants out to eliminate anyone who raises his voice against persecution of the vulnerable people". Naeem Sabir, associated with the HRCP since 1997, had been targeted off and on "by minions of the state" for his coverage of human rights abuses. A shadowy group calling itself the 'Baloch Musala Defai Tanzeem' (Armed Baloch Defence Committee) claimed responsibility.

Saba Dashtiyari was not exposing human rights abuses but he was doing something more dangerous - opening young minds to progressive thought. Although he received his basic education in the slums of Lyari he shared a wealth of knowledge, running "kind of a (liberal) university within the (strictly controlled) university," writes his former student Malik Siraj Akbar. The disparate group of students around him often comprised "progressive and liberals"; they clutched books by "freethinkers like Bertrand Russell, Russian fiction by Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky," and writings of Pakistani progressive intelletuals like the late Syed Sibte Hasan and Dr Mubarak Ali. Their discussions revolved around "politics, religion, revolutions, nationalism" and also included social taboos like sex and homosexuality. He contributed his salary "to impart cultural awareness and secular education".

The state, on the other hand, is "constructing more and more religious schools to counter the liberal nationalist movement" which only accelerates the process of right-wing radicalisation (Obituary: The Martyred Professor, June 2, 2011, Baloch Hal).

Prof Dashtiyari had lately become "a staunch backer of the Baloch armed resistance for national liberation" ('The Baloch Noam Chomsky Is Dead', Baloch Hal, Jun 2, 2011). Although he himself had not taken up arms, his views were anathema to the 'establishment' as defined above.

In April last year, another professor at the University of Balochistan, Nazima Talib was murdered — the first time a woman was target-killed in the province. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) said it had killed her in response to the security forces' killing of "two Baloch women in Quetta and Pasni and torture of women political workers in Mand and Tump". Security forces routinely pick up Baloch youth for questioning. Far too often, mutilated bodies are found in what Amnesty International has termed as "kill and dump" operations. Since July 2010, the rights body has documented "the disappearances and killing of at least 100 activists, journalists, lawyers and teachers in Balochistan, with victims' relatives often blaming the security and intelligence services".

One can empathise with the anger of the Baloch. But revenge killings cannot be justified or condoned. When victims become oppressors, it becomes even harder to emerge from the downward spiral.

The murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti in Gen Musharraf's military operation of August 2006 contributed to this downward spiral, sparking off a wave of target killings of non-Balochis, particularly educationists and civil servants. Those killed since include former education minister Shafique Ahmed and Hamid Mehmood, former secretary of the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education.

Although shadowy groups with long names sometimes claim responsibility, it is usually "unidentified assailants" who are said to be behind the murders, like those who gunned down former senator Habib Jalib of the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) last July.

Journalists remain vulnerable, walking a tightrope between the military and the militants, as Saleem Shahzad did. At least half-a-dozen Baloch journalists have been target-killed over the past nine months alone: Rehmatullah Shaeen, Ejaz Raisani, Lala Hameed Hayatan, Ilyas Nazar, Mohammad Khan Sasoil, Siddiq Eido and Abdus Rind. These murders have not been investigated, nor has the mainstream media taken any notice of them.

Many compare the situation to 1971. Just before Bangladesh's liberation (albeit with foreign intervention), extremists trying to kill progressive ideas in the new country massacred progressive intellectuals. Is a similar mindset at work in what's left of Pakistan? Extremists know they cannot win the argument so they silence the voices that make the argument.

Musharraf's "moderate enlightenment" led to an escalation of violence against those who are genuinely enlightenment partisans from all shades of political opinion. This is not just a series of "incidents" but a tacitly agreed upon plan operating under a culture of impunity for both the state and the insurgents, fostered, it must be noted, by non-elected arms of the state. All demands for accountability, and for these acts to be tried and punished as criminal offences have so far come to naught.

There are signs of hope in the unprecedented number of people speaking out, in the Supreme Court's seeking of the past three-year record of targeted killings in Balochistan, and in the Aghaz Huqooq-i-Balochistan ("the Beginning of Rights of Balochistan") introduced by the government in November 2009. It is essential to build on these moves and urgently address Balochistan's long-standing grievances about economic and political disenfranchisement, and human rights abuses.

As mentioned above, the genocide of Pakistan's progressives is not limited to Balochistan. After educationist Latifullah Khan was murdered in Dir in November last year the Communist Party of Pakistan noted that since the start of the Taliban insurgency in Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, systematic elimination of the enlightened and educated people had been underway. Terming it 'rampant 'intellecticide', the CPP urged the international community to take note as not a day passed without a university professor, chancellor, doctor, enlightened teacher or a progressive political worker being target-killed or kidnapped.

Saba Dashtiyari is the latest in a long line of such 'enlightenment martyrs' in Pakistan. They include those fighting the land mafia - like Nisar Baloch (of Gutter Bagheecha fame, Karachi), and the fisherfolk Haji Ghani and Abu Bakar who spearheaded a movement against the destruction of the mangrove forests along the coast.

Let this blood not have been spilt in vain.

The writer is a journalist working with the Jang Group








Al-Qaeda and their local allies announced that they would seek revenge for Osama's death and they have succeeded so far in implementing their plans. They have struck targets of their choice all over Pakistan, including defence and security installations. Some experts resort to the narrative of blaming RAW, CIA and MOSSAD, for covertly supporting these terrorists' acts to destabilise our country and to get hold of our nuclear assets. The government is also being blamed for not formulating any counterterrorism policy.

Formation of an organisation on US Home Land Security is also being suggested by many analysts. USA is the sole super power, involved in internal political issues of many countries. Threat of terrorism against US may diminish with the defeat of Al-Qaeda but may not vanish altogether. Our terrorism issue is different from the US. Once the present terrorists groups are neutralised, Pakistan may not face terrorist's activities of such a high magnitude. A poor, resource starved country with a fragile democratic system and divided national opinion on this war, need an indigenous policy formulation to deal with this menace.

There are two components of such a policy, anti terrorism and counterterrorism. Anti terrorism, include defensive measures taken by commanders of all institutions, installations, offices and premises and security agencies to reduce the chances of terrorists' activities. Police check posts, guards, rapid reaction force, security cameras, perimeter defences etc are some of these measures. For anti-terrorism measures no national policy is required .All sensitive institutions are supposed to take these measures even during peacetime and make standing operating procedures for implementation of these measures. PNS Mehran did not take effective and suitable anti terrorism measures that resulted in the recent penetration of terrorists in the base.

Counterterrorism includes offensive measures taken to pre-empt, prevent, deter, and respond to terrorism. Through reliable and coordinated intelligence efforts, conducting pre-emptive strikes on terrorists' sanctuaries and hideouts, squeezing their funding sources, cutting their supply and logistics means and denying them areas for training are some of the counterterrorism measures. The policy has to be formulated and implemented at national level. A counterterrorism policy has to be conceived as per the threat perception and the ground realities.

There are five major terrorist groups and some minor cells, operating in our country. Since 2002, the main base of Al-Qaeda in this region is Waziristan. After the invasion of Afghanistan, a shattered and depleted Al-Qaeda chose Waziristan as its headquarters for regrouping and reorganisation. Even though their agenda is global, they need a secure area to implement their goals; therefore they have interests in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the eighties, Osama had plans of using Pakistan as a possible place to back up if the need arose. He was interested in the internal politics of Pakistan. He played an undeniable role in the vote of no confidence against Benazir in 1989. A liberal woman, as head of government, did not fit in the future plans he had for Al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda is here and it is the biggest threat to our sovereignty and security. Members of Al-Qaeda are motivated fanatics and there is a remote possibility of them being used by foreign agencies. They will remain in Pakistan and use our soil for terrorist activities until the time, when some favourable environments are created in Afghanistan or any other parts of the world, where they can shift. Since such a scenario is not on the cards in the near future, they have to be chased and eliminated, with the assistance of our allies.

The local Taliban have an internal agenda. They want to create a Taliban state in Pakistan. They will not surrender on the withdrawal of Nato forces. Their war is against Pakistan. All of them are not religiously motivated, and chances of some of them being in contact with foreign agencies cannot be ruled out. They began their activities in 1998. Elimination of their sanctuaries, through use of force, is the only solution to disintegrate their already depleted organisation. The Pak Army has done an excellent job by securing six districts and some tribal agencies. However, all means should be utilised to defeat them, including securing of the remaining sanctuaries, special legislations, trial in military courts and allowing drone attacks against them. Negotiations should only be held with them once they surrender and abandon their objective of running a state within a state.

Terrorists from Central Asia, including Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), had a local agenda, to topple their governments through use of violence. Initially they had little affiliations with Al-Qaeda. However now for their survival, like other groups, they have joined hands with Al-Qaeda. Their main leaders have already been killed. Some of them may be willing to lay down arms, but since they do not have a place to fall back upon, therefore, they have no option but to fight it out. The possibility of contacting their governments, for resettlement of those who are willing to surrender may be explored. In the absence of any other solution, operations have to be conducted against them.

The jihadis feel betrayed by the state. Through an ill-conceived policy, they were trained by the state to fight a proxy war in which many were killed. In 2002, once the jihad policy was selectively abandoned, no steps were taken, for their rehabilitation. Most of these jihadis are highly motivated. They should be approached at some level to motivate them to abandon their war against their own country, offering them incentives and rehabilitations options. In case they do not agree, they should be treated at par with other terrorists and eliminated. The members of sectarian outfits are mostly criminals and murderers. They have not been sponsored by the state. They should be dealt with ruthlessly until they are willing to surrender and face trials for their crimes. The Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazeer groups should be disarmed at a suitable time.

The government should make another effort to bring all political parties on the same page. Political parties and media have to educate people rather than burden them with their emotional opinions, based on half-truths and false propaganda. The government should take people into its confidence, with data about drone attacks and the possible repercussions of anti drone measures. The implications of closing Nato supplies should be highlighted. The need for a coordinated effort of civil and military intelligence is the key to success. The jihadi policy also needs to be revisited. We could afford to pursue such an ill-conceived policy in the eighties and nineties, but have to abandon it now, as the whole world is focused on us.

The writer is a retired brigadier who has served as head MI and ISI for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and Northern areas









The resurfacing of the militant Taliban commander Mullah Faqir Muhammad in Bajaur has come as a major blow to the government's ongoing peace efforts in the troubled border areas. The Maulana's unexpected reappearance and his seditious speeches on his FM radio station, has taken locals by surprise and caused widespread alarm. The local had seen the Pakistani flag hoisted in the Sewai area by excited young soldiers after they had regained control of territories from the terrorists in March 2010.

They say Mullah Faqir always delivers on what he commits to do, so his warnings are always taken seriously by his opponents and ordinary people alike, which is why his thundering speeches can create panic. I still remember Mullah Faqir's warning to the Americans and the Pakistani government in the aftermath of the US drone attack on a madressah in Bajaur's Inam Khuru-Cheenagai area on Oct 30, 2006, that left 80 students dead.

The following day, in his first public appearance which ended a long period he spent underground, Mullah Faqir Muhammad told a huge public gathering in Khar, the main town of Bajaur, that by killing the 80 students the Americans and their ally—i.e., the Pakistani government—had produced thousands of suicide bombers who would soon launch attacks against the Americans and government installations.

His response was quick. On Nov 8, a suicide attack on an army base in Dargai, Malakand Division, killed 42 young recruits. That, in turn, was followed by a series of deadly suicide attacks on installations of the army, the police and the government.

In the present case, a day after he issued warnings to those who had been vocal in their criticism of the Taliban, Malik Tehsil Khan suffered the Taliban's wrath. An influential malik from the Salarzai tribe, Malik Tehsil Khan, another person who had challenged the authority of the Taliban, was similarly killed, together with seven other people, in a suicide attack on May 27 in the Pashat area of tehsil Salarzai, some three kilometres from the Agency headquarters near the Afghan border.

Mullah Faqir's forceful comeback has sent a shockwave that has particularly alarmed the returnees who spent more than two-and-a-half years in harsh conditions as internally displaced people. The military operation launched on Aug 6, 2008, forced almost 350,000 Bajauris to flee the area and find refuge in government-run IDP camps in Peshawar and Dir districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Families which were better-off either rented homes or stayed with relatives in Mardan, Peshawar, Dir, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi.

Official estimates show that 800 families were still packing up to return home as part of the government's repatriation process that started on April 11. Some 23,000 families have gone back to their homes so far, although close to 90,000 individuals who live in camps are yet to be relocated in the native areas, according to estimates of the Fata Disaster Management Authority.

The two years and ten months since the launch of the military operation have seen a large number of deaths, with still more people left injured or maimed. The loss caused by the destruction of material assets, in terms of both personal property and infrastructure, is staggering.

Bajaur Agency has suffered the most significant damage in the decade-long war in the tribal areas. The damage is estimated at $68 billion. Almost 40 villages were completely demolished in the Loi Sam, Tank Khata, Khazana, Zoorband, Hashim, Manogi, Rashakai and Kotki and Khalki areas of Charmang. Official estimates put the figure of damaged homes at 9,580, with 3,000 dwellings completely destroyed.

Meanwhile, more than 4,000 shops and other commercial units were destroyed, and this rendered countless thousands of people without livelihood. Fifteen per cent of the people in the area earn their livelihood from the small businesses they own. Fifty percent of the people are associated with agriculture, ten percent serve in government, semi-government and non-governmental organisations. Twenty-five percent are engaged as labourers in the cities and towns of Pakistan and in the Gulf countries, or work as night watchmen, construction workers, shoeshine boys, popcorn sellers, bus conductors, woodcutters and truck loaders.

The destruction of the agricultural, communication and business infrastructure has added to the serious difficulties the people of the area were already facing. After the new crisis befell them, the people are desperately looking for other sources of income. Lack of communicational links kept family members away from each other. The IDPs had no word about their relatives, let alone their having an inkling of whether their personal belongings were still where they had left them.

A total of 106 schools were destroyed. This destruction, so much of it deliberate, left thousands of children without education. The army rebuilt some of the schools that had been destroyed partially. However, most of the schools in Nawagai, Charmang and Mamoond areas are yet to be reopened. This is an extremely unfortunate situation for an area where the literacy rate is abysmal, more so among females. In Bajaur it is as low as 18 percent in the male population and a mere three percent among females. It will never be known what devastating affect the long closure of schools had on the local population, but one thing is certain: the further the rate of education falls in the disturbed area, the more the male members of the population will be drawn to the Taliban, fuelling the insurgency still further. Indeed, they will have little alternative but to join the Taliban.

In a region where a sense of deprivation among people is chronic, the government's failure to deliver on its promises of providing security and basic facilities of life can only result in frustration and alienation among the population, and this will be exploited by the re-emerging Taliban. Bajaur connects Pakistan's tribal areas to Afghanistan's Kunar province, a hub of the Afghan Taliban. It is linked to Malakand Division where the Taliban militia led by Maulana Fazlullah turned the picturesque Swat Valley into a battlefield and played havoc with lives of the local people.

To its east lies Dir, a religiously conservative area. It was here that the leader of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), Maulana Sufi Muhammad, led a contingent of 10,000 jihadi zealots to fight alongside the Afghan Taliban when their government in Kabul was toppled by the US-led attack in late 2001. The jihadi fighters from Swat, Dir and Bajaur made their way into Afghanistan through Bajaur Agency in response to the call of Mullah Muhammd Umar in Afghanistan. To its west is Mohmand Agency, where militants led by Omar Khalid operate.

In view of the strategic location of the area, and the human and material losses caused in the past few years and the growing frustration amongst people, the government needs to come up with a credible development plan with a built-in component of security. If the government fails to do this, and do it immediately, the whole nation will have to bear the consequences, with Bajaur having to bear the brunt once thing go wrong. In the traditional Pakhtun society, power, authority, respect and wealth matter more than anything else. If unemployed young men are empowered through weaponry, the only consequence can be bloodletting. And that is what Mullah Faqir Muhammad seeks.

The writer heads the FATA Research Centre in Islamabad.








This government, like every other in the past, laments that people do not pay taxes and that no one parts with money owed to the state. And without tax collection the government cannot manage its myriad functions in the public interest. The taxpayers, however, feel that the government has no respect for their tax money, which is squandered away on wasteful pursuits and self-aggrandisement. It's a chicken-or-egg story. Mark Twain defined the difference between a tax collector and taxidermist thus: A taxidermist only takes the skin.

But aren't we taxed for everything save the air we breathe? What is it that we are not taxed for – including our patience? When the prices of basic utilities are arbitrarily hiked, everybody stands taxed. Take the case of state-owned white elephants like PIA, the Steel Mills, the Railways and Wapda that accumulate losses worth billions each year. These outfits are kept afloat through injection of taxpayers' money year after year.

It's mind-boggling why the Railways should be in loss every year when the passengers are seen travelling on the footboards of the trains' compartments. Those who travelled by trains during the seventies still carry nostalgic memories of safe, pleasurable journeys. In the early seventies, for some months this writer travelled from Narowal to Lahore in a train that departed from Narowal at 10 p.m. The first-class compartment, with cool breeze rushing in as its ageing windows were unable to roll up, used to be next to the steam engine. As a lone passenger, I usually slept peacefully the whole night, to wake up at Shahdara in the wee hours of the morning. Looking into the mirror, I saw a blackened face staring back at me, covered by the suit and smoke emitted by the steam engine. However, the night journey with doors ajar was safe, the passengers were not robbed and the old steam engine rarely broke down between two stations. Alas! That train has been suspended, not for lack of passengers but for resources.

Besides the known-loss making public organisations are some entities people hadn't even heard of. National Insurance Corporation Ltd, for instance, until it made waves recently. By its nomenclature, it should be in insurance activity of some sort but certainly not in highflying real-estate deals worth billions at home and abroad. It's only the bad luck of NICL frontrunners, behind-the-scene sleazy operators and, of course, the good luck of the poor nation that judiciary is headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the uncrowned king of the country. His suo moto notice forced the guilty to disgorge the spoils. But we learn that the politically influential thugs have deposited post-dated cheques to be realised in four to five years, which will be well past Justice Chaudhry's retirement in 2013. In other words, the loot may never be returned.

Nevertheless, it's the first time that we heard a decisive voice in the judiciary questioning why politically influential loan sharks gobble up bank loans worth billions – they have devoured more than 250 billions since 2003 alone – while the banks liquidate the meagre holdings of us ordinary mortals to recover their loans. And the irony is that the "respectable" names of the members of the loan mafia aren't revealed to the public. Why not? No harm could come to them as ours is a swindler-friendly country. It's just that the people would know the mafioso on the backseat of a BMW followed by a posse of gunslingers.

Amid all this corruption, my heart goes out to Saleem Shahzad who was mercilessly tortured and then murdered. If he had been marked for assassination any way, why was he tortured? May the Almighty give strength to his young widow and their three children. Rest in peace, friend; you'll be remembered for speaking the truth.

The writer is a freelance

contributor based in Lahore.









The writer is a defence and political analyst.


Is there a single good reason why Pakistanis should be deprived of their legitimate right to hear (and witness) what is in store for them, financially, in the coming year? The National Assembly floor is "hallowed ground" for all those who advocate the cause of democracy. While the opposition has every right to protest within the bounds of acceptable parliamentary practice (and language), the spectacle that was witnessed this year was simply abhorrent. These proponents of democracy should know that converting the National Assembly floor into a fish market will only consign democracy down the proverbial drain.

Sadly, the PML-N has a sorry history of such 'democratic' conduct. The Supreme Court was attacked by supporters of the PML-N on November 27, 1998. Its "parliamentarians'' also resorted to unbecoming conduct on June 3, 2011.

In order to run the affairs of the state, taxes have to be levied and the funds thus collected allocated for public spending. Democracy is best served with the opposition dissecting budget proposals line by line, and suggesting better alternatives.

Ravaged by the worst floods in the country's history and the ever-expanding backlash from the "war against terrorism," our economic miseries were further aggravated by a meteoric rise in oil prices. The vulnerability and structural weaknesses of the economy were exposed when confronted with challenges.

The floods badly damaged the core areas of the agricultural sector, which in turn disrupted activities in the manufacturing and services sectors. No surprise that we have missed all our economic targets, achieving a GDP growth rate of only 2.4 percent against the projected 4.5 percent — the lowest in the region.

Despite spending huge amounts on population control, we have the highest population growth in the region, registering only a decline of one percent over 30 years.

What the finance minister left unsaid was the required harmony with IMF diktats. The PPP's coalition partner in the federal cabinet forced him to omit a good portion of his budget speech; the PML-Q and the MQM dare not risk public anger already aroused by the selling of their political souls for a few ineffectual federal ministries.

One cannot underestimate the enormous damage caused to the social fabric on account of our "war against terrorism". Suffering almost US$68 billion in losses this financial year (2010-2011), Pakistan has already lost US$17.83 billion equalling this year's tax target. The survey showing only 5.6 percent of the 54.92 million employable unemployed in 2009-10 cannot be correct in actual terms – 29.1 percent of the so-called employed are unpaid domestic helpers, more than 23 percent being women.

The long-standing demand for taxing agricultural income was agreed to by the provinces during the historic National Finance Commission (NFC) Accord brokered by then finance minister Shaukat Tarin. Not invited to the formal signing ceremony after having achieved the impossible, this was Tarin's parting gift to the nation; he resigned soon after. Legislators being big landowners, the provinces had no intention of making good on their promise. Why pay taxes when they can easily legislate dumping the burden on the one percent or so of the population that does pay taxes. The only solution is to broaden the tax base and perfect the means of collection.

A meeting called by the finance minister only 10 days before the budget, was alas too late. Had it been held six months earlier, the provinces could have been committed to the agreed formula, considerably lessening the financial burden on the centre. That patwaris can collect such taxes is not only a farce, it is pure fantasy.

The Punjab Provincial Civil Services (PCS) Officers led by Rai Mansoor had given pragmatic suggestions to their provincial government for increasing revenue and decreasing expenditure. In return, they were jailed and suspended by the PML-N government. This is selective democracy the Sharifs' way.

The public understandably wants to know whether the huge amount allocated for defence services is necessary and if so, is it being spent judiciously? Every penny of the taxpayers' money must be accounted for and the mechanics of accountability must be worked out. Emotions must not get the better of reason while the constant public refrain about making the Armed Forces accountable for their expenditures should also not become an excuse for publically chastising them.

This deliberate humiliation of the men in uniform is unacceptable. While Mian Nawaz Sharif may have a genuine grouse against Musharraf, why is he taking it out on the army at large? The defence services must practice modern accounting methods. Waste is inherent in the present process. One agrees that complete revamping of the entire military financial system is required to get more bang for the buck.

The military must punish the corrupt in its midst and not cover up their crimes, for example, those who were involved in the NLC scam where an impartial enquiry found them losing billions in public money while lining their own pockets. Some defence expenditures must necessarily remain under wraps and motivated use of the media to make our defence services appear controversial must be avoided. With defence forces four to five times our size, India is not willing to resolve the Siachen problem. Indian appeasers will please note, India's defence budget is more than our entire federal budget. Can we afford to let our guard down and besmirch the uniform?

One would rather be finance minister in Pakistan under a military government than in a democratic set-up. In an authoritarian regime the man holding the purse strings has enormous power – his military bosses are not really qualified to question him, financial spreadsheets being beyond their capacity. By weaving statistics at will, any good accountant, let alone economist, can keep them spellbound.

The present PPP government is hardly to blame for the economic sins of the Musharraf regime. Successfully practicing his own particular brand of "feel good" economics to make his boss Musharraf popular, Shaukat Aziz failed to invest in the power sector (and socio-economic infrastructure). The downside of his consumer-oriented policy finally caught up with the country with a vengeance. In the democratic dispensation, unless the finance minister concedes to their many demands for favours, hell hath no fury like a jilted parliamentarian.

Why in the world Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, an extremely honest and competent technocrat, would want to be the country's finance minister now, at the worst of times, is beyond me. One of Musharraf's major mistakes was not making either him or Shaukat Tarin finance minister. Shaukat Aziz, master of public relations, would have made a very good foreign minister; he could charm a snake out of its skin.

Knowing full well that he would be pummeled by friend and foe alike, Hafeez Shaikh has courageously chosen to accept the poisoned chalice, in the greater national interest. Incidentally, did he pay the PML-N to throw a political tantrum to spare him political blushes on his debut?

In the circumstances, kudos to Hafeez Shaikh. He didn't do too bad a job.







The PM promised to return to Balochistan every month to check on progress. Very well! But it is also time for a reality check

Politicians and reality are more often then not strangers to one another.

The common man and the political elites who run this country rarely seem to be reading from the same page, and Prime Minister Gilani speaking before he left Quetta after a two-day visit to Balochistan offered a textbook example of how not to bridge the credibility gap.

His speech was wide ranging, and had more holes than a fishing net. He said that we would not allow foreign terrorists to use our soil, as it was illegal and unethical.

He might try telling that to the several hundred Afghans who invaded our hallowed soil near Dir, blew up schools, killed women and children and held their positions for three days.

Warming to his task he said that...'we have to identify the black sheep among our ranks supporting the terrorist elements.' Good idea. Shame it was not applied in respect of the man who murdered Salman Taseer.

We learned that the PM was a firm believer in the freedom of the media and that a commission was being formed to 'probe' the murder of Saleem Shahzad, an investigative journalist murdered a few days ago.

One piece of evidence that the commission will not be able to examine is Shahzad's mobile phone records because they have 'disappeared' as far back as May 12. Coincidentally, the same thing happened to the phone records of another journalist Umer Cheema who was abducted and beaten recently. Any idea why that might be Mr Prime Minister?

As for the Chinese and their involvement with the Gwadar project the PM added to the general confusion by saying that the government had not signed any agreement with China regarding the port operation; and that any decision will be taken after consultation with the provincial government. The unspoken word in parentheses was 'maybe'.

Moving on to the much-vexed question of missing persons in Balochistan the PM was of the view that there were 38 missing, not the 6,000 as claimed in some quarters. The view of the average Baloch is considerably different, and they see the official figure of 38 as derisory, an insult that flies in the face of a brutal and terrifying reality made up of disappearances and the discovery of decomposing corpses.

As for the law and order question in Balochistan the PM offered what is by now the classic Pakistan dodge and weave - blame it on somebody else, and preferably everybody else.

Thus we learn that law and order is 'no more the issue of any country or region but had turned into a global concern.' This is genuine 24-carat twaddle Mr Prime Minister. Rather than reducing 'law and order' to a vacuous soundbite you should have noted that the intellectual elites are being systematically murdered, the voices of Baloch nationalism are being silenced and your promises of dialogue ring as empty as did those uttered by President Zardari when he visited Balochistan last year.

The PM promised to return to Balochistan every month to check on progress. Very well! But it is also time for a reality check.








PRIME Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, in a pragmatic manner, has emphasised the need for bridging the trust gap between Pakistan and the United States. Talking to the visiting US Congressional delegation on Tuesday, he said the US administration particularly the Congress needed to be sensitised about the opinion and views of the people of Pakistan in order to pave the way for a long-term strategic partnership based on mutual trust, respect and interests.

In fact, there is a wrong perception in the United States that Pakistanis are genetically anti-American or its media intrinsically hostile to Washington. American leaders, scholars and think tanks have been expressing surprise over their country's overall image in Pakistan despite economic and military assistance. During her recent visit to Islamabad, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton went to the extent of saying that conspiracy theories and anti-Americanism would not work and that anti-Americanism should be checked. The remarks of the US Secretary of State clearly suggest as if the phenomenon is remote-controlled, which is not the case. We believe that such an analysis is totally wrong and based on misinterpretation of the ground realities. Ever since its inception in 1947, Pakistan has remained a staunch ally of the United States. At times, Pakistan sided with the United States at the cost of its own security and economic interests and earned hostility of the erstwhile super power – Soviet Union — which actively supported India in dismembering Pakistan in 1971. But during such critical times too, the United States extended no worthwhile support to Pakistan neither diplomatically nor strategically to safeguard, at least, its territorial integrity. This is to say that there is absolutely no anti-Americanism in Pakistan but resentment over vague and wrong policies of the United States that have hurt the country's interests and sentiments of its people deeply. Coming to the prevailing situation, people are not against the United States itself but policies of the neo-cons who are targeting Muslims and Islamic countries everywhere in the world as highlighted by destruction of Iraq, occupation of Afghanistan and destabilisation of Pakistan and the Arab world. American attitude towards Pakistan's nuclear programme has also been highly discriminatory and the statement of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "we have precise information that America wants to sabotage the Pakistani nuclear facilities" speaks volumes about American intentions and designs and understandable reaction in Pakistan.








STOCKHOLM International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has rightly expressed concerns over danger to global peace posed by read-for-launch five thousand nuclear warheads across the globe. In a latest reports, it says eight nuclear powers of the world have 20,500 nuclear warheads including 2,000 in a state of high alert.

The largest number of nuclear warheads is possessed by Russia and the United States, which exposes hollowness of their claims that they are working towards limitation of the nuclear danger. Initiatives like SALT and START have so far produced nothing tangible and instead these have been used as a cover to justify and diversify the nuclear arsenal. The uneasiness expressed by the prestigious Swedish institute is understandable, as the only livable planet earth cannot afford the burden of even a few state-of-the-art nuclear weapons, not to speak of over twenty thousand, particularly when the world witnessed the catastrophe of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The widespread fall out of the damage caused to nuclear power stations during recent earthquake in Japan has further highlighted the need for taking urgent measures for de-nuclearisation of the world, which is the only option to strengthen prospects of peace in a complicated inter-state relationship. As for South Asia, it is known to all that it was India that began the nuclear arms race in the region by detonating its device in 1974, forcing Pakistan to go for nuclear option to ward off dangers to its security. But even then, Pakistan has been advancing different proposals to make South Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone but unfortunately all such offers were spurned by India. We believe that if the world powers sincerely want peace then instead of targeting just one out of eight known nuclear powers they should take genuine steps for elimination of these weapons of mass destruction from every corner of the earth.







SINDH Assembly has passed a motion recommending that the Province be purged of illegal weapons. A Sindh lawmaker Pir Bachal Shah who presented the motion on Tuesday deserves appreciation as he represented the views of the masses and the House responded positively by unanimously passing it to make Sindh weapons free.

It was a timely move because all ills and crimes in the Province are due to unchecked spread of illegal weapons. What is more surprising is that latest automatic weapons which are normally with the armed forces are being used by the criminals and anti social elements. Members of under ground mafias, dacoits and target killers are using them in Karachi and other parts of Sindh without any fear of the law enforcement agencies. We fear that if such weapons were used by two rival groups, the scenario would not be different from a battle ground. The motion by Pir Bachal Shah received the bipartisan support because the second largest party in the Assembly, the MQM, has already submitted a similar motion in the National Assembly. Implementation of the motion is now the responsibility of the government and we would stress that a campaign to free Sindh Province from illegal and deadly weapons be launched without delay. Provincial Minister for Food Nadir Magsi was very supportive as he volunteered to surrender his weapons if illegal weapons were recovered from dacoits and other criminals. If this gesture is displayed by all the Sindh law makers, a good beginning can be made. However the campaign to recover illegal weapons would not succeed unless and until leadership of all political parties extend wholehearted cooperation to the Government to make the Province and the country an oasis of peace. At the same time, one would like to point out that modern weapons are not being manufactured in Sindh and these are being smuggled in through land and sea routes with the connivance of those deputed to check such practices. Unless smuggling of all sorts of weapons is stopped, it would be difficult to achieve the desired results and we hope that the Federal and Provincial Governments would jointly draw up a strategy to stop smuggling and recover illegal and unauthorized weapons as that would help restore peace and order for which the people are yearning.









A recent news item, datelined Karachi, informs all and sundry that 'mango diplomacy' has kicked off in 'circles of politicians, bureaucrats, business community and landlords of Sindh'. The item goes on to educate the uninitiated on the penchant of politicians landlords for gifting mangoes from their special orchards in the interest of public relations.

It is good to know that mango diplomacy is alive and thriving in this blessed land despite the mess we are all in. But, what prompts one to write is mango diplomacy of another genre. As a nation we are understandably proud of our mangoes. Pakistani mangoes, we believe, are nature's gift to mankind. It hurts our collective ego, therefore, to find that there are nations – and friendly nations at that – who are deprived of the pleasure of enjoying this exquisite fruit.

To correct this anomaly is quite high up on our list of priorities. Trying to export mangoes to the unlikeliest of destinations has, consequently, been something of a passion with us. The perspicacious reader will recall that at the start of every mango season there are lively references in the national press to our mango export campaign. There is mention of pious resolves to export 'our mangoes' far afield to pastures new. According to the chaps who aught to know, our mango exports suffer primarily because of, what can be termed as, the "fruit fly issue". And "official sources" often let it be known as is their wont that "the government is considering a plan for bringing about an improvement in the situation". Reassuring statement that, if ever there was one! Having come this far, the reference to that tenacious little creature by the name of "fruit fly" brings back memories of yore when diplomacy was relatively 'clean' and the 'war on terrorism' had yet to rear its ugly head. Nor had part of our mango belt embroiled itself in the political storm related to creation of new provinces.

But to come back to our subject of the day, it is none other than this pesky little creature called 'fruit fly' that has been the bane of our ambitious plans for the widest possible export of this delectable fruit. One must hasten to clarify here that one has no pretensions to expertise in either the mango culture or indeed its export potential. One would merely crave the indulgence of the gentle reader to relate a short "diplomatic episode" of some relevance to mango diplomacy. It came to pass several years back that the Prime Minister of that time, while embarking on a tour of Japan, thought it fit to use her discretion to include in her entourage a few gentlemen farmers coming from the "mango-growing belt" of the country. One must add, within parentheses, that no research of any genre appears to have gone into this somewhat impulsive decision. It may be added, neither our foreign office nor the Japanese counterpart had been taken into confidence. Fast forward to Tokyo where, during her bilateral discussions with the Japanese leadership, the Prime Minister casually let drop her earnest desire to conclude on the spot an agreement on the export of Pakistani mangoes to Japan. She added, helpfully, that in anticipation of this momentous accord she had actually included in her entourage a group of Pakistan's leading mango exporters.

The Japanese hosts were caught totally off guard. It would be nearer to the truth to say that they were verily stunned. Being a very hardy and methodical race, the Japanese believe in preparing their briefs in a very thorough, pain-staking manner. The mango salvo of our side was something they had not anticipated at all. The Japanese are not known for giving vent to their feelings in public, but if looks could kill the Japanese Foreign Office chaps at the negotiating table would have been hard put to come through unscathed that fateful morning. The situation was salvaged partially thanks to a subsequent informal officials' level meeting, during which, among other things, the Pakistan side learnt a few home truths about the pesky "fruit fly". Japan, it appeared, had embarked on an anti-fruit-fly campaign in earnest, decades earlier. Though fond of imported fruit, they were keen to keep their island nation free from this pesky pest. It took them well over twenty years but their perseverance paid off in the end and they did manage to rid their country of the dreaded insect.

The issue of mangoes carrying the fruit fly was not overly complicated. The Japanese had, our side was informed, invented a machine that helped kill off the fruit fly without damaging the fruit. The procedure consisted of puncturing the fruit with very fine needles that killed the offending fruit fly through a heat wave process. Japan's trading partners had been using the process successfully for years. The Japanese side even offered to gift us one of these machines in addition to lending services of experts to acquaint us with the procedure. The minutes of the meeting were duly recorded and sent to the concerned offices for "necessary action". From all accounts, it appears evident that the minutes in question went the way of all such documents in the Land of the Pure - coming to rest in some dusty corner to provide sustenance to a favoured nest of office termites. The matter, meanwhile, appears to have slid back to the proverbial square one. The afore-narrated story does not end here, though. It has a prologue of sorts.

It so happened that some months later, the Finance Minister of Japan came on a visit to Pakistan. The Japanese Ambassador during his pre-visit calls had politely requested that the mention of the export of Pakistani mangoes at this stage be preferably avoided. Nonetheless, the Japanese visitor was not entirely reassured and was ill at ease. When yours truly took him to call on the President of Pakistan, the visitor ventured to voice his apprehensions on this score during the short interlude in the anteroom. Needless to say, he was duly reassured.

What one had, regrettably, overlooked was the fact that the President himself belonged to the "mango-growing belt" or its close vicinity. The usual salutations over, his first remark to the visitor was, "Why doesn't Japan import mangoes from Pakistan? We have some of the finest varieties in the world". One could have sunk into the ground. Our Japanese guest did give one a withering glance. Mercifully, though, after three tiring days of dealing with our leaders, his spirit lacked the fire of his normal self. One narrates the above with the usual reservations. Hopefully, the weighty matter of the fruit-fly will have been settled by now. If it hasn't, then heaven help the mango exporters!







The economic survey released by the finance minister Hafeez Sheikh on Thursday, reveals complete bankruptcy about the miseries of the common people of Pakistan who have no part in the perks and privileges of the elite and ruling classes of our country have been ignored like a herd of cattle's by the team of budget drafters for the fourth consecutive year, which can be termed as bad governance: The performance of this government has been dismal. Unprecedented rise in prices, two-digit inflation, and a rise in poverty which is so high that the economic survey chose to skip the number by saying that no survey on poverty has been held since 2005, while the fact is that last survey was done in 2008 and its alarming figures of touching 40 % level were not acceptable for the government so this survey report was examined by a team of World Bank who agreed with this report and made part of their report on poverty situation in Pakistan in 2008. Never before has any government managed to miss all the targets it had set for the financial year.

The situation is so bad that Mr. Hafeez Sheikh and his team were unable to hide the complete disaster starring in the eyes of public on account of dismal economic growth and double digit inflation, though he did try to make jugglery of figures at least to do something by stating that the per capita income had risen. That could be right only if all the stolen and plundered money of the politicians and bureaucrats and other members of the rich who have become even richer had been counted and formally distributed on the population the number of whom is also unknown. That nothing of this ill-gotten money has "trickled down" can be seen from the rising number of beggars and mobile snatchers in the streets of Karachi and other cities, from the growing number of them begging at the traffic lights and in almost all other places of the cities, towns, rural communities and the rising number of abductions for ransom and other criminal activities, which are the direct result of mis-governance. The reasons for this mentioned in the economic survey are of course the real ones such as overarching incompetence, corruption and the steadily worsening governance in the country where everybody in a place with access to some goodies sees the crash come and is trying to stuff his pockets as much as possible before that. Missing among the reasons for this is also the failed policy of the IMF and WB which has been contributing towards this situation if not causing it. The reasons mentioned in the survey are blaming the floods, the war on terror, the rising oil prices and what not.

A staggering figure of $ 10 Billion loss due to floods has been given the details were not provided because this estimate was not made in Pakistan, rather this was a World Bank & donors estimate, which can not be relied on, another figure of $ 17 Billion was given as losses on account of War against terror only in 2010-11. As a matter of fact this document of failure of the PPP government in any other country than Pakistan would be indicating towards the consequence: a change in government. This most obvious consequence is not so easy to be achieved in Pakistan with a "democracy" that is composed of a coterie of NRO beneficiaries who are more interested in serving their foreign masters and an electorate which is illiterate and ready to vote for anybody for a hundred rupees or the pressure exerted by local SHO or the Tehsildar. Secondly, there is no real alternative. The current

government has been surviving with the help of the PML (N) and the MQM and now that the Nanas party is not reliable any more the PML (Q) one time known as Qatil league has sold itself to the rulers. The PPP high command doesn't care with the help of whom they survive? Only the fact of surviving is important. So where would be the political force to change this?

Another question is the so-called 'war on terror' and the alignment which Pakistani governments have taken with the US thinking that this would make their clinging to power easier. No body is concerned what this alignment is going to cost, US has claimed giving $20 Billion as compensation or re-imbursement of cost of War on terror while our Finance Minister has given an annual figure of $ 17 Billion as our loss on this account, will the financial managers of a fragile economy as our please explain or give justification of this extravaganza. The US is known in the world to care for democracy, which suits US, purpose only, and when it suits their own interests they even support corrupt and autocratic rulers when it suits them better, as in the case of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE.

So the expectation of the PPP to get away with corruption as long as they don't question their alignment with the US was quite right. What they did not anticipate was the strength of the anti-American opinion within the Pakistani people and the devastating influence of the 'war on terror' on the security situation and the economy of the country. Pakistan has lost billions of dollars in the so-called war on terror including losses of human lives, internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of citizens, damage to infrastructure, loss of investment due to the worsening security situation and many more. Another consequence of this ill-begotten and losing war is the spread of militancy and terrorism from the border regions throughout the whole of Pakistan into the cities and towns disturbing the peaceful lives of the common people. A responsible government would have known this before or corrected it when it became clear. This government against the will of the parliament which had resulted in two resolutions in 2008 and 2011 to reconsider the involvement in the war on terror and revisit its relations with the U.S. has never given a thought to doing so and keeps acting against the premises set out by its own parliament.

An important part of this equation is of course the Pakistani army who joined the war on terror and the alliance with the US in the first place and who since then has been insisting on keeping to it. That is because of their outdated understanding that alignment with the US will make-up for their insufficient military strength compared to India their arch enemy. They are unable to understand and to accept that now they can not defeat India militarily, neither with conventional weapons nor by starting a nuclear war – that would devastate Pakistan more than India or both. They stick to their ill-conceived idea of "strategic depth" though this obviously seems to threaten the unity within the military itself as the Mehran base incident has shown. India-Israel-US nexus has provided a strong edge to India against Pakistan, while Americans are projecting India power building as an essential requirement to contain China in future. Therefore the anti-American mood and the sympathies for militants fighting against American occupation of Pakistan seem to have reached a level where the military, in this case the navy, can not trust its own members any more and where navy personal are cooperating in diminishing the fighting power of their own army as the information given by Saleem Shazad have shown in the last few weeks, which did cost him his life.

So when we talk about what has to be done to bring Pakistan out of this economic, political and military nightmare we have to understand that cosmetic smoothening and hiding of real facts under the carpet would not be enough. A complete surgery of financial, economic and political mismanagement is needed by the team of patriotic economic & political managers and not the borrowed or imported loyalists from donor agencies.

Our survival lies in more closer, cooperation with China and Iran, who have always been our time, tested friends and allies. Supreme Court action in plundering of defaulted loans is a welcome step in the right direction, revamping and structural reforms are required on war footing, we must work on our own home grown economic and financial plans, which should be executed with foreign interference otherwise Middle East and Africa is going to be our fate also. It needs decisive action in all spheres starting with the break-up with the US and their war on terror and ending with breaking with the IMF and WB and our dependency on their dictates and loans to forge a greater national reconciliation among the federating units and people in Tribal areas, who have always been a beacon of light in times of need. Weed out corruption and restore Transparency and Accountability in every sphere of public life. God bless Pakistan.







Who is responsible for the recent worsening situation along the Pak-Afghan borders; Taliban, NATO forces, the Afghan government or the foreign sponsored miscreants ; surely not a difficult question to be answered. The so-called militant-attacks on a security check post in Upper Dir on the first day of June, 2011 continued for more than thirty six hours and ended taking lives of many innocent local people as well as of people from security forces. The security forces of Pakistan did all their best to crush the insurgency and now the situation is under complete control. Meanwhile, a 5,000-strong lashkar consisting of the local people has been formed in Upper Dir which will conduct joint operations with the military against the insurgents. The members of the lashkar vowed to establish peace at all costs.

The unity of time and action always plays an important role in occurrence of any incident. The important thing to be noted with reference to the recent Dir insurgency is that the attacks on border check-post came at the time when U.S is stressing Pakistan to do more against militants. A few days back the NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen also stressed Pakistan to intensify the war on Pak-Afghan border. On the other hand the western media as well as the Indian media is reporting the incident as a militant attack but the reality seems altogether different. Various political and defence sections of Pakistan are taking these attacks as a very serious type of engineered insurgency, an attempt to violate the geographical boundaries of Pakistan; an effort nothing different from that which the US guided NATO drones have been doing for the last many years. Moreover this attack could be taken as an attempt to distort the Pak-Afghan relations. Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir while conveying his concerns to the Ambassador of Afghanistan stressed the need for stern action by the Afghan Army, US and NATO/ISAF forces in the area against the miscreants and their hideouts in Afghanistan. He also condemned organizational support provided to the terrorists from within the Afghan boundaries.

Here the question arises; who were the attackers, Taliban militants or Islamist extremists or miscreants patronized by the so-called warriors of war against terrorism. According to the details provided by the media the well-equipped attackers were wearing military and police uniforms and they were 200 to 300 in number. They were in no manners tribal warriors; they were looking like trained military commandos. The involvement of attackers of the same commando get-up was also noted in the Mehran naval base attacks at Karachi and GHQ Islamabad as well. It would be nothing but a criminal ignorance if incidents like that of Upper Dir are considered simply an act of Taliban militancy and Islamist extremism. There could be so many other probabilities behind the scene. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, talking to the Afghan Islamic Press disowned the attacks in Upper Dir district. He said, "We have nothing to do with acts of sabotage in Pakistan. We are facing a big enemy in Afghanistan and fighting its forces. We are active neither in Pakistan nor any other part of the world. Our operations are restricted to Afghanistan." Zabihullah Mujahid further stressed, "Not a single Afghan Talib took part in the Dir attacks. These are false and baseless allegations leveled against us. What happened in Dir is not a problem related to us."

The crust of the matter is that no insurgency from the Afghan side into Pakistan is possible without the consent and support of the NATO troops. No such incident could ever have happened if the NATO troops were serious in stopping the miscreants. Pakistan has always been complaining of the irresponsible behaviour of the NATO hi-ups regarding the deployment of troops along the Pak-Afghan borders. It has been so many times in media that NATO doesn't deploy enough troops along the Pak-Afghan border to avoid cross-border insurgency but on other hand it is always expected from Pakistan to put a strict check on the movement of militants across Pak-Afghan border. Though there is a long and tedious mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan that makes it easy for Afghan fighters to cross over for attacks but they rarely attack Pakistani side of the border as per their tribal traditions. The people living along the Pak-Afghan borders belong to the same Pashtun origin. They have centuries old blood relations based on a lot of cultural and religious similarities. So it is impossible for them to target their Pashtun brothers. The recent attack was not an attack on the security check-post because the attackers not only blew up at least five schools but also took lives of eight civilians including two teens, four women and a local religious leader. Moreover most of the security persons martyred in the attack also belonged to the Pashtun origin.

In short, it is something very illogical to held Taliban responsible for every act of terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Taliban have their own way and style of doing militant actions. They never disown what they do. If we want to seek the truth and trace the reality, we will have to review carefully all terrorist activities in Pakistan from the terrorists' attacks on the GHQ to the attacks on Mehran naval base Karachi in which the terrorists had no other target but the P3C Orion aircrafts. But again it will be a grievous folly if we ignore the Raymond Davis episode which was simply an eye-opener we unfortunately turned a blind eye to.

—The writer is defence and strategic affairs analyst.








After Osama's death, world furiously pointed fingers over Pakistani intelligence and military. The criticism was huge especially from Pakistani citizens over the security establishment, because the incident put a great question mark on the credibility of security establishment. As lot of pressure was exerted and criticism hit at the top, so in response things fall over and came back with more pressure. Unusual vibrant criticism by Pakistani citizens, some politicians and the Pakistani press after the raid, compelled our security establishment to repair the reputation of the military and the intelligence agency.

Hence now a new-fangled scenario seems to emerge in region, which agitated Pak-US relations but can boost Pakistan's relations with some other countries. Here the China 's support through out the matter cannot be subsided at all. China at the first and foremost warned USA that USA should stop what ever he is doing in Pakistan . Pakistan is as important for China as Israel to US. China clearly conveyed the message that "If you mess with Pakistan , You will be messing with Beijing ." In an oblique reference to the United States , China called on the international community to respect Pakistan 's sovereignty. China recognized the tremendous efforts and the great sacrifice that Pakistan has made in fighting terrorism, moreover China firms on the policy of pursuing friendly ties with Pakistan . It will not be wrong to say that China defended Pakistan 's stance better in front of international community than Pakistani officials. China reacted fast to say what our Pakistani officials should have said in their defense and in their country defense. China for the one more time proved a good friend of Pakistan so Pakistan should further boost their strategic and economic ties with China . Chinese move to provide 50 JF-17 Thunder jet fighters to Pakistan on emergency basis to meet the requirements in the wake of threats facing the country is really a pleasant stance. However, Pak-China boosting ties will disturb India and US and will further encourage closer US-Indian collaboration, intelligence sharing and cooperation.

Besides China, Russia is another giant in this region so beside the visit to China. The shifting regional security paradigm needs for policy makers of Pakistan to shift their strategy as well as for preserving the sovereignty of Pakistan . Though, the relations between Pakistan and the former USSR have historically been aggressive, especially due to Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and due to Indo-Soviet friendship but now here is a good option to boost up relations with Russia . It is even better that Gilani visited China, hopefully to let them know that we wish to refashion ties with the US and look to friends like China to step up to the plate as we get ready to jettison the American alliance.

It is also good that Zardari visited Moscow and ties with Russia have indeed been growing under his watch. Besides, both Russia and China have a deep and abiding concern about extremism and terrorism. Indeed, while the SCO did not start off as an embankment against extremism and terrorism, it was meant to deal with issues of border security on a cooperative basis. These issues have become increasingly of major concern in response to regional and international developments.

Russia is the fastest growing economy in the G8 and Pakistan has an important place in Russia's foreign policy being one of the major influential Muslim countries. Pakistan 's foreign policy is now appropriately moving towards Central Asia and close relations with Russia would pay us a rich surplus. Conducting a high-level dialogue on strategic and political issues, building increased market access to Pakistani products in Russia and building connectivity in trade and energy sectors will benefit both the countries. Friendly and cooperative relations with Moscow will also assist us in securing full membership of the SCO and to open the door for significant economic activity with all Central Asian States, rich in oil and energy resources. In this drop back, President Zardari visited Moscow and met with the Russian leadership in order to enhance its political and economic relations with Russia . Though, it was a scheduled visit but in the light of recent developments in the region, it has gained enormous importance.

Time had come for the two countries to forget the bequest of previous years and forge new relations which will prove beneficial to both countries and indeed to the region as well. Pakistan at this point really needs to curve their policies and strategies in the betterment of Pakistan. It's time to welcome some good friends in circle and to kick the foes out!








The American role in Afghanistan is drawing to a close in a manner paralleling the pattern of three other inconclusive wars since the Allied victory in World War II: a wide consensus in entering them, and growing disillusionment as the war drags on, shading into an intense national search for an exit strategy with the emphasis on exit rather than strategy. We entered Afghanistan to punish the Taliban for harbouring al-Qaeda, which, under Osama bin Laden's leadership, had carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. After a rapid victory, US forces remained to assist the construction of a post-Taliban state. But nation-building ran up against the irony that the Afghan nation comes into being primarily in opposition to occupying forces. When foreign forces are withdrawn, Afghan politics revert to a contest over territory and population by various essentially tribal groups.

In our national debate, the inconclusive effort was blamed on the diversion of resources to Iraq rather than on its inherent implausibility. The new Obama administration coupled withdrawal from Iraq with a surge of troops and material in Afghanistan — an effort I supported in substance if not in every detail. We have now reached its limit. The stated goal of creating a government and domestic security structure to which responsibility for the defence of Afghanistan can be turned over is widely recognised as unreachable by 2014, the time most NATO nations have set as the outer limit of the common effort. Polls show that more than 70 percent of Americans believe that the United States should withdraw from Afghanistan. The quest for an alternative has taken the form — it is widely reported — of negotiations under German sponsorship between representatives of Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, and American officials. Most observers will treat this as the beginning of an inexorable withdrawal. The death of bin Laden, while not operationally relevant to current fighting, is a symbolic dividing line. Still, the challenge remains of how to conclude our effort without laying the groundwork for a wider conflict. For negotiation to turn into a viable exit strategy, four conditions must be met: a cease-fire; withdrawal of all or most American and allied forces; the creation of a coalition government or division of territories among the contending parties (or both); and an enforcement mechanism.

Enforcement is the most crucial element and the most difficult to sustain. After decades of civil war, the parties are unlikely to feel bound by provisions of any agreement. The Taliban especially will try to take over the coalition government or breach the cease-fire. In the absence of a plausible enforcement mechanism, a negotiation with the Taliban, whose forces remain while ours leave, will turn into a mechanism for collapse. This is particularly the case if negotiations are accompanied by withdrawals amid a public debate over accelerating the process.

The more rapid and substantial the immediate withdrawal, the more difficult the negotiating process will be. We must choose our priorities. An enforcement mechanism can be a residual American force, some international guarantee or presence, or — best — a combination of both. Total withdrawal is likely to be final; there should be no illusion of re-intervention. Although the predominant role of the United States sometimes obscures it, the outcome in Afghanistan is, in essence, an international political problem. The perception that the strongest global power has been defeated would give an impetus to global and regional jihadism. Militant Islam would be encouraged to magnify similar tactics in Kashmir or in India proper, such as the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. The end of such a process is likely to be a proxy war along ethnic fault lines in Afghanistan and elsewhere, especially between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. Afghanistan's other neighbours would be at comparable risk if a Taliban-dominated government or region reverted to the Taliban's original practices. Every neighbour would be threatened: Russia in its partly Muslim south, China in Xinjiang, Shiite Iran by fundamentalist Sunni trends. In turn, Iran would be tempted by the vacuum to arm sectarian militias, a strategy it has honed in Lebanon and Iraq.

The complexities of an exit strategy are compounded because relations with Pakistan and Iran are severely strained. These countries do not have the option of withdrawing from the neighbourhood. If their interests in Afghanistan are not related to ours to some extent, Afghanistan will exist under permanent threat. Without a sustainable agreement defining Afghanistan's regional security role, each major neighbour will support rival factions across ancient ethnic and sectarian lines — and be obliged to respond to inevitable crises under the pressure of events. That is a prescription for wider conflict. Afghanistan could then play the role of the Balkans prior to World War I. Such an outcome would threaten the security of Afghanistan's neighbours more than America's. A partly regional, partly global diplomatic effort is needed to accompany direct negotiation with the Taliban. So long as America bears the primary burden, Afghanistan's neighbours avoid difficult decisions. To the extent that US post war withdrawal is made explicit and inexorable, they will be obliged to take another look. The formal deadline established by NATO, the implicit Obama administration deadline and the public mood make it impossible to persist in an open-ended civil war.

An immediate withdrawal largely for symbolic reasons would risk falling between all shoals. A multilateral diplomacy that defines a common international security interest proscribing terrorist training centres and terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan should be undertaken urgently. To encourage this process, a deadline should be established for reaching a residual force — say, in 18 months to two years, with the major reductions coming at the end of the process. Should a reliable international enforcement mechanism emerge, the US residual force can be merged into it. A regional conference is the only way a bilateral negotiation with the Taliban can be enforced. If the process proves intractable, Afghanistan's neighbours will eventually have to face the consequences of their abdication alone.

After America's withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan and the constraint to our strategic reach produced by the revolution in Egypt, a new definition of American leadership and America's national interest is inescapable. A sustainable regional settlement in Afghanistan would be a worthy start. The writer was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977 and is the author, most recently, of "On China." — Courtesy: The Washington Post








BUT indigenous jobs and self-sufficiency will be the real test.

The Gove Peninsula has a very special place in the narrative of Aboriginal land rights. The people of this Arnhem Land community lost the first legal battle to establish native title rights. That was 40 years ago in the Milirrpum versus Nabalco case over land leased by the government for a bauxite mine. It was more than two decades later that native title rights were recognised across Australia as a result of the successful and now famous claim by Eddie Mabo in the Torres Strait islands.

But the agreement celebrated in Gove yesterday marks another significant development in the history of indigenous rights. The Gove Traditional Owners Agreement, between Rio Tinto and the Yolngu traditional owners, is a negotiated framework to turn land rights into a secure economic future for the indigenous community. The agreement is worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the next four decades but, importantly, it includes a focus on training and employment. The real test of its success will be the degree to which it fosters education, jobs and self-sufficiency for the indigenous community. Leaders such as Galarrwuy Yunigpingu deserve credit for negotiating the deal which is the culmination of a struggle that began in 1963 with a petition written on bark and taken to the federal parliament.






PATIENTS must wonder what happened to the takeover threat.

Almost four years after Kevin Rudd threatened a full federal takeover of hospitals if state governments failed to lift standards and cut waiting lists the desired improvements remain elusive. Despite a $300 million federal funding injection for elective surgery, the COAG Reform Council found that waiting times for surgery increased in 2009-10, with the median wait for a coronary artery bypass increasing from 14 to 15 days and the wait for knee surgery stretching from 156 to 180 days. On the positive side, the reduction in waiting times for emergency department care is welcome.

As opposition leader, Mr Rudd was right when he demanded an end to the "blame game" between Canberra and the states over health. But his promise that "the buck will stop with me" has faded into the mists of time, prompting concerns that Labor has watered down its reform plans too far. The glacial pace of the government's progress to date reflects the inefficiencies of federal-state relations, leaving much to be done until patients relying on the public hospital system begin to reap the benefits. While an administrative overhaul was essential to any major health reform, the weakness of what Labor has delivered so far is that it is largely "a win for bureaucrats" as Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton pointed out last week, with the number of beds per 1000 people "going down, not up" as hospitals failed to keep pace with population growth.

At least Labor's metrics-based approach promises to put patients' needs first, including the public naming of hospitals that under-perform. Such reform has taken a long time to materialise but is essential if the system is to be improved. Short of launching a full-scale takeover, Health Minister Nicola Roxon had no alternative but to be pragmatic and make major concessions to the states in order to establish a hospital watchdog. The proviso that the National Health Performance Authority will report underperforming hospitals to state health ministers and gives them 45 days to fix problems before hospitals are "named and shamed" might prove an incentive to drive improvements. It is a serious concern, however, that the AMA believes the new health watchdog is too weak and its data processes open to manipulation by states.

As the AMA suggests, the Auditor General should be given authority to audit the material provided by the states. Predictably, the states and public hospitals object to the power the Gillard government wants to hand to the Independent Pricing Authority that will set the efficient price the federal government will pay for hospital treatments and hold back 4 per cent of hospital funding if it is not satisfied with a state's implementation of health reforms. Such oversight, however, should promote efficiency and help secure better value for taxpayers' investment in healthcare. Nothing less will do at a time of budget stringencies, an ageing population and vast but costly advances in healthcare technology. As well as finalising hospital reforms, governments need to turn their attention to the nation's serious doctor shortage, which has left a quarter of Australians in remote and outer-regional areas waiting for longer than acceptable to see a GP, including people who need urgent appointments.

After four years of limited progress the performance of the hospital sector after Ms Roxon's reforms are enacted will prove their efficacy or otherwise.





EGYPT and Indonesia concerns should have alerted Minister.

On April Fool's Day this year, Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig spoke to a gathering of Northern Territory cattlemen in Darwin. He reaffirmed the government's commitment to the $300 million-a-year live export industry, recounted his recent visit to Indonesia, shared the cattlemen's frustration that annual exports to Indonesia of half a million head of cattle might not be enough, and promised to keep an eye on the issue and lobby the Indonesian government for increased quotas. To his credit, the minister also spoke about animal welfare issues.

Crucially, he recognised that "more still needs to be done to achieve higher standards of animal welfare practices, particularly in importing countries". However, Senator Ludwig said he had asked the industry to review its progress on animal welfare issues in importing countries. In other words, he knew practices weren't good enough, but he handballed the matter to the industry to sort out.

So it is difficult to have sympathy for the minister now as he is caught, like a rabbit in the spotlight, trying to resolve this ugly mess. The public, rightly, has demanded action after the ABC Four Corners program broadcast sickening images of the cruel treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesia. First, Mr Ludwig introduced a moratorium on restraining boxes, then he imposed a ban on a dozen Indonesian abattoirs, including three that didn't process Australian cattle. Now he has slapped a blanket six-month ban on the Indonesian export trade while the government and the industry try to put a workable solution in place.

So the minister has cancelled up to $150m worth of exports to fix a problem he certainly knew about in April, and probably much earlier. The clear conclusion to be drawn here is that animals have suffered needlessly, and an export trade has been jeopardised, because both the industry and the government have failed adequately to tackle a problem they have known about for some time.

It is not as though this hasn't happened before. Live animal exports to Egypt were banned from 2006 to 2008 because of mistreatment. Just like this time, the cruelty was exposed through footage shot by animal rights activists and supplied to the media. Just like this time, the Howard government reacted to an understandable public outcry. The Egyptian trade resumed, under Mr Ludwig's Labor predecessor Tony Burke, only after the construction of new facilities and detailed government-to-government agreements. So you would think that people involved in every component of the live cattle trade would have been aware of the risks to livestock, and the onflowing risks to the industry, of sub-standard slaughterhouse practices in Indonesia. Mr Ludwig clearly should have done more to ensure standards were being improved.

It is true that Australia cannot control Indonesian abattoirs. But if we wanted to sustain a lucrative live cattle trade, the onus was on the industry, and the government, to put in place what Mr Ludwig now calls "supply chain assurances".

For now, the government has done the right thing stopping the trade altogether so that better practices can be put in place. But it should never have been allowed to come to this.







YET again, the Gillard government has been panicked by events into making messy policy on the run. Following public outrage over the ugly scenes in Indonesian abattoirs screened by the ABC's Four Corners program last week, the government first dithered and then cobbled together a totally inadequate response, commissioning an independent inquiry and suspending the export of Australian cattle to just 12 slaughter houses. Now, facing a threatened revolt by its own backbenchers,

it has suspended the entire trade to Indonesia, including even to the relatively few feedlots and abattoirs that are said to be world class. That trade was worth $318 million last year.

Neither the Australian government, nor the live cattle industry, nor the Indonesian authorities can credibly claim not to have known what was going on in some of these slaughterhouses, although they may well have preferred not to know. The fact that an animal rights activist was able to walk around filming the gross mistreatment and clumsily brutal killing of cattle is proof enough that these practices were no tightly held secret.

It is true that, particularly since the Howard government suspended the sale of live sheep to Egypt in February 2006, the Australian live animal export industry has lifted its game. In Indonesia, it has devoted considerable money, modern equipment (some of which appears to be ill-used) and expert advice

to encouraging slaughterers to adopt more humane methods. It is also true that the problem is made more difficult and sensitive, because it involves traditional Islamic slaughter practices. Then, too, there a great many small, difficult-to-monitor operations scattered around a nation of islands.

Yet even if Australian exporters look after their cattle well, and transport them safely, they cannot simply hand them over, take the profit and wash their hands of any responsibility for what happens then. That they have made efforts to improve conditions in Indonesia is an acknowledgment of that.

The Gillard government now faces multiple dilemmas. The always edgy relationship with Indonesia is likely to come under new strains over a culturally charged issue. The Australian livestock industry, suddenly facing heavy losses as a direct result of a government decision, will demand compensation. The animal rights movement, while pleased at the suspension of the trade, wants it made permanent. One thing is clear: if the trade is ever to be resumed, it must be restricted to first-class, closely monitored abattoirs that treat stock decently and use modern, humane methods.






CONSTERNATION at the teaming of Choice, the consumer advocate, with NSW Fair Trading is predictable and understandable. Choice has promoted itself with great success on the back of its ''continued independence from all government, business and professional interests'', as the group's website declares.

''The integrity of Choice rests on its continued independence. Funded by our members and safeguarded by an elected council, this commitment to independence dictates how Choice is operated.'' That puts it neatly. Without the perception of independence, as well as the reality that Choice favours no one but consumers, the organisation born as the Australian Consumers Association half a century ago would have no moral authority and little public persuasion.

That Choice has agreed to an 18-month trial with the NSW government agency responsible for consumer protection does not dismantle that reputation. But it demonstrates the need for caution because - in endeavours where propriety is a reputation hard-earned but easily lost - perception can be as potent as reality.

So what's in train? Choice has agreed to test with the government a ''super-complaints tribunal'' in which Choice will decide which consumer issues will be raised with Fair Trading as ''super complaints''. Choice will receive no government funding. The government agency will be compelled to respond within a given time, probably 90 days, and presumably will be required to explain decisions not to act.

On balance, this seems to advance consumer protection. Without pointing the finger at Fair Trading, government agencies can develop bloody-mindedness in matters of public accountability. They come to resent public expectation that they explain themselves: what decisions were reached and why they were reached.

Entrusting Choice with an authority to prod Fair Trading on broader issues of consumer protection appears to bestow on the outsider almost an ombudsman role. Handled prudently, but without fear or favour, this should enhance the rights of consumers because the pressure for change will be on Fair Trading.

Nick Stace, the Choice chief executive and a former adviser to 10 Downing Street, is entitled at this stage to benefit of the doubt. He says Choice will be able to further pressure Fair Trading to tackle systematic failures in particular markets and notes successes in reforming British markets in new cars, legal services and residential care homes when similar change was introduced there.

The challenge is to stay at arm's length, where consumers get the best of both worlds. The independence of Choice need not be compromised, but the watchdog must remain vigilant.





Julia Gillard is right to put the industry on notice.

LAST week, after the ABC's Four Corners program broadcast sickening footage of Australian cattle being grossly mistreated in Indonesian abattoirs, The Age published an editorial under the headline: ''Stop this cruel, senseless slaughter''. Giving voice to a groundswell of public revulsion, members of the federal Labor caucus also spoke up against the torture that had been brought into the lounge rooms of their constituents by means of video footage obtained by the activist group Animals Australia.

At first, the government responded by suspending trade to 12 of the worst of the approximately 100 Indonesian abattoirs used by Australian producers. But still the outcry continued. Yesterday, Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig announced that all live cattle exports to Indonesia would be suspended. It was, as our political editor Michelle Grattan observed, a rare victory for people power.

We might point out, in passing, that there has not been an outcry of similar proportions against the federal government's plan to ''export'' asylum seekers to Malaysia, a country that refuses to sign on to the United Nations convention on refugees and which has been known to whip and otherwise mistreat asylum seekers. It is a telling reflection on the state of modern Australia that the government appears to be under less pressure from the community to ensure humane treatment of asylum seekers than it is to ensure the same for cattle.

It is regrettable that the government has acted against cruelty in the live cattle trade only after a public outcry prompted by a media report; if it did not know what was happening to these cattle once they had been left in the hands of the Indonesian slaughterhouses, it should have. Nonetheless, the government's decision is welcome. It is also courageous, given that it comes from a minority administration that relies for its survival in Parliament on the votes of independent MPs representing rural constituencies.

Senator Ludwig emphasises that the government has decided on a suspension of shipments to Indonesia, not a permanent ban. The suspension is for ''up to'' six months, and the government wants the $1 billion live animal export industry to continue. The Age believes that is a sensible approach, but for the industry to survive, it must now move quickly to persuade Australians that it can be sustained without resort to the sort of senseless cruelty seen on Four Corners.

Animal activists will continue to push for a ban on what Greens MP Adam Bandt describes as an unethical practice. Advocates of a ban, however, should not be blind to the economic implications in Australia and the social implications in Indonesia. As Alan Oxley, chairman of the Australian APEC Centre at RMIT University, writes in The Age today, a ban on Australian live exports could be expected to increase the price of meat, a staple for Indonesia's poor, by as much as one-third.

The response by industry leaders to yesterday's announcement gives grounds for optimism that a humane compromise may be able to be found. The chairman of Meat and Livestock Australia, Don Heatley, while saying the suspension would have a heavy impact on cattle producers and communities in northern Australia, acknowledged that the issue of animal welfare had to be confronted. ''This decision gives industry sufficient time to implement the controlled system which will ensure the appropriate treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesia,'' he said.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is right when she identifies the challenge for her government, Australian producers and Indonesian authorities as being to ''make sure cattle from Australia are treated properly at every step of the supply chain''. The live animal export industry is on notice, as it should be. The cruel, senseless slaughter must stop.





THE Dalai Lama, who arrives in Melbourne today, is no stranger to Victoria. While he is here, he will give public lectures, as he has before, on the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. He is not here to speak of politics.

As Tibet's spiritual leader, however, his visit will inevitably have a political significance. He has endeavoured to separate his role from that of political leadership, and has accepted Tibet's inclusion in China as an autonomous region, provided his people's Buddhist culture and identity are respected. Given the long history of Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule, and Beijing's brutal record of oppression, that is a significant concession. But it has meant nothing to the Communist Party leadership, which continues to regard him with suspicion and hostility.

The willingness of other national and religious leaders to meet him on his travels has usually been seen as an affront by Beijing, and sometimes by Chinese community leaders abroad. This alone ensures that any visit from the 75-year-old Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, comes with a ready-made political context, however resolved he may be to speak only of enlightenment and compassion.

Of course, Premier Ted Baillieu should meet the Dalai Lama during his four-day stay in Melbourne, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard should do so when he visits Canberra next Tuesday. At the very least, courtesy requires it - a courtesy they would surely not refuse the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury if either of them were in Australia.

But a meeting, which may be brief and need not issue a statement or communique, would send an implicit message to China nonetheless. It would declare that Australia's leaders recognise the global stature of the Dalai Lama and are capable of distinguishing between the need to uphold Australia's broader relationship with China and the moral obligation to condemn China's human-rights abuses, including its treatment of minorities in regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang. In other words, it would say that Australia's leaders refuse to be bullied.

When Ms Gillard visited China earlier this year, The Age praised her willingness to raise Australia's human-rights concerns in talks with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. If she recognised then that the lure of export revenue must not blind Australia's leaders to the nature of China's authoritarian system, she should show the same resolve here by meeting the Dalai Lama. It would not only show respect for him, but for ourselves as well.







Balancing the proclaimed newly muscular liberalism with a new muscularity of reaction is not a recipe for coalitional harmony

In so far as there is a serious liberal case for the coalition, it is that this administration has drawn a line under the dismal authoritarianism of the past 20 years. For a moment last year, it really did feel as if an entire agenda that had seamlessly passed from home secretary Howard in the Tory 90s to home secretaries Blunkett and Reid in the Labour noughties had finally been laid to rest. Mass-produced new offences, restrictions on defendants' rights and bone-headed terror laws: these things were simply not on the to-do list of a proclaimed small-L liberal Conservative prime minister who governed with a big-L Liberal support. The cleanest break of the lot concerned prison, whose use in England and Wales had doubled since the Howard era. Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke did not merely mouth warm words about alternatives to custody, as his predecessors intermittently did while squandering their budget on building more cells. He published a quantified plan to arrest the growth, and thereby free up resources for imaginative rehabilitative work.

Yesterday's news that Downing Street may rip one major plank out of that plan will – if it happens – effectively sink the whole thing. Well over half of the 6,000 prison places that Mr Clarke had wanted to free up were to be found by his pragmatic proposal to extend the discount on sentencing for a guilty plea from up to a third to up to a half, a policy with the important auxiliary advantage of encouraging offenders to ease the workload of a creaking court system. True, some judges had grumbled about the details, as Mr Howard relished pointing out yesterday. But the truth is that the country can no longer afford the race towards mass incarceration. If Mr Clarke's specific proposals are not to be pursued, meaty alternatives must be found. There are other options – such as decriminalising drugs – but these will not appeal to authoritarians such as Philip Hollobone, the Tory MP who called on Mr Clarke to retire in the Commons yesterday. All is not (quite) lost, since it is still unclear whether the guilty-pleas change is being abandoned outright or merely ditched for the most heinous crimes, but the mood music is hardly encouraging.

What is especially dismaying is that the panic on Downing Street appears to have been whipped up by a media storm that has already passed. Mr Clarke's words about rape a few weeks ago were desperately ill-chosen, and betrayed a crass if unwitting insensitivity. But after a foolish delay, he made his apologies, and explained he was merely attempting to convey the reality that there are some particularly violent rapes that quite rightly attract particularly harsh sentences. He even persuaded one victim who had previously broken down on the radio that his early-pleas policy may spare people who have suffered terrible attacks from a second ordeal in court. He did not, however, succeed in persuading those Fleet Street purveyors of fear and loathing who never tire of demanding the throwing away of every last key to every cell door. The praise the Sun poured on Ed Miliband after his kneejerk demand for Mr Clarke's head may have particularly spooked Mr Cameron if he discerned that his allies at News International were revealing themselves to be fair-weather friends.

The other sense weighing on the prime ministerial mind may be a need to throw a bone to Tory backbenchers. They are getting restive about concessions to the Liberal Democrats, particularly over health. But balancing the proclaimed newly muscular liberalism with a new muscularity of reaction is not a recipe for coalitional harmony, but a recipe for incoherence. If Mr Cameron gains a reputation for being blown hither and thither by every passing gale, while leaving colleagues to swing in these winds, he will pay a high price in the end. Far better to stick up for the liberal principles which he once proclaimed, and hack a way through the detail that salvages the thrust of the Clarke plan.






Peru's elite swooned at the electoral choice that confronted the nation, but the country needs a role model

Peru has just held the sort of election that can give democracy a bad name: a choice between Aids and cancer, according to the country's revered novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. In the first round of the presidential contest the centrist vote split, allowing a runoff between Ollanta Humala, a former army officer promoting a leftist brand of Andean nationalism, and Keiko Fujimori, whose claim to the job rested on the fact that her father was Peru's controversial president for most of the 1990s. Reluctantly, Mr Vargas Llosa, along with a narrow majority of his fellow citizens, decided Mr Humala was the better candidate, and he won at the weekend.

The striking thing is how he did it. When Mr Humala last ran for the job, in 2006, he adopted the language, policies and dress of the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez. Back then, Chávez's Bolivarian revolution seemed to many to offer a decent hope of dragging South Americans out of poverty – flamboyantly anti-capitalist and anti-US, and apparently effective and popular. But Chávez has gone out of fashion, especially in Peru, as the reality of his rule has soured. A poll last year by Latinobarómetro found only 18% of Peruvians held a positive view of Chávez and only 23% thought Venezuela played a positive role in Latin America.

As a result, this time round, Mr Humala distanced himself from his old ally and promoted himself as a second Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former Brazilian president and icon of the South American resurgence. Lula cut poverty dramatically by promoting economic growth and responsible spending. So, in a lesser and more unequal manner, did Peru's outgoing president Alan García. Lima is full of new restaurants and shopping centres, and its population demonstrably richer. President Humala's task will be to spread the benefits to the Peruvian highlands, where things have changed less. He will be constrained (to the relief of some Peruvians) by the constitutional requirement to serve only a single term, by congress and by a hostile media, mostly in the hands of business and – as elsewhere in South America – determinedly opposed to everything, good and bad, about Chávez.

Despite valid scepticism, there is a chance Humala could succeed. Latin America is already richer than outsiders think, its total economic output a third bigger than India's. Democracy is established; military dictators in mirrored sunglasses have been swept aside by leaders attempting to appeal to a common hunger for education and a middle-class lifestyle. Peru's elite swooned at the electoral choice that confronted the nation, but the country needs a role model and it has found an effective one in Brazil.







Australia's population of wild camels may soon be shot in order to earn carbon credits in an emissions trading scheme

It's enough to make an even-toed ungulate weep. Australia's population of wild camels, the Financial Times reveals, may soon be shot in order to earn carbon credits under the country's forthcoming emissions trading scheme. Each one of the creatures is estimated to produce a tonne of carbon dioxide a year – about the same as a 7,000km flight – not to mention the environmental havoc they cause in a fragile desert landscape more suited to amiable marsupials. Outback Australia, argue the promoters of the scheme, is being terrorised by up to a million feral camels, the unwanted descendants of beasts brought to the country a century ago to carry loads in the desert, and let loose once trucks took over their role. These unloved burping, grunting ships of the desert now face mass slaughter as a token of Australia's slow-off-the-mark battle against climate change. By some measures, Australians are the biggest per capita emitter of carbon dioxide on the planet, ahead of even the United States. Yet some might think it odd that camels are being singled out, when that other invasive species, the human, is really the cause of the problem, and ask whether climate change is more an excuse than a justification for the cull. The country certainly has too many camels, and animal rights campaigners may be oveoptimistic when they suggest feeding the animals birth-control tablets. But the camels didn't ask to be sent to Australia in the first place. They are just doing what camels naturally do.






Amember of the Fukaya city assembly, Saitama Prefecture, who was elected in a March election, and his wife were arrested May 8 on suspicion of wining and dining supporters in mid-February. But on May 27, the Saitama District Public Prosecutors Office released them without deciding whether they should be prosecuted.

People questioned by the police in connection with the investigation of the case say that they were forced to put their seals on investigators' records of oral statements that did not agree with what actually happened.

Police doing the interrogation apparently acted in the same way as in past cases when false charges became an issue.

The police arrested the couple on suspicion of treating more than 20 supporters to food and drinks, worth several thousand yen for each person, in exchange for the supporters' commitment to secure votes for the city assembly candidate.

The couple's attorney said that the assembly candidate had sent invitation cards stating that the party fee was ¥3,000 each and that at least 24 of the 28 supporters who attended the party affirm that they paid the fee.

Nearly 20 people say that, during their police interrogation, officers forced them to put their seals on investigators' records of oral statements that said they did not pay the fee, the lawyer said, adding that several others resisted affixing their seals.

One supporter of the assembly member told Kyodo News that for several hours a police officer kept repeating things like "You did not pay the fee, did you?," "Only you are saying such a thing," or "If you put your seal on this, you will come to feel at ease." This person eventually gave up resisting the police pressure.

The fact that the prosecutors office released the arrested couple without any decision indicates that the case is virtually over. The case shows that the system for monitoring interrogation procedures that the police introduced in 2009 is not working.

Under this system, a police officer not involved in any investigation watches the interrogation through a "magic mirror" and stops it if it lasts too long, or if an investigator resorts to violence or the threat of violence. The officer also has authority to act on complaints from those interrogated.

This system has proven to be inadequate. The Fukaya case further strengthens the argument for videotaping the entire interrogation process.





After Prime Minister Naoto Kan survived a no-confidence motion on June 2, Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Katsuya Okada started calling for the formation of a grand coalition between the DPJ and the Liberal Democratic Party.

It is irresponsible of Mr. Okada to make such a call. It appears that he has forgotten the simple fact that the DPJ came to power by beating the LDP in the August 2009 Lower House election with slogans that represented a rejection of LDP politics.

Mr. Okada's call for a grand coalition is tantamount to throwing down the drain the DPJ's basic policy ideas enscapsulated in "People's lives come first" and "From concrete to humans" — slogans that showed many voters a ray of hope.

Mr. Kan should step down soon to take responsibility for his administration's slowness in stabilizing the lives of the residents of areas hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami as well as those suffering from the accidents at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Nor has his administration pushed speedy reconstruction from the disasters.

Mr. Okada should realize that his inability to make constructive deals with the opposition forces since the DPJ's defeat in the July 2010 Upper House election has led to the current political paralysis. He has stressed the need for a short-time grand coalition to push reconstruction, but there is no guarantee that a grand coalition will work well.

Mr. Okada's call for a grand coalition seems nothing more than an attempt to varnish over his inability as DPJ secretary general to move politics forward. Control of most Diet seats by the DPJ and the LDP runs against the principle of democracy anyway.

Taking lessons from the nuclear crisis, Mr. Kan has set a new goal of generating 20 percent of Japan's electricity from renewable resources by the early 2020s. The LDP, which had pushed nuclear power generation, could torpedo the new policy goal.

Since Mr. Kan says he will resign in the near future, the opposition is not likely to cooperate with a "lame duck." The DPJ should follow a normal path — electing its new leader soon and letting him or her, as prime minister, announce effective reconstruction policies in a timely manner while persuading the opposition to cooperate.







NEW DELHI — After the daring U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in his hideout next to Pakistan's premier military academy, Islamabad has openly played its China card to caution Washington against pushing it too hard. And China has been more than eager to show itself as Pakistan's staunchest ally.

China's deepening strategic penetration of Pakistan — and the joint plans to set up new oil pipelines, railroads, and even a naval base on the Arabian Sea that will serve as the first overseas location offering support to the Chinese navy for out-of-area missions — are spurring greater U.S. and Indian concerns. For India, the implications of the growing strategic nexus are particularly stark because both China and Pakistan refuse to accept the territorial status quo and lay claim to large tracts of Indian land.

An influx of up to 11,000 soldiers of the People's Liberation Army into Pakistan's Himalayan regions of Gilgit and Baltistan to supposedly work on new projects, including a railroad, an upgraded highway, dams and secret tunnels, has raised concerns that those strategic borderlands could come under the Chinese sway. The predominantly Shiite Gilgit and Baltistan are in Kashmir, where the borders of China, India and Pakistan converge.

The PLA influx has resulted, according to India, in the presence of Chinese troops close to Pakistan's line of control in Kashmir with India. This presents India with a two-front theater in the event of a war with either country.

Despite the bin Laden affair, the United States is seeking to repair its relationship with — not discipline — Pakistan, the largest recipient of American aid. Yet Pakistan and China have made a public show of their close strategic bonds.

Within days of bin Laden's killing, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani traveled to Beijing. The accompanying defense minister, Ahmed Mukhtar, reported that whatever requests for assistance the Pakistani side made, the Chinese government was more than happy to oblige, including agreeing to take over operation of the strategically positioned but underused port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea upon expiry of an existing contract with a Singaporean government company. Beijing also decided to gift Pakistan 50 JF-17 fighter jets.

More important, Mukhtar disclosed that Pakistan had asked China to begin building a naval base at Gwadar, where Beijing funded and built the port. "We would be ... grateful to the Chinese government if a naval base is ... constructed at the site of Gwadar for Pakistan," he said in a statement. He later told a British newspaper in an interview: "We have asked our Chinese brothers to please build a naval base at Gwadar."

Mukhtar's comments on the naval base embarrassed Beijing, which wants no publicity.

China usually makes strategic moves by stealth. It launched work even on the Gwadar port quietly. So how can plans on a naval base be publicized?

After Pakistan spilled the beans on the Gwadar naval base, China responded with equivocation, saying "this issue was not touched upon" during the visit. But the Chinese Communist Party's hawkish Global Times was not shy about advertising China's interest in setting up bases overseas. In an editorial titled, "China Needs Overseas Bases for Global Role," the newspaper urged the outside world to "understand the need of China to set up overseas military bases."

Opened in 2007, the port at Gwadar — which overlooks Gulf shipping lanes and is near the Iran border — was intended from the beginning to represent China's first strategic foothold in the Arabian Sea and to eventually double up as a Chinese-built naval base. It was widely seen as part of China's efforts to assemble a "string of pearls" along the Indian Ocean rim. Yet until Mukhtar's recent statements unmasked the larger plans, China and Pakistan continued to deny that Gwadar had any role other than commercial.

Whereas Pakistan wants to help the Chinese navy counterbalance India's naval forces, China's aim is to have important naval presence in the Indian Ocean to underpin its larger geopolitical ambitions and get into great-power maritime game. It thus needs Gwadar to plug its main weakness — the absence of a naval anchor in the region.

China's plan also is to make Gwadar a major energy hub transporting Gulf and African oil by pipeline to the Chinese heartland via Pakistan-held Kashmir and Xinjiang. Such piped oil would not only cut freight costs and supply time but also lower China's reliance on U.S.-policed shipping lanes through the Malacca and Taiwan Straits.

Significantly, as China's involvement in strategic projects in Pakistan has grown, it has started openly started needling India on Kashmir, one-fifth of which is under Chinese occupation. It has used the visa issue and other innovative ways to question India's sovereignty over Indian-controlled Kashmir. It also has shortened the length of the Himalayan border it claims to share with India by purging the 1,597-km line separating Indian Kashmir from the Chinese-held Kashmir part.

By deploying troops in Pakistani-held Kashmir near the line of control with India and playing the Kashmir card against India, China is clearly signaling that Kashmir is where the Sino-Pakistan nexus can squeeze India. The military pressure China has built up against India's Arunachal Pradesh state — at the opposite end of the Himalayas — seems more like a diversion.

In truth, the more Pakistan has slipped into a jihadist dungeon, the more China has increased its strategic footprint in that country. And 2011 has been proclaimed the year of China-Pakistan friendship.

Brahma Chellaney, professor at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, is the author of "Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan" (Harper, New York) and "Water: Asia's New Battlefield" (Georgetown University Press).






CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — Europe is in constitutional crisis. No one seems to have the power to impose a sensible resolution of its peripheral countries' debt crisis. Instead of restructuring the manifestly unsustainable debt burdens of Portugal, Ireland and Greece (the PIGs), politicians and policymakers are pushing for ever-larger bailout packages with ever-less realistic austerity conditions.

Unfortunately, they are not just "kicking the can down the road," but pushing a snowball down a mountain. True, for the moment, the problem is still economically manageable. Eurozone growth is respectable, and the PIGs account for only 6 percent of the eurozone's GDP. But by stubbornly arguing that these countries are facing a liquidity crisis, rather than a solvency problem, euro officials are putting entire system at risk.

Major eurozone economies like Spain and Italy have huge debt problems of their own, especially given anemic growth and a manifest lack of competitiveness. The last thing they need is for people to be led to believe that an implicit transfer union is already in place, and that reform and economic restructuring can wait.

EU officials argue that it would be catastrophic to restructure any member's debts proactively. It is certainly the case that contagion will rage after any Greek restructuring. It will stop spreading only when Germany constructs a credible firewall, presumably around Spanish and Italian central-government debt.

This is exactly the kind of hardheaded solution that one would see in a truly integrated currency area. So, why do Europe's leaders find this intermediate solution so unimaginable? Perhaps it is because they believe they do not have the governance mechanisms in place to make tough decisions, to pick winners and losers. The European Union's weak, fractured institutions dispose of less than 2 percent of eurozone GDP in tax revenues. Any kind of bold decision essentially requires unanimity. It is all for one and one for all, regardless of size, debt position and accountability. There is no point is drawing up a Plan B if there is no authority or capacity to execute it.

Might Europe get lucky? Is there any chance that the snowball of debt, dysfunction, and doubt will fall apart harmlessly before it gathers more force? Amidst so much uncertainty, anything is possible. If eurozone growth wildly outperforms expectations in the next few years, banks' balance sheets would strengthen and German taxpayers' pockets would deepen. The peripheral countries might just experience enough growth to sustain their ambitious austerity commitments.

Today's strategy, however, is far more likely to lead to blowup and disorderly restructuring. Why should the Greek people (not to mention the Irish and the Portuguese) accept years of austerity and slow growth for the sake of propping up the French and German banking systems, unless they are given huge bribes to do so?

As Stanford professor Jeremy Bulow and I showed in our work on sovereign debt in the 1980s, countries rarely can be squeezed into making net payments (payments minus new loans) to foreigners of more than a few percent for a few years.

The current EU/International Monetary Fund strategy calls for a decade or two of such payments. It has to, lest the German taxpayer revolt at being asked to pay for Europe in perpetuity. Perhaps this time is different. Perhaps the allure of belonging to a growing reserve currency will make sustained recession and austerity feasible in ways that have seldom been seen historically.

I doubt it. True, against all odds and historical logic, Europe seems poised to maintain the leadership of the IMF. Remarkably, in their resignation to the apparently inevitable choice for the top position, emerging-market leaders do not seem to realize that they should still challenge the United States' prerogative of appointing the fund's extremely powerful number-two official. The IMF has already been extraordinarily generous to the PIGs. Once the new bailout-friendly team is ensconced, we can only expect more generosity, regardless of whether these countries adhere to their programs.

Unfortunately, an ultra-soft IMF is the last thing Europe needs right now. With its constitutional crisis, the IMF needs to help the eurozone make the tough decisions that it cannot make on its own. The IMF needs to create programs for Portugal, Ireland and Greece that restore competitiveness and trim debt, and that offer them realistic hope of a return to economic growth. The IMF needs to prevent Europeans from allowing their constitutional paralysis to turn the eurozone's debt snowball into a global avalanche.

Absent the IMF, the one institution that might be able to take action is the fiercely independent European Central Bank. But if the ECB takes over entirely the role of "lender of last resort," it will ultimately become insolvent itself. This is no way to secure the future of the single currency. The endgame to any crisis is difficult to predict. Perhaps a wholesale collapse of the euro exchange rate will be enough, triggering an export boom. Perhaps Europe will just boom anyway. But it is hard to see how the single currency can survive much longer without a decisive move toward a far stronger fiscal union.

Kenneth Rogoff is a professor of economics and public policy at Harvard University, and was formerly chief economist at the IMF. © 2011 Project Syndicate







True champions of the environment, such as the 11 individuals and groups that won Kalpataru awards on Tuesday, teach us many lessons — dedication and modesty in particular.

Take Soleman Ngongo, a sluice keeper from the East Nusa Tenggara village of Tematana, as an example. As an honorable state guest, Soleman opted to take off his footwear outside the State Palace to preserve the cleanliness of the dignified place.

And look at his response to the prestigious prize that his work earned him: "I work not for this award or because of an intention to meet with the President," Soleman told the media.

The fact that he is happy enough to live on Rp 500,000 (US$59) per month is evidence of his commitment to the job, which he has been nurturing for 40 years.

Indeed, green heroes such as Soleman have nothing to prove, as the fruits of their hard work are real and benefit — financially — the communities around them. Soleman was the prime mover of upstream forestation to maintain water sources. Soleman planted two million trees with the help of local farmers, whose rice production has steadily increased thanks to the re-greening program.

Another winner, Sugiarto, a resident of the East Java village of Cowek in Pasuruan regency, was awarded for planting 474,390 trees on 475 hectares along the Welang River. Sugiarto's work could supply water to 246 hectares of paddy fields, 1,098 hectares of fishery land and 7,251 residents in the village.

The winners' list also includes the Nurul Hakim Islamic School in Kediri village, West Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, which has successfully promoted green schools. It also built 50 nursery centers, distributed some 5 million seeds to be planted in the village and provided training to produce 100 kilograms of compost per day.

Local wisdom taught the environmental heroes to love the environment, and so they do whatever possible to protect it without fanfare or complaint. Without the much-vaunted global campaign against the adverse impacts of climate change, we believe the local wisdom would remain there to guide them to preserve the Earth.

Local wisdom is all that differentiates them from political elites who are good at rhetoric on environmental conservation but their actions and policies speak the other way around. They shout their promises to curb greenhouse gas emissions, calling out loud for a change in the business-as-usual policies, but continue endorsing subsidies for fossil fuels and doing only a little to develop clean energy.

Many political elites deem the environmental issues as opportunities that need to be explored to gain international fame, including for the coveted United Nations secretary-general post.

Through their simplicity, the Kalpataru award winners tell the government to get things done when it comes to saving the planet.

Reflecting on the green heroes, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono perhaps does not need to complain about foreign countries that continue receiving illegal timber from Indonesia, but exercise his power to ensure the supply of the smuggled logs ceases to exist.




Australia's decision to halt the export of live cattle to Indonesia seems way over the top considering that it is hurting its own highly-profitable cattle industry more than Indonesian meat eaters.

Indonesia, which has been the largest market for live Australian cattle, can easily switch to other suppliers. Indonesians are not big meat consumers anyway and cutting back on the red meat for those who do indulge reduces the risk of heart disease, which is fast becoming one of the major killer diseases in this country. East Java cattle farmers also would welcome the ban, as they have complained that Australian beef was undercutting their prices.

But where is the beef, as far as Australia is concerned?

The export ban came in response to public opinion in Australia which was outraged by a recent TV documentary that portrayed cruelty against Australian cattle at some (not all) slaughter houses in Indonesia. In response to the documentary, the Indonesian government has since identified 11 such slaughter houses and is looking at disciplining them and improving overall supervision.

The debate in Australia, however, has typically gone beyond looking at mistreatment and has started to question the methods of killing an animal. If the issue is now raised by the Australian government, this is where Indonesia has to draw the line.

For religious and health considerations, animals for consumption should be slaughtered by cutting their throat to make sure that all the blood flows out of their body. This has been the acceptable practice for hundreds of years throughout most of the world — even in the West. It was not until a few decades ago that the West started introducing a supposedly more humane, if not bloodless way, of slaughtering animals, first by hitting them on the head and now to use a stun bolt. However, any act of slaughter is by definition inhumane, no matter how you do it.

If the Australian public can stomach it, they should demand from their TV networks a documentary that looks at the way the cattle industry is run — how it treats animals, the crowded conditions where they are raised, the fattening process, the separation of the young from their mothers and the way a stun bolt is used to kill them.

Their next steak or burger will not taste the same.






The experience with food prices recently was indeed scary. Food prices soared to a new high in 2008 when oil prices passed the US$140-per-barrel mark for the first time in history.

Food prices are still rising now, albeit at a moderate pace. Last year, food price indices rose 16 percent, more than double the nation inflation rate.

Up to April this year, the increase had slowed to 11 percent, still well above the inflation rate.

Why do food price increases matter? They matter because food prices have more impact on the inflation rate than any other items.

And what happens to inflation triggers changes in macroeconomic policy, through monetary policy that could influence the course and performance of the national economy. More importantly, food prices greatly affect the lives of millions of poor people who spend the bulk of their income on food.

It was estimated that the spike in food prices in 2008 plunged more than 100 million people all over the world into poverty. Statistical evidence in Indonesia also shows the positive correlation between rice prices and the rate of poverty.

The higher the rice price, the higher the number of people who become poor, and vice versa.
Food prices are a sensitive political issue, and if people cannot bear price increases, it can lead to political unrest that can overthrow the regime in power.

Governments everywhere always try to keep food prices at affordable levels, especially for the poor.

The critical issue with regard to food prices now is the question as to whether the current trend is
compatible with the poverty reduction policy.

As food prices affect millions of poor people, it is imperative for governments to determine at what level food prices can be tolerated before they negatively impact the poor.

There are several factors that determine food prices.

On the demand side, food prices are rising not only because of increasing demand from population growth but also because people are getting richer, and so they demand more varieties of foods.

Since 2003 there are 50 million people entering the middle class group in Indonesia and now the country has more than 100 million people that could be classified as middle class.

These are people who flock to supermarkets and restaurants in big cities across the country, buying upscale food products for their daily consumption.

Because they are richer they now can afford more than just staple foods. Now they eat more meat, fish, eggs, drink dairy products and other high-protein products.

On the supply side, the demand for land is getting more pressing. Land is needed not only for grains but is needed for cattle to graze and to build factories for animal feed.

But the available land for food production is getting more limited. Last year the planted area of rice in Indonesia reached 13.5 million hectares, an increase of only 1.5 percent every year for the last 10 years.

Most crucial is the significant decline of rice fields in Java, where most of Indonesia's rice is produced. Because of the expansion of industries, housing and infrastructure,
the land available for rice paddies has contracted from 4.1 million hectare in 2007 to only 3.5 million hectares last year.

That means Java is losing its rice fields by around 200,000 hectares a year. If the conversion of agricultural land into land for other uses continues unabated, within 20 years, there will be no more land to plant rice in Java.

To sustain rice production it will be necessary to plant rice fields outside Java, but this will require huge amounts of investment. If rice production is to increase, it means the productivity of planted areas must also increase.

Productivity in agriculture is considered to be low for a variety of reasons. The agricultural sector employs 40 percent of the Indonesian labor force, yet it only contributes 15 percent of GDP.

Around 70 percent of people who work on farms are only elementary school graduates, without any technical skills, who can only operate relatively primitive farming tools. Without much support from the government in the provision of infrastructure and farm technology, Indonesian farmers are grappling to sustain their income.

The growth of biofuel industries as the result of global awareness of the need to reduce fossil fuel consumption and reduce global pollution, is also an important factor that is changing the food market. More and more agricultural products such as corn, sugar cane and palm oil are being used as resources for the production of biofuels.

The problem with biofuel industries is that they needs huge quantities of resources to generate a unit quantity of biofuel.

In the US for example, 15 percent of corn production has been set aside to produce biofuel.

This means food production for humans will be competing against biofuel industries and cattle industries in securing their input demands.

But this also means that they will be competing for land.

Food prices are getting higher, not only because of demand and supply dynamics, but because production cost structures are undergoing significant changes.

Farmers can not afford to buy fertilizer in adequate quantities because prices have gone up due to a shortage of domestic gas supplies and an increase to prices on the international market.

Natural gas is one of the most important ingredients used in fertilizer production. And higher fuel prices have pushed up the cost of running farm machinery and equipment and the cost of transporting and distributing farm products to markets.

Non-economic forces have also added to supply shocks in foods recently. Droughts and floods have devastated grains harvests in many countries, including in Indonesia.

It is predicted that these extreme weather conditions will persist for some time, resulting in the uncertainty of grain production.

To protect people from food crises, many countries have stepped up efforts to strengthen food security by stockpiling foods to meet any possible emergencies.

Countries with grain production surpluses now have either stopped exporting or restricted their exports, reducing the overall supply in the world market. Grains are no longer traded freely in the international markets.

Rice trading has become one of the most protected in international markets. This has made the global rice market very thin.

In this shallow market, a slight change in volume can have amplified impacts on prices.

The La Nina episode in 2010 that produced the most severe weather anomalies for the last 50 years may have caused a temporary spike in food prices.

But given the structural changes in the supply and demand dynamics of food, it seems the trend of
higher food prices is not a temporary phenomenon.

The writer is an economist.






A series of incidents has weakened the credibility of lawmakers at the House of Representatives.

The incidents include, among other things, unnecessary official junkets to various countries for the sake of comparative studies, an extravagant proposal for a new building for the House, and, most recently, the alleged involvement of Muhammad Nazaruddin — a House member and the Democratic Party treasurer — in a corruption scandal involving the Youth and Sports Ministry.

Discontent with lawmakers' performance is undoubtedly widespread and has been for some time. What's astonishing is that we elected (and sometimes re-elected) these politicians while desperately complaining about their behavior.

We did not wonder why such politicians were elected under the New Order. During that era, the government distorted the political market and favored lawmakers who were willing to "sit, listen and be silent" or who would rubber stamp government policies.

In 1973 the government limited the political parties who could contest general elections to the Golkar Party; the United Development Party (PPP) as a representative of Islamic groups; and the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) to represent nationalist groups.

The government determined who was involved in high-level politics and controlled the public discourse, in particular through the supervision of mass media and political campaigns.

There was not an adequate number of qualified politicians eligible for office on the supply side. On the demand side, voters were not sufficiently informed about candidate track records to make their choices.

The current situation is far different, at least superficially. The political market is already liberal. There is no longer a limitation on the number of political parties. People who want to enter politics are not vetted, nor are there barriers to accessing information or expressing views.

Theoretically, the political market should work efficiently to balance the"supply" of politicians with the "demands" of voters.

Closer scrutiny is needed to understand why we continue to vote for underperforming lawmakers. It is possible that distortion of the political market has not been eliminated but instead moved from a national to a party level. This is also called the problem of "internal" democracy.

While there might be a level electoral playing field, parties have not adopted democracy internally. Chiefs or chief patrons govern Indonesia's political parties, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (Democratic Party), Taufiq Kiemas and former president Megawati Soekarnoputri (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, PDI-P) and others.

This pattern is also common at lower levels , such as the provincial, district and municipal level. It is not surprising that the recruitment of party members has yet to be conducted on the basis of merit.

As long as members can please key individuals in the parties they will continue to be elevated to high-level positions and win nominations to run for office.

Aware of the situation, many potential candidates who posses competence, resources and commitment are reluctant to join political parties. As a result, political parties fail to recruit the best people.

People vote for candidates based on visible things. In the culture of paternalism, leaders must donate some amount of money if they want to establish bonafides with people.

In other words, people will not trust candidates' long-term promises if they cannot provide "real" things in the short term. The situation is worsened by the large number of voters who are still poor or near poor who appreciate charity more than program consultation.

This has created a requirement for potential candidates to be rich rather than competent and pro-public. Eventually, it narrows the field of potential legislative candidates to businessmen, former or current senior officials, celebrities and young people who come from political families. Once again, many potential candidates are excluded.

Ordinary candidates — for instance activists and academics — need funding from the rich anyway. When they reach the House of Representatives they are no longer independent enough to voice their constituents' aspirations, especially when they must face trade-offs.

Further, while Indonesia has a free press and few limits on the dissemination of information, the media has yet to sufficiently inform voters about candidates' track records and proposals. As a consequence, people vote for candidates based on popularity.

The public is already skeptical about lawmakers. If there is no significant change, this will hamper the public's faith in democracy to improve the popular welfare.

Accordingly, political parties should institutionalize democracy in their organizations. They should apply a merit system for candidate and party recruitment, capacity building, and promotion. A clear set of criteria for legislative candidates should be developed and strictly complied with.

Voters must be more knowleadgeble about electing their representatives and the implications of their choice. To do so, the role of political parties, NGOs and the media is critical to give information to and to educate voters, particularly to poor voters or voters with a poor education background. Such voters need accurate information delivered in simple language.

Finally a monitoring, evaluation and incentives system must be established. Results should regularly be disseminated to lawmakers and, if needed, to media. A key evaluation instrument is blacklisting problematic lawmakers in the next elections as a form of punishment.

The writer is a public policy analyst and co-founder of the Indonesia Golden Gate Institute.






Videos showing Australian cattle being subject to inhumane treatment in Indonesian abattoirs have prompted a ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia. Is banning the only option?

As Indonesia's income per capita increases there has been rising domestic demand for imported livestock including from Australia thanks to imported beef's favorable taste, relatively affordable price and availability in supermarkets. The trend has been the Indonesian government's concern in meeting the beef self-sufficiency target by 2014.

The government has launched various programs to assist small farmers and set the tariff (currently as low as 5 percent and heading to zero under some Free Trade Agreements such as AANZFTA in 2020) and non-tariff barriers. This self-sufficiency program may explain why Australia sends live animals to Indonesia instead of beef.

The Indonesian government has set the maximum weight of imported live cattle at 350 kilograms, which is aimed at ensuring Indonesia receives cattle that will provide added value to Indonesia.

This has led to the development of the feedlotting business in Indonesia, which receives the supply of feedlot cattle from Australia.

The Australian government through the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has funded several programs to review the effectiveness of the Indonesian government's programs and investigate the supply chain in the beef market. A complete ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia may imply that Australia's investments in research and development in Indonesia have no value.

If banning exports of live cattle to predominantly-Muslim Indonesia is ineffective, working with the Indonesian government to ensure animal welfare might be preferable. The question is whether the inhumane treatment of animals is related to halal requirements? The answer is no.

Halal defines what is lawful under Islamic law. It does not only regulate the types of "acceptable" food, how animals are slaughtered, but also how we get the money to purchase the food from.

Most abattoirs in Indonesia meet halal requirements. They must apply for the halal certificate from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and obtain a Veterinary Control Number from the livestock services under the Agriculture Ministry.

As explained by the plant manager of PT Wabin Jayatama slaughterhouse to local newspaper Agrina (2/8/2010), the slaughterhouse has maintained its halal certificate by following these steps. First, all animals must be effectively stunned (unconscious) prior to slaughter.

To ensure that the animals are unconscious, the pupil of their eyes must be checked. After the animals are confirmed stunned, the slaughtermen can then cut the animals' throats. They must ensure the knives or other cutting tools are sharp so the animals die immediately and do not feel pain.

What has been debated is when the stunning is performed, after or before cutting. Stunning the animals before cutting them is practised in most halal abattoirs in Australia and it complies with the Australian standard. As stated by Mohamed El-Mouelhy, the chairman of the Halal Certification Authority Australia, in the Sydney Morning Herald (1/6/2011), stunning was completely acceptable under halal, it was conducted in Australia and throughout Europe and Indonesia willingly accepted halal meat products from overseas abattoirs known to use stun guns.

In Indonesia, the MUI allows slaughterhouses to stun the animals before cutting as well as cutting without stunning. What the MUI should do to avoid similar cases in the future is possibly regulate that stunning must be conducted before cutting.

Alternatively, those who stun animals after cutting must make certain that the procedures and equipment can ensure the animals are not distressed, free from pain and die immediately.

This incident clearly demonstrates the failure of the Indonesian livestock services system. In particular, the monitoring and supervision roles of the MUI and Agriculture Minsitry have not been effective.

The system which allows Indonesian slaughterhouses to attain halal certificates valid for two years might need more regular monitoring and inspections.

The lack of monitoring on halal practices in Indonesia has actually been a subject of debate among Muslim Indonesians for a long time.

This incident has upset both Indonesian Muslims and Australians. Most Indonesian Muslims feel that inhumane treatment of animals is neither Islamic in every way nor halal. Therefore, Australia's support for Indonesia to deal with this issue becomes very important and would be greatly appreciated.

Some exchange programs and capacity building programs to train the MUI members and Agriculture Ministry officials to perform effective supervisory and monitoring roles may be helpful.

Australia should also consider investing in abattoirs in Indonesia and the Indonesian government must ensure these investors have easy access to the market.

The writer is a School of Economics post-doctoral fellow at the University of Adelaide






The historical and cultural ties that bind us with our closest neighbour India have always incurred the wrath of political manoeuverings at regular intervals throughout recorded history. Tragic as it may seem the many cultural affinities we share with the neighbouring giant have failed good relations between us at every crucial turn. Our recent history especially since the late 1970's is full of instances where uncalled for interferences have blocked our path to development. It is not a secret that our very open economic policies that predicted a huge financial leap in the late seventies itself; was denied to the country due to the foreign policy adopted by India. Several such policies especially during the Indira Gandhi regime have stood testimony to the destability Sri Lanka experienced of significant economic and social proportions.

Fed, accommodated and trained on Indian soil, the LTTE could never have grown to the size and dimension it did if not for the open support it received under that regime. But as an ironic shift of fate led to the assassination of her own son, the late Premier Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE, India looked like it had learnt a sad but necessary lesson in how not to deal with her neighbours. The support the present regime extended to the Rajapaksa government in ending a thirty-year-old scourge that destroyed the country was therefore seen as India paying its dues and finally changing the damaging foreign policy thus far adopted towards this neighbour.

Certainly nothing comes free; and certainly not support in the form of the central Delhi government it would seem! India operates in interesting ways. Today India is no longer the bully that throws her weight about: nor does she any longer threatens intervention. Hers are today, the finest lessons on how to exert pressure without seeing to do so, and the diplomacy that strengthens her might without denial. Lessons that are Sri Lanka's to learn if she so desires. Lessons, that we must perfect if we are to enjoy the benefits of a cordial and fulfilling relationship with a neighbour that has the world at her feet.





Q:How do you asses the progress of your visit to Sri Lanka?

It was a useful visit. In fact, it was a kind of research of situation

We were not only in Colombo. We visited the northern territory affected by the war, and saw for ourselves life in the area. This is also quite important. We are happy to note that the country is on a positive track.   Sri Lanka is pushing for the economic development. For the past years, we were only supplying military equipment {to Sri Lanka. Now we would like to widen our co-operation and collaboration on peace matters. We would like to take part in development and investments. We are able to use expertise in water treatment, water distribution, chemical industry and transportation.   The Czech Republic is an industrialized country with its sophisticated products. Our position is not just to make singular, unilateral efforts, but to take positive and constant action. We would like your businessmen knowing our investors, your people considering our people's culture and our people considering your people's culture.

Q:What has actually come out of your 'research work' in Sri Lanka during the visit?

I have visited a high number of countries. I can compare

I am sure that things are on a positive direction.   When we discussed whether we had potential at governmental level, each one said that it is important to develop the country and the North specially. I understand that it is a basic condition for peace.It is clear that the government is keen to improve the living conditions of people generally in the country and especially in the northern territory. We visited the IDP camps which had accommodated 300,000 persons, a high number. But, now there are only 16,000 remaining.  They will be sent home depending on the de-mining activities in the areas where they used to live.  It is a technical problem, but not lack of political goodwill. I am satisfied with what has been done.

Q:What are the potential areas for economic co-operation between the two countries?

We have enough sources of energy

 It is the main characteristic of the Czech Republic. You can't do anything without energy. We are focussing on energy security in the Czech Republic .Not only the Czech Republic but the European Union is focusing on energy security.  We also have hydro and coal power stations. It is also another special area. Also, we have nuke power plans.   There are differences of opinions on the use of nuke power between our countries. Energy is safe.

In fact, we have capacities to supply equipment for nuclear power stations. Of course what can be important to your country is how to produce energy from biomass. In the venture in developing hydro which is a renewal energy, we have other renewal sources like rain and solar which can be also developed as new energy sources.

Q:You mentioned something about your ability to provide assistance for nuclear power plants. Did you have any interaction with the responsible authorities in Sri Lanka in this regard?

Well, we have announced our capabilities

Now it is up to the Sri Lankan side to decide what they want. We have capabilities in education and research in this sector. We can provide education in this regard in the Czech Republic. We can station small reactors here just for science, not for energy. Your side can send teams of personnel to study at the universities in the Czech Republic and do research work. Otherwise, there has been no talk on deep co-operation in this regard.  I do not think your government is seriously thinking about it either. Now for energy, main concern is for water, renewal energy, solar, wind and biomass. In short future or long future, some negotiation is required. 

Q:Is it true that your government is going to take part in the oil refinery industry and offshore oil exploration in Sri Lanka?

I must say that we are a landlocked country

We have no experience in offshore oil exploration or marine research. That must be made clear at the beginning. Of course, we have refinery industry. But, in Iraq, we are building dams and hydropower stations. I think hydro is a good source for energy. It is good for environment.

Q:But, how viable is it to depend on hydropower due to the vagaries of weather triggered by the global climate change? 

That is a story

Still it rains. Here it rains sufficiently. I think you are right. But, you have wet weather right throughout the year.

Q:What do you think the attitude of the western world towards Sri Lanka? 

We are part of the western world

 Your country should invite the western countries, and take them to the north especially so that they can see how things are moving. My opinion is that the war is now over. It is history. There is economic growth. There are some countries where people are living without a future and with difficulties, but here the future seems much more positive. Let people be satisfied and look for a better future. It is for Sri Lanka to explain this to the world. Of course, we are focusing on human rights. We had unilateral regimes in our country. That is why, our agitation is for human rights.

Q:What is the stand of your government on the report issued by the Advisory Panel to the UN Secretary General?

It is a matter between the Sri Lankan government and the UN

 It is up to the government to respond. It is not an issue concerning the bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and the Czech Republic.  It is important for the government to be transparent in the process. We are not there to comment on it. It is much easier for Sri Lanka if the UN understands the real story here. I am a very practical man. I am a practical person focusing on future economic development.   The war is over here. There is peace.

Q:Despite all these plans to enhance bilateral relations between the two countries, you are yet to set up an embassy in Colombo. Why is it?

It is not a question of bilateral relations

It is a question of money. We had closed some embassies within the last couple of years.. We are on a negative track. But, we have an embassy in New Delhi. We have an Honorary Consul here. There is no major distance between New Delhi and Colombo. We can organize bilateral visits.   The Ambassador in New Delhi has visited Sri Lanka four times last month.

Q:What is the potential for the development of tourism in the two countries?

 The number of tourists from the Czech Republic to Sri Lanka is on the rise after the war

There were problems with regard to the security. Now it is over. We can say our people that Sri Lanka is a safe place to be in.





Sri Lanka became the first nation to eradicate terrorism in the 21st century on May 18th, 2009. In the post war period the Security Forces, especially the Army initiated programmes and courses to share its war experience with other counterparts. The first international seminar organized by the island, 'Defeating Terrorism, Sri Lanka Experience,' was a success as it enabled regional and western counterparts to gather the experience in combating terrorist groups head on by protecting the human rights of civilians trapped between the two sides. Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya encouraged countries facing terrorism challenges to face it head on and said Sri Lanka experience can be used to counter them. Making the opening address on 'Defeating Terrorism, Sri Lanka Experience,' he said that certain alliances are fighting against terrorism in parts of the world.

"Victory came with many sacrifices. National security is no longer confined to the borders as we see in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The three day seminar, 'Defeating Terrorism: the Sri Lankan Experience,' was not organized to gain sympathy towards our country. What we wanted is to share our war experience and our counter terrorist warfare knowledge", he said.

"One fifth of the countries in the world attended the seminar. It shows the importance and the attention that has been drawn by the Army by defeating the most ruthless outfit in the world", he added.

 "As Professor Rohan Gunaratne said, we will discuss with the Ministry of Defence in establishing an Army Information Centre to share information with the public and rest of the world", Lieutenant General Jayasuriya said. 

The role of human rights in counterinsurgency operations, rehabilitation programmes to integration of ex-combatants into society and nation building were the other main topics discussed at the seminar.  

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa speaking at the seminar said that the President went out of the way to keep New Delhi briefed about all new developments taking place in Sri Lanka during the time of the war. He said this dialogue ensured that whenever any sensitive issues arose it was resolved immediately. 

Mr. Rajapaksa also said that in 1987, the Vadamarachchi operations had pushed the LTTE to the brink of defeat but the operations could not be sustained because the Indian Government intervened. 

"From very early in the military campaign, the relationship between Sri Lanka and India was managed through maintaining a clear communications line at the very highest level. A special committee was established to engage in constant dialogue. The Sri Lankan side comprised then Senior Advisor to the President Basil Rajapaksa, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, and myself", he added.


 "The Indian side comprised former National Security Advisor M. K. Narayan, then Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and then Defence Secretary Vijay Singh. This troika had continuous discussions and ensured that whenever any sensitive issues arose, they would be resolved immediately", he said.

Over the years, a range of different approaches including military campaigns, peace talks, and even international mediation had been tried. None had worked. With a large global financial network, highly developed offensive capabilities and no genuine interest in peace, the LTTE was a stubborn, hostile and formidable foe. By 2005, the LTTE controlled almost a quarter of the country's territory and nearly two thirds of its coastline. Under an internationally brokered Cease Fire Agreement, the LTTE even maintained the illusion of a state apparatus in the areas under its control.

By the time our military campaign resumed in 2005, the LTTE had killed more than 26,000 armed services personnel. This was no small band of militants, but a large, sophisticated military force comprising approximately 30,000 cadres, a very large arsenal of weapons and equipment, and thousands of civilians organized as auxiliary forces.

The combined strength of the Armed Forces in 2005 was nowhere near the number that was actually required for a serious campaign to eradicate the LTTE. This fact was clearly understood by the President, and the decision was made to expand the strength of the military.

Between the end of 2005 and the end of 2009, the Army's 9 Divisions were increased to  20; its 44 Brigades expanded to 71 and its 149 Battalions increased to 284. This was a large, but essential expansion that increased the number of Army personnel from 120,000 in 2005 to over 200,000 by the end of the Humanitarian Operation. The Navy and the Air Force were also expanded significantly, and they were also given tasks beyond their classic role.

The LTTE did not tolerate any opposition. They assassinated the leaders of other armed groups in these areas, and wiped out any group members who refused to support its cause. They deliberately violated the Cease Fire Agreement. They attacked key military targets, including our highest ranked personnel, and continued attacking innocent civilians.

External Affairs Minister professor G.L Peiris also speaking at the event said that the International legal system has to be revamped in the context of global changes as the prevailing law deals with conflicts between two countries but whereas presently, conflicts arise within a country between the government and a non state actor.

He said that the role of the armed forces did not end after defeating terrorism. "The counter terrorist activities have to be continued", he said.

 "When thousands of civilians were trapped in the LTTE controlled areas the government launched the largest military operation in the world to rescue them. The civilians were held at gun point and the LTTE violated the Geneva accord and our security forces rescued them. Why is no body talking about that", Minister Peiris said.

"To carry out a military campaign for us the reasons were not conventional ones. This was an operation to rescue the Sri Lankans from fear. Tamil businessmen had to keep low profiles or else they were kidnapped by the LTTE. This was not a Tamil- Sinhala conflict; this was a conflict against a ruthless terrorist outfit", he added.

Major General Chagi Gallage, the then Commanding Officer of the Army's Task Force-1 said that Karuna's cadres were not used as tactical or operational level but they were used to man a withdrawal route after the fall of Vakari.

"Their expertise was used by the Army to know about the locations of land and bases of the LTTE in the East, he added. Another question was raised by a delegate whether they were forced to support the government troops, Major General Jagath Dias, the then commanding officer of the 57th Division said that they supported the security forces on a mutual understanding.

The Operation in the North

The final and decisive years of the conflict saw the Army develop into an adaptive, flexible and professional fighting outfit, capable of executing innovative counter insurgency operations and counter terrorists warfare concepts.  The most effective method was the adaptation of the small group concept in military operations. The field commanders explained how the LTTE used the displaced civilians as a human shield and the Government declared No Fire Zones for the safety of the civilians who were hostage in battlefields.

The LTTE's defensive positions and bunkers were observed to be among make-shift shelters of the civilians in the No Fire Zones. They revealed that the LTTE used the Udararkadu Base Hospital, the temporary hospital at Valipunam school and ICRC office at Udararkadu, the UN communication hub in Valipunam and the UN humanitarian mission safe houses in Puthukudiyirippu.

On February 2009, the LTTE carried out a desperate suicide attack on the 58 division IDP receiving centre at Puliyanpokkanai killing troops and civilians including children and an elderly people who came to the army controlled areas.

The government declared the fourth NFZ at Puthumathalan, where the LTTE moved its heavy artillery and mortars. They also explained the availability of real time battlefield information systems like UAVs, radar, real time satellite images, helped conduct effective tactical operations to minimize civilian casualties.





After months of dodging promises to step down, President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen has exited — in a somewhat unexpected manner — after being wounded in rocket fire by opposition forces targeting the presidential palace in Sana'a. While his departure has led to rejoicing in Yemen, the next steps in a volatile country where al- Qaeda is feared to have a significant presence are far from clear. From January 2011, anti-government street protests put increasing pressure on Mr. Saleh to remit office. It is unlikely that the Yemen strongman, who ruled for 33 years beginning as the President of North Yemen in 1978, will return to his country from Saudi Arabia where he was flown for treatment of his wounds. Even if he overcomes his injuries, Saudi Arabia, which shares a border with Yemen and is nervous that the protests in its neighbourhood may spread to its soil if not ended swiftly, will do everything to prevent his return. An indication of this came with the Saudi regime joining the United States in the call for the swift implementation of a Gulf Cooperation Council plan for a transition in Yemen. The GCC plan envisages Mr. Saleh's resignation in return for immunity for himself and his family members, and a caretaker government that will hold parliamentary elections within 90 days. Three times he accepted the plan only to change his mind at the last minute, setting his forces on the protesters, raising the spectre of a civil war as Yemen's fractious tribes joined the fighting on both sides. It may be easier now to persuade him to sign on the dotted line. Indeed, the first step in the plan, handing over the reins of government to the Vice-President, has already been accomplished with his exit. But Mr. Saleh's family members remain in  charge, with control of the intelligence service and the Army. Making them cede power peacefully may not be easy.

In these circumstances, a democratic election is hardly in sight. Unlike in other countries touched by the "jasmine revolution," the mass protests in Yemen do seem to have an identifiable leadership. Initially propelled by youth and ordinary people, the movement could not have survived six months but for the backing of an important opposition leader from a rival tribe, Hamid Al Ahmar, a telecom tycoon who is said to have funded the protests. His brothers are also key figures in the movement. An important military general also defected and has claimed to support the protests. What is of concern here is that their opposition to the Saleh regime is based more on tribal and personal rivalries than on any commitment to democratic values. If Yemen is at the cusp of real change, it is as yet hard to see.








Today's appeal is on behalf of the sinistropedally advantaged. Or dextropedally disadvantaged if you prefer to see it that way.

In either case, we are talking about the people who have the misfortune to have a left leg longer than their right.

I first wrote about this problem more than a decade ago when it struck me how unfair athletics can be to such people.

Any foot race over a distance greater than 100 meters is run along a curved track with the contestants forced to go in an anti-clockwise direction.

This means that the right leg has to travel further than the left and to avoid falling behind must, therefore, adopt a greater stride length, which clearly favours runners whose right leg is slightly longer than their left.

I believe that in the first Olympics of the modern era, in 1896, races were run in a clockwise direction, but the lefties were subsequently outvoted by the right-footed majority who found clockwise running uncomfortable.

Since then, the rights of the sinistropedal have been wilfully ignored, yet it is so unnecessary.

When I last took up the baton, as it were, on behalf of the Left Rights Movement, my proposal was to build a figure-of-eight track on which all races would be run, with the right-hand bends perfectly balanced by left-hand bends, bringing equality of opportunity to both right- and left-legged athletes.

The Health and Safety people, however, voiced concerns about potential collisions at the crossover-point and rejected the idea of building a flyover to avoid such collisions on the grounds of the extra demands that running uphill would place on the athletes.

I thought I had solved that problem when I proposed the introduction of traffic lights at the crossover of the figure-of-eight, with the right-of-way automatically going to whoever was leading at the time but to judge from the shape of the London 2012 track, this suggestion has been ignored.

Thanks to technological advances, however, if does not matter, for I now have another, even more effective idea. This will involve the building of an identical track to offer athletes the choice of which way they choose to run, one track for the lefties, one for the righties.

In order not to confuse the runners about where they are in the race, they will all be filmed using the latest 3D techniques straight from Avatar, the images fed into a computer and used to generate, in real time, holograms of the runners on the other track with direction of running reversed.

This will also offer an advantage to all contestants, for instead of having to run round another athlete to overtake, they would be able to run straight through a hologram.

Of course, we will need some method to differentiate between the holograms and the non-hologrammed runners, to avoid the problem of athletes inadvertently running into each other, but I see no problem in superimposing a big letter H on the backs of the holograms to identify themselves as such.

Let's go for it. This could usher in a whole new era of sinistrotolerance.









How can you defeat an enemy with centuries (if not millenniums) of experience in all sorts of warfare and virtually unlimited resources? The answer is obvious, even to someone who hasn't studied the Chinese classic The Art of War: Avoid up-hill battles and attack the enemy with overwhelming force where he is weak.

The weakest point of our ruling crime families is their reliance on the complicity of our brightest and best, and the ignorance or indifference of everybody else. The latter is the easiest to exploit, but we shouldn't ignore those 'house slave' types, who think they are more clever than everybody else and have sold their soul to the devil in return for their privileged lifestyle.

Let's talk first about those 'smartest kids on the block'. One reason why they are hand-picked and groomed is that they are obsessed with 'success', money, and perceived power. Another reason is that they are good at selling the illusions our artificial reality is based on. They are brilliant actors. And last but not least, quite a few of them have some major character flaw such as a sex addiction, homosexuality, pedophilia, or worse, making them vulnerable to blackmail.

That doesn't mean though that they don't have any conscience. I'm pretty certain not all of them are psychopaths. It's just that they have learned to overcome their bouts of 'nerve weakness' through the abuse of drugs and alcohol, by talking to their Jewish shrinks, or by telling themselves that they are part of some kind of elite, destined and entitled to treat the rest of us like cattle. Any resemblance with the attitude towards Gentiles in the Babylonian Talmud is no coincidence.

Regardless of their coping mechanisms, one thing is for sure. If you get through to them at the right angle, they will realize that they can no longer get away with doing the wrong thing, stop doing it, or even switch sides. Nobody likes losing face. Given their power and influence, every single desertion or conversion amongst those guys is a huge victory for our movement. The trick is to approach them at the right spot and the right time.

But let's follow Sun Tzu's advice and focus the bulk of our scarce resources on those battles where we can attack with overwhelming force. As I said, for our enemy to be successful, he needs the ignorance or indifference of the vast majority of ordinary people. To be precise, they need to control the minds of such a high percentage of the population that it's easy enough to isolate 'troublemakers'. The only difference between places like North Korea, Bahrain, and Western 'democracies' is that the latter allow dissent to the extent that it makes no difference and poses no threat to the evil plans of our ruling crime families.

The challenge for us dissidents is to overcome the mindlock of a critical mass of citizens for the hundredth monkey effect to kick in and the entire population suddenly agrees with us. Most of my fellow dissidents will know though from personal experience how difficult it is to get through to those 100 monkeys. It doesn't matter what topic it is: 9/11, Palestine, global warming, you name it. As soon as you bring up any one of them, it only takes a couple of sentences for the majority of people to block you out. No more invitations to play dates and birthday parties for your kids.

What I'm proposing is to make maximum use of the one or two sentences they are listening to before writing us off as conspiracy theorists or anti-Semites. We need to pack sufficient explosives into those infobombs, how I call them, to destroy their shutters before they come down. Let me give you a couple of examples.

The other day, I had a discussion with a group of blue pillers about the birther movement. The guys parroted the mainstream media, insisting that Obama shouldn't have to prove that he is born in the U.S. because no other U.S. president before him had to do so, and asking him to do so was racist. The answer that got them thinking was my question whether they would still argue the same if Obama -- after spending over $100 million on legal fees to avoid producing a $25 copy of his birth certificate -- suddenly produced a digital version that was proven to be a fraud. How did I know that it was a fraud? Because the PDF published in the New York Times article when opened in Adobe Illustrator contains layers that show that it has been edited, and because the document quoted the term 'African' as the race of his father when back in 1961 all birth certificates referring to Black people still used the now politically incorrect term Negro.

Here is an example on the topic of man-made global warming. My favorite infobomb is the question whether they know why the Vikings settled inhospitable Greenland, off the coast of northeast Canada, and why they named it Greenland when it is all snow and ice. So far nobody could give me the answer: Because at the time the Vikings settled there, over 1000 years ago, the land was so warm and fertile that they could produce and export cereals. Most global warmists have no clue that Earth is coming out of a small ice age and that over the past 2000 years there have been many periods where the climate has been much warmer than it is now.

The trickiest subject is obviously the 'Holocaust'. Even the slightest utterance of doubt makes most people shut you out immediately. I've tried asking people to watch "One Third of the Holocaust", a brilliant documentary that shreds the Holocaust into pieces like nothing before. I've tried recommending Ryan Dawson's equally brilliant "Most taboo subject in politics: the Holocaust", a shortened and less exhausting version. It didn't work, because most people are too brainwashed to dare watching anything that heretic. If they watched it at all, they had to stop after 5 minutes. The cognitive dissonance was just too much.

My best success so far I had with the following infobomb: How long do you think it takes to kill yourself with the diesel exhaust fumes of a Toyota 4WD? They never know the answer: It can't be done, because diesel exhaust fumes don't contain sufficient concentrations of carbon monoxide to harm you, which is why diesel motors are used in underground mining. What does that have to do with the 'Holocaust'? Well, about one third of the Jews allegedly murdered by the Nazis were supposedly gassed by the exhaust fumes coming from the diesel engine of a captured Russian tank.

Don't say anything else, or you will lose them. Infobombs will not convince them right away. But they allow you to get through to them with valuable information without them shutting you out immediately. The next step then is -- whenever they are ready to find out more -- to point them to a good documentary, article, or book on that matter.

Infobombs can and should be used in writing too. The best way to do so is to use them as subtitles or as captions under pictures. The idea is to make them easily memorable for our readers, not only to convince THEM, but also for them to use when talking to THEIR family and friends.

How many people, you might ask, do we have to convince individually that way? Well, in my opinion the critical mass of people we need to convert for the hundredth monkey effect to kick in is about 20% of the population. That sounds like a lot, but if every fellow dissident convinced only 10 people, and those 10 converts convinced another 10 each, and so on, that pyramid can quickly grow to an enormous number of people. Give it a go.

Footnote: I'm fully aware that some readers will think that this would be a great article if it wasn't for the part on the 'Holocaust'. I'm sorry guys, but all that proves is how brainwashed or what cowards you are.








The situation in Yemen is very complicated, and it is very difficult to understand the realities on the ground in the country.

Certain official news reports are also being published about the situation in Yemen with the aim of manipulating public opinion or diverting attention from the realities.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's insistence on clinging to power could drag the country into turmoil because he has made many enemies both at home and abroad.

At the end, Saleh was no longer able to deal with his enemies and created many crises in order to hang on to power. And all this made U.S. officials more concerned instead of appeasing them.

The physical elimination of the Yemeni president was the last option left for Saudi Arabian and U.S. officials to maintain a tight rein on the situation in Yemen.

If Saleh was deposed by the people, first of all, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia would lose their grip on Yemen, and secondly, the country would become a model for other Arab countries.

But the attack on the Yemeni presidential palace on June 3 and Saleh's departure from the country turned the tide in favor of the United States.

Many questions remain unanswered about the attack, and an official report has not and perhaps will never be published about the assault. And the incident will remain a secret in the history of Yemen.

However, what seems to be true is:

(1) Saleh was an impediment to a peaceful transition of power in Yemen. And what happened on May 22 proves that.

(2) The internal situation in Yemen as well as the behavior and statements of international and regional players indicate that it seems unlikely that Saleh will return to Yemen. So it would be better to assume that Saleh's era is over and to begin discussing the transition of power, parliamentary and presidential elections, and amendments to the Constitution of Yemen.

(3) If we assume that Saleh has been killed or cannot continue his presidency due to severe burns, the announcement of the news would fill Yemenis with great joy, and that would leave no room for the endorsement of the proposal that the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) has presented to the Yemeni government.

In other words, the opposition parties and the youth would not accept the plan, the transition of power would not take place in a way that would serve the interests of the United States, and the youth and the opposition groups would immediately take measures to form an interim government.

Therefore, the U.S. is making endeavors to manipulate Yemeni public opinion in such a way that the opposition parties and the youth will accept the PGCC proposal. And the announcement of Saleh's departure for Riyadh to receive medical treatment was made to achieve the aforementioned goal.

The Yemeni president's son Ahmed Saleh and a number of other senior commanders have also stayed in Yemen and are speaking about Saleh's return in order to fully play out the scenario.

So efforts are being made to convince the Yemeni opposition to sign the PGCC proposal as soon as possible so that the hands of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia will not be revealed.

Mahmoud Pir-Bodaghi is a Middle East analyst based in Tehran.








As I mentioned in my previous writings, the wave of recent developments in the Middle East is a sociopolitical tsunami which will have many different and unpredictable consequences on the foreign policy of many Western powers, including the United States.

Therefore, from the very beginning, Washington tried to manage and control the situation in order to better serve its national interests in the region and also to reduce its level of vulnerability. Now we should focus on four major points in regard to developments in the Middle East and North Africa:

The role of the major powers in directing, strengthening, or weakening these developments

It could be said that the U.S. is playing a very interesting role in the recent Arab movements. It supports human rights issues on the one hand, but on the other hand it also cheers the aggressive policies of some of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia, which are dealing with the protests in a very violent and inhuman way. In the case of Egypt, the U.S. soon realized that it had to put more and more pressure on Mubarak to leave the country. In the case of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Washington came to the conclusion that these monarchies had to be saved in order to maintain the political and military siege on Iran. In Syria, the U.S. is helping the anti-regime elements rebel against the government both directly and indirectly. Thus, the U.S. is again applying its double-standard policy in order to serve its national and regional interests.

Potential use of the Libyan model for intervention in other countries

Unfortunately, the potential use of the Libyan model in other countries is one of the most dangerous ideas of the Western powers in the current situation of the Middle East and North Africa. Recently, several European governments implicitly threatened other countries of the region with a military intervention like Libya. It is a serious threat to the legal and international order which creates many challenges for the international community. In the case of Libya, even China and Russia did not have any objection to the military intervention in that country, although they have criticized the methodology. This should raise alarm bells for the Middle East and North Africa region and also for the international system.

The effect of globalization on recent developments in the Middle East

Globalization and the new communication technologies certainly helped the people's movements in the Middle East and North Africa. The phenomena led to a weakening of political boundaries and removed some structural barriers in the relations between different classes of society. However, we should note that in a vast country like Egypt, many people still have no access to modern technology and therefore still prefer to use the old tools in their social and political struggle.

Is Turkey an ideal model for the Arab world?

Many analysts believe that Turkey's current sociopolitical situation can be used as an ideal model for the evolving democracies of the Middle East and North Africa, but I do not agree with the idea because Turkey is completely different than other countries of the region and especially Arab countries. Turkey is currently run by an Islamist government, but the political culture of the country and the influential centers of power, especially the Turkish military, are still under the influence of Ataturkism.

Therefore, the Turkish model cannot be implemented in countries such as Yemen or Saudi Arabia. The electoral process in Turkey has a very strong base and any change in that country is likely to happen through elections and not a revolution, which is the main instrument in the current Arab awakening.

Professor Nader Entessar is the chair of the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice of t